A small hitch for Young Earth Creationists

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. – Romans 1:20, ESV.

One of the major principles of Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm is found in the following quote:

(v). The analogy of faith.“Horne defines the analogy of faith to be “the constant and perpetual harmony of Scripture in the fundamental points of faith and practice deduced from those passages in which they were discussed by the inspired penmen either directly or expressly, and in clear, plain, and intelligible language.” The basic assumption here is that there is one system of truth or theology contained in Scripture, and therefore all doctrines must cohere or agree with each other. That means that the interpretations of specific passages must not contradict the total teaching of Scripture on a point. This is similar to saying that Scripture interprets Scripture (scriptura sacra sui ipsius interpres).

So important is this principle of non-contradiction that Dr. Ramm spends a large part of the book showing what contradiction means and how Scripture is not truly contradictory. The word is used at least 43 times in his book. Given that his book was (is?) the standard textbook for orthodox Protestant interpretation in the 20th century, it heightens the importance of the analogy of faith and the non-contradiction of Scripture.

This is where YEC runs into a problem. In order to maintain their interpretation they have to deny that what is “clearly seen” is not a YEC interpretation but something else. It does no good to only quote some of the radical secularists to try to show that you have to be a secularist to believe anything but YEC. Ultimately, YEC has to argue that the meaning of Romans 1:20 is only that of some form of limited Intelligent Design. I say limited because YEC Intelligent Design advocates end up spending an awful lot of time arguing against many scientific theories. [Note: before the YEC debates of the 1980s and 1990s, Intelligent Design had a rich philosophical history that did NOT include anti-science attitudes at all. But YEC advocates re-defined Intelligent Design and have essentially destroyed it as a legitimate line of philosophical inquiry.]

Meanwhile, there are many scientists over the course of years who have commented that it is precisely their scientific understandings of the universe that led them to consider the existence of God, precisely because of the orderliness and close tolerances needed for the universe to operate as we see it. [In passing, that is the original form of the Intelligent Design argument, before it was co-opted and stolen by YEC advocated.] For instance:

Although I suspect I will never fully understand, I now think the answer is very simple: it’s true. God did create the universe about 13.7 billion years ago, and of necessity has involved Himself with His creation ever since. The purpose of this universe is something that only God knows for sure, but it is increasingly clear to modern science that the universe was exquisitely fine-tuned to enable human life. We are somehow critically involved in His purpose. Our job is to sense that purpose as best we can, love one another, and help Him get that job done. – Richard Smalley, Nobel prize in Chemistry, 1996.

The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart. – Abdus Salam, Nobel prize in Physics, 1979

While admitting to the full extent the agency of the same great laws of organic development in the origin of the human race as in the origin of all organized beings, there yet seems to be evidence of a Power which has guided the action of those laws in definite directions and for special ends … Such, we believe, is the direction in which we shall find the true reconciliation of Science with Theology on this most momentous problem. Let us fearlessly admit that the mind of man (itself the living proof of a supreme mind) is able to trace, and to a considerable extent has traced, the laws by means of which the organic no less than the inorganic world has been developed. But let us not shut our eyes to the evidence that an Overruling Intelligence has watched over the action of those laws, so directing variations and so determining their accumulation, as finally to produce an organization sufficiently perfect to admit of, and even to aid in, the indefinite advancement of our mental and moral nature. – John Eccles, Nobel prize in Physiology, 1963.

I could go on with the quotes. But, suffice it to say that a reasonable interpretation of Romans 1:20 is that God would not so construct an universe so as to apparently mislead so many over the centuries. That hypothesis would contradict the assertion of Saint Paul that the things of God are clearly seen so that “they are without excuse.” In order to maintain that this is not what it means, YEC advocates must argue that the delusion of all who do not agree with them is so great as to be tantamount to a type of mob psychology. The line, “they are without excuse,” is reduced to little more than they disagreed with YEC.

Meanwhile, there were sufficient arguments about the meaning of the first chapters of Genesis among the Early Church Fathers that it is not necessary for me to “explain away” what is “clearly” written, which is the charge that YEC consistently lobs against any who disagree. Add to that the clearly indisputable fact that the Church never took a stand on a particular interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis, but rather allowed either a more “literal” or more “mystical” interpretation, and it becomes difficult to argue that all Christians must be YEC. At best, YEC could only argue that their viewpoint must continue to be allowed. They can not succeed in the argument that theirs is the only possible Christian viewpoint.

But, using Romans 1:20, appealing to the “analogy of faith,” and looking at the results of scientific inquiry does allow me to say that, at best, YEC should only be a permissible viewpoint. At worst, we may need to caution our children against being cowed by such a viewpoint and such a style of Scriptural interpretation, lest they go wrong with other doctrines by using that method.

In speaking of the interpretation of end-times writings in Scripture, Bernard Ramm gives a warning that I think equally applies to YEC:

… Their favorite target is the literalistic eschatology of the Fundamentalists who take all the predictions of the events of the end-times in a strict, literal way. The most absurd thing they usually point out is that future battles of the end-times are fought with the weapons of the ancient world which means that regardless of modern development of guns, tanks, airplanes, rockets, etc., mankind will revert back to bows, arrows, and spears. It is the lack of any real appreciation of literary genre that forces Fundamentalists to make such absurd assertions about future events.

It must be made clear that the mainline Reformation scholarship – Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran – has no part with that kind of Biblical interpretation that runs roughshod over literary genre and interprets Scripture with a grinding literalism. Rather, in the best of philological tradition, it recognizes that no book can be intelligently assessed and interpreted without first noting its literary genre.

Modern fundamentalists have realized that error and now talk about modern weapons in the end-times. But, the comment about the “lack of any real appreciation of literary genre” still plagues both end-times enthusiasts and YEC supporters. And the warning is clear, either mainline Protestant or Orthodox scholarship, “has no part with that kind of Biblical interpretation that runs roughshod over literary genre and interprets Scripture with a grinding literalism.”

Dilemma for Christians

Pearls Before Swine

Yesterday I stated my disagreement with Young Earth Creationism (YEC). Today, I saw the comic above and it made me laugh. But, the comic also makes a good point. Many Christians are afraid to answer the question of whether they believe in Young Earth Creationism or some form of Old Earth Creationism or of Theistic Evolution. Frankly, it is not because they are truly unsure. Rather, they do not wish to face the almost instant attack that is received from those who believe in YEC.

In all too many of our congregations, conservative Christians who do not buy into YEC theorizing are made to feel as though they have deserted God and are put on the spot to explain why they disagree with YEC theory. More than that, they are often labeled as having been “corrupted” and or “taken in” by secularism. In other words, despite the easily confirmed fact that many conservative Christians (particularly outside the USA) theologians see no conflict between some form of Theistic Evolution or Old Earth Creationism, nevertheless all too many USA conservative Christians are willing to quickly label them all as not being true interpreters of Scripture. Entire swaths of conservative Christians are quickly dismissed without a second thought.

It bears mentioning that the irony is that some of the great modern conservative Protestant Christian heroes are in strong agreement with one of the theistic evolutionary models. For instance:

John Stott – The evidence of Genesis 2-4 is that Adam was a Neolithic farmer. The New Stone Age ran from about 10,000 to 6,000 BC. [and in another quote] All pre-Adamic hominids, still homo sapiens and not yet homo divines, if we may so style Adam.

Tim Keller – For the record I think God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory.

From the Early Church Fathers, one can quote Origen – Now who is there, pray, possessed of understanding, that will regard the statement as appropriate, that the first day, and the second, and the third, in which also both evening and morning are mentioned, existed without sun, and moon, and stars— the first day even without a sky? And who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it.

Throughout Church history, orthodox believers have fallen on one side or the other on this issue. However, it was not until YEC began its strong attack in the mid-20th century that this issue became a dividing issue between supposedly “true” Christians and supposedly not so true Christians. What had been an issue over which freedom was permitted during most of Church history became something dark and divisive, over which all Christians must take a stand, over which all Christians would be judged. YEC adherents have not served the Church well, but rather have tried to force the Church into a stance over which there has yet to be agreement during our history.

The end result has been much derision on the part of secularists and much pain in the body of the Church. If anything, YEC has had the effect of silencing university students who might otherwise have stated that they were Christians. Nowadays, even secularists know that the first question to ask a Christian is about evolution or some other hot-button issue. But, of evolution there is no clear consensus among orthodox Christians like there is on many other hot-button issues. So, it is easier to keep quiet than to chance ridicule over something you do not even believe in.

This is a sad thing.