My ignorance will always exceed my knowledge. This is true even in subjects in which I have a considerable level of expertise. I have been studying various science-faith topics for more than three decades, and have substantial depth of knowledge in some areas. Over the years, I have focused most intensely on the relationship between geology and Christianity (including the arguments of the young-Earth creationists), somewhat on the topics of biological evolution and environmental ethics, and hardly at all on some other important science-faith issues. I would not, for instance, be able to write authoritatively about how cognitive science, string theory, or recent advances in human genetics relate to Christian apologetics. I have a few hundred books in my personal library, but don’t have a collection—and am not sure I would even want one—that covers all of the issues that are raised in the dialog between Christianity and Science.
As a science writer and science apologist, however, I need to at least be conversant in a range of topics outside of my core areas. A new, useful resource is Dictionary of Christianity and Science, published by Zondervan. This 691-page volume has over 400 articles of various lengths, written by over 100 contributors.
Christians do not always agree, of course, on how science and Christianity properly relate. The Dictionary has a number of multiple-view discussions, with separate articles written by authors from diverging perspectives. For instance, the two “Adam and Eve” articles are written from a “First-Couple View” (by young-Earth Bible scholar Todd Beale) and a “Representative-Couple View” (by old-Earth theologian Trempor Longman III). Some examples of topics that have multiple articles are:
- Adam and Eve
- Age of the Universe and Earth
- Climate Change
- Days of Creation
- Fossil Record
- Genesis Flood (four articles)
- Genesis, Interpretations of Chapters 1 and 2
- Hominid Fossils
- Human Evolution
Some controversial topics are covered by only one article. When the subject relates to the age of the Earth or universe, these single articles are written from an old-Earth perspective. Examples include the articles on dinosaurs (Stephen Moshier), the Cambrian explosion (Darrel Falk), the big bang (Hugh Ross), and radiometric dating (Ken Wolgemuth). This approach is consistent with the fact that most leading Christian apologists do not use young-Earth arguments in defense of the faith. Articles written about controversial Christian individuals or organizations are generally written by a “friendly” author, such as the articles on Answers in Genesis and Ken Ham written by Marcus Ross, himself a young-Earth creationist, and the article on The Biologos Foundation penned by Deborah Haarsma, who is the president of Biologos.
I will never be an expert on string theory, the Chinese room argument, or Bayes’ theorem, but as one who writes about science and Christian faith, I should at least know the basics on a breadth of issues. I recommend Dictionary of Christianity and Science for students who are new to the controversies that surround the relationship between Christian faith and science, as well as to science-faith veterans who need to keep abreast on a wide range of science-faith topics.
I would like to thank Zondervan for providing me with a preprint of the first 130 pages, and then a complimentary copy of the complete book. Dictionary of Christianity and Science will be available for sale on April 25th.
Someone on a social media site recently asked me, “How can you say you believe the Bible and then in the same breath declare that [Genesis 1] may not be literal?”
“Is everything in the Bible literal? I would say that not even everything in Genesis 1 is literal, and I say this for reasons that flow from the text of Genesis 1 itself. God’s speech is not the same as human speech, so God’s speech is not necessarily “literal.” God’s rest is not the same as human rest (humans rest because they are tired; God rested because he was done), so God’s rest is not necessarily “literal.” And, as Bible-believing scholars have pointed out throughout church history, the days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily “literal” days, being that the sun did not appear to mark the passage of days until day four. So for me to interpret the days of Genesis more loosely than you do does not mean that I do not believe the Bible. It does mean that there is more than one way to honestly interpret the meaning of the opening chapters of Genesis.”
Grace and Peace
Facebook comment thread: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=679429282226469&id=224603031042432
I recently spent about seven hours at the Creation Museum run by the young-Earth creationist (YEC) organization Answers in Genesis in northern Kentucky (I visited the museum, not the new Ark Encounter). As I anticipated, the exhibits at the museum are all of the highest quality. Whether the displays were animatronic dinosaurs, dioramas of the garden of Eden; fossils, mounted insects, or reconstructions of hominids, they were at the same level of quality one would expect to find in the Smithsonian Institution.
One thing that surprised me was how crowded the museum was. I was there on a Saturday, which is probably the museum’s busiest day of the week. Because of the crowds, I moved through the first parts of the “Walk Through History”—the main exhibits portion of the museum—at a snail’s pace. That so many people would spend $30 per adult to visit the Creation Museum speaks of the enormous influence young-Earth creationism has on the general Evangelical culture in America.
Much of the museum’s “Walk Through History” is arranged around the “7 C’s” of salvation. My young-Earth siblings in Christ and I have the gospel in common , with some secondary areas of disagreement:
- Creation — As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible. I don’t believe that the Bible requires a young Earth.
- Corruption — I believe in a real Adam who committed a real sin that has ramifications for each one of us today. The extent of that corruption is not clearly outlined in the Bible. For example, the Bible nowhere ties animal death to Adam’s sin.
- Catastrophe — Noah’s flood was certainly catastrophic for Noah’s contemporaries, and was universal from Noah’s point of view. But the Bible does not say that Noah’s flood created the bulk of the features of Earth’s crust, and the catastrophism of young-Earth creationism simply does not work as an explanation for Earth’s history.
- Confusion — As with the initial creation and Noah’s flood, young-Earth creationists read much more into the account of the Tower of Babel than what the Bible itself teaches. The nations in the “table of nations” in Genesis 10 are probably all located in the Eastern Mediterranean and ancient Near East, which implies that the story of Babel in Genesis 11 isn’t about the origin of Australian Aborigines or African Zulus.
- Christ — I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” (John 1:1 NIV).
- Cross — Again, I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God’s solution for the corruption of sin introduced in Genesis 3. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)
- Consummation — Christ will come again as king over all creation. The effects of Adam’s sin will be completely undone.
If the YECs get the gospel right, why do I write against them? There are certainly thousands of people who claim they came to faith—or have had their faith strengthened—through young-Earth creationism, and I rejoice when people come to faith in Christ (Phil 1:18). But countless others have been turned away from Christianity because of the really bad science presented at places like the Creation Museum. Many of these are young people who grew up in the church on a steady diet of YEC teachings in Sunday school, youth groups, and Christian schools. Once they grew up and figured out that YEC does not work in the real world, they discarded their Christianity along with their AiG or Dr. Dino videos. After all, they had had “If the Earth is millions of years old, the Bible isn’t true” drilled into their heads by well-meaning YEC advocates.
In addition to driving youth out of the church, YEC teachings close the door for fruitful evangelism to many outside the church, adding fuel to the fire of those who find Christianity unreasonable. In a society that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, we should not be surprised that many find Christianity to be foolish. But let it be the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor 1:17-2:5) that drives people away from Christ, not the foolishness of bad YEC science.
Grace and Peace
I have the unexpected opportunity to visit the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky in a few days.
- High quality — Skeptics and AiG fans alike acknowledge that the museum experience is at a high level. The displays and presentations are all professionally done. This isn’t a mom and pop roadside museum. The museum staff will be courteous and helpful.
- Beautiful grounds — I am looking forward to a stroll through the gardens.
- Commitment to the authority of the Scriptures — A committment that I share.
- Clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus — We are all sinners deserving God’s wrath, but the good news is that Jesus died on the cross to take God’s wrath and rose from the dead.
Expectations of disagreement
- Questionable Biblical interpretation — I don’t think “literal six days of creation only 6000 years ago” is the only way, and probably not the best way, to understand the text of Genesis 1-2.
- Bad science — Lots of bad science, especially when it comes to historical geology. Bad science is bad apologetics that drives people away from the gospel.
A Geology Presentation
I hope to be able to sit in on this talk by Dr. Andrew Snelling, the Answers in Genesis staff geologist. It is one thing for a large, deep magma chamber to crystallize rapidly (by rapidly, I mean over a period of decades or centuries), it is another thing to fit the emplacement of a complex batholith into Earth’s crust (complete with multiple injections of magma) in just a few day’s time and then have it exhumed by uplift and erosion a very short time later so it can be eroded and incorporated into sediments of the same or next geologic period. The problems abound.
What will the museum staff think about my t-shirt?
Here’s my custom t-shirt for my day at the museum:
Some have warned me, “They won’t let you wear that.”
The museum “Attraction Rules” say, “We reserve the right to deny admission to or remove any person wearing attire that we consider inappropriate, or attire that could be considered offensive, disrespectful, or inappropriate to others.”
I have a hard time seeing them justifying banning my shirt for a direct quote from Charles Spurgeon, but it is their museum, and Spurgeon was, after all, a dangerous compromiser.
I’ll bring another shirt with me just in case.
Grace and Peace
Many highly-regarded, Bible-believing scholars, pastors, and other Christian leaders see no incompatibility between the teachings of the Bible and acceptance of an ancient Earth. In the past, I have highlighted J. Gresham Machen, Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, and others. The scholars I just mentioned all adhere (or adhered, many of them are deceased) to a high view of Scripture, including inerrancy. It would be very difficult to make a case that they accept the Biblical possibility of an old Earth because of conformity to the world rather conformity to the teachings of Scripture.
Yet another old-Earth Christian scholar is Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary California, editor of Modern Reformation magazine, and host of the White Horse Inn radio program. In the second chapter of Horton’s book Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Bible, Horton writes about the Biblical doctrine of creation and humans being created in the image of God. The chapter begins with the proper starting point for the Good News about redemption in Christ:
“Whenever we take up the subject of redemption, [Genesis 1:31] is where we need to begin, at the beginning, with creation. Very often, however, a gospel presentation starts with the fall—the origin of human sin and the need for redemption. But creation is the proper starting point for any consideration of human identity and its recovery through the gospel.”
A couple paragraphs later, Horton continues,
“It is only when we more fully appreciate the majesty of humanity as God’s creation that we can adequately weigh the horror of the fall.”
The Christian doctrines of creation and sin are foundational for understanding the good news (gospel) about Jesus. Humans are made in the image of God, so were created to be good in every way, but humans are also universally marred by sin which is an integral part of who each one of us is. In Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Michael Horton is able to distinguish between what is essential in regards to the doctrine of creation (image of God, fall into sin) and what is not essential (age of the Earth). He writes,
Modern science has promised more than it can deliver. That accounts for much of the cynicism postmoderns seem to have toward the answers to their ultimate questions. To be sure, science is better equipped to answer some questions than any other field. For instance, it is science and not theology that will tell us the age of the earth. The Bible does not provide that kind of information, nor does it care to. There are a lot of important and reasonable questions the Bible does not try to answer. If it did, there would be a lot of unemployed geologists.
While science will lead the way toward the discovery of when we got here and will help us find the reasons for how we got here (beyond the revelation we already have in the inspired text of Genesis 1–3), there is a question to which of those other questions ultimately lead, a question, nevertheless, which science will never be able to answer any more than theology will be able to determine the age of the earth. That question is, “Why are we here?”
Many YEC leaders speak out of both sides of their mouths regarding the gospel and the age of the Earth. On their better days, YEC leaders acknowledge that one does not have to believe in a young Earth in order to be a Christian. But then they write a steady stream of articles accusing old-Earth Christians of compromise and even spiritual adultery. I am thankful for writers like Michael Horton who, unlike many of my YEC brothers and sisters in Christ, are able to stick to what is essential in the gospel message.
Grace and Peace
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth (2016), edited and written by a number of highly-qualified, predominately Christian authors, is a devastating critique of the geological arguments of young-Earth creationism (YEC). The subtitle of this new book asks the question, “Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” which is an appropriate question, being that YECs often showcase the Grand Canyon as a place that defies standard, old-Earth geological explanations and can only be explained by a global catastrophic flood event. The authors present an overwhelming case that neither the rock units exposed in the canyon nor the carving of the canyon itself are in any way related to Noah’s flood.
YEC geological arguments for a 6000-year old Earth and the formation of most of Earth’s geological record by a global flood have already been thoroughly examined and rejected by Christian geologists and many others (I recommend The Bible, Rocks and Time by Young and Stearley), but this new book is unique and fills an important niche. I highly recommend this book for several reasons:
- This book is authoritative – written by experts in the topics at hand and in the geology and paleontology of the Grand Canyon.
- This book is well written and skillfully edited. Each of the twenty chapters clearly explains the topic (such as the formation of sedimentary rocks, folding and faulting of rocks, and fossils) and how these features may be used to interpret the origin and history of a given rock layer. The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth was written by eleven talented authors, and the editors have weaved their chapters together seamlessly.
- This book is written at an appropriate level for a general, scientifically-interested audience, taking complex geological ideas and explaining them in a way most readers will understand, without any compromise in accuracy.
- This book is fair to our YEC brothers and sisters in Christ. I have been reading YEC materials for close to four decades, and am familiar enough with YEC arguments to be able to say with confidence that the YEC side has been explained accurately.
- This book is a work of art, with wonderful pictures and graphics and a professional layout. It will look good on any coffee table.
- This book is affordable: only $21.05 on Amazon. That means you will have no problem buying copies for your church library, pastor, and youth workers.
- This book is God-honoring, proclaiming the marvelous works of our wonderful Creator.
The name of the book is a play on the 1995 YEC book Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, written by Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research.
Summary of the book: What YECs get wrong about the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is fairly comprehensive, covering all of the key concepts involved in the interpretation of the geologic history of the Grand Canyon. Rather than giving a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, I’ll focus on some items where YECs get it all wrong:
- YECs get the Bible wrong. In Chapter 2 (What is Flood Geology?), the authors briefly outline instances where YECs wrongfully apply an overly-literalistic reading to the Old Testament rather than reading the text in a natural way. One example of this is taking the universal language (“all the world”) of the account of Noah’s flood to mean literally the entire globe (something ancient Hebrews may not have comprehended) when almost all other instances of universal language in the Old Testament (e.g. all nations coming to buy grain from Joseph in Genesis 41) are not to be taken literally.
- YECs get rapid deposition wrong. YECs will claim that modern coral reefs, some of which are thousands of feet thick, could have formed since the flood through normal coral growth, which can occur at several inches per year. But they leave out the fact that while narrow extensions of corals can grow rapidly, entire reef surfaces grow upwards at substantially slower rates.
- YECs get sedimentary structures wrong. Sedimentary structures include things like ripple marks, mud cracks, raindrop impressions, and cross bedding. These features are abundant in sedimentary rocks, and are very useful for determining the environment in which the rocks formed. Mud cracks form when clay-rich sediments are exposed to the atmosphere and dry out. Mud cracks are very abundant in some rock layers, and extremely difficult to fit into the flood geology model.
- YECs get unconformities wrong. Unconformities are breaks in the sequence of rocks, such as the one billion year gap between the Precambrian crystalline basement rocks and the Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone. YECs describe these unconformities as if there was no evidence of weathering and erosion at the gap, while in reality the evidence for erosion at the unconformities is sometimes rather blatant, such as in the case of the channels filled in by the Temple Butte and Surprise Canyon Formations. The Surprise Canyon Formation fills what appear to be stream channels that cut up to 400 feet into the underlying Redwall Limestone.
- YECs get radiometric dating wrong. If decay rates were much faster during Noah’s flood than they are at present, enough heat would have been released to vaporize Earth’s oceans, which clearly didn’t happen. YEC attempts to discredit radiometric dating of Grand Canyon rocks are flawed.
- YECs get rock deformation wrong. YECs insist that the rock layers of the Grand Canyon were soft when the canyon was carved, and point to tight folding of certain layers as evidence. Upon close examination by geologists, however, these folded layers show an abundance of fractures that are consistent with folding of solid rocks and inconsistent with folding of soft sediments. Soft-sediment deformation is well-understood by modern geologists, and there is no evidence for large-scale soft-sediment deformation in the Grand Canyon.
- YECs get erosion wrong. In the Grand Canyon, sandstone layers form cliffs, and shale layers form slopes. Have you ever tried to build a sand castle with water-saturated sand? It doesn’t work, as the sand flows as a liquefied mass. But YECs want you to believe that recently-deposited (and therefore water-saturated) sand layers would have formed cliffs when eroded. If the sediment layers in the Grand Canyon were soft when eroded, the most resistant layers would be clay (which forms shale). Differential erosion of layers in the Grand Canyon is the opposite of what it should be if YEC flood geology were correct.
- YECs get fossils wrong. The order of fossils in the Grand Canyon is impossible to explain by YEC flood geology. Any explanation for the fossil record must explain the preservation of intact communities of organisms, not just individual fossil organisms. The absence of whole groups of fossils in Grand Canyon sediments (mammals, birds, dinosaurs, flowering plants) is impossible to explain by YEC flood geology.
- YECs get pollen wrong. If YEC were true, there should be pollen from flowering plants in the rocks of the Grand Canyon. There isn’t any.
- YECs get trace fossils wrong. Examples of trace fossils include footprints and burrows. Terrestrial footprints of organisms such as amphibians, spiders, and scorpions are virtually impossible to explain in the YEC flood geology scenario, but they are abundant in the Coconino Sandstone.
- YECs get the carving of the Grand Canyon wrong. The YEC breached dam hypothesis doesn’t provide nearly enough water to do the work. Other examples of catastrophic canyon-carving (Channeled Scablands, Mt. St. Helens) produced features that are quite different from what is found at the Grand Canyon.
I have only scratched the surface of the problems with YEC geology that are presented by the authors.
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth has received endorsements from prominent geologists and theologians. Here are two endorsements from well-known, Bible-believing Evangelical scholars:
“Can Bible-believing Christians also believe that the earth is billions of years old and that the Grand Canyon could not have been formed by Noah’s Flood? Yes, insist the eleven authors of this fascinating book. On page after page, professional geologists explain that “flood geology” omits essential facts and fails to explain massive amounts of evidence in the Grand Canyon itself. This important book must be carefully considered by everyone involved in the debate about the age of the earth.” – Wayne Grudem, Phoenix Seminary
“The various authors of this book have done us all a tremendous service in their patient and clear exposition of geological thinking about the Grand Canyon (a magnificent place in its own right!). They are all clear that the “conflict” we’ve all heard about is not between “the Bible” and “Science,” but rather between interpretations of the Bible and the sciences. Those of us who study and respect the Bible will appreciated this calm laying out of the sciences, and of their discovery of the processes that appear to have been at work. These are God’s processes after all! I urge everyone to read this, believer or not—you will enjoy it.” – C. John (“Jack”) Collins, Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary.
An excellent book like The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is unlikely to “convert” a die-hard YEC follower all by itself. I was once a YEC, and held on rather stubbornly to my YEC beliefs as a geology undergraduate student even as I increasingly saw scientific problems with YEC geology. It wasn’t until I was exposed to Biblical arguments for an old Earth (or better, arguments that a young Earth is not Biblically necessary) that I became open to an old Earth.
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth does not contain an extensive Biblical argument for allowing an old Earth or for a local flood. I don’t criticize the editors of the book for their decision to focus mostly on geology rather than Biblical interpretation (my own textbook, Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home does not contain extensive Biblical arguments either; that wasn’t the purpose of the book). My suggestion is that if one is giving The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth as a gift to a YEC or a young-Earth/old-Earth fence rider, that one also give them a book that presents a solid Biblical case. The three books I most often recommend are:
Anticipating the YEC response
So far, the YEC response to The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth has been a deafening silence. There have been no mentions of this book on the web sites of Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, or Creation Ministries International. When I have mentioned the book on the Facebook pages of AiG and ICR, my comments have been quickly deleted (at least one other Christian geologist has made the same observation).
I anticipate that YECs will eventually write reviews of the book, but might put these reviews in the back corners of their web sites so as to give the book as little publicity as possible. YECs will say that the book is not based on the Bible (but of course, neither is YEC flood geology when you think about it), that the book was written by compromisers as evidenced by the inclusion of some non-Christian contributors (should we reject much of other sciences for the same reason?), and that there is always more than one way to interpret the facts (but not all interpretations have equal validity).
In the end, YECs will ignore this fantastic book and continue to present really bad science as Christian apologetics. The result will be a continued exodus of scientifically-minded youth from the church and the reinforcement of the wall YECs have put up that keeps scientists from considering Christianity as a viable alternative. People reject Christ because of bad YEC science every day, and this is a great tragedy.
But my hope and prayer is that The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth will have a tremendous impact on those who read it, and it sounds like sales are going well. I pray that God would use this book to build up the body of Christ, educate both young and old, and break down barriers to Christian faith.
Grace and Peace
|AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE
This is the second in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.
2. This article – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.
3. What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating – I will tell you what YECs haven’t told you about radioisotope dating.
4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.
As I was paging through the brochure for this year’s young-Earth creationism conference—there is a large YEC conference like this in Bozeman every other year—I was struck once again by the educational background of the main speakers, all of whom will speak on geological issues:
- An M.S. in Biotechnology
- A PhD in Physics
- An M.S. in Atmospheric Science.
Where is the geologist?
If I used this question as an argument against a point they were making, I would be making an ad hominem argument, and I will avoid that. I certainly wander outside of my areas of expertise from time to time (I will write about Hebrew grammar in a bit). But it is certainly interesting that so few Christian geologists are convinced by young-Earth arguments.
Talk #1 – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Brian Thomas, Institute for Creation Research
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of The GeoChristian that I found things to agree with in Mr. Thomas’s presentation. Genesis lays a foundation for a number of doctrines that run throughout the Bible, such as sin, redemption, and marriage. These doctrines have their beginnings in the book of beginnings, find their highest fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and are fully realized in Christ in the closing chapters of Revelation. As I have said in my Creation Creeds, I believe in a real Adam, in a real garden, committing a real sin, with real consequences.
So, yes, Genesis matters. What Mr. Thomas failed to demonstrate is that accepting a young Earth is necessary in order for Genesis to matter.
Mr. Thomas began by pointing to the decline of Christianity in our culture. Despite our many churches and institutions, the nation is become less Christian over time. Two-thirds of our Christian youth leave the church when they become adults (I would say that part of the problem is YEC). He then set up a choice: are we going to listen to God’s Word, or man’s word? Of course, I believe we should listen to God’s Word, but I am not convinced that YEC is the best way to understand God’s Word, and that a false dichotomy was once again set up: we have to choose between YEC and old-Earth evolutionism. To his credit, Thomas did say that one does not have to be a YEC in order to be a Christian. I hope that sunk in with the audience.
Mr. Thomas went on to attempt to poke holes in various old-Earth interpretations of Genesis 1, such as the gap interpretation and day-age interpretation. Some of his points were valid, but not all. I will pick two of his anti-old-Earth arguments
Mr. Thomas (who acknowledged he doesn’t read Hebrew) said that both Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 1:3 begin with a waw disjunctive, which is a Hebrew grammatical construction that carries the story along, and is often translated in English as “and.”
2 and the earth was without form and void…
3 and God said, “Let there be light.”
I will start by being nitpicky (though I don’t read Hebrew either): verse 2 starts with a waw disjunctive, but verse 3 starts with a waw consecutive, and some have said this distinction is quite important in understanding the relationships between these verses. In any case, Thomas’s point was that this story all flows as one event after another, a point that not all Hebrew scholars agree with. But even if the story were connected by one waw disjunctive after another, that would not require events follow one another immediately. In English, I could say, “My ancestors emigrated from Norway in the 1880s, and my grandparents moved to Montana, and I was born in Billings, and I went to college in Bozeman.” The word “and” would be the waw disjunctive, and nothing in this sentence requires that the events must have occurred immediately one after the other; only that they occurred, probably in the order stated. In reality, these events in my family history were spread out over a century.
Mr. Thomas then stated that any time “day” is associated with a number in the Old Testament, the day is an ordinary 24-hour day. I have heard that this is a YEC rule of grammar, not necessarily a fixed Hebrew rule of grammar. Genesis 1 has a rather unique layout in Hebrew literature, and YECs do not always take this into account when reading the chapter. From many YEC presentations, there are only two Old Testament genres: historical narrative and poetry. In this, the YECs greatly oversimplify the issue. What is the genre, or type, of literature is Genesis 1? It is a narrative, but it is not a “historical narrative” such as what is found in much of the rest of Genesis. There are no true parallels of the structure of Genesis 1 in the Old Testament; indeed in all of ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature. Yes, the days are numbered. But certainly some of these days are unlike any other: days with unique creation events, days without the sun, days that suggest lengthy processes. These distinctives must be taken into account. In any case, the Hebrew word yom (day) is used in a non-24-hour-day way elsewhere in the passage, such as 1:5 and 2:4. There are a number of other reasons to question that these were literal days, as developed in the analogical days interpretation.
Does accepting an old Earth undermine any Biblical doctrines? Mr Thomas, like many YECs, said that if there was death before sin, the gospel is undermined. I would say that this YEC statement is not firmly based in Scripture. There is no passage in Scripture that ties animal death to Adam’s sin. Neither Genesis 3, Romans 5, Romans 8, or 1 Corinthians 15—the passages that discuss Adam’s sin—say anything whatsoever about animal death. If the Scriptures don’t tie animal death to Adam’s sin, we should not insist that there is a connection.
Mr. Thomas touched on some scientific issues in his presentation. I will address only one: the geologic time scale. He stated that the geologic time scale is based on circular reasoning: fossils date the rocks and rocks date the fossils. This is a common YEC argument, and it is wrong.
The geologic time scale (or geologic column) is a product of inductive reasoning, not circular reasoning. Geologists have observed that, based on fossils, rock layers always occur in a certain order, which geologists have labeled as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc. The layers always occur in this same order in undeformed (not folded or faulted) rocks. It is never Jurassic-Ordovician-Permian-Cambrian or some other order. Never. There are even some sedimentary basins, such as the Williston Basin of western North Dakota, that contain rock layers of every Period from Cambrian through Quaternary, in proper order. Even in areas subjected to severe folding and faulting, this “law of fossil succession” holds true once the deformation is unraveled. There is no circular reasoning here.
I could say much more, and I have spent more time on our differences than on our common ground. But as old-Earth and young-Earth Christians, our common ground is much greater, and much more important.
- The universe was created from nothing by the triune God of the Bible.
- The universe belongs to God and displays his glory.
- Humans are created in the image of God and therefore have great worth.
- Humans are place in a position of responsibility over the Earth, and yet are embedded in Earth’s ecology.
- Humans are sinful, which has broken our relationship with God, with each other, and with the creation.
- Jesus Christ is the savior, the redeemer, and the king over the creation.
Grace and Peace
I highly recommend Novare Science and Math’s most recent newsletter, which highlights the question “Does Genesis 1 Demand Belief in a Young Earth?”
My upcoming middle school textbook, “Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home” is being published by Novare, and will be available for the 2015-2016 school year.
Just a reminder: The GeoChristian is now on FaceBook:
Justin Taylor is senior vice president of Crossway Books, a theologically conservative Christian publishing company. Crossway is best known as the publisher of the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible, along with the ESV Study Bible, perhaps the most comprehensive theologically conservative study Bible ever produced for a general Christian audience.
Justin Taylor believes the Bible. And Justin Taylor does not believe the Bible requires us to believe Earth is only roughly 6000 years old. He has outlined his reasons for believing that the Bible is silent on the issue of the age of the Earth on his blog Between Two Worlds, which is part of The Gospel Coalition‘s web site:
The arguments Taylor gives for accepting an old Earth have nothing to do with the geological column, radiometric dating, or the big bang theory. Instead, Taylor lays out a completely Biblical case for an ancient universe, mostly following the analogical days interpretation. Here are a few quotes from Taylor:
Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.
I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons—in the creation account itself—for questioning the exegesis that insists on the days as strict 24 hour periods. Am I as certain of this as I am of the resurrection of Christ? Definitely not. But in some segments of the church, I fear that we’ve built an exegetical “fence around the Torah,” fearful that if we question any aspect of young-earth dogmatics we have opened the gate to liberalism.
God is portrayed as a workman going through his workweek, working during the day and resting for the night. Then on his Sabbath, he enjoys a full and refreshing rest. Our days are like God’s workdays, but not identical to them.
How long were God’s workdays? The Bible doesn’t say. But I see no reason to insist that they were only 24 hours long.
How old is the Earth? The Bible does not say, so Christians should not dogmatically insist that it is only 6000 years old.
An important conclusion is that the age of the Earth should not act as a stumbling block to someone who is considering whether or not Christianity is true.
Grace and Peace
To be “theologically conservative” means that one holds to the inerrancy of the Holy Bible, and the core historical teachings of Christianity, as summarized by the ancient creeds of the church, such as the Trinity, deity of Christ, virgin birth, crucifixion of Christ, his resurrection and ascension, and the necessity of spiritual rebirth through Christ.
The opposite of theologically conservative is theologically liberal. Liberals usually start by denying the reliability and authority of the Bible, and end up denying many of the core doctrines of Christianity.
I only wrote 23 posts in 2014, so my readership was down a bit. That’s OK; I just have a lot of other things going on. Because of this, nine of the ten most-read posts on The GeoChristian were actually ones written in previous years.
The top ten most-read posts on the GeoChristian in 2014:
10. John Piper and the age of the Earth — a respected Evangelical pastor who is an old-Earther.
9. The stratigraphic column — not a figment of geologists’ imaginations — Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian… The rocks really are stacked in this order.
8. Creation Creeds — What I believe as an old-Earth Christian.
7. Antarctic ice cores: a window to ice age climate change — We cannot understand the present nor the future if we don’t understand the past.
6. Stegosaurus in Cambodian temple? — Humans and dinosaurs did not live together in Southeast Asia.
5. Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis — St. Augustine did not believe that Earth was created in six literal days.
4. John MacArthur on the age of the Earth and theistic evolution — I use some of John MacArthur’s commentaries in my personal Bible study, but here I point out why he is wrong on the age of the Earth and biological evolution.
3. Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 1) — The first in a six-part series, outlining why the six best YEC geological arguments for a global flood are bad answers from Answers in Genesis.
2. Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye post-debate analysis — Ken Ham and Bill Nye were both wrong about both the Bible and geology.
1. Dr. Dino still in prison — I wrote this post in 2009, and each year since then it has been the most-read post on The GeoChristian. Popular young-Earth creationist speaker Kent Hovind (who does not have a real doctorate) will be released from prison in 2015.
A few more stats:
The GeoChristian was viewed 72,889 times by 42,740 visitors in 2014. This is down from a high of 153,654 views in 2009.
There were 217 comments made on The GeoChristian in 2014.
I wrote 23 posts in 2014.
My all-time daily high for views was February 5, 2014, the day after the Ham-Nye debate. There were a total of 2,109 views on that date.
I hope that The GeoChristian was a blessing to you in 2014, and pray that I would continue to build up the body of Christ, and point non-Christians to Jesus in 2015.
Grace and Peace
I recently acquired Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J. Daryl Charles. The book gives perspectives of five highly-qualified, Evangelical Old Testament scholars on the creation accounts of Genesis:
- Richard E. Averbeck (professor of OT and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) — “A Literary Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual Reading of Genesis 1-2”
- Todd S. Beall (professor of OT at Capitol Bible Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2: A Literal Approach”
- C. John Collins (professor of OT at Covenant Theological Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2 with the Grain: Analogical Days”
- Tremper Longman III (professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) — “What Genesis 1-2 Teaches (and What it Doesn’t)”
- John H. Walton (professor of OT at Wheaton College and Graduate School) — “Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology”
Each author’s chapter includes responses from the four other authors.
In the Forward, the editor states that one of the convictions behind this book is that “conversation–indeed, even heated debate regarding contentious issues–can proceed in a charitable manner.” That is what I strive for in my writing on The GeoChristian, and I appreciate their objective.
In the Introduction, Victor, P. Hamilton begins by reminding us that “without Gen 1-2 the rest of the Bible becomes incomprehensible.” This is something that all contributors to this book, whether young-Earth or old-Earth, evolution-accepting or evolution-denying, would agree on. The opening chapters of Genesis lay foundations for a number of critical doctrines in the Bible, including humans created in the image of God, humanity’s fall into sin, and the beginning of the long story of redemption in Christ.
The Introduction also points out that the interpretation of Genesis 1-2 has been controversial throughout church history, with quotes from Origen and Augustine to back this up. He then points out some particularly important modern debates, such as the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the relationship of the Biblical creation accounts to other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts.
It is important to be reminded that all of these authors “identify fully and unapologetically with historic Christian orthodoxy and embrace wholeheartedly the basic tenets and historic creeds of the one holy catholic church.” Faithfulness to God’s Word does not require that one interpret Genesis just like only one of these authors.
The Introduction ends by laying out three responses readers might have to the book:
- Confusion — “If the scholars cannot get it all together, what am I supposed to do with Gen 1 and 2?”
- Pre-conceived conclusions — Like the essays I already agree with, and ignore the rest.
- “[A]ppreciate the differing perspectives on Gen 1-2 presented in this volume. We need to remember that a divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture does not mean that (my) interpretations of Scripture are equally divinely inspired and authoritative.”
I look forward to learning from each author, and sharing with you my thoughts as I read through this important work.
Grace and Peace
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 Atheist, Baker 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 ) 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
Since the inception of this blog in 2006, its subtitle has been, “A blog about science, Christianity, and other topics.” Although this is an accurate description of what one will find here on The GeoChristian, it isn’t very catchy. So today I am introducing a new subtitle:
The Earth. Christianity. They go together.
Here’s what I hope to communicate with the new caption:
- The Earth and Christianity go together because God made the entire universe. This idea is completely compatible with science; it is only incompatible with atheistic naturalism, a philosophical position that is not based on science.
- The Earth and Christianity go together because, in Christian theology, the physical world is important. As some have stated it, matter matters. In many eastern religions matter is something to escape from (this viewpoint creeps into Christianity at times, such as in the ancient gnostic heresies). To an atheist, matter and energy have no purpose or inherent reason for existence. Within Christian thought, God created the universe and embedded humanity within it, and then proclaimed that it was all “very good.” The ultimate expression of the importance of the material world to God is that, in the person of Jesus Christ, God became flesh, entering into the physical world to redeem not just our “souls,” but our bodies as well.
- The Earth and Christianity go together because Christ’s redeeming work will one day extend to the entire cosmos. Our eternal existence as God’s people, according to the book of Revelation, is not in some spiritual “heaven,” but in a physical place that is a re-created or renovated New Earth.
- The Earth and Christianity go together because Christianity provides both a reason and a purpose for the Earth. The universe is not a random, inexplicable object; nor is our planet. God may have used processes to get us to this point—the big bang, protoplanet nucleation, speciation, and so forth—but that does not negate “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” or “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” (Gen 1:1, Ps 24:1 ESV)
- The Earth and Christianity go together because—despite the vocal proclamations of both young-Earth creationists and evangelists for atheism such as Richard Dawkins—there is no real contradiction between what the Bible tells us about the creation of Earth and the findings of modern science (e.g. the big bang or antiquity of the Earth).
- The Earth and Christianity go together because humans have been given a command to care for the Earth. In Genesis, God commanded Adam to have dominion over the Earth. This “dominion mandate” does not mean that we should dominate and exploit, but rule and serve with love and wisdom.
- Because the Earth and Christianity go together, Christianity is for geoscientists. We are all in the same boat, created in the image of God but sinful and in need of redemption. Jesus is for geologists! (and geophysicists, meteorologists, hydrologists, oceanographers, and all who study and care for the Earth).
Grace and Peace
Of the numerous analyses of the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate earlier this week, one of the best is that of Old Testament scholar John Walton that was published as part of a larger review on the Biologos website (Ham on Nye: Our Take). Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, adeptly gives reasons why there are serious biblical and theological problems with young-Earth creationism. YEC isn’t just bad science, it involves a highly questionable reading of the Hebrew text of Genesis. Here are some excerpts:
In general I appreciated the cordial and respectful tone that both debaters evidenced. Most of the debate was about scientific evidence, which I am not the one to address. The only comment that I want to make in that regard is that it was evident that Ken Ham believed that all evolutionists were naturalists—an identification that those associated with BioLogos would strongly contest.
I commend Ken Ham’s frequent assertion of the gospel message. His testimony to his faith was admirable and of course, I agree with it. I also share his beliefs about the nature of the Bible, but I do not share his interpretation of the Bible on numerous key points. From the opening remarks Ham proclaimed that his position was based on the biblical account of origins. But he is intent on reading that account as if it were addressing science (he truly believes it is). I counter by saying that we cannot have a confident understanding of what the Bible claims until we read it as an ancient document. I believe as he does that the Bible was given by God, but it was given through human instruments into an ancient culture and language. We can only encounter the Bible’s claims by taking account of that context.
One place where this distinction was obvious was that Ham tried to make the statement in Genesis that God created each animal “after its kind” as a technical statement that matched our modern scientific categories. We cannot assume that the same categories were used in the ancient world as are used today (genus, family, species, etc.). Such anachronism does not take the Bible seriously as what it “naturally” says. In the Bible this only means that when a grain of wheat drops, a grain of wheat grows (not a flower); when a horse gives birth, it gives birth to a horse, not a coyote.
Bill Nye repeatedly returned to the idea that the Bible was a book translated over and over again over thousands of years. In his opinion this results in a product that could be no more trusted than the end result in the game of telephone. In this opinion he shows his lack of clear understanding of the whole process of the transmission of texts and the textual basis for today’s translations.
[Ham] believes that there could be no death before the fall because he has interpreted the word “good” as if it meant “perfect.” That is not what the Hebrew term means. Furthermore, if there was no death before the fall, people would have little use for a tree of life. What is a “natural” interpretation—our sense of what it means or the sense that an ancient reader would have had? Ham actually made the statement that we have to read the Bible “according to the type of literature” that it is. Yet it was clear that he has done no research on ancient genres and how parts of the Bible should be identified by the standards of ancient genres.
When Ham was asked what it would take to change his mind, he was lost for words because he said that he could never stop believing in the truth of the Bible. I would echo that sentiment, but it never seemed to occur to him that there might be equally valid interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis, or maybe even ones that could garner stronger support. He stated that no one can prove the age of the earth, but he believes that the Bible tells us the age of the earth. Nevertheless, it is only his highly debatable interpretation of the Bible that tells him the age of the earth. What if the Bible makes no such claim? There are biblical scholars who take the Bible every bit as seriously as he does, who disagree that the Bible makes a claim about the age of the earth.
There is a lot more to the creation account in Genesis 1 than what one will hear from the young-Earth creationists. One can be fully committed to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture and not come to the same conclusions or interpretations that the my-way-or-the-highway young-Earth creationists come to.
Grace and Peace
HT: Internet Monk
In my previous post, I listed the ten most-read articles on The GeoChristian in 2013. They are, I suppose, the reader’s picks. Here are my picks for the most significant blog posts on The GeoChristian for the year.
#10 — A 4th grade quiz on dinosaurs that the teacher would have given me an “F” on — The dark side of science education in Christian schools. Also see More on the Answers in Genesis 4th grade dinosaur quiz.
#9 — A young-Earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporites — The YECs push a lot of bad science as Christian apologetics. Here’s one example.
#8 — Rush is wrong — Analyzing Limbaugh’s statement on God and global warming — Rush’s problem isn’t so much what he believes about man-made global warming, but having a philosophical/theological foundation that says we can’t really screw things up.
#7 — GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:20-22 — The goodness and fruitfulness of the creation — Earth Day 2013 — God created an Earth that teemed with life. Can we find a way to flourish that isn’t at the expense of the rest of creation?
#6 — GeoScriptures — Genesis 2:16-17 — The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the fruit of sin — We got our way. Was it worth it?
#5 — GeoScriptures — Genesis 3:17-18 — Thorns, thistles, cats, dogs, and hyperliteralism — If Genesis said, “And God told Noah, ‘It is going to rain cats and dogs,'” would Christians find a way to explain how cats and dogs could be caught up in waterspouts?
#4 — Days, nights, Jonah, and Jesus — My response to a skeptic who claimed that Jesus couldn’t count.
#3 — GeoScriptures — Genesis 6-9 — Reading the account of Noah’s (local) flood — A few legitimate word substitutions, and the flood account no longer sounds quite so extensive.
#2 — The Pleistocene is not in the Bible — A critique of “When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History?” — Answers in Genesis: giving you “apologetics” that isn’t really based on the Bible, and doesn’t work scientifically.
#1 — GeoScriptures – Psalm 77:16-18 – Deadly beauty and the glory of God — God is glorified in gamma-ray bursts and lightning bolts, and other things that could kill you very quickly.
Grace and Peace
Many top advocates of Biblical authority accept an old Earth as completely compatible with Scripture
Can one believe in the authority of the Bible and also believe that Earth is on the order of a few billion years old?
Are Christians who accept an old Earth “compromisers” who deny obvious truths of Scripture?
Many young-Earth creationist (YEC) leaders insist that acceptance of an old age for the Earth—billions of years rather about six thousand years—is a direct assault on the authority of the Bible. To them, the Bible clearly teaches about Earth history, and any attempt to find room for “deep time” is conformity to the philosophies of the ungodly world. In the words of Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham:
The old earth is such a key issue today in fighting for the full accuracy and authority of the Bible. AiG does not only present the arguments against evolution. You see, it is just as important to offer arguments against an old age for the earth and universe. When it comes to biblical authority, the question of the age of the earth is just as vital as the question of whether evolution is true or not. The chronologies in the Bible and the length of the days of the Creation Week (they were 24 hours each) show that the earth is young. Why try to reinterpret the very clear teaching of Scripture to accommodate the fallible ideas of man that say the earth is old? Such reinterpretations undermine the authority of the Word of God.
Of course, I view this as nonsense. There have been a great number of prominent Evangelical theologians and Biblical scholars in the past two hundred years who have accepted an ancient Earth. They have done so because they view acceptance of an old Earth as compatible with the Bible. One can certainly make a strong case for Biblical ambiguity on the age of the Earth from the Scriptures alone, without any reference to scientific discoveries.
But you don’t need to take my word for it. The Gospel Coalition Blog recently posted an article by Michael J. Kruger on the Top 10 Books on the Bible’s Authority. The writers at The Gospel Coalition are all theologically conservative, holding to a high view of Biblical authority. As I looked through the list of books and authors, I wondered how many of these ardent defenders of Scripture were old-Earthers. Here are Kruger’s top ten books, with what I could find on the internet about the authors’ viewpoints regarding the age of the Earth:
10. Scripture and Truth, edited by D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge
D.A. Carson, professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, accepts an old Earth as compatible with Scripture. Here are a couple quotes from his book The God Who is There:
“There is more ambiguity in the interpretation of these chapters than some Christians recognize.”
“I hold that the Genesis account is a mixed genre that feels like history and really does give us some historical particulars. At the same time, however, it is full of demonstrable symbolism. Sorting out what is symbolic and what is not is very difficult.”
I could not find anything about John Woodbridge’s position on the age of the Earth.
9. Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, by Herman Bavinck
Bavinck was an influential Dutch Reformed theologian in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I am having difficulty finding a definitive statement from Bavinck on the age of the Earth. He certainly was not a strict literalist in regards to the six days of creation, and his teachings laid a foundation for both the framework and analogical days interpretations, which both allow for an old Earth. To Bavinck, the Bible did not firmly dictate the age of the Earth, though it could be a stretch to place him in the old-Earth category. But it would also be a stretch to place him firmly in with the YECs.
8. Thy Word is Truth, by E.J. Young
Edward J. Young was professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, and was an advocate of the day-age interpretation of Genesis 1.
7. The Infallible Word: A Symposium by the Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, edited by Ned Stonehouse and Paul Woolley
This book was first published in 1946. I could not find information on how Stonehouse and Woolley interpreted Genesis in terms of the age of the Earth, but the list of contributing authors to this volume appears to include both young-Earthers and old-Earthers.
6. Fundamentalism and the Word of God, by J.I. Packer
Packer is a professor of theology at Regent College in British Columbia, and one of the most influential Evangelicals in North America. He clearly accepts an old age for the Earth, and appears to see no Biblical problem with acceptance of biological evolution. He wrote a strong endorsement of Denis Alexander’s book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?
5. Disputations on Holy Scripture, by William Whitaker
Whitaker lived in the 1500s, so I must assume he was a YEC.
4. The Divine Original: Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures, by John Owen
Owen was a Puritan theologian in the 1600s, and so also almost certainly was a YEC.
3. The Structure of Biblical Authority, by Meredith Kline
Kline is one of the preeminent proponents of the framework interpretation of Genesis 1, so is clearly an old-Earther.
2. The Doctrine of the Word of God, by John Frame
It was difficult to find much about Frame’s views on the age of the Earth on the internet. One book review (for another book: The Doctrine of God) stated that Frame believes that the six days of creation were not literal, so it seems that Frame is open to an old Earth. [Update — Frame holds more closely to the seven 24-hour day view, but considers other interpretations to be within the realm of orthodoxy. See comment #1]
1. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, by B.B. Warfield
Warfield, one of the writers for The Fundamentals collections of essays that launched American fundamentalism a century ago, accepted an old Earth and biological evolution as God’s means of creation. In regards to the age of the Earth. Warfield wrote:
In a word, the Scriptural data leave us wholly without guidance in estimating the time which elapsed between the creation of the world and the deluge and between the deluge and the call of Abraham. So far as the Scripture assertions are concerned, we may suppose any length of time to have intervened between these events which may otherwise appear reasonable. The question of the antiquity of man is accordingly a purely scientific one, in which the theologian as such has no concern.
Of the authors and editors represented in The Gospel Coalition’s list of ten best books on the authority of Scripture, a majority are either advocates for or open to an old age for the universe.
|Old Earth||Young Earth||I don’t know|
|D.A. Carson||William Whitaker||John Woodbridge|
|E.J. Young||John Owen||Herman Bavinck|
|J.I. Packer||John Frame (see update note below)||Ned Stonehouse|
|Meredith Kline||Paul Wooley|
[Update — I have moved Frame from the old earth column (where I had him listed with a question mark) to the young earth column. Frame doesn’t consider the age of the earth to be a test of orthodoxy. See comment #1]
Note that the only two clearly young-Earth advocates in the list wrote in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is not that I am dismissing their writings as primitive, but pointing out that they gave no more critical thought to the Biblical teaching about the age of the Earth than they did to the Copernican controversy (Owen defended geocentrism—the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe).
The only way YEC leaders can cling to their my-way-or-the-highway view of Biblical authority is to label all of these Bible-believing old-Earth scholars as “compromisers.” I think, however, if The Gospel Coalition’s list of “top ten books on Biblical authority” contains a number of books by scholars who believe an old Earth is compatible with Scripture, then it is clear that belief in a young Earth is a secondary issue in regards to acceptance of the truthfulness and authority of the Bible.
This is important for two reasons:
- The YEC insistence that old-Earth scholars are compromisers who undermine Biblical authority is divisive. The followers of organizations such as Answers in Genesis are influenced to view old-Earthers as somehow secondary Christians at best, and perhaps not real Christians at all.
- The YEC insistence that the only valid way to interpret Genesis is that Earth is only 6,000 years old drives people away from Christianity. Either non-Christians don’t consider Christianity as a reasonable option, or Christians who figure out that YEC doesn’t work scientifically leave the faith. It would be far better for YECs to say, “We believe the Bible teaches a young Earth, but there are other Christians who also believe the Bible who believe it doesn’t require a young Earth.” We should let secondary issues remain as secondary issues.
Grace and Peace
I prefer to say that we can make a biblical case for ambiguity about the age of the Earth rather than a biblical case for an old Earth. As an old-Earth Christian, I don’t have to demonstrate that the Bible requires an old Earth—that would be an impossible task because the Bible does not require an old Earth—but only that it does not require any particular age for the Earth.
The quotes from D.A. Carson’s book The God Who is There are from the Internet Monk blog: D.A. Carson on Genesis 1-2 and Science.
According to the Presbyterian Church of America’s Report of the Creation Study Committee, “Kuyper and Bavinck in the Netherlands did not hold to the Calendar Day view, but are difficult to categorize in our terms.” I got additional information about Bavinck from Herman Bavinck on Creation on Exiled Preacher blog.
That Young held to the day-age interpretation is also documented in the PCA Report of the Creation Study Committee.
I briefly wrote about Warfield a couple years ago: Fundamentalism and creationism. The Warfield quote is from Reasons to Believe’s page Notable Christians Open to an Old-universe, Old-earth Perspective.
P.S. Michael Kruger had included some “honorable mentions” when he submitted his article to The Gospel Coalition, but they were cut. Here is his extended list of books:
|Herman Ridderbos||Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures||Old Earth — Framework interpretation (see Mortenson and Ury, eds., Coming to Grips With Genesis, p. 212)|
|Cornelius van Til||The Doctrine of Scripture||Open to old Earth (?) — http://www.reformed.org/creation/ states that van Til “felt that the age of the earth was debatable.”|
|J.W. Montgomery, ed.||God’s Inerrant Word||Open to old Earth (?) — I assumed Montgomery was a YEC, but he seems to be open to an old Earth. He wrote an endorsement for Dembski’s End of Christianity, and his 1970s book The Quest for Noah’s Ark (which I read in about 1976) advocated a local flood. Several of the contributing authors to God’s Inerrant Word are old-Earthers.|
|Carl F.H. Henry||God, Revelation, and Authority||Old Earth — “The Bible does not require belief in six literal 24-hour creation days on the basis of Genesis 1-2.” (page 6226, from https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2004/09/is-the-genesis-creation-account-literal.html)|
|R.L. Harris||Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible||Old Earth — Listed as an old-Earther in Mortenson and Ury, Coming to Grips With Genesis, p. 332.|
|J.W. Wenham||Christ and the Bible||Old Earth (?) — On page 13 of Christ and the Bible, Wenham states that “The references to the ordinance of monogamy ‘from the beginning of creation’, for instance, do not seem to necessitate a literal interpretation of chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis for their validity.”|
|N. Geisler, ed.||Inerrancy||Old Earth|
|Greg Beale||The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism||Old Earth — See summaries of what Beale has to say about Genesis at Greg Beale On Biblical Cosmology, Part 1 and Part 2.|
|Paul Wells||Taking the Bible at Its Word||I don’t know.|
See Kruger’s extended list at Top Ten Books on the Authority of Scripture (and Honorable Mentions).
The “honorable mentions” list adds six names to the “old Earth” list, two names to the “open to old Earth (?)” list, one name to the “I don’t know” list, and zero names to the “young Earth” list.
I would have been very happy with 50% of Kruger’s authors being old-Earthers. But as far as I could determine, not a single one of his favorite authors on the topic of Biblical authority after the 17th century is a firm advocate of the “literal” young-Earth interpretation!
YECs will argue that Kruger might have left out some important YEC contributions, such as Coming to Grips with Genesis (subtitled “Biblical authority and the age of the Earth”), edited by Mortenson and Ury. But even if he had added some YEC works, it is crystal clear that there are a number of prominent Evangelical scholars who hold firmly to the authority of the Bible, and yet accept that the Bible does not require a 6,000-year old planet.
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. — Genesis 2:2-3 (ESV)
How should we understand the six days of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3? Some insist that the only way to interpret the passage is what is called the “calendar day” view, in which God created the entire universe in six literal, consecutive days roughly 6,000 years ago. Others hold that the days can be understood in some other way, either as indefinite periods of time—the “day-age interpretation”—or as literary devices which are not meant to be taken literally, as in the “framework interpretation.”
In order to evaluate these interpretations, one must take a close look at what the passage actually says. Take, for example, the seventh day, in which God rested from his work of creation. People rest because they get tired. God, on the other hand, rested on the seventh day because he was done. I get worn out on a long hike in the mountains. God was able to create the entire universe without the slightest diminishment of his strength. As the prophet Isaiah wrote to God’s weary people:
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
— Isaiah 40:28 (NIV)
It is clear that God’s rest on Day 7 was not like our rest. It was similar to our rest—such as Sabbath rest or nightly rest—in that God ceased from his work. But it was different from our rest in that there was no reason whatsoever why God needed to stop, other than the fact that he had accomplished what he set out to do. We humans get to the point where we must rest, even though our work is not yet complete. God’s rest, then, is similar (or analogous) to our rest, but not identical.
There are at least three of these analogies in the opening passage of Genesis:
- God’s rest is similar to, but not identical to, our rest.
- God’s work is similar to, but not identical to, our work.
- God’s speech is similar to, but not identical to, our speech.
This insight leads to what is called the “analogical days” interpretation of Genesis 1. Just as God’s rest is not the same as our rest, God’s work is not the same as our work, and God’s speech is not the same as our speech, it is quite reasonable to consider that perhaps
- God’s day is similar to, but not identical to, our day.
More could be said in support of the analogical days interpretation, but for now I have simply presented the basics of this position. Please note that this is not “reading science into the Bible.” I have simply looked closely at the passage and observed that it is possible that God’s day might not be the same as an Earth day.
Grace and Peace
It is not just Christian young-Earth creationists (YECs) who insist that the only way to interpret Genesis is “6000-year old Earth.” Atheists and skeptics usually agree with the YECs on this one. Unfortunately, the bad apologetics of young-Earth creationism makes it easier for these skeptics to reject Christianity.
A good summary of various interpretations of Genesis can be found in the Report of the Creation Study Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination which holds firmly to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.
An important advocate of the analogical days interpretation is C. John Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary. His books include Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary.
The analogical days interpretation is age-neutral. The Earth could be 6000 years old, it could be billions of years old. In this viewpoint, Genesis simply is not about the age of the Earth.
The analogical days interpretation is also not necessarily “competition” for the other interpretations I mentioned. For example, I think the analogical interpretation flows nicely out of the text of Genesis, while the day-age interpretation does not. That does not mean that the day-age interpretation is incorrect; it just may be that the analogical days interpretation gives a solid biblical foundation which is complementary to the scientific insights of the day-age interpretation.
One cannot have a complete biblical doctrine of creation without incorporating what one believes about the future of creation. Some Christians believe in the utter annihilation of the present world when Christ returns; that God will completely destroy Earth before establishing the eternal order. This doctrine can, unfortunately, lead to what some have called “disposable earth theology.” In the perspective of some Christians, it really doesn’t matter what happens to planet Earth because it is going to be destroyed anyway.
I believe the disposable earth teaching is biblically wrong for a number of reasons. It is more gnostic than Christian in that it teaches that only what is “spiritual” goes on to eternity, while everything physical gets wiped out. It is more biblical to say that there is a good amount of continuity between the present world and the eternal world. For example, our bodies will somehow be changed when we are resurrected, but we will still be ourselves. I will still be recognizable as Kevin Nelstead, though with some much-needed improvements. Likewise, planet Earth will still be planet Earth.
Two talented men in my local church have started producing a web tv program called Dead Reckoning TV, which I highly recommend. In episode 17 for their first year, Dr. Brian Mattson and Jay Friesen focus on the future aspect of the doctrine of creation and how that should effect our day-to-day living in the present age. For the core part of his argument, Dr. Mattson states:
When you have a robust doctrine of creation in your Christianity, when you realize that the God who made all things good is restoring this good world that’s been corrupted and destroyed by sin, it’s actually quite impossible to be so heavenly-minded you’re no earthly good. You know, our eternal hope of the new heavens and the new earth empowers—is the engine that drives—our current living. In Romans chapter 8, which is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, when Paul talks about how our present sufferings aren’t worth being compared to the glory that is going to be revealed in us; it is in that very context, when he is talking about future glory and the liberation of creation that he talks about us presently having the resurrection spirit so that we don’t follow the old way of doing things, we follow the new way of doing things. The kingdom of God, by the Holy Spirit, is breaking into the world as it is right now, and enabling us not to be slaves of sin but to be slaves of righteousness. It’s that future day; it’s that next world that is actually empowering us in the present world.
You know, the idea of a new creation—not going to heaven, not life after death like I said a couple episodes ago, but life after life after death, the restoration of all things, the new heavens and the new earth, as the Bible puts it—it means that the present world matters. I mean, think about that, a renewed creation means that creation matters. It’s not an ejection seat, we’re not just piling into a lifeboat to bail out of this place. God still loves his world, it’s the world he made. A renewed creation means creation matters. How can we be “heavenly minded and no earthly good” if that’s true?
I encourage you to watch the entire episode: Ep. 17: Making All Things New. The Future.
Yesterday on the Answers in Genesis website, Ken Ham encouraged people to take “the dinosaur quiz” and to let him know on his Facebook page how we have used this quiz to help “rescue our kids.” I guess I took him seriously, so I posted a comment on his Facebook page:
This morning, my comment was gone.
I am sure Answers in Genesis has to delete many comments from their Facebook page — obscenity, mocking, false accusations, and so forth. My comment was certainly in none of those categories. Nor was it self-promotion; there are plenty of other comments pointing people to YEC websites.
I guess AiG does not want respectful dialog. Perhaps they do not want their flock to see alternative biblical answers in Genesis from someone else who believes the Bible from the very first verse.
Grace and Peace (especially to all my young-Earth creationist brothers and sisters in Christ)
P.S. I previously wrote about the dinosaur quiz here: More on the Answers in Genesis 4th grade dinosaur quiz.