Six Geological Reasons Why I am Not a Young-Earth Creationist Part 1 — Igneous Rocks

This is the first in a planned six-part series of Six Geological Reasons Why I am Not a Young-Earth Creationist. I am a Christian who holds to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, and who also has a master’s degree in geology. I have previously given my biblical and theological reasons why I believe the Bible does not require a young Earth. This present series will have six parts:

  1. Igneous rocks
  2. Sedimentary rocks
  3. Metamorphic rocks
  4. The fossil record
  5. Ice ages
  6. Radiometric dating

Each of these broad geological arguments against young-Earth creationism can be summarized as: Too many events, too little time.

Introduction

Since the 1700s, most scientists, Christian or otherwise, who have studied the Earth have concluded that there is overwhelming evidence that Earth is many millions of years old. The evidence for an ancient Earth has come from many subdisciplines of geology, including the study of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks; fossils, and surficial layers formed by processes such as glaciation. Radioactivity was not discovered until well after widespread acceptance that Earth is many millions of years old, and radiometric dating has confirmed what other evidence already pointed to.

Modern young-Earth creationists (YECs), on the other hand, claim that geological evidence can be re-interpreted to allow for—or even require—a young Earth. Often these YEC understandings of Earth history focus on single events that can happen relatively quickly, such as the deposition of a single layer of sediment or crystallization of a single lava flow. They say that if certain individual geological events can happen quickly, then it didn’t have to take millions of years to form the entire geologic column. Often YECs ignore the context of these single events and underestimate the complexity and necessary timelines of all the features that surround that individual rock unit. The truth of the matter is that Earth’s crust presents a record that has too many events to fit the abbreviated YEC time scale, which posits that most features in Earth’s crust formed in the short one-year timeframe of Noah’s flood.

From my perspective as a Christian who accepts the truthfulness and authority of the Bible, scriptural arguments allowing for an old Earth are of utmost importance. I was once a YEC myself and did not switch to being an old-Earth Christian until I became convinced that the Bible does not require us to believe in a young Earth or a global flood. As you read this article, please remember that the Bible does not tell us how igneous rock bodies came to exist in Earth’s crust. YECs insist that most of these rocks were formed during Noah’s flood, but that is merely an unjustifiable extrapolation from Scripture rather than being something that the Bible itself teaches.

Intrusive (Plutonic) Igneous Rocks

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Half Dome, Sierra Nevada Batholith, Yosemite National Park

Igneous rocks are formed by the cooling and crystallization of molten rock. Intrusive igneous rocks are those that crystallize underground, sometimes at great depth beneath Earth’s surface. Extrusive igneous rocks, on the other hand, are those that crystallize on Earth’s surface by volcanic processes. Molten rock on Earth’s surface is called lava, while molten rock beneath Earth’s surface is called magma.

When magma crystallizes into solid rock beneath Earth’s surface, it forms masses of course-grained igneous rock such as granite, granodiorite, and gabbro. The largest of these masses are called batholiths, which may cover tens of thousands of square kilometers on Earth’s surface when exposed by erosion, and which may have volumes in some cases of over one million cubic kilometers. An example of a large batholith is the Sierra Nevada Batholith in California, which forms the core of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Batholiths a few kilometers deep in the crust are surrounded by hot rocks, are insulated from Earth’s surface by overlying rocks, and therefore crystallize and cool slowly, typically taking many thousands of years to crystallize.

Large batholiths are composite features, made up of dozens, or even hundreds, of smaller bodies (plutons), each of which represents a separate intrusion of magma from deeper in Earth’s crust. There is abundant field evidence that earlier plutons in batholiths substantially or completely crystallized before subsequent plutons were intruded. If each individual pluton takes thousands of years to crystallize, and a large batholith is made up of many plutons, there is no credible way to squeeze the formation of a batholith into the few weeks required by the YEC timeframe without invoking a miracle, which YEC flood geologists are hesitant to do.

Extrusive (Volcanic) Igneous Rocks

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Layers of the Columbia River Basalt Group, Palouse Falls, Washington

Extrusive igneous rocks are formed when lava is extruded onto Earth’s surface by volcanic processes. When most people think of volcanoes, they picture stratovolcanoes such as Mt Fuji in Japan, Mt Vesuvius in Italy, or the Cascade Range volcanoes such as Mt Rainier in the United States. There are larger volcanoes (shield volcanoes) on Earth, such as Mauna Loa on Hawaii, and there are smaller volcanoes, such as the single-eruption cinder cones of Parícutin in Mexico or Sunset Crater in Arizona. Most large volcanoes on Earth are formed from dozens, or even hundreds, of individual eruptions. Furthermore, there is evidence for the passage of time between eruptions, with evidence for erosion, sedimentation, and soil formation between volcanic events. Earth’s crust contains records of numerous past volcanoes similar to today’s volcanoes. In the YEC scenario, many of these now-eroded volcanoes would have had to completely form and then completely erode within a few days or weeks during Noah’s flood. These volcanoes, like modern volcanoes, show evidence of a complex history, and the YEC flood scenario does not allow time for complex history.

An example of this ancient volcanism is the eroded cores of volcanoes in the Absaroka Volcanic Supergroup in northern Yellowstone National Park. The Absaroka volcanic rocks are completely unrelated to the more recent rocks of the Yellowstone Caldera. These stratovolcanoes are completely eroded down, but we can see everything from the now-solid magma chambers beneath the volcanoes, to dikes radiating out from volcanic centers, to the distal volcanic mudflow (lahar) beds dipping away from the volcanoes. These volcanic mudflow rocks now contain vast quantities of petrified wood. Trying to squeeze the formation then erosion of entire stratovolcanoes in the timespan of a few weeks during a global flood is not credible geologically, and not necessary biblically, which is silent on the topic ancient volcanoes.

Even more difficult, for our present purposes, are large igneous provinces (LIPs), which dwarf any volcanoes we see erupting on Earth today. An example of a LIP is the Columbia River Basalts (CRB) of the Pacific Northwest in the United States. The CRB consists of about 300 individual lava flows. Typical flows had volumes of a few hundred cubic kilometers, but the largest flows had volumes greater than 2000 cubic kilometers. The basaltic lava in the CRB was very fluid and spread out in extensive sheets covering thousands of square kilometers rather than piling up to form a cone like a stratovolcano. The result is a series of roughly-horizontal layers of basalt, stacked up to depths up to 1800 m (almost 6000 feet) in the central part of the CRBs. There are numerous lines of evidence that older flows completely crystallized before subsequent flows, and that time passed between eruptions. The dikes that fed later flows cut through the layers of earlier flows, indicating that the earlier flows were completely solidified by then. In addition, there are soil layers (paleosols) and fossil-bearing sediments between lava flows. The CRB could not have formed in just a few weeks while submerged beneath a global flood, nor could it have formed in just a few short years after the flood, as some YECs propose. The CRB is smaller than many other LIPs, such as the end-of-Permian Siberian Traps in Russia, or the end-of-Cretaceous Deccan Traps in India.

Context of Igneous Rocks

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The Berkeley Pit in Butte, MT, is an open pit copper mine in the Boulder Batholith. The toxic lake in the pit is now much deeper.

Igneous rock features such as batholiths, volcanoes, and LIPS exist within a broader geologic context, which includes events that occurred both before and after the crystallization of magma or lava. Batholiths, for example, intrude into previously-formed rocks. The batholith closest to my home is the Boulder Batholith, a relatively small batholith in western Montana, exposed over an area of about 5000 square kilometers. This Cretaceous-age batholith intruded into and altered previously-existing Mesozoic and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. The batholith consists of 7-14 discrete plutons. The Boulder Batholith is overlain by the Elkhorn Mountains Volcanics, which are closely associated both by geochemistry and position to the underlying batholith. The Boulder Batholith most likely represents the magmatic roots of the volcanoes that formed the volcanic rocks making up the Elkhorn Mountains. The Boulder Batholith was exposed by erosion by at least early Cenozoic, or even late Cretaceous time, shedding sediments into the surrounding area.

This is the sequence of events regarding the Boulder Batholith that would have had to occur in the YEC flood geology scenario:

  1. Deposition and lithification of underlying Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks, which include numerous formations of sandstone, shale, and limestone.
  2. Intrusion of the first pluton into overlying rocks. Cooling and crystallization of this pluton. In the YEC flood geology story, this would have been quite late in the flood year.
  3. Repeat #2 up to thirteen more times.
  4. At the same time as #2-3, emplacement of the overlying Elkhorn Volcanics.
  5. Erosion down into the Boulder Batholith and Elkhorn Volcanics. Debris from these is found in late Cretaceous and Paleocene rocks. This means that #2-4 all had to happen in a matter of weeks.

As just about always in YEC flood geology, there simply is not enough time for all of these events in such a short amount of time. It took time for the formation and lithification of pre-batholith sedimentary rocks. It took time for the emplacement, crystallization, and cooling of the individual plutons. It took time between intrusion of the plutons. It took time for the Elkhorn volcanoes to erupt. It took time for erosion to cut down into the batholith and volcanic rocks. I have actually simplified the picture; we could add mineralization, faulting, and other geological events. Added together, this all took a substantial amount of time, and that sort of time does not exist in YEC flood geology.

Conclusion

I often summarize my critique of YEC arguments for the age of the Earth and flood geology as “too many events, too little time.” The complexity and size of igneous rock bodies, whether extrusive or intrusive, illustrates this well. I could add a third element, and that is “too much heat.” The injection of all that magma into Earth’s upper crust in such a short time would have melted the surrounding rocks. There is too much heat involved in these igneous processes, and therefore too much cooling, to fit into the YEC story.

None of the problems I have listed here are a problem for the Bible itself. As I said, the creation and flood accounts in Genesis 1-9 do not go into details about the origin of igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic rocks; or any geologic features of Earth’s crust. As a scientist, there is nothing in standard explanations for Earth history that set up obstacles to my Christian faith or confidence in the Bible.

Grace and Peace

©2020 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com


Notes:

A printer-friendly PDF of this article may be downloaded here: Top six geological reasons I am not a young earth creationist.

For further reading on the topic of igneous rocks, I recommend a couple chapters from Young and Stearley, 2008, The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth, IVP Academic, 510 p.

  • Chapter 11 – Of Time, Temperature and Turkeys: Clues from the Depths
  • Chapter 13 – Illumination from the Range of Light: The Sierra Nevada

Dr Andrew Snelling of the YEC organization Answers in Genesis has attempted to answer some of the old-Earth objections such as what I have outlined here. One of his articles is The Cooling of Thick Igneous Bodies on a Young Earth (Snelling and Woodmorappe, 2009). In this article, Snelling and Woodmorappe argue that the emplacement of one of the world’s largest batholiths, the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, could have occurred in as little as 350 years. They then argue that batholiths could crystallize and cool in just a few hundred more years. None of this matters. Whether emplacement, crystallization, and cooling of a batholith takes millions of years, hundreds of years, or just a few years, it does not fit into the YEC timeframe. In order to fit in a YEC flood geology scenario, all of this has to happen in a few weeks at most, as many batholiths have emplaced, crystallized, cooled, and then eroded within single periods of geologic history. Dr Snelling needs to come up with a mechanism that produces large batholiths or LIPS in days or weeks, and he is nowhere close to doing this.

Image sources:

Review — The Genealogical Adam and Eve

GenealogicalAdamEveSwamidass, S. Joshua, 2019, The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry, IVP Academic, 246 p.

There have been many books written on origins, most of which don’t have anything new to say. The Genealogical Adam and Eve by S. Joshua Swamidass is a book that has some new things to say about the historical Adam and Eve and human origins in a way that attempts—and succeeds—to be faithful to both science and the Bible.

The traditional Christian understanding of Adam and Eve is that they are the sole progenitors of humanity, created by a direct act of God. In this interpretation, Adam and Eve did not descend from pre-human apes, they were created de novo (from scratch), and there were no other humans in existence when they were created. The argument in this book follows this traditional understanding with one secondary exception.

Geneticists, including some vocal Christian geneticists, have been telling us that this traditional account of human origins is scientifically impossible. The present genetic diversity of humans could not have developed from a single pair, and the population of humans never dipped down below something like 10,000 individuals, let alone down to two individuals at the headwaters of our species. Theologians have responded either by rejecting the genetic evidence, or by re-interpreting Adam and Eve as representatives of all humans though not the ancestors of all humans; as archetypes of all humans, but again not our universal ancestors; or as mythological figures who may or may not have even existed.

I have never felt comfortable with interpretations of Genesis that relegate Adam and Eve to archetypes or mythology. Swamidass argues we can have something very close to the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve without discarding scientific theories of human origins. It is not scientifically necessary to demote Adam and Eve to a representative, archetypical, or mythological role. There is nothing in science that requires us to dismiss a historical Adam and Eve who lived several thousand years ago, and who are the ancestors of every person alive. The only variation from the traditional interpretation that is required is that there must have been humans outside of the Garden when Adam and Eve were created.

According to Swamidass, we need to think about the historical Adam and Eve in terms of genealogy, not genetics. Consider your ancestors. You have two biological parents, four grandparents, eight grandparents, and so forth. If you extend that back less than thirty generations (less than a thousand years ago), the number of entries on your family tree is in the hundreds of millions, exceeding the population of Earth at that time. Genealogies are more complicated than that, with numerous duplicate entries, and geographic and cultural barriers to interbreeding; topics Swamidass addresses. The point is that every person on the planet has a vast family tree, and there were almost certainly people who lived six thousand years ago who are ancestors of everyone who has lived on Earth for the past few thousand years.

A key component of the argument in the book is that there had to be humans outside of the Garden. These people had been around as biological humans for a long time, bestowed with intelligence, value, honor, and dignity by God. These people were created in Genesis 1, and Adam and Eve were subsequently created de novo in Genesis 2 to be the heads of humanity. The descendants of Adam and Eve interbred with the people outside of the Garden, as was intended from the beginning, eventually leading to a world where every person is a descendant of Adam. Swamidass accepts that the broader humanity created in Genesis 1 originated by biological evolution. The Scripture is silent on whether there were people outside the Garden, so their identity and history must remain somewhat of a theological mystery. The existence of people outside the Garden of Eden would solve some problems such as the identity of Cain’s wife, or the presence of whole cities and people groups in Genesis 4.

My fear as I started this book was that my undergraduate-level education in genetics would not be enough to allow me to critically evaluate the arguments in this book. It turns out that there is not a whole lot of genetics in the book, as Swamidass considers genetics to be of secondary importance in his argument. His case is about genealogy, not genetics. It is significant that scientists who were once highly skeptical about the existence of a traditional Adam and Eve have written positive reviews.

Swamidass covers many other topics, such as how a Middle-East couple 6000 years ago could be the ancestors of people in remote places like Tasmania or the Americas; the existence of ghost ancestors (most people in your distant family tree have passed on no genes to you); polygenesis and racism (both among Christians and scientists); exile as a theme in the Bible, and original sin. Swamidass does not claim to have set forth an airtight theological and scientific argument and invites further dialog. The book is not so much an argument for theistic evolution as it is for a real Adam and Eve of whom we are all sons and daughters. As such, it should prove to be valuable to Christians with various perspectives on origins, and as a tool to break down barriers to the gospel in the skeptical scientific community.

Grace and Peace

I was provided a review copy of The Genealogical Adam and Eve by IVP Academic. I was under no obligation to review the book, or to give it a positive review.

©2019 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

Book review — Friend of Science, Friend of Faith

41Yck3NoXOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Davidson, Gregg, 2019, Friend of Science, Friend of Faith: Listening to God in His Works and Word, Kregel Academic, 297 p.

Gregg Davidson, a Christian, is Chair of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi.

Friend of Science, Friend of Faith opens with the story of Riley, a Christian college student working toward a degree in science. Riley had been raised under the teachings of young-Earth creationism, and thought she was well-prepared to face any challenge to her young-Earth, anti-evolutionary beliefs. The soundness of the reasoning she encountered in her science classes, however, put her faith into a crisis. She discovered that her young-Earth arguments did not stand up well compared to arguments in favor of an ancient Earth. In desperation, she talked to a campus ministry staff member, who, unfortunately, only pointed her back to young-Earth materials. If Earth is millions of years old, she was told once again, the Bible isn’t true. The story ends with Riley throwing her Bible in the trash can.

This type of story has tragically been repeated thousands of times in the lives of young people raised in Bible-believing churches. Christian Geology professor Gregg Davidson wrote Friend of Science, Friend of Faith to point Bible-believing Christians to an alternative way of looking at Earth history that is faithful to both science and the Bible. Davidson writes from a perspective that God has revealed himself truthfully in both Scripture and in God’s creation, and that conflicts between the two are man-made rather than real. Davidson advocates for both the inerrancy of Scripture and for the overall truthfulness of old-Earth geology and evolutionary theory. In doing so, he also argues against those on the old-Earth side who needlessly dismiss Genesis as a myth. Davidson advocates for a real Adam and Eve—without committing firmly to a single model of who they were in history—and a real, non-universal, Noah’s flood.

Davidson seeks to answer three questions in his book:

  1. Does the infallibility of Scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question?
  2. Does the science conflict with the intended message of Scripture?
  3. Is the science credible?

Very briefly, Davidson’s answers to these questions are:

  1. The inerrancy of the Bible does not depend on the “literal” young-Earth interpretation being correct. The Bible is inerrant; the young-Earth interpretation is not.
  2. God’s works in creation, understood through science, do not conflict with the explicit claims of God’s words in Scripture.
  3. Old-Earth, evolutionary science makes credible claims about God’s creation, and most claims by young-Earth creationists are not consistent with what we observe in God’s creation.

Of course, Davidson has much more to say in answer to each of these three questions.

Friend of Science, Friend of Faith gets a number of things right. First of all, the author has a high respect for the authority and truthfulness of the Bible. He makes a strong case against the “literal” young-Earth view, and for what is known as the framework interpretation. This argument is not based on “reading science into the Bible,” but on reading the Bible more carefully than young-Earth literalists do. Second, Davidson handles the science well. He clearly explains why so much of young-Earth geological and biological science is bad, and why standard old-Earth explanations are superior. Finally—and this is just as important as my other commendations—Davidson gets the tone right. He treats opponents with respect, and presents young-Earth biblical and scientific arguments with fairness.

In the end, Davidson returns to students like Riley, whose fragile faith was crushed, not by science, but by the false dichotomy of “if Earth is millions of years old, then the Bible is a lie.” Davidson has seen the opposite outcome, as he has guided similar students through their crisis of faith, into a renewed and deeper faith in Christ. This book will prove to be an excellent tool for equipping pastors, campus workers, scientists, and students to navigate through the complexities of science-faith issues.

Grace and Peace

©2019, Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

I thank Kregel Academic for sending me a review copy of the book. I was under no obligation to review the book, or to give it a positive review.

Five reasons young-Earth creationism is not biblically necessary

Genesis__1

I was a young-Earth creationist (YEC) during my first few years as an undergraduate geology major, believing that the Bible required that the universe is no older than about 10,000 years, and that geology, properly understood, supported that position. I was a student member of the Creation Research Society, and looked forward to the day that I would have my Master’s degree so I could be a full member. I knew there were problems with the YEC understandings of Earth’s geological record, but figured that these would be solved with further research, and that I might even have a role in the triumph of young-Earth creationism over old-Earth evolutionism.

There are many Christians who are fascinated by God’s good creation, and it is my experience is that it is not all that rare for there to be YECs in university geology programs. Some YEC geology majors are somehow able to hold onto their YEC beliefs all the way to graduation—or even through graduate studies—but many others have a crisis of faith and either abandon Christianity or are hobbled with deep doubts. Other YEC geology students, such as myself, end up switching to old-Earth Christianity with a vibrant faith in Christ, and with their confidence in the Bible still intact.

My conversion from YEC to old-Earth Christianity was driven primarily by the writings of theologically-conservative scholars such as Francis Schaeffer, Bernard Ramm, Arthur Custance, and Pattle Pun. These devout Christian intellectuals demonstrated that one could have a very high view of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, and hold to interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis that varied from the young-Earth view. Once my mind was open to old-Earth biblical interpretations, I was able to more objectively weigh the geological arguments for a young-Earth vs old-Earth. I concluded that the YEC side was offering few credible scientific arguments for their version of Earth history.

My reasons for believing that the young-Earth interpretation is not biblically necessary have matured over the decades since then, and do not match the arguments that some other old-Earth Christians might offer. Most significantly, I reject the argument that Genesis is merely a myth with no relation to real events. I believe that Genesis 1-11 is deeply rooted in events that really happened.

Here are my top five biblical reasons I am not a young-Earth creationist.

1. Genre

Bookstores are divided into different sections, such as fiction, history, biography, science, art, religion, and self-help. If you look at a book from the poetry shelves, you will see that its contents follow very different rules than do books off of a fiction shelf. Within the fiction section, the books from the science fiction section are written with different writing conventions than those from the romantic fiction area. These broad categories, such as mystery, fantasy, and graphic novels, are what we call genres. Within a genre, there might be subgenres, each with its own styles and rules of interpretation.

The Bible contains literature written in a number of different genres, including narrative, law, wisdom, psalm, parable, genealogy, prophesy, apocalypse, and epistle. One does not read a poetic passage in the same way as one reads a narrative. As an example, consider Exodus 14-15. Chapter 14 tells the story of the crossing of the Red Sea in narrative form. Chapter 15 retells the story as a poem—the songs of Moses and Miriam. The narrative tells us that “the Lord drove the sea by a strong east wind,” (14:21), while the poem tells us “At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up” (15:8). Did God send a strong wind, or did he send a blast from his nostrils? We don’t see any contradiction between these passages, because we understand the difference between prose and poetry. Individual books of the Bible may contain multiple types of genre. One cannot make a blanket statement that “Genesis is narrative,” because not all of Genesis is written as a narrative; there are stretches of genealogy, poetry, and other genres embedded in the story.

YECs commonly argue that the book of Genesis is “historical narrative” and must therefore be read “literally.” A YEC biblical scholar who has written much on this is Steven Boyd, who has done a statistical analysis on verb forms in Old Testament narrative and poetic passages, and come to the conclusion that Genesis 1 is indeed in the narrative genre. According to Boyd, old-Earth Christians who say that Genesis 1 is something other than historical narrative can be proven to be wrong by this modern computer-aided statistical analysis.

The problem is one of oversimplification, as Boyd’s analysis assumes that there are only two options: poetry and historical narrative. It is not always easy to determine the genre of a passage in the Bible, as there are subtleties, variations, and overlap between genres and subgenres. Genesis 1 is certainly not poetry in the same sense as a psalm or proverb—we didn’t need a statistical analysis to tell us this—but the chapter also has literary features that distinguish it from ordinary Hebrew historical narrative passages. Boyd’s analysis missed these nuances. One of these distinctions is the overall structure of the chapter, with the repetition of phrases such as “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day,” and “God saw that it was good.” There is really no other chapter in the Old Testament—or other ancient Hebrew literature—that has a structure quite like this. Furthermore, the vocabulary is at a higher level than in most of the Old Testament, such as using “lights” instead of sun and moon, and the naming of animals with broad categories rather than using specific names. The passage is still a narrative, but has poetry-like elements, and is in a subgenre of its own. Old Testament scholar C. John Collins describes the genre of Genesis 1 as “exalted prose narrative.”

A further problem for the YEC interpretation is that just because a passage is a narrative doesn’t mean that everything in that passage has to be taken literally in the way YECs mean literally. For example, Jesus stated that he is “the door of the sheep” (John 10:7) in a narrative passage, but no one takes this as a literal statement. Likewise, in the long Joseph narrative (Genesis 37, 39-50), we are told that “all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth” (Gen 41:57). Few biblical scholars take this as a literal statement which requires us to believe that people came from places as far away as Japan and Mesoamerica to purchase grain.

If one gets the genre of a passage in Scripture incorrect—and YECs get the genre of Genesis 1 at least partially incorrect—then it is likely that one will get the interpretation of that passage at least partially incorrect as well.

2. The meaning of “yom” (day) in Genesis

Genesis 1 begins with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and then goes on to describe six days of creation, each ending with “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day.” Most YECs insist that the only way to interpret this passage is that verse 1 must be included as part of the first day, and that the six days must be literal, consecutive 24-hour days.

There are at least four ways to answer this claim, each of which is sufficient by itself as a rebuttal to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation. To start with, Old Testament scholars are divided as to whether Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” —is (1) a summary of the entire creation week, (2) an event that occurred during day 1, or (3) an event that occurred before day 1. If the initial creation of the heavens and the earth occurred prior to the events of day 1 of Genesis 1, this opens up a variety of interpretive options that do not require a young Earth.

A second consideration that may be a problem for the literal-days interpretation is that there is no sun in the sky until day four (Genesis 1:14-18). According to Genesis 1:14, one purpose of the sun and moon is to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years” (NIV). As far back as the third and fourth century, Origin and Augustine—and others—argued that one cannot have a day, in the sense that we understand day, if we do not have a sun as a time marker. We are not, therefore, required to believe that the days of creation are literal 24-hour days in the sense that modern YECs believe is required by the text. This did not lead church fathers to an old-Earth reading of Genesis 1, but it did lead them to question the literal 24-hour day interpretation.

A third observation about the days of Genesis 1 is that “there was evening and there was morning” is not literally a 24-hour day in Hebrew thinking. In our system of reckoning days, a literal day runs from midnight to midnight. To the ancient Hebrews, a complete day ran from sunset to sunset, not “evening and morning.” In fact, “there was evening and there was morning” is literally a night, not a day. The use of the phrase “there was evening and there was morning” could mark a pause in the action rather than the passage of a literal day, or there could even be a figurative meaning to the expression.

Finally, most conservative biblical scholars believe that Moses was involved in the writing of Genesis, perhaps by gathering written or oral materials from earlier times. Moses was also the author of Psalm 90, which includes

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. (verse 4)

The immediate context of Psalm 90:4 is creation, with mentions in verses 2-3 of the creation of the earth, and humans being created from dust. One observation we can make about verse 4 is that time is not the same to God as it is to us. God is not restricted by time the way we are. Applying this back to Genesis 1, we are not required to believe that God’s days must be the same as our days. This is especially true for days 1-3, with no sun to mark days, but could also apply to the days in the entire creation week. It seems that modern young-Earth creationists may be more concerned about the “literal” meaning of the days of creation than Moses himself was!

3. Animal death and the fall

Young-Earth believers often argue that Earth cannot possibly be millions of years old because death did not occur until after Adam sinned. They will refer to verses such as Romans 5:12, which states, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” The YEC reasoning is that if all death came into the world through Adam’s sin, then there could not have been millions of years of death prior to Adam. Sedimentary rocks in Earth’s crust contain many quintillions of fossils, which are the remains of dead creatures, ranging from single-celled organisms and plants, to vertebrates, such as dinosaurs and mammals. The YEC interpretation requires all of these fossils to have died sometime after Adam sinned. Adam did not live millions of years ago, therefore Earth could not be millions of years old.

The problem with this YEC argument is that it is an over-reading of what the Bible actually teaches about death in our world. The Bible does indeed teach that human death is tied to Adam’s sin. Adam and Eve did not literally physically die on the literal day they ate the forbidden fruit, but they did literally physically die at some point after access to the Tree of Life was denied to them. But the Bible never ties animal death to Adams sin. The relevant passages are Genesis 3:14-19, Romans 5:12-17, Romans 8:19-22, and 1 Corinthians 15:21-28;35-57. None of these verses, nor any other passage of the Bible, teach that animal death began with Adam’s sin. In fact, the Bible never even teaches that animals were created to live forever.

4. Genealogies

Most young-Earth advocates will say that we know how old Earth is by adding up the years in all of the genealogies of the Bible. The genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 contain chronological information, such as “When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh… When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan… (Genesis 5:6,9).” Adding these together, along with chronological information in the rest of the Old Testament, and then tying these genealogies into certain dates for late-Old Testament events, results in a timeline that points back to Adam being created about 6000 years ago (or 4004 BC, as Archbishop Ussher famously calculated). Earth is, according to the YEC interpretation, only six days older than Adam, so Earth itself also is only 6000 years old as well.

There are several problems with this line of reasoning. Some YECs recognize these, and are willing to push Adam back a few thousand years, such as to 10,000 BC. I would like to focus on just one problem. As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in a real Adam and Eve. If we take these genealogies and chronologies in the YEC sense, then Adam lived in the Neolithic, about 6-10 thousand years ago (some old-Earth Christians push this date back further). The genealogies may point to this time frame, but they do not help us to address the interpretive questions we have with Genesis 1. In other words, Adam may have lived 10,000 years ago, and the Earth and universe could still be billions of years old. We can believe in a real Adam, Eve, Garden of Eden, and first sin, and hold to one of the various old-Earth understandings of Genesis 1, such as the day-age, analogical-days, historical creation, or framework interpretations.

In other words, the genealogies are largely irrelevant to the question of the age of the Earth.

5. The New Testament does not teach a young Earth

Finally, YECs often say that the New Testament, including Jesus himself, teaches a young Earth. They will point to verses such as Mark 10:6, where Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female,’” or Luke 11:50-51, which states, “so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah.” YECs will emphasize the “from the beginning of creation” part of Mark 10:6, because it seems to place the first humans at the very beginning of time, not billions of years after the initial creation.

We need to think a little more carefully, however, about the phrase “from the beginning of creation,” and ask the question, “Creation of what?” Note that Jesus does not say “from the beginning of creation of the universe.” The context in Mark 10 is a discussion of divorce, not the origin of the sun, moon, stars, and Earth itself. Jesus specifically refers to God making humans male and female, whom he brought together in marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:7-8; Gen 2:24). It is possible that Jesus had in mind “from the beginning of the creation of the universe,” but given the marriage context, it is also possible that Jesus was referring to “the beginning of the creation of humans and marriage.” The YEC interpretation of Mark 10:6 is possible, but there are other valid understandings of this verse, so it is a stretch to say that Jesus was a young-Earth creationist.

Conclusion

The young-Earth, calendar-day interpretation is one of several possible interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis. Other interpretations that are within biblical orthodoxy include the day-age, framework, and analogical-days interpretations, as outlined in the Report of the Creation Study Committee of the inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative Presbyterian Church in America. The age of the Earth is not used as part of a theological argument anywhere in the Bible, and has no bearing on any core doctrine, so it should not be a topic Christians divide over. Some YECs insist that the age of the Earth is a gospel issue, but this is clearly not the case. Most old-Earth Christians, including myself, affirm the core doctrines of the Christian faith that are involved in the opening chapters of Genesis, such as creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible, a real Adam and Eve, a real Garden of Eden, a real fall into sin, and a real promise of a coming savior (Genesis 3:15).

I adopt an old-Earth view for both biblical and scientific reasons, but I fully accept and respect those who, for biblical reasons, accept the young-Earth view. To insist that Genesis only allows for the young-Earth interpretation is not supportable biblically, as I have briefly outlined here. Being that there is overwhelming geological evidence that Earth is much older than 10,000 years, it is harmful for evangelism and discipleship to present the young-Earth view as the only infallible interpretation of Genesis.

Grace and Peace

——————-

Notes:

©2019 Kevin Nelstead


The original title of this article was “Five biblical reasons I am not a young-Earth creationist,” which was a bit misleading as a title. I am not attempting to teach that the Bible does not allow for a young Earth, only that the Bible does not require a young Earth. 3/15/2020


A printer-friendly PDF of this article may be downloaded here: Five biblical reasons I am not a young earth creationist.pdf

Unless stated otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV). The quote marked as NIV comes from the 1984 edition of the New International Version.

YEC is an abbreviation for young-Earth creationist/creationism that is accepted by many within the YEC community. Other common abbreviations in this discussion are OEC (old-Earth creationist) and TE or EC (theistic evolutionist or evolutionary creationist).

I gave links to books by Schaeffer, Ramm, Custance, and Pun, which greatly influenced my thinking back in the 1980s. A few books I would recommend now are here.

The Facebook discussion for this post is here.

Review – Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins

Bishop, R.C., Funck, L.L., Lewis, R.J., Moshier, S.O., and Walton, J.H, 2018, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective, Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 659 p.

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins is authored by five professors from Wheaton College. Wheaton is an Evangelical institution with rigorous admissions standards, and therefore has a smarter-than-usual student body. These professors have been jointly teaching a class on origins (SCI 311) at Wheaton for a number of years, giving students an overview of both biblical and scientific aspects of origins.

The book is divided into seven sections:

  1. Getting Started on the Journey – Four chapters on biblical interpretation and the interaction between science and Christian faith. These chapters lay a foundation for the rest of the book, and introduce themes which permeate many of the scientific concepts that follow, such as the functional integrity and ministerial action of the creation.
  2. Cosmic Origins – Six chapters covering Genesis 1, the big bang model and fine tuning in the universe. The unit ends with a chapter on “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on the Origins of the Universe” (units 3–6 end with a similar chapter).
  3. Origin and Geologic History of Earth – Eight chapters covering the origin of the solar system, catastrophism and uniformitarianism; the interpretation of the flood account in Genesis, geologic time, and Earth history.
  4. Origin of Life on Earth – Five chapters covering abiogenesis (the origin of life), as well as theological perspectives on the topic.
  5. Origin of Species and the Diversity of Life – Five chapters on biological evolution.
  6. Human Origins – Four chapters on biblical and evolutionary perspectives on the origin of humanity.
  7. Concluding Postscript – One chapter: “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on New Creation, Creation Care, and Science Education.”

This book is not written as an unbiased overview of all the Christian perspectives on origins. In other words, it is not like the Four Views on ________ books (some of which are excellent) that are already available at Christian bookstores. Instead, the book is written from a perspective that accepts big-bang cosmology, standard old-Earth geology, and biological evolution as scientifically-valid ways of understanding God’s creation. In terms of biblical interpretation, the book is written from a perspective that views the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God, but which also places a strong interpretive emphasis on the worldviews present in the ancient world. If you have read any of John Walton’s Lost World books (Such as The Lost World of Genesis One), you will have an idea what to expect in the sections on biblical interpretation (though written more for a general audience than the Lost World books). The authors, therefore, fall within the broad credal orthodoxy of “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The authors accept Adam and Eve as historical persons, as well as Noah’s flood as a historical event, but interprets these less literally than either young-Earth creationists, or old-Earth creationists such as Hugh Ross.

The chapters which examine what the Bible says about origins topics (e.g. Chapter 13, The Genesis Flood, and Chapter 29, Human Origins: Genesis 2–3) are excellent. In fact, the examination of why Noah’s flood does not, according to Genesis 6–9, have to be what we would picture as a global deluge, is one of the best I have read. This book will provide its readers with a solid foundation not only for understanding the biblical and theological side of origins topics, but will give them greater confidence in the Bible as the inerrant and authoritative Word of God.

The section on geology is the longest part of the book, and consists of the following chapters:

  • Chapter 11 – Origin of the Earth and Solar System
  • Chapter 12 – Historical Roots of Geology: Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism
  • Chapter 13 – The Genesis Flood
  • Chapter 14 – The Rock Cycle and Timescales of Geologic Processes
  • Chapter 15 – Rocks of Ages: Measuring Geologic Time
  • Chapter 16 – Plate Tectonics: A Theory for How the Earth Works
  • Chapter 17 – Reading Earth’s History in Rocks and Fossils
  • Chapter 18 – Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Earth History

In this unit, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins does not cover the same breadth of material as a complete introductory textbook on physical or historical geology would, but what it does cover, it covers in some depth. For instance, Chapter 15 not only discusses radiometric dating in a general way, but introduces more advanced topics such as concordia and isochron dating that are not found in most introductory geology textbooks. Knowledge of these techniques provides readers with greater confidence that radiometric dating works, and usually works well.

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins offers an excellent overview of the biblical and scientific issues surrounding the origins of the universe, Earth, life, biological diversity, and human beings. It is well-written and accessible to non-scientists as well as scientists. It will be a reference work that I go to often for science topics I’m a little weaker on, as well as for biblical and theological arguments regarding origins. I recommend the book for:

  • Educators in Christian schools. This book would be a great teacher’s supplement to my Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home.
  • Home-school parents.
  • Pastors and youth-group workers.
  • Anyone who is serious about Bible-science issues: young-Earth creationists (so they have a better understanding of the “other side”), old-Earth creationists, and evolutionary creationists
  • Christians in the sciences

Grace and Peace

Copyright © 2019 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

I thank IVP Academic for giving me a review copy of this book.

 

Review – A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture

AReformedApproachToScienceAndScriptureA Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture is largely a summary of the insights of the late theologian R.C. Sproul on the topic of the relationship between science and Christian faith. The author is Keith Mathison, professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Florida, and the book is available as a free Kindle book. Don’t let the zero-dollar price tag fool you; this is a great little e-book.

It is common for young-Earth creationists to ask something like, “Are you going to believe God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible science?” There are many ways that an old-Earth Christian could respond to this false distinction between science and Christian faith. I usually respond by saying that I believe that all truth is God’s truth, and that if there appears to be a conflict between the Bible and science, then either we misunderstand God’s Word, God’s world, or both.

R.C. Sproul basically said the same thing, and much more, as Mathison outlines in this book. Much of the book focuses on the topic of the age of the Earth, but it touches on other science and faith issues as well. The book has seven chapters, which I will summarize:

Chapter 1 – All Truth is God’s Truth

It is common for postmodernists to question the concept of truth, but unfortunately, it is also common for Bible-believing Christians to do the same.  These otherwise theologically-orthodox Christians fear that if we consider God’s revelation in creation to be infallible or authoritative, that this will somehow detract from the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Mathison points to the teachings not only of Sproul, but of Augustine, Calvin, and Bavinck to show that “all truth is God’s truth” is an idea that is consistent both with the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and Reformed theology in general.

Chapter 2 – General and Special Revelation

Mathison distinguishes general revelation, which is available to all, and special revelation, such as the Bible, which points us to God’s work of salvation. Because God is truthful in everything he does, Mathison reminds us that “God’s revelation in creation is equally as infallible as His revelation in Scripture, because in both cases, it is God who is doing the revealing, and God is always infallible.”

Chapter 3 – Interpreting General and Special Revelation

We should not approach perceived conflicts between science and the Bible as “God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible science,” but in light of fallible human interpretations of both God’s infallible Word and God’s infallible creation. It is clear that fallible humans have misinterpreted both. Mathison explores this by reviewing the geocentrism vs. heliocentrism controversy of the 1500s and 1600s.

Chapter 4 – Luther, Calvin, and Copernicus

Both Luther and Calvin viewed Copernicus’s heliocentrism as heretical. This chapter takes a closer look at the Copernican Revolution, and what we now recognize to be faulty biblical hermeneutics by the reformers.

Chapter 5 – Earthly Things and Heavenly Things

In this chapter, the author takes a closer look at how the fall into sin affected human reasoning. Human reasoning is affected by sin, but it is not totally ruined. This is especially true in regards to general revelation. Unbelievers will get some things wrong in their understanding of the creation, but this is true for believers as well, and is also true of believers when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

Chapter 6 – When Science and Scripture Conflict

Sproul stated that if he is sure he correctly understands the Scripture, and if Scripture and science seem to conflict, that he would “stand with the Word of God a hundred times out of a hundred.” I agree with this statement. In most situations, we must be willing to take a closer look at both our scientific and Biblical interpretations. One key is to discern what Scripture actually teaches, and the failure to do this is where many science-faith conflicts come from. Mathison states that “Christians have absolutely nothing to fear ultimately from scientific research.”

Chapter 7 – The Age of the Universe and Genesis 1

Sproul, who leaned towards a young-Earth, stated that “the Bible does not give us a date of creation.” In light of this, Mathison warns us against creating false dilemmas in discussions about origins. As an example, Mathison writes, “I have also encountered Christians who have argued that any believer who is convinced that the universe is billions of years old should abandon Christianity because it would mean that the Bible is not true.” This false dichotomy is, unfortunately, common in the young-Earth movement, and it is very harmful both for discipleship and evangelism. When we teach our youth that if the Earth is millions of years old the Bible is a lie, we set them up for a fall. If we present this false dichotomy in evangelism to scientists or the scientifically-literate public, we place an unnecessary obstacle to Christian faith.

It is significant that R.C. Sproul leaned towards the young-Earth interpretation of Genesis, yet was able ultimately to say “I don’t know.” Sproul maintained a charitable relationship with those he disagreed with, which is a loving, Christ-following example for those on all sides of the origins debates within the Church.

The book is available in Kindle format from Amazon.

Grace and Peace

Copyright © 2018 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

 

 

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