Tuesday, 3 August 2010

YEC's Rotten Roots

I don't really like to repost things that I have written for discussion boards and conversations on Facebook by putting them here. I have done it with some things, partly because I was pleased by my spontaneous response and partly because I can access the argument here. Today I was asked to explain why YEC (young earth creationism) is unBiblical and has "rotten roots". I quickly wrote up an explanation of why I think this is so and am quite satisfied with it so I will post it here. I intend to do a more in depth piece about this in future as I think it is quite an interesting area to look into, so my full thoughts on this are not contained. I do believe that the average YEC is honest, but has been swept in a tide of misinformation which has them sadly duped. Here are my thoughts on the origination of the tide:

I'll start at the beginning. A belief in a young Earth was the view of Church Fathers, but not because they took Genesis literally as YECs do (some did, some didn't). Genesis makes a bold claim which was not in line with contemporary thought for the early Christians - it claimed that the universe had a beginning. The consensus at the time seemed to be that the universe was eternal, so the early apologists needed to bolster their case. The main way for dating the beginning at the time was not scientific, no case could be made for it this way, so they used genealogies. Other cultures had their own genealogies, some going back further than the Biblical ones, so they had to assert their own Scripture-based calculations over their contemporaries otherwise the authority of Scripture would seem to have been undermined, though most of all their own authority.

They had to take the genealogies and apply them beyond their use. I don't think this is a bad thing, they made the most of what they had at their disposal and rightly stood by Scripture (the assertion that there was a beginning was on an even "scientific" playing field with the view of an eternal creation). Their desire for a date for the beginning was a reactionary one, in the face of contemporary criticism. As can be seen, a literal Genesis and a strict young Earth view do not seem to be necessities.

What concerns you most is likely to be the Reformation [the person this was aimed at is a Lutheran YEC who takes the theology of Martin Luther very seriously] . Allegorical interpretations had become perversely rampant, making the Bible a very difficult text to interpret, though conversely it also meant that a theologian could force it to mean whatever they wished. Luther et al were right to counter this allegorical trend and get back to the true meaning of Scripture, but they went too far (actually I should mention that I am not sure if they went too far, it is highly plausible that with the modern YEC view we are misinterpreting such great theologians and that they would not take it as far as YECs do).

They were also reactionaries, this time against a trend within Christianity for reading allegory into Scripture. They forced things in the opposite direction and went for strictly literal. This is not unsurprising, after all, the allegorising I mentioned likely made it difficult to figure out what the true traditional view was, so they went back to basics. The problem is, what was the obvious reading for Luther was likely not the obvious reading for the authors or even the early Christians; we are talking thousands of years of drastic changes in thought (both secular and Christian). Luther also made the best of what he had at his disposal, he had only his culturally influenced interpretation of Scripture (we all do this, it is inescapable and not an attack on his abilities as a theologian) he had a broken connection with tradition and no scientific information with which to work.

Darwin's theory shook things up simply because of another trend in theology, one which does go back to early theologians but had been recently given a new face. Natural Theology had become prominent (though not accepted by all theologians) and Paley's arguments were iconic. Darwin's own faith was based on this valid (for the time) but flawed foundation. He later went to shake things up in this area. Some immediately reacted against this "assault" on natural theology and clung to the Bible (such as Bishop Sam Wilberforce) whereas others embraced his theory almost immediately (Archbishop Frederick Temple for example).

(A note on Wilberforce: He was part of what was becoming a dying breed in the 1800s. The endeavour of "natural philosophy" was undertaken by clergymen, so the church had the monopoly on scientific knowledge. Wilberforce himself was quite prominent in terms of science and did not completely rely on Scripture in the infamous debate. He was caught in the middle of a trend where young professional scientists were becoming more common and replacing the job of the clergy in science. Wilberforce did not like this, understandably, and so struggled to keep the power with the church. Again, he is a reactionary.)

By the early 20th century Darwin's theory was still being debated in the scientific community. The evolution of all life from a common ancestor was accepted, but natural selection as the mechanism took some time (notably Sir Ronald Fisher was one of the main scientists to establish this, he was also a devout Anglican). So in the early 20th century in the theological community things were divided, but not in such a contrasting way as we have now. Many did not want to put their faith in new science which remained debated amongst scientists, that would be foolish. The early fundamentalists are an interesting example; there was a publication called "The Fundamentals" from which the fundamentalist movement began. Some articles discussed evolution, yet surprisingly for us now some accepted it (though not always natural selection, which is now accepted by creationists) and some naturally rejected it. The thing is, it was debated even amongst fundamentalists, a YEC view was not held by all.

Before Darwin came along the scientific evidence for an older Earth had been accumulating and was largely accepted by Christians. Most were OECs before Darwin brought the possibility of being either an OEC or a theistic evolutionist. YEC views popped up in the 20th century and became more prominent. There are two strands of thought which need following here.

The first is the "jealousy" concept which I have stressed often. Science works, people know this. Science had become increasingly more powerful and informative throughout the 19th century and was becoming even more so throughout the 20th. It created a very positivist attitude towards scientific truth. Scientific truth became almost a beacon for truth, one which threatened the Bible for some people. If Scripture were to remain the ultimate authority, then it follows that it is automatically the authority on scientific truth too. Science therefore became a threat which must be combated, the best way to do this is with Scripture and claim that it is scientifically accurate, hence the birth of "creation science". It should be noted that it is hard to tell whether they desired Scriptural power or power for themselves, because if Scripture is the ultimate authority then those wielding it with authority also gain power. Either way, their efforts were misplaced and forced Scripture to apparently speak about things it was never intended to speak about. They were also reactionaries, this time against the prominence of science.

The second strand with modern YEC goes back to the first proper book about "creation science". George McCready Price, in 1923, wrote a book about flood geology and claimed it was scientifically supported. He may not have had "science envy" as Morris and Whitcomb likely did when they updated his arguments in 1961. I say this because McCready Price was a Seventh Day Adventist, a denomination which did hold the YEC view (or at least a strict literal Genesis) due to a vision by their own self-proclaimed prophet. McCready Price was in the position most modern YECs are now in, where they see their views without knowing about the rotten roots. His was probably an honest attempt, despite his flawed arguments.

So as you can see, the YEC view is a reactionary view, whether it be against contemporary science, science triumphalism, or rampant allegorising. The modern YEC views are a mix of reactionary views and the following of a false prophet. But that is not the whole picture. These are other reasons people take on reactionary views against evolution, all of which are flawed in reasoning but understandable:

1) Evolution is used as a weapon against Christianity by some atheists.

2) Evolution has been misinterpreted and abused in the past, leading to the atrocious views of eugenicists. People fear that embracing evolution will only cause more holocausts.

3) Evolution can wrongly be perceived as reducing man to a "mere animal". People clearly often dislike this.

To reiterate, YEC is a reaction. It is not a drive towards Biblical truth, even though it sometimes works towards it. It is a reaction away from threatening views. It is like having a dislocated shoulder with torn tendons, it needs to rest in order to heal, but then something happens which causes you to need to move your arm rapidly away. The weak tendons rip and the arm is damaged again, whereas staying still and taking the blow might have caused nothing but a bruise and a slight twinge in the healing tendons.

My apologies for the length of this, but it is a complex web to untangle and as I am sure you are aware, judging past intentions and motives is fraught with difficulty.

This is part of an ongoing discussion and as I said, just part of my thoughts on where YEC comes from. I also intend to quote myself from a different discussion soon, as I gave a lengthy response to a creationist which I think bears repeating (and is also on a subject I intend to write about in more detail at some point).

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