Free to Disagree – Part 2

Posted: December 2, 2010 in bible, church, creation, theology

See Part 1.

The Age of the Universe

I would like to begin with a quote from Dr. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist, author of numerous books, and the founder of Reasons to Believe.  In his book A Matter of Days, Ross writes,

“Debates over the age of the universe and earth and the duration of the Genesis creation days have for the past several decades deeply divided the evangelical Christian community… Evangelical leaders who believe the Bible is true and that the universe and Earth are as old as the stars and rocks proclaim are often denounced as men and women whose lives and work ‘do not lead to soul-winning or spiritual growth, but to apostasy.’  These are serious charges…” (p. 11, 15)

This is certainly true, and will be demonstrated through the specific example cited in this post.  Many conservative Christians consider this issue as important as the fundamental doctrines of orthodox Christianity: the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible, the full divinity of Christ, the historicity of the virgin birth, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, substitutionary atonement, justification, etc.  However, as Ross points out and I hope to demonstrate, one’s view on the creation days is a “peripheral point.”  The length of the days of creation (and thus the age of the earth) is not a central issue to the Christian faith.  Christian orthodoxy does not stand or fall on this hill.

My point in using this issue as an example is not to carefully examine both positions and try to prove one side or the other.  I am not trying to prove that the earth is old, nor am I trying to disprove that the earth is young.  Rather, I hope to examine the arguments only when they are used to elevate this issue to a higher level of importance than is biblically necessary (for my introduction to the task of determining the level of importance that is “biblically necessary,” see Part 1).  Therefore, this will not be an exhaustive analysis of the issue at hand, and I will undoubtedly overlook many important issues relating to Christians and their views regarding the age of the earth.

Dr. Al Mohler on the Importance of This Issue

In a session from Ligonier’s 2010 National Conference entitled “Why Does the Universe Look So Old?” (read the transcript here), Dr. Al Mohler spoke on the church’s appropriate response to scientific claims regarding the age and origin of universe.  In using Dr. Mohler’s talk as an example, I do not mean to disparage him nor his ministry in any way.  He is a great Christian leader and thinker in our generation and has been of enormous service to God’s church.  He is intelligent, humble, articulate, and well-read.  More importantly, it is clear that he loves God and His people, and desires to build up the body of Christ.  Therefore, any criticisms expressed in these posts should not be seen as an attack on his faith or character.  I like him so much I have a permanent link to his website on this blog!

Back to the real issue.  After introducing the topic, Mohler briefly sketched the two contrary positions.  First, the position of “science”:

“The scientific consensus right now is that earth, planet earth and this particular solar system, is approximately 4.5 billion years old. That’s billion with a “b.” The age of the universe is now established by scientific consensus to be about 13.5 billion years old. The distinction between the age of the universe and the age of the earth having to do with the age of the universe being tracked back to the hypothetical emergence of the Big Bang and with the radiological data and with the physical extrapolation about the expansion of the universe, the assumption is that it would have taken 13.5 billion years to have created this universe looking at the radiometric data that is found here on the planet and in particular that has shifted amongst scientists now more towards the debris from meteorites rather than anything that was considered to have emerged from within the earth itself. The estimation is it’s 4.5 billion years old.”

Next, he gave the position of the “church”:

“The inference and consensus of the church, through all of these centuries, that the earth and the universe, the cosmos as a whole, is very young, [we’re] talking about a limitation of only several thousand years by the time you take the book of Genesis and especially its first eleven chapters, and [when] you look at the creation account and you look at the genealogy and you add it all together you’re looking at no more than several thousand years. We’re talking about a disagreement that is not slight. The difference between several thousand years and 13.5 billion years is no small matter and I would argue it comes with huge theological consequences.”

And with that final sentence, Mohler sets forth what seems to be his main thesis: “compromise” on the age of the earth has dire consequences for the Christian.  Mohlers is asserting that this issue is central.  The age of the earth is an essential doctrine.  And fundamental to this assertion, as Mohler will soon point out, is the argument that this issue is clear in the text.

It is important to note that if Mohler succeeds in proving that this issue is both clear in the text and a central doctrine for Christian theology, then we must staunchly affirm a position (in his case, that the earth is young) and defend that position vigorously.  Paul’s exhortation to “guard the good deposit” (which I take to mean the doctrinal truth Paul communicated to Timothy) would apply.  If Mohler is correct, then we really aren’t free to disagree.

It is my opinion that Mohler is not correct.  I believe that we are free to disagree in regard to the age of the earth and the length of the creation days.  I do not believe that the Bible is crystal clear in relation to certain aspects (the age of the universe, the age of the earth, the length of the “days”) of the Genesis creation account (to state it positively, Genesis is crystal clear on the issues it seeks to give crystal clear answers to), nor do I believe that these issues are central doctrines for Christian theology.  Therefore, I can allow for (some) divergent views in regard to the age of universe, the age of the earth, and the length of the creation days.

Part 3

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