The Scandal of Young Earth Creationism

Over twenty years ago historian Mark Noll, perhaps the greatest living Christian historian wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In it he diagnosed the issue of the lack of Christian scholarship during the twentieth century and the influence of the anti-intellectual fundamentalist movement on evangelicalism. While I think there has been an improvement in evangelical scholarship during the past two decades and an increased study of theology by laymen, I still think there is an anti-intellectual feel in evangelicalism, especially when it comes to science. I respect and appreciate the desire to preserve biblical orthodoxy by Ken Ham, Ray Comfort and other proponents of a Young Earth view, and believe that we could learn a little bit from their lack of shame in proclaiming what they believe to be true, but I believe this zeal is misguided and has ultimately been disastrously harmful to evangelicalism. I have no formal theological or scientific training in any of these areas, but even without this I find many flaws in the movement. There are several reasons that I have a problem with the Young Earth view that I will outline in this post, but first I want to quickly outline my current position on the interpretation of Genesis 1. Admittedly if I were to read Genesis 1 in vacuum I would say that the young earth position is the best, but alongside various scientific disciplines and research along with Ancient Near Eastern anthropology and history, I think the framework view of Genesis 1 is the best hypothesis at this point. Basically this means that Genesis 1 accommodates God’s creation of earth to the structure of a human work week in order to lay out the rhythms of work and rest for human life. At this point I am open (note the use of the word open as opposed to a word that would imply complete acceptance) to any theory of evolution that would allow for a historical Adam and Eve, whether that means that Adam and Eve are special creations or the image of God was imposed upon prior hominoid creatures. Now here are the problems I have with young earth proponents.

1. Closed-minded and unscientific – My first problem is that many advocates of a Young Earth seem to be closed minded and unscientific. I have never seen a YEC consider a different position or while in a debate even listen to the other side. It seems as if they have more of a desire to just tell people what they think than actually engage in meaningful dialogue. I have watched Ken Ham on YouTube before and whenever someone brings up millions of years, he just picks up his bible and repeats “Where do you see millions of years?” over and over again. I understand that the Bible does not say that the world is old, but it does not say that it is young either. I want to ask Ken Ham where North America is in the bible. I haven’t been able to find it, but I am pretty sure that it exists. I have also watched Ray Comfort’s God vs Evolution movie. That is even worse than anything Ken Ham has made. It is extremely manipulative. He walks around a college campus asking people for evidence of evolution off the top of their head. It is done in the same style as the late night shows that walk around asking people questions in order to make them look stupid. This is hardly evidence for a young earth. There is also a video of him answering various objections to atheists at the Creation Museum. Most of the time he does not even actually answer the objections, but rather offers smart-alecky responses. Ham and Comfort act as if the young earth view is the only acceptable biblical view, which is just not true. A. W. Pink said that “nothing is said which enables us to fix the date of their creation.” NOTHING! Ken Ham and Ray Comfort might be right about the age of the Earth, but as of now science points nearly unanimously to an old Earth. Ken Ham and Ray Comfort should have taken note when W. U. Ault said,

“the serious bible student must not will not use pseudo-science to support the physical aspects of bible history.”

The evidence they provide for a young earth is simply not scientific. I have no problem with them saying that they believe that the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is greater than any scientific evidence for an old earth, and that they believe that the bible teaches this, but their use of “science” is deplorable. I read an article from a YEC scientist recently that I found surprisingly refreshing. He admitted that science overwhelmingly points to an old earth and that evolution is a well backed theory, but that he chooses to believe in a young earth because he believes that is what the bible teaches. I respect that and commend his honesty and humility, but I do not see this from the majority of the YEC community.

2. An American Issue – Secondly, this whole old earth vs young earth and creation vs evolution is such an American issue. British theologian N. T. Wright says that it is just not even a concern in Europe. It is so tied up with the “culture wars” and the ideology of the “religious right” that Americans have such a skewed view about the entire issue. Only in America would you get 3 million people to view a Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate.

 3. A Contemporary Issue – There is this completely false idea that until recently all Christians held to a classic young Earth view. This is simply untrue. Those who say this completely distort the history of Christianity. Various interpretations of Genesis 1 have existed for millennia. Augustine believed in instantaneous creation. Ancient Jewish rabbis wouldn’t even let someone interpret Genesis until they were 35 years old because of how complicated they thought it was. If understanding Genesis 1 was difficult them, how much more difficult must it be thousands of later, removed even further from the cultural of the original audience? Herman Bavinck writes,

“It is nevertheless remarkable that not a single confession made a fixed pronouncement about the six-day continuum, and that in theology as well a variety of interpretations were allowed to exist side by side.”

The first review of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species came from a Church of England clergyman named Charles Kingsley, and the review was positive. Theologian Arthur Peackocke said,

“in the nineteenth century many Anglican theologians, both evangelical and catholic embraced positively the proposal of evolution.”

While being interviewed by Michael Horton, Jeffery Burton Russell said “this extreme literal interpretation of the bible that creationists, erm, really a twentieth century phenomenon.” James Orr, the Scottish Presbyterian minister, and B. B. Warfield, the great Reformed theologian both embraced evolution, and neither of them can be considered liberal in any sense of the word. Even anti-evolution advocate William Jennings Bryan of the Scopes Trial believed in the day-age theory of Genesis 1. Early twentieth century premillennial dispensational fundamentalists believed in a type of gap theory allowing for an old earth. Presbyterian minister J Vernon McGee called scientists “pikers” for thinking that the world was only billions of years old. Until Henry Morris and John Whitcomb wrote The Genesis Flood in 1961 the young earth view was foreign to both evangelicals and fundamentalists. At this point it is important to note that Morris considered George McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist, his largest influence. Seventh Day Adventism arose in the mid nineteenth century when Ellen G. White reported extra biblical revelations that included new information about Genesis, which happens to be the root of young earth creationism. Until Morris and Whitcomb popularized the young earth view in the 1960s it was largely confined to Seventh Day Adventists.

4. Divisive – Truth by its very nature divides. This being said, we must be careful what we are dividing over. The age of the Earth is not an issue I am ready to alienate anyone on. Listening to YEC, I feel as they believe the age of the earth is essential to the gospel. It simply is not. Ken Ham has described many old earth advocates as “compromising” the scripture and that once we do not believe in a young earth that the entire bible falls apart. I have seen too many people hold a 100% orthodox gospel while believing in an old earth to agree with him. I do want to say those of us who believe in an old earth should not alienate those who hold with a young earth either. This is just not an issue to die over. John MacArthur is not my favorite pastor or theologian, but I have learned from him and appreciate his ministry (though he can go a little overboard on some things) and I really appreciate Tim Challies blog. Both MacArthur and Challies are young earth creationists, but I am still willing to learn from them on other issues and would happily worship or fellowship with them. I am sure that there are others who I highly respect that are young earth creationists, these two just happen to be the most outspoken about it. I found this article from a YEC very helpful when thinking about how divisive this issue has become.

5. Anti-Intellectual/Blind Faith – At this point it is important to point out that faith is not something that believes anything with no evidence at all. Sure faith goes beyond the evidence, but it takes account of evidence. The amount of times the word “reason” is used in the New Testament is remarkable. Paul reasoned with people, explained to people, and proved to people. (Acts 17:2-3). This hardly sounds like blind faith to me. Francis Schaeffer said that as Christians we should be a people bound to the truth more than anyone else and that we are to go wherever the evidence leads us. I am not advocating that we accept every scientific theory without criticism, but we must be ready to wrestle with ideas and theories that are thrown at us. We should not immediately discount everything. It often seems as if many young earth creationists are afraid of evidence. They have no scientific claims to back up what they are saying, so they resort to propaganda and manipulative techniques. They appeal to the emotions rather than to the facts. It as if that they ley let people think then their whole position would collapse. There is a place for questioning and doubt in the Christian life. (By doubt I mean honest and humble thinking and reflection not prideful and arrogant doubt that curses God.) Oswald Chambers said that sometimes when people are doubting that it just shows that they are thinking. Thinking is good. God gave us a brain. He wants us to use it. Of course our brain was effected by the fall and we cannot trust everything that we think, but thinking is still a crucial, and an often neglected part of the Christian life. I think the issue of anti-intellectualism goes even deeper. It is dishonoring to God. We are commanded in Scripture to have dominion over the Earth and I believe this includes scientific exploration. Os Guinness says that evangelicals must repent from our recent anti-intellectual attitudes. When we stifle our understanding or creation we have a smaller view of God. I wonder if creation science has given off the impression to non-Christians that we worship a less than amazing God and that we do not value His creation. Charles Minser, a student of Albert Einstein said that the reason Einstein never could accept Christianity is that Christian preachers offered a picture of God that was less than spectacular. MInser said “Einstein must have looked at what the preacher said about God and felt that they were blaspheming!” MInser continues,

“He had seen more majesty than he had ever imagined in the creation of the universe and felt that the God they were talking about couldn’t have been the real thing. My guess is that he felt that the churches he ran across did not have proper respect for the Author of the Universe.”

Wow. Blaspheming and lack of respect. We must not become pantheists and muddle the Creator/creation distinction, but Christians of all people should have a high regard for the created world, for only they know the Creator. If God created the universe over billions of years and there were planets that crashed with asteroids and exploding stars and fish becoming dinosaurs or whatever scientists actually believe, then that is amazing.

 6. A False View of Inerrancy – Ken Ham repeatedly says that the issue of the age of the earth and the interpretation of Genesis is “an inspiration issue.” He acts if I am picking and choosing what I believe in the bible and what I do not believe. But that is not all what I am saying when I say that I believe that the world is old. If Genesis 1 explicitly said “in the year 4004 BC God created the world”, then it certainly would be an inspiration issue, but that is not what it says. I believe in a 100% inerrant scripture, but I also believe that the text of Genesis 1 is more theological than scientific. I believe the main take always from Genesis 1 should be that there is a creator God and that man was made in God’s image. Vern Poythress sums it up well when he says “the exact amount of time makes no difference theologically.” God could have created the world in fifteen minutes or a trillion years and both options are biblically legitimate. Genesis lays out a framework for the rhythm of life. It’s not a historical account of when God created what. We would be wise to take John Calvin’s advice and not look to Genesis 1 for information about astronomy and other scientific studies.

 7. Conspiratorial – Young earth creationists often create this narrative of Ken Ham’s valiant crusade against the big bad secular scientists. These scientists are hiding the truth and have a plot to remove God from the picture. There are scientists who do want Christianity to become extinct, in fact Richard Dawkins admits that, but when we paint the whole scientific community as a bunch of Richard Dawkinses then we are completely distorting the truth. They are a fringe of the scientific community, much as Ken Ham and Ray Comfort are a fringe of the Christian community. There are secular and atheist scientists out there that are doing honest work and genuinely seeking the truth. Of course I do believe the root of all unbelief is a desire to suppress God and the truth, but at the same time there are non-Christian skeptics who have honest questions and honest doubts that intellectually prevent them from accepting Christianity. This whole idea of a liberal and secular agenda has been blown out of proportion. Don’t get me wrong. To an extent it exists, but Christians have often created this idea that Richard Dawkins and Obama are meeting in a secret underground chamber to devise ways remove anything that is at all Christian or religious from America. Even if this really happened, which it most definitely did not, we need not fear. I often feel as if some who are so engaged in the “culture wars” believe that God is relying on them to carry out his plan of redemption. He’s not. Anthony Bradley was totally right when he said “the resurrection means that the ‘culture war’ is over, so I am free. No need to freak out about policies.”

8. A Low View of General Revelation – It often appears that young earth creationists have a higher view of special revelation, namely scripture, than those who hold to an old earth position. I want to spin this around and say that in fact they actually have a lower view of general revelation, namely nature and science. Charles Hodge said that “nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible.” We must look at what scripture says is true and also what nature says is true. Hodge goes on to points out two equal errors: looking at scripture and disregarding science and accepting every scientific fad without question. He compares the age of the earth issue to the issue of geocentrism and heliocentrism. For years geocentrism was the official view of the church. We now realize that this view was false. I find the issue of the age of the earth eerily similar. I wonder if in the future we will look back and see the young earth position in a similar light and possibly also the view that Christianity and evolution are incompatible. James Montgomery Boice writes

“We must remember at this point that many theories of science were once declared to be anti-Christian but are now held by Christians and non-Christians alike with no apparent ill effects to Christianity.”

Ultimately the truth of scripture and of nature will never contradict each other. Boice writes that “if evolution is true, as evolutionists certainly believe, and if the Bible is also true, then something like the view of the theistic evolutionists must be reality.” If creatures evolved and Jesus rose from the dead then theistic evolution is real. I sometime wonder if God allows us to hold onto these false views about His creation in order to humble us when we find that they are wrong. We cannot put God into a box. Scripture is infallible, but man’s interpretation of scripture is not.

 9. Miracles – How can I believe in the miracles that contradict science if I have a hard time believing the interpretations of Genesis that seem to contradict science? Well the thing is that these are two completely different issues. Miracles are a suspension of the forces that God uses to govern the universe. Young earth creationism is just flat out ignoring the forces God uses to run the universe, plus there is a difference in genre between Genesis and these New Testament texts. The gospels and Acts are clearly historical narratives. They discuss real people in real places. These events have eye witness testimony. Moses wasn’t around when the world was made. Even if they are historical texts they are not the same as other historical texts in the Bible. The information of Genesis 1 would have had to been revealed to the writer of Genesis in a similar manor that prophesies are. Something I have noticed in prophetic literature is a lot of symbolism. This does not negate the truthfulness of Genesis, but does change how one may interpret it.

10. A Stumbling Block – Finally young earth creationism creates a stumbling block for many people to believe. If the cross and resurrection are a stumbling block to belief that is one thing, but something like Genesis where historically there have been many interpretations, it would be unfortunate if we put the age of the earth in the way of someone believing the gospel. Instead of saying any more about this myself, I will just let Augustine talk for a while.

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

 

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