A critical response to Don Pearce's Dec 2013 response to criticism of his Nov 2013 article - 3

By Ken Gilmore. Source: Click here.

Editor's Note:

Whilst I stand aside from the Theistic content of what follows, it is still a brilliant article with some well reasoned argument by Ken.

By Ken Gilmore:

My second post examining Don Pearce’s response to critics of the November 2013 article in The Christadelphian which used the island of Surtsey to advance YEC views detailed the intellectual poverty of his arguments against an old Earth, and showed that like too many YECs, he is incapable of separating an ancient Earth from evolution.
Even more frustrating however than the sight of yet another scientifically ignorant Christadelphian writer trying to rebut an ancient Earth was the advancement of the view that Adam’s sin introduced physical death into the entire world. Not only is this view flatly ruled out by a fossil record of death stretching back billions of years into the past, it runs counter both to a careful analysis of the Bible, and to a strong Christadelphian exegetical tradition on this subject. Pearce’s views.

The real tragedy of Pearce’s views is that he is inadvertently sowing the seeds of unbelief by linking an orthodox Christadelphian faith with rejection of the fact of an ancient, evolving earth. Too many young people – contrary to Pearce’s allegations – lose their faith once they realise that the evidence for evolution and an old earth are beyond dispute. While I certainly do not advocate preaching evolution from the platform, any more than I would preach biochemistry, astrophysics, general relativity or any other science, actively preaching flood geology, young earth creationism and other pseudoscientific views is something I sincerely hope stops, before it does any more harm to our credibility.

Although Pearce was ostensibly responding to letters critical of his young earth views, his real target was evolution:

The theory of evolution eats away at the heart of the Bible story – if death had been in existence long before an “Adam” and an “Eve”, then the Fall and God’s resulting plan of redemption, as outlined in Genesis, has lost its very foundation.[1]

Pearce, by making the heart of Christadelphian theology contingent on evolution being false is setting people who uncritically accept his wholesale rejection of most of modern science up for failure. When they discover that the Earth is indeed ancient, and that humans and apes do share a common ancestor, the tragedy is that they will think that this falsifies Christianity, and reject belief altogether. What makes this even more of a tragedy is that Pearce’s belief that death did not exist prior to Adam’s sin is not original Christadelphian thinking.

I’ve commented earlier on how early Christadelphians believed that death was an integral part of the original creation. Given Pearce’s advocacy of the heterodox idea that Adam’s sin introduced physical death into the world, it is worth highlighting their arguments again.[2]

John Thomas - death and decay were part of the original creation

John Thomas, the founding figure of the Christadelphian movement was somewhat inconsistent in his position on this subject, but in the article ‘The Bible Doctrine Concerning the Tempter Considered. No. II.’, he unambiguously states that both Adam and Eve would have eventually died in time:

‘Adam's nature was animal. Very good of its kind, as was the nature of all the other creatures. These did not sin, yet they returned to dust whence they came. So probably would Adam, if he had been left to the ordinary course of things as they were. But he would not have returned to dust if he had continued obedient.

He would doubtless have been “changed in the twinkling of an eye" on eating of the Tree of Life. But, being disobedient, his sin determined his fate, and that of the creatures. It doomed them all to death according to law, and "nature" unchanged was permitted to take its course.’[3]

In his article 'Our Terrestrial System Before the Fall’ Thomas, in response to a correspondent who argued that death and corruption entered the entire world after Adam's sin forcefully rebutted this argument:

‘OUR friend says, that his notion is that all creation became corrupt at the fall, even to the elements. This is the general idea. Moses tells us very plainly, that when the terrestrial system was completed on the Sixth Day, that God reviewed all that He had made, and pronounced it "very good."

'But, in what sense was it very good? In an animal and physical sense; for it was a natural and animal system, not a spiritual one. Such a system is essentially one of waste, and reproduction; and was organized with reference to what God knew would come to pass.’[4]

Thomas argued that seasonal variation would have provided Adam and Eve with enough evidence of natural decay and death to impress on them the reality of death as a natural part of creation:

‘This is implied in the placing of the earth in such a position with respect to the sun, moon, and stars, that there should be a diversity of seasons, &.c. Thus, fall and winter, seasons of decay and death, were institutions existing before the Fall; and presented to Adam and Eve phenomena illustrative of the existence in the physical system of a principle of corruption, the extent of which, however, they might not have been fully apprized of.’[5]

Thomas explicitly argued that far from being elements introduced into creation as a consequence of Adam's sin, death and decay were a fundamental part of creation from the beginning. Significantly, he did not exclude Adam and Eve from this:

‘Death and corruption, then, with reproduction, the characteristic of spring and summer, is the fundamental law of the physical system of the Six Days. Adam and Eve, and all the other animals born of the earth with themselves, would have died and gone to corruption, if there had been no transgression, provided that there had been no further interference with the physical system than Moses records in his history of the Six Day.’[6]

Given this, his explanation of the Pauline statement that death entered the world through sin was a recognition that the consequence of Adam's sin was for the innate process of death and decay to be allowed to take its natural course:

‘True; the death principle was an essential property of their nature; but as they did not die till after their transgression, death did not enter in till after that event. But, the inquirer means, “If they would have died anyhow under the proviso, how can death be said to be the consequence of sin?" 

Death is not the consequence of sin, sin being the original physical cause—but the physical consequence of a moral act. If thou doest thus and so, dying thou shalt die; "but just reverse this saying, and let it read, “if thou doest thus and so, "dying thou shalt NOT die." Here are moral acts with diverse physical results.’[7]

The genius of this explanation was in his recognition that death entered the world of Adam and Eve following their sin not by the introduction of decay and death, but by the denial of an opportunity for eternal life. Thomas again:

Now, if these two results are ordained upon two essentially dying creatures, because animal creatures, what is implied? Why, that in the one case the dying process shall not be interrupted, and therefore death would follow: while in the other, the process should be interrupted, and therefore life should be established.

'In the former case, all that would be necessary would be to let things take their natural course; but in the latter, this would not do; and therefore it would be necessary to bring into play a transforming force which should change the very good animal nature into a very good spiritual , or incorruptible nature, which latter formed no part of the system of the Six Days.’[8]

In fact, Thomas was explicit in asserting that the pre-fall nature of Adam was mortal, capable of corruption and decay: 

‘It is certain, therefore, that the animal nature they possessed was essentially a mortal nature, and required to be physically operated upon by the power transmissible through contact with the tree of lives to change it into a nature constitutionally capable of enduring forever; which the animal nature is not.’ [9]

As far as Thomas was concerned the consequences of the fall were moral, rather than physical, and he expressed himself unambiguously:

‘From these premises it will be seen, that we dissent from our correspondent's “notion" that all creation became corrupt (by which we understand him to mean, constitutionally impregnated with corruptibility) at the Fall. We believe that the change consequent upon that calamity was moral, not physical. The natural system was the same the day before the Fall as the day after.”[10]

Fourteen years later, Robert Roberts, founding editor of The Christadelphian, concurred with Thomas in denying that Adam's nature was physically changed after the fall. Like Thomas before him, he wrote to correct a correspondent who argued that Adam's nature was altered as a consequence of the fall:

Roberts - Originally in agreement with Thomas that death was part of creation

In 1869, brother Roberts wrote in The Christadelphian in reply to a question from a correspondent. In his reply he denied strongly that there was any change in Adam’s nature as a result of the fall:

‘Our friend imagines there was a change in the nature of Adam when he became disobedient. There is no evidence of this whatever, and the presumption and evidence are entirely the contrary way. There was a change in Adam’s relation to his maker, but not in the nature of his organization. What are the facts? He was formed from the dust a “living soul,” or natural body. His mental constitution gave him moral relation to God.’[11]

As for the origin of sin, Roberts freely asserted that the same internal desires that if yielded to result in sin existed prior to the fall:

‘The impulses that lead to sin existed in Adam before disobedience, as much as they did afterwards; else disobedience would not have occurred.[12]

Roberts was emphatic: both mortality and an innate tendency to sin predated the fall - they were not introduced into Adam after the fall. Roberts later confirmed his position in response to another correspondent:

‘Adam, before transgression, though a living soul (or natural body—1 Cor. 15:44–5), was not necessarily destined to die, as obedience would have ended in life immortal. After transgression, his relation to destiny was changed. Death (by sentence,) was constituted the inevitable upshot of his career. He was, therefore, in a new condition as regarded the future, though not in a new condition as regarded the actual state of his nature. In actual nature, he was a corruptible groundling before sentence, and a corruptible groundling after sentence; but there was this difference: before sentence, ultimate immortality was possible; after sentence, death was a certainty. This change in the destiny lying before him, was the result of sin.’[13]

Roberts never accepted evolution and as far as I can tell from his writing endorsed monogenism. However, his early emphatic declaration that Adam's fall did not result in any change in nature is a position which is not threatened by the evolutionary origin of the human race. The same cannot be said for the Reformed and Catholic (and later Christadelphian deviations from the original Roberts - Thomas position) which posit an inherited change in nature as a consequence of the Fall:

‘That is, his disobedience evoked from God a decree of ultimate dissolution. This was the sentence of death, which, though effecting no change as regarded his constitution at the moment it was pronounced, determined a great physical fact concerning his future experience, viz., that immortality, by change to spirit nature, was impossible, and decay and decease inevitable. The sentence of death, therefore, appertained to his physical nature, and was necessarily transmitted in his blood, to every being resulting from the propagation of his own species.’[14]

No evidence of a change of nature in Eden - J.W. Thirtle on 'Dying thou shalt die'

Those who argue that Adam's nature was changed post-fall appeal to the Hebrew phrase which in the AV is translated 'dying thou shalt die.' to argue that this refers to a gradual process of decay leading to eventual death. Hebraist and one-time Christadelphian J.W. Thirtle wrote in 1880: 

‘We will first consider the second clause, “dying thou shalt die.” Some consider these words to have found verification on the day Adam sinned, by his becoming a corruptible creature, and ultimately dying. This, however, is not so. We have the Hebrew word “to die” repeated in two moods: the infinitive (moth) and the indicative (tamuth); moth, to die—dying; tamuth—thou shalt die.

"As the words stand, certainty is implied, and nothing more; so the authorised version is not far wrong in rendering the words, “thou shalt surely die.” It is out of the question to suppose that a process of decay is implied in the words, for they were afterwards used to one of the descendants of Adam—Shimei (1 Kings 2:37, 42), and we have no record of Shimei having occupied a similar relation to life and death to that which Adam sustained before the fall. If it had been intended to express a continued or lasting process, the order of the Hebrew words would have been reversed.’[15]

Of note is that Thirtle wrote this in 1880, after the Renunciationist controversy, showing that a belief that Adam's nature was changed was hardly normative in our community even in the late 19th century. Anyone who argues that an inherited changed nature was always Christadelphian orthodoxy is simply ignorant of history as well as theology.

Death as a punishment for sin, not mortality is what Adam introduced.
When Pearce asserts that

if death had been in existence long before an “Adam” and an “Eve”, then the Fall and God’s resulting plan of redemption, as outlined in Genesis, has lost its very foundation.

he is advancing an idea which is alien to scripture. It is critical that we differentiate between death (Gk: thanatos) and mortality (thnētos). In Romans 5:12, 5:21, 6:16, 6:21, 6:23 and 1 Cor 15:21, Paul refers to death, not mortality. As the early Christadelphians recognised, physical death and corruption was part of creation, not a penalty of sin. Romans 6:23 alone is enough to make this point clear:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What the verse does not say is “the wages of sin is mortality’. I die because I am an organic creature with a finite lifespan. If I sin and knowingly spurn the offer of salvation, then I will be judged and sentenced to eternal death. The parallelism in Rom 6:23 makes this clear:

  • Wages of sin --> Eternal Death
  • Gift of God --> Eternal Life
 John Thomas is worth quoting on this point as he is careful to differentiate between mortality and death as a punishment for sin. Emphasis is mine:

The wages of sin is death. Wages are paid only to those who labour: those who in their toil sow to the flesh, will be paid for the labour they perform; and the pay for this kind of labour is corruption, or death unto death ending in corruption, as the apostle saith, shall of the flesh reap corruption, and of such he says, in another place, whose end is destruction; so that death, corruption, and destruction are the wages of sin, which everyone is fairly entitled to who loves darkness rather than light, and refuses to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.[16]

True; no wicked man can claim to be made alive in Christ that he may live for ever; but he will certainly be made alive that he may be judged and consigned to the dire severities of the Second Death, which is the wages of sin, the first death being the common lot of all, both saints and sinners.[17]

Roberts also made this point, that the wages of sin is eternal death – not mortality – and stands in contrast with eternal life:

Death as the wages of sin is a definition used by Paul in contrast with everlasting life as the gift of God. Therefore it means death, under the divine anger, inflicted for the extinction of the sinner.[18]

Pearce’s claim that Adam’s sin introduced mortality into the world owes nothing to the Bible, and is alien to original Christadelphian teaching. If anything, it is has disturbing parallels with the doctrine of Original Sin. The Westminster Confession of Faith declares:

1.   Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. (Gen. 3:13, 2 Cor. 11:3) This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. (Rom. 11:32)
2.   By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, (Gen. 3:6–8, Eccl. 7:29, Rom. 3:23) and so became dead in sin, (Gen. 2:17, Eph. 2:1) and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. (Tit. 1:15, Jer. 17:9, Rom. 3:10–18)
3.   They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; (Gen. 1:27–28, Gen. 2:16–17, Acts 17:26, Rom. 5:12, 15–19, 1 Cor. 15:21–22, 45, 49) and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. (Ps. 51:5, Gen. 5:3, Job 14:4, Job 15:14)[19]

Any view which argues that Adam’s genetic structure was altered to make him mortal as a punishment for sin, a change which was then inherited by every human being is dangerously close to Original Sin. Adam was not the first person to die. Even if we pretend that the fossil evidence for human evolution does not exist, we have evidence of anatomically modern human fossils as old as 195,000 years. Pearce’s claim that death was unknown prior to Adam is false, and no amount of citing Romans 5v12 will change that.

Paul’s theology however is not continent on Adam being the first human being to exist. In 1 Cor 15 Paul writes:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.[20]

Once again, we are dealing not with mortality, but death, and as the parallelism shows, eternal death as contrasted with eternal life. Furthermore, just as one does not need to be genetically descended from Christ in order to inherit eternal life, one does not need to be genetically descended from Adam in order to inherit eternal death. We’re dealing with Adam and Christ, two men whose contrasting ways of life serve as examples to avoid and emulate, respectively. Paul makes this explicit in verses 45-47:

So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.  However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.         The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.[21]

In fact, what we see here is salvation history: Christ was not literally the last human being to exist, just as Adam was not literally the first human being to exist.[22] Salvation history began with Adam’s sin, an ended with Christ’s triumph. Pearce simply misses the point with his insistence that Christianity becomes meaningless if physical death predated Adam. Irrespective of whether Adam existed or not, we still sin, and our salvation is predicated on participating in the example of Christ’s life:

‘It is FELLOWSERVICE not substitution. These men were to be fellowdrinkers of the cup of Christ’s suffering; fellow-baptists, even unto the baptism of blood in some cases, fellow-servants, “even as the Son of Man,” and at last fellowkings in glory.’[23]

YEC destroys faith – why Pearce’s views are not helpful for our community

Pearce asserts that it is not literalism that destroys faith, but rather adapting it to a ‘human-based viewpoint’:

Interestingly, it is my experience that it isn’t believing in the literality of the Bible that causes people to lose faith; it is trying to adapt Genesis to a human-based viewpoint which destroys faith.

Pearce’s experience is atypical, to say the least. More typical is the example of Gordon Hudson, an unbeliever who not only was a YEC, but helped organise the first visit of Ken ham to the UK. He writes:

Whilst I don’t mind people believing whatever they like, when they try to represent young earth creationism as central to Christianity I think this is both incorrect and damaging to Christianity.

I write this as a former creationist myself who ended up no longer believing in God. Incidentally I attended Carrubbers and was involved in promoting one of the first tours of the UK by Ken Ham. So I speak as someone who had that level of investment in the whole house of cards at one time.

My own faith was shipwrecked by this issue because I had been told time and again that belief in a young earth and creation of the species as they currently are without evolution was essential to being a proper, soundly converted, bible believing Christian. When I started to doubt creationism I also began to question all the other things I had been told about God. I felt lied to, and ultimately I found I no longer believed in God. In hindsight if I had been in an environment where it was possible to believe in the Gospel message without having to accept creationism I would probably still be a Christian, or at least have some level of faith in God. Although its unlikely that this level of faith would have made me acceptable to evangelicals as a “real Christian”.
(Emphasis mine) [24]

Hudson’s experience is hardly atypical. In fact, it is entirely representative of the path to unbelief that many Christians follow when they recognise that the young earth creationist position dogmatically thrust on them by their churches is demonstrably false:

The fact that, when you consider the available evidence and with our present understanding, evolution makes so much more sense than creationism. It was a matter of intellectual integrity for me. For example the universality of the genetic code. The fact that structurally we are all variations on a theme. Obvious cases of microevolution which can easily be extrapolated out to macroevolution. The age of the earth, etc. Oh, and the lousy, dishonest stories professional creationists have invented to try to explain it all.

There came a point when the contradictions were too obvious to ignore and the answers were lacking. I realized that I would have to leave sooner or later so I decided I might as well go sooner than remain shackled in what I felt to be a lie.[25]

I started out really enthusiastic about creationism, and wanted to become a contributor. I thought the place to start was to take creationist quotes, look up the original evolutionist sources, and see what else I could find. What I found was that creationists were being misleading (to put it kindly) with regards to what evolutionists were really saying. That was the beginning…I read some books detailing scientific responses to creationism, and found that, rather than running around worrying about the alleged lack of answers, scientists had quite a lot of rather good answers, backed up by hard data, as well as telling critiques of flaws in creationist arguments.

Finding I couldn't trust what conservative Christians said about Genesis, I began questioning other things as well, which ultimately led to the realization that there was nothing to Christianity that was so much supernatural as it was psychological and social. [26]

One can readily multiply such examples, but the point has been made. Contrary to Pearce’s bizarre allegation, faith is destroyed when it is made conditional on rejecting observable reality. As Hudson noted in his post:

  • You are making the relevance of the bible conditional on the literal truth of a part of which stands at odds with observable facts.
  • You are unwittingly providing fuel for militant atheists.
  • You are misusing creation as a proof for the existence of God.
  • You are encouraging people to base their faith on a total denial of reason.
  • You are in danger of promoting lies.[27]

Pearce may think he is being ‘valiant for the truth’ but all he is doing is conflating his flawed understanding of the Bible with the inspired message, and promoting obscurantism as a virtue. It is once again a position which early Christadelphians would have rejected. Over 100 years ago, C.C. Walker, in commenting on the existence of now-extinct birds acknowledged that:

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.’[28] (Emphasis mine)

Pearce alleges that “it is trying to adapt Genesis to a human-based viewpoint which destroys faith”. Evidently, C.C. Walker thought otherwise as he was quite willing to accept the need to revise an understanding of the Bible in the light of new evidence. One hopes that our community will follow the lead of C.C. Walker instead of the theological and scientific obscurantism championed by Don Pearce.


[1] Letters: Don Pierce The Christadelphian (2013)  150:534
[2] This section has been taken from an earlier post at this blog.
[3] Thomas J. ‘The Bible Doctrine Concerning the Tempter Considered. No. II.’, The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come (1852) 2:181
[4] Letter by Lancelot Burrus, published under the heading ‘A Word Or Two From Virginia’, The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come  (1855) 5:159
[5] Thomas J. ‘Our Terrestrial System Before the Fall’, The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come (1855) 5:159
[6] ibid, p 159
[7] ibid, p 159
[8] ibid, p 159-160
[9] ibid, p 160
[10] ibid, p 160
[11] Roberts R, ‘The Relation of Jesus to the Law of Sin and Death’, The Christadelphian (1869) 6:85
[12] ibid, p 85
[13] Roberts, ‘Apparent Contradictions Reconciled’, The Christadelphian (1869) 6:243
[14] ibid., p. 244.
[15]  Thirtle J.W. 'The Day of Adam's Transgression', The Christadelphian (1880) 17:26-27
[16] Thomas J, 'Immortality, Heaven, and Hell the Unscriptural Character and Heathen Origin of Popular Dogmas Demonstrated; and the Truth Concerning These Things Exhibited by Dr Thomas', The Christadelphian (1870) 7:228  
[17] Thomas J, ‘The Wicked In the Resurrection’ The Christadelphian (1881) 18:197  
[18] Roberts, Answers to Correspondents The Christadelphian (1874) 11:526 
[19] The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
[20] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:20–22.
[21] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:45–47.
[22] This does not mean that Paul did not think Adam was the first human being to exist. It is quite likely that he did. However, his theology is not contingent on this.
[23] Walker, ‘”A Ransom for Many”’, The Christadelphian  (1905)  42:507
[25] https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/talk.origins/oKe0m3zB1II/8Ys5LY_2P3sJ
[26] https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/talk.origins/oKe0m3zB1II/IUgMZcS0wbYJ
[27] Hudson, op cit.
[28] Walker CC, 'Genesis', The Christadelphian (1910) 47: 501  

No comments:

Post a Comment

These comments require moderator approval. At present, it may take a long time for comments to be approved.