[Originally published as the second part of Defending a Young Earth: A Response to Tyler Vela (Part 1)]
In recent days, a talented, skillful, and gracious Christian apologist named Tyler Vela has been advocating in defense of a particular brand of “framework hypothesis.” Although he claims to have “no dog” in the “age of the earth debate,” that has not stopped him from releasing materials attempting to refute common young-age creationist arguments. Each main point will be the argument as stated in Tyler’s article. I will post a direct quote (or quotes) that captures the thrust of his objection and my response below. I will make note of any time I quote Tyler directly within my response.
Claim: Young Earth Creationists assume Old Earth Creationists are intimidated by secular scientists, and so they reject what they know the text says.
This is condescending at best. Not only do most people who do not take YEC views driven by textual concerns and a desire to follow what they see in the scriptures, this is also wildly problematic in its view of what science is…I’m also surprised that no one sees that start [sic] irony that this was some of the same kind of rhetoric used against heliocentrism several centuries ago. We have by and large altered how we understand some of the cosmology found in the Bible as being less than literal precisely because it could not accord with the findings of “secular” science.
Tyler not only takes objection to this statement on Scriptural grounds but on scientific grounds as well.
For example, he claims that young-age creationists essentially define “secular science” to mean “whatever science disagrees with their view.” But this accusation is much too broad and does not take into account the different kinds of science, nor the interpretive philosophy that must by necessity undergird scientific conclusions.
First, a popular quote from OEC apologist Dr. Frank Turek: “Science doesn’t say things; scientists do.”
I have yet to meet a Christian who would not agree with the above quote. Scientists tell us virgin births don’t happen, and yet, we contend that one did. Of course, we also agree with secular scientists on this point, scientifically speaking! What’s the difference? Our worldview—our philosophy which informs our deepest convictions about the nature of reality—dictates our conclusion that at least one virgin birth happened in the course of history, science notwithstanding.
So unless Brother Vela is willing to argue that science is purely objective and results are never interpreted through a philosophical bias, his objection fails. We can agree that, perhaps, young age creationists should make a more concerted effort to define terms and be careful about the way words are used. Nevertheless, most Christians agree in principle with the same distinction young age creationists hold regarding so-called “secular science.”
As an aside, the same can be said for evolution theory. OECs stand adamantly against evolution in most cases. Are we to believe that the same philosophical bias that taints unbelievers to accept evolution cannot also affect matters of age? To Tyler’s criticism (insofar as he is defending as an OEC for his purposes stated above), why should this be considered any different?
Second, Vela’s objection fails to make the distinction between forensic (historical) science and observable science according to the scientific method. Lest one think this distinction is imaginary (or a sly invention of creationists), consider the following quote from Ernst Mayr, who literally “wrote the book” on evolution:
“For example, Darwin introduced historicity into science. Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.”
I have yet to hear an informed young age creationist take issue with good, observable science.
The issue lies in the realm of history — the claims of young age creationists are much more about history than they are about science. Sure, there are scientific claims involved (such as in the study of flood geology, for example), but when trying to figure out what happened in the past, a different set of tools is required.
Therefore, what we have here is a classic fallacy of equivocation on Vela’s part. He conflates both forms of science by placing them under one umbrella and then argues that young earth creationists arbitrarily dismiss conclusions that disagree as if the method of science never changed. This is a false (and rather disingenuous) rendering of how young age creationists handle the data.
Unfortunately, Vela also mentions “YEC literalism.” I have dealt with this subject multiple times, here and here, so will refer you to those resources rather than reinvent the wheel. I would urge you to read and listen to those links, however, as many of the objections which will follow trade on the criticism of “hyper-literalism” which ultimately amounts to nothing more than a strawman argument.
Finally, on this point, Tyler states the following:
I’m also surprised that no one sees that start [sic] irony that this was some of the same kind of rhetoric used against heliocentrism several centuries ago. We have by and large altered how we understand some of the cosmology found in the Bible as being less than literal precisely because it could not accord with the findings of “secular” science. It’s just too far in our rear view mirror for people to remember that. We could see this in the historical move from a flat earth three-tier cosmology common to all ANE cultures (Israel included) and a spherical globe earth. Or do many of you think that the earth does indeed rest on literal pillars and is covered by a firm glass like dome called a firmament? Everyone in the ANE context of the OT would have read that in the same way we do comments about the sky being blue and the earth orbiting the sun.
Again, in order to not reinvent the wheel, I will refer you back to this article on this subject. As an aside, it is notable that Vela’s views about Old Testament cosmology are largely based on those of Dr. John Walton, who served for over 20 years at Moody (where Vela attended for a while) and is an outspoken critic of those who take Genesis in a straightforward fashion.
Walton’s views are gaining popularity in Christendom but are by no means uncontested by his Old Testament colleagues. One such colleague, Dr. John Oswalt, has commented regarding the sudden and relatively recent shift in Old Testament studies, “I am convinced that it is prior theological and philosophical convictions that account for the change and not any change in the data.”
Tyler’s rhetorically-charged use of terms such as a “glass-like dome called a firmament” and “literal pillars” leaves his reader no chance to evaluate the difference between narrative and poetic language and trades on the false idea that young age creationists read the text with a “wooden-hyper-literalist” hermeneutic rather than a traditionally accepted historical-grammatical hermeneutic.
Even granting that the Israelites may have held a so-called “three-tiered cosmology” such as that of their pagan neighbors, it does not follow that that is what the Holy Spirit had in mind when inspiring the Scriptures. Much work has been done by young age creationists, which shows how the universe we have matches exactly what is seen in the Scriptures.
(This is not necessarily my view, but considering that God inspired the Scriptures for all generations, is it not possible they were inspired in such a way that they are directly relevant to both ancient and modern cosmologies? Just a thought.)
Dr. Jason Lisle deals with a critic making similar claims in this interaction, which I’m sure is with a critic much less educated on these matters than Brother Vela (although he claims to be a scientist). I only mean to provide an example to back up my assertion that one need not be worried about how some of the ancients viewed the sky.
Based on the above, I think Vela’s concerns on this point fail on two counts:
First, the claim, as stated, lacks context and is a claim that would almost never be made in isolation. However, if that claim, as stated, were made in isolation, I would agree with Vela in his assessment on the point. And second, because his assessment of how young age creationists handle the distinction between “creation” and “secular” science is simply false and fails to account for all the facts.