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Friday, May 1, 2009

Of the Folly of Fools

An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.
--Proverbs 17:11

Recently I was involved in yet another discussion with a creationist (this time online). Unfortunately the entirety of the conversation was deleted. So I can't point it out. I don't think I need to speculate why creationsts excise threads on their own blogs where their opinions have gone awry.

However, before that, I had planned and written a final response to a link he provided to the Institute of Creation Research, which I've adapted and expanded here:

There is a passage in the Bible when light is created (Genesis 1:3). Not the Sun, but light (the Sun is created on the fourth day). The ancient Hebrews apparently regarded the light of the sky as something separate from the light of the sun, hence the apparent redundancy.

But the failing of light in the evening does not define a day--the rotation of the Earth does (and this defines the days in the calendar year, which must be occasionally corrected to accommodate the actual length of a solar year, otherwise planting seasons will fall out of sync). But since such was unknown at the time the original Hebrew was set down, it might make sense back then to regard the light of the sky as the definition of day--but carrying this notion forward as a literal interpretation means all science about the roundness of the Earth and where our light comes from--the basis of the calendar year and its subsequent and necessary modifications--must be rejected.

In order to regard the Bible as literal and inerrant, it is now therefore better than all of observed reality, without any regard to how Creation itself is observed--if God made the universe, and the Bible contradicts what God has made, then what we can see of Creation must be discarded in favor of the human-made text. All of geology, astronomy, cosmology, biology--boom. Overturned. Done with. It doesn't matter how useful they are or how correct they are--it is now "wrong." The consequences could be staggering and devastating to civilization, but who cares?--We're putting the human interpretation of the text above reality. The hermeneutic Literal and Inerrant makes a liar of Creation.

But all of this awkwardness goes away once Literal and Inerrant is rejected in favor of parable, story, and metaphor. Make no mistake: the choice of interpretation of these writings is ultimately a purely human decision (and is not rooted in the word of God).

Since theology is about (in part) the relationship humanity has with its creator, I have to ask what sort of theology it is that permits Jesus to use parables, but such things aren't tolerated elsewhere in the same text? If Scripture is inspired by God, if not outright literally represented as the word of God, then could any theology be more awkward than one which actually disallows God from communicating in a method that would be remembered, recorded, and passed on, rather than a literal scientifically-accurate description of how the universe came to be?

Theology shouldn't be troubled by the material, but some religious believers have willfully and rigidly set their philosophies so that it is just that. Why does a minority of Christianity allow itself to be troubled by evolution? Because their chosen philosophy demands that any perceived conflict with the material universe (i.e., Creation) be dealt with by rejecting evidence, rebelling against science, and idolizing the authority that obliges them to do both.

So when any religious group goes up against science, it has absolutely nothing to do with God (and everything to do with rebellion).

Not when so many fail to quote accurately from the science itself, which is nothing short of deceit. (A distortion is deceit. A quote mine transfigures and edits text from the source in order to make it reflect a very different agenda--and it is nothing less than deception.) And how many refuse to stop parroting the "evolution is impossible because it is statistically improbable" argument, when, to anyone who actually knows anything about mathematics or statistics, it is wrong (and trivially easy to refute (see item No. 10))? Could it be that this argument is not aimed at those who are familiar with these subjects, but, in fact, those who are ignorant of them--who have neither education nor knowledge otherwise? (Do Christians who do this sort thing think there's a clause or loophole in the ten commandments that permits this dishonest behavior? What on earth makes them believe they do?)

Not when so many make use of the most poisonous rhetoric to describe evolutionary biology and those who use it in their work (cf. comparison to Nazism etc.).

Not when they fail to uphold their own standards (or what should be their own standards) when it comes to representing science. Arrogance combined with ignorance is so typical of virtually every creationist I've talked with--in person or online--that it has actually become a legitimate stereotype. (Behold the behavior of those who supplant science with their own religious viewpoints. They plaint that science rejects their ideas, but since they rejected science first, why should anyone sympathize with them?)

When every "creation research" organization I've ever seen without fail commits these acts of deception, disrespect, and hubris, what basis is there for their existence? The fact that they advance outright garbage as science is almost completely beside the point. Any organization or individual who behaves in this manner will simply not be seen as trustworthy. And why should they be? If they sacrifice the smaller morals, how can the larger ones have any meaning?

What research program do any of these "research" organizations really offer? What have they published--not self-published, but really, actually published in the scientific literature? If the answer to that is "nothing," (and it is) then these organizations--some of which subsist largely on enough donations that would embarrass in their riches many legitimate scientific labs worldwide--are nothing but parasites.

And for what? So they can keep up the pretense of belief in God merely because they crave an unassailable authority that allows them to do so?

Is that what faith is supposed to be about? Can it truly be faith if it is crucially dependent upon something as hollow as human authority?

Decadent is a word which often goes with decay, and on that note, does any word better fit the moral landscape presented by the political movement of fundamentalist creationism? Most professional creationism is already perfectly synonymous with dishonesty--and scientists and informed laypersons alike both know it.

Fact is, many Christians find their faith isn't challenged by science. Millions of them worldwide simply take science in stride--and it affects their religious beliefs not a bit. If you're a Christian who believes the Earth is young and that evolution is a lie, maybe you should ask yourself what they are doing right, and figure out what you are doing wrong.

It is up to you to adopt a theology which, as the very keystone of its existence, doesn't oblige the most egregious illiteracy (historic, scientific, and theologic) and therefore doesn't fly in the face of reality.

I want to close this with a bit of a confession: I don't really like the role of the cruel messenger. I find I am ill-suited for it and would much rather spend time with those who do know what they are talking about, who actually practice science--a process of knowing and understanding which is unequivocally unrivaled in its results. From them, I can and have learned much about science and the universe.

In contrast, what creationists have taught me is that they are often untrustworthy, arrogant, and difficult to deal with. I sometimes resent the time it takes responding to them because honestly, cruelty is not all it's cracked up to be, and my patience for dealing with arrogance and dishonesty is becoming shorter the longer I do it.

But I suppose so long as the cult of rebellion against science exists, I'd best get used to it.


Zachary Miller said...

Wonderful post. I would like to add one stinging, painful reminder to your final point: you CAN engage with a creationist, and throw all the knowledge and source material and whatever else at them--and you've got plenty--and they won't care. They're ignore it outright, sidestep it, or contort it so that it fits their own viewpoint.

There is simply no point. You can only educate those who want to be educated.

Glendon Mellow said...

Yes, I agree with Zach. Wonderful post.

"I don't really like the role of the cruel messenger. I find I am ill-suited for it"I think this is precisely why you are suited for it Scott. Sometimes the greatest soldier is the one who doesn't want war. It makes you less likely to satisfy primal verbiage and use ad hominem attacks. You are reluctant to engage, confident in all that science has wrought, and are making the points. You've said it so well.

BusaFan said...

Don't mind me. Just sitting here minding my own business. *Whistles a ditty*

You think you know everything, someone else thinks they know everything.

Who has two thumbs and doesn't care?

This guy.

Dicing with Dragons said...

Now Busafan, whoever said I knew everything?

Merely knowing more than creationists doesn't really doesn't strike me as all that impressive an high water mark for knowledge.

But at least I have that, eh?

padraig said...

> There is simply no point. You can only
> educate those who want to be educated.

Hm; I'll disagree a smidge. You can educate anyone who is willing to accept the possibility that they are wrong, and is also willing to set some sort of threshold on that possibility that can be reasonably met.

In fact, I'd say pinning someone down on this is probably the first step in any conversation with an anti-intellectualist. Everyone *wants* to stand by the principle that they're not ignorant, so they *want* to pretend that they're teachable. If you don't pin the goalposts down before you start, though, you're tilting at windmills, they'll listen to what you have to say and then reject it as not relevant, because you didn't force them to declare relevancy at the beginning.

You can also education anyone who is willing to accept the possibility that there is something new to know, and is willing to accept some sort of authority on that principle.

I know plenty of people who don't *want* to be educated (a typical third grader springs to mind), who will still listen if taught by a nimble and agile enough educator. :)

alaskanime said...

One of my favorite church parody websites ever. Been reading it off and on since about 1999 or so. Maybe longer. When did Al Gore invent the internet again? ;)

Brianne, You may call me Mistressyness said...

Just a couple of historical notes. In ancient Judaism days were reckoned to begin at sundown (the eve), which oddly carried over into Christian Europe alongside the Roman practise of begining the day in the morning. It's why the eve of Christmas comes before the day of Christmas...go figure.

In ancient Greek and babylonian, hence judiac cosmology Light came out of the eyes, and was identified with the concept we would now term consciousness. Besides, in greek biblical texts this is made more plain as the translation reads "Logos" for "word" which in Koine represented thinking, thought, and consciousness.

Another interesting point is that the Bible as an innerrant document is a line of thinking anathema to most jews, even in ancient times the text was seen as an ongoing arguement about the relationship with the jewish people and thier god,( which in the begining was NOT a single diety. The God of the later old testament is the combination of two gods Enli and Jehova),