Category Archives: Apologetics

Is Christianity a “Useful Fiction” to Explain the World, or Is It the Ultimate Truth?

No doubt, my answer is the latter, but I will let the discussion below explain why…

I was planning on writing a blog post about “critical race theory,” “intersectionality,” and the “social justice warrior” movement, but I just got bogged down thinking about it. If you do not know what those terms mean, then you are not alone. The vocabulary is complex and elusive. Additional terms like “identity politics” and “wokeness” abound. But allow me a few paragraphs to set up the story, as to why this topic is so important….. A lot of hysteria surrounds this topic. But some of the craziness is surprisingly far too true.

In September, 2018, a group of conservative evangelical pastors drafted and published “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel,” discussed here on Veracity. As many as perhaps 9,000 Christian pastors have signed the document, claiming that the modern trend towards “Social Justice” is incompatible with Christianity.

Nevertheless, a number of Christian leaders, ranging from Al Mohler, to Tim Keller, to Francis Chan, have rejected the document, believing that “Social Justice,” rightly understood, is perfectly compatible with orthodox evangelical faith. As Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Seminary, the flagship seminary for the Southern Baptist Convention, explains, some forms of “Social Justice” are consistent with Christianity, while others are not.

To complicate matters, in the summer of 2019, a resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention addressed the controversy over “Critical Race Theory” and “Intersectionality.” Some were in favor of the resolution, whereas others believe that it did not go far enough in condemning the “Social Justice Movement.” Some fear that the controversy will split Evangelicalism as a movement, within just a few years.

So, what is this whole controversy about?

Get your thinking cap on. You will need it.

All Christians are children of God, equal in his sight. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith (Galatians 3:26 NIV). But in a post-modern, post-Christian society, some people adopt a different narrative, whereby the world is divided between the privileged and the oppressed, whereby the oppressed are called upon to silence the speech of the privileged. Can a postmodern world survive this new narrative, or do we need to resurrect Christianity as a “useful fiction” to counter this new narrative? Or is there a better answer?

The Rise of “Social Justice” in Post-Modernity, and Its Impact on the Church

This can get a bit heavy, so some background might help frame what is going on: Just in case you did not know, we are living in an increasingly post-modern, even post-Christian, society.

To be post-modern is in contrast with the idea of modernity. Modernity is the project of the Enlightenment come to fruition. Philosophers tell us that in pre-modern times, people lived in an age of faith. Whereas in modern times, we live in an age of reason. With modernity, religious faith has been marginalized to the preferences of the individual. What really remains supreme in modernity is reason, guided by the all-knowing hand of scientific progress. The so-called subjective talk of God has been pushed aside in favor the human ability to solve all problems, and come to the knowledge of absolute Truth, through reason alone.

The problem with modernity, however, is that the application of universal human reason has not actually delivered what was promised. Post-modernity, in contrast, has a more pessimistic take on human reason, as the pathway to true enlightenment. Two broad approaches to post-modernity are felt in today’s culture.

One approach is simply to say, “Yes, there is an absolute Truth, but we simply can not know it completely. We can only do the best that we can to approximate what that Truth is, but the limitations of reason prevent us from fully apprehending absolute Truth, in its fullness. So while absolute Truth is hypothetically there, we must simply settle for the notion of relative Truth in practice.” One application of this approach is to say that the various competing claims of absolute truth must be adjudicated through conversation and dialogue, at least in the public sphere. At a pragmatic level, this is an acknowledgement that we live in a pluralistic society. We will not all agree with one another, but we must learn how to live alongside one another.

The second post-modern approach takes a more activist form. “There is no absolute Truth. All claims to absolute Truth are, in reality, merely the exercise of power. The key to living in a post-modern world is then to equalize the power structures that articulate competing narratives of truth.”

It is this second approach to post-modernity that has fueled the contemporary interest in themes such as “Intersectionality,” “Critical Theory,” and being a “Social Justice Warrior.” Perhaps the easiest to explain is “Intersectionality.”

By “intersectionality,” a term coined in 1989 by legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshawmany scholars in the humanities say that different groups of people, who do not have lives marked by privilege, live their lives from the perspective of being oppressed. For example, many persons of color, such as African Americans, experience oppression. Likewise, many women experience oppression, at the hands of men. But when the experiences of being African American overlap with being female, the intersectionality of those experiences produces yet another complex form of marginalization within society.

Those who have lives marked by privilege, who empathize with the marginalized, are said to “ally” with the marginalized. Those who “ally” are encouraged to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who lack privilege, in order to correct social injustices.

Many social theorists find the category of “intersectionality” a helpful tool for understanding how social structures work. Many evangelical Christian thinkers would agree. After all, the Bible talks a lot about “Blessed are the poor,” and how all of us are created equal, within God’s perspective. So far, so good.

However, we must be exceedingly careful here. What might be seen as a helpful intellectual tool for some, could be carried on by others to mean something radically different.

The pursuit for “social justice” can become the basis for building a worldview, predicated on the same intellectual foundation as Marxism. It is as though being a “social justice warrior” takes on the trappings of a religion. As Christian apologist Neil Shenvi puts it, in his explanation of the related concept of “critical theory,”  “it views reality through the singular lens of power, dividing people into oppressed groups and oppressor groups along various axes like race, class, gender, sexuality orientation, physical ability and age.”

This may all seem like foreign territory for the average church-going Christian. But in a university setting, the quasi-religious character of being a “social justice warrior,” in the ideological sense, can be quite evident. It can get really bizarre.

For example, in 2017, a group of students sought to shout-down a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who came to speak at the campus where I work. Many conservative Christians have a less than positive image of the ACLU. But when a group of activist college students protest the mere presence of the ACLU on a secular college campus, then you begin to wonder if something else is going on. In a “social-justice-warrior” as-an-ideology worldview, the only way to respond to oppressive sounding voices on campus is to silence free speech. To my knowledge, aside from a rebuke by our then college president, no disciplinary action was taken against this group of students. Other attempts to shut-down conversations, and deny free speech, instigated by ideologically-minded professors, and/or aggressive school administrators, and propelled by organized groups of student followers, have been growing across college campuses, nationwide.

This is yet a glimpse into a crisis in academia, as the ideological tendency of this “social justice warrior” movement has threatened to compromise the very integrity of the intellectual viability of certain strands of humanities studies. This is not merely a concern of Christians. It also bothers more secular minded thinkers, those who lean towards the more progressive side of culture. If you want to be entertained and horrified, all at the same time, you can learn about the “Grievance Studies Affair,” exposed by left-wing academics James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, in 2018. Following the YouTube playlist for this is mind-blowing.

In a postmodern world, where the premodern categories of religious faith have been deemed obsolete, and the modernistic hope for a view of scientific progress, that can solve all of humanity’s problems, is seen to be elusive, the postmodernist can see the world as merely the realm for power struggles. Orthodox Christian faith is left off to the side, for those who advocate an ideological commitment to “critical theory” and “intersectionality.”

But not only is historically orthodox Christian faith rejected, as being a form of privilege, the practice of science, as generally understood, is also under threat, due to an idealogical embrace of Marxist-inspired “critical theory.”  As a result, evangelical Christian thinkers and secularized atheists are finding some common ground, with their concerns, about the idealogical application of “intersectionality,” and the like. It might seem strange that evangelical Christians might have something in common with atheists, in working against a growing intellectual trend, but keep reading….

The War Against Biology: The “Social Justice Movement” as Becoming an Ideology for Some

Take for example, the case of evolutionary biologist, Brett Weinstein, when he taught as a professor at Evergreen State College, in 2017. When a group of students, invigorated by ideas taught by certain other professors of the humanities, sought to ask white faculty and students (particularly those who were male) to leave campus for a day, Professor Weinstein objected to the planned event as ill-conceived. In response, a group of student protestors interrupted his class, sparking a national conversation. WARNING: OBJECTIONABLE LANGUAGE IN THE VIDEO BELOW:

Professor Weinsten, and his wife, also an evolutionary biologist, and both who are not professing Christians, resigned from Evergreen State College, as they felt that their lives were being threatened by this student movement, and the school administration did little to intervene. This sets us up to get to the reason as to why this blog post is so important.

Brett Weinstein is now a public intellectual, a member of what some call the “Intellectual Dark Web,” populated by other public intellectual figures, such as Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson and orthodox Jewish commentator, Ben Shapiro. Weinstein’s experience at Evergreen State helped him to see that there are intellectuals, within the humanities, who advocate for a more ideological approach to intersectionality, such as in the case of what constitutes “gender” in a post-modern world. Such intellectuals have been convincing a new generation of students to think that the category of “gender” is merely a social construct. Weinstein sees this as an attack on the very foundations of biology, as a scientific discipline, where the distinction between male and female is a fundamentally biological description, not merely a social construct.

Weinstein suggests that the modern approach to evolutionary biology has failed, as evidenced by his own experience at Evergreen State. He is still an evolutionary biologist, but he believes the current secular hostility towards “religion,” including Christianity, has created a cultural crisis. The postmodern rejection of absolute truth, being promoted by certain disciplines in the humanities, has led to the development of distorted forms of traditional religiosity. For Weinstein, this new situation requires that scientists need to rethink how to approach evolutionary biology.

Secular, Atheistic Thinking That Wishes to Revive Christianity/Religion as a “Useful Fiction”

In his mind, Professor Weinstein contends that “religion,” which would include Christianity, still serves as a “useful fiction,” necessary for the survival of the human race. So while Weinstein rejects Christianity as an ultimate truth claim, it is nevertheless an invaluable aid that should be tapped to help secular society transcend the current cultural crisis, marked by the rise of ideologically-driven “critical theory” and “intersectionality.”

At the recent Unbelievable? conference in London, podcaster Justin Brierley sat down with Brett Weinstein and theologian Alister McGrath to discuss Weinstein’s ideas, as part of Brierley’s Big Conversation program. Given the background of Weinstein’s academic experience, the discussion is pretty amazing.

Brett Weinstein rejects the New Atheism of a Richard Dawkins, that negatively views Christianity as a disease or “virus of the mind.” (If you do not understand what Dawkins is talking about, view the following video. Otherwise, skip it, and move on to what I have written below):

Brett Weinstein believes that Dawkin’s approach to religion deserves a much better explanation. Ironically, for Christian listeners, Brett Weinstein thinks that Neo-Darwinian evolution holds the key for understanding and accepting “something” like Christianity, as a positive force for good for humanity. In that sense, something like Christian faith can be a “useful fiction,” to help humanity survive. This is the same type of message being propagated by those like Jordan Peterson. It is just that Peterson and Weinstein seem unable to make that jump of seeing Christianity as actually being true, in and of itself. This is a massive topic, and this blog post merely reveals the tip of a really, really big iceberg.

What interested me the most about the conversation below was the lack of enthusiasm for Alister McGrath’s response to Brett Weinstein, among a number of Christian listeners. But since McGrath does NOT subscribe to the “conflict thesis”; that is, the idea that evolutionary science and biblical faith are in direct opposition with one another, there was not a whole lot to disagree with, aside from Weinstein’s wishful thinking for something like Christian faith, but not exactly Christian faith, to emerge, to address our current problems, as a human race. McGrath’s answer was straight-forward enough, suggesting that historic orthodox Christian faith is sufficient to address the challenges that Weinstein brings up….(plus Christianity is true, and not merely a “useful fiction”).

Two hours, yes, but worth the intellectual workout. Enjoy.

 

 

For a similar discussion/debate that Alister McGrath had with skeptic Michael Shermer, please view it here.

 


The Silver Chair: C.S. Lewis Against the Seduction of Secularism

C.S. Lewis’ 1953 fantasy children’s novel has a scene where Jill and Eunace, the human children, along with their faithful, yet gloomy companion and Marsh-Wiggle, Puddlegum, have been living underground, for what seemed like forever. In their search to find Prince Rillian, they were stuck in a maze of dark caverns and sailing the Sunless Sea, in a world governed by a witch, the Lady of the Green Kirtle. The children and Puddlegum have not seen the sun for a long, long period of time. The Green Lady seeks to enchant the others, in hopes of preventing them from returning to Narnia, and meet up with Aslan:

Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, “There is no sun.” And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. “There is no sun.” After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together. “You are right. There is no sun.” It was such a relief to give in and say it.

“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.

“No. There never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children.

For the last few minutes Jill had been feeling that there was something she must remember at all costs. And now she did. But it was dreadfully hard to say it. She felt as if huge weights were laid on her lips. At last, with an effort that seemed to take all the good out of her, she said:

“There’s Aslan.”

C. S. Lewis had grown up as an atheist, eventually becoming a Christian, where the love of Christ showed him the truly reality of things. The Green Lady represents for Lewis the seductive power of secularism, bent on keeping us from seeing reality, as it really is. Prince Rillian had been imprisoned, in a spiritual haze, by the power of the Silver Chair, keeping him in spiritual bondage. The Green Lady was hoping to lure the young humans as well into her control, and away from Aslan.

But the children, Puddlegum, and the Prince were able to break free from the clutches of the Green Lady. The Green Lady was exposed as a deceptive serpent, and killed by Prince Rillian. The group was then able to clearly make their way back to the surface, and see the sun again in Narnia.

While there are many competitors to a Christian worldview, I find that Lewis had it right, that the greatest threat of all is secularism, whereby “religion” is shoved into a little, privatized corner. The “real” world, according to secularism, is a world whereby God is dismissed as a fantasy, an irrational, non-evidenced belief, that has been superseded by the world of reason, science and technology. The belief in “scientism,” that contends that only that which can be demonstrated scientifically is really true, reigns supreme in a secular world. The supernatural world of Narnia is merely an illusion, a “virus of the mind,” to quote Richard Dawkins.

The secular atheist rejects the God of the Bible because of insufficient evidence. There is no “sun” and there is no “Aslan” because we have not seen either, living in this secularized world. Well, at least, we have seen no evidence for either in a really, really long time.

And yet, Jill was compelled to remind the others about Aslan.

Like Jill, the Christian community is that assembly of people who are called to remind others about Aslan, to bear witness to the story of Jesus, the truth of the Gospel.

Sadly, there are times whereby the Christian church has reversed the roles, content to live in the land of the Sunless Sea herself. I have spoken with many an agnostic or atheist, who felt a sense of relief, when they were able to crawl out of their experience, in what they perceived as the dark world of “Christianity,” and discover the world “above” whereby they see the “sunshine” of reason, empiricism, and scientism.

I find that when atheists adopt this narrative, it is generally an indicator that the kind of “Christianity” that they emerged out of is one of a Christian community that has forgotten its true calling. Such a distorted “Christianity” has resorted to a type of navel gazing, that seems so self-absorbed with its own internal affairs, that it has forgotten its primary mission; that is, to be the Jills of planet earth, to remember and speak out words of true hope to a lost world, “There’s Aslan.”

After all, properly understood, the Christian faith is not opposed to rationality or scientific exploration. There is no war between the Bible and science.

Nor does genuine Christian faith seek to impose some archaic standard of morality on others today, merely lifted out of a Bronze age, that is better left forgotten. Rather, Christian morality seeks to illuminate the true of nature of what it means to be human.

Furthermore, a distorted “Christianity” often loses sight of the unity believers are called to have with one another.  As author Mac Pier puts it, “Disunity within the church breeds atheism in the world.” Such disunity can often introduce discouragement among the believers, such that we care less about God’s larger mission, to spread the Good News of Jesus. Instead, many Christians will often travel the path of least resistance, going along with the flow, seduced by the voices of the Green Ladies of this life.

As a Christian, are you being lulled into the enchantment of a purely secular world, or are you like Jill, who must remember something at all costs?

“There’s Aslan.”

 

 


Outgrowing God? Why Sometimes Good Scientists Make for Bad Historians

Richard Dawkins’ latest book Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide is soon to be released, guaranteed to create a stir.  The retired Oxford evolutionary biologist, and author of The God Delusion, is best known scientifically for introducing the concept of a meme, an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.

Dawkins has arguably made important contributions to science, but that does not necessarily make him the best historian. George Heath-Whyte is a PhD student at Oxford, studying Assyriology, investigating the Ancient Near East history of Babylon, during the Old Testament era. The British periodical, The Spectator, features an article entitled, “If Richard Dawkins loves facts so much, why can’t he get them right?” The article quotes a Twitter tweet thread, written by George Heath-Whyte, pointing out a whole list of historical errors made by the well-known evolutionary biologist, Dawkins.  The tweet starts off with ‘Reading new book “Outgrowing God”, and as an Assyriologist I’ve had a couple of major face-palms moments,’ and then goes on from there.

Lesson learned? Just because you have demonstrated yourself to be an extraordinarily capable scientist does not mean that you are also an expert in history (or theology). Dawkins would have never passed the Old Testament class I took in seminary.

Perhaps Richard Dawkins might learn a thing or two, if he would read the history blog, History for Atheists, by Tim O’Neill. As an atheist, blog writer Tim O’Neill can not be successfully accused of being a crypto-Christian. O’Neill does know what he is talking about.

The Cosmic Skeptic, an atheist YouTuber, interviewed Richard Dawkins about the new book. Below is Oxford mathematician, and evangelical Christian, John Lennox debating Richard Dawkins several years ago.

UPDATE: September 26, 2019

Not only can you be a good scientist, and still be a bad historian, you can also be a bad ethicist. If you are looking for a good 5-minute answer, as to why Richard Dawkins’ worldview is corrupt, you would do no better than to listen to this clip from Jordan Peterson:


The Fool and the Heretic, A Review

What happens when Christians disagree about the Creation story described in Genesis? Was the universe created in six, 24-hour periods, or did God use biological evolution, as part of the process of creating the universe, over millions of years? Are those who accept the former “fools?” Are those who believe the latter “heretics?” Can Christians, who take different views on Creation, find common ground with one another?

 

As a study in deeply profound contrasts, many Young Earth Creationists believe that evolution is attacking the very foundations of the Christian faith. Many Evolutionary Creationists believe that Young Earth Creationism is inviting ridicule to the Christian faith.

It would seem like these two views of Creation are in irreconcilable conflict with one another. So imagine this: What would it look like, then, if a Young Earth Creationist scientist and an Evolutionary Creationist scientist, both with PhDs in scientific fields, were to sit down in a room together? What would they say to one another? Could they become friends?

 

A Dialogue Between Christians in Deep Theological Conflict

The Fool and the Heretic: How two scientists moved beyond labels to a Christian dialogue about creation and evolutionis a book length dialogue of such a series of meetings. The Fool and the Heretic chronicles the story of two Christians, with doctorates in science, who met together on and off for five years, to see if they could find common ground with one another.

Todd C. Wood is a Young Earth Creationist. As a scientist, with degrees from Liberty University and the University of Virginia, Todd Wood understands the science of biological evolution very well. He just does not accept the story of neo-Darwinian evolution to be true. To him, the traditional interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, with a 6,000 year old earth, is the correct one.

On the other hand, Darrel Falk is an Evolutionary Creationist. As a scientist, who helped to start Biologos, a ministry that seeks to educate Christians about the modern scientific theory of evolution, Darrel Falk understands the science of biological evolution very well, and he finds the scientific evidence compelling. Nevertheless, Darrel Falk believes the Bible to be true, and he accepts the Bible as God’s Word. For Darrel Falk, there is no contradiction between the current scientific consensus, regarding human origins, and the teachings of the Bible.

Putting these two believing scientists together might be a recipe for disaster, or it could be an opportunity for God to do something great. A mediation group, the Colossians Forum, sought to bring these two men together over several years, to see if they can see past their differences. But it was tough going at first, and reading this book was pretty emotional for me as well, as I will explain a bit more below.

The two most emotionally difficult chapters to read were entitled “Why Darrel’s Wrong and Why it Matters” and “Why Todd is Wrong and Why it Matters,” which really gets at the heart of why Todd Wood thinks Darrel Falk is wrong, and harming the church, and why Darrel Falk thinks Todd Wood is wrong, and harming the church.  The slight downside to reading these chapters is that they were written by scientists, and the scientific concerns seem to override biblical concerns…. at least initially.

The “Fool”:  Biologist Todd Wood: Young Earth Creationist scientist.

Why Proponents of Different Views of Creation, Think the Other Person is So Deeply Wrong

For example, in Todd Wood’s essay, “Why Darrel’s Wrong and Why it Matters,” he makes the often repeated argument that Evolutionary Creationists do not take God at His Word. They simply do not believe what God says to be true.

At one level, Todd Wood’s argument makes sense, as it sounds pretty straight-forward, following a traditional reading of the text of Genesis 1 and 2. A “day” in Genesis 1 is a 24-hour day. Attempts to turn a “day” into a “long period of time,” or any other interpretive tweakings, are manipulating a “plain reading” of the Bible. Science needs to bend its knee to the traditional reading of Genesis. End of story.

But I also found this to be really frustrating, as it is the same type of reasoning that has been used to justify the so-called “Flat Earth” movement, among a growing number of Christians, who contend that the earth is NOT a curvy globe, and they have Bible verses to supposedly prove it. After all, Job 38:4-5 “teaches” that the earth is to be measured with a line, and not a curve, right? That is the supposedly “plain reading” of the Bible. Any other interpretation compromises the “clear” interpretation of Scripture. The Bible proves those fairy tale makers at NASA, who concocted the idea, of landing a man on the moon, to be a bunch of liars, right?

When I hear Christians talk like that, I want to crawl into a hole and disappear.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it moves from identifying what the Biblical text says; that is, the observation of the text, directly to what the text means to me; that is, the application of the text. It completely skips over the most often neglected part (or at best, skims lightly over it), as to what the text means. In other words, what did the passage mean to the original writer and the original audience; that is, its interpretation, in its historical context, as the primary key to understanding how God meant the passage to be understood to all readers, regardless of where they stand in history. That task is an essential one, but sadly neglected by many students of the Bible today.

Frustratingly, Todd Wood has a tendency to simply equate the authority and truthfulness of the Bible with his own interpretation of the Bible. Whether Todd Wood realizes it or not, the two are simply not the same. Making the assumption that ancient Israelites 3,000+ years ago would have read Genesis 1 & 2 the same way Americans in the 21st century would have read it, requires evidence to support that assumption, not mere assertion.

Likewise, in Darrel Falk’s essay, “Why Todd is Wrong and Why it Matters,” Darrel Falk notes that he takes a figurative view of the early chapters of Genesis, as compared to a “literalistic” view, which Todd Wood holds. After all, science has proven to provide a very accurate, reliable description of our world. This is fine, as far as it goes, but you do get the sense that it is the science that is ultimately driving Darrel Falk’s interpretation of the Bible.

This is a weakness, that Young Earth Creationists can so easily expose. It gave me the impression that it is okay to read the Bible figuratively, if science requires it. But the actual context for the Bible itself was left unaddressed, which was disappointing to this reader. In other words, the intention of the biblical author, and the reception by the author’s original audience, is secondary, according to how Darrel Falk presented his argument. For Christians uneasy with broadly figurative or metaphorical interpretations of certain parts of the Bible, Todd Wood’s position comes across as more on solid footing.

However, as the book unfolds, you get a better sense as to why these two scientists differ. Todd Wood believes Darrel Falk to be wrong, in that the Evolutionary Creationist position puts doubts in the minds of Christians, about the truthfulness of God’s Word. As a result, Evolutionary Creationism harms the church, because it encourages Christians to question a view of the Bible, that has been largely accepted by many, many Christians, for hundreds of years.

Darrel Falk believes Todd Wood to be wrong, in that Young Earth Creationism flatly rejects the most well accepted and attested narrative of the modern, scientific consensus, regarding human origins, as taught in public high schools, universities, and public science museums, all over the Western world. This conflicting view, between Christianity and science, is unnecessarily driving people, mainly young people, away from the church, and away from the Bible.

What makes this dialogue really insightful and challenging is that the process of dialogue led both men to learn things about the other that they never considered before.  For example, like many proponents of macro evolution, Darrel Falk went into the dialogue believing that all Young Earth Creationists simply do not understand the science. All Young Earth Creationists are fools. But Darrel Falk soon realized that Todd Wood really is not a fool.

Todd Wood understands the science very well. He knows that the evidence supporting the validity of neo-Darwinian evolution is very strong. Nevertheless, Todd Wood believes the modern narrative to be completely wrong, because it goes against a classic reading of a crucial Scriptural text. He is of the school that says that, in time, the Young Earth Creationist narrative about creation will be proven correct. Young Earth Creationists simply have not yet discovered a testable, scientific model, that successfully makes predictions that align with a traditional reading of Genesis. But he believes they eventually will. He believes the scientific evidence is on his side. He just needs to keep searching diligently to find it. Todd Wood is no fool, but this does not mean that Darrel Falk is convinced by Todd’s argument.

The “Heretic”: Darrel Falk. Evolutionary Creationist scientist.

Moving Past the Standard Talking Points, in the “Creation Controversy”

Darrel Falk understands the science, but he also loves to study God’s Word. The Bible is the source of life and meaning for Darrel Falk, despite whatever he may find in his scientific studies. To this, Todd Wood concluded that Darrel Falk is not completely a heretic. In other words, Todd Wood is not convinced by Darrel’s interpretation of Scripture, but he does acknowledge Darrel to be a true brother in Christ.

Those are the very encouraging things I found in reading The Fool and The Heretic. Still, there are remaining difficulties that are hard to resolve. While Todd Wood is hopeful that the scientific evidence will eventually prove his way to be correct, his perspective is at times an outlier within the broader Young Earth Creationist movement. You still find a lot of Young Earth Creationists who simply do not understand the science, who fit right in with Darrel Falk’s stereotype, such as those who repeat the canard of saying that evolutionists believe that “humans have descended from apes.” While this makes for great rhetoric, it simply is not true, as it does not accurately reflect the views of scientists. Humans and apes, according to mainstream biology, share a common ancestor. But it does not mean that the apes we see today are the ancestors of today’s humans.

A good way of grouping different Young Earth Creationist approaches can be understood like this (courtesy of Randy Isaac, former executive director of the American Scientific Affiliation):

  • (1) Scientists, educators, Smithsonian museum curators, and the political left, are in a Satanically-inspired conspiracy together to mock God’s Word, by promoting evolution.
  • (2) The scientific data today appears to present the idea of an old-earth and old-universe, and a biological linkage between modern humans and pre-human creatures, but this is simply a matter of appearance. Nevertheless, this appearance of age is what we would expect when God performs a miracle.  Just as when Jesus turned the water into wine, which by its very nature, has age to it, the same could be said about, say, the de novo creation of Adam. Adam would have appeared to be about a 30-year-old man, even though he was created within a single 24-hour period.
  • (3) The current scientific consensus regarding human origins makes a lot of sense. But the evidence supporting the traditional interpretation of Genesis is still out there. Scientists have simply not yet discovered it …. but they will.

Todd C. Wood belongs firmly in this last category. Darrel Falk might shake his head in disbelief, but there Todd Wood is.

Nevertheless, there are those in the second category above, who argue for an appearance of age, when it comes to Creation. The nature of miracles makes exact, scientific description problematic. But someone like a Darrel Falk would reject such an argument, as it tends to suggest that God is a God of deception. Why make the earth appear to be millions of years old, when, in fact, it is only 6,000 years old? That seems like deception. And Darrel Falk does not believe that the God of the Bible is a God of deception.

This is all in contrast with the first category of Young Earth Creationist approaches, namely that a conspiracy exists to undermine the Bible, and that Evolutionary Creationists have gone right along with it, drinking the kool-aid. But the vast majority of scientists, whether they be Christian or non-Christian, hold to the scientific consensus that the earth is 4.34 billion years old.

While there is still some serious debate over certain aspects of modern, biological evolutionary theory (such as issues regarding Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity,” Stephen C. Myer’s argument about the evidence of Intelligent Design in DNA), the broad consensus of many thousands of scientists remains very consistent. It is difficult to imagine how a conspiracy among scientists, involving vastly separate disciplines, ranging from geology, to astronomy, to chemistry, to biology, could keep such a conspiracy together, without at least someone finding a serious discrepancy.

Nevertheless, to Todd Wood’s credit, he does have a point, in that there have been advocates of evolutionary theory, that have indeed adopted heretical ideas about the Christian faith, denying essential truths of Christian doctrine, all because they think that the science demands it. For example, I have read some proponents of theistic evolution, making the argument that Christians need to completely discard the doctrine of the Fall of humanity, because the evidence from science does not support the idea of a great cosmic fall, in human history.

This is why Evolutionary Creationists, like Darrel Falk, prefer the terminology of “Evolutionary Creationism,” and not the terminology of “Theistic Evolution,” which is altogether too vague and not sufficiently grounded enough, in a Christian, biblical theology.

There were points in the dialogue where some misinformation, or at least potential misinformation, persisted. For example, Todd Wood believes that Darrel Falk’s more figurative or metaphorical reading of Genesis 1-11 is somehow “new” and innovative. Unfortunately, Darrel Falk does not sufficiently answer Todd Wood’s contention.  So Darrel Falk remains vulnerable at this point.

However, as John Walton, a Wheaton College professor of Old Testament argues, a more figurative or metaphorical reading of Genesis 1-11 actually predates Todd Wood’s more literalistic approach. Walton contends, that due to discoveries within the past two hundred years or so, we now know more about the Ancient Near East, than did the fathers of the early church. Those early church fathers were working with the best information they had available to them, but they were still hundreds of years away from the original context of the Book of Genesis. But archaeological research, in recent times, has given us access to information, about the original context for Genesis, that the early church fathers simply had no contact with.

But perhaps Darrel Falk can be given some space here, as Darrel Falk is a scientist, and not a biblical scholar.

Todd Wood, on the other hand, expresses a concern shared by many other Christians. Christianity is indeed under attack, in the wider culture. Todd Wood believes that the prime target for the attack is the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis. If you can defend the first few chapters of Genesis as true, then that can serve as a bulwark against other compromises of the faith, down the line.

But is Todd Wood’s goal, to reinforce a traditional reading of a six-24-hour-period Creation story really going to achieve what Todd Wood is after, namely to uphold the doctrinal teachings in Genesis? Is Todd Wood’s task, to keep searching for scientific evidence to prove Young Earth Creationism to be true, worth the effort? For Darrel Falk, what Todd Wood is doing is a waste of valuable intellectual energy. The Christian faith can be defended in other ways, without spending Todd Wood’s great intellectual capital, on a dead end project, where the current scientific consensus remains increasingly settled.

Todd Wood and Darrel Falk: A Young Earth Creationist, and an Evolutionary Creationist: Unlikely dialogue partners, in an on-going in-house Christian debate.

My Response to The Fool and the Heretic

What is my take away from The Fool and the Heretic?

Well, I still continue to see this dilemma quite frequently in my own evangelical Christian circles. There are those, like Todd Wood, who believe that Evolutionary Creationists, like Darrel Falk, are corrupting the minds of the “sheep,” within our churches, causing needless confusion. Likewise there are those like Darrel Falk, on the other hand, who believe that Young Earth Creationists, like Todd Wood, underestimate the scientific understanding of too many of these same “sheep,” thereby dumbing down the Christian message, thereby inviting skeptics to poke fun at the Gospel.

Or to put it another way: On the one side, are those who do not comprehend the explanatory power that modern science has provided contemporary society, or they simply have no interst in science matters, hence these believers conclude that scientists, who embrace the scientific consensus are trusting in “man’s wisdom” and opposed to the knowledge of God. Those who are then “in the know” are willing to risk ridicule from the scientific establishment in order to protect the faith of the less informed “sheep.”

On the other side, are those who quietly smile and nod when they hear scientific nonsense being propagated by other uniformed Christians, but do not speak up, as they do not want to disturb the more childlike-faith professions of such fellow believers. And still, there are those in the middle who want to avoid the extremes of haughty skepticism, as well as uninformed hyper-literalism, on either side of the spectrum. It is in the midst of this tension that Todd Wood and Darrel Falk explore with one another.

Personally, I had a crisis of faith, back in my college years, precisely over this issue of Creation. I knew Genesis to be true, in that the Bible accurately and precisely described the human condition. But I found the particular, 1980’s Young Earth Creationist way of reading the Bible to be less than convincing, as taught by my well-meaning, but not scientifically trained, college pastor. I was not entirely sure about evolution, but I came to the conclusion that Young Earth Creationism was setting up otherwise unsuspecting Christians for a spiritual fall, and I did not want to have anything to do with this brand of Christianity.

Little did I know, at that time, that for the next thirty-plus years, God would place a number of Young Earth Creationist believers in my life. I could not figure this out, but I can honestly say that I can count on a number of these Christians as very dear friends of mine, to this very day, even though we disagree about the age of the earth, and other related topics. So, reading The Fool and the Heretic really helped me work through what it means to try to have a dialogue, with fellow Christians, when there is such deep seated disagreement about the relationship between science and the Bible.

As I wrote about nearly five years ago, learning to be able to “agree to disagree,” on the topic of human origins and Creation, has been really difficult for me personally. A good fifteen years ago, I made the decision to revisit the whole “Creation controversy,” to see if I had completely missed something, when I was deeply wrestling with this issue, back in my college years.

I even engaged in a letter exchange with Dr. John C. Whitcomb, for about 6 months, after listening to a sermon he preached on the Bible Broadcasting Network. Dr. Whitcomb, who is well along into his nineties now, was the co-author of The Genesis Flood, the book that launched the contemporary Young Earth Creationist movement, back in the 1960s. What got to me is that Dr. Whitcomb came across, not as a complete lunatic, but rather he approached me in his letters as quite a godly man, who genuinely cared for my soul.

That letter exchange really softened my heart towards Young Earth Creationists as people, fellow believers, who also love Jesus, and who want the world to come to know the love of the Savior, just as much as I do. I still have struggles getting my head around why Young Earth Creationists read the Bible the way they do, but in reading The Fool and the Heretic, it made me realize that it really is worth it to try to find common ground between believers, who disagree so strongly about interpreting certain controversial passages of the Bible, just as Todd Wood and Darrel Falk clearly do. There simply is no other book like this, available from a Christian publisher.

As to the downside of the book, it really dealt with some of the more radically opposed perspectives that dominate the discussion, among evangelical Christians. With exceptions noted above, most Christians, that I know, are somewhere between Darrel Falk and Todd Wood. They are generally uneasy with the idea of a 6,000 year old earth, that flies in the face of the modern scientific consensus. But neither are they convinced by a full blown concept of biological evolution, that might leave God out of the story.

There are other dialogue partners, that The Fool and the Heretic left out. For example, there are Old Earth Creationists, such as those affiliated with Reasons to Believe, who accept the modern scientific consensus in most areas, while still rejecting macroevolution, when it comes to biological theory. Old Earth Creationists have no problem accepting a 4.34 billion year old earth, and they do affirm the unique, special creation of Adam and Eve, but they do so without believing in any evolutionary linkage with prior biological lifeforms.

Along a similar vein, there are also proponents of Intelligent Design, such as at the Discovery Institute, who are contrarian to the typical Neo-Darwiniam story. Such proponents believe that an “intelligent designer” can indeed be affirmed by the scientific evidence. For those looking at a dialogue among these four perspectives, I would recommend reading Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Designreviewed about a year ago here on Veracity.

Leaving those two other, mediating positions aside, Todd Wood and Darrel Falk represent the polar opposites in the Creation debate. Furthermore, The Fool and the Heretic, makes for a fairly quick read, which makes for a helpful introduction to the discussion. But if I had to pick one side that came out a little bit better in this book, it would be Todd Wood’s approach to Creation. In reading The Fool and the Heretic, I walked away with a more sympathetic view towards Todd Wood’s particular approach to Young Earth Creationism. If only more Young Earth Creationists were like Todd Wood, it would probably greatly enhance the public image of Young Earth Creationism, and lend more credibility to the movement.

Albert Einstein, The Famed Scientist, Was Once Just a Quirky Guy

Exactly one hundred years ago this year, our view of the world was changed by a solar eclipse. It can be argued that when Albert Einstein first proposed his theory of general relativity, that he was some sort of freakish madman, going against the well-attested, time-honored views of Isaac Newton, regarding the nature of time, space, and gravity. Frankly, if it were not for the persistence of Sir Arthur Eddington, who in 1919, made the crucial observations of a solar eclipse, that confirmed the predictions made by Einstein, we might never have known of the name of Albert Einstein (I would strongly encourage readers to take in Eric Metaxas’ interview of Matthew Stanley, the author of Einstein’s War, who chronicles the story of how Arthur Eddington confirmed Einstein, in the years during and just after the First World War).

Will Todd Wood, or another Young Earth Creationist scientist like him, emerge as the next Albert Einstein, or Arthur Eddington, to be able to take predictions, made by a proponent of Young Earth Creationism, and make observations that can confirm such predictions, for which the current scientific consensus can not adequately explain? The possibility is there, even though I would think that even Todd Wood would admit that this is an uphill battle.

However, it does bear noting that an Evolutionary Creationist, like a Darrel Falk, would probably reject the word picture of an “uphill battle,” as not being severe enough. Finding a successful Young Earth Creationist proposal  would be more like trying to climb a thousand foot sheer cliff, with no climbing gear. No ropes and no crampons. With the climbing surface covered with grease.

So be it.

The rigorous dialogue continues.

But hey, if Todd Wood thinks the evidence is there, …. well…. then…. he can knock himself out at it. More power to him. Go for it.

A Nobel Prize surely awaits a Young Earth Creationist who can successfully make a prediction, while still being falsifiable, based only on a Young Earth scientific model.

In the meantime, as far as I am concerned, it is a whole lot easier to defend a view of Creation, based on evidence we do have, as opposed to appealing to evidence we do not have. In that respect, Darrel Falk has a leg up on Todd Wood, so I would tend to lean a lot more towards Darrel Falk, as having the better argument.

Nevertheless, the benefit of reading The Fool and the Heretic is to illustrate how two sincere Christian believers, can disagree so strongly, with respect to human origins, while still finding some common ground. Both scientists care deeply about wanting young people in our churches to flourish in their faith, and not be sidetracked spiritually with chronic doubts about the truthfulness of the Bible. In reviewing their dialogue, Young Earth Creationist scientist Todd Wood landed on this hopeful note: The process of having these series of talks between Darrel Falk and himself, has “been rewarding and frustrating all at the same time, but one thing I know for sure: Darrel has made me a better creationist and Christian, and I’m grateful for that.

The more I think about that, the more I respect Todd Wood, and his search for evidence towards demonstrating the validity of a Young Earth, or what he calls a “Young Age” Creationist model.

Might this dialogue between these two scientists draw some towards Todd Wood’s side, towards Young Earth Creationism, or will it draw others more towards Darrel Falk’s side, towards Evolutionary Creationism? That is hard to say.

But genuine dialogue like this vital today. As biologist Joel Duff says, in his review of The Fool and the Heretic, this book encourages all sides involved, that we “must do better. This book helps us toward that goal.” I complete concur.

Will the conflict between Young Earth and Evolutionary Creationism ever resolve? Who knows? But The Fool and the Heretic at least suggests that real dialogue is indeed possible between vastly different Christian viewpoints. My hope is that The Fool and the Heretic might offer some sort of path, to help Christians, with different interpretations of the Bible, with respect to human origins, learn how to be friends with one another, and not enemies.

 

 

 

 

 


Did God Create the World as “Perfect”… or As “Good?”

Most of us have heard the story.

God created the world in six days. On the first through fifth day, God declares what he has created to be “good.” Then, we get a step up on the sixth day, when humanity was created, God saying it was “very good.

But is “good” the same thing as “perfect?”

According to a few sermons I have heard over the years, “good” and “perfect” are synonymous. But is this Scripturally accurate? Is this really what the Bible teaches?

 

On the one hand, linking “good” and “perfect” sounds like a reasonable assumption. After all, Christians believe that God is indeed perfect. So why would God create anything other than something that was perfect?

Makes sense, right?

Many who take this view go onto believe that when Adam and Eve sinned, not only did they introduce human sin, suffering, and death into the world, they also introduced animal death and suffering into the world.  If humans had never sinned, then the animals never would have died either. This is consistent with what is considered to be a contemporary, Young Earth Creationist reading of the first few chapters of Genesis.

This is probably the strongest theological argument in favor of God creating the world, from nothing, within a span of six 24-hour days. It does make me wonder about where the mayfly fits in this timing scheme, with its life span of only 24-hours, but just go with me here….

In summary: God created the world perfectly. He would never create a world with millions of years of death, cancer, and suffering in it. For those things, we have Adam to blame. Not God.

This makes for a captivating story.

It might even be true.

But there is a difficulty with this reading of Scripture.

Take Genesis 1:2, the second verse of the Bible, before we even get to day one of Creation, for example. Here we read the first part of that verse:

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep….(ESV)

If God created this universe as “perfect,” why would he create the earth, starting out, with what was without form and void? Was this really God’s doing?

How is an earth, without form and void, “perfect?”

Or, how about a little bit later, when God speaks to the humans he has just created, on day six:

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth…..(Genesis 1:28 ESV)

The word “subdue” is highlighted, because it sounds so… well…. rough and rugged, to say the least. If God created everything “perfect,” then why would humans be called upon to subdue the earth? Why try to subdue something, if it was perfect to begin with?

Some do raise answers to such questions. For example, some claim that God’s command to subdue the earth, only applies to the ground itself, and does not include the animals. To subdue the rocky ground, for farming, is quite different from trying to subdue the animal kingdom.1

I will leave it to the reader to consider if such an answer is compelling or not.

Biblical scholars tell us that, in the days of people like Abraham and Moses, the other gods surrounding ancient Israel,  such as Marduk of the Babylonians, and Atum of the Egyptians, were pretty much a disorderly mess, particularly when it came to the creation of the world. Pagan stories about creation treated the concept of creation itself as a kind of afterthought.

The Bible, on the other hand, tells a much different story.

It tells us that the God of the Bible is a God of order. He brings order out of chaos. Perhaps this is what Genesis has in mind, when in verse 2, we read about the earth being without form and void, which is consistent with a picture of chaos. As the reader proceeds through the days of Creation, the sense of a gradual movement from chaos to order emerges, such as when the creation of light, on day one, gets superseded by the appearance of the sun and moon, on day four, to mark off the days and years.

Then we read on down to day six, where God creates humanity to have dominion over all of the good that God has created. Perhaps, this is what is going on in Genesis, that God’s act of creation is a way of bringing order out of chaos. That might help to explain why God created everything good, but not necessarily perfect.

The perfection of creation was certainly on God’s agenda, but perhaps he created humankind specifically to help bring about that perfection of Creation…. However, as the story goes on, we pretty much blew it with the whole “eating of the forbidden fruit” in the Garden episode.

This still leaves the question open as to why there was chaos to begin with, and why the earth needed to be subdued? Unfortunately, the text of Scripture does not give us a direct answer to that question. It just leaves that question out unanswered… simply hanging there.

Thankfully, whatever we make of this state of chaos, in the initial creation, and the need to subdue the earth, the New Testament completes the story, that “for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19 ESV). As God’s people experience redemption, through the power of the Cross of Christ, we look forward to the day when Christ will restore all things, and cause all of Creation to have its eager longing fulfilled.

As Christians continue to debate about the age of the earth, and exactly how God brought about the creation of the world, and what sin, evil, death, and suffering have to do with it, it is a question worth thinking about.

Notes:

1. Terry Mortenson, a scientific historian, with Answers in Genesis rightly argues that “In Genesis 1:28 man is commanded to subdue (kabash) the earth…Kabash means to take complete control of something, to make it subservient.” But then Mortenson adds, ‘The text does not say that man should subdue the animals….The fact that God uses a different verb (radah) to refer to man’s “rule” over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything that moves on the earth, strongly suggests that “subdue” relates to the non-living creation and “rule” relates to the living creatures. But nothing in the context warrants reading into “subdue it [the earth]” the idea that the creation had been filled with natural evil (death, disease, extinction, asteroid impacts, tsunamis, etc) for millions of years prior to man.’ Isolated by itself, Mortenson’s argument has a lot of appeal. Hebrew parallelism could indeed be in play here. But look more carefully at Mortenson’s contextual argument. What Mortenson ignores is the whole context of the verse, by omitting the very first part of the verse: “And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” This is a command for humans to procreate and “fill the earth” with offspring. To suggest that “”subdue’ relates to the non-living creation;” presumably the physical ground of the earth, as Mortenson does, would suggest that humans are to fill the non-living creation with living humans. Once you fill the “non-living creation” with the “living creation” of human beings, then the “earth” is no longer a non-living creation. Terry Mortenson is a smart scholar, but his exegetical argument appears to be greatly forced. I am no grammar scholar, but why anyone would find this exegesis of the text convincing is baffling. But there you have it. 


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