Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Creation Museum

As a Southern Baptist kid growing up in Texas, I was taught that every good Baptist should read through the entire Bible at least once a year. So I methodically added up all the chapters in the Bible and divided by 365 to see how many chapters I had to read each day. For three years, I began each New Year's Day by reading the opening chapters of Genesis, and I began each December 31st by reading the last chapters of Revelation. Of course, I read only the King James Translation, because Southern Baptists knew that this was the only divinely inspired English translation of the Bible.

I remember one New Year's Day noticing the date at the top of the first page of my Bible: "4004 B.C." I wondered where this came from, because I couldn't see this date given anywhere in the Biblical text. Years later, I learned that this date was set by James Ussher, who was an Anglican Archbishop in 17th century Ireland. In his book "Annals of the Old Testament," he had used chronological evidence from the Bible and from ancient historical texts to infer an exact chronology of the history of the world that began with the Creation of the world in 4,004 B.C.

I have been reminded of this by the news stories about the opening of the "Creation Museum" in Kentucky built by the "Answers in Genesis" organization directed by Ken Ham. Two good articles can be found
here and here. The website for "Answers in Genesis" can be found here. A good article on Ussher's chronology by Stephen Jay Gould can be found here.

Ken Ham is a leader of the Biblical literalists who read the book of Genesis as a science textbook that proves that Darwinian science must be false. Following Ussher's chronology, Ham believes this Biblical science shows how everything was created in 4004 B.C. and how almost all of the fossil record and the geology of the earth was shaped by the catastrophe of Noah's flood in 2348 B.C. So all of the scientific evidence that the earth is billions of years old must be false. And since human beings were created on the same day as the animals, all of the scientific evidence for species existing before the emergence of human beings must be false. So, for example, human beings must have coexisted with dinasaurs. Ham's museum presents this story in dramatic ways. Although I have not seen the museum, I have seen Ham present his vision at a convention for Illinois homeschooling parents meeting at my university a few summers ago. In fact, much of the homeschooling movement is motivated by the desire of parents to teach Biblical creation science as an alternative to Darwinian evolution.

The reasoning of people like Ham is often remarkably clever. For example, one has to be impressed by how carefully he has thought about how Noah's ark could hold a pair of each "kind" of animal, including dinasaurs.

Although I could say a lot about this, I will only briefly make three points. The first point is that in the popular debate over evolution, people often confuse "creation science" with "intelligent design theory." Actually, Ham denounces the idea of "intelligent design," because its proponents don't rely on a literal reading of the Genesis Creation story. So, as far as Ham is concerned, the folks at the Discovery Institute are actually promoting disrespect for the truth of the Bible. And yet almost all of the proponents of intelligent design are motivated by Biblical religious beliefs, and some of them are "young earth creationists" who see "intelligent design" as pointing to the truth of the Genesis Creation story. This was evident at the Dover, Pennsylvania, trial in the fall of 2005. Initially, the public school board members challenging the teaching of evolution wanted creationism taught. But when they were told this would be rejected by the courts as an unconstitutional establishment of religion, they turned to "intelligent design theory" as a way of promoting creationism without explicitly bringing up the Bible. At the trial, this deception became so obvious that they lost their case.

My second point is that this Creation Museum and the whole "creation science" movement violates the content and spirit of the Bible. That date of "4004 B.C." at the beginning of my old King James Bible was not found in any Bibles until 50 years after the death of Ussher. This dating scheme came not from the text of the Bible but from Ussher's chronology. Ken Ham's organization has published a beautiful new edition of Ussher's ANNALS OF THE WORLD. I encourage you to order a copy and study Ussher's meticulous scholarship. You will notice, however, that most of Ussher's evidence for his chronology comes from outside the Bible--from classical authors like Xenophon and Herodotus, for example. The Bible manifests little concern for such a chronology. If God wanted to reveal a scientific chronology of the world, why is the Bible written so as to force Ussher to go outside the Bible--to pagan authors like Xenophon and Herodotus--to try to piece together this chronology? Trying to pull a scientific chronology out of the Bible denies the real purpose of the Bible, which is to say something about the spiritual condition of humanity under God. For this purpose, there is no need to interpret the story of Creation as a literal process of 6 days of Creation. In fact, most Biblical believers don't read Genesis as a literal, science textbook.

My third point is that the real issue here is not scientific but moral and religious. As the stories about Ham's museum indicate, the ultimate message is that doubting his Biblical science and accepting Darwinian evolution will promote atheism while destroying morality and destroying the traditional family. Visitors at the museum look into the house of the American family under the influence of Darwinian science, and what they see is a boy at his computer staring at pornography. It's all Darwin's fault!

As is clear from many of my posts on this blog, I disagree. Although Darwinian science cannot decide the theological truth of Biblical religion, Darwinism is compatible with religious belief, and this is the position taken by many theistic evolutionists (Mitt Romney and others). And insofar as Darwinian science supports the idea of a natural moral sense rooted in the evolved nature of human beings, Darwinism provides a natural ground of morality, while recognizing that religious belief can reinforce that natural morality.

The complexity of the debate among Christians over the Creation story is evident in the hundreds of comments on a recent post on the Touchstone magazine blog, which can be found here.

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