The following is reprinted with permission of the author, Pete Wilbanks, Professor at North Greenville University. Items added in [square parenthesis] were added for clarity in the blog, along with additions of hyperlinks for additional reference. Originally published in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol 60, No. 4, pp 846-848.
[Review of] Cabal, Theodore J, and Peter J. Rasor, II. Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should Not Divide over the Age of the Earth. Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2017, 239 pp, $15.99.
With the help of Peter Rasor, this book comes from a paper that Ted Cabal delivered (and I attended) at the 2001 national ETS [The Evangelical Theological Society] meeting. In this book, he states that the age of the earth is not a “first-level” doctrine. Following Albert Mohler’s idea of “theological triage,” Cabal identifies the earth’s age as a “third-level” doctrine–a doctrine “over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations” (189). As a YECist, I rejoiced at the book’s title; however, at chapter six, dismay sat in when a polemic twist against YECism surfaced (abbreviations: YEC=young earth creation; OEC=old earth creation; EC=evolutionary creation). Thus, the book’s title is misleading; however, Cabal’s often irenic tone, diligent research, copious footnotes, and use of the “conservatism principle” are the treasures of this work.
In chapters one and two, Cabal discusses the myth of science vs. theology and the Copernican controversy. Cabal dismantles this myth by tracing its genesis to the 1874 work of John Draper entitled History of the Conflict between Religion and Science and the 1896 work of Andrew White entitled A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom. These men understood opposition to evolution as opposition to science; however, Christianity as a whole has actually nurtured the furtherance of science, especially since the reformation (19-20). Next, Cabal gives a detailed historical sketch of the Copernican/Galilean controversy, and he advances the “The Theological Conservatism Principle,” which is analogous to the business practice of “accounting for expenses and liabilities as soon as possible, but booking revenues or assets only when actually assured” (40). Applying this principle to biblical interpretation and scientific discoveries results in three possible outcomes: the two can never wed, the two can court, or the two can wed on certain terms. Galileo used this principle by assuming biblical inerrancy–but not inerrant interpretation, and that nature and Scripture cannot disagree. He further held that traditional biblical interpretation governs unproven science and that proven scientific theory requires biblical reinterpretation, hence most modern Christians interpret the seemingly geocentric biblical verses as ancient observational language. Obviously, Cabal adumbrates that biblical interpretation and old earth can wed under certain terms, but he never shares the details of the terms.
In chapter three, Cabal adroitly states that the Darwinian controversy saw a clash of worldviews that was not present in the Copernican controversy. Both sides agreed on a biblical worldview in the 17th century; however, Darwinism came from a solely naturalistic worldview.
The Copernican and Darwinian controversies were true clashes of faith and science; however, Cabal does not differentiate the kind of sciences involved. Heliocentrism is an observable and repeatable phenomenon; evolution is not. This is the difference between “observational science,” which employs the scientific method, and “origin science” which, being influenced by naturalism, retrojects the assumption that present processes always explain the past. Comparing these two controversies is a type of “apples to oranges” comparison.
Chapter four is another masterpiece of historical research covering the American evangelical response to Darwinism. In the late 1800s, B.B. Warfield and Charles Hodge both rejected Darwinism (or common descent of humanity) but accepted an old earth. They, however, led the fight against Darwinism. From the advent of Darwinism, scientific naturalism prevailed in American academic culture; however, the popular advancement of evolution came after the 1955 play and the 1960 movie about the Scopes Monkey Trial. In 1941, concerned evangelicals formed the American Scientific Affiliation, but by 1959, this organization assumed a proevolution position. The watershed year of 1961 saw the publication of The Genesis Flood by Morris and Whitcomb. Basically a constitutional manifesto for YECism, this book galvanized anti-evolution and young earth as one. Afterwards, YECists formed the Creation Research Society and the Institute of Creation Research. Today, four approaches exist: YECism, OECism, Intelligent Design, and CE. Of these approaches, only YECism is both non-evolutionary and young earth whereas YECism, OECism, and Intelligent design are all three anti-evolutionary.
Chapter five addresses geology and the age of the earth. Again, Cabal’s historical research is remarkable. He describes the geological theories of diluvianism, neptunism, plutonism, and uniformitarianism. Here, Cabal demonstrates his OECism by stating the fossils, geological strata, the fossil column, and radiometric dating all point to an old earth. However, the discovery of polystrate fossils (e.g. pipiscids and lystrosauruses) and living fossils (e.g. coelacanth) call into question the certainty of succession layers, not to mention the fact that fossils must be formed rapidly in an oxygen-free environment.
Chapters six and seven contain Cabal’s analysis of and response to YECism in relation to geology and science. Cabal scrutinizes the Scriptural Geologists of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Seventh Day Adventists of the 20th century, and Morris’ The Genesis Flood. At times, Cabal’s criticisms are well taken (Granville Penn’s emendation of the Hebrew text), but at other times they seem over done (against Henry Morris). Cabal asserts that around 1989, Henry Morris set a combative tone for YECism by insisting that holding to OECism was a compromise with evolution (145). Biblical ineranntists may hold OEC, but the millions of years idea does originate from a naturalistic worldview.
Chapter seven needs clarification. Cabal seemingly uses the terms “evolutionary science,” “atheistic science,” “naturalistic science,” and “modern science” interchangeably in his claims that YECists use evolutionary science and then chide others for doing the same (aka hypocrisy). One might ask, what “science” is left for YECists to use? YECists embrace science and the discoveries thereof, but they do not approach science with evolutionary presuppositions. Much more discussion belongs here, but space constraints prohibit.
Chapter eight addresses the Chicago Statements, biblical inerrancy, and the age of the earth. Here, Cabal intimates that article XX of the [Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics] CSBH could allow for OECism due to the ever-changing findings of science (175). The Evangelical Theological Society and Reasons to Believe (OEC) hold to inerrancy and the [Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy] CSBI. Many YECists do as well, but Cabal mentions Terry Mortenson’s proposed supplements to the Chicago Statements. I hope that Drs. Cabal and Mortenson can have a friendly discussion very soon. Regarding CE and BioLogos, Cabal states that BioLogos does not officially endorse inerrancy, and he rightly questions the statements of Kenton Sparks that indicate the jettisoning of inerrancy.
Chapter 9 contains Cabal’s application of theological triage to three creationist ministries. Cabal asserts that BioLogos draws the doctrinal boundaries too broadly while Answers in Genesis draws them too narrowly. BioLogos entertains universal common descent and the rejection of inerrancy, and thus could cause harm. AiG could force the age of the earth to a first or second level doctrine, and thus cause unnecessary division. A potential lack of clarity exists around Ken Ham’s use of the phrase “gospel issue” when referring to the age of the earth, but the phrase “gospel coherency issue” should clear up any confusion. Cabal also mentions a few missteps by OECist Hugh Ross, but he never critiques the OEC position. In fact, he gives the position a “free pass.”
Chapter ten is a call to patience and peace. His fictitious historical scenarios of 17th century pastors struggling with the heliocentric debate are enjoyable, but heliocentrism is observation science, not origin science. However, Cabal’s call for confidence in the Word of God and his request for “exquisite Christian kindness and gentleness” (225) is welcome. YECists are passionate, and all YECists would do well to engage in kinder, and at times, less sweeping, rhetoric.
This book has great value, but not for bringing OECists and YECists together. In fact, I foresee the book producing potentially combative discussions. Because the conservatism principle is applied to different kinds of science, I doubt, though I remain hopeful for, it’s effectiveness in bringing OECists and YECists together.
Pete F. Wilbanks
North Greenville University