Note: I recently found this amazing video excerpt from the 2012 conference of Ligonier Ministries. In this clip, theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor R.C. Sproul argues that the authority of the Scriptures is not diminished by the fallibility of human interpreters, and Christians should be open to having their interpretations corrected by scientific evidence—even if the scientists themselves are not Christians. While Sproul is definitely not an evolutionary creationist, Christians on all sides of the origins debate could benefit from his wise words. -BK
Chris Larson—Looking at the age of the universe, the question comes up as far as young earth versus old earth, so one question is: Is that a first-order issue, is that an intramural discussion? Let’s just go down the panel and each briefly state how you approach that question, as far as age of the universe. R.C., is it an intramural discussion?
R.C. Sproul—Not for some people. For some people it’s an all or nothing issue. When people ask me how old the earth is, I tell them “I don’t know” because I don’t. I’ll tell you why I don’t. In the first place, the Bible doesn’t give us a date of creation. Now, it gives us hints and inclinations that would indicate in many cases a young earth, and at the same time, we have all of this expanding universe and astronomical dating and triangulation and all of that stuff coming from outside the church that makes me wonder.
And I’ll tell you why. I believe firmly that all of truth is God’s truth. And I believe that God has not only given revelation in sacred Scripture, but also that the sacred Scripture itself tells us that God reveals himself in nature, which we call natural revelation. I once asked a seminary class of mine that was a conservative group, I asked, “How many of you believe that God’s revelation in Scripture is infallible?” They all raised their hand. I then asked, “How many people think God’s revelation in nature is infallible?” And nobody raised their hand. It’s the same God who’s giving the revelation, but what they were saying was that not every scientific theory is compatible with the word of God, and that’s true.
But historically, the church’s understanding of special revelation has been that the Bible has been corrected by students of natural revelation—with the Copernican revolution. Both Calvin and Luther rejected Copernicus as a heretic in the 16th century. I don’t know anybody in orthodox Christianity today who is pleading for geocentricity. Do you? In that case, the church has said, “Look, we misinterpreted the teaching of the Bible with respect to the solar system, and thank you, scientists for correcting our misunderstanding.” I think we can learn from non-believing scientists who are studying natural revelation. They may get a better sense of the truth from their study of natural revelation than I get from ignoring natural revelation.
So what I’m saying is that I have a high view of natural revelation. However, if something can be shown to be definitively taught in the Bible without question, and somebody gives me a theory that they think is based on natural revelation that contradicts the word of God, I’m going to stand with the word of God a hundred times out of a hundred. But, again, I have to repeat, I could have been a mistaken interpreter of the word of God, but again, I don’t have to face that problem because I believe both spheres are God’s spheres of revelation and that truth has to be compatible. If a theory of natural science is in conflict with a theological theory and contradicts it, here’s what I know for sure: Somebody is wrong. And I don’t leap to the conclusion that it has to be the scientist; it may be theologian. But nor do I leap to the conclusion that it must be the theologian; it can well be the scientist. That is because we have fallible human beings interpreting infallible natural revelation, and we have fallible human beings interpreting infallible special revelation. Now all of that is a long way of saying, “I don’t know how old the earth is.”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/r.c.-sproul-on-science-scripture-and-the-age-of-the-universe