Hybrid approaches to Creation
Is there a middle ground?
After speaking at a church recently, a young man approached me. I thought he might have a question. Instead, he handed me a 6-page essay he had written. It was a defence of a form of Day-Age creationism, the belief that the days of Genesis were actually long periods of time. Normally, I would not spend too much time on such a thing, but the young man impressed me as humble and studious. He also reminded me of myself at that age, when I was trying to defend that very same position. But when I read his paper, I saw that he did not hold the normal view. Instead, he was trying to reject a universe that was either billions or thousands of years old. He had a hybrid model that tried to use naturalism to explain origins but also did not use the Bible. I suspect there are many others out there with similarly confused views.
Several options, which is right?
There are several different approaches to interpreting Genesis 1 and 2. Theistic evolutionists not only try and read billions of years into the text, they also allow for something that is indistinguishable from straight-up evolution and big bang ideas.
Progressive creationists believe that the universe is very old, that God is the creator, and that He created things in groups, occasionally, across vast periods of time. In general, they reject chemical evolution and Darwinian evolution, but totally accept cosmological and geological evolution.
Day-age theorists can be considered a subset of progressive creationists (e.g. Hugh Ross calls himself a ‘day-age creationist’ but is widely considered a ‘progressive creationist’). Most believe the universe is as old as secularists claim, but this young man did not. Instead, he thought the universe was maybe hundreds of thousands of years old.
A popular option in (respectability-craving) seminaries is the framework hypothesis, which regards the days of Genesis 1 as real days, but in a literary framework rather than real history. This theory is less than 100 years old, and the original proposers were open about trying to fit long ages (and evolution) into the Bible.
Age is the question
How old is everything? That, it turns out is difficult to answer precisely, although a ball-park estimate is relatively straightforward. Under biblical creation, we debate the exact age, or even if an exact age can be calculated from the Bible. My co-author and I discussed this thoroughly in The Biblical Minimum and Maximum Age of the Earth. One cannot simply ‘add up’ the ages of the Patriarchs. However, this does not mean there is much flexibility in the numbers. In fact, the worst-case estimates are only a few hundred years apart. The main differences come between manuscript families (e.g., the Masoretic-Septuagint debate). Yet there is nothing in any of these texts that can extend the age of the universe even as far as 10,000 years, let alone hundreds of thousands, or the 13+ billion claimed by big bang believers.
But are there gaps in the biblical genealogies? Would not that allow for more time than the Bible indicates? In the gospel of Matthew, there are certainly gaps. Matthew presents a highly stylized scheme, telling the reader that he intentionally selected three groups of 14 individuals for his list of names. There may not be any gaps in Luke, however. But here is a major problem for those who want to stretch out the ages: the Genesis 5 and 11 lists are not genealogies, they are chronogenealogies. One must understand the difference. A genealogy is simply a list of names. A chronogenealogy, however, also contains numerical data that allows us to construct a real chronology of events. Genesis claims that Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born, for example. That puts a direct constraint on the age of the earth. If there were missing generations (note that I do not believe this), Seth was still born 130 years after Adam. Even if you struggle with the great ages of the Patriarchs, the chronology is clear.
Another possibly stylized genealogy is that of Moses. The genealogical list goes Jacob → Levi → Kohath → Amran → Moses. But if Jacob and Levi both went down to Egypt (Genesis 46:1–27), and if the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years (Exodus 12:40–41), there is no way Moses came out of Egypt, even as an old man 80 years of age. With a short Sojourn of 215 years (a popular view among many scholars, including Ussher), it is not impossible. However, note that there are multiple genealogies that span the Sojourn. All of them have about the same number of generations. Either there is a lot of stylizing going on, or the Sojourn was only 215 years. However, I am fine with a stylized generation list and a long Sojourn, if required, for there are other biblical passages that span the relevant chronological points. Either way, the age of the universe is not dependent on the genealogy of Moses. The Genesis 5 and 11 chronogenealogies are much more important. If the genealogy in Genesis is complete, the timespan is constrained. Worse, if the genealogy is constrained by specific time statements, the timespan is locked down tight.
That was only an introduction to the biblical arguments. There are also scientific arguments. For instance, the Bible describes things that would take a very long time to happen if we were depending on naturalism (e.g., the gravitational collapse of gas clouds to form stars, the time it takes photons to travel through the star from the fusion core, etc.). If someone wants to reject the idea that the universe is millions of years old, like the young man I am discussing, there are things in the universe that would take more time to happen then the Bible allows, again, if we were depending on naturalism. You have to make the break somewhere, so why not at the biblical date of creation?
But think about this: naturalism cannot explain origins. It fails on multiple fronts. In fact, this failure was the subject of a major book and documentary project of CMI called Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels. Evolution cannot explain the source of the big bang, the reason why the universe expanded so fast (during the “inflationary period” the size is claimed to have increased millions of times over in one quintillionth of a femtosecond–for no known physical reasons), the reason why the expansion slowed to the current rate, how stars form from clouds of gas, why Jupiter has half the rotational kinetic energy in the solar system, why Uranus is lying on its side, how life arose from random chemicals, how complex life arose from bacteria, how sexual reproduction came about, where the human mind came from, etc., etc. See also 15 Questions for Evolutionists.
Since we have to reject naturalism, we should not then turn around and use it as an excuse to reject the biblical timeframe. We also must discuss the difference between apparent age and functional maturity. Any non-naturalistic view requires functional maturity, but any view that departs from the strict big-bang-to-today timeline cannot be naturalistic.
Time is the key
My young friend wondered if the biblical creationist can be intellectually satisfied with the belief that the universe was created in so short a time. My response was, “Um, yes. Easily.” Augustine wrestled with this. In fact, he thought it was beneath God to have taken so long! Turn the question around: what magnifies God more, Him allowing the universe to happen slowly, or Him acting by fiat and creating it quickly? Since naturalism cannot explain origins, clearly things must be supernaturally created. So why would we then reject the biblical timeline?
But is not “a day like a thousand years to the Lord”? This comes from Psalm 90:4 and is usually used out of context. See our explanation of 2 Peter 3:8–9. This is about how God perceives time, and about his patience. It has nothing to do with the passage of time to the inhabitants of earth or how God communicated to us the passage of time during the creation week. The “days” of Genesis 1 are clearly defined, in context. One evening plus one morning equals one day.
But how do you count days before there was a sun? It does not matter. The day in that context is still defined as one light/dark cycle. Each cycle could have taken thousands of years, or millions, if God wanted it that way. But clearly He did not, because when He wrote the 10 Commandments, He linked the Jewish calendar week to creation week (Exodus 20:8–11). There is no hint that, during that week, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday…were thousands of years long.
But why even go there? The main reason people want to stretch out the time is to allow for the evolutionary progression of events. There is no sense in trying to have evolution during a couple of millions-of-years-long day/night cycles. Plus, it makes no sense to then fit those long days to the order of events, for you can’t have plants (created on Day 3) surviving for millions of years in the dark before God creates the sun (Day 4), etc. If we reject the evolutionary progression, especially when we reject naturalism as a cause, there is no reason to then stretch out the time. Thus, there is no reason to stretch out a ‘day’ to make it more than 24 hours.
Size is a challenge, but there are answers
Yet the universe is still very, very large. Too large, in fact, for starlight to have gotten here from the farthest point in just over 6,000 years—given uniformitarian assumptions about time and light speed. From parallax (written about here), we know that many stars are extremely far away. Once you go beyond the limits of trigonometry, however, everything is assumption. Not that the assumptions are necessarily wrong, but they are assumptions nonetheless. One cannot calculate the age of the universe without a long list of assumptions and axioms. For a recent summary of creationist models, see Supernovae and gamma-ray bursts in a biblical cosmology.
But one cannot reconcile a big-bang universe with any sort of a young-earth model. Not only are the time frames diametrically opposed, but so is the order of events. There are several competing models for spatial expansion among us biblical creationists, but these are not simple ‘sped up’ big bang models. Since one cannot simply compress big bang time, we must reject naturalism and therefore we cannot explain the universe in naturalistic terms. Can you see that anyone who holds to a non-billions of years universe is on the doorstep of young-earth creationism?
But what about evidence for the big bang? To answer that, we must first point out that most people don’t really understand the big bang model. Specifically, the entire universe was not the size of anything. The entire known universe, that is, everything within one Hubble volume (a sphere with a radius of 13.8 billion light years) started out quite small, but next to it was another small volume that expanded into something of equal size, and next to that another, ad infinitum. This means that the universe essentially goes on forever and anything greater than one Hubble radius away is moving away from us at faster than light speed. In the big bang model, anything outside the ‘known’ universe is causally disconnected from us. We cannot and will never know that anything is actually out there. But the fast expansion of space supposedly left an image of the early universe in the form of cosmic microwave background radiation. It is good to note that the CMB has major problems. Specifically, it is the wrong temperature and is much too smooth for the theoretical calculations. Oh, they re-worked the math to incorporate the measured CMB, but it was not what they were predicting, by a longshot. Note: the lack of ‘shadows’ argument that we used to use is no longer valid. Too bad. I liked that one. However, the ‘axis of evil’ argument is still going strong.
Conclusion: no need for hybrid ideas
In the end, there is no reason to adopt a hybrid approach. Putting two and two together, naturalism fails as an explanation of origins. On the other hand, the Bible gives us a clear picture. God is a sufficient outside cause. He has the power and the knowledge, and He told us when and how He did it. Once that universe is created, however, everything can work ‘naturalistically’ (except for an occasional miracle). Indeed, this very biblical view is the basis for modern, operational science. The reason the universe behaves the way it does is that God created it. God is not fickle, there is no “variation or shadow due to change” with him (James 1:17), and He is the ‘ultimate’ lawgiver. Since God never does anything against His own nature, when He created the universe He would have made it operate according to a set of rules and laws. This does not apply to how God formed the universe, only when.