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William Lane Craig Takes the Wind from Old Earth Creationist Hermeneutical Sails Part 1

While I have a huge amount of respect for William Lane Craig, there was not much doubt in my mind that I’d be disappointed by his conclusions when he announced his intention to turn his attention to researching the most plausible way to interpret the text of Genesis 1-11. After all, one of his most notable apologetic arguments is the Kalam Cosmological argument which capitalizes on the currently accepted secular scientific theory of the origin of the universe- the Big Bang.

My suspicion that Craig would dismiss the Young Earth Creationist interpretation turned out to be well founded.

What I did not expect, however, was the blow his conclusion would deal to two of Old Earth Creationists’ most celebrated defenders: Hugh Ross and John Walton.

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Craig’s long awaited scholarly opinion was delivered in Part 27 of his Defender’s Class on the subject of Creation and Evolution, which was the summary and conclusion of the hermeneutical section “on the exploration of creation and evolutionary theory.” Dr. Craig explains that he has surveyed “quite a range of alternatives available to the Bible-believing Christian which have been advanced by evangelical scholars” in the previous installments of his class and has concluded that he finds two to be the most plausible:

It seems to me that the two most plausible interpretive options are the literal, Young Earth Creationist interpretation and the mytho-historical interpretation. Of the two, I find the mytho-historical interpretation to provide a better genre analysis of Genesis 1-11 for the reasons I have stated and therefore to be the better of the two options. ~William Lane Craig

Let’s unpack what that means.

What is Hermeneutics?

I like the simple definition Tim Chaffey gives in his article for Answers in Genesis, “How Should We Interpret the Bible Part 1“:

Hermeneutics (from the Greek word hermeneuo, which means to explain or interpret) is the branch of theology that focuses on identifying and applying sound principles of biblical interpretation.

Of course, things can certainly get complicated quickly once one delves into how the various principles of hermeneutics are applied to correctly interpret Scripture. But the point is, hermeneutics is primarily a textual consideration of how to interpret Scripture. Outside influences such as that of modern science are of no consequence. Or, at least, they shouldn’t be.

Ironically, Craig agrees with that sentiment in his answer to a questioner titled “The Historical Adam“:

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There is an almost irresistible tendency to allow science to guide our biblical interpretation. This sort of interpretive approach to Scripture is often called ‘concordism.’ Beginning with what modern science tells us about the origin of the world and mankind, we approach the biblical text and read that science into the text, or, at least, read the text in such a way that it comports with modern science. The flaws in such a hermeneutic are obvious…

Of course, the irony is that in Craig’s discussion in this very lecture, he gives the mytho-historical interpretation greater weight due to the consideration of scientific evidence which he makes clear he accepts as irrefutable fact.

Is Dr. Craig open to the YEC Interpretation?

One might assume that Dr. Craig would be open to considering what he views as the 2nd most plausible interpretation of Genesis 1-11 as, in fact, the correct interpretation. Not so.

For example, in response to one audience member who astutely mentioned that many of the conclusions of modern day science are based on models that offer predictions of the past rather than testable, repeatable, and observable results, Craig answers:

What I would say is, in light of modern science, history, and linguistics the literalistic interpretation is falsified. So, one isn’t assuming that it’s false. Rather, it’s saying that in light of the evidence we have, it’s been falsified. There was no world-wide flood a few thousand years ago that destroyed all terrestrial life.

On creation science in general and the theories presented in some of Dr. Jonathan Sarfati’s work in particular, Craig states:

This is crank science and Christians should not be attracted to it.

Despite his glib and misguided remarks directed at creation science, I view Dr. Craig’s hermeneutical assessment of Genesis 1-11 as a boon for Young Earth Creationists if used in the proper way. Specifically, within the context of apologetic defenses of the young earth interpretation over and against the old earth interpretation.

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What are the Ramifications?

How many of us have heard Christians who take an old earth interpretation of Scripture say something like, “Sure I believe in the Big Bang. I just know who banged it!”, and the evolutionary theory equivalent declarations? Truly, on an extremely superficial level those statements may seem to work.

But, that’s the problem. They quickly unravel when one begins to thoughtfully read Genesis 1-11.

Many Christians who make these remarks don’t realize the conclusions that must follow if one has any intentions of attempting to maintain a logically consistent view of Scripture. The Big Bang and Evolution come with baggage that render them diametrically opposed to the biblical creation account which teaches that:

  • Adam and Eve are the literal progenitors of the human race,
  • the global flood destroyed all terrestrial life on earth other than Noah, his family, and the animals on board the ark,
  • and the origin of all the world’s languages was the confusion of language at Babel… just to name a few.

Proponents of the Old Earth Creation view go to great lengths in an effort to harmonize these Scriptural historical events with the secular scientific view that claims to have debunked each one of them as an impossibility. Craig spent the first 26 installments of his series discussing these interpretive efforts. He doesn’t have a very high view of most of them.

Citing his “The Historical Adam” article again:

I suspect that many of the outlandish interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis (e.g., so-called ‘functional creation’ or the day-age theory) are motivated by the dread fear that biblical theology pursued independently of modern science would reveal that the Young Earth Creationists are right, and, hence, the task of the systematic theologian becomes hopeless.

The common refrain of all these theorists can be summed up in this quote from the esteemed Norman Geisler which I am citing from another of Chaffey’s articles:

It seems plausible the universe is billions of years old…there is no demonstrated conflict between Genesis 1-2 and scientific fact…a literal interpretation of Genesis is consistent with a universe that is billions of years old. ~Geisler 2003, (emphasis mine)

And therein lies the rub! Old Earth Creationists want to affirm a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 while also affirming billions of years and all the conclusions of modern day secular science. Many Christians are effectively lulled into complacency by the assurances of some of our most well respected and trusted theologians that one can comfortably affirm them all.

It is this notion that Dr. Craig’s conclusion has intellectually quashed. The result should be a reality check to fans of the interpretation methods of Hugh Ross and John Walton.

What does Craig have to say about the methods of Ross and Walton? Suffice it to say, he doesn’t mince words. We’ll pick up there in Part 2.

Tiffany Denham

Written by Tiffany Denham

I'm a stay-at-home mom of three with a B.S. in Finance, Minor in Economics, and a passion for science, research, Christian apologetics, and writing. Upon realizing that I had been a victim of the widely held belief that mainstream science is “unbiased” and the erroneous beliefs that follow, I embarked on a crusade to share the overwhelming evidence revealing science's lesser known yet undeniable validation of the biblical creation account. I'm also dedicated to cultivating a deep knowledge and understanding of the Bible in order to effectively defend God's Word and bring honor and glory to Him. I also blog on a number of topics with the goal of combating the misinformation our society is inundated with daily at TruthSnitch.com.

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    • Hi Patricia!

      Thank you for your comment.

      The Hebrew word for day (“yom”) functions just like the English word for day. It can and does take a variety of meanings: a literal 24-hour period, just the daytime portion of the day, an era, etc. However, just as in English, the context determines which usage is intended. In the creation account, the author goes above and beyond to articulate just what type of day he is referring to by consistently using the word day (“yom”) with other defining language such as, “evening and morning,” and the use of cardinal numbers for each day (i.e., first day, second day, etc…).

      The Scripture cited to support the idea that the days in Genesis were long ages of time rather than literal 24 hour periods of time is 2 Peter 3:8 which reads:

      ” But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

      However, rule number one of proper interpretation of the text is to read the text in its appropriate context. Here is verse 8 in context, 2 Peter 3:1-10 (ESV):

      1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

      8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

      It is quite clear that, in context, Peter’s statement has nothing to do with the creation days of Genesis being long ages rather than 24 hour periods. Rather, he offering encouragement to believers struggling to understand why Jesus has not yet returned. Non-believers are making fun of them for believing that Jesus will return when everything has been continuing on just as it always has. Peter explains that Jesus’s delay is due to His abundance of patience in giving all an opportunity to repent.

      Also, if you will notice, Peter actually confirms both the creation account and the global flood in verses 5 and 6. Adding long ages of time for each creation day accomplishes adding in billions of years of time to the creation account, but it does nothing to reconcile the creation account to the conclusions of modern science because the order of creation days is also opposed by modern science, not just the time frames. This is why Dr. Craig refers to these types of attempts at reconciliation of the text with an old earth view as “outlandish.”

      An example of a passage outside of Genesis that confirms 6 literal days of creation is Exodus 20:8-11. Note that, unlike the 2 Peter 3 passage, the context here in Exodus matches that of the Genesis creation account. Also, if we attempt to insert the 2 Peter 3 meaning of day as a thousand years, this passage would become nonsensical.

      Exodus 20:8-11 (ESV):

      8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

      Answers in Genesis has a number of articles on this topic if you’re interested in additional information on this topic:

      https://answersingenesis.org/age-of-the-earth/what-a-difference-a-day-makes/

      https://answersingenesis.org/days-of-creation/six-literal-days/

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