Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dembski kerfuffle

Tom Ascol, over at the Founders blog, has documented an odd kerfuffle involving Dembski, Nettles, and Patterson. On the face of it, this is rather puzzling.

1. To my knowledge, Dembski has never made a secret about the fact that he subscribes to OEC rather than YEC. Didn't SWBTS know that when they hired him?

2. By the same token, OEC tends to be a package, just like YEC. Just as YEC typically subscribes to a global flood, OEC typically subscribes to a local flood. So why would it come as any surprise that Dembski subscribes to or inclines to a local flood interpretation?

3. After Nettles highlighted this and other issues, Dembski issued a public retraction: “If I were to write The End of Christianity now, I would do several things differently. At the top of the list of things I would change is its problematic treatment of Genesis 4–11. The book’s main focus is Genesis 1–3, and my argument for _the retroactive effects of the Fall_ does not require going beyond these first three chapters. Yet, in a brief section on Genesis 4–11, I weigh in on the Flood, raising questions about its universality, without adequate study or reflection on my part. Before I write on this topic again, I have much exegetical, historical, and theological work to do. In any case, not only Genesis 6–9 but also Jesus in Matthew 24 and Peter in Second Peter seem clearly to teach that the Flood was universal. As a biblical inerrantist, I believe that what the Bible teaches is true and bow to the text, including its teaching about the Flood and its universality."

Well, I suppose that, in the age of specialization, this disclaimer is possible. I must say, though, that it strains credulity. He's pushing 50. He has two earned doctorates (from the Ivy Leagues). He has a degree from Princeton Seminary.

He's been immersed in the natural sciences. And his work in ID-theory has forced him to position himself in relation to creation science. So I find it implausible that someone with his scientific curiosity and theological curiosity, at his point in life, doesn't have a considered position on the extent of the flood.

Seems more likely that he caved under pressure from the administration.

I suspect this is what happened. Patterson made his reputation as a staunch inerrantist who helped wrest the SBC from the liberals. Patterson probably found Nettles' review a personal embarrassment. Here’s a dreaded Calvinist in the SBC who’s taking a position to the right of the position taken by a prof. at the seminary where Patterson presides.

As long as Dembski maintained a low profile about his OEC views, all was well. But when a prof. from a rival SBC seminary drew attention to those views, that put Patterson in a bind–since YEC represents his natural constituency. So he tapped David Allen to write a hit-piece on Nettles to deflect attention away frm his own administration.

4. On a different note, it occurs to me that there's an ironic parallel between Dembski's kairotic/chronological time and Gosse's prochronic/diachronic time. In both cases you have historic effects without the antecedent history.


  1. The kairos/chronos distinction is interesting. In a fallen world everything opportune can be said to be done in time but not everything done in time can be said to be opportune. However, from the standpoint of an eternal God to his creation the two words are logically equivalent whether they appear so to us. So I would agree with Nettles on that one. And I tend to agree with the Answers in Genesis line against Gosse's false history theory where God would not create a false history.

    What I have to consider is that the nature of time dilation in the extreme context of creation allows for some mutability of time that most people, including many scientists, don't understand well enough to apply to their origin cosmologies. The six-day creation is relative to the rotation of the earth given a source of light. That's not to say that some moments of temporal distortion couldn't exist at the earth during that day although it's likely that it's not much. Who is to say that the trees God created weren't seedlings with no rings? After all plants won't live long without animal life. However, it's not inconceivable that the rest of the universe could have been created after the earth and aged at a much faster rate.

    Dempski does make a good point I think. It's unlikely that plants and animals were created without the fall in mind as though God was surprised by the fall and had to then go back and quickly equip each living thing in his creation with the biological tools necessary to live in a fallen world. But I don't think that it necessitates some period of long-term speciation requiring death as Dempski seems to suggest.

  2. I don't see why Dembski's OEC views are problematic from an SBC standpoint. SEBTS here in Wake Forest, NC has had profs with OEC views and they aren't asking for their retractions . . .

  3. Dusman,

    I believe that Dembski teaches at SWBTS (in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area), not SEBTS.

  4. Jim said:
    The six-day creation is relative to the rotation of the earth given a source of light.

    This is one of the reasons why I don't hold to a literal-day view in Genesis 1. Since the sun wasn't created until Day 4, then calling the preceding days by the label "day" requires us to reinterpret the notion of what a day is. Even if we say a day is one rotation of the earth relative to a light source other than the sun, that is not what the "plain" surface reading definition of "day" means (which requires the relationship between the earth and the sun).

    Thus, I maintain, that no one really holds to a literal view of the six-days of creation because we have to redefine fully half of the days as something other than the "plain" meaning of the word "day."

    (Oh, and for readers who are unaware, I should point out that I am still agnostic and apathetic as to the actual age of the Earth. I don't believe exegesis requires a YEC interpretation of Genesis (indeed, I think exegesis shows that Genesis is completely unconcerned with the matter); but I also find enough problems with the science involved that I don't trust the "scientific" determination of how old the Earth is either. In neither case does the age of the Earth impact any core theology, however. Thus, I remain agnostic and apathetic there.)

  5. Peter,

    I'd also consider myself an agnostic. But in regards to your comments on "day", isn't it possible that the text is speaking anachronistically or something along those lines?

    On March 19th Patrick Chan posted a link to some resources from GPTS discussing the creationist issue. One of the speakers (I don't remember who) pointed out that for "three days" the sun didn't shine in Egypt. Presumably, the fact that the normal relationship between the sun and the earth was not present doesn't (or wouldn't) prevent us from knowing that the period of time of darkness in Egypt was about three days as we would measure it had the sun and earth been in a normal relationship.

    (I guess the same point could be made with the sun "standing still" in Josh. 10. Of course, this doesn't mean that the sun literally stood still, but at the very least it seems to imply that the sun and earth stood in some abnormal relationship for that period, which is all that we would need to make the point. Some abnormal circumstance existed in how a day is usually measured, yet the biblical author still applies the standard measurement to it.)

    So I don't see how the fact that the sun didn't exist during some of the creation "days" necessitates us to measure the span as something other than what we now (or the Hebrews then) consider(ed) a normal day.

  6. Jonathan,

    Those are relevant questions, and I would grant to any YEC that it is certainly possible that the time reference is used anachronistically. However, I find it far more probable that the text is speaking typologically (which is the term I prefer to "figuratively", given that typology is a specific type of figurative language).

    The first thing I would note from Genesis 1 is that the portrayal of parallel days (i.e., 1 -> 4, 2 -> 5, and 3 -> 6) indicates something very important. It reminds me a lot of the way computer programmers approach a new program. You start with a header section where you declare and define your variables, and then later you use them. And that seems to be the method God uses in Genesis 1. Speaking more philosophically, God moves from the abstract in days 1 - 3 to the concrete in days 4 - 6. Thus, light and dark are "defined" abstractly in day 1, whereas the sun (a concrete object) is created in day 4 as a specific object to "rule" that abstraction.

    Now it is easily demonstrated from the Ten Commandments themselves that the six days of work followed by a seventh of rest is patterned off Creation. However, I find it more important to note that the purpose for the Sabbath is that the 7th day of rest itself points to our eternal Sabbath's rest in Heaven, as shown in the book of Hebrews. I also find it interesting that the six days of work are "closed" by the phrase "there was evening and there was morning" but the seventh day is not. To me, this implies that we are currently still within the seventh day of Creation--which makes sense seeing as how God is not actively creating right now, and which I think also fits with the fact that while species go extinct, and while there is some limited evolution within species (i.e. dog breeds from a single common ancestor), there are no new species being formed on Earth. In other words, extinctions occur and creatures die out, but God is not creating anything new.

    All that to say, I believe the primary reason Genesis 1 was even written is to establish the concept of the Sabbath; and that remains true regardless of whether we deal with literal 24-hour "days" or not. Virtually anything else that Genesis 1 establishes is likewise established in Genesis 2.

    And if I were to take off my exegetical hat and put on my physics hat (as well as my "pure speculation" hat), I don't believe time exists as anything other than God's granting us a subjective experience. That is, there's no such thing as an "objective time" and God Himself is not time-bound. I would therefore speculate that there was no time "before" (for lack of a better word) Adam was created, and thus the length of days would be moot. Again, that's my speculation and I don't begrudge anyone who thinks I'm an idiot on that point :-)

  7. Oh, I also meant to address the Egypt comment. The plagues in Egypt were localized events. That is, the Nile ran red with blood and not the Euphrates, etc. And therefore, even in the context of all of Egypt covered in darkness, there was still an outside observer (so to speak) who could see the rotation of the Earth--or, from their point of view, the sun passing overhead--for that length of time. This is different from there not being any sun at all.

  8. Thanks for laying out your view. I think C. John Collins argues for something similar in the earlier mentioned lectures.

    Of course I agree that the Egypt event is different than there not being a sun, but at some level I think the point by the YEC still works. I doubt that the Israelites in general or the author of Exodus in particular had a heliocentric model of our solar system (although I guess solar system is a bit anachronistic itself). So it seems that anyway we spin it, the Israelite's concept of measuring a normal day would not be the same as ours. But this doesn't mean that when I say "yesterday" and an ancient Israelite says "yesterday" that we must mean two different things because we have two different ways in which we understand how a day is measured. Of course it's possible that we mean two different things, but that doesn't seem probably to me.

    Likewise, I can imagine some supernatural instance in which God ceases the existence of the sun on April 1, 2010 and then re-creates it on April 2, 2010. But just because our standard, roughly, for measuring that duration has ceased to exist for that period of time doesn't seem to add any weight to some later Triablog reader interpreting me analogically (or some other non-literal way) on April 3rd, 2010 because "the sun didn't exist for such a time to be measured, after all."

    In other words, I think the YEC creationist successfully makes the point that the sun is just the normal mechanism by which we measure some length of time called a day. I'm not that knowledgeable about how time was measured in the ANE, but I assume that they didn't have any concept of a second and they had no device (a watch or clock), as far as I know, to measure a second (or if they did then I can change the analogy to a nanosecond). But I don't see why I couldn't speak of some event in the ANE literally happening within the span of a second, despite there not yet existing a mechanism that could make that span intelligible to the ANEastener.

  9. I think you misunderstood my statement there (which is understandable). I'm not saying that "in the absence of the sun there will be no such thing as time." Right now, time is basically measured by physical motion, and we don't even measure it by the sun anymore (most clocks measure it by the frequency of vibrations in quartz crystals). In theory, you could measure time by any repetitive motion, so long as it was consistent (but that opens up a can of worms too--what if it's not consistent but you think it is? etc.)

    My ultimate point would be that when it comes to Genesis 1, the stated measurement is in relation to "evening" and "morning" and yet evening is the setting of the sun and morning is the rising of the sun, and the sun didn't exist until the fourth "day". Thus, no matter what position you take, you're not using those terms literally because there is no literal object in the sky to reference.

    As to my speculation about time, I am more than happy to write more on that :-D First, I believe that in order for time to exist, there must be a subject to perceive it. For example, the rocks in my driveway have no concept of time. It doesn't exist to them.

    Secondly, God is not that subject since God exist eternally (that is, He is not time-bound). It is just as meaningless to talk about an hour of God's time as it is to talk about an hour of a rock's time (this is why a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day--because time is meaningless, in and of itself, for God).

    Third, that means that the subjects who experience time are human beings. Of course, it's possible other creatures do too--perhaps a dog can understand rudimentary levels of time such as "not now". But I think that time is primarily a human thing. It's something God invented for humans. And we run into errors when we try to take this subjective experience of time and try to force it outside the limits of its duration.


  10. Think of it this way. If time is based on the motion of objects, suppose that every object in the universe suddenly begins to move at half-speed. This includes not only the rotation of the Earth, but also the speed of light, the speed at which you process visual information, the speed at which you think, etc. If every thing in motion changed its velocity in exactly the same way, you would experience no difference whatsoever. But if that happened to everyone *EXCEPT* you, it would seem that time is going twice as fast for you as it is for everyone else.

    Now, suppose that there is a universal, objective time in God's mind. He creates the universe and wants the universe to become exactly like it should be in at the end of God's Objective Day 6. Suppose that reaching that state requires the Earth to rotate one billion times around its axis. God could certainly make it so that all the motion of all the objects in the entire universe consistently speed up so that at the end of God's Objective Day 6, the Earth has rotated one billion times. Now, you're on the Earth at the end of Objective Day 6 and yet it seems to you that the Earth has spun around its axis one billion times since you got there. That would mean the Earth is one billion days old; yet in God's Objective Time, only six days have passed. Which view is right?

    Well, since we defined God's time as Objective, then God's view would be right. Of course, that definition is just for the sake of argument--God is not in time and there's no such thing as an objective time for Him. Naturally, He knows what time *I* think it is in my current "now", but He is not here in time with me, bound to wait for the future to arrive.

    And so, therefore, I don't think there was any time before Adam existed. The earth existed before that time began, and God knows the number of rotations the Earth took before Adam was formed--but that doesn't make time itself real until there was a subject within time to experience it.

  11. Peter Pike: "(Oh, and for readers who are unaware, I should point out that I am still agnostic and apathetic as to the actual age of the Earth. I don't believe exegesis requires a YEC interpretation of Genesis (indeed, I think exegesis shows that Genesis is completely unconcerned with the matter); but I also find enough problems with the science involved that I don't trust the "scientific" determination of how old the Earth is either. In neither case does the age of the Earth impact any core theology, however. Thus, I remain agnostic and apathetic there.)"

    Hi Peter,

    Are you agnostic and apathetic about the Global Flood vs. Local Flood debate too? Or have you taken a position on that one? I'd like to hear your views.

  12. I think it was global to the original audience, which means it submerged their entire known world. But whether that extends to the entire unknown world too is a different question. I think a "local" flood (local only from our perspective, mind you) is all you can prove exegetically.