Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Debate Gets Old

There is a certain topic among those involved in Christian apologetics that is very controversial to discuss -- but only within the church. For that reason it is a topic I do my best to avoid when I teach classes or discuss subjects that surround the issue. I think those who have been in classes I’ve taught that touch on this issue would vouch for the care I attempt to use in honoring both sides of the debate and purposefully trying to downplay my view. I don’t like to fight about it. I don’t think we should fight about it. But having said that, two events over the past couple of weeks have challenged me to quit being coy because I think being coy on this subject is harmful to the church, its mission, and the role of apologetics in that mission. So, I won’t be playing coy anymore.
The subject is the age of the Earth.

Christian apologists -- some more vehemently than others -- love to argue about whether the Earth is young (on the order of a few thousand years), or old (on the order of a few billion of years). Some, on both sides, who argue this point are nasty about it and will say things that are hurtful and harmful to their fellow Christian believers. They are more interested in winning an argument than in genuinely seeking the truth.

Those who take the Old Earth (OE) view will talk down to those who disagree, call them stupid, or show disdain for the fact that anyone could be so gullible and naive as to believe in such a thing as a young earth.

Those who take the Young Earth (YE) view are prone to use it as a test of orthodoxy. They seriously believe that if you don’t agree with them you are: 1) Capitulating to an atheistic/secular scientism, 2) Not honoring a high view of Scripture, and/or 3) Not taking the Bible “literally.”

I say, “A pox on both your houses!”

I will not engage in the nasty behavior or question the motives, sincerity or salvation of others. I will not argue about it. But I also will not be coy or pretend it doesn’t matter. It does matter. It matters because the logical Law of the Excluded Middle only allows that one of these views can actually be true. And that brings me to the first “event” that brought me to write this blog post.

During our discussion of The Truth Project’s Lesson 5: Science (and as it always does when you discuss science in church), the age of the Earth issue came up. I did my usual carpet dance and tried my best to avoid taking a hard line position or revealing what I really thought. A friend of mine (who obviously has more guts than I do) raised his hand and said (paraphrased),
“Wait a second. The point of this Truth Project thing is that Christianity is actually true. So, why are we saying it doesn’t matter. It seems to me that trying to insist that the Earth is only a few thousand years old makes us look like we don’t take science seriously. Which is it? Is the Earth old or is it young?”
He was absolutely right, and he forced me to reluctantly admit to my own view. I had heard his argument before, of course, but my friend’s question, posed as it was in a class I was teaching about the reality of the Truth of Christianity, suddenly whacked me over the head like a baseball bat. It struck me that my evasiveness wasn’t doing anybody any good.

Which brings me to the second “event” ... This one occurred when I received an email from Frank Turek that included an excerpt from an “exclusive interview” (published: 09/13/2009) with author Dan Brown. While discussing Brown’s newest book, The Lost Symbol, interviewer James Kaplan asked Brown:
Question: Are you religious?
Brown’s answer: I was raised Episcopalian, and I was very religious as a kid. Then, in eighth or ninth grade, I studied astronomy, cosmology, and the origins of the universe. I remember saying to a minister, "I don't get it. I read a book that said there was an explosion known as the Big Bang, but here it says God created heaven and Earth and the animals in seven days. Which is right?" Unfortunately, the response I got was, "Nice boys don't ask that question." A light went off, and I said, "The Bible doesn't make sense. Science makes much more sense to me." And I just gravitated away from religion.
Years after that encounter, Dan Brown went on to write one of the most popular books in human history, The DaVinci Code. This book sold more than 80 million copies all over the world and is one of the Top 5 best-selling fiction books of all time. Worse, it was written in such a way that many people didn't think it was fictional! Its denial of the deity and historicity of Jesus Christ was taken by many to be proven fact -- even by many in the church. In other words, you can draw a direct link from an unsupportable and untrue view of Genesis 1 to what became one of the most harmful and destructive books that orthodox Christianity has ever had to face … all because Dan Brown’s thoughtful question, answered in an intellectually cowardly way, led him to conclude that “the Bible doesn't make sense.”

We say we believe in Dual Revelation -- the idea that God has “two books” -- that He speaks to us through Scripture and through Nature. I take both those books very seriously. I have a high view of both. And this is what I see in them.

Though there is wiggle room in the amount of time that has transpired since Adam & Eve walked the Earth, there isn’t much. Even if we acknowledge that there are gaps in the genealogies we find in Scripture, there is no way to get past the fact that the Bible says Adam & Eve were the first human beings and that they showed up in the last 10,000 years or so. No disagreement there.

But as clear and unequivocal as Scripture is about that, it is equally ambiguous about how much time transpired on the Earth prior to their arrival. The word “day” (Hebrew: yom) in Genesis 1 can mean anything from a “24-hour period” to a “specified length of time, an era.” So, to take a “day” to be a billion years is just as “literal” as it is to describe yesterday as Tuesday. At the same time, the record of nature gives us absolutely no evidence to support the claim that the Earth is just a few thousand years old.

Scripture is ambiguous. Nature is not. Where the book of Scripture does not speak clearly, I will take he side of the book of Nature. This compels me to come out of the closet and be confident in saying …

The Earth is old.

We need to forget our internal church squabbles and get about engaging a culture that denies the truth and mocks our faith. I am more interested in making the case that God created the universe and why He did so. When he did it seems obvious to me. I won’t argue about it, but I also won’t hide the truth or pretend it doesn’t matter. It does matter. And the cost of avoiding the issue is just too high.

[Update: For a great take on this topic, check out Rick Gerhardt's "Peregrinations" blog post of December 29, 2009]

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