Saturday, May 22, 2010

Question: Why do Christians get so upset about OEC?

Question from Anna V.:
Why do I get so much opposition with my Old-Earth views from the local homeschool groups? It seems they are all in agreement. We are still Christians and believe in the same God. Why do they make such a big deal over the age of the Earth?
Anna, this is a great question. I'm sure there may be others who will want to weigh in on the answer as well.

One of the biggest obstacles is what I'm going to call the "Christian homeschool mindset." Although Christians homeschool their children for a variety of reasons, one of the major motivations for many is protection - protection from immorality, protection from secular education, protection from false ideas, etc. They see the erosion of traditional Judeo-Christian values and want to do something to stem the tide for the next generation.

In an effort to accomplish this goal, the overwhelming majority of science textbooks used within the homeschool context are written from a young-earth creation perspective with the intent of helping Christian parents teach traditional views. Part of this strategy also involves undermining the credibility of anything that isn't young-earth. This even includes alternate Christian perspectives, such as old-earth creationism and theistic evolution.

One problem I have is this, the tactics these textbooks use prey upon the fears of Christian parents by presenting mainstream science in a largely negative light. Children are basically taught to mistrust the findings of any science that hasn't been done by a Christian. Moreover, creation science textbooks frequently fail to differentiate between old-earth creationists and theistic evolutionists. We are vilified by lumping all old-earth Christians together and then put in the same bin as secular evolution.

When we get into discussions about creation issues, many Christians do not know how to differentiate between the primary and secondary theological issues. Young-earth creationists elevate the age of the earth to be a primary issue by connecting it to the doctrine of the atonement. They say that a belief in an old-earth undermines the work of Christ on the cross. Well, that sounds pretty darn serious. Christians who take the Bible seriously don't want to do that. So they reject old-earth beliefs. The problem is, many Christian parents simply aren't conversant on the finer points of this discussion. They just hear something that sounds really scary and then react against it. Moreover, they usually don't know the difference between old-earth creationists, theistic evolutionists or secular evolutionists. So when they are told that anyone who doesn't believe in young-earth creationism is compromising the authority of Scripture, they go along with it because in their mind, there is little difference between OEC and secular evolutionists. It's guilt by association. These lovely, well meaning brothers and sisters in Christ honestly don't know the difference.

For this reason, it behooves those of us who take a different position to be able to articulate the reasons for our perspective in a clear and kind manner.

Anyone else have other thoughts?

11 comments:

nick drt said...

You have succinctly stated the case. One aspect left unmentioned, and I think somebody ought to address it, is the money connection. SOMEBODY has a cash cow going - and it ain't us homeschooling parents. Another word you diplomatically avoided is "propaganda". While this is not true of the textbooks I've seen (some are quite good if you know how do use them), YEC parachurch organization materials of late can only be described as propaganda. Whether deliberate or not, that is what it has become. One more key issue it pastoral silence. Why do so many pastors studiously avoid discussing this issue, taking a stand publically (when privately they know the earth is older than THAT) and trying desperately to remain neutral. Is this constituency driven? doctrinally derived? or scholarly ignorance? Why is the default view so often YEC?

Virginia Peterson said...

Another thing is that young-earth advocates are linking their interpretation to the authority of the Bible - "You don't want to go against what God actually says, do you?" (the clearest, plainest explanation) They are also big on how much presuppositions and worldviews influence how people look both at science and the Bible. It almost doesn't matter what the data or evidence says, it's that you have the correct worldview in looking at it. "Since we already know the earth is young, any explanation that shows anything else is wrong."

I'm been having some online discussions with young-earth people lately, and those are some of the main themes that come up.

Also the idea that you can't trust measurements of things that happened in the past, since we don't know if the rates of physical processes have changed. ("Actually we do know that, since everything was different before the Flood...")

I think this would cause confusion in the minds of Christians who don't know a lot of science, and it's easy to take the "experts" word for it, since they're upholding the Bible.

Theology Mom said...

Great points here, Virginia.

Theology Mom said...

Nick:

You're right. Money does play a role. Young-earth organizations are incredibly well funded. They spend half a million to a million dollars putting together courses, while I'm doing it for practically nothing at Reasons To Believe. But if you ask me, our content is much stronger. Even so, more money would allow us to develop more alternative courses.

I also share the frustration concerning pastors. Usually, they are either ignorant about the scientific evidence or they are afraid of offending donors. There seems to be a dearth of Christian leaders with moral courage.

nick drt said...

Yes, I agree that RTB materials are the BEST OUT THERE BAR NONE. That is why I am using your courses for my kids, our church youth and in my Bible classes as much as I can at this time. One of several motivations I have for engaging (in a nice way of course) YECers is my strong belief that YEC causes are indeed siphoning off funds which could be put to much better use. RTB being one of them. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK. Think of all the re-writing of textbooks, etc there is to do. But I believe the light of truth is penetrating barriers.

Mark said...

Listen to presentations by Answers in Genesis and you will here some version of the following statement repeated endlessly: "Are you going to believe the word of God or the ideas of man" Then they equate the word of God to "young earth" and man's ideas are anything else. If people remember nothing else from their presentations they remember this often repeated statement. This type of manipulative argument blurs the distinction between the word of God clearly stating that Jesus rose from the dead, and the young earth position which is not clearly stated. The Bible makes no attempt to date creation, rather people try to figure it out from "clues" in the Bible. It is dangerous to take such an investigation and claim your conclusion as the word of God.
Many Christian leaders and Pastors are unwilling to take a stand because they know they will lose membership, donations, book sales etc... Because people will view them as deceived, anti God's word, wolves in sheep's clothing, trying to please men not God etc... This, I believe, is why several leaders who seem to be old earth don't take a stand but state they can see value in both positions. I've never heard a young earth person see value in both positions. As a former pastor I have seen this play out on more than one occasion, and it is frustrating to see pastor's not willing to preach what they believe out of fear for their jobs. We need integrity on both sides of this debate.

Luke said...

Mark, my dad has certainly found that to be true. You are right on. There is certainly a lot of fear wrapped up in all this, and that fear is often tied to a lack of clear, honest representations of the ideas that are out there.

With that, I think for many homeschoolers the real issue is time: Who has the time to sort out all of this? It's not just blind faith in the "experts" but rather a real need to choose where to spend our finite resources. The fact that there is still such strong disagreement among various view-holders requires that we either throw up our hands and say we don't know but we should be willing to look at whatever comes up--as I am inclined to do--or to latch onto a single idea and plant the flag of "truth" firmly on that hill... which if you desire to teach your children the truth, is likely what you'll do.

~Luke

Mark said...

Luke, thanks for your comments. The article you referenced is great. I read it several months ago, and wish Sonlight would give it out to everyone. I think another issue for homeschoolers is the lack of teaching material promoting an old earth. I would love to find a good old earth geology text that doesn't rely on evolution. It seems that the few old earth resources available are aimed at general readership and not homeschoolers. Young Earthers are focusing on training the next generation while Old Earthers are focusing on adults and nonchristians (evangelism). I find it interesting and enlightening that Young Earthers have little to no evangelistic incentive in their teaching.
I also think that a lot of Christian leaders do not realize the dangers of letting Young Earthers label Old Earthers as "wolves in sheeps clothing, etc..." The attitude of, "I will ignore their attacks as long as they don't attack me," does a lot of damage. I believe Young Earthers are wrong and their position causes some serious problems for many people, but I am not willing to accuse them of destroying the foundation of the Christian faith as Answers in Genesis does to Old Earthers.

Jeff Fischer said...

Mark,

I'm about 2/3 through an excellent book by Davis A. Young & Ralph F. Stearly, "The Bible, Rocks and Time". While I'm just a 40-something layman with 4 kids in Christian school, in my estimation, this could be an excellent high school level textbook. This book is written by geology professors and, while it does not refute evolution, its arguments rest on geology and biblical arguments. Good, good stuff.

Mark said...

What we really need is "The Case for an Old Earth" by Lee Strobel. Unfortunately such a book will never be written, but he is in a unique position of influence and credibility with many Young Earth believers. It would be a great evangelistic resource,reconciling Genesis with science, as well as encouraging civility within the church.

Jenny said...

I agree with Mark (above) that the YEC focus on training future generations (curricula, museums, etc.) is a major factor. Why doesn't RTB or the ID movement have a museum?

Another point: Many homeschooling parents try really hard to react against anything and everything they can associate with the public school system. I can't count how many times I've heard someone denounce any kinds of ethnic studies as promoting "multiculturalism" and "reverse racism."