Creation Debate

(Some visitors to Citizen Tom’s blog are True Believer Catastrophists on global warming, and some (not the same folks, generally) are Young Earth Creationists or variants thereof. Perhaps I am destined to make enemies wherever I go, but that is not my intent. To a creationist, I had commented:)

In the meantime, regarding creationism, I would commend to you St. Augustine’s approach to the topic: Don’t try to read Genesis literally … that’s not the point of those stories. Relax, learn about and seek to understand how the world works and how life develops; these are no less amazing and awe-inspiring for having taken billions of years.

St Augustine on Genesis

This was a reference to Augustine of Hippo’s famous quote on Genesis:

It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.

Matthew at Citizen Tom’s blog responded, pleasantly enough, and I am taking the liberty to respond here for the simple expedient of being able to save and edit the fairly large work in progress.

Good afternoon, Mr. DeHavelle, and thank you for the comment. I disagree. The word “science” derives from the Latin scientia, which merely means knowledge.

True enough, but a focus on derivations can be misleading. For example, “nice” originally meant “ignorant” more or less, and “girl” was “a young person of either gender” (the idea being that a child’s gender didn’t matter much).

Obtaining Knowledge

Question? How does man obtain knowledge? Does knowledge spontaneously arrive in his mind? No. Does knowledge come from scientific research? Sure, but something must precede the research. Man gains his knowledge through his five senses. Indeed, man will inquire further to know more about the newly gained knowledge through his senses. Could Galileo, who was a devout Christian scientist, have arrived at his conclusion without sight?

Well, yes, by having the observations conveyed to him through other means. Still coming through the senses, though, in the way Helen Keller learned so much about the world.

Could Newton, who was a devout Christian scientist, have arrived at his conclusion without sight (or touch, if you follow the narrative of the apple falling on his head)? Of course not.

Well, again, yes — though the apple story is apocryphal.

With that said, science is literally our senses. Everyone uses science. We take it for granted.

Now, there are two types of science (or knowledge), which still involve our senses, and they are the following: experimental (or operational) science and historical (or origins) science.

Both of these are just science, and the scientific method applies equally to them.

The Science of Predictions

We all know what is experimental science, correct? It involves the “scientific research method” (i.e., observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable experimentation), which is normally done in a controlled lab setting, and concerns the present time.

No. People think of labs, and there is now something of an industry funding laboratory science (I’m involved in that industry, in fact). But most science is has been traditionally done in the field, trying to figure out how the universe works from the evidence of what has happened.

This leads to our next type of science — historical science. Unlike experimental science, which is conducted in the present, historical science involves the past.

All science does. You just have different timescales.

No one can go back in time, let us say, the beginning of the universe, and conduct experimental science.

But we can get quite close, and have. Whether dealing with an effect in a beaker or an effect in the cosmos from 13 billion years ago, the process is the same. Observe what’s happening, come up with a hypothesis of how and why it does that, predict what you would find if and only if your hypothesis is correct, then see if new observations support it. Otherwise, go back and work on your hypothesis and create new predictions to test it, or throw it out and start completely over.

The key trick here is to predict something you did not know, whether it has happened and you haven’t yet seen the evidence, or whether it is yet to happen and you’ll wait for it. There is no difference conceptually here.

What doesn’t count is “predicting” something you already know to be true. Also, predicting something that confirms your hypothesis but others as well; it cannot discriminate between them and therefor is not supporting your notion to the exclusion of others.

Experimenting with the Past

Historical science is merely interpreting evidence from past events based on one’s presuppositions and biases of his respective worldview.

Many do this, but this is not using the scientific method. But if done right, and coupled with predicitons of things not yet known that would be confirmed only by a correct hypothesis, that “merely” has been the source of great knowledge. For the success or failure of the predicted observations can make mincemeat of your biases and presuppositions.

The battle in the debate is not experimental science, yet it is historical science.

Well, again, it is just science, developed using the scientific method.

The past is not directly observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable; therefore, interpretations of past events present greater challenges for you, scientists, and I than interpretations involving operational science.

If this were true, no science of any sort could ever be done, since even laboratory observations are of events in the very recent past (even if fractions of a second). We’re talking degrees of time, not kinds of science.

Forensics of Processes

For example. As an elder (or “old fart,” if you prefer), with over 50 years of experience in criminal justice (and in higher education and in social sciences and services), both private and public sectors, I can assure you that historical science was a big problem at crime scenes.

Certainly. You can build a circumstantial case, but you don’t have a statistical universe of bad guy, you have a single event or sequence to prove with very limited and often multiple-hypothesis-supporting evidence.

Why? Crimes are predominately historical science, namely, a crime occurred in the past and now investigators must piece the puzzle together using available facts (e.g., body of the crime, weapon of the crime, witnesses, documents, etc.). Let us image three investigators are investigating a triple homicide. I guarantee those three investigators are going to have three different theories as to what occurred. How? They observe and measure the same given evidence from the crime, but interpret that evidence differently owing to different presuppositions and biases. As a result, investigators would literally argue with each other. Frustration and anger builds over theories. I witnessed and experienced it many times.

No doubt. But you’re taking about hypotheses of a single event with limited evidence. There are analogous situations in other sciences; we can’t really know if there is more than one possibility that the evidence you discover could satisfy.

More Investigation

But let’s extend your analogy. Let’s say that one of these folks thinks that the crime was done for hire. “If my hypothesis is true,” the investigator says, “then we’d expect him to have received that money. There should be evidence of this.” Then, if you find a large, unexplained bank deposit, for example, your hypothesis is supported. Not proven — science doesn’t really do “proof.” But supported, which means you can continue to build a case by looking to satisfy more predictions, such as that the criminal was given the money by someone with a motive.

Evolution, moreover, is not a single event that happened at a single place with limited effects; it is an ongoing process that has been spinning off results for billions of years, and with huge impact and huge opportunities for testable predictions.

Observing Evolution

Neither evolutionism nor creationism is directly observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable.

This doesn’t seem to be true at all. Evolution goes on all around us, for example. Species split for various reasons, with geography and genetics being two common ones. If one group winds up on the wrong side of a major river, they can become genetically isolated from the parent group, and further changes will tend to make them more different with time until they can no longer interbreed.

Or, chromosomal changes cause a split into groups that can no longer interbreed immediately as a result. This appears to have happened to separate chimpanzees and early hominids less than ten million years ago.

For instance. The evolutionist presupposes the universe and everything therein evolved over billions and millions of years. There is no direct evidence.

There is lots of direct evidence, and all of it supports this hypothesis. And, explicitly does not support the idea that the Earth is only thousands of years old. These lines of evidence come from many discpolines of science, and the predictions made are borne out with great reliability.

A trivial one: We know, from direct measurements, that the continents are moving relative to each other, and at what rate. We can see how they fit together, and can calculate how many tens of millions of years it has been since they were touching. This is reinforced by the same geological formations on two sides of the break, just as if it had all been one piece previously.

A hypothesis that the rate has radically changed to support an extremely rapid breakout (and young Earth) fails to make predictions that work; it’s unsupportable.

Dating Anxiety

Additionally, the body of scientific literature proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that dating methods are faulty, ineffective, and scientists provide a presupposed date at the beginning of the dating method, which is dishonest science. (I encourage you to read said material.)

I have read thousands of pages of this, Matthew, and am readily familiar with the statements and misstatements made about each as well as the general processes. Bring it on. ];-)

Though dating methods have been proven to be dishonest, faulty, and ineffective, scientists are still using them in climatology, archeology, geology, chemistry, etc. Pity! The creationist, on the other hand, presupposes that there was a Creator who created the universe and everything therein in literal six, 24-hour days, which, by the way, is self-evident to mankind.

Few Christian theologians actually believe this so literally. And science, done right, presupposes very little. A large a priori supposition is that physics here is the same as physics elsewhere and elsewhen; this hypothesis is well-supported by the fact that we can literally see billions of light years both in distance and time.

Fragile Faith

What is the difference between the two religions? Evolutionism relies on man’s fallible, weak, limited, and simple faculties. Creationism relies on the divinely inspired Word of God, which, ironically, continues to be vindicated with true science, not pseudo-science. I know St. Augustine’s works very well. He was (and is) incorrect regarding Genesis. If I, as a Christian, disregard Genesis as literal, then it logically follows that the entire Bible is irrelevant.

It is interesting that the huge majority of Christian theologians do not follow the logic you mention, nor have you said anything in this statement that makes sense, let alone being self-evidently true. The Bible may be divinely inspired, but its books were written by people that struggled with the language, grammar, and divine concepts even as they struggled in its pages to work out the theology. Paul’s letters are a good example of this.

The foundation of evolutionism is man’s imperfect reason, whereas the foundation of creationism (and Christianity as a whole) is Genesis.

Your statement implies two things:

  1. Any Christian theologian who has reached a different conclusion cannot be a Christian, and
  2. If you were to suddenly be convinced that the two different stories in Genesis were not literal, you would instantly abandon your Christian faith.

Neither of these seem to be a good thing. I am a non-theist, but I never encourage others to abandon their faiths; I recognize that faith does a lot of good for a lot of people.

Christian Foundations

Genesis is the foundation of all Christian doctrine. Christ Jesus referred to Genesis — and other books of the Old Testament — as literal, scientific, and historical events. Either Christ was right or Christ was wrong.

A third possibility, not the only one, was that Jesus was speaking in terms of stories that he knew his audience would be familiar with. And few would agree that Genesis is “the foundation of all Christian doctrine,” especially a “literally true” version of these stories.

Moreover, many have discussed how these should be read. Here’s a fairly detailed example. So when you say:

Which is it? Christ did not teach them as “allegory” stories as modern man.

That is not at all clear. Not to me, and not to a great many devout scholars of the Bible.

Again Christ connected His teachings with past events as literal, scientific occurrences.

Creation History

In recent times — recent as in the past 150 years — there were (and still are) efforts made by Christians to appear “relevant” to his Secular neighbor.

The effect I’ve seen has been rather the reverse. Literal, young-Earth creationism seems to have been an invention of the United States around the time of the Civil War, and Victorian-era texts don’t seriously consider it as anything other than crackpots trying to undermine Christianity. Beliefs like those promulgated by “Answers in Genesis” were a very small fringe until recent decades.

Liberal theologians of decades past took liberty to cut and paste evolutionary presuppositions into the Word of God. Owing to these efforts, these incorrect Christians developed theories such as Theistic Evolution and Gap Theory. Shame!

You mean “millennia past”; St. Augustine and St. Jerome were not recent. Your own suppositions, only, are pronouncing these and so many others “incorrect.” You apparently would have the Bible interpreted in a way that denies observed reality, and thus weakens Christianity — this is exactly what Augustine warned about.

You can find any number of highly respected and thoughtful Christians, from Eusebius (Jerome) to C.S. Lewis to modern writers, discussing how the mystical and allegorical Genesis stories should be interpreted. It seems arrogant to throw all of these folks from saints to sages under the bus, by insistence that two incompatible versions of Genesic must each be literally true as a description of historical fact.

Biblical Inerrancy

If you really think about it, the crux of the debate boils down to this one question: who has authority? Is the Word of God authoritative, or is the Word of Man authoritative?

You do have a problem here, as what you’re calling the Word of God was recorded by the words of men, then translated and translated again. And clearly, since multiple accounts of the same event differ, we know that the Bible cannot be 100% accurate in its statements, inspired or not. In fact, the different translations of the Bible are not consistent with each other. This doesn’t mean that it is without value, it is just not “inerrant” and a faith based on Biblical inerrancy is a weak and fragile faith indeed. Moreover, you’re deciding what the words really mean and tossing out all other interpretations. That is … bold, I would say.

Obviously, man will assume himself as authoritative owing to his arrogant nature.

It does seem that way.

This has been the case since our first parents, Adam and Eve. Cheers my friend. 🙂

==============/ Keith DeHavelle