Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Honest to God

Ken Samples commented on a blog I wrote.

I responded to Ken.

David has stepped up to challenge my comments. He has given me a lot from which we all can learn, and hence the reason why I bring my rebuttal to the main page.

David writes,

The physical evidence from geology, astronomy, etc. regarding the age of the earth clearly conflicts with the young-earth interpretation of Genesis. As both the physical evidence and Scripture have their origin from God, obviously they are ultimately in agreement. However, both exegesis and science are performed by fallible, limited, sinful humans.

The hammer often wielded to level the "big whammy" against young earth (YE) creationists is the notion of evidence. Geological evidence, claims the old earth (OE) creationists, says the earth is millions of years old. Astronomical evidence suggests the universe is so many billions of years old. Hence, YE simpletons either ignore this evidence by pretending it isn't there or dishonestly change it to suit their purposes.

Yet, evidence is not brute and naked; it has to be interpreted according to and through a set of presuppositional filters. In the case of David, our visiting OE believer, he assumes the typical gradual uniformitarian model of geology taught in school is correct. At least I am fairly certain of his gradual uniformitarianism as he will dismiss the idea of global flood in the next section.

Laying that a side for the moment, David wisely points out that both the interpretation of evidence, what is often times mistakenly considered "science," and biblical exegesis, are performed by fallible, limited, sinful humanity. However, just as OE believers will often argue, David writes, We must carefully examine both to see where errors seem likely to have occurred. Even though David claims both these disciplines are ultimately in agreement, when they conflict, David implies we should examine both equally to see where errors have likely occurred.

It has been my observation, though, that such equality never happens. When these "conflicts" appear, the automatic conclusion seems to always be there is a problem with our understanding of the Bible. Rarely, if ever, is the problem with our understanding of the scientific evidence. The exegesis of scripture must yield to the infallibility of the obvious, conflicting evidence.

David lays out an illustration: For example, does the way in which flood geology portrays God as wildly and erratically dispensational in His use of natural laws accord with the Biblical picture of Jesus the same yesterday, today, and forever?

Wildly and erratically dispensational? It has also been my further observation that OE believers tend to subject themselves to a self-imposed myopia when it comes to YE research. I personally would like to see some examples of what he means by "wildly and erratically dispensational" and how that conflicts with the character of Jesus, but whatever the case, has David not read Andrew Snelling's research on flood geology? Has he read any YE creationist's research in flood geology?

David continues,

Regrettably, the main reason for taking an old-earth or evolutionary position with regard to the scientific evidence is honesty- young-earth and antievolutionary scientific arguments are so blatantly bad as to be irreconcilable with "You shall not bear false witness."

Again, it would be helpful for David to give us some examples. None the less, as always the assumption, it is the YE folks who have dishonest scientific arguments. Whereas, non-creationists, yeah verily, atheist, anti-creationists, are always honest when handling the evidence. See this article to get a different take on "honesty" in science: Controversy in Paleoanthropology.

David goes on,

Of course, science should not dictate our theology. In particular, the claims of creation science must not be allowed to dictate our interpretation of Scripture.

This is a good rule of thumb to follow. Science, or to reiterate, the interpretation of science, shouldn't dictate our theology. The assertion made by David implies YE creationists allow their views of science to dictate their theology, whereas the OE creationists handle the evidence correctly, and of course, with honesty. But, OE creationists make claims about creation science, or at least their version, that does dictate our interpretation of scripture. In their case, as we will see, it is the re-interpretation of the historical narrative of Genesis from being a chronological account of God creating in a span of a week to the idea that the Genesis account is great epochs of time where a person can fit in bazillions of years.

Continuing with David,

In reality, non-calendar day views have been around since at least Origen. Of course, he went totally nuts about taking the OT allegorically, but more responsible commentators such as Augustine also adopted different views. Thus, it's clearly untrue that non-calenday day views are purely an attempt to accommodate to science.

That nutty Origen. The historical fact of the matter is the day-age view of modern day progressive creationists and other day-age systems didn't begin to appear UNTIL the Christian Church believed they had to accommodate increasingly popular views of "science." There is no way an OE believer can get around this reality of history and appealing to Origen as an example will not rescue him. I would like for David to produce an orthodox theologian who articulated, for example, Meridith Kline's view of Genesis before the 1800s, or even Hugh Ross's view of Genesis before the 1800s, who was taken seriously as a sound, orthodox exegete and expositor of the scripture.

One additional point before moving on. OE creationists will regularly appeal to Augustine as a prototypical example of a progressive creationist or some other OE system. He is claimed to have spiritualized the creation narrative hundreds of years before the old earth views of geologists began challenging the Church in the 1800s. Augustine certainly spiritualized Genesis, but it was in the wrong direction for OE creationists. He taught that the creation week of Genesis happened in an instant, rather than 6 ordinary days of time. No where did he suggest the days of creation were understood to mean "great epochs" of time where millions of years of Earth's history can be played out. Additionally, and more to the point, Augustine has an entire chapter in his City of God called Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World's Past, in which he argues for a 6,000 year history for the Earth.

In reality, all interpretation of Scripture relies on science to tell us whether a particular statement is factual, figurative, etc.

ALL interpretation of Scripture relies on science to inform us whether Scriptural statements are factual? Has David paused to consider that principle? As far as I have seen, no field of science has ever factually verified the resurrection of a man from the dead three days later. No field of science has verified the multiplication of bread and fish out of thin air or the instantaneous and total restoration of physical movement to an individual born paralyzed. In reality, David, people appeal to these lack of findings in scientific fields to deny the authority of Scripture. This is the Isaac Asimov view of the Bible: where it is scientifically factual it is true, where it isn't, it is myth.

David continues,

Most people seem willing to accept that the world is round and that the earth goes around the sun, yet those are not the impressions you get if you misinterpret the relevant Biblical passages as scientific assertions, rather than as descriptions based on the appearance of things.

Oh my, the great Galileo vs. the Roman Catholic Church argument. The average person, the category where David I guess falls, believes the Catholic Church built their cosmology from the pages of Scripture. The Scriptures are said to teach the world is flat and the sun and stars orbit around it. Now that humanity has evolved from the dark ages with the courageous leadership of such risk taking men like Galileo holding their hand, we know the Earth orbits the sun, along with all the other planets. Thus, we should never trust the ignorant superstitions found in the Bible as a source of any information regarding anything "scientific."

The problem with this utterly backward view of Church history is that the prevailing cosmological model of that day was founded on the works of Ptolemy and Aristotle and their Greek philosophical ideas, not the pages of Scripture. Later, when the cosmological models of Ptolemy and Aristotle were challenged as being reliable, then the Roman Catholic Church attempted to defend their views by appealing to passages from the Bible wrenched from their contexts. Thus the disagreement was not between Galileo and the Bible, but Galileo and a slowly crumbling cosmological model.

David continues,

It is true that those with a low regard for Scripture generally accept an old earth and evolution. However, this does not mean that accepting an old earth or evolution leads to a low regard for Scripture.

I would agree those who I know in the apologetic world who defend an OE model adhere to a high regard for the Bible. They fail, however, with adhering to a high regard for the authority of the Bible. There is a big difference. Someone can say they believe the Bible, but do they believe in its authority and sufficiency to inform our understanding of the world? I know lots of unbelievers who have a high regard for the Bible. They will even appeal to it as the basis for their ethics. What they don't have is a high regard for its authority and sufficiency. For where the Bible may conflict with the prevailing philosophy of life, they will compromise their high regard for the Bible in some fashion so as to balance their convictions toward the Bible with what is wrongly believed to be the infallible conclusions of the secular world.

David leaves us with some concluding remarks,

Rather, there are at least two ways to conclude that science is reasonably reliable. If you believe from Genesis 1 that everything was created by an orderly and rational God, who made us to be stewards of creation, then it's reasonable to conclude that the universe behaves in an orderly way, that we can figure out how it works to a useful approximation, and that we ought to do so. Conversely, if you don't put much trust in supernatural revelation, science and subjective judgments are the main sources of information available to you (though you don't have good philosophical basis for trusting in science).

I am reckoning that David believes those of us who hold to YE creationism don't believe an orderly and rational God created the universe to behave in an orderly way so that we can figure out how it works.

David identifies the foundation of our dissent: The issue isn't over whether or not you believe a rational God created, but it is by what interpretive grid we use to weigh and measure that creation He created for us to explore. The Bible provides for us an historical framework that clearly tells me God created in the space of a week's time. On top of that, the biblical record is constructed in such a way with the use of genealogical links that we can trace the history of our world chronologically. I believe those genealogies are accurate and reliable because an orderly, and I would add, infallible God, wanted His people to be anchored to the history of where things began for them. So, with that revelation we can draw reasonable conclusions about the age of the Earth.

David opines that honesty drives the OE views of Genesis and our evaluation of the creation. Any Christian who honestly evaluates the evidence will be an OE creationist. That is because God has created with honesty. However, by adopting this OE reasoning, we make God dishonest in His revelation. I believe God honestly told us how long it took for Him to create and God honestly has placed chronological markers in Scripture for His redeemed people to have an historical grounding. Honest exegesis of the Genesis narrative will only yield such a conclusion.

What then is being more honest with God? Respecting the honest and infallible revelation He has granted in Genesis and interpreting our created world according to it, or respecting the man-made conclusions about our created world that is for the most part fueled by a humanistic system with an outright disdain for God?



Blogger Mike-e said...

Excellent and very helpful rebuttal. You drove your points home very clearly. Its sad that much of the apologetics community is accepting of OEC. Sarfati's book needs to get into their hands. Since this whole issue is about biblical authority, I fear the slippery slope that will come for future generations who embrace OEC. Thanks for taking a stand, Fred!

12:34 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger threegirldad said...

"David writes,

The physical evidence from geology, astronomy, etc. regarding the age of the earth clearly conflicts with the young-earth interpretation of Genesis."

Well, the evidence from medical science "clearly conflicts with" the "literal interpretation" of Christ's death, burial and resurrection.

So, does the same "[honest] regard to the scientific evidence" that supposedly compels us to accept an old age for the earth also compel us to reject the Resurrection? If not, why not?

1:38 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger Highland Host said...

David's statement:
"In reality, all interpretation of Scripture relies on science to tell us whether a particular statement is factual, figurative, etc. "

Worries me. Why? Former liberal Anglican (now conservative Reformed Baptist. Not to mention Christian) that I am, that sounds a lot like the way the liberals do things. Thus, when I was a liberal, because science (defined atheistically and naturalistically) denied the possibility of the miraculous, I rejected the miraculous on scientific grounds. David would be better off adopting the Kantian/Barthian distintion between the phenomenal and noumenal realms to save the historicity of the Bible. Personally, I take God at his word.

No, all interpretation of Scripture relies on sound exegesis and study of the text to tell us whether a statement is factual or figurative.

Another principle is that the Bible is not a science textbook. For this I am profoundly glad, as science textbooks are more than a little tedious vat times. Thus it describes things as they appear when it speaks of the sun 'standing still', it does not give a description of the mechanism. It often gives round numbers rather than exact figures. In short, it speaks in ordinary language to ordinary people. There is, however, no way that you can use this point to deny that Genesis 1-12 are not as historical as the rest of Genesis. Did it merely 'appear' that man was created in the image of God and fell into sin?

1:06 AM, July 31, 2008  
Blogger Steve said...

Fred- thanks for this post. Very well written. I'm reminded by it of the "Great Debate" series that John Ankerberg recently produced between Ken Ham/Jason Lisle an Hugh Ross/Walt Kaiser/John Ankerberg. Yes, that's right. The moderator was about as biased in his role as one could be, and could have done a much better job letting the participants fight it out without constantly interjecting a 3rd voice for OEC.

When all was said and done, I had much less respect for Walt Kaiser as an Hebrew scholar. I thought that his logic and reasoning for justifying his position were so poorly founded that I could barely stand listening to him through the series. It couldn't have been more blatantly obvious that he didn't care so much about what the text said as he cared about making the text fit into an old earth model. I was equally turned off by Ankerberg's never-ending smirks throughout the debate toward the YEC folks, as though they were just a couple of ignorant morons.

If folks don't have this series, I highly recommend it nonetheless. If you buy it, buy it from the AIG folks, as they have added tons of additional resources defending the YEC position. Dr. Terry Mortenson's optional commentaries throughout the series are extremely valuable, and you won't hear them if you buy the DVD's from Ankerberg.

6:07 AM, July 31, 2008  

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