I’m confused about something, and I’m hoping that someone out there can help me understand the issue better.
I know a lot of Christians who believe in what’s termed “Young Earth Creationism” (YEC), which is the belief that Genesis refers to a literal 6-day creation period, and that the universe and all that’s in it is around 6000 – 7000 years old. This figure is arrived at by adding up genealogies in the Bible and the estimated life-spans of each person in those lists, which span from Adam to Jesus.
How does this view fare in the scientific community? Here’s a great description that I found:
“A statement by 68 national and international science academies lists the following as facts, established by numerous observations and independently-derived experimental results from a multitude of scientific disciplines, without any contradiction from scientific evidence: that the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old and has shown continuing change; that life appeared on Earth at least 2.5 billion years ago, and has subsequently taken many forms, all of which continue to evolve; and that the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicates their common primordial origin.”
Read that paragraph again, slowly, and think about what it means.
Essentially, it means that in 2010, we have an incredible bounty of evidence across a multitude of disciplines, leading to a near-universal scientific consensus that:
1. The age of the earth / universe is many orders of magnitude larger than 6000 years.
2. Life has been on the planet for at least 2.5 billion years.
3. Evolution is responsible for all of the varieties of life that we see on the planet.
When I was growing up and attending Christian schools, the attitude that my teachers and textbooks had was that YEC is real and accepted by real scientists, and oh yeah, there are some fringe scientists who believe in evolution and that the earth is really old, but they’re crazy and you don’t need to pay any attention to them. Imagine my surprise when I got out of the Christian bubble and discovered that the opposite is actually true.
So far as I can tell, what’s happening is that some Christians (certainly not all) have taken a very narrow view of how a small piece of Scripture should be interpreted, and have spent the last 150 years furiously denying copious amounts of scientific evidence that contradict that interpretation. Some will be quick to remind me that Evolution is “just a theory”, that there are holes in the explanation, that there’s evidence for YEC, etc. But those are serious distortions of the truth, which is that virtually all working scientists in relevant fields subscribe to some variation of the old earth / evolution philosophy. While many questions remain about the exact nature and mechanisms of evolution over the last 4.5 billion years on this planet, we have an incredible amount of evidence pointing to the fact that it DID happen. So much evidence, in fact, that a serious survey of even a little of it will convince you that either YEC is utterly ridiculous, or God created the world in such a way to make it look utterly ridiculous to test our faith. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We come to the crux of the issue: does science inform your faith and your interpretation of Scripture, or does your faith and your interpretation of Scripture inform your science? These are two different approaches to looking at the world, with vastly important consequences, but they’re asymmetrical, in terms of the definitions on each side of the equation. I’ll explain what I mean.
Science is supposed to be an objective search for the truth. Obviously, since science is practiced by humans and we’re flawed, it’s never perfectly objective, but that’s what it is supposed to be. Scientific inquiry is a method of examining the evidence and coming to a conclusion based on that evidence, regardless of whether you like it. At its best, science follows the evidence to its conclusion, wherever that is.
But religion and science are not just a different approach to the same thing. Religions do not search for the truth, at least primarily. They offer it. They claim to already have the truth, not to be on a search for it.
My current approach is that science informs my interpretation of scripture and my faith. That is to say, if I were presented by overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence from multiple scientific fields that everything I believe is wrong, I hope that I would be able to change my beliefs. Why spend your life living something you have no reason to believe in? As Paul said, if our faith is in vain, we are to be pitied above all men.
But many seem to take the opposite view. In particular, the YEC crowd seems to believe that a strict literal interpretation of Scripture trumps science and what we can see about the world. Essentially, their position is that if the Bible says 1 + 1 = 3, then they will believe that 1 + 1 = 3, and they will twist their interpretation of reality to match that belief. Regardless of whether I think that’s intellectually dishonest or foolish or whatever, it brings me back to my title: why do you believe the Bible is true in the first place?
There are many religions in the world, and they all think they’re the true religion, and they all have scriptures of their own that say that they’re the only true religion, etc. So why do you believe the Bible over any of those others? And more importantly, could anything change your mind? If you read through the Bible and literally everything you read was completely different from what you see in reality, would you still believe it? And if so, why?
I’m not looking for deep theological answers or answers based on emotion. Most of the people I know who subscribe to YEC didn’t go to seminary, and it’s doubtful that they have a deep theological reason for their beliefs, which is fine. And if the only answer you can come up with is that you know in your heart that it’s true, I wish you the best, but that’s worthless to me.
I’m primarily looking for answers from people who believe in that the earth is 6000-7000 years old and that it was created in six literal 24-hour periods. Why do you believe the Bible is true? And not just true in the abstract, but true down the last word, to the point that you’re willing to dismiss the vast scientific consensus on YEC because you believe that if your paper Bible, translated to English thousands of years after the original words were written, has the word “day” printed there, it was exactly 24 hours?
Help me understand.