Admonitions to a Disappointed Young-Earther

This article was also published at SBC Voices

by Ken Hamrick

Recently, I came across a paper in the Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry, written by Dr. Kenneth Keathley in 2013, entitled, “Confessions of a Disappointed Young-Earther.”[1] The piece is well done and gives an informative summary of the various arguments and supposed problems of the Young-Earth Creationism movement. After reading it, I must say that I’m just as disappointed as Dr. Keathley, but for different reasons. I’m disappointed that the enemy, who is delegitimizing the truth-claims of Christianity by undermining the authority of Scripture, is often met with so little resistance and so much well-meant, reasonable-sounding cooperation. I’m disappointed that not even the best among us are immune from a skeptical evidentialism. And I’m disappointed that one so capable of competent reason would falter in thinking that evidence has bearing on the question of a recent miraculous creation.

I’m no scientist, and I do not claim to be able to present all the scientific intricacies of the various arguments. To be fair, there do seem to be some valid points brought against Young-Earth “creation science” and even a few points in support of it. Nevertheless, I do not argue for a “young” earth, but for an old earth recently created—what Dr. Keathley presents as Philip Henry Gosse’s “Omphalos argument” or the mature earth view. The Bible clearly and explicitly reveals a recent creation by divine fiat. Miracles being what they are, we should not expect to find proof in physical evidences for this recent miraculous act. But, neither should we expect the secular scientific view to be free from error, overconfidence, and overreaching. Ultimately, though, the scientific argument is irrelevant to the vital question at hand—and that fact is sadly missed by Young-Earthers and Old-Earthers alike.

Some of the criticisms of the Young-Earth view presented in Dr. Keathley’s paper seem born of overconfidence,[2] but much of what he argues seems very reasonable. However, the cracks in his foundation come into view in some of his remarks, such as this criticism in response to Andrew Snelling’s position that God changed the natural laws during the Flood:

Appealing to a change in the laws of nature marks a remarkable change in YEC strategy, and in many ways it also makes a significant admission. As a strategy, it indicates an end to any real attempts to empirically establish the historicity of a global flood. Miracles, by definition, cannot be scientifically examined.[…]

This is a startling admission! It is indeed true that miracles, by definition, cannot be scientifically examined. But why then does Dr. Keathley not apply the same restrictions to attempts to empirically establish when the world was created? Creation either happened as a recent miracle or it did not. If it did, then it cannot be scientifically examined, which removes all the weight from any empirical evidence brought in support of an old earth.

The miraculous creative acts of God leave no trace of scientific physical evidence. If we still had samples of the wine that Jesus had miraculously made from the water, or the bread that He had miraculously multiplied to feed the five thousand, we would not find under a microscope any “miracle particles” among the molecules to prove the miraculous nature of the origin. We would simply find it to be what it is, with nothing to point to the miracle. That is God’s way in performing miracles. Even those who drank the wine were mistaken regarding its origin. Every supernatural miracle of God is deceptive to those who do not believe or know the truth of it.

The supernatural acts of God transcend the natural world. The nature of creation ex nihilo (“out of nothing”) leaves nothing of the supernatural in the nature of what is created. Nothing of the nature of nonexistence, or of the nature of supernatural creation, is brought forward into the nature of what is brought into existence in such a way as to identify what is created with creation ex nihilo. A supernatural origin transcends the nature of the thing created and leaves no mark on its nature to identify it with supernatural origin. How old something is in its nature does not depend on when it was supernaturally created. How long something has existed and how old it is by nature do not have to correlate—not when supernatural acts are involved. The Hebrews’ clothes and shoes never experienced wear and tear when they wandered for forty years in the wilderness because God supernaturally preserved them from getting old (see Deut. 29:5).

After raising Lazarus from the dead, what scientist, upon examining him while alive for the second time, would conclude, based on the evidence, that he was once dead for four days? None would. For that matter, what scientist, if he could examine Adam on the day of his creation, would not declare with absolute scientific authority that Adam’s age must be measured in years and not hours? They would all declare it so, since it is “a scientific fact” that adulthood takes years to develop. The prospect that an adult man is only one day old is scientifically absurd—and so also the raising of a dead and decomposing man, the turning of water into wine in an instant, and the feeding of five thousand with only a few loaves.

This question cannot be denied its place at the head of the line in the logical priority. Before any physical evidence can be admitted as relevant, the question of a recent miraculous creation by fiat must be answered. Only if such a recent miraculous creation is denied from the start can the evidence have any relevance and be given weight. It is a fundamental error in logic to allow physical evidences to weigh against the question of a recent fiat creation—to reject such a recent creation based on the supposed weight of the physical evidence. It is to give up the argument from the start, and accept as evidence-based a conclusion that is actually no less fideistic, since it is as impossible to prove that a miracle did not happen as to prove that it did!

In other words, the truth of a miraculous act must be revealed by God and cannot be established by empirical evidence. Revealed truth is either believed or disbelieved—it is never proven or disproved. However well-intentioned, allowing physical evidence to influence the way one approaches the Biblical text and the prospect of a miraculous act is an inherently skeptical method, skewed from the start toward a naturalistic conclusion. Dr. Keathley states, “[…] I concede that I allow the findings of science to influence the way I approach the creation account in Genesis. I allow experience and evidence to have a significant role in the formation of my position.” Undoubtedly, evidence has a significant role in the formation of his position—but can Dr. Keathley establish that evidence has a proper role in the formation of such a position? He can certainly present evidence for an old earth. But strangely absent is any evidence confirming that a recent miraculous creation would result in a world any different than what we now find.

This utterly sweeps away all justification for allowing the findings of science to influence the way one approaches the creation account in Genesis! And it lays bare a preconceived skepticism that would presume to weigh the revelation of Scripture against the evidences of the world. And don’t be fooled: this question cannot be dismissed—accepting the weight of natural evidence is itself an unsupported affirmation that no instantaneous miracle occurred. Therefore, those who accept the scientific evidence that the earth has existed for billions of years do so without any proof that such evidence can validly be applied to the question! To prove that the evidence has bearing on the question would require proof that no miraculous creation by fiat occurred. Thus, the whole Old-Earth view is founded on mere preconceived skepticism against instantaneous miracles as explanations for the origin of the world.

Dr. Keathley objects that the mature creation argument cannot be proven:

[…] the mature creation argument is unfalsifiable. This means it can be neither proven nor disproven. As Bertrand Russell observed, “We may all have come into existence five minutes ago, provided with ready-made memories, with holes in our socks and hair that needed cutting.” Since there is no way to prove the theory, we have moved from the realm of science into the realm of metaphysics. The mature creation argument truly is a fideistic position, since it places creation beyond investigation.

Rather than the realm of metaphysics, we have moved into the realm of the supernaturally-revealed, taken-on-faith miraculous. Since Dr. Keathley is a Professor of Theology, I’m sure he is familiar with many such things in this realm that are given to us in Scripture as matters of faith that are unfalsifiable and beyond scientific investigation. As for Russell’s concern, it is true that God could have created this world five minutes ago; however, Scripture reveals a chronology that we accept on faith, and Russell’s hypothetical chronology has no basis in Scripture. His implied criticism that we are left without an anchor of truth is false.

Dr. Keathley objects that the mature creation argument “seems almost to embrace a denial of physical reality. Certain advocates of the argument do not hesitate to describe the universe as an illusion. […] At this point the arguments for the appearance of age seem uncomfortably Gnostic.” I’m not really arguing for a universe that was created looking old, but for a universe that was already old when first created. In other words, God didn’t merely add certain qualities to the universe to make it appear old; but rather, He created a world in which all natural processes were already “in progress.” Instead of creating the world at the starting point for all these natural processes, He created the whole thing out of nothing about six thousand years ago, effectively stepping into the middle of a trillions-of-years chronology, with the past only virtually existent and everything from creation onward actually existent. This would include a full record of random natural events, without which these natural processes would be less than natural.

Actual existence begins when God creates. Reality is substantial. Think about the wine made from water. As wine, it did not exist until Jesus created it. Yet, there was a virtual past of grapes growing, being harvested, being crushed and the juice being fermented. The results of that virtual past could have been seen under a microscope or chemical analysis, and were tasted by the guests. As we peer into the night sky, we see the virtual past still “in action,” as we see the results in most of the starry sky. Science can never detect that God stepped into this natural chronology at some recent point and created it all out of nothing, since the supernatural transcends the natural. They may extrapolate back into the past, based on the natural processes at present; but they can, in fact, only speak to what condition the world was in when God created it.

As an illustration, think of God having created a ball at some point on a long incline. The ball is created, and rolls down the incline. People at the bottom of the incline can measure the speed of the ball, and calculate from the inertia, etc., when it was that the ball was stationary and began to roll, and thus conclude when God created it. But they have assumed that God created it stationary. If God created not a stationary ball but a ball already rolling, then the calculations as to when the ball was stationary would conclude a starting point preceding the creation point—a virtual past. God created a world in motion—”in motu.”

God could easily have left physical evidence to prove His existence and His creating, but He chose to only be found by faith. Unbelief is spiritual rebellion—a willful denial of the spiritual truth that God reveals to every man, and a self-reliance on physical senses to the enshrinement of natural evidence as ultimate determiner of truth. God will not be found by such rebels. A man must be willing to drop his rebellion and embrace what God has spiritually revealed. The prospect of God and his miraculous working is not determinable by scientific inquiry.

When it comes to a recently created earth versus an old earth, it’s not really a matter of one Biblical interpretation over another, as if all were equal. It’s a matter of an interpretation versus an incorporation. The former relies on revealed truth alone, while the latter incorporates both the revealed truth and the supposed discovered truth of [a particular interpretation of] physical evidences. Can we be honest here? It’s not like the Bible is vague and mysterious regarding how long it took God to create the world or how long ago it happened. No, the fog didn’t roll in for most of the Church until “science” insisted that the earth was far older than is indicated by the plain reading of the Biblical account. The insistence of science fueled the drive to come up with alternative interpretations—ones that wouldn’t contradict the science, and so various compromises have been proposed.

To those who believe in a recent, miraculous creation, it is a matter of whether or not the intended meaning of the author is held in such importance that the text be allowed to speak for itself—with every effort made to not read into the text ideas that were not intended—and to get our clues as to what was intended only from the text itself, rather than permitting ideas, claims, evidences and authorities from outside of the text to tell us what the text means. This is why we go by the axiom, If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense. When it tells us that Christ physically rose from the dead and left the tomb, we don’t allow science to weigh in and tell us that He must not have actually died, but only “swooned,” since dead bodies do not reanimate. Science must be ignored in this matter, since it is a supernatural matter outside of their ability to explain, detect, or prove. For us today, it is a matter of pure revelation. The eyewitnesses are dead and unavailable for examination. But we believe the Bible’s testimony because our faith lets Scripture speak for itself and we refuse to look for an alternative interpretation regardless of how ridiculous or absurd our belief might seem to skeptics.

The creation account is one of the clearest, most straightforward chronological-historical accounts in Scripture. As if in anticipation of end-times skepticism, God specified, “and evening and morning were the [first, second, etc.] day.” And now, not even that is enough, as Christians—jaded by the scientific overconfidence—read such a sentence and wonder how the text might plausibly be construed to mean something else. The Old-Earth interpretations only appear to be justified in their rejection of the plain, straightforward reading when backed up by the supposed weight of the physical evidence. However, since God is fully capable of creating a world that is “old” from the first moment of existence, then the solid ground of physical evidence that justified resorting to Old-Earth interpretations vanishes. 

When the straightforward, plain-sense reading is that of an historical account, we ought to give Scripture the benefit of the doubt and assume that the plain reading is the correct understanding unless Scripture itself gives us warrant to look for an alternative meaning. Anything less than this standard of Scriptural authority yields a hermeneutic by which anyone can make the Bible say anything he wants it to. The Bible should be allowed to speak for itself… and we should believe what it says!


[1] Kenneth Keathley, “Confessions of a Disappointed Young-Earther,” Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry, (The Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry), Fall 2013, Volume 10, Number 2, pp. 3-17; at http://www.baptistcenter.net/journals/JBTM_10-2_Fall_2013.pdf

[2] For example, the Canopy Theory is said to be impossible due to a supposed runaway greenhouse effect that would “boil the earth.” Since the Canopy does not currently exist for analysis, such objections are mere stabs in the dark—guesswork that proves nothing. If God controlled the earth to bring about the Great Flood (whether mediately or immediately), then could He not also cause things to happen in such a way that ideal temperature ranges were maintained both before and after?
. . . While the water vapor canopy may or may not have existed, the fact that death did not enter the world until the first couple sinned is a fact of revealed truth. In criticizing the idea that the law of entropy did not exist until man sinned, Dr. Keathley again shows the unjustified confidence with which Old-Earthers dismiss that which they do not completely understand. We have no solid idea of how extensive the differences in a pre-sin world might have been. Dr. Keathley claims that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is necessary for digestion; but how can he know that digestion itself (as we know it) was needed in a world without entropy or death? It is not inappropriate to assume that immortal physical bodies would likely be very different in nature and internal operation than their mortal counterparts. But it is inappropriate to assume that science today has enough knowledge of what such a world would be like to validly dismiss it as impossible.

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  1. Pingback: Admonitions to a Disappointed Young-Earther – Ken Hamrick

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