"Is Genesis History?" Director Responds to False Dichotomy Charge

With an eye to your moderator’s warning above about not getting political, I was actually restraining myself. I’ll say a bit more here … and totally understand if this needs to be removed.

I think fringe experts (the experts you mention that lead the charge to distrust the main bulk of all credentialed experts) are sought out because fringe movements (and YEC probably increasingly sees itself in that category --especially in academia) will not bypass any tool that they see might help them. So while there may be a cresting of populist distrust out there (and they would welcome that to the extent that it can help their cause), they also see that credentials do have currency still among a lot of people. So they will stock up on those too where they can find them – anything to press the cause forward. Have your cake and eat it too – for as long as you can.

The first casualty though (for any of us when we enlist as foot soldiers for any cause) is that our quest for actual truth is put on hold while we fight. YECs aren’t the only ones who have fallen victim to this – we are all in danger as soon as we decide that all else must become subservient to our political goals. Not that foot-soldiering is never appropriate, but it does become a blind period in which you better hope you picked a right, good, and true cause, because if you didn’t, your chances of discovering this and learning from it are vastly reduced while you remain in soldier mode. When / if YECs (or any of us) emerge from our closed-ears operations, God’s truth (reality) will still be there. Let every man be a liar – God still remains faithful.

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Tru dat! The origins debate is only one aspect of a much larger problem, which is the Culture War. We can trace its historical origins and observe the rise and fall of particular movements, but the bottom line is an increasingly polarized society and a devaluation of truth. I’m reminded of Kierkegaard’s thoughts on “the crowd is untruth.”

His first criticism is this: “A crowd … is untruth, since a crowd either renders the single individual wholly unrepentant and irresponsible, or weakens his responsibility by making it a fraction of his decision.” Thus, we do things en masse that we would never do individually. You or I would never take money from a poor man’s pocket and give it to a rich man. That would be unjust and immoral. But we can vote for it and call it “policy” and feel nothing.

His second criticism is this: "The crowd is untruth. There is therefore no one who has more contempt for what it is to be a human being than those who make it their profession to lead the crowd. Let someone, some individual human being, certainly, approach such a person, what does he care about him; that is much too small a thing; he proudly sends him away; there must be at least a hundred. And if there are thousands, then he bends before the crowd, he bows and scrapes; what untruth! … For to win a crowd is not so great a trick; one only needs some talent, a certain dose of untruth and a little acquaintance with the human passions. But no witness for the truth - alas, and every human being, you and I, should be one - dares have dealings with a crowd. … And at the risk of a possibly exaggerated caution, I add just this: by “truth” I always understand “eternal truth.” But politics and the like has nothing to do with “eternal truth.”

Finally, although he is talking about anonymity and the press in his day and age, Kierkegaard hits the nail on the head of our Internet age, too:

The crowd is untruth. And I could weep, in every case I can learn to long for the eternal, whenever I think about our age’s misery, even compared with the ancient world’s greatest misery, in that the daily press and anonymity make our age even more insane with help from “the public,” which is really an abstraction, which makes a claim to be the court of last resort in relation to “the truth”; for assemblies which make this claim surely do not take place. That an anonymous person, with help from the press, day in and day out can speak however he pleases (even with respect to the intellectual, the ethical, the religious), things which he perhaps did not in the least have the courage to say personally in a particular situation; every time he opens up his gullet - one cannot call it a mouth - he can all at once address himself to thousands upon thousands; he can get ten thousand times ten thousand to repeat after him - and no one has to answer for it; in ancient times the relatively unrepentant crowd was the almighty, but now there is the absolutely unrepentant thing: No One, an anonymous person: the Author, an anonymous person: the Public, sometimes even anonymous subscribers, therefore: No One. No One! God in heaven, such states even call themselves Christian states. One cannot say that, again with the help of the press, “the truth” can overcome the lie and the error. O, you who say this, ask yourself: Do you dare to claim that human beings, in a crowd, are just as quick to reach for truth, which is not always palatable, as for untruth, which is always deliciously prepared, when in addition this must be combined with an admission that one has let oneself be deceived! Or do you dare to claim that “the truth” is just as quick to let itself be understood as is untruth, which requires no previous knowledge, no schooling, no discipline, no abstinence, no self-denial, no honest self-concern, no patient labor! No, “the truth,” which detests this untruth, the only goal of which is to desire its increase, is not so quick on its feet. (Emphasis added)

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@Clarke_Morledge and @BradKramer,

Yes, my columns deal with the American story, not the British story. There were “scriptural geologists” (Mortenson’s heroes) on both sides of the ocean, but the Americans were basically parroting the Brits–the same situation in mainstream geology as well. The USA was a scientific backwater (generally) until after the Civil War; most of the science taught here originated somewhere in Europe, and likewise for American views of science & the Bible.

Mortenson contends that (a) geological ages were the invention of “atheists and deists,” who doubted or denied the Bible and who were committed to metaphysical naturalism; (b) many Christians caved in to academic pressure (consciously or unconciously) and adopted the geological timescale of the sceptics, using ideas from Galileo and Bacon to justify that move; and © the Scriptural geologists, who resisted that move entirely, defended the historicity of Genesis and used their literal interpretation of it (Mortenson would probably say just Genesis, since he and other YECs are somewhat reluctant to say that they are “interpreting” the Bible at all) as the basis for an alternative geology.

Mortenson’s account is persuasive to very large numbers of Christians in America and also to a growing number of British evangelicals. (On the latter, see this https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/a-geologist-looks-at-creationism/ by geologist and Anglican minister Michael Roberts, one of the most incisive critics of the YEC view you will encounter.) The best antidotes are a deep and broad understanding of geology (which I do not posses), a deep and broad understanding of the Bible in its ANE context (here I’m better off than in geology, but obviously not an expert), and a deep and broad understanding of the history and philosophy of science. Very few lay people have any of these knowledge sets, and most pastors don’t either, though obviously many have studied biblical languages with experts more than most others have.

Since you’re looking specifically for criticisms of Mortenson’s historical claims, I’d look for books and articles by Davis Young and Michael Roberts. Both have excellent knowledge of relevant parts of the history of geology, and both know quite a bit of theology and hermeneutics as well. Most of their work is available only in print books or print journals. Perhaps the best single piece is print-only, Davis Young’s article in Christian Scholar’s Review about nineteenth century Christian geologists and their view of Scripture. I don’t have chapter and verse here at home, but if you contact me privately (tdavis AT messiah DOT edu) I can send it to you.

I don’t think anyone has actually written a step-by-step reply to Mortenson, but it would need to be lengthy and carefully nuanced, b/c many of the individual things he says are true. Geology (in the modern sense) was born in the Enlightenment, and many of its founders were not biblical Christians. A lot of 19th century Christian geologists did accept the great age of the earth, but (contrary to Mortenson) they did so b/c they drew their own conclusions from the evidence, not b/c they feared losing status. In America at least they had secure appointments at places like Yale or Amherst; they weren’t worried about losing their jobs or losing prestige, and (contrary to what Mortenson wants you to think) they took the Bible very seriously as history and they weren’t hesitant to bring the Bible into their public writings. They dismissed the ideas of the Scriptural geologists b/c they found them incredible in the face of the evidence, not b/c they dismissed the relevance of the Bible.

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Ted, Thank you. This should help a lot.