You are hereBeyond Creation Science: How Preterism Refutes a Global Flood and Impacts the Genesis Debate – Part 9
Beyond Creation Science: How Preterism Refutes a Global Flood and Impacts the Genesis Debate – Part 9
by Timothy P. Martin
The History of the Bible-Science Conflict
Once we have grappled with the nature of biblical language in early Genesis we are ready to consider the historical context of the modern Bible-Science conflict. That order is important, because history documents how Bible-Science conflicts arose after Christians misread or, perhaps more accurately, over-read Scripture. Conrad Hyers explains it this way:The History of the Bible-Science Conflict
Once we have grappled with the nature of biblical language in early Genesis we are ready to consider the historical context of the modern Bible-Science conflict. That order is important, because history documents how Bible-Science conflicts arose after Christians misread or, perhaps more accurately, over-read Scripture. Conrad Hyers explains it this way:When one surveys the history of science/religion controversies, one finds linguistic confusion to be a major source of misunderstanding and conflict.
This problem is not unique to Christians on the Bible side of the Bible-Science conflict. Scientists can also misread or even over-read the scientific evidence on the science side. They have been proven guilty of making false claims, too. Those entrenched on either side of Bible-Science controversy point to the historical errors of the opposing side. Each side belittles their opponents’ credibility in order to win the contemporary argument.
We should first recognize that Christianity has a long history of interaction with scientific progress. It is no coincidence that scientific development occurred primarily within cultures heavily impacted by Christianity. The Christian doctrine of creation provides a cultural worldview. Those impacted by this worldview believe our world is intelligible and predictable – the two basic presuppositions of modern science. Christian and non-Christian scientists accept the broad worldview of creation that Christianity provides.
Even though Christianity arguably provides the worldview necessary for scientific progress, the history of Christianity’s relationship with scientific development is not always characterized by peace and harmony. The historical points of collision offer much wisdom to apply to the current manifestations of the Bible-Science conflict. Many Christians live with such a narrow grasp of history today they often miss the valuable lessons history has to offer. The Bible-Science conflict did not arise in the 20th century with the Scopes Trial. Nor did it appear on the scene as a result of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. The debate goes even further back than Lyell’s geological column in his Principles of Geology of 1830.
There is no greater history lesson for the Bible-Science debate over the flood and creation account in Genesis than the clash between geocentrism and heliocentrism.
Geocentrism vs. Heliocentrism
Today, most Christians assume resistance to heliocentrism came from the Roman Catholic Church. While the Roman Church, through the Inquisition, was particularly violent in dealing with a few of Copernicus’ followers, many leaders of the Reformation opposed heliocentrism as well. What’s more, they rejected heliocentrism on biblical grounds. One historian puts it this way:
All branches of the Protestant Church – Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican – vied with each other in denouncing the Copernican doctrine as contrary to Scripture; and at a later period the Puritans showed the same tendency. Said Luther, “People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the sun and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.
Notice how Martin Luther presents his biblical argument against heliocentrism. He argues from the plain-literal statement of Scripture. This example shows how the plain-literal hermeneutic did not begin in the 20th century. Luther read Joshua 10 as if it were a science textbook on astronomy. All the geocentrists were adamant: the Bible defines the motion of celestial bodies. They claimed that those who accepted heliocentrism rejected what the Bible teaches.
We can draw a clear analogy. This same plain-literal hermeneutic is precisely the Creation Science method when it comes to the Genesis flood. They believe the flood account defines our understanding of geology just as the geocentrist believed Joshua 10 defines a Christian understanding of astronomy.
Perhaps it could be argued that Creation Science methods, as we know them now, find their roots in medieval forms of exegesis. Take, for example, the plain-literalism inherent in the famous idea of transubstantiation. Defenders of this medieval doctrine were adamant. “This is my body” meant the literal, physical body of Jesus. The Reformation reinterpreted (Luther) or overturned (Calvin, Zwingli) that idea. But it never developed a coherent hermeneutic capable of integrating the Copernican revolution. Later theologians simply accepted Copernicus and rejected Luther’s appeal to Joshua 10.
The clash between astronomy and theology was probably inevitable, but we should learn lessons from history. Those who read the language of the flood account in scientifically precise, plain-literal terms may be repeating a historic mistake. Don Stoner puts it this way:
It seems that Galileo’s critics were guilty of the same mistake which many of the present-day young-earth creationists have made. That is, they took the plainest reading of Scripture as the “true” one and disallowed any alternative interpretations.
Much needless damage to Christianity could have been avoided if the theologians who held cultural power in the 16th century had listened to Galileo’s defense. He argued that heliocentrism is perfectly compatible with the Bible, when the Bible is understood on its own terms. Consider Galileo’s famous statement:
The Scriptures are given to teach us, not how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven.
Even John Calvin seemed to recognize the nature of biblical language demanded limits to what Christians should claim regarding astronomy in his own day:
I have said, that Moses does not here subtilely descant, as a philosopher, on the secrets of nature… Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend.
What Calvin says, in principle, is profoundly relevant. Even though the Bible peaks of the sun and moon as the two great lights the biblical statement does not invalidate astronomer’s claims that Jupiter is greater in size than the moon. Calvin implies that Genesis was not given as a “scientific” account which defines our knowledge of the universe. Creation Scientists could learn a great deal from Calvin’s embryonic idea. Could his approach apply to geology in our day as he applied it to astronomy in his?
Christians now widely agree that Copernicus’ theory, Galileo’s telescope, and Kepler’s mathematics present no threat to the Biblical Faith. God’s majesty and creative power are magnified by Copernicus’ breakthrough. The historical lesson seems clear: the Christian Church has been hindered far more by ignorant zeal than true scientific advancement. Yet this lesson raises a contemporary question. Does the same principle not apply to the debate over the age of the earth? Could it be that those who categorically dismiss an ancient earth and universe as ungodly compromise with Darwinism have simply over-read their Bible? Are they making the same mistake as the geocentrist theologians of the 16th century?
One key issue relating to the Copernican situation that is yet to be resolved in the modern Bible-Science debate is how, exactly, the biblical text of Scripture and the scientific evidence, whether astronomy, biology, geology, etc., will be allowed to interact with each other.
Is the biblical text self-sufficient all by itself without extra-biblical information? Is scientific evidence useful as a wider context around biblical teaching much like we use cultural and historical context as an external aid in our understanding of Scripture? Or are Bible and Science at all points disconnected to one another – on different tracks so to speak? Are they friends or enemies? Is it legitimate for them to relate as guides, offering helpful advice one to another? The Copernican experience seems to warn against a rigid isolationist approach.
Preterists are in a position to see how the right answers to these questions are crucial. The answers have theological implications. Preterists use extra-biblical cultural context to help the Bible student understand the expectations of the original audience and original meaning of Scripture. A Preterist interpretation of New Testament prophecy inevitably relates to the historical events of A.D. 70. But everyone should note well that the Bible does not say anything about what actually took place in A.D. 70. Only extra-biblical sources tell us what happened in A.D. 70!
In many cases preterists have to inform futurists of what the Bible records in biblical prophecy as well as the historical events of A.D. 70. They then rely upon the combined weight of biblical statements and historical facts to lead others into a preterist view of prophecy. History and Scripture harmonize. That is what makes preterism such a powerful case. Would there even be such a thing as preterism if nothing happened in A.D. 70 and the temple remained standing for centuries beyond the generation of Jesus and the disciples?
There is no essential difference if we use well-ascertained scientific discoveries as an external context to Scripture. Preterists should understand the value of harmonizing our understanding of Scripture with our knowledge of God’s universe. After all, the same God who created the universe speaks through Scripture. The Bible and Science may be distinguishable, but they cannot be contradictory. When they harmonize, the case for Christianity is compelling in all dimensions.
The philosophical questions behind the Bible-Science debate are numerous and present huge ramifications as they did even back in the 16th century church-astronomy conflict. Devotees to Creation Science often fail to even recognize these questions highlighted in the conflict over astronomy. The reality to them is that when a Christian accepts any scientific discovery that points to a universe older than 10,000 years old, no matter how strong, he is accepting Darwinist evolution by definition. Henry Morris makes this plain:
From our point of view, however, any interpretation which accommodates the standard system of geological ages is a clear-cut compromise with atheistic evolutionism, and it is very sad that Christians who profess to believe the Bible as the Word of God will not acknowledge this... The Bible clearly teaches the special creation of all things in six literal days (e.g. Exodus 20:8-11) and a worldwide cataclysmic destruction by the flood (e.g. II Peter 3:3-6), and it is only special pleading and strained exegesis that can force any other meaning on the Biblical record.
Preterists should note once again how 2 Peter 3 is used as “the proof” for a global flood. Notice how a plain-literal approach to the creation days is logically connected to a plain-literal reading of 2 Peter 3.
One great irony at this point continuously played out through Creation Science literature is a complaint laid against their old-earth creationist brethren. Writers in the Creation Science movement repeatedly accuse old-earth creationists of bending Scripture to conform to modern scientific thought dating to Lyell and Darwin. (They do this even though non-literal approaches to the Genesis creation account were presented by such esteemed theologians as Augustine more than a thousand years before Lyell and Darwin.) All old-earth creationist views are painted with the same anti-Darwinist brush, because any age for the universe beyond 10,000 years is simplistically equated with Darwinism. J. Ligon Duncan and David Hall represent many Creation Science writers when they say:
We should be wary of those who accommodate Scripture to current scientific theory, because he who marries the spirit of the age will be a widower in the next.
Creation Science advocates should take their own advice! The Creation Science system is nothing if it does not accommodate Scripture to a particular scientific theory. What’s worse is this accommodation is ostensibly founded on the authority of God’s Word! This syncretism with Adventist flood geology sets Creation Science up for a repeat of the same disastrous fall we see in the Copernican example. The overriding problem with the public, tenacious commitment to a young-earth and universe is simple. If their science or underlying hermeneutic goes down, it inevitably takes the reliability of Scripture and integrity of Christianity down with it – publicly.
To make matters worse, those dedicated to Creation Science seem blissfully unaware of how their method of handling Scripture is dominated by scientific priorities and concerns. Hyers points out the incongruity of it all:
To attempt to turn this [Genesis creation account] into a scientific statement is to distort its intention and character. Not only does one miss the theological punch lines; one gives the passage a secular reading – and then perhaps complains about the rising tide of secularism in evolutionary science!
Hyers notes an important point. On the one hand Creation Science advocates often demonize accepted scientific opinion. They complain that modern science’s commitment to an ancient earth and universe is anti-Christian from beginning to end and has taken over our Western Civilization. On the other hand these same advocates demand Genesis communicates in scientifically precise language and concepts – a demand that springs from the scientism of the modern age!
The history of the Bible-Science debate, if nothing else, should sober zealous advocates of Creation Science who direct many serious charges against their old-earth brethren. Bernard Ramm offers a thought-provoking question:
Does not the most hyper-orthodox among us realize that most of the views he now holds about the Bible, medicine, science, and progress which he thinks are so orthodox, safe, sane, and Biblical, would, a few centuries ago, have cost him his life?
Time tends to erode the sharp criticism that fearful Christians have leveled against solid scientific advance. I’m convinced that neither time nor reputable science is on the side of Creation Science. It’s not that hard to imagine a day to come in a century or two (prayerfully, it may be much less time) when Creation Science opposition to belief that our universe is ancient will be viewed the same way we look back at those Christians who vehemently objected to heliocentrism. As the saying goes: Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Both Scripture and history support a local flood interpretation. There is no denying a local flood view will also have implications for the debate over the age of our universe. No matter how that debate goes in the future, I’m convinced of the basic truth of one powerful insight in William Jennings Bryan’s testimony during the Scope’s Trial of 1925. Responding to Clarence Darrow’s assaulting questions, Bryan said, “The Rock of Ages is more important than the age of rocks.”
This is heresy from the viewpoint of Creation Science. They teach that if rocks are indeed millions of years old, then the “Rock of Ages” is a fraud. Morris claims that Bryan lost the case in the court of public opinion largely because of infidelity on this point. He writes:
Probably the most serious mistake made by Bryan on the stand was to insist repeatedly that he had implicit confidence in the infallibility of Scripture, but then to hedge on the geological question, relying on the day/age theory. He had been warned against this very thing by George McCready Price.
Creation Science resets the trap which snared medieval Christianity in the days of Copernicus. It is past time to admit that geology, like heliocentrism in astronomy, threatens Christianity only if we read the language of Genesis according to a plain-literal method. As I hope to show, there may be a much better way to read the disputed portions of Genesis. For now it is enough to point out that antithesis to unbelief does not require anti-intellectualism. Nor does it require a denial of well-established observational reality in God’s physical creation. Creation Science ideology blocks a rich understanding of our Bible and powerful knowledge of God’s creation.
Don Stoner sums up a reasonable viewpoint that could serve as a baseline guide as Christians progress in their study of God’s Word and God’s works:
Science and theology are both fallible systems for seeking truth. God’s Bible and His universe both supply unerring facts. Our own theories should be built upon the facts from both God’s Bible and His creation. Even then, we must allow for the possibility that we might still make mistakes. Perhaps the most important lesson we should learn from this is humility.
Once Christians grasp the wisdom of Stoner’s advice, they will be able to face any Bible-Science conflict in a manner that brings praise to God. We cannot expect the Kingdom to progress and grow in our day if we continue to engage in the folly of the past.
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]
 Conrad Hyers, The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), p. 16.
J.N. Larned, The New Larned History (Springfield: C.A. Nichols Publishing, 1922), Vol. 1, p. 576.
For a well-written textual analysis of Joshua’s Long Day as well as another presentation of a local-flood view, see Ralph Woodrow, Noah’s Flood, Joshua’s Long Day, and Lucifer’s Fall: What Really Happened?  (www.ralphwoodrow.org).
Don Stoner, A New Look at an Old Earth: Resolving the Conflict Between the Bible & Science (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1997), pp.34-35.
 As quoted by Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge: Judson Press  1985), p. 222.
 John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, Chapter 1, Section 16. Available online at: http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol01/htm/vii.htm. It should be noted that some historians claim Calvin was united with Luther in opposition to heliocentrism. Others claim he was not. Perhaps the solution to this debate is that Calvin simply changed his mind on the issue in his later writings.
 There is still a small band of geocentrists standing by their reading of Joshua 10 and the ancient teachings of the Church on the matter. Not surprisingly, they are generally dedicated advocates of Creation Science ideology.
 For a masterful theological explanation of the classical “Two Books” understanding of the organic relationship between natural and special revelation see part two, “The Good Creation” in Gordon J. Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992).
 There is strong evidence that the entire New Testament was written by A.D. 70. See John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Wipf & Stock Publishers,  2000) and Kenneth L. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision  1998).
 Henry Morris, History of Modern Creationism (San Diego: Master Book Publishers, 1984),p. 329.
 J. Ligon Duncan III & David W. Hall, The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation, ed. by David G. Hagopian (Mission Viejo: Crux Press, 2001), p. 30.
 Conrad Hyers, The Meaning of Creation, p. 22.
 Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,  1978), p. 22.
 Henry Morris, History of Modern Creationism, p. 66.
 Don Stoner, A New Look at an Old Earth, p.36.