Were You There, Karl Giberson? How Biologos Dismisses the Testimony of the Creator

Recently, I came across an article by Karl Giberson, Vice President of BioLogos, called Creationists Drive Young People Out of the Church. The title refers to his interpretation of the meaning of a Barna survey: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church. Reason #3 was “Churches come across as antagonistic to science.”

In Giberson’s zeal to paint Bioblical Creationists in traitor’s colors with a standard “smeller’s the feller” argument, he criticizes an apologetics argument that finds its roots in a quote from God Himself.

Here’s what Giberson said in his article:

In a recent piece titled “Nine Year Old Challenges Nasa,” [Answers in Genesis president Ken] Ham blogged proudly about “Emma B” who, when told that a NASA moon rock was 3.75 billion years old, asked “Were you there?”

The suggestion that scientists cannot speak about the past unless “they were there” is a strange claim. The implication is that we cannot do something as simple as count tree rings and confidently declare “This great pine was standing here 2,000 years ago.” As a philosophy of science, such a restriction would completely rule out the scientific study of the past. This, of course, is precisely what the creationists want.

Many bright evangelical young people are, fortunately, not impressed with the suggestion that only “eyewitnesses” can speak about the past. Just this past spring I taught an honors seminar on science and religion at an evangelical college. The class included a couple of bright students who had grown up in fundamentalist churches that showed Ken Ham videos in their Sunday School class. Both of them recalled the encouragement to ask their teachers “Were you there?” And both of them, a few years older and wiser than “Emma B,” thought this suggestion was ridiculous and wondered what kind of ideas required the embrace of such nonsense on their behalf. These students — in fact, most of the students I have had over the years — will graduate from college accepting contemporary science and its various explanations for what has happened in the past. But unless the leadership in their churches does a better job with its teaching ministry, such students will have a hard time returning to their home churches.

The dismissive and even hostile approach to science taken by evangelical leaders like Ken Ham accounts for the Barna finding above. In the name of protecting Christianity from a secularism perceived as corrosive to the faith, the creationists are unwittingly driving the best and brightest evangelicals out of the church — or at least into the arms of the compromising Episcopalians, whom they despise. What remains after their exodus is an even more intellectually impoverished parallel culture, with even fewer resources to think about complex issues.

Karl Giberson means well, but he’s missed the point of the question, “Were you there?” I suspect he’s missed it quite on purpose, but either way he’s created a straw man argument as a result.

You see, when we ask, “Were you there?”, creationists are not claiming that we cannot determine the past unless we are eyewitnesses. Granted, we do point out that the further we go back in time, the less certainty we may have. Rather the point of “Were you there?” is to underscore the fact that we do have an Eyewitness account. This Eyewitness is God Himself who authored the Scriptures, which never came by the will of men (including the pre-scientific but nonetheless true history in Genesis). Unfortunately, this Creator (who never lies) testifies that the world did not come about by purely uniform, natural processes, a fact of the Text which Giberson chooses to ignore. He’s ignoring God’s testimony as irrelevant because modern scientists who’ve chained scientific inquiry to pure naturalism have concocted an all-natural Just-so story to replace the historical Creation account in Genesis.

So it is on the basis not of personal witness, but of Superior Witness that we object with “Were you there?”

Giberson should be careful here for another reason. The objection “Were you there?” originates with God Himself [Job 38:4], Who obviously found this type of question reasonable to ask those who doubt Him. You see, we use the objection, because God Himself made a point of it. Which of course makes it the height of arrogance to suggest that this approach is invalid.

Which leads me to ask…

Were YOU there, Karl Giberson?

Rev Tony Breeden

For more on why kids truly leave church, see my review of Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church & What You Can Do To Stop It


28 Comments Add yours

  1. Cathy says:

    Excellent post! I use this approach myself when the subject comes up and I always say that if its a good enough answer for God, its good enough for us. When I am asked the question I always answer “I wasn’t, but I know Who was, and He is reliable on all counts!”

    1. JH says:

      or not.

      1. JH,

        Your response is the sophomoric equivalent of “Nuh-uh,” “So?” or “Your mama!”

        Please restrict yourself to intelligent rebuttals in the future.

        Tony Breeden

      2. Cathy says:

        Or not what? Be a little more specific, please.

  2. Kevin N says:

    I won’t argue with the fact that God was the only eyewitness of events before the creation of humans, but of course that means that Ken Ham wasn’t there either. That hasn’t stopped Mr. Ham, and other young-Earth creationists, from reading things into the text that simply are not there, and then holding these things forth as the standard of orthodoxy for the rest of us. Some examples of things that YECs read into the text are the idea that there was no animal death before the fall (the Bible doesn’t say this anywhere), that there are limits to biological change (YECs read an awful lot into one little phrase on this one), or that the flood deposited the sedimentary rock record (again, not in the Bible).

    YECs are guilty of other interpretive mistakes as well, but one won’t see this if they only read YEC materials. Gilbertson is correct: this leads to an unfortunate either-or choice for our young people, especially those who go on to study the sciences in college. Once they learn that much of what they learned from Ken Ham and Dr. Dino doesn’t work, they assume that Genesis must be myth. But what they are unknowingly rejecting is not Genesis itself, but the YEC spin on Genesis. For myself, the more I study Genesis, the more I see that it really doesn’t set an age for the Earth.

    The “Where you there?” approach encouraged by Answers in Genesis comes across to people as rather obnoxious, whether it comes from a nine year old who has no idea how the scientists came to their conclusions, or an adult who may or may not know. I’ll stick to the Bible as the Word of God, but I’m not going to make it say things that it does not say.

    With Respect

    1. Kevin,

      While you assure me that you’re not going to make the Bible say things it does not, this is exactly what you’re doing. Where in the Bible do you find any mention of the Earth being millions of years old? No where. The Bible does not say this. Yet if we add up the genealogies of Genesis, we come to no other conclusion than a young Earth approximately 6 thousand years old. Dr. Jonathan Sarfati has summed it nicely:

      “If an old earth were really the teaching of Scripture, then one claim is glaringly conspicuous by its absence, that is, any claim in commentaries that the Bible unambiguously teaches long ages. Rather, the usual claim is that the biblical text appears on the surface to teach a young earth but may allow for an old earth.”

      Likewise a host of Old earthers have admitted that their position is derived from extraBiblical sources rather than the Text itself:

      “It is apparent that the most straightforward understanding of Genesis, without regard to the hermeneutical considerations suggested by science, is that God created the heavens and the earth in six solar days, that man was created on the sixth day, and that death and chaos entered the world after the fall of Adam and Eve, and that all fossils were the result of the catastrophic deluge that spared only Noah’s family and the animals therewith.” —Pattle Pun

      “From a superficial reading, the impression received is that the entire creative process took place in six twenty-four hour days. If this was the true intent of the Hebrew author (a questionable deduction, as will be presently shown), this seems to run counter to modern scientific research, which indicates that the planet Earth was created several billion years ago.” —Gleason Archer

      “It is of course admitted that, taking this account [Genesis] by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word [day] in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts, [millions of years] and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other.” —Charles Hodge

      “We have to admit here that the exegetical basis of the creationists is strong. … In spite of the careful biblical and scientific research that has accumulated in support of the creationists’ view, there are problems that make the theory wrong to most (including many evangelical) scientists. … Data from various disciplines point to a very old earth and even older universe.” —James Montgomery Boice

      Furthermore, we admit that the idea that the rock layers were laid down by the Flood is an inference, as I have pointed out to you many times; it is an inference that accounts for the observations we see under the assumption that the Bible is correct and there really was a worldwide flood. Old earthers are left with one of three improbable conclusions: that it never happened but was plagiarized and adapted from Ancient near East flood legends like the Epic of Gilgamesh; that the flood was local rather than global [contrary to the facts of the Biblical account], resulting in an Ark that was completely unnecessary given the 120 years warning beforehand; or that the flood occurred but left behind no evidence at all.

      While animal death is not specified explicitly, we know that animal life was cursed as the result of Adma’s sin. The serpent was told “Cursed are you above the other animals,” meaning that the serpent’s curse was worse but other animals were affected by the curse nonetheless. I’ve read that even Spurgeon, who affirmed an Old Earth due to uniformitarian interpretations of geology, was forced to reckon that animal died before Adam’s sin, but must have been a retroactive result of Adam’s curse [eg., he believed that the Curse did result in animal death, but that animals suffered the effects of the Curse long before the Curse was initiated.]:

      Death is the child of our direst foe, for, “sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.” “Sin entered into the world and death by sin.” Now, that which is distinctly the fruit of transgression cannot be other than an enemy of man. Death was introduced into the world on that gloomy day which saw our fall and he that had the power of it is our arch enemy and betrayer, the devil—from both of which facts we must regard death as the manifest enemy of man.

      Death is an alien in this world. It did not enter into the original design of the unfallen creation, but its intrusion mars and spoils the whole. It is no part of the Great Shepherd’s flock, but it is a wolf which comes to kill and to destroy. Geology tells us that there was death among the various forms of life from the first ages of the globe’s history, even when
      as yet the world was not fitted up as the dwelling of man. This I can believe and still regard death as the result of sin. If it can be proved that there is such an organic unity between man and the lower animals that they would not have died if
      Adam had not sinned, then I see in those deaths before Adam the antecedent consequences of a sin which was then uncommitted.

      If by the merits of Jesus there was salvation before He had offered His atoning Sacrifice, I do not find it hard to conceive
      that the foreseen demerits of sin may have cast the shadow of death over the long ages which came before man’s
      transgression.” From Christ, the Destroyer of Death. Preached on December 17, 1876), The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol XXII (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1981), pp. 698–699.

      Note that Spurgeon admits that he owes his views on the age of the Earth to geology, yet admitted that all death, including animal death, was necessarily the result of Adam’s fall.

      Likewise, Old Earthers regularly chide Biblical Creationists for reading too much into variations of the phrases “according to their kind” and “after their kind” to mean that there is a limit to biological change, yet they never tell me what they suppose it means. The closest I’ve seen is that, well, God created all the cattle and the birds and what-not, but uniformitarian geology does not say that cattle and birds were any sort of original kind, or distinct group.

      But what say you?

      Rev Tony Breeden

      PS. I do note that you have another earlier comment pending. I will try to get to it next. apologies for the delay.

    2. Cathy says:

      If death did not enter the garden until the fall of Adam according to the Word, it is logical to assume that there was no death of anything there, including the animals, until after the fall, as the garden would not have been tainted by death before then. And while we were not there, of course, we know from the bible Who was there.

      Those who do not believe in God would not believe anything the bible states regardless, because it offends their sensibilities. If students do not believe in the first place, they will have a hard time understanding as it is.

      As for myself, if God can (and did) form and create a full grown man, that is, ‘aged’, by which i mean not a ‘boy’, then I can assume that He can create full grown trees, etc., that had age when they were created, thus making things ‘look’ older than what they really are, if you know what I mean.

      I speak as a lay person who reads the Word as I am not a scientist or scholar or anything like that.

      Thanks for your time reading this rather long response. 😀

      1. Havok says:

        Cathy, that seems to be the “Oomphalos” hypothesis – that God created things with an appearance of age, and it is this appearance that science finds.
        This is also called “Last Thursdayism”, and apart from there being no reason to actually believe it, makes your God into a deceiver.

      2. Havok,

        First of all, it’s the Omphalos argument you’re referring to. Advocates of pure naturalism, including most evolutionists, have often attempted to use this argument against the possibility of the Biblical Creation account, but it can actually be turned on its head. In fact, it was one of your own prophets, Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s Bulldog, [and certainly no friend of Creationists] who admitted:

        ” `Creation,’ in the ordinary sense of the word, is perfectly conceivable. I find no difficulty in conceiving that, at some former period, this universe was not in existence, and that it made its appearance in six days (or instantaneously, if that is preferred), in consequence of the volition of some preexisting Being. Then, as now, the so-called a priori arguments against Theism and, given a Deity, against the possibility of creative acts, appeared to me to be devoid of reasonable foundation.” Thomas H. Huxley, quoted in *L. Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, Vol. I (1903), p. 241 (1903). 63.

        Of course, he was an agnostic [the very fellow who first coined the term, in fact], so he didn’t think there was enough evidence for the existence of a Deity, yet his point regarding whether Biblical Creation is reasonably conceivable remains valid. Furthermore, it exposes your own biases, for the only reason you could suppose that there is no reason to believe it is if you also presupposed that there were no Deity. Sadly [for you], no one can be absolutely certain that God does not exist [for this would require omniscience which is, ironically enough, an attribute of deity… go figure]. Furthermore, there are many reasons to suppose that God does in fact exist.

        For a brief overview of some of these reasons, I suggets you read the following, especially the latter article which deals with why creationism is actually more reasonable than pure naturalism:

      3. Why Creation Is Foundational To Science – Not Evolution
      4. More on Why Creation Is Foundational To Science – Not Evolution
      5. One final note: The charge that if God created things with maturity that it makes Him a deceiver is just silly. Do you suppose that natural erosive forces carved out the presidential heads on Mt. Rushmore over millions of years? Why do we not accuse Gutzon Borglum of being a great deceiver for this creative act? Oh, because we have historical records to tell us otherwise [and because we arbitrarily recognize things that are the result of intelligent design when we are relatively sure they are safely human rather than divine], just as we have the revelation of God’s Word that He did in fact create everything in 6 ordinary days. To discount the historical witness of the Bible is to presume that it is an unreliable witness. But let’s not hear any rubbish about the idea of creating things with maturity is an act of deception, unless you insist that Leonardo da Vinci should have painted the Mona Lisa as a baby and then simply waited for her to grow up on canvas. In other words, remember that a Creator creates and that any creator, from Borglum and da Vinci to a child with a crayon or a tub of Play-Dough, can make his creations with any level of maturity they please.

        Think about it,
        Rev Tony Breeden

  • Your audience is apparently Christian, and they may be on board with your assumptions. A non-Christian, however, will find the presupposition that God was the witness of these events to be (to put it mildly) unsupported. Giberson certainly didn’t create a straw man from an objective standpoint.

    And your wrapup that science has “concocted an all-natural Just-so story to replace the historical Creation account in Genesis,” while it may play well to Creationists, looks pretty ridiculous to the rest of us.

    1. Bob,

      There’s no such thing as an objective standpoint where it concerns the authority of the Bible, so Giberson did no such thing.

      And my assertion that science has concocted an all-natural Just-so story to replace the historical Creation account in Genesis is likewise supported by something we like to refer to around here as evidence. Lyell is on record as wanting to free science from the tyranny of Moses. Likewise, his disciple Charles Darwin is on record stating that he eventually began to see the history of the Old Testament as no more true than the writings of the Hindus or barbarians. Guess which book he took along to read on the Beagle? Lyell’s Principles of Geology.

      If this assertion looks ridiculous to you, it’s because you haven’t fully examined the evidence.

      Tony Breeden

      PS – I removed your link, but feel free to make your own arguments in your own words next time. See our Rules of Engagement for further details.

      1. As for the straw man charge, I was simply saying that from the standpoint of a non-Christian, this was no straw man.

        Lyell? Darwin? Seriously—who cares about these guys? They are relevant only to the history of science. If, however, the topic is whether modern geology and biology are correct, we go to those disciplines instead.

        Evolution is the consensus view of science. What argument can a layman like me use when rejecting the consensus view? I can detest a consensus view—my opinion is sufficient there—but how can I reject it?

      2. Bob,

        You stated that the idea that science had concocted an all-natural origins account to replace the Genesis account was bunk. I simply noted that both Darwin and Lyell did in fact seek to replace the Genesis account with an all-natural account, proving my point and disproving yours. Which was the point of the history lesson.

        You might also learn from another point of history, for the very reason we might choose to reject the scientific consensus is found in Galileo. Scientific progress is based on rejecting the smug assurances of the previous paradigm’s consensus. Learning to question the current consensus is precisely what science is all about, which makes recent international efforts to legally enforce the exclusive and uncritical teaching of evolution rather fascist and pathetic all at the same time.


      3. drlindberg says:

        “Scientific progress is based on rejecting the smug assurances of the previous paradigm’s consensus.”

        I don’t think scientific progress is based on rejecting the consensus just for the sake of rejecting it, or just because we don’t like it for religious or political reasons.
        Do you have a better, clearer, more complete, more accurate, more useful, more detailed, more pragmatic, more easily tested explanation?

      4. Lindberg,

        Like it or not, this is how science progresses. A man gets a notion in his head. Sometimes it’s just an unfounded hunch. A mere possibility. And then he works to design experimets to see whether he can either falsify it or find evidence that supports it to some degree. In order to proceed, he must accept the consensus of science only tentatively for he must not view the current consensus as the ultimate authority, but rather the best understanding we currently have. He must have the audacity to reject the consensus to blaze a new trail.

        The fact that you seem ignorant of this is alarming to say the least. Have you no shame for the level of credulity with which you accept scientific consensus and support its attempts to suppress the self-correcting mechanisms of scientific inquiry?


  • Havok says:

    RevTony, were you there when the books of the OT were written?

    I suspect not, and I think that this little point undermines any force that the “Were you there?” question might have.
    The scientific arguments for an old earth are not based on an a priori acceptance of rejection of the biblical account, while the creationist arguments for the reliability of the biblical account do seem to require this a priori presumption. So you cannot actually make the claim to having a superior witness in a justified manner.

    1. Havok,

      I’m glad you made these comments because it shows just how poorly you understand the argument.

      It doesn’t matter whether I was there when the OT was written because that is not implicit in the question. rather it matters whether God was in fact a witness to the Creation and that we therefore have an accurate historical record of our origins. Asking whether I was there when the OT was written is irrelevant precisely because God validated the Scriptures with fulfilled prophecy, a supernatural signature of God if you will.

      Furthermore, the assumption of pure naturalism is a rejection of any and all supernatural agency or revelation to the contrary, so modern scientists do base their science on an a priori rejection of the Bible, in sharp contrast to many of those who founded the scientific disciplines, who sought to “think God’s thoughts after Him.” Again, it is impossible to be neutral where it concerns the ultimate authority of the Bible.


      1. Havok says:

        RevTony, are you intentionally deleting my comments?
        I had a response to your previous comment, which went missing, and then a query comment similar to this one, which has also gone missing.

      2. Havok,

        I’m sorry but a few of your comments were likely deleted. I was buried under a lot of comments and I got rid of the ones that violated my Rules of Engagement. I believe yours were deleted for being drive-bys [see
        Rules of Engagement for details.] If you’d like to re-submit your comments to be in compliance with our commenting rules, by all means do so.

      3. Havok says:

        The initial comment wasn’t a “drive-by”, since I was responding to your comment.
        The subsequent comment was a query as to why the initial comment had vanished.

      4. Havok,

        I had an entire list of Comments all on the same blog post, where you responded in a piecemeal disjointed fashion in separate comments rather than one. This is what we refer to as a drive-by. If you’re refering to some other comment, you still have a couple in pending status, but I haven’t had time to review them.

  • Cathy says:

    Saying that God is a deceiver because He made the world with age makes no sense to me at all. He made Adam as a grown man – how is that deceptive? He made full grown animals (he told them to be fruitful and multiply) – how is that deceptive? I would not doubt because of this that he made full grown plants and the like. I have no proof of that last, but neither do you. How is that deceptive?

  • Cathy says:

    Thank you Tony for putting the scientific term (Omphalos argument) to what I said before, I did not know that there was a scientific term for that.

  • Havok says:

    Tony, I know you maintain moderation of comments, but there seems to have been no reason to not approve of my recent comments replying to both you and Cathy.

    From this side it seems as if you don’t actually want to discuss things, but simply want your view accepted without argument.

    1. Havok,

      To put it gently: this is not your soapbox. While some of your comments are in moderated status, I’ve never felt obligated to approve every comment I’m submitted, especially when it’s obvious that someone is simply trolling my site in order to object to every post I make.

      be patient, and good day,

      1. Havok says:

        I don’t expect you to approve of every comment, but I thought you were interested in reasoned discussion.

        If every post you make contains objectionable content (and the majority of them seem to), then I really don’t really see the problem.
        Even the “terms used on this site” page contains egregious errors that I’ve pointed out to you, but which you seem to have no interest in correcting.

        You don’t appear to be interested in the truth about reality, but believe, unjustifiably, that you already possess the “Truth”. I’ve found the same trait with most other Creationists I’ve interacted with – they’re not interested in learning, but only in proselytising and twisting and ignoring evidence to support their presupposition that they’re correct.

        So far you seem little different, unfortunately.

      2. Havok,

        The problem is this: In order to have a reasoned discussion, you would have to actually be considering my argument. You don’t appear to be interested in the truth about reality, supposing you already possess it. You’re not interested in learning, but only in proselytising and twisting and ignoring contrary interpretations of the evidence to support your own presuppositions.

        Here’s the rub: I abandoned the faith of my youth and turned into a blasphemous agnostic. I returned after a decade, having shed the credulity of my youth, and subjected the Bible to pretty much every objection i could think of. In the beginning, I supposed that God could have used evolution and that the days of Creation might allow for millions of years. I obviously do not believe anything of the sort regarding our origins now precisely because I do reason, I do think and I do learn. But I have already put my faith through the objections you suppose I simply must not have heard yet. You offer nothing I haven’t yet already answered to my satisfaction.

        I did not approve the comments you made regarding the “aggregious errors” [overstate much] in my Terms Used On This Site page because they weren’t objections to what I’d written. Instead they were objections to what you assumed I meant. Furthermore, your objection to the one on entropy was just sophomoric. Snowflakes and crystals. Really? And these things negate the general trend of entropy, do they? SNowflakes and crystals last forever where you’re from, Havok?

        Regarding some of your other comments…. Look, my terms of use specifically forbid the writing of novellas in my comments! Pick a subject. keep it short.

        I make it a practice not to waste my time arguing with anyone who has obviously made up their mind.

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