The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Analyzing an atheist ad campaign

The following item was originally posted in November 2010, and I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries.

Yesterday, I wrote about a new advertising campaign from Answers in Genesis. In this present entry, I’ll take a look again at an advertising campaign sponsored by the American Humanist Association. I have done a little editing to improve the article.

The American Humanist Association is launching an ad campaign [in 2010], urging us all to “Consider Humanism.” I can summarize the logic of their ad campaign with one word: Nonsense!

This campaign uses a familiar atheist technique: Focus on the evils done in the name of religion; ignore the evils done by atheists.

The graphics I’ve seen have this format:

  • What some believe — a verse from the Bible or Koran urging some repugnant thing, such as slaughtering, hating, oppressing, and so forth.
  • What humanists think — a quote from some “enlightened” atheist showing how far we’ve come from the barbaric days of the Bible and Koran.

Note that religious people just “believe” something, whereas humanists/atheists “think.”

I am not a Muslim, obviously, so I’ll leave it to Muslims to defend themselves against the humanists.

There is a good, well-thought-out answer—yes, we Christians know how to think—for each of the accusations that the humanist ad campaign levels against Christianity. Consider the following ad:

This one is rather silly. Does any Christian really think that Jesus, in this passage, was telling us to hate anyone? Jesus was clearly using hyperbole, as we are told over and over to love one another, and even to love our enemies. Jesus wants our love for him to be so great that all other loves—including our love for ourselves—pales in comparison.

I’ll take Katharine Hepburn’s word for it, that she believes (that must have been a typo on the humanists’ part) that we should be kind to one another. I have to wonder, however, whether that belief comes from the Anglo-Saxon side of her cultural heritage, or from the Christian side.

Here’s another:

The Bible paints things as they really are. The people of Samaria (the northern ten tribes of Israel) had adopted a religious system from the surrounding nations—including worship of Baal and Molech— that included ritual prostitution (probably involuntary for many of the prostitutes), human sacrifice, mutilation, and incest. The humanists seem to think that God was being rather harsh in sending judgment on all of this, but most of us can discern that something is horribly wrong in a religious system that encourages ritual sacrifice of children.

Albert Einstein may have been guilty of exactly what he said he opposed. He could not imagine a God who punishes, saying this is “but a reflection of human frailty.” But then isn’t the God whom he could imagine one modeled after Einstein’s own thoughts in some way?

It wouldn’t be fair for me to pick out the easiest ads—and I think the first two I mentioned were incredibly easy to answer—so I’ll go for what I think is the most difficult:

I’ll start with the atheist/humanist solution that is proposed, and then get to a Christian response.

First, I applaud those who work towards peace, whether they be humanist, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Christian. I am not opposed to international efforts to prevent genocide.

Having said this, I wouldn’t trust atheists (whether they call themselves “atheists” or “humanists”) to run an international organization that would “adjudicate and enforce measures to punish acts of genocide.” The atheist track record in the past century is one of massive genocide (Stalin, Mao, etc.), and it would be easy for them (or any other group) to start favoring one side over the other in a conflict. Human nature has embedded within it characteristics such as greed, fear, and aggression, and too much power in the hands of one group always ends up in disaster. Christianity recognizes this. Most humanists, on the other hand, put too much trust in the ever-elusive perfectibility of the human species.

Genocide is quite simply wrong. I can say that as a Christian who believes in objective morality. I believe that the atheists/humanists ultimately have no absolute reason for saying it is wrong—right and wrong are at best social constructions to them—but I take them at their word that they really do believe for some reason that genocide is wrong.

Genocide certainly goes against all of the ethical teachings in the New Testament, and most of the ethical teachings of the Old Testament. But what about instances in the Old Testament where God told his people to fight wars, and to wipe out every man, woman, and child? This is a legitimate issue to raise, as mass extermination of humans—the holocaust, and the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia—is a great evil.  From a Christian perspective, it is good to keep the following in mind:

  1. God is the maker and ruler of all. He has the absolute right of ownership over all peoples. If he judges an individual or a whole tribe before the final judgement, he is within his rights to do so.
  2. The Canaanites were exceedingly wicked: human sacrifice and so forth. God could have judged them by sending a plague or famine, but in this case he used an army.
  3. All are sinners and deserving of God’s judgment. This goes for everyone from Adolf Hitler to Mother Theresa. The judgment on the Canaanites is therefore a brief picture of what all sinners deserve.
  4. The commands given in the Old Testament for military campaigns were extremely limited in their scope. These commands were for the conquest of Canaan, and not given as a general command for how Israel should interact with its neighbors.
  5. God is just. The same severe penalty given to the Canaanites (destruction) was later mandated for Israelites who followed false Gods (see what I wrote about the judgment on the Israelites in Samaria up above).
  6. Grace was shown to repentant Canaanites, such as Rahab and her family.
  7. We now advance the Kingdom of God through acts of love and proclamation of Christ.

This is an answer that I find satisfactory. Genocide is evil, and there is nothing in the Bible to justify it or even to suggest that it is an acceptable action for us to engage in.

If you are a Christian, do not be duped by the “logic” and “reason” of the atheists in their ad campaign. Their arguments are not as reasonable and logical as they make them out to be.

If you are a humanist/atheist, I urge you to consider Christianity as a better explanation for the world and human nature, including morality and ethics. This ad campaign by the American Humanist Association was downright silly, and demonstrated that their rejection of Christianity has an irrational side to it.  Christianity, in contrast to atheism, offers a solid foundation for both reason and morality.

Grace and Peace

October 8, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Atheism, Blog Recycling, Christianity, Ethics | | Leave a comment

Six bad answers from Answers in Genesis are still six bad answers

Back in 2009, I posted a six-part review of a series of young-Earth creationist (YEC) articles on “Six main geologic evidences for the Genesis Flood.” The YEC articles appeared in “Answers” magazine, which is published by Answers in Genesis. As part of my “blog recycling program,” I am providing links to my posts:

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 1) — Fossils at the top of Mount Everest are not evidence for a global flood. Most fossil-containing layers, such as crinoid-rich Mississippian limestones, are extremely difficult to explain using young-Earth creationist flood geology. How did all of those fossils stay together in an ecological package in a global flood?

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 2) — A global flood is not necessary to explain “fossil graveyards.” In fact, a global flood would scatter fossils vertically and horizontally, and would abrade delicate structures that are preserved in the finest fossil specimens.

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 3) — There are sedimentary rock layers that cover well over a million square kilometers. Rather than suggesting global-scale catastrophism, the continent-wide extent of these formations makes the deposition of subsequent layers extremely difficult to explain by flood geology.

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 4) – The YEC claim is that it is impossible for normal geological processes to explain the transport of sediments from one side of a continent to another. But in reality, rivers such as the Mississippi, Nile, and Amazon do that very thing.

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 5) — Erosional gaps between sedimentary formations are consistent with old-Earth geological explanations. Young-Earth creationists, on the other hand, have a difficult time explaining paleosols (preserved ancient soil layers) and paleokarsts (preserved limestone dissolution features) in the rock record. Because paleosols and paleokarts imply the passage of time, YECs usually resort to an “it only looks like _______” argument, like “it only looks like an ancient soil, despite the root casts, filled critter burrows, and preserved soil horizons.”

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 6) — The YEC claim is that layers of sediment must be soft in order to be tightly folded. Both laboratory and field studies prove that this is simply not true, and it is usually straightforward to determine whether rocks were consolidated or unconsolidated when deformed.

As you read these, it is important to keep in mind that the Bible nowhere says that the geological record was formed by Noah’s flood. The Bible does not require a young Earth nor does it require a global flood. In light of this, no one should reject Christ or Christianity because of the findings of the geological sciences.

Grace and Peace

January 22, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Blog Recycling, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Creation Creeds

The following item was originally posted in October 2010. 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 (sometimes with a little editing).

This “Creation Creeds” post is a statement of what I, as an old-Earth, theologically conservative, confessional, “Evangelical/Presbyterian (PCA)/with a big dose of Lutheran theology” Christian believe regarding the biblical doctrine of creation.

Creation creed — short version

As an old-Earth creationist

I believe that the universe was created by the triune God of the Bible

I believe that the Bible does not dictate when this creation took place

I believe in a real Adam

in a real garden

in a real fall into sin

in real consequences for that sin

and in Jesus Christ as the only solution for sin

Amen

 

Creation creed — long version

As an old-Earth creationist

I believe that the universe—all that is seen and unseen—was created from nothing by the triune God of the Bible: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

I believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God

I believe that the Bible does not dictate when the creation took place, nor does it state the extent or work of Noah’s flood

I believe in a real Adam and Eve as individuals—the first humans in the image of God—and that we are all descendants of this family

I believe that all humans retain the image of God, and are therefore of very high value

I believe in a real Garden of Eden, which was at a specific location in Mesopotamia, and that the Edenic paradise did not cover the entire Earth

I believe that the natural world has inherent value, and that humans are called to be good stewards of the creation that God has given us, for the glory of God,  for the good of all humanity, and for the sake of the creation itself

I believe in a real fall into sin through Adam’s disobedience to God’s command, and in real consequences for that sin that continue to this day: human physical and spiritual death

I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only solution for sin, and that those who put their faith in him as their savior will spend eternity with him and with each other in the New Heavens and the New Earth

Amen

January 1, 2013 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Christianity, Creation Care, Creation in the Bible, Environment, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | | 21 Comments

Geology and the scientific method

The following item was originally posted in February 2007. 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 (sometimes with a little editing).

We often hear about “the scientific method.” It would be better to talk about “scientific methods,” because not all scientific problems can be approached in the same way.

Here’s a quote from geologist John D. Winter on how geologists think as they go about their scientific investigations:

Geology is often plagued by the problem of inaccessibility. Geological observers really see only a tiny fraction of the rocks that compose the Earth. Uplift and erosion exposes some deep-seated rocks, whereas others are delivered as xenoliths in magma, but their exact place of origin is vague at best. As a result, a large proportion of our information about the Earth is indirect, coming from melts of subsurface material, geophysical studies, or experiments conducted at elevated temperatures and pressures.

The problem of inaccessibility has a temporal aspect as well. Most Earth processes are exceedingly slow. As a result, we seldom are blessed with the opportunity of observing even surface processes at rates that lend themselves to ready interpretation (volcanism is a rare exception for petrologists). In most other sciences, theories can be tested by experiment. In geology, as a rule, our experiment has run to its present state and is impossible to reproduce. Our common technique is to observe the results and infer what the experiment was. Most of our work is thus inferential and deductive. Rather than being repulsed by this aspect of our work, I believe most geologists are attracted by it.

Winter, J.D., 2001, An Introduction to Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, p. xvii. (bold emphasis added)

My thoughts:

  • There is not just one “scientific method.” Even in the experimental sciences, not everything is done in the strict order of Observation — Hypothesis — Experiment — Conclusion. Geologists do experiments, but these are done to give insights into how the world works so we can better understand both the past and the present.
  • The scientific method as practiced by geologists is often more like the work done by a forensic detective, trial lawyer, or historian. We have pieces of evidence, and we try to put together a coherent story about what has happened in the past.
  • This does not mean that geologists aren’t scientists. It just means that there are different sets of rules when one is investigating past, non-repeatable occurrences.
  • Almost all high school science textbooks have a section about the “scientific method” in the introductory chapter, presenting the standard Observation — Hypothesis — Experiment — Conclusion outline. This might be acceptable (though not completely accurate) in a chemistry or physics book, but it is downright misleading in an earth science textbook. I have not seen a single high school earth science textbook that points out these important differences in methodology.
  • This distinction comes into play in discussions about origins. When one is talking about earth history, evolution, or the origin of life, much of the discussion revolves around questions that can only be addressed by the historical scientific method rather than the experimental scientific method. This doesn’t make origins studies less scientific.

Grace and Peace

February 28, 2011 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Geology, Science Education | , | 5 Comments

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Genesis 1

The following item was originally posted on The GeoChristian in November 2009, and I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries, with some editing.

I am re-using this post about the ESV Study Bible for a couple reasons. The first is because the ESV Study Bible is a theologically conservative Evangelical work, yet it presents a wide range of interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis. The authors of the study notes, though firmly committed to the inspiration of the Scriptures, believe that it is not necessary to hold to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation of Genesis.

My other reason for using this post over again is because I feel that I didn’t really follow through on my original intentions. I had planned a multiple-part series on the doctrine of creation as presented in the ESV Study Bible, but ended after only two posts (this is the second of those). I plan on extending this series in the upcoming months.

ESVStudyBibleA few weeks ago, I looked at what the ESV Study Bible had to say about the doctrine of creation in its introduction to the book of Genesis (click here). The ESV Study Bible Introduction to Genesis gives an overview of the various interpretations (calendar-day, day-age, etc.), a discussion about the relationship between Genesis and science, a statement on the historicity of Adam and Eve, and cautionary notes about interpreting the account of Noah’s flood.

The ESV Study Bible is the product of theologically conservative Biblical scholars who are committed to the inerrancy of the Bible, but it clearly does not advocate young-Earth creationism. It does not endorse any of the old-Earth alternatives either, though the notes seem to point in some places to the “analogical days” interpretation (for example, see the notes on 1:3-5 below). I think this is highly significant. Just as the influential Scofield Reference Bible of 1909 lead many to accept the “gap theory” and dispensationalism, so the conservative credentials of the ESV Study Bible could open up the eyes of many to the merits of old-Earth interpretations in general, and more specifically, the analogical days interpretation.

Here are some highlights from the notes on Genesis 1 (emphasis in the original):

1:1-11:26 Primeval History — In contrast to the patriarchal stories, however, other ancient nonbiblical stories do exist recounting stories about both creation and the flood. The existence of such stories, however, does not in any way challenge the authority or the inspiration of Genesis. In fact, the nonbiblical stories stand in sharp contrast to the biblical account, and thus help readers appreciate the unique nature and character of the biblical accounts of creation and the flood. In other ancient literary traditions, creation is a great struggle often involving conflict between the gods. […] Reading Genesis, readers can see that it is designed to refute these delusions. There is only one God, whose word is almighty. He has only to speak and the world comes into being. The sun and moon are not gods in their own right, but are created by the one God. This God does not need feeding by man, as the Babylonians believed they did by offering sacrifices, but he supplies man with food. It is human sin, not divine annoyance, that prompts the flood. Far from Babylon’s tower (Babel) reaching heaven, it became a reminder that human pride could neither reach nor manipulate God. These principles, which emerge so clearly in Genesis 1–11, are truths that run through the rest of Scripture. The unity of God is fundamental to biblical theology, as is his almighty power, his care for mankind, and his judgment on sin. It may not always be obvious how these chapters relate to geology and archaeology, but their theological message is very clear. Read in their intended sense, they provide the fundamental presuppositions of the rest of Scripture. These chapters should act as eyeglasses, so that readers focus on the points their author is making and go on to read the rest of the Bible in light of them.

1:3-5 — By a simple reading of Genesis, these days must be described as days in the life of God, but how his days relate to human days is more difficult to determine.

1:6-8 — Water plays a crucial role in ancient Near Eastern creation literature. In Egypt, for example, the creator-god Ptah uses the preexistent waters (personified as the god Nun) to create the universe. The same is true in Mesopotamian belief: it is out of the gods of watery chaos—Apsu, Tiamat, and Mummu—that creation comes. The biblical creation account sits in stark contrast to such dark mythological polytheism. In the biblical account, water at creation is no deity; it is simply something God created, and it serves as material in the hands of the sole sovereign Creator.

Gen. 1:14–19 — This section corresponds closely with the ordering of Day and Night on the first day, involving the separation of light and darkness (vv. 3–5). Here the emphasis is on the creation of lights that will govern time, as well as providing light upon the earth (v. 15). By referring to them as the greater light and lesser light (v. 16), the text avoids using terms that were also proper names for pagan deities linked to the sun and the moon. Chapter 1 deliberately undermines pagan ideas regarding nature’s being controlled by different deities. (To the ancient pagans of the Near East, the gods were personified in various elements of nature. Thus, in Egyptian texts, the gods Ra and Thoth are personified in the sun and the moon, respectively.) The term made (Hb. ‘asah, v. 16), as the esv footnote shows, need only mean that God “fashioned” or “worked on” them; it does not of itself imply that they did not exist in any form before this. Rather, the focus here is on the way in which God has ordained the sun and moon to order and define the passing of time according to his purposes.

1:27 — There has been debate about the expression image of God. Many scholars point out the idea, commonly used in the ancient Near East, of the king who was the visible representative of the deity; thus the king ruled on behalf of the god. Since v. 26 links the image of God with the exercise of dominion over all the other creatures of the seas, heavens, and earth, one can see that humanity is endowed here with authority to rule the earth as God’s representatives or vice-regents (see note on v. 28). Other scholars, seeing the pattern of male and female, have concluded that humanity expresses God’s image in relationship, particularly in well-functioning human community, both in marriage and in wider society. Traditionally, the image has been seen as the capacities that set man apart from the other animals—ways in which humans resemble God, such as in the characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, and creativity in all forms of art. All these insights can be put together by observing that the resemblances (man is like God in a series of ways) allow mankind to represent God in ruling, and to establish worthy relationships with God, with one another, and with the rest of the creation. This “image” and this dignity apply to both “male and female” human beings. (This view is unique in the context of the ancient Near East. In Mesopotamia, e.g., the gods created humans merely to carry out work for them.)

1:28 — God’s creation plan is that the whole earth should be populated by those who know him and who serve wisely as his vice-regents or representatives. subdue it and have dominion. The term “subdue” (Hb. kabash) elsewhere means to bring a people or a land into subjection so that it will yield service to the one subduing it (Num. 32:22, 29). Here the idea is that the man and woman are to make the earth’s resources beneficial for themselves, which implies that they would investigate and develop the earth’s resources to make them useful for human beings generally. This command provides a foundation for wise scientific and technological development; the evil uses to which people have put their dominion come as a result of Genesis 3. over every living thing. As God’s representatives, human beings are to rule over every living thing on the earth. These commands are not, however, a mandate to exploit the earth and its creatures to satisfy human greed, for the fact that Adam and Eve were “in the image of God” (1:27) implies God’s expectation that human beings will use the earth wisely and govern it with the same sense of responsibility and care that God has toward the whole of his creation.

My purpose here is primarily to look at the ESV Study Bible as it relates to topics such as Earth history. It is certainly an excellent study resource, no matter where one stands on the age of the Earth issue, and will help anyone to grow in their knowledge of God and his Word.

Grace and Peace

January 23, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Blog Recycling, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | Leave a comment

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Introduction and Introduction to Genesis

The following item was originally posted on The GeoChristian in October 2009, and I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries. 

I am re-using this post about the ESV Study Bible for a couple reasons. The first is because the ESV Study Bible is a theologically conservative Evangelical work, yet it presents a wide range of interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis. The authors of the study notes, though firmly committed to the inspiration of the Scriptures, believe that it is not necessary to hold to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation of Genesis.

My other reason for using this post over again is because I feel that I didn’t really follow through on my original intentions. I had planned a multiple-part series on the doctrine of creation as presented in the ESV Study Bible, but ended after only two posts. I plan on extending this series in the upcoming months.

ESVStudyBibleThe ESV Study Bible (ESV is the English Standard Version translation) is a masterpiece of conservative Evangelical scholarship. The scholars who put this volume together are highly-qualified Bible experts who have a high respect for the Bible as the Word of God.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of a study Bible, this contains more than just the text of the Bible. It contains many thousands of cross-references and explanatory notes, plus drawings, maps, articles, and an extensive concordance (index). The ESV Study Bible is a massive work, with over 2,000,000 words on 2750 pages.

INTRODUCTION

The Introduction to the ESV Study Bible makes it very clear that the authors of the various articles and study notes share a commitment to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. The Introduction was written by Lane Dennis of Crossway Books and Bibles, and Wayne Grudem of Phoenix Seminary. Here are some quotes from the introduction:

The first kind [of words in the ESV Study Bible] is the actual words of the Bible, which are the very words of God to us. (p. 9)

The notes are written from the perspective of confidence in the complete truthfulness of the Bible. (pp. 10-11)

Because of this commitment to the truthfulness of the Bible, many would think that the ESV Study Bible would give a strong endorsement of the “literal” six-day interpretation of the young-Earth creationists, with a roughly 6000-year old Earth and a global flood that deposited most sedimentary rocks. The authors of the notes, however, take a cautious and broad approach to questions of the age of the Earth and the extent and work of the flood.

There are two groups of people who insist that Genesis teaches a young Earth. The first of these is the young-Earth creationists, led by organizations such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research. They are convinced that the Bible requires a young Earth, and distort science to make it fit their interpretation. The other group is the atheists and skeptics. It is in their interest to say that the Bible requires a young Earth, as it makes it easier for them to not believe. For the most part, neither group is willing to consider Biblical scholarship that would upset their preconceptions.

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — Overview of interpretations

The ESV Study Bible‘s Introduction to Genesis (which is different than the Introduction I have quoted from already) was written by T. Desmond Alexander of Union Theological Seminary in Belfast. It has a section called “Genesis and Science,” which begins with an overview of the various positions that are held by theologically-conservative Biblical scholars.

The relation of Genesis to science is primarily a question of how one reads the accounts of creation and fall (chs. 1–3) and of the flood (chs. 6–9). What kind of “days” does Genesis 1 describe? How long ago is this supposed to have happened? Were all species created as they are now? Were Adam and Eve real people? Are all people descended from them? How much of the earth did Noah’s flood cover? How much impact did it have on geological formations?

Faithful interpreters have offered arguments for taking the creation week of Genesis 1 as a regular week with ordinary days (the “calendar day” reading); or as a sequence of geological ages (the “day-age” reading); or as God’s “workdays,” analogous to a human workweek (the “analogical days” view); or as a literary device to portray the creation week as if it were a workweek, but without concern for temporal sequence (the “literary framework” view). Some have suggested that Genesis 1:2, “the earth was without form and void,” describes a condition that resulted from Satan’s primeval rebellion, which preceded the creation week (the “gap theory”). There have been other readings as well, but these five are the most common.

None of these views requires denying that Genesis 1 is historical, so long as the discussion in the section on Genesis and History is kept in mind. Each of these readings can be squared with other biblical passages that reflect on creation. (pp. 43-44)

Note that only one of the five primary alternatives—the “calendar day” reading— requires a young Earth. The others each have room—or require—an Earth that is older than 6000 years. I personally make no commitment to a specific view, except to say that I rule out the calendar day interpretation based on external evidence (keeping in mind that all truth is God’s truth).

Note also that the Introduction to Genesis indicates that even Exodus 20:11 does not require a literal, seven consecutive day interpretation:

The most important of these [passages] is Exodus 20:11, “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day”: since this passage echoes Genesis 1:1–2:3, the word “day” here need mean only what it means in Genesis 1. Therefore, it does not require an ordinary-day interpretation, nor does it preclude an ordinary-day interpretation. (p. 44)

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — Is Genesis 1 a scientific account?

Genesis gives a true account of the origin of the universe, but one should be extremely cautious when attempting to correlate the words of Genesis to specific scientific concepts. Genesis 1 wasn’t written to tell us about the degree to which populations can vary (reproduction “according to their kinds” doesn’t place any kind of limit on variation), Genesis 2 wasn’t written to tell us that it never ever rained before the flood, and Genesis 3 wasn’t written to tell us how snakes lost their limbs.

Should Genesis 1 be called a “scientific account”? Again, it is crucial to have a careful definition. Does Genesis 1 record a true account of the origin of the material universe? To that question, the answer must be yes. On the other hand, does Genesis 1 provide information in a way that corresponds to the purposes of modern science? To this question the answer is no. Consider some of the challenges. For example, the term “kind” does not correspond to the notion of “species”; it simply means “category,” and could refer to a species, or a family, or an even more general taxonomic group. Indeed, the plants are put into two general categories, small seed-bearing plants and larger woody plants. The land animals are classified as domesticable stock animals (“livestock”); small things such as mice, lizards, and spiders (“creeping things”); and larger game and predatory animals (“beasts of the earth”). Indeed, no species, other than man, gets its proper Hebrew name. Not even the sun and moon get their ordinary Hebrew names (1:16). The text says nothing about the process by which “the earth brought forth vegetation” (1:12), or by which the various kinds of animals appeared—although the fact that it was in response to God’s command indicates that it was not due to any natural powers inherent in the material universe itself. (p. 44)

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — The purpose of Genesis

The primary purpose of Genesis 1 seems to be to identify God as the Creator of everything who is completely separate from the creation, and to contrast him to the gods who appear in the creation accounts of the nations the Hebrews had contact with.

This account is well cast for its main purpose, which was to enable a community of nomadic shepherds in the Sinai desert to celebrate the boundless creative goodness of the Creator; it does not say why, e.g., a spider is different from a snake, nor does it comment on what genetic relationship there might be between various creatures. At the same time, when the passage is received according to its purpose, it shapes a worldview in which science is at home (probably the only worldview that really makes science possible). This is a concept of a world that a good and wise God made, perfectly suited for humans to enjoy and to rule. The things in the world have natures that people can know, at least in part. Human senses and intelligence are the right tools for discerning and saying true things about the world. (The effects of sin, of course, can interfere with this process.) (p. 44)

The doctrine of creation is much richer than merely addressing questions of how and when God created the universe, life, and human beings.

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — Adam and Eve

I often state my position as “I believe in a real creation of the universe by the Triune God of the Bible, in a real Adam in a real garden, committing a real sin with real consequences, and in Jesus Christ as God’s only solution to those consequences.”

It is clear that Adam and Eve are presented as real people. Their role in the story, as the channel by which sin came into the world, implies that they are seen as the headwaters of the human race. The image of God distinguishes them from all the animals, and is a special bestowal of God (i.e., not a purely “natural” development). It is no wonder that all human beings share capacities for language, moral judgment, rationality, and appreciation for beauty, unlike and beyond the powers observed in the animals; any science that ignores this fact does not faithfully describe reality. The biblical worldview leads one to expect as well that all humans now share a need for God and a bent toward sin, as well as a possibility for faith in the true God. (p. 44)

Young Earthers often say that to accept an old Earth undermines the foundations of the gospel, but it is clear that one can accept an old Earth, a real Adam, a real Fall, and therefore a real need for a Savior.

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — The flood

Young Earth creationists insist that the Bible requires a global, catastrophic flood. Many conservative scholars, including the editors and contributors to the ESV Study Bible, have looked closely at the text and determined that this is not necessary.

One must take similar care in reading the flood story. The notes will discuss the extent to which Moses intended to describe the flood’s coverage of the globe. Certainly the description of the flood implies that it was widespread and catastrophic, but there are difficulties in making confident claims that the account is geared to answering the question of just how widespread. Thus, it would be incautious to attribute to the flood all the geological formations observed today—the strata, the fossils, the deformations, and so on. Geologists agree that catastrophic events, such as volcanic eruptions and large-scale floods, have had great impact on the landscape; it is questionable, though, whether these events can in fact achieve all that might be claimed for them. Again, such matters do not come within the author’s own scope, which is to stress the interest that God has in all mankind. (p. 44)

Conclusion

Could the introductions and notes in the ESV Study Bible be wrong on these things? Yes. Could the young-Earth creationists be wrong in their interpretation of these things? Also yes. But it is clear that there are a number of conservative, Bible-believing scholars who either advocate or are willing to accept an old Earth and local flood. Based on external evidence, as well as Biblical exegesis, I choose to side with the old-Earth Biblical scholars.

Grace and Peace

November 6, 2010 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Blog Recycling, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origin of Life, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 3 Comments

New York City — A Montana Native’s Perception

Being that the dreaded Yankees won the World Series, here is my map of New York City, as originally posted in December 2007.

A couple days ago I commented (click here) on a map of Montana printed by The New Yorker Magazine. (I got the map from Strange Maps). Those Easterners know that Montana has everything from militia groups to radical environmentalists, but they didn’t know what part of the state to put them in.

I was thinking to myself: “Hey, you worked as a cartographer for eleven years. You can certainly make just as good of a map of New York City as they made of Montana.” So, here it is:

ny.jpg

I was at JFK airport in 1980, so it isn’t like I haven’t been there.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Fun, Maps, Montana | | Leave a comment

Earth First scream therapy

The following item was originally posted in September 2007. 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.

I love trees, but…

Here is a video clip featuring Earth First! people mourning the loss of a tree:

Some questions for thought:

  • What is right in the worldview of the people in this movie?
  • What is wrong in the worldview of the people in this movie?
  • How should we think about trees?

Grace and Peace

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Apologetics, Blog Recycling, Environment, Nature | , | 1 Comment

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

September 25, 2009 Posted by | Apologetics, Blog Recycling, Christianity | Leave a comment

Father’s Day 2009 #1

The following item was originally posted in June 2006. 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.

In my wide margin Bible, I mark an “F” in the margin to denote verses about the family. As I have done this, I have seen more clearly my responsibilities as a father. The most common command or exhortation in the Scriptures in regards to parenting is to teach our children about the wonders of God:

For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him. (Genesis 18:19)

You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ (Exodus 13:8)

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever. (Joshua 4:6-7)

O God, we have heard with our ears,
our fathers have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
in the days of old. (Psalm 44:1)

So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come. (Psalm 71:18)

Things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done. (Psalm 78:3-4)

But we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise. (Psalm 79:13)

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 89:1)

One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts. (Psalm 145:4)

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching. (Proverbs 1:8)

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight. (Proverbs 4:1)

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

The father makes known to the children your faithfulness. (Isaiah 38:19)

Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation. (Joel 1:3)

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

Being that I am not much of a talker by nature, this is something I need to be very intentional about or it doesn’t happen. But when I stumble in the telling of the story of God’s grace to my children, I pick up and keep on going. They need to hear it and see it from me daily. Just as in the Old Testament, the people were to tell their children over and over about what God had done to save Israel in the exodus, we are to tell our children over and over about what God has done in creation and redemption.

Grace and Peace

(Scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version)

June 20, 2009 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Christianity | , | Leave a comment

Francis Schaeffer — 25th anniversary of his death

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Christian author, philosopher, and pastor Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer is highly regarded in the Evangelical Christian world for his defense of the faith, his advocacy of pro-life political action, and leadership of the l’Abri community in Switzerland. Francis Schaeffer was also an advocate of environmental protection.

HT: World Magazine blog: Remembering Francis Schaeffer, by Scott Lamb

The following item was originally posted in January 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.

pollution.jpgI recently finished re-reading Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer. If you read only one book on why Christians should care about nature, this is the book. It is short, and fairly easy reading (by Schaeffer standards). It is not a book about “50 ways to be green;” rather it lays the Biblical and philosophical foundations for taking care of the Earth. Even though it was written almost forty years ago, it is still relevant to the environmental issues we face. Unlike many conservative Evangelical leaders, Schaeffer was willing to admit that we face an ecological crisis.

The book has seven chapters:

  1. “What Have They Done to Our Fair Sister?”
  2. Pantheism: Man Is No More Than the Grass
  3. Other Inadequate Answers
  4. The Christian View: Creation
  5. A Substantial Healing
  6. The Christian View: The “Pilot Plant.”
  7. Concluding Chapter by Udo Middelmann

The book also has two essays as appendices. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” by Lynn White, Jr., and “Why Worry About Nature.” by Richard Means. These were two important essays of the late 1960s; the first was written to state the case that the environmental crisis is Christianity’s fault, and the second was written to present pantheism as the answer.

I gave a long quote a few weeks ago: “I looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness.”

Here are some more quotes:

Near the end of his life, Darwin acknowledged several times in his writing that two things had become dull to him as he got older. The first was his joy in the arts and the second his joy in nature…. The distressing thing about this is that orthodox Christians often really have no better sense about these things than unbelievers.

Our agreement with Means [an advocate of pantheism as the solution to the ecologic crisis] at this point centers on the fact that the hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too, a long, long time ago, before the counterculture ever came onto the scene.

Again, a pantheistic stand always brings man to an impersonal and low place rather than elevating him. This is an absolute rule…. Eventually nature does not become high, but man becomes low…. In the Eastern countries there is no real base for the dignity of man.

Far from raising nature to man’s height, pantheism must push both man and nature down into a bog.

A poor Christianity is not the answer either.

Much orthodoxy, much evangelical Christianity, is rooted in a Platonic concept. In this kind of Christianity there is only interest in the “upper story,” in the heavenly things—only in “saving the soul” and getting it to Heaven…. There is little or no interest in the proper pleasure of the body or the proper uses of the intellect…. Nature has become merely an academic proof of the existence of the Creator, with little value in itself. Christians of this outlook do not show an interest in nature itself.

We should treat each thing with integrity because it is the way God has made it.

The man who believes things are there only by chance cannot give things a real intrinsic value. But for the Christian, there is an intrinsic value. The value of a thing is not in itself autonomously, but because God made it.

But we should be looking now, on the basis of the work of Christ, for substantial healing in every area affected by the Fall.

But Christians who believe the Bible are not simply called to say that “one day” there will be healing, but that by God’s grace, upon the basis of the work of Christ, substantial healing can be a reality here and now.

Here the church—the orthodox, Bible-believing church—has been really poor. What have we done to heal sociological divisions? Often our churches are a scandal; they are cruel not only to the man “outside,” but also to the man “inside.”

The same thing is true psychologically. We load people with psychological problems by telling them that “Christians don’t have breakdowns,” and that is a kind of murder.

On the other hand, what we should have, individually and corporately, is a situation where, on the basis of the work of Christ, Christianity is seen to be not just “pie in the sky,” but something that has in it the possibility of substantial healings now in every area where there are divisions because of the Fall. First of all, my division from God is healed by justification, but then there must be the “existential reality” of this moment by moment. Second, there is the psychological division of man from himself. Third, the sociological divisions of man from other men. And last, the division of man from nature, and nature from nature.

One of the first fruits of that healing is a new sense of beauty.

We are to have dominion over it [nature], but we are not going to use it as fallen man uses it.

Man is not to be sacrificed…. And yet nature is to be honored.

Christians, of all people, should not be the destroyers. We should treat nature with an overwhelming respect.

Most Christians simply do not care about nature as such…. These are reasons why the church seems irrelevant and helpless in our generation. We are living in and practicing a sub-Christianity.

If we treat nature as having no intrinsic value, our own value is diminished.

To just list quotes does not do justice to the stream of reason that Schaeffer develops in this book. If environmental issues are important to you, this is a must-read.

Grace and Peace

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Apologetics, Blog Recycling, Environment, Nature | | 5 Comments

The Earth has a future

This item was originally posted in June 2006. 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 (with some editing).

Additionally, this is being submitted to the January 2009 Accretionary Wedge Geoscience Blog Carnival, in which a number of geology bloggers are writing on the topic of speculation about future Earth history from a geological perspective. The first part of this post contains no original thinking on my part, but is a summary of an article that appeared in the online journal Geosphere.

For those of you who have gotten here who are not regular readers of The GeoChristian, welcome. I write primarily for a general audience rather than for a geological audience. One of the primary objectives of The GeoChristian is to promote geoscience literacy in the Evangelical Christian community, and so I have a number of posts on issues that are controversial within that group, including the age of the Earth and Christian attitudes toward the environment.

I close this post with a few thoughts on Christian perspectives on the future of the Earth.


The Accretionary Wedge #16: Pondering the geological future of Earth is now posted.


We usually think of the science of geology as being about the past: geologists often reconstruct events that happened thousands, millions, or even billions of years in the past. Sometimes geologists are called upon to project into the future as well. Examples of this include earthquake prediction and finding sites for long-term (>10,000 years) storage of radioactive waste. Geologist Steven Ian Dutch takes a look at the prospects for the next million years in “The Earth Has a Future”, published by the Geological Society of America in the online journal Geosphere. I’ll summarize the article and then give a little commentary on it.

The article is available online in two versions:

Dutch starts with processes active on the surface of the earth—erosion, uplift, volcanic activity, plate movement, changes due to human activities—as well as the more rare events such as eruptions of supervolcanoes and meteorite impacts. He calculates the rates at which these occur at various places on the earth, and makes predictions as to what the earth will be like in one thousand, ten thousand, one hundred thousand, and a million years from now. He acknowledges that there are many uncertainties in these speculations, but it is still a worthwhile exercise.

One of the most difficult things to predict, in Dutch’s mind, is the future impact of human activity. Will humans become extinct? Will technological civilization collapse? Will humans modify the surface of the earth beyond recognition?

Some things that will happen in the next 1000 years:

  • 5-7 magnitude 8 earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault, with total movement of about 25 m.
  • 40 eruptions of Vesuvius
  • 5-10 eruptions of Fuji
  • ~12 eruptions of Cascade Range volcanoes
  • Perhaps smaller volcanic eruptions in areas with lower-frequency eruptive histories: cinder cones in the SW United States, Puy region of France, or Eifel region of Germany
  • 200 eruptions of Mauna Loa on Hawaii, building it 5 m higher
  • Probable death of Old Faithful Geyser, as its geothermal plumbing shifts over time
  • Several world-wide large volcanic eruptions (on the scale of the 1815 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia, which caused “the year without summer” in the United States and Europe)
  • Little change visible in mountain ranges as they simultaneously uplift and erode
  • The Mississippi River and its delta will change its course. Its delta naturally changes position every 1000 years or so, and is overdue (thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers)
  • Niagara Falls will have cut back 900 m upstream from its present position
  • A good chance of a meteorite impact with a crater of 100 m or more
  • Most steel structures (Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge) will survive only with careful maintenance
  • Humans will still be using coal and natural gas, but not much petroleum

Some things that will happen in the next 10,000 years:

  • 50-70 magnitude 8 earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault, with displacement of 250 m
  • Kilauea, on Hawaii, will be about 100 m higher
  • Several hundred eruptions of Vesuvius
  • 100 eruptions of Fuji
  • 100 eruptions of Cascade Range volcanoes
  • 90 m uplift of the Baltic Sea and 100 m uplift of Hudson Bay as they continue to rebound after the removal of Pleistocene ice sheets. These bodies of water will, therefore, be smaller
  • By natural cycles, we would be nearing the end of the present interglacial, looking to the beginning of a new ice age
  • Niagara Falls will retreat upstream by 9 km
  • Higher probability of a 1 km crater formed by meteor impact, with considerable destruction up to hundreds of km away
  • Without considerable care, the only human structures that will still exist are large highway cuts and large monuments
  • No present human cities are 10,000 years old. Will any of our present cities exist 10,000 years from now?

Some things that will happen in the next 100,000 years:

  • 2.5 km slip along the San Andreas Fault. Not enough to close the Golden Gate
  • Kilauea will be 1 km higher, and Loihi (an underwater volcano SE of the island of Hawaii) will be above sea level
  • Some mountain ranges will have had 1 km of uplift. In most cases, this will be accompanied by close to 1 km of erosion, so the net result will be exposure of deeper rocks, not higher mountain ranges
  • Earth could be in an ice age
  • Niagara Falls will stop retreating as rock types are different further upstream. A new waterfall will start forming near the outlet of Lake Erie
  • There could be a meteor impact with global effect

Some things that will happen in the next 1,000,000 years:

  • The San Andreas Fault will have slipped 25 km, perhaps blocking the entrance to San Francisco Bay
  • The highest points of the island of Hawaii will be Kilauea and Loihi. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea will be old and eroded
  • Several enormous catastrophic landslides will have occurred on the slopes of Hawaii
  • Many current volcanoes will have become extinct, being replaced by others
  • One or more eruptions of “supervolcanoes” such as Yellowstone or Long Valley, California. (The last large eruption at Yellowstone, 640,000 years ago, had a volume of 1000 km3, as compared to 0.5 km3 for Mount St. Helens 1980)
  • Some rivers will have changed their courses
  • Ten or more major periods of glaciation
  • Hundreds of meteor impacts
  • The earth’s day will be 20 seconds longer (due to tidal effects)
  • The moon will be 38 km further away
  • The solar system will have traveled 750 light years in its orbit around the center of the galaxy
  • The only present human structures to survive will be large and made of earth and stone: open-pit mines, large road cuts, mine waste piles, the Pyramids. (Even the Pyramids might not make it if the climate becomes more humid in that area).

Commentary

This kind of reasoning is increasingly important in the Earth sciences: trying to figure out what has happened in the past and what is going on at the present in order to make predictions about what is likely to happen in the future.

Some issues that come to mind as I as a Christian geologist think about the future of the Earth:

  • This paper puts our human achievements in a good perspective. All that we create is of a very temporary nature. Compared to the universe and the potential vastness of time, we are rather temporary. The purpose of this isn’t to magnify the creation, but to magnify the Creator. God is to the universe as the universe is to us. And that is an understatement.
  • In Christian understanding, God is sovereign over the events of the future. This does not rule out the type of investigation that has been done here—we can seek to understand how the earth works and then project that into the future. This is the geological principle of uniformitarianism properly applied to the future. It has its limits, but it can also be a powerful tool.
  • As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ, who ascended to heaven after his resurrection, will return to Earth some day. I don’t know when that will be. First century believers thought that it would occur in their lifetimes, and probably couldn’t imagine a delay of at least 2000 years. I don’t know if Christ’s return will be tomorrow, or 3000 years further down the road. I am just told to always be ready.
  • One reason that we need to use our natural resources wisely is what I just stated. We don’t know the future; we don’t know when Christ is returning. Our water, mineral, soil, and energy resources may need to last us a very long time. There are a number of other reasons, of course, for us to pursue a sustainable future.
  • The Biblical view of eternal life (yes, as a Christian I believe in life after death) is not living in heaven. The Earth has a future, at least as a new Earth (Revelation 21:1). Biblical scholars disagree as to the exact relationship between the present Earth and the New Earth; whether it is just a makeover or a complete re-creation. But eternity for the believer will not be spent strumming harps on clouds, but on a real, physical Earth that is in many ways like the one we live on. It will have rocks and trees and bodies of water. It may be different in some ways than the present Earth, but it will still be “earthy.” The primary difference will be the removal of sin and its effects, such as disease, war, famine, and death.
  • Will the new Earth have volcanoes? Earthquakes? Uplift and erosion? Plate tectonics? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it will. We tend to think of things like volcanoes and earthquakes as “bad,” but I believe these things could fit under the phrase “it was good” from Genesis 1. Volcanoes, for example, renew the surface of the earth, and provide us with rich soils. “Good” isn’t the same as “safe;” in fact, dangerous things have a way of showing God’s glory to us.

Grace and Peace

January 30, 2009 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Future, Geology | 3 Comments

“I looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness”

This item was originally posted in January 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. I also wrote a longer review of the book Pollution and the Death of Man in January 2008. This book is foundational for a Christian perspective on the environment, arguing that a Biblical Christian worldview provides the strongest basis for taking care of the Earth.

A story from Pollution and the Death of Man, by Francis Schaeffer:

Some years ago I was lecturing in a certain Christian school. Just across a ravine from the school there was what they called a “hippie community.” On the far side of the ravine one saw trees and some farms. Here, I was told, they had pagan grape stomps. Being interested, I made my way across the ravine and met one of the leading men in this “Bohemian” community.

We got on very well as we talked of ecology, and I was able to speak of the Christian answer to life and ecology. He paid me the compliment (and I accepted it as such) of telling me that I was the first person from “across the ravine” who had ever been shown the place where they did, indeed, have grape stomps and to see the pagan image they had there. This image was the center of these rites. The whole thing was set against the classical background of Greece and Rome.

Having shown me all this, he looked across to the Christian school and said to me, “Look at that; isn’t that ugly?” And it was! I could not deny it. It was an ugly building, without even trees around it.

It was then that I realized what a poor situation this was. When I stood on Christian ground and looked at the Bohemian people’s place, it was beautiful. They had even gone to the trouble of running their electric cables under the level of the trees so that they couldn’t be seen. Then I stood on pagan ground and looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness. Here you have a Christianity that is failing to take into account man’s responsibility and proper relationship to nature.

(quote from chapter 3 — Other Inadequate Answers)

What do “pagans” see when they look at us? Do they see people who place value on the creation and its creatures because God places value on them? Do they see people who use the Earth’s resources wisely because God has called them to be good stewards? Do they see people who create or people who destroy? Do they see people who live in contentment or people who are caught up in the destructive consumerism of our society?

Another way to ask the question: Do they see beauty or do they see ugliness?

Schaeffer stated that Christianity has failed to take into account two things in regards to ecology: What is our responsibility toward the creation? and What is our proper relationship to the creation?

How should we then live?

Grace and Peace

January 11, 2009 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Environment, Ethics | , , | 1 Comment

For the Beauty of the Earth

for_the_beautyLast year I ran a series of posts with quotes from For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care by Steven Bouma-Prediger. This book develops a Biblical view of creation care that is neither Earth-centered nor man-centered, but God-centered. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I periodically recycle previous posts. For this book, however, I won’t re-run all eleven posts, but will just give you some highlights:

Chapter 1 — Where Are We? An Ecological Perception of Place

Despite our education we remain ecologically illiterate. Or perhaps more accurately, because of our education we remain ignorant of how the world works.

Ecological literacy is “built on a view of ourselves as finite and fallible creatures living in a world limited by natural laws.” (Quote from David Orr, Ecological Literacy)

Chapter 2 — What’s Wrong With the World? The Groaning of Creation

The author refers to Calvin DeWitt (professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin and a co-founder of the Evangelical Environmental Network), who lists “seven major degradations brought on by our assault on creation”:

  1. land conversion and habitat destruction, e.g., deforestation
  2. species extinction
  3. degradation of the land, e.g, loss of topsoil to wind and water erosion
  4. resource conversion and production of wastes and hazards
  5. global toxification, e.g., oil spills
  6. the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion
  7. human and cultural degradation, e.g., the displacement of agriculture by agribusiness

The author, Steven Bouma-Prediger, goes through these degradations (and others), and I’m not going to restate those here. It is clear that much of human impact on the Earth is not just bad for woodpeckers, wildflowers, and walruses; it is bad for us as well.

Does our soaring consumption really make us happy?

Chapter 3 — Is Christianity to Blame? The Ecological Complaint Against Christianity

Christian organizations, to this day, remain largely indifferent to the rape and plunder of the world and its traditional cultures. It is hardly too much to say that most Christian organizations are as happily indifferent to the ecological, cultural, and religious implications of industrial economies as are most industrial organizations. –Wendell Berry

Bouma-Prediger then analyzes four common complaints against Christianity given by many anti-Christian environmentalists:

Complaint #1 — The first is that monotheism in general, and Christianity in particular, is the primary if not sole cause of the despoilation of the earth.

How do we as Christians answer this complaint? Bouma-Prediger gives a few ideas:

  • Understand that humans are in some way unique; we are made in the image of God.
  • Also understand that we are not only unique, but are also part of the creation. We are made of the same stuff that the rest of creation is made of, and are embedded in the creation. The name “Adam” is very similar to the Hebrew word for “earth” — ‘adama.
  • Distinguish between dominion and domination. One who has dominion, like the ideal king of Psalm 72, is one who “rules and exercises dominion properly.”

For Jesus, to rule is to serve. To exercise dominion is to suffer, if necessary, for the good of the other. There is no question of domination, exploitation, misuse. Humans, therefore, are called to rule, but only if ruling is understood rightly.

Such a reading of Genesis 1:28 is contradicted by virtually all the rest of the Bible, as many people by now have pointed out. The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made. He thinks the world is good; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that oblige us to take excellent care of it. If God loves the world, then how might any person of faith be excused for not loving it or justified in destroying it? — Wendell Barry

Complaint #2 — Christian theology emphasizes the spiritual over the material, resulting in the material being abused or neglected.

The initial premise is unacceptable– the claim that the Bible promotes a dualism between soul and body, spirit and mater–this argument is not sound.

Some additional thoughts of my own:

  • The original creation was proclaimed to be “very good” even apart from anything “spiritual” in its description. (Genesis 1:31).
  • Christ became fully human as well as being fully God. The incarnation is a sign that the material is good and of eternal value.

Complaint #3 — The third reason that many environmentalists blame Christianity for the ecological crisis is eschatological: If this world is going to burn, why take care of it? If Jesus is coming back soon, why be concerned about what the world will be like 100, 1000, or 10000 years from now?

Bouma-Prediger acknowledges that the complaint is at least partially valid because there are a number of Christians whose behavior and statements reflect this kind of attitude.

I’ll add a thought of my own. I believe in the literal return of Christ, and that it could happen at any time. This does not negate my responsibility to take care of the Earth any more than it negates my responsibility in any other area. I take care of my body, even though I believe that some day I am going to get a new one; a body without aches and pains, sore hips and graying hairs. It would be foolish for me to abuse my body, even though my resurrection body will be even better. The same goes for the Earth. It is foolish for us to consume resources at unsustainable rates, pollute the air and water, and force thousands of species into extinction when we could live otherwise.

Complaint #4 — The fourth complaint against Christianity given by environmentalists is that because the Christian worldview is largely responsible for the rise of science and technology, Christianity is to blame for the ecological crisis that is upon us. This idea was promoted by a widely reprinted essay by historian Lynn White entitled “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.”

White’s thesis is accepted without question by most environmentalists, but Bouma-Prediger points out the weaknesses of the argument:

  • While Christianity had a role in the rise of science and technology, it was not the sole factor
  • “Ecological crises are not peculiar to Christian-influenced cultures. Non-Christian cultures have also caused severe or irreparable harm to their ecosystems.” — quoted from James Nash.
  • In general, environmentalists accept White’s critique of Christianity but ignore the section where White points out that there has always been a stream of thought in Christianity that affirms the value of the Earth. White proposes St. Francis of Assisi as the patron saint for ecologists.

Chapter 4 — Is there a connection between scripture and ecology? — Biblical wisdom and ecological vision

Some lessons from Genesis 1-2:

God is the creator of all things.

Humans are given the delegated, royal responsibility of ruling the earth.

The chaotic, to be sure, exists, but the universe is a place of order and structure, purposefully and lovingly designed by God.

Creation is good. The universe originates not out of struggle or battle or conflict, as portrayed in so many ancient creation stories, but through a seemingly effortless and struggle-free divine speaking and making.

The earth is a home for all earthly creatures. The earth is created as a habitat not only for humans but for all living things.

The sabbath reminds us, among other things, that the world is in God’s loving hands and, therefore, will not fall to pieces if we cease from our work.

Chapter 5 — How should we think of the earth? A theology and ethic of care for the earth

Neither cosmocentrism, with its “ethic of adoration,” nor anthropocentrism, with its “ethic of exploitation,” is adequate since both tacitly assume a dualism between nature and history, differing only in which has priority. Only a theocentric perspective, which refuses to accept such a dualism, is able to cultivate a proper “ethic of responsibility.” For these and other reasons Richard Young concludes that “the Christian Scriptures, when interpreted through a theocentric perspective, offer the most satisfying and realistic solution of the environmental problem.”

Jesus Christ is Creator, Integrator, and Reconciler; yet many who call on his name abuse, neglect, and do not give a care about creation. That irony is there for all to see. Honoring the Creator in word, they destroy God’s works in deed. Praising God from whom all blessings flow, they diminish and destroy God’s creatures here below. The pieces of this puzzle do not fit! One piece says, “We honor the Great Master!” The other piece says, “We despise his great masterpiece!” — Calvin DeWitt

Chapter 6 — What kind of people ought we be?

In this chapter, the author develops seven ecological virtues:

1. Act so as to preserve diverse kinds of life.

Creatures exist to praise God and are valuable irrespective of human utility. From this theological theme comes the ethical principle of intrinsic value.

We are obligated to preserve nonhuman species except when other moral considerations outweigh or overrule this duty. And since such species cannot exist without their homes, we are also obligated to preserve habitats.

2. Act so as to live within your means.

We have a prima facie duty to preserve nonrenewable resources and conserve scarce though renewable resources.

The author doesn’t advocate austerity, but rather discipline and self-restraint, as individuals and as a society.

3. Act cautiously.

We are to act cautiously in our relationship with the creation both because we are finite and because we are faulted. Because we are finite, we don’t understand all of the implications of our activities. Because we are faulted—fallen into sin—we are “alienated from God, other humans, ourselves, and the earth.”

4. Act in such a way that the ability of living creatures to maintain themselves and to reproduce is preserved.

It is God’s will that the whole of creation be fruitful, not just people. — Calvin DeWitt

We are permitted to use the fruit of the earth, but we are not allowed to destroy the earth’s ability to be fruitful.

Ecologically speaking, foolishness is the disposition to act as if the earth is endlessly exploitable and expendable.

5. Act in such a way that the creatures under your care are given their needful rest.

In the ten commandments, the command for sabbath rest doesn’t just apply to humans, but to their livestock as well.

6. Act so as to care for the earth’s creatures, especially those creatures in need.

Dominion does not mean domination but responsible care.

It is not enough merely to refrain from doing harm; in certain cases we are morally required to do good.

7. Act so as to treat others, human or nonhuman, fairly.

It is not that animals are equal to humans, but that we have certain responsibilities toward them because of our position over them.

Chapter 7 — Why worry about spotted owls and the Pacific yew?

  • The intrinsic value argument: Nonhuman creatures have an intrinsic value, because God created them. I think this is a real strength of the Christian argument for creation-care, as opposed to secular or non-Christian arguments. The secular environmentalist can assign value to nature only in an arbitrary or self-centered way. To the Christian, nature and its creatures have value simply because God created them. They were valuable before we came on the scene, and are not valuable just because they are useful to us.
  • The earth community argument: or the we’re-all-in-this-together argument. This is similar to the land ethic of Aldo Leopold, but Bouma-Prediger modifies it to a Christian form. We, as humans, are a part of a much bigger biosphere, and what we do to the biosphere turns around to have an effect on us. This is not an appeal to self-interest, but rather an acknowledgment that what is good for the environment is good for us.
  • The divine command argument: or “because God says so.” Bouma-Prediger bases this on his interpretation that the earth-care mandate given in Genesis 2:15 (”The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” ESV) means that we are here to serve and protect the earth, not to do whatever our sinful desires would have us do.
  • The image of God argument: or “because God’s concerns are our concerns.” God cares for the creatures of the earth, and as his viceregents—created in God’s image to rule in his place—we are to show the same care.

Grace and Peace, and take care of the Earth

November 21, 2008 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Environment, Quotes | 1 Comment

Compassionate environmentalism vs. plunder the Earth

This item was originally posted in November 2007. 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.

There is a growing awareness among Evangelicals of the importance of environmental issues. There are good Biblical arguments for the importance of taking care of the creation as part of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Increasingly, this is true among politically conservative Evangelicals; it is no longer just our more politically liberal brothers and sisters in Christ who see that being good stewards of the environment is part of the call to discipleship.

Marvin Olasky has an article on World Magazine’s web site called “Compassionate Environmentalism.” Here are some quotes:

While older evangelicals tend to emphasize the problems of gay marriage, many younger evangelicals concentrate more on poverty-fighting and environmental issues – and that’s fine. But what happens when evangelicals understand that helping the poor and aggressively fighting global warming are at loggerheads? 
I first became aware of the divide between concern for the poor and radical environmentalism in Austin a decade ago. The city went all out to protect a species of cave spiders but scrimped on police protection in poorer sections – and one result was that a deaf woman died in a gang shooting near my home. Sure, in theory we can protect both cave spiders and humans, but in reality needs and wants compete for a limited pool of money.

“Creation care” is important. God calls us to be stewards and gardeners, caring for oxen in the ditch and relishing lilies. But the Bible also teaches that human beings, created in God’s image, are the most valuable resource on earth.

My hope and prayer is that those who see the importance of environmental issues will be able to rise above “left vs. right” to find solutions to environmental problems that are good for the Earth, good for the poor, and good for the economy.

However, some conservatives just don’t get it. Here is a comment added by a reader of Olasky’s post:

When I walk out my front-door, the only environmental problems I see are crab-grass. Pass the herbicide please.

The Bulldoze-the-Everglades-and-Kill-the-Whales side of conservatism is no more Biblical than the Worship-the-Earth-Goddess-and-Hug-a-Tree side of the environmentalist movement.

Grace and Peace

November 14, 2008 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Environment | 2 Comments

Batty Arguments

This item was originally posted in September 2007. 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.

One way for me to have my faith strengthened is to get in discussions with skeptics. They usually think they know it all and that Christians are a bunch of idiots, but when they speak they expose their ignorance and poor reasoning. Last year I reported on a discussion I had via World Magazine Blog with a skeptic who was convinced that the Bible teaches that unicorns exist. The KJV does use the word “unicorn,” but that is a poor translation of the Hebrew word, as I discussed in the post Unicorns, the Bible, and education.

I got involved in another one of those discussions this week. It started out as a discussion about human evolution, and the fact that it appears that Homo habilis and Homo erectus coexisted. With dozens of people contributing to conversation, it quickly diverged (degraded?). One of the skeptics pointed out that the Bible cannot be true because it classifies bats as birds, while now we know that bats are mammals. The reference is Leviticus 11:13-18:

And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat. (ESV)

Here was how I responded, with a little additional editing:

Regarding bats being classified as birds: The fact that the Hebrew word for “bird” included bats doesn’t make the Biblical record false. There is no reason to expect the Biblical languages to conform to modern taxonomy. That is like saying the astronomy textbook on my bookshelf is unscientific because it calls Pluto a planet. The definition of “planet” has changed, but the book is still a useful reference book. Likewise, the definition of “bird” has changed, but that doesn’t invalidate non-scientific works written before.

Skeptics will continue to attack the Bible, but don’t let your faith be shaken by their batty arguments.

Grace and Peace

September 19, 2008 Posted by | Apologetics, Blog Recycling, Origins | 1 Comment

Earth Day 2008 — Stewardship of the Environment

This item was originally posted in December 2006. In honor of Earth Day, it is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my best blog entries.

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy has produced a document called The Chicago Statement on Biblical Application. Article XVI of this statement is about the environment:

Article XVI: Stewardship of the Environment

We affirm that God created the physical environment for His own glory and for the good of His human creatures.
We affirm that God deputized humanity to govern the creation.
We affirm that mankind has more value than the rest of creation.
We affirm that mankind’s dominion over the earth imposes a responsibility to protect and tend its life and resources.
We affirm that Christians should embrace responsible scientific investigation and its application in technology.
We affirm that stewardship of the Lord’s earth includes the productive use of its resources which must always be replenished as far as possible.
We affirm that avoidable pollution of the earth, air, water, or space is irresponsible.

We deny that the cosmos is valueless apart from mankind.
We deny that the biblical view authorizes or encourages wasteful exploitation of nature.
We deny that Christians should embrace the countercultural repudiation of science or the mistaken belief that science is the hope of mankind.
We deny that individuals or societies should exploit the universe’s resources for their own advantage at the expense of other people and societies.
We deny that a materialistic worldview can provide an adequate basis for recognizing environmental values.

I heartily endorse this kind of thinking. It states the high value of creation without minimizing the importance of humans. Many in the environmentalist movement deny or minimize the value of humans. May we in the Christian community not go to the other extreme, only giving lip service to the value of the creation.

Grace and Peace

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Application is found at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals website.

April 18, 2008 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Environment | Leave a comment

Earth Day 2008 — Christian Environmentalism

This item was originally posted for Earth Day, 2006 (Earth Day is held on April 22nd). It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have more people reading The GeoChristian now than I did then, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries.

We all seem to like nature–we teach our children to throw their trash in trash cans and send them to summer camp in the mountains or woods–but beyond this, Christian response to environmental issues is varied. I’ll try to give some additional thoughts about the environment as the week progresses.

A good internet article summarizing a Christian perspective on the environment is Christian Environmentalism by Dr. Ray Bohlin of Probe Ministries. Here are some quotes from the article:

What we fail to realize is that Christians have a sacred responsibility to the earth and the creatures within it. The earth is being affected by humans in an unprecedented manner, and we do not know what the short or long term effects will be.

But while pantheism elevates nature, it simultaneously degrades man and will ultimately degrade nature as well.

A true Christian environmental ethic differs from the naturalistic and pantheistic ethics in that it is based on the reality of God as Creator and man as his image-bearer and steward. God is the Creator of nature, not part of nature.

Nature has value in and of itself because God created it.

But a responsibility goes along with bearing the image of God. In its proper sense, man’s rule and dominion over the earth is that of a steward or a caretaker, not a reckless exploiter. Man is not sovereign over the lower orders of creation. Ownership is in the hands of the Lord.

An effective steward understands that which he oversees, and science can help us discover the intricacies of nature. Technology puts the creation to man’s use, but unnecessary waste and pollution degrades it and spoils the creation’s ability to give glorify to its creator. I think it is helpful to realize that we are to exercise dominion over nature not as though we are entitled to exploit it but as something borrowed or held in trust.

The source of our ecological crisis lies in man’s fallen nature and the abuse of his dominion.

Our often uncontrolled greed and haste have led to the deterioration of the environment.

We have spoken out loudly against the materialism of science as expressed in the issues of abortion, human dignity, evolution, and genetic engineering, but have shown ourselves to be little more than materialists in our technological orientation towards nature.

By failing to fulfill our responsibilities to the earth, we are losing a great evangelistic opportunity. Many in our society are seeking an improved environment, yet they think that most Christians don’t care about ecological issues and that most churches offer no opportunity for involvement.

Grace and Peace

April 18, 2008 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Environment | Leave a comment

The Bad News of the Gospel

This item was originally posted in March, 2006. (Wow! That reminds me—The GeoChristian is two years old this week!) It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers at The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries.

As a teacher, I’ve seen a few kids who regularly get D’s and F’s on their tests. I know how they feel, because I get a zero on this test every time I take it!

I got an “F” on a test today.

I have become increasingly aware that, for whatever reason, some of my children do not have a good grasp of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of this, I am directing more conversations in our family to this critical topic. Before one can comprehend the good news of the Gospel, they need to really understand the bad news about sin.

A primary purpose of the “Law” portions of Scripture is to point us to the fact that we are sinners in need of a Savior. This morning, my family read the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and then took a quiz out of the book Tell the Truth, by Will Metzger. Here’s the quiz:

———————————————————–

GOD’S TEST FOR EVERYONE: MEASURE YOURSELF BY GOD’S LAW

  1. (Yes or No) I have never put anything else before God in my life. I have always given God first place in my thinking, affections and actions.
  2. (Yes or No) I have never had any wrong conceptions about God nor worshipped Him in a way not recommended by Him. I have always rejected any wrong imaginations or images of God that I’ve seen or thought and refused to remake God according to my liking.
  3. (Yes or No) I have never slighted or abused the character of the true God by using His holy name as a swear word or using it in a thoughtless manner, such as by calling myself a follower of God yet not obeying. I have always held the name of God, which signifies His character, in highest respect, invoking it with thoughtfulness and reverence.
  4. (Yes or No) I have never done less than a full week’s work, and never done any of my normal work on the day set aside to worship God. I have always worked hard and willingly at whatever task is set before me, seeing it as a God-given service each day, and consistently remembered to set apart one day weekly to worship God with others.
  5. (Yes or No) I have never disobeyed nor dishonored my parents or any others in authority over me. I have always respected and been thankful for my parents and given them honor and willing obedience, as well as other authorities over me.
  6. (Yes or No) I have never murdered anyone nor had hateful thoughts or taken the slightest pleasure in seeing harm done to another human. I have always thought more of others than I have of myself and practiced the highest regard for human life and justice.
  7. (Yes or No) I have never practiced any sexual impurity, either physically engaging in sex before marriage or mentally having impure thoughts about someone. I have always treated others’ sexuality with respect and dignity in both my physical actions and mental attitudes.
  8. (Yes or No) I have never taken anything that doesn’t belong to me nor been deceitful in any attitudes or unwilling to work for my needs. I have always respected the belongings, rights and creations of others and been completely truthful and fair.
  9. (Yes or No) I have never lied nor slandered another person or group of people. I have always told the truth in every situation regarding every person I have known.
  10. (Yes or No) I have never been greedy for something that wasn’t mine, nor jealous even of the abilities, looks, or status of others. I have always shared and given of my possessions and myself to others and I have been thankful in my heart for what they have and content with my possessions and situation.

(from Metzger, Will, 2002, Tell the Truth, A Training Manual on the Message & Methods of God-Centered Witnessing, 3rd ed., InterVarsity Press)

I scored 0/10 on this one.

Praise God that I have one who speaks to the Father in my defense: “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.” (1 John 2:1-2 ESV).

Grace and Peace

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Christianity | 1 Comment

Mars and Valentine’s Day

This item was originally posted in February 2007. It is now part of 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.

Today is Valentine’s Day, so…

Is Mars the planet of war? After all, Venus was the Roman goddess of beauty and love, while Mars was the god of war.

This Valentine’s day, let us resolve to think better of the red planet! Mars is really a happy, loving place, as indicated by the following images taken from orbit around the planet:

marslove1.jpg

marslove2.jpg

Venus, on the other hand, is a deadly place, with searing temperatures, crushing atmospheric pressure, and sulfuric acid clouds. Mars really is a peaceful and homey place in comparison, the best planet in the solar system (other than earth) to take your sweetheart on this special day.

Grace and Peace

February 14, 2008 Posted by | Astronomy, Blog Recycling, Fun | 1 Comment