Answers in Genesis is often criticized by fellow Christians for stating that the only correct way to read Genesis 1 is as a historical account which teaches that God created everything in six 24-hour days. We firmly believe that this interpretation comes from the text and not by imposing outside ideas such as uniformitarian geology, evolution, or ancient Near Eastern literature on it. Recently, in Foundation: An International Journal of Evangelical Theology,1 Pastor John James2 took exception to our dogmatic approach toward Genesis 1. In his introduction James says that the message and ministry of AiG’s life-size replica of Noah’s Ark at the Ark Encounter themed attraction, is
cause for considerable concern, amounting to an unnecessarily dogmatic approach to a particular reading of these chapters, supported by a pseudo-science that struggles under scrutiny.
To accuse fellow Christians of participating in “pseudo-science” is a serious charge. Does this mean that the many PhD scientists3 in the fields of geology, paleontology, astronomy, biology, and so on who affirm belief in a young-earth creation (YEC) are “pseudo-scientists”?
Not once in his paper does James ever define what he means by “science.”
Yet not once in his paper does James ever define what he means by “science.” He also fails to note the important difference between two significantly different types of science: historical science and observational science. Historical science seeks to reconstruct the unrepeatable, unobservable past by looking at the evidence of the past events that produced what we see in the present. And such historical reconstructions are very dependent on a scientist’s belief system or worldview. On the other hand, observational science uses repeatable, observable, testable experiments to find out how things in the present world operate so that we can find cures for disease or produce new technology or make other scientific advancements. Evolutionary scientists even recognize this distinction.4 The age of the earth is part of historical, not observational, science.5 Interestingly, Mark Harrison, a geologist from UCLA, recently admitted that the evolutionary model of how the earth was formed is based upon a worldview and not evidence. He said,
There is absolutely not a single scrap of observational evidence that requires that scenario ever took place. We as a scientific community created an origin myth that has no more intellectual value than 1 Genesis [sic]. . . . Although we’re very quick to criticize those that operate on faith, that’s exactly what we did.6
This is important since, in terms of worldview analysis, we have a research scientist from UCLA admitting that scientists have basically made up the history of planet earth, a history that is taught throughout the education system and has sadly become “proven science” in the minds of the public. The long-age, evolutionary story of planet earth (indeed the whole universe) is not based on observational evidence but is part of a secular faith (i.e. religion) that denies supernatural revelation.
The main point of this paper is to examine two lines of investigation, which led Pastor James to believe that Christians should hold a non-dogmatic approach to the age of the earth:
The first line of investigation is the author’s intention in the text of Genesis 1: Is it the writer’s intention to dogmatically assert an age for the earth at all? The second line of investigation is the history of biblical interpretation: To what extent has a specific age for the earth been asserted dogmatically, on the basis of Scripture, throughout the history of the church?
My response to James’ paper will focus on these two main points. Nevertheless, I should point out that his paper is ultimately disappointing since it does not engage on a serious level with YEC argumentation from scholarly literature as to why the YEC view is the biblical one. But, sadly, this is quite typical among old-earth creationists. For example, in his argument James uses the work of Kirsten Birkett who likewise caricatures and fails to interact with scholarly YEC literature.7
Genesis 1 and Authorial Intent
In asking what the author intends in his writing of Genesis 1, James states,
My intention in this paper is not to seek to give some kind of definitive answer to that question. But I do want us to see that because in Genesis 1 the question is such a complex one, without any easy answers, it demands a non-dogmatism, that leaves us asserting the plain things as the main things, whilst remaining students of the rest.
While there may be points of consideration in Genesis 1, to say that it is complex is an exaggeration. In fact, this statement is a result of his attempt to accommodate Genesis 1 with an old earth. Yet, in seeking to understand the biblical author’s (i.e., Moses’8) intention in Genesis 1, all James really does is argue that there are Christian scholars who hold to inerrancy and aim to be faithful to the text while also advocating one of the various old-earth views.
For others, just because “day means day” does not mean a “concordist” approach is necessary. Instead, there are many clues within the text of Scripture that suggest a “non-concordist” or “non-sequential” reading may be required.
James mentions a number of these other readings, such as the “literary framework view,” “analogical view,” “cosmic temple view,” or “that Genesis 1 seems to both echo and counter other Ancient Near Eastern creation stories.” All of these positions, however, have been answered by YEC before.9 James goes on to argue that the
question of who is reading the text most “literally” is obsolete, because in each case a theory is being developed, by examining the text carefully in its context, and seeking to discern what the author “literally” intended to communicate.
However, this is not the case. For example, in his advocacy of the framework hypothesis, Meredith Kline admits that it did not come from an understanding of the Genesis text but from trying to accommodate modern secular scientific dogma.10 The motivation behind the framework view, and other views,11 is not the biblical text but rather the accommodation of an old earth or evolution.
On the other hand, the YEC reading (the plain reading12) of Genesis 1:1–2:3 is that the text describes events that took place in six chronological 24-hour days that occurred in time-space history.13 Genesis 1:1–2:3 then “should be read as other Hebrew narratives are intended to be read—as a concise report of actual events in time-space history.”14 This is the natural exegesis of the text and the one that is meant by the author. For example, even the neo-orthodox theologian, James Barr, former Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, admitted this in reference to Genesis:
In fact the only natural exegesis is a literal one, in the sense that this is what the author meant . . . he was deeply interested in chronology and calendar.15
When it is read this way, it is clear what the author is asserting, namely, that God created everything in one week. Using other passages that speak to the same topic assists in determining the proper interpretation, since Scripture will never contradict itself. Exodus 20:11 and 31:17 make it clear that the events of Genesis 1:1–2:3 occurred in six days, just as the text plainly reads. Additionally, the passage informs us that mankind was created on Day Six (Genesis 1:26–31), and Jesus confirmed this (Mark 10:6).16
From understanding the genealogies, as continuous with no chronological gaps,17 in Genesis 5 and 11 then this seven-day week would have occurred a little over 6,000 years ago.18 Even scholars today would recognize this.19
Genesis 1 and Church History
Pastor James moves onto the question of the interpretation of Genesis 1 throughout church history. Quoting the work of theologian Robert Letham, he argues,
that interpretations of Genesis 1 are many and varied, with no suggestion that a reading of the timescale as solar days20 is the obvious interpretation.
For James, church history offers us many “contrasting interpretations” that are “offered tentatively.” In fact, even though he recognizes that John Calvin believed the earth was young, James argues:
But what is striking is that, though it would have been commonplace [in Calvin’s day] to believe the earth was young, there is not a requirement to interpret Genesis 1 accordingly, or a universal insistence that one interpret the six days as solar days. The point is simply this: regardless of the prevailing geo-chronology of the day, there is a widespread conviction that the author of Genesis 1 is not intending to tell us the age of the earth.
In actuality for much of church history—both before and after the Reformation—the days of creation have been understood as a chronological sequence of 24-hour days. For example, even the first century Jewish historian Josephus understood the creation account in Genesis as historical, of which he said, “In just six days the world, and all that is therein, was made.”21
The conflict over the age of the earth is not new but has always been a debate between pagans and Christians.
The early church father Theophilus of Antioch wrote, “All the years from the creation of the world [to Theophilus’s day] amount to a total of 5,698 years.” Interestingly, Theophilus goes on to say of the chronology of the world set forth by the Greeks: “yet not of thousands and tens of thousands, as Plato and Apollonius and other mendacious authors have hitherto written.”22 The conflict over the age of the earth is not new but has always been a debate between pagans and Christians (until, that is, Christians in the early 19th century started to believe what non-Christian geologists said about the age of the creation rather than believing God’s Word23).
Other early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, believed the days of creation represented the future history of the world (of 1,000 years for each creation day), yet still believed that the days of Genesis 1 themselves were literal days.24 Lactantius (AD 250–325) believed that the days in Genesis were six consecutive solar days. Likewise, Basil, the Bishop of Caesarea (AD 370–379), also believed this, saying that the words are to be understood by their plain meaning and not to be allegorized.25 The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) also agreed with six-day creation, as shown in his classic Summa Theologica.26 The Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin (see below) accepted the days in Genesis as 24-hour days as did John Wesley, who said concerning the age of the earth:
the Scripture being the only Book in the World, that gives us any Account, of the whole Series of God’s Dispensations toward Man from the Creation for four thousand Years.27
The history of the church’s teaching on the days of creation lends extremely strong support to the 24-hour view being the correct interpretation of Scripture.
What about those who held to a figurative reading of Genesis 1? James rightly recognizes that Origen and Augustine interpreted Genesis figuratively, but he fails to ask the reason why. Both Origen and Augustine were influenced by neo-Platonic philosophy. Due to the outside influence of neo-Platonic philosophy, as well as a faulty Latin translation of Genesis 2:4 and his not knowing Hebrew, Augustine believed that creation was instantaneous. Furthermore, Augustine also believed in a global Flood and the great ages of the patriarchs in Genesis 5 and 11.28 While both Origen and Augustine did not believe that the days were literally 24 hours, they also did not believe the earth to be ancient, but rather less than 10,000 years old.29 For example, Augustine said the following of those who ascribe to a world of great age:
Those who hold such opinions are also led astray by some utterly spurious documents which, they say, give a historical record of many thousand years, whereas we reckon, from the evidence of the holy Scriptures, that fewer than 6,000 years have passed since man’s first origin.30
To use Origen and Augustine in order to justify not taking the days as 24 hours in Genesis 1 is unwarranted for two reasons. First, they did not believe the days were long periods of time or that the earth was millions of years old. Second, their interpretation of the creation account in Genesis was influenced largely by Greek philosophy, just as many scholars today have been influenced by a worldly philosophy (evolutionary naturalism).
Moreover, while James says that there was no insistence in Calvin’s day to interpret the days as 24-hours, he fails to see that both Calvin and Luther argued against the prevailing view of creation held in their own day. Both Calvin31 and Luther32 affirmed that it took six days to create the world, over and against the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching (influenced by Augustine) that the world was made in one moment.
James then moves to his second historical point:
A growing conviction that the earth was older than first thought emerged, not with the advent of Darwinian evolution, but before that, with the advent of modern geology.
However, YEC have known this historical fact for decades. More recently Mortenson has documented the writings of the “scriptural geologists” in the early nineteenth century who wrote against the idea of millions of years of earth history that was developing at the time. Many of their biblical and geological arguments are similar to the ones used by YEC today.33 Unfortunately, James accepts the uniformitarianism of James Hutton (1726–1797) and Charles Lyell (1797–1875), seemingly unaware of Lyell’s anti-biblical agenda in his desire “to free the science [of geology] from Moses.”34 This is because James relies heavily upon old earth creationists Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley’s work The Bible, Rocks and Time.35 These old-earth geological arguments, however, have long been refuted. Moreover, uniformitarianism has nothing to do with observation or the evidence, but scoffers believe it to avoid interpreting geological evidence in light of the catastrophic processes during and as a result of Noah’s Flood (2 Peter 3:3–6).36
James then goes on to make some astonishing claims:
It is as Darwinian evolution begins to make it intellectually acceptable to be an atheist that a young-earth creationist reaction also emerges. It is only as Darwinian evolution is employed to deliberately undermine the plain truth of Scripture that the debate becomes polemical, and the requirement for a more dogmatic adherence to a literal six days is asserted.
A key milestone is when the founder of the Seventh Day Adventists, Ellen Gould White (1827–1915), in 1864, “claimed to have visions from God about the creation of the world in six literal days as well as of a global Deluge that buried all life and produced the fossils.”
It is simply revisionist history to state that YEC is a reaction to Darwinian evolution. Moreover, the attempt to associate YEC with Seventh Day Adventism and the writings of Ellen White is very misleading. As has already been shown above, the belief that the days of Genesis 1 were 24 hours and that the earth was only a few thousand years old has been the dominant position throughout church history. Furthermore, the “scriptural geologists,” were around before Ellen White. One example is George Young, a pastor and geologist and one of the most competent of the “scriptural geologists.”37 Young’s first book defending the global Flood was published in 1822 (five years before White was born), and his most comprehensive work on YEC was published in 1838 (when White was 11). Young and others were in no way influenced by Ellen White. The idea that YEC is a modern interpretation or that it is a response to evolution is patently false.
Death and Suffering
James points out,
The approach I am taking will leave many questions unanswered. For example, exegetical difficulties around the historicity of the rest of Genesis 1–11, the extent of the flood, the existence of death before the fall . . . are not resolved even if a non-dogmatism in relation to the age of the earth can be established.
This is only partly true, as these issues can never be resolved if you hold to an old earth. The only way to resolve them is by accepting the consistent biblical view—i.e., YEC.
Given his acceptance of old-earth geology, the issue of death and suffering is a major problem.
Given his acceptance of old-earth geology, the issue of death and suffering is a major problem. The belief in an old earth is based upon uniformitarian geology, which understands the fossil record to have been laid down over millions of years. Yet the fossil record contains evidence of death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, violence, and extinction. To accept millions of years of animal death before the Creation and Fall of man undermines the Bible’s teaching that Adam’s sin brought death and suffering into the whole creation (Genesis 3:14–19; Romans 8:19–22; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22). It also contradicts the Scriptures about the full redemptive work of Christ in creation (Acts 3:21; Colossians 1:15–20, Revelation 22:3).
Understanding that the world was supernaturally created by God in six 24-hour days, that sin and death (i.e., moral evil and natural evil) came about through Adam’s disobedience, and that God judged the world with a global Flood is essential for a coherent, logical, and internally consistent theological understanding of the biblical message of Creation, the Fall, and redemption (Matthew 24:37–39; Romans 5:12–19, 8:19–22; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 45–50; Colossians 1:20; 2 Peter 3:3–6).
In his conclusion James states:
A ministry that seeks to prove as irrefutable something the Bible is not asserting one way or the other is picking a fight in entirely the wrong place.
Had James taken the time to read and interact meaningfully with what YEC actually believe, by interacting with some of the many books and articles written by leading young-earth creationists (both Bible scholars and scientists), including those at Answers in Genesis, then he would have realized that his two points are badly mistaken and have been answered long ago.
Sadly, there are too many pastors in the church in the UK and in every other country who, like Pastor James, have been influenced by old-earth arguments and therefore see the interpretation of Genesis 1 as a side issue. Interestingly, Affinity, the organization James is writing for, was started by the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (then known as the British Evangelical Council). Today, we need more men like the MLJ (himself a YEC) who will stand up and boldly preach and teach with confidence the biblical account of Creation, the Fall, and the Flood. For this reason I would encourage pastors and lay people alike to consider attending our 2017 Mega Conference so that they can be equipped to deal with the issues of evolution and millions of years.