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
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
“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
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?
I recently had a GeoChristian reader raise the issue of “Bible inconsistencies and errors” in a comment. Specifically, they brought up the reference in the Gospel of Matthew to “Jesus being in the tomb for ‘three’ nights.” If Jesus was crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday, isn’t it an error to say that he was in the tomb for three nights?
My basic approach to “Bible contradictions” can be found in my article Dealing with an apparent Bible contradiction, in which I shared my story of how I had to work through an apparent discrepancy between the accounts of the calling of the disciples in Matthew and John. This caused a brief crisis in my faith, but quickly led to a strengthening of my confidence in the accuracy and reliability of the Scriptures. I am now at a point where, though I cannot give an explanation for every difficult passage in the Bible, I have had enough answers that I no longer struggle just because I don’t understand something.
Let’s take a look at the “contradiction” in question this time. In Matthew 12:39-41, Jesus stated,
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (ESV)
Was Jesus literally in the tomb for “three days and three nights?” The answer seems to be “no.” Christians traditionally hold that Christ was crucified on a Friday afternoon (Good Friday) and rose from the dead early on Sunday (Easter). There was part of one day (Friday afternoon), a night (what we would call Friday night), a full day (Saturday), and part of a night (what we would call Saturday night). Then Jesus rose from the dead. There was only one full day and almost two full nights. It doesn’t matter whether one counts days using the Jewish or Roman systems; it doesn’t add up to a literal “three days and three nights.”
So is this an error in the Bible?
The first part of my answer has to do with the competence of the writer of the first Gospel, traditionally (and justifiably) regarded as the apostle Matthew. Basically, one can only read this passage as a contradiction by assuming that Matthew was somewhat of an idiot. Either he was a competent writer who could follow the relationships between what he wrote in chapter 12, and what he recorded later about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (Matthew 26-28); or he was a sloppy writer who couldn’t keep his story straight. Given the quality of the writing in Matthew, one should assume that if there were a contradiction, the author would have caught it. If Matthew and the early Christian writers didn’t see a problem, we should not either.
The second part of my answer has to do with differences in culture and language. Knowing that Matthew was a competent story-teller, one can look for better solutions, rather than concluding that his Gospel contains an error. One scenario that has been suggested is that Jesus was not crucified on Friday, but perhaps on Wednesday. This would account for three full days, but then there would be four nights, so it doesn’t really work. Plus, it doesn’t explain how Friday came to be regarded as “Good.”
A more reasonable answer is that “three days and three nights” was a figure of speech that meant “three days, counting the first and last.” Good Friday was the first of these three days, then came Saturday, and Easter Sunday the third. It is a very plausible solution to the “problem.” We don’t have any first century Aramaic-English phrasebooks laying around, but there is external evidence that the Jews of that time used the phrase “three days and three nights” in this way, so I am quite satisfied with this solution.
If this is correct, it is an example of where we cannot read our culture into someone else’s culture. A modern example of this is how to answer the question, “How old are you?” My answer to the question would be, “I am 52.” But in some eastern Asian countries, a person born on the exact same day as me would truthfully answer, “I am 53.” Why? Because they count the day a person is born as their first birthday, whereas in Western societies we consider a person’s first birthday to be one year after they were born. Different cultures have different ways of counting things. We should not find it surprising that two thousand years ago the Jews used the phrase “three days and three nights” differently than we do.
There are plenty of skeptics who will tell you that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions. For most of these it can fairly easily be shown—as in this case—that it is the skeptics who are in error, not the Scriptures. Even those “contradictions” that are more of a challenge should not cause us to disregard the Bible as God’s Word, as the difficulties are likely due more to our ignorance than anything else.
Grace and Peace
The ESV Study Bible notes for Matthew 12:40 state,
“Three days and three nights in Jewish reckoning is inclusive, meaning no more than three days or the combination of any part of three separate days. Jesus was raise “in three days” although he was buried Friday afternoon and resurrected Sunday morning (i.e., part of Friday is day one, all of Saturday is day two, and part of Sunday is day three).”
John MacArthur writes,
“The matter of three days and three night is often used either to prove Jesus was mistaken about the time He would actually spend in the tomb or that He could not have been crucified on Friday afternoon and raised early on Sunday, the first day of the week. But as in modern usage, the phrase “day and night” can mean not only a full 24-hour day but any representative part of a day. To spend a day, or a day and night, visiting in a neighboring city does not require spending 24 hours there. It could refer to arriving in the late morning and leaving a few hours after dark. In the same way, Jesus’ use of three days and three nights does not have to be interpreted as 72 hours, three full 24-hour days. The Jewish Talmud held that “any part of a day is as the whole.” Jesus was simply using a common, well-understood generalization.” — The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 8-15, p. 329.
One argument for the existence of God involves the impossibility of an actual infinite past. We cannot trace a pattern of cause and effect back into an eternal past. One difficulty is that we could never have arrived at the present point of time. What created the universe? The big bang. What caused the big bang? A quantum fluctuation in the multiverse (one possible scenario). What caused that multiverse to exist? Some previous multiverse. What caused that previous or broader multiverse to exist? And so on forever.
There are many problems with this naturalistic picture of an infinitely old cosmos. The Christian solution (as well as that of other theists such as Jews and Muslims) is to say that the universe is not eternal; that it was created by something other than the universe, and that is God. But then someone will ask, “Who created God?” This is actually a rather silly question, though some of those who ask the question have taken to calling themselves “Brights.” As Christian apologist William Lane Craig once replied to the “Who created God?” question: “That’s really a meaningless question. It’s like wracking your brain wondering, ‘What is the cause of the First Uncaused Cause?'”
John Lennox, professor of Mathematics at Oxford, gives his answer to this question in his excellent book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lennox writes:
There is another objection to the existence of God that is related to the preceding one [about God needing to be more complex than the universe]. Much attention has been drawn to it by the fact that Richard Dawkins has made it a central issue in his best-selling book The God Delusion. It is the age-old schoolboy teaser: If we say that God created the universe we shall have to ask who created God and so on, so that, according to Dawkins, the only way out of an impossible infinite regress is to deny that God exists.
Is this really the best that the Brights can do? I can hear an Irish friend saying: ‘Well, it proves one thing — if they had a better argument they would use it.’ If that is thought to be a rather strong reaction, just think of the question: Who made God? The very asking of it shows that the questioner has a created God in mind. It is then scarcely surprising that one calls one’s book The God Delusion. For that is precisely what a created god is, a delusion, virtually by definition — as Xenophanes pointed out centuries before Dawkins. A more informative title might have been: The Created-God Delusion. The book could then have been reduced to a pamphlet — but sales might just have suffered.
Now Dawkins candidly tells us that he does not like people telling him that they also do not believe in the God in which he does not believe. But we cannot afford to base our arguments on his dislikes. For, whether he likes it or not, he openly invites the charge. After all, it is he who is arguing that God is a delusion. In order to weigh his argument we need first of all to know what he means by God. And his main argument is focussed on a created God. Well, several billion of us would share his disbelief in such a god. He needn’t have bothered. Most of us have long since been convinced of what he is trying to tell us. Certainly, no Christian would ever dream of suggesting that God was created. Nor, indeed, would Jews or Muslims. His argument, by his own admission, has nothing to say about an eternal God. It is entirely beside the point. Dawkins should shelve it on the shelf marked ‘Celestial Teapots’ where it belongs.
For the God who created and upholds the universe was not created — he is eternal. He was not ‘made’ and therefore subject to the laws that science discovered; it was he who made the universe with its laws. Indeed, that fact constitutes the fundamental distinction between God and the universe. The universe came to be, God did not.
The William Lane Craig quote is from Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition, p. 193.
The long quote from Lennox is from the 2009 edition of God’s Undertaker, pp. 182-183.
|The following item was originally posted in November 2010, 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.
Yesterday, I wrote about a new advertising campaign from Answers in Genesis. In this present entry, I’ll take a look again at an advertising campaign sponsored by the American Humanist Association. I have done a little editing to improve the article.
The American Humanist Association is launching an ad campaign [in 2010], urging us all to “Consider Humanism.” I can summarize the logic of their ad campaign with one word: Nonsense!
This campaign uses a familiar atheist technique: Focus on the evils done in the name of religion; ignore the evils done by atheists.
The graphics I’ve seen have this format:
- What some believe — a verse from the Bible or Koran urging some repugnant thing, such as slaughtering, hating, oppressing, and so forth.
- What humanists think — a quote from some “enlightened” atheist showing how far we’ve come from the barbaric days of the Bible and Koran.
Note that religious people just “believe” something, whereas humanists/atheists “think.”
I am not a Muslim, obviously, so I’ll leave it to Muslims to defend themselves against the humanists.
There is a good, well-thought-out answer—yes, we Christians know how to think—for each of the accusations that the humanist ad campaign levels against Christianity. Consider the following ad:
This one is rather silly. Does any Christian really think that Jesus, in this passage, was telling us to hate anyone? Jesus was clearly using hyperbole, as we are told over and over to love one another, and even to love our enemies. Jesus wants our love for him to be so great that all other loves—including our love for ourselves—pales in comparison.
I’ll take Katharine Hepburn’s word for it, that she believes (that must have been a typo on the humanists’ part) that we should be kind to one another. I have to wonder, however, whether that belief comes from the Anglo-Saxon side of her cultural heritage, or from the Christian side.
The Bible paints things as they really are. The people of Samaria (the northern ten tribes of Israel) had adopted a religious system from the surrounding nations—including worship of Baal and Molech— that included ritual prostitution (probably involuntary for many of the prostitutes), human sacrifice, mutilation, and incest. The humanists seem to think that God was being rather harsh in sending judgment on all of this, but most of us can discern that something is horribly wrong in a religious system that encourages ritual sacrifice of children.
Albert Einstein may have been guilty of exactly what he said he opposed. He could not imagine a God who punishes, saying this is “but a reflection of human frailty.” But then isn’t the God whom he could imagine one modeled after Einstein’s own thoughts in some way?
It wouldn’t be fair for me to pick out the easiest ads—and I think the first two I mentioned were incredibly easy to answer—so I’ll go for what I think is the most difficult:
I’ll start with the atheist/humanist solution that is proposed, and then get to a Christian response.
First, I applaud those who work towards peace, whether they be humanist, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Christian. I am not opposed to international efforts to prevent genocide.
Having said this, I wouldn’t trust atheists (whether they call themselves “atheists” or “humanists”) to run an international organization that would “adjudicate and enforce measures to punish acts of genocide.” The atheist track record in the past century is one of massive genocide (Stalin, Mao, etc.), and it would be easy for them (or any other group) to start favoring one side over the other in a conflict. Human nature has embedded within it characteristics such as greed, fear, and aggression, and too much power in the hands of one group always ends up in disaster. Christianity recognizes this. Most humanists, on the other hand, put too much trust in the ever-elusive perfectibility of the human species.
Genocide is quite simply wrong. I can say that as a Christian who believes in objective morality. I believe that the atheists/humanists ultimately have no absolute reason for saying it is wrong—right and wrong are at best social constructions to them—but I take them at their word that they really do believe for some reason that genocide is wrong.
Genocide certainly goes against all of the ethical teachings in the New Testament, and most of the ethical teachings of the Old Testament. But what about instances in the Old Testament where God told his people to fight wars, and to wipe out every man, woman, and child? This is a legitimate issue to raise, as mass extermination of humans—the holocaust, and the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia—is a great evil. From a Christian perspective, it is good to keep the following in mind:
- God is the maker and ruler of all. He has the absolute right of ownership over all peoples. If he judges an individual or a whole tribe before the final judgement, he is within his rights to do so.
- The Canaanites were exceedingly wicked: human sacrifice and so forth. God could have judged them by sending a plague or famine, but in this case he used an army.
- All are sinners and deserving of God’s judgment. This goes for everyone from Adolf Hitler to Mother Theresa. The judgment on the Canaanites is therefore a brief picture of what all sinners deserve.
- The commands given in the Old Testament for military campaigns were extremely limited in their scope. These commands were for the conquest of Canaan, and not given as a general command for how Israel should interact with its neighbors.
- God is just. The same severe penalty given to the Canaanites (destruction) was later mandated for Israelites who followed false Gods (see what I wrote about the judgment on the Israelites in Samaria up above).
- Grace was shown to repentant Canaanites, such as Rahab and her family.
- We now advance the Kingdom of God through acts of love and proclamation of Christ.
This is an answer that I find satisfactory. Genocide is evil, and there is nothing in the Bible to justify it or even to suggest that it is an acceptable action for us to engage in.
If you are a Christian, do not be duped by the “logic” and “reason” of the atheists in their ad campaign. Their arguments are not as reasonable and logical as they make them out to be.
If you are a humanist/atheist, I urge you to consider Christianity as a better explanation for the world and human nature, including morality and ethics. This ad campaign by the American Humanist Association was downright silly, and demonstrated that their rejection of Christianity has an irrational side to it. Christianity, in contrast to atheism, offers a solid foundation for both reason and morality.
Grace and Peace
Skeptics and atheists like to present their side as that of reason, and the religious side as that of faith. But it just isn’t so. It is, in fact, quite reasonable to believe that there is a God who is is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused, and incredibly powerful.
One of the most convincing arguments for the existence of God is the cosmological argument. One form of this argument goes like this:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
This “Kalam” cosmological argument is summarized in a video from Reasonable Faith:
Being that the conclusion (#3) follows logically from the premises (#1 and #2), skeptics try to show that either of the two premises are invalid. In other words, they attempt to demonstrate that something can begin to exist without being caused to exist by something else, or that the universe did not begin to exist; that it has in some sense existed forever. But the evidence from the real world tells us that the premises are true statements.
Everything we know about the universe tells us that premise #1 is valid. Things do not pop into existence out of nothing; we call that magic, not science. I can already hear the skeptics snickering and saying, “that ignorant GeoChristian guy doesn’t even know about quantum theory, which allows particles to come into existence from nothing.” But I am right and the skeptics are wrong, because quantum particles do not materialize into existence from absolute nothingness Those particles emerge from a quantum vacuum, which is the lowest possible quantum energy state, but not nothing. In addition, the particles can only come into existence because there are laws that allow them to, and those laws are part of the cause. Skeptics cannot point to a single phenomenon in nature that would invalidate premise #1.
Everything we know about the universe tells us that premise #2 is valid. Many things point to the universe having come into existence at a distinct point of time in the finite past, such as the second law of thermodynamics, the finite size of the universe, and the expansion of the universe.
If the premises are valid, the conclusion is valid: something outside of the universe caused the universe to exist. That something, to a Christian or other theist, is God.
What is more likely:
1. A universe that was caused to exist by something material but eternal (or timeless) and non-thermodynamic (as in not having to obey the laws of thermodynamics),
2. A universe that was caused by something immaterial and outside of itself, that is a God who is uncaused, eternal (or timeless), and powerful?
Grace and Peace
One cannot have a complete biblical doctrine of creation without incorporating what one believes about the future of creation. Some Christians believe in the utter annihilation of the present world when Christ returns; that God will completely destroy Earth before establishing the eternal order. This doctrine can, unfortunately, lead to what some have called “disposable earth theology.” In the perspective of some Christians, it really doesn’t matter what happens to planet Earth because it is going to be destroyed anyway.
I believe the disposable earth teaching is biblically wrong for a number of reasons. It is more gnostic than Christian in that it teaches that only what is “spiritual” goes on to eternity, while everything physical gets wiped out. It is more biblical to say that there is a good amount of continuity between the present world and the eternal world. For example, our bodies will somehow be changed when we are resurrected, but we will still be ourselves. I will still be recognizable as Kevin Nelstead, though with some much-needed improvements. Likewise, planet Earth will still be planet Earth.
Two talented men in my local church have started producing a web tv program called Dead Reckoning TV, which I highly recommend. In episode 17 for their first year, Dr. Brian Mattson and Jay Friesen focus on the future aspect of the doctrine of creation and how that should effect our day-to-day living in the present age. For the core part of his argument, Dr. Mattson states:
When you have a robust doctrine of creation in your Christianity, when you realize that the God who made all things good is restoring this good world that’s been corrupted and destroyed by sin, it’s actually quite impossible to be so heavenly-minded you’re no earthly good. You know, our eternal hope of the new heavens and the new earth empowers—is the engine that drives—our current living. In Romans chapter 8, which is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, when Paul talks about how our present sufferings aren’t worth being compared to the glory that is going to be revealed in us; it is in that very context, when he is talking about future glory and the liberation of creation that he talks about us presently having the resurrection spirit so that we don’t follow the old way of doing things, we follow the new way of doing things. The kingdom of God, by the Holy Spirit, is breaking into the world as it is right now, and enabling us not to be slaves of sin but to be slaves of righteousness. It’s that future day; it’s that next world that is actually empowering us in the present world.
You know, the idea of a new creation—not going to heaven, not life after death like I said a couple episodes ago, but life after life after death, the restoration of all things, the new heavens and the new earth, as the Bible puts it—it means that the present world matters. I mean, think about that, a renewed creation means that creation matters. It’s not an ejection seat, we’re not just piling into a lifeboat to bail out of this place. God still loves his world, it’s the world he made. A renewed creation means creation matters. How can we be “heavenly minded and no earthly good” if that’s true?
I encourage you to watch the entire episode: Ep. 17: Making All Things New. The Future.
ANOTHER REASON WHY GOING TO COLLEGE INCREASES YOUR CHANCES OF RETAINING YOUR CHRISTIAN FAITH — A couple weeks ago I reported on a study that showed that going to college, even a secular state university, actually increases one’s chances of keeping one’s Christian faith (see Staying Christian at the university). The Gospel Coalition suggested three reasons why this might be so (the presence of Christian organizations such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ; intellectual relativism, and more Christian faculty members than in the past). I proposed a fourth reason based on my own experience: A Christian at the secular university is forced to think through challenges to his or her faith. Dr. Jay Wile, on his Proslogion blog, suggests another reason why having a college education tends to correlate with perseverance in one’s faith:
The vast majority of intellectual and scientific data support a belief in a personal God. Thus, it is not surprising to me that the more people learn, the more likely they are to remain engaged in their faith!
Jay makes an excellent point—Students tend to keep their Christian faith because they discover that the Christian faith is indeed true!
CHRISTIANITY — ROOTED IN REAL HISTORY — C. Michael Patton writes about how Christianity is based on events that happened in history in a way that other religions, such as Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even atheism, are not. Read about it on Parchment & Pen Blog: Christianity, the World’s Most Falsifiable Religion.
A SECULARIST ARGUMENT FOR THE PRO-LIFE POSITION — From Stand to Reason Blog: No Stable Rights without Intrinsic Human Value.
How is [being pro-life] “religious” when there are millions of pro-lifers in the United States with no religion? It can’t just be because there are religious folks who agree with us; most religious people also agree that human trafficking is immoral, but we don’t call human trafficking a religious issue.
Hazzard recognizes that human value and rights are objectively real, and she can argue for them by appealing to our moral intuition (see here, for example), but not by appealing to science. Universal human rights depend on a shared human nature and intrinsic human value, which can’t be verified scientifically because the scientific method is not capable of detecting things like intrinsic value. Unfortunately, in a society infected by scientism, people have all the wiggle room they need to illegitimately dismiss a scientifically unmeasurable idea they disagree with from the public square by labeling it “religious,” since they can count on our culture interpreting that to mean “a subjective matter of preference.”
NESSIE NO LONGER SWIMS IN YEC TEXTBOOK — From The Christian Post: Christian Publisher Removes Loch Ness Monster From Biology Textbook. But according to Answers in Genesis official Mark Looy, there are still plenty of other good candidates for dinosaurs in historical records, such as the dragon in Beowulf. I’ll stick with my position that there are no dinosaurs in the Bible, and there is no evidence that dinosaurs and humans ever coexisted.
HT: InternetMonk: Saturday Ramblings.
Grace and peace
Does going to a secular college drive students away from Christian faith? According to one study, the answer is a solid “No.” See FactChecker: Does College Cause Young Adults to Lose Their Faith? on The Gospel Coalition blog.
Among recently surveyed college students, 2.7 times more report that their religious beliefs have strengthened during their college experience than say their beliefs weakened.
My own faith was greatly strengthened as I went through college and graduate school, and I know a number of people who had the same experience. The Gospel Coalition article gives three potential reasons why many students have their faith strengthened while at secular colleges and universities:
1) The increase in presence and effectiveness of campus-based ministries like Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, and Young Life.
2) The increase of relativism and the decline of strict scientism, which allows for discussion of faith and spiritual speculation, similar to what Paul experienced at the Aeropagus.
3) An increase in committed evangelical and Catholic faculty at secular universities in America who can serve as an encouragement and balance for Christian students.
I would suggest a fourth reason: Christian students at secular universities have interacted with non-Christians and their ideas, and have had to work through issues in the real world rather than in the insulated environment of a Christian university. For many Christian students, facing these challenges has strengthened their faith.
I am curious as to how Christian students who attend secular universities compare in the long run to those who attend rigidly young-Earth schools, such as those listed on Answers in Genesis’ Creation Colleges page.
Grace and Peace
P.S. One of my children graduated from a fine Christian college a year ago (Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia), and has a good foundation for a lifetime of faith and service. Two of my children are currently attending a state university, and are growing in their Christian faith in many ways that didn’t occur in the home or in youth group in high school. Both are active in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
Around the web 7/13/2013 — No response on salt magma hypothesis, nature deficit disorder, thou shalt not criticize Ken Ham, and more
It has been a while time since my last “Around the web” post, and I have bookmarked more articles than I can reasonably make brief comments on. Here are a few…
THE DEATH OF GOOGLE READER — Since the untimely demise of Google Reader a couple weeks ago, I haven’t been keeping up on the fifty or so blogs I followed somewhat regularly. Somehow I have survived. I will have to choose a new RSS agreggator. Any suggestions for one that works somewhat like Google Reader did?
SEASONED WITH SALT — A few months ago I blogged about the latest failed young-Earth creationist attempt to explain evaporite deposits (such as halite, or rock salt): A young-Earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporites. This “salt magma” hypothesis was being promoted on Tas Walker’s Biblical Geology Blog. I was hoping for some sort of response from the YECs, so I placed a comment on Walker’s blog post:
It has been almost two months, so either my critique was devastating and unanswerable, or not even worthy of a response. Or Tas might just have gotten behind on his blog responses, which I have been guilty of far too often.
NATURE DEFICIT DISORDER — Anyone who cares about the environment should be concerned about what author Richard Louv called the “nature-deficit disorder” in his 2008 book Last Child in the Woods. Al Mohler has a good summary of the book: Nature Deficit Disorder — Is Your Child at Risk? Mohler concludes with:
Last Child in the Woods is a fascinating book, though at times, Louv leans toward a form of nature mysticism. Nevertheless, Christians will read this book to great profit, remembering that the biblical worldview presents an affirmation of the goodness of creation. After all, Christians know that every atom and molecule of creation testifies of the glory of God.
This is our Father’s world, and we would do well to receive this world and enjoy it, while giving praise and glory to God for the beauty and bounty it contains. We understand that nature is not an end to itself, and we affirm that the creation exists as the theater of God’s glory for the drama of redemption. All this should help Christians to remember that we honor God most faithfully when we receive His good gifts most gratefully.
Christians should take the lead in reconnecting with nature and disconnecting from machines. Taking the kids for a long walk in the woods would be a great start.
KEN HAM AND SONLIGHT CURRICULUM — We homeschooled our children in their early elementary years, and used a lot of material from the excellent company Sonlight Curriculum. A co-founder of Sonlight had the nerve to criticize Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham for his if-you-don’t-agree-with-Ham-you-are-a-compromiser approach to Christian ministry. I guess he didn’t know that Thou Shalt Not Criticize Ken Ham.
John Holzmann of Sonlight: The conservative (evangelical/fundamentalist) Christian homeschool pope
John Holzman has apologized to Ken Ham for using the phrase “Pope Ham.” I would like to see Ken Ham apologize for his divisive my-way-or-the-highway attitude that causes many of his followers to look at old-Earth Christians as compromisers at best and not Christians at all at the worst.
CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE ENVIRONMENTALISTS — Matthew Tuininga at the Christian in America blog asks the question: Should Christians Be Environmentalists? The answer, of course, is “yes.” But you would never know it from the anti-environmental political positions taken by many Christians and the politicians they support. Tuininga writes:
If there is any area in which a rapprochement would be for the benefit of all, this is it. Eliminating the left’s grip on the environmental movement, and especially on government bureaucracies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), would give it more credibility among the American public, and broaden its influence. It would mitigate the statist impulse that so often informs its political campaigns by encouraging the sort of market oriented strategies that often work best. It would curb conservatives’ tendency to oppose environmental regulation in the name of free enterprise no matter how necessary that regulation in a particular case might be. In short, it would help liberals and conservatives alike to see that Christianity, care for the environment, and commitment to a free market economy need not be, and never should have been, rivals in a zero-sum game.
ZOOMING IN ON PLUTO — The New Horizons probe is still 550 million miles from Pluto, which it will fly by two years from tomorrow (on July 14, 2015), but its cameras are already aimed at the dwarf planet and its moons: NASA Spacecraft Photographs Pluto’s Largest Moon Charon. I have been excited about this mission since it was launched in 2006, back when Pluto was still a planet.
A NATIONAL PARK ON THE MOON? — There is a proposal in Congress to create a National Historical Park on the moon to commemorate and protect the six Apollo landing sites: Moon Bill Would Create National Park to Protect Apollo Landing Sites. Given the historical significance of these sites, I think this is a good idea, even though the sites are not in the sovereign territories of the United States. However, given human nature, I predict that artifacts at these sites will be disturbed and/or stolen by the end of this century.
THE RAT ON MARS — In case you missed it, this may have been a bigger cover-up than the Face on Mars. NASA has completely ignored clear evidence of mammalian life on Mars: Curiosity Rover leaving ‘Mars rat’ behind.
NOT A GOOD TIME TO BE A CHRISTIAN IN THE MIDDLE EAST — For obvious reasons, Christians in countries such as Egypt and Syria tend to be wary of “Islamist” governments. The Islamist response tends to be rather harsh: Egypt’s Christians face backlash for Morsi ouster.
Grace and Peace
Some day, however, I will be dead. I’ll be under a tombstone, providing nutrients for worms and soil bacteria. But as a Christian, I believe that my death will not be the end of my existence.
The Christian hope is for physical resurrection in a real body in a real physical realm—the New Earth. Just as Christ rose from the dead in glory with a real body—he ate real food and invited Thomas to touch his wounds—so also will we be given a new body that will be freed from the corruption that characterizes our current existence.
The biblical picture of the resurrection is not one of disembodied spirits floating in the clouds playing harps. This ethereal existence is what many people picture as “eternal life,” but it is not found in the Bible. The Bible does not portray us going up to “heaven” as much as it paints a picture of heaven coming down to Earth. At that point, God’s people will experience the oft-repeated Old Testament promise that “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Lev 26:12 ESV). I look forward to that day with joyful anticipation.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. — John 11:25-26 ESV
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” — Revelation 21:1-5 ESV
Grace and Peace
The Noah’s Ark theme park being built by Answers in Genesis gets lots of publicity, but it is only one of a number of Noah’s Ark projects in progress around the world. Christianity Today reports on eight such projects: A Flood of Arks.
If you were to build a Noah’s Ark attraction, what would you include?
I think I would try to build mine out of “gopher barky barky.”
Grace and Peace
The June 2013 issue of Acts & Facts magazine from the Institute for Creation Research has a two-page article on the fossils of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. “The La Brea Tar Pits Mystery” was written by Dr. John Morris, president of ICR, and Dr. Timothy Clarey, ICR’s new staff geologist.
The article correctly states that some paleontologists have moved away from the simple “animals got stuck in the tar when they stopped for a drink of water” interpretation of the La Brea tar pits. It appears that at least some of the fossils were washed downstream from the nearby Santa Monica Mountains and became trapped in the tar. Morris and Clarey make an unjustified extrapolation from this, and claim that all of the fossils must have been transported to the La Brea site from elsewhere.
Morris and Clarey believe that the La Brea Tar Pits and their enclosing sediments were formed after Noah’s flood. In their flood geology model, Noah’s flood deposited the bulk of Earth’s rock record, but most deposits that geologists would consider to be of Quaternary age (i.e. the Ice Ages) were deposited in a period of a few hundred years after Noah’s flood. This is sometimes referred to as “residual catastrophism.” Morris and Clarey describe the formation of the La Brea fossil deposits as follows:
Large flooding events (sometime after the Great Flood) could have swept the animals into the tar pit openings and deposited the bones in tight, jumbled masses. Biblical scientists have reinterpreted the fossil deposits as a consequence of closely spaced, catastrophic flood events that likely occurred in the waning of the post-Flood Ice Age. The immediate post-Flood years were likely chaotic and more geologically active than today as the earth’s surface recovered from the catastrophic activity of the Flood.
There are a number of problems with the residual catastrophism model as it relates to La Brea. Here are just a few:
- Soil formation — Soils do not form overnight, and plants need soil. The La Brea flora comes from mature forest ecosystems, and the large herbivores were dependent on abundant vegetation. In the YEC residual catastrophism scenario, soil would have had to form very rapidly, but this process would have been impeded either by high rates of erosion or high rates of deposition.
- Ecological succession — This is related to the problem of soil formation. Ecological succession is the process of development of an ecosystem over time. If one started with bare rock or sediment after the flood, there would have had to have been a succession of communities that inhabited the area over time, starting with pioneer species that could live on the barren surface, such as lichens, mosses, and insects. Over time there might have been communities dominated by grasses, brush, and eventually a variety of forest types. In the YEC scenario, this would have had to occur very quickly, leading up to mature flora capable of supporting the animal community. Post-flood residual catastrophism suffers from the same problem as the rest of YEC geology: too many events, too little time.
- Migration — The mammal and bird fossils of La Brea would have had to migrate from Ararat (in modern-day Turkey) and become well-established in the Los Angeles area in a very short time. This is part of the broader biogeographical problem of YEC — kangaroos all migrated to Australia (exactly where kangaroo fossils were deposited by the flood) and didn’t leave any stragglers behind, African animals all migrated to Africa, western North American animals (again, as evidenced in the fossil record) all knew to migrate to western North America, and so forth.
- Sedimentation — All of this migration and fossilization happened while residual catastrophism was occurring, which in many places meant the deposition of many hundreds of meters of sediments!
In the second-to-last paragraph, the YEC explanation for the La Brea fossils goes from bad to worse:
Uplift of the nearby Santa Monica Mountains and associated earthquakes could have instantly changed river directions and the levels of the land surface, setting local floods in motion. Rapid melting of the glaciers at the end of the Ice Age could have also contributed catastrophic outpourings of floodwaters from the mountains, depositing animal remains in the process. Close-spaced catastrophic events likely continued until Earth reached the relatively stable balance we now experience.
I was quite surprised to see the authors propose that melting of glaciers could have contributed to the formation of the sediments of La Brea. The sediments of these deposits were clearly derived from the nearby Santa Monica Mountains, which in that area presently do not exceed 1500 feet (460 m) in elevation. There is absolutely zero evidence that the Santa Monica Mountains were ever glaciated. A few small glaciers may have existed above 10,000 feet (3050 m) in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains during the Pleistocene, but it needs to be emphasized that these were small glaciers, and that the sediments of La Brea did not come from these ranges.
The authors conclude with a typical YEC overstatement:
The better explanation for the fossils in the La Brea tar pits matches perfectly with the biblical perspective of recent creation.
The authors have certainly not demonstrated that their residual catastrophism model can explain the La Brea fossil assemblages or their enclosing sediments. Like much of what is presented by the YECs, it is not necessary biblically, nor valid scientifically.
Grace and Peace
In 2012, I reviewed a previous Acts & Facts article by Morris: Young-Earth creationism and the intensity of volcanism. Morris tried to show that the intensity of volcanism has been decreasing ever since the flood, but he did so through choosing eruptions that matched his premise, and then ignoring many thousands of other eruptions.
Also in 2012, I got involved in a discussion about the La Brea Tar Pits with young-Earth creationist Jay Wile on his Proslogion blog. Dr. Wile was advocating for the La Brea Tar Pits being formed during Noah’s flood rather than after the deluge, while I gave a number of reasons why neither the flood explanation nor the post-flood explanation worked. See A Large, Detailed Study Confirms Another Failed Evolutionary Prediction.
Yesterday on the Answers in Genesis website, Ken Ham encouraged people to take “the dinosaur quiz” and to let him know on his Facebook page how we have used this quiz to help “rescue our kids.” I guess I took him seriously, so I posted a comment on his Facebook page:
This morning, my comment was gone.
I am sure Answers in Genesis has to delete many comments from their Facebook page — obscenity, mocking, false accusations, and so forth. My comment was certainly in none of those categories. Nor was it self-promotion; there are plenty of other comments pointing people to YEC websites.
I guess AiG does not want respectful dialog. Perhaps they do not want their flock to see alternative biblical answers in Genesis from someone else who believes the Bible from the very first verse.
Grace and Peace (especially to all my young-Earth creationist brothers and sisters in Christ)
P.S. I previously wrote about the dinosaur quiz here: More on the Answers in Genesis 4th grade dinosaur quiz.
I’m doing a little house cleaning on The GeoChristian. I’ve updated the “Book Recommendations” section on the sidebar, and here they are:
|The ESV Study Bible is the most comprehensive, theologically conservative study Bible on the market. Whether you are looking for historical backgrounds, maps, various viewpoints, commentary, or help with difficult passages, the ESV Study Bible is an excellent tool.
The ESV Study Bible offers a balanced view on origins issues, such as the age of the Earth or the extent of Noah’s flood. As such, this would be an excellent gift to give to your young-Earth creationist friend or family member. More than any other book, this one might help them to see that one can be a faithful Christian without being committed to the bad science and questionable Biblical interpretations of the young-Earth creationist movement.
Amazon — available in many editions, ranging from a paperback for $19, to various leather-bound editions costing as much as $230.
Crossway — buy direct from the publisher and they get a larger slice of the pie.
| The Reason for God by Timothy Keller is the best book on apologetics (defense of the Christian faith) available for a general audience today. Some have said that The Reason for God is the 21st century’s equivalent of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. That might be true.
Like most leading Christian apologists, whether at the popular or higher levels, Keller does not include young-Earth creationism as part of his message. Why not? Because Keller recognizes that YEC is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible.
| Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, by C. John Collins.An excellent commentary on the opening chapters of Genesis by a respected Old Testament scholar who holds to Biblical inerrancy. Collins is a leading advocate of the “analogical days” interpretation of Genesis 1. This book might be a difficult read for some, but most should be able to grasp the concepts with some work. Knowledge of Hebrew is not required.
I wish he would write a commentary extending this work through Genesis 11.
|Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, by John Lennox, is a short book but is packed with good stuff. This is the book I would give to someone who wants an overview of origins issues and how they relate to the Bible.|
|The Bible, Rocks and Time, by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley, gives an overview of the historical development of Christian views on geology and time, and an in depth look at why geologists (including most Christian geologists) believe the Earth is billions of years old.|
|Pollution and the Death of Man may be Francis Schaeffer’s most neglected work. Evangelicals love his other books, but have ignored Schaeffer’s warning that the ecological problems facing our society are real, and that Christians have been and continue to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. But he also makes a strong case that Christian theology can provide a stronger foundation for care for our environment than either pantheism or secularism.
If you read only one book on why Christians should care about nature, this should be it. I have written a review here.
|For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Prediger-Bouma provides a comprehensive “Christian vision for creation care.” Rather than being a book on “how to be green,” this book faces a number of Biblical and theological problems head on, laying a strong Biblical foundation for creation care.
I have written a summary of the first edition of the book here.
|I’ve read a number of books on “social justice” (because I want a world where the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants matter), but Generous Justice by Timothy Keller is the best by far. It calls us to serve, but doesn’t confuse serving with the gospel. It has plenty to make both political conservatives and liberals uncomfortable.|
Grace and Peace