Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Misguided Priorities of Fundamentalist Faith

The New York Times today ran a fascinating-must read comparison of two Grand Canyon raft tours, one led by a born again creationist and another by a geologist. In it, the Grand Canyon stands as a metaphor for the gaping chasm between Americans who accept evolution and those who reject it as heresy.

"Ultimately, creationism is not just bad science to me, it's bad Christianity, it's Bible worship," said Alan Gishlick, a 32 year old PhD paleontologist and self-described devout Christian who joined the tour led by geologist Dr. Eugenie Scott.

"The more you learn about science, the more magnificent God is," added Susan Epperson, a former biology teacher who was the plaintiff in the 1967 Supreme Court case which ruled Arkansas' ban on the teaching of evoultion was unconstitutional. Epperson, now 64 and a member of her Presbyterian church choir, continued, "I can look at a rainbow, and I know that white light can hit water droplets and it gets dispersed and the light spreads out and has lots of different colors, and I also say, 'Thank you, God, for the rainbow.' "

The rainbow, as anyone familiar with Genesis knows, is the sign of God's covenant with us, made after Noah's flood, that He would never again destroy the earth in similar fashion. It's a fitting reference, since the leader of the other tour, Tom Vail, insists the Canyon was created during that very flood, a mere 4,500 years ago.

The Times reporter recorded that Mr. Vail claimed 80% of Christians "walked away" from their faith when studying science that contradicted the creation story. "It's foundational to our faith," he said, throwing a stick in frustration.

It is?

The foundation of the Christian religion is the Gospel. Nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus even mention the creation story, let alone insist on a six-day timeline. So why do they consider it so important?

"The whole thing becomes His reputation at stake," argued Diana Panes. The worry is that if Genesis 1 is not literally true, then perhaps neither is the Gospel. That fear is what drives the entire fundamentalist mindset.

"In the book of Genesis, it talks about God walking the face of the earth. Maybe His footprints are there," said Kathryn Crotts of Greensboro, NC, as she bent down to touch the floor of the Canyon. Indeed, the Times reporter described the creationists' mission as "an expedition in search of evidence that God created the earth in six days 6,000 years ago."

In search of evidence. Can anyone name for me someone else who searched for evidence of divinity? That's right, the disciple Thomas from the Gospel of John, who famously declared, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe."

Though they won't admit it, that is what they're doing out there in Arizona, looking for physical evidence of God to justify their faith. But proof is not faith.

Faith requires no proof, because God's most important gift to mankind is free will: our privilege to choose whether to accept faith or not. Salvation is based on faith; if there is incontrovertible proof of God, then there is no point to faith.


Andy said...

Clarification: last night I did come across two passages in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus mentions creation. It doesn't change my point, as Jesus uses both statements to mean that God created the universe, which in fact all Christians believe, and makes no reference whatsoever to any kind of timeline.

Esther said...

The creationism v. evolution debate is one that I never try to get involved in because I figure it all comes down to a matter of faith in the end. Unless we can go back in time and see for ourselves we will never know for certain how everything got here. I have no agenda and am not really hardcore, but I think that if one is a Christian one ought to believe that God could create the earth in six days. That he is that powerful, I mean, not necessarily that he did.

Julia said...

I would think that faith requires no proof. Is it not, as St. Paul said, the evidence of things unseen? Andy, I think your comparison of those who try to prove the world was created 4,500 years ago with St. Thomas is an apt one. As Esther says, the important thing is knowing that God could have created the world in six days. I don't think there are any creeds in any Christian sect that state "I believe that God created the world in six 24-hour days" as an article of faith. That's materialism, which is the antithesis of Christianity, besides which it's really missing the point.

Trickish Knave said...

This topic rears its ugly head in my house about once a quarter. Whether or not God snapped his fingers and created the Universe or took millions of years to do it is irrelevant. The fact is that He did it. The argument between 6000 years or 4 billion years for the age of this planet is an exercise in futility to me. Does it really matter if you are a Christian?

I believe in evolution as it pertains to dominant species and natural selection in the animal kingdom but dismiss the notion that a single cell organism evolved into something that grew feet so it could walk on land and then eventually grew hair, grew arms, turned int oan ape and then evolved into a human. For me to believe this I will need some proof. And "evidence" is not proof, no matter how many times you throw Lucy in my face.

Nathan said...

Being a geologist and having rafted down the GRand Canyon, I read this NYT article with interest. It really just drives me nuts why people are so fixed on the idea of a literal interpretation of the bible. The same scientific methods that created atomic weapons and is used to find your tumors are the same methods used to date the age of the deposits and rocks in the Grand Canyon. The principles of evolution used to develop next years Flu vaccine are the same ones taught in the classroom. When these peoples' children get sick, where do they take them, the church or the hospital?

I'm going to develop a new theory of gravity, because the old Law of Gravity doesn't cut it for me. It's clear to me that God is both Omniscient and Omnipotent, so therefore, it's not unreasonable to think that it is his shear force of will that holds each and everyone of us to the ground. Scientists have a difficult time explaining the gravitational force (and the electromagnetic forces as well) at the subatomic level, so I think we should teach the controversy by also mentioning my theory of gravity.

What's my evidence you say? Well look around you. How could forces so weak that you can float a paperclip on water (or Jesus for that matter) be the work of nature? It MUST be God.

Do me a favor if you're a hard core creationist, don't get a flu shot. Don't get your kids or old folks one either.

Andy said...

Yes, the fundamentalists need to be careful disputing evolutionary science; evolution is the basis of biology, which is the basis of medicine. Not to drag her poor corpse out of the closet, but the only reason Terri Schiavo was still "alive" after 18 years in a vegetative state was because of medical science rooted in evolutionary biology. If God's will is for humans not to determine their own or others' times and means of death (aka "sanctity of life," does not apply to Iraqis, apparently), then they shouldn't be knocking the science that keeps us alive.

On the other hand, I think you are wrong to insist on some basic separation of medical science and faith. Western medicine doesn't even come close to having all the answers; in fact, it has many of the wrong ones. It's great for trauma, but generally horrific for chronic conditions because Western medicine is almost entirely symptom-based. Most illnesses are caused by spiritual sickness. Modern pharmaceutical-based "medicine" makes us think we can just pop a pill to make the symptoms go away, and if the symptoms are gone, so is the problem. Couldn't be more wrong. PS, the flu shot is a fraud.