Thursday, 20 November 2014

Confessions of a Failed Young Earth Creationist

Anecdotes from former YECs who have made the transition to evolutionary creationism are some of the most heart-warming stories any person of faith can hope to read, as they show that it is possible to escape the exegetic, theological, and scientific dead-end of YEC. In this post at the BioLogos blog, Church of England theological trainee Daniel Stork Banks relates his theological life story, including details of his temporary detour into YEC.

While YEC is abominable science and even worse theology, not every YEC is a mendacious dispenser of theological poison. Banks recounts that the YEC 'scientist' who catalysed his temporary transition was "not a manipulator or a firebrand, just a soft-spoken, genuine man of good faith. To a young person like me trying to be a faithful Christian, his lecture turned on a light in my mind." The belief system however inevitably inculcates elitism, arrogance, and paranoia:
But there was a downside to all this enthusiasm. Firstly; it made me very intolerant of contemporary Christians who “compromised” God’s word in Genesis through their unbelief. Secondly, my evangelism no longer started with Jesus but with Genesis, and my literalistic interpretation of its first two chapters devastated my ability to evangelise effectively. I became such an expert in young-earth creationist theology and science that it turned into a wrecking ball for my faith. Not only did I have to persuade people of God’s existence and what Jesus had done for them, but I now had to throw images of triceratops with riding saddles into the mix too. (Emphasis mine)
Given that well over 99% of qualified life scientists accept evolution, with those denialists doing so not for scientific reasons but because of an a priori commitment to a fundamentalist distortion of the creation narratives in Genesis, the only way to explain this overwhelming and long-standing consensus is to postulate an imaginary atheistic conspiracy. As for the fact that science denialism is found generally in fundamentalist Christianity, the only way to combat this is to denounce those Christians who do not perceive science as an enemy as 'compromisers'. As Stork notes:
There are two things I was taught as a new young-earth creationist: Firstly, that there is a vast conspiracy within the global scientific community against young-earth creation science. It is not the lack of evidence that leaves young-earth creationism outside the walls of the scientific academy, but the fallen nature of the evolutionary scientists themselves who sinfully reject God. The second thing I learned is that the reason churches are failing and the culture is secularising is that Christians have accepted unbiblical “theories” of evolution into their theology. Apparently, this corrupted society (which felt free to leave God and his moral requirements behind) and destroyed religious faith and moral life within the church.
There is of course no atheist conspiracy against YEC, any more than there is a conspiracy against homeopathy, geocentrism, or the belief that crystals have healing powers. In fact, as historian of science David Livingstone points out, conservative Christians were some of Darwin's most ardent supporters:
Darwin’s cause in America was championed by the thoroughgoing Congregationalist evangelical Asa Gray, who set himself the task of making sure that Darwin would have “fair play” in the New World. Let us be clear right away that this cannot be dismissed as capitulation to the social pressure of academic peers. To the contrary, Gray had to take on one of the most influential naturalists in America at the time to maintain his viewpoint – none other than Louis Agassiz, a Harvard colleague who vitriolically scorned Darwin’s theory. But Gray was not alone. Many of his countrymen, associates in science and brothers in religion took the same stand. And indeed even those who ultimately remained unimpressed with if not hostile to Darwin were quite prepared to admit that evolution had occurred. It is surely not without significance that Christian botanists, geologists, and biologists – that is to say, those best placed to see with clarity the substance of what Darwin had proposed – believed the evidence supported an evolutionary natural history. [1]
Claims of conspiracies are little more than the refuge of the desperate fundamentalist who has no answer to the fact of evolution.

I've said many times that YEC is abominable science, and even worse theology and Biblical exegesis. Ignoring the ancient Near Eastern context of the creation narratives and reading them as a scientifically accurate account of origins is of course one of the main blunders made by YECs. Ironically, given that they claim to be faithful to the literal meaning of the word, their failure to recognise that Genesis 1 teaches that the Earth is covered by a solid firmament separating waters above from waters below shows  their failure at properly exegeting Genesis 1. Stork nails the YEC exegetical blunder perfectly:
In young-earth circles, any theologian who disagreed with young-earth creationism was written off pejoratively as “liberal.” But this is a category mistake. In fact, a literalistic understanding of biblical cosmology is impossible, by young-earth creationists’ own standards of interpretation. Now that I’m being taught by some of the best biblical scholars in Oxford, I have learned that every ancient near-eastern civilisation believed that the waters of the earth were separated from waters in the sky by a solid dome called a “firmament” (hebrew: raqiya). Some young-earth creationists teach that the “waters above” (Gen 1:6-7) refers to a water canopy that once surrounded the earth until it was dropped like an atomic bomb by God, causing the global flood of Noah. The raqiya therefore could not be solid, but must simply refer to the atmosphere. Yet the cosmology of a solid dome was a common phenomenological belief shared by all ancient near-eastern people, not just the Israelites. Moreover, its solid state is described by other prophets, not just the writer of Genesis such as Job who describes the firmament as a dome made of lead (37:18), and Ezekiel who had a vision of the firmament being made of sapphire stone (10:1). 
I once nodded vigorously when Ken Ham said that even if science was completely against him, he would still believe in Genesis as it was written by God. Yet we can put rockets into space and there is no raqiya made of lead or sapphire to be found. If a literalistic view is to be applied consistently, then young-earth creationists must still believe in the existence of the dome as part of God’s creation.
I am sadly aware that some YECS are too deeply enmeshed in their flawed world view and trapped in a hermeneutical prison of their own making, rejecting any information that threatens their fundamentalist worldview. Little can be done for them while they privilege their ignorance above observed reality. However, as Stork shows, YECs can be reached, and can be saved. 


1. Livingstone D.N. Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders (Eerdmans 1984) p xi-xii