Why creation science is partly right, and very wrong

Imagine for a moment that you were able to convince a group of people that the earth is really flat, and that the only logical explanation for the sun rising and setting is that a god pulls a sun chariot across the sky each day.

If you can convince them of that, then theism for them is an immutable fact. Should anyone try to argue that there really are no gods, they would simply point to the sky. “Don’t be ridiculous, of course there is a god! Just look at the sun! How else can such a thing be explained?”

But imagine someone new comes along, and manages to convince these "flat earthers" by careful argument and evidence that the earth is really a spinning sphere, and that this phenomenon alone can explain the apparent rising and setting of the sun. Once persuaded, this might shake their faith in the sun god, and they would no doubt review their theology. It is not in itself a death knell to theism or religious faith, but it does disturb a particular construct of faith.

Now imagine for a moment an idea far more destructive to theism has also been previously taught to this group.

Imagine they have been taught that if you don’t believe in a flat earth, then it is completely illogical to believe in a god at all. That belief in a flat earth is CRITICAL to theism. That if a belief in a flat earth is shaken, all hell will break loose. Immorality, divorce, violence and so forth will become rampant once belief in a flat earth is rejected.

For those who have been taught that belief in a flat earth is an essential part of the “belief in god” package, an argument that the earth is a sphere sets up an either-or conflict. Either the evidence for a spherical earth is wrong, or theism must be rejected out of hand.

In my view, young earth creation science proponents set up precisely this kind of polarised thinking.

Many years ago I visited a friend in Townsville who was terribly saddened by the fact one of her close Christian friends had become involved in Creation Science after Ken Ham spoke at their University. However, through the course of his studies he was confronted with compelling evidence that the earth is in fact ancient, and that the fossil record and genetic “family trees” indicate life has changed over time (evolution).

He had been told that "The controversy about the age of the earth is a controversy about the authority of Scripture. If millions of years really happened, then the Bible is false and cannot speak with authority on any issue, even the Gospel.” (A quote from "Answers in Genesis") He followed that logic, and rejected his faith outright.

For me, teaching others that the earth is 6000 years old is like teaching that the earth is flat; it is a kind of dishonestly. It ignores the consensus of biblical scholarship that reads the Genesis accounts as a particular form of literature (not “scientific”), it ignores the body of scientific research that indicates the universe and the earth are ancient, and it sets up a kind of “anti-intellectual” approach that shuts down intelligent dialogue with unbelievers.

I believe those promoting young earth creation science are partly right: it is true that the idea of an ancient earth challenges a particular way of reading scripture. They are also very wrong, as they respond to this challenge by arguing "the earth is flat", and that all evidence to the contrary can be explained by prejudice, conspiracy and dishonesty. Would it not be more helpful to teach the cultural backdrop against which the bible was written, the complexity and nuances of ancient forms of literature, and the skills needed to interpret scripture in a thoughtful and life-giving way?

I believe that young earth creation science unwittingly “sets people up” to reject the Christian faith entirely. (See Reason 3 in particular here)

What is your experience of “Creation Science” teaching, and the responses of people exposed to it?


AbiSomeone said…
My husband and his parents are in this camp. It doesn't help their relationship with our sons that they are so, um, fundamentalist about it. :(

There are some on my side who are also in this camp, but none in my immediate family. My dad wasn't.

I'm exhausted from the poor thinking and even poorer theology....

Bless you, sister!
Anonymous said…
This is an excellently written piece! It demonstrates scholarship as well as clarity in communication. The only use I have ever had for 'creationism' and its many varieties is for writing fiction. Keep telling the truth!
Janet Woodlock said…
Apologies for the slow response.

Biblical interpretation is so important. Jesus noted the "weightier" matters of the law. Jesus said "You have heard that it was said... but I say". Jesus responded to the devil quoting scripture incorrectly. Paul noted that there is a new covenant that means some of the Old Testament law no longer applies to Christians; that it is in fact a hindrance to the gospel.

Treating all scripture as if it's "weighted" in the same way, and if it is the same genre of writing, doesn't help us interpret it well.

I feel like YECS writers so often fall into this trap. It just doesn't help.

Anonymous said…
So beautifully put, Janet. I think perhaps adding a dimension of sacred poetic readings with the god pulling the blazing chariot across the sky by day and the sons of god shaking out their blankets to make the dusty lights of eventide accompany the night light to sleep by, may be more apt. But of course, it's not poetry, it's literal isn't it?

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