Tag Archives: creation

Tenacity: John C. Whitcomb

John C. Whitcomb Jr., one of the early pioneers of the contemporary Young Earth Creationist movement, died on February 4th.

John C. Whitcomb, Jr. 1924-2020

In 1961, John Whitcomb teamed up with a hydraulic engineer, Henry M. Morris, to write The Genesis Flood, the foundational book that launched today’s Young Earth Creationist movement. Whitcomb was a theologian at Grace Theological Seminary, and he sought out Morris, who was then the chair of the civil engineering program, at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia. Combining Whitcomb’s knowledge of the Bible and Morris’ knowledge of science, the two collaborated in articulating the now, well-known thesis, that a global flood, as described by a traditional interpretation of the Book of Genesis, could sufficiently explain the existence of the fossil record, in an attempt to show that science could be synchronized with a traditional understanding of the Bible.

Other leading evangelical thinkers, such as Edward John Carnell, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, were determined to persuade Whitcomb and Morris, that their project was ill-advised, and at one point, the preferred publisher, Moody Press, refused to publish the book. But Whitcomb and Morris persisted with tenacity, and so the idea that the earth was only 6,000 years old, and not 4.34 billion years old, as maintained by the scientific consensus, took off in the imagination of thousands of Bible believing Christians.

In subsequent years, organizations such as Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis would expand on the themes articulated by the Whitcomb/Morris “flood geology” thesis, proposing that dinosaurs lived together with humans, in recent earth history, before the great flood. Such ideas have stood to be contrary to the reigning contemporary scientific consensus, that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, long before the appearance of humans on planet earth.

Despite the fact that The Genesis Flood has had virtually no impact on the modern scientific enterprise, as taught by a plethora of public schools, universities, and Smithsonian museums, Whitcomb and Morris’ thesis has continued to generate controversy in evangelical churches across America. Dr. Whitcomb was also known for his defense of a classic 6th century B.C.E. date and traditional authorship of the Book of Daniel.

The Genesis Flood. The 1961 classic text that upset well over a century of sophisticated evangelical views supporting “millions of years” of earth’s history in favor of a radical concept of “flood geology,” in attempt to bring back an appeal to a literal, 24-hour day view of a Young Earth Creation.

I first made an attempt to read The Genesis Flood during my years as a mathematics major in college, while studying other scientific disciplines as electives. While I was attracted to Whitcomb’s appeal to the Bible’s authority, I remained unconvinced by his thesis. It was not until 20 years later that I actually began a written correspondence with Dr. Whitcomb. In his letters, between the two of us, over several months, I was impressed by his earnest appeal, and even more impressed by his gentle piety, in commending his ideas towards me. In particular, Dr. Whitcomb was clearly tenacious in holding his interpretation of the Bible, despite my attempts to encourage him to consider other alternatives.

“Agreeing to disagree,” on non-essential matters of the Christian faith, can lead to having some difficult conversations. But in my interactions with Dr. Whitcomb, I came to treasure his candor and gentle demeanor when engaging in controversial subjects. God used that time of correspondence with Dr. Whitcomb in my life, to help me to have a greater love for others, and encourage an interest in building bridges with other believers, even when agreement in sensitive matters, is not always easy to be had.

While I am open to the possibility of Dr. Whitcomb’s thesis, I am still not convinced that his understanding of Scripture, nor his understanding of the science, is correct. Nevertheless, I consider Dr. Whitcomb as a dear brother in the Lord, who genuinely desired that others may come to know and love the Creator of the universe, and so I grieve his death, yet knowing that he is surely with the Lord Jesus now. One day, I hope to be able to have a conversation with Dr. Whitcomb, where we will both surely learn the exact extent of what the flood really was, and exactly how old the earth really is.

The Baptist Bulletin has published a generous remembrance of Dr. Whitcomb’s life. Ken Ham, at Answers In Genesis, also wrote a remembrance of Dr. Whitcomb.


Were There Humans Before Adam Was Created?

During the great age of exploration of the 15th and 16th centuries, European Christians faced a nagging problem in how they read their Bibles. Traditional belief understood that all humans were descended from a single human couple, Adam and Eve, as taught in Genesis 2. But as folks like Christopher Columbus set forth on their famous journeys, they ran into humans no one ever expected. Thinking he was near India, Columbus thought of them as “Indians.” But Columbus was nowhere near India.

This created a problem: Who were these Native Americans? Where did they come from? And how did they get to the Americas?

The most popular theory that emerged speculated that these Native Americans were the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, the people of the biblical Northern Kingdom, which according to the Bible, was overrun by the Assyrians, over 700 years before Jesus was born. A common example can be traced back to 1660, when a New England Puritan missionary to some of these Native Americans, John Eliot, helped to spread this idea, to English settlers coming to the New World.

Then there was a well-known 19th century attempt to solve this problem. A New York treasure hunter had a read a book by an American Congregationalist minister, Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, that explored this possible connection between the Native Americans and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, in considerable detail. Yet this treasure hunter, Joseph Smith, was to popularize this view through his translation of the Book of Mormon, capitalizing on the same theme, and thereby creating a uniquely American sect of Christian religion. Aside from the Mormons themselves, no one takes this view seriously today.

Most researchers conclude that the ancestors of today’s Native Americans came across the Bering Straight from Russia, within the past 35,000 years, but probably no less than roughly 16,500 years ago. So, does this mean that the Bible got it wrong, when it came human origins?

The Naming of the Animals, by John Miles of Northleach 1781-1849 (media credit: sothebys.com). Adam named the animals, but were there any other humans existing at the time, who were not in the picture (outside the Garden, in the Americas?)

There is more to the story. The efforts of Ethan and Joseph Smith (not related), were preceded in the 17th century by French theologian Isaac La Peyrère. La Peyrère, who had a Marrano Jewish background, was originally a Calvinist, though he later converted to Roman Catholicism. La Peyrère’s proposal endeavored to solve some persistent problems in biblical interpretation, in the process of explaining the origin of peoples like the Native Americans.

Isaac La Peyrère’s Biblical Reconstruction of Human Origins

In Genesis 4 we read that after the murder of his brother Abel, Cain obtained a wife and built a city. But the text gives us no description as to where his wife and the population of this city came from. Many Young and Old Earth Creationists propose Cain must have had a sister, another unknown child of Adam and Eve, and that Cain must have married her. But this introduces yet the strange difficulty that God might have changed his moral law to allow such an incestuous relationship to take place. For Christians today, who believe that God’s law prohibiting same-sex relations never changes, such an exception to incest, in the case of Cain, is problematic.

La Peyrère concluded that there must have been a human population existing alongside Adam and Eve, from where Cain could have obtained his wife. La Peyrère appealed to another biblical passage to further his case. In Romans 5:12-14 (ESV), we read:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

The troublesome phrase here is highlighted. Who were those whose sinning was not like Adam’s transgression? What was the Apostle Paul talking about here? La Peyrère suggested:

if Adam sinned in a morally meaningful sense there must have been an Adamic law according to which he sinned. If law began with Adam, there must have been a lawless world before Adam, containing people” (Almond, Philip C. (1999). Adam and Eve in Seventeenth-Century Thought. p. 53)

La Peyrère’s solution was to challenge the long-held traditional view, that the creation of humans on day six, in Genesis 1, was the same event as the creation of Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden in Genesis 2. It has been long recognized that syncing up the events on day six of creation, in Genesis 1, with the events described in Genesis 2, is not without difficulty (I go into detail in this previous Veracity blog post).

La Peyrère proposed that Genesis 1 speaks of the creation of a human population, and that these humans pre-existed Adam and Eve. Specifically, Genesis 1 has no mention of a single couple being created. These humans were the start of the Gentile, or non-Jewish peoples.In Genesis 2, Adam and Eve, on the other hand, were the start of the Jewish people, from whom the Messiah would come to redeem the world.

La Peyrère further went onto suggest that these Gentile peoples in Genesis 1 eventually became geographically isolated the Adam and Eve descendants, and eventually unknown to Adam and Eve’s progeny. So, when we get to the story of Noah and the flood, La Peyrère argued that the great flood was local in scope, wiping out the then known humanity of Adam and Eve’s descendants, and thereby not touching the other unknown humans who had migrated elsewhere around the globe.

Even though La Peyrère made a clever proposal, Jewish, Calvinist and Roman Catholic theologians of his day condemned La Peyrère’s “pre-Adamism” as a heresy. His 1653 book on the subject, Præadamitæ, was burned in an effort to censor his views. La Peyrère escaped the death penalty himself by supposedly retracting his views, though copies of his book have survived.

In view of events in subsequent years, the theologians of the day were probably correct in rejecting La Peyrère’s teachings (La Peyrère had other peculiar ideas that caught the attention of the enlightenment philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, one of the fathers of modern skepticism). Furthermore, in the 19th century, scientists used pre-Adamite theories about humanity, like that taught by La Peyrère, as a justification for racism. Before the rise of Charles Darwin, many scientists believed not in one human race, but rather, in multiple human races, who were distinguished based on the color of a person’s skin. Defenders of Christian orthodoxy were surely right in rejecting such views.

Despite whatever disagreements many Christians have with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, both Darwin and the Bible share the common view that humans, of all colors, shapes, and sizes, share the same humanity. As a result, no scholar today would contend against the notion that we all share a common humanity.

However, other, modern developments in evolutionary biology complicate matters, when it comes to trying to synchronize science with a traditional interpretation of the Scriptural text. For example, we have continuing questions about the presence of hominids, or pre-human creatures, like the Neanderthals. Where do they fit in the Bible’s story? Archaeological research today suggests that modern humans rose out of East Africa, and not, strictly speaking, the Middle East. Then there is the research on the human genome, for which many genetic scientists argue that the earliest human population had upwards to 10,000 individuals… and NOT 2!

In view of these developments, some Old Earth Creationists, and even perhaps Evolutionary Creationists, look to some elements of La Peyrère’s work today as a potential solution. For example, Genesis 1 could be understood as referring to humans originally created in East Africa, some of whom eventually migrated to the Middle East, the traditional location of the Genesis 2 narrative. Furthermore, if La Peyrère is correct, then there is effectively no difficulty in associating a Bering Sea crossing of the ancestors of the Native Americans, to populate the Americas over 10,000 years ago, and no need to appeal any “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel” proposal as an alternative means of explanation. As with a lot of things like this, research in these areas have a speculative component.

Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1675), who wrote under the pen name of Samuel Maresius. Some find him as a precursor to modern biblical criticism, but others see him as a pious scholar, who sought to solve a nagging problem in biblical chronology. He was also known as an early proponent of a type of Christian Zionism, believing that the returning Messiah would join the king of France, to set up rule in Jerusalem, and rebuild the Temple.

An Objection to La Peyrère: How to Interpret Genesis 3:20?

For example, one of the most serious problems with La Peyrère’s proposal is with Adam’s naming of Eve, in Genesis 3:20 (ESV), that “she was the mother of all living.” For many students of Scripture, this single verse makes La Peyrère’s proposal of other humans living before and alongside Adam and Eve, a non-starter. Traditionally, this verse has been assumed to teach that every human person ever born, was and is, a physical descendant of Eve, herself. But is this interpretation the only possible way of reading this text?

For example, taking this verse too literally would be absurd. Does the text really mean that every living thing comes from Eve, like every plant and animal? Surely not. Adam was already living, by the time Eve came along, so there must be some limitation to the notion of Eve being “the mother of all living.”

As it turns out, different translations of Genesis 3:20 might give us a different clue as to how this verse should be interpreted. For example, in the NIV 2011 translation, we read the whole verse as: “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.”  Taking this in a reasonable, yet still strictly literal fashion, the highlighted “would become” might imply that Eve is the mother of all who would come after her, but not the mother of all humans, already living at the time Adam named her.

For those who wonder how the ancient story of Genesis might be correlated with the discoveries of modern science, La Peyrère’s ideas might be worth considering. There are still questions out there that are difficult to answer. Nevertheless, the bottom line should be evident: Those who insist that science somehow “disproves” the Bible can be safely set aside.


Intelligently Designed: Phillip E. Johnson

I had the privilege of joining the University of Berkeley legal scholar, Phillip E. Johnson, for dinner with some friends, several years ago, before he gave a lecture at our church on Intelligent Design. Johnson, who wrote the 1991 landmark book, Darwin on Trial, died in early November, 2019. Professor Johnson, a gracious and kind gentleman, nevertheless puzzled me. Why would Johnson, as a lawyer, spend so much of his intellectual energy, challenging Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution? Why would a lawyer bother with biological science?

Johnson had a been a successful legal scholar, rising to the top level of his career, when in his 30’s, his life began to fall apart. His marriage failed, and he felt like he was going nowhere in his academic career. He then became a Christian, he remarried, and he gradually decided to invest his life in something more, something that really mattered.

When he read Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, he was baffled by the logical argumentation employed by Dawkins’ all-encompassing evolutionary worldview. Johnson then made it his mission to understand and expose Dawkins’ logical flaws. In many ways, Phillip E. Johnson was the “godfather” of the contemporary Intelligent Design movement, reinvigorating the late 18th century (early 19th century) Christian apologetics of the British clergyman, William Paley, who first articulated the watchmaker analogy, promoting intelligent design.

By observing the behavior of the Ichneumonidae group of parasitoid wasps, that devour their hosts alive from the inside out, Charles Darwin had rejected William Paley’s argument: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.” Darwin was most well-known for his Origin of Species, but he also extended his arguments in works like his The Descent of Man, suggesting that evolution was an “unguided” and “undirected” process.

Johnson believed that the “unguided” and “undirected” elements of Darwin’s theory had horrific implications that extended beyond the domain of biology. The “purpose-less-ness” advocated by modern defenders of Darwin, like Richard Dawkins, tore at the very fabric of Judeo-Christian culture. Johnson marshaled his legal training against Darwin, combatting against the pro-Darwinian trends within academia.

Johnson’s counter-arguments to Darwin gained sympathy among a growing cadre of intellectuals, including Christians like Michael Behe and Stephen Myers, and many non-Christians as well, including Jonathan Wells, a member of the Unification Church (the Moonies). This eventually encouraged the growth of the Discovery Institute, a think-tank dedicated towards refuting Darwinian evolution. In this sense, Phillip E. Johnson’s “Intelligent Design” movement is not specifically a Christian, biblically-based movement. Technically speaking, the “designer” in “Intelligent Design” need not be the God of the Bible. It could even be some super-intelligent life-form, from the reaches of outer space. Rather, “Intelligent Design” is but one apologetic strategy, that has been used by at least some Christians to defend a Christian, biblical worldview. Yet in many ways, Johnson’s broadly argued case for “Intelligent Design” has been a rallying point, a unifying effort to break the impasse that divides Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists.

Nevertheless, Johnson’s critique against Charles Darwin has been very controversial, even within the church. For one thing, even atheistic scientists concede that there are a number of elements of Darwin’s theory of evolution that are no longer accepted within the larger scientific community. For example, Darwin knew nothing about genetics. We have Austrian monk Gregor Mendel to thank for giving us the contemporary scientific consensus as to how genes actually work… NOT Darwin.

But among Christians, the controversy over Johnson’s work centers around the definition of that slippery word, “evolution.” By “evolution,” does one actually mean “micro-evolution,” whereby small changes within species happens? Or does one mean “macro-evolution,” with large scale biological changes among plants and animals? What is meant by “directed” or “undirected” evolution?

Most Christians are willing to concede the principle of “micro-evolution.” Yet even the most ardent Young-Earth Creationist will argue that “macro-evolution,” at the level of biological families (though NOT beyond that!), indeed did happen, in a highly accelerated manner, after the global flood of Noah, as a means of explaining the extraordinary biological diversity we see today. Proponents of “Intelligent Design” have fashioned themselves as opponents of “theistic evolution,” despite the claim that Michael Behe, one of “Intelligent Design’s” greatest advocates, is actually a “theistic evolutionist” himself! Christians are all over the map when it comes to defining what they mean by “evolution.”

Phillip Johnson’s efforts to see the Intelligent Design movement expand more into popular education stalled in 2005, when a judge in a Pennsylvania federal court, against the Dover School District, ruled that the teaching of “Intelligent Design” violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  But “Intelligent Design” still lives on, as a vital intellectual force, as evidenced by the popularity of such films as Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”

Phillip Johnson’s arguments for “Intelligent Design” will surely survive his death. How well they will convince those living in the next generation yet remains to be seen. The larger consensus among academic scientists still rejects “Intelligent Design” as pseudo-science. Some theologians, who possess scientific training, such as Oxford’s Alister McGrath, are concerned that “Intelligent Design” leaves Christian apologetics vulnerable to a type of “God of the Gaps” theology, that does not adequately serve as the best way to defend the Christian faith. Nevertheless, best-selling books by Intelligent Design advocates, such as Stephen C. Myers, continue to be enthusiastically read. All the while, many Young Earth Creationists regard “Intelligent Design” as a halfway attempt to uphold Christianity, that does not go far enough in defending the Bible. I still have lingering questions myself, following my dinner with Phillip E. Johnson, some years ago. Nevertheless, the legacy of Phillip E. Johnson will continue to give many a lot to think about, for years to come.


Did Abraham Receive the Call to Go to Canaan While in Haran, or in Ur?

Answering this question is actually a fairly easy one to tackle. But there are two ways to go about it, and each way gives us a different picture of what the biblical writer is trying to do in Genesis.

In Genesis 11:26-32, we get the story about Terah, the father of Abraham (whose name was slightly different at this point, “Abram.”):

When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 
Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. 
Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran (Genesis 11:26-32 ESV).

In summary, Abraham’s family moves from the land of Ur (in modern day Iraq), to Haran (in modern day Turkey), an area about half-way along the journey, across the Fertile Crescent, well short of reaching Canaan.

Continue reading


Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design: A Book Review

If I had to pick one book that concisely gives an overview of the controversy over human origins, Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design would be it. Part of Zondervan’s Counterpoint series, this book manages to pull together four of the leading Christian thinkers, about science and faith issues, to have them dialogue with one another in a spirit of charity and mutual respect (…for the most part).

I have been looking forward to this book for some time, as the writers are the most visible representatives of their respective positions in the evangelical Christian world today. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum and Kentucky’s Ark Encounter, defends a Young Earth Creationist position. Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, defends an Old Earth Creationist position. Deborah Haarsma, president of Biologos, defends an Evolutionary Creationist position. Stephen C. Meyer, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, defends an Intelligent Design position. Each contributor wrote an essay for the book, and the other three contributors wrote a response to that essay, followed by a rejoinder, by the original essayist.

There is simply no other book resource available today that gathers these differing points of view together in one volume, on this difficult topic. That, in and of itself, is a major accomplishment. A verse in Proverbs makes the point: The first to state his case seems right, until another comes and cross-examines him (Proverbs 18:17 CSB). Sadly, many Christians only hear one point of view, failing to consider other perspectives, leading to mistrust of other believers who might see things somewhat differently.

This is not to say all points of view are correct. They are not. There is but one truth. But it is difficult to properly uphold the truth, if you have not taken the time to consider other biblically responsible options. Proverbs suggests that we should hear one another out before making a firm judgment. Continue reading


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