On Old Earth vs. Young Earth debate
In this article I will be stepping out of character a little bit by writing on a subject that will do two things I typically try to avoid: (1) opposing a long-time associate of mine and fellow member of the Alpha & Omega Ministries online community; (2) engaging the Old Earth vs. Young Earth creationism debate.
I have typically avoided confronting fellow members of the Alpha & Omega Ministries online community (those with whom I enjoy regular fellowship) because for the most part we are unified on the ‘essentials’ of biblical doctrine, so that the only real source for possible conflicting views are the ‘non-essentials’. It would be pointless controversy to get into blog scuttles over that.
And I usually avoid engaging the Old Earth vs. Young Earth creationism debates since that is not only an example of a ‘non-essential’ but it also involves two views I am not committed to; I am neither an Old Earth nor Young Earth creationist. That seems like two good reasons to stand outside the debate.
But I am making an exception in this case for two reasons. First, this fellow Christian brother has submitted a rebuttal so weak that it needs challenging, in the hopes that he might reconsider or strengthen it. Second, the angle he takes on the issue implicitly raises it to the level of an ‘essential’ by invoking the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and the primacy of Scripture in our fundamental axioms.
On Friday, Jamin Hubner published an article at the Alpha & Omega Ministries blog that explores a discussion he has been having with Fred Butler from Hip and Thigh on the Old Earth vs. Young Earth views of the Genesis creation account. “I have already gotten three criticisms from people on that post today,” he said in a conversation that night, “more than anything else I’ve written on the blog.” Butler is clearly taking the Young Earth creationist position, while Hubner is skeptical of that position because the chronogenealogical argument used in support of it is problematic. I will not summarize his article here, but rather encourage you to read it yourself.
One of the people criticizing Hubner’s article is Joshua Whipps from Choosing Hats and the RazorsKiss blog (the latter being where he published his rebuttal, “On Old Earth Presuppositions”). This is the long-time associate I am opposing here for his weak and problematic rebuttal. As I said, normally I would not wade into a discussion like this, but in this case I am going to—not only because I would like to see him reconsider his rebuttal or strengthen it, but also because his rebuttal implicitly targets my stance. (Whipps and I have had discussions on Genesis 1 so he knows my position is similar to that of Hubner, in relation to skepticism of Young Earth creationism.)
The clearest and most obvious weakness of his rebuttal was the fact that it concerned itself with the fundamental assumptions that most Old Earth creationists argue from. But the article Hubner published was not advancing an Old Earth view at all! It was explaining the crucial problem behind trying to use the chronogenealogical argument to support a Young Earth view; i.e., that genealogical lineages support an argument for the age of humanity but not the age of the earth. As a matter of fact, Hubner stated plainly, “I’m not even a fan of Old Earth creationism myself.” Hubner had important criticisms of the fact that the debate even exists—which was arguably the strongest point of his article—but this was his main argument on the issue. The points Whipps raised were certainly good and worth serious consideration, but they missed the mark with regard to what Hubner was actually arguing. As a stand-alone article it would have been good, but as a rebuttal against Hubner it was weak for this reason.
Like Hubner, I also do not necessarily subscribe to the Old Earth view. But since in my thinking I do lean toward that view, for the sake of argument I will confront another problem with Whipps’ rebuttal from my Old Earth creationist leaning.
My concern is that we are overlooking the presuppositions that [Old Earth creationism] brings to Scripture, as well as failing to see the presuppositions in Scripture at this very point.
What does Whipps think the presuppositions are that Old Earth creationists bring to Scripture? “The underlying presupposition of both Theistic Evolution and Old Earth Creationism,” he states, “is that autonomous man is the primary authority on matters of empirical or natural science.” In other words, what he is saying is that Old Earth creationists assume—before approaching Scripture to interpret and understand what the text says—not only the primacy of human reason but also its independence from God (thus conflicting with the doctrines of God’s authority and sovereignty). He then quotes from Greg L. Bahnsen regarding the serious problem that arises if one treats Scripture as subordinate to the natural sciences.
For those Old Earth creationists who do this (and I think that the majority of them do; e.g., Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe), the criticism Whipps raises is spot on. I could not agree with him more, and have even raised the same argument myself. However, it is simply erroneous to think that such presuppositions are necessary for Old Earth creationism; i.e., that all Old Earth creationists start with those presuppositions. One may hold that view from a very different presuppositional basis; e.g., the axiomatic starting point of God’s existence and self-disclosure to man.
Although I’m not an Old Earth creationist, I do lean in that direction in my thinking. But it is not derived from “naturalistic assumptions,” as targeted by Whipps’ critique. In my view, it does seem the earth is far older than the Young Earth view allows for, and the scientific reasoning supporting that conclusion is subordinate to Scripture, as the presuppositional basis grounding my view is God’s existence and self-disclosure to mankind (i.e., Scripture). I hold to the testimony of Scripture in all areas on which it speaks as being authoritative or “the final court of arbitration” (as an old friend of mine was so fond of saying). In such areas on which Scripture does not speak plainly, I use logic and science as grounded in and ordered by “the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word which are always to be observed,” as stated in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. And knowing that Hubner is likewise engaged in presuppositional apologetics, it is reasonable to suppose that he is similarly grounded in his reasoning and aware of the eternal importance of having an axiomatic starting point that takes God and Scripture seriously. It strikes me as wildly incongruous for Whipps to construct his rebuttal against a fellow believer who is very conscious of presuppositional issues on an accusation of “naturalistic assumptions.”
Whipps said that he cannot see any reason whatsoever for asserting an old earth, apart from such naturalistic assumptions as human autonomy that regulates the pages of Scripture. Since he is familiar with the Argument from Incredulity fallacy, I struggle to grasp what his point is here (as I am unwilling to believe he committed such a basic fallacy wilfully). Does Scripture teach that the earth is young? Under the Young Earth view, yes it does. But when that very issue is at question (as in the discussion between Hubner and Butler), one’s response must not simply beg the question. The argument must reason exegetically from the text without assuming the conclusion to be reached. And it would do well to take Hubner’s criticism seriously, that the chronogenealogical argument establishes a recent history for mankind, but that the age of mankind and the age of the earth are not the same thing (unless Young Earth creationism is true, which cannot be begged).
But as I said, Hubner is not an Old Earth creationist at any rate, so Whipps’ rebuttal targeted something other than the argument Hubner was making. I suspect Whipps jumped to conclusions in this round, arguing a point that is evidently divorced from Hubner’s beliefs and position on two different levels.
In a conversation with Whipps, he indicated that I misunderstood the point of his post. Although it reads like a criticism of Hubner over Old Earth creationism, he said that it was actually a criticism of Hubner over whether that view should be challenged and on what basis. “It’s a question of presuppositional commitments,” Whipps said, “and I was questioning his consistency in challenging non-Christian presuppositions, since we defend Christianity as a unit, not in ‘block house’ fashion.”
But I am not sure Hubner would disagree with him, for he also believes that “we must be faithful to God’s Word and let it speak for [itself] without letting our agenda force itself upon the text, for the primary power in apologetics is the truth revealed directly and plainly in God’s Word.” However, he finds reason to doubt that “there is adequate information in Scripture to plainly tell us how old our expanding and mind-boggling universe is.” He doesn’t doubt, however, that Scripture tells us how long mankind has been around, underscoring his point about the age of mankind and the age of the earth being not necessarily the same.