Norm Geisler: “The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. It is not a test for orthodoxy.”

Norm Geisler has been a prominent defender of the Christian faith for a number of years. He is the author or coauthor of several important books on apologetics (the defense of the faith), including I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an AtheistBaker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, and Christian Apologetics.

Dr. Geisler recently contributed an article to The Christian Post: Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to Believe in Young Earth Creationism? The answer, of course, is “No, one can hold to the trustworthiness of the Bible and believe it does not require a young Earth.”

Here are a few excerpts:

In order to establish the Young Earth view, one must demonstrate that there are (1) no time gaps in the biblical record and that (2) the “days” of Genesis are six successive 24-hour days of creation. Unfortunately for Young Earthers, these two premises are difficult to establish for many reasons.


So with both possible and actual demonstrable gaps in Genesis and in the genealogies, the “Closed-Chronology” view needed to support the strict Young Earth view is not there. This would mean that a Young Earth view of creation around 4000 B.C. would not be feasible. And once more gaps are admitted, then when does it cease to be a Young Earth view?


Consider the following:

(1) First, the word “day” (Hb. <em>yom</em>) is not limited to a 24-hour day in the creation record. For instance, it is used of 12 hours of light or daytime (in Gen.1:4-5a).

(2) The word “day” is also used of a whole 24-hour day in Genesis 1:5b where it speaks day and night together as a “day.”

(3) Further, in Genesis 2:4 the word “day” is used of all six days of creation when it looks back over all six days of creation and affirms: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day [yom] that the LORD God made them” (Gen. 2:4).


As for death before Adam, the Bible does not say that death of all life was a result of Adam’s sin. It only asserts that “death passed upon all men” because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added), not on all plants and animals. It only indicates that the whole creation was “subjected to futility” (i.e., to frustration-Rom. 8:20-21)


If there is evidence for Gaps in Genesis and a longer period of time involved in the six day of Genesis, then the Young Earth view fails to convincingly support its two pillars. At a minimum it leaves room for reasonable doubt. In view of this, one can ask why is it that many still cling to the Young Earth view with such tenacity as to make it a virtual test for orthodoxy?


There is no air-tight case for a Young Earth view from a biblical point of view. So while a Young Earth may be compatible with inerrancy, nonetheless, inerrancy does not necessitate a belief in a Young Earth.


[Young-Earth creationism] was not even granted an important doctrinal status by the historic Fundamentalists (c. 1900) who stressed the inerrancy of Scripture. That is, it was not accepted or embraced by the Old Princetonians like B. B.Warfield, Charles Hodge, or J. Gresham Machen who also held strongly to inerrancy.


[The] founders and framers of the contemporary inerrancy movement (ICBI) of the 1970s and 80s explicitly rejected the Young Earth view as being essential to belief in inerrancy. They discussed it and voted against making it a part of what they believed inerrancy entailed, even though they believed in creation, the “literal” historical-grammatical view of interpreting the Bible, a literal Adam, and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. Given this history of the Young Earth view, one is surprised at the zeal by which some Young Earthers are making their position a virtual test for evangelical orthodoxy.


If the Young Earth view is true, then so be it. Let us not forbid the biblical and scientific evidence be offered to support it. Meanwhile, to make it a tacit test for orthodoxy will serve to undermine the faith of many who so closely tie it to orthodoxy that they will have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, should they ever become convinced the earth is old. One should never tie his faith to how old the earth is.


Some Concluding Comments

After seriously pondering these questions for over a half century, my conclusions are:

(1) The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith.

(2) It is not a test for orthodoxy.

(3) It is not a condition of salvation.

(4) It is not a test of Christian fellowship.

(5) It is not an issue over which the body of Christ should divide.

(6) It is not a hill on which we should die.

(7) The fact of creation is more important than the time of creation.

(8) There are more important doctrines on which we should focus than the age of the earth (like the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the death and resurrection of Christ, and His literal Second Coming).

Geisler does not claim in this article that everything he presents is correct, only that they are real possibilities.

Of course, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has been quick to respond: The Ultimate Motivation of this Prominent Theologian?

I suggest that his ultimate motivation for attempting to discredit a literal six-day Creation Week is because he has been influenced by an authority outside the Bible: the majority view among scientists of very old ages, so that he can allow for or believe in billions of years. Thus he goes to great lengths in an attempt to justify various efforts by Christians to fit billions of years into the biblical record. I do believe (regardless of whether Dr. Geisler accepts this or not), this is his ultimate motivation.


And sadly most Christian leaders (including Spurgeon, Hodge, Scofield, Warfield and the authors of The Fundamentals [1910]) have followed suit with an equally shallow analysis of the Genesis text and other relevant passages.


[Geisler] is really “clutching at straws” in an attempt to discredit biblical creationists and allow for millions of years.


I assert that many great men of God today world are contributing to a generational loss of biblical authority because of their insistence on accommodating man’s belief in billions of years with the infallible Word of God. Such a loss of biblical authority is contributing enormously to a massive exodus of young people from the church (see Already Gone) and an increasing decline of Christian influence on the culture.

The gist of what Ham says is that “young-Earth creationists read the Bible, and everyone else reads into the Bible.” I would respond by saying that to take outside evidence (whether it be evidence that the Earth goes around the sun, or that Earth is older than 6000 years) and going back to the Scriptures to make sure we have really read it correctly is not eisigesis (reading into the text), it is good hermeneutics (interpreting the text).

It is highly debatable whether or not the “massive exodus of young people from the church” is due to churches teaching that the Bible does not require a 6000-year old Earth. For many young people, it is because they have been raised on Answers in Genesis or Dr. Dino materials, and figured out that much of it simply isn’t true. When these young people leave the church, it is often because they have been authoritatively taught that if young-Earth creationism isn’t true, the Bible isn’t true.

And that is the tragedy of creationism that many Christian apologists, such as Norm Geisler, want to avoid. For old-Earth Christians to assert that young-Earth teachings are false, both biblically and scientifically, is not the equivalent of denying the truthfulness of Scripture.

Grace and Peace

10 thoughts on “Norm Geisler: “The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. It is not a test for orthodoxy.”

  1. Mike Gantt

    I hope you will accept a slightly off-topic question.

    I read your creedal statements. You seem to be agnostic on the issue of evolution. Am I correct?


  2. geochristian

    Mike — It would probably be best to say that I land somewhere in between the theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists) at BioLogos, and the progressive creationists at Hugh Ross’s Reasons to Believe. I see no scientific or biblical problems with common descent in general, though I’m not sure that one can get from one phylum to another through biological evolution. Unlike most theistic evolutionists, I don’t think that the origin of life can be explained by “natural” processes. My reasons for that are more scientific than biblical. I also believe in a real Adam and Eve, and my reasons for that are more biblical than scientific.

    I hope that clarifies things a bit.


    1. Mike Gantt

      Thanks for your response.

      Let me give you some context, including a description of myself, and then ask my question.

      I am a Christian, but I do not have enough science knowledge to make an intelligent choice between OEC, YEC, or ID. )And the fact that each of these categories has sub-categories with nuances leaves me further lost.)

      Being, practically speaking, scientifically illiterate, I would gladly be agnostic about this whole issue of integrating the Bible and science…except for one thing: evolution.

      I cannot see how to integrate evolution with the Bible. There are a number of tension points which I won’t enumerate here as I presume you are aware of most or all of them. I don’t feel the liberty to be agnostic about evolution because it has become so commonly accepted in our broader culture today. Therefore, I feel that young people who are believers need guidance as to how they should deal with this issue. If evolution is true, of course, they ought to embrace it, but if evolution is false, then, for faith’s sake, they ought to resist it believing it.

      In order to get answers to this question, I have sought out Christians who believe in evolution to see how they reconcile it with the Bible. So far, I have been unable to find anyone who does this in a satisfying way. Most of them simply offer a rationale for not taking Genesis 1-2 literally, which is fine as far as it goes. But they seem to think they’re finished at that point and 1) don’t offer much in the way of alternative interpretation except to say that “God did it” and 2) they make no mention of the other tension points in the Bible which reside beyond Genesis in the Old Testament and in the New Testament as well. I did find Denis Lamoureux (whom I assume you might know, either personally or by reputation) but his explanation requires one to believe that God used the false conceptions of the prophets about creation to teach them that He created it.

      I could tell you about even less satisfying experiences I have had, but why don’t I just go ahead and ask you: Do you know any theistic evolutionists who show how they resolve evolution’s tension points with the Bible?


  3. As far as the origin of life goes, it may well be that it is not explainable by natural processes. However, I don’t want to fall into the “God of the Gaps” trap either. Up until last December, the extent of my knowledge about attempts to explain the origin of life was the standard high school text book example of the experiment in the fifties(?) and a vague sense that experiment has since been discredited in the scientific community. Last December, Dr. Robert Szilagy at MSU gave a talk at the local astronomy club about his research into early-earth processes that could produce complex organic molecules, using available metals as a catalyst. It was a fascinating talk but made me realize that there have been a lot of advances in that field that I have known nothing about.


  4. Ham’s response shows that in order to be ‘soundly biblical’ inconvenient and incontrovertible scientific facts must be simply DISMISSED and DENIED on the grounds that they are from ‘an authority outside the Bible’.(ie SCIENTISTS shock horror).

    Geisler apparently realises that Ham’s position is anti-science and anti-knowledge. He would be correct in that.

    A position that AUTOMATICALLY makes the Bible reject ‘facts’ by calling those facts ‘lies’ is the height of the absurd. But Ham and co are convinced that they are doing the will of God and defending the Bible against the sin of ‘compromise’. “Compromising God’s Word is a very serious matter” they write.

    Such people will I suggest almost NEVER admit that they could possibly be incorrect about anything.


  5. geochristian

    Carol — While a tremendous amount of research has been done on the origin of life in the sixty years since the classic Miller-Urey experiment of the early 1950s, an even greater amount of research has shown us just how incredibly complex even the most primitive possible first living cell would have had to have been.

    Take a look at a biochemical pathways chart such as the one depicted here. You can click on the chart to zoom in to see the complexity of the pathways. It is good to remember that a chart like this is a simplification of what is really going on in the cell, and doesn’t include anything about cellular reproduction.

    I asked a PhD biochemist friend of mine how much of this chart would be necessary for the simplest imaginable living cell, and he estimated it would be about 60%. So that is what the end product of the origin of life process would need to produce. Even if some cell could survive and reproduce with only 10%, or even 5% of these pathways, there is still an enormous gap between non-life and life.

    In the 1950s, the origin of life may have been envisioned as something like this:

    simple organic material –> –> biomolecules –> –> –> –> cell

    At this time, scientists were just starting to leave behind the picture of a cell as a sac full of jelly with some proteins and genetic material.

    Now, I think we would have to envision something like this:

    simple organic material –> –> –> –> –> –> biomolecules –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> –> cell

    So, while we have learned a lot about the potential origin of biochemical building blocks in geologic, or even astronomic, settings, and we have learned some things about the self-organization capacity of these molecules and the enzymatic properties of RNA, there is still a huge gap that exists between non-life and life.

    Some Christians would say that we don’t need to worry about a faulty “God of the gaps” argument because the evidence, at present, points to a gap that is real. I don’t know. Perhaps some day a Nobel prize will be awarded to someone who demonstrates the complete pathway for molecular evolution from simple organic molecules to living cells. I’m not convinced this will happen. But I also don’t see a theological or biblical reason against it happening.


  6. Kevin — As I said, I am not very well versed in abiogenesis issues, but it does make sense that the more we learn, the more complex we discover the process needs to be. (How did you know when to stop adding arrows to your diagram :~) I still want to hold this gap loosely, even if it appears to be a very real gap that only God can fill. Nevertheless, I agree with you that there is no theological or biblical reason God could not have created life by setting up the right natural laws and physical conditions at the Big Bang for life to emerge in the universe instead of intervening 9 billion years later.


  7. Jacob

    I notice Ham questions Geisler’s motivation. He does not try to refute the points Geisler made. Just personal attacks. But wait, there’s more! Ham then accuses the theologians behind the original Fundamentalist movement of being shallow in how they dealt with Genesis. So if you disagree with Ham you either have nefarious motives or you are incompetent. If there were a strong case for YEC, people like Ham would be eagerly presenting the evidence – they would have no time to get into lengthy speculations about people’s character or competence – they would be so busy sharing facts they wouldn’t have the time to smear people.


  8. E. J.

    I glanced through “Already Gone” once to see what evidence Ham was using to prove that a belief in an old earth, distinct from belief in biological evolution, was driving young people out of the church.

    All the evidence he used lumped the two things together. And honestly, biological evolution seemed to be the bigger factor, but he continually tried to blame belief in an old earth.

    Sounds about like AiG’s normal approach to things. Single out old earth beliefs when it is convenient in order to force your interpretation of Genesis, and lump them in with theological evolution the rest of the time in an effort to make them look bad.


  9. Jordan

    Bravo, great piece. I apologise, this will be a bit of a vent.

    I have a master’s in geology and am also a Christian – raised Protestant on all of the YEC homeschool materials but leaning Orthodox now. When I attended Protestant churches, I did not tell people I had a background in science, especially geology which made me as bad as Darwin in their eyes. I have been on the receiving end of many face-to-face vicious YEC people, attacked and held responsible for practically the entire culture’s falling away. YECs gang up on their victim. They throw out strawman attacks on science, usually cherry-picked or based on faulty science. I, on the other hand, get frustrated and am at the point that Protestants choosing YEC as the hill to die on turns me off from that branch of Christianity. I grieve for the people who see Christians as ignorant anti-science hicks and thus never come to the faith, but unfortunately Protestants have allowed that to happen.

    On the other hand, I am not saying that science knows better than God. There are those who practice the religion of Science (big S) and believe it will save us. Science is ultimately man’s domain and so prone to mistakes. It’s not the first idol of man and won’t be the last.

    Catholics and Orthodox embrace a more rational and nuanced view of the Bible (so by Ham’s standard, that alone condemns them), and Catholics have been instrumental in various scientific breakthroughs. Science should help us understand God’s world better. What is at odds is science vs anti-science, no matter what form it takes. Before it was Gallileo vs the Church, or supersition vs rationality. When logic challenges irrational beliefs, people will reach for straws to defend it.

    It goes hand in hand with the section of Protestants who lift the Old Testament up as (practically) superior to the New Testament. The OT reinforces the NT but the OT wasn’t saving the Jews and it won’t save us gentiles now. They lose a deeper understanding of the symbols in the OT and how the entire Bible echoes our relationship with God and Jesus’ love for us. That’s the whole point of the Big Book. I wish that the YECs dedicated as much energy towards promoting the words and mission of Jesus as they did towards attacking science. Jesus was around before science. What are they afraid of?

    Bookmarking this article and will share it with the YECs I know.


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