Why I Don’t Teach My Children Young Earth Creationism
As a family pastor, I get asked a lot of questions about raising and teaching children. One of the questions that seem to come up regularly is “what do you teach your kids about science?” The trend among Southern Baptist is to teach our children that modern science has an agenda to turn people into atheists. Many parents opt for home schooling and private schools because they don’t want their children being taught the “evils” of evolution (whether cosmological or biological) and millions of years. Well, we have done home school and private school, but it is not because we are scared of evolution and want to teach our kids Young Earth Creationism.
However, before I go any further, let me be clear at the onset that my goal is not to cause division and be mean spirited. I am simply sharing the reasons why I teach my children what I do about this subject; even when it goes against what they are learning in school.
I know that immediately after reading the title of this article, some will be relieved, and others will be outraged. Those who are relieved are probably thinking, “thank God he is not brainwashing his children with that pseudo-science”, while those who are outraged are thinking, “how can you blatantly go against what scripture teaches.” And therein lies the problem: American Christians have been cleverly duped into thinking that scripture requires them to hold to Young Earth Creationism, when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. However, with the militant surge of ministries like Answers in Genesis propagating their cause and pronouncing “anathemas” upon anyone who disagrees with them, it is no wonder that Christians are swayed towards this position. Young Earth Creationists such as Ken Ham exalt their view as the only one which is faithful to the truthfulness, inspiration, and inerrancy of scripture. Now, before you think I am just picking on Ken Ham, the reason I mention him is because he and Answers in Genesis are the leading proponents of Young Earth Creationism and the ones who are making the most noise. Before we proceed, for the sake of those who aren’t quite tracking with me, I want to define exactly what Young Earth Creationism teaches (from now on YEC).
Here are the basic tenants of their belief:
1) Genesis 1-3 is meant to be interpreted literalistically, and is a factual presentation of actual events. Thus, it provides a reliable framework for scientific questions.
2) The days of Genesis 1 are literally 24 hour days in which God created everything.
3) The science of the bible provides a reliable account of how God did things and how the universe works.
4) The “kinds” mentioned in Genesis is the same biological category that we use today. God made man and the rest of creation “according to its kind,” thus there is only limited biological change.
5) Dinosaurs lived with humans and are mentioned in the creation account of Genesis 1.
6) The Noahic flood was an actual, global event that is responsible for all the fossils we see.
7) Based on the genealogies of Genesis, the earth is only around 6,000 years old.
8) The fall was a cosmic fall, thus there was not plant or animal death before the fall of men.
9) Upon the fall of man, the animals became carnivorous.
10) No perceived evidence in any field such as history, chronology, science, etc., can be valid if it contradicts the biblical record.
11) Modern science and its dating methods cannot be trusted.
12) The big bang is false.
13) Evolution is a lie.
14) The universe is not 14.5 billion years old.
You can read more about YEC here http://www.answersingenesis.org/about/faith
and here http://www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers
In this series, I will show why I reject this system of thought and why I will not teach it to my children. I reject YEC based on three accounts: The Bible; Its History; and Its Science. I will be discussing each of these in a somewhat detailed manner, but will obviously not be addressing every single issue. If you have more questions, concerns, comments, etc., please either comment on the blog post or send me an email through the contact us page.
Why is this important? Glad you asked. It is important for several reasons. First, YEC creates a dichotomy and false dilemma that can be avoided; namely that of either believing the bible or committing intellectual suicide. Second, it is a grave mishandling of scripture and uses the bible in a way God never intended. Finally, YEC is one of the greatest hindrances to the gospel in American society because it is willful, blatant ignorance at its finest, which discredits the Christian message and the intellectual integrity of Christianity.
In the next post, I will address the biblical reasons why YEC should be rejected.
Before we get into what scripture actually teaches in regards to creation, we need to establish two foundational issues. First, what is the role of scripture as it relates to science, and second, how should we interpret scripture.
Scripture and Science
One of the things that I teach my children is that God has revealed himself in two books- His book of revelation (the Bible) and the book of nature (creation). I also teach them that the bible has precedence over the book of nature, because in it, we find out who God really is and how he has acted. I also teach them that because God is the author of both, they will not ultimately contradict each other. I teach them that the two books have a different purpose. The bible is meant to teach us about the nature of God and humanity, the purpose of God and humanity, and the redemption of God and humanity. The book of nature reveals the glory of God also, by showing us the how he created. I teach them that science cannot prove or disprove God, and that it has no right to make those claims because that is not its function or purpose. On the flip side, I also teach them about the science of the bible.
This leads to the question, “does the bible teach science?” Well, it depends what you mean by “science.” If by “science” you mean the modern investigation and knowledge into the universe and how it works, then the answer is “no.” However, if by “science” you mean an ancient worldview of the cosmos, then the answer is “yes.”
The truth is that the bible teaches ancient cosmology. Why? Because this is what the people of the day were familiar with. The purpose of the biblical revelation was for God to reveal himself and his message to a people; a people who were steeped in ancient culture and certain ways of thinking. God did not come to them to present to them a new science, but to reveal himself. He accommodated his message to ancient cosmology to communicate to his people that he was the one true Creator God, and that he created man in his image to enjoy him and know him. It would have made no sense for God to reveal modern science to the ancient Hebrews. They would have had no clue what God was saying. Why did God do it this way? Because they had a certain way of understanding the world, and because God wanted to communicate to them, not confuse them.
In the ancient cosmology of the bible, the earth is a flat disc, held up by pillars, with heaven above and the underworld below. In other words, it is a three tiered world. I find it interesting that YEC’s aren’t trying to push a literalistic interpretation of the verses of scripture that have this viewpoint of the world. According to their system, however, they should. This just shows the further intellectually dishonesty among YEC’s, who will reject the ancient cosmological layout, but then use ancient cosmology to argue against modern science. Where is the logic in that?
The other day, I sat down with my 7 year old and 5 year old, and we drew a picture of what modern science shows us about the shape of the earth, the rotations of the earth around the sun, and about the stars. Then I drew them a picture of the ancient cosmology of the bible: a flat earth held up by pillars with a dome above and the place of the dead beneath. Within the dome of the sky I hung stars, and showed how the sun went back and forth across the dome, giving the appearance of rising and setting.
“This is how the people of the bible viewed their world.” I told them. “Well, that makes sense,” my 7 year old says, “since they didn’t have telescopes and the stuff we have to figure it all out.” She also went on to say, “it makes sense that God didn’t show them the way it really looked. It wouldn’t have made sense to them.” I went on to tell her that this is why the bible doesn’t tell us the “how” of modern science. God wasn’t concerned with changing the Hebrews’ science. That is not the point of scripture. Oh, and on a funny note, one time I told her that “some people try to use the bible as a science text book and teach modern science out of it.” “Ha!” she laughed, “that’s just ridiculous. The bible is about God, not modern science.” Wow. Even a 7 year old gets it.
So, what we have is that the biblical authors, perfectly at home in their world and their culture, were used by God to communicate his truth in a way in which the people of the day would understand it. This brings us to our next foundational issue- biblical interpretation.
One of the first things all scholars will espouse in regards to biblical interpretation is that though the bible was written for us, it wasn’t written to us; it was not written to 21st century Americans. Rather, it was written to ancient Hebrews and Greeks. This means there is going to be some cultural divide. That is why scholars are so adamant about understanding the history and the culture of these eras. Understanding these things help us understand the bible. They had different ways of thinking then we did, and one of those ways was how they thought about cosmology. The fundamental problem with YEC is that they try to read modern science into Genesis and use it for something it was never intended to be used for. Genesis was not written to refute Darwin, or an old earth, or the big bang, or millions of years. It does not address it because this was not the concern of the audience. Again, I explained all this to my kids and they get it. Why can’t adults?
Now, with the foundation laid, let’s look at some of the mishandlings of scripture by the YEC’s
First, the YEC’s, especially Ken Ham, would have us believe that the only viable interpretation of Genesis is his. He will argue his view is what the church has always believed (you can read some of his articles online at http://www.answersingenesis.org/
), and that the modern interpretations are a result of the influence of millions of years and evolution. The reality is that this is just not the case. As early as Origen (184/185- 253/254 CE) and Augustine (354-430 CE), theologians were intrigued by Genesis 1 and understood that there was more to this passage than a literalistic account. Both Origen and Augustine interpreted things both literally and allegorically.
As far as the Reformers go, Luther and Calvin understood Genesis in a literal manner, in which the text was describing the real, visible world. However, both of them insisted that the central purpose of Genesis 1 was theological rather than material.
There are also other difficulties in the text if one tries to read it literally. These difficulties have been noted by many of our church fathers, which is why they did not adopt a literalistic reading of the text. For example, what does “day” mean in Genesis 1 if the markers for time (sun and moon) were not created until day 4? Also, how was there “light” in verse 3 when the sun, moon, and stars were not created until verse 14? When God creates the “light”, why does he call it “day” instead of “light”?
Justin Martyr (100-165 CE) and Irenaeus (125-202 CE) suggested that the “day” in Genesis might be interpreted in light of 2 Peter 3:8 which mentions that a day is like a thousand years to the Lord. Martin Luther argued that we will never be able to explain everything in Genesis 1 adequately, and that the major concern is that all are in agreement with its message, namely that God created the world, it had a beginning, and that it was created out of nothing. Thus, what we see is that even our church fathers wrestled with the Genesis text and understood that it could not be read in a literalistic manner. In reality, Ken Ham and YEC’s actually find themselves outside the stream of the orthodoxy that they so vehemently wave when they insists that Genesis must be read literalistically. Hmmm, and all these interpretations were around before modern geology, astronomy, and Darwin. No one accuses our fathers of being influenced by modern science when interpreting the text this way, but according to the YEC’s, any contemporary interpreter who follows the lead of our church fathers is simply caving into evolution and millions of years. Again, where is the logic in that? (For more on pre-modern readings of Genesis, go herehttp://biologos.org/blog/pre-modern-readings-of-genesis-1-part-1 )
At this point, I would like to address the YEC interpretation of “kind” in Genesis 1. YEC’s argue that the word “kind” (Hebrew min) is the same biological category that we call species. This is a classic case of anachronism- reading modern concepts into ancient writings. It is silly to think that the ancient Hebrews would have had the same zoology as us. Rather, what we see is that the word “kind” is meant to emphasize how the plants bearing seeds and the trees bearing fruit are created in all their kinds; that is all sorts or plants and trees. The same with the creatures, birds, and animals- the domestic animals, the ones that crawl- he creates all kinds of such animals. Unfortunately, space and time limit me to not going into the overwhelming biblical evidence that supports what I am talking about, so I recommend that you go here http://biologos.org/blog/the-meaning-of-min-part-1
. Finally, I am not even going to take pains on addressing the foolishness of seeing dinosaurs in the word “creature” of Genesis 1. That may come later, but for now, I am not going to waste text on such folly.
So, how should we interpret the Genesis creation accounts? Here are some better alternatives that seem to be more faithful to the authorial intent.
Framework Theory- This view argues that Genesis 1 gives no information about the age of the earth. It argues that the days of Genes are not intended to indicate any chronological sequence, but are a literary “framework” in which the author uses to teach us about God and his creation. The framework is constructed with skill, showing how the first three days and the last three days correspond to each other.
Days of Forming
Day 1: Light and darkness separated
Day 2: Sky and waters
Day 3: Dry land, seas, plants, trees
Days of Filling
Day 4: Sun, moon, and stars (lights in the heavens)
Day 5: Fish and birds
Day 6: Animals and man
This is a very popular view among scholars and has a lot to be commended.
Day-Age Theory- This view argues that the days in Genesis 1 refers to long periods of time. It is argued that the Hebrew word for “day” refers to longer periods of time than just a 24-hour day. Those who hold this view also argue that since the sixth day includes so much activity, there is no way it could have all taken place in 24 hours. Another argument is that of the seventh day. Why isn’t there “evening and morning” attached to it? Also, how could there be “evening and morning” on the first three days when there was no sun, moon, or stars? Thus, Genesis 1 speaks of long epochs or ages. This means that what happened in Genesis 2 and 3 could have happened more than 10,000 years ago.
Non-historical Myth- This view understands Genesis 1-3 to be an accommodation to the creations myths of ancient cultures. In other words, Genesis is a non-historical account of origins given to make theological points. They are mythical stories meant to portray God’s creative activity and interacting with man. For example, these myths were never meant to give historical pictures; rather, they were stories to explain the theology behind creation and sin. So, there never was a real Adam and Eve, etc. The fundamental weakness with this view is that the text reads and assumes some “historical core” underneath its exalted language.
Ancient Cosmology/Theological History- This view is similar to the previous, except for one vital difference. Whereas the previous view sees these stories as non-historical, the theological history viewpoint understands these stories from the Ancient Near East perspective as presenting history in mythological language. In the Ancient Near East, there was no separation between history and myth. Their history was their myth; to separate the two is to destroy the literature. Thus, what we have is an ancient view of history.
Historical Creation- This view sees Genesis 1:1 as speaking of the act when God created everything. From then on, a second act of creation ensues in which God prepares the land for man. This preparation of the land is meant to be seen in connection with the rest of the Pentateuch. This “land” was the same land that was promised to Abraham, given to Israel, and conquered by Joshua. The point of the Genesis narrative is to link Israel and the “land” to creation to show that from the beginning, God has had a land prepared for his people.
So, how do I believe the creation accounts in Genesis should be interpreted? That will be in my next post. But for now, this post was intended to show why I reject the YEC interpretation of Genesis. In summary, the YEC view fails for three reasons: First, it attempts to read modern science into the text and forces Genesis to answer the wrong questions. Second, it cannot deal with the “evening and morning” phrases, along with the “light” and “kind” passages. Finally, it has total disregard for authorial intent and ANE cultural context, along with the book’s connection with the rest of the Pentateuch.
Origen, Homilies on Genesis, 60. Origen, 49, 50.Origen, 53-55. Augustine, Against the Manichees, 57, 58 and Genesi ad litteram, 145-46.
Augustine, Against the Manichees, 83-88, 89-90. The seven ages are the following: Day 1 = the infancy of the world that stretched from Adam to Noah; Day 2 = childhood, stretching from Noah to Abraham; Day 3 = adolescence, encompassing the biblical history from Abraham to David; Day 4 = the age of youth, from David to the Babylonian captivity; Day 5 = youth to old age, stretching from the Babylonian Exile to the first advent of Christ; Day 6 = old age, the coming of Christ until the 2nd coming; and Day 7 = on the even and including the 2nd coming of Christ.
LW 1:3, 4, 10, 18, 36, 39, 47, 49. Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 70, 89, 80-82, 88.
Justin Martyr, Dialogue 81.4; Irenaeus, Adv Her 5.30.4.