FORT WORTH (FBW)—The age of the earth has generated discussion recently among several Southern Baptist scholars.
It began with a 2009 book by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor William Dembski but includes a broader dialogue about evolution and the boundaries of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
Dembski’s book, The End of Christianity (B&H Academic), argued that the universe is billions of years old—rather than thousands, as young-earth creations contend—and that God brought death, decay and natural disasters to earth long before Adam and Eve sinned. That natural evil, he said, was a retroactive punishment for their disobedience. In a similar manner to God’s application of the effects of Christ’s death to humans who lived prior to it, He also applied the Fall to a creation that existed prior to it, according to Dembski.
“The young earth-solution to reconciling the order of creation with natural history makes good exegetical and theological sense,” wrote Dembski, who holds Ph.D. degrees in both philosophy and mathematics and is a leading proponent of the Intelligent Design movement. “Indeed, the overwhelming consensus of theologians up through the Reformation held to this view. I myself would adopt it in a heartbeat except that nature seems to present such strong evidence against it.”
He went on to argue that “there never was a chronological moment when the world we inhabit was without natural evil (or a disposition toward it; it is, for instance, not apparent how, at the moment of the Big Bang, the universe could have exhibited natural evil).” Dembski, research professor of philosophy at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary, speculated that the Garden of Eden could have been merely a pocket of unfallen creation amid a world already afflicted by natural evil.
He also argued that Noah’s flood likely was limited to the Middle East rather than being global in scope. However, he later retracted that claim in a statement released by Southwestern.
Dembski declined an interview request by Florida Baptist Witness, saying by email that he has already expressed his opinions through his writings. But he emphasized that he is not an evolutionist and has a forthcoming book countering theistic evolution.
In response to The End of Christianity, Tom Nettles, professor of historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., wrote a review in which he critiqued Dembski for allegedly letting scientific commitments to trump the most natural reading of the Bible. The review appeared in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (Vol. 13.4, 2009), Southern Seminary’s official theological journal.
“One thing that’s not driving [Dembski’s interpretation of Genesis] is just a straightforward exegesis of the text,” Nettles told the Witness. “And he admits that if the text were to stand as it is, then the traditional view would be there. And he also is committed to a tremendously old earth. So these things, one theological idea and one scientific idea, drive his interpretation.”
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