Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Challenging the Young Earth Paradigm

Science tells us that the universe is about 14.6 billion years old and that the Earth is much younger but still about 4 billion years old. This is a shocking thing to say in most conservative Christian circles but there is no getting around it. In fact, several YE proponents including John Morris, President of the Institute for Creation Research, acknowledged during radio interviews in the early 1990s that they had never met a scientist who became convinced on the basis of science alone that the universe or Earth is only thousands of years old.

Think about that for a minute. Not a single scientist looks at the world around us and, on the basis of an honest pursuit of truth, comes to the conclusion based on that evidence alone that the universe or Earth is only a few thousand years old. Are all these scientists radically anti-Christian? Are they all engaged in a massive cover-up? Are they all just plain lying? The fact is that many of these scientists claim to be Christians. Are they heretics, sold out to a godless view of the world?

Doesn't it just seem reasonable to at least consider why they say that? I think so.

The YE view claims that a clear, plain reading of the text is that God created everything in six ordinary 24-hour days. In fact, it may surprise you to know that I agree!

The problem is that the plain, first impression reading we get from Scripture is not always correct.

For instance, it used to be accepted fact that the “The earth [was] fixed and unmovable.” After all, this is the "clear, plain reading of the text" in: 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1, Psalm 104:5, and 1 Samuel 2:8. Each of these clearly say that the earth is fixed in space and immovable. In addition, Psalm 19:4-6, Ecclesiastes 1:5 clearly state that the Sun rises and sets and moves in a circuit across the heavens. Yet today we know that this idea of a fixed earth, which seemed to be clearly and plainly taught in Scripture, is not the case.

How do we know that?

We learned something from science that changed the paradigm that had been accepted for centuries -- namely that the Earth not only moves in an orbit around the Sun, but also rotates and thereby gives the clear impression that the Sun moves across the sky. The Bible was not wrong; we were just misinterpreting what it said.

It was by this same kind of misreading of Scripture that St. Augustine was convinced that people could not live on the other side of the world:
“But as to the fable that there are … men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets on us, that is on no ground credible … For Scripture … gives no false information; and it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken a ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man.”
Augustine based this idea on a clear, plain reading of Scripture that could not possibly allow such a thing -- an interpretation that later proved to show the fallibility of Augustine's interpretation, not a fallibility in the Biblical text.

What I am suggesting is that we have to at least consider the idea that if the science seems to be telling us one thing about the world, it is possible that our view of Scripture which denies that fact should be considered more carefully. I am not saying that we just abandon the clear, plain meaning of the text. I am saying that intellectual honesty compels us to re-examine it. Here's why ...

The Bible never once tells us the age of the Earth or the universe. The idea that the universe is only 6000 years old comes from a paradigm that was put in place by Anglican Archbishop James Ussher in 1650. Ussher, meticulously analyzing the genealogies of Genesis, Exodus, 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles, calculated the exact day of the creation of the universe to be October 3, 4004 BC. When he did, a paradigm was born that most Christians have been clinging to ever since. The YE view is based on an interpretation that takes the immediately apparent meaning of “day” in Genesis 1, and then forces everything else to fit it. Those who hold to the paradigm believe that to give this up is to reject the truth of Christianity itself and so they understandably – and ferociously – cling to the paradigm.

May I suggest that instead of clinging to a paradigm, we strive to look at what the Bible actually says. Not only that, but in areas where theology and science overlap, we should do our best to reconcile what they are telling us because both are interpretations of God's revelation to us. When we do this, the reality and compatibility of the Bible with the world we live in become astonishingly clear and compelling. The tension disappears.

As stated in my previous post, the OE Case stands on what theologians refer to as Dual Revelation, the idea is that God reveals Truth to us in two ways, through Nature and through Scripture. Both of these are error free.

We interpret Scripture through the study of theology

We interpret Nature through the study of science

The key is that both theology and science are human interpretations and therefore both are subject to error. They overlap in some areas and in those areas, if they seem to conflict it is our duty to determine where, and which, of our interpretations has gone wrong. What we cannot do is demand that a 17th century paradigm about the age of the Earth somehow trumps a detailed and honest study of nature.

I will show later that there are perfectly acceptable -- and, yes, literal -- interpretations of the Bible that allow for either the YE view or the OE view to be true. At the same time, science tells us that the Earth is old. So if the Bible allows for either interpretation, and science seems to be clear about the OE interpretation, it is perfectly legitimate to conclude that the universe is old while still respecting the authority of Scripture.

That is the OE case in a nutshell and it doesn't seem that unreasonable a position to take. It certainly would not be fair to label OE a godless endeavor practiced by those who have no respect for the Bible. My hope is that my YE friends understand this and respect my high view of Scripture in the same way I accept theirs.

2 comments:

  1. Science doesn't tell us that the universe is 14 Billion years old and that the earth is 4 billion. I was expecting a more sophisticated argument and this is disappointing.

    The same scientists who you claim are not anti-Christian accept without reason the Copernican principle, the constant speed of light and smuggle in a whole bunch of assumptions without warrant. If you really hold to such a universe, you are going to be hard-pressed to answer missing dark energy & matter, the Cosmic background radiation, comets (do you really believe in the Oort cloud? can you provide any evidence such a thing exists?).

    Genesis gives a clear reading of the Sun and moon (and stars) being made after the earth. I'm sure you are going to reinterpret such a straightforward reading.

    What you can't dispute is this fact - the vast majority of scientists are atheists and stridently so.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey kpolo:

      Sorry for the slow response. I've been out of the country for a week without internet access but I'm happy to respond to your points ...

      1) "Science doesn't tell us that the universe is 14 Billion years old and that the earth is 4 billion. I was expecting a more sophisticated argument and this is disappointing."

      Really? What does science tell us about these issues? Do you have information contrary to this? Please provide citations so we can discuss it further.

      2) "The same scientists who you claim are not anti-Christian accept without reason the Copernican principle, the constant speed of light and smuggle in a whole bunch of assumptions without warrant."

      Actually, I never claimed that all the scientists I mentioned were not "anti-Christian." Obviously, some are vehemently anti-Christian; but some are not. What I asked was if you believe those who hold to this view are all engaged in a massive conspiracy/cover-up to deny the actual young age of the universe. Even YE proponents admit that no scientist comes to that conclusion based on the evidence alone.

      3) "If you really hold to such a universe, you are going to be hard-pressed to answer missing dark energy & matter, the Cosmic background radiation, comets"

      Actually, Big Bang Cosmology not only predicted these, but has continuously verified them to a greater and greater degree. Not sure what your point is on the comets, however.

      4) Genesis gives a clear reading of the Sun and moon (and stars) being made after the earth. I'm sure you are going to reinterpret such a straightforward reading."

      Not only is the first statement false, this is one of the most damaging aspects of YE creationism. It is completely unsupported by General Revelation, AND it defies logic to claim that the first three days of creation were "regular, solar/calendar days as we experience them today" when there was no way to mark them as such. This is the kind of thing that makes the YE view so hard to defend.

      5) "What you can't dispute is this fact - the vast majority of scientists are atheists and stridently so."

      Actually, it depends on the scientific discipline you are talking about. Atheism is quite prevalent in the biological sciences but not so in astronomy for instance. So, it isn't wise to make sweeping statements like this one. But, for the sake of argument, let's suppose you are correct. What follows from it? How does that change anything about the indications from General Revelation that the universe and Earth are old?

      I look forward to your responses ...

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Though I do not moderate comments, I reserve the right to delete any comment that I deem inappropriate. You don't have to agree with me, but I don't tolerate abusive or objectionable language of any kind.