Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More on the Creationist Movement

Henry Morris, who passed away little more than a year ago, enjoyed the title of father of the "modern" young-earth creationist movement. His 1961 book, The Genesis Flood (co-authored with Old Testament scholar John Whitcomb), launched a reconsideration of the evidence for the age of the earth among evangelicals. His explanation depended on a catastrophic worldwide flood.

Unfortunately, as with most pioneers, many of his views and explanations sound strained, fanciful, and even quaint today. It was common, for example, for young-earth creationists to say that God created light "in transit" from distant stars or to rely upon a "canopy" theory for the volume of water prior to the flood.

Since then, the work Morris inspired has moved into the realm of peer reviewed scientific research of some sophistication. It used to be said with disdain that most "creation" scientists were metallurgists or hydraulics engineers, not geologists, astrophysicists, or biologists. No longer. A group of young-Earth researchers calling their project RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) investigated radioactive dating methods and worked to develop alternative young-Earth explanations.

The RATE study began as a joint collaborative effort between the Institute for Creation Research, the Creation Research Society and Answers in Genesis. Their work with radio dating was more than a little interesting. RATE physicist Dr. Russ Humphreys, for example, reported on measurements of helium diffusion (leaking) from zircon crystals. Helium, one of the most "slippery" elements, is created as a byproduct of radioactive decay, but also leaks out of the crystals. If the zircons were billions of years old, there should be very little helium left since it would have had plenty of time to diffuse away. However, the RATE researchers found that a tremendous amount of helium remained in the zircons—consistent with an age of about 6,000 years.

In addition to Morris' organization, the Institute for Creation Research, in Santee, California, Answers in Genesis has emerged as a major player in the creationist movement. Led by Australian-born Ken Ham, AIG just this week opened its state-of-the-art $27 million museum near the Cincinnati airport debt free (see prior blog).

Where ICR focuses on graduate education and the production of more technical materials, AIG looks to the "retail" side of creationism. With a full slate of energetic speakers, dozens of DVDs, and curricular materials for both church and home-schooling use, Ham's communicators blanket the country, popularizing creationism and defending the Bible, using presuppositionalist apologetics. AIG has recently added several new PhDs in biology (cf. Purdom from Ohio State), astrophysics (cf. Lisle from University of Colorado at Boulder), and other specialists to their roster of speakers and developers of resource material.

For the movement as a whole, a new "RATE" style research project is being pulled together involving the genetic side of the issue of evolution. I recently heard a tenured Cornell University geneticist lecture on the "improbability" if not "impossibility" of evolution based on information theory and mutation within the human genome.

And, I have not even touched upon the progressive (old-earth) creationism of people like Hugh Ross. His arguments dovetail quite well with the secular Intelligent Design movement which has resurrected Paley's old watchmaker argument from design in the form of Behe's irreducible complexity. The ID folks, technically a non-religious alternative, disdain the ICR and Answers in Genesis crowd almost as much as the Darwinists do. Yet, their work has been making waves in the area of building a case for a Creator, and the impossibility of "chance" as a viable explanation for the world we see around us.

Creationism, whether of the Ken Ham (young-earth) or Hugh Ross (old-earth) variety, has attracted its share of critics. The opening of the Creation Museum was met with vocal pickets and even an airplane towing an anti-Christian message. Several organizations (including DefCon and it's "campaign to defend the constitution")have argued that AIG has a moral responsibility to disclaim that the Creation Museum has anything to do with empirical facts, merely out-dated and fanciful beliefs. One commentator even likened the museum to cigarette advertising, opining that both should be banned for the same reason! And, despite the fact that AIG built its facility entirely with private funds, some have raised the issue of violation of "church and state." The Los Angeles Times dismissed Ham's museum in colorful prose as "yabba dabba science."

Still, amid the din of the critics, Answers in Genesis and other similar organizations continue their efforts. In both the secular ("intelligent design") and explicitly Christian forms (either old-earth or young-earth) creationism has changed radically since the primitive days of Morris in 1961.

In other words, right or wrong, this "ain't your father's" creationism any longer. In terms of sophistication, scientific acumen, research, and argumentation, it has moved "light years" from its origins little more than 45 years ago. Standing on the shoulders of pioneers such as Morris, a new generation of scholars from the fields of apologetics and the sciences is beginning to challenge evolutionary assumptions just as a growing majority of evangelical and mainline Biblical scholars have made peace with Darwin!

"As for me and my house" . . . laugh if you must, but I stand with the creationists (both old and new earth types) against the mechanistic Darwinians and their god, Chance. Bottom line: I am a creationist and make common cause with other creationists, regardless of their view of the antiquity of the universe.


Thomas said...

"They disdain the ICR and Answers in Genesis crowd almost as much as the Darwinists do."

Hi Dennis!
I think you've got this part a little backwards. In my experience the disdain and outright anger has come mostly from the "young earth" side toward Dr. Ross and other 'heretics'(check out the Ankerberg debates with Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, etc.) What I've seen from Hugh Ross has been a loving, consistent push to say, "isn't there room in Evangelicalism for both an old earth and a young earth cosmology?" What thinkest thou?

Dennis E. McFadden said...


Actually, I was thinking more of the ID folks. My sentence has been modified to reflect that. Most ID thinkers find young earth creationism to be an embarrassment to the cause. They generally want to get them off the stage as fast as they can.

I did not see the Ankerberg debate with Kent Hovind (not my favoritie person due to his heavy use of scientifically discredited arguments (even after being enlightened about them). I did, however view all of the ten episodes of the debate involving Hugh Ross, Walter Kaiser, Jason Lisle, and Ken Ham. That one seemed cordial enough, albeit perhaps a bit unfair to Ham and Lisle since Ankerberg did not disguise his identification with Ross and Kaiser.

Frankly, I was a contented Ross-ite until hearing that Mohler and Sproul had adopted a young earth perspective. That caused me to begin researching for myself. Surprise, surprise, surprise, I actually came out finding more to the YEC view than my profs had led me to believe was there. Never having had a YEC teacher, we just snickered at the imbecility of the view without considering the arguments. And, those arguments have become greatly strengthened since my college and seminary days.

Bottom line: I am a creationist and make common cause with other creationists, regardless of their view of the antiquity of the universe.

nemesis said...

Hi Dennis,
I want to know if you were persuaded hermeneutically or scientifically to believe in a young earth. I personally find that both areas are in favor of an old earth, and was very much compelled by Ross' book "A Matter of Days." To be honest, everything I've heard from the young-earth side is this:
"The Bible says clearly that the world was created in six days, so they must be regular days."
or my favorite...
"Carbon-dating has been shown to date a one week-old piece of paper 25000 years old. So it mus be false. (This is an example, but I think you get what I'm saying)"
I want to know your take, because I know for a fact that Sproul ain't no dummy, so for him to believe the earth is young gives a little bit of merit to the argument. Let me know where to find a good resource.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Nemesis (wow, what a harsh moniker!),

My story is pretty simple. I had been a Hugh Ross - Big Bang - guy for almost all of my three decades in ministry. At Westmont and Fuller, we just snickered at the young earth crowd as virtually equivalent to "flat earth."

Reading Sproul (who had previously endorsed a Hugh Ross book) and an interview in Time with Mohler left me flabbergasted. How could such smart guys buy into this really dumb idea?

I began checking out the Answers in Genesis site. They dealt with both my hermeneutical questions and my scientific snobbishness.

On the hermeneutical side, yes "yom" does occur in Gen 2 for an indeterminate period of time. However, when attached to an ordinal, it seems like special pleading to argue that it means something other than a 24 hour day.

Frankly, the compromises evangelicals have made with the idea of billions of years (since Thomas Chalmers and the Gap theory in the 1810s, closely followed by the Day-Age theory and the local flood by mid century) vitiates much of the force of our arguments regarding homosexuality and other hermeneutical problems.

I had been taught to teach that the Bible REALLY doesn't mean what it says for reasons x, y, z. Why not argue the Paul's view of homosexuality can be similarly discounted?

The AIG crowd, especially Dr. Terry Mortenson, dealt with my hermeneutical qualms, convincing me that redemption's story in the New Testament hinges on taking Gen 1-11 as historical narrative, which it purports to be.

On the scientific front, I had read very little. My profs had thrown the distant starlight problem at me (how could light arrive from billions of light years away in 6,000 to 15,000 years.

And, the evident antiquity of the earth seemed to require a more "nuanced" hermeneutic. Afterall, even inerrantist Charles Hodge argued that if there are two views and one confilicts with science and one does not, you must believe the one that is in concordance.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

How did I deal with those seemingly insurmountable problems?

1. On the distant starlight issue, Dr. Russ Humphreys (PhD physics) has shown by appeal to Einsteinian relativity equations that gravitational time dilation "may" allow for a recent cosmos and billions of years of light. Jason Lisle of AIG, a PhD in astrophysics, has presented at least three approaches to the distant starlight problem that takes science AND the Bible at face value.

2. On the antiquity of the earth, a variety of PhD geologists have punched enough holes in the uniformitarian theories of conventional geology to accommodate a myriad of Grand Canyons.

Don't pooh-pooh the Carbon Dating controversy too quickly. With a half life of little more than 5,700 years, C14 "should" all be depleted within 60k to 100k years. So how come we find measurable amounts of Carbon 14 in coal and diamonds supposedly gazillions of years old?

And, the work of the RATE team on radio halos and helium in zircon crystals has shown that a young earth fits far more consistently than an old earth.

3. If you consider the problem of the human genome, you have yet another reason for believing in a young earth. Mutation typically results in a loss of information, not a gain. Those evolutionary moths we all learned about in high school biology that changed from white to black did so by natural selection of those who had lost the genetic ability to be white. This is a degradation, not an improvement of the species. While all sorts of dogs could be generated from a single pair of proto-dogs, my Shihtzu lacks the ability to "evolve" into a more genetically rich proto-dog. The path only goes one direction: mutation means loss of information.

After reading some of the NEW creationist literature, I discovered that the more reputable ones (e.g., Answers in Genesis), even include lists of dubious and scientifically suspect arguments formerly popular with young earth creationists.

Dennis E. McFadden said...


One more point . . .

Wayne Grudem helpfully observes that without scientific arguments to the contrary, we would never conclude that Genesis 1-11 was meant to be taken in any other way than as straight historical narrative. And, if scientific arguments can be found to nuetralize this factor, why not believe the Bible from the first verse to the last?