I’d like to welcome all the visitors who are here because of my essay “The Evolution of Creationism” which has aired on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National segment, Perspectives, and subsequently worldwide on Radio Australia and the Internet. Thanks are due to Sue Clark at the ABC for help in its production.
Below is a transcript and audio of the piece. This is, of course, also available at the ABC website, but this content tends to disappear after a fortnight and the audio is “streaming only”, whereas I can offer you an MP3 (Click HERE for the MP3 of the essay [4.3Mb] or HERE for the streaming version from the ABC website via RealPlayer).
Your feedback is welcome. Please do so by clicking on the “comments” link below. If you feel you want to communicate directly then email me, but generally, unless this is to offer me money, then I’d rather you comment publicly.
Just a couple of quick things:
Perspectives is a challenging show to write for, because complex issues have to be cut down to the pith to fit into the 5 minute format. Much that is relevant to a full understanding of an issue is of necessity left out. I will be developing some of these themes on this site over the next few weeks and my invitation to you is to bookmark this site and come back periodically for new posts, or email me and I'll happily inform you when updates on this subject are published. There’s always something interesting here!
Second, my piece was written and broadcast with the full knowledge of my employer, although on the understanding that it represents my own view and not that of the School. I quote briefly from my School’s policy on “The Teaching of Origins” because of my belief is that there is significant congruence between the School’s stated view on Young Earth Creationism and my own (except for tone, in which I take sole responsibility for being blunt). If however you object to my view, my radio piece or what I write here, please direct criticism to me on the basis of my piece and feedback to the School on the basis of its stated policy, and not the other way around. Conflating the two will be seen as deliberately vexatious.
Transcript of the Radio Essay [annotation not appearing in the radio piece in square brackets]:
The Evolution of CreationismCommentary:
“The debate about humanity’s Origins is resurgent. Our Federal Education minister has given qualified endorsement [since withdrawn] to the teaching of Intelligent Design. In the United States, (where else?), Intelligent Design is back in the Courts, and the Vatican has come out strongly to attack Intelligent Design as being both bad science and bad theology. What’s going on?
Some say Intelligent Design merely peddles old arguments with a new vocabulary, or that they abuse a sense of “fair play” by insisting on “teaching the controversy”. So is “Intelligent Design”, Intelligently Designed?
I work in an environment that is a crucible for such questions, at a large Christian, non-denominational school west of Sydney. We do not teach literal 6-day, 6-thousand year ago Creationism, although our acceptance of an “intelligent designer” in the Universe is axiomatic. Our school policy says, in part
“The balance of physical evidence does not appear to support a young earth. We do not believe that scripture helps us to decide how old the earth is”. Unquote.
At first glance, Intelligent Design, without the stigmas and inconsistencies of Young Earth Creationism, seems like a good fit for what we and many other Christian Schools teach. So what’s the problem?
Intelligent Design advocates claim they have proof that certain mechanisms could never evolve into the form we see today if only undirected, natural processes were at work, even if given millions of years. Common examples quoted include the bacterial flagellum, the immune system, or the vertebrate eye. In pure “ID”, Natural Selection and billion-year timescales are readily accepted, although the identity of the putative “Intelligent Designer” is left for the listener to speculate. There are a lot of people who start winking and nudging at you with their Bibles when that point comes up.
Young Earth Creationism holds that not only was the Judeo-Christian God Yahweh responsible for the Universe, but that it all happened in six days, 6000 years ago. It also asserts there were vegetarian Tyrannosaurs and funnelweb spiders in the Garden of Eden, and that once, two Koalas swam to Australia from Turkey, without eating along the way, to establish Australia’s breeding population.
Such Young Earth Creationists have done a lot of harm to the Christian cause when they torture both the Bible and Science to evangelise. Smart, spiritually questing people who might respond to the message of the Gospel tend to get the giggles when they’re told that most of modern biology, geology and astronomy is a monstrous humanist conspiracy that leads to homosexuality, communism, terrorism and dancing.
And it’s not a new problem. St Augustine had the gist 1600 years ago when he said “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth … But it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”
Young Earthers are the big losers in the emergence of Intelligent Design because sensible debate has moved beyond their specious arguments forever. Intelligent Design has eaten their demographic whole. But although Intelligent Design is comparatively benign, to see its danger, consider history, replete with pitfalls when we misuse Science as a pillar for Faith.
The geocentricity of the universe was once held as proof of our special place in creation. Then came Galileo. The notion of biological "vitalism" has yielded to Biochemistry. Calvinists who found solace in Newton's description of a clockwork, deterministic universe, blanched at the revelations of Quantum theory.
These theories were regarded as self-evident, even Scriptural in their day. The temptation, then as now, is to invoke the “God of the Gaps” as a proof for faith. But when Scientific knowledge advances, those counselled into such a foundation, founder.
Perhaps the last word belongs to old Charlie Darwin himself, who confided to a supporter: "I cannot be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance."”
Intelligent Design will swallow Young Earth Creationism
In the rise of the Intelligent Design movement, an important development that has been overlooked is the degree to which it has eaten its “parent”, Young Earth Creationism, and confirmed its place as an embarrassing anachronism. This is ironic, considering Intelligent Design advocates like the Discovery Institute hold as their chief goal to drive a “wedge” between creationists and those whom they see as pushing a secular worldview. Instead, what has happened is they have split Christians with Creationist sympathies into two camps: those happy to accept the findings of Science as neutral, and even enriching to their faith, and those who mistrust much of what non-Christian academics say as driven by an anti-Christian agenda. The fact that the majority of Christians are coming down increasingly on the side of the former rather than the latter must cause Young Earth advocates night sweats. Their support, their finance, their relevance and their credibility are all being seriously assailed from within, as their demographic migrates to the comparatively less paranoid and less specious options ID presents them. Young Earthers have for some time proclaimed themselves as the guardians of the authority of the Scriptures, and as the only group able to harmonise what we see in the world around us with what is “plainly written” in the Bible through their “research” (remember that Answers in Genesis went by the name “The Creation Science Foundation” until only a decade ago for precisely this purpose). However, much of the debate about the interface between Science and Christian Faith is now conducted in terms of “Intelligent Design”, and Young Earthers are left presenting their overhead projection slides of Native American Indian rock-art depicting dinosaurs (rebuttal), the plausibility of vegetarian sharks or lions before the Fall or the amount of Salt in the Ocean (rebuttal) to increasingly informed, and therefore embarrassed, audiences.
If the attention Intelligent Design has received in the media and on Education Boards across the United States is any indication, Young Earth Creationism has been dealt a fatal blow. It may not seem that way at the moment, but look closer. How has the debate surrounding Creationism evolved? What we see constantly are headlines like “Intelligent Design – Science or Religion?” and mealy-mouthed appeals to fairness from ID'ers like “Intelligent Design – Teach the Controversy”. Most science-based commentators then crank up the "Intelligent Design is Creationism” line, which is a valid argument to have when so much of what ID proposes is untestable metaphysics. But look what has happened! We now have an environment where the debate proper over origins (as opposed to the political and ideological manoeuvring involved in that debate) now focuses on things like “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity”. None of the current debate dwells at all on “flood geology”, or "C-Decay", or the packing order of animals aboard Noah’s Ark. Intelligent Design, for all its faults, accepts the weight of evidence from cosmology, geology and biology supporting the great age of the Universe and the reality of macroscopic evolution as a mechanism (although “directed”) to explain the common ancestry among living forms.
Some people, both Young Earthers and ID advocates alike, fearfully believe Science is seeking to destroy faith. Rather, Science exposes incorrect thinking, and for me it has been a doorway to a deeper sense of the numinous in His creation. I believe God is the Creator, and the study of His Creation is Science. They are linked, whether scientists and theologians like it or not. But much of what we term Creationism is specious nonsense, and its latest incarnation, Intelligent Design is still a deeply unsatisfying answer to the issue of reconciling the what we know with our senses and what we believe by Faith from God's Word. Young Earthers answer this dilemma with simplistic Bibliolatry; Intelligent Design advocates with hand waving pseudoscience in the direction of a the “God of the Gaps”. As arrogant as Dawkins is, he sums it up beautifully:
“Gaps, by default, are filled by God. You don’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You don’t understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don’t go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don’t work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries for we can use them. Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away.”This contrasts nicely with what passes for Science in the Young Earth Creation camp. This is John Hinton writing at the website of Creationist Kent Hovind (who, by the way is also an AiG un-Person) incisively deducing the sedimentary structure of the Grand Canyon:
“Standing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and concluding that the multiple bands that line the canyon walls are products of millions of years of sedimentation is just plain stupid… Years later, after coming to Christ and asking the Holy Spirit to guide me in all that I do, I understood why they insisted on following such a nonsensical theory. I then understood that they were not just morons, but they were morons with an agenda that guided all of their science falsely so called.”Young Earth Creationists are equally hostile to fellow Christians.
The stock trade of groups like Answers In Genesis is to preach itinerantly to Churches around Australia, the US and the UK, with a surprisingly invariant refrain of “dinosaurs on the ark”, “no fossil evidence for evolution”, “radiometric dating is a sham” and copious obfuscation about the information content of genetic material via what can only be described as “argument by technobabble”. Having attended a number of such presentations, the operating principle I can only descibe as “get a fool to ask more questions in an hour than a wise man can answer in a lifetime”. At the end of such a presentation, rarely are Christians properly edified in their spirits in the same way as effective preaching of the Word has the capacity to do, but rather their heads are filled with muddy conglomerates of solar comet distribution [rebuttal], the half life of polonium [rebuttal], the effect of the second law of thermodynamics on the information content of their genes [rebuttal], the fact that "some lions eat grass and not meat", the fact that no, Noah's Ark can't be found yet because the people claiming as much have been declared as Creationist un-Persons (although AiG are free to spruik their own theories), and the fact that if your children attend a School that does not teach Young Earth Creationism then it's because they have been compromised by secular pressures and, if they turn out to be Satanists then, well, you know why. How long would it take for a diligent, gifted teacher to unpack all those issues and give his listeners a full understanding of all the misinformation they have just heard? Weeks, months, years! And so, the Creationist's job is done. He walks, smiling, out of the Church, past his own merchandise table full of discredited books and pamphlets, for his next speaking engagement with a mire of confusion and destruction behind him. Maybe the minister will buy him lunch?
Meanwhile, the real work of making the message of the Gospel relevant in the world of the quantum, the gene and the byte we now inhabit has marched on, and is being done by both Scientists of Faith, and Christians with a respect for the faculty of reason alike. Young Earthers have been slow to realise they are now by themselves, spurned by the major Christian denominations, rejected in Christian seminaries and colleges, scorned in most Christian Schools (including mine), and are left to now preach largely (but not exclusively, to judge from their ministry calendar) to Charismatics and Seventh Day Adventists (and here's some analysis of the problems that poses).
One assumes AiG's ability to preach in any given congregation is more a function of the dispensation or harried inattentiveness of a particular minister rather than due to the endorsement of the denomination, and in some cases, occurs despite the reasonable expectation that they should not be permitted to speak because of the condemnation their denominational leaders have made about Young Earth Creationism.
As an example from my own denomination (Assemblies of God), take Pastor Phil Baker, Australian President of the Australian Christian Churches, which is an umbrella group folding in all Assemblies of God Churches, half a dozen other denominations and groups, and a number of independent Churches. In a discussion on Intelligent Design versus Young Earth Creationism, he has said
“Intelligent Design (advocates) are all Old Earthers as are most of the leading evangelical scholars. ‘Young Earthers’ are a dying breed whose main ecosystem is Queensland. They may go extinct in the next few decades. Certainly I agree with you re the harm they can cause to seeking people. Intelligent Design, Hugh Ross etc have had the exact opposite effect. I hosted a meeting of top physicists with Hugh a few years ago and they were impressed with his manner, his honesty and his science.”If this is his view, why isn't more pressure applied to exclude organisations like AiG from speaking in any ACC member churches? The ACC, like the AOG is not an authoritarian umbrella, but surely some common sense can be made to prevail?
As an interesting contrast, Hugh Ross, held up by Baker as a mediating figure of some honesty and intelligence, comes in for a particular serve from Answers in Genesis ("The dubious apologetics of Hugh Ross" by Danny Faulkner and "Hugh Ross lays down the gauntlet!" by Jonathan Sarfati) where they accuse Ross of “outrageous biblical assertions”, “poor scholarship”, an “inability to correctly handle factual information”, “total disregard for the truth”, “no accountability”, “questions about his scientific competence”, “riddled with errors”, and finally posing the question “Dishonesty or incompetence? It is difficult to say.”
The above quotes were taken from a single paragraph of AiG's writings describing Ross, while simultaneously they make the claim (and it beggars belief, really, I couldn’t make this up if I tried), “We make these public comments with a heavy heart, and with the overriding emphasis that our intention is not personal attack.”
Yeah, right. Poor Hugh, you, like me have become a Creationist un-Person. In the Young Earth Creationist worldview, it is not only un-Good and impossible to believe that differing views can be welcomed into the brotherhood of faith, but fundamentally, if we oppose fundamentalist Creationism, we are apostate, dangerous puppets of a diabolical plot, and quite possibly unsaved to boot.
Writing in the AiG organ “Creation”, John Rendle-Short (whose scientific training is as a Paediatrician) writes
“Evolution provides the scientific orthodoxy for the philosophies of Marxism, fascism, racism, apartheid and unbridled capitalism.”
But why stop there? I can add I have a seen, in Creation magazine alone, a belief in Evolution attributed as the cause of Nazism, homosexuality, abortion, feminism, eugenics, environmentalism, teen pregnancy, AIDS, terrorism, and delinquency.
It’s a mighty powerful theory that can be blamed for Communism and Capitalism simultaneously, with Hitler, Mao and Stalin thrown in for good measure.
Answers in Genesis bring in “misguided” Churches for criticism as well for this state of affairs, declaring “We don’t usually stop to think of how the church itself has aided and abetted this tragedy as it has so often compromised on the authority of God’s Word”. Maybe by this they had the Salvation Army in mind, whom they have also reserved "heretic" status for. Ken Ham writes ("Compromise Kills!" 2001)
"The same compromise that has all but destroyed the church in England is now sweeping through churches, colleges and seminaries in America. Now, many of these institutions might claim they believe God created–but what does that mean? Do they really believe God’s Word as written? Or are they on the way to becoming like Stannard, preaching heretical statements as those above?"For research into AiG’s writings on the Salvation of non Young Earth Creationists
I am grateful for Brian Baxter for the following.
Russell Grigg of AiG penned 'Do I have to believe in a literal creation to be a Christian?' for Creation magazine in June 2001. ‘It is true,’ Grigg tells us, 'that one can go through the steps of becoming a Christian without accepting or even knowing the Genesis account of Creation and the Fall.' However, this 'minimal belief system' leads to 'a shallow faith that has little root in the Word of God'. So, must one accept the literal Creation to be a Christian? 'The short answer is "No"', says Grigg. 'The long answer is "No, but …''Brian’s other writing on AiG can be found at these links.
John Whitcomb of Genesis Flood fame is almost as subtle in an interview with Ken Ham. No, Whitcomb doesn't believe that a true, born-again Christian could lose his salvation by failing to believe the whole Word of God, including the literal Genesis Creation story. But when such a Christian appears before the judgment seat of Christ, he or she could 'suffer great loss - not our soul, but our reward'.
Of particular interest is Brian’s reflection on the arguments Young Earth Creationists no longer use. It’s one thing for Creationists to reject previously favoured “proofs” of creation like moon dust, man tracks, or missing days, but what of the harm they have done to the people who credulously accepted these theories as encouragements to believe hold to the truth of the Gospel? I’ve never seen an apology. If their reliance is totally on a "straight" reading of scripture, which by their definition does not change regardless of the culture or prevailing natural wisdom, how do they explain these embarrassing backflips?
Such invective as I have described above is far from uncommon among AiG acolytes. I myself have experienced it personally, but that’s an engaging story for another time.
Young Earthers may not oppose Intelligent Design, but Intelligent Design advocates can’t disown Young Earthers quick enough.
Young Earthers have good cause to be worried. On the one hand they make proclamations like this concerning ID
“AiG CEO Ken Ham says “If those people (Intelligent Design advocates) get themselves on school boards, fine. We don't oppose them. Simply because, for me, and for us in the biblical creation movement, we say, well let them fight the evolutionists, the atheists, and keep fighting issues of naturalism and so on, that's fine."But then, for their “stockholders” they take a different tack:
“(Intelligent Design,) merely rejecting evolution … in favor of a generic notion of intelligent design, …does not go far enough." (Mark Looy, AiG 2000)
And also: because ID advocates repeatedly distance themselves from previously used Biblical arguments for Creationism they charge that as a result “any of its leaders who might later identify themselves with Genesis belief would lay themselves open to charges of having been publicly deceptive.” (Carl Wieland, AiG 2002)
Answers in Genesis has a stake in co-opting the support of those who support ID, and their associated media coverage, but the sad truth is that Intelligent Design has disowned Young Earth Creationism and takes every opportunity to distance itself from it. Thus, the above quoted Ken Ham news article goes on to say “Intelligent design advocates probably won't thank Australian-born Mr Ham for articulating what many of them try to avoid saying. That is: for some, the intelligent design movement is essentially a stalking horse for religion”. AiG themselves admits “(ID leading light) Dr Michael Denton, was part of a broadcast forum in Australia which recently told a largely Christian audience that belief in literal Genesis was foolish and unscientific.”
The purpose of my radio piece was to illustrate the "evolution" of the Creationist debate and show that Intelligent Design, for all it's own serious flaws, will eventually at least have the beneficial effect of making Young Earth Creationism wither and disappear. It may take the better part of a generation to happen, and I acknowledge that there are many who will not share my optimism. Of course, I know many Young Earthers personally, and delight in both their company and the sincerity of their faith. But I fear for the foundation of their faith greatly, if they have bolstered their faith by reading "Creation" magazine, as the half century of pseudoscientific literature that has accumulated around “Flood Geology”, “Dinosaur/human cohabitation” and “Starlight and Time” is still being goaded in the direction of credulous Christians as as additional reasons to believe- and that Emperor has long since been without clothes. To such people, all I can do is remind you with humility that "goodness without wisdom always accomplishes evil."
Young Earthers like Answers in Genesis have indeed done a great deal of harm to the Christian Cause with their manner of genuflection, which consists of a planting of the hands firmly over each ear, closing their eyes and loudly going “La! La! La! La! La!” until inconvenient facts disappear or can be mocked into submission. Their retreat into the history books to be catalogued alongside flat-earthers is assured, but we (and by we I largely mean Christians) must be vigilant against their nonsense in our Churches and Schools until the last one falls into shamed silence.
I and those who follow the commentary that will follow this and my further writings on this topic should prepare themselves for vacuous vitriol of the first order. Prepare for comments that sedulously avoid the topic but instead focus on ad-hominem attacks, accusations of divisiveness, out-of-context quotation, exhumation of tired old arguments and events, outright dishonesty, and self serving auto-hagiography.