In Young Earth Creation: a Sad Day for Unwavering Dogmatism, I wrote about the recent blog post, by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, which took the Assemblies of God (AG) denomination to task for a change in their position on the Genesis 1 & 2 creation accounts (a position change in which they essentially allow for an Old Earth Creation (OEC) interpretation).
A later blog post by Ham (HT: Ron's Bloviating) responds to a response by the AG. Unfortunately, in Assemblies of God responds... but What Does It Really Mean?, Ham continues to confuse the issues, as well as displaying inconsistencies with his approach.
Yet what is it, exactly, that is so disconcerting to Ham? I would submit, based on his blog posts, that he has the following issues:
1) He fears time... that is, a universe that is billions of years old. Presumably, this fear is fueled by two major points: a) he contends that the idea the universe is millions of years old is not found in the Bible and, b) a universe that is millions of years old opens up the door to theories involving natural process evolution. From his post,
However, if a person allows for “various theories” about creation, then those “various theories” include gap theory, theistic evolution, progressive creation, framework hypothesis, day age, and so on. All of these beliefs have one common element. All of the theories attempt to reconcile millions of years into the Bible, and require a person to exalt man’s ideas above Scripture, for the idea of millions of years comes from man’s faulty interpretation of the universe. “Millions of years” is just not in Scripture.
and the reason he fears time is because,
2) He believes one can understand Scripture without relying on, or being affected by, any external influences. As such, he believes that a "natural reading" of the creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2 result in an interpretation of 6 24 hour "literal" days of creation. From his post,
If a person is not influenced by any ideas outside of Scripture, that person would not take Genesis in any other way than as it is written—six literal days of creation, strict genealogies (that do not allow for millions of years), death coming after sin, animals vegetarian originally, man made from dust and woman from his side, global Flood, etc.
and because he believes one can understand Scripture uncontaminated by outside influences,
3) He believes that, due to man's fallible state, any ideas derived by man are correspondingly fallible and, as such, cannot have authority over the Word of God. From his first post,
The AOG with its August statement is now saying we have to take the fallible ideas of fallible humans and use these in authority over the Word of God.
And from his current post,
All of the theories attempt to reconcile millions of years into the Bible, and require a person to exalt man’s ideas above Scripture, for the idea of millions of years comes from man’s faulty interpretation of the universe.
Let's take a look at these issues.
The Fear of Time
I continue to be amazed at the resistance some fellow Christians have over the issue of millions - rather - billions of years. For some it truly is a line in the sand; a barrier which they refuse to cross. Ham rejects data that supports an old universe, such as: the expansion of the universe, cosmic background radiation temperatures, stellar burning processes, radiometric decay, ice cores, etc., primarily because he believes "millions of years is just not in Scripture." This wholesale rejection of the interpretation of the physical data stems not from a rejection of the methodology or processes involved in the data interpretation, but from an a priori stance on what he believes the interpretation should be. In Ham's world, it would seem, there can never be an interpretation of millions of years. OEC proponents are, evidently, wasting their time and efforts to argue as such.
Tangentially to the concern that "millions of years is just not in Scripture" is the notion that believing in millions of years is essentially the same as believing in natural process evolution. Of course, it is rarely stated as such, but the implication is certainly there - that of belief in millions of years "opening the door" to belief in evolutionary theories. However, the mere fact that both OEC and evolutionary theory proponents believe in an old universe is no more relevant than the fact that both YEC and evolutionary theory proponents believe in a solar system. What Ham does not address, with regards to his "millions of years equals evolution" stance, is the multiple time paradoxes that evolutionary science must deal with. For example, as if life arising by chance isn't problematic enough, evidence now indicates it did so, multiple times, and at the earliest time possible (i.e., not after millions of years for "chance" to produce life). Rather than acknowledge the incredible design features indicated by such data, design features which point to the existence of a mind, Ham chooses to ignore the data and rest on his narrow interpretation of the text.
No External Influence
This now brings us to the reason why Ham thinks "millions of years is just not in Scripture" - that of the phenomenon of no external influence. Ham asserts that "If a person is not influenced by any ideas outside of Scripture, that person would not take Genesis in any other way than as it is written...", namely, 6 24 hour creation days.
Yet, how reasonable is the notion that one cannot be influenced by any ideas outside of Scripture?
It seems to me that the idea that one cannot be influenced by any ideas outside of Scripture is, in fact, an idea that is outside of Scripture. Regardless, this notion seems to ignore the basis for the very way we are able to understand reality - our noetic structure. In his book, Faith and Reason, Ron Nash, the late Christian philosopher, referred to our noetic structure as having four identifiable features,
- A person's noetic structure is the sum total of everything that person believes.
- A noetic structure is also characterized by the way its beliefs are related.
- Another feature of a noetic structure includes the different degrees of certainty, firmness, and conviction with which people hold their beliefs.
- Finally, the beliefs that constitute any noetic structure will differ with regard to the kind of influence or control they have over the rest of their beliefs in that structure.
Nash advocated that one's world-view is a smaller set of related beliefs within their noetic structure. He wrote,
A world-view is a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality.
How does an individual's world-view, framed within his noetic structure, affect the manner with which he parses out data, such as the meaning of written text? Is it reasonable to posit that one can understand a certain text, with said understanding being completely free of influence from anything outside of what is contained in the text in question? Would not even the mere ability to read the text bring with it external influences which are outside the text?
Consider the account, found in the book of Exodus, of God bringing judgment on Egypt by use of the 10 plagues. Upon reading the account, how many readers, in the 21st century western world, would immediately understand that the account describes God - Yahweh - systematically desecrating specific Egyptian animistic gods, demonstrating to the people of that time that it is Yahweh, and not the natural realm, that is supreme and to be worshiped? I would wager that, unless it was explained to them, not many modern readers would walk away with that understanding of the account; however, anyone who happened to be a part of the intended audience, upon hearing the account, would have immediately understood the point of the story. Of course, the difference in understanding would be because of differences in culture, geography, family structures, language, era, education, religion, knowledge, art, etc., most of which encompass ideas outside of Scripture.
Truth be told, it is impossible to not be influenced by external ideas, in the manner Ham suggests. Is his immediate rejection of the millions of years interpretation of the physical realm due to his no externally influenced view of Scripture, or is it due to a response to his fear of evolutionary thought and millions of years? Furthermore, is it beyond the pale to consider that the newly liberated Israelites, upon hearing the creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2, would have had no interest in the question of the age of the universe? Rather, considering their noetic structure, is it reasonable to conclude that the creation accounts were given to clarify, to a people having spent hundreds of years in bondage to an animistic people, that it was Yahweh who created the natural realm and, as such, it is Yahweh who is to be worshiped?
My friend, Tom Darrow, has an excellent analysis of the Genesis creation account, found here.Unfortunately, as I explained in my previous post, it is unlikely that YEC proponents can be consistent with the natural reading through no external influence approach. I gave 5 examples of scripture references which yield strange, if not contradictory, results when taken in their "natural" sense. Perhaps we should start a list of Scriptural references that one may have a problem with, if taken without external influence:
If a person is not influenced by any ideas outside of Scripture, then they're likely to believe that...
- God has wings,
- Jesus had nails driven through his hands,
- The earth does not revolve around the sun,
- The mustard seed is the smallest plant seed on earth,
- The value of Pi is equal to the integer 3,
- The sun, right after it sets, quickly returns to its starting point,
- The sun revolves around the earth (because it "rises"),
- If you're guilty of lust, you need to tear out your right eye,
- Paul is sexist because he refers to believers, both men and women, as sons of God,
- ...and so on
But, of course, such a list is absurd, for the simple reason that we know text, especially ancient text, must be interpreted taking into account many features including, but not limited to, genre and context.
Our Fallible Interpretation of the Universe
If I understand him correctly, Ham believes that, while man is fallible and has correspondingly fallible ideas, Ham himself (though he is a fallible man) is still capable of reading and understanding Biblical text uncontaminated by any of his fallible notions. Any reliance on fallible ideas he takes as usurping the authority of Scripture. As I stated in my previous post, this approach is also difficult to apply consistently. While I know of no one who claims that man has an infallible understanding of the universe, it seems reasonable to conclude that in many areas we have a good understanding of the universe. The mere fact that Ham probably wrote his blog post on a personal computer, and the post now resides on the internet, demonstrates that he grants some reliance on our fallible understanding of the workings of modern technology.
Some YEC proponents may argue that Ham is not saying we need to discount all our ideas, only those which contradict their interpretation of Scripture. However, I think such an approach would be begging the question. Even Ken Ham should agree that we have some understanding of the universe (e.g., that the Earth has a Moon orbiting around it). So the question should be, how well does our understanding of the universe stand up to verification? What one should not do is simply throw out data which does not happen to fit with their particular interpretation of the Bible. Let's take a look at a few examples of how this has worked in the past, and should work now.
Luke 2:2 In which Quirinius is listed as governor of Syria.
Either Quirinius was governor of Syria at the time Luke states, or he wasn't. Luke gave reference to him 2,000 years ago, yet there was no other reference of his existence as governor at the time Luke posits. It seemed that the data, our fallible understanding of the universe, bore out the conclusion that Luke was incorrect. Yet further research - archaeological evidence - eventually corroborated Luke's account, thereby validating it. Note that with progressive understanding, the reliability of the physical data demonstrated the reliability of our interpretation of the account.
Also note how our understanding of the text corresponded to our understanding of the "universe". While Luke stated, in clear terms, that Quirinius was governor of Syria, external data didn't support the text. Yet further data demonstrated that the original text, and our original interpretation of it, was correct.
1 Chronicles 16:30 In which we read that the earth is fixed and, by way of conclusion, does not revolve around the sun.
In this instance, it seems that our interpretation of the Biblical text (the natural reading of the time) was faulty (i.e., fallible) and that progressive understanding of the universe helped to correct that interpretation.
In corresponding to our understanding of the universe, we see that the "clear" terms which stated that the earth was fixed were taken out of context. Further data collection demonstrated that our original interpretation of the text was incorrect.
Genesis 1 & 2 In which we debate whether the age of universe is 6,000 - 10,000 years or greater than 10,000 years.
With this example OEC proponents argue that our fallible understanding (which is a redundant term) of the universe is demonstrating that the universe is much older than 10,000 years. Despite the fallibility of our understanding of the universe, progressive understanding continues to support the notion that the universe is old, so much so that we inquire about how a theologically and grammatically valid interpretation of the Genesis 1 & 2 creation accounts can be harmonized with our understanding of the universe. If the accounts can be harmonized (and they can), then we have a situation similar to that of 1 Chronicles 16:30.
These examples demonstrate one of Christianity's greatest assets - that of it being falsifiable. Peter stated we do not follow cleverly devised ideas, but testable accounts. Luke's written record is littered with historical time markers, begging to be verified. Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel have both written books specifically about testing the claims of Scripture.
Yet it seems Ham will have no part of this approach. Rather, it appears his position is:
Genesis 1 & 2 clearly reveal that the age of universe is between 6,000 and 10,000 years; any other notion is simply not entertained, and considered null.
Ken Ham has decided, through an interpretation of Genesis 1 & 2 influenced by his noetic structure, that there is no other option, despite arguments or evidence to the contrary. He believes that man, and his ideas, are fallible. Yet he believes that his understanding of Genesis cannot be wrong, so long as he is not influenced by external - fallible - ideas. In essence, he is claiming that his idea, of what Genesis says, is infallible.
And that is something we should be wary of.