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One of the surprising, disconcerting themes that emerges[sic] from reading the Christian blogosphere over a long period and a large number of blogs is the entrenched idea that young earth creationism — the interpretation of Genesis as a scientific record of creation, and the resulting belief that the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old (”YEC” for short) — is a creedal or confessional demand for believing Christians.

Conversation over the Boar’s Head Tavern recently turned to a discussion of young earth creationism, initially as part of a “member’s poll”, then later exchanges about the results. “Lee” over at the “Two-Edge Sword” blog was dismayed by the results:

First, only two members of the blog thought Young Earth Creationism was valid. Two out of at least 23. That is less than 10% of the people held to a Young Earth view. Not only that, but also many of them held a Young Earth view in a great deal of contempt. One mentioning that he had “outgrown the T-shirt”, and another making sure we all knew that Young Earth and the science behind it “dishonors the creator”. I have to admit this took me by surprise. With evolution faltering in the secular world and science favoring William Paley as much as it favors Charles Darwin, I fail to see a reason for such venom. Even if one wants to snub ‘Creation Science’ as a mistake for some reason (some of it is bad, but not all), it still seems unwarranted to doubt the Biblical data.

Later on, Lee points out why this is such a problem:

Yet once the door of the Bible is opened to error, what can be left for the Christian to hold? Every truth of the Bible must be challenged, and what will be the final arbiter of truth? Some of the polled claimed that inerrancy missed the point because the point of the Bible was Jesus Christ. Yet, how can one know anything for sure about Jesus if the Bible that reveals him is wrong often or even from time to time. Is the Virgin Birth wrong? Is Jesus both God and man, or is that wrong? What about the Trinity? All
such doctrines are attacked by secularists and non-believers as much as the Young Earth doctrine, why not jettison those as well? And if not, why not? How can you know what is right and what is wrong in the Bible?

Lee is mixing in YEC doctrine in with the virgin birth, the Incarnation and the trinity. That’s some rarified company he has put YEC doctrine in the mix with. All three of those have been creedally and confessionally affirmed on the most universal of bases since the earliest days of the church. I’m not aware of YEC teaching ever being elevated to peer status with doctrines like the Incarnation and the Trinity. It doesn’t appear in *any* of the creeds or confessions I’m familiar with.

At the heart of this is conflation. Lee wonders what will happen if YEC doctrines are rejected, and the Bible is thus proven to be “errant”. Well, that’s an attempt to make the YEC exegesis synonymous with the Bible itself, consciously or otherwise. Perhaps young earth creationism *is* an errant doctrine; is the Bible and Christianity falsified? I realize that Ken Ham and Kent Hovind (among others) have been making this argument for a long time, but I’ve always chalked that up to their own zeal for the ideology
the are professionally committed to. But this idea, the notion that YEC doctrines are somehow essential, is much more widespread than just the YEC advocates; the people in the pews listening to Ham’s videotapes seem to have bought this part of his argument, if not his scientific ones.

I don’t hold YEC doctrine in high esteem at all. I was raised in a YEC home, taught in a YEC church, and pushed to the limits of my faith when I finally reached the real world and discovered how misleading and dishonest the PR campaign for young earth creationism is. Truly, I think the BHT commenter who said that YEC science “dishonors the creator” was being quite charitable. To my mind, YEC doctrines are outright denial and rejection of the witness of God’s creation, his general revelation to man.

But even so, I don’t hold doctrinally purity about creation and origins to be a creedal or confessional testing point. I don’t think YEC doctrine is faithful to the Word of God, in view of God’s creation, but I also don’t see those views as fundamental to one’s salvation, the understanding and embrace of the Gospel, or one’s ability to preach and teach the Gospel as a witness to all men. While I see deep and wide errors in YEC teaching, the much bigger error is the elevation of this issue to the “fortress”
of Christian dogma.

25 Responses to “The YEC == Christianity Conflation”

  1. on 16 Dec 2006 at 5:11 pmmattpowell74

    I’m really curious- what exegesis would you use of Genesis 1-2 (absent any reference at all to extrabiblical sources) to come up with anything other than YEC?

    It’s not YEC per se that’s being conflated with orthodox Christianity. It is obedience to Scripture that is. Every theology I’ve heard (theistic evolution, ID, progressive creation, framework) has been presented as a way to make the Bible fit with science. If you’ve got something on your site that I just haven’t found yet, could you point me to it? If it’s a book that you’d recommend, could you let me know about it? If there’s a valid exegetical argument to be made, I’d love to hear it. I haven’t heard it yet.


  2. on 16 Dec 2006 at 6:27 pmTouchstone

    Hi Matt,

    You said:
    I’m really curious- what exegesis would you use of Genesis 1-2 (absent any reference at all to extrabiblical sources) to come up with anything other than YEC?

    I can’t exegete *anything* without extra-biblical sources, and I don’t think you can either. For example, when I read in Isaiah 55 about trees that will clap their hands, I understand this to be figurative speech, specifically personification — and a powerful, beautiful bit of figurative speech it is!

    But I only understand that because of my extra-biblical sources — my knowledge and experience of language and the natural world around me. Those inform me that “tree” is a thing that does *not* have hands — people have hands. Same goes for “hands”. I don’t know what a “hand” is, if all I’ve got for sources is the Bible.

    As a matter of fact, I can’t even begin to *parse* the text of the Bible, or even recognize that it is text to be parsed, if all I’ve got in view is the Bible.

    Without my knowledge of the real world — language, history, culture, emotions, natural objects and processes — the Bible means nothing to me. I can’t even *read* it. So, if you strip me of all knowledge outside of the Bible, I will get no knowledge from the Bible; I can’t exegete *anything* that way.

    If you read Isaiah 55 with the trees clapping their hands as personification — or even if you don’t: what’s a tree, based on just the Bible? — then you are marshalling extra-biblical knowledge to help your exegesis.

    Tell me how you know what a tree is so you can understand Isaiah, if you dispute this.

    Thanks for the comment.


  3. on 18 Dec 2006 at 2:02 ammattpowell74

    Aren’t you kind of dodging the question? I’m asking here for your interpretation of Genesis 1.

    Obviously the use of language is required. Figures of speech must be interpreted as such. Isaiah 55 is clearly a figure of speech, since trees don’t have hands.

    I chose my words carefully- I didn’t deny the need to approach the Bible with a functioning brain. But going to Genesis 1 with Darwinian theories in mind, or with any of the interpretations of physical data which make up modern science, is an entirely different thing.

    If Genesis 1 is a figure of speech, what clues in the text are there to lead you to this conclusion? Language should only be interpreted as figurative if a straightforward reading gives nonsensical results. We know that a tree does not have hands. This is a simple matter of the use of language, the definition of terms. I don’t need to do a scientific study of all known trees to see whether there are any that have hands before I can make this statement.

    But when you take theories of the age of things, interpretations of physical data that you have never seen, and use that to interpret Genesis 1, now you’re letting the ideas of men interpret Scripture instead of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. There isn’t a shred of evidence anywhere in Scripture that Genesis 1 ought to be regarded as anything other than a straightforward historical account, and rather a lot to the contrary.


  4. on 18 Dec 2006 at 9:55 amglovergj


    You ask some great questions! Like you, I uphold the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures. I also approach the study of nature by first assuming that God created the heavens and earth from nothing. And that He sustains and upholds their very existence at every instant in time. Nature is completely dependent on God for its existence, as well as its operation. Therefore, even the normal patterns of material behavior that conform to our law-like descriptions are evidence of God sovereign governance. In fact, naturalism, as a methodology of science, makes no sense apart from God’s total sovereignty over creation. The naturalism that underlies the sciences of medicine and meteorology should not cause us to abandon them any more than the naturalism that underlies astronomy, geology and biology should cause us to ignore the history they reveal.

    So how do we approach Genesis 1? You will probably agree that when the early Church Fathers read Genesis, they did so without reference to modern science. Therefore, if we want to understand the literal meaning of Genesis 1 without any modern scientific bias, we need only look to these earliest pre-scientific interpretations. If you look at the writings of the early church fathers in their entirety, a very different picture of the cosmos emerges than what we are familiar with today. They undeniably believed in a flat-earth, a solid dome (or firmament), literal “waters” above the heavens, that the moon was second luminary greater than the stars, that the earth was at the center of the universe and did not move, ect… These were not just a Hebrew oddities but were common to all ancient Semetic peoples. Even the Egyptians had a similar cosmos, but with the earth as a rectangle (rather than a disk) and the heavens as a vault (rather than a dome). All one needs to do is examine the early church writings and the construction details of the Hebrew cosmos are confirmed. I quote many of these references in my upcoming book - which I think you will enjoy.

    I submit that if you read Genesis 1 with no scientific bias, this is the universe that is portrayed. And why shouldn’t it be? This was the ancient cosmos - believed by all Near Easter cultures during the time that the God spoke to the prophets! My question to you is this: do we ignore the “scientific evidence” for a spherical earth, the solar system, and outer space? Or do we reinterpret the Bible so that it conforms with modern science? Or do we just dismiss the Bible as figurative, poetic, or allegorical?

    For hundreds of years, Christians have resisted scientific discovery for fear that “the Bible can only have an impact if it is true.” But whether we know it or not, virtually all of modern Christendom has allowed modern science to influence their interpretations of Scripture. The spherical earth, the solar system, the discovery of Jupiter’s moons, the phases of Venus, the double motion of the earth and many other scientific discoveries were all initially opposed by Christians because of they failed to understand the ancient Near-Eastern cosmological context from which Moses records the creation account. Ironically, these same scientific discoveries are now universally accepted within the church. In fact, many Christians even bend and twist the Scirptures to find support for these observations. But is any of this even neceesary? How far are Christians willing to go to ensure that every detail of the creation narrative remains literally true?

    In his commentary on Genesis, John Calvin says, “nothing here is treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.” I happen to agree with him. In fact, the same could be said about geology and biology. You see, during the time of the reformation, there were many astronomical discoveries that were challenging a plain reading of Genesis. When Calvin was confronted with the astronomical evidence that Saturn is greater than the moon, but only appears smaller because of its great distance, he said the following:

    “Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference: Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them.”

    Calvin had no problem distinguishing the theology of creation from its method of inspired delivery. He permitted the astronomers to “do thier thing” without condeming thier scientific conclusions.

    Martin Luther took a much different approach. When confronted with the astronomical evidence that the earth rotates, he said the following:

    “People give ear to an upstart astrologer (Copernicus) who strove to show that the earth revolves…Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best…but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.”

    This is no different than the dogmatic approach that characterizes the modern creation science movement. When confronted with the astronomical evidence that the solid firmament and the waters above the heavens do not exist (both of which are clearly described in the Bible), Martin Luther also said the following:

    “Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters…we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity; with our understanding.”

    Are you guilty of “wickedly denying” the solid firmament? So am I. Did any of the Apollo missions crash through “the waters” en route to the moon? So does all of this mean that Gensis is wrong? Only if we assume that Moses intended to teach astronomy. I believe that Calvin had the right approach. Luther’s approach, which is no different than 6-day creationism given the overwhelming evidence of the earth’s antiquity, makes God out to be a liar by ripping the Genesis narrative out of its ancient Near-Eastern context. Inerrancy and infallibility demand that we leave our modern scientific understanding in the 21st century before meeting Moses at the foothills of Sinai to unpack the timeless theological truths about man, sin, salvation, and creation that often get overlooked by modern scientific readings of Genesis. If we are willing to do this, then we are free to, in Calvin’s words, “investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend” without fear of loosing our faith.

    In summary, the time for Christians to remove the scientific stumbling block and bury the hatchet with “methodological naturalism” is long overdue, even if it means abandoning the holy grail of Christian apologetics - creation science. Rather than only looking for the fingerprints of God in the shadows of the unexplainable or in the spotlight of the miraculous, it’s time for God’s people to see Him providentially working through the natural patterns of material behavior to accomplish His divine purposes. I think this all starts by putting the creation narrative of Genesis back into its ancient Near-Eastern cosmological context and building a theology of creation that doesn’t confuse the timeless truths about God, man and creation with the ancient vehicle of their inspired delivery.

    Take care Matt.

  5. on 18 Dec 2006 at 11:39 ammattpowell74

    Thanks for your response.

    The ancient near east cosmologies all had as their center the sun. The sun was the source of all life. By having the creation of light and the earth occur before the creation of the sun, Genesis not only does not derive from ANE cosmologies, it fundamentally attacks them, stands them on their head.

    Ezekiel 8 and many like passages shows the burning hatred that God had for ANE cosmologies, as well as those who try to mix those cosmologies with the truth of Jehovah. For bringing the idols into the temple, God pronounces the death penalty on every man, woman and child- carried out in Ezekiel 9.

    I think there is a clear distinction between descriptions of things from a particular perspective (eg “the sun coming up”) and descriptions of actual historical events. Even Joshua’s miracle- we just don’t have a real description of how it occurred, how God accomplished it. We just see what the effects were from Joshua’s perspective.

    But Genesis 1 gives us a specific account. It tells us how God created the world. The fourth commandment acount in Exodus 20:9 even tells us that Genesis 1 gives us a literal account of the creation.

    To sharpen our understanding of that account by things we see, like the spherical nature of the earth, is one thing. To fundamentally contradict it, to destroy the meaning of the account by forcing it to conform to a modern cosmology that bears much more resemblance to the ANE cosmologies which God so roundly condemns throughout Scripture, is something entirely else.

    You have put the sun back as the source of life. And this is not something anyone observed. Nobody observed the millions or billions of years of geological or biological history. We observe that the earth is round. But we do not observe that world is as old as it is. We observe that a particular rock has a particular level of a particular isotope or chemical. The belief that the world is therefore of such an age is an interpretation of that data through the lens of a cosmology that is fundamentally at odds with Scripture’s cosmology.

    I can perhaps save you a little time by pointing you to some of my previous posts on the subject:

    Thanks for your gracious responses.

  6. on 19 Dec 2006 at 11:26 amTouchstone


    I’m sorry to hear you didn’t think my last set of comments was responsive. I offered the example of Isaiah and the trees as it seems a case of “external knowledge” that you do in fact accept as informing your understanding of scripture. Just having a brain doesn’t help you make sense of Isaiah’s clapping trees, or identify figurative speech. It’s *knowledge* of the natural world, outside of the Bible that provides the basis for your understanding of scripture.

    You’re telling me that you’re choosing your words carefully, then claim (I think) that it is a *functioning brain* that connects Isaiah 55 with personification. A functioning brain is required, but so is a beating heart, and a pair of eyes that can see, too. That’s not helpful. The key ingredient is external knowledge. That’s why I used this example, as it’s one even the most literalist interpreter can understand as dependent on external knowledge. I’ve been able to work forward on this with people I’ve discussed this with to good effect using this argument.

    If you are ready to grant that your understanding of Isaiah 55 is dependent on external knowledge (and I haven’t actually seen you grant this just yet!), then the dispute doesn’t hinge on whether we should be informed by external knowledge, but what *counts* as external knowledge. More on that in a bit.

    Exegetically, I understand Genesis 1 to be a theological treatise, the written account of an oral tradition, an inspired co-opting of ancient cosmological myths. God is asserting his sovereignty over all of creation as the Creator, and relating the moral history of man as a context for His relationship with mankind. The length of a solar day versus billions of years has *zero* bearing on the message — the moral of the story, the theology attached to the history.

    God frames creation in the pattern he wishes to establish for the labors of mankind — a “work-six/rest-one” pattern. It isn’t at all important that *God* be bound by solar days in His creation. Rather, it’s important as a template, an exemplar for the sabbath. Man does live on the earth, and divides his time into days, and the Sabbath is framed in those units. But there’s nothing magic or theological at all about 24-hour periods that I can see; if the earth were to spin a little slower and days were 40 hours long, do you suppose that the work week would still be divided up in 24-hour periods, carving up days into odd and end pieces? I don’t either. The actual *length* of time isn’t important. The important part is the *pattern*.

    In any case, it isn’t the case that I find a description of billion years, or a single solar day in Genesis 1. I don’t see Genesis 1 as imparting specific knowledge either way. I certainly understand that the ancients would be inclined to embrace the most obvious interpretation — ‘yom’ as solar day, rather than as something abstract as used in other passages. But I also understand that the ancients would be inclined to read all of Genesis in a flat-earth, geocentric way as well.

    So the question is not ‘Is the obvious, best guess at the intended scientific claims of Scripture a young earth interpretation?’, but rather ‘Does scripture purport to make any claims at all about the underlying science?’ As with the church’s historic over-reach in building a theology around perceived scriptural claims of the fixity of the earth at the center of the universe, so it is with the creation narrative; Genesis is imparting a theological and moral message, inert in its claims about time spans and physical processes.

    Getting back to what counts as knowledge, I suggest that the filter you are advancing here (direct observation) is an artificial one. Examples abound for this, but one that’s commonly thrown out here is the proposition that your mother and father are *indeed* your mother and father. Do you *know* this? If so, how? I’m interested in the answer to that question, because it will have bearing on the epistemology you employ. You say above that we know trees don’t have hands by observation, and I’d agree. But even as the trees in your front yard provide witness to the idea that Isaiah is using personification, the rocks circling its base are providing testimony at the same time to the earth ancient history. We know rocks are old from observing them and using our functioning brains, just as we know trees don’t have hands by observing them and using our functioning brains, just as we know that the sun does *not* go around the earth after all by observation and using our brains.

    We can go into the specifics of how we build and validate the knowledge for each of those. If you’re intent on defending the bright line of “direct observation” as the only qualifier for usable external knowledge in reading the Bible, then please advise, as I would like to stress that idea out a bit.

    In any case, I appreciate your time and effort — and grace — in responding. I’m gonna go read your blog!



  7. on 19 Dec 2006 at 12:12 pmglovergj


    This is a great dialogue. Let me deal specifically with a few things that you said.

    “The ancient near east cosmologies all had as their center the sun.”

    If you mean this statement in a “heliocentric” way - that is false. Read the Enuma Elish or any of the numerous Egyptian creation myths. The earth is always a flat disc or rectange, the sky is always a solid dome or vault with waters on top, and the heavenly bodies, including the sun, make their way across the firmament each day. Heliocentricism did not appear on the scene until the 1500s. Perhaps you meant something else and I misunderstood you. I apologize if that is the case.

    “Genesis not only does not derive from ANE cosmologies, it fundamentally attacks them, stands them on their head.”

    Here, you are both right and wrong. The *physical details* of the Hebrew cosmos are identical to the ANE cosmologies. Read Genesis 1 with no preconcieved astronomical notions. The solid firmament and waters above the heavens are elements of the ANE cosmos, not the modern universe. However, the *theological details* are indeed 180 out from the polythesitic ANE Cosmologies. So you are absultely correct to say that the Genesis accounts stands the ANE cosmologies on thier head - but the break is theological, not scientific. For a great book on this, see Conrad Hyers, The Meaning of Genesis.

    “I think there is a clear distinction between descriptions of things from a particular perspective (eg “the sun coming up”) and descriptions of actual historical events.”

    Yes, but how do we know what is what? Before Copernicus and Galileo, everybody thought that the earth didn’t move and the sun went around it. The Bible uses similar language. We now know that those verses are simple descriptions *only* because we have evidence to the contrary! Only because of modern science - just like we now know that we can see billions of light years across the galaxy, ergo the earth can’t be 6,000 years old. Unless you want to posit a miraculous disruption of the laws of nature (even a tree can grow hands and clap with a miracle), we need science to inform us as to what statements in the Bible are literally true, and what are non-literal. If you never saw a tree but read Isaiah 55, you might think that trees had physical hands and can clap. Our observations have to inform the way we approach the Bible. If they don’t, then we will be no different than Luther arguing from Genesis that the celestial sphere is solid, there are waters resting on top of it, and the earth does not move. These verses were simply never meant to convey scientific truth. The same can be said of days of Genesis, unless you posit an miracle to account for the “appearence of age” - which is the only logical way to hold to a young earth in light of the evidence to the contrary.

    “To fundamentally contradict it, to destroy the meaning of the account by forcing it to conform to a modern cosmology that bears much more resemblance to the ANE cosmologies which God so roundly condemns throughout Scripture, is something entirely else.”

    So do you believe in a flat earth? Some Christians do. Do you believe in Geocentrism? Check out - for these Christians, the authority of the Bible is at stake! Do you believe in a solid firmament upon which rest the waters above the heavens? All of these things are in the Bible. The only reason most peole no longer believe them is because of modern astronomy. If you do not believe them, then you have also forced a modern reading on the ancient scriptures - whether you know it or not. My point is that by understanding that Moses makes use of contemporary cultural forms (of his day) to convey timeless theological truth for all ages (under the inspriration of the Holy Spirit), we don’t have force unnatrual interpretations onto the Scriptures because it’s not necessary.

    “The belief that the world is therefore of such an age is an interpretation of that data through the lens of a cosmology that is fundamentally at odds with Scripture’s cosmology.”

    You are absolutely correct! Facts don’t speak for themselves. They must be interpreted within a framework in order to have meaning. The job of a scientists is to interpret the facts in a framework that assumes that the laws of nature operate continuously unless they have been miraculously suspended by God. If you interpret the facts of natural history without miracles, as mosts scientists do, there are still a lot of unaswered questions, but the picture that emerges is definitely at odd with the Hebrew cosmology. Which one do we believe? If you assume that the Bible inteneded to teach cosmology, then you’re in big trouble. You either have to deny the obvious (such as the fact that the earth is round, rotates on it’s axis, revolves around the sun, and is very old), or you must force Scripture to conform to modern science, a dangerous hermenutical exercise that can lead to all kinds of abuses. However, if you recognize that Moses makes use of ANE cosmologies to convey timeless theological truth (primarily monotheism vs polytheism), then you are liberated from having to have mine the ancient Scriptures for scientific truth that can be applied verbatim to the universe as we know it today. It’s actually quite liberating. By distinquishing between the timeless theological truth and passing cultural forms, it allows us to uphold the inerrancy and infalliability of the Holy Bible without putting it squarely at odds with scientific discovery.

    If you want to assume that universe appeared in its present form and that that all evidence of natural history prior to 4004 BC is simply a divinely crafted illusion, then you will find yourself in another predicament. If only the Bible can tell us which scientific observations are authentic and which are apparent, then we must assume that everything that contradicts the Bible must be “apparent.” So in addition to the “appearence of age” argument, you must adopt the “appearence of sphericity” argument, the “appearance of heliocentricism” argument, the “appearance of common descent” argument, etc… The universe becomes a mess. We actually *offend* God’s creation by not recognizing it’s testimony as authentic natural history. Would God ever require us to deny what can be so plainly seen?

    I will look at your other posts. Perhaps I’m missing something in your arugments. Keep up the good dialogue!


  8. on 19 Dec 2006 at 1:47 pmglovergj

    **The following is a copy of another post for the benefit of readers here***

    Hi Matt! This is glovergj from the blog. As promised, I read your post. There was a time when my belief in Biblical infallability and inerrancy would have led me to the same conclusions. I still believe in the Word of God, but here is why I think it is a mistake to use Scripture to argue against science.

    You said the following:
    “…nobody ever gets to a “framework hypothesis” or any kind of old earth view from the Bible.”

    I agree 100%. But nobody ever gets to a sphereical earth or a solar system, or a galaxy, or that the sky is not solid and that the waters above the firmament do not exist from the Bible either. The only reason we know any of these things is because of the modern science of astronomy.

    You also say: “If you can jettison all of your scientific beliefs and tell me from Scripture itself that the world is fifty billion years old, then that is an argument I’m interested in hearing.”

    Why are looking to Scripture to tell you how old the earth is? Is that something Moses was concerned about? Is that the point of the Genesis narrative? The Bible says that the moon is a “great light” and that God “made the stars also” as if they were inconsequential in relation to the size of the moon. As a result, some Medieval Christians resisted the astronomical discovery that the star of Saturn was greater than the moon. They wrongfully assumed that the point of Genesis was to teach literal astronomy. Of course, we know now that was never the point. In the ancient Near East, stars were woshiped as Gods. By giving them a lower status, Moses is making a theological statment, not a scientific statement. In fact, if you understand the ancient Near Eastern pagan polytheistic creation mythologies (such as the Enuma Elish), it becomes clear that the agenda of Genesis 1 is to offer a point-by-point theological contradiction of contemporary paganaism. It was never the intention of Moses to give scientific or historical truth. We have other ways of determining those things.

    You go on to say, “Do you know better than God? What do you think God wanted you to know when He divinely inspired Genesis 1 and 2? If He wanted you to know that the world is fifty billion years old and came about through millions of tiny changes, then He’s either a very poor communicator or a liar. Which of those roads do you want to pick? And if He didn’t care about you knowing the details of the physical creation, why spend so much time talking about those details?”

    Whoa! Again, what was the point of Genesis? If you assume that the point of Genesis was to communicate scientific truth about the cosmos, then you have just made God a liar! The earth is not flat, the sky is not solid, there are no waters above the heavens, the earth is not at the center of the universe, the moon is not a second luminary, etc… If we fail to understand the true intent of Genesis, then it is we Christians who make God a liar!

    Be careful about making these kinds of extreme statements. I understand your desire to let God be true and all men be liars, but this isn’t the best way to accomplish this. In fact, these arguments give the unbelieving world that perfect straw-man to attack the Christian faith and the Word of God. Know your church history and don’t repeat the mistakes of the past! Don’t hand the world the very club by which they will try and beat our faith out of us.


  9. on 19 Dec 2006 at 5:37 pmmattpowell74

    GJG and Touchstone,
    Thanks for your response.

    The world doesn’t need another club. They already hate you. They already think you’re complete idiots. Just read Pharyngula or PZ Myers and their thoughts about ID’ers and theistic evolutionists if you doubt me. In addition to thinking that you’re dangerously stupid xenophobic hicks, they also think you’re dishonest for sneaking creationism in the back door. To all of them, the idea that a man was born from a virgin, died and then rose again is a far more important reason to hate and despise you than any theories about creation. If you’re trying to avoid the scorn of the world, I’d give that up. I’m OK with them thinking I’m a complete idiot. They hated Jesus; they’ll hate us too. The question is not whether YEC gives the world some argument against us. The question is only whether it’s true.

    A few points first-

    When I said that the sun was at the center of the ANE cosmologies, I did not mean that the sun was physically at the center of the universe. I meant that the sun was seen as the source of life in many ANE cosmologies- everything came out of the sun. The sun was often the chief god, as was the case in Egypt with Ra. I was unclear in my statement, and for that I apologize.

    Also, to understand Isaiah 55, I actually don’t need external knowledge of the world. I just need to know the definitions of words. All I need to know is what a tree is. I have never seen a shepherd, yet I know the definition of the term, and therefore I understand Psalm 23.

    But to get back to the main argument- Is there any piece of actual knowledge you have, comparable to the fact that trees don’t have hands, that compels a different reading of Genesis 1? Did you actually observe any piece of physical evidence that proves without doubt that the world is that old? Did you observe any of the genetic evidence, any of the fossil evidence, any of the geological evidence? Or are you just taking someone’s word for it, along with their interpretations of the meaning of that evidence?

    I believe that my parents are actually my parents because I have been told that by a lot of people, and I accept it on authority. Most of what we know we accept on authority, like the phases of Venus and the rings of Saturn. I accept those things on authority. None of these things affect my worldview at all. None of these things contradict anything in Scripture. Previous generations may have read Scripture wrongly because of their own ignorance regarding the spherical earth or heliocentricity. But again, no statement in Scripture demands those interpretations. They are merely expressions from a man’s perspective, like me saying I saw the sun come up today. That doesn’t mean I actually think the earth is fixed and the sun goes around the earth. The statements used to infer the flatness of the earth or geocentrism are all those kinds of statements.

    Genesis 1 is something entirely different. Genesis 1 is presented as a historical account, an account of how God created the universe. It’s not intended to answer every detail, but it is presented as historical truth, how God actually did it. And as far as the firmament goes, it’s really not clear exactly what that is, and a lot has changed about the earth since then due to the flood. If Genesis 1 is just cribbed from ANE mythologies, then God has contradicted Himself. Why did He object so strenuously to the Hebrews worshiping Him in the form of the bull of heaven? Why did He regard it as a terrible crime for the people to be bowing to the sun in the temple in Ezekiel 8? God everywhere expresses His burning hatred for the heathen religions around them.

    I agree that Genesis 1 is a point-by-point refutation of the ANE cosmologies. But then you say that it didn’t happen that way, and that actually the ancient mythologies were closer to the actual historical truth than the Bible itself totally undermines the point.

    If it is not historical truth, what else can safely be dispensed with? Adam and Eve? Modern science denies them. The flood? Modern science says it’s impossible. Tower of Babel? The exodus? The ten plagues were also a point by point refutation of the religion of the Egyptians, demonstrating God to be superior to all of the Egyptian gods. But does that mean it didn’t really happen? Where does it stop?

    I’ll tell you where it stops. It stops at the cross of Christ. The exact same arguments you use to dispute the historicity of Genesis 1 are used to dispute the historicity of the gospels. Read Bultmann and Schleiermacher for two good examples of this. They say the point of the gospel stories was to present timeless spiritual truths, without any intention to actually relate what really happened in Christ’s life. Does that argument sound familiar at all to you? The cross itself and Jesus’ resurrection were intended to refute, point by point, all of the religions of the world. Does that mean it didn’t really happen?

    Here’s another question for you- what evidence would be compelling enough for you to deny the resurrection of Christ?

    We all accept things on authority, and I suggest that this whole argument boils down to that- what authority are you going to accept? None of you have direct knowledge at all of the origins, age, or nature of the universe. What you have, on the one hand, are the speculations of people who hate God and His Son. Is it surprising that their arguments seem very compelling? Jesus said they would be, doing signs and wonders that would deceive, if possible, even the elect. And on the other hand, you have the testimony of the One who made the heavens and the earth. It’s by faith that you know that God made all things (Hebrews 11). And it’s also by faith (belief in authority) that you accept the speculations of modern scientists. Presented that way, I think it should be obvious which faith is superior. Let God be true, and every man a liar. I will stick to the plain teaching of Scripture.

    Yours in Christ,

  10. on 20 Dec 2006 at 12:19 amglovergj


    This dialogue has been extremely fruitful and I’ve enjoyed your fellowship. Fundamentally, we both believe that God created the heavens and the earth, and that Jesus is God in the flesh, and that he died and rose again, and though we may never meet in this life, we will spend eternity together talking about how foolish we both were back on earth.

    I’m not trying to curry any sort of special status with secular scientists - and neither is Touchstone. You are absolutely right, they already hate us because our worldview begins and ends with the theology of creation. That God called the entire universe into existence, and therefore all of creation depends of Him to sustain and uphold it. Therefore, science itself is only possible because of the regular patterns of providence that secular scientists refer to as the laws of nature. However as Paul says in Romans, the world does not recognize or give honor to God even though He has clearly revealed Himself. My only desire is to be faithful to the Word of God and to His creation by applying a framework of interpretation that does not deny what either is telling us.

    Your question to me is very timely. Just tonight, shortly after 9 pm, it was a clear night - as clear as it gets in the Baltimore-Washington area. I took out my 10″ dobsonian telescope that I got my kids for Christmans and turned it toward the constellation Andromeda. The photons that struck my eye as I focused in on our nearest galactic neighbor left those stars about 2.2 million years ago. I directly observed this with my own eyes! With more sophisticated equipment, astronomers can deduce (from redshift) that the entire galaxy is moving towards the Milky way - on a collision course! Moreover, they can measure the velocity of the individual stars in the Andromea galaxy and determine its rate of spin, its mass, and its size. If the world is less than 10,000 years old - how can I see this? Did God create the world with a built-in natural history that never actually happened? This is just one example of something that I saw “with my own eyes” that testifies to the fact of cosmic antiquity.

    You also said something else that was very interesting: “Previous generations may have read Scripture wrongly because of their own ignorance regarding the spherical earth or heliocentricity.” And they certainly did do that. But Matt, if it were not for scientific discovery, how else would they know that their “plain reading of Scripture” was wrong? How do we know that we are right and they were wrong? How would they even know if they were being ignorant of the natural world? If the Bible clearly says that the earth is flat so that a tall structure can be directly seen from the “ends” of the earth, then why should any Christians choose not to believe it? If the Psalmist clearly states that there are “waters above the heavens” why should we deny them? If the Bible says that it rains when God opens the “windows of heaven” letting down the water from “above the firmament” why not incorporate this into our Christian worldview? If several of the OT writers clearly state that the earth “cannot be moved” why accept the authority of Copernicus and Gallileo over that of the Holy Spirit?

    I will answer your question, but I will also ask you one in return. Tell me this: when confronted with the findings of the astronomers, our great Hero of the Reformation, Martin Luther, said the following:
    “Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters…It is likely that the stars are fastened to the firmament like globes of fire, to shed light at night…We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity; with our understanding.”

    Now, if you lived in Luther’s day, and were convinced by the testimony of nature, as we all are today, that the stars are not “fastened to the firmament like globes of fire” and that there are no “waters above” the sun, moon, and stars, how would you argue against Luther’s “obvious” misuse of Scripture? Could you stand up to him? Would you have the huevos to tell him that the “philosophers” were actually right and he was allowing his ignorance to misinterpret the Bible? I would urinate in my pants going up against Luther on something like this. His command of the Scriptures would put me to shame - even though I might actually be right! Could YEC be making the same mistake? have you carefully considered this - or are you so wrapped up in winning the “culture war” that you have chosen sides without fully understanding what nature is telling us? I too want to win the culture war, but repeating the mistakes of our spiritual ancestors is only marginalizing us. This is whole reason why I’m publishing a book this Spring about these very issues which are so important.

    Now, to answer you qeustion: “What evidence would be compelling enough for you to deny the resurrection of Christ?” That is simple - NONE. And I’ll tell you why. Science can never prove or disprove the resurrection of Christ because it was a miracle. So the question is really not even legitamate. I believe, by faith, that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Therefore, it is entirely consistent to believe that God raised Him from the dead - even though such things are physically impossible and can never be demonstrated or deduced logically. The miracles of the Christian faith were witnesses by others and recorded for us to be accepted by faith. Science has not authority to prove or disprove them.

    Now you might say to this, “So why do you not belive the literal creation account?” Another great question. While science is silent on the resurrection of Christ, science can tell us how old the earth is, and how old the universe is, and that even though we can’t feel the earth moving, it is actually hurling through space at tremendous speeds. Since these things can be clearly demonstrated scientifically, I chose not to adopt a framework of understanding that puts my interpretations of Scripture in opposition to those things that can be deduced emperically.

    Consider this: if the world was created “instantly” just over 6,000 years ago, then the natural chain of cause and effect would only go back that far. After that, nothing would physically make any sense. The normal patterns of material cause and effect would reach an emperical dead end, otherwise known as a singularity, at 4004 BC and there would be no way to look beyong that instant. So what do we find when we follow the cosmic chain of cause and effect? We do in fact find a singularity! The laws of physics do indeed come to a screetching halt just as God calls the universe into existence from nothing. However, this event does not take place 6,000 years ago. It can actually be traced back about 13.7 billion years ago! Why should I deny it? Why would God tell me one thing in Genesis, but then tell me another thing with the laws of physics? That is my answer to your question. I look forward to hearing your answer to mine.

    Your brother in Christ, GJG

  11. on 20 Dec 2006 at 11:20 ammattpowell74

    All of this depends on you and a lot of other people being right about a whole bunch of stuff. Is it impossible that the data is wrong? Or more likely to me, that the interpretation of the data is wrong?

    I think a lot of the question hinges on what kind of information it is that we’re comparing. This is certainly the way the non-literalists approach the question, by saying that the information provided by science and the information provided by Gen 1 are two different kinds of knowledge, and therefore shouldn’t be compared. For this approach to work, the information provided by science has to be regarded simply as neutral unbiased information- simple facts that cannot be disputed, like the definition of the word “tree”.

    This presupposition alone isn’t enough, though, and that’s why we spend all this time talking about ANE cosmologies and how Genesis 1 is clearly related to them. Because the other end of the argument is that Genesis 1 is NOT this kind of information. It is not intended to relate simple facts like on what day a given thing happened and how it was done. Instead, Genesis 1 is teaching spiritual truths and never should have been regarded in the same way as the kind of neutral, unbiased way as the data that science provides us.

    Do I have it about right?

    First, the whole interpretive framework comes not from God, not from Scripture, but from Emmanuel Kant. In order to deal with the rationalism of the day, Kant believed that knowledge had to be separated into the noumenal and the phenomenal. You’re probably familiar with the argument, but for those who might not be, the idea is that the noumenal world is the epistemological world that encompasses faith, love, things like that, and the phenomenal world is the realm of science, facts, data, and the like. Kant drew a hard line between the two. The result of this of course is the denial of all miracles, the denial of the necessary historicity of really anything in Scripture.

    But isn’t that essentially what your argument requires? That Genesis 1 is noumenal knowledge and the age of the earth is phenomenal knowledge, and the one therefore has nothing to do with the other? And what then about the other historical events in Scripture? You say the resurrection of Christ was a miracle. And yet science could prove or disprove it. Just produce a body. The flood was a miracle, in the sense of a supernatural event produced by God. So was the mixing of the languages at Babel, the destruction of Jericho, the raising of Lazarus. And yet all of these things could be proved or disproved by science, and science has attempted to do so in many of these instances.

    Is this distinction valid? Is it valid to say that matters of religion don’t affect matters of the physical world? Is that really an assertion that you want to make? If the assertion is true, the Christian religion is overthrown, because the Christian religion absolutely depends on things that happened in the physical world. A lot of them, and most of all the resurrection of Christ.

    You said no amount of evidence would convince you that Christ had not risen, because it was a miracle. So about which of these other events would that also be true?

    -the raising of Lazarus
    -the destruction of Jericho
    -the miraculous birth of Isaac
    -the flood
    -Cain and Abel
    -Adam and Eve

    Which of these are literal and which figurative? Which are noumenal and which are phenomenal? And where do you get the interpretive key to tell the difference?

    Or to put it another way, how much of the Bible are you willing to turn over to secular humanists for interpretation?

    Science is not neutral. Nothing is. The lies of Satan can seem extremely persuasive, but that is still what they are.

    Science isn’t some mythical completely different kind of knowledge than any other kind of knowledge. You make observations, you form hypotheses about them and then you test them. You see if you’re right or wrong. But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. You have to start with the assumption that God knows a whole lot more than you do.

    Are you absolutely sure that your understanding of redshifts, and all their possible interpretations, is comprehensive and correct? Are you absolutely sure there is no possible interpretation of those redshifts that could bring your understanding of science into conformity with the plain reading of Genesis 1? Are you even trying to do that? I have a book called _Starlight and Time_ by Dr. Russell Humphreys, Ph.D. that conforms the apparent age of the stars with Genesis 1. I have no idea whether it’s the correct answer, but it’s an interesting case. But the point is, isn’t it kind of arrogant to think you absolutely know the answer to these questions to such a degree of certainty as to reject the plain reading of the very first chapter in the Bible?

    The answer to your question re: Martin Luther is- I would rather be wrong about science than wrong about the Bible. If I had to pick something to be ignorant of, I’ll pick science every day. I would have questioned whether his understanding of Scripture dictated the commitments he was making. And I know you think that is analogous to this discussion. But it’s not. There is no narrative in Scripture that requires the understanding of a flat earth, or a geocentric view. But Genesis 1 and indeed the whole structure of Genesis 1-11 requires a world that is about six thousand years old. An offhand comment about the sun coming up does not mean I believe that the sun goes around the earth. But a substantial narrative relying on the world being approximately six thousand years old does indeed require that the world is approximately six thousand years old.

  12. on 20 Dec 2006 at 1:35 pmglovergj


    I’m sure you already know this, but all of science is tentative. Therefore any interpretation of the facts can be wrong. I have no doubt that even the best science of today will change when new facts are discovered. We can both agree on this.

    We can also both agree that the Word of the Lord stands forever. But if we take the approach that science must always conform to the Bible, then both forms of revelation find themselves in competition to answer the same kinds of questions. Once that happens, science becomes powerless to incorporate new data and new observations. If our science were to be frozen in ancient times, we would have no idea about things we take for granted like the solar system, the water cycle, etc…

    The other mistake some Christians make is to continually re-interpret the Bible so that conforms to the new data. Things like the “waters above the heavens” then become “clouds” and we make excuses why the sun, moon and stars are not actually beneath the “waters” even though Scripture clearly places them there. The danger here is that the Bible becomes a servant of science, always changing to keep up with the latest discoveries. You might think that this is my view, but it is clearly not. This is why I don’t subscribe to OEC dogma. They are constantly combing through the scriptures looking for evidence of the Big Bang. Why? I don’t think you would be in favor of this approach either.

    So where does that leave us? In my mind, the key to this is really quite simple. The point at which Science and the Biblical descirptions of the natural world intersect is not today, and it is not in every generation, but this convergence occurred during ancient times - before modern science. Therefore, we have no right to expect Moses to answer questions that would have been no concern to either him or his original audience.

    I know you are probably getting tired of my examples, but just in case there are others reading this, I’ll give you another one: Moses makes the moon a second lumary, along with the sun. The word used to describe both of these bodies can only mean one thing - that these bodies are both sources of light. It is as certain as yom = 24hr day. So the question is not what do these words mean - that much is clear, but what is the nature of the truth being revealed: scientific or theological? When the Medieval universe gave way to the Copernican solar system, it was deduced by the fallen reasoning of man that the moon’s light merely reflected the light of the sun. Therefore, the moon could not a “luminary” as Moses described it. Well, this caused all kinds of havoc in the church! Who do we believe: Moses or the Astronomers? Shouldn’t God “know” better than fallen man who is always tainted by sin?

    According to your logic, we would have to always err on the side of Moses. We would have to assume that when Moses spoke, he was giving us scientific knowledge about the physical properties of the moon. Why else would he call it a “light” if he did not intend to impart this knowledge to us? If he wanted to say that the moon merely reflects the light of the sun, he would have said that instead. What gives us the right to not take this literally? The great Reformer, John Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis 1:16 said the following in response to this controversy:

    “There is therefore no reason why janglers should deride the unskilfulness of Moses in making the moon the second luminary; for he does not call us up into heaven, he only proposes things which lie open before our eyes. Let the astronomers possess their more exalted knowledge; but, in the meantime, they who perceive by the moon the splendor of night, are convicted by its use of perverse ingratitude unless they acknowledge the beneficence of God.”

    He later goes on to say of Genesis, “nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.” Would you agree with Calvin on this point?

    About the Resurrection, I do not believe that science will ever produce a body, because Christ has indeed risen. But if, for instance, the tomb was not empty - if the evidence that Thomas demanded did not support the resurrection - and it was clear that Christ was dead forever, then I would not be a Chrsitian. I would still be a Jew awaiting the Messaiah because the one who claimed to be Jesus would have clearly not been him. If you were an apostle and saw the body of Jesus, indicating that he did not rise from the dead, would you still believe? We have a name for religious movements that demand blind irrational faith - they are called cults. Obviously, the truth of Christianity rests on historical facts, and I believe that Christianity is a rational religion, not just something that is accepted on blind faith.

    We can agree on this. Where we differ is on whether or not to include things like the literal creation week and the world-wide flood into the list of historical “non-negotiable” facts. You believe that we should, I believe that we should not. Have I accurately summarized our differences?

    I don’t know if this is true of you, but the reason that many Christians err on the side that you do is the same reason that many Christians forbid alchohol, dancing, movies, secular music, etc… In a world that is hell-bent on sin, corruption, perversion, and unbelief, it is much easier to take an “all or nothing” approach than to actually have to sort through the gory details individually. After all, for many of us -ambiguity is just a slippery slope that leads right to no-holds-barred compromise. So most Christians are not confortable with it. It’s much easier to abstain from alchohol altogether than to descern how much is too much. It’s much easier to not watch any movies than to have to descern what honors God and what offends him. It’s also much easier to be a total pacifist than to look at each conflict objectively and try to descern when it is just to use righteous violence against wickedness.

    And I’ll grant you that it’s much easier to just assume that every literal detail of Biblical history/science is factually true than to tke the time to weigh each claim individually against the evidence, consider the historical context of the passage, and adjust our interpretations. So I don’t fault you or any other Christian for taking this approach, just like I don’t fault any Christian for abstaining from alchohol or movies or whatever. Better to err on the side of rigteousness - obviously.

    But for those Christians who are in the wine-making, entertainment, or military professions - they can’t take the easy way out. They have to ask these tough questions and the answers are not always easy. Ditto for Christians who’s profession it is to investigate the natural history of God’s creation. Newton and Galileo had to struggle with these questions. Newton wrote more on theology than he did about science and he was still accused by other Christians of “replacing providence with the law of gravity”! What data is authentic and what data is apparent? What obversations are true and which are an illusion? I simply don’t accept that things are as “black and white” as you claim.

    Contrary to what you have said, there is no narrative that demands a literal six day creation and a 6,000 year old universe. Touchstone has already made this point. That is an assumption that you have made. Just like the many references to the flat earth, the solid firmament and the geocentric universe, these conclusions are only reached if you first assume that the Bible is supposed to answer these qeustions. Then you go looking for the answer in the pages of Scripture until you find it. For example, there is no passage that explicity claims to teach the age of the earth, but if you asked me how old the earth is and all I had was the Bible, I would calculate 6,000 years. Likewise, there is no passage that explicity claims to teach the shape of the earth, but if you aksed me what was its shape and all I had was the Bible, I would tell you it was flat. We can keep going down the list. If you asked me whether the sun or the earth moved and all I had was the Bible, I would tell you that the earth is fixed. If you asked me the relative position of the sky, the celestial sphere, and the waters above the heavens and only gave me Bible, I would tell you that the heavenly bodies were placed UNDER the solid sky, and the waters were resting on top of that, and the throne of God was at the penticle of heaven so God could see the entire earth at once. Well, before science - the Bible was all people had to answer these kinds of questions, and every other question about the cosmos - so they naturally used what they had - the Bible.

    But now we know differently. So the only conclusion that honors both natural and special revelation is to assume that the Bible was never meant to answer those types of questions - it was a mistake for our spiritual ancestors to use the Bible this way and we need to stop asking these questions. Again, I think our differences all come down to this very point: what does scripture intend to teach. John Calvin said that “the Holy Spirit had no intention to teach astronomy.” If the Bible never claims to give us the age of the earth, or the history of creation, or the mechanics of the solar system, or the shape and solidity of the sky, then why choose a herminutic that automatically puts the Bible in opposition to the obvious? I don’t know if you are a fan of St. Augustine, but he said the following about Greek science:

    “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men…. ”

    I hope you are getting as much out of this as I am. I really appreciate your willingness to banter back and forth with me. Good dialogue always helps me to think about things on a deeper level.


  13. on 21 Dec 2006 at 3:36 pmmattpowell74

    GJG and Touchstone,
    I am enjoying the discussion and profiting from it. I appreciate the graceful tone you’ve had throughout- something I sometimes struggle to maintain.

    “…there is no passage that explicity claims to teach the shape of the earth, but if you aksed me what was its shape and all I had was the Bible, I would tell you it was flat. We can keep going down the list. If you asked me whether the sun or the earth moved and all I had was the Bible, I would tell you that the earth is fixed. If you asked me the relative position of the sky, the celestial sphere, and the waters above the heavens and only gave me Bible, I would tell you that the heavenly bodies were placed UNDER the solid sky, and the waters were resting on top of that, and the throne of God was at the penticle of heaven so God could see the entire earth at once. Well, before science - the Bible was all people had to answer these kinds of questions, and every other question about the cosmos - so they naturally used what they had - the Bible.”

    This was all very good, and well said. And I agree with all of it.

    But there is a passage which teaches how the earth was made- Genesis 1. And when you combine that passage with Genesis 5, you certainly do have a clear teaching on the age of the earth. This is precisely what these passages teach. Touchstone may have made the point, but he didn’t make it well or conclusively. His reading has nothing to do with the requirements of the text itself and everything to do with external assumptions that he brings to the text, a point he himself admits.

    To compare a passing reference to “the four corners of the world”, which is semantically no different than me saying “the sun came up this morning”, and a series of substantial narratives such as Genesis 1-11, is illegitimate. Genesis 1 teaches how God made the earth. This is what the passage itself says it’s about. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Etc. Any statements about what the implications of the text are are secondary to what the text is about. And what the text is about is the process that God used and the time that He took to create the heavens and the earth. This is the content of the text.

    Genesis 5 teaches how much time elapsed between the life of Adam and the life of Noah. Others in the Pentateuch tell us the time frame from Noah to Abraham, and from Abraham to Moses, and so on. Genesis teaches all these things in straightforward, non-ambiguous language.

    There is nothing absurd or internally incoherent about Genesis 1-11 requiring it to be read in figurative terms. There is nothing internally contradictory in a literal reading of Genesis 1-11 and any other passage in Scripture.

    The only contradiction is between Genesis 1 and the opinions of people regarding the interpretation of certain data. And so Touchstone is willing to accuse YEC-ers of being unfaithful to God’s word, based on only the interpretation he has forced on the text so as to accommodate extrabiblical views.

    The age of the earth or the universe is not an established fact. Even secular scientists disagree and change their opinion all the time. And even if they all agreed, it is just the opinion of a group of people regarding the interpretation of data. And it is an interpretation which is, and always has been, fundamentally affected by religious and philosophical perspectives. The “old earth” view and the common descent view has been around for a long time, based on religious beliefs. They just needed someone like Darwin to come along and make it scientifically plausible.

    And this is an opinion which you are willing to accept, to the point of twisting the plain reading of Scripture. This is to say that it is a philosophical belief which you are forcing the Scripture to accommodate, not a factual one at all. And it is a philosophical belief which is absolutely contrary to Scripture itself. The philosophical belief is the belief that nature is ultimate and that man is capable by his own wisdom and insight of discerning truth apart from the revelation of God. But we might as well call it what it is- it’s the ancient lie, that we will be as gods, knowing good and evil, if we just throw out the word of God and come to our own conclusions about the truth of things.

    What is there in Genesis 1, internal to the text itself, which dictates a different reading than John 20-21?

    And incidentally, how much of Genesis 1-11 do you think is literal? How much of the rest of Genesis? Did the Exodus happen? The ten plagues? The parting of the Red Sea?

    And how do you know the difference? Do you just believe whatever modern science hasn’t vetoed?

    Jesus in Luke 16:29-31 equated faith in the books of Moses with faith in Himself, and denied that you could have one without the other. Hebrews 11 says we know by faith that God created the world. And we’ve seen in the history of the church how the denial of any part of the Bible is a clear road to the denial of the cross. Again, your argument is precisely the same argument that Rudolph Bultmann uses in _Kerygma and Myth_ to deny the historicity of the gospels. I’ve got some quotes from that to substantiate this point here-

    If your case is valid, then you’ve proven a lot more than you meant to. You’ve overthrown Christianity. I know that this is not what you intend or mean to do. But you’re being used, brothers. You’re being used to carry water for forces that hate Christ, that hate you, and will happily swallow all of you into the pit of hell if they get a chance. This is a war, and this lie is one of the cleverest that the devil has ever foisted on man. This isn’t about winning the culture war. This is about deceiving Christians into walking away from the Scriptures, our ONLY solid rock of truth.

    Remember- the first thing the devil ever said to man was, “Has God really said?” Walk by faith, brothers, not by sight.

  14. on 21 Dec 2006 at 5:06 pmTouchstone

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for the continuing dialog. We’re succeeding where so many other conversations like this fail… it’s gratifying to see. I don’t suppose we are that much closer to agreement, but I do believe we’re making progress in understanding each other, and focusing on the central questions, rather than simply talking past each other.

    I plan to come back and do your comments more thorough justice here, but I want to insert a bit of commentary regarding Bultmann and Schleiermacher et al.

    I won’t presume to speak for glovergj here — although I’d be quite surprised if he disagreed with this — but for my part, I reject Bultmann’s thesis that generally, miracles are simply a kind of hyperbole that lend narrative significance to a story — a fiction that points to some fact. I have no problem accepting miraculous events in the narrative. None. If God is powerful enough to create the very universe in which this conversation is taking place, I take it for granted that He can and does intervene miraculously and wondrously. There’s no need to paint miracles as figurative speech on a categorical level, as Bultmann asserts (I’m less familiar with Schleiermacher).

    The subtext here in your words is that you’re afraid of a “slippery slope”, in which any kind of information from outside the text inevitably gives way to a Bultmannesque dismissal of all superphenomenal language. Bultmann questions the *category* of miracles. I don’t. I’m dealing with a miracle either way, but I have scientific evidence I’m not able to just dismiss if I take the truth of the Bible seriously.

    So, while I understand your concern, I would say you couldn’t be more wrong about Bultmann being a logical extension of my approach. It isn’t, as I affirm miraculous language as axiomatically true, from start to finish. I’m not denying any miracles in Genesis at all. Rather I’m simply saying we have a huge mountain of evidence that argues against your interpretation of the process used for the miracle of creation. It doesn’t lessen the “miraculousness” of it one bit, and it doesn’t change the theological implications or their gravity at all. Rather, again, it’s simply noting that trees don’t have hands and therefore Isaiah is using personification — being informed by external knowledge when things aren’t clear.

    Along dozens of fronts, we have reliable witness from creation itself that the miraculous creation in Genesis didn’t happen the way young earth exegetes suggest it did. It’s *still* miraculous in the same way. Rather than denying or diminishing the miracle vis-a-vis Bultmann, I affirm the miracle, and go an important extra step in affirming that YECs wont; I affirm the miracle in a way that maintains the theology, and doesn’t offend the witness of creation.

    If anything, then, I’d say you’re closer to a Bultmann-like position, strange as that may sound to your ears. I don’t suppose you to be contending that miraculous language is categorically suspect as a cynical attention-getting device, but I do understand that YEC views, like Bultmann’s critique, significantly destablize and diminish the credibility of God’s miracle of creation. Bultmann says it miracles can’t happen, so the miracle accounts are false. You are saying that Genesis is true in a way that is manifestly *not* true, given the witness of creation. Both hasten the world towards a Post-Christian orientation.

    Whatever you think of *that* assessment, I can’t overstate the philosophical opposition I have Bultmann’s approach. It’s going in completely the opposite direction from me. I’m affirming the miracle, and so committed to the truth of Genesis as miraculous creation story that I’m unwilling to adopt mystical interpretations in favor of “the-real-world-is-real-and-this-is-the-scientific-aftermath-of-the-miracle” interpretive framework.

    Just to make the contrast clear, look at it this way: Bultmann looks at the *absence* of physical evidence for miracles as evidence of absence of miracles. I’m sure you’ve heard the adage in epsitemological circles that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. That’s called the fallacy of appeal to ignorance. If you ask even the most hardcore atheist skeptic what evidence we would expect to have in view if the Resurrection were true (or Jesus walking on water, etc.) s/he would just shrug and say “Not much, if anything”.

    Instead of drawing my conclusions from the *absence* of evidence as Bultmann does, I’m appealing to positive evidence for an ancient planet and universe. Mountains of it. Mutliple metrics that use different core mechanisms for measurement and which interlock and agree. (Important note: I strongly suspect you’ve not been told the real case for an old earth based on the evidence, by whoever you are relying on for your science views here). That’s a completely different epistemic rationale that Bultmann and his peers stand on. It’s simply a capitulation to the overwhelming positive evidence.

    There’s more worth responding to in your comments here, but that’s all the time I have for now.

    Thanks for the thoughtful back and forth!


  15. on 21 Dec 2006 at 8:03 pmglovergj


    Thanks again for hanging in there with us. This was a good post because it really boils down the main reason why most conservative Christians agree with you and not us (Touchsone and me). I respect your commitment to the Scriptures and share your concern that they remain true and relavent to all generations until Christ returns. I’ve spent most of my adult life as a YEC - that is, until I actually studied these things for myself. Only then did I even consider the possibility that perhaps some scientific questions are inappropriate for the Bible. How do I determine if something is inappropriate? That is the million dollar question and I’m glad that you take it seriously.

    This can indeed be a dangerous thing - and once we start this journey, where do we stop? Rather than risk being wrong and unecessarily giving up ground to the enemies of our Faith, most of us would rather not even take the chance. But the reason I give so many examples from history is becasue we’ve already started down that road. There is no turning back, we simply know too much about the world and how it works. As soon as the Hebrew cosmos gave way to Hellenistic astronomy, we began this journey. Your beliefs about the universe are different than the Christians of the middle ages, and theirs was different than the early Church fathers. Why? Not because the Bible has changed. But because our knowledge about the universe (external sources) has changed and will continue to change and new data comes in. So your beliefs about the modern cosmos are a direct result of the very process that most Christians do not want to continue for fear of ceeding ground in the culture war. I totally understand that. I don’t require any of my friends to agree with me. I’ll talk till I’m blue in the face, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to be the reason that anybody offends their own concience.

    So how do we know if a question is appropriate for a given biblical text? We simply compare the biblical description with the testimony of creation and see if they line up. It’s really that simple. If not, then I ask if there is another way to understand the data. Perhaps the scientists are wrong? Sometimes it helps to study both sides of an issue. If the data appears to be conclusive, then I ask if there is another way to understand the Bible. Perhaps we are making the same mistakes today that the flat-earth and geocentric Christians of the past made? If there does appear to be an alternate framework of interpretation, then I choose to understand the Bible in a way that doesn’t reject what creation is telling us. Of course I have very hight standard for any hermenutic. I won’t just believe any kooky interpretation - which is why I reject OEC. But Christians have been doing this kind of thing for 2000 years.

    You seem to me a very intelligent person, so I can only assume that you have not invested the time to investigate the scientific evidence for the age of the earth and it’s amazing story of natural history - how everything can be traced back in an unbroken chain of cause-and-effect to the very moment of creation itself, when God spoke all that is into existence. It’s really quite an amazing story, and yes - it is 100% tentative and there are different schools of thought when it comes to the particulars. That’s just the nature of scientific inquiry. It’s actually a very humble enterprise. Science allways leaves room for error, because new data will always be discovered. And the if the new data doesn’t fit into the old system, then we scrap the system and go back the drawing board. When somebody claims to have a new system that can sufficiently account for all of the data, it is not accepted on blind faith. But it is checked and rechecked multiple times by many various groups. Any novel idea has to pass a grueling peer-review process where other experts try and find anything that could have been overlooked, any assumption that might be unsubstantiated, etc. If any fraud or disception is found, that person’s scientific career is ruined forever. Religous considerations are about as relavent at what everybody ate for breakfast. I can promise you that! There is no one single authority that must ensure that every conclusion agrees with “the establishment” whatever that is. Nobel prizes don’t get handed out to folks for just jumping on the scientific bandwagon. No, you have to smash the bandwagon and build a better one.

    Along those lines, thers is no scientific conspiracy to surpress evidence for a young earth. If somebody could demonstrate with valid proofs that the universe was only 6-10k years old, or that the speed of light was once very fast, or that Russel Humphries “white hole theory” is true, or if any of the other YEC claims could be substantiated with coherent evidence, they would literally be the Einstein of the 21st century. Nobody would give a rip about religious implications, or against bucking the “conspiracy” or anything like that. The prospect of starting a revolution in astronomy or geology would be too great for any scientist to pass up.

    I’m not familiar with these atheists guys you quoted, but I agree 100% with Touchstone’s assessment. I don’t know what your theological persuasion is, other than that you are conservative evangelical Christian like me, but theologically I come from a Reformed (Calvinist) tradition that sees God working His divine will through all of creation, both naturally and supernaturally. When God governs the material cosmos according to the descernable patterns of material behavior that we call the laws of nature, then we attribute this to His providence - not to mystical forces or “inherent” material properties. When God governs the material cosmos in such way that contradicts our everyday experience, then we call it a miracle and have no doubt that God is present among us. But either way, God is in control.

    So just as Touchstone said, we really only disagree on the material mechanism of creation, and whether that is really what Genesis is about, not about whether God did it or not. Of course He did it - but I don’t automatically assume that Genesis 1 was intended to communicate the scientific details of HOW God created the universe any more than I would automatically assume that Psalm 135:6-7 is teaching meteorology or that Psalm 103:3 is teaching medicine or that Psalm 139:13 is teaching embryology. I might initially err on the safe side by taking those positions, just as I spent most of my life as a YEC. But in light of what I believe to be overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I have no problem rethinking my approach to the passage in question.

    Let me address a few things that you said:
    “There is nothing absurd or internally incoherent about Genesis 1-11 requiring it to be read in figurative terms.”

    Based on this statement:
    (1) Where does the light on day 1 come from?
    (2) Where does God place the sun, moon, and stars in relation to the waters and the firmament (sky)?
    (3) What are the relative sizes of the sun, moon and stars?
    (4) Do you believe in planets? If so, why?

    “There is nothing internally contradictory in a literal reading of Genesis 1-11 and any other passage in Scripture.”

    Based on this statement:
    (1) On what day was man created?
    (2) On what day was woman created?
    (3) From what substance did birds emerge?

    Im curious how you would answer these given your statements above. Also, I owe you some more answers.

    You asked me: “What is there in Genesis 1, internal to the text itself, which dictates a different reading than John 20-21?” Nothing. That’s why I was a YEC before I looked at the scientific evidence for an old earth. That’s also why the Church believed in geocentricism before Copernicus and Galileo. Like I’ve been saying all along, we all - to some extent - use external knowledge to help interpret the Bible. That’s why I’m anxious to see how you answer my questions above. I imagine that if there were some kind of forensic analysis that allowed the material chain of cause-and-effect to reach back to the events of John 20-21, it would confirm the testimony of Scripture. But such an investigation is impossible so I rest at night knowing, by faith, that Christ has indeed risen. And like I said before, if it could be shown that Christ did not rise, then I would start wearing a yamika an anxiously await the true Messiah because he obviously hasn’t come yet.

    And finally: “And incidentally, how much of Genesis 1-11 do you think is literal? How much of the rest of Genesis?” I wish I was a biblical scholar, but I’m not. However, there is good reason to believe that Genesis 1-11 contains history and myth woven together, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But I have to qualify this by saying in ancient times, myths were how people understood and interpreted the world around them. They were not considered cute, but false, stories like they often are to enlightened moderns such as we are today. The ANE cultures were full of polythestic pagan myths. There were creation myths, garden of eden myths, flood myths, tower of babel myths, etc… There are many similarities between these pagan myths and the first 11 chapters of Genesis. I have no problem believing that the first order of business for the God when inspiring the Bible was to demystify the polytheistic mythology and replace it with monotheism. God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that this was the most efficient way to deliver timeless theological truth to a people who were steeped in pagan traditions. Just like the Church replaced the semi-annual pagan feasts and festivals of newly converted Europeans with Christmas and Easter. Sometimes its easier to hijack a pagan cultural tradition and use it as a vehicle of religeous truth than it is to abolish the idea alltogether. I’m all for that. We already know from the incarnation of Christ that God is willing to contextualize truth so that it can be recieved by a an ignorant people. But I’m inclined to believe everything after Abraham is actual Jewish history, but I must confess that I have not studied it in detail.

  16. on 21 Dec 2006 at 11:36 pmmattpowell74

    “You seem to me a very intelligent person, so I can only assume that you have not invested the time to investigate the scientific evidence for the age of the earth…”

    You understand the argument you’re making here? I don’t agree with you because I’m either ignorant or stupid? I’ll let that pass- it’s just the reflex of people with your beliefs. I say that because I run into this every single time I have this discussion.

    As far as all your so-called contradictions and inconsistencies, there are hundreds of books written dealing with those. I’d refer you to the very fine commentary written by Calvin on Genesis, for one. Again, the same arguments can be made against the resurrection- one angel or two? Crucified on Thursday or Friday? Did he drink wine mixed with myrrh or gall?

    The guys I quoted (Bultmann was the only one actually quoted, Schleiermacher was the other one mentioned) are not atheists. They are liberal Christians who have done more damage to the church than any Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking could ever hope to do. The greatest enemies of the church have always been the false sons inside, not the wasters outside. You have both completely failed to deal with the fact that their arguments for rejecting the literal resurrection of Christ are precisely the same as those you’re using to reject Genesis 1- that in this modern age we know better, and the spiritual truths taught do not require the actual historical event. If you’re not familiar with them, I urge you to get familiar with them. You are their children. Your arguments come from them.

    And don’t give me this nonsense about what unbiased noble creatures scientists are. You know better, I know better. Science is chock full of ideologists unwilling to let go of their hobbyhorses. Science is chock full of people who screen their conclusions through the grid of their ideologies. I know this because science is chock full of sinful human beings. I too am a Reformed Calvinist, and I believe in a little something called total depravity. I am a subscriber to the position that sinful man will distort and twist every single piece of data on this earth to fit his ends. Scientists are not some super race of beings, separate from all the rest of us, as much as they would like us to think they are. They are as subject to the descriptions of Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 2 as anyone else. The natural man cannot know the things of God. Therefore no-one who does not take the Bible as the literal inerrant word of God has one single thing to say to me about the meaning of Genesis 1. And that eliminates about 98% of the field of people advocating an old earth.

    “And like I said before, if it could be shown that Christ did not rise, then I would start wearing a yamika an anxiously await the true Messiah because he obviously hasn’t come yet.”

    And now we come to the nub. You believe what you can accept. You believe what will fit into your framework. You hold your own reason and your own sight as the judge above Scripture, determining its truth and falsity. You judge Scripture, rather than letting Scripture judge you.

    We know the word of God by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, not by sight. We walk by faith, belief, not by sight. “Blessed is he who believes who has not seen.” If someone came to me with actual evidence, went back in a time machine and videotaped the disciples stealing the body, gave me DNA evidence from a crucified man in a tomb outside Jerusalem with the inscription, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, and matched that DNA evidence to the ossuary of James proving it was his brother, I would still believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I’ll tell you why- because when I read the book of John, when I read the book of James, when I read the book of Philippians or Matthew or Revelation, I hear the voice of my savior, my God. It is spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2). No evidence of man can ever change that. I hear, and I believe. I would reject the testimony of every man on earth, including my own understanding, rather than reject the testimony of God. I believe it because Scripture says it, and Scripture is the word of God.

    Your answer about Genesis 1-11 further reveals the problem. Now you’ve called into question Adam and Eve, the fall, the flood, and the tower of Babel. In your mind, fully one quarter or more of the book of beginnings is resting on quicksand, “woven together with myths”. In other words, lies. And if you don’t think you’ve defined them as lies, remind me never to sign a contract with you. You’ve compromised the whole doctrine of the covenant, the protevangelium, original sin, federal headship and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Romans 5, just to name one, must likewise be a fable, resting on the headship of Adam and the reality of the fall as Paul’s whole argument there does.

    I’ve said what I’ve said a hundred times, and I could say it a hundred times more and it clearly won’t make any difference. So if you guys want to respond some more to this, I’ll read it, and I’ll evaluate your arguments carefully. But you’re not going to change me. And I can’t promise to respond any more. I have appreciated the gracious tone of the discussion. You’re both clearly intelligent people who have done a lot of thinking about this.

    I would just ask you to seriously consider the degree to which your thinking has been compromised by neo-orthodox Christianity a la Bultmann and Schleiermacher. You may not be familiar with them but their thinking pervades the modern church. Their way is death.

    God bless you both. I commend your commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that you would see the agenda of Satan in the undermining of Scripture. If He can take the word from us, we’re left with nothing but quicksand.

    John 7:17- “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God..”

    Seek to do the will of God. Submit yourself to His judgment, His will, and He will show you the truth.

  17. on 22 Dec 2006 at 6:54 amglovergj


    God bless you brother, but you didn’t answer my questions. Have you looked at the evidence for an old earth? I didn’t want to imply that you are stupid, far from it. But there are many Christians, including Reformed Calvinists Christians, who are serious scientists. Have you read David Snoke - “A biblical case for an old earth”? He is a PCA Pastor and Physicist at Pitt, and he believes in an old earth. Why? Not because of the reason you accuse us of. Because he is a serious scientist doing serious science. He doesn’t have the luxury to take the easy way out and ignore any evidence that doesn’t line up with a narrow interpretation of Scripture. That is why I asked you the question: have you seen the evidence? Unless you have spent time doing science with scientists, your comments about science are unfair. They are generalizations based on the observations of a few ideaologues who would ruin science by turning it into something that it’s not. You have bought into the lie that the goal of mainstream science is to replace God.

    The differences in the Gospels are not contradictions. They are different descriptions of the SAME EVENT by different people who saw the SAME EVENT differently. The contradictions in Genesis are of a completely different nature. They are the result of the bringing together of two different ANE (Egyptian - Hermopolian, and Mesopotamian - Sumarian) creation myths that both pre-date the people of God. I don’t want to know what Calvin thinks, I’ve already read Calvin. And just as Calvin asks us to not deride Moses for his astronomical errors because he wrote before the time of Copernicus, Calvin wrote before archeaologists discovered the Enuma Elish or the Egyptian myths so he did not have the prospective that historians have today. Based on what you have told me, I want to know what you think. Regardless of your level of scientific education, I trust that you know how something about how the solar system. From where did you get this knowledge? I answered your questions, I would like you to answer mine. Forget about the contradictions between Genesis 1 and 2, just answer these questions from your understanding of Genesis 1:

    (1) Where does the light on day 1 come from?
    (2) Where does God place the sun, moon, and stars in relation to the waters and the firmament (sky)?
    (3) What are the relative sizes of the sun, moon and stars?
    (4) Do you believe in planets? If so, why?

    The reason that these questions are important is that you say you believe the creation narrative if Genesis 1 to be 100% accurate physical science. You want to accept this physical science over any external sources, such as observation and discovery. Yet surprisingly, you have already bought the “sphereical earth dogma” of the pagan Greek Philosophers and the “heliocentric compromise” of the enlightment Christians who just wanted to chip away Biblical inerrancy. You had better be careful or you’ll end up denying the solid firmament and the waters above the heavens! I really don’t care if you believe the earth is old or not, but at least be honest with yourself and admit that you already allow external knowledge to influence your interpretation of scripture.

    “If someone came to me with actual evidence, went back in a time machine and videotaped the disciples stealing the body, gave me DNA evidence from a crucified man in a tomb outside Jerusalem with the inscription, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, and matched that DNA evidence to the ossuary of James proving it was his brother, I would still believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.” - remind me to never put you on a jury of a murder trial. If the evidence doesn’t matter, then what’s the point - your mind is made up. I don’t know how much evangelism you have done, but this kind of approach never gets me very far with rational people. Is Christianity a cult of mindless idiots or is it a group of rational believers with a rational faith? Based on what you say here, I would seriously like to know how you would answer the following:

    (1) Why are you a Christian and not a mormon or a muslim?
    (2) If a muslim told you that when he reads the koran, he “hears the voice of his savior, his God. It is spiritually discerned” - do you stop there? What evidence would you use to get him to turn from mohammed and put his faith in Christ?

    For the record: ancient myths do not equal “quicksand” - you have bought the modern lie that all truth must take the form of newspaper-type journalism with hard data objective facts. That is simply not how things worked in the ancient world. You can’t read the Bible through a modernists filter - it is ancient literature, inspired by the Holy Spirit to an ancient audience to address the spiritual issues of their day - not the scientific questions of our day! The ancients didn’t care about science as we know it. Mythology was the medium that they understood and interpreted the world around them. Any good hermenutic seeks to understand the contex of the passage in questions, if you don’t understand ancient mythology, then you are missing the interpretive framework of the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Even my New Geneva study Bible knows that.

    I do hope you find the energy to continue this interesting dialogue.


  18. on 23 Dec 2006 at 12:18 amjeremiahblack

    Hey, guys. Hope no one minds that I’m kind of jumping into your discussion. I’d like to start out by saying how great I think this exchange is, and I really appreciate the civil and intelligent tone that everyone has adopted. I think excellent points have been made by all, and, most importantly, everyone seems to have the WORD and God’s glory as their highest priority. Ok, so enough lovemaking. I’d actually like to address one specific comment that mattpowell74 made. It may seem small, but I think it’s quite important: the contention that myth = lies. This needs to be addressed, because it is actually a modernist thinking error. Myth is simply a way to communicate information; myth is a MEDIUM, like film, poetry, music, or parables. It’s not a lie or a truth inherently, but, like any medium, it can be used to convey truth or lies. We moderns have gotten into the bad habit of thinking “myth = false” because (a) when people think of myth, they’re not thinking of myth as a medium, but rather they’re thinking of particular myths of which they are familiar (such as pagan myths about Zeus) which center around nonexistent characters, and (b) even hardcore conservative Christians have become a product of this modern, “rational” age, thinking that ALL truth must be material and communicated scientifically. Ironically, this puts mattpowell74 and other of our best and brightest brothers like him in the same boxed-in, materialistic thinking of a Richard Dawkins. Pagan myths communicate false information about their false gods because their writers were ignorant of the true GOD, and their myths come from their own darkened imaginations. But the myths that the LIVING GOD writes communicate true information about him and the order of the world. Pretty amazing when you ponder it. Consider Greek, Irish, Norse, Aztec myths. They are all tremendously interesting, creative, and inspiring, and they certainly arouse and satisfy the imagination. But the gods don’t actually exist and, while artistically beautiful, they only communicate false information about the world’s order. But what would happen if GOD wrote a mythology about himself? Well, perhaps he did. And I don’t think it’s compromised or sinful to think so. I would actually say it’s far more logical to think that God WOULD have written a myth about himself to the ancient Hebrews fresh from paganism. What else is He going to write? An article for Scientific American compete with some pie chats and color graphs? A powerpoint presentation? Maybe if the bible was being written in our times, but not back then.

    When discussing mediums, it’s worth considering what various mediums have traditionally been used for. Poetry conveys the feelings and observations of the individual poet, parables convey situational ethics and behavioral warnings, and the purpose of myth as a medium was typically to display the identity and characters of the gods involved and give order to the world around us. There seems nothing of “quicksand” in saying that God opened his book of Holy Scripture with the only “true” myth ever written. “The doctrine of the covenant, the protevangelium, original sin, federal headship and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness”, to quote our brother Matt, are doctrines because GOD wants them to be doctrines, not because the stories that reveal them as doctrines are materially and historically true. Now they may very well be historically and materially true. That’s not my concern, because it’s actually quite irrelevant. But to state that the truth of the doctrines completely hinges on material investigative science is to step out of the ancient mindset and (ironically) into the mindset of a western, modern, post enlightenment materialist- which is exactly where none of us want to be. I mean no offense by this, but as far as I can see, Matt, YECs, and atheistic scientists are actually on the same side of this thinking, with Glovergj and Touchstone on the other. We need to get away from the enlightenment mindset that all truths are materially verifiable. Where does that leave poetry, music, and parables- three other conceptual mediums used throughout Holy and infallible scripture? I see no tension in adding myth to that list!

    Oh by the way, for everyone keeping records, I am also a very conservative Reformed Presbyterian Calvinist.

    Oh, and Glovergj, it’s spelled “yarmulke”.


    - Jeremiah Black, NYC

  19. on 23 Dec 2006 at 12:40 amTouchstone


    Sorry for the delay in moderation there — not sure how I missed that for the while that I did. Welcome and thanks for taking time to chip in here.


  20. on 23 Dec 2006 at 9:42 amglovergj


    Three Reformed guys having a disagreement about scripture and nobody has dropped the “H” (heresy) bomb yet! I think we’ve set some kind of record for theological discourse.

    JB nails it. This is one point that I make briefly in my book, but since having this discussion I probably need to expand on it because many thoughtful Christians like Matt will have similar concerns that need to be addressed. If anything, this dialogue has opened my eyes to that fact.

    I do make the point that JB made in that people like Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan start with the same basic premise that the YECs and the OECs start with: that the Bible was written to provide accurate scientific/historical information about the physical universe. Once we agree to this, we’ve already lost. Atheists reason from the premise that the scientific “errors” in the Bible are proof that the text is unreliable on matters of science, and therefore unreliable in all matters. YECs and OECs reason that there is no contradiction between science and the Bible. But YECs distort science so that it lines up with the Bible, and OECs distort the Bible so that it lines up with science. As a result, most Christians spend more energy fighting with eachother than they do with the real enemy. Rather than working together to liberate science from its philosophical commitment to materialism, the atheists have us right where they want us - fighting with eachother over how to understand and apply ancient literature to a cosmos that nobody would have even considered during ancient times.

    What I’m trying to do is not peddle some scientific theory about the age of the earth, but to liberate Christians from having to mine the ancient Scripture for modern science. Modern scientific theories are the really the least of my concerns. I have no doubt that our best theories today will be different tomorrow. Once we understand Genesis as a divinely inspired creation myth to replace the popular polytheistic creation mythology of the ancient Near East, then everything in Genesis makes sense. All of those passages that confuse modern Christians who read Genesis 1 like an article in “Scientific American” start to make perfect sense against the backdrop of ANE mythology. Simply put, the drama of God’s covenant with his people could have been played out on any stage, but it just so happened to take place at a finite place and time. If we fail to separate the timeless theological truth from the passing cultural forms used to convey that truth, we have only ourselves to blame when people reject the entire plot as irrelavent.

    The reason I think this is important is because I read a lot of secular science literature and interact with a lot of scientific-minded people. Rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty in the filth of the world can change your prospecitve somewhat. This is one of the reasons why you never hear missionaries arguing over trival points of doctrine - its all about prospective. One thing that is common to all scientists who reject God is that they have bought the lie that creation science (both YECs and OECs) have been peddling - that the Bible contains accurate scientific information. If creation scientists had more constructive dialogue with scientists (debates don’t count), I think they would realize the collateral damage that their dogma actually causes in the world. When faced with this ultimatum, rather than walk away from promising careers in science, most objective scientists simply walk away from the Scriptures.

    I just finish a book of lectures by Carl Sagan from the mid 80’s that was recently edited by a collegue. Consider this quote, “He [Carl Sagan] couldn’t live a compartmentalized life, operating on one set of assumptions in the laboratory and keeping another, conflicting set for the Sabbath (he was Jewish). He took the idea of God so seriously that it had to pass the most rigourous standards of scrutiny. How was it, he wondered, that the eternal and omniscient Creator described in the Bible could confidently assert so many fundamental misconceptions about Creation? Why would the God of the Scriptures be far less knowledgable about nature than are we, newcomers, who have only just begun to study the universe? He could not bring himself to overlook the Bible’s formulation of a flat, six-thousand-year-old earth…This newly acquired vision made the God who created the World seem hopelessly local and dated, bound to transparently human misperceptions and conceits of the past.”

    I think that this is tragic. Becuase of our own ignoracne of our own sacred texts, we raise bar of saving knowledge to the point where many of the most intelligent people that have ever been shown common grace reject the very God that has blessed them with thier intellect.

    I’ll close this post with a story that I quote in my book:
    “The situation involved Western doctors trying to prevent the spread of infection by midwives in a primitive native culture. Rather than try to teach them about bacteria and germs, concepts that had no familiar cultural context, the doctors decided to use the natives’ own unscientific traditions to communicate the knowledge necessary for their “salvation.” This instruction took the form of “ritual” washing so that “demons” from the hands of midwives will not be transferred to the baby or mother. The desired effect was achieved, even if by means of factually incomplete or incorrect knowledge. Great story. Now ask yourself this: If these natives are ever to advance their scientific knowledge to the point of understanding the actual material mechanisms by which infections are transmitted by unclean hands, would they curse these Western doctors for not giving them the factual truth? Would they accuse them of also being ignorant of the facts? Or, would they appreciate the wisdom of these doctors, accommodating their ignorance and meeting them in their time of need, so that despite their lack of knowledge they might still be saved? What a wonderful picture of how God deals with us!”

    If we think that God’s intent in writing Genesis was to give us scientific information about the cosmos, we are making a huge mistake. In the words of St. Augustine, we isolate those very people for whose salvation we toil. If we understand that God’s purpose was to replace the polythesitc mythologies with monothestic versions that proclaim timeless theolgoical principles about man, God, and creation, then we don’t have to ask Moses questions that he, nor his ancient audience, would not have asked nor understood. Moreover, we can diffuse these misguided scientific attacks on Genesis by boldly proclaiming their true purpose. The current cultural shift from modern to post-modern, which has more in common with the mystery of ancient thought than modernism does, provides Christians with the perfect opportunity to break out of our bondage to modernist thinking, close this chapter on the failed enlightment project, and put the Scriptures back into thier ancient context. I’m assumeing that is why Touchstone’s banner makes reference to the “Post-Modern Matrix”. And that is what intially attracted my to this blog and to have Touchsone review my manuscript.

    Historically, this doctrine has been known as the principle of accomodation. Ironcially, some of its strongest supporters have been Reformed Presbyterians of the Princeton tradition (Warfield, Hodge, Orr). The principle of accomodation (that God makes use of contemporary cultural forms to communicate divine truth) is entirely consistent with God’s character. We know this from the doctrine of the incarnation. In the ultimate act of accomodation, God becomes man, so that we might relate to Him. He “dumbs Himself down” - humbles himself to use theological term, so that even in our ignorance and falleness, we might understand and be saved. We don’t point to Christ’s human limitations and questions his divinity, so we? So neither should we point to the human qualities of the Biblical myths and questions thier divine origin.

    Merry Christmas.

  21. on 23 Dec 2006 at 2:12 pmTouchstone


    Good comments. The “Post-Modern Matrix” in my banner is a nod to the reality of our current cultural context. I’ve had people assume this banner text places me in league with the like of Derrida and Foucault, but truth be told, I’m a cradle modernist. Whatever we are, the world around is moving out of the umbrella of modernism and Enlightenment epistemologies. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is beside the point on an important level; this is the world we live in; this is our mission field.


  22. on 02 Jan 2007 at 2:53 pmmattpowell74

    Touchstone and GloverGJ,
    I just can’t leave it alone. I’ve learned from past experience not to say I will not reply to an argument anymore, because often I can’t resist.

    So. The OT says that a legal matter could be decided on the evidence of two witnesses. You’ve implied I must be ignorant of the scientific evidence. So I’ll tell you this, not to brag, but to make you aware of who you’re discussing this with. I’m not a scientist. But I have received a B.A. degree from a secular university, including classes in physics, astronomy, chemistry and calculus. I have taught calculus, geometry and trigonometry on the high school level. I am aware of the arguments regarding the speed of light, the distance of stars and the Doppler shifts we have observed. I am also aware of the arguments regarding radiometric dating of rocks, though to a lesser degree.

    So let me ask you- what are, in your minds, the strongest two arguments for the old age of the earth? What are the two witnesses you would appeal to? Please don’t make it lengthy- let’s just name the evidences and briefly summarize them. If I need to do research to understand the arguments, I know how to do that research. You will know from my replies whether I understand well enough or not.

    Crossposted at

  23. on 02 Jan 2007 at 6:51 pmglovergj

    Happy new year!

    Ignorant just means you haven’t had the benefit of knowledge. Moses was ignorant of modern astronomy when He wrote Genesis, so the Holy Spirit made use of the ANE cosmological context so that the creation story could be told. Likewise, I am ignorant of much more than I actually know, so *ignorant* not a comment on a person’s intelligence or learning capacity. Your background with science as stated above should give us enough common ground for a fruitfull discussion.

    Just a point of clarification: cosmological redshift is not actually caused by the Doppler effect. the DE happens to be the closest thing to a non-relativistic analogy that most non-physicists can digest, but redshift actually involves the expansion of the space between objects, not necessarily the relative motion of the objects through space. It’s actually a very important distinction.

    As to the age of creation, science can not say with absolute certainty what the age of the earth is, or the age of the cosmos for that matter. There are, however, several converging lines of evidence that suggest a 13.7 billion year old cosmos and a 4.55 billion year old earth. Which of these are you the most concerned about? The evidence for each is very different.

    I’d be happy to discuss either, just let me know. Will this discussion automatically duplicate itself on the other blog, or do I need to post there as well? I concur with keeping posts short.


  24. on 03 Jan 2007 at 12:35 ammattpowell74

    Happy new year to you!

    The suggested ages of the cosmos and of the earth both, in my understanding, contradict the clear reading of Genesis 1- therefore I think you could pursue either. Whichever one you think most strongly militates for a non-literal reading of the text. Use your strongest case.

    Touchstone is going to post a new top-level article on the subject, so let’s continue it there when he does so. Don’t worry about my blog. I will update my post with whatever excerpts make me look the best. :)

  25. […] In this post, Matt Powell, a reader/commenter named glovergj and I have been going back and forth about young earth timelines, old earth interpretations and Genesis. I’m bumping his latest comments up to a post here to continue the conversation… the old post is fading into the archives. […]

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