It's been a long trip, and probably isn't over yet. I realize that I may not have arrived at the truth yet, but I believe that where I am now is in a more reasonable place in light of the evidence of both the Bible and science. You are invited to judge whether this is really the case.
Above: Galaxy M81 by Spitzer space telescope. [From nasa.gov site.]
In high school after accepting Jesus Christ as my own Savior and Lord, I began examining what I had been and was being taught about the universe and God. I had been taught that the Bible is the Word of God. Over time as I considered evidence for and against this, I came to believe that I had been taught correctly. I have accepted the Bible as the Word of God. To me a logical consequence of this, given the nature of God portrayed in the Bible, is that the Bible must also be without error in what it teaches. When confronted with the claims of the theory of evolution (here and following, meaning macro-evolution, i.e., large-scale evolution), I became convinced that it was mistaken and that recent, special creation in six ordinary days was true. My confidence in this interpretation was reinforced as I read many of the materials of the Institute for Creation Research.
The main reason I rejected long age cosmology was the way the creation week was presented in the Mosaic law in the fourth of the Ten Commandments:
8 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11, NIV)
God took six "days" for creation and rested on the seventh. Those very six days are given as the reason man is to work six "days" and rest on the seventh. This obvious parallelism seemed to me unmistakable proof that all the days were the same length--twenty-four hours. The crucial point was that I thought that this is surely what the ordinary Israelite reader or listener would think. It would take additional explanation to move most people to a different interpretation. I thought that surely if God had actually created over long ages, he would have indicated it somehow to prevent most people's being misled by his words. Certainly the God of Truth in revealing truth would avoid misleading people who were exercising good faith attempts at understanding him.
What I didn't think of until recently is that it seems also reasonable that the ordinary Hebrew interpreter could assume that God used "God-sized" "days" to do his "God-sized" work as a pattern for man in his "man-sized" "days" to do his "man-sized" work. Perhaps there is no necessary identity between the two "days." It might be just as reasonable that they were “proportional.” On the other hand I still think that same-length days is the first impression one would naturally get from reading or hearing the quoted passage read. However, taken together with the other creation accounts in the Bible I think I can see the plausibility of the long age interpretation. The following developments in my thinking helped make it possible for me to see this.
Unexpectedly for me my move away from young earth/young universe creationism actually arises out of my belief that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. I have taken inerrancy as my working hypothesis as I try to interpret the Bible. Of course, I have found that there are apparent internal contradictions in the Bible and conflicts with the truth claims of science and history. How can these problems be understood? Do they disprove inerrancy? I have hypothesized that they do not and have looked for ways to resolve them. Ironically, it is my understanding of how some of these conflicts can be harmonized that was one of the keys to my changing my understanding of the creation time scale.
Most of my life I have been a firm young-universe creationist concerned to vigorously oppose other views on the belief that they undermine faith in the truthfulness of the Bible. This is extremely important since one must believe what the Bible says about salvation. If the Bible can't be trusted on what can be tested, why should we or unbelievers believe it on things like salvation that we can't test? In this sense I disagree with people (including Hugh Ross) who say that what we believe on creation is not a matter of salvation. It has implications for salvation. So I have vigorously though charitably defended my young-universe views in many conversations with other Christians, including other science teachers from Christian schools. At the same time I have labored to keep an open mind. In the last ten years several separate, simultaneous developments in my thinking converged in the year 2000 to move me reluctantly to consider seriously the credibility of the cosmology of Hugh Ross, an old-universe, progressive creationist, whom I originally considered to have buckled under pressure to compromise Scripture from evolutionary science. These developments may be listed, using some fancy words, as phenomenology, the light travel time problem, the removal of naturalistic evolution from consideration, additional light on the Six Days, and the interaction of matter and electromagnetic radiation.
Particularly as a physics teacher one of the problems that I have struggled with is the Bible's earth-centered view of the universe. How can the Bible be correct when it talks about the sun rising and setting or standing still, when it is the earth that is turning, not the sun moving around it? I have learned from others that have worked to resolve these problems that the key concept here is "phenomenon." A phenomenon is literally something that "appears" to our senses. We see things and describe them as they appear to us, which includes how they look from our frame of reference. The earth is a perfectly acceptable frame of reference for description of events in the heavens for some purposes. For example, if you are on earth and you want to navigate by the stars, you assume that the earth is stationary with the celestial sphere rotating around it about once a day. But I learn from physics that the earth is not the only valid frame of reference, and that for some purposes we may need to use another one, such as a sun-centered one. The bottom line is that the Bible is not making an error when it talks about sunrise, sunset, etc., because it is speaking in terms of the earth frame of reference, which is the frame of reference of the readers and listeners of the Bible for most of history. In everyday speech we still talk like this and we wouldn't accuse each other of error for doing it. In fact it is not an error, as long as the frame of reference is understood. For me this and other similar examples established the principle that the Bible often speaks "phenomenologically," that is, it describes phenomena as they appear to an ordinary observer. While such descriptions may be superficial or approximate, they are not claiming to be either from some other frame of reference or to be exhaustive, technical descriptions. On their own terms they are not necessarily incorrect.
The second development in my thinking involved my struggle with the size of the universe and the light travel time problem connected with it. I once believed that a probable solution to the problem was that the universe wasn't as big as astronomers were saying. They use a series of "yardsticks" placed one after the other, the farther-out ones being rather indirect. I assumed that the uncertainty in these yardsticks was large enough that there was room for doubt that the universe is larger than 6000 light years radius. However, in teaching physics at Western Mennonite School, I always take my classes out to look at the stars. For many years I have enjoyed pointing out on a dark night without a telescope the most distant object visible to the naked eye, the nearest galaxy external to our own, the Andromeda Nebula. I tell students that it is calculated to be 2.5 million light years away. This implies that the light took 2.5 million years to reach us if it started out from Andromeda and traveled at the current speed of light. I had also learned in an astronomy class that our Milky Way Galaxy is about 100,000 light years across. Andromeda's size would be similar, and we were seeing light from across its entire diameter. As I presented these things as facts to my students, in the back of my mind I reluctantly realized that I had come to accept that the universe was much larger than 6000 light years. As I had learned more of the mathematical methods of astronomy, I had felt moved by integrity to accept this.
The universe might be billions of light-years in size, but it still might be only 6000 years or so old if God had created the light from the distant galaxies already shining on earth at or soon after the time of creation. He would have created the light in between them and the earth. This light created enroute I envisioned as featureless, generic light, i.e., simple illumination. However, as I thought about this and considered what light from these distant stars and galaxies actually consists of, I found this view at first difficult and then impossible to hold. The light we see from the stars is not featureless. It contains information. For one thing the light consists of a collection of colored lines essentially identical to what can be produced by using a particular mixture of elements here on earth. These colored lines are used to identify the elements in the mixture, since each element emits its own unique set of lines alone or in the presence of other elements. If we interpret starlight as we interpret apparently similar light here on earth, we can identify the elements in the stars that produced it. This gives us information about what elements the stars are apparently made of and what their proportions are. And the light may change in brightness or composition as time goes by. When we see similar changes in the light of the sun or nearby stars, we interpret it as reflecting real events happening to the stars as they go through their life cycles. And we have every reason to believe we are correct in this. There seems no reason not to interpret the corresponding changes in light from very distant stars as reflecting similar events in those stars. But if these features were created in the light in transit to earth, then these "events" never happened. I could not avoid the conclusion that God would be allowing us to be deceived by the light. That seems to be contrary to God's nature as revealed in the Bible. The image there of light is of that which reveals the truth, not something that could deceive a person into believing untruth. No, it seemed starlight had to originate at the stars themselves.
I carried the age problem in the back of my mind waiting for some solution to appear. Most recently I was attracted to reports by young-universe creationists of evidence that the speed of light was faster in the past. That seemed like a possible way to resolve it. I watched for confirmation of this as other scientists examined the evidence. But my thinking was developing along other lines as well.
Since 1991 when Phillip Johnson published and I read Darwin on Trial, I have followed the Intelligent Design movement. Until recently I was annoyed that Johnson consistently distanced himself from Biblical creationism. I thought he was being either disingenuous or cowardly. After all, what was needed was a courageous stand for creationism regardless of the cost! That was the way God would have us behave. One should go ahead and be a fool for Christ's sake! Then I read Michael Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. I had been persuaded in the 1970's by the statistical calculations of the Institute for Creation Research (young universe) creationists that evolution was so unlikely even in three and a half billion years as to be virtually equivalent to impossible. But Behe's book provided convincing evidence that living things were designed. For me the arguments put forward by the Intelligent Design movement and their apparent lack of effective refutation by the evolutionary establishment laid to rest the question of macro-evolution in the history of the universe. Macro-evolution, in my view, has been discredited and so, effectively removed from consideration.
Looking back I realize now that another of the reasons I rejected long ages for the universe was their close association in my mind with evolution. When I thought evolution might be possible in four billion years, I unconsciously believed it important to deny the long ages, since I was sure evolution didn't happen given the Bible's record of creation. Of course, it is true that just because evolution needs four billion years to happen doesn't mean that evolution did happen, even given four billion years. It could be that evolution might take place in four billion years if the conditions were just right on the only earth-like planet in some conceivable universe. However, it could also be that conditions actually weren't just right on this the only earth-like planet that exists in this the only universe that ever existed, and that evolution actually didn't happen here, and so God had to create it all as Genesis says. In other words, evolution might not be impossible in four billion years, yet it still didn't happen. Thus long ages do not necessarily imply evolution. But that argument is hard to make convincingly and I didn't take it seriously myself. It was much easier to go with 6,000 years and eliminate evolution without any doubt. There's no time for it--case dismissed. I naturally went for what I perceived to be the stronger argument given what I thought was the near certainty that 6,000 years was correct anyway. But now I discover that in terms of probability for naturalistic evolution to explain the living world of the past and present, 6,000 years and 4,000,000,000 years are functionally equivalent. Naturalistic evolution is essentially just as unlikely in one as in the other. So with evolution effectively eliminated from the picture, what's wrong with long ages? (Of course, there's plenty, if the Bible unequivocably teaches a young universe.)
The fourth condition making it favorable for me to consider seriously Hugh Ross' model was my "putting two and two together" from my knowledge of physics. Since 1995 I had been acquainted with Hugh Ross' creation model's interpretation of Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Rather than this being a summary of the account to follow, he interprets it as describing the development of the cosmos from the Big Bang creation event up to the stage described in the following verses. The galaxies have long been in existence, the solar system is in place and the earth is cool, covered with water and ready for God to make some final adjustments to ready it for inhabitation by living organisms. Now Genesis 1:2: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." So there was liquid water already before verse three's "And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light." I, like many others, have interpreted "Let there be light" as the first ever instance of light, i. e., visible electromagnetic radiation. Hugh Ross says, "Not so." Since the visible universe was already long in existence by this time, this was instead only the first time that visible light was seen from the surface of the earth, which is the frame of reference from verse 2 onward. My alertness to the phenomenological viewpoint of Scripture suggested to me that this was perhaps just another example of it. With "Let there be light" God made non-opaque the opaque, dust-filled atmosphere left over from the previous stage in God's process of earth creation.
I was skeptical, however, given what I believed was probably the nearly universal interpretation of verse 3 as the creation of light, not simply the clarifying of the atmosphere of earth to admit light. But then I remembered that according to electromagnetic theory, the way protons in the nucleus of atoms and electrons in the electron orbitals communicate the electric force of attraction between them is by exchanging photons. That means that the way hydrogen atoms and oxygen atoms in the water molecules--that the Holy Spirit was hovering over in verse 2 before light was "created"--were holding each other in the molecules was by exchanging photons. Photons?!! Wait a minute . . . that's light! That means there had to already be electromagnetic radiation for there to be water, or rocks, or, in fact the whole earth itself.
More testably real, perhaps, it can be easily demonstrated that matter today at the temperature of liquid water spontaneously radiates infrared radiation. That's why it gets cold on clear nights in many places--both water and land radiate invisible infrared "light" energy into space faster than it is being absorbed. (Cloudy nights are warmer because the clouds reflect infrared back to earth.) So presumably the water in verse 2 was doing this before God spoke, "Let there be light." If the water was radiating infrared, there already was "light", just not the visible-to-human-eyes kind. Phenomenology again. These realizations added support to Ross' contention that light pre-existed verse 3. His clarifying-atmosphere hypothesis then is a plausible interpretation of the command of verse 3. If this is the correct interpretation, then my original interpretation of the creation events now appears to fall to pieces. And Hugh Ross' model begins to look plausible as an alternative to replace it.
Things came to a head for me in March, 2000, when I attended Hugh's lecture at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Portland. In his lecture two things were important to me. First, Hugh believed that God wrote two books, the book of Scripture and the "book" of Nature. He claimed that our approach to the book of Scripture and the book of Nature should be the same: determine the frame of reference and initial conditions before interpreting, examine the data, make a tentative interpretation or model, make predictions based on your model, test your prediction against the data, refine your model, and keep repeating the process indefinitely. This is the best way to get closer and closer to the truth. In my life experience interpreting nature and Scripture I had become firmly convinced the method was the same for both. I was amazed to hear Hugh say the same thing.
The second important thing I noted was Hugh's understanding of and kindness toward his opponents, the young universe creationists, of which I had been one. He was objective enough to honor them for the good they have done in keeping naturalistic and theistic evolutionists on the defensive in this controversy over the years. They have courageously taken them on in hundreds of debates. They have tirelessly championed the inerrancy of Scripture. They have done much to slow the secularizing of America. Yet Hugh Ross believes they are seriously mistaken, embarrassingly so, on the age of the universe. Still he is willing to accept criticism and even abuse from them without striking back in anger. This love that Hugh shows for his "enemies" was the thing that won my heart, even though my mind still had a lot of persuading to undergo.
Since the ETS meeting I have been reading Reasons To Believe (Hugh Ross' organization) books, watching videos, and viewing website resources. I have also considered the arguments of his critics. I have gradually come to believe Hugh is on the right track and I am ever warily getting on board with him and up to speed. I intend to make some of these evidences part of my science teaching and my personal evangelism efforts. I will be sharing these challenging ideas with my fellow believers, particularly my young universe creationist friends, who will likely be tempted to see me as as I did Hugh Ross, as capitulating to the "enemy." At the same time, I will follow Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” These new views of mine need to be regularly tested by young-earth creationists and other skeptics to see if they will continue to stand up. I still labor to keep an open mind. And I still have unresolved problems with parts of the old-universe view. By God’s grace I will approach more and more closely to the truth.
In testing ones ideas one runs the risk of coming to think he was wrong in some areas. Then if he changes his mind on an important issue he runs the risk that those he once agreed with will consider him a betrayer of the cause. Betrayal really does happen by people who invent novel interpretations of Scripture to accomodate liberal academia or politics (right, center, or left) or decadent modern culture. In my view this happens, for example, with those trying to find Biblical justification for acceptance of homosexual behavior or evangelical feminism. And I vigorously oppose them. Yet I do believe that personal progress in understanding and clarifying old problems in Scripture is possible. See here for another example in my own thinking. All I can ask is that the reader who disagrees with my current position graciously consider my faith in the truth of both the book of Scripture and the book of Nature; the goodness of careful, God-fearing reasoning about them both; my desire to know the truth; and the invitation to correct me if I am wrong.
"Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it." Psalm 141:5
What about the question of whether acceptance of an old-universe, progressive creationist view undermines belief in the truth of Scripture? One answer seems to me to hinge on whether or not the word "day" (Hebrew yom) in the creation account in Genesis 1 can be interpreted as a long period of time. If not, then young-universe creationists are justified in charging old-universe creationists with undermining the Bible, because they would be in effect implying the Bible is wrong about creation--pretty basic. But if not, also, then unbelievers who are convinced of the long age of the universe will tend to have belief in the truth of the Bible undermined.
But if so, i.e., if yom in Genesis 1 can legitimately be interpreted as a long age, then the old-universe creationists may be correct in their interpretation of Scripture and would be affirming, not undermining it. And if so, also, then unbelievers who are convinced by the evidence of the long age of the universe will have one significant barrier to faith in the Bible removed. In fact, in this case the hundreds of design features, including fine-tuning, now apparent in the structure and theory of the beginning of the universe, turn out to invite faith in the Bible and Jesus Christ.
Beyond Genesis 1 and yom, what about the many other passages claimed by old-universe creationists such as Hugh Ross to support an ancient, expanding universe, intelligently designed and meticulously crafted by a loving God over the ages for habitation by mankind in the present time so that with its abundant resources he might (relatively) quickly achieve a standard of living enabling him to build powerful telescopes and other technology that would uncover the fingerprints the Creator left all over his creation in order to draw multitudes of people to himself and leave unbelievers in the face of such compelling evidence without excuse (Romans 1:18-20)? I have been compelled to consider this view seriously. I hope the reader will as well.
Finally, what about the argument that since the average Hebrew hearer of Genesis 1 would understand the days to be a normal day, therefore they must be 24 hours so as not to have God deceiving people? I no longer consider this to be a compelling argument. I have learned that God does not pander to those who expect the truth to always lie on the surface. The book of Proverbs urges people to pursue wisdom, indicating that it takes hard work to find it. Jesus taught in parables to conceal the truth from those unwilling to humble themselves to find it. Neander's Law expresses this: "It is a law of revelation that the heart of man should be tested in receiving it, and that in the spiritual life as well in the bodily, man must eat his bread in the sweat of his brow." (Augustus Neander, Life of Christ, 1851)
July 16, 2000
Revised May 5, 2003
Posted January 5, 2004
Last revision May 18, 2016
 All Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved. Used by permission.