Watching recent commentary on the Answers in Genesis creation museum, that huge waste of $27 million designed to proved that dinosaurs lived with human beings and even were preserved on the ark has led me to believe that education on this subject in church and Sunday School is even more important than I thought.
I do not believe the Museum glorifies God. It presents one rather lousy interpretation of Genesis, one that is at war with the facts, and in the long term will turn more people away from Christ by making Christians look as though they have no interest in honesty and integrity in science.
There are two major problems that I see in terms of public education about science. The first is the quality of science education in public schools, which is not good, and the quality of the public’s knowledge about science in general, however acquired. Many people who claim to reject evolution, for example, reject a caricature of what is actually taught by professional scientists in the relevant fields. Often that rejection comes about because of conclusions drawn from evolution which are not part of the science at all. I’ve written about this before.
A good, basic education based on the best scientific research available is essential. This is why I have regularly opposed the teaching of ID. My assessment of the scientific value of intelligent design (ID)–it has no value at all–is not the important thing here. The bottom line is that ID has not gone through the kind of rigorous research and testing required for a new scientific theory to be accepted as consensus science, which should be a prerequisite to its presence in high school science textbooks.
But more importantly, I know that a very large number of Christians do accept the theory of evolution and are also very serious about their Christian faith. The problem is that very often they are quite vague both on what evolutionary theory is (see above), and on how it relates to their faith. The standard response to such a discussion is simply that they don’t take the Bible all that literally, but that leaves open the door for groups such as AiG to come in and claim that they represent the real “Bible believers.”
It is not simply a matter of taking the language of Genesis less literally. One needs to carefully examine it to discover just what type of literature it is, and then interpret as one would normally interpret that type of literature. It is not just that AiG is taking Genesis literally; they are taking it as a form of narrative history. It’s not. Their interpretation is fundamentally flawed, and has created the huge clash they present between the findings of modern science and what they teach from the Bible. The clash is not necessary, however, if one simply deals with Genesis as what it is. (For introductory material, see my essays Genesis Creation Stories – Form, Structure, and Relationship and The Two Flood Stories. I link to many other essays from those posts.)
When I try to talk to people in churches about creation and evolution, however, most are quite resistant, even when they accept evolutionary theory. It’s easier to be quiet and just hope that the extremists will go away. But many in the church need to know not only that pastors and teachers can accept the theory of evolution and still be Christians. They need to know how they do it. Too often I hear, “I don’t see the problem.” Well, having grown up young earth creationists–and I literally mean from the earliest memory I have of thinking of creation I was educated YEC–and having accepted evolutionary theory later in life, I do see the problem. Doctrines are stated in terms that seem to support the literal, narrative history view.
Again, some have suggested to me that they don’t want to waste their time on such a non-spiritual issue. But here I agree with the young earth folks. Creation is an important spiritual issue. (For my view of a Biblical doctrine of creation, see the pamphlet God the Creator.) But even further Bible study is falling off in our churches today and people are losing Biblical literacy. Genesis provides an excellent workshop for teaching methods of Bible study and ways of discerning the literary genre of various passages. It can provide the foundation for a much more effective Bible study discipline for church members. Their Bible study will become much more enlightening when they understand how to handle various literary genres. What information can you get from them? What are they intended to convey? What value might they have other than conveying propositional truths?
I think that we, as Christians, would do well to talk about this more, to preach it and to teach it in our Sunday School classes. And in spite of my own strongly held views, I do suggest that this happen no matter what your position. I no more want theistic evolution to become a Christian doctrine than I want young or old earth creationism to become enshrined in doctrinal statements. I think that we should use doctrinal statements to describe God’s relationship to us, and allow scientific study to determine how things work in the physical universe. I would be and have been perfectly willing to share Sunday School classes and even the platform with advocates for young earth creationism.
But the discussion needs to get out in the open, especially in those mainline churches who tend to hope that such arguments will go away. If we in mainline churches are embarrassed by the creation museum, we need to get more vocal about how we understand science, our faith, and their relationship.
Expect me to continue to be vocal on this issue for a long time to come.