Has Creationism created a monster?

I would object to being called a ‘theistic evolutionist’ mostly because it would be a label that suggests that I know enough about science to have an opinion. I do not.

I object to being called a Creationist too, because although I believe in the God who created the heavens and the earth, and although I used to be happy to defend Creationism, I have been turned off of it for three reasons:

  • Creationists trade on being the godly defenders of the Truth in the face of a global conspiracy to indoctrinate the world with bogus evolutionary science. When it became obvious to me that there was a massive lack of integrity in much of the Creationist camp, it seemed to me to fatally discredit their position.
  • When mixing with unbelievers, even those of friendly disposition towards Christians, I noted the damage that creationism does to the perception of Christianity, not because Creationists don’t accept evolution, but because they don’t engage in commendable tactics.
  • Studies in Genesis led me to believe that the science question was besides the point.

Now I don’t have a problem with Creationists. Some of my best friends are Creationists. If your conscience leads you to hold that science and scripture are best understood as preaching that the world is less than 10,000 years old, so be it. However, as people called to deal truthfully and to represent the gospel with integrity, the way in which you represent your beliefs matters far more than what you’ve decided to believe.

I’m aware that any disagreement with Creationism on my part will be viewed as an assault, but I feel that it is a necessary risk. Allow me to catalogue some of the failures in Creationist integrity that I have come across merely in the last few months:

Hovindism at the IHEU conference
I was graciously invited to speak at a secular humanists’ conference recently in order to represent a Christian viewpoint. I was surprised to find that 3 of the 8 speakers on the itinerary were Christians. I was even more surprised when the first of us got up to speak, and proceeded to present the ‘hard questions’ posed by Kent Hovind’s cosmology. Although I understand nothing about cosmology, it was abundantly clear that when a scientist from the 1980s is quoted as expressing puzzlement at this or that fact, it doesn’t mean a) that there is no possible solution to his conundrum, and b) that there isn’t already a solution to his conundrum, seeing as cosmology from the ’80s might as well be the 1680s. All of the citations seemed to be from the 80s or 90s, and there was even one from the 1960s. Many of the ‘problems’ that Hovind had raised were drawn from school textbooks, which is fine if you’re trying to highlight problems with school teaching, but not with cosmology itself.

Kirk Cameron goes bananas
I appreciate that Kirk Cameron set aside his star potential in order to use his talents in service of the faith. I can appreciate the good intent behind the sacharine save-your-marriage self-help drama Fireproof. However, The Way of the Master has a section ‘disproving’ evolution by observing the humble banana. It is allegedly proof of a designer because of its ergonomic shape, pull-tab opening device, colour-coded ripeness meter, and biodegradable wrapper. I thought that this was meant to be parody, but it is not. (Objectors have subsequently pointed out, among numerous other problems with the argument [the existence of prickly-pears, for example], that the modern banana is so well suited for human use because of human intervention in its breeding and genetic makeup. Wild bananas are far less palatable, apparently).

Cameron also recently planned to disrupt Darwin Day by releasing a ‘corrected’ Origin of Species. You can read one response here: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/a-creationist-edition-of-the-origin/

Both of these actions caused much frivolity among outsiders to the faith, but not in a good way.

Creation.com on theistic evolutionists
Creation.com (http://creation.com/did-the-creator-use-evolution) shows a startling lack of scholarly integrity by publishing a ‘refutation’ of theistic evolution in which not a single theistic evolutionist is quoted, nor is one of their arguments or counter-arguments mentioned. The author cites two of the most quoted passages in the Bible (Romans 5 and 1Corinthians 15) as knock-down arguments, but without pausing to ask what his dissenting Christian brothers say about them. It’s almost as if he imagines that they would not have noticed the mention of Adam in the most-read parts of the New Testament.

He also engages in refutation from the assumption that the literalist reading of Genesis is the correct one. However, seeing as literalist reading of Genesis is what produces Creationism, to assume this as a starting point immediately condemns his opponents’ position without discussing it.

The Student vs Professor typescene
Christian apologists seem to enjoy putting their words into an imagined confrontation between a student and professor. I have come across these on more than one occasion [you can read Kent Hovind’s odious and idiotic one, supposedly intended as a gospel tract, here: http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0055/0055_01.asp%5D. The more recent one doing the rounds purports to be a real conversation. I quote it in full, well, because I can. Skip it if you get bored:

An excellent conversation between a Professor and a brilliant student… Read it :)

I really admire this student who can fight back professor’s philosophy with his own knowledge. The conversation is below, please enjoy it.

An Atheist Professor of Philosophy was speaking to his Class on the problem Science has with GOD, the ALMIGHTY. He asked one of his new Christian students to stand and…

Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son?
Student : Yes, sir.
Professor : So, you believe in GOD?
Student : Absolutely, sir.
Professor : Is GOD good?
Student : Sure.
Professor : Is GOD ALL – POWERFUL?
Student : Yes.
Professor : My Brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?
(Student was silent)
Professor : You can’t answer, can you? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD Good?
Student : Yes.
Professor : Is Satan good?
Student : No.
Professor : Where does Satan come from?
Student : From…GOD…
Professor : That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this World?
Student : Yes.
Professor : Evil is everywhere, isn’t it? And GOD did make everything. Correct?
Student : Yes.
Professor : So who created evil?
(Student did not answer)
Professor : Is there Sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the World, don’t they?
Student : Yes, sir.
Professor : So, who created them?
(Student had no answer)
Professor : Science says you have 5 Senses you use to Identify and Observe the World around you. Tell me, son…have you ever seen GOD?
Student : No, sir.
Professor : Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD?
Student : No, sir.
Professor : Have you ever Felt your GOD, Tasted your GOD, Smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any Sensory Perception of GOD for that matter?
Student : No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.
Professor : Yet you still believe in HIM?
Student : Yes.
Professor : According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?
Student : Nothing. I only have my Faith.
Professor : Yes, Faith. And that is the problem Science has.
Student : Professor, is there such a thing as Heat?
Professor : Yes.
Student : And is there such a thing as Cold?
Professor : Yes.
Student : No, sir. There isn’t…
(The Lecture Theatre became very quiet with this turn of events)
Student : Sir, you can have Lots of Heat, even More Heat, Superheat, Mega Heat, White Heat, a Little Heat or No Heat. But we don’t have anything called Cold. We can hit 458 Degrees below Zero which is No Heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as Cold. Cold is only a Word we use to describe the Absence of Heat. We cannot Measure Cold. Heat is Energy. Cold is Not the Opposite of Heat, sir, just the Absence of it.
(There was pin-drop silence in the Lecture Theatre)
Student : What about Darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as Darkness?
Professor : Yes. What is Night if there isn’t Darkness?
Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the Absence of Something. You can have Low Light, Normal Light, Bright Light, Flashing Light… But if you have No Light constantly, you have nothing and its called Darkness, isn’t it? In reality, Darkness isn’t. If it is, you would be able to make Darkness Darker, wouldn’t you?
Professor : So what is the point you are making, young man?
Student : Sir, my point is, your Philosophical Premise is flawed.
Professor : Flawed? Can you explain how?
Student : Sir, you are working on the Premise of Duality. You argue there is Life and then there is Death, a Good GOD and a Bad GOD. You are viewing the Concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, Science can’t even explain a Thought. It uses Electricity and Magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view Death as the Opposite of Life is to be ignorant of the fact that Death cannot exist as a Substantive Thing. Death is Not the Opposite of Life: just the Absence of it Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your Students that they evolved from a Monkey?
Professor : If you are referring to the Natural Evolutionary Process, yes, of course, I do.
Student : Have you ever observed Evolution with your own eyes, sir?
(The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going)
Student : Since no one has ever observed the Process of Evolution at work and Cannot even prove that this Process is an On-Going Endeavor, Are you not teaching your Opinion, sir? Are you not a Scientist but a Preacher?
(The Class was in uproar)
Student : Is there anyone in the Class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?
(The Class broke out into laughter)
Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it?… No one appears to have done so. So, according to the Established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have No Brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?
(The Room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable)
Professor : I guess you’ll have to take them on Faith, son.
Student : That is it sir…Exactly! The Link between Man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that Keeps Things Alive and Moving
So… Have FAITH!

Knowing the little that I do, it is abundantly clear that no professor would be befuddled by the student’s apparent failure to answer anything substantial by his ‘absence of light’ argument, and he would certainly not concede to the tired and incorrect argument that evolution is presently unobserved as a whole and therefore merely opinion. The argument that the existence of the professor’s brain is a faith position and not an empirical one is plain stupidity.

So what does a fictional discussion like this do? It ‘encourages’ Christian faith on the basis of illogical and incorrect arguments, and it annoys non-Christians by erecting an inept straw man to defend their position (and inventing the class of students to inflict ridicule upon their side of the debate). Why do we discredit the gospel with this sort of thing?

Dr Bernhard Ficker
Our local newspapers have been hosting a debate in the letters page between a Creationist called Dr Bernhard Ficker, who identifies himself as a physicist, and various evolutionists. His contributions so far have included

  • an appeal to the authority of farmers as better witnesses than biologists that creatures left to the ravages of time can only degenerate and not progress;
  • only 12% of South Africans accept evolution; it is unlikely that so many should be confused;
  • Darwin is responsible for Hitler and Stalin;
  • secularists have no fixed moral standards; and
  • (according to evolutionists) various misunderstandings of how evolution works, including that micro- and macro-evolution are separate processes; he accepts micro-evolution, but he says that macro-evolution can’t happen, because it just can’t (‘how can a microbe evolve into a fish?’ is about as far as his argument goes).

So…
Now, in all these cases, it’s not important who is correct. I’m quite pleased when Creationist scientists raise good questions about evolution. If it’s done humbly and well, it might do some good. What I cannot bear is the frequency with which Christians persist in making arguments that are illogical, or ignorant of the actual facts of the discussion, or debunked decades ago. Nearly everything that I’ve pointed out above has nothing to do with the content of Creationist belief. It is all to do with Creationist arguments that comprehensively fail to make use of integrity, or to take anything said by their opponents seriously.

If we consider Christian apologetics to be an important tool for sharing the faith, then why do we disqualify ourselves by insulting our listeners with poor research, logical fallacies (such as straw-men opponents), and the unwillingness to admit fault or even to abandon arguments that are clearly wrong?

Christians should lead the way in humility and integrity. The preaching of the cross may appear as foolishness to the Gentiles, but this is not to say that we should actively pursue foolishness in other spheres.

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10 thoughts on “Has Creationism created a monster?

  1. Jonathan says:

    Great article Jordan. It has always been pretty obvious that too many people want to win the argument. And then what? I certainly think that it is naive to assume that you can knock down rigorous research with a verse and then assume no-one’s listening and won’t jump on it.

    “Christians should lead the way in humility and integrity. The preaching of the cross may appear as foolishness to the Gentiles, but this is not to say that we should actively pursue foolishness in other spheres.”

    I was trying to articulate something similar and then I remembered you’d already said it better!

  2. Lance Wonders says:

    Jordan:

    The situation in the U.S is apparently not the same as in South Africa. Here, there is tremendous hatred for and prejudice against not only classic Creationism but also even “Intelligent Design” alternatives at most universities.

    Popularizers of Creationism are necessary, although of course not “the bottom line” academically. The issue is not just scientific, but also sociological and cultural (see Peter Berger’s “The Social Construction of Reality”) and spiritual (I Cor. 2: the natural man cannot “see” spiritual reality, and so cannot–and thus refuses(!)to–take it into account, either in “everyday life” or in his generating of “theories” to explain life and his role in it).

    I recommend in this regard a recent biography of one of the academic “giants” in evangelical scholarship in the U.S. a generation ago: “A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America” by John D’Elia (Oxford University Press, 2008). Ladd spent his whole life and ministry seeking to “upgrade” evangelical scholarship, to an academic level that “liberals”/secular academics would be compelled, by the sheer weight of evidence, to become more open to, with regard to the truthfulness of Scripture in various areas intersecting with historiography and scientific investigation. By the end of his life, however, he was despondent and almost suicidal, because key “experts” who disagreed with him still stubbornly refused to reconsider certain conclusions they had drawn before his own work was published–and thus, seemingly, his lifetime of effort was “wasted” as being “inconsequential” in the academic arena. But Ladd wasn’t a “failure”, the so-called “experts” were “cheats” who refused to “play fairly” when it came to giving biblical Christians a true and fair hearing. Much of the evolution vs. Creation debate takes place at that level–not at the level of Genesis 1-11 supposedly not dealing with “historical” matters after all, or with evangelical thinkers supposedly being “bullies” who won’t let skeptical science undermine their own worldview.

    Please, my brother, be careful not to let “social pressure” push you away from obvious biblical conclusions–even if that includes the embarrassment, at times, of finding yourself a “colleague” of certain “popularizers” who sometimes miss or overinterpret some of their “facts”.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Hi Lance. Thanks as always for your kind help. I don’t think that I’m caving in to any pressure. I’m not actually that easy to bully :). My problem is more that certain information in scripture is not ascribable to miracle (such as the animals fitting into the Ark – seeing as God dictated the size of the boat), and so cannot be consigned to the ‘God can do anything’ get-out clause. Also, not all animals can survive from breeding pairs, such as bees (I think). And there are various other genuine problems with taking the literal route. Anyway, the point is that these are empirically testable, non-miraculous facts that would seem difficult to explain literally.

      So, the conclusions are far from obvious, to me anyway. I just don’t want to close off possibilities for interpretation that perhaps do better with the facts just because some people are fighting about evolution.

  3. agapegeek says:

    Genesis is one of my favorite books in the Bible. However, it is not a stand alone book and so many Christians want to read a few chapters in Genesis and ignore the rest of the Bible. The Truth in the Bible and true science must agree. So many creationists want to hold to a young earth. Science wants to hold to evolution because they reject the creator. Both are wrong. The Bible does not say the earth is young, but actually implies it to be very old. However, man was created 6000 years ago. While not strongly explicitly stated in the Bible, strong implications are given to us about a world that exisited prior to ours. Lucifer ruled this world and it was destroyed completely in Genesis 1:2. When this world was destroyed by water, everything perished all living creatures. This is where dinosaurs came from. You can read about the destruction of this world in 2 Peter 3. The reference is made to a world that existed prior to our current world system in verse 6. That world is clearly noted to not be our current world in verse 7. So the bottom line is the earth could be millions or billions of years old and it would fit with what the Bible says and true science.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Hi Agapegeek. Thanks for writing. I’m not personally a fan of Gap Theory (that is what this is called, isn’t it?). I figure that a second creation between verse 1 and 2 would get clearer, more substantial explanation in scripture. But it’s possible, I guess. It accounts for some of the problems. Is there any physical evidence for it?

  4. Screamer says:

    Great article 0+<,

    I read an excellent book, imo, of theistic evolution from a Jewish astrophysicist: Genesis and the Big Bang by Gerald Shroeder (http://www.amazon.com/Genesis-Big-Bang-Discovery-Harmony/dp/0553354132/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256900437&sr=8-1)

    He presents a strong scientific argument (as far as a layman such as myself can judge it) but shows how he thinks God MUST have intervened for the odds to ever stack up in favour of evolution moving forward, rather than regressing on itself.

    It's always interesting to see the things Christians will clutch onto, but this is a great article by Snopes on the popular "Missing Day" email that circulated and how Christian's need to rely on faith and not try to work obscure facts into their reasoning (it's very sensitively handled by people whom I suspect are non-Christian) and it would be great if we as Christians would always treat others' ideas with like respect:
    http://www.snopes.com/religion/lostday.asp

    Again, great article.

    Screamer

  5. mark says:

    Your article makes good reading, and a I wince at some of the mistakes that Creationists make. The article does however have a tendency in it which suggests that creationists of all kinds cannot really be taken seriously. So, what I’d like to know, is whether you think design-by-a-designer can be empirically detected in the living world, and if so, whether such design-by-a-designer can be formalised, and if it can be, whether the latter is in fatal conflict with methodological naturalism.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Hi Mark! I’m sorry if the article came across as suggesting that no proponents of creationism should be taken seriously. It was not my intention to do so. My complaint is with those who speak out of turn and consequently damage the reputation of the faith. I don’t personally accept creationism anymore, but in its place I claim ignorance in keeping with my level of scientific training (which is the misty remains of my high school physics almost 15 years ago). I am well aware that scientific paradigms have been overturned in the past, and so the present consensus has only provisional authority. I just wish that Christians would recognise when they’re ignorant, and that they’d apply the law of ‘do unto others…’ to their mode of engagement with the world. We use tactics and arguments that we would roundly condemn if they were employed by our opponents. We’re frequently arrogant about evolution too. I myself used to laugh evolution off as a stupid theory, yet without the first inkling of what it actually claims. The Christian world seems OK with encouraging that.

      I see in hindsight that claiming that creationism ‘fatally discredits itself’ may be interpreted as too universal a condemnation. I meant only in so far as it claims to be the position backed by godliness and greater trustworthiness. If creationists set up their position as being inherently more trustworthy than ‘secular’ science, it needs to be practiced with commensurate integrity. Seeing as this is usually lacking, it is discredited from occupying such a position a priori.

      In answer to your question(s), I would not be surprised if creation was discovered to have an undeniable mark of its designer. On the other hand, if evolution was the mechanism by which he crafted his design, then we would not see anything of the kind. It would be something like seeing a Rodin sculpture full of chisel marks, and hoping that through careful scrutiny of the stone we might find the linework of its blueprints.

      I’m also not sure that evidence of a designer would definitely kill off naturalism. Atheists think that ‘contradictions’ in the Bible and historical difficulties have emphatically discredited us, yet we disagree, even when we can only offer ‘we don’t know YET’ in response. It is virtually inherent to science to offer the same response to whatever mysteries we turn up.

      It would significantly weaken their apologetic, but then again, there have always been naturalists who believe in a higher natural power. This was really one of the considerations that led me to abandon creationist apologetics. It occurred to me that the real problem on which we needed to work was the unbelief that is at the heart of naturalism. I reckoned that if we sowed enough doubt about evolution in the mind of an unbeliever, we would not have got too far in making a disciples of him. If we make Christians of evolutionists, if their evolution was merely a function of their naturalism, it will fall away too.

      Anyway, that’s probably all vague and problematic. I don’t know. I wrote this post out of sheer frustration at a filthy handful of bad apologetics that had been inflicted on me lately. We need to do better on that, and let the people with the expertise in these fields, such as yourself, do the work with knowledge and integrity.

      • mark dickson says:

        Hi Jordan: enjoyed your reply, and I understand your frustration. I still have some questions, though. You said “I see in hindsight that claiming that creationism ‘fatally discredits itself’ may be interpreted as too universal a condemnation. I meant only in so far as it claims to be the position backed by godliness and greater trustworthiness.” My question(s): To what degree then can a Romans 1 type creationist position claim to be backed by godliness and greater trustworthiness if at all? And of course, along with this, whether you think that Romans 1 has any relevance at all for any science? i.e. three issues: (i) Can anyone truly see a Creator when they look at creation, and if so, can that ‘seeing’ in principle be expressed in scientific terms and therefore open to scientific testing? What do you believe? (ii) Are all origins explanations created equal when it comes assessing which might be more godly? i.e. can it be that one kind of ‘seeing’ is more godly than another? Or is this question out of order? (iii) Do you think that on the one hand the explanation that claims an entirely naturalistic account of the process of human origins, and on the other hand an explanation which claims the same but (willfully and without empirical support) adds in God as controller of the process, makes enough palpable difference to provide an academically honest and respectable basis for ethical judgments that rely purely on human observation of creation? Or do you say that all ethical judgments are completely declutched from empirical studies, and must come solely from the word of God – (in which case, we would have to say that unbelievers who appear to have arrived at scriptural ethical norms as a result of observation or conscience have arrived at those norms by accident and not by anything truly ‘seen’ ).

  6. mark dickson says:

    …I need to add in a correction to my previous reply where I wrote “…makes enough palpable difference to provide an academically honest and respectable basis for ethical judgments that rely purely on human observation of creation” …this should read: “makes enough palpable difference to provide an academically honest and respectable basis for ethical judgments that are any different to those that rely purely on human observation of creation?” I.e. can a human in principle see anything in creation that she can express in scientific terms that tells her that she is not simply an intelligent mammal?

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