I got asked by a friend for my opinions re. ‘the age of the earth.’ These are some additional thoughts I dropped on him a little later, after the first round of them…
There are a lot of dimensions and details to work out on this one. We often have a lot of presuppositions at work (i.e. opinions we’ve grown up with about the Bible) that, regardless of how (un)warranted they are, can be really problematic. We can also end up holding our worldview in such a way that we come at the text the wrong way (asking our own questions as opposed to the questions the people at the time the stories come from were asking). These are often actually part of something more, which is that we need certain things to be true (e.g. Adam existence or whatever) because we’ve ended up telling ourselves a story about ourselves to make sense of our lives, that we react to when it’s threatened by something like evolution.
I think that last bit ends up being the big issue for a lot of Christians. We need a historical Adam to have existed and for the Earth to not be old, to make sense of sin story (among others) that we have and because our presuppositions lead us to think (incorrectly) that the Bible has to be read “literally” (which is a seriously convoluted idea) and is without error, we feel compelled to reject the science because we think our story falls apart if we do.
Personally, I think our reading of the Bible is inclined to be obtuse if those are our presuppositions and if we are unaware of the fact that we’re telling ourselves a story about ourselves.
I’m really serious about interpretation that appreciates historical context and the cultural thought world of the people – the Bible is not beyond these limitations, and the meaning(s) of the text will never be obvious because the texts themselves have undergone changes within the Bible itself, because it is a library containing stories that reflect thousands of years of adaptation, as they moved through lots of different traditions.
Understanding the Bible as a historical product of its time(s), I think, makes so much sense of what we have in front of us – for the creation texts this amounts to the ancients adapting the stories from the cultures around them (these would simply have made sense to them and maintains the historically obvious fact that they, like us, were part of a cultural thought world) to be about the God they thought they had experienced (and I trust had, in some way).
It’s stupid for us to affirm the cosmological opinions of the ancients because it’s not what “God wants us to know” (as we may often be told in church) but what those people, at that time, thought. We may learn something really awesome about what they thought about God – that we can agree with – but when it comes to the cosmological details we have a lot more interesting, better and accurate things to say.