Theses on “Science” and “Faith”

At some point I hope to post a lengthier discussion of “science” and “faith,” especially as it relates to inerrancy, but for now I will content myself with proposing several theses that I hope will spark some conversation. I should say at the outset that I am a young earth creationist, though as will become apparent I don’t consider the age of the earth to be too significant. However, I am interested countering the implicit notion that to be intellectually credible, one has to abandon such a position.

I should also note that my colleagues and I do not all agree on these questions. I hope this will spark some discussion, not just among our readers, but among my fellow contributors, as well.

Thesis 1: Any conversation about reconciling science and the Bible must begin with epistemology, otherwise we should all just pack up and go home, because the conversation isn’t going to go anywhere fruitful. There is a vast epistemological chasm between statements like, “The earth appears old” and “The earth is old.” Or “The genetic diversity within humans gives the appearance that humans evolved from other life-forms and there were never less than 2,000 humans at any one time during their existence” and “The genetic diversity within humans requires that humans evolved from other life-forms and there were never less than 2,000 humans at any one time during their existence.”

Thesis 2: Attempts to bridge that epistemological chasm must be justified, not simply assumed. It is not justifiable to simply assume that because something appears a certain way, therefore it is a certain way. This logical step must be justified by other means.

Thesis 3: Because of the epistemological chasm, “creation science” or attempts to prove that the earth is young by means of science are as equally problematic as attempts to prove that the earth is old by means of science. At best, creation science can prove that the earth “appears” young, but this is doubtful, in my opinion, and unnecessary (in the context of this discussion).

Thesis 4: The proper exercise of science requires the recognition of various limits, including epistemological limits. Thus, as Christians seeking to bring all things into submission to Christ, to do science properly is to insist that certain epistemological leaps are invalid and in fact represent an illegitimate power-grab.

Thesis 5: Claims that if God created the universe with “the appearance of age,” He would be deceptive, are illegitimate and ought to be dismissed since they beg the question. The only scenario in which this argument would be logically valid is if one believed that the universe has the appearance of age, that the universe is actually young, and that the Bible either teaches that the universe is old or teaches nothing concerning its age. Since there is no-one who believes all of those things, the claim that appearance of age makes God deceptive is both logically invalid and evidences a lack of effort to understand the arguments made by those who believe in the “appearance of age.”

Thesis 6: Just because the book of Genesis isn’t a modern “science textbook” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have implications for science. Comments to the effect that Genesis isn’t a science textbook have as their implicit target a straw-man and are irrelevant and unedifying. No-one in academia believes that Genesis is a “science textbook,” nor do I think any lay people actually believe that. Those at whom this statement is usually directed believe, rather, that Genesis has implications for science that are not incompatible with its particular genre and theological message. Thus, the dichotomy between the religion giving us meaning and purpose and science giving us the mechanism is false. Science certainly cannot give meaning and purpose, but the Bible can and does at times describe the mechanism.

Thesis 7: We ought to distinguish between the length of creation, the age of the earth, the age of humanity, and the nature of Adam and Eve. Although people’s positions on these issues often come as a package deal (young earthers by necessity believe in a young humanity), these four issues can and should be distinguished and assigned different degrees of importance. Is a 6-day length of creation as important as the age of the earth? More important?

Thesis 8: The above distinctions should be accorded different weight depending on how clearly and frequently they are taught in the Bible, and especially how much theological freight the biblical authors hang on the different issues. For instance, while I believe the earth is young because I see no Biblical reason to believe otherwise, nor do I think science compels me to believe it is old, I don’t see this as a particularly important issue. I think a young earth is taught by implication in Genesis 1, but otherwise is unimportant for the rest of the Bible and theology. However, a young humanity seems to be more clearly taught (see the genealogies in Genesis and Luke 3, for example). Likewise, the length of creation is given as the basis for the 2nd commandment (Exod 20), so it seems to be slightly more important than the age of the earth.

Thesis 9: The age of the earth is not that important for Christian theology, but the question of Adam and Eve and human evolution is of integral importance—it has profound implications for our doctrine of inerrancy, our doctrine of sin, of man, of redemption, of covenantal representation, of theodicy, and perhaps of others. While it would take too long to expand on all of these, the (negative) implications of human evolution can be seen in the fact that the fuel that drives the engine of evolution is death. If humans “evolved,” then death—far from being the result of sin, and far, even, from being simply one aspect of the creation among others—death is a necessary tool that God used. This affects how we view the results of sin, the justice of God, the covenantal representation of Adam (and by implication, Jesus), and so on. Human evolution, even if it is cast in the language of “theistic evolution,” is deeply problematic, and should be across Christian traditions.

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About Peter Green

I am a doctoral student at Wheaton College. My dissertation is on vineyard imagery in the Old Testament, particularly as it is used to convey the theme of Creation to New Creation. My interests are (in no particular order): biblical ethics, epistemology, apologetics, sacramentology, science and faith, biblical theology, OT theology, biblical political philosophy, and intertextuality. I consider myself to be in the historic Reformed tradition, and attend a PCA church. I graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary--the PCA's denominational seminary--and hope work for Reformed University Fellowship, which is the PCA's campus ministry, following my PhD studies.
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7 Responses to Theses on “Science” and “Faith”

  1. Seems pretty solid to me. Where is it going?

  2. Alicia says:

    I especially appreciate #5. It seems to me an appropriate response to that objection would be: Did Jesus make old-looking wine at Cana?

  3. Kevin Davis says:

    How about we begin with ontology? That is, after all, where science begins, and where good theology begins. The attempt to press this as an epistemological issue is, often enough, an underhanded attempt to push the scientific paradigm into an alternate “worldview,” which Christians (with our superior worldview!) can blithely dismiss. As a result, there is no such thing as a science that supports Creationism, because Creationism doesn’t care about reality/ontology. Science does. Creationism only cares about epistemology — a bad Cartesian epistemology at that.

  4. Kyle Dillon says:

    I’m on board with most of those theses, but I have a reservation about Thesis 5. If the inference from the appearance of age to actual age is so compelling as to be beyond a reasonable doubt, and if there are no reasonable alternative explanations for the appearance of age, then the “deception” argument might still stand.

    The “appearance of age” argument can only go so far. Yes, it makes sense for God to have created Adam in mature adulthood, and similarly he could have made mountains with the appearance of millions of years of erosion or tectonic shifts. But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we find “frivolous” signs of age–that is, appearance of age that serves no purpose.

    Now one could argue that we just haven’t found such a purpose YET, and that further investigation might someday reveal the purpose. Fair enough. But all things being equal, I think the plausibility of YEC is directly tied to the likelihood that these frivolous signs of age have such a functional/teleological explanation. And from my vantage point, that likelihood looks slim. But then, I still have a lot to learn!

  5. Peter,

    There are many problems with this post, in my opinion.

    First, to suggest that discussions of science and the Bible must begin with epistemology seems to me to be incredibly misguided. Moreover, for the significance you attribute to epistemology, there is awfully little discussion of epistemology in the post. The only epistemology I see is a hasty and misplaced invocation of the Kantian noumena/phenomena distinction. Is Bertrand Russell’s suggestion that the world was created in motion five minutes ago really an epistemological issue? I don’t think so, which is why Kevin’s suggestion that we begin with ontology is spot on.

    I don’t know what you mean by #2. What is this “logical step” that requires justification and can get one from appearance to reality?

    Also, I think, especially in premise #5, you’ve confused the logical concepts of validity and soundness.

    It is odd to me how can you say science does not compel you to believe the earth is old? What sort of evidence would compel you?

    JRG

  6. James Femister says:

    Please define what you mean by “epistemological chasm” and related jargon. Epistemology is a well defined term. Epistemological chasm is not.

  7. Peter Green says:

    Well, I’m glad to see I’ve got some discussion going. I’ll try to respond to the points you all raise as briefly as possible.

    First, I really don’t know what it would mean to “start with ontology.” Can you help me out? What does that look like in the context of this discussion? What does starting with ontology get us? Where do we go from there? How does ontology solve the epistemological problem I raise? I’m genuinely curious because at this point two of you have raised ontology but neither of you have actually explained what that means in the context of this discussion, so I am not sure how to respond.

    Second, I was perhaps overly subtle, so I will say it out right: I love science. If I had extra time and money I would be reading and subscribing to (popular) scientific magazines and journals. And I accept all the evidence for the appearance of old age. In other words, I don’t think “better science” will prove that the earth is really young. I think it makes sense to say that the evidence points to an old earth and an old universe, and I accept that without qualification. So to James’ question, what evidence would I accept that would convince me that the earth is old? None, since I already accept all the evidence but still believe the earth to be young. If I were convinced that the Bible is silence on the question of age, or that it taught an old earth, I would immediately accept the antiquity of the earth. However, this is not because I, like some, believe that the Bible is “more objective” or “more clear” or “a higher authority” than “science” (i.e., general revelation–not scientists’ interpretation of general revelation). I think that line of thought has its own problems. Rather, I think science is epistemologically limited on this question, whereas, for better or for worse, the Bible isn’t. This gets to my point about epistemology.

    James, obviously I didn’t have a lengthy discussion of epistemology in this post because it was meant to be a series of short theses–talking points–not an extended treatise. But I should note that I at least explain how I see epistemology fitting into the conversation, but neither you nor Kevin Davis explained how ontology fits in.

    Furthermore, simply claiming that this isn’t an epistomological issue isn’t actually making an argument. How can you know that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age? Well, scientifically, you can’t, which is exactly the point. If epistemology is the study of how we know what we know, then we can say that science has certain epistemological limits–things that science cannot tell us. This isn’t controversial, at least for Christians. We all agree that “miracles” are outside of the scope of scientific inquiry (hence, the wine at Cana example raised by Alicia). Creation is a “miraculous” act (I don’t actually like the term “miracle,” but that’s for another day). Hence, science is epistemologically limited from saying how old the earth actually is. It can tell us how old the earth appears, though. One could make a theological argument, perhaps, that positing a separation between appearance of age and actual age is problematic, and this usually results in the claim of divine “deception,” which I dealt with as well. The point is, if you say “The earth appears old.” I simply say “What’s your point.” And if you say, “Therefore it is old.” I say, “On what basis do you say that–that is a non sequitur.” And to Jim’s question, this is what I mean by an epistemological chasm (forgive the metaphor!). You can’t get from “the earth appears old” to “The earth is old” without some sort of bridge, whether philosophical or theological.

    Concerning thesis 5, James, perhaps you are right that I have confused “valid” and “sound”–I would have to go back and think about that. Regardless, if you simply substitute “sound” for “valid” and “unsound” for “invalid,” my point still stands. You gain little ground by insisting that one’s argument is “valid” but “unsound.”

    To Kyle’s question about “frivolous appearance of age,” that is actually a criticism I take seriously. It will take a whole other post to flesh out how I deal with the appearance of age and why I think it is actually important to accept that appearance of age (contra the creation scientists or flood geologists). For now, all I will say is that human cultural artifacts dated before ~6,000 years ago do present a serious difficulty for me and one that I need to study further.

    Kevin, I really don’t understand a lot of your post, which I’m sure is my problem. What do you mean by “creationism”? What do you mean when you say that “Creationism doesn’t care about reality/ontology. Science does. Creationism only cares about epistemology — a bad Cartesian epistemology at that”? I really have know idea what you mean and would appreciate an explanation.

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