A critical response to Nigel Bernard's Dec 2013 response to criticism of his Nov 2013 article

By Ken Gilmore
Source: Click here.

Nigel Bernard, co-author of the YEC cover article in the Nov 2013 issue of The Christadelphian elected not to employ Don Pearce’s ill-fated strategy of trying to attack the science behind radiometric dating.
Instead, he elected to criticise those who appealed to the early Christadelphian acceptance of an old earth for not recognising that Thomas’ view of geology differed from modern geology:
 
Your correspondents invoke the views of Brother Thomas concerning the age of the earth, but Brother Thomas’s views differ markedly from traditional geology.[1]

Bernard’s argument fails because he fails to recognise that contemporary Christadelphians raise the old earth creationist views of Thomas, Roberts, and Walker not because they represent a completely accurate account of natural history, but because they recognised that the evidence for an ancient earth, even in the 19th and early 20th centuries was overwhelming. Furthermore, they recognised that the best place to find accurate information on the natural history of Earth was from science:

“Fragments, however, of the wreck of this pre-Adameral world have been brought to light by geological research, to the records of which we refer the reader, for a detailed account of its discoveries, with this remark, that its organic remains, coal fields, and strata, belong to the ages before the formation of man, rather than to the era of the creation, or the Noachic flood.” (Emphasis mine)[2]
Bernard is not honestly engaging with his critics by fixating on how Thomas’ views differ from contemporary geology:

 
Brother Thomas’s explanation of how the earth was changed inside a week is centred on the miraculous power of God: “Six days of ordinary length were ample time for Omnipotence, with all the power of the universe at command, to re-form the earth …” (page 13). No geology textbook teaches this.[3]

It is hard not to get angry with wilfully obtuse comments such as this. Of course modern geology textbooks don’t teach this because Thomas wrote over 150 years ago, and modern geology has advanced considerably since then. Once again, Thomas and other early Christadelphians are cited because they recognised that the evidence for an ancient earth was compelling, not because their specific reconciliation of Genesis and geology are being cited as authoritative:

 
It is a demonstrable fact that the earth has existed for ages. To adopt a view that appears to make it begin only 6,000 years ago would create a difficulty. There is no need for adopting such a view. [4]

 

 I have not the slightest doubt concerning the truths revealed in the strata of the earth’s crust. There can be no reasonable doubt that long ages have passed away since the matter of the earth first took existences [sic] by the fiat of its Almighty Creator.[5]

 
Ten years ago the average scientist would have asserted that our habitable globe had not existed for more than a hundred million years. Now it would be hard to find a competent physical specialist who would fix a definite maximum below a thousand million years.[6]

 
Thomas wrote during the mid-19th century when the gap theory enjoyed significant currency among educated Christians who sought to reconcile geology with Genesis. The gap theory posited an unspecified period of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 during which time the pre-existing order was ruined, and a literal six days of re-creation took place. It was a valiant attempt to try to reconcile Genesis and Geology, but the lack of geological evidence for a global catastrophe argued strongly against it. Certainly, by the early 20th century, the problems with the Gap Theory were obvious to C.C. Walker:

As with fishes, so with birds, many remains are found in the rocks, of a kind not now found upon earth. Our museums contain footprints of gigantic birds impressed in sand now turned to rock, and remains actually embedded in rock. If we understand Moses as teaching that the earth and all that therein is came into existence some 6,000 years ago, we shall scarcely be able to account for these evidently very ancient remains of creatures that do not now exist. If we suppose a sudden and absolute break some 6,000 years ago, or before, resulting in the destruction of all life, and that the creation account of Genesis describes a new creation following, we ought to find some evidence of the break, and we cannot well account for the apparently close relationship that obtains between extinct and existing forms. There are forms becoming extinct in our own day from slow and natural causes. (Emphasis mine) [7]

 

Bernard’s attempt to pit Thomas against contemporary opponents of YEC fails for many reasons, but by far the most damning is that 100 years ago C.C. Walker recognised that while the great antiquity of the Earth was beyond dispute, reconciliations of Genesis and geology favoured by Thomas and other educated Christians of the mid-19th century were no longer tenable. It is a poor reflection of contemporary Christadelphian writing when early 20th century exegesis shades material written a century later.

 
A popular strategy employed by some Christadelphian YECs to counter the OEC leanings of early Christadelphians is to claim that they were seduced by the spirit of the age, an argument which not only is patronising, but also shows considerable ignorance of how strong the evidence for an ancient Earth was by the early 19th century. Bernard claims that:

 
The nineteenth century, when Brother Thomas was writing, was in the thrall of the Industrial Revolution, when science seemed to be providing all the answers. Also, in the aftermath of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the Bible was increasingly disbelieved, especially the Mosaic account of Creation. He fought this latter humanistic trend, but ascribed too much weight to certain theories, perhaps assuming too readily that the science that was delivering great technological advances could be trusted in more speculative areas such as geological dating.[8]

Anyone who claims that Thomas uncritically accepted the claims of geology has the burden of proof to provide evidence to justify this assertion. Bernard however provides no evidence to justify his claim, but instead resorts to using weasel words such as “perhaps assuming too readily”. This isn’t evidence, not by a long shot, and is indicative of the intellectual poverty of the approach taken by Bernard and other YECs to undermine the anti-YEC views of the early Christadelphians.

Bernard demonstrates his ignorance of geology by referring to geological dating as ‘speculative.’ It was anything of the sort. By the 19th century, a careful examination of the sedimentary layers of the Earth’s crust had convinced early geologists that they could not have been deposited by a single global flood, and therefore must have been deposited over considerably more than 6000 years:


Careful mapping and description of successions of European strata throughout the eighteenth century led naturalists to recognize that sedimentary rock piles were thousands to tens of thousands of meters thick. These vast thicknesses consisted of hundreds to thousands of variably thick individual layers occurring in unvarying order and traceable for tens to hundreds of kilometers over the countryside. Even very thin layers only a few centimeters thick could be traced for long distances. Could a single-year flood, even a catastrophic one, account for the enormous thicknesses of strata, for the orderly successions of strata, and for very thin yet extensive layers?[9]

 
Even before radiometric dating allowed us to date with relative precision and accuracy the age of the Earth, physicists and geologists had employed methods such as calculating the time it would take for a molten sphere the size of the earth to cool to calculate that the age of the Earth was not thousands, but millions of years. Bernard’s attempt to dismiss this as ‘speculative’ is very much a desperate attempt to hand-wave away an approach which was anything other than speculative.

 
The most insidious part of Bernard’s rebuttal comes towards the end, where he resorts to fideism to save his YEC from scientific refutation:

 
We should conform our understanding of all that is observed in the Universe to the Bible, knowing that God’s “word is true from the beginning” (Psalm 119:160). We should reject theories contrary to the Bible, but we should accept the miraculous as appropriate.
Such an attitude is miles removed from the spirit of the early Christadelpians who were quite happy to devolve to science the means by which one could understand natural history:

 
‘True “science” is simply systematized knowledge, and true “faith” is belief for good reasons. In the very nature of things there can never be any real antagonism between these.[10]

Geology teaches us much; it speaks of a time and creation on this earth when animal life, if not totally, was nearly unknown, and only the lower order of vegetable life covering its face, and this must have existed many thousands of years[11]

 
I have not the slightest doubt concerning the truths revealed in the strata of the earth’s crust. There can be no reasonable doubt that long ages have passed away since the matter of the earth first took existences by the fiat of its Almighty Creator. … The facts of old mother earth’s storehouse are too convincingly inscribed upon her crust to allow me to doubt. [12]

 
Apart from deviating from the original rational Christadelphian approach to reconciling Genesis and science, Bernard also makes the mistake of assuming that the truth of the Bible is predicated on it being a scientifically accurate account of creation, one which is simply asserted, but never justified. C.C. Walker’s response to an early Christadelphian whose literalism compelled him to reject a spherical earth is yet again worth quoting:

 
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. (Emphasis mine)[13]

 
God’s word is indeed true from the beginning, but Bernard’s implication that a fundamentalist, literal reading of the creation narratives can be equated with truth is dangerous nonsense, as it forces the Bible into conflict with overwhelming scientific evidence for an ancient earth.

 
The most dangerous part of Bernard’s letter is his reckless endorsement of fideism:

 
We should reject theories contrary to the Bible

 
I can think of no quicker way to alienate potential converts and the scientifically literate members of our community than to tell them to close their eyes and ears to any evidence that threatens a fundamentalist reading of the Bible:

 
“My own eldest son has decided he cannot be baptized because he has seen the evidence for evolution with his own eyes, and our ecclesia will not tolerate discussion on the subject. Unlike some young people, he is too honest to say he doesn’t believe it, just so that he can ‘pass the test’ and be baptized.”

 

“I will be spending most of this semester studying common descent and evolution in first year biology, and have done so through DNA and cells so far. It really is fascinating and very undeniable. There's also a young Christo girl from [X ecclesia] in the subject, and I am interested to know what she's thinking.”[14]
 

Put bluntly, when a Christadelphian biology graduate hears a scientifically illiterate Christadelphian piously declare that true believers must reject theories that conflict with a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, fundamentalists should hardly be surprised if those young people choose intellectual honesty over fideism.

 
Yet again, Bernard’s fideistic approach compares unfavourably with that of the early Christadelphians. CC Walker (one sorely misses editors of his calibre) frankly acknowledged that if science contradicted interpretations of the Bible, then the honest approach was to revise that interpretation:

The professors tell us for instance that some of these ancient birds, whose strides we can see for ourselves from their footprints were from four to six feet long, were like gigantic ostriches.

Supposing that it were ever established that they were the actual progenitors of our smaller forms (“There were giants in the earth in those days” might apply to birds and beasts), would the credibility of the Mosaic narrative suffer? Not at all, in our estimation. We should indeed have to revise somewhat our interpretation of the brief cosmogony of Gen. 1.; but should not waver as concerning its divinity, nor await with less faith and patience the reappearance of Moses in the land of the living. (Emphasis mine)[15]

Conclusion

 
The uncompromising fundamentalism demonstrated by Pearce and Bernard is deeply disturbing, as it shows how far our community has degenerated from its early days, where a premium was placed on engaging with the best scholarship of the day in order to better understand the Bible. As I’ve pointed out, not only are their arguments scientifically vacuous, they represent a marked deviation from what we used to be like. I remain pessimistic that the older generation is capable of acknowledging that their YEC owes nothing to the Bible and everything to the bad dose of fundamentalism we caught in the mid-20th century,[16] and suspect that the only way we can escape this fundamentalist cul-de-sac is via generational change. As Max Plank cynically put it:

 
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”
I hope that I am wrong.




[1] Bernard N Letters to the Editor The Christadelphian (2013) 150:534-535

[2] Thomas J “Elpis Israel” (Logos Publications) p 11

[3] Bernard, op cit

[4] Roberts R ‘In the Beginning’, The Christadelphian (1885) 32:141 

[5] Welch LB “ Knowledge. No. 12 Geology', The Christadelphian  (1891) 28: 416

[6] Walker, ‘The Age of the Earth’, The Christadelphian (1911) 48:450  

[7] Walker CC, 'Genesis', The Christadelphian (1910) 47: 501  

[8] Bernard, op cit

[9] Young DA “Scripture in the Hands of Geologist (Part 1) Westminster Theological Journal (1987) 49:23–24.

[10] Walker CC “Science and Faith” The Christadelphian (1932) 65:469

[11] Simons, “Why Man was not at once made Perfect” The Christadelphian (1884) 21:177  

[12] Welch., “Knowledge.  No., 12 Geology”  The Christadelphian (1891) 28:416.   

[13] Walker CC “Is it wrong to believe that the earth is a sphere?” The Christadelphian (1913) 50:346 

[14] Examples such as these are anything but rare and likely represent a tiny percentage of those who leave our community because they have been told that one needs to choose between science and faith.

[15] Walker CC 'Genesis', The Christadelphian (1910) 47: 501

[16] That Alan Hayward’s warning in 1977 against this fundamentalist infestation of our community is nothing short of scandalous: “To sum up, it seems that Flood Geology creates far more difficulties than it solves. The reasons that caused Brother Thomas and Brother Roberts to reject it are still valid today.” See The Christadelphian (1977) 114:269

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