Does Scripture Speak Definitively on the Age of the Universe?


(Jay Nelsestuen) #1

R. Albert Mohler (theologian and seminary president) and C. John Collins (Old Testament scholar and author) debate what exactly Genesis can tell us about the age of the universe.


(Noah White) #2

Interesting debate–I’m watching right now, but as a preliminary thought, Al Mohler is frustrating figure for me. I like some of his ministry-focused stuff, but he just feels so in over his head when he discusses matters like this. I just can’t find his view satisfying theologically or literarily, not to even mention scientifically–which is what I appreciate so much about John H. Walton (among others, of course). There’s a robustness to their hermeneutic and exegesis that, independent of any questions of science, is extremely satisfying.

Mohler seems like a super nice guy, and I often use his “tiered” approach to theological issues when discussing things with friends and family, but the way he goes after people who call into question his views on scripture’s inerrancy (Mike Licona, for instance) is borderline obnoxious sometimes. And his insistence of Adam being historical (which I’m ambivalent on–it would make it easier for me if he were real, but it presents problems) as being a potentially kerygmatic issue is weird (as @Jay313 and I have discussed at length here and elsewhere–not to drag him into it, but his voice is always welcome :slight_smile: ). And his term “classical biblical creationism” feels very, very suspect, though I appreciate his distancing himself from, even if mildly, creation science.

Anyway, thanks for the link! I had no idea about the Creation Project before, which seems super interesting.


(Jay Nelsestuen) #3

I think also he often confuses categories. This comes out especially toward the end. If God’s providence is operating to any extent, I don’t see how Darwinian evolution somehow poses a threat to God’s creative activities, but Mohler does, because he thinks that it’s a purely natural process. What I appreciate about BioLogos is their two-leveled approach to natural processes: 1) God is the supreme, active, driving force behind any and all things that happen in the natural world, and 2) each of those things that happen in the natural world can be explained without reference to the supernatural. We know from Scripture that natural processes are acts of God through providence, but science gives us insight into how that happens.

I did not appreciate Mohler’s use of the phrase “natural reading of the text.” Natural from whose perspective? From our 21st century, post-Enlightenment perspective, or from the pre-scientific bronze age perspective of the Israelites? That, too, is what I appreciate about scholars like Collins and Walton and Longman: they all try to read the text in the context of the ancient Near East. They aren’t content with the plain reading because they realize that we have different presuppositions today than they did back then.

Anyway. Very interesting dialogue.


(Noah White) #4

Agreed. I’m also frustrated (~45 minutes in) at how he says these aren’t big issues, but sneaks them in as big issues through the back door anyway. It’s hard to not get annoyed at his arguments, as they’ve been shown to me time and again on purely theological grounds by other conservative evangelicals to be poor. Also, his appeal to Augustine as being definitive is weird, but that’s another story.


(Jay Johnson) #5

Thanks for the invite and to Jay N. for the link. I intended to watch it this morning, but when I saw it was over 2 hrs., I had to bookmark it for later. I’ll get back to you on this…


(Noah White) #6

FWIW, they seem to affirm the special creation of Adam. I haven’t been able to finish it yet, I only got halfway through the second introductory statement. It’s a fairly basic “age of the earth” debate, devoid of issues of Adam, etc.

One of these days you and I will discuss something not having to do with Adam!


(Jay Johnson) #7

Thanks for the tip that it’s just focused on age of the earth. I’ll probably skip the rest…

We do need to have a discussion about other-than-Adam one day. Haha. I’ve been researching some aspects of it quite intensely, and I am getting close to setting these thoughts down on paper. @Jon_Garvey has seen small bits, although I won’t say he agrees with my conclusions (so far!).

On the special creation of Adam, this falls into the same philosophical problem as all “creation with apparent age” ideas. It must be remembered that humans learn both language and behavior by observation and imitation. To argue that God created Adam with language already “pre-installed” like software in his head doesn’t solve the problem. He would not know how to “use the software” without examples to follow, and so now God also must install the “operating instructions” (i.e. experience of language use), which would be in effect “false memories” of learning and using language. The problems go on, but you get the idea. Special creation of Adam does not fit what we know of science, of God, or of what it means to be human.


(Noah White) #8

Yeah, special creation of Adam is basically a no-go for me. Even if I’m not sure whether or not Adam was historical, Walton does a fairly authoritative job of showing that’s not what the text is purporting anyway.

I’ve recently finished up K.A. Kitchen’s On the Reliability of the Old Testament and found that his treatment of Genesis was refreshing, from an archeologist’s perspective. He compares the Hebrew protohistory with the rest of the contemporaneous protohistories (Sumerian Kings List, etc.). He argues somewhat convincingly that a reason for the exaggerated ages could be primarily in these people possessing some kind of history, but that history was very spotty. I’ll quote him at length here, speaking broadly about ANE peoples:

So, to cover vast epochs, they used their one real resource: the human life span, and the ongoing succession of life spans, reaching as far back as anyone could know. The flood was a long time back, and they had some record of a good number of kings or ancestors reaching back in that direction, but probably (it seemed) not enough. Before the flood, their existing tradition back toward the still longer-distant creation was (if anything) shorter and still less adequate to cope. Thus the truly vast, aeonlike reigns of the mere eight kings of preflood, postcreation Sumer had a job to do: to fill that great conceptual gap. The awesome generations of Noah’s preflood ancestors served in a similar role. (OtrOT, pg. 445)

He prefaces this by acknowledging that a definitive answer is currently impossible. But his reasoning here is not unsound. The whole book is pretty masterful, in this layperson’s opinion. He cuts through a lot of the mess in OT scholarship and looks at it archaeologically and historically. Worth a read if you haven’t already!

Like I said, I’m still in the process of figuring out what I believe about Adam, so I look forward to reading your paper if you’d be willing to share it!

All the best.