creationism

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Book Review: “Friend of Science, Friend of Faith” by Gregg Davidson

There are times when you read a book and realize it will be foundational going forward for your understanding of a certain topic. Gregg Davidson’s Friend of Science, Friend of Faith: Listening to God in His Works and Word is a book that will surely be formative for this reader on science and faith issues. It is a rigorous, insightful examination of the intersection of Christianity and science that will surprise, delight, and challenge almost any reader.

Science and Christianity is one of those topics that seems so overdone that it may feel as though nothing new can be written on it. But Davidson has written a book that will be refreshing for those who’ve already (as I have) read hundreds of books on the topic. Davidson starts off simply, noting the way that many have created a scenario for a crisis of faith by painting mainstream science as in direct opposition to aspects of Christianity and the Bible. Davidson notes that there are three essential questions when assessing apparent science-Bible tensions (wording and questions on p. 23): 1. Does the infallibility of Scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question? 2. Does science conflict with the intended message of Scripture? 3. Is the science credible?

These questions form the basis for much of the rest of the book, but Davidson approaches them in ways that are informative and even surprising for those who have trod much of this ground before. One of the many examples of this is right near the beginning, as Davidson goes over the conflict over Heliocentrism vs. Scripture. First, Davidson notes that it was not just Roman Catholics who had problems with Galileo, citing Martin Luther and John Calvin’s own objections to the man’s theory. Second, Davidson notes the real shift in interpretation on Scripture here–something that is integral to the story but often skated over. Christians really were reading passages literally and seeing this as conflict with Scripture. Davidson then filters the Heliocentrism debate through his three questions presented above, noting the way that believers were forced to re-evaluate commonly held notions about Scripture. The conclusion is that science can force us to go back to the text and test our interpretation to see whether it is accurate.

Davidson also argues extensively for accommodation in Scripture. Through his arguments, it becomes clear that Christians must either accept for accommodation of worldviews that had mistaken views of science present in Scripture or deny reality. This is a strong dichotomy, but one example is the question of seeds. Jesus clearly states that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds (Mark 4:30-32), and it decidedly is not (forget-me-nots, celery, poppies, orchids, and sundews all have smaller seeds). Moreover, Jesus says that grains of wheat die in order to produce more wheat (John 12:24), but seeds do not die in order to grow. Readers who insist on a lack of accommodation in Scripture must therefore live in the uncomfortable realm where Jesus was mistaken on the size of seeds or how plants grow. This is just one of the examples Davidson raises, in addition to answering common objections (like the attempt to argue these are simply phenomenological language) (43ff).

Davidson goes on to note several parts of Scripture that cannot be read literally, problems with insisting on modern science as the real rationale behind several passages dealing with things like the firmament (see 64ff), and how to read Genesis well.

Next, Davidson moves on to the question of whether modern science conflicts with Scripture. This fascinating part of the book sees Davidson showing biblical accounts of things like creation, the origin of life, and more, showing the scientific explanations for these, and then offering a synthesis. This synthesis, it ought to be noted, is not a Concordist view of Scripture that attempts to say modern science is found in Scripture. Instead, Davidson’s syntheses are offered to show that modern science does not conflict with Scripture, a substantive difference that makes a significant change for how Scripture is treated alongside science.

The next part of the book addresses whether modern science is credible. First, Davidson notes the difference between science and philosophy, and how many on almost any side of the science/faith debates conflate the two, insisting that materalism just is science or the like (121ff). Then follows several chapters outlining in clear, distinct ways the science behind things like the age of the universe and Earth, evidence for evolution from many, many different lines of evidence, and problems with various creationist accounts of the same. At no point does Davidson denigrate his opponents, but he instead offers incisive criticisms that demonstrate flaws in their systems.

Several more chapters address problems with creation science, the strange and somewhat surprising shift of so many young earth creationists to effectively endorsing hyper-evolution, and problems with Intelligent Design. Davidson addresses many common creationist arguments and demonstrates their flaws. For example, the argument that millions of years was invented to challenge Christian faith is fatally mistaken due to the fact that many geologists who discovered deep time professed their Christian faith alongside their discoveries. Soft tissue found in dinosaur bones is another argument addressed, showing that the molecular structure of preserved proteins in dinosaur tissue actually show more similarity to birds than reptiles, and that the discovery of rare soft tissue does not, in fact, demonstrate a young earth (219-220). Many more arguments are addressed. Prominent young earth groups like Answers in Genesis have been offering scenarios where rapid speciation occurred post-Flood in order to explain away many difficulties with a certain reading of the Ark narrative. Davidson notes many problems with this scenario, including the lack of time for generational adaptation, the existence of isolated populations, and the misuse of loss of information in genetic coding to explain speciation.

Davidson’s analysis of Intelligent Design points out several flaws with the movement and its arguments. For one, he shows the major difference between William Paley’s original advocacy of design, which was seen as something across all of nature and served as a very broad argument, and modern ID theory which focuses on a few specific instances that are said to point to design. Davidson argues that “if evidence of God is found primarily in places of nature that are beyond our current comprehension, then evidence for God is–almost by definition–continuously shrinking” (261). Moreover, even in the time of people like Leibniz, arguments were already being offered against design of specific features, because they could just as easily be seen as evidence of inefficient design or the need to correct a very good creation. Another problem with ID is that its hypothesis is, ultimately, untestable. Though it is argued that ID can be seen as science, science must be testable, and any number of ways to consider an experiment to try to demonstrate ID fail (264ff). Finally, Davidson closes with a summary of the work and how he’s offered a way forward that won’t lead to the crises of faith noted at the beginning of the book.

It should be noted that the book is richly illustrated in black-and-white with many charts, graphs, and pictures that always add to the text and which often are used to highlight specific ideas or topics.

Friend of Science, Friend of Faith is simply fantastic. It’s the kind of single-volume look at science and faith that could be handed to almost anyone to challenge assumptions and lead to new learning on the topic. I cannot recommend it highly enough; it’s that excellent.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

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.

“We Believe in Dinosaurs” – The Ark Encounter Examined

The Ark Encounter is a controversial attempt to create a monument to what one group of people sees as biblical truth. “We Believe in Dinosaurs” documents the making of the Ark, both before and after, through several different lenses–a creationist working on the project, a geologist opposing it, an atheist protesting it, a woman who speaks in defense of creationism, a business owner hoping it will revitalize the town, a pastor who sees it as too closely uniting church and state, and a young Christian man who’s changed his mind. Recently, I had the chance to watch the documentary on PBS. It’s also available on Amazon.

One thing that makes the documentary so fascinating is that range of voices and perspectives it presents. Doug Henderson is the lead project designer at the Creation Museum and in the documentary he helped design the exhibits and leads a team making animals to go on the Ark, among other things. He’s a fully convinced Young Earth Creationist who believes the world is about 6,000 years old and that a global flood can account for the geologic record of our planet. He admits to having some doubts in the past, but that he resolved those doubts through a firm reliance on what he sees as the correct way to interpret the Bible. One of the most poignant moments of the documentary has him appealing to the camera with the notion that “I’m not crazy” and that he’s just as normal as anyone else, he just believes the Earth is young. It’s a rare, emotionally vivid moment in creation-evolution debates where the facade of certainty is stripped away and, as a viewer, one can witness that these are real people with real concerns. It’s powerful.

David Macmillan used to be a young earth creationist, and even donated enough to have his name on the wall at the Creation Museum. His own journey led him to question the truth of young earth creationism and he points out that it was a questioning of the rigidity of interpretation as well as scientific findings that caused him to change his view. As a viewer, he related to me quite a bit because his journey is very similar to my own.

Dan Phelps is a geologist who thinks the Ark Encounter is anti-science and has done the work to demonstrate it. But he rose to prominence in opposition to the project not because of geological disputes but due to his taking issue with tax dollars being used to supplement the building of the Ark. What was most alarming to him was that the Ark Encounter’s job applications at every level, whether project leader or janitor, required strict adherence to the full statement of faith of Answers in Genesis. This meant not only that atheists need not apply, as his op-ed got titled, but also that no Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, and even many, many Christians need apply either. To have this kind of hiring policy while also getting government money was alarming, and the documentary follows the fight against this government funding. Ultimately, this battle was lost and the Ark Encounter received grants and other aid from both state and local governments, despite claims both that the Ark is an evangelistic tool and the strict hiring practices.

One of the most alarming parts of the film is found when Jim Helten, President of the Tri-State Freethinkers (an atheist organization) who raised money to make billboards slamming the Ark Encounter and Creation museum as the “Genocide and Incest” museum is interviewed for the radio. What’s alarming about this is the way the Christian reacts to the atheist in this encounter. Jim alleges that the Ark implies incest and genocide because the flood kills everyone not on the ark, whether innocent or not, and then that the world has to get repopulated through incest because only Noah’s family was on the Ark. One can debate the nuance (or lack thereof) of Jim’s interpretation, but the Christian on the other end of the line turns around and immediately consigns Jim to hell. He says he’ll pray for Jim to not be in hell, but finally becomes unhinged and says “and there’ll be a million serpents biting your legs for eternity” as though that’s a reasonable response to Jim’s charges and his efforts to put up somewhat inflammatory billboards. Jim points out that he’s being threatened with eternal torture for asking for evidence. It’s another one of the moments that the documentary does so well of creating times to think and reflect and wonder. How is it possible that an ostensibly Christian person would think such a response was justified–and where did the line about the serpents come from?

A major aspect of the documentary is showing the Ark Encounter’s impact on the local community. It’s not clear what explicit promises were made, but it is clear that the people of Williamstown, Kentucky were given the impression that the Ark Encounter would bring a business boom to their community and help revitalize a downtown that Jamie Baker, interviewed in the documentary, said was so slow at times you could almost see tumbleweeds. The documentary covers several aspects of this hope, showing one group singing a song about their excitement related to the Ark Encounter. Just a few years later, that same place is a vacant facade, to go along with all the other places for sale or rent in a downtown that hasn’t been helped at all. One person in the documentary said they were promised shuttles would bring people into town to eat and shop, but that they only rarely see even a car driving through.

It is not clear, again, what promises were made to the people of Williamstown, but whatever hopes were raised have since, apparently, been crushed. The Ark Encounter isn’t helping the community in a monetary way so far as one can tell from the documentary. This, despite the city selling 78 acres of land to the Ark Encounter for $1 and giving them $175,000. This may not seem like a big problem–businesses make promises and bully people into helping them turn a profit all the time. But the Ark Encounter is an ostensibly Christian exhibit! Its staff has to subscribe to a strict statement of faith. One would expect integrity and openness from such people, not attacks on people who question their practices and attempts to block or obfuscate information related to their exhibit.

“We Believe in Dinosaurs” is a fascinating, challenging watch. It presents many sides, both sympathetic and not, related to the Ark Encounter. I haven’t even gone over several other people who show up in the documentary, and there’s much more there. I highly recommend it to anyone, given its broad range of interests from religious freedom, church and state issues, questions about science and faith, and more.

Links

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.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

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– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!

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: “The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context” by Michael LeFebvre

The common saying that “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” applies perhaps especially well to theology. It shouldn’t be surprising, as it is a topic that attempts to make sense of the infinite. Questions in Christianity about creation abound. Modern debates are often more heat than light, with apparently no way to come to an understanding. Michael LeFebvre’s The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context is a book that can help to break that deadlock and help readers learn about some of the context and meaning of key Old Testament passages.

The core of LeFebvre’s thesis is that the Old Testament narratives center around key aspects of everyday life in their temporal contexts. Specifically, the heavenly lights and the agricultural cycle–which crops could be grown when, harvest time, etc.–helped ground those who spoke and wrote the Old Testament in ways that they would understand. From this, LeFebvre notes that we do the Old Testament damage when we insist upon it providing a kind of modern journalistic approach to dates and dating. The way festivals and days were used in the Old Testament helped provide information to those who heard it about how life ought to be lived and how labor and worship go hand-in-hand.

LeFebvre makes this argument over the course of three major parts. Part I- Israel’s Calendars examines the way calendars were used in the Bible and what reference points they had for understanding time. Part II – Festivals and Their Stories surveys the festivals mentioned throughout the Old Testament and why they were celebrated, grounding them both in the context of the Old Testament text and the time and places in which they occurred. Part III – The Creation Week examines the creation week with the insights gained from Parts I and II in mind.

Part I is a deep exploration of how ancient Israel would have read time, showing not only the use of the stars, the moon, and the sun, but also the way seasons ran throughout the region as ways that people measured their own lives and ways of going about living. LeFebvre is fairly comprehensive in his look at all the stories in the Old Testament that have dates as well as bringing up every festival and examining its importance and usage in the Old Testament. Readers will likely find much to examine and benefit from throughout these first two parts.

It is in part III where the rubber meets the road and LeFebvre applies his insights into timing throughout the Old Testament to the specific questions about the week of creation. The days themselves are laid out in such a way as to correspond to his theses about how Israel ordered itself. LeFebvre makes a strong argument that these creation days are not intended to be read in light of modern science and forced into such a box. Instead, they are intended to give order to creation and one’s own life, providing a reason for Sabbath as well as an understanding of all creation within the context of God’s ordered running of the seasons and universe.

The Liturgy of Creation is an excellent look at what the calendars, seasons, and dates in the Old Testament mean in their own context. LeFebvre brings light to some of the more difficult questions in interpretation, while also challenging readers to examine their own assumptions about the text. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

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.

Dinosaur Eggs: A serious problem for a young earth flood scenario

Young Earth Creationism is usually paired with some form of flood geology–the notion that Noah’s flood was a global disaster which can account for most, if not all, of the fossil record and stratification of rocks. There are many problems with such a scenario, but for now I want to focus on one: dinosaur eggs.

The Problem Stated

Abstractly, dinosaur eggs aren’t really a problem: they could have been washed away in a global flood or rapidly covered by sediment, thus burying them and having them ready to begin fossilization. Problem solved, right?

As usual, though, the fossil record doesn’t align with such a simple explanation. I was reading Giants of the Lost World, a book by Donald R. Prothero about the history of several huge species that once inhabited South America, and came upon an intriguing passage about a specific find of dinosaur eggs. This find is called, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “Auca Mahuevo” (to make a reference to contracting the spanish words for “more eggs”). Situated in a region called Auca Mahuida in Argentina near an extinct volcano, the site has revealed an abundance of fossilized dinosaur eggs, including several spectacular finds in which the embryo can be seen inside the egg.

The fossil site is one in which clutches of eggs–between 15-34 eggs in each–were laid in clumps that suggest sauropod nesting sites. There were few crushed eggs, which “suggest[ed] that the site had been protected by the mothers guarding the perimeter but not walking among the eggs once they had been laid…” (33). But here’s where it gets especially interesting for the topic at hand:

The remarkable preservation of the eggs was due to the fact that large flash floods had buried the eggs–and had done so many times, because there were multiple egg layers in the rocks, covering a total thickness of 25 meters (75 ft). (33)

To say that this offers an enormous problem for a global flood scenario as the explanation for all of these eggs is an understatement. This site is evidence that there were multiple periods in which a group of sauropods came to an area, nested, laid eggs, some flash flood occurred that buried them in mud or other sediment, and then the sauropods laid more eggs at a later time in the same area, only to have it happen again. The young earth creationist scenario insists that rapid flooding is required for fossilization, and that is what occurred here, but it occurred at several distinct times, in layers upon layers of eggs.

Possible Young Earth Explanations and More Problems

One possible counter to this is for the young earth creationist (YEC) to assert that these eggs were simply all jumbled together from a single or several sites in the chaos of the flood waters, tossed with mud and left to fossilize. But the lack of crushed eggs, uniformity of species, and organization of the nests all work against such a scenario. If the flood was as turbulent as many flood geology scenarios suggest, how would the eggs have ended up in nests at all? Indeed, if the explanation is that they got jumbled together in the wet silt of the floodwaters, how could the structures of the nests have been preserved on multiple layers? And again, if these eggs just happened to get tossed together, why aren’t they cracked or smashed–how do they still have embryos inside?

Some young earth scenarios include dinosaurs fleeing the rising flood waters only to finally stop to lay eggs in a rush, only to flee on. But this site does not allow for such an explanation, as it shows multiple distinct nesting periods that were covered up over time. The YEC may counter by saying that multiple different dinosaurs fled past the area and just happened to lay their eggs on this site after mud and rain had covered the previous nests, but this doesn’t account for the lack of trampled eggs and the care in which they were organized, as above, suggesting a perimeter being guarded by parents.

Conclusion

Fossil beds like this present an enormous problem for a young earth creationist scenario that relies on the flood to explain the fossil evidence. Time and again, those scenarios fail to account for the actual findings in the field and amount to nothing more than implausible scenarios requiring miracles unrecorded in the Bible to have occurred.

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.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

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.

Book Review: “An Orthodox Understanding of the Bible with Physical Science” by Geoffrey Ernest Stedman

An Orthodox Understanding of the Bible with Physical Science is a surprisingly fresh take on the science-faith controversy that continues with Christianity. Stedman is a physicist and his book brings that knowledge front and center when he discusses issues related to science and faith.

This book from a relatively unknown publisher immediately raises the question: why bother reading another book on science and faith? The thing that makes this book stand out in a crowded field is that Stedman goes into more detail than many scientists who have written similar books in outlining the math and science behind some of the theories he discusses. In particular, he discusses the meaning of “day” and how his own work in physics has shown how many factors impact the objective meaning of the length of a day. He writes fascinatingly about experiments he and others have performed with lasers and other tools to show the movement of the planet that impacts the length of days, the way that shifting magnetism can impact it, and many other factors that go into the actual, objective length of a day. Given the fact of relativity as well, it becomes increasingly difficult to say that “day” must mean an exact, objective figure and that that can be applied unilaterally to the Bible. Stedman reports these findings in a way that is accessible while also providing quite a bit of math and science to back up his claims.

Stedman is keen to show that “Much opposition to science stems from ignorance of the nature of
scientific theory” (49). To do this, he outlines how several things that have been established through scientific testing go against what may be perceived as common sense or even paradoxical. But that doesn’t change the nature of reality, which can be observed directly through much of this testing. Stedman also exegetes some key passages, like Psalm 19 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. These, he argues, can help us to better understand both an orthodox view of Christianity and of science, in part by noting that there is no conflict in using science to learn about God’s creation. The exegesis seems to be from a Reformed position, particularly when talking about the foolishness of human wisdom and the wisdom of God (he makes good points about how this does not entail that all scientific theorizing is foolishness in the text).

The book could still use some editing, as a few typos were found throughout, and some of the sentence structures had a cadence that felt off. Additionally, the structure of his argument occasionally flows strangely or relies too much on sending readers to other chapters. Stedman also uses the archaic “man” or “mankind” to refer to all of humanity.

Overall, An Orthodox Understanding of the Bible with Physical Science is an interesting read with a heavy dose of science to go along with some detailed explanations. Readers wanting to dive into physics more deeply when thinking about the creation debate would do well to read the book.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

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.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Creationism: An Unnecessary Match

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, at their 2019 convention, re-iterated an affirmation and strengthened adherence to statements about creation and evolution made previously by Synod bodies. Res. 5-09A, according to the report from the LCMS, restates the position of earlier statements in the Synod, including a 1932 doctrinal statement that states, among other things:

We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.”

In effect, the Resolution (Res. 5-09A) is a significant and modern reiteration of creationism within the LCMS, specifically of young earth creationism. Thus, it also more emphatically excludes and alienates those within the Synod who do not affirm such a position and who have explored the possibility of other positions within the church.

I believe God has made me and all creatures?

There are a number of problems, of course, with such a statement. The quote provided above issues a bald appeal to Luther’s Small Catechism with the statement that “I believe God has made me and all creatures.” On the surface, this appears to be an attempt to use that quote to support direct, fiat creationism. Yet when one reads the rest of that section of the Small Catechism, one finds that the same exact section also states “[God] also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” Yet the LCMS is not also passing resolutions that affirm direct, fiat action by God in the providing of our clothes, food, drink, shoes, house, and home. They’re not passing resolutions in which Synod laity is expected to affirm that God literally created their clothing and gave it to them directly. But the Catechism does make those statements in the exact same context, without any such qualification. This means that the Catechism does not exclude means when it comes to divine providence regarding these matters. God uses means to provide us with food, home, and clothing. Similarly, God may have used means when it comes to “God made me and all creatures.”

The appeal to the lack of humans being present at creation cuts both ways. No member or pastor in the LCMS was present when God created the heavens and the Earth, so how is it that they may define in more exacting detail how God created them? Indeed, they say that we ought to look at God’s own record, which explicitly states that the heavens declare God’s glory. Scientists have looked to the heavens to see direct evidence of God’s glorious creation. Such evidence, God’s “speech” from the heavens (Psalm 19), points to a universe much, much more ancient than the six- to ten-thousand years most young earth creationists affirm, especially those who are so exacting in defining days as “6 natural days” (more on that below, though).

Six Natural Days?

The Resolution (5-09A) reiterates that creation is in “6 natural days.” But the fact is that the concept of a day as 24 hours is itself a giving into cultural norms of our own time. The length of a day has changed through history, as is demonstrable from such things as the variance in Earth’s rotation, tidal forces, and more can and have changed the length of the day, either permanently or for short periods of time (read more on this phenomenon here). Now, these fluctuations are extremely minor, so the objection may be lodged that this doesn’t impact the concept of a “24 hour day” or a “natural day.” Once one does admit that minor variations are acceptable, however, it becomes much less clear why major variations or even different meanings may not be explored. After all, nothing in the Bible states that God held the Earth in a completely still, static state as the creation week continued. It may be the case that even with a “standard” or “natural” day, the actual duration of each of the 6 days of creation could have varied. So, again, the very concept itself is flawed, for it both reads into the Bible things that are not there and ignores actual observational evidence that it is wrong. In attempting to circumvent science and purely affirm Scripture, the LCMS has fallen into the trap of bringing along scientific presuppositions that are hidden in the premises of their statements, thus doubling the error by both affirming a non-scientific viewpoint and smuggling in scientific assumptions that undermine their position.

Consequences of the Position

The fact is that the LCMS attempt to “take a stand” on this issue places it squarely and officially outside of any possibility for youths or adults to reconcile the official stance of their denomination with modern science. As someone who was within the LCMS and is no longer, I can say that this is one of the reasons I left. The total disregard for any viewpoint that went against a (then unofficial) stance on the timing and/or means of creation as well as the lack of regard for science generally was a massive difficulty for me within the denomination. Making this the official stance will do nothing but exacerbate that same concern for many, many more. I distinctly recall several conversations with other LCMS people, young and old, about how the denomination’s stance on creation was a significant hurdle for them in their faith life.

This is about much larger issues than whether the LCMS will lose or gain members; it is about the actual faith lives of those within the denomination. By drawing the wagons in tighter in the circle, the LCMS pastors have rejected the duty to be pastoral to their congregants and aligned their church body with a statement that cannot be reconciled with mainstream science with mountains of data and evidence to support it. Youths will be told that not to affirm this “6 natural day” creation is to oppose the Bible, and because the LCMS has so strongly emphasized that to believe as they do just is to trust the Bible, such a rejection will lead to crises of faith. As someone who experienced this in my own life, this is deeply disturbing and disappointing. The church body has effectively taken a stance on a non-essential that will lead to many questioning essential issues.

There are many, many more issues with the stance of the LCMS here, as well. For example, in my own experience I have seen several LCMS churches utilize program materials from creationist organizations like Answers in Genesis. Yet, for all the LCMS purports to value doctrinal purity and affirm centrally Lutheran beliefs, their support for groups like Answers in Genesis shows that the Synod is far more interested in aligning with broad evangelical theology than in maintaining a distinctive Lutheranism. The use of youth materials from Answers in Genesis is troubling, not only because it stands so clearly against modern science, but because Answers in Genesis also uses its website to promote non-and even anti-Lutheran positions on things like baptism. For example, a search for “baptism” on the Answers in Genesis Website yields immediate links like this one, a sermon from Charles Spurgeon, in which he states:

the very great majority of Christian people think infant children are fit and proper subjects for this ordinance [baptism]; we, on the other hand, believe that none are fit and proper subjects for the ordinance of baptism, except those who really believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and their King.

Yet the LCMS, an unashamedly Lutheran organization, is perfectly willing to hold hands with an organization that promotes strictly anti-Lutheran materials as top results on its website? Why? Because, again, the LCMS has fallen into the trap of valuing evangelicalism and the narrative of the “culture wars” more than it values its own adherence to Lutheran doctrine. This strong and hard stance on young earth creationism is just one of the many results of such a capitulation, but it is also one of the most vehement positions the LCMS is promoting within its churchwide body.

A Personal Appeal

The LCMS recently published a report in which it was revealed that the “2017 Confirmation Survey identified around a 1-in-3 rate of retention for individuals after confirmation” in the LCMS. This number spawned a number of discussions and responses to it. One such response, the “Executive Summary” of the survey, stated as a category that “Congregations must be safe places for young people to wrestle with life and faith in order for them to faithfully reach out to today’s culture.” Taking such a hard stance on a scientific issue that the LCMS is unwilling or unable to actively engage with (as shown by reliance on outside resources like Answers in Genesis) is the exact opposite of being a “safe place for young people to wrestle with life and faith…” It was not a safe place for me, personally, as I dealt with some of these difficult topics. I came very near to leaving the faith entirely, and it was ironically an LCMS person who said that Jesus resurrection didn’t hinge upon whether the Earth was 10,000 or 10 billion years old that helped me rethink my faith. But now, the LCMS has made even that slight possibility outside the bounds. Their statement has tied people’s faith with the age of the Earth, and that should not and must not be the foundation for any Christian faith whatsoever.

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!

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.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate– In-depth coverage and analysis of the famous debate between young earth creationist Ken Ham and Bill Nye the science guy.

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.

Book Review: “Interpreting Eden” by Vern Poythress

Vern Poythress offers a contribution to the interpretation of Genesis with his book Interpreting Eden. His arguments are primarily centered around targeting rival readings of Genesis.

One of the more controversial claims in a book full of such claims is Poythress leveling his sites on interpreting the language in the Bible about the state of the universe. Poythress is keen to demonstrate that the author of Genesis and authors of Scripture did not believe, as many have argued, that the earth had a solid dome over its sky. He draws several lines of evidence in support of his theory that, basically, these authors had an accurate view of the Earth. First, he argues throughout the work that the biblical authors write with a perspectival view in mind. That is, they are writing from the perspective of how things appear. So, for example, saying that the sun rises in the east is not a claim about objective reality but rather accurately reflects how one observing the sun from the Earth might see it.

Interestingly, Poythress couches his discussion of the “dome of the sky” language in the Bible not in interactions with experts in the Ancient Near East who make this argument and seemingly make it clear that this is exactly what the ancient Israelites believed, but rather he makes his interlocutor a “modern student” who somewhat naively reads the Bible literally (see, for example, Kindle locations 1196-1210). So, rather than critically interacting with the many scholarly accounts by experts on the Ancient Near East, Poythress presents the readings of cosmology as a cacophony of voices, strangely concluding that “My point is not to decide between various interpretations [of ANE evidence or cosmology], but to point out that the existence of variant interpretations constitutes a difficulty” (location 1228). But Poythress would hardly allow this same level of critical uncertainty when it comes to, say, biblical texts that are favored by Reformed theologians to make their point. Yet it is unclear that the many, many variant interpretations of virtually any text in the Bible present such a similar difficulty which, for Poythress, ultimately leads him to conclude that readings which allow for ANE background to be carried along with the biblical text “border… on incoherence” (1255). Would he make this same conclusion in regard to the dissonant voices of his own preferred texts to back his theological conclusions elsewhere? Doubtful.

Moreover, Poythress’s use of analogies obfuscates issues rather than clarifying him. His notion of the vehicle-cargo approach virtually insists upon a lieralistic interpretation of the analogy while he uses it to make vague and metaphorical points. Here again, he fails to interact with experts in the ANE and instead attacks what he sees as a “physicalist” reading of the Old Testament, without allowing these rival interpreters to even make their arguments. He then simply concludes that “Modern physicalist readings run the danger of not recognizing analogy and metaphor in ancient texts” (1280) despite himself acknowledging that these same modern readers make analogies between other ANE texts and Genesis!

Poythress also tries to show that a comprehensive picture of providence is required and then contradicted by some views within Christianity. He writes:

Among people who claim to be Christian, something akin to deism still exists in our time. It consists in the idea that… created things are sufficient in themselves to develop under their own power. In other words, God is basically uninvolved in detailed development. (Kindle location 424)

This appears to be a somewhat veiled jab at theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists, depending upon one’s preferred parlance), who would see evolution as proceeding generally under its own power. It is here worth noting that Poythress does not acknowledge the vast diversity within those who affirm evolution and Christianity. For example, many evolutionary creationists affirm that while evolution may appear random, that does not preclude it from being directed by God or ordained and ordered by God. Indeed, Poythress himself has argued at length that we humans may perceive something as chance when it is in fact ordered by God. To then turn around and claim that this means people are only “claiming” to be Christian when they would affirm this same approach to evolution seems disingenuous at best. Moreover, Poythress goes on to say that “The deistic view affirms that God sustains the existence of the wind and the water” (Kindle loc. 431). This left me wondering what definition of deism Poythress is operating under, as deism is explicitly the view that God creates the universe but then does not interact with it. The act of sustaining existence is itself a miraculous act of God, and so would contradict a deistic perspective, which instead is explicitly mechanistic in its understanding of creation after the deistic god has created it (see, for example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s discussion of Deism alongside the Enlightenment). So Poythress’s charge is off base and, again, seems disingenuous, particularly for him to say these people “claim to be Christian…”

Time and again, Poythress makes it clear that there is an agenda in this book. He isn’t going to the text as often as one might think, given the subtitle of the book as a “Guide to faithfully reading and understanding Genesis 1-3.” Instead, he continually uses his presupposed interpretive lens to bash his theological opponents, who are referred to as deists, who “claim to be Christian,” who are “old fashioned liberals,” who are naive, etc. This judgment-laden language ought to show readers exactly what is happening in the book. It isn’t an attempt to objectively approach the text; it is a practice in using one’s own presupposed lenses to then conclude all other positions are in the wrong. Oddly, for example, after spending quite a large portion of the early part of the book in critiquing the notion that the biblical text is a vehicle for some ANE views that may be wrong or scientifically misinformed, Poythress himself acknowledges that “distinct cultures and subcultures may have shared some stock images” (2797). Does this mean the text of Scripture is a vehicle carrying the cargo of ANE allusions to “stock images” like the “contrast between chaos and order”? It certainly seems that is what Poythress is saying, yet he already claimed that such a view is “incoherent” earlier in the book. Yet it becomes clear that Poythress himself cannot help but acknowledge the ANE influence on the biblical text. Thus, despite his aversion to seeing parts of the biblical text as ANE background, which he argues allows readers to “simply excise anything they want by labeling it in their minds as merely a vehicle” (1454) he allows himself the leeway to claim that this “stock imagery” is present. Is it impossible for Poythress, then, to decide parts of the text are “stock images” when he finds them too difficult to assimilate into his own perspective? He doesn’t seem to think so, but his own position is effectively the same, here, as those he claims to oppose. He just arbitrarily assigns his position the label of “conservative” and “inerrancy” while excluding others from the Kingdom for their “claims to be Christian.”

Ultimately, Interpreting Eden is a book that will benefit most those who already agree with Poythress’s theological presuppositions. His arguments against “physicalist” interpretations and his unsubtle attempts to paint those with whom he disagrees as “deists” make it clear there is a theological agenda at play here rather than an attempt to grapple with the very real problem many of these texts present to the modern reader (who is, ironically, his main interlocutor).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

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.

The Age of the Earth: How Interlinking Evidence from Tree Rings, Carbon-14, and Varves demonstrates an old earth

Image from Wikipedia. Credit: By Copyright © National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28702247

What kind of evidence do we have to support the notion that the Earth is truly ancient? It’s a question I often get asked, as someone who came from a young earth background. Young Earth Creationists often posit that the evidence for an “old earth,” if viewed from a different angle, could just as easily (or perhaps better) point to a young earth. However, there are some aspects of evidence for an old earth that seem to defy this argument, particularly because they interlink in such a way that independently points towards an old earth. Here, I take a look at an article by Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth in which they make this very argument. Below is the title and abstract.

Testing and Verifying Old Age Evidence: Lake Suigetsu Varves, Tree Rings, and Carbon-14
Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth

Abstract
Carbon-14 measurements from layered sediments collected in 2006 from Lake Suigetsu, Japan, together with tree-ring data, offer an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate how competing old- and young-earth hypotheses can be quantifiably tested. Conventional observation of radioactive decay rates, atmospheric carbon-14 production, tree-ring growth, cross-dating, and varve formation yields a narrow range of expected values for the carbon-14 content of samples over the last 50,000 years. Young-earth challenges to each observation should result in specific and predictable departures from conventional expectations. This article documents a sequence of tests to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that carbon-14 decay rates have remained unchanged, estimates of past atmospheric production rates are accurate, cross-dating of tree rings is reliable, the sampled trees have grown one ring per year going back more than 14,000 years, and finely layered sediments from Lake Suigetsu were deposited annually going back more than 50,000 years.

Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth, in this paper, analyze three independent lines of evidence that interlink to confirm each other. Specifically, by looking at tree rings, varve formation, and carbon-14 dating, they yield a range of possible dates that matches across these independent variables. This gives a strong confirmation of the age of the earth, along with demonstrating that the decay rate of carbon-14 does not seem to have changed and remain accurate for more than 50,000 years.

The importance of this paper, and arguments like it, is that these are independent lines of evidence that all interlink to show the same conclusion. This needs to be emphasized, because young earth creationists will often call into question these pieces of evidence individually, shooting them down with objections that they then conclude shows they are individually faulty. Rarely, if ever, do young earth creationists acknowledge or deal with the fact that these evidences, while being independent, yield results that all add up to the same ages. Again, the importance of this cannot be understated, because it would mean that, for whatever reason, the young earth creationist must then assert that their independent objections to each individual dating method also can somehow explain why those dating methods to which they are objecting yield the same results.

Tree Rings

Trees record the years they’ve been growing through rings that show how quickly their cells grew during different seasons. A record of years can be traced by comparing tree rings to show wet/dry seasons that form something similar to a bar code type pattern allowing for identifications across years. The oldest living trees have 5000 years recorded, and fossilized trees can be compared to living trees to extend that record back further, with the oldest reliable comparison yielding 14,000 years. Young earth objections to tree rings typically center around the notion that multiple rings form in single years.

Carbon-14 Dating

Wolgemuth and Davidson write that, in regards to Carbon-14 dating:

The primary requirements for determining age are (1) a constant radioactive decay rate, (2) knowledge of the original carbon-14 content, and (3) quantification of any old carbon that may have been incorporated into the specimen.

Standard young earth objections are leveled at each of these three requirements. However, it is rarely (if ever–though I’m sure someone does, somewhere) disputed that certain dates are yielded when Carbon-14 testing is done. Thus, it is the young earth objections to the three requirements where they rest their case. These objections are often that we cannot know whether the radioactive decay rate changed in the past; (less typically) that the original carbon-14 content is in question; and that the samples are somehow contaminated. Now, Wolgemuth and Davidson do clearly state that scientists must account for some known factors that can vary how quickly Carbon-14 is formed. But these can be accounted for and allow scientists to get fairly accurate data on dating samples.

Image source: http://www.suigetsu.org/varves.html Used under fair use. Accessed January 2019

Varves

Probably the least familiar of these dating methods to anyone with a passing interest in the age of the earth is varves. These are sets of alternating layers formed by sediment on the floor of bodies of water due to a number of factors. With Lake Suigetsu in mind, the method of dating involved is a measurement of algae blooms via examination of the varves. At this lake, cores have yielded dependable rates that allow dates traced back to around 150,000 years.

Independent Methods, Same Results

Where this gets interesting, and where young earth creationists ought to take note, is that while it is somewhat easy to discount individual pieces of evidence based on independent objections, it is much more difficult to do so when these allegedly faulty dating systems yield the same dates.

Carbon-14 dating methods allow scientists to make predictions for how much Carbon-14 ought to be present in a sample before testing the sample. Thus, scientists can use these predictions to chart what the expected Carbon-14 content of tree rings or varves will be. The article has just such a chart, yielding a very narrow range of expectations regarding Carbon-14 content with the age of the sample. They can then take tree rings, going with the conventional assumption that the rings indicate years, and sample them for Carbon-14 to see if they match the expectations of carbon dating. What is remarkable (visually, especially, again, see the article) is that these expected ranges correspond exactly to the samples taken of tree rings. This means that a tree ring yielding an age of 14,000 years due to the number of rings also yields an age of 14,000 years when sampled for Carbon-14. But these dating methods are completely independent. The Carbon-14 date doesn’t rely at all on the number of rings in a tree, nor is reverse true.

Wolgemuth and Davidson then show the expectations from a young earth model with explanations of tree rings. For example, the expectation of multiple rings per year is tested and falls well outside the predictions of the Carbon-14 dating. This is important, because it means that the conventional assumptions about testing dates align together independent dating systems while young earth predictions yield wildly dissimilar results. These results are presented in the paper.

Scientists go further, though, and can line these evidences up with varves of Lake Suigetsu. Here, there is some technical data about how scientists can determine when significant events happened in the lake, such as extreme algae blooms or additional brackish water, but the core of the point is that when these factors are accounted for, a predictive range for Carbon-14 can again be made and set alongside the age estimate based upon the varve samples. Once again, when aligned, there is remarkable correspondence between Carbon-14 expectations and the actual measurements set alongside the varve-counting method of dating. Additionally, note Wolgemuth and Davidson, there is a steady decline backwards in the amount of Carbon-14 present, showing not a wildly erratic decay rate but rather a steady and predictable rate as one goes deeper into the sediment of Lake Suigetsu. These predictions falsify a young earth account, in part, because the young earth model “expects… massive sediment deposits during the flood year…” in addition to other expectations of many flood models for a young earth.

Next, Wolgemuth and Davidson turn to combining all of these lines of evidence together, demonstrating that the period of overlap where we can measure tree rings, varves, and Carbon-14 yields a graph just as predicted by conventional expectations, and that varves and Carbon-14 can be plotted much farther (due to their availability and the lack of reliable tree ring data older than 14,000 years), showing a constant alignment of these independent forms of evidence.

The authors state the decisiveness of this data and its implications for models of the age of the earth quite well:

we have two options. Option 1 is that God gave us amazing tools to test and verify that carbon-14 decay rates have not changed and sediments in Lake Suigetsu have been accumulating for more than 50,000 years. Option 2 is that God precisely manipulated multiple independent phenomena—tree ring growth, atmospheric carbon-14 production, and sediment couplet formation—to mimic conventional expectations.

More Methods of Dating

Wolgemuth and Davidson don’t leave the evidence there, however, because more methods of dating can converge on Lake Suigetsu, allowing for additional independent dating. Argon-Argon dating from volcanic ash in the Lake yields a radiometric test that corresponds to Carbon-14 dating and tree ring data.

They note that most young earth creationists don’t object when Carbon-14 dating is used on things that corroborate biblical materials, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Yet when one puts the data point for the Dead Sea Scrolls alongside the tree ring carbon data, we find that there is, again, alignment between the Carbon-14 dating for the tree rings, the actual counting of the tree rings, and the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This would mean that some form of manipulation of dating systems would have to yield the correct date for the Dead Sea Scrolls but incorrect dates by counting tree rings and Carbon-14 despite the fact that these align perfectly with the data for the Dead Sea Scrolls. And with this latter data, again, Argon-Argon dating with radiometric dating can be incorporated to show yet another independent method of dating.

Conclusion

Young earth creationists have not dealt with the fact that it is not just independent methods of dating that yield similar dates but rather that these independent methods correspond with each other and back each other up. On a young earth reading of the evidence, there is no explanation for why the allegedly mistaken methods of counting tree rings, varves, measuring Carbon-14 dating, and Argon-Argon dating from volcanic ash should all correspond with the same dates. After all, each of these is taken to be independently mistaken for different reasons and at different rates. But if that’s true, then the observed data should be completely different from what it actually is. Additionally, the alleged accuracy for dating things in biblical archaeology is generally conceded by young earth creationists, and this dating for biblical artifacts also corresponds to other dating methods. Thus, the accurate date of the Dead Sea Scrolls corresponds with the allegedly inaccurate methods of tree ring counting, varve counting, and radiometric dating. What possible reason could there be for this to be the case? Going back to the words of Wolgemuth and Davidson, the most reasonable explanation is that God has given us the tools to study creation, and that these tools give us an accurate record of earth’s history.

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.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

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: “Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages” edited by Kyle R. Greenwood

Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages is an invaluable resource to understanding the book of Genesis and creation. The book’s scope is impressive, encompassing not only Christian interpretations but also early Rabbinic interpretations, Second Temple Judaism, and the rediscovery of the Ancient Near East with its implications for understanding Genesis. The book is a wealth of information for anyone interested in learning about Genesis.

Each chapter in the book is full of valuable insights. Greenwood himself starts it off by tracing the impact of these creation accounts across the Old Testament. Michael Matlock’s chapter on Second Temple Jewish literature and Genesis 1 and 2 is fascinating, both for its providing a brief introduction to that body of literature and for insights into how later traditions would shape one’s reading of the text. Some Jewish interpreters (eg. Josephus) seemed comfortable expanding on the story themselves, adding whatever details they believed might add interest or even theological emphasis to the text. Of course that doesn’t undermine much careful attention to details of the texts that modern interpreters sometimes miss. Ira Brent Driggers’ chapter uses the intriguing word “appropriations” to describe the New Testament’s use of the Genesis account. Among other things of interest, this chapter leads readers to wonder exactly how NT authors used the Old Testament and what that may mean for our own interpretations. Early Rabbinic interpretation is the subject of Joel S. Allen’s chapter, in which he shows some of the ways post-destruction of the temple Judaism saw figures like Adam and Eve.

Stephen O. Presley’s chapter on the Ante-Nicene Fathers touches on a number of major early Christian thinkers and shows how the interpretation of Genesis continued to develop in sometimes divergent ways. C. Rebecca Rine’s entry on the Nicene and Post-Nicene interpretations shows how Scripture was seen as a pathway to transformation (121) and so a focus on application of the text led to some unique readings (such as creating a baseline for spiritual writings based on the 6-day pattern). Questions raised by these Nicene/Post-Nicene thinkers included wondering why days were in the narrative at all–something that some modern interpreters would be baffled by for all their own emphasis on the importance of the days. Medieval Jewish theology is the center of Jason Kalman’s chapter, which demonstrates the sometimes radical divergence Christian vs. Jewish readings of the same verses could have. Some of these readings included seeing that Genesis didn’t actually entail an order of creation whatsoever (157). Timothy Bellamah’s chapter provides the Christian Medieval contrast to the previous chapter, showing how much fruitful theology continued in this period, often dismissed. Aquinas, of course, is the giant of this era, and he gets some due attention here. The Protestant Reformers were interested in Genesis 1 and 2 in part for their own polemical purposes and in part as their project to go back to the source continued. Jennifer Powell McNutt draws from this rich Christian tradition to highlight various points of emphases by the Reformers.

Another important aspect of the book is the chapter on the Ancient Near East by David T. Tsumura. Because much of this knowledge was lost for a lengthy period of time, many interpretations of Genesis through the ages did not take into account the actual cultural milieu from which it sprang. The Protestant Reformers, for example, had no access to these materials, so their call to go ad fontes–to the source–could not actually complete the task. The interpretation of Genesis ought not to be considered a settled matter from the Reformation to today, and even allegedly literal readings of Genesis owe as much to modern discoveries as to the texts themselves. Aaron T. Smith’s chapter on Post-Darwinian interpretations shows both how yes, in some ways evolution impacted readings of Genesis, but in others it caused a true pursuit of going back to the beginning. Cosmology is central to debates over how Genesis is to be read.

If it hasn’t already become clear, it should be stated plainly that this book is an absolute treasure trove of information, with many, many strands of further research to be pursued upon its completion. Each chapter is worthy of inclusion, and each is well-written and as intriguing as the next. That in itself is an achievement because the book is consistently engrossing.

I very highly recommend Since the Beginning to you, readers. It’s a book that will have you thinking about your own reading of the text, and may even give you insight into where that reading may have its origins.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

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: “The Creator and the Cosmos, 4th Edition” by Hugh Ross

Hugh Ross is perhaps the most well-known advocate of the position known as Old Earth Creationism today. He is the founder of Reasons to Believe, a science-faith think tank that centers on the OEC position. His works have been highly influential in my own life and faith journey. Although I no longer ascribe to Old Earth Creationism of Ross and Reasons to Believe, I have much respect for all those working at Reasons to Believe and appreciate their mission. The Creator and the Cosmos is one of the more broadly applicable books from Reasons to Believe because it focuses not so much on the concordism that defines their position but rather largely on the evidence for cosmic fine-tuning.

The core of Ross’ argument in the book is the fine-tuning argument. Basically, this is the argument that certain constants about our universe are such that any minuscule change to them would mean our universe would no longer be life-permitting. Because there are so many of these factors, the argument goes, that chance is not the best explanation for our universe. Instead, some kind of being that can act on our universe is posited as the best explanation.

Ross begins his work with an autobiographical account of how he became interested in astronomy. His own interest in the night sky led to him deciding to go through the holy books of various religions to see if any aligned with what science has revealed about our universe. His search culminated in the surprising discovery that, he believes, the Bible actually taught first what science has now revealed. This is one of the central aspects of the Reasons to Believe model: the belief in concordism. Concordism is the idea that the Bible and science will not just operate alongside each other but rather confirm and interlink with each other. Thus, as Ross argues, the Bible speaking of things like the stretching out of the heavens (Psalm 104:2, for one example) is said to be not just metaphorical language but rather literal language about the creation of the universe through the Big Bang.

It is in the chapter entitled “The Bible Taught it First” that I find the most with which to take issue in the book. For almost the entirety of my life, I, too, ascribed to concordism, but as I have read more and more I think that it is not what the intention of the Bible is at all. The Bible is not a science textbook, and simply finding a few isolated sentences that seem to correspond to 21st century science does not demonstrate that it is scientifically advanced. Indeed, as many a skeptic would gleefully point out, there are many points in the Bible which seem to speak about the sky as a solid dome or the literal rising and setting of the sun. Groups like Reasons to Believe work to show how these are actually non-literal language or merely figures of speech, but to me this seems ad hoc. The approach seems piecemeal and the idea that the heavens stretching out “like a tent” is meant to teach Big Bang Cosmology is a tenuous link, at best. After all, if the Bible intended to teach Big Bang Cosmology, would it not be quite simple to do so rather more explicitly than an allusion here and there? It seems to speak rather directly about creation, after all. Instead, it seems that writers like John Walton are more on point when they note that the authors of the Bible had background scientific beliefs of their Ancient Near Eastern times, but that the Bible is not intentionally teaching any kind of cosmology. Instead, it is teaching about the ordering of the cosmos by God as creator. This approach allows readers to avoid the difficult questions raised against concordism regarding the difficult passages about creation, while also not completely divorcing it from reality.

Apart from this allegiance to concordism, the rest of the book is almost entirely focused on scientific discoveries of the past hundred or so years regarding the universe. These are covered in some detail, but Ross does a good job covering these discoveries in such a way that they will be generally understood by most readers. Time and again, he shows that major discoveries seem to show that the sheer improbabilities involved in our life-permitting universe undercut the notion of chance as an explanation for reality. These are cosmic-scale fine tuning arguments. They don’t rely on anything related to evolution or anti-evolution. Instead, the things Ross focuses on in this book are all large scale discoveries and constants that impact our universe writ large. A lengthy appendix summarizes much of this evidence, and going through that appendix shows that time and again our universe falls within an extraordinarily limited range for life to exist.

I do still feel some caution, however, even regarding the fine-tuning argument on a cosmic scale. Though many skeptics have acknowledged it to be perhaps the strongest argument for theism, I am wary of completely aligning ourselves as Christians to any scientific view of the day. After all, many are positing oscillating universe models or a big crunch as another possible alternative to a Big Bang and heat death of the universe. Yes, Ross does deal with these alternatives, but as with so many things in science, we can only hold the conclusions as strongly as the evidence allows and we are a single future discovery away from something that overcomes the problems Ross raises with these models. Is it possible that Big Bang cosmology is entirely correct? Absolutely, and it certainly seems to be the strongest model. But I don’t want to base my entire defense of the Christian faith on that. Indeed, I’d rather base very little on it.

The Creator and the Cosmos is a truly marvelous book for learning about the fine-tuning of the universe. Though I have noted my wariness of Ross’s concordism and of other potential pitfalls, I do think that overall, Ross makes a strong argument. As a non-expert in science, it is very impressive to see one piece of evidence after another appear to confirm fine-tuning of the universe. Time, and future discoveries, will tell whether the fine-tuning argument carries the day. As it stands, I believe it is but one piece of the total Christian apologetic, and this book will help Christians in that regard.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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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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