In these last days – from the 17th to the modern day – the authority of the word of God has come under increasing attack, many bible believers have concluded that the early chapters of Genesis cannot be taken literally.
The reason for this is that they believe the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly against such an understanding: that the earth is much older than the 6,0001 years that the bible identifies. Also, that the fossils in the found in the layers of the earth are equally billions of years old which discounts the recent2 global flood of Noah’s day.
By denying the literal reading of the early chapters of Genesis they have become selective in what they believe is the authoritative word of God and what is not. Many choose to believe all the other parts of scripture as written but not the early chapters of Genesis.
One writer summarised this line of reasoning:
From a superficial reading of Genesis 1, the impression would seem to be that the entire creative process took place in six twenty-four-hour days. If this was the true intent of the Hebrew author . . . this seems to run counter to modern scientific research, which indicates that the planet Earth was created several billion years ago…3
In the minds of many believers, science has become an equal or greater authority than the bible, when it comes to understanding the age of the earth.
Is this view sustainable? Who has the greater authority, the author of the bible or scientists and does it matter?
This short article will attempt to answer these questions.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.Hebrews 11:6
How can we believe that he is, that he exists and has the ability to reward those that seek him? It is only through the word of God that we can begin to understand these things, we cannot understand the mind of god or his purpose without a revelation from him.
The writer to the Hebrews began his letter by addressing this issue:
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his SonHebrews 1:1-2
One prophet revealed the following:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.Isaiah 55:11
God has chosen to reveal his purpose through his prophets, his Son, and the apostles.
The issue of God’s authority was challenged by the leaders of Jesus’ day:
And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?Matthew 21:23
But not all the leaders were blind to the fact that Jesus had come from God:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.John 3:2
The power of the holy spirit which Jesus had without measure was the means to establish the authority of God and his word:
Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.John 14:11
In these last days the only authority that we can rely upon is the word of God.
And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.2 Timothy 3:15-17
The above verse is instructive on many levels, noticeably:
- The majority of the bible is written in a straightforward manner that even a child can understand many of the stories in the bible such as, the creation of Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood and the ark, and many other well-known ‘Sunday School stories’.
- All scripture, note the word all, not part, but all. At the time of Paul’s letter, the majority of the scriptures were the Old testament scriptures and no doubt the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels.
- That this word is inspired or breathed4 by God.
Jesus held the OT to be the word of god and particularly the authority of Moses who wrote the first five books of the bible.
And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.Luke 24:27
And that word cannot be broken,
If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;John 10:35
In other words, the scriptures are a single entity and should be read and believed as such.
If we choose not to believe certain parts of the scripture, such as the early chapters of the Genesis record, then we undermine the authority of God and His son. We make the word of God of none effect and become like those that Jesus reprimanded:
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.Matthew 15:9
Jesus believed that Adam and Eve were created at the beginning of creation:
But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.5 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.Mark 10:6-9
Jesus in bringing together Genesis chapters 1 & 2, shows that they were literal accounts of the same event, Chapter 1 giving a summary of the creation of Adam and Eve, ‘male and female’ and Genesis 2 providing more detail of this event, ‘they twain shall be one flesh’.
Six literal days of creation is reaffirmed in Exodus and forms the pattern for the sabbath law:
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.Exodus 20:11
For centuries Jews and Christians have believed in the literal interpretation of the Genesis record, that the heaven and earth was created in six literal days and that God destroyed the all the earth with a catastrophic worldwide flood. However, this viewpoint was challenged in the 18th century.
Long Ages of the Earth
In the late 18th and early-19th centuries, a number of geologists began to argue that the thick sedimentary rock layers on the earth were not formed quickly during a global flood, but slowly over long ages. As a result of this shift in interpretation, a number of Christian pastors and theologians began to re-interpret verses referring to the flood as a local, rather than a global, inundation.7
The geologists the writer is referring to were John Hutton and Charles Lyell, what follows are few short extracts to demonstrate their beliefs.
the past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now … No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle8John Hutton
These are the words of John Hutton (1726 – 1797) a Scottish geologist, physician, chemical manufacturer, naturalist, and experimental agriculturalist and founder of the uniformitarianism principle.
Hutton’s principle is based on an assumption that whatever we see happening today must have been consistently happened in the past without variation, i.e., everything is uniform. This is clearly designed to exclude the recent9 global flood of Noah’s day. According to the bible the global flood described in Genesis10 is a catastrophic global event this conflicts with the idea that all things have continued uniformly, including the fossil record which has been laid down gradually over billions of years.
I am sure you may get into Q.R. [Quarterly Review] what will free the science [of geology] from Moses, for if treated seriously, the [church] party are quite prepared for it. A bishop, Buckland ascertained (we suppose [Bishop] Sumner), gave Ure a dressing in the British Critic and Theological Review. They see at last the mischief and scandal brought on them by Mosaic systems. ……
…If we don’t irritate, which I fear that we may (though mere history), we shall carry all with us. If you don’t triumph over them, but compliment the liberality and candour of the present age, the bishops and enlightened saints will join us in despising both the ancient and modern physico-theologians. It is just the time to strike, so rejoice that, sinner as you are, the Q.R. is open to you.
P.S. … I conceived the idea five or six years ago, that if ever the Mosaic geology could be set down without giving offence, it would be in an historical sketch, and you must abstract mine, in order to have as little to say as possible yourself. Let them feel it, and point the moral.’Extract from a letter11 from Charles Lyell’s12 letter to George Poulett Scrope 14thJune 1830.
Again, we can see the intent of this letter was to mount a challenge on ‘Moses’, by this the writer is referring to the early chapters of Genesis which Moses recorded.
Note particularly the use of the term ‘science’ is used to build a case against the bible – to ‘free the science from Moses’.
The science that Hutton and Lyell are using in order to discredit the bible is not experimental or observational science but forensic science. There is a marked distinction between the two, which must be clearly understood.
Science – Observational and Forensic
Experimental or Observational science has been described as:
‘Experimental science’ is the way scientists seek to build knowledge through direct observation and measurement of objects and phenomena.13
To the know the age of something requires an observation of the moment something came into existence.
However, if there are no eyewitnesses to the origin of something then assumptions need to be made in order to estimate the date of origin. This field of study is known as forensic science or historical science: a study of available evidence.
The distinction is quite clear, observational science records an event, as it happens either in the field or in the lab. Forensic science makes assumptions about things that have already happened. Observational science has to do with repeatable and verifiable data whereas forensic science requires assumptions that are open to interpretation.
For those that do not except the biblical record of creation, discussions on the age of the earth fall into the forensic science category. The general belief is that the earth being 4.5 billion of years old14 came into existence billions of years before the appearance of humans15; therefore, there are no records to ascertain the age of the definitively.
However, for those that believe the biblical account there is an eyewitness of the earths beginning, God, who has recorded the event and provided a verifiable timeline from the days of creation to now, the bible, this falls into the category of observational science.
Earth Dating method
What then of the dating methods used by secular scientists to estimate the age of the earth, are they not in the branch of experimental or observational science?
The answer is clearly yes, but the interpretation of the data is based on assumptions that all things continue as they are today, they are uniform.
Radiometric dating of rocks is the most common method used to derive the age of the earth16. Assumptions are made regarding the environmental conditions when the rock was first formed, the decay rates of the radioactive elements found in the rocks, etc. It is assumed that nothing has changed from the conditions we see today.
So, whilst very precise scientific measurements and observations are made when testing rocks today, assumptions have to be made in order to calibrate the results to get an estimated age, the results themselves are open to interpretation.
Depending on your standpoint, assumptions and interpretations can be made in order to derive and old age for the earth or conversely a young earth.
The RATE group, a group of scientists that believe in the literal interpterion of the biblical account of creation have conducted an eight-year research project known as RATE, or Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. The group concluded that the assumptions made in order to derive long ages of the earth are faulty. They report for example, that when rocks of known ages, samples taken from recent volcanic activity, have been tested independently, the results produced erroneously old radioactive age estimates, compared to the actual known age of the rocks.
Science vs the bible?
It is worth noting that many eminent scientists were not against the bible, to mention but a few:
- Francis Bacon (1561–1626) Scientific method.
- Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) Physics, Astronomy
- Johann Kepler (1571–1630) Scientific astronomy
- Isaac Newton (1642–1727) Dynamics; Calculus; Gravitation law
- Michael Faraday (1791–1867) Electro magnetics; Field theory
- Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) Genetics
- Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) Bacteriology, Biochemistry; Sterilization;
- William Thompson, Lord Kelvin (1824–1907) Energetics; Absolute temperatures
The point we make here is that science is not necessarily against the bible.
Secular anti-biblical scientists are currently in the ascendency and command popular support amongst the media, educational bodies, and governments. Many scientists that dissent from the popular consensus are under threat of being ridiculed, having funding withdrawn or even losing their employment.
The bible we are often told is not a book about science, but the scientific method is seen in the bible – the characteristics of testing or proving things, a consideration of all the available data with an open mind before arriving at reasonable deduction.
The apostle Paul encourages the Thessalonians in this way:
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.1 Thessalonians 5:21
Those that heard the teaching of Paul did not just accept his words but went away and conducted their own research on the matter:
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.Acts 17:11
The apostle John also does not encourage blind faith,
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.1 John 4:1 (ESV)
God himself does not encourage blind faith in him, he uses prophecy as test of his credibility:
Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”Isaiah 42:9 (ESV)
Science can help us understand the attributes of God by observing the way he has created all things:
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. So they are without excuse.Romans 1:20 (ESV)
The scientific method is however is not infallible, scientists often draw incorrect conclusions from their observations of nature.
Therefore, our ultimate authority when it comes to understanding the bible and the world in which we live is God and none else:
It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.Psalms 118:8-9
The sting of death
Paul taught that death came from the Adam, not before him:
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.Romans 5:12-14
Death came into the world because of the sin of Adam. In writing to the Corinthians Paul confirms the same teaching:
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.1 Corinthians 15:21-22
Paul clearly believed the Genesis account was a historical fact, Adam died because of sin:
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.Genesis 3:17-19
We notice also ground is cursed with the thorns and thistles; it appears that not only was mankind to suffer on account of Adam’s sin but the whole of creation would suffer too. Paul also makes reference to this in his letter to the Romans:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.Romans 8:19-23 (ESV)
If we accept the typical geologic column that is popularly portrayed by secular scientists17, we see that thorns and thistles and animals came into existence and died (became fossilised) before humans.
However, the Genesis account records that thorns and thistles came about as a consequence of Adam’s sin chapter 3, and that the whole of creation was destroyed because of sin (except for Noah and his family) in chapter 6:
And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.Genesis 6:5-8
Before the fall of Adam, the whole creation was described as ‘very good’:
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.Genesis 1:31
If we accept the notion that Genesis is not speaking about literal days but long periods of time, then we have to accept that death had occurred before the ‘6th day’ and that death therefore is described as ‘very good’.
Do the scriptures teach that death is ‘very good’?
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.Romans 6:23
The whole gospel message is based upon the salvation of man being freed from sin and death by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, death is not ‘very good’ it is an enemy:
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.1 Corinthians 15:21-26
We see that none of the devices listed above succeed in trying to blend a secular understanding of geology and the Genesis account, rather they make a shipwreck of their faith because they destroy the foundation of the gospel message, which is rooted in a literal interpretation of the Genesis.
We should be very discerning what we accept as truth from mortal fallible men, especially those whose desire is to discredit the very notion of a creator:
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.Isaiah 8:20
We should prove all things and hold fast to that which is good and heed the words of the apostle:
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;1 Corinthians 3:19-21
And the psalmist:
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.Psalms 146:3
1 The reader is invited to consider the following publication by Brother John Thomas, wherein he explains the 6,000 chronology of the bible Chronikon Hebraikon (antipas.org)
2 Circa 4300 years ago
3 G. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985), p. 187.
4 theópneustos inspired, God-breathed, Theological Dictionary NT
5 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:27
6 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, by quoting from and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Genesis 2:24
8 J. Hutton, “Theory of the Earth,” Trans. of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1788, quoted in A. Holmes, Principles of Physical Geology (New York: Ronald Press Co., 1965), p. 43–44.
9 Circa 4300 years ago
10 Refer to Genesis chapters 6 through to 9
11 Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart. (London: Murray, 1881), pp. 268–271.
12 Sir Charles Lyell, 1st Baronet, (1797 – 1875) was a Scottish geologist and author of Principles of Geology and friend of Charles Darwin