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FIRST-PERSON: A creationist watches ‘Animal Planet’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–There are many tensions between so-called “young earth creationists” and “old earth creationists,” those who believe the universe is thousands of years old and those who accept contemporary dating of the universe at billions of years.

For a long time, I believed that Scripture was silent on the question of the age of the universe. After all, “day” in Scripture can and often does refer to a long period of time (the “day” of the Lord, for example). In recent months, however, as I have been teaching through Genesis and working on a lengthy article on general revelation, I have slowly changed my mind. The main issue for me is not the exegetical arguments for the use of the word “day” (although there are some compelling evidences there for 24-hour days in Genesis).

I think, however, what convinced me that the universe is much younger than we’ve been told was an episode of television’s “Animal Planet.” Specifically, the problem for Christian theology is the picture of a python swallowing a pig. Is this what God created and declared good?

I find the primary text for understanding the age of the universe is Romans 8, in which the Apostle Paul reiterates the Genesis teaching that death and decay comes through sin. For Paul, this is not simply human bondage but the slavery of the entire created order, a created order over which the image-bearing sons of God were intended to rule in Adam.

We seem to recognize the problem of “natural evil” when it damages homes or property. Hurricane Katrina caused just such reflection — among both believers and skeptics. But too often there is an uncanny silence when we watch the image of a lioness tearing apart the bloody muscle of an antelope flickering by on the Discovery Channel. Such, we are told, is “natural” — and therefore morally neutral. This has not always been so.

C.S. Lewis, for instance, agonized over how to reconcile animal violence with a good Creator in his classic book, “The Problem of Pain.” Lewis’s conclusion was that predation is not in any sense “natural” — but can only be rooted in the ancient satanic rebellion. In the current era, author Matthew Scully has pointed to ancient Christian thought on the evil of predation in order to rebut the poor stewardship of animals by humans who point to the violent natural order as the “natural state” of animal life, a state that can morally be replicated in inhumane factory farms or research laboratories.

And yet, if Christians are ever to provide a “counter-story” to the Darwinist creation myth, we must account for a nature that certainly does seem red in tooth and claw, not only in terms of the obvious predators, but also in terms of the (often even more dangerous) microbial parasites.

I am more and more convinced that young earth creationism answers these questions in a way that is faithful to Scripture, the historic confessions of the Christian church throughout the ages, and to the longings of the human heart for a God who created a world he declared “good.”

This doesn’t mean we have a ready-made scientific answer for every possible objection to a creationist understanding of the fossil record and astrophysics. Sometimes we must recognize that we are not at the point where we can know exactly how what the shifting standards of science fit with divine revelation. More important is the fact that we have a storyline of origins that answers the most basic hopes and fears of all human beings, a story that resonates with our human experience of both dignity and frustration.

Christians should recognize that to us has been revealed the “mystery” of the purpose of creation (Eph 1:9-10). We know that the Wisdom that ordered the cosmos, the Word that called the galaxies together, is a Person — our King Jesus. We should recognize that the ends of the cosmos have been created as an inheritance for Jesus (Psalm 2:8). He has been appointed “the heir of all things, through whom He also created the world” (Hebrews 1:2).

It should boggle our minds when we look at the far-off images from the Hubble telescope to recognize that these — and galaxies far beyond our reach or imagination — have been formed for Jesus and will be reconciled by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:19-20). This means we should learn to interpret all of reality in terms of how it fits with God’s overall purpose to “sum up all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). As the believing community, we have the interpretive grid for this — the Scriptures and the Spirit whereby we share “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). In so doing, let’s remember to train up our children to recognize Darwinism for what it is. But let’s also remember to never be ashamed of what Scripture tells us — that long ago in an ancient land a king and a queen stood before a six-day old universe, and God called it “good.” That might not fit with your local high school’s biology textbook. But it makes sense of “Animal Planet.”
Russell D. Moore is dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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  • Russell D. Moore