Most debates between young-earth creationists and those who accept evolution go something like this:
E: Rargh, I am a scary evolutionist! Prepare to be crushed beneath the weight of my mighty evidence and properly utilized scientific principles!
C: Not so fast, Mr. Evolutionist! Or should I say, “EVIL-lutionist”?! For, behold, I have this! (Holds up a Bible.)
E: Nooooooo! Quotes from the Bible! My only weakness! (Collapses to the ground.)
I had to take out some subtext to simplify things for our purposes, but that’s basically it. As far as most young-earther proponents are concerned, this is a dispute between science on one side and the Bible on the other, and the Bible will always trump science. Period.
Unfortunately for them, this neat little picture is complicated by the fact that there are people who also hold the Bible in extremely high regard, and who have no problem with the fact of evolution or the ancient age of the earth. People like yours truly. And we happen to think the Bible does not support the young-earth creationist view nearly as well as its teachers think it does.
Actually, we think their theology is quite bad. Really quite bad. Really, quite, terribly, awfully, really-are-you-serious-with-this-theology?–this-is-actually-what-you-believe?, just horribly, incredibly bad.
That’s why I’ve prepared the following list of questions, painstakingly compiled through my years of intense research working on this site. I hope it sparks some good discussion, but I also hope it illustrates that the young-earth crowd does not have the market cornered on biblical truth like they pretend they do, and that, really, their pie-in-the-sky claims fail on theological grounds, without ever having to get into the finer details of the fossil record or the human genome.
1. What was the point of the tree of life?
The tree of life, so named in Genesis 2:9, is one of the most baffling of the many problems spawned by the literal interpretation of the creation accounts. Literalists often pretend like the purpose of the tree is vague and unclear, but the truth is — unlike many things in Genesis 1-3 — the power possessed by the tree of life isn’t vague at all. Genesis 3:22 makes it abundantly clear: Have a little nibble on the fruit of the tree of life and you live forever. Eat your heart out, diet and exercise.
This presents a huge problem for the young-earth view, because they believe physical death was not part of God’s original creation. According to them, neither humans nor animals were capable of death, pain or suffering until after Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden. Because, obviously, causing the death of every living thing for all time is a perfectly fair and reasonable punishment for a single act of disobedience.
Of course, this raises the question of why, exactly, did God create a magical tree that grants immortality in a world where every living thing was already immortal? If the young-earth theology is correct, then this tree’s miraculous power served absolutely no useful function until after the fall of man — at which point God barred access to the tree with bad-ass angels and a flaming sword. So why’d he make it in the first place?
And speaking of the tree of life, where is it now? Because, again, God didn’t mulch it at the end of the story. Young-earth proponents maintain it was destroyed in Noah’s flood, but not only does this require exactly the kind of extrabiblical conjecture that makes people like me such “compromisers,” but it also implies the tree of life can die (!), which sort of makes my brain explode a little bit.
2. If human sin is the reason animals die, why can’t they be saved?
Let’s recap: young-earth creationists believe all death, even animal death, is a consequence of human sin. Now, ignoring for a moment the fact that the Bible never once actually says animal death is a consequence of human sin (seems significant enough to warrant at least a mention or two, don’t you think?), this creates some pretty problematic theology.
Consider, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” You see where I’m going with this. The young-earth crowd can’t say animals are among those who “die in Adam,” but not among those who “shall be made alive in Christ.”
Of course, no young-earth creationist really believes goats and hamsters and dragonflies can become born-again believers in Jesus, but they can’t have it both ways. Scripture doesn’t allow them to. To argue otherwise is not only to nullify this passage and many others, but also to call into question whether Christ’s sacrifice really addressed the full ramifications and consequences of our sin.
Some may respond to this that 1 Corinthians 15 is just about people, not animals, and I agree, of course. The only problem is that this is one of the very few biblical proof-texts that have ever been offered to justify animal death as a consequence for human sin in the first place. Without them, the doctrine is based on nothing but the assertions of folks like Ken Ham, which — confident and self-assured they may be — aren’t much to go on.
And, really, that’s as it should be. The whole notion of animal death being a “not-good” amendment to God’s perfect original creation is ridiculous on its face, one I suspect always had a lot more to do with “Bambi” and people’s sentimental notions about animals (not to mention providing a simple solution to the problem of natural evil) than it ever had to do with the Bible and what it actually says.
Please, let’s jettison this silly dogma once and for all, and have a purer — and more biblically accurate — faith to present to the world.
3. If physical death is part of the punishment for sin, why do Christians still die?
So at this point, you may be saying, “OK, that’s all well and good about animal death, but what about human death? Because there are definitely verses that say human death came from Adam’s sin.” Fair enough. Let’s look at one of those verses, shall we?
Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
Now, look at what the verse is really saying, and don’t — as we are so often tempted to do — neglect the second part: “… death spread to all men, because all sinned.” If this is talking about physical death, then it clearly implies that we don’t become capable of physical death until after we sin, which makes absolutely no sense.
What I believe is that this passage is talking about something different entirely: spiritual death — which is a pretty common theme in scripture as well. Like, for example, just a couple chapters later in Romans, when Paul writes, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.”
Since it’s unlikely that Paul was an unusually eloquent zombie when he penned the Book of Romans, it rather obvious that he’s talking about a non-physical type of death here. And, since the two contexts are identical (discussing the consequences of human sin), the same is almost certainly true of Romans 5.
But there are more insidious implications of this notion that physical death is part of the punishment for human sin. Central to the Christian faith is the idea that Jesus “paid it all,” that his sacrifice was fully sufficient to atone for our sin, remove the punishment that was due us, and reconcile us back into a right relationship with God.
The only problem is that every single Christian who has ever lived has also died. Which has to make you wonder how that’s possible, if physical death was part of the punishment for human sin and Jesus paid the full sum of our punishment with his death on the cross. Fact is, they can’t both be true. Either Christ’s sacrifice was not sufficient to cover all the consequences of our transgressions (which throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the past 2,000 years of Christian theology and tradition), or death just isn’t one of those consequences.
Personally, I side with the latter. I believe God “appointed” that man should die once, not as a punishment, but as an inherent part of the current created order and a symbol of what’s to come — when that order is ultimately done away with.
4. Why was Eve named “mother of life”?
Immediately after Genesis 3:17-19, which is when God “curses” mankind, Adam names his wife Eve. And when I say “immediately after,” I mean, literally, the very next verse. This is significant, because the curse is the part of the Bible that young-earth creationism proponents cite as the genesis (geddit?) for all death and illness and disorder and pretty much any bad thing that’s ever happened (even though, again, the Bible says nothing remotely like that).
Genesis 3:20 explains that Adam chose the name “Eve” for his previously anonymous wife because she “was the mother of all (the) living/life.” The name comes from the Hebrew Ḥawwāh, meaning “living one” or “source of life,” and is related to ḥāyâ, “to live.” I don’t know about you, but it just seems slightly odd (not to mention a little insensitive) that Adam would name his wife “source of life” immediately after she had supposedly just been responsible for cursing the entire universe with death, suffering and misery for the rest of time.
I mean, I know Adam may not have been the smartest guy in the world (he needed supernatural revelation to realize he was in his birthday suit, after all), but give him a little credit.
And, while we’re on the subject…
5. How did Adam and Eve know what death was?
When God first commands Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge, he warns him what the punishment will be for disobedience: “You will surely die.” The woman hadn’t been made yet at this point in the story, but based on her reference to the penalty during her conversation with the serpent, we can assume the message got passed along in some fashion.
The confusing thing about this is, how did Adam and Eve know what death was? You know, considering the fact that they had just been molded into existence earlier that same day, and were living in a world in which there was no such thing as death. You ever try explaining death to a small child? It’s very difficult. You ever try explaining death to a one-day-old child? It’s even harder.
Now, to be fair, groups like AiG have tried to answer this one before. Using their X-trabiblical Vision™, that superpower common to young-earth creationists which gives them the ability to know what God’s word says about things that aren’t actually in God’s word, they reveal that Adam was a super-genius who would’ve known everything there is to know about death simply from hearing the word.
But again, a guy who’s not with it enough to tell that he’s naked doesn’t really inspire confidence that he’s capable of grasping complicated abstract ideas. When God dropped a supposedly foreign concept like death on him, I’m pretty sure the dude would have had some questions.
Like, “What is that,” for example.
Along those same lines…
6. If the punishment for eating from the tree was that Adam and Eve would physically die … why didn’t they physically die?
At first glance, you might be confused by this question. You may be thinking, “Wait a minute. The Bible says they would die, and they did die. What’s the problem?”
Well, the thing is, there’s a little more to it than that. The Bible doesn’t just say they would die, it says they would die “in the day” that they disobeyed. And, fortunately, we know from the literalists that the word “day” in the Genesis creation accounts can’t mean anything other than an ordinary, 24-hour day.
Only, this is a little confusing, since — according to the story — neither Adam nor Eve actually died the day they ate from the tree of knowledge. We don’t know exactly how old Eve was when she shuffled off this mortal coil, but Adam lived to the ripe old age of 930. Now, I’m no mathematician, but I’m fairly certain 930 years is a lot longer than a 24-hour day. And I’m not aware of any coroner who begins his investigation into the cause of death by asking about fruit the deceased may have eaten 900 years prior.
The young-earthers have all sorts of creative ways they attempt to avoid this rather obvious discrepancy. A common one is to assert that, in this very special case, maybe the word “day” does refer to a long, indeterminate period of time (even though the people God was talking to clearly understood that the effects would be immediate, such that the woman feared she would die from simply touching the fruit).
My personal favorite is this delightful little exercise in hand-wavery: “(After eating the fruit,) Adam and Eve began to die.”
Ha! “Began to die” — isn’t that great? Setting aside for now that that’s, you know, not what the Bible says (it doesn’t say “begin to die,” it says ”die” — “surely die,” as a matter of fact), what does that even mean? Because as far as I can tell, the definition of “beginning to die” is no different than “being alive.”
Which makes it pretty useless as far as I’m concerned. When any human being older than a zygote qualifies as having “begun to die,” I think the phrase has pretty much lost all meaning as a concept.
So what was God talking about in Genesis 2:16-17? I think the only interpretation that makes sense is the only one that made sense of Romans 5 and 7 earlier in this post: spiritual death.
Humans did not physically die the first time we disobeyed God, nor did we lose the immortality we supposedly enjoyed (for a few minutes, anyway) after our original creation. What happened was that we died spiritually, because our decision to sin severed us from our spiritual source of life — God. Faith in Christ is our one hope of restoring that connection, and restoring that connection is our one hope of eternal life, because our spirit — not our physical bodies — is the only part of us that can live forever.
7. Can you name any other piece of literature in which the existence of a talking snake and trees with magical powers would suggest to you that it was meant to be taken literally?
This one is funny, because when you start discussing the proper interpretation of Genesis with young-earth creationists, they tend to refer to contextual clues a lot. To give just one example, this Creation.com piece, which goes to hilarious lengths to compare the use of the Hebrew “yom” (“day”) to the 2,282 other Old Testament uses of the word.
Somehow, in this author’s detailed analysis of the use of ordinal numbers in conjunction with “yom,” he managed to miss out on a couple of fairly significant contextual clues, like, I dunno, the freaking snake that is TALKING TO PEOPLE. Because I actually just completed a survey of 6,842 stories that feature talking animals, and — wouldn’t you know it — none of them were history.
Some young-earthers have responded to this with the story of Balaam’s donkey, but unlike in Genesis 3, the donkey’s ability to talk is explicitly described as a miraculous act of God. Of course, their exhaustive comparative studies never include Proverbs 3:18 and 13:12, two instances in which the biblical authors revisit the concept of the tree of life — in an obviously figurative context.
8. Why do Genesis 1 and 2 contradict?
I have a much more detailed post on this issue here, so I’ll be brief.
Here is the order of some of the things God made in Genesis 1:
Fish and birds, concurrently (1:20-23)
Land animals (1:24-25)
Men and women, concurrently (1:26-27)
Now here’s the order of the same stuff in Genesis 2:
Land animals and birds (2:19)
Notice any differences? Oh, wait, it’s all different. Now, if these two stories are meant to be theological allegory, as I believe they are, then there’s no issue. But if they are — as the young-earthers insist — historical accounts of the same creation of the same universe, then we have a problem … because they are irreconcilably different.
Some may criticize this question’s inclusion on this list. True, it’s not like young-earthers haven’t tried to answer it before. (Not that they really have a choice — if they can’t even get past the second chapter of Genesis without their literalist exegesis falling apart, they’re in big trouble.) Unfortunately, their explanations are utterly unfaithful to the very story they purport to be defending.
The primary explanation is that the verb in verse 19 (NASB: “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky…”) should be translated in the past perfect: “had formed.” And indeed this is how some modern translations like the New International Version and the English Standard Version render the verse, even though the only reason to do so is to serve the translator’s underlying theological presuppositions.
Morphosyntactic considerations aside, if you do render the verse 19 verb “had formed,” it kind of completely wrecks the story. Whereas, in the NASB, verse 19 proceeds logically from the preceding one (18: God says, “I will make a helper suitable for man.” 19: He makes a bunch of helpers), the NIV is hopelessly muddled (18: God says, “I will make a helper suitable for man.” 19: God suddenly reverses course: “Actually, never mind. I forgot I already made all these things. Will any of these work?”).
And don’t forget, this is only one of many problems that the literalistic, young-earth hermeneutic creates. It has to make you wonder: If these really are two literal accounts which are meant to be read as one harmonious history, why do you have to change or ignore so much of what they say to make them harmonize?
9. Why is incest wrong?
Ken Ham claims the most common question he’s been asked is, “Where did Cain get his wife?” Well, consider this the follow-up.
You see, young-earth groups are pretty up-front about where they think Cain’s wife came from: He married his sister. According to the young-earthers, God’s divine plan necessitated that men to procreate with their sisters or mother at least twice: following Noah’s flood and right after our original creation.
Besides being weird and disturbing and more than a little icky, this is problematic because, biblically, incest is repeatedly and consistently described as a sin. It happens to be mentioned in scripture at least as many times as homosexuality, and I think we all know what Ken Ham thinks about that.
So why does incest get a pass?
Two reasons: Because there would “fewer genetic mistakes” the closer the happy couple was to Adam and Eve, and because God hadn’t issued his Mosaic-era prohibitions against incest yet.
Unfortunately, the first defense was arrived at using X-trabiblical Vision™, and since I don’t possess this power, I’m not really qualified to respond.
But the second is — pardon my French — total BS. News flash: According to the young-earthers, God hadn’t issued any commands at this point in history beyond “Don’t eat that fruit,” but it still seemed to be a pretty major party foul when Cain murdered Abel.
So if God’s moral prohibition against murder was in effect before Heston — er, I mean, Moses — laid down the law on Sinai, then so was his moral prohibition against incest. Which makes it pretty unlikely that he would have set up his creation in such a way that it required incest almost immediately, don’t you think?
10. And finally, if it is so vitally important that Christians take Genesis literally, why did Jesus never once instruct us to take Genesis literally?
Sure, it’s an argument from silence. But it’s still worth considering why Jesus — who often addressed Old Testament passages that religious people had a habit of misinterpreting, and surely knew the issue this would one day become in the church. Preventing all that would have been as simple as this:
And again the Pharisees came to test Jesus. “Great teacher,” they said, “there are some who say the creation accounts are like your parables, and not meant to be read as history. What do you say to this?”
And then Jesus replied, giving the exact right answer that would preemptively end decades of harsh debate almost 2,000 years later.
But there’s nothing remotely like that in the gospels. Which proves that, regardless of whose interpretation of Genesis is correct, it doesn’t really matter in the end.
Because, if one particular view of the creation accounts was remotely necessary to the true understanding of Christianity, I’m pretty sure the founder of Christianity would have mentioned it.