An ‘old-earth’ answer provides only problems
Responding to an old-earth critic and his ‘authority’ arguments
Recently, Mike Hore, an author from a specifically old earth creationist website, responded to my article What is your authority? Christians who invoke millions of years cannot make their arguments from the biblical texts. It might be worth a quick divert to my original article first before reading on.
My responses to his article are interspersed below.
I’ve deliberately named this article after the heading that Gary Bates (CEO, CMI-Worldwide) used as a heading in his recent supporters’ newsletter. This is really the big issue for YECs, and probably the main issue driving most of them. In fact, in recent years they’ve been calling themselves not “young-earth creationists”, but “Biblical creationists”,
Indeed. As a matter of fact, I was the first one who instigated this suggested clarification of terms back in October 2011 in a CMI newsletter. I advocated its use of the term to highlight the point that we actually believe what the Bible says to contrast with old-earthers or theistic evolutionists whose deference to secular science seems to trump what the Bible clearly indicates. You can read it here We are … biblical creationists?
thus implying that if we don’t believe in a young earth, we’re not Biblical, even if we think we are.
No, I wasn’t implying it, that’s exactly what I am saying. While this might seem a strong claim, I honestly feel that to claim that one is biblical when there is so much reading into the text is a tad disingenuous. Note, that I am not saying that an old earth creationist cannot be a Christian—just that one does not get the belief in an old earth (or evolution) from Scripture. This represents a low view of Scripture. Ergo, one is not being biblical and is being massively inconsistent with Christian beliefs. Our only source of knowledge about what is means to be a Christian, i.e. our fallen state and need for salvation come from the Scriptures to start with. Perhaps those passages need to be reinterpreted as well.
If we defer to ‘science’ as our hermeneutical filter, and do so consistently, that will represent some major problems for theology. For instance, that same science shows that men don’t rise from the dead, so perhaps we should culturally reinterpret the Resurrection also. Science also shows that matter cannot be created or destroyed, but Hore has no problem in believing that God was able to do that in Genesis 1:1 when He created a massive, almost incomprehensively vast universe. What’s ironic is that he does have a problem in ‘believing’ that God is powerful enough to take only six days to do it. This is tragically familiar to the admonition in 2 Timothy 3:5 “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
See Did God create over billions of years? And why is it important? for the single most important understanding of where the idea of a billions of years old earth came from.
In fact, (they think) we’ve compromised on the Bible, by letting science stand as another authority.
It’s what you’ve actually done—by your own argumentation and admission.
It doesn’t matter that many evangelical scholars of great reputation don’t seem have a problem with long ages; they’re not really Biblical, apparently.
No, they are not. But thanks for demonstrating another point. Not only is secular science your authority, but you are also saying that we should believe in an ancient earth because lots of other Christian scientists and scholars do. I.e. “Let’s believe because they do.” That is also a secondary argument from authority, but again the wrong one. It’s irrelevant if one million Christian scientists believed in an old earth or old universe. At one point in Church History, the non-Trinitarian Arian heresy2 was much more popular than the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, but we are glad that the deity of Christ was not decided by a popularity poll. As Christians, opinions (and particularly those based upon external evidence to the Bible) should not be our final authority—the Bible is, as in Sola Scriptura.3 This is the same tactic that the progressive creationist compromiser Hugh Ross uses to emotionally manipulate others into believing him, “Trust me. I’m an astronomer” or words to that effect!
Gary in his article comes to the crux of the matter when he quotes an answer he gave to a questioner at a meeting, who raised the problem of a reputed scholar having no problem with billions of years. In Gary’s reply, he said “…For instance, could you show me anywhere in Scripture, if I read it at face value, where I can read the term millions or billions of years? Or, even get the impression—just from Scripture—that the universe or the earth is that old?”
Gary appears to have a good point,
Thanks, but the following answer doesn’t negate it.
but the problem with his answer is the words “at face value”. None of us can actually read the Bible, or anything else, simply at face value. It sounds easy, but it’s not. We bring our cultural background understanding to everything we read or hear, and our culture is very different to the cultures at the time and place when the Bible books were written.
So, in our enlightened ‘scientific age’ we need to reinterpret Scripture based upon our current (but ever-changing) scientific knowledge. But if this is the case we can never ever be sure that we’ve interpreted correctly and even understood the Bible. Tomorrow we might discover something (using ‘science’) that we don’t know today. Because I understand this principle I can never be sure or know if my current interpretation is correct. For example, if I interpreted Scripture in the light of the big bang theory. I would have changed my interpretation of Scripture many times over due to the ever-changing nature of the big bang. The big bang that I learnt in school is nothing like the big bang of today. For one thing, today’s version is approximately 10 billion years older. Those ‘days’ in Genesis will just have to keep being stretched!
The ‘Hore’ old earth approach is actually no different to the way that the ‘fundamentalist high priest’ of evolution, Richard Dawkins, advocates. He claims that by looking at the natural world one could easily deduce it has been designed. But his starting hypothesis is that naturalism is true so he says: “biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose4 [but are not].” In short, you need a scientist (read: evolutionist) to help you understand. In the same way, Hore is kind of saying “Gary Bates has a good point. At face value Genesis 1 appears to speak about normal days and nowhere in the Bible are millions of years mentioned, but this is not what Genesis 1 means.” Huh?
To be clear; yes, context and studying the grammar of Hebrew, what different genres communicate, etc., is important. But when we do this, we find even stronger evidence that Genesis means exactly what it appears to mean ‘at face value’. For instance, see Syntax and semantics in Genesis 1.
For us in western society, scientific questions are very important, and we look for answers in exact periods of time, or mass, or velocity, or whatever. It’s bred into us. So of course when we look at Genesis 1 we are inclined to see 24-hour days, and pick out all the detail of how God did things. This is natural for us.
As Christians, we should believe that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). If “God’s Word” is the truth, then what should be “natural” or straight forward is understanding the text the way the author (God) intended. Would we really want to imply that the One called “the Word” was unable to communicate clearly and effectively?
The big issue for old earthers is their eisegetical approach to the text (reading into, rather than ‘out of’). They read into the Scriptures, not based upon empirical, testable science, as in, operational science, but quite tragically via the glasses of ‘secular science’. There have been so many attempts over the years to reinterpret the word ‘day’ in Genesis one to accommodate this eisegetical approach.
Problem 1 for old-earthers. An inconsistent (pick and choose) approach to Scripture.
Let’s take a closer look at the graphic (right).
As you can see, everywhere else in Scripture the word day (in Hebrew yom) is used outside of Genesis, when combined with a number or the words “evening” or “morning” or “night” and so on, there is no disagreement on the context of the word day. It is only questioned in Genesis chapter 1, and why? Because, if your a priori assumption is that secular science has shown the earth to be millions of years old, then one is forced to look for somewhere to fit the MOYs! So, to repeat, an old earth view does not come from the Bible, nor is it even implied by the Bible.
But for people of another culture, what they get out of the text might be quite different.
Exactly. That’s the point I am making and Hore is actually agreeing with me. Culturally, despite thousands of years of accumulated knowledge post Creation and post Flood, the later Bible authors also always understood the plain simple meaning of the Genesis word ‘day’. The old-earther’s cultural ‘glasses’ are secular science. A tribal culture’s might be spirit gods. But that does not mean that God’s Word should be interpreted or filtered in such a way. If the Bible says there is only one mediator between man and God (1 Tim. 2:5), for example, and this is open for interpretation, then one could argue that all religions are equal and there are many ways to God. As such, Scripture would be open house for any wacky idea or reinterpretation of supposed difficult passages that people want to invoke. What would be wrong with the popular current scientific trend suggesting that aliens are our creators and that maybe the ‘primitive’ Bible writers mistook them for god(s) based upon their cultural understanding of the times?
For example, I’ve worked for 30-plus years with Australian Indigenous people, and they wouldn’t be interested in these “scientific” questions at all. What is important for them in Genesis 1 is the spiritual power at work. We see no other spirits, just God alone, making everything from nothing, and then forming all the plants, animals and humans, just by his word, without any other spiritual forces having any role whatsoever. These people simply wouldn’t be very interested in such questions as what the days are, or how Adam could name all the animals within one day—other things are just far more significant for them.
I’m sorry but this is an illogical premise or line of thought. Firstly, being an Australian myself and having met many Aboriginal Christians, I’ve found that most have no problem in accepting what the text of Genesis says once they are saved. Once they believe God for who He is, they are free to also believe what He wrote, and as He wrote it. In fact, this could be described as their minds being conformed to Scripture, regardless of what their cultural bias might be. Romans 12:2 exhorts us, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
In this context, although very unfortunate, it might actually be a blessing that many of them have not had the benefit of years of ‘high class’ secular public education (indoctrination) into the idea of millions of years. That’s why they would not be interested in the “scientific questions” as you’ve put it. In short, their knowledge of God comes from the text so they simply believe it without the extraneous baggage that old-earthers want to heap in there. BTW here is the answer to how Adam could name all the animals in one day that was raised.
So, I’m suggesting that while YECs are commendably determined to maintain the authority of the Bible, their particular interpretation is culturally determined, and isn’t in fact necessarily part of what the Bible is actually teaching us. And why should it? Why would God want to spell out for us in his Word details that we can find out for ourselves with the abilities he’s given us?
Let’s say cultural interpretation might have had something to do with the way the author wrote. But here we are today in our ‘modern culture’ still arguing for a plain understanding of the text. And why, because we have demonstrated time and again that the scientific methodology used to claim an ancient earth is flawed and cannot determine the ages of such things. Moreover, real science continues to show us how flawed old-earth interpretations are, and that the Bible’s timeframes are correct.
1. But the real reason that God tells us anything in Scripture (and therefore the reason for it) is so that we can believe in God and have a relationship with Him (there’s nothing culturally that can change this view). Thus, this overarching tenet of Scripture would be undermined if we can’t simply believe what He wrote. Why trust Him if He cannot be trusted? 2. Everything that we can observe in God’s World should also agree with what we read in His Word. Nothing in science should contradict the historical Bible’s historical points. While it might not be possible to prove scientifically, for instance, that God created in six days, there is lots of evidence to contradict an ancient age for the earth. 3. If the interpretation was culturally determined, we would expect the interpretation to change with the culture. For instance, a 1st century BC Jew, a medieval monk, and a 16th century reformer would all have a different interpretation of Scripture. Yet, 6-day creation was the majority view (including the church Fathers) until people started compromising on this point because of uniformitarian geology.
If we really have a high view of the authority of the Bible, we should be very eager to find out what it’s really teaching us, and not to look for other information which might interest us greatly, but isn’t actually part of the teaching.
I think that, in light of a plain reading of the text, that the aforementioned statement is again a tad disingenuous (sorry, but it’s actually gobbledygook, but I was trying to be kind). But let’s continue to investigate this big picture further anyway, because the Bible actually does teach us about the very things Hore is claiming it doesn’t.
Problem 2 for old-earthers. The Gospel hinges on a literal interpretation of Genesis.
For example, and this is just one possibility, Genesis 1 might be a parable or story giving a graphic account of creation in everyday terms. In Jewish culture this would be quite common, as we see in the New Testament parables, or when the Saducees [sic] came to Jesus with the story of the woman who’d been married to seven brothers, one at a time. Nobody thought this actually happened literally, but it was a vivid “thought experiment” to try to prove a point. Now I’m not claiming that this is necessarily what Genesis 1 is,
If it is not apt, then why use this as an appropriate illustration? Jesus was using an illustration as a teaching point. This is not the same genre as historical narrative. It’s a totally inappropriate comparison, in fact. This is an instance of a parable, a well-defined sub-genre present in Jesus’ teaching, intended to be interpreted figuratively. Hore’s method here is known as bait and switch , and once again, the arguments are not being made from the text itself. This violates the hermeneutical principle which is to test Scripture with Scripture—something that the church has done throughout its history. This ‘poetic’ approach is similar to the discredited Framework Hypothesis. There are many articles on our site (which have obviously not been read) about the context of the writing of Genesis 1, which demonstrate its genre as historical narrative. And as we shall see, what really happened in history is vital to most of our Christian doctrine including soteriology (the doctrine of salvation).
but just that it’s one possibility that would fit the culture. And this is the sort of question that should be in our minds when we’re trying to understand the Bible correctly. Sorting out the real teaching from the side details or teaching method isn’t always easy, but must be tackled if we really take the Bible seriously. And of course, this has been the lifetime’s work for these same evangelical scholars who have been written off by the YECs.
Again, this is an appeal to the authority of, “Look we are scientists—trust us”. Please note that I could respond and say that CMI employs more Christian scientists than any other ministry that I am aware of, but it is irrelevant when trying to determine the meaning of the text of Genesis.
Also, Genesis is hardly a side issue that deflects from ‘real teaching’. What about the culture of the New Testament authors who referred back to Genesis 1 when they were establishing doctrines for the church? There are over 100 references to the book of Genesis in the NT. Specifically, 60 references to Genesis 1–11. Every NT author references Genesis 1–11 (see graphic).
Clearly, Paul and the NT authors and even the Lord Jesus Christ believed in a literal Genesis, the six days of Creation, a literal Adam and Eve and a global Flood. You would have to advocate that perhaps the Lord Jesus (the Creator—Colossians 1) did not understand what He was talking about or that He framed His teaching in such a way so that the culture of the day would understand Him. The problem with this view is that we would have to look back and say He was actually wrong. For example, In Mark 10:6 He said that God made human beings right at the beginning of Creation (day 6 of course). If the days were billions of years each that would have put them at the ‘end’ of Creation. See graphic. This is no small thing. Did ‘beginning’ mean after a 14 billion year period? Or perhaps wait a few more years and we will revise that timeframe in the light of ‘modern science’.
If Jesus was wrong then Scripture cannot be inspired. If He is capable of making mistakes, He is fallible and not divine, and therefore cannot pay for our sins. This is similar to the approach of the theistic evolutionary group Biologos who say that the NT authors were wrong when it came to Genesis. See It’s not Christianity!
As such, if Genesis is not real literal history, with a literal fall into sin and death, then we literally don’t need to be saved from anything. Believing in the events of the Garden of Eden is the basis and reason for the entire Gospel itself.
Problem 3 for old-earthers. The metaphorical approach to Genesis.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’s lineage is detailed all the way back to Adam. In Matthew it is traced to Abraham. These generations are there (see also Genesis chapters 5 and 11) to demonstrate that the Bible records real history from the beginning of time itself and that the characters in the Bible are real people who existed in real time and space. They are also important because they trace our Saviour’s lineage from Adam. Jesus was the ‘last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45) because there was a real physical and historical first Adam who brought sin and death into the world. And remember, Jesus said Adam was there at the “beginning” of Creation. Jesus had to become human and a descendent of Adam like us to be our ‘Kinsman/Redeemer’ (Isaiah 59:20). If these genealogies are inaccurate in both the Old and New Testament, it would once again invalidate Scripture and also Jesus’ stature as our blood relative and Saviour.
Even if there were a few missing generations as Hugh Ross and some others claim, there are not millions of missing generations which would be needed to insert secular timeframes into Scripture. Such a notion stretches credulity.
Problem 4 for old-earthers. An appeal to an old earth violates the need for a Saviour.
Half the time I am not sure if old earthers really understand where the idea of an old earth actually comes from. Many might think that radiometric dating can somehow prove the age of rocks and fossils etc. and defer to that. Quite simply though, the age of the earth is derived from an interpretation of the earth’s geology. It is the belief that the majority of rock strata and the very fine sedimentary layers within them have been laid down slowly and gradually over hundreds of millions and even billions of years. That’s it!
It is staggering that old earthers, who acquiesce to science then disregard the very same science that now demonstrates these sorts of layers can be laid down rapidly due to catastrophic processes (the latter is now very much a part of secular geology). See Rapid Rock and Experiments on laminations of sediments.
Although they claim they believe the Bible, they see no place for Noah’s Flood in creating the vast majority of these sediments—thousands of metres of them all over the earth. Yet, another inconvenient section of Scripture has to be ignored or reinterpreted (as a local Flood perhaps).
But here is the rub. These same sediments contain fossils, and fossils are a record of dead things (and there are fossilized human remains in the rocks also). So, if one believes in millions of years then one is actually placing millions of years of death before Adam’s sin. And given that Adam’s fall in real time and space history is the reason we need a saviour, then the Gospel is undermined by a belief in millions of years.
The Bible is not in conflict with science
It’s ironic that the site Mike Hore wrote for is called Old Earth Ministries Bringing the Bible and Science Together Without Conflict. Of course, for there to be any conflict it just depends upon which type of scientific glasses one wears and whether the Bible is your final authority on all things (or things that it clearly addresses—like the age of the earth issue). This is the huge blind spot that old-earther, theistic evolutionists and the Rossites of Progressive Creation have. They confuse the ‘science’ of an old earth which has more to do with history and beliefs about the past, with ‘real science’, the sort of science that can test gravity, for example.
There is no need to resort to the theological gymnastics that the cause the Bible to be ‘modified’ or reinterpreted in some sort of novel or cultural glasses of the time. Although it was meant to be a response, Mike Hore only resorted to arguments outside of the Bible. This actually reinforced the point of my original article which was that the arguments for an old earth do not come from the Scriptures themselves.
References and notes
- Creation Science. What is our Authority?, oldearth.org/authority.htm, accessed 7 October, 2013. Return to text.
- This was a controversy that arose between Arius (who supported the non-Trinitarian position) and Athanasius (the Trinitarian position). The latter was even exiled for holding fast to what he thought the Scriptures clearly taught. Return to text.
- Latin, ‘By Scripture alone’. Return to text.
- Dawkins, R., The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, Norton & Company, 1996, p. 1. Return to text.