Kurt Wise is professor of biology at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga. He earned his Ph.D. in paleontology at Harvard under the late evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould and has long been a proponent of young-earth creationism. For his views, he has been called by atheist Richard Dawkins “the greatest disappointment” he knows in modern science. Wise answered a series of questions for the TEXAN about science, Scripture and the age of the earth.
1) What is your position on the age of the earth and how it was created?
Since no human was present at the origin of the earth, I accept the perfect eyewitness account of the earth’s origin (Scripture) given to us by the only perfect eyewitness (God). That account indicates that the earth was created within a couple centuries of 2,000 years before Abraham (i.e., 4,000 ± 200 B.C.), instantaneously by the spoken word of God (depending upon what is meant by ‘earth’, sometime in the course of six sequential day/night cycles, or sometime in the course of 144 hours).
2) What are the weaknesses of old-earth creationism?
Old-earth creationism is not reconcilable with the scriptural account of creation. Unless the normal meanings of words are unlinked from the words of Scripture, acceptance of old-earth creationism leads to the rejection of the historical claims of Genesis 1-11 (e.g., the sequence and length of creation, the unfallen nature of the creation before man’s fall, the nature of Eden, the mode of creation of Adam and Eve, the nature of the Fall, the nature of the initial culture of man, the global Flood in the days of Noah, the tower of Babel as the origin of modern language groups), and all doctrines based upon that history (e.g., the nature of God, the origin and nature of man, the nature and need of salvation, the origin and nature of marriage, the nature of end-times … i.e., every Christian doctrine).
3) What are the weaknesses of young-earth creationism?
The theories of young-earth creationism are poorly developed. Old-earth creationists have developed better evidenced and reasoned theories for most of the detailed observations of the universe. In other words, the science of old-earth creationists is better.
4) How important is it for a believer to be right about the age of the earth? Are other theological points at stake in this discussion, or is it a matter of speculation without much practical consequence?
Belief in the correct age of things does not have salvific value—i.e., a correct understanding of the age of things is not in any way an entrance requirement for getting into heaven. Faith in Jesus and what he did for us is all that is required. However, God also asks a believer to [pursue] a full understanding of himself, and this is not possible if a person is incorrect about the age of the earth—and not just because it is another fact that should be known to have a full understanding. This is because if a person is completely consistent (and no human being is or has been completely consistent), what one believes about the age of the earth impacts what that person believes about every doctrine of Christianity. In particular, if a person consistently applies the concept of an old-earth he or she is forced to reject all traditional Christian doctrines (e.g., old-earth, the chronology in Genesis 1-11 is wrong, Scripture is in error, Scripture is either not inspired or the inspirer is wrong or a liar, etc.).
5) What should drive our views of the universe’s origins? Is it OK to consider science and Scripture, or should Scripture be our sole authority for learning about origins?
From the very beginning of humanity, humans have been called upon to accept God’s word—even over human observation and reason. For example, God’s command to “freely eat of every tree of the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was to supersede any human observation that the fruit looks beautiful (i.e., has evidence of having been created by a good God and no evidence that it wasn’t) and looks good (i.e., has evidence of being provided by a good God and no evidence that it would do any harm), or any human reasoning that the fruit must be good for us (e.g., a good God would never do anything to hurt us). That should have been sufficient, but ultimately Eve looked at the fruit, “saw that it was good to look upon and to eat and that it was desirous to make one wise” and she did take of the fruit and eat it. God said not to eat of the fruit. Adam and Eve were condemned for disobeying God, which they seem to have done by accepting human reason and observation over God’s word.
And remember, that was done while humans were unfallen! Imagine how much more important it is that we accept God’s word after the fall, when our nature is fallen, our observation is marred, our reasoning is marred, we are subject to blinding from the truth, and our nature is to run from God! Consequently, when God tells us something we should accept it without reservation—even over our observation and reason (e.g., Abel was to sacrifice even though killing an animal didn’t make much sense as a way of cleansing him from sin; Abraham and Sarah were to believe they were going to have a child even though Sarah had already gone through menopause; etc.). If the Bible doesn’t say something about an issue, then we are justified in using science to “fill in the blanks”—as long as what is “filled in” is not somehow contrary to what God has stated—but if the Bible says something about an issue and science says something else, we are to accept the word of God rather than the word of man every time.
6) What role should science play in the formation of a Christian worldview?
Science is possible because of the way God created us and the universe. Romans 1:18-20 indicates that God created the universe to provide physical illustrations of his invisible attributes, so he made the universe understandable and made us capable of understanding the universe. This not only makes science possible, but science arose in a culture that generally accepted the Christian perspective of creation. Furthermore, the Christian worldview is the only worldview that provides justification for the presuppositions of science. And, since he formed the creation to (among other things) inform us about him, science should play a part in a Christian’s understanding of the world and God—i.e., science should play a role in the formation of his/her Christian worldview. However, science must play a secondary or subservient role to special revelation (Scripture). In other words—as stated above—science should “fill in the blanks” left open by Scripture, for many of those blanks were left there by God to be filled in by us as we apply the gifts God gave us to fill in those blanks.
7) How can old- and young-earth creationists dialogue constructively? Is there anything to be gained from believers in these two camps talking more?
Scripture makes it clear that believers are to “love one another”—so much so that unbelievers will then identify us as believers (as God-followers) by that love. This means we have been commanded not only to love other believers, but also act as if we love one another. The high level of antagonism in old/young creationist interactions (much greater in my experience than the antagonism between unbelievers and creationists) is NOT evidence of love at all—it is evidence of hate; it is sin. In fact, the antagonism that currently exists is “natural”—it is what one would expect of the natural man. It is what unbelievers expect of people having such different beliefs, thus it is by no means the kind of love that God calls us to. In contrast, if it were to happen that old- and young-earth creationists could interact in such a way that it was obvious to unbelievers that we love one another, then our witness to the unbelievers would be increased. In fact, we would have a powerful witness for God. Besides, we might even be drawn closer to God in the process! How this state is to be achieved is not at all obvious, for in my experience all attempts at “dialogue” are plagued by a desire on each side to “win”—not to illustrate God’s love to the world.