Subject: Letter To My Pastor Newsgroups: talk.origins Date: May 8, 2000 Message-ID: email@example.com
I'm enclosing below a letter I wrote to my pastor and our church deacons in response to the "Case For Creation" seminar, presented by Duane Gish and Frank Sherwin, that our church hosted last month. For those that haven't seen my earlier posts, I also posted a summary of the presentations from that seminar and a critique of the seminar that I also sent to my pastor and deacons.
So far, the response has been mostly silence. Two of the deacons came up to me in church and thanked me for writing it, but I haven't heard from any of the others. My pastor just left on a two week trip, but he sent me an e-mail before he left letting me know he had read my letter, didn't agree with most of it, and would discuss it with me further when he returned. I have shared the letter and critique with other church members, who are themselves circulating it to other church members who they feel need to see it.
I'll be posting updates to the group as new things happen, and I'll probably write an article describing my experience throughout this whole mess when it's all over with. Anyway, here's the letter...
741 Dogwood Road
Boone, NC 28607
April 10, 2000
Reverend Allan Blume
Mount Vernon Baptist Church
3505 Bamboo Road
Boone, NC 28607
Before I get to the point of this letter, I first want to say that I love Mount Vernon Baptist Church. It is simply the best church in nearly all respects that I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of. When I first came to Mount Vernon back in 1992, I was immediately made to feel at home, and I cannot begin to tell you how God has used my church family to change my life over the past few years. I've probably grown more as a Christian since I've been at Mount Vernon than I had in all the years before I moved here.
I also appreciate and respect you as both a teacher and a leader. God has given you a gift for understanding and teaching His Word, and you have led me to many new spiritual insights. Your leadership has given Mount Vernon a vision, direction, and motivation, and I'm both proud and humbled to be part of an active and growing church with such a great heart for evangelism.
It's because I love Mount Vernon that I'm writing this letter. When you see someone you love doing something wrong, something that you know will hurt them eventually, you have to confront them. You have to try to get them to see that what they're doing is wrong, and you have to try to convince them to return to the right path. Mount Vernon's handling of the creation/evolution debate distresses me greatly. Over the past few weeks God has put a great burden on my heart, and I'm afraid that, at least in this area, my church is headed down a wrong and dangerous path. I feel that we as a church have been less than fair and truthful in this matter, and our unjustness can have grave consequences. It will leave us ill prepared for effective evangelism, and it may even lead some to a crisis of faith.
On Friday night, after Dr. Gish and Mr. Sherwin had finished their presentations, you informed the audience that Mr. Sherwin's scheduled appearances at some local schools had been canceled due to protests. You were right to be indignant because the "forces of intolerance that are opposed to open and fair mindedness," as you put it, were able to keep Mr. Sherwin out of the schools. Unfortunately, the same charges of intolerance and closed mindedness can be fairly leveled at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, as my experience testifies.
Around two years ago, I approached Bud about using a Hugh Ross (a progressive creationist) video series titled "Good Science, Good Faith" for discipleship training. I suggested using this series in place of the Kent Hovind (a young-earth creationist) video series that the church was planning on using. Bud was reluctant at first, but when I offered to use both series in order to show the differing perspectives and provide some balance, Bud agreed that this was a good idea and told me to go with it. I started with the Kent Hovind series. By the time we finished that series, it was near the end of November, and the class decided to take a break until the first of the year and then go through the Hugh Ross series. Most of the people in the class were very eager to see "Good Science, Good Faith" and hear Dr. Ross's perspective.
When January rolled around, two college students started another creation/evolution class in discipleship training, using some of the Kent Hovind and Ken Ham (another young-earth creationist) videos. I didn't want to have conflicting classes, so I decided to attend their class and postpone the Hugh Ross series until this new class was finished. I attended the first two or three classes, and I pointed out some of the problems with young-earth creationist position that was being presented. I also asked some very hard questions that the two students leading the class were unable to answer. One of those students went to Bud to discuss the "problems" I was causing in the class. When I talked to Bud the following week, he told me that if I was going to continue to attend that class, that I needed to just sit there and listen. I didn't need to make any comments or ask any questions. After being censored, I decided to quit attending that class and drop the creation/evolution issue for a while. Months later, I called Bud to see about getting "Good Science, Good Faith" back on the schedule for discipleship training. Bud told me that you and some of the deacons had some problems with Dr. Ross, and that you were opposed to his tapes being used at Mount Vernon. I began to suspect only one viewpoint on the creation/evolution issue was allowed at my church.
My suspicion was confirmed by events surrounding the Case for Creation seminar. I understand that you and/or Dr. Gish approached some ASU faculty members to try to arrange a debate between one of them and Dr. Gish. All of them declined. The day before the seminar began, a letter by you appeared in the Mountain Times. In that letter you implied that the ASU professors were afraid to debate Dr. Gish. On the first day of the seminar, Dr. Gish stated that the professors wouldn't agree to a fair debate and that they wanted to restrict what he could talk about. On the Thursday night before the Case for Creation seminar began I talked to two of those professors, and they told me the other side of the story.
Apparently Dr. Gish's terms for the debate were as follows: the ASU professor would get one hour to make the case for evolution and explain how it best describes the facts of history and biology. Dr. Gish would then get one hour to present the case against evolution . Each side would then get a short time for rebuttal and response. These are certainly reasonable terms for half a debate. However, when Dr. Gish was asked if he would present the case for his young-earth creation theory and if the person he was debating would get equal time to make the case against his theory, they were told no. In other words, Dr. Gish's attitude was, "You can present your theory, and I get to poke holes in it, but I don't have to present or defend my theory." These terms are hardly fair, especially given that Dr. Gish believes that "any evidence against evolution is evidence for creation." Surely Dr. Gish realizes if he takes this position he also has to accept its converse: any evidence against creation, specifically his young-earth creation theory, is evidence for evolution. Therefore, for the debate to be fair, evidence for and against both positions must presented. A "debate" on Dr. Gish's terms would have been nothing more than a game of "Watch me shoot down the evolutionist." So, the answer to the question in your letter to the Mountain Times, "If such a strong case against creation exists, why would not one ASU professor use the occasion to debate Dr. Gish?" is "Because they were not going to be allowed to present a case against creation."
In trying to conduct the "debate" in this manner, Dr. Gish commits the fallacy of concealed evidence. From A Christian's Guide to Critical Thinking, by Henry A. Virkler:
A person commits the fallacy of concealed evidence whenever he or she presents only that evidence favorable to his or her position, and suppresses relevant but unfavorable evidence.
The writer of the book of Proverbs puts it another way: "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. (Proverbs 18:17)" Unfortunately, the fallacy of concealed evidence seems to define how Mount Vernon approaches the creation/evolution issue. As I mentioned before, this attitude is not only unfair, but it is also dangerous because it leaves us ill prepared for evangelism, and it may lead some people to a crisis of faith.
It is unfair because it leads our church members to believe that the young-earth creationist theory presented by the ICR and Dr. Gish is the only Christian and Biblical view of origins. That position is not supported by facts or history. Christians have long held differing views on the subject of origins, and those differences are not limited to differences between liberal and conservative Christians. There have been differences of opinion among Fundamentalists since the beginning of the Fundamentalist movement. In his book Darwin's Forgotten Defenders, David Livingstone says of Charles Hodge, the great conservative Princeton theologian, "Hodge accepted the idea that Christians could responsibly believe that one kind of plant and animal had evolved from earlier and simpler forms so long as they also affirmed that everything was designed by God and that it was due to his purpose and power that all the forms of vegetable and animal life are what they are." Thus, Hodge held that evolution with design was Christian, but evolution without design was atheism. B.B. Warfield, also of Princeton Theological Seminary who was described by Evangelical historian Mark Noll as "the nation's most forceful defender of Biblical inerrancy at the end of the nineteenth century," also saw no conflict between creation and evolution properly understood. Livingstone says of Warfield, "She repeatedly emphasized the point that theists could consistently hold to a virtually mechanistic theory if they believed natural laws were the expression of divine supervision." Warfield himself said, "The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution." Historian George M. Marsden sums up the attitude of conservative Protestants toward evolution at the end of the 19th century:
The great debate within the American (and British) Evangelical community was whether Darwin's total rejection of design was entailed by his theories about biological evolution or whether they were nonessential to true 'Darwinism.' Asa Gray and Darwin corresponded at length on this point and never did agree. Among conservative Protestant intellectuals, however, the prevailing opinion seems to have favored Gray's view, thus allowing for reconciliation of some version of Darwin's biological theories with the Bible, and hence design."
When we move into the early 20th century, the heyday of the Fundamentalist anti-evolution crusaders, we find that, though they may have opposed aspects of evolution, very few held to a belief in a young earth. According to historian Ronald Numbers, "No antievolutionist reached a wider audience among American Evangelicals during the second quarter of the century than Harry Rimmer." Harry Rimmer was the Duane Gish of his day, but he did not believe the Bible taught a young earth. Rimmer held to the Gap theory of creation, as did C.I. Scofield. William Bell Riley, Fundamentalist pastor of the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis and leader of the World's Christian Fundamentals Association, believed the day-age theory of creation. Riley stated, "[there is not] an intelligent Fundamentalist who claims that the earth was made six thousand years ago, and the Bible never taught any such thing." Cleric-geologist George Frederick Wright, who wrote an essay on evolution for The Fundamentals, also held the day-age view. Numbers says of the early Fundamentalist views of the creation/evolution controversy:
During the 1920s Fundamentalists divided over the correct interpretation of the Mosaic account of creation, but few insisted on a young Earth. Of those who left opinions on the subject, the majority, following the revered Scofield Reference Bible, believed that Genesis 1 described two creations, one 'in the beginning,' the other eons later, about 4004 B.C., when God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the "gap" between these two events mentioned in the Bible, Earth had witnessed a series of catastrophes and recreations recorded in the fossil bearing rocks. An influential minority, including Bryan, chose to accommodate the fossil evidence by reading the "days" of Genesis as vast geological ages. Only a relatively tiny group, mostly Seventh-day Adventists, insisted on the recent appearance of life on Earth in six days of twenty-four hours each. Despite their differences, the Fundamentalists in all three hermeneutical camps regarded themselves as strict biblical literalists. Among Fundamentalists a commitment to literalism did not rule out interpreting scripture.
And that is the crux of the issue: the interpretation of scripture. Those who believe in young-earth creationism, those who believe in old earth creationism, and those who believe in theistic evolution can agree that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God; they just don't agree on how to interpret it. All three of these views have their merits and their faults, but all are held by sincerely committed Christians. You wouldn't know it, however, by what is taught and, more importantly, what is not taught at Mount Vernon.
The "forces of intolerance" that want to allow only one viewpoint to be taught indeed exist, but I'm afraid they exist inside Mount Vernon as well as out. Dr. Gish said that evolution and creation should be taught side by side so students can decide for themselves, yet we won't allow all the Christian views of origins to be taught side by side at Mount Vernon so that our members can decide for themselves. Do we not trust our members to be able to make this decision for themselves? Such a situation leaves our members woefully ill-prepared for evangelism.
There are a number of problems with the young-earth creationist theory espoused by the ICR and Dr. Gish. I have enclosed a list of just some of the problems of fact and reason I found in the presentations given at the Case for Creation seminar. I am not doing this in an attempt to "disprove" young-earth creationism; I merely want to show that the young-earth creationist theory is not free of problems. If I, as a Christian, am aware of these problems, you can be assured that non-Christians are aware of them as well. Indeed, entire books have been written on the subject. If a person goes out to witness armed only with the information they received from Dr. Gish, Dr. Sherwin, and young-earth creationist publications, he stands a good chance of embarrassing himself and possibly missing a chance to share the gospel.
More seriously, encouraging people to believe that the only Biblical view of origins is the young-earth creationist position can lead them to an erroneous view of the Bible and salvation that can hinder their effectiveness in evangelism. According to the Apostle Paul, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." A person's interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 doesn't enter into the picture. Yet, if someone sincerely believes that "believing the Bible" means believing in young-earth creationism, that belief will become part of their evangelism, and they will try to make an essential doctrine out of a belief that is totally unessential for salvation. In the best case, the person doing the witnessing would have evangelized more people had he or she not spent too much time on a relatively unimportant matter.
In the worst case, their attempt at evangelism will cause someone to reject the Bible. If someone goes to a geologist, for example, who is well aware of all the empirical evidence for the antiquity of the earth, and tells them that the Bible teaches that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, that geologist's reaction will be predictable. "If the Bible teaches that kind of nonsense, why should I believe anything in it?" This is not a hypothetical situation. I saw it happen many times while I was in college, and I spent a lot of time trying to undo the damage caused by well-meaning young-earth creationists. Sometimes I was successful, but sometimes I wasn't. St. Augustine was well aware of this problem 1600 years ago, and we can still learn from what he said about it in his The Literal Meaning of Genesis:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.
Dr. Gish is rightly concerned for the child who is taught evolution when that child is taught that evolution means there is no God. I am just as concerned about the child who is brought up in church being taught that young-earth creationism is the only Biblical view of origins, and that the whole Bible stands or falls on a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2. That child is being taught he has to believe either science or the Bible; he cannot believe both. When that child grows up, goes to college, and learns about biology, geology, astronomy, or some other science, he is going to be faced with a dilemma. He is going to learn all of the evidence for an ancient earth and universe and for evolutionary biology, but he has been taught that the Bible teaches that these things are not true. Maybe he will choose to "hold to the Bible," though all he is really doing is holding to a particular interpretation of the Bible, and reject what he learns from science. Maybe he won't. Maybe in the face of overwhelming evidence he thinks, "The church lied to me about this. What else have they lied to me about?", and he takes the first step down the road to unbelief. The situation is tragic, all the more so because he should never have been forced to make that choice.
I hope that you understand why I am concerned that we are allowing only the young-earth creationist position to be taught at Mount Vernon, without even allowing any problems with that position to be discussed. This letter was very difficult for me to write, and I only wrote it in response to the burden that the Lord has put on my heart for this subject and out of love for my church. After you have had time to read and prayerfully consider what I have said, I would like the opportunity to sit down and talk with you to hear your response and discuss how Mount Vernon might better handle the creation/evolution debate in the future.
Yours in Christ,
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