The topic of “Creation versus Evolution,” at least in many circles, often elicits a good deal of debate, many times in rather a heated manner. The point of this post is not to provoke strong emotions in anyone, but only to offer a few thoughts about the Institute for Creation Research, an outspoken advocate of scientific “Creationism.” The integration of faith and reason in science has been an important consideration for many American Protestant Christians over the past 120 years. In the early 1900’s, intellectual change on a number of levels was sweeping across America, especially in relation to biological science. In 1925, the Scopes Trial in Dayton, TN made Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection (first published in 1859) and brought a creation/evolution dichotomy to the forefront of American culture. Over the next few decades, the increasingly divided American Church responded to an increasingly secular scientific culture in a variety of ways. Many of the more “liberal” denominations acclimated to the changes in the philosophy of science, while many “conservative” denominations either fought against such changes or (more often) merely abandoned serious scientific inquiry altogether. By the 1970’s, the divide on creation and evolution was nearly complete, a divide that has directly impacted the nature of American Christianity on a variety of topics (scientific, theological, ethical, and political) since.
Out of this divide, the Institute for Creation Research was founded by Dr. Henry Morris in 1970. The stated purpose of ICR on their website is as follows:
After more than four decades of ministry, the Institute for Creation Research remains a leader in scientific research within the context of biblical creation. Founded by Dr. Henry Morris in 1970, ICR exists to conduct scientific research within the realms of origins and earth history, and then to educate the public both formally and informally through graduate and professional training programs, through conferences and seminars around the country, and through books, magazines, and media presentations.
My first thought has to do with the relationship between faith and scientific research. While some have suggested otherwise, philosophers such as J. P. Moreland have argued that faith and scientific reason can exist in harmony with each other. In such cases, the scientific method must be employed without the now typical marriage to presupposed philosophical naturalism. Much of modern science works from the assumption that there is no transcendent divine entity beyond the measurable universe (i.e., philosophical naturalism). What those who criticize “Christians doing science” need to realize is that we all work from philosophical presuppositions, and that instead of dismissing any theistic presuppositions without a second thought, that naturalists too must re-examine their own presuppositions. Being committed to any academic discipline requires finding that balance between personal convictions and work. Certainly faith should not require us to check our brains at the door, but neither should science necessitate that we cease thinking in order to fall in line with an “accepted” consensus (which, as Thomas Kuhn reminds us, often changes anyway).
My second thought relates more directly to Institute for Creation Research and their position on “ministry” and “scientific research.” I regularly receive (and at least page through) the ICR’s “Acts and Facts” magazine. While there are often times pieces worth reading, I am regularly disappointed by some of what I read, where a small measure of science (observation, geology, physics, etc) serves as a front for ministry. Please hear what I am saying here: I am convinced that faith and reason–“ministry” and “science”–can coexist in our lives and work. But doing “ministry” and calling it “science” is unacceptable.That is, presupposing only a theological basis without also integrating the methodological tools of your field (science, writ large here) makes for shoddy theology and shoddy science. Numerous articles included “footnotes” that referenced other ICR articles for proof of the claims that were being made by the writer. This is not how you do good scholarship. Often times arguments about the age of the earth boiled down to, “Well, the Bible makes it absolutely clear that the age of the earth is X, and so this (test, conclusion, article, person) is clearly wrong.” That’s not doing science– that’s not even really making a decent argument– that’s playing dogmatics with a specific Biblical interpretation and trying to beat people over the head with it. I’m not necessarily saying that the ICR’s interpretation of Genesis 1-3 is wrong. I just want the ICR to do a better job arguing scientifically if that is what they claim to be doing.
My third thought involves the interpretation of Genesis. Broadly speaking, Genesis 1-11 is looked at by Biblical scholars as somewhat different than the rest of the Genesis narrative. Genesis 1-11 narrates a time before Abraham, ostensibly reaching back to the beginning of the world. Any concern with creation and evolution aside, the type of literature in this portion of Genesis is markedly different that almost all of the rest of the Biblical text. Not only WHAT this text is saying to its readers, but also HOW it says it is important. Moses did not jot down Genesis 1-11 in a vacuum, nor did he write it as a science textbook to answer 21st century questions about the origin of life and responses to evolutionary biology. Moses inked these narratives to provide the early back story for the people of Israel. He was not writing a western-style history book. He was not writing a biology book. Now, this does not mean that we cannot use Genesis 1-11 to inform our perspectives on history, biology, chemistry, ethics, or underwater basket weaving– all of things (and more) may be possible. However, we must remember that context is king when we interpret and seek to ascertain meaning, and thus we need to determine what concerns Moses had when writing. Chief among these seems to be the need to relate a creation cosmology of the one true God, not the chaos or pantheon of other Ancient Near East creation myths. When looking at Genesis 1-11 through this lens, it quickly becomes apparent that Genesis has parallels to other narratives, for example the Enuma Elish, where Moses seeks to correct the cosmology of other cultures. We cannot forget this important contextual information when trying to interpret Genesis (or any other text for that matter).
If the Christian tradition hopes to retain its place of influence and importance (say nothing of relevance) in Western Civilization, a personal, critical, and informed faith must take the place of the secondhand, dogmatic un-reflective religion that is far too widespread in American Christianity. Careful thought and reflection must be given to the interaction between “faith” and “reason,” especially within the field of scientific inquiry. Philosophers such as J.P. Moreland have already laid a superb foundation for future thinking. When engaging the academic disciplines and sciences of the 21st century we must be careful to critically engage whatever our topic may be, and not try to uncritically call our theology our biology, chemistry, physics, economics, or history. All of those factors are of course necessary components of a worldview, with our interpretation of certain disciples being shaped by our philosophical and theological presuppositions. But we cannot force an interpretation in one discipline and then call it our entire road map for other high complex fields of study. And with specific concern for the creation/evolution/biology debate, we must take care to remain careful and interpret Biblically and critically passages such as Genesis 1-11, reading and interpreting what may be there instead of forcing our presuppositions and concerns onto a text and context that may have very little that directly addresses what we want. As Dr. Michael Bauman once said,
We must remember that the enemy [of truth] is not merely error and our adherence to it, it is also truth held for all the wrong reasons (or for no reason whatsoever) and arrived at all the wrong ways.