Common errors made by deniers of a young Earth
Since the rise of uniformitarian geology in about 1800, many in the church have capitulated to this new ‘science’. Thus they have rejected the traditional plain historical-grammatical interpretation of the creation and Flood accounts. They routinely resort to erroneous reasoning to support their compromising reinterpretation. Following are discussions of the three most common errors committed.
Appealing to the ‘purpose’ of the text
Old-earthers often appeal to the ‘purpose’ of the creation account, commonly claiming that it is primarily theological rather than historical. For example, Bruce Waltke, citing Charles Hummel, argues that Genesis 1–2 is not a purely descriptive account answering the ‘what?’ ‘how?’ and ‘what is?.’ Instead, it is prescriptive in that it answers the ‘who?’ ‘why?’ and ‘what ought to be?’.1 Thus, the Genesis account of creation and the Fall discusses general theological concerns rather than describing actual historical events. Similarly, Bernard Ramm states that Scripture “tells us emphatically that God created, but is silent as to how God created … . It informs us that the stars, and the flowers, and the animals, and the trees, and man are creatures of God, but how God produced them is nowhere a matter of clear affirmation in Scripture [emphasis in original].”2
However, such a view simply does not align with what the Scriptures actually state. As Walter Kaiser responds, “[this is] an obvious slighting of the phrase repeated ten times, ‘and God said’ … ”.3 Indeed, God’s creative activity is precisely described using the verbs ‘created’ ‘made’, ‘said’, ‘called’, ‘set’, ‘formed’, ‘caused’, ‘took’, ‘planted’, and ‘blessed’. Furthermore, these activities are described from start to finish, and spread out over a period of six days. In other words, the Genesis account describes exactly how God created, the order in which He created, and the timing of His creative acts—and was understood that way by the New Testament writers.4 If, on the other hand, all the author intended to communicate was that ‘God is the creator of everything’, then surely the first verse would have been enough.
Likewise, Bill Arnold claims: “The important lesson from Genesis 1 is that [God] did in fact create it, and that he made it orderly and good in every respect.” He adds: “If it were important to know how long it took God to create the world, the Bible would have made it clear.”5 Yet the creation account explicitly says that God took six days. Day One was followed by a second, then third, fourth, fifth and sixth days, when the creation was completed (Genesis 2:1–2). Exodus 20:11 confirms that God created “in six days”. What could be clearer?6
There is no doubt, of course, that Genesis makes a fundamental theological contribution, but to say that Genesis is primarily theological rather than historical is to set up a false dichotomy; history and theology are not mutually exclusive. “The fact is that the whole Bible presents its message as theology within a framework of history.”7 E.g. the Resurrection of Jesus is a foundational theological doctrine, but would be worthless unless it happened in history (1 Corinthians 15).
In any case, the Bible author’s intent and purpose for writing is surely expressed in the text itself. How else can a reader know the author’s intention apart from what the author actually states in the text? Otherwise, the meaning of the text would have to be discovered first, before there could be any hope of determining the author’s intent. Suggestions of intent and purpose which are not directly derived from the text itself can only come from the interpreter’s imagination. Therefore, ascribing an intent and purpose which is not directly derived from the text is to subordinate Scripture to the imagination of the interpreter.
Demand for conformity to current scientific views
Old-earthers also demand that any interpretation must be consistent with currently accepted ‘scientific’ views.
However, old-earthers are themselves selective and inconsistent in their demand for scientific conformity. Although quick to chastise biblical (young-earth) creationists for advocating interpretations of the Genesis accounts of creation and the Flood that seem to go against current scientific views, many have no problem accepting literal interpretations of the virgin birth, Christ’s miracles, and the Resurrection—all of which seem to go against current scientific views! Take Christ’s miracle of turning water into wine (John 2:1–11) as an example of their inconsistency. Very few, if any, old-earthers who claim to be evangelicals with a high view of Scripture would doubt that Christ literally and miraculously turned water into wine. Yet, this act is scientifically impossible! Water simply does not have the carbon atoms that wine does. Even if we were to supply these in the form of sugar and yeast, the process of fermentation takes time (several weeks), yet the text indicates that this all occurred instantaneously. Why, then, do such old-earthers not reinterpret this (and other) accounts? Why accept some supernatural acts of God and not others?
It is difficult to find worse examples of the rewriting of history than that done by many old-earth evangelicals with respect to the historical views of the Church concerning the creation account.8 These erroneous historical views have been refuted in detail elsewhere.9 The plain young-earth reading of the creation account has been the traditional mainstream view of the Church throughout its history up until the ascendancy of ‘enlightenment’ thinking in the 18th Century.10 As David Hall laments:
“The record of history is abundantly clear on this; yet, it is like extracting molars to convince some theologians to surrender an opinion that is in conflict with actual history. One has to question the tenacious resistance, especially when it is confronted with so much factual information. Why, I asked, would fine and godly theologians fight against history with so much energy when the case against it was so clear?”11
Other examples of historical revisionism by old-earth evangelicals include the Church’s alleged treatment of Columbus and Galileo. Old-earthers claim that these ‘scientists’ were right but the dogmatic Church was wrong, and we should be careful not to make the same mistakes today.
Such conclusions are based on a common belief that before he made his historic voyage in 1492, Christopher Columbus appeared before a crowd of dogmatic theologians and ignorant inquisitors, all of whom believed that Scripture taught the earth was flat. Columbus then set out to prove them all wrong and sailed around the globe. While it is true that there was a meeting at Salamanca in 1491, this common understanding of what happened does not contain a shred of truth. Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell identifies Washington Irving (1783–1859), a noted American historical fiction writer, as one of the primary sources of this ‘folktale’.12 Irving created a fictitious account of a nonexistent university council and let his imagination run wild.13 The whole story is “misleading and mischievous nonsense.”14 [Including the idea that Columbus circumnavigated the globe, incidentally—he did not.--Ed.] Russell has demonstrated that with very few exceptions, from the 3rd century BC onwards, all educated people in the western world believed the earth was a globe. It is thus no accident that medieval kings were presented with an orb (sphere), representing the earth, as a symbol of their power (see picture, left).
Likewise, it is commonly believed that Galileo’s observations and arguments offered overwhelming support for Copernicus’ theory (that the earth orbited the sun), but the stubborn, dogmatic, ignorant theologians in the Catholic Church wanted to silence Galileo lest their interpretation of Scripture be shown to be in error. This was for fear it would nullify the Church’s claim as the authority in biblical interpretation. But as Thomas Schirrmacher has demonstrated: “The depiction of the process against Galileo as a heroic scientist standing up against the narrow-minded dogmatism of the Christian church is based entirely on myth, not on historical research.”15,16
The disagreements between scientists and theologians at the time reflected not a conflict between Christianity and science, but a conflict between Aristotelian philosophy and science.17 Galileo was a scientist who was convinced of the truth and accuracy of Scripture. He was well regarded by the Church and his first defence of the Copernican system, Letters on Sunspots (1613), was well received and no criticism was raised. Indeed, Cardinal Barberini, who later became Pope Urban VIII and who would sentence him in 1633, was among those to congratulate Galileo on his publication.18 Thus, Galileo’s greatest enemies were not in the church but rather among his colleagues and fellow scientists, most of whom denied the Copernican system,19 and who were afraid of losing their position and influence.20 De Santillana writes: “It has been known for a long time that a major part of the church’s intellectuals were on the side of Galileo, while the clearest opposition to him came from secular ideas.”21
The irony in all of this is that it is the old-earth believers who need to learn the lesson of the Galileo affair.22 Galileo came to the right conclusion while believing totally in the Bible’s accuracy, whereas his fellow scientists came to the wrong conclusion based on the current scientific consensus (Aristotelianism)! The Church has been painted as an enemy of science, when, in actual fact, Galileo’s scientific peers and colleagues were the greater enemies of true science.
Don’t let those who deny the plain reading of the creation account get away with raising these kinds of fallacious arguments. If you hear people raise such arguments, challenge them to justify their position, and point out—gently—their errors of fact and logic.
References and notes
- Waltke, B.K., The first seven days, Christianity Today 32:45, 1988. Return to text.
- Ramm, B., The Christian View of Science of Scripture, Paternoster, London, 1955, p. 70. Return to text.
- Kaiser, W.C., Legitimate hermeneutics; in: Geisler, N.L. (ed.), Inerrancy, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1980, p. 147. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., The use of Genesis in the New Testament, Creation 33(2):16–19, 2011, creation.com/nt; Sarfati, J., Genesis: Bible authors believed it to be history, Creation 28(2):21–23, 2006, creation.com/gen-hist. Return to text.
- Arnold, B.T., Encountering the Book of Genesis, Baker, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998, p. 23. Return to text.
- Genesis is written as history, not poetry. See the interviews with OT scholar Dr Robert McCabe, Creation 32(3):16–19, 2010; and Hebrew scholar Dr Ting Wang, Creation 27(4):48–51, 2005, creation.com/wang. Return to text.
- Goldsworthy, G., Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, IVP, Leicester, 2000, p. 24. Return to text.
- See in particular Hugh Ross (Creation and Time, NavPress, Colorado Springs, 1994, pp. 16–24; (with Gleason Archer) The Day-Age Response; in: D. G. Hagopian, D.G., (editor), The Genesis Debate, Crux Press, Mission Viejo, California, 2001, pp. 68–70), Don Stoner (A New Look at an Old Earth, Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon, 1997, pp. 117–119), and Roger Forster and Paul Marston (Reason, Science and Faith, Monarch, Crowborough, East Sussex, 1999, pp. 188–240). Return to text.
- Kulikovsky, A.S., Creation and Genesis: a historical survey, Creation Research Society Quarterly 43(4):206–219, 2007. Return to text.
- See the list of calculated creation dates in Batten, D., Old-earth or young-earth belief; which belief is the recent aberration? Creation 24(1):24–27, 2001, creation.com/old-young. Return to text.
- Hall, D.W., The evolution of mythology: classic creation survives as the fittest among its critics and revisers; in: Pipa, J.A. and Hall, D.W. (eds.), Did God Create in Six Days? Southern Presbyterian Press, Taylors, SC, 1999, p. 276. Return to text.
- The other originator was Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787–1848), an anti-religious academic, who published On the Cosmological Ideas of the Church Fathers (1834). See Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth, Praeger, London, 1997, pp. 49–51, 58–59. Return to text.
- Russell, ref. 12, pp. 40–41, 52–54. Return to text.
- Russell, J.B., The Myth of the Flat Earth, Unpublished paper presented at the American Scientific Affiliation Conference, Westmont College, August 4, 1997; www.veritas-ucsb.org. He notes that this was listed as among the top few historical myths some years back by the Historical Society of Britain. Return to text.
- Schirrmacher, T., The Galileo Affair: History or Heroic Hagiography? Journal of Creation 14(1):91–100, 2000. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Galileo Quadricentennial; myth vs fact, Creation 31(3):49–51, 2009, creation.com/gal-400. Return to text.
- Ramm, ref. 2, p. 36. Forster and Marston, (Reason and Faith, 293) agree that it is inaccurate to present the Galileo affair as a case of science vs religion. Return to text.
- Schirrmacher, ref. 12, p. 92. Return to text.
- Indeed, the vast majority of scientists at that time rejected the Copernican system. See Barber, B., Resistance of scientists to scientific discovery, Science 134:596–602, 1961; Custance, A.C., Science and Faith: The Doorway Papers VIII, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984, p. 157. Return to text.
- Schirrmacher, ref. 15; Drake, S. (editor and translator), Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, Doubleday, New York, 1957. Return to text.
- de Santillana, G., The Crime of Galileo, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1955, p. xii. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., The Galileo ‘twist’, Creation 19(4):30–32, 1997, creation.com/gal-twist. Return to text.