Category Archives: creation

October 23, 4004: The Creation of the World

Happy Birthday Earth according to Archbishop Ussher.

Jacobus_ussher

For his time Ussher was good as he was a fine scholar and according to Martin Rudwick introduced a proper historical understanding.

He published a decade before Steno and others began to understanding the geology and then time, so he seems out of touch.

Fewer followed him on time than we are led to believe

This book chapter of mine puts Ussher in a longer contexthttps://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2021/01/28/genesis-chapter-1-and-geological-time-from-grotius-to-thomas-chalmers-1620-1825/

Enjoy this short article , except for the last comment on scotch farmer!!!

Source: October 23, 4004: The Creation of the World

Is “Is Genesis History?” History? The Hutton-Lyell Myth

“Is Genesis History” is a relatively new Creationist project attempting to give solid reasons for believing that Creation took place 6 to 10,000 years ago and not the billions years of science. They have recruited leading “creation” experts and scientists to give substance to the material.

isgenesishistory

The videos and blogs are well-produced  and seemingly coherent and reliable. One key aspect is to claim that until about 1800 all Christians believed in a young earth. At first sight that seems very plausible as geology is usually reckoned to have started with Hutton in about 1790.

james-hutton-caracitureimage-4

Just consider this video by Prof Ian Stewart.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wkc23

or better

https://youtu.be/FYfuI2uZLmg

However Stewart’s claims about the bible are more assertion than based on evidence. Further Hutton was by no means the founder of geology as that started a century earleir.  This chimes in with the popular view that all were happy with a young earth until the geologists came along. This comes out in popular treatments of science, and even by competent scientists.

This video comes out with same story https://learninglink.oup.com/access/content/prothero-earth1e-student-resources/prothero-earth1e-see-for-yourself-james-hutton?previousFilter=tag_chapter-01

Both “Is Genesis History?” and popular views of science regurgitate forms of the now  debunked Conflict Thesis of science and religion. Many scholars have been debunking it for over half a century and thus there is no excuse to regurgitate it. The blog cashes in on old popular views of conflict and comes out with what may be termed the Hutton-Lyell myth, whereby they are presented as the first and leading voices for a vast age of the earth and sought to deliberately undermine Genesis. That simply ain’t true.

By doing this they ignore

  1. earth history only began to be understood in 17th century
  2. By 1700 many “geological” savants realised earth was older than what Ussher proposed
  3. Before 1650 it was reasonable to assume young earth as it was also reasonable to accept geocentrism – and not to know about the circulation of the blood or the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies!
  4. Biblical interpretations were more fluid in the 1800 years before Hutton than some claim!
  5. From 1600 there were essentially 3 main interpretations namely  – a 6/24 hour creation, gap theory  (or rather chaos restitution) , and day-age.  All were rather vague on the time involved. But then the geologists were vague on time too!

This is the second of five posts dealing with the question of ‘The Age of the Earth and the Bible.’ It is taken from the Is Genesis History? Bible Study available in our store. Read the first post here.

Learn More About the Is Genesis History? Bible Study Set

https://isgenesishistory.com/does-the-bible-speak-to-the-age-of-the-earth/

Adding up the Genealogies

Starting in the first century A.D. and continuing to the present, most interpreters examined the genealogies in the Bible and said they can be used to calculate the age of the earth.

There is some truth to this but it is very sweeping. You could also say that until well into the 17th century biblical interpreters also held the sun to go round the sun and thus the trials of Galileo and all that. As there was no hard evidence that the earth was ancient until about 1700 (yes, 1700 not 1800) it’s not surprising that theologians didn’t think the earth was ancient before then. More on this as we go along.

The first genealogy used this way is in Genesis 5. It reports the age of Adam when he fathered his son Seth, then the age of Seth when he fathered his son Enosh, and so on down to Noah who is said to have been 600 at the start of the Flood. If one sees Genesis 1 as a record of six normal days, and the genealogies as relationships without gaps, then it appears one can calculate the time from Creation to the Flood.

The next genealogy using the same pattern is in Genesis 11. Noah’s son Shem is said to have fathered Arpachshad two years after the Flood. The names and ages continue through Terah, the father of Abram, thereby providing a way to calculate the time between the Flood and Abraham’s birth.

There is no consideration on what the genealogies are and whether they are even complete. B B Warfield’s classic 1911 paper is worth a read https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_the_Antiquity_and_the_Unity_of_the_Human_Race

From Abraham forward, it is not as simple a process. There are no longer linear genealogies like the ones in Genesis 5 and 11 listing the father’s age at his son’s birth, so one must track down references to ages at significant events, cross-compare, then calculate together. This process takes one from Abraham to David; from David through the kings of Judah to the Exile; and from the Exile to Jesus’ day.

Once this Biblical timeline is established, specific people and events are seen to intersect with other calendars in the ancient world. These can then be matched to an ‘absolute’ astronomical calendar to determine an approximate age for the earth. For instance, the Jewish historian Josephus, writing around 94 A.D., used this process to calculate the age of the earth as approximately 5500 years from the date of his writing in the first century A.D.

Other men in the early church calculated similar ranges, with estimates provided by Cyprian, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexander, Julius Africanus, Hippolytus, Lactantius, Chrysostom, and Augustine. All of them put the creation of the world as less than 6000 years old from the date of their writing (with many approximating it at 5500 BC).

Prior to the 19th century, almost every significant Biblical commentator thought the Bible spoke to the age of the earth in a definitive way.

This is very sweeping and ignores the changes in interpretation after 1600 and more so after 1660, when Steno began his geological work. There was further extra-biblical evidence whether on geology, geography i.e. existence of Americas and Australasia only came in for Old World scholars  after 1492 with the age of exploration, along with new understandings of astronomy – and every aspect of science.

I have dealt with this in a book chapter, though it deserves a book in itself; Genesis Chapter 1 and geological time from Hugo Grotius and Marin Mersenne to William Conybeare and Thomas Chalmers (1620 – 1825) Read it here sp273-39

To summarise most commentators in the 16th century, both Roman and Protestant, took Genesis very literally, tending to a 6/24 day scenario. This was due to the influence of the Reformations on all churches almost making them take the bible more literally and avoid any allegorical meanings. Some theologians, RC and Protestant, adopted a chaos-restitution interpretation (a more erudite form of the later gap theory). In the early 17th century this is found in the massive commentary on genesis by the mathematician- priest Mersenne. It is the biggest book I have ever handled!! These writers argued that god first created chaos and after a period of time reordered it in 6 days. This linked in with Greek and Latin writers like Hesiod. The period of chaos could either be long or short and for Ussher it was only half a day!

My chapter shows how writers, Roman or protestant, held these views, chaos-restitution,  a day age or a 6/24 creation week, with a reticent on the age of the earth. Few of those who held the third argued against those who did not.

If I had to give numbers, I would suggest that most accepted chaos-restitution and thus extended Ussher’s timetable. This continued through Bishop Patrick and the Theeories of the Earth of the late 17 th century and into the 18th, before the hammers proved an ancient earth.

By 1770 many theologians were convinced that the earth was old, due to findings og geological savants since Steno. I come to Hutton later!

The period 1600-1800 marked a change in understanding the history of the earth as slowly evidence came in demonstrating an ancient earth. Many biblical commentators and theologians discussed these, though some did not. As evidence poured in for the vast age of the earth, many theologians took that into account .

These systems of dating continued through the medieval church and persisted up to the 17th century with the well-known calculation of Archbishop Ussher in England. Like other Protestants, Ussher used the Hebrew ‘Masoretic text’ used by Jewish scribes, a text somewhat different than the older Greek ‘Septuagint’ used in the churches of the first century. This choice resulted in him shrinking the timeline of the world by 1500 years and placing the date of creation at 4004 BC.

Ussher did not make great use of genealogies and his date of 4004 Bc for creation was not based on them.

Jacobus_ussher

He, like others at that time, thought the earth would exist for 6 days of 1000 years; 4 before Jesus and 2 afterwards, making creation at 4000BC and the consummation in  2000AD. However from extra-biblical materials he realised Jesus was born in about 4 BC thus Creation was in 4000 + 4 = 4004BC. He deffo got the date of the consummation wrong at that should have happened in 1996! 1996 undermines Ussher as nothing else does!! Against that Ussher was a very fine scholar who only had the material available in 1656. Judged by 1656 his scholarship was immense and Rudwick argues that he gave us a sense of history AND geological history, thus beginning a revolution in history.

Why the difference in age? The Hebrew text of Genesis 5 and 11 often lists younger ages for fathers at their sons’ births in comparison to the Greek text. For instance, in the Greek Septuagint Adam is 230 years old when he has Seth. In the later Hebrew Masoretic text, however, he is 130 years old. The difference in ages adds up to a variation of approximately 1500 years. But where did this difference come from?

Although a complex and controversial topic, it is thought by some that a group of Jews living during the second century AD in Palestine intentionally adjusted some of the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 in order to keep early Christians from using the age of the earth to calculate Jesus’ arrival as the fulfillment of a messianic prophecy. By subtracting approximately 1500 years from the history of the earth, Jesus would have been born too early to fit into the messianic window.[1]

Today, modern creation scientists and scholars are divided as to whether to accept the longer ages in the older Greek text or the shorter ages in the more recent Hebrew text. The former group places the age of the earth at 7500 years old; the latter at 6000 years old, often still relying on the work of Archbishop Ussher.

All other Christians do not use the genealogies in anyway to calculate the age of the earth

Ussher, of course, was just one of many scholars living during his day who, although disagreeing on specifics, ultimately agreed that the age of the earth was less than 10,000 years old. The point is that prior to the 19th century, almost every significant Biblical commentator thought the Bible spoke to the age of the earth in a definitive way.[2]

Not so as argued earlier. It would be fair to say that before 1660 (Steno) most held to a young earth, but undogmatically, but by 1800 the vast majority accepted an ancient earth, and this was for Evangelicals and Roman catholics too.

The Opinions of the New Geologists

In the early 19th century, however, the new sciences of geology and paleontology began to exert an influence on interpretations of Genesis.[3]James Hutton, George Cuvier, Charles Lyell, and others argued that the history of the earth was much older than 10,000 years; they based this view on their new interpretations of the rock layers and the fossils within them.[4]

It became obvious that the traditional view and the new view could not both be accurate since they provided two competing histories of the earth.

The major flaw is that the writer considers the “New Geologists” to have started with Hutton in about 1770, whereas geology had a long history going  back to 1660, and was already influential by 1700. Hutton, Cuvier and Lyell were not the only “New Geologists” but three of a large number from all over Europe who researched from 1770. To find out more read the mammoth tomes of Rudwick Bursting the Limits of Time  and Worlds before Adam. Some were Christian like J. A.  de Luc, Townsend, Soulavie, and the Anglican clergy like Buckland, the Conybeares and Sedgwick from 1810.

In the 1780s when Hutton was preparing his Theory of the Earth he wrote a preface in July 1785 arguing that his views were consistent with Christian revelation. He also argued that each Day of Genesis was of indefinite length

Hutton theory

Hutton sent the draft to the Rev William Robertson, Moderator of the Church of Sctoland and Principal of Edinburgh University. Note that Robert Darwin, father of Charles went to Edinburgh in 1783. Robertson de-drafted Hutton’s preface and here is part of it.

huttonmod1huttonmod2

Thus, we see that, by 1785 church leaders were accepting of a long geological time scale, and right at the heart of the so-called conflict. Robertson was not changing his views to placate Hutton’s geology, but re-iterating old understandings going back a century of more.

There are many more examples both in Scotland and England. In 1802 Thomas Chalmers furthered this with his exposition of a “Gap Theory”. He had been a student at Edinburgh in the 1790s .

It was similar in England with the Evangelical vicar of Pewsey, Joseph Townsend, one of William Smith’s advisors,

200px-william_smith_geologist

arguing in a similar vein in his 1813 The Character of Moses established for veracity as a Historian. Despite its title this work was a good summary of recent geology AND demonstrated its conformity with the Gospel.

By 1800 the evidence of these so-called “New Geologists” was over-whelming  and only a few rear-guard scholars opposed it. However several theologians like Thomas Scott simply ignored geological findings.

As a typical Englishman I shall leapfrog over Cuvier as I prefer rosbif and go to Lyell – who was a scot thus a haggis-eater rather than liking roast beef! At Oxford Lyell

180px-charles_lyell

studied geology under Rev William Buckland

Bucklandglacier

and probably imbibed his views of an ancient earth from him and other geologists, many of whom were clergy. Significant as Lyell became as a geologist after 1830, he had no effect on encourage people to accept an ancient earth. Those who say he did either suffer from a conscious or unconscious bias or are lying.

I hope that with a few well-aimed guided missiles I’ve demolished this re-iteration of the Hutton-Lyell myth which is totally false and has no historical substance to it.Yet it is repeated time and time again by Creationists and the semi-heducated.

Many more as any historical account of geology would show eg Rudwick

This is an important observation: it was not simply a matter of differences in timescale, but of differences in events happening during those timescales. Everyone understood the implications of the profound change in age. In the new view of geology, the earth had a “deep history” with a series of events occurring in it that were radically different than the events recorded in special revelation.

As I demonstrated earlier this New view of Geology  goes back to 1660s with Steno and then others in Britain. It was not NEW.

Although non-Christians had already assigned Genesis to the realm of myth, these differences created a major issue for Christians: how did the history in Genesis fit with the new history of the earth? And what did it mean for the doctrines of revelation and creation?

One answer was to question the geological findings themselves. This was done by a series of “scriptural geologists” with limited success, a history that Terry Mortenson documents in his book The Great Turning Point.

The so-called Scriptural Geologists had virtually no grasp of geology and risible even by the standards of the 1830s. Here is my summary of them

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/01/06/creationists-in-the-19th-century/

The other answer was to change one’s interpretation of Genesis.

New Ways to Interpret an Old Text

As a result, the 19th century saw the introduction of a number of new interpretationsthat attempted to synthesize Genesis 1 with a much longer period of time.[5] One was the ‘gap’ view which argued there was an indefinitely long period of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.

They should be less partisan and more accurate here and actually note that the so-called new interpretations of Genesis in the early 19th century were minor modifications of older ones. This I argued earlier.

Another idea was the ‘day-age’ view which said each ‘day’ in Genesis 1 was actually a long period of time. There was much discussion as to just how long a period of time, as well as which events each ‘day’ symbolized, but, in the end, this view provided a symbolic or allegorical function that could be shifted as needed to match changing scientific views.

The result of these interpretations was that, for those who held them, it no longer became possible to determine the age of the earth from the Bible. Instead, it was the role of geologists to determine the age of the earth. This meant that geologists became the new historians of the earth, removing from the Bible the ultimate authority concerning the actual history of creation.

Oh for some accuracy here!! Most had not determined the age of the earth from the bible at least from 1700 as geological evidence came to light.

Some commentators and pastors argued this was an incorrect way of interpreting Genesis 1; they said these views were neither in the history of interpretation nor in the text itself.

They should have said who so that their case would have some substance.

n spite of this, it became more and more popular to interpret Genesis in light of the seemingly indisputable claims of many geologists that the earth was far older than 10,000 years. For some, it was an easy concession because it seemed to maintain the historical integrity of Adam and Eve as well as the rest of the Biblical text.

Due to their many historical howlers their case can be dismissed

The one nagging problem was the fossil record.

Yes it was a nagging problem for young earthers but no one else. This final comment is a vacuous rhetorical flourish evading the falsity of their arguments.

Perhaps their grasp of the science of geology and evolution is better than their history of science.

[1] For more details, see Henry B. Smith, Jr. “MT, SP, or LXX: Deciphering a Chronological and Textual Conundrum in Genesis 5,” Bible and Spade 31.1 (2018), 18-27.

[2] Terry Morteson, The Great Turning Point (Master Books, 2012) 44-45.

[3] Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Evolution and the Authority of the Bible (The Paternoster Press, 1983) 72.

[4] Martin Rudwick, Earth’s Deep History (The University of Chicago, 2014) 99,110.

[5] Mortenson, 33,35.

********************************

To read; M Rudwick as in their references
D Young and Stearley. The Bible, rocks and Time
2876
Michael Roberts Evangelicals and Science (chapters available on my blog ; here is chap3 in biblical interpretation https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/11/27/a-history-of-evangelicals-and-science-part-3-of-12/

Bishop Spong meets Charles Darwin

On 12th September the controversial Bishop Spong died at the age of 89. I’d known of him for decades and in the 80s he helped at a wedding at a Welsh church where the vicar was a very conservative evangelical, which gave us a smile.

As someone who is fairly conservative and orthodox I have never been partial to Spong with his extreme liberal views almost throwing out every item of the Christian faith for a progressive faith. He is a person whom people either loved or loathed. Spong raises many issues and especially the absurdities of extreme fundamentalism, but throws the baby out with the bathwater. I will not give a general assessment of him but focus on one issue.

Bishop John Shelby Spong in an undated photo. He used a combination of celebrity and tireless writing and speaking to open up the Episcopal Church.

That issue is his understanding of Charles Darwin and the effect of his science on the Christian faith. Way back in the 1990s he explained some of the reasons why he rejected “orthodoxy” and much hinged on Darwin. He claimed that until 1859 all Christians believed in a literal Genesis and then with The Origin of Species Darwin torpedoed that making it totally untenable.

Probably most people would agree with Spong on that and it has been the received view among most who consider themselves educated. In his book and TV series of the 1980s The Sea of Faith Don Cupitt came out with same arguments. Many thought it wonderful, but his history had a bit to be desired! A similar view comes out in older church histories and among writers of popular science, including Richard Dawkins.

I never kept the article where I read Spong’s views on Darwin but at some lectures in 2018 he repeated the same line. These were lectures he gave at the Chautauqua Institution and reported in The Chautauquan Daily – their official newspaper.

“On Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy, Spong explained how Darwinian and Christian values came to divide the Christian faith in his lecture titled, “The Assault of Charles Darwin and Why the Christian Church Retreated before Darwin.” Spong continued Week One’s interfaith theme, “Producing a Living Faith Today?”

Here is what the report said of his lecture, when he dealt with Darwin. It all sounds so familiar

http://chqdaily.com/2018/06/spong-dialogue-between-darwinism-christianity-critical/

One of the scientists who pushed the status quo was Charles Darwin, who Spong called the second “obsession of the church.”

Darwin began his work in 1831 when he got a job as a naturalist on a five-year survey voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle. It took him 25 years after the trip, but Darwin claimed his place in history when he released the Origin of Species.

The book sold out immediately and raised questions that had previously been debated, but were never analyzed from a perspective like Darwin’s. Christians did not welcome these findings with open arms, Spong said.

“The war was on,” Spong said. “Darwin was now an enemy to the Bible, as the Bible was interpreted literally, and he was an enemy to the church in the way (Darwinism was) interpreted theologically.”

In an attempt to set the record straight, a debate took place in 1860 between Thomas Huxley, a biologist and an avid defender of Darwin’s, and Samuel Wilberforce, the bishop of Oxford and an advocate of biblical literalism. Wilberforce resorted to ridicule and at one point asked Huxley which side of his family was descended from apes. Wilberforce won the debate, but Spong said it was not enough to earn him a lasting legacy.

“Sam Wilberforce was hailed as a hero, but what’s interesting is that heroes don’t last forever,” he said. “He was very popular in his lifetime, but his reputation has faded.”

After the debate, Darwin’s theories made their way into the bloodstream of western civilization. At first, evolution was taught in small, private settings, but as it began to gain momentum in 1910, the Christian Church decided to tackle the issue head on.

A group of Presbyterian divines proposed a series of pamphlets on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Once the project received funding, more than 500,000 were sent out each week. As time went on, the pamphlets became more popular, and by the 1920s, every church in the world was divided over being classified as fundamental or modernist.

“You can’t force truth into popularity,” Spong said. “Darwin seemed to have the truth, and after a while, these fundamentals of the Christian faith did not seem fundamentalistic after all.”

The Presbyterian leaders published five fundamentals all Christians were required to believe in order to identify as Christian. Among them were the ideas that the Scriptures are the infallible word of God and human beings are created perfect but fell into sin. Spong said those fundamentals were too similar to the myths of the religion to survive.

“They were so absurd, no one in the academic world would give them credibility,” he said.

The problem facing modernists, on the other hand, was that they knew too much to be fundamentalists, but did not know how to be Christian, Spong said.

“That is reflected in the world today,” he said. “The major mainline Christian churches are all in a frantic of political decline. The fundamentalistic churches are strong, but they are also declining. The world is catching up, and fundamentalism is not a viable option any longer.”

The fall of these ideals caused a rise in Darwin’s ideals. At that time in history, there was no longer a medical school in the western world without a foundation built upon Darwinian principles, and hardly a science department in the United States that was not embracing evolution. That was until the public school system implemented “creation science,” Spong said, designed to be a fair alternative to Darwinism. Although creation science is not taught in public schools anymore, Spong reminded the audience it was not that long ago that former President George W. Bush endorsed it.

“Bush wanted people to be fair, to have a chance to voice an opinion,” Spong said. “He thought you could decide by majority vote what truth is. It doesn’t work that way.”

After Bush’s endorsement, the U.S. Supreme Court declared creation science unconstitutional.

“By virtue of its own strength and integrity, Darwin became stronger and stronger,” Spong said. “There is hardly an educated person in the western world who does not accept Darwin’s point of view as truth.”

Spong asked why Christians fought so hard when they knew they were wrong. The answer, once again, was Darwin.

“There was something about Darwin that challenged not just the Christian story, but the way in which we told that story,” he said. “Darwin said there was ‘no perfect creation,’ but the church said we were ‘created perfect and then all fell into sin.’ You can’t fall into sin if you are not perfect to start with.”

Spong acknowledged how difficult it can be to accept the similarities humans have with the apes, but in a time where millennials check “none” for their chosen denomination more than the rest of the other options combined, he believes the dialogue has to continue between Darwinism and Christianity in order for the faith to survive.

“I think we have a wonderful faith,” he said. “Not the only faith, but a wonderful faith. And we have to work hard to make it live in our generation, and I think we can.”

[Clearly this is an account of what Spong said and not his actual words. However from what I’d previously read what Spong himself wrote on Darwin, it seems to be an accurate and trustworthy account. Thus as I have no reason to doubt its authenticity I shall treat as Spong’s views of 2018, which are similar to those he held two decades earlier.]

On the surface this seems reasonable and historically accurate both with regards to Darwin’s life and work and the effect on the Christian church.

But it is not!

As he started in 1831 he could have mentioned that Darwin receieved the letter inviting him to join the Beagle after a few weeks geologising in Wales with the Reverend Professor Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge. BRESSAN_2013_Geologizing_-Darwin_Map1

Darwin’s Welsh visit of 1831 More here https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/just-before-the-beagle-darwin-in-wales-1831/  

300px-Adam_Sedgwick

Rev Adam Sedgwick, father of the Cambrian system. Susan Darwin had a crush on him.

Sedgwick was one of the great Anglican clergy-geologists. He was one of the most significant geologists to elucidate the Lower Palaeozoic and Devonian from 1831-1845. But, horror of horrors, he was also an evangelical. Now what was an evangelical doing as a professor of geology and doing fundamental work. Like most evangelicals of his day i.e. before 1859, he had no problems with geological time and did not see it as destroying his faith. He was very scathing about those who rejected geology and tried to insist on a literal Genesis. Here deal with some of his spats, which are quite funny too.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/how-to-deal-with-victorian-creationists-and-win/

It’s a pity Spong did not know about Sedgwick and his many Christian geologists! And so he dug a bigger hole;

“The war was on,” Spong said. “Darwin was now an enemy to the Bible, as the Bible was interpreted literally, and he was an enemy to the church in the way (Darwinism was) interpreted theologically.”

My question to Spong is simple. Who in the churches interpreted the Bible literally? For 40 years I have tried to find some examples and beyond slave-holders in the Southern States and other nuts, I am still wandering around in the wilderness looking for one.

Quite simply, virtually no Christians with a modicum of education in the 1860s took Genesis 1 literally and denied geological time. I think that is slam dunk against Spong. I’ll now go slam dunker and gently point out that Samuel Wilberforce was not a biblical literalist.

1869_Wilberforce_A504_001

Bishop soapy Sam Wilberforce

He was a competent amateur scientist and while at Oriel College , Oxford in the 1820s he went to William Buckland’s geology lectures for three years running. (The attendance records are in the Oxford museum. From my brief study of it, he was the only one who went every year.)

anning

Buckland checking out glacial Striae at Rhyd Ddu in Snowdonia 1842. Buckland introduced ideas of an Ice Age to Britain

230px-Cyclomedusa_cropped

Rev William Buckland giving a geological lecture at Oxford

His review of the Origin in the Quarterly Review is competent scientifically and is similar to what most scientists would have written in 1860. Wilberforce was no literalist and no fool, but was a rather soapy bishop! Spong could have mentioned Christians who accepted Darwin from 1859 including the evangelical Rev H B Tristram, Charles Kinsgley and others. Read this for the British scene from 1859

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/evolution-and-religion-in-britain-from-1859-to-2013/

Spong next dealt with The Fundamentals of 1910 “At first, evolution was taught in small, private settings, but as it began to gain momentum in 1910, the Christian Church decided to tackle the issue head on. A group of Presbyterian divines proposed a series of pamphlets on the fundamentals of the Christian faith.” Really! Head on? Many may know the series of brown paperback booklets called The Fundamentals. So much for taking Darwin/Evolution head on. One or two articles did, but most which dealt with Darwin or Genesis at least accepted geological time and in the case of James Orr, evolution as well. Spong simply had not doen his homework and was woefully inaccurate. So much for saying, “They were so absurd, no one in the academic world would give them credibility,” In fact many had academic credibility from competent conservative scholars, but some were not. Spong cannot have studied the background or content of these leaflets. If anyone was absurd it was Spong!

He continued “Darwin said there was ‘no perfect creation,’ but the church said we were ‘created perfect and then all fell into sin.” When did the church say that? Some fundamentalists did, and still do, say that but they are not the church but just a small part!

He ought to have known that humans ARE apes, and thus have similarities with all the other apes. A lack of biological knowledge here.

So what should we say about Spong’s encounter with Darwin?

Most obvious is that he has adopted a popular and extreme form of the Conflict Thesis of science and religion and out- whites White. To claim that the church was literalist in 1859 is simply completely and utterly false. Just to take the Anglican church, the vast majority of clergy had accepted geological time, and thus a non-literal Genesis way before 1859. In fact a higher proportion of Church of England clergy in 2021 are literalist than in 1860.

The best that can be said is that his confirmation bias to buttress his understanding of Christianity is to assume what he claims. This is simply not scholarly and is a very shoddy way of presenting an argument. Sadly others like Don Cupitt have done the same but he did (mis)quite contemporary authors! I agree with Spong on how awful Young Earth Creationism is in every way, but we need to ensure that what he say about others is accurate. He does not.

In 1998 Spong nailed his 12 Theses to the internet and Rowan Williams dismembered the lot with simplicity and clarity.

https://anglicanecumenicalsociety.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/bishop-spong-and-archbishop-williamss-response/

Williams exposes the shoddiness and wrongness of all his arguments both theological and ethical. I don’t need to repeat Rowan’s arguments.

On the positive side Spong is good at raising questions and especially those which come as a result of being swept up in fundamentalism. But he is not so good at understanding and tilts at the non-existent strawmen of ultra-fundamentalism and includes all the mainline orthodox in his tilting. His dealings with Darwin are just that. His ideas may resonate with those escaping from fundamentalism, but for the rest of us (who often have serious questions about our faith) he provides nothing of merit and an easy target for a hatchet job.

What Bishop Spong gives is not a new and progressive Christianity for a the 21st Century but an incoherent and muddled rejection of the faith. Sadly some would disagree with me and Rowan Williams!!

Has the Church of England gone Creationist in Live Lent?

Surely the Church of England is far too liberal to think the earth is only 6000 years old.

Most would respond to that question by saying, “don’t be so daft!” After all in many ways the CofE is somewhat liberal both in belief and ethics. The church has many who have held fast to evolution; Gore, Temple and others in the 19th century, most theologians in the 20th century, and more recently theologians with scientific training – notably Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne and Alister McGrath and many other lesser fry, like myself! If anything is the default position of the Church of England, it is one which accepts a 4.56 billion year old earth and life which has been evolving for the last 4 billion years. But against that about 5% vicars are Creationist. and lots of churchmembers are a bit confused. and not a few clergy!

So what is this article doing as part of the Church of England’s Lent Live?

It takes the NRSV translation of Romans 8 vs 19, 22-23, with an odd omission of verses 20 to 21, and then comments on the passage, claiming that 

” the whole creation has somehow been infected, and fallen under the influence of darkness.”

Now, that is just how Creationists argue from their ideas of a 6000 year old earth and no evolution, as they reckon when Adam bit the apple, God put a Curse on Creation, making it Fallen and thus death, illness and earthquakes began. 

Consider the image and brief article. The image just gives the biblical text but the article reflects on it.

Image

And so the reflection;

The reflection is very brief, as is needed for short thoughts for Lent, it is difficult to see how they find their comments in the extract from St Paul. It raises many questions on whether the article actually reflects Paul and his teachings in his letter to the Romans. And whether it has any Christian basis………………….

The second paragraph doesn’t refer to Romans but makes an extraordinary claim about the Gospel story;

“The Gospel story doesn’t merely talk about individual human sin and weakness, difficult enough although those things are. It goes on to claim that because of our collective selfishness and distance from God the whole creation has somehow been infected, and fallen under the influence of darkness.”

This totally baffles me as I cannot think on anywhere in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John which either says of implies this. At best, they may look to John with his “cosmos” as opposed to God, but there John normally uses “cosmos” to mean humanity in opposition to God and not the whole creation, as in John 3 vs16. In other words this statement is just wrong.

It does seem that the writer takes a particular interpretation of this passage from Romans as looking to the Fall of Genesis 3 – or rather that God inflicted a curse on the whole of creation because of Adam’s sin. That seems a bit harsh. It is NOT the teaching of almost all Anglican theologians, but is what Young Earth Creationists teach about the Fall and the curse, in which animal pain and suffering, and earthquakes and tsunamis were inflicted by God on creation AFTER Adam ate the apple! It seems rather harsh to curse the whole of creation for Adam’s deed.

This idea, though largely and correctly rejected today, has a long history going back to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and has resulted in a misreading of creation in Genesis.

Further the quote from C S Lewis does not speak of creation but of human behaviour. Citing it here implies that Creation is enemy-occupied territory , whereas Lewis meant so much of human behaviour, which rang true in the war years.

How can one say “The Whole creation has somehow been infected and fallen under the power of darkness?”

Granted humans have made a mess of this planet but what infection is there in the rest of the Solar System. ; for example in Venus, Jupiter, or the Sun? The idea becomes even more absurd when we consider further stars and galaxies. On a starlit night just look out at stars and consider how we have infected the stars of the Great Bear or Orion – if we have! Or closer at home consider the beauty of Nature/Creation around you.

image

This kind of writing sounds all very good and spiritually challenging – until we ask how and when it all happened! If we do that, then we will see it as vague gnostic woffle, which is soothing to our feelings but not to our soul – or it is an argument for Young Earth Creationism, with its curse on the whole of creation.

Romans 8 vs19-23 is a baffling passage and many, and perhaps most, commentators see it as an allusion to Gen 3 and the Fall permeating all creation. If so, they need to see Paul’s theology they present here is nonsensical as the Universe in 13 billion years old and Adam’s scrumping did not affect the universe!! Unless of course, you are a Creationist and endorse a curse and a young earth!!

The idea or FACT of an ancient universe is not new, and goes back well over two centuries. By 1800 astronomers and geologists had demonstrated that both universe and earth were – then reckoned only to be millions of years old. With all the fossils it was clear that life was ancient too and thus the idea held by some theologians that the Creation was not what God intended it to be was way off the mark. To suggest that humans are to blame is simply absurd! Though that is the reading of John Milton in Paradise Lost.

Humans have stuffed up Planet Earth, but not in that sense. Too many theological writers are careless about this and one bishop recently wrote “the whole creation, in its original unfallen state….” meaning that the creation as we now experience is now fallen and originally was not. The bishop should have said when the creation transitioned from “unfallen” to “fallen”. This kind of poor thinking tends to make Christianity incredible.

This understanding of Romans 8 vs 19-23 Turns on the meaning of the greek word ktisis used here, which is commonly translated as “Creation”. Ktisis has a variety of meanings as brought out in any decent Greek lexicon. It can mean the whole creation or simply the mass of humanity. The latter makes better sense in Romans 8, as it does in Mark 16 vs15 (longer ending) If these are words of Jesus , did he mean the whole creation and to preach the gospel in the vicinity of Sirius or Betelgeuse? I don’t think so, do you? Otherwise you’ll preach to dogs and cats and birds and bees. He means to every human as we find in the Post-resurrection commands as presented by Matthew and Luke. (see Day 28 for a reflection on Matthew 28)

For details read;

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/mis-reading-romans-chapter-8/

This reading is common today with our very justified concern for the environment today. There is no question about humany’s environmental damage to this earth , which I have held since reading Silent Spring in the 1960s. This has happened in so many different ways; Pollution, species loss, climate change and damage from careless mining , development, including fishing and farming.

This contribution for LIVELENT was, I think, written to make us care more for the environment, and we need to.

It is vital to care for creation (what have you done for creation today?) but misreading Paul is not the way to argue for it.