Thursday, December 23, 2010

Learning from Creation

Matt Yglesias walks us through a few of the necessary entailments of creationism:
The scientific method makes certain claims about the state of the universe 4,000 years ago. Now assume that God created the universe—fossils and all—to look exactly like that 4,000 years ago. That’s obviously a religious hypothesis rather than a scientific one, but it’s consistent with the evidence and doesn’t anyone to believe in a scientists’ conspiracy or anything. Of course this would mean that God is perpetrating a massive conspiracy, which would be an odd thing for a just and moral God to do. But people believe God’s up to all kinds of odd stuff.
Did he say odd? This fan of Jesus doesn't find it odd at all -- no, not in the least:
There is no reason for Christians to deny that all such things have an appearance of age. As with everything else God created, the ground and its features are designed as ways for us to learn. If Jesus does not end history for another million years, and humanity winds up living among the stars, then we shall have opportunities to watch these implied processes at work. Adam watched little plants grow up to become trees, and then he understood what the rings in the original trees meant. He watched Cain grow up to become a fully grown man, and then he understood what his own creation as a fully grown man meant. Humanity may eventually watch supernovae produce heavy elements, animals decay to form oil, and shellfish compress to become limestone, and similarly learn what the original creation implied. It is only that the span of time is longer for these kinds of things to develop. [emphasis mine]
So there you go -- god planted fossils in the rocks, crammed the trees with growth rings, and radio-carbon-back-dated countless trillions of molecules as a way for humans to learn how the universe works.

The thing is, this is an almost exact description of what god could not have been doing. According to the Biblical account, what god presented Adam -- and by extension, humankind -- is two markedly different means by which things come into existence: first, a sudden existence of things willed by a god who just knows how to cause things to exist from nothing (an audible nod as seen on I Dream of Jeannie?); and second, the natural way, in which enormous quantities of energy convert elements to heavier elements, the various elements combine into molecules, molecules combine in more and more complex ways, and a few billion years later, life emerges. And so on.

Concretely: Adam might have "watched little plants grow up to become trees," but by doing so, he could not possibly learn "what the rings in the original trees meant." The original rings were forged in a moment of godly whimsy; to a reasonable contemporary observer, they would have meant, at most, that god wanted some rings in the trees he was poofing into existence. In subsequent trees, the rings were eventually observed to indicate something quite different -- they came to be understood as the physical markers of the trees' gradual, natural, organic development.

Likewise, watching Cain grow from baby to full-grown murderer would tell Adam nothing about his own origins -- Adam didn't have a baby stage, nor a moody teenage stage to connect with Cain's life. It's not even clear how Adam would identify Cain as the same kind of creature Adam conceived himself to be -- even if he somehow pieced together that having sex with Eve is what caused infant Cain to emerge purple and squalling from her vagina, he might reasonably conclude that this was just another of her betraying, spiteful, catastrophic capers -- another collusion with that despicable talking snake. Certainly Cain in his tiny, mucous-covered, placenta-still-attached, definitely-not-talking-or-walking state would not reasonably call to mind "just like me," and it would be many years before he looked truly Adam-like.

Such are the tangles of creationism. Adam -- and by extension, all of us -- would do well to forget, as quickly and thoroughly as possible, everything about Eden. The way forward is to dismiss all of it as a fantasy, a delusion, a vivid hallucination, a name attached to the setting of a deeply misleading tale.

1 comment:

Roscoe said...

Hmmmm... I am surprised this post has not yet garnered a discussion between defensive factions. Well, perhaps the holidays has kept us all too busy for contentious response.

Well written, in my opinion. Thanks!