Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Truth about Creationism

Over the past month or so, with my posts about the truth about evolution, it might appear that I've built up a certain good will with a lot of anticreationists out there. OK, maybe "good will" is a bit strong. Whatever it is, I'm about to squander it. I am a creationist after all.

The truth about creationism is that it's not stupid, illogical, or irrational. Creationism is not based on "blind" faith (whatever that is). Creationism is not a modern theological abnormality, nor is it an outmoded pseudoscience. Creationism is not a threat to science or to science education or to human rights.

Don't get me wrong. I can see how all of these things could be true, given the present state of things. (Except maybe the "threat to human rights." That's just stupid.) Tracking the reaction to my posts on evolution has led me to some seedy corners of the internet. I've seen up close that most of what passes for creation/evolution debate bears little resemblance to profitable conversation. It seems to have degenerated from rehashing old, unconvincing arguments to the even trade of personal insults. There's a hardened hopelessness on both sides. I actually heard this hopelessness directly from a prominent creationist author. He told me, "I don't really care what scientists think of my work. We'll never convince them anyway."

Call me idealistic, but I tend to think there's a way out of this mess. I'm not naive though. I know there are deep-seated cultural resentments that will not be easily resolved. In fact, I'm not sure there could ever be a real cultural resolution, but within the realm of science, I do think there's a way forward.

It starts with going back to the most basic convictions about origins that I have. For me, that starts with my convictions about the mode of scriptural inspiration, i.e. verbal, plenary inspiration. I don't believe that the Bible is merely a human book that contains the word of God. I believe it is the Word of God. I also do not accept the modern and popular doctrine of accommodation, which basicallys says that by putting His revelation into human language, God was forced to use terms that were not precisely accurate. As a result, science takes an active role in interpreting the Scripture, since any part may be accommodated and therefore not literally true.

I do accept a form of accommodation, but I tend to think the modern form is theologically deficient. On the one hand, I think God is clever enough to accommodate His revelation with perfect precision. On the other, I don't think science is so infallible that theology ought to yield to it unconditionally.

Anyway, when it comes to reading Genesis 1-11, I read it as history. It seems the most natural way to read it, and historically, that's the way that most commentators have read it (with notable exceptions like Augustine). I don't buy the modern debates about the genre of Genesis 1-11, since such debates never address the historicity question directly. History can be recorded in any genre.

I also find arguments about the meaning of yom (Hebrew for "day"), gaps in the genealogies, and the extent of the Flood to be useful, but they do not convince me to abandon young-age creationism. The meaning of Genesis 1-11 is not merely in one specific word but in the entirety of the passage (and frankly, in the rest of Genesis and the Pentateuch as well). Yielding too much of Genesis 1-11 to some kind of figurative interpretation can threaten the orthodox understanding of the Fall, which then directly threatens the doctrine of redemption, which I know to be true by faith, so we're back to basic faith issues again.

I am sincere in my interest in such exegetical issues, however. As I noted in a recent post, even such seemingly well-established doctrinal issues as the identity of the serpent might not be so certain as we think. There are certainly lots of open questions about the early history of the earth, given the brevity of the Genesis narratives. None of these ambiguities mean that the basic historicity of Genesis 1-11 is threatened, in precisely the same way that ambiguities about evolutionary theory do not necessitate that evolution itself is invalid.

OK, here's where a lot of people are really going to choke on their cheerios. If Genesis 1-11 really is an accurate historical record of the history of the earth from an infallible source, then that account is a kind of data. Genesis provides another kind of "observation" that must be explained by any theory of origins. That's where I start biblically. It's not just a blind faith nor a hyperliteralistic reading of Scripture.

The second step forward in creationism is to simply acknowledge that there are many things that we don't know. The theological doctrine of creation simply does not provide a complete scientific account of origins. For scientists, there's still plenty of questions to be answered, and there's plenty of room within the doctrine of creation for profitable scientific research. In origins, however, many of the questions scientists ask might only be answerable within a theological context, which is why I firmly believe that science cannot be properly done if it is divorced from theology. Science and theology must work in cooperation if we wish to understand the mysteries of origins. Given the popularity of materialistic accounts of origins and the way militant atheists have used (misused?) such origins theories to proselytize for their lack of faith, I think there should be an urgency among Christians to support such integrated science/theology research.

My third step is to study carefully the findings and theories of modern evolutionary research. That means not just arrogantly dismissing evolutionary claims but really listening to evolutionists. If nothing else, we can follow Jesus' own "golden rule" here: Hear and respect others as you wish to be heard and respected. In doing so, I can do nothing less but acknowledge that Darwin made a convincing argument, albeit not an inerrant one. But I don't see Darwin's errors as anything to celebrate (since we all make similar errors). Instead, I think Darwin was onto something important. At the very least, the patterns of similarity between organisms, biogeographical relationships, and the natural variability of species are all important factors in biology that must figure into a theory of origins. Though it seems compelling, I don't think universal common ancestry is the answer, because it is inconsistent with the historicity of Genesis. That leaves me with essentially no answer, since theological or philosophical explanations do not deal directly with this kind of scientific data.

That's why we need to develop a new model of origins that explains both the scientific and scriptural data. Merely dismissing evolution and arrogantly asserting that creation explains everything doesn't work, and it hasn't worked. This way of research might not resolve anything and it will be quite unsatisfying in the short term, but I can see no other option. I cannot yield my theology to science, and I will not degrade to arrogance and name-calling. That leaves two options: Come up with my own creationist explanation of origins or get out of science altogether. I'm too much of a scientist to give it up, so research it is.

Will this research convince anyone? Hard to say. Theologically, probably not. "Convincing" requires faith, and that's not something evidence and theory can do. On the other hand, my approach certainly attracts attention, and I think that I've given pause to some hardened anticreationists. Is that progress? I don't know, but it sure beats name-calling.