Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Young-Earth Creationism and the Bible

From a Christian perspective, perhaps the key objection to young-Earth creationism is its treatment of the Bible. Among Christians, including those holding to Biblical inerrancy, interpretations of the Bible vary widely. The young-Earth creationist position on the creation narratives in Genesis (that they provide an unambiguous, factual and historical account of events occurring in the past 10,000 years) is only one of many within Christianity. A view more common to mainstream Christianity is expressed well by C S Lewis in his
The earliest stratum of the Old Testament contains many truths in a form which I take to be legendary, or even mythical—hanging in the clouds, but gradually the truth condenses, becomes more and more historical. From things like Noah's Ark or the sun standing still upon Ajalon, you come down to the court memoirs of King David. Finally you reach the New Testament and history reigns supreme, and the Truth is incarnate. And "incarnate" here is more than a metaphor. It is not an accidental resemblance that what, from the point of view of being, is stated in the form "God became Man," should involve, from the point of view of human knowledge, the statement "Myth became Fact."[1]

Some people [assume I believe] that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical or scientific truth. But this I do not hold, any more than St Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation 'after the manner of a popular poet' (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job was history or fiction....I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of these scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical....I take it that the whole Old Testament consists of the same sort of material as any other literature – chronicle (some of it obviously pretty accurate), poems, moral and political diatribes, romances, and what not; but all taken into the service of God's work....

The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not 'the Word of God' in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that Word from it not by using it as an encyclopaedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message.[2] 

Despite this, most organisations promoting young-Earth creationism insist their interpretation of the Bible is the only truly correct one. For example, Creation Ministries International (CMI), Sarfati's employer, labels Christians not holding to young-Earth creationism as "compromisers" and "appeasers".[3]  As well as claiming that the Bible "teaches a recent origin for man and the whole creation" and that Noah's flood was an historical and global event, CMI's Statement of Faith asserts that non-Christians are subject to "everlasting conscious punishment", that the Bible should contain 66 books, and that the Bible is the final authority on matters of history and science.[4]  Yet such issues have been contested throughout the history of Christianity and are still debated today.

Young-Earth creationists argue their interpretation of the Bible is flawless, while scientists' interpretations of Creation are seriously flawed. As CMI's Statement of Faith puts it, any evidence contradicting CMI's interpretation of the Bible must be rejected because "evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information".

This raises the obvious question of how CMI can be so sure of its interpretation of the Bible,
when this is also made by "fallible people" with incomplete information. CMI attempts to address this elsewhere in the Statement of Faith: "The final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself", but that is circular reasoning. If scriptural interpretation were as simple as CMI implies then all Bible-believing Christians would interpret the creation narratives the same way.


[1] C S Lewis, 'Is Theology Poetry?', in The Weight of Glory and Other Essays, New York: Harper Collins (2001, first published 1949), p 129.
[2] C S Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, Glasgow: Fount (1998, first published 1958), pp 94-97.
[3] See, for example: 'Can compromisers really be saved' (29 January 2011)
http://creation.com/compromise-salvation; Jonathan Sarfati, 'Response to the evolution appeasers', (24 October 2008) http://creation.com/response-to-the-evolution-appeasers-in-treasury-new-zealand
[4] http://creation.com/what-we-believe

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