Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Dangers of Young Earth Dogmatism

I am a Young Earth Creationist (YEC). Of sorts. I am a Creationist in the sense that I believe in a single all-powerful being who created everything that exists. I also happen to believe that God created humanity by way of a distinct act and not by way of evolutionary mechanisms over millions of years.

I am a Young Earth Creationist, specifically, in the sense that I currently happen to think that the earth is relatively young.

What I am not, is a Young Earth Dogmatist (YED). That is, I do not think faith in the youth of this planet is explicitly taught by the scriptures, crucial to Christianity, or even super important to believe in.

Therefore this post is not contra YEC, but contra YED. I do not oppose a position but a disposition.

There are two dangers in Young Earth Dogmatism.

Firstly, insisting that faith in the youth of this planet is crucial to Biblical Christianity tends to cause unnecessary division, while the Bible stresses a wide degree of latitude for brothers and sisters over matters that are not explicitly addressed in the Bible. Now don't get me wrong, I know that there is room for constructive disagreement among Christians, and that's what I have with my Old Earth brothers and sisters. But Young Earth Dogmatists tend to practically elevate their scientific speculations to the levels of certainty and importance of the gospel itself, and this, like all syncretism, introduces problems.

Secondly, Young Earth Dogmatism repels people from the faith. When individuals are brought up believing that the Bible incontrovertibly teaches that this planet is less than 10,000 years old, and then they encounter extremely compelling scientific evidence to the contrary, they are forced to make a choice that just might be unnecessary. Now, I am aware that there may be things the Bible teaches, which are often construed in secular circles as being at odds with scientific data and/or their interpretations, but faith in the youth of the earth need not be added to this list. Don't make matters worse; pick your battles, and all that.

This is not to mention the people who weren't even raised by Christian parents who are repelled by Young Earth Dogmatism. Sure, there are those who are repelled by genuine Christian dogma. But, again, if this isn't genuine Christian dogma, and it is offensive, why not relegate it to a lower status? The gospel should be stripped of everything that hinders.

The gospel is nudist that way.

So, where is there room for millions and billions of years? Before, during, and after the six days in Genesis 1.


The six days of creation begin pretty early on in the text, right? And what part of "in the beginning" don't I understand? How could there possibly be room for millions and billions of years before the six days of creation?

Incidentally, one of the most widely held theories among Evangelical Christians is something called the "Gap Theory". This theory maintains that there is a gap of time in between the first and second verses of Genesis 1. This theory, in addition to enjoying a wide fan-base, also enjoys grammatical support. James E. Smith, himself an opponent of Gap Theory explains:
The Ruin-Reconstruction theory (also known as the Gap Theory) is perhaps the most widely held view among evangelicals. According to this view verse 1 describes an original perfect creation... Verse 2 is translated, “Now the earth became waste and void.”…

Can Genesis 1:2 be translated “Now the earth became waste and void”? Many authorities insist that the verb hayah cannot be rendered became here. The truth of the matter is that this verb more often than not expresses an action and not a state of being. The Gap Theory cannot be opposed on linguistic grounds. [1]
In addition to the Hebrew verb היה (hayah), which more often means something closer to "became" than "was", there is other immediate grammatical support for reading Gap Theoretic notions into Genesis 1:2. For example, the textual note on Genesis 1:2 in the ESV says:
תֹהוּ (tohu) and בֹּהוּ (bohu), when used in proximity, describe a situation resulting from judgment (Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23).
These three words, read plainly in Hebrew, would lead a reader to believe that sometime after God created the heavens and the earth, God caused the earth to lose its form and contents by way of judgement.

Thus, there are textual reasons to posit a gap of time in between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. That's all I need to establish the Biblical room for millions and billions of years before the six days of creation. However, since Gap Theory is interesting, I will tell you what some Gap Theorists think occurred during that gap.

There are several events that the Bible teaches occurred very long ago. I will go through them and then we can figure out how to order them.

In Job 38:1-7, in the middle of God's monologue to Job, God sarcastically asks Job where he was while God was laying the foundation of the earth, "when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy". In order to "shout for joy", the sons of God (a phrase which, in the book of Job, refers to angelic beings) had to have already been in existence.

Now notice how the six day creation account doesn't mention anything about the creation of the angels. Why? Because God had already created them prior. So this is one event that occurred in eternity past that we will have to find a place for on our creation timeline.

Now take a look at Genesis 3:1. This "serpent" that is mentioned in the garden is also called "the devil" or "Satan", and is the deceiver of the world. But long before that, he was a different creature of a different moral standing in a different place. That is, he was a blameless, anointed cherub on the holy mountain of God (Ezekiel 28:12-14). He became proud because of his beauty and persuaded about a third of the other angels in heaven to attempt a mutiny, against which God's army of righteous angels, led by Michael the seraph, fought back, taking the mountain and driving them all out of heaven - and down to earth (Ezekiel 28:15-17, Revelation 12:4-9).

So that's how the serpent came to be corrupt and displaced. And this must have happened at least prior to Genesis 3:1, or else he wouldn't be called "the serpent", wouldn't be outside of the mountain of God, and wouldn't be deceitful.

Genesis is famous for giving an account of the Fall of humanity, but what it fails to record is the Fall of the angelic host who would become known as demons. This Fall, the subsequent heavenly war, and its conclusion are all events that we must find a place for on our cosmic timeline.

So here is one way of drawing up the order of events:

1. In the very beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
2. Sometime either before or after (1) God created Angels.
3. Sometime after (1) and (2), the archangel Lucifer, a cherub, and his followers (about 1/3 of the heavenly host) fell morally, by pridefully attempting to usurp God’s throne. So the archangel Michael, a seraph, and his followers subsequently waged war against them.
4. As a result of (3), Satan and his demons were violently evicted from the mountain of God.
5. Perhaps as a result of (4), the earth then lost its form, contents, light, and firmament. Perhaps the first Fall, that of Lucifer, shook the cosmos, renting its very fabric, and knocking planets out of orbit (think of the cataclysm caused by the crucifixion - imagine a pristine universe being morally torn for the very first time). Or perhaps out of bitterness, Satan and his demons threw a demonic fit, and rioted after being kicked out of heaven (imagine the cosmic riot of those powerful enough to have been God's own lieutenants). Or perhaps as God had them thrown out, His wrath burned against them so intensely that the spheres themselves melted and violently erupted (think of an ancient apocalypse, bringing a chilling symmetry to the Eschaton).
6. Perhaps it was then that the events beginning in Genesis 1:2 began taking place. Perhaps, after the earth became formless and void, it needed re-creation. As R. Jamieson and his colleagues describe it,
the earth was without form and void—or in “confusion and emptiness,” as the words are rendered in Is 34:11. This globe, at some undescribed period, having been convulsed and broken up, was a dark and watery waste for ages perhaps, till out of this chaotic state, the present fabric of the world was made to arise. [2]
And so God spent six days re-creating the earth, feathering a nest for a new type of creature He had designs for; forming the globe into a shape He liked, filling it with fruitful plants and wildlife, lighting it properly, and firming up land masses on its surface. To again quote from Jamieson,
the Spirit of God moved—literally, continued brooding over it, as a fowl does, when hatching eggs. The immediate agency of the Spirit, by working on the dead and discordant elements, combined, arranged, and ripened them into a state adapted for being the scene of a new creation. The account of this new creation properly begins at the end of this second verse; and the details of the process are described in the natural way an onlooker would have done, who beheld the changes that successively took place. [ibid.]
7. Then, after God had finished filliping, He rolled up His sleeves and conducted His opus, creating a spitting image of His Very Self, symbiotically spread across two genders and fully equipped for reproduction.
8. And that's why the serpent was already present on the earth by Genesis 3:1, with the motivation to bring down mankind – the pinnacle of God’s fresh creative achievement; the one creature fashioned after God Himself.

How long before or after the creation of the heavens and the earth did God create the angels? How long did He reign among them in peace before the rebellion? How long did the war last? How long after the rebels were put down did God begin the re-creation of the earth?

With these and other questions unanswered, can it be said that a plain reading of scripture may possibly leave room for millions and billions of years before the six days of creation? At least a plain enough reading that makes enough room that Christian brothers and sisters holding to inerrancy and a straightforward hermeneutic may thus maintain that the earth is older than 10,000 years without being defrocked by Young Earth Dogmatists?


Who has the gaul to suggest that there could be room for millions and billions of years during a six day period (besides Paul Copan, of course)? Moreover, can such a one earnestly claim a "straightforward" or "literal" hermeneutic? I have been surprised by some of my a- or post-millennial friends, whom I love, who seem to have no problem swiftly allegorizing the prophets, Savior's, and apostle's teachings on the Kingdom of God and by many of the same who happen to also be Calvinists, who read Calvinism into verses like 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 John 2:2, but turn right around to force a woodenly literal (in their words "plain") interpretation of passages that, to many, are quite obviously poetic, figurative, or allegorical (think "this is my body", a phrase too rarely compared to others like "I am the door" and "I am the vine", and a post topic for another night).

The Hebrew word יום ("yome", which literally means "to be hot") is not always used for "24 hours as we know them". In fact, the very same verse says that God called the "light" as "day" (and the "darkness" as "night"). Taken literally, this would mean that "day" only referenced the 12 hours or so of light that occur for a stationary observer during a revolution of the globe, unless back then it took the earth 48 hours to revolve, leaving the reader of Genesis to understand that there was a 24 period of light ("day"), and a 24 period of darkness ("night"). Moreover, a single chapter later, the author of Genesis references, in verse 4, this whole creation account as the (sl.) "day" in which God created the heavens and the earth. Obviously, the author can't be using "day" literally in both cases, otherwise he would be saying that God took 144 hours to create everything, and that God took 24 hours to create everything, and this is a mathematical contradiction.

But it's not just this instance in Genesis. In verse 17, God promises Adam and Eve that in the (sl.) "day" they eat of the forbidden fruit, they will surely die. Obviously, we know that they ate the fruit, but didn't die right away. Now, we might interpret God's promise as meaning that they will introduce death into humanity, and will subsequently die. Or we might interpret it as meaning that they will spiritually, and not literally, die. In either case, we can either interpret "day" literally or "die" literally, or both figuratively, but we know that Adam and Even didn't literally die on the same literal day that they ate the fruit, and therefore cannot interpret all words in a woodenly literal sense, like the Young Earth Dogmatists insist we must.

And it's not just in Genesis either. There is case after case of this Hebrew word being used for durations other than singular solar days as we know them.

This isn't a simple issue of reading the Bible plainly or not. Most of us read our Bible in English, which, I hear, is like "kissing your bride through her veil". How can you really know what her lips feel like? How can you expect to correctly pick up all of the nuances so simply? Hermeneutics, even of the most respectably straightforward kind, require the strict examination of context: literary, grammatical, and historical (the Chicago Statement calls this "grammatico-historical exegesis" and says that it requires "taking account of its literary forms and devices"). The goal is to determine what the author literally means. The goal may be exegesis and not eisegesis, but that doesn't mean that the Biblical authors never used figures of speech or idioms or the like, or that the words and phrases in the original will always translate perfectly, clearly, and into literal language.

I once heard John Piper quoted as saying "Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves. Digging is hard, but you might find Gold.". Sometimes a plain, surface-level reading isn't good enough. Sometimes it takes a little elbow grease and a sturdy shovel.

I've been thinking about all of this for a long time. But one of the reasons I decided to whip out a post now is that my very Best of Man posted a blog with a link to a video featuring Ken Ham himself. There is a lot of good in Answers in Genesis, his Young Earth Creationist ministry, and the video clip has a lot of good stuff in it too. I just have a bone to pick with his disposition.

Anyway, I left a comment summarizing my critique of Young Earth Dogmatism, and one of the objections I received was
If we have to reinterpret the plain meaning of Scripture and we were misled by the plain meaning of Scripture for thousands of years until Darwin came along, then what else have we misunderstood? What other plain teachings of Scripture do we have to reject and come up with a new interpretation for when science comes along and says our interpretation is wrong?"
It was a good point. I thought about it, and then remembered a couple of things. For one, I don't think that the Bible addresses certain things (quantum mechanics, for example). And I think one of the issues it doesn't address, is the exact age of the planet. So, if humans have believed a certain way, incorrectly, for thousands of years, it's to their chagrin. We believed incorrectly about the geocentrism of the universe for thousands of years too. But the Bible doesn't address that, so who cares? I mean, scientific progress is important, but it's not as if people had been reading the Bible geocentrically, and then came to reinterpret it in the face of scientific evidence, right?

Oh wait.

And what about the Jews? Weren't they entrusted with the law, the prophets, and the writings? But didn't they misinterpret them so grossly that they missed their messiah?

It seems it is in fact possible to incorrectly and dogmatically read scripture through our own scientific paradigms to the detriment of the unity of the church, and that it is possible for God's people to misinterpret His word en masse and for long periods of time.

But there's more. It turns out that there is in fact a historical allegorization of the six day creation account, going all the way back to the first century. Most of the Apostolic Fathers held a view called "Chiliasm", which was not only Premillennial, but drawn from the six day creation account. Under this view, each "day" in Genesis was 1,000 years (think of reading 2 Peter 3:8 literally!). The seventh day then corresponded to the future millennial reign of Christ (think of Hebrews 4:1-11 comparing the sabbath to the future "day" or rest). En early expression of this view is summarized for us in a document that was almost canonized:
The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation thus: 'And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.' Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, 'He finished in six days.' This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, 'Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years.' Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. 'And He rested on the seventh day.' This meaneth: when His Son, coming again, shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day.

-The Epistle of Barnabas (circa 100 AD)
Chiliasm gets rarer by the century, but its early existence proves that Christian tradition alone cannot be used to justify a wooden interpretation of "day" in the Genesis creation account.

This is not to mention the various flavors of Theistic Evolution that can be found in vintage Christianity (C. S. Lewis, while he is known for what my good friend Derek von Barandy calls the "the pre-Plantingian argument that (naturalistic) evolution is self-defeating", also accommodates for something close to evolution within the Christian worldview), or in contemporary Christianity (for example, Alister McGrath, The Archbishop of Canterbury, and I understand Biola professors J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig both exhibit something like my position - namely, that there is room within orthodoxy for Theistic Evolution if the scientific evidence leads that way.

The point is that an exegesis of the text alone does not get us conclusive evidence that "day" means "24-hour period" in this case:
Now, when it comes to the days of Genesis...I'm of the view on this that while we ought not allow science to dictate to us our exegesis of the Old Testament, nevertheless, if there is an interpretation of the Old Testament that is exegetically permissible-- that is, and old age interpretation; that is to say, if you can find conservative, inerrantist, evangelical Old Testament scholars that say that the interpretation of this text that treats the days of Genesis as unspecified periods of time, and that is a completely permissible thing to do on exegetical grounds alone, then my view is that that is a permissible option if it harmonizes the text with science because that option can be justified exegetically, independent of science...

I will tell you that two of the best-known exegetes of the Old Testament in the American evangelical community are Gleason Archer at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Walter Kaiser at Gordon Conwell. Walter Kaiser and Gleason Archer are respected in the entire United States as being faithful expositors of the Old Testament. Both of them know eight to ten Old Testament languages, and they both have spent their entire lives in Hebrew exegesis. Both of them believe the days of Genesis are... vast, unspecified periods of time, and are in no way required to be literal twenty-four hour days. view, then, is this: if all of the Old Testament scholars at our seminaries that I trust, that love the Bible and that I respect their credibility were saying that it's required of us to believe these days are twenty-four hour days, I'd have a problem. But if there is enough of these men that I trust--I'm not talking about people that are trying to give up real estate here and are just bellying up; I'm talking about men that the community recognizes to be trustworthy authorities of that Hebrew exegesis are saying that this is an option--then I'm going to say in that case it's permissible.

-Dr. J. P. Moreland, "The Age of the Earth"
In light of this then, is it possible to say that basic conclusions from an honest attempt at reading scripture might leave open the possibility of millions and billions of years, even during the six day creation account?


Even supposing that no time, or little time, elapsed between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 (requiring us to do something with the creation of angels, the fall of Satan, the rebellion, the heavenly war, and the eviction of the demons from heaven), and that the Genesis creation account only took 144 hours (plus 24 hours of "rest", whatever "rest" literally means for God...), we still wouldn't know from the Bible how old the earth is. Even if we knew how long it took to create it, we wouldn't necessarily know how long ago that creation took place.

There might be historical or scientific reasons to believe that humans have only been around for so long, or that the creation account itself could have only been so long ago, but these are all historical and scientific issues, as they relate to the Biblical text (like ice-core tests, for example). They are extra-Biblical, and have nothing to do with a plain reading of scripture alone. The Young Earth Dogmatists want to be able to use extra-Biblical material themselves, but as soon as anyone else brings scientific data into the conversation, they talk about the supremacy of the Bible (read: their interpretation of the Bible) to science.

But the Bible itself recommends we consult outside sources! The Psalms say that the heavens declare the glory of God. The Proverbs send the sluggard to observe the ants to learn lessons about productivity. Romans says that God's invisible attributes have been made known through creation, and that this is enough to ground responsibility for belief in God. And the list goes on. In the words of John Calvin,
If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.
All parties involved in the discourse really should be able to use extra-Biblical material in appropriate ways in the discussion. But in doing so, they should avoid elevating their positions to the level of gospel truth.

But are there just Biblical reasons for thinking that the six days of creation only occurred 6,000 years ago or so? Well, a lot of Young Earth Dogmatists, like Kent Hovind ("Dr. Dino") like to line up the genealogies from the Hebrew scriptures to make this case. But the problem with that, is that Hebrew genealogies aren't what we out here in the Western world today think genealogies are supposed to be like. Whole generations are often skipped. The ancient Hebrews just found different things important than we do. A case in point is the genealogy in the beginning of Matthew. It even differs greatly from a straightforward synthesis of the genealogies in the Hebrew scriptures. Now, this isn't a problem for inerrancy, because the authors of these books are trying to communicate something other than what most people in the West use genealogies to communicate. We like clean, comprehensive, factual family trees. The ancient Hebrews were more interested in what it means to be a son of Adam, or Seth, Abraham, or David. Thus, they don't always literally mean "son". Sometimes they mean "grandson" or "heir". Or, in the case of Jesus, being the son of David means being a great+ grandson and the heir to his throne and the one about whom the prophets speak. So lining up genealogies won't tell us exactly how long ago the six days of creation were (for a more rigorous exegetical treatment of the Old Testament genealogies from an Old Earth Creationist's perspective, see

And so, can it be that a plain reading of scripture might possibly also leave room for millions and billions of years after the six days of creation?

You might have objections to all of these things. I do. But that's not the point. The point is that there can be and in fact are, plenty of Christian brothers and sisters, and have been throughout history, who do in fact hold to inerrancy and even something of a straightforward hermeneutic, who also maintain that the "days" in Genesis are not all 24 hour periods and/or that the earth might possibly be older than 10,000 years.

Young Earth Dogma is found nowhere in the Bible or any of the creeds, and need not be ascribed the same certainty or importance as the gospel itself, lest we cause divisions among ourselves and drive people away from the true dogmas of Christianity.


[1] Smith, J. E. (1993). The Pentateuch (2nd ed.) (Ge 1:2). Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co.
[2] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Ge 1:2). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.


  1. This is well written, and you make good points. Regarding "during", the fact that Exodus 20:11 gives us a 6-day creation is the very reason for the Sabbath, (and therefore the reason we still observe 7 day weeks), I think it makes a good case for a literal 6 days.

  2. Great post Louis! Have you read Augustine's account? If you have time, read 12.8.8 and 12.13.16 of his Confessions. In a nutshell, he thinks that the Heaven of 1:1 is about the Eternal Forms, and the Heaven of Gen 1:8 is the the celestial heavens (e.g. stars and galaxies).

  3. ... what do you make of Gen. 1:1 being before the first day? The chronology looks like this, where T='day':

    T-1: God creates Heaven and Earth, and the earth is formless and void...
    T 1: God creates Light, and hence the first day.
    T 2: God divides the firmament, calling the one above the waters 'heaven'.

    Augustine thinks, lest heaven be created twice over, the heavens of 1:1 refers to something different than the Heaven of 1:8.

  4. I will go read Augustine.

    As for 1:1 being before the first day and in reference to the cosmos as a whole instead of the planet earth and it's atmosphere, that accords with Gap Theory, which I find plausible.

    His justification for it though, could be countered by reading 1:1 as a summary statement, and then the six day account as an elaboration. This would accord with 1:26 being a summary statement, that chapter two goes back to elaborate on, lest humanity be created twice.

  5. Hmm. A reason to think that 1:3 is a continuation as opposed to an elaboration is that 1:2 says that the earth, qua formless and void earth, was already created prior to what God formed out of this formlessness. It reads something like:
    "I [God] created the primordial dust [formless and void earth], and then [verse 3] I drew everything else [in verse 3 on] out of the already created formless and void earth, which includes the 'heaven' of vs. 8."

    Reading the heaven and earth in 1:1 as prior to the planet earth and it's atmosphere and in reference to the cosmos as a whole, what do you make of 1:3, where light is created? Surely this is about the only source of light we know of, i.e., the sun, which is part of the cosmos as a whole and not the planet earth, in which case the creation of planet earth doesn't begin until day 2, or verse six. ???

  6. Hmm I dunno; I'll have to think about it all. Like we discussed on the phone, I think Genesis is chock-full of grand rhetoric and, while often making historical and scientific claims, needs its genre and grammatical nuances to be carefully respected if we want to restrict our interpretation as tightly as possible to the author's intent. Not sure what this means as far as the answer to your question though.

  7. David, what do you make of Hebrews 4:1-11?

  8. haha. nice raw (a)theology askance.

  9. "Regarding 'during', the fact that Exodus 20:11 gives us a 6-day creation is the very reason for the Sabbath, (and therefore the reason we still observe 7 day weeks), I think it makes a good case for a literal 6 days." - Elessar

    “By no means does this demonstrate that 24-hour intervals were involved in the first six days anymore than the 8-day celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles proves that the wilderness wanderings under Moses occupies only days. Remember, Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.” - Gleason Archer


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