Yesterday I asked people to guess the author of a couple of paragraphs about reconciling science with Christian scripture. Here are the guesses: as of 10:30 CST, Feb. 21
a. a sociologist 7
b. a liberal, non-literalist theologian 8
c. a creationist 15
d. an atheist scientist 9
e. a non-theological religious scholar 10
f. none of the above 4
The answer is . . .
It’s a creationist.
To be specific, young-earth creationist Paul Nelson.
The quote is from a defense of YEC: Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, “Young earth creationism.” pp. 39-73 in Three Views on Creation and Evolution, edited by J. P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds. 1999, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Reynolds is a professor of philosophy at the creationist Biola University).
Fooled most of you! Creationist” garnered most of the single-item guesses, but still only 28% of them. One prescient soul, though, did guess Paul Nelson.
Why did I give this quote? Obviously, one reason was to provide support (this time from a creationist) for the assertion that, until the rise of science, Christians in general had a far more literalistic view of the Bible than they do today, taking stories like that of Noah and the Flood, and of Adam and Eve, as plain fact. Lots of accommodationists still disagree, touting Augustine and the like (and forgetting about the millions of medieval Christians—and modern Americans—who accepted Hell as real). But there are other reasons. The quote shows how more fundamentalist Christians are at odds with believers who reject Biblical “facts” when they don’t comport with science. Here’s part of what Nelson said again:
“To a secular person, Noah’s disappearance looks very convenient. If a Bible story contains details that are contrary to science, then the Bible story is ‘myth.’ If the Bible story is fortunate enough to be unverifiable, like that of Abraham, it is allowed to function as history.”
This shows starkly the intellectually vacuous position of claiming that what is so obviously a Biblical “truth” is really metaphor if it conflicts with science, while the scientifically unverifiable (but also scientifically improbable) parts of the Bible, like the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, are allowed to stand as true. Even Nelson, young-earth creationist though he is, can see through this ruse. And this sense he, and his literalist compadres, are more intellectually honest than are accommodationists. At least they don’t pick and choose. (Please don’t remind me here that some parts of the Bible are clearly metaphor. Of course they are, but those parts aren’t Genesis or the Flood story.)
Finally, it stuck me, while reading this piece, that when Nelson is talking about this incompatibility, he often sounds like an atheist (that similarity is what gave rise to the guessing-game). Both atheists and fundamentalists agree that it’s a “serious move” for the church to start winnowing “truth” from “metaphor” in the Bible, especially when the “metaphor” reads like truth. Liberal theologians, by and large, are uncomfortable with admitting this, and prefer to argue that the whole history of Christianity is one of seeing the Bible largely as a metaphor, a gigantic lesson in ethics and salvation couched in stories that were obviously intended as fiction.
At any rate, Nelson has his own problems. The article, as well as his other writings, are pervaded by his realization that the young-earth position simply doesn’t stack up with the facts of geology. Here’s what he says elsewhere in the article:
“Young earth creationism, therefore, need not embrace a dogmatic or static biblical hermeneutic. It must be willing to change and admit error. Presently, we can admit that as recent creationists we are defending a very natural biblical account, at the cost of abandoning a very plausible scientific picture of an ‘old’ cosmos. But over the long term, this is not a tenable position. In our opinion, old earth creationism combines a less natural textual reading with a much more plausible scientific vision. They have many fewer ‘problems of science.’ At the moment, this would seem to be the more rational position to adopt.
Recent creationism must develop better scientific accounts if it is to remain viable against old earth creationism. On the other hand, the reading of Scripture (e.g., a real Flood, meaningful genealogies, an actual dividing of languages) is so natural that it seems worth saving. Since we believe recent creation cosmologies are improving, we are encouraged to continue the effort.”
In the main, Nelson admits that his reasons for accepting a young earth are thological, not scientific. And he recognizes that this creates big problems.
Nelson is wrong on the facts, of course, but I’m not going to bash him further here, for he has his own cross to bear—the real age of the earth—and he shows a form of intellectual honesty absent in accommodationists and liberal theologians, many of whom who adhere to this:
h/t: John Danley and Lori Ann Parker for the photo of the Charles Fillmore quote, taken in Franklin, Tennessee.