01/30/18

Nature, Red in Tooth & Claw, Part 2

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In an appendix to their classic book, The Genesis Flood, John Whitcomb and Henry Morris discussed the question of “Paleontology and the Edenic Curse.” They questioned the validity what they referred to as “uniformitarian paleontology,” which dated the formation of fossil layers in hundreds of millions of years, not the thousands of years allotted in their own timeline for creation. This uniformitarianism assumed the death of billions of animals by natural or violent means and the extinction of untold species of animals, like dinosaurs, before the Fall of Adam. “Long ago before the Edenic curse giant flesh-eating monsters like Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the earth, slashing their victims with ferocious dagger-like teeth and claws.”

But how can such an interpretation of the history of the animal kingdom be reconciled with the early chapters of Genesis? Does the Book of Genesis, honestly studied in the light of the New Testament, allow for the reign of tooth and claw and death and destruction before the Fall of Adam?

In Part 1 of this article we looked at some of the challenges to the modern young earth (YEC) theodicy that Whitcomb and Morris birthed with their book.  The organization, Answers in Genesis (AiG) seems to be at the forefront of the current debate over how to interpret Genesis 1-11 from this perspective. For AiG, the age of the earth, the day of creation in Genesis 1 and whether there was animal death before the Fall are all tied together into the same bundle. Writing for AiG in “Did Death of Any Kind Exist Before the Fall?,” Simon Turpin said:

If Genesis is interpreted through the lens of uniformitarian geology then the fossil record documents that millions of years of earth’s history are filled with death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, and violence. However, if the days of creation in Genesis 1 were only 24 hours long then there is no room for the millions of years of death, struggle, and disease to have taken place before Adam disobeyed God.

Along with others, the work of David Snoke in A Biblical Case for an Old Earth was presented as evidence countering the YEC and AiG claim that their interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is the only biblically valid one. Dr. Snoke said that if you were to acknowledge that the Bible taught animals died before the Fall, many of the other objections to an old earth melted away. Here I’d like to further unpack another of his statements, “The whole point of an old-earth view is to say that things are as they appear, and the earth is full of fossils and fossil matter such as coral and limestone.”

Dr. Snoke noted where YECs like AiG and Whitcomb and Morris identified the Edenic curse in Genesis 3:14-24 as the origination of carnivorous animals. Before the Fall they were said to have been herbivores. Whitcomb and Morris stated that the sharp claws and teeth of the carnivores came from the Fall: “The point is that such specialized structures appeared for the first time after the Edenic curse.” Yet there is no discussion in Scripture of how these modifications (dare we say evolved?) or new species emerged, according to Snoke. “Nowhere does it say that new species of animals [or alterations to existing species] will appear or that the entire order of the physical world will change.”

Snoke suggested that two different interpretive models of the creation, fall and new creation played a role in the debate over whether animal death occurred before the Fall. The models are illustrated below in the following table reproduced from A Biblical Case for an Old Earth. 

View I

World of

Genesis 1-2

World of

Revelation 21-22

Our world

(digression)

View II

World of

Revelation 21-22

World of

Genesis 1-2

Our world

In the first model, the original created world and the new heavens & earth of Revelation are essentially the same. The lost, perfect Edenic world is restored; and our present world is radically different from either. In support of this perspective, the imagery of the Garden of Eden found in Revelation 22:1-3 is noted: There is the Tree of Life, a river and the declaration that “No longer will there be anything accursed.” Snoke does not further elaborate on this model, but the assumed lack of death, disease, and suffering for animals (what AiG calls natural evil) and humans before the Fall would fit in equating them.

In the section of his article addressing whether there was natural evil before the Fall, AiG’s Terry Mortenson said the declaration by God was that his creation was “very good.” Not only did this indicate that land creatures were vegetarian before the Fall, but how could “millions of years of death and other natural evil be called ‘very good’?” He went on to Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25-26, which speak of a future state of creation, where the wolf and the lamb will dwell together; the lion eats straw like the ox; the cow and the bear will graze together and their young will lie down together.

The scene in view is one of complete peace and harmony. For some animals to hunt and kill other animals is described as hurting, destroying, and doing evil. Given this language, is it really possible that carnivores would be destroying other animals (whether healthy or diseased) and earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and asteroid impacts causing animal death and extinction would be happening for hundreds of millions of years in God’s “very good” creation before Adam sinned?

In the second model, the original created world and our current world are essentially the same. The old earth premise is that things are as they appear. Here, the world to come in Revelation is utterly different. Dr. Snoke illustrated the differences by comparing Revelation 21-22 and Genesis 1-3. Revelation 21 said there will be no more sea, night or sun, while the sea, sun and night are part of the created order in Genesis 1. Also it’s “the first heaven and the first earth” that has passed away in Revelation 21:1.

In other words, the heaven and earth of Genesis 1 (presented in Gen. 1:1) are lumped in together with our present heaven and earth, as a unity that will be destroyed when Christ comes again to make all things new. There is no mention in Scripture of a major physical change of the world at the fall.

The Garden of Eden is a type of heaven in the second model, but not equal to it. Other types in Scripture include the temple in Jerusalem for the true temple of God in heaven (Hebrews 8:1-5). King David was a type of the Messiah.  The Garden gives us a picture of heaven as the temple in Jerusalem does of the holiness of God in his heavenly throne room. “The Garden was a space of special protection made for human beings, where God walked with man.”

John Walton seems to have a similar sense to David Snoke of the Garden of Eden in The Lost World of Genesis One. He said scholars have recognized the temple and tabernacle contained a good bit of imagery from the Garden of Eden. They also point out how gardens commonly adjoined sacred space in the ancient world. Strictly speaking then, the Garden of Eden in Walton’s view was not a garden for man, but the garden of God. Walton then quoted biblical scholar Gordon Wenham, who said:

The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary.

Outside of this Garden, according to Snoke, was the dangerous natural world. The model fits with God forcefully driving the man from the Garden he had been originally charged to work and keep. Instead of dwelling in the pleasant and peaceful Garden, God banished him into the outer darkness where “nature, red in tooth and claw” was the rule. There the ground was cursed and he would work it by the sweat of his brow and eat of it in pain. He said:

In my view, the powerful forces that existed outside the Garden, which included darkness, the sea, and carnivorous animals, existed prior to the fall as judgments held in readiness, as visible threats to Adam and Eve of the contrast between their protected state of grace and the possible consequences of leaving God’s presence.

There seems to be enough biblical evidence to say animals died before the Fall. As I mentioned in Part 1, there is also credible biblical evidence to allow for the old earth creation acceptance of millions of years for the process. Things in our world today are as they appear. The nature of animal life was not changed from grass eaters to meat eaters by the Edenic curse. Nature, red in tooth in claw existed outside the Garden before the Fall, apparently for millions of years, and became part of human existence when we were banished from the Garden—until Christ comes again to make everything new. Maranatha.

01/19/18

Nature, Red in Tooth & Claw, Part 1

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In this short video, you will see two lions stalking, and then one of them killing, a zebra. The two zebras are caught by surprise; but one got away unharmed. The photographer then seems to have edited the incident to show a somewhat later confrontation between one of the lions and the unharmed zebra over the downed and dying zebra. Eventually that zebra runs off when it is apparent its partner isn’t getting up. Now let’s see how your interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis will influence your understanding of what you see in the video.

How does “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” fit into God’s plan? Tennyson wrestled with this question his 1850 poem, In Memoriam. Under the influence of geologists like Charles Lyell, there was a growing acceptance of uniformatarianism over catastrophism in Victorian England. Uniformatarianism suggested the earth’s geologic processes in the past acted with essentially the same intensity as they do in the present. Catastrophism held that the earth originated through supernatural means; while a series of catastrophic events, such as the biblical Flood, formed what geologists saw in rock formations and anthropologists found in fossils.

The acceptance of long, geologic periods of time in uniformatarianism challenged the belief originating with Bishop Ussher that the age of the earth was around 6,000 years old. See “Crumbling Pillars?” and “The Fall of the Chronology of Ussher” for more on Ussher. However, catastrophism fits with a younger view of the age of the earth. Belief in the truth of the Bible seemed to be undermined by this new geologic theory. “After the discoveries of Charles Lyell, and other geologists, discoveries which undermined the literal truth of the Bible, could one retain one’s faith in Christianity?”

A better way of stating the above dilemma would be that the discoveries of Lyell and others undermined a literal interpretation of biblical passages that had been used to support a younger age for the earth. An older earth was at odds with interpreting Genesis 1 to mean God accomplished his creative works in the space of six consecutive twenty-four hour days. A variety of approaches to interpret the creation days in Genesis 1 have been suggested, as Vern Poythress reviewed in his booklet, Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1. Some of the approaches are: the mature-creation theory, the gap theory, the intermittent-day theory, the analogical days theory and the day-age theory. See the link for a free pdf of the booklet and a description of the various approaches noted here.

Young earth creationists, like Answers in Genesis (AiG), will argue that all death, human and animal, was the result of the Fall. Writing for AiG, Simon Turpin said in Did Death of Any Kind Exist Before the Fall?, “Human physical and spiritual death, together with the death of animals, came about through the disobedience of one man.” That man, of course, was Adam. Turpin laid out biblical support for linking human and animal death as the result of the Fall by looking at nine “key passages” from Genesis 1, 2 and 3 through Revelation 21-22. Although he gave the impression that he has thoroughly researched and exegeted the issue, I have serious reservations with his discussion of the evidence and his conclusions.

For example, he gave the standard AiG argument for why the days of creation in Genesis must be understood as 24-hour days and should not be understood in any other sense. The genre of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is not poetic, according to Turpin. Genesis 1-11 is historical narrative in the same way Genesis 12-50 is: “There is no transition from non-historical to historical and it is not treated as a separate literary category from Genesis 12–50.” Additionally, “The days of Genesis 1 are six literal 24-hour days (Exodus 20:11) which occurred around 6,000–10,000 years ago.” This is the crux of the AiG argument against old earth creation and their rejection of animal death before the Fall. See “Does Anybody Really Know What Time Is?,” “What’s In A Day?” and “Genealogies In Genesis” for challenges and alternatives to an AiG position on Genesis 1 and the age of the earth.

If Genesis is interpreted through the lens of uniformitarian geology then the fossil record documents that millions of years of earth’s history are filled with death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, and violence. However, if the days of creation in Genesis 1 were only 24 hours long then there is no room for the millions of years of death, struggle, and disease to have taken place before Adam disobeyed God.

A second given reason by Turbin and AiG that Genesis 1 suggested there was no death before Adam’s Fall was “the vegetarian diet prescribed to both man and animals in Genesis 1:29-30 ruling out any carnivorous behavior before the Fall.” In his commentary on Genesis 1-4, C. John Collins pointed out that while Genesis 1:29-30 does say humans and animals were given plants to eat, “it does not say they ate nothing else.” Moreover, if we take the passage to mean a vegetarian diet for these animals, it only applies to creatures living on the land. “It says nothing about anything that lives in the water, many of which are carnivorous.”

Collins also said it was a mistake to read Genesis 2:17 as implying that physical death did not effect the creation before the Fall. He thought the focus of this death was spiritual death, addressed to Adam alone (the “you” is masculine singular); and is then appropriated by the woman in Genesis 3:2-3. “It applies to human beings and says nothing about the animals.”

From all of this we may conclude that Genesis does say that changes have come into human nature as a result of the fall—pain in childbearing, other afflictions of body and soul, death, frustration in ruling creation—but it does not follow that nonhuman nature is affected in the same way.

Turbin also cited Geerhardus Vos’s seminal book, Biblical Theology a couple of times in support of his assertions. Vos’s discussion in the passage both quotes by Turpin were taken was from was a section where Vos addressed “the principle of death symbolized by the dissolution of the body.” Vos was countering the view that human death preceded the Fall and had nothing to say about animal death. We could go on, but my intention was to illustrate how there are alternate possible interpretations of the passages cited by Turbin and other views of the six creation days of Genesis 1 that can fit with a biblical sense of the text. The AiG way to interpret Genesis 1-11 is not the only biblically legitimate way.

Ted Davis wrote a provocatively titled article for BioLogos, “Does Death Before the Fall Make God a Liar?” He addressed the same young earth creationist (YEC) and AiG claim that animal death was a direct result of the Fall. Davis reflected on a critique of a special issue of the Christian Research Journal devoted to the question, “Where Do We Come From?” The author of the AiG article, “Compromised Creation,” said she appreciated how the articles demonstrated “the impossibility of Darwinian evolution and the bankruptcy of theistic evolution.” But she found the issue dangerously compromised since many of the authors accepted an old earth. There was a general assumption of millions of years of living and dying.

There can be no argument that the fossil record is a graveyard full of evidence of disease, violence, carnivory, suffering, and death. To assume (as many authors implicitly do in this journal) that such miseries were all part of God’s “very good” creation (so named by God in Genesis 1:31) is to impugn God’s character. If God had called a world already full of bloodshed and death “very good,” then He either had a cruel sense of irony or didn’t know what He was talking about, or worse, He is a liar.

Davis pointed to Psalm 104, which praises God for the many wonders in creation; including the young lions who “roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.” There is the sea, which teams with innumerable creatures, both small and great. “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things” (Psalm 104:27-28). Davis said he doesn’t see how to reconcile this Psalm with YEC theodicy.

In A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, David Snoke said if you conceded that the Bible teaches that animals died before the Fall, many of the objections to an old earth fade away. “The whole point of an old-earth view is to say that things are as they appear, and the earth is full of fossils and fossil matter such as coral and limestone.” He thought that from a scientific standpoint, either the earth was old, or simply appeared old. However, there are theological problems in the mature creation or appearance of age view for both science and YEC/AiG.

In Redeeming Science (pp. 116ff; a pdf copy is linked here) Vern Poythress noted several different objections to the appearance of age view. First, a mature creation view implies that God has deceived us. Second, it makes scientific investigation illegitimate. Thirdly, from an AiG perspective, it would falsely imply that death preceded the Fall. Lastly, again causing problems for the YEC and AiG understanding of the Flood, it would undermine their understanding of the biblical teaching of Noah’s flood.

Dr. Snoke presented what he saw as two valid interpretive options on the age of the earth from a scientific viewpoint, meaning he accepted that scientific evidence in both would suggest an old earth. Vern Poythress then showed how a consistent mature creation view of creation could lead into both theological and scientific problems for a young earth that only give the appearance of being old.

So it seems the “nature, red in tooth and claw” illustrated in the opening video can fit within an interpretation of Genesis 1 consistent with an old earth view. Attempting to combine the origins of human and animal death in the manner done by YEC and AiG is both scientifically and theologically invalid. Look for more discussion on this issue in Part 2 of this article.

01/9/18

Their Way or the Highway

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Writing for Christianity Today, Tim Stafford related what he thought was the most sobering moment of the BioLogos “Theology of Celebration” conference held in March of 2012. That was when David Kinnaman of Barna Research presented findings that more than half of U.S. pastors profess a 6-day, 24-hour creation view of Genesis 1. Fewer than one in five followed the BioLogos view, affirming an evolutionary process as God’s method of creation. The cited statistics illustrate the ongoing dispute within conservative Christian circles on how to interpret Genesis 1 and the role (if any) of evolutionary processes in creation.

BioLogos also posted an essay by Tim Keller, who was one of the participants at the 2012 conference, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople.” Keller wanted to provide guidance to pastors ministering in the cultural context where “Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one ‘truism’—that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all.” He noted there were many Christians who questioned the underlying premise to this truism, namely that science and faith were irreconcilable. He added how this left “many Christian laypeople … confused because the voices arguing that Biblical orthodoxy and evolution are mutually exclusive are louder and more prominent than any others.”

Keller sought to describe in his essay how Christians could approach three of the main difficulties presented by the current scientific account of biological evolution for orthodox Christians. Those three difficulties were:  Biblical authority, the confusion of biology and philosophy, and the historicity of Adam and Eve. In his concluding thoughts Keller cited Psalm 19 and Romans 1, which teach: “that God’s glory is revealed as we study his creation.” Nevertheless, he said, we must interpret the book of nature by the book of God.  His conclusion was that Christians who seek to correlate Scripture and science “must be a ‘bigger tent’ than either the anti-scientific religionists or the anti-religious scientists.”

He’s faced strong criticism of his paper from several creationist sources. For example, Lita Cosner of Creation Ministries International said he was struck by the weakness of Keller’s assertions. He questioned Keller’s understanding of Genesis and implied he had subordinated Scripture to science. E.S. Williams on The New Calvinists said Keller was a firm believer in theistic evolution who promoted “this false view of creation in the Christian Church.”

Ken Ham was more oblique, saying Keller had misrepresented or taken a shot at him. He also implied Keller had a low view of Scripture for Genesis 1-11 because he didn’t agree with Ham’s (Answers in Genesis’s) interpretation of those chapters. “For Genesis 1–11, they allow man’s fallible beliefs about evolution or millions of years to override the clear words in Scripture so man’s ideas can be accommodated into Scripture.” The message is clear. Any disagreement a young earth creationist (YEC) understanding of Genesis 1-11 means you have a low view of biblical authority; or you’ve misinterpreted Scripture. It’s their way or the highway.

Ted Davis noted how theistic evolution or evolutionary creation has been controversial among Christians for over one hundred years. “It was contested hotly in the 1920s, when William Jennings Bryan sought to outlaw the teaching of evolution in public schools and universities.” Bryan saw theistic evolution as “an anesthetic which deadens the pain while the patient’s religion is being gradually removed.” Yet Answers in Genesis (AiG) said Bryan himself allowed “compromise on the days of creation.” In an excerpt of the trial transcript from the Scopes Trial, as Clarence Darrow cross examined him, Bryan said he did not did not think the days in Genesis 1 were necessarily twenty-four hour days; and that the creation could have been going on for a very long time. “It might have continued for millions of years.”

Along with Bryan, AiG’s list of past and present “compromised” evangelical leaders include: Charles Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, James Montgomery Boice, Gleason Archer, Bill Bright, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Billy Graham, Bruce Waltke, and Tim Keller. “Those leaders all made the enormous mistake of interpreting Genesis differently than AiG.” As a result, they failed to contend for “the literal historical truth of Genesis 1–11, which is absolutely fundamental to all other doctrines in the Bible,” according to AiG.

It is astonishing that any given alternative to the YEC interpretation is painted as an unacceptable “compromise” arising from a cowardly desire to mute one’s faith in conformity to the world. This tendency to demonize legitimate differences of opinion or interpretation is surely one of the main reasons why so many young Christians are leaving their faith behind.

Ken Ham and AiG, of course, have a different opinion on why so many young people are leaving the church. In a 2016 article he co-authored for AiG, Ham said young people are not getting solid answers to their questions about the Bible. “Research”  (AiG research?) shows how many of these questions “are related to Genesis and scientific issues such as evolution, long ages (millions of years), dinosaurs, and Noah’s Ark.”

These young people are not getting solid answers from church leaders and parents but, sadly, are often told they can believe in the big bang, millions of years, and evolution; they’re then admonished to reinterpret or ignore Genesis while being told to “trust in Jesus!” These young people recognize the inconsistency of reinterpreting the first book of the Bible and yet being expected to trust the other books that talk about Christ. If we can doubt and reinterpret Genesis, where do we stop doubting and reinterpreting?

AiG (Ham and his co-author) pointed out a Pew Research Center study that looked at “Why America’s ‘nones’ left religion behind.” A ‘none’ is a person who does not identify with a religious group. According to Pew, 78% of religious nones report they were raised in a particular faith before shedding it in adulthood. Forty-nine percent of these said they left their childhood faith over a lack of belief.  But here we run into some apparent difficulties when interpreting the Pew data.

Pew Research said the 49% of religious nones whose lack of belief led them away from religion “include many respondents who mention ‘science’ as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings.” AiG reported this as Pew Research finding the same thing they did: “A large percent of young people are leaving the church because of questions about science that lead to doubts about God’s Word.” The Pew quote was from their above article, but the article itself didn’t give anything more specific than what was quoted. I did some searching on the Pew website and couldn’t find any further data on nones saying science was the reason they don’t now believe religious teachings, so we’ll assume what the article said is all that is available.

I don’t read the above two quotes as saying the same thing, as AiG does. There may be a significant number of young people who say they left the church or don’t believe in religious teachings because of science, but you can’t draw that conclusion from the Pew report. Pew didn’t give any data on that issue; they merely said many respondents gave ‘science’ as a reason they no longer believed in religious teachings. Another factor to consider is the Pew data is a reflection of all faiths, and not just Christianity. So it seems AiG is illegitimately co-opting the Pew findings to support their own views when they say Pew Research found the same thing they did. Then they proclaim: “If we can’t trust the historical portions of the Bible that deal with our origins, why should we trust the message of Jesus Christ? We’ve been saying this for years now—it’s nothing new!”

Research done by the Barna Group on “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church” indicated there was no single reason that dominated “the break-up between church and young adults.” However, there were six significant themes for why 59% disconnect after the age of fifteen. One of those six themes was how the church comes across as antagonistic to science. The research showed that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science. The Barna Group findings seem to be in line with Ted Davis’s above opinion on why many young Christians are leaving their faith—because of their church is demonizing legitimate differences of opinion or interpretation. The most common reasons given by young adults who felt disconnected from church or faith because of perceived antagonism to science were as follows:

“Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.”

There were five other reasons in addition to how churches come across as antagonistic to science in the Barna Group findings. So perceived antagonism with science is only one of six significant themes why young Christians disconnect from church life. It is a factor, but can’t be said to be the primary reason. Now let’s look at the results of another Pew Research study: The Religious Landscape Study, which “surveys more than 35,000 Americans from all 50 states about their religious affiliations, beliefs and practices and social and political views.” One of the social questions was on the participant’s views on evolution.

Among Christians, 42% said humans always existed in their present form, 5% said they didn’t know, but 54% said humans evolved in one way or another. Twenty-one percent said humans evolved through natural processes, 29% said they evolved due to God’s design, and 4% said they evolved but didn’t know ho it happened.

Most evangelical Protestants (57%) said humans always existed in their present form, 5% said they didn’t know, but 38% said humans evolved in one way or another. Eleven percent said humans evolved through natural processes, 25% said they evolved due to God’s design, and 2% said they evolved but didn’t know ho it happened.

Another question asked in the Religious Landscape Study was on interpreting Scripture. Among Christians, 39% said the Bible was the Word of God and should be taken literally; 33% said the Bible was the Word of God, but not everything had to be taken literally; 18% said is was not the word of God; the rest weren’t sure in one way or another.

Most evangelical Protestants (55%) said the Bible was the Word of God and should be taken literally; 29% said the Bible was the Word of God, but not everything had to be taken literally; 8% said is was not the word of God; the rest weren’t sure in one way or another.

A literal interpretation of the Bible and believing humans always existed in their present form are beliefs consistent with a YEC position on creation. And the percentages of evangelical Protestants holding those beliefs corresponds to the Barna Group research reported above, that half of U.S. pastors profess a 6-day, 24-hour creation view of Genesis 1. Yet there are significant percentages of evangelical Protestants (38%) who hold to some form of human evolutionary development and believe that while the Bible is the Word of God, not everything had to be taken literally (29%).

Despite the detractors, it seems that Tim Keller’s advice in “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople” is particularly relevant to the church today. When Christians draw the line of orthodoxy at a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 to 11 and deny the possibility of a creation older than a few thousand years, they make their tent too small and in the process send those who can’t agree on their way. Hopefully they will encounter a pastor and a church who are trying to minister in the manner suggested by Keller.

12/8/17

Room for Differences on Creation

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Tim Keller stepped down as the Senior Pastor for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City in July of 2017. Redeemer also split into multiple congregations, “actualizing our long-stated plan of shifting from being a single large church with multiple congregations to becoming a family of smaller churches.” Keller said his new role would be as a teacher and trainer for the next generation of leaders and pastors within the Redeemer family of churches. “The gospel is a living force, always sending and giving—and as I am sent in a new way now, so is every member of Redeemer, to love and serve this great city.” And yet he has been smeared as having such a low view of Scripture, “that he goes out of his way to promote the false doctrine of theistic evolution.”

The above is the stated opinion of E.S. Williams in “Keller’s false gospel” on The New Calvinists website. Williams has also written a book titled The New Calvinists, which critiques Keller and others. Williams claims in the subtitle of his book these pastors are changing the gospel. In another article on The New Calvinists bashing Keller (there are several), “Keller’s theistic evolution,” Williams distorts Keller’s position by saying he believes the Bible must be made to conform to the ‘truth’ of science. “Keller does this by asserting [in The Reason for God] that the first chapter of Genesis is a poem.” He is certainly not the only critical source of Keller on his understanding of Genesis one and whether theistic evolution can be affirmed by those with a high view of Scripture.

Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis (AiG), has also been critical Tim Keller. He said: “It is so sad to see a great Bible teacher like Tim Keller promote belief in evolution to the church.” Ham’s contends Keller and others have misunderstood what he and Answers in Genesis are saying in relation to the loss of biblical authority. According to Ham, this is the result of “contributing to undermining the authority of the Word of God by accommodating man’s ideas of evolution or millions of years into Genesis.” He believes there has been “an increasing generational loss of Biblical authority because so many in the church have opened the door to compromise beginning in Genesis.”

Within a document, “Where Do We Draw the Line?,” AiG said it is made up of “Christians who unite to defend the authority of the Bible in today’s secular culture.” That is what they say they are about—“the authority of the Bible, often in Genesis.” An example of how the issue of Biblical authority is understood by AiG has to do with the age of the earth.

For example, the secular world has been teaching that the earth is billions of years old. The Bible, based on genealogies recorded throughout the Scriptures and the context of the Hebrew word yom (day) in Genesis 1, reveal that the earth is thousands of years old. So, this question becomes a biblical authority issue. Is one going to trust a perfect God who created all things (Genesis 1:1), has always been there (Revelation 22:13), knows all things (Colossians 2:1–3), and cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18), or trust imperfect and fallible humankind who was not there and speculates on the past?

In the original AiG article, you can see links that elaborate their understanding of “genealogies,” the “context” of the Hebrew word yom (day), and whether the earth is “thousands of years old.” There is also a chart that lists “a sampling of biblical authority topics” such as the age of the earth, evolution and whether or not Noah’s flood was global or local as issues of biblical authority. AiG said the Bible does not teach the earth is millions of years old; that man was specially created from dust and the woman from the man. An evolutionary worldview says humanity came from an ape-like ancestor. And Genesis 6-8 affirms the Flood was global, covering the highest mountain by over 15 cubits. “Those appealing to a local Flood trust secular authorities who say that the rock layers are evidence of millions of years instead of mostly Noah’s Flood sediment.”

Additional examples of topics on biblical authority in the chart include the Trinity and racism. The article went on the say: “Basically, AiG is involved when any issue impacts the authority of Scripture—especially when human claims run counter to what God teaches.” What seems clear is that AiG’s position is that any Christian seeking to affirm the authority of Scripture necessarily has to acknowledge an understanding of Genesis that aligns with its own position. AiG believes the age of the earth is in the neighborhood of thousands, not millions, of years; that there was a global flood covering the highest existing mountains of the time of Noah; and that humans were specially created out of dust. Tim Keller and other Christians who allow for or teach any views that do not agree with this understanding of Genesis are therefore undermining the authority of the word of God.

The weight given to these positions is seen clearly in the AiG Statement of Faith, last updated on August 10, 2015. In order to preserve the function and integrity of the ministry “in its mission to proclaim the absolute truth and authority of Scripture,” employees and volunteers should abide and agree to the AiG Statement of Faith. Board members for the AiG ministry must hold to the following six tenets:

  • Scripture teaches a recent origin for man and the whole creation, spanning approximately 4,000 years from creation to Christ.
  • The days in Genesis do not correspond to geologic ages, but are six [6] consecutive twenty-four [24] hour days of creation.
  • The Noachian Flood was a significant geological event and much (but not all) fossiliferous sediment originated at that time.
  • The gap theory has no basis in Scripture.
  • The view, commonly used to evade the implications or the authority of biblical teaching, that knowledge and/or truth may be divided into secular and religious, is rejected.
  • The view, commonly used to evade the implications or the authority of biblical teaching, that knowledge and/or truth may be divided into secular and religious, is rejected.

While Ham and AiG does not go as far as E.S. Williams in claiming Keller and others are promoting a false gospel, Ham and AiG do seem to believe that if Keller and others disagree with the AiG understanding of Genesis on creation, the age of the earth, and whether the Noachian Flood was local or global, they have a low view of Scripture. A recent origin for humans and creation (approximately 4,000 years from creation to Christ), six 24 hour days for creation, and a global, Noachian Flood are non-negotiable beliefs about creation, according to AiG.

The Gospel Coalition (TGC), an evangelical ministry founded by Tim Keller and Don Carson, posted a video discussion between Tim Keller, Ligon Duncan and Russell Moore on what is necessary to be believed; what are the non-negotiable beliefs about creation. Both Duncan and Moore are council members for TGC.

Keller led off the dialogue on the essentials of what has to be believed about the Bible when talking to nonbelievers. Keller said the relationship of God to the creation—the Creator/creation distinction—should be stressed. He said nonbelievers may want to talk about creation as a religion versus science battle, but he suggested to not go there. “The relationship of creation to evolution isn’t the heart.” There are at least four, five or six orthodox Christian views of evolution, according to Keller. “But let’s not go there at first.”

Duncan said he’d want to tell the skeptical, intelligent unbeliever that Christianity and science are not in conflict. Protestant Christianity laid the philosophical foundation for the rise of science.

Within the church, Duncan thought the essentials or boundaries of what we have to agree on in order to recognize each other as orthodox are: creation ex nihilo, the goodness of creation and the special creation of Adam and Eve. By creation ex nihilo, Duncan meant there is a Creator-creature distinction—God was the Cause of everything else. Adam and Eve have to be acknowledged as the fountainhead of humanity to support the federal headship of Adam to have the Adam-Christ parallel for the gospel.

Keller said he would want to talk first about the first two points, the Creator-creature distinction and the goodness of creation, with a nonbeliever. With a Christian, he said he would discuss Adam and Eve, saying there are a lot of different understandings about how old the earth is, what the days are in Genesis 1, and to what degree evolution was a part of how God created things. “But where I would stop is, with Adam and Eve.” Keller said there had to be an actual Adam and Eve, otherwise he doesn’t understand how the Pauline view of salvation in Romans 5 works.

He acknowledged that the consensus, even among Christian scientists, is that all human beings were not genetically related to a human couple. It had to be a little group of people somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. “But when I read the text … it sure looks like it’s saying that God created Adam and Eve. And he didn’t just adopt … a human-like being and put in the image of God.” Keller said the text said he created them out of the dust of the ground. He thought he had to let his reading of the text correct his understanding of the sciences.

 Science is a way of telling me truth. And the Scripture is a way of telling me truth. But if they are clashing, even though I know the science might show me I’m reading the Scripture wrong, and that has happened in the past, where the science came in and said “Are you really … does the Bible really teach that the sun revolves around the earth? So it’s possible for the science to make you ask, “Did you read the text right?” But if you go back and read the text and you come to your conclusion, that as far as you can say before God “I’m trying my best to read this as I think what the Scripture says.” Right now it says to me, … and everyone came from Adam and Eve and they were special creations. And so even though I don’t have an answer to my science friends, that’s where I stand.

I don’t think Tim Keller compromised biblical authority in what he said; nor did he preach a false gospel. I do see him saying belief in the authority of the Bible has room for differences on how to interpret Genesis 1 and whether the age of the earth is 6,000 years. It may even have room for some form of evolution. AiG and E.S. Williams vehemently deny this possibility. AiG has linked a denial of evolution, a localized flood, and an age for the earth and creation around 6,000 years with the Trinity and racism as key issues of biblical authority. So it doesn’t seem they would stand with Keller or any other Christian—which includes me—who won’t affirm their understanding of Genesis.

11/17/17

Evolutionary Wars

credit: Steve Cardino, from “The Lie: Evolution”

The cartoon image here portrays a war between Humanism and Christianity, where Humanism is founded on evolution and Satan, while Christianity is founded on creation and Christ. The castle of Christianity is starting to collapse as the castle of Humanism systematically attacks the rock of its foundation in the cartoon, creation. The Christian guns are ineffectively aimed either nowhere or at the balloons (issues) of humanism instead of it evolutionary foundation. The message it sends is clear: Christianity is in danger of losing the cultural war with Humanism because it isn’t attacking the Satanic foundation it’s based on, evolution.

The cartoon originally appeared in a 1987 book by Ken Ham titled: The Lie: Evolution. In “Creationism and Culture Wars,” Ted Davis said it has been the “signature icon” for Answers in Genesis (AiG), an organization founded by Ken Ham. Over time the image has been modified, as it reflected the ‘evolution’ of Ham’s and AiG’s thought. “Over time, I began to emphasize that believing in the creation account in Genesis means accepting God’s Word as the ultimate authority, and believing in the secular idea of evolution is to accept man’s word as the ultimate authority.”

In a 2002 version of the cartoon, the castle of Christianity was represented as being founded on six literal creation days equaling God’s authority, versus the millions of years equally man’s authority for the foundation of the humanism castle. In 2010, the foundations were “no longer creation vs. evolution or six days vs. millions of years, but ‘autonomous human reasoning”’ vs. ‘revelation/God’s word.’” See “Creationism and Culture Wars” for the images.

Although Ham’s signature icon is still very much alive, it has evolved into a more sophisticated new species that is better adapted to twenty-first century culture wars, in which biblical faith is increasingly seen as contrary to science and reason. Ironically, Ham’s ministry itself is a primary cause of that perception.

Ted Davis noted how Ken Ham echoes the belief of William Jennings Bryan in the early twentieth century, that evolution inevitably undermines Christian faith. Like Ham, Bryan represented his thought in a cartoon. He saw evolution as causing modernism and leading to “the progressive elimination of the vital truths of the bible.” Bryan’s cartoon has three modernists, a student, a minister and a scientist descending a staircase that represents a slippery slope stemming from “the progressive elimination of the vital truths of the bible.” The descent starts with evolution and ends with the scientist stepping from Agnosticism to Atheism.

credit: original cartoon by Ernest James Pace; photograph by Ted Davis

The “Descent of the Modernists” cartoon appeared originally in Bryan’s 1924 book, Seven Questions in Dispute, published the year before his death, which took place days after his participation in the infamous Scope Trial. See “’Conflict Between Science and Religion’” and “No Contest; No Victory” for more on Bryan.

Despite the parallels in their thinking about creationism and the culture, Davis noted that Henry Morris, not Bryan, had the greater influence on Ham’s thought. AiG refers to the late Henry Morris as ‘the father’ of the modern creationist movement. His book, The Genesis Flood (1961), was the beginning of the revival of creationist thought that faded from the church with the passing of Bryan and the retreat of fundamentalism from cultural engagement after the Scopes Trial. Davis noted that in another book by Morris, The Troubled Waters of Evolution (1974), he argued evolutionary thought could be traced back beyond the “evolutionary pantheists” of the ancient Greco-Roman world. True as far as that statement goes, Davis noted where “Darwin’s theory was immensely more sophisticated and far more plausible than any ancient theory—but Morris goes much further.”

Morris traced the origins of evolutionary thought back through all the religions of the world other than Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These are excluded because they are based on Genesis. All other religions are “evolutionary” religions, including: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Atheism and ‘liberal Christianity.’ He said that evolution itself is a religion. He does not mean Darwinian evolution, but belief in the idea that all things have arisen by innate processes in the universe: the belief that the universe had no beginning; that it is eternal. You can watch a YouTube video series of a talk Morris gave titled “The Troubled Waters of Evolution.” It is in five parts. If you watch Part 1, notice the parallels between the metaphor Morris uses of the “fruit tree” of evolution producing harmful philosophies and evil practices the humanistic “balloons” in Ken Ham’s cartoon.

But Morris goes back even further in his book, The Troubled Waters of Evolution, according to Davis. He attributes the origins of evolution with Nimrod and the Tower of Babel in Genesis 10:8-10. According to Morris, it was part of the pantheistic polytheism of Babel Connected with astrology, idolatry, and the worship of fallen angels. “It is therefore a reasonable deduction, even though hardly capable of proof, that the entire monstrous complex [of evolution] was revealed to Nimrod at Babel by demonic influences, perhaps by Satan himself.” Therefore, evolution is “the world-view with which the whole world has been deceived.”

That’s why the foundation of Ham’s humanism castle connects evolution with Satan—and why evolution gets blamed for social ills that plagued us long before Darwin was born and would still be prevalent today even if Darwin had never existed. Evolution becomes the scapegoat for many sinful behaviors, to such an extent that it is virtually equated with sin itself, or even seen as inherently Satanic. This is a profoundly unhelpful way of approaching historical and cultural aspects of evolution, and it fails entirely to explain why many people who utterly reject evolution commit the very sins that Ham connects with belief in evolution.

Despite the revisions over time to the AiG “signature icon,” its foundations have actually changed very little. For AiG, Christianity sits on the foundation of “Creation;” which means “6  (24 hour) Days” for creation is equivalent to God’s authority; and only this interpretation is true “Revelation in God’s Word.” On the other hand, Humanism sits on the foundation of “Evolution;” which wrongly believes in “millions of years” for creation according to human authority; making “human reason autonomous” from the revelation of God’s Word. In other words, respect for the authority of God’s Word requires an agreement with the AiG view of creation in six 24 hour days—and its companion doctrines of 6,000 years since the creation and a global Noachian Flood (See the AiG Statement of Faith). In contrast, Humanism and its issues rest on autonomous reason, manifested in allowing millions of years for creation and allowing evolution rather than creation to explain how the universe and humanity came into being.

Lastly, the warfare metaphor in the AiG “signature icon” was actually first used by John William Draper and Andrew Dickinson White in their books on the perceived conflict or “war” between science and religion at the end of the 19th century. Draper wrote History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874) and White wrote History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). In the Preface of his book, Draper seemed to set conflict between religion and science on a foundation that was eerily similar to the 2010 AiG cartoon. “The history of Science is … a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.”

Warfare or conflict rhetoric tempts us to see dichotomy where there may not be one. And when Christians use it to compare their understanding of a Biblical passage like Genesis 1 to alternative interpretations by other Christians (who also affirm the authority of Scripture), they need to be aware of the danger of imputing the rightful authority of Scripture onto their interpretation of the Biblical passage in question. It seems to me that is what has happened with Henry Morris and AiG.