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Common ground with old-earth creationists?

Published: 8 September 2013 (GMT+10)

Old-earth creationists and biblical creationists agree on many things, including rejection of microbes-to-man evolution. But there are some obvious differences too. CMI’s Shaun Doyle discusses the significance of the similarities and differences in the context of the origins debate. [Ed. Note: Interestingly, although a few readers responded negatively to Shaun's approach, a while later F.M. came back to say he had changed his mind; his followup comments have been appended to the article below.]

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F.M. from the United States writes:

Hi CMI,

Even though I disagree with your argument that dinosaurs lived together with Human at one point, I still find it intriguing because although I am an OEC [old-earth creationist], I think it would be awesome to see if we really lived with Dinosaurs. Although we disagree on the age of the earth question, I also think both YEC [young-earth creationism] and OEC can make a common ground against Darwinism.

God Bless,

F.

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Dear F.,

Thank you for your email. I thought I would take the time to explain some of the issues surrounding the notion of ‘common ground’, and why we believe ‘Genesis as history’ creation is so important.

Common ground is a tricky thing—just about any position can find common ground with another. For instance, deep time creationism (DTC) shares common ground with theistic evolution (TE) against biblical creationism (BC)—the deep time historical framework. The important question is this: which group does DTC share theologically significant common ground with?

Consider three of the most important theological objections biblical creationists make in the origins debate: (1) natural evil (especially physical death in humans) before the Fall destroys the integrity of the gospel (for more details see our articles on Romans 5, Romans 8, and 1 Corinthians 15); (2) placing humans at the end of history makes Jesus a teacher of error (cf. Mark 10:6 and Jesus and the age of the earth) and thus untrustworthy on basic history, let alone eternal salvation; and (3) deep time contradicts the whole thrust of biblical chronology (see How does the Bible teach 6,000 years?, Why Bible history matters, and Pre-Adamites, sin, death and the human fossils) and thus undermines confidence in the Bible as God’s word.

None of those objections has anything to do with microbes-to-man evolution per se. On the other hand, they have everything to do with the deep-time historical framework. The biggest theological issues in the origins debate are all derived from issues of chronology, and chronology is the defining difference between DTC and BC. The foundation for the chronology of biblical creationists is the Bible, whereas deep time creationists derive theirs from their interpretations of physical evidence (rocks, fossils, starlight, etc.), which rest on the billion-year evolutionary story. At its most basic, it really is about whether we trust the Bible’s testimony to what happened or man’s conjectures about the past.

Darwinism has produced a disastrous social legacy, and is morally, scientifically, and philosophically bankrupt. On this deep time creationists and biblical creationists can agree. However, the theological agreement DTC shares with TE is far more foundational than any shared with BC. Why? God has revealed himself in history. And DTCs and TEs share the same historical framework against BCs. The debate between DTC and TE is primarily over the mode of divine action in certain events in the history of life. However, the timeline and event sequence each holds to is practically identical to the other.

That is because we identify God not simply as an abstract monotheistic deity but as Yahweh (Exodus 3:14), as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)—the very concrete triune deity of the biblical narrative who historically talked with humans, acted for (and against) humans, and established covenants with humans. One of the persons of this triune deity even became a human: Jesus Christ. All of these acts have specific dates and locations in the past—they are historical events. Moreover, the theological significance of these events can’t be separated from their historicity. The Bible doesn’t just provide a reliable record of what happened; it also provides God’s authoritative interpretation of the significance of what happened. This includes events such as the Creation Week, the Fall, and Noah’s Flood. As such, historical frameworks are foundational for our knowledge of God. See Why Bible history matters.

Since God has revealed himself in history, to change the history is to change what we know about God. And when that change involves something morally significant like introducing billions of years of death and suffering before the Fall, the changes are irreconcilable. We might as well be worshipping two different gods. See The god of an old earth and Did God create over billions of years?

Note that the points I’m making are about the logical consistency of deep time creationists’ commitment to the God of Scripture, not about the veracity of their commitment to Him (or the legitimacy of their salvation! See Do I have to believe in a literal creation to be a Christian?). It is not the affirmation of deep time history per se that is heretical; it is the consistent application of deep time history as one’s primary axiom that produces either heresy or apostasy. Humans can be inconsistent, and in this case it is often a ‘blessed’ inconsistency. But it is still an inconsistency, and a major one. We owe God everything—including our minds. We should therefore submit our minds consistently to his teaching in Scripture. Deep time creationists don’t do that.

What’s the significance of dinosaurs in all this? Simple: dinosaurs are popular. Proponents of both deep time and biblical history use dinosaurs to try to capture the imagination of their audiences for their own framework. This is simply old-fashioned ideological competition—claiming the popular icon for one’s own ideology keeps people away from other ideologies and can potentially attract onlookers to consider your ideology. The question, of course, is whether either framework can do it legitimately. We believe we can; we believe the historical evidence is consistent with biblical creation. Let the readers decide for themselves: Dinosaur Questions and Answers and How old is the earth? (from Dr. Sarfati's Refuting Evolution)

Therefore, while I can appreciate the common ground DTCs and BCs share, it’s rather irrelevant for the theologically significant issues in the origins debate. Simply put: the Bible vs microbes-to-man evolution is just a symptom of the problem; the Bible vs deep time history is the actual core of the problem.

Regards,

Shaun Doyle

[Ed. Note: in late October 2013, F.M. wrote to say: “Hi CMI, I want to say that after writing the letter to you about finding common ground, I have now changed my stances because of valuable resources on creation.com and Jonathan Sarfati’s book Refuting Compromise, among many others. They have opened my eyes to the position that the Bible does not teach an old earth and that any form of Old Earth compromise puts science in a position over God. I pray that Old-Earth proponents like Hugh Ross for example will open their eyes and believe in the true creation. Thank you very much CMI and I am blessed that you have changed my heart and mind and I hope your resources will change the heart of many, many others too! God Bless.”]

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