What is Wrong With the Period Theory?

It is perhaps time that an article in this paper be devoted to the so-called “Period Theory.” I am prompted to write this article because of the fact that this theory is having its influence upon our young people, especially if they come into contact with this theory in their schooling in the existing Christian High Schools and Colleges. Beacon Lights has a unique calling to maintain the truth over against this pernicious error, for it is a paper dedicated to the instruction and encouragement of the youth of the covenant in the knowledge of the truth. It is this which prompts me to reprint, in slightly altered form a speech I made to three of our Mr. and Mrs. Societies on this subject.
That this theory offers no slight danger to our maintenance of the truth is evidenced by the fact that it is gaining in adherents almost daily and has already penetrated the schools and the pulpit in churches other than our own. That it is indeed a danger I hope to make clear. A positive statement of the truth is clearly needed over against these unsettling lies which throw doubt into the minds of the young people, and which threaten our precious truth of the inspiration of Scripture itself. Beacon Lights ought to be loud and clear giving leadership and direction lest we too be led in these devious and labyrinthian paths of heresy.

The theory itself is not complicated and can be stated in a few words. It was developed in connection with questions concerning the age of the earth. On the basis of Scripture, students of the Bible have usually maintained that the earth is very close to six thousand years old. The genealogies of Scripture are clear enough to arrive at an approximate figure. However, there were those scientists who claimed also to be students of Scripture, and believers in the Word of God who needed a much older earth than was generally accepted. They needed an earth of from two to five billion years old. In as much as it was impossible to put such a large number of years into the general structure of the chronologies, they took a second look at Genesis 1 and came to the conclusion that it was quite possible to interpret the days of Genesis 1 as being days of many millions of years instead of days of twenty-four hours. By making days of creation almost inconceivably long period of time, they were able to conclude that the earth is from two to five billion years old. This is the period theory.

It might be well for us to note briefly what these problems were which science faced and which forced them to seek for a means of establishing an older earth on the basis of Scripture.
One problem, which is usually considered the chief, is the problem of the disintegration of radioactive elements. Radioactive elements are elements found in creation which emit certain charged particles which we are accustomed to call radioactivity. In the explosion of nuclear weapons, a great deal of this radioactivity is emitted; and it is a cause of great concern to the world today that there is so much of it in the atmosphere that it may do irreparable harm to the earth’s peoples and perhaps eventually destroy them. When these radioactive elements emit their particles, they change to another element which is not radioactive. But they do so at a fixed rate which can be scientifically determined. This is called the “half-life period” of a radioactive element. This means that such an element loses half its mass in a fixed time. It is perhaps best to give an illustration or two of this in order to make it clear. Some of these radioactive elements are Uranium, the Radium on the luminous dialed watch, Carbon-14. If there is a pound of Uranium in the ground it will gradually change to lead which is stable and will not disintegrate. The “half-life period” of Uranium is 4.5 billion years. If therefore, this pound of Uranium remains in the ground for 4.5 billion years, it will become ½ pound of Uranium and ½ pound of lead. If another 4.5 billion years passes, this ½ pound of uranium will become ¼. This process will continue until all the Uranium has changed into another element. The same thing happens with other radioactive elements, although at different rates of disintegration. The half-life period of Radium is 1,620 years; the half-life period of an element by the name of Polonium is .0009 seconds.
To establish a hypothetical case in order to understand why scientists face this problem, let us say that a scientist finds in the ground one half pound of lead, and lying immediately next to it, one half pound of Uranium-238 which is still radioactive. They will therefore have to conclude that the Uranium has been there for 4.5 billion years; and therefore the world also must be 4.5 billion years old. No other explanation is possible.
Another problem is the problem of the light of stars which has recently reached the earth. Light travels at a rate of 186,000 miles per second. It is estimated that the light of the most distant stars has traveled through the far reaches of space for 5 billion years in order to reach the earth – it is so extremely far away. Thus the star was created five billion years ago.
Another problem which is perhaps better known is the problem of the strata of rock which have been opened up for scientific investigation in such places as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, and which with their flora and fauna found in each stratum indicate an earth which is many, many millions of years older than it was previously thought.
These problems scientists have run across in the course of their scientific investigations, and have concluded therefore that we need a much older earth than the Bible would seem to indicate. There is no other place in the whole Biblical narrative to fit such a great span of time, and therefore the days of Genesis 1 are made long, almost endless periods of time.

But, of course, the scientist cannot possibly rest by simply making the days of Genesis 1 long periods; he has to say something about the nature of creation itself. He has to make some comment about the character of the work of creation in order to explain his theories. It will not do, and this is the height of folly anyway, to say that at the beginning of the first period God created light, and then did nothing for perhaps 900,000,000 years. Then at the beginning of the second period, God created the firmament in a moment of time, only to allow the creation to lie stagnant for another 900,000,000 years. And so on through the creation week. This is foolishness at its peak. And so these same scientists must necessarily conclude that the whole act of creation is a process. All during these periods there was creation going on in a process form lower to higher forms of life. So, in part at least, lower forms of life evolved into higher forms. There is development and constant progress and process until the creation is completed after an amazingly long period of billions of years.
It does not take much study to see that this theory is precisely like evolutionism as it is taught in all the schools of the country with but few exceptions. And the mere fact that God is introduced into the picture and given a hand in the entire matter does not alter its evolutionism in the least. Evolutionism it is; it cannot be any different; why not be honest and admit it?

Against this theory there are all kinds of objections that can be raised. But rather than mention them all at this time, it is perhaps sufficient to speak of one fundamental objection which is so serious that it threatens the very life of the church.

This objection has to do with the relation between Scripture and science. When the period theory was formulated, the problem was presented in such a way that it became necessary to interpret Scripture in the light of science. Science presented certain problems concerning the age of the earth. One the basis of science it was discovered that what was needed was a much longer earth than could possibly be found in a Scriptural account which spoke of days of twenty-four hours when the work of creation was discussed. And so these scientists attempted to explain Scripture in the light of their scientific problems. Just as soon as the problem is formulated in this way, it is not difficult to find a solution. The rest is easy enough. It is only a matter of finding the best place to do this. And so to reinterpret the Genesis 1 narrative of creation becomes the best place. The result is the period theory.
I am fully aware of the fact that those who maintain this theory vehemently deny that this is done. And yet it is so true that it almost seems foolish to speak of it. It is certainly obvious in the first place that such a reinterpretation of Genesis 1 was only deemed necessary after these various scientific problems were discovered. Nobody thought of it before. In the second place, it seems incredible that anyone who would read the account of creation with its strong emphasis on the evening and the morning beginning and ending each day could come to any other conclusion than that days of twenty-four hours were meant. If someone had not the slightest idea of the problems of science, as a child, e.g., he would certainly never conclude that long periods of time were spoken of in these Scripture passages. And so science with its problems comes first; and then follows a re-examination and re-interpretation of Scripture.
This is terribly wrong.
This means that science is greater authority than Scripture. Science is placed as the supreme authority, while Scripture is made subservient to it. No matter how vehemently this is denied, this remains the simple and irrefutable fact. Here is no ultimate authority in Scripture except as it is subservient to the cause of scientific endeavor. Scripture and the abiding Word of God must be made to conform to science and is not allowed to speak for itself. I am also fully aware of the fact that those who profess this theory emphasize very strongly the point that there is no disharmony between what is called general and special revelation, and that therefore they must be made to fit. But it remains a fact that even this is a wrong statement of the problem and a wrong approach to the matter. It is not true that special and general revelation must be made to harmonize. It is rather a fact that special revelation stands no matter what, and general revelation must be interpreted in the light of it. Scripture stands. If there are problems in the field of scientific research, they must be solved in the light of Scripture. And if they cannot be solved, then it simply remains a fact that Scripture stands, and science must submit its problems to the final tribunal of the Word of God.

If however, science must have the first and the last word, the inevitable result of the period theory is that Scripture is no longer a reliable source of truth. It is strikingly enough the case that already there are clear rumblings in the Christian Reformed Churches concerning the fallibility of Scripture. Scripture has mistakes it is said. Scripture is not a scientific text book, and therefore with regard to matters of science we can expect to find mistakes there. There are errors in the Word of God when it faces the problems of science, and it is not too much to expect that we will find errors in the account of creation. After all, science has definitely established that there are billions of years of history, that creation is not the act of a moment, that therefore the account of creation is not to be trusted in as far as it deals in these scientific matters.
But the simple fact of the matter is that if there is just one little error in Scripture, Scripture is destroyed. If there is one mistake on all the pages of Holy Writ, then Scripture is no longer the final authority of all truth, and then there is no authority of truth at all. If this is the case, we might just as well nail shut the doors of our churches and close the windows, for there is no purpose in preaching form a book as if it is truth when we know for a fact that errors persist. But this is the inevitable result of the period theory. Believe the period theory, and this will be the end of the matter. It is ultimately a choice between this theory and God’s Word. One or the other has to be taken, and one or the other has to be left. There is no room for both!

But, thank God, such is not the case.
Scripture is the supreme authority of all truth. Another authority and standard there is not. It is the infallibly inspired Word of God so that there is not the faintest possibility of any error at all in all its pages and books. It speaks plainly; it speaks the truth, because it is the Word of our God.
And because this is the case, it is clear enough and evident from every part of it that creation took place in six days of twenty-four hours. To this creation many things happened. The curse came upon it doing untold damage and causing drastic change. It was but a short time after that the flood came in all its fury as a great catastrophe changing again the entire creation. I would almost be inclined to say that the drastic changes wrought by the curse and by the flood were comparable in a measure to the drastic change that shall take place at the end of time when the new heavens and the new earth are formed. Certainly the flood is a picture and a type of the final catastrophe which shall befall the present creation before the new heavens and the new earth are ushered in. It is therefore absolutely impossible to reason back to the creation as it existed before the flood and before the curse on the basis of the creation as we now know it. We cannot even form a conception of how things were before the flood came and before the earth was devastated by the curse. But faith accepts these things and explains all of science in their light.
Science can never discover the why of creation. That is simply a fact revealed in Scripture. How then can science possibly come to any conclusions on the how of creation? I deny the men of science the right to try. Their scientific pursuits may be legitimate as long as they stay within their own proper sphere. But they violate their borders and transgress their limits and attempt to explain things which are revealed only in Scripture. Creation is a miracle superb and glorious. It is by faith alone that we can understand it and know anything about it. And this faith must be firmly rooted in the Word of our God whose Word cannot pass away. When science attempts to answer these questions, it will naturally fall into error and insist that Scripture must be reinterpreted. But the next step is inevitable. Science is truth, the only legitimate means of discovering truth. And the Bible falls by the board.

Science is becoming in our day a fetish. It is considered in our world as the one grand power which men possess to solve all the problems of life. It is the power to heal sicknesses, to relieve pain, to cure diseases, to bring peace on earth to make life worth its while, to give to man resources to enjoy life and have heaven on earth, to destroy the power of death. Science is the answer to men’s hopes and dreams, the key to utopia, the foundation of a glorious and sin freed creation. And so the scientist is the man of the hour, the man who holds the future of the world in his hands, the man who can bring to earth what countless generations have longed for and sought after. Science is truth. Scientists cannot fail. Our glorious future is about to dawn. So the world speaks and reasons and hopes. And is appears as if this is becoming rapidly the prevailing opinion of men in the Reformed Churches. There is then no need for the Bible any more. We have the key in our research and development. Even the Bible must become subservient to the truth in the hands of the man with a test tube and Geiger counter.
But this must not happen to us. The simple believer in the Word of God has a more profound understanding of creation than the most brilliant scientist. He is among the heroes of faith who by faith understands that the worlds were framed by the Word of God so that things which are seen were not made from things which do appear.
Let us, young people, by all means stand fast. There is no room for the period theory in the confession of the truth. It is our heritage to believe in creation, not some watered down theory of evolution. It is our glorious heritage to maintain the ultimate and final authority of the Word of God. This year we commemorate the Reformation. This was the grand heritage and sublime principle of the Reformation that God’s Word was the final authority. For this Luther stood and fought and died. For this Calvin spent his life. For this the church has given the blood of the martyrs. The Word of our God must stand. Let us not sacrifice this principle glorious and sublime on the altar of science. Let us not prostitute our heritage in the service of the period theory. Scripture is our hope and comfort, our strength and life. Without it we are hopeless. With it we have all things!

Originally Published in:
Vol. 19 No. 4 May 1959