Today, February 4, 2015, marks the one-year anniversary of the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye “Is creation a viable model of origins?” debate. After the debate, I wrote a post-debate analysis, in which I pointed out that both speakers made some valid points, and both speakers made some blunders.
Ken Ham believes that the Bible requires us to hold to a young Earth, and so he goes about looking for scientific evidence to back up his interpretation. Bill Nye also believes that the Bible teaches a young Earth, and he rejects Christianity.
Both speakers acknowledged that there are Christians and other religious people who hold to some sort of middle ground. I am in that middle ground: I am a Christian who believes the Bible does not set a date for the original creation, and I believe God may have used processes (e.g. biological evolution) to some degree to accomplish his creation objectives.
But what if there were only two choices? What if our only two options really were “young Earth creationism” or “naturalistic cosmological and biological evolution?” Which way would I go?
For me, the choice would be fairly straight-forward. My readers all know that I think young Earth creationism is a complete failure scientifically. Neither its arguments for a young Earth, nor its arguments for Noah’s flood being responsible for most of Earth’s geological features, hold any credibility.
So if given only two choices–young Earth creationism, or atheistic naturalism–I would unhesitatingly pick…
Young Earth creationism.
Because what I would have to believe in order to be an atheist is even more out of touch with reality than is young Earth creationism.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,”
is much more credible than
“The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be,”
“In the beginning nothing created everything.”
I find the classic arguments for the existence of God, such as the cosmological argument and the moral argument, to be compelling. Young-Earth creationism functions within a universe that could really exist. Atheism does not. This universe runs by laws–natural and moral–that came from somewhere. Atheism functions in a universe that is run by laws, but has no explanation for where the universe/multiverse, along with its laws, came from.
Fortunately, I don’t have to choose either Ken Ham’s way, or Bill Nye’s way. The Bible does not require a young Earth. Science does not demand naturalism.
Grace and Peace
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1
“The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” — Carl Sagan
“In the beginning nothing created everything.” — Not a quote from an atheist that I know of, but a good summary of one of the very few options open to atheists. The only other option I can think of is that the universe/multiverse is itself eternal, which doesn’t answer the basic question of “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
Just a reminder: The GeoChristian is now on FaceBook:
Justin Taylor is senior vice president of Crossway Books, a theologically conservative Christian publishing company. Crossway is best known as the publisher of the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible, along with the ESV Study Bible, perhaps the most comprehensive theologically conservative study Bible ever produced for a general Christian audience.
Justin Taylor believes the Bible. And Justin Taylor does not believe the Bible requires us to believe Earth is only roughly 6000 years old. He has outlined his reasons for believing that the Bible is silent on the issue of the age of the Earth on his blog Between Two Worlds, which is part of The Gospel Coalition‘s web site:
The arguments Taylor gives for accepting an old Earth have nothing to do with the geological column, radiometric dating, or the big bang theory. Instead, Taylor lays out a completely Biblical case for an ancient universe, mostly following the analogical days interpretation. Here are a few quotes from Taylor:
Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.
I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons—in the creation account itself—for questioning the exegesis that insists on the days as strict 24 hour periods. Am I as certain of this as I am of the resurrection of Christ? Definitely not. But in some segments of the church, I fear that we’ve built an exegetical “fence around the Torah,” fearful that if we question any aspect of young-earth dogmatics we have opened the gate to liberalism.
God is portrayed as a workman going through his workweek, working during the day and resting for the night. Then on his Sabbath, he enjoys a full and refreshing rest. Our days are like God’s workdays, but not identical to them.
How long were God’s workdays? The Bible doesn’t say. But I see no reason to insist that they were only 24 hours long.
How old is the Earth? The Bible does not say, so Christians should not dogmatically insist that it is only 6000 years old.
An important conclusion is that the age of the Earth should not act as a stumbling block to someone who is considering whether or not Christianity is true.
Grace and Peace
To be “theologically conservative” means that one holds to the inerrancy of the Holy Bible, and the core historical teachings of Christianity, as summarized by the ancient creeds of the church, such as the Trinity, deity of Christ, virgin birth, crucifixion of Christ, his resurrection and ascension, and the necessity of spiritual rebirth through Christ.
The opposite of theologically conservative is theologically liberal. Liberals usually start by denying the reliability and authority of the Bible, and end up denying many of the core doctrines of Christianity.
I only wrote 23 posts in 2014, so my readership was down a bit. That’s OK; I just have a lot of other things going on. Because of this, nine of the ten most-read posts on The GeoChristian were actually ones written in previous years.
The top ten most-read posts on the GeoChristian in 2014:
10. John Piper and the age of the Earth — a respected Evangelical pastor who is an old-Earther.
9. The stratigraphic column — not a figment of geologists’ imaginations — Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian… The rocks really are stacked in this order.
8. Creation Creeds — What I believe as an old-Earth Christian.
7. Antarctic ice cores: a window to ice age climate change — We cannot understand the present nor the future if we don’t understand the past.
6. Stegosaurus in Cambodian temple? — Humans and dinosaurs did not live together in Southeast Asia.
5. Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis — St. Augustine did not believe that Earth was created in six literal days.
4. John MacArthur on the age of the Earth and theistic evolution — I use some of John MacArthur’s commentaries in my personal Bible study, but here I point out why he is wrong on the age of the Earth and biological evolution.
3. Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 1) — The first in a six-part series, outlining why the six best YEC geological arguments for a global flood are bad answers from Answers in Genesis.
2. Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye post-debate analysis — Ken Ham and Bill Nye were both wrong about both the Bible and geology.
1. Dr. Dino still in prison — I wrote this post in 2009, and each year since then it has been the most-read post on The GeoChristian. Popular young-Earth creationist speaker Kent Hovind (who does not have a real doctorate) will be released from prison in 2015.
A few more stats:
The GeoChristian was viewed 72,889 times by 42,740 visitors in 2014. This is down from a high of 153,654 views in 2009.
There were 217 comments made on The GeoChristian in 2014.
I wrote 23 posts in 2014.
My all-time daily high for views was February 5, 2014, the day after the Ham-Nye debate. There were a total of 2,109 views on that date.
I hope that The GeoChristian was a blessing to you in 2014, and pray that I would continue to build up the body of Christ, and point non-Christians to Jesus in 2015.
Grace and Peace
I recently acquired Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J. Daryl Charles. The book gives perspectives of five highly-qualified, Evangelical Old Testament scholars on the creation accounts of Genesis:
- Richard E. Averbeck (professor of OT and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) — “A Literary Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual Reading of Genesis 1-2″
- Todd S. Beall (professor of OT at Capitol Bible Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2: A Literal Approach”
- C. John Collins (professor of OT at Covenant Theological Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2 with the Grain: Analogical Days”
- Tremper Longman III (professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) — “What Genesis 1-2 Teaches (and What it Doesn’t)”
- John H. Walton (professor of OT at Wheaton College and Graduate School) — “Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology”
Each author’s chapter includes responses from the four other authors.
In the Forward, the editor states that one of the convictions behind this book is that “conversation–indeed, even heated debate regarding contentious issues–can proceed in a charitable manner.” That is what I strive for in my writing on The GeoChristian, and I appreciate their objective.
In the Introduction, Victor, P. Hamilton begins by reminding us that “without Gen 1-2 the rest of the Bible becomes incomprehensible.” This is something that all contributors to this book, whether young-Earth or old-Earth, evolution-accepting or evolution-denying, would agree on. The opening chapters of Genesis lay foundations for a number of critical doctrines in the Bible, including humans created in the image of God, humanity’s fall into sin, and the beginning of the long story of redemption in Christ.
The Introduction also points out that the interpretation of Genesis 1-2 has been controversial throughout church history, with quotes from Origen and Augustine to back this up. He then points out some particularly important modern debates, such as the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the relationship of the Biblical creation accounts to other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts.
It is important to be reminded that all of these authors “identify fully and unapologetically with historic Christian orthodoxy and embrace wholeheartedly the basic tenets and historic creeds of the one holy catholic church.” Faithfulness to God’s Word does not require that one interpret Genesis just like only one of these authors.
The Introduction ends by laying out three responses readers might have to the book:
- Confusion — “If the scholars cannot get it all together, what am I supposed to do with Gen 1 and 2?”
- Pre-conceived conclusions — Like the essays I already agree with, and ignore the rest.
- “[A]ppreciate the differing perspectives on Gen 1-2 presented in this volume. We need to remember that a divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture does not mean that (my) interpretations of Scripture are equally divinely inspired and authoritative.”
I look forward to learning from each author, and sharing with you my thoughts as I read through this important work.
Grace and Peace
I’m not sure what gave me the urge, but I spent quite a bit of time in late November and early December commenting on young Earth creationist (YEC) Facebook pages. I limited myself to the Big Three: Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and Creation Ministries International. Here’s what I learned:
1. Answers in Genesis is the Big One of the Big Three, at least in terms of the number of “Likes” indicated on the Facebook pages.
Answers in Genesis — 312,165 likes
Institute for Creation Research — 88,678 likes
Creation Ministries International — 41,841 likes
For comparison, here are some “Like” statistics for other YEC and old-Earth Christian Facebook pages:
Biologos — 23,675 likes (Evolutionary creation/theistic evolution)
Creation Today — 11,528 likes (YEC site run by Eric Hovind, son of Kent Hovind, a.k.a. Dr. Dino)
Reasons to Believe — 10,218 likes (old-Earth creationist Hugh Ross)
Discovery Institute — 2,363 likes (Intelligent design)
2. Creation Ministries International (CMI) moderates its page constantly.
I don’t mind at all that CMI quickly removes the “creationists are morons” sort of rubbish, but they almost go to the other extreme of “No dissent allowed.” Usually when I left a comment on CMI’s Facebook page, CMI responded with something like
The articles usually did not specifically addressed the topics I raised.
3. Answers in Genesis (AiG) and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) seem to do only a minimum amount of moderating, which means that the comment threads quickly become clogged with attacks by skeptics and counter-attacks by Christians.
4. The typical YEC placing a comment on Facebook doesn’t know creationism very well, much less the “other side.” It is common to read arguments that the mainstream YEC organisations no longer use, such as arguments about moon dust or Paluxy River tracks, as well as fringe YEC arguments, such as hydroplates.
5. Kent Hovind’s imprisonment for tax evasion has not diminished his popularity among YECs. I advise my YEC friends to stick to the Big Three, as they have scientists who have weeded out the worst of the worst (although they still present some really bad science). But many rank-and-file YECs were raised on Dr. Dino videos, and think he’s the greatest apologist alive.
6. A large number of YECs continue to view old-Earth Christians as “so called Christians.” This will not change until the YEC leadership stops labeling those who accept a billions of years old Earth as “compromisers.”
7. YEC Facebook posts get thousands of “Likes” and “Shares.” YEC is alive and well in our Evangelical churches.
8. Facebook is an awful place for intelligent, polite discussion about the issues. There are several reasons for this. A) Too many hot-headed people who are eager to join the conversation. B) Too many people who don’t know what they are talking about who are eager to join the conversation.
9. Facebook is ephemeral, like a stream in the desert. Unlike a blog, there is no easy way to go back to a discussion weeks, months, or years later.
10. I need to remind myself that not all things are profitable.
11. I need to remind myself to speak the truth in love.
So what did I learn that I didn’t already know? Not too much.
Perhaps some young-Earth creationist saw that not all YEC arguments are sound.
Perhaps some young-Earth creationist saw that an old-Earth Christian can be a fellow follower of Christ and have insights into the Word.
Perhaps some skeptic saw that not all Christians accept the teachings of the YECs.
I might still occasionally comment on YEC Facebook sites. It won’t be often.
Grace and Peace
Here are some of the Facebook posts I commented on, to give you a flavor of the conversations:
CMI – A Canyon in Six Days! — YECs extrapolate from rapid erosion through unconsolidated silt to rapid excavation of the Grand Canyon during Noah’s flood.
AiG – Where Does the Ice Age Fit? — Squeezing the entire Quaternary and all of pre-2000 BC human history into a few hundred years is an incredible stretch. And it isn’t in the Bible. I pointed out to the AiG readers a major blunder in the article.
ICR – Job’s Icy Vocabulary — YECs try to find the Ice Age in the book of Job. But it isn’t in there.
AiG – Doesn’t Carbon-14 Dating Disprove the Bible? — If you look hard enough for C-14 in a carbon-bearing sample, it will be there. It has nothing to do with the age of the sample.
ICR – Is the Young Earth Model the Best Explanation of the Ice Age? – This conversation was brief, but drew in ICR’s geologist, Jake Hebert, as well as two other Christian geologists. Perhaps there is hope for Facebook.
ICR – The Iconic Isochron — Perhaps I killed the conversation by pointing out some very serious problems with this article on radiometric dating.
“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” — Psalm 90:4 (ESV)
Christians disagree with one another about the age of the Earth and the universe. Some Christians insist that the only possible way to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis is that Earth is only about 6000 years old, and that any other interpretation is an accommodation with atheistic naturalism. Other Christians, equally sincere in their trust in the Bible as God’s Word, have studied Genesis and come to the conclusion that the Bible is not so clear on the age of the world, and that there is room for alternative understandings.
An important principle of Biblical hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation) is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. For example, there are verses in 1 John that, if taken by themselves, make it sound like a Christian cannot sin (e.g. 1 John 3:9). Well, I still sin, so if all I knew was 1 John 3:9 I would be wallowing in despair. But if I look at other verses in 1 John, I am assured that God still loves me even though I still struggle with sin. I’m thinking of 1 John 2:1-2 in particular:
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Reading 1 John 2:1-2 helps me to understand that 1 John 3:9 is not teaching that only the perfect will be saved.
I think it is fair to say that most Bible scholars interpret Psalm 90:4 to mean that God’s perspective on time is very different than humanity’s perspective on time. God is eternal, but we quickly return to dust. God knows the end from the beginning; we see the present dimly, and can only guess at the future. A thousand years is nothing to God, but is far beyond our personal experience.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10)
My desire in this brief essay is to demonstrate that Psalm 90:4 is relevant as we seek to understand what is meant by the word “day” in Genesis 1. Does Genesis 1 require six literal, consecutive 24-hour days of creation, or is there freedom to interpret the chapter in a somewhat less literal fashion? As we look at Psalm 90:4, I ask you to consider the following points:
1. The Hebrew word used for day in Psalm 90:4 is yom, the same word that is used for day in Genesis 1. In Psalm 90:4, yom is not the daily period of light between sunrise and sunset, nor is it a roughly 24-hour period from sunset to sunset. In Psalm 90:4, yom is clearly figurative.
2. Moses was the author of both Genesis 1 and Psalm 90. The title for Psalm 90 is, “A prayer of Moses, the man of God.” This title is part of the Hebrew text, not an insertion by the English-language translators. It is clear that the word yom is used in a figurative sense in Psalm 90:4, so it is not unthinkable that Moses could write of figurative days, at least in some contexts.
3. The context of verse 4 is creation, so it is legitimate to at least consider whether or not the figurative use of yom in Psalm 90 is applicable to our understanding of the days of Genesis 1. The surrounding verses (Psalm 90:2-6) all speak of aspects of creation:
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers. (ESV)
There are several references to creation: mountains being brought forth, the formation of the earth, man being created from dust, a flood, grass growing and withering.
4. The number 1000 is used in a general sense in Psalm 90; the purpose is to show that God’s view of time is not the same as man’s view of time. It would be just as accurate to say that 1,000,000 years–or even perhaps the entire history of the universe–is as a day or a watch in the night to God.
5. God was the only witness to the events of Genesis 1, and as we have seen in Psalm 90:4, God’s time is not the same as our time.
6. Put these all together, and we get the sense that Moses–and God–is not nearly as concerned with literal 24-hour days as most young-earth creationists are.
I am aware of young-earth creationist’s (YECs) objections to this use of Psalm 90:4, so I’ll mention a few of them.
- YECs will say that the plain meaning of yom in Genesis 1 is a 24-hour day, regardless of what Psalm 90:4 says. I will answer this objection by saying that yom is used to mean something other than a 24-hour day more than once in Genesis 1-2, and it is by no means plain that the other occurences aren’t meant to be figurative. The very first use of yom in Genesis 1 is in verse 5, where it says, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” Yom in this passage means “the period of time when it is light,” not a 24-hour day. Even the “There was evening and there was morning, the nth day” phrase that is repeated for each of the six days is something other than a 24-hour day, as the Jewish “day” ran from sunset to sunset, not sunset to morning, which is only part of a 24-hour day. In addition, Genesis 2:4 uses yom in a figurative sense, where it refers to the entire creation week.
Perhaps the clincher is that the seventh day is left open-ended; there is no repeat of the “evening and morning” phrase (see Genesis 2:1-3). Hebrews 4:3-11 seems to teach that the seventh day is ongoing, and that some people enter that rest, and others do not.
- YECs also commonly object that Exodus 20:11 requires us to read the days in Genesis 1 as literal.
“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
I will reply by saying that the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1 should drive our understanding of “day” in Exodus 20:11. If day is figurative in Genesis 1, then it can be figurative in Exodus 20:11. The reason I say that is because the seventh day of creation is a pattern not only for the weekly Sabbath, but also for the Sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25. There is no need for the seventh day of creation in Genesis to be “literal” in order for it to provide a pattern for the weekly Sabbath in Exodus 20, as well as the Sabbath year and Year of Jubilee.
- A third YEC objection is that Genesis is a historical document, and so the days should be taken literally. I will counter this by saying that Genesis 1 clearly has a structure to it that is not found in other Old Testament historical narrative passages. Genesis 1 is not poetry, such as is found in Psalms or Proverbs, but it is clearly not strictly historical narrative, such as what is found in much of Genesis through 2 Chronicles. This needs to be taken into consideration when interpreting Genesis 1, but in general, YECs simply lump the chapter in with other historical narrative passages.
This does not mean that Genesis 1 is non-historical; I believe it is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. But its distinctive style, combined with other considerations, causes me to think that there is more flexibility in the passage than YECs will allow for.
In this brief essay, I certainly have not “proven” that Genesis 1 allows for a universe that is older than 6000 years. But it is clear that God’s days are not necessarily the same as our days, and this needs to be taken into consideration as we interpret the creation account given in Genesis.
Grace and Peace
All Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
I stated that Moses was the author of Genesis 1. I see no significant reason to reject Moses as the primary compiler of the Pentateuch, including Genesis, though I do not rule out minor later editing, such as the updating of place names or the inclusion of the account of Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34. Moses certainly may have worked with earlier sources, whether oral or written.
I have been a little sloppy for the sake of clarity. When I write “Genesis 1,” I really mean Genesis 1:1-2:3, which is the complete section. Genesis 1 gives the six days of creation, and Genesis 2:1-3 tells of the seventh day, the day of God’s rest.
2 Peter 3:8 is similar to Psalm 90:4 —
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
I chose to focus on Psalm 90:4 rather than 2 Peter 3:8 because Psalm 90 was written by Moses, the same person who compiled Genesis.
The “Report of the Creation Study Committee” (Presbyterian Church in America) gives a good summary of various viewpoints on creation: http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.html
The various YEC ministries all have web pages about the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1:
When they mention Psalm 90:4 or 2 Peter 3:8, they tend to brush these verses off as being irrelevant to Genesis 1.
One of the best current blogs on the topics of geology, young-Earth creationism, and Christianity is Age of Rocks, written by Jonathan Baker. Today he published his 100th post, and commemorated that milestone with a fantastic article: 100 Reasons the Earth is Old. I liked all 100 reasons, and think he could follow this up with 500 reasons the Earth is old when he hits his 500th post. Here are five of my favorite reasons from his list:
6. There is no radiocarbon in old samples, despite claims to the contrary. Geologically old samples of coal, diamonds, and graphite, for example, yield finite radiocarbon ages that are consistent with the expected level of contamination invariably introduced during sample collection and preparation.
15. Quaternary deposits and landscapes are far too complicated to have accumulated in the ~4,500 years following the Flood. Everywhere we look on Earth, we truly find evidence for ~2 million years worth of processes, whether at high latitudes (where we find evidence for repeated glaciations and deglaciations, separated by warm intervals) or in the tropics (where we find thick desert dune sequences alternating with humid intervals) or in the oceans (where 2 million+ years of Milankovitch cycles are recorded in only a few meters of silt and clay) or in the high mountains (where alpine valleys have been carved out by rivers or glaciers, then infilled by coarse sediment, then eroded again, etc.). Flood geologists unanimously assert that the Quaternary period represents the ‘post-Flood’ era, but there is good reasons that conventional geologists ascribe a much longer age: 2.6 million years.
26. Volcanic ash beds (sedimentary tuff), frequently used to date sedimentary rock layers, were mainly deposited in dry conditions. Geologists can distinguish between ash layers that settled in ocean basins (marine tephra) and those that fell over dry land (air fall deposits). When volcanic ash is deposited in flowing water, it produces yet different features identifiable in outcrops, such as grain sorting and lamination. Therefore, not a few volcanic ashes in sedimentary strata contradict the Flood geology scenario, especially because these ash falls take time to accumulate from the air and harden to the point that water-lain sediments can be deposited on top without compromising the structure of the soft ash.
27. The geologic column is no remnant of an ancient flood deposit, global or not. Fine details, in the form of thin layers of alternating clay and limestone, or irregular sand deposits that resemble modern river channels, defy catastrophic explanation, which explains why catastrophism has long been abandoned by research geologists.
29. The distribution of sedimentary rocks is weighted to heavily over the continents, which is the opposite of what we’d expect in a global flood. Floods move sediments from high elevation to low elevation, depositing them in sedimentary basins. During the Flood, the oceans would have constituted the largest and deepest basins, but most sediments remained on elevated continents. How did this happen? Did the laws of physics stop working?
Note that I picked my top five from the first 29; there were just so many good old-Earth evidences to choose from. I could have selected all 100 reasons from the list of 100 reasons!
An equally important list would be top reasons why the Bible does not require anything like young-Earth creationism. A few of Jonathan Baker’s thoughts on the Bible and science can be found on his Theology/Scripture tab.
Grace and Peace
#26 was near and dear to my heart, as my Master’s degree research involved a study of Quaternary volcanic ash deposits in eastern Washington.
I’ll break out of my semi-monastic lifestyle for a few moments to pass on some good GeoChristian kinds of links…
Old-Earth Classical Christian Middle School Earth Science Textbook — Novare Science and Math, a relatively new Christian curriculum publisher, has announced that they will publish an old-Earth middle school Earth science textbook in time for the 2015-2016 school year. Does anyone want to guess who is writing that much-needed textbook?
Ken Ham Rejects Entering Into “Gracious Dialog” With Old-Earthers — Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and the world’s foremost promoter of young-Earth creationism, has turned down a dinner invitation from the president of BioLogos, the world’s foremost promoter of evolutionary creation (i.e., theistic evolution).
Part 1 — The invitation — Ken Ham, We Need a Better Conversation (Perhaps Over Dinner?) — BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma, concerned about the level of acrimony among Christians over the topics of evolution and the age of the Earth, invited Ken Ham to have dinner with herself and Reasons to Believe head Hugh Ross:
“All three organizations are also concerned about the departure of young people from the church over origins issues. Each tends to think that the positions of the others are contributing to the problem! But studies have shown that it is the acrimony over this issue that drives young people away. We respect the commitment that Reasons to Believe has demonstrated to gracious dialogue with those of other positions. We completely agree with Hugh Ross that “If we Christians can resolve this issue in a peaceful way it’s going to attract non-Christians to enter into dialogue with us. But if we continue to fight…it turns them off.” Perhaps Ken Ham could join Hugh Ross and me for a friendly conversation over dinner? My treat.”
Part 2 — The rejection — Should I Have Dinner With BioLogos? — Ken Ham compared himself to Ezekiel, warning the people of God against compromise, and Nehemiah, who refused to be distracted by the enemies of God’s people, though he added that he doesn’t consider Hugh Ross to be a personal enemy, only an enemy biblical authority.
“We at AiG are busy “rebuilding a wall.” We are equipping God’s people to defend the Christian faith, and I believe we are doing a great work for God. We are busy being “watchmen”—warning people of those who undermine the authority of the Word of God.”
Ken Ham later wrote that Answers in Genesis “will not, however, send out such a kumbaya message,” by fellowshipping with compromisers.
Part 3 — Hugh Ross responds — Ambassadors for Reconciliation — Hugh Ross is a gracious man, but is obviously disturbed by the discord sewn by those who villainize old-Earth Christians.
“One way we can help people receive our message of reconciliation with God is by modeling reconciliation among ourselves. John 13:35 says, “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” And yet, although creation beliefs hold a core position in our Christian faith (Hebrews 11:6), no other subject exposes a greater lack of love among believers. Some creationists treat fellow believers with ugly, disparaging disdain.”
“Enough is enough. There are mission fields still to be reached. How can we ask nonbelievers to dialogue with us if we cannot graciously dialogue with one another, if we treat one another as enemies? Unless we make some progress in reconciling our differences, how can we expect to help reconcile a skeptical world to Christ? We are commissioned by God to be His ambassadors. It’s time for us to start behaving as ambassadors.”
It seems strange that someone like Ken Ham can interact graciously with Christians who disagree with him on issues such as eschatology, predestination, baptism, or spiritual gifts without condemning those who disagree with him as “compromisers,” and yet when it comes to a secondary issue such as the age of the Earth (which is an issue of interpretation, not biblical authority), he cannot even have dinner with those who differ from him.
I must add that my limited personal interaction with Ken Ham has been cordial: Do Old Earthers and Young Earthers Agree On Anything?
A Hundred Inverted Smiley Faces — I had moderate success viewing today’s partial solar eclipse with a shoebox pinhole camera and by projecting the eclipse onto the patio with my binoculars. But when I walked back into the house, I was welcomed by hundreds of solar eclipse images on the floor, steps, and walls. Gaps in our horizontal blinds acted as pinhole cameras and projected a multitude of eclipse images:
Around the web 2/18/2014 — Christian scientists (that is, scientists who are Christians) refute some YEC arguments
TURNING A YEC ARGUMENT ON ITS HEAD — Young-Earth creationists like to tout soft tissues preserved in the fossil record as one of their prime evidences for a young Earth. A closely related issue is the preservation of ancient complex biomolecules, such as DNA, in the fossil record. The Natural Historian blog brilliantly turns this argument around as an evidence against young-Earth creationism: Young Earth Creationism and Ancient DNA. If Noah’s flood was global and created the fossil record (something the Bible nowhere states), and if it occurred only 4300 years ago, then preserved DNA ought to be fairly easy to find throughout the geologic column, from Cambrian through Neogene. It isn’t.
TURN IT ON ITS HEAD AGAIN! — The Natural Historian does it again: Rapid Burial Allows Preservation of a Hadrosaur Fleshy Head Comb.
Rather, what struck me about this rooster-like comb on this hadrosaur is that its existence is more of curse than a blessing for YEC apologists. How can that be? Well, where I convinced that a global flood 4 to 6 thousand years ago were responsible for all the dinosaur fossils, then I should EXPECT to find soft tissues preserved to some extent as the norm rather than the exception to the rule. Why? Because the special conditions that are required for preservation of soft tissues like those found in this hadrosaur are just the kind that should have been produced by a global flood. Combine those conditions with its having happened only a few thousand years ago and you have to ask, why don’t we find skin impressions, remains of feathers, and other impressions of large organs (like these combs) and gobs of biomolecules throughout the dinosaur fossil record?
What I am saying is that if you asked a priori what you would expect to see in the fossil record had a flood destroyed all living flesh from the face of the earth in a short period of time and deposited all those organisms in what we call the geological record? I would expect to find a majority or at least a significant number of dinosaurs to be represented as complete skeletons. I would not expect to find rampant evidence of scavenging and given the fast burial I would expect to find the impressions of many parts of their bodies not just their bones since they would have been covered with their flesh intact. Since this happened not long ago I would expect to find very abundant biomolecules, possibly even intact DNA in the material around the bones, and especially in the bones, even if cells themselves were no longer present.
As I pointed out before this is not what we find in the fossil record. We find some but not much evidence of biomolecules and few cases of soft tissue preservation even if be only the impression of where soft tissues once laid. Just look at mammoths and mastodons from the fossil record. Some of these have abundant cells, DNA, hair and sometimes cellular tissues preserved. If these biomolecules could survive for 4000 years then why shouldn’t animals killed in Noah’s flood just a few hundred years earlier not also be expected to be preserved in a similar fashion?
HOW BILL NYE WOULD HAVE RESPONDED TO HAM IF NYE WERE A GEOCHRONOLOGIST — “45 thousand-year-old fossil wood encased in 45 million-year-old basalt”: Conflict Revisited, from Questioning Answers in Genesis.
Ken Ham’s appeal to young fossil wood within old basalt may have caught Bill Nye off guard, but his claim remains unsubstantiated. The actual radiocarbon ages of this fossil wood were not reproducible by independent labs within analytical uncertainty, suggesting that contamination and/or background interference was responsible for much of the detected radiocarbon. Recent advances in AMS radiocarbon dating have focused on how to account for the fact that contamination is always introduced during sample preparation and how to correct for various kinds of background interference. Regardless, radiocarbon ages close to the practical limit of the method are always treated with some suspicion.
THE SAD STATE OF SCIENCE LITERACY — 1 in 4 Americans Apparently Unaware the Earth Orbits the Sun. I would guess that it is even worse than this, as many of those who answered correctly just flipped a coin.
Grace and Peace
Norm Geisler: “The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. It is not a test for orthodoxy.”
Norm Geisler has been a prominent defender of the Christian faith for a number of years. He is the author or coauthor of several important books on apologetics (the defense of the faith), including I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, and Christian Apologetics.
Dr. Geisler recently contributed an article to The Christian Post: Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to Believe in Young Earth Creationism? The answer, of course, is “No, one can hold to the trustworthiness of the Bible and believe it does not require a young Earth.”
Here are a few excerpts:
In order to establish the Young Earth view, one must demonstrate that there are (1) no time gaps in the biblical record and that (2) the “days” of Genesis are six successive 24-hour days of creation. Unfortunately for Young Earthers, these two premises are difficult to establish for many reasons.
So with both possible and actual demonstrable gaps in Genesis and in the genealogies, the “Closed-Chronology” view needed to support the strict Young Earth view is not there. This would mean that a Young Earth view of creation around 4000 B.C. would not be feasible. And once more gaps are admitted, then when does it cease to be a Young Earth view?
Consider the following:
(1) First, the word “day” (Hb. <em>yom</em>) is not limited to a 24-hour day in the creation record. For instance, it is used of 12 hours of light or daytime (in Gen.1:4-5a).
(2) The word “day” is also used of a whole 24-hour day in Genesis 1:5b where it speaks day and night together as a “day.”
(3) Further, in Genesis 2:4 the word “day” is used of all six days of creation when it looks back over all six days of creation and affirms: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day [yom] that the LORD God made them” (Gen. 2:4).
As for death before Adam, the Bible does not say that death of all life was a result of Adam’s sin. It only asserts that “death passed upon all men” because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added), not on all plants and animals. It only indicates that the whole creation was “subjected to futility” (i.e., to frustration-Rom. 8:20-21)
If there is evidence for Gaps in Genesis and a longer period of time involved in the six day of Genesis, then the Young Earth view fails to convincingly support its two pillars. At a minimum it leaves room for reasonable doubt. In view of this, one can ask why is it that many still cling to the Young Earth view with such tenacity as to make it a virtual test for orthodoxy?
There is no air-tight case for a Young Earth view from a biblical point of view. So while a Young Earth may be compatible with inerrancy, nonetheless, inerrancy does not necessitate a belief in a Young Earth.
[Young-Earth creationism] was not even granted an important doctrinal status by the historic Fundamentalists (c. 1900) who stressed the inerrancy of Scripture. That is, it was not accepted or embraced by the Old Princetonians like B. B.Warfield, Charles Hodge, or J. Gresham Machen who also held strongly to inerrancy.
[The] founders and framers of the contemporary inerrancy movement (ICBI) of the 1970s and 80s explicitly rejected the Young Earth view as being essential to belief in inerrancy. They discussed it and voted against making it a part of what they believed inerrancy entailed, even though they believed in creation, the “literal” historical-grammatical view of interpreting the Bible, a literal Adam, and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. Given this history of the Young Earth view, one is surprised at the zeal by which some Young Earthers are making their position a virtual test for evangelical orthodoxy.
If the Young Earth view is true, then so be it. Let us not forbid the biblical and scientific evidence be offered to support it. Meanwhile, to make it a tacit test for orthodoxy will serve to undermine the faith of many who so closely tie it to orthodoxy that they will have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, should they ever become convinced the earth is old. One should never tie his faith to how old the earth is.
Some Concluding Comments
After seriously pondering these questions for over a half century, my conclusions are:
(1) The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith.
(2) It is not a test for orthodoxy.
(3) It is not a condition of salvation.
(4) It is not a test of Christian fellowship.
(5) It is not an issue over which the body of Christ should divide.
(6) It is not a hill on which we should die.
(7) The fact of creation is more important than the time of creation.
(8) There are more important doctrines on which we should focus than the age of the earth (like the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the death and resurrection of Christ, and His literal Second Coming).
Geisler does not claim in this article that everything he presents is correct, only that they are real possibilities.
Of course, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has been quick to respond: The Ultimate Motivation of this Prominent Theologian?
I suggest that his ultimate motivation for attempting to discredit a literal six-day Creation Week is because he has been influenced by an authority outside the Bible: the majority view among scientists of very old ages, so that he can allow for or believe in billions of years. Thus he goes to great lengths in an attempt to justify various efforts by Christians to fit billions of years into the biblical record. I do believe (regardless of whether Dr. Geisler accepts this or not), this is his ultimate motivation.
And sadly most Christian leaders (including Spurgeon, Hodge, Scofield, Warfield and the authors of The Fundamentals ) have followed suit with an equally shallow analysis of the Genesis text and other relevant passages.
[Geisler] is really “clutching at straws” in an attempt to discredit biblical creationists and allow for millions of years.
I assert that many great men of God today world are contributing to a generational loss of biblical authority because of their insistence on accommodating man’s belief in billions of years with the infallible Word of God. Such a loss of biblical authority is contributing enormously to a massive exodus of young people from the church (see Already Gone) and an increasing decline of Christian influence on the culture.
The gist of what Ham says is that “young-Earth creationists read the Bible, and everyone else reads into the Bible.” I would respond by saying that to take outside evidence (whether it be evidence that the Earth goes around the sun, or that Earth is older than 6000 years) and going back to the Scriptures to make sure we have really read it correctly is not eisigesis (reading into the text), it is good hermeneutics (interpreting the text).
It is highly debatable whether or not the “massive exodus of young people from the church” is due to churches teaching that the Bible does not require a 6000-year old Earth. For many young people, it is because they have been raised on Answers in Genesis or Dr. Dino materials, and figured out that much of it simply isn’t true. When these young people leave the church, it is often because they have been authoritatively taught that if young-Earth creationism isn’t true, the Bible isn’t true.
And that is the tragedy of creationism that many Christian apologists, such as Norm Geisler, want to avoid. For old-Earth Christians to assert that young-Earth teachings are false, both biblically and scientifically, is not the equivalent of denying the truthfulness of Scripture.
Grace and Peace
A more detailed survey indicates that most Christians are somewhere in the middle on the topic of origins, and that most don’t hold to their position all that strongly
Simplistic surveys can be very frustrating. For instance:
Of all the colors of the rainbow, which is your favorite, Blue or Yellow?
If your favorite color is green, and that is not an option in the survey, then there is no way for the survey to accurately assess your opinion. Nor does this simple survey assess how strongly you feel about the color green, or how consistently you would answer. On most days I might answer “green,” but it is not something I feel rather strongly about, and it really isn’t all that important to me.
The same goes for many polls we see in the media: Are you for or against gay rights? Obamacare? Evolution? For many of us, the answer is not as simple as thumbs up or thumbs down.
Christianity Today has a brief summary of a survey taken regarding origins that goes beyond a simple “Do you believe God created humans or that they evolved?”
Here are a few excerpts from Rethinking the Origins Debate: Most Americans—and most Christians—do not fall neatly into creationist or evolutionist camps, by Jonathan Hill.
In 2012, a Gallup poll found that 46 percent of U.S. adults believed “God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Thirty-two percent believed humans evolved with God’s guidance, and 15 percent believed humans evolved with no divine guidance at all.
These surveys portray a deeply divided and polarized public. Even among the majority who believe that God created humans, the chasm separating creationist and evolutionist views appears to be gargantuan. Are Americans really this divided over human origins?
As a social scientist, I am skeptical about these findings for two reasons. First, the way in which these questions about human origins are written restricts complex or conflicted responses. Surveys like the Gallup poll tend to represent the various views we might label Atheistic Evolution, Theistic Evolution, Intelligent Design, or Young Earth Creationism with position statements that force respondents to select the one that comes closest to their beliefs.
The trouble is that these various views contain multiple beliefs about common descent, natural selection, divine involvement, and historical timeframe. The survey questions conflate these underlying beliefs in particular ways and force individuals to select from prepackaged sets of ideas. This is simply a practical necessity given the limited amount of space on general public surveys.
Second, these polls give us no description of the manner in which people hold to these beliefs. Are respondents confident that their position is correct? Is it important to them personally to have the right beliefs about human origins? If large segments of the public are uncertain about their position, or if their beliefs are unimportant to them, then the idea of an intensely polarized public is misleading.
Let’s look at the creationist position. It contains, at a minimum, the following beliefs:
- Humans did not evolve from other species.
- God was involved in the creation of humans.
- Humans were created within the last 10,000 years.
The most recent Gallup poll found that 46 percent of adults claimed creationism best reflected their views of human origins. But Gallup didn’t ask participants about each of the above beliefs.
Our survey, however, asks about each individual belief, allowing respondents to report that they are unsure about what they believe. Only 14 percent affirmed each of these beliefs, and only 10 percent were certain of their beliefs. Furthermore, only 8 percent claimed it was important to them to have the right beliefs about human origins.
If only eight percent of respondents are classified as convinced creationists whose beliefs are dear to them, and if only four percent are classified as atheistic evolutionists whose beliefs are dear to them, then perhaps Americans are not as deeply divided over human origins as polls have indicated. In fact, most Americans fall somewhere in the middle, holding their beliefs with varying levels of certainty. Most Americans do not fall neatly into any of the existing camps, and only a quarter claimed their beliefs were important to them personally.
So what does this mean for the church? I think it shows that most people, even regular church-going evangelicals, are not deeply entrenched on one side of a supposed two-sided battle. Certainly, the issue divides Christians. But Christian beliefs about human origins are complex. There’s no major single chasm after all.
Advocates of various positions have often perpetuated the idea of a battle precisely because drawing clear lines is an effective way to mobilize one view against the other. Perhaps it is time to recognize the complexity of beliefs and worship together despite our differences. This doesn’t mean that hard questions and honest conversations about human origins should be ignored. There are lots of important questions that need to be wrestled with. But as we wrestle, we should recognize that our shared identity in Christ puts us all on the same team.
Grace and Peace
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
In my previous post, I listed the ten most-read articles on The GeoChristian in 2013. They are, I suppose, the reader’s picks. Here are my picks for the most significant blog posts on The GeoChristian for the year.
#10 — A 4th grade quiz on dinosaurs that the teacher would have given me an “F” on — The dark side of science education in Christian schools. Also see More on the Answers in Genesis 4th grade dinosaur quiz.
#9 — A young-Earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporites — The YECs push a lot of bad science as Christian apologetics. Here’s one example.
#8 — Rush is wrong — Analyzing Limbaugh’s statement on God and global warming — Rush’s problem isn’t so much what he believes about man-made global warming, but having a philosophical/theological foundation that says we can’t really screw things up.
#7 — GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:20-22 — The goodness and fruitfulness of the creation — Earth Day 2013 — God created an Earth that teemed with life. Can we find a way to flourish that isn’t at the expense of the rest of creation?
#6 — GeoScriptures — Genesis 2:16-17 — The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the fruit of sin — We got our way. Was it worth it?
#5 — GeoScriptures — Genesis 3:17-18 — Thorns, thistles, cats, dogs, and hyperliteralism — If Genesis said, “And God told Noah, ‘It is going to rain cats and dogs,'” would Christians find a way to explain how cats and dogs could be caught up in waterspouts?
#4 — Days, nights, Jonah, and Jesus — My response to a skeptic who claimed that Jesus couldn’t count.
#3 — GeoScriptures — Genesis 6-9 — Reading the account of Noah’s (local) flood — A few legitimate word substitutions, and the flood account no longer sounds quite so extensive.
#2 — The Pleistocene is not in the Bible — A critique of “When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History?” — Answers in Genesis: giving you “apologetics” that isn’t really based on the Bible, and doesn’t work scientifically.
#1 — GeoScriptures – Psalm 77:16-18 – Deadly beauty and the glory of God — God is glorified in gamma-ray bursts and lightning bolts, and other things that could kill you very quickly.
Grace and Peace
Things have been rather quiet here on The GeoChristian lately, but people from around the world have still been finding things to read. Here are the most-read posts in 2013 (a number of which were written before 2013):
#10 — A young-Earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporites — This is my preliminary analysis of a YEC hypothesis that evaporite layers, such as halite and gypsum, were formed by crystallization from igneous melts rather than by precipitation from aqueous solutions. I’m working on a longer refutation.
#9 — PCA 2013 General Assembly — The YECs get their turn — There are people in the Presbyterian Church in America (my current denomination) who would be very happy if us old-Earthers would just go away.
#8 — The stratigraphic column — not a figment of geologists’ imaginations — Fossils appear in the stratigraphic column in a specific order, which is the basis for designating rocks as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc. Some YECs call this an invention of God-hating geologists, while other YECs come up with all sorts of mechanisms for explaining how Noah’s flood could have produced such an orderly arrangement.
#7 — John Piper and the age of the Earth — What? John Piper is an old-Earther? He must not really believe the Bible. Just kidding. Dr. Piper is firmly committed to the truthfulness of God’s Word, and accepts an old Earth.
#6 — Stegosaurus in Cambodian temple? — The answer, of course, is no.
#5 — Did Ann Coulter really say “Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours”? — Why do people listen to this woman?
#4 — Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 1) — There are more than six bad answers from Answers in Genesis, but this series examined “Six main geologic evidences for the Genesis Flood.”
#3 — John MacArthur on the age of the Earth and theistic evolution — I really like John MacArthur, but he sometimes makes things black and white that are not black and white.
#2 — Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis — 1600 years ago, Augustine recognized that perhaps the best way to read Genesis 1 is not the “literal” way as 21st century YECs would see it.
#1 — Dr. Dino still in prison — Ever since I wrote this in 2009, it has been the most-read post on The GeoChristian. Popular YEC speaker “Dr.” Kent Hovind is still in prison on income tax-related charges, and is scheduled for release in 2015.
Grace and Peace
Around the web 10/16/2013 — the latest Jesus conspiracy theory and YEC attacks on old-Earth Christians
AN INVENTED JESUS? — The media has started giving publicity to the latest Jesus conspiracy theory: Story of Jesus Christ was ‘fabricated to pacify the poor’, claims controversial Biblical scholar: Christianity was a sophisticated government propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of a the Roman Empire, claims scholar.
So, the Romans invented a story in which Roman soldiers crucified the peaceful leader of a new religion to make themselves more palpable to their subjects? I don’t think so.
Parchment and Pen has an introductory analysis: Ancient Confession Found: ‘We Invented Jesus Christ’ (Hint: no “ancient confession” has been found).
Also see Never Read a Press Release Headline at Stand to Reason Blog.
FROM THE “OLD-EARTHERS ARE IN LEAGUE WITH THE DEVIL” CLUB — Here’s an excerpt from a loving note from the head of the Creation Science Hall of Fame:
Dear Creationists & Friends,
Hugh Ross must be stopped! He has caused many good Christians to stumble. I have witnessed good Christian Churches argue over the interpretations of Genesis more than any other topic. I have now witnessed good Christian Churches that have broken up directly as a result of Hugh Ross teaching a mixture of evolution and Christianity.
The Bible teaches us to judge other Christians by their fruits. Hugh Ross has no fruits, but he has caused many Christians to stumble in their faith. He is causing so much harm among Christians all over the world and he must be stopped. Evil is using him in a great way.
It seems that to the folks at the Creation Science Hall of Fame, the age of the Earth is more important than the gospel, Christian unity, truth, or love.
WHO’S FAULT IS IT? — Another YEC who blasts old-Earthers, of course, is Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. Here’s what Mr. Ham recently wrote about Daniel Hamlin, a member of a Nazarene church, who had written a testimony about how evidence for biological evolution had caused him to have a crisis of faith:
Well, Hamlin shares that when he began reading about evolutionary ideas, he came to the conclusion that “Christianity is a lie and I’ve been duped.” He believed he had been “deceived” by Christian leaders, and he writes that he “chose science and for a time questioned the existence of God.” Wow! Those kinds of statements really demonstrate the way evolutionary ideas can undermine the authority of the Word of God and the gospel. Hamlin’s automatic conclusion was that Christianity had to be false if evolution and millions of years were true—these things are mutually exclusive!
So here’s what happened:
- Christian hears “If the Earth is old, then Christianity is false” (or if evolution is true, then Christianity is false).
- Christian learns that there is plenty of evidence for an old Earth, or for biological evolution.
- Christian concludes that Christianity might be false.
So who’s fault is it? I would say these crises of faith are due primarily to the bad science and false dichotomies presented by the YECs.
Read Hamlin’s story: Evolution and Faith: My Journey Thus Far.
Answers in Genesis has some new billboards that I actually like, highlighted on today’s Around the World With Ken Ham blog. Here’s one of them:
As I recently reminded one reader here on The GeoChristian, I am on the same side as the young-Earth creationists. We may differ on a secondary issue—the age of the Earth—but my goal is the same as theirs: to point people to Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
I have many reasons to be thankful that the atheists are wrong. Here are a few:
- I can actually know the God of the universe through knowing his son Jesus Christ as revealed by God in the Scriptures.
- I can read about mass murderers, human traffickers, drug dealers, and child abusers, and objectively say “these things are evil.” Atheists also view these things as evil, but don’t have a strong foundation for doing so.
- There is such a thing as a Final Judgement. In the end, all wrongs will be dealt with, and every teardrop will be wiped away from the eyes of God’s people.
- Good works matter. It really does matter if I give a cup of cold water to the thirsty, or sponsor a child in Africa.
- Matter matters. God created the universe and proclaimed it to be good. It really does matter what we do with the physical world. It is not just stuff be used for our own purposes, but it all belongs to God.
- Beauty matters. Art, music, drama, and other expressions of human creativity are not just evolutionary anomalies, but point to God who created humans in his image.
- The future of God’s people is bright and full of promise. To an atheist, the ultimate future of humanity as a whole is death.
- Human beings have inherent value and dignity, because they are created in the image of God.
- Humans also have purpose. Purpose does not have to be constructed or invented, as in Sartre’s depressing work Being and Nothingness. That purpose is to love God and love people.
- My individuality matters. I am not just a cog in the wheel, but make a unique contribution to my part of the world.
- For those in Christ, the end of this life is not the end, but the beginning of real life.
- That new life—which we have a taste of now—will be free of all the hurt and ugliness that mar this world.
- In the resurrection, we won’t be floating around in “heaven” with harps (that is not a Biblical picture of “eternal life”), but we will be walking around in resurrected bodies on a renewed Earth. That is going to be awesome.
- For believers, death is only a temporary separation. I am going to see my Dad again!
- There will be no more pain or sickness.
Grace and Peace