Creation Conference 2013: Why Carp Parts and Bahnsen Matter


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Creation Conference 2013: Why Origins Matter, also promoted as an Answers in Genesis “Answers Conference” and an Institute for Creation Research event, Monday 28 January 2013 and Tuesday 29 January 2013, hosted by Southern California Seminary at Shadow Mountain Community Church, 6:30 PM to around 10:00 PM each evening.

I attended most of this event, leaving during intermission on Tuesday. Here is what the schedule of presentations looked like:

  • Monday, January 28th
    • Introductory “Welcome” by Dr. Ed Herrelko, Vice President of Academics, Southern California Seminary.
    • Some introductory reminiscence and opening prayer by Dr. Tim LaHaye, Pastor and Author.
    • “Why Genesis Matters” presentation by Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research, Institute for Creation Research.
    • “The Bible, Evolution, and Human Origins” presentation by Dr. Jeremy Lyon, Professor of Old Testament, Southern California Seminary.
    • Intermission.
    • “Rock Layers, Fossils, and the Flood” presentation by Dr. Andrew Snelling, Director of Research, Answers in Genesis.
  • Tuesday, January 29th
    • Introductory “Welcome” by Dr. Herrelko.
    • Additional introductory remarks and opening prayer by Tom Cantor, CEO and President, Scantibodies and Creation and Earth History Museum.
    • “Scripture and Science Declare A Young Earth” presentation by Dr. Snelling.
    • “The Ultimate Proof of Creation” presentation by Dr. Lisle
    • Intermission [the point at which I departed].
    • “So What Now? Courageously Engaging Culture” presentation by Dr. Herrelko.
    • Question and Answer Panel.

In addition to these presentations, a number of ministries operated information booths at the event, some with free literature, one with free coffee, and all with some interesting conversation to be had.

All of the presentations that I attended were well worth hearing. The most densely packed with information were Dr. Snelling’s; those most reminiscent of the common-man-accessible model of Ken Ham were Dr. Lisle’s; Dr. Lyon’s presentations fell somewhere in between. Not planning to review the event, I neither took notes nor made a clandestine audio recording; and, so far as I’ve yet discovered, event audio and video have not been posted for free download anywhere. I will therefore only comment on a couple items I found most memorable or most deserving comment.

The most memorable illustration, at least the one I most remember, was Tom Cantor’s statement that his efforts to become an evolutionist failed because no matter how many cans of gefilte fish he opened, he never found a whole living carp inside. This food product, which Cantor deems detestable and laments that his Jewish background exposed him to, contains all the parts needed for a living carp (apparently, whole carp are chopped up to make the product, and nothing is discarded), yet the canned carp parts never assemble by chance into a living fish. While an evolutionist would no doubt be unsatisfied with this as an analogy for chemical evolution, given the difference in complexity between a carp and the most “primitive” life, it is vivid and not easily forgotten.

The most memorable presentation, or at least the one I’m most inclined to comment on, was Dr. Lisle’s “The Ultimate Proof of Creation.” In this presentation, Lisle capably summarized the presuppositional apologetic method set forth by Cornelius Van Til and most rigorously exposited by Greg Bahnsen. Lisle’s introduction to Van Tilian method is perhaps the clearest and most accessible I’ve heard; persons seeking an introduction to the method may well consider his book by the same name a good first reading. However, as did Dr. Bahnsen, whom he quoted more than once, and as do most Van Tilian presuppositionalists, Lisle oversold the perfect certainty or “objective proof” status of presuppositional apologetics.

As disciples of Gordon Clark, who advocate a different variety of presuppositionalism, have long pointed out, no matter how many non-Christian viewpoints you demonstrate self-defeating and so impossible, this does not prove the Christian viewpoint. It favors it and confirms it, certainly, an achievement of no small value; but it does not constitute certain proof or justify profession of objective certainty. To put this all another way, showing that Christianity provides the “preconditions of intelligibility” whereas a competing system fails to do so does not prove Christianity true. In theory, more than one comprehensive coherent system, more than one system providing the preconditions of intelligiblity, could exist.

Demonstration that Christianity alone could possibly be true would require that one have successfully and in sequence defeated every possible non-Christian viewpoint. This, of course, is a task one could never finish in finite time. Practicing presuppositionalists have faith that every new non-Christian viewpoint they encounter will self-destruct upon close analysis (“internal critique”), but this faith (which I share), though laudatory, is not proof. Proving “the impossibility of the contrary” does not prove Christianity; only proving the impossibility of the contradictory, meaning the impossibility of every contrary, would do that (as Clarkians like W. Gary Crampton have repeatedly pointed out). When a Van Tilian says that “the proof of Christianity is that without believing it you couldn’t prove anything at all,” he really should say, “the proof of Christianity is that, of all the belief systems I’ve so far examined, it is the only one that permits one to prove anything at all.”

No doubt one or more Van Tilians will here want to accuse me of misunderstanding “the transcendental argument” that is central to Van Tilian method. Well, I no doubt misunderstand a great many things; perhaps this is one of them. As I understand (or misunderstand) matters, however, all that a transcendental argument can do is tell one what preconditions of intelligibility any viable thought system must provide (include, presuppose, comport with) and whether a given thought system does in fact provide those preconditions. Christianity’s success in providing these preconditions does seem to allow transcendental disproof of individual competing thought systems as they are encountered; it does not, however, appear sufficient to permit blanket rejection of competing systems not yet tested; neither does it appear sufficient to justify claims to have proven “objectively” that Christianity is the only possibly true thought system. As a Christian, I would love to believe the Van Tilian oversell; but, even though I love Van Tilian literature and find its arguments very helpful, the claim to perfect certainty (if you like, the lack of epistemic humility) that often goes with those arguments is something I cannot currently embrace.

Great conference, though. Wish you’d been there. (Wish my notepad and digital audio recorder had been there too!)

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