Old-Earth Creation - Objections
I came across an article raising doctrinal objections to an old-earth creation model. Although the article in question particularly addressed theistic evolution it is also subtitled to include progressive creation and is therefore directed at any old-earth model.
The arguments presented herein are inherently theological in foundation, since they address an audience whose ultimate authority is the Christian scripture. It is not expected that an atheist will accept, nor even necessarily properly understand the counter-points raised, which stand on a presupposition of faith – “that [God] exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Furthermore, the arguments take as given the nature, character and attributes of God as established and understood by historical Christianity.
Each section is entitled with the objection and begins with the quoted text from the source article.
- The goodness of God
- Adam’s sin brought death and decay, the basis of the gospel
- The divine Inspiration of the Whole Bible
- The straightforward understanding of the word of God
- The creation is supposed to clearly show the hand of God
- The need of restoration for the creation
The Goodness of God
The Bible says “God is good” and in Genesis 1:31 God described his just-finished creation as “very good”. How do you understand the goodness of God if He used evolution, “nature red in tooth and claw”, to “create” everything?
This presupposes that this universe is God’s end-game. However, its clear from an understanding of the total message of scripture that it is in fact simply a necessary stage of a larger plan that God has in play; a plan in which the ultimate goal is the elimination of sin and evil forever, whilst preserving mankind’s free-will and consequently the ability to love as God loves. A qualitatively “good” creation, then, is the one which accomplishes that goal, rather than necessarily the idealized utopian creation that many have of the pre-fall creation. Good, then, is that which accomplishes the will of God.
The objection also makes the mistake of judging God’s motives by human standards. The fundamental mistake lies in our attempting to evaluate God’s goodness by our measuring stick, absent his omniscience and sovereignty. It is akin to a child judging the parent as “bad” because the child is disciplined – the parent knows that the discipline is necessary for the proper development of the child’s character in order to grow up to be a Godly person and a productive, contributing member of society.
Scriptural teaching is quite clear on this matter – God is sovereign over his creation and may exercise that sovereignty in any way he sees fit. By way of example, consider God’s instructions to the Israelites prior to their conquest of the promised land:
1 "When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, 2 and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
Deuteronomy 7:1-2 (ESV; emphasis mine)
The precise meaning and extent of which is subsequently made clear:
16 But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded […]
Deuteronomy 20:16-18 (ESV)
and then carried out in at least the case of Jericho:
21 Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.
Joshua 6:21 (ESV)
The Israelites were commanded to totally destroy each of the cities in Canaan – including every man, woman and child. The question must be asked, is this command consistent with a good God? The answer must be yes, of course, for God is good by his very nature and definition. Therefore, though we may not entirely understand it, we must conclude that for God, perfect in every way, whatever mechanism he uses to accomplish his will is also by definition “good”. The only other alternative is to conclude that the scriptures are not inerrant – that it was not really God’s will that the Israelites destroy the Canaanite people.
For those wondering, God does give some reasoning for these commands, which makes imminently more sense when the role of the nation of Israel in bringing the promised Messiah is considered:
6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth […] 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.”
Deuteronomy 7:6 (ESV)
18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.
Deuteronomy 20:18 (ESV)
As with the people of Noah’s day and the people to come in the last days as described by Jesus, God will not withhold his judgment on a reprobate society forever. And note, too, that the Israelites failed to carry out this command fully, and from that time to this they have struggled in one way or another with the Godless descendents of these very nations.
Adam’s Sin Brought Death and Decay, The Basis of the Gospel
According to the evolutionist’s (and progressive creationist’s) understanding, fossils (which show death, disease and bloodshed) were formed before people appeared on earth. Doesn’t that mean that you can’t believe the Bible when it says that everything is in “bondage to decay” because of Adam’s sin (Romans 8)? In the evolutionary view, hasn’t the “bondage to decay” always been there? And if death and suffering did not arise with Adam’s sin and the resulting curse, how can Jesus’ suffering and physical death pay the penalty for sin and give us eternal life, as the Bible clearly says (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:22 — For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive)? How can death be called “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26) and “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23) if it were originally part of the “very good” creation (see above).
Each of the sub-points raised here can be shown to be a subtle misunderstanding of scripture.
First, Romans 8 does not teach that creation is in bondage to decay from Adam’s sin. Rather it simply states that this creation is subject to “corruption” or decay, “groaning” as in the pains of childbirth, without stipulating the cause of this condition. OEC contends that this creation was made, from its inception, in a state of decay; its fundamental physical laws, in particular the law of entropy, predict that eventually all energy in the universe will no longer be capable of producing “work”; at which point the universe has suffered its inevitable heat-death – but long before that time, the universe will have become incapable of supporting any life. The childbirth for which this universe was created is that of a people set free from sin and death for the next creation; God’s final destination for the redeemed of mankind.
Second, the death and suffering that arose with Adam’s sin was that of Adam’s race. It can easily be shown from scripture that the life offered by Jesus is offered to mankind, and mankind alone, uniquely of all creation. Therefore, application of simple hermeneutics can reasonably conclude that the death which it counters is that of mankind and mankind alone. It is equally clear that only man was created with a spirit, and only man is morally accountable for his actions; only man is capable of sinning. No matter how lovable Fido is, you are not going to see him in the next life – neither he nor any other animal will receive the inheritance of the children of God. Revelation and other scriptures make it abundantly clear that when this world has served its purpose, it will not be restored to its Edenic state, but will be destroyed and replaced by a new and very different creation. Reading 1 Cor 15:22 properly in context starting at verse 12 (instead of lifting a single verse to support a preconception) makes it eminently clear that the “all” to which it refers is all men, not all creation, again, applying basic hermeneutic principles.
Putting aside animal death for a moment, consider the implications of a universe which from its very inception is destined to expire and is not capable of sustaining life indefinitely. By way of analogy, if one learns of a wellspring of eternal life across the country, one might construct some sort of vehicle to get to the spring. Such a vehicle would only need be sufficient to make the journey; having made the journey its purpose would be served – the vehicle itself would not need to last for eternity, only long enough make the journey to the spring of eternal life. Such a vehicle is precisely what this creation is with respect to the wellspring of eternal life which is Jesus. Indeed, it is obvious from Jesus’ glorified body that in his glory he was never intended to be contained within the limitations of this universe. And since we will be glorified, just as he was glorified, neither then are we ultimately destined for the limitations of this universe.
Third, death is indeed the last enemy which will be defeated, but the death which is spoken of is the death of mankind, those spiritual beings made in the image of God. In order to create a world which could defeat death, in his wisdom far beyond ours, God created a world subject to decay to serve that very purpose. It is simply not necessary to postulate that mankind somehow “broke” God’s good creation – rather, God’s creation was good precisely because it is perfectly suited to bring about the final defeat of the ultimate enemies to eternal right-relationship with God, sin and death.
Finally, the “wages” of mankind’s sin is mankind’s death. Only mankind can sin, so only mankind is subject to the penalty of sin. Animals don’t die because they sinned, nor because man sinned – they die because God never designed them for eternity. Whether or not animals in the next creation die is neither here nor there, since the physical and spiritual laws governing the next creation are not the same as those governing this creation.
The Divine Inspiration of the Whole Bible
If the Genesis accounts of Creation, the Fall, the origin of nations, the Flood and the Tower of Babel — the first 11 chapters — are not historical, although they are written as historical narrative and understood by Jesus to be so, what other unfashionable parts of the Bible do you discard?
The biblical account of creation in Genesis seems very specific with six days of creative activity, each having an evening and a morning. According to the evolutionary sequence, the biblical order of creation is all wrong. Do you think God should have inspired an account more in keeping with the evolutionary order, the truth as you see it, if indeed He did use evolution or followed the evolutionary pattern in creating everything?
This is a fair charge against evolution, however, it does not hold for an old-earth creation view. OEC holds to a historical and literal interpretation of the first 11 chapters of Genesis. However, there is disagreement with the interpretation that young-earth creation insists on.
First, the word for day in Genesis 1 also carries the meaning age or epoch. Second, the Hebrew phrase evening and morning appears to contain much deeper meaning in Hebrew than the surface English reading would suggest; it may connote an abstract inter-work-period marker or it may be entirely figurative or it may literally refer to an evening and morning but one dividing God’s days in God’s timeframe. Third, the sequence of creation in Genesis comports well with the sequence of creation seen in the natural record. The first two points are dealt with in detail in Old-Earth Creation; the third extensively in Genesis And Science.
The Straightforward Understanding of the Word of God
If the Genesis account does not mean what it plainly says, but must be “interpreted” to fit an evolutionary world, how are we to understand the rest of the Bible? How are we to know that the historical accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection should not also be “reinterpreted”? Indeed, can we know anything for sure if the Bible can be so flexible?
This is where the YEC position really plays games of semantics. It is not that the scripture must be “interpreted” to fit an OEC model, but that the scripture has to be properly understood, especially in the Hebrew language as opposed to solely depending on an English translation, which may lose subtle nuances.
All writing needs to be interpreted to understand the writer’s intent, and so too does scripture. However, for the English reader, scripture has the double challenge of being presented as a translation from another language, which language is also an ancient dialect. Depending on the style of translation, there is more or less bias stemming from the beliefs and preconceptions of the translator or translation team. Once one understands the OEC arguments for understanding Genesis 1 & 2, it is clear that what it “plainly” says is not quite as “plain” as the YEC advocate would like us to believe, and that the OEC position rests on solid scriptural foundation – arguably a more solid one that YEC.
In fact, this is so important that the proper interpretation (esp. of scripture) is a discipline in its own right, known as Hermeneutics – it’s concerned with understanding scripture in the light of the totality of the evidence available, including the requirement that the interpretation of a passage be consistent with its immediate context, the context of the book in which it is found, the historical context in which it was written, and with the message of the Bible as a whole.
Not only is the old earth position consistent with a sound historical and literal understanding of Genesis, it is also consistent with the revelation God has given us in creation.
The Creation is Supposed to Clearly Show the Hand of God
Dr Niles Eldredge, well-known evolutionist, said: “Darwin … taught us that we can understand life’s history in purely naturalistic terms, without recourse to the supernatural or divine.” Is it not philosophically inconsistent to marry God (theism) with evolution (naturalism)? If God “created” using evolution which makes Him unnecessary, how can God’s “eternal power and divine nature” be “clearly seen” in creation, as Romans 1:20 says?
Evolution has no purpose, no direction, no goal. The God of the Bible is all about purpose. How do you reconcile the purposelessness of evolution with the purposes of God? What does God have to do in an evolutionary world? Is not God an “unnecessary hypothesis”?
This is a reasonably fair charge against theistic evolution, though it can be answered from that perspective adequately and without doing damage to scripture or philosophy – in essense Eldredge makes a logical error in conflating naturalism (a philosophical presupposition) with evolution (a scientific theory, or at least hypothesis). Furthermore, it does have to be asked, what relevance to a Christian’s world-view has Darwin’s, Dr Niles Eldridge’s or any other naturalist’s personal opinion about the purposes of God?
However, the objection does not apply to OEC at all. The OEC view is that all of creation is a powerful testament to the hand of God; this, in fact, is the very reason it should not be completely ignored or dismissed out of hand in favor of Biblical revelation being the only such revelation.
The Need of Restoration for the Creation
If God created over millions of years involving death, the existing earth is not ruined by sin, but is as it always has been – as God supposedly intended it to be. So why then should He want to destroy it and create a new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3 and other places)?
This objection is also treated in detail in Old Earth Creation. However, the summary is that God created this universe knowing all along that man would sin and designed this creation specifically to deal with sin once and for all. This is evinced in that the universe was created with its existing physical laws, laws which scripture claims are not subject to change, and laws which ensure that this universe is incapable of supporting life indefinitely.
25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
Psalm 102:25-27 (ESV; emphasis mine)
Why should he want to create anew? Perhaps because, in his wisdom, this creation is a necessary step to an eternal creation which is free of sin, yet contains a people with free-will who can therefore genuinely love as God loves. Our very nature will be transformed – it is the choices made in this life which allow us to exist in the next everlasting life as beings capable of loving and incapable of sinning, just as God is love and yet cannot sin.