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Ham & Nye

Did anyone watch the debate over Creationism vs. Evolution, between Ken Ham and Billy Nye? What did you think? Any thoughts?

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Comments on "Ham & Nye":
1. Karl - 02/10/2014 5:23 pm CST

Oh boy. You really are out to get the posts moving, aren't you?

I liked the post on the debate over at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog by RJS, a tenured science professor at the University of Michigan. Her short post is well worth reading:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/02/06/the-great-debate-nye-vs-ham-rjs/

Overall, I thought Ham made one decent point - Bill Nye overstates his case when he claims that creationists can't do good science. The scientists that Ham had on video were a good refutation of that claim. As RJS says in the aforementioned piece, what Ham refers to as "observational science" is sufficient for most day-to-day engineers and many scientists. Point to Ham.

The rest of the debate I think went solidly to Nye. First because I think he's correct (on the science, not with regard to his metaphysical claims and theological ignorance) but secondly because I think Nye scored a lot more points while Ham took the opportunity to preach. Kudos for his boldness but in that forum it doesn't count as points scored toward the issue ostensibly being debated.

I appreciate the folks over at Biologos, the organization started by Francis Collins (evangelical Christian, head of the human genome project and author of "The Language of God"). They had some reactions to the debate on their blog from a couple different areas of science as well as a theologian in a post titled "Ham on Nye: Our Take"
http://biologos.org/blog/ham-on-nye-our-take

Toward the end of the debate, when the question was posed re. what it would take to change their minds, Ham made clear he will never change his mind but like any good conspiracy theorist will instead morph his theory to conform to any new discoveries. Nye simply replied "evidence." If it wasn't already over by TKO at that point, the fight should have been stopped right then and there IMO.

I seriously doubt the whole circus changed the mind of anyone who came into it already fairly set in his or her view. From a Christian standpoint, I would much prefer to have seen Ham debate Francis Collins or someone else from Biologos - someone who could speak as a believing orthodox Christian so that the debate stayed centered on the science and didn't get as muddied by Nye's metaphysical and biblical ignorance. I'm afraid too many Christians will dismiss Nye outright b/c of some of those unfortunate statements of his when they might have had a more open ear to a fellow believer.

2. Neo - 02/11/2014 10:16 am CST

I enjoyed the part where they discussed the literal meaning of Gen.1:28, and how important it is for Christian families to go easier on the birth control pill and vasectomies... and, oh wait, I must have dreamed that part, as this whole debate just puts me to sleep.

3. Karl - 02/11/2014 11:05 am CST

The reason I care about this issue is that I think far too many conservative Christian youth are given the false impression that they must choose between believing in the young-earth beliefs taught by Ken Ham on the one hand, and rejecting their faith on the other (if they come to believe that Ham's views are scientifically untenable). I personally was taught basically this at the Christian school I attended K-12. Some are able to survive the transition with their faith intact. But too many accept the false dichotomy and reject belief altogether once they've taken a college science course or two. As a poster on another blog said regarding the Ham-Nye debate:

"From being in Christian school until I was 15, refuting evolution was more emphasized in our classrooms than what it looks like to follow Jesus (at least, that was more impressed upon my memory). I recall my 8th grade science teacher saying how after she became a Christian, she tried being a theistic evolutionist for awhile, but that "God told her she couldn't." So often the choice was put as being either evolution or Christianity. To this day, it's hard for me to set aside that mindset as I read more about origins and science. Sigh."

There is another post by U of Michigan science professor RJS up at Jesus Creed pointing out that Ham's view rests on a particular understanding of Genesis and accompanying theological pre-commitments. Again I think it is well worth reading if you are sincerely interested in this topic:

"Ken Ham’s approach at Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum is not really founded on disagreements about science. It is founded, without exception, on a specific view of scripture. Ken Ham advocates a “natural reading” that takes Genesis 1-11 as a factual, event oriented, history book, akin to a modern text book on World War II say, but with divinely instilled perfection. Science comes into the picture only because modern science conflicts with the young earth view of origins. Given this prior commitment, creation science attempts to find ways to fit observations into a young earth scenario under the conviction that there must be a way. Unfortunately the observations don’t really cooperate, and the difficulties continue to pile up."

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/02/11/it-starts-with-genesis-rjs/

4. Bill - 02/11/2014 11:27 am CST

I too know one person (a fire-breathing atheist these days, but he was a kid in our student ministry ten years ago) who told me that he lost his faith when someone in the army refuted his creationist views. I found this very disheartening - for starters, I don't remember us preaching creationism in our student ministry but he seemed to think it was a prerequisite.

Our faith is based on Jesus Christ, crucified and risen again. So it bothers me that people can see YEC as an essential of the faith.

That being said, I'm not a biologist :-) - I don't know exactly where I stand. I think the main issue I have with the traditional view of evolution is that we have to adjust our understanding of how death entered the world, or understand better what is meant by death. The Bible teaches that death and the curse entered through man's sin. The evolutionary view says death is the vital engine of our development. I can't square those. Anyone have a view on that?

5. Karl - 02/11/2014 1:39 pm CST

Bill, here are thoughts from several different Christians regarding the issue of death before the fall:
http://christianlifehacker.com/death-before-fall/

For biblical conservatives the question of the tree of life is a good one. Why would a tree of life exist prior to the fall alongside a tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why the concern post-fall that Adam/Eve might eat of that tree of life and become immortal - which apparently they weren't previously? Why do creationists seem to exempt plants from the no-death-before-the-fall status quo (I mean, those herbivorous lions must have eaten something, right?). What about the bacterial death that goes on in the digestive tract? That Genesis is referring to a spiritual death resulting from the fall seems to make a lot more sense to me. Good scientific theories generally help to explain observable data rather than create more problems for every one they address. It seems that every time YECs try to provide a solution to a particular problem, they end up creating a large number of new problems that are raised by their "theory." That is certainly the case with the no-death-before-the-fall hardline position, IMO.

I'm not a biologist either. But I trust the word of the vast majority of believing Christians who have advanced degrees in fields like biology, geology, astronomy, etc. who find young earth creationism untenable. Leave the atheists and agnostics out of it for the time being. Even among believing scientists, young earth creationism is a small minority and as Ham demonstrated bases its position not on an interpretation of God's general revelation in nature, but rather on a prior non-negotiable commitment to a particular interpretation of Genesis, into which they are determined to find a way to fit the data and any new observations.

There is so much out there on the topic that a lay person can understand. There are pleas from Augustine and Calvin asking believers not to make naive proclamations about the heavens or the created order based on simplistic readings of scripture (that was never intended to give answers to those things) when the accepted science of the day seemed to clearly show the naive Christians to be wrong. There are lay-level explanations from biologos and other sources geared to a Christian audience that take Christians' theological concerns into account rather than being dismissive of them. There are books out there by thoughtful, orthodox Old Testament scholars wrestling with both the best science and solid OT interpretation with an understanding of the ancient near eastern world. I don't think just shrugging one's shoulders and saying "well there's a disagreement so it must be kind of 50-50 and who am I as a non-scientist to choose a side" is a good option anymore. Or rather maybe it is privately. But I don't think it is if one is going to make public statements or do any teaching on the matter.

6. Bill - 02/11/2014 1:51 pm CST

Thanks Karl - good comment:

I don't think just shrugging one's shoulders and saying "well there's a disagreement so it must be kind of 50-50 and who am I as a non-scientist to choose a side" is a good option anymore.

Is that what you think I said? Did I say "50-50"? Or are you just reading into what I said.

Listen. I am not a biologist. My point was that as a non-biologist (geologist, etc) I have tried to avoid arguing the creation side from a scientific point of view, because I don't know what I'm talking about.

I feel the same way when people who know nothing about the Bible try to argue theology based on proof-texts and stuff they read on atheist sites.

That's really all I was trying to say.

That being said :-) - I get in discussions about YEC about once a decade. So I don't see the moral imperative you do in spending what little time I have going from 1% educated on this subject to 3% educated on it (after 200 hours of reading). I will still be only 3% educated, because the fields I chose to go into included Computer science and (as a personal conviction) theology.

As a computer scientist, I felt the same way back in 1999 when people who had spent a few hours reading alarming websites told me the world was about to end because at midnight on 1/1/2000 all the computers and devices in the world would stop. Now, if they had spent a few hundred more hours examining the topic, they might have gotten more educated, but there's almost no way they could come up to speed on the 4 years of college and 15 years of real-world experience, every single day, that I had on the subject (I realize this sounds very pompous. I apologize). And - of course - the company I worked for did take steps to resolve any issues we might have found w the Y2K thing.

Sorry for the long comment.

I don't plan on making public statements on YEC or teaching on it anytime soon.

(and - all this being said - thanks for the resources. I know they are valuable).

7. Bill - 02/11/2014 1:53 pm CST

And, a further addendum, I will probably take a look at the items you posted regarding how to interpret "death entered the world" . . .

8. Karl - 02/11/2014 3:21 pm CST

Bill, after I posted the comment I realized that I wasn't being clear or fair with that shrugging shoulders, 50-50 comment. As you rightly pointed out that's not exactly what you said. What you said reminded me enough of an attitude - one that seems prevalent out there among Christians who use similar statements as what strikes me as a copout on this issue - that I went there with my comment. Even though you didn't say enough for me to state that this was your attitude, personally. What I meant was more along the lines of "what you say reminds me of this troubling attitude I find among some Christians although I'm not necessarily saying you hold it personally" rather than "Bill here's exactly what you said and meant." What bothers me about the comment and shoulder-shrug (at least when made in that vein by many Xians) is that it seems to imply this is a very close call that thoughtful people should withhold judgment on rather than that it's a really fringe bit of pseudo-science.

If it weren't for a prior and non-negotiable commitment to a specific reading of Genesis, none of even those creation scientists would look at the available data in geology, biology, astronomy, genetics, etc. and think "wow, the earth is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old." The evidence, the observable data in God's general revelation, says otherwise. For most people with a working college bio/geo/astro 101 level knowledge of the science (or heck even a high school junior/senior level if the high school had a decent teacher) who aren't previously committed to stuff the scientific observations into a predetermined 6,000 year old box, refusing to take a position on whether the earth is 6,000 years old because one isn't a scientist, is mind-boggling beyond all credulity along the lines of refusing to take a position on whether humans really landed on the moon or not because one isn't a scientist and there are a few conspiracy cranks out there including some with advanced degrees who think it was all faked. And that creates an unfortunate and wholly unnecessary scandal and stumbling block around faith. Your former youth group member is far from alone in finding his faith rocked and even wholly undermined by getting away from home and realizing the strength of the evidence for an old earth. And it doesn't have to be that way. In the debate, Nye thrashed Ham when it came to the science. He talked about how fast species would have had to develop post-flood if Ham is correct, he talked about arctic ice cores showing over a hundred thousand yearly seasonal cycles (like rings on trees), he talked about the light from distant stars, he talked about individual still-living trees that are older than Ham claims the entire universe is. And he was just scratching the surface. And Ham's answer boiled down to: "[his particular understanding of] Genesis."

If it was really true that I have to choose between the scientific evidence and my faith, then I'd go with faith. But that's why Ham's false dichotomy is so dangerous and frustrating. There are plenty of orthodox believers who read Genesis differently than Ham and aren't threatened by an old earth. It would have been much better for Ham to debate a Christian scientist from biologos, so he couldn't position the debate as one of godless atheistic science vs. Christianity and belief in the Bible. That's balderdash.

"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 … Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense 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." (St. Augustine)

9. Bill - 02/11/2014 4:51 pm CST

Thanks Karl. As usual, though - you and I can't even agree without disagreeing ;-). I have no idea why.

One issue that comes up that makes this more difficult: It's not like there's a simple dichotomy; either believe in YEC or believe in old earth with mankind evolving from amoebas. There are more than two theories, even including evolution with special creation. I personally think that we have to follow truth wherever it takes us, but I don't think that the debate is easily solved just by reading Genesis 1-2 a certain way. Even the guys at that link you sent me disagreed with each other at certain points. By the way, I found most of them to be pretty thoughtful. The first guy, on the other hand, was Captain Strawman.

For example: the Bible teaches that creation is cursed because of mankind's sin. I think you have to decide that the Bible doesn't know what it's talking about on that topic if you accept old earth, full-blown evolution from a single cell to what we see today. Because in the second instance, God on purpose created a world crawling with death, red in tooth and claw, by design. It also introduces some difficulties, potentially, in to how we think the new heavens and new earth might be different.

Again, we follow truth wherever it takes us. But the idea that a big barrier to faith is easily removed if we read Genesis 1-2 more correctly is a bit of a stretch, in my view.

I will agree that we have to be able to speak to this intelligently. But - as I said in my first comment, we also have to do a better job of teaching people that our faith is based on Jesus Christ, him crucified, buried, and resurrected. Given a choice (and we have to make a choice, since we only have so much time) of what I'd rather pour my thought into, it's the second topic.

And also, I think we need to have some grace for people who shrug their shoulders. By shrugging their shoulders, they are saying "I don't know". It doesn't mean that they are saying the science is lying, or that they will believe in 6,000 years against all evidence. When I shrug my shoulders, it's because I find difficulties in all the theories. Doesn't mean I think that the evidence is evenly split.

I personally think the unbelieving world could use a little more "I don't know" from Christians, on topics outside of the essentials of our faith.

I agree with you that the debate (which I didn't see, so caveats here) might have been better with different personnel, on both sides.

10. Roy - 02/11/2014 7:55 pm CST

All, but especially Bill and Karl: How do you think Adam could possibly believe Eve had just been created? After all, by every measurement she was, as one of my friends put it, "old enough", a babe, not a baby.

The problems do not flow from taking at face value the only eyewitness account we have, but from insisting on a paradigm for looking at the evidence we have. Typically, without thought, they either say,"Looks old, must be Genesis is wrong" (Nye et al) or "Genesis says recent, so must have all the appropriate characteristics of youth" (Ham et al). Both SCORN exegesis. Or maybe that should be, BOTH scorn exegesis.

Try their paradigms looking at (minutes ago created) Eve. Or Adam looking at the (a few days before created) nearer stars other than the Sun (the closest is 4 light years away; the stars in the constellation Orion are many multiples of that). Or people drinking (just created) wine at the wedding feast, or eating (just created) fish sandwiches.

At stake: not merely or mostly science. But whether one can trust the Bible. In several instances Jesus' teaching hinged upon not simply his acceptance but insistence that Adam was a real person in actual history. Same/same for Paul, not only for Adam, but for Eve.

11. Karl - 02/12/2014 8:30 am CST

Bill, I like and agree with pretty much all that you say. My main objection is to the young earth view. I also tend to defer to the scientists re. evolution being the "how" of creation based on their discoveries, while rejecting any atheistic or materialist metaphysical conclusions that someone like Nye might want to draw. But I think as a basic starting point refusing to acknowledge that the earth and universe are shown to be ancient by every possible measure (in geology, genetics, astronomy, etc.) is the thing that most jeopardizes credibility and puts the faith of young people unnecessarily at risk. I agree that among Christians who acknowledge an ancient earth there are varying views. These varying views are driven more by theological concerns than by disagreements over how to interpret the scientific data. But with respect to those who hold a young-earth view, I think that is the ONE view that we don't need to even shrug our shoulders at and say "maybe" to. We don't have to be harsh or ugly about it, but I think saying "I don't know" or "maybe" to young earth stuff perpetuates a bad state of affairs. Removing *A* stumbling block to faith obviously doesn't mean we've removed all or even the most substantial stumbling blocks to faith. But if we can remove one, I think we still should.

I also agree that following truth wherever it takes us may require us to re-evaluate how we read scripture or at least some portions of it. That has happened before. I think it's a healthy thing to ask questions like: what are we asking the Bible to be and to do? Is that what it was really intended to be and to do? What was Jesus' mission and message? Was it to correct the scientific paradigm of people living in 1st century Palestine, or was it something else? Same with Paul, and Genesis.

As for the "appearance of age" idea that I think Roy raises, I grant that has a popular-level appeal and it's what I was taught growing up. The many (as in, vast majority of) Christians who understand the science and who find that view unsatisfactory have convinced me that it's not an answer I can default to, personally. Partly because what it would say about the nature of a God who would give us the "book of nature" and make it look as if it said one thing (billions years old universe) when in fact the opposite was true (6,000 year old universe). Also - we not only see stars millions of light years away, we see some born and we see others explode. So God made light 6,000 years ago, travelling toward earth, that makes it look like a star millions of light years away was born and another millions of light years away exploded, but he never actually created either star because they are way too far away for the light from the actual event that we think we are observing to have reached earth? I mean - that seems nonsensical to me. And it's just one of a myriad such examples.

Bottom line - I like Bill's idea of following the truth where it leads, without fear. If I find myself objecting to a scientific discovery not based on anything to do with science but merely because my theological system or understanding of scripture won't WORK if that discovery is true then yes, it might make me scrutinize the discovery pretty closely. But maybe it also should make me question my theological system and the way I understand scripture, and investigate the way other believers who love and follow Jesus and respect the authority of scripture have dealt differently than me with these issues.

12. Tony - 02/12/2014 12:59 pm CST

Thanks for the discussion. I read through most of the postings.

Karl, You may be interested to know that I'm currently reading Stephen Meyer's new book, "Darwin's Doubt" and he has opened my mind to the idea of an older earth. I've always prided myself of not being 'of the world' and to me adopting a theistic evolution position heads down a worldly path, so what I was left with is a young earth creationist point of view. I really didn't care if the earth was greater or less than 10K years, however, associating oneself with Darwinism was the 'greater' sin. Perhaps many Christians fall in my camp and I mention this so that you can have a better understanding as to why YEC's are so 'naive'. But my logic for doing so is Biblical and I feel I'm exercising my faith without having to read 5k pages of evolutionary Biology in order to fine tune my belief on the subject.

Anyway, Dr. Meyer is one of the founders of the Intelligent Design movement. I find his approach bridge building in nature between those who believe in God and those that don't. He is NOT a YEC. He has more respect for evolutionary ideas because he believes in an > 10K year old earth and as a result he is very respectful towards Darwin's theory. Based on your statements, it seems like you would align with his point of view. What I find disturbing though is that there seems like more than a handful of scientists who dismiss Dr. Meyer 's theory of Intelligent Design because it is a way to get YEC's foot in the door (as if there is some big conspiracy theory). There is a close mindedness amongst the scientific establishment that should be more concerning than the 'Bible thumpers' over in the YEC camp IMO.

13. Karl - 02/12/2014 1:49 pm CST

Thanks for that, Tony. It was people in the ID movement who first convinced me to move from a sort of agnostic shoulder-shrug position (having grown up taught YEC and then hearing it strongly challenged in college to the point I began to be unsure about YEC, not knowing exactly what I myself thought), to a position of feeling quite convinced about an old earth and the scientific and theological problems with YEC. For that "evolution" in my own views on the matter I am indebted to ID folks.

From there I have also been introduced to Christians who are also scientists, who take issue with the methods used by ID. Not with some of the questions asked by ID (they generally admit that ID is asking some good questions), but the methods and the suggestion that ID counts as "science" per se. I am not sure what to make of that debate. I highly respect Christians at the top of their fields of science and to have someone like Francis Collins and RJS at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog say that ID isn't really science, does give me quite a bit of pause. But my mind is much less firm on that (the scientific credibility of the ID effort) than it is about the YEC stuff.

I agree that we shouldn't capitulate to the materialistic and atheistic beliefs of many secular scientists. The folks at Biologos (who are in the Francis Collins camp) agree with that also. They challenge secular scientists for the materialist and atheistic philosophy that sometimes gets smuggled in under the guise of science, even while they also challenge Christians to listen and learn from and take into account what the best actual science is discovering.

14. Bill - 02/12/2014 2:07 pm CST

Karl,

I may be incorrect on this, but the "ID is not science" stance comes from, I believe, a definition of science as things that can be proved/disproved using the scientific method. By definition (and this isn't a bad thing, per se) the scientific method has to assume a closed, materialistic system. In other words, there's no way to show the Lord manipulating DNA to drive evolution a certain way.

That's what I understand, at least. There are probably more nuances to it. The problem is, when most people hear "it's not science" they translate that internally as "it's not true".

I mean, wouldn't every Theist, by default, have to believe in God as creator having had something to do with his creation?

Did you ever get a moment to ponder my question about what the Biblical concept of a "cursed creation" could possibly mean if the world as we see it now is as it has always been? I think this and the issue of death are pretty huge theological issues, if we are to conclude that natural evolution is a fact. They have to radically (and I think unBiblically) alter our view of Christ's mission to redeem not just mankind but all of creation. For some they may be faith-ending issues. I don't think they can be shrugged off any more than YEC verse OENE (old earth natural evolution, to coin an acronym)

15. Roy - 02/13/2014 12:24 am CST

Karl (and others), may I suggest a thought experiment? Try imagining a rock God just created. How would it be a rock rather than something else if it did not have all the properties appropriate to a rock?

Got that thought about? Well, what properties did you just accept as created? Here you'll have to put on your physics thinking cap. As you almost certainly know, that rock has minerals in it. As you probably know, that rock is not hydrogen, but, however, as far as we can tell (if we extrapolate back via observations of God's laws governing how the universe works)it came from hydrogen. Namely, fusion in stars. And, depending on the element, some of it took a lot longer to get made than did other elements. Not 10s of thousands of years, not mere millions, but many billions of years. The "we're all star stuff idea" (including the rock and including Eve). With stars that formed (were born), lived, then went nova (died)?

Do you still think that rock could be, well, just created? Nah, too hard for God? I mean, who do we think he is, somebody who can make everything perfect, internally consistent by every human measurement? (Or maybe you will move out of the many, even vast majority of Christians who have not really thought very much about the implications of what they are choosing to believe. Maybe you will confront your exegetical paradigm.)

How about that wine at the wedding feast? Or would you have objections to the nature of a God who would give us the nature of good wine tasting as if it were aged (with, gasp, fermentation)when it was actually only seconds old?

16. Karl - 02/13/2014 10:59 am CST

Roy as I understand it the scientific/evidence problems with a young-earth view go so far beyond that, that the "created with the appearance of age" thought exercise kind of misses the point. Or rather it may account for a point or two but there are multiple other issues it doesn't address. And it also suggests something odd and troubling about the nature of God. We aren't just talking about the minerals that make up a rock for example, but things like fossils that are (unnecessarily) imbedded in the rock that could only be either millions of years old or else stuck there by God 6,000 years ago for no reaso other than to misleadingly make the world look old. Same with the light from exploding/extinguishing stars millions of light years away and a myriad other examples. Not to mention the problem Nye pointed out with the idea that 16 million species we now know developed out of 7,000 "kinds" of animals on the ark 4,000 years ago, meaning we'd need something like 11 new species per day.

Bill, I am content to say "I don't know" at this point to your question. I do know that plenty of thougtful and Jesus-loving theologians, OT scholars and scientists have grappled and continue to grapple with that question. And some have suggested possible answers. I don't feel the need to pick one as the hill I need to die on just now. But your objection has to do with one particular old-earth view. Yeah it's the one I tentatively hold to, but I'm not arguing that all Christians need to accept it. If the theological problems are too big, then pick another old-earth view.

As far as the objections to ID, what you articulate is what the ID folks *say* the other scientists object to. But when you talk with other believing scientists who aren't ID or young earth folks yes, that's part of it but their answer is more nuanced than that. They believe that the existence or non-existence of God is outside the realm of scientific investigation or provability one way or the other. They disagree with Nye and Dawkins and their ilk who may suggest science *disproves* God. But they also disagree with the ID folks who suggest that science can investigate and prove God's existence (as opposed to investigating the naturally-observable mechanisms by which God creates and sustains all things). That's not all but it's a big part of it, although I am sure what I just said is also an oversimplification. I go back to what I said earlier:

"I like Bill's idea of following the truth where it leads, without fear. If I find myself objecting to a scientific discovery not based on anything to do with science at all but merely because my theological system or understanding of scripture won't WORK if that discovery is true then yes, it might make me scrutinize the discovery pretty closely. But maybe it also should make me question my theological system and the way I understand scripture, and investigate the way other believers who love and follow Jesus and respect the authority of scripture have dealt differently than me with these issues."

17. Roy - 02/13/2014 7:35 pm CST

Karl wrote: Roy as I understand it the scientific/evidence problems with a young-earth view go so far beyond that, that the "created with the appearance of age" thought exercise kind of misses the point. Or rather it may account for a point or two but there are multiple other issues it doesn't address.

Roy: OK, I’m listening. I mean that honestly, no snark involved. Please list a couple or three of those issues. For each of them, in interest of wrestling with ideas in collision rather than simply blowing me off, please take an additional step. Tho I admit this a difficult step, tell what assumptions about God or about creation lead you to believe that issue is, indeed, an issue rather than a preference.

Allow me to illustrate what I mean via an interaction with what you wrote:
Karl: And it also suggests something odd and troubling about the nature of God. We aren't just talking about the minerals that make up a rock for example, but things like fossils that are (unnecessarily) imbedded in the rock that could only be either millions of years old or else stuck there by God 6,000 years ago for no reason other than to misleadingly make the world look old.

Roy: 1) For what reasons do you think “unnecessarily”? Would you allow the same reasons to apply to evidence of a grape vineyard in just-created wedding feast wine? To things like fields of grains and lakes of water implicit in just-created loaves and fishes? If not, why not?
2) What prohibits you from reasoning exactly the opposite direction? Instead of reasoning “fossils, hence cannot be recent”, reasoning “fossils, hence creation necessary for people must have these kinds of characteristics”? (Remember, Genesis makes it undeniably clear that God created everything in order that there might exist something in which people could live.)
3) For what reasons do you think “misleadingly”? Do you think the master of the feast who offered his taste witness testimony that the wine was good could legitimately claim that Jesus had attempted to mislead him, to deceive him?
4) How else would the creation look other than ancient and huge? Not only how would anything created not have all the innate characteristics to that thing, including age, but what do you expect from God, something small, wimpy, childish? (BTW, perhaps you know that between the early 1800’s and early 1900’s the Known Universe tm got bigger and older by not an amount of a million, but a factor of a million, going from thousands of years and light years to billions of both. Wanna bet folks aren’t gonna continue finding it even bigger and older?)

Karl: Not to mention the problem Nye pointed out with the idea that 16 million species we now know developed out of 7,000 "kinds" of animals on the ark 4,000 years ago, meaning we'd need something like 11 new species per day.

Roy: Nye knows there were only 7,000 “kinds”? Nye knows all the details Genesis does not give about the Flood? Nye knows how many fish species died in the Flood? Nye knows no insect species could survive the Flood? Nye knows what you and I don’t, namely how God brought a universal flood that left not a bit of evidence in the polar ice caps nor in the seasonal sediment layers in land locked lakes in mountainous regions? Nye can answer the (God-denying, wonder-excluding, assumptions-unstated) question of how water could be cubits above the highest mountain when there is not that much water around today? (I don’t think I would defend Nye telling God that he, Nye, knows the answers to the questions God posed to Job? When I read, for eg, 38:4-5, my grad physics and cosmology skills do not keep me from admitting I have no answer.)

18. Bill - 02/13/2014 8:34 pm CST

"Bill, I am content to say "I don't know" at this point to your question."

Fair enough. ;-) - but you took me to task for shrugging on the overall topic of the "how" of origins. I may take you to task in your shrug here, because this hits on a topic I'm not shrugging over.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord will redeem creation - because the creation is cursed. His word says so. He is going to make all things new and bring a new heavens and a new earth, and the implication there is that there's something wrong with the old one. The Bible is very clear that the "something wrong" is man's sin and that all of creation groans for redemption. I may not understand all that that means, but I'm not agnostic about it. I'm a huge fan of the coming redemption.

You wonder why I shrug at the topic of origins. I shrug because there are things that I don't shrug about that have implications on origins (and not the other way around). We go wherever truth takes us, but we also know that Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, the life" -

I don't mean to get preachy, but it's what I said at the beginning: my faith is based on Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection. I don't have to believe in YEC to believe that, but I certainly can't believe in the prevailing atheistic viewpoint on origins (and I know you don't hold to that either, obviously). We go where truth takes us, but truth is, ultimately, Jesus.

I have no doubt that at the end of all things it will make sense. So I'm going to shrug at some of the things that don't. I've lived awhile. The scientific method is fantastic, and thank God for it, because the benefits of scientific reasoning are manifold to us. But where I come down is this: Science is excellent at figuring out how things work today, and making things work today. It is, actually, pretty bad (or at least worse than it thinks it is) at predicting the future. Every new generation debunks the predictions of the past one, it seems. How good science is at understanding processes from pre-history past, I don't know. My guess is it is *pretty good*, but I also know, by the fallibility of humanity, that it has to have a number of things wrong. I'm not saying it has the big things wrong (age of the universe, or the earth, etc) - but my guess is none of us can comprehend how it all came together but we're going to get quite a show in eternity.

I can't wait.

19. Karl - 02/13/2014 9:55 pm CST

Bill, you apparently aren't the only one asking that question about death in recent days. RJS over at Jesus Creed just put up a post about it. She acknowledges both the question of the curse, and the issue of the new creation (which by the way I am right there with you in being a fan of) :
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/02/13/once-again-immortality-is-a-divine-gift-rjs/

I think "the prevailing atheistic viewpoint on origins" is a red herring to throw out in a discussion between Christians on this topic when there are people like Francis Collins, RJS and Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed, theologians like Peter Enns, John Walton, Alister McGrath, Tim Keller and NT Wright (among many others), the scientists and theologians at Biologos . . . all of whom agree with you that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life in a very orthodox and even evangelical sense, and all of whom accept the idea of evolution as the mechanism for God's creation without drawing atheistic conclusions. You don't have to agree with them or me, but if you are arguing against "atheistic evolution" when I am (and those folks are) talking about theistic evolution, then we're not even talking about the same thing.

Roy, when it comes to science I trust the people who are most highly trained and most likely to know what they are talking about - namely, scientists. As a Christian when discussing something like the age of the earth and universe I trust even more so Christians who are highly respected brilliant PhD's in geology, astronomy, biology, genetics, etc. over and against (1) atheist scientists who are trained in those same fields but who may have an atheistic bias, or (2) other Christians who don't really understand the science, or (3) Christians who do understand the science but who represent a tiny fringe minority *even among Christian scientists* and who admit that they reach their viewpoint not by looking at the evidence and drawing conclusions but rather by reading Genesis in a particular way and then looking for ways to fit the evidence into the preconceived 6,000 year framework. Realizing the fact that the vast, vast, vast majority of people who are (A) believing Christians, and (B) PhD scientists in those fields that touch on this issue - are NOT young earthers and find that view untenable, kind of ended the discussion for me. It was those folks (other Christians who know the science, not atheists like Dawkins or agnostics like Bill Nye) who convinced me on this issue.

On the appearance of age idea, I've realized we weren't talking about quite the same thing at first Roy. I didn't understand you to include in "appearance of age" things that wouldn't be necessary to "appear" old just to the naked eye but also to minute investigation. For instance, instead of just thick ice at the polar caps created ex ni hilo, I take it that you are suggesting God in fact created layers of unseen ice that would only be seen when 21st century scientists took deep core samples, that show hundreds of thousands of years worth of seasonal cycles as opposed to equally super-deep ice that didn't show seasonal cycles (which would be great evidence in favor of a young earth if it existed). Or that instead of just creating stars millions of light years away but with their light already visible on earth as if it had travelled all those miles, God ALSO created light on its way to earth but not yet there, scheduled to arrive at various points in earth's history, to simulate stars that actually never even existed, to make it look as if stars millions of light years away just came into being, or once existed and then ceased to exist. I understand from scientists who are in a position to know, that there are many similar other examples in geology, astronomy, biology, genetics, DNA, etc. COULD an all-powerful God have done this? I guess so, sure. But I don't think there's any evidence that he in fact did. If God created as young-earth folks believe - just spoke and poof there was an adult horse, literally took dust and in minutes (or less) made a full grown man out of it - did the horse's teeth show the wear and tear of several years of chomping? Did Adam's teeth show the grinding of years of chewing? Did he have calluses on his bare feet as if he had spent a lifetime of walking barefoot up until that point? Dirt under his fingernails? Stuff built up in his lungs, liver or other internal body parts as if he'd been living, digesting and breathing for a couple of decades or more? I think you get the idea. We obviously can't know. And an omnipotent God obviously could have created an Adam with ground-down teeth and calluses on his feet, and an earth that although brand new showed the wear and tear and other effects as if it had been there for millions of years. But if that's the game to be played every time a scientist finds new evidence that seems to show the earth and universe are really, really old then it's no wonder Ham answered the audience member's question of "what would it take to change your mind?" by saying that no evidence will ever change his mind. And if so you can call that faith, but I have a hard time seeing how you can call it science.

On the 7,000 "kinds" Bill Nye was quoting Ken Ham and answers in Genesis. Because Ham realizes there's no way that all the currently extant species (not to mention all those now extinct) could have fit on the ark, Ham postulates that the biblical word "according to their KIND" means sort of a family tree for various kinds of animals, of which you'd only need one representative pair. For example just one pair of dogs on the ark - from which evolved (through micro-evolution which Ham agrees does happen) all the currently known species of dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc. Ham says 7,000 "kinds" of animals on the ark. What Nye points out, is that if Ham is correct then we'd need to have seen an average of 11 new species develop every day to get from those 7,000 kinds of animals to the number of actual distinct species that we have today over the space of 4,000 years.

20. Bill - 02/13/2014 10:36 pm CST

"I think "the prevailing atheistic viewpoint on origins" is a red herring to throw out in a discussion between Christians on this topic when there are people like Francis Collins, RJS and Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed, theologians . . ."

Well, that's why I said that obviously that's not what you're arguing for either.

I'm not your adversary, Karl. I'm your friend - although I sense that I, and people like me, represent to you a lot of what's wrong with Christianity today. I can't help who I am.

I wasn't trying to engage in red-herring argumentation to win points. I'm not even trying to win here.

21. Bill - 02/13/2014 10:42 pm CST

Aw, forget my last comment. Been one of those days. I know you didn't mean it that way.

I apologize.

Ah me. . .

22. Roy - 02/13/2014 11:13 pm CST

Thanks for listening, Karl. If you reply, other than inviting further discussion, you get last comment. Ie, absent that invite this will be my last comment.

Karl: COULD an all-powerful God have done this (create an entire, complete, perfect-in-every-way universe: Roy)? I guess so, sure. But I don't think there's any evidence that he in fact did.

Hmmm. 1) Is there any evidence he didn't? 2)What would you accept as evidence that he did or did not? (Not asking what a pagan who denies God and whom the creation itself suffices as proof said pagan ought worship and be thankful for the creation, Ro 1:20ff, but what would you accept as evidence?)

Nothing in the paradigm I suggest limits or has limited in any way my doing science. Not only am I utterly not surprised to conclude that what I can see and interpret by the rules God has put in creation implies fossils have large ages of tens or hundreds of thousands, even millions of years. I am utterly convinced by evidence which leads me to conclude the universe has all the internally consistent characteristics of tens of billions of years age and light years of expanse.

But why should I find anything other than conclusory the argument of someone who claims that it cannot have been created when that person cannot prove it did not snap into existence 4.5 milliseconds ago? I know better, because the Bible says so. But the pagan does not.

2. RE Nye and 7,000 kinds. Immediately after I pressed "post comment" it dawned on me Nye did not make that claim, but was attempting a reductio, probably aiming at Ham. Turns out it was Ham. My error. But I'd write about Ham pretty much the same thing I wrote (mistakenly) assuming it was Nye. Even tho I'm sympathetic to Ham's observation, which relies on genetic diversity in a gene pool and accepts micro evolution. Yet I'd put Ham's summary in the realm of speculation. And I would insist that Ham face the questions I posed regarding filling in details the Bible does not supply.

23. jez - 02/14/2014 6:49 am CST

Didn't see the debate, because I can't stand Ken Ham. He does nothing but damage to both creationism and the public understanding of science.

Bill's comment #14 is where it's at IMO. Did Ham get anywhere near that? I doubt it.

24. Karl - 02/16/2014 6:43 pm CST

Sorry, Bill. I didn't mean it personally. I felt like the aside about atheistic viewpoints on origins obscured the discussion of these issues by Christians all of whom don't agree with atheists. Everything in the paragraph in which you made that comment (faith based on Jesus, disagree with atheists, follow the truth where it leads), we all agree on here. I didn't mean to treat you like an enemy.

Roy, that approach is dependent on a particular reading and interpretation of Genesis. There are many theologians and Bible scholars who believe that way of reading Genesis is not the best or correct way to read it, and is asking it to do something it was never intended to do. But yes if one is going to answer every new discovery of science that seems to show an ancient earth with a knowing "yes, but God created it just to look that way and then told us different in Genesis" then there is really no debate or discussion to be had; science and faith really do have nothing to say to one another, and even the attempts of the "creation scientists" to fit scientific discoveries into a 6,000 year old framework are erroneous because God (that trickster), created the world to completely appear billions of years old, so they can't beat him at his own game and use science to prove the earth is young when God created an "old earth" 6,000 years ago. The idea of "the book of nature" as God's self-revelation also has to be seriously re-examined and perhaps scrapped because a bunch of what is there is a false trail laid down to test the faith of 20th and 21st century folks who would discover that scientific discoveries were jarringly incompatible with a literal reading of some parts of Genesis.

You asked what evidence I'd accept - I would accept evidence that scientists in whatever applicable field we are talking about, agreed did not make sense in an ancient earth. Fossils of lower forms of life that are located in the same geological strata with fossils of higher life forms, for example (something Nye talked about in the debate - no such mixed fossils have been discovered anywhere in the world, as you would expect and pretty much have to have in the case of a young earth and a global flood).

I think John Calvin set a good example when dealing with one of the problematic scientific discoveries of his day. Some Christians were upset that scientists were claiming stars and planets were bigger than the moon, but the Bible didn't seem to say so. Calvin argued for an accomodationist perspective, which is similar to what many Bible scholars argue is the correct way to understand the early Genesis creation account:

"Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God. Wherefore, as ingenious men are to be honored who have expended useful labor on this subject, so they who have leisure and capacity ought not to neglect this kind of exercise. Nor did Moses truly wish to withdraw us from this pursuit in omitting such things as are peculiar to the art; but because he was ordained a teacher as well of the unlearned and rude as of the learned, he could not otherwise fulfill his office than by descending to this grosser method of instruction. Had he spoken of things generally unknown, the uneducated might have pleaded in excuse that such subjects were beyond their capacity."

and concerning the Biblical picture of a firmament, walling off the "waters above" the heavens (a common cosmological picture in the ancient near east) Calvin writes:

"Moses describes the special use of this expanse, to divide the waters from the waters from which word arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned. The things, therefore, which he relates, serve as the garniture of that theater which he places before our eyes. Whence I conclude, that the waters here meant are such as the rude and unlearned may perceive."

25. Karl - 02/16/2014 7:34 pm CST

I should add, Bill, that I like you. I really do. Yes there are things that frustrate me about (especially) American fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. But that's partly because those people are my tribe, the place where my spiritual DNA was formed, and my frustration is at least in part as Mark Noll described his book "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind" a cri du coeur, the words of a wounded lover. I've shared with you before a little bit of my personal history in that regard. I think that if we knew each other in real life these discussions would be easier to have in person than via the typed word - that is, if we didn't sense our mutual differences and avoid each other right off the bat ( which would be to both our loss - or at least to mine I am sure). I also appreciate the patience and fairness you respond with in this space, not just to me but to everyone. Sorry that I got under your skin. I go after ideas pretty hard, especially when it's a topic I feel strongly about. But I didn't mean to go after you or your loved ones personally.

And funny thing as we both have noted previously, it sounds like we actually hold pretty close to the same position on this as with many other issues. Just coming at it from different directions, with different background baggage and perhaps different ideas about what we most want to avoid.

26. Bill - 02/16/2014 8:15 pm CST

I like you too, Karl. Thanks.

27. Karl - 02/25/2014 11:20 am CST

Not really wanting to re-ignite the tenseness of this thread. But it's the closest place I could think of to put this. I think a lot of the issue comes down to what we are expecting/believing scripture to be. The area of origins is one place it comes up. But the recent "news" (not really news as the info is quite old) that the camel doesn't appear to have been domsticated in the middle east at the time of the biblical patriarchs and may be a later-added anachronism to some of those stories, is another case-in-point. How are we to react to this? How do you react to this? Does it make us angry? Defensive? Do we feel compelled to disprove or disregard it? Do we feel that something important is threatened if this is in fact true? Or not so much? Another interesting piece at Jesus Creed today on the issue:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/02/25/start-with-isaiah-rjs/

"Back to the Camel. I don’t find the camel – whether actual or from a later fleshing out by a redactor – significant because the sweep of scripture is in God’s call of his people and the failure of God’s people to forsake idols and follow God alone, the failure of God’s chosen people to love the Lord their God with heart, mind, soul, strength and to love their neighbor as themselves. This rests on the back of a camel?"

"the 'world' sees this as a blow to the faith. I think that there are a couple different cultural threads that underlie this concern. The 'world' sees this as a blow because there is a perception of what the Bible should be that is incorrect. This isn’t imposed by 'the world' but comes primarily from within the church. The solution is not lengthy descriptions with those outside the faith, but better education of those within the faith."

28. Bill - 02/25/2014 11:54 am CST

Karl,

I don't know anything about the camel's domestication, although - as I mentioned upthread,
the various sciences are very good at figuring out how things work now, somewhat suspect in predicting the future, and of unknown skill at giving us a good picture of the distant past. I'd need to see the studies, etc on the domestication thing: Is it an argument from silence? Are there records of wild camels in ancient writings? etc.

Our faith doesn't stand on the backs of camels, but I think we go down a bad path when we start shedding significant doubt on the accuracy of Scripture.

For example, to an earlier point, the Bible teaches quite clearly that Jesus will make all things new, redeem creation (whatever that precisely means) - a creation groaning for redemption - and to turn away death and bring about a redeemed heavens and earth that work differently than the current versions, which have - in some way - been tainted or cursed by man's sin.

Some people are comfortable theologically with the idea that the world that is today, nature red in tooth and claw, is how the world has always been and indeed how it was designed. In my view, you have to seriously throw away a lot of scripture or re-interpret it to meaninglessness to get to that point. And it's based on a presumption that is, perhaps, not as true as they might think it is, that the world as it is today is how it has always been. But how to separate that out, I don't know. I'm going to believe the scriptures (all caveats already said, of course, about reading the scriptures as they were meant to be read, etc) and look forward to getting the full, real story on the last day.

29. Bill - 02/25/2014 11:57 am CST

. . . and, yeah, you had to reopen the thread, didn't you?

I won't have energy for a long discussion/debate on this one, so I'll defer to you for the last word if you'd like :-)

30. Karl - 02/25/2014 12:27 pm CST

I could go either way on the camel thing. I know there have been times when things in the OT that many scholars thought were fictional or erroneous, were later proved true by archeological discoveries. I could see that being the case with domesticated camels. I don't know a ton about it either, but gather that it's an argument from silence but a little bit more than that, too. I mean - you hit a point in history where the archeological record is NOT silent on the domestication of camels. There are pictures on pottery or walls or metal bowls or what have you, of camels being ridden, there are camel remains in the ruins of cities where a wild animal would not likely be found, etc. And prior to that point in time (i.e. back at the time of the patriarchs) you also have an archeological record, one that includes other domesticated animals, but nothing about domesticated camels. At least not yet - maybe something will be discovered that backs up the date of camel domestication. But I don't feel that anything important is threatened if the camels were added by later story tellers, scribes or editors of the patriarch stories who lived in a time where camels were domesticated. To me, Genesis is a story of the origins of Israel as the people of God. Whether camels were part of the picture or not doesn’t really matter.

31. Karl - 02/25/2014 12:36 pm CST

As with some of the stuff on origins, I think we create way more problems by trying to hold onto a literal reading through a 21st century lens rather than understanding the idiom, the context and the culture in which the story is given to us. For every problem we think we have dealt with by our attempts at harmonization, three more crop up. Insisting on the kind of detailed factual accuracy from Genesis that we'd expect from a history book on World War II, and/or insisting on a God-to-Moses (and then written down by Moses never to have been altered by any subsequent transcriber) dictation of the Pentateuch full of such factual accuracy, I think we cause those kinds of problems. I thought this from Jesus Creed was good:

Without buying into any given critical theory lock, stock and barrel, it is fairly obvious that the Pentateuch and the historical books of Judges, 1,2 Samuel, 1,2 Kings, 1,2 Chronicles, were edited into the shape we have from multiple sources long after the time of the incidents the stories relate. This was around the time of the late kingdom, the exile, or post exile, that is, well after the domestication of camels by any reckoning. Many of the stories must have been transmitted orally or originally written in languages other than the Hebrew of the bible we have today. They were translated into the text we have through some process. Since Genesis is the focus of the controversy concerning camels, I’ll give a few examples from Genesis illustrating the influence of editors no earlier than ca. 1200 BCE or so.

There are places in the text where the perspective of the writer is clearly that of a much later time. In Genesis 12:6 we read “Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” In 13:7 “The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.“ This is written by an author or added by an editor living at a time when the Canaanites were no longer in the land. This suggests that the final form of the text we have should not be attributed to Moses. The Canaanites were in the land during his lifetime and were not expelled until much, much later, after 1000 BCE in the biblical narrative.

In Genesis 36:31 we read “These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned:” followed by a list of eight kings. Clearly the text we have dates from no earlier than the time when Israelite kings did, in fact reign. This places it no earlier than ca. 1000 BCE and likely a good deal later.

There are a number of places where Genesis places later conditions into the text. In Genesis 14:14 we read that Abram “went in pursuit as far as Dan” although we read in Joshua 19:47 “they settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their ancestor” and in Judges 18:29 “they named it Dan after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel—though the city used to be called Laish.”

The Philistines did not settle in the land until after 1200 BCE, yet they are referred to in passages in Genesis, in chapters 10, 21, and 26. Isaac goes to “Abimelek king of the Philistines” in chapter 26. At the mention of the land of the Philistines in 21:32 John Walton notes:
The Philistines known from the time of the Judges and the early monarchy did not come into the region and occupy this territory until around 1200 B.C. – much later than the time of Abraham and likewise later than the time of Moses. … While it is not impossible that this story represents contact with an earlier group of Philistines who settled the area prior to the Sea Peoples, most likely this is simply an anachronistic use of the name “Philistines” for the area rather than an ethnic identification of the people whom Abraham encounters. (p. 96 Genesis)

These elements indicate that there are anachronisms in the text of Genesis, and camels may well be another anachronism. It is possible that camels were included in the story simply because they were part of the common experience of those who edited together the final text of Genesis from the various sources available sometime after 1000 BCE. That the stories were transmitted orally and translated through language changes before being written in Hebrew and preserved in the form we have does not mean that they are entirely, or even substantially, false.
Where does this leave us? Perhaps evidence will be found for domesticated camels in Israel ca. 2000 BCE, but probably not. The lack of evidence to date, despite evidence for other forms of livestock, makes it seem rather unlikely that camels were part of the picture in 2000 BCE or even at the time of Gideon. That they were around at the time of David seems quite possible, although not in large numbers.

I don’t think any of this undermines the significance of Genesis or the rest of the Old Testament as the word of God. But it does mean that we have to rethink the way we approach the text. Although we find real history in the text of the Old Testament, we must also remember that the history is told according to ancient Near Eastern norms and practices. These are not the same as modern expectations. Camels are incidental to the story and it doesn’t really matter if this detail was shaped by later experience or not. At the time of the exile and later camels were simply an expected part of the landscape. I rather expect that any wealthy man of that time would have camels among his livestock, especially for long distance travel, and this assumption found its way into the story.

32. Karl - 02/25/2014 2:26 pm CST

One other thing that jumped out at me in your comment Bill, that I meant to mention. You write: "the various sciences are very good at figuring out how things work now, somewhat suspect in predicting the future, and of unknown skill at giving us a good picture of the distant past."

Well, yes. No doubt that is true. Stuff you can replicate and observe and study happening in real-time offers a degree of certainty you can't get anywhere else. I'd go so far as to say that archeology (which isn't really a science exactly, is it?) and what it has to say about domesticated camels or about how the ancients who left little or no written record used to live, is generally more iffy/uncertain than sciences like geology, astronomy, biology etc. and what they have to say about the age of the earth.

But what follows from that? We still do archaeology and teach kids about ancient civilizations that we know about only from the discoveries of archaeology. We discover arrowheads and tools and building foundations and ancient trash pits and pictures and we piece together forensically what we believe can be determined about those civilizations, how they lived, what kind of technology they had, what animals they used, whether they knew how to work metal and what kind of metals they used, who they borrowed/learned from culturally and in terms of technology, etc. We go with the best narrative that the evidence seems to show and then if/when new and contradictory evidence arises that makes the narrative untenable, we revise our theory and revise the text books and the narrative to accommodate the new data (rather than refusing a la Ken Ham to ever revise our theory but rather seeking to shoehorn all evidence into it no matter how it creaks and groans). So - humility is key, even more so in archaeology. If that's what you are saying then I agree. Humility is good, a certain degree of skepticism re. archaeological certainty is warranted. But I don't think that gets us all the way to being able to just dismiss everything the archaeologists (and even less so the hard sciences) say if we don't like it because it challenges how we read and understand the Bible. That may not be what you do - it's definitely not what you wrote. But I know plenty of Christians who DO, do just that. And I don't think that's awesome.

33. Bill - 02/25/2014 3:05 pm CST

"I don't think that gets us all the way to being able to just dismiss everything the archaeologists (and even less so the hard sciences) say"

Well, of course that's not what I was saying, Karl ;-)

I know plenty of Christians who do X, Y, and Z that maybe I don't like. But many of them will stand taller before the Lord on the last day than I will. Since when am I the final arbiter of their value before God?

On the subject of the camels, etc (your previous comment) - most of that is not new to me. My ESV study Bible made notes about, for example, the reference to Dan in the time of the patriarchs, etc. I don't think we disagree very much on all that.

From my point of view, the real question regarding the Bible for each of us to answer is this: do we believe it? Is it authoritative? Here's where I'm coming from on this. For some reason, among many people, the fact that - for example - the Bible says the patriarchs had domesticated camels holds no weight at all. But if another ancient document was discovered that said they did, then that would hold weight. Doesn't that seem weird? I don't understand that.

I believe the Bible, and believe it to be authoritative. So I will take with a grain of salt other discoveries that disagree with it (Read my caveats upthread about origins, interpretation of Genesis 1-2, etc - I don't want to get sucked into that discussion again). It's not because I'm afraid of the truth but because I believe the Bible to be truthful and reliable so it is a source of evidence for me (the source, really) - especially because I've lived awhile and have seen many changes in scientific consensus. We tend to live in a time where saying "They've discovered [fill in the blank]" is authoritative for many people, even though They may have discovered something contradictory to that earlier on and will discover more contradiction later.

For a mundane example: the scientific consensus on what foods are good for us to eat. That flaps back and forth like a bat in a hurricane. Doesn't mean I'm anti-science, etc, to make that observation. Because behind it all are humans.

All caveats upthread regarding my own humility regarding my scientific knowledge regarding origins need to be remembered here.

OK - all this being said, I'm not sure precisely where we disagree, if we do - Maybe more in emphasis or weight, perhaps? :-)

34. Karl - 02/25/2014 7:19 pm CST

"Since when am I the final arbiter of their value before God?"

Bill, I hope you don't think I am saying anything about the value before God of Xians who I think are doing dumb stuff in the name of the faith we share. They are valuable; I just wish they'd stop doing the stuff. Any of us can be valuable to God and still do things that bring unnecessary discredit on the faith. I know I do.

On the question of why the Bible's mention of camels during the time of the patriarchs isn't given much weight by archaeologists and historians: I gather that is because the evidence shows that the actual written text was written long after the time of the patriarchs, and nothing that was actually written (or drawn, or otherwise left record of) contemporaneous with the time of the patriarchs seems to show domesticated camels. I don't think the Bible is especially disregarded by academics. I just don't think it is given the privileged weight that some Christians think it should be given on these kinds of ancient world details, either. It is treated like any other ancient text of that era that was written hundreds or more years after the events it recounts. If the Bible's voice is the minority report and in fact seems contradicted by other texts and archeological evidence then it doesn't get the privileged status that we sometimes think it should. But that doesn't mean it's totally disregarded. If any other ancient text mentioned domesticated camels at the time of the patriarchs I think the weight given it would depend on whether it was written at the time of the patriarchs or whether it was written several centuries or more later, and whether any other ancient evidence or texts supported its claims.

Yes, the Bible is authoritative for us as Christians. But authoritative about what? About the ancient near eastern cosmology that it depicts? And authoritative in what ways in which genres? Shouldn't the eyewitness accounts in the gospels, written by the eyewitnesses or those who talked directly with them, be expected to carry a different level and type of factual accuracy than hundreds or thousands of years old oral tradition in a culture that doesn't value factual accuracy on story details that are secondary to the point of the story? I mean - I am open to the possibility that archaeology may be wrong about camel domestication. But if archaeology is right and the camels were added in later it does absolutely nothing to my faith or my view of scripture (although for much of my life I could not have made that last statement truthfully).

I think you are correct that where we disagree is probably on emphasis, or weight, given to the Biblical record vs. science, archaeology, etc. Neither of us is saying "all weight to one and none to the other" but we'd probably break it down differently. And I think we also differ on how big a deal it is, if Christians choose a "the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it" attitude on these sorts of things. I think I get more riled at that than you do. I know my own views aren't what they used to be - the assertions of science and archaeology that seemed to conflict with my understanding of the OT used to either anger or unsettle me, or I'd just ignore them. I think I was like a lot of Christians in that I didn't really WANT to read the best stuff out there on science and archaeology for fear of what it would do to my faith. For me the greatest change came when I started to read more about the ancient near eastern context in which the old testament was written, the genres and the purposes of the OT narratives in their context, what was expected - and not expected - of those types of narratives in an ancient near eastern context, and similar (but theologically different) stories extant in other ANE cultures. All of a sudden I became convinced that I had been taught to read the Bible, and especially the old testament, through a modern lens that asked of it a bunch of wrong questions and freighted it with incorrect expectations. It has been freeing to not feel compelled anymore to react defensively to the discoveries and theories of science and archaeology. And frustrating to see friends either entrench defensively against science and good scholarship, or else ditch their faith because they had been taught they needed to choose one or the other.

35. Bill - 02/25/2014 8:56 pm CST

I just wrote a really long comment and then wisely deleted it ;-)

We need to talk in person some time. If you're ever down here we'll get a steak together and have a good long conversation. I'll fire up the grill and the cooler will be full of the beverages of our choice :-)

I will say this, for what it's worth. When I see people ditch their faith, it's more than frustrating. It breaks my heart. I walk through life with that plate spinning of long departed friends and it kills me. I haven't seen that much of it related to the problem of origins or other issues - most people I've known who have walked away have done it for other reasons. But that doesn't invalidate the strength of your feelings on this issue. My experience has just been a bit different.

36. Karl - 02/26/2014 6:33 am CST

I would enjoy that, Bill. Not sure if/when we will make it to Texas but it's always a possibility. One of my best friends from college is on the football staff at a Texas school and has been after me to visit for a while now. Other trips just keep taking higher priority. If you are ever in Virginia let me know.

37. Karl - 03/03/2014 2:48 pm CST

If you're interested in how some Christians grapple with the issue you raise Bill, about nature apparently being designed by God "red in tooth and claw" then you might be interested in this upcoming series of posts discussing Ronald Osborn's new book (IVP) titled Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/02/27/death-before-the-fall-rjs/#disqus_thread

38. Karl - 03/13/2014 1:03 pm CDT

The latest entry on the above-mentioned blog series discussing Osborn's book raises the issue of what Osborn calls the "Unwholesome Complexity" that arises when Christians place a literal reading onto the Genesis story:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/03/13/unwholesome-complexity-rjs/

"Literalism simply isn’t possible. Attempts to hold fast to a literal interpretation lead to a multitude of speculations, twists and contortions – from the crystalline canopy theory (here) to the suggestion that the plants of Genesis 1:11-12 didn’t include agricultural plants because these were only created after Adam as we read in Genesis 2:5-8.

The two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 provide an excellent case in point. Osborn works through attempts that have been made to force these into scientific and chronological agreement, flattening them into a single linear historical narrative. Apparently in the sixth day God created the land animals, then Adam, then the (agricultural) plants, then after noting that it was not good for Adam to be alone, brought the animals and birds out of hiding (since they had all been created before Adam in the Genesis 1 account) and paraded them before Adam to be named. As there are only 60×24=1440 minutes in the day this must have been a super-speed process … So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals (Genesis 2:20) … thousands of species, according to a strict literalism. Then and only then was the woman created (also a first-day product setting a limit on the time available for the naming process).

In any case, we must somehow make Genesis 2 say something other than what the text very plainly appears to say, not because we are really concerned with listening to the story on its own terms as a theological narrative but because we have a prior commitment to an uncompromising and thoroughly modernist understanding of what counts as “truth,” so that all other textual question must now be subordinated to the task of producing absolute scientific and chronological harmony – no matter what the texts say.

39. Karl - 04/08/2014 1:12 pm CDT

The series at Jesus Creed is still ongoing. Today's post "And it Was Good … But Red in Tooth and Claw?" addresses your specific objection Bill.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/04/08/and-it-was-good-but-red-in-tooth-and-claw-rjs/

"The point of this discussion is not to dismiss the problem of death and animal suffering as it applies to the perspective of evolutionary creation. Rather the point is that the problem of animal death, predation, and suffering is not limited to the Christian evolutionist. It is a problem for all Christians what ever their view of creation. Perhaps, however, it is less of a problem for old earth evolutionary creation than for old earth progressive creation or for young earth creation."

40. Karl - 04/30/2014 2:13 pm CDT

CT now has a review article up on Osborn's book:

"Osborn launches into a full-bore, unflinching assault on literalism in biblical interpretation, particularly in regard to the first chapters in Genesis. His is not a liberal critique, but an orthodox, Bible-centered one. Osborn contends that fundamentalist, young-earth creationists fail to honor the Bible, in their insistence that it fit into their pre-existing, unbiblical philosophy. He makes this case mainly and most effectively by a careful reading of biblical texts. He does not major on the incompatibility of young-earth creationism with scientific findings—though this does come up. Nor does Osborn say much about more figurative understandings of Genesis, such as John Walton's. Instead he tries to show that literalistic readings of the text are not actually true to Scripture, creating as many theological and interpretational problems as they claim to solve. What they impose on the text, he argues, is a view closely associated with the same Enlightenment paradigm of scientism that animates God's most impassioned critics."

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/april-web-only/reading-genesis-without-philosophical-blinders.html

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