The Universe Is 29 Years Young

A new map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected with the precision by the Planck mission. Image by ESA and the Planck Collaboration.

When the thirty-something women I know lament their age, I usually tell each of them that they can’t be over twenty-nine years old. Everyone wants to be young, and for some reason people think you’re officially old when you’re thirty. I’d complain about this, but then I’d sound like an old-timer. Well I still might, since I have something else to gripe about.New cosmological evidence points to a universe that is even older than once thought. The evidence of a very old universe keeps piling up, even though young-earth creationists continue to chase “yabbut” trails.

“Yabbut radio carbon dating is flawed.”
“Yabbut science cannot observe past events”
“Yabbut the fossil record actually points to a young earth”

I used to be a young-earth creationist, but gave it up mainly because the evidence of an old earth always crushed the young-earth propositions. But it was a long haul for me, because I held tightly to my literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. And that is, I believe, the main motivation behind most of the young-earth chatter. If the universe is very old, if the earth is very old, then that will affect the way you read Genesis. And how you read Genesis could greatly influence your theological approach to the Bible. A deeper fear is that if someone concedes an old universe, then they may give up their Christian faith. That’s not true but believe me, I have felt that fear before.

One of the most popular young-earth arguments is one that I often found hard to accept: God created the universe to appear old, but it is really very young.

So the universe looks 13.8 billion years old, but really she’s only 29 (or 6000–she’s still flattered).

It may sound preposterous on its face, but the argument goes like this:
-When God created Adam, Eve, the animals and the plants, they were mature enough to reproduce (Gen. 1:11, 22, 28).
-Thus, it is not surprising that God created the rest of the universe to look old.

This kind of argument has big problems. The biggest is the fact that it is an argument ad ignorantium–an argument from ignorance. There is no possible way that someone can prove God created the world this way.

Epistemologically, the argument is completely useless even if it were true. Think about it. For the sake of illustration, let’s pretend that you are 50 years old. What if God actually created the universe just 1 year ago. One year ago today, God created the space-time continuum, Earth, all the people on earth, and you. But you look 50. You still have memories of your past 10, 20, 30, 40 years of life already, even though those memories didn’t actually happen. Everyone else in the universe was created the same way and at the same time. They were also created one year ago, but have no perception of it. God created all things to appear as if they have existed for a long, long time.

If this scenario were true, how old would you be? Would you be one year old, or fifty?

Well, you would be fifty. God made you to be fifty. All the evidence in the universe points to the fact that you are fifty. Scientific research says that you are fifty. Your friends tell you that you are fifty. Every ontological bit of evidence in the created universe points to the fact that you are fifty (because it was created to show that).

But aren’t you really only one year old? No! God is the one who made you one year ago with all your perceptions and knowledge which proves beyond a shadow of doubt that you are fifty.

Now this gets to my point. What if God created the universe 6000 years ago but made it appear in every way shape and form to be 13.8 billion years old?

Well, then it is 13.8 billion years old.

You may say, “No, it only appears to be that old!”
But if God created it to be old…then it is OLD! Its ontology is old, so it is old. It doesn’t simply appear old, it is old!

You see, the “universe only appears old” argument goes nowhere. Even if it is correct–even if God created the cosmos to appear old, then there would be no other way for us to see it.
You might as well say that the world is only one year old and God created it to look much older. There is no direct evidence to support that, so it cannot be affirmed. It is a useless argument.

This is a little heady, but hopefully you see my point.

Categories: Creation, Evolution, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

SBC and Evolution: Dembski’s Unclear and Misleading Remarks

English: Vectorized Southern Baptist Conventio...

English: Vectorized Southern Baptist Convention logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few posts ago I jotted down some thoughts regarding Ken Keathley’s concerns over evolutionary thought.  His was the first post in an ongoing series, dialogue between Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) scholars and the theistic evolutionists hosted at Biologos.  The second SBC scholar post was by the esteemed and highly educated William Dembski, who has degrees from the University of Chicago and Princeton Theological Seminary, having completed some post-doctoral work at MIT.  His post is called “Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?” (Part 1 and Part 2) It is obvious that Dembski is a bright guy, so I’m surprised that his paper really doesn’t seem to prove much of anything that people familiar with the evolution-theology conversation don’t already know!  It is, instead, a confusing and misleading read.

His first statement is the following: “Is Darwinism theologically neutral? The short answer would seem to be No.”  In his last paragraph which summarizes his  overall argument, guess what he concludes:  “To sum up, Darwinism and Christianity, even when generously construed, exhibit significant tensions. Are these tensions so serious that Darwinism may rightly be regarded as not theologically neutral? I would say the tensions are indeed that serious.”  Are you surprised?  I know this may seem cynical of me, but I really don’t understand the point of the article overall.  At the beginning of his argument, it’s pretty clear to him that Darwinism isn’t theologically neutral.  At the end of the paper, he concludes that Darwinism isn’t neutral.  I don’t think the paper as a whole really takes us anywhere.

I’m also bothered that Dembski continually calls anything dealing with evolution “Darwinism” as if theistic evolutionists are really “theistic Darwinists”.  I’ve said it before, I am not a scientist, but even I am aware that the evolution that Darwin described is a different animal (pardon the pun) than the evolution that most scientists and theologians discuss today.  It’s also pretty common knowledge that Darwinism is a pejorative term creationists often use ad hominem to suggest that someone is a naturalist.  Just because one believes that evolution is a fact, it does not mean that he also believes that God had no hand in it, or that God was not necessary in the process.  The conversation about evolution-theology is much more dynamic than Dembski suggests.

Let me give you a very small taste of what I mean.  The following is an excerpt from Philip Hefner’s entry “Evolution” in The Encyclopedia of Christianity (2:228-29):

“Just as evolution is itself a multifaceted idea, so it is expressed, both within the natural sciences and in other disciplines, in a variety of distinctive, compatible ways. It is not sufficient to relate the idea of evolution exclusively to biology and the work of Charles Darwin (1809–82). Evolutionary ideas are perennial, particularly the ideas of change and emergence, which go back to certain strands of ancient Greek philosophy and classical Christian theologians such as Gregory of Nazianzus and  Augustine. They were certainly present in the 18th century in the geological writings of James Hutton (1726–97), who propounded uniformitarian processes of change, as well in certain theories of history, literature, and culture” (emphasis mine).

You see, equating Darwinism with all evolutionary thought is not at all fair because there are many more approaches to evolution, and they don’t all have to do with Darwin.  That’s why I just can’t see the purpose behind Dembski’s paper.  I don’t even think it’s relevant to the current evolution-theology discussion.  In fact, I think it vilifies the theologians who prefer an evolutionary model of creation, one that God was ultimately driving (not even Falk, who responds to Dembski, considers himself a Darwinist!)

Here’s another example from Dembski’s paper that disturbs me: “Those who embrace Darwin and his ideas regard him and Christ as compatible.”  Boy, that’s unclear.  Does he mean evolution or Darwinism?  And also, what exactly does he mean that they embrace Darwin and Christ?  Does he mean religiously?  It seems that what he’s getting at has to do with naturalism verses Christianity.  I wish he’d just say that.

And then there’s this: Dembski’s first example of someone who reconciles Christianity and evolution is  Michael Ruse, the writer of the book Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?  According to Dembski, “Ruse claims Darwinism compatible with Christianity, but by Christianity he means a liberalism gutted of miracles.”  Well that’s terrible!  Just what kind of Christian can Ruse be?

Ruse is an atheist.   Funny isn’t it?  I thought the writer of such a book would be a Christian.  Didn’t you assume that too?  Well, it’s not true.  And for some mysterious reason, Dembski fails to mention Ruse’s lack of faith.  That’s an important part of this conversation, don’t you think?

There are many other points to be made (like his strange list of non-essentials for Christians pitted against those of Darwinists, or that tired old argument that evolutionists can’t believe in the actual resurrection of Christ), but Darrel Falk’s response is a more than adequate response.  Let me just say that, on the one hand, I’m glad that the SBC scholars are willing to have this dialogue in the first place.  On the other hand, these first two articles are a disappointment.  These guys are not playing ball, they are just throwing stones.  If the SBC really wants to have a voice in this conversation, they must fairly deal with the basic talking points; but so far, all I see is that they either can’t or won’t.  Both are unbecoming for Christian scholars.

Categories: Creation, Evolution, SBC | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Southern Baptist Voices”: Keathley’s Points of Concern

Hospital Point Range, Beverly, Massachusetts, ...

A friend of mine pointed out a dialogue that the theistic evolution website BioLogos had begun with some Southern Baptist scholars called “Southern Baptist Voices.”  Since I am a former Southern Baptist and have recently accepted a more evolutionary point of view, I thought I’d comment a little on the main points. Although, the great Biologos response can be found here and here.

The first SBC scholar to write on the Biologos series was Kenneth Keathley (part 1 and part 2).  It’s no surprise that most Southern Baptists do not accept the theory of evolution, and Keathley give s six main reasons why they have chosen not to reconcile evolutionary thinking with their reading of Scripture.  See my comments after each of his main points.

“1. Concerns about theological method: Christians cannot do theology in a vacuum. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that theology is never done in a vacuum, and we should not pretend that it is. And the BioLogos Foundation is correct in arguing that evangelicals cannot ignore the latest advances in biology, geology, and other related fields. Our goal should be more than merely finding a way to reconcile Genesis with the latest discoveries in genetics. Rather, our task as pastors and theologians is to present a theology of Creation that provides a solid worldview for Christians to work in the natural sciences with integrity for the glory of God.”

At first glance, there is no charge against BioLogos at all; but when you reread it, you find a passive accusation that BioLogos cares more about science than theological truth.  I think it is proper that this is Keathley’s first comment because it is the feeling that I get from others when I have conversations about reconciling the Bible with evolutionary thought.  I appreciate Keathley’s honesty, but isn’t there a little ad hominem here?  It sounds a little like  he doesn’t trust theistic evolutionists because they put science over God’s Word.  That’s just not the case.

“2. Genesis has only so much hermeneutical elasticity: Genre and hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) have always been difficult topics. In the early days of the church, from Basil of Caesarea to Augustine, scholars struggled with the proper way to understand the creation account in Genesis. Lately, however, the concordist and non-concordist approaches to the first 11 chapters of Genesis seem to be of unending and ever-increasing variety and complexity. Theistic evolutionists have contributed to the conversation. Certain evolutionary creationists ask us to accept more and more fanciful interpretations of Genesis.”

So Genesis has been elastic enough to handle the many theological approaches throughout history…but not those dealing with evolution?  I don’t think that flies, especially since his earlier point acknowledged that Christians ought to keep up with the latest in scientific advances.  If those advances inform us about the creation and development of the world, are we supposed to turn a blind eye to it because Genesis can’t take it?   (The conflict between church and science during the Copernican Revolution comes to mind here, too) Evolutionary thought actually opens up Genesis 1-3 to new interpretations that might actually get us closer to the original writer’s intent (not to imply that the author had any knowledge whatsoever about modern science).  But it appears that Keathley is not even willing to consider it because it would require interpretations that are, in his mind, too far-fetched.

“3. The connection between natural history and salvation history: This seems to be a (maybe, the) major area of disagreement between evolutionary creationists and intelligent design proponents.”

Yes, this can be a challenge.  Natural history from an evolutionist’s point of view is that random occurrences led to patterns and eventually life (forgive me, this is a very broad description).  But providence, as I understand it, means that God directs all of the seemingly chaotic matters in the world so that they work the way he wants them to.  To be fair, Keathley expects this answer: “Evolutionary creationists understand God to have guided and sustained the entire process by means of ordinary providence.  No direct divine activity is discernible or necessary.”  I’m finding that there is some truth to that.  But he goes a step further, “. . . salvation history is discontinuous. It contains many moments in which the events that occur can be understood only as special, unique actions of God.”  There’s another unspoken accusation: We believe that God does miracles , but how can the theistic evolutionist if he is a naturalist?  Well, I do believe in miracles, and I know others that do too.  The most important one would be the resurrection of Christ.  Acceptance of evolution does not necessarily make one a straight-up naturalist who denies God does any miracles.

 “4. The status of Adam and Eve: Evolutionary creationists appear to disagree among themselves about whether or not Adam was a historical figure. Some, such as Denis Lamoureux, declare Adam to be a mythical character. Others (Denis Alexander comes to mind) view Adam as representative of the first Neolithic farmers with whom God entered into a relationship.”

Interpretation of Genesis 1-3 has always been problematic.  Case in point: a talking snake, and Eve doesn’t flip out when he speaks, though no other animal appears to.  These matters among many others have led people to question if the Garden of Eden event was a historical event–if Adam and Eve existed at all.  And Keathley is right about it being debate among evolutionary creationists, but it doesn’t have to jeopardize orthodox thinking.  Most of these folks are honestly trying to int

Categories: Creation, Evolution, Theology | 1 Comment

Faith of the Christian; Faith of the Scientist

An illustration of a character from a story; a...

An illustration of a character from a story; also, an illustration of illustrations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does the Christian have the same kind of faith the scientist has?  Maybe if they go to the same church, but otherwise, I’d say no.

The argument goes like this:

At the end of the day, the scientist who boasts evolution has the same faith that the Christian creationist does.  Since no one beheld the creation of the world, both the Christian and the scientist have to have  faith in their own explanations of how the world came into existence.  Simply put, evolutionists have faith just like creationist do.  Or maybe: atheists have faith similar to that of theists.

I used to use this argument a lot to get evolutionists to admit that their conclusions were no different than my former creationist ones.  I even used this argument to further conclude that the atheist evolutionist was being just as religious as I, since his conclusions were also based on faith.  Since he wasn’t there at creation, he’s just guessing how things came into being.  But it frustrated me how often my argument didn’t work!  Here’s the heart of the problem: What do you mean by faith?

Here are the basic definitions for faith (COED, 11th ed.).

  1. complete trust or confidence.

  2. strong belief in a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.

Notice that the two definitions are distinct.  Let’s use them both here:

1. Atheist/evolutionists have complete trust or confidence in their conclusions just like Christian/creationists have complete trust and confidence in their conclusions.

2. Atheist/evolutionists have a strong belief in religion, based on spiritual conviction just like        Christian/creationists have a strong belief in religion, based on spiritual conviction.

Do you see the problem? If faith means definition #1, then the statement really doesn’t affirm anything remarkable.  You’re confident in your system and I’m confident in mine.  So what?  Further, it doesn’t solve any problem at all, it just hurls us back into a debate over which side best handles the burden of proof.  We might as well discuss our ‘faith’ in our favorite football team.  Such faith is only proven when the Crimson Tide easily dismantles LSU in the national championship.

…but I digress.

If faith means definition #2, then the statement accuses the atheist of a strong belief in religion based on spiritual conviction.  The Christian would be accusing the atheist of being just as religious a person.  But the atheist is not burning candles to saints, he’s not devoting himself to an hour of prayer each day, nor is he trying

to have a relationship with any deity.  He’s coming to conclusions based on his own studies.  Those conclusions might be wrong.  Only then will he re-evaluate.  Christians do the same thing.  A crisis of faith can lead to a paradigm shift and modification of theological thinking.

03.365 (02.08.2009) Faith

03.365 (02.08.2009) Faith (Photo credit: hannahclark)

But here’s the big difference.  Part of the reason Christians believe in the triune God is because of their personal experience with Christ.  That experience also influences the way they see the world.  Christians grow as they continue to interact with the Bible,other Christians, and God.  This is a worshipful activity, a religious enterprise.Science is not a religious enterprise.  It looks at empirical evidence and makes conclusions based  it.  Scientists (evolutionists included) may be Christians, but relating their work to religious activity is a misrepresentation of their efforts.  Sure, they have faith (confidence) in their conclusions but there is no mysticism involved.

I also think that some people actually mean this:

Atheist/evolutionists have confidence in their conclusions just like Christian/creationists have a strong belief in religion, based on spiritual conviction.

Technically they would be right.  But of course, the definitions are different; so it amounts to a word game or rhetorical trick.

Categories: Creation, Evolution, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Different Approach May Help Us

People have started looking at me differently since my last post. A few can’t help but think that I’ve denied the Gospel itself.  Let me make this clear: I’ve made this move because of several reasons.  One is because it does a better job affirming the gospel in our current culture.  I’ve heard many sermons at numerous churches rejecting evolutionary thought as a heresy that voids the Gospel altogether.

It reminds me of a conversation that I’ve had with a Bible professor a few years ago.  When I mentioned that people who believe in evolution feel blacklisted at church, he told me that he’d never heard that before and didn’t feel that was the case.  I didn’t respond because I didn’t have the hard evidence at my fingertips, but I can tell you that I have read several blogs in which the writer asked his/her audience a similar question.  A large number of the respondents agreed that they felt that they would be ostracized if they made their scientific views known to the leaders of the church.  I’ve also personally witnessed conversations where church membership depended on a literal view of Adam and Eve.  More than once people have whispered to me about their evolutionary thinking in church hallways, afraid that the wrong person might overhear.

These issues have frustrated me for a long time.  Even when I thought that

Portrait of Francis S. Collins.

Portrait of Francis S. Collins. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adam and Eve were historical figures, it bothered me that even church membership depended on it in some cases.  How do these folks account for Francis Collins?Collins converted in part because of a personal experience he had with a patient in a hospital.  He believes in the evolutionary theory but also firmly trusts in Christ for his salvation.  We shouldn’t think that his conversion is worthless, should we?

So here’s my question.  Is belief in Adam required for salvation? Some say “yes!” But I’d like to challenge that idea.  When your pastor presents the Gospel in church, how many times does Adam come up? I’ll bet you that most of the time he doesn’t!  When someone presents the Gospel person to person, is Adam mentioned in the conversation?  Most times, he isn’t!  In fact, how many Gospel tracts have you seen that make a big deal about Adam at all?  This may be a trite point, but it has significant implications.  It is not my belief in a literal Adam that saves me and makes me right with God.  Rather, it is my hope and trust in Christ’s work on the cross and his resurrection that move me to repentance.  My hope in Christ is what drives my faith; my trust in Christ that is the foundation of my belief.  I still believe in a literal Christ, his literal death and resurrection.

Further, I affirm the Ecumenical Creeds of the Church.  And yet, Adam doesn’t appear in them either! Do you see what I’m getting at here?

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that my revised thoughts on Adam do a better job affirming the gospel in our current environment.  And I think it really does.

Resurrection Window (Matthew 28:1-5)

Resurrection Window (Matthew 28:1-5) (Photo credit: jdwarrick)

Think about it with me for a minute.  How many kids go off to college rejecting evolutionary thinking and then graduate believing it.  As a consequence, some of them also reject their Christian faith.  Now, we may try to blame the professors for that, but for the most part, professors are just doing their job (though I have no doubt some are just hostile to religious ideas altogether).  I think much of the blame falls at the feet of Christian leaders who feel that the Church is at war with modern scientific ideas.  A number of them insist that if anyone begins to believe things like “evolution,” that person’s faith is in jeopardy, or even doomed.  Frankly, professors don’t have to attack Christianity.  Since certain religious leaders have drawn a large, imaginary line between evolution and Christianity when the Christian steps into the realm of evolution, he thinks he has just abandoned the Faith!  He can either try to cruise under the radar in church, hoping that no one brings up the “E” word, or he can accept what his pastor always taught him: If Adam never existed, then there is no need for Christ, the resurrection, or even Christianity!So why don’t we take a different approach?  Why not recognize different readings and approaches to Genesis 1-3?  Teach the people in our churches that the Gospel does not rise and fall on Adam; its foundation is the teachings, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  Folks need to know that there are people in the world like Francis Collins, who recognize evolution and believe in the resurrection of Christ.  One does not have to negate the other.

Categories: Creation, Evolution, Practical, Theology | 23 Comments

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