Martin Luther on Creation (III)

69FC4E73-769C-4A4B-AC5E-5005F505F527Continuing our journey through Volume One of Luther’s Works, we come to another point that we have addressed here previously, and that is the claim that “young earth six-day creationism” is a relative newcomer on the theological scene, and specifically the product of American “fundamentalism.” 

Once again, even a cursory study of historical theology disproves these claims, and a study of Martin Luther’s teaching makes it clear. 

“We know from Moses,” Luther writes already in the third paragraph of his first lecture, “that the world was not in existence before 6,000 years ago. Of this is it altogether impossible to convince a philosopher, because, according to Aristotle, no first man or last man can be conceded.” 

My point here is not to argue that the world can be no more than 6,000 years old. That’s not a hill I’m willing to die on, although theologians that I respect do argue for a strict Biblical chronology, basing themselves on the genealogical record included in Scripture to estimate that about 6,000 years have passed since the creation week. My point is, first of all, that “young earth creationism” is no novel idea; far from being the product of an American fundamentalist response to evolutionism, this has been the default view throughout the history of the church. Luther knew nothing of the developments that would arise in the 19th Century, when evolutionary geology would open the doors to the development of evolutionary biology and the idea that the universe is billions, and not thousands, of years old. But his conclusions, developed in the context of debates with non-Christian philosophers, were that the earth is, in relative terms, “young.” 

As for a “literal” six days of creation, this understanding of Scripture’s teaching also has a lengthy pedigree – as do competing viewpoints which deny that creation occurred during one week of regular days. Luther turns his attention to this topic in his discussion of the creation of human beings on the sixth day, and declares his opposition to “Hilary and others, who maintained that God created everything at the same time”:

“Here our opinion is supported: that the six days were truly six natural days, because here Moses says that Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day. One may not use sophistries with reference to this text. But concerning the order of creation of man he will state in the following chapter that Eve was made sometime after Adam, not like Adam, from a clod of earth, but from his rib, which God took out of the side of Adam as he slept. These are all works of time, that is, works that require time. They were not performed in one moment; neither were these acts: that God brings to Adam every animal and that there was not found one like him, etc. These are acts requiring time, and they were performed on the sixth day.”

Today, “six-day creationism” is opposed to the evolutionary idea that the world as we know it is the product of billions of years of development, whether guided by God, in the case of theistic evolution or progressive creationism, or not guided or directed by anything at all. In Luther’s day, and before, this understanding stood in opposition to instantaneous creation (which Augustine and Hilary held to), and the philosophical idea of the eternity of matter. But regardless of the nature of opposing viewpoints, the Biblical argument remains the same.

And that Biblical argument, far from being peripheral or a minor point on which we can simply “agree to disagree,” is in fact a foundational one. God has spoken. His Word is perfect, and is our ultimate authority. With Luther, we must strongly maintain that “one may not use sophistries with reference to this text.” What is sophistry? According to the definition I found, sophistry is “the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.” We have received the Word of Truth, and we need to do our utmost to “rightly handle” that Word (2 Timothy 2:15). The issue of our origins is intimately linked to the issue of our fall, and that of our redemption. All must be rightly handled. May God help us to do just that.

Martin Luther on Creation (II)

69FC4E73-769C-4A4B-AC5E-5005F505F527The ancient Hebrew cosmology, we’re told repeatedly, included an understanding that there is a hard shell over the earth, known as the “firmament.” We’ve addressed this misunderstanding here before, but once again, Martin Luther has something to teach us on this subject.

I’m returning to the first volume of Luther’s Works, and specifically what he had to say about the firmament in Genesis 1:6.  Why? Because Luther is correct here, when he explains the meaning of the Hebrew word “raqia” (“expanse,” or “firmament”). Luther writes:

“The Hebrew word “raqia” denotes ‘something spread out,’ from the verb ‘raqa,’ which means ‘to expand’ or ‘to fold out.’ The heaven was made in this manner, that the unformed mass extended itself outward as the bladder of a pig extends itself outward in circular form when it is inflated – if I may be permitted to make use of a coarse comparison in order to make the process clear.”

But what about Job 37:18? That verse says:

“Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?” 

Isn’t it clear from this verse, found in one of the earliest books of the Old Testament, that the ancient cosmology did in fact include a hard shell above the earth? So goes the argument; the creation account reflects the cosmology of the ancient Hebrews, and as such does not describe in “literal” terms the makeup of the universe.

Luther responds:

“This pertains not to the material but to the Word, which makes very strong even that which is very soft by nature. What is softer than water, what is thinner and finer than air? Yet because these very fine and soft substances were created by the Word, they preserve their form and motion most perfectly and firmly. But even if the heaven had been constructed of steel or of an infinitely harder material, it would break and melt because of its swift, long, and continuous motion. The sun, too, would melt one day as a result of its swift motion, even if it consisted of the hardest material. For motion produces great heat; in fact, Aristotle declares that the lead on an arrow melts on account of its swift motion.” 

Luther’s explanation of the nature of the firmament is interesting on a couple of levels. First of all, he debunks the “solid dome” idea in a few words, and does so by doing the work of exegesis using the text of Scripture itself in the first place. He goes on to add:

“Among the Hebrews the firmament got its name from the expanding. Thus in Psalm 104 the comparison with skins and camp tents, taken from military life, cleverly alludes to the word. The expression is: ‘Stretching out the heaven like a tent curtain’ (Ps. 104:2). ‘For just as a folded-up tent is unfolded and pitched in a field,’ the psalm says,’ so Thou dost spread out and, as it were, unroll by Thy Word the unformed heaven, where Thou dost sit invisibly in the whole of creation, just as in a sphere, within all things and outside all things.’”

In the second place, Luther interacted with the scientific knowledge that he had available to him – in this case, the teaching of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, and later the conclusions of contemporary philosophers. But he does so not in order to re-interpret Scripture to conform with the philosophers’ conclusions. Rather, this knowledge leads him to glorify God and the power of his creative and providential Word. This philosophical (or scientific, to use the modern term) knowledge is limited and provisional. It is always subject to revision. It’s useful, Luther says, but it’s useful within its limits:

“It would… be the height of stupidity to sneer at these ideas [those of the philosophers or scientists of the day], as some do, because they are not so definite that they could not be otherwise. They contribute toward teaching the arts, and this is sufficient.”

But in the end, writes Luther:

“We Christians must… be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of these things. And if some are beyond our comprehension (like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens), we must believe them and admit our lack of knowledge rather than either wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding. We must pay attention to the expression of Holy Scripture and abide by the words of the Holy Spirit, whom it pleases to distribute His creatures in this way…”

These are words to live by! We must acknowledge our limitations, the creaturely limitations that are inherent to our very being (the fact that we are limited creatures, and not the Creator), and the additional limitations and distortions of our understanding which were caused by the fall into sin. 

Martin Luther on Creation (I)

69FC4E73-769C-4A4B-AC5E-5005F505F527I recently acquired a copy of  Luther’s Works, Volume 1: Lectures on Genesis 1-5. It’s always enjoyable to read Luther, and his typically “earthy” style is in evidence in this volume, even though these are transcriptions of Luther’s original lectures, with the occasional addition made by a later writer. As the editor of this volume says, “The hands are sometimes the hands of the editors, but the voice is nevertheless the voice of Luther.”

These lectures were originally delivered nearly five hundred years ago. But despite their age, and despite the fact that Luther seeks to correct errors that were then common, but which have now been replaced by others, there is much here that is very applicable to current discussions on the Biblical account of creation. “Everything old is new again,” as the song says. Or even better, “There is nothing new under the sun,” as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes.

The first aspect of Luther’s lectures that is worth noting is Luther’s humility before God’s Word. Luther often wrote and spoke brashly, but like John Calvin, he knew when to be silent, and he knew that the believer’s proper posture before God’s Word is one of absolute humility. And so, speaking of the eternity of God, he writes:

“He is within, without, and above all creatures; that is, He is still incomprehensible. Nothing else can be said, because our mind cannot grasp what lies outside of time.”

Writing of the creation of light on the first day, Luther reveals the same sort of humble acceptance of what God’s Word says:

“Although it is difficult to say what sort of light it was, nevertheless I do not agree that we should without reason depart from the rules of language or that we should by force read meanings into words. Moses says plainly that there was light, and he counts this day as the first of the creation. Therefore I am of the opinion that this was true light and that its motion carried it in a circle, just as sunlight moves in a circle.” 

One more example, from Luther’s comments on Genesis 1:6, shows Luther’s reverence for God’s self-revelation in his word. Regarding the separation of the “waters above” from the “waters below,” Luther explains:

“But Moses says in plain words that the waters were above and below the firmament. Here I, therefore, take my reason captive and subscribe to the Word even though I do not understand it.” 

In a subsequent post or two I’d like to get into some other important points that Luther makes about the creation week that remain very applicable in our context. But even before getting into details, it’s Luther’s approach to the Word that is very instructive, and vitally important. Interpretation of individual passages flows from this starting point: a posture of humble acceptance of God’s Word, even where we are unable to entirely explain it, even where our understanding of it isn’t where we would like it to be.

As the saying of Anselm of Canterbury puts it, “Credo ut intelligam” – “I believe so that I may understand.” 

In subsequent posts, we’ll look at Luther’s lectures on the first chapters of Genesis in some more detail, using the same starting point that Luther himself used. 

Science Uprising: a revolutionary case for Intelligent Design

Science-uprisingThe Bible tells us this world and this universe were spoken into being by God Himself, and that Mankind is the pinnacle of His creation (Ps. 8:3-9, Gen. 1:26-28). Meanwhile mainstream science – the sort we read about in the newspapers and get taught in our public schools and universities – says we’re only modified monkeys.

So which is it? Are we a special creation? Or does the scientific evidence show we’re just the products of time and chance?

As the six videos below lay out, there’s evidence aplenty to undermine mainstream science’s modified monkey theory. And while evolution preaches we are matter and nothing more, that turns out to be philosphy, not evidence-based.

Each of the videos are between 6 and 8 minutes long, and all are part of the “Science Uprising” project crafted by the Intelligent Design think tank Discovery Institute to “directly confronts the false views of science held by the growing number of science popularizers like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye.

Be aware, though, that Science Uprising is not a specifically Christian argument. In none of these videos is the Bible mentioned, and the Intelligent Designer the series argues for is never specifically named. That means the project, as compelling as its argument is and as professional as the production values are, has a notable shortcoming: it ably tears down evolutionary arguments, but it never raises up God’s Truth. If we share this material with non-Christian friends, we need to also point out everyone’s need for a Redeemer, and share with our audience who that Saviour is, the God-man Jesus.

That limitation noted, this whole series is remarkable. This is as succinct and slick a presentation of the Intelligent Design argument as you will ever find. So grab some popcorn, shut off your phone, and for the next hour kick back and enjoy the show!

Materialism vs. reality – Episode #1

The Bible says that the universe and all that is in it was created by Someone who is more than it and beyond it. But materialist science tells us “the cosmos are all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be.”

So is our universe matter and nothing more, and is it anti-science to believe that non-material things like love and consciousness are real? Dr. Jay Richards weighs in.

No, you’re not a robot made out of meat – Episode #2

Who are we? The Bible says we are physical and spiritual beings – we have a body, but we are more than our body. If I lose an arm and leg, I may have lost 25% of my body, but am still all there – there isn’t 25% less of me.

And the evidence agrees. For example, it shows that our immaterial minds – our thoughts – can actually change our material brains.

The Programmer – Episode #3

The Bible says we were are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a Master Craftsman.

And what does Science say? The materialist scientists reduce us to mere machine. And yet they have to acknowledge that “our DNA code is more complex than any man-made software…” And as Stephen Meyer explains, our observations of the world show us “information always arises from an intelligent source.”

You don’t suck – Episode #4

The Bible declares that Man is something special, created in the very image of God (Gen. 1:26-28).

Materialist science has a very different perspective. As Bill Nye puts it, “I am a speck on a speck, a whirling speck, among still other specks in the middle of specklessness….I suck!” At the same time, scientists are discovering that this supposedly purposeless universe seems to be especially and improbably fine-tuned to not just support life but to enable us to thrive.

How do the materialists explain that? By proposing this is just one of millions or billions or trillions of universes out there, and this is the one where everything came out just right. One problem: as physicist Frank Tipler explains there’s exactly as much evidence for this “multiverse theory” as there is for the existence of unicorns and leprechauns

The origins of life – Episode #5

The Bible says that life was designed, and came about by an extraordinary supernatural act of God. In contrast, materialist science says that life came about by simple, random, unguided chemical interactions.

But if life really could come about by sheer unintended luck, then why haven’t the world’s most brilliant scientists – with their billions of dollars in equipment, awesome computing power, refined chemicals, and ready blueprints all around them – ever been able to create life on purpose?

Mutations break; they don’t create – Episode #6

The Bible says that due to Man’s Fall into Sin the perfect world that God created is broken, and wearing out (Isaiah 51:6, Ps. 102:25-25). In this worldview it is no surprise that mutations are harmful, causing things like cancer. It’s no surprise because Christians understand that we as a species are breaking down.

But evolutionary theory says Mankind is the end result of a long process of beneficial mutations that changed us and improved us, progressing upward from life’s simple origins as a single cell, to eventually evolve into the incredibly complex creatures that we are today. Evolution says that we as a species are improving.

So which worldview fits best with the evidence? Do we see mutations improving us, or harming us? A closer look at the science shows that mutations don’t have the type of creative power the evolution proposes and needs.

The picture at the top of the page is a screenshot from episode #6.

 

Book Review: The Lie

The Lie: Evolution/Millions of Years (25th Anniversary Edition), Ken Ham.  Green Forest: Master Books, 2016.  Paperback, 236 pages.

When I was growing up in Edmonton, one of the biggest things that helped me stay convinced of the biblical view of creation was attendance at a number of presentations organized by the Creation Science Association of Alberta.  One in particular stands out in my memory:  Dr. Steven Austin at the Jubilee Auditorium in about 1985.   I remember because his name struck me:  I thought I was going to go and listen to the Six Million Dollar Man.  I also remember because, even though I was only 12 years old, his presentation on Mt. Saint Helens drove home how drastic geological changes can take place in a brief period of time.

Since coming here to Australia, our church has been invited to a couple of similar presentations.  One was from Answers in Genesis, an organization which has its roots here Down Under.  As they usually do, AiG had a table of books for sale and among them was the 25th anniversary edition of The Lie, by AiG founder Ken Ham.  The book was deeply discounted and I do have Dutch roots, so I couldn’t resist.

There are a few things that really stand out to me about The Lie.

One is that Ken Ham rightly construes the debate.  It’s not ultimately about creation versus evolution.  It’s about God’s Word versus man’s word.  It’s about revelation from God versus the pretension of autonomous human reasoning.  There are really two different religions at war with one another.

Because he gets the debate rightly framed, he also understands that our starting point as Christians has to be the Word of God.  In other words, he’s a presuppositionalist.  He demonstrates how it’s not enough to throw evidences and reasoning at evolutionists without challenging what’s at the core of their belief system:  a commitment to independence from God.  This illustration lays out the problem that often exists with regard to Christian efforts to defeat evolution:

We spend too much of our time taking potshots at the consequences of unbelief, when we should be barraging the foundations with concentrated fire.

That brings me to another stand-out feature of The Lie:  great illustrations.   Anyone who’s been to an AiG presentation would remember them.  Illustrations can really help to drive home unfamiliar abstract concepts.

Another important element of the book is its value for educators.  Earlier in his life, Ken Ham was a science teacher in Queensland, Australia.  He made some blunders in his early efforts to teach creation versus evolution.  His honesty about those and his elucidation of better ways deserve the attention of every Christian teacher, especially those who teach science and/or Bible.

Finally, I also really appreciated the way Ham argues that millions or billions of years is foundational to evolutionary thinking.  You can’t have one without the other.  At the same time, he points out that the key issue is not the age of the earth.  He writes, “Believing in a relatively young earth (i.e. only a few thousand years old) is a consequence of accepting the authority of the Word of God over fallible man’s word” (p.126).

Toward the end of the book, Ham notes that Answers in Genesis has heard from many people about how their ministry establishing the creation/fall foundation has been instrumental in opening doors for the gospel.  It’s true.  I have a colleague in New Zealand who became a Christian after listening to a talk by Ken Ham.  His unbelief, using evolution as an excuse, was challenged to the core and the Holy Spirit used that to bring him to faith in Christ.  Buy The Lie for someone like that – it may just be something God uses to bring them the invaluable gift of eternal life!

2 free films tackle evolution from different directions

Human Zoos (1 hour)

Are we made in the very Image of God? Evolutionists say no, and Human Zoos explores some of the implications of their beastly thinking.

The Programming of Life 2: Earth (1/2 hour)

Our planet is incredibly fine-tuned for life, and yet amazingly robust in its provision for that life. This film explores how unlikely it is that the Earth would just happen to have everything that we need in exactly the proportions we need. This is a fantastic sequel to Programming for Life which explored just how impossible it would have been for life to have come about by chance. You can watch that one for free too, right here.

The cautions I would add are that the scientists consulted run the gamut from six-day creationist to intelligent design proponent to theistic evolutionist, and there seems a sort of “scientism” at work here (Science as the sole arbitrator of truth). That said, the overall argument they make – that the evidence shows that the Earth is uniquely and clearly designed for life – is one we can endorse wholeheartedly.