Category Archives: predation

Darwin on Design, Doubt and suffering

Darwin is reckoned to have killed design ,

cropped-p1280869

At present there is much interest in understanding suffering ,due to the coronavirus.
 
some have written books on it, and then by default look to the Fall to explain suffering . Or else reckon that yonks ago the Devil introduced it when he mucked up creation.
 
Odd readings of Romans 8 are used to support this.
 
we cannot get away from suffering and ultimately we have to admit that it is written into the fabric of life and not malevolence nor a punishment for sin.
 
Here I deal with Darwin, first on design and then his problems with suffering, which we must all identify with but what is more interesting are his problems with doubt and suffering which I expound at the end of the referenced paper at the end.
 

He was greatly concerned by suffering , whether Annie’s death, the treatment of slaves or even the behaviour of the ichneumon fly.

ichneumon

Last autumn I found that Tortoiseshell butterflies were being caihght in spiders’ webs and then packaged to be eaten later.

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Today when cycling on the Lune eastuary I found a tortoiseshell struggling in a web with a spider bearing down on it. I decided to let Incy-wincy have his dinner . I didn’t get a good photo.

Darwin felt the problem of suffering but there seems to be no answer, except that suffering has been around as long as life and is not something introduced into the natural world, wither by the devil, or god gatting annoyed with scrumping!!

Here is my rather old paper published in Science and Christian Belief in 1997 , for which I received a $2000 prize from the Templeton Foundation

 

Dsdoubtdesign

 

 

 

COVID-19,Good Friday and the Death of Christ.

Why did a loving God allow the Coronavirus?

Is this actually true?

The Christian story is of a broken and rebellious creation that is awaiting the renewal of all things.

 

cor1

 

Little did we think when we heard the reports from China in January 2020 that within two months virtually the whole world would be in lock-down. I shall not deal with all the medical and scientific issues. But what about issues raised for Christians?

How should a Christian think about such a pandemic? Yes, there have been many in the course of history and the worst in Britain and other countries was the Black Death in the 14th century.

A pandemic raises such questions like;

Why did God allow it?

How can God be good?

Which are all variants trying to understand the WHY of suffering.

Most attempts consider what is called Natural Evil and for long I have wondered whether that is both a misnomer and misunderstands the nature of the universe, or the way the world is. One who has taken it head on is Justin Brierly of Premier Christian Radio in a recent blog. I think his alternative understandings are most unsatisfactory.

https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Why-doesn-t-God-stop-Coronavirus-and-mend-the-world?fbclid=IwAR3GbGZtQthH_e0F9pbOlvXgojbbrE3h-W8lXRb7TP6BJWRVk0MuR5r3tQ8

The question of God and suffering is one of the oldest questions ever asked and there are no easy answers. Most often the response needed for those who are walking through suffering is our love and care, not our clever theology and philosophy. However, when the time comes for intellectual answers, I believe there are some helpful way to make sense of suffering.

Justin is right on here. There are no easy answers and I wonder if there is ananswer. He is right to say those suffering need love not theology, clever or not. Some are most unclever. As he continues Justin offers some theology, which is focussed on Romans 8 vs 19ff.

The Groaning of Creation

But when it comes to Coronavirus we may be tempted to ask: Why has God allowed death, disease and natural disaster to exist at all? We may be able to understand the existence of evil caused by our own free will, but what about the ‘natural evil’ that exists in the world? This question can only be answered by a Christian from within his or her own worldview, and means we must expand our perspective to a cosmic scale.

This is the Fundamental question which is almost impossible to answer – I keep failing on it.

 

Out of Kilter?

The apostle Paul states that “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). The Christian story is that the whole created order is in some sense ‘out of kilter’ at a cosmic level. Some theologians trace this to human rebellion – an outworking of ‘the fall’ which acts both forwards and backwards in time. Others point to the existence of an earlier rebellion in the angelic realm that sparked a ‘cosmic fall’ (hinted at in Revelation 12:9).

This is dangerous pinning a certain idea on a few verses, especially as they have long been open to different understandings. There are questions on the translation here, but I’ll leave that. What does it means for the whole creation to be groaning?

Is Creation out of kilter?

Is it actually true that creation is ‘out of kilter’ at a cosmic level.”? Here he seeks to answer

Why has God allowed death, disease and natural disaster to exist at all? We may be able to understand the existence of evil caused by our own free will, but what about the ‘natural evil’ that exists in the world?

Justin does not consider that fact that death and natural disaster i.e volcanoes, earthquakes and floods, were there from the beginning of this planet’s history. Further, if he is right that the creation is “out of kilter”, when was the creation knocked out of kilter? We need to ask

 “When?”

“in what ways “

 “and in what ways was it out of kilter a billion years ago, when there were no humans?”

I never had a sense the created order is “out of kilter” whether in my geological work or as I look around me or when I cycle or walk in the countryside. That is not to say humans are not trying to put creation out of kilter, but that is totally different

What Justin is claiming that a Fall, whether of humans in the Garden of Eden or of an angelic Fall, has put the whole cosmos out of kilter. This is not what either Genesis 3 or Rev 12 vs9 state. It is reading into it. It probably has more to do with Milton’s Paradise Lost than the Bible.

I am fully aware that many theologians have argued for one or the other to get God off the hook for suffering, but succeed in attaching God more firmly to the hook, and making Him an ogre. To afflict the cosmos with a Curse because of the misdemeanours of Adam and Eve seems cruel to everyone and everything else.

He claims; “Whatever the origin, the result is a world that is not as it should be.” I have to ask in what ways is the world not as it should be.

If you mean the physical world, nothing has changed in geological time. The physical laws have not changed. Volcanoes are still erupting four billion years on. Yes, I’ve looked at volcanic rocks one or two billion years old. Viruses also keep attaching themselves to other living things as they did billions of years ago, and at times kill their hosts.

However human behaviour is totally out of kilter and often damages the natural world. I suspect the Coronavirus would have stayed in bats if humans had not mistreated them.

 Yet Paul includes the promise that one day “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

What does Justin glean from this?

Everybody has experienced living in the tension of this broken world. The groaning of creation brings both good and bad across our path. The natural laws that operate are both a blessing and a curse. Tectonic plate activity renews the surface of the earth with minerals, yet wreaks havoc when humans build cities on the fault lines. Cell replication allows our bodies to grow and develop, yet can result in cancer when natural processes misfire. Death is a necessary part of the cycle of life, yet still remains our “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Who says this is a broken world? It is as it has always been. The movement of tectonic plates is just normal and has been going on for billions of years, causing earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.

Why does Justin not accept this?

The Coronavirus is just one more example of the broken world we live in. Life is a God-given miracle of extraordinary engineering and complexity. Yet the physical process of life itself are subject to viruses, parasites, and disease. The “bondage to decay” that St Paul speaks of reverberates through the cosmos.

This is rather high-flown with an appeal to the bondage of decay from Paul. It sounds impressive but what does it mean?

By creating a world of free creatures – both physical and spiritual – God has granted a level of freedom to the whole of the created order. That means that God won’t simply step in and wave a magic wand to take away the suffering in the world. We are part of the problem of evil, and God has chosen us to be part of the solution too.

Where does Justin think the other part of the problem of evil comes from?

Throughout the New Testament we are presented with a worldview of spiritual warfare in which God has chosen his people to be fellow combatants waging a war, not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual “principalities [and] powers” (Ephesians 6:12) through our prayer, love and action.

How on earth (literally) does Justin see spiritual warfare in plate tectonics?

God hates Coronavirus

I have increasingly seen that this ‘warfare’ view of reality may help those who have experienced great suffering to understand that God is not the author of their pain. One such person is Jessica Kelley, whom I interviewed about the loss of her four-year-old son Henry to brain cancer as related in her book Lord Willing?.  …….Jessica had come to reject what she terms the ‘blueprint’ view of a God who creates pain and suffering as part of his sovereign plan. Instead she embraced the warfare view, that we live in a world where natural disasters, disease and evil are tied up not only with the choices of human beings but with the freedom exercised by spiritual forces in rebellion against God. Although the war was decisively turned towards victory through the death and resurrection of Jesus, there still remains a world of running spiritual battles.  …….. Henry was a casualty in the ongoing battle to redeem a fallen and broken world:……………..

Jessica’s perspective can equally be turned to this present Coronavirus pandemic. God did not will this crisis. Let’s not lay the blame at his door. But he is working through the actions and prayers of those who are seeking to see his Kingdom come on earth.

It is hard to comment on this owing to Jessica’s tragic loss of a child, which I have not had to go through, but to argue “Instead she embraced the warfare view, that we live in a world where natural disasters, disease and evil are tied up not only with the choices of human beings but with the freedom exercised by spiritual forces in rebellion against God.” It is very dubious to tie up what he calls natural disasters i.e. volcanoes etc with spiritual warfare..

Are volcanoes, earthquakes, floods caused by spiritual forces in rebellion against God” There is nothing in the bible to support that and is very Manichaean.

Alternative views

Nevertheless, Jessica’s view is controversial to some. Many would object that a God who isn’t in control of the whole show isn’t the God of the Bible.

Why should we ever believe that God is control down to the last detail? It sounds great but it is not true to experience, though many of us experience a general guidance at times, but not at others. Did God really was in control when you twisted your ankle while out on a walk?

Some e.g. Thomas Oard rightly argue that God does not “interfere with and control” his creation, as in his book The Uncontrolling love of God. He extends the idea from Phillipians 2 of Jesus Christ emptying himself to God emptying himself in creation and often letting things be.

 Calvinist theologians believe that God is the author of both joy and sorrow and, even though we may struggle to see it, works through both for his ultimate purposes and glory. They say the warfare view contains too much of the same sort of randomness in suffering that the atheist must contend with. 

For me, I end up with a certain agnosticism in respect of God’s control but the warfare view is both Manichean and tries to divide creation into good (flowers etc) and evil (volcanoes) and makes Christians see everything as warfare and conflict.

Inevitably, different Christians will come to different understandings of how to reconcile God and suffering. What we can agree on is that God is good, suffering is bad, but that his love and purposes will win out in the end.

Yes, but that does not mean we should tolerate what can only be called extreme views – as is the warfare view, or that popular view of the Curse. What we need to agree on is that God is good, even when things are going badly and don’t make sense. That is found in Romans 8 especially the conclusion

Justin states;

The Christian story is of a broken and rebellious creation that is awaiting the renewal of all things.

This is simply not biblical. Just considering the Bible, there is nothing to support “a broken and rebellious Creation”. It is a variation of the Curse mythology which reckons God screwed up a supposedly “perfect “ creation because of Adam and Eve. The Christian Story IS of a broken humanity who are also stuffing up the rest of creation, but only on this planet but not beyond the Solar System, if that. In what ways are meteors, distant stars and planets “broken and rebellious”? Or even birds and bees and even bats and pangolins? Or, dare I say, viruses? The story starts there with humans stuffing up the earth and culminates with Jesus Christ who “unscrews” humanity and reconciles them (2 Cor 5)

If, and a big if, Justin’s is the Christian story then I wholeheartedly reject it as fanciful and absurd. Further it is not the Christian story held by all Christians over the last 2000 years.

The Christian story in its basics is that humans screwed things up and Jesus thorugh his death and resurrection has shown the way to unscrew it. Forget about warfare with volcanoes, or animal predation.

 How should we see God in the light of the coronavirus?

Above all it is wrong to focus on death and suffering as due to Adam’s misdeeds, and neither of Justin’s alternatives make sense. This is the danger of a self-contained biblical argument and not looking at what we know of the world. Any world view which disregards the science is worthless. If we applied that principle to astronomy we would believe in a flat earth and that seeds actually die before they germinate (1 Cor 15). We need to take note of science and especially the history of the earth and the life therein. Here it is in outline

The Universe was formed 13.4 by years ago with the big Bang (which was put forward by a Christian cosmologist Fr G Le Maitre)

The Earth was formed 4.6 billion years ago and since then its surface has been sundered by plate tectonics. There seemed to be no involvement by naughty angels and it was too early for Adam to cause the eruptions.

Life first formed between 3 and 4 billion years ago. The earliest forms were like bacteria with viruses going piggy-back. Thus from then on bacteria were dying and being infected by viruses. We then have the sequence of life and so to vertebrates, dinosaurs, mammals and lastly humans.

This makes it clear that death disease and suffering were there from the beginning and along with volcanoes. The earth is IN kilter.

So it continues today with volcanoes, earthquakes, animals and people dying.

Every so often the earth is hit with something like the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which some implied had a human origin, rather than being natural. Some want to regard the bits which are painful as Natural Evil. That is a wrong term as those things are simply – – – NATURAL.

Can you call this evil – natural or not? It is simply life and the way the world is .Any belief system or worldview which does not accept this is flying in the face of facts.

Here we come face to face with problem of suffering, which comes out so starkly in Covid-19. All living things die, often after getting a disease. Even the fossil record shows that. At times it is accompanied with great pain. It is a problem because it is downright ghastly and we feel it should not be that way We try to rationalise it and often by one of the three put forward by Justin. We are unwilling to say it’s purely natural and believers don’t want to say God did it.

It is a dilemma, which we all seek to resolve. Not all find a resolution which supports faith and many conclude that God cannot allow the suffering and if He did then He must be the Devil. This alone should stop us from coming out with slick answers, which may help us but repel others.

Suffering was a great problem for Charles Darwin as I discuss here

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/parasitic-wasps-and-the-death-of-jesus-with-hat-tip-to-darwin/

What should we say as Christians?

Here we turn to the Christian story – the four gospels, which are odd as they give so much on Jesus’s last week on earth, describing in his public execution in gruesome detail.

As Jesus he died, he shrieked;

Eloi eloi, lama sabachthani!

My God. My God, why have you forsaken me?

There was Jesus, the Son of God, suffering an excruciating death. Imagine those fat, rusty nails hammered through your wrist and ankles. Then being suspended making it almost impossible to breath along with the nails tearing your flesh and broken bone.

The centre of the Christian Faith is on the ghastly death of Jesus and his surprising resurrection. Traditionally Christian have viewed the death of Jesus being purely an atonement without considering that in death Jesus shared human suffering.

Is this an answer?

Yes and no

It is not a simplistic answer.

The Old Testament doesn’t give an answer, but a poem/saga about suffering – the book of Job. Job had suffered badly and all his advisors were useless and then he met God, who asked him if he was present at creation (Job 38 -41). Job realised he did not understand and then trusted God. We can do no more, as we don’t understand as suffering gives no logical explanation and there is no logical explanation for suffering. The message was “trust God”.

This where Moltmann’s insights in The Crucified God are so helpful, as we see that the cross is not only forgiveness and reconciliation but also God in Christ entering into all suffering and shrieking “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” That is what we often do when suffering hits us. Suffering points to the cross.

That is as far as we can go. There is nothing wrong in saying our understanding is partial, but it is very wrong to think we have understood suffering.

This raises the question whether suffering can be called Natural Evil as it is not Evil but just Natural. Volcanoes are just the normal activity in the earth’s crust. OK, some suffering is caused by the evil of others, but that should never be called Natural Evil, but just Evil. It’s a bit tough if you are being eaten by lion, drowned in a tsunami, or suffering a disease, but this is the fabric of creation. For the record I put my foot four inches from a sleeping Cape Cobra!

Many Christians are unwilling to accept that suffering and “natural disaster” is written into the structure of the earth, and thus what some call “Natural Evil” is simply natural. Many perform theological contortions and bad exegesis to explain evil and suffering. The temptation is to explain it away by an appeal that suffering came in at the Curse when Adam fell, or some angelic fall, or spiritual warfare. I would argue that not only are they bad/heretical/false theology but are liable to have very bad pastoral effects.

First, it results in a Manichean dualism, where everything natural is split into good and bad. An amusing example of this is that when we were in Yellowstone National Park, some visitors asked Rangers why they didn’t remove the bad animals – presumably grizzlies and wolves!! It is unfortunate if your hiker’s bear bell is found in grizzly scat, but that is not because that grizzly is bad. It is unnerving to hike in Yellowstone. This negativity spreads to those who want to kill every “bad critter”, especially insects. So the insect spray is always handy. Why zap every wasp and squish every beetle?

Secondly, this can have disastrous results on the environment as we purge it of everything bad from dandelions (weeds) to daddy long legs.

Thirdly, it can easily create a judgmentalism with a tendency to regard suffering and illness as the penalty of sin. An example is a minister I knew telling the parents of a boy suffering from cancer, that someone had sinned in the family. And then most clergy often heard people who are ill or suffering asking, “Why is God punishing me?”

It is understandable why some may think these things, but that does not make them right. Just think that menstruation was once called the Curse.

What about the Coronavirus?

As said earlier, viruses are part of the natural order and have existed as long as life itself. They cause a vast number of serious diseases in plants, animals and humans. Though they are not evil in a moral sense, they cause disease to all forms of life. Simply considering humans they cause an immense amount of suffering and death.

However the damage viruses cause is often made worse by human behaviour whether innocent, reckless or due to a lack of care for the natural world. It seems likely this coronavirus entered humans from a bat in a live animal market in China. That trade is perverse and criminally evil to animals. It also provides the right conditions for viruses to jump species.

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Thus, we can say that the coronavirus is a mixture of the natural and human evil. Were it not for the latter – both the live animal market and the cover –up – we may never have heard of it.

The wildlife trade is repulsive. Ultimately we have say that it and other ways of trashing the environment are immor and evil.  The coronavirus is just one of many examples. If we hold to an Adamic or Angelic Fall, or “spiritual Warfare” we are in danger of not recognising the human sin behind it. It removes the responsibility away from those who caused it – and that includes all of us who mistreat God’s creation in any way.

Now my answer is not definite or clear-cut as it starts from the fact that volcanoes, suffering and death are totally natural and written into all creation, without a malevolent being, human or spiritual, causing them. And most definitely not a God after the Fall.

This, and the need to look after the environment in myriad ways, deals with the more general aspects, but suffering is on a personal level we must go beyond that. We need effective action not explanations. To do this involves risk and sacrifice, which we see in those who are on the frontline in the health services and other vital services today. We have seen some of them die of Covid-19.

No appeal to spiritual warfare or the Fall of Adam or angels is of any value here – except to give an attitude of spirituality superiority, which is neither Christian nor humanitarian. If Christianity is not humanitarian it is not Christian.

Suffering reduces us to a position of weakness and humility. This is a major theme of both the Old and New Testament, even though it is often sidelined in Christendom and revivalism, which prefers Christ as Lord and King rather than servant. It can be argued that the New Testament refers to Jesus as Lord and Saviour  to subvert the demand in the Roman Empire to see Caesar as Lord. How could an executed felon be Lord and Saviour?

So consider this felon. His teaching was a development of the prophetic side of the Old Testament Law with the emphasis on love of neighbour.  Apart from their worship of a different god to most Romans, this became their mark along with their keenness to care for the less fortunate. This put most expressively in the Letter to Diognetus (late 2nd cent?), “They share their food, but not their wives.” Holland discusses it in his chapter (V) on Charity in his book Dominion.

This love and service to others is self-emptying, or kenotic. It is hinted at in Isaiah with his suffering servant; Chap 42 vs 1-9, and Chap 52 vs13 to53 vs12, which forms the backcloth of the accounts of Jesus’ death.

Suffering is emptying. Paul develops that in his appeal to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ in Philippians 2.vs5-8

4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Yes, I know I left out the resurrection, but my emphasis is on self-emptying love in action here.

His self-emptying is seen finally in the cross and comes out in his putting down of power hungry disciple Mark 10 vs 43-5

43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

As a result when early Christians after Constantine were not involved in politicking and re-inventing the trappings of the Roman Empire, were in the forefront of caring for those in need. This was manifest during the intermittent plagues and more continually in the foundations of hospices and places to care for the sick.

This is probably where the only “answer” to suffering can be found.

Eloi, eloi, lama sabacthani.

Creationism and Calvinism in Britain

A basic Christian belief is that God is the Creator of all that is. It’s there in the first chapter of the Bible, and those churches which use creeds both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds start by affirming God as creator.

calvin

There is frequently conflict among Christians over Creation, which comes out most strongly over the Theory of Evolution. Despite the popular view this is a major issue, apart from the Scopes Trial of 1925, there was little controversy until the 1960s when Young Earth Creationism came to the fore, first in the U.S.A. and then throughout the world. It was scarcely known in Britain before 1968. At the risk of over-simplifying Creationism has split the ever-growing evangelicals down the middle and is almost the default theological position for Evangelicals throughout the world.

In Britain theological colleges have not stressed the teaching of Young Earth Creationism, but some of the more evangelical ones are strongly sympathetic (including one Anglican college) and tend to default to YEC.  But now one college has nailed its colours to the mast. Many will see the newly founded and minute Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Newcastle as irrelevant. Being a watcher of all things evangelical and American I would disagree. It is an offshoot of the  Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary from South Carolina, which is highly influential among conservative America presbyterians and is strongly creationist. The Newcastle seminary is to serve English Presbyterians, a tiny group with similarities to some of the fissiparious Scottish Presbyterian churches which may have Free in their name!! I can’t follow the realtionship between them, but they are not the same as the main Kirk. I also note how creationism has infiltrated into those churches.  You can read their statement on creation here;  

https://presbyterianseminary.org.uk/about/statements-of-belief/?fbclid=IwAR3kkL7-xYecA7H9T3JxuypHnwDekytSu6lKD92uxf9nXk0VTT5i4jmOYo8

It doesn’t explicitly mention Creationism but its motive is clear, which is too teach only a theology which supports a 6 day 24 hour creation, as is expressed here;.

Accordingly, we believe that when God revealed his creation as ex nihilo and by the power of his word, and when he surrounded the six days of creation with such phrases as “the first day . . . the nth day” and “evening” and “morning”–all phrases which would have been understood in their normal sense by Hebrews in the second millennium BC–that God himself intended to convey that the work of his creation spanned six ordinary days, followed by a seventh and non-continuous day which also spanned 24 hours like the other six days.

This is what Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has been appealing for over many years.

Were this confined just to a minute college in Newcastle I would not be moved to comment, but this is a widespread attitude among evangelicals and has spread to mainstream denominations including the Church of England, Methodist, Baptists and Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Not to mention the many in Northern Ireland!

So, first, I will consider the importance of the doctrine of creation to Christians (with the implication that this needs to be taught and preached in all churches) and, secondly, I will consider the WPTS statement on creation and where I consider it to be wrong.

The importance of Creation

There is no question on the importance of Creation, but there is great diversity on how Creation should be understood. For most christians the belief that God created out of nothing is vital, though some do question it. For most it is summed up by William Temple’s quasi-equations in his classic book Nature, Man and God

God – Creation = God

Creation – God = 0

 Or we may rhetorically ask the question;

Why is there something, rather than nothing.

  For this discussion I will take God as Creator as read as it is more about how Christians actually understand creation, and especially in relation to modern thought. Or I should ask whether one can consider Creation in a vacuum of theology alone and make no reference to modern (or ancient) thought, thus producing a consistent belief which relates only to the bible.

Important as it is, I will not consider the Christian’s responsibility to the environment or Creation Care  as it is often called. That is because of lack of space. Here the doctrine of creation moves to a vital ethical question as we need to learn how to treat creation properly and consider pressing issues of pollution, species loss, habitat loss, climate change etc. We need to get our doctrine of creation more or less right so we can deal with environmental issues. That includes knowing the age and history of the planet and the inter-relationship of living creatures. I am not a fan of either the Cornwall alliance or Friends of the Earth!! Here is a brief summary of a Christian’s attitude to the care of creation.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/01/03/gods-creation-and-the-environment/

By insisting on creation in a mere week the WPTS simply rejects all of cosmology , geology and biology, although they avoid mentioning it , except for the odd aside “Even the secular confidence in earlier cosmologies is declining in some areas.” Rejecting so much science puts a stumbling block before people, Christian or not, who are quite liable to walk away and reject the Gospel.

It is clear that they have no grasp of the development of science over the 3 thousand years or the ancient adage “science is thinking God’s thoughts after him” . There is no awareness that the Bible reflects the thought forms of when that section was written. Thus Gen 1 and Isaiah 40 indicate a flat earth as they were written before the Greeks worked out the earth’s sphericity in about 500BC. Paul uses a scientifically wrong analogy on seeds in 1 Cor 15 vs 35. His argument is very clear today though if we are gardeners we’ll  chuckle at his wrong biology. Both Leviticus and Deuteronomy regard bats as birds. Wise readers of the Bible simply accept that the writers are using contemporary understandings, which have been superceeded. No big deal. Then of course Darwin was clueless about genes and genetics!

There needs to be an awareness that the Bible  is not scientific nor anti-scientific but pre-scientific. Hence we don’t accept its “science” to be correct as with the examples given above.  The whole principle of accommodation of scripture is simply ignored, despite the fact that one of the finest expositions of accommodation is by John Calvin both in the Institutes and his commentary of Genesis.

He who would learn astrology[i.e astronomy] and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.

All considering the doctrine of creation, whether believer or atheist, should memorise that bit of Calvin.

Now for some history.

If traditional dates for the writing of biblical books is correct most of the Old Testament predates any science, as with a flat earth. Who cares that in the magnificent Isaiah 40, verse 22 speaks of a flat earth.

The historical relation of science and Christianity can be muddled by those trying to claim the church opposed every new finding of science. Briefly they need to consider Augustine

Augsutine

and then the scientists of the Middle ages who were mostly priests. There is much written on this and on the whole it was a positive and constructive interplay of ideas. Books by Hannan, Grant andLindberg are very useful here, as is the recent work on Bishop Robert Grosseteste (d1253) expounded by Tom Mcleish and others.

WPTS should be so pleased that Protestants were far more supporting of Copernicanism than Catholics and under Cromwell clergy astronomers were supported like John Wilkins who married Cromwell’s sister, made master of trinity Cambridge, helped to found the Royal Society and became Bishop of Chester, succeeding Pearson, who accepted 4004 BC as the date of creation!

I think it would be fair to say the Westminster Divines both supported copernicanism and the foundation of the Royal Society. Before long in the 1680s some Fellows eg Edward Lhwyd and Rev John Ray were beginning to suggest Ussher rather underestimated the date of creation and soon many more did.

300px-John_Ray_from_NPG

By the end of the 18th century most educated Christian in Britain and elsewhere accepted those dreaded “millions of years” or else just hundreds of thousands as with de Luc. The Westminster Confession supporting Scots were in the forefront here, though in the early 19th century Anglican clergy were very active geologically. What is often overlooked is that by 1859, when Darwin published most clergy accepted deep geological time. (I cannot find one Anglican priest or minister of the Kirk who followed ~Ussher’s 4004BC date.)

As WPTS is presbyterian we need to note that in Scotland nearly all the clergy from the various Presbyterian Churches including the Free Presbyterians totally accepted geological time with relish. Notable were John Fleming , Thomas Chalmers and the wonderful Hugh Miller. They did not see a problem with the Westminster Confession as in chap 4 section 1

In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit 1 to create the world out of nothing in order to reveal the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and  goodness.2 He made everything in the world, visible and invisible, in the space of six days, and it was very good.

So I cannot see why WPTS and their fellow Presbyterians are so worried.

A major weakness in this statement is that it seems to see Scripture as timeless and not written according to the culture at the time of writing. As a result the statement is an echo chamber in a locked room with no windows. It may seem strong and coherent, but it does not relate to the world either today, human and non-human or the past. It ends up as irrelevant.

It makes no explicit reference to science except referring vaguely to a “secular cosmology” as something we should reject. And so students will be encourage to reject so much of modern science and fall prey to Young Earth Creationism.

 

Now for my comments on the Statement

(Statement in quotation form and my comments in standard form)

Statement on Creation

We the faculty of Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary wish to acknowledge publicly our view on creation so that the churches and individuals supporting the Seminary may know what to expect from classroom instruction and faculty writing. In so doing, we note the following as preliminaries:

  1. the issue of creation has long been considered a fundamental Christian belief, one that distinguishes Christianity from other religions;
  2. this particular doctrine has been subject to prolonged attack since the mid-19th century, but continues to be critical for orthodoxy;
  3. although the history of belief on this subject is clear, some fine and notable theologians from our communions have held differing views on this subject; and
  4. that as a Seminary we are obligated not to teach contrary to the Westminster Standards. The Westminster Standards may be changed by the church courts, but, in our view, the seminaries ought not to be teaching contrary to those Standards, so that when there are changes they will occur as a result of the church’s mature deliberation and not in a de facto manner.
  1. yes, I totally agree but Judaism and Islam have a very similar doctrine of Creation.
  2.   The rise of the Conflict Thesis of science and religion has not helped, but here I think they are driving at the general acceptance of evolution, which they wrongly see as attacking creation.
  3. Their view of the history is clear, but they take a very selective and inaccurate view. The fine theologians dissenting to a young earth are legion and from Scotland , Northern Ireland and the USA. The Princeton School were very wise on the science in creation. Charles Hodge and BB Warfield are worth studying today.
  4. But why didn’t those in the 19th century see the problem?

 

Thus, we offer our view on the subject of creation as a school that serves a number of Reformed denominations, especially the EPCEW, PCA and the OPC.

Note EPCEW is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales which has 30 churches. PCA and OPC are from the USA. On the surface they and this statement may seem insignificant but the issues raised and stance taken is significant in Britain

I hear they are in contact with Scottish Wee Frees, and many of their views are shared by the FIEC, Reformed Baptists and other evangelical groups. (Not to mention some Anglicans – say 5% of clergy and a retired Bishop)

  • We believe that God’s Word is not only inerrant, but that it is also clear to the learned and unlearned alike; thus, we affirm that when God reveals his mind–on creation or any other matter–he is quite capable of making his thoughts known in ordinary language that does not require extraordinary hermeneutical maneuvers for interpretation.

Inerrancy and geology/evolution was not a problem to the Princeton theologians BB Warfield and the Hodges! Inerrancy takes many forms and has long seen to be compatible with geological time and even evolution.

Inerrancy does not imply literalism of Genesis, despite this being a common misconception

I have to say that many parts of the bible are not clear and especially the Old Testament – even St Peter agrees with me!

See above about accommodation and Calvin’s attitudes!

The language and imagery of the bible is very variable and is open to misinterpretation .

  • Accordingly, we believe that when God revealed his creation as ex nihilo and by the power of his word, and when he surrounded the six days of creation with such phrases as “the first day . . . the nth day” and “evening” and “morning”–all phrases which would have been understood in their normal sense by Hebrews in the second millennium BC–that God himself intended to convey that the work of his creation spanned six ordinary days, followed by a seventh and non-continuous day which also spanned 24 hours like the other six days.

Yes creatio ex nihilo is fundamental. But it is difficult to see what creating by “the power of his word ” actually means. Ultimately God creating is  a mystery and we cannot get beyond physical explanations to the creative power of God behind what we can see..

“Power of his word”  is emotive and explains little. It is simply an affirmation of god’s power.

I have no issue with the days of Genesis being 24 hours but we need to consider what the chapter is telling is.  If we insist that creation must have taken no more than 24 hours then from chap1 vs 6-8 we must also insist the earth is flat with a firmament above us. You cannot have one without the other.

Ancient-Hebrew-view-of-universe

Calvin waxes strong on accommodation here.

I will leave the seventh day……………..

 

  • We believe that an accurate study of OT texts does not support the gap theory, the framework hypothesis, the analogical theory, or the day-age view. Indeed, we find the OT creation texts to be interpreted as normal days, and no passage demands that Genesis 1-2 be re-engineered to yield other interpretations. The long history of rabbinical commentary, the very dating of time by the Hebrew calendar, and orthodox Jewish thought so understands these texts to embrace only days of ordinary length.

Perhaps this is so as all attempts to tie Genesis into scientific findings fail at some point. However most made sense in many ways.

Gap Theory was a recasting of the old Chaos-restitution interpretation which was dominant from 1600 to the early 19th century and had roots in the early church – and was an odd rewrite of chaos restitution going back to early church when ideas of chaos from Heisiod were used to show how genesis has a universal application.

The Framework theory derived from Meredith Kline and allows more “flexibility”

The Day Age goes back centuries and became dominant in the 19th century but always suffered from an inability to harmonise days withe geological eras.

One may say that all were good tries but ultimately didn’t work

Far better is to see that Genesis is more a literary representation and not historical in any sense, except that God created in the past!!

  • The NT church and Scriptures offered no revisions of this view, and nowhere do those texts themselves advocate framework or day-age views. We certainly believe that if the wording of Genesis 1-2 required clarification or modification away from the normal meaning of the Hebrew terms, God would so indicate in the text itself, as well as in NT treatments of Genesis 1-2.

The NT only gives various references to a few verses and says nothing on insisting on a literal view.

 

  • The earliest post-canonical commentaries either advocated a 24-hour view of the days (e.g., Basil, Ambrose) or followed Augustine in a somewhat platonic scheme. Augustine’s view, however, was that creation occurred instantaneously, and he nowhere enunciated a day-age view or a framework hypothesis.

Yet almost all rejected the Flat Earth views of the Old Testament – due to overwhelming evidence.

There was no evidence for geological time!

  • Until the Protestant Reformation, only two views were propagated: (1) the Augustinian view (followed by Anselm and John Colet) and (2) the literal 24-hour view (espoused by Aquinas, Lombard, and others).

see previous comment

  • The magisterial Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Beza) adopted a uniform view, that of 24 hours, and overtly repudiated the Augustinian view.

During the 16th  century with the recovery of studying old literature – Renaissance – commentators from all churches tended to read the bible more literally than allegorically, so the 6/24 hr view was paramount.

However there was questioning, especially over astronomy.

Back to Calvin on accommodation, which bore fruit in later centuries.

  • Prior to the Westminster Assembly, the leading Puritans (Ainsworth, Ames, Perkins) and others repudiated the Augustinian view and taught a sequential, normal day view.

Without any geological evidence for deep time or even a little bit more time that was inevitable.

  • The Westminster Assembly divines either felt no need to comment on the length of days–so clearly was it established–or if they commented, they uniformly (either explicitly or implicitly) adopted the 24 hour view. With 60-80 divines normally attending sessions, at least 20 of the divines who did comment in other published writings indicate that they only understood the creation days to be 24-hour days (or ordinary days), and none have been found who espoused a contrary view. Specifically, there were no divines who wrote advocating a day-age view or a framework view. We continue to esteem them not only as confessional authors but also as faithful exegetes. We deny that certain scientific theories are so certain as to compel us to reinterpret Scripture on this matter.

In a sense only relevant to Presbyterians but the questions raised by geology from 1660s affected all churches, though many never got their knickers in a twist over it.

BUT, the evidence for an older earth was unearthed by many who were Christian. It was not a godless attack on Christianity.

  • Following the Westminster Assembly, the testimony of the American Reformed tradition (e.g., J. Edwards) followed the tradition of Ussher/Perkins/Ames/The Westminster Divines on this question. No debate about this subject arises until after 1800, as the winds of various European views began to circulate.

This is too closely focussed on the Presbyterian tradition with the Westminster Catechism. Edwards wrote little on science after the 1720s and made no comment on geological time. Further even his radical contemporary Benjamin Franklin accepted a young earth in mid 18th century. (This almanack was written by Franklin.)

1739almanac - Copy

In the wider church i.e other Protestant, Anglicans and Catholics, the topic of Genesis and time was frequently discussed from the 1660s with little controversey or sense that geology was undermining the bible

For more details see Genesis 1 & geological time from 1600-1850

  • By the mid-nineteenth century, certain leading Presbyterians (C. Hodge, A. A. Hodge, and later Shedd and Warfield) began to conform their exegesis to the ascendant science of the day. We believe that this was a strategic and hermeneutical mistake, as well as a departure from the meaning of terms in the Westminster Standards.

This ignores the fact that most educated Christians throughout Europe and America had accepted geology as this rather anglocentric article shows;

Genesis and geology unearthed

The geological column was essentially worked out in the early 19th century by geologists such as Rev Adam Sedgwick (seen here) who was a major worker on the Cambrian to Devonian, a mere 180 million years worth of strata

column+temp300px-Adam_Sedgwick

The presbyterians cited followed on from geologists like Rev E Hitchcock and British counterparts. In his Systematic Theology Hodge gives a careful discussion of genesis and geology and was helped by the geologist James Dana. Later in his What is Darwinism he looked to Asa Gray a Christian botanist and populariser of Darwin in the USA.

250px-Edward_Hitchcock

Mention ought to be made of Scottish and Irish presbyterians which are discussed in Livingstone’s Darwin’s Forgotten defenders.

 

  • Leading southern Presbyterians (such as Thornwell, Dabney and Girardeau) however, simultaneously resisted efforts to broaden the church on this point, as is documented in the Woodrow trial and decisions.

These were almost alone in their rejection of geology and evolution and were almost alone in their support of slavery. So much for evolution supporting racism!

 

  • Early in the twentieth century, numerous evangelicals – and some seminaries – became overly concessive to a secular cosmology, departing from the historic view expressed in the Westminster standards on this subject.

This is a very loaded statement.I presume a “secular cosmology” is simply the whole scientific picture from cosmology , geology and biology over 13.4 billion years. It is only secular as it is not overtly Christian, though many of the scientists behind it were Christian themselves. N.B. People were “departing” from the Westminster standards on this with in 25 years

  • Some of us, at earlier times, were willing – due to love of the brethren and respect for esteemed teachers – to declare that the meaning of confessional language on this question was vague. We are no longer able in good conscience to do so. Both the normal meaning of the confessional phrases and the original intent as verified by other writings of the divines is now abundantly clear, with no evidence to the contrary.

It was not so much that the language from another era was vague, but that all the evidence pointed to an earth and universe billions of years old. Maybe WPTS should realise that the Westminster Divines writing nearly 400 years ago were simply wrong. It was only shortly after William Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood.

 

  • Even the secular confidence in earlier cosmologies is declining in some areas.

This is such a vague statement. What and who do they mean? There are always some who reject contemporary cosmologies as Fred Hoyle objected to the Big Bang (put forward by a Christian – Georges le Maitre) before his death. He dubbed it Big Bang to ridicule it. And then some question evolution, and a tiny handful the age of the earth

Featured Image -- 11353

(I dig his sunglasses)

This statement sounds good and may mislead those with no science.

  • Therefore, we declare our view shares the exegesis of the Westminster divines that led them to affirm that God created all things “in the space of six days” by the word of his power. We also believe that this clear meaning of confessional language should be taught in our churches and pulpits, and that departures from it should be properly safeguarded.

The Westminster Confession was written by  60-80 clergy  in one decade nearly 400 years ago. Why ignore all since who have considered the science.

For me, I prefer to follow the myriads of clergy in the last 400 years, who have understood science and the way it develops.

 

  • Accordingly, we reject the following contemporary notions:
    1. that John 5:17 teaches a continuing seventh day of creation;
    2. that violent death entered the cosmos before the fall;
    3. that ordinary providence was the only way that God governed and sustained the creation during the six days of creation;
    4. that extraordinary literary sensitivities must be ascribed to pre-1800 audiences; and
    5. that Scripture is unclear in its use of “evening and morning” attached to the days of creation.
  1.  Not very important
  2. This is a more serious issue. A major plank of creationism is that there was no death before the Fall. Life started about 4 billion years ago and since then there has been a cycle of life and death. Predation, i.e. violent death occurred among trilobites in the Cambrian some 500 million years ago. To deny this is to say all science is wrong and especially geology with all its half-chewed fossils. I am baffled to understand how the fall affected the structure off far-off galaxies.
  3. This is neither here not there and will depend on how you define providence. I don’t see why you need to distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary providence.
  4. In my own historical and theological researches I have read a vast number of works before 1800 in several languages. Many have shown immense erudition, profundity and literary sensitivity. (For those reasons I often go to Calvin on Genesis.) I regard writers like Ussher, Ray, Mersenne, Pantycelyn, Needham and de Luc among many others as having great literary sensitivity. I just accept that some  (or many) of their ideas were modified after their time. I think Ussher was a brilliant scholar and theologian, who, among other things, opened the way for a more critical historical method.
  5. I think the meaning of YOM wa very clear to the writer of Gen 1 – it is 86,400 seconds. But he was also very clear about the earth being flat and a firmament above it with tiny stars tacked on.

Jacobus_ussher

The great James Ussher – a great scholar and theologian

We admit that some Christians have been too lax on this subject, and others have been too narrow. Hence, we hope to enunciate in this statement a moderate, historic, and biblical position. Even should other fine men differ with us on this subject, we hereby announce our intent to remain faithful to the teaching of the Westminster Standards and other Reformed confessions of faith on this subject.

To God alone be glory.

I agree that too often Christians have not been concerned been concerned about the relation of science to theology and focussed to much on a personal relationship to Jesus.

But to insist on a literal Genesis is the opposite of moderate and biblical. It is false and creates a ginormous stumbling block for so many Christians and seekers. To do this you have adopt the whole of Young earth Creationism founded by Morris and Whitcomb, which rejects science by misrepresenting it as we see on websites like Answers in Genesis or Creation ministries International.

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Far better is to read the various writings from https://biologos.org/about-us  and   https://faraday-institute.org/index.php

which have excellent material on Christianity and science.

To conclude I will quote the Lord Protector , Oliver Cromwell (who wrote to the general assembly of the Scottish Kirk four years after Westminster

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

 

 

A fascinating blogs on what animals would have been live if there were no predators before Adam and Eve went scrumping which resulted in God giving the curse.

Or, why do rabbits have eyes to the side?

Absurdity is absurdity

 

 

A central tenet of young earth creationism is the belief that the entire world before Adam’s transgression experienced no animal death. What would such a world have looked like? Examining YEC depictions of Eden you would think that the animals looked like those alive today except that all extinct things, eg. dinosaurs, were also alive […]

via Was The Young-Earth Perfect Prelapsarian Paradise a Maladapted World? — Naturalis Historia