Why I’m no longer “Young Earth”

Today I will try to explain why I believe in evolution. You have to realize, though, that saying I believe in evolution is for me like saying I believe in orbits or reproduction. Whether or not I believe it doesn’t make much difference. These are things that I’m pretty sure just are.

I should probably begin by saying that I used to be a “Young Earth” creationist. The approach to the Bible that I learned taught me to read the first chapters of Genesis and take them at face value. If they say God made everything in six days, then by golly that’s what he did. God said it; I believe it; that settles it. Considering the genealogies of the chapters which follow, it would then appear that humankind has only been around for a few thousand years. One guy even calculated quite confidently that the earth was created on October 23rd, 4004 BC, and it stuck. So the Earth is only about 6,000 years old. Alright, if that’s what the Bible says, then I’ll believe it.

But then I look around and consider a few things. Stars, for example, shine their light down on us from a very, very long distance away. We know how fast light travels, and we use the term “light year” to indicate the distance light travels in a year. We know that many of those stars and galaxies are hundreds of thousands of light years away. Some are millions of light years away (we now know the universe is very, very big). That means their light is only now arriving after traveling for millions of years. Our stars are snapshots of the past–the very distant past. And they prove the world is older than that guy said.

That didn’t use to mean much to me. God could create a universe already “in maturity,” right? I mean, Adam wasn’t born a baby, was he? He was created already a grown man. If he were to cut down a tree in the garden, it would probably have rings, right? How old would they be? You see my point. The Genesis creation account seems to indicate that the world was created already old, in a sense. The stars that Adam saw even then were not as old as they looked. I can buy that.

But then there’s more. Looking for other evidences of age, I see things like our Grand Canyon, which is a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. It’s got this river at the bottom of it, and it obviously was cut slowly by that river over a very long time. Estimates for that time period range from 5 million years to 17 million years. Besides things like this, we also have devised dating techniques that measure the steady decay of certain isotopes and other things that, frankly, are out of my pay grade. There’s a bunch more things like this, but you get the picture. Appearances can be deceiving, but if our world is only a few thousand years old, then this is starting to look like a really massive trick.

Besides this, we keep digging up bones which paint a picture of a gradual development of the many species of living things around us (including our own species). Judging from their depth in the ground, many of these species appear to have predated us humans by quite a bit. The point is, however, that every branch of science we have indicates the earth is billions of years old, and that the human race developed from more primitive species over millions of years.

That’s not what the Bible says. I know that. And I could go along with the “created in maturity” concept up until a certain point. I could believe that the world just looks older than it is because God made it to look older than it really is. Much, much older. But if that’s the case, then people should be forgiven for studying the Earth and the cosmos and deciding that they are as old as they seem. They should be forgiven for seeing evidences of gradual development of all living things, including ourselves (What the heck is an appendix for, anyway? Or a tailbone?).

But they are not forgiven, are they? At times, in fact, they are angrily chastised for not believing the clear Word of God in these matters. They are shamed and excluded from our schools and churches because they contradict the biblical testimony, choosing instead to cling to their ungodly scientific beliefs. We don’t want them poisoning our children with their spurious logic and their anti-Christian worldviews.

Only now there are believers as well, like myself, who are starting to see the world as old. Many of them are way more qualified than I am to study these things and they don’t see what the big deal is. They’re starting to say, “Hey, we believe the Bible. We love it. We just don’t think it was intended by God to be used as a textbook for astronomy, geology, or biology. It wasn’t written in a scientific context and we shouldn’t superimpose our very modern scientific mentality into it. That does violence to the text.”

I’m with those guys at this point. I think you can be quite faithful to the Bible and yet not use it as a science textbook. Some people in the medieval times tried to do that when someone suggested the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around. They tried to do it when someone suggested the earth is flat and stationary. Both times they were wrong, and both times they were certain they were being faithful to the text. But they weren’t. They were treating the Bible like it’s a different kind of book than it really is. N.T. Wright said some good stuff about that once.

Well this raises plenty of questions, of course, like “How do we accept Paul’s typology and his view of the fall of mankind if we don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve?”

Those are good questions. I’m still working on that. Anybody got any good ideas about that?

I’ve got more to say, so keep checking back.

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11 Responses to “Why I’m no longer “Young Earth””

  1. zoecarnate Says:

    You post some good questions! I think they’re important because Where We Come From (and how we tell that story) is a perennial one for spiritual seekers (and really, humans of all stripes). The answers (in Genesis :) ) we evangelicals (and post-evangelicals) been given on this front simply aren’t satisfying to our deepest yearnings anymore, and they erode the integrity and sincerity of our faith. If we’re taught to ignore what science is discovering and check our brains at the door when we enter a steeplehouse (or a living room), that suspension of disbelief is bound to have deleterious effects on the fabric of our lives eventually.

  2. zoecarnate Says:

    Neil, I think the Catholics might be a bit ahead of us in wrestling with these issues. Certain Catholic scientists and theologians have been grappling with these cosmological issues for a century now, starting with mystic and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, and moving on to priests Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox. There have been efforts from both the scientific and Christian communities to tell our emerging story of Where We Come From in a sacred way (because it needs to be told this way in order to be fully told, proponents from both sides agree.) Variously referred to as ‘The New Universe Story,’ ‘The New Cosmology,’ or ‘The Great Story’ (Google ‘em), this sacred way of understanding the Big Bang and Evolution has been tied to both ‘The Great Work’ (again, Google’s your friend here), which in short attempts to answer the question ‘What is the meaningful, life-and-death work that our generation has before us if we’re to survive extinction in the 21st century? How can our lives on earth reflect the goodness and beauty of heaven?”

    In my opinion, folks who refuse to engage with The Great Story and The Great Work are simply hiding their heads in the sand, or perhaps The Rock of Ages, but a particularly 19th century version. But growing numbers of us are finding such a spiritual approach to be deadening – not only for physical life on earth, but for our very spirits and our communion with God.

    A good book addressing all of this is Jesus in the New Universe Story – or at least I think it’s good, as Drew Devlin ran off with it when I was about a third of the way through it. :) You might find his reflections and attempts at integration of Paul’s ‘Christology Cosmology’ (regarding fall and redemption) and the New Cosmology helpful.

  3. Patrick Says:

    I have been down the very same path and have looked at the same scientific viewpoints and still see the literal creation as viable, even more so with the modern dating methods. It is how someone wills to view it that the mind proves it to be true. That is why both ends of the spectrum become a poor view.

  4. dsrtrosy Says:

    Well, the moment that allowed me to let go of all of the “literal” baggage I had been trying unsuccessfully to carry around was when I read the book “The Science of God” by physicist and Hebrew scholar Gerald Schroeder. The idea of the Hebrew language as a literal language has been soundly debunked…and what light it shed on my own study to discover that Jewish scholars have long considered the “days” of the Genesis story to mean something more along the lines of “all the ages of time.” (by “long considered,” apparently Jewish scholars have been writing about this for a thousand years and more)

    Since no one who claims to read the Bible literally actually does in my experience, I think it’s time that we gave up that falsehood in exchange for a God who is so much bigger and grander than our tiny brains and religion can hold. Thanks for your post!

  5. Seth R Says:

    I would like to briefly respond with some thoughts that have been in my heart. This is in no way a complete explanation of what I think. First, I must state I grew up believing young earth creation. In this post I am not sure what you mean when you say evolution. So I will not address that but basically I think that God has given as much info as he wanted and to think that Genesis chp one is the all inclusive description is limiting. Their is one approach which I see in most young earth creationists that God won’t satisfy and that is to have God and everything else figured out systematically and placed between two book ends. But I have understood one thing about God from my experience with his dealings with me and that is He doesn’t give me all the info and only gives me what I need and no matter what He gives me the important thing is that I trust Him, whether I have Him figured out or not. On to my thoughts about the account of creation in Genesis. I personally believe that it is a description of our present creation and that the earth and universe is very old. God created the earth to be inhabited and the account in Genesis we find the earth there covered in water and in chaos. I believe the Lord recreated the earth to what we see today-Like hitting the refresh button. I also used to think that this earth would be destroyed and God would create a new earth but now I understand that He will purge it with fire and recreate it again or start new again. I am not much of a writer so describing here is a bit difficult so please try to understand what I am saying. One point is that the stars and galaxies we can see through telescopes are millions of years away and I believe that is true. Dr. Hugh Ross an astrophysicist has a great explanation and understanding that has helped me understand some of the thoughts I have such as the whole universe works together to support life here. http://www.reasons.org is where you can find him.

    I believe in creation and I believe our minds are so stuck in time that it is difficult to understand God and His ways sometimes. When I understood that the earth was old and it take away at all from what I believe but in fact has enhanced my love for God plus it has made it easier to engage others on this topic. By the way when building or construction is going on there is going to be noise and perhaps some loud bangs but none the less there is someone behind that bang.

    I would also like to point out something that I would love to get some feedback on that I really never hear anyone addressing and that is on the second day God did not say it is good. When he separated the waters from the waters and the space which is considered second heaven I believe and is where the scripture says God placed the fallen angels, he didn’t say it was good. It could have been that Lucifer had dominion over earth at one time before Genesis 1 and perhaps there were dinosaurs on earth before Genesis 1 and due to the revolt of Lucifer we pick up on the story at Genesis 1 with God continuing with His eternal purpose.
    Thanks

  6. Maria Kirby Says:

    Welcome to the club! You can read my thoughts on the subject at thoughtloose.blogspot.com Would love to have some feedback.

  7. abmo Says:

    Hi Neil, I’m on the same page as you are. More or less… :-) For me, believing that the earth and everything else is quite old, only makes God “bigger” for me. It only adds to my sense of wonder as to Who God is when new discoveries are made. It’s a pity that people’s faith are dependent on how they interpret the Bible.

  8. Old earth and life « Windblown Hope Says:

    [...] two posts I’ve read today.  Both tell a story.  And it hits close to home.  One is Why I’m no longer “Young Earth” from Neil Carter and the other is In the Land of Inconsequence by Dan [...]

  9. brotherjohnny Says:

    Dunno if you’ve seen this:

  10. Mike Morrell Says:

    Nice! He’s very diplomatic, but makes some excellent points.

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