Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Creation the Bible and Science Conference: Day Two

Speakers from left: Robert Letham, Paul Helm, Philip Eveson,
Jason Ramplet, Stephen Lloyd & Stuart Burgess. (John Currid absent).
The New Testament and Creation
Dr. Stephen Lloyd
The quietly spoken, yet persuasive Dr. Lloyd began his paper by comparing the story of the Bible, namely creation, fall, redemption and restoration with the story of Darwinism, which is the evolution of life from amoeba to man. Lloyd, who holds a PhD in materials science, wished to address the issue of whether these two grand metanarratives are compatible. He suggested that controversy over the interpretation of Genesis 1 is really a distraction. What matters is the whole Bible's doctrine of creation. The acceptance of Darwinian evolution has huge implications for Christian theology.

1. Agony and death in the story-line of the Bible.

Romans 8:18-22 tells us that the non-human creation was subjected to futility and entropy as a result of the fall of man. With the fall of man, disease, corruption and death entered the world. In the Bible, death is not a biological necessity, it is the punishment for sin. Some who wish to reconcile the Christian faith with Darwinism argue the fall did not bring physical death, as death is a natural part of biological life. For them, man may have died spiritually when he sinned, but this had no effect upon the physical world beyond man's "bad stewardship". Since fall man has failed to properly fulfil the "cultural mandate". But many important Scriptures stand against the "bad stewardship" reading. Romans 5:12 & 14 and 1 Corinthians 15:21 tell us that physical death came into the world because of sin. Jesus' death was physical as well as spiritual. Arguing from solution to plight, we can see that Christ's death dealt with both the spiritual and physical aspects of death. Death is "the last enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:26), which will be destroyed when Jesus returns. The Bible's story becomes incoherent if death is simply "natural", as Darwinian evolution demands.

Lloyd did not develop the point, but he said that animal suffering and death were also due to the fall, rather than being natural phenomenon. God declared the pre-fall creation "very good". In the evolutionary story, things like death, disease, and earthquakes are just the way things are. But it is hard to see how God could regard such a disordered world as "good". In reality, such things are part and parcel of his curse upon a fallen world. Salvation has to do with the restoration of the physical as well as the spiritual realm. Christ healed the sick as an anticipation of the renewal of creation. On the cross he wore a crown of thorns, signifying that in him, God's curse upon creation will be removed. Christ's resurrection - a physical event was the first installment of the renewal of creation, Romans 8:23, Revelation 21:4.

The Bible's story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration cannot be reconciled with Darwinism.

2. The flood

The flood of Genesis 6 to 9 was an act of judgement that "de-created" the world because of man's sin. The subsidence of the flood waters was an act of re-creation that points forward to the new creation, 2 Peter 3:3-10. Darwinism cannot accommodate a global flood. But a global flood is a major element in the Bible's story. Noah was a kind of new Adam, Genesis 9:1. The global claims of the gospel arise from God's global promise after the flood, Genesis 8:22. After the flood, life was more suited for sinful man with human age span drastically limited. The flood inaugurated an era of grace, 2 Peter 3:9. Prior to the flood, there were only eight righteous persons on earth - Noah and his family. After the flood multitudes of people have been saved.

3. Adam and the Bible's story

Key biblical passages insist that Adam was an historical figure and that he was the head of the human race - Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22. According to the Bible, Adam was specially created in the image of God, Genesis 1:26. Darwinism contradicts this by insisting that human life evolved around 100,000 years ago from pre-human hominids. But if a some point, human beings evolved from Neanderthals then Adam cannot have been the biological ancestor of all mankind. He was just one of the lucky ones who evolved from a pre-human to human state. How, then can Adam have been the representative head of all human beings, so that his sin meant sin and death for humanity? Darwinism makes a mockery of the Bible's account of the federal relationship between Adam and the human race.

Lloyd showed convincingly that the acceptance of Darwinian evolution is a huge theological liability for those who wish to hold to the integrity of the Bible's story.

Design Arguments - Stepping Stones or Stumbling Blocks?
Prof. Paul Helm

In a well-argued, robust and sometimes humorous address, Paul Helm distinguished between a theology of nature, that takes into account the witness of Scripture and natural theology that seeks to argue from nature up to God. He criticised William Paley's design arguments for failing to take into account things like disease and suffering in nature. God does reveal himself in creation, Romans 1:20, Acts 14:15-18, 17:22-31. But we have to be careful in using intelligent design arguments to refute the theory of evolution by natural selection. Helm's emphasis on the "weirdness" of creation ex nihilo gave pause for thought. Creation as described in Genesis 1 is a singularity. God is now resting from his unique work of creation. In his providential dealings with the world, he respects the integrity of secondary causes. Genesis 1 is an historical account of origins. But we cannot reconstruct what happened back then from scientific principles. Creation ex nihilo is the ultimate singularity where the laws of science as we currently understand them break down.

In summing up, Helm argued that we need to be flexible and gracious in our apologetic approach, as we seek to win a hearing for the gospel. In his address, the Prof offered some important correctives to some evangelical approaches to apologetics. His proposals are well worth pondering. You can read this excellent paper on his blog, here.

Authority: the Bible and Science
Dr. Jason Ramplet

As Ramplet, Research Associate at The Faraday Institute pointed out, in life we are constantly pondering the demands of different authorities. Authorities from the rules of the road to cultural conventions call for our obedience. Both the Bible and science have some authority. God the creator us also the one who made the world for us to investigate and subdue. His truth is one.

1. The authority of the Bible

Some would seek to use science to undermine the authority of the Bible. Others compartmentalise Scripture and science saying, "Science tells us how the heavens go, the Bible tells us how to go to heaven." But Genesis 1 has something to say on how the heavens go, as God made the stars. It was God's authoritative speech acts that called the world into being and that summoned Adam from the dirt.

2. The authority of science

The Bible is authoritative but its scope is not exhaustive. We cannot look to Scripture to tell us how to make a cake or manufacture a clock. Extrabiblical knowledge is important. The cultural mandate of Genesis 1 demands that we "subdue the earth" and that involves some scientific activity. The authority of science arises from four principles:

1) The repeatability of experiments.

2) Experimental data is superior to theoretical speculation.
Theories must answer to the world. Darwin was an experimental scientists before he was a theoriser. Multiverse theory is sheer speculation.

3) Science is a corporate endeavour.
Research is a social activity. Scientific communities peer review new proposals. At this point Ramplet suggested, "the devil is a blogger". I 'm not sure what exactly he meant by that. Does he have any peer-reviewed experimental data to prove his case, I wonder?

4) Nature is set against us.
It is by the sweat of our brow that nature reveals its secrets. We also have to take into consideration the epistemological effects of the fall. Unbelieving scientists have to assume God even to deny him.

3. The supreme authority

Under this heading, Ramplet argued that we must try to keep the scientific consensus on Darwinian evolution in tension with the biblical doctrine of creation. Both science and theology have their own integrity. We know nothing as God knows it. We are his vice-regents with finite secondary knowledge. We must accent the value of science and theology.

This last point was most controversial when it came to discussion. Some scientists in the congregation cast doubt on the so-called "Darwinian consensus", suggesting that it was a forced consensus that subjected dissenters to bullying and intimidation. [See here for Paul Helm's thoughts on Micheal Reiss' dismissal from the Royal Society for suggesting that creationism be taught in science lessons]. Others expressed concern that Ramplet had overly compartmentalised the Bible and science. One pastor asked how the speaker would advise a teenage girl who said that the teaching on evolution in school was different from what she had been taught about creation in church. Ramplet seemed to argued that biblical creation and Darwinian evolution were both valid and should be held in tension. I think that in accepting theistic evolution, Ramplet has allowed the authority of science to trump the authority of Scripture. He has failed to take on board the incompatibility of macroevolutionary theory with the Bible's basic story line, as demonstrated so ably by Stephen Lloyd. It was good to have an opportunity to discuss Ramplet's proposals. But his equivocation on this vital point made for a less than rousing end to an otherwise exceptionally helpful conference.

The conference was held under the auspices of the John Owen Centre. CD's of each address and a nifty MP3 CD containing all the addresses can be ordered here.

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