A review of Genesis, Science, and the Beginning: Evaluating Interpretations of Genesis One on the Age of the Earth by Benjamin D. Smith, Jr.
I can agree with the author about one thing. He says that, while young-earth creationists are generally in agreement in their interpretation of Genesis (p. 17), old-earth Christians keep multiplying new interpretations of Genesis to justify their acceptance of Big Bang cosmology. He counts 9 different old-earth interpretations of Genesis (p. 21). Ben does not want to face the fact that the most obvious reason for this difference is that young-earth creationists are largely willing to conform their thinking to what the text says, while old-earth creationists have come to a view of earth’s history independently of the text, and their view is one that the text cannot bear. Old-earth creationists keep trying to come up with ingenious ways to make a square peg fit into a round hole. Ben makes sure to tell the reader that, as far as the format of his book goes, he is going to look at the text of Genesis and follow it wherever it leads, regardless of the scientific evidence. Yet, he also divulges that in his own personal thinking, he changed his belief in young-earth creationism to an old-earth view because of scientific issues; then he began searching for an interpretation of Genesis that would fit what he thinks that scientific evidence demands (p. 31).
Of course, Ben thinks that he has come up with an interpretation that settles once and for all that Genesis is compatible with an old earth. One major part of his interpretation is a view that is, by his own account, the first time it has been proposed in all of church history. When you think that you have found something in the Bible that everyone else has missed for thousands of years, you are probably wrong. That’s the case with Ben. His novel insight is that on day four of creation (Gen. 1:14-19) the expanse is expanded outward to allow for the previously existing sun, moon, and stars to be visible from earth (p. 47). The obvious problem with this claim is that “expanse” is always used as a noun in Genesis 1:14-19, never as a verb. The action described on day four is God making the heavenly bodies and placing them in the expanse, not expanding the expanse. Ben says, “As I told you, Genesis does not say the Sun, Moon, and stars were made on Day 4” (p. 48 – emphasis his). Genesis 1:16 says, concerning Day 4, “And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.” Hmmm. Who is right?
Ben comes up with this interpretation because old-earth (Big Bang-accepting) Christians must deny the plain teaching of Genesis that there was light and day and night on earth before the sun was created. So his novel interpretation allows him to say that the sun, moon, and stars merely became visible from earth on day four because of the expansion and disbursement of thick clouds that had been hiding the sun. Ben is so upset with the idea that God created light to divide day and night on earth before He created the sun that Ben declares that God would be “unwise” to have done things that way (p. 48). Actually, creating light before creating the individual heavenly bodies makes sense in terms of being consistent with the pattern of how God creates in several other instances in Genesis 1 and 2, which is through dividing something that had been previously created. God creates the “waters above” (clouds) by dividing them from the water that covers the earth. He creates Adam by separating part of the earth (some “dust”); then He creates Eve by separating a piece of Adam’s side from him. Given this context, it’s reasonable to understand “Let the earth sprout vegetation” and “Let the earth bring fourth living creatures” to be acts of creation from dirt much like Adam’s. The light created on day one was probably a diffuse, burning cloud of gas on one side of the earth (so that there could be night on the other side), which was divided and condensed into distinct bodies on day 4.
Ben’s other major argument for rejecting the six-literal-days view of creation is that the six days of creation are really just “prophetic days.” He interprets the days of Genesis 1 as God is giving a prophecy over six literal days about the world He plans to create, using poetic language. One of his arguments for this claim is that Genesis 1:1 does not begin with “God said, ‘Let there be . . .’,” so, Ben assures us, the creation of heaven and earth in Genesis 1:1 must have occurred prior to the six days (pp. 34-36). That indicates that God does not mean to teach that He actually created everything in the universe in six literal days. Yet, Ben quotes Exodus 20:11, which says that God created everything including heaven and earth in six days, and Ben even admits that this language is all-inclusive of the universe (p. 67). Then he asserts that the six days were days of prophecy rather than actual creation, but his argument for prophetic rather than literal days of actual creation was that the creation of heaven and earth was not part of the six days!
Another argument for his prophetic days view is that there are things mentioned during the six days that could not have been completed during the six days. One example is that the heavenly bodies are said to serve “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years” (Gen. 1:14). This purpose extends beyond a single day, so, Ben says, creation in Genesis 1 is not about creation in the space of six literal days (pp. 52, 89). But this is a hasty generalization. A statement about the future purpose that something will serve is distinguishable from the time period for making that thing. His other argument is that “Let the earth bring forth” refers to a process that could not occur in one day (pp. 50-51, 53-55). I have already explained how that is best compared to Adam’s supernatural creation from the dust of the earth. Ben says that he believes in the special creation of life, not theistic evolution (p. 151); so what he is talking about is that the command to reproduce could not be accomplished in one day (p. 53, citing gestation periods of various animals). But blessing the animals to reproduce (“And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply . . . ‘” 1:22), because it oriented to future action, is distinguishable from the making of the animals, which Ben accepts to be a supernatural act.
Ben’s handling of Scripture outside Genesis 1 on the issue of the age of the earth is no better. In Genesis 1:29-30, God gives man and animals only plants to eat. That this is a prohibition on eating meat is reinforced by God’s words to Noah in Genesis 9:3: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” This is hardly compatible with millions of years of meat-eating animals roaming the earth. Ben objects that, when antediluvian people sacrificed animals, the aroma of cooking meat would have made eating the meat irresistible. But that the command might have been disobeyed does nothing to refute that the command was given, especially that the animals were commanded to be vegetarian.
The curse on creation (“cursed is the ground” Gen. 3:17) from the Fall of Adam and Eve is a major problem for the old earth position, since it means that there were millions of years of massive death and disease and thorns infesting the ground before the Fall and God’s curse that resulted from it. It’s such a problem that William Dembski, in his book The End of Christianity, is compelled to come up with a wildly inventive, Scripturally-baseless proposal that God cursed creation from the beginning of life on earth in anticipation of the Fall of Adam and Eve hundreds of millions of years in the future. This is in conflict with the prominent, carefully laid-out chronological sequence of events described in Genesis. Dembski sees that the extent of the curse cannot be minimized. Romans 8:20 says that “the creation was subjected to futility,” and this was “the whole creation.” Ben does not deny the universal scope of this passage. However, he argues that “slavery to corruption” (Rom. 8:21) was an event that occurred before the creation was subjected to futility, so it occurred before the Curse (p. 124). So, much like Dembski, he is putting the corruption of the world before the Curse. But Romans 8 simply does not say what Ben claims it does. The creation being subject to futility and the creation being subject to slavery to corruption are equivalent phrases, the first used to describe the curse on creation when it was instituted, and the second describing the curse on creation that will be removed at the Last Judgment, at the same time that redeemed humanity will receive incorruptible, resurrected bodies.
Jesus was a young-earth creationist. He makes statements on two occasions that affirm this. He says in Mark 10:6: “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” Ben interprets this to mean that humanity was both male and female when humanity began, rather than just male. Jesus certainly wants to emphasize that male and female are one flesh in this dialogue. But Jesus says, “from the beginning of creation” to refer chronologically back from what Moses recorded about divorce in Deuteronomy, which He had just quoted, to the account in Genesis 1 and 2. “Creation” here is not being used as a verb or even primarily as an act, but as a noun meaning the thing created, the physical universe. We can look at the stars in 2017 and say “God’s creation is beautiful,” but the beginning of creation was when the universe began, and that is around the same time that Adam and Eve were created, according to Jesus.
If that is not clear enough, Jesus uses different language in Luke 11:50-51 to express the same thought: “so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary.” Ben says that “the foundation of the world” here refers to God’s foreknowledge and “has nothing to do with placing Abel’s death at the time of the forming of the Earth” (p. 297 n.23). The Bible does say that God knows (and predestines) His elect from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), but that does not mean that “foundation of the world” can’t be used without reference to God’s foreknowledge. The Jews at the time of Jesus placed the Book of Chronicles as the last book of the canon, and Zechariah bar Jehoiada is a prophet killed near the end of the book (2 Chron. 24:20-21). By mentioning Abel’s blood shed at the foundation of the world and then Zechariah’s murder, Jesus is referencing the whole historical timeline of the Old Testament. Similarly to Mark 10:6, Jesus is saying that Abel lived around the time that the world was created. On the old-earth timeline, if all of earth’s history is depicted as 24 hours, the first humans appear at hour 23:58:43, long after the foundation of the world.
Ben makes his case how scientific evidence cannot be squared with young-earth creationism in just a few pages, so his treatment of that issue cannot go into much depth (pp. 141-48). He complains that the young-earth creationist explanation of scientific evidence is never “the last word” on an issue (p.142). But his brief arguments against young-earth creationism cannot be the last word either. He critiques Jonathan Sarfati’s young-earth creationist explanations for lake varves (layers of sedimentation), which are claimed to be deposited over a period of a hundred thousand years (p. 143). Sarfati cites fossils preserved in these varves that had their feces squeezed out from the pressure of the sediments that trapped them. These had to be catastrophic depositions of sediment to preserve the whole fish including their feces as fossils (Refuting Compromise, 2004, pp. 370-71). Ben doesn’t address that evidence, but he cites an issue that Sarfati does not address, which is the claim that a single varve couplet represents one annual cycle because half of the couplet is composed of organic matter from the warmer growing cycle of the year and the other half is composed of inorganic matter from the colder part of the year. Since Ben doesn’t address Sarfati’s evidence, and Sarfati didn’t address Ben’s, Ben has left the debate in limbo with his discussion. Ben addresses the starlight and time problem (stars are too far away for their light to have reached the earth in six thousand years) and that the explanation of time acceleration according to Einstein’s theory of relativity appealed to by some creationists hasn’t been worked out in a mathematically satisfactory manner yet (p. 148). But Ben doesn’t mention the light horizon problem of the Big Bang (light can’t travel fast enough to explain the uniform temperature of the cosmic background radiation) and that dark matter has not been found, which must exist for the Big Bang theory to work.
Ben’s concern for the scientific “last word” brings us to the heart of the epistemological problem with the old-earth view. Ben thinks that modern science has provided the last word on some issues, so the Bible must be made to conform to modern science on those points. In contrast, the young-earth creationist takes the Bible as the last word on the issue of creation, because God was there and He is all-knowing. Ben needs to understand that science is always provisional. Every scientific theory has problems. The issue comes down to an epistemological issue between old-earth Christians who are more or less modernists in their view of science, and young-earth Christians who are somewhat like postmodernists. Like modernists, old-earth creationists look to science as the highest authority in knowledge, so all other knowledge claims must conform to it, including the Bible’s. Like postmodernists, young-earth creationists recognize that all facts are interpreted facts. Facts do not speak for themselves. Since God is the source of all knowledge and everything that exists in the universe, God’s interpretation of the universe has absolute authority. God’s word must be regarded as true even if the scientific evidence may appear to contradict it at times.
Until Louis Pasteur disproved spontaneous generation in 1859, the scientific evidence seemed to prove that living organisms were forming from mud or water all the time, which meant that the creation of organisms was not limited the first six literal days of the world. Christians prior to Pasteur’s experiment who felt the need to reinterpret Genesis based on the scientific “fact” of spontaneous generation would have been misguided. Ditto for Christians with regard to modern Big Bang cosmology. Ben needs to read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and see that there are always unexplained anomalies for any major scientific theory, that science changes over generations, and that those changes are not based on the mere accumulation of new facts but involve changes in worldviews.