Geology and Origins

Old Testament Study – Geology and Origins

What then of the geological problem? For the most part the controversy centers around questions concerning the age of the earth and is, in fact, largely a creation of the theologian.   In the 17th century an Irish bishop by the name of Ussher, in an attempt to determine the age of the earth, somewhat naively sat down and added together the ages of all the figures mentioned in the genealogical lists of Genesis. One could with this method (or so Ussher assumed) determine the number of years from Adam to Noah, Noah
to Abraham, Abraham to Moses, and so on. Based on this methodology Ussher was able to postulate 9 AM the morning of October 26, 4004 BC as the moment of creation. Based on this chronology of Ussher, many
Bibles since his time have been published with this date in the margins, and as a result many pious, but misguided, Christians have come to regard that date as authoritative.

There are a couple of problems, however, with Ussher’s methodology. The first is that the genealogies of Genesis (not to mention elsewhere in Scripture) are nothing like the straightforward accounts they appear to be (or that Ussher assumed they were). The Hebrew mind, we know now, was not nearly so concerned with details of descent or with exact counts as it was with general lineages and round numbers. Simply by comparing one chronology in Scripture to another, for example, it may readily be seen that many genealogies have omitted certain figures – jumping over several generations in some cases – thereby skipping unimportant figures, or making the genealogy easier to commit to memory. This was, in fact, quite a common phenomenon in the ancient world, and the apparent lack of concern with exactness of
numbering or details of descent has raised doubts of historical accuracy in the twentieth century mind. I will discuss this again in another context later.

Ussher’s second problem was this: he couldn’t add, and made a number of arithmetic errors in the course of his computations.   It must be pointed out that a distinct age of the earth is taught nowhere in Scripture. It is, in fact, quite easy to see in the biblical data an earth vastly older than man.  What kinds of solutions have been proposed for the alleged contradictions between science and the biblical accounts? Many
Christians insist dogmatically that God’s creation was accomplished in seven literal 24-hour days, and that he created not only dogs, but the same various breeds of dog we see around us today. He even went so
far as to create the fossils and place them in the rocks. Many sincere scientists, on the other hand, just as steadfastly maintain that creation was accomplished entirely through natural means and that God – if any such being exists – had nothing whatsoever to do with it.  These two positions are contradictory and ultimately irreconcilable.  But they are, in the end, no more than interpretations. Still others claim to see no necessary conflict, and have indeed offered many possible solutions. We will look briefly at three of these.

The Pre-Adamite Creation

This theory is quite old, and has even managed to find its way into the Schofield Reference Bible where it has as a consequence been raised by association to the level of inspired truth. The Pre-Adamite theory holds that what we really see in the Genesis accounts is not one creation but two. In Genesis 1:1 we find the account of the initial creation of the earth. Subsequently, however, there occurred some sort of catastrophe – different schools point to a variety of Scriptures for support – in the course of which the earth was rendered ‘formless and void’. Then, in verse 3, God re-creates and to some extent repopulates it. Adam and Eve, then, belong to this second creation, and it is this indeterminate period between the creation of the earth and of Adam which gives rise to dinosaurs and fossils and the like.

However intriguing this theory might be, it has serious problems, the most damning of which is that it is based entirely upon the renderings of the English text; it finds no support at all in the Hebrew. Hebrew literary style nearly always begins with the general declarative and moves from there to the specific statement. In the opening verses of Genesis, then, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ is a general declamation, followed immediately by the specific ‘And the Earth was formless and void.’ No chronology is intended, and to find one here is to misread the text. Similarly, very little of the other evidences offered for this theory bears close scrutiny in the Hebrew.

Progressive Creationism

Progressive creationism suggests that God did indeed create the world, and created it in orderly sequence. Not only did he create the materials – rocks, the air, living beings each according to its kind, and the like – but he also created the forces of nature which have since been at work shaping and remaking the creation. God may well, on this theory, have created the prototypical dog from which all varieties of dog later descended by way of these natural forces.   There is room in this theory for a vast age of the earth, and for
much of evolutionary theory as touted by science, and yet it may still be understood within the bounds imposed by the ‘day’ and ‘kind’ of the Genesis account. This theory is widely embraced by the modern
evangelical movement.

Theistic evolution

Theistic evolution is the third theory, and is the one toward which this writer leans. This theory holds that God created the original stuff of the universe, and established natural laws – including laws of evolution – to govern its interaction and propagation. Thus, on this theory, evolution is merely the tool by which God shaped and wrought life. This theory is also widely accepted, but is steadfastly denied by many more.

Many have argued that much of modern geology is unacceptable. A particular target of the wrath of those who argue this way is the geological theory of uniformitarianism, which states that, unless proven otherwise, it is to be assumed that all earth-building processes proceed now at that same rate at which they have always proceeded. In its place is offered a theory known as flood geology, which argues that much of the geological data we have today is explainable in terms of a worldwide flood. This theory would, its
supporters claim, among other things explain such baffling phenomena as the discovery of fossilized sea life on the tops of mountains.  Implicit in this theory is the notion that the seven days of the Genesis accounts are in reality geological periods.

Finally, cutting across all these groups is a contingent which holds that the accounts as we find them in Genesis are not historical but poetic, and that to try to glean from them any scientific data vis-a-vis creation is misguided and ultimately fruitless. Adherents of this theory may be found among both progressive creationists and theistic evolutionists.

Calvin Culver

Computers for Christ – Chicago