Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Age of the Earth - does it matter?

In the 17th century, Anglican Archbishop James Ussher developed a chronological history of the world based on a literal reading of the Bible. He concluded human history began around 4,000 B.C. and is often credited as being the father of Young Earth Creationism. It turns out Ussher was neither the first or last to come up with these estimates for the age of the Earth.

The Venerable Bede, who died in the year 735 A.D., made similar estimates a millennium earlier. Highly respected scientists like Kepler and Newton developed chronologies not too unlike Ussher's. This age of the Earth time frame was conventional wisdom for many of the best minds on our planet for more than a millennium. Prior to Darwin, men of science didn't need "billions of years" for evolution to take place, nor did these great minds in the "age of reason" (i.e. The Enlightenment of the 18th century) see conflict between scientific exploration and Biblical revelation. Even Galileo Galilei's famous conflict with the Roman Catholic church centuries earlier was about church dogma in Biblical interpretation not Biblical authority itself.

Today, many Christians believe the Earth is vastly older than 6,000 solar years because the Darwinist viewpoint requires "billions of years." Science is considered more authoritative than the Bible in our increasingly religiously pluralistic, post-modern, and post-Christian culture. Most scientists (not all) believe the universe is around 14 billion years old, and modern scientific dogma dates the Earth at about 4.5 billion years. Still, one must keep in mind that science changes her mind frequently. After all, that is how science works. It is a process of continuous discovery and refinement of knowledge based on empirical evidence and experiment. Or, at least it should be. Unfortunately, science has become as dogmatic about its unproven assumptions as the Roman Catholic church was when it excommunicated Galileo.

The Genesis account of creation talks about a beginning. But, since Darwinism requires "billions of years" late 19th and early 20th century science favored an eternal or steady-state theory of the universe, a universe with no beginning. So, Genesis was out of step with science. Then everything changed. In the mid 20th century, the highly touted Big Bang Theory flip-flopped scientific dogma in favor of a universe with a beginning. Today, we see science back in line with the Bible on the question of whether or not the universe had a beginning. This has happened in my lifetime.

Studying the complementary nature of Divine and natural revelation in pursuit of truth is a worthy objective, but unfortunately we moderns tend to bifurcate our truth seeking. It doesn't have to be this way. Archeology has some great examples of how science and the Bible can work together in the pursuit of truth. The Bible has been proven accurate time and time again by archeological discoveries. Lack of evidence for the ancient Hittites led some people to question the accuracy of the Bible. Then, in the early 1900s, archeological discoveries proving the existence of the ancient Hittites once again vindicated the Bible. Other naysayers claimed the Bible's accuracy deteriorated as the text was transmitted over the ages via hand written copies, but the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid 1900s proved the transmission of the Biblical text was substantially more accurate than the naysayers claimed.

Science is the empirical discovery of the natural world. The Bible is divine revelation of truth. Both are legitimate means of discovering reality. Isaac Newton clearly understood this. He was a devout Christian and accomplished theologian who was literally obsessed with unlocking the connection between the Biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. Many of his early life scientific accomplishments, particularly in astronomy, were put to use in his extensive and rarely acknowledged theological studies. Newton is considered one of the greatest if not *the* greatest scientific mind in all of human history.

Newton apparently didn't have a problem including both natural sciences and biblical revelation in his worldview. He was a product of the end of the Renaissance, and he personally set the stage for the age of Enlightenment. Since his time, science has become much more fractured and specialized as the pace of technology and discovery accelerates. Few moderns have even a fraction of the breadth of knowledge of Newton, and I'd suggest most of us have very fragmented and often incoherent worldviews. We live in the information age where it is impossible to know it all. If a fragmented understanding of reality is the best we can do with a worldview based purely on science and technology, then cognitive dissonance is sure to follow.

In college back in the late '80s, I wrote a paper on recent discoveries about the mass of the neutrino. While doing research for this term paper, I realized how many untestable assumptions go into scientific theories. In the popular scientific press, layperson explanations often appear straight forward and absolute, but my research for this neutrino paper led me to question these layperson explanations, particularly when it came to the age of the universe. I saw what amounted to a patch work of untestable assumptions like the elusive "dark matter" that ensures the equations work out as needed.  But even the dark matter wasn't enough, and since that time the best theories are now postulating the existence of "dark energy."  Science is continuously changing her mind about how to describe reality.

The deeper I dug, the more disturbing it became. Nobody ever seemed to have definitive knowledge within their own chosen field of scientific study that absolutely proved the age of the earth or confirmed Darwinian evolution. PhDs are well aware of the lack of proof and hard evidence within their own disciplines, yet they have abounding, even admirable faith some other scientific discipline had the "missing links." This results in what amounts to a giant finger pointing game when it comes to definitive evidence for Darwinism.

The Darwinists have so much faith in the finger pointing game they've confused their naturalistic assumptions with conclusions. Naturalism or methodological materialism is a useful metaphysical presupposition for conducting a scientific experiment, but the circular reasoning to naturalistic conclusions from naturalistic presuppositions results in scientism, not real science. Science done correctly holds conclusions tenuously because scientific truth is rare. If a hypothesis cannot be falsified by experiment, it is not subject to the scientific method. This means all scientific conclusions can potentially be proven wrong by a future experiment or new evidence. Certainty is as unlikely as a miracle for a real scientist.

So what does this have to do with the age of the earth? The Bible gives specific ages of every person in the line of Christ from Adam until the Babylonian captivity, including at what age they begat their next in line. We have secular dates for the captivity. Do the math. A few people could have dropped out of the biblical genealogies, but not billions of years. This puts the Bible in conflict with Darwinian scientism which is the scientific dogma of our day. If the Bible truly is God's Word, we'll eventually discover the Bible is right. The Darwinists are already in retreat. A new breed of scientists is turning the tide with compelling ideas like Intelligent Design. Truth will prevail.

So, does the age of the earth really matter? I gave up worrying about it. What worries me more are people who unwittingly or even consciously adopt atheistic presuppositions in their worldview because they are afraid of looking foolish or being "unscientific" in their viewpoints. So I ask, on what are you going to anchor your beliefs?

(1) an omniscient, omnipotent, and unchanging God and his revealed Word, or
(2) fallible human scientists who change their mind frequently?

Seems like a no brainer to me. If your worldview is not based on a solid biblical foundation then informed by science, I would suggest you have little hope for discovering true reality. Scientific understanding fluctuates, but God is eternal. When Christians and even non-Christians get this backwards, discovering truth is much more difficult if not impossible.

For further reading: Falsifiability and the Meaning of Genesis One