The shot heard around the world

Written by Paul Zannucci on 5:49 PM

And here is where it started to get really ugly. TB decided to elaborate on why he rejected the "young earth" theory.

I reject the young earth hypothesis on several grounds.

First, carbon dating has been demonstrated in a variety of contexts not related to arguing the age of the earth. Given its reliability, it's difficult to sustain a young earth theory unless one also posits a God who intentionally misleads humankind. I have heard the argument made that that's exactly the case, and one way God tests our faith: will we believe God's Word or our own eyes? But I reject the "trickster God" approach to theology. God's purpose in the Bible is self-revelation - telling humans truth about God. The moment we hypothesize that God would tell us truth in scripture but a lie in His creation, we are in the position of not knowing when or how to trust God. And that ultimately puts us in a no-win situation, because we would not be able to trust our own God-given senses and intelligence. No; start down that path and we're very quickly stuck in a briar patch with no safe exit.

Mike is right that science as we know it grew out of the Judeo-Christian worldview. It was the conviction that the creation is also God's book of revelation, when rightly understood. Scientific inquiry is intended to reveal God's majesty, not obscure or deny it. It assumes the world God created is consistent with God's truth. If verifiable evidence contradicts biblical revelation, there is a misunderstanding on our part; it cannot be because God is testing, fooling, or otherwise playing with us. That notion is distinctly unbiblical.

The issue in global warming is that science has been perverted to serve a political agenda. There's plenty of scientific evidence to disprove most of what global warming enthusiasts assert. That is to say, the science against global warming is as potent as, or more potent than the science favoring global warming. All we need is time for the truth to win out - which is what algore and friends don't want, and why they are pushing so hard for quick action.

But the dishonesty in the global warming debate is not transferrable to the age of the earth issue. There is no science to contradict the old earth proposition; only faith claims and rather tortured logic on the part of people who want to place certain biblical evidence against science. To me, this is a misuse of the Bible. The Bible does not argue for a young earth proposition. The mistake made is this: some Christian teachers and theologians argue for a young earth on the basis of counting up the generations from Adam to Jesus. Their assumption is that the Bible provides the entire history of Israel. It doesn't. The Bible tells the salvation history of Israel. It makes no effort to be comprehensive of all of Israel's history.

The Bible is a record of the saving work of God as he made the Hebrew people and called them out of the world to serve His purpose in the world. Hebrew scholars and teachers have taught for more years than there have been Christians that the Torah is God's Word to the People, recounting what the People need to know in order to know that God's Hand is upon them, and that they prosper when obedient to their Lord.

Modern readers are sometimes guilty of an anachronism: they apply modernistic and scientific approaches to ancient oral histories told by people who did not have a modernist's view of the world or a scientific approach to history. We get things mixed up by assuming numbers are just counting symbols in the Bible, when in fact we know that numbers can also be used purely symbolically, distinct from their counting function. We do that today; it was more common in pre-modern, pre-scientific cultures; it was most certainly common in ancient Israel, as well as in early Christianity. Jesus' 12 baskets of leftovers from the feeding of the multitude is most certainly an example: it is a statement about the theology of Christ being able to feed all the tribes of Israel the miraculous stuff of life, if we will only put ourselves into his hands.

I don't want to go deeper into this topic, or I won't quit writing. My point is that (1) the number of years people lived and the counting of generations in the Bible was never meant to be taken in the modern, scientific, literal way modern readers want to take it; it was literal in a different, pre-modern way: it pointed to a literal belief in a direct linkage between Adam and Abraham, Abraham and Jacob, Jacob and David; and for Christians it was extended to make a literal, direct link from David to Jesus. The point, though, was not to count generations, or to add up years since creation. It was to make the faith statement that God created the world, created the first couple, and created each of the major Jewish figures; and that Christ was the last in that sequence, all of whom, together, articulate the ongoing presence of God in human history, the history that matters, which is the history of God's saving work among His people. That's all. For the Jews, and for Christians who are no longer of this earth, human history, and geological history don't really matter - except as matters of intellectual curiosity. All we really care about is the history of God's actions in the world to save humankind, and that's what the Bible illustrates and records. Only that.

And (2) modern scientific inquiry is not at odds with that very Jewish purpose of history. The earth does not have to be young to make that history true; therefore to make the Bible true. The age of the earth is irrelevant to the relevant issue: that it is God who created it, and created it as a Garden for humankind; and has been at work to restore us to the edenic state since the beginnings of human recollection. As for evolutionary theory: I think it's fair to say, on the basis of competing science, competing interpretations of the gathered data, and gaps in scientific evidence, that it is only a theory. It has gaps that some say suggest evolutionary theory better shows how creatures adapt within their niches than how creatures jump from one niche to another. We're still looking for the evidence, without ruling out the possiblity of some kind of periodic "quantum leaps" from one state of createdness to another more complex state of createdness. If we ever demonstrate that those leaps have taken place, I'd likely argue that those leaps are further evidence of God acting miraculously and outside the ordinary rules of nature. I won't rule out God turning water to wine; I won't rule out God turning an ape into a human. We have yet to produce evidence that makes the case airtight, though. And it seems to me that any evidence of "quantum leaps" would be food for the Intelligent Design type of argument.

On the matter of science emerging from Christianity: I think that's pretty well established. And there's no question that the advances in science have come from decoupling science from faith. Faith requirements were a drag on the scientific examination of the world - as in modern Islam, medieval Christianity required scientific exploration, examination, and conclusion accord with human interpretations of scripture. That's bad science, as well as bad theology. So the decoupling was important in order for science to develop into a mature field of human inquiry. Along the way, it's also provided us some tools by which we can correct our understanding of scripture's message - if we're willing to use those tools, and explore the sometimes uncomfortable conclusions they force.

But the scientific method has advanced to the point that we now discover the relativity of the scientific method. In other words, in a a way Mike is right to say that knowledge is faith. We find over and over again that our presuppositions influence the "objective" results of scientific inquiry. It begins to look as though the scientific method is also subjective, though in a different way than is faith.

It strikes me, then, that the scientific method can lead us down any road we are predisposed to travel. In other words, our worldview will determine what we discover is "objectively" true. If that's the case, then at some point we have to reunite scientific method and Christian worldview. More properly, Judeo-Christian worldview, since Christians are (Paul assures us) but an engrafted branch on the stump of Jesse. I have been wondering if the discovery of relativity theory and the quantum world wasn't the real purpose of, the highest peak available to, decoupled science; and the next set of mountain ranges will not really be seen, let alone climbed, until science and the worldview of God revealed in the Bible (both testaments) and in the life of Jesus are joined.

I wonder what we will discover when we engage scientific inquiry with a Christian worldview? I don't mean in the pre-modern sense of requiring that science conclude what faith wants it to, but in the post-modern sense of a recognition that the assumptions one brings to the scientific enquiry help determine the discoveries one makes. Literally, that how we think determines what we can see. So if we are fully and completely the People of the Book, not anticipating a struggle between science and faith, but anticipating and looking for the ways that seeing as Christ sees, valuing the way God has disclosed He values, reveals new scientific truths that bring the world more into harmony with God's intention for creation, and enables us to do more with less negative impact on creation; in fact, enables us to do more while also ennobling God's earth. What will society, technology, human life look like when we are fully engaged in that exploration? I think, pretty good.

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