Before I engage the Genesis text and the old-earth interpretation of it, I want to put the discussion in perspective. Young-earth creationists have tended to disregard old-earth creationists as liberal compromisers. Before we can even look at how they handle Scripture, it would be worthwhile to have the proper opinion of old-earth creationists. Without that, any interpretation they offer will be thrown out with yesterday’s trash, but if there is going to be meaningful dialogue, we must hear each other out and show respect to those whose views differ from ours, especially when they have much to contribute to the discussion.
In part 1 of this series I noted that belief in a young earth is a dead concept in scientific community. Astronomers in particular view a young earth to be in the same category as a flat earth. That is not to say that the church needs to abandon the young earth view. But it should cause young earth creationists to be more open-minded toward old earth creationists than many are today. They are not simply compromisers, caving in to the pressures of the modern, scientific community. Rather, they are mostly just doing their best to be faithful to the evidence found in Scripture and in creation.
Today a large segment of the young earth creationist community views old earth creationists as harmful, compromised, or even heretical, depending on whom you talk to. To give an example, Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle are quoted as saying, “Old-earth creationists are hereby found guilty of compromise concerning the age of the earth and the extent of the flood….old-earthers are sternly warned to stop trying to accommodate the false philosophies of the day and learn to fully trust in the Word of the omniscient God” (Old-Earth Creationism on Trial). Referring to the backlash old earth creationists receive from their young earth counterparts, John Holtzmann, speaking from the perspective of the Christian homeschool movement, had this to say: “any Bible-believing Christian who dares publicly to raise serious questions about the YEC (young earth creationist) model risks social ostracism and possible official exclusion from homeschool groups or events on that ground alone (Can We even Talk Together, emphasis in original).
Ironically, many of the same young earth creationists who ostracize old earth advocates are outraged when scientists exclude advocates of a young earth from state funded universities on that ground alone. Young earth creationists argue that old-earthers deserve it because they are rejecting the plain meaning of Scripture. But scientists say young-earthers deserve it because they ignore the plain evidence found in the observable data. Both groups are making the same argument from the primary source material that they regard as most authoritative. If it is wrong for scientists to exclude creationists from the discussion simply because they are creationists, then young-earth creationists ought to include old-earth creationists in honest, respectful dialogue in the hopes of understanding each other better.
How should young earth creationists view old earth creationists? To be clear, I am not referring to old earth evolutionists, not even theistic evolutionists. The old earth creationists that young earth supporters accuse of compromise include faithful evangelical Christians who are just like their young earth colleagues, except for their belief concerning the age of the earth. To understand why they believe the way they do, see here. The question is not whether young earth advocates should abandon their position, a good exposition of which can be found here. The question is whether they can reserve a seat at the table of Christian fellowship for old earth creationists.
This should not be a difficult thing to ask, because at once it is apparent that this issue is not about a cardinal tenet of the faith. One’s doctrine of the age of the earth will not send anyone to hell. Nevertheless, how we respond to this question could have great eternal significance. Again, the age of the earth is not one of the four spiritual laws. No one witnesses to a sinner saying, ” Jesus died for your sins, you need to repent and believe the earth is 6,000 years old.” But at the same time, how young earth evangelicals respond to the concept of an old earth can make a difference in the salvation of countless souls.
Once we realize that these countless souls view young-earth advocates the same way they view members of the flat earth society, we will begin to understand why these people do not listen to us when we try to tell them about Jesus. If becoming a Christian means adopting the young earth view of creation, many people will simply say, No thanks. But if they understand that there are many conservative Christians who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, but who also believe in an old earth, the stumbling block is removed. An important question remains: is it possible to interpret Scripture faithfully and come away with an old earth?
To answer that question, two key texts must be examined: the days of creation in Genesis 1 and the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. That is what we will do in the next article. Then we will finish the series by examining objections each position levels against the other before addressing the question of determining to what degree the evidence from creation should affect our interpretation of Scripture.
Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle, Old-Earth Creationism on Trial, quoted in Jeff Zweerink, “Old-Earth Creationism on Trial,” on line article, April 15, 2009, http://www.reasons.org/articles/old-earth-creationism-on-trial. Last accessed, Oct. 15, 2013.
John A. Holtzmann. “Young- and Old-Earth Creationists: Can We even Talk Together?” On line article, Jan 11, 2006. http://www.sonlight.com/young-or-old-earth.html#1top. Last accessed Oct 19, 2013.