Now I can accept a certain amount of informed and honest scepticism about some aspects of the theory of evolution.
Provided that you’re getting your facts straight about what the theory actually claims in the first place and not presenting it as some kind of ridiculous cartoon caricature that has cats turning into dogs, and provided that you’re not claiming that evidence (such as transitional fossils) does not exist when quite clearly it does, and provided that you’re not misrepresenting people by quoting them out of context, I think it’s a discussion worth having. I may have concerns about how some Intelligent Design proponents behave, and I may have my doubts as to whether they’re taking the right approach or not, but I don’t think we should write off the concept of ID entirely. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
I can also accept that Adam and Eve were historical people, and that the Flood of Noah was a historical event and not a mere myth. I can’t say for certain where, when, or how extensive it was, but there are a few interesting candidates. One theory in particular says that the Bible narrative may refer to a comet strike in the Indian Ocean circa 2,800 BC. It’s a controversial hypothesis, not widely accepted in the scientific community, and the evidence for it is a bit thin on the ground, but it is an intriguing possibility nonetheless.
But if you are insisting that the earth is just six thousand years old, or that Noah had dinosaurs on board the Ark, or that the Flood reshaped the continents and created the fossil record, I’m sorry, but you are simply out of touch with reality. You might as well insist that the earth is flat while you’re at it.
It doesn’t take a “secular” or a “materialist” worldview, nor do you have to have “been there,” to see that young-earth “creation science” and Flood Geology are patent nonsense. The fact that they’re resorting to absurdities about accelerated nuclear decay on a scale that by their own admission would have vaporised the Earth’s crust many times over should be sufficient, as too should the role of conventional dating methods in oil exploration. Neither “secular science” nor “atheistic religion” nor “compromise” nor “brainwashing” nor “evolutionary assumptions” nor “unbelief” nor “dogmatism” nor a “rejection of Scripture” nor guesswork nor attempting to curry favour with the establishment nor inflating the timescale to accommodate evolution have anything whatsoever to do with it, and you won’t get different results by looking at the evidence through a different set of presuppositions. Even allowing for the possibility of miracles, it is simply not possible to squeeze 4.5 billion years’ worth of evidence into just six thousand without either descending into absurdity or flat-out lying about it. It’s a matter of measurement and basic mathematics, it’s as simple as that.
The core message: make sure your facts are straight.
James 3:1 tells us this:
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
If you have any kind of teaching role in your church — whether as a pastor, or a Bible teacher, or an evangelist, or a parent — you are in a position of trust. Teaching demonstrable falsehoods, whether by accident or design, is a serious breach of that trust, and all the more so if you are attaching significant doctrinal importance to them.
I recently read a blog post by an atheist who lost her faith entirely after being confronted by the fact that what her parents, her church leaders, and the LSDYEC organisations were teaching her about evolution and the age of the earth was simply not true. Her story is by no means unusual; I have had colleagues at work tell me exactly the same thing. Of course, LSDYECs are quick to blame evolution and millions of years for such cases, but this completely misses the point. Young Christians do not stumble because of evolution; they stumble because their trust has been breached.
As Matthew 18:6 says:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
That’s why I have repeated the same thing over and over again in all my discussions about the creation and evolution debate. If you love the Lord Jesus Christ and want to see His Kingdom extended rather than undermined, then whatever you do, make sure that you know what you are talking about and that your facts are straight.
The sad thing is that there is no need whatsoever for such problems to arise. When 2 Peter 3:8 and Psalm 90:4 tell us that a day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day, and when we even have Bible verses such as Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 and Isaiah 40:6-7 hinting at the possibility of universal common ancestry, it should be abundantly clear that the Bible’s authority still stands no matter how old the earth is, and no matter who or what did or did not evolve from what. Yet LSDYEC organisations continue to peddle the toxic and destructive message that “no six days means no Gospel.” By building on a foundation that is demonstrably and indisputably false, rather than on the solid Rock that is Christ, they are setting numerous young people up for a fall.
There are other claims made by the LSDYEC organisations that I have not covered, such as the increase in the earth’s population, or polystrate fossils, for example. No doubt they will also come up with additional claims from time to time. But there’s little point in covering them. They all suffer from the same set of problems: unrealistic extrapolations, cherry-picked data, invalid analogies, out-of-context quote mining, and playing fast and loose with the basic rules of measurement. For this reason, until and unless they manage to get their claims validated by independent experts, both in terms of peer review and studies that replicate them, they should be taken with a huge pinch of salt by everyone, Bible believing Christians included.
There’s also a lot more that I could say about the technicalities of the scientific techniques involved, such as radiometric dating. But I decided it best not to get too detailed in that respect, mainly because these have been adequately covered elsewhere. For a comprehensive explanation of how radiometric dating works, I recommend the article, Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective by Roger Wiens, while a much more comprehensive and detailed discussion of the geological principles in general can be found in the book The Bible, Rocks and Time by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley.
(As an aside: I’m aware of the attempted rebuttal of Wiens’s article by Tas Walker of creation.com. However, he only repeats various ad-hominem attacks, logical fallacies and falsehoods commonly found in LSDYEC literature and adds nothing new to the discussion. I wrote my own critique of his response on the BioLogos forum a while ago.)
Other useful resources for a discussion of young-earth creationism include the blogs Naturalis Historia by Joel Duff, Age of Rocks by Jonathan Baker, and The GeoChristian by Kevin Nelstead. Reasons to Believe, BioLogos and the American Scientific Affiliation also have a lot of helpful articles, while BioLogos has a first-rate forum system that hosts some of the most informative discussions on the subject that I’ve seen so far.
What next for How Old is the Earth?
Researching this subject has been a difficult project to work on. I don’t think that most rank-and-file young-earth creationists have any bad intentions — they just lack the skills, experience and training to be able to fact-check this stuff. On the other hand, I can’t say the same thing for the LSDYEC leadership. They have PhDs and they should know what they are talking about, yet they continually churn out incoherent nonsense that in some cases can be falsified with nothing more than simple schoolboy arithmetic. It’s discouraging to end up on their websites reading claims that are so bad that you’d think they had been hacked by people trying to discredit them, it’s even more discouraging to see it packaged up as if it were Christian apologetics, and it’s most discouraging of the lot to read rant after rant about how anyone who doesn’t regurgitate their nonsense unquestioningly is a “compromiser” or a “faithless so-called Christian” or “speaking with the voice of the serpent.” I’m sorry, but that kind of rhetoric is tying up heavy burdens on people’s shoulders and not lifting a finger to help; it is slamming the door to the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces; and it is nullifying the Word of God with your tradition.
Isaiah 43:18-19 says this:
18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
These are verses that I fully intend to take to heart from here on. Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and all the rest of it, are well and truly in the past, and Christianity is not about the past, but about the future. Regardless of which interpretation (day-age, framework, etc) is the correct one, the foundation of our faith is the completed work of Christ on the Cross, and the ultimate focus needs to be on the hope that awaits us. No matter how old the earth is, or who did or did not evolve from what, that is what I am holding on to. As Philippians 3:13-14 says, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
With that, I’m going to take a back seat in the creation and evolution debate from here on. I’ve said all that I need to say, and I’m growing weary of it all now. Going forward, I want to move on to other things. Consequently I’m going to take a break from posting regularly here for a while. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
I will just leave the last word on the subject to St Augustine:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.
Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.
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 and 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. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.