Friday, May 28, 2010

This Gets My Blood Pressure Up!

I've been reading a book that was donated by the Creation Museum to a local Christian School. The book is Coming to Grips with Genesis:  Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth. The editors are Terry Mortenson, a missionary for 26 years with Campus Crusade and Thane H. Ury.  This appears to be Ury's only book although he lectures on young-earth creation.

The book insists that young-earth creationism is the only biblical viewpoint. It criticises many respected biblical scholars who do not hold this view.  It calculates the age of the world using the life spans of the rulers who lived before the flood, following Bishop Usher's dating which has been shown to be flawed.

I haven't finished reading the 14-chapter book. I had to stop when I reached chapter 11 because I could feel my blood pressure rising at the criticism of a former editor of The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (JASA) who I knew to be an outstanding Christian teacher and a good scientist.  As Editor, he published my (not-very-good) poem on the big bang by divine decree in JASA in December 1983.  Here is the poem:


Empty patch in space?
Rather a patch of non-space
theoretically possible
experientially inconceivable
density so great
heat so hot
compression magnified
matter collapsed upon itself
inadherent particles dashing, bouncing, smashing
frenzied dancing
swallowed by an unseen mouth
suddenly spat out
golf ball size
eight seconds after The Decree.
Infinitely hot
but getting bigger
spreading, stretching, expanding
cooling and forming new compounds
new partnerships:
the Beginning.

The book also criticises another person I respect: Dr. Mark Noll, a former Wheaton College Professor, who wrote the following:

Despite a widespread impression to the contrary, “creationism” was not a traditional belief of nineteenth-century conservative Protestants or even of early-twentieth-century fundamentalists. During the century before the 1930s, most conservative Protestants believed that the “days” of Genesis, chapter one, stood for long ages of geological development or that a lengthy gap existed between the initial creation of the world (Gen. 1:1) and a series of more recent creative acts (Gen. 1:2ff.) during which the fossils were deposited. Some conservative Protestants early in the century—like James Orr of Scotland and B. B. Warfield of Princeton Theological Seminary, both of whom wrote for The Fundamentals (1910–15)—even allowed for large-scale evolution from one or only a few original life forms as a way of explaining God's way of creating plants, animals, and even the human body. (Their position came close to official Roman Catholic teachings on the subject.) Popular opponents of evolution in the 1920s like William Jennings Bryan had no difficulty accepting an ancient earth. Bryan, with an acuity that his patronizers rarely perceive, saw clearly that the great problem with evolution was not the practice of science but the metaphysical naturalism and consequent social Darwinism that scientific evolution was often called upon to justify.

Modern creationism arose, by contrast, from the efforts of earnest Seventh-day Adventists who wanted to show that the sacred writings of Adventist-founder Ellen G. White (who made much of a recently created earth and the Noachian deluge) could provide a framework for studying the history of the earth. Especially important for this purpose was the Adventist theorist, George McCready Price (1870–1963), who published a string of creationist works, most notably The New Geology (1923). That book argued that a “simple” or “literal” reading of early Genesis showed that God had created the world six to eight thousand years ago and had used the Flood to construct the planet's geological past. Price, an armchair geologist with little formal training and almost no field experience, demonstrated how a person with such a belief could reconstruct natural history in order to question traditional understandings of the geological column and apparent indications that the earth was ancient. Price's ideas were never taken seriously by practicing geologists, and they had little impact outside of Adventist circles. One exception was the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, where a few energized critics of the modern world found Price's biblical literalism convincing, despite the fact that on almost every other religious question the Missouri Synod was about as far removed from Seventh-day Adventism as it was possible to be. Although Price and various associates founded several creationist organizations (like the Deluge Geological Society), these groups were short-lived. Similarly, early creationist literature seemed to have little visible effect beyond a narrow circle. A few fundamentalists, like the Presbyterian minister Henry Rimmer (1890–1952), proposed somewhat similar views concerning the Flood, but Rimmer's influence had much diminished by the time of his death.

When a rising corps of university-trained conservative evangelical scientists founded the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) in 1941, creationist “flood geologists” thought this society would provide a receptive forum for their conclusions. It did not. Although leaders of the ASA maintained strict views of biblical authority and defended the sovereignty of God over the natural world, almost all of them held to the older day/age or gap theories, or came to feel that divine revelation in Genesis and natural revelation from empirical investigation did not need to be harmonized in the ways that had been repeatedly tried, revised, and tried again since the early nineteenth century. (Read it all here.)

Here is what Mortenson and Ury say about Noll:  Sadly, Noll largely bases his indictment of young-earth creationists on the historical interpretations of a secualr historian of science, Ronald Numbers, whom (amazingly) Noll describes as a "truly professional" historian who has "few bones to pick with basic Christian teachings." (p. 233)

What I find truly sad is that Mortenson and Ury believe that they are more qualified to speak on the history of science and Christianity than Ronald L. Numbers and Mark Noll. 

The final straw was the great confusion I found in the 12 Affirmations and Denials at the end of the book. I'll address Affirmation VI and Affirmation XII as these teach contrary to what Genesis actually says.

VI. We affirm that the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 are chronological, enabling us to arrive at an approximate date of creation of the whole universe (p. 454).

Clearly these people haven't a clue about how historically reliable this material is becasue they don't even include Genesis 4 which must be read with Genesis 5 as the lines of Cain and Seth intermarried. The intermarriage is shown by the cousin bride's naming prerogative as in the case of Lamech's daughter Namaah (Gen. 4: 22) who married her cousin Methusaleh and named their first-born son Lamech (Gen 5: 25) after her father.

They don't realize that Genesis reveals that Cain and Seth married the daughters of an African chief name Nok (Enoch). That's why both their first-born sons were named Enoch.  Given the young-earth creationist scheme, this would mean that Enoch, who was a ruler over a region in west central Africa about 10,000 years ago, was a comtemporary of Adam. So either Adam was not the only man created at the beginning or there is a gap of time between the creation stories and the first historical individuals named in Genesis 4 and 5.  I propose that the gap of time was filled by the author's knitting together the oldest mythological motifs of Abraham's ancestors involving a Tree of Life and a Serpent with the oldest known ruler lists. This in no way overthrows the Bible's authority. Rather it shows that biblical authority rests on a tradition of great antiquity, and the biblical worldview is already evident in the oldest known religious beliefs and practices.

XII.  We affirm that all people living and dead are descended from Adam and Eve...and that the various people groups (with their various languages, cultures, and distinctive physical characteristics, including skin color) arose as a result of God's supernatural judgment at the Tower of Babel..."

There are 17 language families in the world. Each breaks down into hundreds of languages, dialects and sub-dialects. All the people groups mentioned in Genesis 10 belong to only one language family: the Afro-Asiatic.  The Bible is their story because the promise of the Son was made to their ancestors in Eden (Gen. 3:15)  Further, most of these people are of African origin and dark skin color so it is ignorant to say that skin color variation is the result of God's judgment.

As Dr. Joshua Zorn, a former young-earth creationist has said: "The worst aspect of YECS teaching is that it creates a nearly insurmountable barrier between the educated world and the church."

Lord, spare me!  The blood pressure rises.


Matushka Elizabeth said...

Right on! Take several very deep breaths, but keep on writing! This whole "young earth vs. old earth" issue is so pervasive in various circles, especially among non-Orthodox homeschoolers. Thank you for speaking from a much more meaningfully real perspective!

Mairnéalach said...

I am more and more convinced that this mindset results from an abysmally low view of common grace. These folks disparage pagan thinkers so casually, as if being an evangelical is the only ticket to ensuring that any true statements are capable of proceeding out of one's mouth.

Matushka Elizabeth said...

Even more ironic is this experience: We once did a homeschool COOP with a varied group of Protestant and Evangelicals. I taught literature, English, writing - basic language arts - and I tried to coordinate my curriculum with the history teacher's. No problem. But, when history hit the time of persecution of the early Church, I assigned a book, written long ago by an Anglican Clergyman, called the "Exiles of the Cebenna". On it's cover was a photo of the very old mosaic of "Christ the Good Shepherd" found in Ravenna. Several of the parents were TOTALLY horrified. How did I dare give them something which depicted Christ? Idol worshipper! Yet, this same image is in almost every art textbook known to Western civilization. Nonetheless, one parent had his student tear off the cover. Others refused to let their students read the material at all. Yet, all the time, the cover of one of their (Christian published) history books had the image of Janus, the pagan god who looks both ways in time, as its cover. But, that was ok. Sometimes it's hard to understand how people think. Oh, then the best part of all - we actually met in the "tear off the cover" person's church space - and in the youngest children's Sunday school room there were, hanging on the walls, these really bad, bad, sappy B&W line drawings of Jesus teaching the children... That was a blood pressure moment for me, I confess.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Some Christians are so removed from Church History and Holy Tradition that they are unable to connect the dots. Consider how the Blessed Theotokos holds no place in the thoughts of such people. Yet in her God fulfilled the first and overarching promise of Scripture - Gen. 3:15 - concerning the Son of God.