January 05, 2015

Three of the Biggest Attacks on the Old Earth Interpretation of Genesis

During a recent visit with my brother-in-law, the topic of evolution and an old earth came up. My brother-in-law was a sharp debater and had ready arguments against an old earth, even without having studied the topic. His arguments were mostly common arguments that I’ve addressed before, but there were three standout arguments that I feel need a bit more attention.

1.       Making everything in 24-hour days exemplifies God’s glory.

This argument makes a fatal mistake. It assumes that God’s glory is primarily about His power. Yes, immediate creation of all things in six 24-hour days might best demonstrate the infinite power of God, but that might not demonstrate other aspects of God’s glory as well. Several verses of Scripture show that God’s wisdom (i.e. intelligence) was a major aspect of God’s glory that was on display in Creation (cf. Jer 51:15; Ps 104:24; 136:5; Prov 3:19). Thus, we should consider which view of Creation best demonstrates God’s wisdom, as well.

YEC shows the power, wisdom, and goodness of God pretty clearly. The theory of designed evolution (a.k.a. progressive mediate creationism) shows the wisdom, foresight, and power of God pretty clearly. An OEC view better shows the foresight of God in planning the universe, earth, and environment to be sustained for billions of years. This shows the wisdom of God on a whole different level that YEC does not. True, YEC may show the wisdom of God more fully by cutting chance and randomness out of the picture, but I don’t believe that chance needs to be interpreted as pure chance. It is the providence of God. The physical human design evolved through a wisely designed process of evolution, with intelligently designed cells and genetic codes, and with flawless planning that spans billions of years. Every “chance” event, like the extinction of the dinosaurs, was ultimately planned by the perfect arrangement and foresight of God. I believe this demonstrates the wisdom of God in a more intricate and fascinating way than does YEC.

This does remind me why I have a problem with a random form of evolution. Typical progressive creationism, where evolution is viewed as a naturalistic mechanism, does little or nothing to display the wisdom and power and foreknowledge of God. Only if the ability to evolve was designed into cells by God does evolution display God’s glory. Only then does the complexity of life speak well of God’s infinite wisdom.

I wholeheartedly disagree that YEC exemplifies that glory of God in the best way. An old earth and even a designed form of evolution fit the Bible’s description that Creation is a display of God’s wisdom. And I would even be willing to wager that it displays His glory best.

2.       If Genesis 1 can be less literal and reinterpreted based on science, we cannot trust any interpretation of any part of Scripture.

The argument was made that if Genesis 1 cannot be taken literally, we are not able to know which passages are literal and which are more poetic. This argument is very common and I’ve addressed it on this blog to some degree. It does seem true that if Genesis 1-3 is taken allegorically, we are going to have interpretive uncertainty with the rest of the Bible. We are going to question which parts are allegorical and which are not. There could be a good amount of subjectivity to our interpretations in that case.

On the other hand, if Genesis 1 is reinterpreted only because evidence in Creation strongly points to another plausible interpretation, and a mostly literal view is still taken, I believe that there is no reason to be uncertain of our interpretations of most other passages. In my view, the only time a passage can be reinterpreted based on scientific evidence is if the passage pertains directly to scientific things—that is, the passage must be instructive of Nature. If a Bible passage seems to tell us something about the moon, then our interpretation may well be adjusted based on what we discover about the moon during scientific investigation of it. Similarly, if Genesis 1 seems to tell us something about the history of formation of the universe, earth, and life on earth, then our interpretation can be adjusted based on what we discover about this history during scientific investigation. You could call this the validity of the self-witness of Nature.

We should not, however, believe that Nature can tell us directly about God in an objective way. The Word of God should be trusted infinitely more to declare to us the nature of God Himself. Nor should we trust physics to tell us more clearly about human history or miracles (God’s actions) in a way that would affect our interpretations of the Bible. Archeologists might uncover evidence that would affect our understanding of past human civilizations and even minor biblical interpretive elements that refer to practices of civilizations, places, or things, but never should we trust archeological interpretations in direct contradiction to God’s Word.

All this boils down to one point. Bible passages and evidence in Nature both require some amount of interpretation, sometimes more certain and sometimes less certain. We must discern the Truth. We must understand the purpose of the Bible—primarily spiritual, telling us of God and our relationship with Him—and know the degree of certainty of an interpretation and when it can be open to alteration based on outside knowledge. We should understand that the Bible isn’t a scientific document. It contains small amounts of information about the universe, but that information does not trump the information we find more directly in the universe. The Bible and the universe are telling a harmonious story, but one speaks more clearly about God and the other speaks more clearly about the universe.

3.       The Old Earth view requires a forced interpretation of: (1) the Genesis 1 account, (2) the generations of Adam and Noah, and (3) the Flood Account.

Another major attack on an old earth is that the interpretations of Genesis 1 and the Flood and the genealogies of Genesis are not reasonable. We are charged with artificially forcing interpretations on the Bible that do not fit. The major problem with this argument is that it ignores some simple facts of interpretation.

Let’s start with Genesis 1. People without bias, such as the ancient Augustine, have long believed that Genesis 1 could be speaking of long ages rather than 24-hour days. There is absolutely no convincing argument that the “days” of Genesis 1 must be interpreted as 24-hour long days. Some Hebrew scholars have acknowledged that the “days” are open to interpretation. When you bring in other Bible passages to help interpret Genesis 1, which YECs are hesitant to do, we find better interpretations that fit better with an old earth or that do not support a young, perfect world.

It does not take much cross-referencing to discover that Noah’s Flood could have been either a local flood or a global flood. The seemingly global phrases in the Flood account, like “every,” “all,” “whole world,” and “whole heaven,” can be demonstrably shown to be references to local events in other Hebrew passages. This alone leaves the question of the geographical extent of Flood open to interpretation. Add to that the detailed geographical markers mentioned before the Flood that existed after the Flood. Such markers would have been destroyed by a global Flood, which is a fact that global Flood proponents openly confess.

Finally, we have the very difficult question of the geologies of Genesis that seem to indicate only a few thousand years of human history. Either these geologies are hugely incomplete or humans have only existed for six to ten thousand years. (This argument does not directly pertain to an old earth, but it is usually closely tied to the old earth view since the same basic radiometric dating methods used to date the earth have shown that some remains of Homo sapiens sapiens are up to 200,000 years old. I have addressed this question of the Genesis genealogies in much detail in a previous post, so I’m going to just touch very briefly on it here.) The YECs argue that it is unreasonable to believe that something like 90% of the actual individuals in the genealogical histories of Noah and Abraham are missing from the Genesis account.

However, who is to decide what is reasonable or unreasonable? It is well known that individuals are sometimes intentionally missing from genealogies, such as in Matthew 1. If genealogies are not to be assumed to be complete, why should we assume that they are mostly complete? The fact of the matter is that the specific Hebrew wording in the genealogies of Noah and Abraham are very unique to those two genealogies. I submit that the reason the Hebrew is distinct in those genealogies is because it was unusual to telescope them so dramatically.

Given some 80,000 years of human history between Adam and Abraham, it is highly plausible that only a handful of the individuals were remembered. The records in Genesis are likely the result of oral traditions and a few writings that had been handed down for tens of thousands of years. Such a long period of time would involve roughly 1,500 individuals! It would be natural for people to keep oral tradition of only about 20 ancestors. This also serves the purposes of God, since there is good reason why God wouldn’t want something like 20 chapters to be dedicated to such an obscure past and meaningless names. As far as the Bible is concerned, recorded human history did not really begin in earnest until God chose out a nation for Himself.


  1. Here is an entry from another Christian who seems to believe in the literal six-day creation:

    Challies: Why I am a six-day creationist

  2. He's giving very brief summaries without any support. Perhaps he gives support elsewhere, but that blog entry is nothing more than a list of his opinions stated quite emphatically.

    Responding in kind, some of his positions are just off-base. I believe science demolishes the idea of a young earth, not confirms it. He needs to dig a little deeper into the science, I think. That's one thing that YECs are hesitant to do, often. They won't really investigate the science behind an old earth in much detail, because it takes effort and an open mind. A generalization, I know.

    The idea that the Bible writers believed in a young earth is hard to prove. It would be easy to prove if a Bible writer had spoken of the youthfulness of creation, but you won't find that anywhere in the Bible. I find that there is evidence that some writers indicate an old earth, such as Peter speaking of the heavens being formed long ago in 2 Peter. You can dismiss such phrases because they're imprecise and somewhat relative, but I personally feel that 7000 years isn't really all that long ago and have a hard time believing anyone would consider that such an ancient world. In any case, such phrases don't help YEC. Other verses speak of the mountains and other parts of the creation being "eternal" (i.e., an immense time). Such a phrase exists in Genesis (49:26). Using "everlasting/eternal" doesn't fit well with a young universe or earth.

    But if I keep writing this will end up become another post.

  3. For me, personally, my beliefs slant to the old earth side, but I also believe that it's not crucial for salvation. However, I was wondering about carbon dating and those types of methods. I have heard that they aren't the most reliable. The guy on the Science against Evolution site has a section with articles that talk about these methods:

    Science Against Evolution: Age of the Earth

    He doesn't seem to be a hardcore young-earther, but he doesn't seem to be impressed with the old-earthers, either.