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Letters to the Editor #20 (Forgetting, Drafting, Evolution)

The last couple of weeks have been fairly quiet when it comes to letters to the editor. Not surprisingly, the majority of them dealt with the article I wrote on evolution and the age of the universe. Here are a small selection of letters.

Comments on Spiritual Drafting and the Danger of Christian Complacency

Thanks so much for this article. One point to add is that drafting actually helps the person in front go faster due to less personal wind drag. I think you could develop more spiritual applications with this principle in mind. My wife and I ride bikes… well, now we ride one bike—a tandem. This bike is now our bike of choice and “two are better than one, for they have a good reward for their labor”. Just some thoughts. Thanks for your ministry!
—David D, Meridian, ID

Tim: Yes, I am aware that drafting actually benefits the lead rider as well. It’s something to do with physics, I suppose. But to admit that it benefits the lead rider would have damaged my analogy so I just chose to ignore it! And, actually, I think I’m on good ground there since even in the Bible analogies or parables are used to prove one point without fully exploring every angle. They all fall part at one time or another.

Comments on Evolution and a Universe as Young as Humanity

Tim: I knew when I wrote this article that I was going to receive responses. I was grateful to see how many of them were kind and challenging. The great majority compared space to time and said that if I want to say that the vastness of time causes trouble with my understanding of creation, I also need to deal with the vastness of space. Here are just a couple of examples.

The theological thrust of this article seems to be missing something. If you think we need to deny the vastness of TIME for the theological reason that it makes humanity too insignificant, you’d also need to deny the vastness of SPACE, a similarly tiny proportion of which is directly relevant to humanity. In fact, on this reasoning, vast space is a bigger problem than vast time. Any amount of time can be understood as all purposed by God to lead up to humanity, while nothing similar can be said of all space.

Fortunately, there is no theological reason to deny the vastness of either time or space. Psalm 8 reflects on Genesis 1 and gives us two truths about humanity side-by-side. A. Humanity is extremely insignificant compared to the vastness of what God has created (v3-4, alluding to Genesis 1 day 4). B. Yet, despite that, God has graciously given humanity authority to rule creation like God himself (v5-8, alluding to Genesis 1 day 6). So an increased appreciation of the vastness of time and space would not deny that we’ve been appointed to a central position in creation (B). Instead it would deepen our appreciation of the vastness of creation relative to ourselves (A) and so deepen our appreciation of God’s GRACE in appointing us to a central, God-like position over creation (B).

—Jeremy W, Brisbane Australia

I have been a longtime fan of this blog, but I think Mr. Challies’ basic argument regarding the age of the universe has some deep flaws.

He writes: “If we admit and endorse an ancient universe, we see a vastly purposeless universe that for the great majority of time had no human beings to bring purpose and order to it. We see that humanity’s role in the universe is late and incidental rather than timely and purposeful.” This simply does not follow. For one, there’s no necessary, logical entailment from the “If” to the “then”. But worse, it seems to presuppose the unbiblical notion that it is man’s presence in the universe that gives the universe purpose and order. There is nothing in Scripture that supports this idea, and I’m sure Mr. Challies does not believe this.

True, man is the image-bearer of God and at the center of redemptive history, but that must be counter-balanced by the fact that we find ourselves at that center because of our sin and neediness— on this score, God’s Word teaches us that it is NOT all about us. And so, on the contrary, one could just as easily take this 24-hour clock analogy as a healthy antidote to human pride, with the lesson being that if we’re this small on a scale of just a few billion years, how much more compared to the eternality and perfection of God?

Indeed, if Challies’s presupposition, above, would apply to an ancient universe, then it would also apply to a 5 literal-days-old universe—but again, Challies would never admit to the notion that creation was “vastly purposeless” for the great majority of the first 5 days of the creation week because he understands that what gave the creation purpose and order was God’s work, not man’s. Man’s work was designed to bring glory to God by imaging the order and dominion that God has manifest from eternity past—following the creation week. But if Mr. Challies can believe, on theological grounds, that a “human-less” creation can still manifest God’s purpose, direction, and design for a relatively short span of time, why not also for a relatively “long” span of time, with God directing the details (as theistic evolutionists argue)?

So our presence and work in the universe is just a blip on the cosmic radar?—welcome to finite existence, and meet your infinite Creator, O man of dust, whose life is a vapor!

Further, if we extended Challies’ logic about mankind’s significance relative to time, we should also wonder why we can’t also apply it to space—but then we might reach the absurd conclusion that the universe, indeed, even our own galaxy, can’t possibly be as large as scientists say that it is, as that too would diminish man’s place in creation.

And finally, what would this logic force us to conclude when we consider that Jesus—the God-Man—only stepped into human history for a mere 33 years? Even in a universe that is only 10,000 years old, Jesus’ ministry would proportionately comprise only 25 seconds of a 24-hour day. And yet, from this, we would certainly not draw the kind of conclusion that Challies draws regarding man’s place in an ancient universe, as we know that it is God Himself who gives great significance to “brief” events.

In the end, this kind of argument seems to unwittingly Christianize the pronouncement of Protagoras that “man is the measure of all things”, which the Greeks and Romans maintained for centuries. For centuries, this notion helped entrench the geo-centric model of the universe, not a God-centered one, as some of its advocates in the Church supposed.

Let me be clear: I am certainly not accusing Mr. Challies of failing to be “God-centered”—indeed, I believe he is devoutly God-centered. Nor am I a theistic evolutionist: I would cheerfully join Mr. Challies in mustering arguments against it, in fact. I just wouldn’t use this one.

Rather, I would simply encourage Mr. Challies and his readers to continue to think more critically about the kinds of arguments that are used on all sides of this debate in order to better harmonize our understanding of science and Scripture so that the God of Scripture would be magnified.

—Eric T, La Mirada, CA

Comments on Our Forgetful God

Many thanks for all your insightful posts! I always enjoy reading what you write.

I, however, cannot agree with you that God forgets things. As Jay Adams points out in his book From Forgiven to Forgiving, God does not forget, He not-remembers. That is, He stops bringing things up. God is omniscient. To say that God forgets something, at least in the normal way people forget things, is contrary to this attribute of God.

Not-remembering is at the heart of forgiveness, as Jay Adams points out. Indeed, one of the chief points of interest in that book is Adams’s definition of forgiveness as a three-fold promise: when you forgive someone, you are making a promise that you will not bring the matter up again either to the person who offended you, or to anyone else, or to yourself.

Applying this definition to God’s forgiveness towards us, forgiveness is a promise that God will not-remember our sins against us. He will not bring them up again. Of course He knows that we actually did those sins.

This distinction between not-remembering and forgetting is crucial, I think. Forgetting is a human thing where we once knew something, and some time later we do not know it. God forgets nothing, because He knows everything. Not-remembering is a decision, a promise, never to bring something up again, and it is this, not forgetting, that is at the heart of forgiveness.
—Adrian K, Park City, KS

Tim: I believe you and I are saying roughly the same thing. I am teeing off a passage which says that God forgets our sins. I understand that God’s forgetting is a particular kind of forgetting—the kind that Jay Adams helpfully labels as a “not-remembering.” But because the Bible says God forgets, I think we are on good grounds to say it as well.

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