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?