So there is this big ‘debate’ coming up. Bill Nye is debating Ken Ham. Bill Nye the Science Guy I watched and loved as a kid, I even watched him on Stargate: Atlantis and The Big Bang Theory (yes, I am that big of a nerd). Ken Ham is a big Young Earth Creationist… from what the internet tells me. I haven’t watched anything with Ken Ham in it.
The two are going to debate evolution or something like that.
Now, I am a nerd, but no science whiz. If science tells me that I flip the switch and light turns on – great! If the science dudes say evolution is how it works – awesome! Well, okay, maybe I am not that unaware, but I trust the scientists to be the scientists.
There is a reason, however, that I know that Young Earth Creationism isn’t scientific. Nor is Day Age theory, nor Progressive Creation, nor Intelligent Design.
That reason is the Bible.
You see, the creation that the bible actually describes happens very differently than the Young Earth Creationist version.
First of all creation happens twice. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are different stories, they are not one unified entity. Read them again. Draw what you see. They will look different. Even more than that, the two accounts are written with different style and genre, they have different qualities and different ways of describing God, and most importantly they describe a 3-tiered universe (see picture).
They are poetic stories from the oral tradition. The ancient people who told them and then wrote them down never wanted them to be understood as science.
Genesis 1 uses Hebrew poetry to both help tell the story and help the teller remember the sequence of events. Days 1,2,3 the space for the stuff of creation is made. Days 4,5,6 the things that go in the space is created. You only need to remember the order to 3 things.
Now there is a lot of textual, literary, historical, aspects of the scholarship that I won’t get into, but I think you get the point: Genesis 1 and 2 are not science text books and nor were they ever meant to be.
When I was in university, I took classes on science and religion from Prof. Denis Lamoureux. He is an evolutionary biologist and a theologian. His courses were designed for science students and fundamentalists alike to better understand the “Science vs. Religion” debate. But the thing that most students didn’t know, he was actually using the science stuff to teach basic introductory hermeneutics and biblical scholarship.
I took two classes with Denis. The second was a seminar where we had guest speakers representing different views on creation. One class he invited the president of the Alberta Young Earth Creation society to speak to the class. She was a woman with a PhD in botany. She came and presented all kinds of the same kind of “scientific” ideas that Answers in Genesis does. Of the 15 of us in the class, I was the only humanities/theology student. My classmates were all science majors. During the Q&A time, they debated the science, they asked questions of genetic expression, geological record, quantum physics and offered smart evolutionary evidence. This woman had answers for all of it.
Then I asked my question. I asked her what she thought about canonical development, and how that affected divine inspiration. I wanted her to explain how those early church councils determined what they accepted or rejected as the canonical books of the bible. I wanted her to explain how divine inspiration worked with books written 300 to a 1000 years previously.
She had no answer for me. In fact, she entered into what seemed to be a state of cognitive dissonance and told me over and over again that my question was “silly.”
She was the president of the Alberta Young Earth Creation society and she couldn’t answer a basic question of biblical scholarship.
This is the Achilles heel of Young Earth Creationists and their kin. I am surprised that those who debate these folks don’t use biblical scholarship against them more often. I am surprised that atheists like Richard Dawkins don’t do some homework on real biblical scholarship to use against the fundamentalists he is so fond of debating.
Creation pseudo science will always sound convincing enough for fundamentalists. They aren’t looking for real answers, they are looking for evidence that will support their biblical claims. If I were to talk to a Young Earth Creationist I would deal only with what the bible actually says, in Greek and Hebrew, in context, and with an understanding of ancient cosmology. I would make them deal with what serious biblical scholars have been talking about for centuries.
If I was Bill Nye, I wouldn’t even bother talking science with Ken Ham. I wouldn’t legitimize his pseudo-science by making it seem debatable. Ham will have an answer for everything, and that is the only foothold he needs to sound plausible – to have Nye, a real scientist acting as if Ham is worth debating. Evolution is still a big puzzle being put together, even if we can now tell what the picture looks like. Creation science is a neat little set of pseudo theories and logical fallacies meant to prop up poor biblical understanding.
If I was Bill Nye I would ask questions like my canonical development question. I would ask why St. Augustine wouldn’t convert to Christianity until Bishop Gregory told him that much of the bible was allegorical. I would ask why Roman Catholic Priest and Physicist Georges Lemaitre could propose the Big Bang Theory and still be a faithful Christian. I would ask why Genesis and all of scripture is pretty clear about a 3-tired universe. I would ask about Hebrew poetry and oral tradition.
And then I would ask, why most biblical scholars, theologians and mainline denominations accept evolution with no problem at all.
Bill Nye could challenge Ken Ham with questions like these. Bill Nye could really make a statement about what Young Earth Creationism and biblical literalism is about. Bill Nye could pop Young Earth Creationism’s intellectual bubble and challenge the idea that the bible is a science text book.
Most christians who study the bible seriously figured out centuries ago that Genesis is not science. We figured out that Genesis is not making a scientific point, but a theological one. Genesis is not telling us how creation happened or what it happened with.
Genesis is telling something though. Genesis is telling us who created it all (God) and why (out of love). Genesis is reminding the faithful of the most important things to know about creation… about why we are here at all.
Many christians have known this truth about Genesis for a long time. Many christians have understood that an allegorical Genesis is not a threat to our faith, even though Young Earth Creationists are ready to stake their faith in Jesus on whether Adam (the mud creature) was a real dude 6000 years ago. And creationists do this because it is intellectually easier.
Understanding the truth about Genesis would mean doing a lot less pseudo science, and instead doing some scary biblical scholarship and asking some scary questions about God and Christian History. It would mean revising stances on gender issues, sexuality issues, economic issues, and theological ones. It is really inconvenient to revise one’s theology like that, and to be prepared to do it often. But the Church hasn’t crumbled with its greatest theological minds being totally okay with an allegorical Genesis, and we won’t be crumbling any time soon.
Most importantly, we haven’t crumbled because many of us have understood the bigger issue at stake here:
You can take the bible literally.
You can take the bible seriously.
But you cannot do both.