In our final segment on this topic, we continue to debunk some of the claims made about biblical creation. This is in response to a recent podcast by Phil Vischer with co-hosts Skye Jethani, Christian Taylor, and Jason Rugg. We have seen that Phil misrepresented both the history of the Church’s position on biblical creation, and also the teaching of modern biblical creationists.
Phil: And so the rebellion of Henry Morris, um, and John Whitcomb when they wrote their book was a rebellion against any reading of Genesis 1 and 2 other than the most obvious surface level reading.
Lisle: That is such a dishonest misrepresentation and it is clear that Phil has never read the book he is mocking. What Morris and Whitcomb actually did in their book The Genesis Flood was to demonstrate that an exegetical reading of Genesis 1 requires taking the text in its normal, historical sense. Namely, Genesis really does mean what it states. They showed that we should interpret Genesis the same way Jesus did (Mark 10:6-9; Luke 17:26-29), and the same way the apostles and all biblical writers did (1 Corinthians 15:21-22; 1 Peter 3:20; Jude 7, 14; Hebrews 11:4) – as literal history.
Morris and Whitcomb also showed how Christian doctrines are only rationally defensible if Genesis is literal history. Jesus also appealed to a literal Genesis as the basis for Christian doctrines, such as marriage (Matthew 19:4-6) and judgment for sin (Matthew 24:37-39). Morris and Whitcomb demonstrated that the Church in fact had the correct understanding of Genesis throughout its first 1700 years, and that modern notions of deep time and evolution are not consistent with a proper hermeneutical analysis of the text.
By the way, one of the most important rules of hermeneutics is that a text should be taken in its plain or natural sense unless there are contextual indications to the contrary. Failure to follow this simple rule results in all sorts of heresy. Consider Matthew 28:6, in which the angel says of Christ, “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.” Should we interpret that passage in its plain sense, that Christ really did rise from the dead? Or should we invent a more complex interpretation that would be compatible with the scientific consensus that dead people stay dead? If we adopt the latter, then we do not truly have faith in Christ, and we are still in our sins (Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 15:14). Theology matters.
Phil: It’s the equivalent of reading Paul, and saying, “so women must cover their heads in church, because that’s what he says,” you know, “and they cannot ask questions in church because that’s what Paul says.”
Lisle: No. Phil is confusing interpretation with application. The proper interpretation of Paul in passages like 1 Corinthians 11:5-6, 14:34-35 is just as clear as the proper interpretation of Genesis. Namely, in the time and culture in which Paul lived, Paul was very clear that women must cover their heads in church, and should not speak in the church. The plain reading is the correct one because there are no contextual indications that it should be taken otherwise. The question many Christians have is how we should apply these passages today. Namely, should women in church today in our culture also cover their heads and remain silent? That’s a question of application – not interpretation. But what Paul actually meant is very clear.
Phil: So, it’s that kind of reading where, you know, ‘superficial’ sounds like it’s an insult, and I’m not meaning to insult it, but it’s, “I’m going to read this and the most obvious meaning is the one I’m going to take, based on what comes to my mind right now in my setting.”
Lisle: The ironic thing about Phil’s statement here is that he expects us to take it in its most superficial sense and derive the most obvious meaning that comes to our mind when hearing his words. Namely, a natural reading of Phil’s statement is that we should not take a natural reading of statements. This, of course, is self-refuting.
Phil apparently thinks that we should not take the most obvious meaning of statements. Okay, fine. Then it follows that we should not take the most obvious meaning of Phil’s statement. Perhaps what Phil really means by his non-literal statement is, “We all should believe that God created in six days roughly 6000 years ago, just as the Bible clearly teaches.” In that case, I fully agree with him!
Again, perhaps the most important rule of hermeneutics is to take the plain sense of a text unless there are contextual reasons to take it otherwise. Apart from this rule, communication would be impossible. Think about it. If the default position is a non-natural reading of the text, then we could never argue for a natural or literal reading of a text, because our argument would be taken non-literally too. Apart from this rule of hermeneutics, anything goes. Interpreting a statement is left to the whims of the reader, and not determined by anything the writer actually states. That is why people who claim to be Christ-followers, but who don’t want to accept what the Bible teaches, must abandon this fundamental principle of hermeneutics. Essentially, if you don’t want to accept a biblical text, simply dismiss it with the sweeping claim, “I don’t interpret that literally.”
There is also a bit of a straw-man fallacy in Phil’s claim when he adds “in my setting.” Biblical creationists understand that we should consider the culture in which a text was written. But this does not allow us to simply dismiss sections of the text we don’t like. After all, the only way we can learn about what the ancient biblical authors believed is by reading what they wrote and taking the text in a natural sense.
Skye: Well, but if you take the whole Bible that way the most obvious reading of the sermon on the mount is I should gouge out my eye.
Lisle: No, it isn’t. And the fact that the disciples who heard this sermon didn’t gouge out their eyes refutes Skye’s absurd claim. The natural, exegetical interpretation of Matthew 5:29, the most obvious meaning, is that the pleasures of sin are not worth ending up in hell. Jesus did not say, “Okay everyone: gouge out your eyes!” Rather, He said, “If your right eye makes you stumble [causes you to sin]…” But of course, our eyes do not make us sin. Rather, people sin when they give into the temptation enticed by their own lust (James 1:13). Thus, we should do like Job and make a covenant not to use our eyes sinfully (Job 31:1). But if you are unwilling to do that, if you love the sin that your eyes enable you to commit so much that you are unwilling to repent, then it would (literally) be better to remove your eyes and repent than to leave them intact and end up in hell. Jesus is emphasizing the severity of sin. That is the natural, exegetical interpretation of Matthew 5:29.
Phil: One of the things that Henry Morris and John Whitcomb and then others like Ken Ham did, was rather than fighting, rather than seeing the culture as the enemy (which they do, but it’s not their primary target), their primary target is Christians who say they believe the Bible but disagree with us about Genesis 1.
Lisle: False. Rather, the problem is with Christians who say they believe the Bible but disagree with what the Bible says in Genesis 1: those professing Christians who disagree with what Jesus believed about Genesis 1. As Jesus put it, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46-47).
Although there are difficult portions in Scripture, for the most part, the Bible is very easy to understand. It is not written in some secret code that needs to be deciphered. It was written in the ordinary language of the day, and was easily understood by the people of the time. Genesis is particularly easy to understand because it is written in historical narrative – the same style as the bulk of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, etc. Historical narrative doesn’t have a lot of metaphor or other non-literal figures of speech found in poetic sections like the Psalms. Rather, it simply records what happened – plainly and literally.
By the way, what group of people did Jesus most sharply rebuke during His earthly ministry? Was it the wicked sinners who wanted nothing to do with God? No, it was the religious leaders who were familiar with what the Bible taught, but distorted the plain meaning of the text to fit their traditions. Sound familiar? Jesus castigated those who professed faith in God, but denied the clear teaching of God’s Word in favor of their made-up ideas.
One spectacular example is found in Matthew 15. The religious leaders criticized Jesus for failing to follow the tradition of the elders (traditions that are not found in Scripture). Jesus then criticized them for failing to follow God’s commands because they had reinterpreted those commands to fit with their traditions. Jesus did not share Phil’s view that there are multiple acceptable interpretations of Scripture. Rather, the Pharisees were breaking God’s law by re-interpreting it to fit their traditions. Jesus calls them hypocrites. Is this any different from our situation today? Today we have religious leaders who invalidate God’s Word in Genesis by their traditions of deep time and evolution. We expect unbelievers to reject Genesis and replace it with secular traditions. But, it is particularly indicting when professing Christians do this.
Phil: Mixter, at Wheaton College, he was a science professor. And in the mid 1950s, um, he did the equivalent of what John Walton is doing today, of saying, “I don’t really think there’s a conflict between evolutionary theory and the Bible, if you assume that God guides the process.”
Lisle: Actually, from what I can tell, Russell Mixter was an old-earth creationist who rejected Darwinian evolution. He seemed to believe (along with biblical creationists today) in change within kinds, and not between kinds, and that Adam and Eve had been supernaturally created by God. In any case, Phil seems to be attempting another faulty appeal to authority. I can find professing Christians who reject biblical creation in favor of theistic evolution, just as there are professing Christians who embrace Genesis. The question is not whether people say there is no conflict between neo-Darwinian evolution and the Bible, but rather what the Bible actually states. And there is no doubt that Genesis teaches a supernatural creation of the original kinds of plants and animals within six days, and that Adam was made from the dust of the ground and Eve from his side. And that is not compatible with neo-Darwinian evolution.
Phil also mentioned John Walton who today promotes theistic evolution and attempts to interpret Genesis to be consistent with it. But he has been thoroughly refuted. If you want to see the refutation of the kinds of arguments proposed by Walton, see my recent interview on Revealed Apologetics here. Walton’s views would have been totally foreign to the original audience of Genesis.
Skye: Or if you assume that you should read Genesis as the original ancient Jewish audience would have read it.
Lisle: We should indeed read it as the original audience did (or more precisely, as the author intended): exegetically – as literal history! We know they read it that way because we have their other writings in the Scriptures. The other biblical authors took the books of Moses as real history, Adam as a real person (1 Chronicles 1:1; Job 31:33; Hosea 6:7; Luke 3:38, Romans 5:14, Jude 14), Noah as a real person and the global flood as a real event (1 Chronicles 1:4; Isaiah 54:9; Ezekiel 14:14; Matthew 24:37; Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20). They took the days of creation as literal days, the same as our work week (Exodus 20:8-11). Is Skye seriously suggesting that the original Hebrew audience looked at Genesis and said, “Well this is obviously symbolic for evolution over billions of years!”?
There is not the slightest hint that the early Hebrews read Genesis in the convoluted, unnatural way Walton suggests in order to make it compatible with either evolution or other near eastern pagan mythologies. On the contrary, God condemns following pagan religious practices over and over (Leviticus 20:23, 18:3, 18:30; Deuteronomy 6:14, 11:28, 12:30; Jeremiah 10:2).
Phil: I was surprised, you know, the first time I went to Wheaton College to the science department and saw the big woolly mammoth, you know, that the students excavated in Glen Ellen in the mid-1960s and it had a plaque under it that said this lived 20,000 years ago.
Lisle: First, Phil shouldn’t have been surprised by this. Wheaton is known to have a secular, anti-biblical view on Genesis, and has for many decades. In fact, most “Christian” schools are now compromised on Genesis. Second, the plaque stating “20,000 years ago” is not evidence. Mammoth remains do not come with labels identifying their age. The 20,000 years comes not from evidence, but from a secular view of origins. Third, virtually all mammoth remains we find are found in post-flood sediment, especially in layers associated with the ice age that was caused by the aftermath of the global flood. Therefore, rationally, these mammoth remains would have to be less than 4600 years old.
Phil: Christian kids grow up knowing that they shouldn’t go to Wheaton College if they are taking Answers in Genesis curriculum.
Lisle: It’s not that they necessarily shouldn’t go there if they understand what they are going to be taught. But isn’t it appropriate to warn parents of colleges that are labelled as “Christian,” but which reject portions of God’s Word? Moreover, since the history recorded in Genesis is foundational to every major Christian doctrine, schools that compromise on Genesis cannot rationally defend Christian principles. Jesus warned people of the religious leaders who claimed to serve God but who invalidated God’s Word for the sake of their tradition (Matthew 15:6-9). Shouldn’t we as Christ-followers also warn people about the dangers of compromise?
Phil: Do you see why Ken Ham can’t let this go?
Lisle: Speaking only for myself, I cannot let Phil get away with his false claims because I love the Lord and I must cast down arguments that exalt themselves against God (2 Corinthians 10:5). Much of what Phil has claimed here is demonstrably false, and his belief in deep time (and possibly evolution?) is directly contrary to Scripture. Jesus refuted arguments against the faith; as His servant, I must do the same.
Moreover, this is not merely an academic issue. Many people have walked away from the Church because they were told that Genesis doesn’t really mean what it says, that it’s okay to believe in evolution, but that you should trust the Gospel. It’s hypocrisy to say it’s okay to reject or reinterpret those early chapters of the Bible, but not the Gospel (which is only rationally understandable in light of the literal history of Genesis). Some people are like Phil; they can accept the cognitive dissonance of rejecting or dismissing as symbolic the early history recorded in Scripture while simultaneously embracing the Gospel which is based on that literal history. But people who prefer rationality cannot accept such inconsistency.
Phil: [According to Ken Ham] The problem is people like me, colleges like Wheaton, that don’t say, “This is the only way that you can read Genesis if you believe the Bible is inerrant.”
Lisle: This is a very revealing comment from Phil because it exposes his relativism. He is criticizing the idea that there is only one way to read a text (i.e. exegetically) if the Bible is inerrant. Therefore, Phil must believe that there are multiple correct ways to interpret a text, all of which preserve inerrancy. But think about that. Can Genesis really have multiple contradictory meanings? Did Moses mean to convey the idea that God created in six days and that God did not create in six days? Did Moses intend to mean that the flood in Noah’s time was global and also not global? That kind of relativistic thinking reduces to absurdity. A text can be mishandled in an infinite number of ways, but it has only one meaning. If the Bible is inerrant, then what the text means must be true.
Let’s apply Phil’s relativism to the Gospel. Ken Ham would claim (as do I) that we must read the Gospel accounts as literal history – that Jesus Christ literally died for our sins and literally rose from the dead. Would Phil agree that “this is the only way that you can read the Gospels if you believe the Bible is inerrant?” I hope he would, because if the Gospels are non-literal, poetic, or fictional stories, then we have no hope of salvation (1 Corinthians 15:14-17).
Genesis is written in the normal Hebrew historical narrative style, indicating that it is recording literal, historical events. All other biblical texts that quote or reference Genesis take it as real history. Therefore, if the Bible is inerrant then Genesis must be literally true.
Phil: …and completely ignore the fact that the biggest proponents of inerrancy didn’t read Genesis this way from the very beginning.
Lisle: This is demonstrably false. First, we have already shown in previous articles that biblical (“young earth”) creation was always the consensus position of the church throughout its history until the last few centuries. And the shift away from a literal Genesis had nothing to do with exegesis, but rather with the acceptance of the anti-biblical philosophies of naturalism and uniformitarianism. Hence, the biggest proponents of inerrancy throughout the history of the church did read Genesis as literal history.
Second, it should be obvious that just because someone claims to believe in inerrancy doesn’t automatically mean that he or she truly does believe in inerrancy. Many people who defend biblical inerrancy in other areas nonetheless reject the history recorded in Genesis. The fact that they are inconsistent does not mean that Genesis can legitimately have multiple correct yet contradictory meanings.
Christian: When you hear something over and over and over again, uh, your brain just accepts it as truth. And you become comfortable with that and almost lazy. And so when new information is introduced it makes you very uncomfortable and you kind of don’t like it.
Lisle: That’s certainly true, and it actually explains why Phil and his co-hosts have embraced such anti-biblical claims regarding origins. It is certainly not from an exegetical study of the text. Rather, we have all been taught that evolution and deep time are true and are supported by science. We hear this over, and over, and over again. We hear it in school. We hear it on the news. We hear it at the movies. And, sadly, we even hear it at many churches and Christian colleges. Consequently, even Christians can become comfortable with evolution and deep time. They are told that it’s okay to read Genesis as fiction or poetry, and they simply accept it out of laziness. Then when someone like Ken Ham comes along and challenges this view with hermeneutics and scientific data, it “makes you very uncomfortable and you kind of don’t like it” as Christian rightly said.
But did Phil or his colleagues produce even one piece of scientific data that would logically support Darwinian evolution or deep time? Or do they simply accept these ideas as a given? Did they provide an actual argument from Scripture that Genesis is meant to be read as poetic or symbolic for evolution? Or do they simply accept that because they have heard it over, and over, and over again? You might want to listen to the podcast again, and I think you’ll be amazed at how evolution and deep time are simply assumed without question.
Most people have heard over and over that fossils somehow prove evolution, but when you ask them for the specifics, they have no answer. Most accept deep time because they’ve heard that radiometric dating somehow proves that rocks are very old, but when you ask them how radiometric dating could possibly establish an age, they have no answer. In my years of studying this topic, I have yet to come across a cogent argument for deep time or neo-Darwinian evolution. Most people accept these ideas out of nothing but intellectual laziness.
Christian: And interestingly enough, it’s the education that all of these people are writhing against.
Lisle: Sure, I just hate education which is why I obtained a Ph.D. in astrophysics and why I teach astronomy at The Master’s University. On the contrary, I am very pro education. I encourage students to learn logic and to learn science, and to learn how to read the Bible so that they will not be fooled by false claims like the kind we have heard on this podcast. But sadly, a lot of what passes for “education” these days really isn’t. Most schools these days aren’t so much about education as they are indoctrination. Rather than teaching students how to think, they are more concerned with pressuring students to accept secular humanism, along with its origins story.
Skye: “I think What messes people up, is if you’re right or if Ken Ham is wrong, then the world suddenly becomes more complicated.”
Lisle: No, what messes people up is that they fear men rather than God (Proverbs 29:25; Isaiah 51:7; Deuteronomy 1:17). Let’s be honest, no one really believes in millions of years or evolution because they are the most hermeneutically and exegetically sound way to read Genesis. Rather, people get intimidated by secular scientists who claim that the Bible isn’t true because they say its details of origins are wrong. And rather than carefully studying the issues (the scientific data, the biblical exegesis), most people just go along with the flow – into the wide gate. It’s easier to do what Skye has done – simply switch off your brain and accept whatever the secularists claim about origins. No need to read any of the scientific literature that challenges those claims. No need to study the Scriptures carefully to see what they say about Genesis. Just interpret the Bible however you need to in order to accommodate the secular claims.
Skye: Then the way to fix the problems in the world becomes more complicated. Then raising children becomes more complicated.
Lisle: This seems to be a continuation of Skye’s straw-man claim that we creationists believe that accepting a literal Genesis will instantly fix all the world’s problems. But no one claims that. Rather, I would suggest that all the world’s problems stem from a rejection of biblical authority. Sin is the problem. And since the Bible does teach that God created in six days, a rejection of that doctrine is a rejection of biblical authority.
Furthermore, we would point out that compromise with secular views on origins undermines all Christian doctrines. You cannot defend the sanctity of human life if Genesis is not real history, because it is in the literal history of Genesis that we learn that human beings are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27-28). You cannot defend the Christian doctrine of marriage if the record of Adam and Eve is just a non-literal metaphor. All the problems in the world began with a rejection of the authority of God’s Word, and they will continue as long as people reject the authority of God’s Word.
In fact, it one sense, it is simpler and easier to just go with the flow – to switch off your brain and accept whatever the evolutionists teach. It is far easier to just send your kids to a public school where they will be taught evolution and deep time than to carefully research biblical alternatives. It is far easier to abandon biblical authority in Genesis, dismiss it as poetic, than to defend biblical authority in Genesis.
Skye: Then being a Christian becomes more complicated.
Lisle: I suppose there is a sense in which that is true. It is more complicated to constantly be deciding which portions of the Bible to accept, and which to reject or reinterpret based on secular ideas about science, than to simply accept all that God’s Word teaches. And then of course you have to constantly change your interpretation of the text whenever the secular opinions shift. The mental gymnastics necessary to read Genesis in such a convoluted way as to be compatible with secular view on origins are extraordinarily complicated. It is complicated to be tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). But there is a simplicity in truth.
Skye: And there’s a lot of people out there who just want things simple.
Lisle: “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Skye may denigrate the simplicity that is found in Christ, but the Apostle Paul commends it. Most of the main teachings of Scripture are fairly simple. It is Satan who likes to complicate things by asking questions like, “Did God really say ____?” (Genesis 3:1)
Skye: What Ken Ham is really selling people is not a theological interpretation of Genesis. What he’s selling them is simplicity.
Lisle: Actually, what Ken Ham promotes is biblical authority. The primary reason why it is important to believe what the Bible says in Genesis, is because it’s what the Bible says in Genesis. When you attempt to read historical records like Genesis as if they were non-literal poems, you are rejecting biblical authority. Jesus criticized His disciples that were “slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). Therefore, biblical creationists encourage all people to accept all that the Bible affirms. We should interpret the text in a natural fashion, reading the literal historical sections as literal history, and the poetic sections as poetry.
Is that simple? There is a kind of simplicity in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). And since Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), there is simplicity in truth. When we use this principle in science, we refer to it as Occam’s Razor. Since this is a biblical principle, we find it works very well. Skye seems to think that such simplicity is a bad thing: that we should opt for more complicated interpretations of the biblical text than a natural reading. But is he consistent? Would he apply that reasoning to the Gospel?
Would Skye say something like the following? “The problem with Ken Ham is he teaches people that they need to take the simple, plain reading of the Gospel – that you must believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead. They have to agree with his simplistic, literal interpretation. He’s not giving them a theological interpretation. He’s just selling them simplicity.” Do you see the problem? Furthermore, Skye expects us to interpret his own comments in a simple, natural way, rather than re-interpreting them according to our preferences. Why won’t he show God the same courtesy?
It is the false interpretations of Scripture that lack simplicity. This is because it takes a great deal of intellectual gymnastics to convince someone that the text doesn’t mean what it so obviously does mean. But such convolutions are not faithful to the text. The Bible isn’t a puzzle that requires a Ph.D. in astrophysics to understand. God knows how to clearly communicate to His people. The question is, will you accept what God has said?
Skye: He’s selling them a very simple way of understanding everything wrong in the world and how to keep yourself and your family safe in the midst of it.
Lisle: Ridiculous. Neither Ken nor any other creationist I know has a simple formula for answering every specific problem, such as how to reduce traffic accidents, how to cure cancer, how to “keep yourself and your family safe.” In reality, standing on God’s Word will make you less safe as our culture becomes increasingly hostile to Christianity. Rather, both Ken Ham and I would argue that the foundation for all the world’s problems is sin, and therefore the foundation for the solution is repentance and faithful obedience to God’s Word. And that entails believing in God’s Word, including those unpopular passages in Genesis.
Ironically, the problem with Skye’s claims here is that they are overly simplistic. In reality, most problems can be stated in a simple way, or a more complex way. We can certainly summarize all the world’s problems in one word: sin. But when we analyze the underlying cause of sin, the issue becomes more complex. Why do most people in the world sin? How do they justify it? Most of them reject the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. And what is one of the main reasons why people think the Bible cannot be trusted? They think the Bible has been disproved in its opening chapters by science. There is certainly a strong connection between the rejection of the history in Genesis, and the rise of the rejection of the theology that naturally follows from that history. But it is not as simple as Skye claims.
Skye: And in that regard (this is going to get me in trouble) I would argue that’s a false Gospel.
Lisle: There really is no excuse for Skye’s slander here. I used to travel with Ken Ham and speak at many of the same conferences and so I have heard his message many, many, many times. Ken’s view of the Gospel is the same as mine. Namely, all people are sinners, death is the penalty for sin, Jesus Christ took our place and died on the cross to pay our penalty, He rose again proving that He is the God-man, and we can be saved only by God’s grace received through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel. I have also heard Ken go out of his way to clarify that salvation does not require a belief in six-days or any other biblical teaching other than faith in Christ. Furthermore, millions of people have heard Ken say these things, and therefore know Skye’s claim to be false. If Skye wants to maintain any semblance of credibility, he should publicly retract this claim and apologize to Ken. To hear this kind of slander from someone who professes to be a Christian is very disheartening.
Skye: The Good News is not that God created the world in seven days 6000 years ago….”
Lisle: Actually, it was six days (Exodus 20:11). (The seventh day was not a day of creation, but a day of rest. That’s why we have a seven-day week, according to Exodus 20:8-11). If you are going to mock the Bible, please get the details right.
Skye: The Good News is that He came and dwelt among us as His Son, took away our sins on the cross, rose from the dead, and we put our trust in Him as person…
Lisle: Contrary to Skye’s slander, that’s the same Gospel Ken Ham preaches. But, unlike Skye, Ken understands that unless Genesis is real history, that Gospel makes no rational sense! Consider: Skye rightly talked about Jesus taking away our sin, but what is sin? Where does the idea of sin come from? Why did Jesus have to die in order to take away sin? And why did it have to be Jesus, as opposed to some other person or even an animal? Apart from the literal history of Genesis, none of those questions are answerable! It is in Genesis where we learn what sin is. It is in Genesis where we learn that death is the penalty for sin. It is in Genesis where we learn that the Savior would be a descendant of Eve.
Skye: …not in one person’s interpretation of Genesis.”
Lisle: This is the fallacy of irrelevant thesis because the issue is not “one person’s interpretation of Genesis,” but rather what Genesis means. There are an infinite number of (incorrect) interpretations of Genesis, but there is only one meaning. This meaning is discovered by exegesis and hermeneutics, and not by merely dismissing undesirable portions as poetic in contradiction to the context. The problem with Skye’s claim is that apart from the biblical interpretation of Genesis, the Gospel makes no sense.
What about Jesus’s interpretation of Genesis? Can we be followers of Christ while rejecting His view of Genesis? Does it make sense to say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, but boy was He wrong about creation!”? Is that rational? Jesus often cited events in Genesis as historical realities from which we can learn. He quoted Genesis 1 & 2 as the historical foundation for marriage (Matthew 19:4-5). Jesus said His future coming would be just like in the days of Noah, where people were eating and drinking until the flood came and took them all away (Matthew 24:37-39). Did anyone respond, “Oh, so you mean the upcoming judgment isn’t literally going to happen? It’s just a poem someone will write someday? That’s a relief! I don’t have to worry about repenting!”
If Genesis were not literal history, but just a poem or parable, then we could not defend the theology of the Gospel, because it is in Genesis where we learn that death is the penalty for sin (Genesis 2:17, 3:19). This is why the position being promoted by Phil and his colleagues is not only anti-biblical, it is fundamentally irrational. Fortunately, God doesn’t require us to be rational or to have perfect theology to be saved. We are saved by His grace, and that salvation is received through faith in Christ alone. Nothing else is required.
So, yes, people can reject entire portions of Scripture (or “interpret” those sections contrary to their meaning) and still be saved, but that doesn’t mean that their rejection is acceptable to God. It is still sin, and they are morally obligated to repent of it. And it won’t do to say, “I just don’t interpret the text that way” because you do not have the moral right to interpret the Bible contrary to its meaning. The Bible is self-interpreting. You are morally obligated to interpret Scripture according to its own context and in accordance with the way it interprets itself (2 Timothy 2:15). Anything else is sin. God saves sinners, but to continue (after salvation) to promote a view of origins that is fundamentally incompatible with the Gospel is irrational and dishonoring to God (Romans 6:1-2).
Phil: Skye, are you a fan of slippery slope arguments?
Skye: Not really, no.
Lisle: Whether or not you are a “fan” of an argument has absolutely no bearing on the cogency of the argument. Some slippery-slope arguments are cogent, others are not. Each argument should be evaluated on its own merit. More importantly, the Bible correctly uses slippery-slope arguments at times (e.g. James 1:14-15). Phil and Skye may not be fans of those sections of Scripture, but they remain true nonetheless.
Phil: “That is a huge part of Ken Ham’s style… is that if you give up on this part of the Bible as being literally (you know, on its face value) true, what’s next?”
Lisle: Actually, it was Jesus, not Ken Ham, who first made that argument. If we cannot trust the Bible on earthly matters like history, why would we trust it on spiritual matters like salvation? As Jesus put it, “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). Does it make sense to reject the history recorded by Moses, and yet embrace the Gospel? Jesus said, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46-47). Jesus said that the Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35).
What happens if we apply Phil’s reasoning to the Gospel? Namely, “if you give up on this part of the Bible as being literally (you know, on its face value) true, what’s next?” The answer is “you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Rejecting Scripture has consequences.
Phil: And [Ken claims] eventually, you know, you give up on a literal Adam and Eve, then you give up on, you know. And then how can you have Jesus who is bringing life if, you know, Adam and Eve didn’t bring death, a literal death?
Lisle: Actually, that reasoning is not original to Ken Ham. Rather, it is the Apostle Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. According to Paul, one man (Adam) brought death into the world; therefore, one man (Christ) brought about resurrection – the reversal of death. Paul’s reasoning would make no sense if Genesis were not real history.
Phil: It goes like bowling pins, that if this one falls, this one falls.
Lisle: Phil may disagree, but rational people consider the logical consequences of actions and beliefs. Thus, what Phil is really arguing against here is rationality. In effect, he’s saying, “Don’t think through the consequences of your interpretation of a text. Don’t worry about having a self-consistent theology that is faithful to the text. Just go along with the majority of secularists, and don’t think about the logical implications.” Rational people cannot do that. Christians who desire to honor God cannot do that. Biblically, we should consider the logical consequences that are likely to follow from our actions (Luke 14:31; Proverbs 20:18).
Phil: So for me to go back and say, “Wait a minute, the people that started the war against Darwinism and for believing the Bible as literally true don’t believe what you believed, Ken.”
Lisle: That is both false and irrelevant. First, the church had always defended the literary history of Genesis, including the six days of creation and a global flood, until the last few centuries. So, creation is not a response to Darwinism; rather Darwinism is a response and secular alternative to creation! Phil has the cart before the horse. It was the secular geologists and Darwinists that started the war by challenging what the Bible states and what the Church had embraced for nearly two millennia. The early Church fathers did indeed believe what Ken Ham believes regarding Genesis. They did not believe what Phil believes about Genesis. And no amount of historical revisionism from Phil will change that. Phil has changed history more often than Marty McFly and Doc Brown!
Second, what people claim the Bible says is irrelevant! It’s what the Bible actually says that matters. People can be inconsistent, claiming to defend the literal history in Genesis while simultaneously rejecting portions of that history – such as the timescale. But that doesn’t change the text of Scripture. All Phil has demonstrated is that Christians are not always consistent. But that doesn’t excuse bad theology. Hypothetically, what if everyone in the church in the 1900’s denied the literal resurrection of Christ. Would that make it acceptable? Would Phil’s argument still be, “Well they didn’t believe what Ken Ham believes”?
Skye: Right, because they understood as John Walton would say, “You take the literal parts of the Bible literally, and you take the figurative parts figuratively.”
Lisle: Actually, that’s what biblical creationists say. It’s what we all should do. But it is not what Walton does. Walton takes historical narrative sections like Genesis as non-literal, and non-historical. But the frequent use of the waw-consecutive in Genesis demonstrates that it is historical narrative, just as Jesus and all the biblical authors took it. Furthermore, most of the authors of The Fundamentals were absolutely adamant that Genesis is historical narrative; and they understood that Christian doctrines only make sense in light of the literal history of Genesis.
As J.J. Reeve put it,
In like manner if God had anything to do with the Old Testament, would He make use of mere myths, legends, sagas, invented and falsified history, which have no foundation in fact and are neither true to nature, history nor life? Will God seek to uplift mankind by means of falsehood? Will He sanction the use of such dishonest means and pious frauds, such as a large part of the Pentateuch is, if the critics are right? Could He make use of such means for such a holy purpose and let His people feed on falsehood for centuries and centuries and deceive them into righteousness? Falsehood will not do God’s will; only truth can do that. Is there nothing in the story of creation, of the fall, the flood, the call and promise to Abraham, the life of Jacob and Joseph and the great work of Moses? If all these things are not true to fact or to life, then God has been an arch-deceiver and acts on the Jesuit maxim, “The end justifies the means.”
Skye: You don’t take the poems of the Psalms all literally.
Lisle: I’m not aware of any biblical creationist who takes the poems of the Psalms “all literally.” So, this is a straw-man fallacy. The Psalms are full of synonymous and antithetical parallelism – the key distinguishing feature of Hebrew poetry. Furthermore, they lack the long sequences of waw-consecutives found in historical narrative sections of the Bible. But Genesis is the opposite. It lacks ubiquitous synonymous and antithetical parallelism, and instead uses long sequences of waw-consecutives. So if we are going to do exegesis, we must take Genesis as literal history.
Skye: And Genesis 1 is, it is poetry.
Lisle: No, it isn’t. (1) It lacks frequent synonymous and antithetical parallelism (the key distinguishing feature of Hebrew poetry). (2) It has long sequences of waw-consecutives which are not found in poetic sections but are typical in historical narratives. (3) All other references in Scripture to Genesis treat it as real history. (4) Every major Christian doctrine is based on the literal history recorded in Genesis.
Phil: No, it’s not. What Tim Keller would say it’s not true poetry because it’s not couplets. There’s no, you know, there’s no parallelism.
Lisle: Let’s give credit where credit is due. Phil got this one right! Genesis lacks the ubiquitous use of parallelism which defines Hebrew poetry.
Skye: Yes there is! There is absolute parallelism. The first three days of creation. Day one matches day four, day two matches day five.
Lisle: That is not poetic parallelism. In Hebrew, poetic parallelism involves expressing the same idea (or the converse) using different words. For example, Psalm 2:10 expresses a warning that leaders should consider. And it expresses this idea in two statements using different words: (1) “O kings, show discernment.” (2) “Take warning, O judges of the earth.” Kings and judges are two examples of leaders: people in positions of power. Likewise, warning and discernment both express caution and careful reflection. That is an example of synonymous parallelism. And we do not find that in Genesis 1.
So what is Skye talking about? Well, some people have pointed out that there is an approximate correspondence between the first three days of creation and the second three days. On day 1, God creates the heavens, and then on day 4 God fills the heavens with luminaries. The land is made on day 3, and the land animals on day 6. Recall that Genesis 1:2 states that the earth was originally formless and empty (or unfilled). So, some people have suggested that for the first three days God is primarily forming, and the next three days He is filling what He previously formed. That seems to work for some aspects of creation, but not all. The waters are made on day 1, and the seas on day 3, so we might expect the sea creatures to made on day 4 or 6. But the water-dwelling creatures are made on day 5. Furthermore, the land is made on day 3, and the plants which fill the land are also made on day 3, not day 6.
But – and this is the important part – that is not Hebrew poetic parallelism. This is clear because days 4-6 are not expressing the same idea (or its converse) as days 1-3 using different words. The events of day six are different events from day three. They are not simply saying “and God separated the land from the waters” using different words than Genesis 1:10 does for day three. No, completely different events take place on day six from those on day three. There is no hint of either synonymous or antithetical parallelism. Therefore, these texts were not written in a poetic style. There is certainly a logic in the order of events. God made land before He placed the plants upon it (although both on the same day). And God made plants before animals (which require plants to eat). But that’s logic, not poetry.
We see something similar in Exodus 25 and 37. God first instructed the Israelites to build an ark made of acacia wood (Exodus 25:10), to overlay it with gold (Exodus 25:11), and to put poles on its sides (Exodus 25:14). Then in Exodus 37 we find that the Israelites built an ark of acacia wood (Exodus 37:1), overlaid it with gold (Exodus 37:2), and put poles on its sides (Exodus 37:5). Is there a striking correspondence between Exodus 25 and Exodus 37? Absolutely! Is it poetic parallelism? Not at all. The style of the text here is the same as in Genesis 1: historical narrative.
What would Genesis 1 look like if it were written in the Hebrew poetic style? We would see lots of parallelism. For example, Genesis 1:1 might look like this:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth;
On the first day, the Lord made the whole world.
See how “in the beginning” parallels with “first day?” Likewise, “God” and “the Lord” refer to the same being. “Made” and “create” are similar. And “the whole world” might be a good synonym for “the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 1:14 might look something like this:
God made the two greater lights;
The sun and the moon, the Lord created them both.
That is how you recognize Hebrew poetry. Take a look at the Psalms and Proverbs for examples of this. And then look at the striking difference in style of Genesis 1. You will not find any hint of poetic parallelism there.
But wait – there’s more! Genesis chapter 1 is a sequence of historical statements, (And this happened, and that happened, and so on.) This makes use of a grammatical construction called a waw-consecutive, in which the word “and” is attached to a verb (in the original Hebrew word order). When you have a long sequence of waw-consecutives, this is always an indication of sequential historical events. Every verse in Genesis 1 after verse 2 is a waw-consecutive. While a Psalm might have an occasional waw-consecutive, poetic sections of Scripture never have a long sequence of waw-consecutives. This again demonstrates that Genesis is not poetry. It is written in the standard Hebrew historical narrative style.
Phil: Keller would say Genesis 1 and 2 are exalted prose, like John 1…. And that’s what makes them hard to interpret because they kind of sound historical and they kind of sound poetic.
Lisle: No, they don’t sound even remotely poetic to anyone familiar with Hebrew poetry. Genesis 1 completely lacks the synonymous or antithetical parallelism that defines Hebrew poetry. On the contrary, the text is recording the straightforward history of events using the waw-consecutive. It is exactly the same style as found in the genealogies of Genesis 5, or the early history of the Israelites as recorded in Exodus 1.
Skye: If Ken Ham and these others want to read Genesis 1 and 2 that way, fine. But the problem is they give no liberty to any other inerrantists of the Bible to read it any differently.
Lisle: Do you see the relativism in that objection? Why don’t we biblical creationists say it’s okay to read Genesis in multiple ways that all preserve inerrancy? Because Genesis has only one meaning. One. There are an infinite number of possible interpretations of Genesis, but only one that matches the author’s intention. And we have a moral obligation to read the text according to its meaning. God has not given us the liberty to reinterpret His Holy Word according to whatever is fashionable in the culture. If the text can mean anything, then inerrancy is meaningless.
Again, let’s apply Skye’s reasoning to the Gospel to see if it stands up to rational scrutiny. Would Skye claim the following? “If Ken Ham and these others want to read the Gospel as Jesus literally rising from the dead, fine. But the problem is they give no liberty to any other inerrantists of the Bible to read it any differently.” I would hope not. Inerrancy means that the text has no errors in what it affirms; and to understand what the text affirms requires us to read the text in a natural, exegetical fashion.
Suppose someone says, “I hold to inerrancy, and I believe the Gospel. I just don’t believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead. It’s poetic.” Does that person truly hold to inerrancy? He might think he does. But the Gospels are written in the historical narrative style. Thus, to interpret them as poetic is to reject their meaning. That is not faithful to the text. If we truly hold to inerrancy, then we must interpret the text in its grammatical historical context.
Let’s be honest. The different interpretations of Genesis 1-11 do not arise because of any difficulty in understanding the text. No, the text is quite clear. Rather, the difficulty is because the meaning of Genesis 1-11 is incompatible with modern secular opinions about the past.
Phil: I’m not saying that young earth creationism is wrong. I am saying the position that it is the only way to read the Bible is wrong.
Lisle: Phil is suggesting that there are multiple acceptable ways to read the Bible. That is relativism. There is only one correct way to read the Bible – only one way that corresponds to the intention of the author. Again, would Phil apply such relativism to the Gospel? Would he say, “I’m not saying the literal resurrection of Jesus is wrong. I am saying the position that it is the only way to read the Bible is wrong.”? I would hope not. But you see the inconsistency. You are not really believing the Bible unless you interpret it exegetically – according to the author’s intention as indicated by a natural and contextual reading.
A lot more could be said. But I will close with a response to a comment Phil Vischer wrote on twitter, January 1, 2021:
Phil: I don’t think Ham is preaching a false gospel. I ALSO don’t think Dallas Willard and NT Wright and Wheaton College and Billy Graham have made the world ‘worse’ because they disagree with Morris and Ham.
Lisle: First, it’s not whether they disagree with Morris and Ham, but rather whether they disagree with Moses and the Holy Spirit about the history recorded in Genesis. When otherwise godly leaders reject portions of the Scripture, this does have a negative impact on their ministry. This isn’t to deny their good work in other areas. God can use a bent stick to draw a straight line, and He can use redeemed sinners to preach the Gospel even if they have some unbiblical theology. But would their ministries be even more effective if they embraced Genesis? Oh yes! Does a failure to accept the literal history of Genesis have a negative impact on a person’s ministry? It certainly does. Consider Charles Templeton.
Charles Templeton was an extremely popular evangelist in the 1930s and 1940s. He was a close friend of Billy Graham. Templeton went to Princeton Theological Seminary to learn more about the Christian Faith. But apparently, Princeton did not teach a literal Genesis because Templeton began struggling with the notions of evolution and deep time, knowing that these are contrary to a natural reading of Scripture. He had been brainwashed into accepting evolution and deep time as if they were scientific facts. He explained his crisis of faith to Billy Graham, saying, “But, Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world wasn’t created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s demonstrable fact.”
If Billy Graham had understood the importance of the history in Genesis to all Christian doctrines, if he had known something of the science that challenges deep time and evolution, he might have been able to help his friend. But Graham had graduated from Wheaton College. He had not been equipped to defend this area of the Christian Faith. And so Templeton continued his downward slide into unbelief.
Templeton realized that even a theistic version of Darwinian evolution was not compatible with the biblical God and Christian theology. He wrote, “Why does God’s grand design require creatures with teeth designed to crush spines or rend flesh, claws fashioned to seize and tear, venom to paralyze, mouths to suck blood, coils to constrict and smother…?” Of course, any biblical creationists can answer that question: it didn’t. Originally, everything God created was very good (Genesis 1:31). These things came about as a result of the curse when man disobeyed God (e.g. Genesis 3:14-19). They are part of the penalty for Adam’s sin (Romans 8:20-22).
Templeton continues, “Nature is in Tennyson’s vivid phrase, ‘red in tooth and claw,’ and life is a carnival of blood…. How could a loving and omnipotent God create such horrors as we have been contemplating?” A biblical creationist can easily answer that question. God didn’t create things as they are now. God created a world that was very good. Adam’s sin brought death and suffering into the world. These evils we now experience are due to sin. God has allowed us to reap some of the consequences of our behavior because He is righteous. But, apparently, Templeton never met Christians who stood strongly for the truth of Genesis.
Did the compromise of professing Christians in regards to Genesis have a negative effect on Templeton? Oh yes. Charles Templeton died as a professing atheist. He wrote, “I believe that there is no supreme being with human attributes – no God in the biblical sense – but that all life is the result of timeless evolutionary forces, having reached its present transient state over millions of years.”
Theology matters. Some people can live with the inconsistency of believing the Gospel while simultaneously rejecting the history in Genesis that makes sense of the Gospel. But such inconsistency is not honoring to the Lord. And despite Phil’s beliefs to the contrary, compromise in Genesis does negatively impact our evangelism. Embracing the history of Genesis by itself will not solve all the world’s problems. But it is a necessary first step. If you want your theology to be biblical and rationally consistent, you will need to accept the literal history recorded in Genesis.
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 I will grant that most of them were unwittingly compromised on the timescale because ideas like the gap theory and day-age were so prevalent at the time. But they certainly intended to defend Genesis as literal history, and (with the possible exception of Orr) did not take it as poetic. Therefore, they would have adamantly rejected Skye’s position.
 Reeve, J.J., The Fundamentals, Vol. 3, Chapter 6, p. 115-116
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 Of course, even historical narrative can have an occasional poetic figure of speech. And even Genesis can provide a literal historical account of someone speaking poetically, such as in Genesis 2:23. But poetic books of the Bible are characterized by such parallelism. They are full of it.
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 This parallelism is often (although not always) back-to-back, in the form of a couplet. On occasion, a triple pairing is used, as in Psalm 1:1. And there are more complex forms, such as A,B,C,C,B,A, or A,B,C,A,B,C. But you will find none of those forms used with any frequency in Genesis.
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 Templeton, C., Farewell to God, McClelland & Stewart, Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1996, p. 7.
 Templeton, p. 198
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