What do people think of "progressive creation"?


Specifically, Hugh Ross’ position (Reasons to Believe)? Is it scientifically feasible?

(Curtis Henderson) #2

I have read very little from this perspective, but my early reaction is that although this position accepts a more standard view of cosmological and geological age, it still rejects “macroevolution”. To me, it seems inconsistent to accept a more figurative interpretation of Genesis while still holding onto the argument of evolution only within “kinds”.

(Christy Hemphill) #3

I think its approach to Scripture is even more baffling than YEC at times. Why would you look for hidden insights in to modern science in a text that clearly could not have had that meaning to its original audience? Why would you say the “true meaning” of some passages are only now accessible to us in our modern age, knowing what we know about the universe? That seems like a weird kind of ethnocentrism and historical privilege to me.

(Dennis Venema) #4

In a nutshell, the RTB model just doesn’t work scientifically.

(Jon) #5

Well that is what people say about the firmament, isn’t it?

(Christy Hemphill) #6

I zoned out of the firmament discussion long ago. I’m not sure what you mean.

(Jon) #7

Ancient people thought the firmament was literal, and wrote about a solid firmament in the Bible, but today we know from science that the firmament doesn’t really exist, so we know that when they talked about a firmament they were talking about something which didn’t exist. The same can be said for all the language about the sun rising and falling, and appearing to orbit the earth. We know that’s only a phenomenalistic description, and not actually true, whereas the original writers believed it was true. I don’t think it’s ethnocentricism and historical privilege to point this out, it’s just a simple matter of fact; we know more about the universe than they did.

(Christy Hemphill) #8

I agree with you. But you aren’t describing what old earth concordism does. It says the Scriptures are speaking accurately about science that the ancients knew nothing about and that accurate scientific message is the real message of those passages, not whatever it meant to the original audience (or maybe in addition to it). So we are privileged now to understand what the Bible is talking about because we have the scientific insight to unlock its deeper message.

(Jon) #9

I realise that, but the punchline is still exactly the same. It’s what you describe in the next sentence here.

But that sentence right there is exactly correct when we talk about the firmament and the sun. And let’s face it, we are privileged. We do know huge amounts about the universe which people previously were clueless about, and who were misled by what they read in the Bible.

Let’s face it, the whole history of Christianity is the history of someone coming along and saying “Well everyone else has been reading this wrong, now we can start reading it right”. The Reformation was founded on that principle.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #10

They’ve aligned themselves with Big Bang Cosmology and one of the reasons why they are so successful with Christians is the amazing claims they make about the Scriptures. Christians will lap these ridiculous things right up, and if we squint at the Scriptures enough, we can make them say things that they do not say at all. RTB would identify themselves as soft concordists, meaning they find modern science in Genesis but are not 100% committed to any given interpretation. This is somewhat questionable as a lot of their claim to fame is that The Bible taught the Big Bang first (http://www.reasons.org/articles/big-bang---the-bible-taught-it-first). How they treat certain scriptures… definitely not the author’s original intent or how they would have understood Cosmology. Note, the Big Bang theory did not result due to Christians studying Hebrew words - it arose by Einstein’s equations of GR run backwards + Hubble’s/Lemaitre’s Redshift discovery. And then the somewhat vague Hebrew word definitions and phrases were chosen to fit the Big Bang Theory. Not so amazing after all…

Another remarkable claim is that RTB proposes a scientifically testable creation model, and then compares it their model to the ‘naturalism model,’ the ‘Young Earth model,’ and the ‘Theistic Evolution’ model. An excellent summary of the models can be seen here: https://ncse.com/library-resource/review-more-than-theory They also proceed to make several predictions based upon those models and as new science comes in… they compare the predictions of each. Guess which model always fares best according to them? You guess it… their own model! Here is the summary contained in More than a Theory

  • Naturalism: 1 Fulfilled, 16 falsified
  • YEC: 3 fulfilled, 17 falsified
  • Theistic Evolution: 4 Fulfilled, 11 partially falsified
  • RTB: 20 fulfilled, none falsified!

It gets even worse when we look at the Origins of Life and RTB’s model. Here is another excellent review: https://ncse.com/library-resource/review-origins-life. Basically it is a book where evolution faces off against the Bible where Evolution ‘predicts’ origin of life scenarios that aren’t even true. No actually scientists believes the strawman RTB argues against in this book. I would suggest reading several of Dr. Venema’s articles including this excellent review (http://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/an-evangelical-geneticists-critique-of-reasons-to-believes-testable-creation-model-pt-1).

They are really great people at RTB, I’ve chatted with several of them and had Hugh in my office. They’ve done a lot for Christianity, including helping many Christians get on board with Big Bang Cosmology or come out of Young Earth Creationism. As a former YEC, RTB was instrumental as it still had the grandiose claims about Scripture and the Creator - but as I studied Cosmology myself and later Evolution, found their science and interpretive claims of Scripture to be severely lacking.

As a physicist myself, I am greatly skeptical of any claims anyone makes and RTB does a better job than most at telling the beautiful story of creation as learned through natural science. Their documents and books are filled with references to peer reviewed papers which I began to examine one by one. Sometimes Hugh’s claims seemed justified and other times, definitely not. I searched and searched at times in papers and could not see the remarkable conclusions that he convincingly claims throughout all his books. On one occasion, in his book I highly recommend (the only one I’d recommend to anyone at this point: Improbable Planet), there are a few incorrect claims of Geological processes that could be rectified by any basic Earth Science textbook. But in general it is an excellent book that keeps the RTB bias out of telling the remarkable story of our Earth’s history. I will add finally that he cannot help himself and has to squeeze in a few lines about their origins of life model (i.e. God supernaturally creates every species-evolution has never made a single new species), but it is minimal and an enjoyable read. I say this as having read or skimmed almost every book they’ve ever made (or at least the main 10 or so… after a few you get the main points as many graphs and ideas are just recycled sometimes you have to trace references from book to book to book to find the original research paper he got it from–sometimes you can’t find the research paper its based upon at all).

(Christy Hemphill) #11

I don’t say that we are privileged to know what the Bible is “really” talking about. I don’t think we have access to some extra message. I don’t think anything we know scientifically about the sun or sky unlocks any hidden meaning of Scripture that has been there since the beginning.

(Jon) #12

I think it helps us see a meaning there which has historically been obscured by wrong ideas about the firmament and sun and moon. That’s precisely why the firmament is used as an exegetical key to Genesis 1 by so many commentators.

I think it also plays out in the case of Adam and Eve. People say “Thanks to science we now know Jesus and Paul were wrong to believe in a literal Adam and Eve who were the progenitors of the human race, and we are now enabled to interpret Scripture correctly on this point”.

(Christy Hemphill) #13

I still say if you need science to interpret it correctly, you aren’t interpreting it correctly. It seems what you are talking about is using modern knowledge to filter out unacceptable interpretations. I don’t think that is the same thing at all, and I will happily agree to disagree.

People may say that, but I don’t think they are right in thinking that science enables us to interpret Scripture correctly. I think we should get back to the real topic of the thread.

(Jon) #14

How do we correctly interpret the firmament as a pre-scientific artefact of phenomenalism, without science?

Science doesn’t enable us to figure out that Adam and Eve weren’t the progenitors of the whole human species?

I think this is very relevant to the original thread. Progressive Creationism is vulnerable because of its dependence on concordism. I also see the interpretation of Adam and Eve as non-literal as yet another manifestation of old school concordism. In fact I think Peter Enns is closer to Hugh Ross (in terms of concordism), than to Join Walton.

While Scripture should be interpreted in a way which takes science into account, the correct way to integrate science with interpretation of Scripture is clearly a matter for careful thought. That’s very much on topic for this thread.


Thank you for the replies so far. :slight_smile:

Hugh Ross seems to say that God created many new species of animals before humans, and then after the appearance of homo sapiens, there were no longer formation of new species of animals. So in that way, it corresponds to the genesis account of God resting after He made man. Is there any contradictory evidence for this claim?

(Matthew Pevarnik) #16

There are a few questions that need to be asked as that statement is highly speculative. When did humans (homo sapiens) first appear? RTB would say 50,000 years ago give or take. Few of any scientists would give something younger than 150,000 or even older. The older Homo sapiens are the greater the chance of new species so a younger date for Adam and Eve is preferred. Another interesting addition to the RTB claim is it is not just ‘no new species,’ but they actually challenge the definition of the word ‘species.’ http://www.reasons.org/blogs/theorems-and-theology/demystifying-evolution-and-the-species-problem. So in reality it’s not that RTB would say God stopped making new species but ‘not creating new (not cabable of interbreeding with fertile offspring) species.’

Here’s a review paper of human driven evolution: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/283/1833/20160600. The paper actually shows how humans are speeding up speciation!

And I must post this (which was made for YEC but applies in this case to unconfuse the waters over species): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1RnygS7opCA

(Christy Hemphill) #17

I agree, I just think two kinds of “taking science into account” are distinct in my mind where it seems you count them as the same thing.

Here is my last attempt to explain.

Say there are two assertions:
A: God created the world.
B: The universe began with the Big Bang.

The Bible teaches A. OEC would claim B is not just something science has revealed, but the Bible also directly teaches B in certain places, if you have the scientific insight to know that is indeed what Scripture is talking about in certain parts. B is part of the Bible’s message, not just a scientific assertion that does not conflict with the Bible’s message. Personally, I don’t think the Bible teaches B anywhere. Science teaches B.

Then take the two assertions:
A: Eve is the mother of all living.
B: No single couple is the biological first parents of the entire human race.

The Bible teaches A. Science teaches B. B is not something the Bible teaches. Yes, knowledge of B helps us interpret A as something other than “not B,” but you can’t claim B is revealed anywhere in Scripture. It is not part of the Bible’s message.

I think interpreting is largely figuring out what the message was to the original audience. Modern science was not and is not necessary to understand the original message. Yes, understanding true things about the world from modern science can help us avoid misinterpreting the message to the original audience, but that is a different thing than claiming part of the original message was a scientific one that the original audience could not understand.


Thank you @pevaquark, that is helpful to me in understanding the problems with that particular claim.

I have another question for people. What do you all think about the claim they make that God could’ve successively created? It doesn’t seem to go against the evidence of common descent/nested hierarchy. As long as God created in a nested hierarchical way? My question is that even if God created in this way, the evidence would look exactly the same way as it is now right? It doesn’t seem to be falsifiable…

(Christy Hemphill) #19

There’s quite a bit of discussion related to this question on this thread: Why is it that genetic similarity = common descent? Isn’t that an interpretation not an observation?

(Matthew Pevarnik) #20

Great question, and I know that RTB utilizes Psalm 104 to support that notion. Specifically it is verse 30 where God renews the surface of the ground, that is implied to mean that he periodically creates… In fact they go as far as using that verse as support for the periodic extinction Theory (http://www.reasons.org/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/mass-extinction-cycle-and-life’s-long-history). Obviously reading the verses for yourself you would never imagine that it is actually referring to earths periodic mass extinctions and then re-populations… I have no idea how they came to that conclusion, but you are correct it is a completely intestable idea. There would be absolutely no way- it appears like common descent is the case, but The question that we must ask is did God trick us in that He actually is the common designer. I simply do not understand common design arguments. I used to believe them, but with so much evidence for common descent, why must I hold to the idea that God has tricked us continually? I know the typical line of argument goes that God just simply uses a design that works?! But, if I was really doing everything from scratch why don’t you (you meaning God whom I love) kind of make it a little more different so we don’t get confused?

I think that creation is awe inspiring and I view it with a sense of wonder. I learned a lot from the likes of RTB, as the idea of periodic mass extinctions since it’s pretty cool. Obviously the Scriptures do not predict such things as the language is very vague, and at best generally declares that God is the creator but does not state how he did it.

By the way, the idea of periodic mass extinctions and what not doesn’t really mean or even prove that there is a God, as the explanations that even RTB provides are completely natural. However, I think the idea is pretty stinking cool which has led some, and this is a side note, to consider ideas like the solar system bouncing up-and-down in our galactic plane and 30 million years cycles, to there being dark matter episodes, to Nemesis, the twin for our sun (as apparently most stars are created in pairs). All of these ideas just inspire my mind and fill me with praise. As it says in Psalm 111:2, great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. So I do not yet know and may never know some of these great mysteries of creation, but I am encouraged by the challenge or freedom from God to explore how he did it. I personally think the case for a common design is very weak, and makes God out to be a charlatan at best. He is far from that, and I find so much beauty from him creating whales from millions of years of evolution over him spontaneously putting them into the ocean some 40 million years ago. I suppose the age-old question, what is more impressive shaking a bag of Legos and the Eiffel tower popping out or watching someone with intelligence build it? Clearly the case where someone shakes the bag, and based upon the laws of science creates the Eiffel Tower is arguably more impressive than an intelligent been making it.