Common ground with old-earth creationists?
Published: 8 September 2013 (GMT+10)
Old-earth creationists and biblical creationists agree on many things, including rejection of microbes-to-man evolution. But there are some obvious differences too. CMI’s Shaun Doyle discusses the significance of the similarities and differences in the context of the origins debate. [Ed. Note: Interestingly, although a few readers responded negatively to Shaun's approach, a while later F.M. came back to say he had changed his mind; his followup comments have been appended to the article below.]
F.M. from the United States writes:
Even though I disagree with your argument that dinosaurs lived together with Human at one point, I still find it intriguing because although I am an OEC [old-earth creationist], I think it would be awesome to see if we really lived with Dinosaurs. Although we disagree on the age of the earth question, I also think both YEC [young-earth creationism] and OEC can make a common ground against Darwinism.
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Thank you for your email. I thought I would take the time to explain some of the issues surrounding the notion of ‘common ground’, and why we believe ‘Genesis as history’ creation is so important.
Common ground is a tricky thing—just about any position can find common ground with another. For instance, deep time creationism (DTC) shares common ground with theistic evolution (TE) against biblical creationism (BC)—the deep time historical framework. The important question is this: which group does DTC share theologically significant common ground with?
Consider three of the most important theological objections biblical creationists make in the origins debate: (1) natural evil (especially physical death in humans) before the Fall destroys the integrity of the gospel (for more details see our articles on Romans 5, Romans 8, and 1 Corinthians 15); (2) placing humans at the end of history makes Jesus a teacher of error (cf. Mark 10:6 and Jesus and the age of the earth) and thus untrustworthy on basic history, let alone eternal salvation; and (3) deep time contradicts the whole thrust of biblical chronology (see How does the Bible teach 6,000 years?, Why Bible history matters, and Pre-Adamites, sin, death and the human fossils) and thus undermines confidence in the Bible as God’s word.
None of those objections has anything to do with microbes-to-man evolution per se. On the other hand, they have everything to do with the deep-time historical framework. The biggest theological issues in the origins debate are all derived from issues of chronology, and chronology is the defining difference between DTC and BC. The foundation for the chronology of biblical creationists is the Bible, whereas deep time creationists derive theirs from their interpretations of physical evidence (rocks, fossils, starlight, etc.), which rest on the billion-year evolutionary story. At its most basic, it really is about whether we trust the Bible’s testimony to what happened or man’s conjectures about the past.
Darwinism has produced a disastrous social legacy, and is morally, scientifically, and philosophically bankrupt. On this deep time creationists and biblical creationists can agree. However, the theological agreement DTC shares with TE is far more foundational than any shared with BC. Why? God has revealed himself in history. And DTCs and TEs share the same historical framework against BCs. The debate between DTC and TE is primarily over the mode of divine action in certain events in the history of life. However, the timeline and event sequence each holds to is practically identical to the other.
That is because we identify God not simply as an abstract monotheistic deity but as Yahweh (Exodus 3:14), as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)—the very concrete triune deity of the biblical narrative who historically talked with humans, acted for (and against) humans, and established covenants with humans. One of the persons of this triune deity even became a human: Jesus Christ. All of these acts have specific dates and locations in the past—they are historical events. Moreover, the theological significance of these events can’t be separated from their historicity. The Bible doesn’t just provide a reliable record of what happened; it also provides God’s authoritative interpretation of the significance of what happened. This includes events such as the Creation Week, the Fall, and Noah’s Flood. As such, historical frameworks are foundational for our knowledge of God. See Why Bible history matters.
Since God has revealed himself in history, to change the history is to change what we know about God. And when that change involves something morally significant like introducing billions of years of death and suffering before the Fall, the changes are irreconcilable. We might as well be worshipping two different gods. See The god of an old earth and Did God create over billions of years?
Note that the points I’m making are about the logical consistency of deep time creationists’ commitment to the God of Scripture, not about the veracity of their commitment to Him (or the legitimacy of their salvation! See Do I have to believe in a literal creation to be a Christian?). It is not the affirmation of deep time history per se that is heretical; it is the consistent application of deep time history as one’s primary axiom that produces either heresy or apostasy. Humans can be inconsistent, and in this case it is often a ‘blessed’ inconsistency. But it is still an inconsistency, and a major one. We owe God everything—including our minds. We should therefore submit our minds consistently to his teaching in Scripture. Deep time creationists don’t do that.
What’s the significance of dinosaurs in all this? Simple: dinosaurs are popular. Proponents of both deep time and biblical history use dinosaurs to try to capture the imagination of their audiences for their own framework. This is simply old-fashioned ideological competition—claiming the popular icon for one’s own ideology keeps people away from other ideologies and can potentially attract onlookers to consider your ideology. The question, of course, is whether either framework can do it legitimately. We believe we can; we believe the historical evidence is consistent with biblical creation. Let the readers decide for themselves: Dinosaur Questions and Answers and How old is the earth? (from Dr. Sarfati's Refuting Evolution)
Therefore, while I can appreciate the common ground DTCs and BCs share, it’s rather irrelevant for the theologically significant issues in the origins debate. Simply put: the Bible vs microbes-to-man evolution is just a symptom of the problem; the Bible vs deep time history is the actual core of the problem.
[Ed. Note: in late October 2013, F.M. wrote to say: “Hi CMI, I want to say that after writing the letter to you about finding common ground, I have now changed my stances because of valuable resources on creation.com and Jonathan Sarfati’s book Refuting Compromise, among many others. They have opened my eyes to the position that the Bible does not teach an old earth and that any form of Old Earth compromise puts science in a position over God. I pray that Old-Earth proponents like Hugh Ross for example will open their eyes and believe in the true creation. Thank you very much CMI and I am blessed that you have changed my heart and mind and I hope your resources will change the heart of many, many others too! God Bless.”]
I certainly concur with F.M. from the United States whose comments started this particular debate.
Yet, I praise CMI for its profound knowledge and augmentation skills regarding creation rather than the incredulous theory of evolution concerning microbes-to-man.
I hold to what is known as the gap theory, of which, many Rabbis and others, do too.
Basically, this follows that the first verse of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heaven [universe] and the earth”, that it was a complete creation which included the Jurassic period.
When we come to verse 2, “And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”, we arrive at a time when God started to re-create the earth, as the volcanic ash from worldwide seismic activity and great tsunamis had blocked out the original light after destroying the Jurassic period.
The Hebrew can also denote the words as “the earth became (hayah) waste (tohuw) and empty (bohuw)”, after destroying this creation of which Satan was mainly responsible for, and hence God re-created the earth and created humans.
The Hebrew word “hayah” which was translated “was” in verse 2 is only once again translated “was” in all the seventy-two places it is recorded in the Bible. It is better translated “became” as God relates through Isaiah 45:18, “For thus says the LORD who created the heavens; God Himself who formed the earth and made it; He has established it, He created it not a waste (tohuw), He formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.”
My congratulations to Shaun Doyle for a wonderfully clear and lucid explanation. There are three areas which concern Bible believing Christians over the Creation debate: Doctrine, History and Natural Philosophy (Science). These are frequently and unwittingly confused, and debated simultaneously. This has caused no end of heat and acrimony in the past. Shaun highlights the need to keep our thinking straight and allow everyone with their different allegiances to focus on the real problem.
The real problem is the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture in a secular world. Evolutionary science makes claims which are impossible to justify on any ground whatsoever, whether evidence from the field, or on philosophical and logical grounds. Deep time is a rational proposition without empirical support. Much of the physical evidence points to a young earth. Yet it is this unfounded "science" which is treated with greater respect than Scriptural truth, even by many Christians.
Praise God for His providence and His foresight in providing Scriptures which speak directly to all three areas. It is up to us to seek His truth in a measured way, giving Scripture the highest place and giving God the respect of a creature to his Creator.
Scripture tells us that Christian fellowship and understanding are extremely important, no matter the different viewpoints. Shaun's article is a great benefit to us all.
Bible plainly written. The problem with that is that in debates with Atheist they bring up quotes in Bible about God creating evil etc that due to translation problems this article gives me more problems as it gives them more ammo saying plainly written, Just fyi Be very careful when doing this. That is why I won't tweet this article. Due to debates on Is 45:7 and many more.English hard to translate properly as all languages have that problem in translation from one to another. Please be aware of this when writing these articles. You make it worse in some ways not actually better as you validate or open other doors for atheist.
I didn’t talk about the ‘Bible plainly written’. I didn’t even call our view of Genesis 1–11 the ‘plain reading’, though I do think it is the plain reading (i.e. that the average reader will get the impression that Genesis 1–11 is intended as history). I instead called our view the ‘Genesis as history’ view, which describes what we claim Genesis 1–11 means, rather than calling it ‘the plain reading’, which is an assessment of our reading’s hermeneutical status. On other points I make, you can find more detailed exegetical defences of them in the various links provided throughout the article.
Excellent response by Shaun Doyle, but note that he assumes the existence of both SPIRITUAL reality (God, Truth, Information, etc) and PHYSICAL reality (the Universe, the Earth, Gravity, etc).
However, Darwinian Evolutionists and many scientists and nearly all Atheists deny SPIRITUAL reality and are focused 100% on PHYSICAL reality.
We Christians can defeat Darwinian Evolution using the battle-field of their choosing. The Scientific Method is the only sword we need to defeat the Darwinists because the SM is focused 100% on PHYSICAL reality.
CMI claims to love God's PHYSICAL universe, but is obsessive-compulsive about bringing SPIRITUAL realities into every discussion. Please note that Jesus himself, in many of his parables, taught using PHYSICAL realities and did NOT find it necessary to hit his audience over the head each time with SPIRITUAL realities.
God bless the important work of CMI.
I would suggest that there is no intrinsic dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual. One of the most spiritual doctrines of Scripture is the very physical resurrection of Jesus. Without Jesus’ resurrection, there is no hope and no salvation; Christianity is false if Jesus is not risen. But since Christ is risen, believers now have a new life in the Spirit, and a new hope that as Christ was raised so we shall be raised to everlasting life and joy in God when Jesus returns. Please see The importance of correct history and theology.
As for the common polemical enterprise against Darwinism, we of course do share some features, but we do not share all. We share a common concern to argue for intelligent origins for life and the universe, but not a common history of the universe. As such, old-earth creationist arguments against secularism decouple origins from history because they accept the secularist historical framework. This forces them to play by secularist rules because not to do so would of necessity mean adopting a different historical framework. See Deep time doesn’t make sense! and CMI’s views on the Intelligent Design Movement for more information.
Can't intelligent design / old earth arguments be a step towards the truth? Can't old earth creationists be used (by God) to help dismantle the entrenched lies of Darwinism that blind so many people to the truth of "a" Creator... and then further Biblical witness (with young earth evidences) could lead more open hearts and minds to the fuller truth of the Creator God of the Bible? I think I recall a testimony of a scientist who went through just such a process... in an article on your website. Therefore, a common belief in a Creator may indeed be a helpful bridge.
There is no doubt that a common belief in a Creator (and even in the biblical Creator, for old-age Christians) can be a helpful bridge to the truth of biblical creation. Many, if not most, converts to Christianity who come from outside the church become Christians before they become biblical creationists. In fact, a number of CMI staff scientists went through just such a ‘transformation’. God willing, we learn and grow in conformity to Christ and his word.
It’s important to recognize, however, that the wider Western culture has moved in the opposite direction over the last few hundred years. We largely believed in the biblical God, and then deep time came along and he became a far more distant ‘creator of life’, and then evolution came along and God was no longer needed even to create life, so his hand was removed from creation altogether. When Darwin published his Origin of Species, the main theistic opposition he received from the academics was not a full-force biblical creation framework, but a watered down deep time creationism that was a very easy target for him to shoot down.
Nevertheless, this article is not about such ‘worldview shifts’; it is just a compare and contrast of two different positions. My prayer for this article is that it (alongside many other articles of a similar nature on our website) could be helpful eye-opener for old-age creationists that deep time and the gospel do not mix, and so encourage them to submit to the Scriptures rather than the forensic speculations of men.
I am a biblically convinced young earth creationist! However I am concerned about this public debate between believers. I am also a pastor of an evangelical church and serve Christians at different points on the journey of faith and understanding and believe that Christ unites us! There is a place for debate and discussion amongst Christians on these matters. Yet this online debate taking up so much of CMI's time and webspace, I feel is potentially detrimental and easily misunderstood by the public and ammunition for the 'enemy'. As Paul said in Corinthians it is within the church itself that disagreements and disputes need to be sorted - not before the world. I would strongly encourage CMI to focus on the issue of scientific research and publishing well referenced information to keep exposing the loopholes in evolutionary theory. This is what the churches and our children need to encourage and strengthen faith. It is so tempting to answer questions in these other areas but you know where you stand on young earth creation and correspondents should know that too! Let that be a given - and keep delivering honest and well referenced material to show the fallacies in the assumptions of so many in our deluded world and the wonderful facts of Creations which point to our Great Creator. Yours sincerely in Christ, Pastor Carl
Christ does indeed unite all believers, including young-age and long-age Christians. However, this truth needs to be balanced with the fact that the more deep time belief is consistently applied, the more likely it is that it will produce heresy or apostasy. For instance, human death before sin (as deep time mandates) destroys the relevance of Jesus death for us. As such, deep time belief puts a Christian in danger of taking a disastrously wrong turn on the journey of faith. 1 Corinthians 6:1–8 is not relevant for this debate because this is a doctrinal disagreement, not a case of believers dragging each other before secular magistrates for matters they should be able to sort out themselves. And what happens when an unbeliever gets conflicting answers when they ask different Christians what relevance deep time has for the Bible? Surely we must address that! This is not merely an ‘in-house debate’ because deep time is a control belief for unbelieving Western culture. How we address that control belief is what this debate is all about, and will therefore have a direct impact on how we evangelise. Finally, we can’t simply assume that anyone who comes to our website will understand the significance of biblical creation. The fact is that some do not understand, or they misunderstand. It is thus our duty to make it plain.