November 26, 2014

iMonk 101: To Be or Not To Be or Why I’m Not A Young Earth Creationist

o_DarwinismOrIntelligentDesignThis is most (not all) of an IM essay written during the early years of this web site (2001 I think.) My children were up to their ears in Ham/Hovind videos and I was feeling very alone in my own reading of Genesis. Things are better now, though the seeds of young earth creationism have borne their inevitable fruit. Hopefully, it will encourage some of you to continue thinking about these issues.

The Roots of My Problem

I have been reading creationist materials since high school. I bought The Genesis Flood when I was a very young Christian. I was converted in a fundamentalist church that contained very few college educated members, but they were aware of the challenge posed by the teaching of evolution. Darwin’s theories were skewered and preached against, in traditional fundamentalist fashion, by preachers who had never read Darwin or sat through a college biology course.

Evolution held a particular fear in my family and church. My parents were uneducated, but they warned me about the dangers I would face if I went to a school that taught evolution. When I took my college science classes, the professors were aware that many of us came from such backgrounds, and at least my teachers, took great care in separating their teaching of science from any critique of religion. My college biology professor was very cautious not to stir up controversy. In retrospect, I wish he had been more straightforward.

My views on the relationship of scripture and science were more affected by my college Bible classes than my science classes. I learned that scripture must be rightly interpreted. It must be understood within its world, and interpreted rightly in mine. If I came away with any suspicions that the young earth creationists might be wrong, it came from my developing an appreciation for Biblical interpretation, not from the Biology lab. Secular science didn’t turn my head. I learned that the people waving the Bible around weren’t necessarily treating it with the respect it deserved.

In seminary I continued my study of Biblical interpretation. I had been warned that liberal professors would teach me evolution and deny the historicity of miracles in the Bible. There were some professors out there that fit the stereotype, but they weren’t in the Bible department of my school. My Bible instructors taught me to respect the Biblical text by not imposing my interpretations and favorite hobby horses on the scriptures. What became clearer to me over my seminary career was that many of my evangelical and fundamentalist brethren were not willing to let the scriptures be what they were or to let them speak their own language.

Among the most valuable lessons I learned at seminary was to ask questions about the literary genre of the Biblical text. Literary criticism is among the most recent and helpful approaches to the Bible, and I don’t claim to be an expert. But I did come to appreciate that identifying a text as history, poetry, song, drama, parable or epistle was essential in allowing that text to “play by its own rules.” This had tremendous influence on my approach to the issues of young earth creationism, and continues to be the primary reason that I cannot accept their reading of Genesis.

The Ham Hermeneutic

One of the most well known creationist communicators is Ken Ham, an Australian school teacher whose humor and communication skills have served the cause of creationism well. His ministry “Answers in Genesis” is heard around the world. I’ve heard a lot of Ham’s stuff on tape and videos. I’ve read several of his books. In fact, I show my students an overview of Genesis 1 by Ham to demonstrate how creationists approach the Biblical text. Without being disrespectful, I have to say that I am always left uneasy by Ham’s approach to the Bible.

Ham loves the Bible and believes it is utterly truthful. He is unswervingly committed to the Bible as the Word of God and as divinely inspired. He is, however, primarily a scientist and an educator. Not a Biblical scholar. I do not believe he knows the Biblical languages. He shows little interest in Genesis as a literary text. His teaching is on Genesis as a scientific text.

One of Ham’s favorite laugh lines is suggesting students wait until a professor makes some claim about evolution or “millions of years” (a favorite Ham line) and then ask the killer question. “Sir, were you there?” (Add Aussie accent.) After the professor says “No, but….” then the follow up is something like this: “Then why do you believe the words of men, who weren’t there and don’t know everything, instead of believing the Word of God, who was there and does know everything?”

I don’t want to disparage Ham’s question or his belief that the Bible reveals to us unique information we could not know otherwise. But Ham has completely run past the really important questions about how we read and understand Genesis 1. He is asserting that Genesis 1 is to be believed because God inspired it. I don’t know of any real contention about that subject among those of us who are not young earth creationists. But Ham assumes that anyone who doesn’t interpret Genesis exactly as he does is rejecting the Bible as truthful.

And how does Ham interpret Genesis? He believes it is a scientific description of creation; a detailed scientific description that answers specific scientific questions and rules out any theories that cannot be based upon statements in Genesis. I am perfectly at ease with Ham making this presupposition, but I disagree with it. I do not believe Genesis is written as scientific description, but as a theological (and prescientific) one.

Let Us Do Your Speaking For You

Young earth creationists have not only not won me over with their approach to the Biblical text, and they have impressed me less with their attitude towards those interpretations that differ with them. Young earth creationists win the award for factionalism, and some of their achievements have to be noted.

For example, any approach that rejects a less than 10,000 year old earth or the flood as the explanation for all visible topography and geology is not on the team. So advocates of intelligent design, who have written and spoken powerfully on the evidence for God in microbiology and astrophysics, are written off because they tend to accept the current scientific dating of the universe and the earth. Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe, significant voices in the intelligent design movement, are no better than Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan to the young earthers. In fact, the entire Intelligent Design movement is ignored by the creationists. This is foolish. There is much common ground between these groups.

Some of the contentions of the young earthers seem, to a layman like me, somewhat far-fetched, like denying the existence of black holes or questioning the constancy of the speed of light, and the evidence cited for these positions is, to say the least, fringe or below the fringe. Yet young earthers feel that because these views must be accepted to keep the age of the earth less than 10,000 years,anyone who does not embrace these strange and unproven theories is rejecting the truthfulness of the Bible, even though such ideas are in no way related to any text in Genesis. I find their rejection of the speed of light and the measurability of the universe to be particularly troubling.

I have noted on several occasions the open hostility towards Hugh Ross, the Canadian astronomer who has written a number of books on Genesis and Science for Navpress and has an apologetics ministry based on answering scientific questions. Ross interprets Genesis differently than the young earthers, and basically affirms the standard picture of big-bang and an old, expanding universe. Ross is somewhat unique in his interpretations, and takes the text very literally, but to the young earthers, he is out of the ball park, because he does not assume/conclude the earth/universe is young.

This is a method of Biblical interpretation where a few questions will quickly determine where one stands. How old is the earth? Was there death before Adam? Do you believe in a world wide flood? Were there dinosaurs on the ark? Any number of these questions draw lines in the sand for the young earthers. I am sorry to say that I cannot think of any division in Christianity- Calvinist/Arminan, Catholic/Protestant, Pentecostal/Cessationist, Seeker/Traditional- where one side is more completely unlikely to appreciate the other position than this one.

Two issues particularly have bothered me. One is the young earth contention that there cannot be such a thing as theistic evolution. For the young earth movement, the teams seems to be young earthers versus atheistic evolutionists. But this is too simplistic. There are many theistic evolutionists in the diverse traditions of Christianity. We may disagree deeply on the evidence for macroevolution, particularly as it applies to human beings, or on various claim about the nature of the Bible, but to say that there is no such possible Christian position as theistic evolution is criminally inaccurate. (For example, the controversial life and work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin should be noted as a significant advocate of such a position. I did extensive research on the life of Charles Darwin during seminary, and Darwin himself was not an atheist, but a Deistic evolutionist.) Theistic evolution may have its problems, but in the opinion of serious confessional theologians, it does not deny anything essential to the Christian faith.

The other issue is the rejection of the astronomical evidence for the “Big Bang.” Christians like Fred Hereen and Hugh Ross have taken the evidence of the “Big Bang” and produced powerful arguments for the existence of God. I personally find the evidence compelling and exciting, and very helpful to students in understanding why faith in a creator God is not irrational. Yet the young earthers, fully committed to rejecting any evidence that might challenge their age of the earth, routinely equate the “Big Bang” with atheism. When I refer to the “Big Bang” and what we know about it from the Hubble telescope, I can count on at least one student asking me how I can believe in the “Big Bang” since that is what atheists believe? (Even my own children had to be reeducated on this point.)

Good men, like R.C. Sproul and J. Gresham Machen, are outside of the young earther’s definition of orthodoxy on this issue. The Presbyterian Church in America has been painfully divided over this issue, an issue that no creed or confession in classical orthodox Christendom has ever taken sides on. Even if I were impressed with the Biblical or scientific claims of the young earth position, I would hesitate to identify with a movement this uncharitable towards other Christians.

Literally Missing the Point

The young earth creationists believe that Genesis 1 is “literally” a description of creation. I do not. It is this simple disagreement that is the cornerstone of my objection. I believe that Genesis 1 is a prescientific description of Creation intended to accent how Yahweh’s relationship with the world stands in stark contrast to the Gods of other cultures, most likely those of Babylon. Textual and linguistic evidence convinces me that this chapter was written to be used in a liturgical (worship) setting, with poetic rhythms and responses understood as part of the text. It tells who made the universe in a poetic and prescientific way. It is beautiful, inspired and true as God’s Word.

Does it match up with scientific evidence? Who cares? Here I differ with Hugh Ross and the CRI writers. I do not believe science, history or archaeology of any kind establishes the truthfulness of the scripture in any way. Scripture is true by virtue of God speaking it. If God spoke poetry, or parable, or fiction or a prescientific description of creation, it is true without any verification by any human measurement whatsoever. The freedom of God in inspiration is not restricted to texts that can be interpreted “literally” by historical or scientific judges of other ages and cultures beyond the time the scriptures were written.

In my view, both the scientific establishment’s claims to debunk Genesis and the creationists claims to have established Genesis by way of relating the text to science are worthless. Utterly and completely worthless and I will freely admit to being bored the more I hear about it. I react to this much the same I react to people who run in with the Bible and the newspaper showing me how 666 is really the bar code on my credit card. (A theory which, by the way, creationist and KJV-only advocate Kent Hovind gives considerable credibility to.)

Does the Bible need to be authorized by scientists or current events to be true? What view of inspiration is it that puts the Bible on trial before the current scientific and historical models? Has anyone noticed what this obsession with literality does to the Bible itself?

The compliment that is paid to the Bible by those who say it is “literally” and scientifically true comes at the expense of an authentic and accurate understanding of the text. A simple illustration will show what I mean.

ESV Revelation 6:12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.

I do not believe the stars will fall to the earth. I don’t. I don’t believe stars are in the sky. I don’t believe the writer understood what stars are or how they operate or the distances involved. I think this is prescientific language, and it is meant to tell us truth in its own way. A simple illustration, but it clearly shows that literary purpose must come before “literal” interpretation.

Now if I insist on a literal interpretation of this verse as a way of saying it is true and inspired, I am not treating the text with reverence and respect. I may be well motivated, but I am damaging the text. My point gets across, but at the expense of the real meaning of the text as it was written and inspired.

In the same way, Genesis describes creation prescientifically, in the language and idioms of the time, with a theological purpose in mind. It speaks clearly and powerfully. Making this into a literal and “scientific” description as a condition of inspiration is wrong.

Am I treating Genesis as a special case? Are Ham and others correct that this is straightforward description and there is no reason for putting a literary “spin” on how I read the text? My objection is to saying what a “straightforward description” means in a text several thousand years old; a text from a specific culture with a particular purpose. I am not claiming any special insight into Genesis. I am simply saying that, in my opinion, Genesis was not written with reference to the questions or methods of modern science, and making its truthfulness depend on that is a misuse of the text.

Many other examples could be brought forth. (Ask what a literal interpretation of the vision of Jesus in Revelation 1 turns into?) The literary nature of a text can’t be overlooked or taken for granted. In my opinion, this is typical of the creationist approach to the Bible. It becomes a piece of evidence in a scientific discussion, and the text of scripture- particularly its literary distinctiveness- is largely ignored.

Comments

  1. One of the reasons I broke from the YEC camp was when I read the first two chapters of Genesis and realized that they told two different stories of creation. I did this with a youth group once. I divided them into two groups. I asked one group to read Genesis chapter 1 and list the order several things were created in. I asked the other group to read Genesis chapter 2 and list the order the same things were created in. Lo and behold, as I already knew, the two groups came up with two different sequences of creation.

    I admit it’s somewhat fun listening to Young Earthers try to force the sequence of chapter 1 into chapter 2. I remember listening to Kent Hovind debate Hugh Ross once and he said if you just handed someone the first chapter of Genesis and asked them to read it (and this person had never read it before) and then asked them how did creation take place, they would say that it took place in 6 days, not over millions or billions of years, unless they forced that reading (old earth) on the text. Fair enough. However, if you handed the same person chapter 2 of Genesis and asked them to read it, then asked them in what order the created things were created, that person would not give you the same order as Genesis chapter 1, unless they forced that reading on the text.

  2. Kenneth Conklin says:

    I’m taking just a bit of issue with your usage of the term “pre-scientific.” Somewhat implies that no type of scientific understanding could have existed in Egyptian/Hebrew times, in comparison to ours. This strikes me as a bit of hubris and temporal/cultural arrogance on our part. Perhaps some explanation of how you use the term might have been more helpful.

  3. Edward T. Babinski says:

    Not difficult to find former young-earth creationists since the invention of the internet.

    • Very true; it’s difficult to get an education and continue to believe in a young earth. It happened to me; I was raised YEC, and went to find as much evidence to support it as possible. Instead, I realized 1) the evidence actually went the other way, and 2) enforcing presupposition by research is intellectually dishonest.

      The second point was the killer, especially when combined with something the author above refers to: (FTA)

      “Scripture is true by virtue of God speaking it.”

      IE: “The Bible defines God, and God defines the Bible”. I’m pretty sure that’s tautological, but it is the fundamental foundation of much modern Christian faith.

      In the end, it’s not possible to know something without at least one human experiencing it. Everything we know comes through own or someone else’s experience. It doesn’t matter if it’s a subjective religious revelation or an objective breakthrough in science; both are human experiences.

      And in both cases, the only affirmation we have to our experiences is from the communities around us; faith communities in one sense and scientific communities in the other.

      Once I realized that, religion lost its spell on me. I started to question my faith, and now I’m an atheist. In the end, a tautological definition of god was not sufficient…now I’m not sure if God can be defined in ANY way.

  4. While I do enjoy playing around with this issue intellectually and coming up with rational or philosophical possibilities, I’m starting to doubt that there is a rational way to completely reconcile scripture with science — not in our present state of reality, anyway.
    To borrow a principle from Jesus, maybe we should just render unto science what pertains to science and render unto faith what pertains to faith — and stop trying to fit the square peg of science and the round peg of scripture-based faith into the same hole in our brains. And if that requires some doublethink or embracing a paradox we cannot fully rationalize, then I think the preservation of both faith and science is more than worth it. After all, human faith in God won’t put a sattelite in orbit, and the application of physics will never establish a loving relationship between humans and their Creator.

  5. Maybe someone can give me some reading suggestions. I am a looking for a few books that intelligently discuss the possibility of evolution from a Christian perspective or at least a non-young earth perspective.

    Thanks

    • One of our associate pastors was very keen on Francis Collins’ “The Language of God”. I’ve yet to read it, but it’s on the list.

      pax
      Greg R

    • I second “The Language of God” by Francis Collins. Wonderful book.

    • There’s also a book that I think is called “4 Views on Creation.” It presents each side in the words of a proponent of each side. Great for getting an introduction to the major views.

    • Darrell Falk wrote a great book called “Coming To Peace With Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology,” but it focuses heavily on the scientific aspect of the debate. There is also Gordon Glover’s book “Beyond the Firmament” and Kenneth Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God.” I enjoyed Falk the best.

      On my goodreads reading list, I have “Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose?” by Denis Alexander and “Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith” by Daniel Harrell.

      • Another good one for me in my studies has been

        Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth by Newman and Eckelmann.

  6. I am so impressed with your blog and look forward to reading more. I am a little bit unusual in that I am a young earth guy- but have great love for Hugh Ross and the ID movement.

    I personally witnessed a group of Bible teachers give Ross a very hostile reception at a school where I was teaching.

    The ‘big-bang’ observation is huge for the theists.
    The mechanism of evolution is very observable and stands up to inquiry.

    However, the belief that evolution provides the variety and design of all life (especially by random chance) takes more ‘faith’ than my little brain can handle.

    I also doubt we have a good grasp on ‘time’ and I still think we interpret the data correctly without taking into account an already functioning universe that appears older than it is.

    A good friend of mine thinks that this makes God look deceptive, but I believe we need to keep both revelations open to interpret one another- the revelation of creation and the revelation of Scripture do not hurt one another, they balance one another.

    The reason Charles Hodge rejected the “Origin of the Species” was not evolution, but godless chance with no directive from “God”.

    So it sounds naive to say, “this is how God has presented it” and I will accept it until faith becomes sight.

    Dawkins would say that makes me lazy and satisfied with not knowing.

    At the same time I applaud the work by theistic scientists and their high view of Scripture.

    My prayer is that the prejudice in the area of biology (the other scientific disciplines are fine with God) will give allowance for a creator in the education of our youth. I truly believe that that ID and macro-evolutionary theory carry the same ‘evidence’ and logical application.

    So I believe in genetics, slight, successive variations in species- I believe that time is relative (God time, earth time, relative time)- I believe the earth is younger than it appears- and I accept the Genesis record as it stands- I love scientific discovery- and most of all I love the gospel- the good news of salvation by grace through faith- purchased by the Son of God.

    This gets me shot from both sides- which feels like I am close to the truth.

    Blessings!

    • wow, I bet you don’t go far without your Kevlar vest…..enjoyed the post: you seem so sane and composed for a YEC’er…….are you medicated ??

      Blessings on your/our evolution toward Jesus-shaped-ness

      Greg R

    • “However, the belief that evolution provides the variety and design of all life (especially by random chance) takes more ‘faith’ than my little brain can handle.”

      I think that’s where the theory of evolution goes beyond science and postulates the reason behind the action. It’s one thing to say that life evolved, but it’s quite another to state the reason behind it. Science can help explain the observable universe, but can never go beyond the observable. So your ‘creator’ is either God or Chance.

    • “However, the belief that evolution provides the variety and design of all life (especially by random chance) takes more ‘faith’ than my little brain can handle.”

      You could if you understood that evolution is highly designed and not random chance. The evidence for this design comes not from belief but from what has lived before and produced offspring.

      For example, you exhibit some measure of variation from your parents and contain within your DNA many mutations (very slight in your overall ‘design’) from the sum total inherited. It requires no faith or astounding belief on my part to hold to the opinion that there is much good evidence that you are a still a product of your mother and father in spite of these genetic differences and mutations. Evolutionary theory does indeed provide a framework for understanding your current ‘design’ from your parents’ ‘design’. Like you from them, they inherited almost their entire ‘design from their parents. This is quite reasonable and I suspect your “little brain” is more than capable of following this line of thinking without having to make huge leaps of faith. What works linking you to your parents also works if we go back another generation and another. If we are missing particular generations or even many, we can still determine your links. When you go back a few dozen, a hundred, a thousand, a million generations, we begin to see on a species level how your biological inheritance today comes through this chain and not from some other. Your genetic code in each and every cell in your body – some 150 million cells – contains evidence of this chain of ancestry. And that’s when we find startling evidence that certain parts – significant chunks – of your genetic code also appear in other species genetic codes. It is very much like tracing the inheritance from a leaf tip back through the leaf to its twig, the twig to its branch, the branch to the tree, the tree to its forest, and so on. If you look at a tiny bit of leaf and the tree from which we presume it came, we see obvious physiological differences between the two. For some people, they think that to show why one comes from the other requires a remarkable amount of belief similar to the mount necessary to believe a sound in the night must belong to Captain Jack’s ghost. These folk don’t understand the connection between leaf and tree that is apparent to others who first come to understand the evidence that links this leaf to that tree through understanding the tree’s life cycle and reproduction, how leaves are the mechanism for the tree to create energy from sunlight, how it makes seeds of some kind to regenerate its kind, and so on. Establishing and understanding the link between leaf and tree is not a matter of belief; it is a matter of knowledge. A yes, your brain is perfectly capable of learning all about biological design without having to believe in Captain Jack’s ghost.

      For those who take the time and make the effort to understand evolutionary theory, they will enjoy an astounding journey of discovery and appreciate anew the awe-inspiring power of life to design itself over a great deal of time and thrive in so many varieties. Welcome to biology. Its study is richly rewarding and far more satisfying than simple belief in the necessity for some divine creation to explain your common ancestry.

  7. iMonk’s thoughts are well written and deserve a full rebuttal, but in the space of ‘comments’ I can only respond to tmn6’s assertion that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contain “two different sequences of creation.” I initially assumed he might be ‘on-to-something’ so I quickly looked up Gen 1 and 2 via ‘Bible-Gateway.com’ and merely used two browser tabs to separately list out the ‘sequences’ a lay-reader might get from reading the two chapters separately. (which according to iMonk is not fair to the text, but we’ll follow tmn6’s thought experiment anyhow.)

    This is the list I came up with (from the NIV, but any translation would do, even the Hebrew.)

    Chapter 1:

    1st Day: Space/time/matter created (probably at zero energy as there is no light yet.) and likely the sphere of the earth itself. Light is created (perhaps in the same instant as the previous.) Light is electromagnetic radiation or ‘heat.’ That heat is then separated into ‘hotter places’ and ‘colder’ places. (i.e. light places and dark places.) in ‘geek’ terms this would mean some some matter is made hot, while some of it is left cold. This could mean the inside of the earth is heated, and much of the universe is left as ‘dark matter.’ (in the thermodynamics sense, not the astrophysics sense, though related in some ways.)
    On the same day (or simultaneously) the earth is also rotating on it’s axis.
    2nd day: the Atmosphere is ‘created’ or more precisely, ‘pulled’ up and out of the elements of the existing earth sphere. (judging from the language.)
    3rd day: Continents uplifted, and Plants created (probably a two step process.)
    4th day: Sun-Moon-Stars created (formed) and earth begins to orbit the Sun.
    5th day: Sea-creatures and Birds created.
    6th day: Land Animals created, and Man created.

    Chapter 2:
    7th Day: God quit creating. (i.e. no more new stuff coming into existence out of nothing by His Word.

    No “shrub of the fields” nor “plants of the field” yet because of no farmers yet to do any farming. Note the obvious ‘of-the-fields’ in both descriptions to indicate a different situation then the ‘wild’ stuff God created on day 3.
    The we see that God ‘had planted a garden’ (on day 3) so that Man could be made to eat from there without a farm. (makes sense after the previous paragraph.)
    Now we see some details of Day 6. “had made” [past-perfect tense] the ‘Beasts of the Field’ (like Dogs and Cats, and Cows) are paraded before Adam, as well as the Avian types, so that Adam would never forget (even in the hard times) that Eve was a BLESSING and not a curse. Dog might be ‘man’s best friend” but Woman is Man’s complimentary ‘puzzle piece’ and ‘help-mate’ Much like God is Man’s Help-mate in salvation. Now we have a ‘zoomed-in’ account of Day 6 competed at verse 25.

    It seems rather plain that ‘tmn6′ must be bringing some pretty shallow reading to get their “two different sequences of creation,” problem. I think we should all take iMonk’s advice about being more ‘true’ and astute about what is actually written, and if God did direct those words to be written (like the rest of the Bible,) then God is not sloppy, and He meant each word that is there, and any truth seeker reading any translation could easily get a pretty correct idea if they were not pre-biased by some other extra-biblical assumptions, so that all will be ‘with-out’ excuse, in at least keeping the matter of Salvation by Grace untainted by compromise. [Death before Adam’s sin really undermines any meaning of Jesus’ own words and resurrection. Just a fact.]

    To iMonk: you are wrestling with epistemology. I recommend you go study some from the likes of J.P. Morland, or William Lane Craig.

    For full disclosure, I am an engineer who loves logic, philosophy, science, and critical thinking. I am more persuaded to be a ‘young-earther’ by Geology, Modern-physics, and Archeology, then by scripture alone. Natural ‘revelation’ is extremely powerful for the intellectually honest, so I fully support the ID movement, even if just for academic freedom principles alone!

    • Tim, about your “of the field” statements:

      The phrase “of the field” does NOT mean farmed, planted, cultivated, domesticated, or things like that. It is a generic phrase that refers to the earth. It’s a phrase that, when used in this way (plant/lily/beast/gazelle/grass/tree of the field) is almost always used in poetic or grand phrases.

      The Bible also uses the same phrase “of the field” when referring to things that are definitely NOT part of the cultivated/farmed/planted/domesticated groups of things. Lilies, gazelle, and wild beasts are some of those things that are called “of the field” but are most definitely not cultivated by man.

      Sometimes the things it refers to are found in farmed fields. Sometimes they are contrasted with things from the mountains, so they just mean non-mountain. Sometimes they refer to all the animals on earth.

      The phrase “of the fields” in this is most certainly not strictly limited to meaning something like “cultivated”. In fact in Genesis 2:20, the phrase “beasts of the field” is specifically separate from the concept of livestock. In Genesis 2:19, “all the beasts of the field” is paired with “all the birds of the air” to refer to everything on the ground and everything in the air. That’s a pretty solid indicator that just a couple verses earlier, in Genesis 2:5, the meaning of “of the field” didn’t suddenly shift to mean just the cultivated plants. Just like Genesis 2:19-20 uses “of the field” to refer to everything, so does “of the field” in Gen 2:5 refer to everything, and so there is an “out of order” to the Creation accounts.

    • Tim, if you look a little closer, you will find that “had made,” which in English is indeed past perfect, is the NIV’s interpretation of a Hebrew past tense. (I’m no Hebrew scholar, but I think from my readings of others that this is true; double check me, though.) Look at other translations and you will find the simple phrase “made”. It seems to me that the NIV has inserted “had” based on their assumption that there is a single creation account in Genesis 1-2.

      • Just to point out to you both —

        Hebrew is very VERY vague with tenses. They only have two real tenses – the perfect and the imperfect. And then two kind-of tenses – the vav-consecutive and the vav-conversive (these share spellings with the perfect and the imperfect, but add an “and” at the front). In any case, English speakers concentrate on tenses. Hebrew speakers don’t. The basic form of the verb is in fact “simple past tense” (vav-consecutive), but Hebrew doesn’t even have a pluperfect that English speakers have. It is sometimes signalled by sticking a perfect verb in the middle of a string of vav-consecutives, but really it is usually just determined by context. For instance, the narrative in Isaiah 39:1 uses the same verb form for hearing that Hezekiah had been sick and recovered.

        Therefore, whether or not you interpret the verb as pluperfect or simple past is based more on your suppositions than on what the text says.

        I would say that the more likely idea would be that the author in Genesis 2 was not trying to make a temporal statement, but instead was describing the context in which the action was happening. In such a case, _any_ English tense would be overly-specific, and therefore the choice of which to use would be based on the English-speaker’s overall understanding of the text, and not of the grammar itself.

    • I’ve found that engineers (people who love logic and philosophy) often have the most amazing ability to make the oddest old anykinds of proofs and rationalizations ‘fit together’ into a system that bears enough weight for their purposes.

      • Only engineers (people who love logic and philosophy)? Seems to me that most large groups have across section of people who think wacky thoughts. But engineers in particular need their science to work; they depend on all the necessary bits and parts to work, and those that don’t simply fall down or blow up or fail. In other words, the evidence that something is wrong becomes evident to an engineer pretty quickly.

        As for logicians and philosophers who build (like an engineer) an argument, I think we can learn a lot just how demanding good thinking is.

  8. Did anyone else watch “Bones” last night? A character on the show who is Muslim is asked how he can believe in Allah and still be a scientist. Where is this coming from? I really liked the answer: basically, that there is no conflict between science and faith, and that science struggles to explain many aspects of creation. It was very tasteful. It seems that not everyone is buying into the new atheist rants about a fundamental conflict between faith and science.

    • For those who follow the evidence about design through evolutionary processes, there really is an incompatibility between belief in creationism and understanding common ancestry. That doesn’t make those who understand the chain of overwhelming evidence atheists – new or otherwise – nor their explanations ‘rants.’ But it is very frustrating to have people reject knowledge if it competes with cherished beliefs. Nor is it reasonable to mitigate what we do know with what we choose to believe. The onus is on each of us to make what we can believe to legitimately fit seamlessly with what we know. There is no middle ground. Evolutionary theory contains every fact we know about ancestry and offers us a framework that continues to work in every area of biological knowledge applied in our lives today. Religious beliefs that compete with this understanding need to be reviewed and updated with something better than a refusal to acknowledge evolution’s truth value based on mutually supportive comprehensive evidence that works.

  9. It seems to me that there is a good bit of commentary and books on Genesis 1, but less on Genesis 2-3. I have read and appreciated Conrad Hyers’ book “The Meaning of Creation.” Anyone have a further suggestion for a commentary or other writings on Gen. 2-3 that addresses questions of mythology and theistic evolution?

  10. I think you are putting too much emphasis on Genesis 1. The real core of Young-Earth Creationism comes from Genesis 6-9. Young-Earth Creationism would actually work just as well if the Bible left out Genesis 1. I know Ken Ham puts a lot of emphasis on Genesis 1 – and there is reason for that – but this article acts like YEC rises or falls on Genesis 1. The fact is that modern Young-Earth Creationism is much more founded on Genesis 6-9 than on Genesis 1.

    Likewise, this is also the subject of the prophecy in 2 Peter 3:3-7. Scoffers will come and deny that the world perished with the flood. And that is in fact what is happening now. The difference between YEC and OEC or Theistic Evolution is that YEC affirms, along with 2 Peter 3, that the world perished with the flood.

    To look at YEC and not talk about the flood is to miss the point entirely.

    Also, just to point out, R.C. Sproul changed his position and is now a Young Earth Creationist. [MOD: See comment below. Document this or it will be deleted.]

    • MOD NOTE: Produce documentation that Sproul believes in YEC or I’m going to edit this comment.

      Also, please name a non-YEC scientist that believes the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old.

      • joel hunter says:

        I think Jonathan Bartlett is correct.

        1. In his guide to the Westminster Confession called Truths We Confess, he states on pp 127-8 that, “For most of my teaching career, I considered the ‘framework hypothesis’ to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation. Genesis says that God created the universe and everything in it in six twenty-four-hour periods. According to the Reformation hermeneutic, the first option is to follow the plain sense of the text. One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 1 to 2. The confession makes it a point of faith that God created the world in the space of six days.”

        Since he rejects alternative creationist theories which allow for OEC (pp 120 ff), he’s left with YEC.

        2. Doug Phillips of the Vision Forum states, “When I ran into Dr. R.C. Sproul at a conference in Nashville earlier this year, I asked him to share the reasons for his relatively recent conversion to six-day creationism. His answer was simple: ‘Doug Kelly’s Creation and Change.’ (published 2003).”

        3. I’ve not confirmed this, but there’s allegedly an MP3 of a talk/sermon by Sproul called “Days of Genesis.”

        4. Circumstantial evidence: Ligonier sells Macarthur’s awful YEC book The Battle for the Beginning.

        Strangely, however, he thinks geocentrism is both bad science and bad biblical exegesis.

      • “Also, please name a non-YEC scientist that believes the earth is 6,000-10,000 years ”

        I don’t understand the question. If a scientist believes the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old, doesn’t that by definition make them young earth?

        However, I can point to some scientists who believe in an old earth but a young biosphere, such as Ariel Roth and Art Chadwick (Chadwick is a dinosaur paleontologist who has done some really cool stuff with high-resolution GPS mapping of fossil dig sites).

        There are also scientists who started out as evolutionists who eventually became YECs, such as John Sanford, who co-invented the process (known as biolistics) which created most commercial transgenic crops today.

        But again, I’m not sure if either of those are what you are looking for, because, as I said, I didn’t understand your question.

        Also, is Joel Hunter’s documentation of the Sproul claim sufficient or do I need to produce anything additional?

        Jon

        • Sanford’s central reason for arguing against evolution is his notion of something called genetic entropy. He has not made the science behind it available for peer review – very odd considering he knows that is how you make meaningful scientific contributions – but has offered through his book the equation that should have E coli dead and gone four times a year if it were true. Perhaps there are supporters of Sanford who think God recreates E coli four times a year, but for the rest of the scinetific community, the algorithm is wrong. Along with good evidence that mutations in small populations like humans are almost always neutral, as well as beneficial, Sanford’s scientific criticism of evolution is flawed. But even if it were true, it wouldn’t make the world or its biomass any younger. Sanford was highly respected as a scientist until he made this u-turn in professionalism and failed to provide good evidence for his young earth beliefs.

          • What do you mean he hasn’t made it “available for peer review”? He published a book containing the science behind it, wrote a state-of-the-art open-source mendelian genetics program demonstrating what he wrote, and then wrote several different papers in a variety of journals discussing the program and its results.

            If by “make it available for peer review” you mean, “submit it to people who would reject it without reading and considering it”, then you are correct, he did not submit his paper discussing why he believes evolution to be false to the peer review of evolutionary journals. What sane person would?

            Now, I, too, have reservations about the degree of what Sanford claims, and have written why I don’t think it is the whole story. But that is not surprising – scientists are frequently wrong (or, as I believe in Sanford’s case, partially wrong), and there is nothing wrong with that.

            And, of course, nothing in that deters from what I was pointing out – that Sanford was a respected biologist who believed in evolution and later became a YEC.

          • Come on, Jonathan; you’re pulling my leg, right?

            Proper peer review occurs before publishing the findings! That’s the whole point. Writing a book is not the same process. It is a shortcut that undermines the very science its author purports to want to get out to the public. As for the accounting model, it simply doesn’t work, hence my comment about the model’s accuracy for something like the dying out of E. coli, which obviously isn’t true. Perhaps if he had offered the model for proper peer review he would have found out where he went wrong and we would have a better model today. Unfortunately, his assumptions are found to be wanting. His main assumption is that there is no evidence for the operation of positive selection (selection for beneficial mutations) in humans. But there is. And that’s why genetic entropy is wrong. If he had submitted his ideas for proper peer review that refuted with strong evidence his central hypothesis (to get your motor running, see Johnson et al. (2001), Sabeti et al. (2002), Nielsen et al. (2005), Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium (2005), and Voigt et al. (2006)) there would have been no book and the accounting program would have been properly tested for validity to predict accurately in the real world.

            This process is not meant to discredit creationism (or, as you write,to “submit it to people who would reject it without reading and considering it, which is just a really weird complaint against the scientific community) but test its scientific claims for validity. In other words, does Sandford’s model work? This is not a question of belief or preference; it is strictly a method of inquiry that continues to give us knowledge. That’s why the proper peer review process is important and not to be circumvented by those who take the shortcut and appeal to certain audience of consumers with a product that is not scientifically endorsed by peers.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            He published a book containing the science behind it… — Jonathan

            Through which publisher? I don’t recognize the “ILN” listed on the Amazon.com link — who are they? If a publishing arm for, say, the Creation Science Institute, that would sort of reduce its credibility outside of the Kentucky Creation Museum.

            If by “make it available for peer review” you mean, “submit it to people who would reject it without reading and considering it”, then you are correct, he did not submit his paper discussing why he believes evolution to be false to the peer review of evolutionary journals. What sane person would? — Jonathan

            Question: How does this differ from the Conspiracy Mindset you find in all those crackpot books? You know the ones I mean — self/vanity-published because of Persecution by The Vast Conspiracy? The ones with “What THEY Don’t Want You To Know!” ?

          • This is actually a reply to both tildeb and Headless Unicorn Guy, but imonk won’t do comments past 3 deep.

            I believe Sanford’s book was originally self-published, and later picked up by a Creation-based publisher. I don’t have any personal grudges against self-published books. I self-published my own book on computer science (Programming from the Ground Up) for largely the same reason – I was unable to find a publisher who wanted to publish it. However, self-publishing did not stop Princeton University from using it for several years. The key is the quality of the book, not on what governing committee says whether or not it is suitable for publication.

            Human nature is just what it is – it isn’t a conspiracy theory. The same human nature that kept Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar’s ideas out of astrophysics for several decades (Eddington thought it was uncool, and he had enough clout to prevent other people who were sympathetic to his ideas to keep them out). For similar reasons as Sanford, Chandrasekhar spent most of his publishing efforts towards books rather than peer-review journals. It is the highest vanity that people think that scientists are a special class of people who are not prone to the same types of groupthink present in every other field.

            And Chandrasekhar and Sanford aren’t the only two who push their work primarily through books. Blanden and Steele published their theories of somatic selection and germline feedback in the book Lamarck’s Signature in 1999. Only in the last few years has the scientific environment changed enough to allow their views in peer-reviewed journals, and even then only a few papers.

            Lynn Margulis has often had her funding cut off for much the same reasons.

            To say that in order for an idea to be scientific that it must pass through a select group of people or journals is simply silly, and the history of science shows us that over and over again good ideas get shot down in science (both journals and otherwise) simply because they are unpopular, and not because they are wrong.

            If I remember correctly from Ruse’s “evolution wars”, the journal Evolution was established because certain scientists did not feel their papers were being given a proper hearing, and therefore made their own journal to publish them. There is nothing wrong with that, but apparently if someone you disagree with does that, it’s foul play.

            There is no magic to peer review. The idea should stand or fall as an idea itself, not because some mystical priesthood deemed it worthy of their standards. Having a fixed set of avenues of publication is precisely the _cause_ of dogma, not its solution.

  11. IM said,
    I do not believe the stars will fall to the earth. I don’t. I don’t believe stars are in the sky. I don’t believe the writer understood what stars are or how they operate or the distances involved. I think this is prescientific language, and it is meant to tell us truth in its own way. A simple illustration, but it clearly shows that literary purpose must come before “literal” interpretation

    Perhaps they are shooting stars, as in the earth going thru a meteor shower or comet(s) trail. maybe that is the cleansing of the earth in divne judgement. All to say we really do not know what is meant. John could actually see this cataclysmic event unfolding in a vision

    • This is the whole problem with “the Bible is literally true” as a philosophy: it dissolves pretty rapidly into hand-wringing and “the Bible isn’t saying what it’s obviously saying.. unless MAYBE “

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Or “the Bible Says What I Say It Says Because I can Force My Will/Interpretation On You!”, whether by Inquisition or Jihad.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Or maybe John was just using imagery of Cosmic Catastrophe to make his point.

      Solar Eclipse (Sun will turn black), Lunar Eclipse (Moon will turn to blood), Volcanic Vents (lakes of fire), all imagery to describe the indescribable. All images of Cosmic Catastrophe.

      Perhaps they are shooting stars, as in the earth going thru a meteor shower or comet(s) trail… John could actually see this cataclysmic event unfolding in a vision.

      Be careful about going down that particular road. That’s the filter Hal Lindsay used with Late Great Planet Earth — that God showed John a movie of 20th Century events and John described it as best he could. That resulted in the Plague of Demon Locusts “really” being helicopter gunships packing chemical weapons and piloted by long-haired bearded hippies. And ALL the plagues of Revelation being nuclear weapons effects described by a 1st-Century primitive, resulting in the “Christians For Nuclear War” attitude (or at least indifference — after all, The Rapture WILL beam us up as the first warheads cut atmo over their targets; It Is Written!

  12. There are several days of good discussion about this and similar issues at Lamb and Lion ministries. You can go forward and backward in the blog to see various issues discussed regarding evolution. The man being interviewed has changed his view from evolution to creation.

    http://www.lamblion.us/2009/10/theistic-evolution-gap-in-logic.html

  13. I appreciated this post. I agree that at times Hugh Ross’s interpretations seem a bit idiosyncratic, but that’s far from the same as saying that his contributions have no value. In fact, they have a great deal of value.

    As for the comments so far, I think that everyone who discusses evolution would benefit from taking more care to separate out the threads tangled in that term. These include the ideas that (1) the earth is old, (2) some fossil and biological evidence suggests that living things have branched off from common ancestors, (3) everything came about by accident and natural selection with no designing intelligence, (4) macro-evolution is just micro-evolution repeated over billions of years, (5) God’s signature in the domain of biology is undetectable–either because God does not exist, because God prefers to be undetectable, or because God’s design was limited to carefully setting up the initial conditions (and the Big Bang was the ultimate trick billiards shot). Some of those ideas can be reconciled with the God of the Bible and some just can’t.

    Believe that design in nature is undetectable? Read Stephen Meyer’s new book “Signature in the Cell.”

    Believe that chance and natural selection can create significant new features without intelligent design? Read Michael Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution.”

    • Intelligent Design is not science. It is creationism. Because something has design does not mean that there must be a supernatural designer.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        No, Tildeb, Intelligent Design originally meant what used to be called “Natural Theology”, a philosophical foundation of science that empowered Western Science from the 16th to 19th Centuries: The idea that God is reflected in His Creation. And that God is one and constant, and His creation should reflect this consistency — 2+2 is NOT going to =4 one moment and =5 the next, water isn’t going to flow downhill one moment and uphill the next (regardless of what Islamic theology says). And that God is understandable (at least to a point) and His creation should also be understandable — no “God Saith!” Mystagogery. Perceived truth as a subset of God’s Truth, not a completely-separate set.

        THAT Is what Intelligent Design originally meant — a philosophical foundation/justification for science rather than a science itself, heir to a centuries-old philosophical/scientific tradition.

        Then the YECs HIJACKED the name, and the result is what you’re talking about:

        Intelligent Design (nudge nudge wink wink know what I mean know what I mean), the latest coat of camouflage paint for Young Earth Creationism Uber Alles and NOTHING more.

        • I would love to have a much more detailed conversation with you about your thesis than this site will allow because it sounds very much like a “God did it” explanation used for a lack of knowledge since time immemorial. I suspect you mean much more than that and I would like to find out what. But in the meantime, I’ll make my point as quickly as quickly as I can.

          Until the 15th century, Christian science was Aristotelian physics and Platomic ideology (a restructured dualism by its modern name, thanks to Descartes), but somewhat altered screaming and kicking at least as much by the natural physics that worked of a few large brained mammals like Copernicus and Galileo and Newton as by the natural philosophies of Descartes and Leibniz that empowered natural theology. To recast these philosophies as Intelligent Design has some merit but… to be more honest, let’s call ID what it was meant to be by those who created it: the proponents of those who represent the Discovery Institute and put its agenda to work. So let’s not mask ID as something it is really isn’t – natural theology – although I will admit that it could be categorized as such.

          Intelligent Design is very much a20th century creature that attempts and fails as a Trojan Horse to get creationism into the science curriculum. The evidence is two simple words: cdesign proponentsists. As Nick Matzke eloquently articulates The definition of “intelligent design” *originated* by deleting “creationist” and its cognates, and inserting “intelligent design”, “design proponents”, etc., from the book Of Pandas and People. The rest of the definition (and the text of the book it was in!!) remained exactly the same. It happened after the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision.

          You may choose to think of ID as a new label on an old idea, but unless you can convince those who use the term in its modern form to redefine the antiquated idea of natural theology, then let’s stick to using language we can both understand.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            As Nick Matzke eloquently articulates The definition of “intelligent design” *originated* by deleting “creationist” and its cognates, and inserting “intelligent design”, “design proponents”, etc., from the book Of Pandas and People. The rest of the definition (and the text of the book it was in!!) remained exactly the same. It happened after the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision.

            So it REALLY WAS a “Global Replace String ‘Young Earth Creationism’ with String ‘Intelligent Design'” (nudge nudge wink wink know what I mean know what I mean)…

      • Oh yes, your point:
        It is easier to apply a label than it is to debate a point.

  14. Thank you Michael! I am so tired of Christians making evolution that cause of every ill that is in the world. I can perfectly well believe that the Genesis creation story is not a scientific representation of creation and still believe that Jesus really did walk the earth, and that the Bible is divinely inspired. But I don’t say that much for fear of being sent packing by fellow church members. The Bible is so rich, ancient, and beautiful, I can’t bring myself to believe that one can, or is supposed to, read it like a textbook.

    • Note that evolutionary theory has nothing to do with the origin of life or the Big Bang. By all means hold to the beliefs you find beautiful and meaningful. It is very refreshing to read that believers can appreciate science and its truth values without taking a stand against knowledge. Thank you, TeeDee. You help restore my faith in others.

  15. Steve Rowitt says:

    These are very interesting posts. I think we often see science and religion as mutually exclusive. Many of the founding fathers of science were men (and women) of faith. Why do we find ourselves more apt to want to adjust our religious beliefs to accommodate science when the scientific body of knowledge is very often in flux due to new discoveries or additional data on previous discoveries because new discoveries often change what we believe about the world we live in.
    I see the tension between science and theology as a good thing. I also think that theology can transcend science but not visa versa.