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Posts tagged ‘creation’

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)

Conclusion
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.
http://intersectproject.org/news/beware-friendly-fire-ted-cabal-on-controversies-about-the-age-of-the-earth/

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
http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/20_4_PDFs/121_Cabal.pdf

The archive of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.
http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI.shtml

Dr. Mohler’s paper on theological triage.
http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/07/12/a-call-for-theological-triage-and-christian-maturity/

Link

Book review: The Bible, Rocks and Time

The Bible, Rocks and Time,
by Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley,
InterVarsity Press, 2008.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Bible-Rocks-Time-Geological/dp/0830828761/

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Very few books have been written from an old-earth Christian perspective on the subject of geology, so this one fills a great need. In the preface of the book, the authors state their aim:

The Bible, Rocks and Time is virtually a total rewrite of Christianity and the Age of the Earth [by Davis Young, 1982]. Although the theme and format of both books are very similar, they are very different books. The goal of our book is to convince readers, on both biblical and geological grounds, of the vast antiquity of this amazing planet that is our God-given home. Along the way we point out the flaws of so-called young-Earth creationism. Although the issue of Earth’s antiquity may seem to be little more than an interesting intellectual exercise that has little immediate bearing on one’s life, we point out that this issue can have profound spiritual consequences for the church of Jesus Christ, the individual Christian and the nonbeliever as well.

Dr. Young is Professor Emeritus of Geology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while Dr. Stearley is currently professor of geology and chairman of the department of geology, geography and environmental studies at Calvin College.

This 500-page book is divided into four parts: historical, biblical, geological, and philosophical perspectives. The authors seem to be familiar with just about everything written on the subject of geology and the Bible, so they present a wealth of information and go into a lot of detail to state their case. The footnotes are included at the bottom of the pages rather than in the back.

In the historical perspective chapters, the authors tell the story of the history of geology, showing how various scientists and theologians, (not infrequently in the 19th century the same people trained in both fields), have sought to harmonize the works of God in nature with the words of the Bible. Long before the presentation of Darwin’s biological evolutionary ideas, the basics of stratigraphy (the study of rock layering) were worked out, and the evidence for an old earth was starting to accumulate.

Turning to the biblical perspective, the authors deal with common young-earth arguments regarding the primacy of Scripture over science. They point out that: “Although we believe that natural science does not and cannot provide a positive interpretation of what a biblical text says, science certainly can raise questions about the validity of traditional interpretations, thus encouraging us to rethink more thoroughly what the text is really saying.” (p. 173). Also, “…the exegetes of the scientific era are not the only ones who have been influenced by their cultural milieu. It is impossible to exegete Scripture in a cultural vacuum. Every biblical interpreter throughout the history of the church, including the church fathers, has been unavoidably shaped and influenced by the cultural context in which he or she lived.” (p. 174). “So the perspicuity [clarity] of Scripture focuses on the central thrust of the Bible, the gospel of salvation. But even the message of salvation is not obviously and immediately clear to everyone upon the first reading of the text…From another angle, however, Genesis 1 is remarkable for the fact that even a child can grasp the substance of the chapter no matter how the details play out” (p. 180). These statements all illustrate the idea that the “plain reading of Scripture” does not always give us the correct meaning right away.

The geological section of the book is where the average reader will probably have the hardest time plowing through. The authors go into significant detail about geological ideas and locations to show where the young-earth theory doesn’t fit reality. The topics include:

  •  the nature of the stratigraphic record
  •  fossil graveyards (such as the Green River formation fossils shown on the front cover)
  •  the clues to ancient environments and time intervals visible in the strata
  •  the origin, formation, and characteristics of plutons (molten rock masses that slowly rise toward the surface, eventually cool, and form mountains in some places – a research interest of Davis Young)
  • two chapters on radiometric dating – a favorite attack point by young-earth creationists.

There are also two case studies included on the Michigan Basin stratigraphy and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Photos and diagrams are especially prevalent in this section of the book.

Closing out the book are two chapters on philosophical perspectives: “Uniformitarianism, Catastrophism and Empiricism”, and “Creationism, Evangelism and Apologetics”. In the first, the authors examine and reject the uniformitarian vs. catastrophist straw man argument commonly put forth by young-earth creationists and conclude: “But if this debate over the age of the Earth is not really about physical evidence, then what is it about? We believe that those who are most firmly committed to young-Earth creationism do so because they are convinced that a divinely inspired, infallible, inerrant Bible demands it.” (p. 473). In the second chapter, under the section entitled “The Dangers of Continuing to Promote a Young Earth”, they say, “We submit that persistent advocacy of young-Earth creationism and Flood geology by churches, Christian organizations and individual believers results in two extremely serious consequences that damage the cause of Christ.” (p. 476)

What are these consequences? First, that children who are taught young-earth creationism in school and church will most likely be confronted with mainstream science in college, and may undergo a devastating crisis of faith when exposed to the evidence for an old earth. Secondly, evangelistic and apologetic efforts towards scientists are highly unlikely to succeed when young-earth creationism beliefs are presented as an integral part of the Gospel message.

Although, in my opinion, the authors go a little too far in rejecting a progressive creationist and concordist view of Scripture, it is a minor point in the book. They masterfully and exhaustively explore the subject of geology and the Bible, showing that it is only the young-earth creationists who reject the major findings of geology. In the end, the conclusion that the real sticking point is a particular Bible interpretation shows us where the most useful future study can be done. “It is healthier to maintain a belief in an old Earth in tension with the raw data of Genesis 1 than to persist in distorting the biblical text simply to achieve harmony. We should be content to let both bodies of revelation speak for themselves and listen as carefully as we can.” (p. 489)

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Some other works by Davis A. Young are listed below. He has abandoned his earlier progressive creation views since some of them were written.

Books:

  • Creation and the Flood: An Alternative to Theistic Evolution and Flood Geology, Baker, 1977.
  • Christianity and the Age of the Earth, Zondervan, 1982.
  • The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence, Eerdmans, 1995.

Articles:
“How Old is It? How Do We Know? A Review of Dating Methods”, parts 1-3, 2006-07.

(Written 2009)