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

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Hard Lessons from OEC and Theistic Evolutionists [1]

monkeystick From March 25th to August 4th, 2010, the Grace to You blog ran series of blogs addressing the interpretation of Genesis, the theology of creation, and Darwinian evolution.  I remember suggesting these topics, specifically the interpretation of Genesis and the age of the Earth, when the web developing team was pondering subjects to explore.  I recall telling the blogging guys something like, “If you think we stirred up a stench of controversy taking on TBN and charismatic theology, just wait until we take on Genesis.”

It was like I was a son of a prophet.

We immediately began to receive push back from commenters.  It started with one guy who became a regular gadfly in the combox who just posted links to theistic evolutionary websites, like the Trojan atheists at Biologos, that supposedly refuted the thesis of our particular post for the day. 

But on April 1st, 2010 (a rather appropriate day for the subject at hand) things really heated up with our TE detractors when the GTY blog posted an article addressing the compromise among three supposedly conservative Bible scholars.  The three men were part of a series of Biologos produced videos claiming the creation story of Genesis can be harmonized with Darwinian evolutionary constructs.  Of the videos made, the “most” evangelical of the three was by OT professor, Bruce Waltke.  In his video, Dr. Waltke claimed evangelical Christians are damaging their credibility as Gospel witnesses because their objections to the facts of evolution are foolish.   He immediately came under fire for his comments and then subsequently resigned from his teaching position at Reformed Theological Seminary after he asked Biologos to pull the video from their blog.  A statement from one of the Biologos “curators” claimed Dr. Waltke was the victim of ignorant prejudice and fear mongering evangelicals like John MacArthur.   That statement brought the theistic evolutionists and old earth creationists to our blog with full force. 

My interaction with the cadre of TE and OEC supporters caused me to reflect upon the fundamental distinctions between our perspectives.  I will say I don’t believe our “differences” are secondary matters as a few of them have attempted to argue.  There are foundational, theological matters at stake in this discussion and they are the kind of matters we can’t just debate vigorously yet “agree to disagree.”  One side is completely wrong.  This isn’t one of those issues like, “was it really the prophet Samuel or was it a demon impersonating Samuel  in 1 Samuel 28?”  There are major doctrinal ramifications in play, such as the integrity of Scripture, the character of God, and the entire apologetic enterprise.  So with that in mind, allow me to share my reflections in this post and a forthcoming one.  

A big group of Reformed folks support TE and OEC.  This was particularly perplexing. I would think theistic evolution as a belief would swirl around in the stagnant pools of liberal and apostate theology.  I mean, I would expect the emergent crowd to be all over theistic evolution, not the Reformed Presbyterians and Baptists who are suppose to have a high view of Scripture.   For example, Modern Reformation online published an editorial by a group of Reformed geologists lamenting the folly of the young earth position and explaining why the earth is ancient.  But all they really did, however, was to provide physical evidence for their case built upon a secular model of Earth’s history while totally ignoring the biblical history outlined in Genesis.

This article, along with the comments by many old earth proponents who claim to be Reformed, represent what I believe to be a truly odd and conflicted position.  Simply because one of the main tenets of the Reformation was sola scriptura, or the Bible alone is the sole infallible source of authority for the Christian Church.  Sola scriptura is suppose to mean all other rules of authority are inferior to, and are to be corrected by, Scripture.  That is why the Reformers rejected the interpretations of Rome and the pope’s infallibility.  Yet, with the case of TEs and OEC, the evolutionary deep time history as taught by the “consensus” of scientific experts stands as a magisterial authority that reinterprets the history recorded in Scripture from the time of God creating to the NT era.  They would bristle when I raised this point claiming such was not the case.  It was as if the so-called scientific evidence was special and transcended the role of any magisterial authority so that what long age geologists say about the age of the earth was some God honoring exercise on the part of Christians when studying the Bible. 

It further appeared to me that many of them wrote as former fundamentalists who believed young earth creationism by default as a member of a fundamentalist church.  Now that they came to be more Reformed in their overall theology, abandoning, and then debunking, YEC was necessary to affirm their total immersion into the Reformation.  Their comments were like a rage against Kent Hovind, or any other number of fundamentalist young earth apologists they no longer respect and now hold with disdain. 

Most TE  and OEC proponents seem to embrace classic, evidentialist apologetic methodology.  This is one of the key reason I believe they are quick to give such authoritative weight to the evidence when interpreting the Bible.  Classic evidentialism seeks to establish the validity of the Christian faith with an appeal to lines of external evidences apart from Scripture.  This evidence in question is thought to be self-attesting.  In other words, it speaks for itself and both believers and unbelievers can verify its truthfulness or falsity.  In the case of creation, TE and OEC believe the so-called findings of secular science, especially in relation to the age of the earth and the origin of life, is factually unquestionable.  Because the “evidence” presented by the secular scientific establishment regarding the origin and history of the world is undeniable, and because it runs contrary to the history of the world presented within the pages of Scripture, the immediate evidence holds sway over the interpretation of the relevant portions of the Genesis record. 

I never really thought their capitulation to the authorial nature of the evidence was ever adequately explained in the light of the biblical text.  The general response is to say “all truth is God’s truth” and the evidence in question is undeniable and thus must be “God’s truth.”  To deny it is to deny “God’s truth” as it were.  Another typical response to the charge of compromise is to liken their position to the conflict Copernicus and Galileo  had with the Church authorities during the 16th and 17th centuries.  These men were condemned because they apparently discovered evidence that contradicted the literal teaching of the Bible.  But neither Copernicus nor Galileo ran into direct conflict with the biblical text.  They presented evidence that challenged the standard Aristotelian view of the scholastic academics.  Besides, their new models of the solar system did not even come close to re-writing the history of the world as presented in Scripture, something evolutionary long ages certainly do.

Underestimate the noetic effects of the fall. This is also odd in light of the fact most TE and OEC are Reformed in their soteriology. The noetic effects of the fall has to do with the total depravity of men, or the first point of Calvinism. The idea being that all men, on account of Adam’s fall into sin, are corrupted by the influence of sin throughout the totality of their being. Noetic means that man’s reason has been totally corrupted as well, so that he doesn’t think like he should about God.

Now, that is not to say men are irrational and unable to function together in society, but it does mean that men will reason sinfully, and according to Scripture (Romans 1:20ff.; Ephesians 4:17-19), men reason in such a way so as to exclude God from their thinking altogether and suppress the truth in unrighteousness. This means they are not unbiased when they evaluate scientific data especially when it comes to extrapolating upon the data so as to develop the historical background to our world. Theistic evolutionists and old earth creationists place way too much confidence in the ability of sinful men in rebellion against their Creator to evaluate the evidence without any bias and to draw the right conclusions from that evidence about what we are to believe regarding our earth’s history against what the Bible reveals of that history.

The scientific community is considered an unique mission field. A repeated complaint I would read from the TE and OEC commenters was that a literal reading of Genesis that teaches the creation took place by divine, supernatural means over the space of six days, that in turn makes the Earth to be around 6,000 years old, is so outrageous that to call the scientific community to believe such things creates a severe stumbling block to the Gospel. These scientific minded individuals are leading experts in their various fields of study. To insist, for example, that a secular geologist must reject all he knows to be true about the geological evidence just to be a Christian places him in the position to merely heap more unnecessary scorn upon the Faith. Furthermore, to insist the Genesis account records the real history of God creating the world in the space of six days just 6,000 years ago makes Christian to appear foolish and close minded to the truth of reality.  Hence, the academic community are viewed as a special class of individuals requiring a unique “missional” approach that excludes acknowledging the supernatural when it supposedly conflicts with the natural sciences. 

Yet this objection assumes a number of elements.   First, that a sinner can rationally evaluate lines of external evidence and draw godly conclusions from them apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. This is contrary to what Scripture teaches regarding the salvation of men. No man can call Christ Lord without the Spirit’s work first (1 Cor. 12:3).  Secondly, that those external lines of evidence have the intrinsic ability to persuade any sinner in rebellion against God of his need for the Gospel.   Yet, it doesn’t matter how absurd, or fantastic, or even reasonable the evidence may seem, evidence doesn’t have this ability at all, and if the Spirit is not doing a work of regeneration to begin with, no man will come to salvation.   Third, it assumes the unbelieving academic will be prepared to accept one set of biblical truths, the miracles and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, while believing another set of biblical truths, the creation in six 24-hour days, is considered absurd and unreasonable.  I never understood why we are to downplay or totally ignore all those supernatural events that supposedly go against all known science because we are creating stumbling blocks, yet it is okay to call those same academic unbelievers to accept other supernatural events that are just as “scientifically” absurd and are just as equally a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).  There is just an amazing disconnect with this evangelistic approach.

to be continued…

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Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Fred,

When it comes to eschatology, have you ever heard of the "pan-millenial" position? I.e., it'll all pan out in the end! :-)

How about an analogous position when it comes to the doctrine of origins between YEC and OEC? Something like "The origin and age of everything will be revealed in the end!"


1:26 PM, September 08, 2010  
Blogger Lynda O said...

Well said, Fred. "Theistic evolutionists and old earth creationists place way too much confidence in the ability of sinful men in rebellion against their Creator to evaluate the evidence without any bias and to draw the right conclusions from that evidence" -- so true.
Interesting that you point out this connection between "Reformed" and creation, because it seems to be the same connection between "Reformed" and Augustinian ecclesiology / eschatology. Just as they rebel against Kent Hovind (very Arminian, maybe Pelagian?), so they rebel against dispensationalism / fundamentalism (as you mentioned some time ago) because of the Arminian association. They really only want soteriology, nothing else matters and everything else has some non-physical, "spiritual" meaning. One interesting difference here is that they go beyond the Reformers -- Calvin & Luther had the Catholic/Reformed eschatology, but they at least included Genesis 1 in their literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic.

2:03 PM, September 08, 2010  
Blogger Highland Host said...

Funnily enough, I became a Biblical Creationist (what you would call a Young Earth position) while studying for a science degree at an Anglican college in the UK. In the UK I have found most (but not all) Reformed folk to be Biblical Creationists. This is because the Creationist movement over here was tied very closely in its early days to Reformed Churches.

And as I have said, when a person accepted their former theology as a total package, they will generally accept their next theological position as a total package as well. And that goes double for eschatology. Arminian dispensationalism is the default position in Fundamentalism. You also need to take into account that sometimes people want to make a total break with Fundamentalism, and sometimes go over the top... and I shall resist the comment I was about to make for the sake of peace. I would however point out that one cannot reasonably read Genesis and Revelation as though they were the same sort of literature! And that goes for all of us!

1:11 AM, September 09, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I would echo what HH is saying. Not ALL Reformed folks would hold to a total re-read of Genesis to accommodate evolutionary constructs. But I will say that ALL folks who did such a thing were Reformed, or came from that background. I can understand why they are so easily swayed into that position if they are operating from a "Christological" hermeneutic that re-reads the OT according to the NT revelation of Jesus. That is why a lot of my old earth detractors attempted to emphasize that Genesis was about the "earth" = "Land of Israel" or that the creation week was the creation of a "heavenly tabernacle" and so forth.

5:37 AM, September 09, 2010  
Blogger Lynda O said...

Thanks for the additional explanation, Fred, about their "Christological" hermeneutic. Yes, not all Reformed abandon both Genesis and Revelation (R.C. Sproul, for instance, now holds to the literal understanding of Genesis). I have some particular individuals in mind as well, and at least in their case it comes from a "spiritualizing" tendency (and a Christological hermeneutic fits with that) to gloss over the text rather than exegeting and dealing with the specifics, plus a naturalist inclination to put more faith in mankind and natural "scientific" processes than in the supernatural.

6:41 AM, September 09, 2010  
Blogger Steve Gentry said...


You said in your last paragraph I never understood why we are to downplay or totally ignore all those supernatural events that supposedly go against all known science because we are creating stumbling blocks, yet it is okay to call those same academic unbelievers to accept other supernatural events that are just as “scientifically” absurd and are just as equally a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:20-25). There is just an amazing disconnect with this evangelistic approach.

This isn't just about evangelizing the scientific community. It's also about reconciling the truth of Scripture with the truth that God reveals in nature.

I've referenced the article by Ard Louis on miracles before. I don't have a problem with God having the ability to create the universe in 6 days, 6000 years ago. But the evidence in nature suggests that the earth is much older. This isn't about seeking the approval of the scientific community. It's about reconciling the truth of Scripture with the truth we find in nature. When I examine the positions of both sides, I find the evidence in favor of an old earth much more convincing than the argument that God created the earth with "an appearance of age.

I for one, am profoundly grateful for the Reformed position that seeks to reconcile the truth between the two. I appreciate not having to "check my brain" when I walk through the doors of the church. Someday, I may leave the Baptist church I attend and join a PCA church (unless I can convince my pastor of the error of his ways).

I'm not going to reiterate all the arguments. You know where I stand. For over 40 years I held the same position that you currently hold. It's only been in the last 15 years that I took a closer look at the evidence and found the "young earth" position to be lacking in any real substance.

My faith today is stronger than it's ever been. I can have a high view of Scripture and still accept the discoveries in science.

7:08 PM, September 09, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Steve, you basically represent the folks I mention in my second point: you believe external evidence is self-attesting and speaks for itself. Never do you consider the fact that evidence has to be interpreted according to specific presuppositions, or at least you think one's presuppositions are of little or no consequence in evaluating and interpreting evidence. If it is assumed a uniformitarian naturalistic framework is the correct way to look at the history of the world, of course one will always side with the long ages for the universe and then move to re-interpret the plain meaning of Genesis to fit those conflicts.

Additionally, I never really heard a compelling, thoughtful argument against the so-called “appearance of age.” Most of what I read from the old earth detractors was fluffy straw men argumentation and then a link to that Grover guy’s videos. The claim is that if God created a world in six days fully functional, that creation is for some unexplained reason, making God deceptive if the trees have growth rings. Of course, this position just unwittingly denies the miraculous acts of God. When Jesus fed the five thousand and then the four thousand, he did so with fish he created ready to be consumed. There was no life cycle for the fish, no fishermen catching them and preparing them for consumption. They just appeared out of thin air. The same is with the loaves, bread created from wheat that was never planted, harvested or threshed. Am I to say Jesus was deceiving us?

Yet the most damaging problem to your position is the fact that hundreds of Christians in the various fields of academic, scientific study have no problem with a young earth. I guess in your understanding they are just blinded by tradition? Dopey, close-minded fundamentalists? How do you explain men who held to theistic evolution for years only to abandon the position after they recognized the evidence isn’t nearly as ironclad against a young earth as secularists claim and certainly stands against the integrity of the Bible? I am still waiting for an explanation for these people. Marvin Olasky’s recent article in World is worth the read

9:41 AM, September 10, 2010  
Blogger Sir Aaron said...


I've always argued about the flood and other events that we know occurred but not the details. We are given few details about how the flood occurred. We also must believe that there was no rainbow prior to the flood. Finally, we aren't told at all how the flood receded. To say we know what the effects would be based on current disaster data is silly.

Another example is when we are told God did not want man to live as long as he was. so he shortened our lifespan. How did he do that? Could he have changed the environment? We simply don't know. I think trying to play detective is good but overall we have to take Scripture at face value because we simply cannot account for the effect of miracles on the universe.

10:36 AM, September 10, 2010  

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