Saturday, March 16, 2013

Distressed by Old Age

Aging people are often distressed to acknowledge their own symptoms of advanced age. Young people prefer that their parents would remain young and vibrant. In a different sphere of experience, many Christians are troubled by the revelation that our universe is very old. They believe the earth is young. Physical evidence tells us, however, that our universe is not young but rather, exceedingly old. It was birthed in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. The Earth and our Solar System developed 4.6 bya. Earth’s history reveals a wonder-filled progression of events and changing conditions since its formation billions of years in the distant past. Our home in the cosmos is a tiny speck of cosmic matter which yields its mature resources to seven billion people who now harness earth’s potential, not only for basic sustenance, but physical enjoyment and delight as well. Earth’s old age seen in this context is a miracle of divine provenance.

In the past several weeks we have experienced several startling astronomical events and discoveries to inspire deep wonder. First, the house-sized Chelyabinsk meteor exploded over Russia on February 15, the largest meteor fall in over a century. Astronomers had not observed it during approach. The same day, a smaller asteroid swept between the moon and earth from a different direction in space. It posed no danger to earth dwellers. In 2012 it had been predicted to pass near earth. That both objects arrived on the same day proved to be a remarkable coincidence. In their conjecture, doom-sayers might conclude God was giving us a warning that we are at the mercy of frequent impacts from solar system space debris. Worried people remind us that each volcano, tsunami, earthquake, or violent storm may indicate the Creator is “warning us,” or perhaps “telling us something.” Humans should not speculate on whether such events have any divine meaning. They have occurred intermittently for the entire history of the earth--hundreds of millions of years. On balance, these events have produced significant long-term benefit. Humanity has learned to cope.

Our allusions to recent astronomical events have included scientific findings dating the events at various locations along the timeline of Earth’s enormous age. For example, the discovery of the impact crater in Iowa was calculated to have struck our planet 450 mya during the Ordovician geologic period. The revelation also has great impact on readers confident that the earth and universe were created a mere six thousand years ago. The Ankerberg ministry has been careful to disavow belief in molecules to man evolution sweeping through many evangelical churches, but we believe our support of an ancient earth and universe warrants a clarification of our beliefs for the millions of sincere believers embracing young earth creation. This ministry would not propose theological views contrary to Holy Scripture. Neither would the ministry propose errant scientific views. We believe the science community has promoted errant scientific views with respect to the theory of evolution, but their countless discoveries concerning the age of the universe are a triumph of knowledge worthy of praise. We have endeavored to explain what those errant views are and we will continue to do so. Our faith/science blog has dealt with such important issues since 2007.

The previous discussion enables us to focus on the distress of approximately 40% of the US population when numbers such as millions or billions of years are assigned to events of earth history by scientists. The young earth creationist congregation prefers to retain their vision of an earth, a solar system, a galaxy, and a universe in its youth. Their belief has been molded by a singularly strict interpretation of the brief Genesis creation accounts handed down to us from the authors of ancient scripture. Notwithstanding the brevity of the account of creation events and valid alternatives for interpreting words and phrases dealing with the creation of our cosmos and its greatest creative miracle--life--40% of our population believes a singular interpretation of the events described in the Genesis creation account: the earth was created 6000-10000 years ago. As a science enthusiast, I would prefer hundreds of pages of descriptive creation narrative. In divine wisdom, our God has chosen to limit the length and scope of creation passages. Modern science enables us to discover the sequence and timeline of creation events.

Do our blog references to tens of thousands, millions, or billions of years distress many Christians? The answer if an unequivocal, “Yes.” Refusal to acknowledge the age and sequence of events in our universe in terms of a timeline of millions and billions of years is a denial of reality in a far different category than refusal to recognize the age of beloved family members. Their refusal to acknowledge the scientific reality of an earth of enormous age and allowable linguistic rules of Hebrew is rooted in (1) fear of being unfaithful to scripture, (2) a general distrust of science which provides origins answers contrary to their interpretation of the meaning of scripture, and (3) fear that the theory of evolution is inextricably bound to an old universe interpretation. This list is far from a complete catalog of reasons for the complex cause of young earth believers’ refusal to accept the reality of an old earth.

In future posts we will give voice to some listener comments sent to the John Ankerberg ministry resulting from the airing of programs with old earth scientists and theologians as well as comments on our science/faith blog posts. We will respond in an effort to achieve more clarity on a difficult issue within the church.