Old Earth vs Young Earth?

The Old Earth/Young Earth has been debated endlessly on many websites. Google will help you find those sites. There’s one aspect of the Old Earth debate that I have never seen discussed anywhere and would like to explore here. But first, a word to the wise: since the Bible doesn’t explicitly state how young or old the earth is, we need to be aware that our preconceived notions will greatly affect our conclusions. Which preconceived notion are you starting out with? Please reflect on that question before continuing.

Done? Ok. Let’s continue.

I start with the firm opinion that the Bible never intends to be understood to support an Old Earth position. There are several different Old Earth theories, none of which will be discussed here: Gap Theory, Day Age Theory, theistic evolution [which blatantly contradicts the Bible], etc.  All of them, on some level or another, some more blatantly than others, stretch passages of the Bible to create loopholes through which they can insert additional meaning into the text. But any scholar will tell you that Moses “very likely” believed the world was created in 7 literal 24-hour days (after all, he keeps saying ‘evening and morning’ and ‘day’ in Gen 1. Sure, ‘day’ can mean more than 24 hours, but ‘evening  and morning’ never do). And if the scholar is honest, he’ll also tell you that Moses intended to teach that the universe was created in 7 literal 24-hour days (Exod 20:8-11). At this point, an otherwise rational person committed to believing that Scripture is the inerrant Word of God will stop and conclude the matter to be settled. You would think.

But there are quite a few believers who hold to an old earth, even though the Bible never acts like the earth is old. One of the bedrock assumptions used by these people is that the “Book of Nature” is an equivalent truth to the Book of God. They believe that a God of Truth would not use nature to deceive us: the universe looks old, therefore it must be old. This is a multi-faceted predicament and must be handled on several levels, starting with the fact that the Bible never makes this assumption, nor acts as if this assumption carries any weight. How these people miss this is, honestly, beyond me.

I accept that the Bible (repeatedly) explicitly states that God does not lie, however, I don’t think that’s the final word on the subject. After all, the truth of the mater is that God deliberately sends liars to deceive people (His words, not mine), and we need to factor that truth into our discussion.

So let’s examine the question of God deceiving people.

1) The Lying Dilemma of 1 Kings 22:5-23.

1 Kings 22:23 (ESV) “Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.”

If you’re not familiar with this passage, you really need to read 1 Kings 22:1-40, because God is doing some bizarre, “ungodly” things here. Read it and ask yourself how this applies to a Truthful, Sovereign, Omnipotent God:

– Why is God soliciting advice from spirits? Isn’t He Omniscient and Sovereign? (insert 101 verses affirming this)
– Why does God entertain the suggestion that someone go out and lie in order to complete His plan? Aren’t all His ways Truthful? (I can think of 101 different verses just in Psalms that state this)
– Why does God actually *send* this lying spirit to go and do His deed?? Ok, fine – God isn’t the one telling the lie, but … do we want to “shoot” the messenger? Isn’t the messenger just following Divine Instructions?
– Even if we see it as something other than what it sates (parable, hyperbole, metaphor), why does the prophet in question conclude that “God sent a lying spirit”?

Dismissing this uncomfortable, bizarre interchange between God and the spirits as a parable, metaphor or allegory is very common (almost all of my commentaries take this route), but problematic on a number of levels (none of my commentaries address the following points):

  • The whole point is for God to kill Ahab (God’s original stated objective and His fulfilled plan). This shouldn’t shock us: there are literally DOZENS of verses where we see “a God of love” hardening, killing and utterly destroying people for His own purposes. Read Ps 136, and you’ll see Him call those acts of love. Ask yourself – do you see these as acts of love? God does.  (..now if only we can get the rest of the country to see that 😉
  • The vision of the verbal exchange between God and the spirits is called “the Word of the Lord” (v19) when according to naysayers and commentaries it’s “really” a parable of the Lord. Pardon me for being a stick in the mud, but I get a little nervous when we call something a parable when a prophet of God describes as literal.
  • Micaiah’s conclusion of the situation contradicts the naysayers (and commentary writers): “Now therefore behold, *the Lord* has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets” v23.

I’ll readily admit that this is not a comfortable passage – but if we we get too uncomfortable and pull the thread so we can make the vision a parable so that we can exempt God from ‘lying’, we end up unraveling the whole passage:

  • We have to conclude that it was a “parable”, not a “word from the Lord”
  • We’re still stuck with asking ourselves why God would give a *dishonest* parable that paints Him as a liar (for telling a false parable) and unnecessarily paints Him as one who condones of lies (for sending a lying spirit)
  • We have to dismiss Micaiah’s astute conclusion of the situation (in his explanation of the ‘parable’, he simply reaffirms the fact of the ‘parable’. Unlike other prophetic parables, here the point *is* the ‘parable’ – so it begs the question)
  • We’re left with no motive whatsoever for the giving of the parable in the first place (what does it benefit the king and his audience to hear a parable that God solicited opinions on how to deal with Ahab with lies if that heavenly war-panel never took place? …never mind the fact that the lying actually did happen?)

In case we think 1 Kings 22 is an errant passage, it’s repeated in 2 Chron 18.

As I’m sure you well know, Deut 18:15-22 prohibits prophets from lying. If a prophet of God states something as fact, we cannot dismiss it as a parable. As Bible students, I’m of the firm opinion that we must all nod in agreement that “the Lord put a lying spirit in the mouth of all those false prophets”. For all these reasons, I’m compelled to conclude that the events of 1 Kings 22 (2 Chron 18) really and truly did take place as presented, and is not a parable or figure of speech or metaphor. ..bizarre as that sounds.

Would this same God do something similar today?

2) The “Deceiving God” of Ezekiel 14:9.

Ezekiel 14:9 (ESV) “And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.”

If we’re still inclined to think that Point #1 was not a literal description of a literal event, Point #2 should silence the question.  I humbly submit that Ezekiel 14:6-10, hands-down, does the best job I’ve ever seen of explaining why people who hold science incorrectly (elevate it as an idol) find such conflict with the Bible and “science”. In short, God promises Ezekiel, in no uncertain terms, that He will destroy idols and their prophets with deception. So if we idolize science (or anything else), it seems quite clear to me that God’s promise is that He will use deception so that both idolater and “prophet” will be destroyed. Re-read that passage and tell me if that’s not what’s going on.

He promised it in the past – would this same God do something similar today?

3) God’s Future Deceptions of 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12.

2 Thess 2:11-12 (ESV) “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

This verse describes the coming of “the lawless one” in the final days – the one whom the Lord will kill with the breath of His mouth (v8). I’ve asked a few people the following questions before and I always get interesting answers:
– What, exactly, does a ‘strong delusion’ look like? When I examine it closely, does it really look like Truth and reality, or does it look like falsehood?
– As I’m examining it, how will I know that, although it looks like truth and reality, it’s actually a lie that the condemned are supposed to believe but that I should not?
– As with the 2 passages above, why is a “God of love” taking credit for sending lies, deception and delusions to deliberately fool people so that they will be destroyed? (is it just me or is there a the common theme going on here, past, present and future?)

So let’s put this all together: if God has (1) sent a lying spirit in the past to destroy someone, promises to (2) deceive ‘prophets’ so they tell lies and destroy them and their audience, and promises to (3) send a strong delusion so that people will believe a lie in the last days so they’ll be destroyed – why should I suddenly conclude that a “scientific” item that contradicts a plain reading of Scripture is true and that I should therefore massage and stretch the Scriptures until the Scriptures agrees with the “science” at hand? For a person who considers the Bible to be divinely inspired, that’s backwards thinking!

(SIDEBAR: I know people do all sorts of wrangling on “God isn’t *doing* the thing, He’s *allowing* them to do the thing; God didn’t ‘harden’ pharaoh’s heart – He allowed pharaoh to harden his own heart; etc”.. but I’ve no use for such banter. The Bible repeatedly states that God does those things, so I’m going to state likewise. Does He also “allow” them? Of course. But why should I only say “allow” and refuse to say “He does” (which many pastors do) when He often says “I do”? To me, that’s simply not consistent with the Bible.)

What does that have to do with an Old Earth?

Glad you asked.

People who dismiss “Appearance of Age” theories say that it doesn’t fly when you get down to the “real science” of it. Their logic goes like this: “Yes”, they say, “When Adam was 2 days old he probably appeared like a ~28 yr old, and his 2-day old bride probably looked for all the world like a ~21 year old hottie (God doesn’t make junk), and the trees on Day 6 of Creation couldn’t have been saplings because they bore fruit, so that probably means they had tree-rings too, etc, etc, etc. BBBUTTTT”, they say, “God wouldn’t give us light from an exploding star 30 million light years away if that star never existed 30 million years ago because the earth is only 6,000 years old. To give us this false light from a never-existed star would be a lie and God wouldn’t lie!” There are more technical variations of that line of reasoning. Quite frankly, I just don’t see what all the commotion is about: Whoever said God is obligated to first make the seed (star) before He can make the fruit (light)? God never said that. I bet some “scientist” made that up.

Jesus made wine at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-10) and wine is aged. (Isaiah 25:6 predicts that He would make aged wine for His people at a banquet, by the way). Why should we not believe that a Man who can create old wine out of water in 2 minutes does not also have the ability to create an old universe out of nothing in one day? Why is the ‘lie’ of an aged earth a logical impasse but the ‘lie’ of aged grapejuice not a logical impasse? And if God is so afraid of people misunderstanding His workmanship, why did He make no effort (that we’re ever told) to correct the head of the banquet who praised the groom for keeping the best wine till last? Because of this miracle, the man was dead wrong on two counts: he thought the groom produced it, and he thought it was good, old wine. Neither assumptions were true, and we see no effort being made to correct his thinking. The obvious conclusion here is that God is not necessarily put out if people misunderstand His miracles. Not only that, but if we put that episode back into the larger context of Scripture, we see that God sometimes intends for people to misunderstand His handiwork.

Let’s compare grapes and stars.

In case we’re missing the connection, let me paint it clearly.

Call me silly, but I say if you can create a grape (or even a grape seed) out of nothing, I’ll go ahead and say you can also create a star out of nothing. I’ll also say that if you can make the grape look like aged fine wine (Is 25), you can make the stars look old and grand. After all, if you can do the ex-nhilio thing, you probably also made Time, and Time, like matter and energy, is simply just another ingredient on the shelf that you add to your “stew” until it suits your taste. (But being a novice at this “creation ex-nhilio” stuff, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. I’m willing to let someone who’s more experienced at this ex-nhilio stuff correct my thinking.)

Let’s step it up a notch: if you can create aged (Is 25:6ff) wine without having first made the grape – should I not conclude that you can also create “aged light of stars” without first having created the star? And if you can move that aged wine from wherever you created it and put it inside 6 ceramic containers, should I not also conclude that you can move aged light from wherever you created it and put it on a collision course with earth? I’ve never created anything ex-nhilio, but my guess is that creating aged wine without grapes is no more difficult than creating aged light without a star.

But wait – there’s more!

Note that these two events share two other common traits:

  • They’ve both equally “dishonest”, giving humans a tangible, aged, molecularly/chemically altered substance of something that is (wine/light) based on something that never was (grape/star). Should we interview either the master of the wedding feast or a scientist, both would readily confirm the age of the wine or the star in question.
  • They’re both done for human enjoyment!  (this is the one that most people miss)

I think that last point is perhaps the most significant issue in this entire discussion, yet it’s the one that’s the most overlooked.

I firmly believe that God creates all things in order to derive glory from those things. Do a search in your Bible on ‘glory’, ‘praise’, ‘I am God’ or ‘I am the Lord’ and look at how often God says He does things so that people will see/praise His glory or know that He is God (for extra credit, look at what He does in those passages and ask yourself if this is what your Sunday School teacher ever taught you. If I gave you $1 for every thing God does for His glory that your SS teacher skipped, you’d be a rich man. But I digress…)

In order for us to see those things He does for His glory and reflect on His greatness and give Him glory for those things, He has chosen to put many of those things within our view (be it microscope, telescope, naked eye or a taste test). He also likes to give us wondrous things from His ‘bag of goodies’, things both old and new; different colors; different shapes; different sizes; different smells; different interactions; different tastes. Our response to His creation should first and foremost be “WOW!”, not “How?” When we skip the ‘wow’ and go straight to ‘how’, I think we’re having the wrong response. Is it any wonder He’s giving us the wrong answer? How He does those things is, yes, mostly scientific – but it is ultimately irrelevant!  We’re never told in the Scriptures to study science in order to make a better map of the mind of  God – we’re told to study Scriptures to better understand God. Science must necessarily bow to Scripture, and the instant we elevate science above Scripture, we’re making a god of it, and God does not take these matter lightly. God will not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8)! Every miracle God has ever done (and will do) simply reaffirms the fact that He’s not obligated to abide by the scientific mechanical laws of the universe that He ordained for normal existence. Furthermore, He has repeatedly promised to cause false prophets (anyone working for an idol) to tell lies and keep fools preoccupied believing a lie – so they’ll be destroyed.

So when we find something under our telescopes and microscopes that challenges our understanding of the Bible…  I’m going to massage/stretch science to make it fit the Bible – not the other way around. If God has to rebuke me for taking His word too seriously/literally … well, there are certainly worse fates.

Until He says otherwise, I’m sticking with a Young Earth.

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2 comments to Old Earth vs Young Earth?

  • Home → Science & Judaism → Creationism & Evolution in Jewish Thought → Genesis As Allegory
    Here’s a differing perspective from a noted Jewish rabbi.

    Genesis – deeper meaning to the text

    By Dr. Jeffrey Tigay

    In showing that the Universe had a beginning, science has come closer to the teachings of the Bible than ever before. Nevertheless, there is still a considerable distance between current scientific thought and the details of the biblical account of creation.

    According to the latter, the physical world and the many species of living things were created essentially as we know them less than six thousand years ago over a period of seven days. Astronomy, geology, biology, and related sciences indicate that the process was a gradual one that took billions of years.

    Earlier geological strata of the earth’s surface show the different stages through which the earth passed and approximately how long they lasted, while fossils and remains of extinct species such as dinosaurs show that the different species of living creatures evolved slowly from a common ancestor.

    These conclusions are denied by adherents of a doctrine known as “scientific creationism,” who are campaigning to require that any public school which teaches evolution must also teach what they call “creation science” as a scientifically respectable alternative to evolution.

    The feverish concern of the “scientific creationists” to protect a literal reading of the story in Genesis 1 reflects a conviction that devotion to the Bible requires one to interpret its words–particularly Genesis–literally and to accept it in its literal sense.

    But, as Steven Katz notes…, “In Jewish religious thought Genesis is not regarded as meant for a literal reading, and Jewish tradition has not usually read it so.” In fact, as we shall argue below, even the compilers of the Bible do not seem to have been concerned with a literal reading of the text. They were prepared to have at least parts of it read non-literally.

    Sensible Interpretation
    In the Middle Ages, Saadia Gaon argued that a biblical passage should not be interpreted literally if that made a passage mean something contrary to the senses or reason (or, as we would say, science; Emunot ve-Deot, chapter 7). Maimonides applied this principle to theories about creation. He held that if the eternity of the universe (what we would call the Steady State theory) could be proven by logic (science) then the biblical passages speaking about creation at a point in time could and should be interpreted figuratively in a way that is compatible with the eternity of the universe.

    It is only because the eternity of the universe has not been proven that he interpreted the verses about creation at a point in time literally (Guide, II, 25), but he still insisted that the creation story as a whole was written metaphorically (Book I, Introduction).

    To Saadia and Maimonides, belief in the truth of the Bible does not require a denial of science (“reason,” “logic”) when the two seem to conflict. These philosophers imply that questions of science should be left to scientists and scientific method. In fact, Maimonides quotes a passage in the Talmud in which Jewish scholars abandoned an astronomical theory of their own in favor of a theory of gentile scholars (Pesahim 94b).

    Maimonides approved of their action, saying that “speculative matters everyone treats according to the results of his own study, and everyone accepts that which appears to him established by proof” (Guide, II, 8). To him, clearly, Science is a matter of speculation and is not the field in which the Bible seeks to be decisive.

    Delving More Deeply
    In more recent times Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook held that scientific ideas which seem to conflict with the Torah need not necessarily be opposed, but can serve as stimuli to delve more deeply into the Torah and discover more profound meaning in it.

    The approach of these thinkers is one that Fritz Rothschild has described as a guiding principle of Jewish biblical exegesis:

    “The view that the Bible contains God’s message to man has led to ever new interpretations, since it constantly forced believing readers of the Bible to reconcile the words of the sacred text with whatever they held to be true on the basis of their own experience, the canons of logic, contemporary science, and their moral insights…. The traditionalist will always feel called upon to interpret the text so that it reflects not ancient error but the highest standards of trustworthy knowledge and insight of his own time.” (Rothschild, “Truth and Metaphor in the Bible”)

    This approach urges us to probe more deeply into the biblical accounts of creation and to search for the intention of the Bible’s compilers in presenting these accounts. By compilers I mean those who gathered all the sources and books together and produced the Bible in the form in which it was canonized in classical Judaism. In critical terms these are the redactors of the Bible; in Franz Rosenzweig’s terms, rabboteinu (our rabbis).

    Conflicting Accounts of Creation
    Whatever the intention of the individual accounts of creation may have been, it is clear from the Bible as a whole that its compilers were not overly concerned with the details of the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. They incorporated several accounts of creation in the Bible even though no two accounts agree in detail with Genesis 1 or with each other. Genesis 1 describes the creation of the world in six days. The second account of creation is the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2).

    Several other accounts are found in poetic form in Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. Genesis 1 says that man was the last living creature created; Genesis 2 says that he was the first. Genesis 1 speaks of the prehistoric waters in purely naturalistic terms and says that God merely commanded them to gather in a single spot so that dry land could appear.

    But in poetic passages the ancient waters are personified as rebellious sea monsters which threatened to swamp the dry land, until God subdued them and created the seashore as a boundary which they were prohibited from crossing.

    The most notable difference between Genesis and all the other accounts is that none of the others mentions the idea that the world was created in six days. This idea–which is the centerpiece of the whole creationist movement–was apparently not considered important enough in the Bible to be repeated in other accounts of creation.

    The fact that so many differing accounts were all accepted in the Bible shows that its compilers were not concerned about these details. They undoubtedly assumed that the differences could be reconciled, but they left this task to the ingenuity of exegetes. This virtually assured that different reconciliations would be proposed and some of the passages would have to be interpreted non-literally.

    What the Bible as a whole insists on is not these details, but only what the stories have in common. In other words, these stories are regarded as poetic statements of certain basic truths, not as literally scientific accounts of how the universe developed.

    The Divine Plan
    What matters in Judaism are the concepts shared by all these stories: that the world was created by God, that He planned it carefully and designed it to be hospitable to man. These are the very conclusions to which astronomy now points. The other details of the biblical accounts should not be taken literally, but metaphorically or poetically.

    To give just one example: the six days of creation culminating in the Sabbath on the seventh day symbolize how God guided the development of the world stage by stage according to a well-thought-out plan. The process is described as taking place over a period of seven days because seven was regarded in the ancient world as the number of perfection and seven days were regarded as the ideal length of a process. The unit of “seven days” is more a statement about the perfection of the process than a chronological statistic.

    Thus a literal reading of the Bible, on which “creation science” implicitly insists, misses the point of the Bible itself, which seems uninterested in literal interpretation. Like poetry and certain kinds of prose, which sometimes speak in metaphors and symbols, the Bible as a whole does not intend these stories to be taken literally.

    Literalism is not only misleading but is also a disservice to the cause of the Bible itself. It forces the Bible to compete as science, and in such a competition it cannot win. In a scientific age such as ours the Bible will never be accepted as science by educated people.

    What is more, attempting to secure acceptance for it as science is hardly worthwhile, for this would divert attention away from the Bible’s religious message to details which from a religious point of view are trivial.

    The religious message is precisely the realm in which science cannot compete, and those devoted to the cause of the Bible would do far better service to their cause by stressing its unique religious message. To the religious person it makes little difference whether the world was created in six days or several billion years.

    What counts is the deeper message of the biblical account of creation: The world was made by a wise Creator who seeks man’s welfare, who created the world carefully with man’s benefit in mind, who created man with Godlike qualities and commanded him to administer the world wisely.

    Though we observe the Sabbath every seven days, it is this deeper message which we celebrate each week. The current views of modern science deepen our understanding of this message and renew our confidence in it.

    Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey H. Tigay is a Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pennsylvania

  • admin

    Jesus had a literal reading of Genesis chapters 1-10. I vote we follow His lead.

    Here’s an excellent article worth contemplating:

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