Dear Dr. Mohler:
I watched your presentation on the importance of Young Earth Creationism with great interest and some questions occurred to me. My most general question would have to be whether this really matters as much as you say. It seems to me that you are making a theological mountain out of an exegetical molehill, but I suspect we should just agree to disagree about that. So let me frame some specific questions and perhaps you can help me appreciate where you are coming from.
Here are the questions I have for you, which are expanded in the links:
1.You say that General Revelation cannot trump Special Revelation. Of course, the word “trump” is metaphorical here, and “special” and “general” are loaded terms, but I am taking you to mean that we should not let information from outside the Bible change our minds about what is inside the Bible. The example in your talk would suggest that information from geological records, radioactive dating, cosmic expansion and so on—all of which suggests that the universe is billions of years old—should not persuade us to set aside the natural reading of Genesis which suggests that the earth is young. Is this a fair statement of your position?
2. You say that Darwin left on his expedition on the Beagle to “prove the theory of evolution.” You say he had his theory of evolution before he went on the Beagle and that he was seeking evidence to support it as he traveled about the globe. I would be interested in knowing where you got this idea. Darwin kept copious notes, a diary, and wrote many letters in the course of his long public life. From this vast set of insights into his thinking biographers have been able to unfold his thinking at every turn, and we have a clear picture of how, when, and in response to what, he developed the theory of evolution. What we know with certainty is that he was a Christian who believed in Creation when he boarded the beagle. He even wrote “I did not doubt the literal truth of anything in the Bible” to describe his view when he boarded the Beagle. Far from having a theory of evolution, he was a devotee of William Paley and the design argument. Yet you say exactly the opposite. Can you give some sources for your unusual historical claim?
3. You speak of the apparent age of the universe as a logical necessity and I fully agree with you, up to a point. Certainly, if we were to wander into the Garden of Eden two weeks after the creation was completed, we would see two adults who looked at least 18 years old. But there are many other indicators of age that don’t lend themselves to this sort of explanation. Why would God create radioactive elements in the proportions to suggest the earth is 5 billion years old? Why would God create stars with half of their nuclear fuel already used up? Why would God pepper the heavens with debris that looks exactly like it came from stars that exploded billions of years ago? Why would God create continents that look exactly like they were joined millions of year ago?
For my third question, Dr. Mohler, I want to expand on the age of the earth problem. I am wondering if you realize just how incredible it sounds to a scientist when you say that the earth is 10, 000 years old. The measurements that scientists make to determine the age of the earth and the universe have become quite routine, like counting tree rings, or measuring a wavelength of light and it boggles my mind to think that anyone would set these simple measurements aside. Most scientists consider the age of the earth to be almost as well-established as its shape. Just as “flat earthism” cannot be taken seriously any longer, neither can “young earthism,” and I wonder if you really want Christians to “vote science off the island,” for that is what you have to do to preserve the young earth claim.
Our great confidence that the earth is around 4.6 billion years old and the universe around 14 billion years old comes from the remarkable convergence of several unrelated lines of evidence. There are arguments from data as diverse as radioactive decay and the expansion of the universe. One of the simplest and most elegant arguments comes from asking the simple question: How long would it take the light from distant objects to travel to the earth?
Consider the elementary fact that the speed of light has been experimentally measured and is constant—not infinite—and therefore takes time to reach the earth from distant objects. Consider the sun, which is about 93 million miles from the Earth. Because light travels at 186,000 miles per second, it takes about 8 minutes for light from the sun to reach the earth. If the sun suddenly went dark we would not know it for 8 minutes. We would be standing under what appeared to be a blinding orb when in fact it was just a big cinder. To “see” the sun is to look back into the past 8 minutes. Because the distances in space are so great, we often use the speed of light to measure the distances. We say, for example, that the sun is “8 light-minutes” away. If the light from a distant object takes a year to reach the earth, we say that object is one light-year away.
The sun is the closest star to us, right next door in cosmic terms. The other stars, and the galaxies containing them, are much further away. The light from these objects, despite traveling incredibly fast, takes millions and even billions of years to reach the Earth. If the light has been traveling billions of years to reach the earth, then the universe must be at least that old. This claim has been countered by young earth creationists who assume that God created the light beams “in transit” a few thousand years ago, at the same time he created the earth and the rest of the universe. Perhaps you are familiar with this “solution.” This argument appears plausible and consistent and is the starlight analog to your example of Adam looking much older than he actually was. But it collapses when you work out its implications.
For starters, what about stars we observe exploding that are millions of light years away? If this argument is true those stars never existed. To arrange this feat, God would have had to create a burst of light around 10,000 light-years away that would look like an exploding star. This burst of light would just now be reaching us. What would be the point of this? God can, of course, do this but the burden of proof surely has to be borne by those making such peculiar claims. From a scientific point of view, the exploding star is millions of light years away, which is why itlooks millions of light years away. It appears to have exploded millions of years ago because, at least from the scientific point of view, that is actually when it exploded. To make the “light in transit” argument work, you have to invent an encyclopedia full of separate explanations to make sense of what we observe and why it is not the way it looks. Is it not better to simply acknowledge that the universe is as it appears, rather than to propose that God created all manner of optical illusions in the heavens to fool us?
Another argument advanced by your fellow Young Earth creationists is that the speed of light was much greater in the past: if light went faster in the past then it would reach the earth sooner and the universe would not need to be so old for the light to have traveled to earth. The Australian creationist Barry Setterfield has made this claim1 but his argument has been analyzed and found to contain serious statistical errors. These errors are so great that even his fellow creationists reject his work.2
But such arguments simply cannot bear the weight put on them. The speed of light is an important factor in many natural phenomena, not just the rate at which photons stream through space. The most well known of many examples is Einstein’s famous formula E = mc2, where “c” is the speed of light, “E” is energy, and “m” is the mass. If energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared, then there would have been much more energy in the past than there is now. This violates the conservation of energy, which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only change form, which is what happen, for example, when chemical energy in gasoline is converted to energy of motion to move your car. The conservation of energy is the best-established law in all of science and hypotheses that violate it are no longer taken seriously by the scientific community.
I admit, certainly, that God could have created a Universe with the appearance of age. But this takes the question from science to theology. While God is certainly capable of creating the appearance of age, I don’t see how this aligns with either God’s character or a clear reading of Genesis. It also seems to me that God could have created the universe ten minutes ago and implanted false memories in our minds. The question for science in a Christian context is not “What might a supernatural creator be capable of doing” but rather “What does the evidence suggest that a supernatural creator actually did.”
In the big picture, though, I just cannot see why this is so important. You are asking Christians to reject modern science and alienate themselves from the educated world for a doctrine that seems so secondary.
1. Barry Setterfield and Trevor Norman, “Atomic Constants, Light, and Time,” Genesis Science Research. August 1987. [online] Available from http://www.setterfield.org/report/report.html, 20 January 2010
2. “Arguments that should never be used,” Answers in Genesis. 2010 [online] Available athttp://www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers/topic/arguments-we-dont-use, 20 January 2010.
For further discussion, see also Pete Enns's response to Dr. Mohler's speech.