What is the Gap Theory?
By Dr. Henry M. Morris, Ph.D.
One of the popular devices for trying to accommodate the evolutionary ages of the geologists and astronomers in the creation record of the Bible has been the “gap theory”—also called the “ruin-and-reconstruction” theory.
According to this concept, Genesis 1:1 describes the initial creation of the universe. Following this, the standard events of cosmic evolution took place, which eventually produced our solar system about five billion years ago. Then, on the earth, the various geologic ages followed, as identified by their respective assemblages of fossils (trilobites, dinosaurs, etc.).
But then occurred a devastating global cataclysm, destroying all life on Earth and leaving a vast fossil graveyard everywhere. This situation is then said to be what is described in Genesis 1:2. “And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” The cataclysm is thought to have occurred as a result of the rebellion of Satan and his angels against their Creator in Heaven, with God then casting them out of Heaven to the earth.
Those who advocate the gap theory agree that the six days of the creation week were literal days, but they interpret them only as days of recreation, with God creating again many of the kinds of animals and plants destroyed in the cataclysm.
What is the Purpose of the Gap Theory?
The gap theory was developed mainly for the purpose of accommodating the great ages demanded by evolutionary geologists. This idea was first popularized by a Scottish theologian, Thomas Chalmers, early in the 19th century. In this country, the famous Scofield Study Bible made it an almost universally accepted teaching among fundamentalists.
The Scofield Bible notes on Genesis I include the following:
The first act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages. . . . The face of the earth bears everywhere the marks of such a catastrophe. There are not wanting intimations which connect it with a previous testing and fall of angels. . . . Relegate fossils to the primitive creation, and no conflict of science with the Genesis cosmogony remains.
However, serious conflicts do remain. In fact, there are few, if any, professionally trained geologists and astronomers (to my knowledge there are none) who accept the gap theory. The promoters of this theory have mostly been Bible teachers who hoped they could place these great ages in a gap between the first two verses of Genesis, and thus not have to deal with them at all.
With the modem revival of scientific Biblical creationism, many of these teachers have abandoned the gap theory in favor of strict creationism. Most advocates of the gap idea were men of strong Biblical faith, and when they were shown its Biblical fallacies, plus its scientific inadequacies, they were quite willing to reject the evolutionary ages scheme altogether.
Many of us had naively assumed that the gap theory was moribund, and so had concentrated most of our critiques on the other compromise theories (day-age theory, framework theory, etc.). But it now appears that the gap theory is still being advocated by a number of evangelical theologians.
For example, the Nelson Study Bible, published this year (1997), in its footnotes on Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, says:
Here it means that God renewed what was in a chaotic state. God changed chaos into cosmos, disorder into order, emptiness into fullness. . . . The two words, without form and void, express one concept—chaos. The earth had been reduced to this state—it was not the way God had first created it.
The editors and contributors to this volume—43 in all—include many well-known evangelical leaders. Yet they feel they must allow for the geological ages, and so they opt for what amounts to the old gap theory again with its pre-Adamic cataclysm. The notes in this study Bible do allow a worldwide Flood, but there are no relevant comments on the effects of sin and the curse on the animal kingdom, and no mention of the billions of fossils now preserved in the earth’s sedimentary rock beds.
Is the Gap Theory Scientific?
The reason why geologists will not accept the gap theory is that it contradicts their assumption that the past is continuous with the present. There is no room in their naturalistic approach to science for a global cataclysm that would destroy all life and then require a new creation of plants, animals, and people such as the gap theory proposes.
Any cataclysm that would leave the earth “without form and void” (or “a shapeless chaotic mass” as The Living Bible expresses it), with “darkness on the face of the deep” everywhere, would require a worldwide nuclear or volcanic explosion that would effectively disintegrate the whole crust of the earth. All pre-cataclysm mountains would be blown into the sea and billions of tons of rocks and dust blown into the atmosphere, leaving the earth covered with “the deep” everywhere and “darkness” covering the deep everywhere.
Such a cataclysm would disintegrate any previously deposited sedimentary deposits with their fossils and thus obliterate all evidence of any previous “geological ages.” Thus the gap theory, which is supposed to accommodate the geological ages, requires a cataclysm which would destroy all evidence for the geological ages.
Is it Theologically Sound?
The gap theory is also unsound theologically. The God of Creation is an omnipotent and omniscient God, and is also a God of grace, mercy, and love. The very concept of the geological ages, on the other hand, implies a wasteful and cruel “god,” and therefore probably no god at all.
The supposed geologic ages are identified in terms of the fossils found in the earth’s sedimentary rocks, and there are multiplied billions of them there. But fossils speak of death—even violent death. The preservation of dead animals requires rapid burial if they are to last very long. There are many regions, for example, where there are millions of fossil fish preserved in the rocks. There are dinosaur fossil beds on every continent, as well as great beds of fossil marine invertebrates practically everywhere. These may indeed speak of cataclysmic death and burial, but not a cataclysm operating slowly over billions of years, as the geological ages imply. If the gap theory were valid, it would mean that God had instituted an ages-long system of suffering and death over the world, before there were ever any men and women to place in dominion over that world, and then suddenly destroy it in a violent cataclysm. Why would an omnipotent, merciful God do such a wasteful and cruel thing as that?
They cannot blame Satan, either. According to the gap theory, Satan’s fall took place at the end of the geological ages, followed by the great pre-Adamic cataclysm on the earth. Thus the geological ages, with their eons of cruelty and waste, took place even before Satan’s sin. God Himself would be solely responsible for the whole debacle, if it really happened.
But is the Gap Theory Biblical?
If the Bible actually teaches the gap theory’ however, then there might be some reason to try to accommodate it in our theology. But the Bible does not teach it! If there really had been billions of years of animals suffering and dying before Genesis 1:2, why would God say nothing about it? The best they can offer in support of such a notion are some out-of-context quotes from Isaiah and Jeremiah, along with an ad hoctranslation of Genesis 1:1,2.
And why would God send such a devastating cataclysm at all? Satan’s fall did not occur until after the creation week of Genesis 1, for at that time God had pronounced the whole creation “very good” (Genesis 1: 31). At present, however, “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together” (Romans 8:22) because of the great curse pronounced by God on man’s dominion (Genesis 3:17-19), as a result of sin.
This groaning creation has indeed experienced one global cataclysm—one not inferred from vague hints in out-of-context quotes, but rather one described in great detail in Genesis 6-9 and referred to often and unambiguously in later passages—namely, the worldwide Flood in the days of Noah. Most of the vast fossil graveyards in the earth’s crust can best be explained as one of the results of the Flood.
This awesome spectacle of destruction and death was not part of God’s “very good” creation. There was no death in the world until sin was in the world (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:21; etc.). In fact, death itself is “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). Our future deliverance from sin and death has been purchased by the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, who is “the propitiation for our sins and … also for the sins of the whole world” (John 2:2).
But if “death reigned” not “from Adam to Moses,” as the Bible says (Romans 5:14), but had already reigned for billions of years before Adam, then death is not the wages of sin but instead was part of God’s creative purpose. How then could the death of Christ put away sin? The gap theory thus undermines the very gospel of our salvation, as well as the holy character of God.
The fact is that no such gap exists between the first two verses of Genesis at all. The second verse merely describes the initial aspect of the creation as “without form and void”—that is, with neither structure nor inhabitants. The rest of the chapter tells how God produced a marvelous structure for His created universe, with multitudes of plant and animal inhabitants for the earth, all to be under the dominion of its human inhabitants created in the image of God. It was only then that God pronounced the creation “finished” (Genesis 2:1).
It is time for those who believe the Bible and in the goodness and wisdom of God to abandon the gap theory once and for all (as well as the day-age theory, which is even worse) and simply believe what God has said. The gap theory has no scientific merit, requires a very forced Biblical exegesis, and leads to a God-dishonoring theology. It does not work, either Biblically or scientifically.
* Dr. Henry Morris is Founder and President Emeritus of ICR.
Cite this article: Henry M. Morris, Ph.D. 1997. Why the Gap Theory Won’t Work. Acts & Facts. 26 (11).