The creation-evolution debate is back in the news this week as Ken Ham held a public debate with Bill Nye. Ken Ham’s organization, Answers in Genesis, is representative of a certain segment of Christianity (primarily in the U.S. I believe). They believe and promote the idea that the Bible and specifically Genesis are inerrant, factual, and to be taken literally. If people choose to believe this, that is their choice. What bothers me is how this is often viewed by both sides as the Christian view. In other words, it is the orthodox view held by true believers. Yet I think it is essentially a fundamentalist viewpoint (though conservative evangelicals have been quite influenced by fundamentalism).
I wanted to groan when I started seeing announcements about this debate. The first reason is that I don’t believe a debate like this convinces many people to change their minds. Most go into the debate to argue why their belief is correct. (Or perhaps more often, they’re cheering for someone else to “prove” their belief is correct.) But more than this, I’m bothered because I think that the emphasis on creationism and other apologetics takes the focus off what is truly important and central to Christianity. Unfortunately I’ve had some Christians tell me that if evolution were proven true (for example), it would destroy their faith. I say “unfortunately” because I think if this is the case, you’ve put your faith in the wrong place. (I go into more detail about this in a previous post, so I won’t repeat it all again here.)
I don’t think a literal seven day creation and a young earth are essential requirements to faith in Christ. So I don’t like the ascertation that the fundamentalist understanding of the Bible is the only correct one. One of the things which bothers me the most about fundamentalist beliefs is the fact that I don’t think they’re the most reasonable ways to view the Bible, science, God, etc. So I’m afraid that a high profile debate like this demonstrates to the world that Christians are unreasonable, potentially unintelligent, and probably in denial of reality.
As mentioned, I don’t think a completely literal belief in Genesis is required to follow Christ. Subsequently, I do believe that there are a number of potentially valid, reasonable views on Genesis and creation which a true follower of Christ may posses. I personally think there are more reasonable ways of understanding Genesis and the Bible than those which the fundamentalists hold. So it bothers me when the fundamentalists argue that we just have to believe something “because the Bible says so” even when there may be a better way of understanding the Bible. Fundamentalism is in part a reaction to people who say that we’re smarter than the Bible and therefore discount what it says. But taking a literal, inerrant, rigid view isn’t the only alternative. We can allow reason and other fields of study to guide our understanding of the Bible without dismissing it outright. (I discuss this further in a previous post.) Science and Christianity don’t have to be at odds.
Before I conclude, allow me to discuss one more thing which may help to clarify this discussion. I found last belief listed on Answers in Genesis’ site particularly interesting:
By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information. (emphasis mine)
They seem completely blind to the fact the understanding the Bible also requires “interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.” In other words, if there is an apparent conflict between the Bible and other evidence, our understanding of the other evidence could be wrong, but I hold that our understanding of the Bible could also be wrong (which is different than saying the Bible is wrong; more on interpreting the Bible). In this way I disagree with people on both sides who hold either the Bible or scientific evidence as the exclusive determiner of truth. These can both guide us toward the truth, but we’ll always have an imperfect, incomplete knowledge of the truth.
Other related posts: How Should the Bible Be Understood? and Biblical?