Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday Morning Comics #7

Today's comic comes from our Young Earth Creationist friends over at Answers in Genesis (AiG).  Here we see, pictorially represented, a standard argument used by AiG and Creation Ministries International (CMI) (indeed, I heard Richard Fangrad use this argument himself).  Evolution and Creation, they argue, are both interpretations of the same evidence.  The Christian looks at the facts of the natural world, such as fossils and genetic similarities between organisms and mass extinctions and sedimentary rocks, and interprets those objective points of data through the lens of scripture.  This provides them with an overwhelming belief in the majesty of a creator who shaped the world according to a literal reading of Genesis.  The evolutionist looks at those same facts and interprets them through the lens of The Origin of Species and other such evolutionary texts, and comes to an overwhelming belief in the truth of blind, random evolution.  The only difference between the two viewpoints is their explanatory framework.

I'm not even sure where to begin with such an argument.  The most obvious place, I guess, is that this comic presents a false dichotomy - what about the people like me, who would have both texts in their head?  Such a possibility isn't entertained in this comic.

But more perniciously, there are two very wrong assumptions inherent in this comic:

1. It assumes that the text itself is interpretatively neutral.  That is, one can approach scripture, and from a plain literal reading of the text fully understand what it is saying, such that the observations in the world fit neatly in line with this neutral historical account.  It does not take a Bible scholar to know that this is not true.  If it were, then all Christians would be in agreement about every word of what the Bible says.  But they are not, precisely because it is open to interpretation.  Yes, there are some who misuse scripture, twisting it to say things that it was never intended to say, but even with those removed, there can be different but equally valid ways of reading the text.  Sometimes, there can be no resolution in such debates.  And sometimes, our life experiences or observations cause us to abandon one interpretation in favour of another.

I must also question what is meant by a 'plain, literal reading'.  Not even the literalists are completely literal.  If so, they would have no eyes or arms to speak of, since Jesus told us, 'If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.'  If Jesus was speaking metaphorically there, then perhaps other non-literal meanings can be derived from certain other passages as well.  Or look at the Genesis account itself:  a literal reading would have uncreated water existing prior to creation, the plants photosynthesizing in a world with no sun (classic Creationists say that they survived from the light produced by God himself, indicating that God in some manner throws out photons from his very being that plants can use for nourishment), and, best of all, animals being formed, not through special creation, but from secondary causes inherent in the land itself.  And then look at all of the non-literal gymnastics they have to make, from volcanoes occurring during the Flood, to mosquitoes gaining a penchant for blood after Adam and Eve's fall from grace.

Clearly, the Creationists are imposing their explanatory framework onto scripture first, well before they impose it on the facts of the natural world.

2. It assumes that the natural world is open to interpretation.  Whereas there is only one way to read the text, there are multiple valid ways of piecing together the observations of the world.  They are in fact correct about this, but only up to a point - it is the role of science to figure out which alternatives are actually valid.  Darwin presented the Origin of Species only after accumulating numerous facts in support of his argument of evolution by natural selection.  There were suddenly two distinct explanations for biological organisms: special creation, or evolution.  And within the realm of evolution, Darwin's theory was not the only one: there was inheritance of acquired characters, as espoused by Lamarck; the mutation theory of Hugo de Vries; and orthogenesis, as championed by people like Darwin's half-cousin Francis Galton and William Bateson.  It is not as if Darwin's theory immediately emerged victorious - it took experimentation, theoretical mathematics and field observations before Darwin's theory 'won'.

It is simply not true that one can look at the evidence in the natural world and come up with special creation.  Try as they might, AiG and CMI will always be doing interpretative gymnastics, both as they try to fit nature to scripture, and as they try to fit scripture to their preconceived idea of what it means to be inspired by God.

The passages
The scriptures at the bottom of the comic are:

'How many are your works, Lord!
   In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.'
               - Psalm 104:26

'Do you not know?
  Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
   and his understanding no one can fathom.'
             - Isaiah 40:28

The irony here is that AiG did not listen to their own scripture.  A literal reading of Isaiah 40:28 should make them think twice before they limit the ways in which God can shape his creation.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, thinking of this cartoon. Would make an interesting PC/Mac spoof-mercial.