Essential Elements of Young Earth Creationism and Their Importance to Christian Theology (Part 1)

"Earthrise." NASA photo, Apollo 8.

From DBSJ 21 (2016): 31–58. Republished with permission.

Matthew A. Postiff1

For about 15 years I have had the privilege of studying under William Combs, Bruce Compton, and Robert McCabe. More recently, I have benefited from their advice concerning local church ministry and their mentorship as I assisted two of them in their teaching responsibilities at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. Their interaction as personal friends has been a great encouragement. I am indebted to all of them for their careful and conservative scholarship in exegetical, biblical and systematic theology as well as the biblical languages. I trust this essay will be a fitting honor to them as I offer further support for one of Dr. McCabe’s areas of special interest: the important biblical doctrine of young earth creationism.

A note about nomenclature is necessary to begin. The theological view we espouse is most commonly called young earth creationism (YEC). Young quickly conveys the distinction of our view compared to all who posit an earth and universe that are billions of years old. The YEC moniker will likely remain the popular name of the view. But YEC can also be very appropriately called literal creationism. I somewhat prefer to use the term young earth theology (YET). The reason for this is that the significance of young earth creationism is not limited to the opening days of creation. Its long tentacles reach into the gospel, apologetics, the nature of God, man and sin, and many other areas of Christian theology.

This is consistent with Dr. McCabe’s teaching. In the conclusion of his defense of literal days in the creation week published 16 years ago, he wrote,

While many Christians and Christian organizations relegate a literal creation week to a secondary or tertiary level of Christian doctrine, I would suggest that it is an essential part of the faith. To relegate literal creationism to a peripheral doctrinal level minimally suggests an inconsistent view of Scripture’s perspicuity on this subject and pervasively promotes deterioration in other facets of orthodox doctrine.2

In this essay, I will offer further evidence for his conclusion. To do so, I will first locate young earth creationism in the spectrum of creationist views. Second, I will provide a list of non-essential beliefs regarding young earth creation. The main body of the paper is the third section, in which I will list and explain the essential or “non negotiable” aspects of young earth theology.3 Finally, I will highlight the fact that young earth theology is not just about creation, but that it touches on other areas of systematic theology and is an indispensable part of the faith once delivered to the saints.

The Spectrum of Views on Creation

Various views on how everything came to be can be summarized in two major categories depending on the most important authority that informs the view: Biblical Creationism and Scientific Creationism. Biblical creationism emphasizes what the Bible teaches about the existence of God and his role in supernaturally creating all things. It takes its data from the exegesis of the Bible. The various scientific views of creationism include more or less of an emphasis on secular science and evolutionary ideas with much less, if any, participation by God.

A third major category of creationist views arises from other ancient religions. These are mostly polytheistic or mythological explanations of creation, such as the many creation accounts of the ancient near east. I will not address them in this essay.

Biblical Creationism

Today, the most common biblical creationist viewpoint is young earth creationism. It teaches that the Bible contains a straightforward account of how God supernaturally created the heavens, the earth, and all that is in them in six normal days about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. It teaches that there was a real Adam and Eve, that all death came through the sin of Adam, and that Noah’s flood was a worldwide catastrophic judgment by God that has important implications for present studies of geology and geography.

According to this view, the interpretation of historical or observational scientific data must be brought into agreement with biblical data rather than the other way around. The Scripture is a sufficient witness to creation and does not require the additional input of science to explain the basic elements of creation.

With the remainder of the views, science is viewed as an authority alongside or superior to the Bible.4 For them, the Bible must be accommodated to the results of science so that a concord can be found between the two competing authorities.

We also have old earth creationist views such as the gap and pre-creation chaos theories. These views postulate a ruin followed by a reconstruction either before Genesis 1:1 or between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, after which the creation account is understood as literally true, occurring in six literal days.5 So, the gap and pre-creation theories hold to six days, but only after an indeterminate length of time prior to the six days. This is why I class it in the biblical creationism category (although I could be convinced to class it with the scientific creationism views). Popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible, this understanding grants prominence to geology by accepting the long geologic ages as a necessary part of the biblical timeline of world history. This view was popularized just over 200 years ago6 and can be held with or without biological evolution. One variant is that the ‘mineral creation’ is old while the living organisms are young. Another variant is that there were animals and/or angels prior to the ruin and reconstruction.7

Another view is what I will call the “time dilation” view,8 in which Einstein’s theories play an important role. According to his understanding of the universe, time is not a constant and instead depends on the effects of gravity. The result of this could be that time near the earth consisted of a short week while farther out in the universe it was dilated to greater lengths of time. Like Einstein’s theory, the time dilation view is quite difficult to understand and explain. However, what is clear is that it attempts to explain the vast distances in the universe and how they relate to the (apparently) short time of creation. This understanding could be modified to have a more naturalistic emphasis, but it can also be used to explain creation from a literal biblical perspective.

Notes

1 Dr. Postiff is the pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Ann Arbor, MI.

2 Robert V. McCabe, “A Defense of Literal Days in the Creation Week,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 5 (Fall 2000): 123.

3 I was able to participate in early discussions about these essentials several years ago with Robert McCabe and Terry Mortenson from Answers in Genesis.

4 For instance Hugh Ross’s “the voice of nature” in The Fingerprint of God (Orange, CA: Promise Publishing, 1991), 145. In the back matter of that book, Ross’s organization “Reasons to Believe” is described as providing teaching “on the harmony of God’s dual revelation in the words of the Bible and in the facts of nature.”

5 George H. Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages and their Connection with Modern Spiritualism, Theospohy, and Buddhism, ed. G. H. Lang (repr. of 1876 ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1946), 65. For the best book-length critique of the gap theory, see Weston W. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled: A Critique of the Gap Theory (Collinsville, IL: Burgener Enterprises, 1976). McCabe wrote a lengthy critique of the re-creationist views in his Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary Course Syllabus, “Biblical Creationism.”

6 Ian Taylor, In the Minds of Men: Darwin and the New World Order, 3rd ed. (Toronto: TFE Publishing, 1984), 362–64.

7 In the gap view, there is no pressing need for the Noahic flood to explain the world’s current appearance because there was a prior flood, before the re-creation that started in Genesis 1:2. Still, gap theorists such as Pember held to the global flood of during Noah’s lifetime as distinct from the earlier flood of ruination.

8 For an introduction, see the opening chapter by D. Russell Humphreys, Starlight and Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1994).

Matthew Postiff bio


Dr. Postiff has served as Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church since 2006. He holds a PhD in computer engineering from University of Michigan and ran an engineering consulting firm specializing in design and simulation of computer microprocessors. He earned his ThM from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in 2010.

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Mike Harding's picture

I have known Pastor Matt Postiff for many years.  Both he and I finished our Th.M. degrees at DBTS near the same time.  Matt, in addition to his M.Div. and Th.M. degrees at DBTS, also has an earned doctorate from the University of Michigan.  Matt pastors the Fellowship Bible Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has been the pastor of my daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca and Dr. Mark Mayer.  Matt is an outstanding scholar and pastor.  He is one of the most capable men I have ever known in seminary and the pastorate.  This series will be outstanding.  I encourage all to read it.

Pastor Mike Harding

dgszweda's picture

I agree fully agree that someone's view around creation is much more important than most Christians will give it value.  Unfortunately too many Christians downplay this and as a result when this tension between science and the Bible appears, all too many Christians will bend to the science.  I am a staunch YEC, but I am not dogmatic around the 6,000 to 10,000 year mark, as this is more the result of stitching genealogies together by Ussher than anything taught in Scriptures.

Jim's picture

http://www.cs.unc.edu/~plaisted/ce/oldyoung.html

The purpose of this article is to present evidence to young earth-young universe creationists supporting the position that the Bible permits a young earth and an old universe. This article is not intended to convince the reader that the universe is necessarily old, but merely to give evidence that this position is consistent with the Scriptures. We accept the position that the creation week consisted of seven literal days and occurred only a few thousand years ago.

One verse most often used to justify a young universe is found in Mark 10:6 : "But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female." Here "the creation" is understood by many creationists to mean the creation of the universe. Since the creation week, according to the Bible, occurred recently, this would make the universe young. However, the Bible also suggests that there may be multiple creations. Hebrews 9:11 states: "... not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building [creation]." This verse suggests that there may be other creations. Also, Is 45:12 gives further insight:

I have made the earth, and created man upon it:
I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.

This verse presents the concept that the earth was "made" (formed) but man was "created." Thus the creation can refer to the creation of life on earth. The second part of the verse switches the view from earth to heaven, not necessarily in chronological order, but as a literary device of passing from the lesser (earth) to the greater (heaven and all its host).

According to this interpretation, the "beginning of the creation" in Mark 10:6 could refer to the creation of life on earth. It might be possible that the universe existed long before. Even the earth might have existed in some primordial form, without life and very much unlike the current earth, before the creation week. During the creation week, the surface of the earth was drastically reshaped, and the earth as we know it came into existence. Thus it would be correct to say that the earth as we know it is young.

This viewpoint has some implications for radiometric dating. If one believes the universe is young, then one has to account for the fact that many dating methods agree on meteorites and give ages of about 4.5 billion years. This requires one to hypothesize that some of the physical constants of the universe have changed. If one believes that the universe is old but the earth is young, then it is not necessary to assume that the physical constants have changed, at least not since the very early days of the creation. One can explain the old ages for rocks on the earth as dates partly inherited from the primordial earth, or as due to decay that was accelerated during the flood. This accelerated decay would not necessarily result from a change in the physical constants, but might result from the earth being bombarded by various kinds of radiation during the flood, possibly gamma rays or neutrinos. If such radiation can accelerate decay processes, it likely would not cause all decay processes to accelerate by the same amount, in keeping with the fact that different dating methods on the earth are typically discordant.

To me it is unsettling to assume that the Lord changed decay constants to cause the flood, as assumed by D. Russell Humphreys in the RATE study, Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: A Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative (ICR and CRS, 2000). As far as we know, the Lord works through natural processes. Did the Lord change physical constants to cause the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah or the crossing of the Red Sea? It seems doubtful because of the many side-effects that would have been caused. Then why would He use such alterations to cause the Flood? Rather, it seems more reasonable that these interventions were caused by the actions of angels or God Himself exerting forces on the physical world.

One way to accommodate a young earth and an apparently old universe is to assume that somehow time ran faster during the creation week, so that billions of years passed in the rest of the universe during only one week on earth. This assumption gives the earth a special position in the creation of the universe, which does not seem to agree with the observed fact that the earth is just a tiny part of the Milky Way Galaxy and this is just one of billions of galaxies in the universe. The earth does not seem to hold a special position in the universe and it does not seem reasonable to assume that the earth held a special position in the original creation of the universe. However, during the creation week, which could have been much later, the center of action was the earth.

If one accepts Genesis 1:1 as referring to the creation of the universe at some time in the past and Genesis 1:2 to the reforming of the earth during the creation week, then many problems are solved and it is not necessary to assume a change in the speed of light or in the decay constants to explain observed physical phenomena. Thus the statement "In six days the Lord made heaven and earth" (Exodus 20:11) would refer to the reforming, or making, of the earth and not to its original creation from nothingness.

Darrell Post's picture

Jim, I have read that before, but I am still not sure how it gets around the fourth day of creation in Genesis 1:14-19:

14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

The following paraphrase would seem to be required:

16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also[, but did so millions of years earlier].

The context seems to suggest the stars were created in conjunction with our sun and moon--on day 4.

I find it interesting that when the images of Pluto were returned from the probe, astronomers were shocked that there was recent geological activity on Pluto's surface. The reason for their shock was Pluto's location--far from any body that would impact it with a strong gravitational pull so as to warm the core and keep the surface active. They agree that early in Pluto's formation, millions of years ago, it would have had a warm core, but with nothing else nearby like Jupiter or Saturn, it would have lost all its heat long ago. They expected it to be a bland, cold rock with a surface pockmarked from millions of years of impacts. But if Pluto is young, then it explains why the surface can still be geologically active.

I am also interested in the point Jason Lisle made regarding the spiral galaxies we see imaged by Hubble and the many huge ground-based telescopes. The spiral arms appear in these images crystal clear and easy to see even though the spin of the galactic system is faster near the center--meaning that if these are billions of years old and it took the light millions of years to get here, the spiral arms should appear to us all blurred. But if they are a recent creation, it explains why they appear clearly resolved in the images.

I can understand why YE/OU might seem attractive, but I am not sure it squares with Genesis 1:16, unless they want to suggest that our galaxy was recent (because all the stars we see in the night sky are in our galaxy) but the rest of the universe was old. Then again, there are two small satellite galaxies visible to the unaided eye in the Southern hemisphere...so they would have to be young too I guess.

Darrell Post's picture

"I am a staunch YEC, but I am not dogmatic around the 6,000 to 10,000 year mark, as this is more the result of stitching genealogies together by Ussher than anything taught in Scriptures."

Agreed. Many are not aware the genealogies in Genesis differ significantly between the records of the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the traditional Hebrew text. Now one might instinctively say, just ignore the others and go with the traditional Hebrew. But at least in one place we almost certainly have to conclude the Septuagint is right and the Hebrew wrong, or else we would have to conclude Luke was wrong. Luke 3:35-36 indicates Selah was son of Cainan who was the son of Arphaxad. Luke was following the Septuagint. The Hebrew Text in Genesis 11:12 indicates Arphaxad begot Selah, and Cainan is not mentioned.

Furthermore the Genealogy from Shem to Abram seems to be compressed for brevity. We likely need to view the wording with a little more elasticity than perhaps we are used to. Person 'A' lived so many years and begot Person 'B' could be taken to mean Person 'A' lived so many years and begot the line of descendants leading to Person 'B'. Evidence for this is found in the list of names where there is a sudden drop in the longevity. Here are the lifespans in the list:

Shem 500 - Arphaxad 403 - [Cainan] - Selah 403 - Eber 430 - Peleg 209 - Reu 207 - Serug 200 - Nahor 190

Notice the sudden drop off between Eber and Peleg. Again some of these numbers are a little different in the Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint. Also, a strict Ussher rendering of these numbers results in Shem still being alive at the time of Abram--not that this would be an impossible problem, but perhaps a little odd.

I would also argue for limitation on the extent of the compressed generations. There is a very real connection between Shem and Abram, and that real connection would be lost if there were thousands or tens of thousands of generations between Eber and Peleg. Hence, the 6000-10,000. If pressed, I would probably sharpen it a little to a range of 4,300 BC (assuming a minimal compression of the Genesis 11 list and no compression of the line from Adam to Noah) and 8,000 BC (assuming substantial compression in Genesis 11 as well as Genesis 5 from Adam to Noah). Of the two ends of this range, I would probably guess somewhere in the middle leaning toward the smaller number.

dgszweda's picture

Darrell Post wrote:

"I am a staunch YEC, but I am not dogmatic around the 6,000 to 10,000 year mark, as this is more the result of stitching genealogies together by Ussher than anything taught in Scriptures."

 

I would also argue for limitation on the extent of the compressed generations. There is a very real connection between Shem and Abram, and that real connection would be lost if there were thousands or tens of thousands of generations between Eber and Peleg. Hence, the 6000-10,000. If pressed, I would probably sharpen it a little to a range of 4,300 BC (assuming a minimal compression of the Genesis 11 list and no compression of the line from Adam to Noah) and 8,000 BC (assuming substantial compression in Genesis 11 as well as Genesis 5 from Adam to Noah). Of the two ends of this range, I would probably guess somewhere in the middle leaning toward the smaller number.

My point is more driven around the fact that Genealogies were more to validate lineage and not exact timeframes.  This has been clearly shown to be the case for the genealogies associated with kings and coregency.  We also know there are probably gaps within the genealogies.  With that said, I would not be opposed to someone believing it was 6,000 years, but I feel it is hard to be dogmatic around it, as I am not sure Scripture is clearly laid out to make it an exact fact.  I don't believe it is millions or billions of years.  But wouldn't necessarily be opposed to 60,000 or 70,000 years.  Which I know seems a massive change from 6,000 to 10,000, but I just don't believe Scripture lays out facts for the exact age of the universe.  I do believe that it clearly lays out facts in a 6 day, 24 hour creation very plainly.

Darrell Post's picture

Just to clarify my thoughts a bit--Given that we are in a sin cursed world with wars, natural disasters, disease, etc., it seems unreasonable and unlikely to think the genealogical records, whether written or oral, could survive tens of thousands of years of transmission. I agree the Scriptures do not provide any specific data to indicate the precise age of the earth. But given that Shem is the literal ancestor of Abram, just as Noah was a literal descendant of Adam the only question is how many generations were omitted from the lists. The larger the number of omissions, the more unlikely it is the data could have survived intact. For comparison, one Egyptologist I saw referred to in a documentary calls what has been preserved from ancient Egypt 'rags and tatters.' And that was only 3000 to 5000 thousand years back--where much of what did survived is attributable to the arid climate and use of stone.

So it seems unlikely at the time of Abram that data and connections back to the more distant past would survive if that distance was 10,000 years, or 20k, or 30k.

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