Further Thoughts on Creation Science

Mesopotamian scribe

Mesopotamian scribe

We’ve written about this before, for example The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Creation Science, but we herewith offer some additional thoughts.

The people who wrote Genesis weren’t stupid. They did the best they could with the naked-eye observations available to them in a limited area of the world. It’s not surprising that they thought the world was flat, covered by the dome of the sky, and that everything in the heavens revolved around the Earth, which “obviously” was in the center of the universe. Scripture preserves their views — see The Earth Is Flat! and also The Earth Does Not Move!

Those long-ago authors didn’t have what we now know as the scientific method. Oh, sure, the ancients knew a lot. They blundered around trying different things, and they developed agriculture and metallurgy adequate for their needs. What we now call the scientific method wasn’t formally described and accepted until the last few centuries. It was natural for the ancients to attribute anything they didn’t understand — lightning, disease, etc. — to the mysterious actions of deities. Their way of “explaining” things that were otherwise inexplicable is now recognized as a fallacy we call God of the gaps.

When scribes in the days of the Babylonian empire wrote down their society’s ancient myths and speculations about the world, which eventually found their way into Genesis, they were doing the best they could to describe and explain things. The bible also includes the ancients’ views of politics (monarchy was all they knew) and ethics, which accepted the then universal practice of slavery.

Despite its inevitable flaws, the bible is a valuable work. It reveals the thinking of our ancestors, and it contains a lot of wisdom which is still worth studying. That’s also true of the Iliad and other works from past. But as a science text, the bible fails catastrophically, compared to what we’ve learned in the last few centuries. This is not a condemnation of the ancients. They did the best they could, and — unlike today’s creationists — they didn’t reject good information when it was available.

There’s a lot we still don’t know, and we frequently correct our beliefs whenever new observations indicate that such corrections are necessary — see Wikipedia’s list Superseded scientific theories. Learning to reject one’s incorrect ideas is, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of science — but it’s essential.

So what can we say in defense of those among us who — contrary to all currently available evidence — insist on clinging to the “science” in myths transcribed by the ancient Mesopotamians? We can’t think of anything to be said in their defense. Fanatically adhering to the useless, demonstrably false beliefs of ancients is what astrology buffs do, and they are correctly regarded as a pathetic fringe of the modern world. So it is with creationists.

But let us be clear. We have no quarrel with religions that don’t reject reality, and that includes a number of mainstream Christian denominations — see the National Center for Science Education’s list of Statements from Religious Organizations supporting evolution. It’s fine with us if someone uses religion to supplement his understanding of reality, but not as a replacement for reality. It’s a subtle, but vital distinction, which eludes the creationists. This is their problem, and we shouldn’t let them make it ours.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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15 responses to “Further Thoughts on Creation Science

  1. There is nothing more ironic than a cult evangelical on television raging about a psychic fair being held locally. Hearing the phrase “while I speak the word of god” after 20 minutes of them stating only their opinion is pretty close though.

  2. @Dean:
    I can almost respect someone who adopts a Biblical cosmology in the face of the contrary evidence. There is a kind of consistency to it. But the only way to do that is to reject all of the technology and to remain ignorant of the world. Those who obviously choose what they want and then impose their views on their supposedly infallible and omniscient source …

  3. I couldn’t help but notice that your “Mesopotamian scribe” is holding a stylus. Silly ancient — he didn’t realize that the “best pointing device in the world” (is) the human finger.

  4. In what way does religion “supplement reality”? By giving us absolute moral truths? Obviously not or there wouldn’t be so many absolute moral truths. By enhancing our understanding of the world as it is? No.

    Religion in no way supplements reality but rather gets in the way by providing a layer of non-reality. I agree that people can believe in what they want but don’t call it reality unless it really is.

  5. “The people who wrote Genesis weren’t stupid.”
    I sincerely hope our descendants in 5000 CE look with the same (lack of) respect to us.

    “It’s not surprising that they thought the world was flat, covered by the dome of the sky”
    When I look outside my window the world looks exactly like that.

    “They blundered around trying different things”
    Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

  6. GPF, I can only speak for my religion – it serves not as an absolute moral guide but as an . . . external compass of sorts. I could still be a good person if I were irreligious, but I find it most heplful in finding the right path and staying on it.

    Also, while it doesn’t enhance my understanding of the world, it teaches me that seeking to understand the world is a good thing and something I should seek to do more often.

    Is it necessary, absolutely? I suppose not, no more than a compass is necessary for a hike through the woods, but I do find it useful. Fine if you don’t, though.

  7. I will offer one explanation for modern creationists: their way is a “natural” or intuitive way to believe. Attributing agency in a scattershot manner “feels” right to a social ape whose cognitive faculties evolved in a social environment where that social environment was the most important thing when it came to survival. This serves more for understanding them rather than as a defense; explanation is not exculpation.

    See Robert N. McCauley’s book “Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not” for the full treatment of this argument.

  8. GreenPoisonFrog asks:

    In what way does religion “supplement reality”?

    If it pleases someone to believe that there is more to the world than what we are able to know, that seems harmless to me and it may be comforting to him.

  9. That’s no stylus! That’s an Apple Pencil.

  10. @Reflectory:
    I could understand a person who does not accept impersonal forces at work in the world. But people who accept the technology of quantum mechanics at work in computers, or the predictions of “secular, material, naturalistic” mechanics about lunar eclipses, or structural engineering …

  11. Fear infects tiny minds.

  12. Fear infects all minds. If you fear nothing, it’s because you are ignorant of fact, or stunted of imagination, or both. But why fear should constitute an incentive to believe in God is something that has always escaped my understanding. I always took it to be the converse.

  13. Maybe I should have said controls – like a parasite increasing the probability a mouse is attracted to cats?
    I think God comes first, then fear of change – fear of making decisions displeasing to God takes over. Biblical inerrancy and literalism seem to be an easy way out – little thought and little responsibility.

    On another front, if the universe is “perfectly” designed as we are often told, why aren’t the orbits of the earth and moon better coordinated? Wouldn’t 28 day months with 12 months in a year be more perfect? No leap years, no leftover days?

  14. @michaelfugate:
    If the orbits were coordinated with simple ratios, then there would be no motivation for humans to learn the mathematics and physics necessary to explain the motions. It was God’s way of teaching us to use our brains.

  15. On another front, if the universe is “perfectly” designed as we are often told,…

    What I find interesting about the alleged “perfection” of the universe in YECism is the simple fact that the texts in Genesis make no such claim. After each verse of the poetic descriptions in Genesis 1, except the second day [an interesting mystery of its own!], the wording just before each chorus [“And the evening and the morning was the Nth YOM” is the chorus] reminds the reader that with each new creative stage of Genesis 1, that creation is good. Not perfect. The text says good.

    The word good, when understood as a very reasonable translation of the Hebrew word TOV, doesn’t mean “perfect”. It means “appropriate” or “fit for its purpose” or, as many Gentile and Jewish readers through the centuries have understood it, “exactly as God intended.”

    So how do creationists come up with “perfect” instead? Many have reasoned, “a perfect, holy God is only capable of creating perfection”. Is that taught in scripture? No. After all, is there anything God created which Christians consider not perfect? Yes. People, for example. And there’s that problem with an angel by the name of Satan. Of course, Young Earth Creationists commonly say “Both people and Satan were created perfect but chose to rebel and become imperfect.” Whatever the merits of that argument, it reminds us of a major problem: What does it mean to be “perfect”? Does it apply only to whether a being has sinned/rebelled? Or is there some arbitrary standard for “perfect designs”? If yes, what heuristics does that give us?

    Whatever one might make of these tangents—interesting though they may be—such a teaching of an assumed perfection of created things goes beyond the text. So we are left to ponder that each YOM of creation (except the second day) was called “good”, not “perfect”. And after the sixth and final created YOM/day, that creation is declared “very good”, not perfect.

    The assumption that “very good” must surely mean “total perfection” is simply a natural hermeneutical outcome when a pharisaical approach requires one to always “one up” what the scriptures actually declare. This urge to “maximize” or even outright exaggerate some doctrinal point (e.g., “If God is holy and “omni” everything, let’s grab the biggest superlative we can find and apply it in one grand, sweeping gesture?”) fits perfectly into the fundamentalist urge to play the “I’m more God-honoring than you are” card in the “Most Pious Christian” competition. In other words, “Just try to top me on this!”

    And that is why a Christian who questions this fundamentalist urge to go beyond the Biblical text will be asked, “So you deny that God is perfect?” Even to dare to ask the Young Earth Creationist to justify their use of the word “perfect”, where the Bible doesn’t, automatically invokes the “You’re not a genuine Christian!” endgame.