Ask Tom: Is The Earth Really Young Or Old?

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Tom:

I am writing about your belief in an old earth. Do you still believe what you wrote? As a fellow Christian, I am always concerned when one takes a position that is unimportant to the Gospel and often causes unnecessary divisiveness in the church.

Recent scientific discoveries contradict your post. Age [of the earth/universe] is pretty much impossible to determine and the presuppositions made by science are not scientific at all. You mention a “distant starlight problem” and believe it to be related to the age of the universe. Do you believe in the Big Bang Theory? That theory is woefully unscientific.

I believe you might want to consider the following when trying to argue about origins: 1) Given that God is the creator and sustainer of all that’s visable and invisible, in what way is he limited? and 2) Whatever man might believe to be true based on his observations and calculations, he’s observing and calculating a fallen world.

Michael
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Michael:

You’ve really given me a lot to chew through. The issue of material origins is a hard one. Like you, I’ve seen many arguments regarding origins that quickly devolve into name calling, division, and shame upon the testimony of the church. I don’t want to do that and I’m sure you don’t want to do that either. So, I hope I can answer you respectfully and satisfactorily. You may not like my answers, but they will be honest, and I hope, thoughtful ones.

You’ve framed your first statement in such a way with the rest of your context that assumes the Old Earth Model is “unimportant” and “divisive.” But I don’t think theological viewpoints are necessarily divisive. What divides us is not our viewpoints, but our behavior. This is why in another article about creation I presented the six current views about material origins. There are legitimate perspectives and facts in each position, but we don’t need to shame one another over them, as I’m sure you understand. Now, let me challenge you on the points you wrote about.

We should be careful about making blanket statements like these:

* Age is impossible to determine
* Presuppositions made by science are not scientific
* The Big Bang is woefully unscientific

I don’t think these are helpful statements, by themselves, when trying to clarify what is true about material origins. Supporting statements would be helpful, even though we might respectfully disagree on their value.

Age is not impossible to determine. There are several methods that are used to arrive at possible dates for biological forms and fossils, geological phenomenon, and stellar phenomenon. There is not enough space to detail each here. The point is that there are several methods used and have been used for a very long time. We should not automatically dismiss them because we have issues about what those methods may reveal.

You are correct in the general statement that presuppositions (by themselves) are not scientific. But we must deal with the reality that all of us have presuppositions of one kind or another. What we must do is use the Scientific Method to determine if those presuppositions are valid. So, yes, presuppositions are not scientific, but if we are open minded to the evidence we can determine if our presuppositions need altering.

Actually, the process of the Scientific Method is similar to the process of Biblical Interpretation. Consider, these similarities:

* Observation of phenomenon / Observation of Text
* Form a question based on observation / Ask questions of the text
* Form a hypothesis / Form an interpretation 
* Conduct research to support or falsify a hypothesis / Research other biblical text and disciplines to support or falsify our interpretation 
* Analyze data and draw a conclusion / Analyze data to establish meaning and application 

In light of these similarities, the process of the Scientific Method is no less valid than the process of Biblical Interpretation. Since they are so similar it would be wise to consider the conclusions of one as you would the other.

Is the Big Bang nonscientific? Consider that the Big Bang theory was arrived at using the Scientific Method. And, in fact, we can predict phenomenon that we later see in the universe based upon what the Big Bang suggests about possible phenomenon. To date, there are many predictions based upon this model which we see active in the universe and all discovered through the process of the Scientific Method, thus, in that sense, the Big Bang is “scientific.” In contrast, the Young Earth Model is arrived at by religious assumptions, and has not been proven to be true using the Scientific Method. As a theory of science the Young Earth Model appears to many to be bankrupt. 

Now, let me address your two questions and then I will wrap up. You asked, “Given that God is the creator and sustainer of all that’s visable and invisible, in what way is he limited?”

God actually does have limitations. He is limited by his character, such as in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man that he should lie.” God’s character attributes give us surety that he will not do things that deceive us or to act capriciously.

God is also limited in what he can do in creation. He cannot create things that are logical contradictions. For instance, he cannot create a square circle, or wet fire, or bright darkness. Therefore, God’s act of creation in terms of how he fashioned the universe operates by a set of logical rules that cannot be overridden. (This argument is not in the same sphere as miracles, which are a different type of work by God.)

We can answer your question also with a question, “How does God creating over a long period of time limit him?” The answer is none. God remains God whether he works in the short or long term.

Now to your second question, which is actually more a of statement. “Whatever man might believe to be true based on his observations and calculations, he’s observing and calculating a fallen world.”

I urge you to think through the implication of what you are saying. Taken to it’s natural conclusion, your statement implies that truth is unknowable or undiscoverable. Based upon this, even if I read the Bible I am reading it through the eyes of fallen man and thus cannot really divine it’s truth. This is absurd. If, because of a fallen world, truth of the natural order cannot be known, then no truth an be known. But God has not designed the universe in this way. He reveals the truth about himself and about the natural order, up to a point. Then he gives us the task and tools to discover other truths about nature (Proverbs 25:2), and glorify him in the process. 

Conclusion

Michael, thank you for writing to me about your perspective. I hope that as you have challenged me on these issues that you, yourself, will also find yourself challenged to explore these issues in a deeper way. 

God bless you.

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