So, the creationists at Answers in Genesis are freaking out a little about Pat Robertson saying that we need to pay attention to science on the age of the Earth. It’s a bit hilarious to see, because really there is no objective way of determining who is theologically correct. Robertson happens to be factually correct, we can see that for the reasons he gives, but there is absolutely no baseline by which we can determine what can and can’t be taken seriously and literally in the Bible.
Most of my readers have heard this before, but let’s take a look at some quotes from AiG to make a somewhat larger point.
Robertson implies that young-earth creationists claim the earth is only about 6,000 years old solely on the basis of the work of Archbishop Ussher. Additionally, several major news agencies reported on Robertson’s comments and stated that Answers in Genesis holds to a 6,000-year-old earth because of Bishop Ussher. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While Ussher was a brilliant and careful scholar and far more knowledgeable on this issue of chronology than most of his critics, we believe that the earth and all of creation is young not because Ussher says so, but because the Bible says so!
Of course it does! We keep forgetting about the part in Larry 26:12 that says that the Earth was created on April 23, 4013 BC. It was a Tuesday, ironically.
It is true that the Bible itself does not contain a verse explicitly stating the age of the earth. A statement like “the earth is xxxx years old” would be wrong the year after it was written!
It was wrong about the ocean being made before there were stars and there being light before there was a sun and the moon being a source of light and so many other things, and that wasn’t even a year after it was written, so I don’t see how this was a big problem.
The Bible does, however, give us information to calculate reasonably accurately the age of the creation and conclude that all of creation is young (here meaning a few thousand, not millions, of years old). Robertson sets the Bible’s authority on this subject aside, essentially inventing a “before the time of the Bible,” to accommodate what he thinks man knows about dates and dinosaurs.
Have you seen the problem yet? Let’s take one more segment.
And here by far is the most dangerous statement Robertson made on his broadcast. Basically, he is saying to our youth, “Don’t believe the Bible; believe in man’s ideas!” Furthermore, he states that if we don’t use “revealed science” to reinterpret the Bible, we will lose our children. Here he is totally wrong. This type of compromise is actually causing our young people to walk away from the church.
Notice something about the argument? Essentially, Mitchell first says that there are obvious clues in the Bible that make the age of the Earth easy to figure out. Robertson believes that the age of the Earth should be left to science, but other things need to be taken literally. He agrees with the pope, who however thinks that virgin births are entirely believable because… pope magic, I guess. Actually, his excuse is that it’s consistent with the rest of the story, which just means that the story is consistent, but I like “pope magic” better.
That, I think, is the strangest thing. Remember that for centuries, the defining cultural marker of Protestantism was that it isn’t Catholic, yet we’re seeing more and more Protestants falling into agreement with Catholics. In some cases, such as here with the age of Earth, that’s a decently good thing. In the case of abortion, that’s pretty damn awful.
The other thing that this makes me think of is that this is a great example of why people who take Christianity seriously, or at least the Bible as a life guide, should and often do have a problem with using science in place of faith. I don’t like telling people what they believe, but I run into much the same problem as Mitchell. If you believe that science is correct and there is no literal Adam and Eve, and further believe there was a Jesus who died for our sins, what did Jesus die for? There is no origin for sin, no fall, no nothing. Also, what makes the age of the Earth as determined by science reasonable, and also walking on water, which science says cannot be done by humans unassisted?
This makes sense for Catholics who can always point the the pope for the last word on what god’s up to, but for Robertson’s followers, they are from a theological school that says that a human interpretation of Scripture is unreliable. Of course, for Ham and his ilk they refuse to admit that they’re engaged in interpretation, too.
It’s confusing because there’s no way to determine who is correct. None of it actually makes sense, so we’re left with competing stories. Largely people choose the one that makes the most sense to them, which is often the one that matches what they already believe.
Or we can put our trust in empirical claims and eliminate the tendency to agree with ideas that confirm our suspicions.