THE TESTIMONY OF A FORMERLY YOUNG EARTH MISSIONARY
by Joshua Zorn
An Urgent Appeal for Humility in Addressing the Question of Age of the
Earth and Related Issues from the Mission Field to Pastors and Leaders
of the Sending Churches, especially in North America!
The author holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from a large state university
in the western United States, and held a post-doctoral fellowship at
Oxford, before leaving for the newly opened mission fields of the
former Soviet Union. He is now working with a team which has already
planted churches among two hitherto totally unreached people groups.
HOW I CAME TO BELIEVE THAT THE EARTH IS YOUNG
I became a Christian in 1973 at the age of thirteen when my Sunday
school teacher 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 faith 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 Union.
A few years after my conversion, as I was travelling 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 truckstop 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, and using 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. I
assumed that although virtually the entire academic world disagreed
with our views, yet we, and 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 again
and again 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 in order to disprove the Gospel. I know, because many
scientists are my personal 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 unless I had 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 of these educated people really be so
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 despite the fact that I could not 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 sceptical towards
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.
EVALUATON OF YECS SCIENCE
Twelve years have gone by since I abandoned the young earth viewpoint.
As I continued to study (towards a Ph.D. in mathematics with
applications in population genetics), I unfortuantely saw argument
after argument of the YECSers crumble in the face of evidence, both new
and old. The list would be in the 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. 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 truely 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 sceptical of
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 the
author 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".
In addition to 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 the
scientific evidence unless there are also good hermenutical 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
For me it was suprising 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" Dr. Ross has documented that 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 a
1982 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
Ross' 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, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at
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. Henry.
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:
1) Many arguments put forth by Christians in opposition to
evolution do not stand up to scrutiny and this does not help our cause.
2) 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.
3) Most Christians who opposed evolution up 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.
4) 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.
5) Many old earthers remain opposed to evolution, some for
scientific, and some for Biblical reasons.
6) 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 "evolutionary creationists".
7) Many Christians who otherwise are positive towards creation
through evolution, nevertheless believe in the special creation of
8) However harmful we think someone else's view, as Christians we
must not slander (say negative and untrue things about someone) and we
must speak the truth in love.
9) 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".
10) 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".