by Carl Strang
I debated whether or not to finish this post’s title with the question mark, but this is after all a blog about inquiry, so I went with that punctuation. This also is a blog about science, but as I have ventured into the relationship between science and spirituality in the Winter Campfire series, it seems appropriate to comment on creationism.
This is not a general comment on all manifestations of creationism, however. Hopi creationism, for example, comes out of a tradition apart from Western science. Here I am focused on creationism as expressed by certain conservative Christian sects.
The problem I have with this creationism is an inherent ironic tension within it. The defining claim is that the Universe is a created thing, and though creationists sometimes are coy in their language, it is clear enough that their creator is a traditional, bearded-male-in-the-sky, supernatural God who stands separate from this creation. So, let’s take all that as a given and see where it leads us. If the Universe indeed was created by such an entity, it also must be regarded as a text written by that entity. Many early natural scientists in fact took it as part of their mission to read this text through their scientific work so that science for them illuminated the workings of God. Science has become secularized, but that does not change the fact that if the Universe indeed was created, its scientific study is a reading of it as a text, and a religious person could say that it is a direct reading of the text as written by the Universe’s creator.
So, why does this represent such a problem to the creationists? We seem to have a disagreement between texts. On the one hand we have a text written, as the creationists would say, by God, and read by the scientists. This God’s text clearly includes evolution as a major theme. On the other hand we have the Bible. One might argue that the Bible was divinely inspired, but if so then we have to acknowledge that it was filtered through imperfect, error-prone human minds. Furthermore, the Bible also is a political document, its contents the result of a biased debate and compromise on which of the many candidate books and texts to include, and which to leave out. In other words, its edited table of contents is the product of still more imperfect human influence.
So when the direct reading of a text written by God is rejected in favor of a text written by man, I cannot see how one can regard Christian creationism as anything other than idolatry, with a book taking the place of the golden calf of the Mosaic story.
This should not be taken as a devaluation of the Bible. That book is a significant body of history, legend, and metaphor, written by ancient Middle Easterners for whom poetry and layered meanings were primary. Read through that lens, the Bible can be an enriching guidebook. It is an error to think that it, any more than the traditional stories of any culture, can be regarded as a work of western scientific nonfiction.