Saturday, March 08, 2014

Grudem 15f: Old Earth versus Young Earth

I am delighted to finally put this chapter of Grudem behind me. The previous summary/evaluation is here.
3. The Age of the Earth: Preliminary Considerations
Grudem considers the age of the earth much less important than the matters of creation he has discussed up to this point in the chapter. What has he discussed: 1) creation out of nothing, 2) creation is distinct from God, but dependent on him, 3) creation shows God's glory, 4) God created the universe "very good," 5) there is no final conflict between God and science, and 6) secular theories that deny God as creator, including Darwinian evolution, are incompatible with the Bible (289).

However, Grudem does not believe that the Bible is clear on the age of the earth. He looks at five angles. First, he argues that there are gaps in the genealogies of the Bible  (290-91). The expression, "the father of" can indicate an ancestor of rather than the immediate father. His second section argues that, from the angle of science, humanity was certainly on the earth by 10,000 BC, the dating of cave paintings by Cro-Magnon man.

Interestingly, Grudem thirdly concludes that the Bible does not say clearly whether animals died before Adam's Fall. When Romans says that death came into the world by sin (Rom. 5:12), it is talking about human death. Similarly, Grudem fourthly does not reach a biblical conclusion on whether dinosaurs were extinct by the time of Adam.

Fifth, he spends considerably more time discussing whether the days of Genesis 1 are literal twenty-four hour days or long periods of time. The Hebrew word yom can refer to a period of time, rather than only a 24 hour day (e.g., Prov. 25:13). Grudem thinks that the evidence is not conclusive either way. The word yom can mean 24 hour day and it can mean a period of time.

He does mention some significant objections to such flexibility, however. There is the phrase, for example, "there was evening and there was morning," which sounds like a 24 hour day. Then again, no one said how much time was between the morning and the next evening in the sequence. The 10 commandments sound like they are treating the days as literal 24 hour days. And most of the time when a number is used with the plural word for days, it is thinking 24 hour days.

Grudem gives other arguments and counterarguments. In the end, he does not think that the Bible is entirely clear and, thus, that a person's opinion on the age of the earth is not simply a question of whether he or she believes the Bible. "God has chosen not to give us enough information to come to a clear decision on this question" (297).

4. Christians can believe either "old earth" or "young earth."
Grudem divides this section into two parts. In the first one, he gives two biblical strategies for believing in an old earth.

a. First, there is the "day-age" view, sometimes called a "concordist" view. In this view, the days of creation are interpreted to be ages, very long periods of time. Here Grudem mentions arguments for the age of the earth that seem rather forceful and all of which consist with each other:
  • radiometric dating of rocks from the moon and meteorites (which would not have been affected by the flood)
  • the time required for liquid magma to cool (about a million years for some large formations)
  • time and pressure necessary for some types of rocks that have small fossils in them
  • the time required for continental drift (fossils in West Africa and East South America match)
  • the time required for the formation of coral reefs (100s of thousands of years)
Counterarguments include the fact that the sequence of Genesis 1 doesn't correspond exactly to the current understanding of the development of life. Indeed, it might be taken to imply that the sun did not exist for millions of years while plants and trees were on the earth. Grudem wrestles with this and suggests that, if the old earth view is correct, the Hebrew verbs on Day 4 be taken as perfects that mean something like, "God had made the two great lights" (300).

Second, there is what he calls the "literary framework view." This view, as Grudem presents it, sees Genesis 1 as a literary device to indicate that God created everything. "Chronology has no place here" (301), he quotes Henri Blocher. [1] One feature of this approach is to see the first three and last three days of creation as parallel. So the creation of light in Day 1 mirrors the creation of the sun in Day 4. The sky and waters of Day 2 connect with the creation of fish and birds in Day 5. Then the creation of dry land in Day 3 connects to animals and humanity in Day 6.

Grudem has some questions about this approach. For one, he thinks the correspondence between the days is more imprecise than it might seem at first. For example, the sun is placed in the firmament of Day 2, not Day 1. Similarly, the waters do not become seas for fish until Day 3, not Day 2.

Next, he wants to be careful that we not pick a theory because it is convenient in reconciling science and Scripture. He also does not think some of the objections to the sequence are as strong as the literary view protests. For example, he does not see a conflict between the order of events in Genesis 2 (humanity-trees and plants-animals).

In the end, he does not find the literary framework view very convincing because he thinks Genesis 1 wants to be read as a chronological sequence. The commandment about the Sabbath day also seems to read the days of creation as a sequence of days.

b. Then Grudem gives how a person with a young earth view might process science that seems to point in a contrary direction. First, there is the "apparent age" approach. This approach basically agrees that the earth and the universe "look" old, but that God created the universe to look this way. God created light in mid-stream. God created trees already with rings just like he made Adam and Eve as adults.

Grudem ultimately has problems with this approach because the earth appears very old even where there is no apparent benefit to humanity. Did God put the fossils of what look like very old, dead animals into the initial creation and call it "very good"? It is only in the modern age that scientists have discovered much of this evidence for an old earth--why would God have made those pieces look old, even though they aren't, evidence that has never even been observed before the last one or two hundred years?

Second, he considers "flood geology." What he calls "neo-catastrophism," which attributes most of the present geological evidence of the earth to the immense catastrophe of the flood. Interestingly, Grudem strongly distinguishes the science in relation to flood geology with than in relation to biological evolution. "The controversy over flood geology is strikingly different from the other areas of dispute regarding creation, for its advocates have persuaded almost no professional geologists" (306). By contrast, Grudem argues that evolution itself has very significant problems in explaining facts of observation from the created world.

5-6. Conclusions and Moving Forward
In the final parts of this chapter, Grudem suggests that there is neither enough scientific or exegetical evidence to know the age of the earth. He believes the science leans heavily toward a very old earth and that the interpretation of Genesis leans toward young earth. But neither, in his opinion, are conclusive. We should therefore not fight over this particular issue but cooperate as Christians in continued discussion on the age of the earth. He considers intelligent design a much more profitable apologetic.

Given Grudem's general bent, it is intriguing that he is non-committal on the question of the earth's age. It would seem, in general, that his hermeneutic would most naturally lead to considering the days of Genesis 1 as literal 24 hour days. It is perhaps a testament to how strongly the scientific evidence points away from this conclusion that he will not eliminate other interpretations of Genesis that, in general, are quite different from his interpretations elsewhere. It leads him, and others like him, to drive a wedge between the question of the earth's age and the question of evolution per se.

His arguments against the apparent age view are compelling. It is one thing to say that God created the light already to the earth so that humanity had light. It is one thing to say that God created Adam and Eve already as adults. We can see why God would do such things.

But to say that God planted fossils in rocks that look a certain age--that weren't actually from animals that ever really lived--so that he could finally test the faith of us once they were eventually discovered in the 1800s and 1900s? This presupposes a "gotcha" God who is not the God of the Bible. To say that God also arranged any number of other converging lines of scientific evidence to support an old age of the earth, only to be discovered in the twentieth century to test us? This would be a morally sick god more like that of Loki in Norse mythology.

The fundamental problem with this entire discussion is a genre problem. Both Grudem and those who are ardent for a young earth assume that Genesis 1 means to give us straightforward history. Genesis 1 may not exactly be a poem, but it is poetic. It is, in my opinion, highly anachronistic to read it in the way Grudem and others do. Grudem's anguish over perfect tenses and precise orders is completely unnecessary. It is a genre mistake.

Rather, the closest Grudem comes to reading Genesis appropriately is with what he calls the "literary framework view." But he does not let this view have its full impact. He is still trying to read that view with the assumption that Genesis 1 means to give us history. But what is the literary purpose of Genesis 1? Is it not primarily 1) to introduce the Pentateuch 2) in a way that identifies who the God of Israel is in contrast to other gods, and 3) expresses Israel's way of looking at the world? The purpose is neither history nor science but theological, in a broad sense. Even if it is not in the form of poetry, it is more poetic in nature than literal.

Grudem's critiques of the literary view are based on the fact that he still sees that view as historical with a twist. But what is Genesis 1 about?  More than anything, it indicates that, unlike the gods of the other creation stories, the God of Israel competes with no other. He creates by command and does not have to defeat other gods for the creation to obey. He is in complete control.

Not all Christians will be as comfortable with seeing Genesis 1 more as an expression of a Levitical worldview than as an explanation for it. If we are not a scientist, it is not a problem. Nevertheless, Grudem suggests that it is hard to find any Christian geologists who think the earth is 6000 years old, even if you can find a number of Christian scientists who question evolution.

For those who struggle with the issue, his recommendation is appropriate. Let Bible readers and scientists with faith continue their dialog without dechristianizing or demoralizing the other. Those of us especially who are not scientists should give some leeway to scientists with faith and trust that God will explain everything in the kingdom.

[1] In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, trans. by D. G. Preston (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1984), 52.


Pastor Rod said...

It seems to me that Grudem is a not as conversant with the scientific evidence as he could be. From my perspective the only tenable argument for a young earth is the "apparent age" explanation. Grudem also seems to neglect arguments from Christian scientists (who happen to be even a touch too literal for my tastes) who read Genesis 1 as the observations of a hypothetical observer on the face of the earth. (For example, while the sun existed on day one, it did not appear until later when the atmosphere began to clear.

Martin LaBar said...

Grudem is right about Christian geologists.

One such geologist, who had believed in a young earth, and had a Master's in geology, began to have doubts, and called some other geologists trained by a young earth organization, who were working for oil companies, to ask them how Flood Geology helped them in their work. None of them had an answer.

Thanks for the post.