And Now for a Little False Teaching . . .

We now proceed down the hallway to the second chapter of N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised By Scripture. The question posed here concerns whether we really need a historical Adam, and the answer, as far as I can make out, is no, probably not. At the end of his reasoning, Wright says, “I do not know whether this is exactly what Genesis meant or what Paul meant,” but the line of reasoning he suggested “leads me in that direction” (p. 38).

But if he is uncertain about what he is putting forward, the uncertainty vanishes when talking about young earth creationists who differ with him. Wright was surprised by Scripture. I was surprised to find me and my kind numbered among the JWs.

“I wonder whether we are right even to treat the young-earth position as a kind of allowable if regrettable alternative, something we know our cousins down the road get up to but which shouldn’t stop us getting together at Thanksgiving . . . And if, as I suspect, many of us don’t think of young-earthism as an allowable alternative, is this simply for the pragmatic reason that it makes it hard for us to be Christians because the wider world looks at those folks and thinks we must be like that too? Or is it — as I suggest it ought to be — because we have glimpsed a positive point that urgently needs to be made and that the young-earth literalism is simply screening out? That’s the danger of false teaching: it isn’t just that you’re making a mess; you are using that mess to cover up something that ought to be brought urgently to light” (p. 31).

Golly. Crikey. Jeepers. Goodness gracious. Oh dear. Land of Goshen. Yikes. Ugh. Mercy me. Pfft. Humph.

Well, I suppose there is no alternative now but to invite my readers to stand by for a little false teaching.

“I think what has happened is this . . . the capital-E Evolutionism that has produced a metaphysical inflation from a proven hypothesis about the physical world to a naturalistic worldview — this modernist teaching has exposed a flank that perhaps needed exposing” (p. 31).

In other words, one of the things we can learn from Epicureanism is how bad our fundamentalist tendencies are. And one of the reasons fundamentalism is bad, if you harken back to the previous chapter, is that it has unwittingly learned stuff from Epicureanism. If you are not following this, I don’t think it’s you.

I will mention, but not pursue, the blithe assumption that Wright makes about evolution being “a proven hypothesis about the physical world.” This is a striking example of Wright trying to engage with a host of learned adversaries whom he has not read, and will not name. He can run circles around an illiterate hedge preacher of seventy-five years ago, and it is the work of a moment to pretend that young earth creationists today are equally rude and equally unlettered. Too bad it isn’t the case.

One of the problems with deracinated theology, of the kind that Wright is offering us here, is the inverse relationship between the loss of theological robustitude and the rise of exciting adjectives. I call these adjectives the flying buttresses of liberalism. “Urgent,” “fresh searching,” “humble yet powerful,” and “fresh insight” come to mind, having read them just recently.

Wright wants the language of Genesis to represent something high and glorious. “This is where we turn toward Genesis 1, toward a fresh reading of image and temple” (p. 32).  The calling of Adam is akin to the calling of Israel, and because Wright really is steeped in the language of Scripture, he can fly pretty high when he is talking about the literary part of it. But what does he think all this glorious temple language is actually talking about?

“And it leads me to my proposal . . . perhaps what Genesis is telling us is that God chose one pair from the rest of early hominids for a special, strange, demanding, vocation. This pair (call them Adam and Eve if you like) were to be the representatives of the whole human race, the ones in whom God’s purpose to make the whole world a place of delight and joy and order, eventually colonizing the whole creation, was to be taken forward. God the creator put in their hands the fragile task of being his image bearers. If they fail, they will bring the whole purpose for the wider creation, including all the nonchosen hominids, down with them” (pp. 37-38).

True, Eve is somewhat hairier than the Sunday School coloring books used to represent her, but that’s what we get for relying too much on our memories of Sunday School coloring books.

The glory of the Lord, the shining presence of God, the Edenic Shekinah, descends upon a couple of hominids, whose previous conversation had consisted largely of ook! and ook?, and whose previous activity had included throwing poo out of the trees. What we clearly need around here are some more adjectives. Let’s say that the ancient world was wonderful.

“Basic to his [Paul’s] exposition of Genesis is this point: that God put his wonderful world into human hands; that the human hands messed up the project; and that the human hands of Jesus the Messiah have now picked it up, sorted it out, and got it back on track” (p. 35).

True, the human hands in the first two instances may not have had opposable thumbs yet, but you can’t have everything.

“The root problem we face as Christians is that in articulating a Christian vision of the cosmos the way we want to do, we find ourselves hamstrung because it is assumed that to be Christian is to be anti-intellectual, antiscience, obscurantist, and so forth” (p. 26).

Great. Assumed to be that way by whom? By the Epicureans running the academy? What Wright wants is a Christian view of the cosmos that topples Epicureanism, and he want to do this to the appreciative applause of the high priests of the Epicureans. Life is hard.

There are two macro problems here — one textual and one theological — and it comes in the form of death. It is the same problem, appearing in two different ways.

First, the apostle Paul identifies death as an enemy to be conquered (1 Cor. 15:54-55; cf. Is. 25:8), and not as God’s central tool for creating mankind. In Paul’s theology, Adam brought in death (Rom. 5:12). In Wright’s thinking a very long chain of millions of deaths brought in Adam. In biblical theology, Adam is the father of death. In Wright’s theology on this point, death is the father of Adam.

“This, perhaps, is a way of reading the warning of Genesis 2: in the day you eat of it you too will die. Not that death, the decay and dissolution of plants, animals, and hominids wasn’t a reality already . . .” (p. 38).

So the textual problem is that Paul tells us how death got into the world. He does not tell us how death managed to get Adam into the world.

The second problem, related to this, is how it impugns the goodness of God. God repeatedly calls the world He created good (Gen. 1:4,10,12,18, you get the point). Death is bad. This appeasement of Epicurean evolutionists at the front door, allows them to drag the problem of evil in through the back door. But God warned Adam about opening the door to death (Gen. 2:17). To deny that death was the consequence of our sin is to maintain that God likes death, and that He used it to torment millions of animals, turning them into stone for paleontologists to dig up later.

But in my theology, animals get turned to stone by the White Witch, not by Aslan.

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David Douglas
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David Douglas

With God, all things are possible.

Some are claiming an exception:

Apparently, God cannot create the world in the way He said he did in Genesis, so that it looks like it looks today, and then tell us in Genesis that He created the world that looks like the world we live the way he said he did … in Genesis.

Apparently that’s just not possible.

John R.
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John R.

You haven’t read Wright enough! You need to put him in the wider context of everything else he’s ever written! #first

Bryan
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Bryan

It seems that N.T. Wright has not taken the time to study ANYTHING related to Intelligent Design theory or scientific evidences for a young earth. Such resources are abundant and readily accessible to anyone who takes 15 minutes to search the web. There is no excuse these days for believing that molecules-to-man evolution (guided or un-guided) is a foregone conclusion.

Peter Jones
Guest

What drives me nuts about men like Wright on subjects like this is the hubris disguised as humility. His hysterics about young earthers is disappointing . I would add that while old-earthers do not have to believe in evolution, it makes sense in their system. Wright’s view that the earth is very old, that Adam may not have existed, and that man evolved are perfectly consistent. Some old earthers want to reject evolution and still hold to an old earth. They can do that, but honestly it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Katecho
Member

N.T. Wright has made tremendous contributions to basic understanding of Scripture and history for many people, and he has done more for God’s kingdom than I ever will, but this kind of thing is a dishonor and a disgrace. There is something to be said for maintaining a certain credibility within the circles of liberals that N.T. Wright still moves in. Sometimes that calls for being subtle and “contextualized” in areas where American Evangelicals (in particular) want to see a strong show of clarity. If it’s successful (and the zealous Americans don’t blow your cover), it can be called subversive… Read more »

Katecho
Member

It seems as though N.T. Wright has adopted a new (extrabiblical) creation narrative similar to that of Pope Benedict. I commented on this topic in a previous thread, responding to Jill Smith. Here’s a link. … So Adam looks around for a suitable mate. Does he find one? Scripture says Adam does not. Why wouldn’t any of the other hominids have been suitable? Does God intervene now, graciously, to provide a helpmate for Adam in a special way? Or does God just keep watching from His perch as He had been all of Adam’s life up to then? …

Bro. Steve
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Bro. Steve

Just asking, but why would anyone read this guy’s book? Why am I even reading your review of it?

I haven’t read Wright, and based on your review, never will. Just wondering, though, how the theory of “elect hominids” accounts for man being created in the image of God.

Michelle
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Michelle

I hope this doesn’t feel too tangential, but I wonder if you might engage with the role of death in the created order that God made. It seems significant to me that God placed Adam and Eve in a garden, not a mine, not on the beach of a great ocean, or any other number of places, but a garden. They discovered their creatureliness at least partly by paying attention to the plants and the animals, to their particular needs, and by learning how to take care of them. The toil of eating by the sweat of his brow that… Read more »

Henry
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Henry

The first step to becoming informed on these matters is to find out the best authors and books that represent YEC. Some of the more formidable creationist writers: Andrew Snelling (Earth’s Catastrophic Past, 2vols) Kurt Wise (e.g. Faith, Form and Time) Steve Austin John Byl (The Divine Challenge, God and Cosmos) And here is very good introductory book to current day creationism: Paul Garner, The New Creationism (the chapter on radiometric dating is worth the price of the book). Many who presume to comment on this issue today appear to be ignorant of the arguments of YEC’s best thinkers, they… Read more »

Barnabas
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Barnabas

I admit that I haven’t reat N.T. Wright, but I am partial to Spurgeon… “But if you will look in the first chapter of Genesis, you will see there more particularly set forth that peculiar operation of power upon the universe which was put forth by the Holy Spirit; you will then discover what was his special work. In Ge 1:2, we read, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” We do not know how remote the period… Read more »

David R
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David R

@Michelle – The “death” of plants is not analogous to the death of men or of animals. The Bible tells us that life is in the blood (Lev 17:11). Plants are not alive in the same sense that men and animals are. So it is completely consistent for Adam to have eaten plants and death not being in the world.

Barnabas
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Barnabas

Henry-
You appear to be very well read in this area. Could you recommend a book that deals with the theological implications of a young creation with the appearance of age? By that, I mean, do any of these authors address that question without assuming that the flood causes appearance of age, a massive conspiracy amongst geologists, etc, changes in the speed of light or rate of decay in radio-isotopes, etc. Just a young earth with apparenty old bones and old stones and what does that tell me about God.

Tim H
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Tim H

I don’t think any of the church fathers would recognize NTW as a Christian thinker.

Ken Miller
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Ken Miller

First off, I’m an admitted theological lightweight, so let’s get that out of the way. Having said that, I’m not certain the death of animals before the fall is necessarily excluded from an exegetical perspective. I’ve also read some convincing arguments for why Genesis 1 has literary characteristics that suggest it could be interpret in a non-literal way (i.e. poetic repitition, elevated language, the symbolism of the number 7). If we consider the question of whether animals died before the fall, we’ll have to admit that God never told Adam, “in the day you eat of it (the fruit) all… Read more »

soylentg
Member

This argument from Pastor Wilson is a sound one, but we have already seen how the question of death before Adam has been explained away in previous comment threads. There are a couple different questions I would like to see answered by those who would argue that physical death, animal death, etc. is not included in the death that Paul spoke of. If God made the first man (let’s call him Adam just for fun) out of a hominid, how long ago did this take place? If this was much more than 6000 years ago, how do you explain the… Read more »

Willis Vida
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I don’t think Wright’s language is helpful or good here. I think that the old earthers/theistic evolutionists and the young earthers need to both be a little more humble and deal with this issue as brothers searching for truth and not treat each other as if we are attacking heretics. One thing that strikes me about Wright is that he seems much more tolerant of his fellow Anglicans on his left (that are out denying major elements of the creeds) than he is toward his brothers and sisters in Christ who affirm everything in the creeds and confessions. This doesn’t… Read more »

Willis Vida
Guest

Hi St Lee, For a good explaination of one old earth perspective, I would recommend John Lennox’s “Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science”. He makes the convincing case that non-human death *must* have been present before the fall of Adam because Adam had to eat something and therefore plants must have been dying right from the beginning. He says, if plant death was present, why do we have a problem with animal death? Why are we adding this unnecessary biblical idea to Paul’s thought that is clearly focused on humanity. Lennox does not… Read more »

Arwen B
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Arwen B

Irrelevant Tangent: Theological Robustitude and the Rise of Exciting Adjectives sounds like a lovely title for an adventure story. Probably not one in which swashes are buckled, but something more in the Gentleman Adventurer vein.

Barnabas
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Barnabas

Careful, Pastor Wilson. A zygote has no CNS.
Once again, does anyone have a reference that they can recommend where the author concedes the appearance of age and discusses the theological implications of a young creation with a fossil record, etc.
I would find this much more interesting than YEC tilting at scientific windmills.

Banabas
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Banabas

Has anyone considered that the garden may have been miraculously protected from death while the rest of creation outside was ravaged by volcanoes, trilobites, and velociraptors.

Matthew N. Petersen
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Matthew N. Petersen

Say you met an atheist who held to Newtonian physics, and used it to justify an Epicurean cosmology. Would you object to the Newtonian Physics? Or would you raise, say, metaphysical questions about the nature of the cosmos? Isn’t that just Wright’s point? That (as he sees it) Evolution stands roughly in the position of Newtonian Physics–that is, good science–but that it is used to ram through a naturalism, and that it is that naturalism that is objectionable? But if so, I don’t understand your objection that he’s trying to “[give] appreciative applause [to] the high priests of the Epicureans.”… Read more »

Matthew N. Petersen
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Matthew N. Petersen

Also, regarding CNS: What? Where does this claim that a CNS is a necessary and sufficient condition for suffering at death come from? And why is it made a standard of orthodoxy? Surely someone could coherently question whether animals feel pain in the relevant sense (like Lewis did in The Problem of Pain).

soylentg
Member

“I would find this much more interesting than YEC tilting at scientific windmills.”

As opposed to OEC tilting at Biblical windmills while mounted astride the formidable steed of modern liberalism, but alas without the reigns in hand.

duellsquimby
Member

@barnabas
A Zygote isn’t a final form, and we can say that it will get a CNS, whereas fruit and the plant that it grew on never had, nor will ever have a CNS.

A small distinction I realize.

timothy
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timothy

@Henry, Thank you for the links/books. I have added them to my (way too long) reading list. I admit that given the demeanor of some YEC folks, I had dismissed the thinking as not worth pursuing. @Barnabas. The Intelligent Design guys are whip smart, Christian (most of them) and not YEC folks. http://www.evolutionnews.org/ @For anybody who’s math chops are sharp… We know that God has a sense of humor and His ways tend to make the wise look foolish. I saw this blurb on historical data showing that the speed of light has slowed down: http://www.wnd.com/2004/07/25852/ In 1738: 303,320 +/-… Read more »

Geoff
Guest

I’m an Old-Earther, so I’ll part company a little bit at the end about animal death. Other than that, I agree.

The point I would raise is that the evidence for materialistic Darwinism is bad. Origin of Life scenarios, chemical analysis regarding common descent, the Cambrian Explosion, etc., etc., etc.

I really don’t think the theistic evolutionists (putting Wright in that category) have come to grips with the science, let alone the theology of what they are saying.

Geoff
Guest

“What drives me nuts about men like Wright on subjects like this is the hubris disguised as humility. His hysterics about young earthers is disappointing . I would add that while old-earthers do not have to believe in evolution, it makes sense in their system. Wright’s view that the earth is very old, that Adam may not have existed, and that man evolved are perfectly consistent. Some old earthers want to reject evolution and still hold to an old earth. They can do that, but honestly it doesn’t make a lot of sense.” It makes sense. Earth is old. Evidence… Read more »

Willis Vida
Guest

On the age of the earth, the problem for YEC that I have not heard a good response for (maybe someone could enlighten me) is this: All the clocks saying the earth is old, match. For example, Potassium-argon dating, Argon-argon dating, Carbon-14 (or Radiocarbon), and Uranium series dating, Thermo-luminescence, Optically stimulated luminescence, and Electron spin resonance, Paleomagnetism, rings on trees and etc. Not all things can be dated with all these methods but when possible to utilize two methods, the clocks match. For example, something is potassium argon dated or carbon 14 dated, both dates match. That seems to me… Read more »

soylentg
Member

Geoff, you said: ” a lot of Young Earthers assume that if you give Darwinists a lot of time that makes their claims plausible. It doesn’t.” I think you are mistaken. I don’t think it is the “Young Earthers” who think that a lot of time makes Darwinism plausible – I think that it is the average person on the street who swallows that one. As one of those you would call a Young Earther, I reject both Darwinism AND Old Earth as not being convincing enough to re-interpret what seems quite plain the scripture. As the saying goes, let… Read more »

Willis Vida
Guest

Hi St Lee, Regarding methods of dating nature as a ‘liar’….. In ‘The Advancement of Learning’ (1605), Francis Bacon wrote that there are “laying before us two books or volumes to study, if we will be secured from error; first the scriptures, revealing the will of God; and then the creatures expressing his Power.” In this metaphor, there are two books Scripture and Nature and God is glorified in the study of both. Now, please do not get me wrong, I am not rejecting the primacy of scripture or promoting the idea that science trumps scripture. I am simply saying… Read more »

soylentg
Member

Willis, you said: “I am not rejecting the primacy of scripture or promoting the idea that science trumps scripture” Very happy to hear that! “I am simply saying that the idea that we cannot learn about God or his glory via the study of His Creation is seems sort of wrong to me and conflicts with all our experiences. “ Who in the world said that! Unless there is a good response to the question I posed above, can we not say that God’s Creation is all but screaming “Are you sure you are reading scripture right? Is there no… Read more »

RFB
Guest
RFB

A general question: What would someone/anyone who does not believe in creation ex nihilo and instead insists that their own “science” disproves both that as well as a young earth…say when confronted with someone walking on water, turning water into wine, calming a storm by COMMAND, raising the dead, and then raising Himself from the dead? What would they do with a Man Who says that If you do not believe that I Am, that you will die in your sin, and that I have life in Myself, and can give it to who I choose? That says that no… Read more »

Geoff
Guest

“Willis, the main difference is that plants don’t have a central nervous system. So the problem is not with “death” before the Fall. Fruit could be eaten, and that means that fruit could be digested. Leaves could fall off the trees and help out the soil. Neither is it a problem if bacteria in Adam’s stomach “died.” The issue has to do with animals that have a central nervous system. In other words, move it to the kind of death that involves pain and suffering. The whole creation groans to have the burden that Adam placed on it lifted.” First,… Read more »

Caleb Woodbridge
Guest

I used to hold to a Young Earth Creationist view, but have become convinced over time that it’s not the best reading of the Bible or of the scientific data, and now hold to a broadly theistic evolutionary/old earth creationist position. But I still respect my brothers and sisters who hold to a Creationist viewpoint for their high regard for the authority of scripture, and know that many Creationists are a lot better informed and make stronger arguments than they’re widely given credit for. The question of death is a really important one, and often gets brushed aside by Christians… Read more »

Henry
Guest
Henry

Willis Vada,

“All the clocks match”

This statement indicates you have not read any serious YEC literature.

I encourage you, as a starter, to read the chapter on radiometric dating in “The New Creationism” by Paul Garner.

Barnabas – have you read any of the serious YEC treatments? If so which ones? Your comments suggest to me that you haven’t.

timothy
Guest
timothy

@St. Lee When Proverbs calls the lion the greatest of all beasts, is it saying something about nature? or is the author using the lion in order to convey an idea? When God speaks as the mustard seed being the smallest of all seeds, are you saying He did not create orchids which have smaller seeds? Or is the point of the parable something quite different and was plain to all? Where The Christ to not have been born 2000 years ago,but say in 1985, would He being using the same examples to make His point? or different examples? To… Read more »

Barnabas
Guest
Barnabas

“Barnabas – have you read any of the serious YEC treatments? If so which ones? Your comments suggest to me that you haven’t.” I have read Ken Hamm and watched many hours of taped debates between the two sides. Obviously these things are going to be long on detail so more appropriate for books then blog comments. I could certainly stand for further reading but what I’ve seen so far are scientists at the edge of academia nibbling at the edges of mainstream (or OEC) science. I think that the burden is much larger than most people realize. Any old… Read more »

Geoff
Guest

In Genesis, for Adam and Eve to live forever was a blessing that came through eating of the tree of life – it was conditional on them being in the right relationship with God, rather than an inherent feature of their original biology.

I think that is a very important point about “death” and a major difference between the two views.

Barnabas
Guest
Barnabas

Oh, and I was serious about the garden of Eden thing. I think its worth thinking about that there was a garden and that Adam and Eve were not just walking about on the planet. Why did the fall involve ejection from the garden? Was the garden outside of time? Free from some of the laws of physics? Purely speculative, I know, but no more so than death requires a CNS.

BillB
Guest
BillB

If Jesus’ atonement can apply retroactively to the OT saints, why couldn’t Adam’s sin cause death retroactively to creatures born before him?

Why insist that God’s plan must follow strict chronological rules in some cases but not in others?

Henry
Guest
Henry

Barnabas, I think the first step is to read some of the main YEC books. Try Paul Garner if you can only manage an introduction. Many of the books I have noted contain exegetical sections as to the question of scripture requiring a young creation. Hearsay is no substitute, neither is Ken Ham who is not a scientist and does not think or write at the level of the authors I have referenced. You will need to read books. Your reasoning also presupposes neutrality on the part of mainstream science. Given the depth of sinfulness in unbelieving man I think… Read more »

Reuben K.
Guest
Reuben K.

…I want to hear Michelle answered more fully, and not in this comments section.

Barnabas
Guest
Barnabas

“So why presume geology or cosmology is untainted by the noetic effects of sin?” I’ll order one of the books you suggest today, the Paul Garner book I suppose. I doubt very seriously that reading this book will bring us closer together on this issue. (I assume from the statement above you mean the effects of sin on individual scientists and thus on science as a discipline rather than a falsehood in nature itself.) You have already discounted mountains of scientific evidence as being biased and corrupted by sin. Any evidence of old earth that I lay before you is… Read more »

soylentg
Member

Timothy, you said:

“To make the counter-point clear. When God’s creation differs from the proverbs and parables in His Word; I think it is incumbent on us as Christians to know the difference and not be shell-shocked when we discover that we have work to do.”

I take it then that you view the Genesis account of creation to be a parable, in which case I suppose OEC as well as evolution could be portrayed by it. My question would then be this. When, if ever, does Genesis switch over to history? Honest question.

timothy
Guest
timothy

@BIllB Why insist that God’s plan must follow strict chronological rules in some cases but not in others? Very interesting! I have added that to my notes. Hi St. Lee I take it then that you view the Genesis account of creation to be a parable, No, it is a (an?) historical narrative. Like other narratives in the Bible–the book of Acts, for example–it is plausible that not every detail is accounted for. in which case I suppose OEC as well as evolution could be portrayed by it. I have no way of knowing that, I cannot argue OEC or… Read more »

David R
Guest
David R

Why is it completely reasonable for God to have made Adam a fully formed mature adult, but not reasonable for Him to have created a mature universe?

Mark B. Hanson
Guest
Mark B. Hanson

Wright seems to come very close to saying outright that given what we know about science, it does Christians a disservice (or worse) to allow them to believe in six 24-hour creation days. That kind of idea always leads to some sort of “program” to deprogram believers. In the past, I have heard the same argument about the virgin birth and the resurrection, and been subject (in Sunday School as a young teen) to such deprogramming attempts by my (very liberal) Lutheran pastor. He succeeded in my case only because I was unconverted until a few years later. Even then,… Read more »

soylentg
Member

Okay Timothy, now I am completely baffled as to what you were getting at in your comment from June 7 at 4:26am. To quote you again: “To make the counter-point clear. When God’s creation differs from the proverbs and parables in His Word; I think it is incumbent on us as Christians to know the difference and not be shell-shocked when we discover that we have work to do.” Your point would seem to be that we should be careful how literally we try to take parables and how we specifically apply proverbs (I agree), but if you are not… Read more »

timothy
Guest
timothy

Hi St. Lee.

I will address your questions on Monday after the sabbath.

I am too tired from my days work to respond today.

cheers.

t