Norm Geisler: “The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. It is not a test for orthodoxy.”

Norm Geisler has been a prominent defender of the Christian faith for a number of years. He is the author or coauthor of several important books on apologetics (the defense of the faith), including I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an AtheistBaker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, and Christian Apologetics.

Dr. Geisler recently contributed an article to The Christian Post: Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to Believe in Young Earth Creationism? The answer, of course, is “No, one can hold to the trustworthiness of the Bible and believe it does not require a young Earth.”

Here are a few excerpts:

In order to establish the Young Earth view, one must demonstrate that there are (1) no time gaps in the biblical record and that (2) the “days” of Genesis are six successive 24-hour days of creation. Unfortunately for Young Earthers, these two premises are difficult to establish for many reasons.

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So with both possible and actual demonstrable gaps in Genesis and in the genealogies, the “Closed-Chronology” view needed to support the strict Young Earth view is not there. This would mean that a Young Earth view of creation around 4000 B.C. would not be feasible. And once more gaps are admitted, then when does it cease to be a Young Earth view?

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Consider the following:

(1) First, the word “day” (Hb. <em>yom</em>) is not limited to a 24-hour day in the creation record. For instance, it is used of 12 hours of light or daytime (in Gen.1:4-5a).

(2) The word “day” is also used of a whole 24-hour day in Genesis 1:5b where it speaks day and night together as a “day.”

(3) Further, in Genesis 2:4 the word “day” is used of all six days of creation when it looks back over all six days of creation and affirms: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day [yom] that the LORD God made them” (Gen. 2:4).

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As for death before Adam, the Bible does not say that death of all life was a result of Adam’s sin. It only asserts that “death passed upon all men” because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added), not on all plants and animals. It only indicates that the whole creation was “subjected to futility” (i.e., to frustration-Rom. 8:20-21)

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If there is evidence for Gaps in Genesis and a longer period of time involved in the six day of Genesis, then the Young Earth view fails to convincingly support its two pillars. At a minimum it leaves room for reasonable doubt. In view of this, one can ask why is it that many still cling to the Young Earth view with such tenacity as to make it a virtual test for orthodoxy?

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There is no air-tight case for a Young Earth view from a biblical point of view. So while a Young Earth may be compatible with inerrancy, nonetheless, inerrancy does not necessitate a belief in a Young Earth.

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[Young-Earth creationism] was not even granted an important doctrinal status by the historic Fundamentalists (c. 1900) who stressed the inerrancy of Scripture. That is, it was not accepted or embraced by the Old Princetonians like B. B.Warfield, Charles Hodge, or J. Gresham Machen who also held strongly to inerrancy.

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[The] founders and framers of the contemporary inerrancy movement (ICBI) of the 1970s and 80s explicitly rejected the Young Earth view as being essential to belief in inerrancy. They discussed it and voted against making it a part of what they believed inerrancy entailed, even though they believed in creation, the “literal” historical-grammatical view of interpreting the Bible, a literal Adam, and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. Given this history of the Young Earth view, one is surprised at the zeal by which some Young Earthers are making their position a virtual test for evangelical orthodoxy.

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If the Young Earth view is true, then so be it. Let us not forbid the biblical and scientific evidence be offered to support it. Meanwhile, to make it a tacit test for orthodoxy will serve to undermine the faith of many who so closely tie it to orthodoxy that they will have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, should they ever become convinced the earth is old. One should never tie his faith to how old the earth is.

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Some Concluding Comments

After seriously pondering these questions for over a half century, my conclusions are:

(1) The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith.

(2) It is not a test for orthodoxy.

(3) It is not a condition of salvation.

(4) It is not a test of Christian fellowship.

(5) It is not an issue over which the body of Christ should divide.

(6) It is not a hill on which we should die.

(7) The fact of creation is more important than the time of creation.

(8) There are more important doctrines on which we should focus than the age of the earth (like the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the death and resurrection of Christ, and His literal Second Coming).

Geisler does not claim in this article that everything he presents is correct, only that they are real possibilities.

Of course, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has been quick to respond: The Ultimate Motivation of this Prominent Theologian?

I suggest that his ultimate motivation for attempting to discredit a literal six-day Creation Week is because he has been influenced by an authority outside the Bible: the majority view among scientists of very old ages, so that he can allow for or believe in billions of years. Thus he goes to great lengths in an attempt to justify various efforts by Christians to fit billions of years into the biblical record. I do believe (regardless of whether Dr. Geisler accepts this or not), this is his ultimate motivation.

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And sadly most Christian leaders (including Spurgeon, Hodge, Scofield, Warfield and the authors of The Fundamentals [1910]) have followed suit with an equally shallow analysis of the Genesis text and other relevant passages.

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[Geisler] is really “clutching at straws” in an attempt to discredit biblical creationists and allow for millions of years.

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I assert that many great men of God today world are contributing to a generational loss of biblical authority because of their insistence on accommodating man’s belief in billions of years with the infallible Word of God. Such a loss of biblical authority is contributing enormously to a massive exodus of young people from the church (see Already Gone) and an increasing decline of Christian influence on the culture.

The gist of what Ham says is that “young-Earth creationists read the Bible, and everyone else reads into the Bible.” I would respond by saying that to take outside evidence (whether it be evidence that the Earth goes around the sun, or that Earth is older than 6000 years) and going back to the Scriptures to make sure we have really read it correctly is not eisigesis (reading into the text), it is good hermeneutics (interpreting the text).

It is highly debatable whether or not the “massive exodus of young people from the church” is due to churches teaching that the Bible does not require a 6000-year old Earth. For many young people, it is because they have been raised on Answers in Genesis or Dr. Dino materials, and figured out that much of it simply isn’t true. When these young people leave the church, it is often because they have been authoritatively taught that if young-Earth creationism isn’t true, the Bible isn’t true.

And that is the tragedy of creationism that many Christian apologists, such as Norm Geisler, want to avoid. For old-Earth Christians to assert that young-Earth teachings are false, both biblically and scientifically, is not the equivalent of denying the truthfulness of Scripture.

Grace and Peace

A few additional thoughts on Ham vs. Nye

I’ve had another 24 hours to think about the Ham vs. Nye debate, and I have a few additional thoughts:

  1. I’m struck by how little evidence Ken Ham presented in his main presentation or in his rebuttals. He briefly mentioned a few standard YEC arguments for a young Earth, such as woody material dated at 40,000 years by carbon-14 dating contained in a 45 million year old basalt flow. But he didn’t spend much time developing this or any other young Earth argument.
  2. Ham spent most of his time talking about world view, and propounding his postmodern-ish insistence that no one can really know anything about the past through scientific investigation. This world view talk was good for preaching to the YEC choir, but was not very useful for convincing skeptics or fence-riders.
  3. Ken Ham, as he has often done in the past, gave a false choice between believing in God’s infallible and unchanging Word, and believing in man’s fallible and changing science. Ham doesn’t see that both Scripture and the creation contain truth, and that the processes of understanding either Scripture or creation is done by fallible people. In other words, Ken Ham might have the Word of God in his hands, but Ken Ham can be wrong about the best way to understand certain passages. I have many reasons for believing that Ham (and YECs in general) over-read the text of the opening chapters of Genesis. Here are a few.
  4. I have already stated my main critique of Bill Nye–he lacked the necessary background in geology to participate in a debate like this.
  5. As a Christian, I wanted Ken Ham to win the debate, which I believe he could have done if he had taken a “mere creation” approach rather than having a narrow YEC focus. Despite my training in science (and perhaps because of my training in science), I have much more in common with Ken Ham’s Christian world view than I do with Bill Nye’s naturalistic, atheistic world view.

I had heard that 500,000 people watched the debate live. Now I’ve read that the number was closer to 3,000,000 viewers.

There are a number of excellent reviews of the debate on the internet. Here are a few that I have found helpful:

J.W. Wartick — Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate.

“[Ham] continued to paint a picture of the Bible which rejects any but his own interpretation. In other words, he presented a false dichotomy: either young earth creationism or compromise with naturalism.”

Faithful Thinkers — Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Aftermath.

“Each respective candidate won with their supporters, but both lost with their skeptics. This exchange was certainly not “the debate of the decade.”

Jay Wile — Talking Past One Another – The Ham/Nye Debate.

“While there were plenty of opportunities for the debaters to interact, they rarely did so. As the title of this post indicates, they spent most of their time talking past one another.”

Al Mohler — Bill Nye’s Reasonable Man—The Central Worldview Clash of the Ham-Nye Debate.

“In this light, the debate proved both sides right on one central point: If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.

“That’s because the argument was never really about ice rods and sediment layers. It was about the most basic of all intellectual presuppositions: How do we know anything at all? On what basis do we grant intellectual authority? Is the universe self-contained and self-explanatory? Is there a Creator, and can we know him?”

Evolution News and Views (an I.D. site) — The Ham-Nye Creation Debate: A Huge Missed Opportunity.

“For goodness sake, Bill Nye was the one defending Big Bang cosmology. Viewers would never know that the Big Bang is one of the best arguments for the design of the universe ever offered by science.”

“People will walk away from this debate thinking, “Ken Ham has the Bible, Bill Nye has scientific evidence.” Some Christians will be satisfied by that. Other Christians (like me) who don’t feel that accepting the Bible requires you to believe in a young earth will feel that their views weren’t represented. And because Ham failed (whether due to time constraints, an inflexible debate strategy, lack of knowledge, inadequate debate skills, or a fundamentally weak position) to offer evidence rebutting many of Nye’s arguments for an old earth, young earth creationist Christians with doubts will probably feel even more doubtful. Most notably, however, skeptics won’t budge an inch. Why? Because Ham’s main argument was “Because the Bible says so,” and skeptics don’t take the Bible as an authority. They want to see evidence.”

Grace and Peace

 

PCA 2013 General Assembly — The YECs get their turn

In 2012, two old-Earth Christian geologists gave a presentation at the General Assembly (annual meeting) of the Presbyterian Church in America. Gregg Davidson is a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and Ken Wolgemuth is an oil industry consultant, and their presentation was entitled “The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?”

The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, holding to biblical inerrancy, as well as conservative positions on a number of other issues. Like a majority of denominations that hold to biblical inerrancy, the PCA does not take a position on the age of the Earth. There are large numbers of scholars, pastors, and elders within the PCA who believe the Bible teaches a young Earth, and large numbers who believe the Bible does not require a young Earth.

In the 1990s, the PCA created a committee to address the issues surrounding origins, such as the age of the Earth and biological evolution. The committee released its Report of the Creation Study Committee in 2000. This is a fairly balanced document, outlining the biblical arguments in favor of young-Earth creationism alongside those for three old-Earth biblical interpretations.

However, some young-Earth creationists within the PCA were outraged that the denomination would include these old-Earth Christians at the General Assembly. There were those who were upset that any old-Earther would be give the floor in a General Assembly seminar, others who were angry because of perceived ties between the speakers and the theistic evolution (a.k.a. evolutionary creation) organization BioLogos, and others who merely asked why equal time was not given to young-Earthers.

I see that this year’s General Assembly has a YEC seminar, as well as a YEC exhibitor. Here’s the description for the YEC seminar:

Astronomy Reveals Creation
Seminar Speaker: Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research, Institute for Creation Research

Critics of the Bible have often attempted to use the methods of science to persuade others that the Bible is not trustworthy. We are told that the universe is a cosmic accident—a “big bang” followed by billions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these attempts to discredit biblical creation do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The science of astronomy confirms that the Bible is true. In this highly visual presentation, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle shows powerful scientific evidence that confirms that our universe is not an accident, but has been designed and created by God as the Bible teaches in Genesis. The Christian can be encouraged that the Word of God is absolutely trustworthy on all matters. This includes not only matters of theology and morality, but matters of science and history as well.

The Institute for Creation Research will have a booth in the exhibition hall.

It appears that there are no old-Earth seminars or exhibitors.

I pray for unity, clarity, faithfulness, love, grace, and peace within the denomination in regards to this sometimes divisive issue.

Grace and Peace

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NOTES

If my recollection is correct, one of the presenters was unable to be at last year’s seminar, though he had been scheduled.

Davidson and Wolgemuth are available as speakers for seminaries, Bible schools, and other organizations through Solid Rock Lectures.

I wrote about the 2012 General Assembly here: PCA General Assembly includes a seminar on the age of the Earth. Here are some quotes and comments I found at the time from blogs advocating YEC-only within the PCA:

“there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”

“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”

“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”

“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding.”

“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”

Davidson and seven other PCA geologists have written an article entitled PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth which was published in Modern Reformation magazine in 2010. YEC geologist and PCA church member John Reed wrote a response which is posted on the Answers in Genesis website.

The age of the Earth is a quinary issue

For most Christian traditions and denominations, the age of the Earth is not a primary issue. It is not even a secondary issue. Nor is it a tertiary issue. In fact it is not even a quaternary issue. For most Christian traditions and denominations, the age of the Earth is a quinary issue! That’s three steps below being a matter of even secondary importance!

This does not mean that what we believe about origins is not important, but it helps to put the endless debate in proper perspective.

C. Michael Patton at Parchment & Pen Blog has a Chart to Help Distinguish Between Essentials and Non-Essentials.

essential_circles

Patton reserves the “Essential for Salvation” circle for those doctrines that one must believe in order to be a Christian by just about any definition. This includes belief in God, Christ’s deity and humanity; our sinfulness, and Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection.

The next circle includes those things that all Christians (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant) have believed from the beginning of the church, such as the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in the Nicene Creed, the future return of Christ, the eternal punishment of the wicked, and belief that Christ is the only way to God. One might err on one of these (e.g. believe that all will in the end be saved) and still be a Christian, but not be within the standards of Christian orthodoxy.

The third circle from the center is traditional orthodoxy, which is orthodoxy as defined by one of the broad traditions of the Church: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. I fall within Protestant orthodoxy, believing in justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I fall outside of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, as I reject its teachings about Mary.

I am well aware that there will be differences between Christian traditions and denominations about where to place various doctrines. Lutherans will bump baptism up a notch or two compared to most Evangelicals, and Pentecostals might move spiritual gifts more towards the center as compared to where most Episcopalians will.

Where do teachings about evolution and the age of the universe come into this?

Patton places what we believe about origins in the “important but not essential” category. I think I would place evolution and chronology at this level as well.

Most YEC leaders will state that origins are not a primary issue, that is, that one can believe in an old Earth and still be a Christian. I think the highest they could really put YEC is at the denominational orthodoxy level (though they might look at their denominational orthodoxy as the true standard of orthodoxy and throw out the higher levels entirely).

Many YEC followers seem to place YEC at the primary level, as in, “If you are not a YEC, you are probably not really a Christian.” I have actually run into that quite a bit.

What do you think? Where do the age of the universe and biological evolution fit on the diagram?

Grace and Peace

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning God” vs Carl Sagan

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” — Carl Sagan, from Cosmos.

Which of these two quotes is a scientific statement, and which is a religious statement?

The initial reaction most people—including Christians— have had when I have asked this question is that the quote from Genesis is a religious statement, and the quote from Sagan is a scientific statement. In reality, both statements are religious or philosophical in nature, but only the Genesis quote is fully compatible with the universe as we know it.

I won’t dispute that the quote from the Bible is a religious statement. If religion is about God and his relationship to the universe and humanity, then Genesis 1:1 is clearly a religious statement.

Carl Sagan’s famous Cosmos statement is also a philosophical—and I would say religious—statement. Sagan had not observed that “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” nor had he nor any other scientist done an experiment which proved that God doesn’t exist or isn’t necessary. In other words, Sagan had not used anything like “the scientific method” to arrive at his conclusion, and his Cosmos quote is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one.

Atheists such as Sagan would say that science has explained everything from nuclear fusion to sexual reproduction without any need for inserting God into the process and so their faith that there is no God is justified (faith is the right word, even if they would scramble to say it in a different way). But in doing this they are confusing categories. It is one thing to say that stellar evolution or meiosis can be explained without inserting a “God did it” step. Christians do not insert a “God did it” step into these processes either. However, it is an entirely different matter to explain why there is a cosmos at all. This question is outside of science, and is one that theists have a better explanation for than do atheists.

Many dismiss the Christian belief that God created the entire cosmos—matter, energy, space, time, and laws—as coming from a primitive myth. By “cosmos” I mean “everything that is or ever was or ever will be,” which would include the multiverse (if there is such a thing) beyond our observed universe, but would not include God. Only one of the following statements, however, is actually compatible with the cosmos as we know it:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

“In the beginning, nothing created everything.”

In the universe we live in, things do not pop into existence completely out of nothing. I am not talking about random quantum fluctuations creating subatomic particles here and there, because these particles are not truly popping up out of nothing. By nothing, I mean nothing — no space, time, matter, energy, nor laws. Because of this, it is incompatible with what we know about the cosmos—that is, it is incompatible with science—to believe that the cosmos came from absolutely nothing, or that it somehow created itself.

On the other hand, it is compatible with the universe as we know it (i.e. science) to advocate that it was caused to exist by something completely outside of it. There is absolutely no scientific reason, therefore, for a scientist to not accept that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Grace and Peace

Best of the GeoChristian — updated

I have updated the “Best of the GeoChristian” link up at the top of the page.

There is a good variety: posts on Christianity, geology, creationism, the environment, atheism, apologetics, and more.

I would be interested to hear if there is a post that has been especially meaningful or helpful to you, or one that you think is the best of the best of The GeoChristian.

Thanks for reading,

Grace and Peace