I grew up in an ultra-conservative, 4 1/2 point Calvinist, expository Bible teaching church. When I was in high school, my church in Lincoln Nebraska brought in a special speaker, the Young Earth Creationist and Bible teacher John C. Whitcomb. He gave a series of talks about science and the Bible.
It was FASCINATING. Ten times more interesting than the usual Sunday Biblical exegesis. A six-part series, a multi-day, power packed tour de force of creation science.
Whitcomb delivered a scorching exposé
of the fallacies of carbon dating; he described the worldwide flood; the Genesis account, the deterioration and de-evolution of the human genome; the tower of Babel.
He explained how Noah’s flood accounted for geological anomalies which secular scientists misconstrued as “millions of years;” and how the earth is actually 6,000 years old. He explained how we know that from the Biblical genealogies. I was captivated.
Whitcomb was a pivotal figure in the Young Earth Creation movement. He and his co-author Henry Morris created an entire field known as “Flood geology.” A weekend seminar similar to that one still appears at a church near you multiple times a year. My church growing up was very similar to John MacArthur’s. He’s pictured above.
When I was seven, I had a dinosaur book I wore out from total fascination. It described dinosaurs living 65 million years ago. My 2nd grade teacher taught me how to handle that:
“Just laugh at it.”
So I did.
Origins didn’t come up much in high school or college. Once I had a conversation about Jesus around the water cooler at work. I offered a pretty convincing case for the resurrection, and a co-worker admitted as much.
But he said, “There’s no way you’re going to convince me that all of humanity is the result of two naked people, an apple and a snake.” I didn’t have a comeback.
I professionally subscribed to a publication called Sensors Magazine. It struck me how technologies – especially sensors, from cameras to ultrasonics to devices most folks have never imagined – are greatly inspired by sensors in the human body and animal kingdom. As an engineer I intuitively sensed a tremendous level of design in nature.
I also knew there were a LOT of questions I couldn’t answer. I wasn’t exactly seeking opportunities to debate.
One day I heard up talk by astrophysicist Hugh Ross called “New Scientific Evidence for the God of the Bible” and it set my mind on fire. This guy explained how the Big Bang was first proposed by a Catholic priest in 1931, scorned for years, then reluctantly accepted in the mainstream. Why? Because evidence for a single discrete beginning 13.8 billion years ago had become overwhelming, despite secular bias against it.
He showed, verse by verse, how modern cosmology and the opening verses of Genesis match exceedingly well. All that was needed was a shift in perspective, a few very elegant assumptions.
So long as you assume a “day” is a period of time, and take the story as being told from an earthly vantage point (which is established in Genesis 1:2), it all fits – tit for tat. Ross described the extreme fine tuning required for gravity, the expansion rate of the big bang, forces, constants etc – physics facts Electrical Engineers are quite familiar with. Wow. That was a mind-blower.
Guess what – no conflict between mainstream cosmology and Genesis after all.
I sent Ross’s tape to a physics professor friend of mine. He wrote back with a rebuke: “David Hume dismantled the ‘design argument’ 200 years ago.”
His reply didn’t contain much actual substance, however. He did nothing to explain the fact that no plausible re-configuration of any of those interdependent constants would result in any kind of coherent universe. Nothing more than a hand-waving dismissal.
I plowed forward, happy to now have a general cosmology that matched the Biblical one – but on a much grander scale. Guess what, those dinosaurs really did live 65 million years ago and it’s not a problem.
The story I’ve told so far will make Old Earth Creationists quite happy – and Young Earth Creationists unhappy. The reason it makes YECs unhappy is… YEC is brittle. Any change to the story forces them to disassemble quite a number of theological shibboleths and re-assemble them.
Go down this road and you’ll soon find major Biblical engine parts scattered around on the shop floor. For awhile may not feel quite sure if they’re going to go back together.
This is anathema to a traditional evangelical. Especially where I came from. Our systematic theology was a vast spreadsheet of theological exact answers and precision-formed parts, carefully engineered and fine-tuned like a NASCAR drive train.
To a traditional evangelical, this comes down to an issue of authority. “Are you going to believe godless secular scientists? Or are you going to believe God’s word?” This is how Answers In Genesis frames the question. It’s either/or, black-and-white.
There’s little dance or interplay between science and theology. You take the plain sense literal reading of Genesis, you eschew those “liberals” who “compromise” God’s Holy Word.
Any apparent disagreement with science is obviously a science problem. Not a theology problem. Not an interpretation problem.
When I was in high school I had debates with my pal Pat, who belonged to a traditional strand of Church of Christ. COC interpreted not a few, but MANY things differently than my home team. I saw that as they rotated their theological Rubik’s cube, they matched some pieces much differently than we did. As I became familiar with other protestants and Catholics, I saw that the re-configurations of Christian theology can be almost endless.
The central pillars of Christianity are quite solid. It’s pretty hard to come up with anything much different from the Apostle’s Creed, for example, without butchering the Bible. But once you get to secondary and tertiary issues, there are many ways to work the puzzle.
I was a pastor’s kid. As Biblically educated as anybody’s likely to get short of seminary. And already by age 20 I viewed the 10-decimal precision and proclaimed certainty of reformed evangelical theology with a jaundiced eye.
I noticed that theologians fiddle with interpretations for their entire lives, and do clever sleight of hand with each other (with plenty of petty name calling, posturing, shaming and shunning) to win debates and protect egos. I knew too much about the Bible to crown one single, rigid, Ken Ham interpretation as king – or anybody else’s for that matter.
Don’t get me wrong, I embrace the inspiration and authority of the Bible. I believe in the lifelong pursuit of truth and discernment. But I believe the value and experience of twisting the Rubik’s cube itself is actually more important than the particular Rubik’s configuration your cube happens to land on today. Nuances of theology are squishy. That’s a fact.
I also think the capacity to dialogue with people who disagree with you, and still love them without losing your cool, is much closer to the “point” of Christianity than whatever doctrines we abstract from the stories and texts.
As an Electrical Engineer, I found some things in science are not squishy at all. Like the speed of light. It’s the “c” in Einstein’s “e=mc^2.” That “c” appears all over the place in physics. It’s in Maxwell’s equations, which define light’s essential behavior; “c” cements the relationship between electric fields and magnetism, and we can measure it with ten decimals of precision. 299,792,458 meters per second.
There is nothing remotely controversial about this in science. (Contrast this to Darwinism, for example, which has been plagued with endless problems and conflicting data for 150 years.)
The speed of light, so far as I know as an electrical engineer, is a constant in physics. Sure, light’s speed changes in a prism, but as a physical constant it does not budge. It doesn’t even shift with the speed of objects. As far as we can tell it’s an absolute barrier.
Q: If a star is 100 million light years away, when did that light leave the star?
A: 100 million years ago.
All kinds of YECs have tried to dodge that question and that answer. None have succeeded. If they were right, physics itself would be a complete mess. But it’s not. Physics works like a precision-built Swiss watch, thank you very much.
Therefore… in the alleged authority battle between science and the Bible… for me, speed of light won.
Once I began seriously considering this, I realized that if the Bible actually intended to say the universe is 6,000 years old, then it could not even be inspired by God.
The universe is old. Period.
But upon further study, I’m not convinced anything in the Bible contradicts that. Rather, YECs have been reading a young earth into scripture for 100 years.
Yes, you can explore whether the speed of light is changing, whether God made the universe to LOOK old even though it’s actually young. I invite you to research to your heart’s content. Personally I’ve been down those trails and I caution you that any of those positions will back you into a corner that you cannot get out of.
Our often-squishy theology needs to make room for verifiable facts. Like the speed of light.
Any honest apologist or thinking Christian surely has to admit that quality of evidence comes into play. The Bible is FULL of history-based truth claims (which is not the case with other religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism).
For example: the honest Christian should be able to say that IF someone really did produce the body of Jesus, if they proved that Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead, then Christianity is therefore not true. And then we are truly “above all most to be pitied” as St. Paul said.
Is it not true that Christians criticize Mormons for believing in entire civilizations in South America that left nary a trace? For believing that American Indians are actually a lost tribe of Jews, even though DNA evidence contradicts this?
Is it not true that Christians criticize Jehovah’s Witnesses for predicting the end of the world multiple times, and being wrong?
So if Christianity is historical, shouldn’t it be falsifiable as well?
Why does YEC get a free pass in making up its own version of history, yet Mormonism doesn’t?
We should be willing to abandon Christianity if we find it’s not true. By the same token we can shout it from the rooftops if we find that it IS true. That’s the position the apostles took in the book of Acts.
And yes, we can and should use verifiable scientific facts to judge between competing theologies.
Oh, and by the way…. most people at this point would pile on a litany of other problems with YEC. Most articles like this one sport a list of 10 major problems or more.
I don’t need all those. I only need one. Speed of light. It’s exact, you can measure it in the comfort of your own home and you can do the math. Math doesn’t lie.
The other problems with YEC are more fuel for the fire.
We know the earth is old. If that’s true, what theological dominoes fall?
The first domino is the notion that there was no animal death before the fall. Nothing in the fossil record suggests a death-free world before man showed up.
THIS is the lynch pin of YEC. It’s not the word “Yom” (day) in Hebrew, it’s not something else. It’s the issue of death before the fall. Let me explain.
The central cornerstone of YEC is belief that 1) earth was a perfect paradise, 2) God could not make any world that was less than perfect and pristine, and 3) “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin” (Romans chapter five.) For YECs, that means ALL death, not just men, not just men’s spirits.
This holds YEC in place. It’s a theodicy (account of evil despite a perfect God) that many Christians are comfortable with. Throw that out and you have to start over with your theodicy. You’ll need a more complex picture of God.
If earth is old, if bears were eating salmon 50 million years ago, if alligators always had sharp incisors, then God fashioned an extremely inefficient universe where conflict was baked in from the word go.
Cancer and bacteria and weeds and parasites have been around as long as there have been plants and animals.
That, to the traditional Christian mind, is too much to stomach. (Though the same Christian seems to have no quibbles with various other cruelties, both in the past and future.)
My late colleague Michael Marshall asked, “Which is more dangerous? A world with pathogens like viruses and bacteria? Or a world where the 2nd most powerful being in the universe is a serial killer boiling with rage, salivating for an opportunity to devour everyone?”
Did you ever notice that in the Adam and Eve story, God doesn’t even warn them them about what’s coming, or who? He certainly doesn’t do what any normal parent would do.
Nevertheless God declared the world to be very good. Despite the fact that peril was built in to the picture before man ever showed up.
In Genesis 1:31, when God says “And God saw all that he had made and it was very good,” do you know what the Hebrew word for “Good” means in the original Hebrew?
It means “Good.”
It does not mean “Perfect.”
I can still label planet earth a “good” world. I cannot label it “perfect.” I don’t have to like all of it. I can still agree with God that it was good. Exuberant parents bring newborn babies into this good world with joy every single day.
The assertion that God would never make anything “imperfect” flies in the face of not only science, but Biblical theology. And good luck coming up with a coherent definition of “perfect” that aptly describes any created thing.
What did God say to Moses in Exodus 4? “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
This raises even more questions that I’m not going to answer in this article. Some of those are:
–Who was the first man? Who was Adam?
–Was Noah’s flood global or local? How does known Middle Eastern history overlap with the Biblical story?
–Is “death” in the fall physical death, or something else? Does it apply to animals?
–How do you read Genesis 1 from an old-universe perspective?
–Was the Grand Canyon formed by the flood?
–What about evolution? Is evolution Biblical?
You can follow the links above for more on these questions. Meanwhile, basic facts of science which are now beyond reasonable doubt call YEC into question.
God wrote two books: the book of scripture, and the book of nature. I do not believe there is any conflict between the two. But our understanding of both will never cease evolving.
And that is why I am not a Young Earth Creationist.