Category Archives: Romans 8

Why Mohler gets evolution so wrong? from Why Does the Universe Look So Old? (Albert Mohler)

 

Why Does the Universe Look So Old?

This seems a very odd question to ask.

Does the earth look old? Not when you see this – two photos of spring in Lancashire

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But then in the winter or autumn (fall to non-english speakers) the landscape can look old and tired

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This is an address  Albert Mohler gave way back in 2010, but it is an excellent summary of the scientific, historical and biblical arguments some use to uphold young earth creationism. Those who don’t know Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the leading seminaries for the Southern Baptists – one of the largest denominations in the USA. Mohler has probably shifted the Southern Baptists into a more fundamentalist and creationist stance, and along with John MacArthur one of the theological giants who argue their view is the only option for Christians.

I cannot deny the strength of his following, but I can say where he is wrong. I am afraid I read his address with increasing amazement;

First, his understanding of science,especially geology and cosmology is so inaccurate that it is dire. Geology is all about fossils and not rocks.

Secondly, his historical treatment of these sciences and Christianity is full of mistakes and error, and is a garbled version of the discredited Conflict Thesis. He totally ignores the fact that many early geologists were devout Christians

Thirdly, his grasp of the history of interpretation of Genesis 1 is very patchy and incorrect.

His address is internally coherent but wrong at every turn as he operates on  ping-pong false polarisations. By that I mean he presents only the extreme alternatives of a 6-day creationism centred on fundamentalist Christianity or the scientific atheism of Dennett, Dawkins and Hitchens. His address has the implicit call to decide for one extreme or the other and is probably quite effective.

He is very critical of all who don’t accept Young Earth Creationism. In the USA, Biologos, ASA, Peter Enns and Francis Collins are put on the naughty step as is Denis Alexander in Britain.

Mohler is quite unwilling to acknowledge that a vast number of highly orthodox Christians accept deep time (what he calls “fossils”) and evolution. Implicitly he puts large numbers of Southern Baptists on the naughty step too.

I am proud to be on the naughty step in solidarity with orthodox Chrsitans down the ages and throughout the world.

I can’t help asking what is taught at  Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and wonder how it will affect the Southern Baptists. I am aware why he has deflected a good number to follow his views. This address explains why Ken Ham has such a high regard for him.

This quote sums up the oddity of his views

The universe looks old because the creator made it whole.

I cannot even begin to grasp what he means.

Here is his address

Source: Why Does the Universe Look So Old? (Albert Mohler)

which I reproduce in full with my various criticisms.

 

MohlerConference

Why Does the Universe Look So Old? (Albert Mohler)

The following video and transcript is from the 2010 Ligonier Ministries National Conference. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world. Mohler also hosts two programs on AlbertMohler.com: “The Briefing,” a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview; and “Thinking in Public,” a series of conversations with the day’s leading thinkers.

 

 

It is extremely assuring to see this room filled at this hour on a Saturday morning of people here to seek Biblical truth on any number of questions. This conference has hopefully drawn us to some of the most pressing questions that Christians face, the tough questions. It is an honor to be here as always with my dear friend Dr. R.C. Sproul, with so many others, all these speakers, and the dear colleagues in the fight of the faith in coming to understand the great truths of the Christian faith and how these might most helpfully be applied in the confrontation with the questions of contemporary life. For so many years Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul have demonstrated that you really can teach the deep things of the Christian faith to a church and to Christians in the late 20th and 21st centuries. We are indebted to a model of such faithful teaching and it is on the basis of that, it is driven by years and years of ministry, it is living in the surplus of all of that teaching that we are able to be here today in this conference to ask these questions. And our absolute confidence is that there is no question Christians need fear. There are only questions we need to learn how to answer. This is a tough one. My assignment: Why Does the Universe Look So Old?

This seems a funny question. How can it look old or young, for that matter? That is a very subjective question.

Well, we have limited options. Number one: Maybe the universe looks so old because it is so old. Option number two: Maybe the universe looks very old, but it is not actually so old as it looks. There could be perhaps a third option or any number of derivatives in which you simply say, “We can’t answer the question.” Or there would be some who would say, “The question isn’t important.” Now I’m going to suggest to you this morning that the question is extremely important and that it is one for which we must be ready to give an answer.

I want to invite you to turn with me to Genesis chapter one. We dare not seek to answer this question without first looking to the Word of God. [Reads Genesis 1, 2:1-3]. This is the Word of the Lord. What we have here in Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 is a sequential pattern of creation, a straightforward plan, a direct reading of the text would indicate to us seven 24-hour days, six 24-hour days of creative activity and a final day of divine rest.

This begs many questions on how you read Scripture

This was the untroubled consensus of the Christian church until early in the 19th century.

This is not the case. The early church varied on this and Augustine thought all of creation was simultaneous. After 1500 there was no consensus of any church. Both RC and Protestant churches tended to a young earth but soon reckoned the “time” of Genesis 1 was more than 6 days, so that by 1800 few educated Christians thought the earth was young.

Genesis 1 & geological time from 1600-1850

 

It was not absolutely unanimous. It was not always without controversy. But it was the overwhelming, untroubled consensus of the church, until the dawn of the 19th century.

Repeating himself but gives no evidence. As I demonstrated in cited paper there was no overwhelming untroubled consensus, but all churches gradually accepting geological time without regarding it as undermining of doctrine

 

Four great challenges to the traditional reading of Genesis have emerged in the last 200 years or so. The first of these is the discovery of the geological record. Early in the 19th century, building upon discoveries made in the late 18th century, there became an awareness of fossils that appeared to be telling a story especially in that period of time.

This is muddled. It was rock strata, not fossils, which pointed to a great age of the earth. The nature of fossils was only worked out in about 1690 and the fact of extinction only in the 1790s. Fossils only began to be used for relative age-dating after 1800. Mohler seems to focus on fossils when geologists centre on rocks. This is a warning signal to all that he doesn’t seem to understand the science he is criticising and rejecting. He should have read a good history of geology eg by Martin Rudwick (a fellow Christian) eg  Earth’s Deep history

 

In the wake of the enlightenment – when expeditions were going to far corners of the earth for the first time, in the discovery of so many things that were new and unknown – the knowledge of a fossil record and various strata of fossil deposits became known.

This is plain wrong. Knowledge of the fossil record was very limited until 1800. Mohler is highly confused both on geology and the history of scientific discovery in the 18th century. Geology began by trying to work out the history of deposition of strata and putting the rocks into sequence. It started in about 1660 and come to fruition after 1800

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William Smith’s 1815 Geological Map

And that knowledge began to prey upon the minds of those who had been raised in a Christian culture, been taught Christian truths, and who had assumed that Genesis is the great historical account of how the world came to be.

This begs many questions. Many of these savants and scientists were Christians who believed that Genesis told them about the Creator but gave virtually no details. Apart from a few, new knowledge about geology did not prey on many minds

 

The second great challenge was the emergence of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Coming at the midpoint of the 19th century, we need to be reminded that Darwin was not the first evolutionist. We need to be reminded that Darwin did not embark upon the Beagle having no preconceptions of what exactly he was looking for or having no theory of how life emerged in all of its diversity, fecundity, and specialization. Darwin left on his expedition to prove the theory of evolution.

Speechless. Darwin did not go on the Beagle to prove evolution. There is no evidence to support that claim. He sailed as a competent naturalist and geologist trained up by the Revs John Henslow and Adam Sedgwick, two devout non-evolutionary Anglican clergymen. He did not consider evolution in his Notebooks until about 1837 , well after his return. This is simply false history

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A theory that was based upon the fossil record and other inferences had already been able to take the hold of some in Western civilization.

It would be correct to say that Darwin devised the rudiments of a theory of evolution in about 1838, but previous attempts by Grandfather Darwin and Lamarck in about 1800 did not use the fossil record –  if only that it was too rudimentary to use. Evolution was based on many aspects of biology and geology eg, morphology, biogeography, fossil succession, classification etc

 

The dawn of the theory of evolution presents a direct challenge to the traditional interpretation of Genesis and, as we shall see, to much more. (10:55)

No. By 1859 most Christians, evangelical or not, had accepted geological time and thus did not take Genesis as an account of 6 days of creation. At that time only a handful of educated Christians did not accept geological time. In the USA the main ones were Dabney etc in the Southern Presbyterian Church (who supported slavery) and the Lord brothers. It is very hard to find more than 20 in USA and UK from 1860 to 1900. The main challenge perceived was the evolution of humans implicit in what Darwin wrote, which to some reduced humans to animals

The third great challenge in terms of the traditional understanding of Genesis came with the discovery of ancient near eastern parallels to the Genesis account. Once these ancient parallels became known, the Enuma Elish, the Epic of Gilgamesh, scholars began to look at these documents and then to look at Genesis and begin to see Genesis as just one more of these ancient near eastern creation accounts.

How are you meant to look at writings of similar age and some similarity of content?  Some did see Genesis after that as just one more account. Many did not.

 

The fourth great challenge to the traditional interpretation of Genesis was the development of higher criticism, and in particular the development of the documentary hypothesis—a hypothesis and an approach to the Old Testament, in particular to the Pentateuch, that sought to establish different strata, different sources and to take the text apart, treating it as a merely human document and seeking to look at dependence and borrowings and polemics and literary styles.

Biblical criticism had long been practiced , but some , especially in Germany, developed it in a way which removed any relaibility from the bible. Others did not and in the UK foremost were Westcott, Hort and Lightfoot

 

These four movements together were devastating in terms of the larger Western consciousness to the traditional interpretation of Genesis. When you add together fossils, Darwin, ancient near eastern parallels, and the documentary hypothesis, you have a brew for a massive shift in understanding.

Fossils again!!! Why not say geological time? The main issue, if there was one, were the last two.

 

Now when we ask the question, “Why does the universe look so old?” we’re asking it over against these challenges, and to each of those we will return. But first we need to define some terms.

If we’re talking about why the universe looks so old we need to ask the question just how old supposedly does the universe look? It’s fascinating when you look at the historical development of this question, that the expanse of time has grown exponentially once persons began to ask this question and to detach it from the Biblical reality. Just on the basis of scientific of phenomenological observation the age of the earth has been getting older and older.

This is naive and simplistic. Yes, in the 17th century geologists moved slightly away from 4004BC. By the end of the 18th, some reckoned the earth to be millions, but others following De Luc (a Christian) as many , many thousands. Up to 1860 there was a great diversity in ages, most were millions but some went for billions. Oddly in the 1860s Huxley and Kelvin suggested 100 million but the Rev Samuel Haughton of Dublin, who opposed evolution reckon that the base of the Cambrian was 1,800 million years ago, somewhat less than the 550 million reckoned today. Until rocks were radiometrically tested no firm dates could be given. This was first done in 1907 and soon it was clear that the earth was billions of years old. From 1946 the age of the earth has been concluded to be 4.56 billion. In other words that has not changed for 72 years. This undermines what Mohler says here.

There is a feeble argument claiming that “scientists” have encouraged this “growth”.  In geologists had no yardstick for time until radiometric age dating was used from 1907. For 40 years things were tricky, but the conclusion arrived at by 1946 have scarcely changed since

 

The scientific consensus right now is that earth, planet earth and this particular solar system, is approximately 4.5 billion years old. That’s billion with a “b.”

This has not been overturned since 1946. It is a consensus based on a vast number of dates and other geological work

 

The age of the universe is now established by scientific consensus to be about 13.5 billion years old. The distinction between the age of the universe and the age of the earth having to do with the age of the universe being tracked back to the hypothetical emergence of the Big Bang

A poor parody of astrophyisics. Does Mohler mean consensus is just opinion? But the Big Bang was actually put forward by the astrophysicist Fr Georg Le Maitre, a Roman Catholic priest in the 1920s. He was hardly an atheist!!!! More recently the work of John Polkinghorne has helped Christians on this

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and with the radiological RADIOMETRIC! data and with the physical extrapolation about the expansion of the universe, the assumption

This is simply nonsense and a mendacious attempt to cast doubt on the work of scientists

 

is that it would have taken 13.5 billion years to have created this universe looking at the radiometric data that is found here on the planet and in particular that has shifted amongst scientists now more towards the debris from meteorites rather than anything that was considered to have emerged from within the earth itself. The estimation is it’s 4.5 billion years old.

This is incredibly muddled. Mohler tries to reduce so much science to opinion and unfounded speculation.

 

Now just to place ourselves in the historical and intellectual context of our question, here’s what we’re really looking at. The inference and consensus of the church, through all of these centuries, that the earth and the universe, the cosmos as a whole, is very young, talking about a limitation of only several thousand years by the time you take the book of Genesis and especially its first eleven chapters, and you look at the creation account and you look at the genealogy and you add it all together you’re looking at no more than several thousand years.

This is simply not the case. The church (whatever that is) has never laid dwon what the age of the earth is.

 

We’re talking about a disagreement that is not slight. The difference between several thousand years and 13.5 billion years is no small matter and I would argue it comes with huge theological consequences.

One of the assumptions you need to have in mind in terms of the assumption about the age of the earth that the scientific assumption comes down to this: uniformitarianism. The assumption that is crucial to establishing the age of the earth is based upon an intellectual assumption that was made in the early 19th century by Charles Lyell and others called uniformitarianism which assumes that the way we observe processes now is a constant guide to how physical processes always have operated. Thus a steady state of understanding physical processes is what we’re talking about as the secular scientific assumption. We gauge these things and measure these extrapolated billions of years based upon the assumption, the scientists will tell us, that things as they are now are as they have always been in terms of physical processes.

This is utterly wrong. Lyell was born in 1797 and scientists were demonstrating the vast age of the earth before he was born!! Hence it cannot be based on Lyell’s Uniformitarianism!. Mohler doe not understand how geologists work, and determine the relative ages of strata. He bases his misunderstanding on a beleif that it was an “assumption”. I cannot see why he mentions a steady state! He would do well to study Uniformitarianism, Catastrophism and Actualism in geology.

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Now with that as intellectual background, what’s the urgency of the question?

 

 

Why are we here at this meeting asking the question “Why does the universe look so old?” Is this an urgent question? Is it one that calls us to account? The answer to that has to be yes. And there are some recent developments that indicate again and again and anew why it is so. The controversy concerning Bruce Waltke, who even in recent months became a focus of controversy after making a video where he argued that, unless evangelical Christians come to terms with accepting the theory of evolution, we will be reduced to the status of a theological and intellectual cult. The urgency of this question and the demand for an answer comes over against what is pressed upon us with the definition of the assured results of modern science.

 

Constantly we are addressed with the fact that science has now presented us with a knowledge, with an assured confident knowledge, to which we must give an answer. William Dembski in a recent book, borrowing from Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn, speaks of our current mental environment defined in this way. He says, “Our mental environment is the surrounding climate of ideas by which we make sense of the world.” As professor Dembski makes clear in his argument, the current mental environment in which we move and live and speak and communicate and preach and bear witness to the Gospel, is a mental environment that is shaped by the intellectual assumption that the world is very old.

This is an odd argument

To speak in confrontation to that current mental environment, it is implied, comes at a significant cost. The old earth, it is suggested, and old being 4.5 billion years old for the solar system and 13.5 billion years for the universe, is simply part of that mental environment.

Because it is true!

 

An even greater urgency is pressed upon us by the emergence of the new atheism—Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, three of these four horsemen of the new atheism are scientists, two of them have made their reputation in the defense of the most extreme and yet now commonly held forms of evolutionary theory in terms of the scientific academy.

Extreme evangelical atheists, good to pit against another extreme

Richard Dawkins is the author of the book The Selfish Gene and it is Richard Dawkins who has suggested that Darwinism is what allowed him to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist. In their new argument very forcefully put forth, they are arguing that evolution is the final nail in the coffin of theism. And they are making the claim that the assured findings and conclusions of modern science make not only the book of Genesis, but theism, untenable. In his new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins goes so far as to suggest that deniers of evolutionary theory should be as intellectually scorned and marginalized as Holocaust deniers. Evolution, he says, is a theory only by arcane scientific definition. It is a fact—a fact he says no intelligent person can deny. We have the emergence of the evolutionary worldview and its hegemony in the larger intellectual elites.

The new atheism comes along with Daniel Dennett and his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea suggesting that evolution is what he calls the universal acid. I have to tell you, every middle school boy knows exactly what he is talking about. Daniel Dennett talks about when he was in middle school and he imagined a universal acid. This is an acid that would be so powerful that nothing could contain it. You put the acid in the container, it consumes the container. You then find that it consumes the entire classroom as it breaks out of the laboratory. Then it consumes the entire school—every middle school boy’s dream! Then it continues to consume, and to consume, and to consume until eventually nothing remains. Daniel Dennett says that science has never discovered an actual acid with that physical property, but he suggests that Darwin’s theory of evolution is the intellectual equivalent of a universal acid. It destroys everything in its wake. It completely redefines every understanding of life and its meaning. And I would argue that in that sense he is right.

This is a ping-pong argument as by choosing the extremes of atheism he makes his extreme position seem viable

 

Darwinist evolution is the great destroyer of meaning. Not only the meaning of the book of Genesis, but of almost every dimension of life. The background of this is also panic among the cultural and intellectual elites. In the United States and increasingly in Great Britain and in Europe and beyond, the intellectual elites are absolutely frantic. They’re scratching their heads in incredulity. How is it that after the Darwinist revolution, after the hegemony of evolutionary theory in the sciences, a majority of Americans still reject the theory of evolution? It is driving them to distraction. My favorite illustration of this is from the year 2003 when Nicholas Kristof wrote an article about the virgin birth of Christ in his column in the New York Times. And he said—as I paraphrase him—I am absolutely frightened to live in a society where there are more people who believe in the historicity of the virgin birth than in the reality of evolution. Well “wake up columnist Kristof!” It’s not just in America. Creationism and the rejection of evolution is not losing ground in Britain and in Europe, it is gaining ground. And intellectual elites on both sides of the Atlantic are in sheer panic. How can these things be?(22:00)

 

I don’t see the point of this

 

It’s not just panic amongst the cultural elites in the secular world however. It is also panic among the theologians. There is the warning from Professor Waltke, that if we do not get with the program we will be marginalized as a cult.

There are the warnings of people like Peter Enns, the website BioLogos—a movement started by Francis Collins, now the director of the National Institutes of Health under President Obama, formerly the head of the Human Genome Project, the author of the book The Language of God in which he makes his own argument that, unless we get with the program, we are going to be intellectually marginalized.

Yes, they are correct. Creationism is such intellectual garbage that for Christians to believe it makes the Gospel seem garbage too

And Francis Collins makes the point made by so many others that we will actually lose credibility sharing the Gospel of Christ if we do not shed ourselves of the anti-intellectualism, which is judged to be ours by the elite if we do not accept the theory of evolution.

Collins is spot on, as are Biologos and British counterparts whether people like Polkinghorne  or McGrath or christians in Science and the Faraday Institute

And it’s not just in that circle as well. There are evangelical elites—the faculties of evangelical colleges and universities and seminaries. There are authors such as Karl Giberson and his book Saving Darwin; and then it goes back in terms of the evangelical movement to the emergence in the middle of the last century of the American Scientific Affiliation. Figures such as Bernard Ramm, a well-known evangelical theologian, who argued that there must be an acceptance of evolutionary theory amongst evangelicals.

Here Mohler’s history is very short. Yes the ASA only been going  since the 1940s but there is a long tradition  of Christians and science going back through 1900, 1800, 1700 and so to Copernicus in 1543.

I suspect Mohler has not read Ramm’s 1955 book who fell short of accepting evolution.

To consider geology Christians were in the forefront from 1800 to 1860, with geologists like Silliman and Hitchcock in the USA (Hitchcock’s The Religion of Geology 1850s is an excellent book relating Christianity to geology

In the UK are lots of christian geologists eg Sedgwick, Buckland, Coneybeare and Hugh Miller

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/07/19/geology-and-genesis-unearthed/

In the early 19th century a few Christians in the UK opposed geology but were soon routed!! Consider the evangelical geologists Sedgwick

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From 1860 there are Asa Gray and Dana in the USA with theologians like the Hodges and Warfield from Princeton and many others.

In the UK many fine Christians saw that evolution was no threat to faith.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/huxley-st-george-slaying-samuel-smoothest-of-dragons-evolution-and-religion-in-victorian-times/

In the USA the were some opposition culminating in the Scopes trial of 1925 but nothing like that in Britain.

 

 

In light of this, what are our major options? Thinking about the theories of the age of the earth, theories of the interpretation of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, I’ll reduce the options to four. The first is the traditional 24-hour calendar day view. Now this is the most straightforward reading of the text. As we read and heard the text Genesis 1 through the first three verses of Genesis 2, the most natural understanding of the text would be that what is being presented here by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is a sequential pattern of 24-hour days. The pattern of evening and morning, the literary structure, all of these things would point in a commonsense manner to 24-hour days. These 24-hour days would reveal a sequence, increasing differentiation, eventually presenting in the climactic creation of man as the image bearer of God. Six days of active creation and one day of divine rest. (25:29)

Is it?  Look hard at pre-geology texts  e.g. commentaries on Genesis. Most imply a short earth but have creation starting with chaos and then re-ordering. Several were open to a longer time span

The second option is what is known as the Day-Age view. In this view, what is argued over against the data that is coming to us that is claiming to represent a very old earth, what is presented to us is the option the Hebrew word Yom in this case need not always refer to a 24-hour calendar day but might actually refer to a much more indefinite presumably very long period of time. The Day-Age view, as held by most of its major proponents, would hold that what we have here is indeed a sequence. There’s a sequential understanding of creation towards greater differentiation, greater specialization pointing toward the creation of humanity as the image-bearers of God, but that these days, though sequential, are overlapping and not entirely distinct and are not to be taken as 24-hour chronological days, calendar days, as we know them.

This came up in the 18th century and was widely held in the 19th century. There was an issue over the days i.e. plants before sun. Superficially this Concordism worked but fell apart on detail and went out except for some conservative Christians by 1900.

The third option is what is most commonly known as the framework theory. The framework theory leaps over the question of the length of the days suggesting that it is only a literary framework and it also suggests it is a non-sequential ordering in the text. It is a literary way of telling a story about the providential ordering of creation by God. And thus there is theological content to be derived from Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, but in particular in Genesis 1 we are not to trouble ourselves with the question about the length of time, nor even about the ordering and sequence of the days, but rather to see that this is God providentially ordering his creation for his glory.

This was put forward by  Meredith Kline and is accepted by many Evangelicals who reject a 6 day creation

The fourth option is to take the first two chapters of Genesis, and actually far beyond the first two chapters, into at least the first 11 chapters, as being merely literary. Understanding that what we have here is a parallel near eastern text, in this case customized for the worship and the teaching of Israel. It is a creation myth, a mythological rendering that marks the beliefs of the ancient Hebrews.

This is a parody. The emphasis here is on seeing God as creator and that Gen 1 does that rather than give details.

The first conservative version of this was by George Rorison in Answers to essays and reviews in 1861. This collection of essays was edited by Samuel Wilberforce (!!) to counter the liberal views of Essays and Reviews.

This does not see Genesis as a myth but as a literary way of persuading the reader/hearer that God is creator.

gg

There is a fifth option – Chaos -restitution, which was the dominant view from 1600 to about 1850 when it fell out of fashion. Evangelicals took it over making it much cruder in style in their Gap Theory.

This comes out in Haydn’s Oratorio The Creation 1798 , with the orchestral introduction The Representation of Chaos  and later the aria  and a new created world sprung up.

The libretto was originally written for Handel, showing this was part of the culture!
I am surprised that Mohler ignored the dominant view of evangelicals up to 1870, which gave them a way of accepting geological time, even though most reject evolution.

My article in the Evangelical Quarterly

Genesis of Ray

Now what do these have to do with the age of the earth? Well of all of these options, only the understanding of a 24-hour day creation necessitates a young earth. The rest of them all allow for, if they do not directly imply or assume, a very old earth. As we work backwards in terms of evangelical options, the idea that Genesis is merely literary has to be rejected out of hand as in direct contradiction to our understanding of the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God. That option, for any credible and faithful evangelical Christian, must be taken off the table. So then we are left with the framework theory, held by some prominent evangelicals but, I would argue, one of the least defensible positions when we understand that it is based upon the assumption, not only that there may be a very long period of time that is involved and incorporated in Genesis 1 and in the sequence of the days, but actually that the sequence does not matter. It simply is not credible, at least to me, that God gave us this text with such rich detail and sequential development merely that we would infer from it his providential direction without any specific reference to all the direct content he has given us within the text. It certainly seems by any common sense natural reading of the text that it is making historical and sequential claims.

The Day-Age view, working backwards, is much more attractive on theological grounds—much more attractive on exegetical grounds. It involves far fewer entanglements and issues, but as we shall see it involves issues that go even beyond exegeses. (30:24)

Ultimantely Day-Age concordism does not work.

 

 

The first thing we need to note, as has been noted by even more liberal scholars such as James Barr, is that any natural reading of the text would indicate that the author intended us to take 24-hour days, calendar days, as our understanding.

Barr is probably right but I wonder if the original writers or hearers were bothered. In fact Gen ! is telling us of the Creator not how he did it!!

 

I am arguing for the exegetical and theological necessity of affirming 24-hour calendar days.

The first issue we note is the issue of the integrity of scripture. And we must concede that those who hold to a Day-Age view or its equivalent, who argue for an old earth, in so far as they are our colleagues in the evangelical movement affirming the inerrancy of scripture, are seeking to do so in a way that does not do violence to the inerrancy of scripture.

No. It does violence to the science

But I would simply respond most quickly that there is no such need for strained defense when it comes to a 24-hour understanding of creation. But there are issues far beyond exegetical issues that are at stake here. And as time is brief, I want to suggest that what is most lacking in the evangelical movement today is a consideration of the theological cost of holding to an old earth. This entire conversation is either missing or marginalized in the evangelical world today. It is my purpose as I have this opportunity to speak to you about this question today to suggest to you that the exegetical issues are real. And the exegetical evidence based upon a reformation understanding of scripture and the proper interpretation of scripture would lead me to a natural understanding of 24-hour calendar day creation.

Not if you read Reformers eg Calvin who stressed the principle of Accommodation – as in his Genesis Commentary “Moses wrote for the rude and unlearned” and “he who would understand astronomy and other recondite arts , let him go elsewhere.”

In other words the Bible does not teach science

calvin

But I would wish to allow, just as a matter of conversation and consideration, that it might be possible that we could be over-reading the text in that regard. It could be possible that we are actually coming to this with the presupposition that it must be a 24-hour day and thus we should hear the warning that comes to us from those that hold to an old age of the universe that we just might be creating an intellectual problem here in late modernity that is not necessary. So I’ve done my very best to consider the question from that vantage point. And when it comes to the exegetical issues I will tell you that I think the exegetical defense of a 24-hour calendar day is sufficient. In other words, the exegetical cost—the cost of the integrity and interpretation of scripture—to rendering the text in any other way, is just too high. But I want to suggest to you that the theological cost is actually far higher.

Think with me here. As we are looking at the Scripture, we understand it to be as it claims, the inspired and inerrant word of God. Every word inspired by the Holy Spirit. We believe that the speaking God speaks to us in this word. This is an inscripturated revelation of the one true and living God. But we also come to understand that this text is telling us a story, and that story, just in a redemptive historical framework, has to be summarized so that we know our accountability to the story and the narrative; the grand narrative of the Gospel can include no fewer movements than these: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. We come to understand the grand narrative of Scripture, the redemptive historical narrative that is revealed in the unity of the Old and New Testaments in the consistent presentation of the revelation of God. And we come to understand that it begins with creation. It moves quickly to the fall. And then to redemption and consummation or new creation. We understand that the Bible presents a doctrine of creation that is more than merely an intellectual account of how the world came to be. It is a purposeful account of why the universe was created by a sovereign and holy and benevolent God as the theater of his own glory for the purpose of demonstrating his knowledge not only as creator but as redeemer. The doctrine of creation is absolutely inseparable from the doctrine of redemption. But it begins there in this story as is revealed in scripture. And thus we come to understand that what scripture makes clear is that God is revealed, how everything that is came to be, and why.

The second movement is of equal importance and that is the fall. Every worldview is accountable to answer the question “Why are things as they are? What is broken and how did this happen?” And the scripture so quickly takes us to Genesis 3 and to the fall and to human sinfulness and to the headship of Adam. And thus we come to Genesis 3; we come to understand that the world we know is the Genesis 3 world. The creation we observe is a Genesis 3 fallen creation.

Assuming we should take Gen 3 as fairly literal history , it does not speak of a fallen creation but of fallen humans. This is sheer eisegesis.

Mohler clearly believes in the Curse which cannot be gleaned for scripture. His beliefs are more in John Milton than the bible

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/why-the-apple-didnt-kill-adam-and-eve/

 

paradiselost

And we come to understand that if we had merely these first two movements in the redemptive historical narrative of scripture, we would be lost and forever under the righteous judgment and under the wrath of God. But thanks be to God.

 

 

These then take us, as scripture takes us, to redemption. And there we come to understand that God, before the universe was created, had a purpose to redeem a people through the blood of his son. And he does this. And we come to understand how the scripture presents this in terms of the person and work of Christ, the meaning of his atonement, and the richness of the Gospel. But the grand narrative of scripture does not leave us merely there. It points toward consummation, final judgment, new Jerusalem, new heaven, new earth. It points towards the reign of God demonstrated at the end of history and the conclusion of this age. It points us to a time when every eye is dry and every tear is wiped away—to a final judgment. To a dual destiny. Heaven and hell. It points us to a new creation, to a new heaven and a new earth that is not merely the reestablishment of Eden, but something far greater. For in the new creation, God is known not only as creator but as creator and redeemer. His glory being infinitely greater by our beholding, by the fact that we know him now as those who have been bought with a price, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

It’s important for us to remember our accountability in that narrative, because this raises some central questions—two in particular. The first is the historicity of Adam. In Romans 5:12 we read, “Therefore just as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin and so death spread to all men because man sinned.” Paul bases his understanding of human sinfulness and of Adam’s headship over the human race on a historical Adam. A historical fall. Adam may be—indeed I believe really is—the most pressing question: the historicity of Adam and Eve and the historicity of the fall.

romans 5 does not touch on the rest of creation, so he is reading in again!!

 

An old earth understanding has serious complications because the old earth is not merely understood to be old. The inference that it is old is based upon certain evidences that also tell a story. The fossils are telling a story. And the story they are telling is of millions and indeed billions of years of creation before the arrival of Adam. But the scientific consensus of the meaning of that evidence goes far beyond that to suggesting that there were hominids and pre-hominids and there were hundreds of thousands of hominids and there were, well let’s put it this way. It is possible to hold under an old age understanding to a historical Adam, to the special creation of humanity, but it requires an arbitrary intervention of God into a very long process, billions of years in which at some point God acts unilaterally to create Adam and Eve. Eve out of Adam.
(40:06)

It comes with very serious intellectual entanglements. It is actually difficult and that is reflected by the fact that the contemporary conversation in terms of the age of the earth is requiring a redefinition of who Adam was. Interestingly as I’ve looked at this question I’ve been surprised quite frankly to see how many older evangelicals had already seen this and come to terms with it. In his commentary on the book of Romans, John Stott actually suggests that Adam was an existing hominid that God adopted in a special way, and out of Homo sapiens God implanted his image, and made Adam particularly in his image by ensouling him, and creating in Adam not only Homo sapiens but Homo divinus. Let’s just imagine for a moment what that would theologically require. It requires that there were Homo sapiens who were not the image bearers of God. It requires an adoptionistic understanding of Adam, rather than special creation of Adam.

Denis Alexander in his new book Creation or Evolution Do We Have to Choose?, a fellow at Cambridge University suggests, and I quote here, that “God in his grace chose a couple of neolithic farmers to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way, calling them into fellowship with himself so that they might know him as a personal God.” Now is that in any way a possible, legitimate exegetical reading of Genesis? That God chose a couple of neolithic famers? What haunts me about that book is not just the contents of the book but what is on its front cover, a blurb from J.I. Packer who says “Surely the best informed, clearest, and most judicious treatment of the question and title that you can find anywhere today.”

Alexander takes a very conservative view of Adam and Eve

 

 

Do we not take into account what this means? Well, many others are taking it into account. For instance at the BioLogos website, now becoming the locus classicus for discussion, you find the argument made by Peter Enns very recently, just even in recent weeks in a series of articles entitled “Paul’s Adam,” I quote here, “For Paul, Adam and Eve were the parents of the human race. This is possible but not satisfying for those familiar with either the scientific or archeological data.” He goes on to suggest that we must abandon Paul’s Adam and suggests that Paul as far as he refers to Adam in Romans chapter five is limited by his dependence on primitive understandings.

Karl Giberson, Eastern Nazarene University, says this “clearly the historicity of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace are hard to reconcile with natural history.” He says this, “One could believe for example that at some point” – this dismisses the kind of Stott theory now just so you hear, what I want you to understand from this is that holding to this doesn’t even give you any advantage. In other words, if you’re trying to make peace with the modern secular mind and you’re trying to meet the intellectual elites halfway, guess what? They won’t meet you halfway. Listen to this: “One could believe, for example, that at some point in evolutionary history God ‘chose’ two people from a group of evolving humans, gave them his image, and put them in Eden, which they promptly corrupted by sinning. But this solution is unsatisfactory, artificial, and certainly not what the writer of Genesis intended.”

That’s not said by someone who’s defending the book of Genesis, but rather the theory of evolution, and trying to remove the possibility of the very kinds of things that some who identify themselves as evangelicals are trying to claim. An old earth understanding is very difficult to reconcile with a historical Adam as presented not only in terms of Genesis, but in terms of Romans. It requires an arbitrary claim that God created Adam as a special act of his creation and it entangles a good many difficulties in terms of both exegeses and a redemptive historical understanding of scripture.

That becomes clearer in view of the second great issue at stake here, which is the fall. We understand from Genesis 3 and from the entire narrative of scripture from texts like Romans 8 that what we know in the world today as catastrophe, as natural disaster, earthquake, destruction by volcanic eruption, pain, death, violence, predation—that these are results of the fall.

This is a gross misreading of Romans 8. As it is normally translated with ktitsis as creation, those verses do not imply volcanoes , quakes or animal death

 

We end up with enormous problems if we try to interpret a historical fall and understand a historical fall in an old earth rendering. This is most clear when it comes to Adam’s sin. Was it true that, as Paul argues, when sin came, death came? Well just keep in mind that if the earth is indeed old, and we infer that it is old because of the scientific data, the scientific data is also there to claim that long before the emergence of Adam—if indeed there is the recognition of a historical Adam—and certainly long before there was the possibility of Adam’s sin, there were all the effects of sin that are biblically attributed to the fall and not to anything before the fall. And we’re not only talking about death, we’re talking about death by the millions and billions.

Mohler has a full-blown view of the Curse and thus has to reject geological time.

Some who hold to an old earth in dealing with this question suggest that what Paul is actually talking about—what the scripture claims—is when sin came, spiritual death came. But I would suggest to you that is a very difficult claim to reconcile over against the totality of scripture. And the whole idea that before there could be humanity and certainly before there could be Homo sapiens and before there could be Adam and before there could be sin, there were all the effects of sin written backwards. Let me just point out in the first place that no Christian reading the scripture alone would ever come to such a conclusion, ever. And once you try to come to that conclusion, it’s very difficult to actually reconcile with the scriptures, with the grand narrative of the Gospel. What sense does it make to point to the kingdom and the consummation as when the lamb and the lion shall be together and lay together, if indeed there was predation before the fall. If the animosity between the lion and the lamb is simply a part of a very old story, a very old earth, that we picked up as some kind of symbolic illustration, the writers of scripture simply borrowing it in order to point towards the reality of a new creation, well how are we to understand the scripture at all?

There’s eschatological impact as well. And there is tremendous theological strain when it comes to trying to sever the doctrine of redemption from a straightforward understanding of the scriptural account of creation. We are reminded of how closely these are together. We are reminded that John Calvin teaches us that the knowledge of God is the knowledge of God as creator and as redeemer. The imperative that is presented upon us is not new. And much of the language that is used to confront Christians today on this question goes back all the way to Galileo. Galileo spoke of the two books as he defended himself. He spoke of the book of scripture and the book of nature suggesting that the believer ought to be accountable to both books. And that is a very attractive argument. It’s an attractive argument because we come to understand that the scripture itself tells us that there is a natural revelation, a general revelation. In Romans chapter one Paul goes so far as to tell us not only that God has revealed himself in nature, but that in nature even his invisible attributes should be clearly seen. There is a book of nature. We do learn much from it. We learn a lot of common sense observational truth from looking at the book of nature. We are not only licensed but as we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, as we are those who by God’s grace have grown to know him as creator, we are given the intellectual responsibility to come to know this earth and this cosmos and all that is within what we might call the Book of Nature because we come to understand that God has revealed nature to be intelligible. But clearly there is a problem. And again we go back to the fall. Because Paul makes clear that, even though God has revealed himself in nature so that there is no one who is with excuse—given the cloudiness of our vision and the corruption of our sight—we can no longer see what is clearly there. The heavens are telling the glory of God, but human sinfulness refuses to see what is plainly evident. Calvin puts it this way in Book One: he says this knowledge is either smothered or corrupted partly by ignorance, partly by malice. The universe is telling a story and Christians have affirmed that the universe is telling a story. Herbert Butterfield, the great historian of science, points out that Christianity was the seabed of the rise of modern science because Christians were confident that God had created the world to be known in an intelligible manner.

Exactly  and that is why we have the billions of years of geology!!

(52:40) But modern science, part of the modern project, as driven by forces such as Darwin and his heirs, is seeking to present to the western mind and indeed to a global mind, an intentional challenge to the Christian account of the meaning of things. An intentional alternative to the Christian worldview and to the Christian Gospel.

It is simply untrue to claim Darwin and his heirs sought to challenge Christianity

Evolution is central to the great secular mythology. This is why it is cherished so much by persons such as Richard Dawkins who again said that it is Darwinism that allows persons to be intellectually fulfilled atheists. Now this is not to argue that all who hold to an old earth hold to evolution in any form. Nor to theistic evolution, which had I time I would suggest is the consummate oxymoron. But rather I would suggest that it is, that is an old age theory of the earth comes with theological and exegetical complications that I believe are in the end insurmountable.

It is not fair to say that an old earth position cannot hold to a historical Adam. It is to say that it cannot hold to a historical Adam without arbitrary intellectual moves and very costly theological entanglements. It is to say that this position seems to be at an insoluble collision with the redemptive historical narrative of the Gospel. The cost to the Christian church, in terms of ignoring this question or abandoning the discussion, is just too high. The cost of confronting this question is also costly. It can be very expensive because it can create intensity and conflict and controversy but I would suggest that the avoidance of this will be at the cost of our own credibility.

The two books. We need to recognize that disaster ensues when the book of nature or general revelation is used in some way to trump scripture and special revelation. And that is the very origin of this discussion. We would not be having this discussion today. This would not be one of those tough questions Christians ask, if these questions were not being posed to us by those who assume that general revelation and indeed the book of nature is presenting to us something in terms of compelling evidence, compelling evidence that is so forceful and credible that we’re going to have to reconstruct and re-envision our understanding of the biblical text.

We need to think more deeply about this. The BioLogos website has just even in recent days focused its attention on the direct rejection of biblical inerrancy. Understanding that any rendering of the bible as inerrant makes the acceptance of theistic evolution impossible. Certainly implausible. Kenton Sparks writing on that website suggests that, intellectually, evangelicalism has painted itself into a corner—that we have put ourselves into an intellectual cul-de-sac with our understanding of biblical inerrancy. He suggests that the Bible indeed should be recognized as containing historical, theological and moral error. Peter Enns, one of the most frequent contributors to the site, suggests that we have to come to the understanding that, when it comes to many of the scientific claims, historical claims, the writers of scriptures were plainly wrong.

Our only means of intellectual rescue, brothers and sisters, is the speaking God, who speaks to us in scripture, in special revelation. And it is the scripture, the inerrant and infallible word of God that trumps renderings of general revelation, and it must be so. Otherwise we will face destruction of the entire gospel in intellectual terms. When general revelation is used to trump special revelation, disaster ensues. And not just on this score. It’s not just on the question of the age of the earth. What about other questions? The assured results of modern science. There is so much that is packed in that mental category, that intellectual claim. Just remember first of all that science has changed and has gone through many transformations. The assured results of modern science today may very well not be the assured results of modern science tomorrow. And, I can promise you, are not the assured results of science yesterday.

In the New York Times just in recent days there’s been a major article about one particular fossil which is claimed to be a hominid and just about a year ago that same paper presented it as irrefutable proof of a certain trajectory of human evolution. Now you have scientists coming back saying we don’t even believe that it’s a hominid fossil. The assured results of modern science? What do the assured results of modern science say about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? What do the assured results of modern science in terms of the methodological naturalism that is absolutely essential to modern science, what does it say about the virgin conception of Jesus Christ? The assured results of modern science? Science is now claiming to tell us about sexual orientation in terms of a physicalist explanation. Is the Christian church going to make its understanding of human sexuality and sexual morality accountable to the assured results of modern science? Are we going to submit our cosmology, are we going to take the redemptive historical understanding of scripture and submit this to interrogation by the assured results of modern science? Let me suggest to you the end of that process is absolute (commercial interferes here) [..] of Scripture includes the claim that Scripture is norma normans normata. The norm of norms that cannot be normed. Any surrender of that on any question leads to disaster.

In conclusion, there is a head-on collision here. There are those that claim there is no head-on collision. Francisco Ayala, who just won the Templeton Award, says that science and religion cannot be in conflict because they’re answering two different questions. Science is answering the how, and religion is answering the who and the why. That is intellectual facile.

In many ways Ayala is  correct but there is much overlap especially on ethical implications

 

The scripture is claiming far more than who and why and any honest reading of the modern scientific consensus knows that it too is speaking to the who and very clearly speaking to the why. Stephen J. Gould, the late paleontologist of Harvard University, spoke of what he called non-overlapping magisteria. He said science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria. Each has its own magisterial authority and its own sphere of knowledge and they never overlap. Well the problem is they overlap all the time. They overlap in Stephen J. Gould’s own writings. We cannot separate the who and the why and the what, as if those are intellectually separable questions.

Many oppose Gould eg ASA Biologos, and in the UK Chistians in Science,  Polkinghorne Peacocke McGrath for starters.

 

In his new book Why Evolution is True Jerry Coyne cites Michael Shermer at the very beginning who says this, “Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age. An epic saga about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.”

Now it sounds to me like he’s talking about the why, not just the when and the what. I want to suggest to you that when it comes to the confrontation between evolutionary theory and the Christian gospel we have a head-on collision. In the confrontation between secular science and the scripture we have a head-on collision. I want to suggest to you that it is our responsibility to give an answer when we are asked the question “Why does the universe look so old?” In the limitations of time, it is impossible that we walk through every alternative and answer every sub-question. But I want to suggest to you that the most natural understanding from the scripture of how to answer that question comes to this: The universe looks old because the creator made it whole.

This is absurd rhetoric

When he made Adam, Adam was not a fetus; Adam was a man; he had the appearance of a man. By our understanding that would’ve required time for Adam to get old but not by the sovereign creative power of God. He put Adam in the garden. The garden was not merely seeds; it was a fertile, fecund, mature garden. The Genesis account clearly claims that God creates and makes things whole.

Secondly—and very quickly—if I’m asked why does the universe look so old, I have to say it looks old because it bears testimony to the affects of sin. And testimony of the judgment of God. It bears the effects of the catastrophe of the flood and catastrophes innumerable thereafter. I would suggest to you that the world looks old because as Paul says in Romans chapter 8 it is groaning. And in its groaning it does look old. It gives us empirical evidence of the reality of sin. And even as this cosmos is the theater of God’s glory, it is the theater of God’s glory for the drama of redemption that takes place here on this planet in telling the story of the redemptive love of God. Is this compatible with the claim that the universe is 4.5 billion years old in terms of earth, 13.5 billion years old in terms of the larger universe? Even though that may not be the first and central question it is an inescapable question and I would suggest to you that in our effort to be most faithful to the scriptures and most accountable to the grand narrative of the gospel an understanding of creation in terms of 24-hour calendar days and a young earth entails far fewer complications, far fewer theological problems and actually is the most straightforward and uncomplicated reading of the text as we come to understand God telling us how the universe came to be and what it means and why it matters.

At the end of the day, if I’m asked the question “why does the universe look so old?” I’m simply left with the reality that the universe is telling the story of the glory of God. Why does it look so old? Well that, in terms of any more elaborate answer, is known only to the Ancient of Days. And that is where we are left.

Actually no, the evidence of science is that it is 4.56 billion years old!!!

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Finally this book is well worth a read

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Southgate on The Groaning of Creation

In his blog Anthony Smith discusses Christopher Southgate’s book The Groaning of Creation and raises several questions.

http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2018/01/04/the-groaning-of-creation-god-evolution-and-the-problem-of-evil/

Southgate like many Green Christians today puts much weight on Romans 8 vs19-22

The Groaning of Creation

Smith comments

 

The great turning point of history, for Southgate, between the evolutionary ‘groaning’ of creation and its eschatological hope, is the Cross of Christ. The Cross is ‘the moment of God’s taking ultimate responsibility for the pain of creation’ and, with the Resurrection, the Cross also serves ‘to inaugurate the transformation of creation’ (p. 16).

What, then, is the role of humanity? We are now able to participate with God, to a small extent, in the ‘healing of the evolutionary process’ (p. 16). God subjected the creation to the frustration of the evolutionary process, in hope that the creation’s groaning might bring humanity into existence, so that humanity, redeemed by Christ, might share with Christ in bringing about the liberation of the whole creation (see Romans 8:19-22). Considering the evolutionary process to have served its purpose, Southgate writes, ‘I regard this as the eschatological phase of history, in which humans should be looking to their own liberation and to the relief of creation’s groaning’ (p. 126).

What does this mean in practice? The example Southgate gives is the role humanity should seek to play in protecting species from extinction, whether that extinction would be through human actions, or by ‘natural’ causes. In this ‘penultimate’ phase of history, such actions would serve as a sign of the future hope for the whole creation.

This argument for the groaning of creation and its redemption in Romans 8 is commonly held today by Christians and may almost be the Green Orthodoxy.

Its validity turns on the translation from the Greek of Romans 8 vs 20 τῇ γὰρ ματαιότητι ἡ κτίσις ὑπετάγη, οὐχ ἑκοῦσα ἀλλὰ διὰ τὸν ὑποτάξαντα, ἐφ’ ἑλπίδι

and especially the first clause

τῇ γὰρ ματαιότητι ἡ κτίσις ὑπετάγη,

This is normally translated “For the creation was subject to vanity/futility”

Here lies the problem. The word for creation here is ktisis which can mean either the whole of the natural world or simply humanity.  The word translated vanity/futility is mataiotes, which, with cognates occurs 14 times in the New Testament and in every other instance refers to the flaws of humanity, with echoes back to the “vanity of vanities” of Ecclesiastes

now for Rom 8 vs22  οἴδαμεν γὰρ ὅτι πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις συστενάζει καὶ συνωδίνει ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν , which is in the NRSV “We know that the whole creation has bean groaning with labour pains until now” Now sustenazw means to groan together and sunwdinw normally means the suffering of childbirth. Again, the question is whether ktisis is humanity or the whole universe.

Almost all commentators today argue, or usually simply affirm without argument, that ktisis is the universe, but many scholars in the past argued that it was humanity, notably Lightfoot in the 1650s and William Buckland in 1838

Ulitmately translation of these verses turns on the meanings of ktisis, mataiotes and phthora (decay).

Southgates’s argument and possibly the whole book turns on ktisis being creation as universe. If this is not the case then his thesis fails. At best it is one of two possible translation, but it cannot be seen as THE ONLY translation. Thus we cannot say with him;

God subjected the creation to the frustration of the evolutionary process, in hope that the creation’s groaning might bring humanity into existence, so that humanity, redeemed by Christ, might share with Christ in bringing about the liberation of the whole creation (see Romans 8:19-22).

However much this reading of Romans 8 may chime in with environmental ideas today, it cannot be seen as an adequate dealing of the text and does not recognise the variety of ways in which key words in this passage are used.

Hence his book cannot be seen as an answer or solution to God, evolution and the problem of evil.

Here is my earlier blog which is being revised

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

 

 

The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil | Anthony Smith

This is a blog by an ordinand at Cranmer Hall Durham, which exposes the issues of suffering , evolution and the Bible by considering Romans 8vs 19-22. This understanding is common among green Christians, but I have my reservations as in this older blog

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

 

 

I’m going to be engaging this term with Christopher Southgate’s wide-ranging book, The Groaning of Creation. Here I attempt to summarise the book.

Source: The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil | Anthony Smith

Mis-reading Romans Chapter 8

Does Romans support the idea of a fallen or wounded creation? Most translations, commentaries and theologians seem to say yes (even if they say no).

 

buckland

William Buckland in 1841 dressed for fieldwork in geology

Here is a quote from an article on CS Lewis and suffering by Bethany Sollerender on the Biologos site

In Romans 8:19-22, arguably the strongest case to be made for a fallen cosmos, it is God who subjects the creation to frustration, not Satan. In a minority reading of this passage some commentators interpret “the one who subjected it” as Adam, but no one suggests Satan (since Satan would not subject it “in hope”). – See more at: http://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/challenging-cs-lewis-on-evil-and-evolution#sthash.hdHk9qrl.dpuf

 

The eighth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans is probably the high point of all his epistles, beginning with the fact that “there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus” and concluding with the ecstatic claim that nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a long sustained argument for the truth of the Christian Faith. All agree that the argument continues to at least the end of Chapter 8, and scholars differ whether it continues to chapters 9 to 11. I shall not consider that and my only interest is whether the Greek word ktisis in Romans 8 should be translated “creation” or “humanity”. Most commentators today state, with no or little argument, that ktisis is “creation”, but older commentators are divided. Related to that are the meanings of “futility” mataiotes and “decay” phthora.

The issue may seem to be trivial but the section Romans 8 vs 18-24 is commonly used to give the final biblical warrant for two rather diametrically opposed opinions within the churches today. First, Young Earth Creationists use the idea of the “creation” suffering and groaning (vs 22) as confirmation of the Adamic Curse of Genesis 3, which brought disease, suffering and death into the world. (This is also present among other Christians, and creeps into writings of those who are anything but Creationists.) Secondly, many Green Christians use these verses as a reason why Christians must heal a “wounded planet” i.e. Creation. Both have some justification if ktisis means creation, but if ktisis means humanity the use of this passage for either of these two purposes is invalid.

As almost all Christians only read the New Testament in translation, the alternative translations of the word are overlooked. Few commentators discuss the alternatives at any length, and often simply make an affirmation that ktisis includes the whole inorganic and organic creation rather than a justification for that translation.

Romans 8 is about the work of the Holy Spirit in empowering a believer. The section relevant to this discussion is Romans 8 vs 18 – 25, with the over-riding theme of hope and endurance in suffering. Here is the NRSV translation

 

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know

 

This is the NRSV version and others do not differ materially. The three words under scrutiny here are creation, futility and decay. From Arndt and Gingrich the words have a variety of meanings. Ktisis can mean creation, that which is created i.e creature, humanity and civil authorities.[1] Phthora can mean either decay or depravity or immorality i.e sin. Mataiotes means futility and is used in the Septuagint of Ecclesiastes. Now here is the same passage of Romans using the alternative translations;

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For humanity waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for humanity was subjected to moral futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that humanity itself will be set free from its bondage to immorality (moral decay?) and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole of humanity has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only humanity, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know.

This leads on to several questions;

  • Does reading ktisis as humankind make better sense of Paul’s argument and does it give it a better sense of flow?
  • How many meanings does ktisis have? Which fits in best into both the immediate and wider context of Romans?
  • Are there any historical reasons why humankind has been the favoured rendering of ktisis?
  • What is the meaning of “futility” mataiotes and “decay” phthora?

[1] A and g 456-7

Having checked out all the occurrences of ktisis, matiotes, phthora  in both the New Testament and the Apostolic fathers, it is impossible to force one meaning of these three words on to the various texts studied. Frequently the context makes it clear but others are ambiguous. Words are often used to mean different things in different contexts.

The context in Romans.

So far, I avoided the wider context beyond Romans 8. Apart from references in Romans 1 and Romans 8.19-22, Paul does not deal with creation/cosmos in his letter except in passing. The substance is the salvation from sin – of humanity, Jews and Gentiles; Rom 1 vs 16. The first eleven chapters explore this, considering humanity’s relationship to God both in sin or through redemption, and noting the difference with Jew and Gentile. The whole letter is people and salvation orientated, with hardly a nod to creation. That is not a criticism as Paul was writing for a particular purpose. If Rom 8.19-23 is about creation/cosmos then these few verses are like an erratic block which has no relation to what is discussed before or after, and seems to have been transported from elsewhere. If so, Paul goes off at a tangent and then returns to his main them in vs 24

If ktisis is humanity, then there is a seamless argument going back before Romans7, considering the power of sin in chapter 7 before moving to life in the spirit in chapter 8 which deals with how redeemed creation overcomes mataiotes vanity to avoid moral decay phthorai and pasa he ktisis “waits with eager long for the revealing of the children of god.”

This is the argument briefly, and I rest my case.

 

APPENDIX I

Two applications of Romans 8 19-24

Frequently Roman 8.19ff is use to buttress to rather different arguments. The first is for Creationism, positing that Rom 8 supports a Fall which resulted in a Curse on all life. The second is to see our planet as a wounded planet and thus to give a particular exegetical support for certain environmental arguments. Both take ktisis to be cosmos and the other words to tally with physical decay etc.

Creationists and the Curse

Many Creationists emphasise that death, even for animals, only came in at the Fall of Adam and after that God cursed all life with death and suffering. Many, like Ken Ham support this from Romans 8, which they read through the spectacles of the Curse. The idea of no death before the Fall is the lynchpin of much creationism today  and biblically is based on a particular reading of Genesis 3 and of Romans 8, as in https://answersingenesis.org/bible-history/so-what-are-the-7-cs-anyway/ .

Adam’s sin ushered death, sickness and sorrow into the once-perfect creation (Romans 5:12). God also pronounced a curse on the world, changing it completely (Genesis 3, Romans 8:20–22). As a result, the world that we now live in is merely a decaying remnant—a corruption—of the beautiful, righteous world that Adam and Eve originally called home. The good news is that, rather than leave His precious handiwork without hope, God graciously promised to one day send a Redeemer who would buy back His people from the curse of sin (Genesis 3:15).

This argument was used by opponents of geology in the early 19th Century and to counter this the geologist, Rev William Buckland gave a sermon in 1838 in the Cathedral at Christchurch would reach many, and particularly those considered as opinion formers at Oxford. Buckland later became Dean of Westminster. It was my reading of Buckland that led to this study.

His sermon An inquiry whether the sentence of death pronounced at the fall of man included the whole animal creation or was restricted to the human race given in Oxford in 1839 is in part a response to the noisy minority of nay-sayers of anti-geologists, who included Frank Nolan, the Bampton Lecturer of 1833. Here we do not see Buckland the geologist wielding his geological hammer or tracing out routes of former glaciers, but being a theologian and carefully studying biblical texts.

He took as his text Romans 5.12; “As by one man sin came into the world, and death by sin”[30], which he discussed briefly along with 1 Cor 15 vs21. The heart of his sermon is an interpretation of Romans 8 vs 19-23, followed by a comment on Paradise Lost. In both the Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15 passages Buckland stresses that no mention is made of any “other part of creation” and that “death is mentioned only in immediate apposition to, and connexion with the remedy provided for it by the sacrifice of Christ”.

When Buckland came to Romans 8 vs 19ff, he emphasized that ktisis (creation) can mean both the “whole creation” or  the “whole human race”, and chose to cite Gill, an 18th century Baptist commentator of “ultra-conservative “ views that “’Tis best of all by the creature to understand the Gentile world” i.e. not creation as such. He then referred to Colossians 1 vs 23 and Mark 16 vs 15 where pase te ktisis (the whole creation) clearly means humanity. After all, apart from St Francis, few preach to animals!

Without going into detail, Buckland’s interpretation is the minority one today, but is not without support both now and in previous centuries.

Having raised questions about Romans 8, Buckland then pointed out that such “erroneous” ideas on physical and animal death are “so deeply imprinted on most men’s minds, that maturer judgment rarely stops to enquire precisely as to the source…”  He alluded to painters and poets, especially Milton, almost anticipating both Edward Hitchcock and Bishop Colenso. He took theological support from Shuttleworth and Bishop Bull to buttress his orthodoxy.

Buckland then went to argue that had not Adam fallen, humans would have been mortal but without the pain of death would have passed on to another existence. Here he drew on the Discourse on the State of Man before the Fall by Bishop George Bull 1634-1710, who was very much in the Anglican tradition of Richard Hooker. Buckland seems to have done this to show that Milton’s view was not universal and that he had not diverged from traditional understandings of Genesis 3.

To conclude, Buckland’s sermon has a dated feel about it as it predates both evolution and most critical biblical scholarship, but he does wrestle with the issues raised and takes on those who wish to claim there was a Curse which afflicted the planet and all life on it. By 1839 most educated Christians had accepted the vast age of the earth and, by implication, that the Curse had no real effect on the earth and life, but did not consider the full implications and so for well over a century such questions were either not considered or avoided.

Environmentalists and the Wounded Planet

In recent years some, or even many, Christian environmentalists have focussed on the standard reading of Romans 8 and stress how our “wounded planet” is “groaning”. If ktisis means humanity then the theological reasoning behind this is not valid. However this needs far more elucidation than this brief comment.

There are many examples of this and here are two important ones;

http://www.jri.org.uk/resource/ray_natural_historian.htm

Douglas Moo deals with this in his long paper Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment  [ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49 (2006) 449-88] http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE/CACE-Print-Resources/~/media/1A6F51F87327432788A292F9A46CC2DB.pdf

He favours ktisis being cosmos but refers only to Augustine as a naysayer.

If the argument the ktisis means humanity then the use of this passage is invalid. However I would argue vehemently that a Christian is morally and theologically obliged to care for God’s creation.

Further to use this passage to claim that the creation is groaning is to implicitly accept that either the creation is not as God intended and was so from the beginning of time, or that creation underwent a radical change at the time of the Fall due to human sin. The second necessitates a young earth and a literal fall, as there could be no suffering prior to that.  The first means that creation is neither good nor very good.

APPENDIX II

Word study in Greek of ktisis, matiotes and phthora. For this I used the Arndt/gingrich Lexicon and the Greek texts of the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers

The meanings of ktisis

Concerning the meaning of ktisis the Arndt and Gingrich lexicon devotes a column to the various alternatives and how they are used in the Old Testament, New Testament, Apocrypha, Apostolic Fathers and other writings. Arndt and Gingrich state the main meaning ktisis is either Creation (the sum of) or a creature i.e. a part of the total creation. AG cite references from both the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, and both sets of literature use ktisis several different ways, which often can be elucidated from the context. Thus, I Peter 2 vs 13 uses ktisis as civil authorities.

 

Ktisis in the New Testament

Ktisis as humanity is found in a few examples in the literature and A and G cite Mark 16 vs 15, Colossians 1 vs 23 and Shepherd of Hermas 37 vs 4, using the terms pasa(he) ktisis – all the creation, which in the context must mean humanity rather than the creation, animate and/or inanimate. Using the word rather differently in 2Cor 5 vs17 and Gal 6 vs 15 the Christian is described as kaine ktisis. This could be termed as a new human. Hebrews 4 vs13 uses ktisis for humans. The use in Heb 9 vs11 is more ambiguous, but makes better sense if Ktisis is Creation rather than humanity and thus “not made with hands, that is not [made] by any human” makes less sense. Col 1 v15 speaks of the firstborn of all ktitis. Does this mean the firstborn of all humanity, or the firstborn of all life, thus of creation, i.e. a possibly unicellular organism some 4 billion years ago, or even the firstborn of the total creation, or to put in popular terminology – the firstborn of the Big Bang. Some might even say that Jesus was the firstborn of all evolution! Col 1 vs 23 speaks of the gospel “which has been proclaimed to every creature (ktisis)”.That makes better sense is ktisis  is restricted to humans,

The statement of Jesus that “marriage is from beginning of creation ktisis” Mark 10 vs6 /Matt 19 vs4 contains ambiguity and makes equal sense either way, whether as the beginning of creation or the beginning of humanity. From the context and the first century understanding of time, they are probably seen as synonymous. Mark 13 vs 19 is far more ambuiguous and illustrates a non-specific use of the word. The use in II Pet 3 vs4 is similar, whereas I Pet 2 vs 13 uses ktisis for human authorities, yet no translation indicates the use.

 

Ktisis in the Apostolic fathers

The Apostolic fathers use ktisis in varying ways. The occurrences of ktisis are listed in A & G. In many cases ktisis means the whole Creation e.g I Clement 34 vs 6, which quotes Isaiah 6 thus meaning the cosmos. A little later in 1 Clem 59 vs3 has “which is the primal source of all creation”, which can be either cosmos or humanity in the context. It is the same for I Clem 19 vs 3.

The Shepherd of Hermas uses ktisis both as humanity or creation.

Hermas 1 vs 3 “and glorifying the creation of God” can mean either the cosmos, God’s creatures (Holmes) or even humanity. I would favour either the first two.

Hermas 12 v1 is also ambiguous, but Hermas 37 vs 5 (Hm 7.5 in AG) clearly refers to humanity; “every creature [humanity] fears the Lord and keeps his commandments” . This is neither cosmos nor the animal kingdom due to the reference of the commandments.

Moving on from Hermas 59 vs3 which already has been mentioned 59 v5 is ambiguous “The pre-existent Holy Spirit, which created the whole creation”, but 91v5 almost contrasts kosmos and pasa he ktisis. 100v4 is again ambiguous. But coming to Hermas 102vs1 “all the lord’s creation (ktisis) drank from the springs, are believers such as these: apostles …” Here ktisis most clearly means humanity.

78v8 uses ktisis differently   “pan gevos tes ktisis” (all species of creation).

Hermas 89 vs2 is intriguing “the Son of God is older than all his creation” Here one could suggest that Arius would say pasa he ktisis means humanity!! However it seems to mean kosmos.

These examples from the Apostolic Fathers show that ktisis can be used to mean either “creation” or “humanity”. Often, but not always this can be worked out from the context.

These examples from both the New Testament and the Apostolic fathers indicate a varied usage of ktisis. At times it clearly means either cosmos or humanity but many are ambiguous.

Arndt and Gingrich in their Greek-English Lexicon seem to avoid the issue on ktisis and state;

The mng of kt is in dispute in Ro8: 19-22, though the pass. Is usu. taken to mean the waiting of the whole creation below the human level…[1]

However they do not substantiate this point. Yet few follow up Arndt and Gingrich, though the interpretation has great implications both on theodicy and environmental responsibility.

Phthoras (vs21)  and mataiotes (vs20).

Both of these words have multiple meanings and are used in the NRSV to support the idea that ktisis is cosmos.

Rom 8 vs 20 reads “the creation was subjected to futility” or untranslated “te gar mataiotes he ktisis upetage

Elsewhere in the New Testament; Eph 4v17, 2 Pet 2 v18 and in the Apostolic Fathers; I Trallians 8 v2, Barnabas 4 vs 10 and Polycarp, Phillipians 7 v2 it is used to mean human folly, echoing the refrain of Ecclesiastes “vanity of vanities” “mataiotes mataioteton” Eccles 1 vs2 (LXX) etc. mataiotes  is used 40 times in Ecclesiates. mataiotes and cognates are widely used for human folly. Sanday and Headlam weakly argue for ktisis to be cosmos but that means taking a different meaning for mataiotes in this verse.

At the beginning of his argument Rom 1 vs21 Paul referred to those who “became futile (ematsiothesan) in their thinking”.

Turning to phthoras in the NRSV Rom 8 vs 21 reads “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay (phthoras) and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Decay is the primary meaning but it includes religious and moral depravity (AG) . I suggest moral depravity makes better sense in Rom 8 vs21. There is also the question how rocks, minerals and insects “will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Col 2 vs 22 uses the word to mean “physically perishing” as the “regulations” of vs 20 and 22 are human and finite. Likewise in Paul’s discussion of seeds in I Cor 15 vs 42 and 50. In Gal 6 vs8 Paul uses phthora  in contrast to eternal life, as the ultimate moral and spiritual decay.

In contrast the usage in 2 Peter 1 vs4 “… you may escape from the corruption that is in the world” is clearly moral corruption and likewise in 2 Peter 2 vs 19 are slaves of corruption” I.e. MORAL corruption. However the usage in 2 vs 2b is ambiguous

Moving on to the Apostolic Fathers, in 2 Clem 6 vs 4 which speaks of “adultery and corruption (phthora) and greed and deceit” phthora is only too clearly moral corruption

Ignatius in Romans 7 vs3 wrote “I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of life….”  AG takes the “corruptible/perishable food “ of TRom 7 vs 3 “literally”, but Ttrallians 6 vs 1 writes of “Christiani trophe” i.e. a “spiritual food”. I suggest AG is wrong over TRom 7 vs 3.

For the moral sense Barnabas 19 vs5 and Didache 2 vs 2 use  teknon en phthora  to mean abortion. In Did 2 vs 2 paidophthora means corrupting children or as in AG sodomy of children. Barnabas 10vs 6 uses paidophthora with a (strange) typological interpretation of Mosaic food laws

The word phthora  in both the NT and AF is sufficiently fluid and can mean either moral or physical decay.

In Romans 8 it is possible to argue for either, but moral decay makes better sense.

 

Conclusion on word meanings.

From a consideration of the usage of ktisis, mataiotes and phthora in the NT and Apostolic Fathers, it is not possible to come down firmly on the “standard” translation of the three words. At the weakest, the usage must be seen as ambiguous, but a consideration of the whole argument of Romans favours humanity, human futility/folly and moral corruption.

Sanday and Headlam on Romans 8 state without much ado that  “The two verses [22 &23] must be kept apart.” They must if ktisis means cosmos as verse 23 means Christians and thus the two verses have little relation to each other. However if ktisis means (unredeemed) humanity then the two verses are linked by contrasting the situation of the old and new humanity/ktisis, i.e. before and after regeneration. There is no break indicated by punctuation in the Greek text, which suggests the two verses must not be kept apart and thus give a contrast of the immorality of the old creation/humanity and those who have the first portion of the spirit, to wit – redemption.

[1] Arndt, W.F. & Gingrich, F.W. , A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1957 p457.

Parasitic wasps and the death of Jesus, with hat-tip to Darwin

To the cynical natural history films are a mixture of sex and violence with either animals bonking in exotic ways or tearing each other to bits. Usually it is often a large cat tearing down a buck and then scoffing the gory remains. Yet most will find the ichneumon wasps too much for even the least squeamish. The female lays her eggs in a caterpillar and the larvae eat up the caterpillar from the inside but keeping the poor thing alive until they have metamorphosed into their imagos i.e. flying wasps. Those who have been to the tropics will know jiggers. The first thing you realise that your toe by a nail is very itchy. When you look it is red and the temptation is to scratch. After several days of infuriating discomfort you notice that the centre of the red area is a tiny black circle. Soon after that you can squeeze hard and out plops the larva, and the redness subsides. The ichneumon do it on a bigger scale!

Here is a picture of a caterpillar with the larvae exiting their host. Not a picture for the squeamish!!

 

ichneumon

Just imagine the larvae chomping away at the caterpillar which is just alive. Very grisly!

But this clip of a parasitic wasp is even more graphic and  takes the violence to an extreme.

Enjoy it!!

http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/body-invaders-caterpillar-edition

This video of maggots eating a caterpillar alive from the inside and then sending it mad is the stuff of horror films and would make most people squirm. It’s bad enough describing how to get rid of jiggers to even the least squeamish, but this!! Yuk, double yuk! Now Charles Darwin was squeamish and that is why he gave up medicine when he witnessed an operation on a child. To Darwin the ichneumon fly casts doubt on the benevolence of God as he wrote to the Christian botanist Asa Gray on 22nd May 1860 on issues raised by The Origin of Species. He wrote;

I cannot persuade myself that a benificient &omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intent of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that cats should play with mice.

Here Darwin lays bare the whole problem of theodicy; how we understand the existence of pain, suffering and death with a loving God. Little did he think when he casually wrote that letter to Asa Gray raising issues of belief in God, that his comments would be read and considered by so many and come to epitomise the question of a loving God. This letter and the reference to the ichneumon is a reminder that Darwin’s doubts about Christianity were less intellectual and more on morality and suffering.

Darwin was a sensitive person and in 1827 gave up studying medicine in Edinburgh because he could not accept the suffering involved in operations, having witnessed one on a child. His sqeamishness turned to a questioning of a benificient God and the death of his ten year old daughter Annie in 1851 is often seen as the last straw for his Christian faith. However Jim Moore argued somewhat too neatly that this extinguished what little Christian faith he had. He had found hard to accept the death of his father in 1848, who as an unbeliever had no place in Redemption. During this period Darwin studied several works of theology which had moved beyond the edges of orthodoxy notably F.W.Newman’s Phases of Faith (1850). As Moore points out “there was no resting place en route from Anglicanism through Unitarianism to a purely theistic belief….Darwin gave up Christianity”(1 ). He did not give up belief in God, but could not reconcile a loving God with such unneccessary death and suffering. This questioning stayed with Darwin for the rest of his life. His religious musings in his Autobiography also show that his problems with Christianity were not so much intellectual as moral, and thus Darwin may be regarded as a typical Victorian moral critic of Christianity (2 ). Nowhere does this come out more poignantly than in his letter to Gray of 22nd May 1860, as the essence of his letter is the question,’How can a loving God allow suffering?’

 

Darwin had sent Gray a complimentary copy of the Origin in November 1859 and Gray, who had known of Darwin’s natural selection theory for several years, soon made his basic acceptance clear to Darwin. In the first part of 1860 Gray was both arranging the publication of the Origin in the U.S.A. and writing a favourable review for the Atlantic Monthly. Frequent letters passed between them mostly on these preceeding matters, but also openly discussing more religious matters. In a letter dated 22nd May Darwin aired his problems over suffering. Unfortunately the letter from Gray dated 7th May has not been found. Darwin’s letter dealt first with matters of the American edition and then of recent reviews, refering to negative ones by Sedgwick, Clarke, Duns and Owen. The second part of the letter deals with ‘the theological view of the question’ and Darwin dealt with theological rather than scientific problems, stating ‘I cannot see, as plainly as others do,…. evidence of design and beneficence.’ He could not see how a good God could have created an Ichneumon fly or allowed cats to play with mice. Ichneumonidae lay their eggs in live caterpillars which remain alive until the larvae pupate, and gave the basis for the SF film Alien! It is difficult not to feel the force of Darwin’s argument as he required a benificient theodicy, and could not reconcile ‘Nature Red in tooth and claw’ with a loving God. To Darwin God not only had to be an Intelligent Designer, He also had to be a Loving Designer.

Many of Darwin’s scientific predecessors, however, did not feel the problem of suffering so keenly as is evidenced by those who wrote the Bridgewater Treatises a generation earlier. The Bridgewaters represent the height of design and evidential theology in the 1830s. All the authors were Christian, mostly clergy. At least two discussed suffering. Buckland, the Oxford Geologist, who in the 1820s was the foremost proponent of Diluvialism, wrote On Geology and Mineralogy in 1836 which, according to Jon Topham, was the biggest seller of the eight and found in many mechanics’ institutes (3 ). This treatise presented the geological and palaeontological understanding of the mid-1830s through the eyes of one of geology’s foremost Anglican exponents. By 1835 Buckland had rejected his diluvialism and in 1838 became convinced of the Ice Ages proposed by Agassiz, following a visit to the Jura. Theologically Buckland was close to moderate Evangelicalism as was his friend Edward Copleston of Oriel College, whom Simeon considered to share all his essential beliefs. In the 1820s Buckland was encouraged by the Evangelical theologians J.B.Sumner (Archbishop of Canterbury 1848-62) and G.S.Faber, and by the ultra-conservative Bishop Shute Barrington of Durham (4 ). To Buckland and many contemporary Evangelicals predation did not contradict the beneficience of God, as is shown by Chap XIII of his Bridgewater Treatise; ‘Aggregate of Animal Enjoyment increased, and that of Pain diminished, by the existence of Carnivorous Races’. Neither did they accept that passages such as  Genesis 3 or Romans 8 raised problems for the concept of predation (5 ) Buckland is echoing Paley’s view of suffering in Natural Theology where he says without predation we would ‘see the world filled with drooping, superannuated, half-starved, helpless and unhelped animals’ (29 ).

And put satirically by the Oxford professor of chemistry, Charles Daubeny;

It is true  Paradise was delicious and nice,

Yet, if those born on earth had ne’er died,

‘Twould have been such a cram, like the berries in jam,

Pic-a-back men and women must ride.

 William Kirby’s On the History, Habits and instincts of Animals (1835 ) was unique among the Bridgwater Treatises for adopting a young earth position to the consternation of other writers. The introductory chapter claimed that all strata were laid down in the Flood. Kirby was the leading early 19th century entomologist and his work was widely used by Darwin. This is borne out by his correspondence with the Rev John Rodwell in late 1860, describing cats and blind rats and how these supported the ideas in the Origin. On discovering that Kirby was Rodwell’s uncle he wrote, ‘whom I for as long as I can remember have venerated’. In 1818 Kirby and Spence had written a four volume Introduction to Entymology of which Darwin had a heavily annotated copy. As his was the first edition he probably used it for his beetlemania at Cambridge. In the second volume of his Bridgwater Treatise Kirby described the Ichneumon and how they destroy pests ‘by the goodness of Providence'(6 ). The chapter on insects speaks of them demonstrating the beneficence of God in their beauty, design and behaviour, especially the maternal care of the female wasp which found a suitable caterpillar for the larvae to feed on , slowly eating the poor beastie from the inside as in the video clip, something Darwin could not accept. However in his letter to Gray on 22nd May 1860 it is far more likely that Darwin was thinking of Kirkby’s account in his Entymology rather than his Bridgewater, as the former was one of Darwin’s most used texts. Kirkby described how, ‘The active Ichneumon braves every danger, and does not desist until her courage and address have insured subsistence for one of her future progeny'(7). Kirkby focussed on maternal care of the wasp and Darwin on the poor caterpillar.

There is not only suffering caused by predation , disease and other aspects of pain for living beings,but that caused by the earth itself, especially volcanoes and earthquakes. Last month saw the ghastly earthquake in Nepal caused by a small shift in the Indian plate sliding under the Eurasian plate. It was nearly as powerful as the Nepal earthquake of 80 years ago and the Assam earthquake of 1950. April was also the 200th anniversary of the eruption of Tambora in Indonesia, which killed thousands near the volcano and disrupted the climate and thus harvests for several years , causing even more deaths. No wonder the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which killed some 10,000 to 100,000 people in the city alone. The repercussion were also theological and philosophical and the common argument that it showed God’s judgement lacked plausibility, especially as Lisbon’s Red Light district got off lightly! Among others Voltaire and Kant wrote on the questions raised, particularly of a totally benevolent creation.

With a growing understanding of geology and the structure of the earth, it was increasingly impossible not to see that these “natural evils” have been there from all time and WRITTEN into the structure of the earth. There was no way anyone could accept the view of theodicy immortalised by Milton in Paradise Lost;

Of man’s first disobedience ,and the fruit

Of the forbidden tree, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe.

With loss of Eden…….

 Without me giving a well-thought out understanding of death and suffering in relation to a belief in a loving God, we have to say that any  philosophical or religious view which does not accept that earthquakes, suffering and death are part of the inherent fabric of this planet is utterly false.

But there are those, who do not say this as Young Earth Creationists will echo the theodicy of John Milton and say there was no suffering or death, and even earthquakes before the Fall. It is the lynchpin of creationist thought and can be persuasive. A good example is Ken Ham’s musings on the Nepal earthquake;

https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2015/04/30/nepal-suffering-after-major-earthquake/

You see, God’s original creation did not contain earthquakes or any other natural disasters. When God saw all that He had made over Creation Week, He called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The original creation was free from any death or suffering. It wasn’t until Adam and Eve rebelled against God that death and suffering became a part of our world (Genesis 2:17, 3:1–24). The death and suffering caused by this earthquake is a reminder of sin and the severe consequences that rebellion against our Creator brings.

I cannot buy into that and at this point I am somewhat theologically challenged by suffering, or bewildered  as was Darwin. Thus Darwin wrote ‘With respect to the theological view of the question …. I am bewildered’ as ‘There seems to be too much misery in the world’. A few lines further he wrote,’On the other hand I cannot ….. conclude that everything is a result of brute force’ (21 May 1860). Perhaps like William Blake, Darwin could accept that God ‘designed’ the lamb, but did not frame the ‘fearful symmetry’ of the tyger (8 ). As Blake’s biographer wrote “Few poems have been scrutinised so closely”, and one reading is that a benevolent God made the lamb but not the tyger. Among critics, there is little agreement to its meaning. However his Book of Urizen seems to accept two creators one benevolent and Urizen the other, thus providing a mythological dualism to explain the negative in creation (9 ).

Suffering was an insuperable problem for belief to Darwin, and in the face of it he was left bewildered as to whether a beneficient God could have designed a world with so much animal pain. Darwin’s theodicy was a baffled reverent agnosticism; Buckland and Kirkby regarded animal suffering as God’s intention for the natural order, but this became less acceptable in a post-Chloroform society.

I originally gave much of this material at a Christians in Science conference in 1996 (when I was introduced to Intelligent Design in the form of Behe’s book). At the conference where this paper was presented the most perceptive and awkward question was on how I, as a minister, tried to minister to people in the midst of suffering. Two days after the conference I was due to bury a little baby of five months, so the questioner touched a nerve. To give a brief outline how I personally grapple with suffering, I start with God as Creator, echoing God speaking to Job out of the whirlwind (Job. 38 -42) and considering the Love of God reflected in the beauty of Creation. I then move to the death of Christ, the Son of God and the Crucified God who not only forgave sins but also entered into all human suffering. I often focus on the cry of dereliction “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ( Mark.15.34.) Pastorally, I look for the appropriate way of considering Christ’s death as entering into suffering and seek what is the right and sensitive approach to the people concerned. I find I have to say things with diffidence rather than a boldness, which would be insensitive. I have found Darwin’s concerns over suffering most helpful and challenging to my own pastoral work. Desmond’s treatment of the poignant correspondence between Huxley and Kingsley over the death of Huxley’s little son Noel has also been spiritually formative for me and gave me the kernel for a sermon at the annual Memorial Service in my Church. (Desmond op cit. p286-9) Darwin and Huxley both raised acute problems over the goodnesss of God in their pain over the loss of young children. No help will be found from an Intelligent Designer or a Cosmic Fine Tuner. Like Job they were angry with God for “taking away” their children, see Job chaps 2 and 3. The beginnings of an answer come in Job chap 38 where God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind and asks Job where he was at Creation. For succour one must go to the Suffering Servant who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” ( Isaiah 53.4.) Christians need to listen to both Darwin and Huxley over suffering as they raise the deepest of personal issues as well as the less important intellectual ones.

Ultimately, I do not get much further than echoing Jesus’s cry of dereliction;

My God , my god , why have you forsaken me.

1.) Desmond, A. and Moore, J.Darwin, London: Michael Joseph, (1991), chap 25 ‘Our Bitter & Cruel Loss’ especially p299.

2.) On the “moral criticism” of Christianity see Altholz, J. ‘The Warfare of Conscience with Theology.’, (1976) in Parsons, G. Religion in Victorian Britain. Vol IV. , Manchester: Manchester University Press (1988), p150-169. (Useful, despite howlers on the history of science!)

3) Topham, J. ‘Science and popular education in the 1830s’, British Journal for the History of Science (1992) 25, 397-430.

4.) Rupke ,The Great Chain of History p14.

5.) Buckland. W, Geology and Mineralogy considered in reference to Natural Theology., 2 vols, London, 1836 etc.

Buckland, W. An inquiry whether the sentence of death… London 1839.

See S.J.Gould’s discussion of the same theme in ‘Nonmoral Nature’ in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes, London, Penguin, 1984, p32-45.

6.) Paley, W. op cit, p312.

7.) Kirkby, W. On the power, wisdom, and goodness of God. as manifested in the Creation of Animals London, various editions, from 1853 edit vol ii, p243.

Kirkby, W and Spence, W., An Introduction to Entomology, London, 1856 (6th Edition), p194.

8.) William Blake, Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright; and Little lamb, who made thee?

9.) Ackroyd, P, BlakeLondon, (1995), pp399, p 143f & p175.