Friday, March 12, 2010

Pivot Points

Resurgence of the view of earth as a very young planet and a global flood sculpting all of earth’s features in recent times was a pivotal occurrence triggered by a complex ebb and flow of events. In our day, almost fifty years after the publication of The Genesis Flood, belief in a young earth and a worldwide recent flood remains one of the defining pillars in the worldview structure of many Christians, setting them apart from fellow old earth believers who otherwise agree on important Christian doctrines. Such a belief sets them even farther apart from the many having no theological anchor at all.

A century before the Whitcomb/Morris publication, the appearance of Darwin’s The Origin of Species was likewise pivotal. For decades prior to 1859, Christians in the field of geology and other sciences had gained a refreshing and enlightening vision of the synergy of God’s “two books” –- the scriptures and the natural world. Our earth and its life forms were seen as existing for exceedingly long ages. In the decades to follow, however, the practitioners of science turned much more secular. The center of truth shifted toward science itself as having authority and away from the God-conscious outlook of many of the best scientists of the early 1800s. In the century’s last four decades there was a drift toward secularization not only in science, but also in all areas of society.

Theologians reacted with alarm. In the 18th and early 19th centuries they had come to respect science. But secular science interpreted as supporting evolution, allowing God a less prominent role in the creation story, was perceived to weaken their theological views. And indeed, that was true. They needed science of a different type. The reaction was a conscious move toward embracing an early form of scientific method called Baconian induction. It was used, for example, to examine the Bible in minute detail, organizing passages and proof-texts to support often pre-conceived conclusions about how the Bible must be interpreted and understood. In this sense they saw themselves seeking truths about a wide array of knowledge “scientifically.”

Mark A. Noll (b. 1946), a historian specializing in a study of evangelical attitudes in America, has written a significant chapter entitled “Thinking About Science,” in his volume The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll states “Creationists (he is speaking of young earth creationists) regularly reaffirm the principles of Baconian science…The tragedy is that creationists preserve a misguided Baconianism for the Bible and abandon a healthy Baconianism for science.” My personal experience during many discussions with young earth fellow-Christians, is that on matters of earth history and other truths of the natural world, they accept none of the findings of secular science if those findings are not proven “from scripture alone.”

This tradition intensified in the early 20th century and is still prevalent today among a large contingent of evangelical Christians who endorse a young earth and a recent, catastrophic global deluge. On matters of earth’s geologic history, young earth believers do not accept any mainstream scientific evidence which does not confirm a recent creation. They seek to discredit findings of scientific research pointing to the great age of our universe and earth. At the same time they present their own findings which serve to confirm their own vision of the timelines of earth history. Young earth adherents pronounce all old earth findings to be tainted with presuppositions, such as the belief that uniformitarian geological doctrines are true and support an old earth view leading also to a belief in evolution.

Reducing the young earth/old earth discussion to matters such as whether “yom” (day) in Genesis means 24-hours or a long time period, or whether any sort of death occurred before the fall of Adam, misses the crux of this discussion. A more fundamental issue is how we see our world today: through what mindset? with what worldview? using what set of tools to gain knowledge about God and His actions in our world, past and present? The Creator has given us a wonderful set of tools whereby we may make correct conclusions about His plan for mankind and how we may acquire a proper interpretation of His glorious creation.