I’m trying to understand the position of old-Earth creationism. I’ve asked about this before, but I never really got an answer that I found satisfactory. I’d like to see if anyone reading this can offer their insight.
I get young-Earth creationism. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it; it’s very simple. Read the Biblical verses about creation literally. Six days duration, interpreting each species “after its kind” to mean that evolution was not God’s way of doing things, and so forth. I suspect most would imagine that God created animals and plants instantaneously, or close enough. Although Gen 2:9 does say that God caused trees to “grow”, and other verses say that the “earth brought forth” or the “waters brought forth”… to me, these are hints that God used a natural process as his method of creating and diversifying life, rather than instantaneous acts. But I digress…
Old-Earth creationism is a position that says the universe and the Earth are billions of years old, and is in general agreement with astronomy, physics, and other disciplines. Most old-Earth creationists would say that radiometric dating is accurate method of determining the age of things. Their motivation for singling out biological evolution as false is the verses about animals and plants reproducing “after their kind”. They’ve already thrown a literal reading of Genesis under the bus, so to speak. The days aren’t actually days, and most of chapter 1 is not taken as literal description of how the universe was created, in any way, shape, or form. But they just can’t reconcile the modern theory of biological evolution with “after their kind”.
Now, there are some old-Earth creationists like Michael Behe and Michael Denton who accept common ancestry — they say evolution happened, that we’re all descended from older life forms, and that all life is related, but they say that God directed evolution though miraculous events — millions of them. What happened at each event? Who knows. They might say that God added to individual species’ DNA, millions of times, over the millions of years, adding new information at precisely the time it was needed. Or they might say that all the DNA for all species was pre-loaded into the very first microbes which gave rise to all life, and that God turned on certain genes in each species when it was needed, for each species that has existed in the history of life on Earth, while letting unneeded genes deteriorate. I’ve heard both of these suggestions, but neither is defensible as a theory. Among these old-Earth creationists who accept common ancestry, nobody can seem to come up with an explanation for the “how”. But at least they concede that life forms are related in an evolutionary tree, and that there is some sort of genetic progression over time, where species give rise to other species. That position I can understand (although I still don’t agree that God had to miraculously direct this activity, micromanaging every speciation event). My question in this article is not aimed at old-Earth creationists like Michael Behe who accept common ancestry, but rather to those who say that all life on Earth is NOT related.
How do old-Earth creationists who deny common ancestry explain the ordering of fossils in the fossil record? If you accept that radiometric dating is valid, you’ll see a rock layer that’s been dated to 350 MYA (millions of years ago), and it has a certain set of species in it. Above it you’ll see a layer that’s been dated to, say, 340 MYA and it has a different set of species in it, but these species are not radically different from the ones in the layer below. Go up a little further and you’ll see a layer that’s 330 MYA, and it has species that are again different from the 340 MYA later, but not radically different. And so on, up the layers, until let’s say you get to 65 MYA. These aren’t all that different from the 60 MYA layer, but they’re very different from the 350 MYA layer. So there’s a definite progression — nobody who accepts the validity of radiometric dating and modern geology can deny that this progression exists. It’s there for anyone to see.
So if these old-Earth creationists don’t agree with biological evolution, what actually happened? How do you explain the definite progression of life forms buried in the rocks? Did God create a certain set of species 350 MYA, then wipe them all out, then create similar (but slightly different) set of species around 340 MYA, and then wipe them out, then create another set around 330 MYA, and then wipe them out? Keep in mind that there is a distinct pattern of progression along the sets of species that he created and henceforth allowed to die out and be buried. Also keep in mind that the time periods I am choosing are arbitrary. There is no specific reason to think that some creation event happened at 350 MYA vs 351 MYA, because the progression is, for the most part, smooth. If God didn’t use evolution to do this, He surely took great pains to make it look like He did.
There’s a lot of talk about the Cambrian explosion and other bursts of activity, but recognize that these bursts lasted tens of millions of years, and that within this period of time, you can still see progressions — but they are more rapid than what you would see in most of the geologic record. You simply cannot point to any single layer and say that this is the specific point in time that a “kind” was created. Does the fact that there are some rapid bursts in the fossil record point to the appearance of “kinds”? That’s still hard to reconcile with the Bible, because only one of the “kinds” that we see appearing in the Cambrian explosion became the ancestor of all vertebrates. So if we want to use the Cambrian explosion as the appearance of the Biblical “kinds”, you have to accept that all vertebrates — lions, horses, hippos, whales, hyenas, ocelots, apes, and humans — are one “kind”. To me, the more likely explanation of the Cambrian explosion is more rapid evolution, and biologists have proposed plausible mechanisms for this.
Let’s go back to the fossil record and what it shows during our example of 350 MYA to 65 MYA. If you were standing there watching this creation/destruction activity, what would you see? Would you see God miraculously creating two of each species (let’s say, a particular dinosaur species) every few million years, letting them breed and populate the Earth for a few million years, meanwhile changing ever-so-slightly within those millions of years, and then let them die out? Or miraculously kill them off? How do you determine what each “kind” is, if there’s no specific boundary you can point to, that represents an “act of creation”?
I’m really trying to understand what old-Earth creationism is proposing as God’s actual method of creating the wide variety of species we see today as well as every species that has lived in the past and left its imprint in the fossil record. What would you have seen, if you were watching God’s direct handiwork over the many hundreds of millions of years that animal life has been on Earth?
To me, these acts of miraculous creation/destruction over the aeons seem more like a Hindu Shaivite philosophy than anything described in Genesis. But that’s what old-Earth creationism without any kind of biological evolution seems to imply. God created and destroyed species or “kinds”, millions of times, over hundreds of millions of years.
That’s why I am an evolutionary creationist (or theistic evolutionist, have your pick). To me, it makes more sense to accept the fossil layers as a record of biological evolution and understand that Genesis 1 is a poetic description of what God accomplished, leading up to mankind and the miracle of God bestowing His breath of life — a soul — into Adam and Eve.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you are an old-Earth creationist who disputes the common ancestry of species and you’d like to respond to my query, I’d like to hear from you. The “Welcome!” page in the header bar of this site has my email address.