Correspondence: Teaching Science and Creation
July 25---August 29, 2008
Hello, my name is Melissa. I am an American missionary serving with a church planting team in Northern Italy.
This fall I will be facilitating a study that addresses science and creation. I will only have seven sessions in which to present my students with an introduction to a topic that deserves a lifetime of study. I am the first to admit that this is not my area of expertise and I am leaning heavily on the experience and scholarship of others who specialize in these fields by seeking out books and articles that address the arguments from both scientific and philosophical/theological viewpoints. I feel up to the challenge of presenting the philosophical/theological issues, having received my bachelor's degree in theology; however, I am not confident in the realm of science. I am thankful to have found a number of books that address these issues.
As I have begun to research the topics I have been somewhat disappointed...while I don’t have enough knowledge to critique the scientific observations of various people working in the creation science camp, the prevailing writing style has a sort of “I’m drinking the Koolaid” feel to it. On the other hand, I have read some articles by Paul H. Seely, and others like him, and their approach comes across as “intellectually honest”, an approach, I admit, that appeals to me, but I find myself unable to embrace many of their conclusions. It was in one of his articles that I came across your name and hence found your website. I need iron to sharpen iron. I need to ask someone questions who is equipped to respond and will do so honestly and thoughtfully. My sole desire in this situation is to handle correctly the Word of God and to do honor to the scientific tradition by which some of my students may draw close to the God of Creation.
I can understand (am even somewhat sympathetic towards) concordists that desire to associate with the days (yom) reported in the Genesis creation account eras of time that can, in some way, and according to different models, be interpreted so as to align themselves with some aspects of evolutionary theory.
While I find it difficult to completely accept Gerald Schroeder's model it is the most convincing I have yet to come across, but rests on the reliability of the theory of "universe in expansion" and I have come across a great deal of critique of that theory.
I also find helpful C.S. Lewis's imagery in "Mere Christianity" regarding God and time..."if human time is linear, a line drawn on a piece of paper, God is the entire sheet of paper" and I feel quite open to the idea that time, at least as we comprehend it, doesn't appear to have been "created" until the 4th day so evolutionists that apply actualistic standards for measuring things that are purported to have been created prior to the 4th day of creation seem, at best, suspect.
I feel, based, no doubt, one would say, on my protestant, faith-based presuppositions rooted in a historical-grammatical hermenutic, that the more allegorical approach to interpreting those texts, is, at best, problematic and highly unconvincing. In some cases the reasons for choosing such an approach seem downright backwards...arguing back from Science to boost the reputation, as it were, of Scripture seems unfortunate and unnecessary, though I find the history of how people have interpreted the Bible fascinating. Dr. McGraff's book "Christianity's Dangerous Idea" demonstrates how rooted some of Christianity's practices were in their local and immediate context, which appears to be part of his point in relating the story of William Paley in his book "Dawkin's God" as well. McGrath also quotes many godly men of Darwin's era as having initially accepted evolution as compatible with Scripture when it was first presented (maybe before the synthesis of so many disciples resulting in Neo-Darwinism?). Those who continue to accept it now appear to be doing the same thing as early Protestants and Paley, they are rooting their interpretation of Scripture in their time and social context whereas the Bible appears to relate a message that is for all time (transcendent). That being said there seems little doubt that the Gospel message and the Hebrew Law were designed to have an effect on how people lived their lives in intensely practical, everyday ways.
My understanding is that you think that carbon-14 dating is accurate only after the worldwide flood (is this a sort of catastrophism?) and that you date the flood between 9300 and 12,000 BC. Obviously these dates far over-reach the standard yec (Young Earth Chronology)chronology of 6,000 years, yet they seem, again, "intellectually honest". Mr. Seely appears to believe that the flood was large but localized, that is, not covering the face of the whole earth, but only the face of what biblical writers considered the whole earth according to their limited scientific knowledge. Mr. Seeley asserts that the flood was not universal: He says that there were other people on the face of the earth besides the eight after the flood and he bases this on radio-carbon dating done by archeologists. These people who were not effected by the flood were descendants of Adam but not of Noah and they inhabited the Americas, Australia and the Far East. From a theological perspective as long as they were descendants of Adam they would have a sin nature, but all of this reasoning seems to deeply wound the credibility of the biblical account.
Mr. Seely concludes one of his articles stating, “...Given that Scripture is accommodated to the science of the times, we would like to understand why it has been accommodated in this way. I believe one reason, as Calvin’s understanding of accommodation stressed, is that it facilitated communication of the theological truths being revealed.” Okay, but that which worked in its favor when it was written works to its detriment in the present. It reminds me of something my sister (unbelieving) said to me once, namely, if Jesus really wanted to reach people of our day shouldn’t he have come back a few more times and talked to different generations according to the “science of their times”? It’s not a bad question in light of reasoning like Seely’s. Is he saying that God was more interested in communicating his message only to the immediate audience and not to those who would come after? While some of the explanations of accommodation have merit the overall description is yet another crippling idea.
I personally don’t have a problem believing that God is able to create everything in 7, 24-hour days...I believe He is able. That said, I don’t have a problem accepting that yom (day) in Genesis could represent an interval of time, though I think it is stretching the word beyond all recognition to purport that those intervals might have been millions of years in length.
If, on any level, we accept the evolutionary timescales and the evolutionary idea in general, during which species were supposed to be forming, and dying and becoming extinct, being replaced by natural and sexual selection and evolving etc...Then how can we continue to say that Adam and Eve ushered death into the world by their sin? If we interpret Genesis 1 according to evolutionary timescales doesn't the theology of salvation teeter a bit if not crumble all together? "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23) appears to lose all meaning in such a context. An evolutionary timescale implies that death was active in the world long before man came on the scene. If this is the case then in effect God told Adam, who was going to die anyway, that he was going to die. Punishment doesn't get more anti-climatic than that. I feel after reading Seely’s articles that his understanding of the Gospel message is different than my own.
I want to be clear, I feel that the emphasis of the Genesis text is that we are created and being created means being accountable to the one who created us and the Bible tells us that we cannot, because of our sin, stand up to that kind of scrutiny by a Holy God, as Isaiah reports "all our righteousness is as filthy rags (64:6) so God, because he "so loves the world" (John 3:16) and doesn't want "anyone to perish" (2 Peter 3:19), put into motion his redemptive plan by which Christ might bear the penalty for our sin. To quote a well-written song, at that moment when we find ourselves before our Creator to give such an account, those who have accepted Christ will hear him say something to the effect of: "All his debts were cast on me so he must and shall go free." Those who have not accepted Christ will have to bear that scrutiny on their own according to their own “righteousness” which we have reason to believe, based on Scripture, will result in them being found wanting and without excuse. The image, followed to its conclusion, is painful no matter how you explain it, but it does seem to be at the core of the Bible's redemptive message. I tend to think of it in terms of God honoring his choice to give human beings complete freedom even if that freedom is the vehicle by which they reject him. God will honor the choice of those who choose Christ and they will remain with Christ forever enjoying an eternal reality governed by the attributes of God. God will equally honor the choice of those who do not choose Christ and they will be separated from him forever, not enjoying a reality absent of God's attributes.
The difficulty is that we don't clearly see in our world today the stark difference between those two choices because the presence of both good and evil are actively at play, at times one taking the upper hand but more often they counter and balance one another out, the result being that we are easily deceived. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting anything approaching a yin yang philosophy, I’m not saying that right and wrong are somehow combined, but that they are easily confused because we are, as it were “seeing through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
As Lewis says in "The Problem of Suffering": "It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in that kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature. The kind and degree may vary with the creature's nature, but that there ever could be any other good, is the atheistic dream...If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows...then we must starve eternally."
Real accountability to a real Creator, this is the crux of the Genesis account and for this reason I don't feel it necessary to point fingers or judge those who prefer differing interpretations of the text, but I do see a "domino effect" sort of danger that can potentially and seriously compromise the redemptive message. And if the redemptive message is not the heart of Scripture, a perspective difficult if not impossible to sustain after studying the Scriptures, then it becomes yet another book of morals. Even if Christ is the "best of all the moral teachers" as C.S. Lewis says, we would hardly have need of him, we could as easily or more easily follow the precepts of Confucious or Ghandi [or Nelson Mandella] and as a result live in a better, more moral world. The gospel loses all credibility and distinction divorced from its redemptive significance and redemption is married to the concept that sin has a wage and that wage is death and that death did not exist prior to Adam and Eve. For this reason, and it seems a very important reason, it seems imperative for the Christian to reject macro-evolutionary timescales and theory.
Please tell me what you think.
My wife (Helen) and I read your e-mail with considerable joy. We feel our hearts resonate with yours in a sincere desire to hear our Lord Jesus say "Well done thou good and faithful servant" when we have finished our race.
I don't know quite where to begin in trying to answer your e-mail. You have covered a lot of ground. So let me begin by saying that I am and will try to remain available to answer your specific Bible/science questions. I am trained as a scientist, not a theologian. My theological background stems from being a PK (pastor's kid) and having a Mom and Dad who not only taught me the Word from infancy but lived it too. I have spent my life searching out answers to the sorts of questions you are asking, in answer to God's call on my life, so I think God has not made my work visible to you accidentally.
I can't find much in your e-mail to disagree with. But what you have learned of my views from Mr. Seeley is no longer accurate. I date the Flood to 3520 B.C., and Creation to about 5200 B.C. Another difference: I do not personally find Gerald Schoeder's view to be very satisfying.
I am not personally too concerned to mesh science (as a human enterprise --- ever changing, as you have observed) and the Bible; my real interest is to mesh the physical creation with the Bible. Since both are from the one Creator God, they must both tell the same story about the past. My quest has been to determine at what date our understanding of these two first seems to diverge, looking back from the present, and then try to understand and resolve the source of that divergence. God has blessed with considerable success in this quest over the decades.
Your final paragraph (as 99% of your e-mail) I strongly agree with, right up to your final sentence: "For this reason, and it seems a very important reason, it seems imperative for the Christian to reject macro-evolutionary timescales and theory". I think this sentence results from a mistaken/truncated concept of the meaning of "created" in Genesis 1:1, common to most of Christianity today.
But I must close for now, as other needs and duties are pressing. Go to www.biblicalchronologist.org and read whatever you can find there on "virtual history". Then please tell me whether you understand the concept, and whether it helps resolve some of your questions.
Hello, this is Melissa in Italy. I have had opportunity to purchase and read some articles from your website and now have some questions. I don't expect in-depth answers, rather a thoughtful yet brief response so that I might have a better idea of your take on certain things. I don't wish to take up too much of your time.
I get that when one normally reads the creation account one is often focused on Eden itself: it seems implicit however that everything on the earth was created, including fauna and wildlife in Australia, etc... In this case, however, we have to deduce that Adam didn't name all of the animals, just those animals present in Eden, which were not representative of all the "kinds" created (including marsupials)... In this case you would be interpreting the word "all" in this context to function similarly to your example of Joseph and famine?
Thank you in advance,
It was good to hear from you again. Here are my answers (as brief as I can make them):
4. I admire your language ability. My high school French teacher made me a deal: he would give me a passing grade as long as I agreed not to take French again the next year. What grade level are your students? What context are you teaching in? There is something about the virtual history paradigm that you are not getting yet, else you would not ask the questions you have. The facts you have mentioned don't pose a problem for the virtual history paradigm. So far I can't figure out what it is you are not getting. Can we perhaps pursue this by analogy? Create an imaginary (fallen world) cat for me, then tell me what it is about the newly created cat that seems a problem to you.
Hope this all helps, and, yes, "I am and will try to remain available to answer your specific Bible/science questions." So don't feel hesitant to keep asking.
I have had a few more days to think through the virtual history idea. I, of course, have found other articles that attack in one form or another the idea but after all of the reading I've done that neither surprises me nor deters me. I haven't done it yet but I will probably translate into Italian some portion of the article and the correspondence from your site that addresses this issue so that I can better share it with my students who are adults, mixed ages (30-50) and mostly women. I am 37.
The cat illustration doesn't work for me, but the idea of an artist does work for me. For example, a man can paint a picture of his son running through a small forest of trees that his great-great-grandfather planted when he first immigrated to America and settled his land. The painting itself is new but that which is depicted is not at all new. Apply this idea to creation and the timescales are dramatically lengthened but the principle still applies. I think the point is not to think of creation like a mother giving birth to a child but like an artist creating a masterpiece.
It brings to mind C.S. Lewis's comparison of the differences between "created" and "begotten". We are "created by God", not "begotten of Him". This image works a lot better for me, no offense to the cat, and I hope it is still in keeping with what you intend by "virtual history". It also made me wonder what scientists would expect a young earth to look like. As I've stated earlier I know very little about these things, but what would young rocks and a young earth look like for them? Apart from evolutionary timescales you can't really imagine it. Okay, before I forget, you mentioned in your first response to me that you didn't find Schroeder's view of the Big Bang model satisfying...is there an alternative model you would point me to? My sole purpose in quoting Schroeder in my course materials was to give an example of a concordist point of view. I've actually found an excellent science text that addresses all the natural sciences so I have great material for those discussions. But the book doesn't address cosmology at all so I have only 2 articles that address this branch of the sciences. Completely excluding the topic from my lessons seemed like a glaring blank space that my students would notice.
Thank you for your continued help.
I think your painting analogy will work just fine, so no need to apologize about the cat. And I think you are beginning to think in virtual history terms, since the questions you have raised (e.g., what scientists would expect a young earth to look like) reflect a growing understanding of the nature of created things. See if you agree with the following observations regarding your painting: 1. The painter of the picture represents God. 2. The picture represents Creation. 3. The boy in the painting represents Adam. 4. The boy's world (the Creation he has access to for investigation and measurement) is the world depicted by the painting, not the world of the painter. 5. To the boy, the painting world does not seem new. For example, if he cuts down one of the trees in the painting he will find it has many annual growth rings. 6. The painter is free to depict the boy as being whatever age he pleases, but no matter what age the painter chooses the boy will feel he existed prior to that age. He will find that he has a navel, for example. Thus the painting world will have a virtual history that the painter cannot choose to do without so long as he means to create a world by his painting (in contrast to painting abstract geometrical shapes, for example).
For someone thinking consistently in virtual history terms, the Big Bang presents no difficulty. It is simply the best scientific understanding of the virtual history of our (created) world to the present time. Schroeder's view is objectionable to me because it seems to me to be in opposition to the perspicuity of Scripture. Is it the nature of God's revelation of Himself in Scripture, that before you can understand what He is saying in Genesis 1, you must first understand modern Relativity theory? I feel that Genesis 1 was written for all people of all times. Anyone from any time can understand about virtual history since we are all familiar with what it means to create a masterpiece; few even in the modern world are in a position to understand Relativity.
I think you are making the right choice not to neglect cosmology. My lifetime of study says there are three areas that have been raised by science over the past several hundred years that have undermined confidence in the Bible. These are: 1. Creation, (historically beginning with the age of the Earth, then on into evolution and origin of the universe); 2. the Flood (did it ever really happen, the modern scientific answer being no); and 3. the Exodus/Conquest (did they ever really happen, the modern academic answer being no). All of these represent attacks on Biblical historicity. In my view, these are the big issues that Bible/science instruction needs to address at present to equip students with a truly functional apologetic in the modern world.
Thank you for your response. I can't tell you how thankful I am for your help.
Yesterday, I completed my translation of the virtual history article. I actually brought together information from the BC article, some of the site correspondence of some of our emails for a total article length of 3 1/2 pages.
I have found another article already available in Italian that speaks about three geological issues that favor a creation about 7000 years ago. In short, the arguments are:
Incomplete ecosystems: In general, the argument is that the flood could explain why one finds animal fossils in places where there doesn't seem to have been enough vegetation to have supported that life. They think floodwaters could have displaced these animals away from their native habitats.
Erosion of the continents: They say that one studying the rates of erosion, (sediments carried by rivers out toward the ocean at various rates over time) if these rates are actualistic in nature, would expect to find much more continental erosion that one does find.
Gaps in sedimentary strata: In general this part of the article basically seeks to confirm that there is reason to believe that the flood would have left its mark on the geological record.
The article is 8 pages long. I'm not interested in putting an article like this in contrast to the one I translated about virtual history. If anything I think they might complement each other in that the fossil record regarding ecosystems, erosion and gaps in the sediments can be interpreted as indicating real history whereas one can leave the "evolutionary timescales" alone and attribute them to being indicative, maybe, of man's best guess at "virtual history".
Do any red flags go up for you on reading the summary? If not, I'm thinking of including the article especially since it's already translated.
Again, thank you for your time.
Yes, red flags go up.
Incomplete ecosystems: Modern Biblical Chronology informs us that the Flood happened ca. 3520 B.C. If I do not miss my guess, the fossils being referred to all date to millions of years ago, in which case they obviously have nothing whatsoever to do with the Flood. They belong to virtual history.
Erosion of Continents: While geology is not my field, this argument is almost certainly false. The reason I say this is that there are a LOT of earth scientists out there, most unregenerate, all more or less jealous of one another and looking to make a name for themselves. If there were a problem with something as basic as erosion of the continents, some secular scientist would long ago have seen it as a path to fame and jumped on it. It would be used as a means of levering big grants from the research agencies (building one's prestige all the while) to solve the problem...
Gaps in sedimentary strata: Whatever mark the Flood left on the geological record is at the very top of the record. According to Bible Chronology, the Flood happened in the mid-Holocene (about 5500 years ago). The Flood did not produce the geologic record and its fossils. The Bible nowhere says that it did. When we allow chronological data (both Biblical and secular) to speak and say what they are trying to say, it is then easy to see that the geological record has very little to do with the Flood.
P.S. In your first e-mail you used the expression, “I’m drinking the Koolaid”. What does this expression mean?
Thank you for that clarification. That is what makes studying this subject such a maze...there is just a ton of information "out there" and it is difficult to sift through it all, and these articles are posted on Christian websites purposed to be used by believers to inform their faith. It just seems like a jungle of information to wade through, especially for the majority of believers who don't have a strong enough science background (like myself) to discern the data.
When I used the phrase "drinking the Koolaid" I wasn't referring to you but to the writing style of some of the authors that I had found on websites like AIG [Answers In Gensis] and other sites like that one though smaller in scale. The phrase is a reference to Jim Jones "The People's Temple" (1978) and how they were "drinking Koolaid", although in that particular instance it was a devastating thing. I've heard the phrase used often to indicate people who are so blinded by a particular ambition, motivation or belief that their ability to reason is diminished in some way. I used this phrase not so much in reference to the writers themselves but to their writing styles which come across as we are right and all the scientists are not only wrong but stupid, or in the kindest of articles "blinded through unbelief" to see what is so obvious. My initial letter to you was prompted by the fact that I didn't find that tone in the postings on your website which is why I sought your help. I admit, that while I feel like I understand the "virtual history" idea now especially after having to think so carefully about it in the translating process (and I'm very happy with the resulting article) it is difficult for me to imagine that the fossil record would have been present in created earth. I understand the reference to the Romans verse and how the creation itself became subject to futility, but it is no wonder that scientists come to the conclusions they do in light of such discoveries: it seems like a potentially huge stumbling block to an unbelieving scientist. Hebrews 11:3 is the believers best indicator in response to many of these arguments. While I certainly disagree strongly with idioms like "ignorance is bliss" and think that one of the reasons that many people do not believe is because they simply allow themselves to become too distracted with everyday living to stop and think through the implications of their respective worldviews, at the same time, it seems like more knowledge requires more faith, not less.
I have the material for the study prepared now. It was a huge undertaking and the discussions will begin mid-September and last through mid-December. I feel that I've put together an interesting, though by no means exhaustive, amount of material that will accomplish my purpose for the study, which is simply to get people to think about their worldview and the presuppositions that form the foundation of it. In the process they will learn a lot about the Bible as well and more than once hear the gospel presented. May God give an increase!
Thank you for your help.
You may not be able to "discern the data" but you seem able to discern the attitude underlying writing styles --- yes, there is unfortunately a great deal of Bible/science literature that is in the "drinking the Koolaid" category. I must confess that I find it a bit discouraging at times, observing how Satan has flooded the Bible/science communication channels with so much which is false, when modern Christians so desperately need true, intellectually defensible answers to their legitimate Bible/science questions, and when the unbelieving world needs so desperately to hear honest, intelligent answers to impediments to belief in Christ Jesus stemming from science. But I take comfort in the knowledge that in the end truth will win because the One who is The Truth cannot be defeated.
I know what you are saying about knowledge and faith, but I see it in slightly different terms. Note that if we had all knowledge, faith would no longer be needed. So it cannot be true that more knowledge always requires more faith. As I see it, the more one knows, the more opportunities one is presented with to misunderstand and draw wrong conclusions. This means that the more we know, the more hard work we find we have to do to get to the bottom of misunderstandings and misperceptions. But did not Jesus say, "strive to enter by the narrow door" (Luke 13:24)? I suggest that what is going on is what we find always going on in science --- the more one learns, the more questions one finds are raised, and the more research there is yet to do. It is no different at the interface of science and the Bible. But in the process we grow and mature in our understanding and appreciation of our Creator and His Creation, so our effort is well rewarded. And our ability to succeed in clearing up misunderstandings and misperceptions causes us to grow in confidence that we are on to something which is true and real, not a myth or cleverly devised fable --- that is, our faith is strengthened.
God bless your labors for The Truth.