Sunday, September 25, 2011

Perspicuity and Populism: A Response to William B Evans

Over on the Reformation21 blog, William B Evans published a blog post critiquing G.I. Williamson in his promotion of what is known as "young earth creationism," or creation in 6/24 days. Believing that this topic is indeed very important for the church at large, I would like to offer my two cents worth to respond to Evans' post.

Evans' critique focuses on the idea of perspicuity. This he does by first stating that many people can claim to see as the plain truth of Genesis their respective views on creation. Secondly, Evans deals with the idea of what he calls "exegetical populism." As he questions, "why this privilege of a hermeneutic of the unlearned? When did naïveté become a prerequisite for proper exegesis?" Lastly, Evans dealt with the issue of tolerance, and calls for the tolerance of other views who have existed in the Reformed community.

To Evans' first view, I grant that many people think that what they see as the plain truth of Genesis may be things like the Analogical Days view or some other theory. But this is besides the point. We believe that as creatures who are situated in this world, we are very much influenced by the thinking of this world. Those who claim that the plain truth of the creation account is theory X may be indeed subconsciously interpreting the text in light of modern science. After all, in this "Enlightened" age where they are taught from young the theory of evolution and deep time, it is indeed very possible that such theories are seriously embedded in their patterns of thought and thus this influenced their reading of the creation account even without them conscious of such an influence.

This ties in with Evans' view of exegetical populism. To an extent, Evans' critique is right. We should not privilege a hermeneutic of the unlearned or extol the virtues of naïveté. But this I fear is a strawman critique. The issue is not whether we think that ignorance is the greatest virtue when exegeting Scripture, but that only Scripture interprets Scripture. Therefore, it must not be the case that knowledge of the "facts" of modern science have any bearing on the interpretation of Scripture. In other words, can a person ignorant of the supposed facts of modern science while yet diligently study the Scriptures only and come up with fanciful theories such as the Day-Age theory? I suggest not. I would recommend that the mainly Western Reformed scholars visit the churches in the non-Western world and find out whether you can find these strange views of creation held to by the people in the churches. I suggest that one would find an absence of the Framework Hypothesis, Day-Age, or analogical day views being held there. Believers in those countries either believe in literal creation, or hold to limited inerrancy and relegate Genesis 1 and 2 to the category of metaphor or myth when faces with science, May I suggest that these views only exist because these Reformed churchmen confess to the Reformed Confessions and therefore the easy route of denying the historicity of Genesis is not open to them, thus necessitating the formulation of theories as to how to not deny the historicity of Genesis while embracing the findings of modern science?

This empirical experiment is not to suggest populism, but is to raise questions regarding both the supposed literal-ness of alternative views of the creation account, and the charge of naive populism. If it is true that the creation account when interpreted plainly allows for a plurality of interpretations, then why is it that you do not find people coming to the view of Framework Hypothesis, Day-Age or Analogical day by themselves? If those who are learned of the Scriptures yet ignorant of the "facts" of modern science did not hold to any one of these novel theories, then whence did these theories originate?

It is a historical fact that none of these theories can find any precedent before the 19th century. It has been pointed out that various positions on the days are held to by various people in church history. Indeed such is the case, but to stretch the relatively small variations held to by the ancient and reformation church to accommodate views such as the Framework hypothesis has no precedence in church history. As I have pointed out, the allegorists like Origen for example did not deny that Scripture taught literal creation. What they did was affirm the literal creation on the one hand, while finding ways to set the literal creation in the overall philosophy they embrace. They never was a doubt that the Scriptures had in mind 6 days of duration within reasonable parameters. None of them including John Calvin believed in anything even remotely like the Framework, Day-Age, or Analogical days. It is ridiculous that just because the length of the creation days were not universally agreed to be 24 hours therefore we can now extend the "day" to one million or one billion years or more, or just dispense with the length concept altogether. It's just as if since the price of gas fluctuates periodically, therefore we can expect a possible price could be the equivalent of one month's salary of an average university graduate for one gallon of gas.

Evans' call for tolerance sounds strange, since one can read the denigration of young earth creationism and creation science by those who hold to the alternate views. When for example Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, an otherwise godly and eminent Reformed scholar, can attack young earth creationism by accusing creation science as being a pseudo-science [W. Robert Godfrey, God's Pattern for Creation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), p. 91], those of us who hold to young earth creationism wonder where is the call for tolerance then? Is the plea for tolerance only one way? Will the Reformed adherents of the Framework Hypothesis, Day-Age theory, Analogical view among others repent of their attack on young earth creationism and creation science, especially since I'm sure most of them are NOT scientists themselves?

As for the principle of exclusion, I do not see G.I. Williamson arguing for the expulsion of ministers who hold to these views. Even if that is what it leads to, don't we as Reformed men believe in the principle of always reforming according to the Scriptures? This is especially so since historically, most Christian theologians prior to the 19th century believe in some variation of literal 6 day creation, plus the phrase "in the space of six days" has confessional status in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF Chapt IV, Para 1). It must be said that the type of contortions Presbyterians go to evade the force of the phrase is an art form in and of itself.

Evans attempts to equate the issue of creation days with the views on the millennium. That however is a false analogy. The doctrine of creation days is based on two main passages of the narrative genre, plus a myriad of other verses here and there. The millennium however is only mentioned once in Rev. 20:4, and the book of Revelation is of the apocalyptic genre. The comparison is one of apples and oranges. The reason why we tolerate difference regarding the views on the millennium is that Scripture is not clear on the topic. Is Evans arguing that protology is just as vague and unclear as the millennium?

Evans closed with a quote by Bavinck. While Bavinck is certainly a notable theologian, he is not always right. This is especially so since he seems to have a naive view of science. As I have argued elsewhere, science is paradigmatic. It is not some absolute objective reality that is definitely true. We do not have to embrace the scientific realism that ignores the actual history of scientific progress and the inherent logical flaws in the scientific method. Since science is not the absolute authority it claims to be, why should we be bothered with looking ridiculous "in the eyes of unbelieving scientists"? They are the ones who need to be challenged as to their methodological naturalism and positivist empiricism, not they challenging us.

In conclusion, Evans' response fails to mute the criticism of the other non-literal views of creation. The problems with the other non-literal view of creation remain, and sooner or later we need to deal with the issue in a more definitive manner.

14 comments:

SamWise said...

Your critique is well reasoned and as a scientist I concur that many read modern science into the scripture and come away with modern science inconsistencies! The WCF is clear 6/24 is what the text says. They did not have the popular context of modernism in 1600's!

This why I mistrust modern writers who inherently filter by modernism!

In the Lamb

Rick Frueh said...

In the current climate of evangelicalism, and acknowledging the numerous streams of compromise and apostasy running rampant, the 24 hour creation day is the least of our problems.

Much more prominent issues are the variety of caricatures that are supposed to be Christ, and the tidal wave of universalism that are persented openly and with clandestine verbiage. And when confronted with their own doctrinal evidence, they offer implausible denials.(Rob Bell, etc.)

The 24 hour creation day?
Maybe.

SamWise said...

I agree about a "tidal wave of universalism" in the name of "fellowship." However, I believe the underlying premise of modernism/liberalism began with a direct assault on God as "Maker of Heaven and Earth."

I believe the history of modern theological apostasy started with the church's inability to face scientism/naturalism directly, therefore allowing for the possibility of natural revelation to directly contradict special revelation.

Paul clearly says in Romans 1 that both revelations agree on God as Creator/Sustainer of the universe. I'll stay with Paul on this one!

Rick Frueh said...

I agree, however the assualt on the gospel does not rise or fall on the new earth doctrine. There are many old earthers who abhor liberalsim and the ever increasing line of Rob Bells, Rick Warrens, et al.

PuritanReformed said...

@SamWise:

thanks.

PuritanReformed said...

@Rick Frueh:

the 24 hour creation day may be less important than the many other streams of apostasy, but IMO the compromises come from the same font of unbelief - an elevation of the philosophy of Man above the revelation of God.

Rick Frueh said...

David,

I would ask you this. I am an amateur astronomer. There are stars/galaxies whose light in reaching us even though they are millions/billions of light years away. Now some say when God created the universe He could have made those light streams already spanning that distance, so in essence they did not have to travel millions of years. I get that.

But within some of those light streams are supernova explosions that occurred hundreds of thousands of years ago, and if the universe is only 6000 years old, then that embedded light event never took place and is in effect a deception.

I cannot explain that away.

PuritanReformed said...

@Rick Frueh:

I agree that the light stream is a problem in young earth cosmology. Dr. John Harnett however has come up with an alternate cosmology that seems to address the problem in an interesting manner (http://creation.com/dr-john-hartnett-cv).

Rick Frueh said...

Thank you for your interaction.

PuritanReformed said...

@Rick Frueh:

you're welcome

Joel Tay said...

Quote: "the 24 hour creation day may be less important than the many other streams of apostasy, but IMO the compromises come from the same font of unbelief - an elevation of the philosophy of Man above the revelation of God."

Indeed. Literal Young Earth Creation is indeed not the most important doctrine, and I believe a person ignorant of what Scripture teaches on this topic can certainly be saved. But while it is not an "essential" doctrine, it is a foundational doctrine. That is, the doctrine of creation is foundational to the gospel. A person cannot claim to be gospel-centered or cross-centered (or Theo-centric for that matter) if he rejects the foundation of creation.

Joel Tay said...

And as a side note... having read much of Bavinck's theology, I actually find him to be a pretty poor theologian. He is over rated in my opinion. I would rather go with Francis Turretin, John Gills, Luther, Owen, or John Calvin as a source if I wanted a better representation of historical reformed theology. Notice that it is usually only the Van Tillian camp that promotes Bavinck heavily?

PuritanReformed said...

@Joel:

I think Bavinck is fine, but he comes from the continental tradition which is not the best tradition to work in.

PuritanReformed said...

Bavinck is much better than Van Til, IMO. You can see where Van Til got some of his stuff from, but Van Til blew them out of proportion into places Bavinck does not.