Ken Ham, staunch Young Earth Creationist, has recently written a blog post highlighting a recent position change taken by the Assemblies of God (AG) denomination (HT: Ron's Bloviating). Ham takes issue with the AG for revising their earlier held position, sympathetic to a Young Earth position, for that of one which allows for Old Earth belief as well. For the record, I have grown up in the AG denomination and have been partial to the Old Earth Creation model, despite their earlier stance, since I was in elementary school (the 1960s). In A Sad Day for the Assemblies of God Denomination, Ham writes,
The general presbytery of the Assemblies of God (AG) denomination, in session August 9–11, 2010, adopted a revised statement on “The Doctrine of Creation.” Here is an excerpt from the official AG position paper, that opens the door to evolution and millions of years, and the various compromise positions on Genesis held by some in the church (such as gap theory, day age, progressive creation, theistic evolution, etc)
Of particular concern, to Ham, is the statement by the AG,
The advance of scientific research, particularly in the last few centuries, has raised many questions about the interpretation of the Genesis accounts of creation.
evidently because he connects such reasoning as equivalent to succumbing to the lie told by the serpent in Genesis 3, in which he tempted Eve to doubt God's Word. By comparing a 1977 statement, from the AG, Ham contrasts a previous belief that a "natural reading" of the Genesis 1 creation account results in an understanding that the account refers to consecutive 24 hour solar days. His concern seems to be that any acceptance of data, from scientific research, that points towards a billions of years old universe, is tantamount to the doubting of God's Word, which he understands - nay, demands - to state otherwise. Ham writes,
The AG with its August statement is now saying we have to take the fallible ideas of fallible humans and use these in authority over the Word of God.
I applaud Ham's concern, which is ultimately driven by a desire to keep Christians from falling prey to worldly wisdom, yet I seriously question the dogmatic stance he has taken. He posits that a Young Earth interpretation of the creation accounts, found in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, is the only viable interpretation allowed. Such a position has neither a theological, historical, or scientific grounding.
While this blog post is, by no means, an attempt to exhaustively answer the Young Earth / Old Earth debate, I do want to make a few concise points.
In discussing this subject, with Young Earth proponents, I've sometimes been told that the Young Earth position is held because "it's what the Bible says". The obvious conclusion, from such a position, is that the Old Earth interpretation is NOT what the Bible says. I wonder if Young Earthers, who make such a statement, are really aware of implications of what they're proposing? Do they really think that some of their fellow Christians are not aware of what they happen to be reading in God's Word? I also wonder how consistent Young Earthers are with their "natural reading" of "what the Bible says" argument? If they wish to be consistent, then surely they must think that God has wings, that Jesus' had nails driven through his hands, that it's the Sun that revolves around the Earth*, that the mustard seed is the smallest plant seed on earth, and that the value of Pi is equal to the integer 3. But, of course, I would imagine that for those references they would argue that the meaning found in text involves intent and context - context which includes culture, language, genre, etc. Try as they might, they cannot get around the fact that the Genesis creation accounts have not been dogmatically held, through Christendom, to mean that God created the cosmos in 6 24 hour solar days, nor that one is mandated to translate the Hebrew text as such. It's my conclusion that they are incorrect in stating that their interpretation is the "natural reading" of "what the Bible says".
Another point in which Ham slips up, in my opinion, is his accusation that the belief the universe is billions of years old correlates with a belief in natural process evolution. To his credit, he does not accuse Old Earthers of categorically believing in natural process evolution, but merely states that the Old Earth position "opens the door" to such belief. Still, I take issue with such a proposition, for it demonstrates a lack of understanding of both the Old Earth position as well as the natural process evolutionary position. The Old Earth interpretation attempts to harmonize not only the multiple creation accounts found in the Bible (including and beyond the two major ones found in Genesis), but our understanding of the physical realm as well. If the data points towards a universe billions of years old, and if we can harmonize the data with what we read in the Bible, then it is irrelevant whether or not the natural process evolutionary model also accepts a billions of years old universe. Also, as research continues, the complexity of our natural realm is becoming more evident: from the minute structure of DNA to the makeup of the universe itself. As we discover that advanced life requires this specified complexity, and as we understand that specified complexity is highly improbable, by chance, we begin to understand how improbable our existence is - from a purely natural point of view. Truth is, billions of years is appearing to be not enough time for advanced life to arise through natural means.
It seems to me that many in the Young Earth camp dismiss scientific research too easily. At best, they simply recognize man's fallibility and apply that fallibility to our interpretation of the natural realm; at worst, they assume some grand conspiracy, in the scientific community, dedicated to the undermining of all religious belief. I will spend zero time discussing the latter option, as I believe it to be nonsense and as I believe that Ham holds to the former option.
I wonder, at what point do I, as a fallible human, disregard the ideas of other fallible humans? Do I refuse to board an airliner simply because it was designed by fallible humans who, obviously, have fallible ideas about aeronautical engineering? Do I take the stairs, when visiting a high-rise building, because the elevator was designed by fallible humans with fallible ideas of structural engineering? How many Young Earthers have ever taken an over-the-counter medication? Since such medication was developed by fallible humans with fallible ideas regarding chemistry, I must conclude that Ken Ham does not take any over-the-counter medication. Speaking of fallible ideas - how about the idea of how we read, and understand, text? I think that we believe, however fallibly, that we are able to see, and then read text, due to the physical action of light photons bouncing off of a page of text, being received and processed by our eyes, through the lens, retina, and optic nerve, with the resulting electrical impulses then being interpreted by our brain. The whole notion of understanding God's written Word is dependent on a physical process.
You see, the problem with discounting scientific research is that one ends up having to pick and choose which scientific research they will believe in. While we don't have an exhaustive understanding of the physical realm, we do have some understanding of it and - this is important - our level of understanding grows as we continue to do more research. So, whereas the scientific community in the 1800s thought that the universe had always existed, Albert Einstein threw them on their heads by proposing (with scientific backup), in the early 1900s, that the universe was finite and actually began to exist. It is indeed very interesting that this notion of a beginning was already found in God's Word.
In the years since Einstein, the ideas of general and special relativity have been refined, through continued experimenting and testing, and as our understanding of cosmology grew. Likewise, in the years since the Wright brothers, we've moved from airplanes built out of wood and fabric, capable of carrying only one person, to jet powered airliners which transport hundreds of people thousands of miles at a time. Is there a chance that as we gain a better understanding of the physical realm the ideas of general and special relativity, as well as those of aeronautical engineering, will be overturned? Certainly. As stated earlier, we don't have a complete understanding of the entire cosmos. However, and this is how the process of progressive understanding works, as continued research builds cumulative support for a particular theory, the more reliable such a theory becomes in explaining the natural realm.
Unfortunately, for the Young Earth camp, they have no credible scientific data which can support a universe of 6,000 - 10,000 years in age. And, to make matters worse, further research in multiple, unrelated disciplines, continues to support an old age for the universe. The Old Earth model is certainly not without paradoxes or weak points, yet one should consider its many strengths before dismissing it out of hand.
Kudos to the Assemblies of God for revising their position on the creation accounts found in Genesis 1 and 2.
* a natural reading obvious conclusion, if the Earth truly does not move (and a conclusion that the church had to revise due to an eventual better understanding of the physical realm).