Christianity — protection against superstition and the paranormal

The following item was originally posted in September 2008. 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.

Atheists, and other opponents of the truthfulness of Christianity, often equate Christianity with superstition.

Here’s a quote from “Look Who’s Irrational Now” by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway in the Wall Street Journal:

The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

And…

Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn’t.

Perhaps denial of the greatest truth opens one up to a myriad of falsehoods.

Grace and Peace

Water on the moon

From the NASA Image of the Day Gallery: Water Detected at High Latitudes on the Moon

Credit: ssss
Credit: ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown Univ./USGS

From the decription:

NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, an instrument on the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 mission, took this image of Earth’s moon. It is a three-color composite of reflected near-infrared radiation from the sun, and illustrates the extent to which different materials are mapped across the side of the moon that faces Earth.

Small amounts of water were detected on the surface of the moon at various locations. This image illustrates their distribution at high latitudes toward the poles.

Blue shows the signature of water, green shows the brightness of the surface as measured by reflected infrared radiation from the sun and red shows an iron-bearing mineral called pyroxene.

As of now, there are gaps in the imagery coverage; hence the black stripes.

Grace and Peace

Hike — Deer Creek Canyon

The family took a hike in Deer Creek Canyon, at the southwest corner of the Denver metro area last week. This was before it turned cold and rainy/snowy. The trail has a mixture of grassland, scrub brush, and forest (Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, scrub oak, aspen, and others).

Click on images to enlarge.

Poison ivy along the trail
Poison ivy along the trail
Wildflowers
Wildflowers
Precambrian gneiss outcrop
Precambrian gneiss outcrop
A forested path
A forested path
Denver skyline from a distance
Denver skyline from a distance
Looking across to Pennsylvanian Fountain Formation, xxx Lyons Formation, Jurassic Morrison Formation, and Cretaceous Dakota Formation
Looking across to Fountain, Lyons, Morrison, and Dakota formations (Pennsylvanian through Cretaceous)
Google Earth view of the trail
Google Earth view of the trail

Grace and Peace

William Jennings Bryan and the age of the Earth

This is part of my series on theologically conservative Christians who advocate some form of old-Earth creationism, which is the idea that there is no Biblical reason to question that the  Earth is billions of years old. Most of those I am highlighting in this series would hold to some sort of Biblical inerrancy.

In the early part of the twentieth century, there were few theologically conservative Christian scholars who held to young-Earth creationism, with its insistence that the Bible requires an Earth that is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old. A prominent example of a Christian leader who advocated an old Earth was William Jennings Bryan, perhaps most famous today for his part in the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial.” Bryan was firmly opposed to biological evolution, but had no problem with the concept that the Earth is hundreds of millions of years old. Bryan was not a Biblical scholar—he was a politician and activist, having run for president of the United States on the Democratic ticket three times—but his views on Genesis were consistent with the best of Evangelical scholarship of the time.

Here is a court transcript of an exchange between Clarence Darrow (ACLU) and William Jennings Bryan:

Clarence Darrow [D]: ‘Mr Bryan, could you tell me how old the Earth is?’

William Jennings Bryan [B]: ‘No, sir, I couldn’t.’

[D]: ‘Could you come anywhere near it?’

[B]: ‘I wouldn’t attempt to. I could possibly come as near as the scientists do, but I had rather be more accurate before I give a guess.’

[D]: ‘Does the statement, “The morning and the evening were the first day,” and “The morning and the evening were the second day,” mean anything to you?’

[B]: ‘I do not think it necessarily means a twenty-four-hour day.’

[D]: ‘You do not?’

[B]: ‘No.’

[D]: ‘Then, when the Bible said, for instance, “and God called the firmament heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day,” that does not necessarily mean twenty-four-hours?’

[B]: ‘I do not think it necessarily does.’ ‘I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the Earth in six days as in six years or in six million years or in 600 million years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.’

[D]: ‘And they had the evening and the morning before that time for three days or three periods. All right, that settles it. Now, if you call those periods, they may have been a very long time.’

[B]: ‘They might have been.’

[D]: ‘The creation might have been going on for a very long time?’

[B]: ‘It might have continued for millions of years.’

Source: Reasons to Believe

Grace and Peace

Internet Monk: a comment from an evangelical vertebrate paleontologist

My previous post was about pastors responding to a question about evolution. One of the readers’ comments was from a Christian paleontologist.

Here’s the comment (emphasis added by me):

You guys rule — it was a joy to read through these answers from such different Christian traditions and find such humility and realism regarding a subject that is the source of so much wholly unwarranted conflict. This quote can maybe stand as representative: “I am a pastor and a theologian, not a biologist. As such, I could not debate the individual claims of natural science on the merits of each, because I lack the resources to do so.” If only every Christian had that kind of humility.

OK, cards on the table: I am an evangelical Christian who takes the bible seriously. I am a frequent worship leader at my church, and have been a frequent preacher in previous churches. I have in the past described myself as a “fundamentalist” — not a term I would ever use now, as it has connotation that it didn’t have 20 years ago, at least here in the UK, but it’s not so much that my beliefs have changed as that my understanding of that label has “shifted”. Anyway, that’s who I am.

And with my other hat on, I am a publishing palaeontologist, specialising in the sauropod dinosaurs. (My publications are available from the site linked above; my most recent paper is on the generic separation of the African dinosaur “Brachiosaurus” brancai and the American type species Brachiosaurus altithorax).

As you can imagine, I have Christian friends who think I am sell-out for working in the field of evolutionary biology, and scientist friends who think I am a deluded idiot to be Christian; but I am far from alone — off the top of my head I could name another half-dozen practicing Christians within dinosaur palaeontology alone. Why do we so rarely hear from them? For a very sad reason: because the atmosphere in vertebrate palaeontology towards Christianity is poisonous, thanks to the efforts of creationists on one side and Dawkinsites on the other. If I could get just one message to the world’s creationists, it would be this: please have the same humility as Joe Boysel, and recognise that your knowledge of the scripture does NOT entitle you to make pronouncements on science. No, not even if you’ve read a couple of Duane T. Gish paperbacks. Would you try to tell a lawyer his job after reading Honest Bob’s Big Book Of Law? No? Then please have the humility not to try to tell palaeontologists their job from a position of similar ignorance. All you’re achieving is poisoning the well for those of us who would otherwise be in a position to engage with atheists and agnostics in our science.

Sorry if that ended up sounding a bit ranty. Let me finish by returning to my main point, which was how nice it was NOT to hear that kind of uniformed dogmatism from the Gangstas. Thank you, guys.

Great stuff.

Grace and Peace

Internet Monk: “That Evolution Question”

The Internet Monk by Michael Spencer is one of the few blogs I read almost every day. Today he had a post in his “Liturgical Gangstas” series on “That Evolution Question.” He posed the following question to his panel of pastors:

A pre-med college student in your congregation comes to you and says “I’ve been learning about evolution at school, and I can’t recall the subject ever being discussed or talked about here at church. I’ve never really asked if there was a conflict between evolution and being a Christian. Can I believe what I’m being taught, or do I have to oppose it because I am a Christian?

Here are a few excerpts from the pastors’ responses:

Father Ernesto/Orthodox:

But, here is what is important for you to know. As Christians we need to believe and proclaim that God has created the heavens and the earth. That is what our creed says, “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” We need to believe that there was a time when there was nothing but God, and that God chose to create. And, we need to believe that God continues to work within his Creation in a very active way.

But […] it is also important for you to know that there were strong discussions between the Church Fathers over how the creation was accomplished and over whether the first few chapters of Genesis were to be taken as literal or as an allegory or as a poem. You are not required to believe in a particular process for how the Creation was accomplished.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist:

I would tell that pre-med student this story in order to say, none of us, science or faith, has all the answers. I’m fine being skeptical of some aspects of evolution and find my acceptance of other aspects in no way conflicts with my complete and utter belief and experience with the Triune Creator who has fully revealed himself in Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. I hope that our church wouldn’t be an obstacle to honest pursuit of truth either theologically or scientifically. I also hope that the student would find an avenue within the church to ask questions, discuss, and grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ in his or her pursuit of truth no matter what.

Joe Boysel/Anglican:

Eventually, I would urge my parishioner not to lose too much sleep over the matter. Scripture does not seek to provide an historical or biological account of human origins; rather it provides a theological framework for understanding humanity (and the universe) as the handiwork of God.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic:

The issue begins when philosophical leaps are made by “scientists” and conclusions are drawn, e.g., life has evolved in this way; therefore it was all by chance; therefore, there cannot be a God. Uh, no. The scientist who makes such a leap has ceased to be a scientist and is making statements he cannot make using the scientific method. So, don’t trust that kind of thing if that’s what you’re being taught. Our faith should trump these kinds of ill-drawn conclusions.

One can be a faithful, committed Christian and believe that evolution is very likely scientifically true. You can be a Christian and believe that God perhaps intentionally set the path of life on its evolutionary path, that He intentionally drew human beings out of the line, breathed His Spirit into us and made us in His Image. Some people call this “theistic evolution” – as opposed to “naturalistic evolution,” which I described in the previous paragraph. It’s not about a huge cosmic accident, but rather, about God doing exactly what He wanted how He wanted to do it. Believing this does not necessarily need to conflict with a belief in God, Jesus or even in the Truth of the Bible as God’s Word.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist:

I’m going to have to begin my answer with a bit of a confessional preface: I’ve kind of instinctively distanced myself from the issue of evolution a bit because (a) I’m often embarrased by my fellow pastors who try to speak on the subject as if they’re scientists, (b) I’m often irritated by the mindless fundamentalism of pro-evolution advocates and, (c) I’ve heard and read so many conflicting variations from scientists and non-scientists alike on the philosophical and theological implications of evolution that I’ve put it on the backburner a bit instead of jumping into what seems to be a hopelessly muddled morass of shouting.

I don’t say that’s noble of me, just that that’s the truth.

As for the question itself, though, I think I would say this: “I believe that all truth is God’s truth and that, at heart, science does not conflict with what Scripture asserts.

William Cwirla/Lutheran:

[On vacation — too bad. I suspect he is a young-Earth creationist, so we would have gotten a different perspective]

Eric Landry, PCA Presbyterian:

When I was a freshman in high school, I got my name and picture splashed across the front page of the local newspaper for debating my biology teacher. The school district had a policy in those days to allow students to skip portions of classes that dealt with objectionable material (like evolution, I guess) but I stayed and made a nuisance of myself, which generated a bit of news in our small town. The teacher wrote me a very nice note at the end of the school year and said that she hoped her children would have the same dedication to their beliefs that I had to mine. I hope she was being facetious because I never want my children to be as arrogant and simplistic as I proved myself to be in her class. It would have been far better for me to have played the part of a student and learned what my teacher had to say, asked questions in a respectful manner, and not been frightened by what I heard.


By the time I saw this, there were over 100 comments, and it is unlikely that I’ll take the time to plow through the whole thing.

Grace and Peace

Is accepting an old Earth heresy?

There has been some controversy regarding this post. I’ll do my best to clear up any misunderstandings here at the beginning:

  • The author of the blog (DefendingGenesis) I reference accused me of “enabling apostasy” by teaching an old Earth. He did not accuse me of apostasy.
  • It was one of the commenters on that blog who accused me of heresy for teaching an old Earth. The blog author did not accuse me of heresy.
  • Neither the author of that blog nor any commenters on that blog accused me of not being a Christian for accepting and teaching an old Earth (though perhaps that was implied by the accusation of heresy).

I had no intention of misrepresenting (either here or in my comments on that blog) what anyone said. In a few instances, my wording could have been a little more precise.

Kevin N

Many young-Earth creationists have zero tolerance for opposing viewpoints within the church. I’ve been involved in a discussion on a young-Earth creationist (YEC) blog where I’ve been accused of heresy (or at least setting the stage for apostasy) for accepting the concept that the Earth and universe are billions of years old. One commenter (Dan) stated:

“In my FIRST post I asserted in effect that for almost 18 centuries NO theologian who so much as professed the name of Christ (including therefore even the various heretics) held any form of old-earthism. Anyone may step up to cite a counterexample, but I’m not holding my breath. Kevin, how do you feel about teaching a doctrine that (among Christians) appeared completely out of the ether over 17 centuries after Christ? From that point of view, if THIS isn’t heresy, nothing deserves that name.”

This is a common tactic of young-Earth creationists, and here is how I responded:

Dan:

I agree that some sort of YEC was the almost universal view of theologians until the 18th century. Young and Stearley have documented this in their excellent old-Earth book The Bible, Rocks, and Time. Among the church fathers, there were men like Origen and Augustine who held that the days were symbolic or figurative, but there is no indication that these fathers imagined a universe billions of years old.

But then again, geocentrism was the almost universal position of the church throughout this period as well. When the overwhelming evidence for heliocentrism (sun-centered solar system) was presented, there was resistance within the church (and within science). Eventually, the church took a closer look at what the Scriptures actually said, and realized that the scriptures did not teach geocentrism after all.

Regarding heliocentrism, then, one could have said, “if THIS isn’t heresy, nothing deserves that name.”

One could even take your approach to something like the doctrine of justification: saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This doctrine was absent from the church for a long time, and was never stated in those words until the 16th century. The Roman church took your approach rather than taking a closer look to see what the Scriptures themselves said on the topic.

The Copernican Revolution required a closer examination of the Scriptures to determine what the Bible really said and didn’t say about nature. The Protestant Reformation took a closer look at the Scriptures, to see what they really said and didn’t say. I take the same approach to the age of the Earth and the extent of Noah’s flood.

If all you read is YEC writings on the topic, you will be convinced that the Bible requires a young Earth and planetary flood. There are a large number of conservative, orthodox Old Testament scholars, however, who hold to an old Earth. They do this because they have taken a closer look at the text than the young-Earthers have, and have come to the conclusion that it does not require a young Earth.

There are plenty of young-Earth creationists out there who believe that one cannot be a Christian if one believes in an old Earth. My response to that is:

I believe in:

  • A real creation by the triune God.
  • A real Adam in a real garden
  • A real fall into sin with real consequences
  • In Jesus Christ as the only solution for our sin

Where’s the heresy? Where’s the apostasy?

I also believe that:

  • The opening chapters of Genesis were not intended to be an outline of the history of the universe, and do not require a young Earth.
  • The Bible does not say that the flood covered the entire planet, nor did it create the geological column.

I’ll write more on these points soon.

Grace and Peace