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.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A chat with the man from Capernwray

I read once of some Victorian worthy, a schoolmaster I think, who had a text on his study wall: "A soft answer turneth away wrath" (Proverbs 15.1) Dave Jackson, on the staff of Capernwray Bible College, might have taken a leaf out of his book. Not that I felt any wrath towards Dave - I reserve mine for bigoted twerps, of whom he is not one - but had I done so his eirenic manner would soon have disarmed me. At the end of a half-hour chat on the phone I didn’t even feel like thumping a bad-tempered lunatic like John Woodmorappe, author of a huge book "proving" that Noah’s boat really floated. Don’t worry, the mood soon passed. I’m not about to turn conciliatory.

Capernwray’s evangelical credentials are impeccable, and in making contact with such an establishment I figured that if creationism is indeed on the march across the UK, they would have noticed. Well, Dave hasn’t. It’s one issue among many that concern staff and students there, same as it has been for a while. A growing priority it is not. That’s a relief.

John McKay, the Australian geologist and young-earther, will be speaking at Capernwray in the course of his current tour (I shall catch up with him at some point, probably Clitheroe). That does not, Dave was quick to tell me, constitute any sort of endorsement by the college; for him, the interpretation of Genesis 1 - 3 is a "grey area", and he sees young-earth doctrine as one possibility among several that good evangelicals might accept, although he doesn’t himself. The judgement "no, he’s far too sensible" comes too easily but I wonder if Dave’s problem, from a YE point of view, is that he hasn’t spent long enough in the fundamentalist ghetto. British evangelicalism is, within limits, quite pluralistic, and Capernwray seems to reflect its diversity.

Young earthers want to force an issue that is better not forced, I said to Dave, who seemed to agree. The perception of arrogance, even though it is only a perception, on the part of those who know they’re right can damage their cause, he said: something I need to watch because I know, not so much that I’m right, as that young-earthers are definitely wrong!

Dave was a little equivocal about the Flood, wanting - of course - to affirm that it covered "the earth" just as the Bible said, while conceding my point that what the Bible’s writers understood by "the earth" may have been a much smaller area than the entire globe; yet insisting, again in line with Scripture, that all humanity bar the Ark’s passengers were wiped out. I sensed an inconsistency there which I should have explored further but I was anxious not to trespass on his patience. Maybe it’s another "grey area" for him.

Dave, a geneticist, gives evolutionary theory qualified acceptance. He has seen evidence, he says, of development by selection, but that isn’t the same thing as buying the whole Darwinian package. Young earthers, of course, believe that evolution is an atheist conspiracy: Dave resists that simple charge, agreeing that evolution can be valid science. But he did speak of its use in popular culture to reinforce "subliminal" messages about secularism, which quickly led us to Richard Dawkins, whom neither of us can stand!

Dave reckons that anxiety about school curricula is what drives creationists to raise the profile of their pet issue. Evangelicals are not alone in perceiving a danger that teaching about Christianity will be increasingly marginalised in favour of a mile-wide, inch-deep multi-cultural package; maybe so, although if the assumption behind such a judgement is that state schools should still be obliged to deliver Christian education as per the 1944 settlement, this is something I would question on several counts. But creationists are the very last people who should be making the case for religious instruction, and the more these nutters (as they are perceived) are seen as in any way representing the Church, the more they will queer the pitch for those of us who actually do represent her. Dave, ever the moderate, would not go so far, but he does know what "counter-productive" means.

He made one statement which I’m going to check out: there is, he reckons, good scientific evidence for the descent of all human beings from a single female who lived about 6,000 years ago. Hm. Genesis may not be science; indeed, Dave teaches his Capernwray students not to interpret it as such (that high pitched hum you hear is Henry Morris spinning in his grave), but there may be more authentic history behind it than woolly liberals like me are wont to countenance. Whenever I hear that some Biblical passage is vindicated by the latest scientific or archaeological discovery I suspect special pleading. Well, if Dave’s claim has any objectivity, I should be able to track down some scientists who accept it who are not, in any sense, creationists. Let’s see.

Dave thinks creationists should be respected for their sincerity. I don’t. He’s probably a nicer guy than me, but I read more into their wrong-headedness than just wilful ignorance. I’m not even sure all of them ARE sincere. Some evolutionists may have an agenda; I have no doubt at all that creationism does, and I am very wary of it.


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