Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Reformed ministers, and Science!

Dr. R. Scott Clark in one his more recent Heidelcasts posted on the topic of "Science," with a particular focus on the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate. In summary, Clark was not particularly impressed with either man, seeing them as entertainers rather than actual scientists.

In his book Recovering the Reformed Confessions, Clark poked at the idea of 6-24 creation days. Clark does not so much address the issue whether 6-24 days is right or wrong, but rather that the insistence that each day must be 24 hours, using 6-24 as a boundary marker for orthodoxy, is a symptom of what he terms the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) (pp. 47-50). Clark in that book demurs from stating his position on the creation days, but rather thinks that 6-24 cannot be a boundary marker because its insistence stems from Seventh-Day Adventism and Fundamentalism, and it would exclude Reformers teachers like Charles Hodge while including Seventh-Day Adventists (p. 50).

The point of this post here is not to address the issues of confessionalism and boundary markers, except to point out that it is possible to have 6-24 as a boundary marker without excluding people like Charles Hodge as being "non-Reformed." The point here is rather to state something which seems to me to be a big problem within Reformed circles: a rather strange ignorance of the modern YEC (Young Earth Creationist) arguments. It is one thing to reject YEC as a position; it is another to be ignorant of what its proponents are teaching.

My seminary, WSCal, teaches the Framework Hypothesis, alongside other views. The professor who teaches it is convinced of the truth of the Framework view, and that is fine. As someone who rejects the Framework view, it is my obligation to understand that view fairly and represent it fairly, and I have tried to learn as much as I can. That said, the portrayal of YEC in return, or even just 6-24, has been rather abysmal. I have read the OPC Creation Report, and have recently purchased a book entitled The Genesis Debate where J. Ligon Duncan II and David Hall presented the 6-24 position. Every single time so far, I have been sorely disappointed in the portrayal of the 6-24 position. The basic argument for 6-24 is presented, but they are seldom the strongest arguments, neither are the rebuttals to the opposing viewpoints strong and convincing. Against the "Day-Age" proponents Hugh Ross and Gleason Archer, Duncan and Hall might as well roll over and play dead. Such is the quality of their "response" that it might as well have not been written.

To be sure, the YEC camp does have a lot of anti-intellectuals and a lot of entertainers within her. Much of what considers itself "YEC literature" is not worth the paper it is printed on, or the memory space it is stored in. Even publications by ministries like Answers in Genesis (AiG) and Creation Ministries International (CMI) are often shallow, which is understandable given they are appealing to the masses. For those of us who want something solid, we have to sift through much of the "chaff" to get the wheat of actual substantial scientific argumentations. But once we actually get the substantial arguments, they actually do pack a powerful punch for 6-24 in particular and YEC in general.

Dr. Clark picked on Ken Ham as an entertainer. I am not going to defend Ham, because in actual fact, he is in some sense a sort of entertainer. Of course in mitigation, he is a popularizer of Creation Science, so I guess entertainment comes with the territory. That said, if one wants to actually deal with the YEC position, Ken Ham is a soft target. Why not deal with YEC scientists who actually are scientists? Let me introduce a couple to Dr. Clark:

(1) Jonathan D. Sarfati, Ph.D (Spectroscopy, Physical Chemistry)

Some 'secular' publications:

  • J.D. Sarfati, G.R. Burns, and K.R. Morgan: ‘Tetraphosphorus tetraselenide: crystalline and amorphous phases analysed by X-ray diffraction, Raman and magic angle spinning 31P NMR spectroscopy and differential scanning calorimetry’, Journal of Non-Crystalline Solids 188(1-2):93–97, 2 July 1995 | doi:10.1016/0022-3093(95)00093-3.
  • J.D. Sarfati and G.R. Burns: ‘The pressure, temperature and excitation frequency dependent Raman spectra; and infrared spectra of CuBrSe3 and CuISe3’, Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular Spectroscopy 50(12):2125–2136, November 1994 | doi:10.1016/0584-8539(94)00176-6.

(2) A/Prof John Harnett, Ph.D. (Physics)

Some 'secular' publications:

  • Hartnett, J.G., The distance modulus determined from Carmeli’s cosmology fits the accelerating universe data of the high-redshift type Ia supernovae without dark matter, Found. Phys. 36(6):839–861, June 2006.
  • Hartnett, J.G., Spiral galaxy rotation curves determined from Carmelian general relativity, Int. J. Theor. Phys. 45(11):2118–2136, November 2006.
  • Hartnett, J.G., Tobar, M.E., Properties of gravitational waves in Cosmological general relativity, Int. J. Theor. Phys. 45(11):2181–2190, November 2006.

(3) David Catchpoole, B.Ag.Sc. (Hons), Ph.D. (Plant physiology)

Some 'secular' publications:

  • Catchpoole, D.W. and Blair, G.J. (1990). Forage tree legumes.; I. Productivity and N economy of Leucaena, Gliricidia, Calliandra and Sesbania and tree/green panic mixtures. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 41(3):521–530.
  • Silsbury, J.H., Catchpoole, D.W. and Wallace, W. (1986). Effects of Nitrate and Ammonium on Nitrogenase (C2H2 Reduction) Activity of Swards of Subterranean Clover, Trifolium subterraneum L. Australian Journal of Plant Physiology 13(2):257–273

The main point, and the sad point, is that Reformed literature on the topic of origins show little if any familiarity with the modern YEC position. It is a strange thing indeed when a bunch of ministers come together to discuss science and the issue of origins, without any of them (so far) showing sufficiently knowledge or familiarity to even deal with the issues fairly. In point of fact, many Reformed ministers have little knowledge of science, being trained in the Arts. As someone who had studied for a career in science before switching, I am appalled at how the origins debate is carried out.

While I am not a Framework advocate, I can see one reason why someone might hold to it: It solves the problem of dealing with the scientific issues involved, by removing Genesis 1 from being subject to any form of verification or falsification. This is not to say that this is necessarily the motive behind anyone who holds to the Framework position, but it would definitely be an appealing one for those who are basically scientifically untrained. That said, the way forward should be for the Reformed churches to acquire people who actually know the science involved, and deal with the issues head on. Having a podcast to throw pot-shots on soft targets like Ken Ham doesn't actually advance the discussion. So what even if Ken Ham is discredited? YEC does not live and die with the credibility of one popularizer! And even if one were to use the SDA and Fundamentalism origin canard, it is a mere genetic fallacy. Despite the misrepresentations of Marsden and others, YEC in general did not come into being through SDA and Fundamentalism. Such is historical revisionism. Was Bishop Usshur a SDA, or a Fundamentalist? Read the Reformation and post-Reformation literature, and you will find many who subscribe to the idea that the earth was about 6000 years old. Usshur was NOT an abnormality in his dealings on the Age of the Earth. That does not say that the Reformation and post-Reformation scholars were necessarily right, but it shows that the historical development of the various positions concerning the length of the creation days and the age of the earth is much more complex than the simplistic picture painted by people like Marsden.

It would be great if one day the YEC 6-24 position is better represented. Until then, I think ministers should stop throwing pot-shots at "science."

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