Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Creationism and Foundationalism
Creationism (particularly the young earth variety) is a topic I’m very interested in, so I read Osborn’s book Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering with great eagerness. I recently reviewed the book, so you can check that out for my thought on the work as a whole. Here, Osborn is arguing that creationism relies upon modernist notions of epistemic foundationalism (essentially, a view that our knowledge must be based upon some irrefutable or simply necessarily assumed bedrock belief)*:
Creationists have posited a… source of absolute certainty… the firm foundation or base of universal and infallible knowledge on which all truth is said to rest is a “plain” reading of Scripture alone, with particular emphasis on the first verses of the book of Genesis…
Creationism is… not merely indubitable. It is incorrigible–it canot be undermined or altered by any new information… It is impervious to the weight of empirical and historical evidence. (44, 46, cited below)
Here is one of the great insights of Osborn’s book: that Creationism is an epistemology. That is, it is a way of knowing as opposed to simply a position on what is to be known. I have found this to be the case in many discussions with young earth creationists. There simply is no such thing as evidence which can challenge the position. Rather, all things which purport to be said challenges are often seen as either deceptions of secular scientists or results of anti-Bible presuppositions. I think this is a very problematic position.
What are your thoughts? Is YEC falsifiable–is it possible for it to be false? Does YEC turn into a way of knowing?
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
Book Review: “Death Before the Fall” by Ronald Osborn– I review Osborn’s book, outlining its contents while also providing some comments on its value.
Ronald Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsit, 2014).
*Yes, this is simplified. Want to dig in? Check out this article on the topic.
I eagerly anticipated the release of Ronald Osborn’s book, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, as it is a topic of great interest to me. The work is divided into two major sections: “On Literalism” and “On Animal Suffering.”
The first part occupies the bulk of the book (100/179 pages of text). In it, Osborn first offers his interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1. His take on it is that is fairly open to being taken in a number of ways. For example, having creatures come forth “from the earth” may be direct special creation, or a linguistic device aimed at describing the “open” status of creation–its ability to change and self-correct (see esp. 27-28).
After laying out the interpretation, Osborn sets out to show how “literalism” is a mistaken hermeneutic. He argues that literalism has been brought to the forefront due to Enlightenment ways of thinking. That is, biblical literalists are influenced by modernism and their readings tend to be highly reliant on that kind of rationalist epistemology (42ff). A major difficulty with literalism, he notes, is that it seems to ultimately lead to fideism: one’s view of what the “plain sense” reading of the Bible is must be taken as normative for all areas of inquiry (44; 45-46). Another difficulty is that literalism tends to actually go far beyond what the text says in order to defend a preferred interpretation of the text (56-57).
Scientific creationism, Osborn argues, is flawed because it isn’t a “progressive research program” but rather a “degenerative” one. That is, scientific creationism is simply adjusted in an ad hoc way to meet new challenges rather than predicting them (63ff). He rounds out this first part with a discussion of how literalism ultimately leads to circling the wagons and an “enclave mentality,” alongside various representatives of historical interpretation of Genesis–Barth, Calvin, Augustine, and Maimonides.
The second part focuses on animal suffering and approaches it from a number of angles. He begins the section with three difficulties with a “literalist” view of animal suffering and the Fall. Briefly, these are the notion that a flawless creation as put forward by some seems to simply be the winding up of a watch; that God is made to be a deceiver; and difficulties with how the curse is to be applied to animals (126ff). These are presented briefly but cogently and each offers a unique challenge to typical creationist readings of the text. Next, Osborn turns to explanations other than the Fall as reasons animals suffer. He turns to the book of Job and argues both that God may have created nature with predation and death and also that God’s answer to Job out of the whirlwind may be applied to animal suffering (154-155). Moreover, God’s choosing to participate in the world in the Incarnation helps to consummate all creation and bring it to completion (165).
A difficulty with the book is the sustained polemic against literalism/YEC. At times, Osborn shares great insights in the movement. Moreover, pointed criticism is surely needed in some form. Unfortunately, after some helpful introductory comments, he seems to degenerate into posturing against those with whom he disagrees. For example, after admitting that Gnosticism is rather ill-defined, he nevertheless goes on to compare literalism to Gnosticism and simply state that they each share certain features in common (86ff). I like to call this the “Gnostic fallacy” in which someone declares the ‘other’ to be a Gnostic in order to refute them. As Osborn himself notes, Gnosticism is hard to pin down, which also means it is very easy to twist various teachings into lining up with Gnosticism. I think this is honestly one example. [See comments for Osborn’s clarifying comments on this section.]
This section is understandable, and it is easy for someone like Osborn–a former YEC (like myself)–to want to lash out against these formerly held, and sometimes damaging, beliefs, but it is not a very helpful. I suspect it will alienate any readers he would perhaps hope to engage in dialogue, which leaves one wondering about the audience for the book.
Another difficulty with Osborn’s sustained critique of “literalism” is that he never provides much insight into how and/or when texts are to be read literally. That is, would the Gospels need to be read literally when they speak of Jesus dying on the cross and rising again? Osborn clearly affirms this, but doesn’t provide mechanisms which distinguish between “literalism” and simply proper exegesis which would allow for and engage with literal readings of the texts.
One further problem is that the book, despite purporting to be about Death Before the Fall, only briefly addresses this issue. The book really doesn’t provide anything more than most basic non-young earth literature does when it comes to the issue. As such, it is difficult to determine exactly how useful the book is when compared to other works.
Ultimately, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering does not contribute much new to the debate over whether animal death could occur before the fall. Osborn presents many interesting points–particularly in his heavy critique of literalism as a method–and the book is worth the read, but its limited treatment of the title is a disappointment.
Readers who are interested in the topic of animal suffering and death before the fall are better served to pick up Michael Murray’s excellent and enthralling book, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. Murray’s work is superior in both tone and treatment. It focuses entirely on the topic of animal suffering from a philosophical perspective (and is thus more academic than Osborn’s work, for better or worse). The work has a lengthy (33 pages) chapter dedicated explicitly to philosophical issues with animal suffering and the Fall, which makes it far more in-depth than the work reviewed here. Finally, it provides much greater depth on various theodicies when it comes to animal suffering. Those interested in that topic and the topic of death before the Fall or how the Fall relates to animal suffering would be better served to pick up Murray’s work.
Sunday Quote!- Do Trilobites Yield a Greater Good?– I discuss a very minor point in Murray’s work which shows how diverse its threads are for thinking on this topic.
Ronald Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsit, 2014).
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.
A Word of Caution Regarding Induced Pluripotent [Adult] Stem Cells– It is vastly important when debating any issue–but particularly those issues with much emotional attachment–to be careful to make proper distinctions. Here, Matt Rodgers makes a very important clarification regarding the successes and usefulness of induced pluripotent (read: adult) stem cell research. Is it something to be celebrated wildly by pro-life persons? He urges caution. Read the post for why.
Remembering When Star Trek Responsibly Dealt With Disability and Assisted Suicide– Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. In this post, Chelsea Zimmerman analyzes one of the episodes to look at how it thoughtfully deals with some really tough topics: assisted suicide and disability.
First mechanical gear discovered in a living creature– One of the most important arguments for biological design, irreducible complexity, relates to the analysis of systems within lifeforms which, it is alleged, cannot have arisen through undirected processes. The concept of a serious mechanical gear existing within an insect offers a case study for irreducible complexity. Is it the case that this presents a challenge to Neodarwinism? Check out the post.
Cutting the Baby in Half: A review of Neal Shusterman’s “Unwind”– Anthony Weber’s blog, Empires and Mangers, is simply a must-follow if you are interested at all in the relationship between Christianity and culture. Here, he analyzes a work which directly addresses issues related to abortion. What happens when the value regarding human life is shifted beyond recognition? Or… more startlingly, is the dystopia portrayed in this work really a value network which is beyond recognition?
Was there animal death before Adam’s sin?– One of the arguments used by young earth creationists most frequently is the argument that animal death before the Fall decisively shows that any other position is false. William Lane Craig answers this challenge briefly. For my part, I have argued that the young earth view is actually self-referentially false in my post: “Animal Death? A Theological Argument Against Young Earth Creationism.”
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.
[Answers in Genesis recently posted a critique of this article. I have responded here.] I have explored extensively the varied positions within Christianity about the origins and diversity of life. I come from a background in which I was a young earth creationist for quite some time, but my research has caused me to reject this position in favor of another. Those reading this article, please understand I do not wish to denigrate or devalue those who are young earth creationists (hereafter YEC and YECs). I appreciate that many who are YEC are doing their work in the field because they feel it is closest to the Biblical position and that they often believe science supports their view. That said, I cannot agree. In the following, I present a theological argument against the YEC position.
One of the theological arguments YECs use against other Christian positions (such as Intelligent Design or Theistic Evolutionism) is that it would imply death before the fall. I tried to track down an explicit syllogistic form of this argument and couldn’t find any in the literature with which I am familiar, however the argument is everywhere presented. For example, Ken Ham writes in The New Answers Book 1:
The book of Genesis teaches that death is the result of Adam’s sin… and that all of God’s creation was ‘very good’ upon its completion… But if we compromise the history of Genesis by adding millions of years, we must believe that death and disease were part of the world before Adam sinned… How could a God of love allow such horrible processes as disease, suffering, and death for millions of years as part of his ‘very good’ creation? (36)
Elsewhere, we can find statements like this: “The Bible tells us very clearly that there was no death before sin from many passages. In fact, there are no Bible verses indicating there was death prior to sin.”
Now it is not my point in this post to cite every disagreement I have with such arguments (there are a great deal of them), but rather to show that the implications of an argument like this are absurd. One immediate problem with the argument is that it begs the question in the opening sentence by smuggling in a hidden premise. Namely, the notion that all death is the result of sin, as opposed to the death of mankind or a kind of spiritual death. Further, note the conflation of the terms in the second quote–just because there are no Bible verses which show there was death before sin, it does not follow that the Bible teaches that there was no death before sin. But those parts aside, I wish to show that this argument from YECs actually works against their position.
Suppose we lay out the argument:
Now I know this is not the full argument. There are many premises I have left unstated, but it seems that is the gist of the passage cited from Ham. Why do I find this problematic? Well, it seems that the logic is that if death happened because of sin, then animals would not have died before the fall. But if that is the case, then why do animals die after the fall? The post on Answers in Genesis hints that it is because animals are cursed due to the serpent’s deception of Adam and Eve (cited below). One is still forced to wonder why all animals are cursed because a serpent–Satan–deceived Adam and Eve. Thus we are led to the following argument:
But this argument, it seems, shows that YEC is morally impermissible. For on YEC, animals died because of Adam’s sin. The animals themselves didn’t do anything. One day, they were happily living potentially infinitely long lives, eating plants, and doing their animal things. The next day, Adam sinned, and so God decides to start killing them all, putting countdowns on their lifespans. But why? Because Adam sinned, not because they themselves sinned. Thus, animals, through no culpability of their own, suffered the punishment of death for Adam’s sin. This seems to be morally impossible.
Now it seems the YEC position could be modified to get around this argument, but it would have to drop the argument against the other positions that death could not have happened before the fall. The modification would essentially have to hold that animals were part of the natural world which lived and died. Or, the YEC position could charge that animals were moral agents, but that would seem absurd. Finally, the YEC position could hold that, somehow, the serpent’s culpability transferred to all other animals, but that would seem extremely difficult as well, particularly because the serpent is Satan.
The argument, therefore, has been that animals are not morally culpable because they are not moral agents. Because that is the case, if they died due to sin, it was through not fault of their own. This would make God seem unjust if He caused animal death due to Adam’s fall. I’ve noted that YECs can avoid this injustice, but only by dropping the argument that Ham and others use against other positions.
There have been some interesting reactions to this article, and some of them are confusing my argument. What I’d like to note is this post is written from a perspective inside of YEC. In other words, I’m using the presuppositions of YEC against itself. What I’m not doing is personally saying that the death of animals is a morally impermissible state of affairs. What I am doing is saying that, on YEC, they assert it is morally impermissible, and so they have to accept the consequences of that argument.
Finally, I’d like to note that even if readers are unconvinced by this argument, they still must contend with other theological problems with YEC. For example, the notion that YEC makes God a deceiver. For this and other reasons I am no longer a YEC.
But what of the argument itself from YEC? What of the argument that there cannot be death before the fall? I urge readers to check out the following post over at geocreationism: Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical perspective. See also Luke Nix’s phenomenal post on the topic, “Cartoons, Animal Death, and Theology.”
Image Credit- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:R%C3%B8d_r%C3%A6v_(Vulpes_vulpes).jpg image by Malene
Answers in Genesis, “Biblically, Could Death Have Existed Before Sin?” – http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/03/02/satan-the-fall-good-evil-could-death-exist-before-sin
Ken Ham, The New Answers Book 1 (Green Forest, Arizona: Answers in Genesis, Master Books, 2006).
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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.