Old Earth Vs. Young Earth

So here is one of my problems with most young earth/universe theories:  certain evidence does not seem to be in their favor.  It isn’t so much the young earth that I have an issue with.  There are some interesting theories that offer workable explanations for why the earth looks old.  Quite possibly, the biggest evidence against them at this point are certain methods of dating which have grown more refined.  Young-earth advocates have criticized radioactive dating and perhaps rightly so.  However other effective dating methods have developed, methods that present greater accuracy.  (Rubidium-strontium dating is, at this point, a more accurate method of dating extremely old rocks than previously used methods such as carbon dating.)

But the evidence of an old universe is much more compelling.  Triangulation against points in the sky is one method of determining distances celestial bodies lie from one another.  Measuring observable movements of the celestial bodies is another.  Then there is the problem of the speed of light.  Knowing the distances of the stars and galaxies from us, we can calculate how long it took the light to reach us.  These calculations lead to billions of years.  It is much more difficult to argue that our preconceived worldviews are causing us to interpret the math incorrectly.

So where does this lead the young creationist?  Certainly the existence of an old universe doesn’t demand the existence of an old earth, but if we can be wrong about one, we can be wrong about the other.

I have come to believe that the Bible and science can be harmonized so long as we understand we approach both subjects with preconceived notions (usually based in a cultural bias) and do our best not to make either the Bible or science say something they do not say.  Vern Poythress’ Redeeming Science has been extremely valuable to me in this.

Poythress is a professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary and he has three loves:  science, math, and God.  He loves the order and rationality of science and math and believes these attributes reflect God’s order and rationality.  He also seems to believe that both creation scientists and naturalists, in their zeal to prove their particular a priori assumptions about the nature of existence, tend to make Genesis 1 and scientific data say things that neither says with certainty.  Starting from our own a priori assumption, if the Bible is true and nature is a form of God’s revelation of Himself, then any contradiction between the Bible and science implies that we are either misinterpreting the Bible or misinterpreting scientific data.  The controversy with Galileo and heliocentrism (Earth orbits Sun) versus geocentrism (celestial bodies orbit Earth) is a much-vaunted, over-used example of both. I don’t mean to indicate that the Roman Catholic church didn’t make some mistakes in the Galileo incident, but the issue was more complicated than the religion vs. science view that most people have regarding the incident.  People within the church (especially in some of the Jesuit community) had begun theorizing that the Ptolemaic (fixed earth) system was incorrect.  While many in the scientific community agreed with Galileo, the switch from geocentrism to heliocentrism came as an affront to the scientific knowledge at the time, which was largely based on the ideas of Aristotle.  Since this is a tangent I don’t wish to go on at the moment, see “What Really Happened with Galileo and Darwin”, an excerpt from John Polkinghorn’s book Science and Theology  for a brief discussion on this topic.

Ultimately, even Galileo was only partially correct.  While the Earth is not a fixed point and it does indeed revolve around the sun, the sun itself is NOT a fixed point either, which runs contrary to his theory.  The Milky Way Galaxy itself rotates.  Galileo’s theories had to be updated once the scientific tools to measure such things had developed.  This is a key distinction regarding science:  it is not static.  It can be refined in detail or completely re-written given exposure to the right data.  (Quantum physics is an area where much enthusiastic study is being done that could usher in a new shift.)  Thus it is sometimes unwise for scientists to ascribe to any theory the designation of ‘ultimate explanation’ for why or how something is.  It could eventually be overturned.  Likewise, it is unwise for creation scientists to latch on to a theory that “proves” God did things a certain way, thus upholding a specific view of Genesis 1.  If that theory is debunked, you have hurt not only your own reputation, but possibly caused disillusionment to those who cited you without studying or following the evidence themselves.  I believe that it can be dangerous to place too high a significance on the creation account for this reason.  Certainly it is important, but again, we shouldn’t read more into it than is necessary.

How should we then approach the creation account?  Much of these views will be paraphrases of ideas from Poythress’ Redeeming Science.  Genesis 1 has two main purposes.  The first is to establish God as the sole creator of all, and the second is the establishment of a pattern of work and rest, the model of the Sabbath and natural rhythms.  Genesis 1 is not a scientific text.  Quite the contrary, I would say it is deliberately obscure for two main reasons.  First, it was written to counter pagan, polytheistic creation stories.  Genesis 1 is unique in its monotheism, and it deliberately plays on the creation myths of Babylon and other near east peoples.  These myths typically involved the earth being fashioned from the corpse of one of the gods.  Humans were typically created to serve these gods.  Genesis 1 is largely the antithesis of these creation myths because it tells that humans were created due to God’s providential generosity, rather than for selfish servitude, and that suffering and disorder is from humanity’s fallen, rebellious nature, not due to quarrelling gods.  Even in our modern, “enlightened” age, we can have little difficulty understanding and agreeing with these concepts.  We no longer intellectually believe in multiple gods (in the West), and even atheists would ascribe human suffering to humans, not to petty, vengeful gods.  Therefore, this story is attempting to illustrate a truth about who we are and about our relationship to God.

The second reason Genesis 1 is deliberately obscure is so it is easy to understand regardless of culture.  It is deliberately simplistic.  Genesis 1 uses phenomenal language, which means it describes how an event is perceived, not necessarily the exact nature of the event. Examples of phenomenal language are with the words sunrise and sunset.  We know that this is a geocentric observation.  At dawn, the sun lifts above the horizon, then at dusk it moves below the horizon.  For someone who lacks the scientific knowledge or language to describe something different, sunrise and sunset have great meaning and are unambiguous.  We now know that the earth orbits the sun and the earth also rotates on its own axis, which is the reality of the situation, but introducing this concept to a culture that lacks certain scientific advancements would result in misunderstanding and communication failure.  The brilliance of the Genesis account is that it transcends cultural understanding.  It uses phenomenal language that is universally accessible.  Why else would it be debated in the West thousands of years after being written if it wasn’t so approachable.  Less scientifically advanced cultures can still understand the text.  They can see and perceive the text in the same way the original readers and hearers understood it.  It is truly a timeless story.

Where does all this stand with science?  It certainly allows us more leeway in our interpretation.  However, further commentary form the Bible itself adds another item for consideration.  The Sabbath is modeled on God’s pattern of creation.  So do we interpret the days in Genesis 1 as literal, 24-hour days or as symbolic days?  There are many theories presented by science-minded believers.  The two most interesting (to me) are the 24-hour day theory and the analogous theory.

The 24-hour day theory is pretty much how it sounds.  By itself, however, it doesn’t take into account the apparent age of the universe and earth.  If everything was created within six 24-hour days, why does everything look so old?  This is usually combined with the mature creation theory, which states that God created everything with the appearance of age.  I’m not sure I entirely like this theory, because it would seem to indicate a reality that is partially illusory.  We would have every evidence of The Big Bang, of a universe aged billions of years and an earth aged millions of years, yet it wouldn’t be true because it just looks that way.  I have trouble with a concept that says you can’t follow the evidence because the evidence reflects a reality that does not exist.  This opens the door to further doubt about what can and cannot be observed and the very nature of reliable evidence, a concept that would even seem to undermine the Christian field of apologetics. It seems partially deceptive.  I would much more readily believe in a young earth that achieved an aged look via cataclysmic events (such as volcanic activity or the Genesis flood) than an artificially “aged” creation.  But I fully acknowledge that my personal comfort with a theory is no sort of standard by which to judge its truth or worth.

The analogous day theory posits that the days are not literal 24-hour days.  In truth, the Hebrew word for ‘day’ (yom) in this text has at least two distinct meanings, one of which is 24 hours, the other is “a vague period of general time”. (from The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 1980. Moody Press)  Analogous day theory says that the days are not identical to man’s days (24 hours) but analogous to them. God set a pattern of work and rest that was to be emulated by man.  Each yom therefore designates the amount of time that each act of creation took.  This also takes in to account that the first three days of creation would have had no objective, external measurement of time.  We tend to measure time by the movement of the heavenly bodies, the creation of which didn’t happen until day four.  Analogous day theory also retains the chronological progression of Genesis 1.  What is also fascinating is that this chronological arrangement roughly corresponds to the order mainstream science says various aspects of our planet came in to being.  I personally like the theory, but I understand it is only a theory.  It is a hard reality that Genesis 1 lacks the scientific detail to study and evaluate it, but if it did, it would have remained incomprehensible to its original audience and many who approach it even to this day.

Why is this debate necessary?  Certainly there are those in the scientific community who wish to disprove Genesis 1 (and believe they have) because they feel Christianity and religion in general creates an anti-science bias and prevents mankind from attaining potential by being bogged down and concerned with religious concepts and warmongering against opposing beliefs.  But this attitude is nothing new.  It is not unique to the 21st century, so why the urgency to debunk such beliefs now?  I’m not sure I have an answer to either question (although I do have a lot of speculation, much of which is unflattering to both sides and possibly more than a little unfounded).  It can be a fun, intellectual debate when separated from the passion and vitriol.  This debate has been going on for centuries, however, a debate between science, philosophy, and theology with each trying to assert ultimate authority, an ultimate answer.  In fact, there are those in science who would like to discover a comprehensive, all-encompassing theory (quantum mechanics again coming in to play).  But despite lasting centuries, the debate continues.  We must continue to attempt our own harmonization of the various schools of thought (and as Christians, allow our standard of analysis to be scripture and be clear what it really does and does not say).  The debate will continue, likely long after we are gone.  As Poythress says with dry understatement, “the discussions continue among theologians with no signs of increasing agreement.”

Advertisements

So, whatever happened to the Creation Science Stuff?

A fair question, and I would be a terrible host if I didn’t address this after making grand promises.

Bottom line, I rather lost interest. No, I haven’t rejected Christianity and I haven’t rejected my passing interest in science. However, the urgency with which I approached this project has faded. I may return to it, I may not. I don’t want to make promises at this point that I may not keep.

But fear not, I do have something for you.

After reading through the comments/debate following the initial post on the subject, I admit to being more cautious on the topic, especially when I realized that I didn’t have a necessary vocabulary. I needed to find a better phrase than “atheistic science”. In truth, science in itself is neutral. It is a method by which someone observes and experiments. Thus, essentially neutral. But I did find the word I was looking for: naturalism.

It seems that the core of this debate is one of worldview. In fact, many Intelligent Design proponents would agree with me on this point. It is not a scientific debate, it is a worldview debate. Naturalism vs. whatever you would call those who acknowledge a creative force. Naturalism, at its core, sees the universe as a closed-system. The laws of nature are self-sustaining and there is no outside, supernatural influence. The naturalist endeavors to explain nature without resorting to the supernatural. They feel this way for a variety of reasons. However, many have the belief that “no God” simplifies the conclusion. And let’s face it, God is a large, complicated variable. His influence is near impossible to scientifically account for. And with a scientific method that endeavors to eliminate as many variables as possible, you can see the appeal of eliminating this variable as an option. It frees one up a bit.

Somewhere along the line, naturalism stopped being an approach and became a philosophy in its own right. It became a lens through which all of life was analyzed, not just science. And the assertion of ID/Creation Science proponents is that the naturalistic worldview influences the analysis of data and the conclusions reached. Incidentally, this is a similar accusation naturalists would level at ID/Creation Scientists, that they allow their “God Designed It” worldview to influence their analysis and conclusions.

Science should work toward the truth, whether God exists or not. I would like to think that on the whole it does. We have some amazing technology thanks to scientific investigation and discoveries, and we know a lot about our world and galaxy. If science points toward design, that’s fine. If science points that there is no design and that God might not exist, well I admit that throws my particular worldview into question, but I want to trust that scientists, regardless of their personal worldview, are following the evidence with as little bias as possible.

But humans are human. I believe there are those on both side of this debate can be less than honest about their particular conclusions and how they reached them.

As I stated in the beginning, my area of interest is primarily philosophy and art. I don’t tend to think like a scientist. But this debate has become such a great thorn in our society and I felt I needed to come up with a personal understanding of what I believe. Essentially, I have, but I admit that I am leaving room to maneuver. I retain my faith, but I am not rigidly interpreting things so that scientific theories will destroy that faith. Many other believers in Christ have done their own reconciliation between faith and scientific theory. Others have rejected their faith. I’ll continue to watch* and read and hopefully follow the evidence in my own way.

*This article on epigenetics in particular was fascinating. I do believe that aspects of evolution are true, even if I don’t agree with all the conclusions.

The Creation Science Debate: Introduction Part 1

One of the particular flash points in the unfortunate war of faith-based science versus secular, atheistic science is over the issue of cosmology or origins.  For many years I have intentionally avoided pursing an opinion on the matter for the following reasons:

  1. It hardly seemed important.  The key information in the Creation perspective is that God exists and created, not how God created.
  2. The militant nature of both sides was off-putting.  The debate seemed more about proving each other wrong, not about pursuing any sort of truth.
  3. Where does one even begin?  Scientific theories and thought can change in an instant.  Much of creation science seems to begin with a certain assumption, and uses scientific data to support that assumption.  One such assumption is that certain aspects of our understanding of God are immutable, that God does not change and our understanding of how God has done something is a fixed point.  What happens when that fixed point is challenged?  Suddenly we have theology against science.  To argue creation science based entirely on the current understandings in scientific thought could undermine the entire endeavor if that scientific thought is proven to be in error.  To wit:  a significant paradigm shift could completely destroy the “science” behind creation.  In the British science fiction series Torchwood: Children of Earth a hospital worker relates how the proven existence of aliens had led to an increase in suicides.  One example given was of a Christian for whom alien life didn’t fit into her theology.  If we build science into our theology, what happens when that science is proven incorrect or faulty.  Scientific change comes more readily than theological change.

Unfortunately, the areas I have avoided thinking about have now become areas of concern and doubt.  I don’t have to know how God created the universe, the earth, and man, but neither can I refuse to confront the issue, especially as my mind is increasingly led away from a literal interpretation of the creation account in Genesis.  Or, perhaps more accurately, I do interpret Genesis literally . . . but I may differ in my opinion of what is literally present in the account.

Here is what I believe.  Genesis 1 teaches a truth, and that truth is that God created all of existence, the universe and everything in it.  I don’t claim to know the details, nor am I convinced that they are of vital importance . . . that they are a mere intellectual pursuit drivin by curiosity.  Nevertheless, I am going to begin a personal investigation into the matter.  I am going to develop an opinion of creation and I will post my findings and research here.  Please bear with me, should I not post in a timely manner.  My life, sadly, is not conducive to pure intellectual pursuits and regular patterns of writing (which I hope will one day change).  I still have a job and certain social obligation.  Regardless, I will journey forth.  I plan on hitting the following points and authors on this journey and am open to further recommendations:

  • Charles Darwin
  • Richard Dawkins
  • John C. Polkinghorn
  • Arthur Peacock
  • Ken Ham
  • Kenneth Miller
  • Francis Schaeffer
  • Hugh Ross
  • The documentary Expelled
  • Michael Behe

If you recognize these names, you will notice that I have quite a bit of pro-creation sources, but am lacking in the anti-creation camp.  I’m sure as I read these books, I’ll find threads to follow, but if anyone has more sources to investigate, then please submit them in the comment section.

***

I plan on beginning with an analysis of  Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.  In many ways, this text was the first major weapon in the arsenal of atheistic science.  However, Darwin’s theories were by no means original.  Darwin was merely the first to put pen to paper, armed with observational evidence and an ability to make everything accessible.  But before I pursue Darwin further, allow me to express a bit of frustration.  The previous section was written a full three weeks prior to this one, and I have since learned how very daunting this task could be.  I have had to shift and readjust both the focus of this pursuit, but also my way of analyzing it.

At the beginning of my research, I naively assumed there were primarily two sides to this debate:  atheistic science and theistic science.  Depending on how broad you paint this, it is true, but when I got further in to the debate, I saw that, like politics, there are about as many opinions as there are people who have put pen to paper on this subject.  We have old earth/universe vs. new earth/universe, Big Bang vs. no Big Bang, worldwide flood vs. localized flood vs. no flood, human evolution vs. no human evolution, and so on with creation science proponents on all sides, arguing with each other just as much as with the atheists.

So, a question:  who is right?  Or perhaps a better question would be “who can be right?  I am constantly amused by the books that come to the book store where I work, books with subtitles like “The Final Evidence Against Evolution.”  Doesn’t the fact that these book are continually published imply that this “final evidence” isn’t so conclusive?  Neither side of the broad view of the debate seems to be able to win the debate, even though there are people on both sides who feel the debate ended long ago and the other side lost.

I am also continually saddened by the villainization of Charles Darwin, as if he was a man who schemed his whole life to destroy the Christian religion and God.  In reality, he was a man with a gift for scientific observation who wrestled with and eventually rejected his faith, was destroyed by the death of his daughter, and conducted some of the definitive research on earthworms.  Christians rarely seem to give Darwin credit on his understanding of earthworms.

In the interest of brevity, I shall bring this particular post to a close for now, but in my next post on this topic, I will briefly outline the three main categorizations of this debate and what they believe.

Long Overdue and Still in Process

For two weeks I have been working on my next post. Not that I have been writing it, per se, but the research . . . this has been consuming time. I had forgotten how hard it was to write while holding a full-time job and having certain social obligations. Combine this with my personal computer giving up (this is being written on my wife’s computer), and the result is my absence from this new home on the web.

Enough excuses. What is coming up? Well, I am going to rush headlong into the battleground that is creation science and lend my very inexperienced voice to the debate. My background is in writing and philosophy, not so much science, so why should you listen to me? I can’t really say, but I intend to be fair. I do not wish to TELL people what to think as to MAKE them think. My plan is to hear out both (or all three) sides (which I will outline in greater detail sometime this week). I hope you will take the time to read, and no matter where you find yourself on the debate, feel free to chime in with ideas and suggestions for further resources. I want to give everyone a fair hearing on this.