Writing also on behalf of Peter Rasor, I want to thank Hans Madueme and the editors of Sapientia for hosting this symposium on Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should Not Divide over the Age of the Earth (henceforth, Controversy).

book cover 3

Weaver Book Company (2017)

I especially want to thank the reviewers for helping me see ways a revised Controversy could be better. The book has called for further conversation about evangelical creationist controversy. This symposium is just such a small step.

Jim Stump rightly notes the subtitle does not tell the whole story. The major point is that evangelicals should not draw lines over the earth’s age, but that doesn’t mean no lines should be drawn. As I note in the preface and in chapter seven, I became involved in this project years before BioLogos began. The chosen title stems from that period. But though painful, I owed the reader my thinking on where lines should be drawn. The book’s case stems from historically analyzing how evangelicals reached our current controversy. But the reviews reveal that historical emphasis leaves some important matters less than clear.

Response to Hugh Ross

Ross graciously gives me the benefit of the doubt regarding the book’s questioning Reasons to Believe’s (RTB) “testing” approach. He suggests the criticism pertained to talk of “superior” testable models and, therefore, calls for more humility. Controversy could have been clearer. My worry is the difficulty of constructing impartial tests, resulting in suggestions some should halt development of their models. But Ross here helpfully calls for multiple models, knowing none are perfect.

I think Ross rightly calls for submitting one’s scientific-theological model to testing. Indeed, others will if we won’t. Construction of such tests is not easy but necessary. Controversy should have made clear that submitting one’s work for scrutiny is laudable. I will return to the related issue of evidence in response to Tim Morris.

Remarkably Ross and Paul Garner argue for a similar sounding hermeneutic by which to “evaluate competing models of origins” (Garner). Ross proffers a “redemptive hermeneutic,” God’s plan to redeem innumerable numbers of humans. Ross’s interpretive lens finds divine preparation for the redemptive plan in scientific details. Garner argues for starting with the cross of Christ. Yet Garner’s hermeneutic leads to a very different conclusion.

Response to Paul Garner

With the death and resurrection of Christ as the lens, Garner specifically focuses on its relation to pre-fall death. Believing such death incompatible with the cross, he finds only young earth creationism (YEC) biblically faithful. Perhaps with Garner’s single key he sees no need to comment on my book’s discussion of many other historical YEC arguments against old earth creationists (OECs.) Nor does he significantly interact with my treatments of YEC hybrid biblical/scientific theories responding to historical scientific developments.

I don’t agree with Garner that Controversy implicitly assumes evangelical origins theories should be shaped primarily in response to evolution. Jim Stump, in fact, is troubled that I don’t adequately respond to evolutionary science. The book does discuss the unique Darwinian controversy and American evangelical response. Conservatives have often seen evolution as weaponized against a biblical worldview, especially since the Scopes Trial. And to serve as a warning for current evangelicals, Controversy describes earlier theistic evolutionary reconfigurations of biblical inspiration and doctrine. I hardly see how responding to evolution is avoidable in the American context.

Apparently more than Garner, American YECs are generally concerned to distance themselves from evolution. Indeed, common American YEC practice describes OEC/progressive creationism as evolution, thereby delegitimizing OEC to conservatives. As Controversy notes (pp. 162-67), most American YEC laypeople would be surprised some YECs accept significant macroevolution (e.g., whale descent from a four-legged land mammal)—yet receive little censure in the YEC community. Garner seems aligned with Answers in Genesis (AiG) that our problems began two centuries ago with modern geology’s old earth. Most Christians then concluded the fossilized strata point to an old creation. And rejecting pre-Darwinian evolutionary theories, they typically accepted some creation theory which included pre-fall animal death (pp. 112-18). YECs commonlyGarner misunderstands the conservatism principle as a one-way “ever-increasing acceptance of the scientific consensus.” then and now (unlike Garner?) critique old earth theories as unfaithful submissions of clear biblical teaching to science. Perhaps with his specific hermeneutical key, Garner feels no need to respond to these other YEC issues. But he does seriously disagree with what he perceives a hermeneutical key in Controversy, the Galileo proposal (GP).

Unfortunately, Garner misunderstands the conservatism principle (CP) as a one-way “ever-increasing acceptance of the scientific consensus.” He even concludes that if I’m consistent, I will inevitably accept evolutionary consensus. But Controversy never prescribes a normative unidirectional surrender to scientific consensus which never allows scripture “to push back.” Nonetheless, I must assume the book was unclear about the CP/GP, and so I thank Garner for challenging me here to clarify.

Garner seems comfortable (“So far, so good”) with Galileo’s two assumptions (inerrant Bible, no conflict with nature) and my description of how YECs also practice the CP. Garner’s sticking point concerns Galileo’s final step wherein “proven” scientific theories reveal traditional biblical interpretation wrong. Garner regards as “naïve” my using the term “proven,” because only math and logic can be (deductively) proven. But I did emphasize Galileo’s “proof” is precisely where “the devil is in the details,” that philosophers of science debate what “justifies theory-change,” that Galileo’s “proof” concept was naïve, and concluded “little wonder conservative theologians have intuitively thought the step illegitimate” (pp. 46-47, 47n.76). (In his day, Galileo’s term, “necessary demonstration,” was indeed the equivalent of “proof” inferred from carefully formed syllogisms in the Aristotelian/scholastic tradition.)Jean Dietz Moss and William A. Wallace, Rhetoric and Dialectic in the Time of Galileo (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 1-40. Garner’s quibble with “proof,” nonetheless holds one key to clearing the misunderstanding about the CP/GP. The other, in agreement with Garner, is found in my lengthy documentation that OECs and YECs—who both practice the CP/GP—have long resisted certain areas of scientific consensus. Scientific consensus, therefore, is not the sole determinant in the outcome of the CP, but a nebulous ongoing struggle for truth.

I wrote most of the book as historical description, with my most significant prescriptions provided in the final two chapters. Nowhere does Controversy suggest that history mandates a science-theology hermeneutic. The CP is an historical description of the often unrecognized, long, arduous, messy historical practice which admits of no self-evident way to reach conclusions—or even whether one will ever cease rejecting the scientific theory (remember, YEC geocentrists remain today). So, on the one hand, I documented how the CP is in evidence in the many changing YEC biblical interpretations (finding dinosaurs in Job, speciation in “kinds,” plate tectonic geysers as the Flood’s rain, etc.—see chs. 6 and 7). On the other hand, I also documented the CP at work when conservatives cautiously explore scientific theories,The CP is an historical description of the often unrecognized, long, arduous, messy historical practice which admits of no self-evident way to reach conclusions. but on rare and important occasions reject them indefinitely: OECs remain anti-evolutionists and YECs remain young earthers. If YECs and OECs have obviously practiced the CP/GP for at least two hundred years, then it does not inexorably lead to adopting the scientific consensus.

The messy tensions result from Galileo’s assumptions on harmonizing inerrant scripture and nature, coupled with a nebulous notion of scientific proof. If the theory in question seems especially threatening to “clear” biblical truth, conservatives implicitly reason that the theory must not be true (“proven”). Garner’s piece provides an example. He has no problem with the YEC adoption of plate tectonics and widespread speciation (and adjusted biblical interpretation thereby, I might add). But these theories are critical features of modern (old earth) geology and evolution. Why then do these YECs still resist OEC and theistic evolution? They believe the over-arching theory incommensurable with the Bible, but not the component parts interpreted through YEC lenses. They believe the theory component “true” (plate tectonics/widespread speciation) but not the whole (modern geology/evolution). I might add these YECs did not invariably utilize Garner’s rejection of pre-fall death as the hermeneutical criterion.

I do wish Garner had addressed, as does the book, whether pre-fall animal death is a “gospel issue.” (I will only address Garner’s concerns with OECs on this score.) Doing so would have given opportunity to respond to Controversy’s main point: Christians should not divide over the age of the earth. Does Paul believe that pre-fall animal death is an exegetical problem for OECs, but not one which should divide believers? I’m sympathetic that pre-fall animal death is an important topic which more OECs should address seriously.

But some YEC leaders make Garner’s hermeneutic a “gospel issue,” which the book rejects (pp. 202-206). The saving gospel is for people, not animals. Christ’s atoning death and resurrection brings eternal salvation for believers. As I note in the book, I am grateful most rank and file YECs do not believe the age of the earth a gospel issue, nor that it should divide Christians.

Response to Jim Stump

I’m pained Stump believes I handled myself in person much better than in print. I cannot change my concerns, but surely I can learn to write about them better. Perhaps in a small way my response can also help BioLogos understand how what it “prints” is understood by readers like me. I do agree spending time together in person can help each understand the other’s concerns more accurately.

Stump says my point in Controversy is to leave BioLogos “out of Christian fellowship” or that I have deemed BioLogos “outside the bounds of acceptable fellowship.” In the theological triage chapter I used Al Mohler’s terminology “close fellowship,” but not to refer to respectful conversations as Stump and I experienced. Instead I sought to describe the necessary and sometimes painful decision Christians make when choosing denominations or churches. I would argue a central reason for these choices should relate to one’s understanding of the Bible and its message. I don’t find this easy to write, and I want to learn how to do so charitably, but that’s precisely what I was getting at in Controversy. BioLogos may view itself as theologically benign in its official beliefs. Thankfully these kinds of “boundaries” do not separate us from the kingdom of Christ, nor should they legitimize any lack of charity.But the concerns I raised in Controversy I genuinely hold—as does my denomination, church, and school. Even BioLogos draws lines for those who can “officially” represent it, even though it is not a church. And those at BioLogos unable to ascribe to inerrancy could not join the Evangelical Theological Society. Thankfully these kinds of “boundaries” do not separate us from the kingdom of Christ, nor should they legitimize any lack of charity.

Stump says I misrepresented BioLogos near the end of the book by writing it “makes no commitment to full scriptural inspiration, thus it does not practice the conservatism principle” (p. 213). He quotes then their “What We Believe” section: “We believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God.” But I did include this full BioLogos statement earlier in Controversy (p. 180) when discussing “BioLogos and Inerrancy.” I meant no offense nor deception, but should have used the specific word “inerrancy,” especially in case a reader had not read the earlier section.

Stump complains that BioLogos had neither “prominently featured” nor did it “recommend” the article, “After Inerrancy,” which I roundly criticized. I accept his criticism because a reader might infer BioLogos specifically urges folks to read it. Instead of “prominently featured” I should have noted the article repeatedly came up at or near first when searching the BioLogos website for its articles on inspiration and inerrancy. Regarding “recommend” my point was: “The problem is [BioLogos] openness to an array of problematic ideas that it thereby recommends the church consider adopting. What the group regards as evangelically permissible inevitably becomes central to their message to the church, too” (p. 191). Though needing more accurate language, I’m still concerned—and I’m not sure Stump understands why many conservative evangelicals will be, too. Let me explain.

Stump contends the author of the article was a “conversation partner.” But if BioLogos publishes articles like that (and there are others which worry conservatives) with no “conversation” (commentary) expressing any concern, what is the reader supposed to think? How can the reader not assume BioLogos considers the article worthy of consideration? So, my wording might more accurately have been, “BioLogos recommends for our consideration.” I’m glad BioLogos has since removed the article with its extremely dangerous view of Scripture (pp. 181-83). But Stump still doesn’t distance BioLogos or himself from the article’s substance.

Stump also claims I misleadingly described BioLogos relating to the term “Darwinism.” In support, he connects quotations from three places in Controversy. In his first quote I am describing (and citing) Charles Hodge’s deepest problem with The Origin of Species, its inherent rejection of teleology in nature (p. 82). In this, I am quite sure I have accurately represented Hodge’s view. Stump’s second quote comes from a section discussing how the Intelligent Design Movement’s response to evolution can confuse folks sorting through OEC, YEC and EC. So, in a footnote I mentioned incidentally: “Making matters even more confusing is the ongoing debate, sometimes heated, between ID proponents and ECs at BioLogos. Obviously, advocates for design won’t agree with traditionalMy point was that Warfield’s views, not to mention his absolute insistence on biblical inerrancy, do not make him a good candidate as a proto-BioLogos proponent anti-teleology Darwinians like most at BioLogos” (96n103). Do I misunderstand the debate between ID and BioLogos? I’m afraid I do not understand Stump’s complaint here.

Stump seeks to connect the three dots by quoting my later discussion of Warfield’s view of theistic evolution. My fuller quote makes clear my understanding of the differences between Warfield and BioLogos. Warfield believed an evolutionary creation model could not be squared with the Bible unless it allows “the intrusion into the course of evolution—if it be deemed actual in this case—of a purely supernatural act productive of something absolutely new which enters into the composite effect as a new feature” (p. 194). So, because of this expressly anti-Darwinian view, his disdain for Darwinian anti-teleology, and his insistence on the organic unity of the human race, I wrote that “Warfield seriously courted evolution, but he never married Darwinism. The conditions he stressed necessary for a relationship were impossibly anti-Darwinian (196).” My point was that Warfield’s views, not to mention his absolute insistence on biblical inerrancy, do not make him a good candidate as a proto-BioLogos proponent. I certainly can be wrong about these things, but no intentional misrepresentation was intended. I never disagreed with Stump’s affirmation that BioLogos believes in “God’s providential guidance of creation,” or that “God intentionally created human beings in his image, and that God has a purpose and plan for his creation that will not fail to be accomplished.” But are not the specific points I made different from this general affirmation of providence? I’m happy to learn and own my errors. But to put it another way, these views of Hodge, the ID movement, and Warfield are hardly evolutionary consensus, which leads to Stump’s last criticism.

Stump’s final criticism is like Paul Garner’s regarding evolutionary consensus. If I’m to be consistent with the CP, then I need to become an evolutionist because 99% of biology and medical professionals accept human evolution. As I discussed earlier in my response to Garner, conservatives have obviously resisted scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolution: the CP is neither a mandate nor a prediction.

And it was never the purpose of the book to compare the relative strengths of various scientific theories. The purpose of my rehearsing some of the old earth evidence discovered over several centuries was to: (1) note that unlike the contemporary age of the earth debate, the developing science was hardly controversial among evangelicals, especially in comparison to the evolution debate, and (2) that leading YEC ministries today virtually accept that same evidence reinterpreted via YEC lenses. Regarding the Darwinian revolution, I was concerned to show how certain of its aspects deleteriouslyBut my point was strictly that Warfield’s philosophical and theological views were different than those of BioLogos affected the western worldview (and the church via theological liberalism). But I certainly did not hide that the “overwhelming academic consensus is that even if Darwin got some details wrong, his major ‘thinking about evolution has constantly been rectified rather than refuted’” (p. 61).

Stump believes “the obvious place” where I should have detailed evolutionary theory’s strengths was when discussing why BioLogos believes universal common descent should be considered. He seems to think I then discuss Warfield, instead of evolutionary science, as the reason BioLogos holds to EC. Stump then notes that much more evolutionary evidence has amassed since Warfield. But my point which follows there was strictly, as above, that Warfield’s philosophical and theological views were different than those of BioLogos. I have no idea what Warfield would believe had he lived today.

Stump closes by noting the primary goal of BioLogos is for EC be regarded as evangelically “legitimate and faithful.” He then notes, “If Cabal’s book is any indication of the state of the dialogue, we still have work to do.” I’m pretty sure Stump’s not complimenting my book. But I thank him for the dialogue, and pray I grow in kindness, gentleness—and more accuracy—while remaining true to my convictions.

Response to Tim Morris

I’m extremely grateful for Morris’s stimulating insights packed into his review. He identified significant potential improvements, and I look forward to thinking long and hard about them. Unfortunately, for his best questions I have no answers—but I’m not alone.

Morris recognizes the CP is intended “as a general descriptive pattern” of the course of science-theology conflicts. But with Garner and Stump, Morris wonders whether I view the principle deontologically (as obligatory or the right way). I’ve addressed this issue in response to Garner and Stump. But Morris is correct the book “doesn’t do much to directly address the complexities and subtleties of this central epistemological issue” or the sources of authority in doctrinal formulation and consensus science. Here’s why.

I began the research very aware from decades of teaching philosophy of science that scientists are not particularly adept at recognizing just what they do that constitutes science and its method(s). Philosophers likewise have been unable to provide the determinative Answer, but have had success providing answersSo, frankly, I began the study looking for the way(s) Christians actually rather than ideally sorted science-theology conflicts. for specific historical applications as Morris notes. So, I had zero confidence that I would discover a key insight on the issue of authority in theory formation—and that hasn’t changed. Much better thinkers than I have not succeeded.

I also was very much aware that Christians often present two extremes which I knew had serious problems. On the one hand are those who believe the Bible as highest epistemological authority should always dictate the sorting of scientific data/theories. I resonate with the motive, but know no one knows how to do it. The other extreme comprises those who think scientific consensus always objectively leads to truth. Most conservatives are wary today of this view (with some good reasons), but have not always been (as Morris notes). So, frankly, I began the study looking for the way(s) Christians actually rather than ideally sorted science-theology conflicts. After considerable time reflecting on the protracted Copernican controversy, I recognized patterns (the CP). I was then stunned to see how, historically, conservatives invariably practiced the CP until the present. The CP, in some cases, has not led to the same conclusions. Therefore, though believing the CP has generally been truth conducive, I don’t view it as normative, only descriptive. I continue to believe “the devil is in the details.”

I “amen” Morris’s suggestion that Controversy would have benefited from exploring the dynamics of human knowing. I also doubt I could do it justice. I became keenly aware during research how even within communities (e.g., YECs) widely disparate conclusions were drawn from the very same data. More broadly,Though hard to imagine in the present climate, I’d be enthusiastic for Morris’s vision, if for no other reason than to help beleaguered lay people find peace and trust their Bibles amid the complexities.
the fossil column which initiated so much perplexity, continues to be “obviously” seen in terms of Flood or Creation or Evolution column.

I agree with Morris that hybrid theories are necessary. My only warning is that when numerous hybrids compete for allegiance, friction and instability in the Christian community result. To borrow Kuhn’s language, if multiple hybrids compete unsuccessfully to explain the anomalies, the Christian community suffers a “crisis state.” So, I only meant to describe rather than proscribe hybrids. I am completely at a loss presently to suggest ways to sort or develop them. But aside from biblical fidelity, Christians theorists have intuitively sought desirable properties like elegance, simplicity, explanatory power, etc.

I’m delighted with Morris’s twofold vision for an ideal world in which: (a) denominations establish theological parameters enabling safe space “3rd level” discussions with parachurch help; and (b) a “mere creationism” allows Christians to work together beyond their denominational borders. Though hard to imagine in the present climate, I’d be enthusiastic for Morris’s vision, if for no other reason than to help beleaguered lay people find peace and trust their Bibles amid the complexities.