Creationism, Evolution, and Doing Justice to God

I’ve been reading Kenneth Miller’s book Finding Darwin’s God for a class I’m taking. Although I’ve been out of fundamentalism long enough (about two years) for most of this information to be old news to me, some parts have challenged me to think about how low of an opinion of God I had as a fundamentalist.  

In the chapter I just finished, “God the Charlatan,” Miller (who is himself both a scientist and a believer in God) takes on the fundamentalist idea that God created the earth with the appearance of age. And not just the appearance of age, apparently, but with a consistent appearance of 4.5 billion years of age.

According to Miller, “this sounds like a deception most cruel. Their Creator deliberately rigged a universe with a consistent–but fictitious–age in order to fool its inhabitants.

He continues (emphasis mine),

What saddens me is the view of the Creator that their intellectual contortions force them to hold. In order to defend God against the challenge they see from evolution, they have had to make Him into a schemer, a trickster, even a charlatan. Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath our feet and in the heavens themselves. Their version of God is one who has filled the universe with so much bogus evidence that the tools of science can give us nothing more than a phony version of reality.

Art by Gerald Shepard

I am not a Biblical literalist. But even in a literalist perspective, is this really the God that the Bible puts forth?

Is this the God who “is not the author of confusion/disorder?”

Is this the God who “cannot lie?” 

Is this the God of whom “the heavens declare the glory?” 

According to Miller, to worship the God of young earth creationism, one must “reject science and worship deception itself.” As a former young earth creationist, I agree.

The fundamentalist God I once believed in was extremely fragile, in constant need of defense. And everything was a threat, even creation itself. The best way to worship God was to know as little about the world that God created as possible.

I don’t think that view does God justice.

I don’t think that view even does the book of Genesis justice.

In the words of Michael Gungor,

Genesis is a poem if I’ve ever seen one.

It’s full of refrain, metaphor, and rhythm.

And God said that it was good.

Over and over like the hook of a pop song, like a wave sculpting its shores…this is good, this is good.  The poetic refrain of Genesis hammers the wonder and beauty of a creator making a good creation into our hearts.

In a science book, you’d have to discredit a text like this for glaring logical errors like the creation of light before stars, or days before an earth and a sun.  In a poem, you don’t have to worry about such things.  You simply can enjoy it’s beauty and hear the voice of God as it speaks over and over.

By trying to force them into my tiny fundamentalist box, I missed the amazing complexities of nature. I missed the poetic beauty that some ancient writer used to describe that creator.

And I missed the Creator herself.

I missed the creative wisdom in the laws of nature and physics and I settled for a world that was haphazardly spoken into existence.

I’m still forming thoughts and words for what I actually believe about God. But I do know this, the god I worshipped as a fundamentalist was too small.

What if we can trust God not to lie to us? What if the heavens really do declare, and not deceptively lead us away from, God’s glory? What if God gave us brains that could at least in part understand the world around them and those brains really were good?

What if, by trusting that creation is what it seems to be saying it is–old, yet constantly evolving into fascinating newness–we are actually doing God justice? 

As Kenneth Miller says, “As we walk through the gates, aware of the dazzling richness of the genuine biological world, there might even be a smile on the Creator’s face–at long last [God's] creatures have learned enough to understand [God's] world as it truly is.”

  • http://www.quest-church.com Ed Taylor

    Lovely, Sarah. Thanks for posting.

  • Hannah

    Wow, this is beautiful. Thank you!
    On my journey out of fundamentalism some years ago, where I also used to uphold the “appearance-of-age” idea as a pretty nifty idea, I remember having this epiphany of how that meant God must be one big liar and reeling from the implications. It’s an untenable – and horrifying – position to take that God would start out his relationship with us, with all of creation, with a lie.

    • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com physicsandwhiskey

      If I may ask, what group or organization taught the “appearance of age” thing? I’m trying to track it down in the wild. :)

      • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

        My highschool science class at an IFB school taught that. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis believes in minimal appearance of age (the stars, for example, would have been created with age so that Adam and Eve could see them on earth). Kenneth Miller’s book is specifically responding to the book “The Genesis Flood” by creationists Whitcomb and Morris. Of course, most creationists believe that, at the very least, God created humans and animals as fully-grown adults. But Kenneth Miller is more talking about the stars thing in his book.

        • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com physicsandwhiskey

          Ah. My experience with IFB was intentionally limited to a handful of one-sided arguments about the supremacy of the KJV. Always a lark (though, in retrospect, I was probably being a huge jerk about it). The “appearance of age” idea seems fitting for that group.

          Answers in Genesis, I believe, explicitly denies the “appearance of age” explanation. They’ll tell you God created humans and plants and stars and galaxies in a state that would maintain stable function, but without any intent to make them appear older than they were. They’re pretty intense about it, IIRC.

          I do not know what this Kenneth Miller is, but he sounds like a dumbhead.

          • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

            Yes, they argue that stars/galaxies etc. were created with age in order to function well. They will deny that the intent here was to deceive, but this is still appearance of age. This is still “the universe might look old because ____ but it is really not because that’s just how God made it!”

          • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com physicsandwhiskey

            Well, I think there’s a fairly big distinction, however subtle, between saying something was “created with structure” and saying something was “created with age”. The former doesn’t open God up to criticism of deceitfulness in the same way as the latter.

            That being said, I don’t think the young-universe view is particularly tenable. Even if God did create galaxies in a stable configuration which coincidentally resembled galaxies of great age, structures like quasars with ejecta trails millions of light years long and globular clusters with tidal trails stretching tens of thousands of lightyears just wouldn’t make sense.

  • http://shinybutter.com Coco

    This is one of those articles which makes something that people have complicated so very simple. It’s lovely. I really enjoyed your gentle approach and appreciate being introduced to Kenneth Miller’s book. I’m wondering about recommending it to my literalist sister and brother-in-law. It seems the book is respectful without being argumentative. What do you think?

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      He combats the creationist viewpoint pretty hard so might be a tough read for a creationist. I’d actually recommend The Language of Science and Faith by Giberson and Collins. That book is probably a better transition from a creationist viewpoint, in my opinion!

  • http://shinybutter.com Coco

    This is one of those articles which makes something that people have complicated so very simple. It’s lovely. I really enjoyed your gentle approach and appreciate being introduced to Kenneth Miller’s book. I’m wondering about recommending it to my literalist sister and brother-in-law. It seems the book is respectful without being argumentative. What do you think?

  • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com physicsandwhiskey

    I don’t take the same stance on this issue as I used to….not by a long shot. But there’s something here I still think bears addressing.

    “God created the universe with the appearance of age.” “God created the universe with the appearance of age to test us.” I’ve seen both of these positions roundly mocked, vilified, and censured time and time again across academia and the blogosphere. But I must confess that I’ve never actually seen these positions seriously advocated by, well, anyone. Not anyone respectable, at least. Sure, there were probably a handful of hyperconservatives who threw this out as a possible explanation back in the 19th century, but it’s not a part of the neocreationist movement that I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen quite a bit of it, honestly.

    So is this a strawman?

    • http://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com forgedimagination

      I don’t think it’s a concept taken seriously by scientists, so in that sense it’s not a credible argument that needs to be addressed academically. However, all the creationist apologetics I’m familiar with talk about appearance of age in regards to stars, fossils, geological strata…

      • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com physicsandwhiskey

        Right, it’s not taken seriously; that’s why it would make a good straw man.

        Which apologetics are those? All the creationist apologetics I’ve been exposed to talk about the perception of old age being a conditioned interpretation, not an actual attribute of the objects themselves.

        Like I said, I’ve been trying to track this trope down in the wild for quite some time.

      • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

        Yup! And Miller is not making a strictly academic argument, but arguing for evolution and against creationism for a more mainstream audience.

  • http://nikgee.wordpress.com nikgee

    I do find myself from time to time reworking my theology. I wasn’t raised in an overly religious household. We did go to the Methodist Church every Sunday. And the older we got we were given a choice to go or not to go. I went till I got out of high school. I then wandered about for a year or two.

    Then one evening as I sat in the living room of this large house house I shared with six people, something happened to me. I can’t recall at the moment why I was reading the bible.Something happened. How do I say this without sounding crazy? The living room became bright . A there way a presences so intense I burst into tears. It was explained as a born again experience.

    From that night on I wasn’t the same. And for the next 10 years was one of the greatest adventures of my life. The early 70′s the Jesus movement was at it’s peak.I got involved with a group. Traveling about witnessing singing and playing in churches.

    Since then so much has happened that will be a story for another time.No matter what I still seek a more complete understanding of the meaning of life. It seems the Church and Science has always been at outs with each other.

    Back in the day they believed the world was flat. And did not the church endorse that thought . They also financed all the scientist of the day. Newton, Gallelao, DaVincci. Spell check is no help with these last two words. Something my brother said once when we were talking about things.He said some thing to the effect as time goes on the merge science and religion will reveal the complete truth.

  • http://chavisory.wordpress.com chavisory

    Could not agree more.

    And I was a science major, so none of this is new to me, either, but still, every time I learn something new and awesome about the universe, I just don’t get how any of it detracts from the idea of a creative God. Since practically everything I learn leaves me MORE awe-struck with God’s brilliance and elegance. I just don’t get the position that God would need to plant a false view of the universe…for what possible end? To make scientists look like idiots? To keep us from ever knowing anything true about the world? I don’t believe in a God who doesn’t have better things to do than that.

  • Jess

    My parents and others around me used the whole appearance of age thing all the time. It always seemed shifty to me. I rejected the idea of young earth creationism at the age of17 after going to anchristian school since kindergarten which taught young earth creationism as science as well as teaching us not to trust science In Literature class . Nothing was more freeing for me than the realization that I could have God AND science! I didn’t have to choose. I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable around “evolutionists” (everyone) anymore. Big sigh, so much relief.

  • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

    Beauty. Truth. Awesome.
    I remember once after a speaker came in to discuss science and creation, I asked a college student (a very smart guy and solid Christian) which of the two he believed in.
    “I don’t know.”
    “You better figure it out. It’s important to know.”
    He smiled. “Why?”
    I had no answer. The more I looked at the question, I realized it was absurd. And then I realized that a lot of my answer to the question was simply because I thought I had to know. But I didn’t. And it was sooo freeing.

    So much of the Church’s teaching (at least today in the “western” Church) is based on bad assumptions, poor exegesis, and proof texting (often heavily disguised).

    I tend toward agreeing with Miller. But honestly, I don’t know. And I’m totally fine with that. I assume that one day I will either know, or it will be so irrelevant I will never care again. Those both sound just fine, too. 8^)

  • http://narmacil.wordpress.com Kagi

    Yes! All this, so much this. Too small, so much too small. My God is BIG! I think if you think you fully understand any part of his infinite Truth, then your God is too small. Infinite divinity and our finite minds are never going to have a full view until we pass out of this world and into that infinite ourselves – meeting face to face. But in this world, we are never going to have all the answers, and if you think you do, then you are looking at a view of faith and God that is so limited, and so small, and so *powerless*. Why should an all-powerful God need protection from me?? Don’t understand the logic, here, not at alllll.

    God gave me a phrase that well describes my faith as I slowly realign my thinking, expanding and moving into a larger world, seeing the truth and beauty that he shows all around us – biggest ever sky, biggest ever God. Always expanding, the cosmos of creation is the biggest ever sky and how could the one who created it be anything less? it is always a good reminder to keep looking up and out, knowing my view can always get bigger and there will always be yet more beyond that which I am not seeing yet.

  • Pingback: about those millstones: regarding ‘creation science’ | flamesword ~ watching in the shadows

  • Greg

    Sarah – I was recently introduced to the writings of John Lennox, a scientist and follower of Jesus. I found his writing and references to published scientific findings quite thought-provoking, particularly in his book, “God’s Undertaker.” I believe you might find that book interesting on your journey. I commend you for sharing helpful insight on such vital yet complex topics.


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