We wrapped up our Answers in Genesis conference last night. Our speaker has been Terry Mortenson and I have really enjoyed getting to know him and listening to his perspective on the age of the earth.
Last December I blogged about some of my thoughts concerning his position. Mortenson is a Young Earth Creationist, meaning that he believes the days of creation in Genesis 1 are literal 24-hour days and that the universe (including the earth) is 6,000 years old. I have leaned towards an the day-age view of creation (i.e. the Old Earth View), but have been particularly undecided. I have been like the Swiss on this issue of the age of the earth. I knew that a debate had been raging for a number of years between the Old Earthers and Young Earthers. I have been neutral on the issue.
It is hard to stay neutral, because Mortenson and Answers in Genesis hold the age of the earth as an essential doctrine, meaning if you do not believe that the universe is 6,000 years old then there is something faulty or compromised in your beliefs about God and the gospel.
Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, writes, “The god of an old earth cannot therefore be the God of the Bible who is able to save us from sin and death.”[Source] Ham is saying that unless you believe in a young earth, then you are not worshiping the God of the Bible. Now those are fighting words, but back to my thoughts about Terry Mortenson
Mortenson preached at our church Sunday morning on the issue of millions of years and the value of a right understanding of Genesis. [Listen here]
I like Mortenson. He served on staff with Campus Crusade for a number of years. He study under Wayne Grudem at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the 1990s. Mortenson is passionate and well-informed both theologically and scientifically. He is one of the good guys. I cannot say that he has yet to convince me of the necessity of the young earth theory and the young earth interpretation of the age of the earth, but he has helped me in my reading of Genesis.
At dinner Sunday night after the conference, we had a lively discussion about Genesis 1. I have often read the text from the “framework” perspective. (There is a good explanation of the framework view of Genesis 1 on the Veritas Forum website.) This reading sees Genesis 1:1-2 as the opening scene of the narrative. 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The days of creation don’t begin until Genesis 1:3 “And God said let there be light.
The framework view also carries with it my assumption of the poetic style of Genesis 1 with the days of forming and the days of filling. The frame is crated by the phrases “And God said…” and “There was evening and morning, the ____ day.” The frame creates a poetic rhythm in which the true story of God’s creation narrative unfolds.
Mortenson challenged this view and presented some compelling exegetical reasons why Day 1 of creation includes Genesis 1:1-2 and why the narrative doesn’t match the style of Hebrew poetry in other places of the Old Testament. This will require more research on my end. Mortenson was right when he challenged me not to read my 21st century Western assumptions into the biblical text. Mortenson contends that Genesis 1 is a straight forward historical account of creation.
I was rereading William LaSor’s Old Testament Survey on the style of Genesis 1. He notes that Genesis 1 is not a straight forward historical account in the modern sense because there were no eye witnesses to creation. People were not created until day 4. Nevertheless, I have more work to do in understanding Genesis 1 from a Hebrew perspective. Mortenson has challenged me here.
In our Sunday night dinner, Mortenson and I also discussed various issues that formed the basis for the leadership luncheon, which did not have as much time for Q&A as I hoped. I boiled my questions to the youth earth position down to ten questions. We discussed maybe three or four in our luncheon. Here is the list of questions based on Mortenson’s reasoning on why Christians must reject the concept of millions of years. [Read Mortenson’s position here]
1) Does the issue of animal death after the fall grow out of the biblical text or is it a response to scientific data?
2) Is the high value of animal life consistent with the biblical witness?
3) Is the death of animals incompatible with the goodness of God?
4) What do the following verses say about animal death and character of God?
It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert. (Psalm 74:14 NIV)
The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. (Psalm 104:14 NIV)
5) Even if animal death was interpreted as intrinsically bad, isn’t it plausible that evil was present in God’s good creation? How do you explain the presence of Satan in the form of a serpent in God’s good creation before the fall?
6) What are the other theological problems with an old earth view besides the issue of animal death and the character of God?
7) What do you mean by “compromised” in the following statement: “Most church leaders and scholars quickly compromised using the gap theory, day-age view, local flood view, etc. to try to fit ‘deep time’ into the Bible”? Do you mean they are compromising the authority of Scripture?
8) Is the age of the earth an issue of the interpretation of Scripture or the authority of Scripture?
9) Can the young earth view and old earth view be considered two different, but equally orthodox, interpretations of the biblical text?
10) What do the church fathers say about the age of the earth?
There are two implicit issues on which Mortenson builds his case for the necessity of a young earth view of 6,000 years of cosmic history: animal death before the fall and a literal interpretation of the days of creation.
On the issue of the interpretation of the days of creation (Hebrew word: Yom), I don’t have much to say. I have read the reasoning for 24 hour days and days as long periods of time. I see it as an exegetical stalemate. Mortenson has helped me to see where the Youth Earthers are coming from, but I am remain unconvinced that literal 24 hours days is the ONLY orthodox position. Mortenson overstates the point when he says, “The Bible says God created the heavens and the earth 6,000 years ago.” He does a good job defending this interpretation, but it is just that…an interpretation of the text.
Genesis 1:1 does NOT say, “4,500 years ago, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis was written approximately in 1,500 BC. The text says, “In the beginning, God created….” Any claim of 6,000 years of cosmic history is an interpretation of the text based on the subjective opinion of the exegete. In other words, 6,000 years is MAN’S OPINION of Genesis just as millions of years of cosmic history is man’s opinion.
A literal interpretation of 24 hour days is plausible; it just isn’t necessary.
Mortenson is sending me a paper he is preparing for the Evangelical Theological Socieity, where he critiques three leading evangelical systemic theologies on their opinions of the age of the earth. They each hold the opinion I hold, the age of the earth is a non-essential doctrine. (He is reviewing Erickson, Grudem, and Lewis & Demarest.)
The other theological issue Mortenson raises is the issue of animal death before the fall. His question is— How can God’s creation be very good if there was millions of years of animal death? He sees the violent, carnivorous activity of animals killing and eating each other BEFORE THE FALL as incompatible with the goodness of God. He holds the opinion that all animals were vegetarians before the fall.
The issue is often worded with an emotional appeal: How could the good Garden of Eden be built on an animal grave yeard?
I don’t think the text (Genesis 1&2) leads us to know the age of the earth. I don’t see the text leading me to see millions of years of cosmic or human history, but I don’t see the text leading me to see 6,000 years of history either. I also do not see the Scripture leading me to believe that animal death came after the fall and I don’t see the Scripture leading me to place such a high value on animal death.
Here is my response to Mortenson on the issue of animal death.
- The biblical text is rather silent on animal death.
So where am I in this debate between Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists? I certainly have a new found appreciation for the Young Earth position. Mortenson has really thought through the issues of the Young Earth view. He even admits that there are some areas of development. The Young Earthers still don’t have a good defense of their view of a young universe in light of astrophysics and the light from stars. He said they are working on it, but they don’t have a lock-tight defense yet. How can the universe be 6,000 years old when we know the speed of light and know that stars are billions of miles away? I appreciate his honesty and humility to admit that the Young Earthers don’t have it all figured out yet.
So where am I in the debate between Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists?
I am quite convinced that I am a creationist, no other adjectives needed. This position is where the biblical text has led me. It leads me to God, the maker of heaven and earth. I would say that the age of the earth is somewhere between 13.7 billion years old and 6,000 years old! Somewhere in between those two numbers is the truth, but as of yet, I am undecided.
This is the theological high ground on the issue of the age of the earth. To say for certain that we know the universe is 6,000 years old is to put us in a position of authority of the biblical text which doesn’t make this claim. Whenever we get too puffed up in confidence in our interpretation of the age of the earth, we need God to show up like he did with Job and ask, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” After all the answers are not in Genesis; the answers are not in creation; the answers are in the Creator.
One last thought from John Calvin:
“We are drawn away from all fictions to the one God who distributed his work into six days that we might not find it irksome to occupy our life in contemplating it. ” John Calvin, Institutes I.14.2
Let’s not become irksome on this issue of the age of the earth.
Let’s worship God, the maker of heaven and earth.
Let’s defend the authority of Scripture over the faulty assumptions of evolution.
…but lets give up this fight over the right interpretation of the age of the earth.