Creationism seminar – not entirely a catastrophe then..

Bizarro-creationism.1234228733 This day long seminar was irresistible because it set out to do everything: 1/ why you should take the first 11 chapters of the first book in the Bible Genesis literally. Why natural selection is holed below the waterline and the argument for intelligent design needs to be taken seriously as a scientific theory.  The evidence for a young earth (that's 4000BC) or the earth being 6000 years old. And using a geological casestudy from the Grand Canyon – how all the fossil records were laid down in about 6 months from the flood which only Noah and his family survived – courtesy of the Ark. In Grand Canyon terms this amounts to nearly the depth of a mile of sediment.  Oh and no heckling please write your questions down and pass them to the front to be answered in a VERY short 45 minute session towards the end of the day.

Creationists aren't as nutty as the tabloids like to make out. There is a genuine attempt to do science and to explain the data which doesn't fit their theory as well as digging up evidence that they claim does.  My fundamental argument with them is methodological. They pick up the Bible and read it and discount everything they say doesn't match it. The record says 6 days. So the creation of the universe in any other time period must be wrong. Of course there's a lot that you don't find in the Bible which they don't seem to have a problem with: DNA, the internal combustion engine, vaccination and a universe which doesn't appear to revolve around the earth. There are passages in the Bible which describe the sun rising and crossing the sky so that's why Galileo and Copernicus got into such trouble with the Vatican.  So in my judgement Creationists aren't consistent with the 'Its got to be in the Bible thing'. And their approach makes science impossible. You can do microbiology with half an eye on the bible but if you stop and say the experimental evidence makes no sense because it contradicts the Bible so I'm going to throw the evidence away then you can't do science. You really can't. The only workable method is to put the Bible side by side with the science and see how they talk to each other. You would be surprised how often they do.

Grandcanyon  I don't plan to go into detail over the day. What I do want to do is to stand back. Because what emerged for me was an understanding that this paranoid way of doing science led to a catastrophic view of the cosmos.  You see carbon dating only works if radioactive isotopes decay in a consistent way. Light travels at a constant speed but we know it is bent by gravity. So theoretically it is possible that a galaxy more than 6000 light years away is actually a lot closer but there's a heck of a lot of gravity in between. So its not as distant as it looks. And so on.  The problem with this ingenuity is that it turns the universe into a hall of mirrors and casts grave aspersions on the character of the divinity if there be a divinity behind it. Because it means that we can take nothing at face value so far from God being a clear communication in the universe the rules keep getting changed. Leading to the suspicion he's messing us about.. (testing our faith??) When confronted creationists back away from the chaotic universe they are promoting because they are actually krypto-enlightment thinkers and like to talk about scientific laws and mechanisms with the best of the evolutionary biologists. They don't even notice that they're doing it. And of course they may be right. The world may be a much more complicated place than modern science gives it credence for. But Occam's razor which is the philosopical principle that the simplest version is probably the true one – is why most scientists aren't trying to bend their science to a narrow way of reading the Bible.

So in the debate between catastropic science and science with some consistency I am in the second camp. And so for the last 500 years have been scientists many of whom perceived science to be an honourable profession for a Christian -discovering the Creator's thoughts after him. Because if there is a God then there is a God who communicates. And the natural order is where he does it.

Snow_white_prince_tarrantWe then turn to the Creationists' view of the Bible which they regard as a monolithic text written over a thousand year but keeping its meaning, its social context even its literal form absolutely static over that millennium. One evidence for the young earth is taken from biblical genealogies. Which because they are taken literally show that there have only been a certain number of generations so there hasn't been time for human beings to live on the planet more than 6000 years. The notion that ethnicity and the purpose of keeping records of family trees might have a variety of social meanings which may be entirely different from our practice of keeping birth and death certificates as a government requirement.  So science is all over the place but the Bible stands still. Interesting and to me peculiar.

 My takeout from the day was the diametric opposite of the creationists. I affirmed my belief in a consistent universe where unless we find evidence of dramatic changes in the tools we use to measure we work on the basis that our measures remain consistent. But I have now started to think of the Bible in more catastropic terms – with much more layers and contexts than I had thought of before. My position is no more irrational than the creationists but it does make the Bible a more interesting read and in my experience its a tough enough book to stand up to scrutiny without being put in glass case in a vault and defended at all costs.  

 

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