Old-Earth Creationism on Trial
A wise pastor once counseled me to make sure I understand an opposing argument well enough to argue for it before I try to argue against it. This advice flows from Jesus’s command to “treat other people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12). My colleague Kenneth Samples describes how this “Golden Rule” should be applied to apologetics in the first of a seven part series. One of the ways I try to follow this advice in my work for Reasons To Believe (RTB) is to read the materials published by those with opinions different from mine. Hopefully, this allows me to accurately represent the “opposing” views when I write about them.
I recently finished a new book written from a young-earth creationist perspective, Old-Earth Creationism on Trial by Tim Chaffey (founder and director of Midwest Apologetics) and Jason Lisle (Answers in Genesis-USA’s newest speaker and researcher). In this book the authors seek to demonstrate that old-earth creationism (OEC) does not rest on a solid biblical and scientific foundation. In the preface they state that,
God will be honored when both “old-earthers” and “young-earthers” engage in honest debate rather than resorting to misrepresentation, ambiguity, straw-man arguments and caustic language.
I could not agree more. Nevertheless, I found their descriptions of the old-earth position falling short of that standard. For example, when describing the reasoning of old-earth creationists, the authors make the statement:
Unfortunately for old-earth creationists, Genesis 1 is clearly historical narrative, not poetry, parable, prophetic vision, or some other figurative literature.
The implication is that mainstream old-earth organizations treat Genesis 1 as something other than historical narrative. I can definitively state that RTB interprets Genesis 1 as historical narrative. We disagree with young-earth creationists as to the proper interpretation of the historical narrative, but to say that RTB treats Genesis 1 as figurative clearly mischaracterizes our position (and we are arguably the largest OEC organization in existence).
Many of the authors’ criticisms of OEC are likewise misleading. Consider the following argument presented in their book:
First, there is a real danger in claiming that the Bible is consistent with the big bang (or worse–to say, as some do, that the Bible teaches the big bang). The Bible is the Word of God and does not change. The big bang theory changes regularly. Dr. Ross used to claim that the universe was 17 billion years old (give or take 3 billion years). In 2004, Ross claimed that scientists now know the universe is 13.7 billion years old–this is 300 million years outside of his previous “known” range. In addition, many astronomers have posited different ages for the universe ranging from 7-20 billion years. So which one does the Bible “teach”? Ross is forced to reinterpret the Bible every time the theory changes.
All creationists believe the Bible describes a universe that had a beginning. It seems that both old-earth and young-earth creationists also acknowledge that the biblical universe has expanded (and continues to expand) and is governed by consistent, logical laws. These three features form the basis of all big bang cosmologies. However, old-earth creationists never argued that the Bible “teaches” any age for the universe. Instead, we argue that the Bible is largely silent on that issue. However, diligent study of God’s general revelation can provide that information. Consequently, past and future refinements of the universe’s age have not and will not cause any reinterpretation of the Bible. Not only did the authors utilize a straw-man argument of this old-earth creationist position, but no cosmologist would accept their point about error bars.
On a positive note, the authors do lay out the young-earth position on a number of issues. Chapter 2 describes their case for a few-thousand-year-old Earth based on biblical arguments. Chapter 5 describes their arguments for a global flood that destroyed all of humanity (save those on Noah’s ark) and resurfaced the Earth. Chapter 7 elucidates their position on the proper relationship between biblical interpretation and scientific investigation. Any Christian wanting to argue against the young-earth position should read the authors’ description to insure familiarity with the most up-to-date case. Unfortunately, chapters 3,4,6,8, and many of the appendices provide a misleading or inaccurate representation of the OEC position.
Finally, in chapter 9 the authors pronounce their verdict:
Old-earth creationists are hereby found guilty of compromise concerning the age of the earth and the extent of the flood….old-earthers are sternly warned to stop trying to accommodate the false philosophies of the day and learn to fully trust in the Word of the omniscient God.
Although the verdict seems to shut the door to further debate they then provide “Recommendations for Improving the Debate,” such as,
academic integrity demands that old-earthers stop attacking the arguments made by those on the fringe of young-earth creationism and treating them as if they are the mainstream arguments. They need to deal directly with the arguments from the leading young-earth organizations, such as The Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, and The Creation Research Society. (bold emphasis mine)
However, at least twice in the book the authors use somewhat caustic arguments from the Answers in Creation website to describe the old-earth position. The Answers in Creation website states that it is run by one full-time staff member (who is not a Ph.D. scientist) with contributions from a number of volunteers. I doubt Chaffey and Lisle would appreciate old-earth creationists using material from a comparable organization to characterize the young-earth position.
Application of the Golden Rule to our apologetics is no easy task. This book seems to miss the mark at times, and it’s a reminder that we at RTB can fall short of the mark, too.