Earlier this month (Feb 5, to be exact) Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and Ken Ham of the Creation Museum in Kentucky engaged in a debate. The subject: Creation vs. Evolution.
Scientists and creationists have been debating for a hundred years and are no closer today to a mutual understanding than at the beginning. Dialogue between the two camps may be helpful but is probably a waste of time because a fundamental dichotomy exists between science and religion. The Nye-Ham debate did nothing to bridge that gap.
Science is by nature objective, that is, scientists look outward at our universe and attempt to understand and explain the phenomena they see around them. Science requires a certain formalism that must be observed before new ideas can be accepted. Most important is the requirement that experiments must be repeatable by anyone in the world.
Religion is fundamentally introspective and arises from systems of subjective belief. The Bible begins with the implicit belief that God exists and is our creator through a series of miraculous acts. It goes on from there to deal exclusively with the apparently inherent human propensity for evil. Faith in God is presented as the solution for the problem of evil. Presentation of that solution to the people of this world is religion’s primary purpose.
For Creationism, which is religion-based, to be referred to as objective science, it must answer fundamental questions about the creation beginning with an objective proof of God’s existence.
We have no idea what God is. Jesus of Nazareth said God is a spirit. What’s a spirit? The Greek word, pneuma, is only allegorical and tells us nothing. We cannot build a spirit detector or a meta-telescope to verify God’s existence in terms of our experience. Without some basic understanding of God’s persona, a formal objective proof of God’s existence cannot be written.
For Creationism to be scientifically credible it must describe the mechanisms and processes of Creation. In the Creation, a supernatural God acted out of a supernatural realm to perform the acts of creation in our physical, natural universe. The acts of creation took time to accomplish, which means processes were involved. What were those processes? How would the Creator have reached across from a supernatural realm in which space-time has no meaning to create our space-time universe?
What, for example, did God do in the creation of light? For light to work, the structure of space-time must be present. The entire space-time structure of our universe must therefore have been created along with the electromagnetic phenomena we know as light. How was this accomplished? In Big Bang theory, cosmologists posit mechanisms for the appearance of space-time and by which light might have appeared. Creationists must do the same with the supernatural realm as a starting point.
Creationism carries with it a host of unanswered theological questions. Creationist doctrine is dependent on a literal interpretation of scripture. What is the justification for a literal interpretation of the creation accounts in Genesis? Theologians beginning with Augustine of Hippo have argued for an allegorical interpretation of the creation stories. The Biblical creation accounts don’t need to be literally true to convey truth. The parables were little allegories used to illustrate truths Jesus was trying to convey to his listeners.
Literalism does have a place in interpretation of scripture. The scriptures from the eleventh chapter of Genesis through to the book of Esther are considered to be historical in nature. The problem for historians is that much of the historicity has gotten lost in the deconstruction and reconstruction of the scriptures through two exiles and numerous other national calamities endured by the Hebrew people. The scriptures may have begun as written documents but then were reduced to oral traditions and later reconstructed in written form.
A group of Israeli archeologists recently published a paper claiming that the mention of camels in Abraham’s time in Genesis was wrong. In general, they may be correct. Camels were not native to Canaanite lands in the Eastern Mediterranean and may not have been in general use there in Abraham’s time. Camels are still used today, however, on trade routes in northern Africa that have been in use for millennia. It is quite possible that camels were in use long before Abraham’s time. A savvy used-critter dealer like Abraham might have seen them coming through and imported a few for sale to caravan drivers needing replacements.
Young-Earth creationism places the Creation at some time in 4004 BC based on the work of James Ussher, an Archbishop of the Church of Ireland. Have Creation scientists subjected Ussher’s dates to a critical review? What is the justification for accepting Ussher’s interpretation of scripture for dating the events of the Bible? Why not instead take the Hebrew date of creation (3760 BCE) for the beginning of time?
The Bible is not monolithic. It’s the work of many authors driven to write by the experience of faith. Truth is conveyed in numerous ways in scripture and readers must be judicious in their interpretation.
Genetics and Darwin’s Natural Selection are objective descriptions of the physical mechanisms by which life developed on this planet. Religion provides a collection of beliefs about Origins based on the Creation allegories in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. The two can never be reconciled.
The irony is that God may have instituted processes of evolution in our universe. Everything we see is time-variant, which means that things are constantly changing. All living beings must therefore have some means of adapting to change. We can see that Polar ice is receding year by year. Polar bears must have some way of adapting to this or they will become extinct. An omniscient God would have seen this problem and allowed for it.
Science and religion move along paths of reasoning that will never cross and will never have a common ground. Religion should not view science as evil nor should science view religion as nonsense. Each has a function and place in human experience.
Does God exist? I don’t know; I believe so.