Why I Returned to Young Earth Creationism
“Young Earth Creationism is an embarrassment to the Church.” “It deserves the same amount of intellectual respect as people who hold to a flat earth and 9/11 truthers.” Many prominent Christian thinkers have said statements such as these, and if you had asked me my opinion on Young Earth Creationism (YEC) about four years ago, I would have unfortunately said many of the same things. I was proud of my “enlightened” position, I was arrogant, I felt YECs were gullible and anti-intellectual, and most importantly, I was completely wrong.
Eventually the inconsistencies of my position became too difficult to reconcile with Scripture, and I would like to share a few of the specific passages that brought me to back YEC. First, I need to clarify that these are not scientific reasons. I am not a scientist and am not qualified to speak on these issues; if you are interested in scientific defenses of YEC then there are several qualified scientists out there who can answer your questions. Many of them write for organizations like Answers in Genesis, which you can follow with this link. As a starting point for scientific critiques of the mainstream status quo, I would recommend is the movie Is Genesis History?
Also, I would like to mention that these passages are what convinced me. These are not necessarily the strongest passages in the Bible that point to a young earth.
Obviously to return to a position means that it was a position that you once previously held, and I grew up a staunch Young Earth Creationist. However, in adulthood when I left the cultish false religion of my childhood, I started to take theology seriously, and in that process, I ran into a group of Old Earth Creationists (OEC) who became good friends of mine. These were not liberal compromisers of the faith but conservative and orthodox Christians. And their arguments were much stronger than the weak defenses of Young Earth Creationism that I grew up with. Ultimately, I ended up becoming a Theistic Evolutionist due to the work of Old Testament scholar John Walton. However, due to problems within Walton’s framework I ended up leaving Theistic Evolution for Day Age Theory, or the view that each of the six days of creation represents long ages of time. I took solace with the fact that Reformed conservative scholars that I respected also held this view, such as John Piper and Michael Horton. However, spending more time reading through Genesis consistently left me with nagging questions.
Carnivores before the Fall?
Many OEC/YEC debates focus on the word “day” in Genesis 1. OEC advocates point out that the Hebrew word for day which is “Yom” has a linguistic range that can include a 24-hour day or also a longer period of time such as an “age.” YECs respond that when used in the context of Genesis 1 and with the modifiers “Evening and Morning” with each day that the context is clear that these signify regular days and not long periods of time. Both sides go back and forth ad nauseam over these issues; however, I think approaching it from a different perspective and focusing on another verse in Genesis 1 is much more productive.
“And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”’ – Genesis 1:30
The first verse indicates that man was given vegetation to eat, and this in conjunction with Genesis 9:3 makes a strong case that human beings were vegetarians before the Fall. Many OECs do not have a problem with this even though it runs in the face of contemporary views of evolutionary biology and human history.
However, the second verse is troubling for most OEC models. By accepting day ages and a framework that requires millions of years, most OECs have accepted animal death before the Fall. Their reasoning is that the Fall resulted in the “spiritual death” of Adam, and some would even include Adam’s eventual physical death. But animal death and suffering for millions of years is an unfortunate consequence of their view. Many of them appeal to the secular interpretation of the fossil record to show carnivorous activity among animals as well as death and disease.
The problem is that Genesis 1:30 seems to strongly indicate that all the animals ate vegetation as well. The language could not be clearer with phrases like, “everything that creeps on the earth,” and “everything that has the breath of life.” With language like this, it is inescapable to conclude that every animal from insects to tigers ate vegetation which was given to them by God. When I was an Old Earth Creationist, I searched in vain for an explanation of this verse that was consistent with my OEC framework, but I never received a satisfactory answer. Hugh Ross was and is an OEC apologist and man that I highly respect for his intelligence, faith, and character. However even his explanation for this verse seemed exceedingly weak. In his view, this verse is simply highlighting the high importance of vegetation to the ecosystem. But that is not the conclusion I reach when reading this verse. And when compared to a verse in Isaiah, I think the case can be made even stronger.
“And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also, the cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” – Isaiah 11:6-9
In these verses Isaiah paints a picture of our eschatological hope of a renewed and restored creation where there is no longer enmity between the wild beasts of the earth and humanity. Creation is viewed in this picture as harmonious and good. When I read these verses and longed for the future hope, I could not help but wonder why this hope is within us? Is the picture painted in these verses the way creation should be, but is not? When God created the world and said it was good, was this the way things were? Or was it the cycle of predation and death that we see today? I think there is an inner sense within us by the light of nature that points to a better creation, and the following words from Romans 8 shed light on how creation itself is groaning for restoration.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Romans 8:20-22
After looking at these passages I was confronted with the reality that Old Earth Creationism, albeit in a lesser sense, commits the same error that progressive Christianity, Arminianism, Roman Catholicism, and many other false teachings do. It lessens the severity of the effects of sin and the Fall. Creation was radically altered after the Fall, even the thorns on the crown on Jesus’ head point to severe effects of the curse on creation. When I was an OEC I could not see the full significance of the Fall itself. After all, animal death and thorns were around for millions of years before Adam anyway. The only thing that truly changed in my view was man’s sinful nature; the rest of creation was largely untouched. But this is not the Biblical teaching.
Long Lifespans in Genesis
When reading Genesis, one of the features that runs most counterintuitive to our post enlightenment naturalistic tendencies is how long people lived before the Flood. Lifespans recorded in the hundreds of years is the norm in this book, not just the exception with Methuselah being the award winner for living a grand total of 969 years. After the Flood, we see the steady decline of lifespans throughout the rest of the book, but there are still some impressive numbers such as Sarah, the wife of Abraham, being a beautiful and desirous woman at the age of 90!
OEC explanations of these lifespans were never fully satisfactory to me, even though I begrudgingly accepted them as a necessity of my framework. The most rigorous and best defense of these lifespans being nonliteral came from the Theistic Evolutionist website Biologos. You can view the article here. In their argument they pointed out how every single lifespan in the genealogies of Genesis are numbers that are highly symbolic in the historical Hebrew context. They point out the astronomical odds against these symbolic numbers being merely coincidental and therefore, in their argument, they must be figurative and purely symbolic numbers.
I accept part of their explanation that the ages themselves have symbolic significance, but I deny their conclusion that what follows is that the numbers must be non-literal and not the true ages of those recorded in the genealogies.
Numbers in Scripture being both symbolic and simultaneously true to historical realities is nothing new. One example would be in 1 Kings 19:18, where the Lord declares that he has preserved a remnant of 7000 in Israel who did not bow the knee to the false god Baal. Seven is well known as a symbolic number in scripture that points to completion and perfection, however that does not mean that God did not truly save a remnant of 7000. When Jonah spent three nights inside the belly of a big fish, the number three was highly significant and pointed to the Messiah who would resurrect on the third day. The same could be said for Abraham and Isaac’s three-day journey to Mount Moriah. And the first example of this idea in the Bible is the creation week itself being seven days. Scripture is filled with God’s providential use of highly symbolic numbers in the real history of redemption.
The most natural reading of Scripture is that Genesis reads like the other Pentateuchal historical narratives. The numbers are real and the reason the lifespans rapidly decline after the Flood is because of a dramatic environmental change in the post-flood world. The ultimate reason Biologos must reject these numbers representing real ages is because our current scientific consensus is that these lifespans are impossible. The scientific understanding of the day is part of the hermeneutic used to interpret the Text.
Like I said before, these might not be the definitive texts for a young earth and there are plenty of other, perhaps stronger, evidences throughout Scripture such as the global flood of Noah. However, wrestling with these texts is what ultimately made me reject my Old Earth framework.
A foreseeable objection to what I have written is that without dealing with the science, I have not dealt with the most difficult problems to Young Earth view. This might be the case and there are plenty of others who are qualified to answer scientific objections. But to me, the debate has always been on what the text of Scripture itself claims. I can live without understanding all the nuances of the scientific arguments; there is plenty of room in my theology for mystery and “seeing through a glass darkly.”
I am ok with the seemingly scientifically implausibility of my Young Earth views because they are supported by my view of Scripture, which is supported by much more robust arguments. Christian Philosopher of Science and Young Earth creationist Paul Nelson says the following regarding the “epistemological web” we all have where more difficult beliefs are supported by firmer ones.
“Natural science at the moment seems to overwhelminglypoint to an old cosmos. Though creationist scientists have suggested some evidences for a recent cosmos, none are widely accepted as true. It is safe to say that most recent creationists are motivated by religious concerns.
This need not be blind religious faith. It may be rational choice. Given the veracity of other seemingly implausible claims in Scripture, the recent creationist is willing to give other less vital doctrines the benefit of the doubt. To borrow language from Philosopher W.V. Quine, we each have a web of beliefs to which we are committed. We hold to the central ideas firmly. Some of them are so firmly and rationally established in our thinking that to change our minds about them is (almost) unthinkable. Our other notions are based on these most important concepts. They may in themselves, have little or no outside justification. They draw their strength from their association with the inner ring. We believe the story of Noah in Genesis draws most of its plausibility from the true story of Jesus in the Gospels.” (Paul Nelson, Three Views of Creation and Evolution, edited by Moreland and Reynolds).
In short, I am okay with not having all the scientific answers or with being considered a “religious fundamentalist” or “science denier.” I come to my conclusions on the age of the earth because of my interpretation of the very words of God. In him lies my foundation of trust.