Monday, May 25, 2015
Does Old Earth Creationism Compromise Scripture?
A couple weeks ago I was browsing a science and theology group on Facebook where someone had asked the question,"I've always been told that OEC (old earth creationism) is a compromising position biblically speaking. Can anyone OEC clarify?" As I've discussed in previous posts, it is important that Christians investigate the whole of their worldview to develop a more accurate understanding of who God is (and what He has done) and to ensure that they are defending what is true when evangelizing and discussing in the public market place of ideas. I am a Christian who believes that the universe is not only 6000 years old (a young-earth creationist position- YEC), but rather I believe that the universe is roughly 13.7 billion years old (an old-earth creationist position- OEC).
The accusation from many YEC organizations that OEC compromises scripture is a damning one for the OEC's understanding of who God is and also could be quite disastrous in evangelism and discussion if it is false. Those who have read this blog for a while, know that I do defend the OEC view. Off and on, I've addressed various accusations of compromise; however, I have never really compiled them into a single post for easy access and further research. My response to the question posed on Facebook (unwittingly) gave me the opportunity (a fellow member of the group suggested that I make the comment into a post). I have cleaned up the original comment and added some more content.
The Accusations of Compromise
The accusation that OEC's compromise scripture comes from several misunderstandings of the view and misunderstandings of the Christian worldview, in general.
1. Historically and Literally
First, YECs (not all) tend to believe that all OEC views do not take the Genesis 1-11 accounts as history or literally. While there are some views that do accurately represent theistic evolutionary views, OEC is not theistic evolution, so it does not apply. Most OEC views believe that those passages record real history and take the passages literally. It is important to understand that many of the words have many different literal meanings in ancient Hebrew. This is a detail that many YECs do not necessarily recognize, so they believe that anyone who does not agree with their interpretation of a word is necessarily not interpreting it literally (the false dichotomy of "man's word vs God's Word" is closely related to this- addressed further down). For more on an argument for the historicity of the Scripture and against any view that does not take Genesis 1-11 to be historical, I recommend this book:
The Bible Among The Myths
The particular OEC view that I support is the one offered by Reasons to Believe. Dr. Hugh Ross defends his historical and literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 in his recent books:
More Than A Theory
A Matter of Days
Ken Ham (of YEC organization Answers in Genesis) has also gone on record as saying that rejecting his literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 compromises scripture's authority by leading to denying homosexuality is a sin and accepting gay marriage. I address that in this post:
Unrecognized Agreement and Unity
2. Biological Evolution
Second, YECs (not all) tend to believe that OEC necessitates evolution. Genesis 1-2 does not seem to leave much (if any) room for biological evolution, so any view that affirms it cannot affirm the historicity of the accounts, thus they compromise scripture (so the argument goes). It is correct that OEC does allow for God to work through natural processes to form the current state of the universe; however, only naturalism allows for a necessary connection between cosmic evolution and biological (molecules to man) evolution. Two things stand in the way of that connection: life and agency. For more on these two, I highly recommend these two books, respectively:
Origins of Life
Agents Under Fire
Since OEC does not require biological evolution, then it cannot be concluded that acceptance of biological evolution is necessary. That alone is enough to remove the accusation of compromise on that count; however, some have argued that the text does leave a little wiggle-room for biological evolution in the animal kingdom, but none for getting humans from animals (which is the major concern, anyway). For more on the historical Adam, see this book (new edition scheduled in fall of 2015):
Who Was Adam?
3. "Very Good"
Third, all old-earth views (creationist or evolutionist) accept animal death before the Fall of Adam and Eve. YECs (not all) tend to believe that animal death undermines the idea that the creation was "very good," that it is incompatible with God's loving nature (can't have animals suffering), and that it undermines the atonement of Christ. On the first accusation, they interpret "very good" to mean that the creation was perfect in every conceivable way, while OECs interpret it to mean that creation was perfect to accomplish the purposes for which God created it. If it can be shown that God had a good purpose for animal death, then it is perfectly compatible with His loving character. OECs believe that animals' (who do not have intrinsic value) death prepared the planet for the creation and thriving of humans (who DO have intrinsic value, since they were created with the Imago Dei). I go into this quite a bit more in my post here:
Is Animal Death Really Evil?
Dr. Hugh Ross also covers God's purposes for creating the universe the way He did (which includes animal death prior to the creation of Adam and Eve) in his book:
Why The Universe Is The Way It Is
On the third count, YECs (not all) believe that if death was in the creation prior to the Fall, then the Fall didn't really bring sin into the world, which would make Christ's atoning death useless. However, this understanding tends to minimize a very important parenthetical phrase in Romans 5:12: "to all men." Paul limited what part of creation death came to with that qualifying phrase. He did not say anything about death coming to the rest of creation; in fact, his inclusion of that qualifying phrase excludes the rest of creation. The idea that death came to all creation, at best, reads into the text (eisegesis) rather than out of the text (exegesis), and at worst, directly contradicts scripture. For more content addressing the YEC challenge of animal death before the Fall of Adam and Eve, I highly recommend this book:
Peril in Paradise
4. Exalting Science Over Scripture?
A fourth way that YECs (not all) tend to accuse OEC of compromising scripture is that they say that OECs place scripture under the interpretive authority of secular science. However, OECs believe that since Scripture is breathed by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and that nature is created by God, that neither one of them will ever contradict one another. They are perfectly consistent with each other. OECs also recognize that man must interpret both nature (science) and scripture (theology). Our interpretations of both must not contradict. The OEC view does not make Scripture subject to science, rather it makes both science and theology (worldview) subject to God's Word and God's works (reality). For more on this see these posts:
Man's Fallible Ideas vs. God's Infallible Word
Are Nature and Scripture Compatible?
5. Observational and Historical Science
Related to the fourth accusation of compromise is the fifth one. YECs believe that the past cannot be known via scientific means and can only be known via the revelation in Scripture, thus OECs actively choose to accept an inherently unreliable source of truth regarding the past (science) instead of a perfectly reliable source of truth about the past (the Bible). Unfortunately for YECs, this accusation of compromise actually collapses under its own feet, for if we cannot know the past by scientific means, then we cannot know that the Bible we have today is what was writtten by the authors. The reliability of the transmission of the sacred text is established by scientific means, and if scientific means cannot speak at all to the past, then it cannot speak at all to the reliability of the transmission of the Bible from then until now. So, not only do they not have nature to reveal the past to them, neither do they have scripture, because they cannot even establish that they HAVE scripture. Instead, they must accept, on blind faith (fideism) that they have the right copy. This actually forces the YEC adherent into a hard agnosticism (there is truth, but no one can really know it), which in the market place of ideas, is indistinguishable from relativism.
On the other hand, the OEC view affirms that the past CAN be known via scientific means, thus the OEC not only has nature as a source of truth to guide development of his worldview, but the OEC also can appeal to the Bible we have today as a source of truth by way of science having established its reliable transmission through the ages to this generation. For more on this topic, check out this post:
Philosophy of Science, Circumstantial Evidence, and Creation
Of all these attempts to show that OEC compromises scripture, none can be reasonably maintained when the OEC view is understood. So anyone, who claims that OECs are compromising scripture, is simply misrepresenting the view.