Young Earth, Dinosaurs & Genesis
24 March 2021 Hits:1977
I’m frequently asked my opinion about the firmly held view amongst some Christians in a young earth. Invariably, the question includes confusion about how dinosaurs fit into the picture and why they are absent from the Bible? After all, the Bible starts at creation (Genesis 1), right?
Origins of a young earth
The Young Earth theory came into prominence with the 1611 publishing of the King James Bible. The original KJV printed creation’s date as 4004 BC.
In the 17th-century, Archbishop James Ussher published his chronology of the world’s history, formulated from a literal reading of the Old Testament. Many scholars agreed with Ussher that Earth was about 5,650 years old. He believed the creation had happened in 3952 BC; Isaac Newton thought it was in 3998 BC.
Other creation views
Today, Christians from conservative evangelical and fundamentalist backgrounds invariably believe the Earth is relatively young. But this is only one of several views Christians hold:
Young earth creation: Genesis presents a factual account of how the Universe and the Earth came into being some 6000 to 10,000 years ago. People who believe this invariably disagree with science saying science has it wrong because it is anti-God.
Old earth creation: God specifically created billions of years ago. This theory agrees with science that the Universe is 13.8 billion years old and the Earth is 4.5 billion years old.
Theistic evolution: God initiated and directed evolution.
Intelligent design: God is the creator, but the creation has changed and adapted over time. Those who hold to intelligent design believe the world is ancient and is progressing or getting better. Genesis 1-3 is seen as truth as meaning rather than truth as fact.
Truth as Meaning
As an example of truth as meaning, let me tell you about Christie’s parents living with us at present. They’re in their 80s, so I could say that my father-in-law is “as old as the hills.” The statement isn’t the truth as fact. The fact is hills are much older than grandad, but you know what I mean. The truth is he’s an old man. The Bible is full of truth as meaning. Genesis is an excellent example of this.
Ultimately, it’s up to you which view of Genesis you most resonate with. It’s not a matter connected to our salvation, so it’s negotiable truth upon which we can discuss and disagree. Personally, I resound with intelligent design as I don’t see science and theology disagreeing with each other.
Science and Theology
Hebraically, science and theology are asking two different questions, both of which are valid and important:
Science asks and answers ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions such as:
- How was the Universe created?
- How old is the Earth?
- What happened to the dinosaurs?
- Science is all about being correct about the facts.
Theology, on the other hand, asks and answers (sometimes) ‘why’ questions like:
- Why did God create the world?
- Why did God make people in his image?
- Why am I here?
Theology is about truth as meaning, wonder, and awe and is at peace with the unanswerable. Because of faith in God, people are more comfortable with living with mystery. Theology is about enjoying the journey as much as the destination. Hopefully, it’s the same for scientists too, who are constantly testing theories and discovering new things in God’s divine treasure hunt! Science and theology can find common ground when we allow each to be what they are intended to be.
A Jewish Perspective
2021 is the Jewish Year 5781. Literalist Jews, like young-earth creationists, view this as the date of the creation of the Universe. The majority of religious Jews, however, believe 5781 approximated when their scriptures started.
The first chapters of Genesis give us the “why” of what we see in the world. Explaining why the Universe and the Earth were made and our part in God’s creation. Genesis includes stories that are meant to convey meaning, not just fact. As an example, consider Cain and Abel. If this is pure truth as fact, we immediately strike difficulties. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel, which should pretty well have ended the human race. But read on. Suddenly there are all these other people on Earth. Where did they come from? How did Cain get a wife? I’d tell you if I were able!
The story of Cain and Abel is so much more than a factual account. Literalists can get hung up on questions like, were they real people? The Hebraic mind will ask, what do we learn from the story? We grasp things like, yes, I am my brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. Murder is wrong, God is both just and kind, and blood has a voice. Now, we know blood doesn’t really speak. But God said to Cain, “Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground’” (Gen. 4:10). This is not truth as fact; it’s truth as meaning. When we get into the New Testament, we find that the blood of Jesus “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). Cain’s blood cried out for vengeance, but the blood of Jesus speaks of grace, kindness, and forgiveness.
I’ll finish this blog with a few practical takeaways:
- If you want to have a healthy discussion about Genesis, resist fruitless arguments about dates and times and focus on truth. Ask how you can learn and benefit from what the stories teach? How will this truth impact your life now?
- Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how old creation is. None of us was there, not even grandad! The only way we know what it was like before we were born is by listening, reading, and learning from stories taught by people. That’s our dream time. Genesis is Hebrew dream time. It is truth as meaning.
- Ask, does what I believe make me more compassionate? Does what I believe close down imagination and questions? If we’re to have any kind of enriching dialogue, we need to use our imagination and move beyond dogmatic arguments. Reimagine old perceptions. Reimagine ancient texts.
- The Bible isn’t a science book. It’s a love story about God and people, about redemption and reconciliation. Refuse to make it anything it was never intended to be.
And, what happened to dinosaurs? The Bible doesn’t mention them because they were extinct long before the Bible was written!