Indeed, the age of the earth debate is largely one of a third tier nature, and one that need not divide the church. It’s more of an “in house” issue. Nevertheless, it is an important issue, and one that we must think through. In this post, I’d like to give the reasons I’m a young earth creationist, and offer a few comments about science and epistemology below.
- Genesis 1:1-31 seems to indicate that creation took place in six literal days. After each day, we’re given parameters of “evening and morning,” the word “day” (yom), and the correlating number. Indeed, there seems to be a syntagmatic relationship with all six days.
- The genre of Genesis 1 is that of historical narrative. That is, what is being described is not a poem or metaphorical language, but a list of events as they happened. As Charles Taylor notes, “Genesis chapter 1 was written in the Hebrew language which is consistent in using one structure for narrative and quite a different one for poetry.”
- Exodus 20:11 seems to confirm the first two points. Here Moses, the same author as Genesis 1, says that God created the “heavens and earth” in six days. Then the six-day creation model is used as the basis for the number of days in a week. Israel was to work six days and rest on the seventh, just as God had done during the creation week. The phrase “heavens and earth” is a merism, which is when two opposites are put together to illustrate a singular concept; thus this is referring to all of creation (There is no Hebrew word for “universe”).
- The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 seem to indicate that the time between Adam and Abraham was relatively short. Using the Masoretic Hebrew text of Genesis 5 and 11, it becomes clear that there was about 2,000 years between Adam and Abraham. And since Abraham lives 4,000 years ago from us, and Adam lived 2,000 years ago from Abraham, and the creation of everything “seen and unseen” took place 5 days before Adam, it follows that the universe is about 6,000 years old. But are there gaps in the genealogies? It doesn’t appear so, for when the genealogy progresses to another generation with the phrase, “he became the father of…” (e.g. Gen 5:3), it uses the Hebrew word yalad, which is always used in the Old Testament to mean a single-generation. But even if we grant that there were gaps in the genealogies, they would extend the age of the universe only a few thousand years. Some are thus more comfortable saying the age of the universe is 6,000-10,000 years old. Some also call into question as to whether the Israelites would have made the calculation. Regardless if they did or not, they would have had a sense, by virtue of reading the genealogies, that Abraham and Adam were not millions of years apart.
- Mark 10:6 seems to indicate that Jesus assumed that Adam and Eve lived near the time of creation. “In the beginning” (Gen. 1:1), God made them “male and female.”
- There was no death before sin. That is, there was a historical Fall (Gen 3) whereby death came into being for the first time (Gen. 1:29-30; 2:17; 3:1-24; Lev. 17:11; Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 5:12-21; Rom. 8:19-22; 1 Cor. 15:22-55; Rev. 21:4; 22:3). The Hebrew word for “life” that is ascribed to animals and humans (but never to plants) is either nephesh or chayyah (c.f. Gen 1:29-30). Therefore, it’s not inconsistent to see that before death plants died, as they were never classified as having nephesh.
Given the above six arguments, I think that the age of the universe is only thousands of year old (6,000-10,000). John MacArthur’s comment is helpful here:
It would be much better to recognize the superiority of Scripture up-front and make Scripture the authority whereby all scientific theory is evaluated. That is the historic principle of sola Scriptura. Christians who hold to the authority of Scripture over scientific theory will not be ashamed when all the true facts come in.
However, a word of caution is needed: the meaning of Genesis 1-11 is not that the earth is 6,000 years old. Some who study the issue tend to teach and preach in such a way that people assume the purpose of Genesis 1-11 was to tell us the age of the universe. This is not true. To be sure, it is subject matter in the text, but not the meaning of the text itself.
What is the purpose of the text? The purpose of the text, immediately speaking, was to lay out who created everything, what kind of God Israel served, to sketch out God’s plan of redemption, to set-up allusions to the future temple, and to act as a polemic against polytheistic creation myths. David Murray reminds Christians that ultimately, however, Genesis is about Jesus. If we use a redemptive-historical hermeneutic, it will “encourage us to view His creation in connection with His redemption, for example, John 1:1-3 and Hebrews 1:1-3.” “I conclude,” Murray continues, “that Genesis 1-2 is not so much about science, although it has nothing to fear from true science; it is about the person and work of Jesus.” Murray elaborates:
We should view creation against the backdrop of the plan of redemption and as an integral part of it… If the plan of redemption came before the creation, in Genesis 1-2 the Redeemer is creating the arena of His redemption… When Jesus designed the world, He set the stage perfectly for the unfolding drama of redemption. He designed the props, the backdrops, the lighting, the set, the actors, and so forth. He made sure that everything was suited to the redemption He planned to perform… Think of how Jesus even created that what would be used in His own crucifixion. What did He think when He made the trees, one of which would one day suspend Him between heaven and earth?
Thus, when we preach and teach Genesis 1-11, let us give our people Jesus, rather than bogging them down with scientific details about carbon-14, and the like. That’s not to say that we can never teach on the comparisons between evolution and creation, but that we must be clear on the meaning of the text. Let us rest in the historic, simple confession:
In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good (LBCF 4.1).
The Relationship Between Scripture and Science
Theologians have dubbed the two ways by which God reveals Himself as General Revelation and Special Revelation. The former refers to nature, and the latter refers to Jesus and the Bible. It must be stated that since these two modes of revelation come from the same source, they are not contradictory. So says Vern Poythress:
So when we find discrepancies between the Bible and science, we look for where we went astray. Somewhere someone has misinterpreted—whether misinterpreting Scripture, or misinterpreting the world of scientific study, or both!
Therefore, there can be a little push-and-pull between Scripture and science. That is, when we find a discrepancy, it should drive us back to both exegesis and to a reexamination of the scientific data. But does this mean that Scripture and scientific investigation are on equal footing? No. In fact, Scripture should be given priority:
Scripture has a linguistic and redemptive priority. It has a linguistic priority, because it comes to us in human language. By contrast, we do not have access to God’s words of providence in human language… In this way, the Bible has a kind of linguistic ultimacy, in that it is the word of God, not merely a human approximation to the word, a guess at the word on the basis of an accumulation of observations about its effects. My linguistic formulation of the laws of aerodynamics is fallible; the Bible, as linguistic communication, is not fallible. In this respect, the formulations by a human scientist are more like a commentary on the Bible than they are like the Bible itself. The commentary, as a human product, is fallible, whereas the Bible is infallible.
Scientific investigation of the natural realm is essentially the study of God’s general revelation and the means by which He upholds the universe (secondary causes). We’re told that in the second Person of the Trinity “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), and that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). We’re also told that God governs and sustains the natural day-to-day processes (Gen. 8:22; Ps. 104:14, 20; 147:15-18). Indeed, it was God’s word that “made the heavens” (Ps. 33:6), and His word is still powerfully operating to sustain and direct His creation (c.f., Ps. 147:15-16, 18).
The purpose of general revelation has a positive and negative side to it. On the positive side, it is to make us stand in awe (Ps. 8:3-4) as we behold the glory of God being revealed (Ps. 19:1). On the negative side, general revelation renders everyone guilty before God’s judgment seat. No one will be able to say, “I didn’t know.” In Romans 1, Paul says that “that which is known about God is evident” (v.19) to everyone. And what is to be known about God? Paul answers: His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and His divine nature (v. 20). Not only this, but also these things have been “clearly seen” and “understood” (v.20). Indeed, everyone on the planet knows God (v.21). The problem, however, is that some “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v.18), and “exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for an image” (v.23). Therefore, on judgment day, non-Christians will be “without excuse” (v.20). General revelation is, therefore, sufficient to condemn, but not to save (this also strengthens the claim of special revelation superiority).
Coming back to the question at hand, What do we do when we find evidence for both an old earth and evidence for a young earth? As stated above, we need to be pushed back into exegesis of the text, and a reexamination of the scientific data. Albert Mohler, for instance, has posited the possibility of God making the universe with the appearance of age. This would be consistent with what we find in creation, for Adam, Eve, the animals, and the plants were all created mature. Would it not follow that God might have made the earth mature? If this were true, it would allow for a young-earth and scientific data for the contrary to stand together. That is, the earth could really be only 6,000-10,000 years old, and we could have scientific data showing the age of the earth to be millions of years old. It would appear that this is one faithful way of bringing two difficult sides together. Still, others point out that the global flood could have increased the dates we get through various dating methods.
The rebuttal from naturalists is usually this: But there simply isn’t any real scientific and empirical evidence for a young earth. This claim implies that the young-earth creationist somehow doesn’t like science or empirical evidence. Besides the No-True-Scotsman Fallacy, this simply is not true, and reveals a deeper epistemological issues.
For the naturalist, he might limit his foundation of knowledge to empiricism. That is, he affirms the Cliffordian Maxim: In order for one to believe something rationally, there must be sufficient empirical evidence to support said belief. It is from this commitment that he usually critiques the young-earth creationist. As a side note, I would mention that the Maxim is self-refuting, which is to say that it cannot support itself. Show me, for instance, the evidence for my needing evidence in order to believe something rationally.
The Christian, however, has a revelational epistemology. That is, we submit to the authoritative, progressively revealed, inscripturated word of God:
We cannot subject the authoritative pronouncements of Scripture about reality to the scrutiny of reason because it is reason itself that learns of its proper function from Scripture… But if man is not autonomous, if he is rather what Scripture says he is, namely, a creature of God and a sinner before his face, then man should subordinate his reason to the Scriptures and seek in light of it to interpret his experience.
[The believer] may deduce that certain events, phenomena, and ideas are flatly impossible because they contradict essential features of the Christian system (Deut. 13:1-5; 1 Cor. 14:32-33; 2 Tim. 2:13). The important point to grasp, however, is that on a Christian logic, a contradiction in one’s beliefs is not an idea or a perspective that violates a formal rule, but an idea that confuses, or resists incorporation into the Christian system. Stated another way, one cannot determine the logical possibility or impossibility of a given idea by isolating it from its Trinitarian context, and measuring it according to abstract principles of identity and contradiction. Ideas that may seem to be free from self-contradiction, and possible when considered in relative isolation (e.g., that we may discover the bones of Jesus Christ; that man may evolve into a sinless being; etc) are self-contradictions for the Christian, since they contradict the only system of reality that is able to preserve any kind of intelligibility. On the other hand, ideas that appear to be impossible and even logically contradictory when viewed in isolation, are sufficiently intelligible, even to the degree that they can be proven necessary, when viewed from within the Christian system (e.g., resurrection from the dead; Jesus’s simultaneous ignorance and omniscience; etc). The doctrine of the Trinity, despite its apparent contradictions, turns out to he the most logical, and indeed most necessary of all ideas
All of this to say, Christians are not against empirical data, but only that empirical data is not all there is, in terms of seeking after truth. Christians love science because we get to discover how it is God does things, but we also know that the Creator of the universe has condescended and revealed Himself to us. This revelation must be taken into account—and indeed must reign supreme—when conducting science. To state it another way: the naturalist is too narrow, only allowing empirical data to form one’s opinion.
Is unity in the church possible?
In reacting to theological liberalism, a movement came forth known as Fundamentalism. One of the characteristics of this movement was that it “circled the wagons” and reduced Christianity to a few requisite doctrines. Some have wanted to do this sort of program with the age of the earth. As long as you believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, we can have fellowship, some tout. This is unfortunate, as I can think of so many doctrines (not directly dealing with the person and work of Christ) that are much more important than the age of the earth (e.g., covenant theology, God’s sovereign election, baptism, etc).
In a previous post I laid out six points that if believed, unity amongst God’s people should abound. As long as we can agree that (1) God created all that exists (both seen and unseen) from nothing, in some manner (Gen. 1:1-31; Exo. 20:11; Job 38:4; Ps. 19:1-2; 33:6; Prov. 8:27-28; Isa. 45:18; Jer. 10:12; John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:11; 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5; Rev. 4:11); (2) There was a historical Adam and Eve (who were our first parents), and all humans descended from these two individuals (Gen. 1:26-30; 2:1-25; 4:1; Deut. 32:8; 1 Chron. 1:1; Job 31:33; Ps. 82:7; Hos. 6:7; Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:6; Luke 3:23-38; Acts 17:26; Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 11:8-9; 15:20-49; Eph. 5:31-32; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Jude 1:14); (3) There was a historic Fall of mankind. Adam, in history, as our federal head (i.e., representative), ate the forbidden fruit and now both humanity and creation are under the curse and corruption of the Fall (Gen 3:6; Eccl. 7:29; Rom. 5:12; 8:19-22; 1 Cor. 15:20-58; Rev. 12:9). (4) There was no human death prior to the Fall. Death is a consequence of the Fall, and was not in existence before the Fall (Gen. 1:29-30; 2:17; 3:1-24; Lev. 17:11; Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 5:12-21; Rom. 8:19-22; 1 Cor. 15:22-55; Rev. 21:4; 22:3). (5) Humans are made in the image of God. We are not just another animal, but are image bearers. God gave us dominion over the animal kingdom (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:19-20; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Cor. 6:19; 11:7; Col. 3:10; Jas. 3:8-10). And (6) The Bible is our ultimate authority (Num. 23:19; Ps. 119:89; Prov. 30:5-6; Isa. 8:20; Luke 24:25; John 10:27; 17:17; Acts 24:14; 1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Titus 1:2; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 3:2).
There are several Old Earth positions that could affirm the above six points. For example, there are those who believe what has been dubbed “Historic Creationism,” which is the idea that God created the earth and it remained “formless and void” for, maybe, millions of years. Then, after a set time, God formed all the creatures on the earth in six-literal days (as dictated by Genesis 1). In this view, the earth is old, but humans are young (6,000-10,000 years old). This also necessarily puts a kind of “gap” in between Genesis 1:2 and 1:3 (thus, the creation of the earth is not part of the creation week). Some holding this view have appealed to Jeremiah 4:23-26 and Psalm 104 for support.
Another non-young earth view is that we do not know what governed “evening and morning” until day four. Therefore, we cannot be sure of the duration of the “day” in days 1-3. It is repeated three times on the fourth day that the sun and moon will now “govern” what we call a “day,” but we know of no such parameter for the previous three days. Thus, days 1-3 could be twenty-four hour periods, or millions to billions of years in duration. We simply don’t know, and should not go beyond the text of Scripture.
While I disagree with the above two creation beliefs, we agree on the six-tenants of unity, and therefore the age of the earth issue should not divide us. Our disagreement, then, is not on the authority of Scripture, but is a hermeneutical disagreement (like end times).
Nevertheless, there are creation theories that do damage to the biblical witness and the gospel itself. In this dangerous camp, I would place theistic evolution. This is a dangerous view because it often denies points 2-6 above.
In conclusion, I would like to quote Joel Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Writing for Answers in Genesis’s The New Answers Book 4, Beeke says this:
The Reformers taught that God revealed in Genesis that He created all things in six ordinary days about six thousand years ago… I believe that we face a double danger here. First, we are in danger of losing our confidence that words can clearly communicate truth. There seems to be a hermeneutical issue at stake here, namely, the perspicuity of Scripture… If plain words can take on allegorical or alternative meaning so easily so that they do not mean what they plainly state, how do we know what anything means? The resulting uncertainly that such interpretations convey leads into the second danger, that of doctrinal minimalism. If we cut back the meaning of our confession by saying their statements merely stand against some specific error, then we lose the richness of what the confessions positively affirm… An uncertain and minimalist approach to the doctrine of creation opens the door for serious errors to enter the church, such as the evolution of man from animals or the denial that Adam and Eve were real, historical people. Happily, a robust doctrine of creation provides a strong foundation for our faith.
© copyright J. Brandon Burks
Also see Arguments Against Christianity Series:
Also see Covenantal Apologetics Series:
Robert V. McCabe, “A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Week,” in Coming To Grips With Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth, ed. Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008), 216-217, 226-227.
Ken Ham, “Could God Really Have Created Everything in Six Days?,” in The New Answers Book 1: Over 25 Questions on Creation/Evolution and the Bible, ed. Ken Ham (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006), 96-97.
Bodie Hodge, “How Old Is the Earth?” in The New Answers Book 2: Over 30 Questions on Creation/Evolution and the Bible, ed. Ken Ham (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008), 184.
Larry Pierce and Ken Ham, “Are There Gaps in the Genesis Genealogies?,” in The New Answers Book 2: Over 30 Questions on Creation/Evolution and the Bible, ed. Ken Ham (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008), 175.
Terry Mortenson, “Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science: A Young Earth Creationist Response to William Dembski,” Answers Research Journal [ARJ] 2 (2009): 151-167.
John MacArthur, The Battle For The Beginning: Creation, Evolution, and the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 65.
C.f., Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 72, 91-92, 97, 108.
Richard B. Gaffin, “The Redemptive-Historical View,” in Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views, ed. Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012).
David Murray, Jesus On Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 44-45.
Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 43.
K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 127-128.
Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, ed. Scott Oliphint (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1955), 130.
B.A. Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox: An Interpretation and Refinement of the Theological Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014), 90. [Brackets mine].
James M. Renihan, “Introduction,” in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology, ed. by Richard Barcellos (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2014), 15-17.
For more on this view, see: Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 89-92; and Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 96-102.
Joel R. Beeke, “What Did the Reformers Believe about the Age of the Earth?” in The New Answers Book 4: Over 30 Questions on Creation/Evolution and the Bible, ed. by Ken Ham (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2013), 101, 110.