Understanding the Terminology
Words have meanings, but they often have different meanings to different people using them. Our English language is difficult to understand at times because one English word can have many different meanings. It is imperative, therefore, in any meaningful discussion to first define the terms used. Often in a debate the disputants will first define their terms. This is important for both the opponent and the audience in order to completely understand the issue. In the same way, it is important in the discussion of creation issues to define the terms beings used. A person might say, "I believe that God created the universe in six days," and mean something completely different than what another means when he says the same thing. I have been asked by Harry Osborne to contribute an article for this special issue of Watchman Magazine covering some of the language used in the creation-evolution debate. I am happy to do my part in making others aware of this language so that we all can be prepared to discuss and challenge these issues.(1)
This article will cover six issues and some of the language used in each issue.
Issue #1: "God Has Two Books of Revelation"
Often believers will talk about God's two books of revelation: God's "special revelation" (the Bible) and God's "natural revelation" (the universe and our world within it). While these two terms are not in the Bible they do accurately describe God's two-sided revelation. God indeed speaks through His Word (Heb.1:1-2) and God speaks through His World (Psa.19:1-6; Ac.14:17; Rom.1:20). The problem is not believing in God's two-sided revelation, the problem is one's unbalanced attitude toward God's revelation. Often when a believer says, "God has two books of revelation" which we must harmonize, what he means is God uses special revelation to tell us who created the universe and why it was created, but God uses natural revelation to tell us how it was created and how long it took to create it. Hill Roberts writes, "Frankly I don't think Genesis tells us what to believe about the time of creation one way or another. God told that story in the rocks."(2) Again, Roberts writes, "Genesis 1 basically addresses the relationship of nature with God, while science basically addresses processes of nature."(3)
So, when the so-called "facts" of the age of the earth are discovered in the rocks by scientists, we are then told we must get Genesis 1 to harmonize with those "facts." According to some, what do the "scientific facts" show the age of the universe to be? About 15 to 20 billion years old. And what about our earth? About 4.5 billion years old. And what about mankind? About 1 to 2 million years old. That's right, millions and billions of years old! How then does Genesis 1 fit this old date? Good question.
Old-earth creationists who accept these extremely old dates as true have supposedly found several ways to get Genesis 1 to harmonize with this old age. Hill Roberts is an old-earth creationist and takes this very approach.(4)
He speaks of God's two revelations which must be harmonized. This is sometimes called the "double revelation theory." But what you may not know is that he accepts as truth the current scientific opinion (not fact) that the earth is extremely old and then he finds ways to stretch Genesis 1 out over billions of years to fit that old age. In this case, scientific opinion ends up controlling Biblical exegesis and science sits in judgment on the Bible, not the other way around. Regardless of how much you hear about both revelations being equal, when all is said and done, some believers have elevated God's natural revelation over God's special revelation. Accordingly, whenever science and the Bible are in conflict on the age of the earth, the Bible student must always be rethinking and correcting his interpretation of Genesis 1, but the scientist doesn't have to rethink or correct his old date.(5)
Look at what Hill Roberts, a Christian and a scientist, writes, "Of the two disciplines religion and science one is more subjective, the other is more objective. It has been this author's experience that one direct consequence of this is that there are more variations in doctrinal interpretations of scripture than there are for most sets of scientific data. Subjective religious interpretations should welcome whenever objective data can shed some light on the difficult issues, thereby helping to show the proper way. Likewise, scientific objective interpretations can provide deep meaning only when combined with those far grander laws subjectively understood from scripture."(6)
So, the scientist saves the day! The scientist shows us the proper way and gives us the deep meaning! Thank you, Mr. Scientist! Roberts is clear about what can change (the Bible) and what cannot change (science). He writes, "If science is wrong about this, then practically everything in science is wrong; on the other hand, if we are wrong about how to understand the timing of Genesis, virtually nothing changes in our theology."(7)
Brethren let's remember that God's revelation in His Word and in His World will always supplement and confirm one another, but as interpreters we must never place science over the Scriptures. When a believer says that he accepts both of God's revelations, ask him which revelation is left open to many interpretations and which one to accept as fact. Ask him if the Bible (God's special revelation) says anything at all about the age of man, specifically or generally; or, is that story told in the rocks only.
Issue #2: "I Believe God Created the Universe"
The atheistic evolutionist of course is not interested in talking about God creating the universe. He does not believe in God. According to him, we are here by purely naturalistic processes. On the other hand, there are many believers who accept that God created the universe. But what do they mean when they say, "I believe God created the universe"? They mean that God is the Creator behind the universe, but He used the process of evolution (organic evolution, macro-evolution or the general theory of evolution) as His method to bring it about. This belief has been called "theistic evolution," and it is basically a middle-of-the road position. The modern form of theistic evolution is called "progressive creationism" or "threshold evolution." Hugh Ross, who is highly recommended by Hill Roberts, is one of today's most visible spokesmen for Progressive Creationism. Theistic evolution combines the faith of the religionist with the faith of the atheistic evolutionist. Various religious persons, including some members of the church,(8) have accepted this position because they have been influenced by the scientific community to think of the theory of evolution as fact, and because they believe this position does not contradict the Bible. However, theistic evolution is wrong because it seeks to do that which is logically impossible to do: combine God with evolution. The theory of evolution teaches that purely naturalistic processes were at work as one species evolved from another species over billions of years. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that God created different "kinds," including mankind, by supernatural miracle in "six days" (Gen.1-2).(9)
When a believer says he believes God created the universe, ask him if God did it by fiat creation or by evolution. To Hill Robert's credit, he does not claim to be a theistic evolutionist, and lectures against that position in his seminars.
Issue #3: "I Believe the Genesis Account of Creation to be True"
When one reads the Genesis account of creation and then the theories of many scientists it becomes apparent very quickly that there is a contradiction between the two. So what is to be done? For those believers among us who are interested in upholding the modern scientific theories, the solution for them is found in their approach to Genesis. What kind of literature is Genesis 1 and 2? Is it historical narrative giving the details of literal events that actually took place? Or, is it a figurative and symbolic description of what God did? [Note: Another article in this special series will discuss in detail the type of literature contained in Genesis 1.] Some believers say that Genesis tells us about some literal facts; i.e. God created the universe. But they do not believe everything in the text is literal. For example, according to some, the "six days" of Genesis 1 are not the same as the "six days" in a literal week (144 hours). They do not believe that God created the universe in 144 hours. They give lip service to the literal nature of Genesis 1, but actually they pick and choose what they want to be literal in that text. Hill Roberts says, "The primary question concerns the truth of Genesis 1 regardless of whether it is literal or figurative. I believe it is true. Parts of it are literal, parts are simplistic, parts are symbolic."(10) When a believer says that he accepts the literal account of Genesis 1, ask him if he believes the days of Genesis 1 are six, literal (24 hour) consecutive days.(11)
Issue #4: "The Bible is Silent on the Age of the Earth"
It is popular today among some believers to say that the Bible does not tell us the age of the earth and there is some truth to this statement. It is true that the Bible does not tell us exactly when God created the universe, and attempts in the past to assign a specific date to the beginning of the universe have only caused problems and confused the issue.(12) But is the Bible silent on the age of the earth? No. Does the Bible say anything at all about the age of the earth? Yes. By combining the creation account (Gen.1-2) with the Biblical chronologies (Gen.5; 11; Mt.1; Lk.3), the Bible does gives us a relative (general) age of the earth. It is not a specific age, but nonetheless it is an age. Taking all the Biblical evidence into account, the earth's age would then be calculated in thousands of years, not in millions or billions of years. The earth is five days older than man! Relatively speaking, the earth is young. [Note: Biblical chronologies and the relative age of the earth are discussed in detail in an article by Mark Mayberry in this special issue.] So why do some believers say that the Bible is silent on the age of the earth? Because they want to turn right around and tell us how old the earth is using the "facts" and dates of uniformitarian geology that are commonly accepted by today's scientists. These believers know that many scientists will not accept a young-earth date, so they have acquiesced to the old-earth date in hopes of converting the unbelieving scientist to faith in God. I find it interesting how that Hill Roberts talks about how the age of the earth is told in the rocks, not in the Bible, and then he turns right around and supposedly shows how Psa.90:1-4 and 2 Pet.3:8 are God's "divine timescale for the mountains."(13)
Now why would brother Roberts do that? I didn't think the Bible spoke about the age of the earth! I'm glad brother Roberts turned to the Bible to talk about time issues, though I do not agree with his eisegesis of Psa.90:1-4 and 2 Pet.3:8. Roberts also believes we are wrong to say that the earth is only thousands of years old. He writes in such a way that you get the idea that scientists would be lining up in large numbers to be baptized into Christ if it were not for the youth-earth position. He says, "Many modern scientists and young people have been "righteously" slain on the altar of time. May God have mercy on theirs and our souls."(14)
When a believer says that the Bible is silent on the age of the earth, ask him how old he believes the earth to be and what proof he has for the date he gives you. Notice how he tries to make the Biblical chronologies confusing, problematic and of little consequence. The truth is, the Bible is not silent on the (relative) age of the earth. What the Bible does say tells us how old the earth is not; that is, it is not millions/billions of years old.
Issue #5: "God Created the Universe in Six Days"
When I say that I'm getting off work in six days to go on vacation, we all know what I mean by that statement. If I were to make that statement to you, would you naturally think that within billions of years I will be am going on vacation? Now be honest. "Six days" in our language means six, literal (24-hour) consecutive days - a total of 144 hours . This is how the Bible uses "six days" when it speaks of the creation account (Ex.20:11; 31:17). Yet, there are many believers who speak of God creating the universe in "six days" but they mean something totally different. To them "day" means eons of time. So, in this case "six days" would equal millions or billions of years! When applied to Genesis 1, this theory proposes that God created the heavens, earth and light and afterward millions/billions of years passed (1:1-5); then God created the firmament and afterward millions/billions of years passed (1:6-8); then God created the seas and plants and afterward millions/billions of years passed (1:9-13); etc., etc. The belief that "day" equals eons of time is called the "day-age theory," and it is popular among many believers today. Hill Roberts leaves open the possibility for the day-age theory when he says, "What would have been perceived as a single day could really have been a thousand years (or a million, or a billion) under those special conditions."(15)
Why do some accept this theory? It is their way of harmonizing the so-called "facts" of science (based upon uniformitarian dating methods) with the creation account. But they must accept this theory in spite of the plain evidence to the contrary. A plain, simple, straightforward reading of Genesis 1 and Ex.20:11; 31:17, points to the direction of six, literal (24-hour) consecutive days.(16) But is there lexical or exegetical support for the day-age theory in the text of Genesis 1? Absolutely not. What then does the grammatical evidence demonstrate? The Hebrew word yom ("day") is used in the context of Genesis 1 to mean a literal, 24-hour "day," not eons of time. [Note: The use of the Heb. word yom and the grammatical evidence refuting the day-age theory will not be covered in this article. This material is covered in an article by Dan King in this special issue. See also Creation Compromises, by Bert Thompson, pp.132-155.] Are all day-age advocates evolutionists? No. Old-earth creationists do not accept the process or method of macro-evolution, but they do accept the dates of rocks which are based upon the assumptions of macro-evolution. When a believer says that he accepts that God created the universe in "six days," ask him if those "six days" equal 144 hours, or do they equal millions, maybe billions, of years. If his answer includes eons of time ask him for the lexical, grammatical and contextual proof.
Issue #6: "God Created the World"
What was God doing during the six days recorded in Genesis 1? We all know that God was creating the world around us, right? Well, it depends upon what you mean by "create." The Bible teaches that God brought various parts of the universe into existence for the very first time during the "six days" of creation by His Word and without using materials that already had existed for millions/billions of years. This is the very point the writer of Hebrews makes when he says, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible" (Heb.11:3, NASV). Yet, when some believers today speak of "creation" they actually mean "re-creation." They believe that God "created" the original universe (including earth) in Gen.1:1, then billions of years after that, when the earth "became waste and void," He "made" ("made over" or "re-created") the earth again in six days. Where then do the billions of years go in Genesis 1? Supposedly they go between verses 1 and 2. This has been called the "gap theory," because a gap of millions/billions of years is placed between these two verses by the proponents of this theory.(17)
[Note: The grammatical evidence refuting the gap theory will not be covered in this article. This evidence is covered in an article by Dan King in this special issue. See also Creation Compromises, by Bert Thompson, pp.161-171,193-206.] A variation on the gap theory is the "multiple gap theory," which basically says that there are gaps of millions/billions of years between each of the six "days" of Genesis 1. Hill Roberts is basically a multiple gap theorist.(18)
He believes that the word "day" in Genesis 1 is an "event" or "time" of undetermined length, and there are vast ages between each of the six "events" or "times" recorded in Genesis 1. He says, "Could it be possible that these were not contiguous days?"(19) "Contiguous days" are days that follow one right after the other. Again he says, "I believe that the days of Genesis refer to the six specific days, or moments if you will of six specific days, when God defined His will concerning the few key events described for each of the days or times Long periods may have transpired during the full implementation of God's will set forth on some particular day time, if you will The days are most easily understood by us as common days, although not necessarily 24 hours in duration; they could have been much longer or much shorter. It seems more likely however that our 24 hour-per-day standard was an irrelevant measure for creation days These days were not necessarily six contiguous days. God's natural revelation indicates that considerable time may have separated the actual implementations of these six key pronouncements."(20)
From this last quote it becomes clear that Roberts leaves open the possibility for both the day-age theory and the gap theory at the same time! This allows him to put millions/billions of years various places throughout Genesis 1. When Roberts explains the "days" of Genesis 1 he likes to use the illustration of a married couple having a baby. The couple explains to the child later where the child came from and it goes something like this: "one day" your father and I got married; then, "another day" we planned to have you; then, "another day" you were conceived; then, "another day" you grew in mommy's womb; etc., etc.(21)
This supposedly matches the text of Genesis 1. Yet, Robert's use of "day" in this illustration doesn't even come close to the grammatical construction of Genesis 1. Look at the text again. The whole purpose for the gap theory, like those theories mentioned above, is to somehow get millions/billions of years into Genesis 1. When a believer begins to talk about what God created "before the events of the six days," or when he makes a distinction between what God "created" (Heb. bara) and what God "made" (Heb. asah), or when he talks about how the earth "became waste and void," ask him if he believes there are gaps of millions/billions of years between what God "created" and what God "made." Or, ask him if he believes that there are gaps of millions/billions of years between each "day" of Genesis 1. Hill Roberts makes these same arguments and needs to be challenged.(22)
There are many issues involved the creation-evolution controversy. We have examined some of the language used in some of the issues. The reader needs to be aware of these issues and be informed on the language that is used so that he will fully understand what is being discussed on the subject of creation and evolution. A Christian may speak about his belief in God, the Bible and the creation account, but that does not necessarily mean that he is speaking the truth about what God has revealed on the subject. Examine his words and doctrines carefully and ask questions. It is possible that brethren today are so desirous of having someone among them who is educated in science and who will take a stand against evolution, that they do not question at all the brother with a science degree who is teaching against evolution. This brother, while standing against the general theory of evolution, could be wrong on other creation issues and we must challenge him on those issues when necessary. Brethren, be informed on what the Bible says about creation and what others are saying the Bible says about creation.
This special issue of Watchman Magazine is taking some space to review in particular the beliefs of Hill Roberts and the Lord I Believe Seminar that he organizes. Hill Roberts is a member of the church who believes that God created the universe, but he also believes that the earth is approximately "4.6 billion years" old and the universe is between "12 to 16 billion years old."(23) Both at the beginning and end of a large document written by Roberts he admits that he does not know how old the earth or man is or how long creation lasted.(24)But then he turns right around and suggests throughout his paper that billions of years is a good date. Those who invite him and his staff to hear the Lord I Believe Seminar need to understand where he is coming from and they need to understand the language he uses. The author of this article has first-hand knowledge of his language. The author has attended the Lord I Believe Seminar, has spoken personally with brother Roberts about these issues and has read brother Roberts' published materials which discuss his beliefs. Not all of the terms and positions described above apply to Hill Roberts. In this article I have alerted the reader to which language applies to Hill Roberts and to which language does not.
1. I am indebted to Bert Thompson and his book Creation Compromises (Apologetics Press, 1995) for making we aware of the current language being used in the creation-evolution debate.
2. Ibid., preface iii.
3. Ibid., p. 8.
4. Another example of this approach is found in Evolution and Antiquity (Biblical Research Press, 1961) by J.D. Thomas, pp.52-55. Thomas gives several examples of how the "days" Genesis 1 can be interpreted to harmonize with the "scientific facts" about the extremely old age of the earth. He first assumes the "scientific facts" to be true and then he finds ways to get Genesis 1 to harmonize with those "facts." After listing five ways that men have interpreted the words of Genesis 1, Thomas says that one or a combination of all of them may be the solution to get Genesis 1 to harmonize with the "scientific facts." Thomas is basically suggesting that we accept whatever position necessary to get Genesis 1 to harmonize with the unmovable, inerrant "scientific facts."
5. See Studies in Genesis One (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979) by Edward J. Young, p.53. It is true that old-earth creationists are willing to change their dates up and down a little from time to time, but the "ball park" figure of billions of years for the universe is generally accepted as fixed. If an old-earth creationist quibbles about his date being fixed, ask him if he believes the universe to be only a few thousand years old. When he says "No, it's not that young;" you will understand that his date is somewhat fixed.
6. Genesis and The Time Thing, p.16 (LIB CD-ROM Version 99.01).
7. Ibid., p.34.
8. See Is Genesis Myth? (Apologetics Press, 1986). In this book, Bert Thompson documents how that some professors at Abilene Christian University were teaching evolution as fact in the 1980's.
9. For further study see Theistic Evolution (C.E.I. Publishing Co., 1972) by Gordon Wilson.
10. Genesis and The Time Thing, p. 69 (LIB CD-ROM Version 99.01).
11. Davis Young provides another example of a faulty approach to Genesis 1. He says "The most acceptable view of Genesis 1 does not regard it as a chronicle of successive events during the first seven days (however long) of cosmic history. Rather, Genesis 1 should be regarded as a highly structured theological cosmology that extensively employs a royal-political metaphor" (The Genesis Debate, ed. Ronald Youngblood, p.58). By interpreting Genesis 1 as "a royal-political metaphor," Young thinks he has found a way to cram billions of years into six days.
12. Bishop Usser's famous 4004 B.C. date is a good example.
13. Genesis and The Time Thing, pp.31-32 (LIB CD-ROM Version 99.01).
14. Ibid., preface iii.
15. Ibid., p.43.
16. Ian A Fair agrees that the simple reading of Genesis 1 points to a 24-hour day. What is interesting is the fact that his chapter in the book, Evolution and Faith (ACU Press, 1988), is very sound. Yet, what he writes is directly contradictory to what other authors in the same book write.
17. Surprisingly, the gap theory was advocated to brethren years ago by Robert Milligan who described Gen.1:1 as the "pre-adamic earth" which existed "many ages previous to the historic period" (Scheme of Redemption, reprint, pp.23-24); and by George Dehoff who said that the earth was created "before the first day," and possibly "millions of years" before (Why We Believe the Bible, p. 27).
18. It is interesting that Hill Roberts makes the standard arguments that the gap theorist makes in addition to making arguments for a multiple gap theory. Hill is basically doing all he can to get as much time into Genesis 1 as possible. See Genesis and The Time Thing, p. 49-50 (LIB CD-ROM Version 99.01).
19. Genesis and The Time Thing, p.44 (LIB CD-ROM Version 99.01).
20. Ibid., pp.54-55.
21. Ibid., pp.35-38.
22. Ibid., pp.45,49-50.
23. Genesis and The Time Thing, p.17 (CD-ROM Version 99.01).
24. Ibid., pp.2,69.
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