The Cosmos, creation and the Creator: Young Earth Creationism

Adherents rightly place a high value on the authority and historicity of Scripture and the sovereignty of God in Creation.

Last week, I gave you an introduction to creation theology — read it here before continuing on. In the introduction, I listed three common interpretations of creation among Christians: Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism and Theistic Evolution. Today, let’s discuss Young Earth Creationism. And as we continue, I implore you to remember that creation theology is a secondary issue within Christianity — meaning faithful believers can and will have differing opinions on the subject.

Those who ascribe to Young Earth Creationism typically believe the universe is fewer than 10,000 years old, and that God created it, the Earth and all plant and animal life within a literal seven-day week. Proponents typically read and interpret the Bible more literally and tend to be critical of scientific explanations that do not have this worldview as an underlying assumption. Therefore, they argue that the Hebrew word yom, “day” (Genesis 1), should be translated as a literal 24-hour period (as it means in 97% of more than 2,300 uses).

The benefit of this interpretation is that the text contains repeated references to evening and morning, and Exodus 20:8-11 asserts that Israel’s Sabbath cycle is rooted in the Genesis narrative that “in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” From this position, “YECs” typically conclude that all the events of Genesis 1:1-5 occurred on the first of the six-day creation process.

Proponents of Young Earth Creationism maintain (rightly so) that an absolutely sovereign and powerful God can act in any way He chooses. Therefore, God could effortlessly create and sustain light prior to the existence of celestial bodies by His free power and will; create land and sea animals prior to the existence of any land animals; and cover the entire face of the Earth with a catastrophic flood that could have incredible and expansive ecological and geological impact on the world. From this literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2, YECs add up the lifespans and generational succession of the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 10-11, resulting in estimates that humanity was created around 6,000 years ago, and at most 10,000 years ago.

Divine intervention

Young Earth Creationists also typically argue that scientific inquiry should be open to explanations that involve direct, divine intervention as a possible cause for things we observe in the natural world. Therefore, they tend to be skeptical of scientific models that rely on a purely naturalistic worldview.

While many theologians and teachers throughout Christian and Jewish history have held some form of this view (typically in submission to the text and a preference for literal interpretation), YEC in its current form arose through the 1920s teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist theorist George McCready Price; and a joint effort by John Whitcomb Jr. and Henry Morris (1961) in their publication, “The Genesis Flood.” The view has persisted through movements like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis and paleontologist Kurt Wise’s Creation Research Center.

Young Earth Creationism has its strengths. 

  • It is typically internally consistent in the methods it uses to interpret the Bible. 
  • It finds agreement with the convictions of many of the Protestant reformers and early rabbinic thought.
  • Adherents rightly place a high value on the authority and historicity of Scripture and the sovereignty of God in Creation.
  • It typically maintains that animal and human death did not occur until after the events of Genesis 3, a reading that can harmonize with Paul’s teaching in Romans.
  • It rightly recognizes that much scientific inquiry thrives on a preference toward philosophic naturalism (that only measurable and observable natural laws are at work in the universe). In its strictest sense, this worldview leaves little, if any, room for God’s activity and purposes in history and the world.
  • YEC theorists are correct in pointing out that science works best with repeatable, inwardly observable events. Origins sciences (that try to understand how our universe came into existence) are speculative regarding a past, unobservable, one-time event for which we do not have any counter-facts. Therefore, the conclusions science brings to the origins of the universe are inferences and extrapolations from those things we can observe today.

However, for some, YEC is difficult to reconcile with consistent scientific findings regarding geology, paleontology, astronomy and radiology. Science is not everything, but many Christians believe that because God created an ordered world, we can learn from the “Book of Nature” (as Englishman Thomas Browne called it).

Imparting spiritual truth

Many critics of YEC argue that proponents are attempting to read the Bible like a science textbook, which was not the intent of its authors (human or divine) who were trying to impart spiritual truth.

Therefore, those critical of YEC say there is benefit from insights of the various disciplines that do not contradict what the Bible is trying to communicate. Furthermore, they argue that the insights of archaeology and anthropology can especially help in understanding how the biblical authors were writing in ways that challenged the worldviews and spiritualities of their contemporaries, resulting in a text that was more apologetic, persuasive and theological than a literal historical record.

Numerous methods of scientific inquiry suggest a much older earth and universe than YEC acknowledges. For instance, our understanding of astrophysics provides a reliable measure of the speed of light. From this measurement, scientists have concluded that when we look at some of the most distant stars and celestial bodies, we are not seeing them as they are now, but as they appeared millions of years ago.

For both YEC and this scientific property to be true, God would have had to create the light on its way to our solar system so we see a star that only appears more mature than our own earth. And God could certainly do this!

But two questions arise. First, does this kind of activity represent how God typically accomplishes things in the world? Second, does this appearance of “vintage” seem too close to some sort of illusion or deception? Or as particle physicist Michael Strauss puts it, “The universe does not just have an appearance of age, but an appearance of history.”

Sovereign and providential guidance

Should we interpret this history as a fabrication, or should we instead see it as the Author of history accomplishing His ultimate purposes through His sovereign and providential guidance in the midst of His ordered and tangible creation?

Against this challenge, YEC proponents have posited several explanations, including the earlier existence of a small black hole within our solar system, or decelerating speed of light following the creation of the universe. 

Against the geologic, scientific consensus for an older Earth, YECs often posit a catastrophic, worldwide flood, which seems to conform to the biblical narrative of Genesis 6–10. This position is supported by the widespread existence of flood myths and narratives in many diverse cultures. However, geological features like rock striations and fossil layers, which tell consistent stories in various parts of the world, call into question whether the flood simply covered the land where humanity lived at the time.

All in all, Young Earth Creationism’s biggest problem is with science, and YEC proponents struggle to find consistent, provable and satisfactory explanations from the Book of Nature.

Next up for review: Old Earth Creationism.

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