Questions arising from an old earth talk
Responding to old-earther Eric Gustafson
Published: 6 June 2020 (GMT+10)
Mr K.W. enquired about an old-earth lecture at a seminary, wondering if we had addressed some points made. It so happens that core biblical (‘young-earth’) creationist works had addressed most of those canards long ago. This lecturer would hardly be the first to criticise YEC while being very ignorant of their strongest arguments, while at the same time acquiescing to secular interpretations of our natural world. Conversely, CMI addresses the strongest arguments from the other side, such as Richard Dawkins on atheopathic evolution, Hugh Ross on old-earth creationism, and BioLogos and their counterparts in other countries on theistic evolution.
Before we answer the specifics, it is worth summarizing the main problems with old-earth compromise. I think the two most serious ones are:
- Authority. Is it the Bible or secular science? So the debate over origins and age is different in kind, not degree, with other debates in the Church. All the others—whether the Millennium, baptism, form of church government, Calvinism v Arminianism—presuppose that the Bible is the final authority, and the only debate is over what it means. See also End-times and Early-times. But in the origins issue, it is whether the Bible is really authoritative, or must its origins account be ‘re-interpreted’ to fit secular ‘science’?
- Death and suffering. Without exception, all long-age views must place human and animal death before Adam’s sin. This is true of the day-age theory, gap theory, and framework hypothesis. But the Bible says that death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23).
However, every old-age view interprets geologic layers as being laid down in a uniformitarian process of hundreds of millions of years. And these layers contain the fossils of billions of dead organisms, including undoubted humans. So it is a serious Gospel issue, because every old-earth view places death before day 6 of Creation when God pronounced His finished work “very good’ and, thus, death before the Fall of man in
In particular, in 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul makes a clear connection between the physical death of Jesus “the last Adam”, with the physical death brought by the sin of “the first man, Adam” in Genesis 3. And this is a major Gospel/Resurrection chapter of the Bible. So anyone who thinks that we can preach the Gospel and ignore Adam and Genesis is tacitly claiming that Paul’s Gospel message is faulty and divisive.
Also, since the old-earth talk is in the public arena, it is right and proper to answer it in the public arena.
Last October, I was in a session where Eric Gustafson of Southern Evangelical Seminary discussed the debate about the age of the earth—”The Age of the Earth: A Charitable Approach”.
His first point was that the debate between Christians about the age of the earth has brought out a lot of ugliness.
Christians should be civil with each other when disagreeing and I completely agree with him on that. (2 Timothy 2:24–25)
He then raised some points that I had not heard before.
He showed us several scriptures that seem to say the earth doesn’t move.
He said that science has showed us that the earth revolves around the sun and we all accept this and interpret scripture in light of this fact.
Since we do this with the earth revolving around the sun, why shouldn’t we use science to interpret the age of the earth?
I don’t think this is a valid argument but I would like to hear what you have to say about it.
He then showed quotes by Luther, Augustine, Aquinas, and also part of Psalm 104 that he said are not being dealt with by YECs.
- Luther – animal death before sin?
- Augustine – the creation in Romans 8 refers to the human race?
- Aquinas – all animals were not vegetarian to begin with?
- YECs often discuss Psalm 104 as referring to the creation account but intentionally ignore verses 20–22? (In The Defender’s Study Bible, Henry Morris refers to verses 10–23 as being after the flood.)
Please see the attached slides from his deck that he gave me with the understanding that I would be asking you these questions.
Have these items been dealt with? If so, can you tell me where?
If not, why not?
I believe that we should take every thought captive to Christ and not leave old earth creationists a single leg to stand on.
Finally, why don’t we see more debates between young earth and old earth creationists?
It seems like this would be a great way to show the incredible weaknesses of their position to Christ-followers.
Dr Sarfati replies (expanded and contextualized for the web):
Dear Mr W.
Thank you for writing to CMI.
Actually, most of these questions have been answered long ago. E.g. I wrote Refuting Compromise in 2004. Has he even read it? It’s hardly an obscure title, given the favourable reviews by a number of leading creationists.
Tone of argument?
We can agree about civil disagreement. But I also note that old-earth compromisers love to play the martyr, but they are only too happy to denounce YECs in a hostile manner. E.g. day-ager Hugh Ross compared YEC to the Gnostic heresy and flat-earthism, and theistic evolutionist William Lane Craig called YEC “hugely embarrassing”.
In general, CMI practises “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). But if errors are public, we will also publicly refute those errors, still out of love for all those being misled, including the proponents of those errors. These include groups like BioLogos who publicly teach a different Gospel, Reasons to Believe who undermine biblical authority, and in cases like the chaplain of a Christian school who refused to have creation ministry even when the parents of the students wanted it.
The geocentrism canard was addressed in Refuting Compromise, pp. 51–54; and the 2005 article ID theorist blunders on Bible in the section The Galileo excuse. Most of those who raise it have very limited knowledge of either the physics involved or the real historical debates. E.g. even in Galileo’s time, the best science of the day taught geocentrism, so it was more science vs science rather than science vs Scripture. See for example our detailed paper Refuting absolute geocentrism, as well as The truth about the Galileo affair.
Gustafson completely misrepresents Cardinal Bellarmine’s approach for example. He quotes him as saying:
To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin.
But that was because the best science of the day said that the geokinetic model was wrong. One interesting account comes from Australia atheistic history writer Tim O’Neill:
On the contrary, the crux of the issue was that Galileo could not show heliocentrism was true, and everyone involved knew it. In both of his trials, in 1616 and 1633, his problem was that the theory he championed still had major scientific objections to it and it would not be until several decades after his death that these were considered sufficiently resolved for the scientific consensus to swing around to heliocentrism. Though it was not the flawed and tangled model of Copernicus that Galileo argued which was accepted, but a version of Kepler’s model, which Galileo vigorously rejected. [I.e. with elliptical orbits rather than epicycles, and with Newtonian gravitation, while Galileo scoffed at any ‘occultic’ attraction-at-a-distance force to explain the tides.—JS]
As surveys of the scholarship of the time by Jim Westman (1980) and Pietro Daniel Omodeo (2014) show clearly, only around 10 to 12 scholars in the whole of Europe accepted the Copernican model on the eve of Galileo’s trial—the Church had the overwhelming consensus of science on its side, Galileo was the lonely outlier who had to admit he could not demonstrate what he claimed. …
This is why he cannot even understand the judgement of the Inquisition that he quotes in such high dudgeon. The reason that judgement says the propositions are “absurd” and “false in philosophy” is it is noting these ideas are contrary to the scientific consensus I just mentioned. “Philosophy” here means “natural philosophy”—i.e. what was later to be called “science”. As anyone who has actually bothered to study the Galileo Affair knows, the judgement is saying that his ideas are scientifically wrong (“false in philosophy”) AND, therefore, “formally heretical”.
The Inquisition, headed in 1616 by Cardinal Bellarmine, upheld the traditional reading of certain Biblical texts because the science said they should do so. As Bellarmine had explained in a widely circulated letter just a year earlier, if heliocentrism could be demonstrated then “one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them than what is demonstrated is false”. But, he observed with dry understatement, “I will not believe that there is such a demonstration, until it is shown to me” (“Letter to Foscarini” 1615).
Galileo’s problem was that in his time there was no such demonstration and both he and Bellarmine knew it. And so the consensus that his preferred model was “absurd in philosophy/[science]” remained. In 1616 and in 1632 the Church had consulted the best science of the time and it had science on its side.1
Who is really ignoring counter-arguments?
Gustafson asserts that YECs ignore Psalm 104:20–22, which says:
You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about. The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. When the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens.
This proves my point: that he is criticising something without reading much about what he criticized. Far from ignoring that, I addressed it in Refuting Compromise, pp. 206–207:
The Bible on predation in the current era
God uses images from predation to portray violent judgment on Israel (Hos. 13.8). This gives an indication that predation is a violent intruder into our world. However, there are several passages that indicate that, in this cursed creation, predation is part of God’s provision for some animals, e.g. Psalm 104:21, Job 38:39–41, 39:27–30. These passages are the only plausible supports for Ross’s view that carnivory is part of the original created order, and indeed he makes much of them.2
Psalm 104 is the most widely cited passage used as an excuse for this eisegesis. But it is poor hermeneutics to interpret Scripture against Scripture. Indeed, this Psalm is a poetic version of Genesis. It is in part a hymn to God’s acts in the past—note the past tense of the verbs from vv. 5–9. But it is also a hymn of praise for God’s provisions in the present, as shown by the present tense of the verbs afterwards. So Psalm 104:21 deals with the present day, not the original creation. Therefore, it cannot be used to over-ride the clear teaching that animals were originally vegetarian, and will once again be vegetarian.
Furthermore, there are a number of provisions for a fallen world which even Ross would not claim were necessary pre-Fall. One is the death penalty for murder (Genesis 9:6), yet Ross would not believe there was murder before the Fall.
He also raises boring old canards about the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. He ignores our clear explanation for why there are no time gaps even if there were people gaps (arguendo). His suggested pretzelization of Genesis 5:6 “Seth lived one hundred and five years, and became the ancestor of Enosh” is fit only for the New Compromise Version. At what age does someone become an ancestor? And consider Genesis 4:26: “Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.” Are people named by their ancestors?
As for debates, CMI doesn’t major on them for reasons explained in our page on debates. But Hugh Ross refused to debate me unless I apologized for writing Refuting Compromise. Not going to happen, because there is nothing to apologize for. See more at More false claims by Hugh Ross.
Death and sin
Unfortunately, the attachments didn’t come through. No matter, because they are available online.3 But they don’t prove his case at all. E.g. with the Luther quote, I also think that Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15 are referring to human death, but this has a huge problem of human death before the Fall. I.e. what about all the undoubted human (Homo sapiens) fossils that secular dating methods place long before Adam—e.g. the fossils ‘dated’ over 300,000 years old. See how Hugh Ross bluffed in the face of such evidence.
Thomas Aquinas is expressing his opinion, but he notes that Bede and unnamed others disagree. Before Bede, there were Church Fathers who agreed that animals were created vegetarian, as they will be again in Isaiah 11 and 65, which were Edenic allusions. He doesn’t mention that Thomas explicitly taught:
Thus we find it said at first that “He called the light Day”: for the reason that later on a period of 24 hours is also called day, where it is said that “there was evening and morning, one day.
And note that he claimed Augustine as an old-earther, which is demonstrably false. In fact, he unambiguously denounced old-earth ideas. Again from Refuting Compromise, pp. 116–117:
Not only was Augustine’s error the opposite to Ross’s, he also explicitly taught what would now be called a ‘young’ Earth. In his most famous work, City of God, he has a whole chapter, Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’s Past, where he says:
Since he believed creation was in an instant, then in Augustine’s thinking, the time from Adam to the present was also the time from the beginning of creation to the present, which was less than 6000 years. Furthermore, contrary to Ross’s assertion, Augustine wrote against a backdrop of evolutionary thinking in his time.5 He summarizes various proto-catastrophist and proto-uniformitarian theories this way: >Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. … They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed.4
There are others who think that our present world is not everlasting. Of these, some hold that, besides this one, there are a number of other worlds. The remainder, who admit only one world, claim that over and over again, it periodically disintegrates and begins again. In either theory, they are forced to conclude that the human race arose without human procreation, since there is no room here for the hypothesis that a few men would always remain each time the world perished, as was the case in the previous theory where floods and fires did not affect the whole world but left a few survivors to repeople it. For they hold that, just as the world is reborn out of its previous matter, so a new human race would arise from the elements of nature and only thereafter would a progeny of mortals spring from parents. And the same would be true of the rest of the animals.
There are some people who complain when we claim that man was created so late [i.e., recently]. They say that he must have been created countless and infinite ages ago, and not, as is recorded in Scripture, less than 6,000 years ago. …
It was this controversy [over the beginning of the things of time] that led the natural philosophers to believe that the only way they could or should solve it was by a theory of periodic cycles of time according to which there always has been and will be a continual renewal and repetition in the order of nature, because the coming and passing ages revolve as on a wheel. These philosophers were not sure whether a single permanent world passes through these revolutions or whether, at fixed intervals, the world itself dissolves and evolves anew, repeating the same pattern of what has already taken place and will again take place …6
List of old-earthers and young-earthers
I note that his list of YECs doesn’t mention any CMI scientists, although CMI possibly employs more scientists than any other Christian organization. Also, he omits modern young-earth theologians and church leaders.
The list also lacks any Christian proponent of old-earth or theistic evolution—until such views became popular in ‘science’ in the early 19th century. Rather, most biblical scholars before the rise of long-age geology accepted Genesis as written. This includes Josephus7 and later Jewish scholars,8 most church fathers9–13 including Basil the Great14 (and Augustine as documented above), Thomas Aquinas (as above), and all the Reformers including Luther and Calvin,15 and later famous Christians like the Wesleys.16 This indicates that such views were not gleaned from Scripture; instead they are novel interpretations from outside the Bible that are diametrically opposed to the text.
I note his conclusion:
A reasonable balance:
– Old Earth Creationism is biblically permissible and is scientifically preferable.
– Young Earth Creationism is scientifically permissible and is biblically preferable.
The second point is certainly true—you would never get an old-earth view from Scripture alone. I dispute the first point, that OEC is scientifically preferable, although it is uniformitarianly preferable, a different concept (see for example 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe).
This gets to the real issue: one of authority, as pointed out in the introduction. The comparison is a tacit admission that old-earth compromise is not text driven but driven but ‘science’ driven. This is why Hugh Ross declares ‘nature’ to be the 67th book of the Bible. We await the Reasons to Believe Study Bible which has all 67 books. Unfortunately we would need to keep buying the latest edition, because the 67th book is changing all the time!
References and notes
- O’Neill, T., “Aron Ra” gets everything wrong, History for Atheists, historyforatheists.com, 18 Aug 2019. This site could be considered as “Arguments Atheists should NOT use”. Return to text.
- Ross, H., Rana, F., Samples, K., Harman, M. and Bontrager, K., Life and Death in Eden, The Biblical and scientific evidence for animal death before the Fall, audio cassette set, Reasons to Believe, 2001. Return to text.
- Gustafson, E., A charitable approach to the age of the earth debate (PDF), ses.edu, 11 Oct 2019. Return to text.
- Augustine, De Civitate Dei (The City of God), 12(10). Return to text.
- The early 20th century evolutionist director of the American Museum of Natural History, Henry Fairfield Osborn, showed in his book, From the Greeks to Darwin (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929) that all the essential ideas of Darwin’s theory can be found in the writings of the ancient Greeks long before Augustine or even Christ. Return to text.
- Augustine, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1952), transl. by G.G. Walsh and G. Monahan, p. 265, 267. Return to text.
- Frank Luke, Josephus says, ‘Genesis means what it says!’ Creation 29(3):15–17, 2007. Return to text.
- Paul James-Griffiths, Creation days and Orthodox Jewish tradition, Creation 26(2):53–5, 2004. Return to text.
- Fr. Seraphim Rose, Genesis, Creation and Early Man, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 2000. Return to text.
- Mortenson, T., Orthodoxy and Genesis: What the fathers really taught [review of Rose, Ref. 9, J. Creation 16(3):48–53, 2002. Return to text.
- Warkulwiz, V., The Doctrines of Genesis 1–11: A Compendium and Defense of Traditional Catholic Theology on Origins, IUniverse, Nebraska, 2008. Return to text.
- Oard, M., Roman Catholicism and Genesis, J. Creation 22(2):21–22, August 2008. Return to text.
- From Robert Bradshaw’s in-depth study, Genesis, Creationism and the Early Church, Ch. 3; robibradshaw.com/chapter3.htm, 13 August 2003. Return to text.
- Genesis means what it says: Basil (AD 329–379), Creation 16(4):23, 1994. Return to text.
- .Sarfati, J., Calvinsays: Genesis means what it says, Creation 22(4)44–45 September–November 2000. Return to text.
- Wesley, J., On the fall of man, 1872, available from gbgm-umc.org. Return to text.