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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Defense of "Creationism"

Anyone who has given the creation/evolution debate even a cursory following has heard the creation position described as “creationism.” One rarely, if ever, hears of “evolutionism,” as though only one side (evolution) of this debate is rooted completely in logic and reason, without any un-provable premises.

It is very often overlooked that when it comes to the question of how life began on earth, people on every side of this debate have the same evidence (rocks, fossils, current living things, and other measurable objects), use the same equipment (microscopes, telescopes, labs, and so on), and employ the same techniques to support their positions.

It is also frequently overlooked that every side of the creation/evolution debate derives their knowledge (The word “science” is derived from the Latin word “scientia,” meaning “knowledge.”) from certain governing presuppositions. In other words, whether a person is a creationist or an evolutionist, or some combination of the two, eventually he or she must eventually rely on certain un-provable assumptions. As the late philosopher, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, put it, “At the most fundamental level of everyone's thinking and beliefs there are primary convictions about reality, man, the world, knowledge, truth, behavior, and such things. Convictions about which all other experience is organized, interpreted, and applied.”

Likewise, theologian, author, and pastor, R.C. Sproul, in 2009 discussed the “lasting impression” that the book, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, which he read over 50 years ago, had made upon him. He noted that the book was so influential to him because it “clearly set forth the importance of understanding that all scientific theories presuppose certain philosophical premises.”

The concept of “primary convictions” or presupposed “philosophical premises” is important when it comes to the creation/evolution debate. The devout creationist has primary convictions that are rooted in the Genesis account of creation. The devout evolutionist has primary convictions that are rooted in purely naturalistic forces.

Neither side can use exclusively the methods of science to verify their primary convictions. The scientific method of observing, measuring, testing, and repeating does not work when it comes to revealing exactly how life began. In spite of what some devoted evolutionists would have us believe, no one has ever observed or been able to experimentally repeat evolution that shows one kind of creature changing into another. We certainly have never seen life created in a Petri dish.

Of course, neither have we observed someone creating matter or speaking life into existence. However, what the creation account has that the Darwinian account lacks is a written record of events. Now, many are quick to discount the biblical record of events as fiction, but this is typically because the accounts of events recorded in Scripture directly contradict the primary convictions of Darwinian evolution.

Evolutionists know that such a historical narrative is desirable. Ernst Mayr, considered one of the most influential evolutionists of the 20th century, put it this way:

“Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is an historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.”

How does the evolutionist construct this historical narrative? By assuming (using primary convictions) that “the present is key to the past.” Today’s evolutionist observes “change over time” within certain species, such as with peppered moths, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, insecticide-resistant bugs and the like, and uses such evidence to support billions of years and molecules-to-man evolution.

In accepting the biblical narrative of creation, Creationists typically support the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. This doctrine is deduced from two biblical conclusions: the Bible is the Word of God and God is never in error. However, interpretations of the account of creation vary within those who accept biblical inerrancy. In other words, conversely, not all who accept biblical inerrancy accept the six days of creation that a straight-forward reading of the book of Genesis reveals.

Creationists who accept the six-day account in Genesis do so by practicing a form of hermeneutics known as the literal historical-grammatical approach. This method attempts to find the literal meaning of a text based on an understanding of the historical and cultural settings in which it was written.

Following accepted rules of grammar and noting the particular style of the book (historical, poetic, prophetic, and so on), conclusions about proper interpretation are then reached. Borrowing from Dr. David Cooper, we get a clear, if not succinct, summary of the literal historical-grammatical approach: When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. Therefore, using the standard meaning, form, and syntax of the words in use; and understanding the proper historical position of the author; take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.

Or, as Screwtape put it to his demon protégé, “The documents say what they say and cannot be added to.”

The validity of the literal historical-grammatical approach is supported by multiple facts. First of all, a scholarly approach to the New Testament reveals that, when interpreting the Old Testament, this approach was taken by both New Testament authors and characters.

Of course, there are many references to the Old Testament in the New Testament. Consider for a moment only the references to the book of Genesis. Every New Testament author either directly quotes or alludes to Genesis. Dozens of times Adam, Eve, the Serpent (Satan), Cain, Abel, Noah, the Flood, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Lot, Sodom, Gomorrah, and so on, are directly (and indirectly) referenced. They are spoken of as literal historical characters and events, not mythological beings and occurrences.

Jesus Himself referred to Genesis several times. When asked about marriage, He quoted directly from Genesis chapters one and two. Speaking of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, Jesus used the phrase “from the beginning of creation,” which only makes sense if he was talking about a literal Day 6 of creation. In other words, Jesus understood the text exactly as it was supposed to be understood—exactly as the author intended for it to be understood. Jesus also referenced Sodom, the Flood, Abraham, Noah, and Lot—and again, did so in a nothing but literal historical manner.

Paul, in Romans—the “caput et summa universae doctrinae christianae” (“the summary of the whole of Christian doctrine”)—chapter 5 referred directly to Adam and compared him to Christ as “a pattern of the one to come.” He also added, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men…Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness (Jesus’ atoning death) was justification that brings life to all men.” Thus, the man who wrote nearly half of the New Testament saw Adam as not only a real historical figure, but as essential to the Christian doctrine of sin and death.

Secondly, the literal historical-grammatical approach is how most early church fathers interpreted Scripture. These men were “theologians after the apostles.” As Dr. James Mook put it, “Most of the Church Fathers interpreted Genesis 1 in a plain and straightforward way, as actual history. The six days were 24-hour days. Ephraim (Ephrem) the Syrian (306–373) and Basil of Caesarea (329–379) argued for the literal sense of Scripture against the distortions of allegory. Basil said twenty-four hours fill up the space of one day. Even Ambrose of Milan (330–397), mentor of Augustine, believed each day consisted of twenty-four hours, including both day and night. In addition to this, the Fathers believed that the earth was less than 6,000 years old.”

Also, this hermeneutical philosophy is consistent with how we speak, hear, read, and write in our everyday communication. Real communication cannot happen otherwise, as trying to understand one another becomes a ridiculous exercise where one misses the forest because of the trees. Or, as C.S. Lewis, when discussing Modern (liberal) Theology and Biblical Criticism, put it: “These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read [in any sense worth discussing] the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.”

The use of the word “day” in Genesis chapter one provides an excellent example of how the literal historical-grammatical approach works. The Hebrew word for day used in Genesis chapter 1 is “yom.” A number and the phrase “evening and morning” are used for each of the six Days of Creation. In Scripture outside Genesis 1, yom is used with a number 410 times. Each time it means an ordinary day. In Scripture outside Genesis 1, yom is used with the word “evening” or “morning” 23 times. “Evening” and “morning” appear in association, but without yom, 38 times. All 61 times the text refers to an ordinary day. Why would Genesis 1 be the exception for the use of yom?

In addition, in Exodus 20:8-11, the fourth commandment instructs the Israelites to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Thus, the seven-day week (six-day work week) is established as Moses records that “in six days the Lord made the heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” Any number of words or phrases could have been used here, but again, “yom” is used in both parts with the same context as in Genesis chapter one. Therefore, the only logical and common-sense conclusion is that “day” here means a 24-hour period.

Of course, many devout Darwinists will reply, “So what!” Their conclusion is that the Bible is inaccurate on many points, with the use of “day” in this context being another. Thus, in the creation/evolution debate, what we see more often than not is sincere (or at least self-proclaiming) Christians pitted against one-another: those accepting a literal six-day creation, and those who reject such a literal reading of the creation account, but nevertheless, and to varying degrees, believe that God is the creator of the material universe.

It is (sadly, in my opinion) the latter view which is more prominent in mainline Christianity—both Protestant and Catholic—in the U.S. Such a view of creation is often referred to as “theistic evolution,” though many reject this label. Secular humanist and non-theist Eugenie Scott, Director for the U.S. National Center for Science Education, notes that “In one form or another, Theistic Evolutionism is the view of creation taught at the majority of mainline Protestant seminaries, and it is the official position of the Catholic Church.”

According to Callie Joubert of Answers Research Journal, although “some proponents of theistic evolution such as (Francis) Collins (2007), and Giberson and Collins (2011) prefer BioLogos, and others such as Denis Lamoureux (2010a) prefer ‘evolutionary creation,’ they all share their three core beliefs with other variants of theistic evolution, such as the emergentism, panentheism, process theism, or naturalistic theism of Barbour (1990), Clayton (2000; 2006), Griffin (2000), and the late Arthur Peacocke (2006).” Lamoureux, the author of Evolutionary Creation and of I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution, sums up these “core beliefs” well when he states that science “reveals how the Creator made” the world, “while the Bible (reveals) precisely who created it.”

Vaguely articulating the Anglican (especially the Episcopal Church in the U.S., and the Church of England) position on creation and evolution, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams said “I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories. Whatever the biblical account of creation is, it’s not a theory alongside theories…My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it.”

The official Anglican position is laid out in Catechism of Creation Part II: Creation and Science. This document attempts to reconcile a “conflict” between “science and the Bible.” (Though, I know of no one, especially those who intelligently articulate the six-day creation position, who see a conflict between science and the Bible. This is a common straw-man argument thrown out by those wanting to compromise creation and evolution.) “There is a middle way,” states the Catechism, “which some call a Complementary approach.”

The Catechism asks, “Is it proper to speak of an evolving creation?” Of course, the answer is “Yes.” Reflecting the “Complementary approach,” the Catechism adds “[Astronomers] are able to see our universe at many stages of cosmic evolution since its beginning in the Big Bang.  Here on earth biologists, paleontologists, geneticists and other scientists are showing that life has evolved over four billion years, and are reconstructing evolution’s history.  None of these scientific discoveries and the theories that explain them stands in conflict with what the Bible reveals about God’s relationship to the creation.”

The problems with such a “Complementary approach” are myriad. I submit that an atheistic Darwinist, who completely denies God and the Bible, while proclaiming molecules to man evolution as absolute truth, has a more logically defensible position than the Christian who wants to compromise Darwinian evolution and Scripture.

In addition to violating the approach to Scripture interpretation taken by Christ, the New Testament authors, and the early church fathers, such a compromise misrepresents the nature of God. Scripture reveals God’s creation work is “very good” and “perfect.” Also, Genesis reveals that there was no death until the sin of mankind. In direct contradiction to the Genesis record, Darwinian evolution requires billions of years of death and struggle before we see the first humans.

What’s more, and perhaps worst of all, a compromise between evolution and creation mythologizes the biblical account of the redemptive work of Jesus. (See the Romans reference above.) Jesus came to save all people. Save from what?  From sin and death. How did sin and death come to all people? By what is revealed in Genesis.

If we don’t have a literal Creator, a literal creation, a literal Adam, a literal Eve, a literal serpent, a literal garden, a literal tree, a literal fruit, and a literal fall, why did Jesus have to come and die for our sins?

At this point, it needs to be clarified what it means to take the Bible “literally.” As apologist Greg Koukl puts it, the question “Do you take the Bible literally?” is ambiguous, confusing, and awkward to answer. The best way to answer such a question is that we (“literalists”) take the Bible literally when it is meant to be taken literally. In other words, as Koukl puts it, we read the Bible in its “ordinary sense.” (“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense.”)

A good analogy that Koukl provides is the reading of a modern day sports page. When a sportswriter says that one team “crushed,” “destroyed,” or “annihilated” its opponent, no one speculates or frets about literal meanings. When we read that the Georgia Bulldogs “steam-rolled” the Florida Gators, there is no investigation into whether state highway equipment went missing during what used to be known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” Though certainly a more difficult read than a sports page, we are to approach reading the Bible in the same way.

Additionally, when it comes to believing miraculous events recorded in the Bible, whether the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, or the miracle of a literal six-day creation, the inconsistency applied by “evolutionary creationists” is fascinating and troubling. After all, why believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Has science proven how we can raise the dead?

After His resurrection, why did Jesus chastise the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? Was it because they failed biology 101? “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” In other words, why did you not believe what was written?! If one will doubt the creation account, why believe the prophets? Why believe any of the accounts of supernatural events in Scripture?

A bias against the supernatural is pervasive throughout the evolutionary community and, I believe due to the willingness and the attempt by many Christians to reconcile Darwinian evolution with Scripture, sadly has infected the Christian community as well. For example, about a year ago several churches in my community, Gainesville, GA—one of the most conservative and Christian areas of the country—sponsored a seminar held by “progressive Christian” Marcus Borg.

The pastor of First Baptist Church Gainesville said that Borg “speaks of an emerging paradigm to see faith and practice faith in an age of science and technology.” The implication here is that in our “modern” age of science and technology, we need a new approach to understand our faith. We need a new way to understand Christianity without having to believe in things like virgin births, water turning to wine, the instant healing of the blind and leprous, the raising of the dead, and so on. Because, of course, science—especially Darwinian evolution—tells us that these things are not possible.

In other words, if it can’t be explained in the natural, then it must not be true. This is certainly the belief of the “Jesus Seminar” of which Dr. Borg has been affiliated for decades. Begun in 1985, the Jesus Seminar is a group of self-described scholars (I’d be willing to bet that each one of them is a Darwinist.) who attempt to discover the “historical Jesus.” According to Koukl, “they have rejected as myth the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the virgin birth, all Gospel miracles, and a full 82% of the teachings normally attributed to Jesus—all dismissed as legendary accretions with no historical foundation.”

Thinking themselves “brilliant” and unique, the Jesus Seminar (and any similar movement) “scholars” are only undertaking what the demon Screwtape (in the early 1940s) told us happens “every thirty years or so.” Each “historical Jesus,” Screwtape reveals, is “unhistorical—something which does not exist.”

In 1995, J.P. Moreland rightly concluded that the Jesus Seminar operates from an “unfalsifiable presupposition” that is rooted in naturalism. Thus, he notes, any event in the Bible that is deemed supernatural is automatically dismissed as unhistorical. Of course, this especially includes the act of God speaking into creation the entire universe.

Though many who attempt to seek a compromise with evolution and creation do not reach Borg’s extremes, this is eventually what results once compromise with Scripture creeps in: We get so-called Christians whose teaching and “preaching” are almost completely devoid of historical and biblical Christianity. This is why compromise with Darwinian evolution is so dangerous.

Such compromise is why we have the Episcopal Church in the U.S. saying not only that homosexuality is no longer a sin, but going so far as to ordain openly homosexual priests. This is why we have the Church of England willing to “bless” same-sex relationships. When Scripture is so compromised, it becomes very difficult to call upon the authority of the Word of God in any matter, but especially when it comes to calling sin what it really is.

Lastly, perhaps the most common accusation hurled at Christians who accept the biblical account of creation is that we are ignorant anti-science boobs (or something similar). Nothing could be further from the truth. What’s more, at times it seems that the (ridiculous) implication is that nothing in science can get done unless it is done from an evolutionary worldview. This is certainly the case in fields related to biology, but many Darwinian evolutionists would have us believe that everything from anesthesiology to zoology rests upon Darwinian evolution. Given that Darwin proposed his theory just over 150 years ago, it’s a wonder that anything at all was accomplished in science prior to 1850.

Of course, much was. As I have noted before, anyone past (such as Pasteur, Pascal, Newton, Kepler, et al) or present can practice good science while operating from a biblical worldview. If this is not the case, then how did Newton, considered by many the greatest scientist of all time, ever invent calculus and develop his laws of motion and universal gravitation while operating from a strict biblical worldview? Newton also calculated the age of the earth to be only a few thousand years and declared, “For an educated man…any suggestion that the human past extended back further than 6,000 years was a vain and foolish speculation.”

If science and religion are “fundamentally incompatible,” how did Pasteur, “the father of microbiology” and a firm believer in God and His Word, ever discover the principles of vaccination, fermentation, and pasteurization? If Darwinian evolution is “biology’s greatest theory,” then why did Pasteur directly oppose Darwin and his theory, all the while conducting experiments to enhance the Law of Biogenesis?

Certainly ours is not a blind and ignorant faith. Though we can’t prove or disprove the supernatural through natural means, this does not mean that there is a lack of evidence for what we believe. As the Apostle Paul noted as he stood before King Agrippa, “What I am saying is true and reasonable.” For the things upon which our faith rests were not “done in a corner.” We know in whom we believe. The evidence is within Scripture as well as outside of it.

The science of archaeology has been a great friend to Christianity. Noted Jewish archaeologist Nelson Glueck wrote: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted (his word) a biblical reference.” He asserts that the “incredibly accurate historical memory of the Bible…is fortified by archaeological fact.”

The great archaeologist William F. Albright states that, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition.” Millar Burrows of Yale, a leading authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, observes that “Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics. It has shown in a number of instances that these views rest on false assumptions…” He explains such unbelief: “The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural.”

An acceptance of the biblical account of creation does nothing to hinder anyone in any arena of science. However, a denial of the creation account places significant logical burdens upon those who still want to hold to other truths of God’s Word.

(See this column on Real Clear Religion.)

Copyright 2014, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

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