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A day is generally understood to be the time is takes for a certain process of events to happen. The sun 'rises' and then 'sets' and then 'rises' again. The time attributed to 1 'day' is generally understood to be something like the time between the 2 'risings', or a similar pairing (2 settings, midnight to midnight, or what have you).

Yet, YECs hold that the Earth was quite different back then than it is now. Indeed, the sun doesn't even appear to be created on the first days of Genesis. If so, a day can't be defined as the period of time from when the sun rises to when it rises again.

So what is the primary definition of 'day' according to YECs - is this a 24 hour period, and if so, how do they know that is what Genesis means?

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Yet, YECs hold that the Earth was quite different back then than it is now.

Depends on what you mean by "quite different". Different climate, yes. (In the sense that China and Russia have different climates. Not in the sense that Venus and Mars have different climates!) Different topography, continent(s) (in particular, only one before the Flood), yes. Different axial tilt, perhaps. (To be clear, all of the preceding are beliefs, but aren't 100% certain.) Different rate of rotation? Well... "probably"¹, but also most likely not significantly different. Days might have been 23.5 hours; they weren't 2.4 hours or 240 hours.

(¹ In fact, certainly, in the sense that Earth's rate of rotation today differs from a decade, or a century, ago. But perhaps more different than merely back-plotting the current changes ~6ky.)

Indeed, the sun doesn't even appear to be created on the first days of Genesis.

Correct. However, the Sun is not needed; only a source of light, which was Created right away (Genesis 1:3), and which "comes and goes" regularly, as observed from some particular spot. The latter is readily achieved by the light being directional (at least, relative to Earth; so, directional in the sense that the Sun is directional) while the Earth rotates.

If conjectures about pre-Flood Earth having a single continent are correct, the idea that Genesis would consider only the land as its point of reference is perfectly defensible. Even if not, God's focus is ultimately on Eden, and it's reasonable to assume that "evening" and "morning" refer to this reference point.

If so, a day can't be defined as the period of time from when the sun rises to when it rises again.

Pedantically correct, but irrelevant, because...

So what is the primary definition of 'day' according to YECs - is this a 24 hour period?

...a "day" refers to the Earth's rotational period, or more specifically, its cycles of light and dark ("evening and morning"), which, per above, don't require a Sun.

As noted, "24 hours" is an approximation. It's an approximation today, albeit the true value is extremely close. At Creation, a day might have been slightly longer or shorter, though not significantly so; the length of Earth's day is one of many, many values which has been carefully tuned to make life possible.

In fact, this science may be our best evidence that the "days" in Genesis 1 were (roughly) 24 hours... because if they weren't, something very, very different must have been going on in terms of Earth's energy cycle. One would have to argue, therefore, that the length of a "day" changes dramatically between Genesis 1:13 and 1:19. It seems far more likely that God, having a plan beforehand, would have arranged for the light of 1:3 to have similar energy input as the Sun which He subsequently Created on day 4.

and if so, how do they know that is what Genesis means?

The use of "evening and morning" attests to "one Earth rotational period". Moreover, the six-plus-one days of Genesis are the basis of the week, as attested multiple times in the Bible. This idea of a week, or the various subsequent attestations to Creation taking six days, make no sense if "day" meant something different during the events of Genesis 1. To an extent, the word "day" (as used in the Bible, anyway) only makes sense to the extent it is defined in Genesis 1. Moreover, since a "day" is one light-dark cycle, science tells us that a "day" can't vary significantly from 24 hours without Earth's energy cycle being very different from its present state.

In summary, any alternate meaning either contradicts the textual definition of "day" as "evening and morning", or requires substantially different astronomical conditions. Since the latter is at least as miraculous as what is suggested by a plain reading of Genesis 1, and additionally makes a mess of the text, such explanations are extremely unlikely.

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  • +1 Where does this idea of 'rotation' come in? Is that just an inference because the Earth rotates today, so therefore it must have rotated at the beginning of creation, before there was a Sun or Stars for that matter? A dark and light cycle doesn't require rotation, right? Jul 24, 2022 at 22:21
  • "without Earth's energy cycle being very different from its present state" Why can't it be very different from the present state? Jul 24, 2022 at 23:02
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    Rotation: yes, plausibly the pre-Sun light could have rotated around the Earth, or brightened and dimmed cyclically, but then Earth has to start spinning later, and now we're violating Occam's Razor. As to the length of the cycle... too long and the day side bakes while the night side turns into ice (n.b. Luna). I forget what too short gets you, but YEC isn't exactly challenged if Creation week is, say, ~60 hours instead of ~144 hours. Also, see previous point re: rotation. (And please consider chat for follow-ups.)
    – Matthew
    Jul 25, 2022 at 0:20

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