Author: John Knapp II
First, there's poetry. The right way to start the Torah? Yes, but most coming to this website expect a bit more. Does the Torah report history? Of the earth and the universe? Is it consistent with science? Probably many reading this would say yes, then wonder about what they'd said.
Creation, evolution, the age of the earth. When and how did everything start and get to where it is now? And how long will it last? How should we talk and teach about such matters in polite,and educated society?
This is a complex and highly charged issue. In the space below I want to do four things: (1) identify two basic issues at the root of many Bible/science conflicts; (2) sketch some differing ways scientists think; (3) point to some good websites for a bit of homework; and lastly, (4) gently weigh in on the age of the earth problem because very much hangs on this, as people consider the value of science in explaining our world.
It's sad when earnest people religious, atheistic, or agnostic continually talk past, rather than to, each other, generating more heat than understanding. But that often happens with these matters.
Let me illustrate.
"Do you believe in evolution?" I'm asked.
"Define the term," I answer, and immediately a little red flag goes up.
I'm not begging the question here, because everything evolves. Diet, solar radiation, and other environmental changes naturally and obviously cause differences in living creatures in size, appearance, traits, habits, or actual genetic mutation that may lead to survival or extinction. Such evolution call it "Evolution A" is real and undeniable. With new discoveries in genetics in the past ten years, we know so much more.
But evolution that changes one kind of creature into a different kind of creature (let that be "Evolution B"); or evolution that changes nonliving matter into living matter ("Evolution C"); or the activity that leads to the beginning of matter and energy ("Evolution D") that is change of much greater magnitude than the kind I first mentioned. "Evolution B, C, and D" (my terms) are highly debatable as to what happens when, where, and how or as to sequence, method, and cause. Scientists who declare, or suggest, "evolution is fact" are overlooking the thinking of many of their peers, and are acting upon faith that goes far past the evidence.
Of course, expect many to deny this.
Perhaps today the word "fact" is evolving.
Look carefully at what those in science (and the media) are saying as closely as you can. Many educated people are questioning the declaration: "Evolution is fact."
Those with a point to make (usually with axes on their grinders) often blur the meaning of "evolution" when it stands alone without a qualifier. This can result in bait-and-switch arguing (which most "sides" fall into) that goes nowhere.
Finally, to get to my first point: There are two very basic and different, though related questions to ask and explore, whenever evolution is discussed.
1. How has change in matter and in living things come about? Where did the first stuff come from, and how did it get from something very simple to people like me talking about it? (Forgive my simple words.) People who think about this offer one of two common responses that are freighted with meaning, and are quite different from each other:
(1) Accident plus chance plus time accounts for everything that exists with no interference from anything outside of nature. There is no supernatural mind (often considered superstition), no eternal life, no purpose beyond the struggle to survive on earth, no design, no ideal, or "grand plan" behind anything. This, for the record, is naturalistic or materialistic evolution and should be tagged as such, though "evolution" as a masked stand-alone is again and again assumed to represent all such stark thinking. This first posture is an "article of faith" for many scientific organizations, though they usually don't say things quite this way.
(2) There seems to be some design, a plan, or "tinkering" by someone or some force beyond measurable nature. This comes not just from feelings, but from a hard look at what has been clearly demonstrated and not demonstrated from research. Archaelogy provides an easy-to-see example for the other sciences: If, say, in a dig, a someone encounters the fragment of a clay pot a hundred feet down with what seems to be drawing and writing upon it, the digger, despite the unusual depth, doesn't assume that only natural nonliving forces can explain this. There must be something besides that.
Also, in a much larger sense, when The Big Bang occurred, "something else" had to be in the mix when energy and matter first spilled out with the dimension of time alongside them.
If so, this "designer-creator-sustainer" that's involved is either (a) unknowable in natural, measurable, scientific, or rational ways, or is (b) the God of the Bible, who may be knowable in some nonscientific but important (some would also say "rational") other ways. Further, for some not all of those who accept (b) this basic suspicion can lead to actual hypotheses that can be described and tested in systematic ways (b').
Let me risk categorizing how trained, academic scientists might think about this:
- Scientists who are atheistic and naturalistic fall under (1).
- Scientists who also seriously accept teaching from the Bible would be (2)(b) , or possibly (2)(a) depending how they would treat my wording.
- Scientists who are otherwise "religious" would be (2) or (2)(a).
- Scientists who identify with the Intelligent Design Movement (ID), whether traditionally religious or not, would be (2)(a), though some may press beyond standard ID assumptions and insist they are (2)(b).
- Scientists who identify with Reasons To Believe position (RTB see website below)
would be (2)(b)(b').
Much more can be said here, perhaps at another time, but let me move on to the second pivotal and separate question.
2. How old is the universe (especially earth)? Here is where Bible believers really unfortunately divide. There are two widely held and very different views: #1. The universe and earth is only from 6000 to 10,000 years old. That's "Young Earth Creationism" (YEC). Or #2. the universe is billions of years old and "began" at The Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago (the planet earth is quite younger than that) and everything will "end" in the future, at least in a few billion years. "Time" itself is a straight line with a beginning and an end. That's standard science teaching now, by the way, but Darwinism, or naturalistic evolution, is not a necessary bedfellow here.
Bible-believers who have no problem accepting The Big Bang and "billions of years" are "Old Earth Creationists" (OEC). While many OEC folk are "theistic evolutionists," I and many others are not. (Discussion about all this must also wait.)
The Big Bang and origins is a distinctively different issue from whether or not naturalistic evolutionary change is running the show (if in fact a "show" is in progress).
Now I must tip my hand before offering a two-bit summary and point you to websites that you may love or be disturbed by. But if you're willing to think, you can't help but be fascinated. First, I'm a Christian with a high regard for the Bible. Then there's the baggage of my training as a science educator (Ph.D. at Western Michigan Univ.) and my experience teaching and writing secular elementary science texts as part of a four-person team (Science: Understanding Your Environment, Silver Burdett, 1970s and 80s perhaps you even used them in school). This writing preceded my becoming a long-time Professor of English at State Univ. of NY.
So what am I up to here?
Before I finish, I want you to consider Old Earth Creationist views and check out some websites. Why? How you look at this issue has a big effect on how you look at science in general. Recent findings are making a stronger and stronger case for an old age for the earth (like I've mentioned), the reality of God (not widely admitted), and the reliability of the Bible and how it fits with science (also not widely acknowledged). One example of a dramatic change of thinking is Nobel Prize winner (in chemistry)) Richard Smalley who, through the outreach of RTB (see below) gave up his atheism for faith in the God of the Bible and his Son when challenged to consider the facts how science and the Bible can be in harmony when both are rightly interpreted.
Once again, forgive me if I do little more than observe, summarize, and send you to the library:
(1) First, you probably already know about Young Earth Creationist views. They're the ones, creating about one-half of the science/religion controversy in public schools today. (The other large issue related but not the same involves Darwinism and evolution.)
(2) OEC views agree with conservative views on Biblical inerrancy. For a sharp statement on inerrancy see www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html . Bible believers should be aware of the Chicago formulation (1978) of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI).
(3) Most accredited Christian colleges and universities not only allow for, but encourage OEC views in their science departments. Check websites of your colleges of interest. (Please correct me with details if you think I'm misinformed.)
(4) Year by year, month by month, scientific discoveries are supporting a Biblical interpretation of origins as found in the Torah and other parts of Scripture. Check out the outstanding Bible/science website of Reasons To Believe (RTB) [ www.reasons.org ]. These discoveries both assume and support an OEC view, but not a YEC view. Look also at the website of astrophysicist/theologian Robert C. Newman's "double doctorate" group at the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute [ www.ibri.org ] . (Papers found here are highly researched and fascinating.)
(5) Having said all this, inspect the attractive and most significant YEC website, that of the Institute of Creation Research, www.icr.org and compare what I've said to what other serious believers have said who have differing views. I have trouble with much of the interpretation of science of ICR, but read and decide for yourself what best fits your prayerful examination of Scripture and your knowledge of science.
(Maybe I'm wrong.)
Let me conclude by mentioning a recent little-known paper by R. Joel Duff, "Flood Geology's Abominable Mystery," that appeared in Perspectives of Science and Christian Faith, Vol. 60, No. 3, Sept. 2008 (this is the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation www.asa3.org. ). "Flood Geology" (often used as a synonym for YEC) looks at the Grand Canyon and other vast areas of sedimentary rock deposits as a result of the one-year flood that occurred at the time of Noah. At that time all the Grand Canyon sediments, and sediments elsewhere, were laid down, pressed into rock, and in the case of the Grand Canyon were cut (at least most of the way) through by the Colorado River in a single year. (Think of the "building" and slicing of a layer cake.)
Duff reports that electron microscopic images of fossil spores and pollen grains have been found there only in the upper layers of rocks and none, absolutely none have been found in lower layers.
So what? This means that not a trace of fossils of flowering plants has been found anywhere below the early Cretaceous (in the upper Mesozoic Era, time of dinosaurs and first flowering plants) level of rocks. Not a trace of spores or pollen grains anywhere in layers at least a half mile thick. And after an unprecedented single year of activity said to have radically changed the earth's surface. Why are certain creatures without exception found only in certain layers if the entire Grand Canyon sequence were deposited, changed into rock, and worn down in a single year?
Other studies have failed to find any mammal bones in the bottom layers. No evidence of "swirling, dumping, and random mixing" as the flood waters rose and later subsided. Just (what seems like) the slow, slow, slow methodical depositing of sediments in water usually by size and weight, that had to be followed by heat and pressure that slowly turned them into rock. And when that was done, then had to come (what seems like) the slow, boring, monotous wearing away by water. A busy year. Yes, God could have intervened with a miracle. After all, his Son changed water into wine.
But if the Grand Canyon was only a year's event, why did God erase all the evidence and make things look otherwise?
The last website [ www.johnknapp2.com ] is quite pale when compared to others I've mentioned. If you go there, go past the hype about my new novel to RESOURCES (much more modestly presented) where I have two "working papers," one an "up-to-2005" (I can't quite say "up-to-date") annotated two-page bibliography of key books in the ID movement, which, in my view, has been badly maligned by people who refuse to do homework. Another resource is a list of 23 observations ("up-to-say-2006"?), or questions, that should be asked if Bible believers and others want to have an intelligent conversation about creation and evolution. Since I know of nothing quite like them that's easily available, I've kept them posted.
Keep open for new things. Scientists at RTB (cited above) keep a pretty good record of new happenings in science and what they might mean, by the way.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," according to God's special revelation from long ago. God's general revelation from science today (2009) seems to emphasize that the "point" of creation was very, very, very long ago.
Point and not "time"?
Yes, that's better because just before The Big Bang, time wasn't.
And all the stuff that now is once was long, long, long ago just a point. (See small diagram in next paragraph.)