Archive for May, 2012
27 May 2012
It's not clear precisely what role scientific evidence plays when someone chooses between young-age creationism and evolution over billions of years. Certainly no one can approach the issue dispassionately; we would all have to declare an interest if we were called upon to examine the evidence objectively. But still, we can try to think about what each model would (perhaps) imply, and try to see whether the data fit more comfortably with one or the other, even if we are honest about whether or not we would change our minds if the evidence seemed to point away from what we currently believe.
There's plenty of evidence that fits more comfortably with billions of years of evolution than with a young-age creation model. For example, looking at the evidence, it seems that a huge amount of radioactive decay has taken place. If the bulk of this took place during the Flood (as current young-age models would claim), it would have generated enough heat to "potentially vaporize the earth's oceans, melt the crust, and obliterate the surface of the earth", according to young-age creationist Larry Vardiman. Models involving billions of years don't have this particular problem.
But there also appears to be plenty of evidence that fits more comfortably within a young-age framework.
The Carrying the Creation Torch day in Leicester yesterday featured four talks focusing on the scientific evidence for young-age creation, sandwiched by two talks by David Catchpoole of Creation Ministries International (CMI), focusing on the theological side of the issue. (I missed both of those talks.)
Dominic Statham, speaker for CMI, spoke about Migration after the Genesis Flood. In the standard evolutionary framework, it seems that a lot of biogeography (the geography of plants and animals) is best explained by migration by sea. This fits in with the Flood, which would have left lots of floating rafts in the oceans. Interesting stuff, presented clearly and fairly.
Stuart Burgess next, on Hallmarks of design 12 years on. Burgess is a professor of engineering design, specialising in spotting excellent engineering solutions in living things, and then copying them. The existence of "irreducible mechanisms", such as the four-bar mechanism in the knee, is a challenge to evolutionary models, but fits comfortably in young-age creation models, in which complex or optimum design is no surprise.
Philip Bell, from CMI, spoke on Let the Rocks Speak: Evidence for the Flood from Fossils and Geology. Large-scale geological features fit the young-age view better than the long-age view. Vast sedimentary rock layers, spanning continental scales, speak of continental-sized catastrophic processes. There seems to be very little time between layers (no signs of erosion on the lower layer where they join), rapid burial of fossils, folding of (necessarily soft) rock layers on huge scales, and features such as flat-topped mountains and water gaps that would be expected to be produced by the receding waters of a global flood.
Finally, Vij Sodera, a surgeon, gave a talk entitled, Biology agrees with the Bible. I think he overstated his case, but he made it convincing that it is very difficult to imagine how the mammalian diaphragm or the human big toe could have evolved through a step-by-step process, in which each step would be viable and convey some advantage (or at least no major disadvantage).
All in all, a stimulating day. My only major concern is that someone could have come out at the end of the day not appreciating that the young-age creation model still has major unsolved problems. I'm not surprised about that, but I would love it to be the case that people on both sides of the issue didn't feel threatened by that sort of thing. Just because a scientific theory has huge gaping holes in it (as most of them do), that doesn't mean the theory is wrong (pace Popper, and most protagonists in the creation/evolution debate). Nor does it mean people should abandon that theory. It just means more research is needed.
21 May 2012
Jesus gave his followers two signs, or sacraments, to strengthen them in their faith: baptism and communion (the Lord's Supper). Calvin gives a helpful definition of a sacrament:
[I]t is an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and of his angels and before men (Institutes, 4.14.1).
In other words, the Lord makes promises, we receive those promises by faith (piety), and as we perform the outward sign, the Lord says a big "Yes!" to his promises to us.
So what are the promises to which God is saying "Yes!" as we take the Lord's Supper?
[W]hen bread is given as a symbol of Christ's body, we must at once grasp this comparison: as bread nourishes, sustains, and keeps the life of our body, so Christ's body is the only food to invigorate and enliven our soul. When we see wine set forth as a symbol of blood, we must reflect on the benefits which wine imparts to the body, and so realize that the same are spiritually imparted to us by Christ's blood. These benefits are to nourish, refresh, strengthen, and gladden (Institutes, 4.17.3).
God has promised that the death of his Son is sufficient for us, to sustain us, to give us life and to keep us alive, and to give us strength and joy in following him. So when that promise is proclaimed, and when that promise is believed, then, in the very act of eating and drinking, God says a big "Yes!" to those promises. And what is the effect on us as we eat and drink in this way? Each and every time we take communion and each and every time God says his big "Yes!" to his promises, we are spiritually fed: our faith is strengthened, our hearts rejoice and our inner being is nourished. In other words, the Lord's Supper is one of the ways in which, spiritually, we feed on Christ by faith.
What a privilege to be able to share communion together!
17 May 2012
Al Wolters' Creation Regained traces out the themes of Creation, Fall and Redemption, and how they shape our understanding of everything. Having looked at Creation in Chapter 2 (1, 2), we're now onto Chapter 3, on the Fall.
The effects of sin touch all of creation; no created thing is in principle untouched by the corrosive effects of the fall. Whether we look at societal structures such as the state or family, or cultural pursuits such as art or technology, or bodily functions such as sexuality or eating, or anything at all within the wide scope of creation, we discover that the good handiwork of God has been drawn into the sphere of human mutiny against God (pp.54f).
That is not to say that God's good creation has somehow ceased to exist, and that everything is now totally evil. On the contrary, the good creation is still there in its entirety, but has been distorted and disfigured by sin. So we could distinguish between structure—the basic nature of things (the "order of creation" in Calvin's language, apparently)—and direction—whether those things are directed towards God or away from God (the "order of sin and redemption").
This double direction applies not only to individual human beings but also to such cultural phenomena as technology, art, and scholarship, to such societal institutions as labor unions, schools, and corporations, and to such human functions as emotionality, sexuality, and rationality. To the degree that these realities fail to live up to God's creational design for them, they are misdirected, abnormal, distorted. To the degree that they still conform to God's design, they are in the grip of a countervailing force that curbs or counteracts the distortion. Direction therefore always involves two tendencies moving either for or against God (p.59).
How else might we view the fall, or answer the question of what is wrong in the world?
The great danger is always to single out some aspect or phenomenon of God's good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of human apostasy, as the villain in the drama of human life. ... The result is that something in the good creation is declared evil. We might call this tendency "Gnosticism" ... (p.61).
This Gnostic tendency shows up in Christian thinking when we read verses against "the world" as speaking against some parts of creation (structure), rather than as speaking against the corruption that has infected the whole of creation (direction).
Christians of virtually every persuasion have tended to understand "world" to refer to a delimited area of the created order, an area that is usually called "worldly" or "secular" ... , which included such fields as art, politics, scholarship (excluding theology), journalism, sports, business, and so on (p.64).
But once we see that "worldly" refers to the orientation of the whole of creation, rather than to some "secular" realm of creation, that gives us hope for the whole of creation to be open to redemption, and not just some "sacred" realm of creation (human souls and their spiritual relationship with God, for example).
Evil is not inherent in the human condition: there once was a completely good creation and there will be again; hence, the restoration of creation is not impossible. Nothing in the world ought to be despaired of (p.62).
Consequently, every area of the created world cries out for redemption and the coming of the kingdom of God (p.68).
16 May 2012
I've taken the liberty of correcting the most famous verse of the Bible, so that it fits more comfortably with what many Christians seem to believe. Do you think it's an improvement on the original?
For God so hated the world, but he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish [along with the world] but have eternal life [in heaven]. For God did not send his Son into the world to save the world, but in order that the world might be condemned through him (John 3:16-17, ESV, altered).
10 May 2012
Back to Al Wolter's book, Creation Regained (1, 2), and the rest of chapter 2, on Creation. We're trying to gain a biblical perspective on the whole of reality, and the task in this chapter has been to look at the basic structure of all that God has made, before looking in the following chapters at the shifting direction in which the creation has been oriented, whether away from God (Fall), or back towards God (Redemption).
Genesis 1 speaks of an unformed and unfilled earth being formed and filled by God's creative word. What next?
This is not the end of the development of creation, however. Although God has withdrawn from the work of creation, he has put an image of himself on the earth with a mandate to continue. The earth had been completely unformed and empty; in the six-day process of development God had formed it and filled it—but not completely. People must now carry on the work of development: by being fruitful they must fill it even more; by subduing it they must form it even more. Mankind, as God's representatives on the earth, carry on where God left off. But this is now to be a human development of the earth. The human race will fill the earth with its own kind, and it will form the earth for its own kind. From now on the development of the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature. In a single word, the task ahead is civilization (pp.41f).
But where do these cultural riches spring from? Ultimately from God, who created the world to be so rich with possibility, having so many ways in which it can be opened up and unfolded by human activity.
The given reality of the created order is such that it is possible to have schools and industry, printing and rocketry, needlepoint and chess. The creational law is crying out to be positivized in new and amazing ways. The whole vast range of human civilization is ... a display of the marvelous wisdom of God in creation and the profound meaningfulness of our task in the world (p.44).
This should have a deep impact on how Christians view all areas of culture and society: "they are not outside God's plans for the cosmos, despite the sinful aberrations, but rather were built in from the beginning" (p.45). This means there will be "positive possibilities for service to God in such areas as politics and the film arts, computer technology and business administration, developmental economics and skydiving" (p.45).
But what about the ultimate end of human civilisation? Will it all be thrown away when Christ returns?
Wolters uses the helpful image of a child who develops with a chronic disease. Two processes are continuing in parallel: the normal process of growth, and the distorting effects of the disease. If this person is healed of the disease in adulthood, that doesn't mean that the normal growth will be reversed and the adult will become a tiny infant again. Rather, the distorting effects are taken away, and the good growth is preserved.
So it will be with human civilisation:
Even the great crisis that will come on the world at Christ's return will not annihilate God's creation or our cultural development of it. ... There is no reason to believe that the cultural dimensions of earthly reality (except insofar as they are involved in sin) will be absent from the new, glorified earth that is promised. In fact, the biblical indications point in the opposite direction. Describing the new earth as the new Jerusalem, John writes that "the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. ... The glory and the honor of the nations will be brought into it" (Rev. 21:24, 26). This very likely refers to the cultural treasures of mankind which will be purified by passing through the fires of judgment, like gold in a crucible (p.47).
But doesn't the Bible say that "the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10, RSV)?
[A]ll but one of the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts do not have the final words "will be burned up" but instead have "will be found," which makes quite a difference. (This is the Greek text accepted by the more recent translations, such as the NEB and NIV, which read, somewhat o[b]scurely, "will be laid bare.") The text therefore teaches that ... "the earth and the works that are upon it" will survive (p.47).
In other words, "God does not make junk, and he does not junk what he has made" (p.49).
8 May 2012
Something has been bothering me about the evangelical church in the UK. It's certainly an issue elsewhere, and it's nothing new, but, as an evangelical Christian in the UK, I'm most aware of it in that context. It shows up to a greater or lesser extent in different parts of the evangelical church. I'm going to call it spiritual reductionism. It goes like this:
The only things that ultimately matter are God and human souls.
Reductionism is when you say X is really nothing but Y. In the evangelical church, it shows up in this kind of attitude:
- This world is nothing but a stage for the real spiritual action to take place.
- All the details of our lives are nothing but opportunities for us to grow in holiness and to share the love of Christ, so that people's souls can be saved for eternity.
- Nothing matters in life but our personal, spiritual relationship with God and his people.
Now, you might not hear that expressed in so many words, but what would the Christian life be like if someone believed those things?
- While the Bible speaks of the future in terms of God coming to set his creation free, to restore all things and to raise the dead to physical life, the spiritual reductionist would speak about the future simply in terms of believers spending eternity in the presence of God. The other details don't matter.
- While the Bible speaks of godliness in terms of both inner and outer transformation, the spiritual reductionist is really concerned only with inner transformation: how much you love God, how satisfied you are in him, and how pure your thoughts and attitudes are. Good works are of no value in themselves, and their real value is as a window into our inner, spiritual state. Hence the evangelical emphasis on those good works that show most clearly the state of our personal, inner, spiritual relationship with God: reading the Bible, prayer, going to church, talking to people about Jesus, and not having lustful thoughts.
- While the Bible gives plenty of examples of God's concern for people's material needs, for issues of social justice and the like, the spiritual reductionist would speak of people's needs almost exclusively in terms of their need for a personal spiritual relationship with God. Any other needs are barely even real in comparison.
- While the Bible gives plenty of accounts of God's dealings with his people in terms of their physical dwelling places, and in terms of their relationship to the land, the spiritual reductionist would receive those accounts as nothing but images for us of our spiritual relationship with God.
- While the Bible gives plenty of examples of God's concern for physical health, and even for a reversal of physical death, the spiritual reductionist would understand those primarily to be illustrations about our spiritual health and our spiritual life.
- While the Bible speaks as though all aspects of our lives really have significance, the spiritual reductionist will think that the only aspects of our lives that really have significance are those that contribute to the saving of souls and our spiritual relationship with God.
Does that sound familiar?
The problem is not that the spiritual reductionist emphasises the importance of having a right relationship to God. The problem is that this relationship is limited to some invisible "spiritual" dimension. But what the Bible teaches us, from Genesis to Revelation, from generation to regeneration, is that all dimensions of human life are important aspects of our relationship to God, because all dimensions of human life are part of how God made us to be, and all dimensions of human life will remain significant and important in the coming age, when the eternal reign of Christ has been established on the earth. Let's try to recover a sense of that in our churches today.
1 May 2012
I posted this elsewhere a few months ago, but I thought it was worth posting it here too. The Christian church is still a long way from resolving the creation/evolution issue, but maybe this points in the right direction.
The Colossian Forum is some new thing trying to promote discussion on issues of science, culture and Christian faith. They invited young-age creationist Todd Wood to write an article for them on What I Would Like to Hear an Evolutionary Creationist Say. So what would Todd Wood like to hear an evolutionary creationist say?
"I don't know."
Perhaps when people ask if Christian theology is compatible with evolution, the first answer should be, “I don’t know.”
As a young age creationist, let me take this opportunity to follow my own advice and publicly express my ignorance. If creationism is true, why can we see starlight from stars millions of light years away? I don’t know. If creationism is true, what does radiometric dating mean? I don’t know. If creationism is true, why do humans and chimpanzees have nearly identical genomes? I don’t know. Just like evolutionary creationists wrestling with theological issues, though, young-age creationists have proposed all sorts of answers to the above questions. Some weren’t very good ideas, but others are quite intriguing. And just like evolutionary approaches to theology, there is no single creationist scientific model that most creationists would accept.
And in conclusion,
When it comes to the origins fight, maybe the key is to follow Christ’s example. Maybe the only way we’ll ever resolve the war is through surrender. Maybe in surrender, we’ll find out what real victory is. Maybe we’ll find that confessing ignorance is the first step towards finding God’s truth. Maybe we’ll discover that asking for wisdom is just what God wanted us to do all along. Most important of all, maybe we’ll find that we can humbly ask for wisdom together, and in doing so, the world really will see something different about us.