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.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Clarifying Positions

Last fall I mentioned that I had accepted an invitation to debate a fellow Creationist about whether the Christian view of reality supports and Old Earth (OE) or Young Earth (YE) view. This is a personal challenge for me, not because I am unsure of the Old Earth view I will be defending, but simply because I have never been in a debate before ... ever.

Part of what I promised my debate opponent (Tim Chaffey of Answers in Genesis) was that I would provide some level of information about the approach I would take to our discussion. Since I have had the luxury of reading his book on the subject, it seems cordial to at least let him know where I am coming from. I don't think my views constitute any new slant on the issues, but it only seems fair to at least allow him the courtesy of knowing how I think. I'm beginning that presentation here.

First, let me say that I do not accept the common refrain I hear from those who won't take a stand on the subject. I understand if you are uninformed about it that you might just say, "I don't know. I need to learn more about it." That's fine. What I find objectionable is the well-educated apologist (and I know of several big-name apologists who take this approach) who answers questions about this issue with some variation of, "Well, I guess you could say I'm an OE guy 4 days-a-week and a YE guy three-days-a-week," because they don't want to offend anyone.

I think that's a copout.

One of the most basic concepts in logic is called the Law of Non-Contradiction, which simply says that two contradictory propositions cannot be true in the same way at the same time. The earth cannot be both old and young. In other words, either Mr. Chaffey or I must be wrong.

That does not mean we have to disrespect one another as too many fellow Christians have done on both sides of this debate; but it does mean we are both obligated to make a compelling case for our respective positions. I think the evidence is crystal clear that the OE view represents the obvious facts about the way the world is. That's why I believe it. The philosophers offer a definition for when a belief corresponds to the way the world actually is -- it's called Truth. I don't defend to the OE view to uphold some defense of science or the doctrine of some church. I hold to the OE view because I think it's true and the Bible compels us to always seek the truth.

The side you take in this controversy will lead to monumental consequences in the way you approach not only the Genesis creation account, but God’s very nature, and how you interact with and approach a world that is skeptical of the Christian faith. Each of us has a duty to defend that faith (1 Peter 3:15) and offer reasons for the hope that we have in Christ. We are also commissioned to take that case to others. If the view we are defending makes no sense of the world as we find it, people will see through that. We cannot expect them to accept our Christianity if doing so forces them to embrace an obviously false concept about the way the world is.

The heart cannot embrace what the mind rejects

With that brief setup, let me clear a few things about the Old Earth view

What OE is NOT …

Acceptance of Evolution: Yes, some OE defenders also accept Darwinian Evolution, but it is by no means a positive indicator of the OE view. I reject the very idea of Darwinian Evolution, not because I think "evolution" is a dirty word (as many Christians seem to believe) or because I am anti-science (as many naturalists/scientists seem to believe). I don't accept Darwinism for two basic reasons.

First, it is completely contradictory to what Scripture says about God's relationship to His creation, and this includes what has become known as Theistic Evolution (TE). TE is an oxymoron. It invokes two contradictory notions -- that all life came about as the result of the undirected, purposeless process, and that this process was (at some level) directed by God. Got it? Not only is this concept self-defeating, as John Lennox points out, it lies in direct opposition to the fact that each of God's creative acts begins with the phrase, "And God said."

Secondly, I see no evidence for it! Darwinian mechanisms cannot explain: 1) the origin of the universe, 2) the design of the universe, 3) the origin of life, 4) the diversity of life, 5) the fossil record, 6) mind/body dualism, 7) consciousness and self-awareness, 8) the information content in the cell, or 9) morality and ethics ... to name a few things. What do these things have in common? Just that they are the most important things we can talk or think about and Darwinian theory cannot even begin to offer explanations for them, even in principle.

In summary, the YE attempt to cast OE proponents as "evolutionists" is simply not an intellectually dishonest representation of their position.

Capitulation to, or worship of, modern Science: The OE view respects science taken in its proper perspective -- that is, science that is understood in light of the Christian worldview and objective reality. The scientific method was developed by Christians who thought the world was ordered, and rational, and understandable precisely because God created it. It used to be that both religion and science were considered subsets of philosophy -- the early thinkers called science natural philosophy. Modernity has come to separate the pursuit of theological truth from the scientific endeavor (what it considers the only "real" way to obtain truth). Unfortunately the YE view also effectively supports this split when it claims that we can't trust science anymore due to the fall of Adam and Eve (more on that topic later). But we should never agree to such a thing.

Science (from the Latin scientia: knowledge) is nothing other than the study of God's natural world. God is not a part of nature. He transcends nature. He created nature. Therefore, science can no more disprove God (as most naturalists proclaim) than it can verify the plan of salvation. But science can do what science does --  reveal the character of its Creator. Once we realize that, the fact that it reveals it so powerfully and consistently is a testament to the truth of the Bible that should never undermine or contradict Scripture but should instead bolster our confidence in God's Word.

Rejection of the authority of Scripture: YE critics of the OE view never waste any time declaring their emphatic defense of the authority of Scripture ... and I don't blame them. There is no doubt that those who hold to a naturalistic view of reality, and some who hold to the OE view, do so in open defiance of the reliability, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture. I commend my YE friends for their insistence that this is unacceptable. I share it. So, let me say this as clearly and unequivocally as I can: The OE view I will defend absolutely believes in and defends the inerrancy of Scripture.

What OE is …

Acknowledgment of Dual Revelation – I will go into it in greater detail in the next post, but let me just introduce the notion that God has written two books: Scripture and Nature. This is not some new idea that was constructed to allow modern science to push Scripture out of the way. It is not new at all. In fact, it was formally proclaimed in 1561 in the Belgic Confession, Article 2:

The Means by Which We Know God
We know him by two means: 
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. 
All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse. 
Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.
As alluded to in the Confession, this concept was not new when it was written either. It was first put forth in the book of Job ("listen to the animals and they will teach you ..."), by David in Psalm 19:1-4, and by Paul in Romans 1:20. Nature is God's revelation to us every bit as much as Scripture is. Both are true and inerrant displays of God's character and purposes. Both need to be interpreted by fallen, errant humans, but the fact that our interpretation of either may be flawed does not erase the quality of the revelation itself.

A high view of all Scriptural creation passages and of God’s eternal purposes -- I will give more details of this later, but for now suffice it to say that some YE claims are heavily dependent on a single passage of Scripture while they seemingly discount or ignore the weight of other passages. This is especially true when dealing with the subjects of "death before the fall" and Noah's Flood. This is not to imply that YE proponents are engaged in proof-texting but, as the next post will show, they do seem to rely heavily on passages that support the YE paradigm while giving short shrift to those that weigh in against it. OE defenders invoke Scriptural passages that demand to be accounted for when they are relevant to the issue being discussed.

What we agree about …

That Adam and Eve were real people – not mythological or symbolic – who were specially created by God just a few thousand years ago -- Contrary to the claims of some, there are three age issues at play in this debate: 1) The length of time that human beings have been on the scene; 2) the age of the Earth; and 3) the age of the universe. The YE view lumps all three of these together based on an assumption that is the central issue in this debate.

An analysis of the various Biblical genealogies plainly shows that there is a direct, unbroken chain of ancestry that connects us all to the first human beings (Adam and Eve) just a few thousand years ago. While it is easily demonstrated that there are gaps in this genealogy, those gaps cannot be blamed for more than a few thousand years difference between with the common YE claim that humanity has only been around for 6000 years (where that number comes from in the next post). However, genealogy does not account for the age of the Earth or the universe unless one insists that the "days" of Genesis 1 are 24-hour solar/calendar days as we experience them today. We cannot assume that is the case from a "clear, straightforward" reading of Scripture and simply ignore what God's Natural Revelation has to say about the matter -- especially when that is weighed against other "literal" translations that agree with that Natural Revelation.

What we disagree about …

The length of time that transpired before Adam and Eve were specially and directly created on the 6th creation day -- That’s it! Well, that and some pretty important implications that flow from it. But I will get into those later. The point is that I would venture to guess that most Christians grow up with the assumption that the Earth is somewhere on the order of 6000 years old. That’s the paradigm we were taught. I used to hold to it myself. In fact, I cut my apologetic teeth on material from Answers in Genesis (Mr. Chaffey’s YE organization) and still remain greatly indebted to them for showing me that science and faith are not enemies.

As I studied the issues involved however, I felt a growing tension between the demands of the YE paradigm and the clear evidence from nature that the universe we live in is, in fact, old. My honest efforts to resolve that tension led me to the OE view. And that is why we are having this debate.

I want to make it crystal clear that I appreciate the healthy, steadfast respect for the authority of Scripture that my YE friends demand. That is not an easy thing to stand up for in a culture that mocks and attacks God's Word at every turn. But standing up for Scripture does not demand standing down from a passionate pursuit of all truth, including the truth God reveals to us through nature.

And that is the subject of my next post.