So I’m working on collecting some of the older posts here, bundling them into categories of sorts and cleaning them up a bit in the hopes of producing that book-like thing I mentioned earlier. And that entails writing short introductions for the various sections.
The following is my first shot at the introduction for the section on young-earth creationism.
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The oldest book in our Bible contains a hymn of praise to the Creator that rambles on for chapter after chapter. It’s the longest such hymn in the Bible, skipping about through all the earth and all the universe with the wide-eyed, giddy enthusiasm of a kind in a candy shop, marveling at all the wondrous things that God has made.
But this isn’t a psalm of David or a song of Moses. This is from the book of Job, and the one speaking, according to that story, is none other than God. No human speaker in the Bible matches the goofy enthusiasm, delight and affection for all creation that God expresses there in the final chapters of Job.
The Discovery Channel approached something like that enthusiasm in an old promo of theirs that reflected something like the love and wonderment found in that passage. It featured a jingle called “I Love the World,” sung in the ad by various astronauts, scientists, explorers and naturalists. “I love tornadoes, I love arachnids, I love hot magma, I love the giant squids,” they sang. “I love the whole world. It’s such a brilliant place. Boom-de-ah-da, boom-de-ah-da, boom-de-ah-da, boom-de-ah-da …”
That’s a just and appropriate response to this amazing planet we live on. For Christians, anything less than such joyful, insatiable delight verges on the sin of ingratitude.
Yet, weirdly, in much of American Christianity, you won’t encounter a love of creation anywhere near as intense as that shown on a daily basis by such scientists and explorers. We may mouth the words to “All Creatures of Our God and King” or to “How Great Thou Art,” but we never match that gleeful whoop of “Boom-de-ah-da.”
And even worse, we deliberately neglect the work of discovery and exploration that scientists are engaged in, viewing it somehow as anti-Christian. Instead of the Discovery Channel, we turn to the Discovery Institute – the promoter of young-earth “creationist” heresies that forbid any genuine attempt to discover more about the wondrous world that God has wrought. And when others do that discovery, we clamp our eyes shut and refuse to look. We don’t want to see the awesome glories of the Burgess Shale or the latest images from the Hubble telescope, because we want our God to be smaller and less complicated than that. We claim to worship the Ancient of Days, but only if “ancient” means about 6,000 years.
Many Christians shun science, ironically, in the name of “absolute truth.” Science doesn’t promise the absolute certainty we desire, insisting rather that truth be held lightly so that new discoveries can be welcomed rather than forbidden as threats to our preconceived notions. Many Christians want more certainty than science allows so that we can take a firm and everlasting stand, heedless of whatever facts might cast doubt on it. And heedless too of the warning from one old scientist who said: “We should not rush headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”
That’s a pretty good description of how science’s search for truth works. And it’s even more impressive when you consider that it was written more than 1,500 years ago by St. Augustine.
He wasn’t actually writing about science, but about the way we approach and interpret the Bible. Specifically, he was warning against a prideful overconfidence in the way we interpret the creation stories in the book of Genesis – the very same texts that have led many American Christians to reject and deny the “further progress in the search of truth” that science provides.
We have rejected and denied and lied about that science because we’ve taken just exactly the kind of rushed, headlong stand that Augustine warned against, forcing us to view Genesis and science as incompatible. Having decided that, we have no choice but to reject science, lest our preferred interpretation of Genesis fall “and we too fall with it.”
Augustine said that doing what we’re doing is “to battle not for the teaching of holy scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of sacred scripture.” Clinging to an interpretive scheme that puts the Bible on the opposite side of the search for truth makes the Bible secondary and second-rate – a text consulted only to buttress our own views and not one to be read for what it actually has to say. It elevates our ideas about the Bible above the Bible itself.
And it shuts us off from the search for truth, from the possibility of discovery and of sharing in God’s own joy and wonder and in the glorious boom-de-ah-da that comes from exploring every corner of this glorious, strange, beautiful, billions-of-years-old universe.