I attended the monthly meeting of the Missouri Association for Creation last night, and promised here on The GeoChristian that I would report on it.
John Chaikowsky (a friend of mine) spoke on the topic “How Scriptural is Old-Earth Creationism?” Falling in line with Answers in Genesis, John cannot fathom how a Bible-believing Christian (such as myself) can see anything other than a recent creation of the Earth and universe in six consecutive 24-hour days, probably about 6000 years ago.
John gave an excellent presentation. He was articulate, organized, and fair. He discussed some the various approaches Christian scholars since the late eighteenth century have taken in reconciling the Bible with an old Earth, and he did so without distortion. He briefly covered the gap, day-age, progressive creationist, framework, and creation myth viewpoints.
I didn’t think the “creation myth” hypothesis belonged with the rest, as it is not a position that is held by theologically conservative Christians. All of the other positions, however, have solid Christian scholars who support them. John gave a long list of old-Earth creationists, including names such as B.B. Warfield, Charles Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, Francis Schaeffer, J.I. Packer, and C.S. Lewis. He didn’t really address the primary issue raised by this list: many Evangelical scholars over the past 200 years have opted for understandings of Scripture that are compatible with an ancient universe. They have done so because they looked closely at the text of Genesis and decided that 4004 BC simply isn’t there. John, of course, would say that these faithful men have caved in to the world on this issue.
John spent most of his time critiquing the day-age position, which posits that the days of creation in Genesis 1 represent long ages, perhaps with some overlap. The most popular advocate of this position is Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe. I think John made some valid points, but not enough for me to rule out the day-age view as a possibility. There are some real strengths of the day-age view, such as the correlation between the “days” of Genesis 1 and Earth history as we presently understand it. I also recognize some weaknesses of the day-age view, and they aren’t necessarily the ones that John emphasized. For example, what happens if our understanding of early Earth history changes? A key part of Hugh Ross’s argument is that the original atmosphere of Earth was opaque, which correlates to light on Day One, followed by the appearance of the sun and moon on Day Four when the atmosphere cleared. I would prefer an interpretation that doesn’t depend so closely on scientific reconstructions. (This is a critique of young-Earth creationism as well, as it is heavily dependent on attempted scientific reconstructions).
John stated that most Hebrew scholars say that the clear intention of the author of Genesis was to present a young Earth. I would say that there are two groups of Hebrew scholars who say this: those aligned with the young-Earth creationism movement, and secular, non-believing Hebrew scholars. A third group, consisting of a good number of conservative Evangelical Old Testament scholars, don’t see it this way. It is not that they are desperately seeking to find a way to prop up the Bible in light of science. The peer pressure on these scholars doesn’t come from science or the world, but from theologically conservative Christianity, and yet they hold to various old-Earth interpretations.
One critique I had for John when I talked to him later was that he left out one of the prominent old-Earth positions, and that is the analogical days interpretation. In this interpretation, the six days of creation are analogous to, but not necessarily identical to, the solar days that we experience. These are God’s work days, and some things are the same as what we experience—sequence, passage of time, work—but other things are only analogous. For example, God rests between each period of creative activity (evening and morning) and at the end on day seven. God’s rest, however, is not like our rest. We rest because we are tired. God rests because he is done. Analogy is not identity.
Obviously, there is a lot more to the analogical day interpretation than my bare-bones description. One of the chief advocates of this is Dr. C. John Collins at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. There are a number of things I like about this understanding of Genesis 1, but I’ll save that for another post. Most of John Chaikowsky’s critiques of old-Earth creationism would not apply to the analogical days interpretation.
The final topic John covered last night was the extent of Noah’s flood. Young-Earthers, of course, hold that Noah’s flood was a global catastrophe that is responsible for most of the geological features of Earth’s crust. John examined my recent post, The YEC “Did God really say…?” tactic, where I laid out part of the Biblical argument for a local, rather than global, flood. He asked, “If the flood were local, in Mesopotamia, why would there be a need for an ark? Why such a large ark? Why put birds on the ark? What would hold all the water in the basin for such a long time?”
There are answers to these questions, but I think John didn’t address the real issue here. My main point is that one can make a thoroughly Biblical case for a local flood. The Biblical case for a localized flood event is based on proper translation and looking at what the text actually says. Perhaps this was never done for much of Church history because there was no outside pressure to take a closer look at the text. With the rise of geology in the 1700s and 1800s, the Church for the first time had to think a little harder about what the Bible actually does and does not say. This parallels the geocentrism controversy of the 1500s and 1600s, where science forced a closer examination of Scripture. Very few these days would say that the Bible teaches that Earth is at the center of the universe.
Once we see that a local flood is possible by good Biblical hermeneutics (interpretation), then we can start asking questions about the size of the ark, what animals were on it, and where and when this flood occurred. When John asked his questions about the local flood, I was thinking, “These are tiny problems compared to the mountains of difficulties with young-Earth creationist attempts to force Earth history into a few thousand years.”
I’ll continue to stand my ground: The Bible says what God wants it to say. Young-Earth creationism is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically workable.
Grace and Peace
P.S. There wasn’t any time for Q&A afterward.