Creationists of all stripes (young earth, old earth, gap theory, progressive, and evolutionary) agree that the first part of Genesis (chapters 1-11) contains profound theological ideas. There is unanimous agreement that they teach essential truths about God, humanity, and the relationship between them. However, there is disagreement on whether these chapters are historical in nature, ie. that the events they report correspond to “real” history. Some evangelicals believe that these chapters are no more historical than Jesus’ parables and that the actual historicity of the events is inessential to the Christian message. Other evangelicals feel very strongly that these chapters are historical, and that denying their historical nature is tantamount to denying the Word of God.
It is often thought that all Evolutionary Creationists (EC) reject the historicity of Genesis and thus faith in God’s Word. This is not really a fair assessment for two reasons: First, many evangelicals believe there are sound biblical reasons why Genesis 1-11 should not be read historically. See for example, Denis Lamoureux’s essay Evolutionary Creationism or the last part of Paul Seely’s critique of Hugh Ross's concordism where he briefly outlines the “divine accommodation” interpretation of scripture. Secondly, many ECs agree that the record of events in Genesis 1-11 corresponds to real historical events. Some would continue to describe these accounts as “literal history” and strongly defend “the inerrancy of all scripture” including the Genesis narratives.
A single post could not do justice to all the diverse interpretative positions of ECs, but I think it is worthwhile pointing to some resources that identify how various ECs reconcile biological evolution and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis.
Some ECs accept that all of Genesis is historical, including Genesis 1. Glenn Morton, a former YEC apologist for ICR, takes this view. See his articles Why I believe Genesis is Historically Accurate, The Plain Reading of Genesis 1, The Days of Proclamation: A New Way to Interpret Genesis 1, and Why I believe the Bible Teaches Evolution. Morton is a maverick (for example, to have Adam be the father of all humanity, he places him in the very, very ancient past) , but a maverick that is passionate about the truth of scripture. Anyone who is seriously investigating origins from an Evangelical point of view should at least be aware of Morton’s arguments.
A second example is Dick Fischer and his Genesis Proclaimed organization. Fischer contends that a literal interpretation of scripture will lead to the conclusion that the earth is old not young (See: "Young Earth Creationism: A Literal Mistake"). Unlike Morton, he takes great pains to identify Adam in the Neolithic time period of Ancient Near East history (see “In Search of the Historical Adam: Part1 and Part2).
Unlike Morton and Fischer, many ECs view Genesis 1 as figurative. The framework theory of Genesis is one example of how the opening chapter is interpreted. However, (unlike Lamoureux and others) these ECs still insist on interpreting Gen 2-11 historically. They argue that while it is easy to read Genesis 1 as a type of poetry, the following chapters read more "naturally" as history.
On the theological issues surrounding Adam, John McIntyre provides an interesting perspective in The Historical Adam and The Real Adam. He maintains that the historical Adam of scripture and the historical Adam of science can be reconciled, if one but corrects misinterpretations of scripture by various theologians (eg. Augustine, and some of the reformers).
Many other Evangelicals would consider Gen 1-11 to be history as defined by the people of the time, but not necessarily history as we define it in the 21st century. Carol Hill has a very good article describing what she calls “The Worldview Approach” (Unfortunately the article, which appeared in the June 2007 edition of PSCF, is not yet online). She states that:
The basic premise of the worldview approach is that the Bible in its original text accurately records historical events if considered from the worldview of the biblical authors.And later:
Thus to really understand the Bible (specifically in this discussion, Genesis), one must try and understand the mindset of the people that wrote it.The point is that there is much diversity in how Evolutionary Creationists interpret the Genesis creation accounts. Certainly the acceptance of the science of biological evolution does not necessitate a non-historical interpretation of Genesis.
The theological position of the worldview approach is that God has interacted with humans throughout real history, allowing them to write down his revelation according to their own literary style and from their own cultural and worldview perspective. That is, it considers that the pre-scientific knowledge base of the biblical authors is a prime factor to be considered when literally interpreting the bible.