Added 10/22/10: I have been persuaded that it’s not accurate to say that Dembski’s statements in the post below necessarily mean that he is now endorsing a young earth. See my comment here.
In 2000, Dembski wrote an essay, ID Coming Clean that, among other things, got me interested in the whole ID movement issue. In that essay, Dembski “came clean” about his stance on young-earth creationism:
By creationism one typically understands what is also called “young earth creationism,” and what advocates of that position refer to alternately as “creation science” or “scientific creationism.” According to this view the opening chapters of Genesis are to be read literally as a scientifically accurate account of the world’s origin and subsequent formation. What’s more, it is the creation scientist’s task to harmonize science with Scripture.
Given this account of creationism, am I a creationist? No. I do not regard Genesis as a scientific text. I have no vested theological interest in the age of the earth or the universe. I find the arguments of geologists persuasive when they argue for an earth that is 4.5 billion years old. What’s more, I find the arguments of astrophysicists persuasive when they argue for a universe that is approximately 14 billion years old. I believe they got it right. Even so, I refuse to be dogmatic here. I’m willing to listen to arguments to the contrary. Yet to date I’ve found none of the arguments for a young earth or a young universe convincing. Nature, as far as I’m concerned, has an integrity that enables it to be understood without recourse to revelatory texts.
Fast forward ten years: Dembski once again comes clean, and times have changed. This time he clearly states he is a Biblical inerrantist, and as such he is a creationist and he does think that Genesis is historically true.
Let’s look at what Dembski has to say now.
[Edit remark: changed “evangelical” to “fundamentalist”, in response to a remark by Wes Elsberry.]
Towards the end of last year, 2009, Dembski wrote a book, The End of Christianity, that attempted to reconcile the theology of the Fall, and its relationship with sin and death, to an old earth. In a comment at Uncommon Descent in October 2009, he pointed out that “As I note in THE END OF CHRISTIANITY, I would be a young-earth creationist in a heart-beat if I didn’t see the evidence for an old earth as so strong.” (Link)
However, given that Dembski teaches at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, his book aroused a lot of resistance from his YEC colleagues. One particular thing that stood out was that Dembski argued that the evidence for the Flood being a local event was strong, writing “Noah’s flood, though presented as a global event, is probably best understood as historically rooted in a local event.”
This was enough to get Southwestern Seminary’s president Paige Patterson involved. According to an article at the Florida Baptist Witness,
Patterson said that when Dembski’s questionable statements came to light, he convened a meeting with Dembski and several high-ranking administrators at the seminary. At that meeting, Dembski was quick to admit that he was wrong about the flood, Patterson said.
“Had I had any inkling that Dr. Dembski was actually denying the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible, then that would have, of course, ended his relationship with the school,” he said.
Oh no! Threatened with being expelled!
And did Dembski take a stand for the strength of the evidence? You know, follow the evidence wherever it leads?
According to an article A Reply to Tom Nettles Review of Dembski’s End of Christianity, page 8, Dembski issued a “clarification”, which is really a retraction. He says that if he were to write End of Christianity again, today he would say things differently.
In writing The End of Christianity today, I would also underscore three points: (1) As a biblical inerrantist, I accept the full verbal inspiration of the Bible and the conventional authorship of the books of the Bible. Thus, in particular, I accept Mosaic authorship of Genesis (and of the Pentateuch) and reject the Documentary Hypothesis. (2) Even though I introduce in the book a distinction between kairos (God’s time) and chronos (the world’s time), the two are not mutually exclusive. In particular, I accept that the events described in Genesis 1- 11 happened in ordinary space-time, and thus that these chapters are as historical as the rest of the Pentateuch. (3) I believe that Adam and Eve were real people, that as the initial pair of humans they were the progenitors of the whole human race, that they were specially created by God, and thus that they were not the result of an evolutionary process from primate or hominid ancestors.
and in respect to the flood
Yet, in a brief section on Genesis 4-11, I weigh in on the Flood, raising questions about its universality, without adequate study or reflection on my part. Before I write on this topic again, I have much exegetical, historical, and theological work to do. In any case, not only Genesis 6-9 but also Jesus in Matthew 24 and Peter in Second Peter seem clearly to teach that the Flood was universal. As a biblical inerrantist, I believe that what the Bible teaches is true and bow to the text, including its teaching about the Flood and its universality.
So there you have it: Dembski
- is a Biblical inerrantist,
- accepts that Genesis 1-11 are historically true, and thus that the universe, the earth and all life were created in six literal days
- is furthermore a creationist in respect to human beings, who are not related to hominid ancestors by common descent,
- believes the Flood was a real universal event (presumably not too many thousands of years in the past),
- and, since he believes “that what the Bible teaches is true”, he “bow[s] to the text.”
It can’t be any clearer than that. He bows to the text.
If there ever was another nail that needed to be driven into the coffin of whether Dembski’s contributions to arguing for ID have any chance of being taken seriously by the scientific world, this is it. He is an fundamentalist theologian: given a choice between the evidence - even evidence that a year ago he said was convincingly strong - and the inerrant Bible, he chooses the Bible. He’s lost any possible credibility of being someone who wants “to follow the evidence wherever it leads.”
Now an obvious cynical reaction to all this is that he wants to keep his job, and will say whatever it takes to stay in Southwestern’s good graces. (Of course, the irony of this in respect to the whole Expelled schtick is breathtaking.)
However, there’s another possibility. Dembski, and the ID movement in general, ever since Phillip Johnson devised his Wedge strategy, has been trying to create this illusion that what they were doing was “scientific” and had nothing to do with religion. Johnson has specifically said that the strategy was to get people to accept scientifically that a Creator was necessary, and after that was established the sectarian differences about the age of the earth, common descent, etc. could be worked out in house, so to speak.
This strategy has been a dismal failure. They’ve lost in the school systems (for instance, Kansas), they’ve lost in the courts (Dover), they have never got off the ground in the science community: in fact, every time the ground troops get involved in trying to sell ID, their blatant creationism comes right to the forefront.
If I were Dembski, I’d be tired of it. He’s a fundamentalist theologian, and he’s got a job where he can be one. Why not give up the ID charade, join the flock, and come clean as a YEC.
Looks to me like that’s what he’s done.