Some issues for ‘long-age’ Christians
First, let us see what scientists say about the future.
Heat deathScientists are in general agreement that the universe will one day reach ‘heat death’. This is a condition in which all the energy in the universe is evenly distributed and at a temperature of a fraction of a degree above Absolute Zero. The universe would then exist, they say, devoid of life, and virtually forever.1
The above gloomy prognosis is in accord with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that the amount of usable energy is decreasing. So it is true that, energy-wise, the universe is winding down. However, the big difference is that Christians understand from the Bible that God will intervene before the above scenario reaches its predicted bleak conclusion. Indeed, He already has intervened in the incarnation, death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Who are the Christian ‘long-agers’?Since the 1800s—i.e. from the time Lyell, Cuvier, Darwin and others challenged the traditional view that the universe was only thousands of years old—various Christians have tried to harmonize long-age views with biblical beliefs. Although Christians reject atheistic evolutionism, many (unwittingly?) accept important aspects of evolutionary theory, including the belief that the earth is billions of years old.
The four most common ways in which Christians have incorporated billions-of-years into the Bible are:
- Theistic evolution—God started the big bang and guided evolutionary processes to bring man into existence.
- Progressive creation—each ‘day’ of Creation Week was not a single rotation of the earth but rather an indefinite period of time (e.g. hundreds of millions of years each).
- Gap theory—this inserts a possible time gap of millions (or billions) of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
- Framework Hypothesis—it accepts that the claims of modern biology, geology and astronomy may be true, and says that Genesis 1 was never intended to communicate scientific truth or literal history, but rather is a literary device to teach a theology of the Sabbath.3
The future—according to the BibleChristian long-agers allow billions-of-years notions about the past4 to dictate what they believe Genesis means. But they are in a bind if they wish to be consistent. This is because they accept the secular view of billions of years in the past, so, logically, they are stuck with secular long-age notions about the future. However, such long-age ideas of the future are just as contrary to what the Bible says as are long-age ideas of the past.
Referring to the future, the Bible says not just that ‘the heavens will disappear with a roar’ and ‘by fire’ (2 Peter 3:10–12), but that God ‘will create new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells’ (2 Peter 3:13; cf. Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:1). So how long do progressive creationists, theistic evolutionists and other long-age Christians allow God to create the new heavens and the new earth, if they insist that it took Him billions of years to produce the present heavens and the present earth?
All men would fail this judgment because ‘all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). However, those who receive God’s forgiveness through repentance and faith in Christ are acquitted (John 5:24), because their sins have been laid on Christ (Isaiah 53:5–6), while Christ’s righteousness has been credited to their account (2 Corinthians 5:21). Their destiny will be to become like Christ (1 John 3:2), to live with Christ and share His glory (Colossians 3:4), and to be sons of God in perfect fellowship with Him forever (Revelation 21:3, 7). This sense of purpose and future is in stark contrast to the purposelessness of the secular/evolutionary view where all of humankind’s efforts and achievements ultimately count for nothing, anyway.
Thus, for Christians, the future is not ‘nothing but darkness’, as Robert Matthews predicts above, but life with God in Heaven, portrayed in the Bible as a city which ‘does not need the sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb [i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ] is its lamp’ (Revelation 21:23).
On the other hand, the future destiny of those who reject God’s forgiveness and refuse a right relationship with Him is not extinction in a universe moving towards heat death, but rather a ‘heat death’ of another sort, in what the Bible calls ‘the lake of fire’, which is the place ‘prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41), and the destiny of the unredeemed (Revelation 20:15).
References and notes
- Some scientists have postulated that the universe will undergo a future ‘big crunch’, followed by another alleged big bang, and so on repeatedly. However, each such cycle would use up huge quantities of the available energy entailed, so that each cycle would be longer than the one before, until eventually ‘heat death’ would be reached in this scenario also. Return to text.
- Matthews, R., To infinity and beyond, New Scientist 158(2129):27–30, 11 April 1998. Return to text.
- The Framework Hypothesis is becoming increasingly popular among many evangelicals. For a refutation, see: Kulikovsky, A.S., A Critique of the Literary Framework View of the Days of Creation, Creation Research Society Quarterly 37(4):237–244, 2001. (Also at:
.) Return to text.
- So-called ‘progressive creationist’ long-agers may not be biological evolutionists, but they adhere to virtually all tenets of cosmic and geological evolution. Return to text.
This YouTube was presented in thevAIG article. Dr. Hugh Ross is the guy who avoided debating Dr. Jonathan Sarfati at the North Carolina Worldview Conference, refusing to debate unless a much lesser-known and experienced opponent was found to take Dr. Sarfati's place. I know, I was there. That prompted me to go out of my way to find Dr. Sarfati and meet him personally. I did ask him about the debate and Jonathan did agree that Hugh Ross had backed out on his promise to debate him. So Ross will not stand up to a well-prepared YEC. I have posted often on the meaning of "yom" and Dr. Ham is right, whenever yom is used with numbering or the terms "evening and morning" it is a 24-hour day. Ross is a theistic evolutionist who wants to be considered an OEC. I wondered why Ankerberg did not let Jason Lisle speak more on the subject? Lisle is an astrophysicist who is also a YEC.
As for Walter Kaiser, he seems to miss the fact that God created light on day one, thus allowing for an evening and morning as He claims in Genesis. God created light first and later the sources of the light. God is not careless, He would not use the phrase "evening and morning" for the first three days of creation to confuse people. That phrase is a modifier meant to make people understand that these days were all 24-hour days. It is completely nonsensical for God to use that phrase if the time period of each day was not one regular day. But back to our articles...
A look at an alleged old-earth ally
by Peter Galling and Dr. Terry Mortenson, AiG–U.S.
January 18, 2012
In the video series The Great Debate (watch | buy), AiG’s Ken Ham, Jason Lisle, debate astronomer Hugh Ross (of Reasons to Believe) and Bible scholar Walter Kaiser (of Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary). Both of the latter are Christians who believe that the creation is billions of years old. The debate series was hosted by old-earth proponent John Ankerberg on his television show in early 2006.
On AiG’s DVD release of the debate, AiG historian of geology Terry Mortenson offered extensive commentary from a young-earth creationist perspective. The following article is rooted in Dr. Mortenson’s commentary on Ross’s and Kaiser’s appeal to Augustine in defending old-earth ideas.Drs. Ross and Kaiser are just two of the many old-earth proponents in the church today who try use the Christian theologian Augustine (AD 354–430) as a support for their belief in millions of years. But that the idea that Augustine believed that is a myth. At first glance, this use of Augustine may seem to belong solely to the obscure domain of ancient church history or niche creation circles. However, the myth extends beyond that. For instance, Jim Manzi, writing in National Review Online in 2008 (and quoting a previous article he authored in National Review), passed the myth along:
Dealing with evolution places us back in the company of Augustine and Aquinas, who were both forced to figure out how to reconcile powerful proto-scientific ideas with Christianity. They described God as acting through laws or processes. In about the year 400, Augustine described a view of Creation in which “seeds of potentiality” were established by God, which then unfolded through time in an incomprehensibly complicated set of processes. . . .
Neither Augustine nor Aquinas was some kind of a pre-Darwinist. Augustine, for example, thought species were immutable and were not the product of common descent. What is striking about both of them, however, is their insistence on understanding and incorporating the best available non-theological thinking into our religious views.
Relying on this deep intellectual heritage, most major denominations in the Western world have accepted evolution as fully consistent with theism. Thoughtful conservatives would be wise to agree.
What did Augustine believe?There are several problems with this view. To begin with, during the years AD 389-417, Augustine wrote three commentaries on Genesis and discussed the early chapters of Genesis in The City of God. His thinking changed in some ways in the process, and his writings are confusing, even somewhat contradictory, at points. Over the years he fluctuated between allegorical interpretations and literal views.1 But there is plenty of evidence that Augustine wasn’t an old-earther. Rather, he believed that God created everything in an instant and that He described it for us as being completed in six normal days for the sake of our understanding. He wrote,
Perhaps we ought not to think of these creatures at the moment they were produced as subject to the processes of nature which we now observe in them, but rather as under the wonderful and unutterable power of the Wisdom of God, which reaches from end to end mightily and governs all graciously. For this power of Divine Wisdom does not reach by stages or arrive by steps. It was just as easy, then, for God to create everything as it is for Wisdom to exercise this mighty power. For through Wisdom all things were made, and the motion we now see in creatures, measured by the lapse of time, as each one fulfills its proper function, comes to creatures from those causal reasons implanted in them, which God scattered as seeds at the moment of creation when He spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created. Creation, therefore, did not take place slowly in order that a slow development might be implanted in those things that are slow by nature; nor were the ages established at plodding pace at which they now pass. Time brings about the development of these creatures according to the laws of their numbers, but there was no passage of time when they received these laws at creation.2
Since Augustine believed that the original creation happened in an instant of time, there is no basis for thinking that he believed millions of years of time transpired before Adam.
Furthermore, Augustine believed that Genesis 6–8 describes a global Flood. Once again, this distinguishes him from old-earthers like Hugh Ross who believe the Flood was a local catastrophe in the Mesopotamian Valley (modern day Iraq). Augustine spent five pages answering skeptical objections about the Flood covering all the highest mountains, the Ark being big enough, Noah having the ability to build it, and the feeding of carnivorous animals on the Ark.5
Some claim that Augustine and other Christians of the past only believed in a recent creation and a global Flood because they didn’t have contemporary old-earth and evolutionary theories to consider. (Indeed, some throw out the origins beliefs of all pre-19th century Christians on these grounds.) Yet, early 20th century evolutionist Henry Fairfield Osborn, director of the American Museum of Natural History, wrote the following:
When I began the search for anticipations of the evolutionary theory . . . I was led back to the Greek natural philosophers and I was astonished to find how many of the pronounced and basic features of the Darwinian theory were anticipated even as far back as the seventh century BC.6Augustine therefore had alternative “scientific” theories about earth history in his cultural context, but he refused to merge Scripture with such ideas.
Even then the chronologies of Greek and Egyptian history do not agree; and since the former it does not exceed the true number [of the duration of the world] implied in our Sacred Scripture, it may be accepted. Consequently, if this letter of Alexander [the Great] now so well known, is so far from authentic in its chronology, we can trust still less those other [pagan] documents, so full of mythology, which are cited in opposition to the established authority of inspired writings. The fact of the prediction that the whole world would believe and the fact that it has believed should prove that Sacred Scripture has given a true account of the past. Certainly, much that was predicted has been perfectly fulfilled.7In fact, he very specifically rejected the old-earth theories of some of his contemporaries, describing them in ways reminiscent of the uniformitarian and catastrophist theories of the 19th century:
I shall not dwell, then on the conjectures of men who “know not what they say” concerning the nature and origin of the human race. There are, for example, those who hold the opinion that men—like the universe—have always existed. . . . Suppose the following questions are put to these men: If the human race has always existed, how, then do you vindicate the truth of your own history which records the names of inventors and what they invented, the first founders of liberal education and of other arts, the first inhabitants of this or that region and of this or that island? They will answer that at certain intervals of time, most of the land was so devastated by floods and fire that the human race was greatly reduced in size and that from this small number the former population was again restored; and that, thus, at intervals, there was a new discovery and organization of all these things, or, rather a restoration of what had been damaged or destroyed by the great devastations; and that, in any case, men could simply not exist unless they were produced from man. Of course, all this is opinion, not science.8Thus, Augustine clearly had old-earth views to contend with in his day—from the Greeks and from other pagans—but he did not accept them and did not try to fit those ideas into Genesis.
What Augustine Didn’t KnowThat all said, we would be remiss if we claimed Augustine was an orthodox young-earth creationist. Augustine rejected the seven-day creation beliefs of Ambrose, who was instrumental in Augustine’s conversion to Christianity.
Yet Augustine didn’t know Hebrew and only attained a modest knowledge of Greek by the end of his life, after he had written his three commentaries on Genesis (and his book City of God, in which he also commented on Genesis 1–11).9 Augustine based his work on the Old Latin Version (Vetus Latina), a translation of the Septuagint inferior in accuracy to Jerome’s later Latin Vulgate.
At first, this may seem to be a minor difference that couldn’t possibly mislead a reader. However, whereas in modern translations of the Hebrew word beyom in Genesis 2:4 reads “in the day that10 (or when11) God created the heavens and the earth. However, the Old Latin translation of beyom reads, “When day was made, God made heaven and earth.” This makes it more understandable why Augustine believed God made everything in a single day or a single instant.12
Additionally, Augustine regarded the Apocrypha—which gives further support to the idea of an instant creation—as inerrant Scripture.13 However, the Apocrypha is clearly not God’s inerrant Word—see A Look at the Canon and Why 66?
What Augustine Couldn’t KnowNot only did Augustine not support old-earth views; he also rightly considered himself a limited human and regarded his thinking on Genesis to be fallible. In the last book he wrote (about 3 years before his death), called Retractions, he sought to review all his books and make corrections where he had erred. Concerning his final, most literal commentary on Genesis, Augustine wrote, “In this work, many questions have been asked rather than solved, and of those which have been solved, fewer have been answered conclusively. Moreover, others have been proposed in such a way as to require further investigation.”14
On speaking without knowledge
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.
–Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis
Whoever, then, does not accept the meaning that my limited powers have been able to discover or conjecture but seeks in the enumeration of the days of creation a different meaning, which might be understood not in the prophetical or figurative sense, but literally and more aptly, in interpreting the works of creation, let him search and find a solution with God’s help. I myself may possibly discover some other meaning more in harmony with the words of Scripture.15Though insisting that he was interpreting “day” literally, in that last commentary he had tended to regard at least the first three days (before the creation of the heavenly bodies) to be figurative—though he never ventured to say how long these non-literal days lasted. Two years after completing his last commentary on Genesis, Augustine wrote in City of God, “As for these ‘days,’ it is difficult, perhaps impossible to think—let alone to explain in words—what they mean.”16 So his statement in the Retractions indicates that he was still no more certain about the days of creation at the end of his life than he was in his earlier writings. He is hardly one to cite as an authority in support of the day-age view, as Ross and Kaiser (with many others) have done.
Thus, Augustine offers no real support for old-earth views. He admitted his uncertainty and fallibility; he was significantly less educated on the issue than others; and even when he strayed from the Bible’s clear teaching, he only did so to espouse the possibility of creation in an instant—not old-earth ideas of his time, and certainly not the millions-of-years ideas of old-earth creationists today.
We also should keep in mind that the young-earth view has been, by far, the majority view of the church since it has been in existence—for eighteen centuries, whether from a Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox perspective.17 The idea of an old earth—and the various compromise interpretations developed to fit billions of years into Creation Week—did not arise out of the Bible; they are attempts by, on the whole, well-meaning Christians to elevate the naturalism-fueled speculations of secular science over the clear words of Scripture.18 The result dilutes both Scripture’s teaching and God’s character, and it flies in the face of good science.
For more information:
- The god of an old earth
- Where did the idea of “millions of years” come from?
- Did Jesus Say He Created in Six Literal Days?
- Why Shouldn’t Christians Accept Millions of Years?
- Could God Really Have Created Everything in Six Days?
- 10 Dangers of Theistic Evolution
- Biblical Problems for Theistic Evolution and Progressive Creation
- Get Answers: Creation Compromises
- ”4 Back (1) Back (2)
- Chaffey, Tim. 2011. An Examination of Augustine’s Commentaries on Genesis One and Their Implications on a Modern Theological Controversy. Answers Research Journal 4:89–101. Back
- Augustine. The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated by John Hammond Taylor (1982), Vol. 1, Book 4, Chapter 33, paragraph 51–52, p. 141, italics in the original. New York: Newman Press. Back
- On the patriarchs’ ages see Augustine, The City of God, Book 15, Chapters 11–12, pp. 436–440. Back
- Augustine. The City of God, translated by G. G. Walsh and G. Monahan (1952), Book 12, Chapter 11, p. 263. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. Back
- Augustine. The City of God, Book 15, Chapter 27, pp. 480–484. Back
- Osborn, Henry Fairfield. 1929. From the Greeks to Darwin. 2nd edition revised, p. xi. New York/London: Charles Scribner’s Sons. He didn’t say this in the one-page preface of the original second edition (New York/London: Macmillan, 1902), but there (p. vii) he intimated that he would reach this conclusion eventually. He said: “This volume has grown out of lectures first delivered in Princeton in 1890, upon the period between Buffon and Darwin, and completed in a fuller course delivered in Columbia in 1893, which covered also the period before Buffon. When I began the study, my object was to bring forward the many strong and true features of pre-Darwinian Evolution, which are so generally passed over or misunderstood. When all the materials were brought together from the earliest times, the evidence of continuity in the development of the idea became more clear, and to trace these lines of development has gradually become the central motive of these lectures. More thorough research, which may, perhaps, be stimulated by these outlines will, I believe, strengthen this evidence.” The first edition of this book was published in 1894. Back
- Augustine. The City of God, Book 12, Chapter 11, pp. 264–265. Back
- Augustine. The City of God, Book 12, Chapter 10, p. 263. Back
- Taylor, J. H. 1982. “Introduction,” in Augustine. The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated by J. H. Taylor, Vol. 1, p. 5. New York: Newman Press. Back
- KJV, NASB, ESV, NKJV Back
- NIV Back
- Lavallee, Louis. 1989. Augustine on the Creation Days. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32, no. 4:460. Back
- Late in his life, Augustine questioned the canonicity of the apocryphal book of Sirach. He claimed that it was not right to ascribe the words of Sirach 10:9 to a prophet since “they are not found in a book by an author we are absolutely certain should be called a prophet.” Augustine, Retractions, I.10.3, although this was written after City of God. Back
- Augustine. The Retractions, translated by Sister Mary Inez Bogan (1968), p. 169. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America. Back
- Quoted from The Literal Meaning of Genesis, in Lavallee, Louis. 1989. Augustine on the Creation Days, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32, no. 4:464. Back
- It’s not just Genesis, as many assume, that asserts a literal creation: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:11). More importantly, see Did Jesus Say He Created in Six Literal Days? Back