One of my primary areas of interest revolves around the debate over origins, specifically within Christianity. Is the universe “young” (~6-10k years) or “old” (about 13.79 billion years)? How do we look at creation texts in the Bible? What do they teach us?
Last week, I wrote on an article in which a young earth creationist on a radio show I enjoy asked a number of questions of old earth creationists. I noted that many of these questions were off-base because they don’t actually address something that is an issue for old earth creationists. For those who follow this debate within Christianity, I want to make it clear that it is extremely important to accurately represent your opponents’ views. It is all well and good to engage in dialogue with and critical examination of other views, but in doing so you should represent those other views accurately.
Pastor Todd Wilken recently wrote a follow up to the article I responded to last week. The first thing of note is that Wilken does nothing to expound on his previous questions. The assumption seems to be that they are left unanswered. But, as I demonstrated before, Wilken’s questions for “old earth creationists” were wildly off-base in a number of ways. The question is, has Wilken now (as he notes, more than a decade later) come to an understanding of the distinctions between views on origins? Do his questions reflect this?
Old Earth Creationism?
One immediate hint at an answer to my questions here is found in the introduction to his paper. He writes:
The Old-Earth Creationist wants to keep the idea of a Creator. But, he also wants to accommodate the latest theory of the age of the Universe, about 15 billion years. The Old-Earth Creationist wants to keep the Genesis Creation account. But, rather than read that account as a record of seven consecutive days of God’s miraculous creation, the Old-Earth Creationist wants to read it as a record of those 15 billion years. Thus the name “Old Earth Creationist.”
There are a number of distortions which already hint that Wilken has not attempted to understand the view he opposes. First, the number of “15 billion years.” Certainly, that date was accurate… many years ago. As the old earth creationist think-tank Reasons to Believe notes (the link will immediately begin playing audio), however, direct measurements place the age at around 13.79 billion years of age. To be fair, Wilken may just be rounding up. However, he says it is the “latest theory.” His number does not reflect that.
More importantly, Wilken misrepresents what old earth creationists think of the text. This is very serious problem. He writes, “…rather than read that account as a record of seven consecutive days of God’s miraculous creation, the Old-Earth Creationist wants to read it as a record of those 15 billion years.” In the broadest sense this may be correct (other than the number), but old earth creationists (hereafter OECs/OEC) such as Hugh Ross specifically read the account as seven days. The question, of course, is what the days are. But Wilken begins his definition of OEC with this question-begging statement. Before even attempting to interact with the view he criticizes, he misrepresents their position.
After this introduction, though, Wilken confidently states that his previous article–which, as I argued, totally misrepresents old earth creationists–was so powerful that it demonstrated that “[The OEC] is reading into that text considerations outside the text. He must go outside the text of Genesis, and of Scripture as a whole to support his 15 billion year reading of the Genesis account.” I demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that at least some of Wilken’s questions don’t actually address OEC at all. He quite seriously had no idea what the positions were for OECs related to human origins, the actual dating of processes, and the like. Yet he continues to allege that he has somehow single-handedly demonstrated the project of OEC (which he doesn’t seem to understand) is unbiblical.
I skipped through the next section of Wilken’s paper, in which he basically just argues that OECs cannot be exegetically consistent. What I want to jump to is Wilken’s questions once more. They reflect what he must think OECs actually believe, so if his questions once more show that he is mistaken, I think it is fair to say that Wilken cannot fairly think that he has done anything to refute OEC. Unfortunately for him, his questions do portray exactly that: he again demonstrates that he has little understanding of what OECs actually believe. I will write his questions here in bold/italics. The wording is exactly the same as in the paper. I do not take credit for anything he wrote. My responses will be immediately after each question.
1. How do you reconcile the sequence of events recorded in the Genesis account with the prevailing theories of the formation of the Universe –In particular, the formation of the Earth first before the rest of the Universe, including the Sun, Moon and stars; and the assertion that the early Earth had both liquid water and plant life before the formation of the Sun?
My mouth literally dropped open as I read this question. Why? Well, the fact is that this question is the one that OECs have directly addressed time and again. There is no attempt by Wilken whatsoever to acknowledge that many OECs have written, nor does he attempt to engage with or refute these interpretations.
That said, Wilken’s question here shows that he is spot-on in understanding that this is a project for OEC. But the fact that he asks the question makes me wonder whether he has ever even interacted with any of those works which answer the question. Representative is Hugh Ross’ work, A Matter of Days in which he directly addresses these questions.
2. What does the numbering of the days in the Genesis account signify, if not six, discrete, sequential days or time periods?
As I continued to read the article, my impression that Wilken is unaware of even the most basic tenets of OEC increased. Here is another major blunder. Nearly every major OEC of whom I am aware holds that the days of creation are six discrete time periods. So why even bother to ask this question? The answer for most OECs would be “I don’t know, because they are six discrete time periods.” Once more, Wilken betrays a lack of study in this area.
3. How should the six days of Creation in the Genesis account be rearranged to better reflect the actual events of the Universe’s 15 billion year history?
Again, OECs don’t rearrange the days. Framework theorists do–depending on what is meant by “rearrange”–but the vast majority of OECs today do not hold to the framework view. They hold to the “day-age” view. So again, Wilken shows he is not interacting with OEC.
4. How should the sequence of events within those individual days be rearranged to better reflect the actual events of the Universe’s 15 billion year history?
See above. OECs would answer almost unanimously: “They shouldn’t.”
OECs tend to note that the 7th day seems to be continuing. Creation is done, and God is no longer creating. Therefore, the 7th day has continued into the present. I am willing to see someone show any OECs who hold different views on this. I suspect there are at least some who may hold the 7th day is 24 hours or has ended at some point in the past, but those OECs of whom I am aware would say the 7th day continues.
6. To what specifically does the seventh day of Genesis 2:1-4 correspond in the Universe’s 15 billion year history?
The end of God’s creative activity. God is no longer creating distinct species ex nihilo.
7. What is the real chronological relationship between the events describing [sic] in Genesis, chapter one (the six days of Creation), and Genesis chapter two (the specific creation of man)? Is the second chapter a reiteration of the sixth day, focusing on man, or it is a event separate from and subsequent to the six days described in the first chapter?
Great care must be exercised in answering this question. I am trying to answer broadly from the consensus of OECs I have read. I realize there are a number of views OECs hold on these specific questions. I will answer what I think is the majority opinion, but feel free to comment and share other opinions. Genesis chapter two is a reiteration of the sixth day, zooming in on the creation of humankind. It is not a separate event.
8. What is the real chronological relationship between the events describing [sic] in Genesis, chapter one, and Genesis chapter three? Does the Fall described in the third chapter involve the same particular individuals created in chapter two? Are they the same particular individuals created in chapter one?
I admit that the first sentence of this question confuses me. I’m not entirely sure what Wilken is asking, so I will not try to answer it. The second question can easily be answered: “Yes.” OECs, again, hold to the special creation of Adam and Eve. They do not deny this. The insinuations of these questions that OECs hold some other view of human origins is startling, because it is so off-base. Regarding the third question, again the answer is “Yes.” As I noted in my previous response to Wilken’s other article, one of the distinguishing features of OEC is precisely that OECs hold to the special creation of Adam and Eve. It is telling that Wilken seems to be ignorant to this point. Gerald Rau in his work Mapping the Origins Debate explicitly cites this as an area in which young earth creationists and old earth creationists agree (as I noted in my previous response). Wilken seems to be unaware of his agreement with the side he so adamantly opposes (and misrepresents) on this issue.
9.Where in the entire book of Genesis is the transition to “real time”? What in the text itself specifically marks this transition?
I would note the subtle stacking the deck in this question. What is meant by “real time”? After all, we don’t have, in the rest of the Bible, a counting of days. It’s not as though, on the young earth view, one can reference the first week and then simply start adding individual days. The Bible has no running clock in it counting off days and weeks. So Wilken’s term of “real time” seems disingenuous or confused. I am not sure what is meant by the term. Presumably, Wilken means for it to connect to the young earth view of seven 24 hour days as “real time” and the rest of the Bible also using days to mean 24 hours. But again, this is mistaken, because the Bible doesn’t continue to count off days.
As for the transition, it is hard to answer because I’m not sure what the transition is supposed to be between. From “real time” to what? What is meant by “real time”? Would not several billion years be “time” and if it is time, is it not “real”?
10. When the word “day” means something other than 24 hours in Scripture, it most often means a period of less than 24 hours. Why ignore this possibility regarding the Genesis account?
OECs do not ignore this possibility. In fact, they frequently cite Augustine, who held (at one point) that God created the universe in an instant. Why do OECs cite this ultra-young earth interpretation? Because YECs tend to present church history as though everyone throughout history agrees with their interpretation of 7 24-hour days. They don’t. So the possibility is not ignored.
So we return, finally, to the question: Does Wilken’s paper reflect actual knowledge of the distinctions between views on origins? Frankly, the answer is no. It honestly seems to me that Wilken is either blissfully unaware of the actual positions of old earth creationists or he is intentionally misrepresenting them. This seems to be reinforced by the fact that he never once cites any major old earth creationist when representing the position. Instead, he simply reports what he thinks OEC is. But then he goes on to misrepresent OEC and confuse categories. I find this deeply troubling.
The surprising thing is that Wilken has actually demonstrated how much his own view agrees with OEC. In asking questions to try to distinguish himself from OEC, he shows that he and OECs agree on the sequence of days, the days representing distinct time periods, human origins, and a few other minor areas. Unfortunately, Wilken has continued–apparently for over a decade–to misrepresent old earth creationists. I call on him to stop doing so. Read some items from Reasons to Believe. Read Gerald Rau’s book, Mapping the Origins Debate so that one can make the distinctions between differing groups. But stop misrepresenting the views one may oppose. That is disingenuous, and it doesn’t help readers or listeners.
Todd Wilken, “More Questions for Old Earth Creationists” Issues, Etc. Journal (Fall 2013). Accessible here: http://issuesetc.org/podcast/FALL2013.pdf.