“My Wife and My Mother-in-Law” has become a well known ambiguous figure. It has been used for psychological research studies as well as for the entertainment of grade school children. You see a young woman at first, then suddenly, an old woman appears and you simply cannot un-see her. The same lines and shadows have now been interpreted by your brain in such a way that you may have difficulty recapturing your original perspective. Perhaps you saw the old woman initially. Either way, the transformation is an intriguing curiosity. We do not feel betrayed by the artist. Rather, we are delighted, even grateful, for his effort.
In contrast, whether one sees a young earth or old earth in the pages of scripture is a very serious matter to many devout Christians. Young earth creationists (YECs),1 believe that Biblical inerrancy is at stake if you can’t trust what you read in Scripture. Old-earth creationists (OECs)2 believe that God’s character is at stake if his Word and his world do not align. Yet both groups claim to support both propositions. How can this be?
Although both camps examine the same Bible and the same world around them and yet come to different, strongly held conclusions, they nevertheless agree that the Genesis 1 is not meant to confuse us. Rather, the creation account is intended to provide a common resolve for all believers. The Apostle’s Creed quoted throughout many churches today begins with “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” Throughout the canon, God’s people continuously reference his creative acts to attest the power and wisdom available to aid them as they face difficult, even impossible, circumstances. The Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos is the Creator and Sustainer of you. He knows your frame, he remembers you are dust (Psalm 103:14), and yet the hairs of your head are numbered (Matthew 10:30). A sparrow does not fall to the ground without his knowledge, and it is with understatement and a wink (I think) that you are said to be worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29).
For the YECs out there, know that I was one of you. When I heard Dr. Hugh Ross featured in a Focus on the Family radio broadcast in 1991,* I could not have not have been more shocked or disgusted. If you couldn’t trust Focus on the Family, after all, who could you trust? How could they give voice to a speaker who supported Darwinian evolution? I actually phoned them to tell them so. Fortunately, they were kinder to me than I was to them in that interaction. In fact, Hugh Ross was not supporting Darwinism; however, I would not gain a better understanding of his true position for more than two decades. Even then, it would take two years for his old-earth assertions to gain my full acceptance. How did it happen, and why did it take so long?
It is at this point that I must let you in my goal. I am not trying to convince YECs to become OECs. I am only attempting to convey that the OEC position does not compromise Biblical inerrancy. In fact, the OEC position can be supported based solely upon principles of Biblical interpretation that are generally accepted by YECs:
- Scripture is not meant to be esoteric. Christians can have a good “working knowledge” of the Bible without formal theological training. This is called “the perspicuity of Scripture.”
- We should consult the whole Bible when interpreting difficult passages, and clear passages should inform our interpretation of passages that are less clear. As is it is said, “Scripture should be interpreted in light of Scripture.”
- Scripture should accurately reflect spiritual truths as well as objective truths about the created world around us. As it is said, “All truth is God’s truth.”
But there are various misconceptions that YECs hold about OECs that complicate understanding and dialogue:
- (All) OECs support the scientific validity of macroevolution.
- (All) OECs deny YEC only because they seek to join the scientific establishment in support of macroevolution.
- (All) OECs believe that chapters 1-11 of Genesis are mythological, allegorical, or purely symbolic.
These statements might be true for some OECs, but they are not true for all. For example, none of these statements reflect the official position of Reasons to Believe, the well known and long-standing OEC organization founded by Dr. Hugh Ross.
Because YEC organizations have invested heavily in alternative YEC-science movies, museums, books, articles, conference exhibits, etc., OECs often make the mistake of initially confronting YECs with contradictory mainstream science. It’s my belief that this will almost never go well. Why? First, it only confirms the YEC assertion that science is not reliable. After all, why do so many scientists embrace (often each with their own religious fervor) so many different scientific explanations and theories without conclusively proving any of them? Furthermore, if OECs lead with science, YECs perceive this as a tacit affirmation that science is the OEC’s primary authority (ahead of Scripture) and they want no part of it. As YECs so clearly state, their position is first and foremost a theological one, not a scientific one. I therefore believe that it is more efficacious to first address this theological debate with theology—the science will eventually follow.
I believe that the YEC’s interpretation of the following three Biblical topics bear the full weight of their stance:
- The meaning of “day” in Genesis 1
- The meaning of “good” and “very good” throughout the Genesis creation account (as they describe the nature of the physical world prior to man’s rebellion)
- The method by which God intends to make himself known to humans throughout all times and places
If we can agree on what the Bible actually says (and does not say) about these three topics, the YEC-OEC debate might actually be quelled — or at least become a bit less hostile. Call me naive, but I have seen both sides of the debate, and I believe it is possible. I will go further to say that if I am wrong in my understanding that I hope to be proven so. I am first a Christ-follower before I am an old-earth creationist.
It is my intent to address each of the YEC’s load-bearing topics in the order listed, although I’ll admit that my own path to OEC was not so linear. No single well-made point, no single Bible verse, changed my position; it was the preponderance of the Biblical evidence. Over time, I have thought carefully about how best to convey OEC in such a way that it will be clear and fair to a thoroughgoing YEC. I do so because I think it is important. Not because a YEC’s salvation is dependent on acceptance of OEC but because my own faith has been bolstered by the rich doctrine of creation therein. I also believe we should strive for unity within the Church where it is possible. This concern was voiced by Jesus in prayer to the Father just prior to his crucifixion (John 17:20-21), so it would certainly seem to be a worthy concern for our prayer lives as well. Finally, I have discovered the most compelling and breath-taking evidences for a Creator in studying the OEC perspective, and I believe they are worth sharing with skeptics and fellow believers alike.
To be continued…
1Non-Christians may conflate YEC with the intelligent design movement (ID). ID proponents simply believe that the finely tuned world around us indicates design indicative of an intelligent mind. Technically, they may be YECs, OECs, or agnostics/atheists who believe in panspermia/alien intelligence.
2The OEC position described in this post references belief in six distinct and long creation days in Genesis 1, as supported by Reasons to Believe’s (reasons.org) creation model. This old-earth position is distinct from “evolutionary creation” or “theistic evolution” as supported by the BioLogos organization (biologos.org).
3 I believe the first such broadcast I heard was in the 1980s, but I can find no earlier documentation.
Copyright © 2019. Kathleen Lyon. All rights reserved.