As you have probably noticed, I haven’t been blogging lately. This is because ever since the semester ended I’ve been gradually slogging through all of the annoying little work-related tasks that have been put on the back-burner for the last six weeks or so. And since many of these tasks entail many hours spent in front of the computer, I haven’t been in the mood to spend still more time in that position by blogging.
I have, however, found time to get some reading done, so how about I start unloading some book reviews? We shall begin with light fare. I just finished reading an amusing little young-Earth tome called Old Earth Creationism on Trial: The Verdict is In. It’s authors are Tm Chaffey and Jason Lisle. Chaffey runs a ministry in Wisconsin, while Lisle holds a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Here’s Lisle and Chaffey extolling the virtues of honest debate and fairly considering all sides of an issue:
Since this is such an important debate, suggestions for improving the debate are provided for both sides. God will be honored when both “old-earthers” and “young-Earthers” engage in honest debate rather than resorting to misrepresentation, ambiguity, straw-man arguments, and caustic language. (pp. 10-11)
That’s YEC for you. It’s all about the honesty and calm deliberation. Here’s an example of Chaffey and Lisle putting their attitudes into practice:
Why would anyone assume that the universe started with no size as a singularity? The answer is that secular scientists want to avoid a supernatural origin at all costs. Clearly, the creation of a large universe from nothing would require an act of God. Nothing large could ever pop into existence by itself; it would require a Creator, which is an unacceptable notion to the secular mind. However, at the very smallest level, particles seem to appear and disappear randomly. This is a very bizarre phenomenon in the field of quantum physics. Without going into details, it is sufficient to say that secular scientists hope to use what seems to be a “loophole” in physics. They hope that by pushing the problem to an infinitesimally small size it will allow them to believe in the creation of the universe from nothing without having to invoke a Divine Being. The problem for the secular scientist is that this doesn’t solve the problem, because even at very small sizes, particles do not truly come from nothing but from spacetime. (pp. 144-145)
It’s eerie. That’s just how my physics professors described it.
I guess it’s only creationist arguments that are supposed to be represented fairly.
Here’s Chaffey and Lisle on open-mindedness:
All ideas and theories should be subjected to rigorous self-examination, yet a similar self-critique is long overdue from the old-Earth creationists. (pp. 14)
Rigorous self-examination? Yes, marvelous stuff, as long as it’s only the other guys who are expected to do the examining.
Since the Bible undisputedly teaches a young earth, when someone claims that scientific evidence proves otherwise, we can be certain they are mistaken. (pp. 153)
And since this is a YEC book, there simply must be some truly jaw-dropping, face-palming, OMG they did not just say that, moments. Please forgive the long excerpt, but this one has to be savored in full (all italics in original):
The Bible must come first in our quest for knowledge; it is superior to other sources of information, including knowledge gained from the natural sciences. This must be the case because other sources of knowledge presuppose the Bible. In other words, in order for us to gain knowledge about anything in the universe through any means (including scientific analysis), we would have to already assume that the Bible is true. People do not often realize this, so let’s briefly explore this idea.
In order for science to be possible, what things must be true? What are the things that scientists assume (presuppose) before any investigation of evidence? Scientists presuppose that the universe obeys logical, rational laws, and that the human mind is able to discover and understand these laws and make predictions about how the universe will be in the future. Without these assumptions, science would be impossible. Yet, these assumptions are exactly what we would expect from the Bible. God is rational and upholds the universe in a logical, orderly fashion — which we call the “laws of nature.” And since God made our minds to be able to function in this universe (and since we are made in God’s image), it stands to reason that our minds would have he ability to discover truths about the universe.
But without the Bible, we wouldn’t have justification for these truths. This isn’t to say that unbelievers cannot do science; they can. The non-Christian also assumes a rational, orderly universe, and a rational mind that can understand the universe. But the non-Christian cannot justify these concepts within his own worldview; he cannot account for what he is doing. Science cannot be rationally used to override the plain teaching of the Bible, because the plain teaching of the Bible is required in order for science to be possible. (pp. 107-108)
The stones on these folks are simply not to be believed. Things get even better, though, when they start considering the evidence for an old Earth.
Additionally, God cursed the earth when Adam sinned (Gen 3:17-18). The Bible provides only a few details of how the world was changed, such as thorns and thistles. Can we be certain that radioactive decay rates were not affected? (pp. 135)
The distant starlight argument?
A consistent Christian must be open to the possibility that the mechanism God used to get the starlight to earth during the creation week cannot be understood in terms of today’s “laws of nature.” (pp. 142)
The rate of cosmic expansion?
The assumption that today’s rate of expansion has always applied is the assumption of uniformitarianism. This is a particularly bad assumption in this case, because the Bible tells us that God himself stretches out, or has stretched out, the heavens. This may indicate that the bulk of this expansion was done supernaturally (using means that God does not normally use today.) (pp. 144)
Various other astronomical processes that point to an old universe?
Did you catch the unstated assumptions? The above argument assumes naturalism; it assumes that planets and moons formed by natural forces from a collapsing nebula. The possibility that God supernaturally created the planets and moons much as they appear now is not even considered. (pp. 151)
Quite a litany. You need the Bible to justify a belief that nature operates according to principles discoverable by science. But anytime science discovers things that contradict the Bible you just invoke a supernatural intervention to get around the problem. Charming folks.
I picked up this book at the International Conference of Creationism this summer, when it was recommended to me by several conference goers who saw me browsing in the bookstore. So have no illusions about whether people take this sort of thing seriously.
But for all of that, I do still have quite a bit of sympathy for their interpretation of Genesis. It sure looks to me like twenty-four hour days and a young-Earth were what the Biblical authors intended. The text itself describes the days as being bracketed by an evening and a morning, which is a very odd way of speaking if something other than twenty-four hour days were intended. The pattern of creation is referred to specifically in Exodus as the justification for keeping the Sabbath. There are several verses in the New Testament that are most easily read as confirming that humanity existed from the beginning of creation. There is also the fact that the YEC interpretation seems like exactly the sort of thing a pre-scientific mindset would come up with. The idea of a long, sprawling epic in which humanity arrives at the end of billions of years of evolution is hard for people to grasp even today. It would have been inconceivable to an ancient mindset.
Ultimately, it is very hard to believe (to put it kindly) that a writer setting out to communicate a lengthy creation process over billions of years would have written anything like what Genesis records. The arguments I have seen for an old-Earth interpretation just aren’t very good. Often they involve pawing through the Bible desperately looking for verses that will excuse a tortured interpretation of something in Genesis. (For example, the verse in Psalms that talks about how to God one day is like a thousand years.) Or they involve assertions that are not true, like the idea that the events of Day Six recorded in Genesis Two would have required more than twenty-four hours. I think many of Chaffey and Lisle’s arguments on this subject are pretty good.
The bottom line is that the age of the Earth is the least of the problems facing any reconciliation of science with Genesis. If you accept what modern science is telling us, then absolutely nothing like what Genesis describes is true.
Given this, your can choose to discard modern science, as the YEC’s do. You can turn the creation account into a giant allegory with no historical content at all, which is very difficult to justify exegetically.
Or you can take the most sensible approach. That’s where you recognize that the Bible (more specifically the Torah) is not inerrant, and it is not the word of God. It is an anthology of ancient documents that record the different traditions of separate Jewish tribes. It features numerous additions and alterations that reflect the changing political needs of the Jewish leaders over time. The creation story in Genesis 1, for example, was almost certainly added relatively late in the composition of the Biblical documents, as a way of stressing to the Jewish people the importance of keeping the Sabbath (which, after all, was one of the main things that distinguished the Jews from other tribes of the time.)
But what you can not do, at least not reasonably, is argue that the intent of the Biblical authors was to communicate a story that is even remotely like what modern science tells us. It just ain’t so.
So there you go. I’ve read some decent books recently too, but we will save those for anoher post. How about we end on a non-contentious note, by enjoying yet another example of stunning creationist idiocy:
If naturalism were true, it would be impossible to prove anything. Proofs involve use of the laws of logic, such as the law of non-contradiction, which says that you can’t have A, and not-A at the same time and in the same relationship. The laws of logic are not part of nature. They are not part of the physical universe. So, if nature ( the physical universe) is all that exists and if laws of logic are not part of nature, then they can’t exist. But they are required for rational reasoning. So, the naturalist view is actually self-refuting. So the naturalist view is actually self-refuting. If it were true, it would be impossible to reason. Yet naturalism is what secular scientists use as the foundation for their thinking. We will show why this explains many of the incorrect conclusions drawn by secular scientists, such as evolution and an old Earth. (pp. 118-119).
Zing! Take that naturalists! Looks like you all need a couple of creationists to school you on the nature of clear thinking.