The previous chapter looked at some of the attempts made by old-earthers to respond to young-earth biblical arguments. The defense and cross-examination will continue in this chapter. This time we will direct our attention to their theological arguments.
Pragmatism is the belief that whatever “works” must be right or true. Perhaps the most erroneous argument used by some old-earthers is that young-earth creationism is actually a hindrance to the work of evangelism. Hugh Ross wrote, “As circumcision distorted the gospel and hampered evangelism, so, too, does young-earth creationism.”1 No doubt, the lost have been reached through the work of old-earthers, including Hugh Ross. However, young-earth creationism does not distort the gospel but clearly affirms it. There is a subtle implication of this old-earth accusation that is also false: young-earth creationists do not say that a person has to accept a young earth to be saved. But also, many people have written to AiG and other creationist ministries to say that they came to faith in Christ precisely because of the young-earth creationist literature or videos. In any case, ultimately it is the Holy Spirit that convicts of sin, and enables us to say that Jesus is Lord.2
Additionally, the effectiveness of a technique should not be used as a test of its truthfulness. We could probably produce “converts” (in name at least) by promising vast earthly wealth, perfect health, and continual earthly happiness for all those who trust in Jesus; but such a method would be dishonest. The ends do not justify the means.
Dr. Robert Pyne of Dallas Theological Seminary has put forth another pragmatic argument. He believes that we need to come up with a better strategy to reach the lost who have bought into the idea of evolution. In the seminary’s latest work on systematic theology, Pyne likened the creation-evolution debate to a ballgame. He claims that the problem for creationists is that the rules of the game only allow for naturalistic explanations of the world’s origin. As such, we must be disqualified, but we refuse to exit the field. Pyne writes:
From that vantage point [the seats] we can see that those [young-earthers] who still try to play the game are failing, but they have convinced themselves they are succeeding. We call attention to their failure, but only to criticize the futility of the game itself.3
Contrary to Pyne’s statement, the game is not futile, especially in light of the fact that God has used the efforts of creationist ministries to save thousands of individuals. Unfortunately, Pyne has been caught up in the movement that seeks to legitimize some form of old-earth creationism by gaining acceptance among secular academia. Pyne wrote, “However, I, too, would prefer to see contemporary discussions turn to the more winnable (and more significant) issue of intelligent design.”4 God has not commanded His people to play the game by the world’s standards. He has called His people to proclaim His Word because it is what will accomplish His purposes (Isa. 55:11).5
The issue of intelligent design may be “more winnable” according to the rules of Pyne’s naturalistic game, but it is certainly not “more significant.” More than one billion Muslims (as well as thousands of other non-Christians in the ID movement itself ) believe in intelligent design but are still lost because they do not know the Intelligent Designer who has revealed himself in His Word. The reason we are involved in the creation vs. evolution debate is not just to teach people to believe in the existence of a vaguely defined creator but to show them that they need to place their faith in the Creator to save them from their sins.
Actually, the debate between old-earth creationists and young-earth creationists is not really about the age of the earth and universe. Primarily, it comes down to biblical authority. Did God really do what He said He did in Genesis 1? If it took Him billions of years to create everything, then He could have easily and clearly stated that in His Word.
Dr. Pyne concluded his chapter by stating that dinosaurs probably lived “a long, long time ago” and that “it looks like they all died before any people got to see them.”6 He continues, “Some of our friends [young-earth creationists] think people did see them [dinosaurs], and they may turn out to be right.”7 This statement reveals another approach used by some theologians who favor the old-earth view, and this approach seems to be gaining acceptance among conservative scholars. Briefly stated, their position is that the Bible does not give enough information about the age of the earth so one really cannot base his conclusions on Scripture. Instead, one should look to science to answer such questions.
In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem advocates the idea that one cannot really know:
Therefore, with respect to the length of days in Genesis 1, the possibility must be left open that God has chosen not to give us enough information to come to a clear decision on this question, and the real test of faithfulness to him may be the degree to which we can act charitably toward those who in good conscience and full belief in God’s Word hold to a different position on this matter.8
Grudem’s second point is appropriate and echoes the purpose of this book. True debate can only occur when sound arguments are utilized in a civil manner. However, it is Grudem’s first point that must be scrutinized. Nothing in the text of Genesis 1 or any other place in Scripture, for that matter, would indicate an age of the earth beyond several thousand years. Grudem recognized the considerable strength of the young-earth creationist’s theological position:
At present, considerations of the power of God’s creative word and the immediacy with which it seems to bring response, the fact that “evening and morning” and the numbering of days still suggest twenty-four-hour days, and the fact that God would seem to have no purpose for delaying the creation of man for thousands or even millions of years seem to me to be strong considerations in favor of the twenty-four-hour day position.9
Nevertheless, after a balanced discussion of the issue, he does not take a stand. Instead, he cites 2 Peter 3:8 to demonstrate God’s eternality and reasons that the “evidence of incredible antiquity in the universe would then serve as a vivid reminder of the even more amazing nature of God’s eternity… .”10
In his influential Genesis in Space and Time, popular Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer also sought to avoid the debate by pleading “creation agnosticism.” After listing three possible interpretations of yom, Schaeffer concluded:
Therefore, we must leave open the exact length of time indicated by day in Genesis. From the study of the word in Hebrew, it is not clear which way it is to be taken; it could be either way. In the light of the word as used in the Bible and the lack of finality of science concerning the problem of dating, in a sense there is no debate, because there are no clearly defined terms upon which to debate.11
But Schaeffer fails to give any analysis of the use of yom or deal with creationist biblical arguments for literal days and a young earth (though such arguments were in print when Schaeffer wrote).
Christian apologist and philosopher J.P. Moreland has used this tactic as well. On at least two occasions, Moreland stated, “I’m an old-earth creationist five days out of the week; I’m a young-earth creationist two days out of the week.”12 The statement itself is intriguing. One is tempted to ask, “Do you mean five ordinary days, or five long periods of time—perhaps millions of years each?” Of course we understand him to mean ordinary days because of the context. Likewise, we know the days of Genesis 1 are ordinary days because of the context, and therefore the earth is young.
But why does Moreland waffle so much on this issue? Could it be that he truly believes the Bible teaches a young earth but cannot bring himself to believe it because of scientific opinion? Apparently, this is precisely the reason. During a lecture at Northshore Church in Everett, Washington, on February 2, 2002, Moreland demonstrated an acceptance of secular scientific opinion. Also, Moreland refused to address the biblical arguments for a young earth. Instead, he appealed to authority when he cited fellow old-earthers Walter Kaiser and Gleason Archer.13
Moreland’s comments at Northshore Church promote some other poor old-earth arguments. In an effort to repudiate the young-earth position, Moreland linked it to the myths that Scripture teaches geocentricism and a flat earth.14 This approach is typical from old-earth creationists and naturalistic evolutionists. Contrary to popular opinion, the Church as a whole never accepted the concept of a flat earth, and neither does Scripture teach it. In fact, the Bible reveals the earth is round in several places. Isaiah 40:22 states that God “
sits above the circle of the earth.” Job 26:10 poetically describes God inscribing a “
circle on the surface of the waters at the boundary of light and darkness.” This boundary between light and darkness is where evening and morning occur and is always a circle because the earth is spherical.
Moreland’s linking of young-earth creationists with geocentricism is an example of guilt by association: it discredits young-earth creationism by associating it with a view that is widely rejected. It does not matter that many in the medieval Church held to a geocentric view. The Bible does not teach it. If anything, the medieval Church’s acceptance of this view illustrates the danger of marrying the biblical text with scientific opinions of the time. Geocentricism was the view of the scientific community at the time. Supporters often used a hyper-literal reading of Joshua 10:12–13 to buttress their position. However, it is quite obvious that Joshua was simply using observational language. The same thing is commonly employed by trained meteorologists today when they speak of the sun “rising” and “setting.” Surely, no one would accuse these men of believing that the earth is stationary and the sun revolves around it!
Geocentricists would also cite poetic verses such as Psalm 96:10 to support their view. This verse says that the world “
shall not be moved.” However, the Hebrew word for “moved” (מוט, môt) does not necessarily imply motion in an absolute sense, but rather “to slip,” or to be “out of course.” In fact, David also says in Psalm 62:6, “
I shall not be moved” using the same Hebrew word. Is David indicating that he will never physically move? Clearly not. He is indicating that he will not deviate from the path the Lord laid out for him. Likewise, the earth will not deviate from its path. Clearly, the Bible does not teach geocentricism, and neither do we. But the Bible does teach a young earth.
Taking the lead from Bible skeptics and critics, some old-earthers introduce the infamous trial of Galileo in an effort to attack young-earth creationism. The Galileo affair is presented as a battle over religious interpretation and scientific fact. They proceed to claim that the Church’s interpretation was wrong in the 17th century and needed to be adjusted according to the latest scientific findings. Similarly, they say, young-earth creationists hold a wrong interpretation of Scripture that needs to be conformed to the latest scientific views.15
First, the whole Galileo controversy has been distorted. It is true that most religious leaders of the day held to a geocentric view of the universe. Nevertheless, Galileo found himself in trouble with Rome because of his arrogance and harsh criticism of the pope, not because of his scientific views.16 In fact, many Jesuit astronomers were open to Galileo’s teachings. The Jesuit missionaries to China were teaching heliocentricity within 30 years of Galileo’s discovery. It was actually the academicians of the day who rejected Galileo because of their acceptance of Aristotelian beliefs. They persuaded the Church to reject Galileo’s claims. It is simply disingenuous to link young-earth creationism with the Church of Galileo’s day.
Ironically, this popular attack on young-earth creationism actually backfires.
Ironically, this popular attack on young-earth creationism actually backfires. The Roman Catholic Church is being accused of accepting the scientific views of the day. When new scientific evidence came along, they clung to their old views of science because they claimed scriptural support for their view. This is exactly what old-earthers do today. They cling to modern scientific theories and try to marry the Scriptures to them. These scientific opinions frequently change, and the old-earthers’ beliefs just change right along with them.
Old-earthers try to make the connection between young-earth creationism and these two views because they wish to demonstrate that young-earth creationism is based on an over-literal interpretation of the text. In fact, young-earthers are often called “literalists.”17 Once again, this argument fails. Young-earth creationists would generally accept being called “literalists” but not in the form that old-earthers misuse the term. What they typically refer to in this context would be more accurately called “letterism” or “wooden literalism.” Letterism does not allow for the use of figurative or poetic language. Instead, every word is to be taken in a wooden literal sense. Young-earth creationists do not accept this hermeneutic; rather, we use the historical-grammatical approach, which acknowledges the various literary styles in Scripture and interprets them as such.18 Unfortunately for the old-earth creationists, Genesis 1 is clearly historical narrative, not poetry, parable, prophetic vision, or some other figurative literature.
The popular old-earth creationist website Answers in Creation provides a classic example of what is known as a straw-man argument. A straw-man argument is a very common debating tactic. This occurs when one side wrongly defines or describes the opposing position in an inaccurate way to make it easy to defeat. After all, a straw man is much easier to knock down than a real man. When discussing the possibility of whether or not Job 40–41 is referring to dinosaurs, the writer makes the following absurd claim:
When discussing this topic, young-earthers always go to the behemoth and leviathan of Job. However, these creatures don’t fit the description of dinosaurs, using young-earth standards. Remember that young-earth creationists are literalists, and believe every verse of the Bible is to be taken literally. In that case, Leviathan must have actually breathed fire (Job 41). However, there are no known dinosaurs with this capability. For Behemoth, no dinosaur had bones of bronze or iron.19
Most young-earth creationists have no trouble believing that some kind of dinosaur or similar creature could have breathed fire. Since all we have are the bones of these creatures, it is impossible to rule out this prospect. But several living creatures strongly suggest that this is not a far-fetched idea: some eels produce electricity. Fireflies produce light and bombardier beetles produce an explosive, noxious gas heated to the boiling temperature of water. Also, no one believes these creatures had bones that were made of bronze. The Bible does not say this either. The text says that behemoth’s “bones are like beams of bronze” and his “ribs like bars of iron.” Obviously, the author is employing the figure of speech known as a simile. The text is simply revealing that this creature’s bones were exceedingly strong because he was an enormous creature. Not only does the author of this article misrepresent the young-earth creationists’ hermeneutic, he also misquotes the Bible to make his point.
Old-earthers often intentionally misrepresent the young-earth position. It is sometimes difficult to fairly represent the opposing view because every person has a bias. Nonetheless, every attempt should be made to truthfully present both sides of the debate. Many of the old-earthers quoted in the following section are notable evangelical scholars and should know better. The reason they misrepresent young-earthers is to make their view look better by comparison.
Young-earthers are often presented as hard-line fundamentalists who believe that all old-earthers are heretics who should be thrown out of the Church. This is simply not true. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, wrote, “We do not seek to pass judgment on his Christian character or his commitment to the Lord.”20 This particular statement was made in reference to Hugh Ross, who is perhaps the most well-known old-earth creationist in the world.
Although we do not question the Christian commitment of the old-earther, young-earth creationists will often warn of what they see as a dangerous hermeneutical precedent. That is, if the days of the creation week can be interpreted as long periods of time, where does one stop reinterpreting Scripture on the basis of modern scientific opinions? For example, the majority of scientists do not believe that dead people can come back to life. If one applies the same hermeneutic to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then he must conclude that Christ did not rise from the dead, which means our faith is futile (1 Cor. 15:17).
In 2000, Dr. John Ankerberg hosted a debate between Dr. Hugh Ross and Dr. Kent Hovind. As moderator, Ankerberg revealed his old-earth bias on numerous occasions by siding with Ross. Ankerberg stated, “The argument that yom never means anything in the Bible but a literal 24 hours is completely untenable in the light of scriptural usage elsewhere.”21 Ankerberg is absolutely correct that yom can mean something other than an ordinary day. The problem is that Dr. Hovind does not believe that yom never means anything but a literal day, as Ankerberg implied, and neither does any other informed young-earther. Ankerberg used a common attack on young-earth creationists by misrepresenting their position on the Hebrew word for “day.”
In his Systematic Theology, Geisler offers an appendix on the “Various Views of the ‘Days’ of Genesis.” Among his arguments for the young-earth view, Dr. Geisler offers the following straw-man argument:
It is well known that the theory of evolution (or common ancestry) depends on very long periods of time for life to develop from a one-celled animal to human beings. Without these long periods of time, evolution would not be possible. Thus, it is argued by young-earthers that granting long periods of time is an accommodation to evolution.22p>
Dr. Geisler proceeds to torch this straw man by correctly pointing out, “scientists had concluded that long periods of time were involved before Darwin wrote in 1859.”23 Again, the problem with this argument is that no informed young-earth creationist claims that “long periods of time [are] an accommodation to evolution.” Young-earthers agree with Geisler that the idea of an old-earth predates Darwin’s writings. It would be accurate to claim that these “long periods of time” are an accommodation to uniformitarian geology popularized in the early 19th century by James Hutton and Charles Lyell. In fact, the gap theory and the day-age theory were developed prior to Darwin’s Origin of Species. Since these views were created in an effort to synthesize the biblical record with scientific opinion, it is obvious that the long periods of time were not an accommodation to evolution.24 However, it should also be noted that evolutionists today do require long periods of time, and are therefore not open to any young-earth arguments regardless of any scientific data, or (more importantly) the words of Scripture.
Geisler made a more astonishing claim about young-earth creationism when he wrote, “Light was not created on the fourth day, as defenders of the solar day argue; rather it was made on the very first day when God said, ‘Let there be light’ (Gen. 1:3).”25 He does not document this claim, so one must wonder where he came up with it. We have never heard of any young-earth creationist making such a biblically ignorant claim.
All young-earthers believe that light was created on the first day, as Genesis says. We differ from old-earthers in that we do not believe this light came from the sun. We believe the sun was not created until the fourth day, precisely as the text states (Gen. 1:16). Young-earthers have consistently made their position clear and have even offered plausible explanations as to what the light on the first three days may have been:
Where did the light come from? We are not told, but Genesis 1:3 certainly indicates it was a created light to provide day and night until God made the sun on Day 4 to rule the day He had made. Revelation 21:23 tells us that one day the sun will not be needed, because the glory of God will light the heavenly city.26
Geisler’s statement was made in two books published four years apart, so it cannot be construed as a “typo.” Geisler’s blunder on this point reveals that he has seriously and inexcusably failed to accurately understand and explain the position he is criticizing.
Old-earth creationists have claimed that there is no way that all of the events of day 6 could not have taken place in the span of 24 hours. Gleason Archer summarizes this alleged problem:
We are told that God created Adam first, gave him the responsibility of tending the Garden of Eden for some time until He observed him to be lonely. He then granted him the fellowship of all the beasts and animals of earth, with opportunity to bestow names upon them all. Some undetermined period after that, God observed that Adam was still lonely and finally fashioned a human wife for him by means of a rib removed from him during a “deep sleep.” Then at last he brought Eve before Adam and presented her to him as his new life partner. Who can imagine that all of these transactions could possibly have taken place in 120 minutes of the sixth day (or even within twenty-four hours, for that matter)? And yet Gen. 1:27 states that both Adam and Eve were created at the very end of the final day of creation. Obviously the “days” of chapter 1 are intended to represent stages of unspecified length, not literal twenty-four-hour days.27
The italics were added to emphasize the amount of eisegesis performed by Archer on the text. In other words, the italicized words do not appear in the biblical account! Please notice Archer’s attempts to add time to this day with the use of words and phrases like “finally,” “undetermined period after,” and “still lonely.” Nowhere does Genesis 2 state that Adam needed to tend the Garden “for some time” before he named the animals. He was assigned the task of tending the Garden (v. 15), but the text does not say how big the Garden was or how far Adam got in the task before naming the animals and the creation of Eve. Also, the Bible does not say that all of this took place in the final two hours of the sixth day. Neither does Genesis 1:27 claim that Adam and Eve were created at “the very end” of the sixth day. God could have easily created the land animals in the first hour of the day, formed Adam from dust shortly after, and later in the day created Eve from Adam’s rib. Archer is reading truckloads into the text, with no contextual justification.
The greatest point of contention in this argument has to do with the naming of the animals. First, the text does not state that Adam had “fellowship” with and named “all the beasts and animals of the earth.” This is a common misunderstanding on the part of the old-earthers, due to a failure to observe the text carefully. According to verse 20, Adam only named the cattle, beasts of the field, and birds of the air. He was not responsible for naming the sea creatures, the beasts of the earth, or creeping things (insects, etc.). This would considerably reduce the amount of animals that he had to name. It has been demonstrated that Adam could have easily named each of these creatures in less than four hours, while taking a five-minute break every hour!28
Despite his eisegetical insertions, other old-earth creationists have followed Archer’s example and even added their own ideas. For example, Geisler claims that God’s statement, “
I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18, NIV) implies a period of time between the proclamation and the actual performance.29 Yet God could have put Adam to sleep immediately after making the statement.
Geisler also attempts to squeeze more time into day six by arguing, “Adam indicated he had anticipated Eve for some time” (Gen. 2:23). Here is what the text actually says, “
And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’” Where does Adam indicate that he “anticipated Eve for some time”? This argument is based on the idea that the Hebrew word pah’am (פעם) can be rendered as “at last.” It is true that this is a possible interpretation, but we need to reiterate that the context will determine the meaning. In this particular case, it is debatable whether it should be rendered this way. In fact, a few Bible translations do include the phrase “at last” in the text but most do not. However, even if the word should be interpreted as “at last,” this does not necessarily imply a long period of time. For example, many of us have experienced a hard day at work before. When 5:00 p.m. rolls around we sigh and say, “At last!” In no way does this mean that we worked more than 24 hours (or even more than 8 hours), even if it seemed like “millions of years.” In Adam’s case, he had just named the animals he was instructed to name and had fallen into a deep sleep. He could have justifiably exclaimed “at last” meaning, “Finally, I have found and can name a creature that can be my mate.” These are classic examples of the old-earthers’ concerted efforts to deny the plain reading of the text.
Old-earthers have tried to avoid the obvious problem of death before sin by claiming that plants must have died prior to Adam’s sin. Since Adam, Eve, and the animals used energy, they must have eaten food. Of course, no one would deny that both men and animals ate food before Adam’s sin. Genesis 1:29–30 reveals what that food was, when it states that both man and animal were to eat plants. But Hugh Ross argues, “The death of at least plants or plant parts must have occurred before Adam sinned.”30
In 2004, one of the authors (Jason) participated in a radio debate with Dr. Ross in which Ross pointed to a few Bible verses that speak of plants withering.31 Of course plants wither. But in what way is that relevant to whether or not they are living things? The Bible does not speak of plants as living things; they are quite different than animals and humans. In fact, the Book of Job poetically contrasts plant “death” with that of a living being—showing that these are two completely different things. In chapter 14 verses 7–10, Job laments that man is not like a tree; when a tree “dies,” it can be revived with water, but not so for a man. Plants are not living creatures, and the Bible never refers to them as such.
The Bible consistently makes a distinction between animal life and plants.
The problem with Ross’s argument is not that plants were eaten before the Fall but with his implied claim that plants experienced death in the same sense that animals and humans do. The Bible consistently makes a distinction between animal life and plants. Young-earth creationists point out that only creatures described as nephesh chayyah (“living soul” or “living creature”) could not have died before the Fall. Plants are never described as nephesh chayyah. These Hebrew words are used in Genesis 1:30 to refer to man, every beast of the earth, every bird of the sky, and to every thing that moves on the earth, but in contrast to plants, which are the source of food for all the other creatures. Since plants are not alive in the biblical sense, then they cannot die in the biblical sense, either. Plants should be viewed as a sort of biological machine that God has created to sustain nephesh creatures on earth.
Common sense also illustrates the absurdity of Ross’s claim. We would rightly be disturbed if a young child were to catch a baby bird and accidentally kill it. However, few would think twice if this same young child picked a flower for his mother—unless it was from her garden! Also, people sit on “dead” trees while on a walk in the woods. But no one would sit on the carcass of a dead animal. We realize there is a drastic difference between animal life and death and plant “life” and “death.”
The old-earther cannot escape this serious argument. The Bible is clear that animal and human death came as a result of sin. By placing death before sin (for millions of years), old-earthers are unintentionally impugning God’s holy nature. Surely the God who views death as an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) would not proclaim that a world full of death was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Yet the old-earthers’ views force this contradiction upon the Scriptures.
The debate over the proper interpretation of the creation days is nothing new in Church history. A few church fathers wrote in favor of interpreting the days symbolically; however, the overwhelming consensus among early church fathers was that the days were ordinary days.32 Dr. Hugh Ross cites the church fathers as support for his view that the days were long periods of time. Among those cited by Ross are “Philo, Josephus, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Ambrose, Origen, Lactantius, Victorinus of Pettau, Methodius of Olympus, Augustine, Eusebius, and Basil the Great.”33 In The Genesis Question, Ross claimed:
Their [Ante-Nicene scholars] comments on the subject [meaning of the word day in Genesis 1] remained tentative, with the majority favoring the “long day” (typically a thousand-year period)—apart from the influence of science. Not one explicitly endorsed the twenty-four hour interpretation.34
There are several problems with this argument. First, Ross overstates the number of church fathers who allegedly support his view. Philo and Josephus were not church fathers. Ross seems to acknowledge this by listing them in a different subsection. Nevertheless, Philo was a Hellenistic Jew and Josephus was a Jewish general and historian, and he clearly believed in a young earth. Of the others cited, Ambrose, Lactantius, and Methodius favored the literal-day position. Only Philo, Origen, and Augustine clearly questioned or rejected the literal-day view. The remaining fathers were unclear in their writings.35
Second, Ross’s argument proves too much. Augustine interpreted the days figuratively because he believed that God created everything instantaneously.36 Rather than supporting an old-earth view, he argued exactly the opposite. Augustine went so far as to write:
Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race… . They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning, by the sacred writings, we find that not 6,000 years have yet passed.37
Augustine attempted to comment on Genesis 1 three different times during his life. He remained unsure of a proper interpretation of the word day but was quite certain that the earth was young.38 Augustine also believed in a global flood at the time of Noah in spite of old-earth views of history at the time.
Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind raised some legitimate concerns regarding evangelicalism’s inability to influence modern academia. Unfortunately, Noll spent an entire chapter accusing young-earth creationists of being one of the leading causes behind this problem. Even though he is considered to be a first-rate historian, it is alarming to see the amount of misinformation Noll advanced in this book. Relying heavily on Ronald Numbers’ book, The Creationists, Noll claims that young-earth creationism originated with Seventh Day Adventism.
[Creationism] has spread like wildfire in our century from its humble beginnings in the writings of Ellen White, the founder of Seventh-day Adventism, to its current status as a gospel truth embraced by tens of millions of Bible-believing evangelicals and fundamentalists around the world.39
Regrettably, on the very next page Noll again turns to Ronald Numbers for the following ridiculous claim concerning creationism:
Numbers described how a fatally flawed interpretive scheme [young-earth creationism] of the sort that no responsible Christian teacher in the history of the church ever endorsed before this century came to dominate the minds of American evangelicals on scientific questions.40
First, young-earth creationism did not begin with Seventh Day Adventism and the writings of Ellen White (1827–1915). Terry Mortenson analyzed the writings of the “scriptural geologists” of the early 19th century. Many of their biblical and geological arguments against the old-earth geological theories developing at that time are identical to those used by modern young-earthers.41 George Young was the most accomplished of the “scriptural geologists.” A pastor and geologist, he published his first book defending the biblical account of the global flood in 1822 (five years before White was born) and his fullest treatment of the young-earth view, Scriptural Geology, in 1838 (when White was only 11). Obviously, Young did not receive his ideas from Ellen White.
In his zeal to blame young-earth creationism for a large portion of evangelical ills, Mark Noll also ignored common sense. By claiming that young-earth creationism was founded on the teachings of Ellen White, he committed the logical error known as the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy occurs when one confuses the origin of a view with the truth of the view. It may be a good strategy in a courtroom (i.e., discrediting the witness), but it has no bearing on truth or the validity of an argument. If a discredited witness said that “2+2=4” the statement is still true, even though the witness may be lying or mistaken about other things. Clearly Noll’s reasoning here is not logical. Whether or not young-earth creationism began with Ellen White would have no bearing on its truth or falsity. Furthermore, White was taking Genesis 1–11 as literal history just like scriptural geologists did and just as the vast majority of the Church had for the first 18 centuries. Young-earth creationism is nothing new. Rather, old-earth creationism is the novelty and fatally flawed interpretive scheme.
Second, Noll’s claim that “no responsible Christian teacher” has ever endorsed young-earth creationism is simply false. Surely Martin Luther could be called a “responsible Christian teacher.” He made his position on the days of creation clear:
When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are. For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His Word in the direction you wish to go.42
Luther was not the only “responsible Christian teacher” in Church history who believed the days of Genesis 1 were literal 24-hour days and the earth was approximately 6,000 years old. John Calvin wrote:
For it is not without significance that he divided the making of the universe into six days, even though it would have been no more difficult for him to have completed in one moment the whole work together in all its details than to arrive at its completion gradually by a progression of this sort.43
In this statement, Calvin explicitly denied an instantaneous creation, which was a view in his day. Calvin’s use of the word day was obviously referring to a normal day of 24 hours. For example, he wrote, “They will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universe.”44
As mentioned earlier, the early Church fathers Ambrose, Lactantius, and Methodius believed in a young earth. In fact, the majority of Church leaders throughout history have favored this view. This is why there is such a lack of discussion on the early chapters of Genesis in all of the early commentaries. There was no debate about it because the commentators took Genesis at face value and accepted the young-earth view. Mark Noll is seriously wrong on this entire point. Sadly, his book has influenced the Church significantly to reject the plain truth of Genesis. So just where is the scandalous misuse of the Christian mind?
God has chosen to reveal himself to man through various means, which can be divided into two categories: general and special revelation. General revelation consists of information that has been available to all people throughout all time. God’s creation and man’s conscience are sources of general revelation, according to Romans 1:18–20 and 2:14–15; Acts 14:15–17 and 17:24–29; Job 12:7–10; Psalm 19:1 and 97:6. Dr. Ross incorrectly claims that modern scientific discoveries are a source of general revelation. However, since this information was not readily available to all people in history, it cannot be. Special revelation consists of the Word of God. This includes the Bible and Jesus Christ when He walked the earth. General revelation confronts us with the existence and at least some of the characteristics of God. But nowhere does the Bible say that we can work out the history of the creation simply by studying the creation. According to Romans 1:20, general revelation can provide enough information to condemn a person. Only special revelation reveals to us that salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work. Obviously, both are helpful tools in evangelism but Christians must be careful to keep them in proper perspective.
Some old-earthers are guilty of elevating general revelation to the same level as special revelation. Ross contends:
God’s revelation is not limited exclusively to the Bible’s words. The facts of nature may be likened to a sixty-seventh book of the Bible… . Some readers might feel that I am implying that God’s revelation through nature is somehow on an equal footing with His revelation through the words of the Bible. Let me simply state that truth, by definition, is information that is perfectly free of contradiction and error. Just as it is absurd to speak of some entity as more perfect than another, so also one revelation of God’s truth cannot be held as inferior or superior to another.45
Even though Ross attempts to deny that he is placing general revelation on par with special revelation, he is doing exactly that. Ross also errs in what he calls general revelation, as he confuses his interpretation of nature with fact.
An important distinction must be made. God’s creation is suffering from 6,000 years of the Curse, while Scripture is “God-breathed” and therefore inerrant and not cursed (2 Tim. 3:16). General revelation cannot be “likened to a sixty-seventh book of the Bible” because nature is cursed. This does not mean that it cannot provide man with accurate information, but it does mean that it is not of the same caliber as God’s Word. One of Ross’s favorite Bible passages unmistakably illustrates this point. Psalm 19:1 pronounces, “
The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.” The Psalmist is speaking of general revelation here and says that it testifies to the existence and majesty of the Creator. Nevertheless, a few verses later, the Psalmist reveals that God’s Word is superior. “
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” (Ps. 19:7). Notice it is special revelation that is capable of “converting the soul.” Verses 9 and 10 of the same Psalm add that God’s judgments (part of special revelation) are to be desired more than gold and honey (part of general revelation).
The old-earth creationist has made another theological error in putting general and special revelation at the same level. In Matthew 24:35, Jesus stated, “
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” In this statement, “heaven and earth” are a part of general revelation. These things are going to “pass away” but Jesus specifically taught that His words, which are a part of special revelation, will never pass away. As such, it is impossible to liken nature “to a sixty-seventh book of the Bible.”
To this rebuttal, the old-earther may claim, as Walter Kaiser did, that the interpreter of God’s Word is also suffering from the Curse.46 This is true. But again, the argument proves too much. If he is trying to say that because of this no one can be sure of any interpretation, then he has just undermined his entire career as a seminary professor. If all he is trying to say is that the interpreter is fallible, then his argument still falls short. It would be far better for a fallible interpreter to attempt to interpret the infallible record, the Bible, than it would be for the same fallible interpreter to attempt to interpret a fallible record, such as a cursed world. Added to that, the vast majority of young-earthers are God-fearing people who want to interpret Scripture in a way that is pleasing to God. Old-earthers are relying on the interpretations of nature by people who for the most part are God-haters who could not care less about what God thinks of their interpretations. Only through the corrective lens of God’s infallible Word can one make proper sense of the cursed world.
Young-earth creationism clearly has the upper hand when only the Bible is consulted. This idea is bolstered by the comments of old-earthers such as Pattle Pun and Gleason Archer (quoted earlier), who admit that young-earth creationism seems to be the plain meaning of the biblical text—without considering “science.” As such, for old-earth views to be accepted as the proper interpretation of God’s Word, two things must be done.
First, since Scripture cannot contradict Scripture, old-earthers must show that the young-earth creationist view is at odds with other portions of Scripture. This has never been done. Young-earthers can point to several passages that become problematic when one adopts an old-earth interpretation of Genesis 1.47 As a result, young-earth creationism stands on solid theological ground, whereas old-earth creationism has been built on a sandy foundation.
Second, old-earthers must also show that their hermeneutic is just as sound, if not better, than the young-earth creationists’ hermeneutic. It has been demonstrated in this first section that old-earthers force interpretations on numerous passages, which cannot be defended from the context. In other words, just because a word, such as yom, can be interpreted to mean a long period of time in a few contexts does not mean that it should be interpreted that way in other contexts. Again, the context of the passage determines the meaning. This issue of context will come into play in even greater detail in the next section.
From what we have seen thus far, we can conclude that young-earth creationism has very strong scriptural support. It is based on sound exegesis of the text. On the other hand, old-earth creationism is based on eisegesis. In other words, the old-earther has to add his ideas to Scripture in order to come away with the desired interpretation. Young-earth creationism has easily won the first round of proceedings.