This article is reprinted from the Spring 86 ish of THE JOURNAL OF FAITH AND THOUGHT. Other articles in that ish include A.J. Mattillʼs Jr.ʼs “A Zoo-Full of Monsters” —examining inerrantist explanations of Scripture, and Richard Tierneyʼs “Giants in the Earth?” — another look at the Paluxy footprint evidence. For a copy of that particular issue, contact FAITH AND THOUGHT, First Baptist Church of Montclair, Church Street and Trinity Place, Montclair, New Jersey 07042.
In Danteʼs Inferno the Poet told of his journey deep into the bowels of the earth, past a number of circular terraces, each encompassing the next, and each deeper than the one before, viz., the “circles” of hell. The torments suffered by the sinners in each circle increased with the depth of their habitations. (“How deep is my suffering” took on a surprisingly literal meaning in Danteʼs eyes.) “Scientific” creationism is like Danteʼs Inferno in that it has many levels capable of accommodating a variety of “heretics” vis-a-vis scientific orthodoxy, who willingly choose to “suffer” for their “unbelief”. Some, of course, suffer more than others… .
Beginning at the bottommost circle lie the flat earthers (The International Flat Earth Research Society of America) who view the Bible as a textbook that supports only “flat earth science”. The president of the Flat Earth Research Society, Charles K. Johnson, denounces modern scientists as “witchdoctors, sorcerers, tellers of tales…and Pathological Liars”, and refers to ordinary fundamentalist Christians as “atheists”! On the other hand, his society is so sensitive to rebuke that to receive their literature you must sign a statement that affirms your aim is “not to harm, degrade, or defame this Society”.
The circle above the flat earthers contains the immovable earthers (The Tychonian Society), who view the Bible as a textbook of “geocentric astronomy”. They, at least, are on dialogue terms with their heliocentric creationist cousins (see below). In fact the latest creationist convention, held in Cleveland, Ohio, 1985, was hosted by two geocentrists! In their opinion, visualizing the sun as lying at the center of the planets is an echo of ancient pagan sun worship and denies the clear words of Scripture that depict the earthʼs primacy in creation, its immobility, and the sunʼs movement.
The circle above the immovable earthers contains the young earthers (Institute for Creation Research, etc.), who accept the sunʼs central status, but deny that the earth could be much more than ten thousand years old. These creationists, like their immovable earth cousins, enjoy denouncing the paganistic, atheistic, humanistic errors of modern man, and his lack of trust in that revealed scientific textbook, the Bible.
The circle above the young earthers contains the old earth creationists. They accept a sun-centered system of vast astronomical age and thus do not deny modern scienceʼs view of manʼs place in space and time. However. they are quick to point out that evolutionary connections between major forms of life are theoretical, not proven, and therefore modern science must be adjusted to the teaching of that scientific textbook, the Bible, at this point. This group appears to be the most congenial; at least they are able to dialogue with modern scientists without using as many heated adjectives as the previous groups.
To sum up our gallery of anti-evolutionists: flat earthers believe in a flat earth, only a few thousands of years old, and at the center of the universe. Geocentrical or immovable marchers simply drop flatness from this cosmology. Young earthers drop flatness and geocentricity. Old earthers drop even the recent date of creation, and only maintain that over however long a period, the various species of life were discretely created, not evolved from one another. The circles of creationism end here because to rise any farther out of the pit of modern scientific “perdition” requires that you view the Genesis creation account “mythically”, or “allegorically”, and thus, no longer as a scientific textbook.
A Book that Speaks “Clearly” about Creation
All creationist groups appeal to the Bible as their chief source of scientific data. Flat earthers quote from it. So do immovable earthers (geocentrists), young earthers, and old earthers. Further more, they all quote from it with equal authority and equal dignity, being equally unconvinced by competing interpretations. Yet how can all of these creationist interpretations come from the same book?
To answer this question, let us journey back to when ancient man had no telescopes, skylabs, or even Newtonian laws of gravitation to lead him. He had his eyes. And he looked out at the horizon, and it appeared flat. He looked up toward heaven and it appeared stretched out above the earth, meeting the earth at the far horizons. We know from a Babylonian map of the world, inscribed on an ancient clay tablet, that the Babylonians pictured the earth as a flat disc surrounded by water (“the bitter river”). Above this disc, according to the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish lay a solid heavenly dome. Ancient Egyptian iconography agrees in depicting a round, flat earth surmounted by Nut (the firmament) whose fingers and toes rested, respectively, on the far eastern and western horizons. The ancient Greek poet Homer agreed with this flat earth view, but imagined the giant Atlas bearing the sky on his shoulders.
It is the opinion of modern biblical scholars that flat earth passages in the Bible reflect the equally ancient conceptions outlined above. Later, when science rejected flatness in favor of sphericity, theologians began to explain away and “reinterpret” Bible verses implying flatness. However, verses referring to the earthʼs “firm foundation”, and the sunʼs movement were interpreted literally since they supported the earth-centered astronomy of the Middle Ages. Subsequently, when geocentricity fell prey to heliocentricity, the earth-centered verses, too, were explained away. This left only young earth creationist verses, which, of course, old earth creationists explain away. How this explaining away process works in practice is the subject of the following sections.
How to Explain Away Flat Earthism
Example 1: Daniel 4:10, 11 tells us that there was a tree in the midst (or center) of the earth, and its height was great… it reached to the sky, and was visible to the end of the whole earth”. Obviously, such visibility implies a flat earth. However, this verse may be explained away as depicting a “mere dream” of Danielʼs, viz., a “metaphorical image” of the extent of Nebuchadnezzarʼs kingdom. (However, the fact that flat earth imagery surprised no one, least of all, Daniel, also implies that it was taken for granted.)
Example 2: Isaiah 42:5 tells us that at creation God “spread out the earth”—the Hebrew verb for “spread” being used elsewhere in Scripture to depict a “flattening” or “pounding”. Also, if the earth was not “spread out”, but “rolled up tightly like a ball” at creation, the writer could have said so. We find the requisite Hebrew construction in Isaiah 22:18, where a man is “rolled up tightly like a ball.” Round earth creationists at this point usually change the subject by concentrating their “scientific” attentions on another verse of Isaiah, “He who sits above the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22), which they say implies a spherical earth. (It doesnʼt. Isaiahʼs “circle” more than likely reflects ancient notions of a flat circular earth, outlined above. Read Isaiah 40:22 in complete context, and study these other verses: “Who stretched out the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth” (51:13). “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars” (14:13). Thus the earth has “foundations”, the heavens are stretched out”, a heavenly throne may lie “above the stars”, and God sits above…the earth”. That is not spherical-earth language. Moreover, there is an obvious link between Isaiahʼs “circle of the earth” and the “circle” inscribed at creation on the flat surface of the waters in Job 26:10 and Probers 8:27.)
Example 3: Isaiah 11:12 declares, “Gather (them) from the four corners of the earth”, and Revelation 7:1 adds, “I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth”. Young earth creationist Henry Morris suggests that rather than “corners”, a more precise translation of the Hebrew is “four quarters of the earth”, which “simply means the four directions”. This of course, begs the question of why four (presumably flat) directions (North, South, East, and West) remained the norm for the ancient Hebrews, even to the extent of a psalmist rejoicing, “He removes our transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), which, on the globe, is not very far.
Example 4: Matthew 4:8 tells us that “The devil took him (Jesus) to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory.” One could see all the kingdoms of the world from a very high mountain—if the world were flat. This verse has been explained away as a “vision” of all the worldʼs kingdoms, received on a very high mountain. However, such a “vision” would have been received equally well on the plains, so why did the devil “take Jesus” anywhere special?
Example 5: Throughout Scripture the shape and construction of the earth is assumed to resemble that of a building, having a firm foundation: and a roof or canopy: “He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter, forever and ever” (Psalm 104: 5). “The world is firmly established, it will not be moved.” (Psalm 93: 1). “For the pillars of the earth are the Lordʼs, and he set the world on them” (I Samuel 2:8). “It is I who have firmly set its pillars” (Psalm 75:3). “Who stretched out the heavens…and established the world” (Jeremiah 10:12). “Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:22). “Stretching our heaven like a tent curtain” (Psalm 104:1,2). “In the heavens… . in the true tabernacle (tent), which the Lord pitched, not man” (Hebrews 8:2-3). “The One who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and has founded his vaulted dome over the earth” (Amos 9:6). “Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament” (Psalm 150:1). Creationists other than flat earthers view these verses as “metaphorically” true. However, that begs the question of why the Bibleʼs authors relied exclusively on flatness “metaphors”. Why no roundness metaphors, and no plain declarations that the earthʼs shape and construction was that of a sphere?
As readers may have noticed by now, it is impossible to demonstrate the superiority of a “spherical” interpretation in any of the above cases. Indeed, those who reject flat earth representations focus their biblical attention elsewhere, a favorite verse being Job 26:7 “He stretches out the north over empty space, and hangs the earth on nothing”-the Hebrew means literally, “without anything”, or “on nothing”, and thus may be paraphrased, “without support other than God himself”. Foes of the flat earth emphasize the difference between this verse and ancient Hindu cosmology wherein a flat earth was supported on a turtleʼs back, which swam on the back of an elephant, which stood on the back of something else, ad infinitum, proving that a flat earth requires supports ad infinitum. However, leaving Hindu mythology aside, the ancient Egyptians, who were also flat earthers, did not feel the need for supports ad infinitum. An ancient Egyptian ideogram actually portrays a single eye, connected with two hands and feet—representing ka a personal power—directly supporting a flat earth disc. i.e., without further assistance. Other Egyptian texts speak of divine power as the support of all things”, and an Egyptian god claims, “I laid the foundations of all things by my will”. Khepra, another Egyptian god, “conceived a place to stand … he uttered its name, the standing place at once came into being.” Thus, Egyptian flat earth notions only differed from Jobʼs verse in answering the question of Who… .hangs the earth on nothing, or without anything! Cf. Proverbs 30:4 “Who has established all the ends of the earth?” “He (Yahweh) … hangs the earth, without anything, on nothing!” (Job 26:7). “He established the world by his wisdom; and by his understanding he has stretched out heaven” (Jeremiah 10:12).
Notice that Job 26:7 neglects to mention the earthʼs shape while other verses from Job declare, “(Godʼs) measure is longer than the earth” (11:7, 9); “Who stretched the line on (the earth)?” (38:5) and “He looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens” (28:24), all of which imply a flat earth.
Ancient Notions of the “Circle Of The Earth”
Babylonian World Map and its Reconstruction
EGYPTIAN WORLD-MAP (Left)
Above the earth disc (which is drawn is seen from on high) lies the firmament (a pair of wings, and a goddess with outstretched arms, Nut). Both earth and firmament are overshadowed by the gargantuan body of Nu, who was the prototype of the great world-ocean which later ancient nations believed to surround Creation, as indeed she does in this pictograph. The earth disc is upheld by a sign whose feet and eye identify it as a personal power, ka. This earth disc is composed of three major rings — the two outermost rings contain symbols that represent ‘desert,’ ‘jackals,’ ‘subdued foreign lands,’ and ‘tomb,’ while the innermost ring is filled with forty-one signs (standards) of the Egyptian nomes. It therefore signifies Egypt, lying at the center of the earth — Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World
(The Seabury Press: 1978), pp. 37-39 & 42.
“Poseidon, the world-circler… We had attained the ends of the earth and its encircling river of Ocean… Here an endless night is spread over its melancholy people” —Homer, The Odyssey “I smile when I see many persons describing the circumference of the earth, who have no sound reason to guide them. they describe the ocean flowing round the earth, which is made circular as if by a lathe, and make Asia equal to Europe.” — Herodotus (Ancient Greek Historian and Explorer), Histories IV, 39 (Circa 500 B.C.)
But one fact that defeats all efforts to use Job 26:7 to prove sphericity is that Job was rebuked by God for opening his mouth in the first place! Compare the verses below:
Job Spouting Wisdom to His Friends
(5) The departed spirits tremble under the waters and their inhabitants.
(6) Naked is Sheol before him and Abaddon (place of destruction) has no covering.
(7) He stretches out the north over empty space, and hangs the earth without anything, on nothing.
God Later Rebuking Job
(16) Have you entered into the of the sea? Or have you walked in the recesses of the deep?
(17) Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
(18) Have you understood (or examined) the expanse of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this!
Other questions God asked Job were, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earthʼs (38:4); “On what were its bases sunk?” (38: 6) (Cf. “If the … foundations of the earth (can be) searched out below, then I will cast off … Israeli (Jeremiah 31:37).)
Obviously, Job 26:7 is a questionable proof of sphericity. Yet that is the key verse quoted by opponents of a flat earth interpretation of Scripture! Further attempts to discover spherical passages in the Bible are even less convincing. For instance, creationist Henry Morris asserts that another verse in Job implies the rotation of the earth: “(The earth) is turned as clay to the seal” (Job 38:14—King James Version). Morris says, “The figure, in context, is of a clay vessel being turned on a wheel to receive the design imprinted upon it by a seal or signet, like the earth as it turns into the dawning sun, gradually revealing the intricate features on its surface.” Of course this “rotating earth” interpretation of Job 38:14 is very modern (neither Luther nor Calvin, nor Mediaeval scholars in general knew of it). Moreover, Morris relies on the KJV translation without acknowledging that other translations do not fit his interpretation:
*It is turned as clay to the seal”—King James Version
”It is changed like clay under the seal” —Revised Standard Version
And, in context…
Have you ever in your life commanded the morning,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal:
And they stand forth like a garment
And from the wicked their light is withheld,
And the uplifted arm is broken
(—New American Standard Version of Job 38:12-15)
According to these translations the earth is not turned like clay to the seal (KJV), but changed like clay under the seal (RSV and NASB), the clay most likely being in the form of an ancient writing tablet whose contours were changed under the seal of some magistrate, and not a clay vessel (cf. Morris) turned to the seal. Furthermore, there is evidence that in those days the Babylonians used cylindrical seals rolled on stationary clay. Either way, Morrisʼ unique interpretation of Job 38:14 appears far from proven.
Another argument of Morrisʼ is that Luke 17:34-36 implies “both the roundness and rotation of the earth.” Speaking of Jesusʼ second coming, the passage states, “In that night, there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women will be grinding together… Two men shall be in the field”. “In other words”, says Morris, “this great event will take place instantaneously at night, in the morning. and in the afternoon. Such a combination would be possible only on an earth in which day and night could be occurring simultaneously, and that means a rotating earth suspended in space”. what Morris fails to notice is that Jesusʼ dictum that “No one knows the day or the hour” inspired Lukeʼs bedtime illustration. The point is, depending on when it happens, it might be like this, or like that. Besides, Morrisʼ argument was not proposed as such till after the rotation of the earth became an accepted fact. If here as elsewhere on Morrisʼ reading, the biblical texts teach modern cosmology, why did the church never notice it until the era of modern astronomy?
In conclusion, a flat earth interpretation of the Bible is not easily explained away. It remained popular even as late as A.D. 548 when a Christian monk, Cosmas Indicopleustes, composed one of the first “Bible-science” textbooks, Christian Topography, the first chapter of which was dedicated, “To those who, while professing Christianity, believe like the heathen, that the heavens are spherical”. (Cosmas, by the way, quoted Job 26:7 in his manuscript in favor of a flat earth!) Even today. the International Flat Earth Society continues to publish its newsletter, which includes Bible quotations similar to the ones discussed above. plus “scientific” reasons why people are fooled into believing that the earth is a sphere. They remind readers that believers in a flat earth have existed for over six thousand years, the extent of recorded history, and that the basis of the Real Christian Religion is that Jesus died, was resurrected, and then ASCENDED UP to HEAVEN ABOVE. But if the pagan idiocy. the ‘Grease Ball’ theory is true, then there is no UP, no HEAVEN, no ABOVE! And what interest could God have with a speck of dust among billions of bigger and better specks?”
How to Explain Away Geocentrism
Geocentrists get around flat earth interpretations by assuming beforehand that the Holy Spirit did not mean to teach flat earth science. How you answer the flat earth question thus depends on how much modern science you are willing to accept, and not on which biblical interpretation is superior. Geocentrists quote from the same Bible, a flat-earth-centered book, but explain away the flatness verses as metaphors, accepting only the earth-centered ones literally.
Example 1: Ecclesiastes 1:5 tells us that “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose”. So, according to Scripture, the sun moves. Read the Ecclesiastes verse again; it couldnʼt be plainer. Scripture also asserts that the earth stays put, or as John Calvin commented on Psalm 93 verse 1, “By what means could it (the earth) maintain itself unmoved, while the heavens above are in constant rapid motion, did not its Divine Maker fix and establish it? Accordingly the particle, aph, denoting emphasis, is introduced—‘Yea, he hath established it (the earth)’”.
Or take another passage. Joshua 10:12-13 states, “Joshua … said in the sight of Israel, ʻO sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon in the valley of Aijalon”. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies… So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about the whole day”. One of Martin Lutherʼs wily comments is appropriate here, “This man (Copernicus) wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but the sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” Quite true! Joshua even commanded the sun to stand still at Gibeon, and the moon, in the valley of Aijalon, which suggests that he may have viewed them as diminutive bodies passing over specific valleys or geographical regions on earth!
Or take yet another passage. Psalm 19:4-6 depicts the sun “coming forth as a bridegroom from his chamber… rejoicing as a strong man to run its course. Its rising from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them”. Notice that Scripture does not similarly depict the earthʼs movement, except during an earthquake, during which all creation shakes, both heaven and earth! Jobʼs earth “hanging on nothing” also appears to sit quite solidly in place.
In view of the fact that the ancients did indeed believe that the sun moved across the heavens (e.g. the Egyptian “boat of the sun”, or pictures of the Babylonian sun god rising from his mountain chamber and vaulting into the sky, and the ancient Greeksʼ astonishment when Anaxagoras suggested that the sun passing overhead may be as large as the Peloponnesus) it is not surprising to discover echoes of these beliefs in the Bible. The question is, how do nongeocentrists explain this away? Well, they explain them away the same way that geocentrists explain away the flat earth passages in Scripture, as “metaphors”, or descriptions for “appearancesʼ sake”, and not to be taken literally. This of course disturbs the geocentrists who report “The only way one can know for sure whether or not geocentricism is true is to leave the universe, look back, and then return to report whatʼs happening. Since only Godʼs knowledge is of such immense scope, what the Bible says must be ultimately true… For if God cannot be taken literally when he writes of the rising of the sun, then how can he be taken literally when writing of the rising Son?
Example 2: Besides the sunʼs movement, the Bible also depicts the starsʼ movement: “From heaven fought the stars, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (Judges 5:20). Of course to an earthbound observer the stars appear to follow wide circular courses through heaven each night. But another verse makes it clear that we are not dealing with mere appearances: “Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth (a constellation of stars) in their season (i.e., at the time of year they become visible, rising above the horizon), or can you guide the Bear (another constellation) with its children?” (Job 38:32). This is no mere appearance, for this verse states that God leads forth and guides the constellations (just as God is spoken of elsewhere as firmly establishing the earth). Leading and guiding are therefore actions that God performs. If God were teaching us that the earth moves, he would not have asked Job if he could lead forth or guide these constellations (in their season), but rather, if he could lead forth and guide the earth (in its season).
Again, speaking of a starʼs movement. Matthew 2:9 tells us that a star “went before (the wise men), till it came to rest over the place where the child was”. This is the tiny traveling star of Bethlehem. (It should be noted tangentially that attempts to make Matthewʼs star a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn would, contrary to the aims of apologists, tend to show that Matthewʼs account is mistaken, since he plainly viewed it as an actual star. And planetary conjunctions can no more move over the Judean countryside than stars can.)
Speaking further of the size of stars, notice what Mark 13:24-25 (Matthew 24:29) and Revelation 6:13-14 add: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (Mark); “And the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of heaven fell to earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale, the heavens vanished like a scroll that is rolled up” (Revelation). Iʼve read that these verses depict meteorites (or atomic missiles!) and not stars falling to earth, since modern astronomy declares that even the smallest star is immensely larger than the earth. But if you explain away these verses that way, their power vanishes. For the point is not that the earth, a tiny planet, is being bombarded by meteors or bombs, but that Godʼs creation is collapsing, the cosmos is coming to an end. This is precisely why God must create a new heaven (Revelation 21:1, 5). If anyone further disagrees that stars falling to earth cannot mean stars, he must also explain away Revelation 12:4 “His tail swept down a third of the stars,” already visible, and not meteorites, which become visible only as they enter the atmosphere, in which case “one third of” has no meaning.
So the Bible speaks of the end of the cosmos in tiny-falling-stars language, exactly as it speaks of the beginning of the cosmos, i.e., the tiny sun, moon, and stars “made” on day four, and “set” in heaven for the earthʼs light, seasons, and days (Genesis 1:14-18). Indeed, what can be made of a creation account that has the earth created ahead of the sun, moon, and stars? It certainly does not favor notions of the earthʼs movement. For what might the earth have orbited while it waited for the sun to be made? The obvious conclusion is that the Bible favors geocentricism (or flat earthism).
In conclusion, a geocentric interpretation of the Bible is not easily explained away—Martin Luther and John Calvin remained strict geocentrists even during the advent of Copernican astronomy! Geocentrism remained popular as late as 1650, when the scientific consensus shifted to heliocentricity. And today it lives on in the form of the Tychonian Society. According to them, “Historians readily acknowledge that the Copernican Revolution spawned the bloody French and Bolshevik revolutions …set the stage for the ancient Greek dogma of evolution … led to Marxism and Communism … and is thus a small step to total rejection of the Bible and the precepts of morality and law taught therein”. (Of course flat earthersʼ memories go back even further. For them, the evil was spawned once Christians accepted the ancient Greek dogma of a spherical earth.)
How to Explain Away Young Earth Creationism
Naturally, young earth creationists get around geocentric interpretations by assuming beforehand that the Holy Spirit did not mean to teach geocentric astronomy, just young earth geology. They quote from the same bible, a flat earth centered book, but explain away flat and earth-centered passages as “metaphorical”, accepting literally only those dealing with time. For in their opinion the creation of all the various planets and stars in the cosmos revolved conveniently around manʼs weekly time schedule, measured to six earth-days. What young earthers do not seem to realize is that this opinion fits ancient flat earth centered interpretations of Scripture better than modern Copernican ones. A day or even week on earth is no longer of any central value since the earth no longer occupies the center of the cosmos. It is merely one of nine planets whose “days” (as they spin on their axis around the sun) all vary considerably in length, with earth days no longer being centrally important for the measurement of cosmic time. Indeed, more modern and acceptable forms of time and space measurement are the speed of light and radioactive decay constants, which are true no matter what planet you inhabit.
Creationists are always trying to show how these scientific constants vary, but such efforts do not avoid the laughter that their own belief in a precise six earth-day creation generates. earth-day creation generate. For daytimes or weekly times (i.e., approximately one quarter of the lunar cycle) experienced on earth naturally appear central to earth dwelling beings (but obviously not to the cosmos at large); just as the earthʼs situation in space appears central to earth dwellers gazing at celestial “movements” overhead, and the earthʼs flatness appears obvious to earth dwellers gazing at the horizon. In each case who is to decide which interpretation is of cosmic significance, or only of “apparent” significance? Was the cosmos—sun, moon, and stars, earth, etc.-created in six earth days? Did God really spend five of those days setting the earth in order, its waters, land, vegetation. animals, etc.. and spend only one earth day making the sun, moon, and stars? He didnʼt waste much time on the rest of the cosmos, did he?
Anyone who has studied young earth creationist interpretations of the Bible has noted that they, in turn, are just as difficult to explain away as flat earth and geocentric interpretations.
Example 1: Genesis chapter 1 states that God completed his creation in “six days”, each consisting of “an evening and a morning”, after which God “rested” on the “seventh day”. Moreover, “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:3). Exodus 20:8-11 adds, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and sanctified it.” The point of dividing the creation process into days, a feature that could easily be omitted without affecting the sense of the story, is to reinforce sabbath observance. These days of creation were therefore accepted as normal days of the week by the ancient Hebrews.
Old earth creationists, dissatisfied with such an interpretation, point out that the Hebrew terms for “day” and days are also used in scripture to depict indefinite periods of time, as in “the day(s) of” a particular king or patriarch, or the “day” in which God created The heavens and the earth (Genesis 2:4). Other verses declare that a “day” in the Lordʼs eyes may be a thousand years in manʼs (Psalm 90:4; Peter 3:8). So who knows how long one of Godʼs “days” may be? Speaking of the establishment of a sabbath “day” of the week, old earthers add that God also established a sabbath year (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:3-7), and a jubilee sabbath—every seventy years (Leviticus 25: 8-17), which suggests that the emphasis on the sabbath is rest instead of the strict interpretation of days. In fact, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of entering into Godʼs “rest”, viz., the “seventh day” of creation, adding, “Since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he sets a certain day, ‘Today’” (Hebrews 4:6-7a). So, the author of Hebrews employed an allegorical interpretation of the “seventh day” of the Genesis account.
Other questions raised by old earth creationists are (1) Since the sun was not made till “day four”, and the length of a “day” on earth depends on its axis spinning in respect to, sun, how can we on its axis spinning in respect to the sun, how can we be certain of the length of the three pre-sun “days” in Genesis? And (2) since each “day” in the creation account is not a traditional Hebrew “day” measured from evening to evening, but from “evening to morning” (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), it could be that the account represents seven daily awakening or visions granted the author of Genesis. Thus, the “days” may have nothing to do with the duration of creation so much as with the “evening to morning” periods during which the visions were received. Moreover, the “evening and morning” in Genesis make a night, not a day, if one wants to press the literal interpretation of these two items.
Nevertheless, the attempts of old earth creationists to squeeze out an old earth interpretation from Scripture remain less convincing than the plain interpretation accepted by the ancient Hebrews themselves, as in Exodus 20, cited above. For the days in Genesis 1 are numbered, consecutive periods of light and darkness that add up to manʼs work week. That one of the Lordʼs days may be as one thousand years for man is true insofar as God stands above time, but this adds nothing to the plain interpretation of “days” in Genesis. Notice that on the fourth day the meaning is obvious literal, since the very purpose of the sun and moon is said to be to rule the “day” and “night”. Old earth creationism would only appear reasonable if the Hebrew word olam (meaning “long, indefinite time”) appeared in place of the Hebrew word for “day”. And, though the author of Hebrews did cite the “seventh day” allegorically, this does not conflict with a literal belief in a “seventh day” of creation, nor does the existence of a sabbath year, or jubilee sabbath. These are all obviously intended as secondary applications of a literal original. And finally, there are no hints within the text that it is referring to a revelation received over a period of seven days.
A young earth creationist interpretation of the Bible is not easily explained away. And there are further difficulties with old earth creationism.
Old earth interpretations of Genesis 1 are of two major types, the Gap Theory and Day-Age Theories. According to the Gap Theory, the description of the “waste and void” earth in Genesis 1:2 is of an earth that “became” that way. This earth was Godʼs first creation, which grew to be very old (as modern geology demonstrates), then was made “waste and void” by Satan. Gap theorists say that verses after Genesis 1:2 tell of the earthʼs recreation, which took six literal days. and occurred a few thousand years ago. This is quite a “gap” in the creation account; it is based primarily on an alternate translation of a single Hebrew verb: Gap theorists insist that Genesis 1: 2, on their reading, does not say that the earth “was” waste and void, but that it “became” waste and void. Notice, the gap between creations also swallows the entire geological past including Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon men found in the fossil record. Yet scripture says that Adam was the first man, and not a recreation of man (Genesis 2:4-7); Mark 10:6; Romans 5:12-14; I Corinthians 15:45; et al. And since the Gap Theory does not call into question the vast cosmological age and geological evidences of the “first” creation, we must suppose it took shape over vast ages of progressive creation, none of which the Bible mentions. However, the Bible has much to say about its “recreation” which took only six days!)
Recently, among old earth creationists, the Gap Theory has become less popular than Day-Age Theories. The first basic Day-Age Theory the Overlapping Day-Age Theory, assumes that the “evening and morning” of each days in Genesis 1 are purely symbolic of the “beginning and end” of vast creative periods that overlap in geological time. The “days” are thus interpreted as vast ages in which were created the earth, sun, moon, and stars (day 1), the earthʼs atmosphere and oceans (day 2). the earthʼs dry land and vegetation (day 3), the clearing of the earthʼs atmosphere to see the sun, moon, and stars (day 4), the earthʼs air and sea animals (day 5), the earthʼs land animals and man (day 6). (Obviously, even accepting such an interpretation, billions of years of cosmological time, and the formation of billions of stars and galaxies zip by on “day 2”. And Godʼs attention appears to be focused purely on the earth.)
The second basic Day-Age theory, the Modified Intermittent Day Age Theory, assumes that each “evening and morning” refers to an actual day that introduces a vast period of creative activity, till the next “introductory” day. The Day-Age sequences of this theory do not differ from those outlines above. (Notice that Day-Age theorists cannot admit that the “sun, moon…and stars” were “made” and “placed” in the heavens on “day four” (Genesis 1:16-17) since modern astronomy teaches that most stars and galaxies evolved far earlier than the midpoint of the earthʼs geologic ages. Besides, modern geology teaches that the sun and moon are certainly as old as the earth. Therefore, day-agers explain Godʼs activity of “day four” as a “clearing of the atmosphere” to see the sun, moon, and stars, which they say were created on day one. However, the perspective behind the creation account is not that of an earthbound observer, i.e., one who sees the sun, moon, and stars through a “clearing atmosphere”. Rather, the perspective is Godʼs. He announces, let there be lights…” and God made the two great lights… the stars also, and God placed them in heaven, etc.)
Day-Age theorists also have to face difficulties caused by Godʼs gift of green plants for food for every living creature. For the creation account states that after God made the beasts of the earth and man on day six, he gave man “every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food” (Genesis 1: 29-30). Thus, Godʼs (land and sky) creatures were all vegetarians! Modern geology, on the other hand, teaches that flesh-eating creatures of land and sky have existed for hundreds of millions of years. For instance, fossil dung of prehistoric land animals, preserved because of the relative stability of its components, contains fragments of bone, teeth, and hair. Moreover, we know that the amount of strontium incorporated in the bones of vegetarians will be higher since the strontium concentration in the plants they eat is relatively high, while in carnivores the amount is lower, since they eat the vegetarians who have already concentrated the strontium in their bones (and no place else). Therefore, carnivores do not absorb as much strontium in their bones, even after chewing the vegetarianʼs bones, which are simply eliminated. By comparing levels of strontium found in fossil (bone) remains of sharp-toothed-clawed creatures (presumably carnivores) with flat-toothed-husky creatures (presumable vegetarians), we can clearly see that carnivorous animals long antedated man. Prehistoric tools like spear points, axe heads, etc., also support the contention that prehistoric man hunted live game. What then becomes of the Genesis statement that every green plant was given to every land and sky animal for food?
Perhaps the most untenable aspect of Day-Age Theories is their acceptance of the antiquity of man, plus the genealogical record in Genesis tracing manʼs ancestry to Adam. They suggest that gaps exist in the list of names of Adamʼs descendants, gaps that accommodate the geological date of manʼs earliest appearance on earth. This is a difficult accommodation since modern geology teaches that Archaic forms of Homo sapiens first appear about 500,000 years ago (the term covers a diverse group of skulls which have features of both Homo erectus and modern humans), while the genealogy in Genesis (chapters 5 and 11) contains only twenty names, i.e., from Adam (the first man), to Abraham (“historical” man). Thatʼs an average “gap” between names of at least 25,000 years! But what conceivable purpose can there have been in carefully recording the age of each father at the birth of some unknown son who was then to be merely the remote ancestor of the next individual named on the list some 25,000 years in the future? Who ever heard of such a “genealogy?” Obviously, minor gaps may occur in the lists, such as we later find in Matthewʼs selective genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17). But it is significant that the reliable historical records of ancient civilizations begin only a few thousand years ago (even as the biblical chronology of Genesis 5 and 11) and hence read without such lengthy “gaps.” This would suggest by analogy that the genealogy in Genesis intends to chronicle a cosmos that is only a few thousand years old, going right back to Adam.
Thus, old earth creationism fails to satisfy both the Bible and modern science and falls into an unbridgeable “gap” of its own.
Bible-science? Or Concessions Made to Modern Science?
As we have seen, the Bible contains no unequivocal verses depicting the earthʼs sphericity, its movement, or its non-centrality in terms of cosmic time. Rather, the young earthʼs flat firm centrality is affirmed throughout the Bible. The arguments employed to explain away young-flat-earth-centered verses reflect increasing concessions made over the ages to advances in our knowledge of astronomy, geology, etc., rather than adherence to biblical teaching. Typically, the arguments for a spherical earth, a moving earth, and an old earth were “discovered” in Scripture only after each of those facts had been first established by scientific means. I hope to have demonstrated to my readers that only two consistent choices face Christians embroiled in the creation/evolution controversy: slipping down to the bottommost circle of pseudoscientific “hell” to join the flat earthers, who allow the Bible to speak for itself; or recognizing with theistic evolutionists that the prescientific cosmology of the Bible forms no part of its message of salvation.
Cosmas Indicopleustes. ca. 550 A.D. Topographia Christiana.
Trans. J. W. McCrindle. London: Hakluyt Society (1897).
Flat Earth Newsletter. Lancaster, CA
Gerardus D. Bouw. Every Wind of Doctrine.
Bulletin of the Tychonian Society. Cleveland, OH
Henry M. Morris. The Biblical Basis for Modern Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984.
Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA
Pattle Pu. Evolution: Nature and Scripture in Conflict?
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.
Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute. Hatfield, PA
Conrad Hyers. The Meaning of Creation Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press. 1984.
Theistic Evolutionistsʼ Forum, Greenville, SC
Cosmologies and Cosmogonies of the Ancient Near East
Ed Babinski. Does the Bible Teach Scientific Creationism? 1984.
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