William Thornton’s recent article has certainly been a discussion starter, hasn’t it? This is an article I wrote long ago (in blog years anyway) raising some questions about old-earth and theistic evolutionary viewpoints. I am reposting it here for a very simple reason: I don’t have anything else to post and I don’t have time to write something! I made a few edits.
I am assuming here that this is a discussion between those who have the highest view of scripture, who believe that the Bible is God’s Word to us without mixture of error and is our absolute guide and rule for all things. Obviously, those who hold a lower view of scripture will not be inclined to think these kind of questions as worthy of discussion.
Here it is. I have a hard time seeing how we can read the text of Genesis 1 and escape the conclusion that the intent of the author was to present a six-day special creation. This idea seems to be assumed throughout the rest of scripture as well, but OT authors, by Jesus and by the Apostles. I have some questions about the hermeneutics and exegesis of those who hold a high view of scripture but also advocate an old earth.
So, here are some comments and questions I would like to address to you good folks.
1) Don’t sound hermeneutics lead us toward creationism and away from old-earth theories?
I remember my very liberal OT/Hebrew professor being asked a question about Genesis 1 – what did the author intend to teach? He said there was little doubt that the author of Genesis 1 was intending to convey the idea that the earth was created by divine fiat in six normal days relatively recently. Because he had a low view of the scriptures, he was not bound by its meaning and intent. But he said that it is clear that this is what the author meant.
“When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense.”
That is a popular retelling of a key hermeneutical principle. We are to take scripture in its plainest, most natural sense. Isn’t the plain sense of Genesis 1 a special-creation model unaided by evolutionary processes and ages of time? Isn’t the simplest, most natural interpretation of this passage the creationist interpretation?
What exegetical reasons do we have to abandon the plain-sense meaning and insert an old-earth model?
2) Aren’t old-earth theories rooted in scientific theory instead of biblical exegesis?
Would anyone ever come up with day-age or theistic evolutionary theories simply from reading the text? Don’t you arrive at those conclusions from other sources (ie. the pronouncements of Darwinian science which declares the young-earth creation impossible) and then go back and read them into the text? Would exegesis alone lead you to those conclusions?
I understand that this is a quandary – fitting the biblical text into a scientific framework. But it seems to me that the plain meaning of the Biblical text is in contradistinction to the dictates of science here. You simply do not get day-age, old-earth or theistic evolution from the text. Significantly, did anyone ever advance these old-earth theories before Darwin and the spread of evolutionary theory? Science advanced a new understanding of human beginnings and people looked to find a way to fit that theory into the scriptures. Isn’t that pretty much what happened?
The history of the church is replete with examples that demonstrate the dangers of forcing the scriptures to align with current thought.
3) What textual clues do you find in Genesis 1 that indicate the passage of great eons of time?
I know many have appealed to the figurative use of the Hebrew word “day.” Yes, it could refer to an epoch, in certain contexts. But whenever the word appears matched to a number (such as “the third day”) it always refers to a normal day. In context, the word in Genesis 1 gives little support to the idea of the passage of time.
So, is there any exegetical or textual indication that Genesis 1 is referring to great epochs of time and not regular days?
4) Don’t old-earth theories create some significant theological problems?
My biggest problem with the old-earth or theistic evolution positions is theological. Old-earth scenarios by definition include death long before Adam and Eve. But the Bible seems to present a different scenario. God created a paradise in which death did not reign. Then, sin entered God’s world and brought death as a consequence. In Genesis 2:17, death is presented as a penalty for sin.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. Romans 5:12
How do you account for Genesis 2:17 and Romans 5:12 (and other verses in Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15 and elsewhere) if death was an ever-present reality even before the entrance of sin? Why do scriptures present the entrance of death into the world as a result of sin if death was already present for millions and billions of years prior to death and the curse?
5) Isn’t the effort to combine these views in vain?
I remember something I heard a long time ago.
“God does not need evolution and evolution doesn’t need God.”
Seems to make sense to me. Evolution is based on natural processes that work without divine intervention. The God of Heaven could create a universe in an instant and has no need of millions of years of gradual change. He doesn’t need evolution’s help. It just seems to me that theism renders evolution unnecessary and evolution does the same to theism. Theistic evolution and to a lesser extent other old-earth theories seem like a fruitless and pointless attempt to keep God involved an essentially naturalistic process.
Either God made the world or it is a process of evolution.
#6 (Additional Question) Doesn’t Old-Earth Theory Render the Curse in Genesis 3 Somewhat Empty?
After Adam and Eve fell into sin, God appeared to them in the Garden and pronounced the curse on sin, as well as the Protoevangelion. In Genesis 3:17-19, God speaks to Adam and places a curse on the ground – one that apparently was not there before.
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
What was the curse? If the world had existed for millions and billions of years with thorns and thistles and all the natural forces that we consider the fruit of sin, what curse did God give? Doesn’t Old Earth theory render this curse meaningless and empty?
I’m not trying to insult anyone. But I think the special creation is an important issue – crucial even to our gospel.
Talk amongst yourselves. Be excellent to each other.