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 misunderstood.

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 school curricula.

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 day.

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.

Biblical creationism

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.

Creation science

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 disprove it.

"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 al.).

Biological evolution

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 Euro-American society.

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 culture" (98).

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 passim).

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, passim).

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 Scripture.

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 had.

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 historical-grammatical sense.

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 fundamental meaning.

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 earlier

Theological issues

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 historic Christianity.

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.

Concluding thoughts

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 creation.

Click Here for Additional Resources


I am grateful to William Hamilton, Megan Hoffman and Paul Seely for their comments and suggestions.

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