Friday, May 20, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Fundamentalism and Modernism

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Theistic evolution is a concept that has become increasingly acceptable throughout Christendom. As long as God is said to have directed it, evolution is a pill many otherwise-solid Christians seem prepared to swallow.

Tom: I read Terry Mortenson’s article on compromise this morning. It seems as good a starting point as any. He names a number of well-reputed conservative stalwarts whose own statements suggest they have gone (or went) a little soft on the issue — James Orr, Dyson Hague, George Frederick Wright, R.A. Torrey — to one degree or another, some as far back as the early 1900s. Other less conservative believers like Andrew Klavan accept evolution outright, convinced it’s so obvious that believing it is simply common sense.

Immanuel Can, does it really matter if we take the first 11 chapters of Genesis literally?

Motives for Compromise

Immanuel Can: This is an old debate, but one that shows no signs of being a dead issue, though the secularist set would surely like it to be done and dusted. And to be fair to those that seek a compromise, I think there are issues that have been debated that actually don’t affect much here, but a few things that really, really do. It’s important, I think, to major on what has theological significance.

Tom: Agreed. Before we get into the nuts and bolts, let me ask you: What sorts of incitements motivate Christians who are otherwise solid on all the fundamentals to concede the sort of theological ground we’re talking about: to actually use words like “theistic evolution”?

IC: Especially at the beginning of the last century, there was incredible naiveté about science. It was popularly supposed that science might be the ultimate road to all truth, and thus that whatever “science” was believed to have shown was also going to prove to be ultimately true. The idea that science is a set of self-revising hypotheses was not widely understood; so when something was declared “scientific” it was widely held to be incontrovertible. And since God is a God of truth, and “all truth is God’s truth”, then if science told the truth, Christians would simply have to adjust.

That, and a fairly strong desire to keep public respectability drove the impulse to compromise with the regnant theories of the day.

Tom: Well, whatever the reason, the impulse clearly exists. There is obviously a sense in which “all truth IS God’s truth”; I’m just not sure we can always trust man to tell it.

But a theory differs from scientific evidence in numerous ways, and there has been an extraordinary effort made by secular scientists and the media to portray evolution as incontrovertible, to use your word. I think there is probably also a fair bit of ignorance among believers as to how thin on the ground the evidence for the theory actually is. Now that the proponents of an old universe are groping around in the dark for a multiverse hypothesis to account for their “billions and billions” of years, and the climate change scam has demonstrated how eagerly scientists will lie in service of a political agenda if it helps their careers, it is becoming increasing evident just how flimsy the intellectual house of cards they are building actually is.

But back in Israel, people wanted a king. They were looking for respectability. And some Christians are caught up in that too.

IC: Yes, and it’s always a bad deal to sell out your principles for popularity. The popularity doesn’t last, and afterward you’ve got no way to recover your reputation as principled.

A Hot Debate About ... Not Very Much

Tom: Isn’t that the truth. You mentioned earlier things in the first 11 chapters of Genesis that have been the subject of debate that really do not affect much, and things that do. What, for you, falls into that first category?

IC: For me, one of the things is the literal 24 hour calendar day. Now, some people will feel very strongly about that, but this is my take. “Day” is used both literally and metaphorically in scripture, meaning “calendar day” or “era” respectively. Both are perfectly normal uses. I realize the chronological stretching of the “days” in question has been used by compromisers to take us in the direction of evolutionism; but it’s not the hill I think we should die on. I’m content to let the 24 hour folks remain as they are, and the era folks remain as they are. It makes no difference to the important issues, I think.

I’m prepared to be convinced otherwise, but at the moment that’s how I see it.

Tom: Up until Day 4, I tend to agree with you. A day is currently considered to be a measurement of the time it takes the earth to rotate a full 360° on its own axis, or 24 hours. But the issue of darkness (night) or light (day) is settled by the earth’s relationship to the sun, which was not created until the fourth day. Until Day 4 when the sun was created, it was “day” when it was light, and “night” when it was dark. That may or may not have been three 24 hour periods. I think it probably was, but like you, I don’t know that anything critical turns on it. That’s not “accommodating evolution”, it’s simply recognizing we weren’t there.

Bob Knopf lays out 15 verses here seeking to prove that each day of creation was precisely 24 hours. But he falls into the trap of using the term “solar day”, a unit of time measurement that is demonstrably meaningless to literalists throughout the first three days of creation. Of his proofs, I find only the third one remotely compelling (the biblical usage of the Hebrew yom), and I have an answer for that. So we can get into that if anyone cares. I don’t.

IC: Another issue is that there have been folks who’ve picked at the problem that Day 3 (plants) comes before Day 4 (sun). And yes, that would be a problem for evolutionists who want to reconcile their view with creation; but it would be no problem if there exists a Supreme Being capable of sustaining life by his own light, regardless of the cosmological arrangement. In the end, it doesn’t represent any problem worth considering. On we go.

Science Textbook or Letter from God?

Tom: As with so many things in Genesis, we have to recognize that we are getting theology here, not a scientific treatise. That doesn’t make Genesis unscientific, but it does mean there is an awful lot of information a scientist would look for that we’re simply not given because it is not remotely relevant to the specific purpose of God in communicating the creation story. If the Bible contained every factoid necessary to satisfy human curiosity, it would be as thick as my forearm. I stand by every statement made in Genesis. I do not stand by every conclusion drawn from those statements by every creationist on record.

IC: Here’s the core issue, from my perspective: Progressivist Evolutionism versus Deliberate Creation. That’s the issue dispatched in the very first words of Genesis: in the beginning, did God create the heavens and the earth? Or were they instead a byproduct of a long period of chance, governed only by some unknown natural law? You cannot fudge that one.

Tom: Yes, there is a very specific laying out of what was created and in what order. It is a product of deliberate consideration and, day by day, satisfaction with the work done. You can have this account or you can have evolution if you must. You cannot sensibly retain both.

Consequences of Progressivist Evolution

IC: Indeed, and here’s why: if human development was gradual and progressive, as in the evolutionists’ story, then there was no fall of mankind. There was no definite time when the progenitor of us all, Adam, made a decision to disobey God and break fellowship with him, since everything happened to all of us, gradually, over millions of years. So sin is not a reality, atonement is not necessary, salvation is impossible … and so on. What seems to some people a small matter turns out to be a very, very big one. It changes everything.

Tom: And what seems like reasonable accommodation to the agenda of scientism turns out to be a Trojan horse that would destroy Christendom from within if allowed to do so. It lacks the necessary substance, but we have bought into it. We would prefer to be perceived as logical, thoughtful and with it, rather than throwback redneck loonies. Well, some of us.

IC: And yet those who sold out to modernism earlier in the previous century are now being shown to have behaved very foolishly. The world never did become very impressed with Christianity as a result of the compromise; and the very theories with which the compromise was made have increasingly come under criticism from both secular philosophy and from later scientific discoveries. Evolutionism is in serious trouble today, and not merely from Christian critics. So it seems that the Christian modernists were just trying to get better deck chairs on the Titanic.

Tom: A depressing state of affairs, if we evaluate things by earthly standards.

Accommodation vs. Proclamation

When we talk about Genesis 1-11 as being the area of scripture in dispute, we are proceeding just as far as the Tower of Babel, including of course the notorious worldwide flood in the days of Noah. Personally, I’m not interested in trading my worldwide flood for a series of “Ice Ages”. How do you feel about the flood and the hotly-contended ark of Noah, IC?

IC: A big topic. How long have you got? Maybe that’s something better left for another post. Why set all the barns on fire in one day?

Tom: Fair enough. We’re teetering on the brink of an overly-verbose exchange as it is. Let’s wrap it up here. Tell me, do Christians need to accommodate outdated and under-fire evolutionary theory in order to appeal to the man on the street?

IC: Appeal? Is that the issue? I thought it was truth. I thought that’s what we are about.

We’ve got to think about the questions people want to ask and prepare ourselves to answer or, barring that, to be willing to consider things they may ask. But no, I don’t think the issue is really evolution versus creationism. Honestly, I don’t think the questions of the modern heart run that way. At most, evolutionism is merely a nuisance roadblock to getting to the heart of what people are really, personally concerned about.


  1. This actually seems to be one of the Achilles heels in the theist vs secular debate. I agree here with the Catholic point of view that it is irrelevant whether it's evolution or true old testament creationism since God can choose whatever mechanism and timeline he wants and it would make no difference to us. In other words, accept the fact that the world was (and is being) created according to his design and purpose of which we have incomplete knowledge. The important thing here is that you don't loose sight of the fact that there is a creationist God.

    As an aside, and I mentioned this before, I would love the idea that God would not just create the universe without offering his sentient creation a chance to explore and perhaps populate it. And there may very well already be other sentient beings who are also familiar with the idea of a creationist God. What a waste if that would not be the case. So, it's perfectly OK to not put limits on God, especially in view of the fact that we are engaged in a grand awakening to the realities around us. One of my physics professors 20 years ago remarked that he estimated that we knew about 5% of all physics. So, warp drive, here we come.

    1. The key is the Progressivist (Evolutionary) versus Deliberate Creation.

      It wouldn't be true to say God could have used evolution in the creation of man, particularly, since this would then mean that there was no Fall. No Fall, no original sin; no sin, no salvation needed; no salvation needed, no Saviour.

      Given the embarrassing poverty of the Evolutionary Theory in general, it was neither wise nor reasonable that Modernist Christians attempted to placate secular claims. To do so was also theological suicide.

      And it has been precisely this sort of compromise that has put so many of what are called "mainline churches" (our big, liberal denominations) out of business, after turning them into what Tertius calls "boxes of Q-Tips," -- meaning that when you look at the congregation from the back of the church, all you see is fluffy, white heads.

      For it turns out that modern people aren't all that impressed by the compromises made by the mainliners; and they'd rather watch the EPL at home than to congregate with uncommitted others to celebrate the irrelevance of their theology.

    2. I've never heard the "boxes of Q-Tips" line. That's an instant classic.

    3. The points I am making of course are that we are evidently on a journey, awakening, to what creation (the universe) REALLY is like. There is no denying that. One MUST take that into account including where religion is concerned. That does not automatically invalidate the bible story and the probability of a created universe (rather than one from random processes). Again, if God decided to proceed that way that should not impact your faith. Rather than as a weakness I see it as a strength to remain with God regardless of our imperfect understanding of the creation story.

      I live in a formerly swampy, glacial region, now a development with over 200 homes. And when they found a mastodon bone in my neighbor's backyard, and Cornell U eventually unearthed an entire mastodon skeleton, now
      In their possession, do you think that affected my faith? I don't see it as a compromise at all. I see it as an appropriate challenge to all of us to learn where God wants to take us without loosing faith. And that's really the crux of the matter, the real test. Can you continue to accept and not loose sight of God no matter who you are and what you think you know?

    4. Well, mastodons are nothing that's mentioned in the Bible, but neither are they anything that cannot be fitted within the Creation narrative, since we are not given an account of every event that ever happened since the foundation of the world -- only the ones we need to know about in view of the what God is expecting of us. So I wouldn't be thrown off by a mastodon bone either...nor by a visit to the whole Museum of Natural History.

      But we must be careful about trusting the Evolution narratives. Some of them are very hokey. They change constantly, and their implications are never clear. Often, Evolutionist rush to judgment in their desire to "prove" Creation never happened...but they don't wait on the evidence, just float narratives that they later never retract.

      So my suggestion would be to hold off any enthusiasm we may happen to feel for mastodon bones and everything else about pre-history until we have an idea what they really imply.

  2. Stirring the pot :-). Age discrimination? Who else looks like a bunch of Q-tips when viewed from the last pew in church?

    1. Ha!

      Who is discriminating against whom? After all, if the mainline churches are full of white heads, then is it not merely the young who would be the demographic being excluded? And since at some time in the future, we will all have white hair (or none), against what demographic is it prejudicial to speak of them? Bald people? :)