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Young earth versus old earth:
By: Douglas Hamp
The First Day of Creation The glory of the Bible is that, unlike the writings of other ancient nations which demonstrated a belief that water was the primal material before the existence of any gods, it claims that God was in the beginning and that He created all that is. Both the Gap theory and a relatively new theory, which posits that the six-day-creation-clock didn’t really start ticking until God uttered the words “Let there be light” in verse three, suggest that the first day didn’t start in verse one but in either verse two or verse three, respectively. Let us simply analyze, biblically and linguistically, the full range of the key Hebrew words in Genesis 1:1–2 and see what they mean and if they support the idea that a time gap exists in those verses. (English words for which the Hebrew equivalent is given are italicized.)
In the beginning God created (ברא bara) the heavens and the earth (את השׁמים ואת הארץ et hashayim ve’et ha’aretz). The earth was without form, and void (ובהו תהו tohu vavohu); and darkness was on the face of the deep (תהום tehom). And the Spirit of God was hovering (מרחפת merachefet) over the face of the waters (המים על־פני al pnei hamayim).
Bara and Asa The first key word isברא created (bara) which is used a total of 53 times in the Old Testament. The basic and majority times used form of the word, which is used in Genesis 1, has the general meaning of create, shape or form. It has been suggested that the word bara used here in Genesis is a different type of action than the word עשׂה (asa – do, make, fashion or produce) used in Exodus 20:11 where God says that he made the heavens and earth in six days.
Bara and asa are for the most part synonymous with one important distinction between them: bara is used only of God’s actions and never of man’s. There are countless examples of where man can asa (do or make); however, only God can bara. There is by implication creation ex nihilo, but the major thrust of the word bara lies in its use by God only and on the initiation of something new. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) notes concerning asa and its distinction from bara:
The use of bara’ in the opening statement of the account of creation seems to carry the implication that the physical phenomena came into existence at that time and had no previous existence in the form in which they were created by divine fiat. The use of ‘asa may simply connote the act of fashioning the objects involved in the whole creative process. (TWOT: 1708 asa)
As the TWOT notes, the use of asa is a broader term than bara, but we see from the context in which the words are used that they can be used interchangeably to a large extent. Perhaps the best example is Isaiah 45:18 where God is disparaging those who put their trust in idols rather than in Him, the true God and creator of all. Notice that the three words that are used, create, form and make all describe the same event – the creation of the heavens and earth.
For thus says the LORD,
Who created (bore בורא) the heavens,
Who is God,
Who formed (yotzer יוצר) the earth and made (oseh עושׂה) it,
Who has established it,
Who did not create (braha בראה) it in vain,
Who formed (yatzarah יצרה) it to be inhabited:
“I am the LORD, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:18)
This verse is incredibly specific, especially in regards to the creation of the earth. First of all, God declares that He is the one who created (bore בורא) the heavens – which could also be translated as Creator of the heavens. Next He says that He is the former (yotzer יוצר) and the maker (asah עושׂה) of the earth, a seeming confirmation of the supposed distinction of bara and asa. However, God continues by saying that He created it, where the word it, is the third person singular feminine possessive suffix. Put simply, it means that the word it is attached to the word created. The word it must refer to earth because the earth is a singular feminine noun and heavens is a dual masculine noun. Clearly and unmistakably God declares that He created, formed, and made the earth. Thus, to suggest that Exodus 20:11 (“For in six days the LORD made [asa] the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them…”) is not parallel in thought to Genesis 1 is to ignore the evidence in favor of one’s own theory.
The Heavens and Earth Thus far verse one has told us the when of creation – in the beginning, and then the how – God created something completely new (bara), which only God can do. Now we are up to the what, which is of course: the heavens and the earth. The question before us is understanding what precisely that means since immediately in verse two we are told that the earth was formless and void (תהו ובהו tohu vavohu); the earth must have not been fully complete. Thus, just what did He create? What are we to understand by the heavens and the earth? Did He create them complete or could that term be understood as the material that He would later form, as if He first created the clay and then worked it into a suitable form?
The answer to this enigma lies in the fact that there is no single word for universe in Hebrew, which is confirmed by the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “The Hebrews had no proper word for ‘world’ in its wide sense of ‘universe.’ The nearest approach to such a meaning is in the phrase ‘the heavens and the earth.’”[i] Thus, stating that God created the heavens and the earth is equivalent in our day to saying that He created the universe; it encompasses all that is.[ii] Bible commentators Keil and Delitzsch note the significance of the first creative act found in the Bible:
[…] there is nothing belonging to the composition of the universe, either in material or form, which had an existence out of God prior to this divine act in the beginning (Keil & Delitzsch Genesis 1:2).
That is to say, God essentially created the building blocks before beginning construction. The term the heavens and the earth here might be thought of as the raw material, the elements that God created out of nothing that He would form and fashion later to His liking. Consider that before God created anything, there was only God. There was no universe, no vacuum of space, nothing whatsoever. There was only God. Thus as part of His creative act, He had to create a dimension that was apart from Him – in which He could further manipulate and form the basic elements according to His will. Keil & Delitzsch again comment:
This is also shown in the connection between our verse and the one which follows: “and the earth was without form and void,” not before, but when, or after God created it. From this it is evident that the void and formless state of the earth was not uncreated, or without beginning. At the same time it is obvious from the creative acts which follow (vv. 3-18), that the heaven and earth, as God created them in the beginning, were not the well-ordered universe, but the world in its elementary form; (Keil & Delitzsch 1866: Genesis 1:1)
Tohu Vavohu “The earth was without form, and void (תהו ובהו tohu vavohu)” (Genesis 1:2a)
Verse two tells us that the matter God created was still in no particular shape or form. There was no planet earth as we know it today, but the raw material that God had created, (according to Genesis 1:2b) was still in no special shape. It was still unformed and unorganized. These words do not in any way suggest that there had been an earlier creation, as proposed by the Gap Theory. They do not suggest that the earth was a wasteland waiting to be recreated. The word tohu in Genesis 1:2, according to the TWOT,
refers not to the result of a supposed catastrophe (for which there is no clear biblical evidence) but to the formlessness of the earth before God’s creative hand began the majestic acts described in the following verses. As Jeremiah 4:23 indicates, the earth always has the potential of returning to tohu wabohu if God decides to judge it. (TWOT Tohu)
Furthermore, the text says that the earth “was without form, and void” and not “became without form, and void” as the Gap Theorists argue.[iii] The Hebrew והארץ היתה vehaaretz hayta is what is known grammatically as a copulative clause.[iv] The Hebrew letter vav (or waw) attached to the noun (the earth) acts as a type of parenthetical[v] statement that is to suggest a reading: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Now the earth was without form, and void.)” Thus the earth was desolate and void (tohu vavohu) at the very beginning of God’s creation and did not become as a result of God recreating it.
Tehom, the Deep The rest of verse 2 seems to indicate that the creation of the heavens and the earth was water. That is to say, that all of the matter of the universe was comprised of water and that water was formless.
…and darkness was on the face of the deep (תהוםtehom). And the Spirit of God was hovering (מרחפת merachefet) over the face of the waters (על־פני המים al panei hamayim). (Genesis 1:2b)
The apostle Peter comments on the creation of the world from water, “…that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water” (2 Peter 3:5)
It is also interesting to note that several ancient creation myths (cosmologies) had water as the original and eternal substance from which gods subsequently emerged.[vi] The Bible, of course, demonstrates the superiority of God over His creation since He is the one who made the waters, and not the one emerging from the waters. These ancient myths, I believe, are a distorted memory of the true creation account in which water was the first substance God created.
Tehom accurately describes well the water that was there in the beginning. It is best translated as deep, depths, or abyss. According to A. S. Yahuda, a word similar to tehom appears in the ancient language of Akkadian, which has a very similar meaning, thus helping us to better understand its use in the Bible:
[…] [tamtu] is conceived in its primordial condition as […] the primeval water as a sea, an ocean, before the earth was created by the heaping up of mud on the shore of this tamtu. (Yahuda 1933: 128)
Physicist Dr. Russel Humphreys, in his book, Starlight and Time, describes his theory based on the observations of this verse, how water might have then been transformed into the other known elements, “…this verse suggested to me that the original material God created, the deep, was pure water, which He then transformed into other materials”[vii] (Humphreys 2004: 72).
Merachefet, God’s Energizing of His Creation The last word to analyze is מרחפת (merachefet): “And the Spirit of God was hovering (מרחפת merachefet) over the face of the waters (על־פני המים al panei hamayim).” (Genesis 1:2b) The word is also found also in Deuteronomy 32:11[viii] and denotes the fluttering, hovering, or brooding motion of a bird over its nest.
As an eagle stirs up its nest,
Hovers (מרחפת merachefet) over its young,
Spreading out its wings, taking them up,
Carrying them on its wings, (Deuteronomy 32:11)
The purpose of the act of brooding by a bird over its nest is to provide warmth and nurturing to its young. The movement is that of the bird gently shaking and moving its body in fairly small motions. It also contains the idea of the bird covering its young with its wings, enveloping them in order to bring them to maturity.[ix]
It seems that at this point God began to energize the raw material that He made in verse 1. The oscillation on the face (or surface) of the deep, which is really what the hovering could be compared to, created the movement of the inert elements. It is interesting that all matter and energy at their core are simply wavelengths; “matter acts as both a particle and as a wave” (Koehler 1996).
We saw above that the Hebrew letter vav attached to the front of the word hayta (was) created a type of parenthetical statement. The fact that מרחפת (merachefet) is a transitive participle substantiates that verse 2 is not a new thought or even the first act of God but a clarification of what came before it in verse 1.
God Speaks The sequence of events is that the first thing that God did was to create the heavens (space) and the earth (material) – that is, He created a place or dimension outside of Himself and then the matter to work with, which we are told was without form and empty. Then God, hovering over the face of the deep, decreed light to exist. These are the first recorded words of God, but in fact, the third creative act.
This view can be strongly defended from the Hebrew grammar. The typical sequence of a narrative is to start with a verb in the simple past tense[x] (Genesis 1:1 begins with bara – created in the simple past tense) thereby signifying something new or dramatic to the story. Verse 2 we saw is a parenthetical statement explaining what is meant exactly by the creation of the “earth”. The action picks up again in verse 3 with the use of a sequential past tense[xi]. The use of a different kind of Hebrew verb marks quite clearly that the writer understood the actions of verse 3 to be a continuation of the previous two verses. Hebrew expert Dr. Buth notes that this is the normal storytelling construction in biblical Hebrew.
The sequential past tense is used to present the next event in the story or the next event in a sentence. If the writer wants to mark a break in the flow of the story for any reason, then they do not use the sequential past tense. For a past event they would need to put something other than the verb at the beginning of the sentence and then use a simple past tense (Buth 2005: 52).
Not only is verse 3 a continuation of verse 1, but the entire creation account of Genesis 1 uses the sequential past tense. Consequently, according to the grammar, there is no break between verse 1 and the rest of the chapter.
Thus, there is no reason to try to place millions of years between any of the first three verses since they are all part of that first day. Light was created on the first day, along with the very building blocks necessary for even the light to shine, which was energized by the movement of the Holy Spirit over the face of the deep. There exists, therefore, no reason to believe that the length of the first day was any different than that of any other, nor was there a previous world that fell only to be recreated, nor was there even a geologic creation some billions of years earlier. The first three verses of Genesis 1, the first day, all occurred within 24 hours just like the rest of the days as we shall see.
After watching Tuesday night's Ken Ham-Bill Nye debate, I was reminded of what attracted me in the first place to the approach to investigating origins represented by the theory of intelligent design. Sure, Ham talked about some science here and there, but almost all of what he said focused on trying to support a young earth viewpoint. Since he's not a scientist, the great majority of his arguments amounted -- over and over again -- to "Because the Bible says so." Nye's main argument was, "Because the evidence says so," and he cited a lot of reasonable evidence for an old earth. While Ham did make a few effective points that you don't have to accept evolution to do good science, the compelling scientific evidence for design in nature got skipped over. Because the focus was so overwhelmingly on the age of the earth, the point was never made that a mainstream scientific view about the age of the earth is totally compatible with an intelligent design view that totally refutes Nye's intolerant, materialist beliefs about the history of life. For goodness sake, Bill Nye was the one defending Big Bang cosmology. Viewers would never know that the Big Bang is one of the best arguments for the design of the universe ever offered by science. People will walk away from this debate thinking, "Ken Ham has the Bible, Bill Nye has scientific evidence." Some Christians will be satisfied by that. Other Christians (like me) who don't feel that accepting the Bible requires you to believe in a young earth will feel that their views weren't represented. And because Ham failed (whether due to time constraints, an inflexible debate strategy, lack of knowledge, inadequate debate skills, or a fundamentally weak position) to offer evidence rebutting many of Nye's arguments for an old earth, young earth creationist Christians with doubts will probably feel even more doubtful. Most notably, however, skeptics won't budge an inch. Why? Because Ham's main argument was "Because the Bible says so," and skeptics don't take the Bible as an authority. They want to see evidence. -
This is really unfortunate. I know that Ken Ham means well, but it's extremely regrettable that the powerful evidence for design in nature was hardly discussed in the Ham-Nye debate. A huge opportunity was lost.
What Could Have Been
Bill Nye is a great science communicator, but I can just about guarantee that his knowledge about evolution goes no deeper than popular arguments you find in books by Dawkins and Coyne. He knows next to nothing about the many emerging scientific challenges to the neo-Darwinian paradigm. He didn't hardly try to defend Darwinism in the debate, and a debater who was familiar with these issues could have shown the audience that an ID-based view of life is far superior to a Darwinian one.
For example, in one of the rare instances where biological evolution came up, Nye cited Tiktaalik as a "fish-lizard" that is a fulfilled "prediction" of evolution. "Fish-lizard"? That's almost as bad as citing the infamous "croco-duck," and Nye is apparently unaware that Tiktaalik isn't lizard-like at all and has fins that are entirely fish-like. Nye is probably also unaware that the so-called evolutionary "prediction" that Tiktaalik fulfilled went belly-up after scientists found tracks of true tetrapods with digits some 20 million years before Tiktaalik in the fossil record.
In another instance, Nye gave the bland argument that "Evolution is a process that adds complexity through natural selection," but he probably has no idea about the growing body of evidence that is leading scientists to reject natural selection as an explanation for much of biological complexity.
In one of the few times intelligent design was mentioned, Nye also said nature is "inconsistent with a top-down view" of ID. I suppose Nye is unaware that scientists increasingly say that understanding biology requires a top-down approach:
(Hiroaki Kitano, "Systems Biology: A Brief Overview," Science, 295 (5560): 1662-1664 (March 1, 2002).)
And this holistic, top-down approach can be applied to help us understand the "irreducible organisational complexity" of the cell:Self-referential organisation, as we put it here, implies inter-conversion of information between logically distinct coding systems specifying each other reciprocally. Thus, the holistic approach assumes self-referentiality (completeness of the contained information and full consistency of the different codes) as an irreducible organisational complexity of the genetic regulation system of any cell. Put another way, this implies that the structural dynamics of the chromosome must be fully convertible into its genetic expression and vice versa. Since the DNA is an essential carrier of genetic information, the fundamental question is how this self-referential organisation is encoded in the sequence of the DNA polymer. (Georgi Muskhelishvili and Andrew Travers, "Integration of syntactic and semantic properties of the DNA code reveals chromosomes as thermodynamic machines converting energy into information," Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 70 (23): 4555-4567 (December, 2013).)
ID principles are bearing real fruit in science. What we find in life is fundamentally incompatible with the "bottom-up" approach of neo-Darwinian theory. Biology in the 21st century requires a goal-directed cause that can explain the "top-down," "holistic," and "irreducible organisational complexity" of the cell. That cause is intelligent design, but the audience watching the Ham-Nye debate, live or online, learned hardly anything about this viewpoint. For a debate that did highlight this information and that's constructively framed around the central issues, listen to the Stephen Meyer - Charles Marshall debate.
UPDATE: Chris Mooney, an atheist Darwin-defender, certainly wishes the debate had been about biological evolution. In his post-mortem on Ham-Nye, he claims that human chromosomal fusion provides "the most powerful evidence for evolution that you can imagine." But at most, such evidence says nothing about human common ancestry with apes, and at best suggests only that a fusion event occurred along the human line. Even then, the evidence for fusion isn't clear-cut.
- See more at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/02/the_ham-nye_deb081911.html#sthash.0aHy24np.dpuf
'old earth' creationists comment:
What is RTB’s position on the views presented in this debate? Ken Ham and his organization, Answers in Genesis, represent a perspective called young-earth creationism. According to this view, Genesis teaches that the Earth was created in six 24-hour days no more than 6,000–10,000 years ago.
By contrast, RTB advocates an old-earth creation perspective. We interpret the “days” of Genesis as long ages. Convinced that both the world of nature and the words of Scripture come from the same Source, our scholars’ goal is to integrate the words of the Bible with the record of nature in a way that preserves a faithful interpretation of both. You can read a brief summary of the major Christian approaches to interpreting Genesis 1 and integrating theology and science here.
The integration of science and theology involves a complex, multidisciplinary approach, one that intertwines biblical studies with theology, philosophy, history, biology, astronomy, physics, and more. You can read a brief summary of RTB’s testable creation model approach to the interpretive process here.
Bill Nye represents an atheistic, no-creation/no-Creator perspective in this debate. For many people, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” evokes fond childhood memories. Learning science was never so much fun as when Bill taught it. In 2012, he published some statements about creationism (particularly the young-earth position and teaching) in a video entitled, “Creationism is not Appropriate for Children.” One of our staff scholars, astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink, offered a few comments about this video. Other comments appeared on RTB’s “Take Two” blog.
Will RTB debate Bill Nye? RTB has a long-standing policy of judiciousness in how we dialogue or debate with those who hold positions different from our own. Many factors go into our decision to participate in any public forum. We prefer to participate in a format that includes qualified experts (preferably with PhD-level expertise in relevant academic disciplines), presentation of all sides, a balanced moderator, and an open, unscripted question-and-answer period.
Here are a few examples of past interactions we’ve had with scientists whose views are different from or even antagonistic to ours.
- Fazale Rana vs. Michael Ruse: The Origin of Life: Evolution vs. Design (video)
- Hugh Ross vs. Lewis Wolpert — Is there Evidence for a Cosmic Creator? (video)
- RTB Live! vol. 10: Skeptics Forum with Hugh Ross, Fazale Rana, and Michael Shermer (DVD)
- RTB Live! vol. 2: UCSB Skeptics Forum with Hugh Ross, Fazale Rana, Harry Nelson, and Kevin Plaxco (DVD)
- RTB Live! vol. 1: The Great Debate with Hugh Ross and Victor Stenger (DVD)
- Responding to a Skeptic with Hugh Ross and Michael Shermer (MP3 audio CD)
A few years ago RTB president and astronomer Hugh Ross (along with Old Testament scholar Walt Kaiser) did engage in a televised debate with Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham and astrophysicist Jason Lisle on the age of the earth. It appeared on the John Ankerberg Show and is available for purchase as a DVD.
Ideally, we look for opportunities consistent with our core values, as outlined above. In recent years, given that many arguments surrounding the age of the earth can be highly technical, we have given priority to venues that include peer review by qualified scholars. Here is an example of one such exchange.
Additional examples of past discussions with prominent leaders in the young-earth community (in order from most recent to oldest) are included below:
- How Old is the Universe?: Astronomers Debate the Scientific Evidence (DVD)
- The Great Debate on Science and the Bible with Hugh Ross, Walt Kaiser, Ken Ham, and Jason Lisle (DVD)
- A Question of Age with Hugh Ross, Fazale Rana, Jason Lisle, and Larry Vardiman (DVD)
- The John Ankerberg Debate: Young-Earth vs. Old-Earth (video)