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February 5, 2007

Science 1, Genesis 0

USA Today—of all places—has a surprisingly solid piece on creationism:

[B]y attempting to marshal empirical evidence in support of their beliefs, [creationists] enter the debate on the scientists’ terms — terms that cannot possibly work in favor of a literal reading of the Bible. By playing in this arena, haven’t the creationists already lost the argument?
… This unwise raising of the stakes is vividly demonstrated by the soon-to-open Creation Museum in Florence, Ky., which is assembling a collection of dinosaur models, fossils, minerals and other material to “demonstrate that the Scriptural accounts of the Creation, Noah’s flood, and other major events of biblical history can be trusted,” as organizers describe the project in a news release.
… In comments published last fall by the Baptist Press news service, a consultant to the Creation Museum implies that the very foundation of Christian belief will crumble if believers don’t disprove the scientific consensus that humans evolved into existence tens of thousands of years ago. The consultant is one Kurt Wise, a Harvard-educated Ph.D. and director of the Center for Theology and Science at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Says Wise: “If humans really date back that far, and Adam lived far enough in the past to be their ancestor, then the genealogical record of Genesis 5 is wrong, and thus the Bible and its author, God, are wrong.”
… But here’s the rub: Wise acknowledges that nothing can convince him that Earth is older than five or six thousand years. Why? Because the Bible is his ultimate authority. “The most important thing,” he says, “is that you ought to be able to trust your God and the claims the Bible makes.”
… Why, then, are [creationists] bothering with fossils and geology and quasi-
scientific exhibitions that purport to prove that the Bible “can be trusted,” as the organizers of the Creation Museum phrase it? No doubt, concern for the public credibility of their faith has a lot to do with it. They appear to have accepted that we live in a rational age, one that will not abide propositions that lack objective evidence to back them.
How ironic, then, that by dabbling in science to promote their beliefs, anti-science creationists are more likely eroding the very credibility they aim to bolster.
Granted, the new museum in Kentucky, like the creationist book at the Grand Canyon, may shore up the already-believers. But if winning new converts to Christianity is the aim, the strategy can only backfire.
How many Americans are ready to accept the proposition that science has made a colossal error interpreting the fossil and geological record and — more radical still — that the validity of Christianity depends on proving it? If anything, a stance like this repels those wavering between faith and disbelief and gives skeptics one more reason to reject religion.

The article also lists some of the little, uh, scientific challenges facing creationism:

When it comes to conflicts between the scientific/rational mindset and the beliefs of Bible literalists, there’s no book quite like Genesis. From the origins of the world and humankind to the cause of the snake’s ground-hugging posture, the two worldviews are light years apart. Here are some assertions in Genesis that clash with the scientific conception of reality:
  • God created the world in six days (and rested on the seventh). By tracing the genealogies laid out in Genesis, young-Earth creations conclude that this divine act occurred about 6,000 years ago. Mainstream science, by contrast, holds that Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old and that the surface we recognize as “the world” is not the product of a sudden divine act, but of eons of gradual change.
  • During this flurry of creation, after producing the creatures of the air, water and land, God created the first man. Seeing that Adam had “no suitable helper,” he created the first woman, Eve, from Adam’s rib. According to mainstream science, anatomically modern humans first appeared on the scene at least 130,000 years ago, having evolved from more primitive forms.
  • Speaking of those genealogies, people in Genesis had very, very long lives. Adam lived 930 years; Seth, 912 years; Enosh, 905 years; and so on. The longest documented human life in history (that of a Frenchwoman named Jeanne Calment) is 122 years. Science’s understanding of aging is incomplete, and it cannot definitely prove that significantly longer life spans were not possible long ago. Nevertheless, the great age achieved by Adam, Enosh and others in Genesis obliterates the credulity of all but the most ardent fundamentalists.
  • As punishment for tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, God cursed the serpent and consigned it to crawl on its belly and “eat dust” for all its days — to become a snake, in other words. Science holds that snakes, like all creatures, evolved into their present form in response to environmental challenges and opportunities. As such, their peculiar shape and posture are not a curse, but a gradually acquired asset that lets them burrow and fit through spaces too small for most animals.
  • Before God’s intervention at the Tower of Babel, Genesis asserts, all humans spoke one tongue. As punishment for human presumption, God confused their language such that they could no longer understand one another — turned one language into many, essentially, thus beginning the development of the thousands of languages known today. You probably won’t find many university scientists who will vouch for this version of events, but there is no scientific consensus on how human languages evolved, nor the degree to which they share a common root or roots.

OK, there are better examples. But no matter: if you listen carefully, you can still hear the sound of USA Today subscriptions being cancelled across the heartland.

Posted by Stephen at 11:17 AM in Evolution | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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