Old earth creationism

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Old Earth creationism is a variant of the creationist view of the origin of the universe and life on Earth. As a theory of origins it is typically more compatible with mainstream scientific thought on the issues of geology, cosmology and the age of the Earth, in comparison to Young Earth creationism. However, it still generally takes the accounts of creation in Genesis more literally than theistic evolution (or evolutionary creationism).

Old Earth creationism is in fact an umbrella term for a number of perspectives, including Gap creationism and Progressive creationism.

Types of Old Earth Creationism

Gap Creationism

One type of Old Earth creationism is Gap creationism. This view states that life was immediately and recently created on a pre-existing old Earth. One variant rests on a rendering of Genesis 1:1-2 as:

"In the beginning ... [when] the earth became formless and void." (It is argued that the word 'was', hayah, can also be correctly translated as 'became'.)

This is taken by Gap creationists to imply that the earth already existed, but had passed into decay during an earlier age of existence, and was now being "shaped anew". This view is more consistent with mainstream science with respect to the age of the Earth, but still often resembles Young Earth creationism in many respects (often seeing the "days" of Genesis 1 as 24-hour days). This view was popularized in 1909 by the Scofield Reference Bible.

Progressive Creationism

Progressive Creationism is the idea that God allows certain natural process (such as gene mutation and natural selection) to affect the development of life, but has also directly intervened at key moments in life’s history to guide those processes or, in some views, create new species altogether (often to replenish the earth). This view can be applied (as it often is) to virtually any of the other Old Earth views.

Approaches to Genesis 1

Old Earth creationists approach the creation accounts of Genesis in a number of different ways.

The Framework interpretation

Summary of the Genesis 6-day creation account, showing the pattern according to the framework hypothesis.
Realms created "Rulers" of realms created
Day 1: Light; day and night Day 4: Sun, moon and stars
Day 2: Sea and sky Day 5: Sea creatures; birds
Day 3: Land and vegetation Day 6: Land creatures; man

The framework interpretation (or framework hypothesis) notes that there is a pattern or "framework" present in the Genesis account and that, because of this, the account may not have been intended as a strict chronological record of creation. Instead, the creative events may be presented in a topical order. This view is broad enough that proponents of other old earth views (such as many Day-Age creationists) have no problem with many of the key points put forward by the hypothesis, though they might believe that there is a certain degree of chronology present.

Day-Age Creationism

More commonly, advocates of Old Earth creationism hold that the six days referred to are not ordinary 24-hour days, but rather the Hebrew word for "day" (yom) can be interpreted in this context to mean a long period of time (thousands or millions of years) rather than a 24-hour day. The Genesis account is then interpreted as an account of a progressive creation, or sometimes a summary of life's evolutionary history. This view is often called "Day-Age Creationism".

There are a variety of ways in which the events in the creation account are interpreted. Some closely resemble the order of events as held by Young Earth creationism. In this view on the first "day" God is said to have created light; on the second, the firmament of heaven; on the third, the separation between water and land, and the creation of plant life; on the fourth the sun, moon, and stars; on the fifth created marine life and birds; on the sixth land animals, and man and woman.

The order of light, then the firmament, then stars, might be taken as a simplified description of modern theories of cosmology, namely the Big Bang, followed by cosmic inflation, followed by stellar evolution. Similarly, modern zoology believes that marine animals preceded land animals.

Critics of this old Earth view of Creationism comment that the order of the days of creation are inconsistent with modern scientific interpretation. For example, the Earth is unlikely to have existed before the Sun and all other stars, plant life could not have survived millennia without sunlight, flowering plants could not have been pollinated without insect life, and most birds could not survive long without terrestrial life. Another possible argument against the old Earth view of Creationism is that after each creation, the Bible states "And there was morning and night-the (corresponding) day."

Other Old Earth creationism camps hold that the Sun, Moon and Stars were only given their mission or status by God on the fourth day, not literally created ex nihilo. Some believe that the phrase "Let there be light" implies only that light was made visible from the context of the surface of the earth (where the Spirit of the Lord was said to be moving upon the face of the waters) due to the removal of an opaque atmosphere. The Sun, Moon and stars were only made completely visible "for signs and for seasons and for days and years" in the fourth period when the atmosphere was made fully transparent and that the Sun was in existence well before the Earth. The "earth" mentioned in the first verse would be the cosmos as it existed in before the Big Bang, not literally the Earth itself in its modern form. The Hebrew phrase "shamayim erets" (Heavens and the earth) always refers to the entire Universe. It is also possible that the first verse "In the beginning ..." was only a summary of the account that would follow. The exact placement of particular creatures within the creation account such as insects and other forms of life are not necessarily mentioned in the text. The exact length and equality or overlap of "days" may vary from model to model.

Cosmic Time

Gerald Schroeder puts forth a view which tries to reconcile 24-hour creation days with an age of billions of years for the universe by noting, as creationist Phillip E. Johnson summarizes in his article "What Would Newton Do?": “the Bible speaks of time from the viewpoint of the universe as a whole, which Schroeder interprets to mean at the moment of "quark confinement," when stable matter formed from energy early in the first second of the big bang.” Schroeder calculates that a period of six days under the conditions of quark confinement, when the universe was approximately a million times smaller and hotter than it is today, is equal to fifteen billion years of earth time. Thus Genesis and modern physics are reconciled. One problem with this approach is that it puts the creation of the Earth approximately eight billion years earlier than modern scientific theories and it may be incorrect with respect to the viewpoint of creation.[1]

Broader Reasoning

There are a number of other reasons that Old earth creationists cite for belief in an old Earth that are often (though not always) held commonly by Gap, Day-Age and other old earth views. One argument is that there are a number of passages which seem to indicate the antiquity of Earth (many of which are poetic) for example Proverbs 8:22-31, although they are also compatible with a 6,000-year-old earth which is likewise "old" from the perspective of a human lifetime.[2] Others seem to relate the age of the Earth (or some aspects of Earth) to the eternal nature of God (implying great antiquity), although strict interpretation would prove too much, as old-earth creationists don't believe that the earth is eternal, Old Earth creationists argue that antiquity much greater than a few thousand years is implied. One claimed passage is Psalm 90 (which is said to demonstrate that the passage of time can be considerably different from God’s perspective, although others claim it shows that God is outside time).

Many (Roman Catholics especially) also see a belief in an old Earth as predicated upon the view of Thomism, that the words of the Bible (Special revelation) ought to be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the record of nature (general revelation).

Old Earth creationists are also often quick to point out that belief in any one interpretation of Genesis should not be considered a foundational issue or requirement for faith in God, as such a position limits a believer's faith to earthly and not spiritual matters.

The Biblical Flood according to Old Earth Creationism

Old Earth Creationism accepts the great age of the Earth, viewing the creative days in Genesis as starting with an already existing Earth and many view the six creative days as six time periods of unstated great length, removing any need for the Biblical Flood to have created the entire fossil record in a brief period of time. For Old Earth Creationists the Biblical Flood was merely a flood and not the giant earth resurfacer as required by Young Earth Creationists. Old Earth Creationists still have the problem of where did all the water came from and where did it go? This has been a problem that has vexed many. Some have looked to the huge Ice Sheets that covered large areas of the earth in the Ice Age as the possible source of the Biblical flood waters, one theory is that a comet strike on the Ice Sheet covering Northern Canada caused a large release of water into the oceans rising sea level high enough to trigger a chain reaction of ice surging into the sea from Ice Sheets around the world that caused the oceans to rise sufficiently to cover the world. Proposed in the book "Solving the Mystery of the Biblical Flood" 2001 by William Scott Anderson, the book cites finding Marine Diatoms in southern Wisconsin as evidence of this marine transgression occurring at the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age. Then with the weight of water transferred from the land to seas, the ocean floors sank down and the land rebounded to their pre Ice Age positions. Under this theory, it was the suddenness of the return of water to the oceans that flooded the world, since it would have occurred far faster than isostatic rebound could have compensated for the shift in weight.

Events cited in the book "Solving the Mystery of the Biblical Flood" as being evidence of the Biblical Flood

  • A recent unexplained extinction event, the Pleistocene extinction which occurred at the end of the Ice Age. [1]
  • A recent massive change in climate and in the distribution of water on the earth with large scale changes in sea level, as happened with the end of the Ice Age. [2][3]
  • Evidence of mega or super floods released from the Continental Ice Sheets, found in a number of locations around the world.[4]
  • Evidence that there was a large comet impact event on the Laurentian Ice Sheet covering Northern Canada towards the end of the Ice Age that suddenly triggered super floods. [5]
  • Remains of marine life being found far inland and buried in late Ice Age glacial deposits such as the Michigan Whale bones and Marine Diatoms found in the Midwest. [6]
  • The occurrence of Marine relics, living animals in fresh water far from the sea that have a recent marine history and Marine animals living in 'salty' lakes that are not part of the oceans today. [7][8]
  • Evidence of a sudden break in human society with old groups disappearing and being followed by a period of non occupation and then later being replaced by new groups, as happened with the Ice Age hunter gather groups whom disappeared with the Ice Age and are later replaced by farming societies after a period of abandonment at many sites.

Possible chain of events for the Biblical Flood occurring as a late Ice Age flooding event

The above events all converge at the end of the Ice Age. The possibility is that the late Ice Age comet impact on the Laurentian Ice Sheet, melted enough ice to create the evidence of super flooding seen in the St Lawrence and Mississippi water ways and created the fresh water spike seen in the sediments on the floor of the gulf of Mexico. This impact event could have been large enough to created a "Nuclear Winter" type impact event resulting in the 40 days of world wide rain described in the Bible account of the Flood. As the super flood of water entered the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic ocean, the sea level began to raise. The rise in sea level, though small, was enough to lift the edges of the grounded Continental Ice Sheets which were in a precarious balance with the warming of the climate and frequent surges into the sea, and tipped the balance and caused a massive entry of glacial ice from the Laurentian Ice Sheet into the Atlantic ocean and created the 1A event of scatted stones found throughout the North Atlantic floor sediments which dropped from the ice as it melted in the ocean as the huge surge of glacial ice drifted far and wide. This wholesale entry of Glacial ice into the world oceans in the massive 1A event, raised sea level world wide in a matter of days by quite a number of feet. This sudden huge rise in sea level could have destabilized the other Ice Sheets and Glaciers which existed in Ice Age, and could have resulted in a domino chain reaction as one glacier after another slid into the sea, with each one raising the sea level higher and causing more glaciers to surge into the sea in a run away chain reaction. The effect of such a rising sea level would be that the water line would have moved inland and the early winter landscape in the northern hemisphere would have been progressively submerged without any wholesale destruction or erosion. Then before the next summer, the water could had already receded before the trees budded. There is no massive break in the tree ring record, and the Biblical account also indicates the flood was on the order of months and not years which would have killed off the trees. A few months of submergence of frozen winter ground would of had little effect on the landscape, in terms of erosion or plant life, but the effects on animal life would have been profound. In the Pleistocene extinction event, huge numbers of Ice Age animals all over the globe disappeared. None of the possible suggested causes for this event has proved satisfactory in explaining the size or the pattern of distribution of the extinctions. The theory that man hunted the animals to extinction fails to explain why so many animals disappeared in North America while many of the same animals survived in Africa where they had been hunted by a larger population for a longer period of time, or why the greatest number of extinctions occurred in Australia which in the Ice Age had very small human population. But the high level of extinctions in Australia is very understandable if it is remembered that Australia has the lowest average elevation of all the continents and the effects of sudden brief rise in sea level would naturally have had the greatest impact there. While the occurrence of a global flood is not accepted by mainstream science and is even ridiculed by many scientists, there is evidence that seems to support just such an event.

Notes