The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth

By Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (2008). 509 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
21.2 (Fall 2010) : 273-276

This book has to be an example of the truncated or selective attention paid to the biblical account on the part of those scientists who are also evangelical believers, but who struggle to integrate biblical truth with their world of science. Their earnestness in dealing with the intriguing subject of the age of the earth is not being questioned, but their approach to the biblical text is troublesome. Occasionally, they remind YEC (Young Earth Creationists) to be more precise in their statements, e.g., Adam was not created ex nihilo—he was made in part from previously created material (188 ).

Two chapters in “Part Two: Biblical Perspectives” noticeably totaled only 47 pages out of 495 pages of text, less than ten percent of the main text. Somehow, it seems to be too small a contribution from the biblical text. It was acknowledged that “from a biblical perspective, the issue of the antiquity of the earth boils down to the interpretation of Genesis 1” (169). At the least an exegetical study of Genesis 1–2 should have been either included or referred to. A few pages earlier it was concluded that the interpretation of Genesis 1 is particularly challenging and thus believers must study this crucial passage with humility and with an openness to new insights not seen before (166). From what source will the insights come? From a dual revelation theory? All the more reason to have the scriptural description of the six days of creation stand as the ruling paradigm by which the theories and conclusions of humans with regard to origins are critiqued.

Every word of the Genesis account is important and nothing can be omitted from consideration. Plenary verbal inspiration will not dictate otherwise. Furthermore, this is the only eyewitness account of the six days of creation. It is an inspired account too. What is wrong with the biblical account and teaching on creation that precludes it from being the ruling paradigm?

Challenges to the old earth position are made on biblical, scientific and philosophical grounds. With the biblical perspectives already treated, the authors go on to deal with each of the other two elements in the chapters following: eight chapters make up “Part Three: Geological Perspectives.” Here are attempts to refute arguments for a young earth and present the evidence for the “great” antiquity of the Earth (165, note the adjective). The final two chapters making up “Part Four: Philosophical Perspectives” wherein uniformitarianism, catastrophism, and empiricism are presented, and in the closing chapter, creationism, evangelism, and apologetics.

This reviewer does not purport to have sufficient knowledge of science to be able to interact with the chapters not dealing with the Bible. Skewed interpretation, so it is advised, is brought about by presuppositions, many times the interpreter being unaware of them exerting any influence upon his thinking. The solution is for each Christian to become hermeneutically self-conscious, realizing what is influencing his/her thinking as he/she studies the text (166). Appeals to be objective and wary of presuppositional bias when interpreting the creation account have not produced unified and harmonious understanding of the text. Far from it!

The authors’ basic reaction to the traditional view of six 24-hour days is formularized:

  • by classifying Genesis as an historical genre in its own right, seeing the account laden with symbolic numbers, repetitive structures, allusions to ANE concepts, anthropomorphic and metaphorical elements, as well as the literary convention of seven days (178).
  • by noting the non-committal nature of the Bible about the age of the earth which then gives freedom to evaluate first the geological clues on its age (169).
  • by accepting without apparent demur the supposed overwhelming and credible evidence for the antiquity of the earth (173).
  • by proposing the simplistic “maxim” that God made everything, and then stressing that such is the point of Genesis 1—a conclusion that even children after reading Genesis 1 can easily grasp.
  • by pushing aside, then, the sequence of events in Genesis 1 as being irrelevant or of little significance, in fact it is merely a list of seven days, or for the purposes of emphasizing that God had created it all (178, 202).
  • by noting that the different proposals for interpreting the Genesis account do not mean that biblical inerrancy is being flouted (181-82 ).
  • by touting the genealogies as having gaps in them making them inadequate at helping estimate an age or a span of time (168).
  • by advocating that Scripture is a record of the deeds of God in history, and so its message concerns God’s redemptive plan and acts, and calling for the believer to understand the intent of the biblical text—“as readers approach Genesis 1 they need to ask what God and the human author intended to teach, and that means that both the redemptive thrust of the Bible and the ancient Near Eastern context in which it is embedded must be taken into account’ (179, 182, 210),
  • by drawing insights from biblical scholars to show that Genesis 1 is “saturated with features” [?] making it highly unlikely that the author was addressing the scientific questions of his contemporaries and that he did not teach a young earth or was even interested therein (210).
  • By focusing on bara not always signifying “instantaneous,” thus allowing for it together with divine fiat to indicate the inevitability of the event and not the immediate suddenness of its fulfilment, i.e., the “Let there be . . . and it was so” could mean that sooner or later what God called into being was accomplished (187-92).

Full and satisfying responses can be given readily to each one of the bullet points above, each point indicating a questionable area. A thorough analysis which coincidently responds to all these points would be Bryan Murphy’s Th.D. dissertation at TMS, “Genesis 1:1–2:3: A Textual and Exegetical Examination as an Objective Foundation for Apologetical and Theological Studies.” Bryan offers probably one of the most in-depth studies of the Hebrew and LXX texts of the Genesis account done to date. Hopefully, this will be put into print in the near future—this book under review demonstrates the need for it.

This reviewer took time to peruse swiftly two or so chapters in the next section, “Part Three: Geological Perspectives,” looking for references to YEC literature. What a pleasant surprise to find quite a frequent mention of YEC writings, the most recognizable names today being John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, John Morris, Stephen Austin, Duane Gish, Gary Parker, Larry Vardiman, and Walter Brown. Flood geologists, such as ICR researchers, it was specifically noted, because they worked in the field are geologically well informed (229). For the most part, criticisms of their conclusions and work were irenic, and at times a little patronizing. Obviously, their conclusions were not going to be accepted, but at least they were noticed. YEC were also featured in the preceding chapter, “Antiquity of the Earth: Twentieth Century to the Present” (ch. 5, 132-64).

To recommend The Bible, Rocks and Time without a proviso cannot be done, because the book has enough questionable areas, as indicated by the bullet points above. If one needs to know every bit of information on the Old Earth position, then by all means he should read the book to find out what others holding that position are saying. Search YEC literature for a response to and refutation of the points made in the book favoring an old earth position. Further, take the time to read beforehand as important preparation, Coming to Grips with Genesis (Master Books, 2009) and Kurt P. Wise, Faith, Form, and Time (B & H Publishers, 2002). This reviewer remembered John Woodbridge’s book Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Zondervan, 1982), which well addressed the problem of “accommodation” (Woodbridge, 19-30).

The authors failed to stake out a position on Genesis 1. Instead they proved to their own satisfaction that the Bible does not teach the Earth to be only a few thousand years old, neither does it deal with the scientific subjects of the day (210). A passing comment indicates that Young and Stearley favor the Framework theory and the Analogical-Day theory.

A closing question: Why may the Genesis account be seen to demolish “the crude cosmogonies” of pagan nations (105), yet it could not be taken as presenting exactly what God did in bringing the world into being in six days? It may not be couched in scientific language but its description is faultless. Surely, detailed scientific terminology, hypotheses, and theories will come about as man “subdues” the Earth.

One wonders whether time and energy would be well spent responding fully to the science part of this book, if not the biblical perspective section. It could be done by cross-referencing material already in print. Perhaps, something along the lines of “Resources to refute/correct/challenge . . .” would suffice. In any event, this book could be used in a graduate seminar on creation-science to show how scientifico-exegesis puts a stumbling block into the way of literal, historical, grammatical interpretation of the biblical record. It will provoke a serious discussion of the relationship of biblical truth to science. Issues affecting inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration, and general and special revelation will also come into play. Read alertly and cautiously!