Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Defective Case for Biblical Faith

How should we defend the faith? Dr Douglas Groothuis, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminar, addresses this question in his recent book, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (IVP Academic, 2011). At 752 pages, this is a rather massive volume. It is quite readable, and contains much useful material. Unhappily, in my opinion, it has some serious flaws.

Christian apologetics is the rational defense of the Christian worldview. There are various approaches to apologetics. Dr Groothuis uses a cumulative-case method. This method is more informal, considers multiple lines of evidence, and argues that Christianity makes better overall sense of all the evidence than any alternative. Thus Dr Groothuis contends that "the testimony of the cosmos, human experience, and history all point to Christian theism as the most probable explanation for the facts" (p.59). 

Accordingly, Dr Groothuis presents a variety of arguments. Most of these are quite good. Here I shall concentrate on some perceived weaknesses and inconsistencies, mostly concerning his handling of scientific issues.

Endorsing Big Bang Cosmology
A crucial first step is to establish the existence of a personal, all-powerful being who created the universe out of nothing. Here Dr Groothuis relies heavily on Big Big cosmology. He argues that BBC has been scientifically verified to a high degree, and that it indicates the universe has come from nothing a finite time ago.

What about possible Biblical evidence to the contrary? According to Dr Groothuis, God reveals Himself also through nature. Thus a coherent Christian worldview should attempt to bring together the book of nature and book of Scripture. Both need to be interpreted correctly. Groothuis believes there is overwhelming evidence that the universe is 13-15 billion years old, and that the earth is ancient. He contends that the creation days could have been long periods of time. Hence, if the evidence for the big bang is impressive, and the theory supports the crucial biblical doctrine of divine creation from nothing, "then the savvy apologist should endorse it" (234).

Design and Origins
In discussing the argument from design, Dr Groothuis stresses that we live in a fallen universe: "humans and the surrounding universe are fallen as a result of human rebellion against God (Genesis 3; Romans 3)" (242). Christianity predicts that design in nature will be evident, but it does not predict a flawless world untouched by sin and corruption. Nature shows evidence of deformity, decay and disease; the design is often less than optimal. "Hence we have evidence for both creation and Fall in nature" (242).

Although Groothuis endorses an old earth, he rejects Darwinism. Instead, trying to reconcile the Bible and the book of nature, he embraces a day-age creationism. According to Groothuis, God created each "kind" directly, not via macro-evolution. The first human couple was created directly by God, and experienced the Fall in space-time history (275). Groothuis argues that Darwinism runs more on a commitment to philosophical materialism than on hard empirical evidence or good arguments (296).

The Problem of Natural Evil
Natural evil consists of such things as earthquakes, floods, storms, diseases and deformity that cause suffering in humans and animals. Why does a good God permit natural evil to exist? According to Groothuis, natural evil was not built into the world, which was initially created good. Rather, all natural evil is a result of Adam's Fall. Thus, "the doctrine of the Fall preserves both the original goodness of creation and the goodness of God as the Creator" (628). 

Some Comments
I concur with much that Dr Groothuis writes about design, macro-evolution, and evil. But I also see some major problems.

As we saw, Dr Groothuis believes that the savvy apologist should endorse big bang cosmology, since it seems to support an argument for God. It seems to me, however, his too-ready acceptance of big bang cosmology actually serves to undermine his case for Biblical faith.

First, Dr Groothuis minimizes serious problems with Big Bang Cosmology, and underestimates the viability of alternative models (see my post Deflating Cosmology). Even within BBC, there are various possibilities wherein the physical universe existed before the Big Bang; BBC does not necessarily support creation ex nihilo [see for example Theism and Physical Cosmology, by Hans Halvorson and Helge Kragh]. A much more cautious approach to BBC is therefore in order.

Second, Dr. Groothuis believes that the scientific evidence is overwhelming for BBC, and for an old earth, but not for macro-evolution. But since he is neither a cosmologist nor a biologist, how can he tell? If mainstream science is right about the age of things, why should it not also be right about the evolutionary origin of things? And if we should listen to the overwhelming majority of cosmologists and geologists, why should we not similarly listen to the overwhelming majority of biologists? Where and how do we draw the evidential line? (See my post Presbyterian Appeasement).

Further, Dr Groothuis uses the two-book theory to justify his modification of Gen.1 to harmonize it with mainstream cosmology. However, theistic evolutionists use the same argument to justify a re-read also of Gen.2-3, and other portions of Scripture. Where and how do we draw the hermeneutical line? (See my post God's Two Books and History). The two-book approach subverts honest Biblical exegesis and diminishes Biblical authority.

Finally, Dr Groothuis affirms that all natural evil and imperfect design are caused by Adam's Fall. But does this not contradict his day-age creationism? Groothuis's acceptance of an old earth entails also his acceptance of the secular dates of fossils. However, fossils exhibiting the past existence of natural disasters, disease, deformity, suffering, and death are allegedly dated long before Adam. It follows that natural evil could then not have been caused by Adam's Fall. Indeed, day-age creationists are forced to view natural disasters, diseases, and the like as part of God's original "very good" creation.

In short, Dr Groothuis can either (1) endorse Big Bang Cosmology, or (2) blame natural evil and imperfect design on Adam's Fall. The two options seem to be mutually exclusive. Hence, if Dr Groothuis believes that (2) is Biblically warranted, he might be wise to reconsider (1).

The danger with the cumulative-case apologetics of Dr Groothuis is that of conceding too much common ground to the unbeliever, downplaying the influence of worldview in how we evaluate the evidence, and appealing too much to fallen human reasoning to build the case for Christianity.


Craig Masters, PhD said...

I can't tell you how encouraging it is to find another scientist who actually believes Genesis. I have enjoyed reading many of your posts and articles.

I agree that Dr. Groothuis has "conced[ed] too much common ground to the unbeliever." I believe that hits the nail on the head. If I understand Van Til, there is no epistemic common ground between the believer and unbeliever. That's why he needs God to sovereignly heal the unbeliever's blindness, overhauling his epistemology to begin to see the world through His eyes. And the only way I know of to do that is to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17-31). But using the Big Bang favorably in one's apologetics is entirely inconsistent with the gospel.

John Byl said...

Hi Craig

Welcome to my blog, and thanks for your comment.

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