The Testimony of a Formerly Young Earth Missionary
Dr. Joshua Zorn
1997 by the American Scientific Affiliation
An Urgent Appeal for Humility in Addressing the
Questions of the Age of the Earth and Related Issues
from the Mission Field to Pastors and Leaders of the
Sending Churches, especially in North America!
How I Came to Believe That the Earth Is Young
I became a Christian in 1973 at the age of thirteen when
my Sunday schoolteacher took four lessons to explain the
plan of salvation to us. Although I had attended church
(in a mainline denomination) all my life, this was the first
time I had heard that the blood of Christ shed at the cross
could wash away my sins. I immediately accepted this
good news that salvation was by grace through fait h and
not by works. I began a new life in Christ which has now
led me to work as a church planter in the former Soviet
A few years after my conversion, as I was traveling
across the country with a busload of Boy Scouts on our
way to Philmont Scout Reservation in New Mexico, I
picked up a small book at a truck stop in Nebraska. It
presented a radical view of earth history from a Christian
perspective and I was fascinated. After returning home I
quickly found related literature in my local Christian
bookstore and I became an enthusiastic devotee of young
earth creation science (YECS) as promoted by the
Institute for Creation Research (ICR).
As the son of a physics professor, I had a love for science
and as a naive and enthusiastic young believer, my mind
was fertile ground for the ideas of this movement. As I
look back upon those days, I now understand that we
Christians were growing up in an environment hostile to
belief. There was a pervasive sense that most intellectuals
had abandoned the faith and given license to our
generation to disregard the moral teachings of Scripture.
Yet we knew that we had found something wonderful in
Christianity. If Christianity were true and the world were
against Christianity, we would have to oppose the world,
especially the doctrines which had resulted in the decline
of faith in the western world. Of course, a thinking
person could not reject science in total, but the YECS
people were real scientists, accepting things like the
genetic code, Newton's Laws, and the Second Law of
Thermodynamics. They used them to overthrow the great
evil of philosophical naturalism which, the YECS people
were quick to point out, had given rise to biblical
criticism, secular humanism, and the theory of evolution.
Most people believe what they want to believe so the
YECS arguments quickly persuaded me and a certain
pride took root in my heart. Although virtually the entire
academic world disagreed with our views, I assumed that
we, not they, were correct. But pride, even if rooted in
the correctness of Christian belief, is sin. This sin most
often took the form of criticism of "all those stupid
atheists, Bible critics, secular humanists, and
evolutionists." I slandered them repeatedly by telling
others that they were so biased against belief that they
purposely distorted the evidence to support the old earth
and evolutionist positions. I now publicly repent of this
attitude which I held for several years and call upon
others to examine their hearts and motives. It is true that
in Christ we have a wisdom that the world lacks, but that
wisdom expresses itself in a good life, and by deeds done
in humility (James 3:13:17). Christian wisdom certainly
does not mean we have a greater or more accurate
scientific knowledge of the universe than the experts. It is
also true that many scientists are biased against
Christianity, but almost no one knowingly distorts
evidence to disprove the Gospel. I know, because many
scientists are my friends.
As an evangelical Christian, I viewed Scripture as
authoritative. Yet Scripture in the hand of a fervent
believer with a certain agenda (such as the YECSers) can
be distorted. Thus I believed what they taught and was
not exposed to other evangelical points of view. Of
course I did not seek them out--I thought I had all the
answers. But the church leadership could have addressed
these issues from a more balanced perspective. Many
pastors avoid controversy and thereby water the seeds of
a spiritual crisis in the lives of YECSers who will be
moving on to the university. For whatever reason, our
Christian bookstores and radio stations rarely provide
other literature or viewpoints.
College Years as a Young Earth Enthusiast
As there was no access to other Christian points of view,
I probably would have remained a YECSer all my life had
I not gone on for further studies. I sailed through my
undergraduate years at a liberal arts college with a major
in mathematics, never encountering in class sufficient
evidence to shake my belief in a young earth or rabid
opposition to evolution. (I took no classes in biology or
geology). In fact, I took the initiative to hold a public
lecture entitled "Darwin--Was He Wrong?" to which I
invited all my friends as well as the campus at large. I had
answers to all the feeble scientific objections that my
fellow students could raise (which demonstrates, I think,
how few people really have their beliefs founded on facts
as opposed to indoctrination) and felt that I had carried
the day. Fortunately for me, no faculty showed up!
The Collapse of a False Belief
I do remember one moment of doubt and humility as an
undergraduate. I was walking through a university library
looking at shelf after shelf of books on geology. Could all
these educated people really be so completely wrong?
By the time I entered graduate school, I had discovered
Christian geologist Davis Young's book, Christianity and
the Age of the Earth. I had read his first book, Creation
and The Flood, a few years before, and, although it
sowed seeds of doubt about the young earth, I had not
changed my views. But as I read this book, I saw that the
scientific arguments for a young earth were completely
untenable. I found that all the other Christian graduate
students had problems with YECS geological arguments.
And so, although it was painful, I asked myself if I
wanted to continue to believe in something that is quite
plainly wrong. I decided I did not, and so rejected the
young earth position.
But rejection of the young earth was not only a matter of
science. It affected my faith and the core of my life. I
believed that the Scriptures taught a young earth and was
seeing that the scientific method led to a different
conclusion. Worse yet, I was aware that if the earth is
old, maybe the theory of evolution is true. Did this mean
that the Bible was wrong and perhaps my entire belief in
the Gospel was misplaced? I went through a period of
deep soul seeking, clinging to the Lord although I
couldn't make sense of Scripture and science. In the end,
I agreed to follow the scientific evidence regarding the
age of the earth, be open-minded but skeptical toward
evidence for evolution, and not abandon the faith (which
I was convinced was true for many other reasons). I just
confessed that I did not have all the answers on how to
interpret Genesis. I had read Davis Young's
interpretation, but was so prejudiced against his views
that I did not accept them.
Evaluation of YECS Science
Twelve years have gone by since I abandoned the young
earth viewpoint. As I continued to study (toward a Ph.D.
in mathematics with applications in population genetics),
I unfortunately saw argument after argument of the
YECSers crumble in the face of evidence, both new and
old. The list is in take hundreds and goes far beyond the
issue of the age of the earth. The last straw was when
evidence forced the ICR to back down on its claim of
overlapping man and dinosaur tracks in the Paluxy river
bed in Texas. The "man" tracks--it turns out--are really
poorly preserved dinosaur tracks [or largely infilled
metatarsal dinosaur tracks, along with erosional markings
and some carvings on loose blocks--GJK]. Since that day
I have no longer put any faith in scientific arguments put
forth by the ICR and only rarely read their publications.
It is truly unfortunate that such well-meaning Christians
who share with me both a high regard for Scripture and
evangelism, have made so many scientific errors.
Although it pains me to part company with Christian
brethren, I believe they are doing more harm than good
and urge you to be skeptical of their science.
For those of you wanting to see the science, YECS
arguments have been refuted in many places by both
Christian and secular authors. For starters, let me
recommend Creation and Time by former astrophysicist
and evangelism pastor, Dr. Hugh Ross. In chapter ten of
this book, Ross refutes ten typical arguments for a young
earth. In chapter nine, several astronomical evidences for
an ancient universe are presented. The books by Young
mentioned above, and the books by Newman and
Wonderly mentioned in the bibliography below, refute
more YECS arguments and give additional scientific
reasons to believe in an old universe and earth. All these
authors are conservative evangelicals with advanced
training in science. A secular critique of YECS is
Kitcher's book, Abusing Science.
Besides the science, it is instructive to understand
something of the history of the YECS movement and
how it spread out of Seventh Day Adventism into
American Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. The
history of the movement has been meticulously
documented in the book, The Creationists, by Numbers
listed in the bibliography below.
What Does Scripture Say?
I don't expect pastors or church leaders to be impressed
by all thescientific evidence unless there are also good
hermeneutical reasons for abandoning the YECS position
and a literal reading of the opening chapters of Genesis.
As my prejudice wore off over the years, I began to
discover a whole new world of evangelical
interpretations as well as persuasive arguments against
some aspects of the literalist reading of Genesis 13.
For me it was surprising to find out that very few of the
early Jewish interpreters or church fathers held to the six
consecutive twenty-four-hour day interpretation of
Genesis 1. In Creation and Time, Ross has
documentedthat Philo, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus,
Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandra, Origin, Augustine,
Basil, and others all held to other interpretations.
In the same book (chapter 17), Ross goes on to discuss
the results of a1982 summit of the International Council
on Biblical Inerrancy which gathered to discuss, among
other things, the matter of the ages of the universe and
the earth. After hearing papers representing various
interpretations of Genesis and after deliberating over
these issues for many hours, this group of theologians
and other scholars concluded that belief in six
consecutive twenty-four-hour creation days is
nonessential to belief in inerrancy. Everyone present
except Henry Morris signed the concluding statement,
thus demonstrating the isolation of the extreme position
of the ICR. See the paper by Gleason Archer, Professor
of Old Testament and Semitics at Trinity Evangelical
Divinity School, who concludes that "Entirely apart from
any findings of modern science or challenges of
contemporary scientism, the twenty-four-hour theory
was never correct and should never have been believed."
Ross's book contains endorsements by several other
prominent theologians and Christian leaders. These
include Norman Geisler, Dean of Southern Evangelical
Seminary; Ralph Winter, General Director of the U.S.
Center for World Mission; Don Richardson, author of
Peace Child and Eternity in their Heart; Earl Radmacher,
Chancellor of Western Seminary; Walter Kaiser Jr.,
President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; and
Stan Oaks, Director of Christian Leadership Ministries
(Faculty Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ). Other
works which allow for an old earth include Francis
Schaeffer's No Final Conflict and Evangelical
Affirmations, edited by Kenneth Kantzer and Carl F. H.
The interpretation which I prefer is described in French
theologian Henri Blocher's In the Beginning, published by
IVP. For an excellent of discussion of how to relate
modern science and Genesis, see Genesis Today by Dr.
Ernest Lucas. Many more works are listed in the
Many are afraid that belief in an old earth opens the door
to belief in evolution. It is not my purpose in this essay to
discuss at length how Christians should respond to
Darwin's claims. But I would like to make a few points:
Many arguments put forth by Christians against
evolution do not stand up to scrutiny and this does not
help our cause.
The discovery of the antiquity of the earth was
made well before Darwin's time (mostly by evangelical
Christians) and so did not and does not depend upon
accepting evolution. The idea that "atheistic geologists
twisted the data to get an old earth so as to support
evolution" is wildly inaccurate.
Most Christians who opposed evolution until
Whitcomb and Morris wrote The Genesis Flood in 1961
did not believe in a young earth. These include John
William Dawson, William Jennings Bryan, and Harry
Rimmer. See The Creationists by Numbers.
I believe there is still room to doubt the scientific
scenarios for the origin of life and macroevolution,
although this must be done with care and in humility.
Many old earthers remain opposed to evolution--
some for scientific, and some for biblical, reasons.
There are many sincere Christians who do accept
most or all of the scientific theory (as opposed to the
naturalistic philosophy) of evolution. We could call them
Many Christians who otherwise are positive
toward creation through evolution, nevertheless believe
in the special creation of Adam.
However harmful we think someone's view is, as
Christians we must not slander (say negative and untrue
things about someone) and we must speak the truth in
The word "evolution" means different things to
different people so we must be careful not to
misrepresent others. Some use "evolution" to mean "life
developed by random accidents and natural selection and
so life is meaningless." If this is what is meant, then all
Christians are opposed to "evolution."
Anyone who has told their child that "God made
you" has affirmed that God can make (create) through
natural processes. Thus "creation" does not require direct
miraculous intervention. Processes, such as mutation and
selection (i.e., "evolution"), are not necessarily in
opposition to "creation."
Lessons from My Life
For those of you who really believe in a literal
interpretation of Genesis that requires a young earth, my
appeal is to recognize that this flies in the face of an
enormous amount of scientific evidence which essentially
all scientists, Christian or otherwise, accept. In addition,
there are hermeneutical problems with that view as
pointed out, for example, inArcher and Blocher's works
listed below. As you teach your interpretation of Genesis,
be humble enough to mention that there are many
scientific problems, that the ICR position is not accepted
by most evangelical Christians with scientific training,
and that there are other interpretations. It is sinful
(slanderous and untrue) to teach that all who believe in
an old earth are liberals who don't care about evangelism.
It is precisely because I do believe in evangelism that I
am writing this paper!I would plead with you to earnestly
seek the Lord for a renewal and deepening of your faith
and then have the boldness to begin to study other
evangelical views, such as those found in the
bibliography. Cling to the Lord and look for support
from others who have studied these things. Pastors who
are completely ignorant of science are ill prepared to
minister to our generation and must, at the least, remain
Christianity Is Not in Opposition to Science
In our everyday lives, we constantly apply and even trust
in the results of scientific research. The technologies to
build an airplane, create antibiotics, or evangelize distant
peoples via Christian radio all depend on the accuracy of
our understanding of how the world works as discovered
by the scientific method. Thus Christians have gained
much from the sciences. Science continues to be so
successful at generating knowledge in its proper fields
that it is unwise for so much of the church to be so
against certain results of science.
It may be objected that the examples given above are
from the more exact laboratory sciences and not the
historical sciences. While it is true that the results of the
historical sciences are often tentative because we cannot
go back in time to observe directly what happened, many
of the results are quite secure and have impacted our
lives. Success in locating oil deposits, an understanding
of where earthquakes will occur, our understanding of
historical passages in the Bible, a deeper understanding
of human and animal behavior, and the powerful
argument for the existence of a Creator based on the Big
Bang (see The Creator and the Cosmos in the
bibliography below) all depend on the accuracy of the
results of the historical sciences such as historical
geology, plate tectonics, paleontology, archaeology,
anthropology, history, cosmology, and behavioral
Do not fall into the trap of thinking the age of the earth is
just a matter of "trusting God's Word" versus "trusting
science." Christians need to, and every day do, trust both.
The common error of rejecting many well-established
results of science in favor of a certain biblical
interpretation is not a valid Christian position. In the end,
the truth will be a harmony which rejects neither the
teachings of Scripture nor the well-established results of
science. The results of science (properly interpreted)
should never challenge the authority of Scripture, but
they may cause us to reexamine our interpretation of
Scripture. This is what I am pleading with young earthers
The Christian position must be that all truth is God's
truth and that we have both general revelation (nature)
and special revelation (the Bible) as sources of truth.
Science clearly has its limits in that, for example, it
cannot tell you if adultery is sinful or not. The Bible
clearly has its limits in that we cannot learn calculus or
quantum mechanics from its pages. The only possible
trouble comes in those relatively rare instances when
both the Bible and science seem to have something to
say, such as historical questions about the nation of Israel
or the creation of life on this planet.
While Christians may not always be happy with the
results of science, we should respect scientists and
oppose scientific theory only rarely, cautiously, and in
humility, if at all. We should also check our
interpretations of Scripture to see if anything has been
overlooked. It may help to consult with believing
scientists to understand how others have dealt with the
issue. If there remain stubborn problems, we should have
the courage to admit that we don't have an answer, but in
faith, believe that when we know in full, the answer will
be clear. Ultimately, our confidence in Scripture should
not rest on having a complete harmony between science
and the Bible because we simply do not know enough to
complete the harmony.
Science in the Service of Atheism
A brief word must be said about the danger of the anti-
Christian propaganda being distributed by certain
atheistic scientists. Yes, it is true that many atheists try to
make the case that science has disproved certain
Christian doctrines. However, the case is very weak. In
dealing with these kinds of arguments, we must learn to
separate the wheat from the chaff. Often, the scientific
facts are solid, but their philosophical interpretation is
anti-Christian and unproven. While confusing the issues
for many, these arguments do not mean that Christians
should oppose science. However, we must be on guard
to oppose anti-Christian philosophies masquerading in
the name of science.
There is also an unwarranted anti-supernatural bias in
academia and elsewhere which causes many to dismiss
certain Christian doctrines without a fair consideration.
Christians, in reaction, tend not to trust academics and
science. This bias must be exposed (see Phillip Johnson's
Reason in the Balance) and opposed. As Christians we
do believe in miracles, such as the resurrection of Christ,
which go beyond scientific explanation. But our belief in
occasional miracles is no reason for us to oppose science
Negative Spiritual Implications of YECS
The worst aspect of YECS teaching is that it creates a
nearly insurmountable barrier between the educated
world and the church. Certainly God in his sovereignty
has allowed some to be persuaded to believe in Christ
through the arguments of YECSers. But how many more
have not accepted the Gospel because of the unnecessary
demand that converts believe that the world is no more
than 10,000 years old? And how many have
unnecessarily gone through a crisis of faith similar to that
which I described above? How many have chosen to give
up their faith altogether rather than to accept scientific
nonsense or a major reinterpretation of Scripture? How
much have we dishonored our Lord by slandering
scientists and their reputation? How much have we
sinned against Christian brothers holding another opinion
by naming them "dangerous" and "compromisers"? How
much responsibility do we bear for having taught others
(James 3:1) things that probably are not even true? Each
must search his own heart.
A Call for Action
Pastors need to rethink these issues as outlined above
and teach are responsible Christian viewpoint with all
humility. Seminaries need to reconsider what they are
teaching this generation of pastors and perhaps include a
basic science course in their curriculum. Christian writers
need to create materials for Sunday school, bedtime
stories, home educators, and Christian schools that will
not give our children an anti scientific bias, setting them
up for a crisis of faith later in life. Christian radio and TV
stations need to invite qualified speakers to wrestle with
these issues in a responsible way. Publishers need to have
courage to publish unpopular viewpoints, if they are
consistent with Christian faith. Bookstores need to be
willing to sell Christian books critical of YECS that
promote other views. People who are qualified to speak
need to be willing to follow the Lord's call to become
publicly involved, despite the persecution which will
come (from well-meaning brothers in the Lord). Finally,
missionaries and evangelists need to get materials
expressing other viewpoints translated to oppose the
virtual monopoly YECS teaching has overseas.
As I write this paper, I see YECS literature becoming
more and more widely distributed in the growing
churches in my corner of the former Soviet Union. We
are sowing the seeds of a major crisis which will make
the job of world evangelism even harder than it is
already. Lord, give us wisdom!
Notes and Bibliography
Note #1: The purpose of this bibliography is to provide
access to a variety of evangelical opinions consistent with
an old earth. Inclusion of a work in the bibliography does
not imply my endorsement of all that is written in that
work. In fact, as I am overseas, I have not even read
some of the works listed, but am including them on the
strength of good recommendations or book reviews.
Note #2: There are several references to the
Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute (IBRI) which
is informally associated with Biblical Theological
Seminary. They have produced several items related to
the age of the earth besides the ones we have listed.
Address: P.O. Box 423, Hatfield PA, 19440.
Note #3: An organization of mostly old earth Christians
in the sciences is the American Scientific Affiliation, P.O.
Box 668, Ipswich, MA 01938-0668. Phone(978)356-
5656. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. WWW:
Archer, G. "A Response to The Trustworthiness of
Scripture in Areas Relating to Natural Science." In
Radmacher E. and Preus R., ed. Hermeneutics,
Inerrancy, and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Academic
Books, Zondervan. 1984. Gives biblical reasons why this
scholar cannot accept the twenty-four-hour days
interpretation of Genesis 1.
Blocher, H. In the Beginning: The Opening
Chapters of Genesis. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity
Press, 1984. My preferred interpretation of Genesis 13.
Grudem, W. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1994. Grudem' shumble open-mindedness,
summarized on page 308, is a good example of how
someone with young earth tendencies may want to
address the issue.
Johnson, P. Darwin on Trial (2d ed.). Downers
Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1993. Sets forth the scientific
and philosophical reasons why many scholars are not yet
convinced of the fully mechanistic molecules-to-man
theory of evolution.
-------- Reason in the Balance. Downers Grove: Inter
Varsity Press, 1995. A critique of philosophical
Kantzer, K. and Henry, C., eds. Evangelical
Affirmations. Grand Rapids: Academic Books,
Zondervan, 1990. Chapter 10 ("Modern Science") is of
Kitcher, P. Abusing Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press, 1982. A secular critique of YECS.
Lucas, E. Genesis Today: Genesis and the
Questions of Science. London: Scripture Union, 1989.
Excellent discussion of all the major issues.
Newman, R. and Ecklemann, H. Genesis One and
the Origin of the Earth.3rd printing. Hatfield, PA: IBRI,
Numbers, R. The Creationists: The Evolution of
Scientific Creationism.Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1992. A meticulous and enlightening history of the
young earth creationist movement.
Rademacher, E. and Preus, R., eds. Hermeneutics,
Inerrancy, and theBible. Proceedings from the ICBI
Summit II, 1982, in Chicago, IL. Grand Rapids:
Academic Books, Zondervan, 1984. This work contains
a key paper by Walter L. Bradley and Roger Olsen
entitled "The Trustworthiness of Scripture in Areas
Relating to Natural Science" as well as Gleason Archer's
Ross, H. The Creator and the Cosmos: How the
Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal
God. 2d edition. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1995. An
argument for the existence of God based on recent
---------- Creation and Time: A Biblical and
Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy.
Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1994. Interprets the "days"
in Genesis as ages. Anti-evolution. Excellent discussion
of the history and tragedy of the controversy.
Schaeffer, F. No Final Conflict: The Bible Without
Error in All That it Affirms. Downers Grove,
InterVarsity Press, 1975. Schaeffer does not take a
position on the age of the earth and claims that from a
study of the Bible one could hold either opinion.
Van Till, H. J. The Fourth Day: What the Bible and
the Heavens Are Telling Us about the Creation. Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986. A controversial book which
claims that there is no biblical reason to oppose creation
through evolutionary processes.
Weister, J. The Genesis Connection. Hatfield, PA:
IBRI. 1983. A survey of scientific data and theorizing on
origins showing that the data are consistent with an old
earth interpretation of Scripture.
Wonderly, D. God's Time-Records in Ancient
Sediments. Flint, MI: Crystal Press, 1977. This book
contains specific examples of non-radiometric evidences
for great age. It is now available from IBRI.
---------- Neglect of Geologic Data: Sedimentary
Strata Compared with Young Earth Creationist Writings.
Revised. Hatfield, PA: IBRI, 1993.
Young, D. Creation and the Flood: An Alternative
to Flood Geology and Theistic Evolution. Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1977. Argues for a day-age, anti-evolution
---------- Christianity and the Age of the Earth.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982. The book which
convinced me that the earth is old.
---------- The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the
Church's Response to Extra-biblical Evidence. Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.