A critical response to Don Pearce's Dec 2013 response to criticism of his Nov 2013 Christadelphian Magazine article - 1

By Ken Gilmore. Source: Click here.

Editor's Note: I don't agree with the Theistic content of this article, but as we have an ever increasing number of Theist Christadelphians reading our website, this piece should be of interest to them.





If Christadelphians want to remain Theists, then in my opinion, Evolutionary Creationism is the way to go. Young Earth Creationism flies in the face of everything that we know about Geology, Biology, Physics and most other sciences.

It's no good Christadelphians hiding their eyes and putting their fingers in their ears over the discoveries of modern science. These things are reality and they have to be accepted, not rejected because Christadelphians want to defend and out-dated, obsolete and unworkable thesis of the literal interpretation of Genesis. They must either reject the whole thing as false; which is my position; or  find an alternative explanation which accords with human understanding of the great age of the Earth and the truth of Evolution. The latter is what Ken has done and he's made a mighty fine job of it.

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By Ken Gilmore:

The December 2013 edition of The Christadelphian included not only a number of letters critical of Don Pearce and Nigel Bernard’s appalling YEC article, but defences from both authors. Predictably, these responses were less than convincing, and indicated the depth of scientific illiteracy of the authors. Over the next few posts, I will show why these defences are scientifically and theologically flawed.

Don Pearce opened with a variant on the presuppositional argument that YEC groups such as AiG are increasingly using; it’s not about the evidence but how one examines the evidence:

One’s viewpoint colours one’s interpretation of the evidence presented. Obviously those who believe in evolution look for long ages, as evolution necessitates this. Those whose viewpoint is to accept the literality of the Genesis account, interpret the evidence within that framework. Both viewpoints demand faith.[1]

Pearce simply assumes without justification that the correct view is a literal view. Such a view however causes far more problems than it solves:

  • It forces Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 into conflict as the sequence of creation events differs between both
  • It forces the believer into a needless, pointless conflict with hard evidence from the physical and natural sciences
 The literal reading that Pearce advocates simply assumes that the creation narratives were intended to be read as written, but this makes the unwarranted assumption that the ancient Israelites were interested in material accounts of creation. As C.C. Walker observed:

Moses’ testimony is not so “plain” that it cannot be misinterpreted or misunderstood…Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history. [2]

 
Disappointing as his appeal to the ‘differing viewpoint’ argument is, Pearce’s main blunder was to try to link an ancient earth with evolution. What Pearce neglects is that educated Christians accepted the reality of an old earth well before Darwin published “The Origin of Species” in 1859. Old Earth Creationists such as the early generation of Christadelphians rejected evolution, but accepted that the case for an old earth was overwhelming. Christadelphian physicist and old earth creationist Alan Hayward pointed out that:

For many centuries it had been believed that the world was only a few thousand years old, and the Reformers considered that they could date it from Scripture as being less than six thousand years. It therefore shook the world when eighteenth-century geologists discovered evidence that the earth’s crust is very much older than that.

It is important to note that it was in the eighteenth century that this first happened - well before Darwin was born. The pioneer geologist James Hutton, for instance, wrote that he could see ‘no vestige of a beginning’ to the earth’s history - and he died in 1797.

Recent-creationists usually ignore this historical fact. Their literature abounds with incorrect statements like this:

Why, then, do geologists say the rocks are hundreds of millions of years old, when they may only be thousands of years old? The answer is that they are trying to agree with the theory of evolution that needs enormous lengths of time to explain all the forms of life we know today. (Emphasis in original)

Such unfounded accusations are grossly unfair to all the early geologists. Not only did they reach their conclusions many years before Darwin launched his theory of evolution, but many of them were Bible-believing Christians and creationists.[3]

Pearce’s assertion that ‘both viewpoints demand faith’ is false, and betrays a profound ignorance of the reasons why we know the Earth is ancient. I alluded in my previous post to the recognition by geologists as early as the first half of the 19th century that the sedimentary strata could not have been deposited by a single flood, but rather took ages to lay down. One does not need ‘faith’ to observe the geological strata and deduce that a single flood event could not have deposited them. One needs merely to observe with an open mind, rather than view them through the lens of Biblical fundamentalism.

The distribution of radionuclides the Earth’s crust is arguably the best demonstration of the great age of the Earth. Radionuclides are atoms with unstable nuclei that undergo radioactive decay. Their half lives can range from fractions of a second to thousands of millions of years to ages well over the current estimate for the age of the Earth. If the Earth was young, then we’d expect to see both short and long-lived radionuclides present in the Earth’s crust. Conversely, if the Earth was thousands of millions of years old, the short-lived radionuclides (apart from those generated by natural decay processes) would have decayed away. This is exactly what we see:

 
Source: Dalrymple GB “The Age of the Earth” (1991: Stanford University Press) p 377

Apart from radionuclides generated naturally, we see none with a half life under 80 million years. The odds of this occurring by chance are so remote as to be non-existent. A rational mind would conclude that the reason no short-lived radionuclides exist in the crust is because the earth is so old they have all decayed away, leaving only the long-lived ones. One does not need ‘faith’ to conclude that this evidence alone shouts an ancient Earth. Rather, one needs an open mind and a willingness to be led not by dogma, but by evidence.

Pierce never justifies his belief that a literal reading of the creation narratives is the only permissible option:

My viewpoint accepts the literality of the days of creation, including the seventh day and is supported by God’s reference to His work of creation in Exodus 20:11 which depends on a straightforward understanding of the word “day” as a normal day.[4]

There are a number of problems with this viewpoint. The first is that forcing a literal reading onto the creation narratives forces them to contradict each other. Genesis 1 refers to creation in six days, while Genesis 2 refers to creation in a single day. Furthermore, the order of creation events in Genesis 2 contradicts that of Genesis 1:

Source: Enns "The Evolution of Adam"

 OT scholar Peter Enns notes:

As can be seen in the chart…the differences between the two creation stories are significant, not superficial, and should therefore be respected rather than harmonized. Particularly telling is the sequence of creation in the third row.

These two stories are clearly significantly different, and they cannot be harmonized by saying that the first gives the overview and the second fills in some of the details. The presence of two different creation accounts is troublesome for readers who assume that Genesis 1 and 2 are historical in nature and that the Bible’s first priority is to recount history accurately. Yet the divergence of these stories cannot be reasonably questioned. To stitch them into a seamless whole would dismiss the particular and distinct points of view that the authors were so deliberate in placing there. The differences between the two creation accounts are further complemented by differences seen in other Old Testament passages such as Psalms 77:16–20; 89:5–37; Job 9:4–15; 26:5–14; 38:4–38; and Isaiah 40:12–31; 44:24–28. It does not seem to be a concern of the biblical writers to provide God’s people with a “unified” story of creation.[5]

Given this undeniable tension that arises when one tries to read the two creation accounts as a literal, harmonious account of creation, it makes Pearce’s appeal to Exodus 20:11 less than convincing, as a literal reading of it is also in conflict with a literal reading of Genesis 2. Tensions such as this indicate that Pierce’s literalism is not the correct way to read the creation narratives.

This leads naturally to the second problem in his assertion, and that is the failure to read Genesis in its ancient Near Eastern context. This is hardly a radical assertion, as C.C.Walker observed, when he stated the purpose of the creation narratives was not to relate how creation occurred, but who the creator was, and why he created.[6] Pearce makes the same mistake all special creationists do in not understanding the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis.

One cannot assume anything. Even the concept of ‘create’ does not necessarily mean what we think it does. As ANE scholar John Walton observes, one of the fundamental errors we can make is in assuming that the ancient world was concerned about material origins. In fact, the origin of function in the cosmos was of more interest to the ancient Near Eastern world:

Ontology in the ancient world was more connected to function than to substance. In other words, something exists when it has a function, not when it takes up space or is a substance characterized by material properties. This applies to everything in the cosmos, where various elements come into being when they are given a role and function within the cosmos. The neglect of curiosity about the physical structure of the cosmos is therefore not simply a consequence of their inability to investigate their physical world. The physical aspects of the cosmos did not define its existence or its importance; they were merely the tools the gods used for carrying out their purposes. The purposes of the gods were of prime interest to them.[7]

A function-oriented ontology/cosmology bypasses the questions that modern scholars often ask of the ancient world: Did they have a concept of “creation out of nothing?” Did they believe in the eternal existence of matter? These questions have significance only in a material ontology. Those who posit creation out of nothing want to know whether “things” were created without using preexistent materials. If creation is not viewed as concerned with the physical making of things, these questions cannot be approached through the texts.
The result of this study is the suggestion that in the ancient Near East “to create” meant to assign roles and functions, rather than to give substance to the material objects that make up the universe. [8]

If the ancient Near Eastern world was more concerned about the origin of functions rather than material origins, then a literal reading of Genesis 1 takes on a completely different meaning, as it would be about the assigning of function to objects, rather than detailing their creation. In fact, Walton notes that the Hebrew verb bara’ (translated as ‘create’ in Genesis 1) is more concerned with assigning roles rather than physically creating:

This direction is picked up nicely in Genesis 5:2, where God creates people male and female, that is, with gender roles. In all of these cases something is brought into existence functionally, not necessarily materially; rarely would the statement concern the issue of matter. Indeed, the text never uses bara’ in a context in which materials are mentioned. Thus instead of suggesting manufacture of matter out of nothing (as many have inferred in the past), that materials are not mentioned suggests that manufacture is not the issue. Rather, the lexical analysis suggests that the essence of the word that the text has chosen, bara’, concerns bringing heaven and earth into existence by focusing on operation through organization and assignment of roles and functions[9]

Even if one sets aside the idea that Genesis 1 is about functional origins rather than material origins, there are strong hints in the chapter that reading it as a literal, sequential account of the origin of the universe seriously misses the point:

  • Day 1 refers to the creation of light, but the sun, moon and stars are created on day 4
  • Furthermore, for the first three days there was no day and night as only on day 4 were the sun and moon created to separate day from night
  • The six days of creation naturally fall into two groups, with the first three days detailing the creation of ‘domains’ (light, waters above/below, dry land  / vegetation) and ‘domain rulers’ (sun / moon, birds / fish, land creatures / man[10])
 If one looks at the first three days from a functional ontology, then as Walton points, what they are describing the creation of the three great functions critical to an agricultural society: time, weather and agriculture.[11] Days 4-6 then detail the installation of the ‘functionaries’ whose role it is to carry out the functions assigned in days 1-3:

Though the shape of the cosmos is seen in terms quite similar to the literature of the ancient Near East, the elements of the cosmos have no corresponding deities, and the structure of the cosmos is radically different. By the way in which Genesis 1 uses the shared ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment, it asks the same questions that lie behind all of the other ancient cosmologies and operates from the same metaphysical platform but gives quite different answers that reflect the uniqueness of the Israelite world view and theology.[12]

Walton’s observation that the Genesis creation narrative shares the world-view of the ANE, but subverts it by denying divinity to the created shows that apart from detailing the creation of function and order, the narrative also functions as a polemic against the extant creation myths. Pearce’s woodenly literal reading not only forces the Genesis 1 into conflict with observed reality by positing a 6000 year old earth, but completely misses this polemical edge which would have been of far more use to the target audience, whose orthodoxy was constantly under threat by the religions of their neighbours.

Appealing to Ex 20:11 does not prove creation in six literal days as Pearce has simply assumed that creation refers to material origins, and as Walton notes, the ANE world was more concerned with creation of function. Ex 20:11 arguably refers to the creation of time, weather and agriculture and assigning of functions to the entities involved in these critical activities, a view which comports remarkably with Gen 2v5-7 where agriculture and humans are linked:

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Finally, Pearce attempts to use Jesus’ references to Genesis as proof of YEC:

Jesus’ references to what took place “in the beginning” indicate his understanding of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 as a straightforward account.

A Christian who believed in the reality of demons would use exactly the same approach to prove his point by claiming that Jesus’ references to demon possession prove their reality, and would have every reason of accusing Pearce and other Christadelphians of special pleading if they asserted that only Jesus’ references to Genesis 1-2 were to be taken literally.

Of course, evolutionary creationists who regard Adam and Eve as specially created people who were the first people with whom God entered into a covenant relationship, but not the first human beings who existed[13] would have no problem with reading these words as being roughly historical. Pearce again is guilty of projecting a fundamentalist reading of the Bible onto the narrative.

His frankly sententious admonition that “this should warn us to be very cautious about accepting the truth of this human viewpoint” is ironic given that he has so thoroughly conflated his flawed, human interpretation of the Bible with the inspired word itself.

 


[1] Letters: Don Pierce The Christadelphian (2013)  150:533-534
[2] Walker C.C. “Is it ‘Wrong’ to Believe that the earth is a Sphere?” The Christadelphian (1913) 50: 348.
[3] Hayward A Creation and Evolution: The Facts and Fallacies (1985: Triangle Books) p 70
[4] Letters: Don Pierce The Christadelphian (2013)  150:533
[5] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012), 52.
[6] See ref. 2
[7] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 167.
[8] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 184.
[9] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 183.
[10] The link between vegetation and man becomes apparent when we look at Gen 2 where humans are created to cultivate the land. There is also the fact that Adam was placed in a garden.
[11] John H. Walton Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011), 170–171.
[12] John H. Walton Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011), 178.
[13] Gen 4 when read without the presupposition of monogenism alludes to Cain’s wife and the presence of people waiting to slay him for his crime without bothering to explain their origin. Given that there is no reference to any other children born to Adam and Eve at this time, such a plain reading suggests strongly that Adam, Eve and Cain were not the only people on Earth at this time, a view which needless to say has considerable support from palaeoanthropology.

By Ken Gilmore. Source: Click here.

Reproduction of Ken's work does not imply that he endorses the content or aims of this website; or that we endorses the content or aims of his website.

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