Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How old is this old (???) earth?

“And now for something completely different!” This post and my last few posts have this in common: They are both written by me. And that’s about it!

It seems the question of creation and the age of the earth pops up with great regularity. Friends have posted blogs about it (I guess I’m adding to that list); books (new and old) address it; pastors speak about it; schools teach it (well, most teach evolution, which still addresses origins). Some Christians talk about it, some with great fervor.

Let’s back up from the age issue, though, and look at what I think is the core issue. Philosophically, the battle boils down to this: Is the earth and its creatures created or did they come about purely by natural forces and processes? Am I, as a human, created in the image of God or am I a glorified primate? The question here of where man came from outweighs the question of when he came. I think we must think about creation and the “age” issue on two levels. One is apologetics; the other is the text.

Before I continue, I must give three disclaimers:
  (1)    I am not saying the “young earth” view is necessarily wrong. You’ll see why I say this in the next section.
  (2)    I do not believe theistic evolution provides a valid explanation of origins (theistic evolution typically says God set the initial conditions (pre big-bang) and then allowed evolution to proceed, knowing it would eventually produce humanity).
  (3)    I am not advocating we ignore the biblical text.


When talking with an unbeliever or someone who hasn’t looked carefully at the issue of origins, we will almost always lose our audience if we introduce “young earth” too early in the discussion. Why? They are indoctrinated with the idea that the earth is old. Most science classes teach an ancient universe. And if young earth is even addressed in educational settings, it is usually ridiculed. So, our audience holds as true that the universe is old. Frequently, they turn us off as soon as we mention “young earth.”

In addition, if we hold a young earth view, we face a credibility issue. Most of us are no more than amateur scientists, if that. But, if we hold a young earth view, we must argue that every field of science is wrong where it touches on any aspect of origins. This includes astronomy, physics, geology, radiometric dating, biology, paleontology, and others. Might they be wrong? Yes (I won’t argue one way or the other here), but most of us do not have the background to evaluate the “party line” of the sciences, the critique of “the party line” or the critique of the critiques! Most of us have some knowledge of the basics, but we must rely on third parties to form our opinions. So, when we say “science is wrong,” the logical response (often unspoken) is, “you’re not a scientist – how do you know”? This issue is particularly relevant when we talk with someone who does have a background in science!

So, where can we start?

“Given that”

I heard this at a conference a few years back, and it makes so much sense. “Given that the universe is old, do we have evidence of design?” By saying this, I am not saying that the universe is old; I’m simply sidestepping for now the issue to get to more central issues: creation and the existence of the creator. Using the “given that” approach simply says, “I’ll grant you your point for the sake of argument. Even if your point is true, we still have evidence that supports creation. Let’s look at it.”

And the evidence does exist. Specified complexity (such as the “programming” of DNA). The fine-tuning of the universe. Irreducible complexity (such as cellular “motors”). The rapid expansion of the so-called Cambrian explosion (significant increase in genetic information in a short period of geological time). The limits of the change mutations can actually cause within an organism. These are not simply “God of the gaps” explanations (i.e., “we can’t explain it, therefore God did it”). Rather, they are “arguments to the best explanation” (i.e., parallel phenomena such as computer programming are the result of intelligent, creative action).

I fear too many people (aka, high school and college age kids) lose confidence in the Bible because we don’t arm them well enough with the “apologetic” answers. I want them – and us – to have confidence that science and faith are not mutually exclusive. And I want them to have confidence in the Bible.

The Text

If you know me, you also know I hold a high view of the Bible. I firmly believe it is our ultimate authority. So, in a discussion of origins, I cannot ignore the text! In the few words I have left, let me give four thoughts about the Genesis account:

  (1)    The facts of science and the Bible must agree. However, the interpretation of one, the other, or both might be wrong.
  (2)    The argument that says disagreement with an interpretation means you deny the inerrancy of Scripture is a false dichotomy. I found eight different approaches to Genesis One from writers who affirm the inerrancy of Scripture but interpret the passages differently (this group does not include theistic evolutionary approaches, although some theistic evolutionists such as Bruce Waltke hold to inerrancy). Not all such interpretations are equally strong, but the issue is interpretation, not inerrancy.
  (3)    The writer of Genesis (whom I believe to be Moses) wrote to an agrarian, non-scientific culture roughly 1500 years before Christ. What did he intend to communicate to the original audience? “Given that” we might disagree on the details of the Creation, we can agree that the text tells of the existence and nature of God, that He is the creator, that objects and creatures worshipped by both Egyptian and Canaanite cultures are created, that man is uniquely created in God’s image, that through the sin of the first created man, Adam, sin entered the world, and so on. These principles do not rise or fall based on the age of the creation.
  (4)    By all means, come to a conclusion about the interpretation of the text. Discuss it with others, but be gracious with those who interpret it differently – especially in public settings.

How old is this old (or not-so-old) earth? If you noticed, I didn’t answer the question. I have my convictions, but I’m not going to give them here. If you take a guess, some of you will be right and some of you will be wrong. Wrestle with the answer to the age of the earth; come to a conclusion about the age; but keep the main thing the main thing: that God created, not when He created.