By entering into the discussion of origins and the Bible, I am not particularly interested in addressing those who are actively promoting Young Earth Creationism. Rather, my intended audience consists of those who want to consider these questions and are open to the possibility that other options presented by confessing Christians who are experts in their fields may be viable alternatives to the stark either/or position proferred by people like Ken Ham.
However, as one can imagine, venturing into this conversation sometimes involves attempting to “converse” with YE evangelists on one side and the evangelistic atheists that YECs fear on the other side. What neither of these “groups” realize is how similar they really are. They are in a symbiotic relationship with one another but it is an unhealthy relationship. While they feed off one antother, like parasites they suck the life out of the rest of us and out of the Christianity, Science, and Reason they claim to defend.
When “conversing” with many YECs and many atheists, I feel like I am constantly saying “Hey, you know what this relationship is really not working out. You two need to go your separate ways. You can’t keep getting back together like this. It only ends up with both of you getting hurt. It is time to get out there and meet some new people. It is time to broaden your horizons. Hey, I know someone that you might like to meet. She’s an author who shares some similar interests. Let me introduce you.” Usually, the response is “No, we like to fight. It’s what we know and we are fine with who we are. Go away.” (My Christianity and Science page and How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth page will introduce you to new converstion partners.)
I place “conversing” in quotes because as many of you are aware such interactions are rarely conversations. I would not even call them debates. They are more akin to attempting to reason with a child who is having a tantrum. Or convincing a paranoid schizophrenic that nobody is watching them.
True conversation (as the root word suggests) involves the possibility of conversion. That is, an actual exchange of ideas, information, and arguments allows for the possibility that I might actually change my mind (metanoia). Of course, the possibilty of conversion is precisely what people like Ken Ham and the late Christopher Hitchens fear. Yet, apparently, their system of beliefs is a house of cards or, perhaps, a house built upon sand. For, if you change your mind one point, the whole structure will come crashing down.
They don’t seem to understand that one can grant a point in an argument without accepting the whole argument or the conclusions drawn.
On the one hand, if Ken Ham accepts that the Grand Canyon formed over hundreds of thousands years, then he will have to become an atheist because he cannot trust God. He trusts in a particular (and I would say an erroneous) concept of God. Therefore, he rejects all evidence to the contrary. The majority of human beings are wrong, including the majority of Christians, and Ken Ham and his followers are right.
Many North American Christians are already influenced by Young Earth Creationist teachings but have not had the opportunity or the tools to think through these teachings. Moreover, the way it is presented by its proponents leaves people unaware that there may be other options.
Many Christian parents share Ken Ham’s concern about young Christian men and women losing their faith in college. As a parent, a Sunday School teacher, and a teacher of undergraduates, I too share this concern. However, as should be clear from previous posts and despite what I still assume to be his good intentions (although his recent plea for people to bequeath their assests to AiG raises concerns for me), Ham’s way of presenting the argument and likely even the argument itself are a key factor in young adults abandoning their faith when they get to College.
On the other hand, if an Ultra-Darwinist (I borrow this term from Conor Cunningham’s excellent though difficult book Darwin’s Pious Idea) grant that it is beyond the purview of science to make claims about ultimate origins and metaphysics, then they have no choice but to become full blown theists. Many of the them seem to fear becoming just like a particular family member or Ken Ham or giving liscense to those who abuse authority in the name of God (or gods). They fear a caricture of the Church which usually based on narrow selection of events and ironically irrational when comes to the evidence. (More on this in a future post.)
Oddly, what both the YECs and the Ultra-Darwinists (or evangelistic atheists) agree on is how the Bible must be read. Both groups are literalists who show little sign of being literate. Both sides aruge that Christians who diverge from a literalist reading are “compromised Christians” who are giving ground to secular humanism and on the road to atheism. The main difference between the two groups is how they narrate this so-called “compromise.”
For YECs, it is a slippery slope. If you deny that Genesis 1 is intended to present scientfic facts about the formation of the world, then you will eventually deny the resurrection of Jesus.
For the atheists I have in mind here, it is a moutain path toward enlightenment. However, atheists are often quite impatient with the slow progress of their cause. They think that someone like John Walton who rightly compares Biblical writings to Ancient Near Eastern myths ought to conclude that because it has similarities to these other myths it should be treated as mere fable and fiction. So, like Ken Ham, they see him and Christian scholars like him as compromised Christians. From their perspective, these Christian scholars are grasping at straws trying to hold onto their archaic beliefs and traditions which any “truly rational” person can see are false. Like YECs, they say well you have already denied that Genesis 1 is to be taken “literally”, why don’t you hurry up and say the same thing about the rest of the Bible, including the resurrection of Jesus.
Despite the overwhelming evidence from Church history and from Scripture itself, neither group will concede that there are other ways to interpret the Bible (and frankly literature, in general) beyond mere literalism. Neither groups seems to be willing to take the time to study the vast amount of scholarship Christian, Jewish or secular that has taught many of us to attend to genre.
Of course, as the agnostic (perhaps, atheist) skeptic Carl Sagan taught me, people tend to count the hits and ignore the misses. That is, people tend only to attend to and latch onto the evidence that supports their position and ignore anything that contradicts