“Hypothetically speaking, if there was evidence that the world was more than 10,000 years old, would you still believe in God and the historic Jesus Christ?”
This, I thought, while watching the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, is a wonderful question. I want to hug whoever came up with this question. And I waited, hopeful, ready for some fun theological discussion of just how connected our view of God should be to the details of a creation account.
And Ken Ham talked about how you can’t definitively prove the age of the earth. Which might have been technically true. But it didn’t answer the real question.
The real question was a timid high schooler who wonders if salvation and a young earth have to be tied together.
The real question was a scholarly article by a biology professor at a Christian university who is tired of students coming in thinking that God couldn’t possibly use evolution to create animal life.
The real question was a college student ashamed to be on Twitter during the debate, a pastor who understands an opposing interpretation of Genesis as reasonable even if he disagrees with it, a curious outsider to the church who doesn’t understand what is so compelling about this book of myths Christians keep appealing to for their view of creation.
The real question is a tired, frustrated twenty-something writing a blog who wants to know why. Why are we staking our faith on a timeline? Why do we jump so easily from “there’s a book out there” to “I know exactly what this passage of the book means and my explanation must be the only one?” Why have we chosen this hill to defend and die on when there are others so much more important—Calvary, for example?
Let me clarify: I believe Genesis is history, though history written with a specific purpose in mind to a specific people group. I believe that the special creation of mankind in the image of God is extremely important to our understanding of the world, as is the Fall. I believe it’s critical to think about whether we’re forcing Scripture to say what fits best with our culture’s current mood instead of pursuing truth as best we can.
I believe those things, and I would defend them. I don’t know if I would debate them, because debates are not a friendly format for people like me who come to conclusions while talking instead of beforehand. (Even posting this blog so close to the event is pushing this, as I may have a slightly different opinion tomorrow.)
But I hope, when parents talk to their children about this debate, they tell them that God isn’t afraid of scientific evidence even if it eventually indicates that a common interpretation of the Bible is wrong. Copernicus was once condemned by the Psalms. It seems obvious to us now that an Earth-centered universe isn’t essential to our faith, but it wasn’t then.
I hope that people listening to Ham’s closing remarks about the Bible take time to appreciate its beauty as a story of redemption instead of scoffing at its use as a science textbook. Not that the Bible is just a fairy tale (although fairy tales get their power from borrowing on those central themes of redemption and good vs. evil that are the plot of the Bible). But I do think that this is a great chance to talk about how we interpret the Bible and its various genres: not just the scholars and the pastors, but Joe Churchgoer and Jane Blogger. Do we care about what it means? Are we willing to ask hard questions, search out answers? Will we listen graciously to those who disagree with us, no matter what side we’re on, and refuse to belittle their point of view?
I hope that people who start conversations on this subject in the coming days will not feel compelled to stack up opposing statistics, memorized from some source on either side. Instead, I hope they’ll consider not just which theory seems to give us a logical explanation of how we got here, but whether that explanation gives us a purpose as well.
A naturalistic (God-less) view of evolution fits best with the cultural values we have right now. Independence, predictability, advancement. Listening to Bill Nye talk about discovery and curiosity and a passion for asking questions made me excited about the same things, and that’s good.
But I think Christianity gives us a framework for understanding ourselves that a naturalistic explanation of the world can’t.
There are many answers in Genesis…but I think the most important ones aren’t the ones Ken Ham referred to.
There’s a book out there that tells me I have purpose, that what I do matters. There’s a book out there that explains why I both hate the terrible things that I do and fight to preserve my life against everything. There’s a book out there that contains the most compelling narrative in history, one that rings true with everything deep inside of us, because we were built with a longing for it, and a longing for the truth and goodness and beauty that we see shining through the cracks of a broken world.
That’s my book. It’s Ken Ham’s too, and I know that a debate on science is no time to go into these things. But I hope it’s what people talk about afterward. Because while I can’t say for sure how long we’ve lived Earth, I do know what on Earth is worth living for.
(Note: This is my immediate reaction to the overall debate. I do not have a firm opinion on the age of the Earth or how we should interpret the Genesis account. There are many people who are contributing perspectives about the science of origins or the correct way to do exegesis. Read those for an informed opinion on the topic. This is meant to be a thoughtful reaction to the central themes of the discussion.)