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10 answers from biblical creationists—Part 1

by and

Published: 21 February 2019 (GMT+10)
foundation
The Rock of Ages is the only foundation upon which to build our lives.

British magazine Premier Christianity recently published an online article by clergyman and former geologist Michael Roberts, called ‘10 questions to ask a young earth creationist’.1 Readers (over 30,000) of this monthly magazine are mainly UK charismatic evangelicals2 but Premier seeks to provoke, inspire and engage readers from a broad Christian spectrum.

In response to Michael Roberts’ 10 questions, we have prepared “10 answers from biblical creationists”, in two parts (questions 6–10 are answered in the follow-up article, Part 2). CMI’s mission is to support the effective proclamation of the Gospel by providing credible answers that affirm the reliability of the Bible, in particular its Genesis history. In line with this, we often quote 1 Peter 3:15:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

Unfortunately, Roberts’ questions contain much overlap, therefore the responses in this article necessarily have some repetition. In what follows, all his comments are shown in red. He opens his article with the following statement:

“… Genesis 1 talks about creation happening in six days not billions of years.”

Roberts thereby admits the exegetical case for the plain meaning of Scripture is a strong one—so far so good. However, his second introductory statement, “But for the last 2000 years most Christians have not believed in a young earth,” is audacious and unfounded, and will be dealt with below under the relevant sections. His final opening remark, “it is only in the last half century that it has become a big issue for some Christians” is also inaccurate—ironically—because church leaders (sharing similar views to Roberts) are the ones teaching heterodox ideas! So let’s get into the meat of what he is claiming:

1. Can we start by agreeing that the Gospel is more about the Rock of Ages than the ages of rocks?

mineral-rock-collection
mineral/rock collection

Answer: But if the Rock of Ages is wrong about the ages of rocks, how can He be a trustworthy foundation upon which to build our lives?

The centre of the Gospel is the crucified and risen Christ, and everything in the Old Testament leads up to that. Jesus, and not the age of my rock collection, is the heart of the Christian faith.

Michael Roberts’ first question is framed in such a way as to exclude—using a ‘false dilemma fallacy’—the possibility that the ages of rocks and the Gospel are linked in any significant way. This false dilemma is driven home with this weak argument: “Jesus, and not the age of my rock collection, is the heart of the Christian faith”—well obviously so. However, the age of the Earth and the Gospel are fundamentally linked, and this subject needs to be discussed. Jesus Himself spoke about Earth history; for instance He placed man and woman at the “beginning of creation” during His discourse with the Pharisees over marriage and divorce (Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6), and not 4.5 billion years after Earth’s formation. Jesus also likened His second coming to the sudden onset of the Flood during the “days of Noah”, when those not safely on board the Ark were all destroyed (Luke 17:26, Matthew 24:37). Jesus, therefore, upheld Genesis as literal history, which was the traditional Jewish view, based on Moses, entailing a six-day creation just thousands of years ago. Furthermore, Paul based his theology on the historic truth of Genesis, describing Jesus as the “Last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45) who rescues people from the penalty of sin (death). This has been humanity’s plight ever since Adam’s Fall from God’s perfect creation (Romans 5:12, 15, 21; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22).

Michael Roberts’ rock collection is not millions of years old as he implies. It testifies not of long ages of death before sin (as per the evolutionary view), but rather, gives evidence of Noah’s Flood and the truth of our Lord’s testimony regarding it. Nor was Jesus wrong about His genealogy (Luke 3:23–38), directly linking Him to the historical figures of Noah and Adam. Neither was His Father culpable of deception in allowing Jesus to teach error—a blasphemous consequence of such faulty thinking. The Gospel and the “heart of the Christian faith” are summed up in Paul’s statement, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). If rocks really are millions of years old, this central Gospel text is false, placing death long before the wages of sin, thus destroying the logical link to the free gift in Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus died to pay the penalty of sin’s curse upon the human race, as a result of Adam’s trespass, and rose the third day to demonstrate He had conquered the curse of death. If Roberts’ rocks really are millions of years old, then death was already part of nature long before Adam was around to sin, thereby making the atonement’s purpose irrelevant.

2. Does the age of the earth – or its shape – matter to a Christian?

Yes, the age of the Earth and its shape should matter to Christians because, if Scripture is wrong about such basic things as these, how can we trust Scripture on the weightier matters like salvation, ethics, mankind’s future, or the theology based on these things? All these are based upon Scripture’s reliability regarding the nature of reality.

For a Christian, the earth could be 10,000, 10,000,000 or 10,000,000,000 years old and it does not matter which, as the Bible is not clear on the matter. But to go against the proven results of science is simply folly. For 250 years, geologists have only found evidence for an ancient earth and none for a young earth.

This question implies the Earth’s age, like its shape, can be directly measured—well it can’t, it’s a category-mistake.3 Earth’s age can only be inferred and depends upon the worldview of the investigator. The philosophical assumptions behind these dating techniques invalidate any supposed claim for rocks being reliable clocks, so are not “proven results of science”, as Michael Roberts claims.4 The investigator was not there to measure the rock’s initial conditions of formation, nor observe how the rock might have altered throughout its history. Therefore, to assume that a rock’s final condition is the result of present-day rates of change is an a priori assumption which excludes catastrophic, or accelerated processes (which would have been in operation at Creation and the Flood). Events that are believed or presumed to have occurred in history cannot be observed, let alone directly measured by scientists (as is the case with operational science). Evidence in the present can only be interpreted within one’s chosen historical framework (worldview).

Contrary to Michael Roberts’ claim, the Bible is clear regarding Earth history: a recent perfect creation, marred by the Fall, followed by the global Flood. The chronogenealogies from Adam to Abraham that are recorded in Genesis enable a calculation of Earth’s age, from creation to the present day, of approximately 6,000 years. One simply cannot force millions of years into the Bible’s history without doing violence to the text, and Hebrew scholars, (such as James Barr), know this. Roberts claims that, for “250 years, geologists have only found evidence for an ancient earth and none for a young earth” but this is circular reasoning, as it hinges upon those same geologists interpreting the rocks from the perspective of ‘methodological naturalism’. Such thinking excludes a priori any explanations allowing for a supernatural creation or global Flood. The fact is, Scriptural geologists writing at the time of Lyell, and scientists right through to the present day, have all believed, according to Scripture, that the Earth is thousands, not billions of years old. They provided evidence directly from field observation that geology is better explained by catastrophic processes, demonstrating geological evidence consistent with Earth history as recorded in Scripture.

Roberts’ claim that geologists have found no evidence for “a young earth” clearly demonstrates he is unaware of the evidence, because there are many evidences that the billions-of-years belief system that he accepts without question is seriously faulty. There is much powerful and positive evidence for a young earth, including dinosaur soft tissue discovered in dinosaur bones supposedly hundreds of millions of years in age; or the presence of carbon 14 in diamonds, coal, oil and other fossils; or global geological formations that can only be explained by invoking continental scale catastrophic flooding, such as planation surfaces, and water gaps; or the amount of salt in the world’s oceans, etc. For an extensive list of evidences for a young world from multiple perspectives see CMI’s article 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe.

3. Does the Bible teach that the earth is spherical?

When read in context, Scripture does indeed offer evidence consistent with understanding the Earth as spherical.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Centerearth
The Earth from space seen as a sphere.

Young earth creationists will often argue there is science in the Bible because the biblical writers were inspired to teach that, contrary to the wisdom of their time, the earth was spherical. Some claim Isaiah 40:22 points to the earth being spherical. But the translations rightly say a “circle” not a sphere. Neither is it possible to read a spherical earth into Genesis 1:6-8. This is because the Bible is not interested in science. Galileo said “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven and not how the heavens go.”

Roberts seems to be arguing that Scripture describes the Earth as being flat, and so therefore should not be used to comment on modern scientific ideas. But if Scripture is wrong regarding such fundamental ‘scientific’ concepts (such as the Earth’s shape), surely it means the Bible can’t be relied upon for spiritual or morally authoritative statements either.

Contrary to Michael Roberts’ statement, biblical creationists do not argue that there is “science in the Bible”, rather, the Bible as God’s Word is reliable and accurate in its statements about the nature of reality. Although the Bible is not like science textbooks (which regularly require updating), Scripture provides the overarching paradigm through which the created order can be understood and rightly interpreted. Michael Roberts has not demonstrated from history that the biblical writers wrote “contrary to the wisdom of their time” that the “earth was spherical”. The ancient Greeks, for example, certainly believed and taught the Earth’s sphericity, contrary to the ‘flat earth myth.’5

Michael Roberts’ statement regarding Isaiah 40:22 is inaccurate, as the Hebrew text employs the word חוּג (khug) to describe the Earth poetically from God’s vantage (“He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers”). Job 22:14 employs the same word to poetically describe the heavens, which are clearly not being envisioned as a flat disc. Rather the English word ‘vault’ is more appropriate in both contexts, implying a three dimensional structure. Michael Roberts also states, “Neither is it possible to read a spherical earth into Genesis 1:6–8.” Agreed, but reading two verses previously in Genesis 1:3–5 would seem to require a spherical Earth for light and darkness to be divided by the terminator from day and night (The terminator is the line that divides the daylit side and the dark night side of a planetary body). Let readers decide for themselves:

The first day: Light, Genesis 1:3–5:

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

The second day: Firmament, Genesis 1:6–8:

“And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”

The fact is, in narrative and historical passages, Scripture teaches things consistent with a spherical earth. (It is of course true that other passages of the Bible, e.g. those with a poetical genre, employ phenomenological language, just as the most ardent secular scientists do today.) Neither can Michael Roberts force Galileo to serve his argument, because Galileo offered empirical scientific evidence for Earth’s orbit around the sun (the heliocentric view) contrary to the Catholic Church’s adherence to geocentric Greek philosophy. In other words, Galileo was not advocating anything contrary to Scripture. The fact that Scripture is trustworthy in its claims about the nature of reality means we can trust its claims about salvation.

4. How could people in 1000 BC grasp the idea of geological time?

Easily! Many cultures at this time (and older) believed in an ancient Earth, including the Babylonians, Greeks and especially the Hindus who believed the universe was 3.4 billion years old! The ancient Egyptians envisaged that their own history was in the order of hundreds of thousands of years, which they believed would continue for literally “millions of years” into the future, hence Rameses II temple was called the “House of Millions of Years”.6 And no one should doubt ancient man’s intelligence (to grasp deep-time), as evidenced by their building projects, technology or civilization.

Geologists gradually began to see that the earth was older than Ussher’s age of 4004 BC after 1680. Looking at the rocks in Nant Peris in Snowdonia the Rev John Ray, a great botanist, began to wonder if the earth was older than Ussher had suggested. He was tentative and rather sceptical, but was asking the right questions. By 1800, most thought the age of the earth was in millions and that included most Christians.

In the 20th Century, radiometric age dating showed the earth is 4.6 billion years old. That is based on the physics of radioactivity and has nothing to do with evolution. If the dates are wrong then so is all physics.

Geological time in a secular context is deep time, i.e. millions and billions of years. Biblical creationists hold to an age of the universe and Earth of just over 6,000 years, which from the biblical perspective is very old. Bishop Ussher did not ‘suggest’ the age of the Earth, rather, he was a brilliant scholar who calculated creation at 4004 BC. Ussher’s calculation was based on inerrant Scripture—“breathed out by God and profitable for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16)—rather than naturalistic thinking based on the reasoning of fallen minds, studying a fallen creation (Romans 8:21).

Unfortunately, Roberts gives no reference to Rev. John Ray’s writings, but what we can say is Ray was a devout Christian, and although he lived long before Charles Darwin, he was opposed to the idea of evolution as we now think of it.

Michael Roberts continues, “By 1800, most thought the age of the earth was in [the] millions and that included most Christians”. A survey of leading biblical commentaries of the early 19th century demonstrates biblical scholars (and by extension, the vast majority of churchgoers in British society) held to a literal view of Genesis. However, it ought to be clear that truth is not determined by appealing to the majority—Christian or not—but rather by what Scripture says.7 The fundamental problem is the worldview which secular geologists adhere to regarding assumed processes in the unobserved past. It is this which leads them to vastly different conclusions regarding Earth history, compared to those who hold a biblical worldview. God never makes mistakes and we should always place God’s Word above the thinking of fallible humans —“the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

Radiometric dating has many problems, even though it is touted as settling the question of the Earth’s ancient age. Radiometric dating is underpinned by three fundamental assumptions (irrespective of the particular radio-isotopes involved), specifically:

  • It is assumed that the original quantities of parent/daughter material can be known (parent isotope over time decays into daughter isotope);
  • The rate of decay is assumed to be constant;
  • The ‘system’ (rock and its’ environment) is assumed to have remained closed; i.e. there has been no leeching out of (or contamination with) either parent or daughter material.

These assumptions are about Earth’s unobserved initial conditions. To claim that radiometric dating shows the Earth to be 4.6 billion years old is further compounded by assumptions concerning the universe’s unobserved past (e.g. Big Bang cosmology). Rather than dogmatically asserting these unknown parameters—based on deep-time assumptions which originate from the evolutionary perspective—would it not be more sensible to start from the Bible, inspired by the One Who was an Eyewitness from the beginning?

Roberts’ statement, “If the dates are wrong then so is all physics”, demonstrates the category mistake that the age of the Earth cannot be directly measured (as explained in our answer to question 2.) It is alarmist and it conflates historical science with operational science. The vast majority of physicists conduct their everyday work without any reference to a 4.6 billion year-old Earth, just as practically all biologists (except evolutionary biologists) happily conduct their research without any recourse to neo-Darwinian reasoning (see is evolution really essential for biology?). And as CMI has pointed out on numerous occasions, the dating of rocks is a highly subjective exercise.

However, carbon dating is a huge problem for the belief in millions of years! Why doesn’t Michael Roberts accept the carbon dates? He is rather selective in what evidence he considers, in other words he is being driven by his worldview, rather than by where the data leads.

5. Does the Bible always speak in a direct literal way?

No, not always. It depends upon the genre of literature being read, but Genesis 1–11 is historic narrative so it should be understood literally.

The biblical writers use language in many different ways. There's narrative, poetry, simile, metaphor and more. At times narrative, even when historical, may contain poetry. Thus Genesis 1 appears to be narrative at first sight but then each day is written in a poetic-like form; “Then God said, ‘Let there be…” followed by “And God saw that …. was good” with a refrain “And there was evening and morning…” Just because poetry is used does not mean it is “untrue”. Psalm 23 is pure poetry using great imagery to bring out the love of God.

Roberts admits that “Genesis 1 appears to be narrative” but that’s because it is! Genesis 1 is identified as narrative by the use of the Hebrew vav(waw)-consecutive construction, which only occurs in Hebrew narrative, and not in poetry. Roberts implies that the repetitiveness of some words means it is “poetic-like”, but then reasons Psalm 23 is “pure poetry” when it does not have repetitiveness of the sort he quotes from Genesis 1. What is more, repetition has also been called ‘the hallmark of Hebrew rhetoric’ (prose not poetry). Either way, it has been clearly shown that Genesis 1 is historical narrative—and so should be read in the literal sense.

Of course this is problematic to Roberts. Where else is he going to put the millions and billions of years he adheres to? Since there is a timeline from Adam to the birth of Jesus of around 4,000 years (after creation), typically it is the duration of Creation week that is reinterpreted. But this requires considerable mental gymnastics to accommodate these eons of time—those who do so should question if the rest of the Bible really means what it says.

How can a denial of the plain meaning of Genesis 1 help people come to a saving faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus? Quoting Abraham, Jesus said, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). In ignoring the plain meaning of Genesis 1 (in favour of secular deep-time thinking), Michael Roberts is in grave danger of making himself the final arbiter of truth over God’s Word. He thus joins the ranks of those who say that the text in Genesis 1 says one thing but, because of science, it must mean something else. As Scripture states “let God be found true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).

(see also Part 2 of this article)

References and notes

  1. Roberts, M., 10 questions to ask a young earth creationist, premierchristianity.com/Blog/10-questions-to-ask-a-young-earth-creationist, 13 November 2018. Premier Christianity also published a companion article: Mackay, J., 10 questions to ask Christians who believe in evolution, premierchristianity.com/Blog/10-questions-to-ask-Christians-who-believe-in-evolution, 13 November 2018. However, there was no article with this title: 10 questions to ask an old earth creationist. Such an omission is pertinent because, in recent years, Premier Christian Radio has done much to publicise the views of the ‘old-earth’ American organisation, led by Dr Hugh Ross, Reasons to Believe. RTB’s ‘progressive creationism’ is critiqued in detail by Jonathan Sarfati, see hereReturn to text.
  2. Wording taken from https://www.premierchristianity.com/About-Us. Return to text.
  3. Blackburn, S., The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, p. 58, 1994. A category mistake/ error, is a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category or, alternatively, a property is ascribed to something that could not possibly have that property. Return to text.
  4. See Reed, J.K., Rocks aren’t clocks: A critique of the geologic timescale, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, 2013. Return to text.
  5. Begun by Washington Irving in the 19th century with a fictional account of Columbus, and popularized by Draper and White in their influential, anti-Christian polemics, and more recently by Michael Roberts! Return to text.
  6. Wb. 3, 2.7-8, Hw.t-n.t-HH-m-rnp.wt “mansion of a million years (royal funerary temple)”. Return to text.
  7. This is dealt with in our response to question 10, see part 2 of this article. Return to text.