Religious Spin Merchants
This is a response to the article Religious Spin Merchants written by Adrian Bates and published on creation.com. Most of the major points are already adequately covered in other articles on this web site.
I should note that I, too, object to attempts to fit evolution into a Christian world-view. But my objections are based on quite different arguments than given in the referenced article; they are, I hope, better founded.
Each main heading introduces a contested point with the quotation from the above article given immediately following.
Historically the battle for biblical authority has been fought out over the meaning of the Genesis account of a 6-day creation and a young earth.
Depending on your definition of “historically”, this claim is false. Controversy over the Genesis account of creation has existed for about 150 years, since the mid-late 1800’s; in the two millennia of Christianity this was largely a non-issue, in large part since there was not any evidence to suggest otherwise. But there were a number of church fathers and Jewish commentators who contended that creation occurred instantaneously and that the days of Genesis are purely a literary device to establish order and precedent in what was created. In fact, for most of the church’s history, the controversy was over the Biblical idea of a beginning before which there was nothing and competing philosophical ideas of an eternal universe.
Although the Bible does not espouse an Aristotelian earth-centric view of the universe, it should be observed that the church has for much of its history tenaciously held on to an Aristotelian understanding for philosophical reasons, despite scriptural testimony and mounting scientific evidence to the contrary. This occured because the Bible is very much concerned with mankind, created in God’s image; however while an earth-centric philosophy stems from this focus, it is by no means required. This kind of mistake is common, conflating a peripheral inference with a fundamental teaching.
Three Short Steps – Really?!
It is sobering to observe that Romans chapter 1 shows that homosexuality is only three short steps away as people tumble down this particular slippery slope of false teaching.
- First comes a rejection of Genesis despite what is clearly seen through the creation (vv. 18-20).
- Second comes the substitution of images of birds, animals and reptiles, (evolution) (vv. 21-25).
- Third comes unbridled lust and unnatural relations (homosexuality) (vv. 26-32).
Seriously?! What an astounding and completely unfounded chain of logical reasoning.
First take note that verse in Romans actually says that “what can be known about God […] his invisible attributes […] have been clearly perceived […] in the things that have been made” (emphasis mine). It does not say “in what has been written concerning how things were made.” The point is, it is creation itself which the letter to the Romans claims is testament to God, not the scriptural account of creation. So the progression would more rightly be stated:
- The rejection of the clear evidence for God which can be seen in creation,
- The substitution of false gods modeled on that creation,
- The consequent depravity of mankind, particularly seen in sexual perversion (which, frankly, is not surprising for people who’ve become convinced they are nothing more than animals).
The evidence of what we can observe about creation strongly supports an old-age Biblical understanding. It is true that the scientific evidence undermines the idea that creation occurred in six 24 hour days of earth time, but it most certainly does not undermine the Genesis account when that account is properly understood. In fact, a case can be made that it’s young-earth creationism which “rejects” what is clearly seen of God in creation, “exchanging the truth about God for a lie”.
I would argue that truth is truth and all truth is God’s truth; therefore, Christians have no reason to be afraid of truth. We need to distinguish between facts and the interpretation of facts; between the words of scripture and the interpretation thereof. Science is mans attempt to interpret the record of nature and theology is mans attempt to interpret scripture. We should maintain a concordant model – if science and theology disagree, then either the record of nature or the record of scripture is being misinterpreted (or both).
If we can ‘interpret’ Genesis in this way, why not likewise ‘interpret’ (re-interpret?) other parts of scripture?
Simply put, we can interpret Genesis this way because it’s an interpretation which is consistent with the entire body of evidence available to us in the 21st century, including our best understanding of the ancient Hebrew in which the Genesis account is written. Our fundamental assumption should be that what God reveals about himself in creation is consistent and harmonious with what he has revealed about himself in scripture.
We interpret scripture in the light of the whole, no one part in isolation from the rest. Likewise, what we can learn about God’s creation can and should inform our understanding of scripture. A case in point is the Hebrew word Yôm in Genesis, typically translated as “day” which, absent other evidence, is a fair translation. However, since Yôm can equally mean “age”, in the light of current and reliable evidence for an old universe it is fair to adjust our interpretation of Genesis to use the “age” meaning, since the Hebrew word can mean either.
Robert C. Newman, Ph.D, Professor Emeritus of New Testament of the Biblical Theological Seminary says:
“This is a place where general revelation gives us some information to help us see that we should, perhaps, pick one of the other alternatives that are available within the range of the Hebrew language.”
We should expect that as our knowledge of scripture and science increases, our understanding and interpretation of both becomes more and more aligned with absolute truth.
I would argue that dogmatically clinging to an interpretation of scripture which runs contrary to a mounting body of evidence undermining that interpretation, is what brings intellectual disrepute on the Christian community and what leads to the rejection of the Bible and subsequently God. And I am not alone – Saint Augustine, one of the most influential theologians of the Catholic Church, suggested that the Biblical text should not be interpreted literally if it contradicts what we know from science and our God-given reason:
39. Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.
Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?
Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”
The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1 Chapter 19 Paragraph 39, AD 408; Emphasis mine
and again, he suggests strongly that we Christians ought to harmonize, where possible, our interpretation of scripture with proven facts from the physical science:
41. […] I have learnt that a man is not in any difficulty in making a reply according to his faith which he ought to make to those who try to defame our Holy Scripture. When they are able, from reliable evidence, to prove some fact of physical science, we shall show that it is not contrary to our Scripture. But when they produce from any of their books a theory contrary to Scripture, and therefore contrary to the Catholic faith, either we shall have some ability to demonstrate that it is absolutely false, or at least we ourselves will hold it so without any shadow of a doubt. […]
The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1 Chapter 20 Paragraph 41, AD 408; Emphasis mine
“You won’t remember me but I came to one of your meetings a year ago — to mock! I just want to let you know that what I learnt on that night last year blew me away, and since then the Bible has become a new book and my confidence as a Christian continues to grow.”
“A university friend of mine attended that campus meeting and what he heard that night was instrumental in his decision to follow Christ.”
Testimonies like this put the lie to yet another spin merchant’s line—that we turn university students [among others] off Christianity. As these testimonies demonstrate, nothing could be further from the truth.
Two testimonies do not an argument make. My own experience (and that of many others I have met) testify to the opposite result. The young-earth creationism (YEC) viewpoint had become for me, over a period of some two decades, a significant source of cognitive dissonance – to such an extent that I was beginning to fear that the entire Biblical revelation was unreliable. Now, having come to an understanding of old-earth creationism (OEC), I have also found peace and a far greater faith and confidence in God – and it doesn’t require me to believe that most scientists are disingenuous or liars.
On the whole, I have encountered far more people who are pushed away by the idea that the world was created in 144 hours because of the disharmony with the observational evidence. So, while it’s always possible to find some testimonies such as these, the damage is far outweighing the good. Making YEC a prerequisite to believing simply throws up one more intellectual barrier that an non-believer must overcome in order to become Christian – often that barrier is a harder one to overcome than believing in the historicity of Jesus and that he died on a cross to pay for our sins.
I was convinced for many years that the YEC view must be correct since, as I thought, it was the only view which was compatible with the Bible. However I have been persuaded that the idea that all scientific endeavor is part of a massive anti-Christian conspiracy is highly unlikely and have become convinced that the best explanation is that which fits all the evidence we have – the OEC explanation is not only Biblically sound, but is entirely consistent with God’s word.
While new discoveries may challenge the details of this integration of Scripture and science, Old-Earth Creationism remains a rational, viable and Biblical alternative that warrants thoughtful consideration.