The cost of an old earth: Is it worth it?

old-earth

by John Byl

Until recently, most Christians believed that the Bible teaches us that the earth was only a few thousand years ago. This contradicts mainstream science, which holds that the earth is billions of years old. Consequently, many Christians, have modified their reading of the Bible accordingly.

At first sight, this may seem rather harmless. The age of the earth hardly seems to be a doctrine essential to the Bible’s main message of salvation.

Yet, much more is at stake than first meets the eye.

Accepting mainstream science on the age of the earth entails that we accept the reliability of its dating methods, with all the underlying presumptions. It entails also that we should likewise accept other results of mainstream science that are based on similar assumptions.

Let’s see what this implies.

The order of creation 

We note first that mainstream science challenges not only the timescale of the Genesis creation account but also its order.

Genesis 1

  • Day 1 – Water, earthly elements, then light
  • Day 2 – Firmament, then oceans, atmosphere
  • Day 3 – Dry land, then land vegetation, fruit trees, grass
  • Day 4 – Sun, moon, stars
  • Day 5 – Marine life, then birds
  • Day 6 – Land animals, then humans

Mainstream science

  • 14 billion years ago (bya) – light, light elements, then stars, galaxies, then heavy elements,water
  • 58 bya – Sun
  • 54 bya – earth
  • 550 million years ago (mya) – first fish
  • 440 mya – first primitive plants
  • 360 mya – first land animals – reptiles
  • 245 mya – first mammals
  • 210 mya – first birds
  • 140 mya – first flowering plants
  • 70 mya – first grasses, fruit trees
  • 2 mya – first tool-making humanoids

Note that the two orders differ at many places. For example, Genesis has fruit trees first, then birds, and then land animals; mainstream science has exactly the reverse. Genesis has the earth before the Sun and stars; mainstream science has stars and Sun before the earth, etc.

Since it does not help to simply recast the creation days as long periods of time, most commentators trying to accommodate mainstream science now advocate that Genesis 1 has to be taken as a purely literary structure, with no real historical information – other than stating that God created the entire universe.

The effect of the Fall

A second consequence concerns the Fall of Adam. Calvin (and Kuyper) believed that predation, death, disease, thorns, earthquakes all arose as a result of the Fall. Viewed in terms of the traditional reading of Genesis, the fossil record reflects events that all happened after the Fall.

Acceptance of an old earth, on the other hand, entails that the fossils we observe mostly reflect life before the Fall. Predation, pain, suffering, disease, earthquakes and the like must then have existed already before the Fall. The fossil record, thus viewed, implies that the Fall did not have any observable effects on the earth or on non-human life. It follows that proponents of an old earth must minimize the physical consequences of Adam’s fall.

Traditionally, all animal suffering is seen as a result of human sin. But now it must be seen as part of the initial “very good” creation. Further, if the current world is not a world that has fallen from a better initial state, how can there be a universal restoration (cf Romans 8:19-23; Col. 1:16-20)?

There are other difficulties. For example, how could Adam name all the animals if by then more than 99% had already become extinct?

Human history

Consider further the implications for human history.

According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were created directly by God (Gen. 2) about 4000 BC (Gen. 5 & 11). They were the parents of all humans (Gen. 3:20). The Bible describes Adam as a gardener, his son Abel as a shepherd, and his son Cain as a farmer who founded a city (Gen. 4). Tents, musical instruments and bronze and iron tools were all invented by the offspring of Cain (Gen. 4), who were later all destroyed by the Flood (Gen. 6-9), which destroyed all humans except for Noah and his family (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5). Within a few generations after the Flood there is a confusion of language and people spread out to populate the earth (Gen. 11).

Mainstream science, on the other hand, gives the following outline of human history:

  • 2 million years BC – homo erectus, anatomically very similar to modern man
  • 200,000 BC – oldest anatomically human Homo sapiens fossils (Ethiopia)
  • 40-50,000 BC – oldest artistic and religious artifacts
  • 40,000 BC – first aborigines in Australia (and continuously there ever since).
  • 9000 BC – first villages
  • 7500 BC – first plant cultivation, domesticated cattle and sheep (neo-lithic era)
  • 5000 BC – first bronze tools
  • 3000 BC – first written records
  • 1600 BC – first iron tools

The Biblical account is clearly at odds with the mainstream interpretation of the archaeological and fossil evidence.

For example, if Australian aborigines have indeed lived separately from the rest of the world for 40,000 years then the Flood, if anthropologically universal, must have occurred more than 40,000 years ago. But Genesis places the cultivation of plants and cattle, metal-working, cities, etc., before the Flood. Mainstream science places these events after 10,000 BC. Hence, according to mainstream science, Noah’s flood could not have occurred before 10,000 BC.

Consequently, an old earth position forces us to demote the Genesis flood to a local flood that did not affect all humans. Likewise, the tower of Babel incident (Gen.11) must now be localized to just a portion of mankind.

Consider also the origin of man. Since Adam’s sons were farmers, mainstream science sets the date of Adam no earlier than 10,000 BC. This entails that the Australian aborigines are not descendants of Adam. Thus Adam and Eve are not the ancestors of all humans living today. This undermines the doctrine of original sin, which the confessions say was propagated in a hereditary manner from Adam to all his posterity (Belgic Confession 15-16; Canons of Dordt 34:2-3). This, in turn, undermines the view of Christ’s atonement as a penal substitution where Christ, as a representative descendent of Adam, pays for the sins of Adam’s race. Many of those who accept an evolutionary view of man have thus re-interpreted the work of Jesus as merely an example of love.

Further, given the close similarity between human fossils of 10,000 and 2 million years ago, it becomes difficult to avoid concluding that Adam and Eve had human-like ancestors dating back a few million years. But that entails that Adam and Eve were not created directly by God, contrary to Gen. 2, and that human suffering and death occurred long before Adam’s fall, contrary to Rom. 5:12.

Conclusions

To sum up, embracing mainstream science regarding its assertion of an old earth entails the following consequences:

  1. Both the timescale and order of the creation account of Genesis 1 are wrong.
  2. The Flood of Gen. 6-8 must have been local, not affecting all humans.
  3. The Babel account of Gen. 11 must have been local, not affecting all humans.
  4. Adam’s fall – and the subsequent curse on the earth – did not significantly affect the earth, plants, animals, or the human body.
  5. Adam, living about 10,000 BC, could not have been the ancestor of all humans living today.
  6. Hence the doctrines of original sin and the atonement must be revised
  7. Adam had human ancestors
  8. Hence human physical suffering and death occurred before the Fall and are not a penalty for sin.

These, in turn, entail the following constraints on the Bible:

  1. 1-11 does not report reliable history.
  2. Hence the Bible cannot be taken at face value when describing historical events, in which case we cannot believe everything the Bible says (cf. Belgic Confession 5; Heidelberg CatechismQ/A 21).

In sum, acceptance of an old earth has dire consequences for the rest of Gen. 1-11, for Biblical clarity, authority and inerrancy, and for the essentials of salvation.

Worldviews come as package deals. One cannot simply mix and match. Logical consistency dictates that those who do not whole-heartedly base their worldview on the Bible will ultimately end up rejecting it.

A better course of action would thus be to hold fast to the full authority of the Bible, to re-consider the presuppositions leading to an old earth, and to interpret the data in terms of scientific theories that are consistent with Biblical truths.

This article first appeared in an Oct. 24, 2009 post on Dr. John Byl’s blog Bylogos.blogspot.com and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. John Byl is a Professor emeritus for Trinity Western University, and the author of “God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe” and “The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning.”

Review: “Inerrancy and the Undermining of Biblical Authority”

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In this video presentation, Dr. Mortenson addresses the apparent lack of consistency that has become evident among many of the signers of the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Article XII of the Chicago Statement includes the following denial:

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”

But the fact is that a number of the signatories to this important declaration have expressed agreement with the findings of evolutionary geologists and cosmologists, who hypothesize that the world came to its present condition through a process of development that has been ongoing for millions of years.

Mortenson addresses some very important questions in this presentation. First of all, he asks, “Is it possible to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture while at the same time accepting a form of evolution over millions of years?” And his answer is “Yes, it is. Thousands of seminary professors and other Christian leaders do.” But he follows up that first question with this one: “Is it actually consistent to believe in inerrancy while at the same time holding to the idea that the universe has evolved over millions of years?” And his answer is a good one: “No!” The fact is, that inconsistency undermines the authority of God’s Word.

Mortenson provides a number of examples, and an able refutation of the conclusions that many have drawn. I’ll just mention one of those examples for the purposes of this review, that of Dr. Norman Geisler. Dr. Geisler was one of those who signed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, but he has shown a real inconsistency in his own subsequent writings. In rejecting Dr. William Lane Craig’s “limited inerrancy” view, Geisler wrote: “Unlimited inerrancy contends that the Bible is inerrant not only on all matters it address, not only on redemptive matters, but also on historical and scientific matters as well.”

However, in his book Unshakable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions about the Christian Faith, Geisler wrote the following:

In terms of the order of nature and appearance of new life forms, the fossil record indicates that they appear in the following order:

  1. Invertebrates
  2. Fish
  3. Amphibians
  4. Reptiles
  5. Mammals
  6. Humans”

Geisler goes on to state:

In presenting the design model, we are not interested in assigning exact dates and ages to all of these events; we will leave that up to you to decide. We will offer a suggested time scenario later, but our purpose right now is to show that the Genesis account of the origin of living things is essentially in accord with modern science.”

Geisler continues:

Now, let’s assume that the order of appearance is correct but that the corresponding dates, as proposed by gradualist macroevolutionary geologists, are in error… after carefully considering all the evidence, the progressive view of the design model (or something like it) appears to be a viable model of origins. Three independent fields of study support its integrity: cosmology, molecular biology, and paleontology.”

Mortenson points out a number of problems with Geisler’s approach, including his gross simplification of the order of the fossil record. But the overarching problem is Geisler’s inconsistency. While holding to the Chicago Statement’s denial that “scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood,” Geisler goes on to use these “independent fields of study” to do just that.

It is an inconsistency, and it is a serious one, because the conclusions drawn on the basis of an interpretation of the physical evidence completely undermine the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture. It is inconsistencies such as this one that strike at the foundation of our faith: God’s Word.

It is important that we use Biblically-informed discernment when dealing with all sides of the issue of creation and origins. We must be critical readers and watchers, whether we’re studying the message of evolutionary science or that of “creationists.” Not all material that is labelled as “creationist” is equally helpful, and some creationists, in their zeal for defending Scripture, have ended up misusing Scripture or overstating their conclusions. With that in mind, I do not hesitate to highly recommend this video for high school students and Bible study groups, as a springboard to further instruction and discussion of these vital issues.

“Inerrancy and the Undermining of Biblical Authority” is part of the “Answers in Genesis Creation Library Series” of videos. Dr. Terry Mortenson has a PhD in history of geology from Coventry University, and he has also written a very helpful book on the history of geology, The Great Turning Point: The Church’s Catastrophic Mistake on Geology – Before Darwin.

A Dangerous Direction

BeekeA few months ago, we included a review of a book edited by Richard D. Phillips, God, Adam, and YouYou can find Dr. Van Raalte’s review here.  I’ve had the book for a while, but have only just begun reading it myself.  So far, it definitely lives to up to what was said in the review.

I’d like to share an excerpt from chapter 2, “The Case For Adam.”  Dr. Joel Beeke presents ten persuasive historical and theological arguments in favour of the orthodox view of Adam.  His final theological argument is that “the historical Adam is a test case for biblical authority.”  He specifically critiques scholars like Peter Enns who argue that God “‘adopted mythic categories’ from the ancient world, myths that we may now discard, so long as we retain the kernel of truth they contain.”

Beeke goes on to remark:

Those who take this route perhaps may not realize that they are departing from the path of biblical orthodoxy and following the same road as unbiblical neoorthodoxy.  Emil Brunner (1889-1966), a prominent neoorthodox theologian, said that the Bible’s teaching on creation is “not a theory of the way in which the world came into existence,” but only a summons to know God as your Lord and Creator.  Thus, he said, the Adam of Genesis 2 is inseparable from ancient beliefs about the universe and cannot be viewed as a real individual in light of our modern understanding.  For Brunner, Paradise was a “myth” not “historical fact.”

It is not necessary for us to go in this direction.  Why couldn’t the ancient Hebrews have understood it if God had told them that he created by a long, slow process of evolutionary change?  Every day, as they planted and harvested crops or worked with sheep and cattle, they could see change and improvement in the various seeds they planted or the animals they bred.  Why couldn’t God effectively communicate to them that he had conferred a human soul upon an existing animal rather than breathed life into a body formed directly out of the earth?  Why not reveal in Genesis that God made many human beings at first, instead of just one?  Why would these things have been harder for them to accept than the idea that there is only one true and living God, given that all their neighbors worshiped many gods?  And why must we separate the way in which God created from the fact that he is Creator?  Does it not glorify God as Lord to know that he created man, not through any natural process, but by a supernatural act of creation?  Yes, the account of the historical Adam’s creation greatly honors God as Creator and Lord.

Furthermore, this is a dangerous direction to go.  If the Bible is a mixture of cultural dressing wrapped around divine truth, then how can we be sure which part is the husk and which is the kernel?  What one generation embraces as the kernel of divine truth could very well be rejected by another generation as merely more human culture and tradition.  We see this happening around us even now with respect to the definition of marriage and homosexuality.  (pages 38-40)

Beeke is spot on.  Indeed, theistic evolutionary views can only gain acceptance as believers succumb to lower views of the Bible.  Such views typically over-emphasize the human element behind the authorship of Scripture and under-emphasize the divine.  We should never forget the Reformed (and biblical) teaching that the primary author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit.  And yes, “primary” is the right word.  The Bible is not 50% human and 50% divine.  It is first and foremost the Word of God.  It has come to us through human involvement, but it remains entirely 100% the word of our Father in heaven.  The more clearly we see that, the better equipped we are to stand fast against false teachings like theistic evolution.

Signing the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978)

Did they really sign it? That was my question. Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 9.37.18 AM

What am I talking about? The question is: back in 1978 did the faculty of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches (now known as the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary) actually sign the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy or not? Readers of this blog and of the Reformed Academic blog will realize that the matter of inerrancy was put back into debate last week. Some discussion occurred over at Reformed Academic, with the author now acknowledging graciously that some corrections were in order.

One of the blog comments that gave rise to the corrections stated that the faculty of CRTS had, back in 1978, signed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This statement put the words infallible and inerrant side by side, and stated, “We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture” (art. 13). Relevant to the topic of God’s creating work, the Statement also included this denial,

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood (art. 12).

My question was whether the professors Jelle Faber, Heinrich Ohmann, and Lubbertus Selles actually signed the Statement. Here’s why: If you consult the online documents, the typed list of signatories includes these three names, but if you peruse the copies of signatures you cannot find theirs.

In the interests of good scholarship, I decided to pursue the matter further. Counting, I found approximately 240 signatures compared to about 350 typed names. With this information in hand, I emailed the archivist where the documents are stored—the library at Dallas Theological Seminary.

This kind librarian, Lolana Thompson, replied to me the same day. She explained that only the original signing sheets, signed by those who were present at the meeting in the Fall of 1978 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago, were included with the online scans. Those who signed later also sent in their signatures, but many of these pages were not scanned and put online, perhaps because some of them include only one signature. In January 1979 a typed list was made of all the signatories up to that time. This list included Faber, Ohmann, and Selles. She also kindly sent me a scan of their signatures, which we are hosting here. Now, without question, you can see the signatures for yourself.

It’s remarkable that all three full-time faculty members signed the statement. None of them thought that the term “inerrancy” was contrary to their own confession’s term “infallibility.” All of them were educated in the Netherlands, where debate about the historicity of Genesis 2–3 had occurred (the historical reality of the events and figures in these chapters was confirmed as a teaching of the Reformed Churches when J. G. Geelkerken was deposed in keeping with the decision of Synod Assen 1926). They weren’t ignorant of the implications of their signatures. Finally, all of them signed under the typed heading, “Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches.” In other words, they didn’t merely sign as individuals, but as faculty teaching at the churches’ institution. I’m thankful for their commitment and ours.

Knocking Down Straw Men is Too Easy

Straw-ManIt has been some time since we have heard from the bloggers at Reformed Academic. Last week, however, a post finally appeared from Dr. Freda Oosterhoff. In this post, she is interacting with an article in Clarion written by Rev. Klaas Stam. She claims that Clarion refused to publish her response and so it now appears on Reformed Academic. The focus of her article is a critique of Henry Morris. Certainly some of what Morris writes is worthy of critique and my goal here is not to defend Morris. Instead, I want to interact with the last of her conclusions.

Dr. Oosterhoff writes, “It is high time, I am convinced, to issue warnings against an inerrantist view of the Bible, one that has, unfortunately, been much promoted among us in recent years.” Naturally, as one of those who has been promoting biblical inerrancy, I take note of her burden to warn against this. Dr. Oosterhoff and I will agree on this point: biblical inerrancy is at the heart of the present controversy in the Canadian Reformed Churches over whether there should be room for those who wish to hold to an explanation of man’s origins that might or does include biological evolution. Deny biblical inerrancy and the room is more likely to be created. Affirm biblical inerrancy and the room is not likely to be there for creation compromisers. Find out where someone stands on inerrancy and you can predict where they will likely fall on what can be taught or tolerated in terms of origins. This is obviously a vitally important issue.

Another point where I can agree is Dr. Oosterhoff’s last sentence in her article. She states there that we should not ignore the difficulties in this discussion nor cover them up with fallacious arguments. To do so is dangerous – and I absolutely agree. Because we are united to Jesus Christ (who is the Truth, John 14:6), it is incumbent on us to conscientiously avoid fallacious reasoning.

The irony is that Dr. Oosterhoff’s warning against “inerrantism” (as she calls it) employs a common informal fallacy: the fallacy of the straw man. She offers an extreme and uncharitable portrayal of inerrancy and then knocks it down with the “the traditional Reformed belief” in a Bible that is infallible (but not inerrant). She even says that infallibility is what “the traditional Reformed belief has always been,” implying that inerrancy has never featured in traditional Reformed theology. This is the way she defines the problem she is warning against:

Inerrantism on the other hand teaches the Bible is without any factual errors in the modern-scientific meaning of that term; that it contains no ‘mistakes’ in quotations, no ‘discrepancies’ in for example genealogies, and no ‘errors’ of memory, of grammar, of word choice, of historical information and description, and so on. According to inerrantists, the Bible can be proven to be accurate, again in the modern-scientific meaning of that term.

Dr. Oosterhoff provides no source for that description. She refers to no specific “inerrantist.” There are no footnotes to support these claims. She appears to be providing her own description of what proponents of inerrancy believe.

Now perhaps Dr. Oosterhoff can find some example of someone defining inerrancy in the sloppy way she described. However, I’m sure that Dr. Oosterhoff is aware of the Chicago Statement produced in 1978 and signed by over 200 theologians, including several from the CanRC. The Chicago Statement is still widely-recognized as the most precise and helpful definition of biblical inerrancy. In view of Dr. Oosterhoff’s portrayal of inerrancy, it is worthwhile to read carefully Article XIII of the Chicago Statement:

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of materials, variant selections of material in parallel accounts or the use of free citations.

Dr. Oosterhoff’s portrayal of “inerrantism” simply does not line up with this – in fact, I would expect her to be able to agree to what the Chicago Statement says here about Scripture. Moreover, if you are compelled to warn people against inerrancy, you need a good definition of inerrancy, and what better place to find one than in the Chicago Statement?

But there is not only a problem with her portrayal of inerrancy. There’s also a problem on the other side of the equation, with her portrayal of “the traditional Reformed belief.” She says that our traditional belief is infallibility, and not inerrancy. Now I could multiply historical examples to prove that she is wrong. However, let me only refer to a highly-respected Reformed theological textbook from the seventeenth century, the Leiden Synopsis. The first volume of this has recently appeared in English translation, so readers can check it for themselves. We find Antonius Walaeus writing, “It is made clear to us that the authority of Holy Scripture is much greater than that of the Church by the fact that the Church is capable of erring while Scripture cannot” (71). Sometimes it is claimed that biblical inspiration or inerrancy only extends to doctrines. In other words, the core teachings of Scripture are inspired and even inerrant, but this does not apply to “peripheral” matters.  This notion existed in the days of the Leiden Synopsis already and Walaeus had a ready answer in thesis 28:

And here one ought not to pay heed to Socinus and several other Christians who grant that Holy Scripture is divinely-originated in issues of special importance, but that its authors in situations and circumstances of lesser importance were abandoned by the Holy Spirit and could have erred. Because this opinion paves the way for contempt, and expressly contradicts Scripture which testifies that “everything that was written was written for our instruction (Romans 15:4), and “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Likewise, “no Scripture is of one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20); indeed, “not even one iota will disappear from the Law” (Matthew 5:18). “And it is not permitted for any man to add or to remove from it” (Deuteronomy 4[:2], Revelation 22[:18-19].” (69)

In a footnote, the editors of the Synopsis point out that besides Faustus Socinus, Walaeus noted elsewhere that Erasmus displayed “the same pernicious view.” We can do away with the flawed notion that biblical inerrancy has been smuggled into Reformed theology from fundamentalism. The traditional Reformed belief has long been an inerrant Bible. Yes, yes, I know about Rogers and McKim and their efforts to say otherwise. Their flawed research has been quite adequately answered by Richard Muller (in his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics) and many others (see here for a bibliography).

This response has already become too long, but I need to raise one more point. Dr. Oosterhoff says that “According to inerrantists, the Bible can be proven to be accurate, again in the modern-scientific meaning of that term.” Here she paints with a broad brush. To which specific inerrantists is she referring? All of them? Some of them? Which ones? Certainly, I would grant that there are proponents of inerrancy who take such an approach, but they would generally not be Reformed. Reformed proponents of inerrancy like Dr. Greg Bahnsen have argued for a presuppositional approach. We do not prove the Bible to be accurate, but we believe it to be accurate because this is the way God himself describes it to us, it is the self-attestation of Scripture. Inerrancy is never a matter of proof, but of faith. It is not a matter of a conclusion reached by our reason, but a matter of faith accepting what God’s Word says about itself as our starting point. As I have pointed out before, even some Lutheran theologians have taken this approach to biblical inerrancy. Dr. Oosterhoff does not acknowledge that this presuppositional approach even exists and that again puts inerrancy in the worst possible light.

If Dr. Oosterhoff and her colleagues at Reformed Academic feel a burden to warn the Canadian Reformed Churches against biblical inerrancy, they will need to at least become familiar with the best arguments for biblical inerrancy, especially from Reformed theologians. Taking the weakest and sloppiest statements of inerrancy and demolishing them is easy and it scores points with sympathizers. However, we are those who are to “take every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and certainly that means we have to forsake all fallacious reasoning.