Someone on a social media site recently asked me, “How can you say you believe the Bible and then in the same breath declare that [Genesis 1] may not be literal?”
“Is everything in the Bible literal? I would say that not even everything in Genesis 1 is literal, and I say this for reasons that flow from the text of Genesis 1 itself. God’s speech is not the same as human speech, so God’s speech is not necessarily “literal.” God’s rest is not the same as human rest (humans rest because they are tired; God rested because he was done), so God’s rest is not necessarily “literal.” And, as Bible-believing scholars have pointed out throughout church history, the days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily “literal” days, being that the sun did not appear to mark the passage of days until day four. So for me to interpret the days of Genesis more loosely than you do does not mean that I do not believe the Bible. It does mean that there is more than one way to honestly interpret the meaning of the opening chapters of Genesis.”
Grace and Peace
Facebook comment thread: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=679429282226469&id=224603031042432
I recently spent about seven hours at the Creation Museum run by the young-Earth creationist (YEC) organization Answers in Genesis in northern Kentucky (I visited the museum, not the new Ark Encounter). As I anticipated, the exhibits at the museum are all of the highest quality. Whether the displays were animatronic dinosaurs, dioramas of the garden of Eden; fossils, mounted insects, or reconstructions of hominids, they were at the same level of quality one would expect to find in the Smithsonian Institution.
One thing that surprised me was how crowded the museum was. I was there on a Saturday, which is probably the museum’s busiest day of the week. Because of the crowds, I moved through the first parts of the “Walk Through History”—the main exhibits portion of the museum—at a snail’s pace. That so many people would spend $30 per adult to visit the Creation Museum speaks of the enormous influence young-Earth creationism has on the general Evangelical culture in America.
Much of the museum’s “Walk Through History” is arranged around the “7 C’s” of salvation. My young-Earth siblings in Christ and I have the gospel in common , with some secondary areas of disagreement:
- Creation — As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible. I don’t believe that the Bible requires a young Earth.
- Corruption — I believe in a real Adam who committed a real sin that has ramifications for each one of us today. The extent of that corruption is not clearly outlined in the Bible. For example, the Bible nowhere ties animal death to Adam’s sin.
- Catastrophe — Noah’s flood was certainly catastrophic for Noah’s contemporaries, and was universal from Noah’s point of view. But the Bible does not say that Noah’s flood created the bulk of the features of Earth’s crust, and the catastrophism of young-Earth creationism simply does not work as an explanation for Earth’s history.
- Confusion — As with the initial creation and Noah’s flood, young-Earth creationists read much more into the account of the Tower of Babel than what the Bible itself teaches. The nations in the “table of nations” in Genesis 10 are probably all located in the Eastern Mediterranean and ancient Near East, which implies that the story of Babel in Genesis 11 isn’t about the origin of Australian Aborigines or African Zulus.
- Christ — I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” (John 1:1 NIV).
- Cross — Again, I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God’s solution for the corruption of sin introduced in Genesis 3. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)
- Consummation — Christ will come again as king over all creation. The effects of Adam’s sin will be completely undone.
If the YECs get the gospel right, why do I write against them? There are certainly thousands of people who claim they came to faith—or have had their faith strengthened—through young-Earth creationism, and I rejoice when people come to faith in Christ (Phil 1:18). But countless others have been turned away from Christianity because of the really bad science presented at places like the Creation Museum. Many of these are young people who grew up in the church on a steady diet of YEC teachings in Sunday school, youth groups, and Christian schools. Once they grew up and figured out that YEC does not work in the real world, they discarded their Christianity along with their AiG or Dr. Dino videos. After all, they had had “If the Earth is millions of years old, the Bible isn’t true” drilled into their heads by well-meaning YEC advocates.
In addition to driving youth out of the church, YEC teachings close the door for fruitful evangelism to many outside the church, adding fuel to the fire of those who find Christianity unreasonable. In a society that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, we should not be surprised that many find Christianity to be foolish. But let it be the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor 1:17-2:5) that drives people away from Christ, not the foolishness of bad YEC science.
Grace and Peace
I have the unexpected opportunity to visit the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky in a few days.
- High quality — Skeptics and AiG fans alike acknowledge that the museum experience is at a high level. The displays and presentations are all professionally done. This isn’t a mom and pop roadside museum. The museum staff will be courteous and helpful.
- Beautiful grounds — I am looking forward to a stroll through the gardens.
- Commitment to the authority of the Scriptures — A committment that I share.
- Clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus — We are all sinners deserving God’s wrath, but the good news is that Jesus died on the cross to take God’s wrath and rose from the dead.
Expectations of disagreement
- Questionable Biblical interpretation — I don’t think “literal six days of creation only 6000 years ago” is the only way, and probably not the best way, to understand the text of Genesis 1-2.
- Bad science — Lots of bad science, especially when it comes to historical geology. Bad science is bad apologetics that drives people away from the gospel.
A Geology Presentation
I hope to be able to sit in on this talk by Dr. Andrew Snelling, the Answers in Genesis staff geologist. It is one thing for a large, deep magma chamber to crystallize rapidly (by rapidly, I mean over a period of decades or centuries), it is another thing to fit the emplacement of a complex batholith into Earth’s crust (complete with multiple injections of magma) in just a few day’s time and then have it exhumed by uplift and erosion a very short time later so it can be eroded and incorporated into sediments of the same or next geologic period. The problems abound.
What will the museum staff think about my t-shirt?
Here’s my custom t-shirt for my day at the museum:
Some have warned me, “They won’t let you wear that.”
The museum “Attraction Rules” say, “We reserve the right to deny admission to or remove any person wearing attire that we consider inappropriate, or attire that could be considered offensive, disrespectful, or inappropriate to others.”
I have a hard time seeing them justifying banning my shirt for a direct quote from Charles Spurgeon, but it is their museum, and Spurgeon was, after all, a dangerous compromiser.
I’ll bring another shirt with me just in case.
Grace and Peace
Many highly-regarded, Bible-believing scholars, pastors, and other Christian leaders see no incompatibility between the teachings of the Bible and acceptance of an ancient Earth. In the past, I have highlighted J. Gresham Machen, Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, and others. The scholars I just mentioned all adhere (or adhered, many of them are deceased) to a high view of Scripture, including inerrancy. It would be very difficult to make a case that they accept the Biblical possibility of an old Earth because of conformity to the world rather conformity to the teachings of Scripture.
Yet another old-Earth Christian scholar is Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary California, editor of Modern Reformation magazine, and host of the White Horse Inn radio program. In the second chapter of Horton’s book Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Bible, Horton writes about the Biblical doctrine of creation and humans being created in the image of God. The chapter begins with the proper starting point for the Good News about redemption in Christ:
“Whenever we take up the subject of redemption, [Genesis 1:31] is where we need to begin, at the beginning, with creation. Very often, however, a gospel presentation starts with the fall—the origin of human sin and the need for redemption. But creation is the proper starting point for any consideration of human identity and its recovery through the gospel.”
A couple paragraphs later, Horton continues,
“It is only when we more fully appreciate the majesty of humanity as God’s creation that we can adequately weigh the horror of the fall.”
The Christian doctrines of creation and sin are foundational for understanding the good news (gospel) about Jesus. Humans are made in the image of God, so were created to be good in every way, but humans are also universally marred by sin which is an integral part of who each one of us is. In Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Michael Horton is able to distinguish between what is essential in regards to the doctrine of creation (image of God, fall into sin) and what is not essential (age of the Earth). He writes,
Modern science has promised more than it can deliver. That accounts for much of the cynicism postmoderns seem to have toward the answers to their ultimate questions. To be sure, science is better equipped to answer some questions than any other field. For instance, it is science and not theology that will tell us the age of the earth. The Bible does not provide that kind of information, nor does it care to. There are a lot of important and reasonable questions the Bible does not try to answer. If it did, there would be a lot of unemployed geologists.
While science will lead the way toward the discovery of when we got here and will help us find the reasons for how we got here (beyond the revelation we already have in the inspired text of Genesis 1–3), there is a question to which of those other questions ultimately lead, a question, nevertheless, which science will never be able to answer any more than theology will be able to determine the age of the earth. That question is, “Why are we here?”
Many YEC leaders speak out of both sides of their mouths regarding the gospel and the age of the Earth. On their better days, YEC leaders acknowledge that one does not have to believe in a young Earth in order to be a Christian. But then they write a steady stream of articles accusing old-Earth Christians of compromise and even spiritual adultery. I am thankful for writers like Michael Horton who, unlike many of my YEC brothers and sisters in Christ, are able to stick to what is essential in the gospel message.
Grace and Peace
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth (2016), edited and written by a number of highly-qualified, predominately Christian authors, is a devastating critique of the geological arguments of young-Earth creationism (YEC). The subtitle of this new book asks the question, “Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” which is an appropriate question, being that YECs often showcase the Grand Canyon as a place that defies standard, old-Earth geological explanations and can only be explained by a global catastrophic flood event. The authors present an overwhelming case that neither the rock units exposed in the canyon nor the carving of the canyon itself are in any way related to Noah’s flood.
YEC geological arguments for a 6000-year old Earth and the formation of most of Earth’s geological record by a global flood have already been thoroughly examined and rejected by Christian geologists and many others (I recommend The Bible, Rocks and Time by Young and Stearley), but this new book is unique and fills an important niche. I highly recommend this book for several reasons:
- This book is authoritative – written by experts in the topics at hand and in the geology and paleontology of the Grand Canyon.
- This book is well written and skillfully edited. Each of the twenty chapters clearly explains the topic (such as the formation of sedimentary rocks, folding and faulting of rocks, and fossils) and how these features may be used to interpret the origin and history of a given rock layer. The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth was written by eleven talented authors, and the editors have weaved their chapters together seamlessly.
- This book is written at an appropriate level for a general, scientifically-interested audience, taking complex geological ideas and explaining them in a way most readers will understand, without any compromise in accuracy.
- This book is fair to our YEC brothers and sisters in Christ. I have been reading YEC materials for close to four decades, and am familiar enough with YEC arguments to be able to say with confidence that the YEC side has been explained accurately.
- This book is a work of art, with wonderful pictures and graphics and a professional layout. It will look good on any coffee table.
- This book is affordable: only $21.05 on Amazon. That means you will have no problem buying copies for your church library, pastor, and youth workers.
- This book is God-honoring, proclaiming the marvelous works of our wonderful Creator.
The name of the book is a play on the 1995 YEC book Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, written by Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research.
Summary of the book: What YECs get wrong about the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is fairly comprehensive, covering all of the key concepts involved in the interpretation of the geologic history of the Grand Canyon. Rather than giving a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, I’ll focus on some items where YECs get it all wrong:
- YECs get the Bible wrong. In Chapter 2 (What is Flood Geology?), the authors briefly outline instances where YECs wrongfully apply an overly-literalistic reading to the Old Testament rather than reading the text in a natural way. One example of this is taking the universal language (“all the world”) of the account of Noah’s flood to mean literally the entire globe (something ancient Hebrews may not have comprehended) when almost all other instances of universal language in the Old Testament (e.g. all nations coming to buy grain from Joseph in Genesis 41) are not to be taken literally.
- YECs get rapid deposition wrong. YECs will claim that modern coral reefs, some of which are thousands of feet thick, could have formed since the flood through normal coral growth, which can occur at several inches per year. But they leave out the fact that while narrow extensions of corals can grow rapidly, entire reef surfaces grow upwards at substantially slower rates.
- YECs get sedimentary structures wrong. Sedimentary structures include things like ripple marks, mud cracks, raindrop impressions, and cross bedding. These features are abundant in sedimentary rocks, and are very useful for determining the environment in which the rocks formed. Mud cracks form when clay-rich sediments are exposed to the atmosphere and dry out. Mud cracks are very abundant in some rock layers, and extremely difficult to fit into the flood geology model.
- YECs get unconformities wrong. Unconformities are breaks in the sequence of rocks, such as the one billion year gap between the Precambrian crystalline basement rocks and the Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone. YECs describe these unconformities as if there was no evidence of weathering and erosion at the gap, while in reality the evidence for erosion at the unconformities is sometimes rather blatant, such as in the case of the channels filled in by the Temple Butte and Surprise Canyon Formations. The Surprise Canyon Formation fills what appear to be stream channels that cut up to 400 feet into the underlying Redwall Limestone.
- YECs get radiometric dating wrong. If decay rates were much faster during Noah’s flood than they are at present, enough heat would have been released to vaporize Earth’s oceans, which clearly didn’t happen. YEC attempts to discredit radiometric dating of Grand Canyon rocks are flawed.
- YECs get rock deformation wrong. YECs insist that the rock layers of the Grand Canyon were soft when the canyon was carved, and point to tight folding of certain layers as evidence. Upon close examination by geologists, however, these folded layers show an abundance of fractures that are consistent with folding of solid rocks and inconsistent with folding of soft sediments. Soft-sediment deformation is well-understood by modern geologists, and there is no evidence for large-scale soft-sediment deformation in the Grand Canyon.
- YECs get erosion wrong. In the Grand Canyon, sandstone layers form cliffs, and shale layers form slopes. Have you ever tried to build a sand castle with water-saturated sand? It doesn’t work, as the sand flows as a liquefied mass. But YECs want you to believe that recently-deposited (and therefore water-saturated) sand layers would have formed cliffs when eroded. If the sediment layers in the Grand Canyon were soft when eroded, the most resistant layers would be clay (which forms shale). Differential erosion of layers in the Grand Canyon is the opposite of what it should be if YEC flood geology were correct.
- YECs get fossils wrong. The order of fossils in the Grand Canyon is impossible to explain by YEC flood geology. Any explanation for the fossil record must explain the preservation of intact communities of organisms, not just individual fossil organisms. The absence of whole groups of fossils in Grand Canyon sediments (mammals, birds, dinosaurs, flowering plants) is impossible to explain by YEC flood geology.
- YECs get pollen wrong. If YEC were true, there should be pollen from flowering plants in the rocks of the Grand Canyon. There isn’t any.
- YECs get trace fossils wrong. Examples of trace fossils include footprints and burrows. Terrestrial footprints of organisms such as amphibians, spiders, and scorpions are virtually impossible to explain in the YEC flood geology scenario, but they are abundant in the Coconino Sandstone.
- YECs get the carving of the Grand Canyon wrong. The YEC breached dam hypothesis doesn’t provide nearly enough water to do the work. Other examples of catastrophic canyon-carving (Channeled Scablands, Mt. St. Helens) produced features that are quite different from what is found at the Grand Canyon.
I have only scratched the surface of the problems with YEC geology that are presented by the authors.
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth has received endorsements from prominent geologists and theologians. Here are two endorsements from well-known, Bible-believing Evangelical scholars:
“Can Bible-believing Christians also believe that the earth is billions of years old and that the Grand Canyon could not have been formed by Noah’s Flood? Yes, insist the eleven authors of this fascinating book. On page after page, professional geologists explain that “flood geology” omits essential facts and fails to explain massive amounts of evidence in the Grand Canyon itself. This important book must be carefully considered by everyone involved in the debate about the age of the earth.” – Wayne Grudem, Phoenix Seminary
“The various authors of this book have done us all a tremendous service in their patient and clear exposition of geological thinking about the Grand Canyon (a magnificent place in its own right!). They are all clear that the “conflict” we’ve all heard about is not between “the Bible” and “Science,” but rather between interpretations of the Bible and the sciences. Those of us who study and respect the Bible will appreciated this calm laying out of the sciences, and of their discovery of the processes that appear to have been at work. These are God’s processes after all! I urge everyone to read this, believer or not—you will enjoy it.” – C. John (“Jack”) Collins, Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary.
An excellent book like The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is unlikely to “convert” a die-hard YEC follower all by itself. I was once a YEC, and held on rather stubbornly to my YEC beliefs as a geology undergraduate student even as I increasingly saw scientific problems with YEC geology. It wasn’t until I was exposed to Biblical arguments for an old Earth (or better, arguments that a young Earth is not Biblically necessary) that I became open to an old Earth.
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth does not contain an extensive Biblical argument for allowing an old Earth or for a local flood. I don’t criticize the editors of the book for their decision to focus mostly on geology rather than Biblical interpretation (my own textbook, Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home does not contain extensive Biblical arguments either; that wasn’t the purpose of the book). My suggestion is that if one is giving The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth as a gift to a YEC or a young-Earth/old-Earth fence rider, that one also give them a book that presents a solid Biblical case. The three books I most often recommend are:
Anticipating the YEC response
So far, the YEC response to The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth has been a deafening silence. There have been no mentions of this book on the web sites of Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, or Creation Ministries International. When I have mentioned the book on the Facebook pages of AiG and ICR, my comments have been quickly deleted (at least one other Christian geologist has made the same observation).
I anticipate that YECs will eventually write reviews of the book, but might put these reviews in the back corners of their web sites so as to give the book as little publicity as possible. YECs will say that the book is not based on the Bible (but of course, neither is YEC flood geology when you think about it), that the book was written by compromisers as evidenced by the inclusion of some non-Christian contributors (should we reject much of other sciences for the same reason?), and that there is always more than one way to interpret the facts (but not all interpretations have equal validity).
In the end, YECs will ignore this fantastic book and continue to present really bad science as Christian apologetics. The result will be a continued exodus of scientifically-minded youth from the church and the reinforcement of the wall YECs have put up that keeps scientists from considering Christianity as a viable alternative. People reject Christ because of bad YEC science every day, and this is a great tragedy.
But my hope and prayer is that The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth will have a tremendous impact on those who read it, and it sounds like sales are going well. I pray that God would use this book to build up the body of Christ, educate both young and old, and break down barriers to Christian faith.
Grace and Peace
The Earth. Christianity. They go together.
Welcome to The GeoChristian, a blog primarily about the relationship between the Earth sciences and Christianity. My name is Kevin Nelstead, and I have been writing at geochristian.com since 2006. The most important thing about me is that I am a Christian. The passage of Scripture that opened up my eyes to the Good News about Jesus Christ was Ephesians 2:8,9, which says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
I often write about young-Earth creationism (YEC), which I believe to Biblically unnecessary and scientifically unworkable. Because of these things, I believe that YEC is an unfortunate obstacle to both evangelism and effective discipleship, especially of our youth. But I do not want The GeoChristian to be known primarily as a blog about origins issues, as there are many other areas in which Christian faith and the Earth sciences interact, such as environmental issues, energy policy, aesthetics, and natural resources.
I have an M.S. degree in Geology from Washington State University, and a B.S. degree in Earth Sciences from Montana State University. I have worked as a senior cartographer, geospatial analyst, natural resources specialist, high school and middle school science teacher in Christian schools; and missionary. You can read more about my background at https://geochristian.com/more-about-the-author/.
I am the author of Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, a new middle school textbook for Christian students from Novare Science and Math. This book fills a critical niche in the Christian school market, providing a curriculum that is faithful to God’s Word yet doesn’t promote the young-Earth creationism and anti-environmentalism that is prevalent in materials from Christian school publishers.
Whether you are a Christian or non-Christian, scientist or non-scientist, creationist or evolutionist (or somewhere in between), I hope you find something that blesses you and points you to Christ through The GeoChristian.
“And God saw that it was good.” — Genesis 1:25.
Genesis 1 records the unfolding of God’s creative activity, and one thing that is clear from the text is that God was pleased with what he had made. Genesis states that the world was good even before the creation of humans, which is recorded starting in verse 26. This means that the creation has intrinsic value, even apart from the presence of humans.
God, however, did not stop there. God went on to create the first humans, male and female, commissioned them to rule the Earth, and then upped his assessment to “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). That goodness has since been marred by human sin, and it seems to some that we humans are a cancer on the Earth rather than a blessing. There is an element of truth in this, though it would be better to say that it is human sin that is the cancer.
I have written several articles over the years on the relationship between Christianity and the environment. Here are a few of my favorites:
Earth Day 2014 — Conservative environmentalism — seeking balance — The attitude of some free market conservatives towards the environment is not all that different than the perspective that was held by leadership of 20th century communist states.
GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:20-22 — The goodness and fruitfulness of the creation — Earth Day 2013 — The living world was also created to be fruitful and multiply. How are we to live in response to this?
Young-Earth creationism, paganism, Earth Day, and 20 questions — Also posted on Earth Day 2013. My twenty questions included:
- Is Earth Day an opportunity for Christians to serve and witness, or a pagan and secular holiday that is inherently anti-Christian?
- What are ways that a Christian could participate in a community Earth Day fair?
- Is wilderness a good thing, or something to be brought actively under human dominion?
- Will the Earth be destroyed or renewed when Christ returns?
Earth Day 2008 — Stewardship of the Environment — A very brief look at the Chicago Statement on Biblical Application, produced by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. I wrote, “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.”
Crunchy Con Environmentalism — A few quotes from the book Crunchy Cons, written by Rod Dreher. It seems that no one in what passes for conservatism in America pays much attention any longer to what Dreher had to say.
This is true about the environment as well. Technology and wealth have given mankind dominion over nature unparalleled in human history. Everything in the tradition of conservatism—especially in traditional religious thought—warns against misusing that authority. Yet the conservative movement has become so infatuated with the free market and human potential that we lose sight of what Matthew [Scully] described as our conservative belief “in man as a fundamentally moral and not merely economic actor, a creature accountable to reason and conscience and not driven by whim or appetite.” If we lose our ability to see nature with moral vision, we become less human, and more like beasts.
Pollution and the Death of Man — Quotes from a great little book from theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer. Unfortunately, this book, too, has been largely ignored by most in the conservative movement.
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.
“I looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness” — A powerful little story from Francis Schaeffer. I quoted Schaeffer, and then asked, “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?”
Grace and Peace
My first experience teaching Earth Science was at a small Classical Christian school in Missouri for the 2001-2002 school year. The headmaster was a young-Earth creationist. She knew that I was an old-Earth Christian, but perhaps being desperate for a science teacher she went ahead and hired me as a part-time teacher for a year, teaching middle school Earth Science and high school Chemistry. I had (if I remember correctly) eight seventh-grade students, almost no laboratory materials, and a pile of Bob Jones University Press Space and Earth Science textbooks. The students were great, I could make do with the limited resources, but the young-Earth textbook? That was hard to work with. I taught the students that there was a range of beliefs among Bible-believing Christians in regards to the age of the Earth and the formation of the rock and fossil records.
My second experience teaching Earth Science was at an International Christian School in Bucharest, Romania, where I taught Earth Science at the high school level (along with all of the other sciences in grades 7-12) from 2003 to 2008. The students, from a number of different countries, were once again wonderful. The supplies were once again limited, though I had brought a number of minerals, rocks and maps with me. One big improvement was that I was able to choose my own textbook. I would have loved to have had a Christian Earth Science textbook, but the only Christian titles on the market were from young-Earth publishers. I had learned by this point that it would be better to take a secular textbook and add Christian content than to take a young-Earth textbook and try to undo both the questionable Biblical interpretation and bad science that these books inevitably contain. At my recommendation, the school purchased Earth Science textbooks published by Glencoe, and I went ahead and produced supplementary materials on the relationship between Earth Science and Christianity.
At some point I got the idea that perhaps I should be the one to write a Christian Earth Science textbook. I even wrote a few complete chapters, and used some of them with my students. I shared the textbook idea with several friends, who all encouraged me to move forward. But the dream sat on the shelf for the most part from 2008 until 2014. I still had the idea in the back of my mind, but had no idea how to move forward with the project in terms of the business side of things, such as publishing, printing, and marketing. I knew that even if I were to write the best Christian Earth Science textbook in the world, it would be a failure if I didn’t get the business aspects right.
On Novare’s web site, they listed that they would be producing an Earth Science textbook in the future. I figured that someone else had beaten me to it, which was acceptable to me. I went ahead and sent an email to the publisher, John Mays, explained who I was, and offered my services to review the book and help in any other way I could. My desire was to do what I could to make their upcoming book the best it could be, as I saw this as a critical need in the Christian educational system. John wrote back and said he didn’t actually have an author lined up. I sent him a chapter I had written several years previously, and before long, John asked me if I would be willing to write the book.
I agreed, we worked out an agreement and timetable, and I started working on the book. I began writing in September of 2014, and we initially set an aggressive schedule to complete the book by the summer of 2015. We soon realized that this timetable was unrealistic, but by that point, a handful of schools were committed to using the book for the 2015-2016 school year. We managed to put together a preprint of the first half of the book to get the students started, provided a second preprint with a handful of additional chapters a few months later, and I finished the writing in February of 2016, which was seventeen months after starting.
Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home is now complete, printed, and in the hands of students. I am thankful to God for what has been accomplished, and pray that this book would be used to help students love and worship their Creator, love and serve their neighbors, and better know and care for the creation, which is God’s world and our home.
It is common in book prefaces for authors to give their thanks to those who sacrificed alongside the author as the book was being produced. I and my family now know from experience what this is all about, and I would like to thank my beautiful wife, Shirley, and wonderful adult children for their sacrifice of time while I worked on the book, a project that took over twelve hundred hours while I was working full time at my natural resources job. When I was done with my book, my wife commented how good it was to have me “back.”
I would also like to thank John Mays and the Novare team for their leadership and patience as the book slowly came together. I know there times when John wondered when in the world the next chapter was going to show up. Novare has been a delight to work with, and many of the things that make this book good—the educational philosophy, page layout, and even the title of the book—are thanks to John.
Novare had an excellent team of reviewers for the textbook: Steven Mittwede, Ronald DeHaas, and Chris Mack. They caught a number of errors in my writing and made numerous other suggestions that greatly improved the textbook. There were a few of their suggestions that I chose not to implement, and hopefully I made the right choice in those rare circumstances. I am sure there are some things in the book that are not exactly the way they should be, and any errors that exist are certainly my responsibility.
The best endorsements as far as I am concerned have been from my wife, who proofread each chapter and let me know it was interesting, and from a group of middle school students somewhere out there who read portions of a chapter and liked it.
I am most of all thankful to my Creator and Redeemer. As we stand in awe of his many works—thunderstorms, mountains, forests, waterfalls, and much more—may we be moved to worship him for all that he has done and is doing.
Grace and Peace
Note: Order the textbook directly from Novare Science and Math. If you order from Amazon, you will get one of the paperback preprints rather than the hard cover final version.
|AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE
This is the second in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.
2. This article – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.
3. What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating – I will tell you what YECs haven’t told you about radioisotope dating.
4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.
As I was paging through the brochure for this year’s young-Earth creationism conference—there is a large YEC conference like this in Bozeman every other year—I was struck once again by the educational background of the main speakers, all of whom will speak on geological issues:
- An M.S. in Biotechnology
- A PhD in Physics
- An M.S. in Atmospheric Science.
Where is the geologist?
If I used this question as an argument against a point they were making, I would be making an ad hominem argument, and I will avoid that. I certainly wander outside of my areas of expertise from time to time (I will write about Hebrew grammar in a bit). But it is certainly interesting that so few Christian geologists are convinced by young-Earth arguments.
Talk #1 – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Brian Thomas, Institute for Creation Research
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of The GeoChristian that I found things to agree with in Mr. Thomas’s presentation. Genesis lays a foundation for a number of doctrines that run throughout the Bible, such as sin, redemption, and marriage. These doctrines have their beginnings in the book of beginnings, find their highest fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and are fully realized in Christ in the closing chapters of Revelation. As I have said in my Creation Creeds, I believe in a real Adam, in a real garden, committing a real sin, with real consequences.
So, yes, Genesis matters. What Mr. Thomas failed to demonstrate is that accepting a young Earth is necessary in order for Genesis to matter.
Mr. Thomas began by pointing to the decline of Christianity in our culture. Despite our many churches and institutions, the nation is become less Christian over time. Two-thirds of our Christian youth leave the church when they become adults (I would say that part of the problem is YEC). He then set up a choice: are we going to listen to God’s Word, or man’s word? Of course, I believe we should listen to God’s Word, but I am not convinced that YEC is the best way to understand God’s Word, and that a false dichotomy was once again set up: we have to choose between YEC and old-Earth evolutionism. To his credit, Thomas did say that one does not have to be a YEC in order to be a Christian. I hope that sunk in with the audience.
Mr. Thomas went on to attempt to poke holes in various old-Earth interpretations of Genesis 1, such as the gap interpretation and day-age interpretation. Some of his points were valid, but not all. I will pick two of his anti-old-Earth arguments
Mr. Thomas (who acknowledged he doesn’t read Hebrew) said that both Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 1:3 begin with a waw disjunctive, which is a Hebrew grammatical construction that carries the story along, and is often translated in English as “and.”
2 and the earth was without form and void…
3 and God said, “Let there be light.”
I will start by being nitpicky (though I don’t read Hebrew either): verse 2 starts with a waw disjunctive, but verse 3 starts with a waw consecutive, and some have said this distinction is quite important in understanding the relationships between these verses. In any case, Thomas’s point was that this story all flows as one event after another, a point that not all Hebrew scholars agree with. But even if the story were connected by one waw disjunctive after another, that would not require events follow one another immediately. In English, I could say, “My ancestors emigrated from Norway in the 1880s, and my grandparents moved to Montana, and I was born in Billings, and I went to college in Bozeman.” The word “and” would be the waw disjunctive, and nothing in this sentence requires that the events must have occurred immediately one after the other; only that they occurred, probably in the order stated. In reality, these events in my family history were spread out over a century.
Mr. Thomas then stated that any time “day” is associated with a number in the Old Testament, the day is an ordinary 24-hour day. I have heard that this is a YEC rule of grammar, not necessarily a fixed Hebrew rule of grammar. Genesis 1 has a rather unique layout in Hebrew literature, and YECs do not always take this into account when reading the chapter. From many YEC presentations, there are only two Old Testament genres: historical narrative and poetry. In this, the YECs greatly oversimplify the issue. What is the genre, or type, of literature is Genesis 1? It is a narrative, but it is not a “historical narrative” such as what is found in much of the rest of Genesis. There are no true parallels of the structure of Genesis 1 in the Old Testament; indeed in all of ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature. Yes, the days are numbered. But certainly some of these days are unlike any other: days with unique creation events, days without the sun, days that suggest lengthy processes. These distinctives must be taken into account. In any case, the Hebrew word yom (day) is used in a non-24-hour-day way elsewhere in the passage, such as 1:5 and 2:4. There are a number of other reasons to question that these were literal days, as developed in the analogical days interpretation.
Does accepting an old Earth undermine any Biblical doctrines? Mr Thomas, like many YECs, said that if there was death before sin, the gospel is undermined. I would say that this YEC statement is not firmly based in Scripture. There is no passage in Scripture that ties animal death to Adam’s sin. Neither Genesis 3, Romans 5, Romans 8, or 1 Corinthians 15—the passages that discuss Adam’s sin—say anything whatsoever about animal death. If the Scriptures don’t tie animal death to Adam’s sin, we should not insist that there is a connection.
Mr. Thomas touched on some scientific issues in his presentation. I will address only one: the geologic time scale. He stated that the geologic time scale is based on circular reasoning: fossils date the rocks and rocks date the fossils. This is a common YEC argument, and it is wrong.
The geologic time scale (or geologic column) is a product of inductive reasoning, not circular reasoning. Geologists have observed that, based on fossils, rock layers always occur in a certain order, which geologists have labeled as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc. The layers always occur in this same order in undeformed (not folded or faulted) rocks. It is never Jurassic-Ordovician-Permian-Cambrian or some other order. Never. There are even some sedimentary basins, such as the Williston Basin of western North Dakota, that contain rock layers of every Period from Cambrian through Quaternary, in proper order. Even in areas subjected to severe folding and faulting, this “law of fossil succession” holds true once the deformation is unraveled. There is no circular reasoning here.
I could say much more, and I have spent more time on our differences than on our common ground. But as old-Earth and young-Earth Christians, our common ground is much greater, and much more important.
- The universe was created from nothing by the triune God of the Bible.
- The universe belongs to God and displays his glory.
- Humans are created in the image of God and therefore have great worth.
- Humans are place in a position of responsibility over the Earth, and yet are embedded in Earth’s ecology.
- Humans are sinful, which has broken our relationship with God, with each other, and with the creation.
- Jesus Christ is the savior, the redeemer, and the king over the creation.
Grace and Peace
In the early 2000s, a new movement of vocal atheists arose, committed with religious fervor to the propagation of their faith that there is no God, and imagining that the world would be a much better place if religion would just go away. One event that vitalized this crusade of “New Atheists” was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, undertaken by Islamic radicals. After 911, many secularists lumped all religious believers together as part of the problem of violence throughout the world.
There were four leading New Atheists, sometimes named the Four Horseman of the Non-
Apocalypse. These were Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Each of these authored books attacking religious belief as nonsensical and dangerous, including the best-selling The God Delusion by Dawkins.
Christopher Hitchens’ best-selling book attacking religious belief was God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens, like the other New Atheist evangelists, was involved in a number of debates with defenders of religion. What many people do not know is that Hitchens developed close relationships with some of the Christians with whom he debated. One of these Christians was a man by the name of Larry Alex Taunton, a Christian apologist (defender of the faith) with an organization called Fixed Point Foundation. In 2010, as Hitchens was suffering from terminal cancer, Hitchens and Taunton held their one-and-only debate in my home town of Billings, Montana. Why Billings? Apparently Hitchens had never been to Montana, and the debate gave him an excuse to travel there.
Hitchens passed away on December 15, 2011, one year after his debate with Larry Taunton. Last week on March 24, 2016, Taunton returned to the Babcock Theater in Billings, the same stage where he and Hitchens had previously debated, to promote his new book about his relationship with Hitchens, called The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. This book has earned praise from both Christians and skeptics, with back-cover endorsements from Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias and prominent skeptic Michael Shermer.
Taunton spoke last week for about an hour and a half, highlighting how he and Hitchens formed a friendship, and how that relationship grew to the point of taking long road trips together. I would like to highlight four key points that stood out to me.
1. Christopher Hitchens was a complex person. Taunton pointed out that while Hitchens was famous as a proponent of atheism and an adversary of religion, Hitchens was not defined by his atheism. Hitchens believed in truth and integrity, and was embarrassed at times by what he heard from fellow atheists. Taunton related a time when Hitchens appeared on a program hosted by atheist Bill Maher (of the documentary Religulous), and ripped into both Maher and Maher’s audience for their shallowness.
Christopher Hitchens’ complexity as a person is not unusual; I would say that most—perhaps all—people are complex. When we are conversing with a person, we should not assume that the persona they present is the complete package, and we should not assume that the person even fully understands all of their own motives and reasons for believing as they do. A person might say they believe there is no God because of some set of logical arguments, but in reality, their reasons for rejecting theism are something totally different, such as a desire to live without certain moral restrains, or that they have not really understood the other side. Likewise, a person might be a theist because they are convinced by the cosmological, moral, or design arguments for the existence of God, but deeper reasons come into play as well. Of course, as a Christian, I would add that there are spiritual influences at work beneath and above all of the human reasons.
2. The logical and moral implications of atheism are frightening. Many consider Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton, to be a consistent atheist. People, in Singer’s thinking, don’t have any more inherent value than animals, and in some cases have even less. The implications of Singer’s ethical system include infanticide and euthanasia. Hitchens was appalled by this line of reasoning, and was personally opposed to abortion and capital punishment. Hitchens was more concerned about discovering what was morally right and then working out the logical basis for his beliefs at another time, than he was about following the implications of atheism to their logical conclusions.
3. The importance of relationships. The key to pointing people to Christ is usually not having a better argument, but exemplifying what is written in 1 Peter 3:15, which states,
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (NIV)
Even though Hitchens had written a best-selling book with the subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything,” Hitchens was able to respect, honor, and be drawn to a Christian who displayed love, gentleness, and respect along with intellectual rigor. We cannot develop a deep relationship with everyone, but we can pray that God would put us in at least one key relationship with an unbeliever in which we can be a powerful witness for Christ.
We all have interests or backgrounds that overlap with those of unbelievers. I have a friend who is on staff at the headquarters of a major Christian ministry. In his role, he interacts with Christians all day, and did not have significant relationships with unbelievers. So my friend joined an African violet club. I had no idea such clubs existed, but it was a way for him to rub shoulders with those outside of his Christian world.
Christopher Hitchens also developed a friendship with theologian Douglas Wilson. One realm of common interest between these two men was their appreciation of the writings of British humorous author P.G. Wodehouse. Hitchens and Wilson could sit and give one quote after another from characters in Wodehouse’s fiction. This small area of overlap was a bridge that enabled the two men to have much more serious conversations and debates, sometimes while drinking beer together in a bar.
4. The importance of taking people into the Scriptures and pointing them to Christ. As Hitchens and Taunton developed a relationship, it became clear to Taunton that Hitchens had a somewhat superficial understanding of the Bible and Christianity. Eventually, Taunton challenged Hitchens to a Bible study. The two men went on a road trip and studied the Gospel of John together, which brought in topics from throughout the Bible as they conversed. This study occurred after Hitchens was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hitchens was not converted to Christianity—he said if he converted it would be because the cancer had gotten into his brain—but through his relationship with Taunton and others, Hitchens learned that Christians and Christianity were not entirely who and what he thought they were.
Taunton did not hold back when talking about the seriousness of these topics. Christianity is not just a philosophy to affirm or deny, but a call to faith in Christ. We are all moving towards judgment, and Taunton was blunt with Hitchens about his need to turn to Christ. Taunton let Hitchens know that he was praying for him, which Hitchens genuinely appreciated—not because Hitchens thought it would matter but he appreciated the gesture of friendship. Hitchens asked Taunton what he prayed, and Taunton told him that it wasn’t so much for physical healing but that Hitchens would come to faith in Christ. Some would be offended by this, but Hitchens by this point had a good enough understanding of Christianity to know that this prayer was a greater expression of Taunton’s love than a prayer for healing would have been.
I have not yet read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, but there is reason to believe that by the end Hitchens no longer believed that “religion poisons everything.” Hitchens was able to say about Larry Taunton that “If everyone in the United States had the same qualities of loyalty and care and concern for others that Larry Taunton had, we’d be living in a much better society than we do.” Hitchens stated this knowing full well that it was Taunton’s faith in Christ that made him into the sort of person who would bring healing rather than poison to this hurting world.
May we as Christians all be this same sort of witness for Christ.
Grace and Peace
The Faith of Christopher Hitchens will be available from Amazon starting April 12th.
The debates between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens were featured on the documentary Collision.
The video of the clash between Hitchens and Maher can be found here: Christopher Hitchens gives Bill Maher’s crowd of leftist automatons a well-deserved finger.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” — John 1:1
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” — John 3:16
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” — 2 Corinthians 5:17
Happy New Year from the GeoChristian!
All Scripture from New International Version 1984.
It is time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year. My basic life priorities have not changed for over ten years:
- To live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
- To love my wife as Christ loves the church.
- To raise my children as followers of Christ.
- To be used to build and expand the church.
- To be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially.
- To maintain professional excellence in my work.
Rather than making New Years resolutions, I have created a document that that I keep in my Bible that expands on each of these six life priorities. Here are a few of my more specific goals:
1. Read in the Scriptures daily – Use a one-year reading schedule for NT and read at least one chapter each day on OT.
2. Daily prayer – At least ten minutes of focused prayer time following time in Word.
3. Memorization – one new verse per week, with regular review of other verses.
These goals change a bit from year to year. Of these first three, I am consistent on my Bible reading, need to grow in my prayer life, and have not been working on memorization. But having the document with me gives me a plan for where I want to be, and I can start working on my weaknesses.
Here are some more:
Loving my wife
5. Be available on an almost daily basis for prayer, reading, and conversation.
7. Have fun together, including monthly dates.
Raising my children (my children are aged 19-26)
9. Provide them with good books and resources.
11. Weekly communication – in person, phone, Skype, emails.
Building and expanding the church
13. Writing on The GeoChristian to build up the body and point nonbelievers to Christ:
• Two significant blog posts per month.
• More evangelistic content
14. Be faithful in evangelism in ways that work for me: blog, book ministry
Physical, mental, emotional, financial health
16. A better diet – low sugar, more vegetables and fruit. Less beef, more fish and chicken.
18. Exercise five times per week for at least 30 minutes – elliptical, hiking, biking, walking. Work on upper body strength.
19. Money: buy little, live simply, save, give, reduce debt. Budget.
20. Regular reading for growth in the areas of theology, apologetics, origins, environment, geology, and history. Goal: Finish three books per month.
21. Language study — Review a language I already know to bring me up to proficiency (French, German, or Romanian) or learn a new language.
•Planner, calendar, filing system, project lists
•Daily and weekly filing and evaluation
•Watch for time wasters, such as internet and idleness.
25. Monthly planning and evaluation time with my wife
I don’t call these New Year’s resolutions because this is a living document that can be pulled out at any time for review or modification. The “Life Priorities” do not change much or at all from year to year, but the details do change. Some of these goals (e.g. reading, language study) are mostly on hold until the book I am writing is complete.
Grace and Peace
I haven’t been blogging much in 2015. That may change in early 2016 once I am done writing Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, a Christian middle school Earth Science textbook from Novare Science and Math.
I do, however, still make time for daily reading in the Bible. In fact, there was not a single day in 2015 in which I did not spend time in God’s Word. I do not say that to boast, but as a statement of my imperfect love for God, and my (also imperfect) dependence on him for sustenance.
I love the Bible, but realize that one can love the Bible and still be an unsaved Pharisee. There are days in which I can be in the Word, but the Word hardly gets in me. God have mercy on me, a sinner. But my imperfections are all part of the glory of the gospel. I am not a child of God because I am faithful to be in the Word, or faithful to do anything else, but because God, in his mercy, has given his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be my savior, and by God’s grace I have placed my (still imperfect) faith in Christ.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:16
For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. — Ephesians 2:8,9
I read the entire New Testament at least once every year using a daily schedule. For the past several years, I have used a schedule I created that alternates between reading a gospel and reading elsewhere in the New Testament. This schedule can be downloaded from here.
My goal for Old Testament reading is to read the entire Old Testament every two years. There are some books, such as Genesis and Isaiah, that I aim to read every year. This is easily done by reading one or two chapters in the Old Testament per day. I do not use a fixed schedule for my Old Testament reading, as I inevitably get behind. Instead, I use a checklist that gives me greater flexibility. My Bible reading checklist can be found here.
What works for me likely will not work for you, but I offer these resources hoping they will be a blessing for some of my readers. Whether you use these reading plans or something else, I encourage you to be in God’s Word on a regular basis.
Grace and Peace
“Can you be good without believing in God?” is a different question than “Can you be good without God?”
Clearly, an atheist can do good things and abhor certain evil things.
But can an atheist make a case that some things are inherently good, and other things are inherently evil?
Or is Richard Dawkins correct, when he states that the universe is a place of “no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference?”
This video, from ReasonableFaith.org, lays out the basics of the moral argument for God’s existence:
Justin Taylor is senior vice president of Crossway Books, a theologically conservative Christian publishing company. Crossway is best known as the publisher of the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible, along with the ESV Study Bible, perhaps the most comprehensive theologically conservative study Bible ever produced for a general Christian audience.
Justin Taylor believes the Bible. And Justin Taylor does not believe the Bible requires us to believe Earth is only roughly 6000 years old. He has outlined his reasons for believing that the Bible is silent on the issue of the age of the Earth on his blog Between Two Worlds, which is part of The Gospel Coalition‘s web site:
The arguments Taylor gives for accepting an old Earth have nothing to do with the geological column, radiometric dating, or the big bang theory. Instead, Taylor lays out a completely Biblical case for an ancient universe, mostly following the analogical days interpretation. Here are a few quotes from Taylor:
Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.
I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons—in the creation account itself—for questioning the exegesis that insists on the days as strict 24 hour periods. Am I as certain of this as I am of the resurrection of Christ? Definitely not. But in some segments of the church, I fear that we’ve built an exegetical “fence around the Torah,” fearful that if we question any aspect of young-earth dogmatics we have opened the gate to liberalism.
God is portrayed as a workman going through his workweek, working during the day and resting for the night. Then on his Sabbath, he enjoys a full and refreshing rest. Our days are like God’s workdays, but not identical to them.
How long were God’s workdays? The Bible doesn’t say. But I see no reason to insist that they were only 24 hours long.
How old is the Earth? The Bible does not say, so Christians should not dogmatically insist that it is only 6000 years old.
An important conclusion is that the age of the Earth should not act as a stumbling block to someone who is considering whether or not Christianity is true.
Grace and Peace
To be “theologically conservative” means that one holds to the inerrancy of the Holy Bible, and the core historical teachings of Christianity, as summarized by the ancient creeds of the church, such as the Trinity, deity of Christ, virgin birth, crucifixion of Christ, his resurrection and ascension, and the necessity of spiritual rebirth through Christ.
The opposite of theologically conservative is theologically liberal. Liberals usually start by denying the reliability and authority of the Bible, and end up denying many of the core doctrines of Christianity.
I wish to expand a bit on the concept of “doubting your doubts.” I first came across this phrase in The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. Here is a quote from the introduction (I hope you will purchase the book and read it for yourself):
A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.
Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts — not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide the grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. And, just as important for our current situation, such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt.
But even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B. For example, if you doubt Christianity because “There can’t be just one true religion,” you must recognize that this statement is itself an act of faith. No one can prove it empirically, and it is not a universal truth that everyone accepts. If you went to the Middle East and said, “There can’t be just one true religion,” nearly everyone would say, “Why not?” The reason you doubt Christianity’s Belief A is because you hold unprovable Belief B. Every doubt, therefore, is based on a leap of faith.
Some people say, “I don’t believe in Christianity because I can’t accept the existence of moral absolutes. Everyone should determine moral truth for him- or herself.” Is that a statement they can prove to someone who doesn’t share it? No, it is a leap of faith, a deep belief that individual rights operate not only in the political sphere but also in the moral. There is not empirical proof for such a position. So the doubt (of moral absolutes) is a leap.
The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true? It would be inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is frequently what happens. In fairness, you must doubt your doubts. My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs — you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared.
I commend two processes to my readers. I urge skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined “blind faith” on which skepticism is based, and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them. I also urge believers to wrestle with their personal and culture’s objections to the faith. At the end of each process, even if you remain the skeptic or believer you have been, you will hold your own position with both greater clarity and greater humility.
(hard cover pp. xvi-xviii, soft cover pp. xvii-xix)
Do I ever have doubts about Christianity? There are certainly things I do not understand, whether in the Bible, theology, ethics, or history. There is so much more that makes sense to me by being a Christian, however, as opposed to being a skeptic or adherent of some other religion, that none of these “doubts” has caused serious trouble for me for quite a long time. Part of this is because I have struggled through some real doubts of my own in the past, and come through at the end with my faith strengthened.
If you are a Christian, what are your doubts? How are you dealing with them?
If you are a skeptic, are you questioning your doubts about Christianity? Do you have doubts about your own doubts?
Grace and Peace
Many Christians go through a time when they are troubled in their faith when confronted with challenges from skeptics and unbelievers.
Christianity today has posted the testimony of Gregory Alan Thornbury, who almost gave up his faith when challenged by the teachings of people beyond the liberal fringe of Christianity such as Marcus Borg, a member of the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars devoted to cutting the Bible apart to create a new Jesus that is more to their liking. The thing that “saved” Thornbury was a book, in this case God, Revelation, and Authority by Carl Henry. Read more about it on the Christianity Today website: How I Almost Lost the Bible.
My advice to Christians who struggle with intellectual doubts:
- Read. Read, read, read. Search for answers as if you were digging for treasure. There are plenty of compelling reasons to stay in the faith. Read apologetics books by Keller, Geisler, Craig, Blomberg, Wright, and many others. There are answers.
- Doubt your doubts. The skeptics want you to doubt your faith. It is equally valid–or perhaps more valid in many cases–to doubt your doubts.
- Pray. There are spiritual aspects to the battle that you and I cannot see.
If you are doubting whether or not Christianity is true, there are answers. Is there a book that will “save” you from falling away? There is only one way to find out.
Grace and peace
Think of some idea that you think is loony that other people believe in and adamantly support. My list would include alien abductions, the face on Mars, conspiracy theories about the Apollo moon landings, and thinking that Che Guevara or Hugh Hefner are cool.
Your list would probably differ from mine. That’s OK; I hope we can still have civil conversations. I have friends who believe things that I think are completely wrong.
I consider the latest religious offering from Newsweek to be in the same category as belief in the Loch Ness monster or a flat Earth — The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin, by Kurt Eichenwald. It is common for American news magazines to celebrate Christmas and Easter by printing articles that attack Christianity, and they typically have a sensational news article about something like the discovery of an obscure fourth century manuscript claiming Jesus had a wife. These ideas come and go, but they seem to sell magazines, so we can expect this trend to continue.
Eichenwald doesn’t get off to a good start, lumping Christians all together as hateful bigots:
They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.
Most of us don’t fit that description. It makes me wonder if Eichenwald knows any Christians (except perhaps progressives who read John Shelby Spong and Bart Ehrman).
As I read the article, my jaw dropped in disbelief that Newsweek would publish an article that contained such blatant errors about any topic, not just Christianity. Eichenwald’s description of how the Bible got to us was the “telephone game,” where one person whispers something in someone’s ear, who passes it on to the next person, so on down the line, until the message becomes completely garbled. That is not even remotely how stories are passed on in oral societies, and is completely irrelevant to how the New Testament was compiled (and one could make a case that it is irrelevant to how the Old Testament was compiled as well). In addition, Eichenwald described our modern English translations as having been produced as translations of “a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies.” Again, this is utter nonsense. I guess the editors of Newsweek don’t know much about the history of how the Bible got to us, and this all sounded like a nice story to them, so they went ahead and published it.
I’m not saying that everything Eichenwald wrote in the article is bad or false. We all need to be aware, for example, of our tendency to pick and choose what parts of the Bible we are going to follow, rather than letting the Scriptures inform our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Rather than going through Eichenwald’s article myself, I am going to refer you to other reviews, written by people better qualified than myself.
The most succinct summary I’ve read is at Internet Monk:
Newsweek (yes, it’s still around) decided to celebrate Christmas by publishing the most insulting and ignorant article I have seen put out by a mainstream publication. If you are a Christian (at least a conservative one), this is your portrait: “They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school…They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.” Yeaaaah. And that is the opener. It goes on for 34 pages, taking every angle to cast doubt on the scriptures and lambast the stupidity of anyone moronic enough to think they actually can be a guide for life. The author, an atheist journalist who writes mainly in the area of finance, seems to have no actual knowledge of the issues except what he read from Sprong and Ehrman. I won’t link to the article, (you can find it easily enough) but I will point out the incredibly measured and patient analysis of the article by Dr. Michael J. Kruger here and here.
Here are some quotes from the Michael J. Kruger articles:
A Christmas Present from the Mainstream Media: Newsweek Takes a Desperate Swipe at the Integrity of the Bible (Part 1) by Michael J. Kruger, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary
However, the recent Newsweek cover article by Kurt Eichenwald, entitled “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” published intentionally (no doubt) on December 23rd, goes so far beyond the standard polemics, and is so egregiously mistaken about the Bible at so many places, that the magazine should seriously consider a public apology to Christians everywhere.
Of course, this is not the first media article critiquing the Bible that has been short on the facts. However, what is stunning about this particular article is that Kurt Eichenwald begins by scolding evangelical Christians for being unaware of the facts about the Bible, and the proceeds to demonstrate a jaw-dropping ignorance of the facts about the Bible.
Eichenwald attempts to discredit the Bible by pointing out problems in its transmission. However, the real problem is not with the Bible but with Eichenwald’s misinformed accusations. For instance, he claims:
About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament.
This is patently false. Collections of New Testament writings were functioning as Scripture as early as the second century (and, to some extent, even in the first).
Eichenwald seems utterly unaware that this whole course of argument is incorrect and drawn directly from internet chat rooms and books like the Da Vinci Code.
In sum, the first part of Eichenwald’s article is an unmitigated disaster.
Notice that Eichenwald offers no historical evidence about the mass killing of Christians by Christians within the first few centuries (we are talking about the pre-Constantine time period). And there is a reason he doesn’t offer any. There is none.
Sure, one can point to instances in the medieval period, such as the Inquisition, where Christians killed other Christians. But, Eichenwald claims that Christianity began this way: “for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus.” This is another serious historical mistake that needs correcting.
Up to this point, Eichenwald’s article has been an epitomized by imbalanced and straw-man accusations against the Bible. Unfortunately, in the section on homosexuality Eichenwald reaches a new low. At no point is it more obvious that he is driven by his own entrenched ideological commitments and not by an honest attempt to understand what evangelicals believe.
By way of conclusion, it is hard to know what to say about an article like Eichenwald’s. In many ways, it embodies all the misrepresentations, caricatures, and misunderstandings of the average non-Christian in the world today.
Some other critiques:
Daniel B. Wallace — Predictable Christmas fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible — “Eichenwald’s grasp of conservative Christianity in America as well as his grasp of genuine biblical scholarship are, at best, subpar. And this article is an embarrassment to Newsweek—or should be!”
Justin Taylor — The many sins of Newsweek’s expose on the Bible —
Eichenwald seeks to demonstrate that the Bible is “loaded with contradictions and translation errors and wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy.” Eichenwald insists his article is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity. Rather, Eichenwald wants to rescue the message of Jesus from “God’s frauds,” those manipulative fundamentalists who don’t read or understand their Bibles but abusively twist it in order to create misery for others.
Even with a generous 8,487 words, Eichenwald reveals he is out of his depth for this subject matter. Though he doggedly advances his predetermined thesis from a mishmash of angles, experts quickly showed online that Eichenwald has not really done his historical homework or read his Bible carefully.
Albert Mohler — Newsweek on the Bible — So Misrepresented It’s a Sin —
When written by journalists like Newsweek‘s former editor Jon Meacham or TIME reporters such as David Van Biema, the articles were often balanced and genuinely insightful. Meacham and Van Biema knew the difference between theological liberals and theological conservatives and they were determined to let both sides speak. I was interviewed several times by both writers, along with others from both magazines. I may not have liked the final version of the article in some cases, but I was treated fairly and with journalistic integrity.
So, when Newsweek, now back in print under new ownership, let loose its first issue of the New Year on the Bible, I held out the hope that the article would be fair, journalistically credible, and interesting, even if written from a more liberal perspective.
But Newsweek‘s cover story is nothing of the sort. It is an irresponsible screed of post-Christian invective leveled against the Bible and, even more to the point, against evangelical Christianity. It is one of the most irresponsible articles ever to appear in a journalistic guise.
My advice to Christians — Do not be thrown off by attacks against your faith, even if they seem to be scholarly.
My advice to non-Christians — Don’t read anti-Christian diatribes such as the Newsweek article and think you can dismiss Christianity.
Grace and Peace
The Internet Monk quote says that Eichenwald is an atheist. I’m not sure that Eichenwald considers himself to be an atheist. [In a comment on Kruger’s second blog article, Eichenwald calls himself a “red letter Christian.”]
I am trying hard to avoid labels. Please note that I feel comfortable saying that I feel certain ideas are “loony,” but am not calling people who hold to those ideas “loonies.”
I only wrote 23 posts in 2014, so my readership was down a bit. That’s OK; I just have a lot of other things going on. Because of this, nine of the ten most-read posts on The GeoChristian were actually ones written in previous years.
The top ten most-read posts on the GeoChristian in 2014:
10. John Piper and the age of the Earth — a respected Evangelical pastor who is an old-Earther.
9. The stratigraphic column — not a figment of geologists’ imaginations — Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian… The rocks really are stacked in this order.
8. Creation Creeds — What I believe as an old-Earth Christian.
7. Antarctic ice cores: a window to ice age climate change — We cannot understand the present nor the future if we don’t understand the past.
6. Stegosaurus in Cambodian temple? — Humans and dinosaurs did not live together in Southeast Asia.
5. Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis — St. Augustine did not believe that Earth was created in six literal days.
4. John MacArthur on the age of the Earth and theistic evolution — I use some of John MacArthur’s commentaries in my personal Bible study, but here I point out why he is wrong on the age of the Earth and biological evolution.
3. Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 1) — The first in a six-part series, outlining why the six best YEC geological arguments for a global flood are bad answers from Answers in Genesis.
2. Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye post-debate analysis — Ken Ham and Bill Nye were both wrong about both the Bible and geology.
1. Dr. Dino still in prison — I wrote this post in 2009, and each year since then it has been the most-read post on The GeoChristian. Popular young-Earth creationist speaker Kent Hovind (who does not have a real doctorate) will be released from prison in 2015.
A few more stats:
The GeoChristian was viewed 72,889 times by 42,740 visitors in 2014. This is down from a high of 153,654 views in 2009.
There were 217 comments made on The GeoChristian in 2014.
I wrote 23 posts in 2014.
My all-time daily high for views was February 5, 2014, the day after the Ham-Nye debate. There were a total of 2,109 views on that date.
I hope that The GeoChristian was a blessing to you in 2014, and pray that I would continue to build up the body of Christ, and point non-Christians to Jesus in 2015.
Grace and Peace
(This is a re-posting from 12/31/2013)
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 ESV
It is through the Scriptures that we can know God, Christ, ourselves, and how to live in regards to God and our neighbor. I cannot think of any greater thing in life than to know the Creator of the universe and Redeemer of my life.
Many make a New Year’s resolution to read the Bible more consistently than they have in the past, and many don’t stick to that resolution. Often what happens is that one starts reading in Genesis, and things go well for a while. A month or two later they hit the latter part of Exodus, and perhaps they make it into Leviticus. Though there is a lot of good material in this section of Scripture, I confess that my eyes can glaze over as I go through chapter after chapter of “He also made the table of acacia wood. Two cubits was its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height.” (Ex 37:10 ESV).
If Bible reading is new to you, I would recommend starting with the life of Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament Gospels. These four books—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—each present the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but with different emphases and styles. The Gospel of John would be a good place to start. Move on from the gospels to the rest of the New Testament. I would recommend Romans as a good place to start after reading the life of Christ in the Gospels.
I read in the Bible every day, and could probably count on my fingers and toes the number of days I have missed in the past thirty plus years. I would like to pass on to you some attitudes and tools that have helped me to do this.
- I set realistic reading goals. Though I read the Bible regularly, I have never read the entire Bible in a year. My general goal is to read the New Testament every year and the Old Testament once every two years. There are 260 chapters in the New Testament, so reading a chapter per day (a five to ten minute investment of one’s time) will easily get one through that portion of Scripture in a year. There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament, so I have to average a bit more than a chapter a day to meet my objective of getting through the OT every two years.
- Many have been helped by using a one-year Bible reading plan. Here’s a plan that will get you through the entire New Testament in a year. There are many other day-by-day reading plans out there, such as the Discipleship Journal one-year reading plan, or many others listed by Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition. Or if you want a challenge, you can try Glenn Brooke’s Read the Bible in 30 Days.
- I usually use a Bible reading checklist to track progress toward my goals. One advantage of a checklist over a calendar-based plan is flexibility. I can speed up my reading or slow down. Another advantage of a checklist is that if one misses a few days, they don’t need to feel overwhelmed because they are behind schedule. One can pick up where they left off without feeling any pressure to catch up.
- After doing my reading for the day (which I usually do in the evening), I try to go back and meditate and pray about something that stood out to me.
- I take notes on my reading. The way I do it is by writing in the margins of my wide-margin Bible. Others keep a journal.
These things have worked for me. We are all wired differently, but I think that, with modification, there should be some ideas here that will be helpful to most followers of Christ.
As important as Bible reading is to me, I realize that it is much more important that the Word be in me than that I be in the Word. One can read the Bible every day and learn lots of facts and end up being a self-righteous hypocrite. So my prayer is that you and I would be transformed by prayerful, humble, meditative reading of the Scriptures. May you know Christ and his salvation better through the intake of his Word.
Grace and Peace
Here are a couple of Bible reading tools I have created — a Bible reading checklist, and a reading plan for going through the New Testament in a year.
It has all sixty-six books of the Bible with their chapters. I mark off the chapters as I read them.
This system gives me greater flexibility than a day-by-day schedule does, yet still helps me to reach my reading goals. Two advantages of using this system over a schedule is that I can vary my pace, and don’t get frustrated if I get behind the schedule.
The checklist has two pages; I like to print it on two sides on heavy paper, fold it, and stick it in my Bible.
This can be printed two-sided (I print mine on card stock) and inserted in your Bible.