Posts Tagged ‘Young Earth’

Evaluating Links, Weak and Otherwise

“We cannot claim, on the one hand, that science is unnecessary or meaningless, nor, on the other hand, that the extensions [i.e. the inferences] we make from Scripture are absolutely accurate or that these extensions have the same validity as the statements of Scripture itself. But all that does not change the fact that biblical revelation is propositional, to be handled on the basis of reason in relationship to science and coordinated with science.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 36

Within evangelicalism there is a sharp and sometimes acrimonious divide about the doctrine of creation. It mostly comes down to how we read Genesis chapter 1 and its relationship to modern science. Young-earth creationism is probably the majority position within evangelicalism.

While I don’t have a book or article I got these from (they come mainly from my own experience), these are arguments I have heard Answers in Genesis’ founder Ken Ham fire off in rapid succession in debates. Ham’s method can make it hard to consider the merits of the arguments, so it seemed wise to me to slow them down and evaluate them individually.

I am not aiming to disprove young-earth creationism or creation science per se, I’m just looking to show some of the weaknesses in some of the justification for that position.

If you are a young-earth creationist and you see an argument that you would never use, please don’t take offense. No theological position has 100% agreement by all adherents and I’m not trying to treat young-earth creationism as if it does. I’m just reflecting on the defenses I’ve heard; there may be other, better defenses I’m not interacting with, here the ones I know:

The most straightforward way of reading Genesis 1 is to see it as six, 24-hour days. Let’s start by agreeing that that is the most straightforward reading of Genesis 1. But does that make it the best reading or the right reading?

If we try that straightforward approach with Genesis 6:6, “And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart,” what do we get? The most natural reading is that God admitted he’d made a mistake in creating humanity and he regretted it. Is that the best reading? No. Is it the right reading? Again, no. God doesn’t make mistakes, but this verse seems to say that he acknowledged he did.

A proper reply might be that other scriptures tell us that God doesn’t make mistakes. We need to read all of what the Bible says about God’s nature in order to properly understand Genesis 6:6. Since there are no other scriptures that tell us the days of creation are anything but regular days, therefore they must be. This is a good response, but I’m not sure the Bible has nothing more to say on the days of creation than the first chapter of Genesis. This leads us to the next few points.

“Day” always means a normal 24-hour day in the Bible. This really is an application of the straightforward reading principle mentioned above, but it isn’t accurate. The meaning of a word is conditioned by its context. For example, if I say “rake” what do I mean? A gardening implement? A licentious man? The angle at which something slopes? Am I using it as slang for a comb? I need to put that word into some context for you to be sure what I meant by it. Within the immediate context of creation, “day” is used in a way that cannot mean a 24-hour period: Genesis 2:4 says “in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” Moses has just said God took six days to make it all, therefore, “day” in 2:4 cannot be a 24-hour period. Must it be in chapter 1?

A response might be that even though the same Hebrew word is used, there is a difference between the days of creation and the day in 2:4 and that line of reasoning might look like what follows.

In the Bible, “day” with “evening” and “morning” always refers to a 24-hour day. In my estimation, this is the strongest argument for a 24-hour day position because the rising and setting of the sun are parts of a normal, 24-hour day. The fact that it says “evening and morning” which is less than 24 hours is not a problem because it doesn’t say the day began at evening and ended at sunrise, a normal day contains these two events. This argument resolves the apparent conflict of “day” in Genesis 1 and “day” of 2:4 where no mention of evening or morning is made.

However, this argument crumbles under the weight of its own demands. Everywhere else in the Bible where “evening” and “morning” are used, they describe the setting and the rising of the sun but in Genesis 1 the sun didn’t exist until the fourth day. “Evening” and “morning” on days one through three must mean something other than sunset and sunrise, therefore, “evening” and “morning” could normalize only the fourth through sixth days creation. And if “evening” and “morning” meant something different in the first three days, then it seems the argument just defeated itself: “day” with “morning” and “evening” is not always a solar day right there within the context of creation.

“Day” with a number is always a 24-hour day. The idea is that when Genesis 1:5, for example, says “the first day” it can only mean the first of successive 24-hour periods because an enumerated day in the Bible is only a regular day. However, this isn’t how language works and, again, it isn’t accurate. Zechariah 14:7 speaks of a “unique day” using the exact same two Hebrew words Genesis 1:5 rendered as “the first day.” It should be clear from the context of Zechariah that “one day” there is not referring to a 24-hour period but to the day of the LORD, the time of Christ’s return, a unique epoch in history.

This shows that adding a number to a word does not modify or restrict its lexical range of meaning. In short, enumerated days in Genesis 1 don’t really help us fix their meaning there.

The Sabbath is based on the six days of creation and it’s a 24-hour day therefore the days of creation must be 24 hours long as well. In Exodus 20:11, Moses says the seventh day is the Sabbath because God created the world in six days then rested. This proves the week of creation must have been six 24-hour days.

If we look at other feasts to see if the length of the memorial mirrors the length of the original event, we immediately run into a problem. The Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy 5 and in verse 15 Israel is told to remember the Sabbath because they were slaves in Egypt and God brought them out. That was not in a single, 24-hour day.

The exodus leads us right to the feast of Passover where we experience the same problem:

And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever… For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses.

Exodus 12:17, 19, emphasis added

Passover and Unleavened Bread last seven days yet memorialize a single night. The same principle is true in the other direction when it comes to the Feast of Booths. It also lasts seven days yet memorializes 40 years of wandering in the desert (Lev. 23:39-43).

In the end we have to say that the length of the memorial does not fix or agree with the length of the original event. So while creation could have taken six days, the Sabbath cannot be used to prove it.

If you don’t take six days literally what else will you take figuratively? If we noodle with Genesis 1, that opens the door to us noodling with the entire Bible. This is the slippery slope argument and I have a number of issues with it.

First, theologian B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) articulated what has become the standard evangelical definition of biblical inerrancy and yet was himself an old earth creationist. At one point, he even acknowledged that God may have used evolution. Belief in biblical inerrancy is not threatened here. Second, this argument starts with the assumption that six literal days is the right reading of Genesis 1 and assumes that any other approach is being dishonest with the Bible. What it is in effect saying is “If you don’t agree with how I read the Bible here, you may distort it in other places.” That doesn’t make either of us right or wrong, it simply fails to prove the point. Third, it feels like manipulation, intending to scare anyone who might even consider old earth arguments by implying it puts them in danger of becoming theologically liberal. There are many faithful Christians who hold to an old earth and they haven’t fallen down that slippery slope. Finally, for the argument to work, it would require a literal interpretative method for every genre in the Bible. Poetry should not be read literally. Proverbs are not to be interpreted as promises. Yet, history should be read as history. Joshua sacked Jericho, Paul went to Damascus, Abraham was a sojourner in Canaan, etc. We should interpret scripture according to the context and type of literature being used. What lies behind this argument is an assumption as to which type of literature Genesis 1 is. But what if the genre isn’t history?

There is no other example in the Bible of poetry like Genesis 1. This is a response to the idea that Genesis 1 has the shape of Hebrew poetry and therefore is not strictly chronological. The introductory statement (1:2) is that the earth was “without form and void” or “formless and empty.” The subsequent “days” of creation give form to the earth (days 1 through 3) and then fill it (days 4 through 6). If this is poetic, then Genesis 1 is not a historical recounting of creation but a creative expression of that historical event. The fact that we see no other Hebrew poetry written like this is seen as proof that it cannot be a Hebraic poetical form.

But what if this is the only example of this type of poetry in the Bible? Must we always have more than one example for a thing to be valid? The millennium is only discussed in Revelation 20, does it mean that it isn’t real? What if Genesis 1 is an epic introduction to the Bible rather than a historical recounting of creation? The truth of what is being said doesn’t vanish, it simply turns out to be less than young-earth creationists have taken it to be. Also, reading it as poetry doesn’t mean it cannot communicate truth. Look in any good systematic theology at the attributes of God and see how often Biblical poetry is cited. Poetry is not the enemy of truth. The genre of Genesis 1 is not a sure foundation so it seems unwise to build an argument on it.

Before the 19th century no one took Genesis 1 as anything other than six literal days of creation. The thought behind this is that reading Genesis 1 as anything other than six literal days was introduced as an attempt to accommodate Darwinism. It is seen as a capitulation to atheistic science.

The assertion, however, is inaccurate from the start. Augustine believed that creation was instantaneous, and that God used six “days” as a way of explaining it to us. Also, there was a teaching circulated among some of the church fathers that said that since God created the world in six days, and a day to God is a thousand years, the universe would last six thousand years and then enter God’s rest. Since the application of this tradition focuses on the end of the universe, not it’s beginning, it is unclear how the fathers understood the days of creation, but it wouldn’t be out of the question if they believed those “days” of creation were a thousand years also.

But what if it is true? What if no one understood the days of creation as anything other than six 24-hour periods before the twentieth century? Does that make it the correct interpretation? Before we disagree with historical theology, we should have a good reason. The church has a long history of baptizing babies and following a pope. We disagree with those things with good reason. It turns out that there is historical precedent for allowing a proper understanding of natural science to correct a widely held yet incorrect interpretation of scripture.

Geocentricism, the idea that the earth is at the center of the universe and doesn’t move, had been the common interpretation of 1 Chr. 16:30; Psa. 93:1, Psa. 96:10, and Psa. 104:5 in church history. This interpretation was rooted in Plato’s explanation of the universe and these verses seemed to support it. In the 17th century, Galileo with his telescope, following on Copernicus’ work, challenged geocentricism and was branded a heretic because it seemed he was disagreeing with scripture. Eventually his cosmology prevailed and the church didn’t abandon the Bible. Rather, she wisely reassessed her interpretation of those verses in light of general revelation. The Bible wasn’t wrong, we were, and we didn’t figure it out for 1,700 years.

If we have been interpreting Genesis 1 incorrectly for 1,900 years, we needn’t fear that natural science is going to prove the Bible wrong. Just like geocentricism, it may show that our understanding is incorrect, not the Bible. At the same time, science doesn’t have the age of the universe nailed down either; research is regularly refining the age estimate. (Just as an aside, that age seems to keep getting younger, not older.) This, however, shouldn’t make natural science suspect either; it is how the scientific method is supposed to work. In the end, God authored both the Bible and the universe therefore they do not conflict. Our interpretation of them may be in need of correction.

The genealogies of Genesis chapter 5 and 11 don’t allow for an old earth. Here we’re taking a step toward allowing the rest of scripture help us understand the creation story, which is a good idea. By giving the age of people when they had children and when they died, these genealogies establish a time frame from Adam to Abraham. Even though Biblical genealogies often skip generations, you cannot get millions of years of Genesis 5 and 11. This is a fair assessment in my view.

However, for these genealogies fix the date of the creation of the universe, once again you have to presuppose six literal days of creation because that view places the creation of Adam very close to the creation of the universe.

But if Genesis chapter 1 doesn’t mean that God created the universe in six days, then the genealogies don’t fix the age of the universe but rather the age of the human race upon the earth. The universe may have been around a long time before God created Adam and Eve and therefore could be millions of years old and the genealogies still be essentially correct.

If the earth is old, then there was death before the fall. This argument rests on Romans 5:12, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin.” This is understood to mean that there was no animal death before Adam’s fall.

But that isn’t what Romans 5:12 is saying. When it says “sin came into the world” the assumption is that ‘world’ means the universe, the created order. But the word in Greek is kosmos which can mean the world but, as it does in 2 Corinthians 5:19, it can mean humanity, “God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” You can tell this is what Paul means in Romans 5:12 because he ends by saying “and so death spread to all men” not “death spread to all creatures.” Paul is not talking about death in general but specifically about why human beings die.

This is consistent with the creation narrative. When God created Adam and gave him the law of the garden, the prohibition of eating from one particular tree, Adam was told “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God does not say that everything will die, only that Adam will. Because the Bible is silent on animal death before the fall, anything beyond human death must be inferred; if it turns out that animals died before the fall, Romans 5:12 and Genesis 2:17 would still be true.

Something else that makes this interpretation difficult is that if death came to all created beings at Adam’s fall, then it caused some really extensive changes in certain animals. Carnivores cannot live on an all-vegetable diet; their digestive systems are designed to process flesh. God could have changed animals this dramatically but that kind of change isn’t mentioned or even hinted at in the Bible. The ground is cursed (Gen. 3:17) and therefore changed but there is no mention of animal life.

A rejoinder to death before the fall is that death, even if it were only animal death, doesn’t fit in the perfect world God created and would make God the author of death and disease rather than Adam.

We need to separate these two charges and deal with them one at a time. First, God didn’t declare the world “perfect”, when he finished creation, he declared it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The world will be perfect when sin and death and Satan are cast into the lake of fire and the New Heavens and New Earth are forever free of them. It is possible that a “very good” world could include animal death; we know it at least included the death of plants since they were given for food. The “very good” world included fallen angels since the serpent visited the garden of Eden.

As to the second argument, it may accidentally push too far. If God never intended death and disease and they are exclusively the result of Adam’s fall, then creation went beyond God’s control. On the other hand, if God created the world knowing that sin and death would exist until Jesus came and destroyed them, then death may not be his desire but it is necessarily part of his plan so it can be destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This argument opens up a rabbit’s hole of theological discussion that is beyond the purpose of this post so I’ll let this rest here.

A strength of this argument is the emotional reaction it creates against animal death being part of God’s original creation. How could that be considered “very good?” But here again we have to rely on an inference either way because the Bible is silent on the issue. Perhaps animal death did not exist before the fall but if it did, no matter how we feel about it, God declared it very good and therefore it was.

Conclusion. None of this is offered as ultimate defeaters of young earth apologetics. Nor are these observations likely to completely answer the young-earth defenses they respond to. My point is simply to slow us down and allow us to consider them clearly. Maybe they’re good, maybe they’re not. Hopefully we can see why they’re not always as persuasive as we think they should be.