classic arguments

Paul Arveson (
Fri, 5 Dec 1997 12:09:58 -0400

There is a lot of passion for creationism out there, particularly among
vigilant mothers who are neither scientists nor educators (except
perhaps as home-schoolers). Some of them evidently have internet
access and they are reading our discussions. I received a flame from
one -- by telephone, no less. (I'm glad it was voice mail.) Beware
what you post -- you too may be visited by someone out in cyberspace
whom you have offended.

It is hard for me to comprehend that when writing email I am writing to
the whole world. It is hard to write in a way that is clear to such a
range of people. There is no context -- or rather, so many different
contexts that it is hard to avoid being misunderstood. I failed to
follow this stringent requirement in some of my email, and I regret it.
I will try not to write so rashly in the future.

My inquisitor offered several arguments, and I will respond to three of
them, because they are classic arguments and I hope the answers are
helpful rather than adding to the confusion.

1. "If you are a Christian don't you have to take the Gospel literally?
Why can't you just take Genesis literally too?"

I do believe the Gospel as recorded in the New Testament. But there
are some differences between Genesis and the Gospel:

a. The Gospel reports are not disconfirmed by any historical or
scientific counterevidence. Six-day creationism or '6DC' is
disconfirmed by vast quantities of counterevidence, including data from
astronomy, astrophysics, chemistry, geology, physics and paleontology.
To insist on 6-day literal, historical creationism as the true view
brings the whole Bible into ridicule by those scientists who know
better. This is not a new concern. It was expressed by Augustine,
about 400 AD, because even then enough was known about nature to create
a conflict with the 6-day literal interpretation (see his book, 'The
Literal Meaning of Genesis').

b. There are many interpretations of Genesis that have been devised by
Christians over the past 1600 years. In short, there is no consensus
on its interpretation. (Some modern Americans, who haven't read
anything but the recent creationist literature, don't seem to realize
this). On the other hand, the Gospel has been clearly stated in the
Apostle's creed and other confessions that have been widely accepted
for centuries.

c. Theologically speaking, the intent of Scripture is to reveal things
that we could never figure out for ourselves through research, etc.
The plan of salvation is one of these things -- due to sin, we could
never figure it out; it had to be revealed. But things that happened
in the past are routinely learned by normal human reason and inference.
If a tree falls down in a forest when nobody was around, you may
wonder whether it made any noise, but you can't fail to believe that a
tree fell down if you see its trunk lying on the ground. That is
normal reason and inference. It doesn't require revelation. Early
earth history also fits in this category: much has been learned about
the details of this history. It doesn't require God's direct
revelation to tell us about past volcanoes, floods, meteor falls,
continental drift etc. We are now even able to determine some aspects
of the weather on earth over 100,000 years ago. This body of knowledge
continues to grow.

d. Theologically speaking, the intent of Scripture is to reveal
vitally important things that we desperately need for salvation. Not
details of earth history that only a few geologists care about. There
is a vast difference of priority between Genesis -- interpreted as
earth history -- and the Gospel. Creationism often turns this priority
around, focusing attention on Genesis and thus creating confusion and
controversy which distracts people from confronting the Gospel. In
fact modern creationism assumes that it is necessary to demonstrate the
historical literal interpretation of Genesis BEFORE preaching the
Gospel. That is why they use the phrase "Genesis is the foundation".
However, the Bible says that "Christ is the foundation."

(My rash remark that prompted the phone call, about defending a city by
tearing down its buildings, related to this reversal of priorities).

2. "Genesis 1:1 sets out creationism as the Bible's view."

Not exactly. It sets out the mystery of God's creating the universe
(space, time and matter) out of nothing, by His Word. That is the
doctrine of creation, which all Christians believe. But that is not to
be equated with creationism, which is one of the many classes of
interpretations. Not all Christians are adherents to creationism. In
fact, some Christians, believers in the doctrine of creation, also
think that evolution may be a true description of natural history. The
categories are not as simple as they appear to people who only read
modern creationist literature.

3. "You are hurting the faith of children by supporting evolution."

Where did I say I was defending or supporting evolution? I was
attacking the 6DC interpretation of Genesis. That is not defending
evolution. Evolution is a theory that can stand or fall as the
evidence comes in; it doesn't depend on popular support. I am opposed
to 6DC views because I agree with the vast majority of scientists (of
all religions) that 6DC views about astronomy and earth's geology are
not true. There are other interpretations of Genesis (some of which
are frequently published in the ASA's journal), which do a better job
of interpretation. The options are not as simple as they appear to
people who only read modern creationist literature. Subscribe to
Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith!

I think children, who cannot make subtle theological distinctions,
should be taught Genesis just as it is written. There will be time
later, as their knowledge and faith grow, for them to learn the deeper
meanings and interpretations of Genesis along with the rest of the

4. Six-day creationists and I differ on matters of interpretation, and
on priorities, and all kinds of other things. But I do agree with
Henry Morris and other 6DC's philosophically: that there is one truth,
and all truth is God's truth. But due to sin, we 'see through a glass
darkly' and no one has direct access to the truth -- either about
nature or Scripture. That is the ultimate problem, but let's not let
it become a wedge to drive us farther apart.

I am going on vacation. Don't bother trying to call me.

Paul Arveson, Code 724, Research Physicist, Signatures Directorate

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division

9500 MacArthur Blvd., West Bethesda, MD 20817-5700

(301) 227-3831 (301) 227-4511 (FAX)