How to Deal with Creationism
The best way of spreading unacceptable ideas is to ban them and to persecute their proponents. Obviously the Royal Society doesn’t realise this and so effectively removed the Rev Michael Reiss from being education director because he said schools should deal with creationism. Not that he espouses creationism but his dismissal will encourage creationists by causing them to feel persecuted by what they will deem to be scientific dictatorship.
Creationism is the belief that God created everything (matter, plants, animals, the universe) out of nothing, in accordance with a literal, or largely literal interpretation of Genesis 1, and that this can be proved scientifically in contradiction of the theory of evolution which creationists reject.
I was brought up as a creationist and for a long time defended it. My biology teacher at school must have got really fed up with my campaigning against evolution with every awkward creationist question and criticism I could muster. He didn’t know how to deal with me any more than the Royal Society knows how to deal with creationists.
What needs to be realised is that creationism, like all fundamentalism, has a dominant fear complex. In my more fundamentalist days I remember objecting to someone saying that. But I have come to realise they were right. The fear is that if one gives way on any aspect of truth as defined by fundamentalism then the slippery slope argument means that the whole edifice of truth is likely to collapse. So, fundamentalists argue, if one jettisons the literal truth of Genesis 1-3, one effectively jettisons the literal truth of, say, the Gospels’ description of the life and work of Jesus. Thus the only way to avoid sliding down the slippery slope is to fight for the literal truth of every aspect of Scripture. It is therefore unlikely to help a creationist to marshal arguments for evolution, at least until (s)he has been set free from the fear.
Creationism needs to be taken seriously as a sincere belief, often born of fear. Some Christians who have, and wish to maintain a high view of the reliability and authority of Scripture have this fear. I have a high view of the reliability and authority of Scripture but do not have this fear.
The evolutionist-creationist argument is actually a secondary issue. The real issue is not how God created the universe but that he created the universe, as opposed to an atheistic, naturalistic explanation of the origin of the universe. And because scientists dismiss creationism as foolish, the evolutionist-creationist argument doesn’t actually help with the real issue. To some it seems that to accept a divine creator would involve being a creationist, hence they dismiss the idea of there being a divine creator.
All truth come from God, so Christians need not fear scientific truth. There is no conflict between established scientific theories and biblical truth. It is only when scientists trespass into theology and philosophy under the guise of scientific thinking or Christians refuse to let scientific truth inform their interpretation of Scripture that conflict occurs.
Creationists will immediately respond that evolutionary theory is not fact. However there is such a mass of evidence for evolution that it is a regarded as a reliable theory. True there are many significant questions, loose ends and conundrums with evolution and I don’t know the answer to them. They make for interesting debate, though many of the creationist’s favourite arguments have actually been answered effectively.
One question is how God related to the process of evolution. Francis Collins one of the world’s leading scientists, a geneticist and head of the Human Genome Project who is an Evangelical Christian writes in his book The Language of God (p. 45): “Science reveals that the universe, our own planet, and life itself are engaged in an evolutionary process. The consequence of that can include the unpredictability of the weather, the slippage of a tectonic plate, or the misspelling of a cancer gene in the normal process of cell division. If at the beginning of time God chose to use these forces to create human beings, then the inevitability of these other painful consequences was also assured. Frequent miraculous interventions would be at least as chaotic in the physical realm as they would be in interfering with human acts of free will.” But did God intervene, and if so, how much? I am inclined, for example, to believe that God specially intervened to ensure human beings became spiritual beings.
Surely, no-one can seriously maintain the whole of the Genesis 1-3 story is literal. So there have been various creationist theories. One is the age-day theory (the six “days” were aeons of geological time). Another is the “gap theory” (Genesis 1:1-2, it is claimed, should read “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth BECAME formless and empty” i.e. the original creation was followed by a huge “gap” of geological time before the re-forming of creation in six days).
If only anxious creationists could, in the presence of Jesus, the Agent of creation, sit calmly and ask the question: What is the problem with regarding Genesis 1-3 as a sort of divinely-inspired parable full of deep theological truths clearly teaching God is the creator but with no interest in how God made the world? Scripture is mainly interested in the relationship between God and humanity, and between God and creation. It is interested in God’s redemptive purposes for humanity and all creation. It is not interested in how God made the world.
The argument for the existence of God does not need creationism. In fact it is hindered by it. But creationists need help to overcome their fear of what they mistakenly see as the implications of evolution.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page