Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Is It 'Time' for Young Earth Creationists to Change?

Within the Christian community, there is a notable contingent of “Young Earth Creationists” (hereafter YEC). These Christians believe the Bible, particularly Genesis 1-11, teaches the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old, and that Genesis 1 describes cosmic and terrestrial creation taking place over six consecutive 24-hour days. Although many evangelical Christians identify with the YEC view, there is a spectrum. On one side are those who hold to YEC but do not think there are any doctrinal problems with contrary views, assuming those holding a different view affirm the authority of the Bible for faith & life and agree with individual church/fellowship distinctives. On the other side of the YEC spectrum are those who believe any opposing view of Genesis presents significant, perhaps insurmountable, doctrinal problems and that any non-YEC (professing) Christian is compromising biblical truth. Examples of the latter camp would be ministries like Answers in Genesis (AIG) and Institute for Creation Research (ICR).

What I would like to argue in this post is that the efforts of this latter group of YEC advocates and ministries would be better served to focus solely on biblical exegesis and to disengage from dialogue on the scientific aspects of the issue. I do not mean to imply this type of YEC position ignores exegetical arguments, but it is indisputable that significant time and resources are dedicated to countering and putting forth alternative scientific claims in areas like geology, biology, physics, and astronomy. I submit this effort is a waste of time and resources. Those in the YEC group should completely pivot to exegetical arguments. Such a move would represent a more intellectually honest approach and would allow for better overall dialogue. Instead of trying to persuade Christians and non-Christians that “Old Earth” science is wrong or deceptive, the YEC will benefit themselves and their listeners by engaging in respectful discussion on what they take as the correct interpretation of Genesis 1-11 (and other passages, like Exodus 20:11).

Note that what I mean by being more intellectually honest is that YEC’s are ultimately trying to defend their understanding of the Bible. They are trying to uphold key biblical truths they take as contingent on the young earth interpretation, such as original sin and the lineage of Jesus. Their position is ultimately that it really does not matter what science says because God has spoken finally and unequivocally on the subject. God’s Word will supersede man’s word at all times. So if this is really the case, one must ask why bring up anything else? Tangential subjects can only detract from the core message.

The YEC should not think they have a dog in the scientific fight. Engaging on the scientific side is unnecessary for several reasons in addition to those mentioned above. First, the vast majority of those with whom the YEC interacts are believing Christians. I would argue that the primary focus of YEC ministries, such as those mentioned by name above, is to minister to Christian parents and evangelical churches in order to guard the flock (especially younger believers) from apostasy and heresy. The majority of this audience would already agree with their most basic and fundamental premise, the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. Thus, in this case, the scientific aspect is trivial. If science contradicts the Bible, so much the worse for science. No doubt this claim is in fact made at times by the likes of Answers in Genesis. But why pay attention to the science at all if it really does not matter in the final analysis? This is what I understand this YEC camp as doing; fighting a two-pronged battle when only one is needed.

One reason I can see for interjecting YEC scientific-based arguments is polemical; to show the purported absurdity of the other view so as to undermine its credibility. But such a move seems unnecessary if there was confidence in biblical revelation. So it would appear that the YEC view feels the need to buttress their exegetical case with scientific rationale. Just in case someone doubted their understanding of Genesis 1, their scientific arguments could come to the rescue and prop up the case or plug any holes.

Yet, this is clearly a flawed methodology. First, the YEC camp places a heavy premium on never taking ‘man’s word’ for things. And this is just what science would be for them in any case. Secondly, trying to counter largely unquestioned scientific facts, on the most simple of things, like the age of certain trees, rocks, and fossils, does not make sense to the biblical skeptic nor the non-YEC Christian. For one thing, the (contra) modern science YEC argument necessarily incorporates a biblical presuppositionalism that is often smuggled into the argument. The YEC position of a ministry like Answers in Genesis is one that entails methodological commitments that preclude connecting on the scientific front with anyone who does not adopt their presuppositional view. They take a certain interpretation of the Bible as their starting point for scientific inquiry (or any inquiry, for that matter) and interpret science through that lens.  Any other approach would, for them, fail to acknowledge the authority of Scripture. On their view, the Bible says the earth cannot be more than 6,000 - 10,000 years old, so there must be a way to interpret scientific research and findings consistent with this. And so it goes. Competing claims are first dismissed as false because they conflict with the Bible. The competing claim is then attacked on scientific grounds and found wanting.

Not only is this method difficult to defend theologically, but it is also difficult to defend scientifically. I will note that not all YEC advocates adopt this presuppositional view, and those who do not, incidentally, seem to fall more into the exegetical camp and lean toward scientific agnosticism about contravening claims.

It is completely unnecessary for the YEC to attack modern scientific research and theories. It is completely unnecessary for this group to attempt putting forth competing scientific explanations of various phenomena. The conflation, misdirection, and apples-to-oranges nature of comparison in many of these competing explanations does no good to the scientifically informed Christian or skeptic. Time would be much better spent on the exegetical case for a young earth, establishing the historicity of the Bible from an apologetic standpoint, and so forth.  Besides the many nuances of the philosophy of science that I have not seen considered from the YEC camp, such as theory-choice, realism versus antirealism, paradigm shifts relating to revolutions in science, etc., it does not really matter at all to their case what science claims or does not claim. They should leave it alone for the good of everyone.

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