In 2012, two old-Earth Christian geologists gave a presentation at the General Assembly (annual meeting) of the Presbyterian Church in America. Gregg Davidson is a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and Ken Wolgemuth is an oil industry consultant, and their presentation was entitled “The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?”
The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, holding to biblical inerrancy, as well as conservative positions on a number of other issues. Like a majority of denominations that hold to biblical inerrancy, the PCA does not take a position on the age of the Earth. There are large numbers of scholars, pastors, and elders within the PCA who believe the Bible teaches a young Earth, and large numbers who believe the Bible does not require a young Earth.
In the 1990s, the PCA created a committee to address the issues surrounding origins, such as the age of the Earth and biological evolution. The committee released its Report of the Creation Study Committee in 2000. This is a fairly balanced document, outlining the biblical arguments in favor of young-Earth creationism alongside those for three old-Earth biblical interpretations.
However, some young-Earth creationists within the PCA were outraged that the denomination would include these old-Earth Christians at the General Assembly. There were those who were upset that any old-Earther would be give the floor in a General Assembly seminar, others who were angry because of perceived ties between the speakers and the theistic evolution (a.k.a. evolutionary creation) organization BioLogos, and others who merely asked why equal time was not given to young-Earthers.
I see that this year’s General Assembly has a YEC seminar, as well as a YEC exhibitor. Here’s the description for the YEC seminar:
Astronomy Reveals Creation
Seminar Speaker: Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research, Institute for Creation Research
Critics of the Bible have often attempted to use the methods of science to persuade others that the Bible is not trustworthy. We are told that the universe is a cosmic accident—a “big bang” followed by billions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these attempts to discredit biblical creation do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The science of astronomy confirms that the Bible is true. In this highly visual presentation, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle shows powerful scientific evidence that confirms that our universe is not an accident, but has been designed and created by God as the Bible teaches in Genesis. The Christian can be encouraged that the Word of God is absolutely trustworthy on all matters. This includes not only matters of theology and morality, but matters of science and history as well.
The Institute for Creation Research will have a booth in the exhibition hall.
I pray for unity, clarity, faithfulness, love, grace, and peace within the denomination in regards to this sometimes divisive issue.
Grace and Peace
If my recollection is correct, one of the presenters was unable to be at last year’s seminar, though he had been scheduled.
Davidson and Wolgemuth are available as speakers for seminaries, Bible schools, and other organizations through Solid Rock Lectures.
I wrote about the 2012 General Assembly here: PCA General Assembly includes a seminar on the age of the Earth. Here are some quotes and comments I found at the time from blogs advocating YEC-only within the PCA:
“there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”
“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”
“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”
“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding.”
“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”
Davidson and seven other PCA geologists have written an article entitled PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth which was published in Modern Reformation magazine in 2010. YEC geologist and PCA church member John Reed wrote a response which is posted on the Answers in Genesis website.
For most Christian traditions and denominations, the age of the Earth is not a primary issue. It is not even a secondary issue. Nor is it a tertiary issue. In fact it is not even a quaternary issue. For most Christian traditions and denominations, the age of the Earth is a quinary issue! That’s three steps below being a matter of even secondary importance!
This does not mean that what we believe about origins is not important, but it helps to put the endless debate in proper perspective.
C. Michael Patton at Parchment & Pen Blog has a Chart to Help Distinguish Between Essentials and Non-Essentials.
Patton reserves the “Essential for Salvation” circle for those doctrines that one must believe in order to be a Christian by just about any definition. This includes belief in God, Christ’s deity and humanity; our sinfulness, and Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection.
The next circle includes those things that all Christians (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant) have believed from the beginning of the church, such as the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in the Nicene Creed, the future return of Christ, the eternal punishment of the wicked, and belief that Christ is the only way to God. One might err on one of these (e.g. believe that all will in the end be saved) and still be a Christian, but not be within the standards of Christian orthodoxy.
The third circle from the center is traditional orthodoxy, which is orthodoxy as defined by one of the broad traditions of the Church: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. I fall within Protestant orthodoxy, believing in justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I fall outside of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, as I reject its teachings about Mary.
I am well aware that there will be differences between Christian traditions and denominations about where to place various doctrines. Lutherans will bump baptism up a notch or two compared to most Evangelicals, and Pentecostals might move spiritual gifts more towards the center as compared to where most Episcopalians will.
Where do teachings about evolution and the age of the universe come into this?
Patton places what we believe about origins in the “important but not essential” category. I think I would place evolution and chronology at this level as well.
Most YEC leaders will state that origins are not a primary issue, that is, that one can believe in an old Earth and still be a Christian. I think the highest they could really put YEC is at the denominational orthodoxy level (though they might look at their denominational orthodoxy as the true standard of orthodoxy and throw out the higher levels entirely).
Many YEC followers seem to place YEC at the primary level, as in, “If you are not a YEC, you are probably not really a Christian.” I have actually run into that quite a bit.
What do you think? Where do the age of the universe and biological evolution fit on the diagram?
Grace and Peace
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. — Genesis 1:1 (ESV)
“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” — Carl Sagan, from Cosmos.
Which of these two quotes is a scientific statement, and which is a religious statement?
The initial reaction most people—including Christians— have had when I have asked this question is that the quote from Genesis is a religious statement, and the quote from Sagan is a scientific statement. In reality, both statements are religious or philosophical in nature, but only the Genesis quote is fully compatible with the universe as we know it.
I won’t dispute that the quote from the Bible is a religious statement. If religion is about God and his relationship to the universe and humanity, then Genesis 1:1 is clearly a religious statement.
Carl Sagan’s famous Cosmos statement is also a philosophical—and I would say religious—statement. Sagan had not observed that “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” nor had he nor any other scientist done an experiment which proved that God doesn’t exist or isn’t necessary. In other words, Sagan had not used anything like “the scientific method” to arrive at his conclusion, and his Cosmos quote is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one.
Atheists such as Sagan would say that science has explained everything from nuclear fusion to sexual reproduction without any need for inserting God into the process and so their faith that there is no God is justified (faith is the right word, even if they would scramble to say it in a different way). But in doing this they are confusing categories. It is one thing to say that stellar evolution or meiosis can be explained without inserting a “God did it” step. Christians do not insert a “God did it” step into these processes either. However, it is an entirely different matter to explain why there is a cosmos at all. This question is outside of science, and is one that theists have a better explanation for than do atheists.
Many dismiss the Christian belief that God created the entire cosmos—matter, energy, space, time, and laws—as coming from a primitive myth. By “cosmos” I mean “everything that is or ever was or ever will be,” which would include the multiverse (if there is such a thing) beyond our observed universe, but but would not include God. Only one of the following statements, however, is actually compatible with the cosmos as we know it:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
“In the beginning, nothing created everything.”
In the universe we live in, things do not pop into existence completely out of nothing. I am not talking about random quantum fluctuations creating subatomic particles here and there, because these particles are not truly popping up out of nothing. By nothing, I mean nothing — no space, time, matter, energy, nor laws. Because of this, it is incompatible with what we know about the cosmos—that is, it is incompatible with science—to believe that the cosmos came from absolutely nothing, or that it somehow created itself.
On the other hand, it is compatible with the universe as we know it (i.e. science) to advocate that it was caused to exist by something completely outside of it. There is absolutely no scientific reason, therefore, for a scientist to not accept that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Grace and Peace
I have updated the “Best of the GeoChristian” link up at the top of the page.
There is a good variety: posts on Christianity, geology, creationism, the environment, atheism, apologetics, and more.
I would be interested to hear if there is a post that has been especially meaningful or helpful to you, or one that you think is the best of the best of The GeoChristian.
Thanks for reading,
Grace and Peace
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” — Ephesians 4:15 (NIV 1984)
In Ephesians 4:15, Paul calls on Christians to do two things at once. The first of these is that we are to speak the truth. The second is that we do so in love. Unfortunately, most of us are not very good at multitasking.
The second part of this Biblical imperative is the greater challenge for most of us. The greatest commandment of Scripture in regards to human relationships is that we love one another. It is easy to get caught up in the issues we care deeply about—whether in the areas of doctrine, science, politics, or social issues—and to start looking at the other person as our adversary or enemy who needs to be set straight.
The challenge before me, and us, is to learn how to “speak the truth in love.” How do we “speak the truth in love” on topics such as creationism or the environment, when we think the other side takes a position that is, at times, both wrong and harmful?
My first suggestion is humility. We are not God; we do not know it all. For instance, all of us certainly could misunderstand the Bible. YECs would say, “Yeah, you certainly don’t understand the Bible,” and I am sure that there are things that I don’t get completely right in regards to Genesis. I do sincerely believe that the Bible is ambiguous on topics such as the age of the Earth and the extent and work of Noah’s flood. I also believe that there are things YECs read into the text that are not there, and that they are guilty at times of a hyper-literal over-reading of the text in ways that were not intended, and I would like to see more humility on their part as well.
We also need to be humble in regards to our science. We, as individuals and as a scientific community, do not know everything we think we know. This goes for both old-Earthers and young-Earthers.
Second, sometimes it is best to be silent. This is hard for me, but it is better to say nothing at all than to speak the truth in an unloving way. I don’t need to win every debate, and need to be aware that I could easily club a brother or sister to death with my arguments from either the Bible or science. Victory is not the highest goal.
Third, I think we need to seek to find common ground. I have tremendous areas of agreement with my young-Earth creationist brothers and sisters in terms of my view of both Scripture and the world, and I need to seek to build on that. I ask that they would seek to do the same.
Fourth, I think it is better to use neutral terms and phrases, such as “Creationist X is incorrect because…” than “What Creationist X says is complete and utter nonsense.” I may think that what Creationist X says is nonsense, but in order to love to them as a brother in Christ, I need to be careful.
Fifth, it is important to keep primary issues primary, and secondary issues secondary. Of course, this is a bit of a challenge when we cannot agree on what is secondary and what is primary. I will say that it is more important to me that I maintain unity with a brother or sister in Christ than it is that I win a “debate.”
Sixth, name-calling is off limits. Those who disagree with me are not nincompoops or extremists, and I am not a compromiser or a so-called Christian.
I have no doubt that you can scroll through my 1000+ posts on The GeoChristian and find instances where I have not lived up to these standards. In a way, this is an exploratory blog post. What is fair (and loving) in a formal or semi-formal debate could be different than what is loving in a dialog with a lay Christian without a science background who has only read young-Earth literature.
I have a couple questions:
- How do I say “Creationist X is wrong wrong wrong” in a loving way?
- What are other ways in which we can succeed or fail at “speaking the truth in love” as we discuss Earth issues we feel passionate about?
Grace and Peace
P.S. I intend to start a new series called “GeoScriptures,” in which I will examine verses or passages that relate in one way or another to the Biblical doctrine of Creation. This verse on truth and love seems like a good place to start, as it is easy for all of us to miss this high standard as we discuss issues on which there might be disagreement.
I was visiting with a young-Earth creationist (a dear brother in Christ whom I did not know) during a break at the Nathaniel Jeanson presentation earlier this month. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned that there are a good number of prominent, conservative Evangelical scholars and pastors who advocate acceptance of an old Earth, and who view this as perfectly compatible with Genesis. I don’t remember exactly who I listed, but probably men like J.I. Packer, Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, and John Piper. These Bible teachers—all of whom hold to the inerrancy of the Scriptures—did not come to an old-Earth interpretation because they were compromisers or friends of the world, but because they looked closely at what the Word actually says and doesn’t say on the topic, and came to the conclusion that a 6000-year old Earth is simply not required.
This brother in Christ told me that I will not have any of these men standing next to me when I stand before God in the judgement; that I would have to give an account to God for my false teaching on the age of the Earth. My response was that if I am wrong on this topic, I have someone even better that Packer, Spurgeon, Schaeffer, or Piper who will stand next to me before the Father, and that is Jesus Christ.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 NIV84)
I have no doubt that I don’t have all of my doctrines correct. I feel rather strongly about some doctrines—the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, the solas of the Reformation—but probably misunderstand some of the nuances of these core teachings of Christianity. There are a number of secondary doctrinal issues that I could be wrong on as well, such as in the areas of eschatology, ecclesiology, and pneumatology. But, praise be to God, Jesus died for my sin of false doctrine as well as for my sins of lust, greed, selfishness, indifference, and so forth. If not, I’m sunk. And so, most likely, are you.
Does this mean I think it doesn’t matter whether I get my doctrine correct? Not at all.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15 ESV)
Could I be wrong about what the Bible says about the age of the Earth? I really do believe the Bible is ambiguous on the topic, but I acknowledge that I could be mistaken.
Could young-Earth creationists be wrong about what the Bible says about the age of the Earth? I think they are guilty of hyper-literalism (e.g. thinking Genesis 3 is a story of how snakes lost their legs rather than being a story about Satan grovelling in the dust). I think they are guilty of reading things into the text that are not there, such as there being no animal death before Adam’s sin, or that Noah’s flood was global and created most of the geological record. Those things are not in the Bible. So the answer is “yes,” they certainly could be mistaken.
If I am wrong about the age of the Earth, some would say I will lose a reward in eternity. This is one of those doctrinal areas that I don’t understand; there are plenty of passages that seem to teach rewards for the good works of believers, but can we really claim any credit for our good works when whatever good we do is by the grace of God just as much our justification? In either case—rewards or equality—I will watch my life and doctrine closely as best as I can. I won’t get either of these perfect, but I will press ahead.
But the main point is that I will be with God forever—in a state of eternal joy—because of the finished and complete work of Christ.
Of course some YECs would say I won’t be in heaven at all, but those YECs have a much bigger problem with their understanding of the Gospel than whatever they think my age of the Earth problem is.
Grace and Peace
There are, of course, many Christians who are scientists, and many scientists who are Christians. As a graduate student in geology, I found rich fellowship with a half dozen Christian geologists-in-training, and there was a Christian on the faculty of the department as well.
Davis Young, a Christian geology professor (retired), and author of The Bible, Rocks and Time, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, and Mind over Magma: the Story of Igneous Petrology, has written what he considers to be his most important book: Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God.
The summary on Barnes & Noble reads:
Bridging the fields of natural science and religion, Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God invites members of the professional scientific community, graduate, undergraduate, and high school science students, science teachers, and members of the general public who are interested in the natural sciences to embrace the Christian faith personally. Employing the theme of good news, this book challenges readers to ponder the question of life after death as a gateway to the overall claim that Christianity, at its best and most consistent, bears good news for both science and the scientist. On the one hand, Christianity, far from being antithetical to science, supplies the rational foundation that makes the scientific enterprise possible. On the other hand, the central message of Christianity brings a firm hope to scientists as individual persons in meeting their deepest needs and desires for genuine significance, purpose, goodness, forgiveness, justice, and relationship with the Creator. In presenting his case, the author eschews pseudo-science and treats with great respect the discoveries of contemporary mainstream natural science, including an ancient universe and Earth, biological evolution, and the standard model of cosmology. The text adopts an informal, personal, conversational style. Good News for Science will be of interest not only to the general scientific community but also to Christians who are seeking a resource to use in presenting Christian faith to scientifically knowledgeable individuals.
As the review says, this would be a great book for
- Professional scientists
- Students of science, at either the undergraduate or graduate levels
- High school teachers and students
- Members of the general public.
Grace and Peace
One of the seminars at the Presbyterian Church of America’s 2012 General Assembly (their annual national meeting, held June 19-22 this year) is a presentation of the geological evidence for an old Earth, given by two geologists from Solid Rock Lectures. Here is the description from the General Assembly seminar brochure:
The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?
Seminar Speaker: Gregg Davidson, Professor of Geology, University of Mississippi; Ken Wolgemuth, Oil industry consultant
The Creation Study Committee reported their results in 2000 without establishing a firm position on the age of the earth. The report encouraged the PCA to consider what additional scientific understanding might develop in the future to assist in answering the question of age. This seminar will provide an update on the scientific evidence for an ancient earth using examples non-scientists can easily apprehend. Pastors and theologians are generally familiar with the biblical arguments surrounding questions of the age of the earth, but few have access to scientific data that they can understand. Most rely on information from young earth organizations that do not adequately or accurately reflect conventional scientific understanding. When information from these sources is passed on to students and congregations, Christ, as the author of truth, is poorly represented. More importantly, our members are inadequately prepared to wrestle with challenges to their faith when encountering the actual scientific evidence. Church leaders need to be aware of the evidence even if convinced it is wrong. The seminar will explicitly acknowledge the authority and preeminence of scripture over natural evidence, while also recognizing that God’s natural creation can sometimes aid in choosing between plausible biblical interpretations. Gregg Davidson is a member of Christ Presbyterian Church in Oxford, MS (PCA), a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and a member of a non-profit organization called Solid Rock Lectures that is devoted to proclaiming Christ and reconciling science and faith conflicts. Ken Wolgemuth is a member of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, OK (EPC), a PhD geologist working as a consultant in the oil industry, and also a member of Solid Rock Lectures.
The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, firmly committed to the inerrancy of Scriptures. Within the PCA, there are both young-Earth creationists and adherents of an old Earth. The Old Testament faculty at the PCA’s Covenant Theological Seminary includes C. John Collins, who makes a very strong case that the Bible doesn’t set a date for creation in his excellent book Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary. Collins was the Old Testament Editor for the highly-regarded ESV Study Bible.
The PCA Creation Study Committee of 2000 could not come to a Biblical consensus regarding the age of the Earth, which is as it should be. There is enough ambiguity in the opening chapters of Genesis, that Biblically-speaking, one could go either way. The report did state, as indicated in the seminar description, that scientific evidence could be useful in determining which side is correct in this debate. One of the goals of this seminar seems to be to present the case that the scientific evidence weighs very heavily on the old-Earth side. Davidson was one of the co-authors of the article PCA Geologists on the Age of the Earth, which appeared in Modern Reformation magazine, and I suspect the speakers will make a similar geological case in their seminar.
Not surprisingly, there is opposition from the young-Earth side to the inclusion of an old-Earth perspective in the schedule. Some are concerned that only one side of the issue is being presented. In some settings this might be true, but there are a number of seminars listed in the brochure where there might be some disagreement over one issue or another, and the organizers have no obligation to include all viewpoints on all issues. I would be surprised if at next year’s General Assembly there were not a young-Earth counter-seminar to balance things out.
Others are concerned that old-Earthers are given any voice at all, especially old-Earthers who advocate evolution as well. It seems that some would prefer a young-Earth monopoly within the PCA.
The scientific evidence for an old Earth is overwhelming, contrary to the claims of the young-Earth creationists. Sea salt does not point to a young Earth. Volcanoes do not point to a young Earth. Dinosaur footprints do not point to a young Earth. Sedimentary rocks do not point to a young Earth. The Grand Canyon does not point to a young Earth. The RATE project does not provide convincing evidence for a young Earth. The young-Earth creationism movement has consistently presented poor arguments for their position, and it is important that the church has this opportunity to hear the old-Earth side.
I suspect, however, that the main thing most General Assembly attendees need to hear is not the geological evidence for an old Earth, but the case for the ambiguity of Scripture regarding the age of the Earth. The Bible does not teach a young Earth, and it doesn’t teach an old Earth; it is open-ended on the topic. This seminar on geological evidence will not convince anyone that the Earth is old if they have Biblical reasons for denying the evidence. Many YECs have only heard the Biblical case for a young Earth, have been taught that all old-Earth interpretations are merely compromises with the world, and that acceptance of them will only lead to theological liberalism or apostasy.
The young-Earth interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis is based on three pillars, none of which is explicitly taught in Scripture:
- The Bible requires a young-Earth — No it doesn’t. The Bible teaches that the Earth was created in six days. Much of the debate is about whether the word “day” (Hebrew: yom) requires six consecutive 24-hour days (the young-Earth viewpoint), or if it can be interpreted in Genesis in some other way. Yom is used figuratively at least once in Genesis 1-2. Genesis 2:4 states “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” (ESV) ”Day” in this passage refers to the entire creation week, not to a literal 24-hour day. If it can be used figuratively once, it might be used figuratively elsewhere in the passage. Collins develops a much more extensive case for the analogical use of yom in his commentary on Genesis 1-4 I referenced earlier.
- The Bible requires that there be no animal death before the fall of Adam — No it doesn’t. I’ve addressed this issue in my post Death before the fall — an old Earth Biblical perspective.
- The Bible requires a global flood — No it doesn’t. I written on this topic in The YEC “Did God really say?” tactic.
One can make a thoroughly Biblical case for an old Earth (or again, Biblical ambiguity about this secondary issue), without reference to geology, astronomy, or other historical sciences. Once people see this, they will be more open to what God has revealed in his creation regarding Earth’s history.
Given the potential for tension at this seminar, I hope and pray that there would be a spirit of grace upon all who speak and attend.
Grace and Peace
HT: Tim and Natural Historian
Here are a couple YEC blog posts on the topic:
A Daughter of the Reformation – “there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”
The comments on the Johannes Weslianus (Wes White) blog give a good idea of the antagonism that can be stirred up by this issue:
“I wonder why the PCA would allow such a one-sided presentation.”
“Even in this brief announcement, the condescension is absolutely palpable.”
“I find it so disconcerting that the PCA GA would allow Biologos into its very presence. How is this not allowing the wolf into the sheepfold?”
“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”
“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”
“After calming down from last night, I decided to write to Michelle and I asked her to cancel this seminar (with reasons). Sad stuff.”
“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding. “
“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”
Biblically, I have no problem with an old Earth and most of biological evolution (i.e. the science of evolution, not the flaky philosophy that athiests such as Dawkins attach to it). Biblically, I also believe in a real individual Adam who was in some very real sense the ancestor of us all. My answer to how that all fits in to paleoanthropology at this time is “I’m not entirely sure.” But that doesn’t really bother me.
In recent years, several self-proclaimed evangelicals, or those associated with evangelical institutions, have called into question the historicity of Adam and Eve. It is said that because of genomic research we can no longer believe in a first man called Adam from whom the entire human race has descended.
I’ll point to some books at the end which deal with the science end of the question, but the most important question is what does the Bible teach. Without detailing a complete answer to that question, let me suggest ten reasons why we should believe that Adam was a true historical person and the first human being.
1. The Bible does not put an artificial wedge between history and theology. Of course, Genesis is not a history textbook or a science textbook, but that is far from saying we ought to separate the theological wheat from the historical chaff. Such a division owes to the Enlightenment more than the Bible.
2. The biblical story of creation is meant to supplant other ancient creation stories more than imitate them. Moses wants to show God’s people “this is how things really happened.” The Pentateuch is full of warnings against compromise with the pagan culture. It would be surprising, then, for Genesis to start with one more mythical account of creation like the rest of the ANE.
3. The opening chapters of Genesis are stylized, but they show no signs of being poetry. Compare Genesis 1 with Psalm 104, for example, and you’ll see how different these texts are. It’s simply not accurate to call Genesis poetry. And even if it were, who says poetry has to be less historically accurate?
4. There is a seamless strand of history from Adam in Genesis 2 to Abraham in Genesis 12. You can’t set Genesis 1-11 aside as prehistory, not in the sense of being less than historically true as we normally understand those terms. Moses deliberately connects Abram with all the history that comes before him, all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden.
5. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 treat Adam as historical.
7. The weight of the history of interpretation points to the historicity of Adam. The literature of second temple Judaism affirmed an historical Adam. The history of the church’s interpretation also assumes it.
8. Without a common descent we lose any firm basis for believing that all people regardless of race or ethnicity have the same nature, the same inherent dignity, the same image of God, the same sin problem, and that despite our divisions we are all part of the same family coming from the same parents.
9. Without a historical Adam, Paul’s doctrine of original sin and guilt does not hold together.
10. Without a historical Adam, Paul’s doctrine of the second Adam does not hold together.
Christians may disagree on the age of the earth, but whether Adam ever existed is a gospel issue. Tim Keller is right:
[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority. . . .If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart. You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching. (Christianity Today June 2011)
If you want to read more about the historical Adam debate, check out Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? by C. John Collins.
For more on the relationship between faith and science, you may want to look at one of the following:
- John C. Lennox, God’s Undertake: Has Science Buried God?
- Should Christians Embrace Evolution: Biblical and Scientific Responses, edited by Norman C. Nevin
- God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards
- Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach
- C. John Collins, Science and Faith: Friend or Foes
Grace and Peace
Christianity Today has a brief interview with philosopher Alvin Plantinga regarding his recent book entitled Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. The main points of the interview are:
- The alleged conflict between theistic religion and science is superficial.
- There is a deep harmony between theistic religion and science.
- Part of the reason there appears to be serious antagonism between theistic religion and science is because there are vocal advocates of warfare between the two. These people are wrong.
- Those who add naturalism to scientific theories such as evolution are doing so for non-scientific reasons.
- If we got here by unguided (i.e. no divine involvement) evolution, then there is no reason to trust that our minds can guide us to truth about evolution.
Regarding evolution, Plantinga states
In certain areas, the right word would be alleged conflict. For example, I argue that there’s no real conflict between evolutionary theory—that is, the scientific theory of evolution apart from any naturalistic spin—and what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity.” There’s no real conflict, even though conflict has been alleged by people on the Right as well as on the Left. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and a host of others claim that there is outright conflict between evolutionary theory and belief in such a person as God, who has created and designed the living world. At the other end, there are Christian thinkers, too—like Phillip Johnson—who think there is irreconcilable conflict between the scientific theory of evolution and Christian belief.
But I don’t think there is. What current scientific evolutionary theory says is that the living world has come to be via a certain process of natural selection operating on some form of genetic variation. And it’s clear that God could have made the living world that way if he wanted to. What Christianity tells us, what theistic religion generally tells us, is that God has created the world and created human beings in his image. He could have done that through a variety of means. And that point goes all the way back to the 19th century. Some of the Princeton theologians—Charles Hodge, for example—said exactly that shortly after Darwin’s theory of evolution appeared. It’s not a new thought at all.
Despite what you hear from the loud voices on both sides—whether Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett for the atheists or Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, or Phillip Johnson for the Christian anti-evolutionists—the Bible does not say much, if anything, about biological evolution. The two main arguments—at least from the young-Earth side of Christianity—against evolution are that there could not have been any death before Adam’s fall into sin, and that animals were created to reproduce after their kinds. The Bible however does not teach that there was no animal death before the fall, and to take the statements about organisms reproducing after their kinds in Genesis 1 to mean that populations cannot vary over time is quite a hermeneutic stretch. On the other side, atheist extrapolations from “organisms have changed over time” to “there is no God” are downright silly.
The conclusion a clear thinking person ought to make—and most scientists like to think of themselves as clear thinkers—is that one cannot rule out Christianity because of biological evolution or because of any other scientific theory. Those who have rejected Christianity because of evolution—or some other branch of science—have done so because of non-scientific additions to science, and are not being as rational as they have been led to believe.
Grace and Peace
Karl Giberson: Creationists Drive Young People Out of the Church
Here is a quote:
In a recent piece titled “Nine Year Old Challenges Nasa,” [Answers in Genesis president Ken] Ham blogged proudly about “Emma B” who, when told that a NASA moon rock was 3.75 billion years old, asked “Were you there?”
The suggestion that scientists cannot speak about the past unless “they were there” is a strange claim. The implication is that we cannot do something as simple as count tree rings and confidently declare “This great pine was standing here 2,000 years ago.” As a philosophy of science, such a restriction would completely rule out the scientific study of the past. This, of course, is precisely what the creationists want.
Many bright evangelical young people are, fortunately, not impressed with the suggestion that only “eyewitnesses” can speak about the past. Just this past spring I taught an honors seminar on science and religion at an evangelical college. The class included a couple of bright students who had grown up in fundamentalist churches that showed Ken Ham videos in their Sunday School class. Both of them recalled the encouragement to ask their teachers “Were you there?” And both of them, a few years older and wiser than “Emma B,” thought this suggestion was ridiculous and wondered what kind of ideas required the embrace of such nonsense on their behalf. These students — in fact, most of the students I have had over the years — will graduate from college accepting contemporary science and its various explanations for what has happened in the past. But unless the leadership in their churches does a better job with its teaching ministry, such students will have a hard time returning to their home churches.
The dismissive and even hostile approach to science taken by evangelical leaders like Ken Ham accounts for the Barna finding above. In the name of protecting Christianity from a secularism perceived as corrosive to the faith, the creationists are unwittingly driving the best and brightest evangelicals out of the church — or at least into the arms of the compromising Episcopalians, whom they despise. What remains after their exodus is an even more intellectually impoverished parallel culture, with even fewer resources to think about complex issues.
Giberson refers to a Barna survey: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church. I’ve been wanting to blog about this, but just haven’t had the time. Reason #3 is “Churches come across as antagonistic to science.”
With love for the Church
I have been involved in an online discussion regarding whether or not the geologic column (Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian…) is real, or some sort of figment of geologists’ imaginations. Dr. Jay Wile, on his Proslogion blog, has written a post entitled Yet Another Failure of “Geological Column” Reasoning. Please note that I consider Dr. Wile (author of the Apologia series of home school science textbooks) to be one of the better young-Earth creationists; one who is willing to point out the scientific and theological shortfalls of the overall YEC movement when he sees them.
Dr. Wile argues that the discovery of fragments of grass phytolyths (tiny glass particles in grass leaves) in Cretaceous dinosaur dung (coprolites) is evidence that the whole concept of the geologic time scale is in trouble. After all, we had been told rather authoritatively that there were no grasses in the Cretaceous; that grasses did not appear until a few million years after the demise of the dinosaurs. He draws a parallel between this and another “failure” of the the geologic column: living fossils such as Coelacanths. If the geologic column is built on fossils, and if we discover that some fossils occur later or earlier than we realized, then perhaps the geologic column itself is suspect.
In the comments on Dr. Wile’s blog post, I have argued that the geologic column is more of an observation than an inference. I realize from philosophy of science that observations can be highly biased; that we often find just exactly what we are looking for. The young-Earth creationists claim that this is exactly what has happened; that geologists, imbibed with evolution, were expecting to find some sort of evolutionary order in the fossil record, and therefore they went out and found it. When one points out that the geologic column was largely deciphered before Darwin, they respond by saying that there was plenty of evolutionary thinking before Darwin (e.g. Lamarck), and that this is what influenced the early stratigraphers.
But is this what happened? Were the early 19th century geologists more influenced by evolutionary thinking, or by what they observed in sedimentary rocks?
In the early 1800s, William Smith compiled the first geologic maps of Great Britain. At first he focused on types of rocks, but he soon recognized that there were distinct fossil assemblages in the layers as well, and that these too could be traced across Britain .
Within the upcoming decades, scientists across Europe, and then in North America and elsewhere, began to make similar geological surveys. They discovered that not only were many fossils restricted to narrow bands of rock, but that there were many types that no longer could be found on Earth, and that there were consistent patterns in the order in which these fossils appeared in the geological record. This led to the construction (or discovery) of the geologic column. They eventually put labels on parts of the geologic column, such as Ordovician and Triassic.
Some of these early geologists were Christians, some were deists. Many were catastrophists, believing that the sedimentary rocks were the product of worldwide deluges, and many believed in the fixity of species. Few had the molecules-to-man picture that emerged after 1859.
That is a very brief summary of the development of the idea of the geologic (or stratigraphic) column, which is closely tied to the concept of geologic time. I want to make the case that the geologic column exists, that it is in need of an explanation, and that the standard geological explanation of deposition over millions of years works well, while that of the YEC Flood geologists falls far short.
The basic concept of the geologic column is that sedimentary rocks occur in the crust of the Earth in a specific sequence, and that this sequence has a global, rather than regional, basis.
Let’s start with the stratigraphic section that might be found at one location. This section would be a slice through the Earth. It might be exposed in a canyon or on a mountain side, or detailed by examining cores and cuttings as a well is extended deeper into the crust. My initial column (A) has five layers, which I will label 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
I am not all that concerned at this point whether those layers are sandstone, shale, or limestone. Instead, I wish to focus on the fossils. Layer 1 might contain marine fossils, such as trilobites and brachiopods. Layer 2 might also contain bryozoans and brachiopods, but of different genera than those found in layer 1. Layer 3 might contain corals. And so on for layers 4 and 5.
Now lets move down the road fifty miles and examine another section (B) of the sedimentary record.
Some of the layers clearly connect from A to B. This could be in terms of the rock types, the fossils, or both. But B has six layers, with B4 appearing between what was A3 and A4. Note that the correlation lines do not cross. This is not because of some evolutionary presupposition, but because the fossils in A1 match the fossils in B1, the fossils in A4 match the fossils in B5, and so forth.
Let’s move over one or two counties, and examine a third series of layers, section C.
We can see that A1 correlates with B1 and C1. B2, however has disappeared somewhere between B and C, and a new layer, C6, has appeared at the top of the section. Note again that there is no crossing of the lines.
For a final look, I’ll add two more sections, D and E.
It is apparent that some layers correlate all the way across from A to E, others pinch out, and still others appear. Once again, there is no crossing of lines.
These are all hypothetical columns of rock. In the real world, the same types of patterns occur, and geologists have given names to sets of rocks, based on the fossils that they contain. The lowermost layers contain distinct assemblages of fossils that have been given the label “Cambrian.” Higher in the column, another distinct assemblage of fossils has been named “Ordovician.” This continues upward for the entire geologic column.
Don’t get distracted by the numbers at this point. I am not defending so much the age of the Earth right now, but the reality of the geologic column, and I have this diagram here as an illustration.
The well-read young-Earth creationist, at this point, will say that this entire column does not exist in any one place; that it is all an inference. Look at the Grand Canyon, for example. It only contains fossil-bearing rocks from the Cambrian, and Devonian through Permian (no Silurian, Ordovician, or anything younger than the Permian).
That objection is pretty easy to answer. First of all, if one looks at the broader context, the Cambrian through Permian rocks of the Grand Canyon can be traced laterally to where they are beneath rocks in Utah that have Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Tertiary fossils.
So in a distance of roughly one hundred miles, we can trace most of the periods of the geologic column. All that is missing is the Ordovician and Silurian. There are Quaternary deposits in this area, they just are not shown on the diagram. This sort of situation—correlation of layers—is the rule rather than the exception.
Second, there are a number of persistent sedimentary basins—areas that for one reason or another have continued to collect sedimentary deposits through much of geologic history—that do indeed contain layers from each of the geologic periods. If one drills into the Williston Basin (North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan), they will find the layers in the proper order. Starting from the bottom, there are layers from the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Mississippian, Pennsylvanian, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary, and Quaternary. There is nothing out of order. This can be seen on the following stratigraphic correlation chart.
This really is a nice looking correlation chart; I encourage you to look at the full-scale version at the Core Lab web site. This chart (and others like it) show the same thing that I was doing with sections A-B-C-D-E earlier. Note that in the Montana and North Dakota columns at the far right of the chart, there are rocks from the Cambrian all the way up through the Quaternary. This chart only covers a corner of North America (British Columbia to Manitiba and down into parts of the United States). It could easily be extended to the whole of North America, and even to Europe and the rest of the world.
Note that the fossilized rocks express the same order no matter where you go. You simply do not find Cambrian rocks lying on top of Jurassic rocks. There is no crossing of the correlation lines. (Side note: YECs will often point to areas where older rocks are above younger rocks in areas that have been deformed by folding and faulting. If you undo the deformation, everything always slides back into place).
One can go to a number of basins throughout the world—in Libya, Bulgaria, China, Australia, Colombia, and elsewhere—and find exactly the same thing. It is not Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian in North America, and Permian-Cambrian-Devonian-Ordovician in Europe.
Many of the better young-Earth creationists acknowledge that there is some sort of order to the fossil record. They know that there are only invertebrates in the lower parts of the column, that land vertebrates (amphibians and then reptiles) don’t show up until the middle, and that mammals don’t show up until the top part.
At the simplest level, there was the proposal that marine organisms got buried first, and then the slow moving amphibians and reptiles, and the mammals and birds, who were quicker, were able to run faster (or fly) and so escape the earlier Flood waters. But this verges on being nonsense, as there are terrestrial sediments deposited throughout the column. And there are lake deposits, and shallow marine deposits, and deeper marine deposits also scattered throughout the column. And am I supposed to accept that all mice were able to outrun the advancing Flood, but pterodactyls couldn’t?
More sophisticated models have come along, such as various horizontal and vertical ecological zonation models. These models run into some of the same problems, as well as some additional ones. First is the problem of sorting. I would expect a worldwide Flood to at least sometimes have some turbulence, and to either mix groups of fossils together, or to put them out of order. Maybe even a little tiny bit. But it doesn’t seem to have happened. The order is Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian… It isn’t Cambrian-Ordovician-Mixture-Mixture-Mixture-Silurian, and it isn’t Cretaceous-Devonian-Permian-Cambrian. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, likes to say, “If there really was a global Flood, you would expect to find billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth … which is exactly what you do find!” No, if the sedimentary rock record were a product of a single giant flood, I would expect to find a giant mess. I would not expect to find Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian…
A further problem with the ecological zonation models is that there would have had to have been plenty of critters still alive (and thriving) most of the way through the Flood. For example, think about all of the organisms of the Mesozoic Era (Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous). This includes not only the dinosaurs, but a host of mammals, birds, plants, and marine organisms, such as ammonites. Many of these organisms are unique to the Mesozoic, and even unique to subdivisions of the individual periods. Where were they all during the massive catastrophe that deposited the rocks of the Paleozoic? Vast areas of Mesozoic rocks are underlain by Paleozoic rocks. Were they huddled together on islands that had escaped earlier flooding? Were they floating around on mats of vegetation? Both of these proposals have very serious problems, but they are what the Flood geologists seem to be clinging to.
I’m barely getting started, and just scratching the surface. But I need to get back to Dr. Wile’s objection: that grass in the Cretaceous and Coelacanths in the Holocene are enough to discredit the whole thing. Do they? If anything, they discredit geologists and paleontologists who should have been a little more cautious in their statements.
The discovery of grass in dinosaur dung isn’t that big of a change. Paleobotanists had been saying that grass appeared sometime in the Paleocene or early Eocene (perhaps around 55 million years ago), and now we know that there was at least some grass around in the very late Cretaceous (a little over 65 million years ago). In any case, it appears that grasses were probably a minor constituent of the Mesozoic fauna. Perhaps I’m wrong on this. I don’t think any actual fossils of Cretaceous grass leaves have been found. In regards to the Coelacanth, which was once thought to have gone extinct in the Cretaceous but then discovered alive in the Indian Ocean, I think we should expect this sort of thing from time to time. There are fossils that, as far as we know, only lived in the Tithonian age of the Jurassic. Do we know everything? We should expect that for at least some of our index fossils (those fossils that are supposed to tell us the age of the rock in a very narrow range) that some survived somewhere and could even still be alive today.
These are little things. Grass appeared a bit earlier than we knew. Coelacanths survived throughout the Tertiary without leaving any fossils, but they are alive today. The plain and simple fact is that the geologic column exists. What the young-Earth creationists would need to find in order to overturn the well-established and well-justified concept of the geologic column is something like a mastodon in Devonian sediments, or an ostrich in the Ordovician. Until then, I’ll accept Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian… as an observation that is in need of an explanation.
Grace and Peace
|As an old-Earth creationist
I believe that the universe was created by the triune God of the Bible
I believe that the Bible does not dictate when this creation took place
I believe in a real Adam
in a real garden
in a real fall into sin
in real consequences for that sin
and in Jesus Christ as the only solution for sin
From Christianity Today — Survey of Evangelical pastors convictions regarding the age of the Earth and human evolution:
Self-identified evangelical pastors on whether the earth is 6,000 years old:
No answer: 13%
Strongly agree : 29%
Somewhat agree: 19%
Somewhat disagree: 12%
Strongly disagree: 27%
Self-identified evangelical pastors on whether God used evolution to create people:
No answer: 3%
Strongly agree: 8%
Somewhat agree: 10%
Somewhat disagree: 9%
Strongly disagree: 70%
Source: LifeWay Research
Grace and Peace
To summarize the summary:
- Lewis refused to join or endorse the Evolution Protest Movement, even though it was led by a personal friend.
- His writings state acceptance of biological evolution [and, I should add, an ancient Earth (and Mars!)].
- Lewis believed that evolution posed little threat to Christianity.
- Lewis didn’t even believe in a literal Adam and Eve
- Despite these beliefs, most would consider Lewis very orthodox in his Christian beliefs.
Grace and Peace
|The following item was originally posted in October 2009, and I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries (sometimes with a little editing). This post quotes from Michael Spencer, the late author of the blog Internet Monk (Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness).|
Creation evangelism: using young-Earth creationism (Earth < 10,000 years old, most of geology is the product of Noah’s flood) to win people to faith in Christ.
There are many people who have come to faith in Christ through young-Earth creation ministries such as Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and a multitude of smaller organizations. I rejoice when people come to Christ or have their faith strengthened.
There is another side to this, however. These same organizations also needlessly drive perhaps millions of others away from Christ. The arguments presented by the young-Earth creationists for a young Earth or a global flood may be convincing to those who don’t know much science (and specifically, geology), but when critically examined these arguments are far from persuasive. The result is twofold. First, scientists (and other scientifically-minded people) are driven away from Christ. They are basically told that in order to become a Christian, they have to check their brains at the door. The second result is that many of our young people eventually leave the faith, not because of what the Bible actually says, but because of what the young-Earth organizations have given them as solid evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible. When they see that these arguments are not valid, they often chuck their Christianity along with their young-Earth creation dogmas.
Here’s a tragic story, illustrating the failure of “creation evangelism” from Internet Monk: Niki Made Her Choice and, Apparently, So Did We.
Her name is Niki. (Not her real name.) She’s a Japanese student who lived with an American family for a year and attended a Christian school. She took a year of Bible. She attended worship and heard lots of preaching. The Gospel was explained to her many times. She was well liked and sociable.
A very smart girl. A great student, much advanced over the average American student. She made A’s in everything, including Bible.
She left America after graduation and went back to Japan.
She came to America an atheist and she returned to Japan an atheist, and very aware that she had rejected Christianity.
Before she left, she talked with one of her teachers.
“I am an atheist because I believe in evolution. When people here explained to me what they must believe as Christians, I always ask them about evolution, and they say “You cannot be a Christian and believe in evolution.” So I cannot be a Christian, because I believe that evolution is true.”
No doubt, Niki has met many Christians who told her that she could not be a Christian and “believe” in evolution. No doubt, few, if any, of those Christians took the time to explain what they meant by evolution. Most probably meant that the Bible teaches that the earth is 10,000 years young, that no biological death of any kind happened before sin and the major Creationist ministries such as AIG have all the answers to the hard questions of physics, astronomy and science. (”Were you there?”)
Was Niki ever told about the the thousands of Christians in the sciences who believe the “Big Bang” is evidence for creation by God? No, she wasn’t. Was she told of the many conversions to Christianity among scientists who have been moved by the evidence for God as creator now available in astrophysics? No, because that would complicate the views of Creationism she was told were non-negotiable.
Was Niki ever told that the vast majority of Christians on planet earth don’t believe now and haven’t ever believed science and Christianity answer the same questions in the same way? No, she wasn’t.
Was Niki told that millions of Christians believe in some form of evolution? (For Catholics, it’s in the Catechism!) Some form of an old earth? That millions of Christians do not accept the claims of the Creationist ministries as representing the Bible accurately or correctly? No, she wasn’t.
Was Niki told that even atheists are largely agreed that evolution does not equal atheism, and atheists like Dawkins are wrong to claim that is the case?
Niki, who heard about Jesus for weeks and weeks in her Bible class, could not bring herself to believe in creationism, so she cannot be a Christian.
Many are zealous defenders of young-Earth creationism. They try to use it to try to win non-believers to Christ, and blame Satan when it doesn’t work. But how much of this resistance to the gospel is due to Satanic blinding, and how much is due to the errors of young-Earth creationist teachings on topics such as the age of the Earth, the geological work of the flood, or biological evolution?
With love for the body of Christ and unbelieving scientists.
This was originally posted on October 4, 2009. Click here to read the original comments.
Ken Ham is an Evangelical Christian and is perhaps the world’s most prominent anti-evolutionist and advocate of young-Earth creationism.
Richard Dawkins, author of the best-selling book The God Delusion, is perhaps the world’s most prominent proselytizer for atheism.
The two men are worlds apart on a number of important issues, but they seem to be in complete agreement about one thing: The Bible and evolution—and the accompanying belief that Earth is billions are years old—are completely incompatible with each other. Ham writes:
Last month, famous atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins was interviewed by Howard Condor on Revelation TV in the UK. Parts of the interview are disappointing regarding how the interviewer made some of his arguments. However, there was one section of the interview that is really worth publicizing.
At one stage, the interviewer asked, “So, was there a defining moment where you made a decision that you didn’t believe in God?”
Richard Dawkins replied, “Yes . . . I suppose, I switched from Christian theism to some sort of deism about the age of fourteen or fifteen. And then switched to atheism about the age of sixteen—fifteen, sixteen.”
Howard Condor then asks, “And was there a particular point, or something you read, or an experience you had that said, ‘Yes this is it, God does not exist’?”
Now note carefully the following statement by Richard Dawkins:
Oh well, by far the most important was understanding evolution. I think the evangelical Christians have really sort of got it right in a way, in seeing evolution as the enemy. Whereas the more, what shall we say, sophisticated theologians are quite happy to live with evolution, I think they are deluded. I think the evangelicals have got it right, in that there is a deep incompatibility between evolution and Christianity, and I think I realized that about the age of sixteen.
Dawkins is convinced that evolution made the world safe for atheism. Ken Ham is convinced that evolution completely undermines Christianity. They agree with each other on this point, but they are both wrong!
The young-Earth creationist case against biological evolution is based primarily on two Biblical ideas. The first is a weakly-supported interpretation, and the other is simply an over-reading of the text.
- The weak interpretation is the idea that there was no animal death before Adam and Eve fell into sin. The truth of the matter is that none of the passages usually cited in support of this position (Genesis 3, Romans 5, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15) actually say anything about animals starting to die as a result of Adam’s sin. They all tie human death to sin, but that is all. To the young-Earth creationists, evolution could not have occurred before Adam because evolution requires death. But if death did occur before Adam (I’ve developed the case for this in my post Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical perspective) then this part of the Biblical argument against biological evolution crumbles.
- The second creationist argument against evolution is based on the verses in Genesis 1 where plants and animals are created to reproduce after their “kinds.” The Bible does not define “kinds” for us, but there is no reason to limit this definition to the modern scientific concept of “species.” The Bible does not say that there can be no variation within populations of the kinds, nor does it say that gene frequencies cannot change from generation to generation, or that mutations cannot occur that will lead to new traits. In fact, if there is a limit to biological change within the kinds, the Bible is silent on the matter. We should be silent too, at least as far as our Biblical exegesis goes. In any case, the young-Earth creationists undermine their argument by advocating hyper-rapid speciation after the flood at a rate that would make most evolutionary biologists blush.
I could take this a step further by saying there are statements in Genesis 1 that imply some sort of process over time. Consider the following two verses:
And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:11-12 ESV)
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:20-21 ESV)
In both of these passages, God gives a command that initiates a process: “Let the earth sprout vegetation,” “Let the waters swarm with swarms.” In both of these cases, it does not in any way diminish God’s creative power to use a process rather than a fiat creation from nothing.
I won’t go so far as to say that the Bible actually advocates some sort of biological evolution, but the case for God using processes in creation is certainly at least as strong, if not stronger, than the case for the idea that species cannot change over time.
I am not arguing here whether or not biological evolution is true. I happen to believe it is at least mostly true, but my expertise lies elsewhere (I have had a few undergraduate and graduate courses in paleontology and paleoecology). What I am arguing is that both Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins are wrong on this matter. The Bible doesn’t say anything one way or another about whether biological evolution can occur. Because of this, Richard Dawkins (and atheists in general) cannot use evolution as a basis for rejecting God and Christianity. If they wish to continue to reject Christianity they will have to find some other reason. One can be a scientist and be a thoroughly-convinced Christian. One can also be a Christian and accept an old Earth and biological evolution. An example of this would be the great defender of the faith C.S. Lewis.
Grace and Peace
From Christianity Today: Creation Museum Founder Disinvited from Homeschooling Conferences
Ken Ham, founder and president of Answers in Genesis, was disinvited from several homeschooling conferences after he criticized a fellow speaker at two Great Homeschool Conventions conferences and on his blog.
“The Board believes that Ken’s public criticism of the convention itself and other speakers at our convention require him to surrender the spiritual privilege of addressing our homeschool audience,” wrote Great Homeschool Conventions conference organizer Brennan Dean in the email dismissing Ham.
“Our expression of sacrifice and extraordinary kindness towards Ken and AIG has been returned to us and our attendees with Ken publicly attacking our conventions and other speakers,” Dean wrote. “Our Board believes Ken’s comments to be unnecessary, ungodly, and mean-spirited statements that are divisive at best and defamatory at worst.”
Back in the mid- to late-1990s, we were a home school family. Our children were in their early elementary years, and I am convinced that my wife gave them an excellent educational foundation. While we were deep into home schooling (which requires the commitment and involvement of both parents when possible) we attended a number of meetings of a Christian home school parents’ group in St. Louis. As I expected, the parents and leadership of this group seemed to be largely made up of young-earth creationists, but due to our strong commitment to both Christ and the Scriptures I felt we still had enough in common with them to make our participation worth while. Over time, it became clear that the leader had a rather authoritative side to her, and that any viewpoint other than young-earth creationism would not be tolerated. The last meeting I was at I remember her warning—perhaps ordering would be a better word—parents not to take their children to the St. Louis Zoo because of the new talking statue of Charles Darwin. I wouldn’t be surprised fifteen years later if some parent were feeling guilty because they did take their son or daughter to the zoo, with possible spiritual damage to the child.
Many Christian home school conventions and curriculum fairs do not allow exhibitors or speakers who teach any sort of old-earth creationism or theistic evolution. That is why it is refreshing that some home school organizations have recently invited a broader range of speakers to their conventions. I first read about the present controversy regarding Ken Ham almost two weeks ago on Dr. Jay Wile’s Proslogion blog, where he wrote An Opportunity for Critical Thinking! Dr. Wile, a young-Earth creationist himself, acknowledges that there has always been somewhat of a diversity within the church regarding the interpretation of Genesis 1, that as a Christian one can believe in an old Earth and still be within the bounds of Biblical orthodoxy, and that it is healthy for home schooled Christian students to be exposed to a variety of viewpoints. Wile pointed out that Ham was quite upset that a Christian home school group would invite a theologian who accepts both an old Earth and evolutionary biology, Dr. Peter Enns, to speak at the same convention that Ham himself was speaking at. Ham wrote the following on his Around the World with Ken Ham blog:
Sadly, one of the speakers also listed to give presentations does not believe in a historical Adam or historical Fall (he will also be promoting his “Bible” curriculum for homeschoolers). In fact, what he teaches about Genesis is not just compromising Genesis with evolution, it is outright liberal theology that totally undermines the authority of the Word of God. It is an attack on the Word—on Christ.
Ham continued to criticize both the convention and Dr. Enns, and eventually it became too much for the convention organizers, and they “disinvited” him from future conventions.
The present controversy has nothing to do with Ken Ham’s outspoken advocacy of young-Earth creationism. The convention organizers specifically state that they themselves are YECs. Ham has always been rather outspoken and passionate, and I don’t think anyone has a problem with that. What hung Ham in this case was the way in which he criticized both his opponents, such as Dr. Enns, and the organizers of the convention. The convention organizers gave their reasons for their decision in their public statement about the situation:
Dr. Ham was removed for his spirit not for his message. As an invited guest, Dr. Ham’s spirit toward our convention was unkind. Dr. Ham’s spirit toward our attendees was not gracious. Dr. Ham’s spirit toward other speakers was unprofessional. In short, a proud, ungrateful and divisive spirit was projected from Dr. Ham. Regardless of the message, Dr. Ham’s approach sullied the atmosphere of the convention.
It wasn’t about Ham disagreeing with Enns or others at the convention, but how he went about doing it.
My personal experience in interaction with Ken Ham has been positive. Back in November, I had wrote a post entitled Ken Ham and I are in complete agreement, in which I applauded Ham for his clear presentation of the gospel of Christ. Somehow Answers in Genesis took notice of this, and Ham responded with Do Old Earthers and Young Earthers Agree on Anything? in which he acknowledged that he doesn’t tie salvation to belief in a young Earth. He went on to state that he viewed acceptance of an old Earth as a distortion of Scripture, but I in no way took this as a personal attack.
Perhaps his passions got the best of him this time.
My hope and prayer is that good would come out of this kerfuffle. Specifically, I would like to see the following happen:
- That there would be a restoration of fellowship between all parties involved that would demonstrate Christian love and forgiveness.
- An acknowledgement from young-Earth creationist leaders that one can be an old-Earther and be thoroughly orthodox in their Christian beliefs. One’s interpretation of Genesis in regards to the age of the Earth or the extent of biological evolution is secondary, or even tertiary, compared to doctrines such as the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith in Christ. I get rather weary of the if-you-don’t-agree-with-AiG/ICR-you-are-a-compromiser attitude that is often expressed.
Grace and Peace
- Ken Ham’s response: Kicked Out of Two Homeschool Conferences
- Ken Ham and the Homeschoolers: the moral of the story is? — from Questioning Answers in Genesis
- Public Response from Great Homeschool Conventions re: Dr. Ken Ham, Speaking Engagement Canceled
This stirred up a bit of a hornets nest for Wile (the creator of the popular Apologia science curriculum, though he no longer owns the company), as evidenced by the 508 comments (as of this morning) on Wile’s post. Many wrote to support Wile’s “bigger box” view that a greater diversity should be encouraged within the Christian home school movement, but there were plenty of comments such as the following:
Years ago I read Dr Wiles [sic] position statement on vaccinations [Wile is a supporter of childhood vaccinations]. In my correspondence I found Dr Wile to be arrogant and anything but a “critical thinker”. So it comes as no surprise to me that he is in the camp of those who pay lip service to inspiration while supporting those who would undermine it. Frankly, I am happy to see the real Jay Wile exposing himself for what he really is, a fraud.
You are a wolf in sheep’s clothing spreading lies just like the rest of the perishing world. Repent.
It is time heretics such as this Enns fellow and you are silenced. Where do you get your money from anyway? Is someone paying you to blaspheme the Word of God? You know like Richard Dawkins or Larry Krauss? Repent while there is yet time.
I guess one can be a young-Earth creationist and still not be able to pronounce all of the YEC shibboleths correctly.
Influential Reformed blogger Tim Challies recently interviewed the popular pastor and radio Bible teacher John MacArthur (5 More Questions with John MacArthur). One of the questions had to do with creation, evolution, and the age of the Earth:
One pressing issue in the church today is that of creation and evolution. Do you believe that a person can be genuinely saved and believe in some kind of theistic evolution? How serious a theological error is it to reject a literal 6-day creation?
In his response, MacArthur grudgingly admits that one could possibly be a real Christian and believe and in an old Earth, and perhaps even believe in evolution:
It’s a very serious error in my estimation, because it attacks the authority of Scripture at the Bible’s very starting point. It employs a special hermeneutic in order to make the Bible mean quite the opposite of what it plainly states. And once you open that door, absolutely nothing is safe from the assaults of rationalism, skepticism, and rank unbelief.
I watch the propaganda being published by organizations like Biologos, and it’s hard to resist the conclusion that many of the people who are involved in that project don’t seem to be believers at all, given the large portions of Scripture they regularly have to explain away in order to justify their convoluted worldview.
As a matter of fact, the history of modernist rationalism is littered with vivid examples of why it is unsafe and spiritually destructive to subject Scripture to naturalistic presuppositions. I wrote on this topic in detail at the very beginning of my book The Battle for the Beginning.
But in answer to your specific question: I do think it is possible for a genuine believer to be confused or befuddled by scientific arguments regarding evolution and the age of the earth. (It is certainly possible for believers to be inconsistent in their beliefs—to hold all kinds of errors in varying degrees. That’s called cognitive dissonance.)
Well-meaning evangelicals have experimented with several ways to reconcile old-earth theories with Scripture. One of the more popular ideas (until Henry Morris exploded it) was that there’s a gap in the white space between Genesis 1:1 and verse 2, and (so the theory goes) that silent gap might accommodate countless ages of change and chaos in the universe. Spurgeon held to a version of the gap theory, and the original Scofield Bible embraced both the gap theory and old-earth cosmology with blithe enthusiasm. Of course we would not consign everyone who ever held such an opinion to the ranks of unbelief.
Nevertheless, as evolutionary theory has developed and devolved into untouchable dogma—a favorite weapon for the current generation of angry atheists—I don’t see how any sober-minded, well-grounded, fully-committed Christian who truly believes what the Bible teaches can long maintain faith in the various and ever-changing theories evolutionary scientists keep proposing. Biblical cosmology, the Genesis account of how the human race was created and subsequently fell, and the important parallels between Adam and Christ in the story of redemption—these are essential beliefs of Christianity; they have never changed; and they are diametrically opposed to every purely naturalistic theory about life’s origins.
Anyone who takes seriously the authority of Scripture must ultimately set the opinions of men aside and simply trust what Scripture says. The earlier we do that, the better. Frankly, I have never understood why someone who believes in the literal bodily resurrection of Christ would balk at believing all of Scripture, starting with Genesis 1:1.
I have a lot of respect for John MacArthur (and use some of his New Testament commentaries to aid in my study of the Scriptures), but I have a number of issues, of course, with what he had to say in this interview.
- Acceptance of an old Earth does not attack the authority of Scripture. Like many Evangelicals who accept an old Earth, I believe in the inerrancy of Scriptures, and in all of the core theological truths of the Christian faith.
- Acceptance of an old Earth does not necessarily employ a special hermeneutic that twists the words of the Bible. It would be wrong force scripture to conform to science, but that is not necessarily what old-Earth theologians have done. Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Christians were confronted with scientific evidence that the sun was at the center of the solar system. Some dug in their heels, but others looked at the Scriptures more closely to see what they really said and didn’t say on the topic. There was no “special hermeneutic” required, only a more careful application of the hermeneutic tools they already possessed. Conservative Bible scholars of the past two hundred years have been forced to do the same, and many have come to the conclusion that the Bible does not put constraints on the age of the Earth. They have done this not by somehow forcing the Bible to say something it doesn’t say, but by looking closely at the Hebrew text, letting Scripture interpret Scripture, and gaining a better understanding of the world the ancient Hebrews lived in.
- It may be equally wrong to force science to fit Scripture as it is to force Scripture to fit science. The young-Earth creationists have published an incredible amount of bad science over the years, and held this forth to the church and world as an unanswerable apologetic argument.
- Acceptance of an old Earth is not the same as subjecting the Scriptures to naturalistic presuppositions. It involves acceptance of the idea that “all truth is God’s truth.” Let the rocks speak for themselves and let the Bible speak for itself (but make sure we read them both correctly).
- I agree that “it is possible for a genuine believer to be confused or befuddled by scientific arguments regarding evolution and the age of the earth.” Most of the confusion, however, comes from the young-Earth creationist side of the debate. Whether it be the older YEC arguments about moon dust and vapor canopies, or more recent ones about accelerated nuclear decay or hyper-rapid speciation after the flood, the YEC movement has produced a steady stream of poor scientific arguments that non-scientists (such as Dr. MacArthur) readily accept.
- Dr. MacArthur mentions Charles Spurgeon and C.I. Scofield as well-meaning Evangelicals who “experimented” with ways to reconcile the Bible with an old Earth. I guess MacArthur “interprets” while those who disagree with his interpretation only “experiment.” The other possiblity is that they (and many others) have looked closely at what the Bible actually says and have come to the conclusion that perhaps the YECs are over-reading the text.
- The theory of evolution changes over time, but so does the “scientific” story coming out of young-Earth creationism.
- Many forms of old-Earth creationism (e.g. the day-age theory as presented by Hugh Ross or the analogical days interpretation of C. John Collins) retain everything Dr. MacArthur is concerned about: creation from nothing, a real Adam, Adam’s fall into sin. One does not have to be a YEC to be thoroughly orthodox in their theology.
- I’m not convinced that the Bible has much to say about biological evolution, except about the origin of humans. To reject a scientific theory because of a brief mention of kinds reproducing after their own kinds is reading a whole lot into the Bible. If there are limits on biological change, then the Bible doesn’t tell us what they are.
- MacArthur asks those of us who take the Bible’s authority seriously to “set the opinions of men aside and simply trust what Scripture says.” I do believe the Bible and take its authority seriously. I just don’t trust everything that comes out of Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research.
It is common for YECs to assert that if the Earth is billions of years old then the Bible isn’t true; that certainly seems to be what Dr. MacArthur is saying here. This is a false dichotomy, and it sets up believers—especially our young people—for a fall. If what the YECs say doesn’t work scientifically (and it doesn’t), and if we insist that a 6000-year old Earth is the only way to read Genesis, then many of them will walk away from the church. And whose fault will it be, the “wicked evilutionists” or well-meaning Christians who fed them a bad apologetic?
I am not asking Dr. MacArthur to abandon his belief that the young-Earth creationist interpretation is correct. What I would hope for, instead, is less of a my-way-or-the-highway approach to this divisive issue.
Grace and Peace
Romans 14 is primarily about how Christians should handle differences over “disputable matters” (v. 1, NIV 1984). In this chapter, the apostle Paul writes about issues that were important to the church of the first century A.D., such as dietary questions and observance of special days, such as the Sabbath. Paul urged the believers to put their brothers and sisters in Christ ahead of themselves, and to neither judge nor despise those who disagreed with their convictions.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (vv. 1-4 ESV)
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (vv. 10-12 ESV, emphasis added)
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (v. 19 ESV)
Paul was writing about ethical matters, but I think we can extend this in our day to secondary theological matters, such as the details of our doctrine of creation, such as the age of the Earth. Some might argue that the age of the Earth is a primary matter; all I can say is that I do not agree. My acceptance of an old Earth does not compromise the integrity of Scriptures nor any essential doctrines (see, for instance, my Creation Creed).
In Romans 14, Paul doesn’t tell anyone to change their views on their dearly held positions. He does tell them to accept one another. As for me, I will voice my convictions, but I will seek earnestly to do this in a way that promotes Christian unity and neither judges nor shows contempt for those who disagree with me.
With love for all believers