According to many young-earth creationists (YEC), non-Christian scientists falsely interpret Nature, and they do so on-purpose. This is because they have their own, unbelieving worldview, and they also are trying to make people not believe in God. Now of course, there are some scientists who “have an ax to grind” (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, and the like come to mind). If only they knew the Lord, so the argument goes, they’d interpret nature aright. While that may be true for some scientists, is it true of all of them who aren’t YEC? This claim is especially used with respect to the age of the universe and understanding starlight and time. Let’s examine this claim from the perspective of both YEC and OEC (Old Earth Creationism).
Navigating the turbulent waters of YEC and old-earth OEC creation is like trying to cross a stream on slippery rocks without getting one’s feet wet. One false move, and whammo, you’re in trouble. Whatever one’s position is, the important thing to remember is one’s metaphysics (theory of reality). Along with metaphysics, comes one’s epistemology (theory of knowledge). The crux of the discussion is the relationship of Scripture to Nature. There is also the issue of arrogance, and there is a serious moral problem among many people in this discussion, of which I will comment toward the end of this post.
For many YEC’s, Scripture trumps nature every time, and is the lens through which Nature must be interpreted. For OEC’s, Scripture and Nature are the “Two Books” God has given us, where both fit together in a mosaic, aiding human understanding of creation and Creator. Now, given the fact that starlight takes millions of years to get to earth so that we can see it, YEC’s say God created the light in transit during the creation week. Hence, we can now see such light. OEC’s accept the prima facie understanding that because starlight takes millions of years to get here, that the universe is old. I’m not going to discuss the science of that in this post, so much as the epistemological issues at stake. (For an easy-to-understand article on this see, Greg Koukl’s “Starlight and the Age of the Universe.”
The YEC view often says things that, in my opinion, are harmful. For example, I’ve heard arguments that scientists who think the universe is billions of years old are “darkened in their understanding” (Ephesians 4:18) and are hostile to God. They have an “unbelieving worldview” and therefore, their interpretation of reality (metaphysics) is untrustworthy. Well, I have two issues with this.
First, as a rejoinder, I’d like to point out that texts like Ephesians 4:18, and others such as Romans 1:18, where unbelievers “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” are speaking of moral problems in men and women. Of course, epistemology and ethics are interrelated, and unbelievers do “suppress the truth” and they do so in “unrighteousness.” Hence, there is such a thing as “moral knowledge.” Still, these texts aren’t indicting humans as to their interpretation of the natural order with reference to its age. Romans 1 is concerned with idolatry, lack of thankfulness to the one, true, God (v. 21), and immorality (vv. 18-32). Romans 1 is concerned with humans’ interpretation of the natural order with respect to its nature and essence. In Romans 1, the indictment is against the worship of nature, not age of it. Similarly, Ephesians 4:18 is about Gentiles who have a “hardness of heart” and live lives of greed, impurity, and “every kind of indecency.” Again, this is more of a moral problem, than a “scientific” one.
Secondly, would we say that an unbelieving doctor, or engineer, or math teacher has a faulty interpretation of reality? “But,” a YEC may counter, “If scientists really knew God, they’d believe the Bible and interpret Nature accordingly, as recent, young, and so on.” Well, if that were the case, then why do so many Christians understand Genesis as teaching something different than YEC? Do we want to say that they, too, have capitulated to unbelieving understandings of Nature? The burden of proof here is then for the YEC to show that such an interpretation of Genesis is the only viable one available. But this is biting off a lot to chew: it requires intimate knowledge of hermeneutics and Hebrew. On that score alone, things get complicated, and the YEC faces the dilemma of this fact: due to things being complicated, the YEC view loses its power, because the thrust of its argument is that the beauty of YEC is how very simple and easy it is to follow.
For example, in Genesis 1:2, it says “the earth was formless and void, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Here, the earth is in existence prior to the completion of Day 1 (v. 5). How long was the earth there before the completion of Day 1? I don’t know. Do you?
Another example of how Genesis 1 and 2 are complex is the use of the word “day” (Hebrew, yom). In Genesis 2:4, it says:
“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, when they were created, in the day (Hebrew, yom) that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”
Of course, in chapter 2 v. 4. there is no numerical adjective followed by the phrase “evening and morning” in chapter 1. But that’s just the point, isn’t it? The text is complex. Further complexity is seen in that God made them male and female on the 6th day (1:31), but in chapter 2, Adam seems to have lived for at least more than a single day before the creation of his wife, as Adam worked the ground, named the animals, and listened to the Lord’s command about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Did all of this happen in a 24-hour period? Maybe it did. However, to say it is a hard-and-fast interpretation seems a bit stretchy, like those old toys I had in the 70’s. (Stretch Armstrong. Remember the weird, green goo inside of them? I bet it was toxic, for sure.)
Does it make sense why some Christians see complexity in the text and have reasons to believe the YEC understanding isn’t as simple as it seems?
Now about the knowledge of unbelieving scientists. Does my allergist not know that if she gives me my allergy shots that I’ll get better? This is a common theme in presuppositionalism which feeds a number of YEC’s, that unbelievers don’t truly know reality, because they don’t know (or, rather, believe) that the Triune God is the author of that reality. Ok. Here, we would get into some serious metaphysical and epistemological discussions about the justification of knowledge, univocal and analogical reasoning, and so on. Do we really want to go there when talking about whether my Hindu, atheist, Jewish, or Muslim heart surgeon truly knows what he’s doing in making me better? He understand my heart, and its mechanical workings, yes? This is a simple, practical question that has a simple answer, doesn’t it?
The OEC view follows the Belgic Confession’s “Two Books” doctrine whereby Scripture and Nature both speak of God’s acts and ways. Scripture is special revelation, and Nature is general revelation (Psalm 19:1-6; Matthew 6:26; Romans 1:18ff). Both Books inform us of what God is like, and what He has done, is doing, and will do. Scripture, of course, tells us more about God’s actions and ways, and His future plans. Nature, though, is something that humans, with the aid of their God-given reason, can discover, manipulate, cultivate, and use to His glory, and for the good of mankind. The Belgic Confession would seem to eschew the idea that in order to understand Nature on a practical, truthful level, we would need Scripture to tell us about it. While it’s true that some in the unbelieving world hold to metaphysical notions that are untenable and indeed impractical, such as that reality is an illusion (some forms of Hinduism). But that’s not everyone, and it’s still the case that such people eat, sleep, and carry on with their lives. It seems to me then, that the YEC presuppositionalism needs to be jettisoned for a better fusion of Scripture and Nature as understood by the Belgic Confession. Unbelievers do understand reality at a good, practical level and extent. Agree?
Now about arrogance. Without naming names, I have told people time and again, the main problem I have with YEC’s is their arrogance. There is a flippancy in argumentation, and also an ungodly attitude towards OEC’s (and other brothers and sisters in Christ) that is prevalent among YEC’s. It’s true that arrogance can be found among theistic evolutionists, OEC’s, and ID theorists. That’s part of the human condition. However, I have witnessed and have personally experienced terrible arrogance at the highest levels in the YEC movement. I wonder how it can be, that if someone has the correct understanding of Scripture, that such an ungodly demeanor can be manifest so expressly among people? Is it fear? Perhaps it is fear. For fear will override the rational faculties in people, and cause them to operate on emotion. Maybe that’s it. Whatever it is, it needs to stop, for “the Lord opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34, cf. 1 Peter 5:5). There is a better way than to treat people with a different point of view who still hold to orthodox Christianity. Take the Apostle’s Creed for example. If we can agree on that, can we love each other, even as we are called to love our enemies–people who don’t hold to such a statement of belief?
This was originally appeared at Van Allsblog (www.vanallsblog.blogspot.com)
Western Michigan University: B.A. Literature, 1997
Grace Theological Seminary: M.Div. 2002
Southern Evangelical Seminary: M.A. Philosophy (current)
Chapter Director, Ratio Christi, Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory NC
Homeschool Dad in the Classical tradition