Gospel Reductionism vs. Gospel Foundationism

Author’s Note: This post has been updated in light of this post from Gottesdienst. I know many people have found the argument I’ve made below useful and so this post will remain but in generalized form for this is not a unique issue.  I pray that continued discussion on these topics in light of Holy Scripture with a view towards the comfort of consciences, and I hope that I as a layman may add my small contribution to this very important discussion.  I will add that I cannot recommend highly enough the CTCR Report In Christ All Things Hold Together on the topic of science and faith.  Thanks for reading and may God bless!

In the great debates over the intersection of science and faith, some argue that all that matters is the Resurrection.  In their hypothetical argument they say that every other story in the Bible could be fiction, but so long as we believe in Christ’s Resurrection it does not matter.  This is because the Resurrection proves that Christ is God and thus validates faith.  This as pious as it sounds, for it puts faith above objective fact, is quintessential Gospel Reductionism.  In this argument the text may still be “true” but those parts that require actual historical events to occur are spiritualized in some fashion.  In this way we can dodge any actual testing of the Scriptural facts against any objective standard because the only fact that actually exists and is verifiable is Christ’s Resurrection.  The text remains true because you have redefined how the text is to be read.  This redefinition is in such a manner as to remove any chance of disproof aside from disproving the Resurrection itself.

However, lets take this argument to its logical conclusion.  If the only thing that matters is the Resurrection, which St. Paul clearly states is the lynchpin of the faith in 1 Corinthians 15, and the Resurrection happened then that proves that Christ is God as per Romans 1:4.  Since Christ is God we should listen to what He says.  First He claims that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).  Since Christ is the Truth, He cannot lie (Titus 1:2).  Christ also says that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).  This means that Scripture is true and thus the Old Testament is a reliable book because it is Scripture.  We also know that all Scripture is God-breathed and therefore spoken by Christ (2 Timothy 3:16).  So it is Christ Himself that gives the Old Testament and yes even the book of Genesis.  It is most certainly the case that it matters to Christ that the events of the Old Testament actually happened because He speaks about them that way when He refers to them (e.g. Matthew 10, Matthew 19:1-12, Matthew 23, Luke 17:20-37, John 6, John 8).  Thus since Christ cannot be lying, these events must have occurred. If they did not then Christ cannot be God.  To claim they do not matter is false and makes a mockery of our Lord.

While the Resurrection is certainly foundational to the faith, it is not the only provable truth claim of Scripture.  It is, however, the most important one.  To give an example from my own life as an astrophysicist, the Big Bang Theory is very compelling to me as an astrophysicist. It makes logical sense and follows from the evidence that we see in astronomy.  When I sit in a lecture on astronomy occasionally I will suddenly pause and have a crisis of faith.  I say to myself, “This all makes so much sense, why do I believe in Christianity again?  We don’t need God after all.  What if it is all a lie?”  At this moment of crisis, I cannot turn to Genesis to validate my faith.  My problem lies exactly with the mismatch between the Genesis account and the scientific evidence presented.  In this crisis of faith, I flee for comfort and consolation to the objective fact of the Resurrection.  It is that undeniable fact, that Christ is not in the tomb but is risen as attested to by 500 people many of whom suffered persecution and death for their confession and had absolutely nothing worldly to gain for it, that snaps me back to reality.  When I realize that, I then remember that since Christ is raised from the dead He must be God.  Since Christ is God what He says must be true and thus the Scriptures must be true.  Thus what happens in Genesis must happen as described, for Genesis is a historical text.  There is no point in that text where it switches from mythology to history.  I have read many mythological texts from many different cultures and Genesis does not read like any of them.  Now I come to the quandary of the fact that Genesis must be true but the scientific facts as I have them and understand them contradict that.  However, at this point, I must accept Scripture and admit that ultimately I do not know how to match the two up, though I have my own ideas.  My mind is captive to the Word of Christ and I know the foolishness of God is wiser than the greatest wisdom of man (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). This is not Gospel Reductionism, but it is what I call Gospel Foundationism.  Rather than the Gospel being all that matters, the Gospel is the foundation of my faith and validates my trust in the Scriptures themselves.

Gospel Foundationism is far richer and intellectually honest than Gospel Reductionism.  Reductionism simply sweeps all problems under the rug by a sophistic philosophical move passing as high minded spirituality.  In the end, Reductionism bends the knee to Rationalism and other authorities bringing them to bear on the Scriptures rather than letting the text speak for itself in a plain and obvious way.  Foundationism though looks to what Christ says about Scripture, that it is all about Him (Luke 24:13-35, John 5:39).  It does not ignore any part of Scripture or say that its factuality does not matter (Matthew 5:17-20).  Instead, it embraces all Scripture as true and full of Christ’s riches.

I can understand why Gospel Reductionism is so appealing.  Let’s face it the world has a compelling argument to make with regards to science and it is preaching that argument to our children who are forsaking the faith.  Gospel Reductionism allows us to spiritualize the Scriptures and thus make them impervious to assault.  However, that is teaching our children to deceive themselves and not to deal with the hard questions and struggles of life.  This Gospel Reductionism really teaches that reason and science are the real solid truth, not Scripture.  In reality, it comes back to the classic question “Did God really say?”  We as Christians say He did say and we believe.  The Reductionists?  Well, it really does not matter.

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

Comments

Gospel Reductionism vs. Gospel Foundationism — 26 Comments

  1. Hi, Dr. Edmon…something you wrote just triggered a question in my mind.

    If part of why “Gospel Reductionism” is bad is that it enables people to “dodge any actual testing of the Scriptural facts against any objective standard,” and it “remove[s] any chance of disproof,” aren’t those also objections to the “omphalos” theory to explain the apparent age of the universe?

    It seems to me that “omphalos” makes it impossible to disprove a recent creation, and it also makes actual testing of the Genesis account against any objective standard easy to dodge. Or do I misunderstand your point?

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

    Thanks.

  2. First, touche.

    Second, I would say the material difference (at some level) that I am making here is that with Omphalos I am assuming that both the scientific facts and the Genesis account are real. Omphalos is an attempt to merge the two. You are quite right Omphalos is at some level unfalsifiable (the falsifiability of it is to destroy the Resurrection or other Biblical miracles thereby undermining the realiability of Scripture). No debate there.

    My point above is that to make the apologetic move that it doesn’t matter if the stories in the Bible are actual fact except for the Resurrection is a bad one. It undermines the position of Jesus is God on its face because it doesn’t take Jesus at His word or trust Him. Now I will admit I am no Greek or Hebrew scholar, so things related to how Jesus treats the Old Testament are from my own reading of the plain English text and what I have been taught and read from many eminent pastors. However the point is that if we are to claim Jesus is God and then say that it doesn’t matter if parts of Scripture are real even if Christ says they are leads to an argument that falls apart. It is a reductionist move.

    Anyways good catch on that James, you are quite right Omphalos does make a similar argument (though I hope you can see it makes it in a different manner). I will readily admit that it is probably one of the greatest weaknesses of the Omphalos position, as I have discussed elsewhere.

  3. Dr. Edmon,

    I think that you have a very strong post here. I see this as akin to Jesus condescending to Thomas, letting him touch his hands and side. The resurrection turns us from despair to joy!

    That said, I think there is also a “law element” to all of Jesus’ prophecy-fulfilling miracles (“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard…”), which simply culminates in Christ’s resurrection (“For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” [Acts 17:31]). This evidence is not really something we get to evaluate and “establish” if you know what I mean! After all, the Holy Spirit will convict all persons of unrighteousness – particularly unbelief as regards Christ (John 16). For more, see the book review I did: “A Reflection on ‘Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections’” (CPH, 2014) that makes much the same case.

    We are always “without excuse”!

    This was true even before the resurrection. Jesus’ words suggest that for some unbelievers at least(for example, those in close proximity to the Israelites in the Old Testament), miracles – evidently even apart from prophecies made in the past predicting them! – should be seen as a good indication that only the God of Israel, revealed through His faithful messengers’ words, is true, sure, and supreme: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” (Luke 10:13, Matt. 11:21)

    In sum, the Word of God as it had been received among the faithful – perhaps especially in circumstances where He desired His word to be written down (see Ex. 17:14, Isa. 8:1, 30:8, Jer. 30:2, 36:2, Ezek. 24:2, 43:11, Hab. 2:2, Psa. 45:1) – is simply never to be in doubt – even in the presence of miracle-workers speaking the contrary (hence the importance of not just miracles — or even miracles with seemingly impressive empirical attestation — but “prophecy-fulfilling miracles” in line with the *known word of God*). This is why Jesus gives no quarter to the doubts of the men on the road to Emmaus — why are they so slow to believe?!

    I think that it is important to frame things in this way otherwise our “persuasion” becomes overly empirical and rational itself and then does not seem so connected with the work of the Holy Spirit, which we used to call the “testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum” (or internal testimony of the Holy Spirit), which we can call “TSSI” for short. (pressing reasons can be given for why one might consider looking into TSSI, the Christian’s version of “self-authentication”, before others).

    Here is how I summed up matters in the series I did trying to pick apart TSSI and its connection with apologetics, “*How* will we know the truth that sets us free? What is TSSI and is Jesus’ bodily resurrection the validation of His teachings?”:

    “Christianity is true and sure and proven. It is made sure in the hearts of men by God creating faith in them through the loving power of His forgiveness-life-and-salvation-bringing, history-telling-and-making words, making plain and testifying in particular to the One who was to – and has – come. This is what distinguishes Christian TSSI (“testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum”, or the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit) from other religions’ claims of self-authentication. While all men, including Christians, struggle with doubts, no one can claim that God has not proved this message to them, particularly because of the relentless fact of Jesus’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Given the presence of miracle claims that are said to authenticate the teachings of other religions, God has lifted up biblical prophecy and prophecy-fulfilling miracles in particular as those things that demand most forcefully that His messengers be paid attention to – even as persons are still culpable before God when they have not witnessed or heard of these kinds of things – or for that matter, any miracles or Christian preaching (Romans 1).”

    Would love your thoughts on this. Thanks again for writing this. I am thankful we have solid LC-MS laymen doing the kind of good work you are doing.

    +Nathan

  4. @Dr. Paul Edmon #2

    @Dr. Paul Edmon #2

    Thanks for your generous words! I’m not trying to play “gotcha,” but am simply trying to think through these things myself.

    I have a strong aversion to accepting “omphalos,” if only because it seems so contrived. Kind of like Bertrand Russell’s “Last Thursdayism,” where he said, “How do we know that an omnipotent God didn’t create everything last Thursday, complete with memories of events prior to last Thursday that never happened?” That just doesn’t seem like the God of the Bible. Likewise, the “omphalos” God!

    As I have said to you before, “omphalos” makes logical sense for things like mature trees in the Garden of Eden, stars being visible at night on Day Six, and so forth. Those truly are “mature” features that seem logically necessary for creation to be “complete” or “ready-to-go,” assuming the whole young-earth creation interpretation to be true.

    But gravitational lensing of light from galaxies billions of light-years away? Light no one can even see on earth without a telescope? Or the CMB (the “echo” of the Big Bang)? Or the expanding remnant from SN 1987A (which is 168,000 light-years away)? Why would an “omphalos” God create that sort of “evidence” for events that never happened?

    I tend to favor the face-value approach to things, unless I have strong reason to do otherwise. So, if the scientific evidence says strongly that the universe is really ancient, I tend to accept that.

    How does that fit with the Bible? I am not sure. I know the Bible is true. I also tend to trust what seems to (layman) me to be valid scientific discoveries. I don’t want to discount either Biblical truth or scientific truth.

    So when there is apparent conflict between Scripture and science, there are obviously mysteries still to be solved. I guess where we disagree is where there might be ways to resolve those tensions. I still think (hope?) that there are ways to reconcile an old earth/universe with the Bible.

    I completely agree with you that we should cling to Christ, believe in the Bible, and accept that there are (obviously) still mysteries out there!

  5. @Nathan Rinne #3

    Thanks. I do agree. This is where I go back to the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). At the ending you have this great statement by Father Abraham:

    29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

    It is clear from this that even the Resurrection is insufficient in and of itself to create faith. Rather it is the Word that does that. After all Satan and his demons certainly knows that the Resurrection happened but they have no faith in the Word. This is one of the quintessential arguments in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession IV (II) 48-60 when it comes to faith. Namely the Roman Catholics say that faith is merely historical knowledge, whereas Scripture says that faith is simply trust in the promises of God.

    So we should be abundantly clear, no matter how many brilliant apologetic moves we can make those moves in and of themselves do not create faith though they can remove barriers. Rather we must trust that the Word of God does that. There is an aspect of faith that is frankly irrational and unreasonable. Faith in and of itself is a miracle, that is the ultimate in irrationality.

    All that said it is important to state that our faith is founded on actual events, which is the thrust of the above. It is not only that, but it is not like the pagan beliefs which are clearly fictitious. This is the unique aspect of Christianity is that Scripture makes actual verifiable claims. However those claims in and of themselves do not create faith, only the Holy Ghost does that. One cannot be reasoned into the faith so to speak even if one can present rational arguments. After all a person may end up with their faith based on those rational arguments rather than on Christ and then they are in no better shape.

    Thanks for your insight on this. It’s hard to convey all the nuances in what is essentially a polemic work, much less one that needs to be brief to get the argument across. The self authenticating nature of Scripture is an important point to recall. I don’t think this is an either or matter, its a both and. Such are the riches the Lord gives to us with regards to our assurance of the veracity of Scripture.

  6. @James Gibbs #4

    No worries. Frankly you are pointing out all the standard objections and weaknesses of Omphalos (even stated them in my brief discussion here: https://steadfastlutherans.org/2018/02/a-laymens-commentary-on-the-large-catechism-first-article/). I will admit I am not dogmatic about Omphalos and if there is a better option I am all for it, its just the best option I’ve come across thus far. My own rationale for your objections above is that God creates a self consistent universe. Thus He would make a universe that is “primed for life”, as my engineering friend termed it noting that in many situations for machines to work you have to have them in a state where it is as if they were running already. Thus in the same way the Lord can do likewise. I think it makes sense that He would. Certainly He could if He wanted run it all from the beginning, but that’s not what the text says. The text lays out 6 days in which the Lord creates with His Word. He says it and it is. Even the order of the events is out of order from what we expect from science, meaning something more is going on here than the Lord simply fast forwarding the clock which I have heard as an idea, namely that it is an actual day in time but time speeds up during that day which is interesting in its own right. I know the Lord is a God of order so Him making things “primed” is a good engineering move on His part (if we can even use such language for God).

    To me the actual stronger objection is the one you noted of why not make it obvious that it all began with Him. I mean the Lord could have written His name literally in the stars say “I DID THIS” in big bold letters. To this I respond, He did actually do that, that is what is known as Scripture. He told us He did it. I’ve used this analogy before but at Harvard there are the Glass Flowers that you would swear were real if you didn’t know better. However people made those. Those artists were of such skill that one could not tell that it was made unless you were told. Those artists were not deceiving you in that unless they told you that they didn’t make it. That would be deception. If they tell you though, then that’s not deception at all. It makes it all the more astounding.

    That’s at least how I deal with those objections. In summary I point back to God is a God of order (relating to Him “priming the pump”), and the Lord explicitly tells us He made this in Scripture (relating to Him telling us the truth of His marvelous work). We have to recall that Scripture is history not science (a post I will write at a latter date but I discuss a bit here: https://steadfastlutherans.org/2018/01/5-2/). So even though I like Omphalos I can’t make it dogmatic, nor would I want to. It is my proverbial crutch to try to match up what I know from science (14 Gyr universe) and what I read in Scripture (6 days of Creation in the more recent past likely 6000-10,000 years). This is a hard one as its very easy to read into Scripture you own pet theory. Have I succeeded at avoiding that trap? I hope so, but I doubt it, I am only human and I must bow to the Lord’s greater wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

  7. @Jon Alan Schmidt #5

    No offense, but you are welcome to delve into the science of how they date the universe. I have already. Just thinking about going into the details of that makes me feel tired!

    Here’s one article I recommend: https://web.archive.org/web/20150415041432/http://ageofrocks.org:80/100-reasons-the-earth-is-old/

    It’s not just “all based on assumptions.” That is a canard popularized by young-earth creationists who cannot refute mainstream science.

    Actually, talk to Dr. Edmon, or read his previous posts on similar topics here. He will tell you himself that the astronomical evidence for an ancient cosmos is exceedingly strong.

    He simply thinks it’s incompatible with Scripture! That’s why he holds (tentatively) to “omphalos.”

  8. Dr. Edmon,

    Thanks for the great replies. Again, great discussion and I am thankful for the laymen in our Synod who excel at their crafts and yet are excellent theologians.

    I would love to see Jon Alan Schmidt and James Gibbs say a bit more as well — I hope that happens.

    +Nathan

  9. @Dr. Paul Edmon #7

    I appreciate your words of insight and humility. Especially as you are an actual scientist!

    I actually agree with you that the “deceiver God” argument fails because of Scripture. If God tells us the earth is young in the Bible, we have no reason to claim “he deceived us” in “the book of Nature.”

    I guess I lean more in the direction of “Nature shows a ‘forensic’ history of what God did, and I believe it and the Bible are ultimately compatible.”

  10. @James Gibbs #8

    I am familiar with the science. It is grounded in the presuppositions of methodological naturalism, which are perfectly legitimate for testing hypotheses about how the universe operates today, but not for drawing firm conclusions about the distant past. They require assuming not only that all observed effects have strictly natural causes, but also that the laws governing them have remained essentially unchanged over all that time and across the vast distances of space. While quite reasonable within their proper domain, they are not amenable to verification or falsification, even in principle.

    Consequently, I am perfectly fine with saying that given standard scientific assumptions, the universe appears to be very old. What bothers me is when people insist that the universe is very old, full stop; or when they claim that a young universe requires some kind of deception on God’s part, since He allegedly made it look very old. The problem is not with the evidence itself, but with how we evaluate it.

  11. @Nathan Rinne #12

    Well, based on comment #13, I lack the motivation to “get into it” with Mr. Schmidt.

    It seems to me that the science supporting an ancient earth and cosmos is a slam-dunk. For example: how can we see light from stars billions of light-years away if the universe is only 6,000 years old?

    Obviously, “Because the Bible says so” is not enough for me as an answer to that question. I don’t think I’m simply rejecting the authority of the Bible by saying that, but lots of folks have already made up their minds that I am, so they are welcome (albeit wrong) to think that. I am never going to persuade them otherwise, so they can knock themselves out thinking me a heretic.

    Dr. Edmon takes refuge in a certain view of Genesis, even though he admits freely that the case for an ancient cosmos is extremely robust. He is very honest about that, and I respect him for that, among other things.

    But when I read Mr. Schmidt talking about “assumptions” and the universe “appearing” to be old, I don’t want to get into any of that.

    The only reason to question those things is to look for a loophole to escape the obvious implications (for religion) of deep time.

    Think of Ken Ham debating Bill Nye. Nye cited example after example of evidence for an old earth. Ham wanted to talk about “worldviews” and “assumptions” and the alleged difference between “operational” and “historical” science.

    Ham didn’t want to clash with Nye on the evidence–he wanted to re-frame the debate so that the evidence against him would be ruled out of court.

    That very strategy says to me, loud and clear, “I know the evidence is damning, but I have to neutralize it somehow.”

  12. @James Gibbs #14

    I am not dogmatic about the age of the universe. I do not characterize those who hold it to be very old as heretics. I even acknowledged already that “the case for an ancient cosmos is extremely robust,” given standard scientific assumptions. However, I am not willing to accept those presuppositions of methodological naturalism uncritically, especially when applied across allegedly vast expanses of time and space. For example, what is one assuming when claiming to “know” that the light from those stars has been traveling for billions of years?

    Again, the problem is not with the evidence itself, but with how we evaluate it. It is only “damning” if we interpret it in a certain way. You embrace the results of your own studies and those reported by other researchers; I assign considerably more weight to what I believe to be a divinely inspired historical account. Our starting points and corresponding attributions of authority are different, so our conclusions are different.

  13. @Jon Alan Schmidt #15

    Okay…I didn’t want this debate. I was addressing my remarks to Mr. Rinne.

    “Not dogmatic about the age of the universe”–what DO you believe about it? You mention giving more weight to the Bible, so I assume you think it’s text overrules…what exactly? Deep time? Animal death before the Fall? Evolution? Are you a young-earther who is willing to be flexible about the date of Creation to (at most) a few extra millenia? Or do you think billions of years are compatible with Scripture?

    (Btw, thanks for not calling me a heretic.)

    You talk about “vast expanses of time and space.” Why do we have reason to doubt that natural law applies everywhere (and “everywhen”) in the universe?

    Light-travel time–we know the speed of light very, very accurately. We know how distant interstellar and intergalactic objects are, to a high degree of accuracy in many cases. We do the math. What real reason do we have for doubting how long it took for light to travel?

    (Every YEC argument I have ever read against “the distant-starlight problem” has been refuted by mainstream astronomers.)

    As far as “differing interpretations”–do we start with the evidence and draw natural conclusions from it, or do we begin with a pre-determined conclusion (“The universe cannot be more than X millenia old”), and force the evidence to fit?

    If you presented the evidence for an ancient earth to an unbiased observer who knew nothing about the “origins debate,” what conclusions would they draw from it?

    As far as “a divinely inspired historical account,” I agree that the Bible is divinely inspired. I agree that God did indeed create the world. I just don’t agree with how you interpret the Genesis account. I also don’t think the Bible “nails down” the age of the cosmos or the manner of God creating all things in the ways that creationists tend to do.

    Bill Nye’s evidence for an old earth was, indeed, damning to Ken Ham’s claim that the earth is 6,000 years old. Again, you seem to be going with the Ham strategy of not clashing with the actual evidence, but, instead, claiming a false equivalence between mainstream science and YE creationism.

  14. @James Gibbs #16

    I was not looking for a debate, either; just clarifying my own views.

    I believe that the most straightforward reading of Scripture is that God created the universe in six days several thousand years ago, and that there was no animal death before the Fall, both of which rule out evolution. I do not try to force-fit the physical evidence to this interpretation, because for me it is an article of faith that needs no further rationalization.

    I do not dispute scientific conclusions drawn from scientific assumptions; as I already said, I simply do not accept the latter uncritically. I am aware of other approaches to Scripture that allow for an ancient universe, but I do not find them persuasive. Nevertheless, it will not bother me one bit if I find out in heaven that the universe is billions of years old after all; it has no more bearing on my eternal salvation than it does on my everyday life.

  15. Excellent discussion, gentlemen! Also, thank you Dr. Edmon for continuing to tackle this topic around here. Given your expertise in your professional field, people are clearly looking to you as an authority on the scientific side of the subject. You also clearly demonstrate you are more than capable of holding your own on the theological side of the subject as well.

    More than anything, I am thankful that there are people out there willing to discuss this topic because for obvious reasons it makes most confessional Lutherans very uncomfortable. We need to have these discussions to find better ways to help bring people comfort on these topics.

    I think John and James both summed up my sentiment perfectly in your last two posts #17 and #18. I firmly believe that God created everything exactly when and how he did. I would not be bothered one bit to find out in heaven that creation was OEC, YEC, or something in between.

    As I see Lutherans continue to discuss this topic around the web, I keep coming back to the importance of simply acknowledging our limitations of knowledge on this subject. I think this is the most biblically precise, philosophically precise, and scientifically honest thing we can do.

    Yes, the majority of science clearly does point to an old universe. James, Dr. Edmon, and the majority of experts in the fields related to cosmogony can all attest to this fact. However, John is absolutely correct that most people simply take for granted what the entire scientific project is built upon epistemologically speaking.
    Science is inductive in nature; it is based upon presuppositions and can only ever arrive at probable conclusions. People, in general, are not as philosophically inclined anymore (not attempting to be a put down toward anyone here) and often do not grasp the essence of this distinction in types of reasoning (inductive vs. deductive). Our assumptions in scientific reasoning could be wrong and therefore our conclusions of an old universe could be wrong also. Given the timescales being discussed here, cosmology, especially, is dealing with the largest extrapolations of data that humans have ever attempted. Logically speaking, there is a multitude of reasons why we may simply be mistaken. This is just a logical fact of the limitations of scientific reasoning.

    On the other side of the equation, the Bible appears to teach a YEC view of the universe. I have read many of these theological arguments and have to agree that you need to read into to the text of scripture to get anything other than a YEC reading. There also appear to be some big challenges to OEC logically speaking given what the Bible does teach. That being said, the problem here is that the Bible does not explicitly give us a date of creation. We need to infer out of the text that it is a recent creation. There is also a limit to our knowledge on this topic of creation biblically speaking.

    This keeps bringing me back to the idea that most accurate and precise way we can speak about this, scientifically, philosophically, and biblically speaking, is that we simply don’t know for certain how old creation is. If God revealed an explicit date to us, we could speak with more certainty, but He didn’t.

    I still think the LCMS has already produced a great answer on this question from one of the FAQ documents:

    A: The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod does not have an official position on the precise “age of the earth,” since the Bible itself does not tell us how old the earth is. Nor is it the Synod’s position that everything in the Bible is to be understood “literally.” There is much in the Bible that clearly purports not to be understood literally–but this must be determined by the Bible itself, not by science or human reason. There is nothing in the Bible itself to suggest that the creation account is not meant to be taken literally

    The Synod has affirmed the belief, therefore, based on Scripture’s account of creation in the book of Genesis and other clear passages of Scripture, that “God by the almighty power of His Word created all things in six days by a series of creative acts,” that “Adam and Eve were real, historical human beings, the first two people in the world,” and that “we must confess what St. Paul says in Romans 5:12” about the origin of sin through Adam as described in Genesis 3 (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31). The Synod has also, therefore, stated that it rejects “all those world views, philosophical theories, exegetical interpretations and other hypotheses which pervert these biblical teachings and thus obscure the Gospel” (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31).

    At the same time, the Synod firmly believes that there can be no actual contradiction between genuine scientific truth and the Bible. When it comes to the issue of the age of the earth, several possibilities exist for “harmonizing” Biblical teachings with scientific studies (e.g., God created the world in an already “mature” state, so that scientific “data” leads one to the conclusion that it is older than it actually is, etc.) (page 2) https://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=552

    This acknowledges that 1) we don’t have an explicit date for creation and 2) that the creation account in the Bible appears to be a literal teaching and 3) that there cannot logically be a contradiction between science and scripture. How these all fit together we simply do know.

    We can (and should!) speak clearly where the text of scripture speaks clearly, but it appears the age of the earth specifically is not something that God thought it necessary to reveal to us. In the end, we simply do not know the answer on this one.

  16. @James Gibbs #16

    “Okay…I didn’t want this debate.”

    Maybe not, but as Chris says above, it is great that discussions like this can take place from time to time.

    All,

    I also think about this question in terms of how a detective might go about determining what happened and how a judge might evaluate the evidence. Sometimes in modern efforts to solve this or that mystery, I suppose a la Sherlock Holmes, all the evidence might point in one direction (“evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt”). Here, using deductive reasoning, it seems there can only be one explanation!

    Things often are not like that though…. When it comes to evaluating events which involve not only human actions which can be traced and motives which can often be discerned we still might often be uncertain….

    As Proverbs 18:17 wisely says: “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines….”

    How much more so when it comes to events that cannot be cross-referenced with human behavior, observation, historical account?

    On Todd Wood’s compelling blog, he states: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings…” (Prov. 25:2)

    He takes that verse to be an inspiration for his own work, and I like that. That said, when we get into the realm not of man’s actions but the actions of the natural world, how much harder do things get to be? How much more tenable our understanding? What really, do we know, about the law’s of nature? About the history of the natural world? How much can we really discern just what happened? No matter what our worldview? What about the lack of human involvement, eyewitness testimony?

    I really appreciate what Jon Alan Schmidt says, and I think it is wise. So often, it seems to me that everyone just operates with the assumption that the universe is like a machine or a clock… it is unquestionably specific and consistent and, in the end, opaque.

    For the life of me, I don’t see why only a YEC might think to ask these questions above,

    I think the clock/machine assumption is a bit strange, really. God is indeed a God of order, but when it comes to the creation, I also think of him as more an artist than an engineer.

    +Nathan

  17. @Nathan Rinne #23

    No, they simply embody the fact that – unlike God – humans integrate the artistic and scientific aspects of engineering imperfectly. Besides, there is a certain aesthetic goodness – i.e., beauty – associated with any well-functioning object.

  18. The above discussion is most interesting. Not being a theologian or a scientist I need relay on others to make the case for the young or old earth points of view. I support the young earth but again, based on work others have either done or can quote.
    When I see the word “Omphalos” I hearken back to an experience in my younger days of coming across the word “Omphoskeptis” which essentially means, “contemplation of one’s navel as an aid to meditation.” Just thought I would share that.

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