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
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]