Our Young Earth (or, Shorter Days of Our Lives)

March 8th, 2010

Inspired by The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (Lee Strobel 2000), A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson 2004), and Days are a bit shorter since Chile earthquake (Washington Post 3/03/10). Also read our earlier post “Pharisees” for more on literal interpretation of the Bible, watch the videos, and read the further (prose) discussion below about the differences between Deism, Intelligent Design, Creationism, and Young Earthism.

Here’s something guaranteed to make the Religious Right mad:

For Christianity to survive and grow, literal interpretation of Genesis is bad.

 

Is the Bible the inerrant word of God? That’s a difficult question,

And often the cause of theological indigestion.

But whether the Bible’s to be interpreted literally is another matter.

Since that’s an easier question, I’ll start with the latter.

 

I’m a Pastor’s Kid (a.k.a. “PK”).

Growing up, religioun was a part of my life every day.

My parents believed and we were taught

That Genesis was to be interpreted literally…not.

 

Atheists and those who oppose religion rejoice

That the Religious Right creates the false choice

Between the Bible’s literal interpretation

And our becoming a non-Christian nation.

 

Take Genesis, for example,

With Chapter 1 verses 14-19 as a sample:

If God created the sun on the fourth day,

How then can we dogmatically say

That the first “day” was the birth

Of a divinely created Heaven and Earth?

 

“Day” means the rising and setting of the sun,

But what does the word mean if there isn’t yet one?

If there’s no sun, the word “day” can’t have it’s literal sense,

So figurative interpretation of the Bible is just common sense.

 

And besides, the length of a day periodically changes

When a quake the earth’s crust rearranges.

The quake in Chile was so strong

That it made our day 1.26 microseconds less long.

 

Does this mean that the Old Testament should be rejected as fiction

And that Christians and Jews must abandon their conviction?

No, it just means that some of it’s symbolic

(And some might even be a little hyperbolic).

 

In the New Testament there’s something comparable:

Jesus Christ’s use of the parable.

No one thinks that the Good Samaritan story actually took place.

Using stories to express deeper meaning is (and was) commonplace.

 

Re question 2: the Bible was written and translated by men,

Which means human error crept in now and then.

For example, the report that people lived to be superannuated

Is probably because the ancient Sumerian numbering system was mistranslated.

 

That the Earth is 5000 years old was never taught by Jesus,

Whose teaching from Old Testament strictures frees us.

It’s not a belief that Christianity needs

(It’s not even mentioned in the Apostles or Nicene Creeds).

 

But what bothers me most is Young Earthers’ insistence

That rejecting their view makes the rest of us lesser Christians.

Just because the rest of us don’t believe as you do

Doesn’t mean we’re not as good as you.

 

Even Lee Strobel (who wrote The Case for Faith in God)

Seems to think Young Earth Creationism is kind of odd.

He makes a strong case for Divine Creation,

But directly refutes the Young Earth allegation.

 

Here’s something that will surprise you (or might):

In one way, the Young Earthers are right

In astronomical terms, 4.5 billion years is a newborn baby

(One of the youngest in the galaxy… maybe).

 

Now back to my point that Young Earthism is bad

(And please forgive me if this makes you mad):

Those of you who want science banned

Are building your houses on a foundation of sand.

 

A belief that requires for it’s reliance

Refutation of most modern science

Has a major problem with coherence

And is prone to losing adherents.

 

And if what you teach your kids requires science’s rejection

And views scientific evidence as a lethal infection,

Then don’t be surprised when they abandon that conviction

When they eventually come across the scientific contradiction.

 

I’m not saying the whole Bible is allegorical:

A lot of it is literal or historical.

But by demanding literal interpretation of the former sections,

Literalists increase Christian defections.

 

Everything’s relative (just ask Einstein),

And there might be some truth in Intelligent Design.

But one thing of which I’m sure:

A 5000 year old earth would be immature.

***

Here’s today’s theme music, and in my view the single best teaching tool and mnemonic device about the universe’s wonder and complexity, the Galaxy Song from the Monty Python classic film, The Meaning of Life

And in honor of the long-running series (5 days a week for 40+ years) from which this post (partially) takes its name, here’s a scene from Days of Our Lives, appropriately about God, the Meaning of Life (though I have to say I still find Monty Python more instructive), and why good things happen to bad people (read this earlier post for more on that). And as a special bonus, here’s the cast on Ellen, including some background about the show. Apparently, the series isn’t out on DVD yet (that would be a tall order, since there are 10,000+ episodes), but you can check it out for free with the free Real SuperPass trial.

 

 

Definitely read that article about how the earthquake in Chile has slowed the earth’s speed of rotation by 1.26 microseconds (a microsecond is one one-millionth of a second), as calculated by NASA scientist Richard Gross. That’s because the earthquake moved some (a massive amount in absolute terms, but not much in relative terms) of the earth’s mass closer to the earth’s axis, which makes it spin faster (just like ice skaters spin faster when they pull their arms in). The change is imperceptibly and immeasurably small (a factor of one in 68,571,428,571 (since there are 86,400 seconds in a day), but still very interesting, and indicative of both the genius of the accumulation of human knowledge that is modern science, and the inherent error of thinking in absolutes.

I strongly recommend the book referred to above, A Short History of Nearly Everything (I’m actually reading it now) by Bill Bryson (along with Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, which I also read and heartily enjoyed). Short History is a really excellent introduction to the science of the universe’s, the earth’s, and life’s creation, presented in a way that even non-scientists such as myself can understand it, but without condescending or over-simplifying. The History Channel’s The Universe series also does a very good job on that – I highly recommend either watching it on TV and/or purchasing the DVD set (here’s a scene below).

 

I also recommend Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith. This book takes the opposite tack to Bryson’s, but comes to some of the same conclusions. Lee Strobel was a journalist raised as a Christian, but who then abandoned his faith due and became an atheist. The book chronicles his attempt to at least partially square religious belief and teachings with science and intellectualism, and find scientific support for the existence of God and teachings of the Old Testament (Strobel also did similar books on the New Testament and existence of God as a non-denominational Creator). I haven’t read the latter two yet, but Faith has been very helpful to me in trying to figure out what I personally believe in, so I heartily recommend it to others who are having similar issues. Even if you aren’t interested in thinking about those issues, the book provides very useful insight into the thinking of Young Earthers, but also (unintentionally, I’m sure) ammunition to confront their views. By the end of the book, Strobel does come to the definite conclusion that the universe owes its existence to an act of creation by God, but he definitely is not in the Young Earther camp (for one, he acknowledges that the universe is about 14 billion years old what he refers to as “micro-evolution”).

Another important point for Liberals to remember (and many non-religious Liberals often either don’t know or forget this) is that Intelligent Design, Creationism, and Young Earthism are NOT the same thing, or even very closely related. In fact, in terms of the nexus between science and religion, they form a wide spectrum (with ID and YE at it’s opposite ends), with Intelligent Design and Creationism themselves each encompassing a potentially wide range of views (though in practice, those views tend to become more narrow, probably because many of the people that hold them tend to be narrow-minded). Not all Creationists, for example, believe the earth and entire universe are only 5000 years old. In its more Liberal interpretations, Intelligent Design is not that different from Deism, which holds that God created the universe and set things in motion, but has since then mostly been a passive observer, like a clockmaker. (Contrary to the Religious Right’s protestations that America is a Christian Nation, most of the Founding Fathers were actually Deists, who honor Jesus Christ’s teachings but do not believe in His divinity, or in the Bible’s miracles. Thomas Jefferson was a confirmed Deist, so much so that he razored out all references to miracles from his personal copies of Old and New Testaments.)

For me personally, I’m not sure exactly where I fall on the spectrum, but I know it’s to the left of Creationism and literalist interpretation of the Bible. Does that make me a lesser person, or even a lesser Christian? I think not.

And what post on this subject woul be complete without a reference to the book that started all this controvery, Darwin’s Origin of Species.

Finally, here’s an hour-long lecture on the beginning of the universe by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking. It’s comprehensive, but still accessible to non-physicists like myself.

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