A number of professing believers regard youth-earth creationism as the least defensible option. Of those, a large number of evangelicals prefer old-earth creationism. It has the advantage, in their view, of doing greater justice to Scripture than theistic evolution, but greater justice to science than YEC. (Catholics are more open to theistic evolution.)
For them, YEC imposes an excessive apologetic burden on the Christian. It has too much to defend. Too much to explain away. It has to wage war on too many different fronts.
The only reason anyone would subscribe to YEC is for exegetical reasons alone–so they say.
Incidentally, even if that were the case, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that position. We might well have better reason to believe the Bible rather than some scientific theory du jour.
But one question we need to ask is whether OEC represents a stable mediating position. This is not simply an issue of accepting the same basic sequence as YEC, but spacing it out or extending the timeline.
If you concede the evidence for the antiquity of the earth (assuming there is such evidence), then this evidence is bound up with a certain sequence of events. On this view, the earth developed in certain stages. And evidence for the antiquity of the earth dovetails with evidence for the emergence and diversification of life.
It’s difficult to isolate evidence for the antiquity of the earth from evidence for the origin of life and emergence of species. The chronology and biology tend to move in tandem.
And, indeed, OEC generally concedes the evolutionary sequence of events. But, in that case, it’s hard to separate the evidence for an evolutionary sequence from the evidence for an evolutionary process. Once you buy into the initial assumptions, it’s difficult to see how OEC can maintain a buffer between its own position and theistic evolution.
Or course, OEC can try to distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution. However, that move also available to YEC.
There are also some professing believers who subscribe to theistic evolution. Is that a more defensible position?
One problem with theistic evolution is that if you concede the evidence for macroevolution (assuming there is any), then there’s a random quality to the fossil record that doesn’t look like it’s guided by a wise and benevolent deity. The “kill curve” seems to be pretty indifferent to which species survive and which go extinct. As one writer put it, “Such a model of fractal continuity in extinction, triggered by sudden impact at all scales and levels, might be conceptualized as a ‘field of bullets’ (Raup, 1991a)–with agents of destruction raining from the sky and death as a random consequence of residence in the wrong place at the wrong time,” S. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, 1324.
In addition, agreement with macroevolution is only to your apologetic advantage if, in fact, there is compelling evidence for macroevolution, with no serious evidence to the contrary. If, on the other hand, macroevolution is deeply problematic, then the theistic evolutionist is in danger of being swamped by the dead weight of macroevolution. In that case, his position is more vulnerable rather than less so.
The fact is that every option along the continuum, from YEC through OEC and theistic evolution to naturalistic evolution has some unique challenges. I don’t see that any one position is more prima facie defensible than another.
That being the case, it’s logical for the Christian to choose the option with the most Scriptural support, and defend it on whatever other grounds are available.