John Walton, Evangelical Old Testament scholar: Neither Ham nor Nye got the Bible right

Of the numerous analyses of the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate earlier this week, one of the best is that of Old Testament scholar John Walton that was published as part of a larger review on the Biologos website (Ham on Nye: Our Take). Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, adeptly gives reasons why there are serious biblical and theological problems with young-Earth creationism. YEC isn’t just bad science, it involves a highly questionable reading of the Hebrew text of Genesis.  Here are some excerpts:

In general I appreciated the cordial and respectful tone that both debaters evidenced. Most of the debate was about scientific evidence, which I am not the one to address. The only comment that I want to make in that regard is that it was evident that Ken Ham believed that all evolutionists were naturalists—an identification that those associated with BioLogos would strongly contest.

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I commend Ken Ham’s frequent assertion of the gospel message. His testimony to his faith was admirable and of course, I agree with it. I also share his beliefs about the nature of the Bible, but I do not share his interpretation of the Bible on numerous key points. From the opening remarks Ham proclaimed that his position was based on the biblical account of origins. But he is intent on reading that account as if it were addressing science (he truly believes it is). I counter by saying that we cannot have a confident understanding of what the Bible claims until we read it as an ancient document. I believe as he does that the Bible was given by God, but it was given through human instruments into an ancient culture and language. We can only encounter the Bible’s claims by taking account of that context.

One place where this distinction was obvious was that Ham tried to make the statement in Genesis that God created each animal “after its kind” as a technical statement that matched our modern scientific categories. We cannot assume that the same categories were used in the ancient world as are used today (genus, family, species, etc.). Such anachronism does not take the Bible seriously as what it “naturally” says. In the Bible this only means that when a grain of wheat drops, a grain of wheat grows (not a flower); when a horse gives birth, it gives birth to a horse, not a coyote.

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Bill Nye repeatedly returned to the idea that the Bible was a book translated over and over again over thousands of years. In his opinion this results in a product that could be no more trusted than the end result in the game of telephone. In this opinion he shows his lack of clear understanding of the whole process of the transmission of texts and the textual basis for today’s translations.

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[Ham] believes that there could be no death before the fall because he has interpreted the word “good” as if it meant “perfect.” That is not what the Hebrew term means. Furthermore, if there was no death before the fall, people would have little use for a tree of life. What is a “natural” interpretation—our sense of what it means or the sense that an ancient reader would have had? Ham actually made the statement that we have to read the Bible “according to the type of literature” that it is. Yet it was clear that he has done no research on ancient genres and how parts of the Bible should be identified by the standards of ancient genres.

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When Ham was asked what it would take to change his mind, he was lost for words because he said that he could never stop believing in the truth of the Bible. I would echo that sentiment, but it never seemed to occur to him that there might be equally valid interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis, or maybe even ones that could garner stronger support. He stated that no one can prove the age of the earth, but he believes that the Bible tells us the age of the earth. Nevertheless, it is only his highly debatable interpretation of the Bible that tells him the age of the earth. What if the Bible makes no such claim? There are biblical scholars who take the Bible every bit as seriously as he does, who disagree that the Bible makes a claim about the age of the earth.

There is a lot more to the creation account in Genesis 1 than what one will hear from the young-Earth creationists. One can be fully committed to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture and not come to the same conclusions or interpretations that the my-way-or-the-highway young-Earth creationists come to.

Grace and Peace

HT: Internet Monk

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

The BioLogos Foundation

Dr. Francis Collins, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,  has stepped down as the director of the Human Genome Project. His new project might be even more challenging. Collins is the founder and president of The BioLogos Foundation, which is seeking to span the perceived gulf between science and faith. Two statements from the organization’s home page are:

“The BioLogos Foundation promotes the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms, and seeks to harmonize these different perspectives.”

and

“Faith and science both lead us to truth about God and creation.”

I’m excited about this because of the stature of Collins in the scientific community and because I see the need for both good science and good theology to counteract young-Earth creationism in the church on the one hand, and irrational atheism among scientists on the other hand.

HT: Christianity Today

Grace and Peace

P.S. I like the description at the blog Now I Know In Part: A complete opposite of Answers in Genesis.

P.P.S. Time Magazine has an article on this: Helping Christians Reconcile God With Science

Vatican to sort of include discussion of ID in evolution conference

From AP/FoxNews: Vatican to Discuss, but Not Endorse, Intelligent Design

VATICAN CITY  —  The Vatican will include discussion of intelligent design in a conference marking the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” officials said Tuesday.

“The committee agreed to consider ID as a phenomenon of an ideological and cultural nature, thus worthy of a historic examination, but certainly not to be discussed on scientific, philosophical or theological grounds,” said Saverio Forestiero, a conference organizer and professor of zoology at the University of Rome.

The Vatican under Benedict has been trying to stress its belief that there is no incompatibility between faith and reason, and the evolution conference is supposed to be a key demonstration of that.

Read the rest of the article here: Vatican to Discuss, but Not Endorse, Intelligent Design

HT: Old-Earth Creation Homeschool

Grace and Peace