Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bishop Robert Vasa, RC YEC

Bishop Robert Vasa recently expressed a "certain reluctance" before essentially rejecting the scientific understanding of geology which has prevailed for over two hundred years. I should have hoped that this reluctance stemmed from a nonscientist's awareness that he lacked the background knowledge to have an informed opinion while speaking from the forceful position of trust he holds. Sadly this did not dissuade him.

Writing in the Catholic Sentinel, Bishop Vasa argues that there are materialistically valid data that support a recent creation for the earth, and even for Noah's Flood. To use the creationist's parlance, those "evidences," that he did report are simply false. They were both errors of fact and inference which I'll address momentarily. But first, I want to eliminate the notion that God is biblically represented so as to "fake" the universe. Imagine my reluctance as a scientist and agnostic to seek to instruct a Bishop on both science and biblical interpretation! In fact, I will leave biblical instruction to two Church Fathers, Aquinas and Augustine, and the Bible. Only later will I make some observations about sciences where my professional qualifications are clear.

Thomas Aquinas, c.a. 1225 - 1274, was very concerned with the ways that the expansion of human knowledge could challenge traditional patterns of belief and practice. Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theological (1273), "In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to be observed, as Augustine teaches. The first is, to hold to the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing."

Aquinas refers to the Christian Father, Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) who advised Christians trying to interpret Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim). The following translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41. "Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion." {Augustine here has referred to 1 Timothy 1.7}

I could easily see myself in Augustine's writing as one who opposes "mischievous false opinions" and "not bound by the authority of our sacred books." So, in honor of Augustine's perception I have inquired whether there is biblical support for ignoring science, particularly the "historical sciences" astronomy, geology, and biology. These sciences unequivocally demonstrate that the Universe is ancient, the Solar System is ancient, and that life on Earth is ancient. Young Earth Creationists (YEC) make two sorts of materialist arguments; the sciences are entirely wrong or there are some sort of material evidence that the Earth is merely a few thousands years old. They also commonly make a theological argument that the Earth and Universe were created recently with an apparent age that is ancient, and that the natural sciences are therefore incapable of representing truth. This later is asserted because the Calvinist, and savagely anti-Catholic, Bishop James Usser, determined that adding the "ages" of generations found various places in the Bible gave an age of the creation of some 6000 years. So the first question is whether the Bible states the universe is untrustworthy? In other words, should the sciences be ignored? I find there is no such biblical support. In fact the opposite should be obvious to any believer in the biblical texts. Consider the following verses (translations The New American Bible, USCCB unless noted) :

Psalm 19:
2 The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft.
3 One day to the next conveys that message; one night to the next imparts that knowledge.

Psalm 85:12 reads, "Truth will spring from the earth; justice will look down from heaven. The Hebrew word translated here as "truth," emet, also is used to mean “certainty and dependability.”

Addressing his three friends, Job challenges them: “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; The birds of the sky, they will tell you; or speak to the earth, it will teach you; The fish of the sea, they will inform you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” — Job 12:7-9. (Jewish Publication Society. Compare with, "7 But now ask the beasts to teach you, and the birds of the air to tell you; 8 Or the reptiles on earth to instruct you, and the fish of the sea to inform you. " USCCB).

Job later demonstrates his geological knowledge saying, 14:18-19, "Mountains collapse and crumble; Rocks are dislodged from their place. Water wears away stone; Torrents wash away earth; So you destroy man's hope. (Jewish Publication Society. Compare with "18- But as a mountain falls at last and its rock is moved from its place, 19- As waters wear away the stones and floods wash away the soil of the land, so you destroy the hope of man" USCCB). In these verses from the ancient Hebrews, the Heavens, the Earth, and all life are presented as truthful witnesses to the Creator. In Job 14 we even see that long geological processes of erosion, and the contrasting suddenness of floods are known and used to enlighten. The sciences are how humans have discovered the facts of the creation, and the study of the creation is commended by the Bible.

What of later biblical authors? They too assert that the creation is a true testament; Romans 1:18-23 (USCCB)
18 The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
19 For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them.
20 Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse;
21 for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.
22 While claiming to be wise, they became fools
23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.

The "wise" in verse 22 referred to astrologers in particular, and verse 23 is reference to the worship of Roman, and Egyptian gods. Astrology linked with the nascent science of astronomy is particularly relevant to the thoughts of Augustine observed earlier. Some creationists like to claim these verses in Romans refer to "Darwinists," but of course there were no evolutionary scientists 1,900 years ago. If the creation was deceitful, or impossible to discern, then verse 20 would be especially violated. That is, unless God were a Loki-like "prankster" attempting to fool humanity. Psalm 119:160, Isaiah 45:18-19, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18 and 11:6, and I John 5:6. all assert that God is trustworthy. Returning to Psalm 19, verse 8 says, "The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple." These verses are entirely blocking the Young Earth Creationist "appearance of age" avenue.

So the "appearance of age" is antiscriptural- not merely unattested, but contrary to scripture. The Universe and the Earth appear billions of years old because that is how they really are.

Some YEC proponents will next try the argument that the universe had to be created old or else it could not function properly. The oceans needed salt, mountains had to be worn down etc... in order for the universe to properly function as a home for humanity. and so God recently created an aged universe. This is easily countered as well because there is no "need" for the billions of fossils to exist- they make no critical contribution to geochemistry or to biochemistry which could not be generated directly by some mineral or other. Nor is there any need for the fossil remains of ancient life to clearly show sequential change over hundreds of millions of years, whether changing gradually or abruptly. So, since the Bible categorically asserts that God can be trusted, and that the creation is testament to the Creator, honest believers must reject both the "appearance of age" and the "created old" arguments.

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