(Image from Wikipedia: credit)
For many years a book, Grand Canyon a Different View was sold at the gift stores in the National Park. This book tells the story of the Grand Canyon from a Young Earth Creationist viewpoint of flood geology. I don’t know if it is still being sold at the National Park or not, but it is available on Amazon. According to the description on Amazon the book invites readers to “explore the majesty and beauty of one of God s greatest creations” and “see the canyon from a biblical perspective and understand how it fits into the flood of Noah” with essays from “Leading Grand Canyon Authorities: … Duane Gish, … Ken Ham, … Henry Morris, John Morris, … John Whitcomb, …” Needless to say its presence in the National Park bookstore was controversial, especially if shelved under “science”.
For most of us this may be an interesting bit of trivia, but nothing earthshaking. A group of Christian geologists found it somewhat more troubling. A distorted picture does nothing good. They have taken the opportunity to craft a book of their own with full color pictures and essays presenting their scientific and Christian view of the canyon, The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? This book is written with abundant pictures and diagrams to educate Christians about geology and the shortcomings of flood geology. Each of the chapters is written by experts in the area, many with years of experience in the classroom answering questions raised by students. Authors include Gregg Davidson, professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, Stephen Moshier from Wheaton College, Ralph Stearley from Calvin College, all of whom I’ve had a chance to meet and talk with at BioLogos meetings. Many, but not all, of their coauthors are Christians – but all have expertise in some aspect of the geology of the Grand Canyon. Joel Duff, who blogs at Naturalis Historia (a blog well worth reading), contributed two chapters on the fossil record.
This is an important topic. Young earth creationism (YEC) is a powerful force in significant swaths of American Christianity. The Ark Encounter opened its doors earlier this month expecting to attract more than a million visitors a year. We’ve just finished a series on Mark Whorton’s book Peril in Paradise where he tells his story of coming to grips with the evidence for the age of the earth – and to the realization that the theological and biblical underpinnings of YEC are fragile. It is a shame when artificial and unnecessary barriers are erected, causing some Christians to struggle and preventing many non-Christians from even considering the gospel. Like Whorton’s book, this book on the Grand Canyon focuses on the age of the earth. This isn’t a book about evolution as the mechanism producing the diversity of life. It is a book about layers of rocks, some with fossils others without, and the processes that could produce these layers and canyons and the fossil record. A young earth followed by a catastrophic global flood simply couldn’t do it. Whether evolution is true or not, it is clear that the Earth is ancient.
Mark Whorton concludes his book Peril in Paradise with his story of coming to grips with the billions of years of life on earth that preceded Adam and with the far reaching significance of this discussion for the church today. There is no reason for Christians to fear science. In fact the marvels of the natural world can lead those who study science to God just as they have in the past.
Double Jeopardy. There is a double jeopardy when we fail to address the issues surrounding Young Earth Creationism and its impact in the church. We jeopardize the faith of Christians and we jeopardize the great commission. Mark Whorton wrote this book because he understands how important the discussion is.
When we fail to prepare our youth with the solid foundation of a credible worldview, we risk losing them to the secular society. The simple fact is that our young people are misled when they are taught that the scientific evidence is not credible. (p. 217)
It isn’t just young people, although early adulthood is a particularly active time of growth, learning, and exploring. I have known a number of people who found the conflict between science and Christian faith troublesome in middle age or in old age. Some had tried to ignore the issue for years, others had recently begun exploring it. I have heard such a story from a number of readers of this blog.
One of my favorite writers of recent years, J. Richard Middleton, has joined BioLogos as a one of three 2016 Theology Fellows. As a fellow he will contribute six posts over the year on issues relating to the theology of creation. The first of these, Why Christians Don’t Need to be Threatened by Evolution, was posted today. Regular readers here will recall our long series of posts on Middleton’s books The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 and A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology. Richard Middleton is Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis at Northeastern Seminary (Rochester, NY) and has focused on the Old Testament. He isn’t a scientist and won’t argue evidence for or against evolution. Rather he will wrestle with theological questions that are raised by an old earth, evolution, and the antiquity of humankind. In his initial post he lays out some of the assumptions that will guide his future posts.
Middleton starts were all Christian thinking about creation and humankind should start, with Scripture. (You can read the full post at BioLogos.)
To start with, I take Scripture as providing the normative framework for the worldview of the church, with guidance for how to live in God’s world. The overarching biblical story of creation and redemption constitutes the non-negotiable framework for Christian discipleship; and serious immersion in Scripture—through gathered worship, communal study, and private meditation—is indispensable to the life of faith.
One part of Christian discipleship, or the life of faith, is how we think about the discoveries of modern science. How might the Bible guide us in that project?
The Bible is our central source as we develop an understanding of creation and humanity. It has to be taken seriously from beginning to end. But this isn’t a once and done project. The important questions of Christian faith have engaged the human imagination from the beginning of the church. Each new generation, and to an extent each individual Christian, must wrestle with these ideas again. This is how we learn and grow. Communal study is an important component of this. I look forward to Richard’s future posts.
One of the strengths of Middleton’s approach is the focus on scripture in its ancient context. His book The Liberating Image is a fascinating study of the image of God. Many of the toughest issues raised in the church about evolution deal with human uniqueness. Are humans nothing more than animals? Simply self-aware arrogant apes? Do humans really have any ground to claim uniqueness and position? (Image Credit)
It is not uncommon for those who hold to a specific view of young earth creationism to claim that rejection of this view is rejection of the gospel itself. In particular, the acceptance of animal death before Adam sinned makes a mockery of the Christian story. James Stambaugh’s article Death Before Sin is one such example. He makes no bones about it. “Those who accept the Bible believe that death is a punishment for sin; death must have come into existence after Adam fell.” This is integral to the atonement. From the same article:
So a blood sacrifice is only necessary if there is sin. … If there was animal death before the fall of man, then God and all those who followed His pattern did useless acts. One must observe that in the atonement the animal loses its life in the place of the human. If animal death existed before the fall, then the object lesson represented by the atoning sacrifice is in reality a cruel joke.
The New Testament has one sacrifice for atonement, for Jesus Christ is called the “Lamb of God.” If we believe that death has always existed, then we make a mockery of the death of Christ. This is exactly what evolution means. … If death is not the penalty for sin, then Christianity is meaningless. The death of Christ was made necessary because of man’s sin. Man’s sin brought death, which in turn brought God’s Son to pay the penalty in our place.
This article is from the Institute for Creation Research. Similar arguments are presented by other vocal defenders of young earth creationism including Answers in Genesis. I have had such arguments directed toward me on this blog from time to time. In the next few chapters of his book Peril in Paradise Mark S. Whorton addresses the issue of animal death in an old earth view of creation. Whether one accepts evolution as the mechanism for creation of the diversity of life or not (and Whorton does not) the issue remains an active one.
Whorton lists four primary claims against animal death before the sin of Adam (p. 156).
Claim 1: The penalty for the curse included animal death in a fallen creation.
Claim 2: The doctrine of atonement depends on original animal immortality.
Claim 3: Animal death and suffering could not be considered “vary good” by a loving, wise, and merciful Creator.
Claim 4: All animals were created as herbivores and commanded to be vegetarians.
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, a story used extensively in Scripture and in Jewish and Christian writing as an example of judgment. But what is the sin under judgment?
We are in the midst of a slow meander through Genesis, using the commentaries by John Walton (The NIV Application Commentary Genesis), Tremper Longman (Genesis in the Story of God Bible Commentary), and Bill Arnold (Genesis (New Cambridge Bible Commentary)) as guides. Abra(ha)m’s nephew Lot, a minor character to this point, plays a more central role in Genesis 13-14 and 18-19 after which he disappears from the narrative. Bill Arnold points out that until the birth of Ishmael, Lot is Abra(ha)m’s heir presumptive, the closest male relative. As such he is a significant member of the family. Both Abram and Lot have grown rich in Egypt and Canaan. So rich, with herds so numerous, that they need to separate to avoid strife. Abram according to custom offers Lot a choice of location and Lot (surprisingly) chooses. A more typical pattern would have involved multiple deferrals (see for example Abraham’s purchase of a burial spot for Sarah in chapter 23). Lot chooses what looked best to him, moves into the valley and settles near Sodom, a city of wickedness.
Twice following Lot’s choice Abraham has to intercede for him. In the first incident he leads a rescue after a raiding party takes off Lot among other spoils from Sodom and Gomorrah. It is not possible to place the names of the kings and the places mentioned into the known history of the area (not complete by any means), but the story has a ring of authenticity. It was edited at a later date (the reference to Dan in v. 14 makes this clear, as Dan was not named until the days of the Judges after Moses and Joshua) but has roots much older. The story also serves to introduce the enigmatic Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High. Of note, after the rescue Abram refuses to accept any of the booty himself, leaving it for his allies or returning it to the king of Sodom.
Suffering is an undeniable part of life on this planet. Accident, natural disaster, predators, and old age. If the earth is 4.5 billion years old all of these are part of God’s creation independent of any sin of Adam and Eve. If evolution is responsible for the diversity of life we see around us disease, cancers, and defects can be added to the mix.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson reflected on this is a famous stanza of his (long) poem In Memorium A.H.H. (Canto 56)
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law–
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed–
If God is love as John attests, and good and powerful, how could, or why would, He create a world with ages of suffering before mankind even came on the scene?
Mark S. Whorton reflects on this question in Chapter 10 of his book Peril in Paradise. The problem of suffering and the bigger problem of evil (intentional moral acts that cause pain and suffering) lead some to reject Christian faith altogether. Others find the only acceptable solution to be found in the young earth perfect paradise paradigm. All pain and suffering, death and decay is the direct results of Adam’s sin and its consequences in the curse for creation. Whorton doesn’t accept evolution, preferring an old earth progressive creation model. Thus he doesn’t need to deal with the question of pain and suffering as an intentional means of producing a diversity of life including humans. But an old earth, whatever God’s method in producing the diversity of life, still requires many generations of existence. Animals were born, lived, and died. Some were trapped in tar pits, remaining for us to find and study and marvel over today . Others were consumed for food. Death was not always a peaceful process.
The Perfect Paradise Paradigm provides a compelling answer to the problem of evil and suffering. Young earth creationism flatly rejects the idea that suffering was part of God’s original “very good” creation. The Creator bears no responsibility for the origin of suffering in the Perfect Paradise theodicy. Evil and suffering were brought about strictly by the rebellion of the creatures. (p. 142)
Several years ago Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III published a short book Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins. Longman refers to this book in his essay How I changed My Mind About Evolution. A combination of factors led him to think more deeply about the biblical story of creation and this book was part of that process. The last two chapters of Science, Creation and the Bible discuss the genre and purpose of the two creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 and the impact that has or should have on our interpretation of these passages. This is worth another look.
Genesis 1 and 2 use different approaches to deliver different but related messages. They contain different details, and different ordering of those details. The fact that the passages are distinct is a significant observation, and helps to inform us of the genre and intent of the author who brought the book of Genesis together as a whole. Genesis 1 and 2 are not two different views of the same historical event to be harmonized, but presentations of a theological message in a non-literal genre. The ancient view of cosmology is incidental to the message. Even the mode of creation of the first man – from clay of the earth – is a common motif in Ancient Near East writings, and is incidental to the message.
The important and complex theological truths being presented to the ancient Hebrews are most effectively cast in terms of the familiar – in this case in terms of creation concepts that were well known throughout the ancient Semitic Near East. (p. 123)
Summarizing the discussion of the creation accounts in Genesis …
In short, we propose that Genesis 1 and 2 are nonliteral accounts, housed in an ancient cosmology and a story of humankind’s beginnings, whose purpose is to teach important theological truths.
If we are on the right track, the next step is to determine the theological concepts that the Genesis 1 and 2 author was proclaiming to his hearers and to us. (p. 126)
Given these observations on Genesis and additional discussion of other OT creation accounts, Longman and Carlson propose as their central thesis that Genesis 1 and 2 constitute a worldview statement of the ancient Hebrew people. As such these accounts of creation belong prominently at the beginning of scripture.