Creation Concerns

I’ve been promising a post on creation and evolution ever since I touched on the topic in a previous blog. So, here we go — the first of a two-part blog on the issue. No doubt many of you may disagree with what you’re about to read, and that’s perfectly fine. I can’t stress strongly enough that this is a secondary issue — one about which Christians can disagree and discuss, but should not divide.

First, I believe in creation. I believe in the Bible, and I believe it to be the inerrant word of God. I am also a scientist, with four graduate degrees — three of them in engineering. For some, this may pose a problem — but not me, and I’ll tell you why.

Second, I am what some call an “old Earth” or “progressive” creationist. Some of you are ready to stop reading, but I’d ask that you stick with me for a few more paragraphs, and try to think clearly about this issue. Nearly every discipline of science — astronomy, cosmology, geology, anthropology, paleontology, archaeology, even chemistry and physics — provides considerable evidence that the Earth is billions of years old. I could cite thousands of examples, including distant starlight (known as anisotropic synchrony), sedimentation, the fossil record, ice cores, red shift in space, star ages, cosmological and gravitational constants, radiometric dating, the list goes on. Point is, science is nearly unanimous in this regard. Are there exceptions? Sure. There are a few places where the sedimentary layers are reversed. There are gaps in the fossil record. Radiometric dating is notoriously unreliable. There are inconsistencies in other places — but what we can’t do is use the exception to prove the rule.

Third, I find there to be very scarce credible scientific evidence that the Earth is 6,000 – 10,000 years old. However, there appears to be abundant Scriptural evidence that this is so. Answers in Genesis, one of the leading defenders of the Young Earth view, publishes a Biblically-based timeline that puts the Earth right at 6,000 years old.  The Institute for Creation Research also has some great resources advocating the young-Earth view. Hopefully, my clear-thinking readers are sensing the coming train wreck — if science gives us an old Earth and Scripture a young Earth, there is an apparent “conflict” between science and Scripture. This is a false dilemma — here’s why.

I call the concept “Dual Authorship.” God is the author of nature (Romans 1), and God is the author of Scripture (1 Tim 3, elsewhere). Understood accurately, the two will not — cannot — contradict each other. So, when you see a conflict between what you observe in nature and what you read in Scripture, you are doing one of the two inaccurately. Either you are observing nature incorrectly, or you are interpreting Scripture incorrectly. In my view, many Christians are far too quick to assume it is the former, and discount the possibility that they’re not reading the Bible accurately. When it comes to Genesis 1, this is precisely what we have — nature and Scripture apparently in conflict.

(NOTE: There are two separate issues at play here that are often conflated, but shouldn’t be. First, how long did it take God to create the universe, the Earth, and all its inhabitants? Second, how long ago did this creative act take place? They’re normally conflated since those who believe in a literal 7-day creation almost always also believe in a very young Earth, and those that believe in an old earth usually reject a literal 7-day creation in favor of other models. Let’s deal with the age of the Earth first.)

So, which is it? Are our scientific observations wrong, or is Scripture wrong? I’m sure you know by now that the answer is NEITHER. They’re in synch. How? Well, to get this answer, young-Earth creationists have to do some pretty fancy dancing. Normally they’ll rely heavily on a global flood (which is another issue altogether), and suggest that things like the Grand Canyon can happen in a matter of days if you have enough water and soft enough soil. Multiple layers of sediment may appear thousands or even millions of years apart, but only be days or months apart, due to flood geology. All of these are grand attempts, but they fall short in most serious investigations. But, we don’t have to try to force the observable, natural evidence into a preconceived notion of Scripture.

In fact, there is no discussion in the Bible about the age of the Earth. To get the age, scholars have to use the genealogies from Genesis and Leviticus and the ages of the key figures (Adam, Seth, Enoh, Lamech, the Kings, etc). I believe this is very shaky ground. These genealogies are NOT consecutive (they contain gaps), are NOT complete (many are missing multiple generations), and the ages of the individuals in question are not precise (it’s not like we have birth and death certificates for these folks). From a Jewish perspective, these genealogies are designed to show a general line of descent, not to be all-inclusive. The genealogies are not unlike those referenced in the New Testament, where we hear of Christ referred to as the “son of David,” although we know there were many generations between David and Christ (Matthew 12:23, Luke 1:32 & 18:39, elsewhere). Or when the Israelites as a whole are referred to as “sons of Abraham,” though we know that most are not directly his sons, just in his lineage.

In addition, many believe that the ages are not actual ages, but numerical representations of their lives. Both Hebrew and Greek authors and theologians were frequent practitioners of what is known as Gematria, or establishing theological and linguistic significance to numbers. We see this throughout the Bible, where certain numbers (often 40, 12, or 7) contain significance. You probably already know about these cases…for example, the number “7” in Scripture usually signifies perfection or completeness. How many times do I forgive my brother? “Not 7 times, but 70 times 7 (or 77 times).” Matthew 18:21-22. It’s not telling us to that we should keep count, and when we get to 77, it’s over…it’s telling us that we should ALWAYS forgive. There is no limit. Same with 40. How many years did the Hebrews wander? How many days did the rain last during the flood? How many days was Jesus tempted in the desert? We’re not sure what exactly “40” signifies, but it appears time and time again in Scripture, and carries great significance. How does this apply? Well, when we read that Lamech lived 777 years, this could be much like saying we forgive our brother 77 times. It’s not meant to be a precise count, it’s meant to tell us something of theological significance…perhaps Lamech lived a complete or nearly perfect life. That’s just one example of many…bottom line, using ages and genealogies to establish the age of the Earth, rather than scientific exploration and observation, is bad business.

So, in summary, we cannot create a false conflict between science and religion, and we cannot drive a wedge between how God has revealed Himself in nature and how He has revealed Himself in Scripture. The two are not incompatible or contradictory. The Bible is silent on the age of the Earth, and the use of genealogies to establish the age is unreliable and most probably inaccurate. On the other hand, God has also given us nature in abundance, as well as the tools and mental faculties to observe, test, measure, and draw conclusions from that general revelation. With notable exceptions, those observations, tests, and measurements clearly point to an Earth considerably older than the 6,000 – 10,000 years supposedly determined by the genealogies.

8 thoughts on “Creation Concerns

  1. Great job. I couldn’t agree more. Though I disagree with some of his assertions, Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One” is a good read on the subject.

    BTW, I was always told that “40” signified testing or purification.

  2. as I learned from our time working together, your logic appeals even to us heathens. Personally, I’ve always found the excitement over creationism vs evolution to be a bit misplaced, because the latter so clearly supports the former. Here’s my take. I believe in evolution, and that belief strengthens my faith in the existence of God. Put simply, the sheer complexity and marvel of evolution cannot–in my mind–be random…it is just one more thing that convinces me there must a God. Kudos for laying your argument out so well.

    • Agreed Randy. You’re skirting the lines of another view called Theistic Evolution, with which I have other concerns…but in general, I agree. No way the complexity and diversity we observe in nature is the product of blind, naturalistic, undirected processes. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I wonder if you might be willing to read my blog post (http://gracesalt.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/the-definitive-argument-creation-catastrophism-vs-evolution-uniformitarianism/) on why I (as a YEC) believe multiple disciplines of science have gotten the time scale of earth’s history incorrect.

    Here is the breakdown of my argument:

    1. Creationists and evolutionists have the same evidence (same bones, same rocks, same earth), but come to different conclusions due to different starting assumptions used to explain the evidence.

    2. Evolutionists have a starting assumption of uniformitarianism of geology and biology. This basically means that the rates and processes we measure today have remained constant and unchanged for all of history.

    3. Creationists have a starting assumption of catastrophism. This basically means that if the Bible is true, then there are three very important events (a 6-day literal creation, a cursed world following original sin, and a worldwide flood) that intrude and disrupt the assumption of uniformitarianism.

    4. Therefore, if the Bible is true – uniformitarianism fails, and so do all conclusions (macro-evolution, old-earth) that flow from that assumption.

    • Thanks again Tim – even more great thoughts, and I loved your blog. I have many, many thoughts on both your comment and your blog, but I’ll try to keep it to the point here. Please take my points only as a gentle rebuff with an alternate perspective, I do not mean to sound hostile or angry.

      First, it occurs to me that we actually agree on one thing – what the evidence shows. It seems from your blog that you agree the evidence shows that the Earth appears to be millions or billions of years old, you just explain it differently – by saying it appears to be old, but it’s not due to these catastrophic events.

      Second, I must say I’m a bit mystified by your reasoning. In my faith (and on this blog), I strive to think clearly and rationally about the Bible and Christianity. So, you and I have the same evidence, and that evidence leads us to the same conclusion – that the Earth appears to be billions of years old. Yet, for some reason, instead of asking the logical question, “what is the best explanation of this evidence?” – you ask, “what is the best explanation of this evidence that fits into a preconceived notion of what I think happened?” This is borderline incomprehensible to me. Did you consider that perhaps the evidence from all these disciplines of science indicate that the Earth is billions of years old…because it is actually billions of years old? This is, without question, the most simple, logical, and reasonable explanation of the evidence, and it is entirely consistent with Scripture.

      I must say your logic troubles me as well. You say that “If the Bible is true, then uniformitarianism fails.” This is a false dichotomy, or false dilemma. That statement is true only if the Bible requires a 24-hour day and a 6 – 10 thousand-year-old Earth, and it simply doesn’t. It would also only be true if the Bible explicitly stated that time was NOT uniform, and it doesn’t. If the Bible says time is not uniform, and I say it is, then we have a dilemma. However, the Bible nowhere requires a literal day, nowhere requires a young Earth, and nowhere states that time has changed speeds or has compressed.

      (As a side note, there are significant problems with your use of the terms “creationist” and “evolutionist”, without appropriate qualification or definition, but that’s another matter.)

      I’m not trying to be harsh with you – please forgive me – but I frequently encounter young-Earth creationists who have finally succumbed to the overwhelming evidence that the Earth is far older than the cumulative genealogies of the Old Testament. So, some try to take both a literal 6-day creation and young Earth and reconcile it with the evidence by either:
      a. Saying that the Earth was created to look old – that the trees were created fully formed, that the soil was created with the fossils already in it, and that the starlight was created already on its way to us.
      b. Saying that the time change (your view, as I understand it). Sometimes called time compression, this view hold that time changed – it moved faster in the early days of creation, and it’s moving slower now.

      These views have some merit, but both are enormously problematic both Biblically and scientifically. More than anything, those hermeneutical and mental gyrations aren’t by any means necessary. The Biblical creation account permits a young-Earth view, but does not require it. We both have the same evidence, we’ve both come to the same conclusion – the Earth is old. It doesn’t appear to be old – it just is. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

  4. Please don’t misunderstand my position. As I do say that the evidence seems to suggest an old earth, I am only meaning that within the context of naturalism and uniformitarianism. I believe the Bible rejects both those concepts, therefore that is why they are fallacious assumptions to start out with.

    > instead of asking the logical question, “what is the best explanation of this evidence?” – you ask, “what is the best explanation of this evidence that fits into a preconceived notion of what I think happened?”

    No. I ask what is NOT the best explanation, what is the truth? And how do I know truth? I must compare all truth claims, I must submit all opinions, all thoughts, and make them captive to the word of God on EVERY matter, including worldly evidence. If the interpretation being offered me does not match the clear word of God on the matter, then they made a mistake somewhere, and it should be fairly easy to find such a mistake… and I believe I have.

    It’s an authority issue. Which claims do you make subject to who? Should we evaluate man’s claims in light of scripture (which Jesus examples) OR should we evaluate the Bible’s claims in light of man’s ever-changing opinions about the world? I think you know the answer but are not comfortable with it.

    • Hello again Tim. No doubt the Bible reject naturalism — God, almost by very definition, is supernatural, and I’d say that to most thinking Christians would agree that to concede belief in God is to abandon naturalism. I don’t see the same argument for uniformitarianism. While the Bible clearly refutes naturalism with the work and intervention of God, I see nowhere that the Bible refutes a standard model for time and natural processes. Other than a brief period in Joshua 10 when the sun was actually stopped (though obviously time didn’t stop), there is no Biblical indication or evidence that the speed of time has changed since time began.

      Completely agree that we submit all truth claims to the Word of God. Back to my first Creation Concerns post — remember that nature is God’s revelation to us, every bit as much as His Word is His revelation to us. When what we observe in nature disagrees with what we read in Scripture, we are doing one of the two wrong — either interpreting Scripture incorrectly, or interpreting nature incorrectly. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using observation and science to inform our reading of Scripture, and some would say we are encouraged to do so in Romans. Remember, there was a time when Scripture “clearly said” in both Revelation 7 and Revelation 20 that the Earth has four corners, therefore the Earth must be square (or flat). This was the historic position of the church for hundreds of years, until scientific observation (and seafaring expeditions) informed our reading of Scripture. Similarly, Scripture “clearly says” the sun rises and sets, therefore it must be going around the Earth. This Ptolemaic view was held by the church all the way up to the time of Copernicus in the 16th century, at which time his work and the work of others helped us inform our reading of Scripture. I don’t think young-Earth creationism falls into precisely the same category as flat-Earth and geocentrism, but the examples help demonstrate that using scientific observation to inform our reading of Scripture is not only Biblically permissible, but quite helpful.

      In closing, I’m actually very comfortable with my answer. I was a young-Earth creationist for almost 20 years, when an examination of both the evidence AND Scripture convinced me otherwise. I am a creationist, like you — and a Biblical inerrantist, like you. I take the whole of God’s revelations, both general revelation (nature) and special revelation (Scripture), and try to reconcile them. God is the divine creator of mankind and the universe, that’s clear — but how long it took and how long ago it happened is less clear, and a great source of discussion. Thanks for engaging!

  5. Pingback: The Christian and Government | The Clear-Thinking Christian

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