What does old-earth creationism teach?

Old Earth Creationism is an attempt to reconcile the idea that the earth is billions of years old with the creation account of Genesis 1. Some versions take the Bible and try to interpret the Scriptures to determine a place for the fossil record and Neanderthals and dinosaurs. Others start with the science and try to fit God as Creator into evolution. The problem with old-earth creationism, beyond forcing the seven-day creation account into a world so old, is in Romans 5:12: "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." This passage clearly shows that death entered the world through Adam's sin. If that's the case, how could any animal have died before Adam? Different theories have their own "end-arounds." Please keep in mind that the mechanism of the development of life on earth is not a salvation issue; there are many faithful believers on all sides of the issue. But it is a good idea to get a general idea of the arguments.

Scientific Arguments
Behind every old-earth argument is an attempt to explain scientific data in terms that can allow for a Creator.

Gap Theory—Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Genesis 1:2 says, "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." The Gap Theory postulates that between these two verses an entire world of life lived and died in its own history, apart from that which began with Adam. God created life on the surface of the earth, Satan defiled it, and God sent judgment that destroyed everything. The Gap Theory attempts to reconcile the fossil record, the apparent age of the rocks given by radiometric dating, the supposed mass extinction of life 12,000 years ago, and the seven-day creation story of Genesis 1. Strangely enough, this theory pre-dates evolutionism and does not rely on evolution. The happenings between the creation of the earth and the seven-day creation story are shrouded in mystery, but the development of life from single-cell organism to dinosaur is not necessary.

This old-earth creationism theory was first developed in the 17th Century by Simon Episcopius but publicized by Thomas Chalmers in the 19th century and popularized by the 1917 Scofield Reference Bible—a King James Version that integrated a commentary with the text. Proponents use Jeremiah 4:23-26 to describe the shape of the world before God's second creation starting in Genesis 1:2—despite the fact that the Jeremiah passage refers to Judah's devastation at the hands of the Babylonians. The men who could not be found in Jeremiah are instead proposed to be a race that lived during the Ice Age, before Adam. Gap theorists then claim that 2 Peter 3:5-7 refers not to Noah's Flood, but to God's judgment on these people which resulted in the earth being covered in water as recorded in Genesis 1:2. 2 Peter 3:5 then explains that the "earth"—the arable ground—was destroyed, turning the world "formless and void," and verse 6 describes the "world"—or social structure—of the inhabitants was destroyed. G.H. Pember, who worked hard to figure out how the Gap Theory fit into Scripture, explained away Romans 5:12 by saying, "Since, then, the fossil remains are those of creatures anterior to Adam, and yet show evident tokens of disease, death, and mutual destruction, they must have belonged to another world, and have a sin-stained history of their own."

Progressive creationism—This theory began when geologists attempted to work the fossil layer they found in rock into the Genesis creation account. They say that God was intimately involved in the development of life on planet Earth. He intervened throughout the billions of years of history to create new species as old ones became extinct. Progressive creationists consider nature to be the "67th book of the Bible." They say that nature reveals as much about God as Scripture. While nature does teach us about God, it is not nature that points to old-earth creationism but man's interpretation of nature.

Progressive creationists reject macro-evolution. While they accept an old earth and the development of life in the geological column, they do not believe one species evolved into another. Instead, God created each new species as old species became extinct. This allows them to believe in a literal Adam. Supposedly, primitive hominids evolved from apes about 2-4 million years ago. These hominids had no souls or sense of God and went extinct. Ten to twenty-five thousand years ago, God created Adam and Eve. Proponents include Hugh Ross and the website Answers in Creation (which is not affiliated with the young-earth ministry Answers in Genesis).

Theistic Evolution—Theistic evolution is probably the most accepted view of old-earth creationism, and definitely the most syncretic. Believers hold that God is the Creator, and He used the tools of evolution to develop life. How involved He was varies. Some say He merely set the stage with matter and physical laws and then stepped back. Others insist he had a hand in starting life off, but let evolution come to its culmination of man without interfering further. Theistic evolution is a very popular viewpoint; it's accepted by the vast majority of Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and religiously unaffiliated people. It's also accepted by about half of all Catholic, Orthodox, and mainline Protestant congregants.

Evolutionary Creationism—This view of old-earth creationism is very similar to theistic evolution, but holds that God still has a hand in the maintenance of His creation.

Theological Arguments
Old-earth creationists are generally categorized by their interpretation of the data provided by the scientific community. Their theological justifications aren't as standardized. While all old-earth creationists hold that the creation account in Genesis is a metaphor and not to be taken literally, opinions differ as to what that metaphor is. Two common options are the day/age argument and the framework theory.

Day/Age Put simply, the "day/age argument" is the belief that the word translated "day" in Genesis 1 does not refer to a 24-hour period but an undetermined period of time. It's an old theory, and widely accepted, but it requires the reader to go beyond metaphor and into blatant inaccuracy. For one, the Hebrew yom, while occasionally referring to a long period of time, always refers to a 24-hour period when in the presence of a qualifier. Thus, every occurrence of "third day" or "a fourth day" in Genesis 1 should be interpreted as a 24-hour day. And every time the text says "day and night," day should be interpreted as the lighted portion of a 24-hour period. Secondly, the sequence in the creation account does not match the development of life given in evolution—even metaphorically. Evolution says that birds came to be after land animals; Genesis 1:20-25 says birds came on the fifth day while land animals appeared on the sixth. Not to mention that Genesis 1:9-19 says that trees appeared on the third day, before the sun and moon!

The Framework Theory This is an elegant, complicated philosophy that attempts to interpret the Genesis creation account but doesn't claim to dictate the age of the earth. The framework is a grid that says the first three days of creation were from the point of view of God in heaven. The second three represent the exact same creation account, but in terms more suited for human understanding. Thus the light in day one is the same as the sun, moon, and stars in day four. The theory hinges on two scriptural references. The first is the apparent symbolic nature of the seventh day (God's rest: Genesis 2:2-3). The second is a complicated argument about Genesis 2:5 and a great deal of confusion regarding the plants God created in day three vs. the cultivated crops Adam was responsible for later.

Old-earth creationism is an attempt by mankind to explain the miraculous power of God in terms we can understand. Sadly, it has been enthusiastically accepted by believers who seek the approval of man as much or more than God. It is not a salvation issue. But it does illuminate an individual's faith in God and His Scriptures.

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