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Does Science Contradict the Bible’s Creation Account? Part 1

If you’ve studied subjects such as astronomy, geology, or biology, I’m sure you’ve discovered abundant evidence that life is old, the Earth is old, and the universe is old. We’re talking really old: millions to billions of years old.

This has been a source of difficulty for me in the past, and I know I’m not alone.

As you learn these things, you likely think back to Genesis 1, and you wonder, “this text doesn’t make anything sound that old. And what’s with the strange order of the Bible’s creation account.” If you’re like I was, it creates a crisis in your heart. You feel like you have to choose between the Bible that gave you the gospel you need so much and, well, reality. That’s not a pleasant ultimatum.

This topic will take up the next three blog posts. For this post, I just want to cover scientific evidence that things are really, really old. In the next post, we’ll look at today’s prominent paths to reconcile scripture and scientific evidence. In the last post, we’ll discuss things more at the heart level.

As you read through this, please know that I believe the Bible is inerrant and authoritative. If we end up disagreeing about the creation account and scientific observations, we still have unity in the gospel.

So, does science contradict the Bible’s creation account? Let’s dig in!

The Earth’s age

The scientific evidence that the Earth is roughly four billion years old is strong. The most accurate means of dating is called “radiometric dating,” which gives age based on the constant rate at which certain isotopes decay into other isotopes (an isotope being an element with a certain number of neutrons in the nucleus, sometimes radioactive). It requires that we know how much of each isotope a thing starts with, and we have ways to accurately estimate that in many circumstances.

Carbon-14 isotopes are generated in the atmosphere but very rarely underground, giving us ways to estimate the age of underground organic matter back to tens of millions of years. Different uranium isotopes decaying into different lead isotopes give us multiple dating techniques that will match if the date is to be trusted. There are also lead-repelling rock formations that give high confidence that a rock sample is not contaminated by pre-existing lead isotopes. These give dating accuracy to billions of years.

Also, ice core samples show visible annual cycles in embedded gasses as you go further down in the ice, and they give us samples back to hundreds of thousands of years.

Carbon-14 and uranium-lead dating give strong evidence that life is at least millions of years old and that the Earth is about 4 billion years old.

The universe’s age

There is strong evidence the universe is expanding. When an object is moving away, its light changes toward longer wavelengths. This is similar to how the sound of an emergency vehicle’s siren gets higher as it approaches you and lower as it moves away, except with light instead of sound. It’s called the Doppler effect.

When we look up, we see that almost everything in the night sky is moving away from us. The farther away it is, the faster it’s moving away. This fits a model called “metric expansion.” It’s as though space itself is an elastic ruler, and that ruler is being stretched out constantly. We know this because when we look at known absorption and emission patterns from light in distant stars and galaxies, it is always “redshifted” (its light has longer wavelengths than expected, meaning it’s moving away from us).

You might wonder why we aren’t stretching out with the universe, but this stretching only happens to the space between “gravitationally unbound” objects. We (thankfully) are gravitationally bound and therefore don’t spread apart into nothing.

There is also an ever-present radiation called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). It was predicted by the big bang theory before it was actually discovered. We believe it was created roughly 400,000 years after a big bang, and it cooled as it spread out with the universe’s metric expansion. The spatial scale of differences in the CMB gives us a way to estimate the expansion rate of the universe.

If we rewind this expansion rate in time, we get to a point in the past when the distance between objects basically becomes zero, and we arrive at the moment of the “big bang”. No matter how we estimate the universe’s expansion rate or what we assume about the universe’s geometry and make-up, we always arrive at an estimated age of 10+ billion years for the universe.

The age of life and evolution

Evidence for some form of evolution, in my view, is strongest when considering the fact that the fossil record is stratified at all. The fossil record does contain challenges to traditional Darwinian evolutionary theories of random genetic mutations, continuous transitional forms, and pure natural selection. The Cambrian “explosion” and scarcity of transitional forms do not demonstrate a strictly Darwinian evolution. However, the fossil record is still highly stratified.

While young-Earth creationists often cite some inconsistencies and gaps in the fossil record, the fact still exists that rock strata are highly correlated worldwide with both fossil types and rock properties. For instance, there is a thin worldwide layer of abnormally high iridium at the boundary between Cretaceous and Paleogene rock layers, believed by most to be a result of an asteroid impact and by some to be the result of volcanic activity.

Young Earth proponents believe short-lived catastrophic tectonic activity and floods resulted in the observed fossil record. I respect those who believe this, but I just don’t understand how such regular and correlated rock strata and fossils can form from a single turbulent chaotic event. Stratification by long ages and sedimentary layers seems far more sensible to explain what we observe in the strata.

Regarding evolution, I personally don’t believe pure randomness and natural selection makes complete sense, but I do see evidence that life did evolve in some fashion over millions of years. I believe it was a guided evolution rather than randomness.

Life, cells, DNA, and sexual reproduction are too interconnected and irreducibly complex for me to believe that random mutations alone bridged those large gaps in any amount of time, much less in a mere few billion years. To me, it seems more reasonable there is something more at work than pure randomness.

Don’t take uncertainty too far

Young-Earth creationists often point to uncertainties and inconsistencies in scientific theories as evidence that those theories are completely wrong. The problem with this is that it ignores the significant portions of those theories that fit the world we observe very well.

Claiming a few unexplained exceptions makes all theory and knowledge useless is like claiming a few uncertainties in scripture makes all of it invalid. Nobody follows that line of thought consistently. It’s not as though all scientists are aggressive atheists. Most of us are much more benign toward religions of any kind, and many of us are believers in Jesus.

Carbon-14 and uranium-lead dating have some inconsistencies, known and published. The fossil record has some inconsistencies. Evolutionary theory has holes in it. What this means is that the theories need to be further refined. What it does not mean is that we should throw out all of the theories entirely as if we’d never observed anything in the first place.

Uncertainty is an inherent part of life (science and scripture included). A relatively small amount of uncertainty in a theory does not give us reason to ignore all of the other observations that give that theory confidence.

How do we reconcile this with the Bible?

In the next post, we take a look at the prominent ways of reconciling science and the Bible’s creation account.

Posted by Matt Norman with
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How to React to Warnings in the Bible

How to React to Warnings in the Bible

Warnings can be confusing

Let’s face it, warnings are scary. In the Bible, we see warnings about the dangers of wealth (Matthew 19:24; 1 Tim. 6:10; and a lot more), patterns of behavior that indicate our hearts are ruled by sin (1 Cor. 6:19-21), distractions from the gospel (Matthew 13:1-9), ignoring the gospel message, enduring in believing the gospel (Hebrews 3:7-13), and others. It’s daunting to read so many.

We often walk away with the conclusion that we should live our lives constantly looking over our shoulders, wondering if wrath is coming our way. We often read warnings without marrying them with the gospel message that tells us Jesus Himself received all of the wrath we deserve for all time.

Others of us recall the gospel, and then we read warnings as if they don’t apply to us at all. I consider this equally dangerous because most warnings were written to believers, not to lost people. Why bother writing so many warnings to the church if they aren’t supposed to apply to the church?

OK, so I’m not supposed to live in constant fear, and I’m not supposed to ignore warnings either. That sounds like pretty much all of the options. What am I missing here?

Let’s dig in.

The gaping hole of a grace-only gospel

If you’re anything like me, it’s very easy to pretend the gospel message only has positive motivations. It’s easy for us to emphasize how Jesus covers our sins, receives our punishments, and holds us secure in salvation for all time. It’s easy to emphasize the undeserved belonging, acceptance, and intimacy He brings us. It’s very difficult, however, to emphasize the dangers of ignoring that very grace.

Hebrews might be my favorite book in the Bible, even with its mysterious authorship. In my opinion, no other book in the Bible so clearly juxtaposes beautiful grace with harsh warnings about ignoring that grace. It has the most comforting passages right beside some of the scariest. The letter’s message isn’t only about a God we can trust when the promises seem far away and our sin seems near. It’s about the extreme dangers of ignoring that message and pretending we can just listen to it later.

The thing about only having positive motivations in the gospel is that they provide us with no sense of urgency. We hear a message that only says, “God is better than sin.” Then we respond with, “Cool, I’ll check out sin for a while, and then I’ll check out God later.” There is nothing warning us of the dangers of waiting to trust God or the damage that we’re doing to ourselves and others while we wait to trust God.

“Why eat a Happy Meal when you have a royal feast waiting for you?” is not a complete gospel.

Humans don’t like to change. We’re stubborn. If the feast is unfamiliar, we’ll stick with the happy meal, thank you very much. In my opinion, this message alone is not good news. It’s damaging news because it doesn’t spur us toward change. The gospel needs warnings to be truly good news.

Cattle prods

It’s best to think of warnings as cattle prods. If you look it up on Wikipedia, you’ll find a fun sentence: “Cattle can be difficult to move and direct for a variety of reasons. Prods can be useful for moving stubborn or aggressive animals.” Yes, we are like those cattle. And yes, we are both stubborn and aggressive when it comes to change, especially unfamiliar change.

Warnings are cattle prods. They are scary, and they’re meant to be scary. They are severe momentary motivations to spur us away from sin and toward Jesus.

I like this analogy because it also helps us understand what warnings are not. Warnings are not long term motivators. If you use a cattle prod constantly, you’ll probably give the poor animal a heart attack. This is akin to living in constant fear of the warnings we read in the Bible.

Further, warnings are not meant to keep you in the gospel. They are a short-term motivator to get you going in the right direction. To stretch this analogy perhaps past its reasonable bounds, it’s the rich grass that will keep you where you are supposed to be, not the cattle prod.

Warnings cannot change you any more than rules can change you.

The beauty of the gospel captivates and keeps you. The beauty of God Himself changes you, not the warnings. The warnings just get you going.

When warnings become harmful

When you read a warning in the Bible, you are supposed to be afraid. Fear is good. That fear is useless, however, it if drives you into anxiety or despair (see 2 Cor. 7:10). It is supposed to drive you into Jesus’s arms, knowing that He covers you, protects you, and walks intimately with you. Biblical warnings are a “fear that draws you near” and not a fear that drives you away.

There is no place for warnings while you’re in God’s presence. Warnings are for when we are outside His presence. Read the warning you find in scripture. Shake in fear. Let it do its work. Let it drive you to Jesus. But once you’re in His arms, ignore the warning completely, and focus on God Himself instead.

The prod that spurred you into God’s presence will now harm you if it distracts you from God’s beauty.

Let the warning do its work, and then discard it entirely.

You aren’t meant to live your life in fear. You are meant to live your life captivated by God’s beauty. Fear has a necessary purpose, but it’s a momentary purpose. Live your life in adoration and joy, and let fear spur you back toward it when you’ve strayed.

Posted by Matt Norman with

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