I recently argued that Young Earth Creationism makes a theological blunder in that its picture of God is morally impermissible. Please read the full post here, as well as my response to the Answers in Genesis critique here.
The post has generated a large amount of discussion and a number of critiques. I am thankful for numerous thoughtful responses and while I can’t respond to all of them I’d like to at least answer a few more criticisms.
First, let me restate the argument:
1. If animals did not die before the fall, then their death must be the result of sin.
2. Animals are incapable of sinning (they are not morally responsible agents)
3. Therefore, animal death must be the result of a morally culpable agent’s sin.
From this, I concluded that because God kills animals due to Adam’s sin, and not their own, this would make God unjust. As I noted in my response to Answers in Genesis, “The argument as it stands contains a few assumptions which I’ve found in YEC literature. 1) Animals did not die before the fall; 2) Death is inherently a bad thing; 3) all physical death is the result of sin. Now a denial of these assumptions can undermine my argument; I grant that. My point is that if one holds to these three assumptions, my argument shows that YEC is morally impermissible.”
I’d like to thank Rev. Tony Breeden for his thoughtful criticism of my post, but still offer my response and hope that any dialog that continues can ensure that iron sharpens iron.
One criticism that has been repeated, and Rev. Breeden continues in this vein, is “At no point does his [my, J.W.’s] argument start with the Bible because he is supposing he can simply use Young earth Creationism’s presuppositions against us. So he’s not asking if Young Earth Creationism is Biblically correct but whether it will stand up to his rational critique. In this regard, his objection is more philosophical than theological.”
Others, like Elizabeth Mitchell at Answers in Genesis, have stated the objection more simply, “He cites no Scripture…”
Again, I must reiterate that in no way is exegesis the limit of theology. Those who wish to discredit my argument by this subtly veiled ad hominem seem to be unaware of the entire practice of analytic theology. I can’t help but think that these two examples are much less an attempt at getting to the issues as they are an attempt to discredit me personally because I did not use a passage from Scripture in my argument. Let me point out something: if someone’s theological background leads their position to paint a portrait of God that is unjust, that is very much a theological problem.
Moving on, the Rev. Breeden writes, “In any case, we can firmly establish that he’s not starting with the Bible as his ultimate authority.”
I’m very curious as to where this statement comes from. Clearly, God is my ultimate authority. The Bible, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is God’s inerrant word. I can’t help but think that this quotation is a not-so-subtle ad hominem. Perhaps it’s not, but one can’t help but wish that those criticizing my argument had stuck to the premises rather than going off on tangents and speculation.
Unfortunately, that is not the only tacit hint at my lack of Christian fortuity hinted at in the article. The Rev. proceeds to say, “In his rebuttal, Wartick admits that he remains oblivious [to Romans 8:20-22]…” Of course, in the post to which he is referring, I do not say anywhere that I remain oblivious. Rather, I pointed out that the verses do not establish that which Answers in Genesis (and apparently Rev. Breeden) want them to.
Thankfully, Rev. Breeden does turn to the arguments eventually. He agrees with my contention that animals are not moral agents (he says that it is “true enough”). Yet the Rev. does not believe that God’s character is called into question despite the notion that if YEC’s contentions are true then God would have apparently decided to start killing animals due to Adam’s sin. Rather, he turns to Romans 8:20-22 and a bit of exegesis in order to draw out this point.
Writes Breeden, “The passage referenced [Romans 8:20-22] notes that all of creation has come under the bondage of corruption. It also admits that the whole of creation was not made subject to this futility willingly, which admits the point that it suffers but not of any decision it made itself. So why was it made bondage to decay, so that the whole of creation groans and travails in pain until now?”
Again, as I read this, I note that there is nothing here which states that animals did not die before the fall. Rather, as will be seen shortly, it seems the YEC control belief that animals could not have died before the fall forces this interpretation of the passage. Note that Rev. Breeden’s own words say that creation is subject to bondage and decay. There is nothing which mentions the explicit death of animals suddenly starting to occur post-fall.
Moving on, he writes, “The answer is found in Genesis 1:28, where God gave dominion over all creation to Adam. This is the answer to Wartick’s objection and to the more common atheist objection that God is unjust for making the rest of us culpable for Adam’s sin: just as when a kingdom suffers for the actions of its king, all of creation [including animals and humanity itself] suffered for the sin of the one who had been given dominion over them.”
Now this is the exact response one astute reader of the original post gave, and I admitted that this does seem to have some plausibility (of course my admission to plausibility was translated by Rev. Breeden into “So it appears his argument is refuted by his own admission…” which is hardly the case–again it seems that I am refused a fair hearing. But what is the problem with this interpretation? Let’s look at the verse in question, Genesis 1:28:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (NIV)
Does this verse establish a link between Adam’s death and animal death? I do not see how it does, at all. In fact, one could just as plausibly read it in conjunction with Romans 8:20-22 to show that mankind’s fallen state has lead to a misuse of man’s dominion over the earth which has indeed subjected it to decay and ruin–as anyone who does research on our impact on the environment could attest to. Such a reading does no damage to the text. Adam’s fall led to the corruption and decay of the earth due to Adam’s subjugation and dominion over it.
As pointed out by GeoChristian, the passages YECs cite to support their contentions only lead to this support if one assumes YEC is correct to begin with. And here again we see that the reading of Genesis 1:28 in conjunction with Romans 8:20-22 is linked to animal only by the control belief that animal death is the consequence of the fall. The verses don’t say anything about animal death; that is simply read into the text.
Thus, it seems to me that despite my initial nod to the potential plausibility of this response, the texts that YECs use to support it do not offer anything near the robustness of the link between Adam’s dominion and animals’ death that is required for their position.
Moving on with the ad hominiems, we find that:
“For example, he [I, J.W. Wartick] suggests that a traditional orthodox reading of the text is incorrect and must be modified. This impugns the doctrine known as the perspicuity of Scripture, for he suggests that the traditional reading of Genesis is unclear; it also suggests a form of neo-Gnosticism, for it suggests that the Scriptures cannot be understood without an understanding of 21st century science. While he claims that his argument shows that the traditional Biblical interpretation of Genesis is morally impermissible, he admits that his argument is partly a reaction to [dare I say, rebellion against] the point that a compromise with extraBiblical millions of years requires pre-Fall animal death, and that, as he notes, ‘animal death before the fall makes God morally questionable.'”
I would like the Reverend Breeden to point out where I made these assertions. Nowhere have I suggested that a “traditional orthodox reading of the text is incorrect” (unless one assumes that the YEC reading is the traditional, orthodox reading, contrary to evidence that as far back as Augustine, this has not been the required reading). Further, I do not suggest that reading Genesis is unclear. I have nowhere done this. Nor do I endorse neo-Gnosticism.
I noted on his blog that there seemed to be at least one subtle ad hominem in his post (and one seemingly can’t deny the string of unestablished claims about my Christian character above) and the Rev Breeden responded, saying “This is not an attack on you personally, but on your presuppositions, which begin with man’s fallible ideas rather than the Bible…”
I must object and point out this is simply false. One can’t help but notice several points throughout the post where Rev Breeden poisons the well regarding my character. A quick survey: “If you’re reading that from an orthodox Christian worldview [contrasted with my worldview]…”; “we can firmly establish that he’s [meaning me, J.W.] not starting with the Bible as his ultimate authority”; “if he were to examine the consequences of his own worldview, he would come to some troubling conclusions” [again suggesting that I am not an orthodox Christian]; “your [my, J.W.’s] presuppositions, which begin with man’s fallible ideas rather than the Bible” [in other words, I am accused of not taking the Bible as authoritative (again)]; “I would expect an apologist to recognize the difference between an ad hominem and a critique of one’s starting points” [a not-so-subtle hint that I am an inadequate apologist].
I’ll let the reader decide here. Read through my site, and notice that I defend the inerrancy of the Bible; that I argue for the existence of God; affirm the deity of Christ; have defended the Trinity against errors; have continually attacked naturalism; etc. Contrast that with Rev Breeden’s comments, in which he implies repeatedly that I am not orthodox, that I am “oblivious” to the Bible, and that I do not use Scripture as a starting point for my theology.
Frankly, I’m insulted, but I’m here going to publicly offer my forgiveness to the Reverend Breeden for his hopefully unintentional poisoning of the well in regards to my character. If he wishes to continue this dialog, I’d be happy to do so… but only provided he abstains from insulting my character in the process.
To sum up my answer to this criticism. First, my argument clearly has not been answered by “Defending Genesis.” As I pointed out, the majority of the criticisms were in fact just thinly veiled (if at all) insults, for which I have offered forgiveness. The substantive part of the critique focused upon a few verses for which I’ve pointed out at least one alternative, and which I have noted do not, in fact, establish the point that “Defending Genesis” attempted to make. I pointed out that only with the assumed truth of the control belief that animal death is the result of the fall will those verses be read as YECs do. I noted that the case for linking animal death to Adam’s dominion is not nearly as robust as it would have to be in order to establish the link YECs hope to establish.
Thus, it seems my argument has not been refuted. It still seems that if we grant the YEC control belief that animal death is inherently bad and link it to the fact (granted by “Defending Genesis”) that animals are not moral agents then we find that according to the theological tenants of YEC, God unjustly punishes animals.
Finally, I have made an appeal to those in this debate to stay away from personal attacks. I have demonstrated that I have already weathered some of these, but have offered my forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ for these personal attacks. Going forward, I hope these can be avoided.