Willful Denial

Taung_SKULL_011BT-V1

Taung Child Fossil

Answers in Genesis describes the crux of the problem this way: “Willful denial of God’s Word (2 Peter 3:3-7) lies at the root of many disputes over historical science”.  They are right about the willful denial, but totally misguided about who is denying what.

I recently came across a delightful example of what the creationists call “historical science” in a Radio Lab article on the Taung Child fossil, a 2 million year old skull found in southern Africa in 1924.  Raymond Dart identified this as a new species of extinct hominid, which he named Australopithecus Africanus.  He referred to this find as “the missing link”.  The Radio Lab chronicles the history surrounding this object, including some conclusions that are relatively recent.  Here are real scientists at work, imperfect people wading though preconceived notions, ethnic prejudice, flawed analysis, and an outright hoax, to get ever closer to the truth.  Throughout the controversies, the Genesis creation stories never came up, not because of a willful denial of the Word of God, but because, among scientists, even as early as the 1920s, such an idea was ridiculous.

In rural America in the 1920s, however, it was not ridiculous.  The same year that Dart was publishing his findings on the Taung Child, Tennessee prosecuted John Scopes for teaching Evolution in public school.  One can sympathize with the citizens of Tennessee at that time. Darwin’s ideas, still relatively new to rural America, directly contradicted the myths preserved in Genesis, sacred myths that these people placed at the very foundation of their faith.

However, since then, we have had a century of incredible progress in the sciences.  Whole new fields of investigation have emerged.  We know much more about our universe as a whole, about our planet, and about our species than Darwin could ever have imagined, and yet his basic premise has survived.

In the face of this mountain of evidence, the Young Earth Creationists cling to the scientific conclusions of religious leaders from the sixteenth century: the earth, in fact the whole universe, is approximately 6,000 to 10,000 years old. They have the Bible, which they believe is the inerrant, divine revelation of God.  They view everything through this Biblical lens, seeing nothing that contradicts their reading of the sacred text.  They put the evidence of the Bible, which was obviously written by man, selected by man, translated by man, and interpreted by man, over the evidence of Nature, the Earth, and the stars, which they believe were created by God.  They would rather believe in a devious God, a God that created a world appearing to be billions of years old but really quite young, rather than acknowledge that the stories of creation recorded in Genesis are myths explaining the human condition and not scientific explanations of origins.  They have constructed a vast pseudo scientific catalog demonstrating how everything from dinosaurs to distant galaxies came into existence in the last few thousand years.

At the heart of all of this is willful denial, denial of the same ilk as shown by the Flat Earth Society, which is still active in the twenty first century. Because we live in a democracy, because these zealots are so numerous, and because science is so important to our modern society, this willful denial is significant to all of us.

To be clear, there is nothing in the Bible that requires this foolishness.  Old Earth Ministries, for example, finds no conflict between their Biblical Christianity and modern science: “The scientific evidence of this world and universe can be used to understand how God created.”  It is only the insistence on the young earth that presents a problem.

Naturally, people who adhere so ardently to a false dogma see those who are seeking the truth as the enemy.  Willful denial turns to spite, as shown in an editorial in the June, 2014 edition of Creation Magazine:

winning-war

Creation Magazine illustration

“There is a war on! And it seems the opposition isn’t so much interested in debating what Christianity teaches about origins, but rather in suppressing it—just as you’d expect from Romans 1:18. They want to silence the Christian voice (proclaiming creation), and replace it with their own (promoting long ages and evolution).”

It is true that scientists are not interested in debating what Genesis teaches about origins.  Among scientists, this debate was over long ago, notwithstanding the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham side show.  It has also been decided in courts, where creationists have repeatedly failed to demonstrate that their ideas have any scientific foundation at all.  Of course, scientists want to suppress the teaching of ideas that have been thoroughly refuted, unless, taught to show how science has progressed, rejecting explanations, like spontaneous generation, that once seemed plausible but were eventually refuted by the evidence.

However, the war rages on, not only in the local schools, but in the halls of Congress.  Here is what Paul Broun, the Chairman of the US House Science Subcommittee on Oversight, has to say:

Paul Broun

Paul Broun

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. …It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

The election of such misguided people is going to continue for some time to come: fully one-third of Americans, and a majority of those who consider themselves evangelical Christians, reject the theory of Evolution.

We are facing tremendously complex problems in our modern world, and, since we live in a democracy, we need a scientifically literate public to participate in evaluating our situation and deciding what to do.  Care for the environment, i.e. climate change, presents a particularly difficult challenge, but there are other issues facing us as well.  How can we successfully address such challenges when so many people believe that those  best able to inform them about the threats and the solutions are in league with the devil?

This war between scientific truth and ancient myth is poisoning the political environment in this country.    The war is certainly not with the teachings of Jesus, but with a twisted Christianity that idolizes scientific theories conceived during the Reformation, before modern science had developed.

I believe that, eventually, Truth will prevail and the young earth creationists, like the flat earthers, will gradually dwindle in number, though never quite disappear.   However, people like me would have said much the same thing at the time of the Scopes Monkey Trial.  With all of the unbelievable changes that have taken place since then, who would have thought that this debate over the Genesis myths would still be going on?  No proof, no matter how clear and obvious, seems powerful enough to overcome the willful denial of people whose faith is based on this misguided reading of the ancient texts.

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Willful Denial

  1. Any Christian who accepts evolution is engaging in another form of willful denial focused around soteriology, their doctrine of Original Sin and the need for a savior. Because this doctrine holds that man was created in a perfect state, but through sin has declined on a great Fall of Man that reduced our livespans tenfold and led to many infirmities, while natural selection holds that the human genome is embarked on a never-ending series of very small improvements over deep time, a Rise of Man if you will. To somehow hold both of these ideas as true is cognitive dissonance in the first degree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment on my essay, and for introducing my to the term “soteriology”, which I looked up in Wikipedia.

      Let me introduce myself. I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers. My local meeting most closely identifies itself with liberal Quakers, a group sometimes distressingly close to the “Mary Queen of the Universe Latter-day Buddhislamic Free Will Christian UFO Synagogue of Vishnu” you recommend on your blog. I refer to myself as a Christian, but I know that I would not be accepted as such in some circles. When I get into discussions of matters of doctrine, I remind myself of the admonitions of early Friends, who were consistently wary of “airy notions”.

      Your comment asserts that true Christians cannot accept the theory of evolution because their notion of salvation requires the Fall of Man. This is in fact the point of view of the young earth creationists. It is why they prefer to debate atheists like Bill Nye rather than Christians like those at BioLogos. They want the choice to be between godless secularism (or whatever ism you prefer) and Jesus, to whom their followers have already committed their lives. If my blogging about creationism has a purpose, it is to make it clear that there are other options.

      The Fall of Man can be understood allegorically. Before the Fall, we were like the beasts in the Garden of Eden, fully engaged in the present, without an awareness of our own mortality, and, though capable of doing harm to others, innocent of sinfulness, in the same sense that a lion asserting dominance over his pride is innocent. However, as our amazing brain developed, the complexity crossed a threshold. We woke up. We consumed the forbidden fruit of knowledge and awareness. We developed language. We planned for the future. Suddenly, mortality was not just a flight or fight reflex in a moment of danger, but a constant reality. Sin entered into our experience. In such a world, salvation makes sense to me.

      Many Christians who proclaim their personal salvation through Christ believe in the “old earth”. For them, evolution describes the process through which God created the life forms that we see today. As far as I can tell, they do not experience the cognitive dissonance that you describe.

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  2. Unfortunately for the theist who accepts deep time and descent with variation (evolution), the unguided materialist explanation is completely sufficient to explain the variety of life on our world, leaving God with nothing to do beyond starting the process and then sitting back and watching. That describes a deist God that is incompatible with sacred scriptures by any interpretation.

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    • I fully agree with what you say here, and yet, I attend meeting for worship every week, seeking to commune with that Divine Presence beyond my understanding.

      I hope to continue our dialog in the future.

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  3. Hello. I too am Quaker: “Liberal-liberal” Quaker, even. Rather than a “devious God” creating false evidence, Creationists may believe in an utterly fallen human, unable to see or assess truth. The evidence and explanations are part of our sin.

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    • Actually, I probably should have credited Katherine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, with the devious God idea: “Either you have to believe that God created everything looking as if it were billions of years old, or you have to believe it is billions of years old.” http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/climate_desk/2014/05/conservative_christians_and_climate_change_five_arguments_for_why_one_should.2.html
      I’m sure that I have encountered it elsewhere as well.

      I agree that there are Christians whose point of view is close to what you describe. However, the Answers in Genesis bunch claims that we can understand things, with the light of the guidance given to us in the Bible. They claim that what they are espousing is science, appropriate for teaching in science class in the public schools and for guiding government officials in deciding what research should receive support. This is not the work of people who see themselves as “unable to see or assess truth”.

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  4. Pingback: Open Letter to Protesters at the Ark Encounter | jplund

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