Posts Tagged ‘creationism’

I have defined miracles, [Jan 9, 2011] but now I would like to talk about them, not as events in themselves, but from the perspective of the believer. In particular, let us think about what belief is required of the hearer compared to the belief required of the observer or of the messenger who tells us about a miracle. For example, let us consider one of the miracles from the life of Jesus, such as His making of the wine of Cana, and compare that with the miracles that the creationist has in mind for, say, the Third Day of Creation. This is the day when, says Genesis, God made the dry (actually the moist) earth and all the grasses and herbs and flowering trees that naturally grow on land.

In the case of the wine of Cana, we and St. John are on the same page and bring the same experience to the story: wine is mostly water, but water is not wine, and good wine is not made quickly even from the best of grapes. Our experience is the same as St. John’s and what he is proposing for our belief is something he must have found hard to believe, or at least most astonishing, himself. He was there, so that helped him, but he did know the unlikelihood of it, which was the precisely the same for him and for us.

But for the Third Day of Creation, the situation is quite different. What we and the author of Genesis bring to this verse of the Bible are very different. Creation itself is astonishing; in that we are the same. But, on a creationist interpretation, what are we to think of grass that must be green without the sun? You may answer that there was light on the first day, but what sort of light was that when there were no stars? Was it electromagnetic radiation like the light we know now? If so, something had to radiate it; what? If not, then was it a spiritual light, not really what we mean by light, but something analogous? And if so then how did it support the activity of chlorophyll in the leaves?

One might imagine that the grass was there but was white until the fourth day when the sun turned up. But that is not so easy, because grass cannot even grow or stand up straight without the energy that is packed up by chlorophyll in the sunshine. You could reply that God could have kept the grass in a mature state, either white or green, whichever he chose, until he made the sun. God can do anything.

Yes, God can do anything, but the question I ask the creationist is: what is being proposed for our belief? That all the green herbs and flowering plants were created in mature but bleached form and then waited for the sun of the fourth day? Or that all were created only as seeds, waiting for the fourth day to sprout? Or that they were created mature and green, but static, only reaching active stature on the fourth day?

Not that it matters, but the point is, what are we talking about? What is it that we are asked to believe? None of the problems I have listed were within the consciousness of the sacred writer. It took him no extra leap of faith to deal these logical consequences of the Genesis sequence, because he was not aware of them. God made the land and its plants: fine. In that case, what he understood himself to be proposing for our act of faith is not the same as what a creationist asks us to believe a few thousand years later. In the case of the wine, it is the same. Even in the case of the Resurrection is it the same, for the deadness of dead bodies is not a new idea; modern medicine does not change it. But for the creationist interpretation of Genesis, it is not clear what is proposed for our belief, and whatever it is, the Genesis author was not conscious of it.

Of course being able to distinguish two types of miracles does not mean one kind did not happen. God can do anything.

But the issue remains: if you cannot tell me what I am supposed to believe, then you cannot fault me for not believing it. I believe that God designed everything with infinite wisdom, and that He is fully aware of every detail of the outworking of even the most law-bound processes. Within Catholic doctrine, that suffices for the Third Day. Whether it took place over a few hundred million years, and whether a good number of animals (such as bees) were actually also created at the same time as the plants they pollinated is of no consequence.

In that interpretation, what is proposed for our belief – that our Father did it all, right to the last apple blossom – is the same for us and for the author of Genesis. Seems only fair.


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Defining creationism

Defining your terms is the first step in understanding any argument. Like any word with a history, “creationism” has been through several meanings, and is still used several ways, so let’s start with three:

  1. Creationism once meant the belief that man has a soul. Darwin’s work suggesting that man is merely a species of primate was then contrasted with the Christian faith that man is God’s special creation, specially in His image, and spiritual in his nature.
  2. Creationism later came to mean the belief that God made the world, as opposed to the idea that it is here by accident. New insights into historical geology gradually eroded the specific Biblical sense of creation over a short period of time or in the sequence offered in Genesis 1, leading to a split in how creation was viewed:
    • Creationism may mean the idea that God made the world in 6,000 or 10,000 or 12,000 years, occasionally a little more, but never billions of years, essentially on the Genesis schedule. This is sometimes called “young earth creationism.”
    • Creationism may simply mean the idea that God made the world, on whatever schedule. This is sometimes called “old earth creationism” by Christians who sympathize with the young earth creationists and want to be viewed as believers. It may also be called theological evolutionism, because these believers often retain a serious theology,  even though they see things as happening over a long period of time. However, the theology of old earth creationists is more or less ignored by secularists because it does not affect their system and more or less rejected by young-earthers as a faithless compromise.

The soul-based definition has been fairly well superseded by the issue of God’s work in the universe as a whole. The creationist with the short schedule, is universally called creationist; the creationist with the open schedule goes by various names, but since the schedule is open, he may be ignored unless other issues are involved.

What other issues?

Two principal issues cause the old-earth creationist to define himself in more detail, and put him in or out of the “creationist” i.e. young earth creationist camp: the evolution of the universe and evolution of living forms. There are sub-issues and variations, but that’s what it amounts to.

I myself usually use the term creationist to refer to someone who is a young-earth creationist, someone who more or less completely rejects the standard explanation of fossil formation and its implications, and someone who rejects the Big Bang. The old-earth creationist does not strike me as needing a name, because any serious Christian must believe God made the world, and there is thus no explicit reason for a name. As a scientist, an old-earth creationist does not need to distinguish his scientific ideas from anyone who is not a believer; and while he may want to insist to the young-earth creationist that he is a believer, I don’t notice that it matters. We’re all heretics together to the young-earthers.

Maybe I paint with too broad a brush, but that is my impression, and I have had ample opportunity to form an impression.

I have read a fair number of creationist (young-earth creationist) pieces; they share their arguments to such an extent that the material becomes repetitive, but perspectives do vary. There is a Catholic work called Creation Rediscovered. I am not impressed with either the theology or the science, but it has an imprimatur. This means that holding these ideas is not opposed to Catholic theology. My books on the subject (Creator and Creation, Genesis 1 House of the Covenant, and some other things that are more indirect) also have an imprimatur; so they are not opposed to Catholic theology either. The Church does not have a doctrinal position on the age of the universe; and it does not have a doctrinal position on whether our bodies — or the first human bodies — were derived from other primate stock.

The one issue that is very important in Catholic theology is the unity of truth: truth is one, and there is no proposition that is true in science and false in doctrine or the reverse. No compromise here.

In the light of this definition, I will follow up to explain why I see some curricula as creationist and why I view this as a weakness.

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