This is the second half to the opening remarks I made at last Friday's conference:
We often forget to make the distinction between creation and creationism. One is a doctrine while the other is an apologetic approach. On the one hand, creation is a foundational doctrine of the Christian faith. The essential features of the doctrine of creation are unchangeable tenets. The Bible teaches that those features include the truths that God, without compulsion or necessity, freely created the universe out of nothing according to his own will and for his own good purposes. Though marred by the arrival of evil and sin, creation reflects the nature of its Creator. So creation is both great and good.
On the other hand, creationism is an apologetic approach which attempts to integrate the doctrine of creation with the current understandings of the natural sciences. In particular, creationism seeks to relate the first 11 chapters of Genesis to the latest findings of science. For example, how does the biblical account of God creating the sun, moon, and stars square with what we understand through astronomy? Or the creation of plants and animals with research in biology and genetics? Or the account of Noah’s flood with geology? Or the account of the dispersing of nations after the Tower of Babel with anthropology? Creationism deals with issues such as the age of the universe, the origin of the first humans, and the nature of the world prior to the fall of the original couple.
So creation is an unchanging and unchangeable doctrine while creationism, by its very nature, must constantly change and be amended. The doctrine of creation is derived from Scripture and is as old as the biblical witness itself. Creationism is relatively new, because it arose alongside the scientific revolution in the 17th century. As science developed, so did creationism, especially after Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. We must keep the distinction between creation and creationism in mind as we explore the important issues of this conference. We must know what to hold firmly and what must be open to revision. All of the participants are strongly committed to the historic doctrine of creation, but they differ on which apologetic approach is best to take.
Neither of the two views presented today—young-earth creationism and old-earth creationism—is without serious challenges. And we are here to discuss our differences. But our fellowship in Christ is strong. All participants affirm the inspiration of Scripture, and all the speakers believe that the God Who gave us the Bible is the God Who created heaven and earth.
These are exciting days to be exploring creation and natural history. Evangelicals are a missional people. As such we cannot shy away from the difficult issues presented by origins science. We must engage the natural sciences with confidence and integrity. We must endeavor that the Lord Jesus Christ will have worshippers in every vocation, and we must advance the Kingdom of God into every arena of life—including the natural sciences.
Several have asked for a copy of the introductory remarks given at Friday's conference. Here is part one of what I said. I plan to post part two tomorrow.
The Three Levels of History
As a discipline, history is explored on three levels—natural history, human history, and salvation history. Natural history tells the story of nature—primarily in the realms of astronomy, biology, and geology. When we use the word “history” by itself (without using an adjective) we typically mean human history. It is the narrative of the human past. Salvation history is the account of the redemptive activity of God, and it is given to us by special revelation. This conference is a discussion about the proper way to relate the three types of history, and how we should go about interpreting one form of history in the light of the others.
The student of natural history or human history has a set of tools at his disposal and certain empirical artifacts to examine and data to explore. Through the proper use of tools on key data, the historian of nature or human endeavor attempts to tell us what happened. The one thing neither of those two disciplines can tell us is why things happen. This is certainly true in the scientific study of nature. In his book on natural history, physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg concludes, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” His outlook should not surprise us. Weinberg is an atheist. If one looks to nature—and only to nature—then he will inevitably conclude that all is vain and futile. Only salvation history tells us why the world exists. And no study of natural history can tell us how the universe will end. Take Christ out of the picture and the universe appears all dressed up with nowhere to go.
This Friday's conference is just a few days away. The four speakers have provided summaries of their respective talks: Session 1 – Gregg Davidson
Biblical Worldview, Ancient Earth - This session will include (1) a brief summary of how we, as Christian scientists, have wrestled with biblical issues, and our commitment to the authority of Scripture, (2) discussion of the influence of worldview on scientific interpretation, and (3) the story of scientific discovery of the Earth’s history that few Christians are aware of. Session 2 – Ronald Marks
Hermeneutics and the Scientific Process: You Cannot Not Beg the Question - The question of the earth’s age cannot be answered by a simple examination of the physical evidence. That evidence itself must also be examined. A common misunderstanding of nonscientists, as well as scientists, is that science is an unbiased, trustworthy purveyor of truth. We are all often unaware that the process of “doing science” relies on and is influenced by a philosophical foundation. Proclamations from science must be examined in light of the worldview of the scientist and the community of science. Failing to do so can often result in a view consistent with modern culture that emphasizes the conflict scenario. Many Christians attempt to address this view with a superimposed non- overlapping magisterial system. Neither of these is consistent with the biblical statements regarding creation. Session 3 – Ken Wolgemuth
What Makes Geologists Believe the Age Question Has Been Answered? - There is a common perception that scientific estimates of the age of the earth are based on untestable assumptions. This session will provide examples of how assumptions such as constant radioactive decay rates (for radioactive dating methods) are put to the test and what geologists look for to determine whether old-earth or young-earth claims are supported by what we find in nature. Session 4 – Eugene Chaffin
Does Science Leave Room for a Biblical Age of the Earth? - The study of radioisotopes is often used to support a billions of year history of the Earth and the life on Earth. Evidences including Carbon-14 dating of diamonds, helium diffusion in samples recovered from deep boreholes and evidence for changing half-lives from double-beta-decay measurements are explained to the non- scientist and their relevance to the reliability of radioisotope dating explored. Creation Week, The Fall of Man, and the Genesis Flood are taken as possible events where radioactive decay may have been accelerated, with the “ages” of geologic strata thereby receiving false imprints.
As you can see, Davidson and Wolgemuth argue for an old-earth interpretation; Marks and Chaffin contend for the young-earth position. As the bios given in the previous post demonstrates, these four men are eminently qualified to lead out in these discussions. You can register for the conference here
This Friday the Bush Center is sponsoring a dialogue between young-earth and old-earth creationists. Four scientists--two geologists, a chemist, and a physicists--will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both positions. Registration for the conference can be found here
. The bios provided by the speakers are as follows: Eugene Chaffin
is a Fellow and Board Member of the Creation Research Society with over 20 years of service, and is currently on the faculty of North Greenville University, S.C. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical nuclear physics from Oklahoma State University, has done postdoctoral research in Germany, served as a Naval Officer and teacher at the Naval Nuclear Power School, and has taught physics courses in Baptist-affiliated universities for more than 30 years. Chaffin was part of the nine-year Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth (RATE) project sponsored by the Institute for Creation Research and the Creation Research Society. He is married to his wife Pamela with two grown children, Josh and Sarah. Gregg Davidson
grew up in a family with two preachers (both grandfathers) and a biology professor (father), which instilled Davidson with an early love for both Scripture and science. He earned a B.S. in geology from Wheaton College, Ill., and a Ph.D. in hydrogeology from the University of Arizona (UA). Graduate work at UA included radiocarbon dating, processing samples in the same lab that dated the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Shroud of Turin. Davidson has been a professor of Geology & Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi since 1996 and is currently serving as the chair of the department. Davidson frequently speaks and writes on subjects related to science and Christian faith. He is the author of “When Faith and Science Collide,” as well as faith/science articles in journals such as “Modern Reformation” and the “Christian Research Journal.” Ronald C. Marks
is a Professor of Chemistry at North Greenville University where he has taught courses in Chemistry, Earth Science, Physics, and Honors Seminars. He has served as an Elder, Music Leader, and Sunday School teacher in local churches. Dr. Marks is blessed to have been married to Joann Williams since 1981. They have one amazing treasure of a daughter, Rebekah. Before coming to North Greenville University, S.C., Marks spent 20 years in the United States Air Force, where he served his country managing the acquisition of aircraft simulators. He led and participated in chemical and biological intelligence work while teaching at the United States Air Force Academy. At the Air Force Academy, Marks directed their largest chemical education course, with 20 faculty teaching over 1,000 students each semester. He retired in the rank of Major in 2002. Marks was licensed to preach by First Southern Baptist Church of Cortez, Colorado. He has served as an ordained deacon in Baptist and IFCA Churches in Colorado and as an ordained lay minister in Tenn., Colo., and Fla. He is also a speaker on Creation issues and has taught courses on Creation in local churches. Marks earned three academic degrees from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville: B.A. in Chemistry (Honors, 1982), M.A. of Science in Chemistry (Organic, 1988), and Ph.D. in Chemistry (Synthetic Organic, 1994). He is a member of the Creation Research Society, The American Chemical Society, and the Military Officers Association of America. His research interests include the study of Creation, the relationship of science and Christianity, computational chemistry in undergraduate education.
Ken Wolgemuth was raised in a Christian home where his father was pastor of an extension church and Professor of Chemistry at Messiah College, Penn. He learned about Scripture as the authoritative and infallible Word of God, the Creator, and that Genesis is a description of the who, what, and why of creation. Science is the study of when and what God did in His creation. Wolgemuth earned a B.S. from Wheaton College, Ill. in chemistry and a Ph.D. from Columbia University, N.Y. in geochemistry – the discipline that includes radiometric dating methods. He was a geology professor for seven years, and then spent the last 35 years in the oil industry, now teaching petroleum geology as an international lecturer and a popular two-day course on Geology for non-geologists. Wolgemuth founded “Solid Rock Lectures” in 2008 to inform Christian audiences about the geological evidence for old-earth creation. He has given numerous lectures at colleges, universities and churches about geology. Additionally, he has co-authored a paper published in the “Christian Research Journal” titled “How Old Is the Earth? – What God’s Creation Professes.”
This promises to be an excel
Next Friday, Oct 25th, the Bush Center will sponsor a dialogue between four scientists--two that hold to young-earth creationism and two that hold to old-earth creationism. Two geologists, a chemist, and a physicist will engage in a day-long discussion in a conference entitled "Noah's Flood and the Age of the Earth."
Here are the positions which will be discussed: Young-earth Creationism
Young-earth Creationism holds to a six-day creation that occurred approximately 6,000 years ago. Young-earth advocates contend that the proper interpretation of Genesis 1-3 requires this position. Old-earth Creationism
Old-earth Creationism (sometimes called Progressive Creationism) holds that God created in successive stages over a period of millions or billions of years. Old-earth advocates accept the general scientific model of an ancient universe (and the Big Bang theory). Global Flood Model
The Global Flood Model holds that the language of Genesis 6-9 requires that the flood in Noah’s day be understood as a world-wide, global event. Local Flood Model
The Local Flood Model holds that the flood in Noah’s day was confined to the Mesopotamian region, and that a proper interpretation of the Genesis account and the geological evidence supports this interpretation.
This promises to be a very informative and helpful conference! You can register for the meeting here.
On Friday, Oct 25th, the Bush Center for Faith and Culture is sponsoring an all day conference on the biblical record and the scientific evidence concerning the age of the earth. Four scientists (two geologists, a physicist, and a chemist) and four Old Testament scholars will present the arguments for both the old-earth and the young-earth viewpoints. Here’s the conference schedule:
8:00 - 9:00am
9:00 - 9:15am
9:15 - 10:00am
10:00 - 10:45am
10:45 - 11:00am
11:00 - 11:45pm
12:00 - 1:30pm
1:30 - 2:15pm
2:15 - 3:00pm
3:00 - 3:15pm
3:15 - 4:45pm
4:45 - 6:30pm
6:30 - 8:30pm
Welcome and Introduction
Session 1 – Gregg Davidson
Biblical Worldview, Ancient Earth
Session 2 – Ronald Marks
Hermeneutics and the Scientific Process: You Cannot Not Beg the Question
Session 3 – Ken Wolgemuth
What Makes Geologists Believe the Age Question Has Been Answered?
Session 4 – Eugene Chaffin
Does Science Leave Room for a Biblical Age of the Earth?
Panel Discussion with Plenary Speakers
Session 5 - Response from Old Testament Faculty Members and Rejoinder from the Plenary Speakers
Session 6 with Q&A –
Gregg Davidson & Ronald Marks
This promises to be a very exciting and informative conference. The cost for the event is $15/person; $10/person for groups of five or more. Click here
In 1951, Richard Niebuhr published the classic Christ and Culture. Niebuhr explored the various ways that Christians have engaged with the world over the history of the Church, and he concluded that five distinct approaches could be discerned. He labeled them thusly:
Christ against Culture
The Christ of Culture
Christ above Culture
Christ and Culture in Paradox
Christ the Transformer of Culture
The first two approaches, Christ against Culture and The Christ of Culture are the approaches taken by Fundamentalists and Liberals, respectively. As such, the methods are polar opposites. The Christ against Culture approach focuses on the conflict between the Church and the world. Typically this approach advocates separating from culture or even society itself. By contrast, The Christ of Culture position takes note of how God is at work in the world, and advocates of this approach point to the close relationship between Christianity and western civilization. If the first approach historically has tended to isolationism, then the second approach generally has resulted in liberalism. Independent Baptists typify the first position, while the mainline denominations exemplify the second. In contrast, most Evangelicals have turned away from both approaches and have attempted to take one of the remaining three courses. Each of the remaining approaches is an attempt to engage the world in a way that remains true to Christ and the Gospel.
The Christ above Culture approach has many similarities with the Christ of Culture approach, and probably describes the tack taken by many Roman Catholics. Like the Christ of Culture view, it contends that God is working in and through culture and society, but the Christ above Culture more strongly emphasizes the necessity of divine grace.
The Christ and Culture in Paradox view has many similarities with the Christ against Culture approach, and probably describes best the approach taken by Martin Luther. Like the advocates of the Christ against Culture position, Luther stood as a prophetic voice in opposition to society. But unlike the Christ against Culture proponents, Luther continued to engage and involve himself with cultural and political structures of the world.
Last, the Christ the Transformer of Culture approach is perhaps the most optimistic of all five views, for it calls for the Church to attempt—not simply the conversion of individuals—but the conversion of society as a whole. Not surprisingly, many advocates of the Christ the Transformer of Culture approach also hold to postmillennialism. The Dutch Reformed theologian, Abraham Kuyper (who also served as the prime minister of the Netherlands) would be an example of this approach.
Which of the last three approaches presented by Niebuhr--Christ above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ the Transformer of Culture—should a pastor take? Evangelicals continue to discuss and debate the relative strengths and weaknesses of each position. Personally, I find myself most in sympathy with Luther’s Christ and Culture in Paradox approach.
The Christ and Culture in Paradox position, as explained by Niebuhr, resists the temptation to accommodate the Gospel to Culture, but it does not see the battle in terms of Christian vs. pagan. Rather, the Paradox view understands the conflict to be God vs. humanity—the righteousness of God vs. the self-righteousness of humans. God’s grace is the only solution. The Paradox proponent joins the Christ against Culture proponent “in pronouncing the whole world of human culture to be godless and sick unto death,” explains Niebuhr, “But there is this difference between them: the [Paradox advocate] knows that he belongs to that culture and cannot get out of it, that God indeed sustains him in it and by it; for if God in His grace did not sustain the world in its sin it would not exist for a moment” (156).
This paradox (hence the name) comes about because the believer lives “between the times.” Christ’s kingdom has been inaugurated, and we look forward to its eventual complete arrival. This world is fading away, and we must be faithful witnesses while will live in this present age. “Living between time and eternity, between wrath and mercy, between culture and Christ, the true [Paradox advocate] finds life both tragic and joyful” (178). So the godly pastor must lead his church to the paradoxical position of engaging the world while confronting its sin, of loving humanity while convinced of humanity’s depravity, and of presenting Jesus Christ as the world’s Judge and its only Hope. That’s a tall order—one that can be accomplished only by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
A question about ultimate origins is really a question about ultimate reality. Reality appears to have two components: that which is physical and that which is spiritual. These two elements have been described as the distinction between the material and the immaterial, or the natural and the supernatural. Is this duality the way things have always been? Or did one aspect bring about the other? Or is this dualistic quality an illusion, and reality is actually singular? Three competing worldviews—dualism, monism, and theism—provide three different answers, and in so doing offer conflicting responses to the question of ultimate origins. Opposing dualism and monism, the Bible unambiguously affirms theism: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Dualism: Dualism understands the physical and the spiritual realms to be co-eternal realities that are constantly in opposition to one another. Dualism views the material world as inferior to the immaterial realm, and portrays the material world as intrinsically evil. The classical Greek philosophers and many eastern religions espoused some version of dualism, as did several heretical groups during the early days of the church (such as the Gnostics and the Manichees). Dualism excludes any notion that God is almighty. In dualism there can be no ultimate victory over evil. The conflict between good and evil is an everlasting battle that will continue throughout eternity.
Monism: Monism holds that there is only one reality—either physical or spiritual—and that the other apparent aspect is simply an illusion. But monists disagree about which feature is real and which feature is illusory. Immaterialist monism (such as Hinduism) contends that the spiritual realm is the only true reality. Enlightenment comes when one realizes that the material world is an artifice. Such immaterialist monistic thinking can be found primarily in the eastern religions, with relatively few adherents in the west (the Christian Science sect is a notable exception).
Monism in western culture has been predominantly materialistic, and this version of monism entails atheism. Atheists contend that the material world is the sum of reality. Such materialistic monism often is called naturalism (or more specifically, philosophical naturalism). One famous atheist began his discussion of the universe by declaring, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” He was not making an empirical observation; he was proclaiming his adherence to materialistic monism.
But the Big Bang cosmology (which most atheists accept) presents a special dilemma for materialistic monism. How can the physical universe be the ultimate reality, since it is admittedly finite in size and duration? Why should it be held in such high esteem? In addition, when materialistic monists deny the reality of anything immaterial, they find themselves repudiating the essential features of what it means to be a human being: the existence of mind, free will, and ultimately personhood. In short, materialists end up denying their own existence.
Theism: Theism contends that reality is greater than the observable Cosmos. God transcends the Universe and He is its Creator. Biblical theism holds to the following features:
Creation Out of Nothing: The Bible teaches creatio ex nihilo—“creation out of nothing.” The Apostle Paul declares that God “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17) while the author of Hebrews rejects any notion that the world was created out of pre-existing materials: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb. 11:3).
God Alone Is Eternal: Creation began in time; space and time are elements of creation. Whether or not time existed before the creation of the universe is a matter of ongoing discussion among Christian scholars, but the majority position has been that time is an element of creation and came into being at the initial moment of creation. Only God is self-sufficient and eternal; therefore only God is worthy of worship. All other worship is idolatry because everything else has had a beginning and has existed only for a finite period of time.
God Is Distinct From Creation: Since God alone is eternal and He called the universe into existence out of nothing, then there is a fundamental difference between the Creator and that which He created. God and the world are not on a continuum, nor is the world an extension of the essence of God. Prior to creation, God was the sum total of reality. To allow that which is not-God to exist was in itself an act of condescension.
God Created with Freedom: God did not create out of any necessity or out of any sense of lack. From all eternity God has been and continues to be a perfect fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Creation added nothing to God. He has always and perfectly possessed all excellencies, and if God had chosen never to create it would not have detracted from his glory. This means nothing internal or external necessitated creation. Not only could God have refrained from creating, He also could have created a world very different from this one.
God Created a World That Is Consistent with His Nature and Character: God is both great and good. Correspondingly, he has created a world that is consistent with his great nature and his good character; so creation is also both great and good. Creation displays His glory, power, and majesty. The Cosmos also displays the goodness of God. The Universe is a good Universe because a good God created it. This means that there is nothing intrinsically evil about Creation. The creation account repeatedly reports that God looked upon what he had made and “saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Even with the effects of the fall, the Bible still describes the material creation as “good” (Num. 14:7; 1 Tim. 4:4-5). The universe displays God’s goodness and wisdom (Prov. 3:19-20; 8:22-36).
God Is Sovereign over Creation: The all-inclusive nature of creation entails God’s control and rule over all of it. Moses opens Genesis with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” He intends the expression “heavens and the earth” to communicate that the Lord created everything “from A to Z.” In the other ancient near-eastern accounts certain entities were presented as adversaries and competitors to the creator deity. Moses presents all such elements—the deep and darkness, the celestial bodies, the fearsome beasts—as subjects created by and obedient to God.
God Continues to Be Actively Involved with Creation: God is not an apathetic, absentee landlord. The Bible teaches that at every level God constantly involves himself with Creation. God is simultaneously transcendently above and immanently within Creation. By transcendence we mean that God is distinct from and greater than Creation. Yet, at the same time, the Bible affirms God’s immanence within Creation. This means He is omnipresent and He is thoroughly and meticulously involved in every aspect of the Universe (Acts 17:25-28).
In summation, theism holds that God, without opposition or equal, called the Universe into existence out of nothing for his own good purposes. In contrast to dualism or monism, theism presents a hopeful, optimistic view of the Cosmos. Though evil is in the world, it is not an eternal feature interwoven into the essence of nature. God has redeemed the world through His Son, Jesus Christ, and He is accomplishing His purposes according to His eternal plan (Eph. 1:11).
I am privileged to serve as Director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The fall semester at SEBTS is off to a great start with a record number of new students and a vibrant spirit of anticipation of God at work in the lives of the faculty, staff and students on our campus.
One of the services that the CFC provides our campus and the community is giving opportunities to hear from authors, teachers and preachers who can assist us in engaging our culture as salt and light. This semester's scheduled events are:September 6
- Rosario Butterfield presents Sexuality, Identity, and the Doctrine of Repentance: My Train Wreck Conversion
(free admission)September 12
- Dr. R. Albert Mohler presents the Bush-Drummond Lectures
- Noah's Flood and the Age of the Earth: A Dialogue Between Old Earth
and Young Earth Creationists
(registration required; $15/each or $10 groups of 5)
The community is invited to attend these events. To register simply click this link
to the CFC website!
For 18 days last month, Malcolm Yarnell (from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) and I had the privilege of taking a group of students on a study tour through England and Scotland. One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Gainsborough Hall in Lincolnshire, a meeting place built over 500 years ago. During the English Reformation, Protestants who stayed in the Church of England to try to purify the church of its Roman Catholic tendencies were called “Puritans.” Those who separated from the Church to form independent congregations were called—you guessed it—“Separatists.” In the early 1600’s a Separatist congregation formed at Gainsborough Hall and met there for worship. In those days it was dangerous to be a Separatist. King James I was the head of the Church of England, and to separate from the Church was viewed by him as an act of treason.
The congregation at Gainsborough decided to leave England; in the process splitting into two groups. One group went to Holland and the other group went to Belgium. The group that went to Holland was led by John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. While in Holland they became convinced that the New Testament taught believer's baptism rather than infant baptism, and this group became the very first English-speaking Baptist church. They eventually returned to England, despite the threat of persecution. In fact, soon after their return, Helwys was imprisoned and there he died.
The second group decided against returning to England, and they eventually travelled to America. They made the perilous journey across the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower and then formed a colony in Massachusetts. Of course, today we call them the “Pilgrims,” and every November we celebrate Thanksgiving in their honor. So Baptists and Pilgrims have their origins from the same Separatist congregation. Standing in Gainsborough Hall last month, I thanked God for our spiritual forefathers. They risked everything to follow Christ. May God give us the spiritual courage and faith to follow their example!