This is the third post in an ongoing series discussing the origins debate within Christianity. Click here for more posts in this series.
Before I delve too deeply into this post I wanted to raise a point a dear friend of mine made in a discussion we had recently. As Christians, there really is no need to jump on board with any of these labels. We don’t need to sit back, look at all the evidence, and then call ourselves theistic evolutionists, advocates of intelligent design, creationists, or any other label. Really, we’re all Christians, and we can take our Christian belief with us in this debate. My own presuppositions are of course that the Bible is the innerrant word of God, that the Ecumenical Creeds accurately describe the beliefs of the catholic faith, and that this faith is what saves (Ephesians 2:8-9), by the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God the Father, and the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, while this debate is certainly an interesting, mind-bending task, we shouldn’t feel any need to jump on board any bandwagon. If, as Christians, we see merit in the Young Earth Creationist camp, but also some merit in the Old Earth Camp, we have no reason not to take what we believe from each side. Similarly, if we really think Theistic Evolution is where it’s at, but see some validity in the Intelligent Design arguments, there is no reason to not combine both. We don’t need to assign labels to ourselves.
There is no reason to treat these things like political parties and then duke it out. Instead, we can use our Christian presuppositions to engage this dialogue. Thus, while I am exploring these issues, keep in mind that this is what I am trying to do. I want to allow God’s work (nature) to speak for itself and I know that this work does not contradict His Word (Scripture). So let’s let the dialogue continue, shall we?
I must make a clarification here and say that my definition of “Old Earth Creationism” is incorrect. Old Earth Creationism is, rather, the belief that the Biblical account of Creation is correct, as are many of the findings of mainstream science (i.e. the universe is billions of years old, etc.). Old Earth Creationism (hereafter OEC) contains a huge variety of beliefs in its camp, so keep that in mind when discussing these issues.
My reading for OEC was the book More than a Theory by Hugh Ross. I’m not going to outline everything Hugh Ross is saying. Instead, I’ll present briefly the OEC beliefs he is arguing for (including the theological stance), outline the “testable model for creation” that Ross argues for, and analyze as I can.
Hugh Ross states that there is no reason why people who desire to remain true to the Word of God need to reject the current scientific consensus on issues like the age of the universe, the Big Bang, and the like. Rather, Ross argues that Christians can accept all of these things and even find them in Scripture. Ross makes the argument that in Genesis, the days can indeed many period of times, citing the familiar argument that the very same word in Hebrew (yohm) is used in order to state the periods in which God created the world. but also to imply analogously that God’s time is not our time, for a thousand years to God are as a day to us (Psalm 90:4). I tend to agree with Ross on this point. I don’t see any definitive reason to take the Hebrew word yohm to mean twenty-four hours, necessarily, as it is used in other ways throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
A key point for argument within Ross’s creation model (he calls it the “Reasons to Believe” model, and I will refer to it as the RTB model from now on) is the use of Scripture. Rather than citing the more commonly used Psalm 19, Ross turns to Psalm 104 to argue that Scripture outlined scientific findings before they happened (85).
Ross also argues that the various references to God stretching out the heavens “like a tent” is wholly compatible with the Big Bang theory of universal origins, according to which our universe is still expanding (as a tent).
Perhaps the most important piece of interpretation Ross offers for this debate within Christianity is his rebuttal to the “original sin” challenge to any who argue evolution could have been used by God (see the post on theistic evolution, linked above). Ross argues that Adam and Eve were indeed specially created and that death, both physical and (potentially) spiritual were the consequences to mankind of sin. “The whole of Scripture confirms that only humans, among all life created on Earth, can (and do) sin. Therefore, this ‘death through sin’ applies to humans alone, not to plants and animals. In addition, the passage [Romans 5:12] states specifically that this ‘death came to all men.’ It does not say ‘to all creation’ or ‘to all creatures.’ The verses make no apparent reference to plant or animal life, nor do other parallel passages…” (85). Later, Ross argues that this claim for the special creation of man is not unscientific, as he offers reasons to reject man’s evolutionary ancestry from primates (181ff).
I think that this is Ross’ best point. If his RTB model does indeed avoid the weighty challenge of “original sin,” he has hit upon something major within Christianity.
Now, the model itself. Ross never really comes out in the book and says “This is the RTB model”, rather, he presents sort of an outline:
- began once in finite time
- has a beginning that coincides with the beginning of space and time
- was not made from that which is material, visible, or detectable
- continuously expands from the beginning
- is governed by the laws of physics
- manifests precise fine-tuning for humanity’s benefit
- has enormous volume, encompassing an “uncountable” (to ancient peoples) number of stars
- contains stars that differ from one another and eventually stop shining
- will someday cease to exist
- emerged from the cosmos at a specific time
- was enshrouded by an opaque cloud layer in the beginning
- began with an ocean that covered its whole surface
- was precisely fine-tuned for humanity’s benefit
- contains resources essential for launching and sustaining human civilization
- has a Sun and Moon and other astronomical companions specially designed to benefit life and humanity
- carries finite resources and time-limiting conditions for sustaining human civilization
- began early in Earth’s history
- began under hostile conditions
- began by divine intervention
- began with optimal ecological relationships
- began with optimal design for environmental conditions
- appeared in abundance, in diversity, and for long eras for the specific benefit of humanity
- started as physical only (most life-forms); then soulish creatures (many species) appeared; and finally, one spiritual species was introduced–an original pair of humans and all their descendants
- progresses from the simple to complex through a series of extinction and replacement (speciation events
- reflects shared common designs
- in its soulish characteristics, appears designed to serve and/or please humanity
- arrived late in Earth’s history
- resulted from divine intervention
- represents the culmination of God’s creation work on earth
- remains the only earthly creature with a spiritual nature
- descended from one man and one woman who lived in a God-designed garden near the juncture of Africa, Asia, and Europe
- migrated rapidly from area of origin shortly after the flood of Noah’s time
- experienced a significant drop in the potential life span after the time of the flood
- genetically bottlenecked at a later date for males than for females…
- was gifted from the outset with attributes needed for functioning in a high-tech civilization (89-91)”
The major point that jumps out at me about this model is the “soulish” creatures. Ross argues that some animals, like birds, dogs, cats, etc. are “soulish” and are better able to relate to mankind, thus pointing to design of life for humanity. I don’t think he develops this point strongly, nor does he present Biblical evidence for this point. I don’t see it as all that important, however.
Ross’ scientific argument is strong as far as I can tell, but as I said in the first post in this series, I am no scientist. Ross essentially accepts that the big bang was the start of the universe (and space-time), that the placement of earth was fine-tuned to an extremely minuscule accuracy, that life on earth was supernaturally generated, that life evolved (but was guided or “designed”), and that mankind was specifically created. This is the very basic outline. I will be discussing individual parts in future posts about OEC.
Overall, Ross makes a rather powerful argument throughout the work for the scientific and Biblical backing for most of the steps of the model outlined above. I’m not going to go into each specific step here, but I will in future posts. For now, I will say that I think Ross is definitely on to something here. I’m still mulling over his interpretation of Scripture, but I appreciate his no-nonsense approach. He clearly states that the Bible is authoritative and without error. Once I finished this book I was really excited to write this post out and get on to more reading from other sides of the debate. I’ll be looking into more stuff from the RTB model, as well.
One can read more about the RTB model at this site.
Ross, Hugh. More than a Theory. Baker Books. 2009.
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