Naive Literalism | The Institute for Creation Research
Naive Literalism

At the recent Christian Booksellers Association convention in Denver, a leading Christian publisher asked a Master Books representative, "How can you people possibly believe in a literal six-day creation of all things?" The implication, of course, was that it is simply naive to believe Genesis literally, in view of the overwhelming "scientific" evidence that the cosmos and the earth itself are billions of years old.

The answer to his question is simple enough. We believe that "in six days the LORD made heaven and earth" because the One who made heaven and earth said He did it in six days!

Furthermore, He even wrote down this revelation Himself on a tablet of stone (Exodus 20:11; 31:17,18). Perhaps it is naive to believe that God is able to tell the truth and say what He means, but I guess that's a weakness of us literalists!

I'm more or less accustomed to this patronizing attitude by now. Forty years ago, Bernard Ramm, in his famous book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, called me a "naive literalist" in his evaluation of my first creationist book, That You Might Believe (which had been published in 1946).

Actually, I had been a theistic evolutionist during my college days, and only gradually "evolved" into a naive literalist. When I began to study the Bible seriously after getting out of college, I soon found that it was impossible to harmonize the Bible with evolution, and so became a "progressive creationist," trying to correlate the ages of geology with the days of creation in Genesis. This was the position advocated in most of the evangelical colleges and seminaries at the time (and still is, for that matter). This idea didn't satisfy very long, however, as it seemed so inconsistent with Genesis. The order of events in Genesis was contradictory at many points with that inferred by the geologists and, furthermore, it was crystal clear that the writer of Genesis (in reality, God Himself) meant the "days" to be understood as literal days. In fact, He defined the word "day" (Hebrew yom) as a literal day the very first time He used it (Genesis 1:5). The universal practice of keeping time in seven-day weeks can only be understood as a memorial to the creation week, as clearly explained in Exodus 20:8-11. We work six days and rest one day, because that's what God did. There is no other rational explanation for the seven-day week.

Consequently, I switched to the "gap theory," which was being taught in most "fundamentalist" colleges and seminaries. This theory takes the days of creation literally but still hangs on to the geological ages by inserting them in a postulated time gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2.

However, there soon appeared overwhelming problems with the gap theory, too. It purported to retain the geological ages by a device, which no geologist would ever accept. That is, it required a global cataclysm terminating the geological ages (in order to leave the earth "without form and void," as in Genesis 1:2) which would have destroyed all the geological evidence identifying the geological ages! Since the whole system of evolutionary geological ages is based on the premise of a uniformitarian continuity of these "ages" with the present age, there is no room there for such a worldwide cataclysm. The gap theory defeats itself geologically.

Even more serious were its theological and Biblical problems. The difficulty which persuaded me that the gap theory could not be valid was the inferred existence of aeons of suffering and death in the world before man brought sin into the world (as per Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21; etc.). Although advocates of this theory attribute the cataclysm to Satan's sin in heaven, the geological ages supposedly occurred long before that. Thus God Himself becomes responsible for bringing suffering and death into the world, not as a judgment on sin but simply because it pleased Him to do it. This makes God out to be a sadistic monster—not the gracious, omniscient, omnipotent, loving God of the Bible.

This problem of death before sin also affects the day/age theory, of course, as well as any other compromise that attempts to harmonize the geological age system with the God of the Bible. Thus, it became clear that I would have to give up one or the other–either take Genesis literally or reject it altogether.

Therefore, I became a naive literalist! This was about 48 years ago, and I have been a literalist ever since. It would have been much easier to go along with the popular view, but this would have dishonored the Lord and His Word. God has blessed this decision, and I have never regretted it. At that time, however, it seemed that almost no one else in the whole Christian world, especially the academic Christian community, was willing to take a stand on the scientific validity of a literal six day creation of the universe and the subsequent Earth-destroying flood. At least I could never find any, and no one had published books or articles to that effect.

Now, however, there are thousands of scientists and hundreds of thousands of others who are uninhibited literal creationists. Many of these have been brought to Christ and to assurance of salvation by this non-compromising approach to the gospel. It has not proved true, as many have claimed that people reject Christ as Savior if they think they must also believe in literal creationism. It really works the other way: most non-Christians clearly understand the inconsistency of professing to believe on Christ while rejecting the foundational chapters of His Word. When they learn that they really can trust Genesis as literally true and scientifically defensible, it becomes easier for them to make an unequivocal decision to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. Many have done just that. Furthermore, many reticent Christians become boldly witnessing Christians when they also make this discovery.

On the other hand, Christians who compromise on this foundational revelation are laying a shaky foundation for their own lives. One does not come to Christ for salvation on his own personal terms. If he comes at all, he must come as a lost soul, dead in sins, deserving nothing but eternal separation from the One who created him and then died for his sins. It is arrogant for a hell-bound sinner to impose conditions upon God's offer of salvation, presuming to tell God which parts of His Word he will believe and obey before he does God the favor of accepting His offer of salvation. If reluctance to accept the Genesis revelation is the stumbling block keeping a person from accepting Christ, then there is grave doubt that he would ever truly believe on Him anyway. Jesus said: "If ye believe not, (Moses') writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:47).

Except for peer pressure, it would actually be easier to believe in a young earth than in a billion-year-old Earth. Our own life spans are normally less than a hundred years, our nation is barely two hundred years old, and all known recorded history occupies less than about five thousand years. The oldest known living thing (the bristlecone pine) is also less than five thousand years old. If it were not for the Bible, which reveals that the world is six thousand or so years old, we would have no objective historical reason to think it was older than about five thousand years in age at the outside!

The human brain cannot even comprehend millions or billions of years--the very idea is alien to anything we have ever experienced. So where did the idea originate? It did not come from modern science, for all the ancient pantheistic religions (Egypt, Sumeria, India, etc.) assumed the universe to be infinitely old, going through endless cycles of evolution and renewal.

Modern scientists, of course, seek to justify the idea of an ancient cosmos by simply assuming that processes have always functioned essentially as they do now, and that these processes have evolved the cosmos into its present diverse and complex forms. This is their premise of "uniformitarianism," or naturalism. This assumption eliminates God and special creation simply by definition. It also denies any subsequent supernatural interruption of those natural processes, such as in the Biblical judgment of the worldwide cataclysmic flood.

Without these assumptions, there is nothing in the real world that even looks older than, say, six thousand years! As the apostle Peter prophesied: "In the last days scoffers" will willfully ignore the fact "that by the word of God the heavens were of old" and also the fact that "the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished" (II Peter 3:3-6). And now, the earth's surface looks like it was restructured by an incredible worldwide water cataclysm. As the apostle Paul explained, those who deny the revealed truth of special creation of all things in the beginning have "changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator" (Romans 1:25).

For those who are willing to believe that God has told the truth in His Word, and who have eyes to see, there is actually overwhelming evidence in the real physical and biological worlds of both special creation and the great flood--evidences which completely obliterate the supposed evidences of an old Earth, based as they are entirely on the false premise of evolution and uniformitarianism.

Call it naive literalism if you will. I call it simply taking God at His Word, and then seeking to explain all real scientific data in that context. We may not yet have answers to every problem, but at least our tentative answers are better than their false answers, because our answers are derived from implicit confidence in God's plainly revealed Word.

In that day when we all give account to God, it will be easier to explain why we had too much confidence in His Word (if that is possible) than why we placed more confidence in the fallible philosophies of men.

We literalists may not be so "naive" after all. I think a better word is "realistic."

* Dr. Morris is Founder and President of the Institute for Creation Research.

Cite this article: Henry M. Morris, Ph.D. 1994. Naive Literalism. Acts & Facts. 23 (8).

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