Discovering Religion: Episode 2 – Young Earth
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
This once proud motto embodied America’s unique role as the melting pot of the world, a beacon of hope and prosperity that allowed anyone, without restriction to culture, race or religion, to enter a land of opportunity in search of the “American Dream”. However, over the last few decades with the fear of terrorism at an all time high and the perception that cheap immigrant labor is saturating the workforce, America has since retracted it’s open invitation to the world.
Although the United States might still be considered a racial melting-pot of sorts, America is much more homogenous in it’s religious views than its cultural diversity. Down from 86% in 1990 to 76% in 2008, Christianity remains the dominate religion of the United States, with only 1% of the population identifying themselves as Jews and 0.6% as Muslim.
The widespread belief in Christianity correlates to the large number of Americans that reject evolution. According to a survey conducted by CBS in 2005, 51% of Americans believe God created man in his present form. In a poll of industrialized countries on their belief of evolution, America ranked as one of the least, second only to Turkey, in the acceptance of evolution as truth.
Many western nations, such as those belonging to the European Union, are adopting a more secular form of government, which actually celebrates the discoveries that have advanced the concept of evolution. To the contrary, the United States is becoming increasingly more isolated, both politically an intellectually, as it closes it’s boarders and moves toward a more conservative society, where American legislation is influenced by religious beliefs and a majority of its citizens hold the view any scientific evidence that conflicts with Biblical doctrine must be entirely rejected.
Meet Sylvia Allen, a republican senator from Arizona. Allen happens to be a Christian and her duty as an elected official is to vote on laws that represents her views and those of her constituency. Recently, Senator Allan presided over a hearing on the mining of Arizona’s uranium reserves.
“This Earth has been here 6,000 years, and I know I’m going on and on, and I’ll shut up. Its been here 6,000 years long before anyone had environmental laws, and somehow it hasn’t been done away with. …and uh… We need to get the uranium here in Arizona. So this state can get the money from it….”
Senator Allan is on record professing the world to be 6,000 years old, which is contrary to the scientific understanding of a 4.5 billion year old Earth and a 13.7 billion year old universe. If not from a science book, then from what source has Senator Allen and other like-minded Americans received information the Earth is so much younger than the view collectively shared among the world’s scientific community?
Christians that believe in a young Earth are proponents of a literal understanding of the Bible. Often identified as Evangelical Creationist, their beliefs are not only at odds with the scientific understanding of the natural world, but also with other Christians that hold the view the Bible can and should be interpreted. Advocates of interpretation do not believe the Bible is the direct, literal word of God, but instead, a collection of manuscripts, themselves having been translated and transcribed as they were passed down through the millennia.
This view not only encourages interpretation of the scriptures but actually claims interpretation is necessary in order to correctly understand the greater meaning behind the figurative stories collected within theses texts. Christians that accept the evidence of an old earth often site 2 Peter 3:8, which says, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”
There is a similar quote in Psalm 90:4 that reads, “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, all like a watch in the night.”
These passages show that the word “day” is used in many different contexts throughout the Bible. However, Creationists argue that in both 2 Peter 3 and in Psalm 90 the context is that God is not limited by natural processes. Neither verse refers to the specific “days” of creation in Genesis, for these passages are dealing with the boundless qualities of God.
Instead, creationists look to the book of Exodus where can be found a specific reference to the days of creation. Exodus 20:9-10 states, “You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me.”
God’s justification for this definition of the workweek is given in verse 11, “For in six days I, the Lord, made the heavens and the Earth, the sea and all that is in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.”
When God gives the fourth Commandment to Moses in Exodus 20:8-12, we see a direct, literal reference to the creation week in Genesis 1. This is clearly evident by the direct, literal tone in which God conveys all of His commands. God makes no figurative or allegorical references in his 6th, 7th and 8th Commandments, which tell us not to commit murder, adultery, or theft, respectively. Therefore, Creationist apply the same logic to the fourth Commandment that instructs us to keep the Sabbath day holy, where the creation week is exemplified in the workweek.
Creationists believe that if we are to follow God’s example, the definition of the workweek in Exodus 20 is the same length of time it took to create the universe in Genesis 1. Taking into account that a day is a literal day, Creationist are able to determine the age of the Universe and the Earth by tracing several genealogies found in the old testament.
So, lets also briefly trace these genealogies to see what we find, and please feel free to follow along with your copy of the Bible. In Genesis 5:3-32 we learn of the genealogy from Adam to Noah’s son, Shem: If we add the age of each man when his son was born we will find there is 1,556 years from Adam to Shem.
In Genesis 11:11-26 we learn of the genealogy from Shem to Abraham: Again, if we add the age of each man when son was born we will find there was 390 years from Shem to Abraham. When added to our previous total, we arrive at 1,946 years after the creation.
In Genesis 12:4 we pick up the story of Abraham, “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.” In Genesis Chapter 15 verse 18 God makes a covenant with Abraham, giving his people the promised land: “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.”
In Exodus 12:41 we learn the Israelites left Egypt to enter the promised land 430 years after God spoke to Abraham, “At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt. “
In 1st Kings 6:1 we see the building of Solomon’s Temple: “In the 480th year after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord.” Therefore, when Solomon was building the Temple it had been 480 years since the Exodus led by Moses.
Most Biblical scholars agree that in the year 960 BC Solomon completed the Temple; however, if you have doubt about this date I urge you do some research for yourself. Finally we have arrived at the Birth of Christ. Therefore, From God’s covenant with Abraham to Jesus’ birth there was 1,945 years. Added to our previous total, we arrive at 3,891 years from the creation of Adam to the birth of Christ. If we add the present date to this total, we arrive at the age of the universe, which in 2009, is 5,900 years old.
As we can see, a literal interpretation of the Bible does indeed lead one to perceive the Earth to be 750,000 times younger than what the natural evidence claims. In order to maintain this view, Creationists attack the instruments and the scientific methods used to date the Earth. But, the Evangelical perception of reality conflicts with much more than just radiometric dating.
For instance, light travels throughout the Universe at the constant speed of 3 X10^8 meters per second. So vast is our Universe, it takes light billions of years to travel across the cosmos, light which the Hubble telescope has captured in these beautiful images. Therefore, if the Universe was really younger than 6,000 years, we should not be even able to see the next closest spiral galaxy, Andromeda, which is just a mere 2 million light years away.
In addition, scientists that study the formation of geological phenomena such as the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest observe very slowly occurring processes, estimated to have taken many millions of years. And there is also a problem with the countless numbers of fossils, ranging from the great variety of dinosaurs to even other species of humans, which creationists attempt to explain by manipulating the scientific evidence to conform with their preconceived notions of divine Creation.
The need for Christian Fundamentalists to fight against scientific evidence is of such importance to their system of belief because as we will examine the next episode, to them the purpose of Jesus Christ hinges on the validity of original sin and the fact that no animal life could have died before humans existed to inflicted a curse of death and corruption upon the entire world.