I am pretty much a teetotaler, but my doctor has told me, off the record, that perhaps a glass of red wine per day would be a good thing. I have heart disease in my family, but I am such a lightweight that when it comes to alcohol, I still tend to shy away.
So if I was at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), I probably would have been just fine drinking some water. But a crisis arose at the celebration when the wine began to run short. The mother of Jesus came up to her son, wanting him to do something about it. The servants knew that there was only water in those jars, as per Jesus’ instructions. But the headwaiter soon noted to the groom that what he had tasted was the best wine of the entire evening! The servants, and soon everyone there, saw what had happened. It was indeed a miracle!
Did you know that the wedding at Cana has a lot to do with the controversy between Young and Old Earth Creationism? Read on and find out why…
The Appearance of Age
Despite my teetotaling inclinations, if I had been at Cana that day I would have wanted to taste the miracle wine to find out for myself. What vintage? How old was it?….. Now wait a second. That is an odd question. The wine was only a few minutes old, so it could not be very good. Everyone knows that a good wine takes time!…. Ah, but the New Testament says otherwise. It indeed was very good. Wine, by its very nature, has age to it. Appearances can be deceiving.
Many advocates of Young Earth Creationism argue that something like the miracle of the wedding at Cana happened at the Creation of the universe. Mainstream science tells us that the earth is several billions of years old, but what if it only appears to be that old? What if, like a good wine, by the very nature of the miracle of Creation, it merely has the appearance of age? What if it really is less than 6,000 years old?
Some Young Earth proponents would qualify this appearance of age argument. Jason Lisle, the Director of Research at the Institute for Creation Research and a popular speaker, urges that Christians having a Young Earth position should avoid terms like “appearance of age” as it might imply that God would be deceiving us, which all Christians would agree is not consistent with the Biblical character of God. Instead, Lisle prefers the notion of a “mature creation“. God created the world as a fully mature created order, and He created Adam as a fully mature human adult. Instead, the “deception” would be in terms of those Christians who place their confidence ultimately in the conclusions of modern science instead of God’s Word as clearly revealed in the Bible.
Jason Lisle raises a very significant issue about mature creation, and indeed, it is a theoretical possibility having philosophical appeal. While many Young Earth Creationist arguments seek to attack the established facts of mainstream science, this alternative approach on its own concedes that indeed the overall findings of modern science are quite sound. There is no need to get caught up in the technical minutia of how accurate are the dating methods used to measure the age of rock and sediment formations. You can still accept the practice of modern science, but ultimately reject its implications.
But consider the assumptions behind a mature creation view. It assumes that the modern scientific enterprise does not give us a realistic understanding of nature. What you see is not necessarily what you get. It just looks that way. All science can do is give us an understanding of how nature operates. Science is useful for making predictions, but it tells us absolutely nothing about the way the universe really is. For that, we need the Bible. Furthermore, Science can tell us nothing reliable about the past.
Whoa. Did you follow that?
This is a serious and challenging intellectual argument (CAUTION: informative article here….but weirdly disturbing ads on the website), popularized in its most consistent form in some conservative Christian circles by 20th. century Wheaton College philosophy professor, Gordon Clark. It is a very heady argument to follow, and while Clark’s notion that science is always false is a provocative approach to Christian apologetics, very few scientists and average Bible believers accept Clark’s radically anti-empirical view of sense perception. For Clark, if God is completely sovereign, He can do pretty much anything He wants, even if it appears utterly irrational to us. Unless you are willing to engage others at a deeply sophisticated level of epistemology, I sincerely doubt that the average Christian, or the average non-believer for that matter, would have any clue as to what you were talking about.
Furthermore, it is not entirely clear that the idea of a mature creation applies to what we read in Genesis. We know that at the wedding at Cana, we have human eyewitness reports that show that the substance that eventually became wine was at one time water (see John 2:9). At the Creation event however, we have no corresponding human eyewitness report that shows that the material of creation could have been anything other than what it appears to be. This partly explains why Old Earth Creationists argue that since the Creation looks old now and that it has always looked old, therefore it is old (the apparent maturity of Adam is a question that needs to be addressed in a separate blog post).
For most of us mere humans, we are content to think that science does really give us an accurate understanding of the world we live in. In other words, if the scientific evidence shows us that the earth is old, it must be old. However, if our reading of the Bible does not line up with the Science, believers would presumably say that the Bible trumps Science every time. Therefore, we are forced to focus on known anomalies and try to come up with various “creation science” arguments to demonstrate that the earth is really young and why mainstream science is wrong. Unfortunately, while these efforts at “creation science” may convince the Young Earth Creationist community, the wider mainstream science movement is simply baffled by all of the crazy ideas they hear (just ask Bill Nye, the Science Guy). This effectively puts up an impenetrable barrier for scientific-thinking, non-Christian people from ever seriously considering the Christian faith.
Mature Creation: A Provocative Young Earth Apologetic
In my view, if the Young Earth movement really hopes to make the best case possible, it really needs to develop the idea of a mature creation in a way that convincingly persuades people to reconsider the limitations of scientific knowledge. Furthermore, the Young Earth movement will need to somehow incorporate the notion of mature creation into some type of new scientific framework that fully explains what we already know from modern science. However, I could be missing something here, but I simply do not know how this can be effectively accomplished.
So the question presents itself: Is this alternative Young Earth proposal that the earth only has the appearance of old age really a valid one? It all depends on how far you would want to descend into the murky waters of epistemology.
I do not know about you, but if I think about this too much, my head begins to hurt. And that is enough to almost drive an inclined teetotaler like me to drink… well, at least, that one glass of wine a day.
Gordon H. Clark was an absolutely brilliant thinker. He was also a figure of great controversy, who came into head to head conflict with many of the leading evangelical thinkers of his day. His intellectual successor who championed his philosophy was John W. Robbins, who directed the small Trinity Foundation, until his death a few years ago. You may have never, ever heard of John W. Robbins, but you probably know of one of his employers: former Congressman, Libertarian, and Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul, with whom Robbins served as a legislative assistant in the 1980s. Here is Robbins’ tribute to Gordon Clark. I really do not know of any current standard bearers of Clark’s philosophy. What I do know is that while these men were possessed by extremely sophisticated cerebral cortexes, sadly they could be extremely difficult people to get along with. Perhaps the Young Earth community would be best served by being able to rehabilitate the legacy of Clark and Robbins in a way that is not so narrowly provincial.
For some notes detailing the history of the appearance of age argument, look here at the American Scientific Affiliation website.
For those of you keeping track, Gordon Clark’s and John Robbin’s philosophy to Bible/Science issues is closest to the “Fideist” approach as laid out previously here on Veracity, or just grab the visual diagram here.
Just One More Evening Left!!
Want to explore more about these issues in conversation with other people? Then please come to the Facts & Faith Symposium, to be held at the Williamsburg Community Chapel, on several Sundays in November, 2013 (the last being the 24th) at 6:30pm.
HT: Dave Rudy on showing me Jason Lisle’s argument regarding mature creation, as opposed to talking about the appearance of age, as presented by Lisle at the 2013 National Conference on Christian Apologetics.