Tuesday, November 20, 2018

From mere Christianity to mere mythology

I find it crucial to distinguish between Young Earth Creationism (YEC) as a hermeneutical hypothesis and as a scientific hypothesis.  The hermeneutical hypothesis concerns the correct interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. Do these passages affirm, either explicitly or implicitly, that the universe was created in the recent past (say, 10,000-20,000 years ago)?  The scientific hypothesis concerns the empirical adequacy of the view that the universe is so young. Is the scientific evidence plausibly explained by the hypothesis that the universe originated only 10,000-20,000 years ago? 

That's a necessary distinction. 

Now I have long ago taken a stand on YEC as a scientific hypothesis. My defense of the kalām cosmological argument on the basis of Big Bang cosmology presupposes that the universe is more than 13 billion years old. 

I find that odd. Seems to me the kalām cosmological argument is an a priori, metaphysical argument about the possibility (or not) of an actual temporal infinite, rather than an a posteriori argument based on astrophysics and cosmology. 

Indeed, I think that YEC as a scientific hypothesis is quite hopeless. But YEC as a hermeneutical hypothesis is quite another matter. I want to approach the text with an open mind, despite the terrifying prospect that YEC might actually be correct as a hermeneutical hypothesis. In that case, we would face some very hard choices. Given YEC’s failure as a scientific hypothesis, we should have to conclude that the Bible teaches scientific error and therefore revise our doctrine of inspiration to accommodate this fact. That is a route one would prefer not to take.

i) I wonder what YEC scientists Craig has studied. 

ii) He thinks that if push comes to shove, the scientific reconstruction of the distant past is more reliable than divine revelation. 

iii) It's true that YEC chronology is up against many prima facie lines of evidence to the contrary. However, the deeper issue is the assumption that there's an unbroken continuum between the present and the past so that we can reconstruct the distant past by linear extrapolation from the present. Up to a point that's reasonable. Nature is like a machine. You can mentally run the process backwards. 

There are, however, agents who can intervene to produce an effect that's discontinuous with antecedent conditions. Take a miraculous healing. Since that outcome can't be predicted from the status quo ante, because that outcome wasn't caused by the status quo ante, it follows, by the same token, that the status quo ante can't be retrodicted from the outcome. Supernatural agents throw a wild card into our projections and retroactions. Although we shouldn't invoke that willy-nilly, it's something we must make allowance for. 

iv) The challenge has less to do with the amount of time than an evolutionary narrative or evolutionary reading of the natural record. However, that's counterbalanced by the challenges confronting naturalistic evolution.  

So I’m very interested in exploring the suggestion of some commentators that the primaeval history of Genesis 1-11 is mytho-historical, a sort of fusion of history and mythology that should not be interpreted literally.

i) The same supernaturalism that pervades Gen 1-11 likewise pervades the patriarchal narratives, the Book of Exodus, Numbers, &c. There's no bright line between Gen 1-11 and the rest of the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Gospels, Acts. A "mytho-historical" reading will have to be extended to Scripture in general. 

ii) There are non-YEC interpretations of Gen 1-11 that don't appeal to a fusion of mythology and history. Craig's fallback is a false dichotomy. 


  1. I don't see how science can undermine genesis. All the Christian has to do is argue something along the lines of Gosse's Ophalmos or some version of the hypertime thesis. AS you pointed out, supernatural agents through a monkey wrench in taking science to be the be all end all.

    1. Exactly! I've argued for the Omphalos position here:

  2. Good discussion. I'm not sure what is meant by "It's true that YEC chronology is up against many prima facie lines of evidence to the contrary."

    1. YEC as a scientific position is somewhat inconsistent, as I see it. It presupposes a miraculous creation within six days, and then tries to support that supernatural event by natural evidences. This sets up an unwinnable contest, since even they must admit that many aspects of the natural world were created already "mature" and with appearance of age, such as the visibility of stars millions of light-years away.

    2. Hello Ken,
      I agree with you on the surface level, but in the end I don't think the "appearance" of age is really a huge deal in YEC (for the record, I don't classify myself as YEC). "Age" is linked to the passage of time, and as we know from relativity if we are moving at the speed of light there is no passage of time. So, for a photon of light traveling unimpeded since the Big Bang, no time has passed so the universe "appears" to be age 0.

      Of course, we could artificially restrict ourselves to only our perspective (but this would be making our frame of reference "privileged" which science seeks to avoid). In any case, we only have experience with things that have begun after other things already existed so we can't even conceptualize what it would be like to have the "first something." In fact, we just take for granted there is a preexisting past.

      This is easily seen in stories. Take "The Hobbit" by Tolkien for example. It begins "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." Without us even noticing, that's assuming the existence of an entire world (Middle Earth), the family lineage of Bilbo Baggins, etc. and so forth. We don't even bat an eye at it, because we have no experience of something starting from nothing. Our own existence came out of something that already pre-existed us, and so on. Does that mean Middle Earth somehow maliciously takes on the "appearance" of age? We *know* that it has a "past" within the context of the story, but even going back as far as you can with what Tolkien wrote, the earliest statements about Middle Earth still presuppose a past before that. It's inescapable.

      And we don't notice.

      And lest someone complain that it's different between the real world and a story, what is the past for us other than story now anyway? No one has experience of a time before humans existed because, by definition, no human was there. Go back to before the first life existed. There were no observers there, so what is the objective difference between that existence and a purely imaginary existence? Suppose that *IF* a person existed, they would have experienced 13 billions years pass between the creation of the universe and today. How is that statement somehow more "real" than me saying, "Suppose that *IF* a person existed in Middle Earth, then X number of years would have passed between the first human in that realm and the rise of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins"? Both of statements are hypothetical and impossible for us to actually do. How is it that one is considered scientific and the other purely fantasy? (Just to be clear, I maintain that BOTH are purely fantasy, not that Middle Earth somehow becomes real.)

  3. Of course, since 1905 we've known that time is linked to space and motion, and yet no one ever talks about relative motion when discussing the age of the earth/universe.... :-P

  4. Steve,

    Although I don't wish to be boastful, I believe that I have solved the YEC problem--or at least have a new solution for this issue (and yes, I know how arrogant this sounds, but I do believe it is the case).

    That new solution can be found here:


    In essence, I argue that there is actually a way to harmonize six literal 'creation days' with billions of human years that addresses all the concerns raised by YECs and OECs.

  5. OA,

    In attempting to reconcile the billions-of-years view with Scripture’s six creation days, you’re begging the question of whether a miraculous creation by fiat (in six 24-hour periods) might have happened. If it did happen, then there’s no justification for your “solution.” Can you offer any evidence that the world, if created by fiat six to ten thousand years ago, would be any different than it is? And how would you reconcile Jesus’ resurrection with the abundant scientific proof that dead bodies do not reanimate?