Battling Baptists: Young or Old Earth?

The article we found today in the Florida Baptist Witness provides a fascinating glimpse into a debate that seems to be raging within the Southern Baptist denomination. We would ordinarily give you a few excerpts from HOW OLD? Age of Earth debated among SBC scholars. However, other than a link, their “terms of use” may prohibit excerpts. So instead, we’ll just tell you in our own words what they have to say.

They begin by discussing William Dembski, about whom we’ve written before (see, for example, Dembski’s Creationist Revival Meeting, and also William Dembski’s Challenge to Ken Starr).

According to the article in the Witness, there’s a big debate about the age of the earth among Southern Baptist scholars. They talk about a book by Dembski which argues that the universe is — gasp! — billions of years old, and death existed long before Adam and Eve sinned. They say Dembski claims The Fall had a retroactive effect, which was the cause of all the death and decay in an old earth before Adam and Eve.

Dembski seems to say that supernatural retro-activity is a familiar concept, because the same thing brought salvation to those who lived long before Jesus. This is Dembski’s attempt to reconcile the views of young-earth creationists with the scientific evidence showing that the earth is quite old.

The article also says that Dembski had once argued that Noah’s Flood was a local event limited to the Middle East. That was so controversial that he has since dropped the idea and he now claims that the Flood was global.

Then the article discusses those who disagree with Dembski, including one Tom Nettles, professor of historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Nettles wrote a review of Dembski’s book in which he says that science shouldn’t override the plain meaning of scripture.

Another opinion comes from David Allen, dean of Southwestern’s School of Theology, who defends Dembski as being “within the bounds of orthodoxy.” He seems to suggest that Dembski saved his Baptist reputation by reversing his position on Noah’s Flood.

Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson, a young-earther, disagrees with Dembski’s old-earth position, but finds find’s Dembski’s flip-flop on the Flood to be reassuring. Apparently, being an old-earther is grudgingly tolerable, but denying the global effect of the Flood would be going too far for Baptist orthodoxy. Patterson also thinks that theistic evolution is entirely unacceptable (but Dembski never went that far astray).

Then Patterson says this, which is important: He thinks that “young- and old-earth creationists banding together to combat evolution is more important than internal debates among creationists.” So he’s in favor of a limited big tent, one which can accommodate old-earthers, as long as they’re still creationists.

The article then discusses Albert Mohler Jr., about whom we’ve written a few times before, most recently here: Albert Mohler and the Age of the Universe. Mohler is a hard-core young-earth, young-universe creationist. He’s wary of old-earth creationists because their views can create problems for belief in the historical Adam and Eve.

There’s a lot more in the Witness article, and we think it’s worth reading. Dembski — although he’s entirely ridiculous from the viewpoint of evolutionary biology — is causing much debate, albeit in a limited area. We think this is significant. If even that small amount of disagreement is tolerable within Dembski’s denomination, who knows what they may be willing to debate tomorrow?

This is both a problem and a promise, depending on one’s point of view. The problem is that the traditional, anti-science orthodoxy of the Southern Baptists may one day be abandoned. The promise is that yet another denomination may embrace reality and be added to the National Center for Science Education’s growing list of Statements from Religious Organizations supporting evolution.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “Battling Baptists: Young or Old Earth?

  1. If even that small amount of disagreement is tolerable within Dembski’s denomination, who knows what they may be willing to debate tomorrow?

    Dancing?

  2. They don’t seem to be too concerned with Dembski’s protestations that his ID “work” is all about science, only with whether he is sufficiently driven by their theology or if he must be considered to be unorthodox in theology.

    As the ICR put it, maybe Dembski is a secular creationist, at least to the Baptists. At least he’s creationist, which is surely a lot better than being an evilutionist.

  3. I think Dembski is a victim of Viewpoint Discrimination. He should sue.

  4. “Had I had any inkling that Dr. Dembski was actually denying the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible, then that would have, of course, ended his relationship with the school,”
    Ah ha……..EXPELLED!
    ____________________________________________________
    retroactive punishment…………..Never heard that term before.
    Wow! Their God is one cruel sucker! Go back a billion years and
    destroy life again…….. because Adam did what again?

  5. Adam ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Evidently, based on the bible, God really, really, didn’t want Adam or Eve to have knowledge of good and evil.

    Apparently it wasn’t very effective fruit anyway, else when god lectured people later in the bible about good or evil, they would naturally have said “yeah, yeah, we know that already, ok? Remember that fruit?”

  6. For people interested in the views of Dembski, I suggest reading this:

    http://www.baptisttheology.org/documents/AReplytoTomNettlesReviewofDembskisTheEndofChristianity.pdf

    “A Reply to Tom Nettles’ Review of William A Dembski’s _The End of Christianity .._”
    Dr. David L. Allen

    In this, there is quoted a “Clarification Regarding My Book _The End of Christianity_”.

  7. Dembski seems to say that supernatural retro-activity is a familiar concept…

    Dembski you idiot, of course its familiar. You’ve just repeated the omphalos theory with a H.G. Wells twist to it.

    Ed: Apparently it wasn’t very effective fruit anyway, else when god lectured people later in the bible about good or evil…

    That’s an amusing point, and one I hadn’t heard before. Thanks!

  8. With the caveat that I have only read Dembski’s words as quoted by the “kind” of people who never miss an opportunity to quote mine, it seems quitle clear that Dembski’s “retraction” in conceding a global flood is strictly of the “Omphalos” justification. IOW he still agrees that there is no evidence of a global flood, and that it must be taken on “faith.” Of couse that loophole can “justify” any alternate “theory” including Last Thurdsayism.

    Dembski is probably the shrewdest wordsmith of all the theocratic anti-science activists. If anyone can unite the YECs, OECs (common descent-accepting, denying and uncertain varieties) and “new agey” pseudoskeptics, he can. So I warn fellow critics using Dembski’s own phrase: “Don’t take the bait” and ass-u-me that he is a closet YEC. He is almost certainly not, and if anything, he could be a closet “Darwinist.” But he is well aware that heliocentric YEC sells best among the “masses,” so he’ll say anything he can to keep them in the big tent, knowing quite well that they, if not YEC leaders, are quite tolerant of any sound bite that bad-mouths “Darwinism.”

  9. Gabriel Hanna

    Dembski is probably the shrewdest wordsmith of all the theocratic anti-science activists.

    My vote goes to David Berlinksi. Endless hair-splitting and quibbling larded with rhetorical tricks which were old when the Sophists were teaching them.

  10. Gabrial Hanna: “My vote goes to David Berlinksi.”

    He might be the slipperiest one with his critics, but his admission of being agnostic would not sell well to the “masses.”

  11. Gabriel Hanna

    but his admission of being agnostic would not sell well to the “masses.”

    He claims to accept common descent too, but never says anything in support of it. He claims to be agnostic, yet sides with religious believers at every point. His statements are never made in good faith.

  12. Dembski has in the past repeatedly said that ID is not creationism and that he was not a ‘creationist ’ per se. He lied. He has now admitted that he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, an actual 6 day creation, Adam and Eve were real humans as described in Genesis, etc., etc. He may have had to adopt the Statement of Faith of his seminary to save his job? For those who have not seen the latest news, check PZ’s post (20 October 2010) linked below.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/10/are_we_at_all_surprised.php

  13. cnocspeireag

    How do you get to be a ‘scholar’ in this company?
    I believe in the inerrancy of the phlogiston theory and totally reject the ‘oxygen’ hypothesis foisted upon a credulous establishment by Scheele, the liberal Priestley and the commie Lavoisier. After all, I’ve never seen the ‘oxygen’ of priestleyism. Priesteyists point to an empty glass jar or an opaque steel cylinder and say ‘it’s there’. The inerrant phlogiston theory must be held above any mortally obtained evidence.
    Weeeee me scholar too! Nurse, Nurse….Nurse?

  14. Probably most folks here aren’t interested in this, but one of the things that Dembski is quoted as accepting is Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. That is about as extreme as one can get in Bible scholarship.

  15. Gabriel Hanna

    That is about as extreme as one can get in Bible scholarship.

    Yeah, it’s hard to explain how Moses wrote down the account of his own death, or why he’d describe himself as the most humble person ever. It’s not an extreme religious view, though.

    Anyway, with these guys the mask is slipping. If they don’t become overtly religious they will lose their funding, I think.

  16. One standard reply to the examples that you give, and some others, is that Moses didn’t write each and every word of the Pentateuch. For example, that Joshua wrote the final chapter of Deuteronomy (it’s mentioned in the final chapter of the Book of Joshua that Joshua wrote something in the Law). The total of the verses which are paradoxical amount to only a small fraction of the Pentateuch.

    Another standard reply is that Moses wrote the Pentateuch on the dictation of God, so Moses could write about his own death, or anything else that was in the future (such as the institution of kings of Israel).

    It is true that it is an old tradition that Moses wrote Genesis through Deuteronomy, so it is not a modern innovation like so many other fundamentalist beliefs. But I think that it is fair to say that there is no evidence or reasoning to back up that belief.

  17. Lauri Lebo points out, in this article, that Dembski would have been Expelled! but for his recantation of his Noah’s Flood remarks, and the Discoveroids “have not raised a peep.”

  18. Dembski would have been Expelled! but for his recantation of his Noah’s Flood remarks, and the Discoveroids “have not raised a peep.”

    Wait until their next movie, and the next flurry of books. Then wait for the next round, then the next, and on and on.

    Believe me, they’ll protest such heavy-handed tactics as quickly as they’ll produce solid evidence for ID!