Ken Ham / Jeff Zweerink (RTB) Debate Responses

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A few weeks ago, Answers in Genesis founder and CEO Ken Ham conducted a radio debate with Dr. Jeff Zweerink, a visiting research scholar with the old-earth organization Reasons to Believe on the Unbelievable radio program and podcast, hosted by Justin Brierley for Premier Christian radio in the UK. The debate was just over an hour and brought out areas of agreement and disagreement. Dr. Zweerink has written a pair of follow-up articles on the Reason’s to Believe website to make his case. Unfortunately, his argument is lacking both scripturally and scientifically.

As Dr. Zweerink points out in his most recent follow-up article, there are areas where there is some agreement, though the agreement is less than he claims. Both Dr. Zweerink and we at Answers in Genesis believe that man is at fault for human death. At this point is where we part company, as Dr. Zweerink does not believe animal death, suffering, or diseases like cancer we observe in the fossil record were a result of man’s sin. Much of the focus of his second response article is on this point. However, that argument is not the fundamental divide.

The primary divide between Dr. Zweerink and Answers in Genesis is one of authority. Dr. Zweerink objects to this point, claiming he shares our view of the authority of Scripture and that he uses the same hermeneutic.1 I do not doubt his sincerity. It is likely that he truly believes he interprets the Bible the same way we at Answers in Genesis do. Nevertheless, his actions bely his claims. Regardless of what he might claim, Dr. Zweerink takes secular ideas about the origin of life and the universe and adds them into Scripture to re-interpret Genesis to fit such ideas. That approach is a direct attack on biblical authority.

First Response

In his first response, Dr. Zweerink made a number of claims regarding the age of the earth and the days of creation. The first is that there are three different types of days in Genesis 1. Here is where Zweerink, as an astrophysicist, made an error that was quite surprising. He claimed, “The first three days are of unknown duration because the Sun and Moon don’t appear until day 4.”2 There is a glaring issue with this declaration, namely that the length of a day has nothing to do with the sun or the moon. The length of a day is determined by how long it takes for the earth to complete one rotation on its axis. In fact, this is the dictionary definition of a day, no matter the planet in question. In Merriam-Webster, day is defined as “the period of rotation of a planet (such as earth) or a moon on its axis.”3 As an astrophysicist, Dr. Zweerink should be aware that this very definition undermines his whole argument about the first three days.

In supposed support of his argument that the days of creation were not literal twenty-four hour days, Zweerink quoted Augustine. This is disingenuous: while Augustine waffled on the meaning of the days of creation (e.g., he believed God created in an instant), he was certainly not an old-earth proponent, as Dr. Zweerink and other old earthers have implied. Undoubtedly Dr. Zweerink would not agree with this point by Augustine: “Unbelievers are also deceived by false documents which ascribe to history many thousand years, although we can calculate from Sacred Scripture that not 6,000 years have passed since the creation of man.”4

One Long Day

Dr. Zweerink’s second point about the days of creation was that we are still in the seventh day: “Given that the seventh day is not closed out in Genesis 1 or 2, it continues today.”5 But this idea only works if you assume that the remainder of the Genesis 1 days are non-literal. This assumption simply does not match the evidence. The Hebrew word for day (yom), when used with the terms evening, morning, night, or a number, always means a literal, 24-hour day. Dr. Zweerink would agree, for example, that the Hebrews marched around Jericho for seven literal days and that Jonah was inside the great fish for three literal days. Why then does he insist that the entire rest of the scriptural context that tells us what yom means be thrown out when we examine Genesis 1? He certainly would never do so for Joshua 6 or Jonah 1.

Further, Exodus 20:11 buries any notion that the seventh day is ongoing because God draws a direct parallel between the seventh day of the creation week and the Sabbath the Hebrews were to keep. Dr. Zweerink would never argue that the Hebrew Sabbath is ongoing, yet, if the seventh day is ongoing, so is the Hebrew Sabbath—something the Hebrews themselves never ascribed to. Besides, God said he “rested” on the seventh day (past tense), not that he is resting.

After all, with God, “nothing is impossible.”

Zweerink also argued that too much happened on the sixth day for it to have been a literal day. This is a recycled argument made by atheists too, and it shows that Dr. Zweerink has made no serious effort to read creationist literature. We’ve addressed this question repeatedly, and other creation ministries have as well for more than two decades at least.6 Claiming that God could not have made all the animals in one day, have Adam name the beasts and the birds that God brought to him, form Eve and bring her to Adam, assumes a very small God. After all, how long did it take God to make all the animals on day six? Could he not have done so in whatever time he wanted to? After all, with God, “nothing is impossible.” Even if it took Adam half a day to name the animals God brought to him, which it didn’t have to, there was still plenty of time for God to make Eve and for her to meet Adam.

Dr. Zweerink also appeals to Adam saying “at last” when he meets Eve in Genesis 2:23 as meaning that some time had passed. However, this is specious. Keep in mind, Adam had just spent several hours naming the animals and not found anyone like him. Thus exclaiming “at last” when he met Eve is not an expression of a long time. Rather, it is an expression of his understanding he was alone and now joyfully realizing there was someone like him. This is not evidence of long ages, and attempting to make it so shows how weak the argument for long ages is.

Second Arguments

In his second follow-up article to our debate, Dr. Zweerink reiterated a position he expressed during the debate that shocked me personally and has created some theological problems: “Ham thinks humanity is responsible for animal death. I think that ultimately, God shoulders that responsibility.”7 In essence, Dr. Zweerink is blaming God for death, pain, suffering, disease, and carnivory in the animal kingdom. This is an absolutely untenable position given that Genesis 1:29–30 tells us that animals and man both were vegetarian when they were made. Dr. Zweerink did not address this key point.

Romans 5:22 tells us death in humanity is a result of man’s sin. Here we agree with Dr. Zweerink. God instituted death as a just penalty for sin. However, Romans 8:22 tells us that the whole creation groans as well because of our sin. Zweerink claimed the context of the chapter puts God at fault for the suffering in the animal world. However, the context does not actually say this. Romans 8:20 does say that the creation was made subject to futility by God. Does that make God culpable for pain, suffering, and death in animals? Absolutely not. Genesis 3:14 says God cursed the serpent above all other animals. In other words, the serpent’s curse was worse than all the other animals. This, taken in context with Genesis chapter 1 telling us that everything was vegetarian at the beginning, strongly implies that all the other animals were cursed as well.

Genesis chapter 3 also tells us why God put the curse on the earth: it was in response to man’s sin! The just Judge of the earth gave man the deserved consequences of his sin. Man brought animal death into the world; it was not natural. This is why it is so critical to examine the wider context of Scripture when studying such questions rather than cherry-picking verses to support a given view.

Zweerink then proceeded to list off a few points that he claimed supported his views. The first is that God knew death, including that of his Son, would happen. That is certainly true. No orthodox Christian disputes that. However, God foreknowing something is not the same as him being culpable for it. God foreknew that a Savior would be needed because he knew Adam and Eve would sin. I’m certain Dr. Zweerink does not wish to extend his argument to make God responsible for sin, but that is where his logic leads. If God is responsible for sin, he is sinful, which would mean that he can’t save us from sin. But if God is not responsible for sin, then his foreknowledge does not equal him being accountable for something. If God is not accountable for something just because he knows it will happen, then there is no necessity or reason for God to be responsible for animal or human death, which the broader context of Scripture repeatedly confirms.

A Good God?

Zweerink’s next point is that God’s “very good” statement in Genesis chapter 1 does not equate to a statement of perfection. He argues, “Eden was corruptible as history clearly shows. That fact stands in stark contrast to the incorruptible nature of the new creation.”8 These statements are true, but they are also irrelevant. What matters is how this affects the doctrine of salvation. If when God says, “very good,” he does not mean perfect, then why is it that Jesus said that only God was good in Matthew 19:17? If God’s standard of good is not perfect, then it is possible to work our way to salvation by being good enough, something the Bible rejects in Titus 3:5. I’m certain Dr. Zweerink does not believe this, but that is the logical implication of his view.

Further, if Eden was not perfect, why should we expect the new creation to be perfect?

Further, if Eden was not perfect, why should we expect the new creation to be perfect? The Bible tells us that there will be nothing impure in the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21:27 and that there will be no more pain or death in Revelation 21:4. No matter your eschatological view, this is clearly a perfect new creation. Yet Isaiah chapter 11 points out that there will be a time in the future when there will be no carnivory, and every organism will live in peace with man. Other passages make the same point about the future world. For the future creation to be perfect, the original creation had to be perfect. This is most likely what the Apostle Peter had in mind when he spoke of a “restoring of all things” when Christ returns (Acts 3:21). If the restoration in the new earth is going to be like the original creation, would Dr. Zweerink expect to have diseases, cancer, and animal death as we see in the fossil record in the new earth? He believes those things were present when God pronounced his creation was “very good,” but he seems to say that the restoration will not include those things. We trust you can see the inconsistency.

Zweerink’s next couple of points center around the death of animals in the world after the fall. He points out that God killed animals to make clothes for Adam and Eve. This is true, as recorded in Genesis 3:21, but again, it’s irrelevant because it happened after man’s sin. The deaths of the animals were a result of man’s sin and perhaps demonstrated to man what the consequences would look like, foreshadowing the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). It seems to be the start of the sacrificial system. This is also true of his comments about the later verses of Psalm 104, which reference the state of creation as it appeared to the psalmist, not prior to man’s fall. Only the first nine verses refer to either the flood or the pre-flood world. Further, he attempts to claim that the Bible’s use of a lion as a metaphor for God, which it does, is evidence for death before sin. It is generally unwise to draw too much out of a metaphor, and this is what Zweerink is doing here. In fact, the metaphor of a lion is drawing on something the Israelites would already have understood to make a point about God’s power and authority.

Final Argument

Sadly, Dr. Zweerink has a flawed foundation for his worldview: his acceptance of millions of years. This leads him to make the claims he does about the nature of God. Zweerink himself states, “Regardless of our differences when it comes to the old-earth/young-earth debate, it is imperative that we think rightly about God’s character.”9 We completely agree! So what kind of God would Zweerink have us believe in?

The God that Zweerink proposes is one that cannot clearly state what he means, as Genesis chapters 1–11 are evidently unclear. He calls animal death, pain, suffering, including such diseases as cancer (that exist in the fossil record), very good. God is deceitful because he promises a perfect new creation, yet he says it will be like the first creation that was not perfect. This is a significant part of the atheistic caricature of God as a malignant tyrant, ruling over a misery-infested world he caused and periodically meddling with people’s lives. Is this really the kind of God that Zweerink believes in? I’m certain the answer is no, but it is the God he, and all old-earth proponents (including theistic evolutionists) actually proclaim by the positions they take.

Biblical creationists can point to a God who is both merciful and just.

Biblical creationists, in contrast, can point to a God who is both merciful and just. He responds to man’s sin with a mixture of justice, in the form of death, but also a promise of hope to come in the restoration of the perfect creation—yet one where there will be no possibility of sin. The God of the Bible is just, administering punishment for evil, and longsuffering, giving ample opportunities for repentance and rewarding those who seek him. That is the kind of God who deserves to be worshipped. In judgment, God provides salvation!

The “god of millions of years” is simply not the God of the Bible!

Footnotes

  1. Jeff Zweerink, “Biblical Evidence for an Old Earth: Ham vs. Zweerink Follow-Up,” RTB blogs, October 11, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/impact-events/read/impact-events/2019/10/11/biblical-evidence-for-an-old-earth-ham-vs.-zweerink-follow-up (2019a).
  2. Zweerink, 2019a.
  3. Merriam-Webster online dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/day.
  4. Augustine, The City of God, translated by G. G. Walsh and G. Monahan (1952), Book 12, Chapter 11, 263. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.
  5. Zweerink, 2019.
  6. Russell M. Grigg, “Naming the animals: all in a day’s work for Adam” Creation 18, no. 4 (1996): 46-49, https://creation.com/naming-the-animals-all-in-a-day-s-work-for-adam.
  7. Jeff Zweerink, “Thinking Rightly about God: Ham vs. Zweerink Follow-Up, Part 2,” RTB blogs, October 25, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/impact-events/read/impact-events/2019/10/25/thinking-rightly-about-god-ham-vs.-zweerink-follow-up-part-2 (2019b).
  8. Zweerink, 2019b.
  9. Zweerink, 2019b.

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