What is the Multiple Gap Theory?
Not long ago, a friend suggested to me an idea that he felt would allow a person to believe in an old Earth and yet still accept the biblical doctrine of creation. I had heard of the Day-Age Theory, the Gap Theory, and the Modified Gap Theory, but I never had heard about the concept he was defending. He referred to it as the “Multiple Gap Theory.” Could you explain what this is, and whether or not a faithful Christian can accept it?
The Multiple Gap Theory suggests that the creation days were, in fact, six literal, 24-hour days during which God actually performed the special creative works attributed to Him in Genesis 1. However, these literal days tell only a small part of the whole story. Rather than representing the totality of God’s work in creation, they instead represent “breaks” between the geologic ages. In other words, after God’s activity on any given literal day, that day then was followed by long ages of slow development in the style of orthodox historical geology. Actually, this theory is a hybridization of the Day-Age and Gap theories. Instead of making “ages” out of the days of Genesis 1, it merely inserts the ages between the days. And instead of putting a gap in between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, it inserts gaps between the days of Genesis 1.
One of the strongest supporters of the Multiple Gap Theory, and certainly one of its most ardent popularizers, is Donald England, distinguished professor of chemistry at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Harding is supported by members of the churches of Christ, who generally are known to be quite conservative in their positions regarding the Genesis account of creation. In the past, for the most part, members of the churches of Christ have not tolerated the teachings of false doctrines associated with creation. Dr. England, of course, is well aware of that fact. The Multiple Gap Theory has the advantage of allowing him, when asked, to assert that he does, in fact, believe the days of creation were 24-hour periods. And, if he is asked if he believes in the Gap Theory, again, he can demur, insisting that he does not.
But is this an upright approach? Or is it “playing loosely with the facts”? Interestingly, an example is available upon which one may base an answer to these questions. In March 1982, Dr. England lectured to a group of young people in Memphis, Tennessee. During that series, he told these youngsters that although he had spent a lifetime searching for “proof ” that the days of Genesis 1 were 24-hour days, he never had found any. He then went to great lengths to set before this audience of impressionable teenagers a number of “objections” to the days of Genesis 1 being literal.
As a result of England’s comments and a subsequent review of them (see Thompson, 1982), the president of Harding University, Clifton L. Ganus, received several inquiries from financial supporters about England’s position on these matters. How did Dr. England respond? On October 4, 1982 he wrote Dr. Ganus a letter in which he stated:
Dear Dr. Ganus: I enjoyed my brief visit with you on Friday afternoon. I stated in your presence that I have always believed that the creation days of Genesis One were six twenty-four hour days. Anyone who would take anything that I said in the [name of congregation omitted here] lectures and try to associate me with a “day-age” theory of creation is making a mistake.... Whenever I speak on the creation theme, I am always careful to make my position clear as to my understanding of the length of days in Genesis One... (1982, p. 1).
As proof of his position on these matters, England included in his letter a quotation from pages 111-113 of his book, A Christian View of Origins, in which he wrote that he does not recommend strict theistic evolution. But here is the interesting point in all of this. In that same book, just two pages earlier, Dr. England had written:
The statements, “God created” (Genesis 1 and elsewhere) and “God spoke and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:9) do not explicitly rule out some sort of process. Now, if the days of Genesis are taken as 24-hour days, then that certainly rules out any process extending over vast periods of time. The days could easily have been twenty-four-hour days and the earth still date to great antiquity provided that indefinite periods of time separated the six creation days (1972, pp. 110-111, emp. added).
Is this dealing honestly with the facts? Dr. England told the university president (who had the power to dismiss him from his professorial position) that he does believe the days of Genesis 1 were 24-hours long, all the while knowing that he has defended, in print, the Multiple Gap Theory.
A RESPONSE AND REFUTATION
At the very least, this theory requires a most “unnatural” reading of the Creation account—which apparently is continuous and intended to describe the creation of “heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is.” The context of the creation record suggests continuity. There is absolutely no exegetical evidence to document the claim that in between each of the (literal) creation days there were millions or billions of years. In fact, such evidence is conspicuously missing. In his 1983 volume, A Scientist Examines Faith and Evidence, Dr. England commented on this fact when he said: “True, the silence of the Scriptures leaves open the possibility of time gaps but it does not seem advisable to build a doctrinal theory on the basis of a silence of Scripture” (p. 154, emp. added).
Nor does the theory harmonize with orthodox geology. If the acts of creation are left on their respective days, then there is no possible way to make the Creation account agree with the geologic-age system—gaps or no gaps. The Genesis sequence and the alleged geologic sequence do not agree (see Thompson, 1995, p. 214). The Multiple Gap Theory does not alter that fact.
Additionally, we must not overlook the import of Exodus 20:11 which specifically states that “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day.” Either God made what He made in six days or He made what He made in six days plus millions or billions of years. Those respecting the Bible as the inspired Word of God have no trouble accepting the former and rejecting the latter. It is fitting that we close this section with a quotation from G. Richard Culp:
We stand either with God and His teaching of creation, or we stand with the evolutionist in opposition to Him. The issues are sharply drawn; there can be no compromise. You are either a Christian or an evolutionist; you cannot be both (1975, p. 163).
Culp, G. Richard (1975), Remember Thy Creator (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
England, Donald (1972), A Christian View of Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
England, Donald (1982), Letter to Clifton L. Ganus, President, Harding University, Searcy, Arkansas.
England, Donald (1983), A Scientist Examines Faith and Evidence (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Thompson, Bert (1982), “The Day-Age Theory: Another False Compromise of the Genesis Account of Creation,” Reason & Revelation, 2:29-32, July.
Thompson, Bert (1995), Creation Compromises (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).