Surveys show many people leave the church because they view Christianity as antagonistic towards science. This is true of young people in particular.
The vast majority of Christians do not feel that way. Countless of them love science. Lots of top scientists are Christian.
But vocal Young Earth Creationists frequently display pointed hostility towards science because virtually every scientist explains that all the evidence proves a very old Earth and human evolution. (I use “Young Earth Creationist” here to mean those who go beyond merely believing in Young Earth Creationism to insist the Bible requires a young Earth and no human evolution and that other views are un-Christian.)
Surveys also show many leave the church because their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based, and risk-averse.
Young Earth Creationists insist on a very narrow reading of Genesis, often fearing if Genesis is not read as a literal, historically exact, scientific description of creation, then it risks calling the rest of the Bible into question. Some others view this fear as bizarre, as the Bible is a theological book, not a science text, and there are lots of writing genres in it.
Young Earth Creationists are a minority of Christians, but often are vocal and engage in activism, frequently targeting young people via books, home-school curriculum, magazines, camps, seminars, Sunday School and VBS curriculum, etc.
This post, the second in a series, discusses how Young Earth Creationists create antagonism towards science within churches, generally with a fear-based, stifling approach. It also points out there are multiple reasonable ways to interpret Genesis, including interpretations, both literal and allegorical, allowing for a very old Earth and human evolution.
Calling Nearly Everyone in Science a Liar Might Reflect Antagonism
Young Earth Creationists assert that what virtually every expert in relevant scientific fields—geology, biology, astronomy, cosmology, genetics, …—say about the age of the Earth and human evolution is false.
How many experts in such fields say the Earth is 6,000 – 10,000 years old or humans did not evolve? Essentially, none.
The percentage is so tiny that it would fall within a rounding error or within most survey’s margin of error.
Many of these experts who say Earth is old are Christians. Many are not. Nearly all of them work in the field about which they opine. A great number of them studied a relevant subject in undergraduate and graduate school for almost a decade, obtaining a Ph.D. In many cases, they spent decades on research. They published peer-reviewed papers in the relevant field. They include professors throughout the world.
And Calling Them Names While Lacking Credibility is Worse
There are a few well-educated Young Earth Creationists. Only a miniscule number of them, though, are experts in the primarily relevant scientific-fields, such as geology, biology, astronomy, cosmology, and genetics. Some have a degree in a branch of science or engineering, but virtually none of them are an actual expert in a field of science in which they claim virtually everyone is mistaken.
So, we have Young Earth Creationists who studied subjects like Bible, ministry, anatomy, or mechanical engineering claiming that expert geologists, biologists, astronomers, cosmologists, and geneticists are liars, only doing it for the money, deliberately misleading people, treating evolution as their religion, pushing an atheistic agenda, etc.
Sound the Alarm, We are Under Attack
Young Earth Creationists can receive a lot of attention within Christian communities because they convince some that “the” Christian view of creation is under attack and they are fighting back. They also receive substantial funding from some churches to give speeches, hold youth camps and seminars, publish magazines and other works, and build amusement parks to promote their views.
Their talks sound impressive to an audience with little scientific education. But they are not impressive or accurate to those who have studied and worked in the scientific field under discussion.
Old Earth Creationists often consider Young Earth Creationists’ attempts at scientific explanations as shams: an explanation with factually correct statements about some basics (for credibility) that are combined with factually incorrect statements, misrepresenting facts, ignoring the best contrary arguments, presenting straw-man arguments, leaving out lots of relevant facts, and dodging the actual issues.
A heavy dose of ad hominem (personal) attacks on those with Old Earth views often take up a good part of such attempts.
The Motivation for Such Bad Science: Insistent Scriptural Interpretation
In nearly all English translations of the Bible, the description of creation in the first chapter of Genesis—originally written in Hebrew—refers to six “days.” The description includes mornings and evenings relative to most of those days.
It is easy to see why many believe everything was created during six consecutive 24-hour days that occurred 6,000 – 10,000 years ago (if one interprets some of the genealogical descriptions in the Bible narrowly, too).
Young Earth Creationists insist that this is the only possible understanding of the Bible.
But Old Earth Creationists point out that a more careful read of Genesis 1 reveals that the Young Earth Creationist interpretation is just one of several reasonable ones.
Not Just “Literal vs. Non-Literal”
The proper interpretation of Genesis is not simply a question of whether Genesis should be interpreted literally or non-literally.
For example, “yom” is the Hebrew word translated in most English versions of Genesis as “‘day.”
“Yom” has several literal meanings, one of which is 24-hour day and another of which is “age” (a long, indefinite amount of time, in the sense of “in the day of the Dinosaurs” or “back in your day”). There are other literal meanings of “yom,” too.
Young Earth Creationists assert that the former meaning (24-hour day) is the literal meaning of “yom,” as used in Genesis 1.
Many Old Earth Creationists say that the latter meaning (long time-period) is the literal meaning of “yom,” as used in Genesis 1.
Both assert a literal interpretation of this term, but disagree on which literal interpretation is correct.
Another Literal Interpretation
Some Old Earth Creationists say it does not matter whether “yom” is a 24-hour day or a long time-period because Genesis 1 does not indicate that any particular creative act occurred during a particular “yom.” Instead, some say Genesis 1 literally says that creative acts occurred or started first, and then the evening and morning of a numbered “yom” (day) occurred.
For example, in the following (Genesis 1:20-23), did God create fish and birds during the fifth day or before it? And was creation of fish and birds completed on the fifth day or before, or did the creative acts simply start on or before it?
“And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.”
The first four sentences describe creative acts, and the last says “[a]nd there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.” Does this mean that the creative acts occurred, and then the fifth day occurred or started? Or did all that creative activity take place on the fifth day?
The former is a version of the “Day-Gap” interpretation. Per this view, the six days in Genesis 1 are not consecutive, and God’s creative acts are not limited to occurring on those days, but also occur during the long gaps between the days; essentially, Genesis expresses the rough order of when phases of creative acts began.
There are other “literal” interpretations, including that the days, mornings, and evenings were from God’s perspective, rather than from a human perspective, and days to God are extremely long. 2 Peter 3:8—“with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”
Thus, some in both camps rely at least in part on a “literal” interpretation, but disagree on which literal interpretation is correct.
Others Have an Allegorical or Metaphorical View
Some say Genesis is an allegorical or metaphorical story (often called “non-literal”).
To some of them, it is perfectly fine to interpret Genesis to describe consecutive, 24-hour days, as it was never meant to convey a time-line, and was instead meant to convey theological points (such as God created everything and did it over time) to listeners when the story was read to them, maybe in a dramatic manner, by priests.
A strong signal to them that the story is allegorical is the use of “day,” “evening,” and “morning” in the description of days 1 – 3: the Sun was not created in the story until day 4, so the use of those terms at the beginning is a strong hint upfront that it is not a fully literal description.
There are lots of Bible passages that illustrate a theological point and are not intended as a scientific or historical description. Jesus’s parables are often used as examples.
Many Reasonable Ways to Interpret Genesis
There are several other reasonable approaches to interpreting Genesis. Much has been written on them. Good starting points:
- Justin Taylor’s article, “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods.”
- Dr. Francis Collin’s book, The Language of God
- Dr. Steven Ball’s slide-deck, “Recent Scholarly Perspectives on Genesis”
- Hugh Ross’s web-site, Reason to Believe
- John H. Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis One
Of course, Genesis is part of the Jewish Bible. Only 16% of Jewish adults in the U.S. believe humans were created in their present form, while 81% believe humans evolved over time.
Even though there are multiple, reasonable ways to interpret Genesis and the scientific community nearly unanimously says the Earth is old and humans developed via evolution, Young Earth Creationists insist that their interpretation—young Earth and no human evolution—is the only possible one and the only Christian one.
Young Earth Creationists damage people and the church by kindling and stoking the view that Christianity is antagonistic towards science and is stifling, fear-based, and risk-averse. Their energy for God is admirable, but their efforts are misplaced.
To be clear, by referring to Young Earth Creationists, I am not referring to people who simply believe in Young Earth Creationism. I am referring to those who insist that a Young Earth view is the only Christian interpretation and who stereotype scientists and others with pro-evolution views as dishonest, atheists, opposed to scripture, merely giving in to culture, etc.
Most who believe in Young Earth Creationism are not Young Earth Creationists.
Some who believe in Young Earth Creationism believe in a young Earth, but do not insist that their view is the only possible one under scripture. Could God have made a young Earth look old? Could God have created the Earth in 6 days? Could God have sped everything up to make human evolution and everything all happen in 6 days? Yes, of course.
Some have not studied both sides of the issue in depth or have not read the recent, clearer commentaries explaining Old Earth views and the problems with the Young Earth ones. But they have heard someone Christian, vocal, and persuasive insist Young Earth Creationism is the only view that comports with scripture, science is there to fool you, and that any other belief is un-Christian.
As discussed in a previous post, the percentage of God-believing adults who buy into such insistence has fallen significantly over the past few years. Let’s hope and pray the insistence and its impact continue to fall.
(The picture is Genesis 1:20-23 in one of my hard-copy Bibles.)
Sources and Notes
The first post in this series lists sources used for this post and others in the series. Also see:
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/10/darwin-day/ (essentially none — e.g., 98% of scientists connected with the American Association for the Advancement of Science said humans evolved over time, rather than created in present form).