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Thursday, 1 November 2007

New Essay on Young Earth Creationism

I have previously recommended Robert Schneider’s exceptional Science and Faith essays on my brief Internet Resources page (which I acknowledge is desperately in need of an update). Schneider has now added to the series with his 8th essay entitled “Young Earth Creationism”. He provides an brief history of the movement, describes its characteristics, and offers a critique of its cultural assumptions, scientific practices, interpretation of scripture, and theology.

He then concludes with wise words on how those of us that support both the integrity of scripture and science should approach YECs:

[It] is critical for Christians like us to enter into conversation with YECs. But it must be respectful. I do not think that trading scientific arguments serves any useful purpose. There is a greater place on which to stand -- on the common ground of the Bible itself. We can help YECs, especially the youth among them, realize that there are other interpretations of the Scriptures that preserve their rightful role as messengers of revelation without cramming into them scientific concepts that they never were meant to contain. We can help them to see that modern science and the Bible are not in conflict with one another, but complement one another, that there is no contradiction between the creating Word revealed by the Rock of Ages and the record of an ancient earth revealed in the ages of rocks.
For those who want to do in depth historical research on the YEC movement, Ronald Number’s “The Creationists” will need to be consulted. For the majority though, Schneider's essay is the place to start. Excellent paper Robert.

18 comments:

elbogz said...

The arguments of YEC have done more in the last few years to chip away at my faith than any other issue. Christian radio has pulled out the seat for them and they have made themselves at home filling the airways, with their rubbish.

It’s been interesting to me, to find the raging atheist, and the cynics of Christianity many times had childhood roots in a fundamentalist church; only to reach adulthood and walk away from God completely. In their anger of realizing they were told childhood lies, and they have lashed out against the church.

The children of the church are going to hear the sermon, that the earth is 6010 years old and then one day look at 500 million years of geology in a canyon in Utah and realize the church lied to them.

BobC said...

"We can help them to see that modern science and the Bible are not in conflict with one another"

Lots of luck with that. The creationists are wrong about almost everything, but they are right about Genesis. No matter how Genesis is interpreted, it's obvious the whole thing completely conflicts with science.

The best solution would be throwing the entire Bible in the garbage where it belongs. Why bother trying solve conflicts between religions and science, when it's much easier to just throw out religions completely? Religions will eventually be obsolete, so why not just get rid of them now and be done with it?

Steve Martin said...

Elbogz:
I agree that YEC has done much to damage the Christian faith. Many people will never be open to the gospel because they associate it with bad things Christians have done (the crusades, the inquisition), horrible positions taken by Christians (anti-Semitism, racism), or an insistence on unsupportable science (geocentricism, young earth, anti-evolutionism). One of my objectives in this blog is to demonstrate that the latter group (ie. poor science) is NOT connected to the gospel in anyway, just like the horrible things Christians have done in the past are not representative of Christ’s truth. Basically, I don’t want YEC et al to be a stumbling block. Some people may still want to use YEC as an excuse to abandon or not consider the faith, but that is a different problem altogether.

BobC,
I think if you read some of the past posts on this blog (see category: scripture), you will see that the “Young Earth Creationist” interpretation of Genesis is pretty much unsupportable. As well, I think the inherent conflict between science and religion is a myth. See my post: http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/06/two-myths-about-relationship-between.html .

BobC said...

Mr. Martin, I just read your well written article called Two Myths about the relationship between Christianity and Science. I agree there are millions of Christians in America who accept evolution. But look at this 2006 CBS poll: 51% of Americans think God created humans in their present form. Just 15% said that humans evolved and God was not involved.

Probably 100% or very close to 100% of biologists would say humans evolved and God had nothing to do with it. Compare that to the 15% of Americans who agree God had nothing to do with evolution. I doubt any Americans would invoke God to explain gravity. There's something about evolution that makes it difficult for many or most Christians to completely accept it. I wouldn't call the conflict between Christianity and science a myth. It seems to me to be a total war going on. Look at all the websites that spread lies about evolution. Ken Ham's new creationism museum will have 400,000 visitors this year, and probably even more next year. I have never heard of a Baptist minister who accepted evolution. Almost all the videos on GodTube.com about evolution are made by creationists. At work I'm on a team of a dozen people, and I'm the only there who isn't a creationist. I am convinced the only possible way to get more Americans to accept biological evolution is to first get rid of religions. Call me a militant atheist if you want to, but I really don't see the more moderate Christians like yourself making any progress convincing the creationists of anything. The denial of evolution is just a symptom of a disease, and that disease is religion. The only way to get rid of the symptoms of a disease is eradicating the disease itself.

luke s. said...

I agree that "I do not think that trading scientific arguments serves any useful purpose" but the hardest thing I've found in evolution/creation/YECs discussion that pop up every-so-often on a Christian forum I frequent is that YECS'ers make the gospel contingent on YECS being true. Logically and rhetorically that's easy enough to point out and disagree with, but it makes it very, very difficult for them to admit any flaw in their position, as for them it undermines the very credibility of the gospel. Therefore In dialoges with YECS believers I think teasing apart YECS and the gospel, is one of the most important, but trickiest things to do.

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for the great content & topic for your blog. It's an area that deserves far more attention than it gets, and I find those on the TE side of things (such as myself) still have lots of big areas to think through, so I look forward to what comes up here. Cheers! :)

Steve Martin said...

Hi bobC:
1. re: 51% saying God created humans in present form.

.. and I dare say the % is way higher for evangelical Christians. So we’ve got work to do. I look at this as a challenge .. and I am optimistic we are actually making pretty good headway. Whether I’m being naïve or prophetic, only time will tell. (I’m of course, hoping for the latter :-) )

2. re: Probably 100% or very close to 100% of biologists would say humans evolved and God had nothing to do with it.

I’d say that stat is way off. The first part is probably correct (ie. 100% say humans evolved)… but way off on the second (ie. God had nothing to do with it) I know Francis Collins has quoted a survey where 40% of working scientists believe in a personal God. Not sure what % is for biologists but I think I remember seeing something around 30%. For three evangelical biologists that support God creating through evolution, see my reviews at http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/05/evolution-and-faith-from-evangelical.html .

3. Re: using God as explanation of gravity

See this hilarious article at: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/39512

4. Re: Gaining support by evolution by getting rid of religion.

In fact, I contend that the “evolution=atheism lie” is the #1 reason why so many people do not accept evolution. Both militant atheists (eg. Dawkins) & militant creationists (eg. Ham) promote this lie. See the last part of my post http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/07/responding-to-new-atheism-something-to.html for my view on this. As Michael Ruse (an atheist) has said (a paraphrase from my memory) “Richard Dawkins and his ilk have done more for creationism than any creationist”.

Hi Luke,
Welcome. Thanks for your kind comments. You are bang-on re: the issue of YEC making it part of the gospel. We essentially need to demonstrate that the “gospel” they are preaching is NOT really the gospel of Christ. A tough task, a very tough task. See my post: http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/09/dialogue-debate-silence-or.html regarding how we should dialogue with YEC & other anti-evolutionist Christians. As you can see, I’ve still got lots of questions too.

BobC said...

"40% of working scientists believe in a personal God."

Can't a biologist believe in God, and still not invoke God for evolution? Surely a competent religious biologist is not going to think evolution needs any supernatural help and/or a supernatural inventor.

“evolution=atheism lie”

I agree evolution does not equal atheism for the same reason gravity does not equal atheism. However I will point out the obvious fact that if everyone in the world was an atheist, there would be no creationists. Remove religion from the world, and it's goodbye creationists forever.

"I dare say the % is way higher for evangelical Christians. So we’ve got work to do."

You sure do. I noticed creationists have permanently cemented shut their minds. Nothing is going to convince them of anything. Certainly evidence has no effect on them. Their disease is incurable. Being nice doesn't help. Ridiculing them doesn't help. But they certainly deserve ridicule, don't they? I compare creationists to flat-earthers.

I big part of the problem are the Bible websites, the Discovery Institute, and other creationist organizations. I hope you don't mind, but I call them Liars for Jesus. This constant lying is massive. There is a total war being fought against science, and it seems to be getting worse every year. Their targets are gullible children. Part of their war involves supressing the teaching of science. You should see what this Georgia science teacher had to go thru. I look at this and I'm convinced the world has to somehow get rid of the god curse.

Please google "Evolution's Lonely Battle in a Georgia Classroom"

geocreationist said...

My own desire is to focus on helping people toward having a saving faith. YECs may be wrong in my opinion, but if they have a saving faith, I try to leave them alone. People such as elbogz however need to be reached, and shown why their common sense about science is true, and why scripture means what it says. Through prayer and God's grace, these were reconciled for me, so I know it's possible for others.

Steve Martin said...

Hi BobC:
1. re: "Can't a biologist believe in God, and still not invoke God for evolution?"

Absolutely. But you need to understand what a TE means by primary and secondary causation. Allan Harvey’s essay#4 pointed to in my http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/10/what-does-evolution-mean-framework-for.html post is a good place to start.

2. re: "Remove religion from the world, and it's goodbye creationists forever".

This is probably true. However, this solves one problem by creating a much worse one. The dirty bathwater (ie. dishonesty of young earth creationism) should not tempt us to throw out the baby (ie. faith in God). I’m pretty sure YEC’s are not all liars – in fact, I’d tag very few with this label. Frankly, I think many of them have no clue what they are talking about and are merely following their leadership. Now the leadership is another issue, as I’ve discussed in my posts http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/09/dialogue-debate-silence-or.html (see particularly the comments) and http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/06/rating-rate-integrity-needs-improvement.html .

3. re: how teachers of science are persecuted

Yes, this is very sad.

Geocreationist: Welcome back. Thanks for your comments. I agree that sometimes prodding YEC’s to give up their faulty beliefs can be counterproductive (after all, faith in Christ is what is important). However, as my dialogue-debate post referenced above indicates, pushing a YEC version of the gospel can actually damage the gospel of Christ.

BobC said...

2. re: "Remove religion from the world, and it's goodbye creationists forever".

"This is probably true. However, this solves one problem by creating a much worse one. The dirty bathwater (ie. dishonesty of young earth creationism) should not tempt us to throw out the baby (ie. faith in God)."

Here's where you would expect an atheist to disagree. I am trying to figure out what would be much worse than more than half the population of America denying an important scientific fact. These people don't even know what they are (an ape species). It can be very harmful to the environment when so many people think they are completely separate from nature instead of part of nature. It's a rare creationist who also calls himself an environmentalist.

There is also the problem of harassment of science teachers, which you agreed is very sad. What's even worse are the thousands of students who don't learn anything about evolution because their teachers prefer to avoid conflicts with their parents. Teachers also skip evolution to avoid harassment from students who have been trained to disrupt the classroom when any subject conflicts with their religion.

Another problem with the god belief is how religious Americans indirectly support terrorists who think their belief in heaven is normal. As you know the heaven belief made 9/11 possible. Also thanks to the heaven belief suicide bombings occur every single day somewhere in the world. How can we tell the Muslims their heaven belief is dangerous and insane, when most of us believe in heaven ourselves? We are never going to eliminate suicide bombings until we eliminate what makes it possible, the heaven belief. The only possible way to get rid of the dangerous life after death belief is throwing out all gods.

A world without religions would not have any of these problems and I listed only a tiny fraction of the problems caused by Christianity and other religions.

Yet you claim removing all supernatural beliefs would create a much worse problem. What problem would that be? Too much human progress? Sorry, but I just don't see any benefit to having a religion, but I sure see more than enough problems with it. I suggest it's better to go only with what has strong evidence. That's why I like science so much, and have no use for the supernatural, which could never possibly have any evidence at all.

Gordon J. Glover said...

babc,

Now there are at least some pro-evolution videos on GodTube:

http://www.godtube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=ed2fe0dd172eb59b0a59

-GJG

Steve Martin said...

Hi bobc:
Re: “I am trying to figure out what would be much worse than more than half the population of America denying an important scientific fact.”

Lots: war, injustice, selfishness, greed, hate, lack of meaning in life, humanity destroying our planet through our own stupidity. I think even most atheists would agree with the assertion that science can’t answer the most important questions. Personally, I believe that these important questions can be answered best by looking to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe for answers. I’m sure you (and most atheists) disagree.

Re: evangelicals and the environment.

This is almost old (and incorrect) news now. When AIDS first appeared, we Evangelicals responded very poorly. However, now a quarter century later I believe we are on the forefront of caring and helping those afflicted. It took us a while. On global warming, there has been a huge turnaround in just the last 3 years. There is a still lot of disagreement within the Evangelical community on the issue, but from my perspective as an insider, the oil tanker has turned. We are on board and helping (leading in many instances). On evolution, I’m optimistic we’ll also change. But that, I must admit, looks a long ways off & there are no guarantees.

Hi Gordon:
Nice videos. Not academy award material but I'm sure your budget is a little limited :-) . Anyways, good succinct, on-target message.

Tom said...

Steve,

While I would characterize Dawkins as passionate, I would not call him "militant". He is extraordinarily challenging, especially to fundamentalists who have never read him. My deconversion from YEC to evolution was most definitely propelled by reading Dawkins' Climbing Mt. Improbable. I think I've posted this before here. It was Dawkins' sense of awe at the beauty of nature and complex evolutionary processes that made the read comfortable. It sounded to me like a preacher talking about the wonders of God's creation. They both use the same voice. While he's also an ardent atheist and wants to rid the world of religion, is his voice really that offensive and his tack really divisive or are these assumptions based on the subject matter and knowing his position with these matters?

Bobc, myself, and other atheists frequently hit your site. You could take offense and delete our posts. Instead, you are compelled to keep the discussion going. I'm with bobc and think the world would be better without religion.

Not that you have to answer here and now. It's sort of something to ponder: What is it about our challenges that either you find engaging or non-threatening? What are you drawing on to be unfettered and possibly even strengthened by these exchanges? What challenges do you completely ignore based on principle or theology? Even simpler, what are you and other TEs gaining in your theology by accepting evolution? When you can start answering these questions, you can probably find the topics and voice to talk with YECs with greater success.

Oh, and thanks for that onion link mentioned above!

BobC said...

tom, I just started looking at your recoveringyoungearthers.blogspot.com. I never before thought it was possible for a young earth creationist, or any creationist, to accept evolution. I thought it would be even more unlikely for a creationist to become an atheist, also known as a normal person. I have been convinced for many years creationism and theism are incurable diseases. You have proved me wrong.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Tom,

Regarding Dawkins, maybe I’m being a little loose with the term militant. (It’s probably a term that all sides bandy around a too easily). Another idea to consider for another post. However briefly, what I’ve found with Dawkins is the following. When he talks about nature and science, he is indeed eloquent and inspires awe. When he speaks of religion and those that practice it, he seems mean spirited, close-minded, and ill informed. In fact, he seems the exact flip side of the fundamentalist preacher that one Sunday preaches about the love of Christ, and the next rails against the evils of evolution, when it is evident that he has never seriously engaged in thinking about the scientific evidence nor the implications of evolution.

But even this may be changing. I watched much of his debate/dialogue with McGrath (on BBC I think). In it I thought both he and McGrath were fair, cordial, and let the other make his points. Both made good points, and at other times were unable to respond adequately. (Interestingly, I pursued a couple Christian and atheist forums after the debate – both claimed that their man had “slaughtered” the other; that their man was a genius and that the other was a moron. It seems neither Christians nor atheists have a monopoly on close mindedness J ). I think that as Dawkins engages serious scientists and theologians (& not strawman YEC arguments), he may be learning and getting better.

On your questions:
1. What is it about our challenges that either you find engaging or non-threatening? What are you drawing on to be unfettered and possibly even strengthened by these exchanges? What challenges do you completely ignore based on principle or theology?

Frankly, when I started this blog I never really considered that I’d be engaging with atheists. (I was probably a little naïve and sort of thought the conversation would be limited to the group of people I’d emailed my blog intro). My goal was to engage Evangelicals on the topic of evolution. That still is my primary goal. However, it has been stimulating conversing with non-Evangelical Christians, agnostics, and atheists as well. For me, a faith that can’t handle questions is probably not worth it. Maybe many of the questions will not have good answers, but that doesn’t mean we should run from the questions. Not sure I understand the part about challenges I’m ignoring. None that I’m aware of – what exactly do you have in mind?

2. Even simpler, what are you and other TEs gaining in your theology by accepting evolution? When you can start answering these questions, you can probably find the topics and voice to talk with YECs with greater success.

I do think evolution sheds some light on aspects of theology in helpful ways. However, this isn’t the reason for accepting the evidence for evolution (more of a reconsideration in light of the evidence). The simple fact is that God as Lord of the universe is Lord of all natural processes including evolution. Why should we reject this? I guess I’m not sure what you mean by the implication that answering this question will allow us to have more fruitful conversations with YECs.

BobC said...

Sorry to bother you again.

"The simple fact is that God as Lord of the universe is Lord of all natural processes including evolution."

Evolution, or any other natural process, really doesn't need a lord or inventor or whatever you want to call an invisible man who lives in the clouds. For example, there is no reason something had to invent or be a lord of natural selection.

"I do think evolution sheds some light on aspects of theology in helpful ways."

I do think evolution makes theology unnecessary. Why believe in a useless invisible man?

Imagine a world where nobody dreamed up the idea there's a universe boss. How would the world be any different? Most likely, a human race that did not believe in supernatural magic, would have come up with the natural selection idea many centuries before Darwin. Religious beliefs have contributed nothing to human progress. Instead religions have a long history of slowing down human progress, and this is a problem that unfortunately continues today.

Tom said...

Not sure I understand the part about challenges I’m ignoring. None that I’m aware of – what exactly do you have in mind?

I don't have anything in particular in mind. I'm just saying mention the word "Evolution" to a YEC and you get knee-jerk visceral responses. Is there such a taboo in your theology? Is there something that you outright reject based on some sort of assumption, something you really take for granted, that exploring it would at best be a waste of time and at worst just lead you away from your belief system?

Perhaps a good example would be communism. If I was trying to sell you communism, what would it take for me to reach you?

Probably like you, I know the basic tenets of communism and can see that it can work in certain situations. (In fact, if heaven persists to have social exchanges, it seems like it would be communist!) But I'm closed minded about communism. Perhaps marketers and social psychologists can figure out the "voice" and appropriate delivery of the information to convince me, but it wouldn't be too easy. Maybe you present it in slow, head-nodding steps, selling something before buyers really know what they've bought. (That's how Darwin did it by waiting as long as he did to present his ideas, and when he did, he was laboriously slow in his delivery).

I would agree with you on Dawkins' Jekyll and Hyde persona -- inviting on the biology side and condescending on the theological. At least as a scientist and the one to have coined "meme", religions present some of the grandest memes of all! Perhaps he should use religion, tracking it, detailing its various forms with the intent of showing memetic evolution at play. He could find in the process the essences of these memes, even compare them to other cultural memes, and really have something scientific to demonstrate about human culture and psyche.

BobC, As Steve has found on his site here, your intended audience is not necessarily what you originally expect. Considering there have been no posts by former YECs, I think I'm, sadly, an oddity. I think it is also because I, like other fundies, equate evolution with atheism which keeps me rare. The ideas presented on this blog are interesting to me personally to challenge my evolution=atheism views, but to also share the angst of people here trying to reach YECs. Thanks for the visit to my blog!

Anonymous said...

BobC said...

"an atheist, also known as a normal person."

That's funny!!! :)