Thursday 10 May 2012

Of apes and men

A revolution is underway among scholars who study the settlement of the Americas. The old orthodoxy held that the first Americans, represented by the Clovis culture, crossed the Bering Strait from Asia about 13,100 years ago. Now, finds showing human activity all over the continent suggest that the settlers - likely a diverse bunch, leaving Asia in several periods of migration - may have come to America as early as 14,600 years ago.

I'm thrilled by all this. Who wouldn't be? But just a couple of years ago, my reaction to the news would likely have been an awkward smile and an attempt to change the subject.

I was never a creationist, but like many Christians I found the facts of human origins something of an embarrassment. I knew the earth was older than the six thousand years postulated by creationists, but I rather wished it wasn't. Wouldn't it be easier on the gospel if we could continue to believe in a literal Adam and Eve?

Unfortunately, the contortions required to hold on to creationism are too high a price to pay. The biblicist dogma of Ken Ham & Friends can only be sustained by jettisoning all attempts at knowledge. For people ostensibly committed to guarding truth, that's ironic.

Young-earth creationists advance many spurious arguments attacking particular pieces of evidence, but the core of Answers in Genesis's 'ministry' at least seems to be two attacks on the possibility of knowledge itself:

(1) 'Were you there?' This pseudo-argument holds that we cannot claim to know anything we have not personally witnessed. If true, this would invalidate all historical knowledge whatever, including of course the entirety of biblical history and the life of Jesus.

(2) 'Evolution is inferential, not observational science, and thus our opinions on it are governed not by facts but by our assumptions.' On top of discounting all history, this declares a change of beliefs on the grounds of evidence (the basis of all evangelism) an a priori impossibility.

I don't need to tell you why these arguments are foolish. They're not really intended to convince, but to create enough wiggle room to allow true believers to remain in the fundamentalist subculture rather than seek answers elsewhere.

Creationism sustains itself at the cost of destroying all categories of knowledge. To deny our specific knowledge of evolution, it must deny the possibility of knowing anything at all beyond what is written in the Bible - and its biblicism is fatally self-contradictory and destructive. Creationism cannot claim any legitimacy, and it richly deserves to be abandoned.

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