Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Billions and Billions of Years Ago (Conclusion)

What is God Like?
If there is a God, and if He created the world and the universe, then what kind of a God is He? Science tells us the universe is 14 billion plus years old and the earth 4.67 billion. If it was “created” by God then why did He take so long? From the initial “big bang” until today is 14 billion years. That’s a 14 followed by nine zeroes. What was He doing all that time? Famed physicist Stephen Hawking suggests, “Science seems to have uncovered a set of laws… These laws may have been originally decreed by God, but it appears that He has since left the universe to evolve according to them and does not now intervene in it.”[1] This seems an apathetic God. Still others who favor this “deep time” timeline basically don’t care what He was doing. God is of no interest and they don’t believe in Him anyway. But for those who do believe in a Creator God this loooooonnnnnng, loooooonnnnnng time span from creation until man appeared on the scene presents an enigma. Why would he wait 14 billion years? Why would he wait 10 billion years to even begin the earth? That’s ten BILLION years! The Bible says, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” [2]Still at that accelerated rate of experiencing time 14 billion years from Big Bang until man came on the scene would still be 14 million “God days” which is over 38,000 “God years.”

You see, the “god” of evolutionary process, the god of 14 billion years, is so slow that it almost appears He is doing nothing. He started the ball rolling with a bang, and then allowed thousands of millions of years to pass with change taking place at a glacial pace. In fact a glacier is like Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt (right) compared to the speed at which the 14 billion year god “worked.” Can it even be called working?

The God Who Cares?
This is in dramatic contrast to the God spoken of in the Bible. In our unfathomably long scenario, where is this God whose priority was to have relationship with man? Where is the God who sent His Son into the world on a specific date to save man from sin? Why did the God in Scripture suddenly part the Red Sea when his processes in nature took billions of years? Thousands of millions of years? Countless millennia? Endless centuries? Multiplied millions of human lifetimes? Someone said billions of years are a measurable fact while eternity is a philosophical idea. But I am not so sure. I can’t really wrap my head around 4.67 billion years. A giant Sequoia tree can live 2000 or 3000 years or even longer. The scientific guesstimate of the earth’s age is over 155,000 generations of 3000-year-old Sequoias. Just one and a half Sequoia lifetimes would take us back to the dawn of recorded history. We’re not talking ten generations of these behemoth trees, not 1000, not even 5000, for that would be just a small amount of the earth’s history.

The “god” who “creates” through evolutionary process is indeed quite different from the God in the Bible. The Bible God acts suddenly. We do see Him work out processes over decades or even several hundred years (as in his dealings with the Israelites in Egypt), but never millions, let alone billions of years! It looks like we’re talking about two different gods.

Can Science be Wrong?
Can the modern guesstimate be wrong? Science has been wrong before. Prolific writer Richard Harter summarizes, “In 1640 Ussher produced his famous calculation that the Earth was created in 4004 BC … Ussher accepted the Biblical account at face value… In the 1700's … Attempts to calculate the age of the Earth from physical considerations yielded estimates that ranged from 75,000 years (Buffon, 1774) to several billion years (de Maillet, Buffon)…By the early 1800's it was generally accepted that the Earth had a long history… There were various attempts to estimate the Earth's age…The attempts produced estimates from about 100 million years up to several billion years…In 1862 Lord Kelvin (left) estimated the age of the Earth to be 98 million years, based on a model of the rate of cooling. …Later in 1897 he revised his estimate downwards to 20-40 million years… his estimates were completely wrong ... The first radiometric dating was done in 1905; it and subsequent measurements confirmed that the Earth was several billion years old. Currently the best estimate of the age of the Earth is 4.55 billion years.”[3] Each generation of scientists has been pretty sure they have the right answer.

So how old is the earth, really? I don’t know. But I suspect it’s not as old as our pat scientific answers tell us. After all, the age of the earth is the foundation of the evolutionary, modern scientific worldview. It’s not just some random figure open for discussion by the establishment. Moreover, if God took 14 billion years to slowly evolve the universe, then what kind of a god is he? What kind of a creation is that?

So the next time someone rolls his arms outward on both sides and says, “billions and billions of years ago…” we might be justified in saying, “oh really?”

[1] Stephen Hawking, “A Brief History of Time,” (Great Britain, Bantam Press, 1988) p. 129
[2] 2 Peter 3:8 (NASB)
[3] Changing Views of the History of the Earth, by Richard Harter, Copyright © 1998-2005
(See entire article at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/geohist.html)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Billions and Billions of Years Ago (Part 1)

Billions and Billions of Years Ago… (part 1)

The best scientific guesstimates of the age of the earth are in the ballpark of 4.67 billion years old. That’s a humongous ballpark. It’s a ballpark in which you cannot see the fence. 4.67 billion years is a really big number. It’s a 467 followed by seven zeros. Even 467 years is a long time! If we look back in time 467 years, we would be looking at 1542. What happened in 1542? Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard (right) was executed for adultery, which seems to have been missing the point, and Cabrillo landed in what is now San Diego Bay. That’s what we call the “olden days.” Yet 467 years is only one millionth of the commonly accepted age of the earth. A million 467-year periods, a million of them… would take us back to the guesstimated beginning of the earth.

Two Views
I called the figure of 4.67 billion years a “guesstimate.” I used that word, because it’s sort of an educated guess on the part of experts. I mean, the earth might have started 4.7 billion years ago, or maybe it was 4.5 billion years ago. What’s 20 million years when we’re talking about 47 ten million year periods? But 20 million years is itself an unfathomable period of time. Even the experts can’t fine-tune the calculations much more than millions of years! It’s such a long span that 20 million years is considered insignificant. So 4.67 billion is an educated guess.

Is there evidence that the earth is 4.67 billion years old? Yes. That is primarily in the radiometric measurements of the decay of elements like uranium in organic matter. This form of dating materials is a complicated subject that is too deep for me. Basically fossils and rocks are dated with numbers followed by lots of zeros. Knowledgeable people will say there are many other proofs for the old dating of the earth. So it is an educated, guess.

The figure of 4.67 billion years goes hand in glove with the theory of evolution. In fact, a staggering time period is required by evolution. If the earth was much younger, then evolution could not be true, as it is now taught. One website puts it this way, “Mutation, Gene Flow, Genetic Drift, Natural Selection + 3.8 billion years = Macroevolution.” [1] The widespread presupposition now popular is that the earth is very, very old, and it must be old, or the modern scientific perspective based on evolution would crumble. A lot rides on those billions of years.

Is there evidence for an earth that is not billions of years old? Yes. Many claim proof exists in things like the relatively thin layer of silt on the ocean floor. This and many other anomalies, according to “young earthers,” seem to indicate the earth’s age might have a few less zeros. Qualified scientists still contend the evidence shows that the earth is not billions of years old. They are a minority and are pretty much marginalized and discredited by the majority opinion. However, they do exist. There is a counterpoint no matter how it is derided.

Deep Time

When we talk about billions of years we enter into what we call “deep time.” Basically deep time means it’s so long we cannot comprehend it. P.H.D. John Morris says, “One billion years cannot be grasped, neither can 4.67 billion years for the supposed age of the Earth or 14 billion years or so since the Big Bang. These words may be easy to say, and within our mathematical calculations, but I suggest they carry no meaning. The invariable accompaniment of the outward rolling of the hands, suggest that tales of "billions and billions" of years are nothing more than arm-waving, perhaps capable of impressing or intimidating, but not of communicating understandable information.”[2] The only way we can think about one billion years, let alone a 467 followed by seven zeroes… is by making a metaphor. Many geology students are given an assignment of creating a metaphor to give some kind of a concept of this time length that we can grasp. So how long is a billion years? One metaphor I liked says that if we compressed the 4.67 billion years into a 24-hour period, man only showed up in the last two seconds. For 23 hours, 59 minutes and 58 seconds came all the formation, cataclysms, evolution, extinctions, mutations, and natural selection prior to man.

To count from one to a billion would take 95 years. A fish tank that would hold 1 billion goldfish would be the size of a stadium. These word pictures describe the immensity of this number. But the common opinion across the board is that we can’t grasp it. It’s just too much for our puny brains to digest. The GSA website states, “For many people, however, deep time is a critical barrier to learning science; the meaning of immense spans of time is elusive and unfamiliar…”[3]

If we go back 4670 years, we’re kind of back at the dawn of recorded time. That’s the age of the earth minus six zeroes. That is 2670 years before the events of the life of Jesus Christ. Forty-seven centuries ago is a staggering amount of time. Yet that would be one ten thousandth part of the entire history of the world. You would have to have 10,000 lengths of recorded history, 10,000 – to equal the age of mother earth.

How do we reconcile this enormity of time with belief in God? That's coming in part 2.

[1] http:// evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/
[2] www.icr.org
[3] http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2009NC/

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Exclusiveness of Christ

There are many ways to God

A popular opinion here in India states, “All religions are the same. For you Christianity is true, for me Hinduism is true, and for a Thai, Buddhism is true, but all religions are the same. They all lead to the same god. It’s like all the various rivers in the world that lead to the one ocean. (like in the Niger Delta at right) God is one, you call him Jesus and I call him Rama but all religions are the same.”

Some call this argument universalism. How would you reply to that statement? Would you agree with it or attempt to give an answer? Think about it for a second.

Universalism has been in the news in the US for the past few years. Rev. Carlton Pearson, a popular preacher / evangelist has begun to proclaim a “Gospel of Inclusion.” Pearson’s web site says, “Carlton Pearson has made a choice… to move away from the exclusiveness of the religious traditions he was raised in (Bible-believing Protestant Christianity) and adopt a more embracing, affirming, welcoming and inclusive approach to faith… Furthermore, Pearson, through both scriptural re-interpretation and heartfelt conviction, is absolutely convinced that God is not sending people to …hell nor does such a place exist except in an un-regenerated or unenlightened mind ... He believes that institutionalized religion has misinterpreted and misrepresented the infinite Intelligence called God, causing destructive and counter-productive fear and paranoia.” [1] The scriptural re-interpretation of Bishop Pearson is really just good old-fashioned universalism. It seems the only real bad guys for Pearson are those who hold to the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ. The teaching of Carlton Pearson has been widely condemned as heresy by many Christians.

The Bible teaches that there is one universal God. About 2000 years ago that God became man and lived among us. God became known to us in Jesus. He did not espouse a Universalist view. He demanded repentance, spoke of a real place called hell, and said He was the door to God. Christ claimed exclusiveness. At the same time, He was inclusive in loving and blessing all kinds of imperfect people. But Jesus clearly called people to holiness and to faith in Him for salvation.

The Exclusiveness of Jesus Christ

"Truly, truly I say unto you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber... I am the door; if anyone enters through me he shall be saved..." John 10:1,9

In the verse where Christ said “I am the door,” He himself claimed to be the one true way to God. This is the flashpoint of Christian belief in India and elsewhere. At this declaration, people are often offended. It smacks of arrogance. But nevertheless, it is a claim that Jesus and the Apostles made. It may rub some the wrong way, but it is either true or false. It would be contradictory to say that He is both the one way and also that all ways lead to God.

Logically then, it is possible that Jesus Christ is the only way. It is not a logical impossibility. Exclusivity is a valid principle in this universe.

“But all rivers run into the sea,” it is argued by the Universalist. Yes, but it’s also true that there are many possible answers to a mathematical problem. Some are closer to correct than others, but only one is the actual correct product. Of all the planets in the Universe, there is only one that we know of now that has a large reservoir of liquid water. At this point, that makes the earth the exclusive domain of water.

Where Universalism Breaks Down

On a purely logical basis, if universalism is correct, then even Christians would still be on a valid path to God. They would still be progressing toward the one ocean. But if Christ’s claim is true, and He is the only way, then all who reject Him are in danger of being separated from God. It seems that a Universalist approach is a little more risky if we reason it out.

The Universalist struggles to live consistently with their presuppositions. If all ways lead to God, then why the problem with conversions from one religion to another here in South Asia? A Hindu father probably would not want a marriage for his child with a Muslim or a Christian. Although Gautama Buddha was an Indian, his religion has not been embraced by Indians. Is it not one of the valid rivers that lead to the ocean? It seems that all adherents of the world religions show a bias toward their own. Universalists proclaim many ways but practically show bias toward their own thinking. Does this indicate that they believe one way is superior? If superior, then are all the ways to God truly equal?

Differences in the Religions

To say that “all religions are not the same” is more true to what we observe than saying “all religions are the same.” Christians, Muslims, and Jews do not claim that all the rivers empty into the same sea. Even the Dalai Lama, the head of Tibetan Buddhism calls his religion and Christianity “our two very different traditions.”[2] Christians and Muslims don’t agree on the identity of Jesus. Neither do Jews and Christians. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all expressly forbid idolatry and condemn the practice. For Hindus, it is an integral part of their religion. The list of differences goes on and on.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Once in Kolkata, I saw a billboard with the Indian Guru, Baba Lokenath on it. There was a quotation, “Wherever you are, be it at home or on the battlefield, I am with you.” That is very similar to what Jesus said, “…I am with you always.”[3] I thought to myself, what’s the difference? It’s the same claim Jesus made. My fleeting thought was a seed of Universalist reasoning. In reality, anyone can say “I am with you always.” The difference is the authority of the one who said it. On what evidence can Lokenath or Jesus base that kind of a statement?

In conclusion, a compelling reason to embrace Christ as the one true way is the authority declared through His life and deeds. He stands unique among all the figures of world history. Consider the centuries old prophecies about the Coming One that were fulfilled in His life. The circumstances of His birth from a virgin are exceptional. The eyewitness accounts of miracles he performed, the nature and purpose of His death, and His resurrection after being dead and in a grave for three days. Finally, the way of salvation through Christ is unique. It is not man reaching out to God, but God reaching out to man. It is attainable, amazingly easily attainable! It is not what we do for God, but what He’s already done for us. Philip Yancey writes, “The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of Law – each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”[4]

History has no parallel to this life and mission. If anyone could claim, “I am the Way… no one comes to the Father but by me…”[5] it is Jesus.

[1] www.bishoppearson.com
[2] Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, Freedom In Exile, (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1991)
[3] Matthew 28:20 (NASB)
[4] Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), p. 45
[5] John 14:6 (NASB)

Quotes of Note ... The Invisible World

“Spiritual warfare is learning to recognize the strategies, refusing to cooperate with them, and aggressively cutting off the schemes of the devil in Jesus’ name.” Dean Sherman

“those who protest that God cannot exist because there is too much evil evident in life… Evil exists; therefore, the Creator does not. That is categorically stated… If evil exists, one must assume that good exists in order to know the difference. If good exists, one must assume that a moral law exists by which to measure good and evil. But if a moral law exists, must not one posit an ultimate source of moral law, or at least an objective basis for a moral law? By an objective basis, I mean something that is transcendingly true at all times, regardless of whether I believed it or not.” Ravi Zacharias

“But the Devil is no big threat to God’s purposes; he is not even remotely comparable in power. He has been given a limited time before his final judgment to try to prove his case, just as all other moral beings who have chosen to live in rebellion against heaven.” W.A. Pratney

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I've served as a life-long missionary in Samoa, the Pacific region, India, and now in Pennsylvania. The Christian faith is reasonable and works in real life. It is true to the facts. Hope you enjoy some of the thoughts. I appreciate feedback.

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