Saturday, October 15, 2005

From the Cliff-edge of Mt. Nebo 3

From where Moses stood:On the edge of the promised land, Moses stood here and saw far more than physical geography. He saw a political map of the twelve tribes and a redemptive history stretching away to the coming of the Messiah.

I took delivery of a new book this morning and if ever a book represented a lost cause this is it.
Tom McIver in Anti-Evolution: A Reader’s Guide to Writings before and after Darwin. describes it thus:
Gosse, Philip Henry. Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot, 1857. London: Van Voorst. Gosse: member of Plymouth Brethren; respected naturalist, marine biologist (popularized the aquarium). Gosse tried to accommodate his strict belief in literal creation with mounting evidence for old earth and succession of fossil organisms. He expected this book to be a triumphant breakthrough, a reconciliation embraced by atheist geologist and fundamentalist alike. Gosse argued for creation with appearance of age: just as Adam was created with a belly-button (‘omphalos’), so too all creatures and the earth itself were created with apparent age — illusory evidence of previous existence. God created all things in cycles of existence, so His creations showed signs of previous stages of the cycle from the moment of creation. He created trees with tree-rings (from non-existent previous growth), and animals with signs of earlier growth and wear — even with excrement in their intestines. The living world had to be created as an ongoing process in order to function. When God created organisms, he necessarily created them at some point in the cycle of existence. He gave each an arbitrary beginning, “but one which involved all previous rotations of the circle, though only as an ideal, or, in another phrase, prochronic,” (Gosse contrasts such “prochronic,” created events with ordinary “diachronic” events which occur “during” time.) Geological strata were created with fossils already in them. “The past conditions or stages of existence in question, can indeed be as triumphantly inferred by legitimate deduction from the present …; they rest on the very same evidences; they are identically the same in every respect, except this one, they were unreal. They exist only in their results; they are effects which never had causes.” Gosse’s theory was rejected by all sides. Most creationists today are embarrassed by the bold totality of Gosse’s concept, but continue to rely on creation with appearance of age for specific cases of refractory evidence.

Omphalos has been reprinted by the Ox Bow Press, P.O. Box 4045, Woodbridge, Connecticut. They did the reprint in 1998 and I’ve only just noticed but I obtained this copy through and, colophonically speaking, it is the most inviting looking paperback reprint I have ever seen. Their back-page blurb is as off-putting as McIver’s:-

In the mid 1850s, a terrible dilemma presented itself to the distinguished English marine biologist Philip Henry Gosse. The emerging scientific evidence for the great age of the earth and the fossils that were being uncovered was in opposition to the fundamentalist beliefs of the Plymouth Brethren. As a lay preacher of this group, he faced the terrible choice between faith and reason. In a valiant effort to have it both ways, he wrote Omphalos (London, 1857). This work maintained that God created the world the biblical five millenia ago with newly created evidence of a much older world in order to account for continuity such as annual rings on the trees in the Garden of Eden for years that had never existed. The book was met with scorn by the scientific community and suspicion by Gosse’s co-religionists who thought that God was being accused of fraud. A year later, the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species consigned Omphalos to obscurity.

So why do I want to read this book? I have liked Gosse’s theory in principle for years and I’ve never been able to get my hands on a copy to read the original. Now I can. The theory appeals to me for itself but also because something so universally but dichotomously derided ought to be worth looking into. I suspect that much of the criticism was ill-placed then and possibly remains missclassified now so it is interesting as an historical event. Already I have some alternative theories to those of McIver and Ox Bow. For example, when Ox Bow talks about ‘co-religionists’ I suspect that they mean ‘Christians’ in general but the Brethren, being Dispensationalists, were perhaps more displeased with the way Gosse dealt with the gap theory.

So why am I not avidly reading it now instead to doing this? Well, I do have other things to do including getting ready for tomorrow and writing a thesis but also I thought it would be good to mark out the theological cliff edge before I start so that I don’t automatically rule out some byway as being closed when that byway might be ‘the strait and narrow’ leading to the edge but not over it. So I’m putting up before me five ¶s from what I believe to be the best cliff edge marking ever done in this area as a guide:
Francis A. Schaeffer, Complete Works. Vol. 2 A Christian View of the Bible as Truth, pp. 136f.:-

… I will now mention two limits that seem to me to be absolute. The first is that the use of the word bara insists that at the original creation, at the creation of conscious life, and at the creation of man there was specific discontinuity with what preceded.
One other limitation is that Adam was historic and was the first man, and that Eve was made from Adam. It could not be: male-female-male-female-male-female, and then suddenly Zip!—male-female of man. It would be worthwhile here to read again all the New Testament references to the early chapters of Genesis found on pages 12-14. Among these it is most important to recognize that 1 Corinthians 11:8 affirms that Eve came from Adam: “For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man.” First Corinthians 11:12 and 1 Timothy 2:13 also relate to Eve’s coming from Adam.
Consequently, what is involved here (as in this whole discussion) is not just the first chapters of Genesis, but the authoritativeness of the New Testament as well, and especially the writings of Paul. If Paul is wrong in this factual statement about Eve’s coming from Adam, there is no reason to have certainty in the authority of any New Testament factual statement, including the factual statement that Christ rose physically from the dead. If we say this factual statement about Eve was culturally oriented, then every factual statement of the New Testament can be said to be culturally oriented; and any or all of the factual statements of the New Testament can be dealt with arbitrarily and subjectively. The Bible gives a specific limitation: Adam was created by God, and then Eve was made from Adam by God.
In passing it should be noted that it is not inconsequential that Eve came from Adam; rather, this gives the basis for the absolute unity of the whole human race.
Having set forth these two limitations, I must now say I have never heard anyone holding any form of theistic evolution who follows these two limitations. I think the reason for this is that holding these limitation in any system of theistic evolution would separate the one who holds such an evolutionary theory from the usual evolutionists as completely as holding a totally nonevolutionary theory would. To put that another way, someone affirming these limitations would be as completely separated from those who hold the evolutionary position in its normal form as would someone who did not hold any form of evolution. And this is the reason, I think, it has not been put forward, at least never to the best of my knowledge.

Just to add that I will also be looking for what Gosse has to say about the discontinuity caused by the fall and the expulsion from Eden.

No comments: