THE AGE OF THE EARTH: EVANGELISM, EVANGELICALS & EVIDENCES

14 Sep

What place does the age of the earth debate have in our evangelism? For starters: the biggest stumbling block placed before a non-believer should be the Cross of Christ, not the Age of the Earth. We must be careful when we witness to keep our focus on the details of the gospel, not on the details of the fossils. I have seen firsthand many well-meaning evangelicals get caught up in debates about the age of the moon and the rate of starlight travel while witnessing to skeptics.

I am not saying there is no place for scientific debate. But the issue of God as creator is essential to a proper understanding of the gospel. So is a basic understanding of the First Adam. The exact methods God used in creating man and the age of the universe are not essential for one to grasp Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-10 or John 3:16. I am not saying those things are unimportant – they are. But they can be a distraction, hindering us in the Great Commission (I say this as one tentatively committed to the “Young” Earth Creation position).

I think the most honest track for a (so-called) Young Earth Creationist to take when challenged about the age of the earth is informed agnosticism. Part of this attitude should be adopted out of humble necessity and the other part of this attitude should come from the state of the debate.

Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds argue that, “recent creationists should humbly agree that their view is, at the moment, implausible on purely scientific grounds” [J.P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, General Eds., Three Views on Creation and Evolution. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999, p 51]. I am not 100% certain that is the case – perhaps “improbable” is a better word than “implausible”? Still, I recognize – and concur with – the gist of their point.

Why then, adopt a tentative Young Earth Creation position? It safeguards a higher view of Scripture: “the simplest exegesis of Scripture is…to be preferred”. Nelson and Reynolds define “simplest” as “the most natural” or “the one with most external linguistic support”. In short, “a slightly less elegant scientific theory that preserves a remarkably elegant biblical reading is to be preferred to a slightly more elegant scientific theory that produces a tortured exegesis[Moreland, Three Views…, p71].

Certain biblical exegetes such as John MacArthur take a more strident tone: “evangelicals who accept an old–earth interpretation of Genesis have embraced a hermeneutic that is hostile to a high view of Scripture” [The Battle for the Beginning: The Bible on Creation and the Fall of Adam. Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2001, p 20]. In his book on this subject, MacArthur deals with the biblical text first, as should all those committed to the veracity of God’s word: “my approach in this book will be simply to examine what the biblical text teaches about creation” [p 29].

Hugh Ross is probably the most recognizable and able defender of old earth creationism. His particular version of Old Earth Creationism is called “progressive creationism”. Proponents seek to interpret current scientific data (or rather, current interpretations of current scientific data) as best they can while maintaining a high view of Scripture (definitely one higher than most theistic evolutionists).

Progressive creationism is based upon a possible interpretation of key passages – Genesis 1 and 2 being chief among them – even if this interpretation seems highly unlikely in my view. A charitable view of the Old Earth Position recognizes that its advocates are sincere in their interest to synthesize the data they think is true from both special and general revelation. For a survey of the “two books” approach, see Hugh Ross, Creation as Science (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998) and The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998).

Nelson and Reynolds believe that if the Young Earth Creation position becomes completely untenable at some point, then perhaps a progressive creationist view (a la Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe) will become more attractive. But for now, the “interpretation of the data that preserves the natural meaning of the text, it is to be preferred” [Moreland, Three Views on Creation and Evolution, p 72].

YECs & OECs: LEARNING TO PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS

Either way, it would be good if more (so-called) Young Earth Creationist advocates learned to get along better with Old Earth Creationist advocates. The age of the earth is not a salvation issue (although there are “theological ripples”). It would be nice to see more cooperation between the two camps. 

In times past, Young Earth folks have been especially harsh on some Old Earth folks; sometimes even plain unfair. To be fair, I have also personally witnessed a thinly veiled disdain for Young Earth Creationists from the Old Earth Creationist organizations. This should not be; the similarities are more numerous than the differences.

Answers in Genesis, led by Australian Ken Ham, is the flagship organization for Young Earth Creation scientists. Recently, AiG has improved their argumentation and presentation. For example, Answers in Genesis seems to be becoming more Reformed-leaning in their theology and more presuppositional in their apologetic method. I hope they also become more willing to work with others for the common cause of special creation awareness and research. Reasonable cooperation between us makes sense; to that, we should all give a hearty, “AMEN”!

APPENDIX 1: 13 Evidences for a Younger Earth

It is difficult to scientifically determine the exact age of the earth. Many of these figures assume a constant rate. If some of these phenomena occurred at a faster than currently observed rate, then the ages would be exaggerated. For instance, how would a worldwide flood would affect numbers 4,10 and 11?

      The Observation              –              The Interpretation

1. Decay of the earth’s magnetic field 10,000 years
2. Development of total human population 4,000 years
3. The whale on its tail earth’s layers formed swiftly
4. Erosion of mountains 14,000,000 years
5. Erosion of Niagara Falls 5,000 years
6. The redwoods 5,000 years
7. Formation of cave structures A few thousand years
8. Formation of river deltas 5,000 years
9. Formation of coral reefs 5,000 years
10. Influx of sediment to the ocean via rivers 30,000,000 years
11. Influx of sodium to the ocean via rivers 260,000,000 years
12. Influx of nickel to the ocean via the rivers 9,000 years
13. Decay of comets 10,000 years

Things have changed since I wrote this list with my friend Jonah Wysong some years ago. I would be interested to know how these estimates play out in the current debate. For example, which ones are not used any more by “our side”? Which ones would have different numbers plugged in? What are the new evidences?

APPENDIX 2: 25 Evidences of a Global Flood  

Biblical Evidence of a Global Flood
1) Population Statistics – Genesis 6

2) Relocation of the Animals – Genesis 6:19-20
3) The Highest Mountains Covered – Genesis 7:20
4) An Entire Year – Genesis 7:24, 8:5-14
5) All Life on Earth Died – Genesis 7:21-23 & Luke 17:26-30
6) The Rainbow – Genesis 9:13
7) The Purpose of the Flood – Genesis 6
8) The World Overflowed with Water – 2 Peter 3:6

Scientific Evidence of a Global Flood

1) Worldwide Distribution of Flood Traditions
2) Population Growth Statistics
3) Worldwide Occurrence of Water – Laid Sedimentary Rock
4) Marine Fossils on Crests of Mountains
5) Formation of Fossils
6) Pillow Lava
7) Ocean Salt Content
8) Mass Extinction
9) Absence of Meteorites in the “Geological Column”
10) Coal Beds and Oil Deposits
11) Redwoods
12) Existence of Extremely Large Number of Fossils
13) Rapid Fossilization as Evidenced by Preservation of Delicate Parts
14) Whale Fossils
15) Fossils Found in Random Order Despite General Tendency
16) Warm Global Climate and the Subsequent Ice Age
17) Massive Volcanoes

UPDATE: Here is a video of an excellent class I hosted taught at our church, Roosevelt Community Church. The speakers, James Umber and Marty, present great information and model Christian charity and biblical clarity. 

And here is a Backpack Radio program where we talk about the Creation Museum and speak with Dr. Jason Lisle of Answers in Genesis.


UPDATED 10/30/2012 (thanks to Jim Lippard for his input)

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Vocab Malone (John-Mark Rieser) is a semi-retired hip hop artist and slam poet. He is Pastor of Teaching  and Evangelism at   Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is pursuing   further education at Talbot. He has been married for 10 years and has adopted three boys. Vocab and his wife enjoy   going  to Comicon in full cosplay. He can be heard every Sunday night on Backpack Radio on 1360 KPXQ.

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One Response to “THE AGE OF THE EARTH: EVANGELISM, EVANGELICALS & EVIDENCES”

  1. Andrew Chapman September 18, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Yes, it’s best to be agnostic on this until more of the problems with a young earth view are solved (or not as the case may be) and contend for the evidence for creation itself as against evolution. I think it’s best to look at the physical evidence objectively, and not start with the certainty of a young earth, as seems to be the form among the YEC community. They do seem to have some perfectly good arguments which should be considered on their own merits. As you say, it’s far from obvious how old the earth is. The scientific establishment don’t help by their circular way of dating the rocks and fossils as ‘Cambrian’ etc, presupposing what they are trying to prove, so far as I can see from my occasional forays into trying to understand the issue. I was struck by Fred Hoyle coming to believe in an intelligent creator through an old universe model (to do with carbon and the sun as I remember), but I really don’t know.

    Blessings in Jesus Christ,

    Andrew

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