This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/guest/natural-and-biological-diversity-a-testament-to-gods-creative-power-or-a-consequence-of-sin
This is one of the best commentaries on the theological problems with the YEC view that I’ve ever seen! You’ve pulled together such a powerful combination of biblical, scientific, and aesthetic ideas that just don’t mesh with that view. Thank you for such an insightful piece!
Thank you also for the footnote quoting that very early book by Price, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen. I’m fascinated by Price’s apparent allusions to some 17th-century views of the pre-flood world. Some then believed that the earth’s axis was not tilted until after that event, so that the early earth had a uniform, very temperate climate. Some also believed that mountains were another result of the flood, and thus of divine judgement. Ironically, one author who advanced such views, Thomas Burnet, is usually seen by contemporary creationists as a bad example, since he entertained the idea that the first three “days” in Genesis might perhaps have been as long as a year or so, rather than just 24 hours in duration. Reflecting on all of this ought to give one pause, before adopting AiG’s attitude that all biblical interpretations other than their own are just stepping-stones on the slipperly slope to atheism.
I was turned onto the Price quote in the Forum thread for your post. Ken Ham’s Alternative History of Creationism - #34 by Robert_Johnston I looked up the larger context and found it really interesting. It has been difficult to find anything more than these very vague statements about the prelapsarian ecology in the YEC literarature. One quote that I missed and wish I could have included I discovered late last night. I have been struggling to find any reference by YECs to natural selection pre-Fall. But here is Terry Mortensen (correction - Mortenson is the editor but author of the chapter in the book quoted below is James Stambaugh) on the topic in this “Coming to Grips…” book.
“The only consistent option for the careful Bible student is to place the origin of natural evil and natural selection at the Fall and the resulting Curse.”
He goes on and on about the theological case for natural evil entering the creation at the Fall and multiple times he equates natural selection with being a product of natural evil. Its an easy thing to say but what is missing is any attempt to defend how natural selection would be absent and what the consequences of that absence would mean. To me its completely at odds with the AiG attempts to compress unimaginable amounts of genetic variation into the original kinds.
Excellent. You always manage to get me thinking, @Joel_Duff. Very much appreciated.
I’ve always thought of Terry Mortensen as unique in the Young Earth Creationist ministry world because he has a PhD, but not in geology. It’s a PhD in the History of Geology from Coventry University. That got me curious some years ago and I tried to research that rather unusual PhD program. Of course, theology doctorates in the UK tend to be of an “independent study” type under a single mentor. So I got the impression that that may have been the case for this History of Geology PhD. But at least at the time I researched it, I was unable to learn any details. I have a number of science professor friends at UK universities so I asked them. They all had exactly the same reaction: “Coventry awards PhDs???!” One of them even looked into it for me and drew a blank. So I honestly don’t know what to make of that and I have nothing good nor bad to say about that degree and institution because I lack sufficient information. But I do know from reading Mortensen’s articles at Answers in Genesis that he has a very poor grasp of geology itself. Yet, that’s a very different field from the history of geology. I wonder what Mortensen would say about the conflict between the history of YECdom as seen by his boss (Ken Ham) versus Morris & Whitcomb (who Ken Ham idolizes.)
No doubt, Mortensen’s PhD in the history of geology fits in great at Answers in Genesis. He’s often portrayed as a geology expert and he’s often called a scientist who is on staff with Answers in Genesis.
I disagree with YEC, but I’ve been privileged to know personally some of the ones with legitimate science PhDs who really do love science and are trying to do some research (some of them are featured in the film)…and I’ve found these individuals to be more irenic than the more popular YEC spokesmen. As Todd Wood (one of the YEC scientists featured) notes, the film is not a death knell to evolution, but it does showcase the creationist research being done (Is Genesis History? preview night!). One ironic twist in this whole thing is that it highlights the fact that these researchers have next to no funding, for all the YEC money goes to build theme parks, museums, and publishing/speaking platforms almost entirely done by the non-specialists. Rhetoric trumps research, which yields the too often combative ethos of the discussion. I think if the YEC researchers were more central, we could have a better discussion. These researchers tend to be more forthright about the challenges they face.
Thanks Joel for this sharp analysis. I dare to add that one could also argue the other way around: The “perfect pre-fall world” of YECs could very well have remained as “perfect post-fall world”: It had suffice that every time someone sins God removes him from the face of the Earth and sends him “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). This way the earth would always have been populated by “holy” people living in the “perfect” paradise.
Apparently God didn’t want such a world (as even the Flood story eloquently illustrates!). A plausible reason for this may be that He wanted to redeem the sinners, and to this aim he conceived a world which is very appropriate for sinners to live. That is, a world where on the one hand “we can clearly see God’s eternal power and divine nature” (as you very well claim), but on the other hand we also experience some unpleasant things like illness, pain, death, catastrophes, moral evil, etc. And how can these unpleasant world’s properties be good for our Redemption? Well perhaps because they make us realize that we are not like God and this way help us not to fall into the temptation “Adam and Eve” fell.
In summary: Paradoxically it is the “perfect pre-fall world” YECs invoke that would have been the end-product of “God’s judgement because the Fall". The “imperfect” evolutionary world in which we live is rather the result of God’s mercy in prospect of the Fall.
Thanks in advance for commenting.
Labeling diversity as negative seems strange to most modern folk, but change was seen as negative to most Greek philosophers, who built their ideas upon Being which is static. The Jews on the other hand accepted the Biblical view that life is a process of change, hopefully for the better under the rule of YHWH.
Christianity brought a reconciliation of these two points of view, but somehow conservative Christians have adapted the Greek ahistorical point of view, while many liberal Christians have separated history from its Biblical basis.
This is excellent, thank you for putting this together. Some very great thoughts here that I never considered when I was a YEC.
Responding to Mountains, Meadows, and Marmots: Creation or Judgment? (March 09, 2017 | By Joel Duff) … Sadly it appears you enjoy straw men and false dichotomies. Allow me to respond to some of your statements (some of which I have summarised for brevity).
- For YECs, creation ONLY reminds us of God’s judgment for sin?
A. This is a straw man. In the same way that the command not to kill man, because man is made in the image of God, comes after the fall (showing even fallen man continues to reflect in some way the image of God first intended). So, creation continues to speak of God, as Paul says in Romans 1. No YECs who have read their Bible would deny that. However, creation is no longer ‘very good’ as before. We know creation groans, awaiting the culmination of God’s salvation (Romans 8). Creation itself knows it is no longer what it once was.
- Adaptations for protection, competition, and even mate attraction unnecessary pre-fall?
A. Protection perhaps, but it is a strange leap, to imagine, just because species were well provided for, that they didn’t need to compete for mates. ‘Adaptions’ or diversification, would always have happened. Fall or no fall. However, the entrance of death led to new predatory behaviour amongst creatures. Which meant, what was now a useful diversification was different to what might have been useful with no fall. The assumption that adaption was somehow triggered by the environment is also not consistent with a basic understanding of natural selection. The environment doesn’t dictate which ‘adaptions’ occur, rather the environment simply rewards those diversifications that are most beneficial. It’s cart before horse to assume that the environment somehow determines adaption, either in type or number. Routinely, the only successful adaption that we observe is that which was already provided for genetically in the parent animal.
- Diversity as solely aesthetic?
A. What if it was? Is that so unthinkable? Is your view of God so utilitarian or perfunctory that you cannot imagine Him being interested in beauty for it’s own sake? Wasnt that how you started your whole article? That beautiful things point to God’s glory in creation?
Clearly, Noah’s flood did a lot to change the face of geology. If every mountain was covered to a minimum depth of 6.9m, then not an inch of earth would have been unaffected. However the Psalms speak of God’s hand even in this. “The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place which You established for them,” Psalm 104:8. Clearly this speaks of God’s involvement in the restructuring of earth in the last days of the flood. Only if you deny God a hand in the ongoing history of planet earth, would you deny the glory of God, even in fallen creation.
- Was there low diversity in pre-fall creation?
A. God’s command was to multiply. What if this was not simply about arthithmatic. God placed (as science shows) vast resource for diversity inside initial species. That they could multiply not only in number but also in design.
- Adaption to modern environments disproves YECs claim of “front loaded DNA”.
A. Just because a species can adapt to an environment, doesn’t mean God could not have created the species, before that environment was known. Man now lives in self made environments not present before the fall. Does that mean God didn’t make man before man made tower block and skyscrapers. The argument from environment is a very poor argument. As is the argument from behaviour. Adam was given vegetables, Noah was given meat. Did God create Adam with the genes to allow Noah to eat meat. Yes, of course. Does that impact majorly on theology, not everso dramatically, unless you want a less-that-all-knowing God. A God for whom the fall was a shocking surprise.
- God’s invisible qualities clearly seen in the post-Fall world?
A. The characteristics of living things and the very shape of the earth’s surface are evidence of God’s power but also of his judgement. You create a false dichotomy when you insist it is either or. Lot described the land as “like the garden of the Lord," (Gen 13:10). Seeing that Lot had never seen the garden of Eden (which was destroyed in the flood), he is either comparing it to his imagination of the garden of Eden, stories of Eden handed down, or his imagination of what a garden belonging to God would be like. Whichever it is, his only personal reference is the fallen world. So his “best” garden, would still be a fallen one, maybe minus the thorns. It is Lot’s subjective opinion, not an empirical statement of fact.
- Nature is only damaged because man is not tending the Garden as he should?
A. This can explain why there are thorns in my veggie patch, but doesn’t explain why thorns exist. No amount of neglect can cause whole new species to appear. Thorns are specifically mention in the curse, as coming from the cursed ground (Genesis 3).
- Creation, as envisaged by YECs, must have been a rather monotonous place?
A. This is a deliberate straw man. Given that the diversity most people experience in a lifetime is crazily small (some dog some cats a trip to the zoo, squirrels in a park…), and that we only experience more than that through our TVs, Eden, even if less populated than the modern, fallen creation, would still have been a dazzling display of colour and design. More than enough to illicit wonder and awe from Adam and Eve, and their decendants.
It is perfectly reasonable, if God is God, to believe that He created a young earth full of His glory. Which, even after the fall, in some measure, still reflects His initial intent and design, and therefore still displays his glory. Why create false dichotomies where none need exist? Creation can be both fallen, and reflective of God’s glory.
Thanks for your respectful and thoughtful response. I can see where you are coming from much better now.
However, I do not think this is deliberate. This is a genuine statement of what it seems like the claims are by YECs in “Is Genesis History?”. I am very glad you are making a response, because this helps us understand where you are coming from. Call it “deliberate” only if we keep insisting something false of your position even after you clarify.
Good point. I think that does alleviate some the contradiction.
Did he really emphasize ONLY like that? I think, rather, the point is that much of the beauty of this world (like the Grand Canyon) could not have existed before the flood. In your view, would something comparable to the Grand Canyon in majestic beauty have existed pre-flood? How would it have gotten there?
True, but it is very hard for me to understand how and why God created the herbivorous ancestors of carnivores with the intrinsic ability to evolve into lions. I suppose we can posit a miraculous injection of new DNA at the moment of the fall, but this seems a bit odd to me. Of course, it “could” have happened…but it is an odd picture to me.
Sounds like evolution to me. That is pretty cool we agree on the interpretation of this passage. That makes sense because I know you have to invoke evolution to explain diversification after the flood. That is an important place of common ground.
I totally agree here. I am also encouraged that you didn’t say “perfect”, which would be false.
I see your point, but the core of the question is if there was geographic diversity before the flood/fall. If not, it is hard to imagine even a small fraction of the diversity we see afterwards. Though, I do not think denying geographic/climate diversity before the fall is necessarily intrinsic to YEC. So maybe that is the solution. One could even point to the fossil record as evidence that a lot of diversity existed before the flood, in many ecosystems, which probably falsifies the claim that some YECs have made that there was no geographic/climate diversity before the flood.
I think the more stubborn problem is the beauty of predators. Lions and hawks and tigers are beautiful and gorgeous. It is precisely the adaptations that make the suited as predators that make them declare God’s glory (see Psalms 104). But according to you (and stated nowhere in scripture), this type of beauty did not exist before the fall. If predation is result of sin, why did God make it so beautiful? This, of course, does not deny that YECs find lions beautiful. Rather, it seems you are denying that this type of beauty was possible before the Fall. I have a hard time grasping that. Can you explain?
Your comments are helpful, but I was struck by how much you are adding to Scripture in your response. I trust God’s word, but I do not trust Man’s word. How do we know your interpretation (man’s word) is correct?
The Bible does not discuss natural selection, “designed” diversity, or “front-loaded design” of any sort. That is clearly just man’s word. How do we know you are right?
Romans 5;12 tells us that the “death” that entered the world through the Fall was death to “mankind”, and makes no mention of animals. The claim that predatory behavior started after the fall is man’s word and that death among animals was absent before the fall is NOT IN SCRIPTURE, and appears to contradict Psalms 104. How do we know you are right?
Your write, “Did God create Adam with the genes to allow Noah to eat meat. Yes, of course.” Where is this in Scripture? This sounds like man’s word. How do we know you are right?
I’m not just picking a fight, but I am honestly curious how you work through this questions. I would even say that you have responded successfully to most (but not all) of the original article. So good job with that, and thanks for taking the time.
Full disclosure: Adam is a personal friend of mine. I invited him to respond to this article from a YEC perspective after he replied to me when I tweeted about it.
He makes a good point here: when we’re critiquing the YEC point of view, we should take care to ensure that we characterise it fairly and accurately. I’ve often complained that YEC literature tends to misrepresent scientific techniques such as radiometric dating, and also often mischaracterises the old earth/progressive creation/evolutionary creation viewpoints. It’s only fair therefore that we make sure we extend to them the same courtesies that we expect of them.
As I understand it, @Joel_Duff was mainly critiquing the flavour of YEC being described in the Is Genesis History? movie, though he does seem to extend it to describe YECs in general. I haven’t seen the movie myself, but if it places as much of an emphasis on judgment as he implies that it does, it probably wouldn’t reflect the views of most of my YEC friends, who rightly view God’s purposes in history as being more about redemption than judgment.
This is one thing that I think YECs need to be aware of. They talk a lot about believing “God’s infallible word” rather than “man’s fallible wisdom,” but in the end of the day, YEC is largely an attempt to fill in the details that the Bible doesn’t make clear, and as a result there’s a lot more of “man’s fallible wisdom” at work than they realise. Of course, evolutionary creationism does much the same thing, but the “additional details” of EC are based on empirical evidence, whereas the “additional details” of YEC are based mainly on speculation, some of it quite bizarre.
Check again; this is by no means clear from the biblical text.
Note that there are two distinct meanings to the sentence depending on how it is translated, and only one of those says how much the mountains were covered by.
It’s also not at all clear whether it’s referring to all mountains on the planet/land, or just all mountains/hills under the whole sky, meaning everything Noah was in a position to know anything about. Two very different conclusions, based on the same text!
Furthermore, would you have to conclude that the earth God created was going to expand indefinitely? That seems the only logical conclusion if you suppose that animals were all multiplying but none of them were dying. Is planning for the Fall the same as counting on it?
Thanks for the very thoughtful response!
This is another example of a place where I see man’s word masquerading as God’s word. The Bible does not say thorns did not exist before the curse. Rather, it just says that outside the Garden of Eden thorns will grow in their field. Nothing about this passage tells us when God created thistles. I trust God’s word, but I do not trust mans word. How can we know if you are right?
Where does it tell us this in scripture? How do we know that Eden was destroyed in the flood? Why couldn’t it have been destroyed at the fall? Or maybe it still exists somewhere hidden on earth still? How do you know it was destroyed in the flood?
And I am also confused here. If Lot does not have a good idea of what the garden is, how does the writer of Genesis? Of course God is inspiring him, but the same is true of God’s inspiration of prophecy to Daniel and Isaiah. Often these images are were not clear and needed to be interpreted metaphorically (see prophecies in matthew). If…
- You do not believe knowledge of Eden was preserved in oral tradition,
- So you must believe that the writer of Genesis is writing from a prophetic vision.
- Clear evidence shows God often speaks through prophets in symbolic visions (e.g. take Daniel’s vision, were “weeks” = 7 years)
So I am very confused now on your position. Why do you read (I assume) Genesis as an eyewitness account and not a prophetic vision? How do you know the earth is young? If “weeks” can be 7 years, how do we know the precise timeline of creation? How do you know Genesis is meant to be taken literally, when most other prophecies are not taken this way?
(I do admit I am assuming you are taking Genesis literally, and you have not specifically said this. So please forgive me if I am mischaracterizing you.)
Thanks for this great post. I agree with your general point that this scene in the movie is overstated if it sets up an “either-or” – either the canyons and so-on are evidence of God’s good creation or evidence of His judgment. Yet for those of us who accept both the goodness of creation and the reality of evolutionary processes, we also have to say that all of these beautiful things in some way are not “the Garden” (again, even if the “Garden” is metaphorical). So when we thing about natural theology as in Romans 1, I’m not sure we’re in all that different a place: the “eternal power” and “Deity” (Rom. 1:20) revealed in the natural world is both of God’s goodness as creator and of His judgment of sin, which is why that same creation is groaning with the pains of childbirth (Romans 8:22-24).
I’m satisfied with this beautiful earth as we find it but the GOOD NEWS is that in the next life we have big city in which to live, not a JW pastoral picnic scene.