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Old-earth proponents’ own words indicate that evolutionary theories about the history and age of the earth and universe are the determining factor influencing their understanding of Genesis 1–11.
Many people think that Bible scholars and other Christian leaders or educators who accept millions of years and hold to the gap theory or day-age view or framework hypothesis or a localized Noachian Flood do so because of careful attention to the Biblical text in the original languages.1
However, the following old-earth proponents’ own words indicate that evolutionary theories about the history and age of the earth and universe are the determining factor influencing their understanding of Genesis 1-11. Error-prone and, in many cases, erroneous scientific interpretations about the unobserved past appear to have a higher authority for them than Scripture does. Consider these statements, made by Christian scholars who all avowedly affirm that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. All of these scholars are clear that they accept the millions of years or, at least, lean quite strongly in that direction. But some of them are not clear about precisely which old-earth interpretation of Genesis they favor. That is why I say in some cases that someone “apparently favors” a particular view.
Dr. Gleason Archer (Old Testament professor), a staunch defender of the integrity and historicity of Scripture, nonetheless advocated the day-age view:
“From a superficial reading of Genesis 1, the impression would seem to be that the entire creative process took place in six twenty-four-hour days. If this was the true intent of the Hebrew author . . . this seems to run counter to modern scientific research, which indicates that the planet Earth was created several billion years ago.”2
Actually, it is not just a superficial reading that leads one to the young-earth view. As Archer later notes, Genesis 1 “reads like perfectly straightforward history.”3 Careful exegesis supports the same conclusion. Unfortunately, Dr. Archer never interacted with the best creationist exegesis in his very brief arguments for the day-age view. His main biblical argument was that too much happened on the sixth day for it to be a literal 24-hour day. And so none of the days of creation could have been literal. For a refutation of his argument, see the middle of this article: “Are (Biblical) Creationists “Cornered”?.”
Dr. James Montgomery Boice (pastor and Bible scholar) rejected theistic evolution, but he also rejected the Flood as the cause of most of the fossil record. He had doubts about the gap theory and saw problems with the day-age view and framework hypothesis. So, he was not sure how to harmonize the Bible with millions of years. He stated:
“We have to admit here that the exegetical basis of the creationists is strong. . . . In spite of the careful biblical and scientific research that has accumulated in support of the creationists’ view, there are problems that make the theory wrong to most (including many evangelical) scientists . . . . Data from various disciplines point to a very old earth and an even older universe.”4
Dr. Meredith Kline (Old Testament professor), advocate of the “framework hypothesis,”5 who believes Adam was a historical person but rejects the literal history of Genesis 1 and Genesis 6–9, even entertaining the possibility that Adam evolved from some ape-like creature:
“In this article I have advocated an interpretation of biblical cosmogony according to which Scripture is open to the current scientific view of a very old universe and, in that respect, does not discountenance the theory of the evolutionary origin of man. But while I regard the widespread insistence on a young earth to be a deplorable disservice to the cause of biblical truth, I at the same time deem commitment to the authority of scriptural teaching to involve the acceptance of Adam as an historical individual, the covenantal head and ancestral fount of the rest of mankind, and the recognition that it was the one and same divine act that constituted him the first man, Adam the son of God (Luke 3:38), that also imparted to him life (Gen. 2:7).”6
Dr. Gordon Lewis (theology professor) and Dr. Bruce Demarest (theology professor), apparently favor the day-age view. They admit:
“At first reading the creation account seems to indicate that these six days of creative activity were twenty-four hours each.”7
Nevertheless, they conclude that:
“ultimately, responsible geology must determine the length of the Genesis days.”8
We can only wonder how these theologians know when geologists are doing “responsible” geology. They do not say in their theology book quoted above, but they apparently assume that the majority of geologists over the past 200 years have been doing responsible geology in their dogmatic proclamation of millions of years as proven fact.
Dr. Pattle Pun (biology professor at a Christian college), a progressive creationist who rejects the straightforward understanding of Genesis 1–11 (although he does not accept biological evolution, he does accept the millions of years of universe and earth history):
“It is apparent that the most straightforward understanding of the Genesis record, without regard to all of the hermeneutical considerations suggested by science, is that God created heaven and earth in six solar days, that man was created in the sixth day, that death and chaos entered the world after the Fall of Adam and Eve, that all of the fossils were the result of the catastrophic universal deluge which spared only Noah’s family and the animals therewith.”9
Dr. Pun’s phrase, “without regard to all of the hermeneutical considerations suggested by science,” indicates that he regards the conclusions of the majority of contemporary scientists (which he misleadingly equates with “science”) as authoritative. Thus, science, in his view, requires a metaphorical approach to the interpretation of Genesis 1.
Dr. Bruce Waltke (Old Testament professor), who advocates the “framework hypothesis” and theistic evolution:
“The days of creation may also pose difficulties for a strict historical account. Contemporary scientists almost unanimously discount the possibility of creation in one week, and we cannot summarily discount the evidence of the earth sciences.”10
In a video clip posted on the BioLogos website on March 24, 2010, and then withdrawn around April 2, 2010, Dr. Waltke made the following statement, clearly aligning himself with a theistic evolution position quite similar to that promoted by BioLogos:
“I think that if the data is overwhelming in favor of evolution, [then] to deny that reality will make us a cult, some odd group that’s not really interacting with the real world, and rightly so.”11
Dr. Waltke is certainly correct that no evidence should be summarily discounted. To do so would not be the intellectually responsible way for a Christian to deal with the issue. The problem is that Dr. Waltke does not seem to recognize the difference between evidence or data on the one hand and the interpretation of the evidence or data on the other. After careful, thorough scrutiny of the assumptions and logic used by evolutionary cosmologists, geologists, and biologists in their interpretations of their selected data, young-earth creation scientists have rejected the evolutionists’ interpretation of the evidence and then written many critiques of those evolutionary arguments in technical scientific journal articles and full-length books.12 So, creation scientists (and the Christians who seriously consider their writings) are most definitely not “summarily discounting the evidence” for evolution and millions of years or failing to “really interact with the real world.” Dr. Waltke does not appear to have considered carefully the well-reasoned creationist responses to the geological and cosmological theories of millions of years and the evolutionary story for the origin of all the variety of plants and animals.
Dr. John Sailhamer (Old Testament professor), who advocates that Genesis 1:1 speaks of the creation of everything sometime in the remote past (a kind of gap-theory), but from Genesis 1:2 onwards the text describes the creation of the Garden of Eden (and the creatures in and around it), which he equates with the land of Canaan (i.e., the Promise Land):
“I’m convinced that the arguments I cite . . . not only point the way to a proper understanding of the first two chapters of Genesis, but they also enable us to live in peace with the findings of modern science.”13
Dr. Wayne Grudem (theology professor), who apparently leans toward the day-age view:
“Although our conclusions are tentative, at this point in our understanding, Scripture seems to be more easily understood to suggest (but not to require) a young earth view, while the observable facts of creation seem increasingly to favor an old earth view.”14
Dr. J. P. Moreland (philosophy professor), who also apparently leans toward the day-age view:
“The date of creation is a difficult question, but on exegetical grounds alone, the literal twenty-four-hour-day view is better. However, since the different progressive creationist views are plausible exegetical options on hermeneutical grounds alone, then if science seems to point to a universe of several billions of years, it seems allowable to read Genesis in this light.”15
Dr. Millard Erickson (theology professor), who leans toward the day-age view:
“At present, the view which I find most satisfactory is a variation of the age-day theory. There are too many exegetical difficulties attached to the gap theory, while the flood theory involves too great a strain upon the geological evidence.”16
Dr. Kenneth Mathews (Old Testament professor), who seems to favor the day-age view and appears to view Noah’s Flood as localized in the Middle East (even though he admits that the language of Genesis 6–9 seems to be clearly describing a global flood):
“. . . Christianity is a comprehensive worldview that integrates and explains how all truth, regardless of source, is God’s truth. This is not to say, however, that the Bible comments on physical mechanisms in such a way that specific correlations with modern reconstruction can be made conclusively. Rather, scientific discovery adds to our sensibilities in the hermeneutics of a literal versus non-literal interpretation. Because we have a knowledge of our universe that exceeds that of our predecessors, we are in a better position to recognize in the Bible phenomenological descriptions of our world (e.g., Ps 93:1b; Eccl 1:5). . . . Early Jewish and Christian interpreters were troubled that it took God seven days to create the world, whereas modern interpreters are puzzled by the brevity of creation in light of geology’s testimony to the age of the earth.”17
Dr. Norman Geisler (philosopher and seminary president), who apparently leans toward the day-age view:
“The problem is deepened by the fact that there is prima facie evidence to indicate that the days of Genesis are indeed twenty-four-hour periods....18 The Scientific Evidence for Long Days. Most scientific evidence sets the age of the world at billions of years. The age of the universe is based on the speed of light and the distance of the stars as well as the rate of expansion of the universe.19 Early rocks have been dated in terms of radioactivity and set at billions of years old.20 Simply given the rate that salt runs into the sea21 and the amount of salt there would suggest multimillions of years.”22
Dr. C. John Collins (Old Testament professor), who advocates the “anthropomorphic days” view, which is similar to the day-age view, states:
“First, it is true that modern geology does not depend on Scripture (it isn’t true that it ignores it, though: many works cite James Ussher’s chronology for the world). But this is a far cry from saying that it sets itself in opposition to the Bible. In fact, most of the pioneering geologists in early nineteenth-century England were pious Anglicans—some were clergy. It would only be right to say that geology opposes Scripture if we were sure that Scripture requires us to believe that the world is young—and the early geologists thought the Bible gave room for other possible interpretations.”23
Dr. Collins’s statement is inaccurate and misleading in two ways. First, modern evolutionary geology most certainly does ignore Scripture because it considers the Bible completely irrelevant to the task of reconstructing the past history of the Earth. And evolutionary geologists completely reject the global Flood of Noah’s day and the biblical chronology. It is hard to imagine how evolutionary geologists could be more opposed to the Scriptures. I have met many Christians who have described the hostility toward the Bible that they have witnessed in geology courses, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.
Second, the early nineteenth century clergy-geologists (such as the Anglicans William Buckland, Adam Sedgwick, and William Conybeare), who advocated millions of years, never showed from the biblical text how their views of earth history were consistent with Scripture.24 While they may have been pious in the sense of a moral life, faithful church attendance, and faith in Christ as Savior, they failed to properly handled (and essentially ignored) the Word of God given in Genesis. The Great Turning Point provides a more accurate understanding of the early nineteenth century old-earth geologists, as well as of the “scriptural geologists” at that time who raised strong biblical, geological, and philosophical arguments against the various old-earth views and Christian compromise views.
Dr. Collins continues at the end of his section on geology with the following statement after discussing briefly the work of Steve Austin (a prominent young-earth geologist) and G. Brent Dalrymple (a leading evolutionary geologist) on radiometric dating:
“There are plenty of technical details on both sides [of radiometric dating and the question of the age of the earth], and I don’t pretend to know how to assess them. However, I am confident in saying that Dalrymple has played fair with people he disagrees deeply with—he has read Austin’s material and measured it against reasonable criteria for a technical work.25 He found it wanting because it did not meet the criteria. It therefore doesn’t look to me like Austin’s claim to call into question radiometric dating should carry much weight with us. I conclude, then that I have no reason to disbelieve the standard theories of the geologists, including their estimate for the age of the earth. They may be wrong, for all I know; but if they are wrong, it’s not because they have improperly smuggled philosophical assumptions into their work.”26
This statement is problematic in several ways. First, since Dr. Collins admits that he is unqualified to assess the technical arguments either Dalrymple or Austin make, both of whom are PhD geologists, his confidence in the claims of Dalrymple is unwarranted. The basis of his confidence appears to be little more than that there are more people who agree with Dalrymple than with Austin. Second, Dr. Collins’s assertion that standard geological theories have not “improperly smuggled philosophical assumptions into their work” is difficult to interpret. If he means that evolutionary geologists evaluate scientific evidence based on their philosophical presuppositions and it is not improper to do so, then it is true, for no scientist can interpret scientific evidence without presuppositions. But then the critical point is that those philosophical assumptions of the secular geologists are not consistent with, but quite contrary to, biblical revelation. Creationist geologists openly declare that they are using biblical presuppositions in their interpretation of the evidence.
On the other hand, if Dr. Collins means that standard evolutionary geologists are operating without philosophical preconceptions, then he is mistaken, as the article “Philosophical Naturalism and the Age of the Earth: Are They Related?” reveals. In either case, Dr. Collins has not given sufficient attention in his book on faith and science to the fact that all interpretations of geological evidence (or any other scientific evidence) are influenced and controlled by the investigator’s preconceptions (which proceed in significant measure from his religious/philosophical worldview).
It is puzzling that Dr. Collins admits that evolutionary geologists may be wrong about the age of the earth for all he knows, and yet he rejects the arguments of Bible-believing creationist geologists (with earned PhDs from secular universities) showing why old-earth geological theories are wrong. But he accepts old-earth geological theories as determinative in his interpretation of Scripture. As a Bible scholar with no training in geology or the history of geology, Dr. Collins’ bold rejection of the arguments of young-earth creationist PhD geologists (many, not just Dr. Austin alone) should not carry weight with Christians. Also, Dr. Collins’ book (2003) was published two years prior to the publication of the results of eight years of research on radiometric dating by an international team of well qualified creation scientists.27 Christians need to consider carefully what Bible-believing creation scientists are saying.
The Christian scholars cited above and many other evangelical scholars and leaders during the past 200 years all say basically the same thing in different words.28 In essence, they are teaching the church that science is the final authority in determining the correct interpretation of some or all of Genesis 1–11, or at least that science is the final authority in determining that the young-earth view must be wrong. Therefore, they think, Bible scholars are free to advocate all kinds of alternative interpretations, no matter how exegetically weak they may be.
But in their discussions on this topic (and as seen in most of the quotes above) they consistently refer to “science” or “findings” or “data” or “research” or “evidence” or “facts.” These men would be quick to assert the impossibility of interpretive neutrality when it comes to exegesis of the rest of Scripture and to the development of theology. But none of them seems to understand that what they are using to help them interpret the Bible are not scientific facts or data, but rather evolutionary interpretations of some of the facts or data, and that those interpretations are based on anti-Biblical philosophical presuppositions or assumptions.
Does it matter that we understand and grasp this distinction? Yes, it does! Paul warned Timothy to “guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’—which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20–21). Many things that are called “knowledge” or “truth” are really not true. Failure to discern the false “truth” can lead any of us astray.
Paul also warned the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Paul did not give warnings in vain. He knew that it was a very real possibility that Christians, even pastoral leaders like Timothy, could be led astray by false philosophy disguised as truth. Elsewhere Paul told the Corinthian believers that we are in a great war:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3–4).
Paul also warned in 2 Corinthians 11:3:
“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”
How was Eve deceived? In Genesis 3:1–6, we see that first the serpent questioned God’s Word, and then he outright denied it. Satan is still doing that in all our minds today. So, we must not be led astray. We must have a simple (child-like, but not simplistic or childish) and pure devotion to Christ and to His Word.
We are in a great battle for the minds of men and women and boys and girls. To win, we must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, which means taking every thought captive to the teaching of His Word.
We must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, which means taking every thought captive to the teaching of His Word.
Good, sincere Christians (including me and my Answers in Genesis associates and the authors I’ve quoted here) can be led astray from some point of biblical teaching and can unknowingly and unintentionally lead others astray. Paul predicted this would happen with the elders of the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:28–32). In this passage Paul says that even some of the pastoral leaders of that church would fall into error and lead people away from Scriptural truth.
On one occasion before Christ died, the apostle Peter became a mouthpiece for Satan, despite Peter’s sincerest intentions to the contrary. Jesus told His disciples that He was heading to Jerusalem where He would be killed and then be raised from the dead on the third day. When Peter protested that this would never happen to Him, Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23). We might be inclined to excuse Peter because this incident occurred before Jesus’s resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit to lead Peter into the truth (John 16:13) and to give him the power to proclaim the gospel (Acts 1:8).
But not long after Peter was indwelt by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), Peter became compromised with the gospel-subverting errors of the Jewish-Christian legalists. Paul had to publicly confront Peter for his error, and Paul left us an inspired description of that rebuke in Galatians 2:11–14. He wrote:
“But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’”
The apostle Peter was the only disciple who had the faith to walk on water to Jesus in a storm (Matthew 14:25–32). He was privileged to see Jesus transfigured in all His glory (Mark 9:2–8). Peter was chosen to give the birthday sermon of the church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and he led the first Gentiles to Christ (Acts 10). But note in Galatians 2 that because of the fear of man (i.e., fear of what others thought of him—or peer pressure), this great apostle fell into hypocrisy and subtle compromise and thereby undermined the gospel and led others to do the same (quite contrary to his sincere intentions). The fear of man always brings a snare, but those who trust the Lord and therefore trust His Word are kept safe (Proverbs 29:25).
Since good orthodox Christians (even leaders, like Peter) can be wrong (even deceived), we must always be like the Berean Jews in Acts 17:11 who tested Paul’s words against Scripture to see if they were truthful. We must test all truth claims by the Word of God, even if (and perhaps especially if) they are made by godly Christian leaders and scholars. God’s Word must be the final authority on all matters about which it speaks! No man is without error. We all have feet of clay (myself included). Actually, the Bible says we are 100% clay (Isaiah 64:8). We need to heed God’s words in Isaiah 66:1–2:
Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”
Only if we tremble at the Word of God are we truly humble. God has spoken. Let us tremble. Let us not be ashamed of His Word but boldly proclaim and defend its truth, from the very first verse, in these days when it is so much under attack from so many directions.