I have been working through some issues regarding creation, and specifically how Christians should view it. You can read the earlier posts here and here. The first and biggest divide has to do with when God created everything. On one side are the Young Earth Creationists (YEC) who believe that the earth is not more than 10,000 years old. On the other are everyone else from Old Earth Creationists to Theistic Evolutionists who differ in the hows of creation but all believe that the universe and the earth are much older.
I’d like to focus this post on the arguments for Young Earth Creationism. When I google this topic, I come up with, more than anything else, a lot of information on YEC science and all the many ways that they make the scientific evidence fit their view of creation. As I said previously, I am no scientist and find it very hard to know who to believe when one says “radio-carbon dating says this” and another says “no, it doesn’t.” But ultimately, YEC does not rest on the science. They try to fit the science into what they already believe and that is based upon a certain interpretation of the Bible and specifically of Genesis 1. So my goal here is to go through the biblical or theological arguments for YEC.
A Literal 24-Hour Day
The biggest argument YECs make is that when Genesis 1 speaks of the six days of creation that it clearly means literal 24-hour days as we know them. Now I know I have been putting some of you off, but I am going to do so once again and say I will save a discussion of this for my next post because it is a big topic.
Death Before the Fall
But the word day is not the only peg YEC rests upon. There are other arguments for a recent creation. One that I have often found the most convincing is that death could not have occurred before the Fall of man. And if death, which is a result of man’s sin, did not occur, then there couldn’t have been the many generations of animals and plants and dinosaurs existing before the creation of man that evolutionists claim.
Genesis 2 first makes the connection between Adam’s sin and death:
‘And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”’ (Genesis 2:16-17; ESV)
It is clear here that more than mere physical death of one man is meant since Adam and Eve did not die on the spot when they sinned. We understand that spiritual death is the main thing God has in mind here, though physical death follows many hundreds of years down the line.
But the death was not only for Adam and his wife, but for all his descendants also:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned . . . For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:12, 17; cf. I Cor. 15:21-22)
What is not clear from this passage is how Adam’s sin affected the rest of creation beyond the human race. The argument I have heard for an older creation is that human death came through Adam’s sin but that animal death preceded it. And one does wonder how the threat of death would have meant anything to Adam if he had not seen it around him among the creatures.
The counter-argument from the YEC crowd is based on a passage a little later in Romans:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23)
The argument here is that creation has clearly been “subjected to futility” and is need of redemption. That this is clearly the case and that it happened in Genesis 3 as one of the consequences of Adam’s sin I have no doubt. But it does not preclude the fact that animal death could have occurred before this. I will admit that it is not a bad argument and tends to be convincing but as Romans 8 does not specifically mention animal death it is not rock-solid. In Genesis 3, the aspect of the curse which applies to creation seems to apply to the fruitfulness of the land: “‘Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field'” (Gen. 3:17b-18; ESV). The most obvious conclusion then to my mind would be that it is this aspect of the curse which will be reversed in the time Romans 8 speaks of.
Another version of the same argument is that since animals did not eat each other before the Fall, they would not have died then. This is based on Genesis 1:29-30:
‘And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.’ (ESV)
Passages which speak of the recreated earth also seem to portray a world without predation:
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isa. 11:6)
This conclusion, that vegetarianism among the animals means they are not dying, is not unreasonable, but it is also not necessary. What if Adam had not sinned and animals had continued to multiply without death? Wouldn’t the world have become overrun with them at some point? One can only speculate on such things of course. My point here is simply that there are no verses which unambiguously rule out animal death before the Fall.
It is interesting also to note that while people were not allowed to eat meat until after the flood, the death of animals for sacrifice was apparently practiced in the days of Cain and Abel. One wonders too where the skins God clothed Adam and Even in came from. Presumably animals died. Now this happens after the Fall, but again it is long before the permission to eat animals comes.
Each Species According to its Kind
Another argument for YEC is that evolution could not have happened because each species was created and had offspring according to its kind. This is based on Genesis 1:21 and the like:
“So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”
Verse 25 makes a similar statement about the land animals. The idea here is that each animals begets only its own kind and that therefore there can be no change in species such as evolution necessitates.
It should be noted first of all that this is an argument against evolution but it does not preclude an older earth populated by non-evolutionary means such as Old Earth Creationists or Gap Theorists might accept.
YECs usually follow up this argument by saying that Noah only needed one example of each species on the ark, one pair of dogs for instance, and that all varieties of that species, in the case of dogs wolves, foxes, dingoes, etc., could have descended from that pair.
I don’t know how many times in this series I am going to say “I am not a scientist” but let me say it here once again. I am not a scientist, but my understanding is that speciation is not so clearly delineated. A species, as I understand it, is defined as two animals which can breed and have offspring which can also breed. By this definition horses and donkeys are not the same species since their offspring, mules, are infertile. Nonetheless I have heard YECs use horses and donkeys as an example of animals which are the same species and therefore could have had one pair of representative son the ark. Nor can all animals we term “dogs” interbreed:
“Members of the dog genus Canis: wolves, dogs (both common dogs and dingoes), Ethiopian Wolves,coyotes, and golden jackals cannot interbreed with members of the wider dog family: the Canidae, such as South American canids, foxes, African wild dogs, bat-eared foxes or raccoon dogs; or, if they could, their offspring would be infertile.” (“Canid hybrid,” Wikipedia.org Septemeber 30, 2013)
I also wonder how new species evolve over time (if we assume evolution for a moment). I can’t imagine that you would ever have a case where a parent has a baby who is a different species from them. Instead, they have a child with slight changes, a mutation here and there such as we can see happening all the time, till gradually over the generations you can say that this animal’s great-great-however many grandchild is a different species than it. But I would think it is hard to draw the line that says “this is where the new species started” and that each parent animal would indeed have offspring that are of its “kind.”
The main point of these verses in Genesis, as I see it, is to say that each one would have offspring like it which is indeed what happens. But the offspring of sexually reproducing animals are never exactly like their parents and I don’t think we can say that these verses necessarily preclude a change in species over time.
Another argument against both animal death before the Fall and against evolution is that God called His creation “good” many times and on the last day “very good.” If it was “very good,” those of the YEC camp say, then it could not have included things like animal death and the mutations and predation and other things necessary for evolution.
My first thought when I hear this argument is that we must always be careful not to impose our definition of good on God. He defines good. I imagine that in Genesis 1, He is not so much looking and saying, “Hey, I did a pretty good job” as declaring that this which He has created shall be called good.
The counter argument I have heard from those who think the earth is older is that “very good” does not mean perfect and that therefore there could have been some of those nasty mutations and death about. I don’t find this argument particularly convincing. I really do think God’s “good”, and much more so His “very good”, pretty much do mean perfect. After all, when Jesus is called good, He says none is good but God. If good didn’t equal perfect, more of us could be good. But the Bible’s good is a pretty high bar.
So the question remains are animal death, genetic mutations, survival of the fittest compatible with a good creation? My answer is maybe. There is nothing inherently good or bad about genetic mutations, for instance. They can lead to better or worse outcomes. Mostly they seem to have little effect whatsoever. If God has used them to advance His creation, then we can view them as a law of nature like gravity or inertia which He has set in motion. They are certainly not inherently bad.
Animals do not have a moral character. They cannot sin. They also cannot do good. They just are. And when they die, they just aren’t. So is their death not good? I am not sure we can say it is. What is bad about human death? Isn’t it that spiritual death can accompany physical death? Not admittedly the process of death itself is scary and none of us seems to enjoy it. But Paul is able to say that for him to live is Christ and to die is gain. Animals, on the other hand, do not experience spiritual death or the separation from God that it entails. I am not definitely on the side of “animal death is good” here. I just want to point out that it may not be incompatible with a “good” creation.
I think a lot of how we interpret this issue also depends upon our perspective. For instance, we may say “survival of the fittest is brutal and definitely not good.” But again we are attributing moral value to animal actions (defeating a rival, say) which really have no moral component. We are also possibly misinterpreting what it means that the fittest survive. Those who are fit are best suited for their environment. But I read an article recently which said that in good times when food and such are plentiful it is the easier going ones who survive best, those who are least aggressive and take best care of their families. It is only when there are hard times and a lack of food that the more aggressive, less nurturing animals survive. Does this show a brutal world in which one much always fight to survive? Or does it show that God created animals (and people) with many possible personality traits so that there would always be some to carry on?
God’s Creative Work is Finished
This argument is based on Genesis 2:1-2:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.”
YEC would say that if God used evolution to create and the work of creation is done then how can evolution still be continuing? I find this argument somewhat compelling. Again, I don’t think it is air-tight however. It is clear that the earth is not static. There is still change going on. Rivers carve out new paths, for instance. Grey birds dominate during the industrial revolution and then are replaced again as the smog clears. At least on a small level, things do still change. This is not a new aspect of creation but part of God’s maintaining His creation. So I don’t see why one couldn’t say that God used the processes of evolution in a big way in the beginning to get things started but now the principles still operate in smaller ways just as other natural laws do. I don’t know that anyone actually makes this argument, but one could.
And of course, this is another argument which might rule out evolution but does nothing to speak to the age of creation. It is about the how and not the when.
If I can sum up in a general way, I would say that I find some of YEC’s arguments compelling. But I don’t see anything that screams to me “It must have been this way!” Nothing irrefutable, that is to say. And we must be careful to distinguish between arguments against evolution and those which argue for a young earth. Actually, none of the arguments here really do necessitate a young earth. It could be the earth is old but that life on it is recent, along the lines YEC believes. When it comes to the “when” if creation, we must then turn to the whole “day” thing which will (hopefully) be my next post.