If the universe is old, scientists are questioning the flood, yet Jesus and Peter believed they are literal, historical events, what should our response be?
I’m sending you this question in hopes that you can help me or at the least shed some light on these issues. In looking at what natural sciences (Astronomy, evolution, etc.) have seemed to reveal to us about the age of the universe and the development of life, it appears that the subsequent response from theologians has been to shift away from the historically traditional views of creation, Adam and Eve, and the ways in which death entered into history. These observations of what is scientifically possible seemed to have even caused us to re-examine and re interpret whether the Biblical flood was a global or merely local occurrence. With those things being said, my question is how much faith in the supernatural (specifically our God) is there left in any of these stories, more directly are they even miraculous anymore?
The second question is similar in nature, in that from my understanding of the New Testament Peter, Paul, and even Jesus himself view these as factual, and interpret them as literal, historical events. If they viewed them in this way, but science points to a different conclusion, then were they wrong? (On the surface that sounds blasphemous, I know.) Why would these new interpretations have taken 2000 years to be understood? Jesus knew all of this, if not while on earth, than surely once he ascended to heaven, surely the Holy Spirit could’ve informed the Apostles of these ideas. I can’t help but feel that the concept of who God and Jesus really are, and what the Bible’s ultimate place is in history, as providing God’s in errant message to us hang in the balance. I do not write these questions to make you doubt yourself, or to "question your authority" I am asking because I am confused and generally do not understand these things as they appear on the surface to be entirely contradictory from my current place of pure faith, intellectual honest, observation.
I answer virtually all the questions you asked on my book Is There a God? It is available at www.ipibooks.com Let me give you the very short version. I believe that the Bible is consistent with everything I know as a scientist. I have a PhD in chemical physics, so that is not an insignificant statement. I also definitely believe in the miraculous. For example, I believe that a flood occurred several thousand years ago, that it was caused by God as a judgment on mankind who had become extremely sinful. I believe that this flood was probably world-wide and that there is sufficient cultural evidence for this flood to make belief in it reasonable. I also believe that the flood was absolutely a miraculous event. There is no "natural" explanation for the event. I believe that Jesus worked many amazing miracles, that history supports this claim, and that, most importantly, Jesus was resurrected from the dead. I believe that this can be supported VERY strongly from the evidence.
Scientific evidence leads to the conclusion that the earth is about 4.6 billion years old and the universe is more like 13.5 billion years old. Both the Bible and science agree that our universe was created "from nothing." The biggest issue this raises is in the interpretation of Genesis chapter one with its six "days" of creation. I believe that this creation account is theological, not scientific. I also believe that these "days" are metaphorical in the sense that their length is symbolic of deep time which the Hebrew audience would not have been able to comprehend. With that said, the entire account can be squared with scientific discovery, if we can assume that the "days" are periods of time.
This discovery is not new. Origen, Clement of Rome, Philo, Augustine and many other ancient Jewish and Christian theologians believed that the creation was a literal event, but that the time frame was not to be taken literally. I believe the reason Jesus, Paul and Peter talk about the creation of Adam and Eve and the flood as literal events is that they were literal events. These are miraculous one-time events which science cannot shed much light on. There is evidence for this conclusion, but faith plays a role as well.
As to how death entered history, I believe that you might be influenced by Calvinist ideas about the fall of mankind. Calvinists tend to believe that there was literally no death in the world before the sin of Adam and Eve. They also believe (falsely) that we inherit the sin of Adam. I believe that death which fell to Adam and Eve when they sinned was spiritual–it was separation from the intimate relationship with God they had before they sinned. It is doubtful that they were physically immortal before they sinned. Again, this is a teaching inherited, not from the Bible but from Calvinism. I believe the idea that death for animals only began when Adam died is not supportable, either by science, by scripture or by common sense. Plants, animals, insects, bacteria and so forth were being born and dying long before Adam’s sin and there is no biblical reason to think differently. Lions were not eating grass. We should be cautious about bringing in Calvinistic presuppositions into our understanding of the Bible.
All this is an extremely short response, but I can assure it all can be backed by detailed discussion of the evidence, both scientific and historical. I will be happy to give you a fuller response but I believe your best bet is to pick up a copy of my book. If any other questions pop up in the mean time, please do not hesitate to send another question. In summary, you definitely do not need to throw away science or your faith in the inspiration of the scripture. In fact, the evidence stronly indicates that they are fully in agreement if we simply ask a few simple questions.