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Presuppositions and Hermeneutics: Conversation with an Old Earth Creationist

November 16, 2012

I referenced this topic a while back in this post, but it came up again in a recent online conversation.  While discussing one person’s question — general resources to answer a seminary professor who holds to old earth creation — the following conversation ensued with an an old-earth creationist who is inconsistent in his hermeneutics concerning creation and the future: literal hermeneutic concerning the future, but not the past.  The old earth advocate will here be referred to as OEC.  Another biblical creationist in the conversation will be referred to as BC.

OEC: The best young earth creationist out there is probably Jonathan Sarfati — look him up on Wikipedia. He also happens to (probably) be dispensational and Jewish (like Casey Luskin from the Discovery Institute). Casey however is (like myself) a scientist and an old-earther.  Personally I would encourage (the person asking the original question) toward Intelligent Design.

BC: If you ‘like’ him (Jonathan Sarfati) on Facebook you might be able to get him to give you some resources. He’s pretty involved. Also, OEC, I think ‘ID’ at this point might do more harm than good, since it is devoid of the God of the Bible.

Me: The same hermeneutic that drives our eschatology is that which brings the correct biblical understanding about creation. There are some non-premillennialists who affirm literal, recent creation. But (with the exception of the Gap Theory, early-to-mid 20th century) relatively few dispensational premillennialists hold to old-earth.

OEC: You are right… Intelligent Design does not posit any Designer with a capital “D”. Speaking as a scientist however, I think Intelligent Design has far more potential for dealing a severe blow to the Darwinist materialist camp than YEC will. ID is simply where things are moving toward in science. The important part for Christians is to be ready with an answer (1 Peter 3:15) to who the Designer is.

From my point of view, the saddest part of this old/young earth thing is that there are so few Christians and pastors involved in science. Thus the church really has so little to contribute to the current frantic pace of scientific development — and I really do mean frantic pace (I speak from personal experience as a postdoc physicist).

Me: Regarding Christians who hold to old earth — unless the school is completely liberal and apostate and doesn’t even hold the basic tenets such as Christ’s incarnation and resurrection — Intelligent Design isn’t really a problem for them. They understand that God is the creator, but they show blatant disregard for God’s word, because they only believe Genesis 1:1 and disregard the rest of the creation account. The ID movement does not bring people to Christianity, and is the inconsistent position that is rejected by the unbelieving atheists; yet those who focus on ID do no service to the truthfulness of God’s word. Consider that if all God wanted to tell us was that He created the world, then why not just have that part in the Bible? Genesis 1:1. Instead we have two full chapters, plus a specific reference in Exodus, telling much more of the details. God clearly wants us to recognize not only that He is the creator, but also to recognize the specific manner in which He created.

BC: And then Paul’s warning in Romans 1 that you don’t even need the Bible to know that He’s created. But in rejecting that they come under God’s judgment and wrath.

Me:  The “science” aspect of young earth is already out there — ICR.org especially highlights that. The real underlying issue, though, is presuppositions. As I have learned from direct experience with someone who holds to old earth: no amount of scientific evidence will change someone’s mind, even that of a professed Christian, if that person is hardened and God in His sovereignty has hardened that person to not accept or receive the truth.

OEC: I think that many of us old earth guys take Genesis very seriously, but we also recognize that there are two books: Scripture and Nature. And these two books should be in harmony. So while we (or me at least) would hold to Scripture being infallible, we also realize that our interpretations of Scripture may not be.

BC: Nature is not a book. That is, if by that you mean the “67th Book of the Bible”. It is not inspired nor is it authoritative like Scripture is.

OEC: Yes, presuppositions are indeed the real underlying issue. And that goes for YECs and OECs and the rest…

BC: How do you interpret Gen 1:1-2:3?

Me: Our presupposition is that we believe God says what He means!!!  The burden of proof is on the one who rejects God’s word, and claims that it doesn’t really mean what it says.

OEC: Right now, I hold the age of the earth and Gen 1-2 tentatively. D.A. Carson says the mixed genres in Genesis make a water-tight interpretation difficult. Fruchtenbaum says old. Science almost universally disputes a young earth, yet 90ish percent of the universe is missing. Sarfati (heavily presuppositional) say young, Luskin says old. Sproul has changed his mind (now YEC I believe)… so I am happy to let the dust settle while working as a scientist. But I would add… … that the important issue in all this is not the age of the earth — I think it is largely a distraction. The issue is materialism (or naturalism) and that is why Intelligent Design is so key to the future. I can talk Intelligent Design to my professors, but YEC — like it or not — is not even on the table.

Me: Science does not prove anything concerning the age of the earth. It really goes back to presuppositions and how we evaluate the evidence observed. Creation is ORIGIN science, not operational science. That is an important distinction that old earth creationists do not seem to understand. We can not replicate the “science” of creation. Operational science is what we observe in the world around us. To call the creation of the earth, science, is a misnomer. More accurately, origin science is like archeology, looking at what already happened and, from our presuppositions, determining the likely (origin) cause of what we observe.

An Inconvenient Truth  — a good article summing up the different positions.

Concerning ID specifically, from this article:

The Intelligent Design movement is something of a mixed bag. Many of its adherents are active Christians who maintain a strong personal testimony of their faith in Christ. Although the movement has become somewhat amorphous and some of its leaders are now identifying the “Designer” of creation, the core philosophy is still centered on using science and the evidence for design as the means for persuasion—without stressing the obvious need for recognizing the omnipotent and omniscient Designer.

Two serious problems continue to weaken the effectiveness of the Intelligent Design movement. By consciously excluding the identity of the Creator from its message, the least that can happen is that the Creator Himself will not identify with its message.15 Further, by deconstructing the clear teachings of Scripture of a recent creation and a worldwide flood, ID proponents are placing the teachings of secular science over the written Word of God, “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”16

“that the important issue in all this is not the age of the earth — I think it is largely a distraction.”   Please read the above comments, all of this thread.  If the age of the earth were not important, WHY is it in God’s word in the first place?

The argument you are using about the age of the earth not being important, is the VERY SAME argument that amillennialists and postmillennialists use concerning eschatology: the details aren’t important, we only need to understand that God is in control and that Jesus is coming back.

OEC: Intelligent Design is probably the most misrepresented area that I have ever studied. Yes it is made up of a mixed bag of people, and no, it does not identify the designer. However I think that these are hardly weaknesses given the context that we are living in. I put it back on IDs critics — how are you proposing to change the world? Intelligent Design is a world changer… and science is heading very rapidly toward that reality. Of course, like big bang cosmology, many materialists will deny design in nature until the cows come home, and then finally they will accept it because it will be too obvious to deny. e.g. the weight of evidence and the shift to the new “design” paradigm will make it obvious, and the people will wonder how they could have believed in Darwinism for so long. Yes, Paley is back. Exciting times to be in science…

Me: How is ID as a philosophy any different from the amills and postmills who emphasize that the details are not important, all we need to do is point people to Jesus, that God is the one in control and Jesus is coming back?

OEC:  “If the age of the earth were not important, WHY is it in God’s word in the first place?” I think you are begging the question — this is exactly what the discussion is about. Who said presuppositions???

Me: The recent creation in six literal days is in God’s word. The presupposition is that we believe God and what He said, which includes Genesis 1 and 2 plus many genealogies and other biblical evidence regarding a recent creation.

BC: And the presence of wayyiqtols in Genesis 1:1-2:3 make the text undeniably historical narrative, not poetry. Therefore it must be read as such.

OEC: Intelligent Design is a scientific program. It studies the book of nature and makes inferences from the data. Some Intelligent Design people like Paul Nelson are YECs. Most are not. I simply don’t see the connection to our (text-mutilating) amill friends…

BC: But the creation itself is fallen. Much of the data is flawed. And you still can’t posit how it came into being from it.

OEC: Another difference is that Genesis is in the past while the rapture and 2nd coming and so on are future. Thus we cannot compare the record of nature (using science) to Rev 20 or whatever… One day, we will be able to… but we cannot now.

Me:  OEC, the connection is there and it is huge! Old earthers twist the plain meaning of scripture, to get other ideas, just as non-premillennialists do.

That is not the issue (the idea that Genesis in the past thus proven, and thus different from the rapture and Second Coming in the future).  None of us were there at the beginning — so our knowledge of both the past AND the future is the same, unknown directly by us, and only known by God. The solution is that we trust the same God for both the past AND the future.

What do you think about the Genesis flood of Noah’s day? Was it a worldwide deluge or not?

BC: Exactly. And the problem with your last statement, OEC, is that, although Genesis is in the past, Genesis 1-5 was a different ecology. And it also cannot be postulated from the existing ecology. Unless you also don’t believe in a Global Flood.

OEC:  I think your presupposition is how you interpret Genesis1-2. If there was no earth then your case might be strong. But there is an earth, and as I said, the two books need to be reconciled. Perhaps YEC will turn out to be right. Perhaps your interpretation will turn out to be wrong. I am happy to hold these in tension. Darwinism and materialism however are another story…

Me: OEC, answer our questions:  do you believe in the global worldwide flood, from Genesis 6-9? Yes or No. What do you think happened during that event?

BC:  OEC said: “If there was no earth then your case might be strong.” What does that even mean? Are you saying that because there’s an earth, its very existence necessitates an OEC interpretation?

At this point the Old Earth Objector left, saying he needed to get to bed (different time zones): “Happy to talk more later.”

Final observations:  when pressed, he avoided the question regarding the Genesis flood (not even a yes or no answer) and simply left the conversation.  That was the style throughout, to not answer the questions and go off on some other idea. His remark about the “two books” reveals the dangerous slippery slope:  appealing to non-biblical authority, putting outside extrabiblical “evidence” – in this case, the supposed evidence that the Earth is billions of years old – as equal to God’s inspired word, and so we can’t believe everything God says, if it contradicts this supposed “self-evident” truth concerning the age of creation.

The inconsistency in hermeneutics and reasoning also comes out.  In previous conversations on different topics, this same individual had scorned D.A. Carson and R.C. Sproul for their beliefs regarding eschatology, often remembering R.C. Sproul’s incident of saying that dispensationalism is “goofy” – and yet these men were considered worthy of consideration, the appeal to authority, in support of old earth non-biblical creation.

  1. Robyn Wallis
    November 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Inconsistent hermeneutic says: “I will believe Scripture means what it plainly says each and every time it agrees with my traditional beliefs or what the latest scientific theory teaches, When it doesn’t I will resort to another method to reinterpret Scripture; one that makes a better fit. After all, I want to sound credible to non-believers (not goofy).”

    • November 16, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      Exactly, so true — inconsistent hermeneutic wants to pick and choose what he wants to believe, subjecting God’s word to his own interpretation instead of submitting himself to God’s word.

  2. November 17, 2012 at 4:54 am

    [Decades ago I charted my academic course away from biology due to evolution…engineering didn’t worry about such issues!] The age of the earth discussion starts to reveal just what is mentioned…PRESUPPOSITIONS. What does it mean to “take Scripture literally?” What was God’s purpose in inspiring the creation accounts? What did the original hearers learn from the accounts? To even raise such questions in my youth would have been heresy. And yet today I wonder if my approach was a sort of ‘secret code book’ attitude that God…who is indeed all wise and all powerful…inspired the writers to conceal the highest level of…future…scientific ‘truth’ in the narratives. His word will accomplish what HE intends, but I wonder if we are seeing…imagining…some divine intent that isn’t…and never was…there.

    • Robyn Wallis
      November 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      Tom, I am wondering what you mean by “imagining…some divine intent that isn’t….and never was….there.”.

      Don’t you think that God has been abundantly clear about what His divine intent is?

  3. November 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Love the eschatology connection! I had a much shorter discussion on an ardent premillenial board about recent creation. He just couldn’t get the connection. If God didn’t really mean what He said at the beginning of history, why should we assume He means what He says about the end of history?

    • November 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      Thanks, Cheri. Yes, the consistent hermeneutic will bring one to both recent creation and premillennialism; both relate to our trust in God’s word, since both the past and the future are beyond our immediate knowledge and we can only go by what God in His word said.

  4. November 17, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Lynda that’s a pretty good exchange, I’m surprised at how you and the other YEC are able to interact with this guy. Very encouraging.

    • November 17, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      Thanks, Jim. Actually this conversation continued a little further last night, but more of the same: the old-earth guy refused to answer specific questions or respond to our comments (including a third YEC joining in), instead adding many other unrelated ideas and mocking the idea that the Bible says the world is 6,000 years old. Then when we pointed out that the Bible does not say specifically 6,000 years and we allow some age variation perhaps up to 8,000 or at most 10,000 years, he mocked that, when of course he wants to have millions or billions of years.

      When threatened with explusion from the group for his continued troll-type behavior, he finally admitted that he didn’t know if the Genesis flood was worldwide or not, mentioning that he had read some science book about water and thought there was enough water on the planet for a worldwide flood: completely missing the point, not understanding the significance of the Genesis flood and adhering to his uniformitarian idea of a planet billions of years old. Very sad, and an inconsistent hermeneutic, from someone who agrees with dispensational premillennial eschatology.

  5. November 18, 2012 at 7:41 am

    He says Frutch is “old earth,” but he doesn’t explain that phrase in terms of what Frutch actually teaches… Frutch’s system in no way supports the ID movement, because he believes in an old Earth but young life –that life only began about 6000 years ago, no matter how old the Earth is. In other words, Frutch’s position doesn’t allow for fossils that are millions of years old, or for evolutionary progress of ape to man through ID.

    So not only is he missing the point of the Text, he’s reaching for straws in finding Dispensationalists to support his thesis.

    • November 18, 2012 at 7:38 pm

      Agree. Fruchtenbaum is of the Dallas Seminary Gap Theory idea.

      • Ron Smith
        November 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm

        Two questions:
        1. Will you give the link where you had this original discussion?
        2. I have some of Fruchtenbaum’s books. Could you tell me where to find his teaching the gap theory?

      • November 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm

        Hi Ron,

        This discussion was part of a longer thread in a facebook group called “Calvinist Dispensationalists, Unite!” Only members can view the discussions including this one. If you’re on Facebook please feel free to join this group, and I can then provide the direct link to this discussion.

        As for Fruchtenbaum: I don’t have any of his books, but understand that his gap theory ideas are brought out in places where he talks about the abodes of Satan and the mineral gardens. Fruchtenbaum’s writings are influenced by Chafer, from his years at Dallas Seminary, where the gap theory was held to/taught by Chafer. Click on this blog reference that cites Fruchtenbaum concerning the Genesis gap theory in Fruchtenbaum’s commentary on Genesis.

  6. Joe
    December 16, 2015 at 9:36 am

    I realize this is somewhat dated, but in searching Frucht and gap theory, I came upon this thread and felt the need for him to be represented fairly. Yes, he believe in the gap theory. No, he does not believe in an old earth. That gap theory=old earth is a presupposition that most everyone, young and old earth, ascribe to. But it is not essential. In his words from his study, “The Six Abodes of Satan”:
    “It is evident, then, that this author places the fall of Satan between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. This position is often referred to as the “gap theory.” But many people who hold to this theory do so merely for “dinosaur space.” They attempt to fit the fossil and geological ages into the gap and are forced to make the gap millions, if not billions, of years long. Many have put a gap there only to adapt their interpretation of Scripture to certain scientific theories, making it a convenient place to put the geological ages and the fossil record. Doing this to accommodate certain scientific theories is totally unnecessary. This is not the position of the author at all since, scripturally, it would be impossible for death to exist before the Fall of man (Rom. 5:12). There is a gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 only for the Fall of Satan, and this need not be a very long period of time at all.”
    I realize this throws an entirely different wrinkle that should challenge all of our presuppositions, both young earth and old earth. But this is the power of the text on display, and hopefully we will all grow unto maturity to put all of our presuppositions to the test, to not merely protect our presuppositions but instead to pursue truth. I’m not interested in science. And I’m EQUALLY not interested in Calvin either (who needs Calvin when we have Romans 8 and Ephesians 1?). I’m interested in the text. And I hope everyone in this thread is interested too.

    • December 16, 2015 at 10:10 am

      Thanks for your comment, Joe… and actually I learned that myself at some point since this post (three years ago), that the gap theory (for some people) does not necessitate billions of years. The confusion probably comes from the fact that the gap theory originated as a response to what the evolutionists were claiming (millions and millions of years), as noted also in, for example, Charles Spurgeon’s comments–as he held to the gap theory and at the time made the remark that “they say” (scientists) how the world is millions of years old. Those who originally came up with the gap theory, through the early 20th century at least, and perhaps the majority of its adherents, do believe in both the gap theory and an old earth.

      • Joe
        December 16, 2015 at 10:41 am

        Thanks Lynda! Yes, the unquestioned association between old earth and the gap is historically understandable, incorrect as it is. I’m just trying to start a new trend 😉 I personally don’t know whether the origination of the gap theory is essentially a concession to evolution or if it was a genuine treatment of the text of Genesis 1:2 (I am hoping the latter). I’m a Dallas grad too, and they train us to be objective and honest, even amongst our own circle and heritage. So while I don’t agree with every single thing Frucht holds to (e.g. I don’t hold the “Church as Mystery Kingdom” position), I actually the gap is sound, not because of Frucht but because of the treatment of the conjunction/clause of Genesis 1:2 that he happens to point out. Curious to know what he thinks motivated the note in the Scofield notes about the gap.

      • December 16, 2015 at 11:11 am

        The gap theory originated in the early 19th century, decades before the Scofield notes, as a “concession to evolution,” not an idea that was thought of (in terms of exegeting Genesis 1:2) prior to that point. Commentaries from prior to the 19th century never mentioned or interacted with such an idea; as an aside, John Bunyan’s commentary on Genesis, from the 17th century perspective, is quite interesting for other reasons—but as Bunyan’s commentary makes clear (from the absence of old-earth ideas), such issues of the age of the earth simply were unknown, not issues being considered by anyone back then. But in the 19th century, Spurgeon at least (in the 1850s) held to the gap theory as a “concession” or “answer” to what secular scientists at that time were saying, so the gap theory had already been suggested by his time.

        As far as Dallas grads and the “gap theory,” more interesting trivia 🙂 — as you may know, the late S. Lewis Johnson also taught at Dallas (including the years when Fruchtenbaum was a student there, he even mentioned the student Arnold Fruchtenbaum a few times), and in his later years he noted that he had previously believed the gap theory, because he had been taught it there (Dallas Seminary, and by his mentor Donald Grey Barnhouse), but had since changed his view and rejected the gap theory. In another of my posts here at this blog I think I wrote about the points SLJ made regarding the gap theory (in SLJ’s Genesis series).

  1. November 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm
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