Creationism and Culture Wars


(system) #1
It’s hard to separate creationism from culture wars—and truth is often one of the first casualties.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/creationism-and-culture-wars

(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

…but we must tread carefully, because in culture wars the truth is all too often one of the first casualties. Seeking truth is fundamental to who we are as followers of the Truth Incarnate, and in our zeal to be faithful to Jesus we must always take care not to let our own biases or opinions obliterate the truth.

I think that is a fitting conclusion to the culture war descriptions you give in which truth is an early casualty. Cartoons are powerfully expressive to me, having grown up in an age where I spent not-insignificant time reading comics from books. I note that Ham does not include in his icon any flag called “truth”. No doubt we can safely infer that he would consider such a label as redundant as it obviously would be fully unfurled on the Creationism side. But nonetheless I think it is significant to ponder where such a flag belongs, and furthermore whether I would give it a capital ‘T’ or small ‘t’, or beyond that even … should there be any distinctions or different levels of truth?

For those of us firmly convinced that Ham’s Creation scientists have accepted and push much that is factually false, it is not a trivial question to find tatters of such a [truth] flag rooted in various parts of both fortresses [and indeed --such a flag would be foundational on either side, nothing ‘balloonish’ about it!] Where Ham tries to marginalize any such discernment as an attempt to put our own understandings in authority over God’s word, I read from the pages of Scripture an explicit endorsement of the practice [discernment about who correctly understands God’s word] when the Hebrews are instructed to choose between true and false prophets by observing whose prophecies actually come to pass. God obviously does not consider observable truths and human rationality to simply be left aside in all this.

Thanks for this piece, Ted. I look forward to the next installments.

[clarifying edits already added!]


(Dr. Ted Davis) #3

@Mervin_Bitikofer,

Thank you for the kind comment and for contributing your own thoughts. After a month of adventuring in southern Africa, it’s good to be back in the saddle. I look forward to hearing from other readers, too.


(Jay Johnson) #4

Thank you for this important series, Dr. Davis. As Christians, we serve the God of truth. Consequently, we have nothing to fear from the truth regardless of its source, be it scientific or historical. The more that evangelicals deny and argue against what is, by now, an obvious truth, the more damage we do to our own children, who are leaving the church at twice the rate of any previous generation. In my own inquiries into this problem, every indicator points to the Culture Wars as the main culprit.

I wanted to highlight this important point that you made: The person described by Ham’s organization as “the ‘father’ of the modern creationist movement,” the late Henry Morris, suggested this in his influential work, The Troubled Waters of Evolution (1974), for which his friend Tim LaHaye wrote the preface. This isn’t trivial. We can’t fully understand the YEC view without understanding their wide-angle view of the history of evolution, which mainly comes from Morris.

The mention of Tim LaHaye reveals another important connection to the Culture Wars, as well. Your link to his Christianity Today obituary in 2016 contained a nugget that highlighted this fact:

During the 1970s Dr. LaHaye was instrumental in gathering a coalition of Southern California pastors together to address a progressive agenda that was undermining traditional family values. Also in the ’70s he encouraged the late Jerry Falwell Sr. to establish the Moral Majority as a way to build a similar coalition nationally.

This connection between the “end times fever” started by Hal Lindsey (and continued spectacularly by LaHaye a generation later) and the birth of the Culture Wars should not be overlooked. In my opinion, it goes a long way toward explaining the susceptibility to the “conspiracy theory” mindset so prevalent in the YEC movement …


(Dr. Ted Davis) #5

The main themes of this column, including the idea that evolution began with Satan, are well illustrated by a Kent Hovind video about the age of the earth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shyI-aQaXD0

Comments on that presentation would fit in well here.


(Albert Leo) #6

Ham’s 2010 cartoon gave me cause to revisit an imaginary scenario where I stood in Pilate’s shoes when he responded to Jesus’ statement: “I am the Truth.” Pilate is said to have responded: “What IS Truth?”–in my view an entirely reasonable response, since Human Reason should carry considerable weight, as it does in Ham’s cartoon where it is the foundation of the Humanist Castle. We can hardly blame Pilate for not balancing Reason with Revelation. Jesus’ disciples had the benefit of that added input. But where were they when Jesus needed them? The one voice raised in Jesus’ defense was voiced by Pilate’s wife because of a dream. Hardly trustworthy in the face of reason. So I probably would have decided as Pilate did; since I cannot decide on which side Truth resides, I wash my hands of the whole matter.

So, while God may wish us to try to know Him through human reason, we will fall woefully short unless we also rely on revelation. But I firmly believe that revelation is not exclusively limited to Scripture and that nothing new has been added in thousands of years. I believe that there is a portion of our Minds that, if we permit it, can be open to current revelation. Some of my scientific colleagues refer to this as Wishful Thinking. Perhaps they are right. But even if it is not truth with a capital T, it has worked OK for me.
Al Leo


(Laura) #7

Thank you for this article. This issue is becoming more real to me as I learn, especially since I am a Christian homeschool alum who grew up during the Christian homeschooling movement of the 80s and 90s. “Culture wars” were such an integral part of my upbringing that it can be hard to separate which aspects of my education fell under that banner and which did not.

Those Ken Ham cartoons are quite familiar to me, as I grew up from day one being taught that evolution was evil and a lie. It’s no wonder so many like me have felt that the only option is to abandon their faith when faced with the evidence for evolution.

Last year I read a book by Julie Ingersoll called “Building God’s Kingdom,” which traced the influence of R.J. Rushdoony (a Christian philosopher I’d never heard of) through the homeschooling movement and the religious right, but there was also a chapter about YEC. After attending a “Demand the Evidence” conference, she says:

"One might think that the purpose of the conference was the presentation of evidence in favor of young earth creationism over against evolution. But one would be wrong. There were no skeptics there weighing evidence. The conference goers were already convinced of the “truth” of creationism and that young earth creationism is the only biblically legitimate interpretation of the Genesis account of creation.

Instead, the conference served as an exercise in social formation; the building of a community through myth and ritual. … In retelling the Genesis story, describing the fight to defend it, identifying the enemies of God, and ridiculing them as sinister and ungodly, the storytellers mark the boundaries of who is inside the group and who is not.

Viewing YEC in light of culture wars is very illuminating. It was never really about the evidence at all.

[Edit just to clarify – I am not disparaging homeschooling in any way, as I fully support it and am currently homeschooling my own children. I just think that, in the interest of truth, it’s important for me to be honest about some of the philosophies (including YEC and culture wars) that helped to fuel the primary movement.]


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #8

when Christians reinterpret the days of creation to fit with millions of years, reinterpret Genesis 1:1 to fit with the big bang, or adopt other positions that add Darwinian evolution to the Bible, they are undermining the very Word of God itself. And this is the issue—this is why we have lost biblical authority from the culture.

As I have said before, Creationism is not to be a scientific issue, but primarily a theological question. The starting point for understanding Creationism is to look at its history and I would start with The Fundamentals: A Testimony of Truth, which was a series of 10 volumes published between 1910-15. The purpose of this publishing venture based in California, but was nationwide, was to put conservative Christianity on a firm theological basis, because people felt they were under attack from science, modernism, and liberalism. To do this they declared that the Bible is the Absolute Truth, the Word of God.

This is why in the 19 cartoon we have the battleships of the enemy bombarding the “Rock of Ages,” which is not God, but The Holy Bible. “The Word of our God shall stand forever.” Isaiah 40:8

(NIV2011)
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

This fine if it were good theology, but it is not. Jesus is divine Word of God, not the Bible. People who translate the Bible, including the KJV, know what they are doing when they capitalize Word in John 1:1 and do not capitalize word in Isaiah 40:8.

Jesus, the Messiah and Savior, is the foundation of Christianity, not the Bible. This basic truth makes Fundamentalism and Creationism false. It is good to be fervid in one’s defense of the Bible, but if one fails to understand the basic message of the Bible, Jesus is Lord, then this devotion is wrong headed.

Jesus did refer to a rock, when He said, “Upon this Rock (Petra or Peter) I will build the Church and the Gates of Hell will not prevail again it.” Jesus had more faith is the Church than Jack Ham and builds His Church on people of faith, and not the Bible. It would seem that Jesus give His people the ability to interpret and understand the Bible over and beyond a literal interpretation.

The fact that Jack Ham clears believes that the Bible is the Word of God instead of Jesus is evident in the quotes in the article, one of which is above and his more recent cartoons.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #9

@Relates,

I would agree with you that Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God, but probably hundreds of millions of Christians would also affirm that the Bible is also in some sense the word of God. IMO, the problems arise when readers of the Bible fail adequately to consider that the Bible was written for a specific audience at a specific time, and that (IMO) it is accommodated to that audience, while still being relevant for us. As our friend John Walton says, “the Bible was written for us, not to us.”


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #10

@TedDavis

We are agreed that Jesus is the Word of God and the Bible is the word of God.

The problem occurs when Christians confuse the two, when churches become Bible believing, rather than Christ believing. There is a very important difference, because to say that the Bible is the Word of God indicates that it is on par with Jesus Christ as stated in John 1:1.

As a great hymn says, “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ Name. On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” In my considered opinion the Bible qualifies as “the sweetest frame” and “other ground.”

Making the Bible the Word of God is the mistake the Pharisees made. Making belief in Bible the basis for Christianity makes the Bible an Idol and negates the Christian faith. Making belief in the Bible the basis of Christianity has disgraced the church in the age of Trumpism.

This is the serious problem BioLogos should address, individually and collectively.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #11

I love that hymn! And applying it as you have to this problem (which I agree is a problem) is a new way to see it. But when you write…

Most Christians would react to this (with at least some justification IMO) that this is a false dichotomy. They would emphatically deny that they are choosing between Christ and the Bible and would say rather that they believe in Christ and the Bible together (and indeed the testimonies of each support each other.) Now don’t get me wrong – there is no symmetry here; Christ is preeminent in and over all things including our printed Bible. I agree with you there, and join with you in calling worship of the Bible a kind of idolatry. I suggest that this idolatry goes even deeper in that it isn’t even just “the Bible” that some are worshiping, but rather their received and cherished understandings of the same. They would emphatically deny this too, of course, as they don’t recognize any difference here either. But I do think helping provoke this recognition is a more attainable goal, as it is not the giant affront as would be the flat-out accusation that they are choosing between Jesus and the Bible itself. I think even just helping people to see that all of our own understandings and traditions (Biblically-based as we may think these are) are not for a moment to be confused with the authority of Jesus, --I think that recognition would be progress.

[reworded for more clarity]


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #12

First, let me point out some evidence that the real issue is the Bible over Jesus. For some time now I have been pointing out that the NT Creation story is different from the OT one and it does not involves 6 days and indeed Jesus said that neither God the Father and God the Son rested on the seventh day. While no one can deny this fact, no one, not YEC nor EC has suggested that this a real way to resolve that issue.

People have been so transfixed by the Gen 1 story that they have forgotten to check out the NT understanding of creation, even though we are supposed to be New Covenant people. In fact I see a strong current of OT legalism in current evangelical thinking that I find on the internet, which is most discouraging.

Second, the main question is the Truth and what I see from the evidence, which is well presented in this article, is that the Fundamentalists and YEC have used the theological concept of the Bible as the Absolute Word of God as their primary defense against “Darwinism.” By ignoring this bad theology BioLogos to an extent is enabling Jack Ham and Co. and denying the Truth.

Third, of course the bad theology of the Bible as the Word of God opens that way for cultural distortions of the Bible as we see in the NT. When we are going to look for how to deal with this problem, we have the example of Jesus Himself. He did not mince words when He criticized thos who used the Bible for their own purposes.

It seems that He attacked the leaders first, but since this is important for salvation, everyone needs to know what is going on. Sadly most people did not heed the words of Jesus, as most people might well not heed the words of modern day prophets, but that is not our choice. Our responsibility is to speak the Truth as best we know it.

Gen 1;1: In the Beginning God created the heavens and earth.

John 1:1: In the Beginning was the Word (Logos)