Saturday, July 06, 2013

What should a good Christian "origins" science program cover?

Considering the discussion over the last few days, I thought I would attempt a first-draft summary statement of what I think a really quality Christian science program would cover when it comes to origins.

My view: A top-quality science curriculum should discuss the various views and talk not only about the arguments in favor of each view, but about their problems . . . i.e., why advocates of each view are in favor of the view, and why opponents find fault with them. –It can be exceptionally difficult to present all of these positions fairly, but, I believe, fairness is necessary.

Okay. So what views should one cover?

Some typical viewpoints I have seen discussed include these:
  • non-theistic evolution
  • theistic evolution
  • young-earth creationism
  • old-earth creationism.
Some may also throw in a discussion of Intelligent Design.

I think such a list is good . . . as far as it goes.

The problem I find--and I am thankful to Ken Ham and friends at Answers in Genesis for opening my eyes to this matter 14 years ago . . . --The problem I find is how such a list tends to cut out any discussion of the biblical evidence. And it is the Bible that leads in AiG's/Ken Ham's young-earth creationist argument. And, in my mind--again in agreement with Ham and AiG--any curriculum that claims to be Christian needs a discussion of biblical evidence to play a central role . . . at least to the extent that the Bible has evidence to bring to the table.

As a result, I believe a discussion of origins requires quite a bit more nuance than the four (or, possibly, five) options mentioned above.

And so I would like to propose the following divisions for discussion/presentation in a thorough Christian "origins" program:
  • Theism or naturalism? --Clearly, Christians will opt for theism. But the topic of biblical theism v. naturalism and, perhaps, pantheism, needs to be discussed. I imagine this is the place you might want to address the Intelligent Design school of argumentation, though I don't see its success as essential to a theistic worldview, nor its failure as a death knell for such a worldview.
Assuming a biblical theistic viewpoint, then, I believe we need to discuss the following matters:
  • Biblical concordism or non-concordism? Some questions to address: How should we read Genesis 1-3 (let alone 4-11)?
    • Should we look for concord [agreement/peace] between what we read in Genesis 1 and 2 (at least) and how a scientist might describe the beginnings of the cosmos, the biosphere and humankind? [I.e.: Even though the language of the Bible, obviously, isn't going to be scientifically precise in any modern sense of the term, do the biblical descriptions of the beginning of the world and humankind generally match what modern scientists would say? Or, put another way: If we look at the “testimony” of science, should we expect to find that it corroborates what we read in Genesis 1 and 2? (If our answer is YES, then we are concordists. Examples of concordist positions: young-earth creationism; progressive creationism (Hugh Ross); gap theory; day-age theory; etc.)]
    • Should we abandon any attempt to find concord between science and Genesis 1 and 2 and, instead, look solely to science for clues with respect to how and when God created? [I.e.: Even though, based on numerous Scriptural references, we should recognize that God created the cosmos and everything in it, should we read the text of Genesis 1 and 2 as something other than literal history and, therefore, not expect or even attempt to show some kind of correlation to what scientists would have to say and what we read in Genesis 1 and 2? –If our answer to this question is YES, then we are non-concordists. Examples of non-concordist positions: John Walton’s “cosmic temple” interpretation; Johnny Miller and John Soden’s “apologetic against Egyptian mythology” interpretation; etc.)]
  • Old-earth (i.e., billions of years) or young-earth (i.e., 6,000 to possibly 10,000 or maybe even 12,000 years old)? Questions to ask: What are we to believe about how old the earth is? What evidence do we find for how old the earth is?

    NOTE: For presuppositionalist young-earthers like Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, the Bible itself provides much or virtually all of the evidence . . . all of the evidence that really matters. As Tas Walker of AiG expressed it to me back in 1999: “Since we believe the Bible is the Word of God, we start with the Bible. . . . The Bible clearly teaches that the world is young. . . . So, now that we have established that the world is young (~6000 years), we are ready to come to the [scientific] evidence.”

    I mention this because, once more, if someone is going to argue against a presuppositionalist young-earth viewpoint, he or she must present strong evidence for why he or she believes the Bible does not teach a young (approximately 6,000-year-old) earth history . . . and/or, even more difficult, convince these evangelicals why the standard formulas of evangelical beliefs about the Bible should be abandoned or reformulated.
    (When I say what I just said, I am referring to such documents as The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics which, in Part 2 of Article XIII, declares, “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly by imposed on Biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.” That certainly sounds good, but how do we know whether a biblical narrative is presenting itself as factual? --The Statement doesn't address the problem. Though The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy does state,
    We affirm
    that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.
    We deny that the teachings of Genesis 1-11 are mythical and that scientific hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.
    And the grounds for affirming the full factuality of Genesis 1-11? . . . --I'm sorry. I'm not trying to get into the details of what a solid Christian course in "origins" will cover. But I am trying to tease out at least a few of the ugly/niggly details that such a course--and/or the advocates of certain positions--will need to address.

    My point here was "simply" to show that those who want to argue against a young-earth presuppositionalist view are going to have to address issues related to well-accepted evangelical statements of faith and not only the scientific evidence.)
  • What mechanism did God use to create the earth and all that is within it: Unmediated (“word spoken --[yields]-- thing created”) or Mediated (“word spoken --[creates/establishes]-- PROCESS (some type of evolution?) --[which yields]-- thing created”)? To what kind of evidence can we point for our views?
Once we tease out these four primary questions, we find the following options:

Atheistic Theistic
Evolution Mediated Creation
(i.e., in the current scientific environment,
Evolutionary Creation)
Unmediated Creation

And then, as best as I can understand, these are the theistic options:

Relationship of Scripture and Science
Concordist Non-Concordist
Age of Earth Old-EarthProgressive Creation (à la Hugh Ross)
Mediated (Evolutionary) Creation
(includes Day-Age, Gap, and other
such theories)
Mediated (Evolutionary) Creation
(at least hypothetically)
Unmediated Creation
[I am unaware of any unmediated
non-concordist creationists]
Young-EarthUnmediated Creation
(à la Ken Ham)
[Scientific data w/o
concordist interpretation generally
leads away from Young-Earth view]

If you have any additional suggestions, recommendations, criticisms, or other contributions to make, I would be most grateful for your input!
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