Amongst Creationists

by Max Andrews

A creationist, in the broad sense of the term, is anyone who affirms that God created anything.  The most ardent Christian Darwinist is a creationist but the word isn’t regularly used in the broad sense.  Creationism is popularly referred to as young earth creationism, that is, that the universe is 6-10 thousand years old.

Creationism (source: http://www.iep.utm.edu/atheism/)

I’m an old earth creationist (big bang theism [ID]) in the midst of thousands of young earth creationists.  I believe that the big bang (standard model, 13.7 GYA) is the correct model that describes the beginning of the universe.  I’m a proponent of intelligent design though I’d consider myself a soft-agnostic with respects to early anthropology.  I’m open to common descent but my biggest hurdle to that is the Cambrian explosion.

Though I disagree with young earth creationism on many different levels I find it to be a peripheral issue in Christianity.  It doesn’t interfere with the existence of God, the gospel, or sanctification in any way.  I do get a little frustrated when creationists attempt to make it a gospel issue (though I’ve never met one personally, I’ve read it in the popular creationist literature).  The implications in holding to a young earth position are vast and depending on what one’s reasons for holding to it may affect one’s epistemology and modus operandi in science (unwarranted a priori commitments, the Bible isn’t a science book) to name a few.  In the end I find it to be an untenable position but most of my friends are creationists and we get along fine, we just simply disagree.  I hope that young earth creationists, big bang theists (ID), and theistic evolutionists can function peacefully and not allow this to be as big of a dividing issue as it is today.

It’s always fun to see someone’s reaction when they find out I believe the big bang actually happened and that I’m open to the reality of the multiverse.  If I’m the leak to the world than so be it, but there’s quite an underground network of big bang theists here at my university, we just learn to keep it hush-hush at certain times (so don’t generalize!).


21 Responses to “Amongst Creationists”

  1. Hmm… You have some good thoughts, Max. I will have to ponder on this reasoning- I personally haven’t heard of this viewpoint before, but I am open to understanding its total implications. Good food for thought on this post.

  2. I am curious how old earth creationists reconcile billions of before the arrival of mankind and the apparent positions of Jesus and Paul…

    “Haven’t you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” (Mat. 19:4)

    “For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20)

    From these it seems that Jesus and Paul were YEC, putting the existence of humans “in the beginning”, able to perceive God “since the creation of the world.”

    Thanks :)

    • Why does in the beginning need to be the beginning of everything? It doesn’t even make sense in the creation timeline anyways since they were created last on the sixth day? In the beginning refers to simply the beginning of human history. Putting them at the beginning of creation isn’t accurate at all since they were created last. Also, Romans 1 has nothing to do with YEC or OEC. It simply means that divinity may be inferred from nature. Both YEC and OEC believe this. So, I’m not sure these verses argue for YEC at all.

      • Simply because at face value, that’s what the statement would mean to anyone without added assumptions. Jesus was speaking of an event ~4,000 years after it occurred. An occurrence on day 6 out of 1.5 million days would certainly be considered “in the beginning” of those days by anyone’s reckoning. If Jesus knew there were billions of years preceding Adam and Eve, He would actually be talking about relatively recent history and wouldn’t have used “beginning” as a reference point. And such a reference point would be really out of place if we could paraphrase His statement as “He who made humans when He made humans, made them male and female.”

        Romans 1 is often used as an apologetic for creation via nature as that is Paul’s main thrust there, but we can’t ignore that he seems to take for granted the fact that “since the creation of the world”, in the sense of elapsed time, people have being seeing this evidence. The Greek preposition ἀπό where we get ‘since’ or ‘from’ in this verse (Strong’s 575) can also mean ‘by’ to imply inference just as reasonably as a designation of time since or away from something. However, among the hundreds of occurrences of ἀπό, very few translate as ‘by’ (9, according to Blue Letter’s lexicon), as in Mat. 7:20 “by their fruit you will recognize them”. Paul’s statement already includes a reason to infer a divine Creator in the same sentence: “…being understood through [or 'by'/'from'] what He has made.” The usage you suggest I think is technically permissible, but again the assumption makes for an awkwardly redundant statement. “Since the creation of the world” economically puts the beginning of human history at the beginning of the existence of the earth in what Paul was trying to say.

  3. Actually, an Old Earth is Biblical. The word used for day in the original Hebrew context can also translate to other periods of time that are longer than mere ‘days’. The word can also be used to describe years, time, ago, and others. The word can also be translated as Age. Age can be an nondescript period of time. here is an interesting read
    http://www.oldearth.org/word_study_yom.htm

    also great job Max with the website.

  4. Mike,

    I’d like to suggest another way to think of Paul’s argument in Romans. Suppose Paul is unaware of the actual age of the universe. In other words, suppose that he has no real commitment to a particular age and hasn’t been told by revelation how old it is or when humans came into existence relative to the starting point of the cosmos. There are, after all, good reasons for thinking he might be so ignorant or agnostic. For example, he, being Hebrew, would probably know quite well that the Genesis 1 and 2 accounts aren’t meant to be taken as a linear history, nor are they to be taken as scientific data (in the sense of empirically driven ‘hard’ science). He’d know that Genesis 1 and 2 are poetically written to demonstrate a temple building motif–primarily written to give theological insight. That is to say, to tell human beings about the creator God, the role of humanity as image bearer and curator, and, finally, about the source of evil in the world. Paul’s statement in Romans simply becomes a statement situated in a milieu that has no pronouncement, nor concern, on scientific matters. He’s simply making a reference to a theological point. That is, since human beings have been around, they’ve been aware of their creator.

    Or, perhaps like the Psalmist who suggested that the earth is a fixed point in the cosmos (Psalm 104), Paul is just wrong with respect to the data. But, so what? It only matters if we think that the Holy Spirit, through Paul, is trying to teach us something that’s false. But why think a thing like that? It’s pretty clear here that Paul isn’t all that concerned (if at all) with the time and place of humanity’s creation. Nor, I submit, is the Holy Spirit trying to teach us anything *scientifically* about it. His point is a theological point, one that’s pretty clear–humans are culpable before God whether they admit it or not. Moreover, we should be wary of trying to make the Bible something that is, we might say, anti-incarnational. By that I mean, God deigns to His creation in many ways. In the same way He comes as a finite human being, complete with illness, death, frailty, etc, He might very well give us a book that is written in the same sorts of ways. That is, it is complete with poor grammar, biased view points, incorrect statements, etc, but, when taken together and when taken in its proper use, it’s quite infallible, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. I think it’s a mistake to say that Scripture is wrong in anything that it teaches, but it’s likewise a mistake to say that Paul (or any Scripture) is teaching us the science of creation (or the date). (btw: this still holds even if, against all evidence, the earth is 6k-10k years old–that’d just be a coincidence since the Bible isn’t so much as trying to tell us it is.)

    We, as thinking Christians, should be quite alright with not forcing the biblical text to do things for which it wasn’t designed. Namely, God did not write it to explain to us the scientific nuance of His creation. He does, of course, want us to know that it is His. But, more than that, He wants us to know about our role in service to Him, how to worship Him, how to live properly human, and in what sorts of things we should put our hope. Trying to make the Bible tell us the science of God’s creation is abusing the text, I think.

  5. JT,

    It’s pretty safe to assume that there was no OEC/YEC debate in the first Century, so I agree that Paul’s intent was not to convey truth about how old the earth was. It was probably a settled and unquestioned matter, but nonetheless a “real commitment” for Paul, the same way we would commit to the date for, say, the fall or Rome. It’s simply an unchallenged assumption. However, if Paul were asked to show why he thought the earth was a certain age, he would probably use the same guidance we ought to and look to the Old Testament, and possibly other histories or traditions that he may have had available. You seem to assume that he would conclude what you have about Genesis 1 and 2 being allegorical rather than historical and an uncommon use of yom. The teachings of the church have always existed on the backdrop of a 6,000-10,000 year old creation, up until only recent challenges to a young earth, so the debate that would have challenged Paul’s notion didn’t exist then.

    So I agree that the aim of the inspired revelation in Romans was not to teach science or history. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Paul was speaking in terms that made sense to him and his audience, most likely on the presupposition, in the absence of any competing doctrines, that the Adam and Eve were created at the beginning of the world. The science only enters the picture when we make inferences either in support of or in response to recent challenges to that view.

    Now, I don’t see how Paul could have meant to say “since human beings have been around, they’ve been aware of their creator”. That follows from what he does say, which is “since the creation of the world,” not “since the creation of humans.” I assume (as others probably did in Paul’s time) that Paul meant what he said, and the creation of humans must have coincided with the creation of the world.

    Also, we can’t ignore the words of Jesus, who could not possibly have been mistaken on the facts, when He made the following twice-recorded statement:

    “And [Jesus] answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,’” (Matthew 19:4, NASB)

    “But from the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female.’” (Mark 10:6, NASB)

    The date of creation was not the point of Christ’s teaching here either, but the way in which He chose to speak about the intent of the marriage of man and woman makes it clear that it was like that from the time of creation.

    • OK so there is no debate? Christ established two things.
      1. Material Existence is a creation of God
      and
      2. God made male and female.
      How ever, this not relate to there being a 6000 year old earth at all or anywhere even close.

      so with this we know 1 thing. Jesus believed in an Adam and an Eve. However we dont know whether the universe is billions of years old, thousands of years. Also we do not know whether evolution did or did not happen

      • Sam Ayirookuzhiyil, thanks for your comment. Christ did establish that material existence is a creation of God and that He made male and female (Adam and Eve), but He also states that He made them at the beginning of His creation. He does not mention 6,000 years, but His statement simply does not allow for a significant amount of time between the creation of the world and the creation of humans, since He says “from the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female.’”

  6. Mike,

    Thanks for the reply. I suppose, before we go any further, I should inform you of a couple of things. First, there certainly was a debate about the age of the earth in the first century. In fact, that very question predates the first century by (at least) a couple hundred years. You can find musings about it in Aristotle and even in the pres-Socratics. Paul wouldn’t have been ignorant of this being well trained in both the Scriptures and the philosophy of the time. I’d wager that he wouldn’t have submitted a guess on the age, if asked; rather, I’d wager he’d give you the best competing data since the question hadn’t been settled.

    With respect to the early church and its teaching. Again, there is no uniform teaching in the patristic era on the age of the earth. Augustine, perhaps the father to whom we are in the most debt (rightly or wrongly), believed the earth was much older than 10k years. He figured anyone trying to make an argument for YEC on the basis of the Bible was, as I suggested earlier, doing violence to the text. If you’re looking for an Eastern theologian, you can look no further than Basil the Great (who predates Augustine). He’s quite willing to suggest an old-earth. At least, he’s quite willing to be agnostic about it. He’s adamant that the Scripture not be used for straightforward scientific inquiry (in the way that ‘we’ mean science today. That term is anachronistic, of course).

    So, as I say, it could be that the earth is 10k years old (or less), but we wouldn’t prove that based on Scripture. The Scriptures aren’t for that sort of thing. Though, I will say, if the earth is that young the Scriptures won’t teach its contradiction, either. In the same way that, should the evidence play out for billions of years, the Scriptures won’t teach a contradiction to that data. We are at our own peril, and in danger of, as Augustine puts it: “[defending our] utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, [trying] 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.” Or further: “If [unbelievers] find a Christian mistaken in a field which they [unbelievers] 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 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.”

    Augustine’s point is this: use the Scriptures for that which they were designed. If we don’t do this, we walk headlong into dragging our Scriptures, and their reliability, through the mud. The YEC/OEC debate is largely like the Church’s debate with Galileo and Copernicus. Eventually we need to go with the evidence and recognize that our Scriptures aren’t meant as science texts–they’re not teaching on the subject though they might say things (sometimes incorrectly) about them. But, as I say above, the Bible’s saying something incorrectly doesn’t make the Bible fallible. It’s infallibility resides in what it teaches. We needn’t fear the findings of the hard sciences nor pretend that they go against the teachings of Scripture.

    • JT,

      Aristotle did in fact believe that the earth was very old, in fact, eternal. Several pagan philosophers at the time also thought the earth had always existed. I don’t see how Paul could have considered this a competing Christian doctrine to a young earth view since it is plain contradiction to even the most liberal views of Scripture. At some point, there was a creation. The current debate is primary among Christians.

      As for Augustine and Basil, I don’t know where you got your information, but their own writings predominantly convey the view of a young earth. In De Civitae Dei (City of God), Augustine estimates the creation of the world as early as 5600 BC (See “The City of God, Book XV, chapters 12-14 http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120115.htm). Augustine had some allegorical views of Genesis early on, but his later writings (see De Genesi ad litteram) show that he abandoned those. Basil the Great also wrote of an instantaneous and recent creation: “it is to teach us that at the will of God the world arose in less than an instant” (Homliy I:6; See also his Hexaemeron, Homilies I-X http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/32011.htm). Some differing views may have existed, but the views of deep time or an eternal earth would have been foreign and mainly held by pagans in Paul’s time and earlier, and generally not held by fellow believers.

      As far as what the Bible seems to say, I’m not convinced that an OEC view undermines the gospel message, at least to the degree that some assert. I was merely looking for ways that the apparent views of Jesus and Paul could be reconciled on OEC (regardless of the implications), and thus far there doesn’t seem to be any. I am YEC because I think the Bible communicates—albeit in a sense that seems to be secondary in focus and importance—that the earth is young. I do, however, see the central message of salvation to be far more important. But even the message of the gospel can be subverted if we aren’t dogmatic in our approach to the meaning of scriptures, particularly scriptures that are Jesus’ words.

      I do find this statement troubling: “the Bible’s saying something incorrectly doesn’t make the Bible fallible. It’s infallibility resides in what it teaches.” How do we know what the Bible teaches if we assume there are things it says incorrectly? What it teaches, whether it’s truth essential to a believer’s salvation or not, comes from what it says. If one considers the words of Christ in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 and of Paul in Romans 1 to be said incorrectly, how do we know that Jesus’ call to make disciples in Matthew 28 or Paul’s teaching of justification by faith in Romans 5 weren’t said incorrectly? Were God, the inspired writers, or early copyists correct on the critical doctrines and just sloppy or less concerned about secondary truths? If “all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”, then assuming there are mistakes in any part of what Scriptures teach is no way to “use the Scriptures for that which they were designed.”

  7. Mike,

    Thanks again for your reply. Sorry for my delay–I forgot this was going on!

    I suppose we’ll have to disagree with our assessment of Augustine and Basil’s teaching. I’d still argue that Augustine’s message in his De Genesi Ad Ltteram is that, particularly in the Creation story, we shouldn’t take a literal understanding of the words when doing so contradicts what’s been found true in investigative studies more proper to the question at hand (e.g., the age of the earth). It’s quite a large point of that book, actually, that leaving one’s interpretation of the Genesis account as merely literal gets one into pretty muddy waters (so thinks Augustine).

    I see you’ve interacted with this website for your information: http://creation.com/augustine-young-earth-creationist. It’s clear to me that these authors haven’t actually interacted with either Augustine or Basil’s text. I don’t know much about these fellas, but I’d wonder who their patristic expert is (I don’t see Patristics on Benno’s CV, for example), so I’m already suspicious. But, I doubt this sort of thing has been submitted for peer review. The quotes I’ve given to you in my above response are taken directly from it, Chapter 19 of book 1, to be exact. But the whole thing is rather incredulous with respect to those who take Scripture, particularly genesis, in a woodenly literal way. In the City of God, he does give an estimation of the age of human history, but his pronouncement on the actual universe is quite dark–his discussion centers solely on the age of those human beings (and in particular those who exist pre-flood). The idea is this: could human beings really live several hundreds of years? What do we make of those kinds of statements? That’s his investigation in chapter 15 (which you directed me to). Chapter 12 is more damning for the ‘Augustine was an OECer'; though, as I say, given what he says here and what he says in his Literal Interpretation of Genesis, I’d wager he’s agnostic on the age of the universe. That said–you’ll notice that he doesn’t argue for even the age of humanity based on Scripture (particularly in chapter 12). He argues based on the historical accounts of other nations. So, I think we have to acknowledge that, were Augustine alive today, he’d be on board with the best science. He rejected eternalist positions because of logical issues and the supremacy of God; he rejects a long-human history account on the basis of history. He doesn’t think history contradicts Scripture, but neither does he see Scripture as the book upon which to build history. In the same way OECers don’t think OEC contradicts Scripture, they neither see Scripture as the book upon which to base science.

    Basil’s Haxaemeron is largely the same–the point of my bring him up is to demonstrate that he’s quite willing to set Scripture aside on scientific matters and appeal to natural philosophy (e.g. his consistent sourcing of Plato, Aristotle, Anaxaminder, Democritus, et. al.). A particularly hilarious use of Aristotle (e.g.) is, when Basil discusses the phrase ‘And God called the firmament heaven’, he cites Aristotle’s etymological connection between ouranos/horao (Greek: heaven/to see). This is, of course, a false connection. But, it just goes to show that Basil’s looking toward outside science to try and explain the way the world actually is–his starting point for examining the truth of cosmology isn’t the Bible (though he does try and explain how the Bible can be seen as non-contradictory), it’s science/natural philosophy. I don’t think either fella held to an eternal age of the earth, but I don’t think either had any concrete guesses on the age–not from Scripture, anyway. Anyone trying to argue for YEC from these guys is reaching, in my estimation. It’s like guys who try and argue election based on Augustine (like BB Warfield–and I’m reformed!). It’s just not there.

    I don’t know of one patristic scholar who thinks that Augustine or Basil argue for an early age based on the biblical narrative. I’ve not read *every* patristic scholar–but I’ve read a good bit. I’d, again, wager that, if asked what age the Bible said the earth was, they’d both suggest that the Bible underdetermines the age.

    Now, to what you think is a troubling statement: all I have to offer you is this: if you think that every word of the Bible is correct, then you’re in for some serious trouble. If all of the Bible’s ‘scientific’ statements are to be taken as teachings from God, then we have to believe that, among other things, the mustard seed is the smallest seed (it isn’t) and the earth is the center of the universe/fixed (it isn’t). The point of hermeneutics is to figure out how the author intends us to read his book and the sentences within his book. Did the Psalmist really mean to *teach* that the earth is a fixed point in the cosmos? If he did, he’s wrong. If, instead, he meant to teach us something about God’s majesty and power (I’d argue this is what the Psalmist is teaching), then we have every reason to trust the Psalmist and ‘get’ what he’s trying to say. It’s never as simple as asking ‘what does the Bible say?’ ‘Say’ is ambiguous…the question is better put (I think): “what does the Bible mean?” with respect to a particular passage of Scripture. So, I stick with: the Bible is infallible in all that it teaches. It’s obviously fallible in syntax, spelling, and point of view–but, that’s what gives it the ‘human’ part of ‘human/divine’. It’s a lot like the incarnation in that way!

  8. Hi JT,

    I don’t place much weight on the position of Augustine and Basil, certainly not more than the position of scripture; I only cited their writings because you had mentioned what you thought their views were. I would somewhat agree with you in that neither held as firm of a conviction as to age of the earth as scholars seem to today, but that’s probably because the prevailing view of a young earth was generally not challenged.

    I also agree that the Bible doesn’t speak with great emphasis on the age of the earth, but I don’t agree with the idea that the Bible doesn’t speak of matters related to science. I don’t think that is a line that’s easy to draw, because much of what the Bible says is in a context that sn’t specifically scientific, but the way in which we understand those things is primarily is primarily in the realm of science. The hydrologic cycle is described in numerous passages in scripture, in Psalm 135:7, Ecclesiastes 1:6,7, Job 26:8, and others. The intent behind these are not necessarily a science lesson, but happens to corroborate what we find in science. So I agree that in one sense that the Bible is not a science textbook in its prime intent, but that isn’t cause to disregard it when it mentions things we now study scientifically.

    How we read it is important. I think we’re supposed to read it like we read anything else. We don’t read a history book the same way we read poetry, so it’s critical to pay attention to the various literary styles in the Bible. I would not assume that the Psalmist was teaching that the earth was fixed in space. (I assume you refer to Ps. 19:6?) From his perspective the earth is relatively fixed, so in a sense this is correct, in fact we use the terms sunrise and sunset all the time, knowing full well that’s not what technically happens. What we also know of the Psalms is that they are poetry, and we should read it expecting non-literal imagery to illustrate truth.

    Historial context is important as well. The mustard seed mentioned in Matt. 13 is not the smallest seed on earth, but would have been smallest seed known to any first century farmer. The absolute smallest seed belongs to a type of orchid found in the tropics and would have been foreign to Jesus’ immediate audience. Creation, however, was a doctrine familiar and relevant to everyone at the time, so there was no need for the Lord to “dumb down” or make relevant the creation of man and woman. It’s hard to see what purpose adding something like “from the beginning of creation” would have served other than confusion, of which God is not the author.

    I don’t think Jesus’ statements about man’s creation at the beginning were incorrectly spoken or incorrectly recorded either. Comparing the same statement in both gospels, the same thing is worded two different ways and clearly understood.

    Matt.: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female”
    ktisas (to create, build) archēs (beginning, origin) epoiēsen (to make, do) arsen (male) thēlu (female)

    Mark: “from the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female'”
    archēs (beginning, origin) ktiseōs (the act or product of creation) epoiēsen (to make, do) arsen (male) thēlu (female)

    There are always multiple ways of saying the same thing, which the differing word order and structure here show. If the above 2 passages are both mistaken, there must have been 2 different types of errors that somehow still managed to bring them both into harmony with each other. That just isn’t feasible. Even if Matthew used Mark as a source, there’s no evidence that Matthew’s paraphrase was from altered or corrected text in Mark. So even if we allow that Paul was simply mistaken in the idea that man was present to see God’s works “since (apo) the creation ( ktiseōs) of the world (kosmou)”, we have to deal with the idea that Jesus was wrong.

    We know the Bible we have now is not a word for word match to its original revelation, but there is no deviation that should amount to a change in doctrine. Whether the age of the earth is an important doctrine is well-debated; as I said I personally won’t go as far as some YEC in its importance (maybe I’ve already talked too much about it :). But the way we determine what the Bible means, is critical (I agree “means” is a better term), realizing that we determine its meaning by what it says. The primary teaching of Jesus in the above verses was about marriage, and Paul’s was Natural Revelation. Both use creation as a reference point, not to teach about it, but to add emphasis to what they were teaching. That the enduring conditions of marriage and natural revelation have been in place since the dawn of creation strengthens the importance of both teachings. If humans weren’t around at the time of earth’s creation, there would be no point to include “From the beginning”, “from the beginning of creation” or “since the creation of the world”. These are teachings secondary to the main teachings in their respective passages. But if we disregard whole phrases like that, what is there to prevent us from omitting other phrases we think are mistaken that actually do end up altering the primary teaching of scripture? More to the point, there is nothing contextually or otherwise that tells us “from the beginning” or “since the creation of the world” don’t belong in those verses except a commitment to OEC, which is a teaching that comes from outside of scripture. That’s why I think such a view is dangerous; we are informing the text rather than the reverse.

    • Then again, what about those that argue the creation story was written in poetic form like a psalm verse? In that sense would we, should we take the genesis account literally? please check out this link to my friend InspiringPhilosophy’s youtube channel. youtube.com/watch?v=yf5ovSpS2GU

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