Monday, October 03, 2011

Old Earth Creationism: Orthodox, Heterodox or Neither?

"You do not believe the Bible"! "You are calling Jesus a liar"! "You could not have much faith in the Word of God if you believe that"! "That is nothing but the presumptions of secularists"! Just about every empty argument that can be made has been leveled at one or other persons who have examined the physical evidence around us and concluded that the earth must be considerably greater than a mere six thousand years. While young in the faith I took my young earth creationist teachers at their word and agreed with them about such things however as I have aged and explored the faith and scriptures, that is no longer a proposition I can hold to. Perhaps "pragmatic creationist" is a preferred nomenclature for that seems to address the incorporation of physical evidence with the faith one has in the creation account of Genesis. This of course demands a reconciliation of what we deem physical evidence with that of faith being the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. The former we can measure and observe. The latter we accept as truth from the LORD who has changed us from those who cannot fathom what is beyond the physical sense to those who trust their entire being in hope and what is not seen. Can this evidence be reconciled with the substance of faith? Unless the evidence is wrong or merely a great deception through God's handiwork, it must be and if creation is to be believed and hence the Bible itself, one must fit rationally and neatly with the other.

Could or would God work His hand in the construction of an elaborate deception intended to cause men to handle evidence that clearly indicates an age of the earth that rather than being a mere six thousand years old is instead, millions or billions of years in age? If this would somehow fit into an end picture of God's plan for creation, the thought can be entertained but for the intentional deception. The coal miner in West Virginia whose mechanical shovel just unturned a seam of coal littered with fossils of plants long known to be extinct has uncovered physical evidence of a very old earth. It is not evidence that stands on its own but when included among the varying layers of stratified coal, shale and sandstone formations above this particular seam, it conclusively eliminates a certain cause e.g. a global flood. The extensive reach of fossil fuel and petrochemical deposits testifies to the sheer volume of organic material needed to produce such large quantities of fossilized carbon. Something other than a singular global event must have occurred to produce stratified layers of rock formations and fossil fuels. The math does not work and the physical evidence is there for us to see. Did the hand of God place the fossil fern in the seam and was that meant to deceive? I have a difficult time believing that would be the case and I have yet to read a convincing argument to explain the physical evidence fitting a day one creation account.

Old earth creationism (OEC) has been an acceptable theological premise at least since being included in the notes to the Scofield Reference Bible in the 1940s. Not limited to dispensationist minded believers, the Gap theory associated with OEC gained acceptance among fundamentalists, Baptists and non-denominational believers of varying persuasions. In that sense, the viewpoint should be considered within the pale of orthodoxy and certainly not heterodoxy given that there is no damage to the orthodoxy of the person and work of Jesus Christ e.g soteriology, birth, death, burial and resurrection of Christ. While Young Earth Creationists (YEC) might disagree with that assessment and they are entitled to their opinion, problems do not seem to arise until creationism is challenged and the core truths of scripture cross a threshold of unbelief.  While there are other streams of thought concerning OEC, the Gap theory sometimes referred to as "Ruin-Restoration" maintains belief in the creation account while making a purposeful distinction between Gen 1:2-3. Those of us accepting of this theory find no conflict with an old age of a previously ruined world and the restoration through the creation account provided at the beginning of the Bible. God did everything he stated in chapter one and restored this world in the six literal days mentioned. That is the Gap theory and it is reconciled with the abundant physical evidence all around us. There is no need to assume the impossible volume of organic fossil fuel through the global flood (something most GAP theorists also believe to be literally true). There is no need to imagine how Noah had a pair of T-Rex dinosaurs loaded onto the Ark. One fellow recently suggested that eggs were rolled onto the Ark rather than violently carnivorous adults. I am not sure how that works nor do I have any idea if T-Rex actually existed in the manner it is depicted in scientific "folklore". There is so much we truly do not know. However, we can be comfortable theorizing that there is a gap between a ruined world and a newly restored world that does not conflict with the creation account of Genesis and at the same time is wholly consistent with hard, physical evidence that cannot be reconciled with a 6,000 year age.

The argument of whether these matters are orthodox or heterodox really comes down to a question of essential doctrine. Is the rejection of Ruin-Restoration theory an essential position in the church? I do not believe so. Does orthodoxy hinge on the singular creation of all that has ever existed in eternity? I think it is silly to make such broad and sweeping generalizations .  Instead, pragmatic creationism allows believers to incorporate the witness of the creation around us without conflict into the text of scripture itself. I do not have to consider the evidence to have been a heavenly trick played on "science" nor do I have any need or desire to reject creationism as some of our "theistic evolutionists" are forced to do. Both reconcile neatly into my understanding and acceptance of scripture.


biblicalrealist said...

Trav (part 1),

There seem to be loud, shallow extremists on every side of everything. Although there are empty arguments for YEC, there are competent arguments also.

Have you really investigated the scientific arguments of such as Henry Morris, Duane Gish or others of their movement? The unparalleled upheaval of a worldwide flood, with its breaking up of "the fountains of the great deep," would seem to explain much more than you are willing to allow.

How do you address the fact that any supernatural act of God is necessarily deceptive to those who disbelieve it? When Adam looked at the stars at night, were they deceptive if God had supernaturally created both the stars and the light-trails between the stars and the earth? God didn't want mankind to have to wait millions of years to see what the stars that He had created. Was that implicit deception, since the stars appeared as if they had existed long enough for their light to reach earth? Have you honestly addressed the fact that such a deception is dependent on disbelief in a supernatural, young-earth creation? Why can you not see that all such deception is nullified by the fact of God's open admission in His Word to a supernatural, young-earth creation?

When I was 6 or so, a man in our neighborhood gave me a copy of the Declaration of Independence. It was yellow, dry and appeared to be 200 years old. When he gave it to me, he told me how he made them as a hobby, and how he made them appear old by baking the paper. Regardless of the appearance, He did not deceived me, because he told me the truth. Now, if I had disbelieved the baked story, then I might have been deceived by the appearance. If I had been scientific enough, I could have possibly measured the moisture content of a new piece of paper, then that of a paper that was known to be 10 years old, and then (by measurement) extrapolated that the Declaration was indeed 200 years old. But I would have been deceiving myself by rejecting the truth.

(to be continued...)
Ken Hamrick

biblicalrealist said...

Trav (part 2),

As for orthodoxy, that should be restricted to the essentials of the faith, as much as possible. This is not a matter that is essential to the faith IF we are talking about holding to an old earth creation that denies the evolutionary development of man. Holding to evolution is a more difficult question for orthodoxy.

However, while old-earth creationism is not in and of itself unorthodox, it is dangerous and damaging to the Church in general. Are you aware of how many denominations that used to be firmly Christian are now completely apostate? How do you think that those who used to uphold the truth of Christ now ordain openly practicing homosexuals into the ministry, as well as approving of "gay marriage?" In every case, such astounding departures from Biblical truth can be traced to an "enlightened" acceptance of secular "scientific evidence" against a supernatural young-earth creation. Evidence of an immensely older earth, and the evolutionary development of man with it, were embraced. Beginning with Genesis, a new, more enlightened theology had to be adopted. Sure--it took some time. But eventually, all the Biblical accounts of the miraculous acts of God were "reinterpreted to understand their spiritual meaning." First, creation and Eden. Then, the Flood became localized. Then, the Red Sea became knee deep. On and on and on it went (and still goes on is those churches still in this process). All unmarried ladies were "assumed to be virgins." Jesus walked on the water because He knew where the sand bars were. The disciples lost track of which grave Jesus was in, and so thought He had risen. And now look where these denominations are.

Although you may not be a theistic evolutionist, all who argue for an old-earth argue in unison with those who are tearing down the Church of Christ, brick-by-brick. There is no place to fall back from this line of defense in the fight for truth. Like the Pusan Perimeter in the Korean War, young-earth creationists believe that here we must "stand or die."

Ken Hamrick

Kevin Jackson said...

Well said. The specifics of creation are one area I'm content to leave to mystery.

The Seeking Disciple said...

Though I hold to YC, I accept those who disagree as brothers and sisters who still hold to the final authority of the Bible such as Hugh Ross. I find their exegesis of Genesis 1-11 and Romans 5 troublesome but I do believe they can preach the gospel of Jesus Christ despite their views.

A.M. Mallett said...

I have no qualms with plausible arguments for YEC. The intentional deception of physical evidence would be a plausible argument and in my opinion a necessary argument if one holds to YEC. The upheavals of a one-time cataclysmic world-wide event do not offer a credible explanation for stratified rock formations, some being thousands of feet deep. It would not suffice as an explanation for those same stratifications found among mountainous rocks and sediment deposits that are exposed as giant upward thrusts resulting from perhaps that same cataclysmic event. The “fountains of the deep” would explain the noticeable depressions of the oceanic floor but not the deposits and layers of rock formations on what is now dry land. Additionally, such incredible forces of upheaval would be so turbulent as to deny the layering of deposits and vegetation needed to produce multiple layers of what would become interspersed organic fossil fuel. We have entire mountain ranges around the globe that show evidence of incredible upward thrusts yet in being exposed as such they also evidence these layers of formations that had to exist prior to that giant thrust upward. Because of this physical evidence, I cannot at this time accept the flood as the cause of these vast and extensive formations.

The main argument I see with this issue, at least from my perspective, is that physical evidence is subjected to attempts to explain its existence premised on the presuppositions of tradition and admittedly faith. I have no objection to anybody holding to these opinions of YEC based on the belief or faith that Genesis 1:1-3 reflect a singular creation account. I held that same opinion for years before I decided to explore the physical evidences that indicate otherwise. At the same time, YEC have to struggle to dismiss physical evidences with untenable explanations e.g. in opposition to falsifiable tests and verifiable scientific fact. We know how much carbon content is contained in organic vegetation and life. We know the carbon content of fossil fuels including petroleum deposits. We can handle and examine the physical evidence. I’ve viewed the fossil evidence commonly found in the middle of every coal seam known to man. This is why I state that for that extinct leaf fossil to exist where it is, God had to deliberately create an intricate web of deception. That does not mean it is wrong. I merely cannot fathom it and I find none of the explanations of YEC convincing otherwise.

A.M. Mallett said...

Ken (continued)

With regard to your analogy of the document, I posit that God has not told us the “truth” is that YEC is correct and OEC is wrong. This is instead assumed through tradition and a particular reading of scripture. I and many others read those first three verses quite differently and not out of disbelief but because an OEC perspective (Ruin-Restoration in particular) more closely aligns with the physical evidences of our world. It is not a matter of unbelievers being deceived. They do not believe any of it in any event. It is more of an issue of actual evidence having to be set aside or implausibly explained to allow a continued faith in one’s interpretation of scripture. Of course, that is merely my opinion from my perspective. However, contrast that with the matter of the theory of common descent. In this case, there is not a speck of evidence that does not also fit squarely with creationism’s commonality among species. The theistic evolutionists have to travel a path of disbelief of repeated confirmations of scripture within scripture. Adam cannot be Adam. Creationism itself has to be denied. Many among them deny the direct hand of God Himself. You are right to suggest that such beliefs are dangerous. However don’t make the mistake of fallaciously attributing guilt by association to those who remain creationists and orthodox in belief. Many fall into apostasy if they ever believed in the first place. In the case of OEC however, those who hold to it, at least to me, tend to be some of the more conservative and orthodox evangelicals in the church. While I am not a dispensationalist of the Scofield variety those who are do not strike me as within the clutches of apostasy. None I know of have embraced a localized flood, an analogous interpretation of Adam and Eve or a host of other watered down, liberal perspectives.

In any event we will have to agree to disagree. Most of my pastors have been YEC and most of the elders I associate with are as well. However, there are enough of us among them as to make this an interesting discussion at times.

A.M. Mallett said...

Kevin, Roy,
Thanks for your comments. There is no doubt there are Godly men and women on both sides of this issue and until the trump sounds we will have to speculate as to all the answers.

Praise God and be blessed.

Steven Dill said...

Dear A.M. Mallet,

Young Earth creationists explain things by resorting to the idea of “Apparent Age”. This creates a problem when you look at the heavens.
The idea that God created all the stars, with their beams of light already in transit is an example of “Apparent Age”. (The universe is not billions of years old; God only made it appear that old by creating all the stars and all their beams of light on the same day 6,000 years ago.) This seems like a reasonable explanation for how starlight could reach the earth without the universe needing to be billions of years old. However, this does not explain supernovae.
In 1987 astronomers witnessed the explosion of a star in the Large Magellanic Cloud 150,000 light-years from earth. (This is actually close enough to earth so that the distance to the star could be determined by direct parallax measurement without relying on an assumed calculated-distance based on Red-Shift.) Now, if God had created that star (and its beam of light to earth) 6,000 years ago and made that star explode on the very day it was created, it would take 150,000 years before we could see the explosion. This means we earthlings would not see the explosion for another 144,000 years. Yet, we saw it in 1987.
How can Young Earth creationists explain this? They have to assume that God really didn’t create that star 150,000 light-years away; He only created the appearance of a star 150,000 light-years away. Plus He never really made that star explode; He only created the appearance of it exploding. That star was never really in the Large Magellanic Cloud and the explosion never really happened. Both the star and its explosion were only illusions God created for the purpose of making it APPEAR as if there was a star in the Large Magellanic Cloud 150,000 light years away that exploded 150, 000 years ago. Again, if there really was a star in that location, and if it really did explode, we wouldn’t see the explosion for another 144,000 years. If Young Earth creationists are correct, then the farthest away we could actually see a supernova would be 6,000 light-years. In fact, we have seen supernovae of stars millions of light-years away. God has apparently been creating the appearance of stars that never existed and explosions that never happened. The heavens reveal things that were never there and events that never happened.
If the universe is not billions of years old, then the heavens reveal that God is a God of deception. In short, we can’t trust what we see with our eyes because our Creator has been fooling us. We can’t trust what God has revealed about the cosmos. What kind of problem does this create for those of us who try to share the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with unbelievers?

The fact that we can see supernovae millions of light-years away seems to point to two obvious truths: 1) The universe was created billions of years ago. 2) The universe was already experiencing destructive events millions of years before Adam was created. These two things show that the Ruin-Restoration Theory (Gap Theory) provides the best explanation for creation.

For more Biblical and scientific evidence for the Gap Theory, check out my Webpage:

Steven Dill,

A.M. Mallett said...

I missed your reply on this thread. Thank you for your interesting comments

A.M. Mallett said...

I missed your reply on this thread. Thank you for your interesting comments