A couple of months back, I was in court for an eviction case, which meant I got to see the small civil calendar. (Some days, this resembles the Jerry Springer show, which is one reason why I highly recommend it to those considering going into law. It makes us more realistic about the truthfulness of our clients.)
Before my case came up, there was another one where a woman was arguing that the default against her should be set aside because she hadn’t been properly served. The judicial officer asked her some questions, and it soon became clear that this was going to end badly.
At the end, the judicial officer said what no one ever wants to hear:
“I was leaning toward granting your petition until I heard your testimony.”
See, her case sounded good until you actually listened to what she said. Her own words left no doubt that she did not, in fact, have a case.
While my wife is the primary instructor at our home school, I do take a hand. Science is my subject, not because my wife isn’t good at it (she is), but because I have more of an interest - particularly in the teaching side. I always loved learning about science. From as far back as I can remember, I used to seek out books at the library on a variety of topics, and not just in the kids’ section either. I devoured a set of science encyclopedias just for fun. My very favorite book for years was a 1950s era book on electricity (reviewed here). I still spend a decent bit of time reading science articles, and continue to read in those areas.
One of my favorite science articles when I was 12.
Needless to say, I looked forward to teaching science, and in exploring (and occasionally answering) the myriad of questions that kids have about the world around us. What I didn’t anticipate was the difficulty in finding curriculum.
The initial problem was one that I suspect most teachers face.
Let’s be brutally honest: most elementary school science curriculum is geared toward novices. They are at minimum grossly oversimplified and have too many pictures compared to content. And most are so boring.
I’m speaking from experience. I loved science but found elementary level science books to be a waste of time. Which is why I devoured other sources.
Maybe it’s just hard to write something comprehensive that doesn’t overwhelm.
So, my approach has been, from the beginning, to start with at least middle school level books, and adapt to the level of each of my children.
Last year, though, I ran into another problem, which led to my taking a step that almost feels like a betrayal of my upbringing.
You see, I was raised primarily on Young Earth Creationism. I won’t go so far as to say that my parents were truly wedded to it. My father in particular gave me the impression he was open to a variety of options for the age of the earth and the means of creation.
My curriculum, however, and the other materials and ideas that predominated the fundamentalist Christian bubble of home schooling and its curriculum, was stridently and exclusively Young Earth. (Hereafter, “YEC.”)
So, I learned all the propaganda, the supposed proofs, and all that.
Nevertheless, I have believed in an old earth and universe for quite a long time - since my childhood. Even as a kid, I could see too many holes in the claim of a 6000 year old universe.
For the first few years of our homeschooling, I never really ran into a problem using a variety of sources for our science. I would omit any passing references to the age of the universe if necessary, but the early subjects we covered didn’t raise the issue much. I’m a theist, so I believe the universe was created (although I am not theologically wedded to a particular means of creation. See my review of Why Does the World Exist? for more on this), and general references to creation do not bother me. I do believe that there is an element of design in how we are made. If nothing else, the laws of the universe are amazingly elegant. It is when the claim goes beyond a general view of a created universe to the specifics of one particular view of how it happened and when that it really becomes a problem.
Two years ago, we studied the human body. This didn’t really lead to problems, because it is perfectly possible to do that study without taking a position on the age of the earth.
Not so much for astronomy, which we studied last year.
It is impossible to talk about the distances of space without realizing that there is a serious - and in my opinion - insurmountable problem with a 6000 year universe.
Where the heck did the light come from for galaxies millions of light years away?
And this is why I mentioned my little courtroom story.
Because nothing damns YEC so much as their attempt to explain this away.
I kid you not, in this particular book, it actually tried to claim that the speed of light had to have been faster in the past. I know it’s possible that this could have happened. One of my blogger friends describes most YEC “explanations” as “it could happen!”
Or what about the other, famous, explanation: that God made the light in transit so that it would look like it came from millions of light years away. “It could happen!”
But “it could happen!” requires that one ignore the evidence that actually exists.
It also puts God in a bad light.
See, for scientists (and science buffs like myself), we have to rely on what we can actually observe and what we can logically and mathematically reconstruct. By definition, “it might have happened” means that we have to assume that something extraordinary happened in the past (that we can’t observe or reconstruct) to make what we see not mean what it plainly means.
Thus, that starlight may seem to plainly mean that those stars existed millions of years ago. But the “it might have happened” event means that we can’t actually trust those well known laws of physics, etc. Nothing is what it seems.
And so it goes for all of the responses to facts that contradict the YEC position. For geology. For radioisotope dating. For the presence of virus DNA in our own. The explanations themselves are so bad - even an amateur science buff like myself can see that - that they have to fall back on “it could happen!”
Thus, God is made into a trickster. He intentionally built a universe (6000 years ago, of course), that he intentionally made to look far, far older. He went out of his way to fool us, so that we would have to believe by faith in spite of the evidence.
In other words, God made the universe like a Fender(™) Relic guitar. It’s really quite new, but it has been “distressed” to look old.
Fender Relic Telecaster. It only LOOKS old.
(I’m partial to the the Tele, although I am not a fan of the relic series. At all.)
I’m sorry. I’m not that stupid. And neither are my kids. It would be insulting to expect them to swallow that. (In fact, there was a certain amount of incredulity when I had to explain that some thought that the universe was only 6000 years old. Because they have SEEN distant galaxies.)
Just like the hapless pro per in court that day, what the YEC proponents say to “explain” why the other side is wrong actually destroys any credibility they have.
And this is why I am using a secular curriculum for my kids this year. It is impossible to find a Christian-leaning course that is not all in for YEC, with heavy propaganda and made up “facts.”
Apparently the existence of those of us who retain our faith without a belief in a 6000 year old universe isn’t acknowledged within the homeschool or private school world anymore.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a new thing. Each generation of fundamentalists seems to have a new form of denialism.
For my grandparents’ generation (and before that), there was dinosaur denialism. The dinosaurs were made up, they never existed. It was all a hoax.
Yes, lots of people believed that. Some still do.
As my dad explained to me, though, he actually saw the bones in the ground. On location. They exist.
So, the old version of YEC actually, really, claimed that God put those bones there to test our faith. I do not kid.
Doesn’t that sound a bit like YEC now?
Somehow, it ends up being a version of the old saw, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” (Apologies to Groucho Marx and Warren T. Rat from An American Tail. I’d post a clip if I could find one.)
Ultimately, the worst problem with YEC is that it pits faith against science in a completely unnecessary way.
It demands that one believe the provably false.
In order to claim a faith in God, one must believe a particular interpretation of the creation account. YEC advocates link the two in a way that demands belief. (The ridiculous Ken Ham recently personally attacked the faith of a fellow presenter at a home school conference because the presenter believed in an older earth. I do not kid.)
So what happens for so many is that they eventually gain an education in science, and they realize that YEC is a lie, and they lose their faith altogether.
Thinking about my various friends and acquaintances who have left the faith, I really can’t think of any who just wanted to “sin” so badly that they threw everything over.
I can, however, think of many who lost their faith over the YEC issue. They were unable to embrace something proven false, and that cost them their entire faith because of the way they were linked.
When I was young, our family didn’t do the Santa Claus thing AT ALL. Not that I exactly missed it or anything. It wasn’t a big deal.
But I will never forget what my mom told me about why we didn’t pretend Santa really existed.
She was worried that if she told me a myth - like Santa - and I later found out that he didn’t exist, that “lie” would cause me to wonder if God didn’t exist either.
Now, maybe it’s possible that someone lost their faith because of Santa Claus. I haven’t personally met any.
If anything, I believe children can differentiate between a harmless myth and a truth, between fun fantasy and reality.
It isn’t the mythology or the fairy tales that cause a loss of faith.
It is the things taught and believed as true by those who tell - and that are provably false - that damage.
All of us can grow past our belief in Santa - or Robin Hood - or our Fairy Godmother - without being called apostate and heretical.
But not so much with YEC…
And so, I am, I suppose, apostate.
I cannot teach my children of a literal six day creation 6000 years ago. I cannot ask them to ignore the evidence - and the ludicrous “refutations” offered by the YEC advocates.
I am a theist. I believe that in some ultimate sense, God did create the universe. I see evidence of a creator - of a master designer - everywhere.
What I do not see is evidence of a literalist interpretation of the Genesis account. Quite the contrary.
I am reminded of a joke about the Catholic Church regarding birth control. As is well known, the Catholic Church condones the use of the “rhythm method” of birth control, but considers condoms and hormonal methods to be sinful. (This is obviously church dogma, not practice, as many Catholics use the forbidden methods.)
Anyway, the joke goes that the Catholic Church permits birth control using mathematics, but not physics or chemistry.
Likewise, YEC fundamentalists are committed to the idea that God used “magic” to create the universe, but utterly deny that he might have used science, such as the laws of the universe, time, and a perfectly set up Rube Goldberg sequence of events.
Note on the history of YEC:
It’s always interesting to go back and research the connections between ideas and movements.
While the concept of a young earth isn’t all that new - a good number of thinkers, Christian and secular, believed in a 6000 year old earth as far back as history itself practically, it wasn’t universal.
As I’ll detail later, St. Augustine came down solidly on the side of a non-literal interpretation of Genesis.
There are a few points at which the movement took a key turn, however. The first was probably the Protestant Reformation, which gave rise to a new literalism in Biblical interpretation.
The next was a fellow named James Ussher, who in 1650 added up the genealogies to come up with a creation date of October 23, 4004 BCE. (We had a version of Ussher’s timeline on our wall when I was a kid.) Ussher continues to be the go-to guy for YEC calculations.
It wasn’t until after the scientific revolution that this really became more than a philosophical dispute.
Once one could prove the ancient age of the universe, it became a holy war between science and faith, which is truly unfortunate in my opinion.
The modern YEC movement is generally considered to have had the foundation laid in the 1920s with George McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist teacher. Like the vast majority of YEC writers today, he had little scientific training, and could barely tell one fossil from another. His writings were not based on science but on theology.
His works languished in obscurity until the 1960s when a man named Henry Morris founded the modern movement - including a number of the prominent organizations - in his resurrection of Price’s ideas. Morris was a geological engineer - again, not a practicing or trained scientist - and he based his ideas - just like Price - on theological considerations, not scientific evidence.
In 1961, Morris, with co-author (and theologian) John C. Witcomb published the seminal book on YEC doctrine, The Genesis Flood, which attempted to explain the apparent geological age of the earth by using the great Genesis Flood as the deux ex machina for all the evidence of an old earth. The book, unsurprisingly, relied on misconstrual of the evidence, misquotes of various scientists, and a complete mischaracterization of the facts it was trying to refute. But that isn’t the most interesting part of the story to me.
The book almost didn’t get published due to financial concerns, until a certain benefactor stepped in and paid the bills. Who might that person be? Any guesses?
I was both shocked, and completely unsurprised at this.
Actually, in the interest of full disclosure, I kind of expected a connection, since Ken Ham is so buddy-buddy with prominent Reconstructionists like Doug Phillips and Gary North. So I googled it. It turns out the Reconstructionist crowd is really proud of the fact that they established the modern YEC.
[Update 9-23-2014: Ken Ham continues to associate himself with White Supremacists. It turns out that a speaking engagement next month features Ham, and is put on by the Institute on the Constitution, a politically oriented group run by Michael Peroutka. Who? An erstwhile political candidate who is a member and former board member of The League of the South, a notorious seccesionist White Supremacist hate group. During his candidacy for a small local position, Peroutka requested endorsement from the League of the South, and pledged that the Institute on the Constitution would support the goals of the League of the South. Here are the details.]
Oh, and it gets better too!
In Morris’ book The Beginning of the World, published in the “ancient” time of...wait for it...1991, he states as follows:
The descendants of Ham were marked especially for secular service to mankind. Indeed they were to be 'servants of servants,' that is 'servants extraordinary!' Although only Canaan is mentioned specifically (possibly because the branch of Ham's family through Canaan would later come into most direct contact with Israel), the whole family of Ham is in view. The prophecy is worldwide in scope and, since Shem and Japheth are covered, all Ham's descendants must be also. These include all nations which are neither Semitic nor Japhetic. Thus, all of the earth's 'colored' races,--yellow, red, brown, and black--essentially the Afro-Asian group of peoples, including the American Indians--are possibly Hamitic in origin and included within the scope of the Canaanitic prophecy, as well as the Egyptians, Sumerians, Hittites, and Phoenicians of antiquity. ...
Somehow they have only gone so far and no farther. The Japhethites and Semites have, sooner or later, taken over their territories, and their inventions, and then developed them and utilized them for their own enlargement. Often the Hamites, especially the Negroes, have become actual personal servants or even slaves to the others. Possessed of a genetic character concerned mainly with mundane matters, they have eventually been displaced by the intellectual and philosophical acumen of the Japhethites and the religious zeal of the Semites.
Anyone who has done even a cursory exploration of the various defenses of the institution of slavery during the American Civil War will instantly recognize this.
It is the same racist horseshit advanced by the defenders of slavery, such as R. L. Dabney, Rousas Rushdoony, and White Supremacists before and since.
On a philosophical level too, this connection is unsurprising. Reconstructionism is founded on the hyper-literalist application of Old Testament law as a blueprint for a modern theocracy. Hyper-literalism would thus apply to all of the Bible, of course.
The history is a bit revealing for a number of reasons. First is that it does connect the vile doctrine that lead inexorably to Patriarchy and its abuses to the YEC movement, in the process explaining the current cross-pollination.
Second, it gives the lie to several YEC claims. I remember all the claims that Darwinism was all about racism, supposedly considering Africans to be less evolved than Europeans. Not only is this not at all representative of modern science on that issue, but it also blatantly ignores the connection that YEC has to modern White Supremacy. And the White Supremacist beliefs of the YEC founders. Ouch.
Third, it reveals that, contrary to its claims, YEC was always about a theological imperative. Not just a belief that God created the world in some manner - which I believe - but a commitment to a certain principle of Biblical interpretation: hyper-literalism. It is a belief that we know exactly what every bit of the Bible means. That commitment meant that the age of the earth was never negotiable. No amount of evidence would ever sway the YEC believer, because it was always based on that hermeneutical premise. Contrary evidence would be met with “who you gonna believe?” That theological commitment also came with an agenda in the arena of politics, that of Reconstructionism.
The discovery of all these connections are making me believe that perhaps the conservative wing of Evangelical thought these last 60 years is a bit like Mos Eisley:
YEC was never a universal belief of the Church:
This was a recent discovery for me. I will say, it thrilled me. I’m not always a big fan of St. Augustine, who was as much of a misogynist as any man of his era, and had some curious views on sexuality. But I must admit, I believe he nailed this one.
In his commentary on the book of Genesis, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, he writes regarding the creation account:
It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.
Oh, need I mention that Augustine wrote this in the 5th Century CE? As in 1500 years ago? It sure fits today, doesn’t it.
“It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.”
And also this, from the same work:
In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.
This advice would be well taken regarding so many issues.
Some troubling theological implications:
I’m not enough of a theologian to really do justice to the theological implications of an old earth, let alone the implications that evolution have on our view of God, man, and sin.
My blogger friend Tim Chastain has written some interesting things on the subject. Many will reject him because he is a progressive, rather than an evangelical, but I have found his account of his journey away from and back to faith to be a benefit to me. In addition, I love his gentle spirit and emphasis on the character of Christ as the center of our faith. You can read a bit about his views on the implications of the rejection of the YEC paradigm here.
Rather than try to explore all of this myself, I want to look simply at the natural result that the lack of a literal and historical Adam and Eve would have on Christian fundamentalism.
In the most literal and fundamentalist view of the Adam and Eve narrative, this is what happened: God set up a seemingly arbitrary rule (eat from all trees, but not this one), and man, naturally given his curiosity, failed. This damned all of humanity except the very few who will be redeemed. For the Calvinist, these few are chosen, and the rest are damned, with nothing they can do about it.
(I know this is a bit of an oversimplification, but bear with me.)
In the fundamentalist view, then, the Original Sin was a failure to follow an arbitrary rule on the basis of “God said so.” Thus, the primary lesson of The Fall was, “follow the rules, even if you don’t understand or agree with them.”
(The secondary lesson, equally important to fundamentalists, as I have pointed out elsewhere, is that women should never make decisions on their own, but should always defer to men, because it was a damn woman that got us into this mess in the first place.)
These two “lessons” are the keystones of the fundamentalist worldview and practice. The focus is on the following of arbitrary rules, many of which are cultural preferences rather than truly moral and ethical standards. The key fact of the world is that of hierarchy. We all obey God (fine), but God speaks through “authorities” which are never to be questioned. Because, after all, isn’t that the Original Sin? Stepping out from under authority and asking awkward questions? “Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.”
It all fits with the fundamentalist worldview. The leaders decide what the Bible means, and what the rules are. Don’t question. Just obey. Double for women.
Now in contrast, if the Adam and Eve story turns out to be a parable, with a deeper symbolic meaning, then maybe we have to look at it as more than just an admonition to “follow the rules.”
What does “knowledge of good and evil” mean? How does it fit with the two greatest commandments as stated by Christ: “love God” and “love your neighbor”? I have no easy answers, but it does appear that it would go deeper than just a set of arbitrary cultural rules.
I’m not going to pretend to understand what went wrong. I see plenty of evidence that mankind has gone wrong. We are vicious and violent, often cruel beyond belief. Something is broken. What happened? I’m not sure we will know until eternity. But somehow I think it went deeper than a failure to follow an arbitrary rule once upon a time.
I think that terrifies the fundamentalists - particularly the Reconstructionists - because their whole theology is based on a set of rules to be imposed on the rest of society. Without the foundational view of sin as a failure to follow rules, there is no basis to re-create the Ancient Near East, or the Greco-Roman world. The measurement of sin is no longer just arithmetic of rules.
And thus, the literal interpretation of Genesis - and the 6000 year old age of the earth is non-negotiable. Because their faith collapses without it.
I think it is a bit sad, too, that this is the case. Because science has, one way or another, forced a change in theology. The literalists have had to change theirs too, as I already noted. Since they cannot reconsider their belief in a literal 6 days 6000 years ago, they have had to make a much more profound and troubling change in their theology.
They have had to believe and teach that God is not trustworthy.
That He lies by making creation appear different than it is in an effort to test the faith of true believers.
This, to me, is a far more disturbing theological change. If Christianity must become a denial of reality, a belief against obvious evidence - and more than that, a belief in a trickster god, then one has to wonder why one would bother.
The bread and butter of YEC is the idea that there is all this evidence of a young universe out there, but that it has been suppressed by a demonic conspiracy against Christianity.
I am a lawyer, so court cases are fascinating to me. A pivotal case regarding the question of teaching YEC in public schools was McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education in 1983. (You can read the entire opinion here.)
In this case, a law was passed in (majority Christian) Arkansas authorizing the teaching of YEC in public schools. The law was challenged, and a trial resulted.
Although the outcome was unsurprising to me - the law was struck down because YEC was found to be religion, not science - there was one completely surprising fact in the opinion.
See, if you believe the conspiracy theory, then there is this whole body of evidence out there in favor of YEC. Thousands and thousands of experiments, papers, research projects, etc., that give evidence of a young earth. A whole boatload of evidence that never saw the light of day because of the conspiracy to suppress it.
Well, it turns out, not so much.
At trial, those in favor of teaching YEC could not produce evidence of ONE such paper that was rejected by a mainstream scientific publication. Not ONE experiment or research project suppressed by the conspiracy.
NOT. ONE. FREAKING. ONE.
Is that clear enough?
The claim of a conspiracy is just horseshit propaganda.
Because, when it came time to show actually evidence, there was none. Nobody is actually finding contradictory evidence and trying to get it published.
Actually, this makes sense. It is much more lucrative to speak at conferences, sell books, and prey on people’s fears than it is to actually do the boring and painstaking work of research. Research that might not support one’s theological commitments.
That’s why when one seeks out the credentials and history of the luminaries of YEC, one finds really quickly that they don’t have actual scientific training or experience.
Let me make one further distinction. There are plenty of Christians in science. Most of them are probably making contributions to knowledge just like everyone else. Those in the trenches of whatever belief generally tend to work hard and conscientiously. There are some kooks in every field, certainly, and they are not all atheists or all Christians by any means.
However, a belief in creationism is not to be confused with a belief in YEC, which presupposes an exact time and means of creation. (Let me give credit to Phil Plait, who is not religious, but has been careful to distinguish YEC, which makes unsupportable claims, from creationism in general, which is open to a variety of means by which God has accomplished creation.)
What I have not found yet, however, is someone whose career is devoted to fields that involve the age of the universe (astrophysics, for example) or the earth (paleontology, for example) that believes in a young earth or universe. There is simply too much in the way of evidence that one must ignore in service of one’s theological commitments to a particular interpretation of the Bible.
Some Inconvenient Ancient History:
One of the most problematic issues for the literalist interpretation of the entire Pentateuch is that much of it is borrowed from earlier sources.
The creation story has much in common with other Ancient Near East accounts, some of which pre-dated the earliest date that Moses (or whoever wrote it down) could have lived. In addition, the cosmology assumed in the first chapter of Genesis was a common (and erroneous) belief within that culture. In simplified form, the ancients believed the sky was a bowl, suspending a layer of water above the earth.
This needn’t be a problem, unless one assumes that the creation account was meant to be a literal, scientifically accurate, account of what happened. If one instead assumes a parable, a tale told to make specific theological points, then there is nothing surprising or wrong about it. Of course the author would make use of existing myths and beliefs, but put his own twist on the events to make the point. Kind of like Christ did throughout His ministry. It is amazing how little He spoke directly of doctrine, choosing parable and story and metaphor over the literal.
But, perhaps if you wish to take the rest of the Pentateuch as literally as possible, and make it into a detailed prescription for the ideal civil society, you can’t accept either a metaphor or that the cosmology was borrowed from the existing culture and beliefs.
Likewise for the Mosaic law, which likewise turns out not to be quite so original as we are often taught. The Code of Hammurabi was in existence 500 years before the earliest date Moses could have lived (and thus received the law at Sinai.) The Code influenced every Ancient Near East culture, and is recognizable in the Torah as well. True, a new spin was put on some of the rules. For example, Hammurabi allowed a husband to drown his wife as a disciplinary measure, but the Torah does not, but the basic legal framework is still in place. Moses (or whoever wrote it down) borrowed an existing legal and social system that was hundreds of years old and was derived from pagan culture, much as the United States would later borrow from the English Common Law in setting up its own legal and political system.
Again, this is a huge problem if you believe in the Torah as a literal prescription for law and society. It would mean in large part, the return to a pagan system that believed women were property (among other faults).
But, if one is realistic about the Torah’s origins, then one can view it as another instance of God working within the culture, introducing some more humane provisions within a flawed system. I hope to flesh this out in my eventual post - or series - on Theonomy, and why I believe it is mistake.
As should be obvious, I do not believe the Bible was literally dictated word for word, making the authors merely amanuenses for God. I believe God inspired humans, who wrote in ways that they understood, but which do not reflect the same understanding of science and reality that we have now. Thus, it is natural that scripture wouldn't work either as a science textbook or as a manual for government.
As should be obvious, I do not believe the Bible was literally dictated word for word, making the authors merely amanuenses for God. I believe God inspired humans, who wrote in ways that they understood, but which do not reflect the same understanding of science and reality that we have now. Thus, it is natural that scripture wouldn't work either as a science textbook or as a manual for government.
Science and Religion do not have to be enemies:
In my observation, the battle isn’t really between science and religion per se, or between science and Christianity per se. Rather, it is a battle between one particular interpretive lens of scripture and science.
It doesn’t have to be so.
I think the first thing one needs to recognize is that there are some things science does really well. It has limitations, of course, but it is good at increasing knowledge of the physical world. It can tell us a great deal about how things function, the laws that govern them, and the details of how our world is.
It can also tell us a good deal about what happened in the past.
This is not to say that science is always right. But it is a learning process, that aims for self-correction. Our understanding has increased with time and experimentation. Even when we are unsure of the exact details, we can predict the workings of the world in ways that enable us to use it for our purposes. The very computer on which I write this post is evidence of that.
Science is unable, however, to answer the ultimate “Why?” question. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are there elegant laws that govern the world? I explored this in my review of Why Does the World Exist? which is a great introduction to the need for philosophy and/or religion to answer the question. One way or another, it boils down to “Because!” as the ultimate answer.
Likewise, science is limited in its ability to solve ethical dilemmas. It can help by disproving false assumptions in some cases, and can help us weigh risks and benefits, but ultimately, it isn’t a good basis for acting unselfishly. That is another question best answered by religion or philosophy.
However, it is best not to lose sight of the fact that science can answer some questions definitively, and not let our theology be in contrast to those answers. A simple example of that would be our knowledge of the effects of lead or mercury poisoning. We should treat that, rather than ascribe the mental damage to demon possession. Our scientific knowledge enables us to make a more effective treatment, and shouldn’t be felt as a threat to our theological framework.Ultimately, we have to realize that our interpretations are not infallible, and may need to be adjusted as our knowledge increases. We cannot arrogantly assume that we understand the Bible perfectly and that we always interpret it correctly. We need a degree of humility to say that we have been wrong (say, about slavery…) and adjust our assumptions to match reality. That isn’t compromise, but humility.
The Irony of Homeschooling:
It has been an open secret for decades that the United States has done a poor job (on average) in science and math education. Sure, there are always exceptions. But as an average, it has not been all that good.
In particular, I will say that I have not been impressed with the average knowledge of adults of my generation and older. I hate to sound condescending, but I would say that 90% lack what I would consider a basic high school level knowledge of science and math. That would mean algebra, geometry, basic chemistry and biology. (I won’t even include physics, but it would sure help.)
In a great twist of irony, many, many parents decided to home school their children in large part because of the issue of creationism. Can’t have any indoctrination into that secularist, evil view of origins. (Part of the damage that Rushdoony and Morris did was to equate a belief in an old earth with every evil in the world from communism to genocide.)
This aim, though, backfired, because the very generation raised on wholly inadequate public science education taught the next generation to think critically, and actually learn the mechanics of science and the related facts. Thus, the public schoolers were able (through their ignorance) to embrace YEC, while many of the home schoolers learned just a bit too much, and realized that YEC couldn’t possibly be true. Ironic.
The Heavens are Telling:
Once upon a time - like earlier this evening - I went out and stared at the stars and planets. I love the mountains for many reasons. I like to look up at tall trees, tall peaks. I like to look down at the valleys and at wildflowers.
But as much as anything, I love to look at the heavens. I like stars, planets, galaxies, and nebulae. This year, the kids and I spent many evenings looking through big telescopes at objects many millions of light years away. It never grows old. Creation is fascinating.
The universe has gotten bigger as time has gone on. Not just the expansion, which is well proven, but our knowledge of it has expanded. What we thought a few hundred years ago was a polished dome above us has become a nearly limitless expanse, filled with trillions of worlds. We are even smaller than we thought.
As I gaze, I am still filled with wonder and awe. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?”
The fact that I believe the universe to be billions of years old does nothing to reduce that wonder.
Unfortunately, for many who would and will look at that sky, they will feel that the heavens are not telling of the glory of God, but rather of His deceitful nature, and His attempts to fool mankind so that only the elect could believe it was created. And many of those will conclude that the heavens are telling of the non-existence of God, rather than His glory.
You knew I would be unable to resist a bit of music. Haydn’s imaginative musical representation of creation still sounds fresh today. I marvel at his technique of displaying the action in the orchestra before it appears in the lyrics, perhaps an idea adopted by C. S. Lewis in his tale of the creation of Narnia.
I had the opportunity to play 2nd violin for a production at California State University Bakersfield a few years back. One of many musical highlights of my life. This chorus and trio in particular never grows old.
The Heavens Are Telling
First of all, and perhaps the best, I present this extensive refutation of YEC propaganda. Once upon a time, I knew all the “proofs” of YEC, and watched them crumble as I learned some, actual, you know, science. I appreciate that the author links to real, reputable sources.
The Wartburg Watch, a website dedicated to the fight against spiritual abuse, ran an excellent series by an actual scientist (and Christian) refuting a number of the ludicrous claims of YEC. It serves as a great introduction to some of the easiest proofs of an old earth and old universe.
Late addition: My cousin the mathematician contributed to our discussion of this post. He brought to my attention an outstanding essay by the late Isaac Asimov, on the question of what it means that old theories get discarded or upgraded as information increases. Old theories do indeed get proven "wrong," but each one in turn becomes less "wrong" than the last. What doesn't happen is a return to the old theories and progress does not require dismissal of the entire scientific endeavor.
Finally, I want to link a post that was made relatively recently.
Gungor is a contemporary Christian band, and one that inadvertently inspired some serious controversy. The rumor - true as it turned out - that they did not adhere to the YEC orthodoxy demanded by so much of Christianity led to them being labeled as heretics.
As I am sure I will be as well after this post...
Every time I read and re-read this, I feel just how thoughtful and wise it is.
[F]undamentalists tend to huddle together out of fear. And in an attempt to shut the evil of the world out of these huddles, they also tend to shut out all of the good and true things that the world has discovered as well. These huddles tend to emphasize things that don’t really matter to anybody but those within the huddle. It’s a way of knowing who the other huddlers are. Those boundary markers can be things like “we don’t dance.” Or “we don’t play cards.” Or “we don’t drink alcohol.” Or “we believe that there was a literal naked couple in a garden 6,000 years ago.”
But listen, huddle people… I’m for you. I really am. And I’m with you. I was raised in the huddle. Some of the best people I know are in the huddle. But you don’t need to be so afraid. You don’t need to repress your intellectual ability to ask questions and seek truth in order to stay in the shadow of the huddle. Because, let me tell you something, there is light outside. In fact, God is both inside and outside of your huddle. And you can still love God and love people and read those early Genesis stories as myth with some important things to teach us. Not all of you will be ready to do that, and that’s perfectly ok. But know that if you create these dichotomies where we force people to either fall into the camp of scientifically blind biblical literalism or a camp where they totally write off the Bible as a complete lie, you’re going to rob a lot of people of some of the richness that the Bible offers. You’re going to create a lot more jaded, cynical people that are completely anti-religion out there. And you are going to continue to repress the questions that lurk in the back of your own mind. And that’s just not healthy. That sort of thinking actually quashes and limits human thriving in the world.
And that’s really where I am about this and so many other issues related to fundamentalism.