Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Creation still matters!

Rhea Central High School, 1925
Photo: Smithsonian

Here we go again...

Continuing on with my thoughts about the importance of beliefs, I want to first re-affirm that creation/evolution is not a gospel issue.  Those who reject young-age creationism (or believe it) can still be Christians, but that doesn't mean that our beliefs about creation don't matter.

I was reminded of that just now when I got a message from a friend who teaches at a Christian high school.  I don't know all the details, but the story is frustratingly familiar.  I've changed some of the details here to protect privacy and because the details are kind of irrelevant - this kind of stuff keeps happening again and again and again.  When will we learn?

My friend told me that his school hired a new science teacher this year, but no one bothered to ask what she believed about creation.  Apparently, she's not a young-age creationist, and the students are up in arms.  I shudder to think how this is going to end.

Once again, let me plead with administrations everywhere: This issue is IMPORTANT.  No, it's not a gospel issue, but I guarantee that there are people in your constituency who feel very strongly about young-age creationism (either for or against).  You can't just brush this off because you don't care or you don't see what the big deal is.  This is obviously a big deal.

Ninety years ago, my home of Dayton, TN thought it would be a great idea to have a test case tried here at the Rhea County Courthouse to see if the new anti-evolution law was constitutional.  It took only a few weeks before the people of the town realized that they had made a mistake, but by then, it was too late.  The Scopes Trial brought international infamy and mockery to Dayton.  Of course, they had an excuse: No one in 1925 had ever seen anything like the Scopes Trial before.  You don't have that excuse, so wise up.

You can't ignore the creation/evolution issue.  Every school needs to have some kind of policy or statement on the subject.  You also can't just make one department be creationist.  I've heard of schools who require affirmations of creationism only from the Bible department or the science department.  Militant anti-creationists (or anti-evolutionists) can be from any discipline.  A school where teachers feud with each other over creationism is not a good thing.  No one wants a teacher sowing discord.

It would be wonderful if one day we didn't have to deal with this kind of tribalism.  Maybe one day we could all be working toward the same goal, together seeking a better understanding of God's creation.  But that day is not today.  Today, we still wrestle with scoffers and mockers in our midst: Those who claim that young-age creationism is a litmus test of Christian orthodoxy, and those who think that young-age creationists are fools and morons.  We can and should strive for something better, but in the meantime, an effective manager will understand the times and know how to deal with the people that exist here and now.

So this is all well and good, but what should a school do if they find themselves in this kind of situation?  The first thing to understand is that it's going to be difficult to find a solution that everyone will be happy with.  The most obvious options have serious drawbacks:
  • The school could stand by the teacher and let her teach whatever she wants. That's going to alienate at least some parents who will seek another school, which is their right and privilege.  Beyond that practicality, I think it's unwise to just allow teachers to teach whatever they want.  We teachers will be held to a higher account because of what we teach, and I think that those who try to abdicate that responsibility or pass the buck to someone else will be judged harshly.
  • The school could request that the teacher not speak about evolution or origins, which some (probably the teacher) will see as an offense against "academic freedom."  It's also not an option for a science teacher or other teachers that have to deal with the question of origins.  It really would be irresponsible if you told your science department or Bible department not to talk about creation or evolution.
  • Another possibility is simply dismissing the teacher, which could very well end in a lawsuit.  I suppose you could ask nicely that the teacher resign, or maybe negotiate a severance deal.  This option will create the most hard feelings of all possibilities.  If you want to create bitterness and resentment that might last for decades, do this.  Also, you'll create yet another "martyr" story for anti-creationists.  "This poor, innocent teacher lost her job because she didn't accept the theologically and scientifically silly position of young-age creationism."  Yeah, we really need another one of those.
All of these possibilities become even more complicated if the school has never had an official position on creation.  Trying to enforce one now after the fact is not fair.

Is there a better solution?  Yes, I hope there is.  I know of at least one college that tightened its statement of faith over a two-year period.  That process was not exactly pleasant, but it also didn't make the headlines or end in lawsuits. The administration has to bear a lot of the responsibility for making this process work well.  Administrators need to think about being servant leaders and not merely ordering people around when they disagree with you.  Remember the words of Jesus: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:25-26).

To the parents and teachers involved: Pray earnestly that this can be worked out. Do NOT pray that your opinion will prevail.  Pray that the peace of Christ and the unity of the church will be preserved as you work out your differences with fear and trembling.  Remember that you might be wrong, despite all the strident voices who tell you that the church cannot afford to be wrong on this question. In fact, don't listen to those strident voices.  They will lead you astray.  This isn't a gospel issue.  God won't send you to hell if you get it wrong.

Pray for humility for all sides.  Pray that the administration that God has placed in authority over that school will make wise and humble decisions.  Pray that the teachers involved, especially the teachers at the center of the storm, will humbly submit to the authority in their lives and humbly speak the truth to them. Pray for the parents and the students that their outrage will be calmed and that the Holy Spirit will guide them.  Pray like you've never prayed before.

Next, you need to practice the spiritual disciplines together.  Pray together.  Read the scripture together.  Work together.  That doesn't mean you get together with the people who agree with you to pray that the "other side" loses.  That means you meet with those who oppose your view and pray with them.  The most important thing in this conflict is not getting the right answer.  The most important thing is becoming more like Christ during the conflict.  Use this to help you love God and love your neighbor.  Those are the greatest commandments.  So practice being Christian together with those who don't see things your way.  Figure out how to love your enemy.

Finally, please communicate with each other.  Do not give in to the temptation to gossip.  This is no time for whispering in the hall or meeting behind closed doors.  Administrators need to bring everyone together and let them know what's happening.  If you try to do things alone and in secret, you're just asking for the situation to blow up in your face.  I'm not saying you shouldn't have private time to think and deliberate, but you need to keep the stakeholders informed and aware. People will gossip or maybe even start talking to reporters if you don't.  Those of you who are not administrators need to practice discipline and not stoke the rumor-mill with disrespect and anger towards God's anointed leaders.  Find ways to respectfully and clearly communicate your objections.  That will require you to think instead of just reacting.  Pray that God will show you where you are wrong as you think about your own position.

For the rest of the church who are not directly involved, please pray for every school now facing these problems.  We are the church, the body of Christ.  When one part suffers, we all suffer.  Pray for teachers looking for jobs that they will wisely choose good employers.  Pray for teachers who already have jobs that they will make wise and respectful choices about their curriculum and that they will be humble and submissive when dealing with parents and administrators.  Pray for administrators that they will strive to serve as leaders and follow Christ's example as He humbled himself to die for a world that rejected Him.  Pray for parents faced with such difficult choices in protecting and educating their children.  Pray that they will also make wise and humble choices and that they will trust the Lord to guide and protect their children.  Pray for the students that they will see in adults the Holy Spirit at work and not just petty power-plays like the unbelievers.  The students are watching everything these teachers, parents, and administrators are doing.  Pray for the culture around us that they will see Jesus Christ as we work through these difficulties.  Pray that we will not once again make a mockery of our witness by ugly, public squabbling and infighting.

Let me close with the wisdom of Scripture:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.... Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Phil. 2:1-4, 14-16).

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, October 24, 2016

So what if it's not a gospel issue?

About a month ago, I posted an article that apparently really hit a chord with a lot of people, But is it a gospel issue? I chastised people for using the phrase "gospel issue" too flippantly, where everything and anything related to the good news of Jesus Christ had become a "gospel issue."  The post was inspired by an article from Christianity Today that described environmentalism as a "gospel issue." I want to return to this question of our treatment of our environment, because there's still an important lesson to illustrate and learn: Not being something is not enough.  If our treatment of the environment is not a gospel issue, then what is it?

I was reminded of this question recently when I happened to read an article on climate change by a prominent voice in the skeptical movement.  Climate science is not my expertise nor even an avocational interest for me - origins and evolution take most of my attention - but I guess I was curious to see what this particular article had to say.  I'm not going to link to the article, and I guess that's cowardly.  But I'm not trying to get into the climate debate, nor am I looking to make enemies.

I do however have some things to say.  You see, the article I read went through a lot of effort to discredit climate science.  To be very specific, the author of the article didn't deny climate change, he just disputed the idea that humans are the cause of climate change.  There were references to research articles and mention of big climate words like decadal oscillation.  It sounded very impressive, but the thing that really caught my eye was the punchline.  What does all this fuss about man-made climate change get us?  According to the author of this article, we Christians should not support development of alternative energy or pollution control because man-made climate change is bunk.

Say what?

Back to my big question here: If environmental care is not a gospel issue, then what is it?  Is it just something we can shrug off and ignore?  If climate change is bogus, that's it?

Let's leave aside for a moment the question of climate change and just think for a bit about where we live.  There are plenty of reasons that we as Christians ought to think very carefully about how we treat the world around us.  First of all, it's not our world.  The earth is the Lord's, and we just get to live here for a while.  I wouldn't want people coming into my house and trashing the place, and why should I think that God's OK with me doing the same to His creation?

Second, pollution is real.  Just ask an asthmatic.  Personally, I like breathing.  I'm sure you do too.  Every time I fly into Los Angeles, I'm reminded how bad pollution can be when we fly right through that greasy, greyish-brown layer of smog hanging over the city.  Alternative energy that doesn't burn disgusting fossil fuels and pollute the air sounds pretty good to me.

Third, fossil fuels are a limited, nonrenewable resource.  I don't want to get into the argument about how much oil is left (it's a whole lot), but I can say with confidence that oil is not an infinite resource.  Eventually (decades from now), it will run out.  Personally, I would rather use what oil is left developing better energy sources that won't run out so that when the oil supply does dry up, it won't be such a shock.

I've mentioned before on my blog that debunking is not enough.  Here's a prime example.  Christians, regardless of what you think about climate change, there are good reasons that we ought to think carefully about how we use our natural resources and manage the creation that God has entrusted to us.  Debunking environmental radicals or trying to debunk environmental science doesn't give us a good plan for creation.  We Christians who care about God's creation ought to spend time developing responsible and intelligent ideas for caring for the world God gave us rather than just wasting our time debunking this or that claim.  If there is a need for correcting error, we ought to do so in the light of truth and goodness.  We should point people down the right path not just scare them away from the wrong one.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Upcoming Events and Deadlines

This Thursday (October 20 at 7 pm), Core Academy is sponsoring an event called Pies and Prayers for the local Dayton community.  I'll be serving five of my pies, and we'll spend time praying for the work of Core Academy.  In case you're curious, the pies are Triple-Layer Pumpkin pie, Apple-Cranberry pie, Quince tart, Maple Cream tarts, and English Mince tarts.  It's the flavors of fall.  Click here for more information.

Core Academy is also giving away free science equipment to Christian schools in January.  We've already had a great response to this opportunity, so if you know a Christian school that could use a few microscopes or other eqiupment, point them to our website.  The deadline for submitting proposals is November 7.  The proposals are easy, just a form to fill out.  There's no reason not to submit  one.  Click here for more information.

Also coming up:
  • Submission deadline for the International Conference on Creationism is January 31, 2017, but if you want the Creation Biology Society to pay your submission fee, you'll need to submit your proposal by December 5, 2016. Get more information at the CBS website.
  • The Journal of Creation Theology and Science wants to publish another special issue on human origins, and the submission deadline is December 30, 2016.  Topics can be anything related to human origins: Genesis, historical Adam, relevant book reviews, genomics, biogeography, fossil record, etc.  Click here to read all about it.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Primeval Chronology of William Henry Green

William Henry Green
Public Domain
For those just joining us, I am reviewing the various issues related to the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 (see part 1 and part 2 of the series).  My goal is to better understand what we evangelical Christians ought to believe regarding the lifespans of ancient humans before and after the Flood.  This week, we continue our discussion with a review of William Henry Green's 1890 article "Primeval Chronology," published in Bibliotheca Sacra (vol. 47, pp. 285-303).  Green was a well-known Presbyterian theologian and for nearly fifty years a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Since his article is widely cited and influential, it makes sense to begin our close inspection of the Genesis genealogies here.  You can find a free copy easily using Google.

Green begins his article with an unfortunate over-estimate of the subject's importance:
The question of the possible reconciliation of the results of scientific inquiry respecting the antiquity of man and the age of the world with the Scripture chronology has been long and earnestly debated.  On the one hand, scientists, deeming them irreconcilable, have been led to distrust the divine authority of the Scriptures; and, on the other hand, believers in the divine word have been led to look upon the investigations of science with an unfriendly eye, as though they were antagonistic to religious faith.  In my reply to Bishop Colenso in 1863, I had occasion to examine the method and structure of the biblical genealogies, and incidentally ventured the remark that herein lay the solution of the whole matter.
Green is correct that the age of the creation is a point of contention between some theologians and scientists; however, that is by no means the entire debate. Contemporaries of Green in the United States were hotly arguing over the question of evolution and design.  That debate wasn't prominent at Princeton, but it was certainly common in the U.S.  Let us remember that the whole of science and faith does not rest on interpreting the genealogies correctly (I'll say more about that in a future article).

The rest of the paper is divided into two sections.  In the first, he rehearses the various reasons from the Bible itself that genealogies are frequently edited and abridged.  The reality of abridged genealogies is undeniable, and I will not dwell upon that here.  I'm far more interested in the second part of the article, where Green addresses the Genesis genealogies directly.  After all, those genealogies are the ones I'm interested in.

The primary question he addresses is whether or not Genesis 5 and 11 have been abridged.  His first point (helpfully numbered for us) is that by analogy, we shouldn't just assume that the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies are complete.  Since many other genealogies in the Bible are abridged in some way, it would seem that genealogies were just abridged as a matter of course.  I would say this is his strongest point, such as it is.  He overplays it, though, when he tries to say that there are no other biblical genealogies comparable to Genesis 5 and 11 by which gaps could be deduced.  He's obviously aware of Matthew, Luke, and 1 Chronicles, so he must mean some kind of independent source.  (In other words, the later versions of the primeval genealogies copy from Genesis.)  On that point, I'm not sure he can claim that any of the other genealogies that he cited in the first part of the article are truly independent sources.  Surely some of those were copied from earlier passages of Scripture?  This is important because the genealogies of Luke, Matthew, and 1 Chronicles are the same as Genesis 5 and 11, with the exception of the extra Cainan in Luke.

Green's second point directly addresses the peculiarities of Genesis 5 and 11. After all, the ages in Genesis make the primeval genealogies completely unique among all the genealogies in the Bible.  In fact, the ages would seem to invite us to add up the years between creation and Abraham, and there is evidence that that is exactly what ancient interpreters did with the ages.  Green claims that the ages are intended to tell us about how lifespans decreased after the Flood, and thus we cannot add up the ages to give us the span of time over the same period of early history.  He supports this claim by noting that the total lifespan of each patriarch is unnecessary to establish the length of time from Creation to Abraham.  His argument here is interesting but smacks of the weird habit of modern readers to insist that Bible passages have only one meaning, which (if you can figure it out) necessarily excludes all other meanings or purposes.  I don't buy that kind of reasoning, and you shouldn't either.  Every time a New Testament writer cites a prophecy of the Old Testament, we see multiple meanings apply to the OT passage.

Green's third point is yet another analogy with a later genealogy/chronology, that of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt.  Once again, the dissimilarities strike me as more important than the similarities.

Green's fourth point is that Moses would have know about Egyptian chronology, which contradicts that of Genesis.  He also points out here that the Samaritan and Septuagint chronologies differ from the Masoretic (which he calls the "Hebrew"). To this I simply ask: Could not Moses' genealogies be intended to correct the faulty Egyptian chronology?  I don't think it's a very compelling argument.

For his fifth point, Green notes the stylistic similarity between the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, which again I think is a point well worth considering.  Once again, though, I think he overplays the point:
...if a chronology is to be constructed out of this genealogy, Noah was for fifty-eight years the contemporary of Abraham, and Shem actually survived him thirty-five years, provided xi. 26 is to be taken in its natural sense, that Abraham was born in Terah's seventieth year.  This conclusion is well-nigh incredible.
The conclusion is incredible?  In other words, Green just doesn't believe it.  That's not an argument, and it's not compelling.

Green's article raises some important points, but in my view it gets far too much regard.  His arguments about the meaning of Genesis 5 and 11 are too conclusive.  I think there are a lot more questions that his view doesn't actually answer.  In the next article in this series, we'll continue looking at papers published on the genealogies, and we'll have a look at some additional questions about Genesis 5 and 11.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New ancient footprints?

News reports this morning celebrate newly-discovered footprints "from the dawn of modern humanity."  They aren't.  They're quite recent, actually.  Even by conventional dating, they are at best from the "evening" of modern humanity.  They are near Engare Sero, Tanzania, which is the same general area as the Laetoli prints, but I don't think they're the prints I blogged about this past summer.  Those prints were supposed to be very old and very close to the existing Laetoli tracks.  These new prints are conventionally dated to 10-20 thousand years ago, and it was apparently quite a complicated task to get them dated.

Read all about it in their report:

Liutkus-Pierce et al. 2016. Radioisotopic age, formation, and preservation of Late Pleistocene human footprints at Engare Sero, TanzaniaPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology DOI 10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.09.019.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.