Since my views on YEC come in for predictable criticism, it may be worthwhile to explain in somewhat more detail the reasoning behind it—with special reference to Gen 1.
I. Theological Commitments
One common criticism is that my position is dictated by certain theological commitments. I think it's funny that a professing Christian would even consider this something to criticize.
Indeed, I plead guilty to the charge. To be a Christian is to have certain theological commitments. And this takes precedence over other ideological options.
It doesn't matter how smart you are or dumb you are. You may have an IQ of 70 or 200. But you never outgrow the duty to submit your mind to the mind of God.
Some critics call this "intellectual suicide." Frankly, I don't see that the critics have much to lose. For they don't have that much intellect to sacrifice in the first place.
Of course, this charge also assumes that we are flying in the face of the "evidence." But that takes a very naïve view of the evidence. The evidence is theory-laden evidence, not raw evidence. And it also disregards the counterevidence.
And there's nothing suicidal about submitting your finite and fallible mind to the mind of an omniscient God. The better part of wisdom is to entrust yourself to Someone wiser than yourself.
II. Almighty Science
There is also the view that instead of submitting our mind to God, we should submit our mind to the scientific establishment. That, somehow, scientific consensus or the hot new theory of the day should never go unchallenged. Yet science, if allowed to go unchecked, comes up with some intellectually suicidal theories of its own.
Cognitive science informs us that the soul is an antiquated illusion. Eliminative materialism informs us that consciousness is an antiquated illusion. We have no feelings or beliefs. That's just so much folk psychology.
Naturalistic evolution informs us that man is a fluke. If an asteroid hadn't wiped out the dinosaurs 65 millions years ago, you and I wouldn't be here today. If you rewound the evolutionary tape and ran it again, you and I wouldn't be here today. There is no God or providence. Just dumb luck or bad luck.
Naturalistic evolution also informs us that morality is an illusion. Natural selection has conditioned us to be altruistic, but once we become aware of our evolutionary programming, we can see that our moral instincts result from an amoral process.
Secular science orders us to dig our own grave, then kneel down as it puts a bullet in the back of our skull. And there are many POWs who dutifully follow the hortatory orders of prison guards like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, while they—in turn—report to the commandant of natural selection, which will turn them into fertilizer in a few years as well.
I'm afraid I wouldn't make a very good POW in the secular death camp. I'm not prepared to play the role of the willing victim. I reserve the right to burrow a hole under the fence and make my escape. And I'd rather be shot on foot than be shot on my knees.
III. Theistic Evolution
Some professing believers take refuge in the halfway house of theistic evolution. But I reject theistic evolution, not merely because I'm too much of a Biblicist, but because I'm too much of a Darwinian.
I'm a good listener. I do take heed of what the Darwinians say. If you read the fossil record the way they have taught us to read it, then it's quite arbitrary and fanciful to see anything special about man in the geological column. Man is just a hairless, horny little ape that managed to avoid getting stepped on by Brontosaurus. Which species survives, and which succumbs in the "field of bullets" is a purely fortuitous question of scheduling: if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, then tough luck.1
Right now we have our moment in the sun, but eventually we, too, will become extinct—if you put your faith in the prognostications of the glorious, scientific establishment.
IV. Theological Schizophrenia
I find it both odd and amusing to see what some professing Christians are prepared to believe and disbelieve. Conservative Catholic intellectuals are a case in point. Take Fr. Jaki. He is a Benedictine priest who holds two earned doctorates in physics and theology.
On the one hand, he has written a book on Genesis creation account.2 After reviewing the history of interpretation for the past 2000 years, he concludes that it's a mistake to reconcile Gen 1 with modern science, for the creation account is, in his opinion, prescientific and unscientific.
Jaki has also written a book on Fatima.3 After reviewing the state of the record, he defends the "miracle of the sun," as well as various Marian oracles and apparitions associated with Fatima.
What we have are two different Jakis under one hood. When he has his Catholic scientist cap on, he cannot bring himself to believe that things happened the way they are described in Gen 1. But when he has his Catholic theologian cap on, he will piously believe and defend any number of Catholic miracles.
And you find this among observant Catholic intellectuals generally, including members of the Magisterium. On the one hand, many miracles and prophecies in Scripture are discounted in favor of higher critical theories.
On the other hand, these same individuals, who are so sceptical in the face of Bible history, are open to all sorts of ecclesiastical miracles, such as angelic apparitions, Marian apparitions and prophecies, divine healings, answered prayers to St. Jude, stigmatics, "incorruptibles," the odor of sanctity," levitation, bilocation, translocation, haloes, bleeding wafers, possession and exorcism, the liquefaction of blood, and so on and so forth.
It's as if they had one foot firmly planted in the Middles Ages, and the other foot firmly planted in modernity. Why do they affirm so many extrabiblical signs and wonders while they deny so many biblical signs and wonders? Why is one miracle any more or less unscientific than another?
Yet another oddity is the way in which some professing believers embrace methodological naturalism. Now, this makes sense if you are Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett. Since they subscribe already to metaphysical naturalism, then it's quite consistent to adopt a naturalized epistemology—which is the counterpart to their naturalized ontology.
By contrast, it is utterly illogical for professing believers to adopt a methodology that is, by their own admission, false to the way the world really is. Method and subject-matter ought to match. Otherwise, our methodology is bound to misdescribe the workings of the world.
The problem is that some theological liberals are so desperate for secular respectability that they will resort to all manner of makeshift positions.
The old-earth creationist attacks new-earth creationism as unscientific. The theistic evolutionist attacks old-earth creationism as unscientific. The deistic evolutionist attacks theistic evolution as unscientific. And the naturalistic evolutionist attacks deistic evolution as unscientific.
The moral of the story is that as long as you're going to challenge the scientific status quo, then there's no particular advantage in limiting yourself to half-measures. From a Christian standpoint, wherever you range yourself along the continuum, there will always be someone to your left. Someone who accuses you of being unscientific. So the only rational position is to take a principled position.
V. Mix and Match
A few definitions are in order. Although certain positions are designated by the time-factor, time is not the only factor. YEC denies the antiquity of the world, animal mortality before the fall, and a merely local flood. OEC is the mirror-image of YEC inasmuch as it affirms what YEC denies.
These are conventional packages rather than logical packages. The age of the earth doesn't imply anything about animal mortality or the scope of the flood. In principle, one could mix and match elements of YEC and OEC.
How important is the age of the universe?
1.On the face of it, this lacks the intrinsic importance of some other doctrines, like the Incarnation or Resurrection.
2.Sometimes a position is important by default. All other things being equal, it might not be a big deal, but the alternatives are so unsatisfactory that they make it more important than it would otherwise be.
There's a sense in which the Christian has far less at stake than the Darwinian. Time is not a requirement for creation ex nihilo. By contrast, geological timescales are a prerequisite for phylogeny. Unless the fossils can be lined up in a certain chronology, there is no evolutionary pathway to trace or retrace.
3.Something can be important simply because it is true. Even a trivial truth is important in its own right. If the world is one way, then it is not another way. There can only be one reality. That's just the way things are.
In that respect, truth enjoys a solitary distinction. For every right answer, there are infinitely many wrong answers.
4.OEC sometimes acts as though, if you just give the geologist all the time he demands, then he will go away and leave you alone. And I think this is, in part, because OEC was formulated in response to the New Geology—before the rise of Darwinian evolution. At that juncture, it didn't cost a Christian very much to throw Biblical chronology over the back of the sled.
But there was a hidden cost. Once you surrender the timeframe of Genesis to the geologist, he will be back for more. Having fed him the days of Genesis simply whets his appetite for other tasty morsels, like the plants and animals. And, especially, Adam and Eve.
5.Something can also be important in the secondary sense. Even if it were of no primary importance, it may implicate something else that is quite important. Is the Bible the word of God?
6.At one level, this question of timing nothing or less than an exegetical question. It doesn't matter how we answer that question as long as we come up with the right answer. If YEC has better exegesis, we go with YEC. If OEC has better exegesis, we go with OEC. We can rest content with whatever God has done.
VII. Process of Elimination
The major interpretive options are the calendar-day theory, the gap theory, the day/age theory, the visionary theory, and framework hypothesis. The calendar day theory goes with YEC, while the other four go with OEC.4
All four OEC interpretations are subject to distinctive objections, but they also share a couple of common flaws:
1.To the extent that they were proposed to harmonize Scripture with science, they fail. For there is far more to the conflict than the time factor.
- There is the sequence of events. Mainstream science regards the sequence of creative fiats in Gen 1 as unscientific.
- An OEC timeline also leaves the paleoanthropological record untouched. So an OEC will still have to oppose naturalistic evolution by some other argument. Chronology is the least of his problems. And ceding time to the Darwinian hands him a weapon he will turn on you.5
If there is one thing that ought to be unmistakably clear in Gen 1, then this should be the fact that the divisions of time are intended to foreshadow the Sabbath. This is clear from (a) the septunarian episodes and diurnal divisions in Gen 1, (b) the allusion to the Sabbath in 2:1-3), and (c) the allusions to Gen 1-2 in Exod 20:8-11 and other parts of the Pentateuch.
- The gap theory undercuts the Sabbatarian structure by positing an interval of time before the first day. But it's arguable that day 1 is inclusive of vv1-2.6
- The day/age theory undercuts the Sabbatarian structure by abstracting the individual days in isolation to their narrative function in forming a week.
By turning the days into eons, they cease to be days, and they thereby cease to add up to a week, with six days of labor followed by a day of rest.
And it is quite artificial to retain the septunarian structure while denying that the days are, in fact, consecutive calendar days, for there is nothing in nature corresponding to six creative epochs, followed by a creative cessation.
It is even worse when the day/age theory turns them into overlapping eons.
- The visionary theory also undercuts the Sabbatarian structure, for six days of divine revelation are not analogous to six days of labor.
- The framework hypothesis undercuts the Sabbatarian structure by rearranging the septunarian sequence into three pairs of parallel days.
Some writers think that Gen 1 is an expurgated myth. The Enuma Elish is the favorite suspect. However, this analysis has been rejected by a number of experts in the field of comparative Semitics, viz. John Currid, Thorkild Jacobsen, J. V. Kinner-Wilson, Kenneth Kitchen, W. G. Lambert, and Terence Mitchell.7
IX. A Figurative Interpretation?
If you were going to reject the calendar-day theory, the most efficient strategy would be to admit the Sabbatarian structure, but claim that this is a picturesque metaphor for sacred time—with a view to the Sabbath.
There are, however, a number of obstacles to that interpretation.
X. The Calendar-Day Theory
1.Let's begin by commenting on two or three popular arguments for the calendar-day theory that I think are fallacious. There is the statistical argument: in most of its Biblical occurrences, a "day" denotes a calendar day. What is more, the days in Genesis are defined by the diurnal cycle ("morning and evening"). Finally, the days are sequentially numbered. All these indicators are taken to mean that the days in Genesis are genuine, calendar days.
- But one of the problems with that argument is that this literary depiction is equally consistent with a figurative sequence. If the narrator were using the workweek, followed by the Sabbath, as an anthropomorphic metaphor for the human workweek and the Sabbath, then he would employ such imagery to draw a mental picture for the reader in order to prefigure and signify these subsequent developments.
- Moreover, we'd expect providential days to be solar days. We'd expect occurrences of a "day" or "days" in the OT to generally denote solar days. They describe the present state of affairs. That, of itself, doesn't imply the same thing for the creation "week."
- Proponents of the framework hypothesis object that, if taken literally, there is a conflict between the chronology of Gen 1 and Gen 2.
But this interpretation assumes that Gen 1 and Gen 2 are both global in scope, in which case the events in Gen 2 would correspond to day 3 in Gen 1. And yet there are two interrelated problems with this assumption. As one scholar has put it:
- a)"To appeal to Genesis 2:5 in this way is to take the verse out of context, inasmuch as it belongs to a section of Genesis which deals not with the creation but rather with the preparation of the Garden of Eden."8
b)"As a matter of fact, however, there are not two conflicting accounts. The heading to the second section of Genesis (Gen 2:2:4-4:24) reads, ‘These are the generations [i.e., the things produced by' the heavens and the earth.' This phrase refers to those things which come from heaven and earth, not to the creation of heaven and earth. It is an introductory phrase, a heading, which identifies the nature of the section which follows. It tells us that we are now going to deal not with the origin of all things, but with that which came from heaven and earth, namely, man."9
If the local interpretation is correct, then Gen 2 would correspond to day 6 rather than day 3.
- It is said that the appeal to Exod 20:9-11 involves an argument from analogy rather than identity. And this is true, as far as it goes. Every argument from analogy is also an argument from disanalogy.
However, the problem with this objection is that the explicit point of comparison between Exod 20 and Gen 1-2 involves their parallel timeframe. That's precisely what Exod 20 singles out. What they have in common is a six-day workweek followed by a day of rest. So any disanalogies like elsewhere.
- The first three days could not be solar days because the sun wasn't made until the fourth day.
I think there's some force to this objection, although it's only a problem if you accept the premise. For my part, I do regard the first three days as solar days. I think that what we have in 1:14-18 is an oblique architectural metaphor which links it to Noah's ark as well as the tabernacle.10
- A final objection is that a "day" (Heb=yom) is sometimes used in a figurative sense. And, indeed, one needs to go no further than Gen 2:4 to find the figurative usage of the word. Hence, there's no reason we shouldn't construe the days in Gen 1 the same way.
Or is there? Gerhard Hasel has raised a number of syntactical objections to this comparison.11
- We need to distinguish between a symbol and a figure of speech. Strictly speaking, a figure of speech is a literary device. It has no extratextual realty. By contrast, a symbol can have an extratextual reality. In other words, a symbol can both be an entity in its own right and also stand for another entity.
- Apropos (i), Biblical symbolism, as a rule, takes its point of origin from history. Put another way, Biblical symbolism is a form of typology, in which one entity prefigures another. We would therefore expect the Sabbatarian motif in Gen 1-2 to foreshadow the Sabbath in a constitutive sense rather than a figurative sense. As Hasel puts it: "the creation ‘days' set the norm for subsequent days in the weekly cycle of time…These ‘days' inaugurate the subsequent historical process of time ordered in weekly cycles."
- This consideration is reinforced by the fact that Genesis not only includes temporal markers, but a temporal metric. Time is measured by the celestial bodies (1:14ff.). Commentators differ on whether 1:14ff. has reference to holidays, agricultural seasons, or both—but in any event the calendrical function assigned to the celestial bodies has reference to actual entities in time and space.
Hence, it makes sense to apply the temporal metric in Gen 1 to the temporal markers in Gen 1. We measure the days by the temporal metric supplied in the text. As such, they denote solar days.
- And, as we've already seen, this interpretation receives further confirmation from intertextual allusions like Exod 20:8-11 (par. 31:12-17).
There is, of course, more to YEC chronology than the days of Genesis. That also needs to be connected with the genealogies.12 The genealogies may have missing links.13 However, a few missing links—or even a great many—will hardly allow one to interpolate geological time-scales into the genealogical record. For one thing, the genealogies commence with man. But in historical geology and modern cosmology, man comes at the tail-end (pardon the pun) of the evolutionary process.
1 D. Raup, Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? (W. W. Norton 1992).
2 S. Jaki, Genesis 1 Through the Ages (Thomas More Press 1992).
3 S. Jaki, God and the Sun at Fatima (Real View Books 1999).
4 More recently, John Sailhamer has proposed a local interpretation, in which he identifies the scope of Gen 1-3 with the Holy Land. Cf. Genesis Unbound (Multnomah Books 1996). While he makes some useful points along the way, his central thesis is subject to considerable criticism. Cf. http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/biblical-chronology/9-5-john-sailhamer-weights-in-part-2
5 Not that paleoanthropology presents such a daunting challenge to the Bible-believing Christian. For, as Michael Ruse observes, "the fact of the matter is that paleontology cannot use selection directly, as can the student of today's organisms, such as the sociobiologist. Selection is not a tool of research where you can go out and discover and test and come up with results. You are working at a distance—a very long distance—with evidence (fossils) that is spotty and incomplete and very very dead," The Evolution Wars (Rutgers University Press 2002).
6 G. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word 1987), 11-13.
7 J. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker 2001), 29ff.; K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 242-25; 591n7; T. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum: Interpreting the Evidence (Paulist Press 2004), 79.
8 E. J. Young, "Creation," The Encyclopedia of Christianity, P. Hughes, ed. (NFCE 1972), 3:242.
9 Ibid. 244.
10 I'd add that John Sailhamer takes issue with the traditional rendering of the syntax while Donald Wiseman takes issue with the traditional rendering of the noun. Cf. Genesis Unbound (Multnomah Books 1996); Donald J. Wiseman, "Creation time—what does Genesis say?" Science and Christian Belief 3/1 (1991), 25-34. John Walton, in his commentary on Genesis (122-24), marshals further evidence in support of this interpretation -- as does C. J. Collins in Genesis 1-4 (56-58).
12 For an example of how this computation is done—by a scholar who cannot be fairly accused being blinded by his reverence for Scripture, cf. http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/chronology_barr.pdf (PDF)
13 William Henry Green wrote the seminal essay on this subject. Cf. http://www.girs.com/library/theology/syllabus/creation_green.html