The Bible, Rocks, and Time (RJS)

This post is from our scientist friend, RJS. She often blogs about science subjects here at Jesus Creed.

I (RJS) have been accused on occasion, on this blog as a matter of fact, of arrogance for dismissing the young earth arguments and simply asserting an old earth as fact. First I plead guilty and apologize. My husband, who is neither a scientist nor a professor, claims that arrogance or self-confidence is the one universal trait and requirement for the job. He should know – he’s lived with me for 20+ years and socialized with more scientists and professors than is fair to require of any outsider.

In my defense, it is difficult – no, impossible – to really deal with the evidence for the age of the earth in any comment or post of reasonable length. I don’t even know where to begin. Fortunately I don’t need to lay out the evidence. A new book The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth by Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley does it for me - in 510 pages.This is a great place to start.

These men know what they are talking about on this subject. Davis Young is Professor Emeritus of Geology and Ralph Stearley is Professor of Geology and Chairman of the Department of Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They have put together a nice and readable presentation of the geological evidence for the age of the earth. This book is an excellent resource for any Pastor and any Christian struggling with the issue. I should also note that Peter Enns has written a very nice, somewhat longer review of the book.

Parts 1 and 2 of this book deal with historical perspectives and with biblical perspectives on the age of the earth. These sections are outstanding. I recommend them to everyone interested in the debate and how we got to the current position, especially Pastors and church leaders. I couldn’t put it down. Even if you don’t care about the scientific details read this.

In these sections Young and Stearley make several key points.

First, the investigation of God’s creation – initiated by Christian scholars – has led to a substantial change in our view of the world. The age of the earth is supported by multiple massive streams of evidence.

Second, the only reasons to consider a young earth are (1) a literal historical interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:3 and (2) an interpretation of death before the Fall in Romans 5:12 to include all biological death or at least all animal death. There is no real reason to interpret Genesis 1 in a literal historical sense and many reasons to assume a different meaning and intent. The concept of death before the Fall is by far the more significant issue.

Third, the age of the earth, the development of life, and the common descent of man are separate issues with different levels of certainty and room for error or revision. We should separate these topics in discussion.

Part 3 presents the evidence for the age of the earth at a relatively accessible level and discusses the counter arguments put forth by those who are looking for evidence of a young earth. This is the place to start for those who are really struggling with the data. Young and Stearley begin (and 241 pages is only a beginning) to lay out the reasons why an old earth is simply a given as I approach these issues – it is not up for debate or interpretation. None of the counter arguments have any scientific credibility.

The final section of the book discusses some philosophical perspectives on the problem. The last chapter of this section and the book deals with Creationism, Evangelism, and Apologetics. There is pain – the professional pain of scientists and professors within the church – reflected in this chapter.

First – Young and Stearley lament the consequences of this battle for the spiritual health of Christian youth. Just read “Leaving Church Finding Freedom” in Scot’s book Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy. All professional Christian scientists – and Young and Stearley make this point – know many who were shipwrecked without intellectual resources for faith when confronted with the depth of the evidence.

Second – as Young and Stearley note: It is time for the evangelical world to realize that non-Christian scientists are not the devil’s minions whose “false teachings” must be attacked to protect the Christian faithful.  They are, like anyone else, image-bearers of God who need to be reclaimed for the Savior. To use missionary terminology, scientists are a “people group” who need evangelizing …(479) As long as we disregard and dismiss the evidence and demonize the scientific community we have a problem. To quote Augustine (354-430 AD), who reflected much on the meaning and interpretation of Genesis:

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. (from The Literal Interpretation of Genesis Vol. 1, CH 19)

Now, I do not think that all who disagree with me here are reckless or incompetent - many are careful, intelligent and sincere.  But we would do well to take this quote to heart as we consider our mission in the world to preach and practice the gospel.

Is there any real justification for the assertion of a young earth in our church today?

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Thanks. Great post.
    I was fascinated in recently going over this book in a local bookstore here in Grand Rapids, recently. It looks oh so good, and understandable to those like me who are not trained in the disciplines. I look forward to reading it.
    One is at barrier that seems immovable. There are Christians, intelligent, who won’t even consider considering an old earth, because this would contradict their literal reading of Scripture. I think in part what is needed is a critique of naturalism and the metaphysical aspects attached to science nowadays, as well as a strong adherence to good science. I think in the long run this can help.
    Recently a well known blogger, who himself I believe is ordained by the Southern Baptist denomination, seemed to at least imply that he sees the time coming when that denomination may make a Young Earth Creationism stance, required for all ordained by them. Looks like this is only becoming even a hotter issue in days to come.

  • phil_style

    I’ve been contemplating the purhase of this book for some time. I suspect your post has just made the decision (in the affirmative) for me!
    Thanks, as usual, RJS.

  • Kyle

    As an employee of said denomination, I’m pretty confident that the Spencer was exaggerating the situation based on his view from Kentucky. He has reasons to think this will happen from his particular SBC context, but I don’t think it represents the SBC at large…to be honest, I pray it doesn’t. But, Southern Seminary recently added YECer Kurt Wise to its theological department.
    I graduated from another seminary in the convention about eight years ago, which at the time was the largest seminary in the world. The Old Testament staff gladly took the time to work with individual students who held to a young earth position, until they were able to see that there is good reason biblically to not hold this position. I’m fairly confident that not a single member of the Old Testament department held to a young earth position.
    I’ve told my story here before, so I won’t recount it all, but I arrived at college with about ten books, one of which was Henry Morris’ commentary on Genesis. I had read it inside and out and was ready to defend my YEC views. Once I began studying the text itself (at a Baptist school) in the original languages and with professors who had really studied the issue, I came to find that holding to a YEC view meant forcing the text to say things that it wasn’t intending to say, and actually reading a specific view into the text.
    As such, I believe that were the SBC to make such a move it would force the majority of faculty members at its seminary OT departments to step down and I know that many missionaries (including myself) would promptly resign. At that point, I would not be able to honestly say my views represented the SBC as a convention. In the end though, whereas I know there are probably more Young Earth Creationists in our denomination than in most, but I fail to believe that they are the majority and I see no way (currently) that Spencer’s prediction actually comes to fruition.

  • qb

    There is one other biblical “evidence” that one must deal with: genealogy to Adam in Luke. qb

  • RJS

    Genealogy places Adam, not creation. The question in this post is not Adam and Eve, or mode of development of life – but strictly age of the earth.

  • Dave

    It seems like to me that based on your reasoning we are not justified if we assert any difficult doctrines from the scriptures that do not hold up under the scrutiny, scientific or otherwise, of the unbelieving world. What about the resurrection? There is no way that we should assert that a person’s physical body could go from being dead to alive again. Can we be justified in asserting such a claim based on the evidence against it? What about Christ’s call to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow?” To many, any assertion of the value of self-denial and cross bearing is absurd. Can we ever be justified in making such a claim?
    Paul calls the gospel itself a stumbing block and an offense. I would never recommend leading with six day creation. But there is far more that is offensive about the gospel to the unbeliever than just the thought of a young earth.

  • Bob

    RJS or anyone,
    Isn’t the age of the earth determined by the half-lives of radio-active isotopes? If that is the only measurement available to determine the age of rocks one would have to know the original amount of the element. Could the earth “appear” to be old. Can science be so certain as to predict the past

  • RJS

    The estimate of age relies on more than radiometric dating alone although the exact number relies heavily on this method. The current best number is 4.6 billion years with an error estimate of 100 million years plus or minus. Now one could argue that this error estimate is too small. But – and this is the key point – the error is not 4.6 billion years. There is no way to get a young earth.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    QB #4
    Concerning genealogies, here is an excerpt from a post I did at my blog two years ago about the genealogy from Jacob to Joshua and Moses.
    There were more than 400 years between the time of Jacob’s twelve sons and the entrance into the Promise Land. Joshua and Moses were contemporaries as the Israelites readied themselves to enter the Promised Land. Joshua was of the tribe of Ephraim (son of Joseph) and Moses was of the tribe of Levi (brother of Joseph and Ephraim’s uncle.) Take a look at Joshua’s lineage as given in 1 Chronicles.
    Joshua’s Ancestors:
    1 Chron 7:20, 23-27 (Ephraim was Joseph’s son)
    20 The descendants of Ephraim: …
    23 Then he lay with his wife again, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. He named him Beriah, because there had been misfortune in his family. 24 His daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah.
    25 Rephah was his son, Resheph his son,
    Telah his son, Tahan his son,
    26 Ladan his son, Ammihud his son,
    Elishama his son, 27 Nun his son
    and Joshua his son.
    Joshua (Hoshea)
    Eleven generations over a 400+ year period.
    Moses’ Ancestors:
    Ex 6:16-20
    16 These were the names of the sons of Levi according to their records: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. Levi lived 137 years.
    17 The sons of Gershon, by clans, were Libni and Shimei.
    18 The sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. Kohath lived 133 years.
    19 The sons of Merari were Mahli and Mushi.
    These were the clans of Levi according to their records.
    20 Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years.
    Moses’ Summary:
    (Eight generations missing!)
    Levi’s daughter Jochebed “giving birth” to Aaron and Moses 400 years later? The ancient Hebrews had a different understanding than we do of what a genealogy is how it works.
    Westerners today compile genealogies, hoping to meticulously capture every individual and their significant dates so they can obtain a comprehensive picture of their family history. The Hebrews used theses lines to show lineage and origins. Comprehensiveness was pointless. The critical issue was to know your tribe and subdivision for religious and legal purposes. Genealogies were also used to highlight prominent players within the family line. Long life was considered a sign of righteousness. Thus the genealogies noted the age and which they become the progenitor and there long life afterward. This illustrated the character of the ancestor.
    We have to be attentive to the culture of the people who wrote and spoke the scriptures. If we impose our Western understandings of history and genealogies on them we end up with absurd readings of scripture. The idea of history as a precise, “just the facts,” objective, reporter-like exercise has only been with us since the Enlightenment. Ancient cultures like the Hebrews compiled histories with the intent of conveying timeless truth about existence and our place within it.
    Therefore, instead of dogmatically imposing our “pure history reporter” lens (as with genealogies) to the creation accounts we would do well to suspicious of such a lens.

  • EEP

    I have been reading the Jesus Creed blog for two years now. I generally don’t leave a comment (I believe this is my second).
    As it relates to the Jesus Creed, living it out, what value does this argument add (whether old or young)? Does it change how I love GOD or love others?
    Did the teachers of Jesus day agree on every word of Moses? Did they not enjoy a good conversation or question session and then walk in and pray together?
    Why are we so fragmented on things that we truly can’t know for sure? Is this not what 1 Corinthians 8 spoke of? How does 1 John 4:12 play into this?
    I love reading… please keep writing.
    Grace and Peace.

  • Rick

    Thanks for your posts on these topics.
    You ask, “Is there any real justification for the assertion of a young earth in our church today?”
    You mentioned earlier in the post, “…the age of the earth, the development of life, and the common descent of man are separate issues with different levels of certainty and room for error or revision. We should separate these topics in discussion.”
    However, I think that many who hold to a young earth view do not separate the topics. They are seen as too interrelated for many. Until those topics you mentioned, plus an understanding on how Genesis should be read, are better explained with more certain answers, some will not leave the young earth view.
    I do think a starting place that might move things along for some in that camp would be what Kyle (#3) mentioned:
    “Once I began studying the text itself (at a Baptist school) in the original languages and with professors who had really studied the issue, I came to find that holding to a YEC view meant forcing the text to say things that it wasn’t intending to say, and actually reading a specific view into the text.”

  • RJS

    Scot had a series of posts back in July 2006 (5th, 6th, 7th, 10th, 11th, 12th) on Zealotry that dealt with the construction of fences to protect the faith, “to be on the safe side”.
    I think that this particular fence – the age of the earth – is disaster, because if it is taught as foundational, and it falls – faith often falls as well.
    The evidence is not debatable – there are only two options:
    (1) The earth is billions of years old. I won’t put a definite number here – but the error is not 6 orders of magnitude. No reasonable source of error brings us from ca. 4,600,000,000 years to ca. 4,600 years (or even ca. 6000-10000 years).
    (2) God created the earth to look as though it was billions of years old and then gave us Genesis 1-4 so we would know the truth.
    Young and Stearley separate this issue from the others because the strength and reliability of the evidence for age is so strong. I agree with them.

  • Amy

    I gladly accepted science’s dates of the earth until I visited Mt St Helens (apprx. 15 years ago) during the mountain’s very unpredicted “impossible” rebirth of life following the volcanic eruption. In the visitor center I read all the informed people’s predictions for how long life would take to come back to the scorched mountain. It was comical. The statements of certain death…the incredible length of time re-growth would take; all while gazing up, over the posters through windows displaying the lovely green, daisy covered, mountain side.
    I’m not claiming to be certain of anything, just commenting that science can look foolish too. As a lover of science and of the Lord I hold science lightly knowing that human knowledge has larger error rates than can be calculated. Enjoying the conversation!

  • Rick

    “I think that this particular fence – the age of the earth – is disaster, because if it is taught as foundational, and it falls – faith often falls as well.”
    I agree, including with the “often” (but not always).
    “Young and Stearley separate this issue from the others because the strength and reliability of the evidence for age is so strong. I agree with them.”
    I agree with the conclusion (an old earth), but I don’t think separating that out will convince many “young earthers”. Again, until you can deal with the other related issues, they will “reason” away the evidence presented.
    “Is there any real justification for the assertion of a young earth in our church today?”
    I am dealing more with: Is there going to be justification for the assertion of a young earth in our church today, and why?
    As I mentioned earlier, starting from a reading of Scripture standpoint may be a more effective approach.
    As Scot said in that Zealotry series you wisely pointed to,
    “Let me suggest that evangelicals, too, do plenty of Bible-denying but they deny in a different way. They question the sufficiency of Scripture. I call this problem Zealotry. Here’s what I mean: Zealotry is conscious zeal to be radically committed, so radically committed that one goes beyond the Bible to defend things that are not in the Bible.”
    We may want to start there.

  • Scott C.

    Thanks for your review and your link to Peter Enns’ as well.
    Michael K., thanks for posting part of your presentation on geneologies here — very helpful; clearest presentation of this I’ve come across.

  • ChrisB

    Is there any real justification for the assertion of a young earth in our church today?
    Scientifically? No, probably not. Theologically? No, probably not. So why the insistence on this issue? Let’s start at the real problem and work our way back.
    Many people today — whether they’re college professors, school board members, or just the neighborhood atheist — assert that evolutionary theory shows that we don’t need a god to explain everything and so one probably doesn’t exist. Besides flying in the face of committed believers, it also tends to have negative affects on society (cf, USSR).
    One thing everyone is clear on is that evolution would take time; lots of time. Everyone agrees that a few thousand years is insufficient time for evolution to occur. A great many (mistakenly, in my opinion) believe a few billion years is sufficient time for intelligent life to arise from undirected evolutionary processes.
    Therefore an old earth opens up the possibility of natural processes that “prove” there is no god and so must be opposed.
    Modern Christians have spent a lot of time and energy opposing scientific evidence for morally neutral historical events when we probably should have invested it in exposing the errors of this false metaphysical interpretation of the scientific data.
    Even though I’m not convinced about theistic evolution, I can live with it because questions of the origin of information, of abiogenesis, and chirality, not to mention good ol’ Kalaam still keep us pretty well dependent on supernatural intervention.

  • Brian

    I can’t stay with the conversation today, but the YEC crowd will insist that the Genesis 5 genealogy has a different character than the ones you refer to because of how it records the ages of the fathers. Do you have any insight on this point?

  • Daniel C

    If Genesis 9 happened as written, then I’m guessing a lot of the assumptions made by the old-earth community would be wrong…going back to the Mt. Saint Helens account mentioned by Amy(13). The problem the old earth scientists face is they don’t know for sure what kind of catastrophic events may have happened thousands of years ago that would throw off their calculations.
    Now, secular scientists are unphased by Genesis 9, they just ignore it. It appears that many professed Christian scientists are doing the same.
    Fortunately when witnessing I get to lead with the Gospel and not with creationism…but it’s amazing how many people get to creationism after conversion…it’s almost like the Holy Spirit is opening eyes or something. :-)

  • Michael W. Kruse

    Brian #17
    Without hearing more specifics it is hard to answer. I will note this comparison of Genealogies.
    Genesis 11:12-13:
    12 When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah. 13 And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.”
    Turn to Luke 3:35-36:
    “35…Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, …”
    Genesis 11 – Arphaxad to Shelah
    Luke 3 – Arphaxad to Cainan to Shelah
    Is there an error here or is it more likely that Luke had a narrative reason for the change? (ex. setting up a number of ancestors that was numerically significant)
    Whether we are using language of “father of” or “son of,” both can mean it literally or in the sense of “ancestor of” or the “descendant of.” My great grand-father Carl Peter Kruse came from Denmark and was the “father of” my branch of Kruses living in the U.S. and I am a “son of” Carl Peter Kruse.
    Note that combining the passages above we learn that Arphaxad became the grandfather of Shelah at age 35. Or could it be great-grandfather? Could it even be great-great-great-great-great-grandfather? We don’t know how many generations were between the men listed and it was irrelevant the Hebrew audience.
    We still come back to the basic question of why we presume that these ancient folks would record and use history as we do.

  • Paul

    Thanks RJS for the post.
    Studying geology in college was the final piece i needed to fully embrace the old earth theory. It seems to me that any serious study of geology makes a YEC a really difficult view to hold.
    Daniel C.
    “The problem the old earth scientists face is they don’t know for sure what kind of catastrophic events may have happened thousands of years ago that would throw off their calculations.”
    It is hard to imagine a catastrophic event occuring that would leave no trace or evidence behind. When such events occur, they leave evidence behind, and this leads us to change our theories on how things develop.

  • qb

    RJS (#5) and Michael (#9), qb’s not the one asking questions like the one he posed about genealogy, but your responses help me clarify my intent. I was posting from my iPhone at the time and couldn’t elaborate…the keypad is still too clumsy for a thick-fingered, 240-lb male.
    qb brought up the genealogy to Adam because Genesis places Adam at creation. If Luke was inerrantly inspired in writing his gospel, then “Adam” was a demonstrably historical person who lived only a few thousand years ago, and if he was present during creation, then it follows that the creation happened about that long ago. I *know* that there are a lot of assumptions there that don’t pass muster, but that’s what we’re up against.
    Eventually, though, we have to anticipate folks’ reasonable, scriptural objections instead of – and qb’s NOT SAYING THAT YOU DID THIS, BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T – dismissing young-earthers with a tut-tut. Reading Genesis literally is so deeply ingrained in us…
    The pastoral question here is an important one. qb works as an Extension faculty member at a land-grant university, and folks in my role constantly face the related challenge of taking the fruit of research, scholarship, and reasoning/reflection, and translating it to the masses in such a way that they take ownership of it instead of rejecting it out of hand with hostile defensiveness. (Peterson is such a master of that!) What are we to say to the father of young children and the husband of a wife who has invested himself since he courted her in the literalist, young-earth reading of Scripture? How is he to navigate the waters of his “exegetical conversion” without blowing his wife’s fuses and throwing his children into the swirling abyss of doubt? That’s not to say we shouldn’t go down that road, but HOW? One irreducible requirement is to take the objections, and their rational lines, seriously.

  • Matt

    The pastoral question is this: how do we even begin to introduce the alternatives to YEC to those for whom this is gospel truth (and to those for whom anything else is “atheistic,” “liberal,” etc.) I agree that these issues must be addressed for many reasons, but the “how” is not so easy, especially in a small rural church with people from very conservative backgrounds. In my experience, fundamentalists may be willing to “agree to disagree” on various things (e.g., understandings of eschatology, versions other than the KJV, etc.), but a literal understanding of Gen 1-11 is to be upheld at any cost.

  • RJS

    qb (#21),
    You are right – and I probably should have listed a literal historical interpretation of Genesis 1-4 (possibly even 1-11) under “reasons” not just Genesis 1.
    And this gets to the comment by Kyle (#3) and Michael’s comments (9,19) and to Rick’s points as well.
    We have to look at the intent and genre of scripture here – written in a historical context with expectations very different from ours.

  • Daniel C

    “It is hard to imagine a catastrophic event occuring that would leave no trace or evidence behind. When such events occur, they leave evidence behind, and this leads us to change our theories on how things develop.”
    You’re right…if there was a flood we’d probably expect to see (to borrow a quote) “Billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth.” Unfortunately, all we have is “Billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water….”

  • RJS

    Daniel C (#24)
    But not in any way, shape, or form, billions of dead things buried in a fashion consistent with one flood of less than a year duration, less than 10,000 years ago. And no way to make it consistent with this hypothesis.
    Read the book – they very patiently wade through much of this.

  • foxnala

    Daniel C (#24) – We also tend to see fossels (of both plants and animals…plants especially though) buried in order from more ancient times (deeper) to less ancient times (less deeper). For example, flowering plants fossels (a relatively recent development in plant evolution) are found layered above more ancient plant forms. So, if one giant, world-wide, and catastrophic flood 10,000 yrs ago was the cause for all buried fossels we find today, then you would presume to find a jumbled mess of fossels, and not a logical layering of evolutionary developments (as we actually DO find, and which would support a theory of gradual development of biology, burying of dead animals/plants, fossilzing, and so forth over time).

  • Terry

    qb (21) — “How [to] navigate the waters of…”exegetical conversion” Exactly! And when that guy is a pastor, the problem is compounded exegetically exponentially.

  • Your Name

    To answer RJS’ question, I would say firmly NO, there is no reason to teach a young earth in the Church today, and every reason to oppose such teaching. This is because the Church stands for Truth. The assertion that the earth is less than billions of years old simply is not true. We shouldn’t ask people to believe things that obviously aren’t true.

  • qb

    Your Name (#28), shall we dispense with all of the biblical accounts of the supernatural, or just some of them? I mean, it’s not possible to turn water into wine in less than a couple of weeks…so it’s “obvious” that the account of the wedding at Cana is a total fabrication. Is that where your logic leads you? I’m just wondering what remains of the Bible after your somewhat astringent, concluding remark.
    It’s also not possible for someone to return from the dead if they were truly dead to begin with. In light of that, would you agree with Paul that our faith is worthless and that “we are of all myn most to be pitied?”

  • RJS

    qb (#29),
    This is a flawed argument.
    Science can say that water does not generally turn into wine, and that dead people do not normally rise from the dead. But Christians don’t disagree here – these are specific acts of God for a specific purpose. Miracles are intervention with purpose to further God’s plan.
    The skeptic who says miracles don’t ever happen is making the assumption that God does not exist. “Science” is only an excuse for the assumption.
    On the age of the earth we have a different situation. We have exhaustive evidence for an old earth, no evidence for a young earth (except Genesis 1-11). This leads to a different kind of conundrum. Did God create a world to look old in very intricate ways and give us Genesis so we would know how he actually created the earth? The theologically important fact is God as creator not God’s method of creation.
    Could God have created the earth instantaneously, in 6 days, or over long periods of time? Yes of course he could have done it in any of these ways. We base our determination of method on the evidence at hand.
    Frankly, I think that the young earth interpretation of Genesis makes a genre and culture error.

  • Rebeccat

    I struggle to maintain an attitude of humility and grace towards people when it comes to this issue than anything else I have dealt with. Are you in prison because you murdered someone? I will come and pray and talk with you in a minute. Have 3 kids by three different partners? Let’s talk about what you need. Believe that there is no Allah but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet? Come to my house to break bread – I promise not to use pork. But believe that the earth is less than a few thousand years old and I have to resist the urge to tell my children to limit contact with you. I hate that. I know it’s a failure on my part and I am and continue to ask God to help me deal with the matter more gracefully and with more humility.
    Part of it is that I have not been fortunate enough to run into creationists, much less yec who respect me as a fellow believer once they find out that I don’t share their views. Which is insulting to the work which God has deigned to do in me and in my life. And it is a willful division of the body of Christ by believers who have been commanded to live in unity. IOW, I would never reject someone for believing in yec, but I know that the opposite is most certainly not true.
    However, the thing which really, really gets to me is the effect that this issue has on our witness as Christians. I take the call to evangelize very, very seriously. And over and over again, I am stymied in even beginning to share the gospel because those who are outside of the faith know that the earth is billions of years old. If Christians insist that it is not, then believing anything else they say, or trusting their judgement on anything else is like being asked to take parenting advice from Michael Jackson. To the outside world, it’s self-evidently ridiculous and a deal breaker from the get go. Only the really desperate will even consider it if they think that rejecting science is a fundamental of the Christian faith.
    Because I do spend a fair amount of time around people who are well educated and intelligent, but rather ignorant about Christianity, this is a really serious issue. I often find that the only witnessing I can do is to continually, over the course of years and years, live in such a way as to disprove the face that fundamentalist Christianity presents to the world. Before I can even get to Jesus and sin and redemption, I must first convince people that you can be a faithful Christian and be loving and tolerant and even accept science.
    The stumbling blocks which Paul speaks of are pebbles compared to the mountainous obstacle created by things like YEC. Miracles aren’t supposed to be explained by science. If they are really miracles, then science will not be able to provide a reasonable explanation of the event. It’s pretty much the definition of a miracle. But claiming that something for which science has provided a legitimate explanation for must be a miracle instead makes as much sense as insisting that babies get into women’s tummies because a bird dropped a seed in her mouth while sleeping. Although that’s an actual explanation for procreation by some isolated South American tribal groups, I don’t think any westerner would consider for a moment forgetting what they know about procreation in order to embrace these tribe’s teachings. Yet this is EXACTLY what we as Christians are doing when we insist that scientific claims about the age of the earth aren’t true. It is the exact same thing. And for many people, it’s a game ender when it comes to considering Christianity. I HATE WHAT THIS ISSUE DOES TO THE GOSPEL IN THE WORLD. HATE IT. HATE IT. HATE IT.
    The reason I have such a strong reaction to this issue isn’t because I disagree with people on the subject. I disagree with people about many theological matters. The reason I have such a difficult time dealing gracefully with this issue is because every time it comes up and every person who advocates for it is driving people away from God. And for people who claim to be working for God to be actively driving people from God is really hard for me to be graceful about. But I’m working on it. I swear I am.

  • Matt

    Not to be a pest, but I know there must be some Jesus Creed pastors out there who have been in my situation (see post #22). What are your experiences when it comes to introducing a non-literal understanding of Gen 1-11 to those who vehemently reject anything but a literal, YEC interpretation? Any approaches you recommend? Stories to share?

  • R Hampton

    Pope Benedict made the following statement against “Biblical Literalism” just months ago:
    “…Therefore the Catechism of the Catholic Church can rightly say that Christianity does not simply represent a religion of the book in the classical sense. It perceives in the words the word, the Logos itself, which spreads its mystery through this multiplicity.
    This particular structure of the Bible issues a constantly new challenge to every generation. It EXCLUDES by its nature everything that today is known as FUNDAMENTALISM. In effect, the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text.”
    Why would the Pope say this? Because the Catholic Church has come to see the truth in Science — the Universe itself is revelatory.
    Likewise, Orthodox Jews (eg. the Rabbinical Council of America, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the Committee on Jewish Law & Standards) discount a literal Genesis and accept evolution.
    It’s important to remember that it was Moses and the Jews who recorded and preserved the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy) for 3,000 years:
    “…The key to understanding the Torah is the oral tradition handed down from the time of Moses and embodied in the Talmud and Midrash. However, even these traditions must be carefully studied, since they were often handed down word for word”
    “…There are times when the Torah speaks in allegory and metaphor. There are four conditions under which there is a tradition that the Torah is not to be taken according to its literal meaning.”
    Both Orthodox Judaism & the Roman Catholic Church concur that the earth is 4.6 billion years old and the reality of evolution.

  • dave

    Great post, thank you, as one who has struggled with this issue in the world, I am surrounded by a community of friends who are scientists and bio chemists, many whom see christianity as ignorance and scoff at any mention of faith. This skepticism of faith on their part is due mainly to the presupposition that christianity teaches a young earth theory, which in their minds flies in the face of their research and logical scientific proof. It has been a challenge to present Christ to them when this hurdle looms in front of them. they see no reason to discard their minds for the purpose of pursuing a fairy tale (their words). I am encouraged that there are believers who have not discarded their minds and are able to reasonably defend their faith, live their faith and do it all in concert with science. “Love the Lord your God with all your …mind.” that is cool.

  • Phil Niemi

    Matt (32)
    As an associate pastor at an evangelical church I am probably one of the few in my congregation that does not hold to YEC. For the most part, due to my age (33) and experience I do not get on the subject too much and like others (3) went away to a Christian College holding onto some YEC books, morris, moody, etc. only to graduate from the sciences with something else.
    As to strategy, I am the youth pastor, so I run into this with families. One area I focus on is simply that truth is truth regardless of where it comes from. As to creation, I try to make students away of the various scientific theories and/or biblical interpretation that are allowed doctrinally within the denomination and their pro’s and con’s. I also step them through the errors taught in our high school text books, theories and experiments that are not presently supported in evolutionary academics, but are still being taught as evidences. I find that the more people realize that many committed and fruitful Christians and leaders interpret Genesis differently (especially the well respected ones), the less I feel I need to defend myself alone.
    In general, I think YEC will eventually go the way of a geocentric universe.

  • qb

    RJS, I’d only suggest that to pick a fight with “it’s a flawed argument” is not the best approach, especially if one is going to follow that up with a semantic argument hinging on the definition of “miracle,” the individual’s conception of what constitutes “normal,” and a broad assertion about a unanimous consensus among Christians as to how those two terms work together.
    All arguments are flawed anyway; some by omission, some by ignorance, some by willful neglect.
    Again, among the first pastoral problems is to avoid making enemies gratuitously, and I expect that the accusations of “arrogance” that you have endured may have had their origins, in part, as a result of this kind of thing, which I imagine appears to be condescension. Remember, the setup here was dealing with real people who are, in some sense and to some extent, victims of their own education at home and in church. (I am one of them who is struggling to overcome precisely that fundamentalist, literalist heritage.)
    The better approach, I would think, would be to skip the “this is a flawed argument” gambit and simply invite a dialogue as to what constitutes miracles, normality, and orthodox doctrine.

  • Scot McKnight

    You know “qb” I saw that comment by RJS to you and didn’t think it was harsh, knowing that you like a good argument and can come back …

  • Your Name

    In the context of this discussion and I was responding to your statement to Your Name #28 (who was rather abrupt in his comment) giving a very common argument that equates accepting YEC with accepting any and all miracles.
    I could have said “I think that this is a flawed argument and here’s why” but the remainder would remain the same.
    Basing an argument for YEC on the suggestion that it is all or nothing is not a valid argument because the two (YEC and resurrection) and our basis for knowledge of the two are not really comparable.
    Do you think that they are comparable – if so why are they comparable?

  • RJS

    #38 is me.
    This is weird. The new feature that warns when the Captcha text is timed out is nice – and works well. Except – in safari and firefox is preserves both my comment and my name, but in IE7 it preserves the text but erases the name.
    Hence all the “Your Name” posts I am sure…

  • mariam

    It is useful to keep in mind that there is a continuum of “reasonableness” of religious belief. There is always someone we secretly, or not so secretly, feel is foolish or unreasonable in their beliefs and someone whose faith we don’t find quite robust enough for our tastes. In response to a remark that YEC’ers were like flat-earthers, someone once posted a link here to a YEC website that was trying to argue that geocentrists were wrong, based on science and a misreading of scripture. One of the geocentrists they were taking issue with, was, in turn, arguing that the world, while it was clearly the centre of the solar system and universe, was NOT flat and that the flat-earthers had the wrong end of the stick, both scientifically and scripturally. I almost lost myself in the sea of irony, never to resurface. Nevertheless we all have our points where we turn our faces against the evidence. RJS is a scientist who believes in both an old earth and evolution and yet…she has trouble giving up on the notion that there was an original Adam and Eve (even if not exactly historical) who fell from a state of perfection, passed on the disaster of this original sin to all mankind, necessitating Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. She also recognizes the “difficulty” of the notion that death may have preceeded the fall. Why, I wonder, from my point-of-view, does RJS have to hold onto this unscientific idea? Why is it that she works backwards, from a theology that has developed from a particular reading of scripture, to how things “must” have happened? Why is it that for her (and most here) a belief in a literal bodily resurrection of Christ is necessary to their faith? Why is it necessary for her that the Bible is consistent and true? Why not the obvious – that the Bible is a collection of writings that reflects the cultural, historical and personal biases of its flawed writers.
    And my husband wonders why his wife, who always seemed so pragmatic, logical and down-to-earth, has suddenly developed an completely unreasonable belief in a non-existent God and that when he tries to draw her out in argument and examine the thought processes that have led to this state of unreason, she smiles distantly and noncommittally and refuses to engage him. The fact that she can “believe” in anything based solely on faith, without any hard evidence, both disturbs and frightens him. He understands the need for a moral code, for finding meaning, for comfort and for a community that helps address those things – but why base it all on such a ridiculous premise? He hopes that, at some point, she can leave that crutch behind and be her old logical, rationale self.
    One person’s reasonable faith is another person’s voodoo.

  • Bob Brague

    I decided not to participate in this argument again. I have been down this path before. It is one of RJS’s and Scot’s favorites. Must be a slow week.
    But I do appreciate reading mariam’s, rebeccat’s, and qb’s thoughts on the subject.

  • Dianne P

    To rehash my comments from past discussions of this, I agree with Rebecca that the biggest difficulty for me is the lack of willingness to discuss this topic on the part of YEC. And to take that further, the sense, sometimes implied and sometimes more direct, that anyone who is not a yec is not a true believer.
    My husband is a scientist, I’m a nurse, and our 2 adult children are science types (computer and biology/physics). We find the evidence of God abundantly present throughout the natural world, which we find incompatible with yec.
    I, for one, greatly appreciated rjs’ comments on the flawed argument of equating rejection of yec with rejection of miracles. It was very helpful to me. And I don’t think that describing an argument as “flawed” is evidence of arrogance, especially as rjs so effectively goes on to expand her point. Would that the yec-ers be so gracious and non-arrogant as rjs – they don’t question my argument, they question my faith.
    I continue to be puzzled as to why this has become such a big issue only in recent decades and only in evangelical circles. In our church meandering (largely due to geographical moves) from Eastern Catholic to Presbyterian to evangelical non denominational, we have been taken aback at the importance of yec to the latter group.
    I think that the answer to one aspect of this issue is for those evangelicals who are NOT yec-ers to speak clearly, convincingly, and often to this. Wholeheartedly agree that this is a barrier for both evangelizing to non-believers and developing faith in young adults. We need respectable voices to whom we can point and say – it’s ok (even common) to have a non-yec view.

  • R Hampton

    This is a hunch on my part, but the absolute resistance to read the Bible as more (or less) than its strictly literal meaning seems to have originated – or at least gained tremendous strength – as an American phenomena.
    The religious freedom gained in the New World meant that the promise of Protestantism could finally be fulfilled in the ranks of a laity free from traditional church structures. No longer having, nor needing, a deeper learning of Biblical history, it would only take a generation or two of Christians – raised outside of Europe – to know only the literal Bible. Once such a culture was established, it was (still is) hard to re-introduce ancient understandings lost to ignorance. Even worse, the fervent belief of American Evangelicals makes them predisposed to resist any questioning of their theology.

  • Bob Brague

    Dianne (#42), do you not see that you “Old Earthers” (is that the correct term?) are questioning the faith of the yec-ers as well? This seems abundantly clear to me. Isn’t it a case of (correct me if I’m wrong) “I’m right; you’re wrong; you’re questioning my faith” on the part of BOTH POINTS OF VIEW.

  • Rebeccat

    Bob Brague,
    No! No! No! Not at all! People like Dianne and I reject yec’s beliefs in this issue, much like I reject the belief that the KJV is infallible or that speaking in tongues is the mark of salvation. However, we do not reject yec-er’s claims to authentic faith. It has nothing to do with the reality of your walk with the Lord or the gifts He would have you share with the world.
    OTOH, as someone who rejects creationism, yec, etc., I am regularly dismissed as inauthentic in my faith, probably deluded, untrustworthy, almost certainly dangerous, etc. Nothing I say is taken seriously once this issue comes to light. My gifts are dismissed out of hand. My faith is assumed to be compromised, shallow, selfish, insincere, etc, etc, etc.
    We should be able to disagree on a matter such as this without passing judgement on each other’s faith walk. I know that I would never presume to judge someone’s Christianity on the basis of anything disagreement of belief or theology outside of absolute essentials like the apostle’s creed, including yec. However, that level of respect for my faith is virtually NEVER returned.

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    It seems we have beat this horse to death by now.
    That’s an overly tempting statement to take to heart, but I have to say that any of us who thinks that this topic is ever going to progress without a lot of discussion, hurt feelings, and passion.
    I have always been ready intellectually to accept the idea of an old Earth.
    Theologically, I have been primed to accept it over the last 20 years.
    Emotionally and psychologically I only now can embrace it as true.

  • Mark Lefers

    Thank you RJS for the post. I am as you said “shipwrecked without intellectual resources for faith when confronted with the depth of the evidence.” I’m a scientist (biochem mostly) and have struggled with creationism/evolution for most of my life. About 1 ½ years ago this debate in the church finally broke my faith. It spiraled me into doubt/unbelief. Pastors and fellow Christians denied evolution and said it was wrong, and out of the same mouths said Christianity was true. How was I to separate the lies from the truth? This caused me to investigate more the faith I was born in, and things just kept crumbling around me. Now I’m struggling with my doubt/agnosticism and I am having a hard time finding anything to hold on to. From a scientist point of view how do you deal with naturalism? How do you deal with the “lack of evidence” which as a scientist is hard to swallow? Where is the data for the Christian theory? How do you deal with original sin? Reliability of the Bible? Oh, I have so many unanswered questions…

  • RJS

    These are all good questions – and questions we must wrestle with. Not questions that can be answered quickly in a comment as you well know. We have been carrying on a conversation that deals with some of them on this blog for quite awhile. If you search “RJS” on the blog (upper right) you will find a number of them. I don’t have answers for all, but we are thinking … This conversation will continue.
    Have you read Francis Collins’ book “The Language of God” or listened to his lectures? He gave three recent lectures in 2007 or 2008. The question and answer here is interesting.
    More later.

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    Thanks for that. Picked the Standford version and listened while working today.
    Wonderful stuff. ‘Meer Christianity’ was one of my favorites — need to read it again and share it with my children!

  • Your Name

    RJS Thank you for the post. I teach Earth Science at a Christian School and the topic is discussed every year. I look forward to reading the book and finding more ways to discuss the topic with my students.

  • Spencer Cunningham

    Thanks for the post and comments. I am finishing the Book, “God’s universe” by Owen Gingerich of Harvard. Very good and careful unveiling of some aspects of the partnership of faith and science.
    Fred Heeron of Day Star Ministries is another I would recommend to read. He may initially seem a little too ‘evangelical’, but he has a great love of science, has written the Book/film, “Show Me God”, and among other things, been on archeological digs with the Leakys and other scientific explorations with leading scientists in their fields. He is a voice of ‘faithful reason’, and takes his lumps from the ID folks, etc. for his intellectual integrity.
    I would recommend anyone struggling with the faith/science issue to take an analytical break, watch some national geographic films, visit an aquarium, zoo, nature, read about, look at photos of animals/ plants/ cosmos/ physics etc. and just let yourself be amazed by the ‘gob smacking’ brilliance/ wonder/ interconnectedness improbability, aesthetics, and sometimes terror of it all.
    From the perspective of the ‘dropped jaw’, you have a hard time squelching the nagging sense that something, or possibly ‘someone out there’ brought some prime-time genius to the party.

  • Ocolampad

    Keep fighting that rear guard action. You sacrifice the story line of your own faith to science, and then pretend that accepting the conclusions does not “affect” your faith. Cognitive dissonance anyone?

  • mikeb

    I’m a YEC, but I consider a brother or sister all who name Jesus Christ as Lord.
    What do you guys think of the dino soft-tissue discoveries? I just don’t see how they can be reconciled to a deep-time view.

  • David C

    Mikeb asked about the dino soft-tissue discoveries. First, the reporting by young-earth sources exaggerated it beyond the exaggeration in the publicity in the scientific magazines. In reality, what was found included small lumps of iron-rich minerals, suggestive of derivation from blood cells, and collagen, a very tough protein used in bone. In fact, similar durable but flexible organic materials can be found as much older fossils. Think of hair or fingernails. One way to obtain such fossils from rock is to treat it with all sorts of acids, including hydrofluoric. The only thing left is durable organic material such as pollen, spores, arthropod cuticle, etc.
    What was significant about the recent discoveries is first, confirmation that the structures had persisted in dinosaur bone and second, that enough chemical structure was preserved by being closely bonded to bone that the chemistry could be analyzed. Note also that Mary Schweizer is a Christian and is dismayed at the misuse of her discoveries by young-earth advocates.