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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Friday, March 24, 2006

Why Creationism Really Matters: Part III

One of my usual blogging stops is Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog. Today he digs up this piece which nicely proves what I have been writing about concerning original sin.

You either believe the Genesis story is true or you don’t. I believe the story that God created man and woman for one another. I believe man fell because Adam and Eve ate of forbidden fruit, making all humans sinners and in need of salvation, available through Jesus Christ. If that story isn’t true, then the Bible — from the first to the 66th book — isn’t the literal, infallible word of God.

Attacks against creation casts doubt on scriptural authority. If we question the Bible’s account of creation, what does that say about the existence of original sin? What does it say about Jesus Christ, the risen savior, and man’s need to be saved?

This was exactly my point. Evolution is a direct threat to fundamentalists because it threatens their notion of original sin, and Jesus' conquering of said sin. For fundamentalists, Jesus wiped away original sin; for liberals, Jesus became the sinless path to heaven.

Update: For the record, I am an agnostic atheist; I think both liberal and conservative Christians are wrong on matters of theology, its just that liberal Christians are much closer on philosophical matters than any other Christians. I give liberal Christians credit for this, is all.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Why Creationism Really Matters Part II

Last time we considered why it is that fundamentalist Christians fight so fiercely over evolution and came to the conclusion that the reason had nothing to do with facts and reality, rather it represented a direct attack at the heart of Christianity; original sin and the Bible's insistence that it is the sole reason for death and sin. We culled two posibilities out of that; that original sin occurred first and death and sin are its result, or that death occurred first and original sin was a later literary construct to explain it and defend the Bible writer's view of God.

Special note: I want to state up front that this does not in any way equate to a "theism vs. atheism" argument. For there are many sects of Christianity that accept both evolution and God/Jesus. I am not arguing against their beliefs, as their doctrines do not contradict the points I will be making. They simply possess a doctrine that allows for death prior to original sin, and consider interpreting the Bible as such perfectly acceptable theologically.

One thing both sides agree on is that death happens, and has happened since the first organisms existed. It is crucial to note that this fact proves nothing for either case. Thus, while interesting in itself, it is not useful to us in this investigation. What we can take from this is because it is a universal observable fact, it inevitably works its way into any formulation of theology, no matter how simplistic or complex, primitive or modern. Therefore we have our first pointer to the truth, all theology must, incorporate within its most basic structure the nature of death as a factor in life. So, let us now dig into the fundamentalist argument; that original sin caused death. What evidence do they have in support of it? They have the Genesis account (actually there are two distinct accounts and a third indistinct account in Genesis). This account speaks of Adam and Eve, the original sin, the spread of sin and death to the point where a flood was necessary to attempt to wipe out sin, a story of arrogance of humanity that resulted in the creation of all the world's languages, and finally the tale of Moses.

The basic tenet of fundamentalism is that the Bible is the literal word of God and historically accurate in every detail. Now I will not get into that discussion, instead I wish to merely state that with this method of interpreting the Bible, it becomes the lynchpin of Christianity. Without original sin and its bringing in death and degradation to all organisms then Jesus' purpose is pointless. Again Note: liberal Christians do not suffer this problem because they tie Jesus to redemption and thus the problem of a literal original sin is not relevant.

This is why fundamentalism is so concerned with creationism; it enabled death and original sin. So what then is the factual basis for this?

Well the only answer is 'the Bible'. They say the bible is factual ('true' in their parlance) because it is the word of God. They back that up by claiming the word of God is 'true' because the Bible says it is. It is this impenetrable circle of logic that fuels their claim. They really have no need for any other facts, but you will find some apologists who try to bolster this with 'scientific' facts. here for a list of topics-- these are some good examples). Kent 'Dr Dino' Hovind is another. I will not discuss the refutations here, they can be found at TalkOrigins (see here for a thermodynamics scientific response).

Let us now consider the second option; that death occurred first and original sin was a later literary construct to explain it and defend the Bible writer's view of God.

I will not attack Christianity here, for there are millions of 'liberal' Christians who accept evolution, and thus death before human's original sin. They, too, understand that Genesis is a myth written by simple nomadic herders to explain their origins, and their views on their god. (where I differ from these Christians is that take it to be only a myth, whereas they take it to impart deeper truths about God wrapped in easy-to-understand stories given by God.) I will not go into the theological underpinnings of original sin for them other than to say it is implicitly tied into the gift of free will. I will say that for these Christians original sin is not the main reason (cause) of Jesus' sacrifice, rather it is to provide a path via free will for believers to choose good over evil and receive heaven as their reward.

It is important to say that this view does not conflict in any way with the deeper truths of the Bible, as these Christians understand them (I do not agree with this, but that is not relevant here). Thus it not a theological problem for these Christians to accept the facts and reality of science that gives rise to evolution, geology, physics, cosmology, etc. And more importantly to the creationism debate, science does not conflict with faith or theology. To look at all the facts in one convenient place, I again point you to TalkOrigins.

This point of view explains many things logically and accounts for all known facts. The original authors of the Bible, specifically Genesis, did not understand death and illness, and tried to explain them in the context of divine wrath. They observed death and illness and sinfulness and wanted to explain them, exactly as we still do today, but didn't know enough of the natural world to incorporate the facts; thus they used the only tools they had, their grasp of the divine, and their god. So they created a story to explain these things; the product being creationism of Genesis.

What we have learned from all this is why evolution is such a threat to fundamental Christianity and not a problem at all for the interpretive, liberal Christians.

Simply put, for fundamentalists:
1) The Bible is the literal word of God
2) Jesus died to conquer original sin which was a stain on humanity that humanity could not wash away, thus allowing humans into heaven.
3) Death could not have preceded original sin, since death was its punishment.
4) Original sin had to be a choice made by man and not a by-product of God's gift of free will in order to make Jesus' sacrifice meaningful.

For liberal Christians:
1) The creation account was only a story devised by a simple people who did not possess the vast scientific body of knowledge we have today to explain the observations of death, disease and sin. This was woven with their divine beliefs of their god.
2) The Bible is meant to impart deeper theological truths; the nature of God, worship, and morality. It is not a literal history book.
3) Original sin is more of a free will to choose evil, and no one can always choose only good, and choose it for godly reasons not humanly ones.
4) Jesus died not to wipe away the stain of original sin, but to provide a new path to heaven through him, who alone was human and sin free.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Why Creationism Really Matters to Fundamentalists

Fundamentalist Christians in this country are locked in battle to remake this great country into a "Christian Nation." This has been an especially fierce battle since President Bush took office, and religious conservatives effectively gained total control of our entire government. What they want is to restructure our culture into one that obeys and abides by all the laws as set out by modern (conservative) Christian theologians. Probably the single largest barrier to this goal is science. While science says nothing at all concerning theology or even morality, what it does do is present facts and the reality of physical world we live in. It is this aspect of science that is the biggest threat to the faith required for fundamental Christianity. The reason is simple, faith tells the believer that the world should behave in one way (according to the tenets of the Bible), yet fact and reality prove the world actually operates quite differently. The only possible course of action for those of faith is to reject reality, and replace it with the faith threatened. This means that science must be thrown out. Since not all science can simply be thrown out by these believers, they focus on the most "offensive"; i.e. the most destructive to their faith. In a nutshell this is simply evolution, as it threatens the foundation of their faith, creationism; the direct link of Creator God to his creation.

The problem, though, is that for both sides, this is not the actual war, it is merely the only battle being continually fought. The war, ironically enough, is one that science says nothing about, theology. And more importantly, the root of theology, good and evil. Thus, science has never been able to win the battle, because it is not fighting the same war. Science is fighting the war on fact and reality, and fundamentalist Christianity is fighting the war of good versus evil. It just so happens that the two wars merge on the battlefield of evolution.

If science is not fighting (and can not fight) the war the fundamentalist Christians are, then how can the battle of evolution possibly be won? It cannot. That is why the reality of what we see today exists: stalemate at best. That is why the focus needs to change, but to do that, we must leave behind science, and enter philosophy. Fortunately we can still use all the most powerful tools of science; rational thought, fact gathering, observation, and testing hypotheses.

Next, then, is determining where this new battlefield is, and how to present our side. So let's take a look at why evolution is so strongly singled out, if the war the fundamentalist Christians are fighting is really "good v. evil". Then we can plan a new approach.

So, if creationism is not actually a battle over science, then what is it? If we look at the points that are made by the creationists, we begin to understand what they are truly concerned about. This was most recently pointed out in a posthumous article by creationist Henry Morris, "Insufficient Design". In this, Morris explains that creationism as told in Genesis explains why there is sin and death in the world.

That is it, the plain and simple reason why creationism is so crucial to fundamental Christianity, because it is the only way to explain why evil exists in the world and why organisms die. It also fixes the problem of a sadistic creator, placing the blame for sin and death on the creation (man) and not the creator for making man that way.

The logic of their argument is straightforward: God exists -> God created -> The account of creation is recorded in the Bible -> The Bible is the word of God -> The word of God (and thus God) is good -> Goodness proves God exists. Christian theology requires that there be a reason for Jesus and that reason is God's response to original sin. So, in the logic of fundamentalists, evolution is an attack on creation, which is an attack on original sin and thus an attack on Jesus.

What we are left with when this is boiled down are two possible statements:
1) Original sin occurred bringing death and sin into the world (imperfection), as recounted in the Bible.
2) Death and sin were observed in the world and was explained away later by the concept of original sin.

It is easy to see why the first statement is so important to fundamentalists, and why evolution is such a threat. It states that sin came first and death was the result. But evolution says simply that death came long before there were even humans to sin. Then if original sin is not the cause of death, that breaks the circle of logic which is the foundation of the Bible, and the sole reason for the act of redemption of Jesus, atonement for original sin.

In my next post, I will examine these two statements and how the facts behind them can be used to push back on creationists so that evolution can once again be separated from faith and religion.