A Review of Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism

A Review of Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution:

The Search for the Limits of Darwinism

By Norman L. Geisler


This book is the follow up of Behe’s revolutionary work, Darwin’s Black Box. Like the first volume, this 307 page tome will also created a stir in the perennial creation-evolution debate. Unlike the first book, the emphasis here is on the limits of evolution rather than the need for intelligent design. Behe’s general conclusions are based largely on the Malaria and HIV studies which enable scientists to determine the rate of “helpful” chance mutations (13) for micro evolution. When this is applied to mutations in living things, Behe believes the mathematical odds eliminate the Darwinian belief that the origin of all living forms can be explained by random mutations and natural selection. This attempt to define the limits of Darwinism provides a way to determine the borders for micro-evolution within an overall intelligent design framework. It is one of the most sophisticated attempts to define the border between macro and micro evolution. The previous effort was by Ray Bolin’s book, The Limits to Biological Change (1984). Much of Behe’s work deals with a technical microbiological discussion of the nature of the cell. However, because of the use of good illustrations, even the scientifically untrained reader can understand the overall argument.

The Central Thesis

Behe concludes that everything from biological classes, types, and phyla clearly need a designer. Everything from species, varieties, and individuals can be explained by purely natural processes like “random mutations, natural selection, and common descent” (1). The Line, then, between, Darwin and design is somewhere in the area of orders, families, and genera (218), though he thinks it is likely that even the orders are designed (193, 199).

In other words, micro evolution (changes within different types) can be accounted for Darwinian processes without any intelligent design. Before that level, however, only an Intelligent Designer can account for the irreducible complexity in living things. Thus, the origin of new life forms cannot be accounted for by a completely Darwinian random processes of chance mutations, and natural selection.

Theistic Evolution

Creationists who missed the fine print in Behe’s first book, acknowledging that he held an overall evolutionary common ancestry thesis, will be disappointed with The Edge of Evolution. For here Behe makes it clear that he is a theistic evolutionist (166, 182, 232). He says: “I’ll show some of the newest evidence from studies of DNA that convinces most scientists, including myself, that one leg of Darwin’s theory–common descent–is correct” (65). He adds, “when two lineages share what appears to be an arbitrary genetic accident, the case for common descent becomes compelling …. This sort of evidence he sees in the genomes of humans and chimpanzees” (70-71). “More compelling evidence for the shared ancestry of humans and other primates comes from …a broken hemoglobin gene” which they share (71). Creationists, however, have shown that a common Creator explains this same data as a result of intelligent design (see Fazele Rana and High Ross, Who Was Adam?, 2005, Chapter 14).

Behe seems to favor the position that “intelligent design is quite compatible with the view that the universe operates by unbroken natural law, with the design of life perhaps packed into its initial set-up” (166). Thus, “the bottom line is this: Common descent is true; yet the explanation of common descent … is in a profound sense trivial” Why? Because “It does not even begin to explain where these commonalities came from, or how humans subsequently acquired remarkable differences” (72). Behe believes that it comes from pre-planned and pre-set intelligent design, perhaps from the moment of the Big Bang.

Random Changes are Inadequate

As one would suspect from his first work, Behe reaffirms his initial thesis that “Random duplicating a single gene, or even the entire genome, does not yield new complex machinery… [or] novel, complex forms of life” (74). Indeed, he insists that the studies since his first book show that “the problems of its [cilium’s] irreducible complexity has been enormously compounded” (94). And “The cilium is no fluke. The cell is full of structures whose complexity is substantially greater than we knew just ten years ago” (95). He also points to the incredible timing it takes to construct a cell, comparing it to the preparation and execution of the material and machinery necessary to erect a large building (96).
Returning to the bacterial flagellum (motor mechanism), he calls it “mind-boggling complexity” (101) since we know there are control switches that exert control over its construction. Citing noble laureate Francis Crick, Behe concludes that “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going” (216).

Possible Divine Interference

In spite of his common descent thesis, Behe allows for the possibility of divine “interference” after the initial creation at the Big Bang. He concludes: “The bottom line is that, if one allows that a being external to the universe could affect its laws, there is no principled reason to rule out a priori more extensive interaction as well” (210). In short, “If there really does exist an agent who tuned the general laws of nature with the goal of producing intelligent life, then it’s reasonable to think the agent would have taken whatever further steps were necessary to achieve its goal” (213). However, typical of evolutionists, with or without and initial Creator, Behe agrees with the party-line criticism that this positing a series of creative events after the beginning is an unnecessary God-of-the-gaps move.

The Anthropic Connection

Behe skillfully ties his intelligent design thesis in with the anthropic principle (207-208), saying, “It’s reasonable to conclude not only that the universe is designed, but that the design extends well beyond general laws, at least down into particularities of the physical and chemistry of certain molecules” (210). This has the advantage of showing that the designer is beyond the world and that He preplanned emergence of complex life before the Big Bang. He declares that “the hard work of many scientists across many scientific disciplines in the past century unexpectedly demonstrated that both the universe at large and the earth in particular were designed for life. The heavens and earth–and life itself–alike are fine-tuned” (210). In spite of this, Behe strangely allows the view that the Designer may be within the universe like Fred Hoyle proposed (228). However, this is not consistent with the fact that the Designer preplanned the original Big Bang event before the natural world existed and pre-packed it with the necessary conditions for human life to emerge.

The Evidence for Intelligent Design

Behe posits two criteria for an intelligent cause. First, the odds against a natural cause must be great. Random mutations cannot explain the irreducibly complex nature of life for “the majority of even helpful mutations are lost by chance before they get an opportunity to spread in the population” (111). In short, the complex structure of the cell makes it unreasonable for blind Darwinism to navigate the maze necessary for life (113). For both the necessary parts and the action to achieve cell construction make it highly improbable that it would occur naturally (121).

By comparison with the HIV virus in which nothing “significantly new or complex” (155) developed in 1020 copies, Behe concludes that the likelihood of even simple helpful changes for complex cell construction are virtually nil. It is in this connection that Behe offers a helpful distinction between mere theoretical possibility (which Darwinian evolution depends on to make its case) and biologically reasonable expectation (103), namely, something that is likely to occur in nature (which Darwinians is not).

Second, the evidence of purpose is necessary to posit an intelligent cause. Indeed, Behe defines “design” as “the purposeful arrangement of parts” (168). Rational agents can coordinate things into a large system like a ship. Such an arrangement is not only highly unlikely to occur by chance, but we know from previous experience that an intelligent agent can organize things in this manner. All necessary parts must not only fit together but they must stick together (124-126). Even two new useful properties need an intelligent cause since the odds are 1040 against it. This is more than all the mammals that ever lived (135). This is so unlikely that it calls for an intelligent cause at the outer edge of evolution (145-146).

The Role of Chance (220).

The design thesis is not extended by Behe to every detail of the universe. He asks: “Is nothing left to chance? No, there is no reason to think that any but a minuscule fraction of the details of the universe or life are intended” (219). So, “we have no scientific evidence of the design of the details of most inorganic matter” (220). Hence, “Explicit design appears to reach into biology to a certain level, to the level of the vertebrate class, but not necessarily further, Randomness accounts perfectly well for many aspects of life. Contingency is real” (220). In making this claim, Behe is not discounting that even the tiniest cells are elegantly designed. He insists that random mutations can not take many coherent steps by purely natural processes (179).

Addressing Objections
Behe addresses several objections to His view. One deals with the possibility of numerous universes of which this one is the lucky shot that turned up where life emerged, as improbable as it may have been in a single universe.

The Multi-Universe Hypothesis

Behe addresses the atheistic response that this universe is only an isolated oasis of apparent design in a vast dessert of chance involving multi-universes (221) which make this unusual universe in which we live a plausible result of chance. He believes this hypothesis actually undercuts Darwinism for the models are purely speculative and iffy. That is, there is no observational evidence for such an hypothesis–which is the very basis for science. Further, on such a scenario only a bare-bones universe would be produced, not the lush one we have (223). Science can only deal with what is–not with what one imagines or wishes there to be.

Behe struggles with the infinite universes possibility which would explain this one as one of the many that would actualize in that amount of time and space. However, being unarmed with solid philosophical reasoning, he does not seem to realize that one cannot have an actual infinite number of actual universes (but only abstract ones). He does note that an infinite universes hypothesis would undermine both any meaningful sense of evidence and the fact that all false thought will appear endlessly in such a scenario. More fundamentally, he asserts that science is based on the premises that the universe is real and our senses are reliable. Without this even the first steps of reasoning are impossible (226). But granted these, the infinite universe scenario is unfounded.

The Religious Connection

In answer to the objection that the design position leads to God, Behe quotes Nick Bostrom with approval, affirming that “The ‘agent’ doing the designing need not be a theistic God …,” even though that is one possibility (228). He believes–I think wrongly–that “To reach a transcendent God, other nonscientific arguments have to be made–philosophical and theological arguments” (229). Much of the book deals with a technical microbiological discussion of the nature of the cell. However, by the use of good illustrations even scientifically untrained readers can understand the overall argument.

The God of the Gaps Objection

This reasoning, Behe insists, is not “God of the gaps” because non-randomness “encompasses the cellular foundation of life as a whole” (147). In short, it is not the lack of evidence for a natural cause but the presence of an all-permeating presence of purpose that points to a designer. According to Behe, “purposeful designer” is taken in a broad sense (229) to include either a supernatural cause beyond the universe or one inside the universe. For “the designer need not necessarily even be a truly ‘supernatural’ being.” Thus, he argues that “if one wishes to be academically rigorous, he can not leap directly from design to a transcendent God” (228). But this conclusion is unnecessary in view of Behe’s own argument since the anthropic evidence points to a supernatural cause beyond the universe, as does the evidence for the Big Bang to which he alludes. For the cause of the whole natural universe cannot be part of the universe. And the only Cause beyond the natural universe is by definition a supernatural Cause. Indeed, on his own definition of science as a conclusion relying on physical evidence, “plus standard logic” (233) one can logically infer a supernatural cause from the Big Bang origin of the entire natural universe, as we just did.

Common Ancestor or Common Creator

Behe argues that: “If mammals and flies use the same switching genes, it is reasonable to think that they inherited them from the same ancestor or ancestors” (182). Indeed, it is true that “every Hox gene seen in the fruit fly has a very similar counterpart in humans!” (180). However, Behe forgets that from this we need not infer common ancestry. For it is also reasonable to conclude that they have a common Creator. For common design points more reasonably to a common Designer than to a common ancestor. For example, the progressive models of airplanes from the Wright brothers to space ships are not evidence of a common ancestor but a common creator. And in many case a function that worked well in a previous model was incorporated into a later one.

Is the Bible Scientific?

Behe claims that it is “silly” to treat the Bible “as some sort of scientific textbook” (166).
However, while the Bible is not a systematic science text on the various sciences, nonetheless, there is no evidence to demonstrate that it is not scientifically accurate when it speaks on matters of origin. Indeed, modern science has confirmed the basic facts of Genesis one: 1) There was a Creator of the universe (Gen. 1:1). 2) First life was created (Gen. 1:21). 3) The basic kinds of multi-cellular life “exploded” on the scene in the Cambrian (Gen. 1:21-24). 4) All forms of life appeared fully formed from the beginning. 5) These forms of life remain basically the same throughout their geological existence, producing after their kind (Gen. 1:24). 6) Human beings are unique creatures with distinctive intellectual and moral capacities, even God-consciousness (Gen. 1:27). Even the Agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow concluded, “”Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commence suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy” (God and the Astronomers, 14).

Does Nature Self-Organize?

Darwinian evolutionist claim that nature performs self-organizing acts such as hurricanes. But, as Behe points out these systems are not like “complex genetic systems” (159). They have no irreducible complexity, nor do they have any specified complexity such as the DNA has. Hence, this Darwinian analogy is fallacious.

Origin vs. Operation Science

Behe shows no evidence that he understands the distinction between origin and operation science distinction that we made in our book, Origin Science (1987). In fact, he seems to blur them in his definition of science as “any conclusion that relies heavily and exclusively on detailed physical evidence, plus standard logic” (233). But this is too broad and does not bring out the distinctives of each domain. Operation science deals with observed regularities in the present, but origin science treats unobserved singularities in the past. The first one is an empirical science which includes micro-evolution, but not macro evolution. It relies on observation (and experimentation) and repetition. Each theory, therefore, must be measured against a recurring pattern in the present.

However, origin science operates like a forensic science. It involves neither repetition nor direct observation of events. Rather, it relies on two other principles: causality and uniformity. The first principle posits that there is a cause for every event. The second principle declares that the kind of causes know by repeated observation in the present to produce certain kinds of events in the present are assumed to be the same kind of causes to produce like events in the past. And the two basic kinds of causes are intelligent and non-intelligent natural causes. Sciences that deal with intelligent causes in the past includes both forensic science and origin science. Had Behe explicitly used this distinction, he could have solved more problems more readily. Likewise, speaking of “testing” (233-234) an origin hypothesis is misleading in the normal sense of an empirical test. In a forensic situation, being a singular unobserved past event, there is no such way to “test” the event. One can only posit a certain kind of cause (known from repetitions in the present) as the most likely cause of that past event of origin, whether a non-intelligent natural cause or an intelligent cause.

Prediction or Retrodiction?

Failing to distinguish origin science form operation science, Behe labors to explain how intelligent design can make predictions better than Darwinian evolution (188-189, 234). But neither theory as such is primarily concerned with making predictions, though some may be inferred from them. Origin science, such as macro evolution and creation, deals with projecting back (retrodiction) from present evidence to past causes based on uniformity (the present is the key to the past). Hence, the main concern is not with verifying the theory by predictions, but with identifying the proper cause for the specific events, whether non-intelligent natural one or an intelligent one.

Suffering and Design

Behe briefly tackles the painful problem of suffering (237f.). He responds to the argument that “because it is horrific, it was not designed” by pointing out that the “revulsion is not a scientific argument.” Indeed, he insists that “denying design simply because it can cause terrible pain is a failure of nerve, a failure to look at the universe fully in the face” (239). Of course, this is a less than satisfying answer to the problem. A more direct response would be to point out two things. First, suffering does not negate the strong evidence for design. At worst, it only raises questions about the nature and purposes of the Designer. Second, the attempts to disprove the Creator based on the apparent lack of purpose for suffering are notoriously unsuccessful. At best they boil down to this: “The Creator cannot have a good purpose for allowing suffering because the creature cannot think of one.” But clearly if the Creator is infinite in knowledge, then we would expect that He would know infinitely more than we do. And if He is absolutely good (which He must be or else we could not know the world is not-perfect without this absolute standard of Perfection by which to measure it), then He must have an absolutely good purpose for everything, even if we do not know it (Deut. 29:29; Rom. 11:33).

Purpose for Apparent Randomness

Behe seems to lack a full understanding of the relation of randomness and design. They are not mutually exclusive. There is a purpose or design for randomness. For example, the random mixing of carbon dioxide which humans exhale has a good purpose, namely, it keeps them from inhaling the same poison because it did not mix with the air we inhale. Likewise, random natural selection has a good purpose: It enables various kinds of animals to survive by adapting to adverse circumstances. In short, it helps the race survive when weaker individuals are eliminated. Just as a saw mill uses the “wasted” saw dust to make other products, even so there is a purpose for the “wasted” animals who did not survive. They provide food and fertilizer for those who do survive.

Likewise, Behe’s argument for common ancestry based on alleged common mutations in genes between primates an humans is fallacious. Just as the once 180 vestigial organs of Darwin’s day have diminished to virtually none, even so, the recently so-called “junk” genes are now known to have a crucial purpose in the development of life. Any alleged “ waste” in God’s universe is probably a byproduct of a good purpose such as higher life living on lower forms. But even this byproduct of a good process (like saw dust from cutting logs) has a good use. Darwin’s view of nature that is “red in tooth and claw” was not the paradise God made in Eden (Gen. 2), nor will it be the Paradise regained in the end (Isa. 65:25; Rev. 21-22). It is the Paradise lost because of man’s sin (Gen. 2:16-17).


In summation, Behe’s work is a mixed blessing to the creation and intelligent design movements. It is a blessing in that: 1) It strengthens the already good argument from specified complexity to an intelligent Designer; 2) It provides a scientific basis for the limits of biological change known as micro-evolution or variation within created kinds or types of life. On the down side: 1) Behe does not seem to understand the difference between operation science and origin science (see my book Creation in the Courts (Crossway, 2007), Chap. 8); 2) He does not see how the scientific evidence leads to a supernatural Cause; 3) He buys into the unfounded argument that similarity shows a common ancestor, rather than a common Creator; 4) He wrongly assumes that some apparent mutations are evidence for common ancestry when they are really highly complex means produced by an intelligent Designer. Thus, so-called “junk” genes are not really junk. Crucial roles have been discovered for them in the increasing complexity of life. And not all apparent mutations are real ones. Granted that it took a supernatural and super intelligent Cause to produce this world (as the Big Bang and Anthropic evidence shows), there is good reason to believe that “God does not make junk!” And if it looks like junk, then scientists need to take another look. For the history of science has shown that apparent left-over organs and junk genes have turned out to have important functions. Any One who can pre-plan and produce a highly complex universe as this one should not be charged with purposeless activity. It is more likely that we are dumb than it is that a supernatural Creator is dead.


Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to believe in Young Earth Creationism?


by Norman L. Geisler


The age of the earth is a hotly debated issue among evangelicals.  Old Earthers believe, like most scientists, that the universe is billions of years old. Young Earthers, measure the age of the universe in terms of thousands of years. The debate is not new, but the insistence by some Young Earthers that belief in the inerrancy of the Bible demands a Young Earth position is relatively new.

                                         The Biblical Status of the Young Earth View

            In order to establish the Young Earth view one must demonstrated that there are (1) no time gaps in the biblical record and that (2) the “days” of Genesis are six successive 24 hour days of creation.


Possible Gaps in Genesis


Unfortunately for Young Earthers, these two premises are difficult to establish for many reasons.  (1) There could have been a gap of long periods of time before Genesis 1:1 (called Recent Creationism).  (2) There could be a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 (called the Gap Theory with or without and intervening fall of Satan, as C. I. Scofield had it). (3) There could be long gaps between the six literal 24-hour days (Alternating Day-Age Theory).  The point here is not to defend any one of these views, but it is to note that belief in an Old Earth is not incompatible in principle with belief in inerrancy and a literal interpretation of Genesis. (4) There are known gaps after Genesis. For example, Mathew 1:8 affirms that “Joram begat Uzziah.”  But in 1 Chronicles 3:11-14 it mentions three missing generations between Joram and Uzziah.  Likewise, Luke 3:35-36 lists one missing generation (Cainan) not mentioned in Genesis 11:20-24.


So, with demonstrable gaps in the genealogies, the “Closed-Chronology” view needed to support the strict Young Earth view is not there. This would mean that a Young Earth view of creation around 4000 B.C. would not be feasible.  And once more gaps are admitted, then when does it cease to be a Young Earth views?



Evidence that the “Days” of Genesis May Involve more than Six 24 hour days of Creation


Not only is it possible that there are time gaps in Genesis 1, but there is also evidence that the “days” of Genesis are not 6 successive 24 hour days, called the Day-Age View (see Hugh Ross, Creation and Time and Don Stoner,A New Look at an Old Earth).  Consider the following:

(1) First, the word “day” (Hb. yom) is not limited to a 24 hour day in the creation record.  For instance, it is used of 12 hours of light or daytime (in Gen.1:4-5a).

(2) It is also used of a whole 24 hour day in Genesis 1:5b where it speaks day and night together as a “day.”

(3) Further, in Genesis 2:4 the word “day” is used of all six days of creation when it affirms: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day [yom] that the LORD God made them” (Gen. 2:4).

(4) What is more, on the “seventh day” God “rested” from His work of creation.  But according to Hebrews 4:4-11, God is still resting and we can enter into His Sabbath rest (v. 10).  So, the seventh day of creation rest is still going on some 6000 plus years later (even by a Young Earth chronology).

(5)  Further, there are biblical alternatives to the strongest argument for a 24 hour day.  (a) For example, numbered series with the word “day” (as in Genesis 1) do not always refer to 24 hour days, as Hosea 6:1-2 shows.  (b) Also, “evening and morning” sometimes refers to longer periods of time rather than 24 hours, as they do in the prophetic days of Daniel 8:14.  (c) And the comparison with the work week in Exodus 20:11 need not be a minute-for-minute but a unit-for-unit comparison.  Further, the seventh day is known to be longer than 24 hours (Heb. 4:4-11).  So, why cannot the other days be longer too?  (d) As for death before Adam, the Bible does not say that death of all life was a result of Adam’s sin.  It only asserts that “death passed upon all men” because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added), not on all plants and animals, though the whole creation was subject to “bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:21).

(6)  Others like Hermon Ridderbos (Is There a Conflict Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science?) took the “days” of Genesis as a Literary Framework for the great creative events of the past.  Still others (Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture) considered the “days” of Genesis to be six 24 hour days of revelation (wherein God revealed what he had done in the ancient past to the writer of Genesis) but not literal days of creation.Again, the point here is not to defend these views but to point out that there are alternatives to a Young Earth View, most of which are not incompatible in principle with a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture.

(7) The Relative Time View claims the Earth is both young and old, depending on how it is measured.  Gerard Schroeder, a Jewish physicists (inGenesis and the Big Bang), argued that measured by God’s time when He created the universe it was only six literal days of creation.  But measured by our time, the creation of the universe is billions of years old.

(8) The Apparent Age View proposes that the universe just looks old, even though it is young.  The book by Philip Henry Gosse was titled Omphalos(1857), meaning navel, proposing that Adam had a navel, even though he was created as an adult.   Likewise, on this view the first tree would have had rings in them the day they were created.

If there is evidence for Gaps in Genesis and longer period of time involved in the six day of Genesis, then the Young Earth view fails to convincingly support its two pillars.  At a minimum it leaves room for reasonable doubt.  In view of this, one can ask why is it that many still cling to the Young Earth view with such tenacity.



A Theological Assumption


For some the belief in a Young Earth seems to be based on a kind of intuition or faith in God’s omnipotence.  It reasons that if God is all powerful, then certainly He would not have taken millions of years to make the earth.  However, by reduction ad absurdum, one could ask why God did not create it in six minutes or six second rather than six days? If He is all-powerful and can make something from nothing, then why did He not create the whole thing lock-stock-and barrel instantaneously!

The Evolutionary Fear

Many Young Earthers seemed to be afraid to grant long periods of time for fear that it may help support an evolutionary conclusion.  However, this is unnecessary for two reasons.  First, time as such does not help evolution.  Dropping red, white, and blue confetti from an airplane a thousand feet above the ground will not produce an American flag in one’s yard.  And going up to ten thousand feet (and giving it more time to fall) will not help.  Time as such does not organize things into complex designs; it further randomizes the material.  It takes an intelligent cause to form it into an American flag.  Further, separating God’s supernatural acts of revelation to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the prophets by many hundreds of years does not make them less supernatural.  It just makes his revelation progressive over a period of time.  The same could be true of God’s acts of creation, if they were separated by long periods of time.

Second, there are plenty of other problems with macro-evolution for it does not explain (without an intervening intelligent cause) how (a) something can come from nothing; b) how non life cannot come from life; c) how non-consciousness can produce consciousness, and d) how non-rational beings can produce rational beings.  Longer periods of time as such do not overcome any of these problems; it takes intelligent intervention to do it.

As we have seen, both premise of the Young Earth View are open to serous objections.  There is no air-tight case for a Young Earth from a biblical point of view.  So, while it may be compatible with inerrancy, nonetheless, inerrancy does not necessitate a belief in a Young Earth.


The Historical Status of the Young Earth Theory


            Historically, the Young Earth View has never garnered an important, let alone a crucial role in the history of the Church.  It was known to the early Church Fathers (see St. Augustine, City of God 11.6), but it was never made an essential doctrine, let alone given a special status.

First of all, Young Earth creationism was never given a creedal status in the early Church.  It does not appear in any early creeds or in any other widely accepted creed in the history of Christendom.


Second, it was not granted an important doctrinal status by the historic Fundamentalist (c. 1900).  That is, it was not accepted or embraced by the Old Princetonians B. B.Warfield, Charles Hodge, or J. Gresham Machen.


Third, Young Earth creationism is notably absent in the famous four volume series (1910-1915) The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truthedited by R. A. Torrey and C. C. Dixon.  In fact, not a single article in this landmark set defends the Young Earth Creationism view.  Indeed, all the articles on science and Scripture were written by scholars favorable to an Old Earth view.


            Fourth, the founders and framers of the contemporary inerrancy movement (ICBI) of the 1970 and 80s explicitly rejected the Young Earth view as being essential to belief in inerrancy.  They discussed it and voted against making it a part of what they believed inerrancy entailed, even though they believed in the “literal” historical-grammatical view of interpreting the Bible, a literal Adam, and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. Given this history of the Young Earth view, one is surprised at the zeal by which some Young Earthers are making their position a virtual test for evangelical orthodoxy


If the Young Earth view is true, then so be it.  Let the biblical and scientific evidence be mustered to demonstrate it.  Meanwhile, to make it a tacit test for orthodoxy will serve to undermine the faith of many who so closely tie it to orthodoxy that they will have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, should they ever become convinced the earth is Old.  One should never tie his faith to how old the earth is.


Even if the Young Earth view were true, it would not thereby earn it a position in the Christian Creed or the equivalent.  That is another matter altogether reserved for truth that are essential to the Gospel (see Geisler and Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise).  There are many minor Christian doctrines that have not earned creedal status along with The Apostles’ Creedwhich declares of creation only that “I believe in God, the Father Almighty,the Creator of heaven and earth” (emphasis added) and nothing about how long ago it happened.


Some Concluding Comments


After seriously pondering these questions for over a half century, my conclusions are: (1) The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. (2) It is not a test for orthodoxy.  (3)  It is not a condition of salvation.  (4)  It is not a test of Christian fellowship. (5) It is not an issue over which the body of Christ should divide. (6) It is not a hill on which we should die. (7) The fact of creation is more important than the time of creation. (8) There are more important doctrines on which we should focus (like the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the death and resurrection of Christ, and His literal Second Coming.  As Repertus Meldenius (d. 1651) put it: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things charity.” And by all counts, the age of the earth is not one of the essentials of the Christian Faith.




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.