The Problem Stated
The question of where Cain got his wife is an age old question. On the one hand, one could posit that Cain married one of his sisters ; however, invoking incest to solve this problem is an uncomfortable option for many people, especially given the prohibition on incest in the Book of Leviticus. On the other hand, one could posit that Cain married a woman outside of his family; however, this entails that Adam and Eve are not the sole biological progenitors of the entire human race. In a cursory investigation, it appears that the majority of Christians think the biological primacy of Adam and Eve is too high a price to pay to resolve this issue and accept the first option: that Cain married his sister. In response, there have been efforts to resolve the tension generated by the incest problem. One popular solution, often promulgated by Neo-Ussherians, is what I will call the “pure genetics defense”. This solution posits that incest was originally acceptable because Adam and Eve had pure genes and no substantial mutations occurred as a result of incest. As time went on, the mutations accumulated, so, God put a restriction on incest in Leviticus as a result. As an example, check out this explanation by Neo-Ussherian apologist Ken Ham. I think that this argument fails on two counts.
This objection applies primarily to old earth creationists who hold that a sole-biological-progenitor lived about 150,000 – 200,000 years ago. It seems that if God imposed the incest restriction to curb genetic mutations, He would’ve done it much earlier on this view. In other words, it seems rather unlikely that these mutations only became a problem in the last 3500 years and not the preceding 146,000. I suppose one could posit that God providentially preserved genetic integrity for the first 98% of human history and then let decay take over; it just seems rather ad hoc. This defense simply does not seem to be simultaneously available if the OEC and YEC are defending mutation rates that vary by several orders of magnitude. Thus, the plausibility of the pure genetics defense appears to be inversely proportional to how old one thinks humanity is.
For Darwin Day, a brief reflection on evolution, teleology, etc.
In the perennial creation/evolution dialogues, there tends to be a lot of conflation between what I will call the “means” and the “motive” (I’m sure there are fancier academic terms for these categories, but, this isn’t a research paper). The “means” will refer to the mode of transforming material to its final state and the “motive” will refer to the purpose or reason for this occurrence.
So, where is the conflation? The intro video from the Neo-Ussherian website creation.com offers a good example. The speaker states “Creation or evolution? Design or time and chance?”. The hidden presupposition is that (1) direct creation by a deity entails design and (2) biological evolution entails purposelessness. However, this isn’t the case at all. The means by which biological diversity arises does not have much bearing (if any) on the motive. In other words, establishing the veracity of a certain means does not establish the veracity of a certain motive.
Suppose that purely materialistic processes are proven to be inadequate to explain the origination and development of life on Earth. Does this demonstrate design? I am not sure. For example, the satirical Flying Spaghetti Monster is claimed to have created many of the features on Earth by accident as a result of a hangover . It seems unlikely that this form of creation is what one would call well designed or at least designed in the sense that many creationists want to demonstrate. In this regard, it seems rather apparent that the means of creation do not demonstrate anything about the motive for creation. A complete scientific falsification of evolutionary theory would still seem to be vulnerable to the objection that the Intelligent Designer created the universe without any real overarching purpose (perhaps s/he was bored, drunk, insert your favorite arbitrary reason). This would be the case if it weren’t for the fact that, at least in the Christian worldview, this designer has spoken .
The fact that God has spoken is, I think, the source from which motive is truly derived. God created the universe specifically as the means for calling His elect to justification and conforming them to the image of the Son . While certain degrees of purpose or telos can be derived from the natural sciences , it is the revelation of Scripture that provides the Christian with the warrant for God’s motives in creating the world. The upshot here is that if there are independent reasons for accepting God’s existence and the truth of Scripture, then, the reality of design can be warranted independent of the means by which biological diversity arose. Conversely, the reality of evolution as the means of achieving biological diversity shouldn’t undermine the conviction of purpose.
How then can this “designed evolution” be conceived? The typical response is that the process of evolution does not appear to be designed or have any particular goal, so, to call it designed is a contradiction in terms. However, I think that a rebuttal can be formulated by analogy. How often is the course of human history perceived to be completely out of control or undirected or even going opposite of expectations? By all appearances, human history does not have an obvious end goal. Nevertheless, aren’t Christians still committed to the idea that God is in control of the events of human history, guiding them to an expected end? Of course, but the warrant for this isn’t found from examining history and deriving a purpose. Rather, it is warranted by what has been revealed in passages such as Isaiah 46:8-10
“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
If God is in control of a seemingly purposeless enterprise such as human history, then, it seems perfectly consistent to posit His control over the similarly seemingly purposeless enterprise of evolution.
What’s the point? First, this is not a positive case stating this is the way things are or even the way I think things are. Rather, it’s to illustrate that the idea of purposed/directed evolution appears to be an intrinsically consistent idea or at least as consistent as purposed/directed human history. Second, this isn’t to say that there aren’t independent objections to this idea. One could posit scientific difficulties to the theory of evolution or posit hermeneutic difficulties concerning Genesis 1-3; however, these concerns are, as mentioned, independent of the objection that purposed evolution is self-contradictory.
Note: This is merely a brief overview and not an in-depth, extensive defense of the framework hypothesis
I have espoused a certain degree of skepticism about Neo-Ussherianism (e.g. here, here, and here). Along with an endorsement of an old Earth comes the questions of how to interpret the opening passages of the book of Genesis. There are two broad categories that are usually denoted ‘literal’ and ‘non-literal’. In the first category, the days of Genesis 1 are taken as actual demarcations of time that are either 24 hours in length (calendar day view) or unspecified but several million or billion years in length (day-age view). At one point or another, I have endorsed both of these perspectives, but, for exegetical reasons have abandoned them. The most critical error would be the issue of light temporally preceding any of the light bearers (e.g. sun, moon, and stars). For an in depth perspective, consult this paper where Meredith Kline brilliantly combines the light issue with Genesis 2:5 to make a potent case against the literal view.
Why care about something written about a debate that hasn’t happened yet? Well frankly, because you need to be prepared for whatever happens afterwards, and the best way to do so is to reflect upon the issue at hand. I decided to do a little research, and I put together this post to help frame the upcoming debate. I also have a few comments on it throughout.
Fellow Christians, we need to be prepared for this debate. We need to be posting on it beforehand, during, and afterwards. Why? A simple look at Google Trends shows that the search traffic for Ken Ham has spiked hugely since the debate was announced. Side-by-side comparison of Bill Nye and Ken Ham shows both have seen an increase of search traffic from it. To put it simply: people are talking and thinking about this. We need to have a response…
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In case you haven’t heard, famed TV host Bill Nye will be debating well know Neo-Ussherian (aka young Earth creationist) Ken Ham on the question “Is creation a viable model of origins?” on February 4 of this year. I have mixed reactions to this but ultimately, I think it’s a lose-lose-lose scenario.
Ham will have to defend two theses: first, the universe is young and second, evolution isn’t ‘viable’. Ham is in an interesting position here because if he can defend the first theses, the second follows pretty easily just because of the time scale. This leads to the first problem; Ham is in the position to simply make the case for a young Earth and completely pass over the evolution question. Moreover, the topic is rather ambiguous as ‘viability’ can carry a multitude of meanings. In all probability, Nye and Ham will have totally different definitions of viability and the debate will devolve into Nye saying ‘Look! Fossils!’ and Ham saying ‘Were you there?!’ every other sentence.
Nevertheless, any honest look at the evidence will demonstrate that the best case Ham can make is to define ‘viable’ as ‘internally consistent’ and then punt to apparent age. In this instance, Ham can contend the universe is 8,000 years old and any piece of contrary evidence can be explained by ‘God made it look that way’ (in all fairness, Ham is somewhat open to evidence as he used to think the earth was closer to 6,000 years but has changed his mind; it’s a 0.000015% improvement but, hey, progress is progress). Still, while Ham’s possible position could help him evade scientific evidence and retain internal consistency, it doesn’t really explain anything. Moreover, Ham runs into theological problems if he takes this line (‘Why did God lie to us?’, etc). In summary, Ham loses on the evidence, the persuasiveness, and the theology.
Last time, I presented a deductive argument which demonstrated that including “Animals died in Adam” in the theological premise set generated a troubling dilemma: either animals are included in the plan of salvation or Christ is not victorious over death. I suggested replacing this controversial premise with “Animal death is incidental” to escape the dilemma. For convention, this premise will be referred to as the ‘incidental hypothesis’. The gist of this second part is pretty simple. Essentially, if the authors of Scripture had a certain view of animal death, then we would expect particular passages.
First, let’s consider the common view held by Neo-Ussherians (aka young-Earth creationists). Suppose that animal death is indeed an effect of sin and one of the bleak realities of this fallen, cursed world. Take a moment to get into the mindset of an inspired author of Scripture. The Holy Spirit has come upon him as he reflects upon the natural order. His thoughts turn to the ecosystem, the circle of life, and animal predation. We would expect him to be overcome with sorrow at the dreadful system in place. He would pick up his pen and lament the death of antelope, zebras, and the like.
Next, let’s consider the incidental hypothesis. All of the conditions are the same except, the author doesn’t view animal death as something wrong with the world. Instead, animal death is something incidental, much like the Sun rising in the East instead of the West. If this is the case, as he reflects upon the circle of life, we would not expect him to be overcome with sorrow. He would mention animal predation as a neutral component of the world. These two statements can be summarized as follows:
(Okay, the title was a bit misleading. I’m only going to address the issue of death before the fall of man and not actually totally rebut the Neo-Ussherian hypothesis)
One of the common touch-points in discussing the age of the universe is the issue that the old earth hypothesis requires animal death to be in the world before the fall of man. The argument is often made by Neo-Ussherians (aka young earth creationists) that having animal death in the world before the fall of man is theologically unacceptable. I will attempt to demonstrate (via two arguments) that this is not the case and, in fact, it is the Neo-Ussherian position which is theologically problematic. First, I will present a deductive argument that leads to one of three conclusions: (a) animal death is incidental, (b) animals are included in the plan of salvation, or (c) Christ was not victorious over death. Second, I will present an inductive argument that aims to show the Scriptural data is more probable on the hypothesis that animal death is incidental. Finally, it is important to note the scope of these arguments. If they are completely valid and sound, they will not completely rebut the young earth hypothesis. The entire purpose is to demonstrate that the issue of animal death before the fall is not a substantial objection to the old earth hypothesis.