Thursday, January 20, 2011

Young earth, old earth...who's the new sheriff in town?

Why, the young earth crowd rules in the SBC these days. Actually, the article below is from last fall.

HOW OLD? Age of Earth debated among SBC scholars

Dembski: “The young earth-solution to reconciling the order of creation with natural history makes good exegetical and theological sense,” wrote Dembski, who holds Ph.D. degrees in both philosophy and mathematics and is a leading proponent of the Intelligent Design movement. “Indeed, the overwhelming consensus of theologians up through the Reformation held to this view. I myself would adopt it in a heartbeat except that nature seems to present such strong evidence against it.”

Nettles: In response to The End of Christianity, Tom Nettles, professor of historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., wrote a review in which he critiqued Dembski for allegedly letting scientific commitments to trump the most natural reading of the Bible. The review appeared in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (Vol. 13.4, 2009), Southern Seminary’s official theological journal.

Patterson: Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson told the Witness that while he disagrees with Dembski’s assessment of the earth’s age, he is confident of his character, Christian commitment and adherence to the Baptist Faith & Message.

Mohler: Even though the disagreement between old- and young-earth creationists is a less important issue, it still has crucial implications, according to Mohler.
“Theologically, the historical Adam as the common ancestor of the human race is the most important issue. But the question is, how in the world do you end up with an historical Adam if you have an old earth?” he said. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that an old earth implies something other than an historical Adam.” Mohler worries that most Christians who hold to an old earth are not thinking through all the logical implications of their position.

Wise: Kurt Wise, professor of biology at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., agrees. He obtained a Ph.D. at Harvard under the famed evolutionist Stephen J. Gould and has long advocated a young earth as the only position compatible with Scripture. He replaced Dembski on Southern’s faculty in 2006. “Believing in a young creation is in no way a requirement for salvation,” Wise told the Witness in an email. “I do believe, however, that it is impossible to consistently believe in both an old earth and inerrant Scripture.”

What is missing from the article, basically just a string of quotes from the various SBC worthies, is a serious treatment of the physical evidence for an old earth. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to reconcile many streams of old earth evidence with what seems to be the requisite extremely young earth.

The occasions I have heard folks actually tackle the physical evidence, it has been less than believable. This is understandable, since the difference is between billions of years and thousands of years – not an easy slam dunk, unless merely being dismissive is allowed. Even Wise, who is most qualified of this crowd to assess the age of the earth as estimated by the various contemporary scientific disciplines, is quoted (not in this article) to the effect that the evidence is not present for a young earth, as we understand physical evidence, but that one day he is confident that it will be. That is faith.

Debating any of this with our leading theologians, paleontologists, and scientists is much beyond my limited skills, but I think it to be extremely difficult to build a credible case for an earth no older than ten thousand years.

I am pleased, however, that it appears we aren’t in a mode to run the old-earth creationists out of town.


Jonathan said...

"What is missing from the article, basically just a string of quotes from the various SBC worthies, is a serious treatment of the physical evidence for an old earth."

This is the key takeaway for me, William.

The be charitable, it would be hard for an article, limited by space, to be much more than a collection of quotes. On the other hand, it is not entirely helpful to declare the piece to be about a debate and then not point to an actual debate.

We don't debate in SBC life (I've been aware of SBC leadership stuff since the early 70s and we didn't debate then either). What we do: 1) do a behind the scenes head count (ensuring that final support for a position is locked), 2) make a declaration, and 3) declare consensus or majority and then move forward.

There are dangers in authentic debate. One might be forced to accept as valid at least part of the opposition's case. One might be convinced. And then, sooner or later, one would have to confront a questioner who produces quotes before and after the debate in one of those pedantic gotcha moments (which would be trumpeted in a thousand pulpits the following Sunday morning).

Back when conservatives found that they were not going to be listened to by the moderate left in power in the SBC, they found a way to do an end run straight to the messengers. While effective, this experience taught conservatives that the way forward does not efficiently run through real debate and reasoning together.

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious about the extent of old earthers on the faculty at the other seminaries.

Thanks for the comment. Hope you are well.