A RESPONSE TO KEN HAM AND ANSWERS IN GENESIS ON DOES INERRANCY REQUIRE BELIEVE IN A YOUNG EARTH?
By Norman L. Geisler
Let me begin by acknowledging the serious anti-evolutionary work of Ken Ham and the Young Earth creationists at Answers in Genesis (AIG). They have a sincere desire to defend the inerrant word of God and its “literal” historical-grammatical interpretation of Genesis. They have built an impressive organization and Creation Museum in Kentucky (which I have visited). I personally respect the Young Earth view and once held it myself. Indeed, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I still lean toward it. I even fought for their right to teach the Young Earth view and creation along side of evolution in the public schools as an expert witness at the “Scopes Two” Trial in Arkansas (1981) (see Geisler, Creation and the Courts). Further, I hope and pray that the Young Earth view is true (because it would be a good argument against evolution). Unfortunately, however, I believe the weight of biblical and scientific evidence does not favor it.
However, whatever uncertainty there may be about the Young Earth view, I am convinced of one thing—the age of the earth is not a test of orthodoxy. Thus, I wrote the article: “Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to Believe in Young Earth Creationism?” in which I came to a negative conclusion. Answers in Genesis responded to my article in a piece titled “The Ultimate Motivation of This Prominent Theologian.” However, despite their kind words and good intention, their response missed the main point of my article. It was, as the title affirms, aimed at answering the question of whether belief in inerrancy demands a Young earth View. My point was not to determine whether the earth is young or old. Nor was the point to deny a connection between belief in the historical grammatical method of interpretation and the doctrine of inerrancy. I believe there is, and as a framer of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy (1978), I strongly affirmed that there is (in Article XVIII), declaring: “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis….” Later, in the ICBI Hermeneutics statement on inerrancy, we added: “We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense…” (Article XV). So, the point in my article was simply to determine whether or not believing in inerrancy and the historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible “requires” a belief in a Young Earth. And AIG avoided answering the central point of my article. Several of their points call for comment.
First, AIG’s response stressed my alleged “motivation” and “ultimate motivation” for holding to an Old Earth position as being the desire to accommodate the evolutionary view of long time periods. But why should I want to do that when I don’t believe in Evolution and would be happy if the Young Earth view was true. Indeed, one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time (St. Augustine), who lived a millennium and a half before Darwin, did not hold to a young earth. So, it is not a question of motivation but of interpretation of God’s revelation in Scripture and in nature that is the issue. My motivation is to know the truth, and to find the truth I must examine the evidence. When I do, I find the evidence for a Young Earth—both biblically and scientifically–less than definitive.
As for my “ultimate” motivation, how could any mortal know this? I believe that AIG would agree that our ultimate aim should be the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). And as for immediate motivation, neither most Old Earthers nor I base our biblical view on alleged evidence for the old age of the earth. Further, as mentioned in the article, long time periods do not hurt creation (in which I believe) nor does they help evolution which they believe. Time as such does not bring order; it brings disorder, as the Law Entropy reveals. What is more, one’s motivation does not determine truth. For a person can hold a false view with good motivation, or he can hold a true view with bad motivation. So stressing, as AIG did, the alleged motivation of Old Earthers, really reduces to diverting the issue.
Second, since AIG is strongly concerned with the age of the earth, it was understandable that it was easily distracted from the focus of my article to this issue. But the issue was not the age of the earth but whether or not there was a necessaryconnection between the age of the earth and inerrancy. That is, does belief in inerrancy demand a Young Earth view? AIG did not really address this question directly. It does not actually matter to our point whether the earth is young or old. For even if it is young, it still remains to ask whether such a belief is necessarily tied to inerrancy. In actuality, there are Young Earthers who do not hold to inerrancy and non-Young Earthers who embrace it but who do not believe that inerrancy demands a Young Earth view.
Third, AIG virtually admits what logicians call the “Slippery Slope” fallacy, insisting that our view “unlocks the door” that opens doubt about the rest of the Word of God. They add, such doubt can (and does) put many people “on a slippery slide of unbelief toward the Word of God,” even though AIG acknowledges that it did not happen in my case. Nor, we may add, has it happened in the case of the vast majority of all the founders and framers of the inerrancy movement for the last 100 years. As a matter of fact, there is no logically necessary connection between one’s view on how old the universe is and unbelief in the Word of God
If anything, the opposite is true. For unnecessarily tying inerrancy to a Young Earth view can easily lead some to give up the Christian Faith. For example, if they believe that Young Earth and inerrancy are logically connected and then comes to believe for whatever reason that the Earth is old, then logically they would have to give up their faith. This is not so for those whose faith is not logically tied to the age of the earth.
Fourth, AIG mistakenly assumes that Old Earth Creationists have “adopted two different hermeneutical principles.” That is, they claim that we depart from the historical-grammatical hermeneutics when we interpret the early chapters of Genesis. But this is clearly not so, for the ICBI statements, of which the framers were committed to a strong and comprehensive statement on hermeneutics and inerrancy by ICBI (seewww.bastionbooks.com for Explaining Biblical Inerrancy). For example,–
(1) ICBI affirmed that the “text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico—historical exegesis….” (Inerrancy article XVII). It adds, “We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense…. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms in the text” (ibid., emphasis added). All the Bible is literally true, but not all the Bible is true literally. There are figures of speech (e.g., Jn. 10:7; 15:1) in the Bible. What is more, some figures of speech related to days. For example, the “dawn of civilization” and the “twilight of human history” mean something longer than a 24 hour day. One must remember that the “literal” (sensus literalis) interpretation does not demand a literalistic interpretation of the word “day,” as the biblical phrase “the day of the Lord” indicates (e.g., Joel 2:1; 2 Pet. 3:10).
(2) ICBI also declared that “Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book,” adding, “We deny that the teachings of Genesis 1-11 are mythical and that scientific hypotheses about earth’s history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what the Bible teaches about creation” (Hermeneutics Article 22).
(3) ICBI further affirmed that there was a literal Adam and that evolutionism is false. When they denied that generic categories should be used to “dehistoricize” the Bible, the official ICBI commentary adds, “the Denial is directed at those, for instance, [that] take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person” (Hermeneutics Article XIII).
(4) ICBI also declared that “Scripture should [not] be required to fit alien preunderstandings, inconsistent with itself, such as naturalism, evolutionism, scientism, secular humanism, and relativism” (Hermeneutics, Article XIX). The official ICBI commentary adds, “These accounts [of creation and the Flood] are all factual, that is, they are space-time events” which “actually happened.” Likewise, “the use of the term ‘creation’ was meant to exclude the belief in macro-evolution, whether of the atheistic or theistic varieties” (Official commentary on Article XXII).
In short, the most comprehensive and definitive statement on inerrancy by a large group evangelical scholars (the ICBI) in the twentieth century defended the historicity of Genesis, the actuality of Adam, and the doctrine of creation–all without any commitment to the age of the earth. Of course, one could always claim that Old Earthers are inconsistent with their historical-grammatical hermeneutic, but this is an assertion without demonstration. Further, this would mean that the leaders and defenders of inerrancy for last the hundred plus years from Warfield and Hodge to Francis Schaeffer and J. I. Packer were all inconsistent with their own principles, and only Young Earthers are consistent with their principles. Besides being unlikely, such a claim lacks both humility and verifiability.
Fifth, another problem is that AIG downplays (and virtually denies) the validity of general revelation as a legitimate source of truth. The Bible clearly states that God has revealed Himself in nature (Psa. 19:1; Rom. 1:19-20; Acts 14 and 17). In fact, this general revelation is so “clearly perceived” that non-Christians are “without excuse’ (Rom. 1:20). In spite of this, AIG refers to knowledge from general revelation as “fallible man’s ideas.” However, general revelation outside of the Bible teaches us that the world does not literally have “four corners” (Rev. 7:1), thus correcting a long held misinterpretation of the Bible by many Christians.
Likewise, we know from a proper scientific interpretation of general revelation that the sun does not move around the earth, thus correcting a long held interpretation of many theologians of the Bible that the sun does move around the earth. Of course, it is true that scientists sometimes misinterpret general revelation (e.g., their belief in macro-evolution), but this does not negate the fact that general revelation, properly understood, teaches the creation of the world, of every type of animals, and of human beings in the image of God (Gen. 1:1, 21, 27).
So, the issue is not whether general revelation can be a source of truth and that it can even at times prompt one to correct a misinterpretation of the Bible. The issue is which interpretationof the Bible and of general revelation is correct. Thus, it is not, as AIG would lead us to believe, the Word of God versus fallible man’s ideas outside of God’s Word. Nor is the issue a conflict between God’s special revelation in the Bible and His general revelation in nature. God does not contradict himself. As the ICBI Hermeneutics statement (1982) declares: “We affirm the harmony of special and general revelation and therefore of biblical teaching with the facts of nature” (Article XXI). The real issue is whose interpretation of God’s written revelation and His general revelation is correct. A more detailed answer is found elsewhere (see my Systematic Theology, in One Volume, chap 4). So, the conflict is not between the Infallible Word of God and the fallible words of human beings. Rather, the argument is between opposed fallible interpretations of God’s infallible revelation. The problem with many Young Earthers, if I may put it boldly, is that they tend to equate their fallible interpretation on this matter with God infallible revelation.
Sixth, our point in the article was not to deny there is a connection between belief in the literal historical grammatical method of interpretation and belief in inerrancy. Rather, it was to show there is no necessary connection between a Young Earth view and Inerrancy. To date, Young Earthers and AIG have not demonstrated any logical connection between inerrancy and the age of the earth. The truth is that one can believe in the literal historical–grammatical interpretation of Scripture, as the founders and framers of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy did, and yet not restrict it to a Young Earth view. That is, the historical-grammatical method allows for an Old earth view which affirms the historicity of Genesis, Adam, and creation.
Some have supposed a parallel between the above argument and the claim of some current New Testament scholars (see Mike Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 35, 36, 306, 552, 553) who are using extra-biblical sources to deny or cast doubt on the historicity of sections of the Gospels. However, the two issues are not the same. For these NT scholars are not using God’s general revelation in nature to override the historicity of the biblical text. Rather, they are employing extra-biblical data from Hebrew or Greco-Roman sources to “dehistoricize” sections of the Gospels. But this process is explicitly condemned by name in the ICBI statements (Inerrancy Article XVIII) when it declares: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Hermeneutics Article XIII). Also, “We deny that extra-biblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it” (ibid., Article XXI).
Seventh, AIG overlooked or misconstrues some arguments against its view. For example, they ignore that the word day (yom) is used of more than a twenty four hour period of time right in the Genesis creation account when it refers to all six days of creation as “in the day (yom) in which the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” Further, “day’ is used of half of a 24 hour day, as in daylight (Gen. 1:4-5a). Also, AIG overlooked the fact that numbered days sometimes refer to days longer than 24 hours (Hosea 6:1-2). In addition, the word “day” is used in the Bible of longer periods of time, as in “the day of the Lord” (e.g., Joel 2:1; 2 Peter 3:10). AIG also misinterprets Hebrews 4:9-10 which affirms God is still resting in His “Sabbath rest” from creation (Heb. 4:4-9) thousands of years later. Further, while AIG noted a list of arguments we gave for an Old Earth, it failed to point out that I also believe that “none of these [arguments] is foolproof, and all of them may be wrong” (Systematic Theology, in One Volume, ibid., p. 1534). What is more, AIG uses eisegesis (reading into the text) on Roman 5:12 which says only that “death passed on all men” (not on all animal too) because of Adam’s sin. They also assumed that only a Young Earth view is compatible with God pronouncing the world was “good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12 etc.) since there was animal death before Adam. But “good” (Heb. tob) is not a moral term as used here or in most places in the OT, nor is it an evil that higher forms of life can live off lower forms—otherwise we would have to stop eating!
Eighth, AIG mistakenly argues that we appeal “to New Testament abbreviated genealogies that contain no chronological information to argue for gaps in the detailed genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 in the Old Testament.” First of all, since both AIG and myself believe that both Testaments are divinely inspired, there is no reason we cannot appeal to both which is precisely what we did to show threre is a gap in Genesis 11:12 (which leaves out Cainan—Lk. 3:36). Further, even within the Old Testament there are gaps in the geologies from one list to another (see Ezra7:2 and 1 Chrn. 6:6-14).
Ninth, AIG almost totally ignored the real crucial questions posed in the article, namely, (1) Is the age of the earth a test of orthodoxy? (2) Is the age of the earth a fundamental of the Faith? (3) Is it a test of Christian fellowship? (4) If so, why has it not been recognized as such by any of the great creeds of the Christian Faith? (5) Why is it that even the modern founders of Fundamentalism and the inerrancy movements did not hold this connection? (6) Does not insisting that the Young Earth view is “required” tend to undermine the faith of young believers who may not be convinced that the age of the earth is necessary to orthodoxy? At a minimum, an acknowledgement by Young Earthers that the age of the earth is not a test of orthodoxy would greatly further the dialogue and lessen the tensions between Young and Old Earthers.
The truth of the matter is that the age of the earth has never been a test for orthodoxy in the long history of the Christian Church. The age of the earth is not a matter of definitive revelation but of debatable interpretation. It is not, as AIG proposes, a question of the infallible Word of God vs. fallible human opinions. It is a matter of the conflict of opinion about God’s written Word (the Bible) with opinions about His general revelation. As such, the age of the earth is not a fundamental of the Faith. While belief in the “Creator of the heaven and earth” is an essential Christian belief found in the creeds, but the age of the universe is not. Rather, it is in the category of non-essential beliefs and should not be used as a test of orthodoxy or of Christian fellowship. In fact, insisting that it is a test for orthodoxy may unnecessarily influence some believers to leave the faith who (for one reason or another) come to believe that the world is older than 6000 B.C.