Why We Should Re-Brand Young Earth Creationism As Neo-Ussherianism

Anybody who followed the 2016 Presidential election understands the importance of branding. Donald Trump branded himself as the every-man, the person who relates to the struggles of the American people. He branded Ted Cruz as Lyin’ Ted, and Hillary Clinton as Crooked Hillary (though admittedly, that one was already established). Subway brands its sandwiches as fresh, made right in front of the customer with fresh ingredients. Branding is about public perception and what people think of a point of view, product, or company. There are several reasons why we should re-brand young earth creationism as Neo-Ussherianism.

It would not be unheard of to brand one’s rivals. The Big Bang was named by Fred Hoyle in an attempt to discredit it. Neo-Ussherians continuously brand old earth creationists as compromisers of biblical authority, deceived by Satan, and much worse. Verizon brands Sprint as lacking cell phone coverage. Trump brands CNN as fake news. CNN brands Trump as racist. Of course, branding can sometimes host an immoral quality. If the brand that you are using is a lie, then that will be immoral. In this case, it will be appropriate to regard young earth creationists as Neo-Ussherians. First, it portrays young earth as an esoteric, abstract view that is divorced from biblical thought (That title just sounds unusual). Second, young earth creationists really are disciples of James Ussher. With neo meaning a revived form of Ussherianism, we also recognize that they are not following his positions precisely. There are Neo-Ussherians.

There are a few critical points that we need if we are to establish Neo-Ussherianism as an honest and legitimate brand. We will need to establish that it is truly divorced from biblical thought and based on tradition rather than Scripture.

A Biblical Position

As I read more about the creation controversy and the hotly debated Genesis 1-11, I have come to understand how much depth and history there is in these few chapters. It is not as simplistic as Neo-Ussherians tend to portray it. Many of the themes and objects are plausibly interpreted within the framework of the Ancient Near East and especially within Jewish history. Some scholars think it appropriate to read old earth science into the text while others think it appropriate to read young earth science into the text.

Interpretations of Genesis 1 will include the Framework Hypothesis, the Day-Age view, the Gap Theory, the Neo-Ussherian model, King And Temple views, Historic Creation, Ancient Near Eastern Cosmology, and many more. All of these interpretations have their strengths and weaknesses. But the most plausible position that is consistent with many of these models is that Genesis 1 is a metaphorical account of the creation of the universe. If that seems vague, it is because it is. Regarding Genesis 1, there is little that we can be certain about aside from the fact that [1] God created the universe and [2] it is depicted using metaphors.

Earmarks of A Metaphor

Depending on the genre of literature, the natural assumption is that an account will be literal. There are several ways of reading Genesis 1 that accommodate a literal interpretation without resorting to Neo-Ussherianism. While I do admit serious challenges to the day-age model, it is a literal interpretation of the text, and those challenges are no more serious than those to the Neo-Ussherian model. Yet throughout the text, there does seem to be what we would call earmarks of a metaphor.

Interestingly, proponents of the various interpretations of Genesis 1 will appeal to these earmarks in support of their position. Hugh Ross of Reasons To Believe argues that these earmarks suggest that the days in Genesis 1 are a long but finite period of time. At Therefore, God Exists, we take a different position but use the same evidence. We argue for a more modest position, namely, that the days in Genesis 1 are metaphors for God’s creative activity based on these earmarks.

The Old Problem of The Sun

Neo-Ussherians have branded their opponents as abandoning the plain reading of the text, not taking exegesis seriously when it comes to the creation account. Yet some of these metaphors are so glaring that anybody would notice them, and in fact, the author must have been aware of this metaphor when she penned Genesis 1. The sun was not created until day 4. 24 hour days were not created until day 4. Yet days 1-3 are described as 24 hour days.

The typical Neo-Ussherian response will be that God can have a day even without the sun. He knows how much time is passing and may designate the first 24 hours as a day even if the sun is not there. There are several problems with this interpretation. First, the morning and evening indicators very strongly suggest that days 1-3 are normal days with the sun. If you were to read the entire passage until day 4, you would have thought that the sun was there. In verse 5, the author writes, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” The author says here that there actually was light. But not only that there was light, but the very light that separates night from day.

Dr. John Morris raised a few points in response. He said first that light could come from elsewhere. That may be the case. But it could not be referred to as “day” and “night,” in the sense that we are familiar as Genesis described. Second, he said that “God is light,” quoting 1st John 1:5. But that light is a moral light rather than physical brightness. Third, both he and Ken Ham made an argument against the day-age interpretation. But the day-age model is not the only model in which this argument is found. Fourth, Morris argued that perhaps there was a supernatural light. But that would be to read an outside concept into the text in an effort to preserve his tradition. Such is the way of Neo-Ussherianism and precisely why it should be re-branded. It seems more plausible to accept that days 1-3 are speaking of actual the light from the sun despite that the sun is not created until day 4. The metaphorical interpretation should therefore be easily grasped.

It’s Been A Long Day…

Neo-Ussherians are particularly fond of appealing to the morning and evening bookends, especially in their polemics against day-age creationists. However, the model that I am espousing is not as vulnerable to that threat because I think that the days are actually 24 hour days. They are just metaphors, along with the morning and evening bookends. Yet there is something interesting about the 7th creation day. It did not come with these bookends. If the author intentionally put those bookends on each of the creation days, then she intentionally omitted them from the 7th day.

Some scholars think that the reason she omitted it from the 7th day is that we are still in the 7th day. That is not to say that the days in Genesis 1 are a long but finite period of time. It is to say that they are metaphors for God’s creative activity. Since God’s creative activity has ceased, we are still in the 7th day. In fact, this seems to be precisely what Hebrews 4:1-11 says. Verses 4-5 read, “For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ And again in this place it says, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'”

Apparently there are two elements to this verse. First, God rested on the 7th day. Second, we who believe may enter into that 7th day (or Sabbath) rest. Ken Ham objects to this second point, saying that the author merely mentioned the 7th day as a point of reference for God’s rest. Yet in verses 9-10, the author of Hebrews again refers to that rest into which we enter as a Sabbath rest. In verse 4, the Sabbath rest is identified as God’s rest. We are called to enter into God’s Sabbath (7th Day) rest. Therefore, we are in the 7th day.

Once Upon A Time, There Was A Man Named Man

In Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, the main character was named Christian. There was also Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliant, Mr. Worldly Wisdom, Discretion, Prudence, Piety, Faithful, Mr. Talkative, Hopeful, Giant of Despair, Ignorance, and many more. When you hear names such as this, it becomes immediately obvious that the characters do not actually exist. They are fabrications designed to teach a lesson. They may be based on real people, but their stories are not real. The names Adam and Eve may sound like normal names, but that is only because they have been normalized (like the name Christian). In Hebrew, they mean Man and Life. Genesis 2 and 3 tells the story of a man named Man and his wife, Life.

It does not seem at all implausible to think that the man named Man was part of a theological parable. This is particularly reinforced when you find all of the Ancient Near Eastern symbols within the story as outlined by John Walton in The Lost World of Adam And Eve. Symbols such as formation out of dust or out of the “rib,” a priest in a sacred space and a helper, a chaos creature (the serpent), and virtually every element of the narrative can be understood in terms of ancient near eastern cosmology. That is not to say that the story was not based on a real man. Adam may have been an actual historical figure upon whom this story was based, but the narrative itself is likely a theological parable meant to convey a greater truth.

That truth may very well be that we are all under sin and in need of a Savior. For those Neo-Ussherians who are concerned about what this will do to the doctrine of original sin (an understandable and legitimate concern), know that there is still a foundation for that proposition. Genesis 2-3 still communicate that truth even if they are parables. Further, so long as there are other passages that communicate that man is under sin (Romans 3:10), the need for a Savior will remain in tact.

Even A Miracle Cannot Rescue Noah

As Christians, we believe things that are difficult to accept. We believe that God actually became a man and died. We believe that when he died, he absorbed the penalty that we deserve (Romans 3:21-25). We believe that though he was truly a man, he rose from the dead. We also believe that putting our trust in this man will secure our place in his kingdom. All of this is incredible – in the sense that it is difficult to believe. We partially believe these things because we believe in miracles. Jesus could not rise from the dead naturally – that is scientifically impossible. He rose supernaturally. God’s power made it so. Yet there are times in which even a miracle will not make something less ridiculous. Noah’s Ark is one of those instances.

We all know the story of Noah’s Ark. God flooded the entire earth to punish mankind and spared Noah and his family. But there are rivaling ways in which this text has been understood. Neo-Ussherians believe that God flooded the entire earth. On the other hand, old earth creationists often believe that it was a local flood. I think that the most effective way to argue for a local flood is to point out the use of metaphorical language. The author wanted to express that the flood was an absolute calamity, so she said that the entire earth flooded. It is like if there was a disaster in my hometown and I said, “Everyone is dead.” It is a hyperbolic exaggeration. It is like when Isaiah 13:10 says, “For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light.” What happened is earth-shattering.

If we do allow for a literal interpretation, as the Neo-Ussherians insist, several absurdities will follow. First, if the entire earth was flooded, how were the animals redistributed across the globe? Why is it that we do not find remains of the great voyages of every different kind of animal as they traversed the globe? Second, if there were only a few thousand kinds of animals on the ark 4000 years ago (according to the Neo-Ussherian model), there must have been extremely rapid evolution in the last 4000 years to yield the hundreds of millions of species that exist today.

The appeal to a miracle will not help this story. One cannot just say arbitrarily that God miraculously moved kangaroos from the Middle East to Australia. One cannot say that God rapidly guided the evolution of these animals. If you are to say that, you will be confronted with a very simple question: what good reasons are there to think that? If your only answer is that it fits with Neo-Ussherianism, know that this is the ad hoc fallacy. It pays far more respect to the text and to the intelligence of the author of Genesis to say that this language was metaphorical.

Jesus Did Not Necessarily Think The Account Was Literal

Jesus studied the Torah because it is the word of God. When he wanted to make a point, he would often appeal to the Scripture. This is a model for how we should live as Christians, revering the Torah, revering Genesis, especially chapters 1-11. Jesus regarded Genesis 1-11 as inspired Scripture. However, that is not to say that he believed that all of the events were historical. When he referred to Noah or Adam, he could have been referring to them as parables to make a theological point. This would not be dissimilar to the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, in which he did not announce that he was telling a parable (Luke 16:19-31).

Exodus 20:11 Establishing The Work Week Based On The Creation Week

Exodus 20:11 is best used to critique the day-age position. That argument would be mounted thusly: if the days in Genesis 1 are long but finite periods of times, then how does God use it to establish the work week? The work week needs to parallel the creation week. This might work against the day-age creationist (though admittedly I could imagine a few good deflections), but it will not work with the model I have given.

Exodus 20:11 just harks back to the creation week, which is a metaphor for the real week. It just uses the metaphor again. The work week is based on the metaphorical week as described in the creation account. That of course does not mean that the work week is a metaphor. In metaphorical literature, there are two questions to be asked. [1] What is really happening? and [2] What is the symbol? In Genesis 1, what is really happening is that God is creating the universe for an undisclosed amount of time. The symbol for that creation is the creation week. The work week is based on the creation week.

Neo-Ussherianism Is Embarrassing

There is a sense in which the scientific world has always and will always contribute to biblical interpretation. When we hear about the “four corners” of the earth, the literal interpretation does not get a hearing at all. We know that the earth is a sphere, and there are not four corners. It must be a metaphor. It just must. Yet there are those who advocate for a flat earth based precisely on passages like that. This is embarrassing and needs to be minimized. Similarly, Neo-Ussherianism needs to be minimized.

When a group of Christians contests basic scientific discovery (the earth being billions of years old), their anti-intellectual campaigns hurt the progress of the Christian church, which has always led the scientific frontier. Beyond that, we cannot have people sneering in the face of science, saying that science must be interpreted in light of their predetermined theological assumptions. That literally does make the church appear to be anti-scientific.

Old earth creationists need to make their way into the blogosphere and vlogosphere. Use apologetics that assume an old earth. When atheists bring up Neo-Ussherianism, laugh dismissively and point out what the Bible says about it. Further, we have to minimize the influence of Neo-Ussherianism. It teaches concepts completely divorced from the biblical account. Often, their presentations include hostility, anger, and accusations toward old earth creationists; an obvious scare tactic hoping that we will retreat. Young earth creationism needs to be re-branded so that the public will see these flaws and recognize it as an esoteric, bizarre point of view. Young earth creationism is Neo-Ussherianism.

Why We Should Re-Brand Young Earth Creationism As Neo-Ussherianism

A brief summary of the points we have covered:

• Young earth creationism is often characterized by false piety and condemnation
• Despite that, it is an esoteric and bizarre point of view that lives only by tradition
• It is divorced from the biblical creation model
• There are obvious metaphors available in the plain reading of Genesis 1, such as the old problem of the sun
• The Neo-Ussherian resolutions to the problem of the sun do not work
• We are still in the 7th creation day according to Hebrews 4
• Interpreting Adam as a metaphor will not harm original sin so long as the doctrine that all are under sin remains in tact
• The absurdities within the story of Noah cannot be redeemed by a miracle
• Jesus may have spoken of Noah and Adam as parables
• Neo-Ussherianism is harmful to the body of Christ, our Christian witness and needs to be re-branded and disassociated.

Recommended Reading:
Is Young Earth Creationism Dangerous?
Is The Story of Noah Literal?