Old Earth Creationism: That’s Billions with a B

universeOn Friday, Peter Jones posted on his blog some questions for Old-Earth Creationists (OEC).  As an OEC, I will attempt to answer his questions as best I can and hopefully shed a little light on some very legitimate issues that he brings up.  You can read his blog post in it’s entirety here.

First of all, let me commend Peter’s excellent points, one in particular being the dubiousness of OEC.  There are many, as he posits correctly, who shouldn’t be called creationists but should rightly be called evolutionists.  Theistic evolutionists to be fair, but evolutionists nonetheless.  While I do believe there is a little bit more margin for difference in OEC than there is in YEC, I don’t believe these evolutionary outliers represent a majority of OEC scholarship.  And I, obviously, won’t bother spending my time defending Theistic Evolution as I think it takes the Bible about as seriously as Covenant theologians take the Left Behind Series.

In an effort to answer all Peter’s claims, I want to begin with a few of my own.

First, while I do believe that there is some clarity that OEC need to offer and YEC (and whoever else) have the right to demand, if we get caught up in an “in-house” debate like this one, it’s easy to forget the primary debate outside the house.  Too often we have been fighting with our brother over who gets the bigger room while the rest of the house is burning down.  The cultural guns of the secularist, the humanist, and the naturalist are aimed at the Creator not the age of the Earth.  The primary issue is our sinful hearts doing what Paul claimed they would in Romans 1 which is rejecting, suppressing, and exchanging that truth that God is our Creator for the lie that something or someone else is the creator or that there is no creator.  What Paul doesn’t say is that our sinful hearts will lead us to reject, suppress, and exchange the truth that the Earth is 10,000 years old for a lie that it’s billions of years old.  This issue has been divisive for far too long and while a debate about it is beneficial for those in the audience, it’s also an opportunity to recognize that there are things that need divide and things that need not divide.

Second, I stand in long line of respected OEC apologists who have made great strides in defending the Christian faith.  People like Dr. Hugh Ross, Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. Gleason Archer, Dr. Walter Kaiser, Jr., Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, Dr. C. Jack Collins, Dr. Michael Horton, Dr. Norman Geisler, Francis Schaeffer and others like them have all done more for defending a Biblical worldview than I could ever hope to and I stand on their shoulders when it comes to my position on many things including the age of the Earth.  If you want more information on any of the surfaces I’m about to scratch, these names are good places to get started.

Finally, I’m still an amateur at all this, so if my answers seem simplistic, it’s because I’m still bobbing in the shallow end of the pool with swimmies on my arms.  I am by no means an expert on this and I’m sure that there are quite a number of people who are better suited to respond than I am.  It is with a deep humility that I attempt to accomplish this task, so without further ado…

I’ll try to undertake each question/issue as it came in the blog.

What is an old-earth creationist?” 

An OEC is a person who, while believing the Bible to be inerrant, maintains that a literal interpretation of the term translated “day” in Hebrew has a range of meaning that includes “an long period of time with a definite end.”  They believe that out of the range of meaning this particular meaning is most appropriate and correct when dealing with all creation accounts in Scripture (Ps 104, 147, 148, 65, 33; Prov. 8; Job 38-39; Isaiah 40; Rev. 20-22), but particularly the ones recorded in Genesis 1 & 2.

“Do you believe the world is millions of years old or tens of thousands?”

To my knowledge, there are no OEC arguing for hundreds of thousands of years.  The reason we argue for billions (yes that’s billions with a b) is because we believe the “67th book of the Bible,” God’s infallible natural revelation (as distinguished from the 66 books of infallible special revelation), teaches billions of years and billions of years is consistent with what God reveals in infallible special revelation.  What God’s hand in creation shows us in our study of plate tectonics under our feet or stars above our heads is that the universe in which we operate is billions of years old.  For time sake, I’ll give just one example that has led us to that conclusion.  Many years ago, astronomers noticed that stars they viewed in their telescopes were giving off different colors of light.  They came to determine that the color indicated different distances as the light had to pass through dust and gas to make its way to earth.  Over a period of time, it became clear that the universe was expanding and these stars were moving away from a centralized point.  This meant that at a certain time in history past, all the distant stars and planets and galaxies were at a fixed place within our universe.  As a result, the Big Bang was theorized because up to this point, naturalists had argued that the universe always was and had no definite beginning.  (Ironically, this new theory fit right in with the Christian worldview of a definite beginning of the universe.)  The astronomers then knew it would logically follow that they could pull out their telescopes, look up at the sky, and by the calculating at the speed which light travels be able to tell when all those distant stars that are moving away were all in one place.  Following that spectral beam of light from the star, through those gas clouds and dust, astronomers could tell that we are looking at billions years of light travel time not thousands years of light travel time.

“Do you believe that only land + water has been around for millions of years (Creation days 1-2)? Or do you also believe that plants, fish, birds, and animals have been around for millions of years (Creation days 3-6)?” 

First of all, unlike YEC, in OEC, not all the “days” need be the same length which means if I believe the universe if 14 billion years old, I don’t need to divide those billions evenly among the 6 days of creation.  However, I’ll try my best to break down the timing of the Creation days as I understand it.  13 – 14 billion years ago, a singular Creation event occurred and in a matter of nanoseconds we had space curvature, dimensions, gravity, photons, leptons, electromagnetic forces, quarks, baryons, anti-baryons, etc.  Within less than five minutes of that event, nuclei begin to appear.  This is God’s act of creating the Heavens and the Earth (matter, energy, space, and time) “in the beginning.”  After about 300,000 years, the first atoms appear and light separates from darkness.  365 million years later, stars form.  135 million years after that, galaxies appear.  Fast forward 1.5 billion years and you have all manner of quasars and galaxies appearing.  Another 7.5 billion years later and you have solar systems (Day 1).  Focusing on Planet Earth, about 1 billion years passes and during this time a permanent water cycle is established (Day 2).  Remaining on Earth, over the course of a couple hundred million years, plate tectonics are established, waters recede into lakes, rivers, and oceans while vegetation begins to grow (Day 3).  Then, God reveals his creations of Day 1 to the Earth by making the atmosphere transparent for the first time and establish them as signs for the animals and humans He will create on Days 5 & 6.  All the complex animals created on those days would need occasional visibility of the sun, moon, and stars to regulation their biological clocks.  This is the shortest time period probably lasting less than 100 million years (Day 4).  And over the course of the next 400 million years, life was created on Earth in the forms of fish, shells/invertebrates, terrestrial reptiles, dinosaurs, winged birds, ect. (Day 5).  

Do you believe man has been around for millions of years? If you believe men lived prior to Adam, when did Adam come into existence and did those men who lived prior to Adam die ? If you don’t believe men lived prior to Adam and you do believe there are millions of years between us and Adam where do you find the millions of years in the Biblical chronology?

There were no men before Adam and Adam is a relatively recent player on the stage of history when looking back at the Creation account.  The furthest possible date for Adam’s entrance on earth is 60 – 100,000 years.  And that’s a very liberal estimation.  I’m more comfortable with a 20 – 40,000 year period of man on Earth and I think this fits in well with the Biblical account.  Confusion sets in when we introduce the bipedal hominids.  OEC would place them (including the Neanderthals) in the primate category alongside chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans.  They were not human and likely died out before Adam was created, therefore there is no need to place them in the human race before Adam or the Biblical account after Adam.

Do you believe evolution is part of the process by which God populated the globe? Do you believe man evolved from a lower species? 

Care must be taken when utilizing the term evolution.  When an OEC, or even YEC for that matter, say we don’t believe in evolution, we must be clear about what we are saying.  What we don’t believe is in speciation or macro-evolution wherein which the evolutionary process allows large changes to occur meaning certain species change and transform to create new species.  But I don’t know a single OEC or YEC that has a problem with intra-species adaptation or micro-evolution.  This is what Darwin observed when he saw the finches.  He saw the intra-species adaptation within these birds on different islands and observed how they had adjusted to fit their environment.  Darwin then extrapolated this into macro-evolution which the Bible very clearly teaches against.  When it comes to naturalistic evolution, Peter correctly states, “[I]n secular science the age of the earth and evolution are two sides of the same coin. The reason the earth needs to be millions/billions of years old is to support the theory of evolution.”  He grants that it is possible to agree with the evolutionist about the age of the earth and not about evolution, but then he posits his final question which I feel is probably his most important.

“Can one logically separate an old earth from evolution?”

I would argue that not only can they be separated, but they must be separated.  I believe the age of the Earth is another Copernican Revolution about to bite the Evangelical American Church in the rear-end.  One of the darker days for Reformed theology, and even Christianity as a whole, was when Luther and Calvin both called out Copernicus for his anti-Biblical science with Calvin going so far as to call him “stark raving mad” and “possessed” by the devil.  Looking back, the Church has had to recognize their fallibility in interpreting infallible data, admit it, and thank scientists like Galileo and Copernicus for pointing out our misinterpretation, because I don’t know of anyone arguing against heliocentricity in 2014.  In the same way, I think the Church is misinterpreting the data and, here again with regards to this topic, I see the modern scientist of the day as correct.  And just like we see nothing Biblically inconsistent with heliocentrism or a spherical Earth, I see nothing inconsistent with modern science’s interpretation of the data when it comes to the age of the earth.

However, problem drives both ways on this high way.  Not only is the Church fallibly interpreting infallible data, so is the scientific community, both believing and non-believing.  This means that when we see inconsistencies within their interpretation, we have to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of examination of the infallible date for ourselves.  Without pitting infallible natural revelation against infallible special revelation, we have to come to a conclusion about the interpretation being offered to us by modern science.  I believe that macro-evolution or speciation is an incorrect interpretation of natural revelation by fallible, fallen human beings.  It should be rejected and tossed out with the Four Humors, Phrenology, and Spontaneous Generation.  This is why I believe that an old earth, an interpretation that is consistent with both revelations, can and should be separated from macro-evolution which is clearly an interpretation that is not consistent with the special revelation of The Bible or the natural revelation of the created universe.  It’s just bad science.

Again, I appreciate Peter’s desire to get to the heart of what OEC believe (particularly about evolution and the Historical Adam) and hope that he finds my answers sufficient and the rest of you find them helpful.

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4 comments

  1. Interesting read, haven’t heard it from this point of view. I don’t ask this to strike down your argument and assume you’re wrong, I’m generally curious. The 4th question asks about how OEC fits the Biblical chronology, but you don’t mention how the ages of all the people in the Bible span 20-40,000 years instead of (the age that I’ve heard more commonly among YEC) 6,000 years. Scholars have extensively examined the genealogy of the Bible and, through the literal translation, have come up with this number. So my question is how do you interpret the years indicated in the Bible to come up with this suggested time frame? Are we to assume that all mentions of length of time in the Bible can be so loosely interpreted?

  2. 6 – 10,000 years garnered popularity in the 1600’s when Bishop Ussher created his famous timeline of the Creation events. He went through the Bible and did simple math and came up with the idea that the Earth and humanity was very young (around 4,004 years if I’m not mistaken).

    You mention that scholars have extensively examined the Biblical genealogy through literal interpretation of the Bible and that’s a point I’ll grant and agree with you 100%. What I won’t grant, however, is that they have all come up with this number.

    The genealogies in question are Gen. 5 and Gen. 11 and they takes us from Adam to Noah and Noah to Abraham. But what theologians have discovered (and what Early Church father’s believed and wrote down before the modern scientific age) is that the purpose of all the genealogies in the Bible are fundamentally different than our modern purpose of genealogies, meaning they weren’t meant to be used as time keeping devices. They were meant to create a theological construct that followed key members of a lineage. This would lead to gaps in the records which we see when we compare two genealogies in the Biblical text.

    On top of all this, the nature of the Hebrew language complicates things immensely. The word for “son” (ben) and “father” (ab) have a wide range of meanings because Hebrew has such a small vocabulary. For instance, there is no Hebrew word for grandfather or grandson. (God spoke to Jacob saying, “I am the LORD, the God of your father (ab) Abraham and the God of Isaac.” [Gen. 28] But Abraham was his grandfather. We see the same word being used interchangeably). There is great nuance to these words and their range of meaning is vast.

    I will grant there is also a lack of precision when it comes to the scientific data as the numbers that are given are general estimations.

    So when I combine the ambiguity of the Biblical genealogies and the estimations given by scientific data, I see no inherent conflict between the two.

    There are countless other reasons for my belief in the +40,000 year model for humanity, but that’s a good place to start.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. I was reading through the January issue of Discover which featured an article about a study done on an old human skull. Characteristics revealed that (in their frame of mind which suggests multiple species of the Homo genus), characteristics which were once believed to be identifiers of different species are merely variations within the population of one species. This got me wondering a couple things: How do we explain the variations of human anatomy found in various fossils while ignoring macro-evolution, especially if looking through an OEC perspective? Is it macro-evolution to begin with? Can we look to the Bible for these types of scientific inquiries, or is it left up to our interpretation? Again, I’m not set out to disprove the Bible and it’s authenticity. Being immersed in a scientific-based career, these are the types of questions I am consistently fielded, and I want answers that line up with the Bible and make fundamental sense.

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