“If i thought that the Bible said the world was 6000 years old, then I’d either have to believe that the Word from God’s Mouth lies, or that the Work of His Hands deceives. I can do neither.”
– JT Perry
In recent years much ink has been spilled over the issue of the age of the earth, within Christian circles, and had we lived in less civil times, I imagine, nearly as much blood would have been spilled. To the atheist, the issue is resolved and all we are doing is arguing, amongst ourselves, over whose superstition is truer, they do not have a religious document to reconcile with the record of nature and for them nature has spoken loud and clear and the Bible is an outdated document which speaks to those with outdated minds.
This issue is important to come to some sort of conclusion, because it comes down to an important doctrine of inerrancy and if we give up one doctrine at a time, soon we will be looking back on our beliefs and have none, in hindsight. The question seems to be, “Does God’s word inform our science, or does our science inform our interpretation of God’s word?”
The scope of this paper and my qualifications are far from being able to exhaustively speak on this issue, but I hope to answer the question, “Does the Bible allow for an Old Earth paradigm?” If the Bible is incompatible with an Old Earth paradigm, and the Bible says we have minds to understand God’s record of nature and if nature says creation is very old, then we as Christians are in serious trouble, but if the Bible is compatible with what the record of nature tells us, there should be no actual tension between the two accounts, only apparent tension.
WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SCRIPTURE AND CREATION?
This seems to be fairly controversial between different Christian schools of thought. The position of this paper is that we have Special Revelation, which not all have equal access to, and that there is General Revelation, which all have access to, but still to differing degrees, due to various reasons, such as blindness and not all minds are geared for science. Both of these “documents,” or accounts equally come from the mind of God and they should not be irreconcilable. If the contradiction is anything more than apparent, then one needs to be discredited and the Bible rests on much Scientific methodology, such as hermeneutics, archaeology and carbon dating. The skeptic of these methodologies has to throw out the credibility of the Bible’s empirical veracity by the same account and must resort to fideism. If the truth about reality cannot be known, Christianity is in trouble and so is any hope of knowing the truth about the world we live in; reality becomes some sort of matrix, or illusory experience. Buddhism becomes a more comprehensive worldview and all is reduced to maya, at best, or a product of our minds. With regards to reality we are left with a self-stultifying agnosticism, which must be rejected by the sincere seeker of truth.
Scripture is far from allowing the acceptance of this view and provides the guiding presupposition that nature is a product of an ordered mind and can be studied.
Psalm 19 says that ‘…day after day and night after night the heavens are declaring the glory of God and pouring forth speech…’ This tells us that the same God who breathed Scripture also gave us an extra-Biblical source of truth to study and that is the record of nature. It is not unreasonable we can come to conclusions, regarding the nature of God, but for different reasons. Some call this a ‘Concordist’ view of Scripture, but it can also be seen as a ‘Concurrence’ view. There are many cases where we may come to the same conclusion, but for different reasons, in mathematics, or engineering. This is not to say we can come to God via other religions, but a true revelation will agree with a true interpretation of the record of nature.
To build on this notion, Romans 1:20 says, ‘…His (God’s) invisible attributes, His divine nature, and external power, are clearly seen through what is made, so that all are without excuse.’
THE NATURE OF GOD AS AN AXIOM
The Genesis 1, creation account, sets God apart from His creation and eliminates the possibility of pantheism–the false notion that God can be identified with His creation. The effect may resemble the cause, but is not identifiable with the cause. What kind of effect are we dealing with here? It seems, to the philosopher, that it requires a volitional mind to create, or to refrain from creating, because it takes a decision to create. An ultimate particle cannot make the decision to create, even if granted unlimited power, as it lacks decision making abilities that a deity would have. Furthermore, a study of nature says that nature is orderly and can be understood in terms of laws, which we as rational inquisitors can observe and put in terms of our mathematical constructs. It seems our minds are wired to recognize patterns and cause&effect relationships. If nature were not knowable via these patterns, and if it behaved chaotically, we could not say it was the product of an ordered mind.
Some may object to this by referring to discoveries in Quantum Mechanics, that the subatomic realm behaves seemingly chaotically and particles are seen to pop in and out of existence with no reason at all.
This is an argument from ignorance. At this point we do not know the immediate cause and are using Newtonian dynamics to attempt to account for the subatomic, but we need an entirely new set of laws to account for these effects, which we do have, such as the strong and weak nuclear forces, the law of electromagnetism. These are laws which account for the subatomic, just as our Newtonian laws account for the regular world we live in. There are physicists who do seek to reconcile these laws under one unifying law and there is much work to be done, but if it is even possible–even if not actually done–then we live in an ordered universe and any attempt to say it is chaotic is a statement about our limited knowledge, not the universe which exists independent of our descriptive laws about it. This is known as a Grand Unifying Theory (GUT).
THE MIND OF GOD AND ANALOGY
As previously mentioned, the universe is the product of an ordered mind, not a chaotic mind and Judaeo-Christianity provides the presuppositions to come to this conclusion. Genesis 1 says we are made in the image of our effect. This means we have a greater capacity than the rest of the created order and this sets us apart from the animal kingdom. It does not seem Scripture supports the notion God has physical parts (John 4:24, Luke 24:39), so it is incorrect to say that being made in the image of God requires a critical mass of assembly, but seems to point to both our rational and moral capacities.
To understands this better, understanding the principle of analogy is important. We cannot say that an effect has a 1:1 correspondence with its cause, but there is a resemblance, or a likeness and the effect may have certain traits or characteristics that the cause also has. It has been said, “God can’t give what He doesn’t have.” This is what enables us to love, because God, by nature, is love and we were created to love.
It is by this principle of analogy that we can say creation is analogous to the mind of God.
I will summarize the position of this paper, thus far:
Nature is the product of the mind of God
The mind of God is ordered
Therefore, nature is the product of an ordered mind and is, by extension, ordered itself.
A very long time, before the advent of modern day physics, the prophet Jeremiah said that there are ‘…fixed patterns…,’ which govern the universe and God will no more violate them than He will His covenant with Abraham and his descendants. (33:25). This is a prediction, made by the Scriptures, that there are laws which we can anticipate which govern the world we live in. The degree to which we understand these cause&effect patterns was not understood by observers in Jeremiah’s time, but our studies of nature today further validate this notion and physicists, sometimes irreverently, refer to the discovery of ultimate laws as knowing the ‘Mind of god.’ Which is true, if our laws of nature were omniscient, which they are not, we would have a great deal of insight, more, into the mind of the God who established them.
AN OBJECTION FROM MIRACLES
Does not Jesus turn water into wine, and override the fermentation process? (John 2)
Does not Jesus walk on water and override the laws of gravity? (Matthew 14)
If God can override these laws, why can’t He override these laws at the moment of creation and bring everything to being as it is?
It is only by the regularities of nature, or uniformity, that we can identify a miracle. Take for instance the resurrection of Jesus. Our uniform experience says that ‘dead men don’t rise,’ and if the dead were known, even from time to time, to come back after 3 days in the grave, there would be nothing remarkable about the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Furthermore, the laws of nature are not immutable, like the laws of logic, nor are they exhaustively known. The laws of nature came into being and cannot be held as properly basic beliefs, as with the laws of logic. Jesus’ miracles went against our everyday, uniform experience, but did not violate any laws of nature, they were only suspended.
Miracles seem to hint at a heavenly reality, Biblical miracles were restorative, the dead rose, the lame walked, the blind were able to see. Revelation speaks of a new order of creation in which this will be the normative and not the exception. Miracles point to a heavenly reality and do not violate or contradict the laws of nature, but point to heavenly realities in which nature will have function properly restored. (Revelation 21:1,4-5)
Raising the point that God can create the earth with the appearance of age, and create light travel and other events in space, billions of light years away, and that He has given us geological records which indicate an appearance of age, raise serious questions about the nature of the God who cannot lie. This puts God’s word in opposition with His creation and the Bible says they must never be in conflict. (Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18)
The position of the Old Earth Creationist is not one of giving into popular notions, or bending the knee to secular beliefs, but can be held for theological reasons, using the nature of God as a grounding point. All that the Bible contains is truth, but it does not contain all truth, this is a document which encourages us to challenge it and to seek out other sources of truth in order to know about the nature of God. The Christian is well justified in using the light of creation to understand, better, the word of God. For the word to be true, it must be reconciled with God’s other handiwork, which He has also given us minds to understand. Both are understood by the same truth seeking method, which we call ‘The Scientific Method.’ Those claiming that our fallen minds cannot reconcile a fallen world with God’s world, cannot claim to understand God’s Word by the same token, without falling into special pleading.
Worse, yet, appealing to the miraculous to account for the apparent age of the earth raises serious concerns about the nature of God and the nature&purpose of a miracle. If we appeal to a miracle to account for acts of nature, soon miracles become the normative and not the exception and we have no way of identifying them as acts of God in the Bible.
Creation is a special act of God, but not one intended to deceive us, but intended to shed light on His nature and word. The Christian holds God as being a primary or efficient cause, whose normative way of operating in the world is through secondary causes. As encouraged by Scripture, an examination of these secondary causes gives us an old earth, but tells us the efficient cause is an ordered mind. Dismissing the apparent age of the earth to being a special, or direct act of God does damage to both the nature of God and the doctrine of inerrancy as well as the Scripture which says God uses process to create, unless He directly steps in as an efficient cause and performs a miracle.
I do not believe this paper resolves the issue, but I hope it shows to my fellow Christians in the YEC camp that the OEC position has justification in both Scripture and science. There is, of course, much room for controversy, but I hope to see the debate done more charitably within Christian circles.
As a sidenote, I intentionally left out the issue of the nature of the word “Yom,” as there is far too much controversy over this word and scholars to the left disagree with scholars to the right, but I hope the reader can be equipped further, via this paper, to revisit the creation account and consider other viable paradigms, such as day-age, gap theory, or apparent age.
Ross, Hugh – A Matter of Days.
Ross, Hugh – Navigating Genesis.
Dembski, William – The End of Christianity.
Geisler, Norman – Origin Science. Lewis, CS – Miracles.
Hank Hanegraaff answers one callers question on the matter, although I do not agree fully with him, he makes some excellent points in this clip.