Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Value of Discussing the Age Issue

A reader asked
A friend of mine (who is a follower of Christ) and I have been debating the old earth vs young earth positions. He holds to a young earth and I hold to an old earth (and universe). Neither of us are experts or even scientifically minded. In our debates we find ourselves simply pulling out arguments from others in our respective camps. We have agreed that this issue is NOT a salvation issue.

Do you think there is any value in these types of discussions?

Sometimes it feels like we are dealing with a 'recess' issue and we should get to work strategizing and carrying out how we can better serve those in need and share our faith. On these issues we agree.
Here's my response...

You're absolutely right, it is not a salvation issue. That is, God redeems people through Christ's atoning death on the Cross when they recognize their need of a Savior and accept God's provision of forgiveness. Nothing in there depends upon how old the universe is, much less on how old the sinner in question believes it to be. Many will enter eternity with misunderstandings about the age question (and about a whole lot of other tangential issues).

That said, let me give a few reasons why there is value in mature, teachable Christians discussing (examining) the issue of when God created the universe and Earth. (I'll make the points without taking the time to support each. That will allow the reader to question the validity of each and may allow me to post support for each as necessary.)

1) Scripture makes it clear that God cares a good deal about truth.

2) The two opposing views on the age of the universe (6-10 thousand years or 13.7 billion years) cannot both be true. There is a right answer.

3) Christian theology deals not only with God, but also with the world. Christianity claims to be the accurate understanding of the real world, the one in which we actually live.

4) Although acceptance of the central truth claim of Christianity does not depend upon rightly understanding the age of the world, proclaiming (as Christian belief) falsehood about the age of creation can create an artificial barrier to even considering the central Christian claim.

Taken together, these points suggest that those Christians who would answer the call (of II Cor. 5:18-21) to be ambassadors for God--and that would include, at a minimum, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and apologists--should seek to know the truth about the age of creation. And here, Scripture itself offers a very relevant caution...
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)
Of course, those who are called by God to teach--whether as preacher, evangelist, teacher, or apologist--should be all the more careful to teach only truth. And that realization raises the question, "how does one go about discovering truth about the age of the universe and Earth?"

Let's look at that question in the next post.


Mark said...

Good stuff as always Rick,

The more we discuss these differences with like minded Christ followers the easier it will be to engage in these types of discussions with non believers and all out skeptics of the Bible. All discussions should be preparing us to reach out and have a logical explanation for why we believe what we do.

Ben said...


I have a strong faith in our Lord Jesus, and I feel like issues such as these only serve to confirm his Awe and Power even more. I believe it is good for us as human beings to not be completely knowledgeable on every topic that is of this world. However I, like most of us, am always intrigued by the things in which I am not certain. I was wondering though, how do you personally go about teaching on these topics if there is no scientifically proven answer. Do you state your beliefs and put a disclaimer that they are simply that, your beliefs, based on the surrounding evidence? Do you try to convince others why they should believe as you do, or would you state an argument for both sides, and allow them to believe as they chose? This is not meant to question anything that you post on here. I am simply wondering how you, as a teacher, or any other teacher for that matter, go about dealing with issues that do not have a confirmed answer and can be debated. Thanks Rick,


Rick Gerhardt said...

Mark: Agreed.

Ben: I hope to get to some of the answer to your question in coming posts, but let me say a bit here and now.

Science can never prove anything. Most scientific argument is abductive (arguing to the best explanation of all the available evidence) or inductive (generalizing to universals from particulars), both of which lead to probabilistic answers.

That said, there are some things that are so scientifically certain that they don't need disclaimers. Today, one need not teach very humbly about the sphericity of the Earth or the heliocentricity of the solar system (though both were once contentious issues, with evidence and argument on both sides).

So, part of the answer to your question is that you teach with a level of humility that reflects the level of uncertainty within the scientific community. You teach the evidence and the arguments for both views, especially where the conclusion is still somewhat in doubt (which is no longer the case with the orientation of the solar system).

There are, of course, many subjects about which the science professor can teach with a high degree of certainty. But it is never a bad policy for such teaching to take the tone of "here's the current scientific understanding, and here are the discoveries (the evidences and arguments) that led to this understanding."

Thanks for reading.