I want to begin by thanking Gavin Ortland for his friendly rejoinder to my recent piece on young earth creation. In the spirit of encouraging all such friendly rejoinders, let me here supply a few of my own. I will just locate a few brief comments under his numbered items.
1. First, writing as one who accepts microevolution (variation within kinds) and who does not accept macroevolution (transition from one kind to another), I cheerfully grant his point that some old earthers reject the same kind of evolution that I reject. Not every old earth creationist is a theistic evolutionist. I am happy to acknowledge that, and not begrudgingly either.
At the same time, my post was part of a series responding to BioLogos, which does support theistic evolution, and which has somehow attracted significant evangelical support. Theistic evolution of this kind creates enormous theological problems (all connected to “what is an Adam?”), and I would welcome the participation of creationist old earthers in that debate.
2. Under his second point, Gavin raises a number of reasonable questions — questions that every student of Scripture should want to see carefully addressed. As I respond, please remember that a separate book could be written on each point.
First, on the question of natural evil, my brother Gordon Wilson has written an important article on this subject, and I will supply a link here when I get hold of it. Update: that link can be found here. Gordon’s abstract starts on page 8.
Second, I do not believe that the second law of thermodynamics was introduced at the Fall. Could an unfallen Adam have seen increased entropy by shuffling a deck of cards? “Darn! Another royal flush!” I believe that leaves could rot on the ground in Eden, and that Adam and Eve could eat fruit that was broken down in their stomachs by industrious dismantling enzymes. What happened in the Fall was the river of entropy flooded its banks. The river was always there, but became universally destructive. Paul refers to this when he says that the creation was “made subject to vanity,” or “bondage to corruption.”
“For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20–21).
Gavin argues this — “that natural evil began when evil began: that nature fell when angels fell: that creation became infected with disarray and disorder when her first creatures rebelled against the Creator’s design.” I grant that sin existed in the world before Adam rebelled. The serpent was sinning, and then Eve was deceived when she shouldn’t have been deceived. But when the appointed federal head sinned, that was when the creation fell, as I believe Paul is discussing in Romans 8.
Third, I cheerfully grant certain forms of “death” in the Edenic state — microbes, apples, leaves, and so on. I don’t believe the Garden of Eden was made out of high tech plastic. What I reject, and think we all must reject, is agonistic death. When Weston is ripping apart Perelandrian frogs, we all know that this is the introduction of something demented into that world. I don’t want the one who introduced that kind of suffering into our world to be a god who could fashion that kind of agony, smile over it, and repeatedly call it “good.”
Fourth, and I hope this doesn’t derail us, I do believe in the resurrection of certain animals. While discussing 1 Cor. 15, Gavin says “no one sees animal animal resurrection in view here.” Ah, but I do! Can we talk about it? Do you all promise not to laugh?
In 1 Cor. 15:35-39, Paul is discussing the different kinds of resurrection bodies, and he says that these vary according to the different kinds of seed you use. Different bodies are different kinds of seed (v. 38). He itemizes men, beasts, birds and fish, all capable of agonistic suffering. I don’t believe that nature was red in tooth and claw before the Fall, just as I don’t believe it will be that way after the resurrection.
3. I agree wholeheartedly with the hermeneutical point Gavin makes here. We must take the Bible as it presents itself to be taken. To take it literally when it intends something metaphorical is to abuse the text, and also to take things metaphorically when offered literally. Wooden exegesis does not display a high view of the text, but rather something quite opposite. Raw fundamentalism frequently makes this mistake — reading the figurative as literal. But sophisticated believers make the opposite mistake, and just as frequently. More on that in a moment.
This is a section I will probably have to address in more detail later because it is where much of the action is. But just a couple of quick thoughts now.
First, Gavin points to the possibility that expressions such as we find in Mark and Romans are idiomatic.
“So when Jesus says that God made humanity male and female ‘from the beginning of creation’ in Mark 10:6, and Paul says that God’s nature has been seen ‘ever since the creation of the world’ in Romans 1:20, what did Jesus and Paul intend to communicate?”
Now I am quite prepared to grant that Jesus and Paul might not have been intending to communicate anything about the timing of the creation. My point was not “what was their point?” but rather, “what were they assuming?” When Paul tells Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach and frequent ailments, I don’t have to believe that his intention was to enable me to argue with teetotalers. What was on his mind was Timothy’s health. What is on my mind is how Paul naturally assumes that wine has some good uses, and so I don’t hesitate to bring it up in a debate with Carrie Nation.
I said above that sophisticated believers tend to herd things into the realm of metaphor — even when the ancient world did not take it metaphorically at all. Gavin gives the stupendous illustration of “heaven, earth, and under the earth.” Every Lord’s Day, I say the Apostles Creed and I say that I really do believe that Jesus descended into Sheol, Hades. I say that because I really do believe it. Peter even uses the proper place name of Tartarus for the lowest pit of Hades (2 Pet. 2:4). Jesus went somewhere, and He announced His final victory over the principalities and powers while there. When the biblical writers used such language, their first readers would have had something in mind that was very different from the views held by cosmological moderns. Plato thought he knew where the gates of Hades were located, and he was not exactly a superstitious lout. I hasten to add that this does not require an earth platter balanced on an endless stack of turtles, but I am maintaining that it is not simply “metaphorical.” Probably the best example I know of in blending ancient and modern cosmologies is the work of C.S. Lewis, which I commend to everybody.
4. Gavin concludes with an invitation to get into the scientific specifics. It is a gracious invitation, and it should most certainly be taken up by those capable of it. I am not a scientist, so am not in a position to respond to him directly. But I do read the work of scientists, and am aware that a lot of young earth scientific work is being done by scientists with terminal degrees from all the approved places. But because they have become heretics, they are frequently not allowed anywhere close to the discussion — having been dismissed as flat-earth, one-toothers. They are exiled from the discussion, and then their absence is used as evidence against them.
Thought experiment: if someone were to organize a national conference on the scientific arguments for young earth and old earth respectively, with a commitment to charitable discussion, which group would be there in an instant? And which group would be the most reluctant? Which group would believe that they would gain credibility by going? Which group would believe they would lose credibility by going?