Sunday, June 14, 2009

Who is Dennis Petersen, and what is Young Earth Creationism (YEC)?

Last week I asked an online friend, James Kidder, who runs a website called Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary Creationist/Theistic Evolutionist, if he knew who Dennis Petersen was. I was quite pleasantly surprised when he responded with a full essay on his blog with details including a review of the text in question from fellow YEC's (young earth creationists) that is surprisingly critical. Please check out his essay in response to my question and check out what else he has to say. His voice represents a much needed antidote to what is usually thought to be the "Christian" view on all issues scientific, and especially anything regarding evolution. Thankfully, as my sidebar attests, there are several Christian voices out there now that are doing yeoman work of showing that scientific literacy and Christian orthodoxy do not need to be mutually exclusive.

The combination of the YEC book, Jim's response, and the question concerning the Creation Museum that came up at church today makes me realize that an avenue of communication needs to be established within the theologically conservative community concerning what it means to be Christian in light of scientific advances, in particular as they relate to evolution and cosmology. My biggest concern is for those Christians who adhere to traditional orthodox Christianity, of which I'm one, but who have also rejected almost completely modern science when it comes to biology and cosmology, of which I'm not.

Many of my Christian friends are concerned to raise their children in the faith so that they will pass on that faith for many generations to come. I agree with that wholeheartedly. Yet part of what it seems to mean when the "faith" is described includes YEC belief. I understand the impulse. To take doctrine seriously and in detail is to go against the grain in almost every way. Our culture, whether secular or even Christian, is consumed with the desire to avoid anything that divides. We seem to be guided by a public theology that says, along with Rodney King, Can't we all just get along? Pragmatism rules the day. Relativism relagates anything distinctive and exclusive as irrelevant or even a threat. Thus the temptation is to avoid any controversy by avoiding anything precise, anything exact.

Here we find an irony that connects, in a healthy way, the disciplines of orthodox Christianity and the scientific enterprise. Both require precision and exactness. Both disdain flabby logic and rationales from emotionalism. They also share a common thread of questioning the assumptions of a stale orthodoxy that loses its vitality as the environment changes. They both deal with the details on the ground as they are. In both cases, the institutional forces usually strike out at these "heretics" in their midst, whether scientific or religious. They upset the norms as they have been understood for ages. It is my contention that to be an orthodox Christian does not neccessitiate being a Young Earth Creationist. In fact, to be faithful to the God who has revealed Himself through the word of Scripture and the final Word, Christ Himself, is to honor the achievements of scientsts, both Christian and non-Christian, who have made amazing discoveries of our natural world. The God of the universe, who is the Word Incarnate, and Who is Reason Incarnate, rules the universe according to His own nature. God is coherent. Thus the natural world is coherent. Thus even fallen human reason is capable of understanding aspects of this creation as it searches it out diligently.

I drive a car every day to work. The reason I am able to drive a car is that multiple people working in multiple places worked together to put that car together. So far it works enough for me to get where I want to go. But where did those people working together get the idea to put this car together so that I can drive it? The car was designed by engineers working with materials and formulas. (BTW, I'm not going where you think I'm going. I don't buy into ID) The materials and formulas are themselves the product of the scientific enterprise, which came out of the enlightenment, sometimes called the scientific revolution. Some of the people involved were Christian. Many were not. However, the modern industrial economy we experience is a direct result of their scientific and theoretical work in years past. We do all of what we do and live the way we do because of the work of men and women who labored in laboratories and worked on theorems that have borne fruit both intellectually and economically.

The "theory" of evolution is no different. It's a theory just like Einstein's theory of relativity. And it's had just as much practical effect. Einstein gave us nuclear power (and weapons) and a much deeper understanding of the universe. Sounds pretty practical to me. The theory of evolution, especially in light of modern genetics, has given us an incredible tool to be able to understand the natural processes of mammals, both human and many other. The practical impact of this of course is medicine. How we treat diseases is directly related to our evolutionary relationship to every other species on earth. I can't think of anything more practical than that.

In thinking about this, my thought is that I would like to see a paper written to Christian parents of children concerning their educational future. If you are a Christian parent, and you want your child to glorify God as fully as possible, then you should want your child to be as scientifically literate as possible. If you are are a Christian parent who wants to homeschool your child (a position I'm sympathetic to), please consider how your child's faith will be effected when they enter higher education. Many lose their faith because they see the scientific evidence and then think it means that Christianity must not be true.

Christianity and science are not enemies. In fact, the coherence of science, I believe, is predicated upon the nature of God, Who is coherent and is Reason Incarnate.

1 comment:

Jimpithecus said...

Irenicum, Thanks for the essay. Thank you also for the kind words. Many of these points I have made in the past. One of the reasons that we walk on bridges, drive cars, ride airplanes and such is because God has created an ordered universe that behaves in certain ways--ways that are predictable. It is not that he cannot intervene. It is simply that he chooses not to on a regular basis. Science proceeds in the fashion that it does because it can. The irony in recent earth creationism is that many adherents are perfectly willing to accept this kind of science but not other branches, often for what seem to many like arbitrary reasons. Most people that are familiar (at least in passing) with the scientific disciplines, are abysmally ignorant about the differences between current and historical sciences. And by that, I mean science with directly repeatable experiments as opposed to those that rely on extrapolating known processes into the past by means of predictive hypotheses. For some reason, the ICR and AIG seem to show (or refuse to distinguish) complete lack of understanding about this.

I especially like the passage you have written about God being "coherent." He is, and we need to understand that He is and behaves in this way. What is also interesting in your analogy between evolution and relativity is that, while most people accept Einsteinian relativity, very few people actually understand it. The same is true with evolutionary theory. Good essay. I haven't touched on all of it but I appreciate your willingness to write it.