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User:Awc/The Gretchen Question

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This is an essay by Awc.
Please comment only on the talk page.

The crucial question for creationists is the age of creation.


The Gretchen Question

Nun sag, wie hast du’s mit der Religion? Du bist ein herzlich guter Mann, allein ich glaub, du hältst nicht viel davon.

Now tell me, where do you stand concerning religion? You are a sincerely good man, but I'm afraid you don't think highly of it.

In Goethe's Faust, while Faust is seducing Gretchen, she asks him what he thinks of religion. Her question cuts to the core of Faust's motives, his morality, and his intentions with her. In German, any direct question going to the heart of a problem, meant to reveal someone's true intentions, is called a Gretchen question.

Where faith meets reason, or creationism meets science, the Gretchen question, in my opinion, is the age of creation. All the other questions that are hotly debated—the sequence of events during creation, the origin of plant and animal types, the world-wide flood, the history of the Israelites, prophecies, contradictions in the Bible, the delay of the second coming, ...—all of these are interesting diversions, but don't add anything substantial to the debate. If the Earth is billions rather than thousands of years old, then the Bible cannot be read according to the principles that creationsist apply. If the Earth is thousands rather than billions of years old, then the entire edifice of science crumbles.

One reason for the special position of this question is that it requires a quantitative answer, and the discrepancy in the numbers offered is dramatic. Creationists hold to 6,000 years, or at the outside 10,000. Scientists hold to an age of about 13 billion years, a figure over which there is no longer any dissent in the professional literature, except perhaps plus a minus a couple billion years. What could be easier than distinguishing between two hypotheses that differ by a factor of a million? Any line of evidence requiring that the age be less than several billion years is a strike against the scientific consensus. Any line of evidence indicating that the universe, or any single thing in it, is older than 10,000 years is a strike against creationism.

Another reason that the age of creation is the crucial question is that there are many indications of the age of the universe and the things in it, and many of these arguments are rather straightforward, being based on physics. Geology is inherently much messier than physics, and biology is much, much messier than geology. Consequently a good physics argument will always trump a good geological argument, and a good geological argument will always trump a good biological argument. The case for evolution is very strong, even unavoidable, but if a creationist is not convinced by the evidence for an old Earth, then he will never, ever be convinced by the evidence for evolution. On the other hand, if somehow incontrovertible proof is found that evolution did not or can not occur, that wouldn't change the evidence for an old Earth.

Until the Gretchen question of the age of creation is answered, everything else is a fruitless, although occasionally entertaining, distraction.

He who can read Sir Charles Lyell’s grand work on the Principles of Geology, which the future historian will recognise as having produced a revolution in natural science, and yet does not admit how vast have been the past periods of time, may at once close this volume.— Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

(See also, if you're interested, User:Philip J. Rayment/The Gretchen Question: Response.)

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