JAMES Ussher was Archbishop of Armagh between 1625 and 1656. In 1654 he published a biblical chronology which concluded that the Creation took place in late October 4004 BC.
He reached this date by a mixture of guesswork, date juggling, selective use of sources and totalling up the life-spans of everyone from Adam to Solomon (fortunately they are listed) and then hazarding an educated guess at the ages of other key figures.
Yep, it’s all a bit hit and miss, yet it remains one of the bedrocks upon which Young Earth Creationism is built.
Now then, should believing that the earth is around 6,000 years old (rather than four-and-a-half billion) be regarded as a matter of fact, fiction, fancy, faith or possibility? I only ask because the National Trust has included an exhibition at the Giant’s Causeway which gives credence to the Young Earth brigade.
Indeed, the Caleb Foundation told the News Letter that ‘the inclusion in the new centre of an acknowledgement of an alternative explanation of its origins, and of the continuing debate about it, is an encouraging step ... a small, but welcome, move towards greater inclusivity.’
Actually, Caleb goes much further than that and describes the Old Earth opinion as just ‘majority interpretation’.
There is no convincing proof that the earth is barely 6,000 years old. Really, there isn’t. But it is worth pointing out that that lack of proof shouldn’t make a button of difference to a belief in God or the teachings of Christ.
If you believe that Christ is the Son of God and that He died for the redemption of your sins then the age of the earth or the precise moment of Creation is actually immaterial.
To be brutally honest about it, I would have thought that the precise moment of the end of the world (as foretold in Revelations) would be of much more relevance to Christians.
There is though, I think, enough proof to conclude that the earth is very much older than 6,000 years. Again, that shouldn’t make a button of difference to those who accept the existence of God or Christ as their personal saviour.
You either believe in it or you don’t believe in it. So whether or not the God you believe in created everything five billion years ago or five thousand years ago shouldn’t matter one way or the other: which is probably why so many Christians (including scientists) can happily accept both Christ and the Old Earth theories.
But Young Earth Creationists have a problem if they limit themselves to a mere 6,000 years. For a start, they are rejecting a huge swathe of hard scientific evidence which points to an Old Earth, an unfathomable universe and the very real possibility of life elsewhere in that universe.
They are closing their minds to the sheer marvel and majesty of a Creation story above and beyond that set out in Genesis. They are as close-minded and blinkered as those people who once used the Bible as their ultimate authority for saying that the earth was flat and that the sun circled around it.
Religious belief must always be a very personal thing: or, as Tennyson put it, ‘by faith and faith alone embrace, believing where we cannot prove.’ Believing that God created the earth in October 4004 BC is a matter of personal faith (and there isn’t even agreement within the Young Earthers about the exact date, by the way).
Believing that the earth is a few thousand years old is a matter of personal – and fairly limited – opinion.
So should there be space for personal faith and personal opinion at the Giant’s Causeway? Yes, of course there should be. But that space should be confined to the minds and thoughts of those visitors who choose to embrace the faith and opinion.
Otherwise, why not accommodate the possibility that the Causeway was built by giants or by an intergalactic advance party preparing for an invasion from another world?
What the Young and Old Earthers (and atheists, like myself) have in common is a desire to know how the universe, along with humans, came into existence.
The Young Earth Creationists think they have their answer and they will cling on to that belief for dear life. They believe it was created by the same God who inspired the original authors of the Bible and whose Son acts as the signpost to salvation.
Many Old Earthers have a similar view in terms of God and Christ, but are able to believe that God’s handiwork and intervention takes a different form, over a longer period. In other words, they are able to marry science and religious belief.
I fully understand why it matters so much to the Young Earthers that their view be given equality with what they themselves describe as the ‘majority interpretation’; even if not one single one of them can provide proof beyond that of a textural numbers game which relies on people (Adam, for example) who may not have existed in the first place.
If nothing else it is a great propaganda coup for the Caleb Foundation and their very obvious influence within some elements of the DUP.
That said, the National Trust should not have buckled.
Christians – be they of the Young or Old Earth schools – have plenty of places and opportunities to promote their views: not least their own churches.
Can we look forward to the Caleb Foundation sponsoring an event at which Richard Dawkins can counter their opinions? Or maybe they will set aside space in their HQ for a Darwin exhibit? Hmm! I thought not.
There is, however, an issue which the Caleb Foundation could address. Why are increasing numbers of people choosing not to go to any church – other than for weddings and funerals? Why, in fact, do God and Christ seem so irrelevant to so many people?
Surely that question is of more importance than a pretty pointless debate about the exact age of the earth: a debate which strikes me as falling into the category of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
The greatest enemy of Christian belief isn’t science or secularism; it’s the unwillingness of some Christians to accept that increasing knowledge of the world around them doesn’t undermine either the role or message of the Christ in whom they believe.
Faith is personal. Knowledge isn’t.
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