I have long taken an interest in the creation vs evolution debate. It’s probably a consequence of my father’s scientific interests, and my engineering mind and career. I take the scientific method seriously, and apply it (in a very practical way) on a daily basis in my embedded software engineering work. And inevitably, I also take an interest in the young vs old earth debate. But I often come across Christians who look at me, puzzled: “What’s the big deal with young vs old earth? It doesn’t really matter does it? Focus on more important things.”
I should explain: my church has always gone for the “gap theory”. About 12 years ago, a certain family introduced me to young earth creationism (YEC) stuff. I read it, and the desire for a “literal” reading of the Bible appealed to me. I ran with the idea, for about 10 years. But I always wanted to keep my mind open to the possibility I could be wrong.
In some ways, YEC seemed to have many scientific merits, when reading their literature. But I was bothered that something didn’t quite seem right. I’m an engineer, so my knowledge of matters of biology, geology and palaeontology are quite limited. But I think I know logic and illogic when I see it. Actually, I’ve seen a lot of illogic on both sides of the argument, unfortunately. I think it’s really quite tough to have an absolutely flawless scientific/logical argument. Us humans can let a lot slip without realising it, due to our bias and limited mental capacity.
Then about 2 years ago, I had a chance to confront someone in my church with the hard questions. I was given the low-down on how the “literal” reading of a young earth in the Bible has certain problems, and how a “literal” reading of an old earth has certain merits. I mulled it over for a year or two. That opened up new possibilities theologically. After some thought I’d have to say now that the old earth reading of the Bible seems more internally consistent. (see also “Young Earth Creationism and the Plain Meaning of the Bible”)
The young-earth creationists put a great deal of stock in taking Genesis for its word, and I respect that. It is necessary to be able to take the whole Bible seriously as an inspired work of God, in order to have a strong and enduring Christian faith. After all, for God to be God, He must know what He’s talking about on scientific matters as well as moral ones. But if the Bible is just the creation of men, then in the 21st century we may as well ignore it as being entirely outdated.
Meanwhile, I’m all too aware of what the general scientific opinion is of YEC. Biased as humans may be, there is certain evidence that really does seem to convincingly support an ancient earth.
So does “young vs old earth” really matter? Indeed it does, for any Christian who cares about the scientific method. For those many people who don’t care about the scientific method, and who say, “does it really matter?”, well, I’ll forgive them. I’m not so clued-up about Rembrandt or Finnish cuisine either.
Christians should reject the “non-overlapping magisteria” idea, because science and religion do inevitably overlap. Christianity has at its heart the belief that human life is created for a purpose that goes far beyond life on this earth as we know it. Evolution, though it may be denied, has at its heart a “God is not required” axiom which directly contradicts Christianity. Prominent atheistic evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins have preached an anti-God message for some time now, demonstrating a desire for science to make a commentary on religious matters. Christianity likewise must make a commentary on scientific matters. Christianity is founded on the Bible which says God created everything, which must include the laws of physics and science itself (with miracles being, by definition, an unusual exception to the laws of science).
Therefore, Christianity must preach that Christianity is compatible with science. Therefore, Christians who are skilled in scientific pursuits should pursue, as they are able, an understanding of the world that is true to both science and the Bible. Both must harmonise. We must not be embarrassed about either one or the other.
This is a huge task, and one unlikely to win favours among atheists, even if done perfectly. Yet it should be done with appropriate humility towards both the Bible and the scientific method (both being created by God). To many evolutionists and atheists, young-earth creationism is the definition of creationism, while old-earth creationism is a far lesser-known phenomenon. Could it be that young-earth creationists themselves are inadvertently setting up a straw man for evolutionists to tear down? That would be a great shame in the pursuit of the glory of God.
If Christians do science accurately, with an absolutely truthful conclusion, will atheistic scientists be persuaded by reason? Maybe, but I do think there is one crucial flaw in their thinking which isn’t easily overcome. That is the previously-mentioned axiom and bias: “God is not required”. It is declared on philosophical grounds: that which is supernatural by definition can’t be scientifically tested. Therefore, God doesn’t exist. It is understandable in the most limited scope of scientific pursuit, yet illogical at the same time. The truly open-minded scientist may even test this if they are willing to extend their scientific method to consider Biblical history, archaeology and sociology. Then make a personal commitment to test Biblical moral propositions and Biblical promises from the alleged great God who created all for an exceedingly great purpose.