Earlier this month, I posted (in 2 parts) a response I gave some years ago to a skeptic who questioned the cosmology represented in the Bible. The exchange occurred in the comments section of the blog for STR, and there were others involved in the larger conversation. One of them in particular was a Young-Earth Creationist calling himself “Doc”, who objected to some of what I’d said.
If I recall, Doc expressed concern that conceding “millions of years” (well, billions, really) and accepting the Big Bang leads to — or, is caused by — metaphorizing any or all of Scripture, surrendering on the Bible’s inerrancy and historical reliability, and capitulating to naturalism / Darwinian evolution as the explanation for life’s origin and diversity. Something like that. It’s a common concern/warning uttered by YECs, but it ain’t necessarily so. I replied to his complaints as follows:
Thanks for taking the time to read through my lengthy post and for responding with a thoughtful post of your own.
Obviously, my post was in response to Paul’s skepticism about the authority & accuracy of the Bible, particularly in matters of cosmology. While my intent was not primarily to come down on Young-Earth Creationism, since some of Paul’s complaints were about YEC-specific claims, I wanted to make sure he realized that there are others within orthodox Christianity that hold to different views on those matters. Since my statements were pro-Big Bang and I don’t have a problem with “millions of years”, I’m not surprised that someone of a more Young-Earth persuasion took exception. But that’s fine.
Up until a few years ago, I was a Young-Earther myself, because that was what I had been taught. Although, it wasn’t something I gave a lot of thought to, and I was only vaguely aware of the Old-Earth Creationist and Theistic Evolutionist positions. Then I started listening to and reading the relevant materials, getting a better handle on the arguments used by all camps (mostly YEC, OEC, & neo-Darwinist). You might say I was a reluctant convert to OEC (at least at first), and it took a while to get a handle on all of the theological, exegetical, and scientific issues, concepts, terms, etc. Not that I understand it all, now, mind you.
Let me clarify a couple things about my position. First, I believe that the Bible (at least, the original autographs) is the inerrant Word of God and that it is true and accurate on anything that it touches on, including history, science & geography. (Of course, when the Bible quotes someone who is lying or is in error, it is not meant to teach that lie/error as truth. Also, certain measurements should be taken as ballpark figures, since the ancients were not always as concerned with precision as we are.) I think it is obvious that we both agree that the Bible occasionally includes phenomenological language and poetic descriptions, thus using metaphors & analogies to express literal truths. I also agree that this is not the case with Genesis, and the persons and events described therein were indeed literal & historical.
Second, please understand that just because I accept the conventional dating for the age of the universe, the Earth, and life on the Earth, I do NOT believe in evolution beyond the species level. (Belief in cosmic “evolution” or stellar “evolution” does NOT necessitate or logically lead to biological evolution.) The fossil and genetic data, as I understand them, support intelligent design and sudden appearances better than gradual descent with modification via merely natural processes. Scripturally, I find extremely little exegetical wiggle-room for any sort of God-guided macroevolution, particularly for animals, and most particularly for Mankind. And I have yet to hear a theologically compelling argument for it.
I think it is really too bad that some Christians can’t “get behind” Big Bang cosmology, because it has such strong apologetic value for the Christian worldview and the accuracy of the Bible. The problem, of course, is that it establishes that the universe is several billion years old, which is supposedly a capitulation to both metaphysical & methodological naturalism and Darwinian evolution. (I assume this is the “glaring conflict” with Genesis to which you refer.) Ironically, the atheists who oppose Big Bang cosmology do so because they realize that even 13.7 billion years is woefully inadequate time (by several orders of magnitude) for life to (theoretically) arise on its own, and they also recognize the theistic implications of Big Bang theory.
A couple comments on scientific “theories”… With your scientific background, you probably know that a scientific “hypothesis” can be defined as a formulation that explains in a reasonable way that which is observed about a phenomenon or set of phenomena, while recognizing that not everything has been observed. So, it is only held to tentatively, until it can be subjected to more exhaustive testing. (Personally, I think the “neo-Darwinian synthesis” of evolution should still be considered a hypothesis, and a weak one at that.) The next step up, as it were, is a “theory”. A theory explains everything observed fairly successfully, with observations having been exhaustive enough to tell us that the formulation does indeed elucidate a general principle.
When it comes to scientific theories, Big Bang Theory is among the most exhaustively tested and proven. Btw, it was not a “bang” in the usual sense, implying chaos, disorder and destruction. On the contrary, the Big Bang has proven itself to be a carefully planned, sudden burst of creative power from which the universe rolled out in an exquisitely controlled expansion. The two parameters that govern this cosmic expansion — the mass density and the space-energy density (aka cosmological constant) — must be fine-tuned to better than 1 part in 10^60 and 1 part in 10^120, respectively, in order to yield a universe of galaxies, stars, and planets — i.e., one suitable for any kind of physical life. That sounds pretty intelligently designed to me! And that is just one of dozens of examples of design and fine-tuning just within the “simple” sciences of math, physics, astronomy & cosmology!”
Well, I got a chance to clarify some of my views and, hopefully, assuage Doc’s fears — at least, somewhat. I’ll continue with more in Part 2.