Last month, I wrote a guest post for NonProphet Status about the Bill Nye/Ken Ham creation debate: “4 Things Bill Nye Should Have Said to Ken Ham.”
Last Sunday, Ken Ham wrote a blog post about me: “Four Misconceptions About Biblical Creation.”
Check out my response to Ham.
First, I want to say that I really appreciate Ken Ham taking the time to respond. I’ve been to his Creation Museum, but I’ve never met him. While we disagree about how to read Genesis, we’re united as brothers in Christ.
For this response, I will list my four original points. After each point, I will react to Ham’s counterpoints.
1. Young-earth creationism is, uh, young.
Young-earth creationism is not, as Ham claims, “the prevailing interpretation throughout church history . . . until the last two hundred years.” Dr. Sujin Pak, who teaches church history at Duke Divinity School, wrote a three-part essay about this topic: “Pre-Modern Readings of Genesis 1.” Pak’s essay rejects Ham’s simplistic narrative. She focuses on five famous Christian theologians, all of whom died long before Darwin arrived on the scene:
. . . Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin all focused upon several shared theological teachings in their readings of Genesis 1, all of which point to the Trinitarian God of the historic creeds as Creator uniquely apart and above all of the created cosmos. For these interpreters, guiding the church towards a right theological relationship to the Father, Son and Spirit is the real aim of Scripture, rather than establishing scientific details of the creation process, about which these church Fathers held various opinions. . . . For these pre-modern Christians, then, Scripture’s authority and infallibility were not staked upon its scientific accuracy . . .
As Pak writes, the point isn’t how old the Fathers thought the earth was. The point is how they read the creation stories. Scholar Peter C. Bouteneff—in Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives—explains how we should view their interpretation of Genesis:
The point is not, then, whether the fathers took the seven “days” or Adam to be historical. . . . As to the end result, however, none of the fathers’ strictly theological or moral conclusions—about creation, or about humanity and its redemption, and the coherence of everything in Christ—has anything to do with the datable chronology of the creation of the universe or with the physical existence of Adam and Eve. They read the creation narratives as Holy Scripture, and therefore as “true.” . . . Generally speaking, the fathers were free from a slavish deference to science (p.183; emphasis added).
The doctrine of creation isn’t about when the universe began, or how old the earth is. John Polkinghorne, a scientist and a theologian, explains what this doctrine is really about:
The doctrine of creation isn’t about how things began, it’s about why things exist—what holds the world in being. And the Christian belief is that it is the will of God that holds the world in being.
Theologian William Carroll reminds us that the natural sciences can never disprove, or prove, creation:
It is a mistake to use arguments in the natural sciences to deny creation. Similarly, it is a mistake to use arguments in cosmology to seek to confirm the doctrine of creation.
Young-earth creationism obscures the doctrine of creation. When I say that young-earth creationism is young, I mean that the way Ken Ham talks about Genesis would shock the Fathers, not please them. As philosopher/theologian Conor Cunningham writes in Darwin’s Pious Idea, Ham’s version of creationism is indeed very new:
. . . for modern-day creationism is just that, modern. It is a recent accretion, and indeed aberration, of the two-thousand-year-old tradition of Christianity (pp. 295-296).
For more information on the recent origins of today’s young-earth creationist movement, see Karl Giberson’s short, informative article.
2. Young-earth creationism is incredibly arbitrary.
Look at the above picture. What is it? It’s an image of how Genesis 1 describes the world.
- There is a solid vault/firmament (Genesis 1:6).
- This hard barrier separates the water above the earth from the water below it (Genesis 1:7).
- There are “lights in the vault of the sky” (Genesis 1:14).
This diagram is what a consistent, scientific reading of Genesis 1 produces. I absolutely agree with Ham that the Bible contains different genres, requiring different methods of interpretation. It’s incredibly arbitrary, however, to say the days in Genesis 1 are scientifically accurate but the domed sky isn’t. I know that Answers in Genesis has argued that the firmament isn’t necessarily a solid dome. This argument, however, has been thoroughly debunked.
Comparing the six-day creation story with the Adam and Eve story also discourages reading Genesis as science. There are significant contradictions between the two accounts. There are also other creation stories in the OT, but—as Del Preston said in Wayne’s World 2—“that’s a different story altogether.”
Oh, and looking at the dome described in Genesis 1 reminds me of a Pauly Shore movie: Bio-Dome. Unfamiliar with the movie? Do yourself a favor and watch the trailer.
3. Do any non-Christians believe that the earth is young?
I agree with Ham’s point about science and worldviews: “Every person has a worldview, or glasses, from which they see the world.” Young-earth creationist glasses are a problem, though. Ham’s arguments against evolution remind me of a great clip from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. (Warning: there is some strong language in this clip.)
Like I’ve said above, Christianity doesn’t teach that the earth is young. It does teach that God raised Jesus from the dead (bodily).
4. Embracing evolution does NOT require embracing atheism; atheists who teach the opposite are being counterproductive.
I agree with Ham that “the creation/evolution issue is not a personal salvation issue.”
I disagree with his statement that accepting evolution “compromises God’s Word.” I like theologian Francis Watson’s take. In Reading Genesis after Darwin, Watson says that Darwin has done us all a favor:
In liberating science from scripture, [Darwin] also liberates scripture from science—bringing to an end an unhappy union that prevented each party from articulating its own truth in its own way (pp. 35-36; emphasis added).
Darwin’s discoveries remind us of a truth the Fathers knew well, but us moderns have often forgot. As Dr. Pak observes, the Fathers knew that the Bible’s “authority and infallibility [are] not staked upon its scientific accuracy.”
Ham says that accepting evolution means undermining the Bible, especially its teachings on sin, death, and the Fall. I disagree. There are many helpful, faithful resources that examine these issues:
- Conrad Hyers wrote a great article looking at the numerology and narrative in Genesis 1. This is a must-read.
- A BioLogos documentary makes great points about understanding Genesis, the Fall, and Paul’s use of Adam.
- Denis Lamoureux gave a great presentation about sin and death.
- Don’t miss Peter Enns’s book about Adam and evolution. He summarized his book in this presentation. He also wrote a short, fascinating blog post comparing Adam’s story and the story of Israel.
Right now, some of you may be imitating Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski: “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just like, uh, your opinion, man.”
I’m not saying that you have to agree with my views. I’m just saying that there are different, faithful ways to view the relationship between modern science and the Bible. Accepting evolution isn’t a compromise. The Bible isn’t a book about science. It’s a book about Jesus.
I want to thank Ken Ham again for responding to me. I look forward to his thoughts on this post—and our continuing conversation.