19 February 2009

Why liberal Christians should fight Creationism

Slacktivist Fred Clark bounces off that depressing, depressing poll result on American's acceptance of the historical fact of evolution in a series of posts that beautifully encapsulate the liberal Christian frustration with YEC's and what he quite correctly characterizes as the relatively recent, highly non-conservative Biblical "literalist" movement. First, there's exasperation at the sheer perversity of it:
It's hard to know what that means, exactly, to "believe in" or "not believe in" evolution. It's like not believing in Missouri, or not believing in thermal conduction. Those two examples are a bit different from one another, but they both get at aspects of what this odd sort of disbelief entails.

"Not believing in Missouri" doesn't affect the Show-Me State one way or another. To say that you don't "believe in" Missouri is really to say that you deny it exists -- that its existence is a fact you refuse to accept. ...

On the other hand, if someone tells you that they "don't believe in" thermal conduction, it's likely that they're not so much saying they deny its existence as that they don't understand what you mean when you say "thermal conduction." For all their supposed disbelief, after all, they still avoid sitting on metal park benches in the winter. [Italics sic.]
Then, there's vexation that people who subscribe to such nonsense claim to do it in defense of the value of Scripture:
[Literalism's children, YECism and "Left Behind"-style apocalypticism] are new and radically innovative ideas introduced or adopted by people who had set out, initially, to uphold "the authority of the scriptures" (to use one of their favorite phrases). That this effort to defend the Bible's "traditional" meaning has resulted in their introducing replacement meanings that override and disregard its traditional meaning is bitterly ironic, but this irony is lost on them.
And, finally, there's anger over the very real consequences of literalism for faith:
House-of-cards fundamentalism allows for no distinctions between babies and bathwater, between the central tenets of the faith and the adiophora and error. So once one part of this belief system begins to collapse -- as it inevitably will since young-earth creationism is disprovable -- then it all has to go. ...

The second reason that creationism or "creation science" is a pet-peeve of mine is that I spent many years working on behalf of the Evangelical Environmental Network to try to persuade evangelicals that "creation care" was not just permissible, but a responsibility. This is made much more difficult when the audience you are addressing -- as was sometimes, but not always, the case -- regards the first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis as a "literal" journalistic account and only as a literal journalistic account. [Italics sic.]
Biblical literalism is bad theology, and that's bad for the Church. If the Church is the expression of Jesus' example and teaching in the world (Christ's body, you might say), then Biblical literalism is literally preventing the expression of Jesus in the world.

Edit, 19 Feb: fixed broken link to that depressing, depressing poll result.


  1. Back up a couple of steps.

    Both "Creationism" and "Intelligent Design" are legitimate concepts that have been hijacked by literalist Christians to describe a "Poof! Theory" interpretation.

    Most any scientist recognizes that their "Poof! Theory" is obviously nonsense.

    On the other hand, evolution scientists make NO assertion explaining the Prime Cause, Singularity (i.e., Creation) of the universe (and, accordingly, life) ex nihilo.

    Setting the "Poof! Theory" aside, I doubt that any reputable scientist would agree that the design of the universe is unintelligent.

    Relative to historical J... well, you're not even close. See unimpeachably documented historical facts that are routinely suppressed because they are incompatible with supersessionist displacement theology (NT and Christianity) at:


  2. "Poof! Theory" - I like that. It captures more than just how literalists view the origins of life; God makes them Christians (Poof!) when they say the right words, and then beams them up to Heaven (Poof!) before Armageddon.

    And you're absolutely right that evolutionary biology (as such) doesn't speak to the origin of life, because that's not an evolutionary process in the way we understand the term - it's chemistry and physics. That said, I know plenty of smart, intellectually honest scientists who hold that the universe was not intelligently created, though I'm not sure they're less wrong than anyone who holds that it was.

    I'd say that science is necessarily agnostic about a supernatural Creator, for the simple reason that science can only work with the natural - but that doesn't preclude non-scientific speculating.