To the editor,
I am writing in response to a review by Jake Hebert, recently published by CRSQ, on my book, Creation Unfolding: A New Perspective on Ex Nihilo. It seems that Hebert misunderstood my position, leading him to make interpretive errors which have unfortunately led to his misrepresenting both myself and the book. I would like to address some of these misunderstandings.
The first misunderstanding is in reference to the ambiguity of creation. Hebert says this at the beginning of the review:
“If the evidence for the creation is equivocal, then uniformitarians and evolutionists are in some sense being reasonable (p. 137) when they deny God, despite the fact that those who do so are ‘fools’ (Ps. 14.1) and ‘without excuse’ (Rom. 1:20). While God no doubt may withhold additional revelation in order to minimize future condemnation, this basic ‘natural revelation’ is unambiguous, ‘for God has shown it to them'” (Rom. 1:20).
He also says this towards the end of the review, “If this review sounds harsh, it is because the notion that ‘creation evidence is ambiguous’ is arguably just as dangerous as the statement that ‘a loving God would never send anyone to hell.’”
It is true, I did make this statement on page 136 of my book, “I believe that this same kind of ambiguity has been purposefully built into the creation.” Using this statement alone, I could understand why Hebert makes these claims, but I clarify this statement in the very next sentence, “This concept contradicts a common, evangelical belief that presupposes God’s creative strategy should be obvious in the things that He has made” (emphasis mine). By “creative strategy” the reader of my book will, by this stage, already know that I am talking about a creator God who made the universe in six days, six thousand years ago. It is this strategy that is ambiguous, not the creation. This is clarified several times throughout the book. This is stated on page 138:
“This does not mean, of course, that the universe is devoid of evidence for God. It is full of evidence and truly declares His power and His divine nature. This can be seen at the macro-scale in the intricate, mathematically wondrous, and symmetrically consistent nature of the universe, as well as at the micro-scale in the complex, informationally perfect, and functionally intelligible nature of DNA (emphasis mine).”
In what sense am I saying that “evidence for creation is equivocal”? Not only do I agree with Hebert’s statement about the unambiguity of “natural revelation,” I actually think that God’s creative character and power are equally unambiguous. I say this on page 133:
“A great, powerful, eternal Creator can surely be understood from nature, but unless the gospel of Jesus Christ regenerates the heart of those witnessing that creation, they will consistently choose to rebel against the true God of creation, choosing rather to worship the creation (idolatry and false religion)” (emphasis mine).
I make it very clear throughout the book that I am addressing the hyper evidentialism of many young-earth creationists, like Hebert, who suppose scientific evidence supporting a 6000-year-old universe is overwhelmingly obvious. THIS is what I’m saying is ambiguous. Hebert should have included this incredibly pertinent information in his review. If Hebert had done this, it would have altered the theological implications to which I turn next.
Hebert references Romans 1:18-20 and correctly evaluates its purpose, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Hebert is correct. Humans are without excuse because evidence for a creator God is unambiguous. Yet nowhere in Romans 1 or any other Bible passage are we told that humans are held accountable for believing that our planet was made in six days, six thousand years ago, based on scientific knowledge alone. Romans 1, and, in fact, the entire Bible just doesn’t make that claim. It seems that Hebert wants Romans to say more than it does. Romans 1 says that humans can derive a very general knowledge of God from nature—His existence, power, and Godhead, but that based solely on this general knowledge, they reject Him. That’s it. That’s all it says. This is important, because on more than one occasion, Hebert uses the theological purpose of Romans 1 to denigrate my theology as “dangerous” and “terrible.”
Regarding the Coconino Sandstone and Noah’s Flood, Hebert says, “Yet oddly, the author drops the subject with no attempt to present additional evidence that the Flood was global.” Yet this is not the case. I clearly make this obvious on Page 157, “The Flood was universal.” Leaving my position on the Flood unclear, Hebert, unintentionally I hope, leaves the readers to question my position on the scope of the Flood.
I did not, as Hebert suggests “drop the subject.” The purpose of the book is not to provide a thorough discussion on creationist research. But I did furnish the reader with further resources:
“Importantly, Brand and Whitmore’s work neither “proves” that the Earth is young, nor that Noah’s Flood was global. The evidence is tantalizing and, in conjunction with more recent research, does seem to challenge a simplistic desert interpretation for the Coconino Sandstone (Whitmore et al. 2015; Whitmore and Garner 2018).”
I have a close, personal relationship with Dr. Brand and Dr. Whitmore, as well as with several others who are doing research on the Coconino Sandstone. Dr. Whitmore even reviewed this section of my book and said it was great! These people will be the first to affirm, based on the current state of creationist research, that we simply do not have a model showing how the Flood of Noah deposited the Coconino sandstone. We should not, therefore, say “the Flood did this” without being able to show “how” the Flood did this. Simplistically saying “the Flood did this” is neither scientifically accurate nor apologetically helpful. This comes from those young-earth creationists doing the research on the Coconino, not myself!
Hebert claims I’ve made a number of scientific mistakes, including my interpretation of the rate of dust accumulation over Saturn’s rings, “The author mistakenly claims that Saturn’s rings require the solar system to be at least ten million years old, when popular-level science articles acknowledge this is an upper limit.”
Yet this is what I say on page 173, “Extrapolating this rate [of dust deposition] backwards suggests that the rings must be at least 10 million years old, but perhaps as old as 100 million years. https://www.futurity.org/saturn-rings-age-1964302/.” The secular article (see link) I referenced clearly indicates that ten million years is the lower limit. The upper limit is one hundred million years. In other words, based on the current rate at which dust is being deposited on Saturn’s rings, the solar system must be at least ten million years old.
Perhaps the most unthoughtful comments are found at the end of the review. Hebert says, “Incredibly, he says death was designed in the mind of God and pre-programmed into our DNA before the Fall occurred (p. 59). He repeatedly suggests, but does not state outright, that stars and planets can form naturally in six days. Coulson acknowledges that his position stretches the bounds of what is considered orthodox.”
Let me first explain the theological context of Hebert’s claim. In the book, I said this, “Yet where (or when) was this [human] developmental design conceived? It certainly was not after God created Adam. Surely, God had designed all the different phases of human development before a single biological cell had sprung into existence. In other words, the entire life cycle of humans—from conception to death, was not only built into our genetic make-up, it was designed in the mind of God before Adam was created.”
In context, I was discussing the “developmental” design of humans. In other words, humans start life as a zygote, eventually developing into an adult. Since God is our creator, it only makes sense that he designed our development cycle before he created us. What about the final stage of our life cycle, death? Was God unaware of what would happen to humans after the fall? Of course not. We know that Christ was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). This means that God not only knew about sin, the fall, death, and redemption before Adam sinned, he also planned out all the biological ramifications related to our salvation, including old age and death.
Taken in context, the reader is well aware that I am not advocating for an initial plan that included death! This is no different than the writer of Psalm 104:21 who says that, “The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God,” as though this was God’s initial design. Of course it wasn’t. But we all must admit that, in lieu of the fall, God had pre-designed for the lion to kill its prey.
It is what Hebert says towards the end of this paragraph, however, that is unsettling. Speaking of my “position,” Hebert quotes me when I acknowledge that my position is not “orthodox.” In the context of the review, what is the reader to think of this unorthodoxy? Without reference to the book, the reader may assume that I am not theologically orthodox. Yet this is what I said in context:
Having said all of this, I am fully aware that some of my scientific and/or philosophical ideas will not ally themselves with mainstream young-Earth creationism. These ideas are not a departure from the latter, but they certainly do seem to stretch the bounds of what is and what is not considered “orthodox.” My deviation from mainstream young-Earth creationism is, however, related only to science and philosophy, not theology. I am and always will be committed to the full, plenary inspiration of the holy Scriptures, as well as the grammatical/historical method of biblical interpretation (emphasis mine).
It is surprising that Hebert would leave the question of my Christian convictions and theological commitment open to interpretation.
Regarding the unambiguous claim of a creation that was made in six days six thousand years ago, I want to challenge Hebert with the following question: Using science and science alone, does he think the earth’s crust, mantle, and core were created in literally two days (first two days of Creation Week)? A thorough discussion of my perspective on this question can be found in my book (chapters 4 and 5).
I have yet to meet a young-earth creationist that tried to defend a scientific-only explanation for the creation of the crust, the mantle, and the core in two literal days. So, how long does it take for seven billion cubic kilometers of crust to be created naturally using a science-only explanation? What about a nickel and iron core with a radius of about two thousand miles? Well, I don’t exactly know, but I do know it would not happen in literally two days, not using natural processes alone.
Given the current rates at which oceanic and continental crust is being formed (operational science), it seems likely that such a feat would take millions or billions of years; a conclusion that is not based upon my own calculations. John Baumgardner (2000), a well-known and respected young-earth creationist, believes that the formation of the crust from the mantle must have been supernaturally sped up to account for such a feat in only two days.
Hebert will most likely respond with the statement, “that it was a miracle!” And with this I agree. In my book, I propose, that God used supernaturally accelerated processes to separate out the crust from the mantle (see Baumgardner 2000) but I could be wrong. It could be that God spoke the earth into existence ex nihilo with an already existing core, mantle, and crust. This would mean that the vast amount of process we see in the core, mantle, and crust, was simply spoken into existence in an instant. Fair enough. But if we appeal to a miracle (either through rapid processes or fiat creation), to what are we deferring? Are we deferring to the scientific discipline of geophysics and natural processes or to special revelation?
The fact is that no-one would believe that the crust was created in two days using natural processes alone. The scientific evidence is thus, not only not equivocal and ambiguous in this case, it is clearly unambiguous in favor of a very, very mature planet! (Humans interpret maturity in terms of “age.” In other words, it will “look” old to us).
Believing that the crust was created in two days is absolutely, completely, and utterly dependent upon God’s revealed word. The creation of the earth was clearly a miracle, and so understanding how long it took to come into existence does not depend on science, it depends on faith. We must be told.
At this point, Hebert may concede the point, and direct us instead to the fossilized sedimentary rocks that cover the solid planet. Surely, within these rocks we should find abundant evidence for a 6000-year-old earth. And again, with this I agree.
But the statements “the earth is 6000 years old” and “the earth was created in literally six days” are not mutually exclusive. In a young-earth creationist paradigm, both statements are merely two sides of the same coin. You cannot discuss one and ignore the other.
According to the hyper evidentialist perspective of Hebert, the vast amounts of process that we see in the largest geological structure known to man—the solid planet itself, unambiguously points to its creation in two literal days. But that is a big claim.
Surely, if we cannot explain how the earth’s crust, mantle, and core formed scientifically in literally two days, then we are left with a huge, planet-sized hole in our scientific knowledge. But won’t that lead to ambiguity? Moreover, since these same features are stamped with vast amounts of process, unbelieving humans who reject special revelation are only going to interpret their origin in terms of long ages. It is not enough to point to anomalies such as the earth’s decaying magnetic field or to earth’s fossil-bearing sedimentary layers.
In my book, I clearly make a case for scientific evidence that points to a young earth. My point is not that evidence doesn’t exist; it does. My point is that, taken together, the scientific evidence for a 6000 year old earth is ambiguous and equivocal.
I sincerely appreciate Hebert’s motives to honor Christ by encouraging Christians with evidence for a young earth, especially given the virulent attack that the church receives from some segments of the scientific community evangelically opposed to young-earth creationism. However, my prayer and hope is that all creationists would be honest, humble, and transparent with all the scientific evidence.
We are Christians first and scientists second. As Christians who are accountable to Christ, we simply cannot push one side of the story. Moreover, unless we prepare young people, especially those entering areas of higher education, with all the facts, then we are setting those young people up for spiritual disaster.
When the geophysicist or hard rock geologist student first learns about operational scientific processes such as partial melting, fractionation, and gravitational differentiation, among a multitude of others (processes that create crust), he is not going to get much comfort from people like Hebert who seem to think that scientific evidence for a universe made in six days is unambiguous. If that is the case, then Hebert needs to provide a working, scientific model for the creation of the crust, mantle, and core in literally two days. If he cannot furnish this model, then truly, our young hard rock student is going to be left in a mire of ambiguity that may push him into the secular scientific community. Creationists need a complete model that accounts for all aspects of the natural order. I believe my book seeks to address some of these aspects.
I am not, as Hebert may think, a “fideist.” I believe much evidence exists for a 6000 year old earth, but taken in conjunction with the vast amounts of evidence for a very, very mature earth (see above), we must all admit that ambiguity does indeed exist when humans make value judgments about the age of the earth using scientific evidence alone.
I hope that CRSQ’s readers will appreciate the full ramifications of this response and reserve their judgment until they read the book for themselves.
Baumgardner, J.R. 2000. “Distribution of Radioactive Isotopes in the Earth.” In Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, edited by L. Vardiman, A.A Snelling and E.F Chaffin, 49 – 94. Dallas, Texas: Institute for Creation Research, and Chino Valley, Creation Research Society.