Sunday, November 13, 2011

Time To Put Up

An internal debate among Christians
I have said many times before that I subscribe to an ancient view of the earth. I believe the Old Earth (OE) view is perfectly compatible with the words of the Bible and overwhelmingly supported by modern science. Some of my fellow Christians disagree. Their Young Earth (YE) view insists that the Bible clearly states that God created the earth in 7 consecutive 24-hour days just about 6000 years ago. While I usually do my best to avoid the divisive nastiness that often accompanies this topic, I have always tried to make two points about it:

1) The really important issue we face in our science-worshipping, Naturalistic culture is not about when God created; it is that God created. This is the point the culture denies but that both YE and OE believers can agree on.

2) There are important theological considerations to the answer we arrive at that we cannot ignore and we need to seek the truth of the matter. The OE/YE topic should be an internal debate between respectful Christians who sincerely disagree.

Well, recently someone called me to task on the second point and challenged me to debate a YE Christian about this very topic. Put up or shut up I think they call it. So I will put up.

On March 22, 2012 I will debate Tim Chaffey of Answers In Genesis at Cincinnati Christian High School. For the record, I have never been involved in a public debate about anything so this is a stretch for me. But I believe the topic is too important for our young people to understand to allow me to avoid this opportunity. Mr. Chaffey has been publicly defending the YE view for several years and has even co-authored a book (with Jason Lisle) about this topic. I am reading it now. This allows me to study Mr. Chaffey's arguments and research OE responses to them. So, in order to also stand behind my belief that these kinds of debates ought to be respectful, and in the interest of fairness, I plan to offer a series of blog posts about the various arguments I plan to make in the debate. While I am sure he won't be caught off guard or surprised by any of these, and because I haven't written a book on the subject, this is the only way I know to give Mr. Chaffey the courtesy of being able to prepare to respond to my arguments just as I am preparing to respond to his.

For those who are interested, most of the material I utilize originates with Reasons to Believe, a scientific apologetics ministry based in the Los Angeles area. Mr. Chaffey is very familiar with their work. Though the details have yet to be established, the major topics we plan to debate are:
  1. The Age of the Earth
  2. The meaning of the Hebrew word for "day" (yom) in the creation account
  3. Death before the fall of Adam & Eve
  4. The Great Flood of Noah
These are the topics I will offer blog posts about.

I invite anyone who is interested in this type of thing to check out some resources and, if you live anywhere in the Cincinnati area, try to attend the debate on March 22, 2012. I will provide details about both of these in my future posts and I will also provide Mr. Chaffey with links to each.

My goal with all this is simple -- that we all honorably and respectfully seek the Truth.

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  1. I'm very interested in this as I am unable to reconcile a 6 literal day creation without the use of science fiction. I am convinced that God created. The spectacular depth of the universe is so big that there are galaxies that we will never see the light from. Just based on how fast light travels the earth is older than we've been told in our churches. But that's just me. I believe there is significant evidence to prove it.

  2. While I'm a non-believer in Christianity, the one issue that I agree with creationists on is that Bible teaches a young earth, and that evolution is incompatible with Genesis.

  3. Well, Michael B., I would disagree with you on your first point and agree on the second. The problem is that many YE folks believe OE is a capitulation to the science of Evolution when in fact the two are not even remotely connected. The timing of the origin of the universe is a cosmological question while Evolution is a biological question about the origin and diversity of life.

    Many think that OE is just a means to give Evolution enough time to work. But the problems with Evolution are not solved by giving it more time. It doesn't work because it fails to explain the origin of the complex, specified information that exists in the DNA of even the simplest life forms.

    As for the YE view being taught in the Bible, I think you (and the YE folks who share your view) make it too simple. There are perfectly valid (and literal) Biblical interpretations that cohere with the Biblical text while also remaining perfectly consistent with the findings of modern science.

    I don't know where you live but I would invite you to come to the debate to hear the full story. If that's not possible, I will be posting a synopsis of the view I will be defending here on the blog in January and February. Please stop by and comment when I do. I would be happy to try to clear up the misperceptions and discuss it more in depth.

  4. Anonymous,

    Reconciling the 6 days of creation with the discoveries of modern science is not science fiction. If you hang around the blog for a while -- or better yet, attend the debate in March -- I think you will be as overwhelmed as I was the first time I realized just how compatible they are. When you see how perfectly the description we are given in Genesis 1 (that was written ~4000 years ago) matches the findings of modern science, it becomes more than just an epiphany about the reliability of the Bible. It takes the awe you feel at considering the vastness of the universe and gives it an eternal purpose.

  5. By the way, if either of you are interested, you can get a feel for my take on this if you check out a short series of posts I did last year about this topic. They were posted last fall here:

    October 28, 2010:

    October 30, 2010:

    November 1, 2010:

  6. I may listen to your debate, but let me give you a fact that ought to bother you if you believe in an inerrant, inspired Bible and an old earth: Before an old earth was proposed by science, how many Christians do you find that believed in an old earth? Shouldn't Christians 500 years ago also share your views about an old earth? If you lived in 1500 and read Genesis, would you get the idea that earth is really billions of years old, or 6 days old? And if so many sincere Christians got this wrong about the Bible, what else are they getting wrong about the Bible?

  7. Michael B.

    I appreciate your openness to hearing both sides of this issue. I really do. But I have to tell you that the issues you bring up don't bother me in the least. In fact, I take them as evidence that you are accepting some inaccurate myths about history that ought to bother you when you see the facts surrounding them.

    Though the early church fathers and biblical commentators were a little sparse with their discussion of this topic, the actual views that we do know about from them are the following:

    1st Century AD: Philo was ambivalent. Josephus promised to explain the meaning of "one day" but we have no record of his doing so. It seems odd that he would have to "explain" this if its meaning was so obvious.

    2nd Century AD: Justin Martyr and Irenaeus suggested the "days" could be epochs, or perhaps 1000 year creations periods.

    3rd Century AD: Clement claimed the creation days communicated order but not time. Origen claimed (rightfully) that time as we mark it did not exist until the 4th day.

    4th Century AD: Augustine wrote, "As for these 'days,' it is difficult, perhaps impossible to think - let alone explain in words - what they mean."

    In other words, there was no consensus on this matter and the proper, "literal" interpretation of the word yom (day) has at least 3 meanings, some of which would allow for long periods of time with the use of the literal word "day."

    Then along came science - a way to interpret another avenue that God uses to reveal His Truth. In reference to your specific question, a Christian living in ~1500 would have been perfectly within his rights (and did) demand that the Earth was unmovable and placed at the center of the solar system (if not universe). But then came Copernicus and Galileo to show us (through science) that our "clear interpretation" of the earth as being unmovable ... was wrong.

    I can also cite an example from Augustine's "clear meaning" of the Bible where he claimed that it was perfectly obvious that other human beings could not possibly live on the other side of the world .... soon thereafter corrected by science.

    The fact is that you don't have to go far to see that the "literal" 24-hour interpretation of yom doesn't even work in the creation account itself. Just read Genesis 2:4 (KJV) where the entire creation week is referred to as a "day." Or, better yet, go to Genesis 2:17 and interpret that passage under the condition that you must be consistent only with the 24-hour definition you assume to be true. It's a definite problem for the YE view.

    Anyway, I plan to roll out more evidence that science not only can, but does, help us to clarify what the Bible really means. As long as the interpretation of the scientific evidence is consistent and coherent with a legitimate interpretation of Scripture, we're in the clear.

    Let's just say the 20th and 21st Centuries have been a treasure trove for our ability to do just that. In fact, I hope to show in the debate that most YE "evidence" amounts to nothing more than insisting the science must support the YE paradigm. It is my opinion that the YE Paradigm is the core of the problem between fellow Christians ... and that science has allowed us to crack the paradigm to find real, consistent truth on these matters.

    Thanks again for stopping by. Feel free to challenge on any of these points if you'd like. Could make for a great discussion and help me prepare for the debate :-)

    Cheers ...

  8. "I hope to show in the debate that most YE "evidence" amounts to nothing more than insisting the science must support the YE paradigm".

    I agree with that. What I don't agree with is that Genesis supports an old earth view. If the author of Genesis meant "a million years" or something else by the word "day", why doesn't he say so? Certainly he could imagine how someone might think he really means a 24-hour day, especially if that person doesn't understand 20th century science.

    Here's my bottom line. You're right about the old age of the earth. The young-earth creationists are right about the correct interpretation of Genesis. And I'm right that the authors of Genesis had a bronze-age pre-scientific understanding of the world.

  9. Michael B.

    Your misunderstanding comes because you assume (just like the YE folks do) that the word day (yom in Hebrew) has to mean a 24-hour day. The word can mean that, of course, but it can also mean "a period of time." That period of time can be a few hours ... or a billion years. The only limitation on it is that it cannot be indefinite. So, to say the days of Genesis are long periods of time is perfectly straightforward, consistent and the clear meaning of the word. The author didn't use another word because ... well, because there isn't one.

    And yes, it is understandable in this way because we now understand 20th Century science -- which makes in even more incredible that Moses gives an accurate description of something that he could never have known without divine inspiration. In fact, there are 13 creation "events" placed in the exact order that we know them to have occurred from modern science. There is no way to explain that without divine inspiration.

    That's my bottom line.


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