Over the last several months, I have adopted a new favorite author. His name is John C. Lennox. Among other things, he is a Cambridge-educated Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, and he has written a number of books on subjects that have interested me for many years.
Most of his opinions on the intersection of theology and science seem to match my own very closely. In particular, a point from his book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, particularly resonates with me.
Conservative Christian scholars have mostly agreed that God miraculously created the universe, that humans descended from a real Adam and Eve, that the Genesis Flood was real, and that science does not trump Scripture!
But not all of those are “Young Earth” Creationists, and not all believe the theory, stated nowhere in Scripture, that the universe’s appearance of vast age is due to the Genesis Flood. Now, unfortunately, according to Professor Lennox (and my own observation), you are no longer free to reject those views.
Today, if you say you are not specifically a “young earth” creationist, then you will automatically be viewed by most of your Christian peers as a denier of Scriptural inerrancy and an “Evolutionist“. A large percentage of conservative Christianity, including major influencers like John MacArthur Jr, who I greatly admire, accept Henry Morris’ flood theory more or less uncritically.
The so-called “flood theory” was popularized by Morris in 1961 in a book that he co-authored with theologian John Whitcomb, titled The Genesis Flood. I recall first reading the book in the late 70’s or early 80’s. It was formatted into two sections, the first being a theological treatment by Whitcomb, and the second a mechanistic approach by Morris, laying out his theory that the apparent age of the earth was caused by rapid erosion and redeposition of silt caused by earth-rending, catastrophic flooding, accompanied by massive earthquakes and tsunami surges. After reading Whitcomb’s exposition on the Biblical evidence for a worldwide flood, I was an enthusiastic fan of the book. That enthusiasm faded when I read Morris’ section. I found his grasp of fundamental geology and physics to be highly flawed, and his argumentative style (e.g., “any fool can plainly see…”) to be insulting.
The believability of The Genesis Flood was greatly enhanced by a Foreword (not included in the latest edition) written by an eminent geologist, John C. McCampell, PhD, of the University of Southwestern Louisiana. Unfortunately, book Forewords don’t always get read with the same concentration as the body. Dr. McCampbell did not endorse the theory! What he endorsed was Morris’ Christian worldview, fairness and independent thinking! The appliable paragraph read:
"From the [Foreword] writer's viewpoint, as a professional geologist, these explanations and contentions are difficult to accept. For the present at least, although quite ready to recognize the inadequacies of Lyellian uniformitarianism, I would prefer to hope that some other means of harmonization of religion and geology, which retains the essential structure of modern historical geology, could be found."
Morris billed himself as a “hydrologist“. He was educated as a civil engineer. Part of that degree would have trained him to understand the forces on and within dams and conduits (including riverbeds) subjected to hydrostatic pressure and hydrodynamic fluid impingement stresses. As a government employee working for a joint US/Mexico commission tasked with monitoring the Rio Grande boundary waters, he may have done some of that, but I suspect that his job was mostly administrative, recording flood data and channel-shifting. Aside from that position, I believe that the rest of his career, before and after, was spent teaching civil engineering. I see nothing in this background that would obviously quality him to draw the conclusions he did in The Genesis Flood!
To me, the term “hydrology” implies much more than what Morris apparently did in his professional life. The US Geological Survey discusses the field broadly here. Wiktionary provides a more succinct definition, which I think works well:
Hydrology: Noun 1. The science of the properties, distribution, and effects of water on a planet's surface, in the soil and underlying rocks, and in the atmosphere. 2. The properties, distribution, and flows of water in a specific locale; the hydrological characteristics of a particular place or region.
I must now establish my own credentials for entering into this critique of Young Earth Creationism in general, and the Flood Theory in particular.
My undergraduate studies at the University of Texas were in math and physics. My intention was to do my postgraduate studies in astronomy, but after a 2-year Naval tour, practical considerations induced me to accept a graduate fellowship in Petroleum Engineering at Texas, instead.
For many years after college, my professional career was as a petroleum engineer. I started as a field production engineer for a major integrated oil corporation in Oklahoma, absorbing the hands-on, nuts and bolts of equipment and procedure in a very large working oil field. With proficiency came the desire to be more than a small cog in a big, cumbersome, money machine, so I left Big Oil to spend most of my career in more responsible positions with smaller “independent oil and gas companies”.
Though I have worked in all phases of the industry, except for refineries, my main specialty was reservoir engineering. I had some of the same civil engineering training as Morris (dams, weirs and channels), but most of my education and years of professional experience were more geological in scope. I dealt with almost anything relating to sedimentary rocks and stratigraphy: where the constituent particles originated; how they were weathered, transported by erosion, deposited, cemented, chemically modified, saturated and disrupted by viscous fluid flow within their pore space or fractures; and how they were subsequently modified by folding, fracturing, compressing, uplifting, and sometimes being exposed at the surface or under the sea, and beginning the cycle all over again. I collected and analyzed cores, drill cuttings, fluid samples, pressure profiles, and electrical resistivity and radiation data. From all that, I had to make reasonable estimates of how much, if any, and what types of hydrocarbons were deep underground, who owned the mineral rights in the drainage area, whether it could be profitably retrieved, by what means and how fast, and ultimately, how much profit is to be expected. I was answerable to my employers, clients, government agencies, royalty owners and/or financial lenders. Sometimes I worked closely with geologists and legal folks, but mostly I worked for small companies and had to do pretty much all of it myself.
Alternate Christian theories to account for the apparent vast age of the universe.
I will have more to say on Morris, the Genesis Flood, and my own views on creation (both the science and the theology) in future posts. Some I wrote years ago, but I plan to rework and repost them. The rest of this post will be a discussion of the Conservative traditions that current “creation culture” now considers to be unacceptable.
In his book, No Final Conflict, Francis Schaeffer lists several areas where, in his judgment, there is room for disagreement among Christians who believe in Creationism and the total truthfulness of Scripture:
1. There is a possibility that God created a “grown-up” universe. 2. There is a possibility of a break between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 or between 1:2 and 1:3. 3. There is a possibility of a long day in Genesis 1. 4. There is a possibility that the flood affected the geological data. 5. The use of the word “kinds” in Genesis 1 may be quite broad. 6. There is a possibility of the death of animals before the fall. 7. Where the Hebrew word bārāʾ is not used, there is the possibility of sequence from previously existing things.
Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (the text used at Calvary Bible College when I was there) lists the following Conservative theories, which mostly fit into the scope of Schaeffer’s comments, above:
- The gap theory holds that there was an original, quite complete creation of the earth perhaps billions of years ago (the creation mentioned in Gen. 1:1). Some sort of catastrophe occurred, however, so that the creation became empty and unformed (1:2). God then re-created the earth a few thousand years ago in a period of six days, populating it with all the species. This creation is described in Genesis 1:3–27. The apparent age of the earth and the fossil records showing development over long periods of time are to be attributed to the first creation. The catastrophe is often linked to the fall of Satan (Lucifer). Creation then lay in ruins for a long period of time before God rehabilitated or restored it.16
- The flood theory views the earth as only a few thousand years old. At the time of Noah, the earth was covered by a tremendous flood, with huge waves with a velocity of a thousand miles an hour. These waves picked up various forms of life; the mud in which these forms were eventually deposited was solidified into rock under the tremendous pressure of the waves. The various rock strata represent various waves of the flood. These unusual forces accomplished in a short period what geologists believe would ordinarily require three billion years to accomplish.17
- The ideal-time theory says that God created the world in a six-day period a relatively short time ago, but that he made it as if it were billions of years old. This is a genuinely novel and ingenious view. Adam, of course, did not begin his life as a newborn baby. At any point in his life he must have had an apparent (or ideal) age many years older than his actual age (i.e., the number of years since his creation). The ideal-time theory extends this principle. If God created trees, rather than merely tree seeds, they presumably had rings indicating an ideal age rather than their real age. Thus, each element of creation must have begun somewhere in the life cycle.18
- The age-day theory is based upon the fact that the Hebrew word יוֹם (yom), while it most frequently means a twenty-four-hour period, is not limited to that meaning. It can also mean epochs or long periods of time, and that is how it should be understood in this context. This view holds that God created in a series of acts over long periods of time. The geological and fossil records correspond to the days of his creative acts.19
- The pictorial-day (or literary-framework) theory regards the days of creation as more a matter of logical structuring than of chronological order. The author arranged the material in a logical grouping that took the form of six periods. While there may be some chronological dimension to the ordering, it is to be thought of as primarily logical. The account is arranged in two groups of three—days one through three and days four through six. Parallels can be seen between the first and fourth, the second and fifth, and the third and sixth days of creation.20
- The revelatory-day theory. The days were not successive days on which God did the creation, but days on which the story of creation was revealed. So the truth of the account took place in six twenty-four-hour periods, but the actual creation may have taken much longer than that.21
Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, lists more or less the same group of theories, and goes into much more detail on all questions of creation.
Ryrie’s Basic Theology, Charles Ryrie, presents a subset of the above, but without specific names. He is far more concerned about the creation of Man, specifically, than the Universe in general. That’s not a bad approach!
Erickson himself favors the ideal-time theory, as you might guess from the wording of paragraph 3 above. He states that it is “in many ways irrefutable both scientifically and exegetically but presents the theological problem that it makes God an apparent deceiver.” I would agree that any theory that does not incorporate an assumption of vast actual age would have to include this form of apparent age in order to account for function via the known physical laws. In fact, I would compare it to a movie started in the middle. Virtually everything about the universe appears very much to be aged, and in fact would have to do so. I am more concerned with the suggestion of deception than Erickson is, in view of the following, which tells me I should be able to trust my senses:
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
—Romans 1:20 ESV
Erickson’s second choice seems to be the age-day theory, but to my mind that idea conflicts with the use of “yom” as it appears in Genesis 1, where I am pretty much wedded to solar days.
Grudem sums up his opinion as follows: “My strong encouragement to the entire Christian community is that both old earth and young earth viewpoints should be acceptable for leaders in evangelical churches and evangelical parachurch organizations.”
Ryrie is somewhat non-committal regarding the Universe but does seem to favor a young earth. He is staunchly against biological evolution, as am I.
Some combination of the pictorial-day and revelatory-day theories seem to be favored by another contrarian, John Walton. I like Walton very much, but I’m not convinced of his arguments in this respect.
Like many Christians of my age, I grew up with a Schofield Reference Bible, and I liked Schofield’s favorite, the gap theory. I no longer use that term and have a different slant on it than I used to, but I’ll discuss my views on that in a later post. For now, call me “a two-flood, old earth creationist with all mankind descended from a recent, literal Adam and Eve.”