In which we discuss the timeline of Genesis events and why so many Christians believe in a young universe.
JY writes to ask:
When you say that for God the Gen. 1 events unfold over six literal days, does this mean six twenty-four hour periods? If the earth is 4.5 billion years old (which I accept because I don’t think the Bible tells us so we should instead look to those with expertise in the field) how long should we envisage humans as occupying the planet? Were there epochs of other animal life prior to humans? Do you believe God used the evolutionary process or created humans like we now see them? Finally, why do so many Christians believe and argue so adamantly that the universe is 6,000 years old?
Gerald Schroeder, in his book The Science of God, elegantly makes the case for a 14 billion year-old universe that is developed over the course of six literal 24-hour periods. Genesis 1 does not explicitly state that the six days of Genesis are literal 24-hour periods, but it can be inferred from other passages in scripture that make reference to Genesis 1. Schroeder admits that this assumption is the one part of his argument that is subjective, but since the great Genesis commentator, Nahmanides, inferred it that way, this is what Schroeder chooses.
Biology is not my area of expertise, but I’m reasonably confident of the following. Homo sapiens has been around for about 200,000 years. Bacteria first appeared on Earth almost immediately (in geological terms) after the appearance of liquid water, a few billion years ago; animal life exploded well before humans appeared, about 500 million years ago in what’s aptly called the Cambrian explosion.
There is little doubt in my mind that what eventually became human lifeforms — I’ll refer to them as hominids — arose through some natural, but God-designed, process. Darwinian evolution has effectively been ruled out as the process, and nobody really knows what the actual process of the development of life is, but there are some interesting hints from a field of biology called “evo devo.” Anyway, the great biblical commentators, Maimonides and Nahmanides, had no problem accepting the idea that hominids predated Adam. These hominids were physically identical to Adam in terms of physiology, but lacked the neshama, the human soul. Schroeder talks about the process whereby God took a preexisting hominid and breathed the neshama into it to create Adam. In my mind, this is the most reasonable inference from scripture, and resolves some major problems with the young earth creationist view.
As for why so many Christians insist on a young universe, I am still trying to figure that out. Some of my Christian colleagues say it is because young earth creationism is primarily what’s taught in seminary, and it gets passed down to church members. I don’t know how much truth there is in that. I sense that a lot of it is pushback against atheist misuse of science, which is really unfortunate and completely unnecessary.
Great article! I am an Old Earth Creationist, and I am also strong believer in the Gap Theory (supports an old age of the Earth). For more on the Gap Theory, please read the following article (here is an excerpt):
History of the “Gap Theory” Interpretation
The Ruin-Reconstruction or Gap Theory interpretation of the Genesis narrative is this: The seven days of Genesis were indeed seven literal 24 hour days, but they are not a description of the original creation of all things (Genesis 1:1). Rather, they are a Divine special regeneration of the cosmos made from what already was here before the present world of Man. In other words, there are two (2) creation events in Genesis. The first is described in a one-sentence statement at Genesis 1:1 and occurred billions of years ago. The second occurred relatively recently and was accomplished in 7 days, and very detailed, beginning at Genesis 1:3. This is why the Bible at Genesis 2:4 says:
“These are the generations [plural] of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,”
(Genesis 2:4 KJV)
Thomas ChalmersThis Ruin-Reconstruction interpretation of Genesis was the bread and butter Creation doctrine of the Protestant Fundamentalist movement in the early part of the 20th century. The interpretation has mainly been credited to the Scottish theologian, Thomas Chalmers, who began to preach it back in the early 19th century. However, there were theologians who also held this view long before Chalmers’ days. Contrary to Young Earth Creationist allegations, Chalmers did not invent the Genesis Gap interpretation as a compromise of the Word of God to accommodate science and the theory of evolution. That gap has always been in the Scriptures since the day Moses penned the book of Genesis. However, only in post-New Testament times and only after man’s knowledge about Earth’s natural history increased greatly, has the Spirit opened people’s eyes to its existence. And only by rightly-dividing and gaining true knowledge through the Lord Jesus Christ can the reader start to comprehend the doctrinal significance.
Keep in mind that from the days of the Apostles up through the Dark Ages, and until just a few centuries ago, a 6,000 year age for the heavens and Earth was accepted dogma in the institutions of both the Church and Academia. Up until then, the real age of the Earth was not a burning issue. However, after the Bible was published for the masses, and as the scientific evidence for an old Earth grew, so did the breech between the establishment Church and establishment science.
Thomas Chalmers, to his credit, refused to accept that the Scriptures had been broken by the growing body of geological observations of his time. He did not lose his faith in the accuracy of the Holy Bible, nor did he go into denial of the forensic geologic facts. As a Protestant theologian honest enough to realize the truth of those emerging observations, while remaining steadfast, faithful and committed to defending the Scriptures, Chalmers (and others) were inspired to observe the time “Gap” between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 in the Creation narrative. And he did so many years before Darwin had published his On the Origin of Species. In other words, an Old Age for the Earth had already became an accepted fact long before Darwin and his theory came on the scene. Therefore, the Young Earth Creationist argument that acceptance of an Old Earth is a compromise to Evolutionary Theory is simply not true and has no foundation in historical fact or truth.