Rocking the Boat: The Value of New Ideas

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Excerpt In the realm of Creation Science, there are a few concepts which have taken on the status of virtual orthodoxy - the measuring rod by which new proposals are evaluated. These concepts include such ideas as the Flood being an event accompanied by massive horizontal earth movements and magma-outpouring activity all over the world, and that the Ice Age directly traces its origins to the Flood. Because these concepts are usually backed by well-known Christian organizations, there is an unspoken assumption that they know best and we should take them at their word. Continue reading

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The Problem of Assumptions


In addition, some influential Christian groups have even created lists of “arguments creationists should not use.” In most cases they offer sound advice, because certain apologetic arguments not required by Scripture, though perhaps superficially consistent with it, have been shown over time to rest on such shaky foundations that using them exposes Bible believers to unnecessary ridicule. But on the other hand, they may also blacklist certain ideas that conflict with assumptions tied to individual interpretations of scientific data or doctrinal norms embraced by the organization. Indeed, sometimes these assumptions create an actual conflict with sound biblical exegesis. If solid exegetical reasons can be put forth from the Word of God for an idea that is either new or disparaged due to current (always imperfect) scientific understandings of events from the remote past, or perhaps from overlooked scriptural teaching that has a bearing on a topic, we do well to not quickly eliminate it from consideration. The full Word must take priority in guiding our understanding of controversial topics, not science alone, nor a limited sampling of Scriptures which may allow false conclusions to be drawn. Regardless of their source, we must take care to recognize undemonstrated assumptions for what they really are. Respected Christian scientists and the organizations they belong to are not immune from error, and it is neither improper nor disrespectful to point them out when they occur.

 

The problem of assumptions is seen in the oft-observed tendency to understand a Scripture passage in a narrow way that fails to connect its meaning to both its immediate surrounding context on the one hand, and to the teaching of related Scriptures on the otheras “a pretext for a proof text,” as Dr. Don Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School has put it. Underlying assumptions are sometimes used to apply a questionable, though perhaps plausible, interpretation to a passage so the assumptions – and everything built on them – need not be discarded. Still another problematic approach is to argue that because only one or two otherwise clear Scriptures appear to teach something that conflicts with an accepted model, or they address an issue on which the rest of Scripture is silent (the apparent literal division of the earth in the "days of Peleg," Gen. 10:25, comes to mind), it somehow makes it permissible to ignore the plain sense of the “minority report” and reinterpret those verses in a way that conflicts with their straightforward meaning. But taking this approach is to become one's own arbiter of what is and what is not biblical truth. This is NOT an option for one who is really convinced that the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God – which should be the attitude of all who claim salvation through Christ.

 

An Illustration from Genesis

 

The above remarks come out of issues I have wrestled with in discussions with other scientifically-oriented believers. I want to illustrate it with an example from Genesis 7:19-20, 8:4-5. In the NASB these verses in the Flood story read,

 

19 The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. 20 The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered… 4 In the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat. 5 The water decreased steadily until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.

Let us focus on the mentions of mountains in these verses. To a scientifically unsophisticated Bible believer, it is fair to say that at first glance, Gen. 7:19-20 appears to mention pre-Flood mountains being covered by the Flood, which after receding uncovers these essentially identical mountains once again. (I say "essentially," because we need to make allowance for the processes of sediment deposition and erosion during the Flood, but the bulges which make them mountains in the first place would, in the absence of a hypothetical complete restructuring of the Earth's surface, exist both before and after the water onslaught.)

There is a problem with this understanding, though. If these verses are interpreted to mean that these are the same largely unchanged mountains that existed before the Flood, it would be a major blow to most creationist Flood models. How so? Because these models typically assume such massive Earth changes took place during the Flood, that there is no way the same mountains could still exist afterward. Therefore, the thinking goes, the post-Flood mountains mentioned in chapter 8 must be entirely new ones having no connection whatsoever to the pre-Flood mountains – thinking inextricably tied to the assumption that massive earth movements and magma outpourings were part of the Flood and entirely overhauled the Earth’ surface, an assumption foundational to the validity of the Flood model embraced.

Well, since Jesus had good things to say about the faith of a child, allow me to come to the defense of the unsophisticated man! Notwithstanding that I was an undergraduate science major, as I matured in Christ I learned to allow Scripture, not science or man-made philosophy, to interpret Scripture - Sola Scriptura, as they taught during the Reformation. For this reason, I endeavor to interpret Bible passages not by viewing them through the filter of modern science or a particular creationist model, but instead with an eye to the fundamental principle that the Scriptures are God’s inspired revelation, not merely the words of ancient religious men and women. They are properly understood by knowing something about the original languages, proper principles of hermeneutics, sensitivity to context, and a keen appreciation for the fact that the hard work of systematic theology - relating Scripture to Scripture, thereby allowing God to interpret Himself - is necessary to get a full picture of divine revelation. Since in the Bible God Himself speaks in inerrant words, we are obliged to first seek out the WHOLE counsel of God on a topic. This is not easy! He generally does not tell us everything we might want to know about a subject, at least in one place. Yet, He often reveals a surprisingly greater amount than we might think, were we to look in only one place in the Bible - like looking only at Genesis 7-8 to find out about the how the earth was impacted by the Flood. By itself, Genesis 7-8 does not paint the complete picture. There is other essential information in other books of the Bible, and one who is not broadly familiar with the Word is apt to overlook it and draw false conclusions from limited data.

Understanding Scripture Requires Effort


In having related information scattered throughout the Bible, God makes us WORK for its revelatory insights. God has given us the responsibility to "search the Scriptures" (Jn. 5:39), to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12), to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). When we go to such efforts, we often discover that some apparent blanks are unexpectedly filled in, at least in part.

 

For these reasons, we ought not look too quickly to science, or even to ostensibly biblical models of the early Earth backed by creationist organizations, to fill the gaps in our knowledge. Doing so can lead to incomplete or even misleading answers. If we don't first search the whole of Scripture with proper diligence, and we have a certain measure of scientific knowledge (that we might, in our secret hearts, even be proud of!), we find it oh, so easy to fall back on what we think we know and have expertise in, and start to fill in the blanks with incomplete, error-prone human knowledge derived from sources other than God's own revelation.

That, I fear, has happened in much creationist modeling of the early Earth to date. Well-intentioned Christian scientists, experts in their scientific fields but without advanced training in biblical studies and interpretation, may not realize that an apparent knowledge blank they use science to fill is partly filled in by other Scriptures. Not realizing this, when they construct models using principles drawn largely from their scientific training, it escapes their notice that other Scriptures than the ones they focus on impose constraints on their models, or even conflict with them. I include myself in this camp. My knowledge is imperfect. Notwithstanding that, I dare to imagine that the Lord has shown me a few things in my Bible study over the years that are important for the scientific experts amongst us to take into account, and in some cases have not. So I speak up from time to time.

 

The insights that come from systematic theology – which essentially boils down to allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture – are extremely valuable in helping us to see the place of a particular passage as part of a larger whole, the full revelation of God. It provides the balance that prevents us from going out on a limb with wrong understandings based on limited biblical data, without at the same time minimizing the importance of individual, conceivably “minority” passages. Applying that principle to the current topic, we must see that the information God, the divine Author, had recorded in Genesis 7 and 8 about the Flood does not stand alone. In those two chapters we learn nothing about how the earth under the waters fared. However, if we look elsewhere in Scripture, such as Job 38, Psalm 104, Proverbs 8 and Jeremiah 5, we find information about the initial Creation that appears to impose constraints on the degree of change the Flood could have wrought on the earth. Specifically, we find a repeated declaration by God, in the context of the initial Creation, that He set up firm, unchanging land/sea boundaries. Genesis 7 and 8 say nothing about this, but the other passages do. If their straightforward meaning is accepted as such, they impose real limits on creationary models. If there are unchanging land/sea boundaries that the Flood did not abrogate - and there are pretty clear indications in Scripture that such were set up by God, in the passages mentioned earlier - then the layering seen in the geologic column must be explained, using science to fill in gaps Scripture does not fill, in such a way that it does not conflict with those other passages. It is not enough that a scientific, creationist model of the Flood not conflict with Genesis 7-8, and indeed affirms those verses. To have confidence in it, a model must also affirm the other passages in Job 38, Psalm 104, etc., including ones I and others may not yet have appreciated. To the degree a model fails to affirm a straightforward reading of those other passages, it falls short. But what we generally find is that when a falling short is pointed out to those who created a model, their all-too-human response is to get defensive and start looking for ways to reinterpret the conflicting Scriptures or their data so their model and the assumptions it is built on can stand, rather than reinterpreting the data and perhaps undermining the model. This tendency to get defensive must be resisted, and only the grace of having a humble spirit can make it happen.

This concludes my necessarily brief ruminations on this important issue. Sometimes “rocking the boat” by questioning whether popular teaching truly fits the Bible is necessary. We must all continually ask ourselves, does the straightforward sense of Scripture take priority when we attempt to understand our world and the Bible that tells us about it? We must never forget that most watering down of the authority of Scripture has begun when apparent scientific understandings have been elevated above the Bible, and many of the doctrinal debates that fracture the fellowship of believers have their root in a failure to allow certain Scriptures to speak as the voice of God. May God guard us all against this, and remind each of us that Scripture, “rightly divided,” is our ultimate guide in understanding both this world and the world to come.

 

 

Comments Comment RSS

5/19/2011 12:52 PM #

It seems to me that the Bible as we know it is an assemblage of stories, chronicles, arguments and poetry that is a human construct edited and finally approved by a committee.  At what point does a book become a singular act of God that trumps all other information -- including empirical observations from nature itself.  Truth is truth.

Robin E. Simmons - 5/19/2011 12:52:46 PM

5/19/2011 1:16 PM #

The gist of your article is very good.  Regardless of your level of education you must strive to remain humble.  The more education you have the harder it is to remain so unfortunately.  It's extremely true that even Christians, when possessing the PhD, tend to become too dismissive of the boat being rocked.  

The only thing I wish you had done in the article was to follow through and be more explicit about what you objected to on the issue of pre-Flood mountain ranges.  You pointed out that other scriptures talk about permanent boundaries.  Ok, then elaborate on that and discuss how that would impact current creationist models.  You kind of left us hanging there!

Even though I love the ministry of AIG I do find myself getting intellectually incensed from time to time at some things.  E.g. the contention that in Genesis, when God limited Man's days to 120 years, it does NOT mean that he limited Man's lifespan.   To me, it's eminently obvious that he IS talking about lifespan, not about how long it was going to be before the flood.  But what do I know!  I don't have a PhD.  I'm sure that others may have objections on different issues.  

But your overall point about remaining humble is very true and I think it is a major problem throughout the church.  Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

Doug Lindauer - 5/19/2011 1:16:22 PM

5/19/2011 2:00 PM #

You have good comments but I think you may want to investigate your claims further. For instance you state that there is no way a mountain range could exist through the propsed events during the flood. Yet there is ample evidence of mountains with marine fossils all over and high level sediment. Are you not doing the same assuming that you are complaining about? We also find the same sediment layers on many different continents. ti seems to me the models offer the best answer for all the ecidence.
And I agree with you that no one should point to the 120 years as when God limited man's age. I don't know of any that really say that so maybe you need to qualify it better (although i could have missed it somewhere).

david - 5/19/2011 2:00:51 PM

5/19/2011 2:10 PM #

Rocking the boat is a good thing and I thank you for your article, however I also found that you weren't specific enough about your point to really make a point.  
Regarding the comment about the scriptures that indicate the land/sea boundaries are unchanging, clearly if all the mountains were covered in the flood the land/sea boundaries did change during that event.  Since the scriptures you referenced were written after the flood, they must be speaking of post flood boundaries established by God.

Ken Stouffer - 5/19/2011 2:10:52 PM

5/19/2011 2:15 PM #

Part l:Scripture first then geological asumptions second. If there is a much disputed Gap (this word generates  negative emotions when mentioned for some!)between Genesis 1:1 and v.2; then the earth is informing us of a different depiction for Christian geologists/scientists and lay creationists who believe in one major catastrophe-not two- and a young earth model.

Before we go to point one or a possible Gap there is a broad assumption that if there is a Gap between Gen.1:and v.2 then to many it has to be multiplied millions of years in duration.No one can postulate how many years as it could be a terse period of time or a lengthy period before the Spirit at that juncture began His Operation on the earth.Gen.1:2b
Based on how God works it was probably within a short period of time.So the earth can be young as compared to the notions of present day science.So we have the Scripture first model.
Many state Gap advocates accept a Gap because they wish to conform and defend present scientific teaching that the earth is millions of years old thus in their minds refuting a seven day creation week.'

Dr.H.Davis - 5/19/2011 2:15:24 PM

5/19/2011 2:16 PM #

Psalm 104 does more than just rock the boat. For most flood interpretations, it overturns it completely. In Psalm 104:7 God said the waters of creation would not cross continental boundaries and "never again will they cover the earth," which tends to kill the global flood interpretation altogether. I can see why you did not take it to its logical conclusion, since the article would probably have never been published on this site.

Rich Deem - 5/19/2011 2:16:33 PM

5/19/2011 2:45 PM #

Part ll:corrected
This is untrue.We simply have one creation or recreation which took seven 24 hour days(which Gapists hold) or this period could be a reconstruction of a ruined tohu va bohu earth as found in verse 2 of Gen.1 which Gap advocates affirm too.We do not have to hold to a multi million year earth with a Gap.
Gen1:1 proclaims a whole or complete creation,and one in 'peace'or shalom  and harnony.The Heb. word shalom translated peace means literally unhewn and was used of trees that were uncut.But,when we read Gen.1:2 it is saying in Hebrew this 'peaceful' or complete ('unhewn') earth creation that it was a 'waste and a desolation' or tohu va bohu  Jer.4:23 (I can't emphaze enough how catastrophic these two Heb.words in Gen.1:2 are relative to describing the earth.'Break out your Strongs Heb.dictionary-God said 'I did not create the earth a waste' or tohu or same Heb.word Isa.45:18!) These two Hebrew words are frank and very graphic and speak of a major disaster of no mean proportions.
God is Perfect and what comes from and through Him has to be perfect and complete as to creation.Can it be shown any where God created a waste and desolation in the Genesis Account? No!Part lll next

Dr.H.Davis - 5/19/2011 2:45:53 PM

5/19/2011 3:18 PM #

Not so sure about this article's gist.  The provided Scripture used to support the authors' point can be viewed in a different hermeneutical light- that God is saying that MAN can't do anything about the "change" or "establishment" (ie. ocean/land boundaries) but God CAN (and did during the one-time natural-law-defying event of the Flood, where indeed, the highest hills and mountains were covered, as well as at Creation.  
Logic is an important tool God has bestowed to us, and I think creation scientists are utilizing it to the absolute best of their (our) ability (so far).  There are inescapable logical deductions when relating Scripture to reality, and here is not the forum for it.  Scripture was meant to be understood, not to be highly cryptic and confusing when relating it to reality.  IMHO, today's vetted Creationist organizations are honoring God to the utmost, while also reminding people that humility and tentativeness IS key when dealing with man's '"sciences" and relating them to God's Holy Word.

Matt - 5/19/2011 3:18:10 PM

5/19/2011 3:20 PM #

Thank you for your article. Like the other commentators I agree with you basic supposition to always be questioning and examining, and as a Lutheran pastor I am always proud to see Sola Scriptura.
In the case of the specifics, though I do also disagree with some of the basic reasoning in this case. Of the three verses listed as complimentary verses, only the Job passage might be strong enough to support a pre-flood land sea boundary. I only say "might" because the language "when it burst out from the womb" sound more like flood language than creation language (where the water is already everywhere and needs to be gathered to make dry ground appear).
I'm assuming that you know that Ps 104 is used by young earth creationist to support "massive earth movements." The Psalm seems to move from creation in vs 5 to the flood event in vs 6 to the retreat of the flood waters at God's command in vs 7 to massive earth movements in vs 8 (ESV) to the boundaries you talk of in vs 9. ESV ends vs 9, "so that they might not 'again' cover the earth."
Jeremiah 5:22 I don't think clarifies anything in this case because there is not clear referent to either creation or the flood being when this boundary is set. The point in this verse isn't when, but rather that a boundary has been set and even though the people can understand such a natural boundary they don't get it when it comes to God's prescriptions for life.
One item that came up in the comments is the issue of 120 years. I think that was the message that Noah proclaimed concerning the coming flood. Noah is a “herald of righteousness” and this would be similar to Jonah’s message, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

Jim - 5/19/2011 3:20:12 PM

5/19/2011 3:54 PM #

I agree with the principle but not the applciation here. For instance, the floods fled away and returned to their current psoition. This indicates the waters covered and deluged the earth leaving the Grand Canyon and other monuments to their tremendous destruction. read teh Word in Toto is my mantra. God will inspire through it.

Bill Ford - 5/19/2011 3:54:56 PM

5/19/2011 4:15 PM #

It is fine and necessary to include all the related Scripture passages to this issue.  However, you did not include Genesis 7:11, which says (NASB), ". . . on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened."  This must be included in the discussion and conclusion to whether there were great geological changes.  It seems obvious that with such upheavals from the subterranean parts there would be gross geological changes, wouldn't it?

Dr. D. K. Johnson - 5/19/2011 4:15:18 PM

5/19/2011 9:44 PM #

I really, really enjoyed this article, even though I was somewhat lost in the beginning without some more specific examples to illustrate your point.  There is a tendency to force Scripture and current science to perfectly agree and match together like a puzzle, which I don't think we can fairly expect.  Scripture only tells the parts of history that the Lord meant for us to know to make his point(s) about the greater matters of life.  Science only tells us what we can so far observe and can only tell history when it's mixed with our interpretations and assumptions, which we hope are less corrupt than unregenerate hearts tend to be.  

It's wonderful when the two do overlap and support each other, but what's wrong with saying, "I don't know about...", "I'm wrestling with...", or "I can't wait to get to heaven to find out how..."?  Certainly we want to know what can be known, and search out apparent conflicts to the best of our ability, but both of those endeavors have limits.  I've known more than one person who claims to follow the greatest commandment, but from my point of view, seems to have their mind enslaved to making the Scriptures fit into contemporary science, and so have read interpretations into Scripture that disagree with its plain words (more corruption).  I was blessed to come across this as I was only beginning to learn about creation science; I learned early that those who fight for both anti-Biblical and Biblical interpretations of science are men - are fallible - and I have to be careful not to take someone else's word simply because they say they support what I do.  May each of us be blessed with the ability to question EVERYthing, and to find the Bible head and shoulders above all other claims in authority and trustworthiness!

I also find it amusing that your argument treated the boundaries of the water and mountains as loosely as the Bible does: not altogether clarified, no conclusion, and not your main point! Smile

Missy - 5/19/2011 9:44:12 PM

5/22/2011 11:53 PM #

One most important feature that creation science has over evolution, we have an eyewitness account of the past. Science is not perfect because it relies on human knowledge. Evolution on the other hand is a story filled with falsifications and assumptions! Discovering the original soft tissue in fossils disputes the assumption of the animal being millions of years old. I certainly agree that Scripture not science is the authority. In the religion of materialists, it would be evolution that is the final authority but they do go by things not seen and untestable. The traditional meaning of science is not what it used to be because of the story of evolution. Very well-written article overall!  

Michael - 5/22/2011 11:53:35 PM

5/23/2011 8:25 PM #

I agree with the first comment, the one by Doug Lindauer.  Your article kind of left us hanging a bit.

Robert Hall - 5/23/2011 8:25:49 PM

5/24/2011 12:59 AM #

Lots of good ideas here. But let's clarify the issue here to keep our priorities right. The Bible is a theological book first and a scientific one second. Theological; meaning it gives us mainly spiritual information. And, scientific; meaning we can examine processes and procedures to determine cause and effect. Spiritually, the creation story is a narrative to describe what happened, so we have a record. As a Bible student I can appreciate the majesty of it. But, secondly, as a former Manufacturing Engineer, I can see processes at work.  The creation story describes a process not a grocery list. Start with a lump of clay and make modifications until the project is completed. A lump of clay just happens to be TOHU WA BOHU ( no form because I am not done with it - DUH!!) By the end of the story it's a complete earth - is this too simple?? Isaiah 45:18 is stating that God did not make the earth TWB, well, because he didn't leave it like that, he continued and finished it. I also do not have a PhD, just a Master's, but at least I learned to proof read my articles before posting them full of spelling errors as several commentators have done. I think we need a consensus on scripture, not a smorgasbord. The best ideas need to be documented online in a WIKI fashion until a better explanation is determined, otherwise we will continue to argue and rehash the same arguments forever and learn nothing from our past discussions. We have the technology to do it, just not yet the resolve. Thanks for the opportunity to put in my 2 cents worth.
Charles Michael Lassiter

Charles Michael Lassiter - 5/24/2011 12:59:27 AM

5/26/2011 10:35 AM #

Dear ABR Website Visitors,

I wrote "Rocking the Boat: The Value of New Ideas" for the May 2011 issue of the ABR Newsletter. It stirred up a surprising number of comments! It is gratifying to see people actually read and thoughtfully consider the information ABR provides. Such comments encourage us to believe our labor is not in vain...

Your comments inspired me to write Part II of this article, which can be found here:

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...-of-the-Flood.aspx

I interact with many of your comments in this second part. Thanks for your interest!

Sincerely,
Rick Lanser

Rick Lanser - 5/26/2011 10:35:31 AM

6/4/2011 10:43 PM #

I think there is a desire here to limit God by what He says at a point.  But can that be as much of an assumptive problem as the concern you have noted of creationists using scientific principles to understand the current physical state of the earth and the heavens in terms of what they believe the Bilbe is describing.

For example, Psalm 104 also says in verse 5 that the earth is set on its foundation and cannot be moved.  However, 2 Peter 3:7 says that the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement.  I would think that would impact the boundaries of the ocean.  This verse in 1 Peter is written as a certainty of things to come and not just a possibility.  God's future action will not be prevented by his description that the earth's stability is not in jeopardy outside of His devine action.  

I might note also that in verse 6 it states that the world was deluged and destroyed as a result of the Flood.  I would think that destroyed would mean that the preFlood ocean boundaries would have been impacted.

Chartles Danley - 6/4/2011 10:43:12 PM

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