This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/a-letter-to-my-son-about-creation
Thanks to @benmc for letting us reprint this amazing piece. Comments and questions are welcome below.
Beautiful. Moving. Inspiring. Might be my favorite writing ever on faith, origins, and science. Thanks @benmc !
I agree that we must restore our use of storytelling for sharing scientific information. Data rarely gets into people’s head and never touches their soul.
The article is better than most that I’ve read. It does not condemn or favor the Biblical account or the natural account. For me, it misses in a few places but they are minor. Over all, a good version.
How much better it would be to explain the underlying assumptions behind both the theistic evolution view and the ‘literal creation’ view - and yes, both have unprovable assumptions - and equip our children to think for themselves.
How often, though, do any of us present two opposing views in a truly unbiased fashion? Do you do that, Mark?
I know I don’t do that with my children. For me, if I did, it would be entirely disingenuous. I do teach them to respect our many YEC friends, but I teach them that they’re wrong in how they interpret Genesis, because that’s what I believe, and because it’s an important part of what I want my kids to understand about the world. I also teach my kids to think for themselves, and it’s possible (probable, depending on the subject matter) that they will come to disagree with their old man… but at any rate, I for one couldn’t pretend to present creation in an unbiased fashion.
Unfortunately this simply isn’t true. The assumptions of historical science can be tested, by (a) cross-checking the results of different studies whose assumptions are independent of each other, and (b) making testable predictions about what we would expect to see from them.
Thank you for your reply and question.
I certainly do try to present views in an unbiased fashion, at least in the sense that there are unprovable assumptions - and yes, I would even say faith assumptions - in opposing views. My primary concern is that we simply be honest about that. On the day of your reply I had a conversation with my 22 year old son who is in engineering school, and he initiated a conversation with me about origins and the age of the earth. His comments to me were that the Bible seems remarkable clear in the Genesis account about the length of days (morning and evening), the reality of Adam as a literal person, and a worldwide flood. I encouraged him to read the sources that I read (e.g. Creation.com, Biologos.org), and indicated that among the faith assumptions of the old earth view are uniformitarianism (going back to the work of George Lyell in the early 19th century) and the speed of light being a constant (somewhat related).
It is interesting to me that you teach them that your YEC friends are wrong. If I may be blunt, how disrespectful and utterly unscientific of you to promote that view and shut down further inquiry there. How does that encourage them to think for themselves? I certainly do not teach my children that my Biologos friends are wrong, and encourage both them and myself to challenge their thinking in this area.
As a faithful Christian, God commands us to teach the Scriptures diligently to them by word and action (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9) as a lifestyle. I have certainly sought to do that with our 6 children, the youngest of whom is 10 and has the most interest in science, particularly invention.
What must we believe about creation as Christians? Hebrews 11:3 puts it well: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” This certainly is an unprovable faith assumption which distinguishes us as Christians. May we rejoice in it, whatever ridicule may come from the scientific community.
Thank you for pointing that out.
I struggle with this idea of historical science and the scientific method. For something to move out of the realm of theory and into the realm of truth, would it not have to be observable, testable, and repeatable? One can certainly do this with microevolution, but I am hard pressed to see how that is possible regarding macroevolution and the age of the earth. What you have described seems to just be the echo chamber of people who have similar faith assumptions, not rock solid evidence. If it were absolutely true, it would not be constantly changing, and there would be no need for false evidence to be presented (e.g. Piltdown Man, Haeckel’s embryology). As God told Job, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?’ (Job 38:4) Like Job, we need accept the eyewitness testimony of the One who was there. Admittedly this chapter uses symbolic language, but Genesis does not seem to use this type of language…
I am also intrigued by how certain many theistic evolutionists seem to be about their interpretation of nature, and how uncertain or ‘flexible’ they seem to be in their interpretation of the Bible. This seems quite problematic to me.
All I am encouraging is that we be honest and forthright about our faith assumptions.
You bring up some good points. The question seems to be: How do you disagree on points you feel strongly about, without compromising fellowship? It is certainly not a new problem, as Paul disagreed strongly with the Jerusalem church over circumcision and unclean food, yet maintained relations. Of course, he did not have the internet.
Amen to Hebrews 11:3.
As a faithful Christian, I am commanded to speak truth and not to lie. My conscience would not permit me to to teach my children that the evidence for common descent over geological time is anything other than overwhelming.
I mean no disrespect to YEC brothers and sisters. I hold no ill will against them personally, and I know there are lots of very intelligent YEC folks. I knew some in college, in fact, and I went to a very good school. I happen to think they’re wrong on this issue, and furthermore I believe that the YEC-only view (which I am glad to see you do not take) will, if left unchecked, lead to disastrous consequences for the church in this generation and those that follow. That doesn’t mean I disrespect those who hold the view. In fact, I teach my kids to respect YEC people (i.e., our good friends) and even not to try and disabuse them of their young-eartherism.
Perhaps are there matters of scriptural interpretation where you teach your kids that one thing is right and another is wrong. Maybe it’s eternal conscious torment over annihilationism; maybe it’s the Protestant view of faith / works over the Catholic or Orthodox view; maybe it’s your particular view of women in ministry, or traditional marriage, or Trinitarianism, or eschatology. But I doubt that you take a completely unbiased view on every matter of Scriptural interpretation. It seems you do in this area of origins, and as an evolutionary creationist, I’m grateful for that. But this is one of those issues where for me, I can’t pretend to be unbiased, because I’m not. But one day if my kids come and want to discuss the merits of the YEC position, I’ll certainly do so based on logic and critical thinking rather than authoritative fiat.
[Edited out a typo.]
Thank you for that.
I understand your comments about Paul, but in that case he was correct and the Jerusalem church incorrect on this matter, and Paul used his apostolic authority to press the issue. We see that Paul had to reprove even Peter, who on this issue was ‘not straightforward about the truth of the Gospel’ (Galatians 2:14).
This issue we are discussing is less central to Christian orthodoxy, which is why I am thankful that I attend a church which holds this issue (as well as end times views) in an ‘open hand’ to encourage thoughtful engagement without compromising Christian faithfulness.
Surely parents are supposed to proactively teach their kids something, and not just constantly present every idea anyone might come up with. I don’t want my kids “inquiring” into a lot of things because I think they are wrong. It would be an abdication of my parental responsibility to present every perspective available as equally worthy of inquiry.
We have some racist relatives. We like them and hang out with them, but I am definitely going to teach my kids they are flat out wrong about some things, and I’d rather they not spend any time on alt-right fringe websites engaged in open-minded “inquiry.”
Young earth creationism is not merely a matter of interpretive differences on a verse here and there like you find with other secondary doctrines. It requires a whole worldview and approach to Scripture that I think is wrong. (Demonstrably so, in the parts that concern scientific evidence.) Most theological differences between Christians can’t be demonstrably proven right or wrong. The best you can do is show they are internally consistent or inconsistent or offer a more or less compelling exegesis of relevant Scriptures. YEC is different because it makes claims about the natural world that go beyond Scripture interpretation and theology, claims that can be tested empirically. I’m not going to instruct my kids to keep an open mind about flat earth theory or the anti-vax movement either. I’m going to teach them what I am reasonably confident are facts about the world.
Of course, there are theological and interpretive issues within an evolutionary creationist perspective that are far from nailed down, and I would want my kids to keep an open mind about those. But I don’t feel at all bad for telling my kids that little Susie is definitely mistaken when she says there were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark.
Mark, in my mind a problem does arise when Christian faithfulness is presented as being dependent on one’s viewpoint on these issues, as some vocal YEC advocates do. It is presented as not just being “in error” but at being “less faithful” or “led away from the truth by satan.” There is a big difference in holding an erroneous concept in science vs. being spiritually compromised, which you brought out in what Paul was concerned with in discussing circumcision.
There are times when I am sympathetic to ID, as my understanding of EC is sort of ID on a grander scale, but I do not consider ID as science, as it is really philosophy in my opinion. Likewise, when you state it is “utterly unscientific” to say YEC is wrong, I would have to disagree, as YEC is making scientific claims, and it is the essence of science to say, "the data does not support that position, and it is therefore in error."
It does get complex when those statements then bleed over to theological interpretation and we then are led to conclude that a particular interpretation of scripture must then be wrong, since the conclusions that interpretation leads to are incorrect.
There are a couple of points you’ve made here that others haven’t addressed, so here goes.
That is true, but cross-checks between different methods give you exactly that. The fact that different methods (radiometric dating, lake varves, ice cores, tree rings, and a whole lot more) give the same results even though their assumptions are completely independent mean that dating methods are testable and repeatable.
As for “observable,” you’re setting something of a moving target there. There are a lot of things in the “operational” sciences that aren’t directly observable, but that can be inferred from the evidence. For example, geologists don’t directly observe magma chambers beneath volcanoes, but they can tell that they are there, and that they are indeed magma chambers, from seismic studies. Another example is determining crystalline structures. It’s only relatively recently that scientists have been able to observe these directly, but in the past they were able to tell a lot about them from X-ray diffraction.
You’re expressing several popular YEC misconceptions here. It’s common for YEC literature to take uncertainties about the fine details of the evidence and portray them as if they call the whole bigger picture into question. But that’s absurd. When you see a cat from a distance, you can still clearly identify it as a cat, even if you can’t make out its whiskers.
For starters, the evidence isn’t changing arbitrarily – instead it’s converging on its conclusions. For example, in the nineteenth century, estimates for the age of the earth and the age of the universe were all over the map, varying from twenty million years to pretty much infinite. In the past fifty years scientists have narrowed down the age of the earth to 4.54±0.05 billion years – that’s an uncertainty of just one percent. Your car’s speedometer is less accurate than that.
I don’t think you realise the full extent of the evidence that we have to contend with. The number of samples that have been dated far, far in excess of six thousand years, by multiple independent methods, with close agreement, runs into hundreds of thousands and quite possibly millions at the very least.
Does fraud happen? Undoubtedly yes. But is it systematic, widespread and pervasive enough to call the age of the earth into question? There are a couple of reasons why this is very, very unlikely.
First, scientists would have to be throwing away vast quantities of very expensive data. An isochron date for a single sample typically costs as much as a brand new family car. Given hundreds of thousands of “valid” dates, this would imply that billions if not trillions of dollars worth of “bad” dates were being systematically discarded every year. Why is nobody creating a stink about this colossal waste of money? It’s also a problem that could easily be fixed by compulsory pre-registration of all radiometric studies. Why are none of the YECs in the US Congress calling for such a register?
Second, much of the evidence comes from sources that are completely free of ideological bias – in particular, oil exploration. Geologists need to know both the age of the rock samples and their thermal history in order to predict whether they’ll get any usable oil out of the ground. If the oil is too young, or too cool, it will be “premature” and still solid. If it’s too old, or too hot, it will have been baked away into oblivion. They are under pressure to produce results that are correct, not results that are ideologically convenient.
This is why people say that the evidence for an ancient earth is overwhelming – and the same is true for common descent as well. How we respond to this as Christians, and how we reconcile it with the Genesis account, is obviously a matter for debate, but we don’t do ourselves any favours by claiming that the evidence doesn’t exist when quite clearly it does, or that it is ambiguous on the matter when quite clearly it isn’t.
James, thank you, you have given me much to think about.
What still gives me pause is the assumption behind all of this is uniformitarianism and the speed of light being constants when they could be relative. Do the calculations of Newtonian physics functionally work? Yes. They do not need to account for relativity to be useful, but we would need to acknowledge they are incomplete and do not take into account a larger context.
Thank you James (jpm)!
I think we are in agreement on the analogy - my point in elucidating on Paul and circumcision was how very unlike that the old earth / YEC debate is. Agreed - they are not on the same level in discerning Christian faithfulness!
I appreciate what you are saying about ID and YEC not being ‘science’. I just don’t see how you can totally separate the philosophical moorings from science, and that really is the point of much of what I am saying. Historically you have to look honestly at the work of 19th century scientists like Lyell and Darwin and acknowledge that the philosophy that drove their work was quite antithetical to Christianity, however true some of their observations may be.
Hi Mark, thank you for your gracious contributions to the discussion.
On the “assumption” of uniformitarianism, I wrote the following comment some time ago in another thread:
I hope that helps to shed some light on “uniformitarianism”.
Now, concerning the speed of light, we have verified that this value has remained constant with many different measurements / lines of reasoning. For example, if it would not have been constant, many physical systems would have collapsed. Think about the famous equation: E = mc^2 (or in words, energy equals mass times the square of the speed of light). Now imagine tweaking the speed of light, c. Suddenly, all nuclear processes that convert mass (m) into energy (E) will produce totally different amounts of energy! Stars in the universe would not remain stable if we would allow the speed of light to vary even a very small amount. Yet we see normal, stable stars even very, very far away from us.
Thank you Christy.
I agree with you that you have to provide healthy boundaries of what is right and wrong and can’t have it completely open ended. Certainly Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is our clearest admonition here, and we see it throughout the book of Proverbs, that the foundation is love for the Lord, and the fear (awe) of the Lord, which is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (see 1:7, 9:10).
I also have some concerns with what you describe as YEC as a whole, e.g. I would never insist that dinosaurs were on the ark because the Bible does not require that. So I would certainly differ with some of my YEC friends on that.
I am deeply concerned that you believe that the evolutionary creationist perspective is absolutely right and all aspects of YEC are absolutely wrong, treating that as a primary and not secondary doctrine. I hope I have misunderstood that. You seem to be equating all aspects of YEC with flat earth theory (a viewpoint that has always been a significant outlier even in historical Christianity). Really? You definitely KNOW that dinosaurs weren’t on the ark. Really? For you to be as insistent on your perspective is no better than what you accuse YEC’s of doing. Are you not going beyond Scriptural interpretation and theology in your very own claims?
What must be believed about creation to be faithful Christians? As I see it, Hebrews 11:1-3 tells us succinctly, that God created the world, something we understand by faith by the revelation of God in His word. Psalm 33 speaks of this as well, particularly vv. 6-9. Yes, He did create all that existed by divine fiat! The mechanisms by which He did this are open to debate and cannot be made matters of absolute doctrinal conviction.
It is this very matter that I encourage my professing Christian friends to be honest about. I am thankful to attend a church where we do not require a stand on the timing of creation or the end times, but invite discussion and inquiry on such items while not compromising our stand that the Bible is the very word of God.
Proverbs 1:7 says that 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.’ We are all wrong about some things, likely many things. To not be open to this possibility, particularly where the Bible does not speak specifically, is arrogant and foolish.
I lean toward young earth creationism, but I diligently read other sources to grow in my understanding. I am disappointed when I see people like yourself, Christy, not being willing to do the same.
Would you insist that dinosaurs inhabited the earth with humans? Because in my mind that is essentially the same contention as “dinosaurs were on the ark.” The Bible may not specifically “require it,” but it seems to me that a 6,000 year old earth with all animals created a day before or the same day as humans logically entails it. And there isn’t a shred of physical evidence to support it.
I think we need to separate out natural history and biblical interpretation. I hold aspects of my biblical interpretation loosely. What exactly was the Fall, what exactly is the image of God, if and how thoroughly Adam’s sin corrupted the human race for all generations, what exactly happened at the Atonement, what exactly does it mean to be a new creation in Christ?-- these are doctrinal issues related to creation theology (and not all are secondary, by the way), and I don’t think my perspective or any generic evolutionary creationist perspective is “absolutely right” at all. In many of these areas I have open questions or answers I think are less that fully satisfactory.
But when it comes to natural history, I think we can comfortably assert some facts about the world based on multiple lines of converging evidence and patterns of observation. We don’t learn natural history in the Bible, and it has nothing to do with primary or secondary doctrines. I think it is a demonstrable fact that the universe is 4.5 billion years old. It is a demonstrable fact that dinosaurs died out 65.5 million years ago in the K-T event. It is a demonstrable fact that modern day continents were once connected in the land mass Pangaea. The models scientists have proposed to make sense of these facts in relationship to other facts, (the Big Bang, the asteroid theory of dinosaur extinction, plate tectonics) not only adequately explained the known facts, but they have also repeatedly made accurate predictions about future discoveries.
Yes. I am totally comfortable asserting certainty on that. Dinosaurs did not live on earth with humans. We know this from studying natural history, not the Bible.
I agree. I don’ think one’s beliefs about natural history or one’s acceptance or denial of scientific consensus on the age of the earth or the extinction of dinosaurs have anything to do with being a faithful Christian, because it isn’t about doctrine at all. I personally know many Christ-like people who are effectively working for God’s coming Kingdom who believe in YEC.
I think we should definitely be open to the possibility that our understanding of any doctrine or Scripture passage is mistaken. But I don’t think we need to insist that the Bible is the only source of truth about the world, or even the primary source of truth about the natural world. Science and math reveal true things about reality, and I don’t think we need to automatically hold those true things in suspicion because the Bible doesn’t corroborate them or seems to present a conflicting picture based on ancient understandings of how the natural world operated.
For the record, it’s not that I haven’t given YEC a fair shot in marketplace of ideas. It is what I grew up with. I was homeschooled until sixth grade and we used Answers in Genesis materials. I thought it was the only “Christian” view of origins until college. I went to a conservative Evangelical liberal arts college and was surprised to find that all of my science professors found YEC untenable. When I started to look into it seriously for myself, it became obvious why. One huge problem I found was the blatant dishonesty and misrepresentation that was rampant in YEC materials. It makes it very difficult to compare the two perspectives on their own merits.