In the Beginning, [Insert Here] Created the Heavens and the Earth
On February 4, 2014 a debate was hosted at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Among 749,000 other people, I tuned in as Bill Nye, a former TV star who built his fame on “Bill Nye the Science Guy” faced off against Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis (an organization that focuses on providing biblical answers regarding creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth). The question to be debated: “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins?”
As a Christian and naïve sophomore in high school, this topic captured my attention. For as long as I could remember, Bill Nye had been in the backbone of my scientific education and Ken Ham’s organization’s website had provided answers ever since the day I became conscious of the “Creation versus Evolution Debate.” As I sat down in front of my computer to watch the debate, I closed my eyes and prepared myself for the epic clash that would surely answer many of the questions lingering in my head.
I was not prepared to be disappointed. I watched from one side for two and a half hours as Ken Ham insistently tried to prove the existence of creationist scientists and desperately attempted to distinguish “observational science” from “historical science.” I was even more exasperated as I watched Bill Nye shamelessly use the debate to urge Kentucky to have more nuclear medical technologists while repeating the word “extraordinary” to describe any concept or debate point he could not understand.
I walked away from the debate somewhat unimpressed and having no thoughts of ever reviewing what had transpired, but that did not stop others from doing exactly the opposite. Silently, and on a day quickly following the debate, I listened in class as a student next to me proclaimed “Ken Ham totally crushed Bill Nye,” only to be followed an hour later when some other student declared “Ken Ham was a total idiot.” In a few students’ eyes Bill Nye had been elevated to a near legendary status, while others silently questioned the authenticity of the man. I watched as creationists and evolutionists became almost sickened by the sight of each other. Some friends, young earth creationists, needed only mention 6,000 years before cries of “ignorant” and “stupid” rang out. While other friends, atheistic evolutionists, had only to say “natural selection” before cries of “tell me you don’t mean it” and “so you don’t believe in God” silenced them.
What exactly was the source of this division?
One may look back to Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. The Scopes Trial was a result of John Scopes teaching evolution in a secular classroom setting. Although this is standard practice today, Scopes’ state of residence, Tennessee, had enacted the Butler’s Act, which aimed at preventing schools from teaching “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animalism.” The case brought the creation versus evolution debate to center stage and, over time, creationism would be delegitimized by a Darwinian account of life’s origins.
With the slow incorporation of evolutionary theory into biology curricula, it is not surprising that there is a generational gap in belief systems. A 2014 Gallup poll found that around 47 percent of Americans over the age of 30 believe in a young earth creationist account while 28 percent of Americans ages 18-27 believed in a young earth creation. Brian Alters, president of the National Center for Science Education, estimated that only around 0.1 percent of scientists in the academic community still express belief in the young earth creationism. Thus, though impossible to say with certainty, education seems to account for the dichotomy that exists between the two groups. Intellectual superiority is often determined by the level of education one possesses. Considering the previous statistic with 99.9 percent of scientists accepting evolution, it might seem easy to conclude that creationists are unknowledgeable, and therefore intellectually inferior. In an interview by National Geographic, Richard Dawkins stated, “The best excuse for them [creationists] is lamentable ignorance. Ignorance is no crime, but it is something to be remedied by education.”
In response, Christians who support the creationist perspective consider such perceptions as unfounded. To quote a Christian professor from my own experience: “what they [evolutionists] say is simply not true.” Edwin Conklin, a theistic evolutionist and former graduate student from Johns Hopkins University once said, “The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of the unabridged dictionary resulting from the explosion in a printing shop.” Similar to evolutionists who consider themselves to be on the intellectual high ground, Christians perceive a spiritual high ground built on God’s omniscience as expressed through the Bible. This might seem unreasonable from a naturalistic perspective, but if an omniscient and objective force did take the time to reveal a physical manuscript then it may be logical to conclude that every statement in that text should be complete fact. As such, evolutionists might find some difficulty in debating a Christian not necessarily due to the Christian’s ignorance per se, but rather from the fact that the Christian, despite understanding evolution, chooses to believe an account of creation founded upon a spiritual belief. They trust in an omniscient being over considering human understanding.
Within the bounds of reason, it is safe to summarize that there are two driving forces to the existing division. First, and foremost, is the educational system which has managed to divide generationally those who believe in evolution and those who believe in creationism. Although it is frequently brought up in discussions that teaching religion in childhood shackles that child to the confines of religious thinking, the logic may equally apply to shackling children to the confines of evolutionary thinking. To obtain a naturalistic understanding of the world, a child does not necessarily need to understand evolution. The differences between a creationist biology textbook and an evolutionist biology textbook are typically found after the facts have been stated. Both versions will discuss the natural selection of a finch with either a large or small beak in order to enable survival of the species, but one will give credit to divine inspiration and planning while the other attributes nothing to an intelligent, creative process. Furthermore, evolution never will be the focus of all of science, just as creationism will never be either. They are backdrops to the primary subjects of interest: a way of putting a discovery into perspective after it has been found. Teaching a child either perspective from an early age does not hinder their growth within the sciences, but it does alter which backdrop they will choose to center any knowledge they gain from their education.
Second is the polarizing and uncompromising nature of the opposing sides. A perception of greater knowledge gives evolutionists an intellectual cliff to shun creationists from above and a perception of spiritual superiority gives Christians an infallible trust. How does one go about bridging the division between two polarized groups? As with many things, and as is the opinion of this article, one has to go to the source of the problem. Neil DeGrasse Tyson in his renowned series Cosmos once said, “perhaps the most important rule [of science]: remember, you could be wrong. Even the best scientists have been wrong about some things… they were human.” Science is rooted in open skepticism. A simple look at the continuously increasing complexity of the model of an atom gives credit to the scientists who were not satisfied with “plum pudding.” This is not to say that I am attempting to discredit everything within the scientific field, but rather to say that science, from an evolutionary perspective, should not be so quick to pass judgement on a theory that does have some evidence to support it. It is unfortunate that in the evolutionary arena, the need to be right has created such a hostile environment in what should be an open field of discussion. These attacks on the intelligence of creationists provide no effect other than the suppression of intellectuals who hold a contrary position.
Christians, on the other hand, need to also take a step back and analyze the problem at hand. The evolution versus creationism debate has been a decisive factor in turning many away people from Christianity. For a concept that has had such a detrimental and demeaning effect on evangelism, Christians should be open to analyzing how firmly they are willing to adhere to a strictly literalist interpretation of the creation. In fact, as an important parallel, the vast majority of Christians in fields of theology have abandoned a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation in favor of a more symbolic and poetic account. I bring attention to this because although most have abandoned this literal interpretation, many Christians insist on firmly adhering to a literal interpretation of what is found in Genesis. It is important to note that the theological explanation for the account in Revelation is often credited to its author, John, attempting to explain futuristic events to a much simpler society. This explanation seems just as likely when discussing the logistics of teaching a scientifically illiterate people group the basics of the origin of the universe. Indeed, if Moses had descended from the mountaintop proclaiming humans as descendants from primate-like ancestors then it seems likely that the Jews would have rioted on the spot.
More importantly, Christian belief primarily revolves around the birth, life, and death of Christ. Although many topics are important to Christian theology, it is only without the birth, death, resurrection, and deity of Christ that the belief truly cannot be orthodox. Fortunately, how exactly the world came into being does not necessarily interfere with many of the theological claims implicated by the historical story of Christ. While the primary issue many theologians have with this position is that the origin of original sin and subsequently death is undermined by the quantity of death and destruction that must occur throughout the process of evolution, believe it or not, there are actually theological arguments to explain how Genesis can be interpreted around this problem, but the depth of such analyses are far beyond the breadth of this article. It will suffice to say that if we as Christians believe in an omnipotent and omniscient God, then it is not too farfetched to imagine he can manage incorporating original sin into an evolutionary framework. Furthermore, the term creationism has been used for far too long to describe a belief centered on a literal biblical account. Creationism (although used interchangeably with “biblical interpretation” in this article), by definition, is the belief that God created the universe. To a Christian, it should not matter how the universe came into existence, but rather who brought it into existence.
Altogether, the qualifications for being a Christian are almost entirely independent of a belief in either evolution or the biblical account. A seemly infallible pulpit has nothing of true significance when it comes to this topic. Similarly, in the field of science, it is difficult to imagine how one can condescend from an intellectual cliff when that very cliff was built on ideals that championed free thought and open discussion. It seems that what appears to be a divisive conflict has really been built upon a fundamental misunderstanding of both respective beliefs.
1. Gallup, Inc. “In U.S., 42% Believe Creationist View of Human Origins.”Gallup.com. N.p., 02 June 2014. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.
Collin English is a Sophomore from Houston, Texas, majoring in Neuroscience. He keeps an Erlenmeyer flask of mercury on his desk.Tags: Bill Nye, Brian Alters, education, Edwin Conklin, evolution, John Scopes, Johns Hopkins University, Ken Ham, logic, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, reason, Richard Dawkins, science, Scopes Trial, theology