The tragedy of “creation evangelism”

The following item was originally posted in October 2009, and I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries (sometimes with a little editing). This post quotes from Michael Spencer, the late author of the blog Internet Monk (Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness).

Creation evangelism: using young-Earth creationism (Earth < 10,000 years old, most of geology is the product of Noah’s flood) to win people to faith in Christ.

There are many people who have come to faith in Christ through young-Earth creation ministries such as Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and a multitude of smaller organizations. I rejoice when people come to Christ or have their faith strengthened.

There is another side to this, however. These same organizations also needlessly drive perhaps millions of others away from Christ. The arguments presented by the young-Earth creationists for a young Earth or a global flood may be convincing to those who don’t know much science (and specifically, geology), but when critically examined these arguments are far from persuasive. The result is twofold. First, scientists (and other scientifically-minded people) are driven away from Christ. They are basically told that in order to become a Christian, they have to check their brains at the door. The second result is that many of our young people eventually leave the faith, not because of what the Bible actually says, but because of what the young-Earth organizations have given them as solid evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible. When they see that these arguments are not valid, they often chuck their Christianity along with their young-Earth creation dogmas.

Here’s a tragic story, illustrating the failure of “creation evangelism” from Internet Monk: Niki Made Her Choice and, Apparently, So Did We.

Her name is Niki. (Not her real name.) She’s a Japanese student who lived with an American family for a year and attended a Christian school. She took a year of Bible. She attended worship and heard lots of preaching. The Gospel was explained to her many times. She was well liked and sociable.

A very smart girl. A great student, much advanced over the average American student. She made A’s in everything, including Bible.

She left America after graduation and went back to Japan.

She came to America an atheist and she returned to Japan an atheist, and very aware that she had rejected Christianity.

Before she left, she talked with one of her teachers.

“I am an atheist because I believe in evolution. When people here explained to me what they must believe as Christians, I always ask them about evolution, and they say “You cannot be a Christian and believe in evolution.” So I cannot be a Christian, because I believe that evolution is true.”

No doubt, Niki has met many Christians who told her that she could not be a Christian and “believe” in evolution. No doubt, few, if any, of those Christians took the time to explain what they meant by evolution. Most probably meant that the Bible teaches that the earth is 10,000 years young, that no biological death of any kind happened before sin and the major Creationist ministries such as AIG have all the answers to the hard questions of physics, astronomy and science. (”Were you there?”)

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Was Niki ever told about the the thousands of Christians in the sciences who believe the “Big Bang” is evidence for creation by God? No, she wasn’t. Was she told of the many conversions to Christianity among scientists who have been moved by the evidence for God as creator now available in astrophysics? No, because that would complicate the views of Creationism she was told were non-negotiable.

Was Niki ever told that the vast majority of Christians on planet earth don’t believe now and haven’t ever believed science and Christianity answer the same questions in the same way? No, she wasn’t.

Was Niki told that millions of Christians believe in some form of evolution? (For Catholics, it’s in the Catechism!) Some form of an old earth? That millions of Christians do not accept the claims of the Creationist ministries as representing the Bible accurately or correctly? No, she wasn’t.

Was Niki told that even atheists are largely agreed that evolution does not equal atheism, and atheists like Dawkins are wrong to claim that is the case?

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Niki, who heard about Jesus for weeks and weeks in her Bible class, could not bring herself to believe in creationism, so she cannot be a Christian.

Many are zealous defenders of young-Earth creationism. They try to use it to try to win non-believers to Christ, and blame Satan when it doesn’t work. But how much of this resistance to the gospel is due to Satanic blinding, and how much is due to the errors of young-Earth creationist teachings on topics such as the age of the Earth, the geological work of the flood, or biological evolution?

With love for the body of Christ and unbelieving scientists.

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This was originally posted on October 4, 2009. Click here to read the original comments.

The best of young Earth creationism — part 2

Back in July I listed three blogs by young-Earth creationists that I think are pretty good. Of course I disagree with these brothers in Christ regarding the age of the Earth and the extent and work of Noah’s flood, but I appreciate them because they hold firmly to the Bible, have a good background in science, and, unlike many YECs, are willing to admit that not all that comes out of the mainstream YEC organizations is all that good.

Two of these blogs have recently said things that reinforce my appreciation of them:

Dr. Jay Wile, Proslogion

Dr. Wile authored a post called More Evidence Supporting The Young-Earth Theory of Earth’s Magnetic Field. Dr. Wile and I had a bit of a dialog in the comments section about this, each of us giving our reasons for and against his position. I thought my reasons were better, but I’ll write about that some other time. Another thing that caught my eye, however, was his response to an off-topic question from young-Earth creationist John Chaikowsky (a friend of mine):

You mentioned that Answers in Genesis had “theology leaves a lot to be desired”. What do you mean by that or what examples do you have that you don’t agree with? Just curious.

And here is Wile’s reply:

Thanks for the question, John. Answer in Genesis believes that the ONLY way to interpret Scripture faithfully is to say that the Genesis days were 24-hour days and that the earth is young. This is nonsense, of course, since some of the best theologians of the past and present use other interpretations, and since a 24-hour day wasn’t the exclusive view of the early church. This desire to force Christians to believe in a young earth puts them in some very shaky theological waters. For example, they claim that the idea of no animal death before the Fall is crucial for Christianity, when at best it is extraBiblical.

Now please note that I do believe the days in Genesis were 24-hour days and that the earth is young. However, I do not think it is the only orthodox way to interpret Scripture, and it is certainly not the only way to have a literal view of Scripture.

Christians of both the young-Earth and old-Earth varieties would benefit from this sort of theological openness and humility.

Dr. Todd Wood, Todd’s Blog

In the past, Dr. Wood, has admitted that

Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

I suspect that not all of his fellow YECs appreciated this.

This week Dr. Wood pointed out that Jason Lisle’s “anisotropic synchrony convention” —an attempt to explain how starlight from distant stars could have already arrived at Earth if the universe is only 6000 years old—fails to be a scientific theory:

Because Lisle’s anisotropic synchrony convention does not make predictions and cannot be tested, it really falls outside of the realm of science. It’s more like medieval philosophy, where theories of ultimate reality could be bandied about because there was no way to test them. Lisle’s idea reminds me of extreme forms of the idea of creation with the appearance of age. It’s logically possible that God created the universe 5 seconds ago, with people having vivid memories of lives they never lived and events that never happened. But that logical possibility doesn’t mean extreme appearance of age is scientifically or theologically useful.

And so ends my assessment of Lisle’s solution to the speed of light problem. It just isn’t science. As he seems to freely admit, anisotropic synchrony convention is all about logical possibility, but it doesn’t actually help us understand or explain galaxies or pulsars or redshift or cosmic background radiation. He seems content to assume God made the universe exactly as it is for whatever inscrutable reasons He had. Talk about ad hoc. I suspect that those creationists like me who are actually interested in science will just shrug their shoulders at the anisotropic synchrony convention. Whether it’s true or false, it just makes no difference.

Thank you, Dr. Wile and Dr. Wood, for your gracious attitudes and desires to weed out bad science and bad theology as you hold on to your young-Earth creationist beliefs.

Grace and Peace

Ongoing conversations — dinosaur eggs, and why I’m a Christian

I’m sort of caught between the young-Earth creationists on one side and the militant Dawkinsites on the other. I love them both: the YECs are my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and Jesus loves the atheists, so I do too.

There are a couple of interesting conversations going on on some of my older posts:

  • A conversation about dinosaur eggs under Dinosaur footprints part 3.  Did stressed dinosaurs lay those eggs while swimming around in the flood?
  • A conversation about “How can you be a Christian and a scientist at the same time?” under Darwin’s birthday #2. I am having a dialog with some lengthy comments with an atheist who calls himself  Human Ape. He uses language like “Christians are uneducated morons” on his own blog, but has been mostly respectful in his comments on my blog.

Please feel free to join in.

Grace and Peace

Internet Monk: a comment from an evangelical vertebrate paleontologist

My previous post was about pastors responding to a question about evolution. One of the readers’ comments was from a Christian paleontologist.

Here’s the comment (emphasis added by me):

You guys rule — it was a joy to read through these answers from such different Christian traditions and find such humility and realism regarding a subject that is the source of so much wholly unwarranted conflict. This quote can maybe stand as representative: “I am a pastor and a theologian, not a biologist. As such, I could not debate the individual claims of natural science on the merits of each, because I lack the resources to do so.” If only every Christian had that kind of humility.

OK, cards on the table: I am an evangelical Christian who takes the bible seriously. I am a frequent worship leader at my church, and have been a frequent preacher in previous churches. I have in the past described myself as a “fundamentalist” — not a term I would ever use now, as it has connotation that it didn’t have 20 years ago, at least here in the UK, but it’s not so much that my beliefs have changed as that my understanding of that label has “shifted”. Anyway, that’s who I am.

And with my other hat on, I am a publishing palaeontologist, specialising in the sauropod dinosaurs. (My publications are available from the site linked above; my most recent paper is on the generic separation of the African dinosaur “Brachiosaurus” brancai and the American type species Brachiosaurus altithorax).

As you can imagine, I have Christian friends who think I am sell-out for working in the field of evolutionary biology, and scientist friends who think I am a deluded idiot to be Christian; but I am far from alone — off the top of my head I could name another half-dozen practicing Christians within dinosaur palaeontology alone. Why do we so rarely hear from them? For a very sad reason: because the atmosphere in vertebrate palaeontology towards Christianity is poisonous, thanks to the efforts of creationists on one side and Dawkinsites on the other. If I could get just one message to the world’s creationists, it would be this: please have the same humility as Joe Boysel, and recognise that your knowledge of the scripture does NOT entitle you to make pronouncements on science. No, not even if you’ve read a couple of Duane T. Gish paperbacks. Would you try to tell a lawyer his job after reading Honest Bob’s Big Book Of Law? No? Then please have the humility not to try to tell palaeontologists their job from a position of similar ignorance. All you’re achieving is poisoning the well for those of us who would otherwise be in a position to engage with atheists and agnostics in our science.

Sorry if that ended up sounding a bit ranty. Let me finish by returning to my main point, which was how nice it was NOT to hear that kind of uniformed dogmatism from the Gangstas. Thank you, guys.

Great stuff.

Grace and Peace

Internet Monk: “That Evolution Question”

The Internet Monk by Michael Spencer is one of the few blogs I read almost every day. Today he had a post in his “Liturgical Gangstas” series on “That Evolution Question.” He posed the following question to his panel of pastors:

A pre-med college student in your congregation comes to you and says “I’ve been learning about evolution at school, and I can’t recall the subject ever being discussed or talked about here at church. I’ve never really asked if there was a conflict between evolution and being a Christian. Can I believe what I’m being taught, or do I have to oppose it because I am a Christian?

Here are a few excerpts from the pastors’ responses:

Father Ernesto/Orthodox:

But, here is what is important for you to know. As Christians we need to believe and proclaim that God has created the heavens and the earth. That is what our creed says, “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” We need to believe that there was a time when there was nothing but God, and that God chose to create. And, we need to believe that God continues to work within his Creation in a very active way.

But […] it is also important for you to know that there were strong discussions between the Church Fathers over how the creation was accomplished and over whether the first few chapters of Genesis were to be taken as literal or as an allegory or as a poem. You are not required to believe in a particular process for how the Creation was accomplished.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist:

I would tell that pre-med student this story in order to say, none of us, science or faith, has all the answers. I’m fine being skeptical of some aspects of evolution and find my acceptance of other aspects in no way conflicts with my complete and utter belief and experience with the Triune Creator who has fully revealed himself in Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. I hope that our church wouldn’t be an obstacle to honest pursuit of truth either theologically or scientifically. I also hope that the student would find an avenue within the church to ask questions, discuss, and grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ in his or her pursuit of truth no matter what.

Joe Boysel/Anglican:

Eventually, I would urge my parishioner not to lose too much sleep over the matter. Scripture does not seek to provide an historical or biological account of human origins; rather it provides a theological framework for understanding humanity (and the universe) as the handiwork of God.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic:

The issue begins when philosophical leaps are made by “scientists” and conclusions are drawn, e.g., life has evolved in this way; therefore it was all by chance; therefore, there cannot be a God. Uh, no. The scientist who makes such a leap has ceased to be a scientist and is making statements he cannot make using the scientific method. So, don’t trust that kind of thing if that’s what you’re being taught. Our faith should trump these kinds of ill-drawn conclusions.

One can be a faithful, committed Christian and believe that evolution is very likely scientifically true. You can be a Christian and believe that God perhaps intentionally set the path of life on its evolutionary path, that He intentionally drew human beings out of the line, breathed His Spirit into us and made us in His Image. Some people call this “theistic evolution” – as opposed to “naturalistic evolution,” which I described in the previous paragraph. It’s not about a huge cosmic accident, but rather, about God doing exactly what He wanted how He wanted to do it. Believing this does not necessarily need to conflict with a belief in God, Jesus or even in the Truth of the Bible as God’s Word.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist:

I’m going to have to begin my answer with a bit of a confessional preface: I’ve kind of instinctively distanced myself from the issue of evolution a bit because (a) I’m often embarrased by my fellow pastors who try to speak on the subject as if they’re scientists, (b) I’m often irritated by the mindless fundamentalism of pro-evolution advocates and, (c) I’ve heard and read so many conflicting variations from scientists and non-scientists alike on the philosophical and theological implications of evolution that I’ve put it on the backburner a bit instead of jumping into what seems to be a hopelessly muddled morass of shouting.

I don’t say that’s noble of me, just that that’s the truth.

As for the question itself, though, I think I would say this: “I believe that all truth is God’s truth and that, at heart, science does not conflict with what Scripture asserts.

William Cwirla/Lutheran:

[On vacation — too bad. I suspect he is a young-Earth creationist, so we would have gotten a different perspective]

Eric Landry, PCA Presbyterian:

When I was a freshman in high school, I got my name and picture splashed across the front page of the local newspaper for debating my biology teacher. The school district had a policy in those days to allow students to skip portions of classes that dealt with objectionable material (like evolution, I guess) but I stayed and made a nuisance of myself, which generated a bit of news in our small town. The teacher wrote me a very nice note at the end of the school year and said that she hoped her children would have the same dedication to their beliefs that I had to mine. I hope she was being facetious because I never want my children to be as arrogant and simplistic as I proved myself to be in her class. It would have been far better for me to have played the part of a student and learned what my teacher had to say, asked questions in a respectful manner, and not been frightened by what I heard.


By the time I saw this, there were over 100 comments, and it is unlikely that I’ll take the time to plow through the whole thing.

Grace and Peace

Paleontologists visit the Answers in Genesis museum

The Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky apparently has a nest of dinosaur eggs on display (here and here).

If you are a regular reader of The GeoChristian, you know that

  1. I believe that the Bible is the Word of God.
  2. I don’t believe much of what Answers in Genesis has to say about Earth history.

These dinosaur eggs are another reason why I don’t think Answers in Genesis has the answers. Think about it, depending on which young-Earth creationist one listens to, these dinosaur nests were deposited either in the middle or towards the end of the flood. This is what would have had to have happened:

  • The flood covers the entire Earth, eroding vast amounts the planet’s crust.
  • These sediments then start to deposit: Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc… (not all geologic periods in all places, but always in the same order).
  • When it is time for the Cretaceous sediments to be deposited, there are still a bunch of (pregnant) dinosaurs swimming around.
  • The dinosaurs find places on dry ground to make nests, and there is time for the embryos to develop within the nests, and even to hatch.
  • Then there is time for more dinosaurs to make nests and their babies to hatch, because there are a number of localities where the dinosaur nests occur in multiple layers, sometimes separated by soil horizons.
  • Then there was more flooding and deposition to form the rest of the Cretaceous rocks, and perhaps Cenozoic rocks as well (again, depending on which young-Earth creationist you talk to).

Young-Earth alternatives are:

  1. The dinosaurs laid their eggs underwater.
  2. The nests were somehow transported all together by the flood, and then deposited.
  3. The nests were formed after the flood.

I don’t think any of these alternatives work any better.

Another alternative is that the Bible isn’t attempting to describe geologic history in Genesis 6-8. The Bible doesn’t say anything about dinosaurs (let’s save discussions about behemoth and leviathan for another time), and it doesn’t say that the sedimentary rock record was deposited in the flood.

So what are professional paleontologists to think of Christianity and the Bible when they tour the Creation Museum? Will they be drawn to Christ?

Seventy attendees of last week’s North American Paleontological Convention toured the Creation Museum last week. These professionals can see all the problems with the dinosaur egg display, and a host of other problem exhibits. The intention of the Creation Museum is to defend the truthfulness of the Bible and to point people to Christ. I suspect that many of these paleontologists were more likely to walk out of the museum with their minds hardened against Christianity, thinking that they would have to turn off their brains to become Christians. Will it be because of their atheistic, anti-Christian world views (not all paleontologists are atheists, nor are they all hostile to Christianity), or because the museum presents something that just isn’t true (not required by the Bible, not scientifically accurate) as apologetics?

New York Times: Paleontology and Creationism Meet but Don’t Mesh

With a love for the body of Christ, and for scientists who are turned away from Jesus Christ by bad apologetics.

Grace and Peace

Augustine and Darwin

Alister McGrath (DPhil in molecular biophysics, Doctor of Divinity) has an article at the Christianity Today website: Augustine’s Origin of Species: How the great theologian might weigh in on the Darwin debate.

St. Augustine (AD 354-430) was the bishop of Hippo, in what is now Algeria, but was then part of the Roman Empire. I gave a long quote from his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis back in March.

Here are a few quotes from McGrath’s article:

Augustine draws out the following core themes: God brought everything into existence in a single moment of creation. Yet the created order is not static. God endowed it with the capacity to develop. Augustine uses the image of a dormant seed to help his readers grasp this point. God creates seeds, which will grow and develop at the right time. Using more technical language, Augustine asks his readers to think of the created order as containing divinely embedded causalities that emerge or evolve at a later stage. Yet Augustine has no time for any notion of random or arbitrary changes within creation. The development of God’s creation is always subject to God’s sovereign providence. The God who planted the seeds at the moment of creation also governs and directs the time and place of their growth.

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Certain biblical passages, he insisted, are genuinely open to diverse interpretations and must not be wedded to prevailing scientific theories. Otherwise, the Bible becomes the prisoner of what was once believed to be scientifically true: “In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines our position, we too fall with it.”

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So what was God doing before he created the universe? Augustine undermines the question by pointing out that God did not bring creation into being at a certain definite moment in time, because time did not exist prior to creation. For Augustine, eternity is a realm without space or time. Interestingly, this is precisely the state of existence many scientists posit existed before the big bang.

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So what are the implications of this ancient Christian interpretation of Genesis for the Darwin celebrations? First, Augustine does not limit God’s creative action to the primordial act of origination. God is, he insists, still working within the world, directing its continuing development and unfolding its potential. There are two “moments” in the Creation: a primary act of origination, and a continuing process of providential guidance. Creation is thus not a completed past event. God is working even now, in the present, Augustine writes, sustaining and directing the unfolding of the “generations that he laid up in creation when it was first established.”

This twofold focus on the Creation allows us to read Genesis in a way that affirms that God created everything from nothing, in an instant. However, it also helps us affirm that the universe has been created with a capacity to develop, under God’s sovereign guidance. Thus, the primordial state of creation does not correspond to what we presently observe. For Augustine, God created a universe that was deliberately designed to develop and evolve. The blueprint for that evolution is not arbitrary, but is programmed into the very fabric of creation. God’s providence superintends the continuing unfolding of the created order.

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Augustine argues that Genesis 1:12 implies that the earth received the power or capacity to produce things by itself: “Scripture has stated that the earth brought forth the crops and the trees causally, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth.”

Where some might think of the Creation as God’s insertion of new kinds of plants and animals readymade into an already existing world, Augustine rejects this as inconsistent with the overall witness of Scripture. Rather, God must be thought of as creating in that very first moment the potencies for all the kinds of living things to come later, including humanity.

The idea of a creation that is capable of evolving to one degree or another is not necessarily a compromise. St. Augustine argued for it from the pages of Scripture 1500 years ago.

Grace and Peace