Why the debate over creationism matters
by Steve Douglas
November 25th, 2008 | 71 Comments
Recently I have been involved in a couple conversations with folks who aren’t really “informed” (I use the term loosely) creationists but have been hounded enough by creationists/biblical literalists who have drawn the battle line twixt themselves and evolutionists/biblical contextualists that they sit down firmly just on the creationists’ side of the fence — just in case evolutionists really are godless heretics. They’re not interested in getting into discussions about the origins question; while not wholly dismissive of those who accept the scientific consensus (biblical contextualists), they’re entirely content to live and let live. They can’t be bothered to investigate the issue on either the scientific or the biblical side, but, when pressed to mark where they stand, figure that they can’t go wrong if they just stick with the (perceived) default: interpreting Genesis as historical.
There are things I believe are true and right that I don’t become an activist for because of their essentially trivial nature; but there are a few reasons that I think this particular issue is no trivial, purely academic dispute.
Why is the debate important?
1) A faith that demands the rejection of mainstream science in order to legitimize its teachings is automatically, unavoidably suspected to be out of touch and irrelevant.
Just think if Christians were identified as those who deny a spherical earth or a heliocentric solar system — ridiculous, huh? Verily I say unto you, despite what you’ve heard, these beliefs are no more ridiculous than a belief in creationism, and even share the same source: namely, reading the Bible as though God had revealed the intricacies of the cosmos to the authors of Scripture without due recognition of genre and cultural contextualization. Now granted, by no means should we deny something we know is true just because of the tyranny of majority; my blog is all about reminding people that just because a belief is popular does not mean (or even suggest) that it is true. When determining the validity of an argument, who believes it and how many believe it take a back seat to how defensible it is, how much evidence it has, and how internally consistent it is. Moreover, when taking on a majority belief, everyone knows were the burden of proof lies, and I certainly wouldn’t marginalize our religion just to blindly parrot the most vocal leaders of conservative evangelicalism, who see it fit to use a badly interpreted Bible as a blunt object to smash the infidels who disagree with their interpretation.
2) Maintaining creationism entails at least the implication of conspiracy and/or bad motives on the part of both unbelieving and believing scientists.
Just as distasteful as kowtowing to the crowd is suspecting every fringe conspiracy theory scenario to be true. The victim mentality is another dreadful byproduct of dispensational apocalypticism. This is the ultimate source of the idea that Christians and Christian beliefs are the outcasts of society; that we are forced into the catacombs of science like ICR, AiG, or the Discovery Institute, where, by the grace of God, the real work is being done underground, shielded from the persecutions of peer review.
If I may hazard my own conspiracy theory, it’s sometimes hard not to believe that the bigwigs in those creationist organizations know better, but I’d say that the minions generally just trust their non-scientist pastors, who themselves generally trust the blather of non-scientific organizations like those I just listed. I tend to believe that if most Christians really thought about what they were saying about the thousands of believers who work day to day within the sciences going about their jobs from an old earth or evolutionary perspective, they would realize how unjustly they’re treating their fellow believers. Creationists/ID advocates are telling the vast majority of believing scientists working within the relevant fields that either they’re idiots (“Uh, hello! A creationist geologist I heard said that the speed of light has slowed over time. Get a clue!”) or they’re pawns of peer pressure, their own ambition, or (and?) Satan.
Many creationists and ID advocates would have you believe there are thousands of Christians keeping the faith and not bowing the knee to “Darwinism”. But there’s no data to support this claim; in fact, a Newsweek article in 1987 cited a study that claimed only 700 out of the 480,000 American scientists working in the earth or life sciences — those who deal directly with the data touching evolutionary theory — were still fighting the mound of evidence for the sake of creationism. That’s 0.0014%, an amazing minority of scientists that makes up a small percentage of even believing scientists. This doesn’t make evolution correct, but it does suggest that creationism hasn’t done a good job convincing scientists who spend their lives researching this stuff. It also makes for a grand conspiracy indeed, probably requiring more than a few backroom deals brokered through cigar smoke by a cadre of mustache-twirling villains. The specific numbers I quoted, of course, are also easily dismissed as a conspiracy to suppress the truth. How convenient.
3) Crucial for a faithful, accurate interpretation of Scripture is learning to read it as it was intended rather than holding it captive to one’s own presuppositions about it.
The most distressing indictment on evangelicals is the popularity of the wooden, historiographic readings of Genesis that are alone responsible for creationism. It really gets me how the central figures of the ID movement (such as Michael Behe himself) apparently reject this literalism by accepting the main story of evolutionary theory (did you know that they do?), merely denying that evolution could have happened without God’s intervention, yet creationists still champion the ID movement as (almost) one of their own. I’ve made plenty of arguments (e.g., here and here) about why reading the Genesis stories as empirical historical accounts is only the default because of a flawed bibliology and/or set of hermeneutics. Who told you that you have to trust the Bible’s presentation of scientific matters literalistically regardless of the fact that such topics are manifestly peripheral to the Bible’s purpose? And why did you believe them? Look it up for yourself.
In short, I don’t want Christianity’s credibility to be tied to the mast of any sinking ship. Trust me when I say that creationism is a sinking ship, and everyone outside the evangelical/fundamentalist bubble knows it. Don’t worry: you’ve still got time to board a lifeboat! But first, do help me untie our faith’s credibility from the mast.