I hope to have our next Forum on the ways Christians can think about and discuss the issues of modern science and the content of our faith. As any of you in college, technical careers, or basically any situation where you speak with informed people will be able to attest to, it’s another essential issue for us to be able to share the gospel in our day. As part of my preliminary preparation for thinking through these issues, I’m reading through Verb Poythress’ book Redeeming Science. While (as is the case with any book like this) I wouldn’t necessarily agree with every last detail of how he looks at these things, so far it is an immensely helpful book, and I recommend it for anyone in, or going into, any field related to science. Really, it’s just a good book for any of us to read.
Like just about all of Poythress’ books, he gives this one away for free if you want to download a pdf. You can get it here: Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (pdf)
You’ll probably see a bunch of quotes from it here, since it’s so quite-worthy. Today and next week I’ll post two of his discussions of an interesting issue: Sometimes people say that if God had made the universe in any way other than by allowing it to actually take all 14 Billion years or so to develop (since that’s how old it appears to modern scientists) than He would have been deceiving us by creating a universe that looks older than it really is. Poythress has some great thoughts on this. Enjoy…
Consider [an] example of apparent age. Since the garden of Eden was a healthy garden, it seems logical to infer that it had a normal, healthy soil. Soil, as we now know it, contains decaying organic matter from dead plants. Bacteria and soil-dwelling creatures like earthworms work over this matter and contribute to making a healthy soil in which new plants grow. So the soil in the garden would have the necessary organic matter and the bacteria, even if God in fact prepared the garden and its soil over a period of seconds or hours rather than the many years that it takes to generate soil by gradual processes.
But now a more nuanced objection arises: mature structures are not a problem, but records or traces of earlier apparent events from an unreal (ideal) past are a problem. This kind of objection acknowledges that Adam and Eve were created mature, and that other items, like the soil in the Garden of Eden, or the trees in the garden, may have been created mature. A mature structure is not innately deceitful. But for the objector it still seems deceitful for a mature structure to contain within it evidence that appears to point to specific past events. For instance, if Adam had a belly button, it would point to a specific event in which as a newly born baby his umbilical cord had been cut. The presence of a belly button would therefore be deceitful, like a road sign pointing to a detour that was really just a dead-end street. Likewise, decaying organic matter in the soil, such as a piece of decaying oak leaf, would be deceitful because it would falsely point to earlier events involving the growth of the leaf on an oak tree and the dropping of the leaf to the ground. The trees in the garden of Eden could be full-sized. But the objector would not accept rings within the trunk indicating a succession of seasons, or a knot indicating where a branch had fallen off, because such things would deceitfully point to unreal events in an unreal past.
In reply, let us first observe that the analogy with a detour sign glosses over an important distinction. A detour sign, as a kind of symbolic extension of human language, involves a human commitment to express a symbolic meaning. We know what it means.
But a ring on a tree or a decaying leaf is not part of a human symbol system. It has meaning within the plan of God, but that meaning remains hidden in God until some human being discerns meaning and truth on the basis of the tree ring.
Meaning and truth, as symbol-laden realities, must be inferred, and the inferences always depend on a host of assumptions and a framework for interpretation. Precisely these assumptions and frameworks are in question when the theory of mature creation postulates a newly born mature world. Mature creation says that, given the doctrine of creation, we must not invoke our usual assumptions when examining alleged evidence for a remote past.
[Vern Poythess, Redeeming Science, p.118-119]