Creationism

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Do Young Earth Creationists Advocate Appearance of Age?

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Young Earth Creationists (hereafter YEC or YECs) sometimes make the claim that the reason the universe is found to be so ancient by modern science is because it merely appears to be that old. I myself actually held to this view for a while when I was holding young earth creationism in tension with the evidence I observed.

I have been challenged in the past (for example, in the comments here) to provide evidence to show that this a claim made by anyone other than the “YEC in the street,” so to speak. That is, some YECs have told me that no serious YECs (that is, those who are publishing or working with the larger creationist think-tanks) make this argument.

Published Claim

In the past I appealed to various online sources to show that, for example, the Institute for Creation Research makes this claim. I recently finished reading Three Views on Creation and Evolution and found that the YECs in this book–Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds–do indeed defend the position of the “appearance of age.” Here’s a quote:

Some suggest God could have created starlight in transit to the earth. Perhaps most of cosmic history is apparent rather than actual. (52, cited below)

Initially this may not seem like a claim of “appearance of age,” but the authors go on to defend the plausibility of this “apparent” cosmic history and age of the universe:

…[Perhaps] God needed such a[n ancient appearing] creation to sustain life on earth. It might be necessary to have the universe the size and shape that it is in order for life on this planet to survive… God would have no real motive to ‘actualize’ most of cosmic history… ‘Apparent’ history in the mind of God could not be any different than ‘actual’ history… He would gain a fully functioning universe, but without the ‘waste of time’ needed to actualize the less interesting parts. (52-53)

From these quotes, it is obvious that Nelson and Reynolds are defending the notion of apparent age.

Problems for Young Earth Creationists

The notion of apparent age raises a number of issues for YECs. First is the common charge that this turns God into a deceiver. Nelson and Reynolds anticipated this objection and answered by using an analogy of someone’s mother refinishing an antique chair which would make it appear new. The only deception in this case, the authors argue, would occur if the mother failed to correct someone if they commented on the brand new chair. Similarly, God has provided a “label” to show the universe is not ancient: the Bible.

There are a number of problem with explanations like this one: first, in the case of the chair, further investigation would demonstrate it is not brand new. After all, antique dealers know the value of chairs which have not been tampered with by refinishing! We are able to discover whether additional layers of paint or finishing have been applied over the surface of a chair; similarly, we are able to discover whether things which initially appear young may indeed be quite old. The analogy itself breaks down. Second, the argument begs the question. After all, apart from YECs, those Christians who are asserting the universe is really billions of years old also claim that the Bible does not limit the age to only a few thousand years. This is the reason the challenge of “apparent age” comes up to begin with! So to turn around and say, no, it’s not deception because the Bible says it is young is to merely assert that which is being challenged.

Briefly, one might also wonder why Nelson and Reynolds think God “wasted time” in taking 7 days creating. Their dismissal of, say, star formation as something “less interesting” is frankly astonishing. Would that I could go back in time to see these “less interesting” events!

Another difficulty for the YEC comes in the form of a dilemma: Do you advocate a scientific understanding of young earth (and thus read science into the text) or argue for appearance of age (and thus grant that the Earth appears ancient)?

Think about that line for a moment. If YECs wish to affirm their position, they must either come up with a rival scientific understanding of the age of the universe and therefore read that scientific understanding back into the text (after all, where does Flood geology come from?–certainly not the text of the Bible!) or they must acknowledge the evidence that the universe is indeed quite ancient and merely assert that the evidence is trumped by their understanding of the Bible. The “appearance of age” argument grants that the universe indeed does provide evidence for being quite ancient.

Conclusion

Appearance of age is indeed part of the YEC quiver of arguments, as I have demonstrated. The question is, can this actually save YECs from an inconsistent view? I have argued that it does not. But even if YECs drop the “appearance of age” argument, they must still do that which they often attack others for doing: reading science back into the text of Genesis 1. If you’re a YEC, I hope you will think seriously before using the argument from “appearance of age.” But I also hope you’ll think seriously about whatever your alternative theory for the history of the universe might be. How much of it is actually derived from the pages of Scripture? How does your theory fit the Genesis account? Remember, there are other possibilities out there.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Origins Debate- Check out all my posts on the discussion within Christianity over the duration and means of creation.

Source

Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, “Young Earth Creationism” in Three Views on Creation and Evolution edited by J.P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Is the historical Adam a “Gospel” issue?

4vha-zondervan[Adam] must be a real individual who rebels against a clear divine directive at a specific moment in real time in a real place. (Barrick, 221, cited below)

One of the many issues which comes up related to the debate over the historical existence of Adam and Eve is the relation of Adam to Christ. Specifically: does undermining of the reality of Adam’s historical person undermine the work of Christ? Here, we’ll explore that question.

To be clear: we are not here exploring whether or not Adam really existed or whether there really was a real pair, Adam and Eve, from whom all humanity sprang. Rather, the question is this: if one denies the historical Adam and Eve, does one undermine the Gospel of Christ? Whatever one thinks of the answer to the question of the historical persons, one should consider the answer to this question as well. There are many issues to be addressed, so this post will only touch on a few. Write a comment to let me know your own thoughts or other issues you think of.

“Gospel” Issue?

In order to ask whether the history of Adam is a “Gospel” issue, we must first consider exactly what is meant by a “Gospel” issue. Definitions are important, and my own search for the meaning of this term yielded a whole range of definitions. Thus, I’m going to focus on a kind of working definition: to say something is a “Gospel” issue is to say that a specific doctrine, if untrue, undermines the Gospel [here meaning the glorious truth of salvation through Jesus Christ] and possibly one’s salvation itself. In the definitions I’ve found, and the use I’ve seen of this term, I believe this is an accurate understanding.

The Historical Adam as a Gospel Issue- Two Perspectives

The book, Four Views on The Historical Adam, provides a good background for exploring difference of opinion among evangelical scholars on the historicity of Adam. Most telling for our question is the young earth perspective and the theistic evolutionist response to it. William Barrick argues that the historical Adam is indeed a Gospel issue:

the biblical description of sin depends entirely on the historicity of Adam. He must be a real individual… in real time in a real place… [denial of the historical Adam] has serious implications for the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of Christ… [quoting John Mahoney]: “If the first man is not historical and the fall into sin is not historical, then one begins to wonder why there is a need for our Lord to come and undo the work of the first man.” That makes the historicity of Adam a gospel issue. (Barrick, 221-222)

Barrick’s argument seems pretty clear: if no historical Adam lived and acted in the Fall, then what reason is there for Christ to come as the second Adam and restore humanity to God? If Barrick’s argument is successful, it does seem to establish that the historical Adam is indeed vital to an understanding of the truths of salvation.

Denis Lamoureux takes up the challenge of restoring confidence in the possibility of the Gospel without an historical Adam. His argument is instead that when “behaviorally modern humans” showed up (about 50,000 years ago), they broke their relationship with God (he does not make explicit how this may have occurred). Moreover, he argues that Barrick’s argument is unsuccessful because it is a non sequitor–the conclusion simply doesn’t follow. Is it really the case, Lamoureux asks, that the reality of sin “depend[s] entirely” upon a historic Adam (Lamoureux, 229)? Barrick’s argument was simply to appeal to the requirement for sin to be an action against God (itself a disputable claim–does sin really require action or is it possible to have [actually] sinful inclination?–but we’ll set that aside). Lamoureux notes that saying there was no historical Adam does not undermine or remove the reality of sinful activity.

Moreover, Lamoureux argues that Barrick’s argument conflates the historicity of Adam with the historicity of the resurrection (ibid). Not only that, but:

The gospel is about Jesus Christ, not Adam. The gospel is about the reality of sin, not how sin entered the world. The gospel is about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, not specifically Adam’s sin. (ibid, 229)

Adam and the Gospel

So is the historical Adam a “Gospel” issue? Returning to our definition, it seems to me fairly clear that one’s salvation is not determined by whether one believes in a historical Adam. The foundation of faith is Christ raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15). Lamoureux is right to point out that the Gospel is ultimately the message of our salvation through Jesus Christ. The first part of our definition, however, asks whether the grounding for this salvation might be undermined. Romans 5:12-21 seems to demonstrate that Christ came to save humanity as the second Adam, and that a real person, Adam, really did sin and created the need for salvation.

Lamoureux’s counter to this is to argue that such statements are divine accommodation–that is, Paul did believe in a single, historical Adam, but that doesn’t mean there was one. The debate over this must wait for a different post, but for now I’ll just say that although I think there is divine accommodation in God’s revelation, I’m not convinced it involves allowing for very clearly false statements (such as the claim that Adam existed if Adam did not exist).

So if there is no historical Adam, it seems to me that this entails at least a denial of the specificity of the text in Romans 5. Thus, one could say that this undermines the basis for salvation. However, if one is willing to strip down to the bare bones of “Mere Christianity,” might one still preserve the Gospel? At this point I say yes. The basis for our salvation is belief in Jesus Christ, not belief in Adam. This does not mean that I think the historical Adam is unimportant or non-existent. Rather, I would say that anyone who does wish to say the historical Adam is necessary for salvation has yet to demonstrate that claim.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions- I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Check out other posts on the origins debate within Christianity.

Sources

William Barrick, “A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View” in Four Views on The Historical Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).

Denis Lamoureux, “Response from the Evolutionary View” in Four Views on The Historical Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Young Earth Creationism Does Not Have Historical Pedigree

800px-Carracci,_Agostino_-_The_Flood_-_1616-1618

Young Earth Creationists often claim that their view has been the position of the church since its earliest period. Here, I will challenge that notion and argue that, instead, modern creationism is unrecognizable in historic Christianity. Thus, my contention is simple:

Modern young earth creationism has  no historical pedigree.

It is impossible to go through a comprehensive survey of early Christian teaching on creation, so my discussion here will be necessarily brief. Further reading may be found in the sources cited, below. I note that if someone wants to contradict my contention, above, they must present evidence showing that the claims about Flood Geology, etc. are all present in early church writings, or indeed any church writings before around 1600.

Now, it is a simple fact that for much of church history, theologians held that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. Do not take this sentence out of context. Recall that we’re talking about modern young earth creationism, not just a belief that the Earth is young. To say that because, for example, some church fathers held the world was a few thousand years old and allege that proves they held to modern creationism is a blatant historical anachronism for several reasons.

First, the reason many of these early teachers of the church held to this view is because their view of overall history was such that the 6 days of creation should match up with 6 “days” of thousand year periods of all of history, culminating in the second coming. The literature on this is quite easy to find, but here are a few choice examples:

“the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a Thousand years… in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished…” – Epistle to Barnabas, (quoted in Young and Stearley)

“for in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded.”- Irenaeus (quoted in ibid, 35)

“[Because] in six days God made all things, it follows that 6000 years must be fulfilled.” – Hippolytus (quoted in ibid, 35)

These quotes could be (and are, in the literature) multiplied. The simple fact is that the earliest interpretation of the Genesis text was yes, that it took place in 6 days, but also that those 6 days were important because they outlined the 6000 years of all of Earth’s history, which would end in a seventh day rest of 1000 more years.

Does that sound like modern young earth creationism to you? It shouldn’t. I don’t know of any modern creationist who holds that the Earth should have already ended because it is more than 6000 years old now, or that the days in Genesis correspond strictly to days of 1000 year lengths that define the history of creation.

Second, even the early thinkers who resonate most closely with modern young earth creationism would not have recognized it as it exists now. Early flood theories often had the water simply get placed on earth miraculously and then destroyed by God, held to a “tranquil flood” theory in which the global flood didn’t make any impact on the surface of the planet, held that fossils weren’t actual vestiges of previously living organisms (an interesting piece of geological history), and the like.

brt-youngstearleyWhy is it that YECs take these writers out of their historical contexts? It would be easy to say it is due to a project of quote-mining to find support for one’s view in the past–and I’m sure this is part of it–but perhaps a lot of it is just mere ignorance. The volumes of writings we have from the church fathers, for example, would take years to read, and lifetimes to become well-versed in. Many haven’t even been translated. Thus, it is more expedient to simply find the quote that supports one’s view and use it.

But that’s not at all how we should construct historical theology. The fact is that the constant parade of claims made by YECs that their position is that of the early church is only possible because of a lifting of quotes from church fathers out of their context in order to support the position. Moreover, the people quoted themselves, though they would support the notion of a “young earth” would do so for theological reasons tied to their view of the whole of human history–one which I know of no modern YEC buying into. To cite them as supporting modern YEC, then, is a kind of baptism-by-decontextualization. Only by ignoring the very reasons the early church held their views and the theological worldview that the early church operated under can a YEC find support for their view.

An analogy might be helpful here. To say that the early church agrees with modern young earth creationists would be like saying the early church agrees with modern modalists. Why? Because, after all, many modern modalists claim to be able to uphold the Apostles’ Creed, which, after all, never speaks of distinction of persons in an explicit enough way so as to exclude modalism. Thus, a modalist could say “Our view is from the Apostles’ Creed.” Now of course this is an extreme example, and one could argue at length as to whether the modalist is actually agreeing with the historic Creed, however, the point is that simply finding a single point of doctrine with which one agrees does not mean that one holds to an historic Christian view. It is instead to treat a system of doctrine as something which may be broken apart piecemeal into individual affirmations and then find one of these affirmations with which one agrees. But that doesn’t show one agrees to the system, only to one decontextualized part.

Thus, the best a modern YEC can claim is that the early church also felt the Earth was only a few thousand years old. But to leave it at that is disingenuous, because it paints a picture as though the early church believed this for the same reasons the modern YEC does, but that is not the case. Or perhaps instead it is to, as noted above, just break apart doctrinal systems into component parts and just pick what suits oneself. In either case, it is a mistaken way to approach the question.

The reason the early church held to the young earth was because, as noted above, of their view of the history of the Earth corresponding to 6 days of 1000 years each, not because of alleged geological evidence for a global, catastrophic flood. Although some of the early writers did not hold to this 6 – 1000 paradigm, it is very clear from their writings that there was absolutely no familiarity with the kind of “the Flood did it” reasoning which is so pervasive in YEC today. Modern creationism is founded upon Flood Geology, an absolutely foreign concept to the earliest church teachings.

Indeed, the notion that the early church would have even recognized modern YEC is a bit absurd. Modern YECs use the Noachian Deluge to explain the fossil record, stratification, and the like. But up until John Ray’s time period in the late 1600s, it had been assumed fossils were simply tricks of the rock, not vestiges of once-living organisms (for some interesting reading on this history, check out this post on John Ray). Thus, someone living earlier would simply not have understood what was meant by saying fossils were due to the Flood, let alone knowing what fossils even refer to! Moreover, stratification as a studied feature of geology didn’t really begin in earnest until the 1800s. Again, to then attribute Flood theories back to the early church is wrongheaded.

The Bottom Line

To put what we’ve reviewed above all together: modern young earth creationism does agree with the historical church broadly on the age of the Earth. That’s it. But the categories of thought in which the church has historically envisioned the history of the universe–the very context which YECs try to link their views–have no points of contact with modern creationism. Indeed, they would have been baffling to the early church because these points of contact with Flood Geology simply do not exist. The reasons the early church believed in a “young earth” were linked to their own faulty reading of Scriptures, and an eschatology not shared by modern YECs. In short, Modern Young Earth Creationism has no historical pedigree.

The Young Earth Challenge, Restored

‘Ah!’ one might exclaim. ‘That means that, at least, the early church held to the notion that the Earth was young.’

Well yes, it does mean that. But that hardly justifies belief in modern YEC. Modern YEC is an invention intended to unify the geologic record with an interpretation of the Bible. It is itself an entire system. This interpretation, which leads to speculation about the way the flood formed the geologic record, is not found in the early church. If you disagree, find it for me. Demonstrate that, say, Irenaeus when he wrote about the entire history of the Earth as corresponding to 6 days of 1000 years each, was actually speaking of how Noah’s Flood shaped the geology of the planet in order to layer sediment one atop the other. If one cannot do this, they should not claim to garner support for YEC from the early church.

Once more, YEC has no historical pedigree.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

“Oceans of Kansas,” Unexpected Fossils, and Young Earth Creationism- I discuss the alleged findings out out-of-sequences fossils in the fossil record and how YEC explanations fail to show they are attributable to a global catastrophic Flood.

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions- I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Source and Further Reading

Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008).

Stanley L. Jaki, Genesis 1 Through the Ages (New York: Thomas Moore Press, 1992).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ken Ham Rescinds Alien Damnation?

mars-1I wrote very recently about Ken Ham declaring aliens eternally doomed. Now, however, Ken Ham is claiming that headlines like my post (or those declaring aliens are going to hell) are mistaken. I just want to briefly look at this claim. In his most recent blog article, he states:

So, “is there intelligent life in outer space?” After reading the Huffington Post article and the other items on secular websites responding to my article, my answer is this: “there doesn’t seem to be much intelligent life left here on earth—let alone to find any in outer space!”

Well, that’s all well and good, but I’m curious as to how someone could say that I would be mistaken for thinking that this would somehow make invalid the analysis I made of his site regarding aliens being doomed. But it seems Ham is responding by simply saying that there are no intelligent beings elsewhere, and so we are supposed to conclude that that somehow means aliens would not be doomed (because there are none). But that doesn’t really meet the analysis of some of those who are critiquing Ham’s position.

What it comes down to is Ken Ham’s own words:

You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.

Thus, according to Ken Ham himself, if aliens do exist, “they can’t have salvation.” I’m not sure exactly what distinction is to be made between this and going to hell, but it seems that Ham’s only answer is that there are no aliens, so this doesn’t apply. Again, that doesn’t meet the critique I’ve already leveled against his view.

But, perhaps I’m mistaken and Ham is merely trying to assert that only certain headlines are mistaken. He cites these specifically: “Creationist Ken Ham Says Aliens Will Go To Hell So Let’s Stop Looking For Them”; “Creationist Ken Ham: Aliens are going to hell so just stop looking for them.” I think it’s fair to say that these headlines are not exactly accurate representations of Ham’s view. Instead, Ham seems to be saying 1) Aliens don’t exist; 2) Because they don’t exist, we shouldn’t bother to spend time looking for them; 3) a theological reason for thinking they don’t exist is that they “can’t have salvation.”

It is point 3 which I took issue with in my post, but the headlines Ham cites seem to combine all 3 points into one without any clarity. Thus, I appreciate Ham clarifying his position. The points I brought up in my critique, however, still stand.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Ken Ham Declares Aliens Eternally Doomed- I analyze Ken Ham’s statements about aliens and the possibility for their salvation.

Alien life: Theological reflections on life on other planets- I engage in some [highly] speculative theology related to the possibility of aliens.

Did God Create the Universe for Humans?-Some Thoughts on God’s purposes for creating-  I argue that God’s purposes in creating are needlessly limited when people object that God created the universe [only] for humankind.

Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”- I reflect on a science fiction book, Calculating God, which has aliens that believe in God.

 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Death Before the Fall” by Ronald Osborn

dbf-osborn

I eagerly anticipated the release of Ronald Osborn’s book, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, as it is a topic of great interest to me. The work is divided into two major sections: “On Literalism” and “On Animal Suffering.”

The first part occupies the bulk of the book (100/179 pages of text). In it, Osborn first offers his interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1. His take on it is that is fairly open to being taken in a number of ways. For example, having creatures come forth “from the earth” may be direct special creation, or a linguistic device aimed at describing the “open” status of creation–its ability to change and self-correct (see esp. 27-28).

After laying out the interpretation, Osborn sets out to show how “literalism” is a mistaken hermeneutic. He argues that literalism has been brought to the forefront due to Enlightenment ways of thinking. That is, biblical literalists are influenced by modernism and their readings tend to be highly reliant on that kind of rationalist epistemology (42ff). A major difficulty with literalism, he notes, is that it seems to ultimately lead to fideism: one’s view of what the “plain sense” reading of the Bible is must be taken as normative for all areas of inquiry (44; 45-46). Another difficulty is that literalism tends to actually go far beyond what the text says in order to defend a preferred interpretation of the text (56-57).

Scientific creationism, Osborn argues, is flawed because it isn’t a “progressive research program” but rather a “degenerative” one. That is, scientific creationism is simply adjusted in an ad hoc way to meet new challenges rather than predicting them (63ff). He rounds out this first part with a discussion of how literalism ultimately leads to circling the wagons and an “enclave mentality,” alongside various representatives of historical interpretation of Genesis–Barth, Calvin, Augustine, and Maimonides.

The second part focuses on animal suffering and approaches it from a number of angles. He begins the section with three difficulties with a “literalist” view of animal suffering and the Fall. Briefly, these are the notion that a flawless creation as put forward by some seems to simply be the winding up of a watch; that God is made to be a deceiver; and difficulties with how the curse is to be applied to animals (126ff). These are presented briefly but cogently and each offers a unique challenge to typical creationist readings of the text. Next, Osborn turns to explanations other than the Fall as reasons animals suffer. He turns to the book of Job and argues both that God may have created nature with predation and death and also that God’s answer to Job out of the whirlwind may be applied to animal suffering (154-155). Moreover, God’s choosing to participate in the world in the Incarnation helps to consummate all creation and bring it to completion (165).

A difficulty with the book is the sustained polemic against literalism/YEC. At times, Osborn shares great insights in the movement. Moreover, pointed criticism is surely needed in some form. Unfortunately, after some helpful introductory comments, he seems to degenerate into posturing against those with whom he disagrees. For example, after admitting that Gnosticism is rather ill-defined, he nevertheless goes on to compare literalism to Gnosticism and simply state that they each share certain features in common (86ff). I like to call this the “Gnostic fallacy” in which someone declares the ‘other’ to be a Gnostic in order to refute them. As Osborn himself notes, Gnosticism is hard to pin down, which also means it is very easy to twist various teachings into lining up with Gnosticism. I think this is honestly one example. [See comments for Osborn’s clarifying comments on this section.]

This section is understandable, and it is easy for someone like Osborn–a former YEC (like myself)–to want to lash out against these formerly held, and sometimes damaging, beliefs, but it is not a very helpful. I suspect it will alienate any readers he would perhaps hope to engage in dialogue, which leaves one wondering about the audience for the book.

Another difficulty with Osborn’s sustained critique of “literalism” is that he never provides much insight into how and/or when texts are to be read literally. That is, would the Gospels need to be read literally when they speak of Jesus dying on the cross and rising again? Osborn clearly affirms this, but doesn’t provide mechanisms which distinguish between “literalism” and simply proper exegesis which would allow for and engage with literal readings of the texts.

One further problem is that the book, despite purporting to be about Death Before the Fall, only briefly addresses this issue. The book really doesn’t provide anything more than most basic non-young earth literature does when it comes to the issue. As such, it is difficult to determine exactly how useful the book is when compared to other works.

Ultimately, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering does not contribute much new to the debate over whether animal death could occur before the fall. Osborn presents many interesting points–particularly in his heavy critique of literalism as a method–and the book is worth the read, but its limited treatment of the title is a disappointment.

Readers who are interested in the topic of animal suffering and death before the fall are better served to pick up Michael Murray’s excellent and enthralling book, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. Murray’s work is superior in both tone and treatment. It focuses entirely on the topic of animal suffering from a philosophical perspective (and is thus more academic than Osborn’s work, for better or worse). The work has a lengthy (33 pages) chapter dedicated explicitly to philosophical issues with animal suffering and the Fall, which makes it far more in-depth than the work reviewed here. Finally, it provides much greater depth on various theodicies when it comes to animal suffering. Those interested in that topic and the topic of death before the Fall or how the Fall relates to animal suffering would be better served to pick up Murray’s work.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote!- Do Trilobites Yield a Greater Good?- I discuss a very minor point in Murray’s work which shows how diverse its threads are for thinking on this topic.

Source

Ronald Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsit, 2014).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Dinosaurs, Noah’s Flood, and Creationism- An ecological challenge

SuchomimusI recently visited the Science Museum of Minnesota to check out the exhibit “Ultimate Dinosaurs” which features a number of dinosaurs which aren’t typically displayed in North America. I heard one other museum-goer talking about how they always thought that dinosaurs just were dinosaurs–that they were the same all over the Earth. But they weren’t! In fact, there is great diversity in the types of dinosaurs found in different parts of the world. Some are found all over North America; others are restricted to small parts of Africa or South America.

That got me thinking on creationism. A standard young earth creationist account of the history of the world would state that dinosaur fossils are found where they lay because the Flood put them there. Many YEC accounts are catastrophic in nature, arguing that the Flood recreated the surface of the Earth and left most or all of the layers of sediment we now observe. The dinosaurs (and other creatures) we find were swept up in the Flood and then laid down once the water had settled.

Pictured above and left, there is a fossil of a Suchomimus. Suchomimus was a fish-eating dinosaur which has only been found in Niger, Africa. According to standard scientific explanations, it lived in the Early Cretaceous period, about 121-112 million years ago. According to a young earth creationist account, this dinosaur died either during the Flood or migrated to the location it was found after the Flood. Either way, this was no more than a few thousand years ago. Pictured below and to the right, there is a fossil of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It lived in the Late Cretaceous period, about 66-67 million years ago and ranged across what is now North America. Again, a young earth creationist account would have it dying during the flood or going extinct afterwards.

Tyrannosaurus-Rex-mn-sciThe Young Earth Creationist Explanation- A problem?

The young earth creationist (YEC) account is once more generally based upon the notion that the Noachian Deluge deposited these fossils where they are now found. The Flood is to explain how these fossils ended up in their present locations.

The fact that dinosaurs are found in different parts of the planet–and only in those parts–suggests an interesting problem for YECs: How is it that such a catastrophic event managed to destroy the surface of the Earth and then remake it through layers while creating the illusion of localized ecosystems at different points in history?

Such a challenge should not simply be dismissed. YEC literature sometimes suggests that the fossilized ecosystems which are proposed in different parts of the world at different (millions of years ago) times are merely products of the Flood depositing the fossils where they now lay. For example, according to YEC literature, many scientists believe that there was an ancient sea over North America merely because the Flood happened to deposit a bunch of mosasaur fossils and other marine life in a certain layer of the sediment it laid down.

The observed evidence, however, goes against this notion. Consider the Suchomimus (pictured above, left) once more. It has been found only in a localized area in what is now Africa. It is nearly certain it was a fish eater. This notion is not a mere product of accidental laying down of fish fossils near and around where Suchomimus has been found. Instead, it is based upon observational evidence. First, its large claws seem perfectly adapted to snagging large lungfish along the shore (large lungfish fossils have been found in the same area). Second, its narrow skull lined with extremely pointy teeth suggest a fishy diet, as it is once more adapted to eating them. Third, and most telling, fish fossils have been found with tooth marks from Suchomimus on their bones.

So what? How does this bring up a problem for YEC? Well, to put it simply, it demonstrates that the localized ecosystem found near and around Suchomimus is not a mere random product of fossils being jumbled together and then deposited during the Flood. Instead, predator and prey are found in a localized environment with other fossil specimens that fit neatly into the same ecosystem. But on the YEC account, how could this happen? Surely it would be an astounding happening if an entire ecosystem were swept away by the Flood, jumbled up with others along with sediment and the like, subjected to tidal waves across the surface, and then neatly deposited in a localized area, preserving that same ecosystem.

cretaceous-mapA Possible Alternative

Some YECs (such as Kurt Wise) have instead suggested that the Flood did not destroy the whole surface of the Earth but was rather providentially brought about by God along with catastrophic plate tectonics. On this scenario, water rapidly rose and covered the face of the Earth, bringing with it sediment and the like which rapidly buried such localized ecologies.

Setting aside difficulties with such a scenario related to the means by which it would have allegedly occurred, it should be clear that this explanation is at least somewhat more palatable. It doesn’t turn ecosystems into mere fictions. However, this scenario doesn’t solve everything. For example, why are there separate and distinct ecosystems, one atop the other, in the same place? Going to North America, Tyrannosaurus Rex has been found across much of what is now North America. Again, we find prey with T-Rex tooth marks in their bones and the like. We have preserved ecosystems from this time. But different places (like the inland sea I discussed here) feature what appears to be a marine environment. Moreover, different layers, like those exposed through glaciation in the upper Midwest, show entirely different (and seemingly more primitive) marine lief. This raises a number of issues, most of which are relevant for any alleged Flood scenario.

First, if the Flood was a sudden event which covered the face of the Earth and thus preserved ecosystems in place, how did it manage to kill off and bury so much marine life? It seems like it must have been gentle enough to preserve the fossil evidence, so why did the marine life not simply swim away and get scattered across other layers as it died? Second, how do we have distinct and separate ecosystems preserved in different layers, one atop the other? Again, the suggestion was that ecosystems were preserved in place–so why do some places have different ecosystems above one another? Third, why are the types of sediment laid down distinct for each ecosystem? If the sediment was all due to one event, then why does the sediment type match the ecosystems which it buries?

herrerasaurusThe Balance of Evidence

At this point, I think we must remember that we may evaluate such claims from a number of angles. First, the YEC explanations seem very ad hoc–that is, they are invented  by adjusting the Flood scenario (or some other device like distant starlight moving faster)–in order to explain away the difficulties rather than pursuing the evidence. It is reactionary rather than investigative. [I edited this line after some insight from a comment below.]

Second, realistically, which portions of the YEC explanation might be found in the Bible, if any? Having read the accounts of the Flood and Creation many times, I have to say I have never once spotted a place wherein it discusses the distribution of dinosaurs, the way the Flood laid down sediment, or any number of things put forward by YECs.

Third, when YECs and others are offering alternative scientific explanations–i.e. an explanation for “how did this [dinosaur] get here?”–they must deal with the fact that we’re looking for the most likely explanation. As I discussed in another post on dinosaurs and creationism, the proposed alternative YEC explanation is very clearly more complex and less likely than that of the one already offered–that the dinosaurs simply existed at different times and/or in different places over the course of history. We should be honest in our evaluations of evidence and look to see which explanation is more likely. Remember, we should be investigating the evidence while trying to stay free of any a priori assumptions about what must have happened and instead look at the evidence to see which explanation best fits. As I pointed out in the post linked above, proposing a global catastrophic Flood as the alternative hypothesis demands an enormous burden of proof.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

“Oceans of Kansas,” Unexpected Fossils, and Young Earth Creationism- I discuss the alleged findings out out-of-sequences fossils in the fossil record and how YEC explanations fail to show they are attributable to a global catastrophic Flood.

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions- I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

The photographs in this post were taken by me at the Science Museum of Minnesota with permission. Any use of these pictures should be only with express, written consent. The map is an image created by BBC and I do not claim any rights over it but use it through fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- The Desperate Lights of Genesis?

readinggenesis1-2-CharlesEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Source of Light: A Desperate Bid?

One of the heated questions about the age of the Earth of course concerns the meaning and length of the days of creation. Of the questions related to that, one which persists is where from and why, on a literal reading, is there light before the bodies which produce light (stars, sun, etc.) are apparently created (though this is also debated) on day four? In Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, Tremper Longman III offers the following comment on one path that some creationists take to explain the light prior to the sun:

The counterargument [to the fact that the solar bodies were not created until day 4] that God could provide an alternative light source is an act of desperation. Of course, God could provide light and darkness in some other fashion in a twenty-four-hour period, but that would still not constitute a literal evening and morning that is defined by the setting and rising of the sun and the movement of the other celestial bodies. (105, cited below)

Although I’m not sure I would qualify this move as “desperate,” I do still wonder how, exactly, one is to define the days of creation and a “literal” evening and morning without the actual solar bodies. I mean, realistically, what does it mean to say there is “evening” without such a reference point? Interestingly, some concordist positions (concordist meaning views which seek to explain the Bible in light of science or vice versa–and would encompass both young and old earth creationists of various types [see my taxonomy of positions]) actually take this to show that the days are not indeed 24 hour periods.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you see this move as desperate or do you think its perfectly reasonable? Somewhere in between? Why?

Source

Tremper Longman III, “What Genesis 1-2 Teaches (and What It Doesn’t)” in Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation edited J. Daryl Charles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013).

“Oceans of Kansas,” Unexpected Fossils, and Young Earth Creationism

ook-everhartRecently, I reviewed the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. In that debate, Bill Nye challenged Ken Ham to come up with just one fossil that was in the wrong place in the fossil sequence. In that review, I mentioned polystrate fossils as one possibility for the YEC rejoinder. Strictly speaking, these fossils are not “out of sequence” in a formal sense and so do not qualify as such evidence. Are there other possibilities? Michael J. Everhart’s fascinating look at the natural history of the Western Interior Sea brings up another possibility which may draw some looking for out-of-sequence fossils. After an introductory narrative about how a mosasaur (pictured on the cover of the book getting chomped by a shark) fossil could end up broken up in the middle of the sea, he wrote:

“Bloating and Floating” is certainly the case in many instances and is the only reasonable explanation for how the remains of large dinosaurs, such as Niobrarasaurus coleii…could have found their way into the middle of the Western Interior Sea… (48)

There have been, he noted, discoveries of dinosaurs in the middle of what should have been fossils of only aquatic creatures in the chalk and limestone that covers much of the central states–what was in ancient times the Western Interior Sea. His proposed explanation is that a dinosaur might die on the shore and get swept out to sea, bloated and floating until coming to rest at the bottom and becoming fossilized. Though not necessarily the “only reasonable” explanation, Everhart’s scenario provides an interesting test case for rival hypotheses.

Young Earth Creationists (YECs) tend to view evidences like these as proof of the Flood. That is, given a catastrophic global flood, one would expect that different life forms, all killed together by the flooding of the whole Earth, would be mixed together. Thus, a dinosaur in the middle of what should be sea creatures is alleged to provide evidence for the YEC Flood hypothesis.However, Everhart’s scenario does seem to be more plausible than a young earth account for several reasons.

First, Everhart’s proposed scenario is much simpler an explanation than the hypothesis that a global flood swept the dinosaur(s) into the position they are found among so many aquatic remains. This point is not to be understated; on a purely historical level, without any a priori assumptions of what should be the case given a specific reading of Genesis, it seems more reasonable to suppose that a dinosaur died and had its carcass swept out to sea before it was scavenged and sank to the bottom of the sea to be deposited than to suppose that a global catastrophe led to the dinosaur being found in its present location.

1scene

A picture I took at “Castle Rock” in central Kansas. This beautiful formation has huge amounts of deposited limestone and shells layered atop each other. One can walk to the walls and literally pull slabs of fossils out of the sides. If the YEC account of the flood were correct, one would expect to find multiple varieties of creatures found throughout these layers.

Second, and perhaps more problematic for the YEC position, is the fact that such finds as these are extremely rare, when, given a global flood, the expectation should be to constantly find such mixing of types of fossils. Simply finding one dinosaur fossil (or even several) among countless numbers of mosasaurs, icthyosaurs, fish, and of course limestone deposits from sea life (alongside shells of all sorts of varieties, etc.) does not actually provide sufficient evidence for the YEC account of the flood. We should instead find primates, dinosaurs, mosasaurs, trilobites, mammoths, and archaeopteryx fossils jumbled together. What we do find is a stunning uniformity of fossils such that the find of a dinosaur is means for speculation regarding how it got there rather than a commonality which demonstrates a planetwide flood.

Third, the dinosaur in question was contemporaneous with the aquatic life. That is, it lived at the same time as the creatures in the chalk in which it was deposited. Again, on a YEC scenario, one would expect instead to find all sorts of mixing of fossils from different time periods. The fact that these dinosaurs lived on land in the same time in which we find them at the bottom of the sea does not suggest a massive global flood which mixed all life (which all lived at the same time) together in one death pool; instead, it counts as direct evidence for the gradual diversification and extinction of life. The finds are consistent with what one would expect with longer periods of time instead of a global flood. Thus, it does not seem that fossils found in unexpected places may serve as evidence for Young Earth Creationism. Indeed, given the second point in particular (and in conjunction with the third), it seems that they serve as yet another evidence against the notion of a young earth and global flood. There are better options for Christians than Young Earth Creationism.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions- I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Shells and the Biomass of Earth: A serious problem for young earth creationists- I argue that the sheer amount of living organisms we can discover weighs against a young earth position.

Michael Everhart has written more on the specific find related to the dinosaur in the Smoky Hill Chalk at the Oceans of Kansas site.

My thanks to fellow blogger “The Natural Historian” for some comments on the topic of this post prior to publication.

Source

Michael J. Everhart, Oceans of Kansas: A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea (Indiana University Press, 2005).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions

Trilobites_in_the_Mineral_Museum_in_SiófokThe origins debate within Christianity is often viewed through the lens of a very narrow spectrum. Most recently, this was demonstrated in the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.  I also demonstrated this recently by answering questions for old earth creationists (see the first and second parts): some people tend to see the only options available for Christians as either young earth creationism (the earth was made in six 24 hour days 6-10 thousand years ago) or theistic evolutionism (God set it up, then evolution accounts for diversification). These perspectives, though showing a few of those available to Christians, do not actually reflect the whole realm of possibilities for Christians.

More thoughtful Christians tend to think of the perspectives as threefold. There are theistic evolutionists, young earth creationists, and then in between there is a kind of amorphous glob of people who hold to an “old earth” without expressing it in strictly evolutionary terms. Here, we’ll explore this amorphous glob (as well as the extremes) to show that there really is a range of options. I’m writing this mainly to clarify for many some of the difficulties in commenting on creation issues without such a taxonomy.

Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate

If I could recommend one book to anyone who is going to get involved in creation issues, I would have to say I’d recommend Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything. I’m not recommending it because I think it is the best book on creation issues. Rather, I’m recommending it because I think anyone who is going to interact with these issues must be able to make distinctions between positions. Rau’s work is helpful because he has laid out many of the main categories for belief. There is, however, a downside to his work: it is necessarily simplified. He did an adequate job showing the major positions available, but the fact remains that even within each position he dilineated there are more divisions to be explored. Moreover, there are views which simply don’t fit into any specific group. That said, I think his work is extremely useful and so I’ll start with his organization as a way to introduce the taxonomy.

Rau’s Taxonomy

Rau divided the major positions on the origins debate into a sixfold division (see Rau, 41):

Naturalistic Evolution- On this view, there is no God and no purpose in origins. The process for the origin of species and its diversity is “spontaneous.”

Nonteleological Evolution- On this view, there is a creator, but there remains no intervention in the natural process which yield life and its diversity. Thus, the “conditions necessary for life” were “established at creation.” However, evolution is still without purpose and the creator did not specify its parameters.

Planned Evolution- On this view, there is a creator who had a purpose for life and its origin. This purpose is through a “perfect creation” which “naturally fulfills God’s purposes.” Thus, the purpose which the creator had was essentially front-loaded in at the moment of creation. There is no direction during the process.

Directed Evolution- On this view, there is a creator with a purpose for the diversity of life. Unlike the previous view, the creator doesn’t merely front-load design and purpose but rather intervenes throughout the course of history to bring about purpose: “changes in universe and life” are “subtly directed over time.”

Old-Earth Creation- On this view, the process by which the diversity of species came about is not through directed evolution but rather through creation over time: “major body plans” are “created over millions of years.” New diversity of life is through God’s direct creative act.

Young-Earth creation- on this view, “each ‘kind'” is “created in one week, within the last 10,000 years. All diversity of life is due to God’s creative act; any changes since then are only among the “kinds” represented on the ark.

162283main_image_feature_693_ys_4A Larger Picture

Rau’s division of these groups is extremely helpful because he hits on the major positions represented within the spectrum. Of course the only options which are available to Christians are those which do not exclude God from the picture. Thus all but naturalistic evolution remain open to the believer. Now,  the debate over how these might fit into the teaching of the Bible is not what I’m trying to dive into here. Instead, I’m simply pointing out there is diversity of views greater than the YEC/Theistic Evolutionism divide. One can see from the above that even within theistic evolutionism there is some diversity. Does evolution take place nonteleologically or did God plan it from the beginning? Perhaps God directed evolution along the way. There also is the option of Old Earth Creationism which shares many features with young earth creationism but radically diverges from the latter in many respects.

However, the spectrum opens up even more than Rau’s taxonomy depicts. The views he discusses focus primarily upon the science; that is, they are distinctions among views on the specifics of a scientific account of origins. Other views may be listed which may be distinguished by the reading of the Bible. Now, there is of course much overlap between these and Rau’s list, but I wanted to highlight a few views of interest.

First, there are interpreters like John Sailhamer in his book Genesis Unbound who hold that the text of Genesis is most specifically talking about the creation of the Garden of Eden. C. John Collins also holds to this view. They each hold that Genesis 1:1 is a kind of statement about the creation of the universe (though Collins does question whether it is explicitly about the ex-nihilo creation of the universe) and what follows as a continuous creation narrative of the land for the inhabitants. Thus, the text in Genesis does not explicitly affirm any sort of creation account and so people would be free to hold to essentially any position above apart from naturalistic evolution.

Second, John Walton’s view reads the creation account within the Ancient Near Eastern context and so he views Genesis not as a literal creation account but rather as an account showing how God is enthroned over the entire creation as King. Again, such a view would be amenable to the spectrum of views possible for a Christian as I noted.

It is worth noting that either of these is distinct from the spectrum Rau lists. They are distinct because they do not require commitment to any of the creation models. Thus, for Collins, Sailhamer, and Walton, one may simply remain open to the evidence rather than filtering the evidence through specific readings of the Genesis text. Of course, one could hold to this view and remain a young earth creationist; but none of these readings explicitly forces someone to hold to any position on the actual means of creation and speciation.

Third, there are positions related to the scientific origins which would further subdivide Rau’s categories as dilineated above. For example, young earth creationists often hold that the Global Flood can account for the fossil record and stratification. But some YECs have historically held that the Flood would have been tranquil and essentially had no impact on the Earth. Other YECs simply hold that the universe and the Earth have an appearance of age because God would have known at what age it would have needed to be in order to sustain life. There is much diversity about the mechanisms related to the Flood as well. Similarly, Old Earth Creationists exist upon a spectrum, though Rau’s principles about what unites them are correct. However, OECs are often confused with other views along the spectrum such as directed evolution. Strictly speaking, an Old Earth Creationist will not hold to the notion that speciation occurs on such a broad scale through evolution.

Conclusion

I have utilized Rau’s work to demonstrate there is a spectrum of beliefs related to the origins debate. The spectrum, I have argued, is even broader than Rau showed. Within each category he listed, there may be subdivisions. Moreover, there are some views which eschew attempts to dilineate the scientific truths but simply ascribe to reading the text. These latter views would fit with essentially any along the spectrum of beliefs so long as God is involved.

The purpose of this post is not to sow confusion for those interested in the topic of origins. Rather, it is to demonstrate that there really are more options on the table than either Young Earth Creationism or Theistic Evolutionism. Within either of those views there is much diversity, and there is a whole range in-between. Thus, let us hope that when we discuss origins we avoid falsely portraying the positions as being so limited that we fail to account for the range. Hopefully, this taxonomy will prove helpful.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Gerald Rau, Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2012).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate

bnye-kham-debateToday, Ken Ham, a young earth creationist, debated against Bill Nye an agnostic famous for “The Science Guy” program, on the topic: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s scientific era?” The debate was watched by over 500,000 people and generated a huge amount of interest. Here, I’ll review the debate section by section. Then, I’ll offer some thoughts on the content as well as a concluding summary. If you watched the debate, you may want to just skip down to the Analysis section. The debate may be watched here for a limited time (skip to 13 minutes in to start debate).

Ken Ham Opening

Ham began by noting that many prominent scientists argue that scientists should not debate creationists. He wondered aloud whether that might be because creationism is indeed a viable model and some don’t want that to be shown. He then showed a video of a creationist who was a specialist in science and an inventor, noting that creationism is not mutually exclusive from science.

The three primary points Ham focused on were 1) the definitions of terms; 2) interpretation of the evidence; and 3) the age of the universe is not observational science. Regarding the first, Ham noted that science means knowledge and so evolutionists cannot claim to be doing science. Regarding the second, he argued that both creationists and evolutionists observe the same evidence; they simply interpret that evidence differently. Regarding the third, Ham observed that “We weren’t there” at the beginning of the Earth and so we can’t know through observational science what happened.

Bill Nye Opening

Nye noted that the primary contention of the topic was to see whether the creation model lined up with the evidence. Thus, we must compare Ken Ham’s creation model to the “mainstream” model of science (his word). There are, he contended, major difficulties with Ham’s model, including the fossils found in layers in the Grand Canyon. He noted that there is “not a single place” where fossils of one type cross over with fossils of a different type or era. Yet, on a creation model, one would expect vast amounts of mixing. Thus, the creation model fails to account for the observational evidence.

Nye also noted that there are “billions of people ” who are religious and do not hold to creation science.

Ham Presentation

Ham again emphasized the importance of defining terms. He then presented a few more videos of creationists who are active scientists in various fields. One, a Stuart Burgess [I think I typed that correctly] claimed that he knew many colleagues who expressed interest in creationism but were afraid for their careers.

Non-Christians, Ham alleged, are borrowing from the Christian worldview in order to do science. The reason for this is because their own worldview cannot account for the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, or the laws of nature. He asked Nye to explain how to account for these aspects of reality without God.

The past cannot be observed directly, he said, and concluded that we can’t be certain that the present is like the past. Thus, we must only deal with the observed facts that we can see now. On this point, the disagreements are over the interpretation of the evidence. That is, there is a set of evidence that both people like Nye and Ham approach. According to Ham, it is their worldviews which color their interpretation of the evidence such that they use the same evidence and get entirely contradictory conclusions.

The diversity of species which is observed is only, Ham argued, difference in “kind.” Thus, it cannot be used as evidence for evolution. The word “evolution” has been “hijacked” and used as evidence for unobservable phenomena extrapolated from that which is observed. The various species demonstrate a “creation orchard” as opposed to an “evolutionary tree.” One may observe different creatures, like dogs, each stemming from an a common origin, but none of these are traceable back to common descent, rather they exhibit discontinuity in the fossil record.

There is a major difference, Ham alleged, between “observational sciences” which looks at the things we can see in repeatable events now and “historical sciences” which extrapolates from the evidence gathered what happened in the past. We can never truly have “knowledge” regarding the historical sciences.

Nye Presentation

Nye began his presentation by noting that the debate took place in Kentucky and “here… we’re standing on layer upon layer upon layer of limestone.” The limestone is made of fossils of creatures which lived entire lives (twenty or more years in many cases) and then died, piled up on top of each other, and formed the limestone underneath much of the state. The amount of time needed for this is much longer than just a few thousand years.

Nye also turned to evidence from ice cores, which would require 170 winter/summer cycles per year for at least a thousand years to generate the current amount of ice built up. In California, there are trees which are extremely ancient, and some trees are even older, possibly as old as 9000 or more years old. Apart from the difficulty of the age of these trees, one must also wonder how they survived a catastrophic flood.

When looking at a place like the Grand Canyon, one never finds lower layer animals mixed with higher level animals. One should expect to find these given a flood. Nye challenged Ham to present just one evidence of the mixing of fossils of different eras together; he said it would be a major blow to the majority sciences.

If the flood explains animal life and its survival, one should observe the migration of animals across the earth in the fossil record; thus a Kangaroo should be found not just in Australia but along the way from wherever the Ark rested. However, these finds are not observed. Finally, the Big Bang has multiple lines of evidence which confirm it as the origin of the universe.

Ham Rebuttal

Ham argued that we can’t observe the age of the Earth. No science can measure it through observational evidence; rather it falls under historical sciences. One should add the genealogies in the Genesis account in order to find the age of the Earth. Whenever a scientist talks about the past, “we’ve got a problem” because they are not speaking from observation: they were not there.

Various radiometric dating methods turn up radically divergent ages for artifacts from the same time period and layer of rocks. The only infallible interpreter of the evidence is God, who provided a record in the Bible.

Nye Rebuttal

Rocks are able to slide in such a way as to interpose different dated objects next to each other.

Nye noted that Ham kept saying we “can’t observe the past,” but that is exactly what is done in astronomy: no observation of stars is not observing the past. Indeed, it takes a certain amount of time for the light to get to Earth from these various stars. The notion that lions and the like ate vegetables is, he argued, preposterous. Perhaps, he asserted, the difficulty is with Ham’s interpretation of the biblical text.

Nye then compared the transmission of the text of the Bible to the telephone game.

Ham Counter-Rebuttal

Ham again pressed that natural laws only work within a biblical worldview. There only needed to be about 1000 kinds represented aboard the ark in order to represent all the current species. Bears have sharp teeth yet eat vegetables.

Nye Counter-Rebuttal

Nye asserted that Ham’s view fails to address fundamental questions like the layers of ice. The notion that there were even fewer “kinds” (about 1000) means that the problem for Ham is even greater: the species would have had to evolve at extremely rapid rates, sometimes even several species a day, in order to account for all the differences of species today.

Q+A

I’ll not cover every single question, instead, I wanted to make note of two major things that came up in the Q+A session.

First, Nye’s answer to any question which challenged him on things like where the matter for the Big Bang came from was to assert that it’s a great mystery and we should find out one day. Second, Ham’s response to any question which (even hypothetically) asked him to consider the possibility that he would be wrong was to assert that such a situation was impossible. In other words, he presupposed he was correct and held to the impossibility that he could be wrong.

Analysis

Ken Ham

Ken Ham’s position was based upon his presuppositional apologetic. He continued to press that it is one’s worldview which colors the interpretation of evidence. The facts, he argued, remained the same for either side. It was what they brought to the facts that led to the radically different interpretations.

There is something to be said for this; it is surely true that we do have assumptions we bring to the table when interpreting the evidence. However, apart from the problem that Ham’s presuppositional approach with creationism is unjustified, Ham failed to deal with facts which really do shoot major holes in his theory. For example, it simply is true that, as Nye noted, when we observe the stars or distant galaxies, we are observing the past. Ham was just wrong on this regard. Moreover, other observational evidence (though not directly showing the past) does demonstrate that the Earth cannot be so young as Ham supposes. Furthermore, his hard and fast distinction between historical sciences and observational sciences is more of a rhetorical device than anything.

Ham’s position, I would argue, fails to account for the evidence which Nye raised (along with a number of other difficulties). Moreover, he 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. However, I did appreciate Ham’s focus on the Gospel message. It was refreshing to have him present a call to belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior in front of such a massive audience.

Bill Nye

Nye did an okay job of trying to show that there may be more to the debate than simply creationism-or-bust for Christianity. Indeed, he actually went so far as to say there is “no conflict” between science and faith. Instead, he argued that Ham’s position is the one which generates such a conflict. His rebuttals provided some major reasons to think that Ham’s creationism could not account for the evidence. In particular, the difficulties presented by the proliferation of species after the flood and the fossil record were solid evidences.

However, Nye’s presentations had a couple difficulties. First, he failed to account for polystrate fossils: the very thing he challenged Ham to present. There really are such things as fossils which are found out of sequence (thanks to ElijiahT and SkepticismFirst on Twitter for this). That’s not to say they prove young earth creationism. Far from it. So Nye seems to have been mistaken on this point. Second, he presented the Big Bang theory as though Fred Hoyle somehow came up with the hypothesis, yet Hoyle is well known for denying the Big Bang. Third, the notion that the interpretation, translation, and transmission of the Bible through time is anything like the telephone game is a tiresome and simply mistaken metaphor.

Both

Both men were extremely respectful and I appreciated their candor. Each had several good points; each had some major flaws in their positions. The dialogue as a whole was interesting and helpful.

Conclusion

Readers by now should realize that I have to confess my title is a bit misleading. I was impressed by the tone of both speakers, though I thought they each made major gaffes alongside some decent points. The bottom line is that I find it unfortunate that we were exposed to a false dichotomy: either creationism or naturalism. There is more to the story. As far as “who won” the debate, I would argue that because of this false dichotomy, neither truly won. However, it seemed to me Ham had a more cohesive 30 presentation. That is, his presentation stayed more focused. Nye’s presentation jumped around quite a bit and had less directness to it. So far as “debate tactics” are concerned, one might chalk that up to a win for Ham. However, Nye successfully dismantled Ham’s presentation in the rebuttal periods. Thus, one was left with the impression that Ham’s view was indeed based upon his presupposition of its truth, while Nye was more open to the evidence. Again, I think both are wrong in many areas, but I hope that Nye’s tearing down of Ham’s position will not demonstrate to some that Christianity is false. As Nye noted, it may instead be Ham’s interpretation which is wrong.

There was much more to cover here than I could get to, so please do leave a comment to continue the discussion.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Naturalis Historia- This site is maintained by a biologist who presents a number of serious difficulties for young earth creationism.

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth- I attended a debate between an old earth and young earth creationist (the latter from Answers in Genesis like Ken Ham). Check out my overview of the debate as well as my analysis.

Debate Review: Fazale Rana vs. Michael Ruse on “The Origin of Life: Evolution vs. Design”- Theist Fazale Rana debated atheist Michael Ruse on the origin of life. I found this a highly informative and respectful debate.

Reasons to Believe- a science-faith think tank from an old-earth perspective.

Other Reviews of the Debate

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye post-debate analysis- The GeoChristian has a brief overview of the debate with a focus on what each got right or wrong.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Aftermath- Luke Nix over at Faithful Thinkers has another thoughtful review. His post focuses much more on the topic of the debate as opposed to a broad overview. Highly recommended.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Debate of the Decade?- Interested in what led up to this debate? Check out my previous post on the topic in which I urged Christians to write on this debate and also traced, briefly, the controversy leading up to this debate.

The image used in this post is was retrieved at Christianity Today and I believe it’s origin is with Answers in Genesis. I use it under fair use to critique the views. I make no claims to owning the rights to the image, and I believe the image, as well as “The Creation Museum” are copyright of Answers in Genesis.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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