Combating creationism with history

30 07 2007

Reading though Andrew White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom I finally found the references I was looking for; the Genesis mythology at the beginning of the Bible is little more than Chaldean/Babylonian creation myths, just brought into a new religion. I had long known that the conflicting Genesis stories had their roots in the mythology of other groups, eventually incorporated into the Jewish faith, but I had not heard much beyond this (and now I’m going to have to read George Adam Smith’s The Chaldean Account of Genesis, among other things). The relationship between the earlier myths and Genesis has been long known (at least since White published his book in 1897), and coming across it again reminds me that (at least in my view) we should make greater use of theology and archeology in refuting creationism. Many opponents of creationism (myself included) focus on the scientific side of things; how the account in Genesis could not possibly have occurred in the way it is interpreted by groups like Answers in Genesis. Rarely, if ever, is the subject brought up that we know that Genesis is not a unique or telling story at all, linking it to earlier belief systems. Likewise, if the creationists claim that the earth was created in the year 4,004 B.C., then we should point to archaeological evidence of the people who existed and had civilizations during that time. Indeed, ancient history proves absolutely key refutations to young-earth-creationist dogma, and I think anyone who wishes to combat creationism should become well-versed in the theological and historical realities that show Genesis to be nothing more than another string of ancient thought whose sole virtue is reflecting the beliefs and thoughts of people during the time Genesis was conjured up.

Even beyond this, the Bible is a vastly outdated book, reflecting a square, flat world of relatively small size, the stars, sun and moon hung from the vault of heaven, and the Gospel having been told to every creature & every man of every land (even if there was another side to the world or the world was a sphere, theologians argued, there could be no people there as the Gospel was never preached there). Modern apologists over gloss over passages referring to this archaic world as being poetic, or try to change their meaning through wordplay, but the fact of the matter is that the natural world as described in the various books of the Bible does not accurately reflect what we now know to be true. If young-earth-creationists are going to reject Darwin, why not Newton or Copernicus as well? Truth be told, both men (and nearly any other who dared hypothesize about something that was not in line with religious orthodoxy) were vehemently opposed in their time, even though groups like AiG try to co-opt the faith that these men had to prove that the best scientists are Christian ones. Again and again, creationists prove that they do not know their own history, nor the history of science, and I think that those concerned with evolution/creationism should start using this ignorance to our advantage.


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17 responses

30 07 2007
veritasman

Blah blah blah blah we don’t know history like your guys are experts. It’s one man’s opinion on history. Yes there are creation myths that are like the Biblical account. It only shows a shared history of humanity that there is so much in common this is evidence against evolution. Some myths come from an actual event just fictionalized from a cultural point of view. The Bible is the real deal but you would not know it. Have you ever bought a rolex from a street vendor and been told its the real thing. Hey pal real rolexes exist and so does a creation story that is fact.

30 07 2007
laelaps

Very mature and thoughtful reply “veritasman.” You claim that the reason why there are so many similar creation myths is because there is a shared history (I suppose that the myths are “ancient memories”), but you fail to address the fact that many of the stories arose in cultures other than that of the Hebrews, these cultures having a large influence on Hebrew thought and the formation of Genesis. If you’re logic is correct, than the Babylonian and Chaldean creation accounts (which preceded that of Genesis) should be just as sacred as those in the Bible. As if that were not enough, the Genesis stories (there are two) contradict each other as far as timing and detail, and scientific observations for centuries have refuted the Genesis mythology (and I’m not just talking about evolution). If you’d prefer to follow blind faith, closing your eyes and sticking your fingers in your ears, that is your prerogative, but I’m more interested in the truth of how nature works, not how I would wish it to be based upon an outdated religious text. Unless you’ve got some historical/scientific proof, all you’ve said here is “The Bible is true because the Bible says the Bible is true, and I think that’s true.”

30 07 2007
steve martin

Hi Brian,
You are right that approaching AIG & YEC’s on the science can be a frustrating experience. The blah-blah-blah fingers-in-my-ears approach above is quite common. However, I think you may want to get some more up to date references on your approach to the history and theological side. A hundred years later, White’s history is seen as biased and as uninformed as AIG’s science. See Lindberg & Numbers “When Science and Christianity Meet” for an example. (I posted on this topic at: http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/06/two-myths-about-relationship-between.html ).

On the theological & historical side, I think you are going to have more success combating creationism if you use Evangelical sources. (Yes, although a very small minority, there are Evangelicals who support the theory of biological evolution). On the fact that the Genesis creation stories resembles other ANE creation stories, see for example Peter Enns “Inspiration and Incarnation : Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament”. There is also tonnes of stuff written by Evangelicals that do NOT agree with the AIG interpretation of Genesis. Two good examples are Gordon Wenham’s Commentary on Gen 1-15 and Denis Lamoureux essay at: http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/3EvoCr.htm .

Anyways, good luck!

30 07 2007
Oldfart

You can’t win, Lae. They don’t want to know the truth – they already know it. They don’t want to learn – they’ve already proven that there is nothing left to learn. They can’t be affected by logic and facts because they do not accept logic and fact – they accept only magic.

The only thing you can hope for is to keep them from ruining the education system for the rest of us, keep them from making this a “Christian” country and that their children will somehow escape their perverted form of child abuse and come to know the real world. And hope that they go extinct.

30 07 2007
laelaps

Thanks for the link Steve. I wasn’t going to just leave my studies at White; I know the book is over 100 years old and it would be foolish to think that it was the latest and greatest (and the biases do come across in his writings). I’ve added a slew of other books, including translations of the Babylonian & Chaldean texts if I could find them, to my amazon.com wishlist, and I will get to them when I can. I’ll also check out some of the resources that you listed as well, although the point of this post on the whole was that history + archeology + good theology has shown the belief of Genesis to be historically accurate to be false.

Oldfart; Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, but the few interactions I’ve had with Christians on the subject of evolution has been heartening. Many of the people I’ve run into just didn’t think about evolution; it had to be wrong because the Bible conflicted with it. In talking with them and suggesting a few books, I did reach a number of them and they now accept evolution (or at least want to find out more). I guess this is why I keep at it; there are lots of people who just don’t think about it and are open to reason, they’re just not hearing it. Evolutionary scientists are portrayed as being allied with Richard Dawkins and other atheists, Christitanity being the “one true faith,” and so they never get a good look at evolution as it should be. Some people are a tougher nut to crack than others, but overall I think a lot of people have just been taken in by what Christopher Toumey in God’s Own Scientists calls the “trivial” model of science (it’s definitely worth a read if you have the time). It’s easy to make something appear as if it were science, but any further investigation debases creationism. Hence, YEC’s thrive on ignorance, getting their information from tracks and Christian groups (how can they possibly lie if they’re Christians), not ever becoming acquainted with evolution.

Anyway, I guess I feel that the cause is not hopeless; people are in wonder of the natural world, but it’s just a matter of getting to them in conversation. You’ve helped me in that being that I was a little antagonistic in some posts here (it’s been a rough week), but I’ve personally found that people do exist who are willing to listen and aren’t afraid to change their views if given enough information. Then again, I do live in New Jersey, so the same might not hold true in a more conservative area.

30 07 2007
steve martin

Hi Brian,
I’m glad some of your interactions with Christians on the subject of evolution have been heartening. Hopefully others like Old Fart will come to realize that not all of us Christians need to subscribe to 4000 year old science to follow Christ.

A couple of comments:
You said: “history + archeology + good theology has shown the belief of Genesis to be historically accurate to be false.”
.
I think you mean that this shows the science in Genesis is wrong, not the history in Genesis is wrong. Whether the history is “wrong” is another subject entirely & is much more difficult to demonstrate that it is wrong (at least after Gen 4). My view is that at least Gen 1-11 was never really mean’t to be history as we define it now. The point is, it was definitely NOT mean’t to be science; it presumed a science, in fact “the cutting edge science” of the day. But its purpose was theological. The fact that AIG etc. interpret it’s purpose as science shows their complete lack of understanding of biblical studies (as well as science). I like this quote from Conrad Hyers:

“Even if evolution is only a scientific theory of interpretation posing as scientific fact, as the creationists argue, creationism is only a religious theory of biblical interpretation posing as biblical fact”

see: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1332

31 07 2007
hgss

I’m an agnostic, but there are some religious questions I’d like to ask a creationist.

How long is God’s day? How long does it take him to create a billion years? If he exists independently of our time, why shouldn’t he have created all things in six days in a specific order and then arranged them along our timeline in another order? What could stop him if he decided to change the history and structure of our universe completely from one second to another? Is it possible that he added our ape ancestors, the dinosaurs and the first fourteen billion years later on, because he grew sick of being treated like an idiot by his believers (they all do), and wanted to teach them some modesty?

If you really think about it, creationism is an insult to God, because its followers consider him to be as narrow-minded as they are.

31 07 2007
laelaps

HGSS; good questions, but some more entrenched creationists have created an intellectual brick wall around themselves where everything in the Bible must be true (because the Bible says the Bible is true), and therefore it’s the gold standard to what everything else must meet. The best thing we can do is to directly and effectively refute them, appealing to those who just default to creationism because they don’t know very much about science. While many characterize them as “stupid” I don’t think this is the case. “Afraid” is perhaps more like it, afraid that if they give up Genesis as a historically accurate piece of sacred Scripture, all their theology ceases to exist. There are arguments for and against this, but at least in some of my interactions, many people just don’t get interested in evolution for fear of losing their faith or fear of being regarded a heretic of some kind in their own church circles.

31 07 2007
hgss

If I called people stupid just because they have a different perception of the world, I’d only prove my own stupidity. What I mean by narrow-mindedness is exactly the brick wall and the fear you’re talking about. If you look at my questions, you will see that they allow the Bible to be true without contradicting evolution. They are mere elusions, of course – but they might be useful to loosen a few bricks.

I don’t even think that creationism is all wrong. After all, the evolution theory just assembles a few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, without even telling us how big this jigsaw puzzle is, or what picture it shows. But I think that it’s wrong to fake pieces to get a tiny, distorted, but complete picture, just because we want to feel omniscient. Creationism, as it is today, is not only a scientific, but also a religious sin – the sin of hubris.

31 07 2007
laelaps

I wasn’t suggesting that you were calling creationists stupid by definition hgss, merely pointing out that some people do.

I’m also a little curious as to what you mean when you say “After all, the evolution theory just assembles a few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, without even telling us how big this jigsaw puzzle is, or what picture it shows.”

Evolution is a very comprehensive and wide-ranging discipline that ties together various lineages, extinct and extant. There’s the fact component (observed change over time) and the various theories and hypotheses to explain those changes. Can you give a more concrete example of what problems you think evolution has?

31 07 2007
Steve B

Well, if you accept that God exists outside our three dimensions, and is not constrained by our linear and sequential concepts of time, then that opens the door to a lot of possibilities.

Creation did not happen in six, distinct quantifiable phase, like blocks stacked together. It continued to happen over an inextricably linked timeline of events. You can’t very well take out chunks and try to move them around, or you’d destroy your initial construct.

While God may not be bound by the concepts of linear causality, we are, and I suspect that stopping, starting, and shifting as you suggest would unravel the whole bit. It wouldn’t be modifying, it would be starting over.

There’s actually quite a bit of solid, scientific support out there for good chunks of the Biblical narrative. It doesn’t have to be the Bible OR science.

Those that DO hold that view are certainly worthy of your scorn. However, those of us who use the Bible as a point of reference for further investigation and not as some sort of absolute authority on all matters scientific are on a lot firmer foundation. I’ve heard it said that the more you know about Quantum physics, the more sense the Bible makes.

Just a thought.

And what exactly is this “perverted form of child abuse” of which you speak, oldfart?

1 08 2007
laelaps

Thanks for the reply, Steve. I have heard much involving Genesis being consistent with physics and other natural laws (I would even like to believe that it works as allegory), but the main problem I have with modern, “liberal” interpretations of Genesis are this; the narrative doesn’t seem intended to be allegory. Looking at it from the mindset of early Jews and Christians, Genesis seems to be their actual explanation for how we got here as we are, and only very recently (historically speaking) have we recognized that the earth is not a flat plat with a firmament above it, where God hangs the stars and other celestial bodies. Sure, there may be some things we understand from science that resonate with Scripture, but if these things are required to understand Genesis as allegory, why were they withheld from all the previous generations of Jews and Christians? Why would they be misled by the mythology? If the Genesis account were truly Divinely inspired, wouldn’t it be easier to simply reflect reality? Through special appeals and pleading there can be a few intersections between modern science and Genesis, but overall the two creation stories don’t even come close to what we understand today (outside of very general ideas like “God created things in an order,” even though the order differs in the two stories and doesn’t match the order we know from the fossil record). For my own part, I have to agree with White when he says that the main value of Genesis is to show us how far we’ve come intellectually since the time it was written. Anyway, simply put, while I would like to believe that Genesis is meant to be allegory, it seems very clear that it was not intended to be read as such, and I don’t think comfort or preference should keep us saying that Genesis is somehow accurate, underneath it all.

1 08 2007
hgss

I didn’t think you said I called creationists stupid, but I understand how you could have assumed that from what I’ve written. My fault. Sorry.

I am a supporter of the evolution theory, simply because it works and explains better than any other theory why the world is as it is. But – is having the perfect knowledge of how the species evolve knowing much or knowing little? You may have a perfect knowledge of how a bike works, without ever having heard of things like spaceships or global economy. We simply don’t know how big and how complicated reality is. And that’s why, although creationism sounds to me like a heap of crap, I won’t discard the idea of a creator until I’ve seen the whole picture. It would be unscientific.

Of course, I wouldn’t pray to him even if I knew for sure he existed. Eternal life isn’t enough for me to sell my soul.

As for interpretations of the Bible – if you assume it comes from God, then God either gave us a scripture open for interpretation, or he is too dumb to express himself clearly. Believing in just one interpretation and discarding all others means choosing the second option and therefore, it’s blasphemy. Well, one could see it this way. At least the Bible seems so full of contradictions that it’s impossible to follow it blindly, as if it was a cake recipe. That’s why fundamentalists usually dismember it and create a kind of Frankenstein faith from a few pieces, which they then call Christianity.

1 08 2007
laelaps

Thanks for the clarification hgss. You’re right in that we can’t have “perfect knowledge” of how evolution works at the moment, but if we did than I wouldn’t have much to write about and there would probably be no argument.🙂

As for interpretations of the Bible, I agree that there are different schools of thought on the subject. I used to believe that Genesis was an allegory (God created, and did so in an order, but using natural laws instead of divine fiat), but then I realized this was my own preference and a rather fuzzy-conclusion. Reading it like it was probably intended for its own audience at the beginnings of the Hebrew and Christian religions, it’s apparent that it’s intended as an actual history of what happened, not as an allegory that people could disagree about. Now that we know more about the world, more liberal interpretations have come in trying to reconcile things, but overall I think many scholars bend over backwards too much trying to make things fit, being that there can’t be an outdated or incorrect part of Scripture.

I share your feelings of uncertainty, however, although my general train of logic for the moment is that if there is a creator, their works are not apparent from nature (i.e. if I had never heard of the Bible but was able to understand science, I wouldn’t have much reason to come to a Christian belief on my own). That being the case, either the Bible is wrong, the creator is vastly different from the one recorded in the Abrahamic religions, or there is some other disconnect where Scripture does not scientifically match up with science. A deist perspective (God kicked off the big-band knowing what would happen, only intervening in the minds of men here and there) might work, but such beliefs are a bit removed from the Biblical basis. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” but it seems to me that evidence supporting Genesis as fact is very hard to find.

6 08 2007
You can bring a Rhipidistid to land but you can’t make it walk « Laelaps

[…] bring a Rhipidistid to land but you can’t make it walk 6 08 2007 Background reading: Combating Creationism With History Why Fight […]

7 08 2007
“What Is The Danger of Teaching Creationism?” « Evolution Space

[…] of all here is the background. Brian at his nice blog Laelaps posted an entry titled “Combating Creationism with History“. Steve then replied with lots of questions, basically sympathesizing with the creationists […]

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