Question: Some people believe God created the world in six literal days. Others believe in an old-earth view, with a “big bang.” Is it possible to reconcile old earth and young earth views? Also, why is it easier to believe in an “uncaused Cause” than a “big bang”? We don’t see examples of either one of those things in life. Aren’t they both pretty much statistically impossible?
Response: This question is actually several questions which we will try to take one at a time.
First, the questions assume that an old earth view does not include God creating the world in six literal days. Actually, there are several factors which are all independent of each other:
- How the world was created: quickly or slowly
- Whether it is true that an event similar to the big bang occurred
- How long ago the world began
Most young earth creationists derive their view of a young earth from following the genealogies in the Bible. As we have shown elsewhere, we can safely conclude that we are not on firm ground trying to determine the age of the earth strictly from the Biblical genealogies, and this can be demonstrated by the evidence directly in the Bible. See here for more detail.
Second, No. 3 does not contradict either No. 1 or No. 2. Logically, how the world began is not necessarily impacted by how long ago it happened. Obviously, a very young earth is not compatible with a very slow creation, but it is not true that an old earth makes a rapid creation impossible. Rather, it could be that the world was created quickly, but a long time ago.
Too many Christians assume that how long ago the world began necessarily determines whether the creation event happened quickly or slowly, or whether it began with what we now commonly call a big bang or some other event. These factors are independent of each other.
Third, the big bang is not incompatible with special creation by God. As Christian Frank Turek has said, “I do not have a problem with the big bang. I just know Who banged it.” As a general idea, the idea of a rapid expansion of matter from a small point aligns with both a big bang and Genesis 1:1.
Fourth, several areas of evidence that we see in the world around us lead us to hold that the world is a very old place. While I do not claim expertise in the technical sciences, it seems to be a solid conclusion that an old earth is supported by good evidence in geology and astronomy. When we combine this with the inability to determine an age of the earth from the Bible (see link above), we conclude that from the standpoint of Biblical orthodoxy, both an old earth and young earth views are compatible with scripture. Again, how long ago the world began is distinct from how it began or how fast or slow it began initially.
Fifth, from a doctrinal and theological perspective, the question is not how long ago the world was created, but rather whether Adam was a literal human or a figurative literary device. For more detail, see here and here. If Adam is a figurative literary device, we have great theological problems in the New Testament, including Romans 5 and elsewhere. By contrast, as long as Adam is the actual first human, how the world was created and how long ago it happened are much less important.
Sixth, from a perspective of minimal facts to be a Christian, one could be wrong about all of No. 1, 2, and 3 above and still be a Christian. That is, as long as one holds that God exists and directed all events, including Jesus dying and rising again, then he could be wrong about many things in theology and science. Even if one were to deny the historicity of Adam, they can still maintain that God exists and the Bible is true, as many people do.
Seventh, as to whether it is possible to reconcile old earth and young earth views, several have given detailed explanations trying to reconcile them. For one noteworthy example, see Dr. Sarah Salviander over at sixdayscience.com. For a good example of those who hold that special creation of Adam could have happened a long time ago, see Dr. Hugh Ross and his team over at http://www.reasons.org
An Uncaused Cause vs. a Big Bang
As an introduction, we need to first give a short explanation of an uncaused cause. Some proofs for the existence of God hold that effects cannot generate themselves and therefore need causes. We cannot go backward in a sequence of causes forever since an actual infinite is impossible. Therefore there must be a first cause, and this first cause is uncaused. For more explanation, see here and here.
As to the statistical probability of an uncaused cause existing, an uncaused cause is inevitable and necessary for the following reasons:
- Everything that begins to exist is either caused by another, self-caused, or uncaused. These three exhaust all the alternatives.
- The first cause cannot be caused by another, for A) such would result in an infinite regress, which is impossible, and B) because of A) a first cause is needed, and a first cause being caused by another is an absurdity.
- The first cause cannot be self-caused because it would then need to exist before it existed, which is an absurdity.
- Therefore the first cause must be uncaused.
This is a necessary conclusion, not a contingent one, and statistical probability has nothing to do with it. There must be a first, uncaused cause. Even many atheists believe that something is uncaused and eternal, they merely say that it’s the matter in the universe, not God.
So the question was whether it is easier to believe in an uncaused cause or a big bang. As we have shown, a big bang is compatible with the Biblical account of creation. The question seems to pose the two against each other, which is not necessary. The cosmological arguments for the existence of God do indeed conclude that God is an uncaused cause, but this has nothing to do with whether or not there was a big bang. The two are not exclusive. We hold to both an uncaused cause as the origin of the universe, and a big bang, because the evidence and reason points to both.
As to whether they are statistically impossible, both claim to be one-time historical events. From a purely mathematical perspective, any one-time historical event would have the same statistical likelihood as any other: in all the moments of history, they only happened once. Further, theists often pose to atheists the argument against the statistical probabilities of such things as unguided processes producing a habitable planet, DNA molecules, and the platypus. Many things are so statistically improbable as to be unreasonable that they happened by unguided natural forces, yet the atheist simply scoffs and responds with the fact that the event is here, so however improbable, it happened.
Further, as to any natural forces producing a big bang, the physicists do not seem to have any solid clues as to what may have come prior to the big bang to produce it. Therefore it is pure speculation to propose any theory of whether or not the big bang was an inevitable result of natural forces. Without such, probabilities are meaningless.
In the end, the claims in the Bible about God creating the world are proven true and trustworthy. Further, none of the questions in the original query are essential in the sense that being wrong about them would disprove God or the truth of the Bible.