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

Six theological reasons why Christians do not have to embrace six-day young-Earth creationism

IGHA vocal set of Christians believes that the book of Genesis requires the age of the universe and Earth to be something like 6000 years. This belief is being reinforced by the release last year (2017) of the documentary Is Genesis History?, which was narrated by Del Tackett, and produced by Thomas Purifoy. The film is very well-made, and will undoubtedly be shown in numerous churches, youth groups, Christian schools, and home schools for years to come.

Thomas Purifoy recently published an article entitled Six Reasons Reformed Christians Should Embrace Six-Day Creation at Challies.com, the influential website of Reformed blogger Tim Challies. Purifoy concludes his article by saying that “6-day creation is the only longterm viable option for Reformed theology.” I also write from within the Reformed, and larger Reformation, community. There are many inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative, highly-qualified, Reformed scholars and pastors who disagree with Purifoy’s conclusion about young-Earth creationism being the only viable option for our theological community. I have drawn from the work of many of these pastors and scholars over the past four decades, and hope in this essay to show that one can be true to both the Word of God and to Reformation theology, and come to the conclusion that Earth may indeed be far older than 6000 years.

In his article, Thomas Purifoy gives six theological reasons for embracing young-Earth creationism. Four of the following section headings are identical in wording to those used by Purifoy in his article; two of the headings have been slightly modified. It should not be surprising that I, as an old-Earth Christian with deep roots in the Reformation, have almost identical statements as Thomas Purifoy regarding our theology of creation. This is because the age of the universe is a secondary matter, and Reformed young-Earth creationists and I have much more in common in regards to our theology than those points that divide us.

1. God’s goodness is indeed reflected in both the original and present creation

Thomas Purifoy had his heading worded a little differently for his first point in his Challies.com article – “God’s Goodness Must Be Reflected in the Original Creation.” I could have used the same wording, but I decided to expand the concept a bit.

In Genesis 1, God does indeed pronounce his creation to be “good,” and even “very good.” There is a bit of discussion among commentators about what exactly is meant by “good” in the opening passage of Genesis (1:1-2:3). Is this goodness the same as perfection, or is it a goodness of purpose? Young-Earth creationists often portray this goodness as meaning perfect in every way, without anything that we would consider to be a flaw. The pre-sin world is regularly depicted as being a gentle world, overflowing with abundance, and where the overall system is mature and complete, with no hint of anything in the least bit deadly or dangerous. The entire Earth is described in this young-Earth scenario as if the entire world were the garden of Eden. This perspective minimizes the fact that Genesis 2 portrays Eden as a limited sanctuary in Mesopotamia, with the world outside of the garden as a wild place in need of being subdued, or brought under the dominion of the newly-appointed viceregents over creation, Adam and Eve. This wildness implies lions and tigers and bears, not just bunnies and cuddly puppies (or domesticated, friendly Tyrannosaurus rexes). Perhaps the Earth of Genesis 1 wasn’t quite as tame as the young-Earth advocates believe it was. Like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, the creation was good, but not necessarily tame or safe.

There is a clue in Genesis 2 that helps us narrow down the meaning of the goodness spoken of in Genesis 1. In 2:18 we are told that there was something “not good” in the creation: that the man was alone. This certainly indicates that the goodness in Genesis 1 is not the same as moral goodness; it was not immoral or evil that Adam was alone. It may also mean that the goodness referred to is not the same as perfection. In other words, something can be good in God’s eyes even if it is not yet perfect. It seems then, that the goodness referred to in Genesis 1 is a goodness of purpose, not a moral goodness—though God is morally good—nor a goodness of perfection. God saw that the creation was very good for the plans he had in mind.

That this goodness in Genesis 1 means something other than what young-Earth creationists claim is amplified by what the rest of the Bible teaches about the goodness of creation. We see in Psalm 19:1-6 that the heavens still declare the glory of God. In Acts 17:17, God’s present goodness in creation is revealed in his providential provision of rain and crops. In Romans 1:19-20 the creation still fulfills one of its purposes in that it declares God’s attributes, so that people are without excuse when they deny him. Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:4, declares this ongoing goodness of creation even more explicitly: “For everything created by God is good.” None of these biblical claims would hold true if the creation didn’t still retain a significant amount of its goodness even after Adam’s fall into sin. If our world in its present state can be described by God as being good, then there is nothing to stop God from considering the pre-Adam world as being good and ready for his redemptive plan as well, even over a period of many millions of years.

2. Adam’s sin resulted in human spiritual and physical death

In the Challies.com article, this was stated as “Adam’s Sin Resulted in Universal Corruption and Death,” which goes well beyond what the Bible itself says about death in the natural world.

As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in a real Adam who committed a real sin which brought spiritual and physical death to the human race. The Bible nowhere states, however, that animal death is the result of human sin. The relevant passages (in Genesis 3:14-19, Romans 5:12-17, Romans 8:19-22, and 1 Corinthians 15:21-28;35-57) all make a connection between Adam’s sin and human death, but none of these passages tie animal death to Adam’s sin.

Because of this, we cannot say with theological certainty, as Purifoy does in his article, that the fossils in Earth’s crust are a testimony to God’s judgment on human sin. The fossil record is simply not a topic the Scriptures address. The Bible is silent on the topic of animal death before the fall, and does not even say that animals were created to be immortal. Instead we see in the Scriptures that carnivorous activity is a normal part of God’s good creation. In Job 38:39-41 and Psalm 104:21-22 (which is a re-telling of Genesis 1 in poetic form), God is the one who provides food for the predators, with no hint that this is evil or something less than good. We may cringe a bit when we see a cheetah take down a gazelle in a documentary, but there is no sign in the Bible that either God or the ancient Hebrews viewed predator-prey relationships as evil or as the consequence of Adam’s sin.

The “universal corruption and death” dogma is often stated as one of the prime biblical arguments for a young Earth, and yet this doctrine is neither “expressly set down in Scripture” nor may it be “by good and necessary consequence deduced from Scripture” (Westminster Confession 1.6, slight grammatical rewording). Despite this, young-Earth creationists often hold this “no animal death before the fall” teaching forth as a litmus test of Christian orthodoxy.

3. The pattern of creation/fall/redemption culminates in the new creation

My wording of this third point is identical to how it was worded in Purifoy’s article.

The outworking of salvation history in the young-Earth perspective is:

creation/fall/redemption/consummation.

The outworking of salvation history in the old-Earth perspective is:

creation/fall/redemption/consummation.

The content and truthfulness of the gospel does not depend in any way on the age of the Earth. In his article, Purifoy suggests that the miracles of Jesus, and the future redemption of the creation, point both back to the original creation and forward to the upcoming new creation. There is no problem with this in itself. But then he states, “For the bookends of creation to match, they must be mirrors of each other. This is only possible with 6-day creation.” There are many connections between Genesis 1-2 and the final chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21-22, but I am not sure that Purifoy’s “mirroring” can be supported from Scripture. There are not only many parallels between Genesis and Revelation, but a number of contrasts as well. In Genesis, the world is immature; in Revelation, the world is mature. In Genesis, the world is pregnant with possibilities; in Revelation those possibilities have come to be. In Genesis, the couple is naked; in Revelation the multitude is clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Genesis has a garden; Revelation a city. It is not necessary for the New Jerusalem to be a mirror of the Garden of Eden (though there are important parallels), so there is no need to have matching bookends, and the declaration of “only possible with 6-day creation” falls apart.

4. Scripture must be used to interpret scripture

Again, my wording of this point is the same to how it is worded in Purifoy’s article. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself” (1.9).

The rule of letting Scripture interpret Scripture does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Earth is only 6000 years old. Even a straightforward comparison of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 should be enough to tell us that at least one of these texts is meant to be taken as something less than a completely literal passage. This should lead us to a further investigation of genre, which is a topic that is often oversimplified in young-Earth literature to “if it isn’t poetry, it must be historical narrative.” If we get the genre of a passage incorrect, then it is likely we will get the interpretation of the passage at least partly incorrect. Many scholars do not believe the genre is “historical narrative,” so it is quite possible that the young-Earth interpretation is incorrect as well.

I could write about letting Scripture interpret Scripture in regards to Genesis 1, but will focus instead on the flood account of Genesis 6-9. One of the reasons I believe Noah’s flood may have been local rather than global in extent is by using Scripture to interpret Scripture. In almost all cases where universal language is used in the Old Testament, the meaning is something other than the superficial, literalistic sense. In other words, “all the earth” usually means something less than “all the earth” in the Bible. To give just one example, we are told in 1 Kings 18:10 that, “As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord [Ahab] has not sent to seek you [Elijah].” No commentator will tell you that this passage must be taken literally to mean that Ahab sent people to all nations from the Aborigines to the Zulus to find Elijah. The literal words say “no nation or kingdom” without any sort of qualifier, but just about any reader, ancient or modern, will read this universal statement as meaning “no nation or kingdom in this area” rather than in the entire Earth. If non-universal language is the norm in the Old Testament—and it is—then we should be at least open to considering this to be the case in Genesis 6-9 as well.

5. Essential doctrines are related to history

Once again, as an old-Earth Christian, my wording of this header is the same as in the young-Earth article.

In the Bible, God often reveals himself not by giving us a list of doctrinal points, but by acting and speaking in history. In fact, Christianity is embedded in history in a way that perhaps no other major religion is. Creation and fall happened in real history. God’s covenant with Abraham, his giving of the law through Moses, and the kingship of David, are presented as real historical events, and are all part of salvation history. Most significantly, the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ all happened in history. If these events did not really happen, then Christianity is not true. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

Once again, as an old-Earth Christian, I believe that Genesis is history. Many Christian doctrines are tied to the historical events of Genesis. Not a single one of these doctrines, however, depends on Earth being 6000 years old. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This is a historical statement for us as Christians whether this happened in roughly 4000 B.C., or 13.8 billion years ago. The alphabet portion of the New England Primer began with “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.” This statement holds true whether Earth is 6000 years old or 4.6 billion years old.

6. Presuppositional thinking helps us understand the discipline of science

One final time, I have left the wording of this point intact from the article by the producer of Is Genesis History?

Presuppositional apologetics is based on the recognition that no one enters into an investigation with an empty mind, and that we all have prejudices that make us open to certain arguments, and closed to others. In other words, there are no neutral positions on any topic. As Christians, we carry certain assumptions about the nature of God’s Word and God’s world into investigations. We don’t take this approach because we have “blind faith,” but because the Holy Spirit has worked those convictions into our hearts and minds, and because we recognize that this approach seems reasonable in light of what we know about the world around us.

My basic presupposition as I approach the study of the relationship between the Bible and science is that all truth is God’s truth, whether it be truth revealed in God’s Word, or truth revealed in God’s world. If there seems to be a conflict between these two revelations, then either we do not correctly understand God’s Word, or we do not correctly understand God’s world (or maybe a bit of both). In the end, if we come to a point of complete understanding, there will be no conflict.

Sometimes young-Earth scholars express their presuppositional approach with a question such as, “Will you believe the infallible words of the Bible, or the fallible words of scientists?” This question assumes that there are some truths that are more true than other truths (as if one true thing can be truer than another true thing). It also makes the assumption that the young-Earth interpretation itself is infallible, when in reality our interpretations can be wrong. Fallible people misread God’s infallible Word, and fallible people misread God’s good creation. It is one thing to have a presupposition that the God of the universe has revealed himself in his inerrant Word; it is a mistake to start with the presupposition that one’s own interpretation, such as the young-Earth interpretation of Genesis 1, is also inerrant.

In closing

In his closing section, Thomas Purifoy quotes D. Martin Lloyd-Jones: “I have no gospel unless Genesis is history.” I can say, “Amen” to that.

A few years ago, I posted my “Creation Creed” here at GeoChristian.com:

As an old-Earth Christian,

I believe in a real creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible,

And in a real Adam,

Who lived in a real garden,

And who committed a real first sin.

I believe that this sin had consequences:

spiritual and physical death for all of humanity.

I believe in Jesus Christ as our only savior,

And as the ruler and redeemer of all creation.

This creed is rooted in the historical events of Genesis.

I could say much more, of course, but have already written a far longer article than what I had hoped. This essay is not a comprehensive defense of any given old-Earth interpretation. Reformed Christians (as well as Christians from other traditions) who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture fall on both sides of the young-Earth/old-Earth debate. I hope that I have demonstrated that there are valid answers to the theological concerns that my young-Earth brothers and sisters in Christ have about the consequences of accepting an ancient creation.

Grace and Peace


Notes:

I have a great amount of respect for both Del Tackett (who also narrated The Truth Project series) and Thomas Purifoy. Thomas did a tremendous amount of research in preparation for producing Is Genesis History? He read weighty books from both sides of the debate (but it seems only got personal input from the young-Earth side; I could be wrong) I have had some correspondence with Thomas (Facebook messenger), and he has always been gracious and articulate. I just think he is wrong, and that young-Earth creationism is neither biblically necessary nor scientifically credible.

I am a member of a church in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a theologically-conservative Reformed denomination that affirms biblical inerrancy (Del Tackett, the narrator of Is Genesis History?, is an elder within the PCA). The PCA as a denomination takes no official stand on the age of the Earth, and has produced an excellent document outlining both young-Earth and old-Earth interpretations of Genesis that are acceptable within the denomination. This document is the Report of the Creation Study Committee. I highly recommend this report!

It is refreshing that Thomas Purifoy acknowledges, “I realize that intelligent and godly Reformed Christians hold to [old-Earth] models of Earth history.” In the past, the list of old-Earth Reformed scholars and pastors included B.B. Warfield, Charles Spurgeon, and Francis Schaeffer. In the present, this list includes Justin Taylor, Michael Horton, and John Piper.

I have written a number of (mostly) short articles about Biblical topics regarding creation in my GeoScriptures series (a series I hope to add to). I will highlight a few of these articles:

I have written a number of articles about the age of the Earth and the extent and work of Noah’s flood on my blog as well. Take a look at the Best of the GeoChristian page. Here are a few highlights:

The ESV Study Bible is written from a Reformed perspective, and I have written a four-part series about the study notes. The study notes on Genesis, creation, and the flood include both young-Earth and old-Earth interpretations. One of the links I share most often with my young-Earth friends is the one about dinosaurs (actually the lack thereof) in the book of Job.

Another excellent article is PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth, written by eight geologists who are members of churches in the Reformed and theologically-conservative Presbyterian Church in America. The geological evidence presented by young-Earth creationists, such as in Is Genesis History? has failed to convince most Christian geologists, even those who hold to a high view of Scripture. One would think that if the arguments are even slightly compelling, that Christian geologists would jump in large numbers to the young-Earth side. They don’t.

Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

The Facebook discussion for this article is here.

Copyright © 2018, Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

An old-Earth Christian film review of Genesis: Paradise Lost

genesisOn two nights this past week (Nov 13 and 16, 2017), the young-Earth creationist (YEC) documentary Genesis: Paradise Lost was shown in select movie theaters across America. I spent $15 (the most I have ever spent for a movie) and sat in the upper corner of the theater where there was a little light that enabled me to scribble some notes. This movie included speakers from Answers in Genesis as well as other institutions, and will undoubtedly be a fixture in the YEC segment of Evangelical Christianity for quite a while.

The purpose of the film is to promote the young-Earth interpretation of Genesis 1-11, as stated on the movie’s web site:

Cutting-edge cinematography meets proven science and biblical accuracy to deliver GENESIS: PARADISE LOST, bringing the first book of the Bible to life in both 2D and 3D formats on the big screen. Stunning visual effects and field research invite audiences to explore the much-studied and debated opening chapters of the Bible. This highly-anticipated movie event will show in cinemas nationwide on Monday, November 13 at 7:00 p.m. local time.

GENESIS: PARADISE LOST will entertain and educate as an event for the whole family. The digital animation is interwoven with insightful commentary from accredited scientists and educators such as Dr. Charles Jackson and Dr. Georgia Purdom, and popular speakers such as Ken Ham and Ray Comfort. Cultural apologist Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr.’s deep booming voice serves as Genesis’ “unseen narrator” whose vocal presence gives the visual images deeper meaning and life.

Summary

Genesis: Paradise Lost began with brief statements from various YEC scholars, such as:

  • “Science has been hijacked.”
  • “You either trust God, or trust man.”
  • “There are only two possibilities.”
  • “The big bang, millions of years, and evolution are all fairy tales.”
  • “If you can’t believe Genesis 1-11, then what part of the Bible can you trust?”

The bulk of the documentary alternated between narration of portions of Genesis 1-3 and short statements by various YEC scientists, Bible scholars, and teachers. The narration (slow and deep) was accompanied by computer animation of the various creative acts of God, such as the creation of light, the separation of land and water, the separation of waters above from waters below, the emergence of plants and animals, and the creation of Adam and Eve.

The style of the speakers was what I would call “flash bang grenade.” One speaker would say something, then another would say something related, and then another. For the most part, these were sound bites that those who are already YECs would agree with, rather than a presentation of any sort of sustained biblical or scientific argument. The segments flowed from one part of Genesis 1-3 to another, but the arguments still seemed to be somewhat disconnected. There was nothing in these sound-bite arguments that convinced me, as an old-Earth Christian, that the Bible requires a young Earth, or that science points to a young Earth.

The movie ended with a presentation of the gospel: The bad news of sin, and the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Some Strong Points

YEC documentaries have come a long way from the days of Dr. Dino videos. The animations of the events of creation were all well done.

There were viewpoints expressed by the speakers that I agreed with. For example, I agree that naturalism is insufficient to explain the origin of the universe, and probably the origin of life as well.

I rejoice to hear the gospel presented, even when it is presented in a context that I believe is highly problematic (Philippians 1:18). The bad news is that humans are sinful and in rebellion against God. Because of Adam’s sin, and because of our own sin, we live in a world of misery and death rather than flourishing and life. God’s solution is Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, that those who put their faith in him can be restored to what God intended for humanity back in the Garden of Eden. I agree with all of this, and none of it depends on Earth being only 6,000 years old.

Biblical and Scientific Problems

Though there were a few things in the movie I agreed with, I found many more areas of disagreement. Here are a few, starting with some Biblical problems with the movie, and then moving on to scientific difficulties:

It was dogmatically stated that Genesis 1 has the genre of historical narrative, and that the text must therefore be read “literally.” Many inerrancy-affirming, Evangelical Old Testament scholars would disagree that the genre of Genesis 1 is “historical narrative.” The problem is that many YEC scholars oversimplify the issue by presenting the only genre options as historical narrative or poetry, when in fact there are a number of genres in the Old Testament. Obviously, Genesis 1 is not poetry in the same sense that Psalms or Proverbs are poetry. But when reading Genesis 1, even in English, it is clear that Genesis 1 has patterns that are not present in standard Hebrew historical narrative passages, such as in most of the rest of Genesis, or the historical portions of Exodus through 2 Chronicles. Old Testament scholar C. John Collins calls the genre of Genesis 1:1-2:4 “exalted prose narrative,” indicating that there is something much higher going on in this section than in more ordinary narrative passages. The vocabulary is more exalted, there are analogies, and the structure of the opening passage of Genesis is perhaps unique in ancient Hebrew literature. If interpreters don’t get the genre of the passage correct—and YECs may indeed be getting it wrong—then it is likely that the final interpretation will also be wrong.

It was also stated that Jesus believed that Genesis is real history, with the implication that Jesus was endorsing the young-Earth interpretation. I agree that Jesus affirmed the historicity of Adam, and of Noah and the flood. As an old-Earth Christian, I therefore also believe in a real Adam and Eve in a real garden, committing a real sin, and in a real Noah who rode out a real flood in a real boat with real animals. None of this requires, however, a young Earth or a global flood.

The movie did not present the Garden of Eden as it is described in the Bible. Genesis 2 describes the garden as being at a specific location on Earth, identified as being in the Ancient Near East by the four rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates. Genesis never describes the entire Earth as being the Garden of Eden. Instead, the garden seems to be a protected place (with Adam and Eve having a role in its protection), with the rest of the Earth being a wild place in need of subduing. Nevertheless, the film stated that the entire planet was lush from pole to pole; a paradise in its golden age in which animals could grow to enormous sizes. But this is not what the Bible says.

The movie stated that there are immense amounts of evidence for humans and dinosaurs living together. The speaker mentioned dinosaur-like petroglyphs, and references to dragons in the historical records of many cultures. In reality, I believe there is no convincing evidence that humans and dinosaurs ever lived together. YECs commonly point to the creatures Behemoth and Leviathan in Job 40-41 as proof that dinosaurs lived back in the second millennium B.C. Much more sober Bible commentators have better, more natural explanations for the identity of these creatures. A brief explanation of the identity of Behemoth and Leviathan can be found in the notes of the ESV Study Bible.

The presentation on radiometric dating wasn’t even all that consistent with the largest YEC research project on the topic, which was the RATE study. The film listed four assumptions that must be true for radiometric dating to work: 1) known initial concentrations of the parent and 2) daughter nuclides, 3) a constant decay rate, and 4) a closed system. So far so good. The RATE study concluded that, in most cases, assumptions 1, 2, and 4 can indeed be demonstrated, which was not mentioned in the movie. The RATE scientists, therefore, focused on questioning assumption #3, the decay rate. The documentary presented lutetium-176 (I think that was the nuclide) as an example of a radioactive nuclide for which the decay rate can be changed dramatically in a laboratory. What they didn’t tell you is that lutetium-176 has to be completely ionized in a plasma at a temperature of millions of degrees for this to happen. This is hardly applicable to the conditions on Earth during a flood or at any other time. The speakers in the film also didn’t mention that accelerating radioactive decay millions of times faster would release enough heat to boil Earth’s oceans and melt part of Earth’s crust as well.

It was also stated that the geologic column (Precambrian—Cambrian—Ordovician—Silurian—etc.) is the product of circular reasoning. This also is a common YEC argument: that rocks are dated by fossils, but that fossils are dated by rocks. This is a faulty argument, and confuses inductive reasoning with circular reasoning. The concept of the geologic column, as the better YECs acknowledge, reflects a real order that is observed in nature. Rock layers, in undisturbed areas, always occur in the order Cambrian—Ordovician—Silurian—Devonian…, not in some mixed-up order like Triassic—Ordovician—Jurassic—Silurian. Always. The geologic column is a product of inductive, not circular, reasoning.

I picked just six out of a couple dozen topics I could have chosen for critique. Note that I have spent more time on the Biblical problems with the movie than with the scientific problems. I believe that young-Earth creationism is not only faulty in terms of science, but a stretch in some ways of the text of Genesis.

Conclusion

The people involved in making Genesis: Paradise Lost, whether the producers and backers, or those who spoke in the film, are sincere Christians with a love for God’s Word, and a desire to see people come to faith in Christ. I commend them for their love and zeal.

I am convinced, however that the young-Earth interpretation is an over-reading of the text of Genesis, which actually forces many things into the Bible that are not there. There are a number of reasons to suspect that the intention of Moses was not to give us a geology lesson on the age of the Earth or the extent and work of Noah’s flood. In any case, Genesis says nothing about the origin of the igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks of Earth crust; volcanoes, canyons, glaciers, and many other geological wonders of God’s creation.

Furthermore, the scientific arguments presented in the movie, on topics such as radiometric dating, deposition of sediments, plate tectonics, comets, planetary surfaces, fossils, or fossilized poop, are just about all unsupportable. Most of these features cannot be explained in the young-Earth framework. For example, it was stated that it would impossible for things like worms or feces to be preserved in the fossil record by the slow deposition of sediments. I actually see no reason why an occasional worm or turd could not be preserved in certain depositional environments, but cannot imagine how worms and piles of excrement could survive being suspended in a watery slew of abrasive sediments in a catastrophic flood and then be deposited in just the right part of the geologic column (dinosaur poop in the Mesozoic; elephant poop in the Cenozoic) without being obliterated. Very few Christian geologists are convinced by YEC arguments, either for the age of the Earth, or the origin of the rocks of Earth’s crust.

I believe that the movie presents bad science based on a questionable interpretation of Genesis. Bad science, no matter how well-intended, is bad apologetics, and bad apologetics drives people away from Christianity.

Genesis: Paradise Lost is just part one of a two-part series. Part one focused on Genesis 1-3, so I assume part two will focus on Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9.

Grace and Peace

———————————————————————-
Notes:

None of the quotes should be taken as direct quotes, as I was scribbling notes in a rather dim setting.

I haven’t written a review yet for the other 2017 YEC documentary, which was Is Genesis History? I would say that Is Genesis History? makes a much stronger case for young-Earth creationism, as it presents sustained arguments rather than a string of sound bites. Not that I was convinced by either the Biblical or the scientific arguments in Is Genesis History? either.

 

Review of Earth Science textbook in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

earthscienceThere have been a number of positive reviews of my Earth Science textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, published by Novare Science and Math. One of the most comprehensive reviews is in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 69, Number 2, June 2017, pp. 111-113). The review was written by a middle school science teacher, who like me, had been forced to use secular textbooks in a Christian school because of the lack of credible options. Here are some highlights:

“The text is very readable, and it includes appropriate graphics to illustrate concepts and provide examples. Nelstead’s warm voice present in the text suggests a caring teacher behind the writing rather than the cold prose typical in many science textbooks.”

“Nelstead is clear throughout the text that he loves scripture and holds the perspective that the Bible reveals God as the caring, sovereign Creator. He emphasizes the perspective in this text as one that accepts “the strong evidence for an old universe” (p. xvi). However, Nelstead also encourages Christian educators to put the issues of the age-of-the-Earth debate behind them, stating, “Since Scripture and creation both come from the same God, they cannot be in conflict. And when both are rightly understood, they won’t be” (p. xvi). I recognize that not all Christian educators will agree with this perspective. However, many Christian educators teach with secular texts that embody a very different worldview than that of the teacher. The fact that Nelstead is upfront about his beliefs and how they influence the writing of the book is encouraging, and a model that Christian educators might follow.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading this text, and I believe Christians teaching science will find it a valuable resource. It may prove to be an excellent textbook choice for an earth science course for students in grades 7–9, and I would recommend that science teachers in Christian schools examine it for themselves for possible adoption. Christians involved in teaching science at other grade levels or in different types of schools would also benefit from this text as a resource to keep on the shelf. I believe that anyone interested in a thoughtful elaboration of Earth science that holds a biblical perspective as integral to that study would benefit from reading this book.”

Novare’s Earth Science is the textbook some Christian educators have been waiting for for decades. Buy it directly from Novare rather than from Amazon, which is over-priced.

Book Review – Dictionary of Christianity and Science

DictionaryMy 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.

How can I say I believe the Bible if I don’t believe it all “literally?”

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?”

My answer:

“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

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An old-Earth Christian at the Creation Museum Part 1 —  Rescuing souls but sinking the ship

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.

wp-image-2048483396jpg.jpgMuch 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