Sunday, December 31, 2006

What Would the Bible Look Like with an Old Earth?

I'm continuing my series on creation / evolution questions, where I explain why I'm genuinely unsure about how old the Earth and the universe are.

Having asked what the Earth would look like if it had been suddenly created from nothing, I'm now going to ask what the Bible would look like if the Old Earth Creationists were right. Old Earth Creationism, roughly, is the belief that God created the universe over a very long period of time a very long time ago, quite possibly using stuff like a Big Bang and evolution to do it. What would the Bible say about it?

The first thing to note is that Genesis was written to a group of Iron Age subsistence farmers. We should not therefore expect it to contain stuff that they wouldn't understand. Not that they were stupid, but they hadn't exactly had much of a modern scientific education. They didn't know what genes, quark-gluon plasmas or quantum vacuum fluctuations were; they didn't have any use for numbers bigger than those in a census, and even then they seem quite capable of confusing thousands with leaders (the two are the same word in Hebrew - see e.g. Wenham on the census in Numbers). So what would a true description of creation written for those people be like? Certainly not like a modern scientific description would be. What use could they possibly have for that?

They were also in the context of the ancient Near East, with lots of various creation myths about other gods doing the rounds. So an account of creation written for people in that situation should include references to those myths - maybe showing important points where they were wrong (like having gods as part of creation and the universe as always having existed). And where these myths said that other gods did things that the True God really did (like imposing order and so on), the account should say that he did those things. And it's important to know that God was always in control and that he did things at his own pace rather than being forced by events.

In fact, I think a creation account written for the ancient Israelites, telling them what they needed to know about creation, even if it was written by someone who understood about quark-gluon plasmas and stuff, would probably look quite like the one in Genesis.

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