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John Mark Reynolds

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“Leave it to the Early Church”- A Young Earth challenge

3vce-mrIt’s no secret: I consume just about any book I can get my hands on related to the debate over the duration and means of creation within Christianity. Recently, I read through Three Views on Creation and Evolution, part of the Zondervan Counterpoints series. The young earth creationists (John Mark Reynolds and Paul Nelson) in this volume were more even than many I have read, and I appreciated their contribution in many ways and even found myself agreeing with portions of it. However, they did make a few remarkable claims, one of which will be my focus here. Namely, they suggested we leave interpretation of Genesis behind us and just assume the early church got it right.

Here is the quote:

Our advice, therefore, is to leave the issues of biblical chronology and history to a saner period. (100)

Why should we do that, you ask? Well, before offering this advice, Reynolds and Nelson argue:

Whatever the truth of the matter may be in regard to biblical history, we are… least likely to find it. Nothing about the education of most moderns leaves them disposed to be sympathetic to traditional readings of the biblical text… The almost overwhelming temptation is to “trim” [the portions of text which may be hard to swallow]. Suddenly, new ways of reading the text of Scripture are discovered, which to no one’s surprise allow for accommodation between at least some of the reigning paradigms and traditional religion. (99-100)

I find this simply astonishing! There are a number of reasons to reject this entire line of reasoning immediately. First, it is, in effect, poisoning the well. Second, it abandons any notion that new evidence can challenge established traditions. Third, it begs the question. Fourth, it undermines the need for the church to be semper reformanda – always reforming. We’ll examine these briefly in order.

Poisoned Well

The way Nelson and Reynolds present their argument poisons the well against any who would disagree with them. The insinuation is that the only reason anyone would come to a different conclusion is either because they don’t have an “educational” background which allows them to consider traditional readings or because they are in such a hurry to compromise the text to align with science. Although it is certainly possible that many readings come from these motivations, to suggest that we must put a ban on any future looks at the interpretation of Genesis shows the authors seem to think these motivations apply to all novel interpretations.

New Evidence

To put an interpretation of Genesis on an indisputable pedestal and say “that came from a ‘saner’ time and so we must follow it” undermines any possibility for new evidence to challenge established readings. Yet the fruit of research in many areas of biblical interpretation continues to yield great insight into the biblical text. Moreover, to make an interpretation like that indisputable is to perhaps set up stumbling blocks for future generations, who may in good faith find more evidence which challenges that interpretation.

Question Begged

By saying we need to leave the interpretation of Genesis to the past, Reynolds and Nelson have begged the question by assuming this interpretation is correct. In fact, they seem to assume it is so obviously correct that they don’t even bother to defend it. But of course this is not how theology ought to be done. We should not just relegate interpretations to the ecclesial past because we don’t want to face the challenges of today. Rather, we should explore the new evidence and new interpretations to see if they might in fact better match God’s revealed truths. By simply assuming we can leave an interpretation of Genesis as is, Reynolds and Nelson just assert their view is obviously correct without argument.

Semper Reformanda

The notion that the church needs to continually be reforming seems to be correct. When we find truths revealed in God’s natural revelation, we should be prepared to realize this may not align with our established paradigms. We need not reject these discoveries merely because the historical church didn’t know about them. Instead, we should realize that as an imperfect church waiting for our Lord’s return, we may get things wrong. We are always going to need to reform.

Conclusion

Thus, I think that any young earth creationist who simply asserts we must hold to the historic understanding of the text of Genesis is mistaken. Of course, I would also point out that the “historic” understanding is hardly what the modern young earth creationist would believe (such as the duration of the entire universe only lasting 6000 years in order to align with the creation days, etc.), but that is a matter for a different post. For now, it should be acknowledged that we should not just abandon attempts to understand God’s revelation in Genesis.

Links

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

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

Source

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

SDG.

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

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Do Young Earth Creationists Advocate Appearance of Age?

3vce-mr

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

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

Published Claim

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

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

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

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

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

Problems for Young Earth Creationists

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Links

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

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

Source

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

SDG.

——

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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