Monday, May 07, 2007

The Question

As I was working on the play I was doing sound for this weekend, there was some downtime. I was sitting around with some of the actors, none of whom I knew before last week. We were talking about the Bible and the Genesis stories of creation, and one of them turned to me and asked, "Phil, how old do you think the earth is?" And immediately, I knew what the real question was. It was a test question. The guy didn't really want to know how old I thought the earth was. His real question was, "Phil, do you think the Bible is inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and trustworthy?"

You see, in my mind, the whole flap about Creationism vs. Evolution is not really about Creationism or Evolution. It's really about whether someone believes that the Bible is completely inerrant, which interestingly is not a term the Bible uses in reference to itself...

My answer to him was a bit of a dodge, mainly because I wasn't feeling combative. I told him that no one really knows how long it was from the Creation to the Fall, and how Bishop what's-his-name (Ussher, I later looked up) thought the Earth was about 6,000 years old. I then did bring up the fossil record, and he brought up the idea of God creating matter to look old, which makes no sense to me at all. Things were getting cranked back up so we didn't have time to continue and didn't get back to it.

So, how would you have responded?


Sam Davidson said...

I would have asked him what he meant by "earth."


gavin richardson said...

i like to use a campolo insight. i ask people what is time? this takes a bit to flesh out, but eventually you can get people to say we measure time by the rising and falling of the sun & moon. then i ask them to find out when we were able to start measuring that. most say on the first day, with light and darkness, but it isn't until the 4th day that the stars were hung. the sun being a star it might be deducted that our framework of "time" or age is a moot point in this conversation.

this a fav question of my youth who battle the inerrant teachings from other churches all that time

Justin said...

Well, I would say, "since the heavenly bodies were created on day four, what constituted a day for those first three. We generally determine a day by the sun revolving around the earth, so before there was a sun, there could be no literal day.

You may run into a problem though as they might possibly believe the earth is flat (Daniel 4: 7-11)

malia said...

The thing I don't like about gavin and Justin's answer is that it is an arrogant dodge of the real issue/question behind the initial question itself. Like Phil said, they are really asking, "Do you believe the Bible is do you think the Bible is inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and trustworthy?"

Answers like that are a smarty-pants way of appearing knowledgable without having to give a direct and honest answer. Personally, if cornered, I would say that I believe in the scientific theories and laws and that the earth is billions of years old. Believing in the scientific theories and laws and believing in the Bible are not mutally exclusive. If I'm going to be truly honest with someone who's asking that question, I'm going to tell them that I don't believe the point of the Creation story to prove that the earth was created in six days but to be a testament to the fact that God is the Creator and that he loves his creation.

Jonathan said...

The "created to look old" argument basically says: "How old was Adam when he was created?" He appeared to be an adult though he actually had just been created. In the same way, the just-created earth could have appeared to be an older, mature planet.

Not an entirely satisfactory argument, in my opinion, but not completely absurd either.

Like I don't consider the NT to be a worship rulebook prescribing a plan for the details of acceptable worship, I don't see the Genesis account as a scientific description of our origins. From a scientific or plausibility point or view, none of the options are a slam dunk for me either. Whether you believe in 13 billion years of random mutations and natural selection or a God who creates man out of dust in a day (or anything in between those extremes), you're believing in something that I can't possibly understand or fathom in detail.

Other than believing that God was involved, I'm not too concerned about the details of how and when it happened (though I agree that it's an interesting question).

David said...

Being a geologist, I have had this conversation more times than I can remember. Phil's point of cutting to the chase is the most honest approach. Otherwise, you end up arguing against dinosaurs co-existing with humans because nothing died until sin entered the world and completely lose sight of the real issue.

Remove the argument from the arena in which they are attempting to engage you and place it into a more honest discussion between two Christians about the nature of their God and where the basis of faith is. Is one's faith in the book that describes God or in the God revealed by that book?

Then later, for fun, you can talk about how the biblical creation story is subversive to the Sumerian creation stories that had various gods (Tiamat, Apsu, Marduk, etc.) doing specific creating on the already existent heaven and earth that was the prevalent creation story at the time of the writing of Genesis. A story in which humans were created by Marduk to serve the gods.

On the other hand, God as revealed through the biblical story is a creator. Humanity, rather than being servants of the gods, were given blessings and a relationship with God. That sure beats "battling" over days and suns and dinosaurs and flat earths, etc.

Thomas+ said...

You have had some great comments already, so I'm just going to answer the original question.

No one knows how old the earth is. The accuracy of the scientific dating processes are suspect, and there is debate among scientists as to the answer to that question.

That said, the 6000 years date doesn't seem to go along with any of the evidence. Even if you set aside the geologic evidence, you will find strong evidence of human civilization which is much older than 6000 years.

On the Bible question, the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is the chief authority of the Church. It contains all things necessary to salvation. The Bible does not even try to tell us how old the earth is.

William said...

Correct answer: approx. 4.5 billion years old. Next question? I'm continuously amazed at people's opinions and knowledge of this subject. I would recommend a trip to the American Museum of Natural History or The Smithsonian Institution. Knowledge will set you free.

BTW ... I guess I shouldn't be amazed, America is a religious culture, and... Americans are also scientifically illiterate and embrace psuedoscience, according to a report by the National Science Board. Some quotes from the report:

"belief in pseudoscience (an indicator of scientific illiteracy) seems to be widespread among Americans ... Researchers have concluded that fewer than one-fifth of Americans meet a minimal standard of civic scientific literacy "

Roger Abramson said...

"You see, in my mind, the whole flap about Creationism vs. Evolution is not really about Creationism or Evolution. It's really about whether someone believes that the Bible is completely inerrant..."

Good call, Phil. That is exactly what it is.

Brent said...

My answer to him would be that according to our current understanding the earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

If God created the earth only ~10,000 years ago to look billions of years old, then he is a trickster and deceiver. God would have no reason to do such a thing. He would also have to create light "already on its way" so that the images that appear 14+ billion light years away never actually emitted their light long ago. This is a silly hypothesis to justify a young earth viewpoint.

Brent said...

So, what ramifications does an errant bible have on people's viewpoint of God and how the world works?

Phil said...

This particular case doesn't really prove errancy on the part of Scripture.

Perhaps a too literal interpretation of something not intended to be literally interpreted, much like Revelation.

Justin said...

Yeah, I think our problem is with how we've defined the "all scripture is God breathed" deal.

If to be God breathed, the bible has to point us toward God, and show us how he has interacted with humanity, then I would say it is absolutely God breathed.

If God breathed means that nothing in the bible is ever false, then what you're reading basically requires no faith, totally messing up the entire structure of salvation that the book presents. It doesn't take faith to things in a book when the book was basically handed out of the sky to man from God.

Brent said...

So, is "sin" not literal? How about Jesus "sacrifice?" How about hell? If some of the Christian and Jewish story is myth or metaphor, how does a productive conversation result?

Phil said...

Brent, my only answer could be that there are parts of the Bible to be taken metaphorically and parts to be taken literally. Saying one part is metaphorical does not necessarily follow that every other part must be taken the same way as well.

Can I be certain that my faith has led me to the ones that should be literal and the ones that should be metaphorical? Or even that I have led my faith to the propers ones? No. But ultimately, that's why its called faith.

Brent said...

But see, that is the whole problem with Christianity right now. We have tens of thousands of denominations which see/interpret things differently. Same goes for different authors and theologians.

People used to (many still do) say that truth is found in the bible, God's word. However, Christians can't even agree on what "the truth" is anymore, as if they ever really did.

You can fall back on faith like you have here. That is fine. Everyone approaches life based on a set of working assumptions concerning these matters. Nobody has all the information about everything. However, science, archaeology, philosophy and history have taught us much in the last few centuries that throws into question many of the presuppositions that Christians rely on to express their [version of] Christianity.

The recent findings and viewpoints that have surfaced recently due to critical thinking have, IMHO, resulted in two typical responses: The first is the apologetic response. This approach attempts to "prove" that what the bible says is true. The second is the mystical response. This approach shrugs its shoulders and says that there are just things that we don't know. We can't know that Jesus lived, died on a cross, and raised from death but we can have faith that it did happen. The first approach is a vain and bias attempt to validate conclusions that have already been drawn, which is bad methodology. The second approach is a trump card designed to end any discussion about evidence and alternative viewpoints.

Though I can appreciate your "faith response" to some degree, I would be inclined to press you a little further and ask you to look at evidences and other possibilities outside of the perspectives that you may have been given by parents or church culture.

Jeff said...

Let me first say that Brent, I LOVE it when you pop in and comment on some of the blogs I frequent. I truly mean that. You provide a perspective that I (and I imagine most of us in the buckle of the Bible belt) am not used to and challenges me in what I believe, which is not something I can say of the 12+ years of Christian education. I actually tend to agree with what you say because of its scientific and factual nature. To your point on creation of the universe, I actually just bought a coffee table book of the universe with pictures of objects as close as the moon up to billions of light years away that me and my 4 year old son look at frequently, and I plan on teaching him such scientific facts. If I believe the proven theories on light, relativity, etc. (which I only finished part of Brian Greene's book The Elegant Universe so I can only have a neglibly intelligent conversation) then I have to question how the earth is only thousands of years old if light from stars and nebulae that are billions of light years away are having their pictures taken on earth now. You are right, it would make God out to be a "trickster". That's why I don't buy the "making the earth to look old" story. I will say that if I had the faith handed down to me from my parents I would shut down and crawl into my hole of denial and apologetics when questions like this are asked.

But, my main comment to your last one where you state that Christians can't agree on the "truth", you have inserted your scientifically-based definition of "truth." If what you define as truth is the inerrant facts or realities of the universe, or, I'll even go down to a lower level, the facts about spirituality and religion that we all agree on, then yes, Christian's do not even agree on all the facts or what is true. Heck, forget denominations, even the people within my own church don't agree on everything. To Justin's point, if the Bible were God's blueprint and handbook for every detail, choice and function in my life, then there wouldn't be much room for faith.

But, the "truth" that I think of is more like the basic facts or truths about myself and my relationship with God. Here are the truths that I get from the Bible:

1. God, in some fashion that I can't understand, created the universe and humanity.
2. God is love.
3. I sin.
4. God's nature is adverse to sin and it must be punished. But, since he SO loved us, he offered a part of himself to atone for that punishment, and wants us to have relationship with him and with other people through that sacrifice.
5. Loving God and loving others as much as I do myself is a pretty good way of living, and if we could all do it, things would be a lot better.

Now, I would say that most Christian's believe these basic truths (and of course I didn't list everything), even if they don't agree on creationism, whether the flood really occured, if Revelation is written literalally, etc. So, if by looking for truth in the Bible you want definitive answers for your life and all questions of theology, you won't get them. If you want to learn truths about yourself, God and others, then I think it's there.

Kyivmission said...

In our ministry among mostly unbelievers, prebelievers, agnostics, and atheists, I have been asked questions like this many, many times. I finally learned that the best response is something like this: That's a great question. Why do you ask? What makes that an important question to you?

Maybe that sounds like some Oprah-esqe/Dr. Phil-ish psycho babble, but countless times it has opened doors to meaningful conversation. Phil is right that often questions mask other questions. But to tell the truth, we really don't know exactly why people ask such questions, especially if they are strangers. Maybe that guy wasn't concerned about inerrancy at all. Maybe something else was on his mind. How do we know unless we ask?

This approach often has led to something more significant. Sometimes it did show me that the person was just wanting to fight, a fight I almost always walk away from. Rarely does anyone ever confess Christ after being beaten into cerebral submission by an apologetic bat.

However, others may genuinely struggle with such questions and in the end, they may be greatly blessed by drinking from an apologetic fountain of which they know little.

Jeff said...

Oh, and before you respond, I realize that #4 above is not something to be scientifically factual, but it is something I believe and that is not written metaphorically in scripture (back to the question of literal or metaphorical interpretation). Such issues do get back to a "mystical" response, I agree, but at least it can't be disproven by dinosaur bones and carbon dating. As a matter of fact, if I didn't believe it to be true, then I believe Paul said we are to be pitied more than all men.

Jonathan said...

Not that I trying to convince anyone that "he created it old." If I had to make a bet, it wouldn't be on that horse.

But I don't think it would necessarily make Him a "trickster." If he created it old in order to deceive, then he'd be a trickster.

Instead, maybe that's just how he rolls...maybe that's how one does it when one set's out to create a universe in six days.

Phil said...

Brent, I freely admit that I'm shaped by outside forces like my environment and parents.

I also don't think that means I'm necessarily wrong.

And yes, faith is a bunker in a case like this, but also, it doesn't mean that it's wrong.

Brent said...

We're all shaped by our surroundings, so in one sense we are all at the mercy of our environment. However, we all have the ability to expose ourselves to information outside of our normal experience, especially in today's world. We can choose to look outside and challenge ourselves or to stay inside and be comfortable. Neither is wrong nor right in an of itself. However, when some people "inside" judge those who are living "outside" people become polarized and in conflict with one another in a world that is getting smaller and smaller. Christians are one group that continues to judge those on the "outside."

Thankfully, nobody here has judged me for anything that I have said on this thread. I hope that I haven't judged anyone either. I only hope to challenge those who normally visit blogs like this one because I grew up in a similar environment.

Dare I ask if someone would judge me or declare me wrong if I proposed that Adam & Eve really didn't exist? Or that Noah really didn't build a big boat? Or that a man named Abraham or one named Moses probably didn't really exist? Or that the Christian story is most likely a compilation of traditions that are closer to myth than fact? Or (here's the big one) that God was created by man rather than vise versa?

No, Phil, you are not wrong. However, I challenge everyone (including myself) to continually rethink our conclusions about those things that have always been viewed as truth and reality. Jesus was right when he said that the moment we pass judgment on another, we judge ourself. The fact that there are many denominations within Christianity reveals that the church has not heeded the voice of its leader. This has unfortunately resulted in much turmoil throughout the world over the last 2,000 years. Ironic.

Tony Arnold said...

Very late in responding, but maybe here is another way to address the question.

"That is an interesting question. I am not sure of the answer. While I think about it, do you have a need or problem I might be able to help with. I think better when I am doing something constructive. I would love to serve you in some way."

Template Designed by Douglas Bowman - Updated to Beta by: Blogger Team
Modified for 3-Column Layout by Hoctro