From the Beginning: Question from a High School Student


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

This summer, I was a speaker for Faith Ascent at their “Base Camp” intensive for High School Students.

Among other things, I was part of a panel on YEC, OEC, and what ever it is I am. There is an exchange with another student taking place on that here: Clayton, Shaw and Swamidass: Questions from FaithAscent 2018.

Yesterday, another student contacted me with a question, that I’ll answer here. Though, perhaps @jongarvey or @deuteroKJ might have something to add. Here is what the student, a young earth creationist, writes to me…

You sent me that article about carbon-14 dating. Anyway I finally remembered and took the time to read that article today and what I read was interesting. To be honest it’s hard to dispute. I can’t think of any way to refute it.

This is article was from @Joel_Duff’s website, on Lake Varves. It is really a remarkable study they are expositing. It is worth reading if yo have not yet done so: Lake Varves, Volcanic Ash, and the Great Isaiah Scroll.

Putting that aside, I found some information that you may find interesting just as I did. Apparently based on a couple of verses Jesus believed that man was created at the beginning of creation. In Mark 10:6 Jesus says,

“But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.”

Also Jesus said in Luke 11:50-51,

"That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundations of the world, may be required of this generation; From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zacharias … "

I believe if you take Jesus words at face value then the earth really is young. It’s just something to think about. As we said at Faith Ascent, it doesn’t change the core of Christianity.

The implied question here: what do we think about this?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #2

These are interesting questions. So, regarding the first quote…

It seems a questions that is valid to ask is “which” beginning?

Certainly, man was not created at the first beginning in Genesis 1:1, or during the first five days. It seems that there are many beginnings in Genesis, or really any story. My beginning was several decades ago, when I was born. The beginning of this forum was just 3 months ago. Moreover, in many ways the earth seems to preexist Day 1 in the Genesis account.

I think the most solid reading is that at the beginning of [humanity’s] creation God had made us male and female. In this passage Jesus is talking to us about our story. This might be like how we might talk about the “beginning of high school” as the year in which we enter high school, the beginning of our story there. Then Jesus’s words are s no more a statement of when the earth’s beginning than the “beginning of high schools” is a statement of when the buildings were constructed.

There seems to be strong reason to sees Jesus’s words to humanity to be about our beginning, our creation, not the beginning of the earth itself.

This one I’d be curious to here what the scholars think (help me @deuteroKJ and @Philosurfer and @jongarvey?). I’m not sure why this is connected to a temporal statement. It seems more like a figure of speech. Once again, we know that the prophets blood was not being shed in Genesis 1 or Genesis 2, or Genesis 3. Perhaps it was being shed at Genesis 4, but it seems like a stretch to call Abel a prophet.

Instead, it seems to be a figure of speech, perhaps similar to when we say “from the beginning of time, people have wondered about the stars.” We do not actually mean that people were there at the beginning when we say those words. That would not be a plain reading. Rather, we are just using that as a figure of speech. Usage “from the foundations of the earth” in Scripturem seems to confirm that interpretation.

Certainly taking it to mean that prophets have been shedding blood since before the day three is in error, because people are not even created yet. So it cannot rightly be taken as meaning anything that would force us into a young earth.

You are right. This is interesting to think about.

It is possible Jesus though the earth was young. Once gain, we are getting into questions about the nature of the incarnation and if Jesus had omniscient knowledge. However, it is not clear that these verse indicate he thought the world was young. So I am not even sure we can say for sure.

More importantly, whatever Jesus thought about the age of the earth, he is not teaching the age of the earth here. There is no way to construe these words as intending to communicate that he thought the world was young, and we need to agree with him on this. In the end, that is all that matters to us. Jesus believed and thought many things that he did not teach. We are meant to follow him by accepting and applying his teaching, not what we guess about what he might believe that he did not teach. Right?

That doesn’t end the questions about the nature of the incarnation here. Did Jesus of Palestine know of dinosaurs and blackholes? However, this does not concern me in regards to the age of the earth. It seems we are free to go where the science leads us on this one. Scripture does not teach us either of the Age of the Earth, or of a Global Flood.

You also might enjoy reading about: The Origin of YEC 50 Years Ago. Turns out that YEC as you know it only arose in your grandparents generation. There is no way that Jesus was a YEC like them.

What are your thoughts?

(Kenneth Turner) #3

This is the direction I’d take. Jesus is reading his Bible, not getting into nitty-gritty background stuff.

This is Jesus reading the order of the Hebrew canon. Abel is the first and Zacharias is the last (Chronicles is the last book in the Hebrew canon). Good question about Abel as a prophet, but it’s not out of the question within the rhetoric. I tend to agree with your reflection here.

face value to whom?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #4

Well, to a young earth creationist high school student, of course!

(Kenneth Turner) #7

that’s part of the problem…thinking our “obvious” was the ancient reader’s “obvious.” This is where Walton’s “thinking like an ancient Israelite” (or first-century Jew) perspective is so helpful.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #8

I agree. Though, just this view alone seems to be working against something in the text too. Yes, the text is bound to its moment, but it also transcends.

How do you bring together the timeless and situated nature of the revelation? I think the instinct behind “plain readings,” at its best, is the vernacularism of Martin Luther and a theological embrace (even if it is linguistically naive at times) of the timeless purpose and work of Scripture.

It seems that Walton’s work on ANE, and others like it, are sometimes troubled with that quality of Scripture too. In many ways, this gets back to some of the many other threads here on OT in relation to NT, and even science.

(Kenneth Turner) #9

For a start: ethical monotheism; God is intentional and purposeful in creation (with teleology in mind, including a focus on humanity); God is involved in each phase of creation; God is distinct from his creation; God’s creation is “good”; and human exceptionalism. This list speaks against many of the “isms” that take various forms in different stages of human history. Our job is to identify these manifestations in our day and polemicize against them as Israel did in her day.

(Daniel Deen) #10

I’ve already stepped outside of my pay grade, but since the question/tension has something to do with time I’ll ask a question: Has anybody read William Dembski’s, The End of Christianity?

It is an attempt at theodicy and I have NOT read the book yet. However, an interview with Dembski I read alerted me to an interesting thought experiment. We, Christians, have no problem thinking about the salvation won on the cross as “working” forward in time and backwards. I’m thinking about the idea that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness even thought Christ had not died and rose again yet. Likewise, we all believe that our faith is secured and real from His work on the cross historically. Dembski wonders if one could look at the Fall in a similar fashion. When Adam and Eve committed the original sin, could the effects somehow reached forward and backward in time? What might this mean? Could that help make sense of a passage such as,

I don’t know, but an interesting thought experiment. If anyone has read it, is it worth it? It signaled the end of his academic career.


Hello. I am the highschool student that asked the first question. I have a few more things that I’d like to say.

Now from my perspective most of the time when I see the word “creation” used in the Bible it’s referring to everything that God created. Jesus didn’t say “In the beginning…” and then let us decide what beginning. He said “In the beginning of creation…” I realize that Jesus wasn’t talking about the age of the earth, but he was talking to people about how God designed marriage and for how long which was “In the beginning of creation…”

Now regarding Jesus’ omniscience, I can’t give any proof that he did have omniscience, but Jesus said in John 12:49, “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.” Also the Bible shows that Jesus had supernatural wisdom and understanding because in Luke 2:46-47 it says, “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” This happened while Jesus was still a boy who hadn’t received lessons in the Scriptures like the teachers had.

(Mark M Moore) #12

Hello and welcome. I am just cutting and pasting from my book where I address Mark 10:6 (which is much like Luke 11) so please understand what is below is not written to you personally. In fact I like this point as an argument against a strict sequential reading of Genesis, since Adam and Eve are also connected to this passage. It is looking at an argument from scripture…

This argument does not make sense logically. Jesus said male and female were made “at the beginning of creation” when the text shows they were made at the end of the creation “week.” So either Jesus is referring to the beginning of the creation of men and women, or He considers the beginning of creation to be when the ordering of creation is finished on the end of the sixth day. Either way makes no statement about how long it took to create the heavens and the earth or how long the earth stayed formless.

In earlier versions of this work I also had more speculative textual answers to that objection. But I now think the better answer is to keep it simple. We are the ones bound by time, not God. We are the ones who have trouble with the idea that “the beginning” can take immense amounts of time while the middle and end of the story are wrapped up in a comparatively brief time. To us, it should not take vastly more time to create a world than that world is scheduled to last. But that’s us. The whole objection is based on the idea that God views time the same way we do, but that idea is explicitly rejected in scripture. 2nd Peter 3:8 says…

“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

Peter asks believers not to be ignorant about just one thing, but apparently that’s too much for us! We are so wrapped up in ourselves that we just can’t get out of our own time-bound skin to appreciate things the way that God sees them. God is not bound by time. He has no problem taking fifteen-billion years to set up a story that plays itself out in tens of thousands of years. Nor to Him does the set up necessarily take any longer than the playing out. That we have trouble grasping this is no limitation on Him, it’s our limitation.

Haven’t you see elaborate patterns of dominoes which have been set up just for the purpose of watching them fall in a particular way? It may have taken hours for the creator to set up a series of dominoes which fall in a matter of seconds. The first few dominoes to fall may be the “beginning” of the story playing out- but it took a lot of time to even prepare that beginning. So even we humans, made in His likeness, sometimes have a penchant for similar things. The joy comes from the setting up of the event as much as the event itself. The beginning of the event comes long after the set-up for the event. The life of the event takes much less time than the set-up.

Further, we don’t even know if God considered the set up as “taking more time”. The amount of time one perceives passing depends on the position of the observer- and remember no humans were around to observe the events of Genesis chapter one until the very end of it. From our view setting up the dominoes was a lengthy process. To Him, the falling of the dominoes may be the lengthy process. And we were not around!

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #13

Great to see you here @Faithdefender.

So, the simplest answer is to just replace what I said earlier with “which creation?” There are several creative acts in Genesis. To which creation is Jesus referring? It seems obvious that the creation he talking about is the creation of humanity. He is not talking about the creation of the earth. He is talking about the creation of humanity. At least in a plain reading, that is what it seems he is saying to me.

So on this I think everyone would agree with you that Jesus was wise, and knowledgeable, and perhaps at times well beyond what we would expect him to know. I think every Christian would agree that Jesus had supernatural knowledge of many things. The question though is if he was truly omniscient in his incarnate form. A philosopher here @Andrew_Loke has done some really good work on this.

This is one of the great mysteries of our faith. There is a lot to learn about and to wonder about. Thanks for joining the conversation too. We are happy to answer any other questions you have.

(Mark M Moore) #14

That depends on which meaning of “world” is used. It really means “an ordered system” and is used of civilization and humanity like we would use “He’ a man of the world”. This is the same word that is used in John 3:16. Notice that it is not talking about the physical universe there. It is talking about the people in it.

(Jon Garvey) #15


I agree with your assessment over all. This is a conversation we’ve had here before, but the simplest solution, apart from simply the idea of simple hyperbole (“There never was such a naughty child in the world!”) Jesus is talking about all the prophets who ever were, and the first he mentions is Abel, who comes at the beginning of the book which talks about prophets, the Bible, immediately after the creation account.

As has already been said, Abel’s at least some years after Day 6 on a literalistic account, which means Jersus is not talking absoutley (in Big Bang Cosmology 6 days seems to be coming to the end of the interesting story!)

As for the timeless becoming the historical, some will have seen my suggestion that Genesis 1 acts as a setting, not a narrative, for a history that begins at 2:4. I go with Walton there on temple imagery, but I note other scholars have remarked on the lack of a true narrative structure to the creation account.


Ok. All of your answers have been interesting to read. I have a few scientific arguments in mind, but if you’ve already had conversations like this before, could you show me another forum to go to? Maybe then I’ll see some of the arguments that I have in mind and that you’ve already addressed.


Also if anyone here has a degree or experience in exegesis and hermeneutics, I’d be very interested in what they have to say.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #18

Thanks for joining the conversation @Faithdefender.

Yes, there are many people like that here. Did you have a question for them? If you add it here, perhaps @deuteroKJ or @jongarvey could help out.

You can always search this forum to see if questions have been raised already. In particular, you should look at this series by @jammycakes: The 10 Best Evidences for a Young Earth.

And this very helpful history lesson on YEC by @kkeathley: The Origin of Young-Earthism 50 Years Ago.

Once again, feel free to ask your question here. There are several really strong scientists here that can help you directly, or point you to resources on the web that can answer your questions.


So how do you explain evidence for dinosaurs and humans living at the same time? I.e. A fossilized footprint of a human and a dinosaur together.

(Jon Garvey) #20

Even the Creationists have backed off from that claim in Morris and Whitcomb (presumably you mean the Paluxy river printts?) as post by Ken points out.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #21

Can you give him a reference?

(Jon Garvey) #22

Can’t remember where he linked to his pdf from. Can you? Very relevant for such history of creationism questions, as opposed to the biblical material (I don’t think fossil footprints are a hermeneutic or exegetical issue!) :smiley:?