Pros and Cons (RJS)

Pros and Cons (RJS) November 30, 2017

the adam questIn the final chapter of The Adam Quest Tim Stafford provides a summary of the pros and cons of each of the young earth, intelligent design, and evolutionary creationist positions. He also adds some thoughts of his own from his research for the book. He interviewed scientists who fall into three broad camps.

  1. Young earth creationists. The earth is ca. 6000 to 10000 years old, Noah’s flood was a critical world-wide catastrophe, “kinds” created separately.
  2. Intelligent design creationists. Although Intelligent Design as a movement makes no claim about the age of the earth, many advocates, including the two interviewed in the book agree that the earth is ancient but also hold that evolution cannot explain the development and diversity of life on earth. There was direct involvement of an intelligence. Both Behe and Rana believe that this intelligence is the personal God revealed in Scripture.
  3. Evolutionary creationists.God created life using evolution – much like he creates children using natural processes from egg and sperm to embryo to infant.

Stafford’s strengths and weaknesses for the three views:

  1. Young earth creationism:
    • The primary strength is “a fundamental commitment to the Bible.”  He also notes that “These readings fit well with traditional Christian doctrines of the fall as traceable to Adam and Eve, and of the origins of sin and death in the fall. Young earth creationism (YEC) offers a consistent and familiar picture within the pages of the Bible.” (p. 203)
    • The most significant problems are the discrepancies between the world we observe around us and the narrative of a young earth. There is no evidence for a global flood and a massive assembly of evidence against it. The genetic and biochemical evidence also argue for a connectedness of life “Perhaps YEC could address these problems. But as it stands YEC presents a stark choice: you can uphold a traditional belief in the literal, historical reading of Genesis, but only at the cost of rejecting mainstream science.” (p. 204)
  2. Intelligent design:
    • The strength of this view are its robust rebuttal of the arguments of scientific materialism and the claim that science eliminates God from the picture – it “undermin[es] the materialist propaganda of some scientists.” It also meshes with our “intuitive sense that life is far too complex to have happened by accident.” (p. 204)
    • The greatest weakness is the difficulty of proving a negative – that natural processes (most significantly evolution) can’t explain our observations. “ID seems to have become a philosophical position, detached from the Bible and from the practice of science.” (p. 204)
  3. Evolutionary creationism:
    • The strength is the seriousness with which science is taken. But science is taken seriously without eliminating God from the picture. Atheistic materialism is denied as strongly as it is by proponents of YEC or ID. “It stresses the traditional doctrine of God’s immanence. Since God is intimately involved in the workings of the physical universe, his presence and power can be seen in the workings of evolution.” (p. 204)
    • The greatest problem is the Bible and some of the traditional doctrines of sin and death that have long been part of Christian teachings. The understanding of Adam and Eve is probably the largest single problem.

Stafford concludes that evolutionary creationism holds the most hope moving forward. It isn’t that the Biblical problems are minor, but rather that the obstacles to young earth creationism seem insurmountable. He also notes that it is far from clear that the YEC approach to the Bible is the only faithful reading. “When your reading of a crucial Bible passage doesn’t accord with reality, it is surely your duty to look again. This doesn’t mean that science trumps Bible. It means that all biblical interpretation is fallible, and you need to make sure you are not jumping to conclusions.” (p. 206)

Despite a recent resurgence of flat earthism – the church and even the vast majority of young earth creationists are comfortable with the idea that the earth is a spheroid in space. This is a rereading of Scripture in the light of new evidence. Kyle Greenwood’s book Scripture and Cosmology provides a nice historical perspective. Stafford also points out that passages like Psalm 103:2-3 “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” The observation that Christians get sick – and die – shapes the way we read this passage and others like it. “Heals all your diseases” doesn’t mean “all.”  The earth looks old – and we have every reason to believe that it is.  This sends us back to reconsider our interpretations.

With respect to ID, Stafford suggests that there is more to this as a philosophical and theological idea than a scientific one. The science seems at a dead end. This doesn’t mean that the philosophical ideas are wrong – and he points to suggestions by John Polkinghorne and Simon Conway Morris that could lead to a better understanding of design and purpose.

Some thoughts of my own. The ID movement has introduced some interesting ideas, but is fighting the battle on the wrong front. Evolution isn’t the enemy and undermining evolution will not lead non-Christians to God. There is a positive argument to be made for design and purpose, but it will not be proven in the laboratory. By making evolution – rather than the scientific materialism of outspoken atheists – the target, the ID movement has made it harder to be a Christian witness in the scientific community.

In my view, YEC fails on all counts. While it is faithful to certain literal readings of Genesis and upholds doctrines about original sin, the Fall, and death, there is great cost to their version of faithfulness. In order to achieve any kind of real coherence between observation of the natural world and a young earth with a global flood and a population bottleneck 4000 year ago all kinds of extrapolations and between-the-lines readings of the text are required. Instead of going with the Biblical “data,” the Bible is read as necessarily conforming to predetermined and external ideals. For me personally, the largest obstacles to faith arose from the discrepancy between what the Bible is “supposed to be” and what it actually is when read carefully and completely.  On top of this, there is no scientific evidence for a young earth and abundant evidence for an ancient earth.

Evolutionary creationism can be held with an open hand. Although it is important to understand the evidence for evolution, there is nothing sacred about the theory of evolution. If better evidence and new insight leads to a revised theory – that is no problem for us as scientists or as Christians. Evolutionary creation best describes my current position, however I wouldn’t describe myself as an evolutionary creationist. I will describe myself as a Christian – this is sacred. Whatever processes are/were used to achieve the diversity of life we observe, God  is, as Stafford put it, intimately involved in the workings of the physical universe and this includes the origin and flowering of life on earth.  Read the Bible (the whole sweep of Scripture), study the context, observe and study the world, experience life, go with the data.

What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the three general positions outlined by Stafford?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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