When and how did God create the world? How long did He take? At a 3-day conference organized by the Fixed Point Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama, June 15–18, 2011, Dr. Michael Behe, Dr. John Lennox, Dr. Hugh Ross and I debated the questions of origins.1 Dr. Behe defended theistic evolution. Dr. Lennox argued for a gap of millions of years between the first two verses of Genesis 1 and then gaps of indefinitely long ages (millions of years) between each of the literal days of creation.2 Dr. Ross advocated the day-age view of Genesis 1.
The Day-age View
As I heard Dr. Ross explain in this debate (which is consistent with his previous teachings over the years), his belief about Genesis 1 regarding the origin of the earth, sun, moon, and stars can be summarized as follows.
In the beginning God created the heavens by first creating the “cosmic egg” (the small and incredibly dense ball of matter, energy, and space) and then caused it to begin to expand (which, he said, occurred in Genesis 1:1). For the next 9.2 billion years the universe expanded and stars and galaxies gradually formed by physical and chemical processes as cosmic gas clouds collapsed due to gravity. Our sun formed about 8.7 billion years after the big bang (or about 5 billion years ago).3
For the first 7 billion years of history, the expansion of the universe was initially very fast and gradually slowed down due to gravity and then it started to expand more rapidly due to dark matter and dark energy (and the expansion has continued to accelerate over the past 7 billion years).4
The solar gas cloud around the sun evolved over millions of years to form rings and eventually evolved into planets. In this way the earth was formed about 9.2 billion after the big bang (about 4.5 billion years ago)5 and was covered in such thick clouds of an opaque atmosphere that absolutely no light could reach the surface of the earth, and hence darkness was on the surface of the earth (which, he said, is described in Genesis 1:2).
Then when God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3),6 the opaque atmosphere was changed (whether supernaturally by God or naturally by physical and chemical processes as we observe today, Ross did not clearly state) to become translucent, so that light now reached the surface of the earth. However, if anyone had been on the earth at that time, he would not have been able to see the sun, moon or stars themselves but only the diffused light from them.
Then on “Day” Four (Genesis 1:14–19), which was some unspecified time (but clearly Dr. Ross views it as millions of years) after the translucence event on Day One, God made the atmosphere transparent so that the yet-to-be-created animals and people on the earth would be able to see the sun, moon, and stars, when those animals and people were created billions of years later.
I contend that Dr. Ross’s interpretation of Genesis 1 is unbiblical and unscientific.7 Below are some of the reasons why I reject his assertion that the days of creation were long ages of millions of years each and why the creation days must be understood as literal, 24-hour days.8
- There is no justification in the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1–2 to insert any time between those verses. And there is no support from any other Bible passage for inserting time here, and certainly not 9.2 billion years. Verse 2 is a parenthetical statement about the condition of the earth when it was initially made, as the English (and even more so, the Hebrew) makes perfectly clear. Ross is placing a vast amount of time between these verses just as the gap theory does. But such an interpretation was soundly refuted long ago by careful analysis of the biblical text (including the Hebrew).9
- There is no mention of clouds anywhere in Genesis 1, though the Hebrew language does have a word for clouds (e.g., Genesis 9:13–14, 16; Psalm 148:8). There is no biblical justification for saying that the whole earth was covered in thick clouds for billions of years, to say nothing of a cloud cover (and interplanetary debris)10 so thick that no light could penetrate to the surface of the earth.
- Secular cosmologists and secular geologists do not say and do not believe that the earth was completely covered with an opaque atmosphere for millions of years, as Ross implies, only to be changed millions of years later into a translucent atmosphere that obscured sight of any particular heavenly bodies, and then to be changed millions of years later to be a transparent atmosphere. Such a view has no biblical support and no support from the secular scientific majority that Dr. Ross trusts.
- Evolutionary cosmologists and geologists also do not believe that the earth was covered completely with water for millions or billions of years, as Ross must believe based on his view of the first verses of Genesis 1 (see evolutionist chart to the right). The Bible, however, is crystal clear that the earth was covered with a global ocean for the first two days of Creation Week, as it was again in the global catastrophic Flood of Noah’s day (which all evolutionary scientists also reject, as does Dr. Ross).
- “Let there be” in Genesis 1:3 means that this is when God made the light, not when pre-existing light became visible on the earth after God thinned out an imagined opaque atmosphere. This is seen in the fact that the same jussive form of the Hebrew verb is used in Genesis 1:6, when the “expanse” (“firmament”) was “made” (Genesis 1:7), and in Genesis 1:14 when the sun, moon and stars were “made” (Genesis 1:16) and “placed” in that expanse (Genesis 1:17). The same verb form is used when God created the plants on Day Three, the sea creatures and flying creatures on Day Five, and the land animals and man on Day Six.
- If there was an expansion of the universe, it happened either on Day Two when God separated the waters to make the “expanse” (Genesis 1:6–8), or on Day Four when God placed the sun, moon, and stars in the expanse. There is no biblical basis for saying an expansion occurred on Day One.
- Genesis 1:14–19 indicates that on Day Four God made the sun, moon, and stars either all together simultaneously, or, if we take the order of mention as an indication of order of creation, then He made the sun first, then the moon, and then the stars. Neither view is compatible with the evolutionary big bang cosmology that Ross embraces and teaches Christians to accept.
- It is clear that the sun, moon, and stars were not made during the time reflected in Genesis 1:1–3, because Genesis 1:16–17 (Day Four) says that God made them and placed them “in the expanse,” which He made on Day Two (the Hebrew word for “expanse” on Day Two and Day Four is raqiya). Now, the expanse is not the atmosphere, but what we call today “outer space,” where the heavenly bodies are. The atmosphere is the “surface” of that expanse that touches the waters below the expanse. Many translations11 give the impression in Genesis 1:20 that the birds fly “in the open expanse” or “across the expanse.” But the Hebrew in that verse is very clear and is conveyed with literal accuracy by the NKJV translation, which says that the birds fly “across the face of the firmament12 of the heavens.” The Hebrew words behind “across the face of” in Genesis 1:20 are identical to the Hebrew words translated as “upon the face of” the deep and “upon the face of” the waters in Genesis 1:2 and “upon the face of” all the earth in Genesis 7:3. The birds do not fly in the expanse (firmament), but on the face of it just as the Spirit was not in the water and the animals were not in the earth, but on the surface. Furthermore, the word raqiya is used elsewhere in Scripture in relation to where the sun, moon, and stars are (e.g., Psalm 19:1–6, Daniel 12:3), but not with respect to where the birds fly. The sun, moon, and stars were placed in the expanse, according to Genesis 1:14–18, and so they were not created in Genesis 1:1–3 before the expanse was made.
- If God made the sun, moon, and stars before Day Four and only made them visible on the earth on Day Four, He could have clearly said this by using the word “appear” (Hebrew: rahah), which He used in Genesis 1:9 (“let the dry land appear”). But in Genesis 1:16 He uses asah, which in the Old Testament, as the standard Hebrew-English lexicons show, never has the meaning of some pre-existing thing being initially invisible and then becoming visible sometime later. Our various English translations are correct in translating asah as “made” in Genesis 1:16 (as they do also in Genesis 1:7, 26, and 30). Also, the fact that many translations italicize “made” in the last part of verse 16, with respect to the stars, does indeed tell the reader that asah is not in the Hebrew text at that place in the verse. But that does not mean that the stars were made sometime before Day Four. The Hebrew grammar of the verse clearly ties “the greater light” (sun), “the lesser light” (moon), and the stars to the verb “made” at the beginning of the verse,13 which is why the English translations put it before the stars at the end of the verse. So, the sun, moon, and stars were all made on Day Four.
- In Genesis 1, the phrase “and God said” appears ten times and “it was so” is used six times. All the miracles of Jesus (who is the Creator14) were instantaneous and most of them were accomplished simply by His spoken word, as for example, His first miracle of turning water into wine, which “revealed His glory” as Creator (John 2:11). Combining these facts leads to the very sound conclusion that God created the different things in Genesis 1 instantly on the literal days that He said He created them. He did not say “let there be” and then wait for millions of years for things to come into existence. This is further confirmed by Psalm 33:6–9, which clearly states that God spoke the heavenly bodies and other creatures into existence and that these commands were immediately accomplished. There is no biblical or logical basis for saying that God took millions of years to create the sun, moon, and stars, or anything else for that matter, by guiding natural physical and chemical processes.
- Day One does not begin in verse 3 but rather in verse 1. This is clearly taught in Exodus 20:11 which states that in six days God “made the heavens, the earth, the sea and all that is in them” (emphasis added).15 He did not make anything before the six days or in any imagined millions of years between each of the six days.16 If Day One begins at Genesis 1:3 and there were millions of years before that, then God made the sun, moon, virtually all the stars and galaxies, and the earth before Day One, and therefore God’s statement in Exodus 20:11 would be grossly misleading and false. God then would be found to be guilty of deception and lying or to be seriously incompetent in the use of language.
- God tells us the purpose for which He made the sun, moon, and stars. It is so that people could tell time (years, seasons, and days, Genesis 1:14). The heavenly bodies also were created to serve as “signs.” Contrary to what Dr. Ross said, man (not sea creatures, birds, or land animals) obviously was the object of these purposes. Sea, land, and flying creatures do not need to know when a year or season has passed (or if the seasons need to be recognized for the purpose of mating/migration, animals can glean the information they need by the changes in weather or plants, for example), and there is no reason to think that they have the mental prowess to interpret the heavenly signs or the movement of the heavenly bodies to determine (or care) that a year has passed. Also, while some creatures apparently migrate partially or completely by reference to the sun, Ross cited no scientific evidence that they migrate by the stars, or that they need to migrate on the basis of the movement of the heavenly bodies used to determine the length of a year, season, or day. (On the contrary, research indicates that young birds do not learn star patterns themselves but learn a north-south orientation from a rotational star pattern.)17 The text is clearly saying that the heavenly bodies were made so that human beings could measure specific time periods. But if Ross and the evolutionary cosmologists he follows are correct about the billions of years of cosmic history, then for most of the time of the existence of the heavenly bodies they did not serve the purpose for which God says that He created them, since man was not there to observe them. Similarly, if the millions of years of animal history (claimed by evolutionists) is true (as Dr. Ross accepts18), then most of the creatures that have ever existed lived and died before God made man to rule over them (Genesis 1:28), which makes God’s command rather ridiculous.
Further Problems with Dr. Ross’s View on Origins
There is absolutely no basis in Scripture for Dr. Ross’s creation story above, and he offered no textual support from Genesis or anywhere else in the Bible or in the mainstream scientific literature. His story is a product of his own imagination coupled with the imaginary stories in the big bang model, which flies in the face of the obvious meaning of the biblical text (which is also confirmed by scholarly analysis of the Hebrew text19). But it is important to realize that Dr. Ross was thoroughly indoctrinated in big bang thinking during his tender and intellectually naïve youth20 (ages 7–17), long before he ever read the Bible and professed faith in Christ. He recounts the development of his thinking this way:
In my eighth year I read every book on physics and astronomy I could find in our school library. The next year I began to do the same in the children’s section of the Vancouver Public Library. . . . At age ten I had exhausted the science resources of the children’s and youth sections of the Vancouver Public Library and was granted a pass to the adult section. . . . By age fifteen, I came to understand that some form of the big bang provided the only reasonable explanation for the universe. If the universe arose out of a big bang, it must have had a beginning. If it had a beginning, it must have a Beginner. From that point on, I never doubted God’s existence.21
From that point he never doubted God’s existence, but he also never doubted the big bang model that he had already embraced as fact for a decade. When he was almost seventeen, he started to read the “sacred” writings of the world’s major religions and eventually read the Bible.22 Undoubtedly all those astronomy and other science books that he read in his youth (in the years 1952–1962) were written on the basis of a secular, naturalistic, Bible-ignoring (really Bible-rejecting) view of origins.23 So this was Ross’s interpretative framework (starting point for his thinking about origins) before he ever attempted to read the Bible (and thus before he professed faith in Jesus Christ), and it is the hermeneutical grid that to this day has controlled his interpretation of Genesis 1 and any other Bible passage that relates to the history and age of the creation.
If God created the way Dr. Ross explained, then God is a terribly incompetent communicator. But could the Creator of language be so incapable of saying when and how and how long and in what order He created things? He could have easily explained in simple Hebrew language how He created over the course of millions of years, if He had done so.24 Genesis 1 could hardly say it more clearly for people of all times and cultures and levels of education or scientific understanding, namely, that God created the earth on Day One, completely covered with water until Day Three, when He made dry land and the plants. Then on Day Four He made the sun, moon, and stars. On Day Five He made the sea creatures and flying creatures, and on Day Six He created the land animals, including dinosaurs, along with man.
Dr. Ross’s creation account is impossible to derive from the biblical text in Genesis or anywhere else in Scripture. If his story is true, then in a very subtle way, and despite his stated intentions to the contrary, he is in effect calling God a liar and deceiver, who has led God-fearing Jews and Christians completely astray for more than 1800 years (for they believed that six literal, 24-hour days of creation occurred about 4,000 years before Christ) and who then used godless scientists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to tell God’s people what they could never have understood from Genesis based on sound principles of Bible interpretation.
In addition to his erroneous views on the creation and history of the universe and earth, Dr. Ross also made clear at this Fixed Point Foundation conference (as he has made clear for decades on his web site and in his many books) that he believes (1) in millions of years of animal death, disease, killing and extinction in God’s “very good” creation before Adam (thus, also before sin),25 and (2) that Noah’s Flood was only a local flood in the Mesopotamian Valley. Neither of these beliefs is compatible with the Word of God. His views are rather the result of taking a few verses out of context, defining words (especially Hebrew words) in biblically indefensible ways, and ignoring many other verses, but taking mainstream scientists’ claims about millions of years and the geological record as infallible truth.26 The Bible however clearly teaches that the Flood was global27 and that there was no natural evil (animal death, disease, extinction, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc.) in the non-human creation before the Fall of Adam and Eve.28
An Overlooked Implication of Dr. Ross’s Views
Given the denial of a literal Adam and Eve and literal Fall by a growing number of professing evangelical scientists and theologians, I want to add one more point that Dr. Ross did not address at the Fixed Point conference but which he has taught for years in his writings. One of his arguments in favor of his day-age view of Genesis 1 is that God’s seventh “day” of rest (Genesis 2:1–3) has continued up to the present and will continue till Jesus creates the new heavens and new earth. So, he argues, this seventh day is not literal but is many thousands of years long, at the very least, and therefore the first six days weren’t literal 24-hour days either.29
These passages all teach that God’s rest from His creation work continues from the end of Creation Week to the present.
I will leave aside a discussion of the fact that Hebrews 4:4–11, Psalm 95:7–11 and John 5:16–18 do not teach, as Dr. Ross does, that the seventh day of Genesis 2:1–3 continues to the present.30 The seventh day does not continue to our present time (and thereby is not thousands of years long). Rather these passages all teach that God’s rest from His creation work continues from the end of Creation Week to the present (though He does continue His work of providence and redemption, as John 5:17, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 5:18–20 indicate). So, the truth of Genesis 2:1–3 means that God is not now creating in the Genesis 1 sense, a fact that Dr. Ross recognizes. But he fails to realize that his admission of this fact is fatal to his day-age (or any other old-earth) view. That is, the physical processes that scientists study today are not the processes God used to create the world during the first six days of history. Rather they are the processes that function under His providence during His rest from the work of creation. This fact therefore rules out evolution, the big bang, and millions of years, which are based on the assumption that present processes explain the origins of the universe and all it contains. Dr. Ross cannot say with any logical consistency that God is not now creating and yet also say that the big bang theory (which is based on evolutionary scientists’ interpretations of present physical processes) describes how God created the universe. The big bang theory is in fact contradictory to Genesis 1 in many ways (e.g., in the time-frame as well as in the order of events).31
But I want to point out further that if the seventh day is not literal and the days of creation were millions of years each, as Dr. Ross believes, then in effect (and contrary to his stated beliefs about a literal Adam and Eve and literal Fall) his day-age view implies a denial of a literal Adam and Eve and literal, historical Fall. How so? Because Genesis 5:1–5 says that Adam and Eve had many children, one of whom was Seth, who replaced Abel who was killed by Cain, and that “all the days of Adam were 930 years.” As Dr. Ross agrees, Adam was created before the seventh day, according to Genesis 1.
But if the seventh day is still continuing, then there are only two options for where to put Adam’s life in relation to the seventh day. One option would be that all the days of Adam’s 930 years transpired before the end of a figurative sixth “day.” But the Bible clearly teaches that the Fall of Adam, and the birth of Cain, Abel, and Seth, and all the rest of Biblical history were after the seventh day. This is especially implied in the Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20:8–11, where God is looking back at Creation Week in the completed past. And Romans 5:12–18 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 teach that everyone up to the time of Paul died because of Adam’s sin and death (these passages apply to us also). There is an unbroken continuity in the human lineage from Adam to all other humans (Acts 17:26), just as there is from Adam to Jesus Christ (Luke 3:23–38).
But if Adam lived his whole life before the seventh “day,” then the link between Adam and all other people is broken. The other option would be that, if we say that Adam and Eve were created at the very end of the sixth “day” and their lives and all of human history continued on into the still continuing seventh “day” (which, as Dr. Ross states,32 supposedly has lasted thousands of years but has not yet ended), then the Fall, the catastrophic Flood and all the sin and wars and disease since the Fall have occurred during the seventh “day.” But God blessed and sanctified (declared holy) the seventh day (Genesis 2:3). If all the sin, disease, death, and other evils have happened on the seventh “day,” then God has declared that all that evil is blessed and holy, which is a monstrous, blasphemous conclusion.
Therefore, either God is terribly confusing and contradictory or Adam never really lived and died, never had children, and never really fell in sin. In other words Adam and the Fall are myths. Or else, we must conclude, Dr. Ross’s belief about the age of the earth is seriously in error because in addition to all the hermeneutical problems already discussed, it implies a denial of a literal Adam and a literal Fall thereby undermining the gospel that he says he believes.
Christians must decide whether they are going to believe the Word of God or believe secular scientists and those Christian leaders, theologians and scientists, like Dr. Hugh Ross, who are using the secularists’ naturalistic (i.e., atheistic) interpretations of some of the cosmological, geological and biological observations as a grid for reinterpreting Scripture. Does Scripture interpret Scripture, as orthodox Christians have always insisted and as Jesus and His apostles demonstrated? Or do we let the non-Christian (and generally anti-Christian) secular scientific majority tell us what Scripture means? It is an issue of biblical authority versus godless33 man’s authority and the authority of Christian theologians and scientists who have followed the godless majority.