A Live Series
The question of the age of the Earth is a touchy one. Expressing an opinion on the topic is likely to attract dismissiveness, derision, and sometimes even charges of heresy.
In addition to being a very controversial topic, it is a very complicated one – at least it is so for anyone who takes seriously both the account of the book of Genesis and the findings of modern science. These two factors – the controversy and the complexity of the topic – may explain why I have been reluctant to delve deeply into the subject until now.
But delving has become unavoidable. A number of Jesus’ followers in Eugene – Springfield (myself among them) have initiated an apologetics project to address the falling away of so many young people from the church. They prove incapable, apparently, of answering the religious skepticism which they confront upon leaving their parents’ homes on graduation from high school. It seems that much of that skepticism has to do with the biblical account of creation. Our profession of concern for such young people can hardly be credible if we do not address this particular problem.
The recent experience of a friend strikingly illustrates the situation. The local newspaper published a letter to the editor claiming that no reputable scientist doubts the neo-Darwinian account of the origin of humanity. My friend responded by publishing his own letter with a link to a web site where were published the names of over 3,000 US college faculty, all with PhD’s in life sciences, who wished to state publicly that they have serious reservations about neo-Darwinism. Three days later he received a letter from the author of the original letter to the editor, expressing in very offensive terms his contempt for anyone who believed that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Of course my friend had not written that he believes that, and in fact he does not believe in a young earth.
Part of the problem, I think, is that relatively few people, whether within the church or without, are even aware that there is a creationist alternative to young earth theory. Consequently, if an evolutionist college teacher discusses creationism, he or she will generally address young-earth creationism only, and will treat it with contempt and ridicule; and meanwhile, our 18-to-20 year old college student, who also hasn’t heard of old-earth creationism, is stuck defending what he was taught in church with appeals to scientific theories which admittedly sound a little far-fetched.
And by saying just that much, already I have offended half of my friends. Bear with me. I do have opinions about young-earth creationism (hereinafter, YEC) and old-earth creationism (OEC). But those opinions are at least somewhat tentative, because I have not studied the subject with any thoroughness, which is what I now propose to do. My views may change. Indeed, the reader is invited to attempt to persuade me to change them.
What I have in mind is this. Rather than waiting until my study is complete and then publishing a lengthy, crafted essay, I am going to publish my thoughts as I come across materials that I find to be especially useful. It will be a kind of “conversation with myself,” spoken aloud for anyone to hear, and then also, I hope, a conversation with anyone who wishes to join me in my quest for discovery.
So what are my opinions on the matter presently? I can think of the following.
1. God exists.
2. God is the author of “Two Books”: the Bible and the Cosmos. What we can learn from the Bible, therefore, should be expected to be compatible with what we learn from science, which is the study of Creation. Any apparent conflict would then indicate that we lack understanding, either of the Bible or the science. Science can inform our theology, and vice versa.
3. As far as I can tell, both YEC and OEC are compatible with biblical teaching.
4. The science on which YEC advocates rely appears very shaky to me.
I am very confident about #1. and #2.; less so about #3. and #4. Let’s see where the journey takes us.
As a religious worker who has a lot of evangelistic conversations, years ago I quit arguing about creation/evolution for rhetorical reasons; it was a distraction from who I really wanted to talk about, Jesus. Once It was not so critical to me, I was able to rethink some things and began to decouple “first cause” from “mechanism”. Something, somewhere, somehow, ignited the big bang at the beginning and caused at least the the first living organism. Since I believe in the possibility of a Deity, and since intelligence and independent will seem required for the universe I observe, and since blind randomness doesn’t align with everyday human existence, I will call that first cause “God”. This first issue is decided largely by the possibilities we allow. If we begin by limiting ourselves to a purely materialistic world-view then of course we can only imagine a purely materialistic answer to any question. The outcome is determined by the priors. However, a predetermined conclusion that never allowed for the possibility of a different outcome is not very convincing. Grant me the possibility the existence of Deity as “first cause” and the mechanism by which he/she/it created the world becomes just an interesting discussion. “How much can we know this person”, “How?”, “Do they want something from us?”, and other such questions follow in due course.
Mike, Thank you for your trenchant-as-usual observations. You remind me of several important things.
For one thing, your comment is a very good statement of the cosmological argument for the existence of God. Anything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence. In the case of the universe, the cause cannot be mechanical (physical, impersonal) without resorting to an infinite regress of impersonal causes, which is impossible. Therefore, God.
But even more interestingly, you point out that if we know that regardless of whether OEC or YEC is true, God did it, then it hardly matters whether OEC or YEC is true, because knowing him is the only thing.
I would like to think that absolves us from delving into the question at all. Why not just agree to disagree? Unfortunately, there is another audience to whom it matters greatly, namely, those who don’t already know that God is the creator. They believe that Genesis just has it wrong; and if the Bible has it wrong about human origins, then why believe anything that it says?
This circumstance arises partly out of the relative success of the YEC movement in publicizing its viewpoint, and the relative lack of success of the OEC movement. This allows the media and the secular scientific establishment to believe – or to pretend – that that the YEC interpretation of Genesis is uncontested within the church. They would rather set up a caricature of evangelical thought which they can summarily dismiss and ridicule than do the work of seriously considering the relative merits of the range of evangelical thought.
But let’s return to the question: Wouldn’t it suffice to emphasize the other reasons for belief, and just go agnostic about Genesis? No, not unless we are forced. It would be disastrous for the mission of the church to concede either the inspiration of scripture or the pursuit of science. What? Is Genesis not God’s word? Is the universe not God’s creation?
Well said. I don’t mean to dismiss the conversation. It is frustrating that the materialists have such a straw man to beat us with. I guess I am weary of playing their game by their cooked rules. I feel the initial conversation is identifying the most reasonable pryer assumptions and then having that conversation. I find it useless to try to convince people who only acknowledge the existence of black and white is that there is color. First I want them to imagine color.
Hi, Tom. (Dan here.) And WOW! Mike Edsall! It’s great to hear from you, brother. How are you? (Please join us if/when you’re in town!) Thank you, Tom, for this blog, and both of you for your thoughts, here at just the beginning of wading into this topic. I am blessed to be a part of this apologetics group with you, Tom, and am hopeful for great things the Lord will do.
It’s amazing to consider all the minds, now and throughout history, who have dedicated so much effort to this question of young earth or old earth; it is at the same time discouraging, though, that there remains so much…mystery(?) (and heated division over it, thus the apropos title of Lennox’s book!)
For a group that (as I see it) is committed to “Mere Christianity,” if nothing else I hope we will be able to capture and present: 1) the common ground both sides share, 2) each side’s best arguments, and 3) each side’s “deal breakers” or points of departure from the other, where the best and brightest, Christ-loving young-earth and old-earth creationists consider the other’s hypothesis incompatible with either Scripture and/or the (reality of the) Cosmos.