08 July 2007

What is Wrong with Christians Believeing Young-Earth Creationism? Answer #3

Answer 3: Science is more useful to Christians than you might think.

The popularity of Young-Earth Creationism is due in part, I think, to a broader distrust of scientists and intellectuals in conservative Christian culture. YEC and related issues are, in part, about whether we, as Christians and as a nation, trust and respect science. They are about whether we have the courage to face evidence that contradicts our interpretation of Scripture.

One use of science that is particularly relevant to Christianity is the debunking of superstitions, such as homeopathic medicine and astrology, among other things. In strong contrast to a Biblical worldview, believers in these practices all assume predictable supernatural outcomes for certain actions (e.g. avoiding black cats) or circumstances (e.g. being born under a particular constellation of the Zodiac). These predictions are amenable to testing and falsification by science.

Medical advances are another concrete and important example. As an InterVarsity staff member wrote to a large group, "Take the example of smallpox in rural India. Traditional Hindus believe smallpox is the curse of a goddess, or the goddess herself; Christians and Muslims believe smallpox is a disease to cure via the scientific method." If we had assumed that smallpox is part of the immutable wrath of God, it would not have been eradicated.

Similarly, in The Language of God, Dr. Francis Collins writes about his experience working at a mission hospital in Eku, Nigeria. "A wide spectrum of diseases was represented. Oftentimes patients arrived at the hospital only after many days of progressive illness. Even worse, the course of the disease was regularly compounded by the toxic ministrations of the witch doctors, who which many Nigerians would first go for help, coming to the hospital in Eku only when all else failed (ch. 11)."

I realize that some competent medical professionals do hold the YEC view, but they do so in direct contradiction to the evidence and the conclusions obtained by the scientific method. The same method allows them to understand and treat a vast array of diseases and injuries that would remain fatal if the words of Scripture were used as our only source of knowledge.

More generally, science is useful to Christians because it provides an exciting, effective, inspiring, useful, and realistic outlet for our God-given curiosity about Creation. Adhering to YEC often stifles that curiosity; this can been seen in textbooks for home-schooled students that advocate only the YEC position. A textbook for 8th graders entitled Space and Earth Science (3rd ed.) and published by Bob Jones University Press claims to be presenting "the young earth Creationary view of the Earth's history and rejecting the uniformitarian/evolutionary models pervading our culture." Similarly, Science of the Physical Creation from A Beka Book publishers, "includes a good refutation of the 'principle of uniformity' and other ideas of evolutionary philosophers."

A sample page from Science of the Physical Creation asserts, "God created the earth's atmosphere, the blanket of gasses that surrounds our planet, to protect and support life in many ways." This seems innocuously reverent, but it effectively declares scientific investigations of the past to be impossible and pointless. Scientists have developed effective and empirically supported explanations for the origin of Earth's atmosphere. Yet this text book seems to say that we shouldn't devote effort to these endeavors. This could be construed as evidence that Christians deliberately stifle scientific investigation because we are afraid of what it might uncover. Also, this simple statement offers no explanation for why the other planets of the Solar System have atmospheres, unless one chooses to argue that the atmosphere of Venus is a warning against the dangers of anthropogenic global warming.

When explanations the one given in Science of the Physical Creation claim to be the final and only necessary answer, they are an insult to the curiosity that drives science. They can reduce the number of Christians who enter scientific fields, increase the tension between scientists and Christians, and impede the progress of science understanding the parts of Creation our which we are stewards.

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