I recently saw a debate between Albert Mohler and Jack Collins:
1. Having read Collins present his position in a number of books, it wasn't especially informative to me. The best part was the second part where they sat down and answered questions.
I disagree with some of his exegetical moves. But he has a very thoughtful position.
2. There were strengths and weaknesses in Mohler's case. One weakness is his appeal to the consensus fidelium. But that's just a fancy word for tradition. And tradition tends to be self-reinforcing. You believe it because the guy before you believed it, and he believed it because the guy before him believed it. But that makes belief its own justification, which is viciously circular. We need something to ground belief, and not just regressive or circular appeals to belief itself. Take urban legends that get passed on uncritically. To believe something just because other people believe it is a sorry substitute for evidence.
3. Another weakness was his appeal to the "plain, natural, normal, face-value" sense of the text. Problem is, that's not directly about what's in the text, but the impression it makes on the reader. Moreover, what's "plain, natural, or normal" to a modern reader may be far removed from what's "plain, nature, and normal" to the original audience. Unless we guard against it, our modern culture supplies reference frame for what we deem to be the "plain, natural, normal" meaning of the text.
In chapter 8 of Understanding Dispensationalists, Vern Poythress has some useful things to say about the ambiguities and unreliability of appeals to the plain or literal meaning of the text:
In addition, what seems to be the natural or face-value meaning of the text in isolation may take on a different meaning when we consider the wider context. Indeed, Mohler is aware of that.
4. Mohler's strongest objection to old-earth creationism is that proponents accept cosmology and geology, but reject (evolutionary) biology. That seems to be ad hoc.
Likewise, it's not just about time, but what evolutionary biologists and paleontologists say happened during that time.
5. One has to be careful about the ad hoc allegation. Even if the special creation of Adam and Eve in OEC seems ad hoc, one could say miracles in general seem ad hoc. After all, miracles are, by definition, discontinuous with the ordinary course of nature.
6. Which is not to deny that you can have makeshift positions along the creationist/evolutionist continuum. Consider people who say Gen 2 is factual when it talks about the special creation of Adam and Eve, but everything else in Gen 1-3 (or 1-11) is false of fictitious.
7. I'm skeptical about our ability to reconstruct the distant past. Can we seriously know what happened in the first three minutes of the Big Bang, some 14 billions years ago?
A paradox of reconstructing the past is that we lack direct access to the past. The present is our only available frame of reference. Residual evidence from the past. But how do we know that's a representative sample? And when you talk about billions of years, imagine the vast gaps in the surviving evidence.
8. A related problem is the assumption of linearity. But especially where creation is concerned, there's no presumption that the past resembles the present. For all we know, the universe may be like the "instant" past of a stage set about ancient Rome or the Old West. That's where the movie begins.
And this is more than a bare possibility. Any version of creation ex nihilo requires an element of mature creature. Something comes into being which is not the result of an antecedent natural state or process. And once we make allowance for that principle, it's hard to draw a line that isn't arbitrary. The issue then becomes how much was built into creation, and how much is due to natural development.
8. The theory of evolution isn't just theologically controversial, but scientifically controversial. It's controversial within the secular scientific community in a way that cosmology and geology are not.
So it's not just a question of conservative Christians drawing the line with evolutionary biology. Although secular scientists generally believe in the "fact" of evolution, there are raging debates over the theoretical underpinnings. Indeed, Collins said biologists admit to him in private that they don't think naturalistic evolution can get the job done.
9. Another issue that Mohler raised is whether OEC is unstable. Is there a firewall between OEC and theistic evolution or naturalistic evolution?
However, it's possible to turn that objection around. Many people who start out as young-earth creationists become theistic evolutionists or naturalistic evolutionists. So in that regard, one might contend that YEC is unstable. It has no give. Apostates who used to be youth-earth creationists continue to treat YEC as the standard of comparison, but they no longer believe it. They continue to believe that's the right interpretation of Gen 1-9, but they no longer believe in Scripture because they think science falsified YEC. And they had no fallback position. For them, the alternative to YEC is naturalistic evolution. So they become atheists.
In fairness to Mohler, he may mean OEC is unstable in the sense that it's a stopgap position, whereas YEC is a coherent position that presents a clear-cut alternative to theistic evolution and naturalistic evolution. It's an interesting question whether there's sociological data to answer the following questions:
i) How many Christians who start out as YEC remain YEC?
ii) How many Christians who start out as YEC become OEC?
iii) How many Christians who start out as YEC become theistic evolutionists?
iv) How many Christians who start out as YEC become naturalistic evolutionists?
v) How many Christians who start out as OEC remain OEC?
vi) How many Christians who start out as OEC become YEC?
vii) How many Christians who start out as OEC become theistic evolutionists?
viii) How many Christians who start out as OEC become naturalistic evolutionists?