|Q282 : Genesis and an Old Earth?|
My understanding of the origin of the universe is pretty close to the Big Bang, but I'm not sure (of course, uncertainty is the core of the Scientific Method). I have no issues whatsoever reconciling the Big Bang with Genesis as a metaphorical explanation (as relayed by a culture to whom quantum energy would be gibberish—as it is to us, except that we can measure it). Nor, actually, do I have any problems reconciling almost everything else as metaphor. I find a sublime beauty in The Bible that way. Literally, I can't do it.
I understand science as a search for the nature of the Universe, the nature of God. The two aren't at odds.
You seem to take Genesis literally. How do you reconcile literal seven day creation with observable, testable phenomenon that require much longer times?
|A282 : by Tony Garland |
As you are probably aware, not all Christians take Genesis 1, and a six day creation, literallya. However, I’m among those who do.
The question naturally arises: if the consensus view of most scientists is that the Earth and Universe are billions of years old, aren’t we essentially like the flat-earth society by holding to a belief which is out-of-step with that consensus? A related question might be, how can people with a background in the sciences, such as Christians who are practicing engineers and Ph.D. scientists, be among those who disagree with the consensus view? If they are relatively intelligent people with an understanding of the principles of logic, the scientific method, and trained as critical thinkers, how can they hold such a radically different view than consensus science?1
The answer, in part, lies with the different perspective which Christians such as myself have on a number of issues which I attempt to summarize below. I mention these issues, not as fodder for debate, but as an attempt to explain where folks like me are coming from and why we arrive at conclusions which differ from the consensus.
The most frequently mentioned modern evidences for an old universe would seem to be distant starlight and radiometric dating methods. (There are also evidences for a young earthc but that isn’t the subject of your question.)
- Scientific Method - Since the scientific method relies upon forming hypotheses and then performing experiments (testing) in an attempt to falsify them, cosmology is not subject to the scientific method. In our view, the scientific method can be applied to "operational science" — where experiments can be performed in the here-and-now. We believe that investigation of past events falls into a different category: "historical science," which has more in common with criminal investigation than lab experimentation. Historical science relies upon observing evidence in the present, and then using those observations in an attempt to understand the past. Since the original cause of what we see today cannot be reduced to a lab or repeated experimentally, all parties are limited to observing today’s evidence and attempting to explain it by various theories about what happened in the past. Cosmology may look like a science, but it isn’t a science... A basic tenet of science is that you can do repeatable experiments, and you can’t do that in cosmology. — James E. Gunnb, astronomer
- Evidence - The reason why otherwise seemingly intelligent people—sharing a background in critical thinking skills, science, and logic—can arrive at quite different worldviews, is mainly due to differences in interpreting the available evidence. All of us can evaluate the same evidence, such as red-shifts, the cosmic microwave background, inter-stellar distances, the speed of light, and the characteristics of radioactive decay. The difference in conclusions come from differences of opinion about how to interpret these evidences.
- Extrapolation - Depending on one’s point of view, the universe is either thousands (literal Genesis) or billions (consensus science) of years old. Either way, cosmological investigation involves historical investigation in which today’s observations are disconnected from past events by large periods of time. Extrapolating today’s observations back over such large periods assumes a uniformity of conditions and cosmological constants which may or may not be valid. The validity of such extrapolation becomes questionable in corner cases where today’s physics do not necessarily apply (even the Big Bang model suspends today’s physics in its concept of singularity and inflation). What this also means, to Christians of my persuasion, is that our "scientific" conclusions concerning the distant past necessarily involve a great deal of uncertainty which, in turn, calls for considerable humility.
- Neutrality - The biblical worldview holds that mankind is fallen and flawed by sin and innately biased, from birth, against God and truth: apart from God himself, there is no one truly neutral. The consensus view takes a different stance: mankind is evolving, both physically and socially—on an ever-improving path toward greater enlightenment and capability. It sees man as an observer, impartially evaluating the evidence, and following it wherever it leads. The biblical worldview rejects such a positive take on man’s proclivities toward the truth and recognizes that the same flawed tendency to reject God’s truth is active in all areas of man’s endeavor: including cosmological investigation and conclusions reached by scientists. It is worth noting that Big Bang cosmology has significant problems (e.g., horizon problem), for which untestable theories are assumed (e.g., inflation), but these problems are seldom appreciated by the public which, as a result, buys the stock explanation hook-line-and-sinker. This leads to an uneven playing field where those of a young-earth persuasion are required to "prove" their case, but the assumed old-earth cosmology is promulgated uncritically by the media.
- Authority - This is probably the largest disconnect between consensus cosmology and Christians like myself. When it comes to origins (cosmology, chemical evolution, biological evolution), today’s consensus science—as embraced and promulgated by the media—marches to the drum of an atheistic, materialistic worldview. Being largely atheistic and materialistic, it rejects the relevance and validity of the bible as a unique revelation from God. Even where the bible is given token mention, it is relegated to a subservient, sanitized role (e.g., "myth," "real life is the domain of science, personal faith can be happily irrational"). But people like us have come to see the bible in a quite different light: it is our view that the revelation of the bible eclipses the errant and biased interpretation of men when it comes to determining how the universe and mankind came to be. "Science" (by including quotes, I mean consensus science, as popularized by the media) says the universe arose from an undirected singularity whereas the bible says God purposefully spoke the universe into existence. "Science" says life arose from non-life by chance over billions of years whereas the bible says God created life. "Science" says that man evolved from lower-life forms over long time periods whereas the bible says that man is not an animal, but was created uniquely in God’s image during the course of a day. "Science" says that virgins can’t give birth, but the bible says God stepped into history through a virgin birth. "Science" says that people don’t rise from the dead whereas the bible says that Jesus rose from the dead. "Science" says that nobody can accurately predict the future whereas the bible says that God alone can—and has—predicted the future. "Science" rejects the possibility of prophecy out-of-hand whereas the bible contains clear examples of accurate predictions made in advance. What this means for Christians who take the bible at face value is that on topics where biblical revelation and the interpretations of science disagree, we choose to trust the bible because we are convinced of its historical and prophetic reliability. When it comes to cosmology, everybody has to trust an authority: none of us were there to see what happened, how long ago it was, or what exactly took place. For simplistic Christians—and I count myself among them—the bible has gained our respect as the ultimate authority. Does that mean we prefer to stick our heads in the sand and "ignore reality?" No. But what it does mean is that where biblical revelation and consensus interpretations about the past collide, we will always seek an explanation which gives precedence to biblical revelation. Sometimes that choice may involve complexity and challenge and periods during which we are unable to easily resolve apparent discrepancies (e.g., radiometric dating, distant starlight) and other times it will be easy (e.g., biological complexity, collagen found in dinosaur bones, inadequacy of evolution theory).
The following resources discuss these aspects in relation to biblical revelation. Some of the concepts, such as time-dilation based on Einstein’s theories of relativity and the math involved, are highly complex. I don’t pretend to grasp all the details. However, in my view, the stranger-than-fiction nature of reality and the complexity of today’s physics underscore the tentativeness with which we should approach conclusions about events on a cosmological scale which contradict God’s revelation. This provides even greater motivation for many Christians to trust the simple statements of God in Genesis in preference to the cosmological explanations of the day.
The following resources discuss the challenge of reconciling distant starlight with a straightforward reading of Genesis 1.
Interpreting Genesis Literally
There are numerous biblical commentaries one could point to which take the early chapters of Genesis as literal history. I've highlighted these because they are 1) relatively recent—the authors engage with the predominant old-universe interpretation ; 2) the authors have a strong background in the sciences.
There are also a large number of online resourcest which also deal with these issues from a Christian Creationist perspective, but I prefer books—when available—because they offer a more sustained, in-depth, and carefully-communicated treatment of the issues involved.
Whatever value you may find from the resources I’ve mentioned, it is my hope they will convey why Christians such as myself take Genesis 1 literally even when such a view is out-of-step with popular cosmology.
|1.||I’m using the phrase "consensus science" to denote the majority view of science as championed by the media and taught in our school systems. There are, of course, minority dissenting scientific views which call into question the dogmatism of the Big Bangu and Darwinismv, but these seldom see the light of day.|