Monday, August 29, 2011

The Hoax of Scientific Creationism

The title, no doubt, evokes initial alarm for some and curiosity for many and that is my hope because, if you will bear my introduction, I will quickly get to the point. As to the title itself, it comes from John W. Robbins’ (1948-2008) essay The Hoax of Scientific Creationism, published by The Trinity Foundation which, though a little over two decades has passed since its issue, still speaks with a pellucidness not reflected in what appear to be arguments by certain theological novitiates commanding attention today in some circles of Evangelical Christianity. And so, of course, I have linked to the article with the intent of encouraging any and all to take time and read the entire presentation since here I am only going to highlight a few pivotal issues. But it is intriguing, is it not, to find scientific creationism called a hoax by a rather prominent conservative evangelical who holds to a literal Adam? Well, let’s observe what he has to say.

With some prefacing remarks about the 1980’s Louisiana creationism in public schools case and its adjacent concerns of academic freedom, Robbins immediately seizes upon one of the fundamental problems surrounding the topic:

Yet the American people, and especially American Christians, have not been so perspicacious as the federal court. They have been fooled by the scientific creationists, who rely on American Christians for their funding. The American people, particularly American Christians, have been fooled by the word "creation." They tend to think that all people who use the word "creation" are talking about the same thing, namely the Biblical account of creation…The scientific creationists’ notion of "creation" is as different from the Biblical doctrine of creation as the reincarnationists’ notion of the "new birth" is different from the Bible’s teaching about regeneration.

What Robbins is saying is that creation scientists do not always have the highest interests of Biblical creation in mind. And a Biblical creationist, who bases his or her creational framework from theology, and a scientific creationist, who bases his or her creational framework from science, is not one in the same. Something we all ought to consider before we join creationism crusades and considerations of mandated public teaching of such. It might not be what you think nor can it be what you wish it to be.

The Modern Impetus

The modern thrust of the scientific creationist movement, as Robbins cites, “began about 25 years ago with the publication of The Genesis Flood by *Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb.” Since this article was published in 1987 that would place it in the early 1960’s. I, myself, recall reading one or two of Morris’ works in which he displays his scientific acumen. And from this many have sought to amplify the case made in The Genesis Flood.

The Modern Problem

While earnest, Robbins points out that Morris and company were misguided in the foundation of their approach. That is, they believed that science could prove the Genesis account. Robbins states more thoroughly:

But Messrs. Morris and Whitcomb never quite got the logical situation straight. They have never quite understood what proves what. And if this failure is embarrassing in high school geometry, it is absolutely fatal in theology. Morris’ and Whitcomb’s method seemed to imply that scientific evidence could prove the truth of Genesis. But at least Messrs. Morris and Whitcomb kept fairly close to the Scriptures and were concerned to defend the accuracy of the Biblical statements. Unfortunately, their very concern with Scripture is what obscured the irreparable flaws in their apologetic method. In the past ten years we have seen that incorrect method carried to its logical conclusion. That conclusion has been the transformation of Biblical creationism into scientific creationism.
As the quotations from the scientific creationists that I have already read demonstrate, Morris’ and Whitcomb’s early fidelity to the Scriptures has been jettisoned as the implications of their apologetic method have become more and more clear. The scientific creationists have declared their independence from the Bible. Scientific creationism does not necessarily involve "religious concepts, a creator or God, creation from nothing, catastrophism, a worldwide flood, the recent inception of life, or ‘kinds’ of plants or animals." Science is capable of discovering truth, according to these men. One need not start with the Bible at all. This is one of the most prevalent superstitions of the twentieth century.
The development of the sort of non-scriptural, even anti-scriptural, scientific creationism that we have been discussing is a logically inevitable result of the belief that science is not a handmaiden to theology, but an independent enterprise that can prove some vague notion of creation.

And this is what is at issue-constantly-with regard to theology and science. If the Scriptures teach of a Divine Creator (and not only do they teach this but as well, they present a singular and specific Creator) then science can, at best, work in an ancillary manner to the account of Scriptures. That is, science with all of is vast potential, remains subordinate to our faith which is based on the perspicuity and perspicacity of the Scriptures.

Now it is true that one may have theological ineptness which encourages scientific blindness and denial and so on but that is not the fault of the Scriptures, rather that of the student or Teacher whose interpretative bandwidth has led them astray. Our framework is within the account of Scripture and therein lies most of our problems, essentially.

What I mean is that, while science may get some facts wrong from time to time and of course wrongly interpret what they find because of obfuscating problems stemming from incomplete data or agenda driven professionals and their acolytes, science is not our problem. Darwin clearly made some discoveries but his narrative as to their cause and condition was fundamentally wrong (Darwin’s evolutionary view). And though Darwin was wrong as to his narrative, his discoveries themselves were not, they were what they were.

This brings us to another practice in which scientists engage and which is quite fanciful and imaginative at times, namely providing a narrative for their data (often argued, however, as fact or solid enough to be treated as proven fact). Narratives are part of science since they give body or framework to findings but quite often scientists go far beyond what is certain and become very creative in their interpretations lending themselves to colorful narratives of unproven events in a way that is forwarded as factual. And in a way, Morris et al., succumb to the formula that science can provide the narrative. It cannot.

When we seek to prove the Genesis account or any Biblical account based on science we are reduced to scientific narratives. Now, am I suggesting science cannot discover what is Biblically declared? Clearly I have already addressed this and made clear that indeed science may augment the Biblical narrative(s) in a most fantastic way. But our views must stem from our theology first. And again, often, it is our theology that may be getting in the way, not our science.

Is the Problem Science or Your Theology?

It might be that science is not your problem at all; instead it is your theology. This consideration is one that is missed by many. Most believe their theological grasp, particularly with respect to creation, is more than sufficient and if science does not reflect their theology, maybe even in the most obvious way, there is something wrong with the science. At times science may err but every time there is a conflict between theology and science? Really? Every time?

I hold to a more recent humanity and a very old earth but not because of science but because of my exegetical and theological persuasion. Science does reflect this view but long before I worried about the scientific views I developed a theological certainty.

Now it is true, for example, that one of the tenets I hold to regarding creation is that before the reconstitution of the earth for humanity’s presence and history, the earth existed for other divine purposes that are reflected in Scripture. One of those purposes was angelic history which includes a subsequent universal judgment by God. With this in mind I consider one of the fundamentals of science which is that of observation. And with this scientific technique I am able to see, all across the universe and here on earth, signs of a universal judgment that predated the reconstitution of the earth for humanity and is part of the angelic rebellion and its consequence referred to in Scripture (which is why I hesitate to fully endorse Robbins article because science, with regard to theology, is not as distinct and separate as Robbins seems to wish it).

Science may have some bearing on whether or not I consider my theology as succinct as it should be because conflicts will arise which call for the need to audit my views. Still, in the end, it is not and cannot be science dictating or attempting to prove my view of creation. However, if my theological understanding of creation errs it is little wonder that science cannot reflect (where it is legitimately able to do so) much, if any at all, of one’s creation theology. So maybe part of your problem is theological error, but it couldn’t be I am sure.

One of the best things for everyone to practice is that if you are not certain of an interpretation then lay off the dogmatic posturing on the matter. You’ll only become your worst enemy, regardless of scientific matters.

What Role Does Science Have in Regard to our Faith and Theological Expression?

It would be absurd to imagine that our theological understanding is forbidden from being magnified by science but it is also an error to believe that science must validate our faith. Science certainly cannot discover God under a microscope but it can discover evidence of God’s work. However, where Robbins points out, it is here that the arguments of Morris and others extend beyond their aid and venture into making science what it cannot be, namely a proving ground for God. And it appears, in quintessence, the main approach is, "Here is what the Bible teaches now watch me prove it scientifically" and this appeal, in my view (obviously in Robbins') is not as effective and certain as it seems.

Again, and to the credit of Robbins, he acknowledges that Morris and early proponents of this school exerted efforts of fidelity toward the theological narratives of creation. However, they seem to believe that science, itself, can make proving arguments for God, Himself, when in fact, like all scientific arguments they lack one thing no matter how much evidence is offered, namely the direct declaration that this is by and from the God of the Bible

Science might appeal to evidence of a creator but it cannot substantially argue the case of The Creator. Instead, the Word of God makes that argument and therein lays the difference between Biblical creationism and scientific creationism and in scientific creationism, pick your creator, even a flying spaghetti monster.

The Matter of Philosophy

Robbins includes the consideration one’s philosophy on the matter in his brief. In other words, how one approaches the issue itself or what frame of mind is predominant, will precipitate one’s treatment and expression of the matter. He states:

There are two basic forms of Christian apologetics: evidentialism and presuppositionalism. The evidentialist form holds that Christians ought to try to prove the existence of God and the veracity of the Bible on the basis of premises that all men will accept, such as the reliability of sense perception. The presuppositionalist method holds that the existence of God and the inerrancy of Scripture are to be assumed as indemonstrable axioms; they cannot be proved, and it is both impious and stupid to try.

I am not fully along with Robbins on this view of evidentialism but I am sympathetic. I do believe there is validity to some tenets of evidentialism. However, if it is found as articulated here, in a narrow form, then I believe his rejoinder of presuppositionalism must lead in the process, even in accepting some tenets or practices of evidentialism.


John Robbins wraps up with a challenging consideration, one I believe is sincere in its view and earnest in its desire but with which I am not completely comfortable though I feel is worth adding here:
It has taken only a decade for Biblical creationism to turn into scientific creationism. Many Christians are not yet aware of the change. The scientific creationists have a pecuniary interest in keeping them uninformed of the change. But the ramifications of the change are extensive, and its implications are lethal. Once the axiomatic acceptance of Scripture as inerrant is abandoned, the surrender to pagan ism is sure and swift. The Bible and the Bible alone is the source of truth. It is in the Bible alone that we read about creation. Neither science nor Aristotle has anything to say about it. Science is ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of truth.
And let those who call themselves Christians return to the faith they profess and defend it as it ought to be defended: as God’s truth, and nothing less.

I agree that science cannot trump the Bible and Robbins’ stalwart view is an essential unimpeachable property that we must all claim as foundational in our approach to understanding biblical creationism. However, I do believe that science has a contribution which manifests itself in augmenting (in whatever valid way it may) the case of the Biblical narrative. So when he says, “science is ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” I hope that Robbins is referring to that of spiritual light and not natural truth, which is of course, divine in origin but able to be ascertained naturally. Indeed, science should not be the intended source for sustaining our arguments about God or His creation, rather Scripture. But let’s hope we aren’t betraying ourselves with misinterpreted Scripture, thereby denying what ancillary contributions science has to offer in the whole of our understanding. 

*Henry Morris distinguished himself, serving as a Professor of both civil and hydraulic engineering during the first one third of his career and during the rest of his life as co-founder and President of Christian Heritage College and Institute for Creation Research. Morris also published a book titled Biblical Creationism in which he sought to stress, again, fidelity to the Biblical narrative as he understood it. And this is important to acknowledge in light of Morris receiving significant reference by Robbins and being faulted for what might be a point toward emphasizing science to champion the Biblical narrative. Hence, he should not be considered in the company of those who are either evangelicals which are egregious in this trend or those who have extended this to the scientific creationism view which does not seek fidelity to the Bible, rather to simply an unspecific creator or even further in their diminishing of Biblical certainty.

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