II An analysis of the basis for recent creation
The above presentation of Biblical, theological, logical, and scientific arguments is truly awesome and overwhelming on first acquaintance, unless you have a specialist background in certain fields. Modern society is increasingly anti-Christian and degenerate, and we Christians are rightly concerned about how to deal with it for ourselves, as well as for our children. Recent creationism sounds like what we want to hear, defending the faith and defeating the enemies at their own game. It presents the valid arguments for intelligent design in the origin of living things; shouldn’t that and recent creation of the universe be a package deal? If they are right about the origin of living things, they must be right about the origin of the universe. Amen, preach it brother!
So why do I disagree with virtually the entire recent-creation presentation above? Shouldn’t I support these brothers in the Lord who are laboring to defend and spread the gospel? I disagree with it because I believe it is wrong, however sincere and well-intentioned its advocates may be. And I am supporting them, by attempting to help them improve what I see as weaknesses that are counterproductive to their (and my) goal of supporting and strengthening faith in the Bible. Removing these flaws would strengthen their case. If this isn’t supporting them, what would be?
The advocates of recent creation make themselves and their position highly visible, and extensively criticize all who disagree with them, whether Christian or non-Christian. Yet they express surprise and offense when criticized, especially by Christians. If they don’t want to attract lightning, they should get down off the rooftop. And by writing this chapter, I will no doubt attract some lightning! We shall see.
Though none of them would say so, or even really think so, in practice many recent-creationists have a policy of employing anything that is anti-anti-creationist. If it comes to the “correct” conclusion, it must be right, and we should all support it. There are some who do not agree with this policy, but they seem to have little influence on the mass-marketed presentations.
Let us consider the points of the recent-creationist presentation in detail. First, we discuss the Biblical basis, which is summarized in sec. I, A.
A Evaluation of the Biblical basis of recent creationClaims of “literal interpretation” are often stated in connection with particular views on creation. There are at least eight viewpoints (and it could be further subdivided) whose advocates all claim to be literal interpretation of the Biblical creation account. They all consider their interpretation to be the simple, obvious, actual, and therefore literal, meaning of the text, as intended by God and the inspired author. This list is ordered from most conservative to most flexible, but by definition it does not include the liberal opinion that the Bible is a man-made, fallible collection of myths and legends. That is beyond the subject of this discussion.Literal interpretation
In this viewpoint, Gen. 1:1,2 is almost always included in the first day, though verse 1 could be an introductory comment and 2 could be before the first day. This is of course the recent-creation position.1 Six consecutive 24-hour days, about 6000 years ago
This covers the various gap theories, placing the beginning of the universe an indefinitely long time in the past, with the formation of the surface of the Earth and creation of life occurring recently.2 A long time interval after 1:1 and/or 2, then six 24-hour days recently
The viewpoint usually referred to by this name is the one popularized in C. I Scofield’s Study Bible in the early 20th century. This placed the geological ages in the gap, after which Satan rebelled, fell from heaven to earth, and destroyed the initial creation, which was then recreated and repopulated in six 24-hour days. This view is no longer popular, for various reasons, mostly connected with the conjectured effects of Satan’s fall.
But a time gap need not be connected with Satan’s fall. A fascinating variation is proposed by John Sailhamer, in his book Genesis Unbound. Dr. Sailhamer has impeccable credentials as a conservative Old Testament scholar, teaching at Northwestern College and Western Seminary, and has taught at Bethel Seminary, Philadelphia College of Bible, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He says he wrote the book to make the point that recent creation is not the only game in the Bible-believing town, and in fact it has some serious faults that bring unnecessary embarrassment to the cause of literal interpretation. His viewpoint, briefly, is that the universe, and the Earth, and all life on it, were created in Gen. 1:1, 2, during an indefinite time period. He rejects the Big Bang, but his reasons are the same as those of recent-creationists and are obviously influenced by their opinions (see II, C). He criticizes both Henry Morris and Hugh Ross (currently the best-known advocates of young- and old-Earth creation respectively)! The term translated “earth” in Gen. 1, Hebrew “erets,” can also refer to smaller areas than the entire planet; this is discussed later in connection with the Flood account.
Dr. Sailhamer believes the six days are not referring to creation of the entire world and life in it, but instead to the preparation of the land, to be the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve, and later the Promised Land of Canaan. That particular parcel of land was initially a desolate waste, but was transformed as the plants and animals were brought into it from elsewhere. At first hearing, this seems inconsistent with the account as we are accustomed to understanding it, but he has done his homework and the book carefully discusses each verse. Read the book if you want all the details. Furthermore, Dr. Sailhamer claims this is no novel interpretation he invented himself, but is the viewpoint taken by the earliest pre-New Testament rabbis, right back to intimations in the prophetic writings themselves. Therefore he claims that the concept of this being an account of the creation of the whole planet only arose later under the influence of Greek philosophy.
I do not accept Dr. Sailhamer’s entire position. But it does demonstrate that there are competent alternative viewpoints, and objections to recent creation that are not based on skeptical assumptions. In later sections we will discuss some of the details of the creation account, including more of Dr. Sailhamer’s comments. For now, it shows that the recent-creation interpretation is not necessarily obvious, simple, or even traditional!
Recent-creationists have so far only responded briefly to Dr. Sailhamer, as far as I am aware. In book reviews they belittle his views as just one man’s unfounded speculation. What else can they do?
These two are virtually equivalent, usually called “progressive creation,” or, to specifically distinguish it from recent creation, “long-age creation.” This is the politest way in which recent-creationists refer to this viewpoint. They have recently (Dr. John Morris, 1999) invented the less complimentary term “long-age semi-creationists” for those who hold this view.3 Non-consecutive 24-hour days, separated by long ages
4 Each day is an age; the “day-age” view
In this view the “beginning” when “God created the heavens and the earth” extends from the Big Bang about 15,000,000,000 years ago, to the formation of the solar system about 4,800,000,000 years ago. At that time the newly-formed Earth was “without form and void,” a sterile desolate planet but uniquely, providentially suited for the survival of life (ch. 6, II, A, 2). The six days are correlated with the geological ages, during which various categories of life were formed by direct acts of God. This is the position I have suggested (see ch. 6, II, B, 9).
There is a range of opinions among progressive creationists about Adam and Eve. Some do not consider them to be actual historical individuals, and this is used as an objection by recent-creationists against progressive creation. But many others, myself included, see no reason to deny the existence of Adam and Eve as historical individuals, as described many places in the Bible. They experienced a literal, historical temptation and Fall into sin, and were our ancestors. Those progressive creationists who deny this do so for other reasons; it is not inherent in progressive creation.
These two can fairly conveniently account for differences in sequence between Genesis and standard geology.5 Overlapping ages
6 Flexible sequence
7 Parable or allegory
The Genesis account is not meant to be actual history or science; it is topical, non-chronological, theological, an anti-idolatry polemic. It obviously has a parallel structure, with the first three days forming different realms, the next three days filling the same respective realms.
These two solve virtually all the problems of harmonizing the Bible and science, by making the two unrelated and therefore not in need of harmonizing. I feel they underestimate the overlap between the Bible and nature, but they have some good points, and help counterbalance an overestimate of the overlap. The fact that the account has a logical structure is not incompatible with its also containing historical information. God would be expected to work in a logical way.8 Days of revelation
God revealed the creation account to Moses in seven days.
This covers most of the products in the marketplace of literal interpretation of the creation account. I personally favor options 3 or 4. Now we need to discuss this interpretation in more detail.
The 24-hour interpretation is claimed to be the simple, obvious one, but it is not that simple when the details of the account are considered. In other words, it does not fit the context. This fact is betrayed by the many complex explanations that are required to try to make it simple!The length of the days of creation
In Gen. 1:11, 12, the third day, God said “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants….” In 22, the fifth day, He commands the sea animals and birds to multiply and fill their respective realms. In 24 and 25, the sixth day, He commands the land to produce creatures; there is not the explicit command to fill it, but this could be assumed by comparison with the previous day. In 2:8, 9 God planted a garden and caused it to grow. All of these do not sound like they were completed in a single day, so that is not a perspicuous, literal interpretation. It is difficult to imagine Moses thinking of them as occurring in a single day. And even if he did, what Moses thought on this particular point (as distinguished from what he taught) was not necessarily correct (see the discussion of language in ch. 5, I, F). This is of course a two-edged sword; if we could prove (we can’t) Moses was thinking long ages, that by itself does not prove that is correct either.
If we view Gen. 1 as a record of consecutive 24-hour days, then we must assume that the plants and animals were created in abundance throughout the whole world, instantly constituting a fully formed and functioning ecological system. But is that what it says? I don’t see that in my Bible. It is between the lines, if it is there at all; it is not the clear, perspicuous, literal meaning of these verses. It does not say “Abracadabra, poof! Let there instantly be a fully formed and functioning global ecosystem.” If God created multitudes of animals and birds already dispersed throughout the ocean, air, and land, He would not have needed to command them to multiply and fill those realms. That is almost identical to the command given to Adam and Eve in 1:28. God began the human race with a single pair, not instantly fully formed and functioning throughout the entire globe, so why claim that that is what He did with animals?
This reveals an unconscious contradiction in most recent-creationists’ thinking: they usually talk about a single original pair of each “kind,” yet also talk about a world that was instantly “fully formed and functioning.” If, as recent-creationists usually assume, He initially created only one pair of each “kind” (we won’t get side-tracked into defining that word!), then filling their respective ecological niches was not a matter of a single day, but a considerable number of years. The only question is how many digits there are in that number; at least more than one or two.
There is another factor that compounds this problem. Recent-creationists mostly consider the created “kinds” to be equivalent to a higher category than species, so that one original pair’s descendants not only spread geographically but diversified considerably into numerous present-day species. This would require still far more time, at least one or two more digits in addition to the ones already required in the previous paragraph. So we are up to at least four-digit numbers of years in one particular “day.”
One alternative view is the possibility that God instantly created sufficient creatures to make the Garden functional, and the command to fill the rest of the Earth was to be accomplished later. But this is barely possible even in a few hundred years, say from Adam to Noah, which according to the genealogies was at least 1600 years. Also, plants would spread slower than animals, which would spread slower than people. Thus for the rest of the world to be fit for people and animals to spread into from the Garden, the plants would need far more than a two-day head start. Be that as it may, it does not solve other problems.
In 2:19-23, all in the sixth day of ch. 1, we usually assume that Adam began with a pristine mind, a blank slate with no previous experience whatever. More about this assumption in a minute. Given this assumption, we must say he then learned a language for God to use to instruct him. In obedience to God’s instruction, he observed and named all the beasts of the field and birds of the air, noticed they all had mates, found no helper suitable for himself, slept, God took a rib and made a woman, and he then recognized her as his helper. Adam presumably gave the animals meaningful names, not just off-the-cuff nonsense labels. This required both language and observation. It takes time both for Adam to locate the creatures and for them to perform their various life functions. How fast could all the aspects of mating and reproduction become apparent? Was all this, and more, accomplished in the daylight hours of the same day in which Adam began his existence? Imagining such accomplishments in a single day becomes more incredible the more you think about it, no matter how intelligent Adam may have been and how much tutoring and lab assistance God gave him. It is of course not impossible for an almighty God, but the difficulty of accounting for it belies the claim that this is the simple, obvious, literal interpretation.The events of the sixth day
In 2:23, Adam says of Eve that “This is now bone of my bone…” The word translated “now” implies he had waited a long time; it is the same word used in 13:23; 29:34, 35; 30:20; 46:30, etc. Of course if you were created just this morning, a few hours would seem like a long time…
Notice particularly the necessity of language in this story. Adam, and Eve with an even later start, had a language. Could this have been instantly programmed into their brains? Meaning can only be based on experience; were they programmed with experience that had never really occurred? This means their minds were not initially a blank slate. This is taking “apparent age” (discussed below) to an amazing degree, which I have never seen a recent-creationist explicitly advocate. God expected them to understand His instructions that they be fruitful and multiply, and to know that plants yield fruit and seed. And He also expected them to know what death means; that is discussed below too.
This question grows more fascinating the further it is pursued. Exactly what capabilities were given to Adam at the moment of his creation, and how much care and teaching did God give him thereafter? Was his brain instantly able to decipher signals from his eyes? Was he able to sit, stand, walk, feed himself? What food did he find, and how? We are accustomed to picturing him as instantly mature and competent, but where does the text say this? If it is there, it is between the lines. Is God not capable of the care and feeding of Adam beginning from some pretty rudimentary beginnings? It will be fascinating to get to heaven and watch God’s home videos of the Garden of Eden.
Adding Eve and her learning process to the picture raises other questions. If, as the common interpretation tells us, Adam and Eve were fully formed and functioning mature adults from the moment of their creation, and she did not conceive before the Fall, then there cannot have been more than a very few days or even hours between those two events. Either that or they must have been created in a pre-puberty state. It is fascinating to speculate on the nature of a child who was conceived before the Fall. Would the child have inherited their sin nature, if they acquired it in the Fall after conception? So this could be construed as an argument either against any long time period before the Fall, or against their being mature at the moment of creation. But this is getting off the subject.
It is significant to note that all these questions are based on literal interpretation. The recent-creation scenario seems to require a lot of effort in getting around the plain meaning of the text, which is that some things happened that took some time. The literal-interpretation shoe is suddenly on the other foot from the one on whichrecent-creationists are accustomed to wearing it. In this case it is they who seem to be defending a particular interpretation of a word in conflict with the apparent clear meaning of the context. And if they invoke any purported scientific evidence in support of that (young-earth) interpretation, then they can be accused of “exalting science over scripture,” an epithet they are fond of applying to those who advocate positions different than their own.
On the basis of all these statements and details in the creation account, I firmly dispute recent-creationists’ claim to sole possession of the title “literal interpretation” for their viewpoint. In fact I personally strongly question their right to possession of it at all. But we have finished the description of the text, and are now comparing personal judgments, so the discussion is finished.
Some long-age advocates have stated that they feel the apparent meaning of the Genesis account is recent creation, and they base their long-age position solely on scientific considerations. I feel they concede too much. Recent-creationists place great emphasis on quoting such statements as discrediting the long-age position and the motives of its advocates. They stereotype all long-age advocates as rejecting literal interpretation. This is false.
But what about the word studies of the use of the Hebrew word “yom” elsewhere in the Old Testament? Does it always mean 24 hours when used with a number? There are a few arguable counter-examples, including Isa. 9:14; Hos. 6:2; Ps. 30:5. But this may be grasping at straws, and is not crucial.
The really significant point is that, as recent-creationists are fond of emphasizing, the creation account is a unique context; they fail to consider that this therefore might be an exception to its usage elsewhere in the rest of the Old Testament. There is also the additional factor of possible changes in the language over subsequent centuries between the writing of Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament. The word-study argument must always be stated in terms of “all other instances,” which in principle cannot be an airtight proof about this particular instance. I am willing to accept their assertion that in all other occurrences of yom plus a number the context clearly indicates a 24-hour day. But the context of the creation account points strongly to a different meaning, and the fact we are discussing this at all is an acknowledgment that this context does not make the meaning clear here. When recent-creationists invert the procedure and interpret the entire text of Gen. 1 and 2 in terms of a particular word, yom, they are being inconsistent.
Some authors point out that the grammatical phrase structure in Genesis 1, combining the word day with a number, is unusual, not the same as that used elsewhere for “the __th day.” But this is a technicality beyond my ability to evaluate. Perhaps some readers are qualified to pursue it, but I must set it aside.
As for the contention that if God meant long time periods then He would have used another word, I again concede incompetence in Hebrew. I have read comments by others, claiming that the proposed alternative word would not fit this case either. This point too must be set aside for now.
The creation account is given as the precedent on which the Sabbath command is based, in Exodus 20:11 and again in 31:17. Our Sabbath is a literal seventh day. I see two reasons that weaken the basis for insistence on a strict parallelism in time.The basis of the Sabbath command
First, the account of God working and resting is clearly an anthropomorphism, describing Him in terms of our experience, which does not apply to Him. He is often described in terms of arms, eyes, even feathers, which cannot be literally real. He neither gets tired nor rests, nor does He live within the confines of our time-bound existence. The Biblical reference to God resting from creation, Gen. 2:2, 3, can simply mean He finished and stopped, and this is precisely how it is explained in Heb. 4:3. As further evidence of this anthropomorphism, consider what “evening and morning” could possibly mean to God. The Creator of the universe is little affected by the rotations of this little planet; why should His activity be regulated by it? There was no one on Earth to witness day and night until animals on the fifth day and Adam and Eve on the sixth day. So His creation week cannot possibly be closely, or literally, comparable to our work week. This does not mean the parallel is meaningless, only that it is not precisely, literally equivalent.
Second, there are other commands in Ex. 23:10, 11 and Lev. 25:1-17 about 7 years and 50 years, 7 times 7 plus one. These are not explicitly related to the precedent of creation, but the use of the number 7 is at least suggestive. The Old Testament is full of symbols and types, so it is a matter of judgment what to take strictly literally. We Bible-believing Christians all agree that there is much in the Bible that is figurative, typical, and symbolical, and we also agree that sometimes there is some uncertainty in where to draw the line between this and the literal. There is a range for differences of opinion on where to draw that line. I do not hope to easily change others’ long-established opinion which has centuries of precedent. But neither do I accept it as infallible. I will say more about the “traditional” interpretation later.
Recent-creationists insist that the word “day” is defined in its first occurrence in 1:5, by its association with evening and morning. That may be its meaning there; but a word does not have to have the same meaning every time it is used, not even in the same passage. In this very passage, Gen. 2:4 refers to the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven, which must refer at least to six days. In John 1:10, the word “world” occurs three times in one verse, with apparently three different meanings. “Have” obviously has a double meaning in Mt. 13:12; 25:29. And the footnotes in many places tell us that there is a play on words in the original that is not apparent in the English translation. Once again, language is not reducible to a mathematical code.Evening and morning
Evening and morning may themselves have a symbolic, not necessarily literal, meaning. Psalm 90:5, 6 refers to grass sprouting in the morning and withering in the evening, which could hardly literally occur in the same day. This same Psalm, verse 4, states that “a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” God was the only witness of the first five days of Genesis 1, and most of the sixth. It is interesting to note that this is the only Psalm which is labeled as written by Moses, the author of Genesis.
Another argument recent-creationists use against equating Gen. 1:1 with the Big Bang and subsequent billions of years is that the Bible says the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day. Here Dr. Sailhamer enters with the assertion that the text says no such thing. What it actually says is that on the fourth day God did nothing, but only proclaimed the purpose for which the heavenly bodies had been created, thus stating explicitly that they were not created on the fourth day but earlier. Recent-creationists must first explain how there could be evening and morning with no sun the first three days, and they assert that there was a supernatural light source during that time interval. Furthermore, if they were not created until the fourth day, then what does 1:1 mean? If the sun, moon, and stars are not at least part of the heavens, what is? This is one of Dr. Sailhamer’s significant criticisms of the “simple, obvious, literal” interpretation.The fourth day
It may occur to an alert reader to ask to whom God proclaimed anything on the fourth day. The answer is that it is a comment to the reader after Moses, just the same as 2:24 which talks about a man leaving his father and mother when he gets married, which obviously did not apply to Adam and Eve.
A common alternative solution of this problem, proposed by advocates of long ages, is to interpret the fourth-day account as meaning the heavenly bodies became visible from the surface of the Earth due to the clearing of a previously cloudy atmosphere. This fits in with a reasonable scenario of the formation and cooling of the early Earth. But it still leaves me feeling a little awkward, constituting the most difficult aspect of a day-age interpretation. If the viewpoint is that of a hypothetical human observer on the surface of the Earth, then it is harder not to take evening and morning more literally, though it could still be a figurative expression. Dr. Sailhamer’s explanation seems much more straightforward.
All these considerations put together still do not lead clearly to a concept of several billion years. We don’t need them to do so. The point just is that once we escape from the 24-hour bottleneck in interpretation, there is no clear limit, and even billions of years are not ruled out by literal interpretation of the text. Theology is no longer constrained to a 24-hour interpretation. The time scale is left uncertain on the basis of the Scriptural text, and open to further information obtained from the study of nature. If nature seems to indicate billions of years, that does not create a conflict between theology and science.
How could God have made it any clearer that He really meant 24-hour days? That is an unanswerable question. The best response is, how could He have made it any clearer from the context that it does not (at least not necessarily) mean 24-hour days? And is there Biblical reason to think that it matters? The recent-creationist answer is, of course, that in their opinion all the above questions are still less convincing than the reasons for a 24-hour interpretation, and there are many reasons to think it matters, based on its connection with other theological issues. So we must move on to those issues. The first is perspicuity. Is it clear what an ordinary person, especially at the time it was initially spoken, would take to be the meaning of this passage, and is that necessarily the correct interpretation?Biblical perspicuity and authority
Assuming the arguable (but we won’t argue it right now) point that all Christian leaders from the early church to, say, the 19th century, believed in recent creation, must this be conclusive for us? The history of Christianity seems too full of too many widespread errors for this principle to be tenable; it leans perilously close to the Catholic elevation of tradition to a par with Scripture. See the comments at the end of ch. 5, I, F, on the significance of long-held opinions of church leaders. They are neither unimportant nor infallible. We must not lightly disregard them, but neither are we bound by them. Those leaders also believed the Earth was immovable at the center of the universe, and there were widespread beliefs about racial discrimination, slavery, monarchy, etc. Belief in a literal second coming of Christ was largely abandoned for centuries, but this is a prime tenet of many who use the traditional viewpoint as a support of the recent-creation interpretation. So it seems there is a double standard employed in invoking the authority of past church leaders. History gives scant encouragement to any statement that begins “God would never allow so many people to mistakenly believe….”
It is appropriate to ask why I think I and others in the late 20th century notice something in this passage that previous centuries of Bible scholars missed. That does seem presumptuous. On the interpretation of the creation account, I can only say that I have neither the time nor resources to see whether any earlier Bible scholars wondered about these verses that seem to refer to longer time periods. Surely some did, even if they left no record of it. I can only guess that they suppressed such questions under the pressure of prevailing opinion, and since the story has an irreducible miraculous element anyway, these parts can also be charged to that account. It may have become a conditioned mindset, so ingrained that it did not occur to anyone to view it differently until jogged to do so by some new factor such as 20th-century scientific discoveries. Through most of the centuries the leading Bible scholars had far more pressing matters to attend to, for which many faced martyrdom. As far as I know, the date of creation never was a life-and-death issue.
Speaking of Christian leaders, in the 1970s and 80s the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) was formed and produced some outstanding books responding to attacks on the authority of the Bible. This was obviously a theologically conservative group of people, committed to the Bible and to taking a stand against prevailing opinion. In their official position statement, despite fervent pleading from recent-creationists, they declined to adopt the recent-creation interpretation of the Biblical account.
What about all the university professors of Hebrew who say Moses clearly was thinking about literal days? This is a good question, and I can’t answer for them. I do wonder why they have not noticed the other details in the content of the story. But the fact that most of them are non-Christian, cited by recent-creationists as evidence of their objectivity, may also be cited as evidence of their bias. Most such scholars have many other opinions about the meaning and origin of the Old Testament with which we disagree, such as their documentary hypothesis (ch. 6, III, D), and we feel that they distort many facts in order to find pretexts for their unbelief. This very issue of the 24-hour days is one point they consider as evidence of scientific error in the Bible. Be that as it may, there remains the issue of how certain anyone centuries removed from Moses can be about his thoughts on a particular detail, a single word. And there is the issue of whether what he thought was correct (ch. 5, I, F).
Even if we grant (but see the next paragraph) that the Bible gives no hint of long ages, that does not prove they could not be true. We could have fun listing things the Bible does not hint at: the creation of insects, the germ theory of disease, atomic structure of matter, the Ice Ages (maybe hinted at in Job), the distance of the planets and stars, existence of the American continents or Australia, the advantages or disadvantages of democratic government, etc. Of course, there is no reason why it should hint about these things, but is there reason for it to hint about long ages?
Speaking of hints, the Bible gives no hint of created or apparent age of the universe, nor of the instant-creation “fully formed and functioning” concept. The commonly-quoted “hint” of this is the creation of Adam’s body, and some of Jesus’ miracles. This is discussed later, under “created or apparent age.”
On the other hand, hints or the lack of them are in the eye of the beholder. We already discussed things right in Gen. 1 and 2 that seem clearly to refer to longer time periods. There are significant hints elsewhere too. The Old Testament, when referring to the long-term past, refers to the ancient mountains and everlasting hills, Gen. 49:26; Deut. 33:15, seeming to consider them older than mankind. See also Job 15:7; Prov. 8:25; Hab. 3:6. A human lifetime is referred to as merely “a breath,” like a fleeting puff of vapor on a cold day, Ps. 39:5; 144:4. If the authors believed it had been only a few thousand years since the creation of the universe, then a lifetime would be about 1/50 of this or more (for example, 80 years out of 4000), small but hardly describable as a fleeting breath in comparison. If a breath lasts a second or two, and a lifetime is 2 to 3 billion seconds, then we are in the range of the ratio of a lifetime to the estimated age of the universe.
In Job 20:4; Rev. 16:18 the phrase “since man was on the earth,” could at least be hinting that there was a time when man was not on the Earth, and therefore the Earth is considerably older than man. It could be argued that the speaker in Job (one of his “comforters”) was not exactly inspired. It is harder to dismiss the inspiration of John’s statement in Revelation.
In the New Testament, the apostles referred to their time as the “last days” or even the “last hour” at the “end of the ages” (note plural). Their time was the beginning of the church age, which has turned out to be at least 2000 years, so the ages preceding must have been much more than merely 2/3 of the time from creation to our time. I Cor. 10:11; II Tim 3:1-5; Heb. 1:2; 9:26; I Peter 1:20; I John 2:18.
I am not seriously claiming any certain or precise conclusions from this at all, but I am responding to the assertion that the Bible contains no hints of long ages.
Now, about authority. Is it a threat to Biblical authority to allow any consideration of scientific input in the process of interpreting the text? Not necessarily. The principles involved in sola scriptura and the “two books” were already discussed in ch. 5, I, F.
It is not true that all the theories of science have been disproved, or certainly will be, and therefore cannot be trusted. Some have stood the test of much time and observation. See ch. 2, III. There is a curious ambivalence in recent-creationists’ attitude toward science. One of the names they give for their position is “scientific creationism,” and they expend great effort in finding facts which may be viewed as supporting recent creation. Those facts and interpretations are presented with great confidence, and primarily about past events. But others that do not serve that purpose are downgraded with doubts about the reliability of observation and deduction about the past. This will be discussed more later in B, C. It seems that in regard to the validity of science they try to throw away their cake and eat it too. They have not yet produced a coherent philosophy of science.
The two diagrams represent two outlooks on the placement of the age of the universe in respect to the Bible and nature. The first diagram repeats its placement in my opinion, as shown in ch. 5, I, F, mostly within the bounds of nature, extending only slightly beyond that realm into aspects which can only be learned from the Bible. The second diagram represents the opinion of recent-creationists, that nature can tell us little about origins, even the date, and that we are primarily and clearly informed about this only in the Bible.
We all need a reminder that our faith should not become dependent on any particular scientific theory or fact, which can only confirm it and remove apparent conflicts (ch. 3, IV). However, recent-creationists themselves give great emphasis to facts which they feel support a young universe and Flood geology, and they express little reluctance to see their followers make these things an important, even essential, basis of their faith in the Bible. Again, this seems ambivalent, a double standard.
It is strange to hear Christians, of all people, objecting that what is incomprehensible is therefore meaningless. How many things that we believe are incomprehensible? There even are many human accomplishments and inventions that are incomprehensible to most of us. Long time spans are beyond our comprehension, but so is the size of the universe, and we do not therefore reject that as wasteful, meaningless or false. We happily accept it as one way that the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1), so why not long times too? Why are a few billion years a problem for the eternal God? Rejecting it on these grounds is irrelevant and irreverent. The only thing that is incomprehensible is that Christians should consider this a reason to object to it. Atheists have sometimes raised such objections to ridicule the idea of creation, but Bible-believing Christians can hardly side with them on this point.Are long ages evolutionary and naturalistic?
It is an interesting historical question to study the rise of the concept that the age of the Earth is greater than a few thousand years. It started primarily from geology, well before Darwin. It is true that long time periods are a pre-requisite for the development of his theories, which obviously would be impossible within a few thousand years. So it seems he received them, not invented them. And the fact that they contributed to the development of his theories is not necessarily evidence that they must be wrong. Any good thing, like ice cream, can and will be misused.
A few billion years is just as inadequate for the success of evolution as a few thousand years. It is perhaps less obviously so to the uninitiated, and atheists take advantage of their gullibility, but that simply means we should initiate the uninitiated, not battle the billions of years. Recent-creationists are actually clear on this point. In other contexts they point this out themselves, yet when listing their objections to long ages they seem to become confused, and sound like they are afraid that given that much time evolution becomes believable, therefore a short time scale is an essential defense against evolution. It is not essential at all. This is another of recent-creationists’ many double standards.
Probability estimates of the time required for evolutionary success easily generate numbers like 10100 years, or even more digits in the exponent, so atheists and long-age creationists are separated by at least one hundred zeros, while long-age and recent-creationists are separated by only six! Surely they can be a little friendlier.
Applying the label “evolutionary” to the concept of a process of formation of the present universe represents unclear definition of words, which leads to confusion. Recent-creationists catch evolutionists playing tricks with the word “evolution,” unjustifiably equating micro-evolution with macro-evolution, and even stretching the word to cover imagined molecular precursors to life. Evolutionists also try to link up with the apparent success of the theory of stellar evolution. Recent-creationists soundly denounce the evolutionists for such shenanigans. But then they follow in those precise footsteps themselves, lumping all these things under the label “evolution” and therefore insisting it must all be thrown out. I even heard one of them criticizing the “evolutionary theory” of the origin of the carbon atom! The word “evolve” did, before Darwin, mean simply to develop, but in this discussion let’s agree to restrict it to a theory of the origin of living things. This point seems so obvious that there is little more to say. It is an outgrowth of the following issues.
Evolutionists do not own the age of the universe, and recent-creationists have no right to give it to them by referring to “evolutionary long ages.” The development of the universe and of living things are two separate subjects, astronomy and biology respectively. What God has left separate, let not man join together.
The claim that the Big Bang is inherently naturalistic or atheistic has no logical basis. It is a beginning which no known laws of science can account for; in fact it is the beginning of those laws. What is naturalistic or atheistic about this? I cannot imagine any reason why a Christian should object to an unexplained beginning because he is a Christian. We should welcome it as at least consistent with the Bible, in fact apparently a confirmation of it, and refute claims that is in any way in conflict with the Bible, while being careful not make it an essential basis of our faith. If the Big Bang theory is one day found false, that would only be one less confirmation of the Bible (depending on the nature of the theory that replaces it), but losing a confirmation does not equal producing a disproof. God has provided many other proofs.
Some atheists do claim that the Big Bang is a naturalistic theory that makes belief in God unnecessary, but the appropriate response is not to oppose the Big Bang but to expose the error of their logic. Even other atheists disagree with them, seeing the Big Bang as supernatural, and that is why they oppose it. The Big Bang is a hot potato that atheists have a hard time handling. The current opposition to the Big Bang is a strange and awkward alliance of recent-creationists and atheists. Polemics, like politics, makes strange bedfellows.
Accepting a Big Bang beginning places no prohibition on believing God may and does act however He pleases thereafter. My discussion of the universe and living things in ch. 6, I and II, is exactly such a viewpoint, seeing God at work both in providential guidance of “natural” events and in direct supernatural activity.
Of course a Christian and an atheist give the same account of sequential cause and effect in a natural process; that is the definition of natural. A recent-creationist and an atheist would give identical descriptions of the recent-creationist’s, or the atheist’s, mother’s pregnancy, but that is no reason to deny that her pregnancy really occurred. It is only in questions of origin and purpose that they differ.
There is an important principle and concept involved here. A Christian and an atheist would give essentially the same account of the entire recorded history of the human race. Must we therefore deny the existence of that history? Of course not. We as Christians see in that history the providential hand of God, guiding the rise and fall of nations and rulers, cultures, philosophies, and technology, to accomplish His purposes. We believe this even though we cannot point to any visible miraculous act or intervention. Thus there is no inherent problem in principle about believing that the process of development of the universe in general, and the solar system and Earth in particular, was providentially guided by God to accomplish His purposes. Contrast this with my suggested account of the origin of living things on the Earth, ch. 6, II, B, 9, where some visible interventions do seem necessary.
Back to the Big Bang. It is true that some of the researchers involved in developing the Big Bang are atheists, but that proves nothing about its truth or falsehood. Many atheists believe in Newton’s laws and the laws of thermodynamics, not to mention democracy, apple pie, and motherhood.
Laplace and others used Newton’s laws as an excuse to replace God, but that does not require us to reject Newton’s laws. Even earlier, Copernicus’ ideas were used as a basis for attack on the church and the faith it propagated, and this is one reason the theologians opposed those ideas and specifically Galileo when he advocated them. They felt this was an essential part of the defense of the faith. With the benefit of hindsight we see what a blunder that was. The error was not in Copernicus but in the church’s attachment to a different concept, and in the skeptics’ conclusion that an error in the church proved an error in the Christian faith. In a debate two negatives don’t make a positive, just a bigger mess.
The universe may or may not be infinite; that is still uncertain, and perhaps always will be. We can never prove that it is infinite on the basis of our finite observations; we may someday find evidence that it is finite. Be that as it may, the assumptions involved in the Big Bang model can be considered as only meaning the universe is large enough that wherever its limits are they are remote enough not to affect the part we see. In physics we do similar calculations about infinite charged plates and current-conducting wires to calculate the field near them, and no-one raises theological objections.
Even if the universe is infinite, that is not necessarily a theological problem. There are degrees of infinity; this is a fascinating area of mathematical theory, to which Georg Cantor made significant contributions motivated specifically by his Christian beliefs. Here are some simple examples that even I can understand. There is an infinite number of points in any given interval along a line, and the line may be extended to an infinite number of such intervals. An infinite number of lines is contained in a finite plane, an infinite number of planes in a finite space, and so on. The universe seems to be finite in time, and infinite in at most three dimensions. Physics in recent years has discovered possible evidence of more dimensions, up to ten or more; the other dimensions are said to be rolled up. Don’t ask me what that means! A universe infinite in three dimensions is no threat to the existence or transcendence of a God who exists in ten or more dimensions, some of which are perhaps also time dimensions. We must speak softly in presuming to be able to prove anything about such matters.
Pagan religions have a lot of evolutionary concepts, obviously as a substitute for the one true Maker of heaven and earth. But it is interesting to note that the prevalence of such myths in this case is used by recent-creationists as evidence of the evil origin of that concept, while the prevalence of flood legends is used as evidence of the truth of that story. A little more work needs to be done on a consistent standard of evaluating the significance of such myths. Perhaps the recent-creationists have simply not stated their reasoning precisely enough. The myths can be evaluated on the basis of their agreement with the Bible or lack of it, but if we then turn around and use these legends as a part of our reasons for believing the Bible, it has become a logical circle.
It should also be noted that pagan religious legends contain many elements of instant creation. What does that prove?
And now for the matter of motives. In some recent-creationists’ writings they seem unable to mention alternative viewpoints without attaching the pejorative labels “accommodation,” “compromise,” and comments about trying to please their secular colleagues. This is no doubt true in many cases, but it is not ours to determine which cases. As I stated at the beginning of this chapter, that is not my own motive.
This is a sensitive subject, on which the Bible commands us to tread very carefully. We cannot see others’ motives, and so can easily violate the commands “Do not judge.” (Mt. 7:1; Lk. 6:37; Rom. 14:4, 10; James 4:11, 12; 5:9) Recent-creationists’ zeal to defend the authority of the Bible is commendable, but while devoting so much attention to the passages referring to creation they should also spend a little time meditating on these passages. The first thing should be done, but the second not left undone (Luke 11:42).
Does the fact that long-age creationism is rejected by nonbelievers prove that it is false? There is no basis for accepting nonbelievers’ opinions as authoritative on any matters of truth, particularly on origins. They also reject many other things that the Bible teaches.
Jesus addressed many logical and factual arguments to the Jewish scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees of His day, but they responded by conspiring to send Him to crucifixion. Does this prove that Jesus’ motive and method was wrong?
To be consistent, recent-creationists’ practice of calling their position “scientific creationism” could also be considered an equally (or even more so) failed attempt to attract scientists. For both Biblical and practical reasons, accusations about motives must mostly be avoided.
Recent-creationists profess to be motivated purely by a desire to promote Biblical faith. Where there is any room for uncertainty, they say they prefer to err on the side of believing the Bible too much, not too little. This may be commendable in one way, but it is no excuse for running the risk of fleeing from one error into an opposite one. Erring on either side of the correct interpretation is a fault, and is liable to become a barrier to others’ understanding and believing the Bible. This is a heavy responsibility, and cannot be excused by pious professions of “believing the Bible too much.” They would do well to meditate on the stern Biblical warnings about adding to the Word of God, Deut. 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18.
If long-age creation represents a lack of courage to face criticism, then why do so many of us persist in that view despite criticism from both nonbelievers and their recent-creationist fellow believers? We get attacked from both directions, which is not easy to endure. It’s not a position for cowards.
Some recent-creationists insist that any long-age viewpoint must be attributed to “predilections” in viewing the Biblical and scientific information. It cannot be denied that we all have many preconceptions of which we are not sufficiently aware, and which we can help each other notice and if necessary reconsider. Notice I said “we all.” Let him who is without predilections cast the first stone.
In Mt. 7 after His command not to judge in vs. 1, Jesus goes on to say a few verses later, 15-20, “By your fruit you shall know them (false prophets).” So we are supposed to evaluate results that we can see. Now to consider the results of both recent-creation and long-age teaching, obeying Jesus’ instruction to be fruit inspectors.
There are many instances in which people who were once convinced of recent creation and of faith in the Bible as a whole, later were influenced to completely reject that faith, including recent creation. In some cases, contact with the long-age viewpoint played a role in that process. Every individual is complex, and only God really knows all the factors involved. We all regret anyone’s weakening or loss of faith. But there are also many people for whom recent creation was and still is a barrier to faith, but contact with the long-age viewpoint cleared up their problem and played a role in their coming to faith. So both viewpoints have played a role in some people’s coming to or strengthening faith, and in others’ loss or weakening of it. It is impossible to do a meaningful survey to determine the number of people in these categories, but I have my hunch. Only God knows the numbers, and the real motives of people’s hearts, and only He can judge justly. People are responsible for their heart attitude. We are responsible for the way we help or hinder them. Proponents of any particular viewpoint would be wise to speak softly and slowly in presenting anecdotal evidence for their viewpoint and against others.
There is an alternative interpretation of the cases in which people initially accept recent creation, and later reject both it and the Bible as a whole, perhaps in connection with hearing long-age views. This alternative is that the purported basis for recent creation contains many flaws. Many people initially accept it as the primary basis of their faith in the Bible. When they become aware of those flaws, it creates a crisis in their faith. Many other people see these flaws in the first place, and are thus hindered from ever coming to faith. Thus the flaws in the case for recent creation become an unnecessary hindrance to beginning or continuing faith. Those who propagate such flaws carry a heavy responsibility; I would not want to stand in their shoes or anywhere near them at the judgment, however well-intentioned they may be. We all must tremble at our responsibility for our influence. “Such things (offenses) must come, but woe to the man through whom they come.” Matthew 18:6, 7
Let’s look closely at the positive results of recent-creation ministry. Those who report that recent creation was a help to their faith are almost all helped by acceptance of the fact of creation, and simply accept the date issue as part of the package, a part which they are not competent to judge for themselves. The recent-creationist speakers and writers seem so knowledgeable about the origin and development of living things, they must also know what they are talking about on the date issue. Only a tiny few consider the date of creation as crucial and a help to them, and even in these cases the logic of that view is questionable.
After decades of recent-creation activity, I have yet to find a single testimony in their own publications stating that a person was convinced by a knowledgeable evaluation of the scientific case as presented for recent creation. I have asked several leaders of the movement if they know of such a case, and they apparently do not. They have not supplied any. They account for their own belief in recent creation as beginning when they became persuaded that it is what the Bible teaches, and continuing primarily on that basis. They of course perceive many facts as supportive of that view; we will consider these in the following two sections. We will find that the facts are not at all convincing in support of recent creation; that perception is consciously maintained by a selective view of the data. Their own statement is that the facts must be viewed through the glasses of (their interpretation of) the Bible (parenthetical comment mine).
If there are knowledgeable, competent people in these fields who believe in recent creation of the universe, why have they not yet produced knowledgeable, competent presentations of it? This is a risky, provocative question, presuming that I am qualified to judge others’ knowledge and competence. Frankly, in the areas of atmospheric physics and astronomy, I can justify that claim. Furthermore, those are precisely the fields in which recent-creationists have so far not been able to produce one single testimonial of a favorable response to their presentation. I am not the only one who is unimpressed. Those who are impressed are educated, capable, intelligent, sincere, trained and active in other fields, even those peripherally related to these two, but not directly related. The members of creationist organizations are mostly doctors, biologists, and engineers. Physicists, chemists, and geologists are present but fewer, and they came to faith in recent creation through the Biblical route, not scientific evidence. There are only two openly recent-creationist professional astronomers in the world, Danny Faulkner and Ron Samec. Dr. Faulkner is a graduate of Bob Jones University, and Dr. Samec teaches there. They know of no others, though Dr. Faulkner reports (in a personal communication) meeting a few others who keep their beliefs secret from their colleagues for fear of losing their positions. Dr. Samec would lose his position if he did not believe recent creation. Dr. Faulkner’s position in a public university is thus far not threatened.
Recent-creationist leaders attribute this tiny response to brainwashing by the educational process in these fields, astronomy and atmospheric science. But there is no small number of evangelical Christians in these fields, perhaps even a higher proportion than in biology and geology, which are so directly dominated by evolutionary indoctrination. I myself am such a person. We cannot all be written off as brainwashed.
I have never heard of a debate on the age of the universe between a recent-creationist and a competent astronomer. There have been many creation-evolution debates, all of which center on design of living things. No recent-creationist would dare debate the age issue with a competent expert. Yet they publish their materials on the date of creation, and encourage students at all levels to incorporate this information in reports to hand in to non-Christian science teachers. But I have never seen a published testimonial of the results when high-school students take the purported case for recent creation into their science classroom. There are no reports from either the students or the teachers. I cringe to think of the experience of some of these students when the errors of that material are exposed; for how many of them is this one important factor in “losing their faith”? For how many of the teachers is this one more barrier to their ever taking the Bible seriously as the Word of God? It is impossible to obtain any meaningful data on this question. No recent-creationist would dare investigate those results, or publish them if he did. Once again, woe to him by whom the offense comes. Recent-creationists burden these sincere young people with a load they themselves do not lift a finger to move, Matthew 23:4.
To give credit where credit is due, there are a few lonely voices in the recent-creationist community. They include the two astronomers, and a few friends in physics and other fields. Their belief in recent creation begins from Biblical arguments, and they criticize the flaws of common recent-creationist scientific objections to the Big Bang and long ages. One is Don DeYoung, a physicist who attributes his interest in astronomy to looking through my telescope when were grad-school classmates in the 60s. Another is Kurt Wise, a paleontologist who got his PhD under Stephen Jay Gould, one of the foremost advocates of evolution. Dr. Wise does good work on the origin of living things, which is within his area of expertise. But the origin and age of the universe and even the Earth is not. He acknowledges the poor quality of most recent-creationist material, and rejects the “Bible over science” philosophy. But he also stereotypes all long-age advocates as adopting the “different realms, no overlap” position.
There are no doubt errors in Biblical interpretation committed by advocates of long-age creation. It is easier for them to lean toward the liberal viewpoint than for recent-creationists. But those errors are not essential or basic to long-age creation. Similarly, a survey of ideas propounded by recent-creationists would be very interesting and embarrassing. Being a counter-establishment movement, recent creation attracts some unconventional people, but being unconventional is not essential or basic to recent creation. This point, like motivation, is best set aside. But it does concern me that I have seen no expression of concern by the leaders about the excesses of some of their followers, nor effort to impose any degree of quality control. Friends have loaned me videotapes of lectures by local recent-creationist speakers, which are incredibly incompetent. I could only advise them to use the tape as a blank.
Recent-creationists are indulging in the tactic of guilt by association, just as they do when they complain that the Big Bang is advocated by some atheists. It is true that virtually all who reject the Bible believe in long ages. I know of none who believe in recent creation for reasons unrelated to the Bible. As for professing Christians, this diagram represents the possibilities. Virtually all who are liberal and thus deny the Biblical gospel also reject recent creation in favor of long ages. But those who believe in long ages need not deny the gospel. I don’t. Those who believe recent creation could in principle deny the gospel, but in practice they rarely would because that belief comes only from very conservative Bible interpretation, which usually also leads to belief in the gospel. To take the Bible that seriously about the date issue but misconstrue the gospel teachings, one would just about have to be in a cult group following an authoritarian leader.
A common expression in this discussion is the “slippery slope” concept, that once you start in a given direction, considered by its critics to be downward, then there is nowhere to justify stopping. Even if one particular individual somehow finds a place to cling somewhere along the way, others continue sliding. In some contexts this is a valid concept, when truly essential principles are abandoned. I myself apply it to liberal theologians’ abandonment of Biblical inspiration and authority. However, like all labels it must be applied carefully. In many cases the truth is found at a point of balance between two opposite extremes; slippery slopes often come in pairs. People who shout warnings about one slippery slope may not notice they are halfway down the other one. Long-age creation may be construed as raising questions about Biblical authority in the creation account (though it need not be so construed), and this leads to questions about many other things in the Bible. However, recent creation invokes principles of disregard of the characteristics of the universe, and insinuations about the motives of other believers and scientists, and this lead to many errors of logic and narrow-minded judgmental statements about others who hold different viewpoints. Perhaps it need not do so, but I have seen very few in whom it does not. As a final twist on the slippery slope theme, the truth may be found at the bottom of some slopes, as we find clues that lead us closer to the truth from an initially erroneous viewpoint. Perhaps this would be better described as climbing a slope; I leave the choice of metaphor as an exercise for the reader.
Hugh Ross seems to be a lightning rod for recent-creationists’ ire. He is currently (2000) the most conspicuous individual advocate of the long-age creation position, with his organization, books, tapes, speaking engagements, TV program, and web-site. I do not give a blanket endorsement of his ideas. Recent-creationists produce quotations from his talks and writings that seem at least unfortunately stated, which they proceed to criticize harshly. Perhaps he tries too hard to find direct Biblical teaching of long ages, and makes some errors in the process. Perhaps he tries too hard to have an answer for everything. But even if most of the recent-creationists’ criticisms are true, they are not crucial to the truth of his main conclusions. He certainly has far fewer faults than recent-creationists that will offend those who are scientifically competent. He is open to correction. He emphasizes prayer support for his ministry. And he reports a very successful evangelistic ministry among scientists, especially professing atheists, including many for whom recent creation is an obstacle to faith in the Bible and God. I would rather give his materials than recent-creationists’ to a non-Christian scientist.
One of their harshest critiques of Hugh Ross is an entire book named, the same as his, Creation and Time, and written specifically as a rebuttal to his book. Reading their book is sad and frustrating, because so much of it consists of unverified insinuation and opinion. To give just one example typical of many in the book, on pg. 109 they quote a statement by Hugh Ross that “God does not create with appearance of age.” Their response immediately follows, beginning “It is dangerous to teach that God could not create a universe,…in a short period of time.” “Does not” and “could not” are two different things, and they give no substantiation of their claim that Hugh Ross states God could not. Such tactics are just pouring trouble on oiled waters, and are helpful to no one. Even if most of the book’s criticisms of Hugh Ross’s Bible interpretation and use of reference materials are valid, that is of course unfortunate but they are not fatal to his conclusions, and this book’s glaring faults and bitter attitude undermine whatever value it might have. Many recent-creationists are embarrassed by the tone of the book. As for content, it reiterates many of the usual recent-creationist arguments that are discussed in this chapter.
Another target of recent-creationist fire is the American Scientific Affiliation, which publishes the quarterly Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Its early membership in the 40s included many advocates of recent-creationism, but they were unable to win all the members’ acceptance of a commitment to that position. This was a source of frustration to them. When the Creation Research Society was formed, largely motivated by the sense of a need for an alternative to ASA, most recent-creationists left ASA and joined it, though a few continue membership in both. Membership in ASA requires acceptance of a very simple statement of Christian faith, requiring only a belief in God’s “creating and preserving the universe,” which leaves room for a wide range of views. Many of the members lean far toward liberal theology, and also theistic evolution; I do not imply a necessary correlation between the two. I disagree with quite a bit of the contents of PSCF, but also find much that is very helpful. At least it provides an open forum for competent review and discussion, far more so than anything recent-creationists have produced. It often contains critical evaluations of recent-creationist materials. Recent-creationists of course find it totally unsatisfactory.
Finally, recent-creationist criticism focuses on Wheaton College as the most outstanding of many Christian colleges and seminaries that decline to adopt the recent-creation position. I would be the last to claim any of these institutions is flawless, in fact I agree that many have moved much too far toward a liberal position. But I read a lot of good things in the Wheaton alumni material I receive, and hear good things from people who are there. They are still preparing young people committed to Christ and His kingdom, as the school motto proclaims. They do not propagate the fallacies and attitudes that this chapter describes in the recent-creationist community, and that are taught in some other schools. This is not a blanket condemnation of such schools; I have fine friends who are faculty or students there. But if you want my opinion about where to learn to honor God and also get a good education,…
In light of the way leading recent-creationist writers treat those who disagree with them, I hesitated to write this chapter. But it expresses what I feel the Lord has led me to believe, and what many people have given very positive response to. As Paul said in I Cor. 4:3-5, I accept judgment only from the Lord.
Finally, there is the role naturalistic evolution, or evolutionary naturalism, has played in the 20th-century horrors of atheistic totalitarian states and decadent trends in modern “free” society. There is no question that evolution is conveniently adaptable to these purposes, and an attitude of reverence toward our Creator is not. That is why these states and movements so bitterly oppose any such reverence, and aggressively propagate godless evolutionary concepts in its place. But is evolution really the disease, or just one among many symptoms? Let’s not give evolution more credit than it is due. People were atheistic, ruthless, and immoral long before Charles Darwin. And a lot of them even committed their cruel deeds in the name of the Bible, God, and misconstrued “Christian” theology. The historical argument against evolution is not such a tidy case.
Since naturalism, and its philosophical root atheism, are at least willing accomplices to much crime, is recent-creationism the primary bastion defending against it? Biblical theistic creation certainly is, but is the date of creation logically, or Biblically, crucial to this defense? This argument too is unconvincing.
This seems to be one of the most popular aspects of recent-creationism, and greatest sources of confusion. Many people who discuss the subject casually with me bring this up as a convenient loophole that saves them considering the subject specifically. God could do whatever He chose, and it doesn’t matter much to them what that was. If this question is no significant threat or support for their faith, then they can leave it at that. But it will not do for those who feel the need to consider the subject more carefully.Created or apparent age
Many people have reminded me that Jesus instantly created the wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12), or bread and fish for a large crowd (John 6:1-14 and several parallel passages). They also mention that God created Adam as a viable individual, in fact a vast number of living organisms, as discussed in ch. 6, II. And they tell me all these as if I must have never heard them or at least never realized their implications. But applying these as a precedent to which the origin of the universe must conform contains at least three errors which invalidate the analogy.
First, it assumes a uniformitarianism in God’s miraculous acts. There is no basis for such an assumption. God’s miracles show endless variety and creativity. Uniformitarianism applies only where God has chosen to be uniform, which is what we call laws of nature. Recent-creationists are quick to assume variations in those unvarying laws, but presume to impose uniformitarianism on God’s varying miracles.
Second, the universe does not need to be in its present state, fully formed and functioning, in order to exist at all. Half a universe will get along just fine, but half a man will not. There is no inherent difficulty involved in the universe passing through a series of intermediate stages. But Adam needed at least a considerable degree of development in order to survive at all; this is one of the key objections to the theory of gradual evolution, ch. 6, II, B, 7. Wine, fish, and bread need a minimum of structure to be edible. There are other instances where there is no alternative to instant creation of something from nothing: the resurrection of Jesus’ dead body from the tomb, and our own receiving of eternal life. The analogy to the universe does not apply.
Third, and most important, this is confusing maturity with age, or apparent age with apparent history. The wine, bread, fish, and Adam were mature systems, and the issue of age arises because ordinarily they are produced by a process which takes time, so their existence ordinarily implies such a process, and the associated age or time-period. Age is not merely a condition; it is also the actual passage of time, real history, and the marks left by that history. Therefore what recent-creationists really mean in the case of the universe is apparent history. The universe has this, but the wine and Adam need not have it. The bread and fish are an interesting borderline case. Again the analogy does not stand up under scrutiny.
What was Adam like one minute after his creation? What would have resulted from a careful examination of his body and surroundings, and an interview? Did he have an apparent history? In the discussion of the length of the 6th day we already mentioned that language ability seems to require a background of experience; did he have a language he had never learned, and a memory of past experiences that had not really occurred? Did he have memories, a photo album, and moldy 8-mm home movies of his childhood? Did he already know his way around the Garden before he had actually explored it? Were there scratches or scars on his body? How long was his hair and fingernails? Was it neatly cut? It is often a joke to ask if Adam and Eve had navels, but it really is a good question. To raise a really gut-level question, was there anything in his intestine at that moment before he ate his first bite of food? We must of course assume God created him with oxygen and sugar in his blood.
As for his surroundings, did he find his own footprints all over the Garden the first time he explored it? Were there ashes in his fireplace, trash in the wastebasket, cobwebs in the closet, fingerprints in the dust on the books in the library and dirty thumbprints on some of the pages, a partly used checkbook, letters in the mailbox, dirt in his vacuum cleaner bag, scratches on his ATM card, old files on his computer hard drive? Were there growth rings in the trees? I have never heard any recent-creationist propose that Adam and the Garden had all these things, except that there has been discussion about the trees.
But this is precisely the kind of things the universe possesses, with many records and remains of past events (see the beginning of sec. III). The simplest is the light and other signals arriving to tell us what is out there, and where; it presumably took a certain amount of time for this light to reach us with its information, and that information in turn quite directly represents objects in the midst of ongoing long-term processes. This light not only needs to reach us within 6000 years; it had to reach the earth within 12 hours to fit the recent-creation interpretation of the fourth day of creation, or at least within 60 hours for Adam’s first night. After becoming a biologist during his first day, he became an astronomer his first night.
As discussed in sec. C on scientific matters, recent-creationists do feel considerable discomfort with these questions and have made several attempts to answer them. Either these light waves at first traveled much faster than they now do to reach us from distant galaxies so quickly, or it is not actually from them but was created already on its way. If it was created already on its way, then it is unknown and irrelevant whether anything more distant than, say, 10,000 light years really exists. At least the past events reported by those signals are nonexistent; those expanding and colliding gas clouds and jets, exploding supernovae, pulsing variables, etc. never existed. It is all created history, a cosmic light show. Most of our own Milky Way Galaxy, and the entire rest of the universe, may not really exist.
What God could do, should do, and did do are three separate questions, and must not be scrambled together. That is precisely what usually happens, when a question about what God did do is answered by discussing what He could or should do. What God could do is anything. What God should do is nothing, at least not what our opinions may happen to prefer. He is sovereign and far beyond our understanding. With the first two questions settled in one word each, we can proceed to the third one.Three questions
What did He do? This can perhaps be determined by investigating the products of His actions, and perhaps He has told us something about it. Science investigates those products, and consistently indicates a very long sequence of events; see sec. B and C. I have already explained why I do not believe created age is what the creation account describes.
One more line of evidence is relevant. He has also told us about His character, which determines what He would do. The issue is not whether creation of apparent age is within God’s power, but whether it is consistent with His character as stated in the Bible. I will not presume to give an airtight answer to this question, but some comments seem relevant. It is difficult not to associate the word “nonexistent” with “illusory,” and “illusory” with “deceptive.” Recent-creationists reply that it is no more deceptive than the wine, bread, and fish. But those things were created before the eyes of the disciples and the servants or the crowd, to teach them something. Who was present to see the creation of the universe and/or its light waves, and be impressed? Jesus did not criticize the host at the wedding for assuming the wine had come through the usual means; he had not seen what really happened. Recent-creationists reply that God has told us that He made the universe instantly, so it is not deceptive; is that really what He has told us? That was already discussed earlier.
What stated or conceivable purpose is served by creating the universe with apparent history? What need is there to do so? There are no other unstated miracles in the Bible, which God pointed out afterwards, unless we include the countless events we consider providential in hindsight. Or perhaps the unaware prophecies in the Old Testament which Jesus fulfilled (ch. 5, I, F). But what analogy is there between these and apparent but unreal history of the universe? God does not seem in the habit of leaving many unnecessary disguised miracles scattered everywhere (ch. 5, V, A, 2).
My point is not to prove that created age is deceptive and therefore false. What I aim to prove is that recent-creationists are unsuccessful in their arguments that that is practically required. If when I arrive in heaven I find out that the universe is in fact young, I will not walk out in protest, but I will be surprised. But it won’t be my only surprise in heaven.
Diverting slightly from this subject we should mention the other extreme. There are Christians who argue that God’s character requires Him to act only once in the initial moment of creation, and to design everything such that no further intervention is required forever after. Currently this is the position taken by Howard vanTill, and he even gives it a name and elevates it to the status of a doctrine. This is the subject of considerable debate, and rightly so. It is difficult or impossible to distinguish this position from deism, and vanTill seems not to have satisfactorily answered inquiries regarding his view of miracles, particularly the resurrection of Jesus. Recent-creationists insist God must create everything fully formed and functioning, and vanTill insists God must create everything simple with potential to develop. Both quote early church fathers in support of their views. They are equally unconvincing.
Recent-creationists do not yet have a consistent philosophy of historical research, at least not in general circulation among them. On one hand some of their statements amount to a virtual agnosticism about all history. But on the other hand, the movement would be nothing without its “scientific” side, its claim to be competent, based on reasonable interpretation of evidence. It cannot afford to concede that the universe really looks old. It cannot abandon its claims of much evidence that creation was recent. Yet it invokes a principle of apparent history that undermines the significance of all evidence. Once again, they are trying to throw away their cake and eat it too.What do we know about the past? How do we know?
First, there is the objection in principle about any attempt to reconstruct the unobserved past. We already discussed in ch. 1 the charge that scientific theories are all doomed to eventual overthrow and therefore may be disregarded, and in ch. 5, I, F, 3 how this relates to resolving apparent conflicts with Biblical teaching. As was stated in the summary of recent creationism, time will tell. It is undeniable that the scientific community is biased, and there are clear incidents of suppression of ideas and people who did not follow the party line. But none of that is at issue in this discussion. We are mostly discussing observed facts on which no one raises any questions, and we are trying to decide what we think of these facts, not what the consensus of the scientific or recent-creationist communities think of them.
Recent-creationists often point out how estimates of the age of the universe have changed in the 20th century. The estimated age has risen from several hundred million years to two billion to over ten billion. They conclude this shows that the estimates are still meaningless and baseless. This is a baseless conclusion. The study of anything must begin with a lot of mistakes, and measurements must be approximate before they can be precise. To be consistent, we would have to list early inaccurate estimates of the diameter of the earth, and conclude that the earth is not actually round or that its diameter is still totally unknown.
We could also list many failed theories in recent-creationist literature. Correction of errors in science is portrayed by recent-creationists as evidence of failure, but correction of errors in recent-creationist thinking is portrayed as evidence that they are carrying on a healthy self-correcting process of research. This is a double standard. If correction of previous errors is a sin, recent-creationists cannot throw the first stone.
On what criterion do they accept evidence for recent creation and Flood geology but reject evidence that the universe is old? One commonly stated criterion is that only recorded history is reliable, within the span of human civilization. But this criterion rapidly collapses in the face of practical examples. Even written records of course require careful selection and interpretation on the basis of other materials including much that is not written. Much of historical research involves unwritten artifacts and other clues. Even police investigation of a recent crime often involves unwritten evidence of events no one witnessed, at least no one now alive and willing totalk! No recent-creationist advocates shutting down all the detective offices. John believed in Jesus’ resurrection when he saw the nonverbal empty grave-clothes left in the tomb (John 20:3-8), and in doing so he was reasoning from the present to the unobserved past in a very exceptional case.
Recent-creationists’ own Flood geology is nothing if not the attempt to reconstruct unseen past events from unwritten evidence, and recent-creationists have expended vast man-hours and paper and ink in that pursuit. They show no fear that it is all logically flawed at its starting point. They preach skepticism about the unrecorded past, but they do not practice it.
If research is valid, say, for 1000 years ago, within the span of recorded history, which no recent-creationist would reject, then why not for 10,000 years ago? If so, why not for 100,000 years? If so, why not 1,000,000? And so on. What line can be drawn, where? Recent-creationists are on a slippery slope, and the truth lies at the bottom. We extend uniformitarian reasoning as far as there seem to be no other events and causes that intervened. Recent-creationists assert that God has told us other causes intervened less than 10,000 years ago. Has He?
Even in regard to written records, how do we know they really were written if we did not witness the writing ourselves? If God can create unwritten traces of a nonexistent history, then certainly He could create written ones. He wrote on Moses’ stone tablets, and on the Babylonian wall in Daniel’s time. Maybe He wrote the whole Bible, Adam and Eve never lived, Jesus was never born or crucified, and creation actually occurred less than 2000 years ago. And when you think about it, how trustworthy is even our own memory? Maybe this morning never really happened, but creation occurred at noon, and I never wrote this book you are now reading. If God created Adam with a memory (discussed earlier), couldn’t God have created ours too? Recent-creationists protest that this argument is a straw man; none of them ever advocated such a position. I never said any of them advocated this, only that it is a slippery slope; there seems no reason their logic cannot lead to it, whether they follow it there or not. The recent-creationist Russell Humphreys in early articles listed purported evidences of recent creation, but later he seems to have changed his mind. In his book Starlight and Time he gives many of the same reasons I do to be dissatisfied with apparent age, created light waves, and so on. That is why he is trying to develop a different solution that combines an old universe with a young earth. It is a commendable but desperate search for an interpretation of nature that is consistent with the recent-creation interpretation of the Bible. It is specifically discussed in sec. C.
Recent-creationists strongly emphasize their contention
that long-age creation leads to the concept of death before Adam, and thus
to destruction of the gospel; this will be discussed later. At this point
it is appropriate to note that recent creation leads inexorably to a concept
of created history, which logically leads to serious questions about the
reality of Adam’s sin and Jesus’ salvation. Of course no recent-creationists
raise such questions, but long-age creationists don’t themselves view their
own position as undermining the gospel either. Atheists may distort both
viewpoints in this way, but since when do we consider them the final authority
or try to please them?
Nothing else in Biblical revelation requires believing anything against overwhelming and increasing evidence, not even belief in God’s love and sovereignty in this depraved valley of tears. If there were many strong evidences against the Bible’s historical accuracy, that would be a major and unavoidable difficulty for our faith, and we would have to deal with it. Accusations of compromise and accommodation, and exhortations to loyalty to the faith, would be irrelevant.
Recent-creationists are carrying on a love-hate affair with both apparent age and science, two-timing both of them, willing neither to marry nor break off with either one. They continue to love each one when they need it and leave it when they don’t. If they really believed in apparent age, which includes created history, then they would happily watch, and even join, the study of that history, which is as real as anything else God created. But they do not, and instead accuse scientists who study it of making invalid naturalistic assumptions. Thus even those who preach apparent age do not really practice it.
This ambivalence about the study of the past is a persistent fatal flaw in recent-creationism. It is an important aspect of the Kansas Board of Education debacle of 1999-2000. That board in 1999 rejected a proposed science policy statement heavily influenced by that of the state of California, which clearly adopts metaphysical naturalism (see ch. 2). However, in rejecting these objectionable statements, the board was influenced by recent-creationists to adopt a statement that omitted virtually all study of the past of the Earth and the universe. The press coverage of all this was of course highly distorted and emotional. The board did not remove all mention of evolution, only its status as absolute truth with unqualified scientific support. The board wanted students told about the problems with the theory too. But in rejecting sound research about the history of the Earth and universe, they gave the establishment legitimate grounds for complaint, and lost whatever credibility they might have otherwise had. The offending board members were wiped off the slate in the 2000 elections. The whole incident thus ends up doing more harm than good, establishing a precedent which will be a barrier forever after to the advocacy of a properly balanced policy.
Another argument used for apparent age of the universe is that it is really only a speeding up of the processes, and once again the wine, bread, fish, and Adam’s body are cited as precedents. It is said that in these miracles God simply speeded up the processes usually used to make wine, bread, or a human body, and therefore He probably did the same with the universe. But these examples have nothing to do with speed. Put pure water in a bottle, and how long must we wait for it to turn into wine? Time will only turn it into stale water, not wine. Alcohol molecules contain carbon atoms; water does not. Time does not turn water into wine; it is grapevines and yeast that do it, with several other ingredients added to the recipe. Nor does time turn some bread into more bread, only into dry, moldy bread. Time does turn fish into more fish, but not dead ones in a basket, and furthermore those presumably were cooked. Applying this principle to Adam, no recent-creationist has envisioned Adam’s body as rapidly inflating in a few minutes from egg cell to embryo to fetus to infant, with no assistance from a mother’s womb, and on to adolescent and adult. The “speeded up” explanation is irrelevant nonsense.A question of speed
As for a “fiat,” or instant, and “ex nihilo” creation, the Big Bang is something from no known previous source, and its characteristics were all determined within 10-43 second. That is precisely ex nihilo and pretty instant! It is truly perplexing to see Christians objecting to this as unacceptable. Their sole true objection is that they are convinced He has told us that is not what He did, nor that long ago. All other complaints are merely dredged up in an attempt to provide additional support to that objection. It is not helped by such support.
But does the concept of a fiat, “God said,” or “the Word of the Lord,” necessarily imply the objective must be completed instantly? It is easy with simple reference materials to find many instances where it does not. Even I did it. These terms occur in connection with the weather, lightning, hail, rain, snow, wind, etc., which is only providentially timed but otherwise produced through the usual processes (Job 36:32; 37:6; Ps. 147:15 - 18; Amos 5:8; 9:6). This applies also to armies, kings, battles, victory, destruction (II Kings 3:10, 13; 24:3; Ps. 44:4; 71:3; Isa. 13:3; 48:15; Jer. 34:22; Lam 1:17; 3:38; Amos 6:11; 9:9).
The New Testament verses that seemingly tie together the beginning of the universe and human race, including those quoting Jesus Himself, are insufficient basis for such a conclusion. The Greek words translated “creation” or “world” are aion or kosmos, which according to my books have many different meanings depending on the context, referring to the universe, planet earth, human race, or ordered society. They are profound philosophical terms. The experts have opinions about what they mean in a particular passage, but I can’t help wondering how accurate they can be in each specific case. (ch. 5, I, F)
God’s outlook on time is different from ours. He chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) and wrote our names in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; 17:8) before we even existed let alone chose to believe. Many prophecies are written in the past tense; familiar examples are Isa. 53 and Ps. 22, and there are many more. Theologians call this the “prophetic past tense.” What God foresees and foreordains is as good as done. Moses himself wrote in Ps. 90:4, “In your eyes a thousand years are as a day, as a watch in the night.” Just so we don’t merely think God’s clock runs faster than ours, Peter tells us in II Pet. 3:8 that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.” In prophecy future events are often run together that we now know are separated by many centuries. Those referring to the first (2000 years ago) and second (still future) return of Christ may be run together in a single sentence. This is sometimes explained as similar to distant mountain peaks which seem indistinguishable even though separated along our line of sight by many miles. If God so refers to the future which is a few thousand years away, why not also the past? These phrases do not constitute a strong case for tying the origin of the human race closely in time to the origin of the universe. They are passing comments in passages devoted to other issues. They are clear statements of God’s eternal and unchangeable purposes, but not his detailed timetable.
I do not remember this being emphasized in my early years of contact with recent creation in the 60s, but in the 90s this has become one of its primary rallying battle-cries. It deserves careful consideration.No death, decay, or suffering before Adam
First let’s dispose of atheists’ opinions that long ages of decay, suffering, and death are a wasteful, cruel, trial and error procedure, which virtually proves there is no God or He is not loving and wise. Since when do we accept their opinions as authoritative on such subjects? They make similar disparaging comments about Jesus’ substitutionary atoning death, shedding His blood for our sins. They ridicule this as “slaughterhouse religion.” It also sounds very similar to their comments about the problems of suffering and evil in our present world, insisting that that is not possibly the way a good God would operate. So it is appropriate to move slowly and cautiously in accepting their conclusions about origins.
It is trial by error to accuse long-age progressive creationism of “trial and error.” That is an accurate description of the naturalistic evolutionary model. But when it is envisioned as the way God worked, it has no such implication. The God of the Bible does not need trials nor make errors. Every step of the process is planned, purposeful, and successful. Apparent waste is only in the eye of the beholder.
Another atheist opinion is that the vast size of the universe proves we could not really be that important to the Creator if there is one. “Why waste all that space?” they ask. “Why waste all that time?” recent-creationists ask. To answer one is to answer the other.
Consider God’s method of populating heaven. He produced the entire human race beginning from two people. Actually He began with one, then observed that it was not good for him to be alone, and prepared a helper for him. Together they fell into sin and took all mankind down with them, and the world became so full of evil and suffering that it had to be destroyed by a Flood and start over from eight people this time. Meanwhile the highest of the angels rebelled and many followed his lead becoming Satan and the demons, and they were allowed to wreak vast havoc in disrupting God’s work in the world. The Jewish nation began from Abraham, but as a nation totally misunderstood and failed in its mission as the chosen people. To provide salvation for this undeserving human race, God’s own Son became one of us and was crucified, died, and rose. Beginning from a motley few disciples He established the church, which spread rapidly, but as institutional Christianity it proceeded to record 2000 years of chaos, confusion, and disgrace to His name. And the majority of the human race finally spends eternity in hell, not heaven. Yet the gospel has spread throughout the world, many believed it, and the story ends with God and the saints blessed together forever.
We would surely find a better way! Small beginnings, long slow processes, and apparent failure and waste seem to be a frequent pattern in God’s will and ways. In the light of God’s chosen plan for populating heaven, perhaps we who believe this Biblical viewpoint should speak softly in suggesting what would and would not be an appropriate means for Him to populate the Earth.
In making such comments we teeter on the brink of giving God advice. This has a long history among the human race, tracing back to Peter advising Jesus against being crucified, and further back to Job and his comforters all making statements about what God would and wouldn’t do. In fact it traces right back to Eden, where the serpent asked “Has God said…?” and proceeded to assert that what God said was wrong. We must be careful to avoid following in their footsteps, and especially careful when it is atheists who are influencing us to do so.
This assertion that “God is wrong” is either true or false. If it is true, then either we are mistaken and He did not in fact do or say that, or He is wrong and we must refute Him and rebel. Eve (and Adam standing alongside) accepted the serpent’s opinion as true, and chose to refute God and rebel. Recent-creationists of course dare not do that, but they accept atheists’ comments criticizing a long-age method of creation, so they can only try to deny that God would and did do that. The correct response is to point out that the criticism is false. Recent-creationists are compromising and accommodating to atheists’ opinions. As in created age, perhaps they are replacing what God says He did with what they think He should have done.
God expresses little appreciation for such advice from us, Job 38:2, 3; 40:1, 2, 7, 8; 42:7, 8; Mt. 16:23. In Isaiah 55:8, 9 He says “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” Both Job and his friends had a lot to say about what God would or would not, should or should not, do, and all were soundly rebuked. So was Peter. God’s response to Adam and Eve, and curse on the serpent, requires no recounting. In the end God commanded Job to pray for his mistaken friends who accused him of sin and put words in God’s mouth. The day may come when God will command someone to pray for recent-creationists and all others who make pronouncements on how God must do His work of creating.
Now for the key issue in this: what does the Bible say about the relationship of death to sin?
God looked at His creation, and said many times that it was good, except when He saw Adam alone. Is suffering and death good? No. But it may be a part of God’s good plan.
We must be careful not to overestimate the suffering of wild animals at present or in the remote past. At present the world has been heavily influenced by mankind’s destructive activity and example, and it is very understandable that such a world can be said to groan awaiting a restoration to a better condition. Despite all this, animals mostly appear quite contented, in fact having fun. Death is usually swift, and they do not seem to live constantly worrying about it.
What could possibly be better? Must it involve no physical death of animals? What conceivable ecological system could that be? Could there have been such a system before the Fall? How long could it have persisted if they had not sinned? If there was no death before Adam, and all animals were herbivorous, then when and how did carnivorous animals acquire their claws, teeth, speed, poison, digestive system, etc? When did their prey acquire various protective coloring and abilities? Were animals before the Fall not reproducing, or would God have stopped them when the population reached a suitable limit? The simple answer to all such questions is that we don’t know, because the Bible does not tell us such “what if”s, and we do not need to know. We need to understand what is, not what might have been. And we can only partially understand what is, so what use is it to speculate on the irrelevant might have been?
Recent-creationists themselves admit inability to answer such questions. Even in the hands of its friends this viewpoint dies the death of a thousand qualifications: plants that are eaten do not die, insects do not count, nor do other “lower animals” (left undefined). Of course, our inability to imagine a deathless environment does not make it impossible.
One final question is, if there was no death in Eden, then how did Adam and Eve even have a word for it in their vocabulary, which God used in warning them beforehand of the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit?
The “peaceable kingdom” prophecies of a future state on earth are not necessarily to be equated with the original state in Eden. That comes dangerously close to the Hindu-Buddhist concept of cyclical time. Eden was not heaven. There is no doubt some connection, but not total equivalence. In Eden Adam and Eve were capable of falling, and did. In heaven we will be eternally secure. Jesus refers to the “renewal of all things” at the end of the world (Mt. 19:28), which certainly implies some connection between the beginning and the end, but we must be cautious about interpreting more details into this than the Bible clearly defines, and thus adding to God’s word.
Other passages must be noted in connection with this. Isa. 35:9 and the context refer to a future time in Zion when there will be no lion, unclean people, or fools. This does not talk about tame, herbivorous lions, but only says they are excluded, implying that they do exist elsewhere and are still dangerous. Perhaps this is not the same as the peaceable kingdom, perhaps it is. Or perhaps the peaceable kingdom does not include the whole earth. A lion would need a redesigned stomach to be able to digest straw as in Isa. 11:7, or else redesigned straw. Like all prophecy, this leaves much unstated, and the fulfillment will certainly bring many surprises. We cannot claim to understand it precisely now, nor draw detailed deductions about the future or the past.
But what do all the passages mean that say death came by Adam’s sin? This is a big question that we will not finish briefly here. The interpretation of these passages is complex, even entirely apart from any consideration of its implications about the Garden of Eden. They must be talking about several different aspects of death.
There are at least two kinds of death, spiritual and physical. And death must have different levels of meaning for animals with different levels of intelligence and consciousness. God told Adam and Eve “In the day you eat from it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) But they lived more than 900 years, so either day or die has other meanings. Probably they died spiritually immediately, and it took longer for the effects to work out in their bodies. All of us ever since have been born spiritually dead, in need of life (Eph. 2:1-10), and destined to die physically. It took Christ’s physical death and resurrection to provide salvation from the penalty of our sins. So far there is nothing here on which there is controversy among Bible-believing Christians. But from here on we venture into uncertainty, and that provides room for differences of opinion.
Romans 5:18 says Christ brings life; obviously this does not mean physical life, which we already possess, so why interpret 17 as meaning that Adam brought physical death? If Adam caused us to die like a dog, then can we (facetiously) ask if Jesus makes us live a dog’s life? Verse 21 says Jesus brings “eternal life,” so it would be consistent to say Adam brought eternal death. But the only sound conclusion from such arguments is to admit they are superficial, admittedly facetious, and do not face the full implications of this passage and others. A half-truth is the most dangerous type of error.
The fact that physical and spiritual death was a result of sin does not mean Adam and Eve were originally incapable of physical death, only that they could be preserved from it as long as they remained in communion with God. Immortality seems somehow associated with the tree of life, but this is left unexplained (Gen. 3:22). If they were initially incapable of dying, why was there a tree of life? We do not know what God would have done with that tree, if Adam and Eve had faithfully obeyed His plan. It obviously was part of His plan for them in their unfallen state, because that was the reason for immediately banishing them from the Garden when they fell into sin (Gen. 3:22-24). If the tree would make them immortal, then they were not initially immortal. This was perhaps comparable to being secure from drowning as long as you stay in the boat. Adam and Eve jumped off the boat, and their physical death was a direct result of their sin. So is ours. All this is certainly part, but not all, of the meaning of the passages on death and sin.
The passages linking Adam and death clearly include his and our physical death, but what are we to make of Jesus’ comment in John 11:25, 26? “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Obviously “die” has two different meanings here.
Thus we can conclude that the connection of Adam’s sin to our death includes both physical death and other aspects. Much of the debate on this subject seems to revolve around denying one or the other of these points, which only indicates and multiplies confusion. They are not mutually exclusive.
However we interpret all these passages, their relevance to animals’ death can only be seen between the lines. Rom. 5:12 says “death came to all men.” The passages compare and contrast Adam and Christ, Adam bringing death and Christ bringing life and resurrection. If Adam’s sin brought death to animals as well, does that mean Christ will bring resurrection to animals?
Recent-creationists often refer to Rom. 8:19-22 which says “creation groans and suffers” and “will be set free,” but we cannot be dogmatic about the precise implications of this. The context does refer to death, but also to decay, frustration, redemption and glory.
I do not claim to have precise answers to all the questions raised in connection with death, Eden, and sin. The point is that nobody else does either. The Biblical basis cannot bear the weight of all the far-reaching and detailed conclusions recent-creationists have built on it.
The Flood of Noah, Flood geology, and the vapor canopyThis is another large topic. Does the Biblical Flood account necessarily describe a global catastrophe which would certainly have totally rearranged the surface of the earth, therefore the rock layers do not represent long ages, therefore we must accept recent creation of the earth and the universe? Let’s go through all that slowly, a step at a time.
First, to settle one little score: To think otherwise does not constitute denial that it was a historical event, nor denial of all God’s past and future judgments. Disbelief in Flood geology does not equal disbelief in the Flood. Let’s stick to the subject. He who slings mud loses ground.
I do not believe the story is clear about whether the Flood was global, and I will not try to prove a case either way. There are interesting clues pointing both pro and con. It clearly was no ordinary local flood in both extent and duration.
Neither Noah nor Moses necessarily had a clear concept of the planet as we now do. The term used, Hebrew “erets,” is used elsewhere in reference to the known world, or nations, or even smaller areas: Gen. 41:56; Ex. 10:5, 15; Deut. 28:10; Josh. 4:24; Jud. 6:37 (the ground beside Gideon’s fleece!); I Sam. 17:46; 30:16 (an army camp).
The account definitely means the Flood destroyed the entire human race and probably all domestic animals, but they had not necessarily covered the entire planet. Genesis emphasizes the high rate of violence before the Flood, and the need for capital punishment as a deterrent for murder after the Flood, so the pre-Flood population may not have been large or widespread. After the Flood, they persisted in remaining close together until God forcibly intervened to disperse them from their tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9).
On the other hand, the water covered “all the high hills under heaven”; this is a more convincing argument for global extent. Even if this only refers to the part of the world they knew, water won’t pile up in one place very high very long. Another point is that God did not simply instruct Noah to migrate. This seems to imply that there was no place of safety which Noah could reach by land within 120 years, or even that birds could reach. This seems to rule out suggestions that the Flood was just a local one, or that it refers to the sudden filling of the Black Sea basin at the end of the last Ice Age about 6000 BC, or even of the Mediterranean about 1,000,000 years ago.
On still another hand, we may not totally understand God’s purposes. Perhaps it would have been possible to migrate far enough away, but God kept him there preaching and building a ridiculous Ark to give people another 120 years in which to repent.
But the global-Flood interpretation raises some interesting problems too. It seems amazing that he landed so near where he started from, after presumably drifting far and wide for a year; perhaps this was providential. Flood geology portrays the earth’s surface as totally rearranged to a depth of several miles, producing most of the present rock layers, which would virtually obliterate pre-Flood geographical features. Yet Moses, writing after the Flood, refers to the pre-Flood Garden of Eden as containing four rivers known to his readers, and running through regions known to them, apparently (but arguably) not just regions named with pre-Flood names (Gen. 2:10-14).
What is the meaning of Gen. 7:20, “And the water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered.”? Why would God reveal to Noah, or Moses, that the water was just a few feet above the highest peak onthe whole earth? How could Noah possibly have measured this, or cared, other than avoiding wrecking the Ark? But it was a drifting barge, not a powered ship, so knowing this would have been of little use. Is it possible that the account does not mean the water was over the peaks for the entire 150 days (7:24)? Could it mean a wave that crested that high? A few meters of water at a given spot would be hazardous to the residents’ health even if only for a few minutes. It doesn’t take a year to drown. Perhaps water was slowly sloshing around, covering different places at different times, not covering the entire world simultaneously, but the only place of safety was in a boat. I do not have answers to these questions. Once again, there must be some fascinating home videos to watch in heaven.
8:5 says the tops of the mountains became visible, but 6-13 says Noah could not even see outside to know whether the land had dried off sufficiently for them to disembark. Perhaps the mountains became visible not because the water uncovered them but because clouds and fog cleared.
8:4 says the Ark came to rest on (NIV) the “mountains of Ararat,” not necessarily a peak. In fact, it would be almost miraculous to drift onto a submerged or just-emerged peak. Water flow would diverge around it, carrying a drifting Ark off into the deep ocean basins for years while the occupants helplessly starved or died of thirst. It actually was a minor miracle that the Ark would even get grounded on a foothill slope. Thus the many reports and searches for the Ark near the top of Mt. Ararat in Turkey are likely a wild goose chase. There is little reason to think it could or should be there.
Once again, we have a fascinating subject on which no one has all the answers.
On to the vapor canopy. This is a nebulous concept whose Biblical basis is almost entirely between the lines. In fairness, it should be noted that many recent-creationists have abandoned the vapor canopy concept. But many leaders still are committed to it, and it remains in widely circulated literature.
The entire Biblical basis of the canopy theory is questionable. It is highly dubious to find in the phrase in Gen. 1:7, “the waters above the firmament,” a detailed description of the structure of the upper atmosphere. It is much more simply interpreted as referring to clouds, Prov. 8:28.
Nowhere does the Bible state that the world had a mild climate everywhere; that statement is found between the lines somewhere, in the eye of the beholder. Gen. 2:5, 6 does not necessarily mean it never rained anywhere in the earth, or even in Eden. Hebrew does not have a clear system of verb tenses, so this is one of many passages where we cannot precisely determine relative times. Surely the oceans were absorbing sunlight, and at least part of this heat went into evaporation; what goes up must come down somewhere. If there was no rain, then how could there be rivers? Attempted explanations of this involve complex underground passageways and other assumptions which stretch the imagination and known physical principles. And how would people have a word for rain, which God could use to tell Noah what to get ready for?
9:12-16 does not say that the rainbow had never been seen before, only that God gave it a new significance. Nearly all the ceremonies and symbols of the Old Testament were in existence before God adopted them for use in worship: animal sacrifices, circumcision, clothing, etc.
It is also significant that in recent-creationists’ attempts to explain such a canopy they have not yet produced a scientific model that holds water. More about this in the following section.
This finally completes the discussion of the Biblical basis claimed for recent creation. I leave dinosaurs to be discussed under scientific topics.
This basis proves under examination to be riddled with unanswered questions and indefensible assumptions; it is neither the simple nor the obvious meaning of the text, therefore arguably not the literal interpretation, and perhaps not even the traditional one nor the authors’ meaning, let alone God’s. Recent creation cannot therefore be considered to be proven false, but the Bible is certainly open to other interpretations, and we can legitimately consider other options before choosing one. This primarily means we are permitted to look to scientific considerations for further guidance in determining what God was thinking when Moses and others wrote these texts. This might even lead us to an interpretation we had never noticed before, though of course it does not mean accepting all currently popular theories, nor anti-supernatural biases