Tuesday, October 31, 2006


A Bird's Eye View

Kurt Wise, former graduate student of Stephen Jay Gould and a man famously called an "honest creationist" by no less than Richard Dawkins, has a revealing and ultimately sad piece about him in the Baptist Press, "Young earth view crucial to Christian doctrines, prof says." Wise has lately taken over William Dembski's place at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as director of the Center for Theology and Science and has now agreed to serve as a consultant for Answers in Genesis' Creation Museum in Florence, Ky., near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Of the museum, Wise says:

It’s a good balance of philosophy, theology and science with the priority being on Scripture as a starting point. We understand science because we start with the Bible. We understand philosophy because we start with the Bible. [The museum] is an attempt to weave those together.
That is a fair statement of what (one flavor of) theology is but has little to do with science.

[Wise] noted that scientists often have nuanced data that they have difficulty communicating with the public while popular creation speakers often give imprecise scientific data in an effort to present a simple message.

Translation: They mislead the flock.

The material presented in the museum is important for Christians to understand because it shows that biblical inerrantists who take Genesis literally have scientific support, Wise said.

Wise, however, doesn't talk about any scientific support but instead goes into a litany of reasons why some people think that "believing the earth was created by God 6,000-7,000 years ago is the most consistent position to take in light of Scripture."

Roughly, if the Earth isn't young, then there's no Babel origin for modern languages; no global flood; the patriarchs longevity can't be true; no Adam as ancestor of all humans; no Eden as described, with rivers on three different continents coming out in one place; indeed all of Genesis 1 is wrong -- "the order of creation is wrong, not just the days or the length of the days."

Wise acknowledged that the majority of Christians and even the majority of conservative evangelicals believe the world is older than 7,000 years, but he argued many of the foundational doctrines of the Bible -- such as marriage, the literal fall of man, the necessity of a Savior and the end times -- depend on belief in a young earth.
Here is where it starts, for me at least, to turn sad:

The same data which leads geoscientists to the conclusion that the earth is billions of years old, Wise said, also indicate that the fossils on the earth range from thousands to billions of years in age.
But instead of trying to deal with that evidence, Wise just returns to theology:

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.
He never lets any thought that it is the reader who might be the one who is wrong slow him down and just assumes that science being right would mean that Adam's sin was not passed to all human kind and:

... if Adam's sin is not the reason we are sinners and did not lead to human death, then what does Christ's ‘second Adam’ status mean? And if Adam's sin did not lead to a curse -- because death and thorns and toil and disease and suffering preceded Adam's sin by hundreds of thousands or millions of years -- then what is heaven like with ‘no more curse’?
Faced with that, Wise's tune changes. Before he said that it was important for Christians who took the Bible literally to know they had scientific support. Now he says:

"The most important thing is that you ought to be able to trust your God and the claims the Bible makes. I know most people don’t understand what in the world the scientists are saying. That’s OK. Just pay attention to what God says. If you trust what God has given us, it becomes an appropriate foundation for every aspect of our lives."

As believers examine science, the most important thing they can remember is to always pay attention to Scripture above any scientist, Wise said.

"The most important thing is, regardless of what all the scientists are saying, the Bible is true and you can accept it by faith," he said. "God is only pleased with faith, as a matter of fact. To trust the scientists is not faith. It is, in fact, trusting in man’s reason rather than God."
All of which is a perfectly acceptable position for a theologian to take. But it makes a mockery of any claim Wise might once have had to being a scientist.

Sad and revealing indeed. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and Wise has totally wasted his.

If that is a perfectly acceptable position for a theologian to take, and if the theologians who don't agree with him have perfectly acceptable positions for theologians to take, then, lol, I'm wondering what positions are not perfectly acceptable positions for theologians to take.
Wise's remarks remind me of a conversation I had about 15 years ago with a fundamentalist friend, who was an enthusiastic amateur evangelist. He thought it important to tell his converts about the "evidence for creation" because the issue affected one's attitude to Scripture -- that it could trusted to be literaly true and reliable. I was pretty new to the C vs. E debate at the time, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have replied pointing out that he had just admitted that Creation "Science" has nothing to do with an honest endeavour to discover how the universe works, but is a propaganda exercise intended to bolster fundamentalist theology. (As it happens, he died of cancer a couple of years later, so that's one conversation that will never be continued).

Notwithstanding Wise's candor about the evidence (and about what would change his mind, ie. nothing), there's a deeper dishonesty underlying his whole position. I mean, one can choose any old text -- the Bible (Protestant, Catholic or Jewish), the Koran, the Baghavad Gita, the Silmarillion, the Discworld series, whatever -- as the One True Source of Absolute Incontrovertible Truth. All opposing evidence (even internal contradictions in the chosen text) can be defined as mistaken, Satanic counterfeits or otherwise bogus. And this is a perfectly consistent position to take -- because you have defined it as such. However, ISTM that having done so, you must renounce any attempt at apologetics -- the attempt to marshall evidence and reason in support of your position. Once you admit that evidence and reason might have some bearing on the matter, you are obliged to take it all, as it comes. It is disingenuous to cherry-pick the evidence -- so that when the argument goes your way, you get to claim it as support; but resort to the Satanic Counterfeit Maneuver when it goes against you.

But since when did that ever stop the Creationists?
I'm wondering what positions are not perfectly acceptable positions for theologians to take.

"Convert or die" (or variations thereon) is about the only one I can think of.
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