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Terry Mortenson and Millions of Years

27 Dec

In January 2008, our church is hosting a conference with Answers in Genesis. Our speaker will be Terry Mortenson. I am looking forward to having him in our church. He has done a wonderful job in defeating evolution on scientific and philosophical grounds. It will be good to equip our church with the tools necessary to reasonably defend the faith in a culture where atheistic evolution is assumed as fact.

I am also looking forward to dialoging with Mortenson in our Leadership Luncheon on Monday, January 28. While I find myself in agreement with Mortenson on many issues, I have some disagreement with him on issues related to the age of the earth. I have invited him to join me in a dialog in our Leadership Luncheon, where I can ask my questions related to his position on the age of the earth.

If you are not familiar with the old earth/young earth debate in the church, here is the skinny. Mortenson and Answers in Genesis (AiG) believe the earth is 6,000 old. Other Christians, most notably Hugh Ross (founder of Reasons to Believe), believe the earth is millions or billions of years old. Many Christians (myself included) hold a it’s-not-really-that-important position on what a person believes about the age of the earth. While I am in the undecided category, I do lean toward the old earth view. I consider myself undecided, because the Scripture does not clearly say how old the earth is. Furthermore, I do not think it is essential to hold one view over the other.

This is where Mortenson and I disagree.

He and AiG (including AiG founder Ken Ham) believe that an old earth position creates theological problems which undermine the authority of Scripture and compromise an orthodox opinion of the nature of God and the doctrine of the atonement. Ouch!

The more I have read Mortenson’s views [read here] and listen to him teach on this subject [listen here], the more I find myself in disagreement with him on the issue of the age of the earth. In our Leadership Luncheon, I am planning to dialog with him on these issues. I want to ask my questions. The forum should create interest, because “conflict” always creates drama. My desire is for our dialog to be filled with the drama of gentlemen in conversation and not the “drama” of a bar room brawl. It is after all a dialog and not a debate.

I have written a seven-page response to Mortenson that will form as the basis of my questions and reasoning in the dialog. The beginning of my response is below. [Click here to read the entire response]


A Response to Mortenson’s “Why Shouldn’t Christians Accept Millions of Years?”
by Derek Vreeland
December 2007

Terry Mortenson has been one of the foremost proponents of youth-earth creationism (YEC), a biblical position that views God’s act of creation in Genesis 1 as occurring in six literal twenty-four hour periods approximately 6,000 years ago. According to this position, the age of the earth is 6,000 years-old and therefore relatively young as compared to the old-earth creationist(OEC) position which believes God’s act of creation occurred over millions of years. Mortenson calls the growing tension between YEC and OEC an “intensifying controversy.” And in some segments of Christian community this is true. (Sonlight, a popular Christian home school publisher, issued a lengthy statement on the issue here.)

While the two positions differ in their interpretation of the Scripture and scientific data, they can both find a reasonable home within Christian orthodoxy. Neither position is necessary to maintain an orthodox position on the authority of Scripture or the doctrine of creation. The biblical, historical, orthodox Christian Church has always professed belief in “God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Upon this doctrine we are united and in agreement. God as maker of heaven and earth is essential. Historically, the Church has not had a concrete statement on the age of the earth. There is no orthodox opinion on the interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis 1. In a brief review of Church history, it appears that a literal interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis 1 is the majority opinion of the issue. However, a literalist interpretation of the days is certainly not universally accepted among Christians past and present. Even among the early church fathers there was disagreement on the issue. One observer notes, “Though the majority of Church Fathers took the six days of creation as being six literal days, there was not moral unanimity among them on this question. In addition later Catholic authorities (e.g., Thomas Aquinas; see ST 1:74:2) recognized a diversity of permissible interpretations.” (http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2003/0301bt.asp)

While I found Mortenson’s argument for the young-earth position commendable, I did not find an overwhelming number of convincing reasons why a YEC position is necessary to maintain Christian orthodoxy. Mortenson presented nine reasons for rejecting OEC in an article entitled, “Why Christians Shouldn’t Accept Millions of Years.” Here is my response to Mortenson’s introduction to the issues related to a rejection of the old-earth position. Mortenson’s reasons are italicized in bold and they are followed by my response.

1) “The Bible teaches that God created in six literal, 24 hour days a few thousand years ago.”

To be clear, the account of creation in Genesis 1 does not qualify the uses of the word “day” with any qualifiers. The text itself does not specify whether the days are literal days or figurative days. It is therefore an act of interpretation on behalf of the reader to claim that the days of creation are figurative or literal. Mortenson notes that the Hebrew word yom translated “day” is most often used to refer to literal days. However, just because a word is used in a literal sense is most instances does not imply that it means literal days in every instance. Context, as Mortensen mentions, is the best guide in interpreting a text. The word “day” (Hebrew: yom) is used in at least three if not four different ways in Genesis 1 & 2.

2) “The context of Genesis 1 clearly shows that the days of creation were literal days.”

Reviewing the context of the creation account is the way forward. The context of the creation narrative is not clear as Mortenson claims; it is rather ambiguous. Mortenson provides a compelling case for a context demanding a literal interpretation, particularly the occurrence of “evening and morning” in addition to the word “day.” Nevertheless, the greater context of the creation account in Genesis 1:3-31 indicates a figurative interpretation of the days. The genre of Genesis, particularly the first three chapters, is not scientific, but narrative. It is not written in the precise language of mathematics, but in the language of story, which presents itself with the opportunity of poetry, irony, metaphor, etc. Poetry is not necessarily less true than a scientific essay; it merely uses words differently. The days of creation seem to be read within a poetic rhythm, with uniform sections framed within “And God said…” and “there was evening and there was morning, the _____ day.”

If Genesis 1 and 2 are read together, they cannot be read as a literal sequence of events. [read more]

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14 Comments

Posted by on December 27, 2007 in Theology

 

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14 responses to “Terry Mortenson and Millions of Years

  1. Herman Cummings

    December 29, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Evolution’s Deathtrap

    As parents, we are to “train up a child in the way he should go:”. In doing so, the child is directed to “remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,”. So what are our educators presently doing? They are teaching our children that there is a tooth fairy that gives you a dollar for your lost tooth if you put it under your pillow at night. How about the teaching that there is a “Santa Claus” that flies through the air with reindeer, who comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve to deliver gifts that you wished for. I guess that those that live in apartment buildings have to have some other delivery fable taught. What about “magic Santa keys”?

    Yes, I am pointing out the insanity and bias of the practice of only teaching our students the theory of evolution, causing an imbalance in education. Creationism can hardly be taught, but the “Observations of Moses” can easily be taught our students, as a counter balance to the blind teaching of evolution (Atheism). There is no evidence for evolution, except in the closed mind of blind academics, administrators, and scientists. Evolution is a shallow conclusion of the fossil record (of death), and there is another, more probable, interpretation which is not being considered.

    What circumstantial evidence is used to come to the conclusion of “evolution”? The very same evidence that (the “Observations of Moses”) states that there was “death by escalation”, meaning that death to life forms first came to the simplest of creatures in the water (out of sight of land dwellers), before escalating to higher life forms that already lived on land. With this position, you get the exact same results in the geologic record, but without the phantom “transitional forms”. Original created life did not grow old and die, if left to it’s own. External forces caused their escalated death on at least three occasions, the most intense being in 245 Million BC. Just because death is discovered to have occurred initially in the water, does not mean that there was not also life on land at the same time.

    The atheist and evolutionist are motivated by the evil spirit of rebellion against God, whose goal is to destroy as much of mankind as possible. Take notice of their strategy, which is to only have the secular theories of science required and taught in public schools. But when it comes to teaching (the correct data) from the book of Genesis, they say “teach it in religion class, because it’s religion, and not science”. That is a bold face lie!! The very teaching of evolution is indoctrination into the religion of Atheism!! It is Satan’s mission to deny the reality of God and His Word, or at least redefine the scriptures, so that he can destroy all of mankind that he can. Evolution denies the existence of both the Creator, and of the Entity of Evil. Denial of the supernatural, which gave birth to the natural, is worst than foolishness.

    How can the Observations of Moses not be science? If Moses was given an overview (six visions) of the 4.6 billion year history of our Earth and universe, and saw the several different life forms as they lived in the ancient past, how is that not science? Is science the denial of reality, and the redefinition of history? Does it seek to destroy the minds of our students? Take notice that evolutionists don’t want any other theory taught in science class. The truth is not afraid of exposure, but a falsehood is fearful of the light. Also take note that evolutionists require much more evidence for “creation” than they do for their own beliefs. For example, ask for proof of the “primordial soup”.

    The seven-day creationists, such as those who support Creation Science and Biblical Reality, are motivated by the desire to rescue mankind, by trying to convey the truth of history, and the reality of our existence. However, Creation Science teaches foolish doctrines, by denying scientific reality, and along with Ruin & Restoration, they end up redefining God’s Word in order to make it “fit” their false teaching. For example, ask them “where did the water come from on the first day?”. Also, ask them “were the birds created one day before Adam, or on the same day after Adam?”. They can’t answer without redefinition of what is written, throwing “literal interpretation” out the window.

    Theistic evolution, Day/Age, and progressive creationists deny the truth of God’s Word, and also teach false doctrine. They deny the 24-hr day, saying that those days were long periods of time. They call God a liar, by denying that God created our Earth and universe all in six 24-hr days. Ask them “How long did God tell Joshua to march around Jericho?”. Were those also long periods of time? But at least they try to acknowledge the Eternal Spirit, His creation of our existence, and the truth of history.

    However, this article is named “The Deathtrap of Evolution”, and for good reason. Since there indeed is a Creator, there is indeed a coming judgment of all mankind, both modern and prehistoric. At the White Throne Judgment, approximately 1,020 years from now, every (remaining) human being, that has ever lived on this planet, whether they be Homo Sapiens, Cro-Magnon, Neanderthal, or original mankind, will stand trial and must give an account of their deeds while they lived on this Earth.

    What sort of “an account” will an atheist or evolutionist be able to give? Will the excuse “I didn’t see any evidence” be accepted, and the person will be allowed to live forever in peace? Or will the option to remain in ignorance, and denial of the truth of Genesis (as written in the book “Moses Didn’t Write About Creation!”), be charged against the person, and they be thrown into the waiting Lake of Fire to be tormented forever?

    Just imagine the laughter that many atheists and evolutionists now exhibit when the thought of a Creator is discussed. They want to believe, and teach to others, that all life on Earth, and the origin of the universe, all came into existence by random chance. Now imagine their shock when they find themselves standing in line, with tens of thousands of other humans, waiting to be judged by someone that they may have laughed at. Be assured that those that have done wrong against certain others, will be judged by that very same person, who will have the given authority to grant everlasting life or everlasting torment. This scenario would be discussed in another book, not yet written.

    So what is the final conclusion? It is that the fossil and geologic record of the ancient past gives solid proof of the truth of Genesis, namely the Observations of Moses, without the need of non-existent transitional forms which the theory of evolution relies on. God first created, and then restored life on Earth after each extinction event, in six different geological eras of mankind in the past. No modern human has both seen and written about the prehistoric past, except Moses, as revealed to him by God Himself.

    So if secular science wants to teach their conclusions from geologic data, so be it. But also teach the correct interpretation of early Genesis (not creation science), else the religion of Atheism is being indoctrinated into our students, by the state and local governments, contrary to the U.S. Constitution.

    Herman Cummings
    Ephraim7@aol.com
    PO Box 1745
    Fortson GA, 31808

     
  2. Derek Vreeland

    December 30, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Herman,

    I don’t see how old earth creationists (i.e those who hold a Day-Age interpretation of the days in Genesis 1) are calling God a liar. Genesis does not say that God created the universe in six literal 24-hour days. Days are used to mark periods of God’s creation. The Scripture does not tell us if the days of creation are literal 24-hour days or long definite periods of time.

    It is not false doctrine to deny literal days, because the Scripture does not demand a literal interpretation. You can read my longer explanation of this in my full response to Mortenson.

    Click [read more] at the end of my post.

    Derek

     
  3. Nathan Gann

    December 30, 2007 at 3:46 am

    “Theistic evolution, Day/Age, and progressive creationists deny the truth of God’s Word, and also teach false doctrine. They deny the 24-hr day, saying that those days were long periods of time. They call God a liar, by denying that God created our Earth and universe all in six 24-hr days.”

    Ouch! I thought “yôma” had different meanings?

    I agree with you Derek, interesting or even hostile in-house debates aside, the important question is not when but how.

    Cheers.

     
  4. Derek Vreeland

    December 30, 2007 at 10:16 am

    Nathan,

    Yom has at least three different meanings in Gen 1 – 2:4 alone. It means 12 hours (i.e. daylight), 24 hours (i.e. after the creation of the sun on day 4) and a definite, but non-specific amount of time (i.e. in the “day” God created).

    As I note in my longer response to Mortenson, I think the first three days of creation must be definite but non-specific periods of time and not 24 hours, because the sun had not yet been created.

    People really get feisty over these days of creation. Ouch indeed!

    Derek

     
  5. OPM

    January 5, 2008 at 11:48 am

    EESH! (Not sure what language “EESH” hails from — and “ouch” was already taken.) I’m a bit confused – is Herm for or against creationism and in what vein? (He is obviously against both theistic evolution & the literal 24-hour day creationsim.

    I must say that I have heard Ken Ham’s teachings (more than once) and greatly appreciate his ministry. As with most niche ministries — he would say this concept creationism is the foundation of all biblical ministry. While I might not go quite that far — I do see the topic as extremely important (as do I of all biblical subjects).

    I will say that I tend to agree with Ken Ham on much — and that I will be very interested in your follow-up to your amiable conversation with Mortenson in January.

    God bless.

     
  6. Derek Vreeland

    January 5, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    AiG certainly is a niche ministry. That is a good way to put it. And niche ministries get passionate about their niche. Everything rests on getting their niche right. That causes them to overstate the point just a bit. For me Mortenson, Ken Ham, and AiG are similar to those who run an end time niche ministry. They choose to confuse essential doctrines with non essential doctrines and then build a case for one interpretation of a non-essential doctrine and fight anyone who disagrees with their interpretation. In terms of end-times, the return of Christ is an essential doctrine. When, how, and what happens to us when he comes are all non-essential doctrines. So end-time guys spend all of their time fighting other Christians who don’t agree with their position on the rapture or the tribulation or whatever… Their interpretation of non-essentials becomes an essential for them. Mistake.

    In terms of creation, the fact that God is maker of heaven and earth, that he created the universe out of nothing is an essential doctrine. How he created and the amount of time it took to create is a non-essential. AiG makes “six literal days of creation” an essential, when in fact it is a non-essential. This fuels their passion to defend their interpretation again all others. This is a mistake. They are simply fighting the wrong battle.

    My conversation with Mortenson will be online at http://www.cornerstoneamericus.com/sermons after the conference.

    g&p

    Derek

     
  7. Brian Zahnd

    January 15, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Well.

    I’m probably one of the bad guys. I have almost zero tolerance for young earth creationism. It’s only one step removed from believing in a flat earth as far as I’m concerned (after all, Jesus did say the angels would come from the FOUR CORNERS of the earth…there you have it!). And for what it’s worth (and for those who know me) this is not part of my “new perspective” — I’ve always believed young earth creationism is just plain silly. The universe is about 13.7 billion years old and the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Either that, or God played a joke on us and made all the evidence to appear overwhelmingly so. And what would be the point of that?

    Hyper literalism doesn’t do anything other than make the Bible smaller and less grand (and less true!). The subject of the Bible is not science…it’s something else, something more important than science. But for the life of me I don’t know why we feel like we have to be at war with science. Haven’t we learned our lesson from history concerning this mistake? The church was emphatic that the earth was flat…then at the center of the universe…and later the church involved itself in the controversy over the nature of light…and once again was wrong.

    If you want to make Genesis 1 literal 24 hour days (which I don’t really know why you would) I would go about it terms of Relativity. Let Einstein help. We tend to think that time is a constant, of course it is not. It is relative according to the one perceiving time. Who is doing the perceiving in Genesis 1? God. You could work it from that angle, I suppose (which is what Jewish scientist, Gerald Schroeder has done — “The Science of God”, etc.), but I don’t really see the need to do that either.

    I’ve told my church, “Stop saying the Universe/Earth is 6,000 years old, it just makes you look dumb.” Then Peri told me to stop saying that, because it just made me look mean.

    That’s what I mean by being one of the bad guys.

    Nevertheless I will distance myself from the young earth zealots and will tell skeptics, “Never mind them, they’re just harmless religious people and please don’t judge the whole of Christianity on their misguided crusade.”

    That’s how I feel about it.

     
  8. Derek Vreeland

    January 15, 2008 at 8:28 am

    BZ,

    While I see more evidence for the old earth view, I don’t think it matters much. Sunday I am preaching a message on creation in preparation for our conference. In the message, I am going to make it clear that the doctrine of God as maker of heaven and earth is an essential. The age of the earth is a non-essential.

    This is my biggest disagreement with young earth guys from AiG. It is not the youth earth position itself. Rather it is that they make the young earth position an essential doctrine.

    With that said, I cannot say what the age of the earth is. The Bible doesn’t say the earth is 6,000 years old and the reasoning behind a literal 6 days of creation is weak.

    I wouldn’t be so mean to say they are dumb! I think I wrote in my essay that they are simply fighting the wrong battle. The battle for creationism over evolution is worth the fight. The fight for young earth over old earth is worthless (foolish?)

    I am looking forward to my dialog with Mortenson on this issue at our Leadership Luncheon.

    Derek

     
  9. OPM

    January 17, 2008 at 11:31 am

    I must say I was not suprised to read Pastor Brian’s view on creation — as he said, he has had this view for a long time). I have always appreciated his incredible insight into the Word of God. I have rarely disagreed. There were many times I was astonished — I would return to the Word and find that he was right (which then would upset me concerning my own denominational training — and the spiritual vacuum it sometimes created in my life and ministry).

    However, I must say that I am a Young Earth Creationist beleiver. (Perhaps not quite as strongly as Pastor Brian is opposed to it). I understand his point on Christians presupposing poetic language to be literal (a good example might be trees “clapping their hands”). I don’t really view the seven days of creation as poetry in the strictest sense of the word (though, as Eugene Peterson puts it, there is a certain “rythym” to the creation account). In some ways all of life is a form of poetry.

    I don’t like to see Christians just laugh off science — but at the same time — scientist don’t exactly have the greatest track record either. I site the “incredible edible egg”. Is it good for me or not? It depends on what year you ask the question. How about homosexuality — some scientist have suggested it is something you are born (not “with” but “as”). Scientist (or at least doctors) and lawyers lied to us about the unborn baby (it’s just a blob). Along comes the ultrasound made public(what we accepted as scientific fact — was no longer true). We were at one time headed towards an ice age — and now its Global Warming — what ever happened to El Nino? On and on the list could go…

    While I am definitely not on a crusade (so “religious zealot” and “misguided” don’t apply to me)– for, I rarely speak on the subject — I must say that “it makes you look dumb” kinda’ stings. (But I’ll be ok — I’ll recover.)

    Once again, I greatly appreciate Pastor Brian and his wife, Peri’s ministry at WOLC. It changed the course of my ministry, and therefore, the rest of my life (as I see it). Without their divine intervention (largely unknown to them at the time) I might not have continued on in ministry. My meeting them was more than just a “Godincidence” (however you spell that). So, I say this with a sense of biblical fear and trepidation — for I see this man as my greater — a Pastor to pastors. And I close with this… I appreciate Pastor Brian’s passion on the subject of creation and, at the same time, humbly disagree.

    God bless.

    Shane

     
  10. Derek Vreeland

    January 17, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    Shane,

    The age of the earth is certainly an area where Christians can disagree. I do see Genesis 1 as poetic prose. It is not written in the language of science or history. It does have a poetic rhythm as Peterson points out. The rhythm calls us to LIVE in the text…to live in God’s rhythm.

    I lean towards the old earth position, but I remain Swiss on the issue. The Bible just doesn’t say how old the earth is and I find it silly and a bit pointless to fight over it. The drum I am beating here from Switzerland is that the battle over the exact age of the earth is the wrong battle!

    We each have our opinions, which is fine, but lets unify over the essentials here…that is that God is the maker of heaven and earth.

    Derek

     
  11. OPM

    January 18, 2008 at 9:17 am

    Derek,

    I suppose I did not get my point across in my second response to this post…(allow me try again)

    1. I greatly appreciate your honesty on the subject (as well as Pastor Brian’s). I felt in responding I must be forthcoming as to where I stand on the issue (rather than elusive). My point is not to argue on the subject — I am fine with disagreeing (its part of that whole “eclectic” thing we speak of). I just thought to have a legitimate convo you needed to not have to guess where I am coming from.

    2. I agree that in the end it probably doesn’t really matter — its, as I called it earlier a “niche ministry” in the Body of Christ — I am open to new ideas (at least new to me). I appreciate the Church’s niche ministries — but I see them for what they are too (no substitute for the church itself).

    3. My real reason for the last comment was simply to point out that these men and women of the “Young Earth” concept are valid thinkers as well. Not necessarily “dumb” – though I am sure there are folks of that description on both sides of the issue.

    4. While I may disagree (on this particular subject) I agree on “way more” (as we say these days) of what Pastor Brian preaches/teaches. So I say “amen” to “unifying on the essentials”.

    God bless,

    Shane

     
  12. Derek Vreeland

    January 18, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Shane,

    I think I did clear your message clearly. I was not trying to say that you are fighting this battle. I was referring more to the guys in the Young Earth niche ministry who are putting down guys with the Old Earth position.

    Like I said in my comment to BZ, I wouldn’t call Young Earthers dumb. I am just saying that they have a misplaced passion.

    Thanks for the dialog.

    Derek

     
  13. Anonymous

    May 15, 2008 at 2:52 am

    “To be clear, the account of creation in Genesis 1 does not qualify the uses of the word “day” with any qualifiers.”

    Are you joking?

    “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the EVENING and the MORNING were the FIRST day.”

    no qualifiers?

     
  14. Anonymous

    May 15, 2008 at 2:52 am

    “To be clear, the account of creation in Genesis 1 does not qualify the uses of the word “day” with any qualifiers.”

    Are you joking?

    “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the EVENING and the MORNING were the FIRST day.”

    no qualifiers?

     

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