Geological time documented by radiometric dating indicates 541 million years since complex life appeared. Some Christians accept that number and wrap their biblical interpretations around it. Others take the biblical view of history more literally and hold to a time of a few thousand years since Creation week. Why do we care about this? Wouldn’t it be easier to fit in with the majority of scientific opinion and go with 541 million years? In many ways, it certainly would be much easier, but easy explanations are not our priority.
We want to comprehend the theme of the Bible and what it tells us about God and His saving message. We think God not only loves us but is also the greatest geologist of all time. We want to know what actually happened and what these events mean for us. Remember that the God who is the eyewitness is the same One who cared enough to die for us. We can trust Him and His Written Word, even if we do not understand everything.
Some theologians have told me they take the Bible seriously but not literally. What does that mean? Let us say that my wife asks me if I have been faithful, and I tell her I take the Ten Commandments seriously but not literally. Will she be impressed? Likewise, I fail to be impressed by the idea of taking the Bible seriously but not literally or any similar approach. We need to use careful thought as we study the Bible, but if we cannot believe the facts presented there and think the Bible is an uninspired book of legends that fraudulently pretends to be inspired, then why waste valuable time on it? I suggest that the middle ground—trying to take it seriously but not literally—makes no sense.
the Bible and origins
Christianity is not simply a philosophy. The Bible’s stories of origins and salvation are based on a series of historical events:
- seven-day Creation week (Genesis 1)
- literal man and woman—Adam and Eve—were created during Creation week (verses 27, 28)
- the fall into sin by Adam and Eve (Genesis 3)
- a global flood (Genesis 6:5–8:22)
- events showing God's work to restore humanity
Scripture does not give a specific date for Creation. But if we take the Bible as a factual, inspired account, it indicates a date of approximately 6,000 to 7,000 years ago, depending on which translation from New Testament times we have more confidence in.
You may ask, Do you really expect me to take this seriously and literally? I do not ask you to do anything except thoughtfully consider the options. The conventional scientific worldview will quickly reject the concepts presented here. But if we think God knows more about history than we do and that He has communicated it to us, then the Bible story is worth considering as a truthful account.
This is not a question of how to understand just the book of Genesis because later Bible writers and Jesus also accepted the Genesis account of Creation, the appearance of Adam and Eve, the fall into sin, and the Flood as literal history. Their confidence did not come from their naivete or imagination but from the fact that they knew what was historically true. The Bible stands as a unified document on the issue of origins. We cannot pick and choose what parts to believe unless we think we understand ancient history better than the God who inspired the Bible.
I am convinced that those who do not accept Genesis as literal history have instead accepted modern scientific theory as their standard of truth about origins and consider it more reliable than the inspired account.
I have also noticed that as my friends move toward anything like theistic evolution, God moves further into the distance in their experience, and He shifts from a dear, loving Friend into something more disconnected and remote from their lives.
Does this decision entail choosing between science and the Bible? To say we must choose between these two is not a proper understanding of the issue. The choice is between contemporary scientific interpretations of evidence and what the Bible text, properly understood, actually tells us. Properly understood means how the Bible writers intended their writings to be understood. If our interpretation of the text depends on our subjective opinions, the Bible is not worth our time because we have no way of deciding on our own what God did or what it means. If we trust what God has revealed to us, we have a solid foundation. Otherwise, we sit on shifting theological sand, and we are dependent on the changing conclusions of human scientists or theologians about events that no recently living human being has ever witnessed.
An obvious theme extends through Scripture—the story of redemption. Humanity has fallen into Satan’s trap, but our gracious God offers a way out. Here we can expand on our original list of historical events and facts revealed in the Bible:
- Sinless creation.
- Humans’ fall into sin; our slavery to sin and the option to accept strength from Jesus to resist it.
- A global flood to deal with the almost universally violent and evil human race existing at that time.
- Redemption accomplished through Jesus’ sacrifice of His own life and His offer to us of the gift of life.
- Complete restoration and eternal life for those who accept it.
This brings us to the question, Why do we care whether the duration of life on Earth has been thousands or many millions of years? That is actually an important choice to make because the two viewpoints have very definite implications for the reliability of the Bible’s story of redemption. If the geological record occupies millions of years, then the fossil record requires evolution as its explanation. And if the catastrophic global flood did not happen, millions of years of gradual processes would be required to explain how all of those rock layers were formed.
Coming back to the idea that the Bible can be taken seriously but not literally, could a compromise in the middle ground be the answer to this conflict? Such a combination is accepted by many Christian scholars and is generally called theistic evolution or evolutionary creation. Some authors who subscribe to this view may not use those terms to describe their perspective, but they do think in the way I am depicting here. They argue that evolution through millions of years was the way God created. On the surface, this may seem to solve the problem, but a few serious difficulties arise with this model.
First of all, the Bible says it did not happen this way. Second, it really is not consistent with either the Bible or science. Theistic and atheistic evolution interpret the scientific evidence exactly the same way, but theistic evolution inserts the supernatural into the process. How can this be “scientific”? Theistic evolution is the conventional, secular worldview with a few religious ideas awkwardly inserted, and the result is not a coherent scenario.
In 1 Corinthians 1:27, we are told, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise,”* and 1 Corinthians 3:19 says, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” And further, 1 Corinthians 2:14 states “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” What does this mean? The phrase “the foolish things of the world” refers to things that appear foolish to anyone who is convinced that conventional science understands everything better than the Bible writers did. In contrast, some believe that God is the only One who actually knows the history of life and our planet, and He has taken responsibility to inspire the Bible writers with the true facts of that history. God often sees our human wisdom as foolishness because He knows better.
The idea that some things are “spiritually discerned” may sound mystical, but it is not. Spiritual discernment is an ability to know and understand one’s Creator as a dear Friend who brings meaning and joy to one’s life. It is not mystical but a real relationship experience, and it makes all the difference between having meaning and having no meaning in life.
One question that has been argued throughout the history of humanity is, Why is evil present in the world? In other words, Why is there pain, suffering, and death? Where does God fit into a world full of evil? This thorny question has caused many to doubt that there is a God at all. According to the conventional scientific worldview, evil, suffering, and death are inevitable realities of life—that is just the way it is. Evolution requires the death of innumerable generations of animals, plants, and humans. Evolution cannot happen without the death and suffering that go along with it.
On the other hand, if we accept the Bible’s story of a creation that was followed by sin and then redemption, then the world was not created with evil, suffering, and death in it. Those phenomena began because of the presence and actions of a literal Satan, and human sin began with the human choice to believe him rather than God. This decision turned Satan loose on the earth, and he brought with him evil and death.
Theistic evolution claims that God used evolution as His method of creation. If that were true, then God must have invented evolution, along with its endless train of suffering and death. In that case, evolution and its necessary component of death would be God’s plan and not the result of Satan’s work. This gives us three clear choices: (1) evil, suffering, and death were initiated by God (theistic evolution); (2) they are a natural part of a godless evolutionary process (atheistic evolution); or (3) they were initiated by Satan as part of a great cosmic war with God—the great controversy between Christ and Satan (the literal Bible story). For those of us who outright reject the second option, the choice is between, on the one hand, a Creator God who is directly responsible for evil and death as part of His plan, or on the other hand, evil and death being inserted by Satan into God’s originally good creation. Whether we have a coherent explanation for evil depends on whether we take the Bible’s stories of Creation, the Fall, and redemption seriously and literally (Genesis 1–3; 1 Corinthians 15).
Leonard Brand is the former department chair and professor of biology and paleontology in the Department of Earth and Biological Sciences at Loma Linda University. He has published more than 40 scientific research papers and authored six books.
If you enjoyed this excerpt from his book Genesis and Science, it may be purchased at ABCASAP.com.
* Bible verses in this article are quoted from the New King James Version.