Does Tim Keller Live on an Old Earth?

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Tim Keller has provided us with a brief introduction to his thinking on the relationship of the current science and biblical revelation. You can find that essay here in six parts at BioLogos.

After reading it, there were a number of questions I wanted to ask, and so then I decided to go right ahead. I thought that Keller did an admirable job laying out the basic questions, but I was either dissatisfied with the answers, or wanted to ask a follow-up question or two. You know how it is. So here they are, in no particular order.

1. Keller takes great pains to distinguish evolutionary biological processes (EBP) from evolution as a grand theory of everything (GTE), and he stresses how important this is. He says that if they get muddled in the minds of Christians, then we might be tempted to skew how we read Scripture for the sake of guarding against the atheistic GTE. Point taken, and even for those of us who disagree, it is a distinction worth having. Don’t throw the EBP baby out with the GTE bathwater. But what about those of us who don’t believe that EBP is a baby at all, but rather a particularly ugly chimp that somebody smuggled into the nursery? Some of us want to say, “Hey! That’s not baby Jane!”

So here is the question. If this confusion besets nonbelievers also, as Keller acknowledges it does, including their scientists, then how can we know that this is not skewing how they are reading the natural realm, e.g. the science itself? And if that is the case, then how do we know the science we are being asked to “come to grips with” is not a secularist tract or screed? How do we know that they are not policing their ranks, looking for any sign of heresy, sniffing it out, in order to make sure that nothing in the realm of pure science be allowed to challenge their GTE — including any evidence that stands against EBP?

2. Keller makes the perfectly acceptable point that Scripture is not to be taken woodenly. Faithful Christians accept the Bible as God’s Word to us and they accept it the way it presents itself to be taken. Fair enough and we agree on that.

He uses the example of one chapter of the Bible saying that the stars in their courses fought against Sisera, while in the previous chapter, in the account of the battle itself, there is no mention of the stars doing this, and so Keller takes the former as a poetic expression. Okay, but that doesn’t highlight the actual tension believers feel when they are up against the snark of high secularism.

Keller also mentions how Luke begins his gospel, saying that he made a careful record of eyewitness accounts, and so on (Luke 1:1-4). His account is to be taken as a straight up narrative of what happened. But in the very next chapter of Luke, we have . . . more stars! And this should not be countered with the idea that they were not stars — it says the heavenly host (Luke 1:13), which is what the stars are throughout the entire Old Testament. And these stars don’t show up in some bard’s poetry after a battle, but rather come down and present the poetry themselves to some very startled shepherds (Luke 2:9ff). And Keller is right — Luke presents this as a stone sober historical account, and this is very much at odds with what so-called “science” would say to us about that particular possibility in the natural world.

Now as a biblical absolutist, confronted with this particular embarrassment, I would say that even in our world, flaming gas is not what a star is, but only what it is made of. I am personally inclined to further speculate that these stars were all singing in the key of B flat, for wouldn’t it be pleasant if stars were all pitched like clarinets? But back to what the Bible actually says. When they all thwapped back up into the sky — the Greek verb describes something akin to what the stars look like in Star Trek when the Enterprise goes into hyper-drive — the historical claims being made here are enough to humiliate a full seventeen evangelical seminary professors who don’t want to be laughed at when they go to scholarly conferences. And when these angelstars went back up into Heaven, I am inclined to think that they did so in order to prepare that pie in the sky we have all heard so much about. Not only do I believe in that pie, I also believe in the ice cream on top of it.

Where was I?

Biblical absolutism need not entail a wooden fundamentalism. Indeed, in many ways it precludes it. The New Jerusalem does not come down like the space shuttle, and so on. But it must also be said, with the appropriate degree of merriment, that the biblical cosmology is absolutely at odds with what passes for respectable science these days. Until we are prepared to respond to the demands of that respectable science with a throaty kind of horse laugh (which, if throaty enough, would also be a hoarse laugh), we will never be free to love the Lord God with all our minds.

All truth really is God’s truth, and that is something you can put in the bank. The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. But this is not the same thing as saying that any random thing said by a faithless one in a white lab coat is God’s truth.

3. Keller does a fine job in stating the most formidable objection to theistic evolution, but then provides no adequate answer for it whatever. He says, “The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation, and death to be the very engine of how life develops. If God brings about life through evolution, how do we reconcile that with the idea of a good God? The problem of evil seems to be worse for the believer in theistic evolution.” If, as I believe, the answer to this dilemma is that we can’t, Keller appears to grant this point by default because what I say we can’t do, he doesn’t do.

The reason for postulating millions of years of life on this planet is to provide an account for the fossil record. But the fossil record is made up entirely of bodies. It is a graveyard record. It is a record of death. But this means that Adam did not bring death into the world — rather death brought Adam into the world. But Paul says that it was the other way around (Rom. 5:12). Moreover this would mean that God settled on millions of years of “nature red in tooth and claw” as His ideal means of creation — entirely apart from any sin or rebellion on anyone’s part — and that He looked down on this agonistic morass and pronounced it good. Talk about the problem of evil.

Since the work of the Church in this world is the restoration of Eden, it is worth noting that theistic evolution mandates a complete reversal of the definition of creational good. It turns out that Eden was as bloody as the post fall world. What did we fall into then?

4. The differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are neither here nor there. I think that everybody grants that they are two different kinds of accounts, and we all have different ways of accounting for it. I am a young earth creationist (YEC, if you want to know the code), and I am in agreement with Keller’s point that Genesis 1 is elevated prose. My commitment to a young earth comes, not from the first chapter, but from my acceptance of the genealogy given later in Genesis (Gen. 5:3ff), along with my acceptance of the laws of addition and subtraction. If Jazzbo begat Jazzbo Jr. when Jazzbo was one hundred and thirty two, it doesn’t matter if Jazzbo was actually the grandfather or great-grandfather. The math works the same way, and we find ourselves back in Eden right about the time Archbishop Ussher thought it would be there.

While we are here on this subject, I will acknowledge I have before entertained the possibility that the days of Genesis 1 were days of revelation, when Adam was first learning to write, and the evening and morning were the first day, and then his hand was tired. But when this possibility arises, my first reaction was not to shoehorn millions of years in there so that I could win the approbation of people I have no interest in impressing. Those people think that the bright yellow canary and the sea lion are related by blood, entirely by chance, and on top of that, they think that anybody who doubts it is a certified moron. So I have other thing to do than chase the whistling wind.

The secularists have created a scenario so unlikely that only God could make it work (theistic evolution to the rescue!), and as a result the secularists have announced that they have dispensed with the need for God. Reminds me of something my brother-in-law told me about his stint in med school. He had an unbelieving instructor who argued that the liver was so complicated that God couldn’t even make one. I guess that shows us.

5. I have no problem receiving old-earthers as brothers in Christ, and further, I have no difficulty in recognizing that their ranks contain many fine thinkers, with way more heft and throw-weight than what I’ve got. But as Jube Tarbox might put it, were he here, “Thet don’t change what the Book says.”

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True Creation
9 years ago

Charles Spurgeon had no problem with an old Earth and death before Adam’s sin.  Why should we?

8 years ago

Brother Douglas, I checked every translation of Luke I could find and none of them referred to the “heavenly hosts” as “stars”–lots of references to “armies” and “forces”, but no “stars” to be found. Not sure what version you have. They were not stars-they were angels. The Song of Deborah is clearly poetry. Nearly all serious Bible scholars agree on this and do so for other reasons other than the ‘stars’ thing. I’m sure you know what they are. I would bet my bottom dollar that you are an ‘alarmist’ (I have promised my pastor not to call brothers and… Read more »