Both secular professors and conservative theologians agree that Genesis 1 -3 was intended by the author to be understood literally. The only difference is that the secularists don’t believe it. It is Theistic Creationists that bend normal hermeneutics to accommodate atheistic science. James Barr was no friend of conservative evangelicals but consider this:
To take a well known instance, most conservative evangelicals opinion today does not pursue a literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis. A literal interpretation would hold that the world was created in six days, these days being the first of the series which we still experience as days and nights . . . so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer (s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:
- creation took pace in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
- the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
- Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark
The statements are in a context in which
. . . he [Barr] means to discredit the ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘evangelicals’ by showing that they profess to take Scripture at its literal word, but in this case clearly do not do so, since it is obvious (at any rate to those professors at world class universities) that the writer (s) of Genesis meant to assert the three things Barr mentions (Platinga in Intelligent Design, Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological and Scientific Perspectives, ed. Robert T. Pennock (Cambridge: Bradford, MIT P, 2001, 197-235, p. 216-17. Quoted by Randall W. Younker in Consequences of Moving Away from a Recent Six-Day Creation, Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, Volume 15, No. 2, 2004).
In plain English, James Barr is saying that evangelicals who claim to take the Bible literally everywhere except Genesis 1-3 are ignoring what secularist Hebrew scholars everywhere see as really obvious: whoever wrote Genesis 1-3 intended that section be interpreted literally as well. Younker explains:
For Barr, evangelicals who try to read Genesis in a non-literal fashion in order to conform to the claims of science are both inconsistent and demonstrating poor Biblical scholarship. Barr argues that there is no doubt that the author of Genesis intended to describe things in a historical-literal way, but he [Barr] doesn’t believe it because of modern science. For Barr, this is the more honest and scholarly approach.