“Is Genesis History” is a relatively new Creationist project attempting to give solid reasons for believing that Creation took place 6 to 10,000 years ago and not the billions years of science. They have recruited leading “creation” experts and scientists to give substance to the material.
The videos and blogs are well-produced and seemingly coherent and reliable. One key aspect is to claim that until about 1800 all Christians believed in a young earth. At first sight that seems very plausible as geology is usually reckoned to have started with Hutton in about 1790.
Just consider this video by Prof Ian Stewart.
However Stewart’s claims about the bible are more assertion than based on evidence. Further Hutton was by no means the founder of geology as that started a century earleir. This chimes in with the popular view that all were happy with a young earth until the geologists came along. This comes out in popular treatments of science, and even by competent scientists.
Both “Is Genesis History?” and popular views of science regurgitate forms of the now debunked Conflict Thesis of science and religion. Many scholars have been debunking it for over half a century and thus there is no excuse to regurgitate it. The blog cashes in on old popular views of conflict and comes out with what may be termed the Hutton-Lyell myth, whereby they are presented as the first and leading voices for a vast age of the earth and sought to deliberately undermine Genesis. That simply ain’t true.
By doing this they ignore
- earth history only began to be understood in 17th century
- By 1700 many “geological” savants realised earth was older than what Ussher proposed
- Before 1650 it was reasonable to assume young earth as it was also reasonable to accept geocentrism – and not to know about the circulation of the blood or the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies!
- Biblical interpretations were more fluid in the 1800 years before Hutton than some claim!
- From 1600 there were essentially 3 main interpretations namely – a 6/24 hour creation, gap theory (or rather chaos restitution) , and day-age. All were rather vague on the time involved. But then the geologists were vague on time too!
This is the second of five posts dealing with the question of ‘The Age of the Earth and the Bible.’ It is taken from the Is Genesis History? Bible Study available in our store. Read the first post here.
Adding up the Genealogies
Starting in the first century A.D. and continuing to the present, most interpreters examined the genealogies in the Bible and said they can be used to calculate the age of the earth.
There is some truth to this but it is very sweeping. You could also say that until well into the 17th century biblical interpreters also held the sun to go round the sun and thus the trials of Galileo and all that. As there was no hard evidence that the earth was ancient until about 1700 (yes, 1700 not 1800) it’s not surprising that theologians didn’t think the earth was ancient before then. More on this as we go along.
The first genealogy used this way is in Genesis 5. It reports the age of Adam when he fathered his son Seth, then the age of Seth when he fathered his son Enosh, and so on down to Noah who is said to have been 600 at the start of the Flood. If one sees Genesis 1 as a record of six normal days, and the genealogies as relationships without gaps, then it appears one can calculate the time from Creation to the Flood.
The next genealogy using the same pattern is in Genesis 11. Noah’s son Shem is said to have fathered Arpachshad two years after the Flood. The names and ages continue through Terah, the father of Abram, thereby providing a way to calculate the time between the Flood and Abraham’s birth.
There is no consideration on what the genealogies are and whether they are even complete. B B Warfield’s classic 1911 paper is worth a read https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_the_Antiquity_and_the_Unity_of_the_Human_Race
From Abraham forward, it is not as simple a process. There are no longer linear genealogies like the ones in Genesis 5 and 11 listing the father’s age at his son’s birth, so one must track down references to ages at significant events, cross-compare, then calculate together. This process takes one from Abraham to David; from David through the kings of Judah to the Exile; and from the Exile to Jesus’ day.
Once this Biblical timeline is established, specific people and events are seen to intersect with other calendars in the ancient world. These can then be matched to an ‘absolute’ astronomical calendar to determine an approximate age for the earth. For instance, the Jewish historian Josephus, writing around 94 A.D., used this process to calculate the age of the earth as approximately 5500 years from the date of his writing in the first century A.D.
Other men in the early church calculated similar ranges, with estimates provided by Cyprian, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexander, Julius Africanus, Hippolytus, Lactantius, Chrysostom, and Augustine. All of them put the creation of the world as less than 6000 years old from the date of their writing (with many approximating it at 5500 BC).
Prior to the 19th century, almost every significant Biblical commentator thought the Bible spoke to the age of the earth in a definitive way.
This is very sweeping and ignores the changes in interpretation after 1600 and more so after 1660, when Steno began his geological work. There was further extra-biblical evidence whether on geology, geography i.e. existence of Americas and Australasia only came in for Old World scholars after 1492 with the age of exploration, along with new understandings of astronomy – and every aspect of science.
I have dealt with this in a book chapter, though it deserves a book in itself; Genesis Chapter 1 and geological time from Hugo Grotius and Marin Mersenne to William Conybeare and Thomas Chalmers (1620 – 1825) Read it here sp273-39
To summarise most commentators in the 16th century, both Roman and Protestant, took Genesis very literally, tending to a 6/24 day scenario. This was due to the influence of the Reformations on all churches almost making them take the bible more literally and avoid any allegorical meanings. Some theologians, RC and Protestant, adopted a chaos-restitution interpretation (a more erudite form of the later gap theory). In the early 17th century this is found in the massive commentary on genesis by the mathematician- priest Mersenne. It is the biggest book I have ever handled!! These writers argued that god first created chaos and after a period of time reordered it in 6 days. This linked in with Greek and Latin writers like Hesiod. The period of chaos could either be long or short and for Ussher it was only half a day!
My chapter shows how writers, Roman or protestant, held these views, chaos-restitution, a day age or a 6/24 creation week, with a reticent on the age of the earth. Few of those who held the third argued against those who did not.
If I had to give numbers, I would suggest that most accepted chaos-restitution and thus extended Ussher’s timetable. This continued through Bishop Patrick and the Theeories of the Earth of the late 17 th century and into the 18th, before the hammers proved an ancient earth.
By 1770 many theologians were convinced that the earth was old, due to findings og geological savants since Steno. I come to Hutton later!
The period 1600-1800 marked a change in understanding the history of the earth as slowly evidence came in demonstrating an ancient earth. Many biblical commentators and theologians discussed these, though some did not. As evidence poured in for the vast age of the earth, many theologians took that into account .
These systems of dating continued through the medieval church and persisted up to the 17th century with the well-known calculation of Archbishop Ussher in England. Like other Protestants, Ussher used the Hebrew ‘Masoretic text’ used by Jewish scribes, a text somewhat different than the older Greek ‘Septuagint’ used in the churches of the first century. This choice resulted in him shrinking the timeline of the world by 1500 years and placing the date of creation at 4004 BC.
Ussher did not make great use of genealogies and his date of 4004 Bc for creation was not based on them.
He, like others at that time, thought the earth would exist for 6 days of 1000 years; 4 before Jesus and 2 afterwards, making creation at 4000BC and the consummation in 2000AD. However from extra-biblical materials he realised Jesus was born in about 4 BC thus Creation was in 4000 + 4 = 4004BC. He deffo got the date of the consummation wrong at that should have happened in 1996! 1996 undermines Ussher as nothing else does!! Against that Ussher was a very fine scholar who only had the material available in 1656. Judged by 1656 his scholarship was immense and Rudwick argues that he gave us a sense of history AND geological history, thus beginning a revolution in history.
Why the difference in age? The Hebrew text of Genesis 5 and 11 often lists younger ages for fathers at their sons’ births in comparison to the Greek text. For instance, in the Greek Septuagint Adam is 230 years old when he has Seth. In the later Hebrew Masoretic text, however, he is 130 years old. The difference in ages adds up to a variation of approximately 1500 years. But where did this difference come from?
Although a complex and controversial topic, it is thought by some that a group of Jews living during the second century AD in Palestine intentionally adjusted some of the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 in order to keep early Christians from using the age of the earth to calculate Jesus’ arrival as the fulfillment of a messianic prophecy. By subtracting approximately 1500 years from the history of the earth, Jesus would have been born too early to fit into the messianic window.
Today, modern creation scientists and scholars are divided as to whether to accept the longer ages in the older Greek text or the shorter ages in the more recent Hebrew text. The former group places the age of the earth at 7500 years old; the latter at 6000 years old, often still relying on the work of Archbishop Ussher.
All other Christians do not use the genealogies in anyway to calculate the age of the earth
Ussher, of course, was just one of many scholars living during his day who, although disagreeing on specifics, ultimately agreed that the age of the earth was less than 10,000 years old. The point is that prior to the 19th century, almost every significant Biblical commentator thought the Bible spoke to the age of the earth in a definitive way.
Not so as argued earlier. It would be fair to say that before 1660 (Steno) most held to a young earth, but undogmatically, but by 1800 the vast majority accepted an ancient earth, and this was for Evangelicals and Roman catholics too.
The Opinions of the New Geologists
In the early 19th century, however, the new sciences of geology and paleontology began to exert an influence on interpretations of Genesis.James Hutton, George Cuvier, Charles Lyell, and others argued that the history of the earth was much older than 10,000 years; they based this view on their new interpretations of the rock layers and the fossils within them.
It became obvious that the traditional view and the new view could not both be accurate since they provided two competing histories of the earth.
The major flaw is that the writer considers the “New Geologists” to have started with Hutton in about 1770, whereas geology had a long history going back to 1660, and was already influential by 1700. Hutton, Cuvier and Lyell were not the only “New Geologists” but three of a large number from all over Europe who researched from 1770. To find out more read the mammoth tomes of Rudwick Bursting the Limits of Time and Worlds before Adam. Some were Christian like J. A. de Luc, Townsend, Soulavie, and the Anglican clergy like Buckland, the Conybeares and Sedgwick from 1810.
In the 1780s when Hutton was preparing his Theory of the Earth he wrote a preface in July 1785 arguing that his views were consistent with Christian revelation. He also argued that each Day of Genesis was of indefinite length
Hutton sent the draft to the Rev William Robertson, Moderator of the Church of Sctoland and Principal of Edinburgh University. Note that Robert Darwin, father of Charles went to Edinburgh in 1783. Robertson de-drafted Hutton’s preface and here is part of it.
Thus, we see that, by 1785 church leaders were accepting of a long geological time scale, and right at the heart of the so-called conflict. Robertson was not changing his views to placate Hutton’s geology, but re-iterating old understandings going back a century of more.
There are many more examples both in Scotland and England. In 1802 Thomas Chalmers furthered this with his exposition of a “Gap Theory”. He had been a student at Edinburgh in the 1790s .
It was similar in England with the Evangelical vicar of Pewsey, Joseph Townsend, one of William Smith’s advisors,
arguing in a similar vein in his 1813 The Character of Moses established for veracity as a Historian. Despite its title this work was a good summary of recent geology AND demonstrated its conformity with the Gospel.
By 1800 the evidence of these so-called “New Geologists” was over-whelming and only a few rear-guard scholars opposed it. However several theologians like Thomas Scott simply ignored geological findings.
As a typical Englishman I shall leapfrog over Cuvier as I prefer rosbif and go to Lyell – who was a scot thus a haggis-eater rather than liking roast beef! At Oxford Lyell
studied geology under Rev William Buckland
and probably imbibed his views of an ancient earth from him and other geologists, many of whom were clergy. Significant as Lyell became as a geologist after 1830, he had no effect on encourage people to accept an ancient earth. Those who say he did either suffer from a conscious or unconscious bias or are lying.
I hope that with a few well-aimed guided missiles I’ve demolished this re-iteration of the Hutton-Lyell myth which is totally false and has no historical substance to it.Yet it is repeated time and time again by Creationists and the semi-heducated.
Many more as any historical account of geology would show eg Rudwick
This is an important observation: it was not simply a matter of differences in timescale, but of differences in events happening during those timescales. Everyone understood the implications of the profound change in age. In the new view of geology, the earth had a “deep history” with a series of events occurring in it that were radically different than the events recorded in special revelation.
As I demonstrated earlier this New view of Geology goes back to 1660s with Steno and then others in Britain. It was not NEW.
Although non-Christians had already assigned Genesis to the realm of myth, these differences created a major issue for Christians: how did the history in Genesis fit with the new history of the earth? And what did it mean for the doctrines of revelation and creation?
One answer was to question the geological findings themselves. This was done by a series of “scriptural geologists” with limited success, a history that Terry Mortenson documents in his book The Great Turning Point.
The so-called Scriptural Geologists had virtually no grasp of geology and risible even by the standards of the 1830s. Here is my summary of them
The other answer was to change one’s interpretation of Genesis.
New Ways to Interpret an Old Text
As a result, the 19th century saw the introduction of a number of new interpretationsthat attempted to synthesize Genesis 1 with a much longer period of time. One was the ‘gap’ view which argued there was an indefinitely long period of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
They should be less partisan and more accurate here and actually note that the so-called new interpretations of Genesis in the early 19th century were minor modifications of older ones. This I argued earlier.
Another idea was the ‘day-age’ view which said each ‘day’ in Genesis 1 was actually a long period of time. There was much discussion as to just how long a period of time, as well as which events each ‘day’ symbolized, but, in the end, this view provided a symbolic or allegorical function that could be shifted as needed to match changing scientific views.
The result of these interpretations was that, for those who held them, it no longer became possible to determine the age of the earth from the Bible. Instead, it was the role of geologists to determine the age of the earth. This meant that geologists became the new historians of the earth, removing from the Bible the ultimate authority concerning the actual history of creation.
Oh for some accuracy here!! Most had not determined the age of the earth from the bible at least from 1700 as geological evidence came to light.
Some commentators and pastors argued this was an incorrect way of interpreting Genesis 1; they said these views were neither in the history of interpretation nor in the text itself.
They should have said who so that their case would have some substance.
n spite of this, it became more and more popular to interpret Genesis in light of the seemingly indisputable claims of many geologists that the earth was far older than 10,000 years. For some, it was an easy concession because it seemed to maintain the historical integrity of Adam and Eve as well as the rest of the Biblical text.
Due to their many historical howlers their case can be dismissed
The one nagging problem was the fossil record.
Yes it was a nagging problem for young earthers but no one else. This final comment is a vacuous rhetorical flourish evading the falsity of their arguments.
Perhaps their grasp of the science of geology and evolution is better than their history of science.
 Terry Morteson, The Great Turning Point (Master Books, 2012) 44-45.
 Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Evolution and the Authority of the Bible (The Paternoster Press, 1983) 72.
 Martin Rudwick, Earth’s Deep History (The University of Chicago, 2014) 99,110.
 Mortenson, 33,35.