Old Earth Creationism On Trial (Book Review)

There is such a thing as “research dysfunction”.  Let’s call it RD!  If I had a doctor that specialized in such a condition, I hope he’s prescribe me a few good academically scientific overview-level books on Young Earth Creationism (YEC).  Why?  Because I’ve had a hard time finding such a thing.  My first foray into reading on the subject has been a little frustrating.  It seems that most of the overview books I’ve looked at are written at an upper high school level at best.  So until I stumble over another option, I’ll work my way through what I’ve found.  The first I’ll be looking at is a short book published by Master Books called Old Earth Creationism on Trial: The Verdict Is In (OECOT).  Written by two Christian creation scientists (Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle) of the YEC variety, OECOT is part legal brief, part Bible study, part primer on the chief scientific arguments for YEC, and part fundy circus act (at least that’s what it felt like to me).  Still, this book turned out to be an adequate place to begin giving YEC a fair hearing.  Keeping with the structure and theme of OECOT as a trial of the Old Earth Creationism (OEC) position, with the reader sitting on the jury, I’ll attempt to:

  • organize the key evidence
  • jettison the dross
  • register a preliminary opinion to my fellow jurors

Hopefully this will serve as not only an adequate book review, but also a neutrally-leaning critical introduction to YEC by someone who just wants to understand its appeal.

Key Evidence

The YEC evidence presented in OECOT is two-fold: biblical and scientific.  It appears to me the key arguments for biblical evidence outnumber the key scientific evidence presented.  For example, the prosecution spends a lot of its time trying to convince the reader that the Hebrew word for day (yom) in the first two chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1-2) must mean a 24-hour solar day.  Furthermore, the extent of Noah’s Flood is a major point, requiring the whole of planet earth deluged for the YEC scientific arguments to be plausible.  The last order of key evidence presented may be categorized as methodological: what is the correct definition, philosophy, and application of the natural sciences.

It seems to me these are the three legs upon which the YEC stool stands.  (1) Days during creation week are 24 hours each; (2) Noah’s Flood was global; and (3) Empirical natural sciences are subject to historical (biblical and mythological) origin knowledge rather than theoretical origin knowledge.  Each leg has been challenged by OEC.  If just one leg fails, the YEC stool teeters.  If two legs fail, the YEC stool totters.  And if all three legs fail, YEC ceases to be a stool at all!

Is the YEC argument, that creation days must be 24 hours long, compelling?  I would say this is their strongest point from a grammatical perspective, but it is not case-closed.  Having read and studied under instructors that introduced some of the other options for interpreting the creation-week days, it’s pretty obvious to me that those interpretive options are set up as straw men and then blown away.  Like the big bad wolf, the YEC can huff and puff and blow a straw man down with the ease of one or two paragraphs breaths.  Nevertheless, when it comes to the length of days, biblical exegetes do hard literary and historical work to construct alternative theories.  While solid research in the fields of ancient Near East history, culture, linguistics, and mythology can often shed light on both clear and obscure passages, Occam’s Razor still looms large in this case.  In the absence of compelling counter-evidence, the simplest explanation is normally preferred.

What about the case for a global flood?  YEC argues that uniformitarian assumptions are unwarranted when determining the age of the earth.  Rather its adherents argue that catastrophism is a better geological model that better fits the fossil and sedimentary evidence found all over the earth—from current sea beds to mountaintops.  Biblical evidence is the universal language describing the flood, including the specific descriptions of the waters swallowing the mountain peaks.  In terms of scientific theory, (1) ingenious ideas of plate tectonics, (2) just one recent Ice Age, and (3) Mount St. Helens post-1980 volcanic eruption are presented as adequate explanations for dating the earth to an age younger than 10,000 years.  I need to do more reading on the YEC geological arguments, but at this point it seems unpersuasive since there are so many geologists who profess a Bible-believing Christian faith who are thoroughly unimpressed with the plausibility of YEC scientific arguments.

When it comes to YEC insistence that the definition, philosophy, and application of science proceeds best if we don’t limit our “science” (i.e., knowledge) to materialistic, naturalistic, atheistic ground rules, I heartily agree.  Which makes me wonder if any OEC proponent would object.  Probably not in terms of natural science.  But the questions, qualifications, and disagreements arise when the YEC insists that scientific knowledge must be consistent with a literalistic approach to the grammatical-historical method of interpreting the Bible.  The YEC adherent argues that since no human being witnessed the events of creation (before Adam and Eve came on the scene), origin science is merely hypothetical unless it coheres to God’s “eye-witness” testimony as recorded in the Bible.  While I need to chew on this argument and consider other syntheses of the biblical and scientific origins evidence, as this point this move feels like an Ace up the sleeve.  He who defines what is allowed as evidence, and how must one interpret the evidence he allows, is playing a game rigged in his favor.

Jettison the Dross

By definition, dross is that which is unnecessary or unhelpful.  In the presentation of the YEC case, there appears to be much that should be chucked.  When preaching to the choir, such material may be rhetorically useful, but when making a case to a jury trying to separate what is relevant from what is not, its best left back at the office.  So what is not worth mentioning to the jury?

First, jettison the triumphalist tone.  It’s irritating and makes your reasonable arguments appear weaker than they really are.  Best not to preen like a peacock.  Most people are not impressed with your feathers.  OECOT displays this tone throughout, but succinctly in the chapter named “The Verdict and Recommendations.”  For example, under the heading labeled “Recommendations for Improving the Debate,” the authors list three tips for moving the conversation forward:

  1. Academic integrity for both sides.  After a gentle chastisement of YEC leaders for “making spectacular claims based on sketchy evidence,” this bit of advice is offered to OEC teachers: “For the old-earther, this recommendation will be a tougher pill to swallow.  The many weak and misleading arguments refuted in this book must be abandoned…Old earth creationists must also stop using arguments that have already been answered by mainstream young-earth organizations” (pp. 158-159).  Uh, did it ever occur to the authors that the shoe could just as easily be on the other foot?  This is dismissive, bombastic rhetoric.  Just because you have an answer to the other side’s question that satisfies you doesn’t mean it must satisfy the other side.  Just because you think the other side’s arguments “weak and misleading” does not mean they are.  Again, this kind of imagery—of a doctor prescribing the pill to his recalcitrant patient—is patently condescending.
  2. Knock off the personal attacks in the name of Christ.  “Personal attacks are unnecessary and unbiblical…Arguments should be evaluated on their merit, and not on the person making the claim” (p. 159).  Without all the name-calling and known-falsehood-accusing, the jury could take this recommendation a bit more seriously.  Physician, heal thyself.
  3. Follow our ground rules for refuting the YEC position.  “Old-earth creationists are welcome to attempt to refute our position using legitimate hermeneutics, sound logic, and appropriate ministerial use of science.  Rather than basing their view on questionable or unlikely interpretations of the text, they must show that the Bible provides strong support for their view” (p. 160).  If I’m reading this right, the implication is the YEC view is based on unquestionable and likely interpretations of the text.  And the YEC position use legitimate hermeneutics, sound logic, and the appropriate ministerial (i.e., “biblical”) use of science.  Gee, if this is the case, I wonder why there is a debate at all among evangelical, Bible-believing Christians?  Oh right.  Non-YEC = evolution!  I forgot.

Second, jettison the fundamentalist cultural markers.  It’s laughable and makes your presentation appear backwards, dated, and inept.  Learn something about soft-neutrality from the tech-savvy evangelicals.  Sometimes the cultural medium is so in-your-face it becomes the message.  Best not to virtue signal your “fightin’ fundy” true colors when you’re trying to convince jurors who snicker at your cartoonish graphics, liberal use of “scare quotes” when mocking opponents, and labeling all Christians who don’t agree with your arguments as illogical, inconsistent liberals.

And third, please jettison the queer obsession with dinosaur sightings (pp. 175-177).  It’s not boosting your credibility to write with a straight face that fire-breathing dinosaurs were as real in the not-too-distant past as elephants and rhinos.  To push your argument into the future 400 years: if in 2017 dinosaur cave drawings, dragon legends, and human and dinosaur footprints sharing the same fossil all prove dinosaurs are fairly recently extinct, then in the year 2417 the 21st century books and movies that feature humans and dinosaurs living together may legitimately be taken as historical proof that people in the “early third millennium AD” lived with those supposedly prehistorical terrible lizards.  Sound ludicrous?  That’s because it is!  You’ve got to jettison the belief that circa 1000 AD dinosaurs still lived in abandoned castles holding fair maidens prisoner.  Ridiculous.  Makes YEC folks look like Bigfoot hunters.  Even if the jury grants the biblical possibility that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, presenting such an argument in a public forum when you’re trying to win the case is not strategically helpful.  Save the dino-apologetics for when you’re preaching to the choir.

Preliminary Opinion on YEC

YEC has some strengths and weaknesses.  Every theory does.  Without strengths, a theory would collapse into an idea hardly anybody would believe.  Without weaknesses, a theory would rise to the level of “law” or “fact”.  Below are some of the strengths and weaknesses of YEC as presented in OECOT.

Strengths Weaknesses
1 YE creationists seek to make the Bible the primary arbiter of truth in all questions of life—even questions of creation. YE creationists use current scientific arguments, theories, and methodologies that support their position on the age of the earth, but they discard, discredit, and even mock others that question YEC.
2 YE creationists position themselves as Bible believers because they seek to always interpret the Bible according to the “plain meaning” of the text—especially regarding origins—by employing what has been traditionally been called grammatical-historical hermeneutics. YE creationists position themselves as the only consistent Bible interpreters by relying on face-value grammatical interpretation, and sometimes forgetting the grammatical-historical hermeneutic also emphasizes the historical aspect of the text. This aspect often requires knowledge and trust of scholarly linguistics, archaeology, and ancient Near East culture. But YE creationists usually distrust historical research of biblical texts if it challenges their YEC conclusions.
3 YE creationists write clearly and passionately for their origins position. Hence their presentation of evidence and their rhetoric appeal to many people—including those who are less adept in biblical interpretation and modern science. Hence their writing and arguments have a broad appeal to the Christian masses—at least in Christian traditions that are open to YEC. YE creationists write in a condescending tone typical of American Protestant fundamentalists. They talk down to Bible believing Christians who ask sincere questions about YEC’s case for harmonizing the biblical and scientific evidence for the age of the earth. Hence their writing and arguments have little appeal to Christians that believe YEC is not the only valid interpretive position on the age of the earth.
4 YE creationists argue there was no death before the fall of humanity. No human death nor animal death. This is consistent with the Bible’s teaching that the whole creation groans for the redemption of man—desiring to be released from the curse of death. YE creationists argue there was a kind of “creation” after the Fall. They would dispute this, but design features of creation they find incompatible with the pre-Fall condition of no-death are attributed to God’s creative redesign after the fall. This is special pleading and there is no evidence in the Bible for redesign.

Bonus Material in OECOT

After the YEC prosecution rests its case in the courtroom, a supplementary package of evidence arranged in 6 appendices is presented to the jury.  Some of these present new information and others summarize evidence previously presented.  Consider these as articles that address particular questions.

Appendix A: Other “Interpretations” of Genesis [scare quotes in A & B are original!]
Appendix B: Problems with Other “Interpretations”
Appendix C: Are There Gaps in the Genesis Genealogies?
Appendix D: Commentary on the Intelligent Design Movement
Appendix E: The Big-Bang God or the God of Scripture?
Appendix F: Recommended Reading for Further Research

These articles are worth reading so don’t skip them.  Although you’d be wise to retain a healthy dose of skepticism as the authors have a hard time describing other interpretations of Genesis with accuracy or nuance.  For example, the Framework Theory of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is easily dismissed without considering its many commendable contributions to the exegesis of the passage.  Appendix F could be more helpful if it listed books in archaeology and anthropology published in the last 20 years.  Has any groundbreaking or updating YEC work been done in these fields since then?  I’d sure like to know!

Resources

Read OECOT online

Coauthor Tim Chaffey’s bio, blog, and sermons

Coauthor Jason Lisle’s bio, blog, and sermons

Reviews

Amazon

Global Missiology English (Positive)

God Uses Broken Vessels (Positive)

Goodreads

Old Earth Ministries (Negative)

Reasons to Believe (Negative)

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Analytical Book Review, Creationism, Dinosaurs, Science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s