Over at BeliefNet, Ken Ham and Karl Giberson are mixing it up on the subject of evolution and creationism. One post each so far.
Giberson got the ball rolling. After presenting a bit of his biography (grew up fundamentalist, lost confidence in YEC after studying college-level science) he gets down to business.
Creationists have to “explain away” a gigantic mountain range of evidence that the scientific community has accumulated in the past century. Neither the scientific community nor the scientific data is is on their side. They have to believe that God created a profoundly deceptive world, with countless markers inexplicably pointing to evolution, even though that was not how things originated. This makes no sense.
Indeed they do. Well said! But, I’ll only meet him part way on the continuation of his paragraph:
Creationists, who are almost always Biblical literalists, also have to come up with eccentric and strained readings of the Bible to accommodate its many references to ancient near eastern cosmologies. The Bible speaks of a solid dome in the heavens (Genesis 1:6) holding back the waters to take one example. The Bible refers to the earth as “immoveable,” to take another (Psalm 93:1). The alternate readings of these passages by the creationists are not faithful to the text and twist the original Hebrew in ways that would make it unrecognizable to the writer. I don’t think creationists are as faithful to the Biblical text as they claim.
The verse from Psalms reads as follows (KJV):
The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.
Since I think it is safe to say that the Lord is not literally clothed with majesty and strength, it is not so crazy to assign some poetic meaning to the latter portion of the verse.
Giberson is on safer ground with Genesis 1:6. The dome to which he is referring is the “firmament,” which is a translation of the Hebrew word “raqiya.” The New American Version actually translates the word as “dome.” The Young Earthers usually understand the word to mean an “expanse” referring to the expanse of space. The idea that a dome was intended can be inferred both from the text itself, and also from the simple fact that the picture of the stars being suspended from a dome which covers a flat Earth is one the Ancients are likely to have devised.
So I think Giberson is right that a somewhat strained interpretation of verse six is necessary to bring Genesis into line with this bit of modern cosmology. But it is a big leap to go from that to the idea that the Genesis writers were not intending to describe historical events. After all, the leading nonliteral interpretations of Genesis, specifically the Day-Age view, the Gap view, and the Framework view, all require far greater distortions of the text.
Giberson follows up with some good stuff about the general integrity of scientists and the scientific enterprise, and with a brief discussion of some of the evidence for evolution. But he loses me with this:
And why not let the Bible be what it most clearly is–a collection of inspired texts from the ancient world, and not a textbook of modern science?
First up, this cliche about the Bible not being a textbook of modern science really must be put to rest. No one is claiming it is. But it does sometimes make statements that can be addressed by science, and those statements frequently lead to conflict.
More to the point, however, what does Giberson mean by “inspired?” If he means that in some way it is God’s revelation to man then I would ask a follow-up regarding what Giberson means by “clearly.” Everything Giberson has said so far has suggested that the Bible is frequently unreliable when taken at face value. Doesn’t that tend to challenge its status as the inspired word of God? How does Giberson distinguish between the parts of the Bible that ought to be taken literally (presumably the parts about Jesus) and the parts that are the outdated relics of a bygone era?
Then we have this:
In embracing evolution my view of the natural world has been deeply enriched, for I have become a part of that world. I write these words from a home office looking out into a New England forest. The leaves have donned their autumn splendor and many are joining the birds in the air, in preparation for winter. Deer, wild turkey, raccoons, squirrels, and countless other species live in those woods, and occasionally come to visit and nibble on my landscape. How awesome to think that I share a history with these life forms and that, to varying degrees, I am related to them. I am humbled to think that God’s creative work is of such grand coherence and scope that the universe is one gigantic narrative of creation. This seems far richer than my former creationist view that the universe is a collection of separately created things. And, to top it off, God created us with minds capable of unpacking the whole amazing story.
Why would any Christian find it hard to believe that evolution was God’s way of creating?
Gosh yes! How could any Christain fail to see the beauty and majesty of evolution as a way of creating? Except that evolution tells us we are the result of a savage and brutal process constantly leading to dead ends that can be broken only via mass extinctions. And that God didn’t create us with minds at all, but instead says we are the chance outcome of an unpredictable process. And that evolution utterly puts paid to the argument from design in biology, thereby robbing us of one of the strongest rational arguments ever devised for God’s existence. And that evolution tells us something so utterly different from what is told in Genesis, that we are forced to the conclusion that God began his holy revelation with a colossal error.
Yeah, aside from that why would a Christian have a problem with evolution?
As for all that gushing about the beauty of nature, you can have all of that as an atheist. It is precisely because I don’t believe the evolutionary process was set in motion by a wise and beneificent creator that I am free to stand in awe of the fact that anything good comes from so brutal a process. Thrust God into the picture and suddenly you’re focused on the horrible details, and wondering why a loving God so hates his creation as to put them through it.
YEC’s are routinely accused of being so dogmatic in their interpretation of the Bible that they are completely blind and uncharitable to other approaches. Indeed they are. But theistic evolutionists have problems of their own. Frequently, as here, they seem completely unwilling to engage the real challenges evolution poses for their view of things. On the question of whether evolution and Christianity can be reconciled in some satisfactory way, it is Ham who is thinking clearly, and Giberson who is not making much sense.
Ham delivers his usual schtick. The Bible is the only infallible source of evidence we have, it plainly teaches YEC, the evidence for evolution is not as strong as you say, blah, blah, blah. If anyone who knows more biology than me wants to have a go at this, be my guest:
“It is a form of prejudicial conjecture to suggest that pseudogenes are non-functional leftovers from past duplication events. The function/non-function of pseudogenes has been hotly debated for years. Several studies have shown that some pseudogenes are, in fact, functional. The ENCODE Project has revealed that much of the human “junk” DNA (pseudogenes fall into this category) may have a function, especially in the area of regulation. Regulation of gene expression is especially important to prevent cancer and other diseases. The psi beta pseudogene in the human beta globin gene cluster has been suggested to play a regulatory role in the expression of the other globin genes in that cluster. Another possibility is that some pseudogenes are the result of genes originally designed by God to have a function but as a result of mutation after the Fall are no longer performing this function.”
Basically it comes down to this. You can go Ham’s route and argue that the Bible is both infallible and perspicuous in its major teachings. That is a crazy starting point, but given that Ham accepts it you can see why he believes the things he does.
Or you can go Giberson’s route and argue, with considerable justice, that the evidence for an old Earth and common ancestry of all life really is overwhelming, and make these facts central to your interpretation of scripture. This view has the benefit of being respectful towards science and of not falling victim to a closed-minded dogmatism in our treatment of religion. But it also leaves us with a serious problem regarding the Bible. If the Bible gets everything wrong in its first eleven chapters, why should I believe the equally fanciful parts about Jesus?
There is a third option. Accept science for what it is, the best method anyone has devised for learning about the natural world. Note forthrightly that the latest findings strongly suggest that nothing like what the Bible is telling us on these issues is actually true. Conclude that the Bible is an entirely human production, frequently wrong (both scientifically and morally) because it represents the ignorance and prejudices of an Ancient mentality.
I know which side I’m on!