Review: Faith, Form, and Time by Kurt Wise

September 28, 2012 in Books · 0 comments

Wise, Kurt P. (2002). Faith, Form, and Time: What the Bible Teaches and Science Confirms about Creation and the Age of the Universe. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Kurt Wise lives in a binary world: either you’re a Bible-Believing Young Earth Creationist who accepts the Truth or else you’re an Evil Atheist Evolutionist who has no rational basis for any belief whatsoever. But reality, as expressed in the Bible and in nature, is considerably more complex than such a simplistic dichotomy. In Faith, Form, and TimeWise seeks to provide a comprehensive explanation of the Young Earth Creationist position, but in doing so he fails to acknowledge, let alone explore, other viable interpretations of the Genesis creation account such as the many varieties of concordist and framework views that are widely held by knowledgeable Christians. For Wise, such views don’t really matter because his presuppositions, grounded in fideistic faith, leave no room for exploring alternative ideas or for critically examining one’s own beliefs. 

Wise believes the Bible is the Word of God and as such is absolutely and completely true. Building upon this premise, he argues that if one encounters seeming contradictions between the Bible and the natural world, the fault must be with our understanding of nature since Biblical truth cannot be in error: “Biblical claims should have priority over any interpretation of extra-biblical data that contradicts them.”

How does Wise know the Bible is true? “We should understand the Bible to be true by faith.” How does he know that his interpretation of the text is correct? “Straightforward statements of Scripture should be considered truth.” For Wise, the “straightforward” meaning of the text always seems to default to his particular understanding of a passage, without consideration for how the original reader or writer may have intended or understood it. He pays lip service to historical grammatical methodology, but his desire for absolute Biblical perspicuity trumps any linguistic, cultural or literary considerations. And, all too conveniently, when the “straightforward” meaning of the natural world points towards an old universe and an old earth, Wise concludes that such understandings are not to be trusted: “the Bible is to be believed over observation and evidence.”

By forcing the Biblical text into an impermeable hermeneutical  straitjacket, Wise not only drastically reduces the scope and potential for scientific inquiry, he also ultimately devalues the text itself. The Bible becomes not a rich narrative of God’s progressive revelation to humanity, but instead exists as a brittle collection of scientific and historical facts that are to be blindly accepted. Given this strict hermeneutic, I’m curious to know whether Wise believes there is a solid dome above the earth (Gen 1:6-8)? Does Wise believe the earth is stationary and the sun, planets and stars orbit around it (Ps 104:5, Is 66:1, 1 Chron 16:30)? Does Wise believe that God has a mouth and that there was air to transmit sound when He spoke (Gen 1:3)? Does Wise believe the earth has corners (Isaiah 11:12)? If we are to truly read the text with “the simplicity and purity of a child” and give Biblical claims “priority over any interpretation of extra-biblical data that contradicts them” then we will end up living in a vacuous world of biblical solipsism.

Wise believes that the apparent age of the universe is not a deception, but rather is a necessary result of having been created ex nihilo as a mature object, akin to the miracle of the loaves and fishes or turning water into wine. Likewise, God not only created the universe from nothing, he also created an apparent history for it. Given such an understanding, the Hubble Extreme Deep Field, purporting to show light from some thirteen billion years ago, is reduced to a mere pretty painting of a non-existent past that reveals no actual truth about the universe. Scientific inquiry becomes little more than observation without interpretation. Wise’s presuppositions are based on a God that, though perhaps not deceitful, has nevertheless created a universe that is essentially meaningless in way that is as troubling as the existential postmodernism he rails so vehemently against. Basing one’s career as a sommelier on Jesus’ miraculously created wine would be a foolish endeavor: why learn about the varietals, the regions, the vintners, the aging or the climate when the wine appeared ex nihilo and in situ? Similarly, why study astronomy, physics or cosmology when the very foundations of such inquiries are essentially mirages?

Ultimately I am left nonplussed, for the whole book is really just a lengthy exercise in question-begging. For Wise, faith with rigidly predetermined boundaries is essential, even when dealing with complex and challenging issues. Difficulties are not to be wrestled with, but rather dismissed; fideism remains immune to evidence. While I admire Wise’s staunch resolve in the face of the evidence, I wonder where such obtuseness leaves the life of the Christian mind. How are we to explore, understand and appreciate God’s creation if, though perhaps not an outright deception, it is nevertheless misrepresenting itself? God is perspicuous in the Bible AND in Creation and where there may seem to be conflict, we must be willing to reassess our all-too-fallible interpretations of either “book” of God. That Genesis (and the Bible as a whole) is not a science book seems abundantly clear. The Young Earth Creationist understanding of scripture, as presented by Wise, is not only profoundly misguided, but is also deeply dangerous in its arrogant assumptions that masquerade as simple faith.

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