Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The Quest

Recently I read The Quest: Exploring Creation's Hardest Problems (Compass Classroom 2018), by Dr. Todd Wood. He's an interesting thinker. Something of a maverick. One of the brightest minds in young-earth creationism. In a way he's too smart for his own good, which will get you into trouble. I don't mean that as a putdown. Independent thinkers don't make good team-players.

It can take heroic dedication and personal sacrifice to be a creation scientist. While there's a strong theological constituency for that position, it doesn't translate into comparable financial patronage. Unless you're one of the lucky ones who lands a job at a fundamentalist university or creationist organization, it's hard to eke out a living–as Wood and Kurt Wise both know from personal experience. 

Years ago I corresponded with Walt Brown, which made me aware of rival factions within young-earth creationism. That also makes it harder to have a career as a creation scientist. And not just young-earth creationism. Look what William Dembski was subjected to. 

In chap. 1, Wood discusses José de Acosta, a 16C Spanish Jesuit missionary to Latin American who struggled to reconcile the native fauna with a global flood. 

Summarizing Barbour, he mentions four divergent models on the relationship between faith and science. 

He mentions that Asians and Caucasians share DNA from Neandertals, which means Asians and Caucasians share a common ancestor in Neandertals.

In chap. 2 he discusses Australopithecus sediba, which is a particular interest to him. The prima facie challenge this poses for creationism is that sediba has a humanoid skull but an apish skeleton. As such, it resembles a transitional form or "missing link". He has some useful comparative charts (pp24-25). And he mentions other fossil animals that appear to be intermediates. 

In-between chaps 2-3, he has an interlude where he discusses how Redwoods create their own environment.

In chap. 3, he explains how he remains a creationist or Christian:

Because of my own personal, purely subjective, non-transferable experiences with the risen Jesus Christ, my savior…I also think I have good reasons for recognizing the hand of God in my life, even though it is my own subjective experience…More often, though, I've encountered him in the smallest, most inconsequential details that only I notice. I can't explain them. I can't make sense of them.

This seems to be intentionally cryptic. Perhaps he's alluding to answered prayer or, more generally, unexpected special providences. "Coincidences" that are a bit too frequent and convenient to be sheer coincidence.

If that's what he's referring to, then "subjective" is misleading, since that could be something merely psychological. Rather, he may be referring to objective events that have a private coded significance and/or incidents that he alone experienced. There were no other witnesses. Yet he knows what happened to him.

It's also possible for some "purely subjective" experiences to have veridical elements. Take a premonitory dream. That's a psychological phenomenon, but with corresponding corroboration. 

In an interlude between chaps 3-4 he talks about humming birds. 

In chap. 4 he discusses a hermeneutic of accommodation. He considers that a euphemism. He presents a devastating critique of theistic evolutionary hermeneutics (p51), then turns tables on the theistic evolutionist (p52). 

In chap. 5 he outlines his own hermeneutic. Over the past few years he's been reading the church fathers on Genesis because they were ignorant of modern science, so their interpretations supply a prescientific check on reinterpretations of the text that are too self-conscious about how the text relates to modern science. 

He has some "open questions" about the text, like:

• How does the snake talk? Was that normal in the garden?

• If people weren't meat-eaters before the flood, why was Abel a herdsman? 

• Why do the ages in the genealogies (Gen 5, 11) end in nonrandom digits?

• How do the technological innovations of Cain's family correspond to the postdiluvian world? 

In chap 6 he says consilience is what makes the theory of evolution convincing to many scientists. How could so many lines of evidence point to the wrong conclusion? 

So it's not enough for creationists to poke holes in evolution. They must provide consilient replacements. 

However, he goes on to say that if evolution is true, then with all the fossil evidence we now have at our disposal, there ought to be an unbroken chain from subhuman animals to humans, yet that's not what we actually find. Rather, we find discrete groups that don't overlaps. 

Between chaps 6-7, he has an interlude about the startling intelligence of crows. 

In chap 7 he wonders about the source of the accounts in Genesis, and considers different explanations. He also wonders about the relationship between Gen 1 and Gen 2. 

He seems to have some exegetical as well as scientific misgivings about the creationist assumption that there was no animal death before the fall. It may be that he has a firmer commitment to some elements of the creationist package than others. 

In chap 8 he discusses four of the hardest challenges for young-earth creationism. There's the starlight problem. 

There's the radiometric dating problem. Despite isolated exceptions, the issue concerns a general trend. He says the theory of accelerated decay might be a promising solution, although that's not out of the woods. 

A third issue is why different kinds of organisms are so similar at different levels. However, he says the pattern doesn't look like an evolutionary tree. 

Then there's the prima facie problem of how, if we're all descended from Noah's family, human diversity extends so far back into the past. But he has his own hypothesis, consistent with creationism, to explain that.

That's followed by some hortatory chapters. Then there's a select, annotated bibliography. One striking omission is that he doesn't include Jonathan Sarfati's The Genesis Account. Perhaps Wood hasn't read it because he can't afford it on his subsistence income. Or maybe he prefers his own creationist strategies to Sarfati's. Or maybe there's bad blood between them. 

Wood has another book due out next month: a dialogue between himself and theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk. I'm primarily interested in Wood's side of the conversation. 

I'd like to revisit two issues:

1. Regarding Australopithecus sediba, for me that raises the question of why creatures have the body plans they do? To function in a particular environment. Some creatures have more specialized bodies to capitalize on distinctive opportunities provided by a particular environment while other creatures have more adaptable, multi-purpose bodies. Compare an anteater to a raccoon or coyote. Both strategies have tradeoffs.

The point, though, is that a human might have a different kind of body depending on the environment. A body we don't associate with extant humans because that subspecies went extinct. So in principle, some humans, through adaptation, might retain a human skull but develop an apish body to exploit that ecological niche. And some animals might be designed with mixed characteristics from the get-go. 

2. Regarding the starlight conundrum, that depends on how we approach the issue. There are bottom-up types of explanations and top-down types of explanations. 

I once dreamt about a pebbled beach facing a bay. It was sunny but subdued. On the lefthand side were woods. I couldn't see the other side. Dreams sometimes have a funny perspective, where peripheral vision is cropped–like a stage set. There was a shaded country road up the hill. It was a very peaceful setting. But dreams can be frustrating because sometimes you're having a nice dream, then you wake up too soon. You wish the dream lasted longer. You'd like to explore it some more.

Because I woke up, I never saw what was on the other side of the hill. I didn't have a chance to walk up the street. 

So what was on the other side of the hill? Nothing–because I woke up! It was a road that literally led nowhere. The dreamscape ended when the dream ended. Not where but when. 

In dreams, your imagination is making things up as you go along. But suppose that was a recurring dream. Then the dream might continue on the other side of the hill. My imagination delimits the outer limits of the dreamscape. 

Now, I don't think God is dreaming the universe into existence. But there is an analogy. Creation originates as an idea in God's mind. When God makes the world, that's a finite exemplification of his expansive idea. And in that respect, creation is always incomplete, because it's just a sample of God's infinite imagination. The boundaries are artificial. God could always instantiate a larger sample of his imagination, so there's a sense in which creation trails off in many directions that exist in God's mind, but not in the world. The world is a finite representation of God's illimitable imagination. 

1 comment:

  1. I just finished reading through the book last night. I don't find it very helpful. He disparages the idea that theism is rational. I do not see how that will help anyone that approaches these questions with a concern for rational consistency. I agree with him on the pretty horrible state of YEC on scientific questions. It just isn't tenable. I am not sure we need scientific answers though.I just don't know. However, I think Christianity has good evidence elsewhere and that balances out the rational case for the faith. It just seems to me that the world is more complex than we think, and we may not ever have answers to these questions. Maybe he can find some, but until he does it is best to have alternate explanations of Genesis 1-11 and science.

    I think that Hud Hudson is onto something with his hypertime hypothesis. I just finished reading John Hobbin's comments on Genesis 1-11, and he notes that it isn't clear that Eden is a completely "natural" or even a garden that is totally continuous with our world. It seems to me that Eden could have been the testing ground, after Adam fell something like Dembski's retroactive fall happened. It is a metaphysical thesis, but I don't have a problem with that. Scripture gives us the true account of what happened. In a similar way, it seems possible to me that the flood may have totally changed our world, and we should not be looking for natural evidence of natural functioning.