Among the points that John K. Reed addressed in his rebuttal to the Campbell paper (“PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth”) that appeared in Modern Reformation in May was the assertion that prominent theologians accepted an old earth rather than a young one. True enough, some do–but that doesn’t make their position accurate.
Actually, the Campbell paper does not name any of the “prominent theologians” that accept the notion that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. That does not mean that no such theologians exist. The Campbell paper does refer to the 1998 Creation Study Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America, and its final report–or rather, its formal admission that the committee ended its deliberations in hopeless deadlock. The committee report, such as it was, included this statement to which Reed took particular exception: “Clearly there are committed, Reformed believers who are scientists that are on either side of the issue regarding the age of the cosmos.” That was actually as near to a declaration that “prominent theologians” have interpreted Genesis as allowing an old earth as the Campbell paper contains.
The man best qualified today to be a “prominent theologian” who accepts an old earth is Hugh Ross, the leader of the Reasons to Believe ministry. In this 1999 essay “Avoiding a Dangerous Trap,” Ross makes a forthright statement of his theology and interpretation of the Bible. He alleges that if the days of creation described in Genesis 1:1-2:4(a) (the Annals of Creation) are twenty-four-hour days, then the rest of Genesis, and the Bible, somehow contradict themselves as a result. Ross doesn’t say how, but his interpretation might result from a misunderstanding of the Annals of Creation, which describe the Creation Week as a whole, and the Annals of Adam, which begin with the formation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden on Day Six. Ross further maintains that “basic tenets of Christian theology also support the long-day, old-earth, older-universe view.” He does not state what those basic tenets are, but in fact spends the bulk of this essay addressing what is, for him, the real issue: the starlight-and-time problem.
The starlight-and-time problem, as previously described, is this: if the earth is not much older than 6000 years (actually 6014 years give or take 45), why can we see light from objects at the edge of the universe, 13.7 billion light years away? As Ross points out, to say that the astronomical community has misrepresented the facts, or that light once traveled much faster in the past than it does today, or that God created the light in transit when He created the stars, or any of a number of other dodges, fails on scientific and theological grounds. But Ross too glibly dismisses the real explanation: that time on earth is tremendously dilated in relation to time elsewhere in the universe. Ross spends a great deal of time disparaging the work of Dr. D. Russell Humphreys, who had held that the earth lay at the bottom of a gravitational well and that this caused the time dilation. But Ross ignored the cosmological relativity model of Moshe Carmeli, who held that treating the entire cosmos as though it were the local environment in which Einstein developed his own theory of relativity, ignored the effect of the expansion of space, which can dilate time just as easily as can tremendous acceleration (either kinetic or due to gravity). John Hartnett, of course, expanded on Carmeli’s model and solved the starlight-and-time problem three years ago.
All of which proves the point that Reed was making: that even “prominent theologians” can fall into error, especially if they accept a fallible understanding of the cosmos in favor of the Bible. Anyone who maintained a consistent understanding of the Bible as a Valid and Infallible Historical Record could solve the starlight-and-time problem as easily as did Carmeli and Hartnett. That Ross failed is because he was not looking for a solution. Neither were Campbell and his colleagues looking for a solution to their supposed problem of an earth that (to them) looks older than it really is. As Reed put it, “Human experience is applicable when the Bible is silent and logical inference is unclear, but the burden of proof for those conditions rests on the authors, and they present no convincing argument to that end.”
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