Book review — Friend of Science, Friend of Faith

41Yck3NoXOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Davidson, Gregg, 2019, Friend of Science, Friend of Faith: Listening to God in His Works and Word, Kregel Academic, 297 p.

Gregg Davidson, a Christian, is Chair of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi.

Friend of Science, Friend of Faith opens with the story of Riley, a Christian college student working toward a degree in science. Riley had been raised under the teachings of young-Earth creationism, and thought she was well-prepared to face any challenge to her young-Earth, anti-evolutionary beliefs. The soundness of the reasoning she encountered in her science classes, however, put her faith into a crisis. She discovered that her young-Earth arguments did not stand up well compared to arguments in favor of an ancient Earth. In desperation, she talked to a campus ministry staff member, who, unfortunately, only pointed her back to young-Earth materials. If Earth is millions of years old, she was told once again, the Bible isn’t true. The story ends with Riley throwing her Bible in the trash can.

This type of story has tragically been repeated thousands of times in the lives of young people raised in Bible-believing churches. Christian Geology professor Gregg Davidson wrote Friend of Science, Friend of Faith to point Bible-believing Christians to an alternative way of looking at Earth history that is faithful to both science and the Bible. Davidson writes from a perspective that God has revealed himself truthfully in both Scripture and in God’s creation, and that conflicts between the two are man-made rather than real. Davidson advocates for both the inerrancy of Scripture and for the overall truthfulness of old-Earth geology and evolutionary theory. In doing so, he also argues against those on the old-Earth side who needlessly dismiss Genesis as a myth. Davidson advocates for a real Adam and Eve—without committing firmly to a single model of who they were in history—and a real, non-universal, Noah’s flood.

Davidson seeks to answer three questions in his book:

  1. Does the infallibility of Scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question?
  2. Does the science conflict with the intended message of Scripture?
  3. Is the science credible?

Very briefly, Davidson’s answers to these questions are:

  1. The inerrancy of the Bible does not depend on the “literal” young-Earth interpretation being correct. The Bible is inerrant; the young-Earth interpretation is not.
  2. God’s works in creation, understood through science, do not conflict with the explicit claims of God’s words in Scripture.
  3. Old-Earth, evolutionary science makes credible claims about God’s creation, and most claims by young-Earth creationists are not consistent with what we observe in God’s creation.

Of course, Davidson has much more to say in answer to each of these three questions.

Friend of Science, Friend of Faith gets a number of things right. First of all, the author has a high respect for the authority and truthfulness of the Bible. He makes a strong case against the “literal” young-Earth view, and for what is known as the framework interpretation. This argument is not based on “reading science into the Bible,” but on reading the Bible more carefully than young-Earth literalists do. Second, Davidson handles the science well. He clearly explains why so much of young-Earth geological and biological science is bad, and why standard old-Earth explanations are superior. Finally—and this is just as important as my other commendations—Davidson gets the tone right. He treats opponents with respect, and presents young-Earth biblical and scientific arguments with fairness.

In the end, Davidson returns to students like Riley, whose fragile faith was crushed, not by science, but by the false dichotomy of “if Earth is millions of years old, then the Bible is a lie.” Davidson has seen the opposite outcome, as he has guided similar students through their crisis of faith, into a renewed and deeper faith in Christ. This book will prove to be an excellent tool for equipping pastors, campus workers, scientists, and students to navigate through the complexities of science-faith issues.

Grace and Peace

©2019, Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

I thank Kregel Academic for sending me a review copy of the book. I was under no obligation to review the book, or to give it a positive review.

Five biblical reasons I am not a young-Earth creationist

Genesis__1

I was a young-Earth creationist (YEC) during my first few years as an undergraduate geology major, believing that the Bible required that the universe is no older than about 10,000 years, and that geology, properly understood, supported that position. I was a student member of the Creation Research Society, and looked forward to the day that I would have my Master’s degree so I could be a full member. I knew there were problems with the YEC understandings of Earth’s geological record, but figured that these would be solved with further research, and that I might even have a role in the triumph of young-Earth creationism over old-Earth evolutionism.

There are many Christians who are fascinated by God’s good creation, and it is my experience is that it is not all that rare for there to be YECs in university geology programs. Some YEC geology majors are somehow able to hold onto their YEC beliefs all the way to graduation—or even through graduate studies—but many others have a crisis of faith and either abandon Christianity or are hobbled with deep doubts. Other YEC geology students, such as myself, end up switching to old-Earth Christianity with a vibrant faith in Christ, and with their confidence in the Bible still intact.

My conversion from YEC to old-Earth Christianity was driven primarily by the writings of theologically-conservative scholars such as Francis Schaeffer, Bernard Ramm, Arthur Custance, and Pattle Pun. These devout Christian intellectuals demonstrated that one could have a very high view of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, and hold to interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis that varied from the young-Earth view. Once my mind was open to old-Earth biblical interpretations, I was able to more objectively weigh the geological arguments for a young-Earth vs old-Earth. I concluded that the YEC side was offering few credible scientific arguments for their version of Earth history.

My reasons for believing that the young-Earth interpretation is not biblically necessary have matured over the decades since then, and do not match the arguments that some other old-Earth Christians might offer. Most significantly, I reject the argument that Genesis is merely a myth with no relation to real events. I believe that Genesis 1-11 is deeply rooted in events that really happened.

Here are my top five biblical reasons I am not a young-Earth creationist.

1. Genre

Bookstores are divided into different sections, such as fiction, history, biography, science, art, religion, and self-help. If you look at a book from the poetry shelves, you will see that its contents follow very different rules than do books off of a fiction shelf. Within the fiction section, the books from the science fiction section are written with different writing conventions than those from the romantic fiction area. These broad categories, such as mystery, fantasy, and graphic novels, are what we call genres. Within a genre, there might be subgenres, each with its own styles and rules of interpretation.

The Bible contains literature written in a number of different genres, including narrative, law, wisdom, psalm, parable, genealogy, prophesy, apocalypse, and epistle. One does not read a poetic passage in the same way as one reads a narrative. As an example, consider Exodus 14-15. Chapter 14 tells the story of the crossing of the Red Sea in narrative form. Chapter 15 retells the story as a poem—the songs of Moses and Miriam. The narrative tells us that “the Lord drove the sea by a strong east wind,” (14:21), while the poem tells us “At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up” (15:8). Did God send a strong wind, or did he send a blast from his nostrils? We don’t see any contradiction between these passages, because we understand the difference between prose and poetry. Individual books of the Bible may contain multiple types of genre. One cannot make a blanket statement that “Genesis is narrative,” because not all of Genesis is written as a narrative; there are stretches of genealogy, poetry, and other genres embedded in the story.

YECs commonly argue that the book of Genesis is “historical narrative” and must therefore be read “literally.” A YEC biblical scholar who has written much on this is Steven Boyd, who has done a statistical analysis on verb forms in Old Testament narrative and poetic passages, and come to the conclusion that Genesis 1 is indeed in the narrative genre. According to Boyd, old-Earth Christians who say that Genesis 1 is something other than historical narrative can be proven to be wrong by this modern computer-aided statistical analysis.

The problem is one of oversimplification, as Boyd’s analysis assumes that there are only two options: poetry and historical narrative. It is not always easy to determine the genre of a passage in the Bible, as there are subtleties, variations, and overlap between genres and subgenres. Genesis 1 is certainly not poetry in the same sense as a psalm or proverb—we didn’t need a statistical analysis to tell us this—but the chapter also has literary features that distinguish it from ordinary Hebrew historical narrative passages. Boyd’s analysis missed these nuances. One of these distinctions is the overall structure of the chapter, with the repetition of phrases such as “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day,” and “God saw that it was good.” There is really no other chapter in the Old Testament—or other ancient Hebrew literature—that has a structure quite like this. Furthermore, the vocabulary is at a higher level than in most of the Old Testament, such as using “lights” instead of sun and moon, and the naming of animals with broad categories rather than using specific names. The passage is still a narrative, but has poetry-like elements, and is in a subgenre of its own. Old Testament scholar C. John Collins describes the genre of Genesis 1 as “exalted prose narrative.”

A further problem for the YEC interpretation is that just because a passage is a narrative doesn’t mean that everything in that passage has to be taken literally in the way YECs mean literally. For example, Jesus stated that he is “the door of the sheep” (John 10:7) in a narrative passage, but no one takes this as a literal statement. Likewise, in the long Joseph narrative (Genesis 37, 39-50), we are told that “all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth” (Gen 41:57). Few biblical scholars take this as a literal statement which requires us to believe that people came from places as far away as Japan and Mesoamerica to purchase grain.

If one gets the genre of a passage in Scripture incorrect—and YECs get the genre of Genesis 1 at least partially incorrect—then it is likely that one will get the interpretation of that passage at least partially incorrect as well.

2. The meaning of “yom” (day) in Genesis

Genesis 1 begins with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and then goes on to describe six days of creation, each ending with “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day.” Most YECs insist that the only way to interpret this passage is that verse 1 must be included as part of the first day, and that the six days must be literal, consecutive 24-hour days.

There are at least four ways to answer this claim, each of which is sufficient by itself as a rebuttal to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation. To start with, Old Testament scholars are divided as to whether Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” —is (1) a summary of the entire creation week, (2) an event that occurred during day 1, or (3) an event that occurred before day 1. If the initial creation of the heavens and the earth occurred prior to the events of day 1 of Genesis 1, this opens up a variety of interpretive options that do not require a young Earth.

A second consideration that may be a problem for the literal-days interpretation is that there is no sun in the sky until day four (Genesis 1:14-18). According to Genesis 1:14, one purpose of the sun and moon is to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years” (NIV). As far back as the third and fourth century, Origin and Augustine—and others—argued that one cannot have a day, in the sense that we understand day, if we do not have a sun as a time marker. We are not, therefore, required to believe that the days of creation are literal 24-hour days in the sense that modern YECs believe is required by the text. This did not lead church fathers to an old-Earth reading of Genesis 1, but it did lead them to question the literal 24-hour day interpretation.

A third observation about the days of Genesis 1 is that “there was evening and there was morning” is not literally a 24-hour day in Hebrew thinking. In our system of reckoning days, a literal day runs from midnight to midnight. To the ancient Hebrews, a complete day ran from sunset to sunset, not “evening and morning.” In fact, “there was evening and there was morning” is literally a night, not a day. The use of the phrase “there was evening and there was morning” could mark a pause in the action rather than the passage of a literal day, or there could even be a figurative meaning to the expression.

Finally, most conservative biblical scholars believe that Moses was involved in the writing of Genesis, perhaps by gathering written or oral materials from earlier times. Moses was also the author of Psalm 90, which includes

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. (verse 4)

The immediate context of Psalm 90:4 is creation, with mentions in verses 2-3 of the creation of the earth, and humans being created from dust. One observation we can make about verse 4 is that time is not the same to God as it is to us. God is not restricted by time the way we are. Applying this back to Genesis 1, we are not required to believe that God’s days must be the same as our days. This is especially true for days 1-3, with no sun to mark days, but could also apply to the days in the entire creation week. It seems that modern young-Earth creationists may be more concerned about the “literal” meaning of the days of creation than Moses himself was!

3. Animal death and the fall

Young-Earth believers often argue that Earth cannot possibly be millions of years old because death did not occur until after Adam sinned. They will refer to verses such as Romans 5:12, which states, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” The YEC reasoning is that if all death came into the world through Adam’s sin, then there could not have been millions of years of death prior to Adam. Sedimentary rocks in Earth’s crust contain many quintillions of fossils, which are the remains of dead creatures, ranging from single-celled organisms and plants, to vertebrates, such as dinosaurs and mammals. The YEC interpretation requires all of these fossils to have died sometime after Adam sinned. Adam did not live millions of years ago, therefore Earth could not be millions of years old.

The problem with this YEC argument is that it is an over-reading of what the Bible actually teaches about death in our world. The Bible does indeed teach that human death is tied to Adam’s sin. Adam and Eve did not literally physically die on the literal day they ate the forbidden fruit, but they did literally physically die at some point after access to the Tree of Life was denied to them. But the Bible never ties animal death to Adams sin. The relevant passages are Genesis 3:14-19, Romans 5:12-17, Romans 8:19-22, and 1 Corinthians 15:21-28;35-57. None of these verses, nor any other passage of the Bible, teach that animal death began with Adam’s sin. In fact, the Bible never even teaches that animals were created to live forever.

4. Genealogies

Most young-Earth advocates will say that we know how old Earth is by adding up the years in all of the genealogies of the Bible. The genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 contain chronological information, such as “When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh… When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan… (Genesis 5:6,9).” Adding these together, along with chronological information in the rest of the Old Testament, and then tying these genealogies into certain dates for late-Old Testament events, results in a timeline that points back to Adam being created about 6000 years ago (or 4004 BC, as Archbishop Ussher famously calculated). Earth is, according to the YEC interpretation, only six days older than Adam, so Earth itself also is only 6000 years old as well.

There are several problems with this line of reasoning. Some YECs recognize these, and are willing to push Adam back a few thousand years, such as to 10,000 BC. I would like to focus on just one problem. As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in a real Adam and Eve. If we take these genealogies and chronologies in the YEC sense, then Adam lived in the Neolithic, about 6-10 thousand years ago (some old-Earth Christians push this date back further). The genealogies may point to this time frame, but they do not help us to address the interpretive questions we have with Genesis 1. In other words, Adam may have lived 10,000 years ago, and the Earth and universe could still be billions of years old. We can believe in a real Adam, Eve, Garden of Eden, and first sin, and hold to one of the various old-Earth understandings of Genesis 1, such as the day-age, analogical-days, historical creation, or framework interpretations.

In other words, the genealogies are largely irrelevant to the question of the age of the Earth.

5. The New Testament does not teach a young Earth

Finally, YECs often say that the New Testament, including Jesus himself, teaches a young Earth. They will point to verses such as Mark 10:6, where Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female,’” or Luke 11:50-51, which states, “so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah.” YECs will emphasize the “from the beginning of creation” part of Mark 10:6, because it seems to place the first humans at the very beginning of time, not billions of years after the initial creation.

We need to think a little more carefully, however, about the phrase “from the beginning of creation,” and ask the question, “Creation of what?” Note that Jesus does not say “from the beginning of creation of the universe.” The context in Mark 10 is a discussion of divorce, not the origin of the sun, moon, stars, and Earth itself. Jesus specifically refers to God making humans male and female, whom he brought together in marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:7-8; Gen 2:24). It is possible that Jesus had in mind “from the beginning of the creation of the universe,” but given the marriage context, it is also possible that Jesus was referring to “the beginning of the creation of humans and marriage.” The YEC interpretation of Mark 10:6 is possible, but there are other valid understandings of this verse, so it is a stretch to say that Jesus was a young-Earth creationist.

Conclusion

The young-Earth, calendar-day interpretation is one of several possible interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis. Other interpretations that are within biblical orthodoxy include the day-age, framework, and analogical-days interpretations, as outlined in the Report of the Creation Study Committee of the inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative Presbyterian Church in America. The age of the Earth is not used as part of a theological argument anywhere in the Bible, and has no bearing on any core doctrine, so it should not be a topic Christians divide over. Some YECs insist that the age of the Earth is a gospel issue, but this is clearly not the case. Most old-Earth Christians, including myself, affirm the core doctrines of the Christian faith that are involved in the opening chapters of Genesis, such as creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible, a real Adam and Eve, a real Garden of Eden, a real fall into sin, and a real promise of a coming savior (Genesis 3:15).

I adopt an old-Earth view for both biblical and scientific reasons, but I fully accept and respect those who, for biblical reasons, accept the young-Earth view. To insist that Genesis only allows for the young-Earth interpretation is not supportable biblically, as I have briefly outlined here. Being that there is overwhelming geological evidence that Earth is much older than 10,000 years, it is harmful for evangelism and discipleship to present the young-Earth view as the only infallible interpretation of Genesis.

Grace and Peace

——————-

Notes:

©2019 Kevin Nelstead

A printer-friendly PDF of this article may be downloaded here: Five biblical reasons I am not a young earth creationist.pdf

Unless stated otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV). The quote marked as NIV comes from the 1984 edition of the New International Version.

YEC is an abbreviation for young-Earth creationist/creationism that is accepted by many within the YEC community. Other common abbreviations in this discussion are OEC (old-Earth creationist) and TE or EC (theistic evolutionist or evolutionary creationist).

I gave links to books by Schaeffer, Ramm, Custance, and Pun, which greatly influenced my thinking back in the 1980s. A few books I would recommend now are here.

The Facebook discussion for this post is here.

Novare Science and Math — Upcoming Biology Textbook

NovareGeneralBiologyHere’s some good news for Christian science teachers, whether in a Christian school or home school setting. In the past, science educators in Christian environments had to chose between using secular textbooks and Christian textbooks. The Christian science textbooks were written mostly from a young-Earth, anti-evolution, anti-environmental perspective, and were therefore unsuitable in the minds of many Christian educators. On the other hand, these teachers wanted to have discussions of science and Christian faith integrated into their curricula, and so they found the secular books to be less than ideal as well.

Novare Science and Math has a high-school General Biology textbook in the works, with a target release date of the summer of 2020. This textbook is written from a Christian perspective, and presents the current scientific consensus on biological evolution. Novare has a FAQ page that includes the question “How will your biology books handle evolution?

For those who cannot wait until the 2020-2021 school year, Novare has a Beta edition of the textbook that will be available for the 2019-2020 school year.

Novare has other textbooks as well, such as Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, written by myself. This eighth-grade level Earth Science textbook provides a Christian alternative to both secular textbooks, and the young-Earth creationist textbooks that presently dominate the Christian science curriculum market.

Review – Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins

Bishop, R.C., Funck, L.L., Lewis, R.J., Moshier, S.O., and Walton, J.H, 2018, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective, Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 659 p.

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins is authored by five professors from Wheaton College. Wheaton is an Evangelical institution with rigorous admissions standards, and therefore has a smarter-than-usual student body. These professors have been jointly teaching a class on origins (SCI 311) at Wheaton for a number of years, giving students an overview of both biblical and scientific aspects of origins.

The book is divided into seven sections:

  1. Getting Started on the Journey – Four chapters on biblical interpretation and the interaction between science and Christian faith. These chapters lay a foundation for the rest of the book, and introduce themes which permeate many of the scientific concepts that follow, such as the functional integrity and ministerial action of the creation.
  2. Cosmic Origins – Six chapters covering Genesis 1, the big bang model and fine tuning in the universe. The unit ends with a chapter on “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on the Origins of the Universe” (units 3–6 end with a similar chapter).
  3. Origin and Geologic History of Earth – Eight chapters covering the origin of the solar system, catastrophism and uniformitarianism; the interpretation of the flood account in Genesis, geologic time, and Earth history.
  4. Origin of Life on Earth – Five chapters covering abiogenesis (the origin of life), as well as theological perspectives on the topic.
  5. Origin of Species and the Diversity of Life – Five chapters on biological evolution.
  6. Human Origins – Four chapters on biblical and evolutionary perspectives on the origin of humanity.
  7. Concluding Postscript – One chapter: “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on New Creation, Creation Care, and Science Education.”

This book is not written as an unbiased overview of all the Christian perspectives on origins. In other words, it is not like the Four Views on ________ books (some of which are excellent) that are already available at Christian bookstores. Instead, the book is written from a perspective that accepts big-bang cosmology, standard old-Earth geology, and biological evolution as scientifically-valid ways of understanding God’s creation. In terms of biblical interpretation, the book is written from a perspective that views the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God, but which also places a strong interpretive emphasis on the worldviews present in the ancient world. If you have read any of John Walton’s Lost World books (Such as The Lost World of Genesis One), you will have an idea what to expect in the sections on biblical interpretation (though written more for a general audience than the Lost World books). The authors, therefore, fall within the broad credal orthodoxy of “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The authors accept Adam and Eve as historical persons, as well as Noah’s flood as a historical event, but interprets these less literally than either young-Earth creationists, or old-Earth creationists such as Hugh Ross.

The chapters which examine what the Bible says about origins topics (e.g. Chapter 13, The Genesis Flood, and Chapter 29, Human Origins: Genesis 2–3) are excellent. In fact, the examination of why Noah’s flood does not, according to Genesis 6–9, have to be what we would picture as a global deluge, is one of the best I have read. This book will provide its readers with a solid foundation not only for understanding the biblical and theological side of origins topics, but will give them greater confidence in the Bible as the inerrant and authoritative Word of God.

The section on geology is the longest part of the book, and consists of the following chapters:

  • Chapter 11 – Origin of the Earth and Solar System
  • Chapter 12 – Historical Roots of Geology: Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism
  • Chapter 13 – The Genesis Flood
  • Chapter 14 – The Rock Cycle and Timescales of Geologic Processes
  • Chapter 15 – Rocks of Ages: Measuring Geologic Time
  • Chapter 16 – Plate Tectonics: A Theory for How the Earth Works
  • Chapter 17 – Reading Earth’s History in Rocks and Fossils
  • Chapter 18 – Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Earth History

In this unit, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins does not cover the same breadth of material as a complete introductory textbook on physical or historical geology would, but what it does cover, it covers in some depth. For instance, Chapter 15 not only discusses radiometric dating in a general way, but introduces more advanced topics such as concordia and isochron dating that are not found in most introductory geology textbooks. Knowledge of these techniques provides readers with greater confidence that radiometric dating works, and usually works well.

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins offers an excellent overview of the biblical and scientific issues surrounding the origins of the universe, Earth, life, biological diversity, and human beings. It is well-written and accessible to non-scientists as well as scientists. It will be a reference work that I go to often for science topics I’m a little weaker on, as well as for biblical and theological arguments regarding origins. I recommend the book for:

  • Educators in Christian schools. This book would be a great teacher’s supplement to my Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home.
  • Home-school parents.
  • Pastors and youth-group workers.
  • Anyone who is serious about Bible-science issues: young-Earth creationists (so they have a better understanding of the “other side”), old-Earth creationists, and evolutionary creationists
  • Christians in the sciences

Grace and Peace

Copyright © 2019 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

I thank IVP Academic for giving me a review copy of this book.

 

Review – A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture

AReformedApproachToScienceAndScriptureA Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture is largely a summary of the insights of the late theologian R.C. Sproul on the topic of the relationship between science and Christian faith. The author is Keith Mathison, professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Florida, and the book is available as a free Kindle book. Don’t let the zero-dollar price tag fool you; this is a great little e-book.

It is common for young-Earth creationists to ask something like, “Are you going to believe God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible science?” There are many ways that an old-Earth Christian could respond to this false distinction between science and Christian faith. I usually respond by saying that I believe that all truth is God’s truth, and that if there appears to be a conflict between the Bible and science, then either we misunderstand God’s Word, God’s world, or both.

R.C. Sproul basically said the same thing, and much more, as Mathison outlines in this book. Much of the book focuses on the topic of the age of the Earth, but it touches on other science and faith issues as well. The book has seven chapters, which I will summarize:

Chapter 1 – All Truth is God’s Truth

It is common for postmodernists to question the concept of truth, but unfortunately, it is also common for Bible-believing Christians to do the same.  These otherwise theologically-orthodox Christians fear that if we consider God’s revelation in creation to be infallible or authoritative, that this will somehow detract from the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Mathison points to the teachings not only of Sproul, but of Augustine, Calvin, and Bavinck to show that “all truth is God’s truth” is an idea that is consistent both with the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and Reformed theology in general.

Chapter 2 – General and Special Revelation

Mathison distinguishes general revelation, which is available to all, and special revelation, such as the Bible, which points us to God’s work of salvation. Because God is truthful in everything he does, Mathison reminds us that “God’s revelation in creation is equally as infallible as His revelation in Scripture, because in both cases, it is God who is doing the revealing, and God is always infallible.”

Chapter 3 – Interpreting General and Special Revelation

We should not approach perceived conflicts between science and the Bible as “God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible science,” but in light of fallible human interpretations of both God’s infallible Word and God’s infallible creation. It is clear that fallible humans have misinterpreted both. Mathison explores this by reviewing the geocentrism vs. heliocentrism controversy of the 1500s and 1600s.

Chapter 4 – Luther, Calvin, and Copernicus

Both Luther and Calvin viewed Copernicus’s heliocentrism as heretical. This chapter takes a closer look at the Copernican Revolution, and what we now recognize to be faulty biblical hermeneutics by the reformers.

Chapter 5 – Earthly Things and Heavenly Things

In this chapter, the author takes a closer look at how the fall into sin affected human reasoning. Human reasoning is affected by sin, but it is not totally ruined. This is especially true in regards to general revelation. Unbelievers will get some things wrong in their understanding of the creation, but this is true for believers as well, and is also true of believers when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

Chapter 6 – When Science and Scripture Conflict

Sproul stated that if he is sure he correctly understands the Scripture, and if Scripture and science seem to conflict, that he would “stand with the Word of God a hundred times out of a hundred.” I agree with this statement. In most situations, we must be willing to take a closer look at both our scientific and Biblical interpretations. One key is to discern what Scripture actually teaches, and the failure to do this is where many science-faith conflicts come from. Mathison states that “Christians have absolutely nothing to fear ultimately from scientific research.”

Chapter 7 – The Age of the Universe and Genesis 1

Sproul, who leaned towards a young-Earth, stated that “the Bible does not give us a date of creation.” In light of this, Mathison warns us against creating false dilemmas in discussions about origins. As an example, Mathison writes, “I have also encountered Christians who have argued that any believer who is convinced that the universe is billions of years old should abandon Christianity because it would mean that the Bible is not true.” This false dichotomy is, unfortunately, common in the young-Earth movement, and it is very harmful both for discipleship and evangelism. When we teach our youth that if the Earth is millions of years old the Bible is a lie, we set them up for a fall. If we present this false dichotomy in evangelism to scientists or the scientifically-literate public, we place an unnecessary obstacle to Christian faith.

It is significant that R.C. Sproul leaned towards the young-Earth interpretation of Genesis, yet was able ultimately to say “I don’t know.” Sproul maintained a charitable relationship with those he disagreed with, which is a loving, Christ-following example for those on all sides of the origins debates within the Church.

The book is available in Kindle format from Amazon.

Grace and Peace

Copyright © 2018 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

 

 

Six Books to Understand Genesis — Old-Earth Edition

6books

The web site of the young-Earth creationist documentary Is Genesis History has listed “Six Books to Understand Genesis,” all written from a young-Earth perspective. As a counterweight, here are six old-Earth books written by highly-qualified, Bible-believing, inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative scholars. As old-Earth Christians, these academics believe in the truthfulness of Scripture just as much as any young-Earth creationist. The issue of the age of the Earth is certainly one of biblical interpretation, not of biblical authority.

Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary by C. John Collins. This mid-level introduction includes an outline of the analogical-days interpretation of Genesis 1.

Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John Lennox. This is the book on the interpretation of Genesis that I recommend most often, because it is very good, and because it is short.

Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J Daryl Charles. This gives a rather detailed introduction to various young-Earth and old-Earth interpretations. This is better and deeper than most of the “Three views on ______” books on the market.

The ESV Study Bible. If someone believes that only “liberals” accept an ancient Earth, point them to this scholarly masterpiece. The notes on Genesis don’t “take sides” on the age of the Earth or the extent of Noah’s flood, but it is clear that the scholars don’t believe that Christians must accept the young-Earth interpretation.

The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley. This book gives a good summary of the historical development of the concept of an ancient Earth, and gives numerous reasons why young-Earth arguments about geologic time and flood geology simply do not work in the real world of geology.

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? edited by Carol Hill and others. Most of the contributors to this volume are Christians; a few of them are not. Young-Earth creationists love to point to the Grand Canyon as something that only could have formed by catastrophism. The authors of this beautifully-illustrated book show why, once again, young-Earth flood geology simply does not work.

Four out of my six recommendations look more at the biblical and theological side of the debate rather than the scientific side. It is my conviction that the Bible is at the heart of the matter; most young-Earth creationists will not listen to what we have to say about science until they become at least a little bit open to the biblical case for an old Earth. The two remaining books, reflecting my own background in geology, provide devastating critiques of young-Earth geological arguments.

Young-Earth creationism is not biblically necessary, nor is it scientifically credible. To insist otherwise does harm in terms of Christian discipleship, apologetics, and evangelism.

Grace and Peace

Three Young-Earth Students

The web site for the young-Earth documentary Is Genesis History? has posted a video following three young-Earth creationist (YEC) students from Wheaton College as they tour the Ark Encounter replica of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky (see How did Theistic Evolution Bring 3 Wheaton College Students to the Ark?). These students had formed a YEC group on the Wheaton campus, and were concerned about the widespread teaching of old-Earth creationism and theistic evolution by professors at the college.

WheatonArkEncounter

I was once very much like these three students touring the Ark Encounter. For my first couple years as a geology undergraduate student at Montana State University, I fervently (though mostly privately) held to young-Earth creationism, and was even a student member of the Creation Research Society. I was eager to get my Master’s degree in geology so that I could be a full member of the CRS. I would read the CRS Quarterly, which back then was the premier YEC scientific journal, though at times I would roll my eyes at some of the things that were printed in its pages. But I was confident that, with time, the many problems with YEC geology would be solved, and even dreamed that I would be the one to solve them.

The more I learned about geology, however, the more I became aware of the serious deficiencies of YEC flood geology and age-of-the-Earth arguments. I was encouraged, however, that there were several articles in the CRSQ which pointed out some of the same “problems to be solved” that I saw. Little did I know that the author of these articles, Glenn Morton, would soon have a deep crisis of faith because of what he perceived to be serious flaws in YEC geological science. Glenn did go through some dark years in his faith after this, and was on the verge of becoming an atheist, but eventually did not fall away from the faith. Many others in his shoes have not been so fortunate.

I also experienced the grace of God, and did not question my faith as I increasingly saw problems with YEC geology. My faith was getting deeper roots in things like the resurrection of Christ. I am thankful that in about my Junior year of college, I came across several books by Christian authors, such as Francis Schaeffer and Pattle Pun, that questioned the YEC paradigm and provided alternative interpretations of Genesis. These authors held to biblical inerrancy, and did not question YEC just for scientific reasons, but for biblical and theological reasons.

I’m sure these three students love Jesus, and they would not be at Wheaton if they were not brilliant. This article from Is Genesis History? tells of a cordial meeting of the young-Earth students with old-Earth professors, and mentions that “Most of the students did not have the critical knowledge to dig deep into the subjects.” This certainly cuts both ways. In the eyes of Is Genesis History? these students didn’t know what questions to ask their old-Earth professors. Unfortunately, it seems these students may not know what critical questions to ask of young-Earth creationism either.

Here are some issues brought up in the video that the students need to explore:

  • What is the genre of Genesis 1? In the writings of Steven Boyd, interviewed in Is Genesis History? the options are often given as “poetry” and “historical narrative.” Those are not the only options. Genesis 1 is certainly not poetry in the sense that Psalms, Proverbs, or much of the Prophets are poetry, but it is also not written like standard Hebrew historical narrative passages either. If we get the genre of a passage wrong–and “historical narrative” is probably not correct–then our interpretation of a passage will likely be wrong as well.
  • The movie shows horse kinds, giraffe kinds, and mentions dinosaur kinds (which was probably a slip even by YEC definitions of kinds). What does Genesis 1 mean by “kind?” What does it mean for organisms to reproduce “after their kinds?” Does any of what Genesis says about kinds place a limit on variation over time within populations of organisms?
  • One of the students mentioned death before the fall. Does the Bible teach that animals were created to be mortal? Does it teach that animal death is the result of Adam’s sin. The answer to these questions is that the Bible is silent on these topics.
  • What is meant by “good” in Genesis 1? Does it mean perfect in every way, as YECs claim? Or does it have another meaning, such as fulfilling God’s good purposes?

I really liked these students. They were smart, articulate, and love Jesus. My hope and prayer is that these three students would remain strong in their faith, whether they remain as YECs, or someday adopt a different interpretation of Genesis. I do appreciate their attitude towards their old-Earth professors and fellow students, recognizing that the age of the Earth is not a salvation issue. My concern is that YEC materials such as Is Genesis History? contain a great amount of really bad science that eventually backfires and destroys the faith of many. Will these three students be able to stand firm in their faith in Christ once they realize that Mt. St. Helens is not a good model for most of what we see in the rock record, that the layers of the Grand Canyon and other places contain many features that cannot be explained by catastrophism, or that the model of post-flood hyper-evolution presented at Ark Encounter cannot explain the present diversity and distribution of life on Earth?

Once again, bad science (based on debatable interpretations of the Bible) is bad apologetics that drives people away from the gospel.

Grace and Peace


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