Of missing gaps and magic bullets
Published: 28 April 2012 (GMT+10)
Does the Bible teach any sort of a ‘gap’ of millions/billions of years in the first few verses of Genesis? Is there such a thing as a universal ‘knock down’ argument against evolution? Dr Carl Wieland answers these questions and more in today’s feedback.
Dear Mr H./Dear Daniel
On your “Feedback” page in the Jan.-Mar. 2011 issue your retort to Mr. Kass’s letter was, “There is no time gap allowed by the text”. And the text he mentions in his letter is Gen. 1:1–2. Well, as a 78 year old Bible-student/scientist, I have to tell you that you are dead wrong.
CW: I have to gently and humbly point out that you will likely discover otherwise, if you bear with me. Had you been familiar with the many things we have written on this subject of the various ‘gap theories’, I doubt that you would have been anywhere near as confident in making such a bold assertion. I would like to indicate that none of my response is in any spirit of disrespect.
Your stance is easy to understand, as many people of the generation preceding mine (which you would just qualify for) grew up in an era when the standard ‘gap theory’ was very much part of the ‘background milieu’ for many churchgoers, especially those with some exposure to scientific claims. Its popular status was reinforced by its inclusion in the study notes of two Bibles popular in the era, the Scofield Bible, and Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. From there, a number of ‘variants’ arose, placing the alleged ‘gap’ elsewhere. And finally, what you seem to hold to, the one we have dubbed the ‘soft gap’ theory. Let’s go back to the traditional Gap Theory (GT) first.
Its status, as will be seen, was less on the basis of actual study of the Hebrew (and all the verses relevant to the issue) than on the belief that it somehow solved the alleged problems of the long ages then being claimed by geologists. Which, again respectfully to those who held it in ages past with the best of intentions, it never did.
Importantly, what was almost never taken into account in the thinking of Christians dealing with the issue was that the ‘millions of years’ idea was and is inextricably tied to the belief that the fossils represent a series of long ages culminating in the appearance of man on the planet. If this is so, then whether one postulates some sort of previous creation or not, if the fossil record (or any significant part of it) represents an era before the appearance of man, then that means that there was death, violence, suffering, bloodshed and diseases like cancer (oh, yes, and fossil thorns) long before the world was cursed because of Adam’s sin.
It also leaves Noah’s evidently global Flood little to do, geologically speaking—if the sedimentary layers are the result of the long ages of sedimentation, there is no evidence the Flood ever happened.
The ‘soft gap’ theory also fails to recognize that if one tries to solve the millions of years of radiometric dating and starlight travel-time via exegetical gymnastics, it is all in vain anyway, as it has left the far bigger ‘millions of years of death/disease/suffering before man’ problem untouched. This undermines the Creation/Fall/Redemption framework of the Bible.
Most put the alleged ‘gap’ between the first 2 verses of Genesis One. Ironically, however, in addition to all the huge barriers to the Gap Theory (GT) that will follow here and in the links recommended, God even chose an unusual Hebrew construction for the beginning of v 2 (a so-called vav disjunctive) to preclude the possibility of a gap between the two, as much as grammar could do so (this is explained further in What about Gap Theories?).
Gen. 1:1–5 not only allows for a ‘gap’ but demands a time laps (short or long) between verses 1-2 and verse 4, when God divided the light from the darkness and thereby created the possibility for the “first day” to take place. The earth existed in darkness before the light appeared to mark the beginning of the first day. In no way can you honestly squeeze verse 1 and 2 into the first day which didn’t have its beginning until verse 4.
CW: This is a very bold statement, especially its implicit suggestion that if one does as the majority of Christians throughout history have done, and nearly all of the Church Fathers, and takes it as a straightforward narrative, one is not acting ‘honestly’, or is having to ‘ squeeze’, a word which suggests a forced interpretation. It warrants taking a step backwards and asking, what did Jesus believe? The NT authors? This is so plain and obvious. Take for instance the matter of whether the beginning of creation was recent or a long time ago. It is ‘no contest’ when it comes to Jesus’ own words, see Jesus on the age of the earth. This leaves no room for inserting long ages before Adam and Eve (any gap idea).
In fact, so overwhelming is the biblical evidence, that even from the Hebrew alone no less an authority than Prof. James Barr, then Regius Professor of Hebrew and OT at Oxford University, claimed that all of his colleagues at top universities were unanimous that Genesis spoke of a recent creation (no gaps), everything made in six 24 hour days, global flood, etc.—not that they believed God’s Word, mind you, just that the Hebrew meaning was obvious. (See creation.com/barr for the full quote.) No wonder that the Orthodox Jewish calendar, which starts from Creation, has not yet reached 6,000 years. It would seem, therefore, to be an extraordinary claim to suggest that one is not acting ‘honestly’ or is somehow trying to ‘squeeze’ the Bible in accepting such a straightforward understanding of Genesis.
Indeed, Young’s Analytical Concordance of the Bible has a table of creation dates, which shows that it was the unanimous view of scholars worldwide that the earth was less than 10,000 years old. Many of these were based on the Bible, but not all (see Old-earth or young-earth belief). I suggest that the opposite is more often the case, that people (some of them, like you, with the best of intentions), are trying to ‘stretch’ the text, desperate to accommodate the long ages that the Bible so adamantly refuses to accommodate itself to—as often admitted by its friends and foes alike.
A basic principle for the interpretation of the Scriptures is that a detailed narrative takes precedence over a summary. Genesis is such a detailed narrative, while Exodus 20:11 is a condensed summary.
CW: Respectfully, one would have to ask whence this ‘principle’ is supposedly derived, and how it can apply here. No section of Scripture can be allowed to override another in the sense of blatant contradiction, which is what we would have to face here if your view of Genesis were correct. Being condensed does not mean it can be allowed to be wrong. Furthermore, far from being some throwaway line, this is one of the few portions of the Bible not just inspired by God, but inscribed by God Himself. He writes therein that ‘in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.”
This is especially significant when one realizes that ‘heaven and earth’ is a Hebrew merism (like ‘from the highest hill to the deepest sea’; ‘from the east to the west’). It was the Hebrew way of saying ‘the universe’, i.e. ‘all there is’ (like the German word for universe, das All = ‘the all’) This is similar to the merism used in Genesis 1:1, although in Exodus 20:11 “the sea, and all that is in them” is added to give emphasis that everything was created in the six days. This leads me to gently suggest that you have another look at your earlier comment about the alleged impossibility of ‘honestly’ holding to the venerable, historical view of the church concerning creation in six earth-rotation days.
You at Creation Ministries never fail to emphasize that Genesis is the foundation for the rest of the Bible, and rightly so. Then why do you try to relegate the Genesis account to a secondary position, instead of letting it speak for itself.
CW: Which is actually what we do, in fact what we are all about—seeing what the Hebrew OT teaches, without qualification or seeking to impose extraneous ideas upon the text. I think if you were actually familiar with a good selection of our writings, you would see that we hold to this stance consistently, whether or not it makes us popular. Please read some more of our materials on the subject. Chapter 3 of our The Creation Answers Book is: “What about Gap Theories?” (available for free download as a pdf). It also deals with the ‘soft gap’ ideas, which have biological creation be young, but the earth and universe old.
As Creation Science scientists you do an excellent job of demonstrating in multiple ways that all organic matter and living beings fit nicely into the Biblical framework of about 6000 years.
CW: But this only works by way of the acceptance of Noah’s global Flood as the main cause of the fossil-bearing layers. Yet many Christians write to us, similarly as you do for your stance on the age of the universe, saying that we need to ‘get with it’ and for the sake of credibility, look at their particular theories (of how the Flood could have been local after all). Once again, it is Scripture which is being subjugated to whatever the scientific understanding of one’s particular era might be.
But you badly undermine your credibility by insisting that all inorganic structures (including all the galaxies however many thousands of light years away) have to fit into these 6000 years as well.
CW: It seems we now get to the issue which appears to have been the underlying reason why you try to find ‘room in Genesis’ for millions of years, yet have no problem with life on earth being created only 6,000 years ago. In one sense, I commend you for the seemingly good motivations. But sadly, this doesn’t work either, neither in terms of making the science credible in the eyes of an unbelieving world, nor (more importantly) in accommodating the normal historical-grammatical exegesis of not just the OT Hebrew, but all of the consequences for NT theology. And the suggestion that if we were only to do this, we would be credible in the eyes of the world is belied by the history of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. Publicly, it refuses to take a stand on the age of anything, and sticks to the biological arguments against evolution. Yet it is attacked and belittled just as much as six-day creationists. The real issue is the world’s rejection of the idea that there is a Creator, who made us and thus owns us. And by way of aside, your comment here about how we should accommodate our thinking in order to be ‘credible’, does not seem to fit all that well with the earlier suggestion that we should ‘let Genesis speak for itself’. I would gently suggest that it is precisely because we do the latter, i.e. start with what the Bible so plainly says, that we are so often attacked as being ‘not credible’. While on the subject of credibility, though, I should add that in concert with other leading creation ministries, we have a huge and continually expanding store of life-changing testimonials from people of all levels of education, including many PhD scientists, that indicate that what made us ‘credible’ for them was precisely the fact that our scientific models commenced with God’s Word, not the other way around.
But—back to what seems to be driving all this, namely a belief that the universe cannot be 6,000 of our Earth-years old, based on a supposed problem with starlight travel time. You would be very interested to know that there are a number of competing creationist cosmologies that provide very credible mechanisms for light getting to Earth within only days after Creation commenced. Their very existence suffices to show that even in principle it is a mistake to put our own reasonings ahead of the Word of God when it speaks so plainly, even if we do so inadvertently and with good intentions. See for example, the book by Research Professor of Physics (University of Western Australia) John Hartnett, called Starlight, Time and the New Physics, mentioned in some detail in Chapter 5 of our The Creation Answers Book, which is called: How can we see stars in a young universe? (also free to download at that link). However, the bottom line is this: even if we do not understand how God could have achieved this, let us give Him the honour of being able to do things that we don’t understand!
You would do well to stick with that for which you have solid and abundant evidence, and let other scientists do their speculating about the rest.
CW: Hopefully, you are by now beginning to think along different lines, or at least have determined to re-examine some of what you may have presupposed on this matter.
As far as evolution as such is concerned, I am sure Christians around the world find it reassuring to get your multi-faceted scientific demonstrations that the theory is very clearly not even scientific and does not come close to fitting the facts. But I would like to see you put more emphasis on the simple fact that, inasmuch as no mutations have ever shown new genetic information added to the mix, it is totally impossible for a simpler organism to evolve into a more complex one.
CW: A reasonable familiarity with our site/materials/ministry would indicate that we put so much emphasis on this, that it risks being, if anything, overemphasized.
In other words, evolution doesn’t even become a consideration. And no evolutionist can stand up to this argument. This argument is so simple that we can teach it to, and drill it into the minds of our public school children.
CW: It is powerful, and again I thank you for the good intentions in this advice, but I wish it were that simple. The information argument is however anything but simple. One problem is that there are several different definitions of information, and evolutionists make great use of this in their attempts to evade the issue. To date, the best creationist work on this is Without Excuse, by information scientist Werner Gitt with two co-authors. But it did require a rigorous effort to make all-new definitions, and even to formulate new scientific laws. But we have been using the information argument at layman’s presentations for a very, very long time, and doing so in ways that are not complicated for laypeople. See e.g. Muddy Waters and Beetle bloopers.
If we do so, they will be set for life to stand up to any teacher or professor (or peer for that matter) and make them back down.
CW: It is very, very understandable, and I say that genuinely without any patronizing, that one would yearn for such a ‘magic bullet’ argument. In practice, there is no such thing. Over many decades of involvement in the battle, continually seeking to fine-tune our approach to have the greatest impact for the truth and the Gospel, we have found that what ‘clicks’ for one person ‘fizzes’ for another.
All the complicated arguments and evidences that you present are very nice and encouraging. But the fact of the matter is that there are very few people (young or old) that understand and remember them well enough to take on a proponent of evolution.
CW: Actually, most of the sorts of arguments we present at public seminars are far from complicated, but I do take your point that there is a problem for anyone to remember all the arguments. This is why we don’t encourage people to try to become the ‘expert’ and personally debate; be familiar with the main points, by all means, but use a different tactic, involving more use (and more skilful use) of resources – see below for more of what I mean here.
And even if they do argue them down with regard to some points, the evolutionist will bring up another argument and another endlessly until he gets into areas the creationists haven’t got the knowledge with which to counter him.
CW: You are exactly right, and it’s great to be on the ‘same page’ with you here. People should instead be doing the same thing in reverse, asking questions—and most of the time the evolutionists will run out of information themselves. And then those that are genuinely willing to explore the facts to get to the truth of the matter (the only ones that are worth spending time on, in one sense) have the way made clear to them of how to go further. Expecting to have ‘knockdown arguments’ with committed evolutionists will lead only to disappointment and frustration. But let me encourage you by referring you to this fascinating article about real, practical ways to ‘go places’ with discussions on evolution. The article came about because the author, an IT programmer who belongs to our Melbourne (Australia) volunteer Friends of CMI group, shared her real life experiences in the matter, and it is very relevant to the whole matter of how to witness to people about creation (note: different from seeking to endlessly debate committed atheist evolutionists on web blogs). It shows how one can be effective even if one only has a fairly basic ‘big picture’ about the issues. See Why not and why? The power of asking the right questions…
I have talked with high school students who had just sat through seminars on the follies of evolution. When asked how they would answer someone who promoted evolution, they didn’t have a clue what they would say. They had been fed all kinds of complicated evidence/arguments but everything was only piece-meal. They had been given no simple universal argument that they could use for any evolutionist. If they had been given the basic argument I give above, they would have had the confidence to face anyone with it. Then after striking the ‘death blow’ they could follow through with supplementary information and arguments that they had learned.
CW: All sounds good, were it not for the fact that there is no such ‘death blow’—as evidenced by the fact that the information argument is the one pushed the most of any of the scientific arguments at our seminars. Actually, most of the sorts of arguments we present at public seminars are far from complicated, but still, as you say, there can be difficulty ‘reproducing’ them. This comes from being human, and it is the main reason that we lay so much stress on resources. Because most of the conversions we hear about come from people who were lent or given the resources, not people trying to argue others into heaven.
Accordingly, I would encourage you to saturate your readership (and audiences) with this simple fact so that it is first and foremost in their minds. If all the Christians were equipped with that fact it would change the world-view landscape of North America. I would love to see that fact stated in a prominent spot in every issue of your magazine-almost like a theme. All the rest of the information is secondary, interesting though it might be. I assure you that it will put multitudes of Christians at ease about the evolution issue. And who knows what the reverberating effect it might have on our education system if all the teachers start finding themselves backed into a corner as soon as they open their mouths on the subject of evolution.
When we prepare each issue of the magazine, we try to make sure that there is a balance of matters presented; because we have found (remember we have been dealing in one form or another with hundreds of thousands of people over the years; I am not even including the over 1 million individuals who visited our website last year) that what helps one is not what helps another. If the information argument is going to do it for someone, they have the opportunity within each magazine, as it is always mentioned in one form or another. And there are generally several further links to web articles for far more detail.
But I say all this with a great deal of respect for someone who has such a commendable passion to major on what they see as the ‘knockout punch’, and want to assure you that if it were as effective as your email suggests it might be, we would have experienced the feedback; gradually, over the years of presenting it, it would have been increasingly clear that it was the ‘way to go’, to the progressive exclusion of other arguments. But that has not been the case. Yes, it is a powerful argument if properly used. But so are many others—if it were not so, and were not seen to be so, it is not likely that we would spending so much time and effort on each of them, making sure that we can present a consistent model with as many ‘bases’ covered as are needed.
For example, we know of at least one man who was converted through reading Refuting Compromise, which largely deals with attempts by Christians to subvert the plain reading of Genesis regarding the age of the earth. Many have been converted from reading The Creation Answers Book, because it presents a holistic Christian worldview, rather than just ‘knocking down biological evolution’. This article spells out the need to present a ‘big picture’ rather than just trying to show why evolution does not work: Intelligent Design: why the fuss, and what’s it about?
I have actually had many suggestions over the years about various ‘knockout punches’ that we should be emphasizing. Most of them major on more spectacular-seeming types of evidences, and I do think that yours is the most sensible of all of them so far. I have already indicated how different things appeal to different people in coming to trust the Bible totally when it comes to Genesis/origins (and for many, many therefore, for all things, including their own salvation). But there is one common thread that in our experience is the most important background issue to all of these. It is that we need to help everyone, evolutionists or otherwise, to understand that we all wear biased ‘glasses’ or filters that cause us to see the facts in certain ways. The ‘lights come on’ for many from CMI ministry, but it is really almost always not because of some actual piece of evidence—even though they might think it is, and often do.
It is because we have helped them ‘change glasses’, often without realizing it. They no longer see a seeming mountain of evidence for evolution, but can see that the same facts can now be viewed as a mountain of evidence for creation. I.e. Christians need to increasingly understand that facts do not speak for themselves, but must always be interpreted according to pre-existing assumptions. When this ‘clicks’ for them, as we have seen happen often, they are able to break down the arguments that evolutionists use as a foundation to support their theory, by identifying, even demolishing, the worldview (with its presuppositions) that their own theory rests on (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).
Please give serious consideration to these matters.
Sincerely in Christ,
I trust that I have done so, and have shown respect for your comments by way of taking them seriously enough to respond to them in detail—even if there are some things we don’t yet agree upon. It has been a useful exercise to re-examine and re-evaluate what we do and why we do it. I pray that it will have been useful for you, too, and that you will realize that it is not that we have not thought some of these things through, or never tried them, but quite the reverse.
With kind regards in Christ,