Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Young Earth Creationism, and the Danger of Needless Barriers to the Faith

In Isaiah 44:24, amongst other places, the prophet Isaiah says that God formed us in the womb.  Imagine a Christian taking this to mean that sex had nothing to do with procreation.   Loudly proclaiming that you had to choose either the word of God (which says God formed you in the womb) or science (which says that sexual intercourse did), he draws a line in the sand. We'd rightly recognize that line-drawing is arrogant foolishness.  The problem isn't with the word of God, but with that man's simple understanding of the word of God.

As Christians, of course, we recognize that God does form us in our mother's womb, but that He works through the mystery of sex.  The Bible and science are both right, they're just describing the situation from two different perspectives.  Science shows us how God acted.  Fortunately, in the case of the creation of each individual, no Christians are silly enough to take the position I've described above, and declare it the only way of understanding the Bible.  But there are a lot of Christians who claim that you have to choose either Scripture or science in the creation of each species.


I. Losing Templeton

In the 1940s, two fiery Evangelical pastors were poised to turn the world upside down with their preaching of the Gospel: Billy Graham, and his close friend Charles Templeton.  Graham would go on to become a household name, America's favorite preacher (and famously, the pastor to multiple US presidents), while Templeton would die a broken man, and an atheist.  C. Michael Patton, over at Pen and Parchment, quotes from Templeton's sad autobiography, Farewell to God, describing one of the pivotal conversations between the two friends:

“All our differences came to a head in a discussion which, better than anything I know, explains Billy Graham and his phenomenal success as an evangelist. 
In the course of our conversation I said, ‘But, Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world was not created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s a demonstrable fact.’ 
‘I don’t accept that’ Billy said. ‘And there are reputable scholars who don’t.’ 
‘Who are these scholars?’ I said. ‘Men in conservative Christian colleges[?]‘ 
‘Most of them, yes,’ he said. ‘But that is not the point. I believe the Genesis account of creation because it’s in the Bible. I’ve discovered something in my ministry: When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says,’ or ‘The Bible says,’ the Holy Spirit uses me. There are results. Wiser men than you or I have been arguing questions like this for centuries. I don’t have the time or the intellect to examine all sides of the theological dispute, so I’ve decided once for all to stop questioning and accept the Bible as God’s word.’ 
‘But Billy,’ I protested, ‘You cannot do that. You don’t dare stop thinking about the most important question in life. Do it and you begin to die. It’s intellectual suicide.’” 
‘I don’t know about anybody else,’ he said, ‘but I’ve decided that that’s the path for me.’”
Patton rightly responds to this story by explaining that Billy Graham chose the better half:
There is a time when we, like Billy Graham, must stop the type of questioning that comes prior to faith, and make a decision. This does not mean we stop using our minds, as Templeton unfortunately assumed. In Christianity, we call this fides quaenes intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.” We believe in order to understand. We have faith and seek understanding.
But what needs to be pointed out is that many of the mountains Templeton couldn't climb were ones which were placed there, not by God, but by his fellow Christians.  Templeton was struggling with his faith over a virtual non-issue: whether, when God created the universe, He did it a few thousand or billion years ago, and whether He did it in 144 hours, or over the course of eons.  As one of the commenters quickly noted:
I wonder what might have happened had Billy Graham had said, “That’s a good point. There are many evangelical scholars and theologians who would agree with you. I believe it was a literal seven days but that’s a legitimate discussion we can have as Christians.’ It was Augustine who stated (paraphrase) that we should never create barriers for people to believe in the face of legitimate science. Think of those who might have kept people away from faith because they insisted that the sun had to revolve around the earth because the Bible said so. We need to be very careful of setting up false barriers to faith where there may be legitimate science that indicates otherwise. God created the world. How He did it should not be the deal breaker for people to come to faith. Obviously, Billy Graham was a powerful witness for Jesus but that kind of fundamental literalism has kept many people from pursuing the real Christ.
Of course, we can't say for sure -- Templeton had many issues with the faith, and it's not very fair to Billy Graham to second-guess his Christian witness decades after the fact. But what we can say is that Templeton's story is hardly unique in this regard.  Many ex-Christians leave the faith at least in part because they were told that they had to reject views like Young Earth Creationism in order to be truly Christian, or at to be a "conservative" Christian.  Another commenter alluded to other casualties of this approach:
I also find it sad that the example given in their discussion was six-day creation and some less-than-nuanced notion of “literalism.” I fear that remnants of 20th century fundamentalism’s lack of acknowledgment of the incarnational nature of Scripture has caused many seekers to stumble over some of Christianity’s claims, especially in these secondary areas like the specifics of Creation. Another example would be Ehrman’s dismissal of divine inspiration or at least true Pauline authorship of some NT letters partially based on the authors’ use of secretaries/scribes.
Particularly in modern culture, which equates "true" with "scientific," Christians need to be able to show that believing in God doesn't require denying science.  This should be an easy battle to win..  After all, Christians have made more contributions to science than any other religious group in history, and at least two major areas of science - Big Bang cosmology and genetics - were started single-handedly by Catholic priests.  But it's a fight we keep losing because scientifically-ignorant Christians loudly proclaim that their view is the only acceptable one.

II. Listening to Augustine

Long before the scientific breakthroughs of heliocentrism and evolution began jeopardizing Christians' faith in Genesis, there were brilliant Church Fathers like St. Augustine.  Augustine, back in 415 A.D., wrote a book called The Literal Meaning of Genesis.  In it, he explains that Genesis 1 is open to multiple interpretations. So, for example, when we hear God say, "Let there be light," He could be referring to physical light, the spiritual light of Christ, the light of intellect (since he was creating minds and souls in His creatures), and so on.   In fact, John 1 (which is intentionally written as a parallel and fulfillment of Genesis 1) compares the light to the salvation offered by Jesus Christ (John 1:4-5).

Augustine acknowledges that "light" could be more than one of these things, but he emphasizes that it's important that Christians don't pretend that their own interpretation is the only acceptable interpretation of Scripture.  Doing this, he says, would pointlessly drive non-Christians away by making the Bible (rather than simply the speaker) look stupid:
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 the 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 non-sense 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
If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”
This is solid advice, written centuries before it was needed.  Centuries ago, Christians claimed that passages like Genesis 32:31 required you to believe that the sun orbited the earth.  They were wrong, and embarrassingly so.  In their pride, they believed their own reading was the only correct one, and made Scripture look foolish as a result.  The same thing is happening today.  When I declared myself not a Young Earth Creationist, a reader responded:
Pretty good attempt to cover your unbelief with fig leaves.
So you accept science as true and the Word of God as a lie. Good one.
But my whole point was that she was misreading the word of God, that the Bible doesn't require her doctrines (doctrines which the Church has never declared as true). She'd simply lost the distinction between "my reading of the Bible" and "what God says," so that to say she was wrong was to say that God was wrong.  That's a dangerous place to be, spiritually. And every time, it disgraces God.  Why?  Because it lowers Him and His word to our level - that our mistakes and failings become His mistakes and failings. As Augustine well understood, we need to approach Scripture with humility, and not just assume that having read the Bible, we're experts in every field we approach.

36 comments:

  1. Evolution is a pretty nasty barrier to faith, IMO...

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  2. Daniel,

    To be clear, a Christian doesn't have to believe in evolution. Obviously, one can be a faithful Christian in right relationship with God and think the theory of evolution is bunk.

    But do you think that one has to take your own view to Genesis 1 to have a proper relationship to God?

    In Christ,

    Joe

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  3. Joe,
    I enjoyed your post and the one that you linked to as well. My husband works in science; he dates/ages meteorites. Most people in his field are unbelievers, unfortunately. However, a number are not. Most of believers are Catholic. I do have one friend who seems hung up on the fence about Genesis who is a Protestant. I've never asked him outright about evolution, but you can tell from some of the conversations.

    I try to talk to him a lot about Biblical interpretation. He seems to loosely be a fundamentalist. I usually try to talk about metaphorically interpretation. In other words, how it's very possible that Balaam's talking donkey is a moral tale as is Jonah and his whale. He basically says differently.

    I suppose the irony of it all is that he is also a planetary scientist. I feel for him. It must be terribly difficult to have a fundamentalist view point and yet have physical evidence against the YEC theory. I'm not sure how he's managed to stay on the fence about it for so long.

    I believe in Evolution because of the science behind it and the fact that the Church does not see it as being contrary to scripture. I suppose I can understand why others feel differently especially since I have a friend who has feet in both buckets so to speak.

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  4. I'm sure you could, but I personally could not have a proper relationship with God without recognizing Genesis as being literally true.

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  5. Daniel,

    That's a fair and honest answer. I don't see a need to dissuade you from YEC.

    I do think it's important to note that something can be non-literal while still being historically true. For example, in Exodus 7:22, when we hear that Pharaoh's heart became hardened, we understand that it really means that he became stubborn.

    So in that situation, we would deny the literal interpretation (certainly, God could have actually turned Pharoah's heart into a stone, but the context suggests He didn't). But we would also deny an interpretation that this is all just a parable or a morality tale.

    Pharaoh was an actual ruler, God actually intervened, and the events actually occurred, only the event in question was Pharaoh becoming stubborn again, not Pharaoh's heart suddenly calcifying in his chest.

    That's how I see Genesis 1, as well. I believe that It's inspired by the Holy Spirit, and as something more than a parable, that it actually happened. Only I don't think that a "day" means to God the same thing it means to us, and given the context, I think it makes more sense to understand these as God's days, rather than ours.

    A few reasons:

    1. Our days are measured by the Earth revolving around its axis as it rotates around the Sun. None of those things exist on the First Day.

    2. Psalm 90:4 says, "For a thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night."

    3. 2 Peter 3:8 builds upon this: "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." So God's "days" take however short or long God wants them to. He has no need for sun or moon, after all (Revelation 21:23).

    4. The whole point of having multiple days of Creation is to give everything a time and season under Heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Clearly, God could have brought everything into being instantaneously, but He chose not to. Instead, He enjoys each stage of Creation progressively. As a result, He moves slowly, from the beauty of pure light and energy, to the cosmos, to the lower water-dwelling life-forms, to land-dwelling animals, and finally, to man.

    5. It isn't until Genesis 2:21 that we get the first Woman, and event Genesis 1:27 says happens on Day Six. So all of Genesis 2:4-21, including Adam being created, the creation of the Garden of Eden, the naming all the birds and animals, Adam's deep sleep, and the formation of Eve occur on the "Sixth Day." That's a lot for twenty-four hours.

    6. While evolution suggests a much longer timeline than a literal reading of Genesis, the sequence appears to be very similar - energy/light, then cosmos, sea life, land animals, humans.

    7. Cosmology says that there are stars light-years away. Now, it's possible for God to create the universe to look older than it really is, but that seems strangely deceptive.

    So to be clear, I regard the "day" in Genesis 1 as a figure of speech, the same figure of speech used in Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8. But that figure of speech aside, I still acknowledge the account as historical, not simply as a parable.

    I know that there are Christians who disagree with me on both sides: those who view it as a parable, and those who view it as history occurring over 144 hours. That's fine. I may well be wrong. God bless,

    Joe.

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  6. Deltaflute,

    Since your husband's married, he should be out of the "dating" scene. [Ba-dum-ching! I'm here all week, folks.]

    Corny jokes aside, I know of someone in a similar position -- a well-educated Evangelical having an unnecessary crisis of faith over the science of Genesis. It's heartbreaking, really.

    I should note that there are risks on both sides: we should be careful about writing things off in Scripture as being simply parables or morality tales. After all, that's John Dominic Crossan's pratfall exactly -- he claims that Jesus' Resurrection didn't historically occur, but is just an inspiring story. Fundamentalists and Evangelicals are wise to steer clear of that nonsense.

    At the end of the day, certain parts of the Bible are meant to be understood for the message they're teaching, not for the historicity of the events. When Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son, He doesn't want you to come away thinking He's talking about a real-life family. It's a parable, and everyone knows that, even though Jesus doesn't say it is. In fact, He begins, “There was a man who had two sons” (Luke 15:11). Taken literally, that means this is a true story, but in context, we realize it's a parable.

    Like I said to Daniel in the last comment, some things are:

    - parables (like the Prodigal Son),

    - historical, but not literal (like Jesus promising to destroy "the Temple" and rebuild it in three days, in Matthew 26:60-61, which predicted His actual Death and Resurrection), and

    - historical and literal (like Jesus' Resurrection).

    We shouldn't dismiss an event as historical, just because it's supernatural. But we should be aware of the fact that not every “There was a man” story is meant to be understood literally, and we should be very slow to judge Christians who read a Biblical story differently than we do, unless the Church has made it clear that it must be read in a certain way.

    In Christ,

    Joe.

    P.S. This is not modernism or liberalism talking, but the way Scripture has always been understood by those who know and love it the best. For example, the Jews classified the Book of Job as Poetry, along with the Psalms, rather than putting it with the other historical Books like Kings and Chronicles. In part, this is because It tells of a man with no genealogy.

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  7. Joe, since it could be argued that some of the Christians you mentioned that argued the Earth was the center of the universe were part of the Church, how do you reconcile that? The whole Galileo chapter of history has been used to bash Catholics as anti-science for centuries.

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  8. Evening, Joe.

    In my esteemed opinion (oh, boy), I appreciate the way you approach the breadth of this issue. For a more directed treatment on the human dimension, though, I poked around a bit in Humani Generis from Pope Pius XII, and found, delightfully, that the Church holds to special creation of souls, that is, that they did not biologically evolve like bodies might have, albeit under God's guidance. Additionally, that the Church teaches that Adam and Eve were historical persons and that the Fall was a historical event was a relief to find. No historical Fall and no common ancestry in Adam, then no Original Sin, I think. Here's a relevant chunk from Humani Generis, 37:

    When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own.

    Also, CCC 390 helpfully points out, "The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents."

    That Adam is part of Gospel genealogies (Luke 3), Abel is historically referenced by Jesus (Luke 11:50-51), and Paul's Original Sin reasoning is personal (Romans 5:12-14) all seem to indicate a historical Adam, to me, so to see that the Church holds fast to this non-negotiable (esteemed, right?) while allowing for breathing room where it fits doctrinally and theologically is an excellent course. Augustine maintained a belief in a literal Adam, too, says this guy:

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/06/14/augustines-literal-adam/

    Just wanted to share my findings to any like myself who want to keep a couple of doctrinal ducks in a row as well as we can even while stirring the pot. Props to Catholic Answers for helping me out, too.

    Peace and hope.

    Drew

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  9. http://www.trueorigin.org/evomyth04.asp

    Francis Crick and James Watson are the co-discoverers of the thread-like DNA molecule. Crick described himself as agnostic, with a "strong inclination towards atheism". In 2003, Watson spoke at Youngstown State University and was asked by one student, "So you don't believe in God?" The scientist answered, "Oh no, absolutely not. The biggest advantage to believing in God is you don't have to understand anything, no physics, no biology. I wanted to understand."

    Yet thousands of years ago the psalmist wrote: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb...your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." (Psalm 139: 13;16). The phrase "you knit me together" anticipates that we are literally knitted or woven together at the molecular level.

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  10. Gmart,

    I'll try and do a longer answer later (perhaps a post tomorrow), but for now, I'd say the following:

    (1) If Galileo is the only scientist that they can come up with out of two thousand years of Church history, I think we're doing okay.

    (2) The Church was fine with Copernicus, who taught the same heliocentrism, because Copernicus didn't claim that it disproved Scripture.

    (3) When Ignaz Semmelweis suggested that dirty hands spread deadly disease, he was laughed out of Vienna's medical community, completely ostracized, and died in an asylum. Does that mean that medicine is anti-science? Of course not.

    The Galileo trial, if anything, shows the danger of creating a false war between science and religion. Both sides of that dispute were in the wrong. The fact is, Galileo was right about heliocentrism, the Catholics were right about the inerrancy of Scripture, and both sides screwed up when they started acting like experts on the other's "turf." When we become so convinced that our personal interpretations (whether of Scripture or science) are so correct that we don't need to listen to others, we set ourselves up for humiliation.


    Drew,

    Very well said. I agree 100%. While there's controversy over how to understand Genesis 1, that controversy doesn't (or shouldn't) extend to Genesis 2-4.


    David,

    Sorry, my spam filter caught your comment for some reason. Thanks for letting me know. As for your point, it's actually one I've made here and here, so needless to say, I agree.

    God bless,

    Joe.

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  11. There appears to be at least eight perspectives with regard to origins. Perhaps more.

    ATHEISTIC NATURALISM God does not exist. There is no real design (only apparent design) and nature is all there is. [eg. Carl Sagan:"The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."]

    AGNOSTIC NATURALISM One is unsure whether God exists. Though nature may not be all there is, nature is all that matters.

    THEISTIC NATURALISM God exists. He designed the natural laws. There is no design in the strict sense, and although _in principle_ nature is not all
    that matters, _in effect_ it is.

    THEISTIC EVOLUTION (WEAK DESIGN). God designed the natural laws so that their ordinary operation would result in the intended outcome.

    THEISTIC EVOLUTION (STRONG DESIGN). To ensure the intended outcome, God not only designed the natural laws, but also determined their initial conditions.

    INTERVENTION To ensure the intended outcome, God not only designed the natural laws and determined their initial conditions, but also intervened in subsequent conditions.

    SPECIAL CREATION [old universe/old earth/recent global flood] To ensure the intended outcome, God designed the natural laws, determined their
    initial conditions, and intervened in subsequent conditions. God created the universe billions of years ago. Although micro-evolution /speciation
    occur, it is viewed as variation within created "kinds" (baramins) eg. the cat "kind". Macro-evolution has never occurred.

    SPECIAL CREATION [young universe/young earth/recent global flood] To ensure the intended outcome, God designed the natural laws, determined their initial conditions, and intervened in subsequent conditions. God created the universe only thousands (not billions) of years ago. Although micro-evolution /speciation occur, it is viewed as variation within created "kinds" (baramins) eg. the cat "kind". Macro-evolution has never occurred.

    Note: Many creationists and proponents of intelligent design prefer the term micro-variation to micro-evolution, because they argue no net
    "evolution" (vertical evolution: information building evolution) has occured.
    ---
    Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson says naturalists define words like "evolution" and "science" in such a way that naturalism is true by
    definition. Johnson said in World magazine:

    "Evolutionary science is based on naturalism and draws philosophical conclusions to that base. That's why any theistic evolution is inherently
    superficial. It leads people into naturalistic thinking, and they don't realize it." (Nov. 22, 1997, p.13)

    Debate between Phillip Johnson and Will Provine:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AM-H6NxdCd4
    (Part 1 of 11)

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  12. Joe,

    Thank you for your response. Your comments make sense but I would not brush off Galileo as a "just one scientist" argument as I will explain later.
    Regarding this - "both sides screwed up when they started acting like experts on the other's "turf."" I think that is the core problem and why the "average Joe" (no pun intended) easily sides with the argument that the Church was anti-science. Further, this episode also gives an opening to the argument that the Church was wrong thus must be false or that it changed it's teachings which basically results in the same problem. With the Pope circuitously involved in the Galileo incident, infallibility is questioned (even though that never came into play). In today's environment of sound bites, it's much easier to comprehend "Galileo Right. Church Wrong" versus a much longer explanation as to why that is not the case.

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  13. David, I don't buy the idea that God working through nature is a superficial argument. After all, you think God works through nature (and science) with the creation of each individual, right?

    I mean, I assume that you accept:

    (1) that the fusing of sperm and egg plays an active role in the creation of a new child,
    (2) that the fusing of the two gametes forms a zygote with unique DNA, and
    (3) that the DNA of a child has an impact on that child's character, etc.?

    Presumably, though, you think that this isn't random chance. That God is involved even in the seemingly random science in some way.

    If so, your view on the creation of an individual is indistinguishable from my view of the creation of the species. That God was directly involved through the science. Since He created science, it wasn't necessary for Him to supernaturally suspend it to make it work.

    I suppose I don't see why my view leads to atheism and yours doesn't.


    Gmart,

    I agree with what you're saying. The pope wasn't really involved, but that's not the image that's been transmitted. I guess I'd fall back to examples like Ignaz Semmelweis. He was persecuted for his beliefs far worse than Galileo, only his persecutors were the doctors of Vienna, not the cardinals in Rome. If Semmelweis doesn't prove that medicine is anti-science, then I don't think Galileo proves that the Church is anti-science. In both cases, it's a story about human pride and misguided zeal.

    God bless,

    Joe.

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  14. You may be familiar with this already, but Lewis is characteristically brilliant on this "danger." He notes that:

    "When it becomes really necessary (i.e., for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth that (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read without attention to the whole nature & purpose of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.

    "To me the curious thing is that neither in my own Bible reading nor in my religious life as a whole does the question in fact ever assume that importance which it always gets in theological controversy. The difference between reading the story of Ruth and that of Antigone – both first class as literature – is to me unmistakable and even overwhelming. But the question ‘Is Ruth historical?’ (I’ve not reason to suppose it is not) doesn’t really seem to arise until afterwards. It would still act on me as the Word of God if it weren’t, so far as I can see. All Holy Scripture is written for our learning. But learning of what? I should have thought the value of some things (e.g. the Resurrection) depended on whether they really happened: but the value of others (e.g. the fate of Lot’s wife) hardly at all. And the ones whose historicity matters are, as God’s will, those where it is plain."

    And this is yet another example. Genesis wasn't written for our learning of science. The value of the account does not turn on its scientific merit. We shouldn't be surprised that its scientific merit is unclear.

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  15. I don't fall into the literal 7-day-YEC camp, nor do I fall into the evolution camp, although I would certainly admit that both are possible for God. I think Joe makes some really great points about being so literal that you paint yourself into a corner unnecessarily. I also think it's worth pointing out in discussions such as these that science is based on observation of the material world; that is it can only attempt to explain things we can see, measure and catalog. Anything that falls outside of that, science can only speculate about.

    I find it helpful in conversations with agnostic friends and relatives to point out that while there is definitely claims of historicity to some portions of the Bible (specifically the history of the Henrew people and the life of Jesus), its primary function is to explain those things we cannot see; that is God and our relationship to him. It's pretty clear that it's not intended to be a science text.

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  16. A tangent if you have time:

    What about monogenism? Do you take that (i.e. humans descending from a single couple) as irreformable dogma or (like Liccione http://disq.us/35l3hz ) a needless barrier to faith?

    It strikes me as a harder question than YEC. I had thought monogenism was dogma, but perhaps not.

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  17. Check out:

    http://www.custance.org/library_menu.html

    http://www.custance.org/Library/Volume2/index.html

    You could spend several months reading from this website!

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. Danny Faulkner is the author of “Universe By Design: An Explanation of Cosmology and Creation” (Master Books, 2004). In Chapter Six (Creation-Based Cosmologies), Faulkner writes: “….those who accept the big bang and make it part of their Christian apologetics are guilty of interpreting the Bible in terms of current science. This is a very dangerousprecedent….Simply put, the big-bang cosmogony is quite contrary to a very clear reading of the Genesis account. To distill the creation account down to the fact that the universe had a beginning, a fact that has only recently been confirmed by science, does great disservice to Genesis.”

    Further in the chapter, Faulkner mentions particle physicist Russell Humphreys, who published the book “Starlight and Time” in 1994, outlining
    his “white hole cosmology”.
    (http://creationwiki.org/White_hole_cosmology).

    Faulkner writes: “Indeed, general relativity demands that time pass at different rates at different locations in the universe. With certain initial conditions a literal day or two could have passed on the earth while permitting millions or even billions of years to have elapsed elsewhere. Such things are possible as a consequence of general relativity. Therefore the Humphreys cosmology could provide a resolution to the light-travel-time problem…. Whether or not the Humphreys cosmology survives, we should be encouraged by its proposal.”

    More on Faulkner at:

    http://www.trueorigin.org/evomyth01.asp

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  20. Er, why were my two posts removed???

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  21. David:

    Does it specifically address the subject of my question (monogenism)?

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  22. Well, if monogenism refers to the human race descending from a single couple (Adam and Eve, who else?)

    then there's no other website I know of that has this much in-depth material [collectively known as the Doorway Papers] that address the historicity of the human race through Adam and Eve, how the "races" developed, Noah and his sons, etc.

    eg.

    http://www.custance.org/Library/Volume2/index.html

    eg.

    http://www.custance.org/Library/Volume1/index.html

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  23. David,

    Sorry -- Blogger flagged your comments as spam, so I had to manually let them through. It does this from time to time, and its inscrutable logic appears to be completely random.

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  24. Robert,

    I understand the question of monogenism to be settled. Both Humani Generis, which Liccione quotes, and Trent's decree on original sin (http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct05.html), which he doesn't, are clear that original sin comes through "our first parent, Adam," and that Adam and Eve are historical individuals, not types of a larger community or fables.

    So Adam and Eve historically existed. We don't know how long ago -- it may be much earlier than traditionally assumed, but at some point, there were exactly two humans, one male and one female.

    The question which Liccione's post leads towards is a fair one: is it possible that there were other man-like creatures without immortal souls? That is, could there have been something much closer to man than apes are today? Certainly seems possible to me. And it also seems possible that those with eternal souls interbred with those without -- this actually strikes me as one of the stronger interpretations of a particularly cryptic passage in Genesis 6:1-3.

    So monogenism is correct, but the details are a bit up in the air beyond the basics. We know that there is no person alive today, or at any point in history, not a descendant of Adam and Eve. Beyond that, it's speculation.

    God bless,

    Joe

    P.S. As an aside, when I get notifications, the e-mail header says that there's a new comment on "Young Earth Creationism, and the Danger of Needles..." When I first saw it, I wondered: "The danger of needles?"

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  25. Joe writes: "The question which Liccione's post leads towards is a fair one: is it possible that there were other man-like creatures without immortal souls? That is, could there have been something much closer to man than apes are today?"

    See:

    The Search for the Historical Adam
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/historicaladam.html

    Listen:

    http://kgov.com/bel/20110617

    http://kgov.com/bel/20110624

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  26. re: Genesis 6:1-3....

    Who Were the Nephilim?

    Genesis 6 and Numbers 13—a fresh look

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/aid/v2/n1/who-were-the-nephilim

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  27. Hi Joe,

    I have recently found your blog and appreciate your clear explanations and charitable discourses on such a variety of topics.

    I am delurking today to set the record straight on Augustine. The quote you included is used seemingly everywhere by Catholics insisting that not only is there no need to accept the Traditional view of creation, but that it may even be a detriment to our Christian witness to do so. From that quote, it is commonly assumed that Augustine would come down hard today on Catholics insisting on the Traditional interpretation of Genesis.

    However, Augustine's point is that people who don't know what they're talking about should take care not to spout off on things they know nothing about. If someone knows neither the Scriptures or the science in question, then by all means, hold your tongue in humility lest your rash foolishness create an unnecessary stumbling block. But Augustine has an even stronger and more timely warning for those that needlessly surrender to the self-proclaimed learned men of modern science. Just two paragraphs later, Augustine goes on to say:

    But more dangerous is the error of certain weak brethren
    who faint away when they hear these irreligious critics
    learnedly and eloquently discoursing on the theories of
    astronomy or on any of the questions relating to the
    elements of this universe. With a sigh, they esteem
    these teachers as superior to themselves, looking upon
    them as great men; and they return with disdain to the
    books which were written for the good of their souls;
    and, although they ought to drink from these books with
    relish, they can scarcely bear to take them up.


    I think this warning is the one most necessary in today's climate. I get how extremely unpopular it is today in Catholic circles to hold to Catholic Tradition on the interpretation of Genesis. In most any other discussion, the Catholic apologist faithfully turns to Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium to expound the truth of the faith, but as soon as questions of "science" come up, those normative sources of truth are curiously ignored and replaced by evasive argumentation about the primitiveness of the ancients or about how Genesis isn't a "science textbook". The same Catholics who would boldly stand on the witness of the apostles, the Church Fathers, the Doctors of the church, and the long centuries of unbroken Church Tradition on other controversial topics are all too quick to duck and hide when it is perceived that they would have to oppose the monolith of modern science to defend Tradition on "matters of science".

    The bottom line is that modern science has come nowhere close to proving its evolutionary assumptions. But no one seems to mind -- the modern scientific establishment enjoys the fawning admiration of the "man on the street" to a degree grossly disproportional to the actual evidence because that is the spirit of our age. No one seems to care that the whole system is propped up on philosophical assertions rather than scientific evidence. And very few dare to disagree with whatever the latest theory is despite repeated admissions from the stalwarts of the scientific community that the evidence they assumed existed hasn't turned up. (cont...)

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  28. (...cont.) If Catholics depart from the Traditional interpretation of Genesis because of the science, I strongly encourage them to take a harder look at the science. But if Catholics depart from the Traditional interpretation of Genesis because they don't want to go against the current of popular evolutionary thought, please reread Augustine's most timely warning and don't allow the unproven assumptions of atheists to cause you to disdain Sacred Scripture.

    I will close with yet another gem from Augustine (from the very next page of the above discourse):

    When they [non-believers] are able, from reliable evidence,
    to prove some fact of physical science, we shall show
    that it is not contrary to our Scripture. But when they
    produce from any of their books a theory contrary to
    Scripture, and therefore contrary to the Catholic faith,
    either we shall have some ability to demonstrate that it
    is absolutely false, or at least we ourselves will hold
    it so without any shadow of a doubt. And we will so cling
    to our Mediator, in whom are hidden all the treasures of
    wisdom and knowledge, that we will not be led astray by
    the glib talk of false philosophy or frightened by the
    superstition of false religion.


    If science someday proves something at odds with the Traditional interpretation of Genesis, then is the time to consider alternate interpretations of Sacred Scripture. But in the meantime, let us courageously cling to the Sacred Tradition passed down to us in the Church, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

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  29. Hey Joe, I had to submit my comment in two parts, and it looks like the first part is held up but it let the second part through. Hoping you can fix that and make them display in the proper order. Thanks.

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  30. I like that. Theology and a little life advise. Maybe next you could cover "Early Ecclesiology and a Dynamite Oatmeal Cookie Recipe".

    Anyway, I'm not sure whether Liccione had that or something a little more mysterious in mind. But I think your way works. I mean, the current scientific consensus is that there exists a "Primordial Eve" some 45k years ago who is humans' most recent common ascendent. So, at least as a just-so story, we can posit Adam and Eve as Primordial Eve's parents and--bam!--monogenism.

    At least, I think that works.

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  31. Robert,

    The problem with the "Primordial Eve" is that although she's a common ancestor, she's not an exclusive ancestor. For example, your grandma is the common ancestor of you and your cousins, but each of you (hopefully) have a second set of grandparents as well, unrelated to the shared set. Despite the name, that's something quite different from Adam and Eve, as traditionally understood.

    Kevin, good comment; It'll take me a bit longer to respond to, but I'll try to do so soon!

    God bless,

    Joe

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  32. Not sure I follow you there. First, I meant to say that Primordial Eve's parents could be the Biblical Adam and Eve, but I don't think that makes all that much difference.

    The important thing is: Are you ruling out the possibility that the children of the humans w/o immortal souls could be humans w/ immortal souls?

    If not, I don't see why we would need more than a common ancestor. Our "first parent", i.e. the first "true man" (in HG's term) from whom we all descend, would still be Adam on my scheme. And it does not seem to otherwise violate HG.

    Still wrong?

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  33. Sorry, I meant to say are you ruling out the possibility that the children of mixed mortal/immortal parents could have immortal souls.

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  34. PS-I've been using the wrong term. "Mitochondrial Eve" seems to be the preferred term.

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  35. Robert,

    I'm not ruling it out (I actually suggested in my earlier post that it's a possible solution to both this problem, and the problem of Genesis 6, although I'm not confident in either regard), but I am saying it's not the traditional way we understood Adam and Eve.


    This is also my second conversation today involving mitochondria. Strange day. God bless,

    Joe

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  36. OK, thanks..

    I know it is somewhat of a new response to science not available at the time the traditional view was formulated. But so long as the traditional isn't irreformable, I am happy to propose alternatives that better square with the current scientific consensus. I just wanted your take on the orthodoxy of such a view.

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