Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Two Theologians on "How old is the universe?"

R. C. Sproul nails it. (Click on "the age of the universe" link on this page.)

Al Mohler blows it. He begins with an argumentum ad populum: well, lots of church fathers believed in a young earth! This is an especially specious argument because he never points out that they had no reason to believe otherwise. Had they held fast to a belief in a young earth in the face of overwhelming data to the contrary he'd have a point. Also, he is selective in what he draws from the church fathers, never pointing out that while they thought the who and the what of creation was important enough for the historic creeds, they didn't seem to care to much about the when. Nor did honesty incline him to point out that the early church consensus on a young earth extended to an early church consensus on a geocentric universe.

His arguments never improve.

He repeats, unabashedly, just about every dumb argument ever made. He criticizes "uniformitarianism" or the idea that the laws of physics have not changed. He never addresses the counter-argument: OK, let us, for the sake of argument, toss out uniformitariansim (even though there is zero evidence for doing so.) You are still left with a big problem. That might explain why the radiometric data are wrong. That might explain why the astronomical and astrophysical data are wrong. That might explain why the geological data are wrong. But it doesn't explain why the different radio isotopes give the same wrong answer, and it doesn't explain why the aforementioned astronomical, astrophysical, and geological data all give the same wrong answer.

One of the more obtuse arguments Mohler makes is that it is more or less unimaginable that (as OECs would claim--at least those who wish to preserve the historicity of Adam) God would intervene to specially create or ensoul Adam and Eve. This is bizarre--why would Mohler find it unimaginable for a God who created the universe to intervene, in what appears arbitrarily to us, at any time in history that it pleases Him?

Sproul gave an honest (and correct) answer. Mohler gave a dishonest reply, never mentioning the considerable flaws in his own arguments. I feel a little dumber after listening to his talk.


  1. Exactly! I've been working on a series of posts for my blog and I wanted to talk about special v. natural revelation. Quite serendipitously, someone posted a video of Sproul answering the age question about a week before I needed it (he did a better job explaining it than I could have so I posted his video to my blog (today, I think)).

    Anyway, when I was doing a little digging for more info on this, I found Mohler's talk. I was suspicious of it, but the description made me think it might improve. It did not.

    He blew it, indeed!

  2. I haven't seen Mohler on this, but I've read similar arguments. A good job on demolishing them.


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  4. I found your blog looking for entirely different material but was intrigued to find out who you were and read the article. With enough curiosity I listened to the entirety of both Sproul & Mohler.

    I agree with everyone at the humility and wisdom of Sproul's answer, but I also don't think you can characterize the two as opposite ends of the argument. Your presentation of Mohler's arguments entirely misses his point (and if you want it, he drives his point home at about 54:00 in the video). And namely is that reading Genesis 1 in a way which attempts to read an old earth into the account heads down a slippery slope of theological problems which ultimately throw the problem of sin and our justification before God into question. He barely makes reference to the church fathers in his opening arguments, and only mentions "uniformitarianism" in passing reference. They are not central to his argument, but I can see it is central to yours.

    In listening to both Sproul and Mohler I find very little where I can disagree with them. Sproul was careful not to dogmatically say the earth is young, and Mohler answers the question saying the earth appears old because God made it old and the effects of sin cause it to appear old as well.

    I guess, as a theologian who teaches from the vantage point that these others have raised, I'm curious how a nuclear physicist reconciles the two without destroying the inerrancy of Scripture and bringing in all the theological difficulties Mohler points out.

    Specifically if you have time, I'm curious how you defend the claim of uniformitarianism. You point out there is zero evidence that the laws of physics have changed, as evidence that they have not. But an absence of evidence, is not evidence of absence. I'm curious how confidently science can show that the astronomical, astrophysical, and geological data you refer are so consistent. As a layman, it seems like a rather unwieldy, unrealistic claim to suggest that these data are perfectly consistent and that they cannot be mistaken. The whole argument "trust us, we've got it figured out" that science has made over the centuries shows if nothing else, human evaluations need constant recalculating on the basis of new evidence.

    Anyway, just curious. I won't dogmatically say I can prove the "young earth theory" but I would agree with Sproul - I stand with Scripture where it teaches clearly 100 out of 100 times when scientific ideas seem to conflict.
    In the mean time, I hope you can be more fair to those of us who see the theological problems with evolution as being of greater concern with trying to blend Genesis 1 with evolutionary thought. Dismissing him as just having "dumb" arguments, without even touching on his central point, unfortunately is the pot calling the kettle black.

  5. gcortright- having read the Bible a number of times, I can only come to the same conclusion as you: either the Bible is right, or the real world is right. I choose the real world.

  6. The 'best' explanation for HOW there could be a Young Earth is in the Huumphreys book Starlight and Time which uses the clear truth that relavity theory allows for BENDING of time. Also that if the true center were near the earth, time-bending would create great time differences as the universe expanded through trillions of miles.

  7. Yeah, wayne. And God created the world last Tuesday besides.