The god of an old earth
Does the Bible teach that disease, bloodshed, violence and pain have always been ‘part of life’?
The late Carl Sagan, in his book Contact, wrote:
‘If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn’t he start the universe out in the first place so it would come out the way he wants? Why is he constantly repairing and complaining? No, there’s one thing the Bible makes clear: The biblical God is a sloppy manufacturer. He’s not good at design, he’s not good at execution. He’d be out of business if there was any competition.’1
It’s easy to understand why Carl Sagan viewed the God of the Bible this way. Sagan believed that the fossil record, with all its death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed and violence, represented millions of years of Earth’s history. He also saw a world full of death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed and violence today. So he concluded that any ‘god’ responsible for this seeming mess of life and death could not be all-powerful and all-knowing.
Sagan’s view of God is consistent with his belief in an old earth. Once one accepts billions of years for the age of the earth, whether because of belief in slow and gradual processes to form rocks and fossils — and/or a trust in radiometric dating methods as giving accurate ages of rocks2 — it follows that the fossil record was laid down during hundreds of millions of years, before there were any people (and thus before human sin).
However, the fossil record is not a pretty one! It shows evidence of animals eating each other,3 of diseases like cancer in their bones,4 of violence,4 of plants with thorns5 and so on.
Sagan’s writings show he was familiar with Genesis. What must he have thought when he read that at the end of the sixth day of creation, God pronounced that everything He had made was very good (Genesis 1:31)? How could a very good earth contain diseases like cancer? Didn’t the Bible state that thorns came after the curse because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:18)?
Sagan is not the only one to recognize the true nature of the god of an old earth. Irven DeVore, a Harvard anthropologist, said:
‘I personally cannot discern a shred of evidence for a benign cosmic presence … I see indifference and capriciousness. What kind of God works with a 99.9 percent extinction rate?’ 6
DeVore recognizes that the fossil record is one of massive extinction. If this has stretched over millions of years, enormous numbers of creatures have become extinct — without such a reason as a Flood judgment on man’s wickedness. What kind of god would create such a scenario? The god of an old earth can’t be a loving God.
The issue was a major one for Charles Darwin, too.7 How could a God of love allow such horrible processes as disease, suffering and death for millions of years?
Christians who believe in an old earth (billions of years) need to come to grips with the real nature of the god of an old earth — it is not the loving God of the Bible. Even many conservative, evangelical Christian leaders accept and actively promote a belief in millions and billions of years for the age of rocks. Many have been influenced by the Progressive Creationist movement8 as represented by its main spokesperson, Hugh Ross. In his book Creation and Time, Ross states:
‘Could it be that God’s purposes are somehow fulfilled through our experiencing the “random, wasteful, inefficiencies” of the natural realm He created?’9
Interestingly, the liberal camp points out the inconsistencies in holding to an old earth, yet trying to cling to evangelical Christianity.
For instance, Bishop John Shelby Spong, the most senior Episcopal Bishop in America, states:
‘…The Bible began with the assumption that God had created a finished and perfect world from which human beings had fallen away in an act of cosmic rebellion. Original sin was the reality in which all life was presumed to live. Darwin postulated instead an unfinished and thus imperfect creation … Human beings did not fall from perfection into sin as the Church had taught for centuries … Thus the basic myth of Christianity that interpreted Jesus as a divine emissary who came to rescue the victims of the fall from the results of their original sin became inoperative.’ 10
‘The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.’ 10
Evolutionist Spong obviously believes in millions of years for Earth’s history. Like the Progressive Creationists, he rejects a global Flood. Because they interpret the rocks in this way, neither Spong nor the Progressive Creationists can hold to a perfect world before sin. Spong makes it clear that the god of an old earth cannot rescue people from a so-called Fall, when no such Fall as Genesis describes really occurred.11
The recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Ian Barbour, professor emeritus at Carleton College, also said recently:
‘You simply can’t any longer say as traditional Christians that death was God’s punishment for sin. Death was around long before human beings … .’12
This is an obvious reference to the millions of years associated with the fossil record. The god of an old earth is one that uses death as part of creating —death therefore can’t be the penalty for sin — or ‘the last enemy’(1 Cor. 15:26).
In 1994, Tom Ambrose, an Anglican Priest, in an article in The Church of England Newspaper, succinctly portrayed the real god of an old earth when he stated:
‘…Fossils are the remains of creatures that lived and died for over a billion years before Homo Sapiens evolved. Death is as old as life itself by all but a split second. Can it therefore be God’s punishment for Sin? The fossil record demonstrates that some form of evil has existed throughout time. On the large scale it is evident in natural disasters. The destruction of creatures by flood, ice age, desert and earthquakes has happened countless times. On the individual scale there is ample evidence of painful, crippling disease and the activity of parasites. We see that living things have suffered in dying, with arthritis, a tumor, or simply being eaten by other creatures. From the dawn of time, the possibility of life and death, good and evil, have always existed. At no point is there any discontinuity; there was never a time when death appeared, or a moment when the evil changed the nature of the universe. God made the world as it is … evolution as the instrument of change and diversity. People try to tell us that Adam had a perfect relationship with God until he sinned, and all we need to do is repent and accept Jesus in order to restore that original relationship. But perfection like this never existed. There never was such a world. Trying to return to it, either in reality or spiritually, is a delusion. Unfortunately it is still central to much evangelical preaching.’13
Spong makes it plain (and it’s implied by Ambrose) that the Bible clearly teaches that there was a perfect creation, but it is now marred by sin. But they accept the millions of years history for the fossil record, so to be consistent, they have to throw out original sin, and death being the penalty for man’s rebellion. The god of an old earth cannot therefore be the God of the Bible who is able to save us from sin and death.
Thus Christians who compromise with the millions of years attributed by many scientists to the fossil record, are in that sense seemingly worshipping a different god — the cruel god of an old earth.
The problem with people like Sagan and Darwin was that they didn’t understand (or wouldn’t accept) that there was a perfect world to begin with — it was very good.
When looking at this present world, these men weren’t looking at the nature of God, but the results of our sin! What a difference.
The God of the Bible, the God of mercy, grace and love, sent His one and only Son to be a man (but God nonetheless), to become our sin-bearer so that we could be saved from sin and its final effect of eternal separation from God:
‘For He has made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
There’s no doubt — the god of an old earth destroys the Gospel.
Let this be a challenge to the Church to return to the loving, holy, righteous God of the Bible.
References and notes
- Sagan, C., Contact, Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster, Inc.), New York, 1985.
- All dating methods are based on assumptions and numerous results conflict with the evolutionary timescale. E.g. see:
Austin, S., Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, Institute for Creation Research, Santee, California, 1994.
Morris, J.D., The Young Earth, Master Books, Green Forest, Arkansas, 1994.
Snelling, A.A., Radioactive ‘Dating’ in Conflict, Creation 20(1):24–27, 1997.
- E.g. ground up dinosaur bones were found in the fossil dung of another dinosaur: Nature 393(6686):680–682, 1998.
- Tanke, D.H. & Rothschild, B.M., Paleopathology, Currie P.J. & Padian K., Ed., Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs, Academic Press, San Diego, California, pp. 525–530, 1997.
- Banks, H.P., Evolution and Plants of the Past, Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., Belmont, California, pp. 9–10, 1970.
- DeVore, I., Astronomy might be refashioning images of God, Times-News Weekender, May 1, 1999. This commonly cited figure is exaggerated — it is based on the evolutionary assumption concerning the many transitional forms that ‘must have existed’(!). There are only about 250,000 known fossil species.
- Desmond, A. & Moore, J., Darwin, Warner Books, New York, p. 479, 1991. See also Brentnall, J.M. and Grigg, R.M., Darwin’s slippery slide into unbelief, Creation 18(1):34–37, 1995.
- Typical of this movement would be their adherence to the following beliefs: Big Bang; billions of years for the age of the earth and universe; days of creation are long periods of time; Noah’s Flood a local event; race of soulless ‘humanoids’ before Adam and Eve; death and disease existed before sin.
- Ross H., Creation and Time, Nav Press Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, Colorado, p. 88, 1994.
- Bishop John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop of Newark, A Call for a New Reformation, from home page for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, September 4, 1999.
For a thorough refutation of Spong’s many errors and outright heresies, see Bott M.R., and Sarfati J.D., What’s wrong with Bishop Spong?, Apologia 4(1):3–27, 1995.
- Consistently, Spong also denies virtually every other Christian doctrine — including the bodily Resurrection and the Virginal Conception of Christ etc., and says that homosexual acts are acceptable.
- Cited in Lieblich, J., Searching for answers: Templeton Prize winner bridges science and faith, Dayton Daily News, Religion Section, Saturday March 13, 1999.
- Ambrose, T., Just a pile of old bones, The Church of England Newspaper, A Current Affair Section, Friday October 21, 1994