I make it a point to not write about my faith on this page because 1) I don't believe it's an effective place to write about it, and 2) too many people in my faith are far too embarrassing too often. Many have become the political zombies that we all know so well, but then again, I myself am far from perfect and what I refer to as a professional-strength sinner.
There's a lot of discussion presently of the evolution/creationism debate between Dr. Bill Nye and the Ham guy, whoever he is. So I thought it would be an opportune time to clarify some things to both those unfamiliar with the bible and those who should be more familiar. This essay would likely be controversial in my own church. This surely wouldn't be preached within The Church of FoxNews. I am in no way trying to evangelize or convert anyone, only to discuss a line of biblical interpretation.
My first semester at St. Bonaventure University, I took a course called “Ways of Being Religious.” Thirty years later, one philosophy still sticks in my memory. It was called Left-Handed Tantric Buddhism. The main tenant of the religion was that the way to deal with sin was to do as much of it as possible so that you would become bored with it and stop doing it. This meant that if you wanted to defeat your temptation of committing rape, you should rape as many women as possible until you just got sick of the monotony of it.
I remember it not only because I thought how silly the belief was (apologies to Left-Handed Tantric Buddhists everywhere), but also the acknowledgment that philosophies of all natures and kinds inhabit the human race. Even within certain religions are sets of sub-beliefs that vary between certain groups; Shia versus Sunni, Christian versus Jew, Catholic versus Protestant.
Translations of sacred texts vary along similar lines. Notably, the bible has been the source of bloody conflicts over differences in interpretation across the centuries, many of them very silly. Between secular and Christian communities, a chasm exists about the philosophy of origins. They've become the battle lines for textbooks and doctrinaire in schools, public and private. These differences are frequently heated and ultimately unnecessary in the context of the Christian life as I explain below.
I’m going to focus on only one aspect, the penultimate debate between evolution and creationism of the 6000-year-old earth. This stems from a simple equation set across 42 generations from Adam to Christ over roughly a 4000-year period. This Judaic tradition stemming from the Old Testament calculates a timeline overwhelmingly in conflict with modern empirical science regarding the age of both the earth and the universe. From science, the empirical evidence is quite compelling indeed that dinosaurs and humans did not share this planet at the same juncture in history and, that as a species, humans are a particularly recent development. These facts can be argued ad nauseum but it is far more useful to examine the bible text more closely to bridge disagreement.
Genesis 1-2 is the basis for the creation story that is common to both Judaism and Christianity. Some see the story as metaphorical in nature while others see it as a literal imperative. For those who see it as literal, the English translation reads most precisely as God having created the earth, its plant life, and inhabitants in six twenty-four hour days followed by a day of rest, and the woman shortly thereafter. But the translation from Hebrew to English is far from exacting.
The Hebrew word, "yom," is poorly translated into English as "day." Yom can be defined as a 24 hour day, a 12 hour day, - such as from sunrise to sunset - or an indefinite period of time. Yom is used both as 24 hour and indefinite periods elsewhere in the Old Testament. Scientific estimates for the age of the earth and universe are in the billions of years. It’s important to remember that God and heaven are believed to be unlimited by temporal constraints, so there’s certainly no necessity for God to be in a terrible hurry. As people we define our existence by our existence and have difficulty conceptualizing God working over billions of years to accomplish His purposes. The 6000 years may merely define the history of the Hebrew nation and not the history of all peoples and things.
Other Hebrew to English problems exist.
Gen 1.4-5 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (NRSV)Except "And there was" doesn’t appear in the Hebrew. It appears in the text to make it flow more smoothly in English. The actual translation after "Night" is "evening and morning 'n' day," which when inserted doesn’t decisively indicate a 24-hour day, especially if you remove the punctuation after Night – there wasn’t any punctuation in the Hebrew either.
Additionally, some bible scholars speculate that an extended time period may have existed between the first two verses of the bible:
Gen 1.1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.Finally, and most urgently, Christianity is perhaps the sole human religion that relies fundamentally on faith. Science has nothing to do with it. Jesus never came to set down empirical fact to prove His status as Lord.
Gen 1.2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (KJV)
Eph 2.8 For by grace we are saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (NRSV)Our Christian mandate is:
Mt 28.19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (NRSV)We, speaking of Christians, are not called by Christ to prove His existence or the age of the planet to the year or engage in other trivial philosophical debates. Just as creationism is imperfect as science, evolution is likewise flawed. Mathematically extrapolating history is a dangerous endeavor. Extrapolation deals with balanced equations. If an earthquake is observed in a particular place eighty years apart, then by extrapolation in 800 years you should have 10 earthquakes, but this is not always so. A professor in statistics I know illustrated the danger to his students even more adeptly. He presented a problem where there exists a demand for a million new rotary phones a year in 1970 and the demand is growing by 20% per year. How many rotary phones will you need to produce to meet demand in 2010? The problem works the same in reverse with cell phones. But there is also compelling merit in many of evolution's conclusions.
It will come as no surprise that many theological questions do not have neat and tidy answers. There are always those who have the need to have answers to everything and will spout those answers for the sake of argument in sheer ignorance. However, in most Christian circles, there is an acknowledgement that we’re going to just have to wait until we meet the Almighty to know the answers to certain mysteries. But as a group, we are strangely caught up in this debate insisting that we have a definitive answer to an impossible problem: How do we empirically prove the earth is 6000 years old? We can’t. But as Christians we do have faith in the Triune unity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and an understanding of what that means for ourselves as Christians and of our relationship to God. And for us and for our purpose, by faith, that should be enough.