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Christianity and Science, Creationism, Old Earth Creationism

The Argument Continues: Old Earth Creationism

This is the third post in an ongoing series discussing the origins debate within Christianity. Click here for more posts in this series.

Before I delve too deeply into this post I wanted to raise a point a dear friend of mine made in a discussion we had recently. As Christians, there really is no need to jump on board with any of these labels. We don’t need to sit back, look at all the evidence, and then call ourselves theistic evolutionists, advocates of intelligent design, creationists, or any other label. Really, we’re all Christians, and we can take our Christian belief with us in this debate. My own presuppositions are of course that the Bible is the innerrant word of God, that the Ecumenical Creeds accurately describe the beliefs of the catholic faith, and that this faith is what saves (Ephesians 2:8-9), by the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God the Father, and the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, while this debate is certainly an interesting, mind-bending task, we shouldn’t feel any need to jump on board any bandwagon. If, as Christians, we see merit in the Young Earth Creationist camp, but also some merit in the Old Earth Camp, we have no reason not to take what we believe from each side. Similarly, if we really think Theistic Evolution is where it’s at, but see some validity in the Intelligent Design arguments, there is no reason to not combine both. We don’t need to assign labels to ourselves.

There is no reason to treat these things like political parties and then duke it out. Instead, we can use our Christian presuppositions to engage this dialogue. Thus, while I am exploring these issues, keep in mind that this is what I am trying to do. I want to allow God’s work (nature) to speak for itself and I know that this work does not contradict His Word (Scripture). So let’s let the dialogue continue, shall we?

I must make a clarification here and say that my definition of “Old Earth Creationism” is incorrect. Old Earth Creationism is, rather, the belief that the Biblical account of Creation is correct, as are many of the findings of mainstream science (i.e. the universe is billions of years old, etc.). Old Earth Creationism (hereafter OEC) contains a huge variety of beliefs in its camp, so keep that in mind when discussing these issues.

My reading for OEC was the book More than a Theory by Hugh Ross. I’m not going to outline everything Hugh Ross is saying. Instead, I’ll present briefly the OEC beliefs he is arguing for (including the theological stance), outline the “testable model for creation” that Ross argues for, and analyze as I can.

Hugh Ross states that there is no reason why people who desire to remain true to the Word of God need to reject the current scientific consensus on issues like the age of the universe, the Big Bang, and the like. Rather, Ross argues that Christians can accept all of these things and even find them in Scripture. Ross makes the argument that in Genesis, the days can indeed many period of times, citing the familiar argument that the very same word in Hebrew (yohm) is used in order to state the periods in which God created the world. but also to imply analogously that God’s time is not our time, for a thousand years to God are as a day to us (Psalm 90:4). I tend to agree with Ross on this point. I don’t see any definitive reason to take the Hebrew word yohm to mean twenty-four hours, necessarily, as it is used in other ways throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.

A key point for argument within Ross’s creation model (he calls it the “Reasons to Believe” model, and I will refer to it as the RTB model from now on) is the use of Scripture. Rather than citing the more commonly used Psalm 19, Ross turns to Psalm 104 to argue that Scripture outlined scientific findings before they happened (85).

Ross also argues that the various references to God stretching out the heavens “like a tent” is wholly compatible with the Big Bang theory of universal origins, according to which our universe is still expanding (as a tent).

Perhaps the most important piece of interpretation Ross offers for this debate within Christianity is his rebuttal to the “original sin” challenge to any who argue evolution could have been used by God (see the post on theistic evolution, linked above). Ross argues that Adam and Eve were indeed specially created and that death, both physical and (potentially) spiritual were the consequences to mankind of sin. “The whole of Scripture confirms that only humans, among all life created on Earth, can (and do) sin. Therefore, this ‘death through sin’ applies to humans alone, not to plants and animals. In addition, the passage [Romans 5:12] states specifically that this ‘death came to all men.’ It does not say ‘to all creation’ or ‘to all creatures.’ The verses make no apparent reference to plant or animal life, nor do other parallel passages…” (85). Later, Ross argues that this claim for the special creation of man is not unscientific, as he offers reasons to reject man’s evolutionary ancestry from primates (181ff).

I think that this is Ross’ best point. If his RTB model does indeed avoid the weighty challenge of “original sin,” he has hit upon something major within Christianity.

Now, the model itself. Ross never really comes out in the book and says “This is the RTB model”, rather, he presents sort of an outline:

“The Universe:

  • began once in finite time
  • has a beginning that coincides with the beginning of space and time
  • was not made from that which is material, visible, or detectable
  • continuously expands from the beginning
  • is governed by the laws of physics
  • manifests precise fine-tuning for humanity’s benefit
  • has enormous volume, encompassing an “uncountable” (to ancient peoples) number of stars
  • contains stars that differ from one another and eventually stop shining
  • will someday cease to exist

“Earth, which

  • emerged from the cosmos at a specific time
  • was enshrouded by an opaque cloud layer in the beginning
  • began with an ocean that covered its whole surface
  • was precisely fine-tuned for humanity’s benefit
  • contains resources essential for launching and sustaining human civilization
  • has a Sun and Moon and other astronomical companions specially designed to benefit life and humanity
  • carries finite resources and time-limiting conditions for sustaining human civilization

“Life, which

  • began early in Earth’s history
  • began under hostile conditions
  • began by divine intervention
  • began with optimal ecological relationships
  • began with optimal design for environmental conditions
  • appeared in abundance, in diversity, and for long eras for the specific benefit of humanity
  • started as physical only (most life-forms); then soulish creatures (many species) appeared; and finally, one spiritual species was introduced–an original pair of humans and all their descendants
  • progresses from the simple to complex through a series of extinction and replacement (speciation events
  • reflects shared common designs
  • in its soulish characteristics, appears designed to serve and/or please humanity

“Humanity, which

  • arrived late in Earth’s history
  • resulted from divine intervention
  • represents the culmination of God’s creation work on earth
  • remains the only earthly creature with a spiritual nature
  • descended from one man and one woman who lived in a God-designed garden near the juncture of Africa, Asia, and Europe
  • migrated rapidly from area of origin shortly after the flood of Noah’s time
  • experienced a significant drop in the potential life span after the time of the flood
  • genetically bottlenecked at a later date for males than for females…
  • was gifted from the outset with attributes needed for functioning in a high-tech civilization (89-91)”

The major point that jumps out at me about this model is the “soulish” creatures. Ross argues that some animals, like birds, dogs, cats, etc. are “soulish” and are better able to relate to mankind, thus pointing to design of life for humanity. I don’t think he develops this point strongly, nor does he present Biblical evidence for this point. I don’t see it as all that important, however.

Ross’ scientific argument is strong as far as I can tell, but as I said in the first post in this series, I am no scientist. Ross essentially accepts that the big bang was the start of the universe (and space-time), that the placement of earth was fine-tuned to an extremely minuscule accuracy, that life on earth was supernaturally generated, that life evolved (but was guided or “designed”), and that mankind was specifically created. This is the very basic outline. I will be discussing individual parts in future posts about OEC.

Overall, Ross makes a rather powerful argument throughout the work for the scientific and Biblical backing for most of the steps of the model outlined above. I’m not going to go into each specific step here, but I will in future posts. For now, I will say that I think Ross is definitely on to something here. I’m still mulling over his interpretation of Scripture, but I appreciate his no-nonsense approach. He clearly states that the Bible is authoritative and without error. Once I finished this book I was really excited to write this post out and get on to more reading from other sides of the debate. I’ll be looking into more stuff from the RTB model, as well.

One can read more about the RTB model at this site.

Source:

Ross, Hugh. More than a Theory. Baker Books. 2009.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick, apart from any quotations, and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

11 thoughts on “The Argument Continues: Old Earth Creationism

  1. The soulish creatures really does sound weird. Does he consider what domestication has done to make these specific animals friendlier to humanity? How deep does he take it? Certainly cats like cougars are not friendly to humans, so where does the soulish stop within the genus and species? Oh well, it’s not all that important.

    From your presentation Ross has committed what I find as a fatal flaw in the Day-Age interpretation of “yom.” Day-Age advocates always turn to those poetic passages about a thousand years = 1 day to God. They ignore the fact that it’s poetry and may be using a poetic device like hyperbole. The problem you run into then is that the interpreter has chosen to place the time references in Genesis 1 from God’s eternal perspective (which is truly outside of time) rather than man’s perspective. I don’t think there is any indication in the text that we are to take those references and place them in the eternal. My reason for this is the inclusion of what every Day-Age theorist forgets to address: Erev w’boqer… evening and morning. Genesis 1 does not just use “Day” and thus leave us with the Psalm about 1000 = 1 for God. There is a specific qualification given in the text for this yom… it is “there was evening and morning, day one.” Unlike modern time systems (and even Roman timing in first century AD) the Israelite and later Jewish timing had the day beginning at sun-down (evening). I think this qualification of evening and morning directly places the perspective of time in the human realm and yom in Genesis 1 therefore cannot equal 1000 years.

    There is much more evidence in Genesis 1 that the timing is Israelite timing. If historical criticism has benefited us anything it is that they have made theological connections in the text that the historical-literalist readers often miss because they’re too busy defending history and science. Genesis 1:14-15 “And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.(ESV)” This is where the critics have pointed out the word SEASONS in this passage is actually the Hebrew word for Festivals! This is a religious text. This is not a history text (although I do believe it to be historical fact). This is not a science text. THIS is a LEVITICAL Text. If you read Genesis 1 with the festivals, religious rites, and tabernacle/Jerusalem temple worship in mind that is found outlined in Leviticus you will have the light go on. Each of the six days of creation compare to specific Religious festivals in Leviticus. The set up of the tabernacle/temple is designed as a parallel to this pre-fall creation. For the Priests administering this text to the people, Eden is not in Mesopotamia, Eden is where the Temple sits in Jerusalem. Eden is paradise, the Holy of Holies is paradise, both are where God approaches His creation.

    I belabour my original point: there is a lot of evidence here that we are talking about time from man’s perspective (day ~ day). But back to the point I more desperately desire to drive home, there is SO much more going on here than an Old v. Young Earth Creation debate. Fighting and claiming these passages as scientific proofs/supports defeats the purpose of their original writing. And if you are not using the text as it is originally written and intended I think you’re stretching it’s authoritative, inerrant nature.

    I’m not trying to say I know how exactly the universe was created or how long it took. All I am trying to do is show you that these debates (all sides) misuse Genesis 1 – 3 because they do not see it theologically within the whole spectrum of early Israelite worship and life. If you are not using it in its authoritative, intended, inspired purpose, then I do not think it should be claimed as authoritative just because someone has given a 21st century scientific spin on what is clearly a religious, Levitical document.

    If Ross loses the Day=Age theory I don’t see how his defense against the original sin argument stands up. First, I agree sin only applies to man to whom the law was given to be kept. Creation is downtrodden by our Fall. But reading Genesis, you need to have this Fall come after God’s Sabbath Rest on day seven (or as Luther interprets it- the Fall happens ON the first Sabbath… deep implications if that’s the case). I’ll have to read his whole original sin argument before I take a hard line, but it sounds a bit wishy-washy based on his understanding of Genesis.

    Do you know what Ross’s religious background is? I take it he’s Christian, but which denomination?

    Posted by Open2Truth | February 27, 2010, 3:16 AM
  2. I was going to mention the issue of how Genesis specifically says, “and there was evening, and there was morning” for each day, thus making the day-age thing to be quite a stretch, but someone beat me to it! Anyhow, I guess I’d just add that another prickly problem with the day-age approach, is that the order things created given in Genesis simply doesn’t work with any conventional understanding of evolution. First, God creates light, before there are stars or any type of light source. This alone is pretty bizarre, but then we have to consider that the sun, moon and stars do not appear till the fourth “day”, while plants and vegetation come about on the third day! If this is a 24-hour period, then fine, but if that is talking a big expanse of time, then we have a big problem! No sun means no photosynthesis. The scripture tells us that “The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds”, so we are not talking about mold that can live in caves or something! Not to mention that many seed-bearing plants and flowers are heavily dependant on insects and animals to propigate, which do not appear until days five and six… So it’s hard to see how we can treat the days as “ages” and maintain any measure of scientific integrity. We’d have to imagine this evolutionary progression in which our understanding of every ecosystem on earth operated completely differently than it does now. Even the known laws of physics would have to be suspended, in order to have light without a light source, or a planet that could exist prior to there being a sun for a solar system to orbit around. We either have to conclude that God was confused and got the order all wrong when He wrote down the creation account, or that He is simply talking about six literal 24-hour periods…

    Posted by Daniel | March 9, 2010, 3:10 PM
    • Thank you very much for your insightful comment!

      There was evening and morning before there was the sun, which seems, to many, to be intrinsically linked to the concepts of evening and morning.

      I’ve still never been clear as to why the day-age thing is such a dispute, because the word is clearly used elsewhere in Scripture to mean ages, or a thousand years, or the like. Is it because of the context?

      I know that Ross doesn’t take the order to be static. Each day, on his view (as far as I have read), is not necessarily an age of the earth, but rather an explanation of how things came to be. They could be out of order, because there are simply explanations of how things came about, often running parallel rather than chronologically. The key to remember is that Ross (and OECs, and TEs, and IDs) is [are] taking the account in a metaphorical way. There are literal aspects there, but overall it isn’t meant to be a scientific account. I think it may be fair to say that they may think there are other theological things going on in Genesis 1 rather than a scientific discussion of how the universe came to be. I’m hoping to have a guest post about the theological aspects of Genesis 1-3 soon.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 12, 2010, 1:44 PM
      • Hi

        I read one of your comments on Eye on the ICR and thought I’d stop by. Probably a little late to this particular discussion but anyway I’m looking forward to reading your future blog posts.

        I really like the RTB model. I read “Why the Universe is the Way that it is” by Hugh Ross and it had a big impact on me. I’m not entirely down with all the science of star formation (who is?) but overall the model to me and what I’ve heard from him in debates and lectures is reasonably internally and theologically consistent. Not that I think we can or need to be rigidly one model or the other. John Lennox’ book “Seven Days that divide the world” is also extremely helpful.

        I think the creation evolution debate is one that Christians can have in-house as they seek to understand Scripture and the world well, but when evangelizing we need to start much further back – at the existence of God. As William Lane Craig pointed out in his debate with Christopher Hitchens, only the Christian is free to follow the evidence where it leads – under atheism, evolution is the only game in town.

        Posted by Matthew | September 2, 2012, 7:44 AM
  3. Mathew, I don’t think you understand how science works.

    Evolution is ou current explanation for the facts we have in hand regarding biological progression. It can be replaced, if we observe evidence that contradicts it. This has happened before with other theories.

    Creation is not scientific and cannot, by definition, be replaced. It is not evidence based and it is certainly not falsifiable.

    So who is really following evidence?

    Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 2, 2012, 3:14 PM
    • Evolution is the only game in town – hmm seems I did exactly what I was trying to avoid! The usual way in which the ‘creation/evolution’ debate is framed is unhelpful, because as you say evolution is about biological progressions, not origin of life/universe per se. I think this is largely the result of the YEC dominance on the discussion. To me, the key questions actually start further back at the origin of the universe and the existence of God.

      There is a question of what kinds of knowledge/explanations and methodologies are valid for finding out about the world and what we expect science to do – whether it is simply a description of the physical universe and/or whether it has implications for how we see the world and form our identities. If creation is not scientific or cannot be accessed by scientific methods, how can the practice of science say conclusively whether there is a God or not either? But if you believe only what science can tell you then of course you will exclude it (and to be consistent – everything else non-scientific) by default. (I’m possibly not well-versed enough in evidentialism to discuss it too deeply) To paraphrase someone else’s words, I don’t invoke God as an alternative explanation to science but rather I invoke God to explain why science explains.

      Posted by Matthew | September 6, 2012, 8:11 AM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: The Dialogue Proceeds: Young Earth Creationism « - March 13, 2010

  2. Pingback: The Origins Debate Within Christianity « - March 21, 2010

  3. Pingback: The Dialogue Continues: Intelligent Design « - April 2, 2010

  4. Pingback: The Life Dialogue: Old Earth Creationism 3 « - July 12, 2010

  5. Pingback: The Life Dialogue: Old Earth Creationism 2 « - January 12, 2011

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