Thursday, 19 September 2013

How to turn Christians into atheists? It's as easy as Y.E.C. (Part 1)

Yet another attempt to rebut evolution has broken out on the main Christadelphian Facebook page, and like all previous attempts it is based on appeals to consequence, misrepresentations of the theological position of evolutionary creationists, conflation of literal readings of Genesis with the original meaning and poor exegesis. 

Of course, obsessing about the mechanism of creation is irrelevant to one's salvation. That's the inference one can draw from current OT scholarship, which shows that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology, not modern science, and the author was more concerned with showing that it was Yahweh, and not Baal or Marduk who was responsible for creating time, weather and agriculture - the things on which a stable society in the ANE depended. As OT scholar John Walton notes:
In the ancient world, what was most crucial and significant to their understanding of existence was the way that the parts of the cosmos functioned, not their material status. [1]
The implication of this is that for a pre-scientific society who knew nothing of modern astronomy, biology or geology, they would be more concerned with who created the cosmos as they knew it, and why, rather than how. This should not be of great surprise to Christadelphians who are aware of the far more nuanced views on Genesis held by writers over a century ago, back before aberrations such as YEC infected our community:
Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history. [2]
Although CC Walker did not accept evolution, the science denialism endemic in our community would have appalled him, particularly given that tying the orthodoxy of our faith to patently nonsensical ideas such as a young earth and evolution denialism has been shown to destroy faith. Gordon Hudson, a British environmental charity manager and former YEC activist lost his faith when he realised YEC was nonsense:
I write this as a former creationist myself who ended up no longer believing in God. Incidentally I attended Carrubbers and was involved in promoting one of the first tours of the UK by Ken Ham. So I speak as someone who had that level of investment in the whole house of cards at one time. 
My own faith was shipwrecked by this issue because I had been told time and again that belief in a young earth and creation of the species as they currently are without evolution was essential to being a proper, soundly converted, bible believing Christian. When I started to doubt creationism I also began to question all the other things I had been told about God. I felt lied to, and ultimately I found I no longer believed in God.  [3]
This same pointless, unnecessary lost of faith is repeated constantly throughout the Christian world when people feel they are forced to choose between fundamentalism and atheism, with a nuanced faith that recognises an ancient, evolving creation being deemed a heresy. If we think it does not happen in our community, we are deluding ourselves. it does:
“My own eldest son has decided he cannot be baptized because he has seen the evidence for evolution with his own eyes, and our ecclesia will not tolerate discussion on the subject. Unlike some young people, he is too honest to say he doesn’t believe it, just so that he can ‘pass the test’ and be baptized.” 
“I will be spending most of this semester studying common descent and evolution in first year biology, and have done so through DNA and cells so far. It really is fascinating and very undeniable. There's also a young Christo girl from [X ecclesia] in the subject, and I am interested to know what she's thinking.” [4]
This is indefensible. If you want to destroy the faith of the next generation, telling them that the earth is 6000 years old but created with the appearance of age down to the remarkable correlation between relative ages of geological strata based on stratigraphical data and absolute ages based on radiometric dating, tell them that transitional fossils don't exist, or that scientists are all godless idiots and then letting them loose into the world is the best way you can achieve this dubious goal:
A friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) attended conservative churches his entire life – churches that openly push and teach a young-earth position. He has been a teacher and a leader in his local church. He is a strongly logical, thinking person who wants to know God’s truth. He told us recently that he is thinking about giving up on Christianity and becoming an agnostic. Why? As he became more knowledgeable about the scientific evidence regarding the age of the earth, he found increasingly that facts presented by young-earth organizations had been misrepresented. He no longer knows who to believe or who to rely on. He feels that he has believed lies his whole life. [5]
'He feels that he has believed lies his whole life.' Who can blame these people for thinking this, or be surprised if they then assume that if Christianity is wrong on the age of the earth and the origin of species, it is also wrong on the Resurrection, and lose faith? Those who conclude that "[o]nce we’re done “interpreting” scripture to that degree (= ‘rejecting scripture’) it seems to me very likely that our entire faith could very easily slide out of the window; and this has happened in a number of cases in our community, alas"  [6] have missed the point that it is their dogmatic linkage of science denialism with orthodoxy which runs the risk of destroying faith in those who are too intellectually honest to reject the overwhelming evidence of an ancient, evolving universe even if it means walking away from their faith.

The author of the above quote has written a poorly-argued attack on evolutionary creationism which will be critically examined from a theological and scientific perspective in the next post.


1. Walton J  "The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate" (2009: InterVarsity Press) p 28
2. Walker C.C. "Is it "Wrong" to Believe that the Earth is a Sphere?" The Christadelphian (1913) 50:348
5. Wolgenmuth K, Bennett GS, Davidson G Theologians Need to Hear From Christian Geologists About Noah’s Flood”  Lecture given to the Evangelical Theological Society, New Orleans, Louisiana November 18th 2009. Solid Rock Lectures.