Mr. Earth, You’re How Old? I’m Going to Need to See Some ID

I recently participated in a discussion on Facebook with a bright young man on the problems of evolutionism and young-earth creationism (YEC.) He correctly identified some problems with holding to a young earth creation view given the way certain animals are equipped to kill. On his view, if Genesis is true, then animals had to evolve to kill. If Genesis is false, evolution is true. Therefore, in either case, evolution is true. (That might not be exactly his view, but it seems to follow from the way he framed it.)

The arguments he offered show a very superficial reading of the relevant texts. He claimed that God called his creation “perfect.” He asserted that there was no pain or death before sin entered the world. In response to the suggestion of an old-earth creation view, he claimed this is inconsistent with the text and would require rejecting a global flood, and a “rewriting” of the verses that speak of evening and morning. He also said that Jesus’ death was pointless if death was natural. Overall, it seems that the young man would benefit from reading the work of scholars with whom he disagrees.

In order to understand the creation account in Genesis, we should “seek to read the text the way a competent reader in the original audience would have done, to the best that we can reconstruct that competence.”[1]

Keeping in mind that the chapter and verse numbers in our bibles were not part of the original texts, we note that the first unit of thought, or pericope, is Genesis 1:1- 2:3.[2] As you read this text, it is not hard to see that it is structured differently than the rest of the historic narratives in Genesis. Miller and Soden suggest that this structure is intentionally similar to that of ancient Egyptian creation accounts for the purpose of correcting the understanding of a people who have just left Egypt after 400 years of exposure to Egyptian culture.[3] Personally, I am quite sympathetic to Collins’ opinion that the creation account is intended as an analogy for the workweek God was to institute for Israel, “…namely, the days are God’s workdays, their length is neither specified nor important, and not everything in the account needs to be taken as historically sequential.”[4]
On the claim that God called creation perfect, this is not a part of the narrative. In Genesis 1:31 it reads, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” The Hebrew word used here is tob, which means “good, pleasing, desirable; goodness; this can refer to quality as well as to moral goodness.”[5]   If the author had meant to say it was perfect, he would have chosen taœmiym, which means, “without defect, blameless, perfect.”[6]

It is not uncommon to hear YEC adherents to claim that pain did not exist before the fall. This is not supported by the text. No passage states explicitly that there was no pain before Adam and Eve’s rebellion. There seems to be an underlying assumption that pain is bad. If it is bad, it must be evil. Evil only enters with sin right? But is pain bad? Pain is the body’s alarm system to tell us there is something wrong. When we touch a hot object, we pull away because it hurts. To fail to do so would result in injury. Moreover, Genesis 3:16 says in part, “…“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth…” This seems to imply that pain would already be there, but now it would be worse. To apply the same simplistic methodology (reductio), if there is zero pain to start with, and you multiply it, you still get zero pain. Interestingly, Culver argues this multiplication is brought about because before death came to humanity, a couple only had to have one child to increase the population. Now they would need to have at least three; two to replace the parents plus one or more.[7]

Was there no death before the Fall? Unless you assume Adam was created with complete knowledge, (an ad hoc claim, at best) it would seem odd to think the warning “…in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 1:17b) would make much sense. Additionally, Romans 5:12 states, “therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” In this context, the “world” seems to refer to the “the aggregate of mankind”[8] from the way Paul notes that sin came to “all men.” To address the claim that Jesus’ death was meaningless if death was natural, I think the young man was confused as to what kind of death was in view here. If Jesus’ death was merely physical, it is hard to make sense of the fact that those who follow him still die physically. Moreover, Adam was warned that he would die “in the day that you eat…” This would indicate another kind of death took place immediately. This would be a spiritual death whereby he is, and consequently we are, separated from God. If Jesus’ death had meaning as a substitutionary atonement, his death had to be more than merely physical.

This essay is not intended to be a definitive argument in defense of Old Earth Creationism, though I think OEC is more plausible than YEC. Rather, it is to show that the arguments offered for an exclusively YEC reading of Genesis 1 are not sound, and therefore the skepticism this reading generates is unwarranted.

[1] C John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., ©2006), Location 106, Amazon Kindle edition.

[2] Ibid., 481.

[3] See Johnny Miller and John Soden, In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishing, 2012).

[4] Collins, 1376.

[5] Hebrew to English Dictionary and Index to the NIV Old Testament: Derived from the Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

[6] Ibid.

[7] Robert D. Culver, Civil Government: a Biblical View (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2009), 20.

[8] William D. Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (2011)

2 thoughts on “Mr. Earth, You’re How Old? I’m Going to Need to See Some ID”

  1. My children stumped me with a question the other day… If sin and death entered the world after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit (after the ‘Fall’) how do you explain dinosaurs killing and eating each other which seems to be evidenced in the some archeological findings and in the way carnivorous dinosaurs were made. The fossil record shows that dinosaurs existed FAR in advance of mankind. I have no answer… Thoughts?

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  2. If you think Genesis forces a young earth interpretation, I can see why you would have a problem answering their questions. Go back and read the second to last paragraph where I address this and let me know if you have more questions. Thanks for your comments.

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