For Christians, the biggest differences between old and young earth views stem from our presuppositions. Were high-energy, short term events the dominant shapers of earth’s surface? Or was it low-energy, slow, and gradual? The interpretive differences result mainly from how much emphasis the researcher places on catastrophism (high energy, short duration) versus gradualism (low energy, long duration).
It’s been my pleasure to read some recent posts by Doug Wilson and Gavin Ortlund regarding Creation and Earth history. Doug started with this post, to which Gavin responded here with 4 points. Wilson then responded here, to all but Gavin’s 4th point. Wilson wisely left point 4 unanswered, suggesting that someone should respond who has more of a science background. And, while I’m more at home swimming with whales in the open ocean than writing blog posts, I felt compelled to respond. So, here goes this scientist’s attempt to further the dialogue on Creation.
Before I start, I want to say that I really appreciate Gavin’s effort to make a “friendly appeal” towards dialogue on Creation. Well done, and I hope to follow his lead with some friendly iron sharpening of my own.
Discern Between Scientific and Historic Research
Gavin’s point 4, the one Wilson left unanswered, was a call for young earth creationists to get “specific with the scientific evidence.” But this has been done, and is being done, in a thousand different ways (see below).
More importantly, the “scientific evidence” is not the problem at all. The problem is the interpretation of the evidence, which leads to another big issue. If anyone, young-earth, old-earth, or other, is truly interested in furthering the dialogue on Creation, they will put a greater effort into discerning between scientific research and natural history research. Scientific research is testable, repeatable, and verifiable. Natural history research involves drawing unverifiable conclusions from data. Natural history research is about interpreting unobserved past events.
In my opinion, a more scholarly approach to the Creation dialogue involves making a clear distinction between a scientific thing and a historic thing. It’s been over a decade now since the call was made to move beyond scientific creationism, so young-earthers and old-earthers alike should be putting more effort into properly discerning between the two.
You don’t have to be a scientist to discern between the two types of research. You just need to know how to read a recipe. If you cannot, or just refuse to, acknowledge the difference between scientific research and natural history research, then you are not furthering the dialogue on Creation.
Energy or time?
Gavin wrote that “one step that will greatly help the dialogue about creation in the church is for young-earth creationists to pay more attention to the specifics and particulars of the evidence for an older earth and universe.”
If any Christian writes, speaks, or preaches like they have no clue of the vast amount of material published by young earth creationists regarding “specifics and particulars of the evidence,” then they are not furthering the dialogue on Creation. I am trying to say this in as friendly a way as possible, but a statement like that shows a lack of effort to research a matter before writing about it. It is the glory of kings to search a matter out (Proverbs 25:2), so act like a king.
Remember also, we are talking mainly about history here, and conclusions about the unobserved past depend on interpretation. For Christians, the biggest differences between old and young earth views stem from our presuppositions. Were high-energy, short term events the dominant shapers of earth’s surface? Or was it low-energy, slow, and gradual? The interpretive differences result mainly from how much emphasis the researcher places on catastrophism (high energy, short duration) versus gradualism (low energy, long duration).
Do you want to learn about what creation researchers are saying about the Grand Canyon? Starlight and time? Ice layering, etc? Then click here, or here, or here, or here, or many other places. If you would like, you can also read about some of my natural history research. I conducted an age-calibration experiment of the Ar-Ar radiometric dating method, and found that method overestimated the age of my sample by a factor of 55,000.
Read, and you will find that there are many reasons, good reasons, to be skeptical of the methods and models used to speculate about billions of years of earth age.
Here’s some advice for old-earthers who are serious about furthering the dialogue on Creation. It’s the same advice my advisor gave me when I turned in the first draft of my PhD research proposal. Across the top of the proposal in big red letters was the word READ. Read young earth creation research. Search the matter out.
And to that I would add, PRAY. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment to further this dialogue in the best possible way, which is the one that will bring Him the most glory.
Unsettle the (Secular) History, Burn the “Fictitious History” Strawman
As Doug mentioned, “the science is always settled until somebody unsettles it,” and this is true. But, keeping on track with discerning the scientific from the historic, it might be better to say, regarding earth age, that “the history is always settled until somebody revises it.”
In Gavin’s post, he quotes Robert Newman, who said “In harmonizing the revelation God has provided us in his Word, the Bible, and in his world, the universe, it seems to me that it is much preferable to spend our efforts on models that do not require us to believe that God has given us fictitious history.”
Newman’s argument is a logical fallacy. He sets up a straw man by portraying young earth creationists as a group that sees a lack of harmony between His word and His works, and seeks to harmonize the two with fictitious models. If Christians are truly interested in furthering the dialogue on Creation, then they need to rain burning sulfur down on the “fictitious history” strawman.
Personally, I think most young and old earth Christians are honestly searching for truth. In that search, we all need to be curious and open minded, not “settled,” having a healthy skepticism of any manmade models that speculate about earth’s past. Are you putting too much faith in the models of men? If so, consider that you may be closing the door on adventure and exploration, and stifling the curiosity of the next generation. I don’t want to be the one responsible for closing that door, do you?
I am not exactly sure what it is in our human nature, maybe pride, but it seems like there is a desire among some that, before they die, they are required to come up with their own personal “theory of the universe”. For the vast majority of old earth creationists, I think one reason they are unaware of young earth arguments is because they believe the history about the unobserved past is settled history. The big bang is their cosmology, and they have probably never thought to search out alternative models. They are probably unaware of the assumptions behind the big bang model, like the universe is homogenous, and no one place is more special than another.
But what if that’s not true? Are we really so arrogant to believe that here, in the 21st Century, we have all of history figured out? A 6,000+ year old universe sounds like a really, really old universe to me, but if you think it’s billions, not thousands, then it seems you should be more, not less skeptical that your model is valid. You have a lot more history to explain than I do!
Are you familiar with the big bang model? Could you list 4 other models of cosmology? Have you heard of Einstein’s metrics? If your answer to the last two questions was “no”, then it would be a wise move on your part to do a lot of research before you write any more about why we need to doubt the creation days were 24 hour periods, like Justin Taylor did recently.
Don’t hamstring the dialogue on Creation like a wolf on an elk calf, leaving it hobbled and helpless. Find ways to nurture it instead. Understand at least something about the young earth position. One presupposition of a young earth creationist is that, regarding history, God’s word is authoritative. It is an axiom to build our understanding of all history on, including natural history.
Like Justin Taylor’s article, it seems the most common theme among old earthers is they place too much emphasis on doubting biblical history. Not enough emphasis is placed on doubting manmade models like the big bang, plate tectonics, gradualism, etc. I find that old earth Christians are often enthusiastic about doubting evolutionism, which is wonderful. But the same people who rightfully acknowledge problems with evolutionism, like the lack of transitional fossils, at the same time fail to acknowledge the fact that the majority of those fossils are buried in water-deposited sedimentary rock found almost everywhere on earth’s surface, and averaging one mile thick. But where is the doubt about the old earth assumptions of all that rock being formed slowly and gradually over millions of years? Why not show a little skepticism about that, too? After all, rapidly-buried creatures preserved in thick, water-deposited rock layers all over the earth sounds very much like something we would expect from a worldwide cataclysm like the Genesis Flood.
In the 1900’s, J. Harlan Bretz was skeptical that the Channeled Scablands were formed slowly and gradually. He was able to show how they formed rapidly from floodwaters released as late-Ice Age dams burst. Or take the photo above, which shows where the River Lethe carves through layered deposits from the 1912 Novarupta volcano. By the time Robert Griggs explored the area in 1917, the canyon was already carved through all that material!
Sometimes, what may sound like just a pleasant fiction, turns out to be reality after all. Acknowledging that our eyes and our minds often deceive us will do much to further the dialogue on Creation.
Avoiding Endless Genealogies
In I Timothy 1:4, Paul warned Timothy to avoid “endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Think about the book of Genesis. Think about the genealogies in other places in the Old Testament, or in Matthew and Luke. Think also about the unfolding story of God’s relationship with man in Scripture. And think about your own family’s genealogy. When pondering your own family tree, you would think it strange to insert a million+ year gap in the middle of it. The main message from any genealogy is a message of continuity.
Continuity is also at the heart of the idea of covenant. A covenant is about an agreement, a relationship. A wise pastor I know described covenant in Scripture like this:
The gospel set forth in the context of God’s eternal plan of communication with His people as it unfolds in the historical outworking of the redemptive plan of God. Covenant theology is central to the message of the Scriptures, which testify to God’s redemption of His people in and through the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Christian, what do you believe? Is God’s plan of redemption, as revealed in Scripture, continuous and covenantal, or broken and discontinuous? If it is broken and filled with gaps, what will you put in those gaps? How long were they? Do your beliefs about history promote speculation of God’s word more than they do speculation of man’s word?
In my opinion, furthering the dialogue on Creation means that some pastors and theologians need to take more care to avoid endless genealogies and the speculations they promote. I’m praying more teachers of the Word will focus on encouraging Christians to be scientists and engineers and doctors, developing new technologies and other things by using what God made to serve Him and serve others. Furthering the dialogue on Creation will mean spending a little more time focusing on what God called us to do in Genesis 1:26-28, and a little less time on what God meant by “day”, filling in the supposed gaps with an endless supply of speculative claims.
David Shormann is president of DIVE, LLC, an educational software company that produces math and science courses taught from a biblical foundation. He currently lives in Haleiwa, Hawaii, where his family attends The Mission North Shore. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.