If the first talking snake had kept shtum, we wouldn't be here. Eve wouldn't have eaten the forbidden fruit. But she listened and was curious. So she fell into humanity, thank God. Good old snake, say I. I celebrate its independence of mind. Satan? Neh, that's a later interpretation. The snake was part of the divine purpose. God allowed it into the garden, aware of its linguistic abilities. He knew what would happen. Jesus commended dove-like innocence. AND the wisdom ... of the snake.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Honest lawyers, buxom brunettes* and teetotal Scotsmen

Creationist theology is vulnerable on many flanks.

It requires the grandmother of all conspiracy theories to explain why the vast majority of scholars across a range of academic disciplines tell it to run away and play - geologists, cosmologists, historians, theologians, anthropologists, archaelogists, as well as biologists. They see no need to waste their time refuting nonsense.

It requires a Bible so divinely inspired that errors and contradictions are inconceivable; the fact that many observers can find some glaring ones without much trouble serves only to illustrate, to creationists, the extent of Satan’s stranglehold on contemporary culture. There’s no possibilty of these observers being correct, obviously. If the Bible says that Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover as the Synoptics tell us, despite John 19.31 which makes plain that the event took place on the day before Passover, then this is so. I don’t understand how the same event can happen on two consecutive days, but that only serves to illustrate the extent of Satan’s stranglehold on me. Jesus was crucified twice, a little known Biblical fact.

It fails to distinguish between exegesis - reading a text in order to discover and interpret its meaning - and eisegesis: reading into a text an interpretation which the commentator has already decided it must bear. Creationists are not interested in what the Bible might mean, only in proving that it means what their theories require it to mean. They are not alone in this - I have known liberals plunder the Scriptures trying to find divine sanction for homosexual activity because they know, for other reasons, that God loves gay people. This seems to me quite mistaken. The Bible says little about homosexual practice but that little is hardly favourable and I’d be surprised if it were. The theological case - which I completely endorse, by the way - for recognising and affirming same-sex relationships needs to be built up by other means, similar to those used for affirming womens’ ministry (the New Testament isn’t too struck on that either). I digress. The Bible, even though fallible, deserves respect. It is not there to feed our prejudices, or even our well grounded convictions.

Creationism cannot distinguish different literary genres, finding no problem in treating Genesis as scientifically accurate despite its complete lack of resemblance to any other scientific text you’ve ever seen.

It denies its own history as a recent reactive movement against modernist scholarship in both science and theology, claiming instead to represent "historic Christianity" while the rest of the Church is apostate. So AIG’s theological nonentities presume the right to challenge the credentials of Rowan Williams, by common (non-creationist) consent one of the finest Christian scholars in Britain. This is roughly equivalent to your local Friday night pub singer expostulating "that Barbra Streisand, what’s she know about voice projection?"

It fails to recognise the relative modernity of its own mindset. Creationists are fond of saying "Jesus regarded the Flood as a historical event/spoke of Adam and Eve as real people" as though it’s conceivable he could have done otherwise, given the culture of his day. The modern distinction between "literal" and "imaginative" or "symbolic" would have made no sense to Bible writers or indeed to Jesus, and to insist that they must have organised their thoughts using our categories is plain anachronistic. But then, fundamentalism in general lacks any notion of cognitive development, of the difference in consciousness between the present age and the first century CE. I’ve read accounts of Adam’s first day in Paradise which describe his thought processes in terms any present day American can immediately relate to. I would commend to creationists a few days’ immersion in the thought world of Chaucer, the first great poet to write in recognisably modern English. The ideas he explores in his masterpiece Troilus and Criseyde seem very foreign to us now; yet Chaucer is closer to us than the New Testament is to Chaucer.

One consideration is supremely fatal to creationism: the earth’s "apparent age" at the time of creation. According to Genesis, God created living things in a state of maturity. He did not create seeds which would grow into trees, but trees already grown; not eggs which would hatch into fledglings, but adult birds (so the chicken came first, there’s that one settled). Adam and Eve themselves were created as adults, having had no childhood in which to acquire cognitive and motor skills or learn how to speak. Six days after its creation, the earth would have looked considerably older than that; it would provide evidence of a past history that had never actually occurred. The trees in Eden would have had annual rings. Stars would have been visible in the sky, their light already reaching the earth despite its having had insufficient time to travel the light years’ immensity of space. Creationist scholars have always accepted this but don’t seem to realise just how huge a problem they then face. There is no way of telling how much older the earth looked to Adam on Day 6 than it actually was: decades? centuries? Why can we not say that it looked billions of years older? And if it looked that old, why not say it really IS that old?

Creationism has no easy way to duck the problem of "last Thursdayism", which asks how we can be sure that the earth was not created last Thursday, along with all our memories of experiences that seem to have happened before. But it gets worse, and here’s a fundamental question that I haven’t seen raised elsewhere: if creationists accept, as they do, that the earth will have looked older on the day of its creation than it actually is, why should they expect to find any evidence to prove that it is in fact "young", i.e. ten thousand years old, tops? The logic of "apparent age" suggests to me that if God created a world relatively recently but needed it to look ancient, he will have seen to it that the scientific data point to an old earth rather than a young one. This however defeats the whole creation-science enterprise, which aims to find evidence for a young earth; but if God wanted the earth to look old, there won’t be any!
More on this another time.

*buxom brunettes: in bloke jokes, they are always flat chested, by the same logic that blondes are always well stacked and stupid. Don’t ask me why. So - honest lawyers, teetotal Scotsmen, and creationist theologians, geddit?


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