A Reply to an Open Letter (RJS)

Patheos is developing a forum for conversation exploring many areas of faith in our culture. Inevitably this will touch at times on issues of science, reason, and faith – an article by James Hannam on his book God’s Philosophers, a Veritas Forum lecture by Dr. Collins Learning the Language of God, and an atheist bemoaning the accommodationist tendencies of many, including the National Academy of Sciences, in The War Between Science and Religion are just a few examples.

In one recent contribution David Moore, (founder and president of Two Cities Ministries), posted an open letter to Karl Giberson regarding his recent exchange with Dr. Mohler. Now I do not know either Dr. Giberson or Dr. Mohler and I have no desire to defend Dr. Giberson’s approach to the science faith discussion. I have presented some of my response to Dr. Mohler in a couple of earlier posts (Houston, we still have a problem and Houston, here’s the situation.)

Mr. Moore’s generally excellent letter, though, raises an important question. In his penultimate paragraph he notes:

My own position on the age of the earth is agnostic, so I guess I don’t agree with either one of you. I do believe in a literal Adam and Eve. Here’s why I am agnostic about the age of the earth and related matters: Kurt Wise, as you well know, received his Ph.D. at Harvard under Stephen Jay Gould. Wise is no dummy and he is an early earth creationist. You received your Ph.D. at Rice (a great academic institution and a growing powerhouse in football) and you hold a polar opposite view from Wise. When I teach theology or church history, I constantly alert my students to an important reality. If two scholarly Christians who genuinely seem to be seeking the truth on some issue come to different conclusions, you can be certain about one thing: the issue isn’t crystal clear.

The sentiment and reasoning in this paragraph is something I come across frequently in the discussion of science and faith. But it has serious problems worth some real discussion.

How do you approach and make decisions on complex issues requiring expert knowledge?

What do you do when two intelligent Christians who have studied the issues genuinely disagree, and disagree diametrically?

There are a number of problems with Mr. Moore’s reasoning here.

First, competing views among experts is not sufficient reason for agnosticism. Agnosticism in such a situation is often either a sign of intellectual laziness or a sign that the issue is viewed to be of secondary importance, not worth real investigation. From the tone of Mr. Moore’s letter I rather expect his position is the latter, but I cannot agree. While there are large groups of people for whom it will be secondary, there are increasingly large groups for whom it decidedly is not secondary.  This discussion has become or is becoming a serious stumbling block for faith and for witness. We need Christian leaders who take the time to truly understand the basic issues.

Second, when scholars disagree the first order of business is to figure out why. I certainly expect that Mr. Moore teaches this in his theology or church history classes as well. If the reason is found in the precise interpretation of an esoteric Greek phrase and a disagreement about it’s Semitic roots it is a matter best left to specialists, often of secondary (or tertiary) importance. But if the discussion is important then teachers and leaders, students in a field,  must make a best effort to understand the issues. Part of this requires reading the arguments carefully enough to understand the framework and basic suppositions of an argument. Christian leaders and teachers cannot simply count experts and declare the issue to be a draw or beyond discernment. This leads to my third point.

Third, the evidence for the age of the earth is rock solid. If there were any real scholarly debate regarding the evidence for the age of the earth I would have sympathy for Mr. Moore’s position.  In the face of true expert debate with significant groups on each side sometimes the only sane approach for the non-expert is an open agnosticism waiting for a consensus to appear. But this is not the case here. The only people I know who hold to a young earth do so on theological or philosophical grounds. The data are solidly on the side of an old earth and an even older universe. Even Dr. Wise as far as I know does not dispute the strength of the evidence, rather he continues a search for new evidence that he trusts will bolster a position he holds on theological and scriptural grounds; he finds that his faith requires it. For more details on the evidence for an old earth see: The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth (I posted on the book here) or a short discussion on issue regarding the age of the earth here: An Ancient Earth.

Where does this leave us? If the average person in the pew takes a position of agnosticism  – this is understandable. When Christian leaders and apologists use this approach without carefully considering the issues we have a problem. When Christian leaders and apologists declare an impasse based on the theological (not scientific) view of one well trained paleontologist over and against the consensus view of hundreds (more likely thousands) of Christians active in the sciences we have a disaster.  Don’t bother assembling a few more names – the ratio won’t change,  only a handful hold a young earth position and the position is held on theological, not scientific, grounds. There is more genuine discussion, disagreement, and debate on details of evolution and the nature of Adam and Eve.

Scot posted an excellent discussion from Alister McGrath’s new book The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind asking the question: What good’s a theologian? This post has bearing on the issues here. In the church we need Christian thinkers in all areas in dialog with each other, theologians, scientists, biblical scholars, historians, and more. We need to listen to each other and trade in the realm of ideas not dogma and camps. One of the strengths of the internet is the forum it can provide, when properly moderated, to bring experts to the table in conversation. I post and comment here to participate in this conversation. Perhaps, I pray, it will have a little impact.

What do you think? When is agnosticism a valid position?

More importantly when is it a valid position for a Christian leader or teacher?

And that brings me to one final thing – Patheos has, for some good reasons, limited the rss feed to excerpt only on this blog. Because I would like to make my posts as widely available as possible, and because I’ve traveled enough to know that web-only access on a big site can be a real hindrance,  I am going to repost on Musings on Science and Theology and provide mobile formatting and full rss feed.  All comment, conversation, and interaction will remain on the Jesus Creed site alone.

As always you can contact me directly if you wish at rjs4mail[at]att.net

  • http://www.virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    the content of the link you provided to “The War Between Science and Religion”, is quite familiar. It seems to me that atheists/anti-theists are very critical of the “cognitive dissonance” that they percieve to be common among theists. Theists (such as Collins) are often accused of holding to apparently self-evident contradictions (such as the “two ways of knowing” argument). Sam Harris’ essays on the subject are very direct, and have recevied much praise among non-theists for their apparent directness and clarity. The competing views, perhaps in Harris’ opinion does not mean that one view is tenable, it just means that the person holding to that view is able to selectively use evidence to prevent their view being undermined.

    I suspect that being “agnostic” on issues such as the age of the earth further adds to this frustration. Being agnostic appears to be an open-minded concession, however as you point out, it looks more like intellectual laziness or a cynical attempt at what the likes of Harris would call accomodationism (leaving the door open, so to speak).

  • Dan

    I suspect being agnostic about the age of the earth means 1) that he views Genesis 1 as not explicitly clear regarding the length of a day and 2) that the age of the earth is not central to the faith in the same way the historicity of Adam and the fall would be.

    I would tend to lean that direction, meaning that whether the earth is 20,000 years or 4.6 billion years old does not directly affect any doctrine related to Christian soteriology, it is primarily a hermeneutical question about the meaning of a Hebrew word.

    Personally, I don’t think anyone is an expert about what happened as one-off events in the distant past, particularly when the prevailing view among scientists discounts any possibility of God acting in ways that are outside of natural law. To create “all things seen and unseen” means natural law is itself something created and may not have operated in a strictly uniformitarian fashion during the creation events. I find the view that all things can be explained in terms of natural law to be an unverifiable and unfalsifiable assumption that flies in the face of every miracle claim in both the Old and New Testaments. That does not mean I am certain the earth is any particular age.

    But the age of the earth is secondary to the question of Adam and the fall. I suspect that is the point Mr. Moore was driving at.

  • http://bvanloon.blogspot.com Ben Van Loon

    “How do you approach and make decisions on complex issues requiring expert knowledge?”

    Equal parts smarm and aloofness. When it comes to ‘evolution vs. creation’ or other such nonsense, I ask, “Who cares?”

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Sounds like you are saying, RJS, that where there is a difference of opinion between experts in a field, we should just go ahead and agree with the ones you agree with. Though you may be persuaded by the “evidence” (actually, a particular *interpretation* of the data), that does not mean that everyone else should be as well. And though Curt Wise holds minority viewpoint on the “evidence” (*his* interpretation of the data), it is not thereby invalidated.

    I am willing to “agree to disagree” with you, and allow you room to work out your position. But as I read your post, it causes me to wonder if you are willing to do the same for those who do not share your opinion.

  • scotmcknight

    Jeff, I don’t think that comment was fair either to the words or intent of the post by RJS.

    What she is saying is that when two scholars disagree we are compelled — if we have intellectual integrity — to investigate the evidence and the arguments to see which side has the great probity. What she said about Wise was that his arguments were not as much evidential as philosophical and theological, and that origins issues need to be resolved in empirical fashion so far as the evidence permits.

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood either RJS or you and am open to correction.

  • http://www.crackedvirtue.com Brian M

    I think Dan (#2) is reading Moore correctly. It doesn’t seem like he’s saying there is no ‘right’ answer just that the answer isn’t the most important element of the discussion.

    About 30 years ago I started my studies to go into Anthropology. At that time we laughed at theories of evolution (not a Christian University or a Christian prof) that are being seriously supported today. Not THE theory but attempts to explain certain issues. Geology prof also raised some new issues and laid other issues to rest. It’s hard not be agnostic or skeptical when you’ve seen inside the system and you realize there is as much politics and economics about science as there is about theology.

  • rjs

    Jeff,

    Scot gives a good summary in his comment. If as Christian leaders and thinkers we are to act with intellectual integrity we are compelled to understand why scholars disagree. And this is why I thought the tone of this paragraph in Dave Moore’s open letter warranted a reply. His paragraph would lead some to believe that the debate rests on scientific rather than theological grounds.

    Age of the earth is not an issue where there is any real scholarly scientific debate of consequence to the question of science and faith. There is no ambiguity in the evidence.

    There is theological debate and there is debate over the way we interpret scripture. This leads some to posit a mature earth creation, but I have serious problems with this kind of proposal.

    There are other issues where debate is scientific (global warming for example) and issues where the scientific and theological aspects are on more equal footing (humanity, origin of life could fall into this category).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I think people should recognize that there is some sort of axiom that says “you can always find an expert to endorse any view”. Given the truth of that claim, we are left with either finding ourselves to be agnostic on almost any intellectual or nuanced matter, or we have to make a decision on how much and what type of evidence is sufficient for us to believe in or support a particular position.

    In the case of the old earth versus young earth, there is irrefutable evidence of an old earth. One can chose to believe the earth is young and that somehow god made it look old, but that does not seem to be a theologically or logically tenable position.

    I am wondering how much this issue intersects with the case of a pastor or preacher losing their faith or growing in their faith and how that would affect the truth of what they teach and preach. For example, a YEC pastor of a YEC church is paid to teach it the way the congregants want it taught, right? What do they do when they outgrow YEC? I personally disagree with this, and believe the preacher must be honest with the congregation regardless, but I also strongly believe that many pastors and preachers would believe that they have to tell the people what the people are paying them to tell.

    I also am a big believer in the ability of people to disregard reason, fact, and rationality if their own best interest is at heart. They don’t have to be conscious of the lack of intellectual integrity, but people really do see what they want to see.

    So is the position of agnosticism just another way for them to avoid telling another lie? Wave the white flag? Give up so they don’t have to choose? I don’t think it is appropriate for leaders in this area to do this. This is why I hold the position that Al Mohler is not respectable despite it being fine for SBC church goers to have a YEC position. At the person in the pew level it is not fair to assume rationality. For Al it is.

  • rjs

    DRT,

    To be fair to Dr. Mohler – he didn’t claim that the scientific evidence was ambiguous. He gave a very short tip to a few YEC themes, but he did not lean on them to bolster his position. His YEC view is held for theological reasons. His title was “Why does the universe look so old?” and his conclusion was that we will not know until we stand before the “Ancient of Days.” From his speech:

    At the end of the day, if I’m asked the question “why does the universe look so old?” I’m simply left with the reality that the universe is telling the story of the glory of God. Why does it look so old? Well that, in terms of any more elaborate answer, is known only to the Ancient of Days. And that is where we are left.

    I find the implication in Mr. Moore’s letter a bit more troubling than Dr. Mohler’s original speech.

  • EricG

    Kurt Wise is on record saying he would still hold to his interpretation of Genesis no matter what the scientific evidence says. There are all sorts of significant philosophical and theological problems with that sort of view, let alone the obvious scientific problems.
    Good post RJS.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com dopderbeck

    I think “agnostic” is an overly broad term here. Technically, “agnostic” means there’s “no way to know” whether x or y is true — not that “I have some degree of uncertainty” about the truth of x or y.

    Whether we have a “way to know” whether something is true depends on the thing being investigated and the tools available for that investigation. With respect to the natural sciences, we have developed valuable empirical tools that provide us with a way to know things such as the age of the earth. There is no room for “Agnosticism” here. We have a way to know.

    With respect to “theological science,” we also have developed valuable tools, and have been given invaluable revelation, that provide us with a “way to know” certain things about God. There is no room for “Agnosticism” here either. We have a way to know.

    The question, of course, is how to relate these areas of knowledge, which involve different (though overlapping) subject matter and different (though overlapping) methodological tools. Here, there is plenty of room for small-a “agnosticism,” or better — for “uncertainty.” There are lots of things we don’t know with any degree of “certainty” in relating natural and theological science, including aspects of the important questions about theodicy and sin raised by this conversation. But this doesn’t mean the YEC position is just as reasonable as any other view. Any serious effort to investigate what can be known cannot simply write off the tools and findings of the natural sciences.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    RJS,

    I suspect many Christians approach origins questions more as a theological question than a scientific one. Dr. Wise admits that such is the case for himself. Therefore, this question is addressed, as with YEC folks, using a sola/prima scriptura combo of Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. It’s not so much that there’s “no evidence” either way, as much as the overwhelming physical evidence favors an “old” earth conclusion, and, according to Wise, Mohler, and others, scripture is the best (and sufficient) evidence for a young earth conclusion. It appears that the YEC folks would put the physical evidence as one kind of “experience” evidence, and, further, that no amount or type of experience would ever be enough to counter what they believed the scriptures were saying. So the YEC reading of scripture is the only evidence that matters for some.

    But regarding the agnostics like myself on these issues, I think you are right that many Christian people and leaders view the age of the earth as a secondary issue. I would have to agree in several important respects. Not every Christian leader will or should have strong views on this.

    For myself, “the experts” are only part of the reason for my agnosticism on this issue. As the saying goes, it takes a paradigm to kill a paradigm. And for people like myself who have no professional interest in the age of the earth or scientific work, the paradigm we seek must be theologicially cohesive and satisfying as well as (perhaps more than) scientifically so before we truly leave agnosticism here. The scientific evidence is enough for me to step back and re-evaluate my inherited reading of scripture and become more open minded to multiple possibilities, but until there is a more holistically satisfying paradigm (theological and scientific), I’m holding whatever leanings I have relatively loosely. Again, part of this for me is how I see God supercede so-called natural laws fairly regularly. That puts at least a little bit of an asterisk for me on what science “proves” is possible, impossible or what-have-you.

    All that said, though, I’m happy to encourage folks for whom this is a major concern to go read some or all of the books you’ve highlighted here over the years. I also encourage folks, though, to resist the urge to die on this hill (just as I do re: Calvinism and its counterparts, despite the insistance by many that every Chrisitan must resolve this issue). Many areas in theology (and physical science) remain mysterious even after the most intense and lengthy searches for definitive answers. There are simply many issues and questions that will remain open in our lifetime. But Jesus is alive and well, and calling each person to his or her role in God’s work. For some this question will be part of their vocation and mission, but not for many, even many leaders. Frankly, the burden put on leaders to have an educated opinion on everything isn’t something I tend to think is wise. There is no limit to the number of things that a pastor “should” have strong educated views about, depending on who you ask: origins, or addiction recovery, or psychiatry and its treatments, or health care reform, or youth culture, etc., etc.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    And, I agree with David, “agnostic” is really not the term to use. Undecided, unconvinced or uncertain or something similar is probably better.

  • http://krusekroncile.com Michael W. Kruse

    One of the things we deal with in an age of cable news and internet conversations is that every voice (or most voices) can give an appearance of being equally credible when they are anything but. A cable news program has a noted historian talking-head in one box with a crackpot conspiracy theorist talking-head in another box, suggesting a semblance of equal credibility to each view.

    There have always been small groups of dissenters from mainstream views on every topic. There is an entire community devoted to the idea that the earth is flat known as The Flat Earth Society. The society makes explcitly states that there views are based on adherence to Scripture.

    Now I suppose we could pit an astro-physicists against the president of The Flat Earth Society in a debate. We could say that because there are a few experts out there that disagree that we must be agnostic about the shape of the earth. I don’t think that is legitimate claim.

    YEC’s claim to a young earth is only a step or two less credible than the flat earthers. And the YEC’s are resistant for precisely the same reasons. Not because the science is in question but because biblical revelation (as they read it) requires that it must be otherwise.

    It is valid to be agnostic when it can be shown that plausible alternative scientific explanations have not been falsified or that the complexity surrounding an issue is such that there are too many unknowns to have a high degree of confidence.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    12T says:
    “Frankly, the burden put on leaders to have an educated opinion on everything isn’t something I tend to think is wise. There is no limit to the number of things that a pastor “should” have strong educated views about, depending on who you ask: origins, or addiction recovery, or psychiatry and its treatments, or health care reform, or youth culture, etc., etc.”

    I agree that leaders do not have to have an educated opinion on everything. But there is a big difference between this issue to someone in theology and the others you mention. Kids are not taught in school a conclusive view on those other issues. There is a significant difference.

    #9rjs,

    Thanks for posting this. I am seeing your point now and am starting to agree. Mohler is saying his stance is for theological reasons….

    And I agree, the agnosticism is more troublesome.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Let us not suppose that the study of Scripture is a matter of interpretation based on a philosophical basis while the study of nature is not. They BOTH are a matter of interpretation, and they BOTH rest on philosophical assumptions. There is no such a thing as an uninterpreted Scripture; likewise, there is no such a thing as an uninterpreted fact. Everything is seen through an interpretive lens. So, implicit in the idea of “overwhelming evidence” is the specific interpretive lens through which one is viewing the “evidence,” or even identifying it as evidence.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com dopderbeck

    @T — the one thing I’d want to add to your comment is the question of epistemic virtue. The age of the earth in a sense isn’t a “secondary” issue because flatly denying all the evidence for it is a failure of virtue. Put another way, denying the truths of the natural world is a form of sin. It gravely hurts the witness of the Church and fails to honor God as creator of the reality we actually inhabit.

    I agree with you, of course, that this is indeed a “secondary” issue when it comes to Christian unity. It’s equally gravely wrong for churches to divide or for people to call each other names over this issue.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com dopderbeck

    Jeff (#16) — there is a major difference between a critical realism — recognizing as you do that there is always interpretation involved in observation and theorizing — and an essentially radically postmodern view that it’s all about interpretation. This is a place at which YEC apologetics strike me as philosophically incoherent. The overwhelming evidence for the age of the earth isn’t just a matter of interpretive frame. The evidence is really there; it actually corresponds to reality; and though human knowledge is always limited and mediated, we do have some access to reality in virtue of being made in God’s image.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    @ 12 T,

    “Frankly, the burden put on leaders to have an educated opinion on everything isn’t something I tend to think is wise. There is no limit to the number of things that a pastor “should” have strong educated views about, depending on who you ask: origins, or addiction recovery, or psychiatry and its treatments, or health care reform, or youth culture, etc., etc.”

    The problem, though, isn’t that pastors should have an educated view on EVERYTHING, it is that they too often speak authoritatively on things which they are not educated about. I’ve taken to asking questions about subjects that I know little about rather than making declarations.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Dopderdeck, I do not suppose it is just a matter of intepretation, but that it is also a matter of philosophical assumptions and the presuppositions with which one approaches data. The natural sciences, in their present state, are based on certain philosophical assumptions. It one accepts those assumptions, that heavily colors the way one views data or perceives it as evidence in a particular direction. If one does not accept those naturalistic assumptions, then for those who do, it can seem like a sin to disagree with what another perceives, through those naturalistic assumptions, as “overwhelming evidence.”

    I am not saying that we cannot know reality. I agree with you that we do have some access to it by virtue of being made in God’s image. But I note that the idea that we are made in God’s image is philosophical, and explicitly theological.

    And that is where I begin in my knowledge of the world: I can know something about it because it is created by God and I am created in the image and likeness of God. Apart from that, I have no reason to suppose that we can understand the world at all. Having begun, then, on a such a theological presupposition, it seems inconsistent to me to discount other theological presupposition which arise form the same source as that initial one.

    Each side of the debate needs to recognize, if we are going to be even-handed in our assessments, the philosophical assumptions and interpretive presuppositions each brings to the table. Otherwise it becomes a matter of begging the question: “Please accept my ‘overwhelming evidence’ (which is based on the presuppositions and philosophical assumptions with which I approach it).” But if I do not accept the premise of your argument ~the presuppositions one which your conclusion is based ~ it is not a sin, nor logically perverse, to deny your conclusion. It is only when I agree with your presuppositions that you can appeal to me to accept the logic of your “overwhelming evidence.”

  • phil_style

    Jeff, one of the big (and oft’ overlooked) advantages of “The natural sciences” regardless of philosophical assumptions seems to be that the sciences can make verifyable predictions. This is the standard fall-back position of observable science, when challenged on epistemilogical grounds. Doctrinal (or religious) statements about reality simply don’t have this ability.

    The geologist can therefore “predict” the presence of certain phenomena beneath the earth, before actually digging it up becasue she has made the predictions based on the “philosophical assumptions ” that scientific inquiry requires.

  • rjs

    Jeff,

    The state of science that first led to an understanding that the earth is old was based soundly in a Christian worldview. There was no intention to move outside of that frame of reference. Many would say, and have long said, that the nature of the universe is rational and comprehensible because it is created by God. The age of the earth argument is not grounded in a philosophical world view that removes God from the picture.

    Historians will be fairly quick to point out that our “scientific” young earth debate is pretty much a 20th century phenomenon – starting with Price and then Morris and later AIG.

    Your argument has much more merit in some of our other discussion, those regarding evolution, intelligent design, and origin of life for example (especially origin of life). Some discussions of resurrection, miracles, and incarnation also fall into that category – certainly the “rational” dismissal of all miracles results from a philosophical presupposition not a scientific deduction.

  • http://www.calacirian.org sonja

    If I may give a brief layperson’s perspective …

    I studied physical anthropology and geology for my first two years of undergraduate study in college, I went to graduate with a degree in Political science. But I have a fair amount of background in the study of earth sciences and in the development of humankind as a species. I became a born-again Christian at about age 29 or 30 (it was a process not an overnight thing). Once I became a member of the Evangelical Free Church we would spend 14 years with, I found discussions of creation v. evolution very uncomfortable. My level of discomfort only increased as people became more and more divided on the issue. The science is clear; it is the theology which is murky. And trying to shoehorn the science into the theology strikes me is the same as the arguments that theologians must have made to shut down Copernicus when he argued that the earth circumnavigates the sun rather than the reverse.

    I spent a lot of time trying very hard to make myself believe the theology of a new earth, but I found that it meant I had to shut off my brain and turn aside information I knew to be true. I had to deny my sense of right and wrong. It was horrible. Once I stopped trying to do that and regained my sense of balance I have been much better. I can honestly inquire into both the science of the old earth and the Biblical story again and I’m not trying to make either of them into something they are not. I think that is where the failing is, science is science and theology is theology. They can speak to each other, but one cannot boss the other around.

  • http://transintegration.net/ Darren King

    Good questions, RJS. It is a dilemma for sure – because, in order to even know whom to consider an “authority”, one must have something of a working knowledge of the subject matter to begin with. Of course consensus matters too. If 90% of the scientific community believe something, and 10% don’t, the majority is often on the side of truth – but of course, not always! As history would tell us.

    One quick note about something I’ve noticed: It seems you (I’m concluding this from previous posts) seem to have a stronger confidence in the scientific community’s ability to wash through ideas and come to the truth than some others do. I wonder if that could at all be a “home-team bias” on your part? Or, maybe you’re close enough to know the truth that others can’t see. Hmmm… you see the dilemma some of us non-scientists run into.

    Another point occurred to me recently, after Hawking came out with his statement about the universe popping into existing without God’s aid (i.e. there is no God). I thought of the “Black Hole Wars” that took place years back. In that instance a colleague won out and Hawking had to concede defeat. He was wrong. And yet, before being proven wrong he was pretty adamant about being right. Just interesting food for thought.

    P.S. – I hope Hawking’s new comments about the Godless universe become a thread for discussion here at Jesus Creed.

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    Hi RJS and all,

    Thanks for taking the time to interact with my article. I am honored that you would do so. I still stand by the contents of the article and allow me to explain why:

    First, I certainly have not studied this issue as much as you RJS. That is easy to concede! However, the implication that I have not properly studied it because otherwise I would come to another position raises the very concern my article is seeking to address. Lack of clarity does not necessarily equal lack of study.

    Second, science is not a free-floating discipline. It is impossible to extricate ourselves from the philosophical aspects of any discipline. I learned this from Lesslie Newbigin in his fine book, Proper Confidence, and he learned it from that great Hungarian philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi.

    Third, and I know this is sounding like a lawyer’s brief, my use of the word “agnostic” is one I stand by. I understand the concern some may have with the word because Agnosticism is a terrible thing. But I used the word because I truly do not think there is any argument out there that is going to convince me of Mohler’s “apparent age view” or to the side of those who are convinced about one of the many other iterations of views. To adapt, William F. Buckley, my brand of agnosticism stands athwart the European Enlightment that believes issues become crystal clear by the unbiased collecting of data.

    Again, thanks for taking the time RJS! Thanks also to Scot for allowing such good and hopefully irenic conversation to take place.

  • AHH

    As RJS alluded to, Moore missed (or at least failed to mention) an important point in his “Ph.D. vs. Ph.D.” defense of agnosticism.

    Kurt Wise, being an honest guy, admits that the scientific evidence indicates an old Earth. While he keeps looking for scientific explanations to buttress his young-Earth position, at the moment that position is held entirely due to his interpretation of Genesis.

    So these two Ph.D.’s actually do not disagree about the scientific evidence — it is just that Wise chooses to hold onto his interpretation of Genesis in spite of the scientific evidence.

    So whether being an “agnostic” is defensible depends on exactly what one is being agnostic about.
    Being agnostic about what science indicates about the age of the Earth is not defensible, as the scientific evidence is quite clear and even Wise admits it.
    Being agnostic about the actual age of the Earth is more defensible, as one can contend that other factors (like one’s interpretation of Genesis) may override the scientific evidence and the age is only apparent. Such a position implies that God has planted phony evidence in his creation and many would have theological problems with it, but from a logical and scientific standpoint it is at least not incoherent.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    dopderbeck,

    I tend to agree with your addition. Mohler’s non-answer to his own question, “Why does the earth look so old?” creates its own ethical difficulties. The question itself admits that the physical evidence for an old earth is real and substantial. And as RJS pointed out, it is the Christian scientists, based on a Christian worldview, who have said for a long time that nature is itself a trustworthy book that God has made for us to explore and read, even if we give scripture primacy in our theology. But if our reading of scripture is such that it makes the book of nature look like a liar, then that is good reason, logically and historically, to reconsider how we are reading both nature and scripture. If Mohler believes the physical evidence for an old earth is strong, I agree that our own worldview and standards demand more than “we’ll know why when we meet God.”

    JoeyS, yes, that’s a problem, but it’s not the issue RJS asked about. And, FWIW, that’s part of why I argue as I did. The more that people say that being “agnostic” on this issue (or that one, or that one) is unacceptable for Christian leaders, the more we get pastors who end up being “often wrong but never in doubt!”

  • rjs

    Darren (#24),

    There are different levels of certainty on different issues. I picked up on this one because of the depth of certainty on the evidence for an old earth. I try – perhaps not always successfully – to nuance my certainty on different issues.

    I will not even be adamant about the precise age – I see no reason to doubt the many lines of evidence that point to our current best determination (the error bars are relatively small) – but this isn’t the point here. We are not talking about small revisions. We are talking about total overthrow.

    The earth does not appear some 10,000 year old. Nothing other than a complete dismissal of everything we know in chemistry and physics (not to mention biology, archaeology, geology, paleontology) will make the evidence consistent with a young universe and/or earth.

    Dr. Mohler asked the right question in his speech. The YEC supporter must ask why the universe looks so old.

    AHH hits on the piece of the paragraph that bothered me – the conclusion (agnosticism on the age of the earth) was not based on a valid ground. This isn’t a scientist vs scientist issue – this is a theological question.

  • Kenny Johnson

    @Darren King
    “P.S. – I hope Hawking’s new comments about the Godless universe become a thread for discussion here at Jesus Creed.”

    I agree. Me too. Also..

    RJS (or whoever),

    What do you think about this news?
    http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/08/maybe-radioactive-decay-rates-arent-physical-constants/62058/

    A YEC friend of mine posted this on FB. He didn’t comment much, but I think he must have seen it as some vindication of the YE view that radioactive dating is imprecise.

  • Ellen H.

    My concern with this stuff is what filters down to the pews. Too many folks have become suspicious of any kind of science, and worse, too many have come to equate having the “proof” of their particular view as a necessary element of maintaining their faith. They then become unglued by the mention of an opposing argument. This is an interesting study and debate but can we help folks to separate out issues of trust in God from the need to have certainty and clarity on issues that don’t matter so much in order to be “ok”?
    Then maybe the point can be to actually enjoy learning and healthy debate without attaching so much cost to it.

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    RJS,

    I misspoke on one detail in my response(#25). You assume I place this as a “secondary issue,” and so my own view is probably not a result of lax study habits.

    Glad to reread your post and glad for your gracious assumption!

    Best,
    Dave

  • AHH

    Kenny #29:

    The variations in decay rates these guys are speculating about are small. If marginal effects like this exist, it might make our best estimate of the age of the Earth 4.4 billion instead of 4.5 billion, or something like that. No way it gets you even remotely close to 6000.
    Not to mention the other indenpendent lines of evidence for an old Earth and universe that don’t depend on radioactive decay.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    #29KennyJ

    I don’t see anywhere where they say the degree to which it varies. It would not surprise me that it is not 100.0000000000000% constant. But it is surely not variable enough for a YEC

  • Kenny Johnson

    Thanks for the responses.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    I have heard it said that people tend to see/find what they’re looking for. Sometimes there are those who are enough “outside the box” to see/find things that totally surprised them, because they are not what was expected.

    I think it is important to always be humble about those things that we believe are “certain” … so that we can be respectful of the fact that there may be things that we can never know because they are just beyond our comprehending.

    That does not mean that we should not continue to learn and test and know … just that we need to hold them in a more open hand.

  • Johan Zaayman

    As someone who does not know anything about studying the ancient Hebrew texts or any kind of Geology and such… I was shown a series of seminars by Kent Hovind who makes fairly solid arguments for a young earth based on certain facts he displays and a theory on the flood. I have also not dug deep at all to find an answer myself as to his credibility, neither have a grasped his theories and only hold onto them as a belief, but if possible, could anybody help with some more clarity on the matter?

    Sincerley yours in Christ.

  • http://www.explorefaith.org Dorothy McClure

    Related perspectives from your friends at explorefaith.org:

    Faith, Science, and the Question “Why?”
    http://www.explorefaith.org/faith/new_atheism/faith_science_and_the_question_why.php

    Reasoned Responses to the New Atheism
    http://www.explorefaith.org/faith/new_atheism/index.php

    Faces of Faith: Dr. Francis Collins
    http://www.explorefaith.org/faces/my_faith/dr._francis_s._collins_on_faith_and_science.php

  • rjs

    Kenny and Darren,

    I’ll try to come back to Hawking’s pronouncement (hyped by the media beyond what he actually said).

    The other article on radioactive decay is fascinating, as are some of the earlier articles they cite. (I had to take time to look into this a bit.) AHH is right though – the changes they find are relatively small (<<1% I thinkk) and they are coupled to solar cycles, suggesting a mechanism involving neutrinos from the sun. He is also right that age arguments follow various lines, and not all rely on radioactive decay. I couched my comment in #28 carefully – exact current estimates may be off, but an age of 10000 years doesn't come from small adjustments in understanding. It would require a complete overthrow (making Einstein's modification of Newton look downright trivial).

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    My approach is to examine which side of a debate answers my particular set of questions. If a particular argument cannot assuage my cognitive dissonance, then it doesn’t really matter how many experts adhere to its premise.

  • scotmcknight

    A question I have:

    Would this be a “secondary” issue if it were somehow convincingly conclusive that the universe 13.7 billion years old?

    Maybe we need to ponder if this age question is not at all secondary but revelatory of the way God has created and worked over time (if we can even use “time” for something like 13.7 billion years!).

  • Ramon P.

    Regarding your latter of these questions: “When is agnosticism a valid position? More importantly when is it a valid position for a Christian leader or teacher?”

    I think agnosticism is a valid position for a Christian leader on a particular topic if that topic or field does not pertain to his or her particular calling, and he or she has not had time to fully investigate it yet. As a Christian leader I must choose where and when to spend my time each day. I must dedicate my time to what I think is(are) the most important thing(s).

    For example, my particular calling is to (in general terms) work toward helping people create language development materials in people’s mother tongue (this includes literacy materials, health materials, and Scripture/biblical materials). Even in this general calling, I must specify what part to focus on since there are about 6900 languages in the world.

    At some point as limited beings, we run out time time to investigate throughly on all topics, such as young earth vs. old earth.

    So, as a Christian leader, I remain agnostic on this issue simply because I have not had time to investigate it yet. If I were to have many friends stumbling over this issue, then it would be a good time investigate it, but my sphere of influence is a different one at this time in my life.

    Perhaps it would be more accurate to specify which types of Christian leaders truly cannot remain agnostic: such as, Christian leaders involved in science, Christian theologians who might be asked about this issue, or Pastors who congregations are hearing people asking these questions (perhaps there are others that I haven’t thought of).

    I cannot agree that every Christian leader (of every sub-field that includes) must investigate the topic to make a clear decision of where they stand. There are just too many callings within “Christian leader” to make this general claim.

    Even within this one topic, you must decide what is the most important part to focus on for your particular audience/person you are talking with. For each audience, the reason it is a stumbling block may be different–one must read to the heart of why it is a stumbling block I like how Dan put it(post at 7am today): “But the age of the earth is secondary to the question of Adam and the fall. I suspect that is the point Mr. Moore was driving at.”

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    Scot,

    Not sure what “convincingly conclusive” would mean from an epistemic point, but theoretically speaking, it would become more important.

    Since science has breakthroughs all the time (Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions), I am leery of saying scientific knowledge is fixed or certain. The history of science, as you well know, demonstrates quite the opposite.

    Best,
    Dave

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com dopderbeck

    Jeff (#20) — the problem with YEC apologetics is that most of the assumptions underlying the modern natural sciences are also necessary for a vigorous Christian epistemology. Even the assumption of “uniformitarianism,” much derided by YEC’s, is a necessary background to calling something like the Resurrection a “miracle.” Uniformitarianism is also, ironically, essential to affirming that the Biblical texts were written thousands of years ago by ancient sources rather than something created instanteously a few years ago with a false history by a tricky demon.

    The YEC position is really just a version of Descartes’ Demon: how can you be certain that everything you think you observe isn’t just a deceptive illusion? Well, you can’t be 100% certain. You can’t get outside yourself and prove beyond any possible doubt that the observed world is a demon’s trick or The Matrix — your proof, after all, could be part of the illusion. But it is not reasonable to hold to Matrix theories of reality as viable alternatives to the likelihood that your daily interactions are actual interactions.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com dopderbeck

    Johan (#36): Davis Young’s book “The Bible, Rocks and Time” does an excellent job of explaining evidentiary and Biblical perspectives on the age of the earth. I suspect you’ll find it much more rigorous and convincing than the seminars you attended.

  • EricG

    Dave Moore (#41) — surely there are differences in how conclusive scientific proof is on different points. We don’t write it all off as “subject to change.” The earth revolves around the sun, can we agree on that? What the overwhelming majority of scientists are telling you is that the evidence on old earth is just as strong. Folks like Kurt Wise disagree because they accept their own interpretation of Genesis as something that — no matter what the strength of the scientific evidence (by his own admission) — cannot be challenged. Do we really want to follow the scientific views of someone with those sorts of assumptions?

    It always amazes me that YEC’ers (or those who are “agnostic” on this point) come off sounding like the most exaggerated, anti-realist postmodernists when it comes to science — an approach they would reject in all other contexts.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com dopderbeck

    Dave (#42) — the citation to Kuhn is problematic because Kuhn basically was a constructivist and not a realist. As Christians, I think we must be realists — creation is given by God, a Divine construct, not merely a human construct (though humans are in a sense co-creators and therefore it is correct to speak of social construction at some level).

    In any event, citing Kuhn regarding the age of the earth is really not a fair engagement with the evidence. Undoubtedly there will be many paradigm shifts in the earth sciences within the general framework of a universe that is billions of years old. It is unlikely almost beyond imagining, however, that the entire framework of the natural sciences will be overturned to the point where the universe is seen to be only a few thousands of years old. This would not be a Kuhnian paradigm shift so much as a complete dismantling of all contemporary claims to knowledge. Maybe that will happen some day, but this would not be consistent with historic Christianity’s understanding of human knowledge and divine revelation.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    If we wish to talk about the age of the earth as a revelatory issue, then what would be convincingly conclusive to me would be it the Bible somewhere clearly (at least to me) stated that the earth was created 13.7 billion years ago. Even then, I don’t think it would necessarily be more than a secondary issue. I have believed in an old earth in the past and have held some interpretations of Genesis 1 to that effect (e.g., Gap theory, Day-Age theory, Hugh Ross’ view, Framework theory), and I am willing to consider others as well (I just finished John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One” and am less persuaded by it than by the other theories I have considered or held in the past).

    For a while, I even held to theistic evolution and argued for it and an old earth against YEC’ers. I set all that on the back burner because I though I had it all nailed down. When I came back to it a dozen or so years ago, I was quite surprised to find myself persuaded by YEC.

    All of this is to say that, even though it now seems pretty clear to me that the Bible teaches a recent creation, I do not take it as more than a secondary issue, by which I mean, I do not take it as definitive of the Christian faith.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Dopderdeck (#43), my point is not to argue here which assumptions are better, although that would be an interesting discussion, particularly in regard to miracles. I disagree with your assessment of the YEC basis, but that is for another day.

    Rather, my point is that BOTH sides of the debate come at the question ~ and at each other ~ with philosophical assumptions through which data is recognized and interpreted as evidence that supports their viewpoint. So the idea that it is sort of sinful if I do not accept your “overwhelming evidence” (based on your philosophical premises) leaves me sort of underwhelmed. And it would probably be more helpful to the debate if we could dispatch with that sort of moral reprobation.

    I am willing for all who disagree with me here to have room to explore their viewpoints without sitting in judgment on their Christian faith or rectitude. But I am wondering if that attitude will be reciprocated toward me, an admitted YEC. Or am I simply in sin because I am not “overwhelmed” by the “evidence”?

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    Hey Eric (#45): Granted, there are solid “scientific laws” we can pretty much assume. All of us do it each and every day. Yes, the earth looks old, but is it? That, of course, is the rub, and science ipso facto does not conclusively resolve it for me to be dogmatic about it.

    Hey Dopderbeck (#46): My own view is critical realism which may be a bit different than your own. I try to borrow ever so slightly from some of the most important insights of postmodern critique on modernism and lean much more heavily into premodern (before Enlightenment) sensibilities.

  • AHH

    EricG #45 beat me to it, but I’ll add on …

    Several have mentioned the tentative nature of science, the occasional scientific revolution, the human factors that mean science is never totally objective, the need to hold scientific conclusions with an open hand.
    Yes, but …

    What many people miss (maybe due to poor communication on the part of we scientists and/or deficiencies in educational systems) is that current scientific knowledge spans a range from some that is pretty speculative and has decent likelihood to change to some that is really beyond all reasonable doubt (there could be unreasonable doubts, for example maybe we are really brains in a jar like in The Matrix).
    It is mistaken (and/or intellectually lazy) to lump all science in the “likely to change so I might as well be an agnostic” category.

    Breakthroughs happen, but no breakthrough is going to make us turn around and say that the Earth is flat, or that the Earth is the center of the Solar system. The Earth being much older than thousands of years has been in a similar “beyond a reasonable doubt” category for maybe 200 years (again there could be unreasonable doubts or doubts outside the realm of science, like “appearance of age”). In the last few decades as DNA technology has contributed, common descent has moved from “very likely” to “beyond a reasonable doubt” from a scientific standpoint.

    Yes, there are examples of science in flux. Until recently many thought that Neanderthals contributed nothing to our ancestry, while recent evidence suggests they probably did. The controversy over past life on Mars is another example. But too often the uncertainty at the edges of science is used as an excuse to ignore any scientific conclusion that one does not like. Some things really are about as firmly established as the roundness of the Earth, and the witness of the church suffers if we stick our collective heads in the sands of denial or agnosticism.

  • http://mikeblyth.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    I’ve been perplexed for quite a while about why so many people, even educated people, easily adopt what appear to be irrational views. It does not appear to be primarily a theological issue, but part of modern American culture.

    As a physician, I’m most familiar with this issue as it applies to medicine, with anti-immunization belief being a prime example. There are a lot of parallels between this and YEC, including: a well-supported majority consensus with mountains of empiric evidence; a minority of “experts” with selected and twisted evidence; laypeople who do not understand science and cannot evaluate the evidence; disinterest in trying to reconcile apparently conflicting facts; subordination of the evidence to personal and ideological beliefs such as a trust in “nature;” and a tenacity of beliefs.

    I think the primary problem is not the theological conflict, but the readiness of many people to solve the conflict by throwing up their hands in agnosticism or else taking the comfortable stance of ignoring the facts. The same is true in both YEC and anti-immunization thinking. “There is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact,” is brought forward as an explanation to masses of evidence, but no effort is made to provide a satisfactory counter-interpretation. Somehow, the cognitive dissonance is missing; I think it’s because facts are no longer seen by many people so be important enough to create dissonance with one’s own beliefs.

    My unscientific impression is that YEC beliefs, anti-immunization, and similar beliefs are correlated in the population. Most likely they are simply indicators of deeper patterns of thought, but it does make me wonder whether perhaps a nearly 40-year emphasis on YEC in some quarters has contributed to an erosion of confidence in science and true thinking. A scary speculation, that many children might be unimmunized as a partial byproduct of the YEC movement.

    In any case, recognizing the non-theological aspects of the dispute might help us find ways to move forward. In one sense, we simply cannot use logic and evidence (theological or scientific) at the outset because—to an extent—people simply do not know how to handle those.

  • http://mikeblyth.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    Clarification on #51: By “true thinking” I don’t mean “knowing the truth” but knowing how to truly do the hard work of thinking. In the last paragraph, I should have said “we cannot use logic alone” rather than “we simply cannot use logic.”

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Mike #51 said:
    “Most likely they are simply indicators of deeper patterns of thought, but it does make me wonder whether perhaps a nearly 40-year emphasis on YEC in some quarters has contributed to an erosion of confidence in science and true thinking. A scary speculation, that many children might be unimmunized as a partial byproduct of the YEC movement.”

    Here here. (or is it hear hear?).

    I just spent some time at Dave Moore’s website looking at his video of “How I write” and it becomes quite obvious how he comes up with these positions. It seems to be a myoptic focus on the details outside of the greater conceptual underpinning of the texts. He goes on and on about how to take notes and write in margins of books, but never once talks about the actual ideas and how to integrate them. It is a broad based triumph of the dominant ESTJ outlook into all walks of life that leads to a loss in thinking. It is the focus on the details to the exclusion of the integrative work that is killing us.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com dopderbeck

    Jeff (#48) said: BOTH sides of the debate come at the question ~ and at each other ~ with philosophical assumptions through which data is recognized and interpreted as evidence that supports their viewpoint.

    I respond: of course they do. But they are not equally valid, or equally reasonable, philosophical assumptions. You seem to think just calling out the fact that foundationalism doesn’t work is enough to make all truth claims equal. Not so.

    On the question of epistemic virtue and sin: I probably stated that too generally, and I don’t know the specifics of your views, and that kind of judgment of any particular person isn’t mine to make. All I can say is that the YEC materials I have read and talks I have heard seem to me to be lacking in any epistemic virtue, and therefore in a broad sense a form of sin.

    Dave (#49) — we’re probably mostly in agreement. In fact, I’m somewhat partial to Milbank, so I agree entirely that there’s no such thing as “neutral” reason. In this sense, I agree with some of what Jeff is saying.

    But again, it’s one thing to acknowledge that there is no neutral reason and that all facts are interpreted; it’s quite another to claim that this renders all truth claims equally valid — a kind of relativism that seems to me the inevitable result of YEC apologetics.

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    DRT (#54): I am astounded you could come to such a dismissive conclusion by watching a ten minute video! The point of the video is to show my organizational system not how I conceptualize ideas.

    My own work has been endorsed by many well-placed scholars and thinkers. And I should add they don’t all agree with me, but nevertheless were impressed with my work. I am starting to speak as if mad like the apostle Paul, so will leave it there!

  • rjs

    DRT (#53),

    Instead of speculating about Dave’s approach to ideas based on your look at his site, why don’t you ask him about his approach in a comment? It does a much better job of furthering our insight into each others thinking and he has been good enough to engage with us here.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    #55Dave

    Sorry to get the juices flowing, that was not really the point with my comment.

    I am trying to figure out why you would come up with something that would say I have one scholar on one side that thinks YEC, and another scholar on the other side that thinks old, so they are equal and I am agnostic.

    I don’t think what I said is particularly demeaning anyway. I once heard NT Wright (I think it was at the Wheaton Conference this year, on audio, I was not there) talk about how the SJ approach to study is prevalent in academia and my experience is that it tends to judge…all others in many walks of life.

    Perhaps I am wrong in the assessment of your personality type indicator, but I would be surprised if I was. I could see that the last one would not be a J but perhaps a P because of your agnosticism. But I would be willing to bet on the other parts.

    I bet you can also guess mine based on my insensitive and overly analytical approach to figuring you out :( Sorry about that. Some day I will overcome my own faults….

    But that is the way I approach problems like this. I am looking at you and hypothesizing why you are behaving the way you are behaving so that I can understand your position. You have to admit, you need to get a computer and stop writing in the margins (just kidding).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Nice comment rjs, thanks for being helpful.

    Dave, how do you approach your formation of ideas? I really am curious how you can have one person think YEC is reasonable and another that it is not and not take into account (seemingly) the weight on each side of the scales (to use the metaphor shown pictorially in the post above).

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    DRT:

    Thanks for the apology.

    I do not come to my conclusions on important matters by stacking one group of experts against the other. That, of course, would commit the diabolical genetic fallacy.

    My point was descriptive, nothing more. The reality is we have very pious and learned Christians who have come to polar opposite convictions on this issue. There is no denying that. Why is it? You can psychoanalyze my or anyone’s view all you want, but I’m afraid it creates caricatures and doesn’t deal with the messy particulars.

    I for one, think it tells us something significant. It does not relieve us of wrestling with all the relevant data for ourselves as some are wrongly extrapolating from my comments. It does not undermine that there are some things coming out of science which are are solid. I think I made that quite clear. But it does mean we all come to issues with various biases, assumptions, and presuppositions. None of us are detached robots or Sgt. Friday only interested “in just the facts.”

    My goal is challenge the certitude that some on both sides of the issue seem to have.

    Best,
    Dave

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Dopderdeck (#54), I don’t suggest that all truth claims are equal. I just see that there are so many who do not even seem to realize that all their talk of facts and evidence has a philosophical underpinning, or if they do, they seem to believe it is so apparent that it should not, or even cannot, be questioned. When Christians or other religionists do it, it is dismissed as fundamentalism. But I would at least like to see an even-handedness to it. And I still do take issue with the idea that those who disagree with your view in this, however apparent you think your view to be, are somehow in sin. Such reprobation is no more helpful to the discussion when old earthers do it than when young earthers do it.

    There is also an amazing condescension, superbly exhibited in posts #51-53, that, at best, throws cold water on the discussion or, at worst, a molotov cocktail.

    I have taken this thread to be, not about the age of the earth/universe per se, but about how to address the difference of opinion, and I have joined in on that basis. But is it really a fruitful discussion that is desired, or merely an echo chamber? I cannot tell.

  • Colby E. Kinser

    I took Dr. Moore’s comments to mean that the age of the universe is not indisputable by reasonable people. Perhaps I misread him, but it seems to me that he’s calling for a rational, rather than dogmatic, approach.

    I would personally hate to drive someone away from the Creator because I placed my dogmatic view on this issue to the fore. One can hold to an inaccurate age of the universe and still be a full child of the King.

    What I know of Dr. Moore’s writings, by no means does he ever advocate anything less that full intellectual rigor – but rigor performed in perspective and humility.

    Personally, I find both views well within God’s power and character, fully consonant with an inerrant text, even though I hold to one view over the other.

  • Athletic Soul Admin

    Encouraging to see a charitable and thoughtful conversation on this subject. There have been a few exceptions, and I agree with RJS here (#56), but overall I’m happy to see the quality of conversation continues at a high level at Jesus Creed.

  • rjs

    Dave,

    I highlighted this paragraph of your letter because it rang several bells with me.

    We need conversation – and a realization that presuppositions play a role. But the age of earth – and we can set very loose bounds here – less than 50,000 years consistent with YEC versus more than a million years (inconsistent with “literal” reading of scripture) just isn’t a scientific controversy. Yes I am certain here – but it is the same kind of scientific certainty that keeps me from jumping off the empire state building.

    The second issue was – as AHH (#26) put so clearly – a reading of Kurt Wise also shows that it is at root a theological, not a scientific disagreement.

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion – this is one of the best ways to understand each other.

  • http://mikeblyth.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    Jeff (#60), “There is also an amazing condescension, superbly exhibited in posts #51-53, that, at best, throws cold water on the discussion or, at worst, a molotov cocktail.” (Interesting mix of metaphors :-)

    Sorry, how was my post condescending or throwing cold water on the discussion? If I understand correctly, RJS’ blog post was asking about the problem of what she perceives as a failure to grapple with evidence. The balance diagram shows graphically the concept of a predominance of evidence on one side, labeled “old earth,” and “balanced” by light evidence on the other side, labeled “young earth.”

    My point is that this problem has parallels in a non-theological context as well, and that the causes are likely, in part, related to cultural and psychological factors rather than pure logic. I am certainly not implying that everyone believing in a young earth has abandoned their senses. It is obvious from forums like this and Biologos that some people do put much thought–even painful thought–into the issue.

    So, what specifically about that is so inflammatory?

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Well, Mike, when you suppose that those who disagree with you or hold to YEC haven’t done the “hard thinking,” that they have merely thrown up their hands in agnosticism or denial, that they have not provided alternate interpretations for relevant facts ~ I think that is very condescending. There are an awful lot of people who do not hold to old earth views who are very intelligent and have indeed done work of “hard thinking.” They are not intellectually lazy ~ they just have a different point of view. They are not in denial ~ they have a different point of view. They are not dismissive of facts ~ the have a different point of view concerning those facts. When we try to explain the failure of others to find our position persuasive as simply a matter of mental laziness on their part, it is arrogantly belittles them ~ as if our own view is unassailable. It shuts down the conversation, or worse.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    Mike,

    You will find a stronger correlation between anti-vaccine types and those who are obsessive about natural foods. It is a function of mistrust directed toward a government-industrial complex that has willingly compromised our health.

    While I am concerned that Christians are at the forefront of the anti-vaccine movement, I see it as the over-extension of healthy skepticism. How can we be sure that the same institutions that are bought and paid for by Monsanto to turn a blind eye toward egregious food practices isn’t doing the same thing at the behest of Merck?

    It strikes me as quite a reach to assert that the anti-vaccine movement is a byproduct of YEC. Correlation is not causation.

  • http://www.DannyLSmith.com Danny L. Smith

    I’ll say a couple of things, one being that Mr. Moore sure caused a ruckus.

    Second, I agree with Dan and #6, and others – who cares excpet to have good dialog and debate.

    Third, why is does the earth look so old (and others might have said this..I don’t know because I did not read them all) – the earth very likely looks old because God made it that way.

    Good dialog you started Mr. Moore.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Jeff #65,

    You say – “~ they just have a different point of view.”

    I think we are all trying to understand the rationality for that point of view. I understand (I think) your post and the fact that there is another point of view. But I can’t articulate that point of view. So I can’t understand it.

    I believe this is a very important issue to me. I truly care what others think and truly care if there is a large segment of the population that feels it is appropriate to think in a YEC way. But I can’t see the rationale. Is there more than they believe YEC just because they want to? (sorry to all I just offended, but I really do want to know).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I don’t know if anyone else would want to jump in here, but I think there are acceptable answers that are quite valid for having the YEC approach. It’s just that I have not heard one yet. Some would include:

    - I believe it is what the bible teaches and I don’t believe it is acceptable to question my beliefs.

    - I believe a specific person x and will not bridge the trust I have with them.

    - I support the y faith (SBC or whatever) and will not change until they change.

    - I have not read widely on the subject and therefore cannot opine.

    But I can’t understand the arguments like this:

    - I know 1 that thinks this way and 1 that thinks another so I can’t decide.

    - I believe I am entitled to my opinion (this is a valid argument in everyday matters, but not this, imo).

    Seriously folks. We are telling children one thing in schools and having the parents claim something else. This sets up a terrible antagonism between the kids and the schools not to mention the YECS and the scientists. This is not a good thing to be doing with our society unless there is a good reason to do it.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com dopderbeck

    Jeff #65 and DRT #68 — I think the frustration some feel — and I’m among them — is that the YEC position is not “just a different point of view.” It’s a radically different point of view.

    When you say, “it’s just a different point of view,” that’s like saying “Ed likes vanilla ice cream and Sally likes strawberry.” Obviously both Ed and Sally could be perfectly reasonable in their preferences and it would be silly for them to engage in serious argument about those preferences. The implication that choosing YECism or mainstream views of the age of the earth is sort of like choosing ice cream flavors is disingenuous.

    If YEC advocates were honest about the fact that their views are radically different rather than just a matter of perspectives, I would have no ethical problem with their arguments. I admire Kurt Wise in this regard. I would even say that it’s “reasonable” to hold that, all other evidence notwithstanding, the Bible requires a young earth, ergo the earth must be young — although I would disagree with the premise about what the Bible requires.

    My truth-o-meter goes to red, however, when YEC advocates suggest that just tweaking one’s starting assumptions allows the empirical evidence to fall into place in favor of a young earth. That just simply is not true.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    DRT, if you would like to understand the rationality for the YEC point of view, I think poking around some at Answers in Genesis would be of help. http://www.answersingenesis.com They have an extensive site with tons of articles about their hermeneutical take on Genesis 1, and science-oriented articles on the many aspects of the origins debates, at both the popular and technical levels. Their contributors included numerous PhDs across a variety of pertinent science disciplines (it is by no means just Kurt Wise against rest of the scientific community). I don’t think they can be waved away as easily as some comments here might lead one to believe.

    Regarding the suggested YEC answers you suggest in #69, I don’t think I have heard any of them made, so it seems to me rather strawmanish to suggest them.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Dopderdeck, yes, the points of view are radically different, as are the underlying assumptions and philosophies. But I don’t think I have said anything that should suggest that coming to a point of view different from yours is anything nearly as casual as choosing a flavor of ice cream. Nor that developing one’s philosophical basis is simply a matter of “tweaking.”

    I don’t think that I have been in any way dishonest, nor have I disguised the fact the both the presuppositions and the conclusions on either side of the debate are radically different. I assumed that was given, figuring that you were aware of the vast difference between 6,000 years and 13.7 billions years.

    So, once again, your moral indignation about YEC taking a view different from yours is misplaced and does not help the discussion. But since this is the third time that I have seen the need to remind you of this, I expect there is probably no point in further discussion with you about it. Once you have judged another of sin for disagreeing with your position … well, that is a conversation stopper.

    Peace be with you.

  • rjs

    Jeff Doles,

    The science on AIG is unconvincing from A to Z. The list of experts contains some, but actually relatively few, and they are dwarfed in number by various old-earth positions in the grand scheme of Christians active in the sciences. I did not say it was Kurt Wise vs everyone else.

    More importantly from my take as a Christian and a scientist, they are arguing YEC from a presupposition that it must be true, not from the evidence, looking for reasons why the evidence might be wrong.

    While not sin – the YEC position is an enormous stumbling block to getting substantial groups of people to even consider the gospel message. It also causes deep crises of faith. If this wasn’t true I’d drop the topic, stop spending time writing and engaging on conversation on this site, praying about proper approach, and go back to my research, writing, and teaching. But I am convinced that the wrong approach is to ignore the questions and let the young earth presupposition go unchallenged.

    Try the book I linked – the authors are skeptical about a number of things (including evolution) but lay out the age-of-the-earth evidence in pretty good detail.

  • rjs

    To add a bit to my comment above, one of my goals with this post was to try to make the point that young earth is a theological position. The debate is a theological debate. If one is truly convinced that our Christian faith requires a young earth to be true, then the approach of Kurt Wise or AIG makes sense. The approach of looking for reasons why the apparent age is wrong is a rational approach.

    But they have no evidence yet that undermines the scientific consensus on age of the earth at all. This is not (yet, you can add) a real scientific debate on any meaningful level. I don’t think they ever will find any evidence.

    I am also convinced that a young age for the earth is not essential for the truth of our faith – and this is why I am somewhat relentless on this issue.

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    Hi RJS,

    I just got home from leading a Bible study on Proverbs. For the most part, we steered clear of the age of the earth and focused on purity!

    I understand your point and would add that this is not just a theological disagreement, but an epistemological one as well.

    Thanks for your gracious interaction!

    Best,
    Dave

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Thanks for sharing your opinion, RJS. You find the science on AIG unconvincing; I find the science of the old earth view unconvincing (as do, of course, the scientists involved with AIG). Mr. Moore is not convinced by either side. So we are all where we began.

    Is YEC a stumbling block to the Gospel? I don’t think so. I don’t know of anyone who has said, “I can’t believe Jesus died for my sins and rose again from the dead because there’s this group of Christians that thinks Genesis 1 teaches the world was created in six 24 hour days.” The Gospel is bigger than the debate over the age of the earth. I am thankful, though, that you at least don’t think it is a sin to hold a view that much of the Church has held for much of its history.

    Early in this thread I said that I am willing to “agree to disagree” with you, and allow you the room to work out your position. And I wondered if you and others here would be willing to reciprocate. I put it out there a few times. But no takers. As the thread has progressed, it has become clear that this particular group of old earth advocates does not share that same willingness toward young earth advocates. Alas. Still, I will do, and have done, what I have said I am willing to do.

    Peace be with you.

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    RJS,

    What one book do you think is the most persuasive for your own position, and what one book do you think is the best at articulating the Young Earth view?

    Best,
    Dave

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    I agree with Dave Moore’s point in #75, which is what I have been trying to make, too, though not as succinctly as he.

  • EricG

    Jeff Doles–

    Here are some honest questions: Although you don’t agree with them, what are the three strongest arguments you see in support of an old earth? What specifically don’t you find convincing about those three? What sources have you read on the subject (other than AiG)? Is there any evidence that would convince you you are wrong, and if so what?

    You say groups like Answers in Genesis don’t create a crisis of faith, but I’ve personally seen it on many occasions. Consider the possibility that you and they are wrong, and that the scientific evidence is as strong as RJS says. Do you see the concerns with the AiG campaign, which essentially says the two choices are atheism or YEC?

    Do you also see any problem with the view that no matter how strong the science in support of an old earth is, it will never be sufficient because it cannot trump (someone’s interpretation of) scripture? That is the precise approach taken by Ken Ham, leader of the Answers in Genesis group, and others who have been cited above. I suspect most folks find that approach disturbing, as I do.

    Very similar to the debates centuries ago between the church and scientists over whether the sun revolves the earth.

    By the way, RJS shows tremendous patience on this blog — you say you will “allow [her] the room to work out [her] position.” Geesh — do you have any idea what her professional background is in this area?

  • EricG

    Jeff Doles and Dave Moore —
    You guys keey making the point about epistomology, but haven’t directly responded to the points about about the massive epistomological problems that underlie YEC. See Dopderbeck’s point above about the YEC position essentially leading to relativism on truth claims. And my point above that the arguments you folks are making are no different from an extreme form of postmodernism in your approach to science. How do you answer these fundamental challenges?

  • http://mikeblyth.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    Jeff, “Early in this thread I said that I am willing to ‘agree to disagree’ with you, and allow you the room to work out your position. And I wondered if you and others here would be willing to reciprocate. I put it out there a few times. But no takers.”

    Not sure what you’re looking for, Jeff. I think the purpose of a conversation like this is to share viewpoints, confront each other, and listen. Agreeing to disagree means to me that we don’t shut each other out or resort to verbal violence, not that we just nod and say that everyone has a right to his own opinion and leave it at that. It does appear that nearly everyone in the discussion is listening.

    You keep referring to presuppositions and different points of view about the facts. Do you disagree on the facts (such as the size of the observable universe, depth of sediments, pattern of isotope distribution in rocks) just on their interpretation? Given the universal agreement on an old earth among *non-theologically-motivated* scientists, which specific presuppositions do you reject? What presuppositions do you adopt that would serve to reinterpret the facts to a young earth view? The only coherent one that I have heard is that “God just made it that way,” i.e. the apparent age argument. That works quite well because it essentially disengages the question from science. It has the merit of not confusing people about science. The non-uniformitarian argument is similar except that it cuts off science at its roots, denying the possibility of certain knowledge about anything since there *are* no solid foundations in the observable world, only in the world of faith.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Eric,

    I’m not going to getting into naming arguments here because we would get into arguing about them in a thread that is soon be rolling off the page. And it would quickly move off the main topic of the thread. I certainly don’t disagree that there are some good arguments to be made for an old earth, but I don’t think they are insurmountable. Nor do they change the presuppositional nature inherent in both old earth and young earth positions.

    I have read plenty of non-AIG, non-Creationist, and even non-Christian sources over the years. If you have read this thread from the beginning, you will see that I held an old earth position for many years. In fact, I held that position for twice as long as I have no held the young earth position. I even believed in theistic evolution for a while. So I’ve been on both sides of this thing and I am satisfied that I have given the old earth view a very fair shot.

    I claim no infallibility for myself or any position I hold, have held or ever will hold. So, I have no problem in considering the possibility that I am wrong in this. Regarding AIG, I do not understand their position to be that it comes down to YEC or atheism. The age of the is a secondary issue for them, not definitive of Christianity, and they freely acknowledge that believing in an old earth does not mean that one is not a good and faithful Christian.

    But I do take the Bible to be infallible, fully authoritative and true in all that it affirms. That is my primary commitment, and the perspective and current consensus of science will always be secondary. However, this does not mean that I hold my *interpretations* to be infallible. What it does mean, though, is that my primary concern in this and other matters is to find what the Word teaches. My primary training is not in the natural sciences but in the Bible and hermeneutical concerns. And as a matter of hermeneutics, I do not think it is proper to try to understand an ancient text through the lens of modern science. IOW, my hermeneutics is not driven by modern science, otherwise I would end up with an anachronistic reading. I am willing to consider other interpretations that allow for an old earth, and indeed I have done so. In fact, at various points I have held to the Gap Theory, the Day-Age Theory, the Framework Theory and variations on those. I have recently considered John Walton’s functional temple theory about Genesis 1, but as a hermeneutical matter I found it lacking.

    Yes, there were debates about whether the earth revolves the earth or vice-versa. The consensus of the scientific community in Galileo’s day was that the sun circles the earth. And the Church bought into the scientific consensus of the day. To me, it is warning about the danger of letting science drive the hermeneutics of Scripture. Science has changed much since then, much since Newton, much even since Einstein. There have been many new discoveries in the last ten years, even in the last year. Many discoveries have raised more questions than they have answered, and older theories have often been changed and in some cases have fallen into disfavor. I expect that will continue to be so as we move forward. Nothing will ever be “proven” in science, although many things may be falsified. And the conclusions will always be contingent on the premises, the presuppositions, the assumptions, the philosophies upon which science rests at any given time. These presuppositions of empirical science cannot be proven, only assumed. So the current consensus of science can never be more than tentative in regard to epistemology.

    No, I do not know what RJS’ professional background. She may be a wonderful scientist, but that does not mean she trumps all other scientists. There are many highly trained, professional scientists who disagree with the old earth position. So, your appeal to her authority as a professional does not make for a very good argument.

    Regarding #80: I don’t think dopderdeck’s claim that the YEC position leads to relativism on truth claims is true. I am a YEC, but I do not think I am a relativist. In the example he has given about miracles and the resurrection, I think he might be making assumptions about miracles that YEC do not necessarily hold.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Mike,

    In the end, everyone has their opinion. Whether it is the one they came in with, or whether it has been tweaked, or whether it has been completely changed, it is still a matter of opinion. RJS has given hers, you have given yours, Dave Moore has given his, I have given mine.

    When I say “agree to disagree,” I do mean, at the least, that we should not shut out each other or resort of verbal violence. But I also mean that I will not think any less of someone for holding a view I do not hold, that I will not think they are any less a person of faith than I am, or any less of a Christian. When I say that I will “allow room to develop your position,” I mean that I will not seek to stop anyone from pursuing, exploring or developing their position in this matter. I will not suggest that they are thereby in sin, or in denial, or that they need to “outgrow” it. I will not treat it as a hindrance to the evangelism. I will not suggest that they are dishonest or cast aspersions on them for their position.

    But as I have seen, and noted, this has not been reciprocated, certainly not here in this thread. Instead, my viewpoint as a YEC has been called sin, a hindrance to the gospel, something that must be relentlessly pursued until it is stopped, as a throwing up of the hands in denial, as something that Christians need to “outgrow,” and thee has been the implication that YEC has been dishonest about it.

    Earlier, Scot McKnight asked whether this matter should be a primary issue instead of a secondary one. To me, it looks like for many here it IS a primary issue. But I take it as secondary and do not think it should be primary. I reserve primacy for things that are definitive of the Christian faith, e.g., the divinity and humanity of Jesus the Messiah, the cross and the resurrection, the Triune nature of God, the truthfulness of the Word. Arguing over the age of the earth is in a lesser league than that. It is not definitive of Christianity. I believe one can be a good and faithful Christian regardless of whether he believes the world is 6000 years old or 13.7 billion years old or somewhere in between. I don’t try to tell anybody else what they must believe about it; I simply say what I believe about it.

  • dopderbeck

    @Jeff — I’m sorry, brother, but I think it is disingenuous to argue in the manner that you’re arguing.

    It is reasonable and honest to argue that (1) I hold the Bible to infallibly teach the Earth is young and; (2) therefore I hold that the Earth is young regardless of whether the empirical evidence suggests otherwise. I think this view is incomplete and mistaken, but it is reasonable and honest.

    It is unreasonable and disingenuous to add (3) the empirical “scientific” evidence supports a young earth once the assumption of uniformitarianism is dropped. This claim is not true empirically, it misleads people, it dishonors the Church’s witness to the all encompassing truth of the Gospel, it defames honest and hard-working mainstream scientists, it causes great spiritual turmoil for many people who are led to believe they have to embrace intellectual dishonesty to practice Christianity, and it leads to epistemological relativism.

    Part (3) of the argument, of course, is one of the primary apologetic tools of AiG. I’m sorry, but I think the public voice of AiG deserves the strong rebuke I’m offering here.

    To be clear, I don’t think this strong rebuke runs to ordinary people who have been deceived by this sort of argument — and I’m not intending to rebuke you personally, Jeff. I would daresay that every one of us as individual Christians holds a variety of half-true beliefs that have been received from somewhere or other. We are all engaged together in the life-long process of the discipleship of the mind. This is why I agree whole-heartedly that people in local church and ministry settings should not break fellowship over this sort of disagreement, and that the issue perhaps shouldn’t even be raised in some contexts.

    However, when public figures repeatedly make public arguments that dishonor the Church’s claim to be engaged in the proclamation of Truth, then a rebuke of those public arguments is not only warranted, but is the duty of the leaders of the Church.

  • dopderbeck

    One other comment on #83 — this also has always exasperated me with the AiG type argument. Jeff says YECism is secondary. Yet he lists “the truthfulness of the Word” as something primary. By that, I assume he means total inerrancy. Jeff believes total inerrancy of the Bible requires a young earth. Therefore, logically YECism really is something primary, because to deny YECism is to deny total inerrancy.

    This is another place at which, in my personal experience, the AiG position is simply disingenuous and destructive of unity. They state that YECism is secondary, but in their system it is in fact essential to something primary. Indeed, if you read some YEC authors, they argue that local church leadership should be restricted to people who hold YEC views. I personally have had the experience of being charged with “dissension” by a YEC local church leader simply for suggesting that, after Ken Ham visited the church, we should also have a visit from Hugh Ross.

    Obviously there is an even bigger conversation here about whether total inerrancy of the Bible is something basic to Christianity (it is not). But let’s be clear: the YEC position espoused by AiG is not magnanimous in the least. It is fiercely sectarian and brooks no compromise. (Indeed, when Ken Ham preached at my former church, it was part of AiG’s “Refuting Compromise” campaign….)

  • rjs

    Jeff (#82)

    You said:

    No, I do not know what RJS’ professional background. She may be a wonderful scientist, but that does not mean she trumps all other scientists. There are many highly trained, professional scientists who disagree with the old earth position. So, your appeal to her authority as a professional does not make for a very good argument.

    This is the problem – and the point behind the picture in the post. Even among Christians there are very very few highly trained professional scientists who disagree with an old earth position. And – big and – those who do almost invariably do so because they give scripture (as it has been traditionally interpreted on this issue through the last 2000 years) epistemic priority over scientific knowing. Thus they are looking for scientific evidence supporting a position held on other grounds. It is a theological argument not a scientific one. AIG is quite clear about this foundation as a starting point.

    Counting names isn’t the point – looking at the forms of the arguments is much more telling.

    This actually plays in very closely with Scot’s post from last Friday Can You Tell Me Why?”

    Why, he asked, is it OK to adjust our Bible readings to historical study but not to scientific study?

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    Dopderbeck (#85): Sadly, I have seen the same thing from some YEC. YEC who say their view is the only way to preserve the integrity of Scripture are making an error in my judgment. One of the most formidable defenders of inerrancy, Gleason Archer, believed the early earth view undermined the inerrancy of Scripture.

    I do not think all YEC make this error, and would guess Jeff Doles is one who doesn’t. The binary trap of “it’s early earth or you are in with the skeptics” is problematic.

    Best,
    Dave

  • EricG

    Jeff, my brother (82):

    Regarding AiG, I think you are very mistaken about Ken Ham’s position. See dopderbeck above, and look up Ham’s public discussions on these points.

    Your view on the history of the earth revolving the sun is also incorrect. The church rejected the view because it contradicted their views on a literal reading of the Bible, not because it rejected their views on science. The suggestion to the contrary is revisionist history.

    Also, your paragraph on the presuppositions of science is precisely what I mean when I say you are adopting are an extreme form of postmodernism in your epistemological approach to truth claims within science. I assume you would not take that approach within other spheres, as you note. Let me get at this another way: What is your approach to evaluating various claims to truth within science? Is it possible, in your view, or is it all just “opinion,” as you say in 83? If you were patient with a serious illness and the doc said that 99.9% of the scientists researching an approach strongly believed in one method of treatment, what would you do?

    Finally, you say you don’t want to get into the specific evidence on old earth, but if you don’t, how can people evaluate your assertions that you find the scientific evidence for old earth weak? Again, I’d challenge you to identify the three strongest arguments for old earth, and why you think they are wrong. And I’d like to know what evidence, if any, would be sufficient to lead you to reject YEC.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Thanks dopderdeck (#84) for demonstrating my point. In the process you have proliferated assumptions about my position and even ignore what I have actually said about my position.

    Yes, I do hold the truthfulness of the Word to be primary. I believe it is infallible and true in all it affirms. I purposely said, “infallible” instead of “totally inerrant,” because there are many ways that the idea of “inerrancy” may need to be qualified. But I do not claim infallibility for my interpretation, not even of Genesis 1. I have held the old earth view, now I hold the young earth view. But in neither case have I considered a matter of primary concern. As an old earther, I was capable of distinguishing between what a text says and what my interpretation of the text is ~ it is part of my hermeneutical training. As a young earther, I am still very aware of that distinction, and indeed, I often point that distinction out. So I have not been disingenuous, nor do I think I have been unreasonable in anything I have said.

    I do not claim to speak of all of YECs or even for AIG. No doubt, there are plenty of them, including AIG, who take a much more strident position than I. I speak only for myself and my views as a YEC, although I am aware of others who think similarly. I do not suggest that anybody else must hold my view and I am content to let others pursue the issue as they see fit.

    You accuse YEC and AIG of being sectarian instead of magnanimous. Fair enough, that has often been the case. I have consciously distanced myself from that in hope of a more peaceful and productive discussion. I do not think I have been sectarian. I think I have have succeeded in being fair in my dealings, and I have made a good-faith offer. But I have discovered the old earthers are just as capable of sectarian thinking as young earthers. I hope that can one day change on both sides. Sadly, that day does not appear to be today.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff — I think I was also careful to distinguish that my comments are directed at public arguments made by groups such as AiG and not at you personally. I really don’t think the “poor me” thing is helpful or warranted. Nobody is being mean to you. I take you to be a sincere Christian of goodwill. Nevertheless, I think you are wrong on the merits, and that this difference matters in the public square. If you want me to say “yeah, you could be right,” I can’t do that, because I think you’re wrong. I don’t think Christian charity demands allowing that anyone’s viewpoint might be valid simply because they hold it sincerely.

    I’m not sure how your view of infallibility is different than total inerrancy. It doesn’t seem any different. In any event, perhaps we agree that it is basic to Christianity to assert that the Bible is normative scripture, but that there is significant room for disagreement over exactly what that implies about the nature and interpretation of the Bible. And if we agree on that, then we’ll agree that, as a doctrinal matter, what one thinks of the age of the earth is secondary (at best). Wonderful. No beef with that at all. If that were the view of the public figures who hold to YECism, I doubt we’d be talking about it now.

    That is not, however, what the public figures who advocate YECism in the public square think. It is not what AiG thinks, and it is not what Al Mohler thinks. For them, their particular view of scripture is something primary (or to use the older term, “fundamental”), and YECism flows inevitably from their particular view of scripture. As Mohler made clear in his recent address, for him, without YECism the entire Christian Worldview collapses. THAT is the sort of argument I would not hesitate to call “sin” in its lack of epistemic virtue.

  • AHH

    What dopderbeck #84 and #85 said.

    If somebody (like Kurt Wise) wants to believe in a young Earth in spite of the evidence because their theology and interpretation of Genesis demand it, that is at least an intellectually honest position. But if somebody (and I’m mostly thinking of groups like AiG rather than anybody on this thread) claims that the scientific evidence can reasonably be interpreted in favor of a young Earth, that is in the flat-Earth category. Perspectives can matter, but the ONLY perspective that gets scientifically literate people to that conclusion is the perspective that starts with the assumption that Scripture demands a young Earth and can’t accept any other conclusion.

    Also agreed that it is unfortunate and detrimental to the church that this “secondary” issue gets elevated to “essential” by groups like AiG and Al Mohler. If not directly, by the path where hardline inerrancy is an essential (a problem itself IMO) and YEC is considered the only interpretation that preserves the view of inerrancy.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    RJS,
    Yes, counting names can be irrelevant. Some of the things held by the majority of scientists in a particular, were, in a former day, held by only a minority. And yes, looking at the forms of the argument are more important ~ and so we are talking about epistemology, as Dave Moore suggests, and not just theology.

    One of the things we seek to understand, in the matter of interpreting Scripture, is how the original readers/hears would have understood it in their context, which is a historical and cultural matter. We don’t want to just read an ancient eastern text through our modern western eyes or else we will merely be imposing ourselves on the text. So, the question of what modern science may tell us about the age of the earth does not really help us understand the meaning of the text ~ it is irrelevant to the text. OTOH, the question of how the ancient Hebrews would have understood Genesis 1 in their own context is very relevant, and is a historical matter.

    So, it is appropriate to consider how Genesis 1 might have been understood in the context of the myths of the surrounding nations (I recently finished reading John N. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths, which does a comparison of these). And it is appropriate to consider whether Genesis 1 might have been understood as “functional” creation only and not “material” (I have also recently finished John H. Walton’s, The Lost World of Genesis One, which argues for “functional” only). These are both matters of historical concern and whether or how they might have influenced the original recipients of Genesis 1. But there is no point in trying to interpret Genesis 1 in terms of Einstein’s theories of relativity, or Plank’s Theorem or the Copenhagen school ~ the early Hebrews had no access to such ideas and would thus not have been one bit influenced by them in their understanding of the text. To try to read Genesis 1 through the lens of current opinions of science is simply eisegesis, reading our own ideas into the text, instead of exegesis, understanding the text on its own terms.

    As I have said, my training is in hermeneutics, so my main concern is to understand the text on its own terms. Then, of course, there are also the larger, philosophical and epistemological concerns which undergird hermeneutics, theology and the natural sciences. I have had some study in those as well.

    I am willing for you to consider the issue from the angle of your training and your field of expertise; I am considering the issue from mine.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff said: To try to read Genesis 1 through the lens of current opinions of science is simply eisegesis, reading our own ideas into the text, instead of exegesis, understanding the text on its own terms.

    I respond: exactly right. This is one reason I think Old Earth Creationism of the Hugh Ross variety fails.

    So, if the early Hebrews would have understood the creation stories to affirm a very recent creation, a solid dome heavens resting on four pillars, geocentricsm, and so on, does that require us as Christians to affirm the same things? This is where we get back to that tricky problem of doctrinal essentials. The doctrine of Biblical inerrancy requires us to affirm as true whatever the original hearers would have heard the text as affirming as true. If the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is an essential, then based on sound principles of hermeneutics I think there’s no escaping the fact that it is also essential to affirm recent creation (and a solid dome heavens supported by pillars and geocentricsm all the rest of Biblical cosmogony).

    If you want to argue that the raquia is not really referring to an actual solid dome heavens or that the “rising and setting sun” doesn’t affirm geocentrism, then that seems to me you’re engaged in the same kind of eisegesis based on modern scientific knowledge.

    So, the issue is more than simply considering both hermeneutical methods and scientific methods. It’s a doctrinal issue about whether a particular view of Biblical inerrancy is essential or not once the hermeneutical and scientific methods have done their work. You can only understand YECism to be secondary in light of sound hermeneutical methods if you consider the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy to be a non-essential doctrine.

    Do you disagree with this assessment Jeff? (Let’s not get too caught up in exactly what the original hearers would have thought about the raquia. That is just one among many problems with affirming today exactly what the original hearers might have thought the text to be affirming).

  • dopderbeck

    I should clarify that I mean “the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy” as expressed in statements such as the Chicago Statement. Personally I believe it is essential to a fully Christian worldview to understand the canonical scriptures to be inspired by God and authoritative — but I believe there’s plenty of room to differ about exactly what this implies (my own current views are here.

  • http://mikeblyth.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    Jeff, as far as I can tell, you still have not explained just what you mean, in concrete terms, when you refer to presuppositions, epistemology, and so on as they apply to the scientific evidence. It might help us focus the discussion if you could explain that for us. Are you referring to uniformitarianism, for example, as a guiding principle of science that divides us, or what?

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    My commitment is that the Bible is trustworthy in all that it affirms or teaches. So then it becomes a matter of determining what it says, means and teaches. Understanding the historical context, the culture, the language, and the literary forms of the ancient Hebrews is all a part of that. But whatever it appears to affirm or teach (recognizing that my interpretation is no infallible), I will hold as true. I will not seek to conform that to whatever the consensus of natural science is in 2010.

    Within the language and literary forms of the Hebrews, I do recognize that there are metaphors and similes and parables and anthropomorphisms and poetic devices. The taxonomies are not necessarily the ones we use today, nor the are historical accounts presented in the styles and forms we use today. There are also numerical approximations, so that I do not try to define the value of pi by the measurements given for the large bronze bowl in the temple courts. There is also phenomenological language, such as that referring to the sun rising and sun setting, which is true enough from our perspective on earth (a perspective the ancient Hebrews certainly possessed), though not accurate from a stellar perspective (which the ancient Hebrews did not possess). Likewise, I do not think anyone is affirming geocentrism today when they speak of a beautiful sunrise or sunset. I don’t think it is eisegesis to recognize these things. What would be eisegesis is if we imposed our modern categories and forms and our ideas of precision on the Bible text.

    The raquia of Genesis 1, in concrete usage, could speak of something solid, but there are many terms in the Hebrew OT which speak of abstract things by means of concrete terms. For example, the word for “anger” in Hebrew is the same word for “nose,” the idea being that anger is displayed by the flaring of the nose. So the concrete, “nose,” is used to speak of something abstract, “anger.” Was raquia used to speak of something concrete? I don’t think that is he only legitimate way it can be taken. The LXX (the Septuagint), which is the OT translated into Greek, for Greek-speaking Jews a couple of centuries before Christ, in the Second Temple era, gives us one indication of how early Jews understood the use of raquia in Genesis 1. It translates raquia by the Greek word stereoma, which speaks of something that is established, confirmed, steadfast. Paul uses it in Colossians 2:5, where he says, “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness [stereoma] of your faith in Christ.

    So I do not think it is eisegesis to take raquia abstractly in Genesis 1 ~ the early recipients appear to have done so. It is not reading a modern view back into raquia but rather understanding it in the context of how Jews in Bible times used it.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff — it certainly is eisegesis to claim that the text intends to present the solid dome and the rising and setting sun figuratively or “phenomenologically”. The only reason you’re examining the text this way is because modern science tells you it can’t be literally true. All of the evidence we have from the ANE demonstrates that the sold dome, the flat disc earth, an a mobile sun, were part of their literal cosmology. All of the serious ANE scholars agree on this, including inerrantists such as John Walton. Your argument from the LXX is unconvincing for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the LXX isn’t a very good translation of the Hebrew in many places — it reflects in many ways a Hellenistic rather than more ancient Hebrew worldview. In any event, we have abundant Mesopotamian and Egyptian evidence for the solid dome cosmology. I don’t think any serious ANE scholar disputes this fact.

    The reality is that if modern science didn’t tell us otherwise, we wouldn’t question the literalness of the text on these points: Exhibit A, Galileo.

    So, while I respect your commitment to believe whatever the text “affirms,” I don’t think you’re applying it consistently, and I think this inconsistency has more to do with what some trusted authorities such as AiG tell you is permissible than with any principles of hermeneutics.

    But you also still haven’t responded to the question whether you think your doctrine of scripture is an essential of the faith. If it is, then given your understanding of what scripture “affirms” about the age of the earth, you cannot with any logical consistency call the age of the earth a secondary matter, can you?

  • dopderbeck

    Let me ask it another way: let’s say someone is convinced that the Biblical references to the raquia and so on are indeed “affirming” an ANE solid-dome, geocentric cosmology, and that because of this we must take these as established facts and interpret other observations from nature in light of those facts. At the very least, this is a possible way to read what the text is “affirming.” Jeff, would you say that this person’s flat-earth, geocentric, solid dome cosmology is just as reasonable as your spherical earth, permeable atmosphere, heliocentric cosmology? After all, it’s just a matter of what one’s starting assumptions are, isn’t it?

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Dopderbeck, I disagree. The question is about how the Hebrews would understand the text. No the Egyptians or other Mesopotamians. Though there are similarities in the ways the ways Hebrews and their neighbors thought, there are also important and deeper differences. The Hebrew Bible does not teach the mythical cosmologies like that of Israel’s neighbors. Oswalt, in The Bible Among the Myths, demonstrates that that difference between the Hebrew account and the myths of the surrounding nation is the difference between a transcendence and continuity. That is, the God of the Bible transcends the world, but the numerous gods of the neighboring nations is continuous with the world, and ultimately indistinguishable from it (pantheism or panentheism). So, telling me what the neighboring nations thought does not tell me what the Hebrews thought, because God was delivering them out of ways of the nations.

    From the perspective of our position on earth, the sun does rise and set. That says nothing about geocentrism, merely about our perspective. So talk about sunrises and sunsets does not demand that we must be speaking of geocentrism. It did not back in those days; it does not today. The question about geocentrism never comes up in the OT. To even ask the question is to impose a modern category on the text.

    If the LXX is not the best translation of the Hebrew text in places, that does not mean that it is of no help in helping understand the Hebrew usage of words. And it may be that the LXX differs from other translations because it is translating earlier Hebrew manuscripts, and perhaps better ones, than later manuscripts that are usually used in translation. It probably does represent the introduction of some Hellenistic thinking into the Hebrew mindset, but reference to absract things was not absent from Hebrew thought. So, while it is possible to think of raquia as a sold bronze dome, there is nothing that requires that we must always do so. Just like when we read about the “anger” of the Lord being kindled, we must therefore think the writer means His nose is actually being set on fire or is glowing (the Hebrew word “af” means “anger” and also “nose”).

    The truthfulness or trustworthiness of Scripture is something I take as a primary issue and definitive of the Christian faith. It does not follow, though, that every thing it says is therefore of equal value and importance. Some things are very important to the faith, and definitive of the faith ~ they are primary. Others are not ~ they are secondary. If one denies that Jesus is Lord, then I would say he is not a Christian, because the Christian confession is that Jesus is Lord. He may be a nice person, but I do not think he is a Christian, even if he agreed with me that the earth is 6000 years old. OTOH, if one confesses Jesus as Lord and also believes the earth is 13.7 billions old, I accept him as a Christian and his belief about the age of the earth does not add or take away one bit from that. It is a non sequitir to think that belief in the trustworthiness of the Bible makes every single thing it says of primary importance.

    Regarding #98: I don’t think I have anywhere suggested that all presuppositions, philosophies, or assumptions are equally reasonable. Nor have I suggested that there is any presupposition, philosophy or assumption that is immune to being questioned. So it is legitimate to question the assumptions of the solid-domer flat-earther as it is question those of young earthers and old earthers.

  • John I.

    Jeff wrote, “There are many highly trained, professional scientists who disagree with the old earth position.” I have read similar statements by other YECs, but such statements give an appearance that is not accurate and that effectively misleads those who are not well read. The statement is not supportable. There are very few highly trained scientists who support YEC for allegedly scientific reasons. YEC scientists often have minor degrees, degrees from middle tier or lower institutions, often speak outside their discipline, speak beyond their expertise, are not peer reviewed, do not publish, are speculative in their solutions, do not conduct verifiable experiments, and disregard or give little weight to evidence that does not fit their pre-established view. I don’t consider such statements to be name-calling, but rather representative of the sorts of things I find in their literature and on their websites.

    As a lawyer who cross-examines scientists on a regular basis, it almost makes me despair when I read materials from a YEC viewpoint, especially since there is no determinative exegetical reason to read scripture in such a manner. Though I consider YECs to be in Christ, the false views they spout do great damage to the faith of many, and their views often turn up in the testimonies of former Christians.

    Though many non-YECs like me are strongly opposed to the YEC view and believe that it should be forcefully opposed, it is not for us a dividing line of fellowship, membership and leadership. This is very unlike the position of most YECs that I have come across who do, or would like to, make YEC a litmus test.

    By “forcefully oppose”, I mean through the means of speaking up, by dialogue, writings, debate, presentations, education, etc., but not such things as refusal to grant YECs membership in a church, or refuse to give them leadership positions, or question their faith, or call them names, or questions their fidelity to scripture, etc.

    regards,
    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff (#99) — I think this response shows that your approach is ad hoc and inconsistent, theologically and epistemologically.

    You aren’t letting the evidence from the actual historical context of the text lead wherever it will. Instead, you have to adopt an idiosyncratic understanding of what the ancient Hebrews would have known and thought and “affirmed” about cosmology that no serious ANE scholar would accept.

    You also want others to accept your “interpretations” of the scientific data based on your hermeneutical presuppositions as equally valid to those of mainstream science, but you won’t extend the same to a flat-earther who reads the text consistently with contemporary ANE context.

    I also take from this comment that you think a commitment to Biblical inerrancy — not just to the Bible as inspired and authoritative, but to the Bible as inerrant — is essential to Christian faith. That exceeds any reasonable definition of basic Christian orthodoxy and excludes just about every Christian except for very conservative modern protestant evangelicals from the definition of “Christian.” It probably excludes most of the active participants on this site. It certainly excludes all the mainline protestant denominations as well as Catholics and Eastern Orthodox (Catholics and EO do not mean the same thing by “inerrant” or “infallible” as conservative evangelicals).

    And because your commitment to YECism follows from your commitment to a certain view of inerrancy and hermeneutics, it also follows that anyone who rejects the YEC view is heterodox at best — whether you want to acknowledge that implication (and thereby agree with Ham, Mohler, et al.) or not.

    So, I can’t help but see the same implications in your view as those of other strong YEC’s I’ve met: either I agree with you in all these particulars — a specific doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, a specific hermeneutical framework, an idiosyncratic, selective and ad hoc reading of the ANE cultural references in the Bible, and a radically different cosmology than that of modern science — or I’m heterodox or heretical (even though you’re too decent a person to come out and say that).

  • dopderbeck

    BTW Jeff, there is one hermeneutical move that many conservative evangelicals make and that you haven’t yet made, and I’m curious why. If you start with the assumption that inspiration necessarily implies verbal plenary inspiration, inerrancy, and concursus, and the text seems to conflict with evidence from our senses (such as from the natural sciences), you could argue that our assumptions about what the author intended based on a “plain reading” of the text are wrong. Thus, if the text on its face says everything was created in six days, but empirical evidence says otherwise, we conclude that the author must have intended to communicate something other than what the “plain reading” alone suggests.

    This, I think, is the move made by many classical neo-evangelicals such as J.I. Packer, and it is also a move made by many contemporary evangelicals who are enamored of speech-act theory (such as Walton, Beale, Vanhhozer, Carson — what I might call the “Wheaton School” of inerrancy and hermeneutics). It at least doesn’t require resort to the untenable Omphalos argument.

    The answer to the question “Why does the Earth look so old,” according to these folks, would be: because it is. The answer to the question “then why does the Bible say the Earth is young” would be, for them, “the empirical evidence for the age of the earth tells us the writers must not have been intending to communicate authoritatively anything about the age of the Earth.”

    Now, I personally think this approach quickly can become a sort of sleight of hand about “authorial intent” and that it is still overly wedded to Warfield’s notion of concursus. But at least it doesn’t require you come up with stuff like the RATE Project.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    I’ll tell you what, Dop, why don’t you let me tell you what I believe, as I have already done, and you have apparently ignored, instead of you trying to tell me what I believe. It is clear to me that you want to saddle me up in a way that suits you instead of paying attention to what I have actually said. You are obviously trying to fit me into a pre-conceived box, all the better to stereotype me, but the problem is that I don’t fit. You want me to define my view on the trustworthiness of the Bible in a way that leaves out everybody else here, but I don’t do that. I accept Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and Christian brothers and sisters.

    I’d be happy to discuss with you more, except I don’t think I will be able to get around your heavy bias to any meaningful kind of dialogue. And I am starting to think that what you want is not really dialogue but domination.

    Peace be with you.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff, I think my problem is that it’s hard to pin down what you actually believe because your views are internally inconsistent and you don’t like the implications of what you’re saying you believe.

  • dopderbeck

    So correct me — what did I say in 101 that misrepresents your view?

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Dop, you’re a hoot. I don’t fit in your box, so it must be because I am internally inconsistent in what I believe. I’d talk with you more but, like I said, I don’t think I can get around your prejudice to get to a meaningful discussion.

    If you want to understand (if that is possible) how you have misrepresented me, go back and read what I have actually written about the trustworthiness of the Bible and compare it with what you have been trying to strap on me. If the penny drops and the light goes on, maybe we’ll talk about it at another time. But for now, I’m done.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    @John I.

    “There are very few highly trained scientists who support YEC for allegedly scientific reasons. YEC scientists often have minor degrees, degrees from middle tier or lower institutions”

    From where did you get your degrees, both undergrad and graduate?

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff — sorry you feel that way. No, it’s not because you don’t fit in my box (and of course you’re presuming quite a bit about me here as well). It’s because I think your ideas are inconsistent, that you want it both ways, as we’ve discussed now ad naseum.

    But blessings to you as well.

  • John I.

    Re kevin s.’s inquiry into my degrees: I was disputing the accuracy of Jeff’s assertion, and not arguing the science itself, so the question of my degrees is irrelevant. Furthermore, the settlement of an argument by appeals to authority is a well-known logical fallacy. The reason I disputed Jeff’s assertion is that ploy is frequently used by YEC’s to lend greater credance to their doctrines than is deserved, and because that ploy frequently misleads those who do not have the time or resources to look into the facts of the matter.

    As but one example, I refer to Henry Morris, one of the fathers of the recent YEC movement, who had his bachelors in civil engineering and then his masters and Phd in hydraulics and civil engineering. He was not a biologist, nor a zoologist, nor a geneticist, nor a geologist, nor a paleontologist, etc. His works contained errors in geology and science, which is but one reason he and his views were entirely dismissed by scientists and academics who actually worked, researched and taught in the relevant fields.

    One may also examine the credentials of the teachers at ICR (copied from their web site):
    John A. Eidsmoe, M.Div., M.A.B.S., J.D., D.Min.
    Ava Ford, M.R.E., M.D.
    Randy J. Guliuzza, P.E., M.P.H., M.D.
    James J. S. Johnson, J.D., Th.D., C.I.H.E., C.P.E.E.
    Jobe Martin, Th.M., D.M.D.
    Eugene H. Merrill, M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., Ph.D.
    Rodney F. Milton, J.D., C.M.E.L.
    Henry M. Morris III, M.B.A., M.Div., D.Min.
    John D. Morris, M.S., Ph.D.
    Michael Sanders, Th.M., M.A., D.Min.
    Jeffrey Tomkins, M.S., Ph.D.
    Donald L. Totusek, J.D.
    Stanley D. Toussaint, Th.M., Th.D.
    Audris Zidermanis, M.S., Ph.D.

    Associate Faculty (Special Lecturers):

    John Rathbun, M.Div.
    Frank Sherwin, M.A.
    Brian Thomas, M.S.

    Only four faculty with PhD’s. And, of course, the issue is whether they are relevant. Merril’s PhD’s are not in science. Audris has his in nutrition and biology (i.e., not directly related to the type of biological research in evolution), Morris does have a PhD in geology and Tomkins PhD is from Clemson University in genetics. At one of YEC’s premier institutions only two faculty have PhD’s directly relevant to the subject at hand.

    The reality is that only a handful of YECs have PhDs in relevant fields, and any refereed publications they have are not, as far as I know, at all directly related to the issue of creationism.

    regards,
    John I.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    OK rjs, I challenge you to explain all of that to me so it makes sense. :)

  • John I.

    If YECs are going to argue that they do substantive work supporting their scientific theories, they are going to have to do something more substantive and convincing than the type of stuff exemplified by the following article from their “peer reviewed” (actually in house) journal: http://www.creationresearch.org/crsq/articles/46/46_1/CRSQ%20Summer%2009%20Woodmorappe%20final.pdf

    Aside from the fact that the article is written by a high school teacher who writes under a pseudonym, the paper is only a review of other research that breaks no new ground and speculates on a few hypotheses for future research. Much of what YECs write is of this speculative ilk, merely raising potential alternative scenarios without supporting them.

    regards,
    John I.

  • David Booth

    Jonathan Sarfati’s book which (seek to refute Evolution and also any old earth creationist views) are highly regarded by YEC advocates. I would be most appreciative if someone could point me to some credible reviews and critiques as I am not qualified to sort out the credentials of the reviewers of his books.

    Regards,

    David

  • rjs

    David,

    I haven’t read any of Safarti’s books – and most of what I find on the internet about them is either from Creationist groups, or rather heated rebuttal. I just ordered a couple of them from Amazon’s used books so that I can comment intelligently on his arguments for a young creation. I think though, that he falls cleanly within the group who believes a young earth is required if we submit to the authority of scripture – and this shapes his approach to everything.

  • John I.

    I wouldn’t deny that many YECs, such as Sarfarti, are quite smart and well educated. However, one of the problems with having only a handful of scientifically qualified advocates is that each one tries to cover too much ground and to cover ground in which he/she (almost exclusively he)is not qualified, has not done basic research in, and has not contributed anything new or significant.

    Take, for example, Sarfarti’s recent book: J. Sarfati, Refuting Compromise (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004). Sarfarti is a PhD in chemistry but very little of the book actually deals with chemistry, but instead ranges over a wide variety of topics in which he is not an expert and for which he relies on the opinions of other experts. That is, he is not capable of independently evaluating the evidence and rendering a valid expert opinion. He weighs up other experts and chooses positions that favour his ideology.

    In chapter 1 he deals with the authority of scripture, but he is no biblical scholar or theologian. Chapter 2 deals with the interpretation of Hebrew in Genesis, but he is not a linguist or a scholar of Hebrew and other ANE languages. Chapter 3 deals with the history of interpretation of Genesis 1-11, but he is no historian. Moreover, history is irrelevant to the facticity and science of the age of the earth. Essentially he just wants to show that his interpretation is the “historical” one of the church.

    Chapter 4 deals with the “order” of creation and is essentially an attack on Hugh Ross. Again, it deals with linguistic and interpretational issues, not chemistry. Chapter 5 deals with the Big Bang and astronomy, but he is not astrophysicist, physicist, astronomer, etc. Chapter 6 covers the origin of death and suffering, but he is not a philosoper or (degreed) theologian. Chapter 7 deals with “created kinds”, but he is not a biologist or geneticist and its not clear at all how his particular specialty in chemistry aids him.

    Chapter 8 grapples with the allegedly global flood and Noah’s ark though he is not an archaeologist, anthropologist, historian or biblical scholar. What’s chemistry got to do with this? I don’t know. Chapter 9 runs over the history of mankind, but need I say it: he is no historian, archaeologist, nor a linguist capable of dealing with ancient texts. Chapter 10 argues against Biblical arguments for an old age. Again, he is not a phillosopher, biblical scholar, linguist, etc.

    In chapter 11 we finally get to a chapter on science, but not much having to do with his specialty in chemistry. He deals with such things as continental erosion, comets and supernovas and the decaying magnetic field of the earth. In the latter argument he makes a rather obvious error in his assumptions, which is not surprising given that he is not an expert in this area. Sarfarti tries to tie things together in chapter 12.

    Of course, not being an expert does not make one’s arguments wrong (fallacy of authority), but that is not my point. My point is that YECs point people in the pew, who are not experts, to their YEC experts and try to make claims that their experts are equal to non-YEC experts and that their experts give their movement credibility and authority. It is, however, obviously not so as the brief review of Sarfarti’s work shows.

    All the book length treatments of this issue by YECs suffer the same problem, though some are even worse (material from H. Morris).

    It is, therefore, most emphatically not true that YECs have the support of competent experts that write within their field and produce important work supporting their belief. They have experts who write outside their fields, on material they are not professionally competent to render expert opinions, who do not do original work within their fields in support of YEC theories, but who write broad summaries of the arguments of others.

    regards,
    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    Safarti is also among the most vocal advocates of the view that YECism is akin to an essential of the faith. His books, for example, influenced the Elder at my former church who called me “divisive” just for suggesting we have Hugh Ross speak at the church.

    I really wrestled in my own conscience last night over my arguments in this thread with poster “Jeff Doles.” Maybe it demonstrates how easily this issue can become a Titus 3:9 kind of thing. And I agree completely with the desire to articulate a doctrine of scripture that is faithful to God’s truthfulness.

    But Jeff’s holding of his YECism as a secondary matter is unfortunately an exception, in my experience and in the creationist literature, with Safarti as Exhibit A.

  • rjs

    John,

    Excellent comment. I do not think one needs degreed authority to comment on these issue. If that were true you could simply dismiss the vast majority of what I write – or most of us write. But one does need to be in conversation with the experts in a field.

    The biggest problem with the YEC movement here is that it is not in conversation with the experts and does not have a sufficiently large community of experts to put forth a credible case.

    I submit for consideration the idea that this is because the vast majority of Christians with real expertise in these areas come down on the side of some version of old earth creation – from old earth progressive creation to evolutionary creation. Does anyone have evidence to the contrary?

  • John I.

    rjs’ point and question (about most Christian scientists publishing on the non-YEC side of the issue) is very pertinent. It also brings to mind the matter of citation strength. YEC scientists are not cited very often by other scientists on matters within their own field. Yes, it is true that some of the more prominent ones do have a citation track record, but now we are reducing the handfull of YEC scientists to an even smaller group. Furthermore, when I have seen citation histories put forward by YECs in defense of their scientists, almost without exception there does not seem to be much that is recent. Even more significantly, there is little or no citation of work that would be directly relevant to YEC issues (such as radio-carbon dating, genetics), even if that work only helps us to understand God’s world better.

    If the YECs are not even helping us to understand God’s world in a (general) manner that is accepted by their peers, what credibility do they have when they broach specifically YEC matters?

    I believe that God is omnipotent, and could do creation however he wants (as do all other non-YECs that I’m aware of), and I’m willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. It seems to me that if YECs want to play on the field of science and investigate natural revelation in a rational way, then they should accept findings that appear to go against them and their theory (Noahic flood cannot lay down the sedimentary layers that we observe). However, they poison their scientific work at the outset by assuming a specific conclusion (scientifically provable young age).

    If the YECs assume these two premises to their work: (1) God created the world in 144 consecutive hours about 6,000 years ago, and (2) they must practice the same contemporary science and deal with the physical and chemical structures and relations that are revealed as all other scientists, then they will have to conclude that the science provides only evidence for an old earth, and since God created only 6,000 years ago he must have created with apparent age. That seems like the only rational outcome to their programme.

    At least that outcome is theologically possible and would provide the observed results of science that we see.

    regards,
    John I.

  • David Booth

    Thank you so much for the responses to my request re. Sarfarti’s books. Thank you JohnI for your breif review and comments. It would be a tremendous help to me, and others I am sure, if you rjs and others equally qualified manage to read and perhaps post some reviews or reflections of Sarfati’s books. I say this because he is one of the pillars of the YEC movement and his books are very highly regarded and agresively promoted in conservative circles. I do hope you get some time to do so in what must be a full and busy academic, church and home life.

    Regards,

    David


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