Six Books to Understand Genesis — Old-Earth Edition

6books

The web site of the young-Earth creationist documentary Is Genesis History has listed “Six Books to Understand Genesis,” all written from a young-Earth perspective. As a counterweight, here are six old-Earth books written by highly-qualified, Bible-believing, inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative scholars. As old-Earth Christians, these academics believe in the truthfulness of Scripture just as much as any young-Earth creationist. The issue of the age of the Earth is certainly one of biblical interpretation, not of biblical authority.

Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary by C. John Collins. This mid-level introduction includes an outline of the analogical-days interpretation of Genesis 1.

Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John Lennox. This is the book on the interpretation of Genesis that I recommend most often, because it is very good, and because it is short.

Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J Daryl Charles. This gives a rather detailed introduction to various young-Earth and old-Earth interpretations. This is better and deeper than most of the “Three views on ______” books on the market.

The ESV Study Bible. If someone believes that only “liberals” accept an ancient Earth, point them to this scholarly masterpiece. The notes on Genesis don’t “take sides” on the age of the Earth or the extent of Noah’s flood, but it is clear that the scholars don’t believe that Christians must accept the young-Earth interpretation.

The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley. This book gives a good summary of the historical development of the concept of an ancient Earth, and gives numerous reasons why young-Earth arguments about geologic time and flood geology simply do not work in the real world of geology.

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? edited by Carol Hill and others. Most of the contributors to this volume are Christians; a few of them are not. Young-Earth creationists love to point to the Grand Canyon as something that only could have formed by catastrophism. The authors of this beautifully-illustrated book show why, once again, young-Earth flood geology simply does not work.

Four out of my six recommendations look more at the biblical and theological side of the debate rather than the scientific side. It is my conviction that the Bible is at the heart of the matter; most young-Earth creationists will not listen to what we have to say about science until they become at least a little bit open to the biblical case for an old Earth. The two remaining books, reflecting my own background in geology, provide devastating critiques of young-Earth geological arguments.

Young-Earth creationism is not biblically necessary, nor is it scientifically credible. To insist otherwise does harm in terms of Christian discipleship, apologetics, and evangelism.

Grace and Peace

Earth Day 2018 — My guest editorial

There is a perception among conservative Reformation and Evangelical Christians that placing a high priority on Earth care is for theological and political liberals, new age pantheists, and “tree huggers,” and has little to do with Christian discipleship. In response, environmentalists often view Evangelicals as being opposed to many environmental causes, and therefore as enemies. In response to all of this, I wrote a guest editorial (Good News for Earth Day) that was printed in today’s Billings Gazette:

On this Earth Day, I would like to make a case that caring for the Earth ought to be considered a normal part of the Christian life. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul wrote that the creation is groaning, that it is not what it should be, and that it is waiting for a right relationship with God’s children to be restored. Even in Roman times, scholars bemoaned deforestation, and were concerned about whether or not the land could support a growing population. The creation still groans today.

I would like to briefly outline just a few of the ways in which the Bible lays a firm foundation for caring for the Earth. In the creation account in Genesis 1, one of the phrases that is repeated multiple times is “God saw that it was good.” Before humans entered the scene, Earth’s land, sea and air were teeming with life, and it was good in God’s eyes. If God had stopped before the arrival of the first humans, the creation still would have been good in and of itself. The world does not have value only because of the resources it provides to humans, but because God has declared it to be good.

God went on to create humanity, and then he commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion.” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). Much ink has been spilt over this verse in the environmental literature, with some claiming that this mandate for humans to subdue and rule has led to wholesale exploitation of our planet. There have been a number of excellent rebuttals to this accusation, but I will sum it up by saying that throughout the Bible, to rule is to serve for the benefit of others. Selfish exploitation was never the intention.

At the heart of Christian theology is the idea that the second person of the Trinity has become human in the person of Jesus Christ. This speaks loudly not only about God’s love for sinners, but of the value of the physical world. The idea that God became flesh stands in stark contrast to any philosophy that says that the spiritual world is more important than the physical.

We believe that human sin has broken four sets of relationships: our relationship with God, with each other, with nature, and with ourselves. Jesus did not just come to “save souls,” but to ultimately restore all of creation and all of these types of relationships for his people. In the meantime, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation, calling people to be reconciled to God, but also for the flourishing of the other relationships as well, which includes our relationship with nature.

One of the challenges facing environmental ethicists is answering the question of how we can find intrinsic value in nature. Do the things in nature — plants, animals, ecosystems — have value in and of themselves? If so, where does that value come from, and how should we then live? I believe that as Christians, we have excellent answers to these questions. We learned from Genesis that nature has value because God values it. In addition, rather than being a cancer or disease on the Earth, humans are embedded within the creation as God’s representatives, not just so we can be fruitful and multiply, but so that the rest of creation can flourish as well.

If you are a Christian, you ought to be concerned about the Earth. “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” If you are not a Christian, I invite you to consider the Biblical foundation I have presented for Earth care. If the Earth indeed belongs to God, you can best care for it by doing so as a disciple of Jesus.

I had three reasons for writing this guest editorial. My first motive was to increase awareness among Evangelicals that caring for the Earth is not only consistent with our Christian faith, but mandated by the Scriptures. As I mentioned, Adam’s fall into sin affected four relationships for all humanity: our relationships to God, to our fellow humans, to ourselves, and to the creation. We teach that people can be restored to God here and now through faith in Christ. We also emphasize that there can be a partial, yet substantial, healing of our relationships with each other through Christ, as well as healing of our inner emotional and psychological turmoil. There should not be a “here and now” healing to only three out of four aspects of our broken relationships, but across the board, including working towards healing in the created world.

My second reason for writing this article was targeted at non-Christians. Many people who care deeply about the ecological burdens that humanity has placed on our planet believe that Christianity is part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I believe that Christian theology presents a solid foundation for caring for our planet, with its plants, animals, ecosystems, and landscapes, even if most Christians are not aware of that foundation. I also sincerely believe that the Christian answer provides a stronger basis for Earth care than competing alternatives such as pantheism and secularism. Part of the argument for this, as I briefly discussed, is that Christianity provides a basis for finding intrinsic value in the creatures and features of the Earth. If you care about the Earth, you really ought to consider Christianity.

My third motivation for writing this editorial was political in nature. Many theologically conservative Christians are also political conservatives, and vote for candidates who place a low priority on Earth care. This is expressed politically by cutbacks on environmental regulations regarding things like clean air, clean water, mining waste, and protections for endangered species. Even more extreme are the calls to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency altogether. Perhaps there are better ways of dealing with these very real problems than regulations, but these better methods are not part of the so-called conservative agenda. I sometimes ask what it is that these conservatives want to conserve.

Grace and Peace.

 

 

Three Young-Earth Students

The web site for the young-Earth documentary Is Genesis History? has posted a video following three young-Earth creationist (YEC) students from Wheaton College as they tour the Ark Encounter replica of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky (see How did Theistic Evolution Bring 3 Wheaton College Students to the Ark?). These students had formed a YEC group on the Wheaton campus, and were concerned about the widespread teaching of old-Earth creationism and theistic evolution by professors at the college.

WheatonArkEncounter

I was once very much like these three students touring the Ark Encounter. For my first couple years as a geology undergraduate student at Montana State University, I fervently (though mostly privately) held to young-Earth creationism, and was even a student member of the Creation Research Society. I was eager to get my Master’s degree in geology so that I could be a full member of the CRS. I would read the CRS Quarterly, which back then was the premier YEC scientific journal, though at times I would roll my eyes at some of the things that were printed in its pages. But I was confident that, with time, the many problems with YEC geology would be solved, and even dreamed that I would be the one to solve them.

The more I learned about geology, however, the more I became aware of the serious deficiencies of YEC flood geology and age-of-the-Earth arguments. I was encouraged, however, that there were several articles in the CRSQ which pointed out some of the same “problems to be solved” that I saw. Little did I know that the author of these articles, Glenn Morton, would soon have a deep crisis of faith because of what he perceived to be serious flaws in YEC geological science. Glenn did go through some dark years in his faith after this, and was on the verge of becoming an atheist, but eventually did not fall away from the faith. Many others in his shoes have not been so fortunate.

I also experienced the grace of God, and did not question my faith as I increasingly saw problems with YEC geology. My faith was getting deeper roots in things like the resurrection of Christ. I am thankful that in about my Junior year of college, I came across several books by Christian authors, such as Francis Schaeffer and Pattle Pun, that questioned the YEC paradigm and provided alternative interpretations of Genesis. These authors held to biblical inerrancy, and did not question YEC just for scientific reasons, but for biblical and theological reasons.

I’m sure these three students love Jesus, and they would not be at Wheaton if they were not brilliant. This article from Is Genesis History? tells of a cordial meeting of the young-Earth students with old-Earth professors, and mentions that “Most of the students did not have the critical knowledge to dig deep into the subjects.” This certainly cuts both ways. In the eyes of Is Genesis History? these students didn’t know what questions to ask their old-Earth professors. Unfortunately, it seems these students may not know what critical questions to ask of young-Earth creationism either.

Here are some issues brought up in the video that the students need to explore:

  • What is the genre of Genesis 1? In the writings of Steven Boyd, interviewed in Is Genesis History? the options are often given as “poetry” and “historical narrative.” Those are not the only options. Genesis 1 is certainly not poetry in the sense that Psalms, Proverbs, or much of the Prophets are poetry, but it is also not written like standard Hebrew historical narrative passages either. If we get the genre of a passage wrong–and “historical narrative” is probably not correct–then our interpretation of a passage will likely be wrong as well.
  • The movie shows horse kinds, giraffe kinds, and mentions dinosaur kinds (which was probably a slip even by YEC definitions of kinds). What does Genesis 1 mean by “kind?” What does it mean for organisms to reproduce “after their kinds?” Does any of what Genesis says about kinds place a limit on variation over time within populations of organisms?
  • One of the students mentioned death before the fall. Does the Bible teach that animals were created to be mortal? Does it teach that animal death is the result of Adam’s sin. The answer to these questions is that the Bible is silent on these topics.
  • What is meant by “good” in Genesis 1? Does it mean perfect in every way, as YECs claim? Or does it have another meaning, such as fulfilling God’s good purposes?

I really liked these students. They were smart, articulate, and love Jesus. My hope and prayer is that these three students would remain strong in their faith, whether they remain as YECs, or someday adopt a different interpretation of Genesis. I do appreciate their attitude towards their old-Earth professors and fellow students, recognizing that the age of the Earth is not a salvation issue. My concern is that YEC materials such as Is Genesis History? contain a great amount of really bad science that eventually backfires and destroys the faith of many. Will these three students be able to stand firm in their faith in Christ once they realize that Mt. St. Helens is not a good model for most of what we see in the rock record, that the layers of the Grand Canyon and other places contain many features that cannot be explained by catastrophism, or that the model of post-flood hyper-evolution presented at Ark Encounter cannot explain the present diversity and distribution of life on Earth?

Once again, bad science (based on debatable interpretations of the Bible) is bad apologetics that drives people away from the gospel.

Grace and Peace


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