What I Like About You(ng-Earth Creationists)

What I Like About You(ng-Earth Creationists) March 27, 2013

Someone asked me if I could do a post indicating what, if anything, I appreciate about young-earth creationists.

You may be surprised that this post is not just a blank page.

The point of the request was in the spirit of the video that Brian McLaren made called “Reconciliation.” In the video, McLaren says the following:

So I think the six-day creation people — I think they're wrong; I think they are misguided. I love them; I respect them. If someone believes that I’ll be glad to be their friend, and we will just agree to disagree; that's totally fine with me. But, even though I think they're wrong on the details, I think they are right about something. And I think they are right to oppose the attitude of evolutionists who make it sound like all that the universe is is matter, energy plus time and that explains everything. And I think that there is something inside the six-day creation people that knows that that's not right, and so they are countering it. I think some of their conclusions are wrong, some of the assumptions are wrong, but I think they are right to counter it.

So what's my take? Do I have anything positive I can say about young-earth creationists?

I don't take McLaren's precise tack, since I think that one can stand more effectively against reductionism not by saying it is wrong but playing its game, but precisely by finding a way to embrace science without reductionism. Taking a firm stand on a false antithesis simply contributes to the problem.

But I do appreciate young-earth creationists' willingness to stand as a minority when the majority says they are wrong, that they are fools.

To be clear, I don't think that it is appropriate to do that when one is taking a minority stance on science, or history, or any other matter that requires expertise one doesn't have.

But imagine if, instead of being the young-earth creationists, they were the feed-the-hungryists in a world in which most are happy to live with relative luxury while others live in squalor. Or imagine if they were the marriage-equalityists – perhaps not persuaded that same-sex relations are right, but recognizing that that doesn't mean that they should not be a good neighbor and stand for the freedom and equality of people who disagree with them. Or if they were the end-injusticeists. Or the love-your-enemyists. Or anything else that involved taking a radical moral stand that would put them ahead of the curve and make them a potentially transforming influence on society.

The call of Jesus was not to hang around with him denying prevailing scientific theories in his time. It was to join him in loving Romans and Samaritans and not just Jews. It was to spend time with the marginalized and touch the untouchable. It was to live in a manner that embodied different values. Today's Christians tend to think that by rejecting science, or claiming that something they call science is “true science,” they are “going against the flow” and embodying different values. But a closer inspection shows that in fact these things embody the same values – among them, science as the only means to truth (coupled at times with a dose of postmodern rhetoric suggesting that everything is just a matter of interpretation when that argument is convenient). But also distracting from the fact that we are not feeding the hungry, much less transforming society in Jesus' name to eliminate hunger.

If young-earth creationists took their same willingness to stand against the flow, and applied it to the things the Bible emphasizes, they would put me to shame, instead of bringing shame on the Christian faith as they now do.

And so that's what I mean when I say there is something that is (or at least could be) admirable about young-earth creationists. If their willingness to stand against the prevailing tide were directed towards the kinds of things the Bible is actually most concerned with, they would be an amazing and powerful force.

They would probably do a better job with it than I do.


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  • Caleb G.

    I think this post is a good idea to help diffuse the venom that YECers would vent at you. Thank you for posting it.

  • plectrophenax

    That’s quite admirable. I admire them for being so bloody-minded. I also admire them if they are protesting against scientism; only, they confuse it with science.

  • Just Sayin’

    “imagine if they were the marriage-equalityists – perhaps not persuaded that same-sex relations are right, but recognizing that that doesn’t mean that they should not be a good neighbor and stand for the freedom and equality of people who disagree with them. Or if they were the end-injusticeists.”

    What happens when equality and injustice clash?

    • Can you provide an example of the sort of scenario you have in mind?

      • Just Sayin’

        Polygamists seek equality under the law. But most of us would regard giving old geezers legal rights to marry multiple teenage brides inherently unjust. Which one gives, and why?

        • I personally do not see a basis for a secular society to disallow traditional customs such as polygamy. I am not sure what the relevance of it being an old geezer and teenagers assuming the latter are no longer minors. An old geezer can marry multiple teenage brides at present under current law, just not all at the same time. 🙂

          • Just Sayin’

            I did not expect you to come out in favour of polygamy. Looking at the situation of Fundamentalist Mormons — those old geezers with the multiple teenage brides — I cannot be in favour of it as you are. That, to me, is “an equality too far.”
            How about my desire to marry my sister (supposing I had one). Some societies (not many) had that as a “traditional custom.” Shouldn’t I have marriage equality to do that too?

          • I am not in favor of polygamy, which reflects a patriarchal approach to marriage that I personally oppose. But unless there is a secular case to be made for prohibiting it, then prohibiting it seems problematic since it is a matter not just of custom but religious custom for some. And I do not think that people should only have the right to do what I personally approve of. That’s the challenge of a secular free society of the sort I live in.

          • Just Sayin’

            Okay, but you are in favour of legalising polygamy (at least that’s the impression you gave; if you’re in favour of legally prohibiting polygamy please say so). Are you also in favour of legalising marriage equality for me and my sister to wed? No patriarchy there — if necessary she can be head of our happy household!

          • I think the genetic issues resulting from such close relatives marrying and having children provide a sound basis for a secular society to disallow incestuous relations of that sort – don’t you? The issue is not merely a sense of ickiness or a historic taboo.

          • arcseconds

            Do we currently prohibit people with genetic disorders from having children?

          • No. But on the one hand, it might just be possible to make a case for doing so, but making it illegal to have children is quite possibly the least effective method of birth control ever devised. On the other hand, for a great many genetic ailments, there is a reasonable chance of the gene not being passed on – if one’s spouse is not a close relative likely to share the gene in question.

          • arcseconds

            Refusing to recognise a long-term partnership is not, I suspect, going to be any more successful in terms of birth control!

            I don’t actually think the genetic disorder thing stacks up. My understanding is that offspring of siblings aren’t significantly at risk of genetic problems in the general case. They’re certainly less at risk then children of people who have a known genetic problem.

            There’s a popular idea that children born of incest will be monsters! for sure. But I don’t think that’s at all true.

            It’s a problem if a community continually inbreeds, of course, but that can happen with perfectly legal relationships. Full cousins are able to marry in some jurisdictions.

          • Ian

            I think these are really significant points, arc (and James’s point on polygamy). If you come up with a rational theory of sexual morality and government recognized union, then it is important that the theory be consistent, I think. We laugh at anti-gay campaigners who claim that gays shouldn’t marry because they can’t procreate (rightly rejoining by saying “should infertile couples be allowed to marry”), because we recognize that people advocating such a principle do not actually want to see it through: the “reason” is merely something they say to give a fig-leaf of reasonableness.

            So those of us for whom “long term commitments between consenting adults” is our rational basis for the morality of marriage need to be honest about those cases where our definition bumps up against out own moral taboos. Consensual adult incest is a good case in point, at least for me. I recognize that my cultural distaste for it is much bigger than any rational argument I can mount against it.

            As for genetic disorders. The orthodox Jewish community has done a lot of work with Tay Sachs disease. Though not an obligation, testing among their young people, and a strong discouragement of carrier partners has made inroads against the disease. At least, according to the last study I read several years ago.

          • Just Sayin’

            “We laugh at anti-gay campaigners who claim that gays shouldn’t marry because they can’t procreate (rightly rejoining by saying “should infertile couples be allowed to marry”)”

            And perhaps they laugh at the insufficiency of this rejoinder.

          • Ian

            “And perhaps they laugh at the insufficiency of this rejoinder.” – no, mostly they don’t. Mostly they just fall in dumbstuck awe before my obvious moral superiority and logical perspicacity.

            But thanks for responding sanctimoniously, rather than engaging. Classy.

          • Just Sayin’

            The very point I’m making is the sanctimony in your blase dismissal of their position, in your parenthetical remark, rather than engaging with them.

          • Ian

            I got that. But since the point I was making is that my sanctimonious sense of my own moral superiority and delight in its impeccably rational basis, trips over my own moral intuitions, it seemed rather cheap. Perhaps we should just go to the bathroom and see who can piss higher up the wall? The winner gets to claim moral superiority.

          • Just Sayin’

            You’re the one doing the ad hominem, not me.

          • Ian

            Sure, you’re right. I take back everything I said about you.

            Incidentally, why, every time you log onto this blog, do you go through and downvote the comments that have been added in reply to you?

            That’s not a doubling down on the ad-hom (since I am not implying that your actions have any effect on your arguments), it’s just something I wondered, since I’ve notice you do that to other posters on other threads too.

          • If marriage is the creating of a family from people that were previously unrelated, what would marriage between siblings mean?

          • Ian

            Hmm. That doesn’t really sound right though to me.

            Are you suggesting some sense in which marriage makes an ontological change. So my wife and I are a family, in some non-legal sense now that we wouldn’t have been had we chosen not to marry (and merely be life partners, say). It seems like you’re saying that. So if that ontological state of being a family already holds before the marriage, then the marriage is redundant or meaningless in some way.

            I tend to think marriage is purely a legal thing. My marriage is no different to the civil partnerships of my gay friends, or the committed partnerships of my unmarried friends, except in its treatment by the law. So if adult incest were legal, what would be the argument against marriage? But, as I’ve learned tonight, it isn’t, so perhaps the whole thing is moot. (Sorry to have so thorougly derailed the conversation).

            I don’t know. I confess I’m rather adrift on trying to fit this into a neat framework that can support any reasoned conclusions. It all feels a bit too much like post-hoc rationalization to me. Which is something I perceive and dislike in anti-gay supporters.

            Incidentally, the reason that I’d assumed it was only incestuous marriage that was illegal was that my wife and I were specifically asked whether we were related when applying for a marriage license. I inferred that, had we been siblings, we’d have been denied the license, but not necessarily reported as criminals at large!

          • arcseconds

            What would marriage between 4th cousins mean?

            Clearly a permanent sexual/romantic partnership is different from other forms of family relationship.

          • Nick Gotts

            I dunno, but since it isn’t, the answer doesn’t seem to matter (there are and have been many societies in which close relatives can marry, or are even expected to do so).

          • Just Sayin’


          • arcseconds

            I think the most powerful argument for laws against incest is protecting people from horrible situations in the family.

            I don’t think age-of-consent laws are sufficient for this. We have those laws so that people can’t take advantage of children who can’t give meaningful consent, and we presume (or hope) that they have supportive parents who are helping to get them to a point where they can make sexual decisions on their own, and will be there to support them if someone’s acting inappropriately even after they’re legally able to consent.

            But parents (or even older siblings) who ignore incest laws (and age of consent laws) today are just the sorts of people who would (and do) groom children to expect to consent to sex with their parents as soon as they hit 16.

            I also think in these sorts of cases that having something actually be illegal helps send a clear and unambiguous signal. I’m thinking particularly of how young people will interpret this.

            There was some discussion around here of changing the age-of-consent laws so that a 16-year-old having consensual sex with a 15-year-old wouldn’t be treated as rape. A friend of mine told me that the age of consent law protected her when she was younger, because she was able to say to a guy whom she liked but who was starting to press his case a bit that ‘this is against the law’.

            Yes, keeping these laws will occasionally prevent siblings finding out in their 20s and 30s that they really like each other from getting together. If the only result of getting rid of incest laws was allowing that to happen, then I’d be prepared to see them go.

          • Ian

            Isn’t that an argument against incest, not incestuous marriage?

            Is incest actually illegal, then? I’d assumed it wasn’t. I assumed we were talking about marriage.

            5 mins checking.

            It seems that incest is illegal in the UK. Okay, I had no clue, and I was I having totally the wrong discussion! Sorry.

            Interestingly, the only place I’ve lived where it has been legal is Rhode Island, according to the wiki article. Interesting.

          • Ian

            Hmm (and further derailing the conversation), that is interesting. Because it isn’t the closeness of the family bond that is crucial then, but the living arrangements, presumably. It is just as bad to have step-incest, or adopted-incest. But almost no jurisdictions prohibit that (again from a very meagre internet search).

          • arcseconds

            Also, if the point of incest laws is just to prevent genetic disorders, gay incest should be just fine.

          • Just Sayin’

            But we don’t intend having any children. She’s infertile anyway. So do you believe in marriage equality for me and my sister? After all, we can always adopt — just like other kinds of equalised marriagers!

          • You’re right, we should follow Jesus’s principle that marriage is what it was in the Book of Genesis, and not what Moses later legislated because of the hardness of people’s hearts. And that included Cain and Seth marrying their sisters, presumably.

            I would be interested in hearing whether there is another side to the matter before making a decision. But anything that is merely an ancient taboo and nothing more ought not to be imposed on modern people in a democratic society as law.

          • Just Sayin’

            “that included Cain and Seth marrying their sisters, presumably.”

            Didn’t realise you’ve suddenly become a biblical literalist!

  • Nick Gotts

    To leave the fascinating topic of incest for a moment:

    I think they [creationists] are right to oppose the attitude of evolutionists who make
    it sound like all that the universe is is matter, energy plus time and
    that explains everything. And I think that there is something inside
    the six-day creation people that knows that that’s not right – Brian McLaren

    McLaren here appears to be as anti-rational as the creationists. No-one can possibly know intuitively that physicalism (which is what McLaren is describing if you add a few terms such as forces and structures) is wrong, because knowledge requires justifiable grounds for a belief (and that the belief is true). I would say that there are at present no such grounds for rejecting physicalism, but even if there are, I’m sure that the vast majority of creationists would be unable to articulate them.

    Which brings me to a question I would like to ask James McGrath: James, you use “reductionism” as something of a boo-word, but I don’t know what you mean by it. As set out here the word has a range of meanings – in some of which I would be a reductionist, and in others, not. For example, I’m a token ontological reductionist with regard to mental phenomena, but not a type ontological reductionist or methodological reductionist with regard to the same.

    • I think the most important point in your comment is in the middle. There might be a case that could be made intelligently – even if it is wrong – against physicalism, but young-earth creationists in general wouldn’t even know what it is. That’s the biggest problem with that movement – not just their views, but their whole approach to knowledge.

      When I talk about reductionism, I am rarely discussing the absolutely appropriate reduction of something to its constituent parts for analysis. I am talking about the attempt to turn such reductionist analysis into a worldview. The idea (which few follow consistently, but nonetheless gets articulated not infrequently) that, since we are “nothing but” atoms, our existence is meaningless. I don’t think that the only options are meaninglessness or meaning that is found by positing a theistic sort of deity. Our existence either is meaningful or it isn’t, and if it is, then reducing the processes that make up our lives to their constituent parts doesn’t change that, nor would the presence or absence of a particular sort of deity add to or eliminate that meaning.

      • Nick Gotts

        I don’t think that the only options are meaninglessness or meaning that is found by positing a theistic sort of deity.

        Thus far we agree. But when I have come across the idea that:

        since we are “nothing but” atoms, our existence is meaningless

        it’s almost always been from a Christian trying to persuade atheists that atheism has that implication.

        Our existence either is
        meaningful or it isn’t

        If I understand you correctly to be saying that it’s a matter of fact whether our lives are meaningful, in such a sense that either all our lives are meaningful, or all our lives are meaningless, then I disagree. Rather, to say that “X is meaningful” is semantically incomplete (unless interpreted as: “There exists at least one Y to which X is meaningful”); meaningful always means meaningful to some agent or agents. So if I find my life meaningful, it’s meaningful. Even if I don’t, someone else may find it meaningful (but this doesn’t in itself do anything for me).

        • No, I agree with you, and was not suggesting that the meaningfulness of our lives is some sort of objective property.

  • $1436947

    I think it’s about time that real Christians get back to traditional biblical marriage. One man and 7 or 8 wives. This one man one women thing is not what God has ordained. Repent!

    • Mary

      We should also make a man marry his sister-in-law if his brother dies. And make a woman marry her rapist. After all God commanded this! 😉 Go biblical values!