Why I Am Not a Young Earth Creationist-Michael Spencer






"In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, [Lucifer] could find nothing to think of more interesting than his own prestige."

–A Preface to Paradise Lost- CS Lewis





As regular visitors know, TWW thinks very highly of Michael Spencer, the recently departed Internet Monk. His blog was  subtitled "Dispatches From the Post Evangelical Wilderness and this struck a chord with many Christians. He is the Godfather of all Christian blogging, starting his in 2001. Although we have recommended his blog in the past, we think that an actual article would whet our reader's appetite for more of his thinking. We hope everyone will visit this fine blog. Thankfully, some of his  likeminded friends have decided to carry on Spencer's blog and have done a yeoman's job in their efforts. Well done, folks! We think you have done Michael proud.


Spencer originally wrote this article in 2001 and then reposted it on 10/2009. TWW would like to dissent from his article on two points. Spencer calls Ken Ham a "scientist." Ham is no more a scientist than we are Buddhists. Ham took  undergraduate courses in biology and received his teaching certificate.He was a high school biology teacher which in no way qualifies him to be called a scientist. Amongst some groups of evangelicals, there seems to be a general lack of knowledge on how the scientific community functions. Would you let a surgeon replace your knee if all he had was an undergraduate degree in biology? 


Also, some Christians seem to have this peculiar habit of elevating people's credentials. Perhaps this is to give credence to their beliefs. "If Ham is Dr. Ham and a scientist, he must be right, right?" We cannot stress the following strongly enough. Honorary doctorates and undergraduate biology degrees do not hold water in true scientific circles. In fact, it makes Christians appear naive and gullible.  Once again, I point to Francis Collins and Hugh Ross as examples of those who have earned the right to be called both "scientist" and "Doctor."


Secondly, unlike Spencer, we do not find Ham humorous. He used to be, in the early days of his ministry. Recently, we have found  him to be mean, thoughtless, and arrogant, resembling  more of a cult-like zealot than one who conveys the grace and love of Jesus. Why has he become, as we contend, more strident and angry in the past few years? We believe that he knows he is losing the battle, at least scientifically. In order to maintain control of an increasingly questioning people, he invents a bogey man-the scientific naturalists. He presents a false either/or scenario. Either one reads the book of Genesis as absolutely, word for word literal or one is a heretic or atheist. We believe that Ham knows this is not true but he is fighting for control of the argument. 


Finally, Spencer mentions that RC Sproul is an old earth creationist. However, a couple of years ago Sproul changed his mind. TWW will write more on this subject but we suspect that Sproul did not take this stand for purely theological reasons. In fact, we believe that politics played an important part in this so-called conversion.


In the future, we may occasionally present some thinking from around the blogosphere. This we will call, The Best and Worst of the Blogs. Today is obviously one of the "best of the blogs."


"Monk 101: To Be or Not To Be or Why I’m Not A Young Earth Creationist

You may find this article posted at the Internet Monk at this link.

This is most (not all) of an IM essay written during the early years of this web site (2001 I think.) My children were up to their ears in Ham/Hovind videos and I was feeling very alone in my own reading of Genesis. Things are better now, though the seeds of young earth creationism have borne their inevitable fruit. Hopefully, it will encourage some of you to continue thinking about these issues.

The Roots of My Problem

I have been reading creationist materials since high school. I bought The Genesis Flood when I was a very young Christian. I was converted in a fundamentalist church that contained very few college educated members, but they were aware of the challenge posed by the teaching of evolution. Darwin’s theories were skewered and preached against, in traditional fundamentalist fashion, by preachers who had never read Darwin or sat through a college biology course.

Evolution held a particular fear in my family and church. My parents were uneducated, but they warned me about the dangers I would face if I went to a school that taught evolution. When I took my college science classes, the professors were aware that many of us came from such backgrounds, and at least my teachers, took great care in separating their teaching of science from any critique of religion. My college biology professor was very cautious not to stir up controversy. In retrospect, I wish he had been more straightforward.

My views on the relationship of scripture and science were more affected by my college Bible classes than my science classes. I learned that scripture must be rightly interpreted. It must be understood within its world, and interpreted rightly in mine. If I came away with any suspicions that the young earth creationists might be wrong, it came from my developing an appreciation for Biblical interpretation, not from the Biology lab. Secular science didn’t turn my head. I learned that the people waving the Bible around weren’t necessarily treating it with the respect it deserved.

In seminary I continued my study of Biblical interpretation. I had been warned that liberal professors would teach me evolution and deny the historicity of miracles in the Bible. There were some professors out there that fit the stereotype, but they weren’t in the Bible department of my school. My Bible instructors taught me to respect the Biblical text by not imposing my interpretations and favorite hobby horses on the scriptures. What became clearer to me over my seminary career was that many of my evangelical and fundamentalist brethren were not willing to let the scriptures be what they were or to let them speak their own language.

Among the most valuable lessons I learned at seminary was to ask questions about the literary genre of the Biblical text. Literary criticism is among the most recent and helpful approaches to the Bible, and I don’t claim to be an expert. But I did come to appreciate that identifying a text as history, poetry, song, drama, parable or epistle was essential in allowing that text to “play by its own rules.” This had tremendous influence on my approach to the issues of young earth creationism, and continues to be the primary reason that I cannot accept their reading of Genesis.

The Ham Hermeneutic

One of the most well known creationist communicators is Ken Ham, an Australian school teacher whose humor and communication skills have served the cause of creationism well. His ministry “Answers in Genesis” is heard around the world. I’ve heard a lot of Ham’s stuff on tape and videos. I’ve read several of his books. In fact, I show my students an overview of Genesis 1 by Ham to demonstrate how creationists approach the Biblical text. Without being disrespectful, I have to say that I am always left uneasy by Ham’s approach to the Bible.

Ham loves the Bible and believes it is utterly truthful. He is unswervingly committed to the Bible as the Word of God and as divinely inspired. He is, however, primarily a scientist and an educator. Not a Biblical scholar. I do not believe he knows the Biblical languages. He shows little interest in Genesis as a literary text. His teaching is on Genesis as a scientific text.
One of Ham’s favorite laugh lines is suggesting students wait until a professor makes some claim about evolution or “millions of years” (a favorite Ham line) and then ask the killer question. “Sir, were you there?” (Add Aussie accent.) After the professor says “No, but….” then the follow up is something like this: “Then why do you believe the words of men, who weren’t there and don’t know everything, instead of believing the Word of God, who was there and does know everything?”

I don’t want to disparage Ham’s question or his belief that the Bible reveals to us unique information we could not know otherwise. But Ham has completely run past the really important questions about how we read and understand Genesis 1. He is asserting that Genesis 1 is to be believed because God inspired it. I don’t know of any real contention about that subject among those of us who are not young earth creationists. But Ham assumes that anyone who doesn’t interpret Genesis exactly as he does is rejecting the Bible as truthful.

And how does Ham interpret Genesis? He believes it is a scientific description of creation; a detailed scientific description that answers specific scientific questions and rules out any theories that cannot be based upon statements in Genesis. I am perfectly at ease with Ham making this presupposition, but I disagree with it. I do not believe Genesis is written as scientific description, but as a theological (and prescientific) one.

Let Us Do Your Speaking For You

Young earth creationists have not only not won me over with their approach to the Biblical text, and they have impressed me less with their attitude towards those interpretations that differ with them. Young earth creationists win the award for factionalism, and some of their achievements have to be noted.

For example, any approach that rejects a less than 10,000 year old earth or the flood as the explanation for all visible topography and geology is not on the team. So advocates of intelligent design, who have written and spoken powerfully on the evidence for God in microbiology and astrophysics, are written off because they tend to accept the current scientific dating of the universe and the earth. Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe, significant voices in the intelligent design movement, are no better than Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan to the young earthers. In fact, the entire Intelligent Design movement is ignored by the creationists. This is foolish. There is much common ground between these groups.

Some of the contentions of the young earthers seem, to a layman like me, somewhat far-fetched, like denying the existence of black holes or questioning the constancy of the speed of light, and the evidence cited for these positions is, to say the least, fringe or below the fringe. Yet young earthers feel that because these views must be accepted to keep the age of the earth less than 10,000 years,anyone who does not embrace these strange and unproven theories is rejecting the truthfulness of the Bible, even though such ideas are in no way related to any text in Genesis. I find their rejection of the speed of light and the measurability of the universe to be particularly troubling.

I have noted on several occasions the open hostility towards Hugh Ross, the Canadian astronomer who has written a number of books on Genesis and Science for Navpress and has an apologetics ministry based on answering scientific questions. Ross interprets Genesis differently than the young earthers, and basically affirms the standard picture of big-bang and an old, expanding universe. Ross is somewhat unique in his interpretations, and takes the text very literally, but to the young earthers, he is out of the ball park, because he does not assume/conclude the earth/universe is young.

This is a method of Biblical interpretation where a few questions will quickly determine where one stands. How old is the earth? Was there death before Adam? Do you believe in a world wide flood? Were there dinosaurs on the ark? Any number of these questions draw lines in the sand for the young earthers. I am sorry to say that I cannot think of any division in Christianity- Calvinist/Arminan, Catholic/Protestant, Pentecostal/Cessationist, Seeker/Traditional- where one side is more completely unlikely to appreciate the other position than this one.

Two issues particularly have bothered me. One is the young earth contention that there cannot be such a thing as theistic evolution. For the young earth movement, the teams seems to be young earthers versus atheistic evolutionists. But this is too simplistic. There are many theistic evolutionists in the diverse traditions of Christianity. We may disagree deeply on the evidence for macroevolution, particularly as it applies to human beings, or on various claim about the nature of the Bible, but to say that there is no such possible Christian position as theistic evolution is criminally inaccurate. (For example, the controversial life and work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin should be noted as a significant advocate of such a position. I did extensive research on the life of Charles Darwin during seminary, and Darwin himself was not an atheist, but a Deistic evolutionist.) Theistic evolution may have its problems, but in the opinion of serious confessional theologians, it does not deny anything essential to the Christian faith.

The other issue is the rejection of the astronomical evidence for the “Big Bang.” Christians like Fred Hereen and Hugh Ross have taken the evidence of the “Big Bang” and produced powerful arguments for the existence of God. I personally find the evidence compelling and exciting, and very helpful to students in understanding why faith in a creator God is not irrational. Yet the young earthers, fully committed to rejecting any evidence that might challenge their age of the earth, routinely equate the “Big Bang” with atheism. When I refer to the “Big Bang” and what we know about it from the Hubble telescope, I can count on at least one student asking me how I can believe in the “Big Bang” since that is what atheists believe? (Even my own children had to be reeducated on this point.)

Good men, like R.C. Sproul and J. Gresham Machen, are outside of the young earther’s definition of orthodoxy on this issue. The Presbyterian Church in America has been painfully divided over this issue, an issue that no creed or confession in classical orthodox Christendom has ever taken sides on. Even if I were impressed with the Biblical or scientific claims of the young earth position, I would hesitate to identify with a movement this uncharitable towards other Christians.

Literally Missing the Point

The young earth creationists believe that Genesis 1 is “literally” a description of creation. I do not. It is this simple disagreement that is the cornerstone of my objection. I believe that Genesis 1 is a prescientific description of Creation intended to accent how Yahweh’s relationship with the world stands in stark contrast to the Gods of other cultures, most likely those of Babylon. Textual and linguistic evidence convinces me that this chapter was written to be used in a liturgical (worship) setting, with poetic rhythms and responses understood as part of the text. It tells who made the universe in a poetic and prescientific way. It is beautiful, inspired and true as God’s Word.

Does it match up with scientific evidence? Who cares? Here I differ with Hugh Ross and the CRI writers. I do not believe science, history or archaeology of any kind establishes the truthfulness of the scripture in any way. Scripture is true by virtue of God speaking it. If God spoke poetry, or parable, or fiction or a prescientific description of creation, it is true without any verification by any human measurement whatsoever. The freedom of God in inspiration is not restricted to texts that can be interpreted “literally” by historical or scientific judges of other ages and cultures beyond the time the scriptures were written.

In my view, both the scientific establishment’s claims to debunk Genesis and the creationists claims to have established Genesis by way of relating the text to science are worthless. Utterly and completely worthless and I will freely admit to being bored the more I hear about it. I react to this much the same I react to people who run in with the Bible and the newspaper showing me how 666 is really the bar code on my credit card. (A theory which, by the way, creationist and KJV-only advocate Kent Hovind gives considerable credibility to.)

Does the Bible need to be authorized by scientists or current events to be true? What view of inspiration is it that puts the Bible on trial before the current scientific and historical models? Has anyone noticed what this obsession with literality does to the Bible itself?

The compliment that is paid to the Bible by those who say it is “literally” and scientifically true comes at the expense of an authentic and accurate understanding of the text. A simple illustration will show what I mean.

ESV Revelation 6:12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.

I do not believe the stars will fall to the earth. I don’t. I don’t believe stars are in the sky. I don’t believe the writer understood what stars are or how they operate or the distances involved. I think this is prescientific language, and it is meant to tell us truth in its own way. A simple illustration, but it clearly shows that literary purpose must come before “literal” interpretation.

Now if I insist on a literal interpretation of this verse as a way of saying it is true and inspired, I am not treating the text with reverence and respect. I may be well motivated, but I am damaging the text. My point gets across, but at the expense of the real meaning of the text as it was written and inspired.

In the same way, Genesis describes creation prescientifically, in the language and idioms of the time, with a theological purpose in mind. It speaks clearly and powerfully. Making this into a literal and “scientific” description as a condition of inspiration is wrong.

Am I treating Genesis as a special case? Are Ham and others correct that this is straightforward description and there is no reason for putting a literary “spin” on how I read the text? My objection is to saying what a “straightforward description” means in a text several thousand years old; a text from a specific culture with a particular purpose. I am not claiming any special insight into Genesis. I am simply saying that, in my opinion, Genesis was not written with reference to the questions or methods of modern science, and making its truthfulness depend on that is a misuse of the text.

Many other examples could be brought forth. (Ask what a literal interpretation of the vision of Jesus in Revelation 1 turns into?) The literary nature of a text can’t be overlooked or taken for granted. In my opinion, this is typical of the creationist approach to the Bible. It becomes a piece of evidence in a scientific discussion, and the text of scripture- particularly its literary distinctiveness- is largely ignored."

We, at TWW, sorely miss our brother, Michael Spencer.


Lydia's Corner: Genesis 26:17-27:46 Matthew 9:1-17 Psalm 10:16-18 Proverbs 3:9-10


Why I Am Not a Young Earth Creationist-Michael Spencer — 20 Comments

  1. ‘TWW will write more on this subject but we suspect that Sproul did not take this stand for purely theological reasons. In fact, we believe that politics played an important part in this so-called conversion.’

    He was also having other very serious problems when Ligoneir was being challenged by a Ligoneir former supporter blogger named Frank Vance. (A psuedonym) Sproul tried to sue the blogger for making FACTS known about Ligonier money and how it was used. And also how they cheated someone out of their book business and were living high off the hog. (They even changed the contract for the book business without telling the guy, who subsequently had a stroke)

    When they sued, donations fell off…people citing Sprouls’s own teaching in his ‘study bible’ of Christians not sueing Christians. (That is only for OTHER people. Not the celebrities)

    Sproul had to go over to the dipsy, evangelical wing to get new donors. Since Ligon Duncan’s brother worked at Ligoneir (along with most of the extended Sproul family except the son that got defrocked from the presbyterians) the foray into that world was easier. That world includes the SBC! And that world is not about to give one cent to OEC!

    As a matter of fact, The Sprouls have been living quite high off the hog from Ligoneir donations and his pastorate (which during this scandal, people found out his church is NOT part of any denomination even though he passed it off as Presbyterian for many years! He lied!\

    Sproul could NOT be disciplined by the denomination~! He even lied about that for many years!


  2. Lydia

    I used to think Sproul was simply a Calvinist who felt very strongly about Reformed theology. I used to admire his writings. However, I know of what you speak. I think he is a sell-out to his stated principles. It is amazing to what lengths people will go to be accepted by the new “restless and reformed” crowd. I have been shocked at some of the recent revelations. But why am I shocked? I should be used to this by now.

  3. Wow, Lydia! That overview was extremely enlightening. Perhaps I will do some further research soon. And this is passed off as Christianity?

  4. Dee,

    Is that the Canadian flag by my moniker? Even though I’m frustrated with Ken Ham and his ilk, I can assure you I haven’t left the country!

  5. This is another article that displays why I love TWW. I love shows like Patriot, Gladiator and other bloody movies. Today did not disappoint. You Christian gals continue to lead the way on how to best reach the world for Christ.

    You gutted ole Ham rather nicely. I mean you left him bleeding. Great job.

    Once I was in Patterson’s office and like you two he is an avid hunter. I was amazed by the number of animals he had hunted, killed and then mounted. It reminded me of the demonized men, churches and institutions you have listed on the right side of your page (Wall Mounts). Love it!

    I enjoy how you intelligent ladies can’t write an article without butchering someone. Like many other well respected academic authors you make your point best by tying the noose to your brothers in Christ almost daily. It would be difficult to make your case without beating the same brothers in Christ each week. Some have been successful building their cases academically, biblically and historically without your sickle technique but that would not be your style or academic standard so keep up the daily blood bath.

    Who are you frying tomorrow? Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35

    Can’t wait till tomorrow;) C’ ya!

  6. Anonymous

    Let’s see. Ken is the victim and we are the hunters? You mean the guy who raises millions of dollars to build a “creation” museum. The guy who is invited to speak all over the country. The guy who calls his fellow brothers and sisters “heretics” while presenting supposed proof of a YE. A man who is the laughing stock of the science world. Kids are losing their faith over this nonsense and you are concerned about us showing love? Great Scott!

    We show love by being concerned about the numbers of young people leaving the faith because they have been fed the nonsense at AIG. It is time someone speaks up and outlines the harm this man is doing. Ham has existed on the good will of many Christians who have tried to avoid offending his sensibilities. I even tried that one for awhile and was told in no uncertain terms that my belief in OE would never be allowed in any church that his creation brigade was a part of.The Hamites kick in the teeth of anyone who don’t follow his man made doctrine. Nope, no more. It is time for the truth to be spoken and sometimes truth hurts.

  7. I wouldn’t expect anyone who had been allowed into Patterson’s office to approve of our writings. After all, we are the inferior sex.


    Sarcasm such as yours only motivates us all the more to highlight the injustices we see in Christendom. We will continue to shine the light to expose the ugliness hidden by the darkness.

  8. Hey Deb

    Anonymous seems a little ..how shall we say….”bitter?” Perhaps this is personal…or am I just imagining things?

  9. Dee,

    Don’t you mean mordant?

    Yep, the great safari hunter who kills huge beasts sends women back into abusive situations so they be beaten by their husbands… And we’re the ones who are cruel? Just another example of Cognative Dissonance.

  10. “I enjoy how you intelligent ladies can’t write an article without butchering someone. Like many other well respected academic authors you make your point best by tying the noose to your brothers in Christ almost daily.”

    Dear Mr. Anonymous,

    Have you ever thought about decaf? What you have written above sounds not only sarcastic but hauntingly hyper-authoritarian. If you disagree (or agree) with a particular point made here about Mr. Ham, why not state your case rather than purge your raw feelings? If you are simply trying to intimidate Dee and Deb into silence with Christian alpha male antics, it will only underscore who you are.

    With all due respect, there is a better way to convey your intent, which I assume is constructive. Perhaps you might frame your disagreements a bit more tactfully, holding yourself at least to the standard of certain atheists who have written here at TWW (such as Karlton Kameralt) with courtesy, honesty and integrity. Hopefully that will not be too much to ask. I would really like to know what you have to offer of substance regarding Mr. Ham.

  11. Anonymous,

    In no uncertain terms: Ken Ham and his organization, as well as others like ICR, are populated by people with Ph.D’s, people like Kurt Wise, people who KNOW in that scientifically one can not support the idea the Earth is 10,000 years old. Yet they make their living doing two things:

    A) convincing people who do not know any better that one can scientifically support the idea the Earth is < 10,000 years old
    B) effectively demonizing anyone who says they are wrong: e.g. Sarfati's book "Refuting Compromise", a book whose primary purpose is to paint Hugh Ross as a 'compromiser'.

    It is very, very difficult to address both the attitude and the content of what these organizations peddle without finding oneself in a battle. A battle for what is true vs what is misdirection or out and out lie, and a battle for one's own legitimacy as a Christian.

    My own experience with folks indoctrinated by Ham bears out just how difficult these discussions can be come. Just saying one thinks the science that points to an old Earth can evoke significant hostility. Pointing out just how wrong the science they think supports their position is can get you kicked out of class or asked not to return.


  12. Deb

    I think you’re using a Blackberry and if you don’t have a corporate account with a corporate server for your Blackberry then your data travels through RIM’s servers in Canada. 🙂

  13. We show love by being concerned about the numbers of young people leaving the faith because they have been fed the nonsense at AIG. It is time someone speaks up and outlines the harm this man is doing

    Spoken like a true mother. The same woman who bares tender breast to nourish her young will also wield any weapon at hand to secure their safety!

    With respect, SS

  14. Deb

    Now what kind of missionary are you? I was taught that in cross cultural missions one should use the language of the people whenever possible to facilitate understanding. Now, our hyper-authoritarian, Calvinista, patriarchal, YE only “science be damned” crowd speaks from a playbook. Bitter is on page 2 and it is to be used liberally in any and all situations to denigrate those who would dare question one jot of their teaching or actions.

    My culture says to be thoughtful and not used certain buzz words. But it is important to their culture so I am merely “reaching out” to them in a way that is meaningful to them. You are a Duke English major, for crying out loud. You should know these things!!!! 🙂

  15. Dee,

    I still like “mordant” but the patriarchs probably don’t know what it means, so I’ll retract my comment. “Bitter” is better since patriarchs use it LIBERALLY.

    BTW, Walt Kaiser spoke at SEBTS yesterday and today for the Page Lecture Series. Remember when we went there to hear another wonderful OEC endorser, John Lennox?