Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Proof Theory in Creation Debate
It's what we all want.
We want proof that God exists. We want proof that Mr. X did or did not kill Mr. Y. We want proof that I'm not lying. We want proof that Barak Obama is a born-again Christian. We want proof that life begins at conception. We want proof that our tax dollars are not being wasted. We want proof that somebody we secretly admire admires us back.
Of all the topics for which we want proof of something, how the world began is one of the biggest. A lot of people would love to have proof about the science and/or the theology of our origins. Recently, apparently, there was a televised debate between two experts named Ken Ham and Bill Nye in a showdown to advance arguments for and against Creationism. I say "apparently," because this age-old discussion really doesn't interest me much at all, so I didn't know about this particular debate until after the fact. Kinda like our origins, right?
Now, in terms of ordinary human curiosity, and being a moderately literate resident of the planet, exploring whatever differences and similarities may or may not exist between creationism and evolution represents a pursuit of basic relevance for all of us. From where did we come? It's one of those universal questions, isn't it? For many people, the scientific and theological fields necessary to seriously study all conventional aspects of our origins forces those of us with other tasks to perform in life to mostly watch these debates from the sidelines. However, that doesn't mean that some of us become deeply absorbed in proving or disproving their theories and beliefs on the subject.
But I'm not one of those people. For one thing, I'm not ashamed to admit that most of the required science - and some of the theology - in which I'd have to develop considerable expertise is simply over my head. And for another thing, I believe there are far more important arguments to address in our world.
Not that how our world came to be isn't important. And not that I'm shying away from the debate simply because I'm not smart enough to sound intelligent about it, even though I'll readily admit that no, I'm not smart enough. But I shy away from debating the origins of our world because it seems that such an activity rarely accomplishes anything productive.
And the reason why is simple: After thousands of years of human existence, I'm not convinced any side in this debate has been able to secure the proofs to settle all debate.
Even the best scientists can only advance theories, despite being able to quantify a lot of facts about a lot of aspects of our natural environment. And theologians - including the ones that try to stitch plausible parts of each side together - still need to rely on aspects of theology that atheistic pragmatists show no interest in accepting as fact.
Personally, I have some problems with the intellectual evangelicals who like the stitched-together approach to our world's origins. For one, I question the problems they seem to have with taking God at His Word, and giving Him the benefit of the doubt if He says He created everything in six days. Calendar days. Literal, 24-hour increments of time.
You're trusting Christ for your eternal salvation, but not how God tells us He created us in the first place?
I also tend to doubt those evangelicals who seem to need science to help them affirm a longer timeframe than the six-day scenario. Most of the stitched-together folks who tinker with literal creationist belief follow some version of what's called "old Earth creationism," or "theistic evolution," or "intelligent design." Now, proponents of each of these three views would likely bristle at being lumped together so closely, but hey - they're the ones trying to assuage their thirst for proofs by being dissatisfied with the literalist folks. And the reason I lump them all in together is because, as I understand it, there is a certain amount of death, degradation, and atrophy that is implied in their versions of how the physical world got put together. By contrast, my understanding of death, under which heading things like degradation and atrophy would fall, is that it first appeared after Adam and original sin in the Garden of Eden. Which, um, puts us beyond all of this creation/evolution stuff, right?
Then there's Hebrews 11:3, which teaches "that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." Which, to my non-scientific brain, sounds as though God pretty much started with zero raw materials when He created the world, and I'm not sure how not having raw materials supports the logistics for the folks intrigued by old Earth creationism, theistic evolution, or intelligent design.
But then again, like I said, I'm no scientist, so maybe death wasn't needed for things to die before original sin corrupted life. And maybe it depends on what your definition of "raw materials" is.
Anyway, in my feeble brain, all of this is secondary to the main reason for why people argue about the origins of our world. And what is that main reason? I have a theory about that! It's because, deep down, we want proof, isn't it? And if we can't get definitive proof, we want the closest thing we can get to it. Hard-core evolutionists scoff at creationism and literalists because they think faith is only for intellectual weaklings, yet for all of our evangelical gusto about faith being the substance of things hoped for, might we also subconsciously think evolutionists have a point? Might we lack confidence in something as wacky-sounding as "And God Said, Let There Be Light."
It's too simplistic. It sounds too uneducated. It defies all that we've come to know and understand about the complexities within our world. We denigrate the nobility of science by not trying to at least stitch together its plausible theories into some sort of rational framework for explaining to skeptics about how God didn't just command things into existence.
Are we ashamed of what God might be challenging us to believe?
Perhaps this scientific dialog many evangelicals pursue over our physical origins is somehow helpful in fulfilling our overall mandate of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. But it isn't obvious to me. There are even evangelicals who debate the use of the word "day" in the Bible, which risks opening up a Pandora's Box of insecurity regarding whether we can trust each individual word that we read in what we say is God's holy Gospel.
Besides, at the end of the day - regardless of how long your day happens to be - aren't we still left with the whole proof issue? Not whether proof exists, but our very need for proof in the first place? We're looking for signs, indicators, studies, tests, educated guesses, anything - so we don't have to take by faith that God made Creation in a total of 144 literal, Timex-tested hours.
Not that I'm a rock-solid six-day creationist myself, mind you. If God did indeed deploy a strategy in which His Creation was created during a longer timespan than six literal days, that's His business, right? I don't know why there would be the discrepancy between His timeline and the account He provides for us in Genesis 1. But because I trust in Him, I don't have to understand everything He's done, is doing, and will do. I don't really understand how or why He came up with the whole process of original sin, the lineage of Christ, and why He uses people like you and me to glorify Him here within the spheres of influence we inhabit on His Earth. I have some ideas about why He chose the plans He chose, and have learned some theories from different pastors and theologians over the years, but again, at the end of the day, it's all faith, isn't it?
In fact, sometimes I think it takes more faith to believe in origin theories that involve anything longer than a literal six days, because in that scenario, you have to really be careful about whose theory you choose to support.
Not that wanting proofs, or wanting to prove something, is a wrong or bad desire, in and of itself. But needing to prove something when God says we don't need to just might be. Why? Because needing to prove something might betray our own desire to know more than God intends for us to know.
Obviously, God is not threatened by all of this debate over how His universe began. Yet it seems as though some humans are.