We have an ongoing debate in Christianity over how and when God created the earth and, especially, mankind. There are both “Old Earth” and “Young Earth” Christians – who love Jesus and believe the Bible to be inspired and inerrant. If we were to take an anonymous poll of the Bible–believing folks in our church, I think we’d find……that only about half believe in a young earth perspective—that God created everything in a literal six days about 6 to 10 thousands years ago. An equal number of folks would probably say God created everything billions of years ago and shaped our earth millions of years ago—that Genesis presents a poetic picture of that process. It would probably be a pretty big surprise to the young earth folks that such a large percentage of very conservative evangelicals actually believe in an old universe and earth.
This “discussion” tends to be polarizing and disruptive to Christian fellowship. Because this is so contentious within the church—compromising our love, respect and unity—it is surely harmful to evangelism and presents an unsavory image to non–believers.
As we have just launched a study on the book of Genesis, this is a great opportunity to discuss this major issue and hone in on what is key.
I have four goals in writing this: (1st) objectively explain where the “camps” are coming from, so we might have more understanding and fewer assumptions; (2nd) provide a list of resources and chief proponents of each view for your personal investigation; (3rd) highlight the biggest strengths as well as the biggest challenges of each viewpoint, so that each “side” will understand where uncertainty lies and that they would think through their rhetoric more carefully.
The (4th) goal is the most important. I would love to see the Church deal with this “debate” with much more grace, both for the sake of love within the Church and our witness outside the Church. Christians that are heavily entrenched in their “side” seem to make disparaging remarks about other Christians that see things differently. Let us not divide up into contentious camps on this issue. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 14:
Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
When it comes to various beliefs on origins, we must seek to respect and learn from each other. We must revere those things that are “essentials,” such as the deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, His work of atonement, His resurrection, the inspiration and integrity of scripture, etc. and hold loosely to things that are “non (or at least “less”)–essential.” When speaking about this issue, I want to soften the judgmentalism and help people get back to what is important. Origins can be a lively and invigorating “in house” discussion between Christians, but we need to make sure it doesn’t spill over into something that harms our witness. What grieves me most is when one Christian disparages the faith, integrity or kingdom-effectiveness of another passionate and committed believer based on this issue. We must remember the key thing is knowing Jesus – studying His word in order to put it into practice, that we may become more like Him.
For my own part, I have decided to try my best to understand both angles and look for the merits and problems of each. I figure, Hey, there are really brilliant, Jesus–loving, evangelical theologian/scientists on both sides of this debate. Compared to these great minds, who am I? How could I claim to know which view is right? Let me humbly learn from both and glean a greater respect and love for God and His Word.
And, I need to say this, as well: Just because we have a difference of understanding how to interpret the scripture passages dealing with origins, this doesn’t prove the Bible wrong. The fact is, any theory of origin apart from God is simply ludicrous. We might debate “how” and “when” God created, but we agree on the key thing—“that He created.” The alternative… just isn’t an alternative!
OLD UNIVERSE / OLD EARTH
PROPONENTS | There have been prominent and well–respected Christians that hold to an Old Earth point of view, such as:
• John Lennox, William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis, Norm Geisler, Hank Hannegraff, Greg Koukl, J.P. Moreland, and Hugh Ross, to name a few.
• Chuck Smith even gave credence to an old universe and an old earth, based on scripture, in what is termed the “gap theory.” He didn’t necessarily espouse this view, but rather, gave room for it and suggested that it had credible scriptural support.
• Jon W. Greene wrote an excellent article supporting Old Earth Creationism from a purely scriptural framework. It rejects evolution and supports the special creation of man. It is very well written.
• Mark Driscoll’s study on Genesis 1 | Old Earth, but literal Adam & Eve 6000 years ago.
• John Lennox’s Seven Days that Divide the World
• Allows for a reconciling of observable science and Scripture.
• Allows evangelism to naturalists without forcing them into a young earth position—allowing Jesus to be the “rock of stumbling” instead of origins.
BEST EVIDENCES |
• Observable stellar events that are hundreds of millions of light years away.
Although there are reasonable Young Earth solutions to this, as well.
• Most scientists (even Christian ones) agree that the Earth appears old by all accounts.
• There is scriptural basis for old earth thinking (see Jon Greene’s resource).
• The fine–tuning of the universe over a long stellar history in order to support human life is an incredible proof of divine design. This is a big theme of Hugh Ross’ book, More than a Theory.
WEAKNESSES / CRITICISMS
• The biggest theological problem of Old Earth Creationism (“OEC”) is that it introduces death in creation before sin, which conflicts with the Christian World View.
Jon Greene’s article does a good job of reconciling this.
• “OECs push Theistic Evolution, which minimizes God’s role as the creator of Life.”
This is overcome by pointing to a “punctuated” creation whereby God creates each “kind” or “species” individually—which actually lines up with the fossil record, ie. the lack of transitional forms.
Some OECs suggest that Adam was a special creation of God—breathing the Spirit into Adam made him the first man. This means that he might have had a long line of pre–human ancestors, but he was the first man because he was made In God’s Image via the Spirit of God. This is a lot of speculation, of course, without scriptural basis, apart from, perhaps, the “Nephilim” in Genesis.
• “Old Earth Creationism is just cowing to Darwin’s naturalistic worldview. OECs are basically liberals who are compromising Biblical integrity and undermine the Gospel.”
On the other hand: some of these OEC folks actually think they are looking at Genesis as it was intended to be read: that is inerrant and infallible, but that it wasn’t written as a literal account of creation, but rather, a poetic or metaphoric description. These are the “day age” folks that read each “day” in Genesis as “age,” which is a tenable translation of the word “yom.”
As for “undermining the Gospel,” I’ve heard OEC folks say the same about the Young Earth Creationists (“YECs”) – that stressing belief in Young Earth Creationism until it is nearly a tenant of salvation is keeping people from coming to Jesus.
• “Many Old Earth folks see Adam though Noah as mythical people and deny the Flood.”
This is a very troubling aspect of OEC, which does seem to degrade the integrity of scripture. Understanding the flood of Noah as a literal event is the key thing to understand our present geology, according to Young Earth Creationism, but many OECs overlook the impact of the flood.
• “You can’t really be a good Bible–believing Christian unless you hold to a young earth world view.”
I’ve heard Old Earth Creationists say the same thing about the Young Earth folks. This kind of accusation doesn’t really get us anywhere.
• Dr. Henry Morris | icr.org
The team of ICR researchers: icr.org/research/team
Their regular magazine, “Acts and Facts” | icr.org/aaf
• Ken Hamm | answersingenesis.org
The contributors to his site: answersingenesis.org/blogs/
Creation Research Society, which publishes many books and magazines on Young Earth Creationism | crsbooks.org
Creation.com’s 101 Evidences for a Young Earth
• Most straightforward reading of Genesis
• Easiest understanding of Adam and Eve
• Establishes a Christian world view from the very beginning of Scripture
• YEC sees Noah’s flood as a worldwide cataclysmic event that accounts for the fossil record and the sedimentary layers.
The science community typically rejects Noah’s Flood, yet, what if the Flood was truly the key to understanding the earth as we know it? Who knows what a flood of this size could do to our world? Let’s not rule it out too quickly, folks!
BEST EVIDENCES |
• The Earth’s Magnetic Field is decaying
• The Moon is Receding
• Soft tissue found in dinosaur bones
• And many, many more from the above articles
WEAKNESSES / CRITICISMS |
• “Starlight” | Supernova and other astronomical events which are hundreds of millions of light years away are observable, which means that we are literally seeing what happened millions of years ago. Starlight is a literal time machine. This is a tough issue to reconcile.
The common answer is that “God created the light in place”—that He created the universe and the earth with apparent age. But this would mean that we are seeing events that never actually happened. This makes little sense.
The better answer is that “the speed of light has changed due to the stretching out of space” or “the speed of light is slowing down.” Recent research indicates the likelihood that the speed of light is slowing, and doing so at an exponential rate. This could then compensate for the seeming age of the universe. Also, if the universe is expanding, as is believed, the galaxies that appear so far away now, were imminently closer just after creation.
• “Young earth folks are living in the dark ages – not being reasonable” or “YECs are anti–scientific”
Many young–earthers are clearly honest scientists who see the physical evidences of a young earth.
• “Young earth teaching gives Christianity a bad name and harms evangelism by making origins a stumbling block.”
The problem with both is this – OECs and YECs are both treading on each other’s “sacred ground” with a lack of respect. For some, a literal six–day creation is a precious truth, backed by actual science—so let’s treat it with respect and not label these folks as lunatics. For others, an old universe and earth is the only thing that seems “intellectually honest” or even “scripturally honest”—let’s not be too quick to accuse them of heresy, either!
This sees a separation of time between Genesis 1:1 & 1:2.
Briefly – in verse 1, God creates “ex nihilo” all matter and energy –everything that was made. This is the word “bara”—creating “from nothing.” Day one begins in verse 2, not verse 1! That is the big difference in this point of view.
After verse 1, a long time passes – time enough for Satan and his angels to fall from heaven and then to corrupt the earth. Isaiah 45:18 declares that God didn’t create a world of “disorder”—which explains why it is “formless” and “void” in verse 2! Something happened to ruin God’s perfect creation. Is it possible that million of years pass between vs 1 & 2—allowing for the apparent age of the world? Possibly!
In the rest of the chapter a different word is used for “made” which is used for “shaping, organizing” existing material. God is restoring the world to sustain human life and is made perfect for Adam.
For example, light is created at the beginning, but is blocked by the “chaos” of the “empty and void” world—like the atmosphere has become opaque though destruction (Meteor strike? Volcano? Satan’s bad breath?). God makes light visible as His work of restoration continues.
So, the creation account in Genesis is not “top down” from God’s point of view, but rather, from the perspective of someone on Earth. This is why the great lights in the sky are “made” on day four, but created on the first day. They become visible as God makes the atmosphere transparent.
This is actually a very interesting way to see Genesis and it allows for a literal Adam and Eve. It also allows time for Satan to fall and it explains why the earth is formless when Isaiah says that God didn’t create a world of chaos.
PROPONENTS / RESOURCES
• Chuck Smith leaned toward this position some years ago, but appears to have altered his view in his later years: Genesis 1 commentary (the Gap Theory is near the bottom of the page.)
• The solid and reputable Bible Knowledge Commentary supports this as well. Regarding Genesis 1:1–2, the BKC says:
“Others have seen a “gap” between the first two verses, allowing for the fall of Satan and entrance of sin into the world that caused the chaos. It is more likely that verse 1 refers to a relative beginning rather than the absolute beginning (Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament. 2 vols. Chicago: Moody Press, 1981, 1:5). The chapter would then be accounting for the Creation of the universe as man knows it, not the beginning of everything, and verses 1–2 would provide the introduction to it. The fall of Satan and entrance of sin into God’s original Creation would precede this.”
• Many solid evangelicals are in this same camp
• Many Gap Folks hold to a literal six–days of “creating” (“asah” – Gen. 1:7)
• The Gap Theory is not trying to reconcile scientific theories and scripture – there are solid scriptural reasons for it:
Genesis 1:2 can be translated “became formless and void,” which naturally separates vs. 1 & 2.
The creation of matter and energy—everything in the “heavens and the earth” (“ba’ra”) was much earlier, but after the earth “became” formless and void, God shaped it to support human life (“asah”).
Isaiah 45:18 | “God did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited,” yet in Gen 1:2 it was a formless and void place. Is Isaiah possibly referring to vs. 1, not verse 2?
• This solves the angel “problem” | With the Creation of Adam on the sixth day, a big question has always been, “What about the creation of the angels and the fall of Satan? When does that happen in terms of creation?” If Genesis 1:1 is the same as “Day 1,” then we have a problem! Did God create everything in verse 1, including the angelic being? Or were they created before the universe?
The answer is found in Job 37:7. It says that the angels were there rejoicing when the foundations of the world were laid. They weren’t made on “Day One”—they were made before day one.
Ezekiel 28:13–15 | Satan was in Eden, the Garden of God, in perfection and beauty. There was a time in Eden when Satan (“Lucifer” at this time) hadn’t fallen yet, then he tried to ascend “above God” (Isaiah 14) and was cast down. If the Gap Theory is right, then this all happened before the creation of Adam.
• “This negates Noah’s flood as the cataclysm that shaped earth – that the Gap Theory introduces an earlier ‘satanic’ cataclysm.”
But: there is nothing in the gap theory that says that Noah’s flood was mythological. Why can’t there have been two or more cataclysms in our history? For example:
• God redeeming the Earth from a Satanic Cataclysm to make it perfect once again for Adam
• God redeeming the Earth from Adam’s offspring though Noah’s flood (which was not a satanic cataclysm, but rather, God’s divine wrath.
• God redeeming the Earth from Adam’s sin by Jesus’ cross
• God redeeming the Earth from the very presence of Sin with a “new heaven and new earth”
There many are other sub–theories to look at under the various big camps. The links on this page will get you started on a deep, deep study.
Don’t forget—the Big Point is relationship with Jesus!
Jesus is the Rock of Stumbling and the Corner Stone. It is the Resurrection that is the non–negotiable issue. This is the one thing that every Christian must have in common—that we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. The issue isn’t when the Dinosaurs were on earth or if Noah’s flood was a worldwide event, a localized event—the issue is this: how do you explain the Resurrection of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses who died defending this truth? If that fact is true, then we have hope in our salvation and eternal life. If He didn’t, then we have no reason to even be considering origins.