by Ken Hamrick
“Young Earth” creationism (YEC), as part of the Christian faith, stands on certain presuppositions, such as the existence of God and the divine, verbal inspiration of Scripture. The kind of apologetic argument that acknowledges that such presuppositions are assumed, and does not attempt to prove them, is presuppositional apologetics. Such presuppositions cannot be proven else they would not be matters of faith but of science. Only God can prove such things to a man. No matter how well-intended, those apologists who try to prove such things to unbelievers are wasting their efforts. The proper goal of the apologist should be to establish the validity of the Christian worldview when it is given that our presuppositions are true, and not to try to prove that these presuppositions are true.
Recently, I came across an article written by J.W. Wartick, entitled, “Young Earth Creationism and Presuppositionalism: An Analysis,”* in which he criticizes the YEC view as a “faulty use of presuppositionalism.” His well-written article is cogent and deserves an answer. I agree with him that YEC “stands or falls upon the specific use of presuppositionalism as an epistemological groundwork;” however, I disagree that YEC uses “an invalid presuppositional approach to viewing science and theology.” My views on YEC have previously been set out in the article, “To Which Will You Give the Benefit of the Doubt: ‘Science’ or Scripture?“
First, some confusion needs to be addressed. YEC is based on two different kinds of presuppositions: 1) the foundational presuppositions of the Christian faith (which include the existence of God, the verbal inspiration of the Bible, and the deity, humanity, atoning death and physical resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ); and 2) the presupposition derived from a hermeneutic that appropriately reflects the authority of an inspired Scripture (to wit, a common-sense, straightforward hermeneutic that assumes that every text of Scripture is a literal, historical account unless the text itself warrants a meaning that is other than literal, resulting in the presupposition of a recent, literal, six-day creation). The former is based on the faith-embrace of spiritual revelation alone; while the latter is based on arguments from the written revelation. Therefore, to surrender the former would be to surrender Christian faith itself, while the latter is not required for Christian faith, but is the logical outcome of that faith. Wartick seems to overlook the difference between these two, perhaps due to encountering faulty arguments by some YEC proponents who fail to make this vital distinction. My goal here is not to defend all YEC proponents, but only to defend YEC in its best and proper form.
Additionally, the label, “Young Earth,” is misleading. What is advocated by YEC is not necessarily a young earth but a recently created earth—YEC does not deny that the earth and universe were created with a certain maturity that could provide evidence of immense age to those who do not hold the presupposition of a recent supernatural creation. In other words, the question is not how old the earth can be scientifically determined to be, but how old—according to such scientific measuring methods—was the earth when it was first created?
The supernatural is not testable or observable. If we could take a scientist back in time to Eden to examine Adam, he could reasonably claim to be able to duplicate the level of physical maturity of Adam in another man, by observing a newborn throughout twenty years or so. Because he has observed such development in other people, he can reasonably apply this to Adam and theorize that Adam is approximately twenty years old (a rough guess… he was mature enough to be given a wife). However, what the scientist cannot do, is to actually observe how Adam came into existence. He can theorize, assume, and even declare his assumptions as scientific fact, but his science is inadequate to the task if Adam was supernaturally created, not naturally originated. The very practice of scientific inquiry into this matter is itself a presumption that nothing supernatural happened else scientific inquiry would be futile. Where God supernaturally acts, science has reached the end of all possible inquiry. The universe only “appears” older than it is to those who presuppose that such a state requires a certain amount of time to achieve; however, such a presupposition when applied to origins is a skeptical presupposition, biased against a supernatural, young-earth creation.
YEC arguments from the presupposition of a recent, supernatural creation are similar to the arguments of presuppositional apologetics, but only because both are based on unprovable presuppositions. Additionally, the truths being argued for are somewhat intertwined. If God does not exist, or if the Bible is not His inspired and true word, then there is no basis for YEC. The presupposition of a recent creation is not foundational in itself, but the same dynamic applies to both the YEC and the foundational presuppositions, in that both must either be assumed or rejected prior to consideration of any supposed physical evidence. In the case of a recent creation, all evidence is accounted for, since God can create the earth in any state or any “age” that He chooses; therefore, there can be no real evidence. Scientists cannot detect and measure any trace of “miracle particles” left behind by the supernatural creation event in order to prove that YEC occurred and determine how long ago it happened. But neither can YEC be disproven by the lack of “miracle particles”—any more than it could be disproven by scientific dating methods that presuppose that YEC did not happen. Most who deny YEC presume that objectivity would give weight to physical evidence in a supposedly unbiased way; however, this would be a biased a priori denial of the real possibility of a recent supernatural event. When considering origins, it is just as biased to assume from the start that YEC did not happen as it would be to assume that it did happen. Giving any weight whatsoever to any physical “evidence” involves a biased, unjustified assumption that a recent supernatural creation is not a valid possibility—else physical evidence would be irrelevant.
The only area in which evidence may be presented and arguments made regarding whether or not YEC is true is the area of hermeneutics—textual evidence from Scripture and arguments on appropriate exegesis of that text. The YEC understanding of the first chapter of Genesis is not the only possible way to read that text; but it is the best and most appropriate way to read it when the authority, inerrancy and veracity of Scripture are affirmed without compromise. The common compromise of asserting that evidence from outside of the Bible must be brought to bear on how the Bible is to be understood—as if God’s truth is revealed with equal authority from both outside and inside of Scripture—violates the foundational presupposition that the Bible is the verbally inspired, inerrant, written truth of God. If any arguments opposing YEC are to be made, they must be made without appeal to extratextual evidence or authority. And so far, no such argument has even approached the strength of the YEC argument.
Wartick wrongly concludes that YEC is assumed prior to exegesis:
In principle, the only way to conclude a young earth is to abandon supposed “uniformintarianism” (hold that the processes in place today continue at the same rate they did in the past… and view all of the history of the earth through the lens of God’s word. Now, whether or not it is valid to assume that the Genesis text is a scientific account, the argument here should be fairly clear. Namely, the young earth position is assumed. It is not something demonstrated by science, but rather a given before any scientific investigation takes place. Similarly, the position is assumed to be true before any exegesis has occurred. All scientific evidence and any exegetical hints at a different position are subsumed into the YEC position because it is assumed from the outset as correct. Because YEC is correct, all evidence must line up with it.*
Of course, the Genesis text is not a scientific account—it is an historical account of historical events. If the earth and its contents resulted from scientific processes, then scientific investigation would be appropriate; but if the world resulted from a recent supernatural creation out of nothing, then science has nothing to offer regarding the matter, as the question is not one of science but one of faith. However, the YEC position is not “assumed to be true before any exegesis has occured.” Rather, it is the result of appropriate exegesis. The exegetical superiority of the YEC position is the reason for its adoption. The text is clearly and plainly intending a literal, six-day, supernatural creation. And together with the historical chronology that the Bible presents, the YEC position is the conclusion that is the most reasonable and most faithful to the foundational presupposition of the truth and authority of Scripture.
Wartick confuses worldview presuppositionalism with event presuppositionalism:
It is clear that YEC turns upon presupposing its truth. YEC is assumed to be true, and all alternative views are simply wrong by default. Unfortunately, this is an abuse of presuppositional apologetics.
It is important to contrast the specifically YEC use of presuppositionalism with the wider use of presuppositional apologetics. Presuppositional apologetics in general is the method of engaging entire worldviews by granting their core assumptions and lining them up against reality in a competition of best explanation. The YEC use of presuppostionalism is to defend a single contention—a young earth—against all comers. There are very significant disanalogies here. What the YEC has done is use presuppositionalism not to enter into the square of debate over whole worldviews, but rather to insulate their interpretation against any possible counter-evidence.
There is a distinct difference between the use of presuppositional apologetics, and the use of YEC in presuppositionalism. The latter tends to simply reject outright any challenge as either against the “clear word of God” or as “assuming uniformitarianism.” By placing their own view beyond the realm of rational inquiry, they have undermined their own potential to know that it is true.*
YEC is the conclusion of a common sense, straightforward hermeneutic applied to the divinely inspired, inerrant text of Scripture. Full confidence in the truth of anything so derived is justified. Alternative views that affirm the same foundational presuppositions are not wrong by default, but by the inferiority of their arguments; while alternative views that deny the foundational presuppositions are beyond all argument. The YEC use of the presuppositional argument is not about worldview, but it is about an event. The invalidating of all opposing views of the event of creation comes only from the nature of a supernatural event itself. The question is not about which worldview is stronger and more cohesive, but rather, the question is whether or not the event actually occurred. It simply does not matter in the least how strong an opposing view you might put together—the supernatural event either took place or it did not, and believing that it did is not based on the comparative strength of the worldview, but only on the faith that the Bible is true in what it plainly intends to convey. If Wartick’s criticism had merit, then even the belief in the literal, physical resurrection of Christ would have to bow to the weight of scientific evidence against such a physical impossibility.
…even if one grants that core beliefs are necessarily assumed, the burden of proof is squarely placed upon the YEC to show how holding to a young earth is necessary for knowledge. Why is this the case? The simplest explanation is that if one assumes the epistemology needed for presuppositionalism is correct, then one has essentially a framework that involves the assumption of core beliefs that are necessary to allow for any knowledge. Thus, for example, the existence of God might be argued as necessary for knowledge (a la Alvin Plantinga, Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and the like) because without God to make us rational, there is no basis for thinking that our beliefs have any actual relationship to reality. Whether or not this is the case, it seems that a young earth is not one of these core beliefs.*
Since the YEC presupposition is not foundational to Christianity, it is not foundational to all knowing. But the YEC presupposition operates much the same way within the smaller purview of knowledge about origins: no true knowledge of origins is possible without presupposing YEC. The proof for this will be objectively provided when all men stand at the end of days in the highest court of all. Until then, it is a matter of faith and not science.
Wartick’s arguments do not allow for even the possibility of YEC. What if God actually did supernaturally create the world in six literal days, approximately six to ten thousand years ago? Would there be any way possible to hold that position and not incur such criticisms as Wartick has here presented? No, indeed. Giving weight to physical evidences while ostensibly seeking to answer the question of whether or not the earth was supernaturally created would be a contradiction that belies any openness to the supernatural possibility.
Wartick describes the “ultimate failing” of YEC:
Thus, we have finally come to the ultimate failing of the presuppositional defense of YEC: it abuses its epistemological framework to the point of breaking. The YEC has utilized an epistemological approach that allows for core beliefs to be assumed, but has done so in such a way that essentially any belief could be assumed with equal validity. An old earth creationist or theistic evoloutionist could equally argue that their position is based upon a core belief that must be assumed, in which case YEC is undermined. In turn, they could assume their reading of Scripture and make all others wrong by default.*
He further writes:
A final point worth noting is that the YEC approach to apologetics actually undermines the possibility of objective knowledge. For, as we have noted, the YEC simply assumes their interpretation of the text without argument and then evaluates all science and theology through that lens. However, the YEC offers no reason for rejecting the notion that others could do exactly the same thing with their interpreatations of the text. The YEC has essentially made all truth relative. Anyone can simply assume their position is correct without argument, and then reinterpret all counter-evidence based on that approach. It therefore becomes clear that the YEC use of presuppositionalism must be rejected.*
The belief in a recent supernatural creation is not assumed without argument, but rather, it is argued from the text of Scripture. Old Earth creationists and Theistic evolutionists are equally free to attempt to argue their positions from that same text. However, as has been often demonstrated, their arguments fail by comparison. It is only when proponents of these alternative views incorporate evidence and “authorities” from outside of Scripture that their arguments gain any strength. But to those of YEC, this contradicts the foundational presupposition regarding the truth of the written revelation—Scripture is sufficient to interpret itself and needs nothing from outside in order to accurately convey its meaning. It is Scripture, and not science, that is the ultimate authority of the truths contained within the Bible.
It comes down to the question of whether the reader gives God’s Word the benefit of the doubt, by interpreting Scripture according to Scripture alone and letting the text speak for itself, or whether the reader allows the so-called evidences and arguments from outside of Scripture (formed by those who do not give God’s Word the benefit of the doubt) to carry more weight than the text itself. Those of the latter method must abandon the normal standards of exegesis (a straightforward, common sense hermeneutic) and adopt a method that seeks any plausible way to insert time-lapses, gaps, or ambiguities, in order to read into the text the presuppositions and evidences of secular science.
* J.W. Wartick, “Young Earth Creationism and Presuppositionalism: An Analysis,” accessed electronically at http://jwwartick.com/2013/02/18/yec-presup/