Monday, October 6, 2014

Young Earth Creationism vs. Old Earth Theistic Evolution and God as Deceiver

There seem to me at least two ways in which people have been (and continue to be) deceived if either Young Earth Creationism or Old Earth Theistic Evolution is true.

Against Old Earth Theistic Evolutionists:  (1) If the Earth is 5+billion years old and humans have existed for millions of years then many people have been deceived about the book of Genesis.  In addition, (2) many people have been deceived about the history of the universe.  On the Young Earth Creationist view, the universe is roughly 6000 years old, there was an original pair of humans from which all other humans have descended, etc.  But that's all false if OETE is true.

Against Young Earth Creationists, the same problems hold: (1) Many people are deceived about the proper interpretation of Genesis and the implications of various statements in Genesis.  (2) Many people today are deceived about the history of the universe.

A non-believer might then turn this line of thinking into a dilemma:
1. If Young Earth Creationism is true, then God has allowed there to be massive deception.
2. If Old Earth Theistic Evolution is true, then God has allowed there to be massive deception.
3. If God exists, then probably either Young Earth Creationism or Old Earth Theistic Evolution is true.
4. If there were a God, God would not allow for massive deception.
5. Thus probably God does not exist.

Now, all of the premises, I think, can be called into question.  We might question whether there is massive deception or just some deception for starters.  In premise four we might question whether God would allow for people to err in the ways that they have.  We might also note that many people have been deceived about all sorts of things so this particular bit of deception (if deception is the right word) is no more problematic than error more generally.  And so forth.

But I want to raise a slightly different issue.  Let's admit that, given methodological naturalism, science seems to overwhelming support the Old Earth Evolutionist position.  But that is given methodological naturalism. What the theist (or Christian Theist) wants to know, however, is which is more probable given all that we know (or think we know), including God's existence and God-as-Creator.

To settle the debate among theists, what the Old Earth Theistic Evolutionist needs, for instance, is an argument to show that it is more likely that God would create a world that is very old and plays out like science (given methodological naturalism) says it does than it is that God would create a world that is (roughly) 6000 years old but has the appearance of being a LOT older. Conversely a Young Earth Creationist needs, for instance, an argument that it is more likely that God would create a world that has the appearance of a much greater age from a methodologically naturalistic perspective.

Are there any such arguments out there?  I'm not sure. I have yet to see one that is rigorously developed, but then again I haven't been looking too hard.  What one often gets is just an argument about what science tells us (given methodological naturalism) or what the Bible tells given certain hermeneutical commitments.

And of course things get even more complicated.  How likely is it that God would create a world with millions of years of animal death and suffering before humans are created?  For the other side, how likely is it that would God create a world that is massively irregular, where the laws of nature are either massively misunderstood or changed during the Fall and perhaps again during the Flood?


  1. I've been beating around the bushes of your "slightly different issue" for a while now, and I appreciate your formulation of it here. I found it helpful. While I'm thinking about it, I'll share a related problem I've been thinking about for old earth theistic evolution.
    1. God could have brought about the current state of the universe in ever so many ways, including the way that young earth creationists say, and the way that old earth theistic evolutionists say.
    2. The OETE story for how God created involves suffering and death many magnitudes of order greater than young earth creationism.
    3. God is onmibenevolent, and therefore would not create a world with magnitudes of order more suffering and death, if He can avoid it.
    4. He can avoid it.
    5. Therefore, God would not have created using the mechanisms involved in old earth theistic evolution.

    I think that the OETE will deny three. You could appeal to what Plantinga says about natural evil; that is, there isn't any. Natural evil is the result of the actions of demons and such. So, all of the death and animal suffering before humankind evolved was the result of God allowing the forces of evil to oppose him in a way that resulted in death and suffering. Or you could deny that animal death and suffering is an evil.

    There probably other responses, but my wife wants me to go watch the end of a movie with her, so I must stop. At any rate, my little problem for OETE may not be too difficult, but I think it shows that they must have something to say about these things, and to be honest, I find by the Plantinga response and the "death of animals is not evil" response to be plausible, but underwhelming.

  2. PVI deals with evolution and the problem of animal suffering in (I think) the last chapter of his Problem of Evil book. Michael Murray has a book on the issue. One of my colleagues here wrote a dissertation on it (he's almost finished). And Trent Dougherty has a book coming out on the issue.

    If Young Earth Creationism were true then it would mitigate the global argument from evil. But I guess I've never felt much pull from it myself.

  3. I don't have the time to make a formal argument, but here are a few things that might make it more likely that an old world is the one God would make.

    1. A 13 billion year old universe is so much more vast, wondrous and unfathomable than a 6,000 year old universe. As vast and wondrous as it is, God is even more so. An old universe seems to better illustrate God's majesty.

    2. If science is not actually opposed to religion, but instead is a worshipful exploration of God's creation, then a 13 billion year old universe which is not explicitly explained in Scripture seems to offer more mystery. On the young earth view, this is diminished. God gave us a play by play in Genesis. Sure, there's still a lot of mystery on the young earth view, but not quite as much.

    Aside from that, the main problems I have with the young earth view are exegetical. What reasons do we have to think the Genesis creation account ought to be interpreted literally? Given its chiastic (I think?) structure and certain polemical elements against other ancient Near Eastern creation myths, and that it was written in a culture with no concept of science as we know it, why think that it was even intended to be scientifically accurate? In a paper somewhere PVI says something to the effect that the only benefit of this (scientific accuracy) would be that a handful of modern intellectuals would have to find some other reason to disbelieve God.

    Is a young earth interpretation possible? Sure! God can do what he wants. Jesus made grape juice with the appearance of age. But without compelling evidence that the text itself requires that it be taken literally, I see no reason not to accept conclusions about the age of the universe derived from methodological naturalism. Especially when many conclusions about other aspects of the universe derived from methodological naturalism seem to be lightning and heliocentrism.

    1. Joseph,

      Thanks for this. A few quick thoughts:

      For the purposes of this post I just ignored exegetical issues. But of course one shouldn't ignore those in coming to terms with one view over the other. (Jesus made grape juice with the appearance of age--I like that!)

      The vastness and wondrousness--there may be something to that. It's certainly more vast TO US given billions more prior years to the creation of humans.

      More mystery--perhaps. In a certain sense, though, if science is able to explain pretty much all that happened then the mystery disappears as science progresses.

      PVI gives an argument that God would prefer regular worlds (in his book on Evil) and that an evolutionary world is a regular world whereas one where he miracles lots of things in on the front end would be less regular. Although, I believe he is just arguing there "for all we know God prefers regular worlds" and he's offering this to the perfect agnostic and not a young earther. For the young earther the argument would need to be strengthened to "it's more probably than not that God would prefer regular worlds."

    2. Right, the mystery does disappear, but IF God wants us to use our minds to plumb the depths of creation to learn about it, and ultimately about him, and IF science done in that spirit is honoring to God, then an old universe which hasn't been explicitly described in the Bible seems to give more room for that.

      Since God does often seem to want us to grapple with mystery and not knowing how everything plays/played/is going to play out in other areas of life, I think that lends credence to "it's more probable than not that God would prefer regular worlds." Especially given that the order of events by which the universe arose is considerably less useful to know than many of the things he does let us remain mystified over in our day-to-day lives.