Are the Genesis Creation Days 24 Hours or Long Periods of Time? – Program 5

By: Dr. Walter Kaiser Jr., Dr. Hugh Ross; ©2005
When did animals and plants begin to die? What happened to the earth. Is the Second Law of Thermodynamics associated with the fall?

What Happened at the Fall of Man?


Today on The John Ankerberg Show, does the Bible teach that the Genesis creation days are six literal 24 hour days or six long periods of time? Inside the Christian Church this debate is raging. Some say that unless a Christian believes God created in six literal 24-hour days, they will not allow that person to be a member of their Church or assume a leadership position.

Outside of the Church, many non-Christians are certain that all Christians believe God created everything 6,000 years ago, including the universe, the Earth, plants and animals and Adam and Eve. They are shocked to find out that is not true today, nor has it been the case down through Church history.

Christians who read the first two chapters of Genesis and believe that Moses used the word day – yom – to mean a long period of time, are they distorting the biblical text, denying the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, and affirming some kind of evolution? What does the biblical text actually say?

My guests today are: Dr. Walter Kaiser, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is thought by many to be one of the world’s most knowledgeable and esteemed evangelical authorities on the Old Testament and Hebrew language. My second guest is astrophysicist and astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross. He received his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Toronto and did post-doctoral research at Caltech on quasars.

We invite you to join us.

Previously on the John Ankerberg Show

Ankerberg: I’d like you guys to define what the positions are.
Hovind: My position is the very obvious literal scriptural position that everybody would get if they just read the Bible: God created everything in six days, 24 hour days, just like we know today. Any interpretation other than that requires a leader to tell you what it means and you end up with a cult.
Ross: Well, I believe that the plain, literal reading of the text is that it’s six long periods of time. There are ten creation accounts in the Bible. It’s not enough to take the Bible literally, we must take it consistently. When you try to make all ten creation accounts say the same thing, it’s quite obvious it is impossible to interpret as six 24-hour days. It must be six long periods of time. As I mentioned previously, we’re talking about a universe that’s expanding. The Bible clearly teaches that, and stars and planets are only possible if the universe has been expanding for billions of years. If it’s just thousands, all you would get is just hydrogen gas. If the Bible clearly taught that it was young I would believe that in spite of my astronomy.

Ankerberg: Welcome. We’re talking with Dr. Walter Kaiser and Dr. Hugh Ross about what the Bible says about creation. What did God do, and when did He do it?
And we’re getting into some fascinating areas and we want to talk about the Fall of man and what happened. And I would like to approach it from the scientific side this time. It has to do with the very emotional question of, “When did plants and animals die? When did death come to them?” We know that Romans 5 says that death came to man when Adam sinned, but it doesn’t say anything about the plants and animals. Okay, so when did the plants and animals, when did death come to them?
And in order to talk about that, we’ve got to talk about something else and that is, when did God institute the Second Law of Thermodynamics, alright? Because apparently, from the get-go, from “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” that had to be part of the operation. But I’m not sure people understand that, Hugh. And I’d like you to take a moment to explain: What is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and how does it apply to this whole conversation of what happened when sin came into the world?
Ross: Well, you’re not going to find the Second Law of Thermodynamics in your Bible concordance. But if you go to Romans 8, it talks about how the entire creation is subjected to frustration, subjected to this law of decay. And that’s a good description from that perspective of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law says that heat flows from hot bodies to cold bodies, and a consequence of that is increasing disorder in the natural realm. And that’s what this text is talking about, how all of creation is subjected to this situation where you start with order and it progresses to disorder. The heat becomes progressively less and less available to perform useful work.
But that has certain advantages. That flow of heat from hot bodies to cold bodies enables proteins to fold, metabolism to operate, stars to burn. It provides a source of energy which enables us to perform physical work. And you notice in Genesis 2, we have Adam working before he sinned. So that tells us the Second Law was in effect. He was also eating fruit before he rebelled against God. Therefore, the Second Law was in effect.
You can actually assemble a set of verses throughout the Old and New Testament which make it clear that these laws that God set up to govern the heavens and the earth are fixed. Jeremiah 33:25 actually says that the laws that govern the heavens and the earth are fixed. This is something we astronomers observe. As we look far away back in time, because it takes time for light to reach us, we’re measuring the laws and constants of physics, and we see that they have never changed. They have the same value at the very greatest distances in the universe, going back ten, twelve billion years ago, as they are today.
But the Scriptures said it first. And God has a reason for setting up these laws of physics. I believe that all the laws and constants of physics were exquisitely designed by God to bring about a theater for an efficient conquest of evil. This is the best situation. In other words, this is the best creation for bringing about a conquest of evil. A perfect creation will come, but this is the perfect creation to bring about that conquest. And the Second Law, in particular, has a critical role in enabling that to take place. When we go back to Genesis 3, what was the curse? More pain and more work. Well, look how the Second Law has been designed by God to guarantee that the more we sin, the more work we have to do; and the more we sin, the more pain we experience. So this becomes a disciplinary tool by God to encourage us to depart from evil and to pursue virtue. Not that we can do it, we need God’s help; but we do have the laws of physics there to encourage us in that general direction.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s slow it down for my mother out there, okay? Because my mind is spinning just listening. Let’s start with the beginning. Okay? We’ve already discussed in past programs Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created.” And you’re telling us that you’ve got to say there was a starting point. Okay? Hebrews says out of nothing He brought something. Okay? And so we’ve got a starting point. And what you’re saying is, the astronomers have gone back and you’ve got the big bang: you’ve got a beginning point. Einstein postulated it and you scientists, and the COBE experiments and so on, the satellite experiments and so on, you’ve demonstrated that what Einstein was talking about mathematically has actually taken place.
Ross: Right.
Ankerberg: And then you astronomers are looking at some of those things through your… you better explain that, because you’re talking about looking back into time.
Ross: Well, I tell my wife that we astronomers are ignorant of the present. We have no idea what’s going on now. But because light takes time to reach us, we are directly observing past events. So when we observe the sun, we’re not seeing it as it is now but as it was eight-and-a-quarter minutes ago. Crab Nebula – we’re not seeing it as it is now but as it was seven thousand years ago. Well, God has placed us at just the right time in cosmic history that light has now had time to reach us all the way from the creation event. So the power of astronomy is that we can be direct witnesses of the cosmic creation event. This is why so much powerful evidence for the God of the Bible has come out of the discipline of astronomy. We don’t infer the past, we directly observe it. And God has placed us at this ideal moment so we can see the heavens that He has declared, that He has created. Those are my favorite verses in the Psalms: “The heavens declare the glory of God… [they] declare His righteousness” [Psa. 19:1-2; 97:6]. As we look at the heavens, we can see this because of the time that God placed us in cosmic history.
Ankerberg: Okay. I just want to get the fact that God created; we’re observing it.
Ross: Right.
Ankerberg: And the fact is that also, if the creation did have a starting point, science and the Bible agree, okay? There’s got to be something else that we agree on and that is the Second Law of Thermodynamics that had to start back then, because in order for the stars to shine, for the sun to burn, the Second Law of Thermodynamics has to be in place, right?
Ross: Right. I mean, there are certain things in physics that are extremely sensitive to even the tiniest changes in the laws of physics, and one of those is stellar burning. You change the laws or constants of physics ever so slightly, stars will either immediately explode, or they won’t form at all. The fact that we have stable burning stars; the fact that Genesis talks about these stars long before God creates Adam and Eve tells us the Second Law must have been in effect. And when we look at the Crab Nebula, we are observing the Second Law. And that tells us the Second Law was in effect, just like it is today, seven thousand years ago.
Ankerberg: Okay, now, I’ve got a question. Here’s where Romans 8 comes in, which says, “For the creation was subjected to frustration” – and maybe you can tell us about the word here, futility, in a moment – “not by its own will, but because of Him who subjected it” [Rom. 8:20-21]. I assume we’re talking that was God.
Ross: Right.
Ankerberg: Now, some who hold to a literal twenty-four-hour day view say, “No. The creation was subjected to this frustration, this futility, only when Adam sinned, and that’s where the Second Law of Thermodynamics would come in.” Others would say, “No,” they disagree, and then there’s variations on that with those who hold to a literal twenty-four-hour day. But my question is this. The verse says God did it “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God; for we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth right up to the present” [Rom. 8:20-21]. Couple of questions, and that is this: 1) Did God put that into effect in the beginning; or 2) is there any kind of way to tell that this happened, according to Scripture, only when Adam sinned?
Ross: Well, since the entire creation was subjected to decay – so that means all of creation: the whole universe. And one thing we’ve learned from relativity is you can’t separate space and time. And we notice the Scriptures don’t separate space and time when it talks about the creation of the universe. They’re inseparable. So you’re talking about the whole creation. That means the whole vastness of the cosmos, including the time dimension all the way back to the creation event itself. So it really would have to refer to the whole cosmic timescale. And you notice what it says: this is going to continue until evil is conquered and the fullness of the children of God has been reached. Then we get a change in the Second Law, but it’s a future event, not a past event.
Ankerberg: Okay, with that, Walter, some people say, “But wait a minute, then what happened in the Garden when God got to the end of the sixth day, going into the seventh, and He said, “You know, this whole creation, it’s good. In fact, it’s not just good, it’s, in the Hebrew, very good.” How good is “very good”? Is it “perfect”?
Kaiser: It’s interesting God. didn’t use that word [perfect]. He said, “Very good.” There again, stop with the words. God created the whole universe. (By the way, universe: uni = one, and verse = song. God has one song through the whole of His creation and we set up universities which apparently were set up to show the integration of faith and learning and God and all of the universe. Now we have multi-versities because we can’t get that uni-versity.)
But there must be a place in here, too, in the whole of the created order. After that absolute beginning we do have a rebellion in heaven; we have Satan and the choir falling out. I have no idea where all of that fits. The Bible doesn’t give us a timescale, but that had to be part of it, too, as well.
Ross: But certainly before Adam, right?
Kaiser: But before Adam, you see. And so I think our questions are better than our answers and therefore I think a real devout person receives the Word and says, “Yes, that Word is true. I get parts of the understanding; I can have an adequate understanding of what’s happening here. But I surely don’t have a comprehensive understanding. God is much larger than what He has disclosed here.”
Ankerberg: Yeah, we’re going to take a break and when we come back we’re going to continue it, because this topic just stretches your mind every which way. And it’s interesting that some folks who still want to insist on a literal twenty-four-hour day for the six days of Genesis bring up an objection that I think is quite easy to refute, and we’ll do it in the next segment: If animals died before the Fall, does this alter the biblical doctrine of atonement? If blood was shed, does this somehow, as they say, affect the atonement? Alright? And we will talk about that topic when we come right back.


Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back and we’re talking with Dr. Walter Kaiser and Dr. Hugh Ross. And we’re talking about “Was there any death in the world before Adam sinned? Or did Adam’s sin bring death not only to man but to the plant and animal world as well?” And we’re now talking about an interesting sidebar on that, and that is, some folks who hold to a literal twenty-four hour day claim that if you hold to the fact that there was death in the world before Adam sinned, that this somehow affects the atonement. And they say, you know, Hebrews 9:22 says, “In fact the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Now, Hugh, can you explain to me why these folks hold that if an animal died before the Fall, or anytime even after, that this affects what Jesus did in terms of redemption for us or anything that Moses said in the Old Testament?
Ross: Well, they’re expanding on the intent of Hebrews 9 and 10. I mean, it does talk about how redemption is through the shedding of blood. But now they’re trying to claim that all shed blood somehow ties into atonement.
Ankerberg: Yeah, but “There is no remission of sin without the shedding of Christ’s blood.”
Ross: Exactly.
Ankerberg: It does not necessarily follow that all shed blood is for the remission of sin.
Ross: It doesn’t follow that if a deer goes through a thicket and scrapes its skin and a little bit of blood comes out, that that somehow ties into Atonement.
Ankerberg: Do you want to jump in here on this one?
Kaiser: Yeah. This is a strange argument because I just don’t see the relevance of it. In context, Hebrews 9 and 10 is trying to make the point of the High Priesthood of Christ and His death for those men and women, who suffered spiritual death and then physical death, who are made in His image. And His point was that the blood of bulls and goats couldn’t take away sin. That’s in Hebrews 10:2-4. And neither did the Old Testament ever claim that it did. The point was simply that only on the word of God was sin taken away in the Old Testament. And there was a picture of “life for life,” of substituted life of an animal. But an animal is not a mortal, and it had to be repeated over and over and over and over again. But Christ, when He came, He suffered hapax – once for all, and He gave His blood [Heb. 9:28].
We generally think of blood as a transfusion of, impartation of, life. This blood was blood spilt out on the ground. So blood here is equal to death, sacrifice, substitution, vicarious substitution. And so his argument was that it was only by the giving up of His life, His life blood, as a substitute for men and women, could they have life eternal. But I don’t think you can extend that and say, you want to have salvation for zebras, for elephants, tigers and that they need to have blood shed? It’s a backwards argument.
Ankerberg: No verse.
Kaiser: No verse. I don’t see the verse for it. If there is a verse that says that animals can be saved, just like men and women can, through the shedding of blood, then I withdraw all my objections. But until I find that verse, I’m hamstrung.
Ross: Well, as you’ve pointed out, the text itself says, “the shed blood of animals will not atone for sin” [Heb. 10:4]
Kaiser: Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. It’s very clear, Hebrews 10. They’re citing Hebrews 9, but Hebrews 10 said, as a matter of fact, it never did. And the other thing I always have to add for classes is, “And neither did it ever say that it did either.” It was only on the Word of the Lord, so proleptically it was in effect on the Word of God until Christ came and actually did what He said He would provide. So it was money in the bank, as it were, until the deposit was put in by the Lord by His own death on the cross.
Ross: How expansive was this atonement? I mean, there’s a big debate between Young Earth and Old Earth of just how much Christ atoned for when He died on the cross.
Kaiser: Well, He died for the same number that died, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” [1 Cor. 15:22]. The same audience of the death is the same audience for the effect, so the two of them have to match.
Ross: In other words, the human species. We’re not talking about Christ dying for the galaxies or the stars or the dirt of the earth.
Kaiser: No. I would think that would be way out. Yeah.
Ankerberg: Hugh, does the absence of physical death pose just as great a problem for three twenty-four-hour days as it would for three billion years?
Ross: I would say yes, because even from a Young Earth perspective, you’ve got life upon the earth at least as far back as creation day three. I think there’s evidence that it goes back to creation day one, but at least creation day three, which leaves you a minimum of seventy-two hours between the creation of these plants and Adam sinning. And there are many species of both plants and animals that simply can’t survive for those seventy-two hours without some consumption. And when you “consume,” plants and animals are going to be dying in that consumption process.
Ankerberg: So you’re back to the Second Law of Thermodynamics being in effect before Adam sinned.
Ross: Right.
Ankerberg: Alright, go one more spot and that is, did God create everybody vegetarian? Not only man, but plants and animals, wild and tame animals? Because here’s what Genesis 1:29-30 says, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.” Now, later on in Genesis, you are given animals for food. But here it’s plants.
Ross: Right.
Ankerberg: The question is, did you have carnivorous behavior before Adam sinned? The fossil record talks about these dinosaurs and other animals. And some of them were very fierce and there was death. And there was a lot of death apparently before Adam sinned. They see that as a problem. They want short days. But even if you have a short day, the fact is, do you get away from any death happening to plants and animals?
Ross: Well, when we go on a vegetarian diet, we do not limit our diet to just the green plants. We also eat the non-green plants. The context of Genesis 1:29 and following is that God is putting Adam and Eve and their descendants in charge of managing the planet for the benefit of all life. And so it ends with a statement that green plants are the base of the entire food chain. Adam and Eve are instructed to pay special attention to the care of the green plants; because if they’re not taken care of, nobody gets to eat. Ultimately everything depends on green plants.
And when we get to Genesis 9, God says to Noah and their descendants, “You can now eat meat; before you were limited to a vegetarian diet” [verse 3]. But there is no mention of green plants in Genesis chapter 9. So the context is that the human species was on a vegetarian diet, not just green plants, up until the time of the Flood. And the whole point is, post-Flood era you’re not going to live long enough for meat-eating to be a problem. If you’re going to live to be 900 years, eating animal tissue is going to put too many heavy metals into your body over that time period. But if all you’re going to live is a maximum of 120 years, it’s not a problem. And therefore there is no basis for concluding that there is no carnivorous activity in the days before Adam and Eve. In fact, we see in both Job and Psalms that God expresses His love by providing prey for the carnivores, specifically making reference to the lions and the eagles.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I found that verse about “God provides for the lions” [Psa. 34:10], talking about other animals, I thought that was very informative. Want to jump in here?
Kaiser: No. I followed the argument. I think it’s well stated. This implies there is, even in eating of the plants, there’s death, too, as well.
Ross: Right. Correct.
Kaiser: This has to be acknowledged. And I think that’s just an extension of what we’ve been seeing in the geological column.
Ross: Well, I think there’s a progression of trauma, physical trauma and suffering from the eating of plants. When plants are eaten, they go through trauma; they go through pain in some context. But as you go up the complexity of plants and animals, we see that it increases. Birds and mammals experience a greater degree of trauma than the lower animals, and we human beings the highest degree of trauma of all. But all of them experience trauma. So this whole idea of trying to say God wouldn’t tolerate that kind of trauma, well, it’s there in the plants.
Ankerberg: You had a great illustration you were talking about from Augustus Strong, if you can pull it back in your mind, about why God set things up this way.
Kaiser: Yeah, Augustus Hopkins Strong, the old Baptist theologian at the turn of the last century, was one who argued that. He said, “Look, let me sort of help you understand this. This is like a community saying, ‘We need to build a hospital in our community.’ And others saying, ‘No. Don’t contemplate that because hospitals are where emergencies take place. Think of all of the trauma cases that come in. You’re just inviting that. Why would you do that?’” And Strong had, if I am not mistaken, an argument there about something he called “anticipatory consequences,” in which there were provisions made, not that therefore those who built the hospital were sort of grief-mongers and they were deliberately courting these kinds of things or encouraging them from the community. But knowing the kind of world that we live in, and knowing the kinds of fast movement and the way people get into accidents, it was a kindly thing to do. It was a gracious act.
So, it is a gracious act of God to build the universe that deliberately has anticipatory consequences because this God knows the end from the beginning, and therefore built it with just that same type of provision. I think that argument is worth considering here.
The other thing, John, notice where the provision for this eating of the plants was made? We’re still in Genesis 1. We’re not in the Fall. This is before the Fall, and therefore you do have an acknowledgment of death. You do have the acknowledgment of, to some degree, parts of God’s creation being used for the higher parts of creation.

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