Thursday, October 03, 2013

Mark Noll and his tirade against Creationism

In Mark Noll's book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which is basically a New Evangelical polemic against elements deemed undesirable by the New Evangelicals (Who said New Evangelicals were irenic and tolerant?), Noll inveighed against a couple of issues chief of which are Dispensationalism and Creationism, seeing them both as symptoms of "anti-intellectualism." I must say it is amusing that a point in Noll's general critique is that these views are anti-intellectual because they are mocked by the establishment, which according to the Bible signifies nothing.

Noll tries hard to link Creationism with Dispensationalism, as if to smear the former by linking it with the latter. As with other evangelicals like Del Ratzsch (in this book The Battle of Beginnings), the systematic tarring of the YEC position began from attacking its history, linking it with the Seventh-Day Adventist movement. The problem however is that such is a logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, as if temporary sequence implies logical consequence. The argument can be more plausibly made that non-YEC positions come into place post-Darwin, so does that mean that they necessarily are caused by Darwinism as a logical consequence? It is simply surprising that Noll the promoter of Evangelical intellectual thought would commit a logical fallacy right at the start.

In the book, Noll claimed that "Creationism could, in fact, be called scientific dispensationalism, for creation scientists carry the same attitude towards catastrophe and the sharp break between eras into their science that dispensationalists see in the Scriptures." (p. 195) In response, it must be mentioned that Scripture does speak of catastrophes, EVEN IF one discards the "inconvenient truth" of Creation and the Flood. Christian theology admits of the Fall, the Cross, the Red Sea Crossing, and the Second Coming of Christ. Aren't these all catastrophes in some sense? Or is Noll desiring to impose uniformitarianism upon Scripture too, so that all of Scripture have no catastrophes? Noll's argument therefore commits the fallacy of association. One wonders just how much of the history of interpretation of Genesis 1-11 does he know. When he claims that the YEC position is a novelty in the history of the Church, this only proves he has not read any commentaries on the passages by pre-Enlightenment exegetes on the issue.

The attack on the YEC position continues with Noll accusing its advocates of "Manichean attitudes towards knowledge about the natural world" (p. 196). One wonders what world Noll inhabits. His accusations of creationists as using Baconian induction is strange since none of the professional creationists affirmed their affinity with Baconian induction. In fact, the positivist, hypothetico-deductivist model of science embraced by most scientists today is already outdated. The 20th century has given us Popper's falsification model, Kuhn's scientific paradigm model, and Feyerabend's Dada-ist model. So, what world does Noll actually inhabit? Or is he attacking the YEC position based upon hearsay and conjecture, since he evidently didn't do a good job of representing them? Last I know, misrepresentation is not a virtue of scholarship, so here we have the irony of a historian misrepresenting his object of criticism, and calling them anti-intellectuals?! You should pardon me for not buying that type of inane reasoning.

As with many many people, Noll incessantly confuse "science" with "evolution." All those who reason like him in thought live in the pre-Kuhnian world, a world in which "science" is assumed to be this impersonal enterprise which scientists come and work in, and they are then "dragged" or led through the superior results of experimentation to embrace certain absolutely objective theories of fact "because that's what the experimental results objectively prove." Claiming naivete of creationists who, like the reviled Dispys, read only the "plain" reading of the Genesis account, Noll and those like him have fallen into a more sophisticated naivete regarding the nature of science, in their blindness to the paradigm(s) they function in. They unquestioningly bought into the entire naturalistic paradigm hook, link and sinker, seeing no qualitative difference between "historical science" and "normal operational science." Pressed, they might admit of quantitative difference between the two, just as critics of Kuhn's philosophy of science tried to do the same with Kuhn's category of "paradigmatic science" and "normal science," but the differences are merely quantitative of amount, instead of qualitative, of kind, which they actually are. Noll of course trumpets the "sophisticated" interpretations of Old Testament scholars like Bruce Waltke. Without going into the specifics of Waltke's argument, which Noll did not provide, the question is: Does anyone think Jesus or Paul would have held to such an interpretation of Genesis? None of them lived in an era in which there is such a thing as a fact/ value dichotomy. Postulating that Genesis might not be historical while claiming that it is useful for the ancients imposes upon the ancients philosophical, linguistic and semantic categories of which none of them would have a name for. The goal of biblical exegesis is to understand the meaning of the text in its original horizon as best as possible, not impose foreign categories into the text!

Noll's tirade against the YEC position is therefore, groundless. For a book that claims the terrible state of the Evangelical mind is a scandal, the parts of the book on Creationism is indeed a scandal of the "Evangelical mind."

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