Eternalism and Darwinism (The Age of the Earth Part 5)

(For the discussion on Creation vs. Eternalism, see Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4)

During the 19th-century, while Christians were dealing with the notion of an ancient earth, non-Christians explored the ramifications of an eternal universe. Eternalism played a crucial role in the arguments made for Darwinism by its early advocates. Darwinists conceded that the odds of something as complex as living beings coming about by random chance were extremely low, even minuscule. However, if the cosmos is eternal, then it does not matter how unlikely an event may be. Given an infinite amount of time, if an event has any possibility of happening at all—no matter how remote—then inevitably it will happen. In an everlasting universe it does not matter how many multiplied trillions of years it might take. Eventually every possible scenario will get its day. We are here; so obviously our existence is possible. Therefore, concluded the Darwinists, as absurdly improbable as it is, an eternal and infinite universe renders our evolution inevitable.40 questions creation evolution

19th century Germany would see some of the most vociferous advocates of Darwinism take eternalism to its logical conclusion. In his The Riddle of the Universe, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) would argue that an infinite and eternal world means that humanity must abandon the outmoded “ideals of God, freedom, and immortality.” Perhaps Fredrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) saw most clearly where eternalism led. He argued for what he called “the eternal recurrence theorem.” An infinite universe does not just render our improbable existence inevitable. It means that we have occurred again and again in the past, and we will recur in the future ad infinitum.

“In infinity, at some moment or other, every possible combination must once have been realized; not only this, but it must once have been realized an infinite number of times. . . .If all possible combinations and relations of forces had not already been exhausted, then an infinity would must lie behind us. Now since infinite time must be assumed, no fresh possibility can exist and everything must have appeared already, and moreover an infinite number of times.”

We are caught in an endless loop. Life has no purpose, nor can it have any. Nietzsche embraced nihilism, the view that “life leads to nothing” and that existence is “useless, empty, and absurd.” However, discoveries and advances in physics and astronomy at the beginning of the next century would overturn both steady-state cosmology and eternalism. The 20th-century would welcome the “Big-Bang” hypothesis. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution)

Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

Acceptance Of An Ancient Earth Among Christians Of The Victorian Era (The Age of the Earth Part 4)

(Part One)(Part Two)(Part Three)

Even before Darwin published the Origin of Species, most Christian scholars and scientists had come to accept that the cosmos was ancient. Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) for example, the influential 19th century British physicist and devout Christian, calculated the cooling rate of the earth’s core to arrive at the conclusion that the planet was 20-60 million years old. In America, Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield (1851-1921), who coined the term “biblical inerrancy,” accepted the antiquity of both the world and humanity. He argued against using the biblical genealogies to attempt to determine the age of the universe, declaring, “[N]othing can be clearer than that it is precarious in the highest degree to draw chronological inferences from genealogical tables.” Warfield concluded, “The question of the antiquity of man is accordingly a purely scientific one, in which the theologian as such has no concern.” Both Kelvin and Warfield embraced some form of theistic evolution. According to some sources, by 1850 only 50% of American Christians believed in a young earth.40 questions creation evolution

Christian geologists offered a number of alternative explanations to the traditional reading of Genesis in order to allow for the longer ages the geological evidence seemed to require. The two most prominent approaches were the gap theory (also known as the ruin-restoration theory) and the day-age approach. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), a Scottish minister and amateur scientist, proposed a gap of indeterminate time between the first two verses of Genesis. Several prominent 19th century geologists such as William Buckland, Adam Sedgwick and Edward Hitchcock, became advocates of the theory. The great Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, appealed to the gap theory in his preaching:

Can any man tell me when the beginning was? Years ago we thought the beginning of this world was when Adam came upon it; but we have discovered that thousands of years before that God was preparing chaotic matter to make it a fit abode for man, putting races of creatures upon it, who might die and leave behind the marks of his handiwork and marvelous skill, before he tried his hand on man.

Over the course of the 19th century Christian geologists became less enthusiastic about the gap theory and turned increasingly to the day-age theory, with Scottish geologist Hugh Miller (1802-1856) as its leading proponent. Other geologists who held to the day-age position included Princeton’s Arnold Guyot (1804-1887) and Yale’s James Dwight Dana (1813-1895).

One other significant concordist theory was developed in the 19th century. Though it received little support at the time, it has become perhaps the dominant approach among current young-earth creationists. In 1957, Philip Henry Gosse published Omphalos. The title is the Greek word for navel, and it referred to the question of whether or not Adam possessed one. Gosse argued that Adam indeed had a belly button, because he was created as a fully functioning adult male. This functionality gave Adam as appearance of age that he did not in reality have. Similarly, reasoned Gosse, the universe was created fully mature, and this quality gives the world an appearance of age. Practically all current young-earth creationist theories employ the mature creation argument in one way or another. It is worth noting that Omphalus was published two years before Darwin published Origin of Species, which demonstrates that the age of the earth had already become an issue before the challenges of evolution came to bear. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution.)

Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

The Enlightenment And The Rise Of Naturalistic Theories (The Age of the Earth Part 3)

(Part One) (Part Two)

The Impact of Newtonian Physics: With the rise of Newtonian physics came the reappearance of eternalism. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton (1642-1727) formulated the laws of gravity, physics, and mathematics that successfully described the planetary orbits of the solar system. It would be difficult to overstate the impact his achievements had on the scientific revolution and how western culture viewed the world. Newton’s law of gravity stated that each object in the universe exerts an attraction on all other objects. The gravitational force between any two objects is directly proportional to their size and inversely proportional to the distance between them. The law of gravity, thus stated, brings up a problem that was immediately recognized in Newton’s day. If there is a universal attraction, why is not everything crunched together? Newton answered that the cosmos must be infinite in extent and content, thus there is no central location to which everything can gather. An infinite universe implies that it has an infinite age. Newton was a devout theist, but the deists of his day argued that his model of the universe seemed to require eternalism. This model would become known as “the steady state cosmology.” Later, during the Victorian era, eternalism will play a crucial role in the acceptance of evolution. 40 questions creation evolution

The Impact of Modern Geology: Most historians of science consider James Hutton’s (1726-1797) publication of The Theory of the Earth (1795) to be the birth of modern geology. Hutton argued that nature exhibits the “principle of uniformity,” that is, all geological history can be explained by the very same natural, gradual processes we witness today. Hutton proposed uniformitarianism as an alternative to catastrophism (the view that most of the geological record is the result of catastrophic events, the main event being Noah’s flood). Mountains, canyons, and the geological column were formed over great expanses of time. Hutton argued for a theory of the “eternal present,” when he declared, “In nature we find no vestige of a beginning, —no prospect of an end.” The deists of the Enlightenment will use Hutton’s position as further evidence for eternalism.

Geologists who followed Hutton also argued for a “deep history of time.” None were more significant than Charles Lyell (1797-1875), whose writings would have a great impact on Charles Darwin. In his three volume work, Principles of Geology (1830-33), Lyell persuasively argued that the geologic column demonstrates that the earth was very old and had changed its form slowly, mainly from conditions such as erosion. His method of dating the ages of rocks by using fossils embedded in the stone as time indicators became the standard practice for geologists. From 1860 to 1914, using various sediment accumulation methods, over 20 different estimates for the age of the earth were published by geologists. The estimates ranged from 3 million years to 1.5 billion years. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution.)

Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com