Fundamentalist. Just reading the word conjures strong emotions. For some, it elicits thoughts of “Bible-believer,” “faithful Christian,” or “evangelical.” But for others, the term connotes negativity, close-mindedness, harsh arrogance, or true-without-love.
As I’ve been reading and reviewing various books on young-earth creationism (YEC), one thing I noticed about those who write and teach this theological position (that usually finds its home in fundamentalist circles) is that it seems very difficult for YEC authors to avoid the tone that gives reflects badly on fundamentalism in general. Of course every teacher and book must be evaluated on its own merits. Some will fall prey to the tendency to sound “fundy” more than others. But in my experience almost no YEC author escapes this criticism. Thankfully theologian Douglas Kelly in his classic (and newly revised and updated) book Creation and Change: Genesis 1:1-2:4 in the Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms (CAC) avoids these distasteful pitfalls more than others. Kelly is not a scientist but has sought for this book several scientific “peer reviews” from YEC Christians in order to accurately describe the scientific argument in CAC.
First published in 1997 and updated in 2017, CAC is written for pastors, Bible college students, seminarians, and others who want to examine the exegetical and theological evidence for YEC beyond the typical popular-level treatments that often satisfy the curious layman. Kelly doesn’t write easy-follow prose, but his analysis is incisive and thorough. And the best thing about the writing is that he (mostly, ahem!) avoids condescending and dismissive statements for this ideological opponents. Because of the scholarly tone and level of detail, CAC would serve as a good place to start second-level study on the issue of creationism in general and YEC in particular. Each chapter concludes with a section on Technical and Bibliographical Notes for those who want to go deeper still, and a handful of Questions for Study to facilitate the book’s usefulness for Bible study and book discussion groups.
One of the best ways to get a handle on the nature and scope of a non-fiction book is to examine the Table of Contents. Here is what CAC explores, chapter by chapter.
- Creation: Why it Matters, and How it is Scientifically Viable
- Interpretation and Outline of the First Three Chapters of Genesis
- An Absolute Beginning
- Day One of Creation: Creation ‘Out of Nothing’ and the Beginning of the Formative Process
- Creation of Angels and ‘The Gap Theory’
- The Flood, the Geological Column, and Fossils
- ‘Days of Creation – Their Biblical Meaning
- The Age of the World and the Speed of Light
- The Age of the World and Physical Chronometers
- Days Two and Three of Creation: Separations Resulting in Air and Dry Land
- Days Four and Five of Creation: Additions to the Created Order – Luminaries, Fish and Fowl
- Day Six of Creation: Mankind, the Crown of Creation
- The Human Genome
- Supernatural Creation of Man: The Historicity of Adam and Eve
- The Sabbath day and the Orientation of the Whole Created Order Towards Worship of God
In the preface to this edition of CAC, Kelly describes the many revisions and updates in most chapters (include a few entirely new chapters such as 13 and 14). In summary:
Some of the original chapters are unchanged, such as the one on the Sabbath, but in general, throughout the new edition, you will find many emendations and additions in most of the chapters and/or Technical and Bibliographical Notes after several of the chapters…It is a different book, and yet it is the same book, in the sense that I sincerely believe that I have continued to find firm confirmation of six-day creation in the changing paradigms of scientific theory. The interested reader will be the judge of that. [p. 17]
A number of chapters are especially relevant to the question of how modern empirical science relates to the theory of YEC. In chapter 6, the author deals with the biblical flood, fossils, and how the geological column is variously interpreted by scientists that are committed to either naturalistic evolution or old-earth creationism (OEC). Kelly’s analysis relies (but by no means exclusively) on Answers in Genesis geologist Andrew Snelling’s published research on the fossil record. The position CAC takes is the biblical flood was a world-wide catastrophic deluge that submerged all dry land, leaving in its wake a rapidly laid layering of fossils essentially as we observe today. One thing I learned in this chapter is YEC proponents, in dealing with the problem of fossil evidence of other hominids other than us (homo sapiens), generally solve the dilemma by simultaneously narrowing and widening the definition of who may be classified as human (i.e., descendants of Adam and Eve).
Evolutionists interpret the relationship between the hominin groups and modern humankind as one of development from an ancestral species, who may have lived about 150,000 years ago. But creationists have a different understanding of this relationship, based on the Genesis teaching that God created distinct ‘kinds’ of living creatures, one of those kinds being mankind (Adam and Eve)…On the basis of statistical baraminological studies, Creationists generally agree that Neanderthals and probably Homo erectus are human descendants of Adam and Eve…In addition, creationists contend that Australopithecus is not human. How then do we interpret the trends of the fossil record in the context of a creationist worldview? We affirm that the category of humanity—defined as the natural descendants of Adam and Eve—is broader than modern Homo sapiens. Minimally, Neanderthals and Homo erectus are also human. It is possible that other species, such as early Homo or Australopithecus sediba, should also be counted as human. [p. 145]
Not discussed are the anthropological and soteriological implications of diverse speciation of human beings. If in the far distant past there have lived on earth other species of humans, there why is it that we categorize all living humans today as the same species? If species can so rapidly differential themselves, why do we not observe speciation in isolated modern human populations? When Jim Elliot encountered the Auca natives in the Ecuadorian jungle, why did he not find a different human species—“Homo auca” that had physiologically differentiated themselves through generations of mating in a small sequestered population? And theologically speaking, is mankind one race, equal in value and worth? Or are some human species privileged from a salvation perspective over others? It is hard to avoid the conclusion of privilege if we grant some human species have gone extinct.
Another difficult topic that Kelly addresses is the age of the earth. This is still a thorny scientific question as it relates to the Bible since the biblical evidence points strongly in a YEC direction but the scientific evidence leans heavily toward some form of OEC (sorry theistic evolutionists, the intelligent design community has effectively sounded the death knell to the theory of non-guided macro-evolution). Nevertheless, YEC believers make valiant attempts to hypothesize ways to get starlight and other observed astronomical phenomena to our telescopes within a few thousand years rather than millions of years. Their theories are complex, highly speculative, and always invoke Einstein’s theory of relativity to speed up starlight by a factor of 1000 or so.
The other problem YEC proponents have in dating the earth is the myriad of physical chronometers that point back much much further than a few thousand years. Pitting catastrophism against uniformitarianism has been the standard strategy employed by YEC for several generations of apologists. Only recently (and since the publication of CAC’s first edition) has a new line of argument been introduced. An assembly of YEC scientists calling themselves the R.A.T.E. group (Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth) have conducted and published research concluding
that at some time in the past much higher rates of radioisotope decay may have occurred, leading to the production of large quantities of daughter products in a short period of time. It has been suggested that these increased decay rates may have been part of the rock-forming process on the early earth and/or one of the results of God’s judgment upon man following Creation, that is, the Curse or during the Flood…The RATE group believes this large difference may make it possible to validate a true [i.e., a few thousand year old] model of earth history. [p. 217]
According to Kelly and YEC scientists, other physical chronometers that indicate a young earth matching the straight-forward chronology of the Bible include
- Appearance of age
- Lessons from volcanic eruptions during the era of modern science
- Oil gushers
- Earth’s magnetic field
- Salinity and chemical composition of the oceans
- Sea floor sediments
- Relative youth of short-period comets
- Extinction of interplanetary dust
- Human population growth
The evidence marshaled in measuring each of these physical chronometers provides plenty of food for thought. Those who keep an open mind regarding what science tells us about the age of the earth would do well to ponder this evidence and examine carefully arguments that interpret the data according to the old earth paradigm.
Since the completion of the Human Genome Project and subsequent theorizing about the finding, much has been written in the broader scientific community about how the human genome map proves man has evolved from more primitive organisms. While these conclusions have been hotly contested even by scientists not committed to the Bible as a source of truth, it’s not easy to find resources explaining the counter-evidence in Christian literature. Thus Kelly’s new chapter on the Human Genome is perhaps the most helpful in CAC. After reviewing the initial position and subsequent reconsiderations of Francis Collins (who is a professing evangelical Christian and theistic evolutionist), the head of the Human Genome Project, Kelly presents the case for interpreting the data from a YEC perspective. Relying on the work of Cornell biologist J.C. Sanford and his studies on genetic entropy, CAC concludes that the observable phenomena of natural selection and mutation, if they are improbable but theoretically possible mechanisms for macro-evolutionary development, cannot possibly be employed to explain change at the genetic level. Sanford writes, “I am going to argue that no form of selection can maintain (let alone create!) higher genomes. The simplest way to summaries all this is as follows: Selection can sometimes work on the genic [i.e. the bio-taxonomic level of genus] level, but systematically fails at the genomic level.” [p. 309]
When it comes to Kelly’s case for the six-day creation view, the source he utilizes most is Umberto Cassuto’s 1961 From Adam to Noah: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis I-VI (Part I). Cassuto was a rabbi and biblical scholar working in Jerusalem during the first half of the 20th century. I’m not sure the decision to rely on a Jewish non-Christian Bible scholar helps or hurts Kelly’s cause. But I couldn’t help myself wondering if citing Cassuto as many times as he did is a way to find someone outside the fray that brings a new voice into the discussion.
One of the most important contributions that CAC gave to my research on YEC and the age of the earth debate is as another witness pointing to Snelling’s massive two-volume work Earth’s Catastrophic Past. Those books are now on my shelf waiting to be explored. Although due to their highly technical nature, it could take this non-scientist quite a while to wade through them. So be patient with me. Hopefully I’ll have a few insightful nuggets to share from those, and at that point conclude this personal quest to get some more clarity and conviction on these important biblical and scientific questions. Stay tuned!
In Appreciation for Dr. Douglas Kelly
What the Genesis Text Really Says about Creation (5-part video lecture series by the author)
What the New Testament Really Says about Creation (4-part video lecture series by the author)
Douglas Kelly’s seminary page
In the Beginning: Why I Reject Evolution and Embrace Wonder – Michael Milton and Douglas Kelly on Creation and the Foundation of Faith
Where Did We Come From? By Douglas Kelly.
Articles by Douglas Kelly at Ligonier Ministries
Audio sermons by Douglas Kelly
Douglas Kelly on the Framework Interpretation of Genesis One. By Lee Irons.