Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The New Creationism

I’ve gotten far too used to seeing creationists adopt a more or less defensive posture, taking issue with what purports to be intelligent criticism from a scientific perspective, but usually amounts to nothing more than derisive sniping. The non-scientific media relentlessly harangue creationists over views they haven’t read and don’t understand in favor of secular views they also haven’t read and couldn’t coherently articulate in any case.

These apologetics are of some limited use; however, because they are almost completely defensive, they cannot do much to rehabilitate — let alone popularize — the creationist position in the public sphere.

Some of the most effective assaults on neo-Darwinian pseudo-science I’ve ever come across have been written by unsaved-but-honest fellow scientists and laymen. I enjoy these because the rhetorical mud-slinging that has tarnished the reputations of perfectly reasonable proponents of theories like Intelligent Design is much less effective on agnostics like David Berlinski or Fred Reed. You can’t get away with calling them scientifically-ignorant evangelicals even if you don’t like what they’re saying about the incoherencies of your pet theory.

From time to time I have also read well-informed (and less well-informed) Christian attacks on the current neo-Darwinian position, but again, the effectiveness of these critiques is limited. For the most part they are preaching to the choir.

These past few weeks I have been working my way through Paul Garner’s The New Creationism: Building scientific theories on a biblical foundation and finding it a very satisfying experience. The book is eleven years old now, but it’s holding up well and I highly recommend it.

The New Creationism is not like anything I have ever read before from the creationist perspective. Garner does not shy away from critiquing conventional theories, but rather than staging a full frontal assault on the evolutionary position or rebutting the latest round of critiques against it, his goal is to cogently “summarize the work of modern-day scholars who are seeking to restore the biblical foundations of the scientific enterprise and build positive creationist theories in the field of origins,” always bearing in mind that “scientific theories — even those developed upon biblical foundations — are not of the same level of certainty as Scripture itself ... Scripture remains true for all time.”

Garner therefore makes the Genesis narrative his foundation for a plausible, positive, scientifically-informed presentation of human origins, starting with 1:1 and moving through the first eleven hotly-disputed chapters of the word of God. Right off the bat, Garner addresses the elephant in the room:
“Firstly, what kind of literature is Genesis? This question is important because how we answer it will determine how we set about interpreting the text:
  1. Is it poetry? No, for it lacks the defining characteristics of Hebrew poetry (e.g. balanced couplets or parallelism).
  2. Is it an allegory? No, for it does not have features consistent with allegory (e.g. a person who tells the story and interprets it).
  3. Is it myth? No, for the Lord Jesus and the apostles clearly accepted the reality of the characters and events recorded here — including Adam and Eve (e.g. Matthew 19:1-6; Mark 10:2-9; Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; 1 Timothy 2:11-14) and Noah and the Flood (e.g. Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-27; 1 Peter 3:20).
What we find in the early chapters of Genesis are the characteristics we would expect of a historical account — and these chapters seamlessly connect with the history that follows.”
He had me right there. I’ve made that last point here repeatedly. I do not believe it is possible to hold to the inerrancy of scripture while simultaneously insisting the early chapters of Genesis may be interpreted mythically.

One small negative: ebooks may be cheaper than paperbacks or hardcovers, but you do run into the occasional technical limitation. In this case, my old hand-held does not display Garner’s more complex illustrations well; in some cases not at all, which makes the experience of reading in bed just slightly less fulfilling. This is one of those books where losing the graphics is not insignificant. Thankfully, Amazon has both a Cloud Reader and the option to download something called “Kindle for PC” free of charge. Both display information-dense graphics just fine.

For anyone firmly committed to literalism, Garner’s book is a fine and confirming read, mostly written in laymen’s language. For anyone who isn’t, Garner may make you wonder whether it is really such a terribly useful strategy for a Christian to adopt the conventional neo-Darwinian paradigm just because of its immense popularity.

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