Truth or Consequences

Peril in ParadiseMark 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.

Augustine dsOf equal importance, the failure to address the issues undermine our witness to non-Christians. “When Christians appeal to seekers and skeptics with a worldview that is contrary to common knowledge, we risk marginalizing the very truth upon which their souls depend.” (p. 218) Augustine realized this in the fifth century and it remains true today.

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, … about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. … If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis Vol. 1, Ch. 19:39)

There are issues where Christians will have a worldview in conflict with the wisdom of the world. Ethics and lifestyle and the existence of the supernatural are areas that come to mind. Young Earth Creationism isn’t one of these – especially not as argued in the Perfect Paradise Paradigm. The arguments just don’t hold up and the consequences of this teaching can be dire. Whorton argues that the consequences go beyond the issues raised by Augustine.

Even if the Bible is not discredited by its association with a faulty worldview, the advance of the gospel is hindered by the young earth worldview. Young earth creationism dams the rising tide of faith-affirming evidence for the Creator’s handiwork. It is as though we have shut the heavens up and no longer allow them to tell us anything more about the creator’s glory. God’s eternal power and divine nature have been made evident through what has been made, but apparently it is clear and evident no longer. Instead of tearing down the stronghold of naturalism and unbelief, the Perfect Paradise Paradigm forces us to lay down our swords. (p. 219)

Common Ground. Discussions of these issues in the church should begin by emphasizing our common ground. As Christians we have more in common that in conflict. This is the way Whorton began the discussion with the leadership of his church. It is the way in which we should always address such issues. Whorton emphasized four common truths concerning creation (pp. 220-222).

Truth #1: God has truthfully revealed himself in many ways. … His nature demands that all revelation, whatever the means, must be true and consistent.

Truth #2: The Creator is transcendent. Matter, space, energy, and time have not always existed – but the Creator has.

Truth #3: The Creator is sovereign.

Truth #4. The Creator is purposeful. … The Scripture repeatedly speaks of the Creator’s eternal purpose. The act of creating the material world was but one step in what can be described as a drama, played out on the stage of this world.He created all things exactly as planned for a purpose, one that is greater than even the world itself.

If we start from here and dig into scripture and science it is possible to carry on a productive discussion. The Perfect Paradise Paradigm that grounds much of young earth creationism (at least that coming from AiG and ICR – the two biggest voices) can be discussed and contrasted with the Perfect Purpose Paradigm. This isn’t compromising with the world or disregarding Scripture. It involves taking Scripture seriously from beginning to end. The question becomes “Which interpretative lens works better and why?

Humility. Whorton concludes a discussion of Augustine (with a fuller version of the quote I’ve given above) and the example of Antipodians. When it came to a spherical earth Augustine wavered. He appeared to accept that “the earth is suspended within the concavity of the heavens” although he also appeared to think it an as yet unproven conjecture, but he did not think it reasonable to suppose that there are people on the opposite side of the earth. The “fable” of Antipodes (“men who walk with their feet opposite ours“) he writes “is on no ground credible.” (City of God, Book XVI, Ch. 9)

It is understandable that Augustine would make this mistake. And to be fair, Augustine was not opposing well-established science – the scientific consensus was still building at that time. But the lesson for us today is that we must not simply dismiss out-of-hand the weight of scientific evidence when it conflicts with our theological paradigms. We must test all things, even our theological paradigms. We should humbly recognize that although we think our interpretations are correct, our interpretations might need adjustment on occasion. Our interpretations may simply arise from what the Scripture appears to clearly say from our paradigm. (p. 233)

All truth is God’s truth, but all human interpretations are not identical with God’s truth. Let us search the Scriptures, reading them regularly with an open humility to allow God to speak. And we should do the same when we turn to the study of creation.

How do we evaluate our paradigms?

How do theological paradigms differ from other ideas shaping our worldview? When should these be adjusted in the light of evidence?

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