I must say that I have never been disagreed with on this topic more graciously! Often those arguing against me will question my salvation if not outright accusing me to be a minion of the antichrist. I appreciate Gary’s restrained approach.
I have decided to reply, although with great reluctance. I know how these discussions typically progress. Been there done that. As an example of the futility you can read the debates between Kent Hovind and Hugh Ross on John Ankerberg’s site (go here and scroll down to the relevant articles).
Gary’s argument is, and I hope I am paraphrasing, correctly, that if we don’t accept the literal interpretation of the creation account, where then does it lead? It is the argument of the slippery slope.
The High GroundI appreciate that those arguing from a plain reading of Genesis have the high ground. Anytime your position is supporting a plain reading of scripture, then the onus is on the other side to prove otherwise.
Here I will insert one reactionary opinion: no theologian has yet come up with a self consistent theology that accepts all scripture in its plain reading interpretation. If you tell me what eschatology you hold to, I can find verses about which you will have to say things like “Oh, what this really means is not a literal 1000 years but..” or “Oh, it doesn’t really mean this generation as in 40-50 years, but…”
It’s not just eschatology. If you tell me you are Arminian then I can find verses that require “additional explanation”. Likewise if you are Calvinist.
In fact a Roman Catholic can point out verses, say in the Book of James, to which Protestants in general have to say “You just can’t take this passage in isolation, but by viewing it in light of these other passages it is clear that…”
So accepting the plain reading is the preferred position, but it is not always possible.
My greatest concern about the opinion you shared is where does it stop? If we read the Bible and, in effect, say that the creation story in Genesis is just a paraphrase or an allegory of what really happened, then what else in the Bible can we read and wiggle out of by saying the same thing?
It would not be possible for me to be in more agreement with Gary. He is absolutely correct. If the Genesis account is allegorical then everything comes tumbling down, because the rest of the Bible (including both the words of Christ and his genealogy) has numerous references to Adam as the first man and Eve being created from him.
I do not think the account is allegorical. Neither did Francis Schaeffer—it was one of his absolutes I discussed in the previous post.
An allegory is a purposely false story, i.e., a fiction, used to convey a secondary message. In scripture? May it never be. I disagree with the interpretation of six 24 hour days, but I believe the creation account is factual.
Slippery SlopeThe “slippery” nature of believing in an old earth is often presented as manifest. I disagree, unless, again, you are talking about a view of the creation account as being allegorical. I think arguments that start with the assumption of an old earth and “prove” that the atonement was not necessary, or that Christ died in vain, or one of many other “conclusions” I have seen “derived” (an thus negating the old earth assumption in a supposed proof by contradiction) are not logically consistent.
There are fellow believers with whom I agree about (essentially) everything theological, except for the age of the earth. My position did not cause me to “slide” away from other orthodox beliefs.
Arggh. Some ScienceSo here is my position. Science (in my opinion) says the universe is billions of years old. A plain reading of the Bible would suggest the universe was created in six days and is less than 10,000 years old. So to really reduce the possibilities down to the bare essentials I think there are three possibilities:
- The earth is young but created to look old; science is right but has been tricked.
- The earth is young and science is wrong.
- The earth is old, science is right, and those who interpret the Bible to say it had to be six 24 hour days occuring less than 10,000 years ago are wrong in their interpretation.
I don’t believe option 1, although I cannot disprove it. Indeed it is unfalsifiable.
If the Bible said explicitly that the days of creation were 24 hours long, then I would believe option 2. I would prefer to believe option 2.
Since I believe there is “wiggle room” to interpret the creation account differently, then I am most comfortable believing option 3.
Let’s look at this a little more closely. I will tell you that I reject outright postmodern deconstructionist mumbo jumbo along the lines of science cannot really answer anything. (Gary was not using such an argument, but some do, and in my mind it is not worthy of polite conversation.)
Could science be wrong? Possibly, but it would take an amazing conspiracy of errors.
Gary mentions Carbon dating. Carbon dating is used for organic materials – things that were once alive and absorbing carbon. Without going into details Carbon dating has a range of perhaps 50,000 years, (Carbon dating is not used to measure the age of things like rocks or old fossils like the dinosaurs). With carbon dating, some fossils or artifacts have been assigned ages of at most ten times the presumed age of a young earth.
Carbon dating assumes that the ratio of carbon isotopes is the same now as it was, say, 50,000 years ago. The key isotope is carbon-14, which comes from cosmic rays interacting in the upper atmosphere Some have pointed out that if the ratio was different when the earth was created six thousand years ago, either because the atmosphere was very different (perhaps because of a canopy of water) or the incidence of cosmic rays was different, then carbon dating results could be skewed. Fair enough, although most scientists will say there is no a priori reason why the ratio should change. So the young earth proponent (who doesn’t simply want to discard science) must say (1) The ratio of carbon isotopes is not what it is today and (2) what is actually was, was whatever it has to be to reconcile everything with a six thousand year old earth.
This is the first of many arguments that follow the same pattern: Something from science is wrong, perhaps in some assumptions, and the correct assumption must actually be whatever it must be to reconcile everything with a young earth.
If carbon dating were the only issue—well, things wouldn’t be that bad at all. Scientists would be saying the earth is probably 10 times older (one order of magnitude) than what the young earthers say. That’s a fairly awful discrepancy, but not even in the same league as what science really says.
So maybe Carbon dating is based on a wrong assumption. However, technology has marched along and we now have an independent dating method using uranium and thorium. It has nothing to do with the atmosphere or cosmic rays. It also dates “young” fossils and artifacts. And it agrees within carbon dating to within 10-20%.
Now let me pause here. Those who say the fact that they disagree by 10-20% means the results are untrustworthy show their ignorance of data analysis and statistics. Because (most) science is an intellectually honest endeavor, results are given with error bars. Let me make up some numbers as an example. In dating some artifact, the results might be:
- Young earth proponents: less than six thousand years (by definition)
- Carbon dating 30,000 years with an error of 6000 years
- Uranium/Thorium 25,000 years with an error of 5000 years
Again, I made up these numbers, but these are typical. The point is that statistically the two dating methods are consistent with each other and inconsistent with a young earth.
So now something has to be wrong with an independent dating method. Maybe the flood had something to do with it. And note there is now another level of “conspiracy” here: not only must the correct assumption be whatever it has to be to restore a young earth, but what ever skewed the assumption for uranium/thorium dating insidiously left it in agreement with Carbon dating.
Or maybe the exponential model of radioactive decay, accurate today to untold numbers of decimal places, wasn’t in effect at creation.
Really Long TimesThen we move from the 50,000 year range to ages in the billions of years. I am running out of steam, but the same things apply here. Multiple, independent methods of estimating the age of rocks and the universe itself all give the answer in billions of years. Same problem: these methods would have to be wrong in some amazing way that resulted in their giving erroneous but consistent results.
As I said, if the only issue were young fossils science would be saying the earth was about one order of magnitude older. With geological and cosmological dating science is saying the age of the universe is about six orders of magnitude older. This is an enormous error. Suppose science over estimated the distance to the moon by the same amount. Instead of it being two hundred thousand miles away, it would be just 0.2 miles away.
A final point: much of the physics that must be terribly wrong if the universe is really just thousands of years old is the very same physics that we rely on daily to design computers, medical equipment, space craft, etc. How can it be so wrong and so right at the same time?