There are a wide variety of types of creationists in Christianity. By types we mean different interpretations of the days in Genesis. Two overarching views are young-earth and old-earth creationism. Reasons to Believe and others have shown (see links within this article) that it and others believe young-earthism is not the literal interpretation of Genesis and is wrought with interpretational and scientific problems. This article will attempt to introduce readers to this position and why we believe it is valid.
The young-earth creationist view - the terms “creationism,” “creationist” or “scientific creationism” nearly always refer to it - attempts to rationalize science to concur with the interpretation of the Bible that states the creation week in Genesis is made up of 24-hour days. Hence, Earth must only be a few thousand years old. This belief became popular as people mistakenly believed that the old age of the universe confirmed macroevolution.
Chance could not produce the precise parameters needed for Earth’s existence in billions of years (it would not be long enough). The age of the universe (which is 13.7 billion years old1) is one such parameter and is exactly where it needs to be for life - or specifically Earth - to exist. In other words, according to the laws governing the structure of the universe - as they were “formed” or “created” at the moment of the big bang event - this is the age of the universe that Earth’s existence necessitates. Even more simply, Earth could not exist in a younger universe defined by the laws of physics as they exist. The substances needed for life, their correct quantities and locations would not exist in a younger universe. The universe is structured in such a way that life is constrained to exist in a particular narrow time frame. We are now living in that time frame. In fact, it seems that each era on Earth has had “just the right” type of life for the conditions of the day. Chance cannot produce such precision, not even in 13.7 billion years.
Science and other creationists are adamant that the young-earth view is contrary to hundreds of dating techniques that consistently date the universe as billions of years old. Human history is also easily traced further back than the 10,000 years, which is usually the maximum allowed by young-earth creationists. Yet many still cling to a younger date such as the 4004 B.C. origin date for man that was printed for years in Bibles, which convinced many people it was a fact. Again, this is in spite of well-substantiated dates that conclude mankind is nowhere near being so young, which is why young-earth creationism is often used by skeptics as a reason not to believe in the Bible or Christianity (apparently many of these skeptics assume young-earthism is the Christian viewpoint, or perhaps some want you to assume that).
The counting of genealogies in the Bible is often used as a support of young-earthism. What is often forgotten is that in Hebrew tradition many generations are unreported. Often only the famous or infamous are counted. A comparison of the biblical genealogies confirms this technique (compare 1 Chronicles 3:10-12 with Mathew 1:8 and Genesis 5 with Genesis 11 and Luke 3).2 Also, the Hebrew words for “father” and “son” are less specific than modern usage. For example, the Hebrew for “father” could mean “grandfather” or “great-grandfather,” (in other words “father” can mean ancestor). Young-earth scholars do not deny these gaps, especially before the time of Abraham, out of necessity to make sense of the chronology of events in the Bible.3 Some accounts, such as those describing Adam, his life and children, only make sense if the verses are compressing time. Yet the hope of young-earth creationists is still that these gaps would not cause a creation date in excess of 10,000 years, if that old. Skeptics also ignore these issues in claiming dates derived from the Bible are not accurate.
As for Genesis 1, the Hebrew word for day is translated simply as day. Read that again. It does not explicitly say 24-hour days. The Hebrew word for day can literally have different meanings. Long ages and 12-hour days are just as literal as 24-hour days. So one cannot claim that “24-hour days” is the only literal view. The text only reads as day, so you have to look at the context. The New International Version (NIV) and some other translations set the days off differently, and more accurate to the Hebrew, than do other translations. The King James Version (KJV), or ones that over-simplify such as The Living Bible (TLB), are not as accurate to the Hebrew and make it sound as if these were 24-hour days. Compare and you will see the difference. KJV: “And the evening and morning were the first day.” NIV: “And there was evening, and there was morning - the first day.” The Hebrew matches the latter translation more precisely, which shows that a 24-hour day is not as obvious as some claim. If it were a 24-hour day, one would expect it to obviously or explicitly say so. The text, however, seems to be indicating something else.
Young-earthism was developed into scientific creationism as a response to the growing support for naturalistic evolution (by scientists and philosophers, not the science itself). For example, the “geologic column,” or geologic layers, are often used by naturalists as a picture of Darwinian evolution. Supposedly, the layers detail the millions of years of evolution of all species from a common ancestor. This claim fails because the geologic layers show largely distinct divisions with distinct species in each that appear suddenly and in whole. The geologic layers do not show species changing or in transition to other species, as Charles Darwin and others predicted would be found, or would have to be found to support common descent.
The global flood component of young-earthism is used to try to explain away these layers for two reasons. First, they see the layers as “evidence” used by naturalists as described above. Second, such layers require millions of years to form, which violates the young-earth interpretation of Genesis. However, as noted, millions of years does not help evolution nor do the fossils in the layers support evolution. The bottom line is that modern young-earthism was developed when some people felt that there was no other way to disprove evolution. If the Bible says Earth is young, it is reasoned, then evolution is wrong. However, this is entirely contingent on whether or not old age is a necessary component of evolution. If it is not, then a “young-earth” would be hard, if not impossible, to prove and biblical interpretations would be contradictory and inconsistent.
Young-earth creationists state that a simple reading of Genesis 1 and 2 clearly indicates the creation week is made up of 24-hour days. Is this simple reading bypassing careful study of the Bible and replacing it with a superficial reading? One can read the Bible “simply” and have significant understanding of its contents. “Simple,” though, does not preclude engaging one’s brain and not thinking about what is being read. The argument can be made that a simple reading of Genesis 1 and 2 does provide clear evidence that the creation week was not made up of 24-hour days.
We have already noted that Genesis does not explicitly state the creation days were 24-hour days. And we noted human history is easily traced further back than young-earthers allow. Now lets look at ten sample problems with the young-earth view.
- Genesis 1:3 has light appearing a few days before the Sun is mentioned in Genesis 1:16. Is it rational for God (a rational being) to have light existing before the sources are created? Does it really make sense to think life existed before the Sun formed? Or that Earth could exist without the Sun? Consider that starting with verse Genesis 1:2, the account is written from the perspective of what someone on the planet’s surface would have seen. In other words, he was writing what would have been seen from Earth if someone had been there at that time (and all creationists would probably agree that no one was actually around during these creation “days”). Light existed in Genesis 1:3, but the Sun and stars were not seen until later. This matches precisely with scientific evidence that tells of a cloudy early Earth, with the Sun only visible later. Chapter 1:16 writes “God made two great lights...” which some scholars believe is better translated as “God had made.” “Made” is translated from a Hebrew word that would seem to indicate the light coming from something created previously.
- The attaching of an ordinal (such as “first”) or other appendage (such as “long”) to day does not always indicate a 24-hour day. See Zechariah 14:7, which uses “one day” or “a day” depending on the translation and Hosea 6:2. Scholars have long interpreted the use of day in these prophetic verses as meaning years or longer periods. There is no good reason to dismiss these examples simply because they are considered prophecy. In 1 Samuel 7:2, the word for day is translated as “long time” or “the time was long” and refers to twenty years. In Deuteronomy 10:10, day is translated as “the first time” and refers to forty days. In 1 Chronicles 29:27 the word for day is translated as “the time” and refers to forty years (some translations leave it out since the context makes it repetitive).
- Similarly, the Hebrew for the phrase “evening and morning” or “evening, and there was morning” has usages not limited to 24-hour days. In fact, there are numerous usages in the Bible that this phrase, or variants of it, refers to continuous processes or activities. Exodus 18:13, 27:21, Leviticus 24:2-3 and Daniel 8:14,26 all use this phrase in a context of something that occurs on a continual basis over more than one 24-hour day.
- The third day must have been longer than 24-hours, since the text indicates a process that would take a year or longer. On this day, the text specifically states that the land produced plants and trees. After they were produced, the text refers to seed bearing fruit being produced by these trees. Any horticulturist knows that fruit-bearing trees require several years to mature before they produce fruit. Note the text states that the land produced these trees (indicating a natural process) and that it all occurred on the third day. Obviously, such a “day” could not have been only 24 hours long.
- Is it really reasonable to believe that Adam named the animals, had time to get lonely and meet Eve all in one day? Being sinless does not make one superhuman. Even if Adam only named the animals in Eden, there still would have been quite a few. From Genesis 2:20 it seems apparent Adam was in need of a companion. With God and all those animals, would Adam really get lonely in only one day? In the overview of the creation of humans in Genesis 1:26-29, and the details in Genesis 2, God gave a lot of mandates to Adam and Eve. Also consider that Adam was not created in Eden (Genesis 2:7), so did time pass before he was placed in Eden (in Genesis 2:8)? In any case, it seems more reasonable for days, if not years, to have passed from these verses to the events recorded in Genesis 3.
- Eve’s childbirth pains were increased (Genesis 3:16) after the fall of man. This tells us two things: 1. There was pain before the fall; and 2. She may very well have had kids before Cain and Able. Various clues in the text indicate that the Cain-Able-Seth births may not have been sequential or necessarily close in time. If Cain is able to find a wife so “soon” in Genesis 4:17 and able to build a “city,” then other siblings must have been born close to his age. Genesis 5:4 indicates that Adam and Eve had many kids not listed. The timescale in these passages is obviously compressed, the events do not make sense otherwise. One could also conjecture that births might have occurred before the fall, which would also make the growing population afterwards easier to explain.
- We see that when God rested, he ceased creating and each “day” previous to that was closed out. The seventh day is not closed out like the others. As each of the previous days represent eras before man (and the sixth includes early man), the “seventh day” is mankind’s entire existence up to and including the present. The Bible speaks of the Sabbath not being closed out (as indicated in Hebrews 4) until the new creation when God starts creating again (Revelation 21).
- The Bible makes clear statements on Earth’s antiquity in 2 Peter 3:5 and Habakkuk 3:6. Allusions to an ancient world can be found in Job 15:7, Psalm 90:2-6, Proverbs 8:22-32, Ecclesiastes 1:3-11 and Micah 6:2.
- Exodus 20:11 is often held up as undeniable proof of 24-hour creation days. If that is true, what of Leviticus 25:1-4, which uses the creation week pattern in terms of years? Apparently the creation week is used as a pattern of “one out of seven” in both cases, not a real-time reference. A similar type of pattern is the eight day “Feast of the Tabernacles” in Leviticus 23:33-36. It celebrated God’s protection in the desert that lasted forty years - obviously eight days is not a one-to-one correlation with forty years. Also consider that Moses authored both of these passages.
- Both 1 Chronicles 16:15 and Psalms 105:8 refer to God commanding his word to “a thousand generations.” This seems to confirm that the genealogical listings were incomplete. A “thousand generations” also seems to roughly confirm scientific dating on human origins.
There are hundreds of methods, not just one or two, that are used to date Earth’s and the universe’s age. Some are simple, some a little more complex, but all boil down to basic physics and mathematics. Consider this illustration that uses basic geometry: As Earth moves around the Sun, certain stars appear to move slightly against the background of more distant stars. This movement is called stellar parallax. This is essentially the same effect that occurs if you were to hold a finger at arms length, then alternately close one eye and then the other. Your finger appears to shift back and forth against the background.
The angle between the two observed positions (six months apart) of the particular star (which is determined by simple geometry with the known distance of Earth from the Sun - 93 million miles, one astronomical unit or AU) is plugged into the geometric equation d = 1/p, with p being the angle (in seconds). Solving for d, we find the distance of the star (in parsecs) from Earth. One parsec is equal to 206,265 astronomical units.
Using this method to measure the distance to nearby stars that are light-years away, we find that we are seeing stars as they were many years ago. Similarly, the Sun is far enough away that its light takes about eight minutes to reach us. We are seeing the Sun as it was eight minutes in the past.
We Can Study the Past: Young-earth creationist Ken Ham has written, “...the science that put man on the moon can’t be used to directly observe the past. Scientists don’t have the past to study.4” As we have seen with the light of the Sun, Ham’s statement is untrue. Also consider that even if a fossil were only created yesterday, we would still be studying the past. Astronomy, archaeology, geology and paleontology all rely on the ability to study the past. The latter three actually have tangible samples to study. To say we do not have the past to study or cannot directly observe it, is to deny reason and reality.
Recall that the speed of light cannot change without destroying the very structure of the universe. So as we examine distant objects, we quickly realize that we are seeing objects as they were millions of years ago. As we examine more and more distant objects, parallax becomes more difficult to measure, so we must employ additional methods to determine ages (however, satellites and Very Long Baseline Array measurements have extended the effective range and accuracy of parallax measurements). The objects in space we observe at billions of light-years away are one of the strongest evidences against a young universe. Young-earth creationists have completely failed to come up with an alternative explanation that has withstood even simple testing.
The nuclear age has brought with it nuclear physics. The workings of fusion are well known through our production of fusion bombs and the development of fusion test-reactors that may someday provide us with energy. All stars burn by using this fusion process. The observable size of stars (along with other traits) coupled with our knowledge of fusion can be used to determine how long they have been burning. The dates come to billions of years, not hundreds.
There are many other fairly simple measurement techniques that are often used to verify each other. The point here is that determining the age of the universe is not some unknowable, magical process known only to the select few. The fact that these methods are essentially very basic means it would be hard to bamboozle the public at large to believe the world was older than it is in actuality.
- Age of the Earth (link1) (link2)
- Biblical Creation
- Is There Really Scientific Evidence for a Young Earth?
- Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective
- The Dynamics of Dating: The Reliability of Radiometric Dating Methods
Young Earthers Know Earth Looks Old
Many evangelical Christians today suppose that Christian Scientists (not to be confused with members of the Christian Science cult) have always been in favor of a young Earth. This is not true - especially among geologists or those that had an interest in - or exposed to geology. As scientific evidence mounted, the Christian scientists who did believe in a young-earth felt they were in a dilemma. Some went so far as to state that the fossil record is a lie - placed there artificially - a test of our faith if you will!
Many young-earth proponents are fully aware that Earth appears to be old. Some of the following young-earth quotes merely demonstrate that the Bible is the only source they “listen to” regarding the age of Earth -- but, this betrays their silent acknowledgement that the other “voice” (read science) will speak to its old age.
Philip Gosse (a YEC) specifically wrote that the Earth was created with an “appearance of age”
Many mention this but fail to give the story proper context and background. In 1844 a pamphlet entitled Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, espousing an evolutionary viewpoint, was published. In response Philip Gosse, a minister in the Fundamentalist group called the Plymouth Brethren, wrote Omphalos, published in 1857. In it Gosse made the first written argument that creation only looks old. In it, Gosse even argued that Adam and Eve had navels because that is what one would expect in God-created creatures -- Omphalos is indeed Greek for navel.
Gosse expected Omphalos to be attacked by scientists. What he did not expect was the
denunciation by the religious community. Asked to write a review of Omphalos, his friend Charles Kinglsey, a minister and author of Westward Ho! refused and wrote the following letter to Gosse.
“You have given the ‘vestiges of creation theory’ [the pamphlet discussed above] the best shove forward which it has ever had. I have a special dislike for that book; but, honestly, I felt my heart melting towards it as I read Omphalos. Shall I tell you the truth? It is best. Your book is the first that ever made me doubt the doctrine of absolute creation, and I fear it will make hundreds do so. Your book tends to prove this - that if we accept the fact of absolute creation, God becomes God-the-Sometime-Deceiver. I do not mean merely in the case of fossils which pretend to be the bones of dead animals; but in ...your newly created Adam's navel, you make God tell a lie. It is not my reason, but my conscience which revolts here ... I cannot ...believe that God has written on the rocks one enormous and superfluous lie for all mankind. To this painful dilemma you have brought me, and will, I fear, bring hundreds. It will not make me throw away my Bible. I trust and hope. I know in whom I have believed, and can trust Him to bring my faith safe through this puzzle, as He has through others; but for the young I do fear. I would not for a thousand pounds put your book into my children's hands.”
The problem is that YEC groups cannot decide which they want to argue. On one hand they scoff at the evidence for an old Earth, stating that those scientific dating techniques are unreliable, criticize uniformitarianism, etc. They also insist that their scientific theories prove that Earth is not old.
Then the very same groups (organizations, individuals) will argue, when faced with incontrovertible evidence that Earth is old, that God just created it to “look” old (thus admitting that Earth does “look” old based on the physical evidence, contradicting their scientific assertions to the contrary). States Henry Morris (Leading YEC proponent and founder of the Institute for Creation Research):
“True creation necessarily involves creation of an ‘appearance of age’…. We insist as emphatically as we know how that the doctrine of creation of apparent age does not in the remotest degree involve a divine deception, but is rather inherent in the very nature of creation.” (Morris, The Twilight of Evolution, 1963, p. 56, 57).
“There is no sure way (except by divine revelation) of knowing the true age of any geologic formation.” (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, pp. 137-138).
“The only way we can determine the true age of the earth is for God to tell us what it is. And since He has told us, very plainly, in the Holy Scriptures that it is several thousand years in age, and no more, that ought to settle all basic questions of terrestrial chronology.” (H. Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 94).
“There seems to be no possible way to avoid the conclusion that if the Bible and Christianity are rue at all, the geologic ages must be rejected altogether.” (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974 [1985 2nd ed.], p. 255).
“The data of geology, in our view, should be interpreted in light of Scripture, rather than distorting Scripture to accommodate current geological philosophy.” (Morris, Science, Scripture, and the Young Earth, p. 6).
“No geological difficulties, real or imagined, can be allowed to take precedence over the clear statements and necessary inferences of Scripture.” (Morris, Biblical Cosmology, page 33).
It is self evident that YECs know the scientific community believes that Earth is far, far older than a few thousand years. Otherwise, why do they attack the scientific method - and speak so critically of scientists? Why do they not cite secular scientists that claim Earth is merely a few thousand years old? This silence is not an oversight on their part. Nobel prize laureate physicist Murray Gell-Mann is know to have stated that it would be easier to prove Earth was flat than prove that is a few thousand years old. Dick Fischer wrote:
“Not a shred of credible data from nature has yet been uncovered to support young-earth claims. No radioactive rock has yet been discovered containing so small an amount of decay element that it could be dated to such a young age. Not one fossil bone has been found in Precambrian sedimentary rock. No dinosaur bones have been uncovered in conjunction with human remains, and so forth.” (Dick Fischer, The Origins Solution,1996 p. 75).
Why is this Important?
Listening to some creationists, one would get the impression that belief in a young-earth must be fundamental to Christian beliefs. In fact, some have formulated this belief to be critical to the fundamental Christian doctrine of salvation. This belief could be paraphrased as “If you don’t belief in a literal seven-day Genesis then you undermine the accuracy of the Bible and fundamental doctrines such as salvation.” The validity of this statement is entirely contingent on the word literal. As we explained, the meaning of the Hebrew word day in Genesis 1 can be literally translated more than one way. So one must look at the various contextual elements of Genesis 1 before declaring what is the literal truth and what is not.
Our point here is to show that young-earthism is not based on sound science or biblical scholarship, but on preconceived beliefs fit onto science and the Bible. Based on the fallacy that old age equals evolution and that 24-hour days are the literal interpretation, creationists have claimed Earth is young (with no evidence) and that the Bible supports this (with very problematic interpretation). This is why their critiques of Neo-Darwinism have been minimized when naturalists and skeptics point to the problems of “young-earth evidences” to question their credibility. It also directly feeds the belief promoted by skeptics that young-earthism is proof that Christianity is not based in reason and fact and this is the foremost reason why young-earthism needs to be addressed.
This problem can be reworded as the question, “How can I believe the Bible or in Christianity when it claims Earth is only a few thousand years old and was covered by a global flood?” This is a major stumbling block for skeptics and Christians, which is why Christian scholars should focus on solving this problem. It is not uncommon to hear accounts of people who struggle in the separation of their “religious life” from their career or the science they are exposed to because of the contradictions young-earthism causes5 (such as the claim that Earth is only 6000 or so years old when civilization is easily traced further back than that).
It has been admitted by notable scientific young-earth proponents that no scientist has come to the conclusion of a young earth without being persuaded by a “biblically” driven young-earth predisposition. This fact is most significant since it declares that if the young-earth interpretation of special revelation is true — and God’s natural revelation is defective — as it is incapable of leading even a single scientist to the correct conclusion!
We realize a lot of this paper has been somewhat confrontational, but we believe good Christians can disagree on this issue and remain civilized — and be united in our opposition into an atheistic totally naturalistic origin for the cosmos and life. We also do not think the case for God and Creation is so weak that it cannot tolerate an old Universe.
The important thing for us not to lose sight of is that we agree on “who” Created, and that it is not so important as to when, or how long Creation took. No one disputes God took time with His Creation (he could have made all in an instant) we are just arguing about “how long.” Time, day and night are all relative. Einstein has proven that time itself is dependent on your motion and proximity to a large gravity source. God is outside of time. Time is a dimension of our universe. Time (not our concept of it anyway) did not exist prior to Creation. It is nothing more than a measure of “rate” related to “speed” while traveling. So for us to impose our puny little time scales on him is in some respects ridiculous.
We see this issue as being similar to the old classic argument of the atheist and the Christian where the Christian points out that he has nothing to lose if he is wrong. Whereas the atheist has everything to lose if he is wrong. We should apply this same argument to young earth creationism. More importantly, because young-earthism is a stumbling block for Christians and skeptics and a cause for people not to believe in the Bible’s trustworthiness, it is an important issue for science apologetics as much as addressing naturalistic evolution. Instead of resolving this issue, too many blindly choose sides or sweep the problem under the rug. The importance of this issue and why it should be addressed was summed up best by David G. Hagopian:
This debate has important ramifications for how we interpret Scripture, proclaim the faith, embrace science, and stand on the shoulders of those who have preceded us in the faith. We all would do well to remember that we agree on far more than we disagree, but we also must remember that we gain nothing by ignoring our differences or sweeping them under the rug. In fact, we stand to gain quite a bit by discussing our differences openly, honestly, and charitably.6
Test what you believe, do not blindly subscribe to whatever you are told. Let reason and science lead to where they do and truth will be found.
by Lane Coffee and Darrick Dean