Old Earth Creationists - is the position that a) God didn't or that b) He couldn't?

I think that Young Earth Creationists (of which I am one) can sometimes feel a bit suspicious of Old Earth Creationists’ motives. There is a perception that after about 1850, OECs began abandoning the predominant historic Christian and Jewish view of the Genesis creation account in a kind of “sell out” to academia. Many YECs feel that their more progressive brethren have caved in to worldly pressure in order to gain acceptability, and this seems like a betrayal, of sorts. Their view of God’s omnnipotence and omniscience can come across as compromised.

I will admit, I have often suspected some of these things myself. And yet, I do not doubt the Christian faith of our OEC brethren in general. Nor am I trying to be provocative in my statement - I am simply saying out loud what I’m pretty sure most of us on both sides have felt more than once over the decades.

Now, I do not know where this discussion will go, but I do know where I’d like it to start. I would like to get a feel for whether the predominant sense among OECs is that:

a) while God chose to create the cosmos over vast epochs of time, He actually could have made it in six literal 24-hour days (or milliseconds for that matter) if He had wanted to - and He actually could have done it within the past 10,000 years if He had wanted to, or

b) no, God Himself could not have created the entire universe in six 24-hour days within the past 10,000 years because that would have just been impossible even for Him!

In other words, while you believe your position is true, is any conceivable variation the Young Earth position even possible?

Of course, there will always be outliers on any complex issue. But those of you in the OEC camp, what would you say would be the most likely response of you and your colleagues?

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Hi @jlyons, I wanted to respond although I’m absolutely no scientist, I do really enjoy hearing people share their ideas on this debate. It means my contribution to this discussion will be small but I hope to get some insight from others too. My viewpoint is based on knowing God’s character, rather than offering scientific evidence, so take my musings as you will.

Personally, I’ve moved over the years from a YEC towards considering OE as I’ve come to know God better. So for example, I’d say the opposite to your question: of course I believe he could have created the whole earth in a split second if he’d wanted, but I have begun to wonder whether he would have enjoyed the process over a longer time. From what I understand of God, he likes to work on the deeper layers for a while before you see the final thing on the surface - I base this on my experience of watching him work in people’s lives in healing. Often the deep layers of emotion and spirit are worked on before you see the manifestation in the physical. Now, I acknowledge that the Earth is purely physical, but still, I hope you see the point I’m trying to make. He enjoys taking the time because it seems to display his glory in a whole new way. Think of the Israelites crying out to God for freedom from Eygptian slavery. exodus tells us that after 400 years, God hears their cry and began to work his plan. He could have freed them instantly after year 1, but he didn’t because he had foundational work to do first.

Finally, although science sometimes fills gaps of knowledge with theory but promotes them as fact (evolution of ape to man), it can be easy to dismiss all scientific thought on this topic. Usually, in secular science, man will deny God the glory for what he’s done. With an ear to the Holy Spirit, can we listen to scientific argument of OE theory and consider how that might bring God even greater glory?

Now since my examples use only examples of humanity to explain why I think he takes a long time in building earth, I know there’s plenty I’ve not considered. Anyway, I look forward to see what others have on this fascinating topic.

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OK Two answers -

  1. In the beginning was the WORD (john 1:1)- God says something and it is done - Jesus healed instantly - This is how God works. INSTANTANEOUSLY ! He could have created the whole thing in 6 seconds.
  2. If number one is to hard to believe, take the lazy Christian’s idea - think of each day as an timeless age and 6 ages passed during creation and we are now living the 7th age.

Let there be light - God is The Light and nothing is faster than light. E=mc2 where c being light and was used to transfer mater into energy (the big bomb)- they now believe they can, by reversing the formula, transform energy into matter using light accelerated - It may not be long before they prove God made this material creation at the spread of “LIGHT”
Which ever you wish to believe, the most important of God’s creations is LOVE and LOVE conquers all, even death as proved by Jesus. - and we don’t LOVE enough today and if we don’t get busy and walk the walk we are doomed to lose it ,at least in this world…

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Hello James,
Thanks for the question. I doubt St. Peter will be standing at the pearly gates questioning hopefuls on their old vs young Earth positions, granting admission to those who get it right. However, this is an important question because contemporary Christians are asking it. For a scientist, there is no question, Earth is “old.” More precisely, about 4.5 to 4.6 billion-years old. There are a plurality of reasons this must be so, many more than I care to even attempt to list. But I’ll list a few:
• The universe’s age—red shifts and other phenomenon indicate an expanding universe ~13.7 billion years in temporal radius
• The solar system’s age—at least one, but more probably two to three stellar life-cycles were required to produce the heavier elements required for life (a sun of approximately the solar mass of our sun only produces trace amounts of CNO which requires >9 billion years; higher mass stars would produce heavier elements in about half the time)
• The sun’s age—the sun’s life-cycle exhibits varying radiant flux (in both absolute energy and spectral content), in the sun’s early life the flux would be variable and too energetic to support life (https://arxiv.org/ftp/astro-ph/papers/0702/0702529.pdf). The sun’s needed about 1 billion years to enter into a period of radiant flux stability
• The Earth’s age
o 24-hour length of a day—the Earth’s initial angular (rotational) velocity yielded a day of about 4-hours long (http://www.iea.usp.br/en/news/when-a-day-lasted-only-four-hours). The tidal interactions with the moon slow the Earth’s rotation rate, about 2-3 msec (~0.0025 seconds) per century
o Oxygen concentration in atmosphere—plant life on Earth required between 1 to 2 billion years to produce enough oxygen to sustain animal life (https://www.pnas.org/content/113/32/8933)
o Radiometric dating—indicated, based on radionucleotide abundance, the Earth is >4.5 billion years old (https://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/geotime/age.html)
o Petroleum reserves—the Earth has ~2 trillion barrels of oil, the length of time required to generate the biomass necessary to generate petroleum is very long; further, once the biomass is encased by the Earth, it takes many millions of years to convert biomass into petroleum
Many, many more states, conditions, and factors also indicate an old age of the Earth. More importantly, the convergence of each of these (and the many more factors) upon the > 1billion-year age of the Earth is very strong evidence.
A common argument advanced by YECs against the above is that God created the universe with the “appearance of age.” This leads to two conclusions: 1) YECs admit that the Earth and universe do indeed have the appearance of advanced age; and 2) God is deceitful (creating creation w/appearance of age). My view of God is that God is Truth and He would not create the universe or Earth w/appearance of age for no reason. And what reason would God have to create creation w/appearance of age but in a very short amount of time? Was God late? Did He have somewhere to go, perhaps an appointment, or something to do? So, if creation required age to render it ready to receive sentient life, what possible reason would God have to short-cut the process? God could wait 14-billion years as easily as 14-seconds; 14-billion years does not require God to break His own laws, 14-seconds does. So, God, if He created a young Earth w/appearance of age is both deceitful and a breaker of His own laws. Something I refuse to admit.

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I am agnostic towards this issue because that is what the Bible teaches.

Although I have some sympathies to the YECs because I think [all] life decays over time since the fall. If we use this principle as a means to look at how sin affects the rest of the world, then it is not hard to imagine that if God said things were “very good” at one point and we look at what the world looks like now, it seems there is reason to think YEC is a possibility. In fact, God has already wiped almost everything out during the flood because of how wicked the world had gotten and as far as I know, we don’t actually know how long that time was from Adam until the flood. When Christ came, that changed everything. It was like a “reboot” for the earth. So from the time that Jesus went to heaven to now, things have probably again gotten progressively worse.

I also find the idea of abiogenesis to be insulting to God.

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There is no reason to think that God could not have created a universe in an instant. I do not see why that would not be a possibility.

Part of the issue I have with YEC (or any scientific knowledge one tries to glean from the Bible) is the claim that “that is what the Bible clearly says” when this simply isn’t true. I can say that I understand how someone can interpret Genesis in this way. For that reason I do not say that the OEC is the only way to read Scripture either. I do not think we should read science into or our of Scripture at all. I do not think this is the reason why it was written and whether the universe was created in 14 seconds or 14 billion years, neither fact decreases or increases our knowledge of God. However, the point, whether the universe was created or not, does and that is the important take away. That informs us about God.

Science should inform us about science, the Bible should reveal to us God. Science can tell us how God did what He did. The Bible can tell us why God did what He did. I do not go to science to learn what Scripture should tell me and I do not go to Scripture to tell me what science should tell me. This is the whole idea behind natural theology and the book of the nature and the Book of Scripture.

There is equal validity in reading Scripture as telling us that the earth is the flat, fixed, center of the universe. But, I do not know anyone who is YEC that also affirms that position. Yet, “it is what Scripture clearly teaches” if you ask Calvin and Luther. How do we determine which reading is true? Science and observation.

*As a quick note I must point out that to say that Jesus healed “instantaneously” is to deny the lexical range of the word translated “instantaneously.” The word can also mean “hour” or “occasion.” Also, I do not know anyone who believes the universe, in its current form, was created instantaneously. Even the YEC acknowledge the process of a six day creation.

*Also, the c in E = mc^2 is the speed of light, not light.

Just wanted to offer clarification on those points.

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Hi @jlyons,

Thanks for seeking clarity and conversation on this, rather than making assumptions!

For what it is worth, I have had sympathies with numerous different origins positions in my lifetime and this is the first time I have heard the impression that an Old Earth position compromised God’s omniscience or omnipotence. I do not recall ever having heard the “couldn’t” argument from the OEC position—only the “apparently didn’t” argument.

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Thank you, Eric. Just one clarification question - in the interest of giving you every benefit of the doubt.

I was left with the impression that you were meaning that it would have been absolutely impossible for even God to have literally created the entire universe in six short days within the last 10,000 years without either breaking his own laws or being deceptive.

But you did not explicitly say it that way, so you could have simply meant that you do not see how He could have done it without breaking laws or being deceitful.

There’s an infinite difference between saying He really couldn’t and saying you just don’t see how.

For example - I don’t see how it is scientifically possible for a body that’s been dead for three days to return to life - or for countless bodies to rise at the final trumpet in bodies as physical as Christ’s - or for the sun to stand still, or even move backwards - or for men to walk on water - or for any of the Biblical miracles.

But the fact that I cannot explain them without accusing God of breaking laws or being deceptive doesn’t prevent me from admitting that His thoughts are infinitely higher than my thoughts - I do believe that God is able to do abundantly above all that I can imagine. I will not limit God’s power or wisdom to only those things I can comprehend. I’ll just admit that I don’t see how.

Just two thoughts - one on God breaking His own laws - one on Him being deceitful.

I assume you recognize that for the Creator to intervene in His own creation is not really breaking a moral law of any kind - nor does His intervention even “break” a natural law - any more than I break the law of gravity by intervening to catch an apple falling from a tree. While my intervention is natural (because I’m a part of the natural world), God’s intervention is supernatural. Lee Strobel has a chapter on this in his excellent book on Miracles.

And as for being deceptive, I understand that God creating light beams that show stars exploding when they never even existed could be viewed as deceptive. But what if they really did exist and really did explode - what if all the generations of star deaths and births that you mentioned really did occur? What if God used a universe expanding near the speed of light to dilate time and compress what would now be billions of years worth of galactic gyrations into the length of a single day from God’s perspective?

Or what if God could explain a thousand ways off the top of His head to do what men say is “scientically impossible”.

So could you clarify for me - are you really meaning to say that God literally couldn’t do it - or that, yes, He could do it, but you just cannot explain how?

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Hello James,

Thank you for your well-articulated questions and propositions. First, I regret that my speculative assertions concerning God’s nature caused you consternation.

I concur w/you sir in that I don’t see how Christ’s resurrection was scientifically (medically) possible, but I believe it. Part of the reason I believe it is that science does not understand life and it’s components and principles, so there’s plenty of room for “miracles” in our uncertainty w/o violation of God’s natural laws (for me, this is legitimate and not a “God of the gaps” cop-out). Yet, I do not believe God stopped the rotation of the Earth (Joshua 10:12-14) for a number of reasons, which I’ll not go into at this time.

Next, I’ll address the two propositions you took issue with: 1) God breaking His own laws, and 2) God being deceitful under extenuating circumstances. First, I concur that God intervening in His creation does not necessarily result in God’s breaking of His laws. But the issue is God’s intervention in such a way that His laws are broken (e.g., via miracle). It is God’s volitional breaking of His own laws that I take issue with. Second, I contend that just because they’re God’s laws that He’s not immune to any moral consequence for breaking them (Rom. 9:20-22 not withstanding). Specifically, God’s perfect justice is not well served in requiring (eventual, post glorification) perfect obedience of man to His moral law while He simultaneously breaks His own physical laws.

In terms of God being deceitful if He in fact created a universe requiring age in an instant. First, a universe requiring age means one where a plurality of factors must advance thru their natural life-cycle for some long duration in order to yield an ecosystem suitable for sentient life. Some of these factors (and there are many) include: 1) the requirement of at least one or two complete stellar life-cycles to generate higher atomic number elements required for life; 2) decreased rate of asteroid bombardment on Earth; 3) atmospheric oxygen concentration build-up by plant life; and many others. So, the question becomes why would God break His own laws to create a universe w/attributes of great age in an instant? (and even YECs admit that the universe has the appearance of great age) If these attributes are indeed required (and they are) and they can be achieved naturally, w/o breaking His laws then why break His laws to accelerate that which does not need to be accelerated? I contend that the life-cycle of the universe doesn’t need to be accelerated because God abides in eternity. Therefore, lacking legitimate purpose to accelerate that which doesn’t need to be accelerated makes God deceitful if He indeed created by breaking His own laws. I don’t believe God is deceitful, so I don’t believe He broke His laws in His creation of the universe, hence I believe in an old universe.

Second, and a more important import is the moral nature of God, if He indeed performs (law breaking) miracles sporadically. The issue is why would God make an axe head float or stop (and then re-start) the rotation of the Earth when His precious children suffer horrendously under persecution undelivered, suffer violently under natural disasters un-helped, and suffer grievously under abuse unhealed? Mentally ill parents abuse, torment, and even kill their children; violent men abuse, injure and even kill their wives/partners; and I remember a little girl (I believe she was about 7 y/o) who was trapped in a collapsed building due to the Haitian earthquake years ago. Rescuers had to cut off her leg (w/o anesthesia) to extract her while she (being a Christian) prayed vehemently to live, only dying a couple days later in the poorly equipped and overcrowded hospital. Why make an axe head float when this beloved child could be saved/delivered/healed? What’s the better investment? What is the moral character of God? Better than that, perfect in fact, so there must be some explanation.

Jesus said (Matt. 10:29) that God even knows when a sparrow is in jeopardy. He also says that God must consent in the event of the sparrow’s death. One implication is that God is not directly causing the sparrow’s demise, but He reserves for Himself the final decision on matters of life and death. Another implication is that God (apparently) does not interfere in the natural consequences of His laws unless He has a compelling reason (justification) in so doing—I posit the argument favoring this reading of the cited verse is in God’s (passive) consent rather than His (active) volitional decision. The point of these implications is that God’s superintendence of His creation appears to be passive, which supports free-will. This does not preclude God’s active intervention in His creation by inviting and motivating people to action w/in the bounds of His laws and w/o violating our free-will.

I would further contend that God is not diminished by not being able to perform the impossible. And God is more awesome when we consider His knowledge, intellect, and operation thru the lens of science. And I believe that God is good, kind, loving, and long-suffering. So, I reconcile these seemingly disparate observations by holding that God restricts Himself to passive interaction with His creation, in deference to man’s free will, and He further restricts Himself to operations that do not break His laws (whether by necessity or volition I do not know).

C. S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters states, “You must have often wondered why the Enemy [God] does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.” Lewis teaches that God respects man’s free will to such an extent that God will take pains to ensure He does not overwhelm man and in so doing negate man’s free will (e.g., God operates substantially passively).

So, my bottom-line is best expressed by Charles Spurgeon, “God is too good to be unkind, too wise to be mistaken; and when you cannot trace His hand, you can trust His heart.” I do not understand God, and neither does anyone else, I can only trust God, and I do.

Hey Eric, if I may interject for a moment and comment on the following…

My view of God is that God is Truth and He would not create the universe or Earth w/appearance of age for no reason.

It may be entirely possible that God DID have a valid reason for creating the universe with an appearance of age. The Biblical description of Adam’s creation gives us a hint as to what such a reason might be.

Consider for a moment, if you were to create a life out of nothing, with no previous template by which the growing life would be biologically or socially modeled, how would you do it? Would you create it at or near its inception point, a la a fertilized egg or a fetus? Probably not, as it would need a womb (read “previous template”) to gestate it. What about an infant? Again, probably not, as it would need a parent (“previous template”) to directly care for it. A toddler? An adolescent? Again, likely not, as it would need a parent (“previous template”) to raise it.

Ultimately, if you were going to create a life from scratch, the only stage of life capable of self-reliance is that of a fully mature adult, with at least a basic understanding of that self-reliance already built in. Interestingly enough, that’s precisely what we have modeled in Adam. Even at six seconds old, the Genesis description of Adam had an “appearance” of being far older – but for reasons that I hope are now obvious.

I submit that a Young Earth Creation is reasonable by the very same parameters. The intentional creation of animal life would’ve required adult creation for the same reason that Adam would have. Bacteria need decomposing material to self-sustain. Plants, water… the creation of ANY cycle would have required the cycle to be created already in progress, such that once the cycle is fully going, you would not be able to pinpoint its origins without looking outside that cycle, precisely because a self-sustaining cycle shows no obvious sign of any inception other than spontaneous.

Like you, I look at the evidence of a billions-of-years-old universe and I see EXACTLY what I would expect – only, rather than OEC, the evidence leads me to confirm the reasonability of YEC. In viewing the universe this way, I have the freedom to both accept the science exactly as it is, without compromise, while at the same time taking a completely literal approach to scripture. For my money, that’s win-win.

@nashdude, I appreciate the spirit of your post and you may be absolutely right but in my mind the extent of the evidence doesn’t fit that model. I simply look at man’s history of understanding and how we have moved in the past. My question to all young earth creationists and to myself about beliefs not directly related to the gospel is what would happen if that belief was incontrovertibly proved false. Where would my energy go? Would I keep hanging on to it?

I would think that, by definition, nothing controversial has been found incontrovertibly false.

Therefore, incontrovertibly false ideas are not the ones that people waste energy hanging on to.

Hi James Lyons

I just wanted to introduce myself and say I appreciate where you seem to be coming from… Seems like the thoughts you’re conveying are rooted in some very relevant and key components to the christian faith. My christian School teachers paled in comparison to the thought provoking conversation you’re bringing to the table.

…Looking forward very much to seeing your posts, comments and scripture examples in the future.

Well, thank you, @timotto, for your very encouraging words.

In defense of your teachers, having taught in Christian schools myself for 25 years, there is a specific curriculum that one is expected to cover - and the level is supposed to be geared for the typical high schooler - and I get the idea from the people I’ve interacted with on this site that the vast majority of them are well beyond high school!

Years ago, I tried to engage a class of high schoolers in what I thought might be a more challenging discussion. I asked them, “Where is a day longer than a year?”

And because I had asked this question some time earlier, some of them remembered that it was a planet. Finally, someone said, “Venus!” - correct!

But one girl didn’t get it. So I explained, “You see, the planet Venus rotates on its axis so slowly that it will orbit the sun in a year before it completes the revolution of a single day. So on Venus, a day is longer than a year!”

She thought about that. And then something slowly began to dawn on her as she said, “Wait a minute…do you mean…do they really stay awake that whole time?!”

So I’ll just say that anyone’s discussions would be likely to pale in comparison in some environments!

Funny story about Venus and the young girl’s conclusions :smile:

Yes, It’s been over 30 years since I attended christian high school. And I cannot fault any teachers for “painting inside of the lines”. I’m just glad to have understood the gospel years later on my own and learned the fear of the Lord directly from the great and terrible (and loving) Lord whom I have come to serve. When raising my own children I tried to replace christianized platitudes and idiological Jesus-isms with engaging biblical discussions and practical key, thought provoking questions to develop their awareness. No doubt God relies on both structured and “free-hand” ways to direct us and conform us into his image. I just find it valuable to have teachers and biblical comrades like yourself who are capable of both.

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