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Archive for the ‘Science & Theology’ Category

Book Review: Controversy of the Ages

Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians should Not Divide Over the Age of the Earth, by Theodore Cabal and Peter Rasor II, Weaver Book Co., 2017.

After presenting a talk at the Evangelical Theological Society about why the age of the earth shouldn’t be a divisive topic, author Ted Cabal was surprised to find a dissenting paper given at the next year’s meeting. That formed the impetus for the writing of this book, which he accomplished with the help of a coauthor, while also fighting cancer.

The first six chapters give an overview of incidents in the relationship between science and theology from Copernicus onward. In addition to correcting some common misconceptions about the various events, (Galileo’s trial, geology before Darwin, the Scopes trial, etc.), Cabal puts forth the “theological conservatism principle”.

Let us call this caution with respect to apparently conflicting scientific theories the theological conservatism principle… [T]heologians erred on the side of caution when faced with abandoning traditional biblical interpretations, and only cautiously amended those interpretations over time when clear evidence demonstrated the tradition wrong. (p. 42)

In addition, he points out several suggestions that Galileo made about how to handle science-theology conflicts. Although no evidence exists that disputes have consciously been settled this way, a look at history shows that this has indeed been the process followed.

Assumption 1:
Assume biblical inerrancy, not inerrant interpretation

Assumption 2:
Nature and scripture cannot disagree

Interpretive step 1:
Traditional biblical interpretations govern unproven science

Interpretive step 2:
Proven scientific theory requires biblical reinterpretation  (pp. 44-46)

Turning to the modern day, Cabal examines three leading organizations in the science apologetics field as to how they handle scripture and nature conflicts: Answers in Genesis, Reasons To Believe, and BioLogos.  Although he has a few criticisms for RTB, most of his responses deal with AiG and BioLogos.

Chapter 7 is entitled “Do Young Earth Creationists practice evolutionary science?” Such a charge is often made against old-earth creationists, since they respond and adapt to the findings of science, and accept the “evolutionary” long ages therein determined. Contrary to what young-earth creationists might claim, however, Cabal shows that they have modified and changed (“evolved”) many of their own positions over the years with respect to the geologic column, radiometric dating, plate tectonics, astronomy, and biology, and do not totally agree with each other on those changes. (For example, compare The Genesis Flood book (1961) with the Earth’s Catastrophic Past book (2009).)

The core of the issue, in my opinion, is dealt with in chapter 8: “Biblical Inerrancy and the Age of the Earth”. Here the beliefs of each organization are examined in regard to the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and the corresponding one on biblical hermeneutics.  AiG sees these statements as not being strict enough, and has proposed adding clauses specifying a young earth, literal Adam and Eve, and a global flood. RTB accepts these statements fully as a basis for their biblical interpretation, while BioLogos does not officially endorse inerrancy or the CSBI. As some of their articles state, they are comfortable with suggesting that there are biblical errors in regards to science and history.

In conclusion, the author mentions the concept of theological triage. The most well-known exposition of this idea was by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. in a 2005 paper called “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity”. In it he proposes thinking of theological beliefs as being ranked in three levels of importance: those that divide Christianity from other religions, those that divide one denomination from another, and those that Christians can disagree about with each other but still have fellowship together. Here Cabal points to, as a factor in the continuing conflict, the various issues that the apologetics organizations have held to with differing levels of importance.

In Cabal’s summary, here are “general lessons learned from this study”:

Biblical Christians historically have practiced the conservatism principle in science-theology conflicts. The practice was founded on the assumption of biblical inerrancy, the coherence of biblical and natural facts, and a reluctance to adjust biblical interpretation unless proven science made clear the biblical interpretation had been wrong. Contrary to its stated position, even AiG practices this complex but necessary Galileo proposal. And in spite of differing positions on the age of the earth and other science-theology issues, AiG and RTB both have practiced the conservatism principle. BioLogos, on the other hand, not only maintains no commitment to biblical inerrancy but is willing to propose views far removed from anything like a traditional understanding of inspiration. Its apparent openness for a one way submission of the Bible to the terms of modern science distinctly rejects the Galileo proposal. (p. 209)

At present these creationist ministries present their evangelical audiences with a myriad of hybrid theories. The conceptual instability and emotional atmosphere suggest that those who are uncertain what to believe should trust their Bible and wait for further light on the details. Those Christians can trust that the God of truth will have the final say in the outworking of history. But for those who believe they understand things rightly, they should humbly and patiently teach so as to nurture the unity of God’s church. And if boundaries must be drawn, and at times they must, may they be outlined with exquisite Christian kindness and gentleness.  (pp. 224-5)

This book presents both an education into the history of science-theology conflicts, and an evaluation of three leading ministries’ interaction with the current state of science. Various principles are set forth for thinking about the topic, including the conservatism principle and theological triage. Footnotes are included on the bottom of the pages, which is useful because the author often includes other interesting comments or pertinent references. The book is not giving arguments for and against each position, but provides needed background for evaluation of the broader issues in play.

Further Resources:
A recent article summarizing a talk by Ted Cabal on the topic, plus a video link.

An older article on the controversy.
Why Exporting the Age of the Earth Controversy is a Bad Idea, Ted Cabal,
International Journal of Frontier Missions, 20:4 Winter 2003

The archive of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.

Dr. Mohler’s paper on theological triage.


Introducing Edward Hitchcock – Scientist & Christian


A summer vacation trip to Massachusetts exposed my husband and me to the life and work of Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864) and his wife, Orra White Hitchcock (1790-1863). There are many biographical sketches of Hitchcock available online, so this introduction is rather brief.

Edward Hitchcock had training in both science and theology, and spent several years at the beginning of his career as a pastor. Many years followed as an educator, professor, and college president at Amherst College, Amherst, Mass., as well as positions as the state geologist of Massachusetts and Vermont. His wife, an accomplished artist, illustrated his books and made large diagrams for his college classes.

 Hitchcock’s main claim to fame is his recognition that 2017-07-20-Beneski-dinotracks-4472Dsmall

there were fossil footprints in the Connecticut River valley, which runs through Massachusetts and Connecticut. He considered the many different tracks that were eventually found to be from extinct giant birds, since they looked like those from a bipedal creature. (The word “dinosaur” had not yet been coined.) He collected and analyzed many fossils from the region, displaying them in a museum at Amherst College. In later years, though, he stuck to his belief that the tracks were from birds, even though dinosaur skeletons that could have made such tracks had by then been unearthed around the world. Very few actual dinosaur bones have ever been found in the Connecticut valley, however, so it’s still not known exactly which dinosaurs made the tracks.

One of Hitchcock’s major writings is the book The Religion of Geology and Its Connected Sciences, which is a compilation of lectures on the intersection of science and theology. In it he walks a fine line between the Christians and scientists of his day who were promoting catastrophic flood geology, and those who were recognizing the old age of rocks and geologic formations. Many of his statements sound similar to what old-earth creationists says on various topics (although his creation view was most similar to the Gap Theory). Thus there are passages arguing for a regional biblical flood, and dealing with the questions of death before Adam, the occurrence of “natural evil” (natural disasters and such), and the problem of suffering.


Here are some quotations on the relationship between science and theology.

“The final conclusion from these principles is, that since science and revelation treat of the same subjects only incidentally, we ought only to expect that the facts of science, rightly understood, should not contradict the statements of revelation, correctly interpreted. Apparent discrepancies there may be; and it would not be strange, if for a time they should seem to be real; either because science has not fully and accurately disclosed the facts, or the Bible is not correctly interpreted; but if both records are from God, there can be no real contradiction between them.” [Kindle location 237]
“I would throw out a caution to those friends of religion who are very fearful that the discoveries of science will prove injurious to Christianity. Why should the enlightened Christian, who has a correct idea of the firm foundation on which the Bible rests, fear that any disclosures of the arcana of nature should shake its authority or weaken its influence? Is not the God of revelation the God of nature also? and must not his varied works tend to sustain and elucidate, instead of weakening and darkening, one another?…

“…The very men who felt so strong a conviction of the truth of the Bible, that they were ready to go to the stake in its defence, have trembled and uttered loud notes of warning when the votaries of science have brought out some new fact, that seemed perhaps at first, or when partially understood, to contravene some statement of revelation. The effect has been to make sceptical minds look with suspicion, and sometimes with contempt, upon Christianity itself. It has built up a wall of separation between science and religion, which is yet hardly broken down.” [Kindle location 540]

Some quotations on beauty:

“Some may, perhaps, doubt whether it can have been one of the objects of divine benevolence and wisdom, in arranging the surface of this world, so to construct and adorn it as to gratify a taste for fine scenery. But I cannot doubt it. I see not else why nature every where is fitted up in a lavish manner with all the elements of the sublime and beautiful, nor why there are powers in the human soul so intensely gratified in contact with those elements, unless they were expressly adapted for one another by the Creator. “[Kindle location 2478]

“The fact is, God has made all nature ‘beauty to our eye and music to our ear,’ when it was wholly unnecessary for the perfect operation of her laws; and the inference is irresistible, that he delights in the happiness of his creatures.” [Kindle location 3006]


The Memorial Hall Museum in Hitchcock’s hometown of Deerfield, Mass., has a current exhibit highlighting the work of Hitchcock and his wife. The accompanying website has much more information, showing the artifacts on display, as well as details on the science and culture of the time, the people involved with the dinosaur tracks, maps and photos, etc. Since a thorough book-length biography of Hitchcock has not yet been written, this is a good current source for information.

Amherst College continues to have a natural history museum which features Hitchcock’s acquisitions during his tenure at the college. It is one of the the world’s largest and most studied collections of dinosaur footprints, as well as containing other trace fossils such as ripple marks and plant impressions. The museum also has mineral and rock specimens, dinosaur and other fossil skeletons, and displays illustrating the complicated geologic history of the Connecticut River valley.

Amherst’s online archives contains Hitchcock’s papers as well as the collection of Orra Hitchcocks’ classroom drawings. His books are available for free in the Internet Archive, as well as on Amazon.com.


Part of the Hitchcock Ichnology Collection at Amherst