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.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

My starting point

I've created this blog initially as the record of a project. I am exploring a thesis about "young earth" creationism with the hope of writing a book about it. Any comments welcome. I may quote you - spread the word!

This summarises how far I've got. There's a ton of background material behind this, which I will be posting in weeks to come. But for starters:

"The Creationist Heresy" - outline of a book

I don't know how the universe began, assuming that it had a beginning. I wasn't there. Mainstream scientists reckon there was a big bang, around fifteen billion years ago, an explosion of energy from an infinitesimally small point of singularity, from which not only all matter burst into existence but the very dimensions of space and time were generated. They could be right, or a more sophisticated theory might take its place in the future. What triggered the Big Bang is a moot point, but the idea that there was one stands to reason in the light of the discovery that the universe is expanding.

Likewise, it seems reasonable enough that complex life-forms have gradually evolved from simpler ones, as evolutionary scientists seek to demonstrate. I am not competent to judge the detailed arguments, or any objections to the Darwinian theory, but I do know this: the world was not created a mere ten thousand or so years ago in six days. Life on earth did not begin before the sun was made. The first human beings were not created as mature adults, instantly able to reason and use language; nor did they sacrifice their immortality by disobeying a divine command at the instigation of a talking snake. They were mortal all along, and they had parents, as all creatures do, these being by definition not quite human - but getting there. I do not express an opinion here. Assuming that we live in an intelligible universe, I am stating what has to be the case.

I write as a Christian, well aware that many others who also profess to hold Christian beliefs would see it differently. They believe that one can and must read the opening chapters of Genesis as literal history and accurate science. They are however wrong, as I can demonstrate, and the starkness of my language is deliberate. This is not a question to which there is more than one side. Between "young earth" creationists and those who understand what sort of literature Genesis actually is there is nothing to discuss. The matter has been settled for some time; those who can't see it are flogging a dead horse. It is not a question of whether creationism could have any validity as science. While I suspect this and will give grounds for my suspicions – such as the vast body of scholarship, geological and cosmological as well as relating to evolutionary theory, which assumes and builds on an “old universe” model - I do not claim to be an expert. What I am competent to say is that as theology it is worse than worthless - harmful, in fact, although frequently if unintentionally hilarious.

My case is not so much that evolutionary theory must be true as that a literal reading of Genesis is not even possible, never mind necessary: making the attempt leads to farcical conclusions. It will not take me long to show this. 1 will then proceed to explore the mindset of the many professed Christians who will not accept any statement that seems at odds with the text of Scripture; they "know they're right" in advance of whatever may be said to them. Creationists are deaf to all criticism and continue to trot out arguments long after they have been discredited, to quote "authorities" to whom only they defer. There is no reasoning with them; theirs is not a reasonable position. Many however are intelligent and in other respects educated people. The interesting question then is what draws them to embrace a point of view which others can recognise as extreme and absurd. I have theories about this which I hope to develop with insights from anthropology and behavioural science.

I shall try to distinguish between people who may have many admirable qualities but happen to hold creationist views, and those views as such. These I shall argue, more contentiously perhaps, are heretical on various counts. Creationism takes a second order issue and tries to make it central. It is divisive. It is manifestly an ideological viewpoint, associated with a "Moral Majority" type agenda rather than with dispassionate scholarship. It brings the Church into disrepute, offering a soft target to its enemies. It distracts from the real work of the Kingdom. It brings no glory to God. It explains nothing - it's a very dull, unilluminating doctrine in practice. Most importantly, it's false.

I do not want to deny that creationists are Christians, even though they are fond of excommunicating their opponents, because there is much more to a person's Christianity or lack of it than the doctrines to which he or she gives intellectual assent. However, to the extent that they affirm creationism they have become something other and less than Christian. They are a threat and an embarrassment to the Church, which has already begun to distance itself from them. I write in hopes of seeing that process gather momentum.

There are limits to what can be tolerated under the heading of "Christian" belief. Last century we came to understand that racism and Christianity are incompatible. We must now recognise that creationism and Christianity, similarly, don't mix. Interestingly, creationists already recognise this in their frequently expressed view that anyone who refuses to interpret the early chapters of Genesis literally cannot be one of the faithful. That is true; their mistake is identifying their own beliefs as Christian. The boot is on the other foot. Literalism, in this context at least, is the real heresy.


Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

I stopped here on a link from Sven's blog. I suspect he might want to disown my comment, though. Reading the first few posts, it almost sounds as if you consider fundamentalists to be the greatest enemies of Christianity? I live deep, deep in the Bible belt. The Jesus-fish-eats-the-Darwin-fish kind of thing is in the air I breathe every day, and that's why I have to mention that the general approach will be so important to what you achieve. I have seen liberals write vicious caricatures of fundamentalists. And most of those caricatures are sketches of straw men, such as the caricature that "fundamentalists" can't recognize figures of speech or don't have an interpretive paradigm robust enough to handle them, as if recognizing figures of speech were inherently incompatible with interpreting the genre of plain exposition, or at least when a conservative does the exegesis. And of course any person can always find a fringe element that will oblige his or her wildest prejudice -- things far more extreme than you have hinted at here -- but that leaves the question whether the fringe element is really a fair stand-in for the group as a whole. The critiques of fundamentalism that I've seen are full of hasty overgeneralizations, demonizing opponents, ridiculing, and consistently unsympathetic portrayals. It's one reason the liberals have made so little ground with the fundamentalists. Spend a little time in deep southern Texas, where I have lived the last few decades. Please get to know the people that are your Heretics In Chief as brothers and sisters. Because if you understand all mysteries (or at least better than they do, for goodness' sake!) but have not love, they will tune you out. If you want to take the conversation to a new level, that will mean transcending the easy temptation to demonize your opponents.

Take care & God bless

10:15 pm  

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