The Young vs. Old Earth Creationism Debate
The word Creationism should simply encompass all who discern a Divine Mind at work in creation and natural phenomena. However, it has instead been popularly linked specifically with Young Earth Creationism (YEC), in large part due to the media’s heavy focus on the clash of this particular view and modern science in public debates which makes for sensational news stories. However, “despite widespread impressions to the contrary, [young earth] creationism was not a traditional belief of nineteenth-century conservative Protestants or even of early twentieth-century fundamentalists.” Even opponents to evolution like William J. Bryan accepted an ancient earth. Before the 1930s, most conservative Protestants believed in a long period of time for creation and even conservatives like James Orr and B.B. Warfield allowed for theories of evolution to explain God’s mechanism of creation. Warfield even argued that Calvin’s doctrine of creation was an evolutionary one. Ironically, Warfield is often cited by Young Earth Creationists for his formulations for biblical inerrancy.
Modern evangelicals tend to be extremely sensitive about the open discussion of scientific issues which bear on Genesis 1–11, and anyone who tries to explore the issues runs the risk of ecclesiastical jeopardy. “The prevailing atmosphere of fear tends to squelch attempts to deal with these issues.” Interestingly, YEC views arose out of Seventh-day Adventist founder Ellen G. White, and theorist George M. Price who published works arguing the “literal” reading of Genesis showed the earth was created six to eight thousand years ago. “Price’s ideas were never taken seriously by practicing geologists, and they also had little impact outside of Adventist circles.” However, a litany of Christian theologians and scientists have produced many thoughtful works wrestling with a biblical view of creation and evolution (see endtnote). Also, theological historians, such as John Walton and others, have provided good insight from ancient near eastern cultures and writings to provide a framework of interpretation that seeks to hold a high view of scripture and honour the text’s intended meaning.
For a large part though, these have not been popularized in the majority of modern evangelicalism and has created a twofold tragedy. Firstly, millions of evangelicals think they honour the Bible by holding dogmatically to YEC views and secondly—as a result—they may forfeit the opportunity to understand and glorify God for the way He made nature truly by holding to these unexamined beliefs. This all-or-nothing attitude obscures what are the actual critical issues where religion and science intersect, drowning out more careful voices. Joseph Clark in 1863 proposed a way forward in the Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, that Christians should maintain the full trustworthiness of the Bible but also allow scientists to pursue proper inductive procedures in their disciplines without presuppositions. In so doing, we may have to adjust our scientific understanding, as in the case of the former belief in a flat earth, but also similarly, no damage would result as we would better understand God’s good creation.
Two Books: Nature and Scripture
Even as early as Saint Augustine (354—430 CE) in his work, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, said that it is disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talking nonsense about topics and ascribing it to the teachings of Holy Scripture since it creates an unnecessary impediment to those for whose salvation we toil.
“If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven. . .? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books.”
Galileo also said that Scripture can never lie as long as its true meaning is grasped. Also, the observations of science can be a valid aid in the correct interpretation of scripture as both derive equally from the godhead. We read from God’s two books, creation (Psalms 19:1) and scripture. Galileo said,
“I do not think one has to believe that the same God who has given us senses, language, and intellect would want to set aside the use of these and give us by other means the information we can acquire with them, so that we would deny our senses and reason even in the case of those physical conclusions which are placed before our eyes and intellect by our sensory experiences or by necessary demonstrations.”
Religious Affections: Not All Heat Without Light
A life of the mind is not to be understood as devoid from the affections of the heart. Some think that making Christianity primarily about emotional and personal mystic experience will put it out of the reach of the threats of intellectual attacks or that a purely experiential religion frees one from the limitations of the mind. However, Jesus said that we will “know” the truth, and in knowing, it would set us free. This tells us that truth is in fact indispensable to freedom in Christ. By driving a wedge between the heart and the head we’ve created decapitated mystics and heartless scholars. J.G. Machen said, “A man can believe only what he holds to be true” and Justin Martyr said that, “reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions, if these be worthless.” So, what is needed instead is a passionate engagement of the mind to fuel religious affections.
Jonathan Edwards is among the greatest thinkers America has ever produced, arguably no successor to combine theology and piety in Evangelicalism has since been found or is very rare. He said that “Holy affections are not heat without light; but evermore arise from the information of the understanding, some spiritual instruction that the mind receives, some light or actual knowledge.” The rebuttal is often that God uses the foolish things to confound the wise, and that we are to be like children. However, 1 John 4:7 says that everyone who loves, knows God and Paul prays in Philippians 1:9 that “your love may abound more and more in knowledge. . .” As John Calvin put it,
“By ‘being fools’ we do not mean being stupid; nor do we direct those who are learned in the liberal sciences to jettison their knowledge, and those who are gifted with quickness of mind to become dull, as if a man cannot be a Christian unless he is more like a beast than a man. The profession of Christianity requires us to be immature, not in our thinking, but in malice (1 Cor. 14:20). But do not let anyone bring trust in his own mental resources or his learning into the school of Christ; do not let anyone be swollen with pride or full of distaste, and so be quick to reject what he is told, indeed even before he has sampled it.”
Furthermore, Edwards points out that if a person’s affections are founded on something they suppose a text to say—but in actuality it does not—it is in vain since it is not the Spirit of God teaching them, but they ascribe to the text the workings of their own minds. Thinking is essential to sanctification in the Christian’s life since all behaviour stems from thoughts—this is why we are transformed by the renewal, not the removal of our minds. The Greek word for repentance,μετάνοια [metanoia], has the literal sense to change one’s mind. Therefore, to remove thinking or to think deficiently is to severely handicap one’s spiritual maturity and sanctification.
Hermeneutics and Biblical Literacy as Kindling for Christian Zeal
Probably no greater hindrance to biblical literacy exists than relativistic approaches to hermeneutics (the study of textual interpretation). Those without a solid foundation end up like waves tossed to and fro and carried by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14), unstable in all their ways (James 1:8). Words are the currency of trade in the economy of ideas. As money points to a fixed source of value—supposedly gold—from which it draws its purchasing power, words likewise refer back to their source of communicative value which is the idea or meaning behind it. For them to have any value in conveying thoughts, they must—like money—have a fixed point of reference to determine value. They must have an intended meaning and thus are meant to convey a specific idea. One cannot just arbitrarily assign whatever meaning or mystical experience they want to them.
Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book says, “Do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend judgment, until you can say, ‘I understand.'” God through His Word is trying to tell us something, and while no one is a relativist at the bank when dealing with their savings account, many choose to be when dealing with God’s saving account of His revelation. The golden rule of reading is, “‘Do unto authors as you would have them do unto you.’ Authors want to be understood, not misunderstood.” J. Gensham Machen warned:
“False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.“
Paul exhorts Timothy to “think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” The fact that God gives us understanding is the grounds for thinking carefully, not a substitute for it. Divine agency does not mitigate the responsibility of human effort, for it is God working in us—both to will and do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). If we are to venture to “count all things loss” we must also be irrevocably convinced of the “surpassing worth” of knowing Christ. Mere emotionalism and fervour may produce great short term effects, but for a lasting life of faithful sacrifice—no one is convinced that losing all things is a bargain by comparison to gaining Christ without right thinking.
A Hopefully Thoughtful Future
There is quite a bit of encouragement and optimism for the future though. Some popular literature has begun to explore the idea of how a more robust understanding of Christ’s work and the span of Gospel implications affect our approach to scholarship as well as all other spheres of life. Matt Chandler’s The Explicit Gospel is a good example which explores the vast amount of implications the Gospel has on redemption not just for human sin, but for all creation and spheres of life. Atonement theory provides another strong basis for excellence in a plethora of diverse academic and creative fields as a way of sharing in God’s redemption plan for all things. The very Christocentrism that is essential to Evangelicalism may be the basis for a vibrant life of the mind. Christians can be fearless in honestly pursuing the study of the natural universe—for from him, to him and through him are all things. Os Guiness said that, “Offering up our minds to God in all our thinking is a part of our praise.”
There is a revolution happening in the field of philosophy, which is the most important domain for thought and intellect, with an increasing number of Christian philosophers of the highest calibre defending Christian truths. Manchen said that scholarly procedure,
“is based simply upon a profound belief in the pervasiveness of ideas. What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mold the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity.“
Many young people are lost from the church when they go to Universities and Colleges ill-prepared to handle the ridicule of religiously antagonistic professors and classmates. The Veritas Forum has been a great effort in bringing thoughtful apologetics to academia and apologists such as William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias have inspired many Evangelicals to think more deeply on issues of faith and reason. These sorts of endeavours need to be further explored and popularized if we are to come to a theology which supports and encourages rigorous scholarship of the highest academic calibre.
Concluding Thoughts and Encouragement
Believing scholars must not fall prey to thinking that by chastising Christian communities for Gnostic anti-intellectualism or the general academy for being dismissive of Christian insights that they have somehow accomplished a great deal. Evangelicals tend to have a very short term memory when it comes to church history and tradition, often times not knowing much outside of their own and possibly one or two generations past. Evangelicals would be wise to learn from other Christian traditions that have developed principles of thought and read old books by the great theological thinkers of the past—there is no need to reinvent and rediscover everything with such a wealth of forerunners.
Perhaps a good way forward has already been proposed in the 1977 Chicago Call, which stated, “We believe that today evangelicals are hindered from achieving full maturity by a reduction of the historic faith. There is, therefore, a pressing need to reflect upon the substance of the biblical and historic faith and to recover the fullness of this heritage.” It laid out eight themes which it called Evangelicals to carefully consider theologically including Historic Roots and Continuity, Biblical Fidelity, and Creedal Identity. Also, Evangelicals should be open to learn from those we disagree with, as no one is entirely devoid of any truth in some measure. This is of course not to say that we shouldn’t be wise and discerning, but rather to encourage the true sense of 1 Thessalonians 5:21 in the life of the mind. It will take patience, humility and purposeful intentionality to move the general Evangelical mind toward the needed balance.
Evangelicals must resist their natural tendency to just act as the problem is only tangentially practical and not primarily one of organizing, recruiting, mobilizing or fundraising—which evangelicals already excel at. To overcome our hereditary activism will take a decisive shift in ascribing proper value to thinking and not see such pursuits as of lesser worth. Evangelicals must move away from tendencies toward false disjunctions, confusing the distinctive with the essential, and unnecessarily separating intellectual institutions. Seminaries should aim to produce pastors who are equipped for handling the intellectual rigors of ministry in our modern secular world. The traditional role for pastors as scholars and “brokers of truth” has been replaced by managerial models drawn from the professional world. This has produced congregations for whom theology is irrelevant and are ill-equipped to handle the scepticism of a post-modern world.
Part of the problem lays in passing down the best of Evangelical scholarship effectively to the common person. Many times, issues which are causing problems in popular level conversation have already been dealt with thoroughly in scholarly circles. However, the dissemination of that information has not yet occurred, and pastors who often serve as the mediators of theological knowledge for their congregations must do so effectively. For the lay person, I’d recommend throwing away your TV (though I know how ridiculous this is to even suggest—however, for me personally, it has been a most beneficial endeavour) and reading more published books. By reading more actively from books which go through a process of publishing—rather than from the internet where normally no such filtering happens—one is enabled to access better quality of information and also one’s critical reasoning is increased by processing and interacting with various arguments.
Finally, what the scholar may have learned in the pages of his books, the faithful lay-pastor may have learned through the stripes on his back passing through the crucible of a hard life contending for the faith. Much of evangelicalism does minister to the underprivileged where resources and opportunity for rigorous study may not exist. There is a real problem with scholarship that looks down its nose through low-seated spectacles at those less privileged to have the luxury of erudition. It would be ridiculous if in reaction to the lack of a life of the mind, Evangelicalism instead went to the other extreme and exalted its scholarship at the cost of other members of the body. Both knowledge without humility and prideful ignorance are equally sinful, and it would be amiss not to nuance the needfulness of a life of the mind with the equivalent requisite of a life of the heart. However, each person—to the capacity that they are able—should endeavour with all vigour to cultivate their own life of the mind as an honourable stewardship of God’s good gifts to them. The fact that God’s primary revelation of himself is in a book says a lot for the value of learning and study!
For further reading, I’d encourage you to check out the two books by Mark Noll and John Piper listed below. There is also a wealth of apologetics material online through such sites as RZIM.org and ReasonableFaith.org. God bless!
Adler, Mortimer. How to Read a Book. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1967.
Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Vol 1. trans. John Hammond Taylor. New York, NY: Newman, 1982.
Blamires, Harry. The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2005.
Bloom, Alan. The Closing of the American Mind. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1987.
Calvin, John. Concerning Scandals. trans. John W. Fraser. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978.
Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy: The Classic Account of a Remarkable Christian Experience. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2001.
Craig, William Lane. In Intellectual Neutral – A Challenge to Christians to Intellectual Engagement. No pages. Online: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/in-intellectual- neutral
Edwards, Jonathan. A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections: In Three Parts. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996.
Galilei, Galileo. “Galileo’s Letter to the Grand Duchess” (1615), in The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History, ed. Maurice A. Finocchiaro. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989.
Gardner, H. Lynn. Commending and Defending Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Apologetics. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Co., 2010.
Gill, David W. The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1989.
Guinness, Os. Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do about It. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.
Lockerbie, D. Bruce. Thinking and Acting like a Christian. Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1989.
Machen, J. Gresham. “Christianity and Culture,” in J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, ed. D.G. Hart. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004.
Malik, Charles. “The Other Side of Evangelism,” in Christianity Today. Nov 7, 1980.
———, “The Two Tasks,” in The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar: Redeeming the Soul, Redeeming the Mind, eds. William Lane Craig and Paul M. Gould. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007.
Murray, Iain H. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939–1981. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1990.
Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011.
———, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.
Piper, John. Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007. Free PDF: http://www.desiringgod.org/books/spectacular-sins
———, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. Free PDF: http://www.desiringgod.org/books/think
Warfield, Benjamin B. The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 5: Calvin and Calvinism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1931.
———, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 9: Studies in Theology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1932.
ENDNOTES for PART 2
 Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 188
 Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 189
 See Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol 9, 235-236
 Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol 5, 304-305
 Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, 111–112
 Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 232
 Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 189
 See for example, MacKay, Donald M. The Clockwork Image: A Christian Perspective on Science. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974; Young, Davis A. Christianity and the Age of the Earth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982; Polkinghorne, J. C. One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986; McGrath, Alister. The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998; Collins, Francis. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. New York: Free Press, 2007; and Giberson, Karl W. Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. New York: HarperOne, 2008.
 See Walton, John. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009.
 Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 14, 199
 Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 196-197
 Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 182-183
 Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Vol 1, 42–43
 Galilei, The Galileo Affair, 92–94; A similar sentiment is found in the Belgic Confession, Art. 2. Also see see Mark A. Noll, “Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture: An Overview,” in BioLogos Forum (November 2009), available from http://www.biologos.org/uploads/projects/Noll_scholarly_essay.pdf
 Machen, J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 403; Justin Martyr, The First Apology, II as quoted in Gardner, Commending and Defending Christian Faith, 118
 Piper, Think, 33-34; Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 24
 Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, III: IV
 Calvin, Concerning Scandals, 18–19
 Edwards, Religious Affections, 3.IV
 Adler, How to Read a Book, 267
 See Piper, Think, 102 for an expansion on this idea.
 Piper, Think, 45
 Machen, J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 7
 2 Timothy 2:7 ESV
 Piper, Think, 65
 See Chandler, Matt. The Explicit Gospel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.
 Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, 71
 Guiness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, 18
 Craig, In Intellectual Neutral, 22
 Machen, J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 6
 Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, 148
 For the full text of The Chicago Call go to http://smallvoices.net/sv5/chicago.htm
 Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, 243
 Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 243-245
 Craig, In Intellectual Neutral, para. 29-30