Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Inerrancy Part 3 - Young Earth Creationism

I have to confess that I have a soft spot for Ken Ham, a local boy who made it to the big stage.  He grew up in the same Brisbane suburb as me.  I had a slight friendship with his younger brother in my early teens, and Ken himself taught biology at the high school I attended.  In the year I graduated, he quit teaching to start the Creation Science Foundation here in Queensland, and a few years later joined forces with his friend and mentor Henry Morris to spread the idea of young earth creationism in the USA.  He is still doing it to this day.

In my early 20s I went to a Creation Science event at which Ken shared the platform with an American biologist.  At the time I was very receptive to creationism and was impressed by the American's presentation on the mathematical improbability of evolution.  I remember being less impressed with Ken's presentation, but in hindsight it was probably more to the point.  The Book of Genesis, he said, is a cornerstone of Scripture.  It is quoted and referred to throughout the Old and New Testaments.  If we take away the truth of Genesis, the whole fabric of the Bible unravels and we are left with no Christian faith.  Because of this, true Christians have no alternative but to believe in the literal truth of the early chapters of Genesis. 

It took me a few years to understand what this meant about Creation Science - that it is not science at all, it is the selection and arrangement of pieces of scientific information to bolster a pre-determined view of the Bible.  It is a piece of apologetics, albeit not a very good one.

He clearly had in mind a view of inerrancy pretty much the same as that propounded in the Chicago Statement.  Ken himself wasn't at the original 1978 Summit - he was still teaching - but Henry Morris's name appears on the attendance list.  Sure enough, this is what Article 12 says.

WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

Article 22 of the Statement on Hermeneutics reiterates the point. 

WE AFFIRM that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.

WE DENY that the teachings of Genesis 1-11 are mythical and that scientific hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.

This Article is the only specific Scripture reference I can find in any of the three statements produced by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.  Why was this particular part of the Bible singled out?  Why, for instance, did the authors not defend the factuality of the accounts of Jesus' birth, death and resurrection - surely a subject more central to the Christian faith?  I suspect it has more to do with the culture wars in the US education system than with any sense of theological priority. 

What's sad about this is that it is quite unnecessary.  There are plenty of alternative views, and some of them don't even require you to deny the inerrancy of the Bible.

The most conservative alternative is to maintain that the Bible is inerrant, but that the first chapters of Genesis are not intended to be literal accounts.  The first chapter is a poem in praise of the Creator, describing with poetic imagination his actions in bringing the world into being.  The subsequent chapters are a parable illustrating the temptation and fall of humanity. 

This would be at least partly consistent with Article 18 of the original statement.

WE AFFIRM  that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices...

The question of the age of the earth could then have been a legitimate question of interpretation.  Evangelical readers would be allowed to debate and discuss the age of the earth without being told they were betraying their faith.  The next 30 years of battles over science curricula could have been avoided. 

Instead, the authors took a literalist position.  Their followers were left with no room to move - they had to choose between Christianity and science.  Many chose science.  Scientific atheists have been dining out on the results ever since.


Sherry Peyton said...

Very well done! There is a great article in Esquire that starts with a tour of Ham's creation museum. Google Idiot America and Esquire and you should get it. I'll post a link tomorrow when I write on fundamentalism one more

Jon said...

Thanks Sherry, that's a great article. We're not immune to that over here but the extreme views still find it a lot harder to get air time. No Creation Museum here yet.

Anonymous said...

thank you so much, Jon - it's good to hear from the other side sometimes! (we have a creation ministries guy at church... :s )