“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), and then things get a little fuzzy.
They didn’t use to be. But then Darwin introduced his ideas and evolutionary theory began to be taught in school and a great rift developed between people who believed that God created and people who believed that life evolved.
So to heal the rift and allow rational scientists to still be good Christians and vice versa, two suggestions were made as to how the biblical account of creation might actually be an account of evolution, though primitive man didn’t realize it.
The first theory is called the gap theory. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), and then a gap of millions of years went by. Presumably, God created the heavens and the earth complete—fish, animals, birds, trees, what have you—and then, after millions of years of this, wiped clean the slate to start over: “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Genesis 1:2-3). From there, things progressed as we were taught in Sunday School.
The second theory is, I think, more popular. “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Genesis 1:5). And this “one day,” actually translates to millions of years.
Here is where folks get up in arms about the literalness of Scripture. If “day” doesn’t mean “day,” what next? Does “grace” mean “grace”? And the whole of Scripture goes out the window!
However, remembering, of course, that there are parables (for instance, Matthew 13:1-23) and metaphors (For instance Revelation 12) and figurative language (for instance, Psalm 63:1-8) all throughout Scripture, Christians are going to bump up against this problem at some point: how do we know when to take Scripture literally and when it’s painting a picture?
“Day,” in fact, means at least three different things. 1. The daylight hours. After all, God did call “the light day, and the darkness He called night…” (Genesis 1:5). 2. A twenty-four hour period. Obviously. For instance, when God told the people of Israel to work six days and rest on the seventh (Exodus 20:9), He was definitely talking about chunks of twenty-four hours. 3. An era of time. This is, of course, the tricky one. This is like your parents would say, “in my day, we respected our elders…” Even God Himself refers to things that happened in the days of certain kings (for instance, Isaiah 7:1). Those guys certainly ruled longer than twenty-four hours.
Given this, I’m willing to say that okay, maybe “day” doesn’t refer to a strict twenty-four hours. Maybe when God defines each of these “days” as an “evening” and a “morning” (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), He does not mean a literal evening or literal morning. And on “day” four, when He created the sun and moon specifically to be mankind’s way of measuring time, and He told them to govern day/night/evening/morning, however you want to say it… sure (Genesis 1:14-18). He could have been speaking figuratively.
And maybe, when God tells Israel He will give up on them right after hell freezes over and pigs fly by saying “you’re good until the fixed order of the sun and moon goes caput” (Jeremiah 31:35-37), I suppose He meant that to sound a little more certain than that actually was. After all, the fixed order wasn’t so fixed, and it went caput eons ago.
Personally, I’m of the “day” means “day” persuasion. But if I must, I will give you all that. Here’s where I draw the line.
We get our idea of millions of years from the fossil record. Fossils being the dead and preserved corpses of once-living things—trees, fish, T-rexes, etc. If, in our efforts to mesh the word of God with the current scientific thinking, we place our millions of years—and therefore the fossil record—into Genesis 1… Houston, we have a problem.
“Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
God created the world perfect.
So how did death get in?
How did sin get in?
“One man,” namely, Adam.
But if we’ve got a whole pile of fossils before Adam sinned, actually, before Adam was created, then either death snuck in before sin, or sin got in before Adam, and something is terribly, terribly wrong.
Since the dawn of time, manmade religion has appointed itself to decide who gets into the afterlife. Sometimes they call it heaven, sometimes Elysium, sometimes Valhalla—it doesn’t matter. The question is how you get in. More importantly, how do you stay out of hell?
Almost universally, there is some version of a set of scales. Actually, in Egyptian mythology, it was a literal set of scales. They’d put a feather on one side and your heart on the other and if the sins of your soul weighed more than the feather, Ammut would eat you. But that’s neither here nor there.
The point is, it’s almost ingrained in human psychology to think that my good has to outweigh my bad. That too much bad can never be balanced out. That God will judge me based on my actions, and I will either be found wanting, or be found very lucky.
But this is absolutely not at all how salvation works. It’s not how the world works. But everyone thinks it! And because it’s so counterintuitive to think anything else, God has to go all the way back to Genesis 1 to explain how salvation actually works.
“For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One Jesus Christ.
“So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:15, 17-19).
Remember Adam? Well, he sinned, and when he sinned, every descendent he ever had got infected with that sin. I am condemned and going to hell because of that guy. How totally unfair!
Remember Jesus? Well, He died, and when He died, every child He ever had got infected with that grace. I am redeemed and going to heaven because of that Guy.
How totally unfair.
Crazy, huh? No scale, no balancing act, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). God looks at my representative and declares me righteous. That is how salvation works. That’s how the world works.
Assuming you believe that grace and its riches come from the One Person who did right on my behalf.
Assuming you believe that sin and its consequences come from one person who did wrong on my behalf.
If death got into the world before sin, then when Jesus saves me from sin, bully for me. I’ve still got a death problem. Frankly, I’ve still got a hell problem.
If sin got into the world before Adam, then when Jesus died on the cross, big whoop. My sin is still on me because I still haven’t accomplished whatever I need to in order to rid myself of it. We’re back to the scale again. And last I checked, my sin weighs more than a feather.
I can live with a non-literal interpretation of the word “day.” I can accept that “evening” and “morning” are up in the air, too. I can even go along with God building on a graveyard and calling it “good.” He does work all things—even bad things—together for good, after all (Romans 8:28).
But I cannot give way on salvation. On how the transaction between my soul and that of Jesus Christ works. On how I became imbued with grace, subject to heaven. Or on how I became infected with sin, subject to hell. Because it’s the same transaction, part of the same system. And if I give away Genesis 1, the system breaks down, and grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:6).
Do I have to be naïve to believe this? Do I have to stick my head in the sand and ignore facts in order to have faith? Actually, no.
For a thing to be actual science, to qualify, it must be observable and repeatable (so says my eighth-grade science textbook). No one has ever observed biological evolution, and no one has ever repeated the Big Bang (sci-fi shows and comic books don’t count). So since no one’s taken the theory all the way to the place of science, it’s still just theory. Granted, I can’t exactly argue with theory—your opinion versus mine, we’ll be here all day. But then, if it’s just opinion, I’m not really threatened by it, now, am I?
But the whole concept of a really old earth, of millions of years, comes from two things: the theory, and carbon dating, which uses actual science to date how old a thing is.
How do I argue with actual science?
Well, here’s how carbon dating works (best I can tell).
Living things start with a certain amount of carbon in their bodies, and when a thing dies, it begins to lose that carbon over time. This is a fact. I don’t dispute it.
Carbon is lost at a certain rate. And by knowing how much carbon the thing started with and by measuring how much carbon is left, you can figure out how long ago a thing died. Great! Very rational. But it depends on one little assumption:
Carbon has always been lost at the same rate.
If a police car points a radar gun at a red Ferrari, and that Ferrari is going eighty-five, and a few miles down the road, another police car catches him also going eighty-five, and ten miles after that, lo and behold, eighty-five, it would be pretty rational to assume this fact: red Ferraris travel at eighty-five miles an hour. Period. From all we can tell, they always have, always will. They go from zero to eighty-five in the .05 seconds it takes to clear their garage doors.
But, obviously, having not clocked the Ferrari trundling down the neighborhood winding roads, the police cars would have no way of knowing that red Ferraris do not necessarily always travel that speed.
So, carbon always decays at the same rate, right? There’s no evidence to the contrary. To my knowledge, no one has ever clocked carbon decaying at a different rate than scientists say it does. So, frankly, it’s a very reasonable assumption to make, one I myself would make, and one everybody’s pretty comfortable with. So with the disclaimer that, yes, there is a bit of an assumption being made here, we can assume that carbon decays at a specific rate, always has, always will.
We then measure how long a dinosaur has been dead and voila! Millions of years.
Here’s another thing that decays at a constant rate: the sun.
Yes, the sun is shrinking. Do not fear! It’s happening very slowly. But, truth be told, last year, it was bigger than it is now. Ten years back, even bigger. A hundred years, a thousand, even bigger. And having clocked it last year, and ten years ago, and however long ago someone discovered that this was happening, it is safe to say that the sun shrinks at a constant rate, always has, always will.
So, let’s say both assumptions are true: carbon decays at a constant rate, and the sun shrinks at a constant rate. Carbon dating will tell us that the earth is millions of years old, and if we calculate backwards…
Here’s where I feel like I need a pull-down projector screen and old-fashioned slides and a pointer stick in my hand, perhaps a mustache on my lip so I look like a fifties professor, teaching naïve little students about the real age of the earth. Slide One: Today. See the nice, round, yellow sun and our tiny, little blue earth in the vast blackness of space, and that dotted line would be our planets’ orbits drawn on there so nicely… Click. Slide Two: One Thousand Years Ago. Note the slightly larger sun. Slide Three: Ten Thousand Years Ago. Really, folks this isn’t so long ago in the vast scheme of things, but see how big the sun is? Slide Four: Millions of Years Ago, the Approximate Age of the Earth According to Carbon Dating. Oops. (Gasps and oohs as the students see the bright sun filling their entire projector screen). Uh, sorry, students. See, uh, that pale blue dot inside the sun? Well, that’s us, but that can’t be… Let me consult my notes. Class is canceled as I consult a slightly more accurate science Book.
So, one of our assumptions has to be faulty. Personally, I’m going with the one that contradicts Scripture. Maybe that’s just me.
There are these things called body farms—yes, real thing—in which human corpses are placed under various conditions so that truly dedicated forensics students can observe with their own eyes what a three-day-old body looks like versus a five-day-old body, and how being in water changes things, and what it’s like if they’re in a compost heap, and what they’re like if it rains, and so forth.
Sorry, yes, this is gross, but the point being that how a body decays is drastically affected by the conditions that body is placed in.
If we are to assume that something is making the carbon dating inaccurate and that carbon has not always decayed at the same rate, then we are making the rather ludicrous assertion that something affected every single dead thing on the face of the earth all at the same time, otherwise we’d have discrepancies everywhere and people would have debunked carbon dating a long time ago. I have no idea how to explain that, barring something cataclysmic like a world-wide flood.
When God created the world, He made an expanse which He called “sky.” And He separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above (Genesis 1:6-7). Last I checked, there is not a giant layer of water wrapping our planet.
Best I can tell, this giant layer of water crashed to earth four thousand-ish years ago, causing a flood (Genesis 7), covering the mountains, changing the entire earth’s ecosystem. A lot of things changed after that. Lifespans went from eight or nine hundred years to not much longer than a hundred. Something happened to the dinosaurs, too (I do assume Noah loaded onto the ark next to the lions and tigers and bears oh my). And—my guess—carbon didn’t stay in the body quite like it used to. Therefore, anything that dates more than four thousand years old is going to be off. By millions.
This is a guess. A total guess. None of us can actually go back to before the flood and point a radar gun at the red Ferrari to see if carbon was actually decaying faster back then. But knowing that the science of carbon dating is based on an assumption which directly contradicts an equally valid assumption and knowing that one of them has to be wrong, I can confidently say that I am not an idiot for presuming God knows better than we do. I am not naïve for supposing that our scientific methods are occasionally faulty. I am not sticking my head in the sand or ignoring facts. I’m choosing faith over assumptions, salvation over popular theory, God over man. Frankly, that seems to be the only rational choice to make.
I don’t know the answers. I don’t have the explanations. I don’t understand the science. But I don’t have to. That’s where faith has the upper hand against all other schools of thought—faith doesn’t actually have to explain itself. It just is.
Salvation is the fact against which other so-called facts shatter. If there is a fault in the machine, it is found elsewhere, because salvation stands. And because everything in the Christian life stands on salvation, that is the one thing you don’t mess with.