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.
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