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Creation, Part II: Investigating the Science

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Written by Basil on 12/8/2004 11:33 PM. Filed under:


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Note: This series of articles has been compiled into a single article entitled “On the Dogma of Creation.” These articles remain in place for the sake of the conversations that occurred in the comments.

Part I in this series.

In the first part of this article, I presented some reasons why the creation myths in Genesis should not be understood literally. (Recall the dicussion of “myth” in this context as truth which transcends factuality to include the mysterious, archetypal and poetic.) Additionally, reading the text literally leads to internal contradictions between the two separate creation stories. The most obvious contradiction is that in the first story, man and woman are created together, after every other creature. In the second story, man is created first, when “there were no plants or grain growing on the earth, for the LORD God had not sent any rain. And no one was there to cultivate the soil.” (Gn 2.4b-7) The fact that some ingenious interpretations have developed to reconcile the difficulties between the two stories already indicates that the simplest, most literal reading has been abandoned.

After abandoning a literal reading of the Genesis mythology, I investigated the scientific stories of our origins. This was quite new territory for me, because growing up I learned the version of science peddled by the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, and other organizations like them. Evolution was EVIL-ution.

I found that scientists (regardless of religious belief) all accept the science of our origins, whether astronomical, geological, or biological. Even at Asbury College, a very evangelical Christian college, the science department professors accepted the scientific consensus. Well, except for the veterinarian who taught Bio 101 part-time. I guess he was the token “Scientific Creationist,” though I don’t know why you’d want one.

Non-scientists who do not accept the science are roughly categorizable as follows:

  1. Those who read Genesis too literally.
  2. Those who misapply or misunderstand scientific principles and theories.

In the first part of this article we examined why a literal reading is unsupported by the text, but there is also a more fundamental flaw for some who make the first mistake. Some literalists believe so firmly in the absolute factual accuracy of Scripture that they hold that it can be used as a guide for science. They generally label themselves “Creation Scientists,” or “Scientific Creationists.”

Scripture was written under divine inspiration by men (and possibly women) millenia before the advent of empirical science as we know it. It uses modes of thought which appear to us unconcerned with factuality, chronology, and many other categories of thought we take for granted. “Scientific Creationists,” however, believe that every single word of the Bible was dictated by God to its authors. This is called plenary verbal inspiration. “Scientific Creationists” naïvely understand this theory of divine inspiration to mean that the genres and contexts of the various books of Scripture are irrelevant to their meaning. This is why they mistakenly use Scripture as a starting point for their “science.” Generally, “Scientific Creationists” are neither scholars of Scripture nor scholars in their field. Often, one finds a doctor of physics working as a biologist or a doctor of mathematics working as a geologist, and this lack of training in the appropriate field never strikes them as curious.

In the second group of people, some reject “evolution” because they believe that various theories to explain evolution are philosophical or even anti-theological rather than scientific. Others mistake the methodological naturalism of the scientific method for a metaphysical naturalism.

The scientific method employs what is generally termed “methodological naturalism.” This means that non-empirical evidence and hypotheses are excluded from scientific inquiry. The scientific method makes no claim about whether non-empirical knowledge is possible or whether non-empirical reality exists. It simply excludes their study as a method for gaining a very specific kind of knowledge. Some recommend that non-empirical hypotheses be included, but this has the effect of rendering the whole method void: how does one measure the acts of God? What is the breadth of his hand? Moreover, how would one set up a test case? “If God did not exist, it would be the case that….” Science becomes absurd.

Some mistake this methodological naturalism for a metaphysical naturalism, and religious believers are not the only ones. Perhaps the most prominent purveyor of this confusion is actually an atheist: Richard Dawkins. Dawkins makes his money writing and talking about how science has disproved the existence of God. In actuality, the methodological naturalism of science makes such a proof impossible, since it excludes non-empirical realities, such as God, from its field of competence.

Another confused soul is the lawyer Philip Johnson. His writings are uniformly directed against “evolutionary naturalism.” As a metaphysical system, naturalism is rightly understood to be opposed to religious belief. Naturalism holds that only nature exists. It is generally considered to be a subset of materialism, the belief that only matter exists. However, the methodological naturalism of science does not oppose itself to religious belief. The thousands of religious scientists attest to this simple fact.

Having examined the evidence from the perspective of an ignoramus in a field in which I had no competence, the evidence was clear. Simply accept the consensus of the scientific community. The consensus, once one exludes non-scientists and pseudo-scientists, is actually quite solid. And that among believing scientists, too.

In the next part, I continue to examine the methodological naturalism of science. As a parting note, here is a selected bibliography of some texts that I read as I was struggling with this issue:

Part the third (next in series)

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18 Responses to “Creation, Part II: Investigating the Science”

  1. Carie Says:

    I was amazed that this author could state there are TWO versions of creation in Genesis! First point: Scripture doesn’t contradict Scripture, or it is not “that” and is simply “writing.” If that is the case, our faith is based on man’s writings and not on an inspired word of God (2 Tim 3:16). Second point: One style frequently used in the Bible is to state an overview and then to expound on what is most important. The Holy Spirit is an incredible writer (or inspires incredible writing, you might say)! This style is used in the first part of Genesis: we learn that animals are made and then humans are made, but then the Word expounds on the creation of humans by showing how Man was made and then how Woman was fashioned. If you don’t believe that the Word is inspired, you won’t believe this, because you have already biased yourself to see TWO versions of creation.

  2. basil Says:

    Carie, your interpretation proves exactly my point that we have left the plane of simplistic, literal interpretation. On the level of literal interpretation, there is no way that Gen 2.5 can mean anything other than “there were no plants when man was made,” which is a flat contradiction of the first story, in which plants were created on the third day and humans on the sixth. Interpreting them in such a way to reconcile the two stories removes the interpretation from the realm of the literal.

  3. pete Says:

    well, there ARE two accounts of the creation story in Genesis. (Genesis 1.1-2.4a, the so-called “Priestly” account, and 2.4b-4:26, the so-called “Yahwist” account.) they aren’t contradictory per se, but they aren’t precisely the same story, and they don’t use the same language–notably, the Priestly account uses the Hebrew “Elohim” name for God, the Yahwist (naturally) uses “Yahweh.” The differences between them should not be troubling, though, I think. The central theme (always a good thing to return to in time of doubt) is that God created all things.

    We see similar issues in the synoptic Gospels (and cross referenced with John, of course)–not all the fine details match up every time for stories that are ostensibly accounts of the same thing. Does that mean none of them are valid? Of course not. There are plenty of less detrimental possibilities that can explain detail differences. The central theme (Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection) are still accounted therein.

  4. basil Says:

    I also clearly indicate my commitment to divine inspiration of Scripture, so I’m not so sure why you would accuse me of denying it simply for recognizing a simple point that should be made in any introductory level investigation of Genesis. I am certainly not a Bible scholar, but I have tried to make use of the tools given to me in the two courses in Bible in college.

    “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for reproof and instruction,” so says the Apostle St. Paul, and he also says, “the spirit of prophets are subject to the prophets.” In the Orthodox tradition, the writers of the Old Testament writings are called prophets, for indeed all of the Hebrew writings prophesy of Christ in anticipation of the Incarnation of the Word in our flesh from the Virgin Mary.

    All the writers of Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the words they chose, the genres in which they wrote, the emphases they added were all subject to their control. God doesn’t use a dictaphone to transmit his message to us. Oh how easy it would be if he did, but the element of faith is perhaps what he is going for here?

  5. basil Says:

    Pete: absolutely correct. The differences should not be disturbing, so long as one is not tied to plenary verbal inspiration and literal interpretation.

  6. Mr. Hibbity Gibbity Says:

    Yeah . . . but what about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

    I realize that they were each written at different times and that, at least one wasn’t written from a first hand account, but still, we view them as accurate, yet they provide us with different accounts.

    Just because they aren’t exactly the same, doesn’t mean we argue over their validity.

  7. basil Says:

    MrHG, your point is exactly the same as pete’s, to which I’ve already replied.

    Where is this supposed contention that Scripture is invalid because it is human? Where are people reading this? Certainly nowhere in what I’ve written.

  8. sockmonk Says:

    This is an interesting subject to revisit. Like you, Basil, I grew up thinking evolution was Evil, and that the good creationist scientists really had things figured out. So much so that I avoided taking biology in high school. Since then I’ve learned a lot of the same things about interpreting the Bible that you discuss here, and I can go along with them at least to a point. But, I haven’t been able to get any further than to become agnostic regarding our scientific origins.

    My biggest concern, and I think the chief concern of many creationists, as that the Theory of Evolution has wound up serving as a creation myth in its own right, whether the evolutionists intended to or not. By that I mean that its story of where we came from has changed the way people in “the West” view the world, and humanity in particular. It denies any objective meaning to the universe, relying on pure chance to explain everything, and denies any real difference in kind between people and animals. This leads to rationalizing lots of things, from abortion to cloning to PETA’s absurdities.

    Another concern is that, to this layman, science can’t speak authoritatively about the origins of the universe or of humanity because there’s no way to test any theory of origin through experiment. This removes the chief method of scientific inquiry. Science can see whether a given theory adequately explains the available data, but that’s about all. And Occam’s Razor prevents most scientists from considering any supernatural involvement at all, so they are forced to come up with something that leaves God out.

    The question I would ask is, in the actual historical chain of events pictured by a theistic evolutionist, how much involvement does God have? Does he just say “BANG!!!” and then let randomness and natural selection take over from there, until He one day notices that people have evolved and decides to talk to them? Or does he somehow help out with each cross-species mutation along the evolutionary process? Also, do you believe there was historically a specific pair of individuals named “Adam and Eve”, or that these names just refer to a bunch of creatures that a generation before were Neanderthals? (or whatever the evolutionary lineage is supposed to be… remember I had no biology)

    These are the main questions I ponder on this subject.

  9. alana Says:

    I would just like to add/point out that the “priestly” account of creation in Genesis 1…each of the days of creation coincides with certain pagan Canaanite deities that would have been found in the cultural environment in which it was written. Therefore, it is most certainly a monotheistic theological statement (Creed, if you will) juxtaposing itself to the pagan milieu.

    (Pardon, please, any grammatical errors. 😉 )

  10. christopher Says:

    Basil, having read Phillip Johnson he may very well be confused, but I do not in the way you are stating. He is quite aware of the fact that he is arguing against “philosophical naturalism” – and that is the point. Perhaps you do not believe that such a philosophy is worth explication and refutation?

    Also, I believe you draw too fine a line between philosophical and methodological naturalism, at least in the case of origins. Origins (of anything – life, material, etc.) is itself implies a teology – thus a methodological naturalism that on explicitly denies a teology by that very denial intrudes (asserts truth) on a realm that if in point of fact is not natural (i.e. supernatural), then it does indeed oppose itself religious Truth…

  11. christopher Says:

    Oops, spell checker problems: ‘teology’ in the above post should be ‘teleology’…

  12. Dave Says:

    I think sockmonk hits on one crucial issue in dealing with evolutionary theories of origins – Adam and Eve. St Paul certainly seems to base a substantial part of his soteriology on the literalness of Adam – Romans 5:12ff – so is St Paul incorrect in his conclusions if he is incorrect in his history/evolutionary biology?

  13. Victoria Says:

    Sockmonk, it’s never too late! :)

  14. christopher Says:

    Dave and all,

    Not only St Paul but most of the Fathers as well. Fr. Seraphim Rose does a nice job explicating the Fathers on this subject in his book “Genesis, Creation and Early Man”. While I am not one to emphasize the differences between East and West (Fr. Seraphim Rose himself defends the Blessed Augustine in another book), Fr. Seraphim points to an early divergence between East and West in the matter of man’s origin and the Fall…

  15. basil Says:

    Wow. Some really great stuff in this discussion in my absence. I will simply address a few points.

    Christopher, if the methodology of science is mistaken, you need to be consistent and chuck the whole thing. That’s my point. That would be the point of any scientist, too, I think. The methodological naturalism of science leads to a very specific kind of knowledge that is not, I believe, incompatible with theology.

    I am very much a believer in teleology. Not simply that nature is designed, but that in the beginning nature had within it the seeds of its evolution. Nature as a whole and every specific nature were endowed with ends (Gr. telos) which have guided them, through the continuing creative activity of God in the world, to where we are today and continue to guide them.

    Teleology and theology, as I have argued elsewhere, are not scientific. They do not produce falsifiable hypotheses, which are essential to the scientific enterprise.

    David, the argument against the scientific account of our origins from death and corruption — specifically the role it plays in Eastern Christian thought — is probably the strongest argument for me. I will actually address that in future articles, because I think there is an answer that integrates the strength of the apostolic and patristic teaching on death and corruption in Christian anthropology without forcing us to reject science.

    The short answer, however, is: To the extent that St. Paul and others actually held that Adam was a historical person, then science would seem to indicate that they held factually inaccurate beliefs. However, I’m not sure that the distinction we make between historical and non-historical would have been so neat for the apostles or the fathers.

  16. sockmonk Says:

    “The short answer, however, is: To the extent that St. Paul and others actually held that Adam was a historical person, then science would seem to indicate that they held factually inaccurate beliefs. However, I’m not sure that the distinction we make between historical and non-historical would have been so neat for the apostles or the fathers.”

    Sorry to comment on an old thread, but… I just have to say I’m a bit uncomfortable with this, as many atheists would use precisely this argument to say that early Christians didn’t necessarily believe that Jesus was a specific, historical person. After all, Paul writes about Adam and Jesus as the second Adam in much the same way, if you want to approach those texts as an Enlightened textual critic. Could the gospels have been intended as a mere gnostic allegory?

  17. basil Says:

    Well, the apostles would not have had a category for “historical person” in the case of Jesus. He was a person that they had known personally — lived with, touched and seen. The Apostle Paul is the only apostle whose experience was different; his only experience of Jesus was as the risen Lord.

    There’s some further light on the relationship between our first parents and the New Adam, but it’s waiting on some feedback from a priest or two with experience in patristics and the relationship between science and theology.

  18. On the Dogma of Creation | Kevin Basil Says:

    […] up the possibility that I could accept science on its own terms. Which is where we begin […]