Friday, June 24, 2011

Worthwhile Dip into Origins Controversy

AOL/HuffPost blogger Jonathan Dudley has a decently thoughtful polemic piece on the problems of young-earth creationism for Christian believers. We find it most useful for its litany of unsolved problems in young-earth creationism, which, to borrow a paleontological phrase, merely scratches the surface. For those who are used to hearing polemical pieces that list problems with Darwinian evolution, the list should at least provide some measure of reflective concern. The reality is that the convergence of evidence for an old universe with an old earth on which living things developed over time is ginormous, while the reasons to think that evolution is antibiblical hinge on interpretations of "day" and "kind" in Genesis 1 that are at best debatable. And the biblical refrain, "Before the mountains were formed" suggests something rather more ancient than "a week ago last Tuesday."

We're not sure how Dudley links the ignoring of science in young-earthism to his closing remarks about mistakes regarding the etiology of homosexuality or the value of stem-cell research. We assume those are teasers to induce purchase of his book. We aren't teased enough to part with our hard-earned earnings, however. Call that "survival of the fittest."


Anonymous said...

I can't think of what major doctrine hasn't been debated. My biggest problem is the caricature about the Biblical evidence. But, the meaning of "day" in Gen isn't the only Biblical data. There is also Ex 20, where the days form the basis for our work week. There is also that Jesus and Paul seem to have accepted the historicity of the account of Genesis (Mat 19:4; 1 Tim 2:13-14; 1 Cor 11:8-9; Rom 5:14; Heb 11:14). Admittedly, these don't speak to exactly how long a day was. But that, in general, the Genesis account was accepted.
I'm not looking for a big debate here, nor am I a person capable of such debate. I merely would like it to be recognized that 1) not all who reject evolution are AiG lemmings, and 2) the Biblical evidence, just because it is debatable, isn't necessarily as weak as some have made out. There are people out there, and I'd like to consider myself one of them, who do seriously think about these things. I agree that Christian scientists haven't always done a great job representing Christianity, and maybe there are some point, such as in that article, that need more attention. I hope that gets done, and I enjoy reading articles from all perspectives.
My other concern becomes, how much scientific evidence do we need to accept something in the Bible as historical fact rather than allegory? I've heard biblical archaeologists counting everything up to Jehu as pure allegory and invention. I try very hard to resist slippery slope arguments, but there are real concerns.
I'll stop rambling now. Once again, not looking to debate the evidence here and take away from your blog, but just a little more than the usual caricature that portrays non-evolutionists.

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

What do Jesus, Paul or Moses say that demands that the earth is young? We don't think that was a point of concern for them, so we think it's a gross act of eisegesis to interrogate the text on this point. Genesis 1-3 is true in what it teaches: we affirm that as Christians. We need to think about what it teaches, and what it doesn't. We think your statement is not sorting that question out carefully.

JB in CA said...

Either the word "day" is used metaphorically in Genesis 2:4 to denote all six days of creation, or it's used literally to denote a twenty-four hour period. If it's used literally, verse 2:4 contradicts the claim, in Genesis 1, that the heavens and the earth were created in six days. If it's used metaphorically, there's no contradiction and no reason to think that it must always denote a twenty-four hour period.

Anonymous said...

JB, you can do better than that! As to Gen 2:4, I don't know anyone who claims that "day" can never be used metaphorically, just that there are indicators in the text of Gen 1 that evidence a literal day. On the other hand, if "day" is metaphorical for millions of years, and Adam was created on day 6 and lived through day 7, he should have been more than 900 some years old.

SWNID, I have considered what you said. Since you asked... What does Moses have to say about the length of the days? Well, in addition to the evening and morning bit, that they model the work week. I don't think that Sabbath commandment was about taking a few million years off after many millions of years of work. What does Jesus have to say about the length? Adam and Eve were "in the beginning," not few million years after the beginning. Is Jesus' main point the length of a day? No. Does His statement give evidence? That's a different question. I think so. I don't think it is conclusive evidence. However, when combined with other evidence makes part of a strong argument.
I'm not accusing anyone here of denying the truth of Gen 1-3, but am saying that Jesus and Paul seem to cite it as historical fact not as a truth expressed through metaphor. I have followed your blog and some other writings for some time and wouldn't accuse you of questioning the veracity of the Bible.
Maybe since this is one of the few topics with which I seem to disagree with you, and since it isn't a life-or-death matter, I'll just think of it as one of the few times implied in "seldom."

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

Anon, we appreciate your zeal for the text and your refraining from accusing us of denying the text's truth, but your discussion embeds many, many assumptions that simply don't address the question. There's no particular reason why a metaphorical narrative can't provide a basis for a "literal" social practice, like the seven-day week. Further, you seem to assume that if days in the creation narrative don't refer to 24-hour periods, then they must refer to epochs. That is not the only or best alternative in reading this text.

Let us presume to recommend some reading: John Walton's The Lost World of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. As you read, keep in mind that the text of Genesis was written to address the origins questions of its own day, not ours, so to interrogate the text first with our questions instead of the ancient ones will not yield the information that the text seeks to impart.

Leather Wii said...

What Dudley provides is not a "litany of unsolved problems in young-earth creationism," but rather a number of arguments that have been thoughtfully, technically, and admirably examined by researchers for organizations SWNID apparently believes are not worthy of his time (this gentle reader has been lurking long enough to be familiar with SWNID's view of Answers In Genesis).

Consider this brief, but well footnoted and linked article by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell:

When all is revealed in the hereafter, she (and I) may turn out to have been wrong about the young age of the earth. But we are not wholesale unaware of the scientific and technical issues on the table as SWNID's broad and dismissive statements seem at times to suggest. Nor are we as confident as he that the debate is largely over and could the young-earthers please shed your ignorance and just accept the SWNIDish expertise on this already?

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

LW, we opine that the piece you link is just more of the same. It's polemical, not empirical, based on theological assumptions that we don't find biblical at all, sometimes avoiding the issue by distorting the point of the other side's language, never really beginning to account for the vast, interlinked explanatory power of the notion that the universe is billions of years old.

The core of the post which we liked and to which AIG responds is that in every respect, the universe appears to be old. AIG's attempt to theologize this problem away, that time is our reference point and not God's, really is incoherent and, if taken seriously, means that rational discussion of this issue, including any empirical science about pre-history, is impossible. Time is an illusion, apparently (and "apparently" has become an ironic expression, to say the least).

Take the further step of realizing that human life actually depends on the aging of the universe and the earth, and you've got a different kettle of fish. Shed the notion that the Bible speaks to the age of the earth (i.e. let go of modernistic notions of "day" and "kind" in Gen 1), and the direction is different.

We defy you to find, amidst our deliberately scornful statements about young-earth hufflepuffle, any statement that seriously appeals to gentle readers to take it all on our sublime authority.

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

On reflection, LW, we are compelled to add an observation.

The entire AIG enterprise depends on the notion that humans are so fallen that they can't do science. The way out of that miserable impasse is to let the Bible be the guide to the fallen. But they never really help us understand either why we can trust ourselves to understand the Bible when we can't trust ourselves to understand what we observe in the world, including especially trusting ourselves to conclude, against the opinions of many who at least profess faith like that of AIG folk, that the Bible teaches something about the age of the earth.

By AIG's reasoning, we conclude, one really can't trust oneself to know anything. Or anyone else.