Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why creationism is bad for Christianity - an open letter to creationists in Edinburgh.

I was originally going to write this piece as a response to a talk given by Paul James-Griffiths (a member of the Edinburgh Creation Group) at Carrubbers Christian Centre last week, but its not really about him. There is a wider issue here about changes in the way Christianity is being presented by evangelical groups in the city. Whilst I don’t mind people believing whatever they like, when they try to represent young earth creationism as central to Christianity I think this is both incorrect and damaging to Christianity.

I write this as a former creationist myself who ended up no longer believing in God. Incidentally I attended Carrubbers and was involved in promoting one of the first tours of the UK by Ken Ham. So I speak as someone who had that level of investment in the whole house of cards at one time.

My own faith was shipwrecked by this issue because I had been told time and again that belief in a young earth and creation of the species as they currently are without evolution was essential to being a proper, soundly converted, bible believing Christian. When I started to doubt creationism I also began to question all the other things I had been told about God. I felt lied to, and ultimately I found I no longer believed in God. In hindsight if I had been in an environment where it was possible to believe in the Gospel message without having to accept creationism I would probably still be a Christian, or at least have some level of faith in God. Although its unlikely that this level of faith would have made me acceptable to evangelicals as a “real Christian”.

As time has gone on it has occurred to me that the communication challenges facing the church today are being made greater by the emphasis they are putting on creationism.

If you are a creationist in Edinburgh here are some reasons why I think your activities are bad for Christianity.

You are making the relevance of the bible conditional on the literal truth of a part of it which stands at odds with observable facts. 
You may claim that there is no contradiction between the two and that Genesis is science, but the majority of thinking people do not agree with that position and there is considerable scientific and everyday evidence to support their skepticism. By making young earth creationism central to the Christian message you are narrowing down the number of people to whom that message will appeal.  This is part of a wider movement in Christianity which seeks to add more and more levels of unreasonable belief in order to be accepted by the group as a “true believer” (whether it be pentecostal doctrines, dispensationalist, creationist or any other add on doctrine).

You are unwittingly providing fuel for militant atheists.
You see, if your argument is “Genesis can be proved to be literally true, therefore the rest of the bible is true, therefore God exists” it does not take much to turn this argument on its head and say “science proves that Genesis is not literally true, therefore the rest of the bible is untrue, therefore there is no god”. Even though there is no logical connection between the literal truth of Genesis and the truth of any other part of the bible or with the issue of the existence of God.

You are misusing creation as a proof for the existence of God.
Creationists use of a young earth and dismissal of evolution as a proof for the existence of God is a false dawn. Even if evolution was proved to be untrue it would not necessarily mean that God did it (there are other competing theories) and even then it would not logically fall that it was the Christian God as there are various other deities who lay claim to having created the world.

You are encouraging people to base their faith on a total denial of reason.
One consequence of creationism is that it tends towards putting a limit on how far people can go in investigating the world we live in. Some questions are simply off limit whilst others have a stop put on how far they can go. This means that Christians are more and more standing against education and this includes theological education just as much as scientific education. There is a general feeling amongst evangelicals that education erodes faith and is to be avoided. Hence the increased trend towards home schooling and Christian Schools in the Edinburgh area. By demonstrating outside the University and accusing it of being an atheist stronghold you are representing Christianity as Luddite in relation to education.

You are in danger of promoting lies.
Whilst I will defend your right to hold your beliefs about human origins there does come a point where it parts company with the facts and you have to accept that it is really just a faith position and accept it as such. When you try to promote it as hard fact then many people will view you as liars.

Some creationist beliefs previously promoted as true have later been found to be untrue.  This can not be said for any other area of Christian doctrine or the gospel message, which tends towards the metaphysical and therefore can never be found to be factually false. The alleged discovery of Noah’s Ark earlier this year which was then proved to be false was later defended by those involved as a way of bringing people to faith in God even although it was known to be false.
Intelligent design is worse than creationism because it starts with a definite lie. By claiming “this is nothing to do with religion” intelligent design organisations, staffed by evangelical Christians with religious objectives, start  from an immoral position which is at odds with the purported  character of God (who is supposed to be true and righteous).

In conclusion
It will be interesting to see what sort of response, if any, this article receives. My gut feeling is that there will be lots of comments trying to prove the creationist scientific claims whilst avoiding the actual point of the article which is about the way creationism has damaged the integrity of the way that Christianity is being presented in Edinburgh.