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Category Archives: Philosophy

Dating Advice

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Dating is a delicate process. It comes with highs and lows (mostly highs), but things can change at any time. During the lows, you like to remember the highs. And the whole process tends to be shrouded in uncertainty. Oh, by the way, I’m talking about rocks!

Introduction

This post is the third (and hopefully final) post in my three-part discussion on the age of the earth. The first (A Treacherous Path) was more philosophical in nature, though it also discussed the proper reading of Genesis 1-2. The goal of that post was to show the danger of changing scripture (or changing the way we commonly read scripture).

The second (A Closer Look at Some Actual Fossils) was an attempt to examine real scientific data and see what we have to work with. It presented reasons to abandon the theory of Evolution based only on the fossil record itself (let alone scripture).

There is now one other major topic of discussion remaining. Many Christians today deny Evolution but still hold to an old earth. It is now quite common to hear from Christians that, though Evolution is definitely not true, we still need to embrace the scientific fact that the earth is old. This has resulted in the belief that the Flood in Noah’s day was limited to a local area (as opposed to being global). We will see why this is the case shortly.

Up until the early 2000’s it seemed like there was little evidence a young earth creationist could point to in order to show the errors in contemporary dating methods. It seemed as if we had two incompatible truths: an extremely young earth as presented in the Bible, and science telling us the earth is in fact much, much older. This is no longer the case, as we will see in the sections below.

It is important to remember that Evolution and an old earth go hand in hand. The death of an old earth is the death of Evolution. But it might surprise you to learn that even secular science is gradually moving away from Evolution, though still maintaining an old earth belief. If we imagine for a minute that all of secular science suddenly decides to drop Evolution as a reasonable theory, we might be tempted to let the debate about the age of the earth go and forget about it. So long as Evolution is not believed in, why fight for a young earth?

There are two reasons why it is still important to argue for a young (6000-10000 year old) earth. First is simply that this is in fact what the Bible teaches. Any deviation from this belief is a deviation from the Word of God, however that deviation is achieved (changing the words or changing the way we normally interpret them). If you disagree with this, hopefully you at least agree with the second reason.

Second is that, if we intend to do good science, we need to know what framework to operate in. Belief in an old vs. a new earth affects just about everything, including the production of natural resources, our understanding of climate change, and the carving out of land features. We cannot possibly do good historical science without a proper understanding of how old the earth is and what might have altered its features in the past (e.g., the Flood). You might say that this is the point of science, to determine objectively whether the earth is old or young using science itself. But the fact of the matter is that you actually have to know in advance which it is, and also acknowledge certain things like the Flood, in order to do good science in the first place.

This is why it is so important that we take the Bible seriously. Having knowledge about a global flood from God’s word gives us a definite advantage in doing science. However, in order to get the Bible to fit with secular science, Christians have limited the flood in Noah’s day to a local area. As we will see, this is not because of hints in the text itself, but because of outside pressure.

The first reason above (defending a young earth because it is what scripture teaches) is most important to me, but for both reasons lets dive into the dating methods and see what they show us today. This post is basically a summary of John Morris’s “The Young Earth”, which covers a series of contemporary dating methods to show that the weight of evidence leans greatly in favor of a young earth. I am not suggesting that you base your faith on any of these dating methods which I am about to cover. They are subject to change, but God’s word alone stands as the solid foundation.

 

Radioisotope Dating

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Morris clarifies that this dating method can only be used on igneous and metamorphic rock (rock that was previously extremely hot or molten but is now cooled and solid). This is in contrast to sedimentary rock. “Sedimentary rocks, by definition, are laid down as sediments by moving fluids.” (p. 48) It may surprise you to hear that much of the Grand Canyon is in fact sedimentary rock. (p. 55)

Radioisotope dating works by counting atoms. By measuring the products of radioactive decay, we can figure out how long certain rocks have been decaying and thus how long ago they hardened from molten rock. Uranium in rocks, for example, decays into lead at a certain rate. The time it takes for half of the uranium to decay into lead is called the half-life, and it is believed to be 4.51 billion years (this is a known fact). Morris reminds us that this does not mean the earth is billions of years old, but just that it takes that long for half of the atoms to decay. So if we started with 1,000,000 uranium atoms, for example, then after 4.51 billion years we would have 500,000 uranium atoms. After another 4.51 billion years, we would have 250,000 uranium atoms, and so on.

The idea is thus that we can count the product lead atoms and determine how longer the uranium has been decaying, and therefore determine how old the rocks are. Note that the “clock” is supposedly reset when the rock is heated or in molten form, and begins counting once it solidifies. (pp. 48, 49, 52)

Many rocks dated using this method have given numbers in the several hundred million and even several billion years of age, so it is important that we study this method closely to determine what is going on. This is in fact what the RATE science team did, which Morris was involved in personally. (p. 49) This team conducted an in-depth study of radioisotope dating methods. In fact, Morris claims that “It may be that Institute for Creation Research scientists have done more radioisotope dating on Grand Canyon rocks than anyone else.” (p. 58)

There are four assumptions required when using this dating method:

The first assumption is that we have a closed system. This is vital to accurately using radioisotope dating. If any atoms are lost or gained over the course of time, we can no longer simply count the atoms. Morris does not at all imply that scientists are sloppy in their gathering of specimens. Rather, it is their care that demonstrates that the system is definitely not closed:

…One would hope that the results obtained on good specimens would be reasonable and consistent, since all questionable specimens were already screened out.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Many, many times, when specimens are dated, the resulting answers do not agree with each other or with any other estimate gained from the fossils or from stratigraphic position. If the results come back wrong, the results from the tests are thrown out, and a charge of contamination may be levied. But these are the results of tests run on specimens that have already been culled for any evidence of contamination or loss or gain of its constituents. (p. 50, emphasis mine)

Morris also goes on to note that it is a well known fact that both uranium and lead “can be leached by ground water”. (p. 50) The bottom line is that if we have a closed system and the process is known to work, then dating several specimens of the same rock should yield similar results. The fact is that quite often it does not.

What might have caused worldwide leaching to occur such that we cannot guarantee a closed system over much of the globe? Perhaps a catastrophic global flood. (p. 53) When you understand that the flood waters covered the globe, you might be wise to use this dating method only on unexposed, deeply buried rock.

Second, we have to assume we know how many atoms were already present in the rock at the time of formation. Without knowing this, we cannot accurately count the atoms because we do not know how much we started with, thereby rendering it impossible to determine the age. We might be able to determine a maximum age, but not the actual age.

You would hope that this method would be accurate on “fresh” rocks, rocks which had just recently solidified, but this crucial assumption (how many atoms were present at the beginning) comes back to bite us even with new rocks. You might have heard of that one rock from that one recently active volcano which was incorrectly dated to be millions or billions of years old by radioisotope dating. The fact of the matter is that most of the time, new rocks with known recent ages come up with old ages using this dating method. Morris states, “It does not work whenever it can be checked, for essentially all recently formed rocks date old.” (p. 54)

In his book “Bones of Contention” (summarized in my last post), Lubenow covers the work of the RATE science team. The team took 13 samples from a recent volcanic eruption in New Zealand, known to have occurred in 1975. They sent these samples to Geochron Laboratories for potassium-argon radiometric dating (a method which measures decay from potassium into argon atoms). Potassium-argon has a half-life of 1.25 billion years, so it decays 3-4 times faster than uranium-lead does. This laboratory is “one of the most respected commercial dating laboratories in the world.” (Lubenow, kindle location 5128).

The dates that were determined for the 13 rock specimens ranged from as recent as 270,000 years ago to 3.5 million years ago. Most interesting is that “All were said to have a margin of error of about 20 percent in either direction.” (Lubenow, kindle location 5152). This is humorous considering the rocks were definitely known to be only a little over 25 years old, but it illustrates the problem well: even with fresh rocks we do not seem to be able to accurately determine the age of formation.

Also, when God created the mountains and other rocks, what kind of rock should he make them out of? Should he make them out of “new” rock (as we would call rock just released from a volcano), or would it be rock like that of an apparently aged mountain? Remember that God created Adam as a man. In reality, Adam would technically be one minute old, but would appear to be 20, 30 or maybe 40 years old. This was not to be deceptive, but was because God had other intentions. In Adam’s case, he intended to make a fully mature man from the start. Perhaps he had intentions to create fully mature mountains too. We have no ability to discern the number of atoms present in the rocks when God created them, so can we really use this dating method? It doesn’t even work on rocks with known ages!

The Third Assumption is that the decay rate from one atom into another (for a given atom type) has always been the same. This goes along with typical uniformitarianism, the belief that the processes which we observe today have always been the same. Granted, we can observe the decay of atoms today and see a particular rate, but should we assume it has always been this way?

One of the products of uranium decay is also helium. This is created inside the rocks and makes its way up to the surface (more on helium dating methods later). Now, the RATE science team did find that what looked like 1.5 billion years of radioactive decay that had occurred in rock retrieved in New Mexico. However, a large amount of helium buildup was also found in the rock, an amount that should not be present if the decay rate has been constant. Helium will slowly be released from rock over time because it is “slippery”. It basically cannot be contained by rock for a long time. (Morris, p. 53)

The Rate team analyzed the amounts of helium and concluded the following:

RATE experimentally measured the helium diffusion rate for these crystals and found it pointed to a helium diffusion age of only 6,000 +-[plus or minus] 2,000 years. Thus, within just the last few thousands years, 1.5 billion years’ worth of decay (at today’s rate of decay) took place. These data seem to demand such a burst of grossly exaggerated decay, not very long ago. Evidently the assumption of constant decay rates is in error. (p. 53)

There is much speculation as to what might have caused this increased rate of decay. The cause isn’t really what matters. If we cannot have certainty that the decay rate has always been the same, we cannot trust this dating method.

The fourth assumption is that we know how old the earth is. “What?” you say. Why would we need to know how old the earth is before dating it with the radioisotope method? Isn’t that the point of using a dating method? It is because half of uranium decays into lead every 4.51 billion years. In a young earth there is simply not enough time for significant, measurable decay to have occurred. We require the earth to be old so we can use this method! Perhaps this is in part why the young rocks come out as being so old using radioisotope dating. (p. 54) What is 6,000 – 10,000 years compared to 4,510,000,000 years? It’s nothing.

It’s time to acknowledge our assumptions about the past instead of simply believing that historical science is a purely objective process. Your assumptions will definitely determine your end results. I’ve spent a lot of space on radioisotope dating because it is one of the most important to understand in my opinion. Let’s turn to some other dating methods.

 

Carbon-14 Dating

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Carbon-14 dating only works on carbon-based material like bones and plants, things that were once part of living matter. Carbon-14 has a half life of 5,730 years. This means that elements dated with this method cannot be dated if they are older than approximately 57,300 years, due to the limited amount of carbon remaining which would be difficult to detect. (p. 63) Morris states:

Even the most devoted advocate would not claim that C-14 has any relevance beyond 100,000 years before the present time, and its inaccuracies are well-known. It decays so rapidly that even if the entire mass of the observable universe were packed with carbon-14 atoms, after just 1.5 million years there would not be a single C-14 atom left. If any C-14 is present in a specimen it must be younger than that. (p. 63)

Once again, the age of the earth that we assume from the start greatly affects our ability to use this dating method. Carbon-14 is actually produced by the interaction of cosmic rays with the atmosphere. The C-14 then becomes absorbed into animals and plants as it settles to the earth, where it decays at the given half-life. Therefore a tree, for example, takes in C-14 at a particular rate (until it dies), and the C-14 inside the tree decays with a half-life of 5,730 years. But in order to have a stable rate of input and output, this requires an earth that is at least 30,000 years old so that we can have “carbon-14 equilibrium, with equal amounts of C-14 being formed and decaying”. (pp. 63-64) But is the earth that old? Based on the genealogies we have in the Old Testament, the earth can only be a maximum of about 10,000 years old. So the young earth creationist, by default, should be skeptical about using this method.

Even though this is the case, it may no longer matter, because it is now widely known that C-14 is actually increasing and is not in equilibrium (p. 64). It is also not as trusted as people think. Morris tells some interesting stories:

I remember talking with a famous archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania doing an excavation in the country of Turkey. He had discovered an ancient tomb with wooden timbers. I asked if he had sent timber samples off for dating through the carbon-14 method. His reply and candid admission shocked me. He had, of course, sent samples off for dating, but claimed he would never believe anything that came back from a carbon-14 lab. Nor was he aware of any archaeologist in the world who would accept such dates. If the date agreed with what he knew it should be historically, then the data would be published; if not, it would be ignored. He was obliged to carbon-date artifacts to keep his grant money coming, he always did so; but he did not trust the method or its results.

On another occasion, I was debating an evolutionist at the national convention of the American Archaeological Society when dating processes came up. I chided the archaeologists present by insisting that they should be honest and admit they never trust carbon-14 dates. There was nervous laughter throughout the audience, but no one even attempted to contradict me. (p. 64)

I don’t think the reasons for avoiding C-14 dating in the examples above are only because it has come into question. It’s also that it tends to favor a young earth. Hopefully Christians soon realize that C-14 dating is actually strongly in support of a young earth. The greatest example is C-14 found in diamonds and coal. Diamond and coal are particularly interesting to study because they are believed to take such an incredibly long time to form that there’s no hope of there being any C-14 left in them once they are formed. And yet, C-14 has been found in coal all over the United States, and the RATE team found C-14 in diamonds from several African countries as well. Because of how hard diamond is, the possibility of contamination is next to nothing. (pp. 65-66) We simply have to conclude that these diamonds formed recently. An old earth scientist would merely attempt to find the source of supposed contamination and miss the point.

Lets not forget that there was a global, catastrophic event that upset any progress toward C-14 equilibrium across the globe:

…the Flood would have drastically altered the carbon inventory in the world as it laid down the vast limestone deposits (calcium carbonate), coal deposits, and oil shales. At the time of the Flood, great amounts of carbon were removed from the atmosphere and oceans and were no longer available for ingestion or absorption into animals or plants, thus destroying any semblance of uniformity in nature and also any hope of a calibration curve going back before the Flood. Nor would such a calibration be possible for the first few centuries following the Flood, during which time things re-stabilized. As mentioned, the carbon-14 built up in the atmosphere has not yet even reached equilibrium with its decay. (p. 65)

It appears that the global Flood affects this dating method as well.

 

Sodium Dating

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Salt? Yes, salt. This is another way to date the earth. It also has a key benefit: there is essentially no possibility of contamination, because we can use the entire world for our tests, and the world is considered to be a closed system. (p. 78)

This experiment works by measuring the amount of salt in the oceans. Oceans are gradually getting saltier over time. We can actually approximate both the intake of salt and also how much salt is being removed from the oceans (onto land or in other ways). In doing so, we can approximate how salty the ocean will be in X number of years, and also how salty it was X number of years ago. Morris gives examples of input and output, including Coastal Erosion and Hydrothermal Vents (input), as well as Sea Spray and Ion Exchange (output). These are very interesting to read about, and also make you thirsty. There is a margin of error for each of these factors, and so scientists can give minimums and maximums for each one so we can see the total range of possibilities. (pp. 89-90)

Based on the amount of salt we have in our oceans, it would take approximately 32 million years to accumulate, with a maximum possible time span of 62 million years (if we use the slowest possible rate of accumulation). Obviously, Morris is not saying it took the oceans 32-62 million years to get the way they are. He is simply saying that the 4.5 billion years of age for the earth we are given by scientists doesn’t work. (p. 90) In fact, Morris states: “If the ocean was old and had been receiving sodium at any rate comparable to today’s rate, it would be so choked with salt, life would be impossible. The evidence supports a young earth, not an old-earth.” (p. 91)

And it need not be a 30-60 million year old earth either. It might have been salty at creation, but beyond that, can you think of a factor that would cause massive amounts of erosion across the globe, thus accelerating sodium input exponentially?

 

Sediments in the Ocean

This is slightly different than measuring salt. Here we are measuring sediment in the bottom of the ocean.

Now, we know that the rate of erosion today is 27.5 billion tons of sediment per year, which is being eroded off of continents into the oceans. But we also know how much sediment is in the oceans right now, approximately 410 million billion tons. This is actually more than there is material on land, which is about 383 million billion tons. (pp. 92-93) Note what follows:

Simple division arrives at an age of 15 million years. We could properly conclude that this is the age of our present ocean basins, given the assumption of constant sedimentation rate and no sediments there to start with. If the oceans are as old as commonly believed, they ought to be completely full of sediments. (p. 93)

Now of course, I am not implying by quoting this that the earth is 15 million years old. Just as before, the flood easily explains the extra sediment that we have and once again reduces the maximum possible age. (pp. 93-94)

 

Helium

I briefly talked about helium earlier when going over radioisotope dating. As mentioned, it is a product of radioactive decay occurring underground. Helium is being added to the atmosphere at a rate of 13 million atoms per square inch per second, and it is being lost into outer space at a rate of only 0.3 million atoms per square inch per second. Based on the amount of helium we have in the atmosphere today, this gives a maximum possible age of 2 million years. (p. 87)

It is clear that 2 million years is no where near the 4.5 billion proposed age of the earth. Remember our discussion earlier, that the rate of radioactive decay was very likely much higher at a previous time in history, which produced the large amount of helium we see in some rocks today. Morris notes:

These uniformitarian assumptions include the notion that the rate of accumulation has never been any different throughout the past. But during Noah’s flood, the rate may have been much more rapid, because the earth’s crust was in such turmoil that the helium would have been able to escape crustal rocks more easily. Accelerated nuclear decay would further increase the rate. Both these factors would reduce the maximum age. (p. 87)

The Grand Canyon

I specifically wanted to quote a section from Morris’s book about the Grand Canyon because it is so remarkable. The many, cleanly sandwiched layers in the Grand Canyon peak our curiosity and demand our scrutiny. Perhaps there was a time when I would be writing this post that I would try to present the evidence for rapid deposition of these layers by the Flood (which is indeed what happened). This is no longer necessary, because many scientists today acknowledge that the layers were formed by catastrophic events and not by slow deposition over long ages (as was previously believed) (pp. 96-97):

Please grasp clearly what these scientists are advocating. They would say that nearly all of the rock material was laid down rapidly, as sediments, by catastrophic events. These events were separated by great lengths of time. But while the real evidence points toward rapid catastrophic deposition which took very little time, great amounts of time supposedly passed between the layers where no evidence is found! The evidence for time is the lack [emphasized] of physical evidence. (p. 97, bold emphasis mine)

There should be erosion, and there should be alteration between the layers that would keep them from looking so uniform. Do an image search for “Grand Canyon layers” and see for yourself. They are so clean, flat and even that this is simply not possible. Only a massive flood that deposited the layers over a short period of time could produce the Grand Canyon as we see it today.

 

A Flood of Evidence

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You probably noticed by now that all of the dating methods discussed above are affected by the flood event in Noah’s day (if it indeed was a global flood). This shows why belief in an old earth requires a local flood, just as belief in Evolution requires an old earth. Once you allow for the global flood, you can no longer do historical science in the same way. Because of how the Flood is tied to dating methods, I thought it would be beneficial to include a short section on why we should believe a global flood did in fact occur.

First, note this sobering prophecy in 2 Peter:

3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (NIV)

Now, I do not think Christians who argue for an old earth and a local flood are denying that Christ will return, nor are they denying a general creation event. I just find it chilling that the creation and the flood are mentioned together as things which will be denied in the last day. The reading of Genesis 1 has been wrongly adjusted to fit secular science, as I discussed in my first post. Let’s now look at the Genesis 7 flood.

To be honest, it saddens me that we even have to debate this. The words used are so abundantly clear. The best way to argue for it is to simply quote it (with my own emphasis added, which Morris helped point out on page 70 in his book):

18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits [about 23 ft]. 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. (NIV, Gen 7:18-20, emphasis mine)

Notice what God specifically clarifies for us. He clarifies the height of the waters (covering the mountains), and he clarifies (several times!) just what was wiped out (namely, everything). It feels like, since he knew how much this would be debated, the Lord stated it redundantly to make sure it was absolutely clear to us, and yet here we are still talking about it. Morris notes that Mt. Ararat is 17,000 ft high, and states, “A year-long mountain-covering Flood is not a local Flood.” (p. 70)

Earlier on, God predicted this event by saying (and I may as well bold it all):

17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. (NIV, Gen 6:17, emphasis mine)

It starts to become silly to use the argument that it was the “known earth”. If that is the case, try to imagine what God would have said to imply the whole earth…It’s kind of hard to say it any other way, isn’t it? You can’t even say “the four corners of the earth”, because someone will just say “it was the four corners of the known earth”. What is going on here is the refusal to take these words as they are clearly stated, just as Christians refuse to take Genesis 1’s literal day as is clearly stated. And the reason is also the same: trying to align with secular science.

A wise friend of mine shared this with me: if it was only a local flood, why not simply have Noah and his family leave the area? It’s like telling Lot and his family to build a bomb shelter instead of leave Sodom and Gomorrah. Likewise, “two of every kind of bird” (NIV, 6:20) is taken onto the ark. Why do birds need to be kept on an ark for a local flood? Some birds can travel astonishing distances in a single day. Conversely, fish and sea creatures had no need to be rescued because they were the only creatures that could survive a global flood, though some certainly died in it too. Hence, Gen 7:23 says, “and the birds were wiped from the earth”. (NIV)

When will we simply take with the faith of a child the things that God gave us in Scripture? Science is on the young earth Christian’s side, but that hardly matters. You cannot prove that the earth is old or young using science. It requires faith (either in the Bible or in naturalism and uniformitarianism) for either view. As Morris wisely says, “Rocks, fossils, isotope arrays, and physical systems do not speak with the same clarity as Scripture.” (p. 120)

I myself am guilty of opening the door to an old earth a few years ago when I started to feel like science demanded it. How much better if I simply stood on God’s word? I had to repent of that sin, for sin is what it was. I should have trusted that eventually the data would align with scripture. Now I am at a point where I am convinced that in the end the Bible will always prove to be true, and every day good Christian scientists are showing that to be the case in ever greater examples.

Historically, it was the issue of the age of the earth that was the first doctrine of Scripture to be abandoned by compromisers, then the Flood, then the creation. Today, the cycle has reversed. With evolution now exposed as not credible, many Christians are re-adopting creation, but still hold on to the old-earth and local Flood. How much better it would be to come all the way back to a biblical world view (one which employs better science, by the way). (p.125)

If you still think this doesn’t matter, consider Jesus’ words:

12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? (NIV, John 3:12)

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2017 in Philosophy, Science, Theology, Uncategorized

 

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A Treacherous Path

In 2011 (yikes! that was 6 years ago) I wrote about how it is important to not get sidetracked on controversial topics. I was mainly concerned with the thinking that you have to be Calvinist, Arminian, pre-millennial, post-millennial, or fill-in-the-blank to be a Christian. Those who think in this way are led astray.

There is, however, only one correct answer to all of those debates (and in some cases neither side may have it!). As humans, we do our best to understand a particular theological topic, and hopefully if we are in error, we are not in error in such a way as to endanger our faith. Certain camps of thinking, unfortunately, walk a treacherous path, a path that leans out over the railings of truth to say “Look at what I can get away with believing!” Some are less interested in stretching the rules and are genuinely interested in finding the truth, but are nonetheless in danger of falling off the edge.

There is a particular issue on my mind. It is one which is possible to hold to as a Christian, but which leans out so far over the railing as to incur that tingling sensation which happens when one is high above the ground on an unstable ladder. It has to do with the creation of God’s world.

 

The Trouble In God’s World

Christians have debated much about this topic, both within the church and with those outside the church. The specific debate to which I am referring is the date of the creation of the world and how long it took. There are two primary camps in this discussion: those that hold to an old-earth view, believing that the earth was created over a long period of time, perhaps as long as the billions of years proposed by secular scientists (though not necessarily), and the young-earth view (most often those who believe that the creation of the earth occurred roughly 6,000 years ago during 6 literal days).

The trouble comes as a result of scientific evidence that seems to point to an old earth. Christians have sought to embrace this scientific evidence in the attempt to be true to both the bible and reason. Anyone who knows me is probably aware that I hold reason in high regard; it is the medium by which we are able to communicate and by which you are reading this article right now.

The danger with reason comes when it stretches beyond its Creator. We can study the universe and make good conclusions in doing so, but our studies and thinking depend on the fact that “things are” and “things are not”; it is the fabric of everything. That is why it is so powerful when God says, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). God tells Moses to let the Israelites know “I AM” has sent him. Moses’ message was to be validated by the One who….exists! And has always existed, and will always exist…and brought everything into existence.

Keep this in mind as we dive into the science around the creation event. The Great I AM, who just always exists, has done some incredible things and we are going to try to understand them.

 

What’s the Danger?

This blog post is an attempt to show that any view outside of a literal 6 day creation that occurred roughly 6,000 years ago (based on genealogical records in the Bible) is a dangerous path, as was described in the opening paragraphs.

There are three main options to choose from to resolve this apparent contradiction between the Bible and science:

  1. The word “day” in the Genesis 1 account is not a literal day.
  2. The entire Genesis 1 account is figurative / poetic, so whether it refers to a literal day or not doesn’t matter as the whole thing ought not to be taken as literal history.
  3. The science in support of an old earth is not trustworthy.

Let’s look at each in turn.

 

The Genesis 1 “Day”

The focal point of the argument for a non-literal day in Genesis centers on the fact that the Hebrew word yôm has multiple meanings. An example verse we can look at is Genesis 1:3-5:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

(ESV, Gen 1:3-5)

In his in-depth overview of the word yôm, Jim Stambaugh gives us these possible definitions:

i. a period of light in a day/night cycle;

ii. a period of 24 hours;

iii. a general or vague concept of time;

iv. a specific point of time; and

v. a period of a year.

Before jumping to the conclusion that this leaves the door wide open to allowing a non-literal 24-hour day, keep in mind Jim’s wise statement:

If one were to believe that the ‘days’ of creation lasted a long time, then he would have to prove his case from the context of Genesis 1, not simply citing the semantic range of yôm.

We need to look both at the context of Genesis 1 as well as the rest of the old testament to see how this word is used and to determine the proper definition for this occurrence. Doing so reveals that the use of “evening” and “morning” with yôm always refers to a literal 24 hour day in the rest of the Old Testament. This would make “a general or vague concept of time” an exception to the rule if we were to read it that way here.

Now, if we look at Genesis 2:4 we can find an occurrence of the word yôm without “evening” and “morning” which is indeed intended to be used to refer to more than a 24-hour day:

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

(ESV, Gen 2:4)

Here the word yôm is used to refer to the entire creation week in summary, but the individual days are referred to as literal days throughout the creation process in chapter 1. Much more can be said about this discussion. I recommend reading the article cited above for more details (it’s not the easiest thing to go through but it’s well worth the info). In the end, the burden of proof is on those who would argue that this is an exception to what we find in the rest of the Old Testament.

 

A Different Hermeneutical Approach

I just wanted to make sure you are aware that everything I wrote up until this point is actually a love poem I wrote to my wife. And it has her in tears!

In all seriousness, I would raise an eyebrow if you told me this blog post is anything other than a logical argument for a particular viewpoint. Even if you don’t agree with it, you’ve made some very basic assumptions about what you’re looking at. This is because “things are” and “things are not” in this universe.

An attempt to reclassify Genesis 1 as poetry or figurative is perhaps the most dangerous path to take. If you want to hang on the possibility that yôm might mean a long period of time, ok. But don’t change common sense to make something fit, because no part of the Bible is safe then. There would be no reason why the gospels could not be read as poetic accounts to symbolize the love of God. You’ve probably heard it before: “Jesus wasn’t real, he was just an image pointing us to goodness and God”.

We have the ability in us to determine these things based on common-sense reading skills. One excellent example I’ve found in my studies (though I cannot remember the source) is of Exodus 14 and 15. Exodus 14 gives a narrative account of Israel escaping from the hands of Pharaoh through the sea, while the waters covered over Pharaoh’s army. Exodus 15 gives a poetic account of the same events. Even if chapter 15 didn’t begin with “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord” (NIV) and didn’t have indented lines in the print, we would read it as poetry and it would mean different things than the narrative account in the previous chapter.

Genesis 1 reads like the rest of Genesis: a historical narrative from the beginning of our universe to the time of Moses. It is very clear that the authorial intent is to give us information about what happened. This puts it distinctly out of the category of poetry as well as apocalyptic literature (which is intended to give a cloudy picture of what is yet to come). It’s all right there for us to read and believe.

There are other ways to determine whether the Genesis 1 account is narrative besides just reading it. The RATE team, a group of scientists that measured various rocks and minerals around the world in order to validate contemporary dating methods, also performed an in-depth analysis of the Old Testament. They found that certain tenses of verbs are more common in different kinds of literature in the Old Testament. With impressive accuracy, they came up with a formula for calculating the likelihood that a verse is narrative or poetry based on the verbs in the given passage. The Genesis 1 account was determined to be 99.99% likely to be narrative based on verb usage as compared to other passages in the Old Testament. This is just another reason why the burden of proof is on those who would decide to read the passage as poetry. This information comes from “Thousands Not Billions” by Donald DeYoung, a summary of the RATE group’s research.

 

What about Science?

Let me start off by saying that I am 100% behind science (true science). But I believe even science done by a Christian cannot probe very far into what happened in Genesis 1.

For example, it has been argued that the distance of the stars and the amount of time it takes for their light to reach us proves the universe is very old. But if we take into account the fact that just moments before the point when God began creating, the universe and all of its rules, patterns, temperatures, creatures, mountains, bodies of water, bodies of humans and all of their needs, desires, feelings, aspirations and longings were perhaps never before conceived of by any self-aware being out there other than God himself (and perhaps that there were no other beings to think of such things anyways!), it starts to seem silly that we expect God to follow a physical law he just created.

That’s why the faith of a child is necessary in order to understand Genesis 1. With the faith of a child, there’s no issue with the plants being created (and bearing fruit) on day 3 and the sun being created on day 4. Arguments like, “Well, plants couldn’t possibly grow in that short of time” or “The sun didn’t exist, so how could God tell what a ‘day’ was?” start to melt away.

There are other scientific arguments worthy of mentioning. Most notable are the arguments for an old earth based on radiometric dating of rocks and plant fossils. I recommend reading the above-mentioned book, “Thousands Not Billions”. The RATE group found evidence quite to the contrary of what secular science (and Christians) have been saying. Most interesting is the presence more often than not of carbon 14 in coal and diamond, in which case there should be no measurable carbon 14 if those elements are indeed as old as science claims. The first section of the book is particularly helpful in understanding how carbon dating actually points to a young earth. It shows that you have to assume that the world is really old before you can start achieving old readings with the carbon dating method.

But even if the RATE group had not done their work, what should the Christian do? Should the Christian leave the final word to secular science? It does not matter that there are Christian scientists who claim the same. What matters is what the Bible teaches. If you still disagree on this point, there are two things you need to realize:

  1. Because of the testimony of creation to the glory of God (Psalm 19), non-believing man, who is BENT against God, cannot effectively do historical science (at least as far as the creation of the universe and the earth are concerned). Ask yourself how a secular scientist could possibly arrive at a correct conclusion if the earth is indeed less than 10,000 years old? How can he possibly deal with the awe and glory of creation and the screaming obviousness that Someone made it? No. He must push it to the distant past to deal with it, there’s no way he can make it a recent event because Evolution (if it did exist) couldn’t possibly work that quickly. The idea that he could be objective about this is not even on the table and goes against what scripture teaches about the nature of man. This, by the way, is different than medical science and other fields of study where scientists are not forced to make an immediate decision about how things came to be.
  2. Even a believer cannot measure what happened in the creation week. As far as we know the laws of nature (as we like to call them) could have changed a thousand times during the creation week. This, along with the catastrophe of the flood (which probably transformed the earth), should not allow us to assume that we can possibly verify what took place. I guarantee that there are things that point to a creation event that occurred 6,000 years ago, but even so it is beyond science. Science is far better at doing things with the laws of our universe than it is at trying to figure out when or how things happened, which tends to cross the line between science and philosophy very quickly. Because of the power of God and the non-natural way things came about, I guarantee that this will result in situations where honest science is in fact contrary to scripture.

 

Conclusion

My hope is that anyone who is not reading the Genesis 1 account as what it is will think carefully about the danger of their path. I don’t know exactly what happened during that week, but God has graciously given us quite a detailed account of it. He could merely have said, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and left it at that. Rather, he let us know that it happened in six days and what happened on each day so we could A) have a reference for six days of work and one day of rest, B) see that no one could have done it except for God, and C) praise him for the glory and power through which he made our universe.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2017 in Philosophy, Theology

 

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“The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom”

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” ~Proverbs 9:10, NIV

There’s that point in your study of the Bible when you are reading Proverbs and you start to notice that “wisdom” is one of the main topics of the book, and that it continues to be brought up again and again. At least, that happened to me.

I was trying to figure out what true wisdom actually is. How, I wondered, can a non-believer be considered wise? Why was Solomon the wisest man on earth? How do I start moving in that direction? The answer was right in front of me, and in fact if at the time I was reading the Bible from beginning to end, I had just read the answer a couple of books earlier. It was right there, in the book of….Job?

Job is an oft-ignored book in the old testament that at first read can seem quite dry and boring. Yes, there’s some interesting stuff that happens at the beginning because we get a glimpse of what goes on in the heavenly realms, but beyond that, it’s just a bunch of guys arguing with a man who lost everything…and getting nowhere. I never looked forward to having to go through those long-winded speeches.

About a month ago, however, I finally decided to take the book seriously. There are a couple reasons I did this, one being that I had somewhat recently taken interest in the book because it seemed to me like it gave some information on why bad things happen to people. I was all prepared to write a post on just that, and I probably will eventually. But then I discovered that “bad things happening to people” was not the main point of the book. Not even close.

The flow of the story is as follows: Job is a righteous and blameless man, and Satan wants to prove to God that Job is only that way because of his many material blessings. God agrees to let Satan cause tragedy after tragedy to fall on Job and his household. The end result is that four of Job’s friends come to “comfort” him, resulting in an argument that spans over 30 chapters and during which no one is particularly happy or pleasant. There are three very interesting questions that arise after you read the book for the first time:

  1. Job was “blameless” before God sent disasters on him. Somehow he sins during the course of the argument, because at the end God rebukes him. What did Job say that was wrong?
  2. Job’s three older friends sin during the course of the argument, because God rebukes them at the end. What did they say that was wrong?
  3. Elihu, the young man who finally gets a chance to talk at the end, is not rebuked by God. What did he say that was right (or at least, “ok”)?

A “Brief” Walkthrough

One of the things I did when studying Job was write a short summary of each chapter. This helped to see the point of each person’s argument, since there’s a lot of poetry and extra words beyond the main points they are trying to convey. The result is fascinating (note that there is some HEAVY paraphrasing and content that is definitely not said by anyone in the book):

Job 1: Job was blameless and upright. Satan starts bringing disasters on Job, but Job continues to praise God even though he loses everything.
Job 2: His wife tries to get him to curse God after Satan inflicts Job’s body with sores. In all this, Job does not sin.

Job 3: Job’s friends show up. Job says, “I should never have been born.”
Job 4: Eliphaz (friend #1) indirectly accuses Job of sin. He mentions an encounter with a spirit that uttered something to Eliphaz. Was it a good or evil spirit? More on this later…
Job 5: Eliphaz directly accuses Job of sin. He states that if Job turns from his ways and seeks God, he will be restored.
Job 6: Job says, “Owch! Tell me what I did wrong?”
Job 7: Job acknowledges that mortals live hard lives, but then he starts to question God and why he did what he did, since Job is blameless and had no need to be punished.
Job 8: Bildad (friend #2) replies. He does not necessarily seem to accuse Job, he just encourages him to seek God. He says that God will listen because Job is blameless.
Job 9: Job: ‘Well of course I’m blameless! But how can a mortal prove his innocence to God? You know what? It doesn’t matter. God simply destroys both the righteous and the wicked.” Job still acknowledges that he would totally lose in any argument with God, because of how powerful God is and what he has made.
Job 10: Job changes his tone and seems to want to actually have that argument with God to prove his innocence. He also states that God oppresses the righteous but smiles on the wicked, in contrast to what he said in chapter 9. Is this a pendulum swing by an emotional man who’s going through some very hard times?

Job 11: Zophar (friend #3) is angry with Job’s statements and accuses him of sinning, saying “Turn from your ways and you’ll be restored!”
Job 12: Job seems to change his tone so as to show that he still has awe for God, stating that God controls everything. He is also mad at his friends (or at least at Zophar).
Job 13: Job gets really angry and asks his friends and God to prove his sin, getting very blunt in his speech.
Job 14: In short, Job says, “Life is tough.”
Job 15: Eliphaz now accuses Job of sinning in his previous response when he challenged God. “The wicked get what they deserve, Job!”
Job 16: Job says: “Woe is me! The wicked (you guys!) surround me and I have no hope!”
Job 17: Job continues to moan that he is surrounded by mockers, very likely meaning his friends.
Job 18: Bildad seems offended, saying “The wicked will perish!”.
Job 19: Job says, “Leave me alone. God has destroyed me, must my friends and relatives destroy me too? Oh how I wish my words were written on a scroll so they could be remembered!” Wish GRANTED.
Job 20: Zophar is offended. He restates that the wicked will be destroyed.

Job 21: Job is angry now. “Not true! The wicked are never punished when they deserve it. I know what you’re going to say yet again, that I was punished, which is proof that I am wicked. But the wicked actually get away with whatever they want, so your argument is invalid!”
Job 22: Eliphaz says, “You have indeed sinned. Repent!”
Job 23: Job says, “If only I could make my case before God! When my testing is complete, I will come out of it like gold.”
Job 24: Job says, “The wicked prosper for awhile, but then they are destroyed eventually.”
Job 25: Bildad says, “How can a mortal be righteous before God?”
Job 26: Job: “Thanks a lot, bro. That was SUCH a helpful piece of advice you just gave me.” After that sarcasm, Job goes on to proclaim that God is powerful.
Job 27: Job says, “I will NEVER give up. God has denied me justice. The wicked will perish.”

Job 28: Interlude on Wisdom (more on this later)

Job 29: Job says, “I wish it was like the old days, when everyone respected me and I was expecting long life.”
Job 30: Job says, “God has abandoned me, I am miserable.”
Job 31: Job says, “I am blameless, what have I done wrong? That’s it, I’m done with this conversation.”

Job 32: Job is righteous in his own eyes, so his friends are silent. Elihu finally speaks up, angry that his friends are unable to prove Job wrong, but still were trying to condemn him. He’s angry that Job is justifying himself rather than God. “Get ready,” Elihu starts out, “I’m FINALLY going to get to talk. Just wait till you hear what I’m about to say. This is really going to hit you hard. Pay close attention to what I’m about to say, and hear true wisdom. This is really going to be great.” He goes on like this for quite a while.
Job 33: Elihu says, “God sometimes uses trouble to bring people back to himself.”
Job 34: Elihu says, “Job has been sinning by saying there’s no point in doing good. God does punish the wicked, but if he chooses to be silent in some cases who are we to accuse him?”
Job 35: Elihu accuses Job of holding an illogical belief: the belief that “I am right, but there’s no point in being right.” Elihu says, “God is so much bigger than your wickedness or your righteousness, do you really expect your behavior to have that much of an effect on him?”
Job 36: Elihu says, “God is just. He does use trouble to bring righteousness, but he is great and not confined to man’s boxes.”
Job 37: Similar to what God is about to say, Elihu says, “What do you know about the works of God?”

Job 38: God answers Job and is not happy, sarcastically asking him to answer his questions because surely Job knows!
Job 39: God talks about what little Job knows about everything.
Job 40: God tells Job to answer him. Job says, “I can’t, I’m unworthy.” God says, “Man up! How can you discredit my justice? Prove to me that you are so powerful!” God then proceeds to declare his mighty creation.
Job 41: God proclaims more about his mighty creation.

Job 42: Job repents, saying “I didn’t know what I was talking about.” God then addresses Eliphaz and says he is angry with him and his two friends because they did not speak the truth about him as Job did (wait, what?). God accepts Job’s prayer on their behalf and restores Job to twice as much as he had before. Minus three friends that somehow were never afterward invited for tea.

 

The Point of it All

Now that the flow of the book has been laid out, we can more easily answer our three questions:

  1. What did Job say that was wrong?
    God makes it clear that Job was questioning his justice. Job was saying things like, “It doesn’t matter if you’re wicked or righteous because God clearly doesn’t care.” This was tarnishing God’s attributes: his holiness, and of course his justice too.
  2. What did Job’s older friends say that was wrong?
    Job’s friends wrongly accused him of sinning, at least at first because Job was blamless prior to that argument. In effect, they brought out that sin in Job by wrongly asking him to repent when he was really innocent.In chapter 4, Eliphaz mentioned an encounter with a spirit. I encourage you to go read the full story, but in short the spirt says: “Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?” (Job 4:17, NIV)One of the things I’ve pondered is whether this was a good or evil spirit. Assuming the encounter was legitimate, the spirit seems to be stating the correct viewpoint, that none can be righteous before God. But what if this spirit is also part of Satan’s scheme to ruin Job? Perhaps Satan was trying to get Elihu on the path of accusing Job so that he would not stop to consider that Job might actually be blameless. Feel free to share your thoughts on this.

3. What did Elihu say that was right?
The first two questions are less of a focal point than the third, which I believe is the point of the book. I’ll tell you in a minute, but first consider something.

In the center of the book of Job, there’s a section that does not appear to be dialog and which spans the whole of chapter 28. The NIV calls this chapter, “Interlude: Where Wisdom is Found”. You should read the chapter yourself, but the point of it is that wisdom is precious and no one knows where to find it. But God gives us the answer! The last verse of that chapter states:

And he [God] said to the human race, “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28, NIV)

You see it in several places in Proverbs, but here it hits you like a ton of bricks. It is the starting point for all reasoning and decision making. It’s what leads a person to wisdom:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7, NIV)

But what does it mean? Why would the fear of the Lord be the beginning of wisdom?

Think about it. Every choice you make and every thought you think is filtered through the fear of the Lord. Wisdom that is based on this principle will be right, just and holy, because it will be wisdom that exists within the bounds of what God himself would do.

Of course, wisdom involves logic, and it involves the ability to think through things well. Because of this, I’m suggesting the following, long definition of wisdom that hopefully captures both sides of the coin:

Wisdom is the ability, using reason, to arrive at (and uncover) logical and sound conclusions, and then carry out any actions those conclusions demand, based on their moral implications.

A simple analogy somewhat based on examples from the book of Proverbs: a man sees that his neighbor is lazy and does not plant his fields or prepare a harvest, and then his neighbor dies from starvation. The man then concludes, “His laziness caused him to starve!” But he proceeds to be lazy has well, and also dies of starvation.

In this analogy, the man was “smart”. He saw the results of an action and took note. But he was foolish because he failed to carry out the actions that logic demanded! And so we can see that wisdom is two parts: a capability to use reason but also the capability to carry out what that reason concludes. Contrary to popular thought, wisdom is much more than being able to think things through clearly. Wisdom, as defined in the Bible, is as much dependent on action as it is on thinking. Philosophical ponderings for twenty years in a cave are not allowed.

The funny thing is, the fear of the Lord is where wisdom starts. You’d think it would be reason! But if you think about it for a minute (using reason, I hope), you’ll conclude that it makes sense, because what good is reason if the bearer of that reason does not fear the Lord? His powers of logic will lead him to carry out terrible things. To quote C.S. Lewis (slightly out of context), he would just be a “more clever devil.” Better to be grounded in the fear of the Lord than to have the ability to learn from and figure anything out.

The Answer

I’ve definitely expanded on the Biblical definition of wisdom here, but hopefully it will help us understand what Elihu said. Using the fear of the Lord as his foundation, he points out how Job wrongly said that there is no point in being righteous. But beyond this, he states what his friends failed to state, which I summarized from chapter 34, “Job has been sinning by saying there’s no point in doing good. God does punish the wicked, but if he chooses to be silent in some cases who are we to accuse him?”

That’s the crucial point. Elihu gives God room to do what he does. It’s a simple “let the Potter mold His clay” statement. Job’s friends were unable to see this because they were so sure Job had sinned. They were partially basing their reasoning on the fear of the Lord in that they were taking sin seriously, but they also had some assumptions that prevented them from being able to figure it out. In fact, if they truly feared the Lord, Job’s exemplary life would have meant something to them.

The book of Job has one resounding declaration: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. My hope is that this blog would always be based on that foundation, otherwise it’s no more a road to wisdom than any other ponderings in caves out there.

One Loose String

I mentioned that in chapter 42 God is not pleased with Job’s older friends because they did not speak the truth about him as Job did. The immediate question is, how is God considering what Job said about him to be true as compared to what Job’s friends said? Clearly God had just rebuked Job, so this is somewhat puzzling. I’m not positive on this, but my suggestion is that God was rebuking Job’s friends because they said that God was punishing Job for an earlier sin, whereas Job was rightly saying that he was blameless. In this sense, Job was correct and his friends were wrong. Just as Job was sinning by stating that “God doesn’t care if you’re wicked or righteous”, his friends were sinning by wrongly blaming God for punishing a righteous man, when in fact it was Satan who was doing the damage. No, Job shouldn’t have accused God of wrong, but also no, his friends shouldn’t have accused God wrongly!

(For the full effect, I strongly recommend reading the interlude on wisdom in chapter 28. Actually, just read the whole book a couple of times. It’s worth it!)

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2016 in Philosophy, Theology, Uncategorized

 

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The Most Basic of All Truths

Forgive me for writing another complicated post, but I couldn’t help it.

What do you think is the simplest, the most basic and foundational truth we can know outside of revelation from God. What I mean is, were we not given the Bible, what could we “start with?”

According to presuppositionalism, we have certain presuppositions which we must assume are true when debating about God with non-believers, or anything at all for that matter. In particular, we can assume that God exists. Indeed, they would say that we cannot know anything without admitting that God exists.

To help explain this, imagine you are debating about which tires are the best for a particular kind of car. You could talk about every possible aspect of the tires in your discussion with another car owner, how some might be too big for the chassis, or how the tread on a particular tire is too smooth to grip the road for the level of acceleration the car offers.

However, while you are having this discussion in which you might disagree with the other person, you are only able to have it because of an enormous host of presuppositions you both share. One might be more aware of these in greater detail than the other, but they are all still there. They are presuppositions like: 1) Gravity pulls the car down toward the road; 2) Friction wears away the tires over time; 3) The person driving this car probably is not going to be driving the majority of the time in reverse. But even more basic than these presuppositions are: “cars roll on the surface of the road”, “cars should be able to go at least 65 mph”, and more basic still, “the car exists and is tangible”.

Back to the Issue
Hopefully now you can see what I’m getting at. The question is, when you walk up to an unbeliever, what do you both agree on before the debate about God’s existence even starts? Hopefully you both agree on the following:

  1. If you say something, what you are saying is more or less what you meant to say (give or take human error).
  2. Logic and reason can be relied on as the method of constructing and testing arguments.
  3. You can know things.

All of these must be true. If someone is debating philosophy with you they automatically believe these things. What would be the point in speaking if I did not think anyone could possibly receive the message I meant to send? Why would I structure my sentences using the basics of logic if I did not believe that logic had any use or structure or sense in it? And most of all, why would I attempt to sway someone’s beliefs or reinforce my own beliefs if I did not think one could hold a belief or know anything at all?

If you can point these things out (especially how everyone deep down does believe that we can know things) to an unbeliever, you will always win the argument. But what about the original question: is the presuppositionalist right in saying that we can assume that God exists right from the start, before arguing at all?

The idea is that knowing things at all is absurd if God does not exist. Why? There are sophisticated arguments for this, but essentially, it is absurd because if God is the source of logic, it does not make sense to use logic without assuming that God exists. If there’s no source than it’s all absurdity. Perhaps a presuppositionalist could come and respond to this post with a more complete argument, but that is what it is in its most basic form.

I agree with that, but I do not think it is the most basic truth, nor do I think it is a starting point for arguments with atheists. It seems to me that the fact that logic and reason are sound methods for analyzing or describing anything abstract or real is the most basic truth we know. And if you would disagree with me, you must use logic to do so.

Even the presuppositionalist, in his or her attempt to explain the existence of God as being the ultimate truth that we all can assume to be true from the start must use logic to do so. You might object that he must also use language to do so, therefore language is the most basic truth. But language does not go as deep as logic and reason. If they invented a device which could be connected between two people’s brains so that one could “think” what the other was thinking, you would eliminate completely the medium of language, while still being able to understand someone’s argument by having them simply think about it (this idea is less absurd than it sounds). Even your thoughts have a logical structure, something that gives them sense and use for you to think them, whether or not you have ever learned a single word.

It seems that God has placed in every human being this basic ability to structure and compare, to calculate and to see when something is not balanced. Without it we can’t do, think or say anything at all. We cannot even begin to ponder the universe or the things of God without it.

This scares some people. They worry that reason therefore becomes God, and existed before God or is outside of and above God. But it seems odd to think that a method existed before a being. Can a method even exist at all. Is it not abstract? For sure, we do not know how God orchestrated the whole thing. But we don’t have to worry that a method will become God to us if we rely on it. If God could create intangible things like physics and the invisible principles which rule our planet, it seems he could also create or install in us the ability to reason in some way which we could never possibly understand on this earth.

You could say that “I exist” is the most basic truth we know. But even the idea of existing, or of knowing you exist, requires a logical understanding. You are saying or believing that A = B, that something is true. That famous quote actually goes “I think, therefore I exist.” And what is thinking but the application of logic and reason? Those come first.

Conclusion
This stuff can make your head swim. You don’t have to go deeper than you need to. Very likely I missed something or got something wrong in this post because this is mind-boggling stuff. But at the very least I hope you can, when in debate with someone who is a relativist and believes that we can know nothing, start by using their own attempted use of logic as an argument against their beliefs. For the truth which says that “things make or do not make sense” is the one presupposition everyone starts with, and is something near and dear to us all.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Philosophy

 

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What does it mean to “encounter” God?

This post is more of a question and introduction than it is a completed search for an answer. It is prompted by some thoughts I have had for awhile.

What does it mean to have an “encounter” with God? It might seem like an odd question. Here are the sorts of answers it might get.

To encounter God is:

-To have a sense that a particular sermon was intended by God particularly for you.
-To feel close to him in worship.
-To sense his leading by means of the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
-To hear him speak to you in an audible voice.
-To actually see him.

Which one of these falls under the definition of an “encounter”? Perhaps all of them? Or maybe just the last two?

I won’t try to answer that, but I will say this: that it seems today that many Christians appear to have excluded the last two on the list as a possibility and have settled for the “next best”, myself included. 

We strive to hear God’s voice, and when we don’t, we start to try to figure out different ways he might possibly be speaking to us, sometimes by signs or symbols.

But the scriptures don’t portray God that way. Whenever God wanted someone to know something, he either sent a prophet or said it himself. And that’s what I think heaven will be like. God will not have to do an elaborate act which we might eventually translate and be able to say, “Oh, I think God is telling me he loves me.” Rather, God will simply say, “I love you.”

So that’s my question: why should it be different now? Is God’s mouth closed or are our ears stopped?

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Philosophy, Theology

 

Avoiding The Pendulum Swing

I realized earlier today that there is a method of arguing that has been used widely throughout the church, but even so has gone unnoticed. Take the following bit of history as an example.

The Perfect Example

Throughout the history of the church there have been periods of time when different views on theology have thrived. In most recent church history, the previous prevailing argument was that we must strive in every possible way to do good works and separate ourselves from the world. This was during what we now call fundamentalism, and resulted in morality being pushed as the most important aspect of our faith.

I am not attempting here to argue with that viewpoint, but to show how it contrasts with what came next and is in fact what we have right now. The church realized that we had made a mistake in our theology. We decided that we needed to go back to the verses that talked about salvation “by faith alone”, that it’s not about anything we can do, and not about “works”. The result was a complete turning from the previous belief system. In an attempt to stay on the road of the faith, the church “over-steered”.

That is exactly the method of arguing that I am talking about. The idea is that if a viewpoint is so far off, we can fix it by doing a “pendulum swing” in the opposite direction to the same degree as the original swing so as to balance it out in the end. The result, however, does little to fix the problem.

What Really Happens

So why doesn’t this method work? It’s because an argument is not like a car. If it’s going off the road you don’t over-steer to correct it.

What I believe happens when someone “over-steers” is that first it appears to work. People realize that they have been believing the wrong thing, and they support the new viewpoint because it provides a solution to a major problem in their thinking. They don’t necessarily abandon the original viewpoint entirely, but now view it in relation to the new viewpoint. So, in a sense, it does balance out – for a short period of time.

What happens next ruins the original intent of the argument. People start to forget what they used to believe and only talk about the new belief or argument. The new belief then, when it stands by itself, becomes more than it was intended to be. Without the original viewpoint, it is a swing too far in the opposite direction.

The Right Way

Arguments do not work that way. They are built on premises and have a conclusion. No matter how far off a belief is, we must avoid the temptation to prove it wrong and must merely state the right argument or belief exactly as it is. If, for example, we think that older-style hymns have been wrongly believed to be the only valid songs to sing in church, and that we should learn to balance out the style of worship more, we do not say that hymns are wrong and should not be sung. We must rather make our argument that older and newer-style worship songs are equally usable so long as certain criteria are met. We do not think of it as a car that we must over-steer to prevent it running off the road. It’s a lot more like a gun. If you’re not shooting straight, you re-aim and fire again until you hit the target.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Philosophy

 

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Achieving Objectivity

The Question: Is it possible to analyze what someone is saying perfectly objectively? That is, to judge what they are saying only using reason and not being swayed by anything at the same time (emotions, situations, etc.)? This question has been a subject of debate recently in my family.

It is so important because it changes everything. It is possible to believe one thing on a Sunday morning because it “just sounds so right”, and then hear a sermon the next week that contradicts what was said last week and believing it for the same reason. This is because the charisma of the preacher may be so persuasive that it doesn’t really matter what is being said.

First, let’s consider an example of what not judging something objectively (that is, judging it subjectively) looks like (this is only an example and not intended to be offensive to anyone).

Imagine that you own a business, and you are in the process of merging with another small company. The merge promises to be a successful business venture based on the facts. It will result in a lot of profit. When you meet the other owner, however, you find out he is Japanese. Due to losing a relative in the Pearl Harbor bombing, you still hold a grudge and decide to cancel the deal. This is an example of being swayed by personal emotions and making a decision that is not objective. The objective decision would be to make the deal (assuming that it really is the best course of action possible for you and the other company).

How to be Objective
You probably already understood these concepts. The question you are now asking is, how can you make objective decisions? Or better yet, how can you judge someone’s argument and determine (objectively) whether it is true or not?

There are two answers to this question. In the example above, we can see that sin affects our ability to make right and true decisions. The first answer in the example above would be to repent and pray for God to remove sin from your heart. Perhaps this is the main reason why brilliant atheists cannot conclude that God exists. They put all the pieces together, but their pride and sin disables them so that they cannot make the objective conclusion that God exists. They must deny the obvious, choosing the subjective way (their decision is swayed by their pride so they are not objective).

Assuming, though, that you are not harboring sin in your heart in a particular situation, how can you make decisions objectively? The key is to break it down. Just like when buying a house the key is location, location, location, when judging an argument the key is premises, premises, premises. What do I mean? Take an example.

Let’s say I make the following statement (whether true or not, we will see):

“I’m not hungry, therefore I must have just eaten a full meal.”

Is this statement true? Let’s break it down. The argument is structured as follows:

Premise A: If someone has just eaten a full meal, they are not hungry.
Premise B: I have just eaten a full meal.
Conclusion: I am not hungry.

The logic here is perfect. However, it is not enough to only lay out the structure. You have to make sure there are no missing premises. Ask yourself, “Is there any other situation where someone is not hungry?” You will find that there are many (including the already known situation):

1. Illness
2. Emotional distress
3. Prolonged fasting (there is a point where someone who is fasting actually loses the desire to eat)
4. Just ate a meal

Those three situations where just off the top of my head, but they are enough to make the statement, “I’m not hungry, therefore I must have just eaten a full meal” not necessarily true. I may not be hungry for one of at least four reasons. Therefore the statement is not foolproof and not always true. The argument is flawed because of missing premises. Here is what it should look like:

Premise A: If someone is ill, they may not be hungry.
Premise B: If someone is emotionally distressed, they are often not hungry.
Premise C: If someone has been fasting for a long time, they are sometimes not hungry.
Premise D: If someone has just eaten a full meal, they are very likely not hungry.
Premise E: Any other reason why someone might not be hungry…
Premise F: I am not hungry.

Conclusion (the only conclusion you can make from the given information): I am not hungry for one of the reasons in premises A-E.

This probably seems silly, but it is the very fabric of how you analyze an argument. Most of the time, the easy part is breaking it down and listing the premises, and the hard part is thinking of the hidden premises. In highly complex arguments, this can involve extensive research (especially in scientific arguments).

Back to the Bible
Now that we understand the basics, let’s consider a statement about something in the Bible. Imagine you are listening to a sermon, and the preacher says:

“God is a God of love, he has always been a God of love, and therefore he would never send babies who have died at birth to hell because they never had a choice.”

It sounds right, doesn’t it? But is it true?

Step 1: Remove any subjectivity and judge the argument objectively. We all want to say “amen” to this statement because no one wants babies to go to hell. However, we must not let this sway our judgement. We must pretend like it doesn’t matter either way, at least while we are considering whether the statement is true.

Step 2: Let’s break it down:

Premise A: God is Love.
Premise B: Being a God of love necessitates that He cannot commit an act which will result in the suffering of a particular individual if that individual never had a chance to repent.
Premise C: Babies sometimes die at birth before they can make choice (note the assumption here, that babies cannot make choices in the womb).

Conclusion: Those babies go to heaven, or at least don’t go to hell.

Step 3: The logic is sound. Therefore, we must analyze the premises.

Premise A is true, based on 1 John 4:8: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (ESV)

Premise C may be true. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume babies really can’t make any choices, though that would affect the argument if they can, and it is possible still.

Premise B is the critical premise. Does being a God of love mean God has to give everyone a chance? Nowhere in scripture do we find a statement like that. That doesn’t mean it’s not true, but it is a deep question, one that would require a thorough search of scripture, and even then it is a question that we simply do not have enough information to make a judgement on. Therefore premise B is uncertain.

Step 4: Because at least one of the premises (and in this case, the crucial one) is uncertain, that makes the conclusion uncertain. We therefore cannot state the conclusion as true at this point, and therefore, it should not be preached.

This is the perfect example because it shows how sometimes (and quite often) we do not have enough information to make sound conclusions. We must restrain ourselves from making a choice when we can’t. And above all, we must not let emotion lean us in either direction, though it can be very difficult at times (imagine a mother who lost a child at birth).

Conclusion
It is definitely possible to be objective. Either you are or you are not. That doesn’t mean you won’t have feelings, it just means you must ignore them or, if you feel they are legitimate feelings, explore the reasons why you have them and find out if they are logical. However, never let the charisma of a preacher be the determining factor in your decision-making. Rather, ask yourself why he might appear emotional on a particular point in his sermon, and whether his emotions are warranted or whether they are only being used to sway you.

There is much more that can be said about being objective. For the time being, next Sunday try using the above method and see how it affects what you get out of the sermon. You may find yourself agreeing or disagreeing on points you never thought you would.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Philosophy