My ignorance will always exceed my knowledge. This is true even in subjects in which I have a considerable level of expertise. I have been studying various science-faith topics for more than three decades, and have substantial depth of knowledge in some areas. Over the years, I have focused most intensely on the relationship between geology and Christianity (including the arguments of the young-Earth creationists), somewhat on the topics of biological evolution and environmental ethics, and hardly at all on some other important science-faith issues. I would not, for instance, be able to write authoritatively about how cognitive science, string theory, or recent advances in human genetics relate to Christian apologetics. I have a few hundred books in my personal library, but don’t have a collection—and am not sure I would even want one—that covers all of the issues that are raised in the dialog between Christianity and Science.
As a science writer and science apologist, however, I need to at least be conversant in a range of topics outside of my core areas. A new, useful resource is Dictionary of Christianity and Science, published by Zondervan. This 691-page volume has over 400 articles of various lengths, written by over 100 contributors.
Christians do not always agree, of course, on how science and Christianity properly relate. The Dictionary has a number of multiple-view discussions, with separate articles written by authors from diverging perspectives. For instance, the two “Adam and Eve” articles are written from a “First-Couple View” (by young-Earth Bible scholar Todd Beale) and a “Representative-Couple View” (by old-Earth theologian Trempor Longman III). Some examples of topics that have multiple articles are:
- Adam and Eve
- Age of the Universe and Earth
- Climate Change
- Days of Creation
- Fossil Record
- Genesis Flood (four articles)
- Genesis, Interpretations of Chapters 1 and 2
- Hominid Fossils
- Human Evolution
Some controversial topics are covered by only one article. When the subject relates to the age of the Earth or universe, these single articles are written from an old-Earth perspective. Examples include the articles on dinosaurs (Stephen Moshier), the Cambrian explosion (Darrel Falk), the big bang (Hugh Ross), and radiometric dating (Ken Wolgemuth). This approach is consistent with the fact that most leading Christian apologists do not use young-Earth arguments in defense of the faith. Articles written about controversial Christian individuals or organizations are generally written by a “friendly” author, such as the articles on Answers in Genesis and Ken Ham written by Marcus Ross, himself a young-Earth creationist, and the article on The Biologos Foundation penned by Deborah Haarsma, who is the president of Biologos.
I will never be an expert on string theory, the Chinese room argument, or Bayes’ theorem, but as one who writes about science and Christian faith, I should at least know the basics on a breadth of issues. I recommend Dictionary of Christianity and Science for students who are new to the controversies that surround the relationship between Christian faith and science, as well as to science-faith veterans who need to keep abreast on a wide range of science-faith topics.
I would like to thank Zondervan for providing me with a preprint of the first 130 pages, and then a complimentary copy of the complete book. Dictionary of Christianity and Science will be available for sale on April 25th.
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 recently acquired Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J. Daryl Charles. The book gives perspectives of five highly-qualified, Evangelical Old Testament scholars on the creation accounts of Genesis:
- Richard E. Averbeck (professor of OT and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) — “A Literary Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual Reading of Genesis 1-2”
- Todd S. Beall (professor of OT at Capitol Bible Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2: A Literal Approach”
- C. John Collins (professor of OT at Covenant Theological Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2 with the Grain: Analogical Days”
- Tremper Longman III (professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) — “What Genesis 1-2 Teaches (and What it Doesn’t)”
- John H. Walton (professor of OT at Wheaton College and Graduate School) — “Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology”
Each author’s chapter includes responses from the four other authors.
In the Forward, the editor states that one of the convictions behind this book is that “conversation–indeed, even heated debate regarding contentious issues–can proceed in a charitable manner.” That is what I strive for in my writing on The GeoChristian, and I appreciate their objective.
In the Introduction, Victor, P. Hamilton begins by reminding us that “without Gen 1-2 the rest of the Bible becomes incomprehensible.” This is something that all contributors to this book, whether young-Earth or old-Earth, evolution-accepting or evolution-denying, would agree on. The opening chapters of Genesis lay foundations for a number of critical doctrines in the Bible, including humans created in the image of God, humanity’s fall into sin, and the beginning of the long story of redemption in Christ.
The Introduction also points out that the interpretation of Genesis 1-2 has been controversial throughout church history, with quotes from Origen and Augustine to back this up. He then points out some particularly important modern debates, such as the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the relationship of the Biblical creation accounts to other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts.
It is important to be reminded that all of these authors “identify fully and unapologetically with historic Christian orthodoxy and embrace wholeheartedly the basic tenets and historic creeds of the one holy catholic church.” Faithfulness to God’s Word does not require that one interpret Genesis just like only one of these authors.
The Introduction ends by laying out three responses readers might have to the book:
- Confusion — “If the scholars cannot get it all together, what am I supposed to do with Gen 1 and 2?”
- Pre-conceived conclusions — Like the essays I already agree with, and ignore the rest.
- “[A]ppreciate the differing perspectives on Gen 1-2 presented in this volume. We need to remember that a divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture does not mean that (my) interpretations of Scripture are equally divinely inspired and authoritative.”
I look forward to learning from each author, and sharing with you my thoughts as I read through this important work.
Grace and Peace
One of the best current blogs on the topics of geology, young-Earth creationism, and Christianity is Age of Rocks, written by Jonathan Baker. Today he published his 100th post, and commemorated that milestone with a fantastic article: 100 Reasons the Earth is Old. I liked all 100 reasons, and think he could follow this up with 500 reasons the Earth is old when he hits his 500th post. Here are five of my favorite reasons from his list:
6. There is no radiocarbon in old samples, despite claims to the contrary. Geologically old samples of coal, diamonds, and graphite, for example, yield finite radiocarbon ages that are consistent with the expected level of contamination invariably introduced during sample collection and preparation.
15. Quaternary deposits and landscapes are far too complicated to have accumulated in the ~4,500 years following the Flood. Everywhere we look on Earth, we truly find evidence for ~2 million years worth of processes, whether at high latitudes (where we find evidence for repeated glaciations and deglaciations, separated by warm intervals) or in the tropics (where we find thick desert dune sequences alternating with humid intervals) or in the oceans (where 2 million+ years of Milankovitch cycles are recorded in only a few meters of silt and clay) or in the high mountains (where alpine valleys have been carved out by rivers or glaciers, then infilled by coarse sediment, then eroded again, etc.). Flood geologists unanimously assert that the Quaternary period represents the ‘post-Flood’ era, but there is good reasons that conventional geologists ascribe a much longer age: 2.6 million years.
26. Volcanic ash beds (sedimentary tuff), frequently used to date sedimentary rock layers, were mainly deposited in dry conditions. Geologists can distinguish between ash layers that settled in ocean basins (marine tephra) and those that fell over dry land (air fall deposits). When volcanic ash is deposited in flowing water, it produces yet different features identifiable in outcrops, such as grain sorting and lamination. Therefore, not a few volcanic ashes in sedimentary strata contradict the Flood geology scenario, especially because these ash falls take time to accumulate from the air and harden to the point that water-lain sediments can be deposited on top without compromising the structure of the soft ash.
27. The geologic column is no remnant of an ancient flood deposit, global or not. Fine details, in the form of thin layers of alternating clay and limestone, or irregular sand deposits that resemble modern river channels, defy catastrophic explanation, which explains why catastrophism has long been abandoned by research geologists.
29. The distribution of sedimentary rocks is weighted to heavily over the continents, which is the opposite of what we’d expect in a global flood. Floods move sediments from high elevation to low elevation, depositing them in sedimentary basins. During the Flood, the oceans would have constituted the largest and deepest basins, but most sediments remained on elevated continents. How did this happen? Did the laws of physics stop working?
Note that I picked my top five from the first 29; there were just so many good old-Earth evidences to choose from. I could have selected all 100 reasons from the list of 100 reasons!
An equally important list would be top reasons why the Bible does not require anything like young-Earth creationism. A few of Jonathan Baker’s thoughts on the Bible and science can be found on his Theology/Scripture tab.
Grace and Peace
#26 was near and dear to my heart, as my Master’s degree research involved a study of Quaternary volcanic ash deposits in eastern Washington.
I’ll break out of my semi-monastic lifestyle for a few moments to pass on some good GeoChristian kinds of links…
Old-Earth Classical Christian Middle School Earth Science Textbook — Novare Science and Math, a relatively new Christian curriculum publisher, has announced that they will publish an old-Earth middle school Earth science textbook in time for the 2015-2016 school year. Does anyone want to guess who is writing that much-needed textbook?
Ken Ham Rejects Entering Into “Gracious Dialog” With Old-Earthers — Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and the world’s foremost promoter of young-Earth creationism, has turned down a dinner invitation from the president of BioLogos, the world’s foremost promoter of evolutionary creation (i.e., theistic evolution).
Part 1 — The invitation — Ken Ham, We Need a Better Conversation (Perhaps Over Dinner?) — BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma, concerned about the level of acrimony among Christians over the topics of evolution and the age of the Earth, invited Ken Ham to have dinner with herself and Reasons to Believe head Hugh Ross:
“All three organizations are also concerned about the departure of young people from the church over origins issues. Each tends to think that the positions of the others are contributing to the problem! But studies have shown that it is the acrimony over this issue that drives young people away. We respect the commitment that Reasons to Believe has demonstrated to gracious dialogue with those of other positions. We completely agree with Hugh Ross that “If we Christians can resolve this issue in a peaceful way it’s going to attract non-Christians to enter into dialogue with us. But if we continue to fight…it turns them off.” Perhaps Ken Ham could join Hugh Ross and me for a friendly conversation over dinner? My treat.”
Part 2 — The rejection — Should I Have Dinner With BioLogos? — Ken Ham compared himself to Ezekiel, warning the people of God against compromise, and Nehemiah, who refused to be distracted by the enemies of God’s people, though he added that he doesn’t consider Hugh Ross to be a personal enemy, only an enemy biblical authority.
“We at AiG are busy “rebuilding a wall.” We are equipping God’s people to defend the Christian faith, and I believe we are doing a great work for God. We are busy being “watchmen”—warning people of those who undermine the authority of the Word of God.”
Ken Ham later wrote that Answers in Genesis “will not, however, send out such a kumbaya message,” by fellowshipping with compromisers.
Part 3 — Hugh Ross responds — Ambassadors for Reconciliation — Hugh Ross is a gracious man, but is obviously disturbed by the discord sewn by those who villainize old-Earth Christians.
“One way we can help people receive our message of reconciliation with God is by modeling reconciliation among ourselves. John 13:35 says, “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” And yet, although creation beliefs hold a core position in our Christian faith (Hebrews 11:6), no other subject exposes a greater lack of love among believers. Some creationists treat fellow believers with ugly, disparaging disdain.”
“Enough is enough. There are mission fields still to be reached. How can we ask nonbelievers to dialogue with us if we cannot graciously dialogue with one another, if we treat one another as enemies? Unless we make some progress in reconciling our differences, how can we expect to help reconcile a skeptical world to Christ? We are commissioned by God to be His ambassadors. It’s time for us to start behaving as ambassadors.”
It seems strange that someone like Ken Ham can interact graciously with Christians who disagree with him on issues such as eschatology, predestination, baptism, or spiritual gifts without condemning those who disagree with him as “compromisers,” and yet when it comes to a secondary issue such as the age of the Earth (which is an issue of interpretation, not biblical authority), he cannot even have dinner with those who differ from him.
I must add that my limited personal interaction with Ken Ham has been cordial: Do Old Earthers and Young Earthers Agree On Anything?
A Hundred Inverted Smiley Faces — I had moderate success viewing today’s partial solar eclipse with a shoebox pinhole camera and by projecting the eclipse onto the patio with my binoculars. But when I walked back into the house, I was welcomed by hundreds of solar eclipse images on the floor, steps, and walls. Gaps in our horizontal blinds acted as pinhole cameras and projected a multitude of eclipse images:
Norm Geisler: “The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. It is not a test for orthodoxy.”
Norm Geisler has been a prominent defender of the Christian faith for a number of years. He is the author or coauthor of several important books on apologetics (the defense of the faith), including I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, and Christian Apologetics.
Dr. Geisler recently contributed an article to The Christian Post: Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to Believe in Young Earth Creationism? The answer, of course, is “No, one can hold to the trustworthiness of the Bible and believe it does not require a young Earth.”
Here are a few excerpts:
In order to establish the Young Earth view, one must demonstrate that there are (1) no time gaps in the biblical record and that (2) the “days” of Genesis are six successive 24-hour days of creation. Unfortunately for Young Earthers, these two premises are difficult to establish for many reasons.
So with both possible and actual demonstrable gaps in Genesis and in the genealogies, the “Closed-Chronology” view needed to support the strict Young Earth view is not there. This would mean that a Young Earth view of creation around 4000 B.C. would not be feasible. And once more gaps are admitted, then when does it cease to be a Young Earth view?
Consider the following:
(1) First, the word “day” (Hb. <em>yom</em>) is not limited to a 24-hour day in the creation record. For instance, it is used of 12 hours of light or daytime (in Gen.1:4-5a).
(2) The word “day” is also used of a whole 24-hour day in Genesis 1:5b where it speaks day and night together as a “day.”
(3) Further, in Genesis 2:4 the word “day” is used of all six days of creation when it looks back over all six days of creation and affirms: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day [yom] that the LORD God made them” (Gen. 2:4).
As for death before Adam, the Bible does not say that death of all life was a result of Adam’s sin. It only asserts that “death passed upon all men” because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added), not on all plants and animals. It only indicates that the whole creation was “subjected to futility” (i.e., to frustration-Rom. 8:20-21)
If there is evidence for Gaps in Genesis and a longer period of time involved in the six day of Genesis, then the Young Earth view fails to convincingly support its two pillars. At a minimum it leaves room for reasonable doubt. In view of this, one can ask why is it that many still cling to the Young Earth view with such tenacity as to make it a virtual test for orthodoxy?
There is no air-tight case for a Young Earth view from a biblical point of view. So while a Young Earth may be compatible with inerrancy, nonetheless, inerrancy does not necessitate a belief in a Young Earth.
[Young-Earth creationism] was not even granted an important doctrinal status by the historic Fundamentalists (c. 1900) who stressed the inerrancy of Scripture. That is, it was not accepted or embraced by the Old Princetonians like B. B.Warfield, Charles Hodge, or J. Gresham Machen who also held strongly to inerrancy.
[The] founders and framers of the contemporary inerrancy movement (ICBI) of the 1970s and 80s explicitly rejected the Young Earth view as being essential to belief in inerrancy. They discussed it and voted against making it a part of what they believed inerrancy entailed, even though they believed in creation, the “literal” historical-grammatical view of interpreting the Bible, a literal Adam, and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. Given this history of the Young Earth view, one is surprised at the zeal by which some Young Earthers are making their position a virtual test for evangelical orthodoxy.
If the Young Earth view is true, then so be it. Let us not forbid the biblical and scientific evidence be offered to support it. Meanwhile, to make it a tacit test for orthodoxy will serve to undermine the faith of many who so closely tie it to orthodoxy that they will have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, should they ever become convinced the earth is old. One should never tie his faith to how old the earth is.
Some Concluding Comments
After seriously pondering these questions for over a half century, my conclusions are:
(1) The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith.
(2) It is not a test for orthodoxy.
(3) It is not a condition of salvation.
(4) It is not a test of Christian fellowship.
(5) It is not an issue over which the body of Christ should divide.
(6) It is not a hill on which we should die.
(7) The fact of creation is more important than the time of creation.
(8) There are more important doctrines on which we should focus than the age of the earth (like the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the death and resurrection of Christ, and His literal Second Coming).
Geisler does not claim in this article that everything he presents is correct, only that they are real possibilities.
Of course, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has been quick to respond: The Ultimate Motivation of this Prominent Theologian?
I suggest that his ultimate motivation for attempting to discredit a literal six-day Creation Week is because he has been influenced by an authority outside the Bible: the majority view among scientists of very old ages, so that he can allow for or believe in billions of years. Thus he goes to great lengths in an attempt to justify various efforts by Christians to fit billions of years into the biblical record. I do believe (regardless of whether Dr. Geisler accepts this or not), this is his ultimate motivation.
And sadly most Christian leaders (including Spurgeon, Hodge, Scofield, Warfield and the authors of The Fundamentals ) have followed suit with an equally shallow analysis of the Genesis text and other relevant passages.
[Geisler] is really “clutching at straws” in an attempt to discredit biblical creationists and allow for millions of years.
I assert that many great men of God today world are contributing to a generational loss of biblical authority because of their insistence on accommodating man’s belief in billions of years with the infallible Word of God. Such a loss of biblical authority is contributing enormously to a massive exodus of young people from the church (see Already Gone) and an increasing decline of Christian influence on the culture.
The gist of what Ham says is that “young-Earth creationists read the Bible, and everyone else reads into the Bible.” I would respond by saying that to take outside evidence (whether it be evidence that the Earth goes around the sun, or that Earth is older than 6000 years) and going back to the Scriptures to make sure we have really read it correctly is not eisigesis (reading into the text), it is good hermeneutics (interpreting the text).
It is highly debatable whether or not the “massive exodus of young people from the church” is due to churches teaching that the Bible does not require a 6000-year old Earth. For many young people, it is because they have been raised on Answers in Genesis or Dr. Dino materials, and figured out that much of it simply isn’t true. When these young people leave the church, it is often because they have been authoritatively taught that if young-Earth creationism isn’t true, the Bible isn’t true.
And that is the tragedy of creationism that many Christian apologists, such as Norm Geisler, want to avoid. For old-Earth Christians to assert that young-Earth teachings are false, both biblically and scientifically, is not the equivalent of denying the truthfulness of Scripture.
Grace and Peace
I’ve had another 24 hours to think about the Ham vs. Nye debate, and I have a few additional thoughts:
- I’m struck by how little evidence Ken Ham presented in his main presentation or in his rebuttals. He briefly mentioned a few standard YEC arguments for a young Earth, such as woody material dated at 40,000 years by carbon-14 dating contained in a 45 million year old basalt flow. But he didn’t spend much time developing this or any other young Earth argument.
- Ham spent most of his time talking about world view, and propounding his postmodern-ish insistence that no one can really know anything about the past through scientific investigation. This world view talk was good for preaching to the YEC choir, but was not very useful for convincing skeptics or fence-riders.
- Ken Ham, as he has often done in the past, gave a false choice between believing in God’s infallible and unchanging Word, and believing in man’s fallible and changing science. Ham doesn’t see that both Scripture and the creation contain truth, and that the processes of understanding either Scripture or creation is done by fallible people. In other words, Ken Ham might have the Word of God in his hands, but Ken Ham can be wrong about the best way to understand certain passages. I have many reasons for believing that Ham (and YECs in general) over-read the text of the opening chapters of Genesis. Here are a few.
- I have already stated my main critique of Bill Nye–he lacked the necessary background in geology to participate in a debate like this.
- As a Christian, I wanted Ken Ham to win the debate, which I believe he could have done if he had taken a “mere creation” approach rather than having a narrow YEC focus. Despite my training in science (and perhaps because of my training in science), I have much more in common with Ken Ham’s Christian world view than I do with Bill Nye’s naturalistic, atheistic world view.
I had heard that 500,000 people watched the debate live. Now I’ve read that the number was closer to 3,000,000 viewers.
There are a number of excellent reviews of the debate on the internet. Here are a few that I have found helpful:
J.W. Wartick — Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate.
“[Ham] continued to paint a picture of the Bible which rejects any but his own interpretation. In other words, he presented a false dichotomy: either young earth creationism or compromise with naturalism.”
Faithful Thinkers — Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Aftermath.
“Each respective candidate won with their supporters, but both lost with their skeptics. This exchange was certainly not “the debate of the decade.”
Jay Wile — Talking Past One Another – The Ham/Nye Debate.
“While there were plenty of opportunities for the debaters to interact, they rarely did so. As the title of this post indicates, they spent most of their time talking past one another.”
“In this light, the debate proved both sides right on one central point: If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.
“That’s because the argument was never really about ice rods and sediment layers. It was about the most basic of all intellectual presuppositions: How do we know anything at all? On what basis do we grant intellectual authority? Is the universe self-contained and self-explanatory? Is there a Creator, and can we know him?”
Evolution News and Views (an I.D. site) — The Ham-Nye Creation Debate: A Huge Missed Opportunity.
“For goodness sake, Bill Nye was the one defending Big Bang cosmology. Viewers would never know that the Big Bang is one of the best arguments for the design of the universe ever offered by science.”
“People will walk away from this debate thinking, “Ken Ham has the Bible, Bill Nye has scientific evidence.” Some Christians will be satisfied by that. Other Christians (like me) who don’t feel that accepting the Bible requires you to believe in a young earth will feel that their views weren’t represented. And because Ham failed (whether due to time constraints, an inflexible debate strategy, lack of knowledge, inadequate debate skills, or a fundamentally weak position) to offer evidence rebutting many of Nye’s arguments for an old earth, young earth creationist Christians with doubts will probably feel even more doubtful. Most notably, however, skeptics won’t budge an inch. Why? Because Ham’s main argument was “Because the Bible says so,” and skeptics don’t take the Bible as an authority. They want to see evidence.”
Grace and Peace
In 2012, two old-Earth Christian geologists gave a presentation at the General Assembly (annual meeting) of the Presbyterian Church in America. Gregg Davidson is a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and Ken Wolgemuth is an oil industry consultant, and their presentation was entitled “The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?”
The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, holding to biblical inerrancy, as well as conservative positions on a number of other issues. Like a majority of denominations that hold to biblical inerrancy, the PCA does not take a position on the age of the Earth. There are large numbers of scholars, pastors, and elders within the PCA who believe the Bible teaches a young Earth, and large numbers who believe the Bible does not require a young Earth.
In the 1990s, the PCA created a committee to address the issues surrounding origins, such as the age of the Earth and biological evolution. The committee released its Report of the Creation Study Committee in 2000. This is a fairly balanced document, outlining the biblical arguments in favor of young-Earth creationism alongside those for three old-Earth biblical interpretations.
However, some young-Earth creationists within the PCA were outraged that the denomination would include these old-Earth Christians at the General Assembly. There were those who were upset that any old-Earther would be give the floor in a General Assembly seminar, others who were angry because of perceived ties between the speakers and the theistic evolution (a.k.a. evolutionary creation) organization BioLogos, and others who merely asked why equal time was not given to young-Earthers.
I see that this year’s General Assembly has a YEC seminar, as well as a YEC exhibitor. Here’s the description for the YEC seminar:
Astronomy Reveals Creation
Seminar Speaker: Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research, Institute for Creation Research
Critics of the Bible have often attempted to use the methods of science to persuade others that the Bible is not trustworthy. We are told that the universe is a cosmic accident—a “big bang” followed by billions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these attempts to discredit biblical creation do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The science of astronomy confirms that the Bible is true. In this highly visual presentation, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle shows powerful scientific evidence that confirms that our universe is not an accident, but has been designed and created by God as the Bible teaches in Genesis. The Christian can be encouraged that the Word of God is absolutely trustworthy on all matters. This includes not only matters of theology and morality, but matters of science and history as well.
The Institute for Creation Research will have a booth in the exhibition hall.
I pray for unity, clarity, faithfulness, love, grace, and peace within the denomination in regards to this sometimes divisive issue.
Grace and Peace
If my recollection is correct, one of the presenters was unable to be at last year’s seminar, though he had been scheduled.
Davidson and Wolgemuth are available as speakers for seminaries, Bible schools, and other organizations through Solid Rock Lectures.
I wrote about the 2012 General Assembly here: PCA General Assembly includes a seminar on the age of the Earth. Here are some quotes and comments I found at the time from blogs advocating YEC-only within the PCA:
“there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”
“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”
“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”
“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding.”
“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”
Davidson and seven other PCA geologists have written an article entitled PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth which was published in Modern Reformation magazine in 2010. YEC geologist and PCA church member John Reed wrote a response which is posted on the Answers in Genesis website.
For most Christian traditions and denominations, the age of the Earth is not a primary issue. It is not even a secondary issue. Nor is it a tertiary issue. In fact it is not even a quaternary issue. For most Christian traditions and denominations, the age of the Earth is a quinary issue! That’s three steps below being a matter of even secondary importance!
This does not mean that what we believe about origins is not important, but it helps to put the endless debate in proper perspective.
C. Michael Patton at Parchment & Pen Blog has a Chart to Help Distinguish Between Essentials and Non-Essentials.
Patton reserves the “Essential for Salvation” circle for those doctrines that one must believe in order to be a Christian by just about any definition. This includes belief in God, Christ’s deity and humanity; our sinfulness, and Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection.
The next circle includes those things that all Christians (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant) have believed from the beginning of the church, such as the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in the Nicene Creed, the future return of Christ, the eternal punishment of the wicked, and belief that Christ is the only way to God. One might err on one of these (e.g. believe that all will in the end be saved) and still be a Christian, but not be within the standards of Christian orthodoxy.
The third circle from the center is traditional orthodoxy, which is orthodoxy as defined by one of the broad traditions of the Church: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. I fall within Protestant orthodoxy, believing in justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I fall outside of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, as I reject its teachings about Mary.
I am well aware that there will be differences between Christian traditions and denominations about where to place various doctrines. Lutherans will bump baptism up a notch or two compared to most Evangelicals, and Pentecostals might move spiritual gifts more towards the center as compared to where most Episcopalians will.
Where do teachings about evolution and the age of the universe come into this?
Patton places what we believe about origins in the “important but not essential” category. I think I would place evolution and chronology at this level as well.
Most YEC leaders will state that origins are not a primary issue, that is, that one can believe in an old Earth and still be a Christian. I think the highest they could really put YEC is at the denominational orthodoxy level (though they might look at their denominational orthodoxy as the true standard of orthodoxy and throw out the higher levels entirely).
Many YEC followers seem to place YEC at the primary level, as in, “If you are not a YEC, you are probably not really a Christian.” I have actually run into that quite a bit.
What do you think? Where do the age of the universe and biological evolution fit on the diagram?
Grace and Peace
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. — Genesis 1:1 (ESV)
“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” — Carl Sagan, from Cosmos.
Which of these two quotes is a scientific statement, and which is a religious statement?
The initial reaction most people—including Christians— have had when I have asked this question is that the quote from Genesis is a religious statement, and the quote from Sagan is a scientific statement. In reality, both statements are religious or philosophical in nature, but only the Genesis quote is fully compatible with the universe as we know it.
I won’t dispute that the quote from the Bible is a religious statement. If religion is about God and his relationship to the universe and humanity, then Genesis 1:1 is clearly a religious statement.
Carl Sagan’s famous Cosmos statement is also a philosophical—and I would say religious—statement. Sagan had not observed that “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” nor had he nor any other scientist done an experiment which proved that God doesn’t exist or isn’t necessary. In other words, Sagan had not used anything like “the scientific method” to arrive at his conclusion, and his Cosmos quote is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one.
Atheists such as Sagan would say that science has explained everything from nuclear fusion to sexual reproduction without any need for inserting God into the process and so their faith that there is no God is justified (faith is the right word, even if they would scramble to say it in a different way). But in doing this they are confusing categories. It is one thing to say that stellar evolution or meiosis can be explained without inserting a “God did it” step. Christians do not insert a “God did it” step into these processes either. However, it is an entirely different matter to explain why there is a cosmos at all. This question is outside of science, and is one that theists have a better explanation for than do atheists.
Many dismiss the Christian belief that God created the entire cosmos—matter, energy, space, time, and laws—as coming from a primitive myth. By “cosmos” I mean “everything that is or ever was or ever will be,” which would include the multiverse (if there is such a thing) beyond our observed universe, but would not include God. Only one of the following statements, however, is actually compatible with the cosmos as we know it:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
“In the beginning, nothing created everything.”
In the universe we live in, things do not pop into existence completely out of nothing. I am not talking about random quantum fluctuations creating subatomic particles here and there, because these particles are not truly popping up out of nothing. By nothing, I mean nothing — no space, time, matter, energy, nor laws. Because of this, it is incompatible with what we know about the cosmos—that is, it is incompatible with science—to believe that the cosmos came from absolutely nothing, or that it somehow created itself.
On the other hand, it is compatible with the universe as we know it (i.e. science) to advocate that it was caused to exist by something completely outside of it. There is absolutely no scientific reason, therefore, for a scientist to not accept that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Grace and Peace
I have updated the “Best of the GeoChristian” link up at the top of the page.
There is a good variety: posts on Christianity, geology, creationism, the environment, atheism, apologetics, and more.
I would be interested to hear if there is a post that has been especially meaningful or helpful to you, or one that you think is the best of the best of The GeoChristian.
Thanks for reading,
Grace and Peace
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” — Ephesians 4:15 (NIV 1984)
In Ephesians 4:15, Paul calls on Christians to do two things at once. The first of these is that we are to speak the truth. The second is that we do so in love. Unfortunately, most of us are not very good at multitasking.
The second part of this Biblical imperative is the greater challenge for most of us. The greatest commandment of Scripture in regards to human relationships is that we love one another. It is easy to get caught up in the issues we care deeply about—whether in the areas of doctrine, science, politics, or social issues—and to start looking at the other person as our adversary or enemy who needs to be set straight.
The challenge before me, and us, is to learn how to “speak the truth in love.” How do we “speak the truth in love” on topics such as creationism or the environment, when we think the other side takes a position that is, at times, both wrong and harmful?
My first suggestion is humility. We are not God; we do not know it all. For instance, all of us certainly could misunderstand the Bible. YECs would say, “Yeah, you certainly don’t understand the Bible,” and I am sure that there are things that I don’t get completely right in regards to Genesis. I do sincerely believe that the Bible is ambiguous on topics such as the age of the Earth and the extent and work of Noah’s flood. I also believe that there are things YECs read into the text that are not there, and that they are guilty at times of a hyper-literal over-reading of the text in ways that were not intended, and I would like to see more humility on their part as well.
We also need to be humble in regards to our science. We, as individuals and as a scientific community, do not know everything we think we know. This goes for both old-Earthers and young-Earthers.
Second, sometimes it is best to be silent. This is hard for me, but it is better to say nothing at all than to speak the truth in an unloving way. I don’t need to win every debate, and need to be aware that I could easily club a brother or sister to death with my arguments from either the Bible or science. Victory is not the highest goal.
Third, I think we need to seek to find common ground. I have tremendous areas of agreement with my young-Earth creationist brothers and sisters in terms of my view of both Scripture and the world, and I need to seek to build on that. I ask that they would seek to do the same.
Fourth, I think it is better to use neutral terms and phrases, such as “Creationist X is incorrect because…” than “What Creationist X says is complete and utter nonsense.” I may think that what Creationist X says is nonsense, but in order to love to them as a brother in Christ, I need to be careful.
Fifth, it is important to keep primary issues primary, and secondary issues secondary. Of course, this is a bit of a challenge when we cannot agree on what is secondary and what is primary. I will say that it is more important to me that I maintain unity with a brother or sister in Christ than it is that I win a “debate.”
Sixth, name-calling is off limits. Those who disagree with me are not nincompoops or extremists, and I am not a compromiser or a so-called Christian.
I have no doubt that you can scroll through my 1000+ posts on The GeoChristian and find instances where I have not lived up to these standards. In a way, this is an exploratory blog post. What is fair (and loving) in a formal or semi-formal debate could be different than what is loving in a dialog with a lay Christian without a science background who has only read young-Earth literature.
I have a couple questions:
- How do I say “Creationist X is wrong wrong wrong” in a loving way?
- What are other ways in which we can succeed or fail at “speaking the truth in love” as we discuss Earth issues we feel passionate about?
Grace and Peace
P.S. I intend to start a new series called “GeoScriptures,” in which I will examine verses or passages that relate in one way or another to the Biblical doctrine of Creation. This verse on truth and love seems like a good place to start, as it is easy for all of us to miss this high standard as we discuss issues on which there might be disagreement.
I was visiting with a young-Earth creationist (a dear brother in Christ whom I did not know) during a break at the Nathaniel Jeanson presentation earlier this month. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned that there are a good number of prominent, conservative Evangelical scholars and pastors who advocate acceptance of an old Earth, and who view this as perfectly compatible with Genesis. I don’t remember exactly who I listed, but probably men like J.I. Packer, Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, and John Piper. These Bible teachers—all of whom hold to the inerrancy of the Scriptures—did not come to an old-Earth interpretation because they were compromisers or friends of the world, but because they looked closely at what the Word actually says and doesn’t say on the topic, and came to the conclusion that a 6000-year old Earth is simply not required.
This brother in Christ told me that I will not have any of these men standing next to me when I stand before God in the judgement; that I would have to give an account to God for my false teaching on the age of the Earth. My response was that if I am wrong on this topic, I have someone even better that Packer, Spurgeon, Schaeffer, or Piper who will stand next to me before the Father, and that is Jesus Christ.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 NIV84)
I have no doubt that I don’t have all of my doctrines correct. I feel rather strongly about some doctrines—the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, the solas of the Reformation—but probably misunderstand some of the nuances of these core teachings of Christianity. There are a number of secondary doctrinal issues that I could be wrong on as well, such as in the areas of eschatology, ecclesiology, and pneumatology. But, praise be to God, Jesus died for my sin of false doctrine as well as for my sins of lust, greed, selfishness, indifference, and so forth. If not, I’m sunk. And so, most likely, are you.
Does this mean I think it doesn’t matter whether I get my doctrine correct? Not at all.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15 ESV)
Could I be wrong about what the Bible says about the age of the Earth? I really do believe the Bible is ambiguous on the topic, but I acknowledge that I could be mistaken.
Could young-Earth creationists be wrong about what the Bible says about the age of the Earth? I think they are guilty of hyper-literalism (e.g. thinking Genesis 3 is a story of how snakes lost their legs rather than being a story about Satan grovelling in the dust). I think they are guilty of reading things into the text that are not there, such as there being no animal death before Adam’s sin, or that Noah’s flood was global and created most of the geological record. Those things are not in the Bible. So the answer is “yes,” they certainly could be mistaken.
If I am wrong about the age of the Earth, some would say I will lose a reward in eternity. This is one of those doctrinal areas that I don’t understand; there are plenty of passages that seem to teach rewards for the good works of believers, but can we really claim any credit for our good works when whatever good we do is by the grace of God just as much our justification? In either case—rewards or equality—I will watch my life and doctrine closely as best as I can. I won’t get either of these perfect, but I will press ahead.
But the main point is that I will be with God forever—in a state of eternal joy—because of the finished and complete work of Christ.
Of course some YECs would say I won’t be in heaven at all, but those YECs have a much bigger problem with their understanding of the Gospel than whatever they think my age of the Earth problem is.
Grace and Peace
There are, of course, many Christians who are scientists, and many scientists who are Christians. As a graduate student in geology, I found rich fellowship with a half dozen Christian geologists-in-training, and there was a Christian on the faculty of the department as well.
Davis Young, a Christian geology professor (retired), and author of The Bible, Rocks and Time, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, and Mind over Magma: the Story of Igneous Petrology, has written what he considers to be his most important book: Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God.
The summary on Barnes & Noble reads:
Bridging the fields of natural science and religion, Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God invites members of the professional scientific community, graduate, undergraduate, and high school science students, science teachers, and members of the general public who are interested in the natural sciences to embrace the Christian faith personally. Employing the theme of good news, this book challenges readers to ponder the question of life after death as a gateway to the overall claim that Christianity, at its best and most consistent, bears good news for both science and the scientist. On the one hand, Christianity, far from being antithetical to science, supplies the rational foundation that makes the scientific enterprise possible. On the other hand, the central message of Christianity brings a firm hope to scientists as individual persons in meeting their deepest needs and desires for genuine significance, purpose, goodness, forgiveness, justice, and relationship with the Creator. In presenting his case, the author eschews pseudo-science and treats with great respect the discoveries of contemporary mainstream natural science, including an ancient universe and Earth, biological evolution, and the standard model of cosmology. The text adopts an informal, personal, conversational style. Good News for Science will be of interest not only to the general scientific community but also to Christians who are seeking a resource to use in presenting Christian faith to scientifically knowledgeable individuals.
As the review says, this would be a great book for
- Professional scientists
- Students of science, at either the undergraduate or graduate levels
- High school teachers and students
- Members of the general public.
Grace and Peace
One of the seminars at the Presbyterian Church of America’s 2012 General Assembly (their annual national meeting, held June 19-22 this year) is a presentation of the geological evidence for an old Earth, given by two geologists from Solid Rock Lectures. Here is the description from the General Assembly seminar brochure:
The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?
Seminar Speaker: Gregg Davidson, Professor of Geology, University of Mississippi; Ken Wolgemuth, Oil industry consultant
The Creation Study Committee reported their results in 2000 without establishing a firm position on the age of the earth. The report encouraged the PCA to consider what additional scientific understanding might develop in the future to assist in answering the question of age. This seminar will provide an update on the scientific evidence for an ancient earth using examples non-scientists can easily apprehend. Pastors and theologians are generally familiar with the biblical arguments surrounding questions of the age of the earth, but few have access to scientific data that they can understand. Most rely on information from young earth organizations that do not adequately or accurately reflect conventional scientific understanding. When information from these sources is passed on to students and congregations, Christ, as the author of truth, is poorly represented. More importantly, our members are inadequately prepared to wrestle with challenges to their faith when encountering the actual scientific evidence. Church leaders need to be aware of the evidence even if convinced it is wrong. The seminar will explicitly acknowledge the authority and preeminence of scripture over natural evidence, while also recognizing that God’s natural creation can sometimes aid in choosing between plausible biblical interpretations. Gregg Davidson is a member of Christ Presbyterian Church in Oxford, MS (PCA), a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and a member of a non-profit organization called Solid Rock Lectures that is devoted to proclaiming Christ and reconciling science and faith conflicts. Ken Wolgemuth is a member of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, OK (EPC), a PhD geologist working as a consultant in the oil industry, and also a member of Solid Rock Lectures.
The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, firmly committed to the inerrancy of Scriptures. Within the PCA, there are both young-Earth creationists and adherents of an old Earth. The Old Testament faculty at the PCA’s Covenant Theological Seminary includes C. John Collins, who makes a very strong case that the Bible doesn’t set a date for creation in his excellent book Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary. Collins was the Old Testament Editor for the highly-regarded ESV Study Bible.
The PCA Creation Study Committee of 2000 could not come to a Biblical consensus regarding the age of the Earth, which is as it should be. There is enough ambiguity in the opening chapters of Genesis, that Biblically-speaking, one could go either way. The report did state, as indicated in the seminar description, that scientific evidence could be useful in determining which side is correct in this debate. One of the goals of this seminar seems to be to present the case that the scientific evidence weighs very heavily on the old-Earth side. Davidson was one of the co-authors of the article PCA Geologists on the Age of the Earth, which appeared in Modern Reformation magazine, and I suspect the speakers will make a similar geological case in their seminar.
Not surprisingly, there is opposition from the young-Earth side to the inclusion of an old-Earth perspective in the schedule. Some are concerned that only one side of the issue is being presented. In some settings this might be true, but there are a number of seminars listed in the brochure where there might be some disagreement over one issue or another, and the organizers have no obligation to include all viewpoints on all issues. I would be surprised if at next year’s General Assembly there were not a young-Earth counter-seminar to balance things out.
Others are concerned that old-Earthers are given any voice at all, especially old-Earthers who advocate evolution as well. It seems that some would prefer a young-Earth monopoly within the PCA.
The scientific evidence for an old Earth is overwhelming, contrary to the claims of the young-Earth creationists. Sea salt does not point to a young Earth. Volcanoes do not point to a young Earth. Dinosaur footprints do not point to a young Earth. Sedimentary rocks do not point to a young Earth. The Grand Canyon does not point to a young Earth. The RATE project does not provide convincing evidence for a young Earth. The young-Earth creationism movement has consistently presented poor arguments for their position, and it is important that the church has this opportunity to hear the old-Earth side.
I suspect, however, that the main thing most General Assembly attendees need to hear is not the geological evidence for an old Earth, but the case for the ambiguity of Scripture regarding the age of the Earth. The Bible does not teach a young Earth, and it doesn’t teach an old Earth; it is open-ended on the topic. This seminar on geological evidence will not convince anyone that the Earth is old if they have Biblical reasons for denying the evidence. Many YECs have only heard the Biblical case for a young Earth, have been taught that all old-Earth interpretations are merely compromises with the world, and that acceptance of them will only lead to theological liberalism or apostasy.
The young-Earth interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis is based on three pillars, none of which is explicitly taught in Scripture:
- The Bible requires a young-Earth — No it doesn’t. The Bible teaches that the Earth was created in six days. Much of the debate is about whether the word “day” (Hebrew: yom) requires six consecutive 24-hour days (the young-Earth viewpoint), or if it can be interpreted in Genesis in some other way. Yom is used figuratively at least once in Genesis 1-2. Genesis 2:4 states “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” (ESV) “Day” in this passage refers to the entire creation week, not to a literal 24-hour day. If it can be used figuratively once, it might be used figuratively elsewhere in the passage. Collins develops a much more extensive case for the analogical use of yom in his commentary on Genesis 1-4 I referenced earlier.
- The Bible requires that there be no animal death before the fall of Adam — No it doesn’t. I’ve addressed this issue in my post Death before the fall — an old Earth Biblical perspective.
- The Bible requires a global flood — No it doesn’t. I written on this topic in The YEC “Did God really say?” tactic.
One can make a thoroughly Biblical case for an old Earth (or again, Biblical ambiguity about this secondary issue), without reference to geology, astronomy, or other historical sciences. Once people see this, they will be more open to what God has revealed in his creation regarding Earth’s history.
Given the potential for tension at this seminar, I hope and pray that there would be a spirit of grace upon all who speak and attend.
Grace and Peace
HT: Tim and Natural Historian
Here are a couple YEC blog posts on the topic:
A Daughter of the Reformation — “there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”
The comments on the Johannes Weslianus (Wes White) blog give a good idea of the antagonism that can be stirred up by this issue:
“I wonder why the PCA would allow such a one-sided presentation.”
“Even in this brief announcement, the condescension is absolutely palpable.”
“I find it so disconcerting that the PCA GA would allow Biologos into its very presence. How is this not allowing the wolf into the sheepfold?”
“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”
“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”
“After calming down from last night, I decided to write to Michelle and I asked her to cancel this seminar (with reasons). Sad stuff.”
“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding. “
“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”
Biblically, I have no problem with an old Earth and most of biological evolution (i.e. the science of evolution, not the flaky philosophy that athiests such as Dawkins attach to it). Biblically, I also believe in a real individual Adam who was in some very real sense the ancestor of us all. My answer to how that all fits in to paleoanthropology at this time is “I’m not entirely sure.” But that doesn’t really bother me.
In recent years, several self-proclaimed evangelicals, or those associated with evangelical institutions, have called into question the historicity of Adam and Eve. It is said that because of genomic research we can no longer believe in a first man called Adam from whom the entire human race has descended.
I’ll point to some books at the end which deal with the science end of the question, but the most important question is what does the Bible teach. Without detailing a complete answer to that question, let me suggest ten reasons why we should believe that Adam was a true historical person and the first human being.
1. The Bible does not put an artificial wedge between history and theology. Of course, Genesis is not a history textbook or a science textbook, but that is far from saying we ought to separate the theological wheat from the historical chaff. Such a division owes to the Enlightenment more than the Bible.
2. The biblical story of creation is meant to supplant other ancient creation stories more than imitate them. Moses wants to show God’s people “this is how things really happened.” The Pentateuch is full of warnings against compromise with the pagan culture. It would be surprising, then, for Genesis to start with one more mythical account of creation like the rest of the ANE.
3. The opening chapters of Genesis are stylized, but they show no signs of being poetry. Compare Genesis 1 with Psalm 104, for example, and you’ll see how different these texts are. It’s simply not accurate to call Genesis poetry. And even if it were, who says poetry has to be less historically accurate?
4. There is a seamless strand of history from Adam in Genesis 2 to Abraham in Genesis 12. You can’t set Genesis 1-11 aside as prehistory, not in the sense of being less than historically true as we normally understand those terms. Moses deliberately connects Abram with all the history that comes before him, all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden.
5. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 treat Adam as historical.
7. The weight of the history of interpretation points to the historicity of Adam. The literature of second temple Judaism affirmed an historical Adam. The history of the church’s interpretation also assumes it.
8. Without a common descent we lose any firm basis for believing that all people regardless of race or ethnicity have the same nature, the same inherent dignity, the same image of God, the same sin problem, and that despite our divisions we are all part of the same family coming from the same parents.
9. Without a historical Adam, Paul’s doctrine of original sin and guilt does not hold together.
10. Without a historical Adam, Paul’s doctrine of the second Adam does not hold together.
Christians may disagree on the age of the earth, but whether Adam ever existed is a gospel issue. Tim Keller is right:
[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority. . . .If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart. You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching. (Christianity Today June 2011)
If you want to read more about the historical Adam debate, check out Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? by C. John Collins.
For more on the relationship between faith and science, you may want to look at one of the following:
- John C. Lennox, God’s Undertake: Has Science Buried God?
- Should Christians Embrace Evolution: Biblical and Scientific Responses, edited by Norman C. Nevin
- God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards
- Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach
- C. John Collins, Science and Faith: Friend or Foes
Grace and Peace
Christianity Today has a brief interview with philosopher Alvin Plantinga regarding his recent book entitled Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. The main points of the interview are:
- The alleged conflict between theistic religion and science is superficial.
- There is a deep harmony between theistic religion and science.
- Part of the reason there appears to be serious antagonism between theistic religion and science is because there are vocal advocates of warfare between the two. These people are wrong.
- Those who add naturalism to scientific theories such as evolution are doing so for non-scientific reasons.
- If we got here by unguided (i.e. no divine involvement) evolution, then there is no reason to trust that our minds can guide us to truth about evolution.
Regarding evolution, Plantinga states
In certain areas, the right word would be alleged conflict. For example, I argue that there’s no real conflict between evolutionary theory—that is, the scientific theory of evolution apart from any naturalistic spin—and what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity.” There’s no real conflict, even though conflict has been alleged by people on the Right as well as on the Left. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and a host of others claim that there is outright conflict between evolutionary theory and belief in such a person as God, who has created and designed the living world. At the other end, there are Christian thinkers, too—like Phillip Johnson—who think there is irreconcilable conflict between the scientific theory of evolution and Christian belief.
But I don’t think there is. What current scientific evolutionary theory says is that the living world has come to be via a certain process of natural selection operating on some form of genetic variation. And it’s clear that God could have made the living world that way if he wanted to. What Christianity tells us, what theistic religion generally tells us, is that God has created the world and created human beings in his image. He could have done that through a variety of means. And that point goes all the way back to the 19th century. Some of the Princeton theologians—Charles Hodge, for example—said exactly that shortly after Darwin’s theory of evolution appeared. It’s not a new thought at all.
Despite what you hear from the loud voices on both sides—whether Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett for the atheists or Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, or Phillip Johnson for the Christian anti-evolutionists—the Bible does not say much, if anything, about biological evolution. The two main arguments—at least from the young-Earth side of Christianity—against evolution are that there could not have been any death before Adam’s fall into sin, and that animals were created to reproduce after their kinds. The Bible however does not teach that there was no animal death before the fall, and to take the statements about organisms reproducing after their kinds in Genesis 1 to mean that populations cannot vary over time is quite a hermeneutic stretch. On the other side, atheist extrapolations from “organisms have changed over time” to “there is no God” are downright silly.
The conclusion a clear thinking person ought to make—and most scientists like to think of themselves as clear thinkers—is that one cannot rule out Christianity because of biological evolution or because of any other scientific theory. Those who have rejected Christianity because of evolution—or some other branch of science—have done so because of non-scientific additions to science, and are not being as rational as they have been led to believe.
Grace and Peace
Karl Giberson: Creationists Drive Young People Out of the Church
Here is a quote:
In a recent piece titled “Nine Year Old Challenges Nasa,” [Answers in Genesis president Ken] Ham blogged proudly about “Emma B” who, when told that a NASA moon rock was 3.75 billion years old, asked “Were you there?”
The suggestion that scientists cannot speak about the past unless “they were there” is a strange claim. The implication is that we cannot do something as simple as count tree rings and confidently declare “This great pine was standing here 2,000 years ago.” As a philosophy of science, such a restriction would completely rule out the scientific study of the past. This, of course, is precisely what the creationists want.
Many bright evangelical young people are, fortunately, not impressed with the suggestion that only “eyewitnesses” can speak about the past. Just this past spring I taught an honors seminar on science and religion at an evangelical college. The class included a couple of bright students who had grown up in fundamentalist churches that showed Ken Ham videos in their Sunday School class. Both of them recalled the encouragement to ask their teachers “Were you there?” And both of them, a few years older and wiser than “Emma B,” thought this suggestion was ridiculous and wondered what kind of ideas required the embrace of such nonsense on their behalf. These students — in fact, most of the students I have had over the years — will graduate from college accepting contemporary science and its various explanations for what has happened in the past. But unless the leadership in their churches does a better job with its teaching ministry, such students will have a hard time returning to their home churches.
The dismissive and even hostile approach to science taken by evangelical leaders like Ken Ham accounts for the Barna finding above. In the name of protecting Christianity from a secularism perceived as corrosive to the faith, the creationists are unwittingly driving the best and brightest evangelicals out of the church — or at least into the arms of the compromising Episcopalians, whom they despise. What remains after their exodus is an even more intellectually impoverished parallel culture, with even fewer resources to think about complex issues.
Giberson refers to a Barna survey: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church. I’ve been wanting to blog about this, but just haven’t had the time. Reason #3 is “Churches come across as antagonistic to science.”
With love for the Church
I have been involved in an online discussion regarding whether or not the geologic column (Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian…) is real, or some sort of figment of geologists’ imaginations. Dr. Jay Wile, on his Proslogion blog, has written a post entitled Yet Another Failure of “Geological Column” Reasoning. Please note that I consider Dr. Wile (author of the Apologia series of home school science textbooks) to be one of the better young-Earth creationists; one who is willing to point out the scientific and theological shortfalls of the overall YEC movement when he sees them.
Dr. Wile argues that the discovery of fragments of grass phytolyths (tiny glass particles in grass leaves) in Cretaceous dinosaur dung (coprolites) is evidence that the whole concept of the geologic time scale is in trouble. After all, we had been told rather authoritatively that there were no grasses in the Cretaceous; that grasses did not appear until a few million years after the demise of the dinosaurs. He draws a parallel between this and another “failure” of the the geologic column: living fossils such as Coelacanths. If the geologic column is built on fossils, and if we discover that some fossils occur later or earlier than we realized, then perhaps the geologic column itself is suspect.
In the comments on Dr. Wile’s blog post, I have argued that the geologic column is more of an observation than an inference. I realize from philosophy of science that observations can be highly biased; that we often find just exactly what we are looking for. The young-Earth creationists claim that this is exactly what has happened; that geologists, imbibed with evolution, were expecting to find some sort of evolutionary order in the fossil record, and therefore they went out and found it. When one points out that the geologic column was largely deciphered before Darwin, they respond by saying that there was plenty of evolutionary thinking before Darwin (e.g. Lamarck), and that this is what influenced the early stratigraphers.
But is this what happened? Were the early 19th century geologists more influenced by evolutionary thinking, or by what they observed in sedimentary rocks?
In the early 1800s, William Smith compiled the first geologic maps of Great Britain. At first he focused on types of rocks, but he soon recognized that there were distinct fossil assemblages in the layers as well, and that these too could be traced across Britain .
Within the upcoming decades, scientists across Europe, and then in North America and elsewhere, began to make similar geological surveys. They discovered that not only were many fossils restricted to narrow bands of rock, but that there were many types that no longer could be found on Earth, and that there were consistent patterns in the order in which these fossils appeared in the geological record. This led to the construction (or discovery) of the geologic column. They eventually put labels on parts of the geologic column, such as Ordovician and Triassic.
Some of these early geologists were Christians, some were deists. Many were catastrophists, believing that the sedimentary rocks were the product of worldwide deluges, and many believed in the fixity of species. Few had the molecules-to-man picture that emerged after 1859.
That is a very brief summary of the development of the idea of the geologic (or stratigraphic) column, which is closely tied to the concept of geologic time. I want to make the case that the geologic column exists, that it is in need of an explanation, and that the standard geological explanation of deposition over millions of years works well, while that of the YEC Flood geologists falls far short.
The basic concept of the geologic column is that sedimentary rocks occur in the crust of the Earth in a specific sequence, and that this sequence has a global, rather than regional, basis.
Let’s start with the stratigraphic section that might be found at one location. This section would be a slice through the Earth. It might be exposed in a canyon or on a mountain side, or detailed by examining cores and cuttings as a well is extended deeper into the crust. My initial column (A) has five layers, which I will label 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
I am not all that concerned at this point whether those layers are sandstone, shale, or limestone. Instead, I wish to focus on the fossils. Layer 1 might contain marine fossils, such as trilobites and brachiopods. Layer 2 might also contain bryozoans and brachiopods, but of different genera than those found in layer 1. Layer 3 might contain corals. And so on for layers 4 and 5.
Now lets move down the road fifty miles and examine another section (B) of the sedimentary record.
Some of the layers clearly connect from A to B. This could be in terms of the rock types, the fossils, or both. But B has six layers, with B4 appearing between what was A3 and A4. Note that the correlation lines do not cross. This is not because of some evolutionary presupposition, but because the fossils in A1 match the fossils in B1, the fossils in A4 match the fossils in B5, and so forth.
Let’s move over one or two counties, and examine a third series of layers, section C.
We can see that A1 correlates with B1 and C1. B2, however has disappeared somewhere between B and C, and a new layer, C6, has appeared at the top of the section. Note again that there is no crossing of the lines.
For a final look, I’ll add two more sections, D and E.
It is apparent that some layers correlate all the way across from A to E, others pinch out, and still others appear. Once again, there is no crossing of lines.
These are all hypothetical columns of rock. In the real world, the same types of patterns occur, and geologists have given names to sets of rocks, based on the fossils that they contain. The lowermost layers contain distinct assemblages of fossils that have been given the label “Cambrian.” Higher in the column, another distinct assemblage of fossils has been named “Ordovician.” This continues upward for the entire geologic column.
Don’t get distracted by the numbers at this point. I am not defending so much the age of the Earth right now, but the reality of the geologic column, and I have this diagram here as an illustration.
The well-read young-Earth creationist, at this point, will say that this entire column does not exist in any one place; that it is all an inference. Look at the Grand Canyon, for example. It only contains fossil-bearing rocks from the Cambrian, and Devonian through Permian (no Silurian, Ordovician, or anything younger than the Permian).
That objection is pretty easy to answer. First of all, if one looks at the broader context, the Cambrian through Permian rocks of the Grand Canyon can be traced laterally to where they are beneath rocks in Utah that have Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Tertiary fossils.
So in a distance of roughly one hundred miles, we can trace most of the periods of the geologic column. All that is missing is the Ordovician and Silurian. There are Quaternary deposits in this area, they just are not shown on the diagram. This sort of situation—correlation of layers—is the rule rather than the exception.
Second, there are a number of persistent sedimentary basins—areas that for one reason or another have continued to collect sedimentary deposits through much of geologic history—that do indeed contain layers from each of the geologic periods. If one drills into the Williston Basin (North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan), they will find the layers in the proper order. Starting from the bottom, there are layers from the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Mississippian, Pennsylvanian, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary, and Quaternary. There is nothing out of order. This can be seen on the following stratigraphic correlation chart.
This really is a nice looking correlation chart; I encourage you to look at the full-scale version at the Core Lab web site. This chart (and others like it) show the same thing that I was doing with sections A-B-C-D-E earlier. Note that in the Montana and North Dakota columns at the far right of the chart, there are rocks from the Cambrian all the way up through the Quaternary. This chart only covers a corner of North America (British Columbia to Manitiba and down into parts of the United States). It could easily be extended to the whole of North America, and even to Europe and the rest of the world.
Note that the fossilized rocks express the same order no matter where you go. You simply do not find Cambrian rocks lying on top of Jurassic rocks. There is no crossing of the correlation lines. (Side note: YECs will often point to areas where older rocks are above younger rocks in areas that have been deformed by folding and faulting. If you undo the deformation, everything always slides back into place).
One can go to a number of basins throughout the world—in Libya, Bulgaria, China, Australia, Colombia, and elsewhere—and find exactly the same thing. It is not Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian in North America, and Permian-Cambrian-Devonian-Ordovician in Europe.
Many of the better young-Earth creationists acknowledge that there is some sort of order to the fossil record. They know that there are only invertebrates in the lower parts of the column, that land vertebrates (amphibians and then reptiles) don’t show up until the middle, and that mammals don’t show up until the top part.
At the simplest level, there was the proposal that marine organisms got buried first, and then the slow moving amphibians and reptiles, and the mammals and birds, who were quicker, were able to run faster (or fly) and so escape the earlier Flood waters. But this verges on being nonsense, as there are terrestrial sediments deposited throughout the column. And there are lake deposits, and shallow marine deposits, and deeper marine deposits also scattered throughout the column. And am I supposed to accept that all mice were able to outrun the advancing Flood, but pterodactyls couldn’t?
More sophisticated models have come along, such as various horizontal and vertical ecological zonation models. These models run into some of the same problems, as well as some additional ones. First is the problem of sorting. I would expect a worldwide Flood to at least sometimes have some turbulence, and to either mix groups of fossils together, or to put them out of order. Maybe even a little tiny bit. But it doesn’t seem to have happened. The order is Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian… It isn’t Cambrian-Ordovician-Mixture-Mixture-Mixture-Silurian, and it isn’t Cretaceous-Devonian-Permian-Cambrian. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, likes to say, “If there really was a global Flood, you would expect to find billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth … which is exactly what you do find!” No, if the sedimentary rock record were a product of a single giant flood, I would expect to find a giant mess. I would not expect to find Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian…
A further problem with the ecological zonation models is that there would have had to have been plenty of critters still alive (and thriving) most of the way through the Flood. For example, think about all of the organisms of the Mesozoic Era (Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous). This includes not only the dinosaurs, but a host of mammals, birds, plants, and marine organisms, such as ammonites. Many of these organisms are unique to the Mesozoic, and even unique to subdivisions of the individual periods. Where were they all during the massive catastrophe that deposited the rocks of the Paleozoic? Vast areas of Mesozoic rocks are underlain by Paleozoic rocks. Were they huddled together on islands that had escaped earlier flooding? Were they floating around on mats of vegetation? Both of these proposals have very serious problems, but they are what the Flood geologists seem to be clinging to.
I’m barely getting started, and just scratching the surface. But I need to get back to Dr. Wile’s objection: that grass in the Cretaceous and Coelacanths in the Holocene are enough to discredit the whole thing. Do they? If anything, they discredit geologists and paleontologists who should have been a little more cautious in their statements.
The discovery of grass in dinosaur dung isn’t that big of a change. Paleobotanists had been saying that grass appeared sometime in the Paleocene or early Eocene (perhaps around 55 million years ago), and now we know that there was at least some grass around in the very late Cretaceous (a little over 65 million years ago). In any case, it appears that grasses were probably a minor constituent of the Mesozoic fauna. Perhaps I’m wrong on this. I don’t think any actual fossils of Cretaceous grass leaves have been found. In regards to the Coelacanth, which was once thought to have gone extinct in the Cretaceous but then discovered alive in the Indian Ocean, I think we should expect this sort of thing from time to time. There are fossils that, as far as we know, only lived in the Tithonian age of the Jurassic. Do we know everything? We should expect that for at least some of our index fossils (those fossils that are supposed to tell us the age of the rock in a very narrow range) that some survived somewhere and could even still be alive today.
These are little things. Grass appeared a bit earlier than we knew. Coelacanths survived throughout the Tertiary without leaving any fossils, but they are alive today. The plain and simple fact is that the geologic column exists. What the young-Earth creationists would need to find in order to overturn the well-established and well-justified concept of the geologic column is something like a mastodon in Devonian sediments, or an ostrich in the Ordovician. Until then, I’ll accept Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian… as an observation that is in need of an explanation.
Grace and Peace
|As an old-Earth creationist
I believe that the universe was created by the triune God of the Bible
I believe that the Bible does not dictate when this creation took place
I believe in a real Adam
in a real garden
in a real fall into sin
in real consequences for that sin
and in Jesus Christ as the only solution for sin