I get called all sorts of names by some of my young-Earth brothers and sisters in Christ: Liar, Compromiser, Rabid Theistic Evolutionist, So-Called Christian. I am accused of listening to the hissing of the serpent, of following Baal rather than Yahweh, and of denying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am sorry that my old-Earth beliefs bring up such anger. I am seeking to do my best to understand God’s Word and God’s world, and to communicate in love. I am certain that I fall short in all three of these efforts.
Here’s an applicable article from The Gospel Coalition: “10 Reasons to Be Humble Toward Opponents.” I will highlight a few items:
1. Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). — May I not be more zealous for my agenda than for God’s glory and the building up of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Because we are sinners too. — I am certainly a sinner, and at times love the argument more than I love my brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me.
6. You aren’t the issue; God’s glory is. — I don’t have to win. I don’t have to defend myself. I do have to submit to God and love my neighbor.
7. A humble response to attacks will motivate church members to join you. — I could bulldoze the typical young-Earth creationist who comments on the Facebook pages of young-Earth organizations. What will be accomplished if I do so?
8. Your enemies may be right… about something. — There are young-Earth arguments that I do not fully know how to answer. There are old-Earth arguments that I might get wrong. My young-Earth brothers and sisters have valid insights into the Scriptures. I might be getting some things wrong about what the Bible says about God’s creation.
9. Humility will adorn the gospel for outsiders to see. — I try to make it clear that I consider myself to be on the same side as my young-Earth brothers and sisters in Christ. I find myself defending people like Ken Ham from charges of heresy (Ken Ham is not a heretic). The unity we have in Christ far outweighs those things that divide us.
I am sure there are things from numbers 3, 4, 5, and 10 in the Gospel Coalition article that would also apply to me as I interact with those who disagree with me.
Grace and Peace
My ignorance will always exceed my knowledge. This is true even in subjects in which I have a considerable level of expertise. I have been studying various science-faith topics for more than three decades, and have substantial depth of knowledge in some areas. Over the years, I have focused most intensely on the relationship between geology and Christianity (including the arguments of the young-Earth creationists), somewhat on the topics of biological evolution and environmental ethics, and hardly at all on some other important science-faith issues. I would not, for instance, be able to write authoritatively about how cognitive science, string theory, or recent advances in human genetics relate to Christian apologetics. I have a few hundred books in my personal library, but don’t have a collection—and am not sure I would even want one—that covers all of the issues that are raised in the dialog between Christianity and Science.
As a science writer and science apologist, however, I need to at least be conversant in a range of topics outside of my core areas. A new, useful resource is Dictionary of Christianity and Science, published by Zondervan. This 691-page volume has over 400 articles of various lengths, written by over 100 contributors.
Christians do not always agree, of course, on how science and Christianity properly relate. The Dictionary has a number of multiple-view discussions, with separate articles written by authors from diverging perspectives. For instance, the two “Adam and Eve” articles are written from a “First-Couple View” (by young-Earth Bible scholar Todd Beale) and a “Representative-Couple View” (by old-Earth theologian Trempor Longman III). Some examples of topics that have multiple articles are:
- Adam and Eve
- Age of the Universe and Earth
- Climate Change
- Days of Creation
- Fossil Record
- Genesis Flood (four articles)
- Genesis, Interpretations of Chapters 1 and 2
- Hominid Fossils
- Human Evolution
Some controversial topics are covered by only one article. When the subject relates to the age of the Earth or universe, these single articles are written from an old-Earth perspective. Examples include the articles on dinosaurs (Stephen Moshier), the Cambrian explosion (Darrel Falk), the big bang (Hugh Ross), and radiometric dating (Ken Wolgemuth). This approach is consistent with the fact that most leading Christian apologists do not use young-Earth arguments in defense of the faith. Articles written about controversial Christian individuals or organizations are generally written by a “friendly” author, such as the articles on Answers in Genesis and Ken Ham written by Marcus Ross, himself a young-Earth creationist, and the article on The Biologos Foundation penned by Deborah Haarsma, who is the president of Biologos.
I will never be an expert on string theory, the Chinese room argument, or Bayes’ theorem, but as one who writes about science and Christian faith, I should at least know the basics on a breadth of issues. I recommend Dictionary of Christianity and Science for students who are new to the controversies that surround the relationship between Christian faith and science, as well as to science-faith veterans who need to keep abreast on a wide range of science-faith topics.
I would like to thank Zondervan for providing me with a preprint of the first 130 pages, and then a complimentary copy of the complete book. Dictionary of Christianity and Science will be available for sale on April 25th.
Reasons to Believe (old-Earth Christian apologetics organization of Hugh Ross et al.) has a nice review of my new textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home.
“Overall, Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home is an outstanding textbook to add to an old-earth science curriculum. Compared to a few years ago, we now have a rich well of resources to draw from for teaching science to young students, whether it is in formal classrooms at a Christian school or in homeschooling environments. As a matter of fact, this particular book, while excellent at teaching concepts for its intended middle school audience, could even be used at the community college level. Anyone looking for an earth science textbook for junior high or high schoolers should definitely consider this book. The straightforward writing keeps the focus on the science. Yet, as students might discover, science (as a study of God’s creation) should engender the soul and the mind to worship the Creator.”
Thank you to Dan Bakken for taking the time to review the book, and to Reasons to Believe for publishing the review.
Grace and Peace
The folks at Biologos.org have interviewed me regarding Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, my new middle school textbook published by Novare Science and Math.
I recently spent about seven hours at the Creation Museum run by the young-Earth creationist (YEC) organization Answers in Genesis in northern Kentucky (I visited the museum, not the new Ark Encounter). As I anticipated, the exhibits at the museum are all of the highest quality. Whether the displays were animatronic dinosaurs, dioramas of the garden of Eden; fossils, mounted insects, or reconstructions of hominids, they were at the same level of quality one would expect to find in the Smithsonian Institution.
One thing that surprised me was how crowded the museum was. I was there on a Saturday, which is probably the museum’s busiest day of the week. Because of the crowds, I moved through the first parts of the “Walk Through History”—the main exhibits portion of the museum—at a snail’s pace. That so many people would spend $30 per adult to visit the Creation Museum speaks of the enormous influence young-Earth creationism has on the general Evangelical culture in America.
Much of the museum’s “Walk Through History” is arranged around the “7 C’s” of salvation. My young-Earth siblings in Christ and I have the gospel in common , with some secondary areas of disagreement:
- Creation — As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible. I don’t believe that the Bible requires a young Earth.
- Corruption — I believe in a real Adam who committed a real sin that has ramifications for each one of us today. The extent of that corruption is not clearly outlined in the Bible. For example, the Bible nowhere ties animal death to Adam’s sin.
- Catastrophe — Noah’s flood was certainly catastrophic for Noah’s contemporaries, and was universal from Noah’s point of view. But the Bible does not say that Noah’s flood created the bulk of the features of Earth’s crust, and the catastrophism of young-Earth creationism simply does not work as an explanation for Earth’s history.
- Confusion — As with the initial creation and Noah’s flood, young-Earth creationists read much more into the account of the Tower of Babel than what the Bible itself teaches. The nations in the “table of nations” in Genesis 10 are probably all located in the Eastern Mediterranean and ancient Near East, which implies that the story of Babel in Genesis 11 isn’t about the origin of Australian Aborigines or African Zulus.
- Christ — I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” (John 1:1 NIV).
- Cross — Again, I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God’s solution for the corruption of sin introduced in Genesis 3. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)
- Consummation — Christ will come again as king over all creation. The effects of Adam’s sin will be completely undone.
If the YECs get the gospel right, why do I write against them? There are certainly thousands of people who claim they came to faith—or have had their faith strengthened—through young-Earth creationism, and I rejoice when people come to faith in Christ (Phil 1:18). But countless others have been turned away from Christianity because of the really bad science presented at places like the Creation Museum. Many of these are young people who grew up in the church on a steady diet of YEC teachings in Sunday school, youth groups, and Christian schools. Once they grew up and figured out that YEC does not work in the real world, they discarded their Christianity along with their AiG or Dr. Dino videos. After all, they had had “If the Earth is millions of years old, the Bible isn’t true” drilled into their heads by well-meaning YEC advocates.
In addition to driving youth out of the church, YEC teachings close the door for fruitful evangelism to many outside the church, adding fuel to the fire of those who find Christianity unreasonable. In a society that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, we should not be surprised that many find Christianity to be foolish. But let it be the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor 1:17-2:5) that drives people away from Christ, not the foolishness of bad YEC science.
Grace and Peace
I have the unexpected opportunity to visit the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky in a few days.
- High quality — Skeptics and AiG fans alike acknowledge that the museum experience is at a high level. The displays and presentations are all professionally done. This isn’t a mom and pop roadside museum. The museum staff will be courteous and helpful.
- Beautiful grounds — I am looking forward to a stroll through the gardens.
- Commitment to the authority of the Scriptures — A committment that I share.
- Clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus — We are all sinners deserving God’s wrath, but the good news is that Jesus died on the cross to take God’s wrath and rose from the dead.
Expectations of disagreement
- Questionable Biblical interpretation — I don’t think “literal six days of creation only 6000 years ago” is the only way, and probably not the best way, to understand the text of Genesis 1-2.
- Bad science — Lots of bad science, especially when it comes to historical geology. Bad science is bad apologetics that drives people away from the gospel.
A Geology Presentation
I hope to be able to sit in on this talk by Dr. Andrew Snelling, the Answers in Genesis staff geologist. It is one thing for a large, deep magma chamber to crystallize rapidly (by rapidly, I mean over a period of decades or centuries), it is another thing to fit the emplacement of a complex batholith into Earth’s crust (complete with multiple injections of magma) in just a few day’s time and then have it exhumed by uplift and erosion a very short time later so it can be eroded and incorporated into sediments of the same or next geologic period. The problems abound.
What will the museum staff think about my t-shirt?
Here’s my custom t-shirt for my day at the museum:
Some have warned me, “They won’t let you wear that.”
The museum “Attraction Rules” say, “We reserve the right to deny admission to or remove any person wearing attire that we consider inappropriate, or attire that could be considered offensive, disrespectful, or inappropriate to others.”
I have a hard time seeing them justifying banning my shirt for a direct quote from Charles Spurgeon, but it is their museum, and Spurgeon was, after all, a dangerous compromiser.
I’ll bring another shirt with me just in case.
Grace and Peace
Many highly-regarded, Bible-believing scholars, pastors, and other Christian leaders see no incompatibility between the teachings of the Bible and acceptance of an ancient Earth. In the past, I have highlighted J. Gresham Machen, Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, and others. The scholars I just mentioned all adhere (or adhered, many of them are deceased) to a high view of Scripture, including inerrancy. It would be very difficult to make a case that they accept the Biblical possibility of an old Earth because of conformity to the world rather conformity to the teachings of Scripture.
Yet another old-Earth Christian scholar is Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary California, editor of Modern Reformation magazine, and host of the White Horse Inn radio program. In the second chapter of Horton’s book Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Bible, Horton writes about the Biblical doctrine of creation and humans being created in the image of God. The chapter begins with the proper starting point for the Good News about redemption in Christ:
“Whenever we take up the subject of redemption, [Genesis 1:31] is where we need to begin, at the beginning, with creation. Very often, however, a gospel presentation starts with the fall—the origin of human sin and the need for redemption. But creation is the proper starting point for any consideration of human identity and its recovery through the gospel.”
A couple paragraphs later, Horton continues,
“It is only when we more fully appreciate the majesty of humanity as God’s creation that we can adequately weigh the horror of the fall.”
The Christian doctrines of creation and sin are foundational for understanding the good news (gospel) about Jesus. Humans are made in the image of God, so were created to be good in every way, but humans are also universally marred by sin which is an integral part of who each one of us is. In Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Michael Horton is able to distinguish between what is essential in regards to the doctrine of creation (image of God, fall into sin) and what is not essential (age of the Earth). He writes,
Modern science has promised more than it can deliver. That accounts for much of the cynicism postmoderns seem to have toward the answers to their ultimate questions. To be sure, science is better equipped to answer some questions than any other field. For instance, it is science and not theology that will tell us the age of the earth. The Bible does not provide that kind of information, nor does it care to. There are a lot of important and reasonable questions the Bible does not try to answer. If it did, there would be a lot of unemployed geologists.
While science will lead the way toward the discovery of when we got here and will help us find the reasons for how we got here (beyond the revelation we already have in the inspired text of Genesis 1–3), there is a question to which of those other questions ultimately lead, a question, nevertheless, which science will never be able to answer any more than theology will be able to determine the age of the earth. That question is, “Why are we here?”
Many YEC leaders speak out of both sides of their mouths regarding the gospel and the age of the Earth. On their better days, YEC leaders acknowledge that one does not have to believe in a young Earth in order to be a Christian. But then they write a steady stream of articles accusing old-Earth Christians of compromise and even spiritual adultery. I am thankful for writers like Michael Horton who, unlike many of my YEC brothers and sisters in Christ, are able to stick to what is essential in the gospel message.
Grace and Peace
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth (2016), edited and written by a number of highly-qualified, predominately Christian authors, is a devastating critique of the geological arguments of young-Earth creationism (YEC). The subtitle of this new book asks the question, “Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” which is an appropriate question, being that YECs often showcase the Grand Canyon as a place that defies standard, old-Earth geological explanations and can only be explained by a global catastrophic flood event. The authors present an overwhelming case that neither the rock units exposed in the canyon nor the carving of the canyon itself are in any way related to Noah’s flood.
YEC geological arguments for a 6000-year old Earth and the formation of most of Earth’s geological record by a global flood have already been thoroughly examined and rejected by Christian geologists and many others (I recommend The Bible, Rocks and Time by Young and Stearley), but this new book is unique and fills an important niche. I highly recommend this book for several reasons:
- This book is authoritative – written by experts in the topics at hand and in the geology and paleontology of the Grand Canyon.
- This book is well written and skillfully edited. Each of the twenty chapters clearly explains the topic (such as the formation of sedimentary rocks, folding and faulting of rocks, and fossils) and how these features may be used to interpret the origin and history of a given rock layer. The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth was written by eleven talented authors, and the editors have weaved their chapters together seamlessly.
- This book is written at an appropriate level for a general, scientifically-interested audience, taking complex geological ideas and explaining them in a way most readers will understand, without any compromise in accuracy.
- This book is fair to our YEC brothers and sisters in Christ. I have been reading YEC materials for close to four decades, and am familiar enough with YEC arguments to be able to say with confidence that the YEC side has been explained accurately.
- This book is a work of art, with wonderful pictures and graphics and a professional layout. It will look good on any coffee table.
- This book is affordable: only $21.05 on Amazon. That means you will have no problem buying copies for your church library, pastor, and youth workers.
- This book is God-honoring, proclaiming the marvelous works of our wonderful Creator.
The name of the book is a play on the 1995 YEC book Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, written by Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research.
Summary of the book: What YECs get wrong about the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is fairly comprehensive, covering all of the key concepts involved in the interpretation of the geologic history of the Grand Canyon. Rather than giving a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, I’ll focus on some items where YECs get it all wrong:
- YECs get the Bible wrong. In Chapter 2 (What is Flood Geology?), the authors briefly outline instances where YECs wrongfully apply an overly-literalistic reading to the Old Testament rather than reading the text in a natural way. One example of this is taking the universal language (“all the world”) of the account of Noah’s flood to mean literally the entire globe (something ancient Hebrews may not have comprehended) when almost all other instances of universal language in the Old Testament (e.g. all nations coming to buy grain from Joseph in Genesis 41) are not to be taken literally.
- YECs get rapid deposition wrong. YECs will claim that modern coral reefs, some of which are thousands of feet thick, could have formed since the flood through normal coral growth, which can occur at several inches per year. But they leave out the fact that while narrow extensions of corals can grow rapidly, entire reef surfaces grow upwards at substantially slower rates.
- YECs get sedimentary structures wrong. Sedimentary structures include things like ripple marks, mud cracks, raindrop impressions, and cross bedding. These features are abundant in sedimentary rocks, and are very useful for determining the environment in which the rocks formed. Mud cracks form when clay-rich sediments are exposed to the atmosphere and dry out. Mud cracks are very abundant in some rock layers, and extremely difficult to fit into the flood geology model.
- YECs get unconformities wrong. Unconformities are breaks in the sequence of rocks, such as the one billion year gap between the Precambrian crystalline basement rocks and the Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone. YECs describe these unconformities as if there was no evidence of weathering and erosion at the gap, while in reality the evidence for erosion at the unconformities is sometimes rather blatant, such as in the case of the channels filled in by the Temple Butte and Surprise Canyon Formations. The Surprise Canyon Formation fills what appear to be stream channels that cut up to 400 feet into the underlying Redwall Limestone.
- YECs get radiometric dating wrong. If decay rates were much faster during Noah’s flood than they are at present, enough heat would have been released to vaporize Earth’s oceans, which clearly didn’t happen. YEC attempts to discredit radiometric dating of Grand Canyon rocks are flawed.
- YECs get rock deformation wrong. YECs insist that the rock layers of the Grand Canyon were soft when the canyon was carved, and point to tight folding of certain layers as evidence. Upon close examination by geologists, however, these folded layers show an abundance of fractures that are consistent with folding of solid rocks and inconsistent with folding of soft sediments. Soft-sediment deformation is well-understood by modern geologists, and there is no evidence for large-scale soft-sediment deformation in the Grand Canyon.
- YECs get erosion wrong. In the Grand Canyon, sandstone layers form cliffs, and shale layers form slopes. Have you ever tried to build a sand castle with water-saturated sand? It doesn’t work, as the sand flows as a liquefied mass. But YECs want you to believe that recently-deposited (and therefore water-saturated) sand layers would have formed cliffs when eroded. If the sediment layers in the Grand Canyon were soft when eroded, the most resistant layers would be clay (which forms shale). Differential erosion of layers in the Grand Canyon is the opposite of what it should be if YEC flood geology were correct.
- YECs get fossils wrong. The order of fossils in the Grand Canyon is impossible to explain by YEC flood geology. Any explanation for the fossil record must explain the preservation of intact communities of organisms, not just individual fossil organisms. The absence of whole groups of fossils in Grand Canyon sediments (mammals, birds, dinosaurs, flowering plants) is impossible to explain by YEC flood geology.
- YECs get pollen wrong. If YEC were true, there should be pollen from flowering plants in the rocks of the Grand Canyon. There isn’t any.
- YECs get trace fossils wrong. Examples of trace fossils include footprints and burrows. Terrestrial footprints of organisms such as amphibians, spiders, and scorpions are virtually impossible to explain in the YEC flood geology scenario, but they are abundant in the Coconino Sandstone.
- YECs get the carving of the Grand Canyon wrong. The YEC breached dam hypothesis doesn’t provide nearly enough water to do the work. Other examples of catastrophic canyon-carving (Channeled Scablands, Mt. St. Helens) produced features that are quite different from what is found at the Grand Canyon.
I have only scratched the surface of the problems with YEC geology that are presented by the authors.
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth has received endorsements from prominent geologists and theologians. Here are two endorsements from well-known, Bible-believing Evangelical scholars:
“Can Bible-believing Christians also believe that the earth is billions of years old and that the Grand Canyon could not have been formed by Noah’s Flood? Yes, insist the eleven authors of this fascinating book. On page after page, professional geologists explain that “flood geology” omits essential facts and fails to explain massive amounts of evidence in the Grand Canyon itself. This important book must be carefully considered by everyone involved in the debate about the age of the earth.” – Wayne Grudem, Phoenix Seminary
“The various authors of this book have done us all a tremendous service in their patient and clear exposition of geological thinking about the Grand Canyon (a magnificent place in its own right!). They are all clear that the “conflict” we’ve all heard about is not between “the Bible” and “Science,” but rather between interpretations of the Bible and the sciences. Those of us who study and respect the Bible will appreciated this calm laying out of the sciences, and of their discovery of the processes that appear to have been at work. These are God’s processes after all! I urge everyone to read this, believer or not—you will enjoy it.” – C. John (“Jack”) Collins, Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary.
An excellent book like The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is unlikely to “convert” a die-hard YEC follower all by itself. I was once a YEC, and held on rather stubbornly to my YEC beliefs as a geology undergraduate student even as I increasingly saw scientific problems with YEC geology. It wasn’t until I was exposed to Biblical arguments for an old Earth (or better, arguments that a young Earth is not Biblically necessary) that I became open to an old Earth.
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth does not contain an extensive Biblical argument for allowing an old Earth or for a local flood. I don’t criticize the editors of the book for their decision to focus mostly on geology rather than Biblical interpretation (my own textbook, Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home does not contain extensive Biblical arguments either; that wasn’t the purpose of the book). My suggestion is that if one is giving The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth as a gift to a YEC or a young-Earth/old-Earth fence rider, that one also give them a book that presents a solid Biblical case. The three books I most often recommend are:
Anticipating the YEC response
So far, the YEC response to The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth has been a deafening silence. There have been no mentions of this book on the web sites of Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, or Creation Ministries International. When I have mentioned the book on the Facebook pages of AiG and ICR, my comments have been quickly deleted (at least one other Christian geologist has made the same observation).
I anticipate that YECs will eventually write reviews of the book, but might put these reviews in the back corners of their web sites so as to give the book as little publicity as possible. YECs will say that the book is not based on the Bible (but of course, neither is YEC flood geology when you think about it), that the book was written by compromisers as evidenced by the inclusion of some non-Christian contributors (should we reject much of other sciences for the same reason?), and that there is always more than one way to interpret the facts (but not all interpretations have equal validity).
In the end, YECs will ignore this fantastic book and continue to present really bad science as Christian apologetics. The result will be a continued exodus of scientifically-minded youth from the church and the reinforcement of the wall YECs have put up that keeps scientists from considering Christianity as a viable alternative. People reject Christ because of bad YEC science every day, and this is a great tragedy.
But my hope and prayer is that The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth will have a tremendous impact on those who read it, and it sounds like sales are going well. I pray that God would use this book to build up the body of Christ, educate both young and old, and break down barriers to Christian faith.
Grace and Peace
Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home from Novare Science and Math has a cover!
I highly recommend Novare Science and Math’s most recent newsletter, which highlights the question “Does Genesis 1 Demand Belief in a Young Earth?”
My upcoming middle school textbook, “Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home” is being published by Novare, and will be available for the 2015-2016 school year.
Just a reminder: The GeoChristian is now on FaceBook:
Justin Taylor is senior vice president of Crossway Books, a theologically conservative Christian publishing company. Crossway is best known as the publisher of the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible, along with the ESV Study Bible, perhaps the most comprehensive theologically conservative study Bible ever produced for a general Christian audience.
Justin Taylor believes the Bible. And Justin Taylor does not believe the Bible requires us to believe Earth is only roughly 6000 years old. He has outlined his reasons for believing that the Bible is silent on the issue of the age of the Earth on his blog Between Two Worlds, which is part of The Gospel Coalition‘s web site:
The arguments Taylor gives for accepting an old Earth have nothing to do with the geological column, radiometric dating, or the big bang theory. Instead, Taylor lays out a completely Biblical case for an ancient universe, mostly following the analogical days interpretation. Here are a few quotes from Taylor:
Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.
I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons—in the creation account itself—for questioning the exegesis that insists on the days as strict 24 hour periods. Am I as certain of this as I am of the resurrection of Christ? Definitely not. But in some segments of the church, I fear that we’ve built an exegetical “fence around the Torah,” fearful that if we question any aspect of young-earth dogmatics we have opened the gate to liberalism.
God is portrayed as a workman going through his workweek, working during the day and resting for the night. Then on his Sabbath, he enjoys a full and refreshing rest. Our days are like God’s workdays, but not identical to them.
How long were God’s workdays? The Bible doesn’t say. But I see no reason to insist that they were only 24 hours long.
How old is the Earth? The Bible does not say, so Christians should not dogmatically insist that it is only 6000 years old.
An important conclusion is that the age of the Earth should not act as a stumbling block to someone who is considering whether or not Christianity is true.
Grace and Peace
To be “theologically conservative” means that one holds to the inerrancy of the Holy Bible, and the core historical teachings of Christianity, as summarized by the ancient creeds of the church, such as the Trinity, deity of Christ, virgin birth, crucifixion of Christ, his resurrection and ascension, and the necessity of spiritual rebirth through Christ.
The opposite of theologically conservative is theologically liberal. Liberals usually start by denying the reliability and authority of the Bible, and end up denying many of the core doctrines of Christianity.
I only wrote 23 posts in 2014, so my readership was down a bit. That’s OK; I just have a lot of other things going on. Because of this, nine of the ten most-read posts on The GeoChristian were actually ones written in previous years.
The top ten most-read posts on the GeoChristian in 2014:
10. John Piper and the age of the Earth — a respected Evangelical pastor who is an old-Earther.
9. The stratigraphic column — not a figment of geologists’ imaginations — Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian… The rocks really are stacked in this order.
8. Creation Creeds — What I believe as an old-Earth Christian.
7. Antarctic ice cores: a window to ice age climate change — We cannot understand the present nor the future if we don’t understand the past.
6. Stegosaurus in Cambodian temple? — Humans and dinosaurs did not live together in Southeast Asia.
5. Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis — St. Augustine did not believe that Earth was created in six literal days.
4. John MacArthur on the age of the Earth and theistic evolution — I use some of John MacArthur’s commentaries in my personal Bible study, but here I point out why he is wrong on the age of the Earth and biological evolution.
3. Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 1) — The first in a six-part series, outlining why the six best YEC geological arguments for a global flood are bad answers from Answers in Genesis.
2. Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye post-debate analysis — Ken Ham and Bill Nye were both wrong about both the Bible and geology.
1. Dr. Dino still in prison — I wrote this post in 2009, and each year since then it has been the most-read post on The GeoChristian. Popular young-Earth creationist speaker Kent Hovind (who does not have a real doctorate) will be released from prison in 2015.
A few more stats:
The GeoChristian was viewed 72,889 times by 42,740 visitors in 2014. This is down from a high of 153,654 views in 2009.
There were 217 comments made on The GeoChristian in 2014.
I wrote 23 posts in 2014.
My all-time daily high for views was February 5, 2014, the day after the Ham-Nye debate. There were a total of 2,109 views on that date.
I hope that The GeoChristian was a blessing to you in 2014, and pray that I would continue to build up the body of Christ, and point non-Christians to Jesus in 2015.
Grace and Peace
I recently acquired Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J. Daryl Charles. The book gives perspectives of five highly-qualified, Evangelical Old Testament scholars on the creation accounts of Genesis:
- Richard E. Averbeck (professor of OT and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) — “A Literary Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual Reading of Genesis 1-2”
- Todd S. Beall (professor of OT at Capitol Bible Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2: A Literal Approach”
- C. John Collins (professor of OT at Covenant Theological Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2 with the Grain: Analogical Days”
- Tremper Longman III (professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) — “What Genesis 1-2 Teaches (and What it Doesn’t)”
- John H. Walton (professor of OT at Wheaton College and Graduate School) — “Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology”
Each author’s chapter includes responses from the four other authors.
In the Forward, the editor states that one of the convictions behind this book is that “conversation–indeed, even heated debate regarding contentious issues–can proceed in a charitable manner.” That is what I strive for in my writing on The GeoChristian, and I appreciate their objective.
In the Introduction, Victor, P. Hamilton begins by reminding us that “without Gen 1-2 the rest of the Bible becomes incomprehensible.” This is something that all contributors to this book, whether young-Earth or old-Earth, evolution-accepting or evolution-denying, would agree on. The opening chapters of Genesis lay foundations for a number of critical doctrines in the Bible, including humans created in the image of God, humanity’s fall into sin, and the beginning of the long story of redemption in Christ.
The Introduction also points out that the interpretation of Genesis 1-2 has been controversial throughout church history, with quotes from Origen and Augustine to back this up. He then points out some particularly important modern debates, such as the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the relationship of the Biblical creation accounts to other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts.
It is important to be reminded that all of these authors “identify fully and unapologetically with historic Christian orthodoxy and embrace wholeheartedly the basic tenets and historic creeds of the one holy catholic church.” Faithfulness to God’s Word does not require that one interpret Genesis just like only one of these authors.
The Introduction ends by laying out three responses readers might have to the book:
- Confusion — “If the scholars cannot get it all together, what am I supposed to do with Gen 1 and 2?”
- Pre-conceived conclusions — Like the essays I already agree with, and ignore the rest.
- “[A]ppreciate the differing perspectives on Gen 1-2 presented in this volume. We need to remember that a divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture does not mean that (my) interpretations of Scripture are equally divinely inspired and authoritative.”
I look forward to learning from each author, and sharing with you my thoughts as I read through this important work.
Grace and Peace
“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” — Psalm 90:4 (ESV)
Christians disagree with one another about the age of the Earth and the universe. Some Christians insist that the only possible way to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis is that Earth is only about 6000 years old, and that any other interpretation is an accommodation with atheistic naturalism. Other Christians, equally sincere in their trust in the Bible as God’s Word, have studied Genesis and come to the conclusion that the Bible is not so clear on the age of the world, and that there is room for alternative understandings.
An important principle of Biblical hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation) is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. For example, there are verses in 1 John that, if taken by themselves, make it sound like a Christian cannot sin (e.g. 1 John 3:9). Well, I still sin, so if all I knew was 1 John 3:9 I would be wallowing in despair. But if I look at other verses in 1 John, I am assured that God still loves me even though I still struggle with sin. I’m thinking of 1 John 2:1-2 in particular:
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Reading 1 John 2:1-2 helps me to understand that 1 John 3:9 is not teaching that only the perfect will be saved.
I think it is fair to say that most Bible scholars interpret Psalm 90:4 to mean that God’s perspective on time is very different than humanity’s perspective on time. God is eternal, but we quickly return to dust. God knows the end from the beginning; we see the present dimly, and can only guess at the future. A thousand years is nothing to God, but is far beyond our personal experience.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10)
My desire in this brief essay is to demonstrate that Psalm 90:4 is relevant as we seek to understand what is meant by the word “day” in Genesis 1. Does Genesis 1 require six literal, consecutive 24-hour days of creation, or is there freedom to interpret the chapter in a somewhat less literal fashion? As we look at Psalm 90:4, I ask you to consider the following points:
1. The Hebrew word used for day in Psalm 90:4 is yom, the same word that is used for day in Genesis 1. In Psalm 90:4, yom is not the daily period of light between sunrise and sunset, nor is it a roughly 24-hour period from sunset to sunset. In Psalm 90:4, yom is clearly figurative.
2. Moses was the author of both Genesis 1 and Psalm 90. The title for Psalm 90 is, “A prayer of Moses, the man of God.” This title is part of the Hebrew text, not an insertion by the English-language translators. It is clear that the word yom is used in a figurative sense in Psalm 90:4, so it is not unthinkable that Moses could write of figurative days, at least in some contexts.
3. The context of verse 4 is creation, so it is legitimate to at least consider whether or not the figurative use of yom in Psalm 90 is applicable to our understanding of the days of Genesis 1. The surrounding verses (Psalm 90:2-6) all speak of aspects of creation:
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers. (ESV)
There are several references to creation: mountains being brought forth, the formation of the earth, man being created from dust, a flood, grass growing and withering.
4. The number 1000 is used in a general sense in Psalm 90; the purpose is to show that God’s view of time is not the same as man’s view of time. It would be just as accurate to say that 1,000,000 years–or even perhaps the entire history of the universe–is as a day or a watch in the night to God.
5. God was the only witness to the events of Genesis 1, and as we have seen in Psalm 90:4, God’s time is not the same as our time.
6. Put these all together, and we get the sense that Moses–and God–is not nearly as concerned with literal 24-hour days as most young-earth creationists are.
I am aware of young-earth creationist’s (YECs) objections to this use of Psalm 90:4, so I’ll mention a few of them.
- YECs will say that the plain meaning of yom in Genesis 1 is a 24-hour day, regardless of what Psalm 90:4 says. I will answer this objection by saying that yom is used to mean something other than a 24-hour day more than once in Genesis 1-2, and it is by no means plain that the other occurences aren’t meant to be figurative. The very first use of yom in Genesis 1 is in verse 5, where it says, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” Yom in this passage means “the period of time when it is light,” not a 24-hour day. Even the “There was evening and there was morning, the nth day” phrase that is repeated for each of the six days is something other than a 24-hour day, as the Jewish “day” ran from sunset to sunset, not sunset to morning, which is only part of a 24-hour day. In addition, Genesis 2:4 uses yom in a figurative sense, where it refers to the entire creation week.
Perhaps the clincher is that the seventh day is left open-ended; there is no repeat of the “evening and morning” phrase (see Genesis 2:1-3). Hebrews 4:3-11 seems to teach that the seventh day is ongoing, and that some people enter that rest, and others do not.
- YECs also commonly object that Exodus 20:11 requires us to read the days in Genesis 1 as literal.
“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
I will reply by saying that the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1 should drive our understanding of “day” in Exodus 20:11. If day is figurative in Genesis 1, then it can be figurative in Exodus 20:11. The reason I say that is because the seventh day of creation is a pattern not only for the weekly Sabbath, but also for the Sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25. There is no need for the seventh day of creation in Genesis to be “literal” in order for it to provide a pattern for the weekly Sabbath in Exodus 20, as well as the Sabbath year and Year of Jubilee.
- A third YEC objection is that Genesis is a historical document, and so the days should be taken literally. I will counter this by saying that Genesis 1 clearly has a structure to it that is not found in other Old Testament historical narrative passages. Genesis 1 is not poetry, such as is found in Psalms or Proverbs, but it is clearly not strictly historical narrative, such as what is found in much of Genesis through 2 Chronicles. This needs to be taken into consideration when interpreting Genesis 1, but in general, YECs simply lump the chapter in with other historical narrative passages.
This does not mean that Genesis 1 is non-historical; I believe it is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. But its distinctive style, combined with other considerations, causes me to think that there is more flexibility in the passage than YECs will allow for.
In this brief essay, I certainly have not “proven” that Genesis 1 allows for a universe that is older than 6000 years. But it is clear that God’s days are not necessarily the same as our days, and this needs to be taken into consideration as we interpret the creation account given in Genesis.
Grace and Peace
All Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
I stated that Moses was the author of Genesis 1. I see no significant reason to reject Moses as the primary compiler of the Pentateuch, including Genesis, though I do not rule out minor later editing, such as the updating of place names or the inclusion of the account of Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34. Moses certainly may have worked with earlier sources, whether oral or written.
I have been a little sloppy for the sake of clarity. When I write “Genesis 1,” I really mean Genesis 1:1-2:3, which is the complete section. Genesis 1 gives the six days of creation, and Genesis 2:1-3 tells of the seventh day, the day of God’s rest.
2 Peter 3:8 is similar to Psalm 90:4 —
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
I chose to focus on Psalm 90:4 rather than 2 Peter 3:8 because Psalm 90 was written by Moses, the same person who compiled Genesis.
The “Report of the Creation Study Committee” (Presbyterian Church in America) gives a good summary of various viewpoints on creation: http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.html
The various YEC ministries all have web pages about the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1:
When they mention Psalm 90:4 or 2 Peter 3:8, they tend to brush these verses off as being irrelevant to Genesis 1.
One of the best current blogs on the topics of geology, young-Earth creationism, and Christianity is Age of Rocks, written by Jonathan Baker. Today he published his 100th post, and commemorated that milestone with a fantastic article: 100 Reasons the Earth is Old. I liked all 100 reasons, and think he could follow this up with 500 reasons the Earth is old when he hits his 500th post. Here are five of my favorite reasons from his list:
6. There is no radiocarbon in old samples, despite claims to the contrary. Geologically old samples of coal, diamonds, and graphite, for example, yield finite radiocarbon ages that are consistent with the expected level of contamination invariably introduced during sample collection and preparation.
15. Quaternary deposits and landscapes are far too complicated to have accumulated in the ~4,500 years following the Flood. Everywhere we look on Earth, we truly find evidence for ~2 million years worth of processes, whether at high latitudes (where we find evidence for repeated glaciations and deglaciations, separated by warm intervals) or in the tropics (where we find thick desert dune sequences alternating with humid intervals) or in the oceans (where 2 million+ years of Milankovitch cycles are recorded in only a few meters of silt and clay) or in the high mountains (where alpine valleys have been carved out by rivers or glaciers, then infilled by coarse sediment, then eroded again, etc.). Flood geologists unanimously assert that the Quaternary period represents the ‘post-Flood’ era, but there is good reasons that conventional geologists ascribe a much longer age: 2.6 million years.
26. Volcanic ash beds (sedimentary tuff), frequently used to date sedimentary rock layers, were mainly deposited in dry conditions. Geologists can distinguish between ash layers that settled in ocean basins (marine tephra) and those that fell over dry land (air fall deposits). When volcanic ash is deposited in flowing water, it produces yet different features identifiable in outcrops, such as grain sorting and lamination. Therefore, not a few volcanic ashes in sedimentary strata contradict the Flood geology scenario, especially because these ash falls take time to accumulate from the air and harden to the point that water-lain sediments can be deposited on top without compromising the structure of the soft ash.
27. The geologic column is no remnant of an ancient flood deposit, global or not. Fine details, in the form of thin layers of alternating clay and limestone, or irregular sand deposits that resemble modern river channels, defy catastrophic explanation, which explains why catastrophism has long been abandoned by research geologists.
29. The distribution of sedimentary rocks is weighted to heavily over the continents, which is the opposite of what we’d expect in a global flood. Floods move sediments from high elevation to low elevation, depositing them in sedimentary basins. During the Flood, the oceans would have constituted the largest and deepest basins, but most sediments remained on elevated continents. How did this happen? Did the laws of physics stop working?
Note that I picked my top five from the first 29; there were just so many good old-Earth evidences to choose from. I could have selected all 100 reasons from the list of 100 reasons!
An equally important list would be top reasons why the Bible does not require anything like young-Earth creationism. A few of Jonathan Baker’s thoughts on the Bible and science can be found on his Theology/Scripture tab.
Grace and Peace
#26 was near and dear to my heart, as my Master’s degree research involved a study of Quaternary volcanic ash deposits in eastern Washington.
Like their secular school counterparts, many Christian schools offer a full year of Earth Science at the middle school level. These Christian schools, as well as home school parents who wish to offer a year of Earth Science, really have only two sources for curricula: secular publishers, such as Glencoe or Holt, or young Earth creationist (YEC) Christian publishers, such as Bob Jones or A Beka. When I taught secondary-level Earth Science at a Christian school, I went with a secular textbook. I figured it was easier to insert a Christian perspective into a secular textbook than it would be to undo the bad science and dogmatic but questionable biblical interpretations in the YEC textbooks.
I was excited this past summer when I stumbled across the web site for Novare Science & Math, a rapidly growing Christian science curriculum publisher. One thing I was enthusiastic about was Novare’s three Core Principles:
- Mastery. Typical middle school and high school science textbooks are 800+ page monsters, filled with a lot of interesting stuff, but also packed with more information about more topics than most teenagers could possibly learn and remember. This leads to a Cram-Pass-Forget cycle, which almost all teachers and students can relate to. The Novare textbooks, on the other hand, take a Learn‑Master-Retain approach, part of which involves publishing textbooks that cover fewer topics, with each being covered in more depth.
- Integration. Science classes are often taught in compartmentalized boxes. Novare textbooks integrate their subjects with other fields of science, mathematics, and history, with an emphasis on developing science writing skills throughout (no multiple-choice questions).
- Kingdom Perspective. Rather than taking the conflict model taken by many Christian educators, who insist that there is a war between science and Christianity, Novare takes an “All truth is God’s truth” approach. As the Novare website states, “There can be no inherent conflict between faith in the One who made the world, and study of the world He made.” Novare textbooks seek to be thoroughly Biblical in their approach to the study of God’s world, which does not negate what God has revealed in his creation.
Here’s what Novare says about the age of the Earth:
Finally, virtually every Christian science textbook publisher is overtly committed to an agenda of rejecting mainstream scientific evidence pertaining to the age of the earth. For both Biblical and scientific reasons, we believe it is time to put this debate behind us. We find the literalistic model of an earth approximately 10,000 years old to be not only not necessitated by the soundest principles of Biblical exegesis, but to be in conflict with the “other book” of God’s revelation: the creation itself. From Psalm 19 and other passages we believe the creation reveals the glory of the Lord. Since scripture and creation both come from the same God, they cannot be in conflict. And when both are rightly understood, they won’t.
I got even more excited when I read that Novare is planning on publishing a middle school Earth Science textbook in time for the 2015-2016 school year. I contacted the owner of the company, and offered my services for reviewing this upcoming product. To make a long story short, the conversation quickly moved from me being a reviewer to being a co-author, to being the author.
Writing a textbook in a very short amount of time is a daunting task. Not only do I need to present content from a wide range of fields at a level appropriate for middle schoolers, I need to do so in a way that points them to the loving providence of our all-powerful and wise Creator. I am currently working on Chapter 3 (out of about 15), and appreciate your prayers as I write.
Grace and Peace
I’ll break out of my semi-monastic lifestyle for a few moments to pass on some good GeoChristian kinds of links…
Old-Earth Classical Christian Middle School Earth Science Textbook — Novare Science and Math, a relatively new Christian curriculum publisher, has announced that they will publish an old-Earth middle school Earth science textbook in time for the 2015-2016 school year. Does anyone want to guess who is writing that much-needed textbook?
Ken Ham Rejects Entering Into “Gracious Dialog” With Old-Earthers — Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and the world’s foremost promoter of young-Earth creationism, has turned down a dinner invitation from the president of BioLogos, the world’s foremost promoter of evolutionary creation (i.e., theistic evolution).
Part 1 — The invitation — Ken Ham, We Need a Better Conversation (Perhaps Over Dinner?) — BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma, concerned about the level of acrimony among Christians over the topics of evolution and the age of the Earth, invited Ken Ham to have dinner with herself and Reasons to Believe head Hugh Ross:
“All three organizations are also concerned about the departure of young people from the church over origins issues. Each tends to think that the positions of the others are contributing to the problem! But studies have shown that it is the acrimony over this issue that drives young people away. We respect the commitment that Reasons to Believe has demonstrated to gracious dialogue with those of other positions. We completely agree with Hugh Ross that “If we Christians can resolve this issue in a peaceful way it’s going to attract non-Christians to enter into dialogue with us. But if we continue to fight…it turns them off.” Perhaps Ken Ham could join Hugh Ross and me for a friendly conversation over dinner? My treat.”
Part 2 — The rejection — Should I Have Dinner With BioLogos? — Ken Ham compared himself to Ezekiel, warning the people of God against compromise, and Nehemiah, who refused to be distracted by the enemies of God’s people, though he added that he doesn’t consider Hugh Ross to be a personal enemy, only an enemy biblical authority.
“We at AiG are busy “rebuilding a wall.” We are equipping God’s people to defend the Christian faith, and I believe we are doing a great work for God. We are busy being “watchmen”—warning people of those who undermine the authority of the Word of God.”
Ken Ham later wrote that Answers in Genesis “will not, however, send out such a kumbaya message,” by fellowshipping with compromisers.
Part 3 — Hugh Ross responds — Ambassadors for Reconciliation — Hugh Ross is a gracious man, but is obviously disturbed by the discord sewn by those who villainize old-Earth Christians.
“One way we can help people receive our message of reconciliation with God is by modeling reconciliation among ourselves. John 13:35 says, “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” And yet, although creation beliefs hold a core position in our Christian faith (Hebrews 11:6), no other subject exposes a greater lack of love among believers. Some creationists treat fellow believers with ugly, disparaging disdain.”
“Enough is enough. There are mission fields still to be reached. How can we ask nonbelievers to dialogue with us if we cannot graciously dialogue with one another, if we treat one another as enemies? Unless we make some progress in reconciling our differences, how can we expect to help reconcile a skeptical world to Christ? We are commissioned by God to be His ambassadors. It’s time for us to start behaving as ambassadors.”
It seems strange that someone like Ken Ham can interact graciously with Christians who disagree with him on issues such as eschatology, predestination, baptism, or spiritual gifts without condemning those who disagree with him as “compromisers,” and yet when it comes to a secondary issue such as the age of the Earth (which is an issue of interpretation, not biblical authority), he cannot even have dinner with those who differ from him.
I must add that my limited personal interaction with Ken Ham has been cordial: Do Old Earthers and Young Earthers Agree On Anything?
A Hundred Inverted Smiley Faces — I had moderate success viewing today’s partial solar eclipse with a shoebox pinhole camera and by projecting the eclipse onto the patio with my binoculars. But when I walked back into the house, I was welcomed by hundreds of solar eclipse images on the floor, steps, and walls. Gaps in our horizontal blinds acted as pinhole cameras and projected a multitude of eclipse images:
A more detailed survey indicates that most Christians are somewhere in the middle on the topic of origins, and that most don’t hold to their position all that strongly
Simplistic surveys can be very frustrating. For instance:
Of all the colors of the rainbow, which is your favorite, Blue or Yellow?
If your favorite color is green, and that is not an option in the survey, then there is no way for the survey to accurately assess your opinion. Nor does this simple survey assess how strongly you feel about the color green, or how consistently you would answer. On most days I might answer “green,” but it is not something I feel rather strongly about, and it really isn’t all that important to me.
The same goes for many polls we see in the media: Are you for or against gay rights? Obamacare? Evolution? For many of us, the answer is not as simple as thumbs up or thumbs down.
Christianity Today has a brief summary of a survey taken regarding origins that goes beyond a simple “Do you believe God created humans or that they evolved?”
Here are a few excerpts from Rethinking the Origins Debate: Most Americans—and most Christians—do not fall neatly into creationist or evolutionist camps, by Jonathan Hill.
In 2012, a Gallup poll found that 46 percent of U.S. adults believed “God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Thirty-two percent believed humans evolved with God’s guidance, and 15 percent believed humans evolved with no divine guidance at all.
These surveys portray a deeply divided and polarized public. Even among the majority who believe that God created humans, the chasm separating creationist and evolutionist views appears to be gargantuan. Are Americans really this divided over human origins?
As a social scientist, I am skeptical about these findings for two reasons. First, the way in which these questions about human origins are written restricts complex or conflicted responses. Surveys like the Gallup poll tend to represent the various views we might label Atheistic Evolution, Theistic Evolution, Intelligent Design, or Young Earth Creationism with position statements that force respondents to select the one that comes closest to their beliefs.
The trouble is that these various views contain multiple beliefs about common descent, natural selection, divine involvement, and historical timeframe. The survey questions conflate these underlying beliefs in particular ways and force individuals to select from prepackaged sets of ideas. This is simply a practical necessity given the limited amount of space on general public surveys.
Second, these polls give us no description of the manner in which people hold to these beliefs. Are respondents confident that their position is correct? Is it important to them personally to have the right beliefs about human origins? If large segments of the public are uncertain about their position, or if their beliefs are unimportant to them, then the idea of an intensely polarized public is misleading.
Let’s look at the creationist position. It contains, at a minimum, the following beliefs:
- Humans did not evolve from other species.
- God was involved in the creation of humans.
- Humans were created within the last 10,000 years.
The most recent Gallup poll found that 46 percent of adults claimed creationism best reflected their views of human origins. But Gallup didn’t ask participants about each of the above beliefs.
Our survey, however, asks about each individual belief, allowing respondents to report that they are unsure about what they believe. Only 14 percent affirmed each of these beliefs, and only 10 percent were certain of their beliefs. Furthermore, only 8 percent claimed it was important to them to have the right beliefs about human origins.
If only eight percent of respondents are classified as convinced creationists whose beliefs are dear to them, and if only four percent are classified as atheistic evolutionists whose beliefs are dear to them, then perhaps Americans are not as deeply divided over human origins as polls have indicated. In fact, most Americans fall somewhere in the middle, holding their beliefs with varying levels of certainty. Most Americans do not fall neatly into any of the existing camps, and only a quarter claimed their beliefs were important to them personally.
So what does this mean for the church? I think it shows that most people, even regular church-going evangelicals, are not deeply entrenched on one side of a supposed two-sided battle. Certainly, the issue divides Christians. But Christian beliefs about human origins are complex. There’s no major single chasm after all.
Advocates of various positions have often perpetuated the idea of a battle precisely because drawing clear lines is an effective way to mobilize one view against the other. Perhaps it is time to recognize the complexity of beliefs and worship together despite our differences. This doesn’t mean that hard questions and honest conversations about human origins should be ignored. There are lots of important questions that need to be wrestled with. But as we wrestle, we should recognize that our shared identity in Christ puts us all on the same team.
Grace and Peace
Of the numerous analyses of the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate earlier this week, one of the best is that of Old Testament scholar John Walton that was published as part of a larger review on the Biologos website (Ham on Nye: Our Take). Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, adeptly gives reasons why there are serious biblical and theological problems with young-Earth creationism. YEC isn’t just bad science, it involves a highly questionable reading of the Hebrew text of Genesis. Here are some excerpts:
In general I appreciated the cordial and respectful tone that both debaters evidenced. Most of the debate was about scientific evidence, which I am not the one to address. The only comment that I want to make in that regard is that it was evident that Ken Ham believed that all evolutionists were naturalists—an identification that those associated with BioLogos would strongly contest.
I commend Ken Ham’s frequent assertion of the gospel message. His testimony to his faith was admirable and of course, I agree with it. I also share his beliefs about the nature of the Bible, but I do not share his interpretation of the Bible on numerous key points. From the opening remarks Ham proclaimed that his position was based on the biblical account of origins. But he is intent on reading that account as if it were addressing science (he truly believes it is). I counter by saying that we cannot have a confident understanding of what the Bible claims until we read it as an ancient document. I believe as he does that the Bible was given by God, but it was given through human instruments into an ancient culture and language. We can only encounter the Bible’s claims by taking account of that context.
One place where this distinction was obvious was that Ham tried to make the statement in Genesis that God created each animal “after its kind” as a technical statement that matched our modern scientific categories. We cannot assume that the same categories were used in the ancient world as are used today (genus, family, species, etc.). Such anachronism does not take the Bible seriously as what it “naturally” says. In the Bible this only means that when a grain of wheat drops, a grain of wheat grows (not a flower); when a horse gives birth, it gives birth to a horse, not a coyote.
Bill Nye repeatedly returned to the idea that the Bible was a book translated over and over again over thousands of years. In his opinion this results in a product that could be no more trusted than the end result in the game of telephone. In this opinion he shows his lack of clear understanding of the whole process of the transmission of texts and the textual basis for today’s translations.
[Ham] believes that there could be no death before the fall because he has interpreted the word “good” as if it meant “perfect.” That is not what the Hebrew term means. Furthermore, if there was no death before the fall, people would have little use for a tree of life. What is a “natural” interpretation—our sense of what it means or the sense that an ancient reader would have had? Ham actually made the statement that we have to read the Bible “according to the type of literature” that it is. Yet it was clear that he has done no research on ancient genres and how parts of the Bible should be identified by the standards of ancient genres.
When Ham was asked what it would take to change his mind, he was lost for words because he said that he could never stop believing in the truth of the Bible. I would echo that sentiment, but it never seemed to occur to him that there might be equally valid interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis, or maybe even ones that could garner stronger support. He stated that no one can prove the age of the earth, but he believes that the Bible tells us the age of the earth. Nevertheless, it is only his highly debatable interpretation of the Bible that tells him the age of the earth. What if the Bible makes no such claim? There are biblical scholars who take the Bible every bit as seriously as he does, who disagree that the Bible makes a claim about the age of the earth.
There is a lot more to the creation account in Genesis 1 than what one will hear from the young-Earth creationists. One can be fully committed to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture and not come to the same conclusions or interpretations that the my-way-or-the-highway young-Earth creationists come to.
Grace and Peace
HT: Internet Monk