Wednesday, April 05, 2006

New Fossil a Problem for Young Earthers

The NY Times offers a helpful, if not altogether informative, report on the discovery of several skeletons that appear to be those of transitional life forms between fish and amphibians. There's enough here to make the claim credible: a swiveling head, limbs in the making, and the like.

So what does this all mean?

Well, it means that a lot of young-earth creationists need to stop saying that there are no transitional forms in the fossil record. There have been before, and this one is a doozy. Even the Times's article cites a creationist web site that makes the now-even-more unsupportable claim that there are no transitional species.

Second, this discovery adds to the reasons that young-earth creationists need to think about becoming old-earth creationists. There's nothing lost theologically, lots gained empirically, and perhaps most importantly, we can get over the idea that to believe Christianity one has to stop believing what one can see for oneself.

Third, anti-theistic evolutionists need to realize the limitations of their discovery. Granted the likelihood that these skeletons are those of life forms that could be termed transitional, we still have no notion of the mechanism that brings about such changes in the patterns of reproduction from one generation to the next. We do not resort to the "God of the gaps" when we posit that something like the present complexity could not arise by chance. Rather, we observe that with every discovery, the gaps become bigger, less likely to be closed without something as big as God in them, and so rationally asking for such a solution.

But this last point won't get discussed. Old-earth creationists and ID proponents (basically the same folk) will get lumped together with the young-earth creationists in the rhetorical blizzard that will follow this discovery. We urge readers to wear warm clothing and carry a compass until the blizzard passes.


Anonymous said...

We have had this discussion before, but my take is that we should invert the saying to "the science of the gaps." We fill the gaps with theology and they do it with theory. I do not stick God in the gaps, but rather in the reality, whatever that turns out to be because the reality is too blasted complex without him. Science must be unencumbered to increase our knowledge of the complexity. The concept of intelligence must be used to explain any reality that appears. Science is responible to fill in the gaps and to create greater gaps and show greater complexity.

It is the responsibility of science to fill in scientific gaps, but only with empirical data.

When we let the young earthers like Ken Ham control the minds of young people on the interpretation of scripture it says our profession can be practiced by an early transitional hominid.

Danny Joe (kesil gadol)

KevinK said...

We should reserve judgement on whether or not this fossil is a "problem for young earthers" until it is verified scientifically. It could turn out to be another Piltdown Man.

Dustin said...

"and perhaps most importantly, we can get over the idea that to believe Christianity one has to stop believing what one can see for oneself."

This is a fantastic quote. I have often wondered why so many in Christendom would rather put their hand over their eyes when it comes to scientific discovery and understanding. It just seems to portray the majority of Christianity as backwater yokels who would rather turn a blind eye to science, and wholeheartedly support ideas which have been disproven in their entirety. I guess ignorance is bliss for some people.

Anonymous said...

We need to talk. Being a "Young Earther", I take issue with your statement that with an old Earth nothing is lost theologically. But, indeed, something is lost theologically. Death and suffering then existed before Adam's sin. Adam's sin is what the Bible says caused death and suffering, and thus necessitated Jesus' coming. Therefore, an old Earth brings into dispute the plan of redemption.

I think one can be a Christian and believe in an old Earth, but I also think it may cause problems convincing others to accept Christ.

(Yikes, I'm arguing theology with a Bible professor!)

Dave O.

Dustin said...

"Death and suffering then existed before Adam's sin."

I'm not sure I would fully agree with this assertion. Simply because God created the world in a "mature" state does not necessitate death and suffering to occur. Also, is it not possible that our understanding of "mature" is quite different due to the fallen nature which is inherent within us? Could it be possible that our understanding is severely limited regarding how creation and the world functioned before the Fall?

Just some questions I have for you, Dave O. Also, could you maybe elaborate more thoroughly your theological reasoning behind the statement I quoted above?

Mrs SWNID said...

I do hope jb in ca is going to weigh in on this debate!

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

The issue on death is when it has "deathness" and when it doesn't. That is, when is death an expression of God's judgment and when is it not.

Let's remember first that the notion that animals didn't die prior to the fall is entirely conjectural. The Bible doesn't say it or imply it.

Let's remember second that if every animal prior to the fall was a herbivore, there was still death. Plants died as they were eaten by herbivores.

In Rom 5:12ff, Paul uses "death" not just to refer to physical death but to the entire notion of God's judgment, as in "the wages of sin is death" a couple of chapters before.

So I'm totally comfortable with the idea that things died before the fall of humanity but that death entered the world with Adam. It's just a typical semantic shift of the kind that happens all the time in biblical, and other, discourse.

KevinK said...

Interesting points.

Since the Bible exists as a record of man's relationship with God, I am not sure that whether animals died before death entered the world through Adam has any bearing on this discussion. That belongs with the debate on whether animals enter the Kingdom.

I tend to lean toward the young earth argument as well -- but ultimately I don't believe the age of the earth will have any impact on my relationship with Christ.

Anonymous said...

"It was good." I don't think God would have said it was good if there was death and suffering. Yes, I include animals; no, I don't include plants. They were intended for food.

What's the problem with a young Earth? Unless one is an atheist, there's no real good reason to believe in an old Earth. My understanding leads me to take the words of Genesis 1 literally. I see no reason not to. Dating techniques are highly questionable due to the assumptions applied to them. Most fossils can be attributed to Noah's flood. I just don't see what the problem is. (Yes, I've heard of theistic evolution and progressive creation. I just don't buy 'em. That take us back to the death problem again.)

Dave O.

P.S. You won't hear from me again until Easter weekend. I'll be gone. I didn't give up!

mrs jb in ca said...

Dear Mrs SWNID,
JB in CA is teaching 5 different courses this semester, 2 of them new courses. The work load has recently caught up with him and decreased his blog-time. He assures me that he'll be weighing in soon, though. He enjoyed your request.
Are you coming back to CA this summer?

Mrs SWNID said...

Always good to hear from you, too, mrs jb in ca. I'll wait patiently for the mr's response. Alas, we are not coming to CA this summer, but I wish we were. I loved it more than I ever dreamed possible. You were right all along--OF COURSE!

Kevin K said...

"It just seems to portray the majority of Christianity as backwater yokels who would rather turn a blind eye to science, and wholeheartedly support ideas which have been disproven in their entirety. I guess ignorance is bliss for some people."

I am not sure I agree with this statement. Being a young earther doesn't mean that we have turned a blind eye to science. We prefer to examine all the evidence that is out there