Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is the view that God created the universe in six, consecutive, and literal 24-hour days. By adding together the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, they date the age of humans (and thus the universe) anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Proponents of this view include Duane Gish, John Whitcomb, Henry Morris, Ken Ham, Al Mohler, Paul Nelson, John Mark Reynolds, and Jonathan Sarfati. Let’s consider several of the arguments advanced by YECs.
YEC never cease marshalling the claim that a denial of the age of the Earth is a denial of inerrancy. But this simply isn’t true. Inerrantists don’t deny inerrancy; they deny YEC. The Young Earth interpretation isn’t the only responsible interpretation. In fact, most of the greatest defenders of biblical inerrancy held to an Old Earth view.
The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) was a collection of 334 leading evangelical scholars and leaders who convened to define and defend biblical inerrancy. The result was the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” (CSBI, 1978) and the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics” (CSBH, 1982). These scholars included Gleason Archer, D.A. Carson, John Feinberg, Paul Feinberg, Norman Geisler, Wayne Grudem, R. Laird Harris, Harold Hoehner, Walter Kaiser, J.P. Moreland, J.I. Packer, J. Barton Payne, R.C. Sproul, John Wenham, and Edwin Yamauchi. According to Norman Geisler—one of the framers of the Chicago Statement—the majority of these scholars held to an Old Earth view.
The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) faced a divide of its own over the age of the Earth. After two years of study, they produced a 92-page report titled the “Report of the Creation Study Committee” (2000), which included the Day-Age, Analogical Day, and Literary-Framework view. All members of the panel—including YECs—signed the report for their denomination.
Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) is known for its commitment to biblical inerrancy, and it also faced a division over YEC. After a year of deliberation, the faculty produced a four page summary of their views on Genesis called the “Westminster Theological Seminary and the Days of Creation” (1999). This also included the Day-Age view, among others.
YECs often claim that the Bible is perspicuous, which means understandable. Yet if this is true, then Genesis 1 should be clear and understandable as well. We don’t need someone to tell us what Genesis 1 means; we can read it for ourselves. YECs often claim that that anyone else is “taking the word man above the word of God” when they hold to an Old Earth.
There’s a certain irony in this accusation—namely, we should take their interpretation (i.e. the word of man), rather than developing our own convictions on the interpretation of Genesis (i.e. the word of God).
We agree with the perspicuity of Scripture—even children can understand the teaching of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:15-17). However, no theologian holds that perspicuity applies to every verse within Scripture. For instance, what does “the baptism of the dead” refer to? What is the “sin that leads to death”? (If you find out, let me know!) Perspicuity does not refer to every statement in Scripture, because some doctrines are simply clearer than others. Rather, perspicuity refers to the central doctrines that the Bible teaches. Applying the perspicuity of Scripture to the age of the Earth is simply beyond the range of its accepted meaning.
Avid YECs seem to never tire of calling OECs compromisers to modern science. In fact, many call them flagrant false teachers and dangerous deceivers. YECs frequently claim that OECs trust in the words of man, rather than the word of God.
But is this a fair indictment?
According to the Bible, God gives “knowledge” of himself through our study of his creation (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1-4). God’s general revelation through nature should not contradict his special revelation through scripture. God would no sooner contradict his world with his word, than Matthew would contradict Mark. Of course, Scripture is far easier to interpret than nature. But if we run into a contradiction between science and scripture, then either our interpretation of the science is mistaken, or else our interpretation of scripture is mistaken.
Consider a thought experiment. Imagine that you are live 500 years ago. After a long day’s work, you sit down to relax and close your day with a little bit of Bible reading before bed. You open your Bible to 1 Chronicles 16, and read this statement from King David: “The world is firmly established, it will not be moved” (1 Chron. 16:30). After meditating on this for a moment, you decide to read some of the psalms, only to discover the same exact statement, “The world is firmly established, it will not be moved” (Ps. 93:1; cf. 96:10; 104:5). Based on your reading, what would you conclude? A reasonable person would likely conclude that the Earth is stationary, and the sun circles the Earth.
But this is no mere thought experiment. It’s a historical reality. Even biblical scholars of the 16th century concluded exactly this. Even though Martin Luther was well aware of Copernicus’ heliocentric model, he said, “This fool [Copernicus] wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy, but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” In his commentary on Psalm 93:1, John Calvin wrote, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” Likewise, John Wesley stated that accepting Copernicus’ heliocentric model was “tending toward infidelity.”
Why aren’t there creation conferences defending the geocentric view? Why are there no YEC creationists developing elaborate models to prove that Copernicus and Galileo were wrong? Are these YECs “compromisers” to modern science?
Of course not. God’s word doesn’t contradict God’s world. It seems to me that YECs dogmatically declare that their interpretation of Genesis 1 is infallible or nearly so, and all others are deceived or dangerous or both.
Humility is in order: While the Bible is inerrant, our interpretation is not. The leaders of YEC don’t seem to see this. Rather, they believe that their interpretation of Genesis 1 is certain, and all other interpretations are false. For instance, Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle write, “Since the Bible undisputedly teaches a young earth, when someone claims that scientific evidence proves otherwise, we can be certain that they are mistaken.” This is a rather peculiar statement when you think about it. How do they know with 100% certainty that their interpretation of Scripture is correct? We might have a high level of confidence in our view, but 100% certainty? This shows that the leaders of YEC not only believe that the Bible is inerrant, but also their interpretation of the Bible!
YECs often claim that their view was held throughout church history, and it was only after the advent of modern geology that Christians began to reinterpret the Bible to teach an Old Earth.
Our first response to this is simple: So what? As we have already seen, scientific discoveries—like those of Copernicus and Galileo—can send us back to the biblical texts to rethink our interpretation. Remember, Scripture is inerrant, but our interpretation is not.
Additionally, we honestly find this argument rather odd coming from YECs. After all, they insist that we should believe in the word of God and not man, remember? Following in the heritage of the Reformation, YECs believe firmly in Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), and yet, they routinely quote church fathers to support their case. We benefit from the insights of biblical teachers, whether they are current or ancient. But why do YECs appeal to ancient Christian interpreters as though this gives authority for their interpretation of Genesis? It’s quite likely that these same church fathers would have held that the Sun circled the Earth, as we saw earlier (1 Chron. 16:30; Ps. 93:1).
But let’s stay focused: Was the Young Earth view consistently taught through church history?
To put it simply, no. In fact, it’s surprising how little attention was paid to the duration of the creation days. While the early Christian teachers wrote about Genesis 1 more than any other text—roughly 2,000 pages in total, they devoted only two pages to the length of the creation days. And their view was not uniformly Young Earth.
Justin Martyr (AD 150) and Irenaeus (AD 200) both noticed the difficulty of the statement: “In the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). However, they note the obvious: Adam lived for 930 years. From this, they concluded that the term “day” could refer to a thousand years according to God. Both authors appealed to Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 to justify this interpretation (Dialogue with Trypho, 81; Against Heresies, 5.23.2).
Clement of Alexandria (AD 250) held to the allegorical interpretation of those like Philo, claiming that creation occurred instantaneously—not over the course of 144 hours (Stromata, 6).
Origen (AD 250) held that time as we know it didn’t exist until Day Four, after the arrival of the sun, moon, and stars (First Principles, 4.3). And he held that Day Seven persisted throughout all of human history (Against Celsus, 6.61).
Augustine (AD 400) referred to the six days of creation as “six spaces,” and later concluded, “What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say!” (The City of God, 11.6.1) Elsewhere, he wrote, “At least we know that it is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 5.2). Regarding the connection between the creation week and our work week, he wrote, “These days indeed recall the days of creation, but without in any way being really similar to them” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 4.27). He considered the seventh day to be eternal, and God had “sanctified it to an everlasting continuance” (Confessions, 13.36).
Anselm (AD 1033-1109) wrote that “the ‘days’ of Moses’ account… are not to be equated with the days in which we live” (Cur Deus Homo, 18). Though, it appears that he believed in an instantaneous creation.
Isaac Newton (1680) wrote, “Now for [the] number and length of [the] six days: by what is said above you may make [the] first day as long as you please and [the] second day too.”
For all of these reasons, Terence Fretheim (who is himself a YEC) states, “This question has often been debated in the history of the Church. While recent scientific developments may have intensified the debate in many ways, the issue of the interpretation of the days of Genesis 1 is almost as old as the Church itself. The Genesis days were interpreted in an allegorical way by such figures as Origen and Augustine… The understanding of days in terms of periods of time predates the Darwinian revolution.”
This question is a strange bedfellow with a common atheistic argument—namely, why did God create such an enormous universe, if he only needed to house humanity. The error in this thinking is quickly apparent: As an omnipotent being, God is not short on power or resources. Creating a massive cosmos isn’t any more difficult than creating a massive caterpillar. Similarly, as an eternal being, God is never short on time. This is why Moses writes, “A thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by” (Ps. 90:4). Peter writes, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). These issues would only be problems for God if he had limited time or resources, but he is short on neither.
Some have argued that the vast age of the universe shows the significance of human history. For instance, when a couple decides to get married, they spend considerable time, talent, and treasure to plan their wedding day. They spend all of these resources for just one short day! Why do they do this? At the very least, this shows that they view this event as incredibly precious and meaningful. In a similar way, by spending billions of years to bring about the salvation of humans through Jesus, this could show how much value God places on this period of human history.
Finally, this argument cuts both ways. After all, if God is omnipotent, then why didn’t he create the universe instantly? Did he need 144 hours to create the universe? Surely not. No matter how we interpret Genesis, God chose to take his time.
It wasn’t our goal to demonstrate that YEC was true or false, but merely to set the table for this discussion. At the very least, we hope to have demonstrated that YEC is not the only way to interpret the early chapters of Genesis. Other biblical interpretations are just as defensible as well as faithful to the text of Scripture.
 Duane T. Gish, Evolution? The Fossils Say No! (Master Books, 1979).
 John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Applications (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1961).
 Ken Ham, The Lie: Evolution (Master Books, 2012).
 John Mark Reynolds and Paul Nelson, Three Views on Creation and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub., 1999).
 Jonathan Sarfati, The Genesis Account (Powder Springs, GA: Creation Book Publishers, 2015).
 Emphasis mine. Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999), p.273.
 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Volume 7, 1907), pp.678-679.
Andrew D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (Appleton, NY: Prometheus Books, 1932), 126.
 Emphasis mine. Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle, Old-Earth Creationism on Trial: the Verdict is In (Green Forest: Master Books, 2008), 153.
 Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), p.42.
 Augustine wavered on this subject throughout his entire life, changing his mind four or five different times.
 Isaac Newton, The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, 1676-1687, letter 247, Newton to Burnet, January 1680-81, ed. H. W. Turnbull (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960), 2:333. Cited in Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), p.56.
 Cited in Ronald F. Youngblood, The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1986), p.12.
 I am indebted to Hugh Ross for this illustration. Hugh Ross, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), p.114.