Saturday, July 10, 2010

John Piper--Young Humanity, Old Earth OK

This is an interesting interview with John Piper in which he basically says that the important things about Christian belief in creation are: 1) that God created it, 2) that humanity is relatively young on the planet, but 3) he allows for a variety of views on how old the earth might be prior to humanity's arrival, presumably including the evolution of lower forms of life. He only insists that the purpose of whatever happened prior to that point was to prepare the earth for humanity.

He has been convinced by a book called Genesis Unbound. I haven't read the book, but I find the view attractive simply because it lets science be science while holding to the direct creation of Adam by God at some point in the last 6-20,000 years. As long as we only talk to other fundamentalist Christians, we never have to face the evolution issue. But if we ever find ourselves presenting Christianity to someone outside of our comfort zone, we will have to account for the fact that we (who almost always have no scientific competence in these areas) have made an all or nothing issue out of a position that is more than overwhelmingly rejected by those who are scientifically competent (both by scientists with and without faith) in a field where one makes their name on new ideas and discoveries. It seems to me this is a major truth credibility issue for fundamentalist Christianity (it is not clearly an evangelical issue) that it makes this issue not a matter of individual conscience but one of core dogma.

Piper's position here demands all the key Christian beliefs (God created Adam directly as the first true human) while considering one's position on time prior to that as tangential. In effect it says, perhaps God created the world in six literal 24 hour periods. Perhaps He directed an evolutionary process to prepare the world for humanity and then directly created Adam 10,000 years ago. It says the question of "how" before Adam is really tangential and let those competent in science debate it. If Christian scientists want to enter that debate as part of their discipline, have at it, whichever position you have come to. The rest of us scientific incompetents only know that God created the world and directly created Adam.

This approach would probably require us to take the death that entered the world through Adam as human death or spiritual death rather than the death of any living thing. This fits with Genesis where Adam has to eat from the tree of life to live forever--implying that he would not have lived forever if he did not eat, which he and Eve did not.

What do you think?


Paul Tillman said...

Personally, I'd have to wrestle with this concept for a while. But as for your final point on the mortality of humans, I've been there for a while. I read Gen. 3:22 as the tree of life being able to extend the life of even a sinful Adam and Eve, and Rev:22 states repeatedly that people will eat from the tree of life in the Kingdom. I'm not guessing as to the properties of "tree of life fruit" (whether it is based in biology or faith), but it seems humans need it in order to live forever on earth.

Bob MacDonald said...

Hi Ken - Piper has generated a response or two - mine is here

::athada:: said...

I understand the great tensions Darwin introduces, but accepting 99% of the evidence for an old earth and denying the equally compelling evidence (originating from the same data/scientific processes) for human evolution sure seems inconsistent. Not sure that it can be had both ways, though you can always trump that with a simple "I just believe it."

Both "Old Earth, Old Humanity" and "Old Earth, Young Humanity" seem to see the fall/death as a spiritual kind, as well as physical human death. It does seem strange, however, to have a violent creation and non-dying, non-violent humanity living side-by-side for a few days. Both views must accept a whole lotta dyin' going on before modern humans - don't think you could intellectually hold a view of creation for millions of years, pre-human, with all creatures living in harmony (parasites with certain beneficial properties, etc). Or maybe the Answers in Genesis folk have figured out a way to dance to that tune.

Ken Schenck said...

I'm beginning to regret this post. I had intended it to open up those with a very rigid sense of how creation took place to other possibilities that would not sacrifice items of key concern. I think there are very many possibilities that can and should be on the table if we really take seriously any claims to be people interested in truth more than interpretive traditions. For example, some might interpret "a direct creation of Adam" in terms of the implantation of a soul in a hominid.

My goal was not to become bizarrely literal on some points and poetic on others, as clayboy has taken the post. My goal is only to free up the discussion.

Bob MacDonald said...

"sacrifice items of key concern". This is, I think, the very thing we must do. Our key concerns are not the critical ones, but are often the ones that define dogma to which we may hold without the faith, hope, and love that are the real key concerns.

JWW said...

"...But if we ever find ourselves presenting Christianity to someone outside of our comfort zone, we will have to account for the fact that we (who almost always have no scientific competence in these areas) have made an all or nothing issue out of a position that is more than overwhelmingly rejected by those who are scientifically competent (both by scientists with and without faith)..." So, are you suggesting that in discussions realted to science, especially in the area of creation, we must always allow a competent scientist the privilege to trump a competent theologian? The Theologian is always wrong?
Or, are you suggesting that those who believe in a divinely created universe should probably steer clear of scientific discussions with the university crowd because we will always look like nincompoops among the intelligensia of the secular university?
Or, perhaps you are simply suggesting that one can believe the Bible narrative of creation if we want but we would do well to accept that we will always be considered the embarassing relative at the the annual family picnic. Be prepared to deal with it.

Ken Schenck said...

JWW, I see the problem as two-fold. It is not just scientific evidence that involves interpretation but the Bible as well, and as a NT scholar I know such interpretation is far more complex than those who generally feel the strongest on this issue. Most to the point, the God-breathed meaning the NT found in OT Scripture was regularly non-literal. Only by the Spirit could someone think that the true meaning of not muzzling oxen while treading was that Christian ministers should be materially supported. In this instance Paul has no interest in the literal meaning of Deuteronomy. The meaning that is profitable for instruction was decisively allegorical.

So I do not think anyone can make a decisive argument that the authoritative interpretation God wants us to take away from Genesis 1 is on a literal plane. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. It reads very well as a poetic statement of God's authority over creation and the orderliness of what He created.

I do not worship the methods of science. I am very open to the possibility that evolution is simply a trend of the scientific community, like thinking you have to suck the blood out of people to make them well. But I am struck with how solidified the scientific community is on this issue. I can identify clear presuppositions that make it impossible for scientific creationists not to argue for their position. But I think there are many Christian scientists who would have gladly found the evidence to point in a different direction when they first went to college and grad school.

So I see no way not to conclude that there is a lot more room for varying positions on these issues for Christians than some allow for.

::athada:: said...

Wait - who's clayboy?

Tom1st said...

It it a theological necessity in Christianity to maintain 'ha adam' as a single, historical, literal human being?

If not, how does this shape the way we approach the topic of human evolution? Does it at all?

(Just some questions I've been kicking around lately, and this seemed like a good place to ask them)

Badgerland Bible Quzzing said...

Ken, I am glad for your concern, but I heard from an undergrad student at IWU who attends our church, that a version of the Framework Theory is taught at IWU.

Ken Schenck said...

I don't know the exact positions of the biology professors at IWU except that they are very conscientious in these areas and take more of a "let's explore the options" rather than "this is the way" approach. The university doesn't have an official position on the issue other than its affirmation of the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scripture in general. But it does not specify which interpretation of the Bible is correct on most specific issues like this one.

Rick said...

I think the biggest factor in this post is being overlooked: Piper is saying he is not opposed to an old earth. For many who hold him in high regard, that may be a surprise. Tim Keller, who appeals to many in the same camp, has stated such views (including evolution) for some time now, but Piper saying it shows futher progress of the old earth views.

Likewise, the conversations at places such as Biologos, Jesus Creed, and the recent excellent series on creation at InternetMonk (Chaplain Mike talks about the Sailhamer and John Walton views), shows that many are engaging in this conversation.

Burton Webb said...

Thanks for sticking your toes in the water Ken.

As you can see this is an issue fraught with incredible emotion. It saddens me that so many people believe that this is the issue on which Christianity will make a stand. Have we learned nothing from history? The earth really does revolve around the sun, bacteria and viruses really do cause disease, hurricanes and tornados are caused by low pressure systems in the atmosphere. At one point or another each of these things was viewed as incompatible with scripture.

God has made a universe that we can understand. I am not implying that our understanding is complete, but when we, as Christians, take live or die stands on bits of scripture that can be 1. examined by science and 2. interpreted quite differently by competent, biblical scholars and theologians... we are in danger of making a serious mistake that will cost the kingdom souls.

Just this weekend I was at a farmers market in a major US city. There was a cadre of street evangelists out talking to people ostensibly about accepting Christ... instead, they were arguing about evolution. The young scientist in the conversation was calm and polite, the "evangelist" kept getting louder and more upset. I walked away shaking my head... this argument will never lead to salvation. Instead they should have been talking about God's plan for the restoration of the world, his plan for the salvation of creation.

So sad that we have to use war imagery instead of peace imagery.

Corinthone13 said...

Dr. Schenck,
I enjoy reading your posts and have a RSS feed directly to my desktop via Google Desktop.

To the point, I was taught in my undergraduate Bible classes that the Hebrew word used for day is "yom." They told me that if one does a study on the usage of this word in the Old Testament you will find that it almost exclusively refers to a literal 24 hour period. Can you verify if this is correct or not? It is basically upon which what I hinge my argument for a young earth theory.

Ken Schenck said...

I think you are correct when yom has a number attached to it, which all the numbers in Genesis 1 do.

My question is more as to how we take Genesis 1 as a whole. Are we meant to appropriate it as a scientific blueprint or as a poetic expression of creation in dialog with other creation stories of its day?

For example, I don't think even creationists really take it completely literal, for God puts the stars on Day 4 in the firmament He created on Day 2. But the firmament is an expanse between waters above and waters below. If we take it literally, then there would be primordial waters up above the sun, moon and stars straight up!

Bob MacDonald said...

Ken is being very gentle in his answer - I hope you will also take this gently.

One does not need to look further than Genesis for a non 24-hour use of day. Genesis 2:4 refers to "the day (singular) in which the Lord God made earth and heaven". Ithink this refers to all of the 7 days of Genesis 1 - poetically. Some would say that the summary in Genesis 2:4 looks forward. But it seems to me to close the circle begun in Genesis 1:1 of the prior chapter. See e.g. this diagram here. Follow the green arrow which shows how the heaven (always plural) and the earth of Genesis 1:1 are reversed in genesis 2:4 to earth and heaven. This is a common pattern in poetry.

So the seven days are really one day.

You could do the study on day easily enough - here's a list of every usage of YVM in the TNK. Just step through them - I am sure you will find many that are a generic period of time - just as we use 'day' in English.

More fun than this is that there are exactly 24 uses of the word hour in the Gospel of John. One might say that the work that Jesus came to do is the work of completion of creation. In other words the day of redemption is part and parcel of the day of creation from the beginning (as Proverbs 8 shows pretty clearly).

::athada:: said...

Helpful sometimes to bring it back to poetry and beauty, aside from the mathematical coldness that science and sometimes theology brings.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Adam...

Martin LaBar said...

Piper's position, as you presented it, makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Check out this commentary on Genesis 1-11: