Thursday, 1 October 2015

"Old Earth Creationism"

Tim Widowfield has a provocative entry up on Vridar about "Old Earth Creationism", with special mention of James McGrath.

McGrath is seen as the bĂȘte noire of the kind of mythicism-friendly perspective that's promoted on Vridar, and with good reason. Dr McGrath is anything but tolerant of Jesus mythicism, comparing it (unjustifiably in my opinion) to Young Earth Creationism and any number of other regressive fringe movements. The tone of debate has been acerbic from the get-go... arguably with both sides equally short tempered.

Putting aside the mythicist/historicist conflict for a moment, maybe it's useful to take a few deep breaths before a further stouch is ignited over "Old Earth Creationism".

The first point I'd want to make - at the risk of oversimplifying a complex set of developments - is the difference between European Protestant Christian thought on evolution and belief, and the American experience. American fundamentalism was a reactionary movement that took fright at the rational approach that was emerging in European Christianity at the turn of the last century. The enemy wasn't, at least directly, science; it was the spectre of fellow Christians accommodating the post- Enlightenment knowledge then emerging about our world. This process was already well underway in mainline denominations.

The second point is that while this European tradition retained great influence even after the First World War, following World War II there was a huge shift. German theologians in particular were seen as dubious and discredited - it's easy to understand why - and the progressive momentum that had been built up was swept aside. Into the vacuum came the neo-orthodox theologians. Bultmann was ditched for the thin gruel of Karl Barth and his disciples who firmly rejected what they called "liberal theology". While they were certainly not fundamentalists themselves, their theology served to facilitate a return to the kind of myopic Bible-first mindset which then abandoned the field - especially among lay people - to the bottom feeders. Southern Baptist hell-fire and guilt evangelist Billy Graham, for example, was welcomed as a respected voice of Christianity well beyond the borders of the United States.

This reactionary form of Christianity was now exported on an unprecedented scale to other parts of the world, infected with fundamentalist presuppositions; witness the rise of Pentecostalism and the "prosperity gospel". In Europe, where the established churches had understandably lost credibility due to their pathetic response - or lack thereof - to the rise of fascism, the new populist memes quickly gained ground, appropriating terms like 'evangelical' to themselves.

It follows then that it's not quite correct to say that Christians of a liberal, progressive or radical persuasion today are just trying to backtrack, or indulge in devious apologetic moves. Nor is it exactly fair to lump those who fully accept evolution in with Genesis gap theorists of the Scofield Reference Bible variety - they are very different things. A label like "Old Earth Creationism" confuses categories horribly.

Which isn't to say that Tim hasn't made some telling points. The BioLogos statement he quotes, for example, seems facile and compromising. Progressive Christianity of the Sea of Faith variety, for example, is very different from that kind of dogma.

To be clear, I'm absolutely not trying to be an apologist for any kind of theism, or atheism for that matter. But theologies, like philosophies, can be subtle beasts. It doesn't hurt to acknowledge that.

24 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting on this. It is precisely this kind of misrepresentation, taking the views of an organization like BioLogos and attributing them to me as though I held them, that convinces me that mythicism and dishonesty are inseparable.

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  2. I am a Christian and believe in evolution but I do not believe it was totally random. I believe some of it at least has been teleological. Let me add that some theistic evolutionists do believe that evolution has been wholly random. They believe that mankind could have arisen out of the reptilian line just as easily as the hominid line. There is that problem with mutations that argues against a purely random approach for speciation. Most mutations are not beneficial and make the organism less able to thrive. So some beneficent hand must have been involved in the proliferation of a near infinitude of useful mutations. But I do not believe that every evolutionary development was determined (I am not a Calvinist). Some randomness could easily be present.

    But is it evolution really if God has at times manipulated the genome? Windowfield is right, that is not pure evolution from the secular perspective. But evolutionists have formulated the concept based on the observable universe. Scientists have no tools to detect the supernatural so you wouldn't expect anything but a secular appraisal from them. And if we strip away the surface layer covering these propositions, this leads us to the old, perpetual debate about whether God exists or not.

    Widowfield declares of theistic evolutionists "they reject biblical inerrancy." This, of course, need not be a necessary companion belief to theistic evolution. I believe that the creation account in Genesis is mostly parable. I believe the same of the Book of Job - that it is a parable. These texts are inerrant in implicit principles and not as if they were journalistic reportage. The people who believe the Bible must be in all cases literal are an uneasy coalition of right wing evangelicals, atheists and agnostics.

    -- Neo

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  3. O.E.C (Old-World Creationism) (Hugh Ross, Neotherm, James McGrath?, Joseph Tkach?...) is outside of mainstream science like crackpot 9/11 conspiracies, Peak Oil theories, faked moon landing ..... you get the idea.

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    1. Please don't put me on a list of people who hold a view that I do not!

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    2. Science is a process of inquiry using the scientific method. It accumulates data. Some scientists hypothesize ways in which data might be made meaningful. They attempt to test these hypotheses. This happens all within the physical, observable envelope. Science does not take a stand on the numinous. Attempts to recruit science to the cause of theism or atheism results in nothing more than conjecture. Some conjectures are more probable than others.

      And for that matter, at one time the idea of a globular earth was outside of mainstream science --- you get the idea.

      -- Neo

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    3. Then how did God make man?

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    4. My belief is that God made man by taking hominids equipped by evolution for the purpose and gave them an advanced sentience that included the understanding of spiritual concepts - the image of god. The hominids had been in process biologically for millions of years before this particular brand of sentience was conferred. The historical Adam, if he is not wholly literary symbolism, was one of these hominids. I am led to believe by how he is treated in the Bible that he was an actual personage that gave rise to an isolated clan of Middle Eastern families who ethnocentrically regarded themselves as the only true people on earth -- probably did not even have knowledge of other peoples outside their locality until later in their history.

      -- Neo

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    5. "My belief" = you made it up out of thin air based on nothing at all. Therefore it explains nothing and is useless.

      "Science does not take a stand on the numinous." Yes, it does.

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    6. The formula you cite for "my belief" applies to you as well. Often, however, you do not qualify your opinions with this phrase.

      Cite an example where science takes a stand on the numinous and I will show you a non-scientific opinion.

      -- Neo

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    7. Neo, your statement "The formula you cite for "my belief" applies to you as well" is simply not true.

      You will not see me making an assertion like "God made man by taking hominids equipped by evolution for the purpose and gave them an advanced sentience that included the understanding of spiritual concepts - the image of god..." If I don't know how something happened, I say so. I don't just make up an explanation and assert it to be "my belief".

      That is a very big difference between me and you my friend. I am a skeptic - I do not accept an explanation unless it is backed by convincing evidence. Your approach is quite different.

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    8. Skeptic: Sorry, I don't get this at all. What I wrote was a theory. I have no way of proving it. But it seemed for me a reasonable interpretation of the data.

      I have observed that, contrary to what you state, you theorize often and do not label your statements as theory. They then have the cachet of fact but their is no evident support. As homework, you could look over past blog posts and make a collection of these.

      On the other hand, what is wrong with stating a theory and clearly labeling it as such? Happens all the time in all disciplines. Its the pathway to verified knowledge.

      Yes, there is a big difference between us but it is not the difference you cite. No doubt you are a skeptic. But even skeptics understand the difference between theory and proven fact. I was putting forward a theory and you responded as if I claimed it to be fact. Who really made the error?

      -- Neo

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    9. Neo: yes, I realize you don't get it. What you wrote was not a theory in the scientific sense. I suppose it was a "theory" in the colloquial sense, where people just make up a possible scenario and call it a theory. It may seem reasonable to you but it is one of a million such "theories" anybody could make up with just as much validity as that one. To me that's a wild guess.

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    10. Skeptic: No, it was the word theory in the Webster's dictionary sense. If you want to let this devolve into a disagreement about how to express a speculation, I realize that you don't get it.

      -- Neo

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    11. You're right, now I DON'T get it. Is it your belief or is it just a speculation? Or do you believe your own speculation to be truth?

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  4. Seems Theistic Evolution is the POISON PILL Liberal Christians must accept.

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    1. What do you mean by describing it as a poison pill, and why do you think liberal Christians must accept it? Liberal Christians certainly accept evolution, as all mainstream science, with or without adding the additional label "theistic" on it. Not all liberal Christians subscribe to something like classical theism. And so why add that label, when most of us simply accept evolution as understood by mainstream science, with no modifications or qualifications?

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    2. I admit that for some conservative Christians, like myself, acceptance of evolution did not come easy. But the genetic evidence is undeniable. C.S. Lewis, also a conservative Christian, felt like evolution was a non-issue back in the mid-Twentieth Century. To him it was just another methodology that god used. I did not subscribe to that idea until I read Francis Collins' book about the findings DNA research entitled "The Language of God".

      It is not a poison pill (BTW, I am sure HWA would approve of your use of all caps) but a step towards enlightenment. And "liberal Christians" would have never had a problem with it. In fact, I am not sure what you statement means.

      -- Neo

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    3. I agree that evolution is a step towards enlightenment. My wish for Christians is that they will continue along this path and take many more steps toward enlightenment.

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    4. The direction, I fear, that you regard as the path to enlightenment is really the path to nothing.

      -- Neo

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    5. "Please don't put me on a list of people who hold a view [of theistic evolution]... I do not!"
      --"most of us simply accept evolution as understood by mainstream science" J. McGrath

      So then how did life on earth begin?

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  5. We do not know - whatever transpired, it was at an early phase and a molecular level, making it the sort of event that will not leave behind clear traces. We can engage in educated guesswork, but it is unlikely that we will ever be certain, although we may be able to narrow down one scenario evntually as much more probable than others.

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    1. "We do not know - whatever transpired.."
      Why even bother being a Christian if he was just a man with no divine preexistence?
      Might as well make a cult out of Mark Twain, at least his aphorisms are original!

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    2. This has to be one of the strangest responses I have ever seen. Scientific knowledge about a particular event is hard to come by, therefore Jesus was not pre-existent, therefore let's worship Mark Twain.

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  6. That's actually a pretty good answer.

    Actually, the line between life and non-life is fuzzier than most of us think. At the macro level, it's easy. An animal is alive; a tree is alive; a rock is not. But life did not begin at the macro level. It began, as James says, at the molecular level. And at the molecular level there are all kinds of interesting phenomena and it is not at all easy (or possible) to draw a finite line between the living and the nonliving. Amoebas are considered life, as are bacteria. Viruses? More basic structures that contain some elements of these?

    What is the definition of life? Usually a cellular structure is involved, as is the ability to reproduce and some sort of electrical activity. But structures that are considered non-living, such as warm, wet clay, have many of the same features as microscopic organisms that are considered "life".

    Much is yet to be learned; however, the clear boundary line between life and non-life that we see at the macro level becomes much less clear at the microscopic level. It looks a bit like a continuum. Perhaps there was no discreet event where "life" was created, it just proceeded in the course of time from natural events.

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