Monday, March 8, 2010

Creation Science Misuses of Scripture

In this post I would like to comment on two passages of Scripture that are commonly used by the Creation Scientists to support their interpretation of Scripture, but upon careful reading can be shown to be quoted out of context.

Job 38:4
The first passage is from Job 38:4ff., which begins, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” This text is commonly used to say that since nobody but God was present at creation, we should listen to what he said about it in his Word e.g. here. Certainly, if it’s a question of God’s Word against ours, the choice should be obvious but it isn’t that simple.

This interpretation of Job 38:4 misunderstands the point that God is making to Job. Since a text without a context is a pretext, let's look at the context. Job 38:1 states that God answered Job, but in response to what? For the answer we need to go back to chapter 31, where Job defends his innocence before God, stating that he does not deserve the calamity which God has allowed Satan to inflict upon him. Job’s defense is in response to the accusations of his "friends" that he must have done something wicked. The younger Elihu gets the point though, and chastises Job for trying to understand why God has allowed these things to happen to him, that Job in a sense is accusing God of being unfair.

Thus Job’s challenging of God’s ways is the context to chapter 38, where God tells Job that he darkens counsel by words without knowledge (v. 2). Yes, chapter 38 speaks of creation, but it is described in the context of God's wisdom compared to that of Job. The next chapter speaks about God's wisdom in making things the way they are (incidentally, this chapter and chapter 41 are strong evidence against the notion of a gentle and death-free world before the Fall, because it is clear that God made fierce creatures as we find them today e.g. 39:30). In chapter 40:8 the Lord returns to the theme by asking Job, “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”

In short, the purpose of Job 38-41 is not a warning for us not to look into the history of creation; rather, it is a warning for us not to question God's ways.

Isaiah 11
The second passage I would like to address is Isaiah 11:6-9, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them...” This passage is commonly used by Creation Science supporters to describe a return to Eden-like conditions in the new heavens and new earth (or by some dispensationalists, in the millennium) e.g. here. However, a careful study of this passage will show that it's not talking about Eden-like conditions or animal behaviour, but as C. John Collins explains in chapter 10 of his book Science & Faith: Friends or Foes (Crossway Books, 2003), it's speaking about the church.

In the previous chapters of Isaiah we read a series of pronouncements of judgment against Israel and against the instruments God uses against Israel, including Assyria. In these chapters we see punishments and promises of restoration.

Chapter 11 gets back to restoration but in this case we see not only restoration after the captivity but in this prophecy’s double fulfillment we also see the promise of the Messiah and the future of the church. Using beautiful word-pictures Isaiah describes the church, but in words that fit the context of the previous chapters. Assyria is an instrument of God's judgment but will be punished for its sin (10:12), but the Messiah will judge justly (11:4).

In chapter 11:5-9 we read about the future of the church when the Messiah will reign i.e. the present time. Note the back-reference to these verses in verses 10 and 11, "in that day" when the church will be gathered from all over the world. The Israelites would be dispersed but God’s people would be gathered from all over the world (v. 12) as the church of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Paul quotes verse 10 in Romans 15:12 in this exact context.

So how do verses 5-9 fit into this picture? We've had military descriptions of judgment and battles in the earlier chapters of Isaiah but the reign of the Messiah will be a striking contrast, with otherwise unthinkable associations: wolf/lamb, leopard/goat, calf/lion, child/cobra etc. This is a direct contrast with the actions of the wolf, leopard and lion that Jeremiah describes (Jeremiah 5:6).

Isaiah's description is a picture of the new heavens and earth, but it’s also a prophecy that is being fulfilled already today. Christ is gathering his church from all over the world. We are brothers and sisters in Christ with people who, in the minds of Isaiah’s original readers, would otherwise be enemies. The church is filled with unthinkable combinations of people, not tied to any nation or ethnic group. Thus this passage is not about biology, it's about Christ building his church.

To sum up, a careful study of Scripture does not support the Creation Science argument for an idyllic pre-Fall animal world, nor does it support the idea that we cannot determine anything about the creation of the world. If we are to use Scriptural arguments, it is important that we understand the context to use them correctly.

Readers interested in learning more about this would do well to read the Collins book mentioned above.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tim Keller on Evolution and the Bible

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. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at a consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given. If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.

This creates a problem for both doubters and believers. Many believers in western culture see the medical and technological advances achieved through science and are grateful for them. They have a very positive view of science. How then can they reconcile what science seems to tell them about evolution with their theological beliefs? Seekers and inquirers about Christianity can be even more perplexed. They may be drawn to many things about the Christian faith, but, they say, ‘I don’t see how I can believe the Bible if that means I have to reject science.’

This is how Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, introduces a paper entitled “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People.” [This paper is listed in our “collected papers” (see sidebar) and a direct link is here.] Herein he looks for possibilities of reconciling faith and evolutionary science. He begins with a discussion of the four main problems orthodox Protestants have with evolution, namely (1) the authority of the Bible, (2) the tendency to equate evolution as a biological theory with evolutionism as an anti-Christian worldview, (3) the historicity of Adam and Eve, and (4) the problem of violence and evil. The most difficult one, he remarks, is number 3, the historicity of Adam and Eve. Unlike some theistic evolutionists, Keller refuses to deny this historicity, which, he shows, is clearly affirmed in both the Old and the New Testament. He emphasizes that in the discussion about science and faith it is not science, but the Bible that has to have the final word. As he writes at the end of his paper, “Psalm 19 and Romans 1 teach that God’s glory is revealed as we study his creation, yet in the end both of those passages say that it is only Scripture which is the ‘perfect’ revelation of God’s mind (Psalm 19:7). We must interpret the book of nature by the book of God.” He continues, quoting O.T. scholar Derek Kidner, “It cannot be said too strongly that Scripture is the perfect vehicle for God’s revelation… To read it with one eye on any other account is to blur its image and miss its wisdom.”

How then can the difficulties be overcome? In trying to answer that question, Keller refers to relevant studies by several Christian scientists, theologians, and philosophers. He considers a number of possible models and in the end expresses preference for the one proposed by Derek Kidner in Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (IVP, 1967). Kidner’s model admits of human evolution but nevertheless holds that Adam was the first creature into which God breathed human life, and that Adam and Eve are the ancestors of all humankind. What are we to say about Keller’s paper? Are Keller and Kidner convincing? Neither of them states that he has spoken the last word on the issue. Keller tells us, “When Derek Kidner concluded his account of human origins, he said that his view was an ‘exploratory suggestion…only tentative, and it is a personal view. It invites correction and a better synthesis.’” That, Keller adds, “is the right attitude for all of us working in this area.” (Readers of this blog, incidentally, will notice that our blog partner Dr. Jitse van der Meer sees eye to eye with Dr. Kidner in the matter of human evolution, the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the descent of all humans from Adam, and that he affirms the same tentative approach as Kidner and Keller.)

In conclusion: I realize that some (many?) of our readers will take Keller’s approach as yet another attempt to “fit” evolution into the Bible. I want to urge these people to resist that temptation and to take Keller at his word when he says that the Bible has the last word. I also realize that I run the risk of being criticized for drawing attention to this paper. Such a reaction will not surprise me. I myself have questions; and I much appreciate Keller’s (and Kidner’s) statement that we have to look at their arguments as explorative and tentative. Theirs is indeed not necessarily the last word.

The reason for the decision to introduce the paper is my conviction, shared by the other members of the blog, that we should acquaint ourselves with attempts made by orthodox, well-informed Christians to deal with one of the most difficult problems that Christianity meets today in the realm of ideas. Rather than dismiss these men as by definition apostate, we should join the discussion. I hope that our scientists, theologians, philosophers and others will do so. To facilitate the conversation we have posted a link to Keller’s paper at our blog.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Response to Clarion’s “Ten Reasons” – Introduction

In past years Clarion, the semi-official magazine of the Canadian Reformed Churches, used to publish articles by both old- and young-earth creationists. In fact, several old-earth pieces written by Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff were published in 2002-03 and are listed in our collected papers. Early last year, however, the editorial committee refused, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, to publish a response by old-earth creationist Dr. Tony Jelsma to an article by Dr. C. Van Dam, which promoted the young-earth theory (Clarion, 27 March 2009). Jelsma was told that the editorial committee had instituted a moratorium on any articles about origins. The reason given was that such articles caused unrest and that a cooling-off period was needed. Various appeals having been rejected, we started this blog in April 2009, beginning with the publication of the Jelsma piece.

Subsequently, contributors heard that the moratorium would be lifted by 1 January 2010. Nevertheless, a series on the history of young-earth creationism, written by a regular contributor to Clarion and submitted for publication at the conclusion of the moratorium, was refused. Instead, Clarion celebrated the lifting of the moratorium by publishing an article by five authors attacking evolution (a topic that had nothing to do with the moratorium). Subsequent issues contained articles by Dr. Van Dam, attacking, as before, old-earth creationism (Clarion, 29 January and 12 February 2010). Meanwhile the article by the old-earth creationist continued to be vetoed as unsuitable. (It had been published in different form on this blog under the title “Young-Earth Creationism: A History.”)

Members of Reformed Academic have reacted to the new policy by means of private correspondence and letters to the editor. They will continue to do so, and they intend to continue to deal with the issue also by means of this blog. The present series of postings concentrates, however, on the article by the five authors. We promised to do so early in February. This article is by W. Bredenhof, W. Geurts, G. VanPopta, J. VanPopta, J. Witteveen, and was entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil”, Clarion, v. 59, n. 1 (1 January 2010), pp. 6-9 [available electronically here - link provided here; our quotes are from the printed edition].

We are now ready to fulfill this promise. It is our intention to deal with the introduction and the “ten reasons” one at a time. The Clarion comments will be given first, followed by our responses to numbered items. These responses are co-authored and also use material contributed by those who have written us privately. After we have finished responding to each of the reasons one at a time, dealing with specific details, we plan to post a concluding general response.

Original from Clarion [numbered for our responses below]

“Over the years, people in the Canadian Reformed Churches have traditionally viewed the theory of evolution as an enemy of the Christian faith. However, recently there have been voices encouraging us to reconsider this stance.[1] This deeply concerns us. Now, just as in the past,[2] we need to be firmly convinced that this theory stands opposed to the clear teachings of Scripture and that it has no place in a biblical worldview. In this article, we want to outline ten reasons why evolution should still be regarded as dangerous and evil and why it should be taught as such in our Reformed homes, schools, and churches.

Before we begin, we need to be clear about our definition of “evolution.”[3] We understand it to refer to a theory about the origins of life and the diversification of that life into various modern-day organisms, including man. According to this theory, all forms of life are related in common ancestry through an evolutionary process thought to have taken place over billions of years. Evolution teaches that all life is descended from a single-celled organism which in turn evolved from inert chemicals.[4] Finally, we note that evolution is not merely a scientific theory but a foundational component of many unbelieving worldviews.[5]

Responses by Reformed Academic

1. Although the authors do not mention us, it is clear that we are the ones they believe are responsible for this encouragement to reconsider the anti-evolutionary stance; in fact, they include some of the contents of our blog without citation. We therefore begin our commentary by quoting from one of our earliest blog postings (29 April 2009): “Concerns have been raised about an article on this blog which appears to promote theistic evolution, i.e., an evolutionary process which took place under God’s guidance. We want our readers to know that the contributors to this blog are by no means in agreement on the scientific and theological validity of theistic evolution, and we further assure them that its promotion is not a ‘hidden agenda’ of this blog.
     “Theistic evolution is accepted, however, among an increasing number of Bible-believing, orthodox Christians. For that reason we believe that we must discuss the theological and scientific issues surrounding the theory among ourselves and also on the blog. It is an issue that we may not be able to resolve adequately but that we also do not, for that reason, want to censor or ‘run away from.’ Informed readers will be able to appreciate the difficulties faced by biologists who encounter what appears to be scientific evidence for evolution but wish to remain faithful to Scripture and the Reformed confession. We do not want to ignore this difficulty and we hope that on our blog the matter can be discussed publicly, in a brotherly way, without acrimony.”

2. It is unfortunate that the authors seem unwilling to address the clear history of our own heritage in which men like Kuyper, Bavinck, Schilder, Ohmann, Faber, while clearly opponents of evolution, all considered the possibility of an older earth. Furthermore, it is unfortunate the Clarion refuses to publish the careful historical study of Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff, an earlier version of which appeared here despite claiming to have lifted a moratorium which lasted (with two lapses) from March to December 2009 on topics regarding origins and Genesis.

3. We applaud the authors’ stated intention to clearly define evolution. It becomes apparent, however, that two different definitions get conflated, as some authors address evolutionism, the naturalistic philosophy and worldview, rather than the biological theory of evolution; furthermore they focus on the application of the theory which addresses human evolution.

4. The biological theory of evolution does not, strictly speaking, include a theory of the origin of life, but just its subsequent development. It is indeed a common misconception, shared even by many scientists, that origin and development are non-problematically of a piece. A Christian necessarily separates origin from development.

5. It is vitally important in any Christian discussion of evolution to make clear distinctions between evolution and evolutionism. It is true that many atheists use the theory of evolution as “proof” of their denial of God, but this denial is not scientifically founded. Evolution is no more than a scientific theory. Evolutionism, on the other hand, is an all-encompassing naturalistic philosophy and worldview which goes far beyond the theory of evolution. It claims that nature is all there is, was, or ever shall be. In particular, it claims that there is no God who has created the universe, who governs it or interacts with it or with anything in it in any way. Adherents to evolutionism hold that all that exists evolved, even if no scientific theory exists or is within reach. They believe that material composition exhausts ontology; i.e., that the only valid thing one can say about anything in the world is a scientific description of what it is made of, what its material origin is, and that any discussion of purpose, value, meaning is simply superstition. They claim that there is no discontinuity between molecules and man; i.e., that there is only a purely naturalistic connection, without God-ordained distinctions, between all things within creation so that ultimately humans and hills and humus are essentially the same, each being just purely natural. They argue that morality and religion are purely human constructs. Often proponents of evolutionism will (illegitimately) tout the theory of evolution as if it supports their philosophy. This is similar to how moral relativists in the early twentieth century imagined Einstein’s theory of relativity as lending scientific validity to their notions. His response – wishing he had entitled his work a theory of absolutes – clarifies that it was semantics, and not the scientific content of the theory, which was being misappropriated.

As will become clear in further remarks, while some regard the biological theory of evolution itself as a danger, the real opponent is instead evolutionism. Evolutionism can be immediately rejected as un-Christian since it claims there is no God. Christians who give serious consideration to the biological theory of evolution, however, fully acknowledge the activity and sovereignty of God in creation, providence, and redemption.