Letter to some young creationists
|Break through the wall.|
It's time for the International Conference on Creationism again, and a lot of people are looking forward to it. Before we go, I'd like to ponder the big picture, and I'm not talking about the creation model or the conference schedule. I'm talking about the community.
When I first attended and presented at ICC, I was wet behind the ears and eager to represent what I believed to be the "best science." (Frankly, I still believe it's the best science.) I was fresh out of grad school, with its rough and tumble skepticism of ideas. Every week in journal club, I had a front row seat as our professors dissected and critiqued the latest published research. Sometimes things got testy. Often, questions were asked that couldn't be answered. Occasionally, they decided the paper we were discussing should never have been published. I became accustomed to presenting arguments and evaluating them on the basis of more or less rational evaluation alone.
Young-age creationism is different, and it's different in a way that I was ill-prepared for in grad school. I assumed that if I presented my creationist work and made a good argument, my ideas would be accepted. Now this is going to sound stupid, but I was not fully prepared for how much theology influenced creationism. People didn't merely accept an idea because it was persuasive or because there was good evidence. People also have theological ideas that govern how they interpret arguments and what they think the evidence is.
Again, that seems so obvious right? I mean, it's the International Conference on Creationism after all! Of course theology influences things! But that doesn't really prepare us for the reality of the disagreements that result. Sometimes those disagreements are deep and resilient, and they seem to be so irrational.
Even within the young-age creationist world, there are hugely different ideas and camps and factions. Most of the time, at least in my experience, we're divided by theology more than anything else. I have one conception of God and His creation and my place in it, and someone else sees things very differently. Some think that human depravity infects everything, and we shouldn't trust anything scientists claim. Anyone who accepts too much of that idea must be compromising with the world. Others are enthusiastic supporters of specific individuals, including folks like Kent Hovind, Carl Baugh, and Ron Wyatt. They just want to promote their favorite person's ideas, and they will criticize you for criticizing them. Some people are obsessed with evolution and exposing the lie, and they don't understand why creationists would waste their time studying moss or sandstone or other unimportant subjects. Others are enthusiastic about science and constructing an understanding of God's creation, and they can't understand the stubborn rejection of their theories on grounds that have nothing to do with science or good theology.
Occasionally, you'll run into even bigger surprises. I remember one year someone was passing out free books advocating geocentrism. Another time, I had a long conversation with someone who firmly believed the key to defeating evolution was discovering living pterosaurs. There was this one guy who talked at me for about an hour about Kirlian photography. I say "talked at me," because I didn't get a word in edgewise. This year, I imagine we might even stumble across some flat-earthers.
In this strange, fractionated world, we like to assume that we're part of the mainstream of creationism. I guess it's human nature to always look for the "weakling" so we can feel better about ourselves in comparison. "Maybe I have some weird ideas, but at least I'm not that bad!" Meanwhile, the walls separating us remain. Oh we try to fix that, right? We talk to "those people" and try to get them to see the error of their ways. The earth isn't flat. Geocentrism isn't the only biblical option. Dinosaurs existed. Some of them had feathers. And they don't listen. So we invent new words to describe ourselves to set us off from "those people." Or we pretend to pitch a "big tent" by defining what we can and can't talk about. For example, ICC doesn't allow geocentrism talks. As long as you don't do that, you're welcome! So the big tent isn't as big as it could be. Or should be.
At my first ICC, I remember sitting in the audience after a talk, and I got all hot and bothered when one of the questions claimed something that was false. I got up to "ask a question," and used my time to rebut the other question. We then got into kind of an argument. Voices were raised. We didn't shout, but it was pretty emotional. I was baffled. How could that guy say such nonsense!? All these years later, I can't remember what we were arguing about, but I can remember how angry we both were. I guess that should tell you something.
Now I'm entering the back half of my career, and I'm looking at this world of young age creationism with a completely different perspective. I'm not that naive grad student any more (I hope), and I see what that clueless enthusiasm wrought. I was taught in school to ruthlessly reject bad ideas. That was what science was all about, but this world of young-age creationism can't abide that ruthlessness. And now I understand that no Christian community should have to.
On the night before Christ died, the apostle John records for us his final prayer in Gethsemane. (I guess John stayed awake just long enough to hear some of the Lord's real prayer.) Jesus asked that God would preserve unity among the believers. This was key to showing the world that we are truly believers. Paul echoed that desire for unity repeatedly in his epistles. He wrote to the Ephesians,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4:1-3)The unbridled enthusiasm for science and disdain for "bad ideas" that I learned in grad school isn't compatible with this greater Christian goal of unity and community. Don't get me wrong. Good scholarship is valuable. Rooting out error is important. But none of that compares to loving your brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul said it this way to the Corinthians:
...if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (I Cor. 3:2)So I'm writing to you today to appeal to you to remember our greater goal. We're not here merely to understand God's creation or the errors of evolution. We're not here just to strategize or promote our ideas. Our most important goal must be the common bond we share in Christ Jesus.
I write these things as a person who spent twenty years as "nothing." When I was your age, I thought I was all that and then some. I thought I understood all mysteries and all knowledge about origins. I thought I had all the faith in the scripture that I needed. But I did not have love. Instead of building bridges, I burned them. And then nuked them from orbit. In my enthusiasm for what I believed was truth, I ticked off just about everybody in creationism. There are whole organizations that will have nothing to do with me. I'm blacklisted, and I probably deserve it.
Over the past seven years, the Lord has gently led me to see things differently. He's shown me how wrong I was, and now I have this chance to write to you. Don't do what I did. Somehow, we have to figure out a way to make Christ pre-eminent in what we do at ICC and everywhere else. We have to find a way to break down our walls or at least poke a hole in them so we can communicate with each other. We have to practice love for our neighbor - even for the geocentrists.
Take my word for it, loving your neighbor will take deliberate practice. This isn't going to come naturally. There will be people who casually assert that the most irrational nonsense is true. Others will question your Christian integrity and witness because you accept something they think is a dangerous lie. Swallowing that anger and looking for common values will seem impossible. So remember this: That first argument I had at ICC? I can't even remember what it was about. So take a deep breath and ask yourself how important this particular argument really is. And the answer is, it isn't really that important.
Think about what would happen if we all started to do this. What if ICC became a place where all believers were welcomed into a world much bigger and more thrilling than they've ever experienced before? What if people could really feel the Holy Spirit at work in our midst? What if they noticed the power of the gospel unleashed among us? Do you really want people to see God's truth at work in young-age creationism? Ironically, they won't see it in books or papers or presentations on creationism. They'll see it in our love for one another, and until they see that, they can't see God's truth either.
And yes, I recognize that that seems completely counter to the regular way of doing things in science (and creationism). That's why we need to find a different way of moving forward. The old ways need to pass away. The Spirit needs to fill us anew, and it needs to start with you young people. Be better than I was. Love your neighbor, especially when they're dumb and stubborn and fallen and sinful. Bear one another's burdens. Fulfill the law of Christ.
Let me leave you with one last story. At my first ICC, I met this guy who was a bit on the obsessive side. He was about my age, and he was very excited about something called "hardgrounds." According to Wikipedia, a hardground is a surface "of synsedimentarily cemented carbonate layers that have been exposed on the seafloor." So there. Anyway, he talked and talked. Now, I'm not a geologist, but what he was saying sounded fishy to me. I tried to ask questions that were marginally intelligent, but he had answers and kept talking. I'm not sure what exactly happened that night we talked, but I remember going back to my room and thinking, "That guy is obsessed with hardgrounds!" And you know what? Over the years, Hardground Guy became one of my best friends and staunchest allies in creationism, even though some of his colleagues encourage him to ostracize me. He's probably reading this, and I hope he's having a good laugh at this story. The lesson I learned from that one meeting is so important. Don't write anyone off. You never know what Hardground Guy is really thinking or what God is doing with him or what he might become. Sometimes people just get excited about hardgrounds.
Please, walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Pray for me as I try to do the same.
Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.