Millions of years. The age of the earth. Established scientific fact based on evidence? Or fatal compromise of biblical inerrancy and the integrity of the Gospel?
Answers in Genesis (AiG) is the premier Young Earth Creationist organization in the world. Their basic mission is to try to help Christians have a restored confidence in the full inerrancy of the Bible, starting at the “very first verse” in Genesis. One of their primary claims is that evangelicalism has allowed apostasy to enter the church by accommodating to the modern scientific idea of a “millions of years” Old Earth. Over time, this gradual movement away from a literal 24-hour day interpretation of the Creation account, with a Creation date of less than 10,000 years ago, has led to all sorts of other confusions of Bible doctrine. Secular critics scoff, church leaders fumble on the questions, and many bewildered young people in our churches go right out the door and leave the faith, according to AiG.
AiG does have a solid ally on their side of the argument: tradition. With a few notable exceptions here and there, most Christians throughout church history have understood the “days” of Genesis 1 to be literal 24-hour days. So, the Old Earth Creationists and Theistic Evolutionists out there do have a problem. By moving away from the traditional interpretation of these passages, they introduce a novelty according to AiG, an aberration away from centuries of established norms regarding biblical interpretation.
I recently attended a lecture by Terry Mortenson, an historian in geology working with Answers in Genesis. Mortenson lectured at the College of William and Mary on the question, “Was Darwin Right?” Mortenson’s philosophy of science history undergirding his argument is that Christian accommodation to Old Earth geology in the early 19th century paved the way for Darwinian Evolution, allowing a cancer into the church. Charles Darwin was not really the problem to begin with. Instead, Darwin merely took the same ideas of uniformitarianism in geology promoted by his mentor Charles Lyell and applied them to the subject of biology. A series of YouTube videos lays out Mortenson’s thesis in detail.
Terry Mortenson and his colleagues at AiG follow a slippery-slope approach to logic: Holding to the view of an Old Earth does not bring into question the salvation of the believer. But once you start down a path that at first appears to be harmless, it is only a matter of time before you completely fall off into the abyss.
Is Galileo to Blame?
Here is my problem with this logic: Four hundred years ago, Galileo challenged the church’s traditional interpretation of the Bible regarding the center of the universe. Throughout most of church history, most Christians had affirmed that 1 Chronicles 16:30 should be taken literally:
…the world is established; it shall never be moved (1 Chronicles 16:30 ESV)
Galileo argued against this geocentric theory of the sun moving around a fixed, immovable planet earth. Instead, Galileo championed the Copernican idea that it was the earth that moved around the sun, the theory of heliocentrism.
Should we not extend the argument advanced by Young Earth Creationism by going back to the old, Aristotelian geocentric theory and its “literal” interpretation of the Bible? After all, it was only a matter of time before the “millions of years” theory about geology came to the scene, and then Darwin’s theory of biological evolution, and then finally the apostasy of today’s young people in our churches. Surprisingly enough, there are a few out there who actually make such an argument, including former Westminster Theological Seminary student and now Catholic apologist, Robert Sungensis. and Gerardus Bouw, the “Biblical Astronomer”.
However, it is extremely rare for even a Young Earth Creationist to go to such an extreme. But why not? Why is “millions of years” a compromise of the Bible but a heliocentric view of our solar system not a compromise?
In Search of the “Land of No Biblical Compromise”
I whole-heartedly agree with Terry Mortenson that compromise regarding fundamental biblical doctrines has weakened the witness of the church for the past two hundred years. Much of what passes for liberal Protestantism today, with its all too occasional denials of the authority of Scripture, a literal bodily resurrection, etc., has sufficiently watered down the message of the church such that followers of those movements have less and less distinctively Christian to say. But is taking on the contemporary scientific establishment that is firmly embedded with an Old Earth understanding of geology, astronomy, chemistry, etc. really the best, or dare I say, biblical, approach?
Or, as the geocentrist might claim, is the Young Earth view just another … compromise? Will the real “compromise” please stand up?
If you are not familiar with a Young Earth Creationism presentation, I would urge you to watch this talk given by Terry Mortenson, sponsored by a local church in Williamsburg, Virgina at a morning worship service. Even if you do not agree with the speaker, you will better understand the perspective shared by those who adopt this point of view. You can skip to the 9:30 mark in the video for the beginning of the talk. After viewing it, please feel free to comment. Do you agree or disagree with Dr. Mortenson?:
If you need a primer on the different approaches to the relationship between the Bible and modern science, you should start here on Veracity, as well as looking at John Paine’s post on “Respecting Disagreement” for a brief introduction to an Old Earth perspective.
HT: Dave Rudy (for the pointer to the local church video)
March 2nd, 2013 at 10:54 am
The age of the earth is a topic that is very easy to investigate, but it is also a topic where emotion can get the better of us. Regardless of where people line up in the debate, everyone agrees the answer is not essential to salvation—but our approach has an enormous impact on personal credibility.
An hour or so of reading will yield a defensible working answer that withstands scientific scrutiny.
Unfortunately, some people cannot get over what they understand from tradition, or are persuaded that rethinking how to interpret the creation accounts in Scripture (there are dozens of creation accounts in the Bible, many outside the book of Genesis) is somehow a bad thing. Personal discipleship involves reading, praying, studying, meditating—all based on the truth. I’m not at all advocating moving doctrinal goalposts, but we should be constantly thinking. It is amazing that some people are afraid to research their faith (for fear that they may discover untruth?).
There is a simple litmus test for credibility on this issue: do you believe what you believe because someone told you what to believe, because you have always believed it, or did you investigate it yourself?
One great resource for this topic is “How Old is the Earth?”, Chapter 15 from C. John Collins’ text, Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? Collins explains in simple terms how cosmology, astrophysics, thermodynamics, geology, and radioactivity all point to a consistent answer (the earth is 4.5 billion years old). It is amazing what running light from distant galaxies through a prism can tell us about the makeup of their components and distance from us. There’s a lot of information in the wavelength and frequency of light. Likewise, accurate astronomical observations over time clearly show the expansion of the universe away from a common center. Do the math backwards and the Big Bang becomes the beginning of space and time at 13.7 billion years ago. This singular event produced background radiation that was accurately predicted by physicists before it was actually discovered (at Bell Telephone Labs in 1965). There’s too much to highlight in a blog comment, but Collins’ text is worth every minute it takes to read. He also does a great job laying out how Scripture and science are compatible, and the implications of the different views of creationism.
Reasons To Believe has a wealth of materials on this topic. For those looking to start at the beginning (pardon the pun), this page is a good place to start.
March 2nd, 2013 at 2:43 pm
Great post and great comment, I can add nothing but to quote a friend that would say to me we need to always agree on the major doctrines of the Christian faith and not get caught up in the minor points of disagreement. I find this especially true when engaging unbelievers. We can spend time arguing the age of the earth or help them see how their naturalistic beliefs fall short and that the Christian world view most accurately describes the world around us. Then we can move them to a belief in Christ or at the least plant the seed.
March 10th, 2013 at 10:00 am
As a followup on this, Ken Ham, the executive director of Answers in Genesis, is very direct in saying that promoting any view that goes against a strict six 24-hour day, young earth perspective is “undermining the authority of the Word of God”, in
a recent speech he gave at a National Religious Broadcasters meeting.
Not a lot of room there left for discussion, apparently. What is interesting about the article is the video clip featuring John Piper. He actually holds a modification of what some call the “gap theory”. In this approach, there is a huge time gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, then followed by (presumably) six 24-hour days. The gap theory has been defended by many evangelical Christians since the early/mid 19th century, but it ran out of favor generally in the 1960s when the modern “Scientific Creationism” movement took off, which is the basis for the Answers in Genesis ministry.
January 6th, 2019 at 4:39 pm
Do the Jews, who wrote Genesis, treat it as a “scientific”account of Creation? What do they say about it. The important elements in the story as reported in Genesis are1) God made it, not under compulsion or need; 2) God likes what he had made (It was not junk or dirty); 3) God made Humans “In My own Image” – we were not made as slaves to clean up the world or the messes the the gods of Babylon had made. 4) God likes us. To spend time arguing about how long the process took, or how long ago it was is to miss the point of the report.
March 2nd, 2021 at 8:54 am
Tim O’Neill skewers YouTube atheist vlogger Cosmic Skeptic on his misuse of history to say that Galileo was threatened with torture, when he tried to prove the truth of heliocentrism. Utter garbage is right: