This is a piece in the Atlantic, “Debating Dinosaurs With Creationists,” interviewing Ken Ham at his famous Creation museum in Kentucky.
I figured from the title that it probably wasn’t in the Creationists favor. Surprisingly, it was a cordial, lighthearted, and honest article—not loaded with vitriol as these often are. And there were even times I resonated with Jeffrey Goldberg. However, reading it still saddened me. And my issue is not with the author. I’m upset that Ken Ham’s view of cosmology is often the only one covered or presented by the media (I’m thinking back especially to the debate between Ham and Bill Nye). For those who are unaware, Ham is one of the biggest proponents of the Young Earth view of Creation (YEC), which means he believes the planet began around 6,000 years ago. Though I am not a YEC proponent myself, I don’t mind others who hold that view—many people I love, respect, work with, and learn from do. Again, it’s the sheer volume of exposure it gets.
Young Earth Creationism is the only Christian view of origins that seems to get discussed in popular culture.
It’s the Left Behind of cosmology. To be fair, I don’t think journalists, bloggers, and debate coordinators are necessarily to blame for this (though they are to some degree, as they do not invite Creationists with varying positions). I, respectfully, lay a bit of the blame also on Ken Ham. In his writings, in this interview, and in debates, I’ve seen his view of creation presented, not merely as a contending viewpoint for Christians, but as the only valid viewpoint for Christians to believe. See, I wouldn’t mind Ham’s views if he were a little more charitable towards Christians who disagree with it. But when you combine his staunch views on cosmology with what Goldberg described as “marketing genius…his ability to shape a conversation on his terms“–you soon end up with Ham’s quotes—and only his quotes—filling the blogosphere, twitterverse, and news channels, as seemingly the only representation of what Christians believe about the origin of the universe from the book of Genesis! But it is not. It’s not.
There are many scholars who have devoted their lives to studying the Book of Genesis, who believe in the authority of the Bible, and yet hold to an entirely different interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis than Ham.
Great scholars like John Walton, Johnny Miller, and John Sailhamer have unearthed the backdrop of the ancient world against which the first book of the Bible was written. They provide contemporary readers with historic context, linguistic insight, and alternative interpretations that should be considered before developing any serious conclusions. Unlike Ham, they do this all without having to pit science against Scripture.
A common objection to this is,
“That’s letting modern science form your belief about the origin of the universe and not the Word of God.”
I suppose this could be rephrased in the reverse: “YEC’s let their cultural literalism form their belief about the origin of the universe and not the Word of God.” Objections like this tend to be unhelpful to the conversation; both sides in the Young/Old Earth debate believe in the authority of Scripture, and it brings a robust debate to a screeching halt to throw out elementary attacks like this.
“If science and Scripture seem to contradict each other, Scripture is right, and science is wrong.”
But this fails to take into account another variable: the reader! See, if science and Scripture appear to “contradict” each other, there’s still a chance that neither are “wrong.” Perhaps it’s your understanding that’s flawed. Science, after all, is the study of the natural world through observation and experiment. Creationists often (rightly) posit that the scientist-observer is wrong. But we shouldn’t stop there. You see, theology is also a field of study–the study of God. And this study also involves a certain amount of interpretation. So…perhaps Christian interpreters have gotten Genesis wrong? This is the basis for many of these OEC’s. Their overarching statements about understanding Genesis are based on the belief that Young Earth Creationism has a faulty hermeneutic, and is therefore, a wrong interpretation. Now, whether you agree with that assessment or not, can we at least agree that these other Creationists, who disagree with Ham’s Young Earth position, at least deserve a platform?
As a college pastor for four years, and a pastor of a “young” church–I’ve seen students walk away from their faith over these issues.
Christian college students are forced to bifurcate the Bible and science as if that were the only way to follow Christ. That’s the real issue that upsets me–they don’t have to do that. Of course, when YEC–or a caricature of it–creates a monopoly on hermeneutics, it’s only a matter of time before students feel a disconnect between their faith and real life. And each time, it seems like I can trace those stories back to a parochial, if not militant, view of Genesis 1 and 2 that teaches younger generations that they must choose between science and the Bible. Consider this red flag by the Barna Group:
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries (Barna)
I’m so thankful for the flood of authors, scholars, professors, and conversationalists who have expanded the conversation. I hope we can continue to cultivate humble, open dialog around these issues.
Some of the ones I already mentioned take, I think, a more honest exegetical approach to the texts in Genesis, and the results—surprise—never force one to choose between science and Scripture. Sadly, most people, if exposed to Creationism at all, will only hear slivers of a particular view that in turn gets filtered through a magazine, a TV documentary, or the unforgiving comment sections of social media. I’m not asking YEC to change their centuries-long view; I’m asking that other experts on the Biblical account of creation get the same amount of air time as Ham. I’m also asking that the rest of us listen to them as much as we have listened to Ham. He doesn’t represent us all.
Well…yes he does. Unfortunately.
What are your thoughts on Creation and science?