08/26/16

Crumbling Pillars?

35367610 - ruin of temple e (temple of castor and pollux) in the archeological park of selinunte in southern sicily

© Andreas Metz | 123rf.com

On July 7, 2016, the Ark Encounter, a “life-sized Noah’s Ark experience” was opened to the public. The centerpiece of the Answers in Genesis “theme park” is a 510-foot long replica of Noah’s Ark, standing over 50 feet tall. The park has a petting zoo, daily animal shows, zip lines, live entertainment and a 1,500-seat restaurant. One of its exhibits shows children living alongside dinosaurs. Future phases seek to build the Tower of Babel and a building that will house “a walk through Biblical history.” Admission is $40 for adults and $28 for children. Parking costs an additional $10. Oh, and the total cost of the project was $100 million.

There is a ready-made market for the Ark Encounter. An ABC News poll in 2004 found that 60% of Americans believed that the biblical story of Noah was literally true. When sorted by faith groups, 44% of Catholics thought the biblical story of Noah was literally true; and 87% of evangelical Protestants thought it was literally true. Only 29% with no religious affiliation thought it was literally true. The problem is: “The scientific and historical evidence is now clear: there has never been a global flood that covered the entire earth, nor do all modern animals and humans descend from the passengers of a single vessel.”

The two main pillars of a young earth creationist understanding of the Bible are the creation of the earth 6,000 years ago and a global flood. They hang together to uphold young earth creationism (YEC). The “apparent” geological evidence for an age of the earth far beyond 6,000 years is explained by the cataclysmic destruction from a global flood. The layers of sedimentary rock from around the world; the extinction of multiple kinds of animals—including the dinosaurs and others—is explained by the Biblical account of Noah’s Flood.

In another article, I looked at how the argument for a young earth rests on the false assumption that a chronology for the age of the earth can be derived from the Biblical genealogies. See “The Fall of the Chronology of Ussher” for more on this issue. Here we discover there are cracks in the other pillar—the assertion of a global flood.

Two Christian geologists, Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth questioned whether Noah’s Flood could account for the earth’s complex geology in their essay: “Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology.”

To explain the vast thicknesses and incredible complexity of the earth’s sedimentary deposits within a short history, it is argued that the Flood must have been both global and violent. Flood Geology is thus synonymous with belief in a young earth. It is our conviction that this position is unreasonable from both a biblical and scientific perspective.

One of the challenges raised by Davidson and Woglemuth has to do with salt deposits like those found in the Gulf of Mexico. Salt deposits form when water is evaporated. “During evaporation, the concentration of dissolved ions increases until the water cannot hold the salt in solution anymore and mineral salt begins to form.” The problem is these salt deposits are between layers of sediment that the global flood was supposed to have deposited. “ A single, flood cannot be called upon to explain both the salt and the overlying sediment.”

Another challenge is the Grand Canyon, with its alternating layers of limestone, sandstone and shale. The sequence defies any reasonable attempt to explain it by a single flood. However, if the deposits were formed at different times under varying stages of sea levels, it is very easy to explain them. “If explained with a single catastrophic flood that abided by God’s natural laws of physics and chemistry, logic must be stretched beyond the breaking point.” And the multiple layers of limestone found in the Grand Canyon are never found in flood deposits.

Then there is the fossil record. If a massive flood were responsible for the fossil record, we should expect to see life forms from every living “kind” mixed together. Mammoths should be mixed in with triceratops; pterodactyls with sparrows. Ferns and meadow flowers should be found along with trilobites and whales. But what we see is quite different.

There is an orderly sequence where trilobites only occur in very old rocks, dinosaurs in later beds, and mammoths in still later layers. Organisms like flowers and ferns are present together in more recent deposits, but only ferns with no flowers are found in older deposits.

There is a new book, The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth, which looks specifically at the geology of canyon rocks and landforms in the light of the claims of flood geologists. Two of the eleven contributors are Davidson and Woglemuth. In “Flood Geology and the Grand Canyon” four contributors from the book use explanations and illustrations from their book to challenge five kinds of evidence in the Grand Canyon that flood geologists say support a global flood.

They used a graphic from Answers in Genesis (here) that summarizes these five different “evidences,” and then gave a synopsis of where they specifically refuted these flood geology claims in The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth. In the conclusion to their article, the authors said the geology of the Grand Canyon is known fairly well after nearly 150 years of study. The geological evidence “is overwhelmingly inconsistent with flood geology.” The rocks reveal multiple episodes of deposition and intervening periods of erosion. The fossil evidence does not reflect the rapid burial of sea animals and small land animals out of the deep, turbulent water hypothesized as occurring with a global flood. “Flood geologists have failed to conceive a physical model for catastrophic formation that is consistent with the real geology of the Grand Canyon.”

Another book by two Christian geologists, The Bible, Rocks and Time, was written with the intent to convince readers on biblical and geological grounds “of the vast antiquity of this amazing planet that is our God-given home.” Along the way they point out the flaws of young earth creationism.

Although the issue of Earth’s antiquity may seem to be little more than an interesting intellectual exercise that has little immediate bearing on one’s life, we point out that this issue can have profound spiritual consequences for the church of Jesus Christ, the individual Christian and the nonbeliever as well.

An article by Ted Davis on BioLogos, “The Bible, Rocks and Time: Christians and an Old Earth,” quoted two excerpts from the book. One “snip” noted where a growing number of orthodox evangelical Christian writers have accepted and accommodated their thinking “to the mounting evidence for terrestrial antiquity.” Linked there was an article originally written by Davis Young, one of the authors of The Bible, Rocks and Time. The article, “Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part Two),” was originally published in the Westminster Theological Journal. Part Two of Young’s article surveyed the concordist tradition when interpreting the early chapters of Genesis by Christian geologists. Young and Stearley were quoted as saying in The Bible, Rocks and Time:

A growing number of orthodox evangelical Christian writers, including geologists, preachers, biblical scholars and theologians, accepted and accommodated their thinking to the mounting evidence for terrestrial antiquity. In response, they began to develop a variety of strategies purporting to show how the biblical data were consistent with the findings of geology. . . . Having been encouraged to look afresh at the biblical creation accounts, experts in the original languages became persuaded that there is no conflict between the data of nature and the teaching of Scripture. These individuals continued to insist on the inspiration of the Bible and refused to call Genesis a myth in order to explain difficulties. It was, however, accepted that the traditional exegesis of Genesis 1 was not the only one that adequately satisfied the biblical data.

The two pillars of a YEC view of Genesis pit the two books of God’s revelation, Scripture and Nature, God’s Word and God’s Works against one another. As a consequence, they have weakened and not strengthened His revelation in both books. This “two books theology” was an essential foundation for the rise of modern science. As Mark Mann said, “Christians need to ‘read’ Scripture and Creation together in order to understand the fullness of God’s Word and truth for us today.” In Redeeming Science, Vern Poythress pointed out that scientific laws are what can be known about God in the things that have been made. “Since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, such as his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived (Romans 1:20).”

In reality, what people call “scientific law” is divine. We are speaking of God himself and his revelation of himself through his governance of the world. Scientists must believe in scientific law in order to carry out their work. When we analyze what this scientific law really is, we find that scientists are constantly confronted with God himself, the Trinitarian God, and are constantly depending on who he is and what he does in conformity with his divine nature. In thinking about law, scientists are thinking God’s thoughts after him. (Redeeming Science, pp. 26-27)

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

08/5/16

The Fall of the Chronology of Ussher

© Oleksandr Solonenko | 123rf.com

© Oleksandr Solonenko | 123rf.com

According to Bishop James Ussher, the world was created at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4,004 BCE. This amazingly precise declaration was just one of the important dates, both biblical and historical, that appeared in his seminal work, The Annals of the World. The “cosmological age” for creation occurring around 4,000 BCE was a widely accepted date in the 17th century. Its acceptance was partly based on 2 Peter 3:8, which says: “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” The application of the passage for the date of creation is that the six days of creation meant the earth would exist for 6,000 years—4,000 years until the time of Christ, and 2,000 years afterwards. If Ussher was correct, we are now living on borrowed time.

Ussher’s chronology was not the first to calculate that the creation of the world was around 4,000 BCE, but today it is the most well known. Others who had proposed similar biblically based estimates include: Bede (3952 BCE), the astronomer Johannes Kepler (3992 BCE), Sir Isaac Newton (4000 BCE), and Rabbi Jose ben Halafta (3761 BCE). Ussher’s very specific date was based on a desire “to get it right.” He used astronomical and religious sources to estimate the season of the year, day of the week and time of day he thought creation had to be. He believed the time was in the autumn, since that was the beginning of the Jewish calendar year, and on a Saturday evening, because of the Sabbath.

The Annals full title in English is a mouthful: “Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world, the chronicle of Asiatic and Egyptian matters together produced from the beginning of historical time up to the beginnings of Maccabees.” It was 1300 pages, with 14,000 footnotes. Ussher worked on it for 20 years before it was published. The original printing sold well. What gave Ussher’s chronology staying power was its use in the margins of an edition of the Bible published by London bookseller Thomas Guy in 1675. Beginning in 1701 several editions of the King James translation included Ussher’s dates in its marginal notes and cross-references. The widely circulated Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909 and revised in 1917, used Ussher’s dates and would become the main conduit of the chronology into modern times.

Ussher (1581-1656) was a careful and thoughtful man, well schooled in his faith and history. He was ordained in 1601 and was a professor at Trinity College in Dublin from 1607-1621. As early as 1624, he was invited to preach before King James I. He was made archbishop of Armagh in 1621 and primate of Ireland in 1634. When civil war broke out in 1642, he was in England. He never returned to Ireland. Ussher declined an invitation to join the Westminster Assembly of Divines (1643-49), who incidentally produced the Westminster Confession of Faith. He later preached against the legality of the Assembly.

He wrote on a wide variety of topics, mostly theological and historical, and was an expert in Semitic languages. “He was widely acknowledged for his thorough and impartial scholarship.” Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist and paleontologist, said Ussher’s chronology was “an honorable effort for its time.” You can find more information about Ussher and his chronology here on Wikipedia, or in “James Ussher” in the Encyclopedia Britannica online. You can also listen to a 10-minute podcast on Ussher and his book, “Annals of the World, 1650,” for Documents that Changed the World.

Ussher’s chronology is the cornerstone for determining the age of the earth by young earth creationist organizations like Creation Magazine, the Institute for Creation Research, which was founded by Henry Morris, and Answers in Genesis, founded by Ken Ham. Here is a link to a timeline that appeared in Creation Magazine. It was based upon the details provided by Archbishop Ussher in his Annals of the World. Both the Institute for Creation Research (here) and Answers in Genesis (here) explicitly draw their declarations for the age of the earth from Ussher’s calculations. If you want, you can verify this claim by comparing their discussion of dates for creation to the timeline of Ussher’s chronology found in Creation Magazine. The organization Answers in Genesis also has a table listing 32 different individuals who calculated the date of the creation of the earth to be between 5501 and 3836 BCE.

But what if the assumptions made by Ussher and others about the biblical genealogies used to calculate the age of the earth were wrong?  William Henry Green, an Old Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 1800s, addressed this question in his 1890 article in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra, “Primeval Chronology.” Green said the accepted chronology of his time (Ussher’s chronology) was based upon an assumption that there were no gaps in the biblical genealogies, most notably those of Genesis 5 and 11. However, he examined the biblical genealogies and found: “There is an element of uncertainty in a computation of time which rests upon genealogies, as the sacred chronology so largely does.”

I here repeat, the discussion of the biblical genealogies above referred to, and add some further considerations which seem to me to justify the belief that the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 were not intended to be used, and cannot properly be used, for the construction of a chronology.

Green then went through an extensive examination of several different genealogies in the Bible to support his point that they regularly had gaps. He commented they are frequently abbreviated by omitting unimportant names. “In fact, abridgement is the general rule.” He thought the occurrence of an abridgement should not create surprise “and we are at liberty to suppose it whenever anything in the circumstances of the case favors that belief.” The analogy of Scriptural genealogies opposes the supposition that “the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 are necessarily to be considered as complete, and embracing all the links in the line of descent from Adam to Noah and from Shem to Abraham.”

On these various grounds we conclude that the Scriptures furnish no data for a chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham; and that the Mosaic records do not fix and were not intended to fix the precise date either of the Flood or of the creation of the world.

Biblical evidence is then available to indicate Ussher’s chronology was based on faulty assumptions regarding the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. They were not intended to construct a chronology and are improperly utilized by individuals and organizations that do so.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

06/3/16

Origins and Creation

© David Carillet | 123rf.com

© David Carillet | 123rf.com

Believers in the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience” take different stands on how the Genesis account of creation should be interpreted. Despite the claims of some Young Earth Creationists, there is not only one single legitimate Christian position on what is meant in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A related, but overlapping concern in understanding the Genesis account of creation is how the creation days in Genesis 1 should be understood. Six sequential 24-hour periods of time, marked by evenings and mornings, is the 24-hour view. Or are the “days” six sequential periods of time or ages, without a specification for a length of time. This is called the day-age view. While understanding the six days of is an important issue in its own right, here I want to focus on the creation perspectives available to believers in the authority of Scripture.

Two of the primary scientific origins issues here are the age of the “heavens and earth” (the earth and universe) and whether life was created by evolution. I think it can be helpful to think about the various positions on how to interpret the Genesis account of creation as summarized here. This is a brief description of several interpretations of Genesis discussed by Deborah and Loran Haarsma in their book, Origins.

Denis Lamoureux, has several web lectures available on a range of topics from the Evolutionary Creation (EC) perspective. One series, “Beyond the ‘Evolution’ vs. ‘Creation’ Debate,” is an introduction to the various views on origins, both Christian and non-Christian. His personal story is one of the lectures, describing his journey from Young Earth Creationism to Evolutionary Creationism while achieving advanced degrees in theology and biology. The fifth lecture, “Summary and Conclusions,” has a helpful overview of the various perspectives on creation. It also highlights the similarities and differences between Christian and nonChristians views on creation.

There is a helpful handout for Lamoureux’s lecture series, “Beyond the ‘Evolution’ vs. ‘Creation’ Debate,” that summarizes and compares various Christian and non-Christian views on the origin of life and the universe. These range from Young Earth Creationism (YEC), which allows little or no accommodation for interpreting the creation account of Genesis with the findings of science. At the opposite pole is Atheistic Evolution (AE), which rejects the creation account in Genesis as pure myth and allows no possible accommodation with its view of science. I’ll follow Lamoureux’s categories in the discussion that follows. You can also find an overview of several positions on creation here from the Evolutionary Creation website, BioLogos. Deborah Haarsma is the current president of BioLogos.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC) holds to a 24-hour view of the six creation days, but also claims that a faithful reading of Scripture dates the age of the earth to between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. Old Earth Creationism (OEC) holds that the scientific evidence for a greater age of the earth (4.6 billion years) and the universe (13.7 billion years) is strong. So it sees the days of creation in Genesis 1 referring to long periods of time. The day-age view of creation days fits with the OEC perspective in what Lamoureux called Progressive Creation (PC). These three perspectives all reject the possibility that God created life through the process of macroevolution.

Then there is Intelligent Design (ID). It has been consistently ridiculed by modern day science as a “God of the gaps” argument that deceitfully tries to sneak theology into the scientific method. ID believes that: “the existence of an intelligent cause of the universe and of the development of life is a testable scientific hypothesis.” According to William Dembski ID is three things. First, it is a scientific research program investigating the effects of intelligent causes. Second, it is an intellectual movement that “challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy.” And third, it is a way to understand divine action. In Intelligent Design, Dembski said:

The universe provides a well-defined causal backdrop (physicists these days think of it as a field characterized by field equations). Although one can ask whether that causal backdrop is itself designed, one can as well ask whether events and objects occurring within that backdrop are designed.

I think Lamoureux rightly positioned ID within his Progressive Creation category. But if weakened in its Christian presuppositions, such as the possibility of an intelligent (personal?) designer, the search for design in nature will easily fit within one of his non-Christian categories on origins, Deistic Evolution. Some books supporting ID include The Design Inference and Intelligent Design by William Dembski and Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe. If you want to read something that refutes the idea of design in the universe, there is the Richard Dawkins book, The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins believes in Atheistic Evolution.

Evolutionary Creation (EC) affirms that God is the Creator of all things, including humans made in his image. But it accepts the science of evolution “as the best description for how God brought about the diversity of life on earth.” So the days of creation in Genesis are not literal 24-hours days and they do not necessarily occur in a sequence of time. According to Lamoureux’s comparison, EC differs from YEC and Progressive Creation positions by accepting macro-evolution, having a completely indirect sense of God’s activity in the origins of the universe, life, and humanity as well as denying a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 through 11 with regard to creation and the Flood. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a proponent of evolutionary creation. In his book, The Language of God, Collins said: “Believers would be well advised to look carefully at the overwhelming weight of scientific data supporting this view of the relatedness of all living things [evolution], including ourselves.”

Lamoureux then noted two non-Christian perspectives on origins, Deistic Evolution and Atheistic or Dysteleogical Evolution. “Dysteleology” is a philosophical view holding that there is no telos or final cause for the origin of the universe or life.  Seeing a plan or purpose in creation is a delusion. There is no evidence of design or a Designer. Blind chance working in natural process resulted in the existence of the Earth and life on it. The anthropic principle doesn’t point to the possibility of design in creation. God is a delusion. Some modern advocates here would include Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett.

Deistic Evolution (DE) agrees there is evidence of design within creation, but denies that God is personally involved within His creation. Either a Designer or a Force could have resulted in the kind of universe that we live in. Whether or not there is a personal God as the Designer is irrelevant. “God never enters the world.” Intriguingly, Lamoureux categorizes Charles Darwin as DE.

Although advocates of ID such as Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson, and William Dembski are Christians, and infer “an intelligent cause” behind the evidence of design in the universe, such an interpretation is not necessary to search for design in nature. Stripped of its Christian leanings, some ID beliefs could fit within Deistic Evolution. Consider the idea of the anthropic principle.

If you begin with the premise of a personal Designer behind the origins of the universe, you can see evidence of design almost everywhere you look. Hugh Ross, in his book The Creator and the Chaos, noted there were more than two-dozen parameters in the universe that necessarily had to fall into “narrowly defined ranges for life of any kind to exist.” The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards builds on the anthropic principle to show that not only is our planet amazingly fitted to support life, but that it also gives us “the best view of the universe.” It is as if the heavens and earth were designed for both life and scientific discovery. Show Me God by Fred Heeren examines “What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God.” The Privileged Planet is also available as a DVD for purchase and to watch through Netflix.

But the anthropic principle doesn’t have to lead you inevitably to a belief in a personal Designer. There is the weak anthropic principle (WAP) which observes the parameters noted by Ross, Gonzalez, Richards and other ID advocates must be set as they are, “or we wouldn’t be here.” In other words, human existence puts us within a coincidentally “privileged time and place.” Fred Heeren said:

In a universe that is sufficiently large, the right conditions for life might occur in certain times and certain rare regions. Thus an intelligent observer should not be surprised if he finds himself in a time and place where the conditions are just right for his existence.

A so-called strong anthropic principle (SAP) holds that these “right conditions” are to be expected if we can in fact observe them. As Gonzalez and Richards said: “We can expect to find ourselves in a universe compatible with our existence.” There are even stronger versions of the anthropic principle, namely the Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP), which holds we created ourselves by observing ourselves. The Final Anthropic Principle (FAP) suggests humankind itself might be the intelligence behind the design evident in the universe. Holding a somewhat science fiction-like sense of some day conquering time’s one-way arrow, humans evolve into all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent gods. “Having amassed such powers, this evolved god may then be able to create in the past.”

So if we look at the various ways to understand the Genesis account of creation as existing on a continuum, we have the following progression: Young Earth Creation, Progressive Creation, Evolutionary Creation, Deistic Evolution and Atheistic Evolution. Young Earth Creation has little or no accommodation with science where it may intersect with Scripture, while Atheistic Evolution sees the Genesis creation as pure myth with no evidence of science. Progressive Creation (including OEC and day-age theorists), Evolutionary Creationists and Deistic Evolution are progressively more accommodating to science. This follows the presentation and discussion of the views on origins given by Denis Lamoureux in his web lectures.

Young Earth Creation (YEC), Progressive Creation (PC), and Evolutionary Creation (EC) are all legitimate perspectives for believers in the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience.” Evolutionary Creation accepts God’s use of macro-evolution as the manner in which He created the heavens and the earth through what Lamoureux described as indirect, but “ordained and sustained natural processes.” That is, God planned and upheld the creation of the heavens and the earth and the life within it, but did so through natural processes like evolution. Evolution here is theological not naturalistic—in God’s hands, it was part of His plan and purpose—and not due to chance or chaos. Both YEC and PC reject the idea that God used macro-evolution in His creation of the heavens and earth.

Young Earth Creation sees God directly involved in creation; and believes He created all things within the timeframe of six 24-hours days. The earth and universe are only 6,000 to 10,000 years-old. YEC also asserts that chapters six through nine of Genesis describe a global flood. OEC sees the six days of creation as sequential, but not six sequential 24-hour days. The “days” could even represent long periods of time, as in the day-age view. The universe is 10-15 billion years old and developed through an indirect ordained and sustained natural process. But not so for the different kinds of life, which were directly created by God; possibly over billions of years of time. OEC holds the Flood narrative in Genesis to describe a local flood, not a global flood.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”