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Professors to Participate in Creation Conference

May 25th, 2012

By Danielle Builta.

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

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“Were Adam and Eve real people? Does creation really matter?”

The answer is yes, according to Dr. Neal Doran, Dr. Stephen McRoberts, and dozens of other scientists and theologians who are participating in the “Origins: 2012” conference, July 26-28, hosted by the Creation Biology Society (CBS) and Creation Geology Society (CGS) this summer on Patrick Henry’s campus.

Dr. Neal Doran, Assistant Professor of Biology at Patrick Henry College

CBS, a society of young–age scientists, was co–founded by Doran in 1996 and holds a yearly conference featuring peer-reviewed scientific research.

While the society isn't known to lay audiences, it does contain several respected scientists. For example, Dr. Kurt Wise, one of the original founders, was called by evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, “the only creationist who is a scientist.”

Unlike other “polemical” creationist organizations that attack Darwinism, CBS aims “to construct positive alternative models for understanding the history of life on earth.

“Darwin’s problem with creationism," said Doran, "was that it did not provide insight into how the world operated."

Before he went to college, Doran was sent to a creationist apologetic conference as a graduation gift from friends. In college, however, “every idea at the conference was obliterated in one semester by biologists and geologists who truly understood the science.”

At that time, in the late 1980s, says Doran, only two people provided thoughtful scientific critiques in a responsible fashion: Kurt Wise and a graduate student named Paul Nelson (now a Discovery Institute Fellow). Correspondence with Wise, beginning in a small email list in the 1990’s, became the CBS, which today is an international society of 40–50 scientists. 

This year, Doran explains, their conference seeks to create a theological society, partly in response to organizations like BioLogos -- a coalition of evangelical theistic evolutionists who promote "telos-based evolution" as biblically compatible with Genesis. Their theology endorses a mythic-history view of Genesis 1-11, which they are aggressively presenting to churches, youth groups, and at home school conferences.

“BioLogos agrees with the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolutionary development of all species, seeing these as descriptions of how God created,” the BioLogos website states. Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project and Tim Keller, an evangelical pastor, are among many Christians who support BioLogos.

“We all agree that the question of origins is scientific and that we can arrive at the truth by looking at the evidence,” Doran said.

BioLogos’ scientific philosophy employs a “methodological naturalism,” which requires purely “naturalistic causation” for all scientific questions.

“The CBS looks at exactly the same evidence, but what we’re trying to do is to see if it fits into a different scientific model,” Doran said.

The assumptions of naturalism are so ingrained in the scientific world that it may cause scientists to miss things. For example, the way in which in which some scientific computer software is programmed assumes a common ancestry for all life.

“Whether the assumption of common ancestry is right or wrong, the computer will always take it back to a common ancestor,” Doran said. When CBS/CGS scientists look closely at the evidence, loosen interpretive restrictions, and ask different questions, they “start recognizing things they would otherwise overlook.”

Research done on catastrophic plate tectonics, for instance, helped explain the presence of high-pressure, and relatively low-temperature, minerals in mountain cores. Likewise, 'ghost craters' on the moon within the lunar maria (the moon's large dark spots) suggest the moon had very rapid bombardment rates.

“We use the same methods, the same techniques, a lot of the same assumptions, the same data and classifications, but we have some different foundational assumptions. For instance, what if the biological world is classified by many smaller trees instead of one big tree?” Doran said.

“There’s a lot of truth in Darwinism," he notes, "but if we look at a broader field of questions and data, we might be able to see things others have overlooked. As we go from Ptolemy to Copernicus, [we] literally move the world, based on taking into account a lot more evidence than was used before.”

Scholarly opinions of Genesis chapters 1 through 11, he observes, introduce additional questions related to history and theology.

Dr. McRoberts, professor of classics at PHC, finds Genesis an important part of his study of mythology and history. He is currently writing a scholarly paper for the CBS conference on the connection between Heracles, the Greek deity, and Nimrod, the Jewish historical figure. The historical connection is evidentially supported by historical records, but the timeline requires the occurrence of a global flood.

Dr. Stephen McRoberts, Associate Professor of Classics at Patrick Henry College

If you dismiss Genesis as mythical, McRoberts says, then you wipe out a historical record that is inherently more rational and that carries more historical weight than pagan mythologies.

“It is valuable that Genesis can be perceived as myth because it appeals to the deep yearnings of the soul for meaning,” McRoberts said. “But it’s not myth in the sense that it’s a story told which has a thousand different ways it can be told, a thousand different variations and everyone has their own. No, there is a foundational truth to it.”

The rationality of the account and the lack of fantastical elements and corruption, compared to other myths like Gilgamesh, cause the Biblical creation story to stand out.

“There are no cultures that do not have the myth of the Flood. All cultures were shaped by the idea of a flood which destroyed the whole world. There are monomyths which appear everywhere, and one of them is the Flood.”

Secular scholars often dismiss it as “the ravings of a primitive culture,” or minimize the effect by postulating many small, local floods.

“If the world was destroyed down to a few men and re–populated from them, they would take the story of the Flood with them, and that would explain the great dispersion of the story,” McRoberts said. Other monomyths such as the God–King myth, the Descent into the Underworld, and the Creation and Fall of Man, point to the universality of other themes in the Bible.

According to McRoberts, the integrity and coherency of the Genesis narrative demands that it stand as a literary whole. He finds the case for a 24–hour creation day compelling. The Biblical text takes the day of creation and connects it specifically to a literal day of the week, referenced in Exodus.

“It’s very clear that ‘yom’ means a day. You can look at the Exodus narrative, because that’s where God establishes the week based on the days of Creation, and uses the same word, ‘yom’, to mean a day,” McRoberts said. “The connection is too direct… in literary terms. I have to take it as literal 24-hour days.”

Both Christian positions contrast with secular science. Despite BioLogos’ assertions that their beliefs uphold “a confidence in the ultimate harmony between science and faith,” theistic evolution still doesn’t agree with modern evolution theory, according to Doran.

Doran heard Stephen Jay Gould in one of his final lectures speak against the idea that evolution has a purpose.

“There is no purpose, no direction by definition. When you try to theistically co–opt it, you are changing a foundational premise of the evolutionary model,” Doran said. “Though the secular evolutionary community will eagerly partner with theistic evolutionists in common politicial goals, they are not as eager about the assumptions behind theistic evolution.”

According to Doran, some Christians think that agreeing with secular scientific assumptions will gain them respect and trust in the scientific community. Doran disagrees. “One prominent evolutionary biologist has called for the firing of BioLogos founder, and NIH head, Francis Collins.”

Doran sees Christian scientists and theologians as called to strive towards the truth, which includes both good science and good theology. He would challenge BioLogos’ assumptions that have combined Neo–Darwinism and challenges to biblical inerrancy.

“We’re not at all sure that is what the biblical text is telling us,” Doran said. “We’d like to assemble a community that is going to look very thoughtfully at the historical record on its own.”