One of the axioms of popular young earth creationism is that Scripture is never to be interpreted through science. A citation from John MacArthur is representative of the norm: “Modern scientific opinion is not a valid hermeneutic for interpreting Genesis (or any other portion of Scripture, for that matter),” (The Battle for the Beginning, p. 22).
I have great respect for John MacArthur as a biblical scholar, but such sweeping prohibitions are not helpful to the strained relationship between science and Scripture in evangelicalism.
Once upon a time, most people thought the earth was flat. This was both a scientific and religious belief. Simple observation of the horizon pointed to a flat plate covered by an inverted atmospheric bowl. Sailors avoided journeys far from land for fear of being swept off the edge of the earth. Furthermore, a flat earth seemed to fit with Scripture. Isaiah 11:12 referred to the gathering of God’s people “from the four corners of the earth” (KJV). The Apostle John noted angels posted at the four corners of the earth in Revelation 7.
But the earth is not flat. Ultimately, it was science, not Scripture, which demonstrated the spherical dimensions of our world.
Yet not everyone is convinced. Some people apparently still believe the earth is flat. There’s even a Flat Earth Society website, though it doesn’t attempt any kind of a scientific case for a flat earth. It looks like more a publicity stunt to commemorate an archaic belief.
Once upon a time, most people thought the sun and moon revolved around a stationary earth (geocentrism). This was both a scientific and religious belief. The movement of the sun across the sky was easy to observe in science. But it was the Scriptural evidence for geocentrism which appeared most convincing. In the account of creation in Genesis 1, the earth was created first on Day 1, followed by the sun on Day 4. (How can the earth revolve around the sun if the earth was created first?) Psalm 19 speaks of the circuit of the sun across the sky. Joshua 10 reports that the sun stood still on one occasion. Psalm 93 reminds us that the earth is established and cannot be moved. This validates our experiences as we obviously don’t feel the earth move. Revelation 21 informs us that the earth (or a new earth) will endure, but without a sun and moon.
If we’re interpreting science through the lens of Scripture, it all adds up to a strong case for geocentrism. Five hundred years ago Galileo had his hands full trying to convince Christendom the earth revolved around the sun. In the end, science informed the church how to interpret Scripture. And they finally got it right.
Yet not everyone is convinced. A few months ago there was a letter to the editor in our local newspaper arguing for geocentrism. I was shocked. In fact, it triggered a new summer study on origins for me. It turns out that geocentrism has a website, too. It’s no publicity stunt. They’re serious. And they’re objects of scorn in the combative wing of the scientific community. One opposing website refers to belief in geocentrism as “conceit” and labels its proponents as “complete idiots” and “literalist Christian fundamentalists.”
Ouch! That bomb falls fairly close to home. A chart of theories of origins by evolutionist Eugenie Scott lists flat earthism first, followed by geocentrism. Third on her list is young earth creationism. That’s me, right next door to the “literalist Christian fundamentalists.” We’re neighbors, you see.
Why do evolutionists put flat earthism and geocentrism on their theories of origins chart? Perhaps it’s so young earth creationists will be guilty by association. In the past Christians insisted on interpreting science through Scripture and came up with a flat earth and geocentrism, proven wrong by science. Today we’re using the same criteria to defend young earth creationism. That may be a mistake. By limiting the contributions of science to our understanding of Scripture, we have opened the door for adversarial critics to use the words “idiots” and “Christians” in the same sentence referring to the same people. Opponents can lump us all together as “literalist Christian fundamentalists.” The implication is that young earth creationists are idiots, too.
I’m a young earth creationist, but I’ll beg off on the title “idiot.” A label applied by guilt through association doesn’t stick.
A young earth view of creation may be consistent with Scripture, but it cannot be proven by Scripture. The text is too ambiguous, despite claims to the contrary in popular literature. I think the scientific evidence points to a young earth. But thousands of rock solid Christians stand on the Bible and hold to an old earth creationism. I disagree with their conclusion, but if the day should come that someone demonstrates an old earth, it won’t shake my faith at all. The Bible will still be true. The heavens will still declare the glory of God. The stars will continue to shout, “God made us!”
So which is it? Does Scripture inform our understanding of science or does science inform our understanding of Scripture?