One of the seminars at the Presbyterian Church of America’s 2012 General Assembly (their annual national meeting, held June 19-22 this year) is a presentation of the geological evidence for an old Earth, given by two geologists from Solid Rock Lectures. Here is the description from the General Assembly seminar brochure:
The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?
Seminar Speaker: Gregg Davidson, Professor of Geology, University of Mississippi; Ken Wolgemuth, Oil industry consultant
The Creation Study Committee reported their results in 2000 without establishing a firm position on the age of the earth. The report encouraged the PCA to consider what additional scientific understanding might develop in the future to assist in answering the question of age. This seminar will provide an update on the scientific evidence for an ancient earth using examples non-scientists can easily apprehend. Pastors and theologians are generally familiar with the biblical arguments surrounding questions of the age of the earth, but few have access to scientific data that they can understand. Most rely on information from young earth organizations that do not adequately or accurately reflect conventional scientific understanding. When information from these sources is passed on to students and congregations, Christ, as the author of truth, is poorly represented. More importantly, our members are inadequately prepared to wrestle with challenges to their faith when encountering the actual scientific evidence. Church leaders need to be aware of the evidence even if convinced it is wrong. The seminar will explicitly acknowledge the authority and preeminence of scripture over natural evidence, while also recognizing that God’s natural creation can sometimes aid in choosing between plausible biblical interpretations. Gregg Davidson is a member of Christ Presbyterian Church in Oxford, MS (PCA), a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and a member of a non-profit organization called Solid Rock Lectures that is devoted to proclaiming Christ and reconciling science and faith conflicts. Ken Wolgemuth is a member of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, OK (EPC), a PhD geologist working as a consultant in the oil industry, and also a member of Solid Rock Lectures.
The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, firmly committed to the inerrancy of Scriptures. Within the PCA, there are both young-Earth creationists and adherents of an old Earth. The Old Testament faculty at the PCA’s Covenant Theological Seminary includes C. John Collins, who makes a very strong case that the Bible doesn’t set a date for creation in his excellent book Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary. Collins was the Old Testament Editor for the highly-regarded ESV Study Bible.
The PCA Creation Study Committee of 2000 could not come to a Biblical consensus regarding the age of the Earth, which is as it should be. There is enough ambiguity in the opening chapters of Genesis, that Biblically-speaking, one could go either way. The report did state, as indicated in the seminar description, that scientific evidence could be useful in determining which side is correct in this debate. One of the goals of this seminar seems to be to present the case that the scientific evidence weighs very heavily on the old-Earth side. Davidson was one of the co-authors of the article PCA Geologists on the Age of the Earth, which appeared in Modern Reformation magazine, and I suspect the speakers will make a similar geological case in their seminar.
Not surprisingly, there is opposition from the young-Earth side to the inclusion of an old-Earth perspective in the schedule. Some are concerned that only one side of the issue is being presented. In some settings this might be true, but there are a number of seminars listed in the brochure where there might be some disagreement over one issue or another, and the organizers have no obligation to include all viewpoints on all issues. I would be surprised if at next year’s General Assembly there were not a young-Earth counter-seminar to balance things out.
Others are concerned that old-Earthers are given any voice at all, especially old-Earthers who advocate evolution as well. It seems that some would prefer a young-Earth monopoly within the PCA.
The scientific evidence for an old Earth is overwhelming, contrary to the claims of the young-Earth creationists. Sea salt does not point to a young Earth. Volcanoes do not point to a young Earth. Dinosaur footprints do not point to a young Earth. Sedimentary rocks do not point to a young Earth. The Grand Canyon does not point to a young Earth. The RATE project does not provide convincing evidence for a young Earth. The young-Earth creationism movement has consistently presented poor arguments for their position, and it is important that the church has this opportunity to hear the old-Earth side.
I suspect, however, that the main thing most General Assembly attendees need to hear is not the geological evidence for an old Earth, but the case for the ambiguity of Scripture regarding the age of the Earth. The Bible does not teach a young Earth, and it doesn’t teach an old Earth; it is open-ended on the topic. This seminar on geological evidence will not convince anyone that the Earth is old if they have Biblical reasons for denying the evidence. Many YECs have only heard the Biblical case for a young Earth, have been taught that all old-Earth interpretations are merely compromises with the world, and that acceptance of them will only lead to theological liberalism or apostasy.
The young-Earth interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis is based on three pillars, none of which is explicitly taught in Scripture:
- The Bible requires a young-Earth — No it doesn’t. The Bible teaches that the Earth was created in six days. Much of the debate is about whether the word “day” (Hebrew: yom) requires six consecutive 24-hour days (the young-Earth viewpoint), or if it can be interpreted in Genesis in some other way. Yom is used figuratively at least once in Genesis 1-2. Genesis 2:4 states “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” (ESV) “Day” in this passage refers to the entire creation week, not to a literal 24-hour day. If it can be used figuratively once, it might be used figuratively elsewhere in the passage. Collins develops a much more extensive case for the analogical use of yom in his commentary on Genesis 1-4 I referenced earlier.
- The Bible requires that there be no animal death before the fall of Adam — No it doesn’t. I’ve addressed this issue in my post Death before the fall — an old Earth Biblical perspective.
- The Bible requires a global flood — No it doesn’t. I written on this topic in The YEC “Did God really say?” tactic.
One can make a thoroughly Biblical case for an old Earth (or again, Biblical ambiguity about this secondary issue), without reference to geology, astronomy, or other historical sciences. Once people see this, they will be more open to what God has revealed in his creation regarding Earth’s history.
Given the potential for tension at this seminar, I hope and pray that there would be a spirit of grace upon all who speak and attend.
Grace and Peace
HT: Tim and Natural Historian
Here are a couple YEC blog posts on the topic:
A Daughter of the Reformation — “there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”
The comments on the Johannes Weslianus (Wes White) blog give a good idea of the antagonism that can be stirred up by this issue:
“I wonder why the PCA would allow such a one-sided presentation.”
“Even in this brief announcement, the condescension is absolutely palpable.”
“I find it so disconcerting that the PCA GA would allow Biologos into its very presence. How is this not allowing the wolf into the sheepfold?”
“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”
“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”
“After calming down from last night, I decided to write to Michelle and I asked her to cancel this seminar (with reasons). Sad stuff.”
“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding. “
“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”
11 thoughts on “PCA General Assembly includes a seminar on the age of the Earth”
Interesting. I would like to think that theologically orthodox old earthers could have a home. I guess the dividing line is between those who believe the age of the earth, in and of itself, is of little spiritual consequence and the Bible does not give us a clear timeline for everything vs. those who believe the age of the earth is of primary importance because the Bible teaches a very specific timeline for everything and knowing this timeline is one of the proofs that you are saved.
That would explain why the more strident YECers question the salvation of old earthers and old earthers do not return the favor. Can these two groups coexist in the same church body? Most of conservative evangelicalism, at least in the U.S., revolves around dispensationalist-inspired timelines (including a timeline for creation) and this obsession with timelines even extends to some groups that are not explicitly dispensationalist.
Kevin – looks like your prediction was correct – see a review of Dr. Davidson’s seminar at Naturalis Historia: http://thenaturalhistorian.com/2012/06/21/pca-ga-age-earth-seminar-gregg-davidson/ .
Though I’m not in the PCA, I’m following responses to Dr. Davidson’s seminar at the PCA GA with interest. I note this posting mentions the preoccupation of those who asked questions with the physical body of Adam, and in reading responses I see the same, along with some emphasis of “from the dust.” Similarly I can’t help but to notice the discussion tends to center on “the age of the earth” with little attention given to the age of the universe.
I’m not a scientist, but have been an amateur astronomer for over 30 years, and so things in the wider creation are of interest to me as well. Few YEC adherents seem equipped even with the terminology to enter a discussion of facts such as that Earth orbits a Population II star in a solar system full of metals which formed about 9 billion years after the universe itself, or that the constancy of the speed of light even in cosmically distant regions is mathematically predicted and experimentally verified (DeSitter, 1913). Astronomy is even more challenging to recent creation than is geology.
Well done on this post and the blog as a whole. Those of us who embrace both orthodox Christian doctrine and mainstream science need to find one another and build community – this blog provides a venue for that worthwhile end.
Well said, Rob.
There are quite a few verses in Genesis as well as in Psalms, Job, and other books of the Bible which speak of the processes involved in the Creation of the Earth. So instantaneous creation a few thousand years ago is not biblical and certainly not scientific. Rob Mitchell’s comment that the Earth came into being some 9 billion years after the Universe was formed is very important. God made the Earth from materials that prexisted and in my recently published book I have explained in minute detail how the Earth and rest of the Solar System came into being as a result of a supernova of a massive star which I have called Solar ABC. A brief article on this was published in eZine magazine about two months ago for anyone who may be interested. It is titled ‘Science and the Bible on the Earth’s formation’ by Leander R Pimenta
God created the universe in 6 days and 2nd Peter says the earth was formed out of water like Genesis says. It is not created a hot molten mass billion of years ago. Even if monkeys believed in evolution they wouldn’t even believe in an old earth!
John, guess you think that the sun revolves around the earth and that the earth is flat held up by pillars? Bible teaches that, you know.
As Augustine noted many centuries ago, what is a day without the sun and the moon? The idea that “day” may not be literal in Genesis 1 is an idea that pre-dates modern geology and biological evolution by over a thousand years.
I’ll point you to a few resources:
Genesis 1-4 by C. John Collins.
Seven Days that Divide the World by John Lennox.
Death before the fall – An old-Earth biblical perspective — A cornerstone of young-Earth theology is not found in the Bible.
The ESV Study Bible on creation — The ESV Study Bible has excellent notes on creation, and it reflects a broad range of understandings on the age of the Earth within the conservative Reformed community.
GeoScriptures — My meditations on creation passages.
I believe Satan is an absolute genius. How to divide the church and damage it’s witness, get the church concerned more about the when of creation rather than the who. Brilliant, Now the when is a test of orthodoxy.
Greg — The age of the Earth is not a test of orthodoxy in the PCA right now, as is clear in the report of the PCA creation study committee (see http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.html ), but there are plenty of people who would like to see that change. As an old-Earther, I am quite happy with the status quo. I have no desire to, nor any expectation of, pushing anyone out of the PCA because they are a YEC. There are YECs within the PCA who would be quite happy to see the old-Earthers change or leave.