The cost of an old earth: Is it worth it?

old-earth

by John Byl

Until recently, most Christians believed that the Bible teaches us that the earth was only a few thousand years ago. This contradicts mainstream science, which holds that the earth is billions of years old. Consequently, many Christians, have modified their reading of the Bible accordingly.

At first sight, this may seem rather harmless. The age of the earth hardly seems to be a doctrine essential to the Bible’s main message of salvation.

Yet, much more is at stake than first meets the eye.

Accepting mainstream science on the age of the earth entails that we accept the reliability of its dating methods, with all the underlying presumptions. It entails also that we should likewise accept other results of mainstream science that are based on similar assumptions.

Let’s see what this implies.

The order of creation 

We note first that mainstream science challenges not only the timescale of the Genesis creation account but also its order.

Genesis 1

  • Day 1 – Water, earthly elements, then light
  • Day 2 – Firmament, then oceans, atmosphere
  • Day 3 – Dry land, then land vegetation, fruit trees, grass
  • Day 4 – Sun, moon, stars
  • Day 5 – Marine life, then birds
  • Day 6 – Land animals, then humans

Mainstream science

  • 14 billion years ago (bya) – light, light elements, then stars, galaxies, then heavy elements,water
  • 58 bya – Sun
  • 54 bya – earth
  • 550 million years ago (mya) – first fish
  • 440 mya – first primitive plants
  • 360 mya – first land animals – reptiles
  • 245 mya – first mammals
  • 210 mya – first birds
  • 140 mya – first flowering plants
  • 70 mya – first grasses, fruit trees
  • 2 mya – first tool-making humanoids

Note that the two orders differ at many places. For example, Genesis has fruit trees first, then birds, and then land animals; mainstream science has exactly the reverse. Genesis has the earth before the Sun and stars; mainstream science has stars and Sun before the earth, etc.

Since it does not help to simply recast the creation days as long periods of time, most commentators trying to accommodate mainstream science now advocate that Genesis 1 has to be taken as a purely literary structure, with no real historical information – other than stating that God created the entire universe.

The effect of the Fall

A second consequence concerns the Fall of Adam. Calvin (and Kuyper) believed that predation, death, disease, thorns, earthquakes all arose as a result of the Fall. Viewed in terms of the traditional reading of Genesis, the fossil record reflects events that all happened after the Fall.

Acceptance of an old earth, on the other hand, entails that the fossils we observe mostly reflect life before the Fall. Predation, pain, suffering, disease, earthquakes and the like must then have existed already before the Fall. The fossil record, thus viewed, implies that the Fall did not have any observable effects on the earth or on non-human life. It follows that proponents of an old earth must minimize the physical consequences of Adam’s fall.

Traditionally, all animal suffering is seen as a result of human sin. But now it must be seen as part of the initial “very good” creation. Further, if the current world is not a world that has fallen from a better initial state, how can there be a universal restoration (cf Romans 8:19-23; Col. 1:16-20)?

There are other difficulties. For example, how could Adam name all the animals if by then more than 99% had already become extinct?

Human history

Consider further the implications for human history.

According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were created directly by God (Gen. 2) about 4000 BC (Gen. 5 & 11). They were the parents of all humans (Gen. 3:20). The Bible describes Adam as a gardener, his son Abel as a shepherd, and his son Cain as a farmer who founded a city (Gen. 4). Tents, musical instruments and bronze and iron tools were all invented by the offspring of Cain (Gen. 4), who were later all destroyed by the Flood (Gen. 6-9), which destroyed all humans except for Noah and his family (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5). Within a few generations after the Flood there is a confusion of language and people spread out to populate the earth (Gen. 11).

Mainstream science, on the other hand, gives the following outline of human history:

  • 2 million years BC – homo erectus, anatomically very similar to modern man
  • 200,000 BC – oldest anatomically human Homo sapiens fossils (Ethiopia)
  • 40-50,000 BC – oldest artistic and religious artifacts
  • 40,000 BC – first aborigines in Australia (and continuously there ever since).
  • 9000 BC – first villages
  • 7500 BC – first plant cultivation, domesticated cattle and sheep (neo-lithic era)
  • 5000 BC – first bronze tools
  • 3000 BC – first written records
  • 1600 BC – first iron tools

The Biblical account is clearly at odds with the mainstream interpretation of the archaeological and fossil evidence.

For example, if Australian aborigines have indeed lived separately from the rest of the world for 40,000 years then the Flood, if anthropologically universal, must have occurred more than 40,000 years ago. But Genesis places the cultivation of plants and cattle, metal-working, cities, etc., before the Flood. Mainstream science places these events after 10,000 BC. Hence, according to mainstream science, Noah’s flood could not have occurred before 10,000 BC.

Consequently, an old earth position forces us to demote the Genesis flood to a local flood that did not affect all humans. Likewise, the tower of Babel incident (Gen.11) must now be localized to just a portion of mankind.

Consider also the origin of man. Since Adam’s sons were farmers, mainstream science sets the date of Adam no earlier than 10,000 BC. This entails that the Australian aborigines are not descendants of Adam. Thus Adam and Eve are not the ancestors of all humans living today. This undermines the doctrine of original sin, which the confessions say was propagated in a hereditary manner from Adam to all his posterity (Belgic Confession 15-16; Canons of Dordt 34:2-3). This, in turn, undermines the view of Christ’s atonement as a penal substitution where Christ, as a representative descendent of Adam, pays for the sins of Adam’s race. Many of those who accept an evolutionary view of man have thus re-interpreted the work of Jesus as merely an example of love.

Further, given the close similarity between human fossils of 10,000 and 2 million years ago, it becomes difficult to avoid concluding that Adam and Eve had human-like ancestors dating back a few million years. But that entails that Adam and Eve were not created directly by God, contrary to Gen. 2, and that human suffering and death occurred long before Adam’s fall, contrary to Rom. 5:12.

Conclusions

To sum up, embracing mainstream science regarding its assertion of an old earth entails the following consequences:

  1. Both the timescale and order of the creation account of Genesis 1 are wrong.
  2. The Flood of Gen. 6-8 must have been local, not affecting all humans.
  3. The Babel account of Gen. 11 must have been local, not affecting all humans.
  4. Adam’s fall – and the subsequent curse on the earth – did not significantly affect the earth, plants, animals, or the human body.
  5. Adam, living about 10,000 BC, could not have been the ancestor of all humans living today.
  6. Hence the doctrines of original sin and the atonement must be revised
  7. Adam had human ancestors
  8. Hence human physical suffering and death occurred before the Fall and are not a penalty for sin.

These, in turn, entail the following constraints on the Bible:

  1. 1-11 does not report reliable history.
  2. Hence the Bible cannot be taken at face value when describing historical events, in which case we cannot believe everything the Bible says (cf. Belgic Confession 5; Heidelberg CatechismQ/A 21).

In sum, acceptance of an old earth has dire consequences for the rest of Gen. 1-11, for Biblical clarity, authority and inerrancy, and for the essentials of salvation.

Worldviews come as package deals. One cannot simply mix and match. Logical consistency dictates that those who do not whole-heartedly base their worldview on the Bible will ultimately end up rejecting it.

A better course of action would thus be to hold fast to the full authority of the Bible, to re-consider the presuppositions leading to an old earth, and to interpret the data in terms of scientific theories that are consistent with Biblical truths.

This article first appeared in an Oct. 24, 2009 post on Dr. John Byl’s blog Bylogos.blogspot.com and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. John Byl is a Professor emeritus for Trinity Western University, and the author of “God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe” and “The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning.”

Evolution as a gravedigger

gravedigger

Theistic evolution undermines God’s Truth, but it’s only continuing what Old Earth Creationism began

by John Byl

Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland has recently published an excellent article, “Theistic evolution, Christian Knowledge and Culture’s Plausibility Structure“, in the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies (Volume 2, Issue 1:1-18, 2017). In it he reflects on the broader cultural implications of adopting theistic evolution as a means to integrate Christianity and science.

Knowledge and plausibility structures

Dr. Moreland notes that our Western society is highly empirical. Our culture presumes that valid knowledge can be acquired only through science (scientism), whereas non-empirical claims concerning values, ethics, spirits, and the like, are merely personal opinions (cultural relativism).

Today, the central issue is not whether Christianity is true, but whether it can be known to be true: Does Christianity have a valid source of knowledge? Knowledge is defined by Dr. Moreland as “true belief based on adequate grounds“.  He contends:

The deepest issue facing the church today is this: Are its main creeds and central teachings items of knowledge or mere matters of blind faith–privatized personal beliefs or issues of feeling to be accepted or set aside according to the whim of individual or cultural pressures? Do these teachings have cognitive and behavioral authority that set a worldview framework for approaching science, art, ethics–indeed, all of life? Or are cognitive and behavioral authority set by what scientists, evolutionary biologists, or the members of BioLogos say? Are the church’s doctrines determined by what Gallup polls tell us is embraced by cultural and intellectual elites? Do we turn to these sources and set aside or revise two thousand years of Christian thinking and doctrinal/creedal expressions in order to make Christian teaching acceptable to the neuroscience department at UCLA or the paleontologists at Cambridge?

The question of whether or not Christianity provides its followers with a range of knowledge is no small matter. It is a question of authority for life and death, and lay brothers and sisters are watching Christian thinkers and leaders to see how we approach this matter. And, in my view, as theistic evolutionists continue to revise the Bible over and over again, they inexorably give off a message about knowledge: science gives us hard knowledge based on evidence and with which we can be confident, and while theology and biblical teaching do not give us knowledge, they provide personal meaning and values for those with the faith to embrace them.

Every culture, Dr. Moreland writes, has a plausibility structure – a set of background assumptions that determines what ideas people are willing to entertain as possibly true. Our current Western cultural plausibility structure elevates science, and bans Christianity from serious consideration. Such cultural bias makes effective evangelization difficult.

Theistic evolution as a gravedigger

Dr. Moreland contends that the acceptance of theistic evolution by many Christians has greatly contributed to the undermining of Christianity as a source of knowledge:

In my view, there are certain contemporary currents of thought that risk undercutting Christianity as a source of knowledge, and I shall argue that by its very nature, theistic evolution is the prime culprit. It is one of the church’s leading gravediggers…

The term “gravedigger” (from Os Guinness’s 1983 book The Gravedigger File) refers to Christians who, though well-intended, adopt views that eventually undermine the church.

Dr. Moreland raises three concerns:

  1. Theistic evolution reinforces scientism. It exemplifies the notion that, when science and the Bible clash, we revise the Bible, not science, since scientific truth claims exhibit solid knowledge based on facts.
  2. Such willingness to revise Biblical interpretations held for 2000 years implies that Biblical teaching is tentative.
  3. The most pervasive form of theistic evolution holds that God’s involvement in evolution is undetectable, so that it is in practice indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. Most theistic evolutionists are opposed to Intelligent Design, the notion that God’s hand can readily be discerned in nature.

According to Dr. Moreland:

Theistic evolution is intellectual pacifism that lulls people to sleep while the barbarians are at the gates. In my experience, theistic evolutionists are usually trying to create a safe truce with science so Christians can be left alone to practice their privatized religion while retaining the respect of the dominant intellectual culture.

…Sometimes theistic evolutionists claim that by embracing evolution, they are actually contributing to the plausibility of Christianity by removing an unnecessary stumbling block – the rejection of evolution – before one can be a well-informed Christian. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. While there are exceptions, my experience with theistic evolutionists is that they have a weak faith, do not see many answers to prayer, and lack a vibrant, attractive Christian life. Ideas have consequences, and if one knows he had to revise the early chapters of Genesis, it will weaken his confidence in the rest of the Bible…After all, if we have to provide naturalistic revisions of the Bible over and over again, why take the yet-to-be-revised portions of scripture seriously? This approach significantly weakens the cognitive authority of the Bible as a source of knowledge of reality…

Given scientism, theistic evolution greases the skids towards placing non-scientific claims in a privatized upper story in which their factual, cognitive status is undermined…

Dr. Moreland expresses particular concern about the readiness of some Christian scholars to abandon belief in the historical reality of Adam and Eve. Given our culture’s current plausibility structure, this contributes to the marginalization of Christian teaching. He comments:

If I am right about the broader issues, then the rejection of an historical Adam and Eve has far more troubling implications than those that surface in trying to reinterpret certain biblical texts. The very status of biblical, theological and ethical teachings as knowledge is at stake in the current cultural milieu as is the church’s cognitive marginalization to a place outside the culture’s plausibility structure. Those who reject a historical Adam and Eve inadvertently harm the church by becoming its gravedigger.

Finally, Dr. Moreland notes that evolution entails that we are purely physical beings, and that an immaterial soul is no longer considered plausible within our modern culture. He deplores the fact that a number of Christian philosophers have adopted a physicalist view of humans.

Responding to cultural challenges

How should Christians respond to our culture, with its anti-Christian plausibility structure?

Dr. Moreland urges that we should not cave in to the prevailing contemporary currents of ideas. Instead, Christians should hold their ground, “eventually winning the argument due to hard-hitting scholarship and confidence in the Bible“:

Accordingly, it is of crucial importance that we promote the central teachings of Christianity in general as a body of knowledge and not as a set of faith-practices to be accepted on the basis of mere belief or a shared narrative alone. To fail at this point is to risk being marginalized and disregarded as those promoting a privatized set of feelings or desires that fall short of knowledge…

I want to win people to Christ and to “bring down strongholds” that undermine knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:3-5), to penetrate culture with a Christian worldview and to undermine its plausibility structure which, as things stand now, does not include objective theological claims.

He stresses the importance of apologetics, especially scientific apologetics, such as is done by the Intelligent Design movement (ID). The church should seek ways, such as a scientific critique of naturalist evolution, that may help to modify a person’s plausibility structure so as to create space in which Christianity can be seriously entertained.

How should conflicts with science be handled? Dr. Moreland advises that we should not be hasty to revise Scripture. Rather:

No, we should be patient, acknowledge the problem, and press into service Christian intellectuals who are highly qualified academically, have respect for the fact that scripture presents us with knowledge (not just truth to be accepted by blind faith), and who want to work to preserve the traditional interpretation of scripture and avoid revisionism. These intellectuals should be given the chance to develop rigorous models that preserve historical Christian teaching, unless, in those rare cases, our interpretation of scripture has been wrong. These intellectuals are heroes because they value loyalty to historic understandings of scripture over the desire to fit in with what scientists are currently claiming. The Intelligent Design movement is just such a set of intellectuals…

Rather than tucking their tails between their legs at the first sign of a conflict between the Bible and science, and standing ready (even eager) to let the scientists tell them what they must revise, the members of the ID movement have the intellectual courage and confidence in biblical teaching not to back down. Rather, ID advocates “deconstruct the pretentiousness” of truth-claims that go against biblical assertions that are properly interpreted (and they don’t grab for an interpretation that, all by itself, gives in to the other side of the conflict.) And they don’t make excuses for the Bible; they advance arguments in its support.

Digging deeper

There is much in this article that I can heartily endorse. I fully concur with Dr. Moreland that theistic evolutionists help dig the church’s grave by promoting modern culture’s plausibility structure, which has no place for Biblical knowledge. Allowing science to change our views on Adam and Eve is certainly a prime example of this danger. Further, it is commendable that the Intelligent Design movement exposes the weaknesses of naturalist evolution, and seeks to show that nature exhibits many marks of an Intelligent Designer.

Yet, in stressing scientific argumentation, and rarely referring to Scripture, the ID movement itself may be contributing to scientism. Moreover, many proponents of ID do not consistently exhibit great confidence in the Bible as a source of knowledge. For example, most of them – including Dr. Moreland – accept an ancient age for the earth, as given by mainstream geology. This obliges them to revise the traditional reading of Genesis 1-11, regarding such things as the creation days, the physical extent of Adam’s Fall, Noah’s Flood, the genealogies of Gen. 5 & 11, etc. For more discussion on this issue, see my article The Cost of an Old Earth: Is it Worth it?

Indeed, the plausibility structure reigning in most of Christian academia is such that it scorns those rare Christian academics who still promote traditional Biblical history.

Old Earth Creationism is subject to the same concerns that Dr. Moreland raises regarding theistic evolution, namely:

  1. It reinforces scientism. It exemplifies the notion that, when science and the Bible clash, we revise the Bible, not science, since scientific truth claims exhibit solid knowledge based on facts.
  2. Such willingness to revise Biblical interpretations held for 2000 years implies that Biblical teaching is tentative.

Moreover, the Biblical Adam, though an essential part of traditional Biblical history, becomes blatantly implausible when thrust into the setting of mainstream geology and paleontology, which traces modern humans back at least 300,000 years, with much earlier ancestors, exhibiting suffering and death from the beginning, etc.

Consequently, a plausibility structure that includes mainstream geology, and correspondingly downplays Biblical ancient history, paves the way for plausibility structures that exclude further Biblical teachings, such as the historical Adam.

I have a high regard for Dr. Moreland. He has written much worthwhile material, and made important contributions to Christian scholarship. Nevertheless, I believe that he has been inconsistent in upholding his own standards, thereby inadvertently contributing to grave-digging. Theistic evolutionists are merely deepening the grave already substantially dug by Old Earth creationists.

In his article Dr. Moreland cautions:

It should be clear that naturalism is not consistent with biblical Christianity. If that’s true, then the church should do all it can to undermine the worldview of naturalism and to promote, among other things, the cognitive, alethic nature of theology, biblical teaching and ethics. This means that when Christians consider adopting certain views widely accepted in the culture, they must factor into their consideration whether or not such adoption would enhance naturalism’s hegemony and help dig the church’s own grave by contributing to a hostile, undermining plausibility structure.

Wise advice! Perhaps Dr. Moreland should heed it by reconsidering his own plausibility structure.

This article first appeared in an Oct. 24, 2009 post on Dr. John Byl’s blog Bylogos.blogspot.com and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. John Byl is a Professor emeritus for Trinity Western University, and the author of “God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe” and “The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning.”

 

Dr. Gordon Wilson: The ordinary is extraordinary

During the Creation Science Association of Alberta’s Creation Weekend 2018, Dr. Gordon Wilson was the featured speaker, giving three lectures. Dr. Margaret Helder offers an account of his second presentation below.

*****

While Dr. Gordon Wilson had entitled his presentation “The Magnificence of the Mundane” he wanted us to note that the words in the title are actually contradictory. While the word “magnificence” communicates excitement, the term “mundane” suggests that something is boring or dull.

But what he wanted to share with us is that God’s “ordinary” work in creation is amazing, displaying God’s wisdom and finesse (Ps. 104:24). And in this context, we are told that King Solomon – full of wisdom – spoke about trees, herbaceous plants, beasts, birds, reptiles and fish (1 Kings 4:33).

It is evident, declared Dr. Wilson, that one place to observe God’s wisdom is in nature. Similarly if one wants to be an expert on the Renaissance artist Michelangelo, one will endeavor to study his creative works in addition to any of his writings. Thus, said our speaker, biology is part of theology. It is the study of who God is, as an artist, engineer, and sculptor. In this context, Dr. Wilson discussed several organisms that might seem mundane or ordinary, but which are actually quite amazing.

THE “NORMAL” EASTERN BOX TURTLE

The eastern box turtle lives in the eastern half of the United States. This animal may look quite ordinary (as turtle appearances go), but it has an amazing capacity to survive cold winters. As fall gives way to winter, this reptile builds up high levels of glucose in its blood. This acts as a sort-of antifreeze which prevents ice crystals from forming in its cells (ice is allowed to build up in the turtle’s body cavity, but not in its cells where ice crystals would poke and rupture the membranes). With all this chill, the heart can even stop. But then, in the spring, when things start melting, the heart starts up again and the turtle goes about his normal life activities.

ORDINARY HOUSEFLY

In keeping with Dr. Wilson’s theme of looking at everyday creatures, what could be more ordinary than houseflies? It turns out, however, that these organisms have quite an interesting way to escape from the confining walls of their pupal stage.

It so happens that there is a trapdoor of sorts fashioned in the skin on the face of the developing fly. Muscles in the abdomen push blood vigorously into the head. This blood fills an inflatable bag, which in turn pushes open the trapdoor and then bulges out from the face. This bag, called the ptilinum, exerts pressure on the puparium– the cocoon-like structure formed from the maggot skin which houses the pupa as it develops into the now-emerging adult. The puparium also has a weakened seam that cracks under pressure from the ptilinum. The now-adult-fly pushes out through the opened seam, and afterwards the blood-filled ptilinum empties, and retreats back into the body, and the trapdoor in the fly’s head closes back up.

Then, behold, we see a normal fly descending on our hamburgers!

LASSO-SWINGING SPIDERS

More showy are the hunting habits of the Bolas spiders. These creatures, which look like bird droppings (for purposes of camouflage), share many characteristics with ordinary orb weaver spiders, and can be found throughout the eastern United States down to Chile. At night these spiders – looking every bit like cowboys swinging a lasso – hang from a leaf and swing their “bolas,” a thread with a glob of sticky glue attached to the end.

This amazing spider secretes a very special organic molecule: the scent of a particular female moth. This compound, called a pheromone, acts like a perfume to attract male moths of the same species. The spider deftly swings its bolas and hits the incoming male moth, penetrating his scales. The spider then hauls in her pretty and wraps it up in silk. This spider is even able to vary the chemical composition of the pheromones in order to catch another moth species. The ability of the spider to imitate such elaborate pheromone designs demonstrates that these spiders possess remarkable synthetic abilities that could never have developed by trial and error. Magnificent indeed! And certainly not mundane.

FUN FUNGUS

Dr. Wilson also discussed spore dispersal in ferns, mosses, and in a fascinating little fungus called Pilobolus. This little fungus grows on the dung of animals like horses and cows. The entire fungus is only about 1 centimeter tall, but it consists of a short stalk with a bulging balloon-like area above, topped by a black cap which shelters many fungus spores. The bulgy area focuses light onto carotenoid pigments in its base.

The bulge, with cap on top, grows straight sideways towards the incoming morning light. Pressure builds up in the bulge so that the cap is shot off at high pressure. Full of spores the cap lands and clings to grass about 2 meters away from the manure. Then along comes a grazing animal. The fresh grass looks good enough to eat and, once inside the animal, the spores proceed through the digestion system without germinating. Once deposited outside in another dump of manure, more miniature Pilobolus specimens grow to start the process all over again.

CONCLUSION

These examples demonstrate wonderful design and fascinating ingenuity. Yet there are taken from everyday life. The “ordinary” around us is extraordinary!

Dr. Wilson concluded with the admonition that we should observe Creation and ponder that God made it. God did not give us all the answers. He wants us to explore. As we read in Proverbs 25:2 “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”

This article first appeared in the March 2019 issue of “Creation Science Dialogue” and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.” Dr. Gordon Wilson has recently completed his second nature documentary called “The Riot and the Dance: Water

Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 5 — Final)

See here for Part 1, here for Part 2, here for Part 3, and here for Part 4.

The Extent of the Flood

As already mentioned, USTO disparages a “Bible-first” approach.  Instead, the Bible has to be understood, not only on its own terms, but also in terms of what God is revealing in the “second book” of scientific evidence.  Not surprisingly, this leads USTO to reject the notion of a global flood in the days of Noah.  They grant that the Bible describes some cataclysmic event of massive proportions; however USTO insists that it was not global.  Moreover, “the event is described with a specific theological and literary goal in mind” (241).  It is not meant to provide us with a “hydro-geological” explanation.

Once again we are presented with a false dilemma:  a global flood versus a “specific theological and literary goal.”  This dilemma is false because if we understand the text to be referring to a global flood, that certainly does not rule out a theological and literary goal.  Creationists understand that God reveals what he does in Genesis 6-9 for a theological purpose, but that by no means rules out the historical fact of what it describes.

In Genesis 6-9, one of the key issues is how we understand the Hebrew word kol (all).  USTO concludes that the Hebrew word kol in the Flood story is used rhetorically – it simply means that a large area was inundated and large numbers of people were affected.  Kol can be used rhetorically – no one questions that.  However, Scripture must interpret Scripture.  USTO ignores the key section in Genesis 6.  In Genesis 6:5-7, God observes the wickedness of human beings “in the earth.”  USTO would translate that as “in the land,” and yes, the Hebrew word for ‘earth’ can also be translated ‘land.’  But verse 6 militates against that, because it speaks of God’s creation of human beings “on the earth.”  God did not create human beings “in the land,” i.e. in some region now under his scrutiny.  This is universal language.  That becomes further evident when Genesis 6:7 refers to the animals.  God plans not only to destroy humanity, but also the “animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens” which he created at the beginning (cf. Gen. 7:4).  This too favours a global understanding.  Later in chapter 6, God speaks of “all flesh” having corrupted its way on the earth.  Are we to imagine that there were pockets of humanity which were immune to this trend?  Genesis 6:17 says, “For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven.  Everything that is on the earth shall die.”  Notice the mention of “under heaven.”  All flesh “under heaven” is slated for destruction.  Again, that distinctly favours a global understanding of this event.

Moreover, the building of the ark itself witnesses to a global flood.  The ark was built by Noah, not only to save him and seven others of his family, but also to save the animals.  USTO has no explanation as to why the animals had to enter the ark if the Flood was something less than global.

In a sidebar, USTO interacts briefly with the New Testament mentions of the Flood.  They claim that none of the New Testament passages “make a statement about its geographical scope” (243).  Luke 17:26-27 is mentioned:

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man.  They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

USTO claims that this is just speaking about “how people were living their lives day by day and were caught by surprise when judgment came” (243).  But what is the nature of the judgment to come?  It’s universal.  Just as the Flood destroyed all the ungodly in the days of Noah, “so will it be in the days of the Son of Man.”  In case you miss the point, in the next three verses, Christ speaks about the days of Lot and the wholesale destruction of Sodom:  “fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.”  No one escaped, except Lot.  Clearly, Christ understood the Flood to be an event which destroyed all human beings except Noah and his family.

According to USTO, 2 Peter 2:5 “references God sparing Noah” (243).  2 Peter 2:5 says, “…if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly…”  It beggars belief to argue that Peter believed the flood to be anything less than global.  It was the “ancient world” which was not spared and the flood came upon “the world of the ungodly.”  The natural reading is to understand these terms globally and universally.

USTO also adopts an unnatural reading of 2 Peter 3:5-6.  They argue that it just speaks about the world being deluged and destroyed and the Greek word for ‘world’ (kosmos) is being used in its broadest sense, and therefore it’s not referring to the extent of the Flood.  However, when you look at these verses in context, beginning with verse 4, it becomes evident how implausible that interpretation is:

They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.  For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

Notice how Peter writes about the creation of the earth – he is quite evidently not speaking about the creation of some portion of the planet.  The same entire planet that was created was deluged with water.

If God is revealing through the scientific evidence that a global flood never happened, then we need to revisit our interpretation of Genesis and somehow bring it into alignment with this newer divine revelation.  That is what USTO is doing.  However, it is a revisionist approach to the Bible.   It simply does not honour the Bible as God’s Word.  We honour God’s Word when we take it on its own terms and then evaluate what we observe in the world around us in the light of what God has said.  As the Psalmist says, “….in your light do we see light” (Ps. 36:9).

Conclusion

There are a fair number of other concerns I could mention, but having covered the most important, I’ll bring this lengthy review to a close here.  I began by saying that USTO could be described as the theistic evolution “Bible.”  I said that intentionally because USTO not only contains content from the written Bible as we know it, but it also presents scientific evidence as a second “book” with additional revelation from God (albeit with a “provisional authority”).   Whether this is a legitimate method of approaching origins is really the key issue.  Because I am a Reformed Christian, I emphatically deny that it is.

I believe the Bible alone is our inspired, infallible, inerrant source for doctrine and life.  The Bible teaches that about itself.  Therefore, God’s Word always has to be our starting point.  It is not that the Bible is a “textbook” for science, as USTO and others allege creationists to believe.  Rather, science can only honour God when it takes its starting point from what God has said in the Bible.

I tried, but I could not read this book dispassionately.  In this book, I heard the whispers of Satan in the Garden of Eden:  did God really say?  If someone is questioning my Father or twisting his words, even if it’s done with the greatest sophistication, I cannot remain dispassionate.  I also think of the sad fact that this book comprises course material at Wheaton College.  Scores of impressionable youth have been and are being fed this content.  Because it is happening at a Christian institution, they could be led to believe that this is an acceptable Christian approach.  It is not.  It is unbelief.  I pray for students at Wheaton College that God will help them with his Spirit and Word to discern the truth regarding origins.

Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 4)

See here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.

Functional Kenotic Christology

Another major theme running through USTO is the theological significance of the incarnation.  According to USTO, the Holy Spirit’s work in the incarnation and in the life of Jesus is a parallel or analogy for how he continues to work in ongoing creation.  As the Nicene Creed says, the Holy Spirit is “the Lord and giver of life.”

A Bible-believing Reformed Christian will have no trouble with the Nicene Creed’s confession of the Holy Spirit.  He is the giver of life.  The Bible teaches that this is true for spiritual life (1 Cor. 12:3) as well as for physical life (Ps. 104:30).

However, USTO works that out in ways that are not only wrong, but verging on heretical.  The error is subtle and not easily discerned.  Here are some quotes to illustrate the teaching I’m concerned about here:

Jesus was fully and authentically human because of the energizing and enabling work of the Spirit. (25)

Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience to the Father because he was enabled to freely and perfectly rely on the Spirit’s power to lead a humble, obedient life…In short, Jesus was sustained by the Spirit, perfected by the Spirit, served the Father’s purposes by the Spirit, lived, died, and lived again through the Spirit. (26)

Instead, what is most remarkable about Jesus is that he lived as an embodied person in perfect relationship with the Father, always enabled by the Spirit.  Moreover, he was sustained by the Spirit in his relationships with other persons and all of creation. (600-601)

All Jesus’ miracles were performed through the power of the Spirit. (601)

And Jesus’ humanity is the ultimate model from which we can learn by the Spirit’s power to exercise our capacities as means through which God is restoring all of creation.  (605)

There are many more such quotes from the book – as I said, it’s an important theme strung from start to finish.

The emphasis is on Jesus as a human being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do amazing things, including obeying God fully.  This parallels what creation can do in cooperation with the Holy Spirit – continue its evolutionary development.  It also illustrates what it means to bear the image of God as human beings.

This teaching has a name:  functional kenotic Christology (FKC).  In God’s providence, while I was reading USTO, I was also reading Stephen J. Wellum’s God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ.  Wellum identifies FKC as a contemporary challenge to orthodox Christology.  FKC is entrenched in “evangelical” theology; some of its advocates include well-known names like William Craig, J.P. Moreland, and Millard Erickson.  According to Wellum, FKC is sometimes associated with “Spirit-Christology” and it’s here that you find mention of Colin Gunton.  Gunton was a British theologian whose work is cited extensively in USTO, including in the portions speaking about Jesus’ reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

Let me explain a little more about FKC.  FKC does not deny the divinity of the Son of God.  It teaches that when the Son of God took on a human nature, his divine attributes became latent.  They were fully there, but not being used.  The Son of God chose to live his incarnate life within the bounds of his human nature, including all of its limitations.  This is the “kenotic” element of FKC.  “Kenosis” is the theological term derived from the Greek used in Philippians 2:7 to refer to Christ emptying himself.  Wellum explains further:

Thus when it comes to how Jesus has supernatural knowledge and exercises supernatural power in his miracles, FKC insists that Jesus does so, not by the use of his divine attributes, but by the power of the Spirit.  Thus, in all of the incarnate Son’s actions, even actions traditionally viewed as divine actions (such as his miracles), Jesus performs them by the Spirit, in a way similar to other Spirit-empowered men and parallel to the Spirit’s work in us.  This is why Jesus can serve as our example, as he shows us how to live our lives in dependence on the Spirit – although he is the paradigm, interpreted more quantitatively than qualitatively.  (God the Son Incarnate, 383).

The “functional” element of FKC comes from the manner in which this teaching addresses the work that Jesus did.

Debates about the doctrine of the person of Christ raged on through the early church.  However, eventually the church adopted what’s known as the Chalcedonian Definition.  Chalcedon is not officially part of our Reformed creeds and confessions, but the content of Chalcedon is found in both the Athanasian Creed (articles 29-37) and the Belgic Confession (articles 18 and 19).  Advocates of FKC affirm Chalcedon formally, but as Wellum points out, “they depart from it at significant points” (Wellum, 396).  This is particularly in regard to how they define “person,” their equating “person” with “soul,” and in their endorsement of the idea that the incarnate Son of God has only one will (monothelitism).

Wellum offers an extensive critique of FKC.  I’ll just briefly summarize it – interested readers should go and check it out for themselves.  He notes two main problems.

First, FKC does not readily account for what the Bible says about the divinity of Christ in his earthly life and ministry.  The works Jesus does are “ultimately acts identified with Yahweh” (Wellum, 406).  If you survey texts like John 5:16-30, Col. 1:17, and Heb. 1:3, it is clear that “in his state of humiliation, the Son continues to exercise his divine attributes as the Son in relation to and united with the Father and the Spirit” (Wellum 406).

Second, FKC sounds Trinitarian enough (and so does USTO), but in reality it fails to do justice to the Trinity, especially in developing Father-Son-Spirit relations.  If the incarnate Son never uses his divine attributes, then his actions on earth were either purely human, or they are the actions of the Holy Spirit.  Where there are actions surpassing what normal humans can do, the Son of God appears to be merely passive in his own actions.  Moreover, the work of the Father in all of this is ignored.  Wellum writes, “…it is not enough to focus simply on the Son-Spirit relations; we must also account for John’s Gospel, for example, which stresses predominantly the Father-Son relations” (408).

FKC is not a theological peccadillo.  This is a major concern.  Most readers of USTO are not going to have enough theological training to discern it.  USTO makes it sound plausible – and they have some Bible texts that apparently support their claims.  Moreover, it is a central part of their effort to integrate evolution with biblical teaching.  It has sometimes been said that acceptance of evolutionary theory requires an overhaul of every area of theology.  The presence of FKC in USTO illustrates that this overhaul is underway.

Click here to continue to Part 5 (the final part)…