Monday, 7 March 2016

Refuting common YEC attacks on evolutionary creationists

In my last post, I commented on the all-too common phenomenon of privileged people complaining of being persecuted when their cherished beliefs are questioned. A classic example of this can be seen where YECs react poorly to problems with their worldview being pointed out, even when the questions are posed calmly. Worse still is the victim blaming where those who point out theological and scientific problems are branded as divisive.

Over the years, I have seen many YEC attacks which tend to fall into several predictable classes. These are composites of various YEC comments I have seen over the time I have been following the debate. One hopes that by highlighting them, YECs will endeavour to avoid repeating these fallacious arguments.

Point 1: We must take things literally unless explicitly told otherwise

This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes made by YECs; assuming that a literal reading of an ancient text separated from us by time, language, and culture is the default method of interpretation. There is no such thing as a default exegetical option, nor do we get to assume that we are just 'reading' the text. Not only does every exegetical option need to be justified by showing its genre and authorial intentions permit such a reading, there is no such thing as 'reading' a text. Not only is reading interpreting, we bring to the text our preconceptions and assumptions, and unless those are rigorously identified and accounted for, all we end up doing is reading into the text what we want to see. In short, fundamentalists are trying to grant their preconceived ideas the status of inspired scripture.

What the adherent of literalism fails to grasp is that when they claim to be reading the Bible literally, they are reading it literally as modern person, thoroughly steeped in modern concepts of science and historiography would do. It is a mistake bordering on arrogance to assume that someone living thousands of years ago would share our worldview. An ancient literal reading is not the same thing as a modern literal reading, a point that OT scholars such as Susan Pigott have repeatedly pointed out:
Most people who claim they read Genesis 1 “literally” don’t. They believe that what they believe about Genesis 1 is literal. But they aren’t reading Genesis 1 literally.
If we read Genesis 1 literally, we come out with a very different picture than most literalists imagine. Indeed, we find ourselves firmly planted in the Hebrew worldview—an ancient worldview. And, if we know our history, we know that the Hebrews had no concept of a round earth that coursed around the sun. They believed the earth was flat, the sky was a dome, and the sun revolved around the earth. [Emphasis in original]
If the YECs were truly reading Genesis 1 literally, they would believe the Earth was flat, and covered by a solid firmament separating waters above from waters below. That they don't merely confirms that they are not being faithful to their concept of a literal reading of the text.

Finally, whether they acknowledge it or not, YECs recognise that their hermeneutic of taking things literally unless explicitly told otherwise is incoherent. The New Testament references to demon possession as a cause of disease are not highlighted by any explicit statements that they are not to be taken literally. In fact, the narrative reads as if people really did believe that the demons were real and causing disease. Many YECs in our community argue against the 'plain literal meaning' of the demon possession narratives, yet invoke the same exegetical model when they read Genesis. The inconsistency is marked to say the least.

To properly understand the Bible, we need to be aware of its genre and sociocultural context. If we fail to account for these, and simply apply a brute-force literalism, we are guaranteed to misinterpret the narrative. Always.

Point 2: Traditions are good and novel arguments are bad

Although never expressed this baldly, it is not uncommon for YECs to accuse people of abandoning something because it is old, and flocking to something new because it is fashionable. This is a gross generalisation and mischaracterisation of those who reject YEC - they abandon YEC because it is poor science and even worse theology, and certainly don't do so because they think it is fashionable. Given the abuse hurled against even OECs in our community - let alone ECs - anyone who criticises YEC is not doing so to court popularity. Far from it. Rather, they are doing it because they are being intellectually honest, and because they recognise that just because something is traditional does not mean that it is correct.

Of all Christian sects, we should be the ones most willing to challenge traditional ideas; our appeal to mainstream Christianity is predicated on the argument that the majority view - the traditional view - is wrong, and that we should appeal to evidence, reason, and logic, rather than reflexively holding onto tradition. Unfortunately, YECs display this same reflexive love of tradition and fear of novelty. It is a depressing irony.

Point 3: Tone trolling

For those unfamiliar with the term, this refers to the practice of attacking an argument because of its perceived tone, rather than its content. Quite frequently, it can be seen when examples of poor behaviour by YECs (depressingly common online) are called out by moderates. YECs then complain that they are being criticised, and ask to be treated 'courteously', ignoring the point being raised, that many vocal YECs indulge in character assassination, misrepresentation, personal abuse, or worse. RationalWiki makes a telling observation:
A useful honesty test of a call for civility is whether the person calling for "civility" in the current dispute has greater power on the relevant axes than the person they're calling "uncivil". In this context, calling for "civility" is a dominance move. Note that pretty much any objection is susceptible to being tagged "uncivil".
Given that the power axis is tilted completely in favour of YECs in our community as seen by the fact that no YEC has ever been excommunicated by an EC, tone trolling by YECs is indeed a domiance move which seeks to shut down debate.

Point 4: Victim blaming

Despite the fact that ECs are not seeking to impose their views on the entire community and are asking both for tolerance and an honest look at the scientific and scriptural data that falsify YEC, they are accused of being divisive, simply by existing. A community needs to be mature and honest in investigating all problems, and the moment it attacks those that raise those problems and calls them divisive, it is sliding down the dangerous path towards authoritarianism and intolerance. Put bluntly, the ones who are being divisive are the militant anti-evolutionists who seek to make this a fellowship issue, excommunicate those who have the honesty to accept the evidence for evolution, and seek to shut down all discussion on the subject.

It is a tragedy that the wise words of bro W.F. Barling are being ignored, which if followed would result in a far more harmonious and intellectually honest community:
The real issue before us is whether (to use two much abused terms) “creation” and “evolution” are contradictory, or complementary, explanations of God’s activity as the Maker of all things.
Traditionally, we have vigorously declared them to be contradictory. Now, a growing number among us are not so certain that this is so. What is not generally realized is that this section of our community is not an organized, self-confident group bent on converting the remainder to a new opinion, but a number of perplexed individuals, deeply loyal to the community, desperately anxious not to offend those who do not share their anguish—let alone transfer it to their minds—but who feel that they must be intellectually honest. What they ask of their brethren and sisters is not a change of viewpoint but a change of attitude. None would rejoice more than they if incontestable evidence were finally produced to warrant the most literal acceptance of the opening chapters of Genesis. Meantime, what they seek is not approval but tolerance. If a repudiation of the notion of slow change as God’s method of creation is demanded of them, then their loss to the community is inevitable. So too, alas, is the loss of many potential candidates for baptism who share their perplexity and, feeling that the Brotherhood will not tolerate them with their mental reservations, are being driven, in their desire to give themselves to Christ, more and more towards evangelical groups with less exacting theological demands to make on their converts than we have. [1] (Emphasis mine)
The main danger now is not the loss of intellectually honest believers to other 'evangelical groups' but to non-belief altogether. Given our pitifully small numbers - 45,000 - and the considerable challenges to belief that we are facing, branding people who recognise these problems and are asking for a mature, informed, Christ-like discusison of them as 'divisive' and driving them out is a staggering display of short-sighted behaviour.

Point 5: Denying that there is a witch hunt in progress.

I have lost count of the amount of times that I have seen this argument being made by YECs, and it still floors me to read it. There is a witch hunt in our community, and one needs to be seriously in denial to claim otherwise:
  • A letter to the major magazines calling for a calm, rational, Christ-like discussion of evolution was met with responses ranging from curt dismissal to the creation of a fellowship document making belief in a literal reading of Genesis and evolution denialism a first principle.
  • Countless lectures demonising evolutionary creationists have been given, filmed, and uploaded over the last few months, all of them combining a complete lack of understanding of the basics of evolutionary biology with a complete distortion of what ECs believe
  • ECs are subjected to considerable abuse, vilification, and character assassination online.
    ECs have been excommunicated
It does YECs no credit to try to pretend that this sub-Christian behaviour is not happening, let alone try to justify it. No belief system can ever honestly justify abuse, dehumanisation, misrepresentation, and the blatant abuse of power, particularly when it claims to be following Christ, and living by the precepts articulated in the Sermon of the Mount.


1.Barling W.F. "Letter: The Origin of Man" The Christadelphian (1965) 102:463–464..