A Case for Young Earth Creationism, Part 5

So far I have dealt with theological and exegetical issues related to the Bible’s teaching on creation.  But even after all of this a nagging point remains: why does the earth, according to scientific evidence, look so much older than 6,000 years?  Doesn’t this invalidate young earth creationism?

A moment’s reflection will reveal that this is not necessarily the case.  If the Genesis account tells us the basic facts about how the earth was created, then what would we expect to find when investigating this question scientifically?  We would expect the earth to look old because God’s creative work bypasses natural processes and gets to the end result in a short amount of time.  God created Adam from the dust of the earth.  He did not unite a sperm cell with an egg and take the embryo through various stages of development, on into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  He created Adam, an adult man, in an instant.  Bypassing the natural processes, God created a man who looked old but in actuality was not.  I imagine that if you were standing in the Garden of Eden on that day and you cut down a tree, the trunk would have rings, which we know today are indications of how many years the tree has existed.  But of course, in that unique case the rings would not be indications of time that had passed but rather indications of the power of God to call into being that which does not exist. 

Take the light of distant stars, for example.  We know that some stars in our visual range are so far away from us that it would have taken the light from these stars much, much longer than 6,000 years to reach us.  Normally, this would be an indication that the light must have started its journey much longer than 6,000 years ago, thereby proving that the stars have existed for an amount of time much longer than 6,000 years.  But if we follow the pattern of creation laid out in Genesis 1-2, then we would expect the appearance of age in a young universe.  In fact, if God created light on Day 1 and the heavenly bodies on Day 4 (as Genesis claims), then we already have evidence in place that light existed indepently of the heavenly bodies in the first place, thereby invalidating the claim that it had to begin its journey from the stars in question.

The bottom line is that creation is a miracle, and miracles do not yield results that can be traced back according to natural laws.  Of course, the biggest objection to this claim is that I am special pleading, presupposing my interpretation of the Bible and imposing that on the scientific task.  I am not calling for true science but only for the kind that will validate my views.  I appreciate that objection, and I understand it.  But I think, given our situation in this world under God’s authority, we have no other choice.  The only alternative is to let autonomous human reason decide these questions for us.  I don’t trust autonomous human reason.  I believe it is in rebellion against God and incapable of understanding his ways.  Revelation must be allowed in this discussion.

Imagine two scientists present at the wedding of Cana in John 2.  One scientist is a believer in Jesus Christ, and the other is not.  After Jesus turns the water into wine, both scientists examine samples of the wine under a microscope.  The unbelieving scientist says, “This wine must be many decades old.  It shows signs of significant aging.”  The believing scientist says, “This wine was created a few minutes ago, even though it gives the appearance of being much older.”  The unbelieving scientist then gets upset and says, “You’re not doing real science.  You’re not letting the facts speak for themselves.”  To that the believing scientist replies, “I know the Person, and he interprets the facts for me.  If I truly believe he is God in the flesh, why should I disregard what he has said and done when looking at the facts?” 

Christians should do science from an explicitly Christian perspective, seeking to take their directions from what God has already told us.  If God tells us that he creates in a short time what would normally take ages to develop naturally, why should we doubt him?  Yes, I am privileging the Christian worldview here.  I don’t intend this discussion to appeal to unbelievers much at all (that would be another discussion for another time).  But given the Christian worldview, why is it so hard to bring science under the authority of Scripture and in line with our broader theology? 

I believe the presupposition that the earth will look much older than it is must be allowed a seat at the table in this discussion.  Young earth creationism must not be forced to defend a claim that it doesn’t make, namely, that the earth looks young from a scientific perspective.  To say that would be to deny the manner of God’s creative power as it has been revealed to us. 

One more presupposition that belongs on the table is the worldwide flood of Noah.  Most scientists do not work as though it is a factor in their investigations.  But think about it: such a catastrophic event doubtless would have had major geological ramifications.  The upheaval involved would have been something beyond our imagination.  In addition, such a major event would have carried with it the aftershocks of countless smaller catastrophes that also would have played a role in altering the conditions of the earth.  A good question to ask when viewing the scientific evidence is this: is the present the key to the past?  In other words, should we presuppose the uniformity of geological change?  Most scientists believe we should.  I disagree because the Bible implies that we shouldn’t.  Young earth creationism claims that the earth not only looks older than it is, but also that the worldwide flood described in Genesis 6-9 was a catastrophic event that has not and will not be repeated.  Geological change happened rapidly and catastrophically rather than slowly and steadily. 

Obviously, I have avoided specific scientific questions here for three reasons: (1) there are too many to know where to begin and how to limit the discussion; (2) I am not competent enough to discuss them at length; I am a theologian, not a scientist, and I recognize that trying to talk like a scientist will only expose my inadequacies in this area; (3) others have treated these at length; see especially Answers in Genesis.  My purpose here has been to argue for a certain approach to science, one that is fully conversant with theology and exegesis, on the part of Christians. 

To sum up this series, I believe that young earth creationism coheres better than any other view with the total Christian worldview package.

(1) Theologically, the Christian worldview demands a historical Fall, which in turn demands a historical Adam.  In addition, it strongly suggests that the curse, which came as a result of the first sin, is responsible for death among humans and in the animal kingdom, as well as major alterations pertaining to the earth’s condition.

(2) Exegetically, the Gap theory, the Day-Age view, and the literary framework view of Genesis 1:1-2:3 all face serious difficulties.  The best way to read this account is as a poetic, but nevertheless historical version of events.

(3) Scientifically, we should not expect young earth creationism to prove a claim that it does not make, namely, that the earth will show evidence of being 6,000 years old.  If we allow it to stand in its own integrity, with the two major presuppositions in place about God’s creative work bypassing natural processes and the impact of a global flood, we can account for a good bit of what scientists have observed. 

Of course, we still see through a glass darkly.  I am quite sure that no scientific perspective will ever be able to claim a complete understanding of everything.  Questions will still remain.  Uncertainties will persist.  But that’s part of what it means to live in a world created by a God whose thoughts are higher than ours and whose ways are past finding out (of course, I don’t mean that in all respects, but certainly in some respects).  We shouldn’t expect it to be any different.

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6 Responses to “A Case for Young Earth Creationism, Part 5”

  1. Luke Smith Says:

    Dear Aaron,
    You are truly a child of post-modernism. Your rejection of the scientific method (and just because you protest that you do not reject the scientific method does not mean you don’t you do reject it by your assertion) is painful for me to read. I realize this is not an argument it just reveals a frustration. I would encourage you to read Francis Collins new book The Language of God. I think that it is limiting for you to have these kinds of theological speculations apart from the scientific community because you assertions are not confronted. To dismiss evidence as simply not being evidence because it does not conform to your reading of a text is misguided and in my opinion it undermines the faith. I think it is interesting how Southern Baptist “academics” live in their own little fortresses where they associate criticism with lack of faith. You must agree with me or you OBVIOUSLY don’t believe the bible. Why don’t you spend one, just one semester at Harvard or Duke or even Baylor and see if you ideas can stand the scrutiny of people who won’t agree with you just because you shout the Bible is inerrant.

  2. fenderpooh Says:

    Luke,

    I have been making a case throughout these posts, not shouting down opponents. I have not said that people who disagree with me are lacking in faith. In fact, I think I have gone to great lengths to show that in my opinion, this is not a central issue to the faith. Henri Blocher is one theologian in particular who holds to an old earth view as well as theistic evolution (as well as John Stott), but both of these men are inerrantists and conservatives who have done much good for the church.

    Just the other day I was talking with a professor at Southern who happens to share my view on this, and he said that while young earth creationism may have a significant following among SBTS faculty, it is probably not the majority view. Even at my own seminary, this is not a closed question.

    I would love to spend a semester at Duke, Baylor, Princeton, Cambridge, etc. But God has not made that possible for me. He has called me to pastor a church that could not afford to give me that kind of sabbatical. He has given me a family that has to be supported. Life is full of trade offs, and I have chosen what I have now, which necessarily limits me in other ways. But who knows what the future may hold?

    Now, as to the specific content of your comment:

    1. Again, let me reiterate that I have nowhere questioned the scientific method as such. I have been arguing for a particular approach to science. To my mind, the scientific method does not entail practical atheism.

    2. I have never in my life been accused of being a postmodernist. What, specifically, have I said that makes me a potmodernist?

  3. fenderpooh Says:

    Sorry, not “potmodernist”; of course I meant “postmodernist”.

    Although “potmodernist” does sound like an interesting word. Maybe it could refer to a modernist who smokes marijuana. Did Kant ever puff the weed?

  4. Luke Smith Says:

    Dear Aaron,
    There are several reasons I responded perhaps intemperately to your argument. The main reason being that I have many close friends and family who have very negative views of the compatibility of faith and science because of arguments like the one’s you are presenting. It is not fair on my part to be impolite. What I mean by invoking Harvard, Duke, Baylor, etc is that there is no one who seriously accepts a “young earth” within the departments of geology etc at any of these schools. Now is it the fact that….they are not allowed. Or that no one who holds these view can seriously engage with their arguments. I think it is the later. And this is why I find your approach so frustrating. And it is here that I think you share sensibilities with the post-modern movement. The scientific community must be wrong because their presuppositions are wrong. Well welcome to the post-modern world..this is exactly what the post-modern critique of modernism is positing. I am not talking about the straw man post-modern that is discussed in systematic theology courses….I am talking about the Radical Orthodoxy movement of people like Hauerwas etc. You cannot simply say I am not interested in engaging modern biology I am a theologian…. If you are going to directly reject what 100 % of scientists find to be the most compelling explanation for their observations then you need to engage them on their terms. At a stand alone seminary students and professors can ignore and do ignore the arguments of biologists, chemists, geologists, paleontologists, physicists, etc…at a university one has to be open to engaging these fields as well.

    Luke Smith

  5. fenderpooh Says:

    Thank you, Luke, for mitigating the tone a bit. I hear and understand your arguments, but I find them unconvincing.

    You wrote: “I have many close friends and family who have very negative views of the compatibility of faith and science because of arguments like the one’s you are presenting.”

    This doesn’t make sense to me. I am arguing very strongly for the compatibility of faith and science. Science itself is an act of faith. Perhaps what these friends and family have negative views about is the compatibility of faith and naturalistic science, and on some major issues (like the origins of the universe and of human life), I would certainly agree. I refuse to wear two different sets of lenses: religious ones for spiritual matters and naturalistic ones for earthly matters. The whole world is God’s world, and his revelation informs everything for me. If some people are uncomfortable with that view of divine revelation, then I say, so much the worse for them.

    I think you are right that no young earth creationist can seriously engage with the geology faculty of Harvard, Duke, or Baylor…so long as naturalism is the playing field. And in the scientific establishment of 21st century America, naturalism is unquestionable dogma. Those who question it get laughed out of court and marginalized, and that is exactly what has happened to a number of brilliant scientists who work for such organizations as Answers in Genesis. Curt Wise has a Ph.D. from Harvard, but he believes the earth is 6,000 years old. Young earth scientists are out there, but the community as a whole has defined science in such a way as to exclude them from the start. Well, if that’s the case, then of course there are not going to be a number of respected “scientists” who hold to a young earth view!

    You invoke the testimony of scientists at modern, liberal universities. I invoke the testimony of the historic church. Why should we assume that the faculty at Harvard is in a better position to inform us on this issue than the vast majority of believers throughout history? If I forfeit respectability for the sake of my views in the eyes of the modern university establishment, then I say, so much the worse for the modern university establishment. My goal is not to be respectable but to be faithful. I’m not surprised that people who don’t share my view of God and the Scriptures come to vastly different conclusions on this matter; it’s exactly what I would expect to be the case.

    I thought that’s what you were getting at with the postmodern argument. And you’re right that I have learned from the postmodern critique of modernism. But there is a strong consensus emerging among philosophers and theologians of all persuasions that, at least on this one point, postmodernism is right. Modernism does have an arrogant overconfidence in the power of autonomous human reason. Modernists do not recognize the vast number of unproven (and questionable) assumptions that they have in place epistemologically before they even come to the evidence. We should thank postmodernism for exposing modernism’s inadequacies.

    But here’s where I part company with postmodernism: I actually offer an alternative presupposition as a foundation for knowledge–divine revelation, i.e., Scripture. I’m not saying that everything is relative or that truth is inaccessible to us. Neither am I going with Radical Orthodoxy down a path of an ecclesiological epistemology. I am standing squarely within the Reformed tradition here, asserting the authority of Scripture as the Word of God.

    You wrote: “You cannot simply say I am not interested in engaging modern biology I am a theologian…. If you are going to directly reject what 100 % of scientists find to be the most compelling explanation for their observations then you need to engage them on their terms.”

    I am actually very much interested in engaging modern biology…I am just not competent to do so. Maybe some day I will have the time to educate myself thoroughly in this area, but now is not it. I have too much on my plate as it is. I trust that I will not be faulted for leaving the specifics to others (at least for now), since it would take me years to get a basic handle on the field. For my present purposes I want to deal with more foundational, epistemological matters, because that’s my familiar terrain.

    Now, when you say 100% of scientists, are you simply defining young earth creationists out of the category? There are a number of scientists who agree with me on this, but as I said earlier, they cannot get any recognition from the establishment as legitimate scientists.

    And what do you mean by “engage them on their terms”? Does that mean “accept their presuppositions”? There’s a siimple answer to that: no. I won’t accept naturalism because I believe it stems from unbelief. There is no neutral worldview from which we can, in an unbiased manner, evaluate the world. We either approach the world in faith or we don’t. And if we do have faith, then it will take a particular shape as we engage with the biblical text and come up with theological conclusions that impact that way we view the sciences.

    One more thing: our seminary has shown openness to engaging with other fields and academic disciplines. We now have a center for the study of science and faith, which was originally headed up by William Dembski (formerly of Baylor, now formerly of Southern; he teaches at Southwestern Seminary now). Dembski has more degrees than a thermometer. I think he must be one of the most brilliant men in the world. Anyway, he didn’t stay long due to family considerations, so Curt Wise has now taken over. There is some interdisciplinary study going on at Southern.

  6. Luke A. Says:

    Fenderpooh said:
    “Science itself is an act of faith. ”

    Whoa buddy, put down the Koolaid. LOL. I’d like for you to make a post proving that statement? Maybe your idea of faith and my idea of faith are different?

    Luke A.

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