At some point I hope to post a lengthier discussion of “science” and “faith,” especially as it relates to inerrancy, but for now I will content myself with proposing several theses that I hope will spark some conversation. I should say at the outset that I am a young earth creationist, though as will become apparent I don’t consider the age of the earth to be too significant. However, I am interested countering the implicit notion that to be intellectually credible, one has to abandon such a position.
I should also note that my colleagues and I do not all agree on these questions. I hope this will spark some discussion, not just among our readers, but among my fellow contributors, as well.
Thesis 1: Any conversation about reconciling science and the Bible must begin with epistemology, otherwise we should all just pack up and go home, because the conversation isn’t going to go anywhere fruitful. There is a vast epistemological chasm between statements like, “The earth appears old” and “The earth is old.” Or “The genetic diversity within humans gives the appearance that humans evolved from other life-forms and there were never less than 2,000 humans at any one time during their existence” and “The genetic diversity within humans requires that humans evolved from other life-forms and there were never less than 2,000 humans at any one time during their existence.”
Thesis 2: Attempts to bridge that epistemological chasm must be justified, not simply assumed. It is not justifiable to simply assume that because something appears a certain way, therefore it is a certain way. This logical step must be justified by other means.
Thesis 3: Because of the epistemological chasm, “creation science” or attempts to prove that the earth is young by means of science are as equally problematic as attempts to prove that the earth is old by means of science. At best, creation science can prove that the earth “appears” young, but this is doubtful, in my opinion, and unnecessary (in the context of this discussion).
Thesis 4: The proper exercise of science requires the recognition of various limits, including epistemological limits. Thus, as Christians seeking to bring all things into submission to Christ, to do science properly is to insist that certain epistemological leaps are invalid and in fact represent an illegitimate power-grab.
Thesis 5: Claims that if God created the universe with “the appearance of age,” He would be deceptive, are illegitimate and ought to be dismissed since they beg the question. The only scenario in which this argument would be logically valid is if one believed that the universe has the appearance of age, that the universe is actually young, and that the Bible either teaches that the universe is old or teaches nothing concerning its age. Since there is no-one who believes all of those things, the claim that appearance of age makes God deceptive is both logically invalid and evidences a lack of effort to understand the arguments made by those who believe in the “appearance of age.”
Thesis 6: Just because the book of Genesis isn’t a modern “science textbook” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have implications for science. Comments to the effect that Genesis isn’t a science textbook have as their implicit target a straw-man and are irrelevant and unedifying. No-one in academia believes that Genesis is a “science textbook,” nor do I think any lay people actually believe that. Those at whom this statement is usually directed believe, rather, that Genesis has implications for science that are not incompatible with its particular genre and theological message. Thus, the dichotomy between the religion giving us meaning and purpose and science giving us the mechanism is false. Science certainly cannot give meaning and purpose, but the Bible can and does at times describe the mechanism.
Thesis 7: We ought to distinguish between the length of creation, the age of the earth, the age of humanity, and the nature of Adam and Eve. Although people’s positions on these issues often come as a package deal (young earthers by necessity believe in a young humanity), these four issues can and should be distinguished and assigned different degrees of importance. Is a 6-day length of creation as important as the age of the earth? More important?
Thesis 8: The above distinctions should be accorded different weight depending on how clearly and frequently they are taught in the Bible, and especially how much theological freight the biblical authors hang on the different issues. For instance, while I believe the earth is young because I see no Biblical reason to believe otherwise, nor do I think science compels me to believe it is old, I don’t see this as a particularly important issue. I think a young earth is taught by implication in Genesis 1, but otherwise is unimportant for the rest of the Bible and theology. However, a young humanity seems to be more clearly taught (see the genealogies in Genesis and Luke 3, for example). Likewise, the length of creation is given as the basis for the 2nd commandment (Exod 20), so it seems to be slightly more important than the age of the earth.
Thesis 9: The age of the earth is not that important for Christian theology, but the question of Adam and Eve and human evolution is of integral importance—it has profound implications for our doctrine of inerrancy, our doctrine of sin, of man, of redemption, of covenantal representation, of theodicy, and perhaps of others. While it would take too long to expand on all of these, the (negative) implications of human evolution can be seen in the fact that the fuel that drives the engine of evolution is death. If humans “evolved,” then death—far from being the result of sin, and far, even, from being simply one aspect of the creation among others—death is a necessary tool that God used. This affects how we view the results of sin, the justice of God, the covenantal representation of Adam (and by implication, Jesus), and so on. Human evolution, even if it is cast in the language of “theistic evolution,” is deeply problematic, and should be across Christian traditions.