“As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” – Ecc 11:5
Last week we posted “The Government-Run System is Failing Badly When …” – which was a discussion of various forms of governmental monopolies that are failing miserably. One such example was that of the public school system, which is being abandoned as “negative value added” by a number of homeschooling advocates. In response, my good friend Possiblywrong posted a question about how a homeschooler – in particular a Christian homeschooler (such as myself … or perhaps moreso my wife) might handle certain scientific questions. And so, we shall respond.
Before responding, a couple of points are in order. First, the prior post itself was not expressly about homeschooling or Christian education, but about governmental shortcomings. Just so we understand that I’m not (yet) carrying on about the subject ad nauseum. Second, in making my argument I will have to touch on a number of points/issues that Possiblywrong did not raise, and even attack some viewpoints that he did not advocate (though they have been advocated by others). I will try to point these out as best I can, in fairness. Now, here is the text of the comment (preceded by a quote from the prior post):
“I can attest that our primary interest in homeschooling is a belief that we can educate more effectively and efficiently than the public schools in our area. And, just so I’m clear, we live in an area with excellent public schools.”
Public education is an issue on which I have many conflicting views. But despite that, homeschooling is an issue on which I have pretty definite opinions. Although I generally agree with the efficiency argument, I am less convinced of the reality of its effectiveness. I have asked here before– and failed to receive a response– about how religious education reconciles with scientific consensus. Although there are many areas of conflict, as a very specific and unambiguous example, can you describe how you might present (or plan to present) lessons about dinosaurs? In particular, if you take your child to a museum, and he reads about a Tyrannosaurus Rex that lived on the earth about 66 million years ago, how do you respond to questions about this, such as whether humans also lived at that time, and if so, did they hunt each other, etc.?
I realize that this gets into questions about specific curricula, which can quickly turn into a much larger debate. But that larger and very useful debate generally focuses on details, and this is, quite simply, not a detail. This is a quantifiable discrepancy of approximately 5 orders of magnitude or more, depending on what we are measuring.
There are a number of points to make here, and we’ll start with the simple.
I am a Creationist …
Note that Possiblywrong does not ask if I am a “creationist” (i.e., whether I believe that we were “created” by a “Creator” – a higher being) but it is clear that the main thrust of the question is the many order of magnitude differences between expressions of “age of the earth” or “age of the universe” between Biblical accounts of creation (thousands of years) and primordialist theories (billions of years). As I delve into the specifics and the then generalities, I want to be clear that I am a creationist – and a “young earth” creationist at that.
At the same time, I am not what one would call a “creation scientist” – these are not my areas of expertise. While I will certainly touch on issues of creationism versus primordialism over the next thousand words or so (heaven help us, not billions), I am not drawing from my own research on the subject. I think this is fair though – just about everybody falls into one category or another and yet very few of us undertake detailed study of these issues (we have day jobs).
Side note: Gallup polling on the issue shows creationism has broad-based support. When asked “which of the following comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings” – 46% said “God created human beings in present form,” 32% said “Humans evolved, with God guiding,” and 15% said “Humans evolved, but God had no part in the process.” (I contend that the 32% in the middle are just scared of getting mocked for their true views … but that’s a side story.)
The Specific Case of T-Rex …
I honestly should ask my wife how she answers when this comes up, and it does. We have taken the older boys to the natural history museum, and they watch shows on TV all the time about dinosaurs or volcanoes or other natural phenomena that will draw in the “millions of years” line. Alas, my wife is asleep and would respond very poorly to being awakened for such a question. So I’ll take a stab at it myself.
I have no intention of raising ignorant children. It is important for them to know the differing theories of things.
“Did T-Rex live 66 million years ago?” I doubt it – the earth isn’t that old. “Did humans and T-Rex live at the same time?” I suspect they did, but I can’t prove it. “Did they hunt each other?” I don’t know. Perhaps I can look that up and see what consensus is. I will note that the Bible declares that the “dread of man will fall on every beast” (Gen 9:2) but also that this promise was given to Noah after the flood – presumably the dinosaurs were gone by then (though the Grendel from Beowulf bears a striking resemblance to a large predatory dinosaur). Before that time humans weren’t meat eaters, so I suspect we did not hunt them.
The High Ground of Theory and Science …
While the question was not specifically posed to spark a creationism-versus-primordialism debate, I think there are aspects of that debate that are useful here. First and foremost is my unwillingness to cede the high ground. Most in the “scientific” community (as they like to call themselves when they are distinguishing against believers) hold that their intent is pure. They work to develop theories about the nature of things that are consistent with the available evidence – come what may.
I content that this is how these good people want to see themselves, but it is far from the reality. It sounds good on paper, but the fact of the matter is everybody cares about the outcome of this inquiry. Man has a need to understand the “why” of life. He needs to know why he’s here, and how he got here. The problem is that man is exceedingly complicated, as is the earth itself (and the rest of the created order … there I go again). The only way to reason the existence is (i) we were created by a Creator, who is a higher power or (ii) billions of years of randomness swallowed up the infintesibly small possibilities and we just happened to be here. (I suppose you could forge some amalgam of the two, as did the Gallup poll, and as have many Christians in the past hoping to stave of mockery from the scientific community – but I see no need.)
IF one can definitively prove the young-earth model of creation, then the evolutionists are stuck with the plain reality that the only explanation for our existence is a Creator. And such an explanation dramatically changes their outlook on life. They care about the outcome of the inquiry. I don’t blame them for this – I care about the outcome too. My point is simply that we are all somewhat corrupted from true scientific indifference on the issue, which would indeed be some form of scientific “high ground”. It doesn’t exist.
The Bible as a History …
It is also useful to note that the Biblical account of creation is handed down to us as a history, not as a scientific experiment. That is, the theory was not constructed to deal with evidences that we see (in the context of our preconditions) but rather it was passed along first orally, then written, from generation to generation. I don’t mean by this to lessen its meaningfulness in discussing theories of our existence, but only that it was not developed in a laboratory.
Further, the historicity of the Bible stands up exceedingly well. If one wishes to push aside its account of creation, one must find a “line in the sand” where it transitions (reading backward, of course) from historically accurate to fantasy. No doubt some have tried to do just this, but finding such a dividing line is not a simple thing to do. No, the first book of Moses reads straight through as a clean (and detailed) history.
Evidences of Young Earth …
Historicity is not evidence to support a theory, but there are evidences for the young-earth model, and we’ll touch on some of those here. Note that none of these are a reason to believe the biblical account of creation (much less the gospel of Jesus Christ) – they are simply physical evidences consistent with “thousands of years” of earth, rather than billions.
The most often cited are the so-called geochronometers. Physical, observable processes that place bounds on just how old the earth might be. Things like rate of change in the magnetic field, size of nickel deposits (meteor dust) on the ocean floor, rate of change of salinity of the ocean – all which tend to indicate limiting time frames of thousands of years. Surely there are rebuttals to such arguments (as well there should be – nobody should cede the field when presented with a difficult argument).
But the list of “young earth” or “not-so-old-earth” arguments is pretty long. The receding moon (moon getting farther away), high oil pressure in otherwise porous rocks, the oldest living tree (actually, this is a flood argument, not a young earth argument), amount of Helium in the atmosphere, short period comets, dinosaur blood and “ancient” DNA (which shouldn’t survive more than 10,000 years), ammonites discovered in “pristine condition”, the amount of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere, salinity of the dead sea (13,000 years – max), Niagara Falls (8,000 years – assuming constant erosion rate), mitochondrial DNA (common source “Eve” – mutation rate suggests 5,000-10,000 years ago), and rapid mountain uplift.
Again, I don’t list any of this as a “see, the young-earth model has to be right” argument. Rather, I simply want to point out that the young-earth model is not a leap of faith, it is not devoid of evidences in the physical realm, though its modern expression in creationism is certainly rooted in faith.
Tit-for-Tat in the New Theocracy …
I honestly prefer talking about government policy and Biblical considerations for good-versus-bad ones. I find myself frustrated at times with my Christian brethren when it comes to matters of morality in public policy. Whose morality? Which definition of morality? Who is so consistently and unquestionably right about moral issues that they can enforce them on the rest of us? (I suggest nobody).
If the answer to these protests comes back something like “the Bible says so” (you may not have noticed, but I typed that with a southern accent) I bristle. Not because I disbelieve the Bible – I most certainly believe. But how does that make us any different from the Muslims, or the Hindus, or the adherents of Juche (North Korea)? They too hold that their definition of “right” is the right one, their understanding of good/evil/God/heaven/hell supersedes all others and must be adhered to by the otherwise unwilling … for the good of us all.
For my part, I prefer a government policy that leaves the people free on issues of morality, and only restrains them from committing evil against one another (and evil is fairly narrowly defined).
Why do I bring this up? There is a subtle hint in Possiblywrong’s comment that speaks to a policy choice – one that I have not heard him promote but one I have heard promoted by other “scientists” (e.g., Bill Nye). “… homeschooling is an issue on which I have pretty definite opinions. Although I generally agree with the efficiency argument, I am less convinced of the reality of its effectiveness.”
What I gather from this is that if a parent chose to homeschool their child and expressly forbid discussion of “commonly accepted” scientific theories, that they would be somehow wronging the child (Possiblywrong didn’t say this). Taken only a small step further, one comes to realize that perhaps it would be construed as “in the child’s best interest” if parents were forced to teach the children along the commonly accepted line of thinking.
This presents plenty of problems. First, it’s not so “commonly accepted” (see Gallup poll). Second, it has plenty of holes and challengeable assertions. Indeed, I suspect that an honest scientist would relish the challenging of a theory that doesn’t fit the evidence. Theories have changed and continue to change, and have been utterly uprooted from time-to-time. (Side story: I had a physics professor in college who described the whole thing as a “house of cards” built on tenuous – though not dubious – assumptions. This guy was no creationist. He was just an honest scientist who understood that some of the building blocks of the prevailing theory were hardly beyond question.)
What do we call it when a minority, presuming themselves wiser than the rest, demand that their theories be taught to all (for the good of us all) and that countervailing theories be put aside (because they’re wrong)? Oh yeah, that’s a theocracy.
This cuts both ways. Can you imagine the howl and cry that would go up if I demanded that all public schools teach that homosexuality is immoral (expressly, homosexual acts)? Can you imagine the railing if I demanded that public schools teach abstinence as the only means of birth control and that fornication (even in the heart) is a sin? Why is this any different?
For my part, I actually don’t advocate public education. Taxing the unwilling masses to pay for an education system just doesn’t square with the Golden Rule. Throw on top of that all of the “value system” additions and the whole thing is one giant mess. (But, if we’re going to do it, I’d promote a voucher system … no questions asked.)
It’s All Religion …
Nobody, and I mean nobody, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt exactly how we got here. I believe every word of the Bible, and I don’t claim to know everything about how we came to be. (I gladly accept “some things are beyond me”.) But we all care about the answer.
This doesn’t mean we don’t know anything. It’s not all guesswork and faith. Not at all. People see the evidence, build theories, work to understand … that’s all good stuff. (“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” – Prov 25:2.) And when they see evidence that contradicts their theories, they sometimes come up with new explanations to make it all fit (e.g., the Oort Cloud Theory or the Kuiper Belt).
But I’m not so naive as to think that the agnostic (or even athiestic) primordialists don’t care about the answer. It is a matter of faith for them too. We reject out of hand the notion that Christians blindly hold to a Biblical explanation with zero evidence, and “scientists” heroically and unbiasedly progress toward understanding truth (and by the way, there are a ton of Christians who are bible-believing-scientists). When ideas and research are presented that counter the baseline theory, the primordialists often respond with a reactionary fervor that one would expect more from a religious theocracy. Those of us on the Christian side of the debate have seen plenty of stories about scientists being ostracized for even considering explanations to the evidence that don’t involve “old-earth” dogmatism. It’s a shame, but it makes perfect sense. They will not lightly lay down their religion either … the costs are too great.
So, I’m not sure if I answered the right questions here, but I do hope that I laid out my position. I’m a creationist but not an isolationist. My kids have been and will be exposed to all these theories (and, quite frankly, to other religions as well). But I will unwaveringly tell them what I believe and why I believe.
OK, tomorrow we’ll get back to public policy … (now that taxes are done; hey, that gives me an idea …)