Saturday, 15 March 2014

Yet more evidence that YEC can destroy faith

I make no apology for regarding YEC as poor science and even worse theology. The scientific evidence for an ancient Earth and evolution is beyond rational dispute, while YEC is what you get when you impose a naive literal hermeneutic on a text which cannot be understood properly unless it is read against its ancient Near Eastern background. Anyone who persists with YEC is simply ignorant of these issues and is best ignored as a delusional crank. It's that simple.

Unfortunately, when YEC dogma not only infects a faith tradition, but is regarded as normative and even essential for salvation, the blunt fact is that when young people inculcated with these lies hit university and discover that they were lied to about the age of the Earth and the evidence for evolution, there is a high likelihood that these people will conclude that if their church - or ecclesia - was wrong on evolution, then they were wrong on the Bible, and leave Christianity.

A blog post at Jesus Creed by John Frye about the loss of faith of a young student brings a human face to how YEC mendacity destroys faith. There is clearly a personal element here as the young man and his family were known to him personally:
The evidence for evolution available today is vast, precise, and more sophisticated than when we “baby boomers” were in high school and college. Many of our youth, nurtured on a biblical literalism that defies most of what we know about the Bible as a literary document and on an ignorance or resistance to much of what evolutionary science teaches, embrace what they learn in science classes to the collapse of their Christian faith. This needless bind allegedly between God/the Bible and science/evolution is causing a high casualty rate
For me this debate has human faces. I had a long, two hour conversation with Tyler who went off to a fine technical institute and with Brenda who was rightly disturbed when her son came home and announced he didn’t believe in God and the Bible anymore. Tyler grew up under my ministry and I have known his family since the middle 1980’s. On Tyler’s winter break, I got a somewhat alarming phone call from Brenda who wanted me to meet with Tyler and her at a local coffee shop. In brief, Tyler had several courses where solid evolutionary evidence was presented and presented well. The science was not bolstered by the old-time carbon-dating method, but by rock solid geology (pardon the pun) and by genetics. Tyler, on his own, concluded that his Sunday School Bible stories about seven, literal 24 hour days of creation did not fit the scientific data he was learning. While by no means an easy decision, Tyler jettisoned his faith. What’s a mother to do?
Frye is spot on when he emphasises that the evidence for evolution is far more sophisticated today. Just the evidence from comparative genomics alone makes the case for common descent overwhelming; when you see scientifically ignorant church elders and ecclesial speaking brothers ramble on about carbon dating and Piltdown man as if that was enough to rebut evolution, it is hard not to get angry at such wilful ignorance sowing the seeds for deconversion. Patently nonsensical anti-evolutionary arguments do lead to loss of faith in our community:
“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.” 
I am not the only person to have pointed out that the false dilemma YECs have constructed, that we must choose between YEC or atheism, directly leads to loss of faith when YEC lies are exposed. Disabusing people of this belief that there is no middle way is critical. McKnight continues:
Both dedicated Christian scientists and daring biblical scholars simply refuse to let this unnecessary bind cause our youth to apostatize. To Tyler I reported that many Jesus-following, Bible-honoring scientists agree with what he was learning at the technical school. He did not have to let go of God in the face of evolutionary science. To Brenda I suggested that how many Christians interpret Genesis 1 is not the only way that biblical text is to be understood. Brenda was informed primarily by the seven day literalism of YEC.
The seven day literalism of YEC owes little to the Bible and much to an uncritical acceptance of views popularised by Seventh Day Adventist pseudoscientist George McReady Price who simply repackaged the apocalyptic visions of SDA founder Ellen G White. Certainly, by the early 19th century, educated Christians - well before Darwin - had rejected a young Earth and flood geology as being simply incompatible with the evidence. Furthermore, when Darwin published his book, some of his earliest and most ardent defenders were theologically conservative Christians:
Darwin’s cause in America was championed by the thoroughgoing Congregationalist evangelical Asa Gray, who set himself the task of making sure that Darwin would have “fair play” in the New World. Let us be clear right away that this cannot be dismissed as capitulation to the social pressure of academic peers. To the contrary, Gray had to take on one of the most influential naturalists in America at the time to maintain his viewpoint – none other than Louis Agassiz, a Harvard colleague who vitriolically scorned Darwin’s theory. But Gray was not alone. Many of his countrymen, associates in science and brothers in religion took the same stand. And indeed even those who ultimately remained unimpressed with if not hostile to Darwin were quite prepared to admit that evolution had occurred. It is surely not without significance that Christian botanists, geologists, and biologists – that is to say, those best placed to see with clarity the substance of what Darwin had proposed – believed the evidence supported an evolutionary natural history. [1]
While evolution has never been officially accepted in our community, the YEC, mindless literalism and arrogant science denialism that is rife today would have mortified them. CC Walker's views that Genesis was given to a scientifically naive Hebrew population not to teach science but theology needs to be heeded today, in order to help disabuse our community of the belief that one has to choose between science and faith:
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]
This is what YECs desperately need to grasp: The creation narratives are not written to tell us about how long ago the world was made, but who made it, and why. One cannot help but wonder how many of the biblically and scientifically illiterate YECs in our community have yet to face the pain of losing family over this issue. Maybe it would make them realise just how toxic their views are. Frye's observations are apposite:
The comment Brenda made goes to the heart of the issue. As a pastor I was amazed and pleased. Brenda said, “I don’t care if God created the world in 7 days or in 700 billion years, I just don’t want my son to abandon God.” I wish you could have heard the anguish in her voice. You bet I get angered that YEC seems to be written into the gospel of salvation these days. How foolish to suggest that if we refuse to believe in a real, literal, first Adam and Eve as the source of the human race, then we must reject the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I do acknowledge that rejection of evolution is a theological imperative for those from the Reformed faith tradition as their doctrine of Original Sin demands universal human descent from two people in order for the human race to inherit the guilt and consequence of Adam's sin. However, for our community which has no belief in Original Sin, our theology as I have said repeatedly does not depend on universal human descent from Adam. The argument that our faith is made null and void by evolution is nonsense, and I must admit that I share Frye's sentiments on this fact:
Somebody please retire this worn out slippery slope argument. This whole mess is traceable to a view of the Bible that is based on an Enlightenment, not biblical, view of truth. With a denial of inerrancy as the bogy man, sloppy creation science and pathetic biblical hermeneutics are peddled as the new Messiah for the faithful remnant.

1. Livingstone D.N. Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders (Eerdmans 1984) p xi-xii
2. Walker CC "Is It 'Wrong' to Believe that the Earth is a Sphere?" The Christadelphian (1913) 50:348