If you've been following Faithful Thinkers for a while, you will know that I take a very strong stance regarding the age of the universe. For those who don't know, I take the old-earth creation view (OEC) (as opposed to the young-earth creation view [YEC} or theistic evolutionary view [TE]). I enjoy discussing and debating it as long as I'm not talking to zombies (please read that post as this post draws from the practices encouraged in it). This past week I've been actively discussing one particular interpretation of a certain passage of scripture. I decided to blog about it because I believe that I have identified a powerful argument that an atheist or other unbeliever can add to their arsenal of arguments against Christianity.
What Does "Very Good" Mean?
Our discussion began by my asking Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (AiG) on his Facebook page what he believed God meant in Genesis 1:31a ("God saw all that he had made, and it was very good"). Specifically, I asked about the phrase "very good". I asked if he believed that it meant a moral good (all the matter/energy that God created has moral value), a teleological/utilitarian good (as in the creation being very good to accomplish His goals), or both (the two options are not necessarily mutually exclusive). Ham did not respond to me; however, another person did. According to Ham's view, this is a proclamation by God that creation was perfect at the end of creation day six as He is perfect. He believes there is no other legitimate way to interpret this passage. I was given an audio recording by Mr. Ham where he explains this view and his argument here: http://
Please listen to it as the rest of the post depends on the reader's familiarity with the content of the recording. It will also allow the reader to determine if I am arguing against a strawman.
Creation as Part of God
The first problem that sticks out to me is that Ham is saying that God is attributing certain of his attributes to the creation. This could be omnipotence, omniscience, eternality, moral perfection, etc, or any combination of those. It is easy to see how the first and second options are not likely to be what God is talking about in his proclamation. The third may not be so obvious, until we realize that if the creation is eternal, then it was never created and is part of God. This is a view of panentheism (not pantheism) that is not compatible with Christianity because the Creator and creation are not part of one another- they are distinct (see Norman Geisler's book "Creating God In The Image of Man").
Ham's argument, though, does not necessarily fall victim to that critique. He nuances what he means by "perfect". He refers to the word "good" in the moral sense (the fourth option above). He states that the creation was "very good" as God is "good". This would be a moral proclamation of perfect morality on the creation. This is where Ham's argument becomes problematic.
Theological and Scriptural Problems
Ham uses Mark 10:18 (" 'Why do you call me good?' Jesus answered, 'no one is good- except God alone'.") as his supporting text outside Genesis 1 to determine what "good" means. The problem is that if Jesus states that no one is good except God, why did God state that the creation is good? This is a contradiction, not only in scripture, but from the words from God, himself. If one of the statements is false, then God has lied, but scripture tells us that God can't lie (Titus 1:2). Not only do we have a theological problem (God is lying in one of the passages), but we also have a scriptural problem (one of the passages is wrong- scripture is not inerrant).
One person offered that this problem can be solved by realizing that God's declaration was prior to the Fall, while Jesus' was after the Fall. That's okay, until we ask the question "was the statement Jesus made true before the Fall also?". If we answer "no", then we have something else that shares an attribute of God (flirting, again, with panentheism). If we answer "yes", then the contradiction still exists. So, that answer does not do anything to overcome my critique, in fact, it makes my critique all the more powerful.
The beginning of the audio recording states that AiG is the "Bible-affirming ministry". Which of those contradictory scriptures will they affirm and which will they deny? I am not asking this question to be smug; I know that AiG would affirm both. My point is that if they affirm their interpretation of "very good" as a moral proclamation, then they cannot affirm the accuracy of both passages without affirming a contradiction or affirming panentheism. The first option brings their claim of "Bible-Affirming" into question, while the second brings the claim of "Christian" into question. If the only legitimate way to interpret Genesis 1:31 is the way Ken Ham states, then scripture either affirms a direct contradiction or a theology that is not compatible with traditional, orthodox Christianity. Either of those options would be welcome by the atheist who wishes to find a powerful argument against Christianity. If they use the YEC's presupposition of biblical authority (really, a presuppositiion of a particular interpretation of the Bible), then they can easily undermined Christianity.
Inanimate Objects Do Not Have Natures
YEC's affirm that creation was declared morally perfect at the end of creation day six. However, if something is "good" or "bad" (moral terms), then they must possess an ethical or moral nature. I don't have to go very far to explain that inanimate parts of creation such as air, rocks, and water cannot possess natures (much less, moral natures). That is the first big issue with declaring all creation morally perfect. Not only do inanimate objects not possess natures, they do not possess any ability to make decisions or act apart from cause and effect. They cannot commit sin. Since they cannot commit sin, they cannot be punished for sin.
Animals Are Not Moral Beings
A while back I wrote a post about the evil of animal death (Cartoons, Animal Death and Theology). In that post I concluded that animals do not have moral natures, because they were not created in the Image of God. Since they do not have moral natures, they could not be declared as morally perfect. As a result, they cannot commit sin, and do not need to be punished for sin.
God's Perfect Justice
This is an attribute of God that I believe many people forget. Justice only punishes that which commits sin, and only that sin which is committed. If God punishes or rewards that which does not deserve it, then God's perfect justice (an extension of his perfect moral nature) is compromised. He, therefore, cannot punish or reward amoral creations. He also cannot declare amoral creations as morally good or morally evil.
God declared that he created man in the Image of God. This is where a moral nature is derived. Only humans (not animals or other objects of creation) are held morally responsible. Only they can possess a moral nature, and only they can choose to act outside of cause and effect. At the beginning, they did possess a perfect moral nature, but when Adam and Eve chose to go against God's moral command, they lost that perfect moral nature and sin became part of who they were- it became their nature.
Prior to man's fall, God certainly would have been justified in proclaiming man to be morally perfect, because that is how He created them. But He created the rest of creation without even a moral attribute. So, either Genesis 1:31a refers only to man or it is not talking about a moral perfection. I believe that Ken Ham would agree with me that the context of the verse dictates that it speaks of all creation. So, that leaves us with one option: "very good" is not a moral proclamation.
The Atheist Accurately Identifies Blind Faith
Now, at this point, if someone insists that "very good" is a moral proclamation in scripture, then they must grant that scripture is wrong on this. Using Ken Ham's own argument: if you can't believe what is written in Genesis 1, how can you believe the rest of scripture? For if you believe this (and the rest of scripture) then you are acting AGAINST the evidence. Atheists define "faith" as believing something when all the evidence points the opposite direction. That is precisely what the YEC must do if they wish to maintain this interpretation of "very good".
A Way of Escape
However, there is quite a simple way to overcome this objection (sorry, atheists). All that needs to be done to escape every implication I've presented here (from panentheism to compromising God's justice to blind faith to undermining Christianity altogether) is to give up the interpretation that "very good" exclusively means "morally perfect". But what interpretation should be put in its place? The other option I presented at the beginning is that "very good" refers to the purposes for which God created the universe.
A Major Misrepresentation
I blogged a few weeks ago about Ken Ham misrepresenting the views of those he disagrees with here and here. He does the same in this audio recording. He states that Christians who accept "millions of years" deny a perfect creation. Let me say that clearly. We do not deny a perfect creation. We affirm that creation was perfect for accomplishing the purposes that God created it to accomplish.
Ken Ham states, also, that scripture tells us that God's works are perfect (or "good"). We also affirm this. God does not act arbitrarily; He has purpose behind what He does. Because God is morally perfect, His purposes will also be morally perfect. However, a purpose for something is distinct from that something. The something can be amoral and still be used to accomplish a moral purpose.
What's At Stake?
A while back I wrote a post that explained different reasons that people accepted and rejected a worldview (Reasons In and Out of a Worldview). I mainly focused on complete worldviews in that post; however, the same concept does apply to doctrines and beliefs within a worldview. Even though what I have presented here is logical, someone might not want to accept it because of what is at stake. What will be lost if someone rejects the idea that "very good" is a moral proclamation is a piece of scriptural evidence that YECs use to show that there was no animal death, pain, sickness, or natural disasters prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve.
If "very good" is not a moral proclamation, we cannot exclude anything that we call "evil" from the perfect creation- that includes all the death, sickness, and natural disasters that the fossil record shows existed prior to the creation of man. Notice, too, that I placed "evil" in quotes. I do that because even if we were to grant that "very good" was a moral proclamation, it would have to be shown that death, sickness, and natural disasters were necessarily evil, in and of themselves. If they are not necessarily evil, in and of themselves, then even with a morally "very good" creation, they could still exist. Two recent posts that address the "evil" of pain and suffering are "Is Pain Inherently Evil?" and "Our Compulsion to Repair a Deformed Body".
A Clarification On My Conclusion
Since I am big on preventing the overstating of conclusions, I want to be as clear here as I can. The YEC needs to understand that what I presented here is ONLY a defeater for the YEC view (and Christianity) IF they insist that "very good" is a moral proclamation and that is the only legitimate interpretation of the passage. Understanding "very good" to be a teleological proclamation does not undermine the YEC view (it is perfectly compatible with it); the conclusion merely removes a piece of evidence against other views from the YEC arsenal.
What is to be Gained?
By changing one's view on the interpretation of "very good", they avoid philosophical, theological, scriptural, and moral issues. All of which stand against the rest of scripture. Hugh Ross (Reasons to Believe) likes to point out an important aspect of biblical inerrancy that many people forget: we can't just interpret scripture literally, it must also be interpreted consistently. Interpreting "very good" as a moral proclamation contradicts so much of the rest of scripture (monotheism and God's perfect justice [perfect morality]), that to continue with that interpretation we lose biblical inerrancy. By changing our interpretation, we maintain biblical inerrancy. We avoid contradictory statements by God- we gain logical coherence and consistency and can maintain that God does not lie and that God is consistent (both based in scripture).
Euthyphro Rears His Ugly Head
Finally and most powerfully, if God's perfect morality is called into question, then we realize that either God is making up the rules as he goes or that there is another moral standard that even God is subject to (the Euthyphro dilemma). If that dilemma exists, then there is no objective foundation for calling sin immoral. If there is no objective foundation for calling sin immoral, there is no objective foundation for saying that man is evil because he is "sinful". Without evil, though, there is no sin. Without sin, there is no need for forgiveness. Without the need for forgiveness there is no need for Jesus Christ to die. If there is no need for Jesus Christ to die, there is no need for him to resurrect. Without the need for the resurrection, Christianity is false.
The age of the universe is definitely one of those zombie topics that are important to discuss but rarely go anywhere towards reconciliation. As I mentioned in my post about discussing zombie topics I have pointed out several essential beliefs to Christianity that are at stake if we take the interpretation of "very good" to be a moral proclamation. If my reasoning is flawed on all points regarding all essentials (if even one conclusion regarding an essential is sound, then Christianity is undermined), please point it out in the comments. However, please read and reread my post. Please be sure that you understand what I have written and do not (un)intentionally attack a strawman to maintain a cherished tradition.