A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Creation Summit held at The Master’s University. Since I live on campus and have recently been interested in the topic of origins, I went ahead and registered; I was not disappointed. The lectures were challenging, to say the least, and I was given a glimpse into an intellectually honest version of young-earth creationism that I had not been exposed to.
I want to make one thing clear from the start: I do not feel as though I am qualified to critique these men. These are men who have spent their lives researching in their respective fields, and I am a layperson. However, I was taught to think critically and to evaluate positions based on their own merits and shortcomings. In that sense, I humbly offer my observations.
The first session of the afternoon was hosted by Dr. Todd Charles Wood, a slightly less than well-known young-earth creation biologist. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite young-earth creationists as I read more of what he has written. I appreciate his very balanced approach to dealing with the evidence for evolution and issues related thereto.
For the first ten or twenty minutes of his lecture, Dr. Wood presented the evolutionary case: he presented several well-attested hominid fossils, starting with a chimpanzee (our closest relative), and moving through Homo sapiens (modern man), Neanderthal, Ardipithecus, Australopithecus aforensis, Homo rudolfensis, Australopithecus sediba, and Homo naledi. He compared their features to one another, demonstrating why scientists think that these hominids are all related. This part of the lecture was fascinating and I appreciated that he took the time to present the case for the other side quite cogently and without any condescension. In fact, at one point, he said these very words:
Human evolution is not stupid. It is not dumb. It is not something people hold to despite the evidence.
This was very refreshing. I’m so used to the Ken Ham types who constantly try to make evolutionary biologists and scientists either look like fools who have no clue what they’re doing or deliberate liars whose intention is to deceive the masses; that just simply isn’t the case. (Dr. Wood’s comment here echoes a sentiment he’s held since at least 2009, if not before; see here).
After presenting the evidence for evolution, Dr. Wood backtracked a bit (you knew that was coming, right?). After all, you wouldn’t expect a creationist to just end with the evidence for evolution. His counter arguments to the evidence he presented were fascinating; indeed, not having read much on the science behind human evolution, I found his findings rather compelling. Essentially, what he does is compare all those similarities and differences between the various creatures and quantify them, later graphing them to see if clusters form. Lo and behold, a great number of the fossils from the genus Homo are very close together, while Australopithecus and Paranthropus are out in their own separate clusters; each of these clusters, in turn, is distinct from the extant great apes. He argues that humanity was initially created with some diversity of form, which is why each of the Homo skeletons is distinct from one another and yet similar to the others, while the others are most likely separate animal species. Fascinating stuff. Follow the links to his blog to find out more.
What I appreciated most, however, was his charitable attitude. As I mentioned, he wasn’t at all condescending; he presented his claims clearly and explained his reasons for believing as he does. Like I said, he’s very balanced. He admits to uncertainty, especially in areas where young-earth creationism doesn’t fare very well against the reigning evolutionary paradigm. He’s a smart guy. I don’t know if I agree with him entirely, but I’ve no reason to shut out his opinions. I learned much from him.
The second lecture was given by Dr. William Barrick, a former professor at The Master’s Seminary and editor of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. He also contributed to the book Four Views on the Historical Adam, giving a chapter presenting his perspective and then responding to the chapters written by the other authors (Denis O. Lamoureux [no historical Adam], John H. Walton [historical Adam, but archetypal], and C. John Collins [historical Adam with an old earth]).
I posted on Facebook during the lecture that I wasn’t enjoying it nearly as much as I enjoyed Dr. Wood’s presentation, primarily because I had heard it all before. Dr. Barrick squeezed a lot of information into a short period of time, whereas Dr. Wood managed to focus on one specific aspect of the scientific evidence (human fossils). Because I am becoming rather familiar with the exegetical challenges that Genesis 1-3 gives us, I am beginning to feel as though lectures from the “read it literally” camp are falling on deaf ears. Nevertheless, I tried to take as many notes as I could so that I could fully interact with Dr. Barrick’s position.
One of my issues with Dr. Barrick’s lecture was its simplicity. There was almost no depth to it. As I said, it was a very rapid fire, “let’s see how many Bible references I can squeeze into 30 seconds”-type of lecture. I wish he had focused on and defended one aspect of Adam’s historicity instead of giving such a broad overview. For me, especially, as one who does not agree with Dr. Barrick’s opinion on this matter, I found his presentation severely lacking. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing; for many who are unsure or who are already YEC, it may have been just what they needed to be confirmed in their YECism.
Further, I am concerned with his attitude toward Christians who respectfully disagree. At several points in the lecture, he appeared to equate rejection of the historical Adam (as the YECs describe him) as apostasy of some stripe or another. Indeed, for many, the acceptance or rejection of a historical Adam (again, as the YECs describe him) is the difference between conservative and liberal Christianity. He has almost made Genesis 1-3 the most important section of Scripture ever written; I personally think that all of Scripture is equally important, so we needn’t elevate one book above another.
At one point, Dr. Barrick repeated the common trope, “God said it, that settles it.” However, I am more concerned with, what did God mean by what he said? That’s the question here. Not what he said or that he said it, but what he meant by what he said. Sometimes it isn’t as clear as we’d like it to be.
I believe that Adam was a historical person (not as the YECs describe him). I take John Walton’s position that the text is more concerned with Adam and Eve as archetypal persons (real people whose histories speak not only about them but about all of us) than it is with the historical details. In this sense, Adam and Eve were not necessarily the first human beings but rather chosen representatives/priests to serve in God’s garden temple. Their sin separated mankind from God and from the eternal life offered by him; the relationship is restored by our great High Priest, Jesus. Just as Jesus did not need to be the sole progenitor of the elect in order to be their federal head, so too Adam does not need to be the sole progenitor of all mankind for his sin to have affected all people. For a good overview, see Walton’s book The Lost World of Adam and Eve.
I make no secret about my qualms with the YEC position, especially when it comes to exegesis and theology. Not in any way having been scientifically trained, I have to take the scientists at their word most of the time. But I am trying to be a good student of Scripture, and that has taken me places I’d never thought I’d go and stretched me in ways I never thought possible. The Bible has genuinely surprised me at times. I say, let it surprise! Let us ever be conformed to it! It’s the only book on earth that is God-breathed, after all.