Agnostic

Returning to the point of the original post in this recent series (to blog my reactions to The Genesis Debate), consider the 3rd paragraph that emerges from the pen of 6×24 advocates Duncan & Hall:

From the outset, let us state that our defense of the historic Judeo-Christian view does not imply that we agree or disagree with various “creationist” positions on the age of the universe. The age of the universe is a matter of inference and sometimes speculation, whereas the interpretation of scriptural references to day is a distinct issue. We purposefully limit our discussion to the meaning of day in Scripture and the history of interpretation. We decline to speculate about unbiblical theories; nor do we believe that detailed knowledge of certain scientific fields is a prerequisite for believers — past or present — to understand God’s word on this limited subject. In short, we take no position on the age of the universe precisely because that question is not directly addressed by the canon. The use of day, by contrast, is addressed and, thus, is our focal point.

Later, in response to the Framework view, Duncan and Hall take exception to Framework’s claim to being “uniquely agnostic”:

Although the framework interpretation incorrectly claims to be uniquely agnostic on the age of the earth, the nature of the creation days is not inextricably tied to the age of the earth. Our presentation of the historic literal-day view (like Calvin before us) pressed no particular view of the age of the earth or universe.

Both of teams of opponents express wonder at this position. Ross & Archer:

We have difficulty imagining their failure to recognize the inseparability of the age of the universe from the ages of the stars.

Irons (with Kline):

We would have to question, however, whether Duncan and Hall are entitled to the disclaimer [that they take no position on the age of the earth or universe]. It would appear that on their 24-hour view, the upper limit for the age of the universe would be set by the maximum amount of time allowed by the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 (unless they are ready to adopt some form of the gap theory [which they don’t]). Even the most generous reading of the genealogies would limit the maximum time to somewhere around 100,000 years from Adam to Abraham, and most young-earth creationists argue for a much smaller figure. A logical implication of the 24-hour view, then, is that the billions of years proposed by modern geology and astronomy for the ages of the earth and the universe must be flatly rejected.

Seems to me Duncan & Hall don’t have much warrant to claim to be earth-age or universe-age agnostic. Are they saying, “the scientists can say whatever they want about the age of the earth, or universe, or stars, and they may even be correct — we don’t feel interested or threatened, unless they try to adopt a ‘conformist’ interpretation of Genesis”? If so, that would seem to deny the Genesis account any historicity. And it would also imply a separation between “scientific truth” and “biblical truth” that I doubt Duncan and Hall would willingly endorse.

Also, I wonder whether Duncan & Hall intend to foist this agnosticism on the 6×24 camp in general? How would your average “ignorant fundy hick” YEC react if they were told, “listen up, dude, we’re agnostic about the age of the earth and the universe, so just ignore all those God-hating scientists who keep saying ‘billions’.” ? Certainly Forester, Kazooless, and Wacky are no ignorant fundy hicks, and yet they all seem to have some pretty definite ideas on the age of the earth and universe — how do you guys feel about Duncan & Hall saying you should be agnostic?

Update: Attempting to understand D&H’s claim that they follow Calvin in earth-/universe-age agnosticism, I looked up all references to “Calvin” in the book, and ended up only more mystified at D&H’s assertion of Calvin’s agnosticism.

Not only did our fathers in the faith have fixed views that the creation days were ordinary, but their view was so universal that as time progressed, they easily codified these views in creeds and confessions without objection.  Earlier orthodoxy was so undisputed that they set these items in creeds and found little or no opposition to enshrining as creedal the views of Ussher (the Irish Articles), Calvin (The Westminster Confession), Luther, Perkins, and many others.

These earlier commentators and the creeds which developed after them were not merely concerned with the “Who” or “what” of creation.  They went out of their way to affirm the “when” and the “how” as well.  The burden rests on novel interpretations to convince us that “how long” — since God reveals it to us — is unimportant.

… Samuel Davies, in his 1756 “The Mediatorial Kingdom and Glories of Jesus Christ,” stated that the “space between the creation and the flood” was “about 1600 years,” indicating that he adopted the scheme held by Ussher, Calvin, Ames, Perkins, and Lightfoot, and expressed by the Westminster Assembly.

(My bold, D&H’s “other emphases”)

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25 Responses

  1. Seems to me Duncan & Hall don’t have much warrant to claim to be earth-age or universe-age agnostic.

    Agreed. I’ve not added up the genealogies myself; for that I’ve depended on the work of others. An upper ceiling of 100,000 years seems not only fair, but generous. Yet at only one order of magnitude greater than the general figure (6,000 years), it’s nowhere near the six orders of magnitude (or five, being generous) required to reach the ballpark of astronomy estimates.

    So yes, technically Duncan & Hall may be agnostic about the age of the universe, in that they figure it varies within a range of 100,000 years or so. And for those who insist on correct and undistracted Scriptural interpretation, declining to speculate on a figure whose best calculation leaves a margin of error as wide as an order of magnitude may be not only important, but hermeneutically required.

    But in a larger general evolution/creation discussion, such agnosticism is an asterisk that’s not very relevant, posing as it does the potential to mislead.

    Certainly Forester, Kazooless, and Wacky are no ignorant fundy hicks, and yet they all seem to have some pretty definite ideas on the age of the earth and universe — how do you guys feel about Duncan & Hall saying you should be agnostic?

    I agree with them (not that I would have brought it up in our discussion). I don’t know the specific age of the universe, nor do I believe it can be calculated from Scripture with much more precision than already discussed. Generally I assume 6,000 years because that figure is tossed out frequently, but that’s an operating assumption on my part, and if the real age turned out to be as great 100,000 years I wouldn’t be surprised. When I come across evolutionary studies with dates within 100,000 years, I regard them as confirmation of a young earth timeframe.

    (“What about 101,000 years?” retorts the deaf provocateur.)

    By the way, I don’t think speculating on the perspective of an ignorant fundy hick is helpful, as the best-case outcome is an accurate discussion of what all sides admit is an ignorant perspective. When I debate with evolutionists I don’t refer to the beliefs of ignorant fundy hick Darwinists, nor would I bring up, in this discussion, the misconceptions of ignorant fundy hick Old Earth Creationists. Laughing at weak versions of opposing viewpoints may be fun, but it’s also irrelevant to the issues at hand.

  2. Thx, forester. Note that the 100,000 figure in the book comes from both the Framework and the day-age team — I couldn’t find it anywhere mentioned by Duncan & Hall. I believe the 6,000 is handed down to us by Ussher. I seem to recall a link that Steve left in a comment somewhere, but I simply can’t find it. There are plenty other links, I’m sure, but this site linked by Steve had an adjacent article with a full-detail Ussher-style chronology that ended up with a little more than 10K years.

    But in a larger general evolution/creation discussion, such agnosticism is an asterisk that’s not very relevant, posing as it does the potential to mislead.

    Well-said — this is what I was trying to express. In whatever sense D&H can honestly claim to be agnostic of the age of the earth and universe, that sense is irrelevant to the discussion. And I wouldn’t call it an evolution/creation discussion. OEC/YEC captures the distinction better.

  3. I don’t havwe the book so I can’t read everything in context, but is seems to me that D&H *qualified* the scope of their agnosticism to “various ‘creationist’ positions on the age of the universe.”

    As Rube pointed out, we could go 6,000 to 100,000. D&H are not getting into *that* debate. Various *creationists* have made arguments, say, for 6,000. Some perhaps for 50,000. DF&H say that they don’t want to touch *that* debate.

    Seems the charitable read would lean towards that reading. But, again, without context and surjoinders to the rejoinders, I’m in the dark.

  4. Among the three views contending in the book, Framework claims to be “uniquely agnostic”, and D&H respond, “You’re not uniquely agnostic — we’re agnostic too!” Which implies to me they want to be seen as agnostic in the same sense as Framework, i.e. totally immune to any scientific claim to the age of the earth and the universe.

    I’m also curious, they align themselves with Calvin in agnosticism, but I don’t know what they mean by that. I’ll have to Amazon-search the book to see if they ever explain that.

  5. Rube,

    I think in charity we should interpret them according to their *explicit* qualifier over against your *implicit* one. Indeed, since *they are* agnostic, then “agnosticism” can’t be *unique* to just the Framework guys. So, they can say what they said in your quote *while still* holding to the qualifier I pointed out. Until I have evidence to the contrary I’ll interoret them in the best light. By the way, I’d extend the same courtesy towards the other authers.

  6. Update: Quotes from D&H concerning Calvin tacked on to the main post above. They seem to view Calvin and Ussher as two of a kind, and I doubt anyone could honestly call Ussher agnostic as to the age of the universe!

  7. Rube, I have to take back my comment. I (in my head) put a “young earth” before “creationist.” Not all creationists are young earth! Duh. So, they didn’t use the qualifier I thought. My bad. My apologies. My idiocy. (There, I have no problem using invective against myself!)

  8. Do you want me to delete your last two comments, or do you want me to preserve evidence of humility?

  9. No, by all means, preserve them. Not as evidence of my humility (for which I have little), but evidence of my stupidity (of which my cup overfloweth). :-)

  10. Rube,

    I think you’re reading them wrong on Calvin.

    Our presentation of the historic literal-day view (like Calvin before us) pressed no particular view of the age of the earth or universe.

    It seems to me that the “like Calvin before us” is referring to the “historic literal-day view” and NOT the statement about a “particular view of the age…”

    They are being agnostic, but I don’t think they are saying Calvin called himself agnostic on this issue.

    My feelings on this? I think that it is good to separate the two categories. It is good to ask what the exegesis of the scripture tells us about the use of the word “day” in the passages related to creation. I’ve tried to make the point before, I think in the sabbath and Hebrews 4 discussion, that the scripture gives us no reason to think other than a literal 24-hour day. And you’ve cited them quoting that this exegetical understand was a long held view taken “without objection” by our fathers.

    So, once you answer the question of exegesis, go on to the next topic. The age of the earth. However, I agree that it seems a logical necessity that we have a young earth (and universe) since we have the genealogies. Now, maybe they address this issue since it seems so obvious the one leads to the other. If so, I’d like to see how they justify their insistence on agnosticism.

    Kazoo

  11. I don’t think they are saying Calvin called himself agnostic on this issue.

    Kazoo, your reading of D&H’s plain English is pretty unbelievable. I can’t say anything more than, no, that’s not what those words are saying.

    So, once you answer the question of exegesis, go on to the next topic. The age of the earth.

    I can understand a perspective of “We’re theologians, so we are just going to focus on the bible, and the debate we are willing to engage in is an exegetical debate, not a scientific debate.” And they do say that (see the “white flag” quote from I Surrender All), and they dismiss all science as ephemeral and transitory (except for the quote which is the main subject of I Surrender All). But this agnostic thing is different.

    Now, maybe they address this issue since it seems so obvious the one leads to the other. If so, I’d like to see how they justify their insistence on agnosticism.

    That’s what I’m sayin! I have now read the whole book; I was surprised on page 1 (actually 23) with that first quote up yonder, and I was cheering when the other teams called them on it, and I was waiting for them to defend themselves, but all I saw was that second quote up yonder (“…like Calvin before us…”).

    Like you, I would very much like to see how they justify their insistence on agnosticism. If anybody has read the book and can show me something I missed, I’d be glad to hear it.

  12. Rube,

    You have the advantage of having read the whole book so maybe there is more in there to make it clear. But what you quoted and then I quoted seems very PLAIN to me that the part about Calvin in parenthesis is talking about what it followed, not preceded. :)

    But, if we both read plain English so differently, then maybe that explains why you’re always wrong when we disagree theologically. :p

    Kazoo

  13. Well, you can click on this Amazon link, and read 5 pages of context around the quote (p. 258).

  14. Seriously though, I see their sentence to be equivalent to (but shorter than):

    [Calvin’s presentation of the historic literal-day view pressed no particular view of the age of the earth or universe. And] our presentation of the historic literal-day view (like Calvin before us) pressed no particular view of the age of the earth or universe.

    If you still disagree, I submit the question to arbitration by any credentialed English instructor (even if he’s a short-earther).

  15. Either one of the Felden’s would do. I will submit to their expertise.

    kaz

  16. If you can get either or both Feldens to read my blog, that would be awesome! Forester is likely to weigh in sooner, though.

  17. Is Forester an English expert?

  18. Yep. I’ll let Forester speak to his detailed credentials, but I know he has at least a Masters from our alma mama JHU, state certification, and many years’ experience teaching Christian/public Middle/High School English. Plus he taught ESL in China.

    And if our dueling experts somehow can’t agree, we can use T’s mom as a tiebreaker. She’s ABD in English, and she’s a nut for grammar!

  19. FWIW, I think I’d see what you’re seeing if they said something like:

    Our presentation of the historic literal-day view (which is like that of Calvin before us) pressed no particular view of the age of the earth or universe.

    But I don’t have the technical grammar-fu to explain why that would make a difference.

  20. Okay. It’s funny though, I kinda expected an “aha, oh, I see what you’re saying” type of response. :)

    I’m not stuck on this. Just wanted to point out how it hit me when I mentioned it.

    Either way, you have my answer as to how I feel about it though, which is what you were looking for.

    Kazoo

  21. Yes, it’s gratifying to see that my primary POC from YEC are also puzzled by the stance of their boyz D&H.

  22. Guess I’m too late. This is your Saturday night?

    I have to agree with Reuben, though I had to read that “Not Uniquely Agnostic” section five times to be sure! The wife agrees, so there you go.

    Even Reuben’s second rephrasing of the sentence would still be making a claim that Calvin was agnostic on the age of the earth.

    Consider the following example:

    Mary (like her mother) has red hair.

    It follows that:

    (1) Mary has red hair. (2) Her mother has red hair.

    Both Mary and mother can function as the subject of the sentence. Grammatically speaking, of the historic literal-day view is describing presentation. Therefore, it can be eliminated (because it is essentially an adjective) and the sentence should still make sense. The modified sentence would read:

    Our presentation (like Calvin before us) pressed no particular view of the age of the earth or universe.

    This makes sense, though it would have been better to use Calvin’s.

  23. :(

    Well, I’m not too proud to be unteachable! Thanks. :)

    I defer to Rube (on this point)

    kaz

  24. Awww, you take all the fun out of ‘winning’! Stupid humility!

  25. Sorry.

    But I’ll agree with you. It certainly isn’t fun for me that you won this one. :(

    Stupid (forced upon me) humilty!

    :)

    Kazoo

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