18 April 2016

Creationism. (Don’t let it distract you!)

When American Christians use the word “creationist,” they’re often thinking of the folks who believe in young-earth creationism (YEC for short). These people seriously believe God created the universe about 6,000 years ago.

This date isn’t deduced by observing the universe around them. If we did that, we’d notice we can see stars in the night sky which are billions of light-years away. We’d come to the natural conclusion our universe must be old enough for the light from these distant stars to make it to Earth. In other words, creation took place billions of years ago.

Why do YEC adherents insist the history of the cosmos is less than a millionth of that? Well, they claim, they’re literalists. When they read the bible, they don’t believe Genesis 1 is using metaphor, nor trying to describe creation using the view of the universe familiar to ancient middle easterners. Every day of creation is a literal 24-hour period. Every genealogical chart elsewhere in the book represents literal years; nobody skips generations like Matthew did, and none of the numbers are metaphors (i.e. “40 years” representing a generation).

So when we start from the dates we know for certain, like when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem (16 March 597BC), then work our way back to dates we sorta know (like the year of the Exodus, estimated to be around 1446BC), then add up all the ages in Genesis’s genealogies, we can roughly pin down creation at the fifth millennium before Christ. As Irish archbishop James Ussher (1581–1656) did in his 1650 book Annales veteris testamenti/“Years of the Testament,” when he concluded God said “Let there be light” Ge 1.3 around 6 p.m. on 22 October 4004BC.

Seriously, dude pinned down the hour. He believed the years properly begin at the autumnal equinox, and in order for it to be evening then morning, Ge 1.5 evening’s around 6, right? I would presume he meant 6 Arabia Standard Time, not Greenwich Mean Time, which’d be more like 3. Still, it makes sense. Kinda.

Since YEC arithmetic regularly comes close to the good archbishop’s date, lots of ’em figure why reinvent the wheel? They use Ussher’s numbers—which makes the cosmos only 6,019 years old as of 2016. Bible says so.

And, insist young-earthers, if you don’t believe the cosmos is only 6 millennia old, you don’t really believe the bible. You believe scientists who tell you the universe is older, or your eyes, which show you billion-year-old galaxies through the telescope. But you’re not supposed to believe your eyes, nor any of those godless scientists: You’re supposed to only believe the scriptures. Placing anything above the bible means you’ve foolishly undermined your faith, and real Christians believe the bible first and foremost. Heretics believe in the sciences.

So this is why a lot of Christians don’t believe in science: They’ve been convinced science contradicts the bible, and they really don’t wanna go to hell for believing in science.

And this is why there’s a whole branch of Christian apologetics which fights specifically on behalf of YEC theories. Entire organizations, like Answers in Genesis and the Creation Research Institute, exist to provide Christians with solid reasons to embrace YEC beliefs… which they equate with believing in God and the scriptures.

So if you’re an old-earth creationist like me, you’re heretic. Even though most Christians fall straight into the old-earth creationist camp. And have no problem with science.

There’s more than one kind of creationist!

Creationism is the belief God created the universe and life. You can still believe in the Big Bang, but if you also believe God made it go bang, you’d be creationist. You can still believe in evolution by natural selection, but if you think God triggered the first life—or that sometimes the selection is more divine than natural—you’d be creationist. Creationism simply means God created the universe, whether instantaneously or through million-year processes. Either way he’s the Creator.

Creationism is orthodox Christianity. ’Cause in the creeds, we say, “I believe in one God… maker of heaven and earth, of all things, visible and invisible.” Technically all orthodox Christians are creationists.

But not all of us are young-earth creationists. I’m not. Used to be, in my Fundamentalist years. Like a lot of Fundies, I was raised to believe it, and literalism, are the only valid interpretations of the bible. Therefore everything my science teachers taught me in high school were the lies of nontheists and antichrists. Even though some of my teachers were good church-going Christians in their off-campus lives: That’s just how duped they were.

I did know other creationist viewpoints existed. I just believed they were all misled.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN is a catch-all term for any and every kind of creationism. Thing is, intelligent design (or ID) won’t always flat-out say God created the universe. Just that something did. Advocates for ID figure if they leave the creator vague, people might dismiss the fact it’s an inherently religious point of view. “Hey, it doesn’t have to be God. It could be space aliens!”

Okay fine: How’d the space aliens arise? Did they spontaneously generate? Get created? And… we’re back to square one. This is why most nontheists recognize intelligent design for what it is: Religion. (And they don’t believe space aliens created life either. Well, most don’t.)

THEISTIC EVOLUTION. Basically if you believe all the theories of popular science—and also believe God uses these processes to create the universe—you’re an evolutionist and a creationist. You’re both.

Yes you can be both. Nope, you can’t still interpret Genesis literally. The first chapter does describe a universe which gradually came into being, ’cause God took six days to do it. But it doesn’t appear to describe it coming into being thorough physical processes, nor life gradually evolving through natural selection. So if you still believe bible, you gotta believe its creation stories are metaphors.

Of course literalists are gonna be really suspicious of you—’cause what else might you not take literally? Jesus’s resurrection?

OLD-EARTH CREATIONISM. Largely this is a catch-all term for every theory which holds Genesis 1 is a metaphor. Technically theistic evolutionists can be considered old-earth creationists, ’cause they believe in an old Earth, and believe God created it.

Most old-earth creationists hold to the day-age theory: The six days of creation aren’t literal 24-hour days. They represent periods of time. Long periods of time. Thousands to billions of years. On day one, God created light; on day two (a billions-of-years “day”) God sorted out Earth’s geology; on day three (another billions-of-years “day,” possibly concurrent with day two) God created some form of plant life; on day four God created the sun, moon, and stars; and so on.

Because the “days” in the day-age theory are ages long, evolution is frequently considered an acceptable form of this process. With a little adjustment, one can even get the six days of creation to sync up with popular science’s timeline.

Of course literalists object to the day-age theory. They insist the Hebrew word יוֹם/yom, “day,” always means a 24-hour period. (Well, other than the nonstop day in Zechariah 14.7. And Joshua once stretched the day out a bit longer, Js 10.12-14 and in the New Testament, Peter said the Lord considers days and millennia to be interchangeable. 2Pe 3.8 But anyway.)

Literalists feel the Genesis account describes, and can only describe, special creation—that God specially, uniquely, distinctly created every species. Nothing evolved from anything else. At the very most they’ll accept microevolution: Dogs and foxes and coyotes might be descendants of wolves; one bird might be the ancestor of many similar species of birds. But not distinct species.

Even though Genesis kinda describes all sea creatures and birds descending from a single common ancestor. No, really.

Genesis 1.20-23 KWL
20 God said, “Swarm the waters, you swarming, living soul.
Fly, bird, over the land, over the face of the space in the skies.”
21 God created the great serpents and every living, crawling soul which swarms the waters, by species;
and every winged bird, by species. God saw how good it was.
22 God blessed them, saying, “Bear fruit. Be many. Fill the waters of the seas.
And bird, be many on the land.”
23 It was dusk, then dawn: Day five.

In verse 20, God creates a singular שֶׁרֶץ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֑ה/šeréch neféš khayyá, “swimming, living soul” (KJV “the moving creature that hath life”). He also creates one singular עוֹף/owf, “bird.”

No, not one of every species. One of each. These creatures usually lay eggs, so he didn’t need to create a breeding pair. Then God blessed ’em, and told these two creatures to multiply themselves. And from those two animals came every other species of sea creature and bird. Except perhaps the great serpents.

Now when literalists read the King James Version, they might notice there’s only one “moving creature that hath life” and only one “fowl.” (Then again they might assume “fowl” is plural. It’s not.) But if they read other translations they won’t catch any of this. Present-day translators have a bad habit of bending their translation to suit conservative Christian culture. Even the “literal” NASB caves to popular pressure:

Genesis 1.20 NASB
Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.”

But I should point out plenty of old-earthers struggle with evolution. Instead, they believe in progressive creation—that from time to time, God created a bunch of new species, and added ’em to his existing creation. The “Cambrian explosion,” fr’instance: About 542 million years ago, most life was single-celled or small colonies of cells. But in a relatively rapid period of time (if you consider 80 million years “rapid”) we wind up with complex creatures, with skeletons and eyes and legs and skin. Like trilobites. Even Charles Darwin wondered how pure natural selection could produce complex life so quickly. Old-earth creationists figure this simply proves God was making new life. Just like he makes new stars.

GAP THEORY. A really popular alternative to YEC is the belief God didn’t create the heavens and earth on the first day. ’Cause Genesis doesn’t actually say he did. Day one began when he turned on the lights.

Genesis 1.1-5 KWL
1 In the beginning, when God made the skies and land, 2 the land was unshaped and had nothing on it.
The ocean’s surface was dark. God’s Spirit hovered over the waters’ surface.
3 God said, “Be, light.” And light was. 4 God saw light, and how good it was.
God distinguished between light and dark: 5 God called the light day, and called the dark night.
It was dusk, then dawn: Day one.

So “in the beginning” the skies and land were already there: God created them already. We don’t know how much time elapsed after that first act of creation, and when God created light on י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד/yom ekhád, “day one.” Billions of years, perhaps. Enough time for the universe to become the age we see.

Hence plenty of Christians, who still wanna consider themselves literalists, yet don’t wanna insist the universe is only 60 centuries old, go with this theory. Of course this means they still accept the YEC idea that plants, fish, dinosaurs, and humans were only created 60 centuries ago. The earth may be as old as geologists say, but life isn’t as old as biologists say.

If their goal was to try to appease both scientists and literalists, really they’ve done neither.

Okay, so I said I used to be a literalist and used to be a young-earth creationist. What am I now? An old-earth creationist. Why’d I switch? ’Cause I read the bible. Much as YEC advocates claim they’re following a literal interpretation of the scriptures, they’re really not. In fact when we do study Genesis 1 literally, we find it doesn’t describe our universe at all. It describes the ancient middle eastern view of the cosmos, with a flat earth, nearby stars, the sun and moon inside our atmosphere, and a firmament beyond the stars holding back water. Not even YEC views embrace these ideas.

Fighting (in vain) for young-earth creationism.

That’s young-earth creationism’s dirty little secret: They’re not as literal as they claim. They see what they wanna see, ignore what they wanna ignore, and claim it’s the only orthodox option for Christians. What it really is, is anti-intellectualism, anti-scientism, anti-“elitism,” disguised as Fundamentalism. Perpetuated by Fundies who were wrongly taught true Christians can’t believe otherwise.

So whenever young-earthers get into Christian apologetics, they’re always hamstrung by the fact they have to defend their defective worldview.

QUESTION. “If the universe is only 6,000 years old, how come there are trees on Earth which are 10,000 years old?”
ANSWER. “They’re not 10,000 years old. They only look 10,000 years old. When God created them, he didn’t do it from seeds. He created full-grown trees.” [Or he otherwise accelerated their growth.] “So on the third day of creation, they appeared to be 4,000 years old. And now they appear 10,000 years old.”

Okay. Does that sound consistent with Genesis 1? Arguably yeah, ’cause the earth produced trees on day three. Doesn’t say full-grown, 4,000-year-old trees, but young-earthers can argue it doesn’t say they weren’t unnecessarily-ancient trees by the end of the day.

Genesis 1.11-13 KWL
11 God said, “Sprout sprouts, earth. Sow seeds, grass.
Fruit trees, make fruit which has seed in it, by species, on the land.”
It was so. 12 The earth produced sprouts, grass sowed seeds by species,
trees produced fruit which had seed in it, by its species. God saw how good it was.
13 It was dusk, then dawn: Day three.

God can do anything he wants, so I’ll concede he can make full-grown trees in a day. But here’s where I have a problem: Why would God create deceptively ancient trees? Realistically?

See, YEC apologists insist God created an old-looking universe. Adam and Eve, fr’instnace: When God created them, they claim he didn’t make them newborns; he made them adults. He made a “man” and a “woman,” so adults.

And I say we don’t know any such thing, ’cause the bible doesn’t say. The reason we presume Adam and Eve were adult (and white, and clean-shaven) is because that’s how Christian art customarily depicts them. There’s no reason they couldn’t have had the shape of teens, or younger children—though painting naked children does come across a little creepy. But okay, I’ll concede God made them strong enough to climb fruit trees. When God’s not trying to obligate us to utterly depend on him, he’s practical.

So for practical reasons, God might create a tree which, on any other day, might be mistaken for a 5-year-old tree: It has to be big and strong and mature enough to produce edible fruit. Makes sense. So back to my original question: Why a 4,000-year-old tree? Why on earth would it need to appear so considerably ancient? What happened to our practical Creator?

Especially since skeptics, 6,000 years hence, are gonna look at these 10,000-year-old trees and say, “This proves the earth can’t be as young as you claim.” Seems its advanced-looking age is considerably impractical: It empowers people to deny their Creator.

King David claimed the skies declare God’s glory, and space (KJV “the firmament”) his hands’ work. Ps 19.1 But if Christians tie God’s glory up with the idea the skies are only 6,000 years old, we got a big problem. Astronomers, both professional and amateur, look into the sky and see million-year-old stars. And if God’s glory can’t extend back a million years, he’s not getting any glory from these astronomers. Insisting upon YEC interpretations means the bible becomes an inaccurate description of the real world. Little hard to get people to trust it when their very own eyes suggest to them they can’t believe it.

And really, if God created the universe to appear old, it implies God created the universe to look deceptively old. Is it safe to embrace a worldview which describes God as a bigger, more successful deceiver than the devil?

Skipping creationism in favor of Jesus.

Here’s one of my favorite exercises with young Christians who wanna practice Christian apologetics.

ME. “Okay, you’re the evangelist; I’m the pagan who believes in evolution and that the earth is 4 billion years old. And… start.”
SHE. “You believe in evolution?”
ME. “Yep.”
SHE. “Here’s why you shouldn’t.” [Insert clever argument against evolution.]
ME. [Insert clever argument for evolution, which knocks her argument to pieces.]
SHE. “Um…” [Tries another argument.]
ME. [Whacks away that one too.]

Lemme just say I’ve studied apologetics a long time. I know the arguments, the counter-arguments, the counter-counter arguments, and the counter-counter-counter arguments. I can stymie kids for hours, if need be.

SHE. [Getting really frustrated.] “Um…”
ME. “Tell you what; let’s speed things up. Let’s say we had a nice three-hour discussion, and you managed to win me over. I now no longer believe in evolution.”
SHE. [Relieved.] “Okay!”
ME. [Looking at my phone.] “Holy frijoles, look at the time. We must’ve been debating for three whole hours. I’m so late for my next appointment. Gotta run.” [And I go sit down. The other kids giggle.]
SHE. [Nonplussed.] “…?”
ME. “How do you think you did?”
SHE. “Well, I changed your mind about evolution.”
ME. “Sure, ’cause I folded. In real life, with a really stubborn evolutionist, you’d’ve got nowhere. But okay, you changed my mind about evolution.”
SHE. “So I won.”
ME. “Did we talk about Jesus?”
SHE. “No.”
ME. “So are you sure you won?”
SHE. “…No.”
ME. “What’s more important, evolution or Jesus?”
SHE. “Jesus.”
ME. “So what should you have spent three hours on? Evolution or Jesus?”
SHE. “But don’t we have to work on evolution first?”
ME. “You tried that. How’d you do?”
SHE. “Well, how would you do it?”
ME. “I’ll show you. You be the evolutionist, I’ll be the Christian. And… start.”
SHE. “Hi. I believe in evolution.”
ME. “Me too. Can I talk to you about Jesus?”

If you don’t believe in evolution, fine. You can still answer, “Cool. Wanna talk about Jesus?” Dodge that argument and get to what really matters. What only matters.

Do I need to prove any sort of creationism? Nah. I can just start talking about Christ Jesus. Who he is to me, how he changed my life, how he can change their life, how he wants a relationship with them. And if they wanna sidetrack me into some debate about creationism, I can slide us right back off that track: That doesn’t matter to me. Only Jesus does.

Yeah, plenty of Christians are gonna insist it does so matter. And maybe it will at some point. Later. After people become Christians and wanna understand God’s role in the cosmos. But in the beginning, when we’re still trying to introduce them to Jesus, it’s like telling a preschooler, “Before you can add 1 plus 1, I need to explain integers, whole numbers, and absolute value.” No I don’t.

Jesus is 1 plus 1. Creationism is pre-algebra. One thing at a time. Start with the basics. Stick to the priorities.