Age of the Earth CounterpointQUESTION: Age of the Earth – A CounterpointANSWER:
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For most creationists, the idea of a “Young Earth” is predicated on the presupposition that the genre of Genesis 1 necessitates a 'literalistic' rendering. However, this need not be the case. I think that the young-earth view has a tendency, in large part, to make several unnecessary assumptions. Having carefully analyzed the text of Genesis 1 and 2, I see no reason for a necessitude to subscribe to a literalistic rendering of the seven 'yoms'. I do strongly suspect that the 'yoms' in the text of Genesis are to be correctly rendered '24-hour-day'. But even conceding that does nothing to determine whether it is intended to be understood in a literalistic sense, which I would challenge for various reasons below.Age of the Earth – Genesis is Theological, Not Chronological
When viewing the Age of the Earth, I am not a liberal theologian. I would regard my theology as fairly conservative. And I do not believe that this is a retreat in view of modern science. After all, I could quote Augustine (354-430) and Origen (185-254), both of whom rejected the literalistic reading of theBook of Genesis
and cautioned against basing one's interpretation of the natural sciences upon our Scripture hermeneutic, long before the scientific revolution.
I have several reasons for rejecting the literalistic view of Genesis 1, but let me just point to a couple of examples. Look at the correspondence between Days 1, 2 and 3 and Days 4, 5 and 6. On day 1, the light is separated from the darkness; on day 4, the light is set in the sky. On day 2, the sky separates the waters under it from those above it; on day 5, God creates all kinds of sea creatures and birds. On day 3, the seas are gathered from the land and the land produces all kinds of vegetation; on day 6, animals and people are created. Do you recognize a pattern there?
It seems the arrangement of Genesis 1 is not chronological but theological. We are off the mark if we ask how light (day 1) or morning and evening (days 1-3) preceded the existence of the sun (day 4). I believe the literalistic view becomes problematic when we get to Genesis 2 and discover the two creation stories in direct contradiction to each other on a number of points relating to chronology.
I believe that the Genesis account should be read with an eye to the literary devices used. In particular, literal approaches should be rejected in favor of perceiving the manifest artistic literary composition of the text. Further, pay close attention to what God says on day 3: "Let the ground bring forth..." In other words, the trees were not created de novo,
but were caused to grow out of the ground in their natural fashion. Though I reject theistic evolution on evidential grounds, theistic evolutionists might maintain that day 6 ("Let the land produce living creatures...") is consistent with an evolutionary understanding of life's development.Age of the Earth – A Look at the Flood
Furthermore, the young earth view is highly dependent upon the universality of the GenesisFlood
, and I would argue that there is not nearly enough water to cover the surface of the earth and that the plate tectonics model proposed by some creationists to attempt to maintain a radically different mountain-range is inadequate and difficult to rationally maintain both scientifically and philosophically (you need to resort to extreme ad hoc rationalizations to account for the safety of Noah and his family).
What do I believe about the Flood? I believe that it was of limited proportion but universal in its impact upon human civilization. The ancient Hebrews did not think of the earth as a spherical globe, and so to flood the earth would simply be rendered "to flood the land." This would, after all, not be the only occurrence where descriptions of global proportions are used to refer to local phenomena (see, for instance, Genesis 41:57; 1 Kings 10:24; Luke 2:1; Acts 2:5; Romans 1:8 and Colossians 1:6).Age of the Earth – Death Before the Fall
Perhaps the strongest, and maybe the only really substantial, point in support of the young earth view is the proposition that death did not exist prior to theFall
. The claim is based upon several false assumptions, but let me just give a couple of thoughts. As I see it, it cannot be dogmatically specified (from a young earth standpoint) which particular class of living creatures suffered and died before the fall. The insistence that physical death is the immediate ('on the day') result of the fall makes God a liar and the snake the truth-teller. Thus the argument appears to be based on a fallacy.
Further, the text of Genesis 1-3 nowhere states that there was no death prior to the Fall. Certainly, the second law of thermodynamics (things tending toward increased entropy) was in place, for they were eating plants and fruit. So, at least some kind of death and degradation preceded the Fall. We also know that God said to Eve that he would greatly increase her pains in childbearing, not give her ones which she did not have before. God's statement, 'in the day you eat of it you shall die' was said only to the first human being and had no relationship at all to any of the other animals, as is indeed the context of Romans 5 which addresses this very issue. It seems like a difficult proposition if one is to maintain that all animals were herbivores and that following the Fall there was an instant re-creation act, in which body chemistry and behavior patterns were changed. This is a pretty big extrapolation and an unwarranted eisegetical reading into the text. The Tyrannosaur was a machine designed for killing. According to the young earth view, not only would its teeth and anatomical and physiological features need to be radically altered, but it would require a whole new digestive system.
As I said previously, Adam did not die physically on the day he ate of the tree, but lived a full life afterwards. The conclusion is thus necessitated that God was not talking about biological death or that he was not intending it to be taken literally. To quote N.T. Wright, "The result is that death, which was always part of the natural transience of the good creation, gains a second dimension, which the Bible sometimes calls 'spiritual death'."
Finally, I think it is important to bear in mind that the ancients often used numbers as symbols, though of course they understood their mathematical use as well. For example, the first three kings of a united Israel (i.e. Saul, David and Solomon) are all said to have reigned forty years. It is arguable that something symbolic and not 'exact' is intended. Similarly, the number seven is of symbolic significance within Judaic theological context, and - I would argue - need not be rendered as a literal time frame.
Published as a Response and Counterpoint to a Young Earth interpretation of Genesis and the Scientific Evidence. It’s important to understand the various arguments and perspectives. However, whether a Young Earth or an Old Earth, the evidence is clear that God is responsible for Creation.