VIII: YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM
Robert J. Schneider
In telling of creation, the Bible writers never undertook
to teach science. The Bible tells us that God made the world, and the
universe, and that he sustains it continually, but it does not tell us how he
did it or how long was the process. On this matter the Bible has been
From "Religion and Evolution"
William Goodell Frost
I've taken this passage from a sermon, which retired Berea College president
William G. Frost preached at the Baptist Church in Berea on Sunday, July 26,
1925. The date is significant, because Frost delivered his message just five
days after the conclusion of the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee. Substitute
high school biology teacher John Scopes was convicted of violating the
Tennessee statute that forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools.
During the trial, popular orator William Jennings Bryan, who was part of the
prosecuting team, defended the Bible as giving the truth about the creation of
human beings. His opponent, famed attorney Clarence Darrow, called Bryan as an
expert witness on Holy Scripture and subjected him to a merciless examination.
Like millions of other Americans Frost must have followed the trial in the
press and perhaps even in broadcasts on the new medium of radio. In his sermon
he implicitly challenged the premise of the Tennessee law, and even more so,
the claims about the Bible that lay behind it. Frost asserted that when the
purposes and meanings of the biblical texts that refer to creation are rightly
understood, there can be no conflict between what they teach about creation
and what science teaches about evolution.
I do not know how well Dr. Frost's message was received that day, but I
believe that more than eighty years later a substantial number of Berea
College students would not be persuaded. They would more likely agree with
what they might hear in lectures by Answers in Genesis speakers Kenneth Ham or
Gary Parker promoting Young Earth Creationism (YEC). These two frequently
present their arguments in conservative churches where they can count on
friendly audiences, as Parker did at a "creation seminar" in Berea several
years ago. Most of their hearers would fall within the forty-six percent of
Americans who believe what Ham and Parker believe, that God created the
universe in six literal twenty-four hour days less than 10,000 years ago, and
separately made each living kind. They would say that Frost was wrong: the
Bible does teach science, and evidence from nature confirms this.
The Rise of the Modern Creationist Movement
Why, early in the twenty-first century, would so many Americans hold these
views in the face of compelling scientific evidence that we live on a planet
billions of years old and that biotic evolution best explains the history of
life? The Scopes trial had a negative impact upon science education. Evolution
was either omitted or its presentations muted in textbooks. This changed in
the late 1950s when the Soviet government launched the first space satellite
and startled the American government into creating its own space program and
taking steps to improve science education. Textbooks and standards were
extensively revised and upgraded. Biological evolution re-entered public
In the face of this revival, a countervailing movement that had been forming
quietly among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians for some time took off
with the publication in 1961 of The Genesis Flood by conservative
theologian John C. Whitcomb and engineering professor Henry Morris. They
argued on the basis of their belief in an inerrant Bible for a six-day
creation and a global Flood. They supported their thesis with an extensive
presentation of geophysical evidence they claimed confirms that all of the
current geological strata and the fossils embedded in them resulted from the
Flood (Numbers 296). They also claimed that evolution is refuted by "the fact
of the Flood," and condemned it as contrary to Scripture and Christian faith
(Morris and Whitcomb, passim).
This book had an enormous impact upon many conservative
Christians. It set the standard for presenting a case for a six-day creation
because the authors used the familiar format of scientific
literature -- footnotes and references to science publications.
Most books and articles produced by YECs today follow this approach. In
other words, the authors constructed a "creation science." The Genesis
Flood also caused an intense debate among Christians in the sciences. Many
rejected its thesis as geologically unsound. Its six-day model also did not
sit well with progressive creationists, including those who held either
to the "day-age" or the "gap" readings of Genesis. These two interpretations
arose in the nineteenth century among Christians who had come to accept the
vast ages of the earth uncovered by the new science of geology. Those
promoting the "day-age" interpretation believed that Genesis could be
reconciled with "deepening" geological time by interpreting the "days" of
Genesis 1 as geological ages (Young, 1988, 57-59; Bailey 125-128). Bryan
himself had been a "day-age" creationist (Numbers 296). Advocates of the gap
or restitution theory, popularized by British theologian Thomas Chalmers
(1780-1847), proposed that an immense period of time had elapsed between the
events recorded in verse one of Genesis 1, which describes a state of chaos,
and verse two, the beginning of created order (Young ibid 55-57; Bailey
121-124). This theory was popular among both British and American
fundamentalists right up to 1970 (Roberts, 2002, 6; 2007, 46).
These interpretations Morris and Whitcomb rejected. The Genesis Flood
"brought about a stunning renaissance of flood geology" (Davis Young, in
Numbers 297), an explanation that had been eclipsed for over a century. This
revived form of strict creationism is a recent phenomenon, only about fifty
years old. Morris and others founded the Creation Research Society (1963) and
the Institute for Creation Research (IRC) in San Diego (1972). In 1994 Ham
founded Answers in Genesis in Florence, Kentucky. YEC advocates began a
concerted effort to bring into public school science education a form of
"creation science" that avoided references to the Bible and could be presented
along with the study of evolution. In 1982, an Arkansas "equal time" law was
ruled unconstitutional; the Supreme Court struck down a similar Louisiana
statute in 1987. But these legal setbacks have hardly slowed the movement's
momentum. A vigorous campaign by ICR and AIG staff speakers and others has
spread their message throughout the conservative Protestant community. Strict
creationism, promoted by Seventh Day Adventists in the early twentieth century
(Numbers 73-88), has become dogma in many churches. Literature produced by AIG
and ICR are used in Christian schools and home-school programs. And attempts
to bring some form of YEC into public school science courses continue to this
Strict creationism: a worldview
This contemporary creationist movement has had a widespread influence among
American Protestant Christians because it offers an alternative worldview that
provides security and certainty for believers living in the midst of a
secularized American culture undergoing rapid changes in technology and
troubling changes in social behavior.
YEC knits together a particular way of interpreting the Bible, a particular definition of science,
and a particular critique of contemporary morality.
In this essay I can only summarize briefly key elements of this
worldview -- there is a vast literature already available that explores the
details. I also call attention to a Christian alternative that is shared by a
large number of my evangelical brothers and sisters in the natural sciences.
While holding to a high view of Scripture, they, like President Frost, find no
conflict between the Bible's message that God is Creator and the evidence from
God's Book of Nature which points clearly to an evolving creation. I want to
say at the outset that I respect the sincerity with which my YEC brothers and
sisters in Christ hold their views. However, I believe that ultimately strict
creationism fails the test of good science, and that its interpretation
of Holy Scripture does not accord with the evidence from nature or with the
worldview of the ancient Hebrews (see essay I). Since the dogma of a young
earth is central to their worldview, I will focus on this aspect.
Young earth creationism is anchored in a particular interpretation of Genesis
1-11, one that treats these narratives as straightforwardly historical and
scientific. In the YEC paradigm the Bible occupies the center as the primary
and infallible source of knowledge about God, humanity, and nature.
Most YECs would agree with Morris that the Bible is not
simply "the Word of God" in some inspired sense but contains God's very words
and is plainspoken in what it says about creation (Morris 1,).
Genesis 1-11 is not myth, metaphor, or allegory, but literal
history. As a student once told me, it teaches God's science, God's own
account of creation. Genesis, YECs claim, reveals the truth of a recent and
finished creation (Gen. 1), the coming of death into the world because of the
sin of the first parents (Gen. 3), and the destruction of life by a worldwide
Flood, except that preserved on Noah's ark (Gen. 6-9). Finally Scripture
reveals the sin of Nimrod in building the Tower of Babel, leading to the rise
of different peoples and languages (Gen. 11). Moreover, YECs assert that
Genesis is foundational to belief in the saving work of Christ and to
fundamental Christian moral teachings: Christianity rests upon Genesis, Ken
Ham asserts (55-69). That is why many believers, including some Berea College
students my science colleagues and I have taught resist even learning about
an ancient universe and evolution. They have been persuaded that their very
salvation depends on believing otherwise.
Historic Christian theology has sought to find a valid accommodation between
the theological truths of the Bible and what science reads in the Book of
Nature (essay III). But YECs assert that one must read and interpret the Book
of Nature in conformity with the Book of Scripture. Their creation science,
then, is designed to support their interpretation of Scripture. It is based on
a simple definition: "Science," Morris asserts, is "the systematic observation
and correlation of present physical relationships and natural processes
involving the properties of matter, the forces of nature and the phenomena of
life" (Morris in Giberson and Yerxa 86). I have heard Ken Ham put it more
simply in public lectures: if you can't see it or if you weren't there to see
it, it doesn't count as valid scientific data (cf. Ham, 19).
Morris supports this definition with a distinction: one cannot make any
assertions in the realm of origins because when God rested on the seventh day
(Gen. 2:3-4), he stopped using his original natural laws of creation. Thus,
any scientific study of the world's present processes cannot yield any
knowledge about God's creative activities outside of Scripture itself.
Models like Big bang cannot be valid because they are based on extrapolations
from present knowledge based on a different physics (Morris, 1996, 1, 25).
A central element in the YEC concept of science is a
"two-model" approach: there are only two possible models of nature, the
"creation model" and the "evolution model."
This leads these
creationists to focus on whatever flaws they might find in the "evolution"
model. They scour scientific literature to find disagreements among scientists
about interpreting the data, errors in the data, apparent conflicts between
certain data, and so forth. Since, they claim, the evolution model does not
stand up to scrutiny, and is thus invalid, the creation model is by default
the correct one: any flaw in the former is considered to be evidence for the
validity of the latter.
The age of the earth
At the heart of YEC scientific activity is the effort to support their belief
in a young earth. In The Genesis Flood, Morris and Whitcomb resurrected
a concept promulgated in the nineteenth century by British naturalist Philip
Gosse in his 1857 book Omphalos (Krause 146-150): the creation must
have been given the appearance of great age, or as Morris puts it, "an
appearance of history," though in fact it is of recent origin. Rock formations
that seem to be quite ancient were created with a kind of geological maturity.
When God created the soil from which the first plants grew, he created it
finished, with all of its constituent elements, in contrast to the lengthy
process of soil composition necessary today (Morris and Whitcomb 232-234,
237-239, etc.). With this argument YECs can eliminate all apparent
contradictions to a young earth, and in fact there is no logical way to
"Apparent age" has been employed against the evidence of ancient rocks, but
YECs also claim that geological evidence is wrongly interpreted. By the middle
of the nineteenth century pioneer geologists had come to accept that our
planet is very old; they and their later successors patiently reconstructed
the earth's history from the layers of sedimentary rock (some hundreds of
meters thick) and the fossils imbedded in them, and built a geological
column (Larson 22-38). The column has been refined by continual study to
provide an accurate relative timescale of what was clearly an earth history
that needed to be measured in millions of years. Over the past several decades
a set of dating techniques based on the half-life of radioactive elements
embedded in the rocks of successive layers has brought precision to the
dating. It is clear from this evidence that the earth is about four and
one-half billion years old (Wiens 2002; Young, 1988, 93-116; 2007, 28-36). We
live in a world characterized by deep time.
Strict creationists reject these arguments and claim that geological evidence
is better explained as resulting from the worldwide flood described in Genesis
6-9. They commonly dismiss arguments based on the geologic column as "circular
reasoning," and assert that the column is based on evolutionary assumptions:
"every conceivable contradiction to the proposed ideal sequence of the
geologic column is found," creationist Scott Huse claims (Huse 9, 13-15).
"Now, the geologic column is an idea, not an actual
series of rock layers," Morris and Parker write. "Nowhere do we find the
complete sequence" (cited in Morton). Huse also rejects the evidence
for a chronology based on radioactive dating. He charges that radioactive
dates "are discarded and never used at all" when they conflict with
assumptions about the column (ibid 15). In 2000 a team of YEC
scientists published the first part of a series of studies known as the RATE
Project (Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth). The contributors argue that
there is evidence for changes in the rates of radioactive decay that show that
the earth is much younger than the standard method of data analysis would lead
one to believe (e.g., Snelling 458, Humphreys 332, 374-375, in Vardiman et
YEC literature is filled with arguments by which they seek to refute the
reality of biological evolution. They are responding to the fact that
evolution combined with the "deep time" geology has discovered calls their
Genesis science and young earth into question. So while strict creationists
accept microevolution, they present various reasons why macroevolution
couldn't have happened: that it has never been observed (it has), that it
violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics (it doesn't), that the fossil record
doesn't support it (it does), that there is no genetic evidence for it (there
is), and so forth (Morris, 2; see essay V). These and numerous other
assertions and arguments have been repeatedly refuted (see Resources). But
there is another and to my mind even more important reason that YECs are so
opposed to evolution and especially to the teaching or promotion of
evolution -- its perceived immoral consequences
Strict creationism as a cultural movement
Modern creationism is a central component of a movement that
has mounted a determined opposition in major cultural changes modern
Creationists see the world in binary
terms. We are living in an either/or moment. The "either" is the creationists'
biblical model of God, creation, and human society, a God-centered world that
needs to follow God's laws and God's way to ensure the salvation offered to
all humanity through faith in Christ. The "or" is a worldview which they label
"secular humanism." The YEC leadership claims that humanism is an atheistic
and morally relativistic movement that has embedded itself in American
society, government, and public education (Toumey 77-99). They assert that the
"religion" of secular humanism is responsible for the profound social changes
that have taken place in American culture since the 1960s. Ham and Morris have
laid out this contrast in stark terms (Morris ibid; Ham 41-54).
Cultural anthropologist Christopher Toumey, who studied, and studied with,
creationists groups over a five-year period, characterizes this "creationist
commentary on evolution and humanism [as] a Manichaean ideology in which two
sets of moral abstractions struggle against each other to control the nation's
The modern creationist movement really took off as the United States was
undergoing a number of shocks to traditional social structures. Both the civil
rights and anti-Vietnam war movements of the 1960s occupied the nation's
attention. There followed movements for women's equality and for gay rights,
the appearance of recreational drugs, an epidemic of divorce and changes in
notions of family, a greater number of teen pregnancies, the rise of legal
abortion, and developments in contraception and in vitro fertilization -- a
series of rapid changes that seemed to set the nation's moral compass
spinning. The public Protestantism that had largely shaped the nation's values
for the previous two centuries was already giving way in a culture now marked
by both secularization and religious pluralism. At the same time many public
school students were being exposed to evolution in science classes. Strict
creationists began to claim for the teaching of "humanistic" evolution the
cause of what they see as the moral decay of American society, and thus they
consider their work a fundamental component of Christian evangelism (Ham
To make this case, however, Morris and others had to account for the fact that
people have been committing adultery, doing drugs, having abortions, and
engaging in sodomy for centuries. To justify blaming evolution for such acts
Morris invented a history that takes the concept well before the eighteenth
century, when evolutionary thought first emerges, to the dawn of humanity. In
part 3 of The Modern Creation Trilogy, he asserts that every modern
intellectual and ideological movement from Social Darwinism to Marxism to
Nazism to every form of moral relativism was inspired by a belief in
evolution. Moreover, Darwin's role in this sorry history was minor, Morris
declares. Evolution's "progress" can be traced back through some of the
philosophers of the Enlightenment, earlier Christian philosophers and
theologians who allegorized Scripture, to the pre-Christian Greek
philosophers, all of whom, Morris holds, were evolutionists. In fact, he
declares, Hinduism and Buddhism and the pagan religions of Greece, Egypt, and
Babylonia were all inspired by the evolutionary error (Morris, 1996, 3,
And to where does this lineage lead? Back to the tower of Babel, Nimrod--and
Satan! It was Satan who corrupted Nimrod with evolutionary ideas, which then
spread with the migrating peoples (Gen. 11:1-9). While admitting that "solid
evidence" for this "sequence of events" is "tenuous," Morris says that "if
something like this really happened, then Satan himself is the originator of
evolution" (Morris 3, 54-55). Ignoring the fact that there is no evidence
whatsoever in the plain reading of Genesis 11 to justify this claim, Morris
repeats it: "The evolutionary deception and its evil influence have corrupted
every area of human life on this planet, and this fact in itself supports its
ultimate satanic source" (Morris quoted in Giberson and Yerxa 106).
A Critique of YEC
Morris' views are widely and popularly accepted within the creationist
community (cf. Ham 83-95). They seem to make sense of a world that many
believers find bewildering and threatening. As Toumey writes, "Whether one
agrees or disagrees with creationist moral theory, it should be recognized
that this is a rich and complicated understanding of U.S. culture that gives
considerable existential depth to conservative Christian understandings of
reality" (99). Like Toumey I write with respect and understanding for the
moral struggle that YECs engage in with modernity. Yet I see this alternative
worldview as a tragically misleading one, grounded in what my Christian
colleagues and I think are basic mischaracterizations of history, science, and
Does belief in evolution(ism) lead to immorality?
"By defining 'evolutionism' so loosely as to include almost
anything other than biblically literalist Christianity, Morris has created a
rhetorical device for linking virtually anything wrong or objectionable both
in human history and the contemporary world [with 'belief' in evolution],"
write Karl Giberson and Donald Yerxa (105).
But the problem
with Morris' reconstruction of evolutionary history, and I say this as a
college professor who for over four decades has studied and taught Western
intellectual and religious history from the Greeks to the twentieth century,
is that it completely distorts the historical record. Morris' interpretation
ignores contrary facts, makes untenable assumptions, and relies on passionate
rhetoric to disguise an erroneous reconstruction. It attributes an
evolutionary worldview to thinkers and religions that did not have one. I
think Morris began with a conclusion, and then invented a history to justify
it, the very sin of which he accuses evolutionary scientists. Ironically,
Morris attributes far more influence to evolutionary thought than it has ever
Also without merit is the YEC claim that the teaching of evolution in the
schools is responsible for the changes in moral behavior that disturb
many conservative Christians today. No cause-effect relationship has been
established, and having learned how very few of my Berea students studied
evolution in their public school science courses ("the teacher skipped that
chapter" was a common refrain) I would be hard pressed ever to believe it.
Also, "secular humanism" as they describe it is little more than a straw man
YECs themselves have constructed (Toumey ibid; cf. Eve and Harrold
58-59). As a broad philosophical movement, it doesn't exist. It is ridiculous
to label it the "religion" of the dominant culture, not in the most religious
nation in the industrialized world, where in a 2007 "Newsweek" poll 91% of the
people professed belief in God and 82% identified themselves as Christians.
Having reviewed the actual membership of humanist associations, Toumey
concludes that "there are barely enough Secular Humanists to populate a modest
fringe movement, let alone control the moral climate of the nation's culture"
(89). The reasons for the changes in social mores over the past half century
are many and varied, and it is far too simplistic to place the responsibility
at the feet of a scientific concept or a philosophical version of one.
What kind of science is it?
Strict creationism also benefits from widespread ignorance and
misunderstanding among the public generally about what science is and what
scientists do. A series of surveys conducted in the 1980s showed that only
about 5% of those queried demonstrated even ordinary science literacy, and in
fact scored lowest in knowledge of biology! Among college graduates the number
rose to 12% (Eve & Harrold 91). These figures have hardly improved in the
intervening decades. Thus the vast majority of American Christians are simply
unable to examine critically YEC science and its arguments for a young earth.
It is understandable, then, that so many would accept creation science as part
of a comprehensive worldview that defends the Bible and opposes changes in
traditional moral values.
So there is a real need for Christians to understand why the
mainstream scientific community will never adopt the YEC definition of
science. Simply speaking, it is inadequate and outdated.
Science has gone far beyond these eighteenth-century principles of data
gathering and inductive theorizing. Today, the natural sciences employ various
methodologies that are much more expansive, sophisticated and fruitful. In
restricting what qualifies as scientific knowledge and research to what is
presently observable and visible, YECs are practicing a form of "folk
science." And they are practicing it only among themselves, because it won't
pass muster in any science laboratory (Eve & Harrold 61-63).
The two-model paradigm that treats any flaw in the "evolution model" as
evidence for the "creation model" is erroneous because it does not consider
that there could be a third or fourth alternative. It ignores the fact that
the creation model still needs to be supported by positive scientific
evidence. However, as surveys of their literature have shown, YECs do very
little actual empirical research based on their own definition of science!
(Eve & Harrold 80-81, 85) Also, by claiming arbitrarily that the physics
of the first six days is no longer in play Morris shields his creation model
from any scientific test, making it non-falsifiable and thus scientifically
meaningless. Empirically there is no way to verify such a claim; nor is
there any evidence in the Bible to support it.
Then there is the appearance of age argument. Its implications are
breathtaking. To take it seriously, one would have to accept, for example,
that at the beginning of creation God so programmed radioactive decay in the
earth's rocks that they would specifically seem to be four and one-half
billion years old when in fact they were relatively new (Miller 78). Such a
concept effectively renders any certain knowledge about God's creation
impossible, thus making any study of nature meaningless (Menninga, 1988). It
also makes God out to be a charlatan and a deceiver, hardly the character of
the God whose nature is Love (1 John 4:8) (Miller 80; cf. Fischer 225). Why
would God possibly want to make a universe that cannot be truly known through
the study of nature by the very beings God has created in his image? This
argument fails every reasonable moral and theological test.
YECs also assert that the evidence for an ancient earth is wrongly
interpreted. But their claim that the geologic column (described above) is
based on evolutionary assumptions has no historical warrant. Most of the first
contributors to the column, such as the brilliant paleontologist and French
Protestant Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), the British geologists and evangelical
ministers Francis Buckland (1784-1856), William Conybeare (1787-1857), Adam
Sedgwick (1785-1873) and John S. Henslow (1796-1861), did not accept
evolution. These devout churchmen found convincing evidence for an ancient
earth (Larson 22-38). In fact, as historian, geologist and evangelical
Anglican minister Michael Roberts notes, "by 1825 most educated Christians
regarded the 'events' of Genesis 1 as relating to a period of millions of
years" (Roberts, 2007, 39). And contrary to YEC claims, there are several
locations on the planet where the complete geologic column has been found,
with the same fossils in each distinct level (Morton).
Huse's claim that radioactive dates that argue for a young earth are discarded
(ibid 15) also does not stand up under careful analysis. Geophysicists
employ several different radioactive dating methods, which function as a check
upon one other; all agree in determining that the earth is about 4.6 billion
years old (Weins, 2002, 19-22; Young, 2007, 28-36). To sidestep the appearance
of age argument, YEC scientists involved in the RATE Project have postulated
that the decay rate of radioactive elements had been much more rapid in the
first days of the creation week, and again in the Flood year. However, there
is no known mechanism for such abrupt changes in the decay rate, and the
faster rate they would have to propose would, by their own admission,
concentrate such a high level of radioactivity and the heat it gives off as to
make life on earth impossible, and in fact would vaporize the planet (Isaac
143-146). The RATE team has not found a way around this dilemma--and there is
no chance that they will.
YECs claim that the innumerable fossil species are the remains of life wiped
out by the single Noachian Flood. But this assertion falls apart when one
examines how the fossil species lie in their strata. The scenarios proposed by
YECs simply cannot account for these facts (Towne 230-232). They also have to
account for the millions of species presently existing, far too many to ever
have been preserved in a boat the size described in Genesis 6. Creationists
often assert that what the ark preserved were "kinds," a biblically derived
term used to indicate that the survivors were the ancestors of all of the
present species. J. Woodmorappe identifies the "kinds" as genera, but even
this number (over 17,000 [times two] and counting) could not fit on the ark
along with sufficient food and a waste removal system to maintain them for the
year's period described in Gen. 6-9 (Woodmorappe cited in Morton). This
hypothesis, moreover, would have to admit an enormously rapid evolution,
within 5000 years, from a much smaller number of "kinds" to the much larger
number of land species, some two million and counting; but this fact conflicts
with their rejection of macroevolution. Furthermore, there is no evidence for
a world wide flood in the geological record, as ASA member and petroleum
geologist Glenn Morton concludes: "the data shows that
there are no strata which can be identified as the flood strata and there is
no way hydrologically that the entire geological column could have been
deposited in a single year. Thus, if we are to believe in a Flood, it must
have been local in extent" (Morton; see also Fischer 229. For numerous
other problems with YEC Flood scenarios see Towne 298-308).
In their writings and lectures, YECs make it very clear that
their science serves one purpose only: not to discover what one can really
know and understand about the world, the task which mainstream science engages
in, but rather to confirm a predetermined worldview based on a literalistic
interpretation of Genesis.
Reading science into the Bible
I turn now to the hermeneutical principles that Morris and his colleagues use
to interpret Genesis and other biblical texts. Morris begins with the
assertion that the Bible consists of God's actual words. But no reputable
Bible scholar holds this belief today, including those who espouse biblical
inerrancy: the writers of Scripture did not take dictation, as Baptist scholar
and defender of inerrancy Harold Lindsell stated (essay III). Now, it is a
common view among inerrantists that the Holy Spirit guided the biblical
writers to choose the very words, literary styles, images, etc., they used.
But even if one accepts that position, one still needs to interpret the
meaning of the texts. Henry Morris insists that (in Old Testament
scholar Lloyd Bailey's words) "to know what the Bible says is to know what the
Bible means" (134). But in arguing so, Morris commits the psychological error
described by Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm of confusing interpretation with
revelation (essay III). In effect it is their interpretations that YECs
imply are infallible, not simply the Bible.
What is clear about their interpretations and shows that they
are anything but infallible is that Morris and others regularly do not read
information and concepts out of the biblical texts. Rather, they impose
concepts and meanings onto the texts, often in a way that does violence to the
Here are a few examples. Morris
and others claim that Isaiah 40:22 ("It is he who sits above the circle of the
earth…") refers to a spherical earth. But this assertion is based on a faulty
translation of the Hebrew word "chugh," as "sphericity," when in fact it means
"a circle drawn by a compass" and nothing more. The "earth" described in the
Bible is not a spherical planet but a flat, circular disk resting upon the
Deep (Hebrew, "tehom"). Morris also claims for the Bible other facts of
science. He interprets Job 7:26 ("He stretches out Zaphon over the void; and
hangs the earth upon nothing") to refer to a spherical rotating earth in
space. Job 9:8 ("who alone stretched out the heavens"), he writes, refers to
the expansion of spacetime (Morris, 2000, chapter 3). However, these passages
in their original contexts are based on an entirely different cosmology, and
have nothing to do with modern conceptions of space and time (see essay I). To
advance such fanciful interpretations Morris has to ignore the very "plain
sense" of the biblical texts that he claims to rely on (Schneider 159-169).
At the heart of YEC biblical science is their hermeneutic of Genesis 1, which
YECs read as a straightforward historical and scientific account of how God
created our universe. But to do so, they have to ignore the fact that the
ancient cosmological model contained in Genesis 1 bears no resemblance to the
enormous universe that the Hubble Space Telescope and other modern tools of
investigation have revealed to us. It is true that most early Christian
thinkers understood Genesis 1 to describe the creation as it happened. By the
sixteenth century, however, theologians recognized that a literal
interpretation did not accord with current scientific knowledge. They came to
think that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to use a cosmology and history
of the world that was accommodated to the understanding of ordinary
people, as theologian John Calvin and scientist and churchman Galileo Galilei
argued (essay III). If YECs like Morris insist that Genesis 1 is a literally
true and accurate description of the world as it was created, then they need
to be honest about it and admit that the sky, the "firmament" (Hebrew,
"raqi'a") described in verse 6, is literally a solid dome with another sea
("tehom") above it, which is the true meaning of the verse, instead of
explaining away its literal sense by interpreting the "firmament" to be a
"vapor canopy" (Morris, 1996, 1, 20; cf. Seely 85-95).
The true and lasting message of Genesis 1 is embedded in the only science that
would have made any sense to those first hearing this majestic hymn of
creation, that is, the common model of the universe shared by all of the
peoples of the ancient Near East (see essay I). That message, as numerous
Bible scholars have pointed out, is theological not scientific (e.g.,
Wenham, I, 1-40; Hyers 19-33). The very term "creation" denotes a theological
concept. Genesis' powerful manifesto against the polytheistic religions of
Israel's neighbors declares that there is only one God, who has created
according to his word and will a world that is natural not divine, orderly not
the outcome of conflicting divine powers, and essentially good. This is its
As for the age of the earth, YEC chronology is based upon a particular
literalistic interpretation of the life spans of the patriarchs in Genesis 5
and time periods stated in other texts. For centuries Christian thinkers
assumed that these figures provided accurate information about the age
of the earth, but they had no other information to question this assumption.
Since the nineteenth century, however, there have been compelling reasons to
abandon this chronological interpretation. First, conclusive geological and
radiological evidence shows that the earth and human history are exceedingly
older than 6,000 years. Second, modern Bible scholars have discovered that
these numerical values carry symbolic rather than computational significance
(Wenham I, 130-134; Bailey 53-82). The Bible does not "teach" that we live in
a recently created universe. YECs have revived a naive interpretation that
educated Christians had pronounced dead and buried a century and a half
There is another theme central to creationist theology that helps to explain
their rejection of an ancient earth and its long history of life. This is the
doctrine that there was no death before the fall of Adam and Eve, which YECs
like Ham consider an essential, core doctrine of Christian faith (71-76).
According to their interpretation of Romans 5:12, death itself first came into
the world as a result of Adam's sin; further, if there had been no Fall, there
would have been no need for Christ's redemptive work. This doctrine has had a
long history in Christian thought, but it has not been universally held. Some
theologians have interpreted the curse in Gen. 3 as referring to the spiritual
death of Adam and his descendants, not physical death for all living things.
This interpretation fits well with the evident scientific fact that living
creatures have died long before the advent of humankind (Menninga, 1999). The
YEC interpretation is based on questionable exegeses of Gen. 3:3, 19 and Rom.
5:12, and ignores the fact that these passages do not refer to the
death of animals (cf. Fischer 224-225; Menninga). Furthermore, the notion
that humanity at some point in its evolution became conscious of sin fits with
the biblical message of Christ's saving work (see essay VI).
Privileging Genesis, rather, their interpretation of Genesis, over the
New Testament, as Ham does, is to my mind the most serious theological error
that YECs commit. "If we can't believe Genesis," he insists, "then how can we
believe in Christ? How can we believe the rest of the Bible?" But this
argument turns Christian faith on its head.
Christ the resurrected and living Lord is the foundation of Christianity, not the YEC
interpretation of Genesis. Faith in Christ is the heart of the Good News, not
faith in a six-day creation. The latter has never been a core doctrine of
This heterodoxy, as my ASA colleague
David Campbell has remarked, adds something to the gospel contrary to
the teaching of St. Paul in Galatians 1:7-9 (ASA listserv). What Ham, Morris
and others are saying in effect is that their interpretation of Genesis is
essential to Christian faith and that if one abandons it, one must abandon
Christianity. The tragedy, as I have discovered from talking with former YEC
students who are now agnostics or atheists, is that some will follow this
logic and give up their faith (cf. Fischer 230).
My fellow ASA member William Hamilton, himself a former YEC, put it
succinctly, "What the creationists are defending is a particular
interpretation of scripture, not scripture itself" (private communication).
Happily, there are a number of Christians in the sciences like Bill who once
accepted strict creationism but years later abandoned it without losing their
faith. Those with whom I am personally acquainted have remained faithful
Christians, loving Jesus, committed to a high view of Scripture, and active in
their churches. Accepting an ancient earth and biological evolution as good
science, they came to believe that creation evolves under God's sovereignty
(essay VII). Some are committed to helping other Christians abandon the
mistaken beliefs of YEC for an understanding of creation that respects the
independence and integrity of science and is consonant with an evangelical
biblical faith. I include the names, stories, and web sites of a few of them
in the Resources section for this essay.
I agree with my ASA colleague Dick Fischer (230) that it is critical for
Christians like us to enter into conversation with YECs. But it must be
respectful. I do not think that trading scientific arguments serves any useful
purpose. There is a greater place on which to stand -- on the common ground of
the Bible itself. We can help YECs, especially the youth among them, realize
that there are other interpretations of the Scriptures that preserve their
rightful role as messengers of revelation without cramming into them
scientific concepts that they never were meant to contain. We can help them to
see that modern science and the Bible are not in conflict with one another,
but complement one another, that there is no contradiction between the
creating Word revealed by the Rock of Ages and the record of an ancient earth
revealed in the ages of rocks. We can say with YECs that "the heavens declare
the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1) and witness that it is even more glorious to
accept that God's heavens have been around immensely longer than 6,000 years.
We can affirm a common faith in Christ as Redeemer without insisting that
there was no plant or animal death before the Fall. We can let YECs know that
in giving up their strict creationism, they do not have to throw out the baby
with the bathwater. They can remain devoted to God and Christ and committed to
proclaim the message of Creation. They can come to see that President Frost
was correct: there is no conflict between the modern scientific paradigm of an
ancient universe and evolution and what the Bible truly teaches about
Click Here for Additional Resources
I am grateful to William Hamilton, Megan Hoffman and Paul Seely for their
comments and suggestions.
Bailey, Lloyd, Genesis, Creation, and Creationism. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist
Eve, Raymond A. and Francis B. Harrold, The Creationist Movement in Modern
America. Boston, MA: Twayne, 1990.
Fischer, Dick, "Young-Earth Creationism: A Literal Mistake," Perspectives
on Science and Christian Faith 55 (2003) 222-231
Frost, William Goodell, "Religion and Evolution." Berea College Press, 1925.
Giberson, Karl W. & Donald A. Yerxa, Species of Origins: America's
Search for a Creation Story. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.
Ham, Ken, The Lie: Evolution. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1987.
Huse, Scott M., The Collapse of Evolution. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker
Hyers, Conrad, "Comparing Biblical and Scientific Maps of Origins," in
Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, ed. by Keith B. Miller. Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003, 19-33.
Isaac, Randy, "Assessing the RATE Project," Perspectives on Science and
Christian Faith 59 (2007) 143-146.
Krause, David J., "Apparent Age and its Reception in the 19th
Century," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 32 (1980),
Larson, Edward J., Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific
Theory. New York: Modern Library, 2004.
Menninga, Clarence, "Creation, Time, and 'Apparent Age'," Perspectives on
Science and Christian Faith 40 (1988) 160-162
Menninga, Clarence, "Disease and Dying in the Fossil Record: Implications for
Christian Theology," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 51
Miller, Kenneth, Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common
Ground between God and Evolution. San Francisco, CA: Cliff Street Books,
Morris, Henry M., and John D. Morris, The Modern Creation Trilogy.
1. Scripture & Creation; 2. Science & Creation; 3. Society &
Creation. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1996.
Morris, Henry M., The Remarkable Record of Job. Green Forest, AR:
Master Books, 2000.
Morton, Glenn R., "The Geologic Column and Its Implications for the Flood"
(privately published at
Numbers, Ronald, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific
Creationism. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press,
Roberts, Michael B., "Genesis Chapter I and geological time from Hugo Grotius
and Marin Mersenne to William Conybeare and Thomas Chalmers (1620-1825),"
Picardi, L., and Massie, W. B., Myth and Geology. London: Geological
Society Special Publication #273, 2007, p. 39-49.
Roberts, Michael B., "Genesis and Geology Unearthed," reprinted from The
Churchman 112 (1998) 225-255
Seely, Paul, "The First Four Days of Genesis in Concordist Theory and in
Biblical Context," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 49
Toumey, Christopher P., God's Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular
World. New Brunswick, NJ; Rutgers University Press, 1994.
Towne, Margaret Gray, Honest to Genesis: A Biblical & Scientific
Challenge to Creationism. Baltimore, MD: Publish America, 2003.
Vardiman, Larry, et al, eds., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth.
El Cajon, CA and St. Joseph, MO: Institute for Creation Research and the
Creation Research Society, 2000
Wenham, Gordon. Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word,
Weins, Roger C., Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective, revised
Young, Davis A., Christianity and the Age of the Earth. Thousand Oakes,
CA: Artisan Sales, 1988.
Young Davis A., "How Old is it? How do we know? A Review of Dating
Methods -- Part Two: Radiometric Dating…" Perspectives on Science and
Christian Faith 59 (2007) 28-36.