The Age of the Earth and Christian Apologetics

I don’t sit on many fences when it comes to Christian theology and apologetics issues. I’ve flip-flopped a time or two on a few, but it’s rare for me to land smack-dab on the top of the proverbial fence without feeling myself falling one way or the other. There was a time when that orientation (fence sitting) would have troubled me, but as I’ve grown in my faith and my understanding of how to relate to my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have come to realize that on issues that don’t compromise the doctrine of Salvation, it’s kind of an advantage to have a firm, honest neutrality about some of them. It gives one the unique opportunity to look at both sides with absolutely no bias, to argue for one or the other as the mood strikes, and to search out opportunities to bridge the divide that exists between those at opposing ends of the issue’s spectrum.

I’m simply entrenched in neutrality about the age of the earth.

Disclaimer: I haven’t always been so. There have been years-long stretches of time where I was either YEC (young-earth creationist) or OEC (old earth creationist). Allow me to elaborate.

I didn’t think much about the presumed age of the universe until I became a young adult. I grew up in rural North Carolina and attended very small Southern Baptist churches until I left home. Apologetics issues simply didn’t come up in my sheltered life in the Bible Belt. Had someone asked me what I thought about geological time, I probably wouldn’t have been able to answer.

Fast forward to the summer after I graduated from a small, private Christian university. I had not been lectured specifically by any of my undergraduate professors about the age-of-the-earth issue, but through the various science classes I took as a biology major, I had subconsciously accepted the merits of the idea of an ancient universe and an ancient earth. Honestly, it didn’t ever occur to me that anyone would feel that this posed a problem with reconciling the Genesis account of creation with mainstream geology and astrophysics. The summer after I graduated, my husband (Jonathan) and I were still newlyweds, and I had picked up a copy of Gerald L. Schroeder’s book, The Science of God, off the bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble. (Ah, those were the good ‘ol days–buying books off of a physical shelf. My grandkids won’t believe me. Especially when I tell them books actually had paper pages instead of e-ink screens.) Incidentally, it had a lovely painting portraying Adam and Eve on the front cover. Anyway, when I read Dr. Schroeder’s book, I was intrigued by his views on the “six days” of creation (non-literal) paired with his obvious love and respect for Scripture. When I would sit up in bed reading in the evenings, I’d often read a passage aloud to Jonathan. He and I had to agree to disagree, as he held, and continues to hold, a YEC view, which I totally respect. I am persuasive, and I often win him over, but he just won’t join me on the fence about this one. Yet.

I’d love to tell you that my long, passionate study of the intersection of science and religion escalated from there, but it didn’t. I was very young, newly married, about to move across the country to Houston, Texas, and had lots of other things going on in life.

Fast forward again, to about two years later, when my husband and I were invited by some friends in our Bible Study class to attend a mini-conference put on at a local church by Answers in Genesis, a YEC ministry I had never heard of. Ken Ham, president of AiG, gave a talk that evening about why belief in an old earth just can’t square with the Genesis text and Christian doctrine on original sin, the fall of man, and the consequences that came from that fall. I found his arguments extremely persuasive, I purchased books and DVD’s, and I spent the subsequent years learning everything I could about reconciling scientific evidences with a young earth (what I’d come to believe was the ONLY Biblically-sound option). I specifically became passionate about finding the harmony between science and Christianity (I had no doubt there was one to be found), and YEC ministries were my information source of choice. Unfortunately, I made an egregious error from the outset: I accepted, without question, the idea that anyone that did not believe in a young earth didn’t believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Period.

I mark that up to naivete, but I should have noticed what was going on in my heart. There was born a subtle yet growing judgmentalism towards brothers and sisters in Christ that held to OEC ideas. I remember the bitter attitude of a few fellow YEC church members who were upset when an OEC Christian apologist was invited to speak at the church we were members of at the time. As more time passed, the deeper my bias against any Christian ministry that didn’t espouse YEC became. I found it difficult to even communicate with those that didn’t agree with me on this issue. I was heavily influenced by the constant print and podcast crusades carried on by YEC ministries about the grave mistake of embracing OEC.

When I started graduate school in the fall of 2009, I knew that my university did not take an official stance on the age of the earth, and in fact had professors of both YEC and OEC persuasion. I was cautiously comfortable with this; I had become more interested in the evolution vs. intelligent design debate, anyway. However, I wasn’t even remotely prepared for the realization that hit me during my very first semester: OEC advocates love the Lord, love the Word of God, and believe in the authority and inerrancy of the Bible, just like I do. They simply differ from YEC on some of the associated issues of scriptural interpretation and the relevant theology. As I learned, this time first-hand, what the theological ideas behind OEC were truly all about, I became rather ashamed that I had harbored the opinions I had, without seeking information from somewhere other than a YEC source. I began to become much more sensitive to the negative tone of YEC publications and began to distance myself from the resources published by those ministries. I grew increasingly uncomfortable with their tone and the insinuations made about Christians who are not YEC. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say I’ve seen any overt bashing going on, but what I can tell you is that the HIGH level of segregation between YEC and OEC ministries has a whole lot to do with the YEC mentality that OEC advocates are deceived or deceivers, and how YEC organizations often refuse to collaborate with (and sometimes malign) ministries that try to include the OEC perspective.

Allow me to give you a very recent example. ICR (Institute for Creation Research) is a YEC ministry that releases a monthly magazine and has many book publications to its credit. I’ve used their materials in teaching creation apologetics, particularly their articles on the weaknesses of Darwinian evolution. This month’s magazine arrived in the mail just a few days ago, and a flag went up for me as soon as I saw the cover. Here it is:

In the article, “The Deceptive Dance of Compromise,” Dr. Henry Morris lumps together theistic evolutionists (those who believe God created through Darwinian evolution) and OEC, which is unfortunate in itself, but that topic will have to wait for another post. The article greatly disappointed me in another, much more serious way. It focuses on the new initiative called The Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science which seeks to “inspire, educate, and unify pastors, scientists, Christian leaders, and concerned lay people, as well as seekers and skeptics, with the growing congruence of scientific discovery with our Christian faith and to explore the implications and applications of that congruence” (www.vibrantdance.org).  The initiative includes organizations that espouse theistic evolution as well as those who are OEC, and I believe such a cooperation among brothers and sisters in Christ seeking respectful, loving dialogue with each other and with others about issues of science and faith is a WONDERFUL THING! Sadly, Dr. Morris has a much different opinion. He says:

The men and women who are heading and leading these efforts”by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts” (Romans 16:18). Some, perhaps, have been themselves deceived by those “good words,” but all of them–all–are superimposing the words of “scientific” men (most of whom are open atheists) over the inspired words of God. I grieve for them. I grieve for the ones who will be led astray by the “fair speeches” of those who at the very least are looking for the “praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43).

Morris goes on to blatantly accuse these men and women of an “arbitrary discarding of the clear text of Scripture.”

Having met and sat under the teaching of some of the men Morris is referring to, I can say from first-hand experience that he is off-base in his analysis. While these things could definitely be true about some scientists of the Christian faith, I don’t for a moment believe they are true about all non-YEC folks. The error here is in an over-generalization about OEC proponents and a mischaracterization of how they view the Scriptures.

I believe it is very unfortunate that the YEC camp removes itself from such an important effort in the world of apologetics as a result of its attitude and strong, unfair opinions about OEC. I would love to see the YEC point of view have a voice in such a dialogue. Disappointing. The thing is, advocates of YEC are often just as stubborn and wrong-headed as I was, and because of that miss out on a wealth of Apologetic education, simply because they are prejudiced against apologists and theologians (even those who specialize in non-science areas) who happen to hold an old-earth view. I think that is such a tragedy!

The scientific evidences for either camp really had nothing to do with me landing on the fence between YEC and OEC. I simply learned the theological arguments from the “other side” while having my eyes opened to the negative tone of the one I jumped from. I’m at a place now where I see the merit in each camp’s interpretation of geological and astrophysical evidence, and I have an understanding of the theology each one adheres to. When I encounter someone who is YEC, I love to argue for OEC while maintaining a respectful, friendly attitude. When I encounter someone who is OEC, I love to do exactly the opposite! It really is a very fun place to be, this fence.

I’d like to quote Dr. J.P. Moreland on his view relating to the Bible and the age of the earth. I read in one of his books a while back that he’s YEC three days out of the week and OEC on the other four. HA! I’m in great company! Anyway, Moreland says:

Now, when it comes to the days of Genesis…I’m of the view on this that while we ought not allow science to dictate to us our exegesis of the Old Testament, nevertheless, if there is an interpretation of the Old Testament that is exegetically permissible…an old age interpretation— that is to say, if you can find conservative, inerrantist, evangelical Old Testament scholars that say that the interpretation of this text that treats the days of Genesis as unspecified periods of time, and that is a completely permissible thing to do on exegetical grounds alone, then my view is that that is a permissible option if it harmonizes the text with science because that option can be justified exegetically, independent of science.

I highly recommend the book,Three Views on Creation and Evolution, edited by Dr. Moreland, among others.


2 thoughts on “The Age of the Earth and Christian Apologetics

  1. Well said, Melissa. I like your point that there are some things (salvation issues) that Christians must take a stand for, but so many other issues we can just discuss and respect the opinion and points that others make.

    Unfortunately, I find that there are other issues in the church today that believers take such a “hard” stance on as well. I think the in-fighting that we see is not glorifying to the Lord and certainly not appealing to non-believers!

    • I followed pretty much the same path you did Melissa. Though I finally completed my waffling back in the mid-90’s and committed to OEC. One of the things that fed my turning to OEC was the viciousness I saw within YEC people. I saw how they attacked Hugh Ross for example, but he never replied back in anger. I said to myself, “I want to be like him.”

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