The Universe Is 29 Years Young

A new map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected with the precision by the Planck mission. Image by ESA and the Planck Collaboration.

When the thirty-something women I know lament their age, I usually tell each of them that they can’t be over twenty-nine years old. Everyone wants to be young, and for some reason people think you’re officially old when you’re thirty. I’d complain about this, but then I’d sound like an old-timer. Well I still might, since I have something else to gripe about.New cosmological evidence points to a universe that is even older than once thought. The evidence of a very old universe keeps piling up, even though young-earth creationists continue to chase “yabbut” trails.

“Yabbut radio carbon dating is flawed.”
“Yabbut science cannot observe past events”
“Yabbut the fossil record actually points to a young earth”

I used to be a young-earth creationist, but gave it up mainly because the evidence of an old earth always crushed the young-earth propositions. But it was a long haul for me, because I held tightly to my literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. And that is, I believe, the main motivation behind most of the young-earth chatter. If the universe is very old, if the earth is very old, then that will affect the way you read Genesis. And how you read Genesis could greatly influence your theological approach to the Bible. A deeper fear is that if someone concedes an old universe, then they may give up their Christian faith. That’s not true but believe me, I have felt that fear before.

One of the most popular young-earth arguments is one that I often found hard to accept: God created the universe to appear old, but it is really very young.

So the universe looks 13.8 billion years old, but really she’s only 29 (or 6000–she’s still flattered).

It may sound preposterous on its face, but the argument goes like this:
-When God created Adam, Eve, the animals and the plants, they were mature enough to reproduce (Gen. 1:11, 22, 28).
-Thus, it is not surprising that God created the rest of the universe to look old.

This kind of argument has big problems. The biggest is the fact that it is an argument ad ignorantium–an argument from ignorance. There is no possible way that someone can prove God created the world this way.

Epistemologically, the argument is completely useless even if it were true. Think about it. For the sake of illustration, let’s pretend that you are 50 years old. What if God actually created the universe just 1 year ago. One year ago today, God created the space-time continuum, Earth, all the people on earth, and you. But you look 50. You still have memories of your past 10, 20, 30, 40 years of life already, even though those memories didn’t actually happen. Everyone else in the universe was created the same way and at the same time. They were also created one year ago, but have no perception of it. God created all things to appear as if they have existed for a long, long time.

If this scenario were true, how old would you be? Would you be one year old, or fifty?

Well, you would be fifty. God made you to be fifty. All the evidence in the universe points to the fact that you are fifty. Scientific research says that you are fifty. Your friends tell you that you are fifty. Every ontological bit of evidence in the created universe points to the fact that you are fifty (because it was created to show that).

But aren’t you really only one year old? No! God is the one who made you one year ago with all your perceptions and knowledge which proves beyond a shadow of doubt that you are fifty.

Now this gets to my point. What if God created the universe 6000 years ago but made it appear in every way shape and form to be 13.8 billion years old?

Well, then it is 13.8 billion years old.

You may say, “No, it only appears to be that old!”
But if God created it to be old…then it is OLD! Its ontology is old, so it is old. It doesn’t simply appear old, it is old!

You see, the “universe only appears old” argument goes nowhere. Even if it is correct–even if God created the cosmos to appear old, then there would be no other way for us to see it.
You might as well say that the world is only one year old and God created it to look much older. There is no direct evidence to support that, so it cannot be affirmed. It is a useless argument.

This is a little heady, but hopefully you see my point.

Categories: Creation, Evolution, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Good Parent Condescends, God Does too

You probably won’t answer your son as elaborately as the dad in this commercial, but I wonder if you condescended in a similar way when your 4-year old asks where babies come from. Why do you do that? Why don’t you just come on out and talk about sexual intercourse and all the things around it? Well–duh!–he’s four years old! It wouldn’t be appropriate for him to learn about all the aspects of human sexuality (which you, of course, have mastered)! I’m not a child psychologist but I think I know why you might do it:

-For one thing, he won’t really understand what you’re talking about.
-It will introduce him to concepts that are either inappropriate or irrelevant to his current lifestyle (let’s hope!).
-Also, he might not be emotionally ready for full-disclosure on the topic.

So maybe you’ll just be as vague as possible. That’s a safe move. You don’t want to bring out the textbooks and talk anatomy. You don’t want to use dolls for any illustrative purposes. You’d rather not use specific terms. The main thing you try to do is condescend to your son. You want to put complex matters into understandable terms. And why would you do such a thing to your son? Are you trying to lie to him? Confuse him?

Just the opposite, actually. You want to answer his questions in a way that is relevant to his life experiences and his current mental acumen. This is a little heavier than working with fractions and pie charts, after all.

As you explain some things, you’re holding back. You’re not being dishonest or deceptive. You are giving him the amount of information that he can handle. He uses some terms that are not technically correct, but you’ll overlook that and actually use his terminology to communicate the main point clearly. As he grows up, you’ll talk about these things more and correct some of his misconceptions.

So we condescend to our children because we love them and want them to understand matters that are relevant to their current situation.

In the same way, God the Father is the best dad of all (Matt. 7:11) and condescended to answer people’s questions. The ancient Hebrews wondered where they came from and where they were going. God answered with the creation narrative–Gen. 1-3. The Hebrews weren’t asking questions about science–at the time, nobody was! So God answers their questions in ancient symbols that they would understand. He could have told them how old the earth was. He could have described the creation in much more scientific detail. He could have explained how there could be light before any sun existed, or how a day could pass before the sun even existed (Gen. 1:14). But apparently, those things didn’t matter to the Hebrews.

Instead they asked, “Are we special?” And God said that he created them in His image and ordained them to rule the earth in his place. They learned that they are included in a divine struggle between the serpent and God. They learned that their disobedience leads to separation from God. They learned that sacrifice would be necessary to cover their shame before the Almighty. God was answering their questions based on the terms and knowledge they had. That’s what a good dad does. God condescends, he does not lie.

Categories: Biblical Studies, Creation, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SBC and Evolution: Dembski’s Unclear and Misleading Remarks

English: Vectorized Southern Baptist Conventio...

English: Vectorized Southern Baptist Convention logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few posts ago I jotted down some thoughts regarding Ken Keathley’s concerns over evolutionary thought.  His was the first post in an ongoing series, dialogue between Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) scholars and the theistic evolutionists hosted at Biologos.  The second SBC scholar post was by the esteemed and highly educated William Dembski, who has degrees from the University of Chicago and Princeton Theological Seminary, having completed some post-doctoral work at MIT.  His post is called “Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?” (Part 1 and Part 2) It is obvious that Dembski is a bright guy, so I’m surprised that his paper really doesn’t seem to prove much of anything that people familiar with the evolution-theology conversation don’t already know!  It is, instead, a confusing and misleading read.

His first statement is the following: “Is Darwinism theologically neutral? The short answer would seem to be No.”  In his last paragraph which summarizes his  overall argument, guess what he concludes:  “To sum up, Darwinism and Christianity, even when generously construed, exhibit significant tensions. Are these tensions so serious that Darwinism may rightly be regarded as not theologically neutral? I would say the tensions are indeed that serious.”  Are you surprised?  I know this may seem cynical of me, but I really don’t understand the point of the article overall.  At the beginning of his argument, it’s pretty clear to him that Darwinism isn’t theologically neutral.  At the end of the paper, he concludes that Darwinism isn’t neutral.  I don’t think the paper as a whole really takes us anywhere.

I’m also bothered that Dembski continually calls anything dealing with evolution “Darwinism” as if theistic evolutionists are really “theistic Darwinists”.  I’ve said it before, I am not a scientist, but even I am aware that the evolution that Darwin described is a different animal (pardon the pun) than the evolution that most scientists and theologians discuss today.  It’s also pretty common knowledge that Darwinism is a pejorative term creationists often use ad hominem to suggest that someone is a naturalist.  Just because one believes that evolution is a fact, it does not mean that he also believes that God had no hand in it, or that God was not necessary in the process.  The conversation about evolution-theology is much more dynamic than Dembski suggests.

Let me give you a very small taste of what I mean.  The following is an excerpt from Philip Hefner’s entry “Evolution” in The Encyclopedia of Christianity (2:228-29):

“Just as evolution is itself a multifaceted idea, so it is expressed, both within the natural sciences and in other disciplines, in a variety of distinctive, compatible ways. It is not sufficient to relate the idea of evolution exclusively to biology and the work of Charles Darwin (1809–82). Evolutionary ideas are perennial, particularly the ideas of change and emergence, which go back to certain strands of ancient Greek philosophy and classical Christian theologians such as Gregory of Nazianzus and  Augustine. They were certainly present in the 18th century in the geological writings of James Hutton (1726–97), who propounded uniformitarian processes of change, as well in certain theories of history, literature, and culture” (emphasis mine).

You see, equating Darwinism with all evolutionary thought is not at all fair because there are many more approaches to evolution, and they don’t all have to do with Darwin.  That’s why I just can’t see the purpose behind Dembski’s paper.  I don’t even think it’s relevant to the current evolution-theology discussion.  In fact, I think it vilifies the theologians who prefer an evolutionary model of creation, one that God was ultimately driving (not even Falk, who responds to Dembski, considers himself a Darwinist!)

Here’s another example from Dembski’s paper that disturbs me: “Those who embrace Darwin and his ideas regard him and Christ as compatible.”  Boy, that’s unclear.  Does he mean evolution or Darwinism?  And also, what exactly does he mean that they embrace Darwin and Christ?  Does he mean religiously?  It seems that what he’s getting at has to do with naturalism verses Christianity.  I wish he’d just say that.

And then there’s this: Dembski’s first example of someone who reconciles Christianity and evolution is  Michael Ruse, the writer of the book Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?  According to Dembski, “Ruse claims Darwinism compatible with Christianity, but by Christianity he means a liberalism gutted of miracles.”  Well that’s terrible!  Just what kind of Christian can Ruse be?

Ruse is an atheist.   Funny isn’t it?  I thought the writer of such a book would be a Christian.  Didn’t you assume that too?  Well, it’s not true.  And for some mysterious reason, Dembski fails to mention Ruse’s lack of faith.  That’s an important part of this conversation, don’t you think?

There are many other points to be made (like his strange list of non-essentials for Christians pitted against those of Darwinists, or that tired old argument that evolutionists can’t believe in the actual resurrection of Christ), but Darrel Falk’s response is a more than adequate response.  Let me just say that, on the one hand, I’m glad that the SBC scholars are willing to have this dialogue in the first place.  On the other hand, these first two articles are a disappointment.  These guys are not playing ball, they are just throwing stones.  If the SBC really wants to have a voice in this conversation, they must fairly deal with the basic talking points; but so far, all I see is that they either can’t or won’t.  Both are unbecoming for Christian scholars.

Categories: Creation, Evolution, SBC | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Southern Baptist Voices”: Keathley’s Points of Concern

Hospital Point Range, Beverly, Massachusetts, ...

A friend of mine pointed out a dialogue that the theistic evolution website BioLogos had begun with some Southern Baptist scholars called “Southern Baptist Voices.”  Since I am a former Southern Baptist and have recently accepted a more evolutionary point of view, I thought I’d comment a little on the main points. Although, the great Biologos response can be found here and here.

The first SBC scholar to write on the Biologos series was Kenneth Keathley (part 1 and part 2).  It’s no surprise that most Southern Baptists do not accept the theory of evolution, and Keathley give s six main reasons why they have chosen not to reconcile evolutionary thinking with their reading of Scripture.  See my comments after each of his main points.

“1. Concerns about theological method: Christians cannot do theology in a vacuum. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that theology is never done in a vacuum, and we should not pretend that it is. And the BioLogos Foundation is correct in arguing that evangelicals cannot ignore the latest advances in biology, geology, and other related fields. Our goal should be more than merely finding a way to reconcile Genesis with the latest discoveries in genetics. Rather, our task as pastors and theologians is to present a theology of Creation that provides a solid worldview for Christians to work in the natural sciences with integrity for the glory of God.”

At first glance, there is no charge against BioLogos at all; but when you reread it, you find a passive accusation that BioLogos cares more about science than theological truth.  I think it is proper that this is Keathley’s first comment because it is the feeling that I get from others when I have conversations about reconciling the Bible with evolutionary thought.  I appreciate Keathley’s honesty, but isn’t there a little ad hominem here?  It sounds a little like  he doesn’t trust theistic evolutionists because they put science over God’s Word.  That’s just not the case.

“2. Genesis has only so much hermeneutical elasticity: Genre and hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) have always been difficult topics. In the early days of the church, from Basil of Caesarea to Augustine, scholars struggled with the proper way to understand the creation account in Genesis. Lately, however, the concordist and non-concordist approaches to the first 11 chapters of Genesis seem to be of unending and ever-increasing variety and complexity. Theistic evolutionists have contributed to the conversation. Certain evolutionary creationists ask us to accept more and more fanciful interpretations of Genesis.”

So Genesis has been elastic enough to handle the many theological approaches throughout history…but not those dealing with evolution?  I don’t think that flies, especially since his earlier point acknowledged that Christians ought to keep up with the latest in scientific advances.  If those advances inform us about the creation and development of the world, are we supposed to turn a blind eye to it because Genesis can’t take it?   (The conflict between church and science during the Copernican Revolution comes to mind here, too) Evolutionary thought actually opens up Genesis 1-3 to new interpretations that might actually get us closer to the original writer’s intent (not to imply that the author had any knowledge whatsoever about modern science).  But it appears that Keathley is not even willing to consider it because it would require interpretations that are, in his mind, too far-fetched.

“3. The connection between natural history and salvation history: This seems to be a (maybe, the) major area of disagreement between evolutionary creationists and intelligent design proponents.”

Yes, this can be a challenge.  Natural history from an evolutionist’s point of view is that random occurrences led to patterns and eventually life (forgive me, this is a very broad description).  But providence, as I understand it, means that God directs all of the seemingly chaotic matters in the world so that they work the way he wants them to.  To be fair, Keathley expects this answer: “Evolutionary creationists understand God to have guided and sustained the entire process by means of ordinary providence.  No direct divine activity is discernible or necessary.”  I’m finding that there is some truth to that.  But he goes a step further, “. . . salvation history is discontinuous. It contains many moments in which the events that occur can be understood only as special, unique actions of God.”  There’s another unspoken accusation: We believe that God does miracles , but how can the theistic evolutionist if he is a naturalist?  Well, I do believe in miracles, and I know others that do too.  The most important one would be the resurrection of Christ.  Acceptance of evolution does not necessarily make one a straight-up naturalist who denies God does any miracles.

 “4. The status of Adam and Eve: Evolutionary creationists appear to disagree among themselves about whether or not Adam was a historical figure. Some, such as Denis Lamoureux, declare Adam to be a mythical character. Others (Denis Alexander comes to mind) view Adam as representative of the first Neolithic farmers with whom God entered into a relationship.”

Interpretation of Genesis 1-3 has always been problematic.  Case in point: a talking snake, and Eve doesn’t flip out when he speaks, though no other animal appears to.  These matters among many others have led people to question if the Garden of Eden event was a historical event–if Adam and Eve existed at all.  And Keathley is right about it being debate among evolutionary creationists, but it doesn’t have to jeopardize orthodox thinking.  Most of these folks are honestly trying to int

Categories: Creation, Evolution, Theology | 1 Comment

Faith of the Christian; Faith of the Scientist

An illustration of a character from a story; a...

An illustration of a character from a story; also, an illustration of illustrations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does the Christian have the same kind of faith the scientist has?  Maybe if they go to the same church, but otherwise, I’d say no.

The argument goes like this:

At the end of the day, the scientist who boasts evolution has the same faith that the Christian creationist does.  Since no one beheld the creation of the world, both the Christian and the scientist have to have  faith in their own explanations of how the world came into existence.  Simply put, evolutionists have faith just like creationist do.  Or maybe: atheists have faith similar to that of theists.

I used to use this argument a lot to get evolutionists to admit that their conclusions were no different than my former creationist ones.  I even used this argument to further conclude that the atheist evolutionist was being just as religious as I, since his conclusions were also based on faith.  Since he wasn’t there at creation, he’s just guessing how things came into being.  But it frustrated me how often my argument didn’t work!  Here’s the heart of the problem: What do you mean by faith?

Here are the basic definitions for faith (COED, 11th ed.).

  1. complete trust or confidence.

  2. strong belief in a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.

Notice that the two definitions are distinct.  Let’s use them both here:

1. Atheist/evolutionists have complete trust or confidence in their conclusions just like Christian/creationists have complete trust and confidence in their conclusions.

2. Atheist/evolutionists have a strong belief in religion, based on spiritual conviction just like        Christian/creationists have a strong belief in religion, based on spiritual conviction.

Do you see the problem? If faith means definition #1, then the statement really doesn’t affirm anything remarkable.  You’re confident in your system and I’m confident in mine.  So what?  Further, it doesn’t solve any problem at all, it just hurls us back into a debate over which side best handles the burden of proof.  We might as well discuss our ‘faith’ in our favorite football team.  Such faith is only proven when the Crimson Tide easily dismantles LSU in the national championship.

…but I digress.

If faith means definition #2, then the statement accuses the atheist of a strong belief in religion based on spiritual conviction.  The Christian would be accusing the atheist of being just as religious a person.  But the atheist is not burning candles to saints, he’s not devoting himself to an hour of prayer each day, nor is he trying

to have a relationship with any deity.  He’s coming to conclusions based on his own studies.  Those conclusions might be wrong.  Only then will he re-evaluate.  Christians do the same thing.  A crisis of faith can lead to a paradigm shift and modification of theological thinking.

03.365 (02.08.2009) Faith

03.365 (02.08.2009) Faith (Photo credit: hannahclark)

But here’s the big difference.  Part of the reason Christians believe in the triune God is because of their personal experience with Christ.  That experience also influences the way they see the world.  Christians grow as they continue to interact with the Bible,other Christians, and God.  This is a worshipful activity, a religious enterprise.Science is not a religious enterprise.  It looks at empirical evidence and makes conclusions based  it.  Scientists (evolutionists included) may be Christians, but relating their work to religious activity is a misrepresentation of their efforts.  Sure, they have faith (confidence) in their conclusions but there is no mysticism involved.

I also think that some people actually mean this:

Atheist/evolutionists have confidence in their conclusions just like Christian/creationists have a strong belief in religion, based on spiritual conviction.

Technically they would be right.  But of course, the definitions are different; so it amounts to a word game or rhetorical trick.

Categories: Creation, Evolution, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Different Approach May Help Us

People have started looking at me differently since my last post. A few can’t help but think that I’ve denied the Gospel itself.  Let me make this clear: I’ve made this move because of several reasons.  One is because it does a better job affirming the gospel in our current culture.  I’ve heard many sermons at numerous churches rejecting evolutionary thought as a heresy that voids the Gospel altogether.

It reminds me of a conversation that I’ve had with a Bible professor a few years ago.  When I mentioned that people who believe in evolution feel blacklisted at church, he told me that he’d never heard that before and didn’t feel that was the case.  I didn’t respond because I didn’t have the hard evidence at my fingertips, but I can tell you that I have read several blogs in which the writer asked his/her audience a similar question.  A large number of the respondents agreed that they felt that they would be ostracized if they made their scientific views known to the leaders of the church.  I’ve also personally witnessed conversations where church membership depended on a literal view of Adam and Eve.  More than once people have whispered to me about their evolutionary thinking in church hallways, afraid that the wrong person might overhear.

These issues have frustrated me for a long time.  Even when I thought that

Portrait of Francis S. Collins.

Portrait of Francis S. Collins. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adam and Eve were historical figures, it bothered me that even church membership depended on it in some cases.  How do these folks account for Francis Collins?Collins converted in part because of a personal experience he had with a patient in a hospital.  He believes in the evolutionary theory but also firmly trusts in Christ for his salvation.  We shouldn’t think that his conversion is worthless, should we?

So here’s my question.  Is belief in Adam required for salvation? Some say “yes!” But I’d like to challenge that idea.  When your pastor presents the Gospel in church, how many times does Adam come up? I’ll bet you that most of the time he doesn’t!  When someone presents the Gospel person to person, is Adam mentioned in the conversation?  Most times, he isn’t!  In fact, how many Gospel tracts have you seen that make a big deal about Adam at all?  This may be a trite point, but it has significant implications.  It is not my belief in a literal Adam that saves me and makes me right with God.  Rather, it is my hope and trust in Christ’s work on the cross and his resurrection that move me to repentance.  My hope in Christ is what drives my faith; my trust in Christ that is the foundation of my belief.  I still believe in a literal Christ, his literal death and resurrection.

Further, I affirm the Ecumenical Creeds of the Church.  And yet, Adam doesn’t appear in them either! Do you see what I’m getting at here?

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that my revised thoughts on Adam do a better job affirming the gospel in our current environment.  And I think it really does.

Resurrection Window (Matthew 28:1-5)

Resurrection Window (Matthew 28:1-5) (Photo credit: jdwarrick)

Think about it with me for a minute.  How many kids go off to college rejecting evolutionary thinking and then graduate believing it.  As a consequence, some of them also reject their Christian faith.  Now, we may try to blame the professors for that, but for the most part, professors are just doing their job (though I have no doubt some are just hostile to religious ideas altogether).  I think much of the blame falls at the feet of Christian leaders who feel that the Church is at war with modern scientific ideas.  A number of them insist that if anyone begins to believe things like “evolution,” that person’s faith is in jeopardy, or even doomed.  Frankly, professors don’t have to attack Christianity.  Since certain religious leaders have drawn a large, imaginary line between evolution and Christianity when the Christian steps into the realm of evolution, he thinks he has just abandoned the Faith!  He can either try to cruise under the radar in church, hoping that no one brings up the “E” word, or he can accept what his pastor always taught him: If Adam never existed, then there is no need for Christ, the resurrection, or even Christianity!So why don’t we take a different approach?  Why not recognize different readings and approaches to Genesis 1-3?  Teach the people in our churches that the Gospel does not rise and fall on Adam; its foundation is the teachings, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  Folks need to know that there are people in the world like Francis Collins, who recognize evolution and believe in the resurrection of Christ.  One does not have to negate the other.

Categories: Creation, Evolution, Practical, Theology | 23 Comments

I Am Not a Scientist.

Recently, I have accepted the evolutionary perspective on human origins, much to the chagrin of several of my friends.  You see, I come from a theologically conservative perspective, so this is a big move for me.  But I suppose that other things have helped prime the pump, not necessarily making it easy to accept evolution per se, but making it easier to accept unpopular ideas.  My views of salvation and sovereignty are Calvinistic, which has been a strike against me in many circles.  I’ve also believed the scriptures allow (even promote!) the consumption of alcohol.  Strike two!  I’ve lived in the southeast most of my life committed to the Southern Baptist tradition.  By and large, Baptists in my region do not accept these two views.  (Why so many still praise the drinking, smoking, Calvinist boy preacher of renown, Charles Spurgeon, is a mystery to me!)  But even these ideas have some acceptance.  I suppose the fact that they’ve been debated for such a long time is one reason.  But evolution is a relative newcomer compared to these.

How is it that I’ve accepted evolution as the most likely explanation for human origins?  Here’s the most basic reason:  I’m not a scientist.

That’s it.

I’ve spent the past several years pursuing a professional theological education.  I’ve read lots of books and a ton of theological articles, publishing some of my own. I’ve written many papers, book reviews, journals, and taken several examinations so that professors could evaluate my thinking.  I’m glad to say that I’ve made it through that training, and that work has little to do with biology.  It gives me clout as a theologian and Biblical scholar, but not as a scientist.  Now, I do read the scientific articles written by some scientists, but that doesn’t make me an expert in their field.  I do,however, understand how ancient literature works, how it takes on the characteristics of the surrounding culture, and how it shows that God uses these characteristics to speak relevantly to the historical audience.  All of these things combined helped lead me to my new position.  It’s the best position I know.

It compels me to appreciate academic study in all fields.  It leads me to honor the biologist’s studies just as I expect him to respect my research in an entirely different field.  If I want to have an impact on my scientist friends, then I need to respect the countless hours of work they have done in their own fields.  They are involved in their chosen field because they love it; the same reason I pursue mine.

I have heard some religious leaders accuse scientists of falsifying evidence to prove erroneous points.  I have no doubt that this happens…just like in the church, or in government, or in the family, etc.  Such things happen everywhere and don’t jeopardize the main goals of an organization.  I have also heard that scientists cannot comprehend the truth because their minds are spiritually darkened.  But there are a lot of Christian scientists who would take exception to that.  And, again, some of the deepest spiritual darkness can be found in the church.

If the church doesn’t start respecting the scientific community, how does it expect to reach them with the Gospel?  The ‘anti-scientist’ Gospel invitation sounds like “Come to Christ, you dummies!”  or maybe “Come to Jesus, you incompetent scientists!” I think the Gospel call sounds more like this, “You’re a sinner like the rest of us, come to Christ.”

So I’m not a scientist.  I’m okay with that.  And in my own professional opinion, we all need the Gospel.

Categories: Creation, Theology | 12 Comments

How the Ancient Cookie Crumbles

cook•ie  n. 1. A small, usually flat and crisp cake made from sweetened dough (American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd ed. 1996).

Half a dozen home-made cookies. Ingredients: b...

Half a dozen home-made cookies. Ingredients: butter, flour, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Français : Demie-douzaine de cookies fait-maison. Ingrédients: beurre, farine, sucre en poudre, œufs, vanille, soda, sel et grain de chocolat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When someone mentions cookies, I get hungry.  Even if I’ve just finished up at a Chinese buffet, I ask if I can have one.  I prefer chocolate chip, if you’ve got ’em, and freshly baked.  If not…I’ll take one anyway.  And I must say, raisins in a cookie is always a disappointment!  I’ve been eating cookies for as long as I can remember.  Growing up, I experienced all sorts of phenomenon around cookies, and I loved all of it.  I, too, freaked out like Cookie Monster in front of a bunch of chocolate chip cookies!  When I saw a massive oak tree in the woods, I sometimes thought that elves might baking some snacks inside (probably not the best place to cook things).  And don’t get me started about Oreos!  There was whole culture around cookies that is still going strong.  During the 1980s, there were only two recognized definitions for the word.  One had to do with this wonderful snack that made me add notches to my belt, the other was a slang use of the term (“She’s one smart cookie!”).

cookie ■ noun

4 Computing a packet of data sent by an Internet server to a browser and used to identify the user or track their access to the server (Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 11th ed. 2004).

I’m older now, and there is a new kind of cookie on the block.  It’s the kind that works on my computer and the internet–the thing that collects basic information about you and the websites you visit.  I’m not as familiar with these cookies because I have only recently cared to understand them; and let’s face it, they haven’t a single chocolate chip.  I’m learning about these internet cookies because they have implication regarding my time on the internet.  To me, both the soft, delicious chocolate chip cookie and the ice-cold string of internet-based text have relevance to my daily life.  They are a part of two cultures: culinary and technological.  I can work with both and understand what they represent, but I have a deeper connection with the one I stuff in my face than the one that is hidden in my hard drive.  I think that’s because I grew up with one and not the other.  I naturally absorbed the concept of edible cookies while I grew up.  The other one took time and work.

My father, on the other hand, has gotten on the internet maybe twice in his life.  As you can imagine, he has no idea what an internet cookie is because it has never been a part of his daily conversation or routine.  Since the internet has never been a part of his life, he may never know what an internet cookie is.  If I tried to have a conversation with him about them, he would have little interest because it has no direct bearing on his life.  I would mention a cookie and he would hand me an Oreo (I need to try that).  The internet has little to do with his culture, and so internet language has little meaning to him.

But I know what internet cookies are!  …sorta.  If you compare what I know to most teenagers, I’d be in the dark.  Many teens these days have grown up around and (in a way) in the internet.   The internet and computers are simply part of their daily lives.  So, I may be learning about it, but in many ways they have a better handle on it than I do.  To them, the internet may be the next thing to home.

culture noun  2  the customs, ideas, and social behaviour of a particular people or group (Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 11th ed. 2004).

Let’s take these concepts to Genesis 1-3.  Since it was written to an ancient people, the words and concepts were befitting to them.  It’s no coincidence that the Hebrews’ creation account parallels others from the ancient Near East.  They were quite familiar with the creation stories of their neighbors, so we should expect that they would use words and concepts found in those stories.  It was how they understood creation stories overall.

There are a few implications here.  First, a modern reader of the biblical creation account must read it in light of other ancient Near Eastern ideas in order to read it accurately.  People often force their own ideas on Genesis 1-3 without even knowing it, and one of the biggest problems is the imposition of modern scientific concepts onto the text.  As moderners, that is the way we think, but it is certainly not the way they thought. If we expect God to speak with any relevancy or meaning to his ancient audience, then the text must be replete with ancient concepts.  To put it another way, in order for the text to be relevent it must not be scientific.  When we assume that it is, we rob it of it’s original intended meaning.  It is like my father talking to me about cookies, and I assume that he means internet cookies.  He has no idea what internet cookies are and really doesn’t care, but I keep insisting that he does. You can imagine how frustrating that conversation would be to both of us!

The second point addresses a certain accusation that folks have brought against the Genesis creation account.  I have heard the flippant comment more than once: “The writers of the Bible just stole concepts from other ancient people to make their own creation story.”  But let’s not forget that all ancient Near Eastern creation stories have striking parallels!  They didn’t steal from each other.  Rather, the concepts were common to Mesopotamian culture.  Just as the youth these days are automatically familiar with computer terms without even trying, so was any ancient Near Easterner automatically familiar with creation myth concepts from his neighbors.

I really appreciate John Walton’s works which have helped me recognize a similar idea.  The video below makes one of his points, that the Hebrews weren’t as concerned with how they were created from a scientific/material point of view.  Instead, they were interested about which god created them and for what purpose.  They wanted to know why things in their world were so messed up and why YHWH was so good to them.  When we read the text trying to find a scientific point, we are looking for internet cookies while the text only mentions chocolate chips.

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Must Adam Exist? Part 2

A responsible Bible interpreter is sensitive to the historical context of any given scripture passage. Those who hold to the doctrine of inspiration understand that God didn’t robotically push and pull the hands of the writers. Rather, through the mystery of His sovereign will, he moved them to write what he wanted, utilizing the distinctions of their personalities and cultural norms. Since those ancient writers were writing to an ancient audience, we understand when we see the following mentioned in scripture:

-The earth is upon pillars (“[God] shakes the earth out of its place; so that its pillars tremble.” Job 9:6 [cf. Ps 75:3])

-The heavens are also on pillars (“The pillars of the heavens tremble and are amazed at his rebuke.” Job 26:11 [cf. 2 Sam. 22:8])

-The earth rests upon a foundation (“Where were you; when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding!” Job 38:4; [cf. Ps. 104:5])

-The netherworld exists, and it’s underground (“Even if they could dig down into the netherworld [Sheol]; my hand would pull them up from there. Even if they could climb up to heaven; I would drag them down from there.” Amos 9:2. [cf. Ps. 139:8])

The Ancient Hebrew Conception of the Universe--Michael Paukner

The book of Job speaks of the foundations of the earth, that it has pillars upon which it stands, as do the heavens. Amos mentioned heaven as the highest place and spoke of digging down into the deepest place–the “netherworld”–in the same breath. The psalmist marveled at how the Lord could take the four corners of the earth in hand and shake the very ground under our feet. These are just a few examples of how the scripture reflects and interacts with ancient cultures and ideas. As God inspired the writers, he could have led them to write on a level that we would have found more palatable in our modern scientific era. The book of Job could have said that God placed the earth in its orbit and established the heavens around it. Amos could have put a footnote on his comment about the netherworld, stating that there really isn’t a place underground where the dead live out eternity. The psalmist could have put in Hebraic parentheses “I’m just being poetic here!” (there are no parentheses in Classical Hebrew, but if there were…!).

But that’s not realistic. Instead, God interacted with ancient people using ideas common to the ancient world. Scientifically verifiable statements written to such an old world would have been wholly irrelevant to a pre-scientific culture. The writers of scripture were ancient people, and the Holy Spirit moved through them to reveal eternal truths by using pre-scientific conceptions of reality.

The Apostle Paul, too, was an ancient writer who had a pre-scientific awareness of reality. Therefore, we would expect that his theology assumed that Adam was literally the first human being God created.

In my previous post, I described some of Peter Enns’s new book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, and I found it a challenging yet enlightening read. He shows how one might reconcile the ideas of evolution with the creation account of the Bible. He argues that Adam may have never existed at all. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to this position is Paul’s view of a literal Adam. Paul’s theology about Christ seems to rest on his understanding about how sin and death entered the world. Paul stated that Adam’s disobedience introduced sin and death to the world. In contrast, because of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection, we might all have victory over that sin and death.

So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned (Romans 5:12)

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. (1 Cor. 15:21)

Enns makes a very good point here. In the Old Testament, we don’t find the doctrine of depravity or Original Sin as presented in the New Testament. The Hebrew Bible does not highlight the sin of Adam as the bringer of death to the whole world, but Paul (in the New Testament) does. Why? Because that theology was common among the Jewish community during Paul’s lifetime. The idea that Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden developed during the intertestamental period and was a part of the way people thought in Paul’s day. Paul was interacting with the theology of his day. In his own experiences, he had seen how Christ brought forgiveness of sin and victory over death. Based on an ancient yet normative understanding of Adam, Paul proved both of those points. Christ physically resurrected from the dead, and showed that those faithful to Christ would be forgiven of sins.

Saint Paul, Byzantine ivory relief, 6th – earl...

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Paul was an ancient man, who thought that Adam was also a real man. That was a cultural reality in his lifetime, and so to be culturally relevant, God interacted with those concepts to reveal eternal truths. Just like he did through those who wrote about the pillars of the earth, the netherworld, and the corners of the world. These concepts are not scientifically accurate, but we excuse them because they were culturally relevant at the time. In these cases, the theology is correct–scientific truth is not the point! Similarly, Paul’s use of Adam is not scientifically accurate, but we excuse it because it was culturally relevant in his day. The theology is correct–scientific truth is not the point! So, an evolutionary view does no violence to good theology.

Peter Enns’s book has helped me a great deal (Thanks a lot Dr. Enns!). It’s challenged me to grow, giving me a new theological paradigm. I’ve got to say, it is not a comfortable or easy shift for me to make (…thanks a lot, Dr. Enns!). I’m very uncomfortable even posting this entry, but feel it is necessary to codify my new position. I’ve had to remodel my theology in an important way. I’m very happy with the results but I’m certain folks within my own theological circles will not approve. Still, I think that’s the way personal/theological growth goes.

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Some Kind of Adam Existed

Did Adam and Eve really exist? A great question if you’re considering different approaches to the Bible‘s creation account. C. John Collins has taught at Covenant Seminary for nearly twenty years, so he writes from a conservative/traditional perspective that supports the Westminster Confession and, of course, inerrancy.  I found his tone pastoral and kind as he honestly and practically addressed a hot topic in biblical studies today.

In the preface, Collins states that the book would propose an argument that defends a form of the traditional argument for Adam and Eve’s existence, recognizing the tension between more literalist views and those that recognize evolutionary models. He rejects “concordism”–the view that the Bible’s report of an event can be reconciled with modern scientific conclusions. Instead, he recognizes that Genesis 1-3 is an ancient retelling of something historical.  It is a form of “pre-history,” that uses ancient symbols and terms to describe an actual event.  The story is theologically instructive, but is not as precise as we moderners would expect. Since a more standard method of recording/reporting history did not arrive until about the fifth century BCE with the arrival of Herodotus, we should expect no less than a proto-history model from Genesis 1-3.

I really enjoyed Collins’s overview of the positions on Genesis 1-3.  I also appreciate the fact that he considers the scientific positions of some scientists and their studies, but he makes it clear that some of the data is inaccessible to him (118), which I take to mean that he’s recognizing that his understanding of it is limited.  He takes on the possibility that, according to biological and archeological studies, there may not have been a single couple that were the first humans, but groups of hominoids that were developing in different places around the world gradually developed into human beings.  Of course, this is difficult to reconcile with the biblical creation account, and Collins steers clear of it.  His criteria for “sound thinking” (which I think means traditional biblical thinking) states that there must have been some point in history where God moved on a particular hominoid, bestowing upon him the ‘image of God’.  There must also have been a singular event that we call the Fall, when sin and spiritual death cursed the world.  Genesis does not have to be precise in its description (it is ancient literature, after all), but the broad strokes of the picture must have been historically true.  To his credit, Collins gives a great deal of wiggle room for interpreting Genesis 1-3.  As I said before, his tone is kind, but some of his terms are loaded.  When he calls his own points the criteria to stay within “sound thinking” (120), I raise an eyebrow.

Intaglio,, copperplate print (KJV) 1631 Holy B...

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Collins gives a great overview of several views on the creation account favoring, among others, Greg Beale’s comparison of it to the Hebrew temple–that God made the universe to be a sanctuary and cosmic worship center.  He cites John Walton more than once, giving some praise and some criticism.  He agrees with Walton that Genesis 1-3 taught a unique Hebrew world view, but seems to indicate that Walton dismisses a distinction between natural and supernatural events in the Bible (Collins, 108n5; Walton, The Lost World of Geneis One, 16-22).  Collins suggests that Walton betrays his position when he affirms evolution overall, but suggests that God acted directly when forming Adam and Eve (Walton, Lost World, 139).  I think Collins misses the point here.  Walton’s proposal was that the ancient writer would not be able to make a distinction between natural and supernatural events like the modern person does almost every day.  But such distinctions are fair game for modern readers who make these distinctions all the time.  So, there’s no need to call foul on Walton when he makes a scientific distinction as a modern reader of an ancient text.

Collins also takes a poke at one of Peter Enns‘s comments in his earlier book Inspiration and Incarnation, where Enns writes that myth, “is an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and maning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?”  Collins accuses Enns of triumphalism: “it seems to imply that we in the modern scientific world are more sophisticated than the ancients.  This overlooks the astounding achievements of ancient peoples in the areas that we would call mathematics and engineering” (29).

No, it doesn’t.  Enns is not saying that ancient people are incompetent.  Instead, he’s actually affirming that they were using literary methods which were common to that era.  The writer of Genesis was using the highest level of cutting-edge literary techniques.  They were as Enns says: “premodern” and “prescientific”.  Enns was not criticizing, he was defining myth (which is not an easy task!).  I fear that Collins used a classic straw-man argument here.  What’s more, Collins’s book ultimately argues something similar to what Enns’s quote affirms, that the creation account is “prehistory” and “protohistory” (57).  Collins states that the facts of Adam and Eve were shrouded in the “mists of antiquity” (57).  Later, he affirms C. S. Lewis‘s view, which Collins admits is mythic (128-29) but does not condemn Lewis with triumphalism.

Collins’s book is very helpful and an easy read for the most part.  As my title here suggests, he gives a green light to many interpretive approaches to Genesis 1-3 as long as they affirm the basic points it makes.  There was a literal Adam at some point in history and there was a literal Fall.  I like his approach to the biblical text, but I think his handling of the scientific evidence is lacking.

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