Today was Earth Day, 2014. For many, it was a day to celebrate the Earth, to give thanks for its fruitfulness, and to express concern about threats to both the planet and we humans that inhabit it. As a Christian, I also rejoice on Earth Day in the Creator, who has graciously placed us both in and over the creation.
Because we are within the creation–in Genesis it is emphasized that humans are made of the same stuff as the rest of creation–we are subject to the rules of the created order. The planet can be cultivated with care to the benefit of all creatures, including ourselves, or it can be exploited with greed for the benefit of a few people. We can make it better, or we can make it worse. We can live in it as if we are responsible only to ourselves, or as if our ultimate responsibilities are to our Maker.
Being that we humans are embedded in the creation, we have to be concerned about two closely related sciences: ecology and economics. Ecology is all about the relationships between organisms and their surroundings. Economics is concerned with the generation and allocation of wealth among human beings. Human economies would utterly collapse without the resources of the Earth, such as plants, minerals, and fuels, and so economics is dependent on ecology. Ecology, on the other hand, can function without human economics, as it did until sometime in the midst of Day 6 of creation in Genesis 1. But now that people are in the creation, ecology is affected by human economic activities; in some places more strongly than others. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; our influence on ecosystems can be bad, but it was intended in Genesis 1-2 to be good.
One can broadly divide economic systems into capitalist/free market systems, and socialist/communist systems. Many political conservatives–and I am a conservative–like to point out that ecological degradation was more serious and widespread in the communist world than in the capitalist West. I lived in Eastern Europe for over five years, and saw some of this up close. We had to filter our tap water because of its high heavy metal content, and once went through Copşa Mică, the Romanian “black village” infamous for being coated in soot in the communist period due to the production of carbon black.
It is difficult to dispute that communist countries had atrocious environmental records. There were a number of factors involved in this, but I would like to highlight what I think are a few reasons for the ecological catastrophes of the communist bloc:
1. The economy always trumped ecology. The communists had their five-year plans with production goals that had to be met, and “luxuries” like clean air and clean water stood in the way.
2. Short-term goals always trumped long-range goals. Siphoning water out of rivers for massive irrigation projects in Central Asia boosted cotton production, but with grave long-term costs for the Aral Sea, the ecosystems for hundreds of miles around, and the people of the region.
3. The earth was looked at as a commodity or resource for human use, not as God’s good creation that had intrinsic worth.
4. There was no avenue for protest. One didn’t want to stand up to Stalin or Ceaușescu–or to the local party thugs–and say “This is wrong.”
Of these four points, the first three can happen just as easily in a market economy as in a socialist economy.
1. To many “conservatives,” the economy always trumps ecology. This perspective is no different than that of the communist functionaries whose five-year plans ignored environmental issues. If the economy is bad, we need to loosen up on environmental regulations to prompt growth. If the economy is good, we still need to loosen up on environmental restrictions so they won’t drag the economy down.
2. There are plenty of free-market capitalists who are out to earn a quick buck with no thoughts of the consequences for the Earth (or for other people), just as the five-year planners of the U.S.S.R. were eager to meet their quotas. Both are evil.
3. There are plenty of political conservatives–Evangelical Christian conservatives–who effectively deny that the creation has intrisic value, in and of itself. To them, landscapes, ecosystems, or biological communities do not have any true value except in relation to humans. Unmined coal, for example, is worthless, because it is looked at purely from an instrumental (what’s in it for us) viewpoint. Some even go so far as to say that we are insulting God if we don’t use all parts of creation for ourselves. This is an overly-anthropocentric (man-centered) perspective on nature, and ignores the goodness of creation that existed in Genesis 1 even before the appearance of the first humans.
This leaves us with point number four. The main thing we had going for us in the West was the freedom to protest and advocate. Corporations didn’t do anything about the fact that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland used to catch on fire from the pollutants that were dumped in it until they were forced to, and they weren’t forced to until people raised a stink about it. The same goes for the mining waste at places like Butte, Montana (once called “America’s ugliest city”).
What I want to advocate is a conservativism that is actually interested in conserving the Earth. This includes protecting air, water, land, and biological communities. It means looking for long-term solutions to long-term problems. It also includes a perspective that growth isn’t always a conservative value, and a recognition that limits exist in the world God has placed us in. The key word, in my mind, is “balance.” There are those on the left who have a very unbalanced view of the environment. There are also those on the right who have a very unbalanced view of the environment.
Some of what we see in the conservative movement right now is an over-reaction to some of the pantheist, socialist, and anti-human extremes of the environmental movement. Certainly there are dangerous ideologies on the left, and those need to be assertively resisted. But the solution is not to mine all the coal, shoot all the wolves, eat spotted owls for dinner, drill-baby-drill, or shut down the Environmental Protection Agency.
Grace and Peace
This article is an expansion of a comment I made on my post There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, which was about the then-upcoming documentary “Axed: The End of Green” (which has been re-named Blue).
When I refer to “some conservatives,” I am specifically thinking of many Tea Party conservatives (and those who follow the Acton Institute) who advocate things like abolishing the EPA. Does the EPA need reform? Yes. But those who believe it is in our society’s interest to gut or even eliminate environmental regulations are foolish. Cleaner air and cleaner water did not come about in our society by relaxing environmental regulations. I am not really sure what in the natural world some of these conservatives want to conserve.
Calvin Beisner, perhaps Evangelicalism’s best known anti-environmental crusader, is one who claims we insult God if we don’t use the coal God has given us. My thoughts: 1) This is a great example of the anthropocentrism that is pervasive in this sort of conservatism. 2)Maybe God buried the coal for a reason.
I recognize that free markets generate the wealth that we need to combat genuine environmental problems. My point, however, is that it is not unrestrained, laissez-faire capitalism that accomplishes this. Environmental regulation is necessary in order to restrain sin (Romans 13); in this case the sin of wilfully destroying God’s good Earth. We need balance. Free markets, yes. But not completely free.
I started to write a paragraph about the parallels between elements of the conservative movement (the libertarian types) and liberation theology (which was/is an attempt to blend Christianity with Marxism). Basically, as others have pointed out, there is a liberation theology of the left, and there is a liberation theology of the right. Both are wrong.
Do you believe in human rights? Then it makes more sense to believe in God than to believe that God does not exist.
Timothy Keller, in his book The Reason for God, demonstrates that while it is fairly straight-forward to make a religious case for human rights, it has proven very difficult to construct a case for human rights from a purely secular foundation. If the cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be, and if the existence of Homo sapiens is merely an accident, then all of the injustices of the human experience don’t really matter one way or another. This is not saying that non-Christians (or non-theists) cannot really believe in human rights or morality, because it is clear that they can. It is just that they have to borrow—perhaps subconsciously—some of their ethics from the Christians.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of The Reason for God (pp. 155-156 of the hardback edition), in a section called “The Argument for God from the Violence of Nature.”
How would we know [that moral obligation exists]? To sharpen our focus on the significance of this indelible knowledge of moral obligation, consider the observations of writer Annie Dillard. Dillard lived for a year by a creek in the mountains of Virginia expecting to be inspired and refreshed by closeness to “nature.” Instead, she came to realize that nature was completely ruled by one central principle—violence by the strong against the weak.
Annie Dillard saw that all of nature is based on violence. Yet we inescapably believe it is wrong for stronger human individuals or groups to kill weaker ones. If violence is totally natural why would it be wrong for strong humans to trample weak ones? There is no basis for moral obligation unless we argue that nature is in some part unnatural. We can’t know that nature is broken in some way unless there is some supernatural standard of normalcy apart from nature by which we can judge right and wrong. That means there would have to be heaven or God or some kind of divine order outside of nature in order to make that judgment.
There is only one way out of this conundrum. We can pick up the Biblical account of things and see if it explains our moral sense any better than a secular view. If the world was made by a God of peace, justice, and love, then that is why we know that violence, oppression, and hate are wrong. If the world is fallen, broken, and needs to be redeemed, that explains the violence and disorder we see.
If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If you insist on a secular view of the world and yet you continue to pronounce some things right and some things wrong, then I hope you see the deep disharmony between the world your intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that your heart knows exists. This leads us to a crucial question. If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?
Think about that again. The following two statements cannot both be true:
- There is no God.
- Napalming babies is wrong.
If you are an atheist, which of these contradictory beliefs will you hold on to, and which will you let go of? Or will you just live with the disharmony?
Grace and Peace
Are science and Christianity incompatible? If you asked this question to any one of the millions of Christians who work as scientists in the United States, the answer would be a confident “No.”
From Christianity Today – Study: 2 Million U.S. Scientists Identify As Evangelical. Here are some excerpts:
The media often portrays scientists and Christians as incapable of peaceful coexistence. But results from a recent survey suggest the two are not as incompatible as one might think. In fact, 2 million out of nearly 12 million scientists are evangelical Christians. If you were to bring all the evangelical scientists together, they could populate the city of Houston, Texas.
Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and her colleagues at Rice University and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reported results from the largest study of American views on science and religion at the association’s annual conference in Chicago on Sunday, February 16.
Ecklund first became interested in studying religious people’s perceptions of science after a conversation one Sunday morning at a church in Upstate New York. She was attending the church as part of a research study she was conducting for her master’s thesis on religion and family life. Upon learning Ecklund attended Cornell University, a woman told her she hoped her daughter would not decide to go there.
And why not?
“She said, ‘I’m really scared that when she gets onto campus, that she’ll take science classes,” and the atheist scientists will convince her to abandon her faith, Ecklund recalled.
At that moment, Ecklund decided that at some point in her career, she would conduct a large study to determine if this view is typical of evangelicals—and whether members of other religious groups feel the same way.
This is not her first research study on people’s perceptions of science and religion. In her 2010 book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Believe, Ecklund surveyed 1,700 natural and social scientists at top universities and found that only about two percent identify as evangelical.
This new survey, by contrast, focused on “rank and file” scientists, including those in health care, life sciences, computers, and engineering.
In order to improve mutual understanding, [National Association of Evangelicals vice president] Carey said evangelicals must strive to listen better, avoid name-calling, and refrain from attacking fellow believers due to their positions on science.
“Sometimes we attack each other more viciously than even people from the outside,” Carey said.
As scientists at AAAS gear up to engage in dialogue about science with evangelical Christians, they’re hopeful that scientists who are evangelicals will be the ones serving as mediators.
“We ought to maybe think of them as a type of boundary pioneer of sorts, able to live well in both of these worlds,” Ecklund said.
Grace and Peace
Around the web 2/18/2014 — Christian scientists (that is, scientists who are Christians) refute some YEC arguments
TURNING A YEC ARGUMENT ON ITS HEAD — Young-Earth creationists like to tout soft tissues preserved in the fossil record as one of their prime evidences for a young Earth. A closely related issue is the preservation of ancient complex biomolecules, such as DNA, in the fossil record. The Natural Historian blog brilliantly turns this argument around as an evidence against young-Earth creationism: Young Earth Creationism and Ancient DNA. If Noah’s flood was global and created the fossil record (something the Bible nowhere states), and if it occurred only 4300 years ago, then preserved DNA ought to be fairly easy to find throughout the geologic column, from Cambrian through Neogene. It isn’t.
TURN IT ON ITS HEAD AGAIN! — The Natural Historian does it again: Rapid Burial Allows Preservation of a Hadrosaur Fleshy Head Comb.
Rather, what struck me about this rooster-like comb on this hadrosaur is that its existence is more of curse than a blessing for YEC apologists. How can that be? Well, where I convinced that a global flood 4 to 6 thousand years ago were responsible for all the dinosaur fossils, then I should EXPECT to find soft tissues preserved to some extent as the norm rather than the exception to the rule. Why? Because the special conditions that are required for preservation of soft tissues like those found in this hadrosaur are just the kind that should have been produced by a global flood. Combine those conditions with its having happened only a few thousand years ago and you have to ask, why don’t we find skin impressions, remains of feathers, and other impressions of large organs (like these combs) and gobs of biomolecules throughout the dinosaur fossil record?
What I am saying is that if you asked a priori what you would expect to see in the fossil record had a flood destroyed all living flesh from the face of the earth in a short period of time and deposited all those organisms in what we call the geological record? I would expect to find a majority or at least a significant number of dinosaurs to be represented as complete skeletons. I would not expect to find rampant evidence of scavenging and given the fast burial I would expect to find the impressions of many parts of their bodies not just their bones since they would have been covered with their flesh intact. Since this happened not long ago I would expect to find very abundant biomolecules, possibly even intact DNA in the material around the bones, and especially in the bones, even if cells themselves were no longer present.
As I pointed out before this is not what we find in the fossil record. We find some but not much evidence of biomolecules and few cases of soft tissue preservation even if be only the impression of where soft tissues once laid. Just look at mammoths and mastodons from the fossil record. Some of these have abundant cells, DNA, hair and sometimes cellular tissues preserved. If these biomolecules could survive for 4000 years then why shouldn’t animals killed in Noah’s flood just a few hundred years earlier not also be expected to be preserved in a similar fashion?
HOW BILL NYE WOULD HAVE RESPONDED TO HAM IF NYE WERE A GEOCHRONOLOGIST – “45 thousand-year-old fossil wood encased in 45 million-year-old basalt”: Conflict Revisited, from Questioning Answers in Genesis.
Ken Ham’s appeal to young fossil wood within old basalt may have caught Bill Nye off guard, but his claim remains unsubstantiated. The actual radiocarbon ages of this fossil wood were not reproducible by independent labs within analytical uncertainty, suggesting that contamination and/or background interference was responsible for much of the detected radiocarbon. Recent advances in AMS radiocarbon dating have focused on how to account for the fact that contamination is always introduced during sample preparation and how to correct for various kinds of background interference. Regardless, radiocarbon ages close to the practical limit of the method are always treated with some suspicion.
THE SAD STATE OF SCIENCE LITERACY – 1 in 4 Americans Apparently Unaware the Earth Orbits the Sun. I would guess that it is even worse than this, as many of those who answered correctly just flipped a coin.
Grace and Peace
Here’s another “science proves the Bible wrong” story that has been in the news lately, in which science does not prove the Bible wrong. In this case, it has to do with archeology and the domestication of the camel.
The first mention of camels in the Old Testament is in Genesis 12, where Abram is said to own camels. Camels figure more prominently in the story of Abraham’s servant traveling back to Mesopotamia to obtain a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac in Genesis 24. Abraham lived around 2000 BC. According to many archeologists, camels were not domesticated in the land of Israel (Canaan) until a thousand years later. Therefore, according to some scholars, Genesis contains a rather blatant anachronism, placing camels into a time period where they don’t belong.
From the New York Times: Camels Had No Business in Genesis.
There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.
Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.
These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”
This accusation of biblical anachronism regarding camels has been around for a while, and so have the answers to it. A good response has been written by Gordon Govier at Christianity Today – The Latest Challenge to the Bible’s Accuracy: Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels? Here are some excerpts:
While it has been difficult for archaeologists and historians to pin down the exact time and location when camels were domesticated, there is evidence to suggest that the Genesis accounts are not a biblical anachronism.
Two recent academic papers written by evangelical scholars—Konrad Martin Heide, a lecturer at Philipps University of Marburg, Germany; and Titus Kennedy, an adjunct professor at Biola University—both refer to earlier depictions of men riding or leading camels, some that date to the early second millenium BC.
Among other evidence, Kennedy notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating to the Old Babylonian period (1950-1600 BC).
He concludes, “For those who adhere to a 12th century BC or later theory of domestic camel use in the ancient Near East, a great deal of archaeological and textual evidence must be either ignored or explained away.”
“[Israel] doesn’t have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 BC,” [Kennedy] said. “So there aren’t as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 BC and in Mesopotamia the same thing.” Based on Egyptian and Mesopotamian accounts, Kennedy believes domestication probably occurred as early as the third millennium BC.
Here’s a brief analysis of the situation:
- The Bible speaks of Abraham owning camels around 2000 BC.
- There is no archeological evidence that domesticated camels were used in Israel before 1000 BC
Skeptics (and journalists who just take the skeptics’ word for it) stop right there, and say that Genesis contains an anachronism. Let’s continue:
- There is archeological evidence that camels were domesticated before 2000 BC in places like Egypt and Mesopotamia.
- Abraham was from Mesopotamia (Genesis 11:31).
- Abraham visited Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20).
The only reasonable conclusion, in my mind, is that there is not even a hint of anachronism in this case. Abraham, being a wealthy Mesopotamian, and who had also been to Egypt, could easily have been the owner of camels.
Grace and Peace
My friend Brian Mattson has also written about this rather silly “refutation” of the Bible: Camel Carcasses and Scientific Stupidity. I love his link to a similar archeological investigation in The Onion.
Norm Geisler: “The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. It is not a test for orthodoxy.”
Norm Geisler has been a prominent defender of the Christian faith for a number of years. He is the author or coauthor of several important books on apologetics (the defense of the faith), including I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, and Christian Apologetics.
Dr. Geisler recently contributed an article to The Christian Post: Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to Believe in Young Earth Creationism? The answer, of course, is “No, one can hold to the trustworthiness of the Bible and believe it does not require a young Earth.”
Here are a few excerpts:
In order to establish the Young Earth view, one must demonstrate that there are (1) no time gaps in the biblical record and that (2) the “days” of Genesis are six successive 24-hour days of creation. Unfortunately for Young Earthers, these two premises are difficult to establish for many reasons.
So with both possible and actual demonstrable gaps in Genesis and in the genealogies, the “Closed-Chronology” view needed to support the strict Young Earth view is not there. This would mean that a Young Earth view of creation around 4000 B.C. would not be feasible. And once more gaps are admitted, then when does it cease to be a Young Earth view?
Consider the following:
(1) First, the word “day” (Hb. <em>yom</em>) is not limited to a 24-hour day in the creation record. For instance, it is used of 12 hours of light or daytime (in Gen.1:4-5a).
(2) The word “day” is also used of a whole 24-hour day in Genesis 1:5b where it speaks day and night together as a “day.”
(3) Further, in Genesis 2:4 the word “day” is used of all six days of creation when it looks back over all six days of creation and affirms: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day [yom] that the LORD God made them” (Gen. 2:4).
As for death before Adam, the Bible does not say that death of all life was a result of Adam’s sin. It only asserts that “death passed upon all men” because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added), not on all plants and animals. It only indicates that the whole creation was “subjected to futility” (i.e., to frustration-Rom. 8:20-21)
If there is evidence for Gaps in Genesis and a longer period of time involved in the six day of Genesis, then the Young Earth view fails to convincingly support its two pillars. At a minimum it leaves room for reasonable doubt. In view of this, one can ask why is it that many still cling to the Young Earth view with such tenacity as to make it a virtual test for orthodoxy?
There is no air-tight case for a Young Earth view from a biblical point of view. So while a Young Earth may be compatible with inerrancy, nonetheless, inerrancy does not necessitate a belief in a Young Earth.
[Young-Earth creationism] was not even granted an important doctrinal status by the historic Fundamentalists (c. 1900) who stressed the inerrancy of Scripture. That is, it was not accepted or embraced by the Old Princetonians like B. B.Warfield, Charles Hodge, or J. Gresham Machen who also held strongly to inerrancy.
[The] founders and framers of the contemporary inerrancy movement (ICBI) of the 1970s and 80s explicitly rejected the Young Earth view as being essential to belief in inerrancy. They discussed it and voted against making it a part of what they believed inerrancy entailed, even though they believed in creation, the “literal” historical-grammatical view of interpreting the Bible, a literal Adam, and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. Given this history of the Young Earth view, one is surprised at the zeal by which some Young Earthers are making their position a virtual test for evangelical orthodoxy.
If the Young Earth view is true, then so be it. Let us not forbid the biblical and scientific evidence be offered to support it. Meanwhile, to make it a tacit test for orthodoxy will serve to undermine the faith of many who so closely tie it to orthodoxy that they will have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, should they ever become convinced the earth is old. One should never tie his faith to how old the earth is.
Some Concluding Comments
After seriously pondering these questions for over a half century, my conclusions are:
(1) The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith.
(2) It is not a test for orthodoxy.
(3) It is not a condition of salvation.
(4) It is not a test of Christian fellowship.
(5) It is not an issue over which the body of Christ should divide.
(6) It is not a hill on which we should die.
(7) The fact of creation is more important than the time of creation.
(8) There are more important doctrines on which we should focus than the age of the earth (like the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the death and resurrection of Christ, and His literal Second Coming).
Geisler does not claim in this article that everything he presents is correct, only that they are real possibilities.
Of course, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has been quick to respond: The Ultimate Motivation of this Prominent Theologian?
I suggest that his ultimate motivation for attempting to discredit a literal six-day Creation Week is because he has been influenced by an authority outside the Bible: the majority view among scientists of very old ages, so that he can allow for or believe in billions of years. Thus he goes to great lengths in an attempt to justify various efforts by Christians to fit billions of years into the biblical record. I do believe (regardless of whether Dr. Geisler accepts this or not), this is his ultimate motivation.
And sadly most Christian leaders (including Spurgeon, Hodge, Scofield, Warfield and the authors of The Fundamentals ) have followed suit with an equally shallow analysis of the Genesis text and other relevant passages.
[Geisler] is really “clutching at straws” in an attempt to discredit biblical creationists and allow for millions of years.
I assert that many great men of God today world are contributing to a generational loss of biblical authority because of their insistence on accommodating man’s belief in billions of years with the infallible Word of God. Such a loss of biblical authority is contributing enormously to a massive exodus of young people from the church (see Already Gone) and an increasing decline of Christian influence on the culture.
The gist of what Ham says is that “young-Earth creationists read the Bible, and everyone else reads into the Bible.” I would respond by saying that to take outside evidence (whether it be evidence that the Earth goes around the sun, or that Earth is older than 6000 years) and going back to the Scriptures to make sure we have really read it correctly is not eisigesis (reading into the text), it is good hermeneutics (interpreting the text).
It is highly debatable whether or not the “massive exodus of young people from the church” is due to churches teaching that the Bible does not require a 6000-year old Earth. For many young people, it is because they have been raised on Answers in Genesis or Dr. Dino materials, and figured out that much of it simply isn’t true. When these young people leave the church, it is often because they have been authoritatively taught that if young-Earth creationism isn’t true, the Bible isn’t true.
And that is the tragedy of creationism that many Christian apologists, such as Norm Geisler, want to avoid. For old-Earth Christians to assert that young-Earth teachings are false, both biblically and scientifically, is not the equivalent of denying the truthfulness of Scripture.
Grace and Peace
A more detailed survey indicates that most Christians are somewhere in the middle on the topic of origins, and that most don’t hold to their position all that strongly
Simplistic surveys can be very frustrating. For instance:
Of all the colors of the rainbow, which is your favorite, Blue or Yellow?
If your favorite color is green, and that is not an option in the survey, then there is no way for the survey to accurately assess your opinion. Nor does this simple survey assess how strongly you feel about the color green, or how consistently you would answer. On most days I might answer “green,” but it is not something I feel rather strongly about, and it really isn’t all that important to me.
The same goes for many polls we see in the media: Are you for or against gay rights? Obamacare? Evolution? For many of us, the answer is not as simple as thumbs up or thumbs down.
Christianity Today has a brief summary of a survey taken regarding origins that goes beyond a simple “Do you believe God created humans or that they evolved?”
Here are a few excerpts from Rethinking the Origins Debate: Most Americans—and most Christians—do not fall neatly into creationist or evolutionist camps, by Jonathan Hill.
In 2012, a Gallup poll found that 46 percent of U.S. adults believed “God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Thirty-two percent believed humans evolved with God’s guidance, and 15 percent believed humans evolved with no divine guidance at all.
These surveys portray a deeply divided and polarized public. Even among the majority who believe that God created humans, the chasm separating creationist and evolutionist views appears to be gargantuan. Are Americans really this divided over human origins?
As a social scientist, I am skeptical about these findings for two reasons. First, the way in which these questions about human origins are written restricts complex or conflicted responses. Surveys like the Gallup poll tend to represent the various views we might label Atheistic Evolution, Theistic Evolution, Intelligent Design, or Young Earth Creationism with position statements that force respondents to select the one that comes closest to their beliefs.
The trouble is that these various views contain multiple beliefs about common descent, natural selection, divine involvement, and historical timeframe. The survey questions conflate these underlying beliefs in particular ways and force individuals to select from prepackaged sets of ideas. This is simply a practical necessity given the limited amount of space on general public surveys.
Second, these polls give us no description of the manner in which people hold to these beliefs. Are respondents confident that their position is correct? Is it important to them personally to have the right beliefs about human origins? If large segments of the public are uncertain about their position, or if their beliefs are unimportant to them, then the idea of an intensely polarized public is misleading.
Let’s look at the creationist position. It contains, at a minimum, the following beliefs:
- Humans did not evolve from other species.
- God was involved in the creation of humans.
- Humans were created within the last 10,000 years.
The most recent Gallup poll found that 46 percent of adults claimed creationism best reflected their views of human origins. But Gallup didn’t ask participants about each of the above beliefs.
Our survey, however, asks about each individual belief, allowing respondents to report that they are unsure about what they believe. Only 14 percent affirmed each of these beliefs, and only 10 percent were certain of their beliefs. Furthermore, only 8 percent claimed it was important to them to have the right beliefs about human origins.
If only eight percent of respondents are classified as convinced creationists whose beliefs are dear to them, and if only four percent are classified as atheistic evolutionists whose beliefs are dear to them, then perhaps Americans are not as deeply divided over human origins as polls have indicated. In fact, most Americans fall somewhere in the middle, holding their beliefs with varying levels of certainty. Most Americans do not fall neatly into any of the existing camps, and only a quarter claimed their beliefs were important to them personally.
So what does this mean for the church? I think it shows that most people, even regular church-going evangelicals, are not deeply entrenched on one side of a supposed two-sided battle. Certainly, the issue divides Christians. But Christian beliefs about human origins are complex. There’s no major single chasm after all.
Advocates of various positions have often perpetuated the idea of a battle precisely because drawing clear lines is an effective way to mobilize one view against the other. Perhaps it is time to recognize the complexity of beliefs and worship together despite our differences. This doesn’t mean that hard questions and honest conversations about human origins should be ignored. There are lots of important questions that need to be wrestled with. But as we wrestle, we should recognize that our shared identity in Christ puts us all on the same team.
Grace and Peace
Since the inception of this blog in 2006, its subtitle has been, “A blog about science, Christianity, and other topics.” Although this is an accurate description of what one will find here on The GeoChristian, it isn’t very catchy. So today I am introducing a new subtitle:
The Earth. Christianity. They go together.
Here’s what I hope to communicate with the new caption:
- The Earth and Christianity go together because God made the entire universe. This idea is completely compatible with science; it is only incompatible with atheistic naturalism, a philosophical position that is not based on science.
- The Earth and Christianity go together because, in Christian theology, the physical world is important. As some have stated it, matter matters. In many eastern religions matter is something to escape from (this viewpoint creeps into Christianity at times, such as in the ancient gnostic heresies). To an atheist, matter and energy have no purpose or inherent reason for existence. Within Christian thought, God created the universe and embedded humanity within it, and then proclaimed that it was all “very good.” The ultimate expression of the importance of the material world to God is that, in the person of Jesus Christ, God became flesh, entering into the physical world to redeem not just our “souls,” but our bodies as well.
- The Earth and Christianity go together because Christ’s redeeming work will one day extend to the entire cosmos. Our eternal existence as God’s people, according to the book of Revelation, is not in some spiritual “heaven,” but in a physical place that is a re-created or renovated New Earth.
- The Earth and Christianity go together because Christianity provides both a reason and a purpose for the Earth. The universe is not a random, inexplicable object; nor is our planet. God may have used processes to get us to this point—the big bang, protoplanet nucleation, speciation, and so forth—but that does not negate “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” or “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” (Gen 1:1, Ps 24:1 ESV)
- The Earth and Christianity go together because—despite the vocal proclamations of both young-Earth creationists and evangelists for atheism such as Richard Dawkins—there is no real contradiction between what the Bible tells us about the creation of Earth and the findings of modern science (e.g. the big bang or antiquity of the Earth).
- The Earth and Christianity go together because humans have been given a command to care for the Earth. In Genesis, God commanded Adam to have dominion over the Earth. This “dominion mandate” does not mean that we should dominate and exploit, but rule and serve with love and wisdom.
- Because the Earth and Christianity go together, Christianity is for geoscientists. We are all in the same boat, created in the image of God but sinful and in need of redemption. Jesus is for geologists! (and geophysicists, meteorologists, hydrologists, oceanographers, and all who study and care for the Earth).
Grace and Peace
Of the numerous analyses of the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate earlier this week, one of the best is that of Old Testament scholar John Walton that was published as part of a larger review on the Biologos website (Ham on Nye: Our Take). Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, adeptly gives reasons why there are serious biblical and theological problems with young-Earth creationism. YEC isn’t just bad science, it involves a highly questionable reading of the Hebrew text of Genesis. Here are some excerpts:
In general I appreciated the cordial and respectful tone that both debaters evidenced. Most of the debate was about scientific evidence, which I am not the one to address. The only comment that I want to make in that regard is that it was evident that Ken Ham believed that all evolutionists were naturalists—an identification that those associated with BioLogos would strongly contest.
I commend Ken Ham’s frequent assertion of the gospel message. His testimony to his faith was admirable and of course, I agree with it. I also share his beliefs about the nature of the Bible, but I do not share his interpretation of the Bible on numerous key points. From the opening remarks Ham proclaimed that his position was based on the biblical account of origins. But he is intent on reading that account as if it were addressing science (he truly believes it is). I counter by saying that we cannot have a confident understanding of what the Bible claims until we read it as an ancient document. I believe as he does that the Bible was given by God, but it was given through human instruments into an ancient culture and language. We can only encounter the Bible’s claims by taking account of that context.
One place where this distinction was obvious was that Ham tried to make the statement in Genesis that God created each animal “after its kind” as a technical statement that matched our modern scientific categories. We cannot assume that the same categories were used in the ancient world as are used today (genus, family, species, etc.). Such anachronism does not take the Bible seriously as what it “naturally” says. In the Bible this only means that when a grain of wheat drops, a grain of wheat grows (not a flower); when a horse gives birth, it gives birth to a horse, not a coyote.
Bill Nye repeatedly returned to the idea that the Bible was a book translated over and over again over thousands of years. In his opinion this results in a product that could be no more trusted than the end result in the game of telephone. In this opinion he shows his lack of clear understanding of the whole process of the transmission of texts and the textual basis for today’s translations.
[Ham] believes that there could be no death before the fall because he has interpreted the word “good” as if it meant “perfect.” That is not what the Hebrew term means. Furthermore, if there was no death before the fall, people would have little use for a tree of life. What is a “natural” interpretation—our sense of what it means or the sense that an ancient reader would have had? Ham actually made the statement that we have to read the Bible “according to the type of literature” that it is. Yet it was clear that he has done no research on ancient genres and how parts of the Bible should be identified by the standards of ancient genres.
When Ham was asked what it would take to change his mind, he was lost for words because he said that he could never stop believing in the truth of the Bible. I would echo that sentiment, but it never seemed to occur to him that there might be equally valid interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis, or maybe even ones that could garner stronger support. He stated that no one can prove the age of the earth, but he believes that the Bible tells us the age of the earth. Nevertheless, it is only his highly debatable interpretation of the Bible that tells him the age of the earth. What if the Bible makes no such claim? There are biblical scholars who take the Bible every bit as seriously as he does, who disagree that the Bible makes a claim about the age of the earth.
There is a lot more to the creation account in Genesis 1 than what one will hear from the young-Earth creationists. One can be fully committed to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture and not come to the same conclusions or interpretations that the my-way-or-the-highway young-Earth creationists come to.
Grace and Peace
HT: Internet Monk
I’ve had another 24 hours to think about the Ham vs. Nye debate, and I have a few additional thoughts:
- I’m struck by how little evidence Ken Ham presented in his main presentation or in his rebuttals. He briefly mentioned a few standard YEC arguments for a young Earth, such as woody material dated at 40,000 years by carbon-14 dating contained in a 45 million year old basalt flow. But he didn’t spend much time developing this or any other young Earth argument.
- Ham spent most of his time talking about world view, and propounding his postmodern-ish insistence that no one can really know anything about the past through scientific investigation. This world view talk was good for preaching to the YEC choir, but was not very useful for convincing skeptics or fence-riders.
- Ken Ham, as he has often done in the past, gave a false choice between believing in God’s infallible and unchanging Word, and believing in man’s fallible and changing science. Ham doesn’t see that both Scripture and the creation contain truth, and that the processes of understanding either Scripture or creation is done by fallible people. In other words, Ken Ham might have the Word of God in his hands, but Ken Ham can be wrong about the best way to understand certain passages. I have many reasons for believing that Ham (and YECs in general) over-read the text of the opening chapters of Genesis. Here are a few.
- I have already stated my main critique of Bill Nye–he lacked the necessary background in geology to participate in a debate like this.
- As a Christian, I wanted Ken Ham to win the debate, which I believe he could have done if he had taken a “mere creation” approach rather than having a narrow YEC focus. Despite my training in science (and perhaps because of my training in science), I have much more in common with Ken Ham’s Christian world view than I do with Bill Nye’s naturalistic, atheistic world view.
I had heard that 500,000 people watched the debate live. Now I’ve read that the number was closer to 3,000,000 viewers.
There are a number of excellent reviews of the debate on the internet. Here are a few that I have found helpful:
J.W. Wartick – Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate.
“[Ham] continued to paint a picture of the Bible which rejects any but his own interpretation. In other words, he presented a false dichotomy: either young earth creationism or compromise with naturalism.”
Faithful Thinkers – Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Aftermath.
“Each respective candidate won with their supporters, but both lost with their skeptics. This exchange was certainly not “the debate of the decade.”
Jay Wile – Talking Past One Another – The Ham/Nye Debate.
“While there were plenty of opportunities for the debaters to interact, they rarely did so. As the title of this post indicates, they spent most of their time talking past one another.”
“In this light, the debate proved both sides right on one central point: If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.
“That’s because the argument was never really about ice rods and sediment layers. It was about the most basic of all intellectual presuppositions: How do we know anything at all? On what basis do we grant intellectual authority? Is the universe self-contained and self-explanatory? Is there a Creator, and can we know him?”
Evolution News and Views (an I.D. site) – The Ham-Nye Creation Debate: A Huge Missed Opportunity.
“For goodness sake, Bill Nye was the one defending Big Bang cosmology. Viewers would never know that the Big Bang is one of the best arguments for the design of the universe ever offered by science.”
“People will walk away from this debate thinking, “Ken Ham has the Bible, Bill Nye has scientific evidence.” Some Christians will be satisfied by that. Other Christians (like me) who don’t feel that accepting the Bible requires you to believe in a young earth will feel that their views weren’t represented. And because Ham failed (whether due to time constraints, an inflexible debate strategy, lack of knowledge, inadequate debate skills, or a fundamentally weak position) to offer evidence rebutting many of Nye’s arguments for an old earth, young earth creationist Christians with doubts will probably feel even more doubtful. Most notably, however, skeptics won’t budge an inch. Why? Because Ham’s main argument was “Because the Bible says so,” and skeptics don’t take the Bible as an authority. They want to see evidence.”
Grace and Peace
On February 4, 2014, Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham debated Bill Nye (“the Science Guy”) on the topic of “Is creation a viable model of origins?” I cannot say that I was disappointed with the debate, because I had very low expectations for it in the first place, and it was about what I anticipated.
I had hoped that Ken Ham would take a “mere creation” approach, which would focus on the sorts of things most Christians agree upon when talking about origins. He could have focused on topics that are especially vexing for non-theists, such as the origin of the universe (or multi-verse, if you prefer), or the origin of life. Instead, he chose to focus on typical young-Earth topics such as the age of the universe and Noah’s flood. Bill Nye was also a disappointment (and again, I had low expectations). His background is in engineering and physics, not in the more pertinent subjects of geology and biology, and it showed. His knowledge of the Bible was downright at the middle school level, as I’ll discuss later.
My main complaint about the debate is that, for the most part, it presented the audience with a false dichotomy: young-Earth creationism or naturalistic, atheistic (or at least agnostic) science. Ken Ham acknowledged that there are old-Earth Christians, and that salvation is based on one’s relationship to Christ rather than what one thinks about the age of the Earth. But he also made it clear that he views the old-Earth position as a compromise, as opposed to his pure “biblical” creation interpretation. Bill Nye actually did a better job of acknowledging that there are billions of people in the world who are religious and yet do not accept young-Earth creationism, but it was also clear that he viewed this religiosity as “belief” as opposed to scientific knowledge.
I’ll start with some positive aspects of both men’s presentations. The debate was very cordial, respectful, and orderly.
I think that the best point that Ken Ham made was that non-Christian scientists have no good explanation for why we have laws of logic, laws of nature, or uniformity of nature (the laws that work here also work the same way over there, and worked the same way in the past). Ham said that non-believers have had to borrow these concepts from Christianity, and to a large extent, this is true. It is not that Christians, or theists, are the only ones who believe in logic, laws, or uniformity, but that they are the only ones who can give a rational explanation for the existence of these properties of the universe.
Bill Nye made a number of good scientific points related to the topic at hand.
- He described the concept of fossil succession: fossils occur in a specific order in the geologic record wherever one goes (he focused on the Grand Canyon), and correctly pointed out that there is not a single location where fossils are out of place. I wish he had elaborated on this for the sake of his audience. One does not find dinosaurs in the Permian (they belong in the Mesozoic), and one does not find elephants in the Cambrian (mixed in with trilobites). If young-Earth geology were correct, we would expect to see a considerable amount of “turbulence,” as Nye put it, in the fossil record, with a number of fossils being found in the wrong layers. It does not happen.
- He also described cores taken from ice caps. For example, there are ice cores drilled from Antarctica that contain a 680,000-year record of ice deposition. Nye calculated one would have to have 170 annual layers created per year to form these since Noah’s flood 4000 years ago, and that this is a preposterous idea.
- Nye used the local (Kentucky) geology to point out another problem with YEC flood geology. The thick layers of limestone in the area are built in places of billions of coral organisms, which are entombed in their life positions in complete ecosystems. One would not expect a global flood to pick up coral organisms and plant them all in such a way to look like they grew there in place.
- Nye also drew attention to the problem of modern biogeographic distribution of species: How did Australian mammals, for instance, such as the kangaroo, all migrate to Australia over a now-missing land bridge without leaving any straggler populations or a trace of their passage (such as fossils) between Ararat and Australia?
Unfortunately, both men made serious blunders as well:
Ken Ham got his science wrong – Of course, there are many things wrong with the young-Earth creationist arguments about the age of the Earth and the geological work of Noah’s flood. I’ll highlight a few from the debate:
- Though I agree with Ham that historical science is done with somewhat different methodology than experimental, laboratory science, I think he stretched this point too far. Ham’s presentation of the historical scientific method almost makes it sound like some sort of postmodern guessing game, where opinion A is just as good as opinion B. No, something really happened in the past, such as the ice ages. Explanation A (the conventional geological explanation) might explain most known observations very well, while explanation B (the YEC explanation) fails miserably. It is not “one answer is just as good as another; you cannot prove anything,” as Ken Ham would have us believe. There are explanations that work, and explanations that do not work.
- Ham gave one of his favorite statements, which I’ll paraphrase as, “From reading Genesis, we would expect the flood to produce billions of dead things laid down by water, and when we look at the geological record, we find billions of dead things laid down by water.” The main scientific problem with this is that one would expect a global, catastrophic flood to produce disorder, with a chaotic mixture of sediments and organisms. Instead, we find distinct layers, sometimes very pure, of various sediment types, preserving what appear to be ancient sedimentary environments and ecosystems, some of which obviously formed in fairly quiet settings, with a very distinct order of fossils from oldest to youngest.
- Ham discussed radiometric dating, both in terms of the assumptions that go into the dating procedures, and in terms of conflicting radiometric dates. This could merit a whole series of articles in response, but I’ll just say that in most cases we can have a pretty good idea what the initial parent-to-daughter isotope ratios were, whether or not there has been gain or loss of isotopes from the sample, and that all reports of variable decay rates in the scientific literature indicate that this variability is minor. There are discordant (i.e. conflicting) radiometric dates out there, but overall the methods give highly consistent results. I would say that the whole YEC RATE research program had to happen because of the overwhelming evidence (even to YECs) that in most cases the first two assumptions about radiometric dating are valid and that most dates are indeed concordant, which has left YECs with nothing to work with but variable decay rates.
- Ken Ham also mentioned the planes that crashed in Greenland in 1942, and have subsequently been buried by over 200 feet of snow and ice, showing (to YECs) that thick ice caps could form quickly. What Ham didn’t tell the audience was that these planes were found near the edge of the ice sheet, where precipitation is much higher than in the dry interior where ice cores are taken. If the planes had crashed in the interior, their remains would still be at or near the surface of the ice cap.
Bill Nye got his science wrong – This is where Nye’s lack of geological training showed through.
- As he was discussing layers in the Grand Canyon, Nye showed a slide where a channel of the Devonian Temple Butte Formation is cut down into the Cambrian Muav Limestone. He described it as being “intruded” into the underlying formation, which makes it sound like an igneous rather than a sedimentary process. Still, his point was valid, that fossils of the Devonian are not found in Cambrian rocks, and vice versa.
- He also gave a shoot-from-the-hip explanation for something Ken Ham brought up. Ham described a situation where a basalt flow enclosed some woody material, and the basalt gave a potassium-argon age of something like 45 million years, while the organic material gave a carbon-14 age of something like 40,000 years. Nye suggested that this could be explained by thrust faulting, where one layer slid horizontally over another. I kind of groaned when he said this, as one would not invoke thrust faulting without good field evidence. There are better explanations for such situations. I shoot from the hip sometimes, and often it does not go well.
Bill Nye got his theology wrong – I did not expect him to have much knowledge about the Bible or theology, and he demonstrated deep ignorance about how we got the Bible.
- Nye stated several times that he does not understand how one could believe a book that was written 3000 years ago, then translated, and re-translated, and re-translated, and eventually translated from one of these latter re-translations to make our English Bibles (the telephone game). In reality, how the Bible was formed and where our modern-language translations came from looked nothing like this.
Ken Ham got his theology wrong – One would hope that one of the most influential Christians in America (and Ham does have a tremendous amount of influence in some circles) would get his theology right, but many theologically conservative Bible scholars would disagree with Ham’s interpretation of Scripture.
- Ham likes to use the phrase “biblical creationist” to describe his position, implying that any Christian who is not a young-Earth creationist is somehow an “unbiblical” creationist. I have many reasons for believing that the Bible is neutral or silent on the question of the age of the universe. Being that these are biblical reasons, I would say that makes me a “biblical creationist” as well.
- One example that Ham brought up was the use of genre (literary type or category) in biblical interpretation. He stated that biblical interpretation involves a “natural” reading of the passages, and I agree. In general, historical narratives are meant to be read as real history, and poetic passages (such as the Psalms) are meant to be read in a much more figurative way. However, Ham lumps the entire book of Genesis together as “historical narrative” when it is clear that the literary structure of chapter one is different than the rest of the book, and actually quite distinct in ancient Hebrew literature.
Overall, I did not find the debate to be at all helpful. I did think that Nye’s scientific arguments were stronger than Ham’s (as YEC is rather indefensible scientifically), but they could have been stronger, and Nye demonstrated deep misunderstandings of Christianity that are, unfortunately, much too common among skeptics. Young-Earth creationists who watched the debate probably thought that Ham crushed Nye. Atheists who watched it probably thought that Nye demolished the silly arguments of the young-Earthers. For the rest of us, the debate was a lose-lose affair. There was little in Ham’s presentation that would cause a non-believer (especially a non-believing scientist) to consider Christianity, and Nye’s weakness on geological issues hampered his effectiveness.
I would have much rather seen a debate between a Christian old-Earth geologist and a YEC geologist, or a debate between a YEC biblical scholar and a old-Earth biblical scholar. But then only 500 people would have watched it nationwide rather than 500,000.
The debate is archived at http://debatelive.org/.
Grace and Peace
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Grace and Peace
Debate pre-game prognosis: What Ken Ham could learn from Duane Gish in order to “win” his debate against Bill Nye
In March of 1987, young-Earth creationist Dr. Duane Gish came to Washington State University to have a creation-evolution debate with Dr. Grover Krantz, an anthropology professor at WSU. Gish’s style in his frequent debates was a rapid-fire overload of facts from a wide variety of fields, most of which were outside of his opponent’s area of expertise. Unless his rival was especially well-prepared, Gish knew that there was no way that all of his young-Earth, anti-evolutionist “evidences” could be answered. Young-Earth creationists would attend these debates in droves, and would conclude that Gish had won the debate.
I don’t remember much about the debate that night (beyond Krantz having a bunch of hominid skull replicas with him for his rebuttal), but what I do remember is Gish’s trip to the WSU Geology department earlier in the day. Someone had invited Gish to speak at our weekly departmental seminar. I was a graduate student in the department at the time, and I remember being nervous about what he would say. Having “converted” from young-Earth creationism to old-Earth Christianity as an undergraduate student just a few years previously, I was concerned that all Gish would accomplish would be to make Christianity look foolish, and solidify the antipathy that some in the department had against the faith.
Duane Gish surprised me. In his presentation before the Geology department, he took a “mere creation” approach rather than making an effort to defend his belief in a young Earth or flood geology. When asked questions about things like the age of the Earth, he answered that some Christians go one way, and other Christians the other. This was akin to C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, where Lewis discussed and promoted Christianity in general, rather than making an attempt to make everyone Anglicans. Gish talked about things like the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and gaps between phyla in the fossil record. Though there was still hostility against Gish among some in the audience, there was also receptivity. I remember one PhD candidate remarking after the presentation that if this was the sort of material the creationists were promoting, he would not be opposed to it.
Tonight (2/4/2014) Ken Ham (president of Answers in Genesis) will debate Bill Nye (the science guy) on the topic of “Is creation a viable model of origins.” I can see this debate going one of two ways, depending on whether or not Ham takes a “mere creation” approach, as opposed to defending the more radical young-Earth creationist positions he normally propounds.
If the debate circles around typical young-Earth topics such as the age of the Earth, the geological effects of Noah’s flood, or whether or not dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark, Nye should be able to show the numerous faults and contradictions of the young-Earth position. That is, if Nye has done his homework (Nye’s university degree was in Engineering, and his strengths on “Bill Nye the Science Guy” were always in physics and chemistry, not geology or biology).
If, on the other hand, Ham steers the debate towards broader “mere creation” topics such as the origin of the universe or the origin of life, then I think Ham could show the world that Christianity has a better answer for the questions of origins than atheistic naturalism does.
In summary, if the debate is about “mere creation” Ham (and Christianity) should “win” the debate. If the debate becomes about young-Earth vs. old-Earth or the extent to which evolution can occur, I think we all will lose, no matter who “wins” the debate.
The debate is streaming live at http://debatelive.org/
Grace and Peace
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Grace and Peace, and Happy New Year!
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 ESV
It is through the Scriptures that we can know God, Christ, ourselves, and how to live in regards to God and our neighbor. I cannot think of any greater thing in life than to know the Creator of the universe and Redeemer of my life.
Many make a New Year’s resolution to read the Bible more consistently than they have in the past, and many don’t stick to that resolution. Often what happens is that one starts reading in Genesis, and things go well for a while. A month or two later they hit the latter part of Exodus, and perhaps they make it into Leviticus. Though there is a lot of good material in this section of Scripture, I confess that my eyes can glaze over as I go through chapter after chapter of “He also made the table of acacia wood. Two cubits was its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height.” (Ex 37:10 ESV).
If Bible reading is new to you, I would recommend starting with the life of Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament Gospels. These four books—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—each present the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but with different emphases and styles. The Gospel of John would be a good place to start. Move on from the gospels to the rest of the New Testament. I would recommend Romans as a good place to start after reading the life of Christ in the Gospels.
I read in the Bible every day, and could probably count on my fingers and toes the number of days I have missed in the past thirty plus years. I would like to pass on to you some attitudes and tools that have helped me to do this.
- I set realistic reading goals. Though I read the Bible regularly, I have never read the entire Bible in a year. My general goal is to read the New Testament every year and the Old Testament once every two years. There are 260 chapters in the New Testament, so reading a chapter per day (a five to ten minute investment of one’s time) will easily get one through that portion of Scripture in a year. There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament, so I have to average a bit more than a chapter a day to meet my objective of getting through the OT every two years.
- Many have been helped by using a one-year Bible reading plan. Here’s a plan that will get you through the entire New Testament in a year. There are many other day-by-day reading plans out there, such as the Discipleship Journal one-year reading plan, or many others listed by Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition.
- I usually use a Bible reading checklist to track progress toward my goals. One advantage of a checklist over a calendar-based plan is flexibility. I can speed up my reading or slow down. Another advantage of a checklist is that if one misses a few days, they don’t need to feel overwhelmed because they are behind schedule. One can pick up where they left off without feeling any pressure to catch up.
- After doing my reading for the day (which I usually do in the evening), I try to go back and meditate and pray about something that stood out to me.
- I take notes on my reading. The way I do it is by writing in the margins of my wide-margin Bible. Others keep a journal.
These things have worked for me. We are all wired differently, but I think that, with modification, there should be some ideas here that will be helpful to most followers of Christ.
As important as Bible reading is to me, I realize that it is much more important that the Word be in me than that I be in the Word. One can read the Bible every day and learn lots of facts and end up being a self-righteous hypocrite. So my prayer is that you and I would be transformed by prayerful, humble, meditative reading of the Scriptures. May you know Christ and his salvation better through the intake of his Word.
Grace and Peace
Here are a couple of Bible reading tools I have created — a Bible reading checklist, and a reading plan for going through the New Testament in a year.
It has all sixty-six books of the Bible with their chapters. I mark off the chapters as I read them.
This system gives me greater flexibility than a day-by-day schedule does, yet still helps me to reach my reading goals. Two advantages of using this system over a schedule is that I can vary my pace, and don’t get frustrated if I get behind the schedule.
The checklist has two pages; I like to print it on two sides on heavy paper, fold it, and stick it in my Bible.
This can be printed two-sided (I print mine on card stock) and inserted in your Bible.
In my previous post, I listed the ten most-read articles on The GeoChristian in 2013. They are, I suppose, the reader’s picks. Here are my picks for the most significant blog posts on The GeoChristian for the year.
#10 – A 4th grade quiz on dinosaurs that the teacher would have given me an “F” on — The dark side of science education in Christian schools. Also see More on the Answers in Genesis 4th grade dinosaur quiz.
#9 – A young-Earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporites – The YECs push a lot of bad science as Christian apologetics. Here’s one example.
#8 — Rush is wrong — Analyzing Limbaugh’s statement on God and global warming — Rush’s problem isn’t so much what he believes about man-made global warming, but having a philosophical/theological foundation that says we can’t really screw things up.
#7 – GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:20-22 — The goodness and fruitfulness of the creation — Earth Day 2013 — God created an Earth that teemed with life. Can we find a way to flourish that isn’t at the expense of the rest of creation?
#6 – GeoScriptures — Genesis 2:16-17 — The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the fruit of sin — We got our way. Was it worth it?
#5 – GeoScriptures — Genesis 3:17-18 — Thorns, thistles, cats, dogs, and hyperliteralism – If Genesis said, “And God told Noah, ‘It is going to rain cats and dogs,’” would Christians find a way to explain how cats and dogs could be caught up in waterspouts?
#4 – Days, nights, Jonah, and Jesus — My response to a skeptic who claimed that Jesus couldn’t count.
#3 – GeoScriptures — Genesis 6-9 — Reading the account of Noah’s (local) flood – A few legitimate word substitutions, and the flood account no longer sounds quite so extensive.
#2 – The Pleistocene is not in the Bible — A critique of “When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History?” – Answers in Genesis: giving you “apologetics” that isn’t really based on the Bible, and doesn’t work scientifically.
#1 – GeoScriptures – Psalm 77:16-18 – Deadly beauty and the glory of God – God is glorified in gamma-ray bursts and lightning bolts, and other things that could kill you very quickly.
Grace and Peace
Things have been rather quiet here on The GeoChristian lately, but people from around the world have still been finding things to read. Here are the most-read posts in 2013 (a number of which were written before 2013):
#10 – A young-Earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporites — This is my preliminary analysis of a YEC hypothesis that evaporite layers, such as halite and gypsum, were formed by crystallization from igneous melts rather than by precipitation from aqueous solutions. I’m working on a longer refutation.
#9 – PCA 2013 General Assembly — The YECs get their turn — There are people in the Presbyterian Church in America (my current denomination) who would be very happy if us old-Earthers would just go away.
#8 – The stratigraphic column — not a figment of geologists’ imaginations — Fossils appear in the stratigraphic column in a specific order, which is the basis for designating rocks as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc. Some YECs call this an invention of God-hating geologists, while other YECs come up with all sorts of mechanisms for explaining how Noah’s flood could have produced such an orderly arrangement.
#7 – John Piper and the age of the Earth — What? John Piper is an old-Earther? He must not really believe the Bible. Just kidding. Dr. Piper is firmly committed to the truthfulness of God’s Word, and accepts an old Earth.
#6 – Stegosaurus in Cambodian temple? — The answer, of course, is no.
#5 – Did Ann Coulter really say “Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours”? — Why do people listen to this woman?
#4 – Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 1) – There are more than six bad answers from Answers in Genesis, but this series examined “Six main geologic evidences for the Genesis Flood.”
#3 – John MacArthur on the age of the Earth and theistic evolution — I really like John MacArthur, but he sometimes makes things black and white that are not black and white.
#2 – Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis — 1600 years ago, Augustine recognized that perhaps the best way to read Genesis 1 is not the “literal” way as 21st century YECs would see it.
#1 – Dr. Dino still in prison — Ever since I wrote this in 2009, it has been the most-read post on The GeoChristian. Popular YEC speaker “Dr.” Kent Hovind is still in prison on income tax-related charges, and is scheduled for release in 2015.
Grace and Peace
CARBONATE ≠ CARBONATITE! — Back in March, I wrote a critique of a young-Earth creationist proposal that evaporite deposits, such as thick layers of halite (rock salt), were actually formed during Noah’s flood by crystallization from gigantic eruptions of salt lavas. I would have ignored this proposal completely if it had come from the fringe of the YEC movement, but it was published in one of their leading “peer-reviewed” journals, and endorsed by one of the leading YEC geologists. The author, Stef Heerema, has written a response to my critique on the creation.com website: Clarifying the magmatic model for the origin of salt deposits. I don’t think Mr. Heerema scored a single point. A response to the response will be coming soon.
ANOTHER BRIGHT ATHEIST/AGNOSTIC COMES TO FAITH IN CHRIST — From Christianity Today: Fox News’ Highly Reluctant Jesus Follower. This is the story of Kirsten Powers.
If there was one thing in which I was completely secure, it was that I would never adhere to any religion—especially to evangelical Christianity, which I held in particular contempt.
ANOTHER ATHEIST TELLS HIS STORY – From atheism to Christianity: a personal journey, by Philip Vander Elst.
And once again closer scrutiny of the facts forced me to abandon my old prejudices against Christianity.
HT: Jay Wile
GOOD CREATION BOOKS — Naturalis Historia has a good list of books on the biblical doctrine of creation: Modern creation debate books.
IS IT TIME FOR EVANGELICALS TO RETHINK BIRTH CONTROL? – I hold abortion to be a great evil. But like most Protestants, I have been more ambivalent about non-abortive birth control. But I’m not so sure about that anymore. Here’s a Roman Catholic perspective on birth control: Time To Admit It: The Church Has Always Been Right On Birth Control.
The Church teaches that love, marriage, sex, and procreation are all things that belong together. That’s it. But it’s pretty important. And though the Church has been teaching this for 2,000 years, it’s probably never been as salient as today.
Today’s injunctions against birth control were re-affirmed in a 1968 document by Pope Paul VI called Humanae Vitae. He warned of four results if the widespread use of contraceptives was accepted:
- General lowering of moral standards
- A rise in infidelity, and illegitimacy
- The reduction of women to objects used to satisfy men.
- Government coercion in reproductive matters.
Does that sound familiar?
Because it sure sounds like what’s been happening for the past 40 years.
Grace and Peace
On August 12, 2013, Rush Limbaugh made the following statement on his radio program:
“If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.”
This, of course, is utter nonsense. Unfortunately, millions of American political conservatives and Evangelicals believe Rush is right on just about everything, but Limbaugh is clearly wrong this time. The error of his statement is not in whether or not climate change is occurring, nor in whether or not observed changes are due to human activities, but in making a false connection between belief in God and whether or not human activities can affect the climate.
To start with, there is no connection between “believing in God”—or even more specifically being a Christian—and having a certain position on a scientific issue such as climate change. The Bible does say that the creation groans because of human sin (Romans 8:22), so we should expect there to be environmental consequences for our actions, but the Bible does not say what those consequences will be. Ascertaining the ramifications of our actions is part of the human task of understanding the creation, expressed in our age through science. Limbaugh’s statement is the theological equivalent of saying, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in genetics” (or chemical bonding theory, or plate tectonics, or general relativity, etc.).
Second, there are sincere and intelligent believers on both sides of this issue—scientists, Bible scholars, and laypersons. All of these have intellectual reasons—biblical and scientific—for holding their positions.
And finally and most importantly, the theological basis of Limbaugh’s statement is flawed. When I’ve heard this sort of statement before, it has been based on the premise that God has built sufficient robustness into his creation to offset or minimize the damage caused by humans. An illustration of this from climate science is the concept of a negative feedback. A good example of negative feedback is how the atmosphere responds to a global temperature increase. If the temperature of Earth were to increase, evaporation of water from oceans and other bodies of water would also increase, which would lead to greater global cloud cover, which would increase the albedo (reflectivity) of Earth’s atmosphere in regards to visible light, which would result in more solar energy being reflected back into space, which would result in a lowering of global temperatures which would offset the initial warming. This is all good and true, but it isn’t easy to measure or predict the degree to which the increased albedo would offset the initial increase in temperature. But that is a scientific issue, not something to be decided by unsubstantiated theological pronouncements.
If we apply the same sort of reasoning to the human body—another part of God’s creation—the error becomes obvious. The human body uses negative feedbacks as well. If someone smokes a cigarette, the body responds in ways to offset the introduction of foreign material. If a person smokes just one cigarette in their lifetime, the chances that there will be long-term negative consequences, such as emphysema or lung cancer, are negligible. If a person smokes a pack of cigarettes a day over a period of decades, the odds become virtually certain that there will be negative health consequences. This is despite the fact that most of the air that enters a heavy smoker’s lungs in the course of those decades is the ordinary nitrogen-oxygen-argon mix of the atmosphere.
The Genesis creation account states that the Earth God made was good, and that he intended its occupants—human and non-human—to flourish. Once sin entered the picture, human management of the creation could still maintain (or even enhance) that flourishing to some degree, but now the possibility also exists that we can cause serious damage to the creation. It is clear that our activities can all too easily lead in the direction of harming the creation—its water, land, air, and organisms—rather than healing it. The “global warming couldn’t happen” position ignores the reality and disastrous consequences of human sin, and leads many to bury their heads in the sand in the face of potential environmental consequences of that sin.
When Christians enter into the climate change debate (or any other environmental or natural resources discussion) with an attitude of “humans can’t mess up the Earth all that much,” it is inevitable that they will come to conclusions like “global warming, if it is happening, couldn’t be caused by humans.” This is analogous to atheists starting with the assumption that there is no God, and then coming to a “scientific” conclusion that God is not necessary for the origin of the universe.
My short response to Rush Limbaugh’s statement would be:
“If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe that human activities have no environmental consequences.”
One who accepts Limbaugh’s philosophy towards the environment will automatically conclude that the idea of human-caused global warming is wrong at best and an evil Satanic hoax at worst. Scientific evidence will be deemed “good” if it supports their side, and “bad” if it does not. But there is no Biblical support for having this “it simply cannot happen” approach to the scientific question of climate change.
On the other hand, if one adopts what I consider to be a more biblically accurate approach—acknowledging that we do not know the limits to the consequences of our actions—then they can follow the evidence where it leads. Most scientists who are actually involved in climate change research, including Christian scientists, are presently convinced that the evidence points towards a significant human impact on Earth’s climate. That is not the end of the matter, but objectively, that is where things stand right now.
Grace and Peace
The Christian Post has printed at least three guest columns which discuss Rush Limbaugh’s statement. The first and third of these are critical of Limbaugh; the second is in agreement. Here are some excerpts:
1. Climate Change: Evangelical Scientists Say Limbaugh Wrong, Faith and Science Complement One Another — by Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman, Evangelicals, and meteorology/climatology professors at Texas Tech and the University of Washington.
Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think we exist. In other words that evangelical scientists cannot subscribe to the evidence of global warming.
Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements. It is what their listeners expect and want to hear. But in this instance, Rush’s uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God’s Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don’t respond quickly to the challenge of climate change.
We are both atmospheric scientists who study climate change, having earned advanced degrees in our respective fields and having devoted our lives to increasing knowledge through scientific research. We know climate change is real, that most of it is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community. We are also evangelical Christians who believe that God created the world in which we live.
We were appalled at the ignorance behind Rush Limbaugh’s statement but we weren’t surprised. One of us had previously been dismissed by him as a “climate babe.”
This isn’t meant to invoke pity, but rather to highlight the absurdity of our public debate around faith and climate change. Rush Limbaugh has a very big megaphone but no expertise or formal credentials to be considered an expert on the changes in climate occurring all around us. He has no theological training or record of leadership within a faith community. He’s simply a radio show host willing to say controversial things, regardless of whether they are true or not.
2. God, Rush, and Global Warming — by Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation
Ironically, these climate scientists-Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman-acknowledged at the outset, “Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements ….” Why is that ironic? Because, having acknowledged that, they then took Limbaugh literally-precisely what one must not do with hyperbole-and castigated him for meaning something they acknowledge he didn’t.
So, what was Limbaugh’s point when he said, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade warming”? Not that no theist can believe that human emissions of greenhouse gases can contribute positively to earth’s temperature. Rather, that it is difficult to reconcile belief in the infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and infinitely faithful God of the Bible with belief that a minuscule change in atmospheric chemistry-raising CO2 from 27 thousandths of 1 percent to 54 thousandths of 1 percent of the atmosphere-is likely to cause catastrophic harm to human and other ecosystems. It’s that latter belief that’s encompassed by the shorthand “global warming.”
Now I ask you, does an infinitely wise designer plan something to be so fragile that a proportionately tiny stress will cause it to collapse? Does a good architect, for instance, design a building so that if you lean against a wall, the rest of the building reacts by magnifying the stress of your weight until the building collapses?
But that’s what’s assumed in the theory of catastrophic, anthropogenic (manmade) global warming (CAGW): that a proportionately tiny stress can cause catastrophic consequences. The theory is that CO2′s rising from 27 thousandths of 1 percent to 54 thousandths of 1 percent of the atmosphere-which itself is a relatively tiny part of the entire climate system, which includes the oceans, land masses, all living things, and even energy from the sun and cosmic rays from stars in distant galaxies-will raise earth’s temperature so much as to threaten catastrophic harm to human and other life.
Such a result would come only from a design that made positive feedbacks vastly outweigh negative feedbacks. In other words, it would make the rest of the climate system magnify rather than offset the warming effect of CO2. Yet natural systems are dominated by negative rather than positive feedbacks-otherwise they’d all have collapsed long ago.
So God’s wisdom in designing earth’s climate system is hard to reconcile with belief in CAGW [Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming].
So, does belief in God make belief in CAGW utterly impossible? No. But it’s very difficult to reconcile the two beliefs.
3. Are Climate Skeptics Ignoring God’s Design? — by David Jenkins, president of ConservAmerica Education Fund (ConservAmerica used to be called Republicans for Environmental Protection).
Beisner writes “The Bible teaches that earth and all its subsystems – including the climate system – are the product of a God who is an infinitely wise Designer.” Nothing to quibble with there, but he then concludes – as Limbaugh has – that an infinitely wise designer would not create something so fragile that mankind can mess it up.
That view is at odds with both Biblical scripture and physical evidence.
Just as God has charged us with the responsibility to care for His creation, he has also granted us the ability to harm it. Man has demonstrated the capacity to level mountains, foul the air and water, drive animal species to extinction, develop weapons capable of mass destruction, acidify rain and damage the earth’s ozone layer.
While nature is resilient over time, it is also intricate and fragile. The smallest bacteria or virus can kill the largest person or animal. A minute amount of airborne mercury can travel up the food chain and ultimately harm an unborn child.
Another climate-related viewpoint Beisner and others have expressed is that fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, are gifts that God wants us to dig up and use without limitation.
One must be careful when ascribing intent to God, especially when the claim appears to run counter to His design.
Does it not then stand to reason that God, after designing the earth’s processes to sequester excess carbon, might prefer that we respect His design and look for other ways to heat our homes and power our cars?
Beisner and Limbaugh, in peddling the notion that God designed the earth and its atmosphere to be immune from mankind’s actions, are also implying that we can do anything we want to it without serious consequence.
Does that sound like something God would say?
Actually, it sounds a lot more like something the snake in the Garden of Eden would say.
I was alerted to Rush Limbaugh’s statement by Climate Conservative: Are Climate Skeptics Ignoring God’s Design?
Around the web 10/16/2013 — the latest Jesus conspiracy theory and YEC attacks on old-Earth Christians
AN INVENTED JESUS? — The media has started giving publicity to the latest Jesus conspiracy theory: Story of Jesus Christ was ‘fabricated to pacify the poor’, claims controversial Biblical scholar: Christianity was a sophisticated government propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of a the Roman Empire, claims scholar.
So, the Romans invented a story in which Roman soldiers crucified the peaceful leader of a new religion to make themselves more palpable to their subjects? I don’t think so.
Parchment and Pen has an introductory analysis: Ancient Confession Found: ‘We Invented Jesus Christ’ (Hint: no “ancient confession” has been found).
Also see Never Read a Press Release Headline at Stand to Reason Blog.
FROM THE “OLD-EARTHERS ARE IN LEAGUE WITH THE DEVIL” CLUB — Here’s an excerpt from a loving note from the head of the Creation Science Hall of Fame:
Dear Creationists & Friends,
Hugh Ross must be stopped! He has caused many good Christians to stumble. I have witnessed good Christian Churches argue over the interpretations of Genesis more than any other topic. I have now witnessed good Christian Churches that have broken up directly as a result of Hugh Ross teaching a mixture of evolution and Christianity.
The Bible teaches us to judge other Christians by their fruits. Hugh Ross has no fruits, but he has caused many Christians to stumble in their faith. He is causing so much harm among Christians all over the world and he must be stopped. Evil is using him in a great way.
It seems that to the folks at the Creation Science Hall of Fame, the age of the Earth is more important than the gospel, Christian unity, truth, or love.
WHO’S FAULT IS IT? — Another YEC who blasts old-Earthers, of course, is Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. Here’s what Mr. Ham recently wrote about Daniel Hamlin, a member of a Nazarene church, who had written a testimony about how evidence for biological evolution had caused him to have a crisis of faith:
Well, Hamlin shares that when he began reading about evolutionary ideas, he came to the conclusion that “Christianity is a lie and I’ve been duped.” He believed he had been “deceived” by Christian leaders, and he writes that he “chose science and for a time questioned the existence of God.” Wow! Those kinds of statements really demonstrate the way evolutionary ideas can undermine the authority of the Word of God and the gospel. Hamlin’s automatic conclusion was that Christianity had to be false if evolution and millions of years were true—these things are mutually exclusive!
So here’s what happened:
- Christian hears “If the Earth is old, then Christianity is false” (or if evolution is true, then Christianity is false).
- Christian learns that there is plenty of evidence for an old Earth, or for biological evolution.
- Christian concludes that Christianity might be false.
So who’s fault is it? I would say these crises of faith are due primarily to the bad science and false dichotomies presented by the YECs.
Read Hamlin’s story: Evolution and Faith: My Journey Thus Far.