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, and the Darwinist viewpoint requires "billions of years." And 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

14 comments:

  1. Falsifiability and the Meaning of Genesis One is a fascinating read. Definitely eradicates the idea that the Bible intended for 7 days to be anything more or less than what we currently think of as 7 days by Julian calendar.

    Cara

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  2. Dennis, you mention Intelligent design, ..just out of interest, do proponents of ID have any peer reviewed papers that support their theory?
    I seem to recall Micheal Behe's irreducible complexety idea was debunked at the famous Dover school trial a few years ago. It would be interesting to see what new evidence they have come up with since.
    You are absolutely right about science, .. it's not set in stone, and if new theories come up that stand up to the rigors of questioning, science will ammend and update itself. To the best of my knowledge Evolution has more than stood up to it's doubters.

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    1. Dover proved ID cannot get a fair trial. Darwinism is the dogma of our day. Scientists that want to keep their jobs cannot reveal their true beliefs, but we know from history that science developed and thrived in Christian culture and no other. I personally believe the stagnation we have today in science can be directly attributed to all the Darwinian scientism throughout the scientific community. There are other posts here in my blog that show clearly why Darwinism is 19th century thinking and not even good science. Click the Origins or Atheism categories to find them. Thanks for your comment.

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    2. Lawyers can't argue hypotheticals in front of a judge. In this case, it means the Thomas Moore Law Center had to go with defendants that had mentioned God and Christianity too much and used church donations to buy the book Of Pandas and People. They probably would have preferred clients with a better history. Still, they volunteered to try the case.

      Still, I don't know why you feel they didn't get a fair trial. Behe spoke and was very ably rebutted. He chose to offer only one scientific report to defend ID and it was very correctly torn to shreds. There was nothing underhanded or unfair about it about it.

      One important point was the origin of ID. The original bool was very clearly creationist and the plantiffs very able to show various revisions where the only change was from Creationist to Design Proponent. My favorite part was the transitional species "CDesign Proponentist". That, and other discoveries showed ID was simply rehashed creationism dishonestly disguised to be snuck in to schools. That dishonesty does not bother you?

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  3. Did this Horwat guy actually *read* the Dover transcript and decision? Or is this merely quote-mined hearsay?

    It seems to me that Behe's irreducible complexity idea was not so much debunked as kangaroo'd out of court. Judge Jones denigrated the expert testimony of a qualified biochemist present in the courtroom on the basis of hearsay reports by persons not present to defend their arguments. American courts normally do not operate that way.

    I do not have the resources to track down those alleged journal articles claimed to debunk irreducible complexity in the three specific Behe scenarios disallowed by Judge Jones, but I *have* reviewed a number of claims in favor of the evolutionary hypothesis by scientists of no less reknown than Michael Behe, and NOT ONE EVER cites his own expertise in support of his argument. Michael Behe is an expert in the field, and he was working from his own expertise.

    If somebody has evidence to the contrary, I would like to see it.

    For now, I don't believe it exists, never mind what a biased judge in Pennsylvania thinks.

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  4. Dennis, you should know that I'm a skeptic, probably more than most non-Christians, and certainly more than most atheists I have encountered.

    Scientists publishing in peer-reviewed journals learn to be very careful what they say (apart from religious = Darwinist dogma, and probably even then), that they can back it up from their actual research, because their whole life is ruined if their research is discredited. The reporters -- and even scientists --repeating other people's findings can and often do put all kinds of spin on it, because they have no accountability. So I go back to the primary documents to determine what the scientists actually have to say. Like I downloaded and read the Dover transcript and decision directly, instead of taking some
    atheist's word for it. The Dover decision has two layers of spin relating to irreducible complexity, which could significantly alter what the scientists actually found and said. I want to see those original research reports before I believe some religious (Darwinist)
    mumbo-jumbo hearsay from Judge Jones.

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  5. I seem to recall Judge Jones had connections with George Bush, and the defense team were worried that they would'nt get a fair trial. The nail in the coffin for the Intelligent design side was that book "Of Panda's and Men", it had blatantly been edited prior to the trial, with all the references to God taken out and replaced with a less religious connotation, so as not to make it obvious it was ultimately a religious book. Why didn't the ID team appeal against the decision if they genuinely thought they had recourse to do so?

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  6. I don't want to get into a political argument over an issue that isn't
    political. *I* didn't vote for Bush. The defense team were right, they
    didn't get a fair trial. As for the Panda book, I know nothing about it,
    but I have not noticed that the atheists have a monopoly on dishonesty.
    However, lies and corruption on either side is not proof that the basic
    idea of ID is wrong, only that stupid people can both support and oppose
    it. It needs to stand or fall on its own merits, and Dover is not the
    last word.

    It seems to me that ID will ultimately prevail for inherently
    Darwinistic reasons (in addition to any truth value in the concept).
    Modern science was invented by Christians and by no other religion, and
    it survives today on Christian values. As those disappear from the
    culture, and as the atheists continue to support killing each other off
    (reduced fitness for survival), good science will retreat to the
    (Christian) monasteries (or their equivalent) as it did a millennium
    ago, and re-emerge as a Christian invention again. Darwinism will be
    dead and buried at that time, and the atheists will have to invent some
    other alternative to good science to replace it. But it is unlikely you
    and I will live to see that day.

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  7. I'd say it is very important to know the age of the earth, for the simple reason that truth matters.

    If we try to build technology, be it you mobile phone, or bridge, without having the truth to guide our equations, our outcomes will be a mobile that doesn't work, and a bridge that kills people who use it.

    The age of the earth is does not stand alone in a vacuum. The age of the earth is connected to not just astrophysics, but chemistry and the nature of everything in the universe. If the earth is billions of years old, then the universe is older, and that sits within a system that explains not just Darwin's theory but literally everything we know (and by "know" I mean "everything we can objectively prove and the scientific theories derived from that information". Subjective experiences, however compelling, are NEVER knowledge).

    Lastly, the age of the earth put forward from creationism is derived from a book written by fallible men. Fallible (an by today's standards) very unintelligent men who had little grasp of what a ten year old in a standard school does today.
    The idea that we would take the word of copies upon copies of these men, capable of lying, capable of mistakes, capable of being deceived, over the measurement of rocks, which cannot lie, which cannot be deceived, which are repeated and challenged to the extent that mistakes are removed as a cause (the scientific method), it just bizarre in the extreme.

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    1. Dan - the age of the earth has no bearing on any of these technologies you mention. Darwinism and "billions of years" has not added any value to modern technology in any engineering discipline that I'm aware of, so if you know of something, please share. Every place where I've seen Darwinistic thinking applied in engineering, it fails to shed any new light on the matter. Engineering and technology do not require "billions of years."

      Re: The Bible - If you throw out the historical record of the Bible, you're going to have to throw out most of the human historical record on the same grounds that every bit of human writing was done by people "capable of lying, capable of mistakes, and capable of being deceived." I have seen no evidence the Bible is any less credible than any other text of similar age and quality, and your claim of "copies upon copies" is just plain ignorance about how Bible translation is performed.

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  8. Today, many Christians believe the Earth is vastly older than 6,000 solar years because the Darwinist viewpoint requires "billions of years."
    The first thing to remember is that many of these 'Darwinists' are also Christians. Indeed, inthe USA, if there are thirty million atheists believing the universe is around 14 billion years old, there are fifty or more million Christians with the same view.
    Next, it should be noted you have it a little backwards. Scientists in the late 1700s and early 1800s determined that the earth was much older than previously expected. Darwin knew this and incorporated it into his theory but this wasn't his invention or contention.
    I am not Catholic but I love the phrase "This convergence, neither sought nor fabricated" showing the Pope's position that multiple lines of inquiry all led to the same result. Geology, physics, the speed of light and the location of distant stars all point in the same direction - the Earth and Universe is ancient. Evolution requires an ancient Earth, but did not invent the concept.

    Today, we see science back in line with the Bible on the question of whether or not the universe had a beginning. You wrote this post in 2008 and in 2015 offered this link (http://www.discovertruth.com/2015/07/god-in-beginning.html).
    One thing I find common with Creationists is their ability to find one part of a study or article or news report that supports their claims and then ignore the rest of the study. You happily shared the video link because it says science agrees with the Bible in that the universe had a beginning but then immediately deny that that beginning was 14 billion years ago. I don't understand how you can accept the Big Bang as evidence to support your religious claims but ignore everything else about the Big Bang. It is contradictory.

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

    First, I want to compare the Bible to Lewis's Narnia series. Narnia is not real but the books mention London and the air attacks of World War II. The Harry Potter books name real European countries and many other fictional accounts include contemporary details. That the Bible got the details of life at the time it was written is no guarantee that its other claims are correct.
    Second, the above doesn't matter because million of Christians accept evolution and an ancient Earth!

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    1. Brian (Surprises) - You're seeing contradictions where none exist. I have not denied that modern science currently indicates the universe had a beginning roughly 14 billion years ago or that the earth is currently believed to be 4.5 billion years old. Please read more carefully, or point me to where I've stated that I deny that is what science currently believes.

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  9. Perhaps I do not understand what you are saying. So, I could quote you without error in as saying that the earth is 4.5 billion years old? Or do you believe the Earth is around 6,000 to 10,000 years old? Or are you saying that 'science believes this but I believe that'?

    Here are some of the quotes and paraphrases that confuse me:
    "So, does the age of the earth really matter? I gave up worrying about it." Sounds neutral.

    In other posts, you have frequently put the phrase *billions of years* in quotes as if you disagree with it. Sounds like you believe the earth is young.

    In this post, you wrote
    "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."
    Sounds like you believe the earth is young and that scientists are wrong.

    "...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."
    Sounds like you believe the earth is young and that scientists are wrong.

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    1. Real scientists hold their conclusions tenuously and let the data inform them. I've already allowed that the current scientific thinking indicates the universe and earth are billions of years old. If that is indeed the truth, then I have no problem with that. Scientists are wrong all the time, and I don't have a problem with that either. That is part of the process.

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