The age-old argument

The Tulsa World had a long piece Saturday about the rift between ” young Earth” and ” old Earth” Christians. Of all the things Christians (or anybody else) argue about, this has to be one of most pointless.

The argument is whether the Earth is a few thousand years old, which is what some interpret the Bible to say, or a few billion years old, which is what virtually everyone who knows anything about natural sciences say. Really, it’s about those who believe a literal reading of the Bible — for some, the King James Bible — trumps all else, and those who don’t. My own view, through the lens of a lifetime of working with words, is that no language is free of ambiguity, and the phrase “lost in translation” is not merely a cliche.

But I digress. The real question is “What difference does it make?”

Philosophically, morally, spiritually, what difference does it make to me whether the Earth is six thousand years old or six billion? Will I behave differently if it is one or the other? The answer is no. When and how the Earth was made has no bearing on my conduct, and it’s difficult to believe it affects anyone else’s. While this sort of thing might make an interesting discussion, obsessing over it is a detour down a theological dead end. It is the equivalent of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin; more seriously, it diverts from the central message.

For some reason, we in the United States are particularly prone to pitting science against faith. This is disturbing because it encourages a mindset that puts wishful thinking ahead of objective evaluation of facts and circumstances.

My personal rule is that I never call an electrician to work on my plumbing. I call a plumber. He may turn out to be a bad plumber, an unscrupulous plumber, or a plumber who misdiagnoses the cause of my backed up sink or leaking kitchen drain, but on the whole I’m more likely to get better advice about plumbing from a plumber than I am from an electrician or a child psychologist or a priest.

So it is is with the age of the Earth. If the experts in the field say the earth is billions of years old, I’m inclined to go with that. But I am also quite aware that ideas change as more facts present themselves, and some day the consensus of science may change. That is the nature of science. It’s conclusions change to fit the facts, not the other way around.

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