You are hereBeyond Creation Science: How Preterism Refutes a Global Flood and Impacts the Genesis Debate – Part 7
Beyond Creation Science: How Preterism Refutes a Global Flood and Impacts the Genesis Debate – Part 7
by Timothy P. Martin
The Danger of Creation Science
In the previous chapters we examined the connections between a global flood interpretation of Genesis 6-9 and a global interpretation of New Testament prophecy. It’s no coincidence that a global flood view is linked with eschatological futurism. They both rely on a plain-literal approach to the biblical text as it reads in modern English. The flood is explicitly compared to the Great Tribulation in Matthew 24 and the Day of Judgment in 2 Peter 3. The link even appears when we look at the history of both views. Creation Science and dispensationalism both rose to prominence in the 20th century from the same sources All the leading proponents and founders of Creation Science were committed to dispensational futurism. A global reading of the flood is perfectly consistent with, and inseparable from, a global reading of New Testament prophecy.The Danger of Creation Science
In the previous chapters we examined the connections between a global flood interpretation of Genesis 6-9 and a global interpretation of New Testament prophecy. It’s no coincidence that a global flood view is linked with eschatological futurism. They both rely on a plain-literal approach to the biblical text as it reads in modern English. The flood is explicitly compared to the Great Tribulation in Matthew 24 and the Day of Judgment in 2 Peter 3. The link even appears when we look at the history of both views. Creation Science and dispensationalism both rose to prominence in the 20th century from the same sources All the leading proponents and founders of Creation Science were committed to dispensational futurism. A global reading of the flood is perfectly consistent with, and inseparable from, a global reading of New Testament prophecy.After examining the textual, theological, and historical evidence for the central error of the Creation Science movement, a global flood, we should also consider the “practical effects” of its methodology. The big problem is a plain-literal hermeneutic. The same hermeneutic method which produces a global flood interpretation will poison the reading of the Bible with materialism and scientific precisionism everywhere else.
We live in a world dominated by materialism and scientism. The reduction of every aspect of life to “science” has corrupted the soul of Western Civilization. This is one key to understanding the related popularity of both futurism and Creation Science. They are both perfectly compatible with the scientistic spirit of the modern age. In fact, dispensational futurism, at least, is impossible apart from it. Christians aid this scientistic syncretism through Creation Science methods of reading Scripture. They do it by reducing even the language of the Bible to the “scientific.” Viewed in this light it is not difficult to see that Creation Science ideology is a right-wing form of modernism. Conrad Hyers puts it this way:
Even if evolution is only a scientific theory of interpretation posing as scientific fact, as the [young-earth] creationists argue, [young-earth] creationism is only a religious theory of biblical interpretation posing as biblical fact. To add to the problem, it is a religious theory of biblical interpretation which is heavily influenced by modern scientific, historical, and technological concerns. It is, therefore, essentially modernistic even though claiming to be truly conservative.
Proponents of Creation Science force the Bible to speak in terms with which we are culturally familiar (modern scientific precisionist language), rather than accepting both the content and method of language God has chosen. Creation Scientists force the seemingly global language of the Bible to override the historical context of the flood and biblical eschatology. The same mistake blows the flood account into global proportions and Revelation into global proportions. Their hermeneutic approach entirely misses the important principle that the Bible can only be understood on its own terms, within its own Hebraic mindset and covenant framework. We must step out of our Western scientific mindset and get into the original audience’s shoes in order to appreciate what the Bible is all about. Then, once we understand the Bible properly in its original context, we will be equipped to make relevant application to our modern context.
The bottom line is that Creation Science interpretive methods do not foster the growth of God’s kingdom. Christians who adopt Creation Science ideology actually weaken the Church by reinforcing a plain-literal hermeneutic. I believe the clear and present danger of poisoning the reading of the Bible with materialism and scientific precisionism can be shown in two illustrations. The first is the spiritual danger of Creation Science hermeneutic methods, and the second is the physical danger of Creation Science hermeneutic methods.
The Spiritual Danger of Creation Science
The spiritual danger of Creation Science is that it sets people up to reject God’s Word. The Creation Science method of reading the Bible, when applied consistently, destroys the credibility of the Bible. Consider these texts as representing other poetic texts throughout the Bible known as apocalyptic. Consider Isaiah 13:17f.
See, I [God] will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants nor will they look with compassion on children. Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. She will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there, no shepherd will rest his flocks there... Her time is at hand, and her days will not be prolonged.
This passage predicts the defeat of the Babylonians by the Medo-Persian Empire. Notice the problem for a plain-literalist? We know roughly the region of the Babylonian Empire through archaeological research. People today do live in territory covered by that ancient empire. There are flocks of sheep and livestock located in the region as well. Those committed to a plain-literal hermeneutic must logically admit the prophet was wrong in his pronouncement of judgment. Consider another example:
For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause. Edom’s streams will be turned to pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again. Isaiah 34:8-10.
This passage refers to the ancient judgment upon Edom. We know the location of Edom and we can go there. There is no fire burning there today. Smoke does not rise up from the burning land, and the streams are not streams of pitch. Someone who is habituated in a plain-literal method of reading the Bible will logically see the prophet is wrong. Dispensationalism, with it’s commitment to a plain-literal hermeneutic, sets people up to reject the Christian Faith.
He [God] stood and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient [lit. eternal] mountains crumbled and the age-old [lit. eternal] hills collapsed. His ways are eternal. Habakkuk 3:6.
The prophet Habakkuk recounts the Exodus from Egypt and conquest of Canaan. The verse is clearly in the past tense. If you read this literally, like the Creation Scientists read Genesis 7, then you have a problem. First of all, the mountains are not eternal in a literal sense of time. “Eternal” has only to do with quality or strength. Secondly, the literal mountains did not collapse when Israel entered the promised land. The language is not communicating scientifically; it is communicating covenantally. It could possibly be a metaphorical reference to the downfall of the Canaanite civilizations at the time of the Hebrew conquest; but if you read this using the hermeneutic of scientific literalism, clearly the prophet is mistaken. Mountains and hills remain in the region of Palestine. They never collapsed.
These passages, and many others like them, use covenantal language never intended to be taken in a precisionist, plain-literal way. Exaggerations for effect are common in apocalyptic imagery, in both the New Testament and the Old Testament. It is an essential part of Hebrew poetry and idiomatic writing. It is a literary genre used by the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles to communicate a big picture of the judgment of God. The closest thing we have to this in our culture is a cartoon. Cartoons don’t communicate literally. They speak indirectly through hyperbole, exaggeration, and imagination.
The Creation Science movement was a result of sincere Christians desiring to defend the credibility of the Bible in the face of modern skepticism and unbelief. That motive is one that should be evident in all Christians who name Jesus Christ as Lord of all and wish to see the Kingdom of God expand in our day. The problem in this case is not the sincerity or spiritual goals of those within the movement. Nor is the problem their dedication to the cause. The problem is that the movement has backfired on its proponents. Reading the Bible according to the methods of Creation Science ideology will convince those who read the Bible carefully of the fallibility of the Bible. It leads logical people to unbelief and ultimately to atheism. Conrad Hyers explains it this way:
Scientific naturalism has been made considerably more plausible and attractive by taking the fundamentalist preacher at his word as being the authentic representative of proper biblical interpretation and normative Christianity. Discounting and discrediting the arguments of anti-evolutionist crusaders appears to be equivalent to dismissing the biblical and theological teaching of creation as an anachronism from a prescientific age. Having successfully mummified Genesis, one does not have to give serious thought or research to the possible sophistication of the creation texts themselves. And having toppled the straw figures of biblical literalism, one does not have to contend with the many formidable and representative giants of the past (such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Pascal)…
Creation Science ideology has provided another excuse for skeptics and unbelievers to dismiss the Christian Faith; Christianity, from the days of the early Church Fathers and Augustine, has never stood unanimously on a plain-literal reading of creation or the flood in Genesis. The fact that we do live in an age of skepticism and unbelief makes it imperative that we understand that our mistakes of biblical understanding, if taught dogmatically on God’s authority, will bring disrepute on Scripture. The error of Creation Science hermeneutics actually hinders the spread of the Christian gospel over the long run. It is spiritually dangerous.
The Physical Danger of Creation Science
The physical danger of Creation Science is rooted in the focus on the scientific-literal race of Israel. This is wholly consistent with the scientific-literal approach to Genesis 6-9.
The leading proponent of Creation Science, Henry Morris, lays out his premillenial dispensationalist views in a book called The Revelation Record. Morris reads the book of Revelation the same way he reads Genesis 6-9. It is a cornucopia of global details and worldwide geo-physical actions. Speculative theories abound concerning the book of Revelation just as they abound concerning the Genesis flood.
Morris gives a brief outline of exactly what those views are in the final chapter of his book, The Long War Against God. There he writes:
In fact, the prophecies of Scripture indicate that there will soon be established a global, humanistic, and totalitarian government, under the control of “the great dragon, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan” (Rev. 12:9; cf. 20:2). This regime will forbid the preaching of the gospel and require all to worship the Satan-empowered man on the throne, under pain of death (Rev. 13).
The condition of the world during the coming reign of this humanistic totalitarian system will be much like that of the world today... It will be a time of high technology, great scientific insights, and lucrative world commerce... There will be worldwide television networks; “And they of the people and kindreds and toungues and nations shall see...” certain great events taking place in Jerusalem before their eyes (Rev. 11:9-12).
Morris, like many other futurists, calls for unconditional support for the nation-state of Israel because of these end-times schemes. In fact, most dispensationalists trace their dogmatic support for the modern state of Israel on God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2:
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
Not surprisingly, futurists apply this verse globally to all the nations on planet earth in the modern context. So nations and individuals who bless the physical-literal nation of Israel are blessed, today and those who don’t are cursed. This is consistent with a plain-literal global reading of the flood account in Genesis 6-9. The Hebrew word for “earth” in this passage is the same word used throughout the flood account: “erets.” Preterists see the primary fulfillment of this text in inclusion of the Gentiles through the gospel in the first century over the regional scope of the Roman Empire. It may have application today through the church which is God’s royal nation. But the primary fulfillment took place in the first century.
Have these calls by evangelicals shaped American foreign policy toward Israel? A new book, On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals became Israel’s Best Friend, shows the relationship between the rise of dispensational futurism in America and the direction of foreign policy in the Middle East. The author explains what his research documents. I quote him at length from his introduction:
As futurist premillenialists, they believed that they would be raptured before most end-time events actually took place, but they expected to be here long enough to see history moving decisively in a predetermined direction. In essence, they sat high in the bleachers on history’s fifty-yard line, watching as various teams took their positions on the playing field below and explaining to everyone who would listen how the game was going to end. For the first one hundred years of their movement, then, they were observers, not shapers, of events. But all that changed after Israel reclaimed its place in Palestine and expanded its borders. For the first time, dispensationalists believed that it was necessary to leave the bleachers and get onto the playing field to make sure the game ended according to the divine script.
Weber’s book carefully documents how dispensational participation accelerated in the 1980’s with the rise of the Moral Majority on the American political scene. The Christian Coalition of America made their support for Israel one of a few core issues of their political work. Millions of Christian Coalition voter guides have been distributed through thousands of conservative churches. Though their membership is down from the organization’s high point a decade ago, they still boast of more than two million members.
Interestingly enough, the relationship between evangelicals and Israel was not a one-sided affair. The Israeli government actively developed the relationship with American evangelicals; they courted evangelical leaders, knowing they could count on their support once the nation of Israel won their hearts and minds. What was the main tool for building this alliance between evangelicals and the Israeli government? It was tourism. Weber explains:
During the early 1980’s, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism actively recruited evangelical leaders for “familiarization” tours at no cost to them. In time, hundreds of evangelical pastors received free trips to the Holy Land… Needless to say, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism was interested in more than tourist dollars. Here was a way of building a solid corps of non-Jewish supporters for the state of Israel in the United States by bringing large number of evangelicals to hear and see Israel’s story for themselves.
These efforts led to the creation of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem and a host of other futurist based organizations focused on political advocacy for Israeli interests. The “Embassy” hosts an annual conference in Israel, often attracting over 5000 participants. Israeli Prime Ministers (with the sole exception of Barak in 1999) never fail to make a personal appearance at this annual “Feast of Tabernacles” conference. Benjamin Netanyahu made these comments in his address of 1998:
I came here to thank you for your support in our great endeavor. It has been consistent. It has been unreserved. And I have to tell you , from my point of view, as Prime Minister of Israel, it has been very, very effective. Thank you. The state of Israel is stronger because of your support and it needs this strength to resist undue pressure… Our claim to this land is based on the greatest and most incontrovertible document in creation – the Holy Bible. It’s the Bible that has given us the deed to this land. It is on the basis of the Bible that the Christian world and so much of the International community have recognized our right to it.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addressed participants at the 2002 conference. He told thousands of American dispensationalists:
I would like to thank you again for everything – for your friendship and for your solidarity, which are so important to us. I also have a message that I would like you to take home: send more people like you to visit Israel.
The influence American dispensationalists exert on American politics and foreign policy cannot be denied. When the Prime Ministers regularly attend a specific conference of American dispensationalists they are saying something. Their consistent presence proves that American dispensationalists wield substantial authority on the American political scene, and they do so in ways that Israel finds beneficial to their interests.
Evangelicals dedicated to both dispensationalism and Creation Science have lobbied Congress for a close alliance with Israel. While there may be other political reasons for supporting the nation-state of Israel, it is impossible the eschatological reason has been the least over the last five decades. There are very few people in the current American political landscape who dismiss the votes of millions of American evangelicals as politically inconsequential. Those who do are not in office at this time in 2005.
As of September 11, 2001, the violence and bloodshed common to the Middle East has come to our shores. Hatred toward America has been a reality for decades in the Arab/Islamic world, but this hatred has been exacerbated by American foreign policy regarding Israel. A policy which cannot be explained apart from the political power dispensationalism holds in American politics.
The anger directed against America is understandable if you are willing to put yourself in the Muslim shoes of Israel’s enemies. There are some clear inequities of American policy in the Middle East. Those who commit these monstrous acts of terrorism are the arch-enemies of Israel and so have now become America’s enemies as well. In fact, many in the region consider war against America as war against Israel.
The 9-11 event touched off America’s “War on Terror.” Bin Laden has referenced unflinching American support for Israel as one main reason for operations against the United States both domestically and abroad. The domino effect continues with the invasion of Afghanistan and occupation of Iraq. Only God knows where and when the dominos will stop falling, but if you follow the dominos back to the beginning, the conclusion is unavoidable. Part of the responsibility for this violence lies at the feet of Creation Science methods of reading the Bible and dispensational theology in general if eschatological interests have helped shape American policy regarding Israel.
The problems in the Middle East do predate dispensationalism. Given the history of militant Islam and the Christian crusades going back 1000 years, there are no easy solutions to the generations of hatred, vengeance and continuing cycle of violence. As long as all parties view those locations as the “Holy Land” violent confrontations will continue. Preterism removes the theological underpinning of millions of evangelicals’ concept about the nation-state and land of Israel: which are, ironically, not essentially different than the medieval theology which gave impetus to the crusades a1000 years ago.
One thing is clear. Political and foreign policy action born out of eschatological thinking threatens to push the region over the brink of catastrophe. American dispensational Christians have compounded an already problematic situation; a situation which leads to violent deaths on a daily basis. American evangelical Christians have blood on their hands because of their fallacious end-times views.
This is a colossal example of the real-world importance of eschatology, but ultimately hermeneutics. It also highlights how important the success of preterism truly is for the future well-being of American Christianity and American society as a whole. As preterism flourishes in America, unconditional support for Israel will wane. Dispensational theology and Creation Science methods of reading Scripture are not only erroneous, theologically, they are deadly when applied to political policy. Most in the Creation Science movement will view all these events as proof for their prophetic systems. The sad reality is they are merely a logical result of them.
To be continued...
Copyright 2005 by Timothy P. Martin. All rights reserved. Reprinted by Permission
[Beyond Creation Science (2nd Edition) will be available at the Planetpreterist bookstore]
One Creation Science book written by Charles Taylor says it all in the title: The Oldest Science Book in the World.
Conrad Hyers, The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), p. 27.
I am indebted to Max Sotak for this inisightful suggestion to help people grasp apocalyptic in the Bible.
Conrad Hyers, The Meaning of Creation, p. 11.
Henry Morris, The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Conflict, p. 261.
Ibid., p. 324.
Timothy P. Weber, On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), p. 15.
 Ibid., p. 214.
 Prime Minister Netanyahu also included these amazingly coincidental remarks in the same address in 1998: “And you can see these rogue states, from North Korea at the edge of Asia, to Iraq and Iran right here, who are creating an unstable and potentially violent and dangerous world for us.” The entire address can be accessed at www.nclci.org/netanyahu-tabernacles.htm.
As quoted by Timothy Weber in, On the Road to Armageddon, p. 218.
For a remarkable analysis of the relation between American foreign policy, Israel, Islam and terrorism which avoids both the jingoist propaganda of the right and the myopic defeatism of the left, see Michael Sheuer, Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror (Dulles, VA: Brassey’s Inc., 2004).