Science and the Bible: Concordism, Part 2

| By Ted Davis on Reading the Book of Nature

In the first half of this column on June 19, I presented four core tenets or assumptions of Concordism. We resume our discussion of that view today with certain conclusions that follow from those assumptions. A short history of Concordism will follow on July 17.

Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)


Some important conclusions of Concordism

(1) Scientific evidence for an old earth is generally reliable and needn’t be refuted.

Unlike the YECs, OECs do not contest the enormous body of evidence showing that the earth and the universe are billions of years old, and that complex, macroscopic life forms have been on this planet for hundreds of millions of years. Quite the opposite. OEC authors often review selected pieces of the evidence, supplemented by arguments about how to read Genesis in light of that evidence, hoping to persuade YEC readers that mainstream scientific conclusions are indeed very well founded and do not contradict the Bible.

Indeed, concordists usually seem to be writing with one eye on YEC readers. Hugh Ross, an outspoken advocate of the day-age view whose views have already been discussed, is probably the most obvious example of such an author today, although many other examples could be given. Thirty-five years ago, when Scientific Creationism was still relatively new, an influential group of evangelical authors very actively pushed progressive creationist interpretations with both eyes on YEC readers. Although obviously dated, their works still have value for those interested in the age of the earth & universe in relation to Genesis.

The late Dan Wonderley taught biology for several years at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, where YEC pioneer John Whitcomb taught at the seminary. A Baptist with master’s degrees in both theology and biology, Wonderley had to resign after his OEC views became publically known. A few years later he published a book, God's Time-Records in Ancient Sediments: Evidences of Long Time Spans in Earth's History(1977), in which he presented his day-age position. Perhaps its most useful feature is the detailed account of scientific evidence unrelated to the radioactive processes that are so often criticized by YEC authors, undermining their credibility for many conservative Christian readers. It’s not that Wonderley denied the validity of radiometric data, but he wanted readers to understand that even if they did not accept such data there was still abundant evidence for the great antiquity of the earth. A revised edition is available here. For a shorter version, see his article, “Non-Radiometric Data Relevant to the Question of Age”. I recommend that interested parties examine these sources and place comments below.

Wonderley’s essay was soon reprinted as an appendix to another important OEC book, Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth (1977), written by astronomer and biblical scholar Robert C. Newman and a scientifically-trained pastor, Herman J. Eckelmann, Jr. The revised edition of this book is also available on the internet. The authors advance an esoteric OEC interpretation of the Genesis “days,” in which each of the six creative “days” was an ordinary day, but vast periods of time are interspersed between them; this is known as the “intermittent day” view. A Reformed scholar who taught New Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA, for thirty-five years, Newman has in recent years been interested in ID. That should not be surprising. Many, perhaps most, ID supporters probably hold to some type of concordism, but this is hard to sort out since ID’s official stance is to keep the Bible out of the conversation, as far as possible. Indeed, to some extent the OEC view has been subsumed within ID, though covertly rather than overtly. I will say more about this in my upcoming columns about ID.

Simultaneously with the books by Wonderley and Newman, geologist Davis A. Young published Creation and the Flood: An Alternative to Flood Geology and Theistic Evolution (1977). Young’s father was a very conservative Presbyterian biblical scholar, the late E. J. Young. In the early 1960s, as an undergraduate at Princeton and a master’s student at Penn State, Davis Young enthusiastically supported Whitcomb and Morris’ flood geology, but he changed his mind as a doctoral student at Brown, subsequently becoming an energetic opponent of the YEC position (Ronald Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, 2006, pp. 304-306). As a professor at Calvin College (now retired), he has written many excellent books and articles combining scientific, historical, and biblical information on the floodthe age of the Earth (and anexpanded version), human antiquity, and even John Calvin's understanding of nature. Young might still be a concordist of some type, but several years ago he gave up the day-age view and many of his later works don’t fit naturally into any of the boxes I’m using in this series. However, his scholarship is impeccable and everything he writes is well worth reading, whether or not it advances a concordist model. The consistently high quality of his work led The Geological Society of America to name him recipient of the Mary C. Rabbitt History of Geology Award in 2009. Creationist Jonathan Sarfati, on the other hand, accuses Young of “poor scholarship and self deception”, while YEC geologist John K. Reed responds to Young and several other conservative Reformed geologists who accept an old earth here.

Incidentally, I met all three of these men (Wonderley, Newman, and Young) not too long after their books came out. We were all involved with the American Scientific Affiliation. Readers who are very serious about Christianity and science should join that excellent organization: there simply is no substitute for the kind of live human interaction they foster. No blog or list-serve can come close to matching it.

(2) Animals died long before the Fall of Adam and Eve.

OECs not only accept the geological evidence for antiquity, they also accept its implications for interpreting Genesis—including its implications for theodicy. Newman didn’t go into this, but Young weighed in extensively in his first book, Creation and the Flood. I’ll leave it as an “assignment” for readers to investigate more fully and make a report to the “class.” Wonderley’s book includes a short appendix on “The Problem of Death Before the Fall of Man” that should be read at this point. OECs today still talk about death before the fall, partly because the absence of animal suffering prior to the fall is absolutely crucial to the YEC view of God and the Bible.

OECs hold similar views about God and the Bible, alongside different views about natural history, so (pardon the pun) they take great pains to explain pain in a manner consistent with their OEC stance. A nice contemporary example is physicist David Snoke, who is also a licensed preacher in a very conservative denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. (I don’t want to digress very far, but let me note in passing that the sin-death issue is especially important to Reformed Christians.) Snoke devotes substantial attention to theodicy in his OEC book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth and in an interesting article, “Why Were Dangerous Animals Created?”. Creationist Lita Cosner calls Snoke’s book “pathetic”, adding that “it takes an amazing amount of arrogance to think that someone can refute young-earth creationism in any kind of detail in a book less than 200 pages long,” despite the fact that dozens of YECs have claimed to “refute” evolution in books that are even shorter!

A recent concordist book about theodicy by William Dembski has drawn substantial attention—partly because the author is a leading advocate of ID, and partly because when he wrote it he was teaching at a seminary owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination in which the YEC view has many influential advocates (especially R. Albert Mohler, Jr.). Entitled The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World , Dembski states that this particular book, unlike his others, is not about ID, even though the problem of evil is highly relevant to the nature of an intelligent designer. Rather, it is essentially an OEC book, written with both eyes on the YECs—with whom he expresses much sympathy: “The young-earth solution to reconciling the order of creation with natural history makes good exegetical and theological sense,” and it was the consensus view through the Reformation. However, he quickly adds, “I myself would adopt it in a heartbeat except that nature seems to present such strong evidence against it.” (p. 55) Indeed, as he says in an interview about the book, the issue of death before the fall “is at the heart of the debate between young and old earth creationists”. Dembski also advocates a local flood, and he treats the garden of Eden as a “segregated area in which the effects of natural evil are not evident” (p. 151; for more, see Dembski’s separate article here). I’ll be more specific about Dembski’s theodicy in the final part of this column, where I’ll highlight an historical connection he makes himself. For the time being, I only note that his views on all of these points have been controversial among Southern Baptists and other fundamentalists, such that he had to retract his position on the flood in order to remain on the faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (see the “Preamble” by Paige Patterson, president of the seminary, here).

(3) Quite a bit of evolution may have happened, but humans and (at least some) other major forms of life were separately created.

Hugh Ross apparently thinks that millions of creatures were created separately. In their contribution to The G3n3sis Debate : Three Views on the Days of Creation, Ross and his co-author, the late Gleason Archer, say, “we acknowledge hundreds of millions of miracles over millions, even billions of years,” but they may lie on one end of this issue (p. 196). Regardless, this is one reason why concordists are often called “old-earth creationists.” It is misleading in the extreme to call them “evolutionists,” as the YECs often do, simply because they accept an “old” earth and universe.

Of course, the crucial issue is human origins: whatever a given OEC thinks about how many other creatures were separately created, God created Adam and Eve ex nihilo!

Looking Ahead

Our study of Concordism concludes on Monday, July 16 (not on Tuesday, July 17 as you’ve come to expect) with a sketch of its history. In the meantime, let’s keep talking about Concordism.


About the Author

Ted Davis

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. A former high school science teacher, Ted studied history and philosophy of science at Indiana University, where his mentor was the late Richard S. Westfall, author of the definitive biography of Isaac Newton. With the English historian Michael Hunter, Ted edited The Works of Robert Boyle, 14 vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto, 1999-2000), but his interests include the whole 2000-year interaction of Christianity and science. Author of dozens of scholarly articles and essays, Ted is one of few historians who have written extensively about both the Scientific Revolution and modern America. He and his wife Kathy enjoy theater, music, and traveling to new places.