Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Clarion and Creation Science

Clarion describes itself as “The Canadian Reformed Magazine.” This does not mean, it is true, that it is the official denominational magazine of our churches. Nevertheless, many a reader, both at home and abroad, considers it as such. And the magazine itself admits that, “with contributions coming mostly from our own ministers, it endeavours to provide Reformed articles, aimed primarily at our Canadian/American Reformed church membership.” It is not surprising, therefore, that various readers tend to give it an official status. In other words, whatever Clarion’s editors and writers appear to stand for is, for them, what the Canadian Reformed Churches stand for.

Not all Clarion’s articles deal with theology, of course. A good deal of attention has also been devoted in recent years to such subjects as the relation between faith and science and especially to the controversy about the interpretation of Genesis 1, the age of the earth, the extent of the flood, and similar matters. As far as we know, Clarion does not have an official position on these issues, and in the past it did accept articles from various perspectives within the Reformed tradition. For the last six years or so this is no longer the case. Only articles promoting young-earth creationism are published, the rest is being censored. (It was this change in policy that led us to the establishment of our blog in 2009.)

We did not cease, however, in our attempts to publish in Clarion as well. The reputation of our churches is important to us and we want to show to the readers of Clarion that not all members of our churches are creation-scientists or approve of the questionable manner in which this issue is sometimes promoted in Clarion. More importantly, we are anxious to reach those among our church members who depend for their information largely on what is published in Clarion, and show them that the teachings in this magazine on these specific matters are often neither biblical nor in accordance with Reformed teachings. We fear, in fact, that, not least because of the policy of Clarion, our churches are more and more sliding into a literalistic, fundamentalist view of both the Bible itself and of the relationship between Scripture and modern science. Various articles to warn against such a slide have been posted on our blog, but we fear that some of the readers of Clarion may not have access to the blog, or have been taught that it cannot be trusted.

Our repeated attempts to publish letters or articles in Clarion have all been fruitless, however. The latest such attempt was made in connection with an article by the Rev. Klaas Stam, a frequent advocate of young-earth creationism, in the September 25, 2015 issue. Because we are convinced that the teachings promoted in this article give rise to some serious questions, one of us sent an article to Clarion in response. When the editor replied once again that he “must decline to publish it” and did not respond to further letters from us, we at last decided to post it on the blog. We sincerely hope that it may contribute to a serious, informed, and balanced discussion among us of the policies which Clarion — and by implication our churches? — is following. We also hope very much that the one-sided policy by Clarion will be reconsidered.

The following article was submitted to Clarion, but was refused. See above.

by Freda Oosterhoff

What follows is inspired by Rev. Klaas Stam’s article ‘Bible and Science: More than a book review’ in Clarion, September 25, 2015. Stam introduces a book here by the well-known American author Henry Morris (1918-2006). Morris is one of the fathers of scientific creationism (or creation science). With John C. Whitcomb, Jr., he wrote The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications (1961) — a book that played a major role in establishing creation science as we know it. The book that Stam introduces is a different work by Morris, namely his Science and the Bible of 1986, an update of an earlier edition.

Stam speaks well of Morris and heartily recommends his book to the readers of Clarion. He admits that perhaps a question could be raised about Morris’s use of the Bible, at least in one case, but concludes that that is a theological matter which does not touch upon the essence of the book and therefore can be ignored. After all, as Morris wrote, “The purpose of this book…is to win people to a genuine faith in Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, and the Bible as the Word of God, and to help strengthen the faith of those who already believe” (from the book’s Preface, quoted by Stam). And indeed, who would not applaud such a goal?

The important thing is of course whether Morris accomplishes this purpose, and on that point there are serious questions. I am not referring now to his scientific theories, except to say that not only unbelieving scientists but also various orthodox scholars, including Reformed ones, disagree with Morris and other creation scientists on their scientific ideas. This should be well-known among us. In earlier years Clarion itself has written about it. I am sorry that Stam does not acknowledge this, but again, it is not my main concern at this time. What I do want to draw attention to is Morris’s use of the Bible and, in that connection, to serious objections that can be and indeed have been raised against that aspect of his work. In outlining some of these objections I will refer to work by the late professor Jaap Kamphuis (1921-2011), a Dutch theologian of undoubted orthodoxy who for several years taught at the theological seminary in Kampen.

I will be referring to a number of articles Kamphuis wrote on the topic in the Reformed magazine De Reformatie. He begins the series with a review of Morris’s study The Twilight of Evolution, published in 1963 (De Reformatie, Oct. 18, 1969). Admittedly this is not the book Stam refers to in Clarion, but since Morris’s views had, as far as I know, not really changed over the years, we may assume that Kamphuis’s criticisms apply to both books — at least as far as his main ideas are concerned.

Morris’s use of the Bible

Kamphuis makes clear that he of course agrees with Morris’s ultimate aim: the defence of Scripture. He further declares himself to be, again like Morris, an absolute ‘anti-evolutionist’ and he agrees with him on a number of other points. But there is criticism as well. While admitting that Morris’s respect for Scripture is not to be doubted, Kamphuis concludes that nevertheless he often uses the Bible ‘irreverently’ (oneerbiedig) — namely by mis-employing Bible texts to confirm his anti-evolutionist arguments. By doing so, Kamphuis argues, he cuts the branch on which he himself is sitting, namely the infallibility of the Bible.

For example, Morris describes the steps of the water cycle — from the evaporation of ocean waters through the process of condensation, rain, the refreshment of the earth, and then finally back to the oceans — with reference, for each step, to a specific Bible text. (To illustrate briefly: for the evaporation of the ocean water he refers to Ps. 135:7, its move to the land to Eccl. 1:6, its condensation to Prov. 8:26, its formation into water drops and clouds, to Job 26:8, and so on: 7 steps and 7 isolated Bible texts in all.) His aim? To prove, in essence, that the Bible teaches modern science and is a reliable scientific textbook. Meanwhile the true message of Scripture, Kamphuis points out, remains hidden, namely the proclamation of God’s majesty as displayed in the work of his hands, which the texts that Morris quotes in fact proclaim.

There are other and even stranger examples of Morris’s objectionable use of the Bible, such as his teaching that Satan personally discovered the evolution theory (and that he used it as a justification of his rebellion against God), as well as the statement that by divine providence verse 8 of Psalm 118 is the central verse of the Bible. (Morris does not seem to have realized that the Bible books were not originally divided into chapters and verses, or that the present sequence of the Bible books does not correspond to their original sequence.) Kamphuis calls this sort of argumentation ‘juggling’ (goochelen) and suggests that it is as harmful to the Christian faith as the theory of evolution.

But quite apart from these special cases, Morris’s entire approach, Kamphuis says, is dangerous. The Bible speaks to us about our creation, the depth of our fall into sin, and the redemption we have in Christ Jesus; this is altogether different from attempting to prove that it serves to ‘confirm natural laws which are beyond all doubt’ (Kamphuis, p. 23). They are of course only beyond all doubt, as Kamphuis adds between parentheses, until hey appear to be wrong after all! Indeed, he concludes, Morris’s type of ‘exegesis’ does nothing at all to strengthen the Christian position against evolutionism; quite the contrary. Moreover, it makes our belief in the infallibility of the Bible dependent on our ongoing success in proving that the teachings of Scripture are in agreement with modern laws of nature.

The extent of the Flood

So much for the review proper. In subsequent editions of De Reformatie (see especially those of Nov. 22 and Nov. 29, 1969) Kamphuis turns to another aspect of scientific creationism, namely its defence of the global extent of the Genesis flood. This is a major argument in supporting its belief that the earth is quite young — some 6,000 to 10,000 years in age, rather than the billions of years acknowledged by most scientists. According to creation-science most of the geological features of the entire earth have been shaped by a global Noahic flood which took place some 5,000 years ago.

Of course, the account in Genesis 7 and 8 seems at first glance to support the idea of a global flood. It states that every living thing that moved on the face of the earth was wiped out and that all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered with water. Is Morris, and creation science in general, not right in stressing the flood’s universality? Kamphuis does not think so. He points out that Abraham Kuyper already dealt with this matter and, with reference to several Bible texts from both the Old and the New Testament, showed that the expression ‘the entire world’ in the Bible very often refers simply to the world as known to the human author. For example, when it says in John 12:19 that ‘the whole world’ followed Jesus this does not mean that the inhabitants of the entire earth, including for example the Americas, knew and followed him. It simply refers to the part of the world that came into contact with Jesus. And so in the Genesis account also the expression ‘the entire earth’ may well refer to only that part of the earth that was known to Noah. (For other examples of the limited usage of this phrase in the Bible see, inter alia, Gen. 41:57, John 21:25, Lamentations 4:12, 1 Kings 4:34, Rom. 1:8, Rom. 10:18 — and there are many more.) An additional argument against the flood’s global extent is that Genesis 7 and 8 seem to suggest that Ararat was among the highest mountains, although we know of many mountains elsewhere that far exceed Ararat in height.

This pre-occupation with the scientific accuracy and up-to-dateness of the Bible at the same time threatens to close our eyes to the truth, Kamphuis points out, that in the flood the Lord brought covenant judgment upon the earth. And also to the teaching that the flood must be seen as symbolizing baptism (1 Peter 3:21). How much do we miss when studying God’s Word by concentrating on its assumed agreement with modern science?

Where do we go from here?

Both Kuyper and Kamphuis mention further difficulties, exegetical and otherwise, to which belief in a truly global flood would give rise. They are very much worth considering and I wish I could mention them. I am in danger, however, of running out of space and still need to make some concluding remarks, so I will have to refrain. I will try to be brief in my conclusions.

Firstly. Creation science is very popular among us Canadian Reformed people today and I fully understand why. Years ago I myself turned to it when desperately looking for a defence of the biblical faith against the claims of atheistic scholarship. Arguments like those used by Kamphuis and Kuyper, as well as Bavinck, Aalders, Schilder, and many other scholars of various professions — all of them anti-evolutionists! — convinced me, however, that Morris and his allies could not help me. Study of science and of the history of science had the same effect, and so did the work of orthodox Christian scholars both outside and within our church community who valiantly tackled the religious implications of the theory of evolution itself.

Secondly. I also more and more came into contact with fellow-believers who shared my concerns, and I learned from them that scientific creationism can be as much of a danger as atheistic evolutionism. We are usually told that the teaching of evolution in our secondary schools must be avoided at all costs and that our students must be immunized against it by being taught scientific creationism. I know that this helps some, but I also know that others, those who read perhaps more critically and/or are better acquainted with actual modern science, are in danger of losing their faith when they learn that creation science, although it claims to be biblical, does not solve their problems but rather increases them. My question is: hasn’t this group been left in the lurch? I am also afraid that ‘outsiders’ who are drawn by the gospel will hesitate to join the church if they are told to believe what creation science teaches.

Thirdly. In the past, Reformed theologians tended openly to deal with the difficulties raised by a literalistic reading of Genesis. Calvin himself did so, for example with his theory of accommodation, and as I already mentioned, later theologians have followed his example. They have not necessarily solved every problem, but they have made serious attempts and shown Christian scientists that they are not alone after all. Even more importantly, they have assured them and their students that the certainty of God’s promises for us does not depend on our ability to balance biblical ‘prooftexts’ with the findings of modern science.

Fourthly. It is high time, I am convinced, to issue warnings against an inerrantist view of the Bible, one that has, unfortunately, been much promoted among us in recent years. The traditional Reformed belief has always been that the Bible is infallible, meaning that it is altogether trustworthy, containing all that we need to know ‘in this life, to his glory and our salvation’ (Belg. Conf., art. 2; see also art. 7). Inerrantism on the other hand teaches that the Bible is without any factual errors in the modern-scientific meaning of that term; that it contains no ‘mistakes’ in quotations, no ‘discrepancies’ in for example genealogies, and no ‘errors’ of memory, of grammar, of word choice, of historical and scientific information and description, and so on. According to inerrantists, the Bible can be proven to be accurate, again in the modern-scientific meaning of that term. Creation scientists need this to support their theories. But is such a Bible, one that is in fact first and foremost a system of ‘objective scientific truths’, the same as the Scriptures we receive as God’s covenant message to us? To ask this question is to answer it.

So let us please follow the example of our ancestors and freely and openly talk again about these matters, trying to help each other. You may ask if such a discussion is not risky? No doubt it is, but ignoring the difficulties or covering them up with fallacious arguments is, as I have been arguing, far riskier still.