The Creationist Crisis

nye_ham_debate100Recently my brother had a DNA test done to see what our nationality/ethnicity breakdown is. As it turned out, the DNA evidence totally refuted all the family stories we heard growing up, stories we told to ourselves and to others over the years.

As he has been interested in genealogical research for years, my brother participates on websites devoted to it. When he announced the results of his DNA test, and what that means for the conflicting story the records tell, he encountered some anger, and some flat-out denial of the clear DNA evidence. Our relatives knew their family stories, and they were not about to change them, no matter what the scientific evidence showed. Better to mistrust science.

I get it. Our stories are how we know who we are, they also tell us why we are here, and what we’re supposed to do with ourselves while we are.

This same thing is happening on a wide scale. Marilynne Robinson, in a discussion with Marcelo Gleiser says, “contemporary science” is making discoveries “as profound as Galileo ever was, or Copernicus.” She marvels at “the idea that we can know things that absolutely revolutionize previous models of the universe we inhabit.” This is equally true if we are looking out at the vast universe, or in at the tiniest structures we have yet found.

Last month Bill Nye came to my town to debate creationist Ken Ham. The debate went as expected, and the two men went home. The next day I printed out a news article about a previous debate the two men had at Ham’s Creation Museum in Kentucky. In my composition classes, we annotated the article and discussed it in class.

I teach at Central Virginia Community College; across a narrow valley is Liberty University, the creationist Evangelical school where the debate took place. Not a small percentage of my students that morning, or any morning, have some affiliation with Liberty—the ones who don’t, for the most part agree with them on matters of science and history. So I was not surprised at the vehemence and outrage shown in response to Bill Nye’s assertions.

This is so because the students believe, as they have been taught, that you cannot be a Christian without being a young-earth creationist, a belief expressed by Ham himself in the debate. When both men were asked what it would take to make them change their minds, Nye said it would take evidence, and Ham responded, “I’m a Christian.” It is, however, not only a mistake to insist that a Christian must believe in young-earth creationism; it is fatal.

The scientific evidence has long been plenty to justify abandoning a literal reading of the early chapters of Genesis. Genetic research has rendered it unavoidable. An amazing number of Christians deny this, but not all do, and not all see it as a threat to their faith.

In the BioLogos Forum blog “Ham on Nye: Our Take,” Fellow of Biology Dennis Venema, is clear about what genetic research means. “For example,” he writes, “why do humans, as placental mammals, have the defective, fragmentary remains of [a] gene for making egg yolk in our genome exactly where one would predict it to be based on examining the genomes of egg-laying organisms?”

He asks rhetorically, “Why is it that we share many mutations in this defective gene with other placental mammals, to say nothing of the many other defective genes with the same pattern of shared mutations?”

This evidence means young-earth creationism is headed for the dustbins of history, to take its place alongside Aristotle and Ptolemy’s geocentric universe, and a literal hell in the center of the earth, and countless other beliefs Christians once held inviolable and essential to true faith.

That doesn’t mean the stories are useless and must be abandoned however—far from it.

In the conversation with Marilynne Robinson, Marcelo Gleiser notes, “Everything is in transformation at all times.” History is a series of rethinking our myths in light of new discoveries.

The enemy is not knowledge. Knowledge, like everything living, shifts and evolves. In order to live gracefully with it, we must remain supple and adroit. Gleiser stresses that this does not mean being “pious toward science” because “when you adopt the idea that there is only one way of knowing a thing, then you are robbing humanity of its value.”

Robinson goes on to say these creation myths “anticipate modern cosmology.” They are “the expression of the intuition of cosmology among ancient people.” Gleiser agrees: “All the scientific models, the theories that cosmologists used to explain the universe reproduced mythic ideas. There was a universe that was cyclical, like the dancing of Shiva…the Big Bang was prefigured by creation myths.”

Logos and Mythos can work together. The enemy is not science; the enemy is rigidity and fear.

This post was made possible through the support of a grant from The BioLogos Foundation’s Evolution and Christian Faith program. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BioLogos.

Note: This post was originally published on the Image Journal blog Good Letters.

Vic Sizemore earned his MFA in fiction from Seattle Pacific University in 2009. His short stories are published or forthcoming in StoryQuarterly, Southern Humanities Review, Connecticut Review, Portland Review, Blue Mesa Review, Sou’wester, Silk Road Review, Atticus Review, PANK Magazine Fiction Fix, Vol.1 Brooklyn, Conclave, and elsewhere. Excerpts from his novel The Calling are published in Connecticut Review, Portland Review, Prick of the Spindle, Burrow Press Review, Rock & Sling, and Relief. His fiction has won the New Millennium Writings Award for Fiction, and been nominated for Best American Nonrequired Reading and a Pushcart Prize. You can find Vic at http://vicsizemore.wordpress.com/.

Art Used: Dan Lacey, Bill Nye / Ken Ham Pancakes Vs Bacon & Eggs Debate Painting , 8 by 10 print on canvas. 2014.