Friday, September 24, 2010


A couple of posts ago ("Church Fathers and the Age of Creation"), I mentioned three problematic approaches used by modern proponents of a young Earth and universe to insulate their interpretation of Scripture from critique. At that time I alluded to the possibility of dissecting each of the three (fideism, biblicism, and creation with the false appearance of age) in future posts. So let me take a look today at biblicism.

Biblicism is the view that Scripture is the only reliable source of knowledge. It is often expressed as a rejection of other sources of knowledge, as here, by Henry Morris,
the direct [written] testimony from the Creator [is] the only way to know the age of the earth.
Morris, one of the fathers of "creation science" and young-earth creationism (as co-author of The Genesis Flood, released in 1961), seems blissfully unaware that science has historically helped to correct the church's misinterpretations of Scripture. It was the knowledge provided by astronomy that eventually led to acceptance of heliocentrism (though I understand there are still a few biblicist holdouts even on that one). And, of course, Christians used to believe that Scripture taught a flat Earth, and it was knowledge outside the Bible that helped correct that wrong interpretation as well. So there are clear historical examples that serve to refute such biblicism.

But more fundamentally, biblicism is self-refuting, or self-referentially absurd. I've addressed this problem before, generally as regards other flawed theories about knowledge, such as scientism, empiricism, or postmodern epistemological claims. A self-refuting statement is one that disqualifies itself, a truth claim that, when applied to itself, renders itself false. So, for example, scientism,
The only reliable knowledge is that which results from scientific testing
is self-refuting because there is no scientific test or set of tests that could be performed to yield that knowledge (the knowledge that only scientifically-derived knowledge is reliable).

Likewise, the postmodern claim that
There are no universal truths
presents itself as a universal truth. If I believed it, that would be reason to reject all universal truths, including that one.

Biblicism suffers the same problem. It has this in common with scientism and empiricism: each is a self-serving attempt to limit the range of knowledge to exclude other sources. All such artificial epistemologies will be self-refuting.

The biblicism of Morris, Ken Ham, and others is self-refuting in at least two ways.

First, the Bible itself never makes this claim. Rather, Scripture appeals throughout to other sources of knowledge, calling people to observe the created order for knowledge about God. In fact, according to Romans 1:18-21, all men have knowledge of God that comes from the creation (not Scripture) and it is rejection of this knowledge that is sufficient to condemn them.

Second, one simply must bring an entire set of knowledge to the task of understanding Scripture. The Bible does not teach the meaning of the words and grammar it uses (in Hebrew, Greek, or even English); instead, we must have such knowledge beforehand. Likewise, Scripture does not itself teach the laws of logic; rather it assumes them on every page. It is because we understand--by knowledge derived outside of Scripture--the law of non-contradiction that we are able to affirm that when Jesus said "No one comes to the Father but by me" He did not simultaneously mean "Many people come to the Father through other means."

The biblicist claim is thus seen to be almost incredibly naive and simplistic.

To the question, "How do we know there is a God?" the historical Christian answer has been "Because God has revealed Himself to us, and that both through the creation itself and through divinely-inspired Scripture." This historical Christian doctrine of dual revelation was especially important to several of the early church fathers (see the Augustine quote in the post mentioned at the outset) and to the Protestant reformers. But young-earth creationists (like Answers in Genesis) reject this historical doctrine* because evidence from astronomy, geology, physics, and such overwhelmingly refutes their superficial interpretation of Genesis.

*In addition to rejecting the historical doctrine of dual revelation, biblicists grossly distort another doctrine important to the Reformers, that of Sola Scriptura. This doctrine did not distinguish between Scripture and other God-given sources of knowledge. Instead, it elevated Scripture over church tradition, where the latter was (and is) seen as equally important by Roman Catholicism. Despite attempts by young-earth creationists to link their biblicism to Sola Scriptura, the Protestant Reformers would have found biblicism as unbiblical and illogical as I do.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Argument from Similarity

I frequently get asked about the argument for evolution from the similarities observed in the genetic makeup of living things. Recently, the specific question was what to make of Richard Dawkins' claim that the heirarchies of similarities in the genetic record of living things provide 'undeniable proof of evolution.' Below, in part, is my answer.

The heirarchy of similarity among living things is a neutral fact and not in any way supportive of evolution or common ancestry. The understanding that Darwin sought to replace was a view known as typology. Typology said that the heirarchies of similarities we see among living things (extant and extinct) are grounded in necessity. Bats and rodents (on one level) share a suite of (mammalian) characteristics that sets them apart from all birds. On another level, bats share a smaller suite of characteristics that sets them apart from rodents. And these distinctions are adaptive and holistic. What we expect to see when we look at each part of a bat (and not just anatomically but also physiologically, behaviorally, and such) is that each contributes to bat-hood, that the membranous wings, the echolocation ability, the reproductive strategy, and such are all part and parcel of what it means to be a bat. The creature is well-designed for its role and niche. Moreover (on this view--which still remains the most reasonable view), the reason we don't see creatures that are half bat and half rodent (Darwin's predicted but yet undiscovered transitional forms) is because such a creature is non-functional and nonsensical.

This typological (and design-oriented) view did (and does) a very good job of accounting for the various levels (heirarchies) of similarity among living things. Before Darwin, biologists recognized that all living things were made of the same elements. In fact, Scripture clealy claims this, indicating that humans (in Gen. 2:7) and other animals (in Gen. 2:19) are alike made of "the dust of the Earth." This would simply be the best way of conveying to the ancient Hebrew mind that the physical components (the elements) of which all living things are made are the same elements as are found in the abiotic portions of the Earth. So the discovery (since Darwin's time) of the further similarities among living things at the level of proteins and (more basically) DNA does not in any way distinguish between the competing alternatives of theistic design (typology) and naturalistic evolution. In this regard, it is (at best) disingenuous of modern evolutionists to appeal to similarities among living things as evidence for their view. And this is especially true since what evolution was meant to explain--but has singularly failed to explain--was not the similarities but the differences.

We now know, for example, that there is more similarity in the DNA of humans and chimps than even evolutionists expected. What does this tell us? It tells us that relatively minor differences in DNA do not explain why chimpanzees are (like every other species of life on Earth) naked animals surviving from day to day in loose extended family groups while humans are civilized, uber-intelligent animals able to exploit every aspect of the Earth and to explore even the distant reaches of the universe. In fact, these deep DNA similarities should lead us to recognize that no strictly materialist explanation will ever satisfactorally account for the vast differences between chimps and humans, that there is something non-material going on here, and that scientific naturalism is false.

But perhaps I should be more to the point. Richard Dawkins finds in the DNA heirarchies common ancestry and evolution. But he finds these things not in the fact of the heirarchies but in the interpretive assumptions that he brings to them. In this way, his argument is (as all arguments from similarity are) circular. He begins by (wrongly) assuming that any similarities can be construed as evidence for common ancestry, and then when he perceives similarities, he's proved his assumptions. This, as any logician could tell you, is a fallacious way of reasoning. Simply put, taken at face value (that is, without beginning with biased assumptions), the discovery that living things exhibit a heirarchy of DNA similarities is just as (or more) amenable to a common-design inference as to a common-ancestry conclusion.

This was (inadvertently) illustrated many years ago by evolutionist Tim Berry. Frustrated by creationists' inability to understand evolution's dogma of "descent with modification," he asked his readers to picture a series of Corvettes. We see that the '56 Corvette is slightly different than the '55, and that the '57 is slightly modified from the '56, and so on. Unfortunately (for him and other evolutionists) the illustration shows just the opposite of what he wanted it to show, because we all know that each of those Corvettes was separately designed and manufactured, that the differences between them did not arise through their passing on, one to the other, slight variations.

All arguments from similarity are fallacious because they involve arguing in a vicious circle. And yet, this is really all that can be offered as support for evolution, whether of the atheistic form of Richard Dawkins or the theistic version of Francis Collins and others,

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Church Fathers and Age of Creation

I received a question this week about whether any of the church fathers held that the Earth and universe were very old.

In some cases, where particular passages or topics of Scripture are interpreted in different ways, there may be value in assessing how other believers throughout church history dealt with that passage or topic. Often of special interest is how the early church fathers understood things (in part because these men were largely free from the religious traditions that arose within the next generations).

And so, it is not unnatural that the question would arise regarding the beliefs of the church fathers on a controversial issue in some Christian quarters today... Is the creation young (on the order of 6 to 10 thousand years) or old (13.7 billion years)?

Let me first give three reasons why what the church fathers thought on this issue is irrelevant to the issue of how old creation is. Then, let me give their answer to a more interesting and relevant question.

First, though some of the church fathers did speculate or even hold certain beliefs about how old the creation was, they did not appeal to Scripture as teaching clearly about this. (The first Christians to claim that Scripture does teach about the age of creation were James Ussher and John Lightfoot, and this was not until the 17th century. The impetus for this unprecedented claim was the translation of the Bible into the King James English. These two men made a number of assumptions and interpretive decisions, each of which is at best dubious and at worst demonstrably false, to arrive at a date for creation of 4004 BC.)

Second, the evidence for a very ancient Earth and universe--or more precisely the ability to measure the relevant evidence--did not become available until the 19th and 20th centuries.

These two facts are why a particular view on the age of creation is not a part of historic Christianity and cannot be found in any of the church's creeds.

Third, the church fathers were (along with virtually all of their contemporaries, Christian or otherwise) wrong about a number of scientific things. Some of them believed that the Earth was flat, and most or all of them believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. (Unlike the age issue, in both of these other cases Christians appealed to evidence from both the world around them and the Scriptures to maintain these wrong views.) Today, we recognize that the Earth is more or less spherical and that it is not the center of our solar system, let alone of the entire universe. And it was science that changed our understanding and science that caused us to revise our interpretation of Scripture on these issues.

For all these reasons, what the church fathers believed about the age of the creation is both uninteresting and irrelevant. What is interesting and relevant, however, is what they believed about the reliability of God's revelations to us.

You see, for most scientists today--Christian or otherwise--it would be easier to believe in a flat Earth than one that is only thousands of years old, so varied and powerful is the evidence. And so those Christians who still follow Lightfoot and Ussher's interpretation of Scripture invariably appeal to one (or more) of three unbiblical (and unhistorical) doctrines: 1) appearance of age (that God created everything with a false appearance of age), 2) fideism (that Christian faith is a blind leap, and somehow divorced from reason and evidence), and 3) biblicism (that the Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge).

In future posts, I may examine each of these wrong views in more depth. For now, however, let me close this post (by coming full circle) with a quote from arguably the most important church father, Augustine, in which he affirms the value of science in a way that directly attacks (albeit anticipating it by 16 centuries) the biblicism and fideism (as well as the dogmatism) of modern young-earth creationists...
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world... and his 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 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. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of 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? (from The Literal Meaning of Genesis)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Flyin' South

Well, it's that time of year again. Birds are starting to fly south, and that means I get to trap a few raptors as they migrate down the ridge near Mt. Hood. Our catch today included Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, a Red-tailed Hawk, and an American Kestrel. Each gets a uniquely-numbered leg band (which will identify it if ever captured or found dead in the future), and is measured and weighed before being released to continue its journey. It is through projects like this that we have come to know so much about the migration of these raptors.

Watching and handling these beautiful predators is part of what helps me to lean into fall and the coming cold.

Here, my daughter Aurora holds a hatch-year female Cooper's Hawk.