Friday, June 01, 2007

Cretin Museum

John Farrell of Farrell Media had some fun yesterday with Evolution News, and I recommend perusing his comments. Indeed, John is a great science writer who also takes his religion very seriously, and he's worth reading in general (some folks may be familiar with him from stuff he's had published in First Things).

I'm sorry to say, however, that his witty and intelligent piece was overshadowed in the news somewhat by the opening, in Kentucky, of the so-called "Creation Museum", a rather expensive little monument to the density of the narrow-minded and unimaginative. The museum itself will probably attract about as many folks looking for a laugh as it will genuine adherents of the bizarre, unscriptural, and generally unchristian world-view that it endorses, but it is a sad little testament anyway, and no less so for the fact that among its principal proponents can be counted a real live university-employed physicist.

For people with a morbid fascination for the moronic, there is a commercial available at the Creation Museum website that features funky 1950s-style art (pretty much right out of the era from which most of these ideas themselves emanate) and melodramatic music. Although the museum's designers manifest a rather fundamentalist perspective on things, the staff apparently aren't allowed to, since the museum is open on both Saturday and Sunday, requiring its workers to violate the third commandment (well, I guess for the fundamentalists it's really the fourth commandment) no matter which day they count as the Sabbath. Maybe they view working for the museum as itself a kind of mitzvah.

Among the items available in the online bookstore are guides to the local aquarium and zoo written from a "biblical" perspective.
With aquariums around the world using God’s amazing creatures to teach evolution, Christians need information that gives them biblical truth. From the odd-shaped hammerhead shark and the powerful killer whale, to the colorful angelfish and the deadly lionfish, the Aquarium Guide covers more than 100 of God’s sea creatures and gives information about their features, their design, and much more. This spiral-bound book makes finding the truth about these animals easy.
God's creatures are amazing, but apparently God's methods of creation via natural selection are a lot less amazing. What kind of a God would "create" things just by bringing into existence a natural order in which God himself stands as the cause of all natural processes within that created order? Any old "god" could do that. The real "biblical" God would only create things ex nihilo, since that's the only way to impress the heathen.

One of the things you will learn if you study these guides is that plants aren't really alive. The bible says that there was no suffering or death before the Fall, and yet it also says that humans and other animals had things to eat. What did they eat, if not each other? According to these guides, they ate plants. If you're worried that the plants therefore died upon being eaten, don't worry, that didn't happen because plants aren't alive. They can't be alive, because if they were that would mean that they died by being eaten, and we all no that there was no death before the Fall. QED.

This reminds me of a passage from Aristotle, who was created just a few short thousand years after the universe itself. He notes that when a menstruating woman looks into a mirror it will stain the mirror with a red color, because there is more red blood in the woman's eyes during the time of her menstruation. Although this appears to contradict the empirical evidence, it must be true, because it follows logically from the theory of vision to which Aristotle subscribed. These two cases, the non-livingness of plants, the stained mirrors, are examples of what happens when you put the saving of an a priori theory ahead of empirical evidence and logical coherence, and it shows again why creationism is not genuine science.

It's worth pointing out, just for fun, that the book of Genesis says quite clearly that humans were given some of the animals to eat for food even before the Fall, even though, according to the museum, animals are just as "alive" as human beings. So much for that part of the theory.


NeoChalcedonian said...

1) What is "genuine science?"
2) What are your beliefs on Adam and Eve (or how do you exegete the early chapters of Genesis)?
3) How does modern science (evolution) interact with patristic anthropology and cosmology? (This last question is very broad and somewhat vague which allows you to answer in way you'd like.)

Scott Carson said...

Regarding (1), scientists and philosophers of science often give a variety of necessary and sufficient conditions for defining science, but I would say that at an absolute minimum genuine science has to at least be empirically testable and that "empirically testable" means something other than just coming up with a just-so story to make the observable evidence fit with the theory that you already have in place and are unwilling to give up.

Indeed, this idea, sometimes called "falsifiability", is one of the creationists own favorite criteria. They like to point out that evolutionists will say anything about the data to save their evolutionary theory and that they will not give up their theory no matter what the evidence says (and in the case of someone like Richard Dawkins they may well be right). And yet the very same criticism can be leveled at them, as this museum proves. The museum consists of nothing other than a set of stories that one can tell in order to make the mythology of Genesis appear to cohere with the observable facts today, and nothing you can point to as evidence will dissuade them from their idea that Genesis is literally true. I once asked a fundamentalist what he made of the fossil evidence, which appears to be millions of years old and contains things like dinosaurs. He said that the fossil evidence was put there by God to test our faith, and that it says nothing about the age of the earth or the development of species (this is not what they say at the museum, it's just an example of the same kind of game).

Regarding (2): I take virtually all of the Pentateuch to be ethnographical and mythological in character. There may be elements that are literally true from the point of view of history, but in my view it doesn't matter if they are literally true or not. Clearly it's possible that our lineage began with a first member, and you can call that first member "Adam" if you want to, but there is no empirical reason to suppose that homo sapiens must have begun with a single member (though I think most of the genetic evidence does, in fact, point to a single origin).

The Church teaches that Adam and Eve were real, of course, but it does not require any particular set of beliefs about what their reality amounts to. We are not required, for example, to believe that they were like modern humans, with bodies just like ours only walking around naked and speaking fully developed Indo-European languages. I think we can safely endorse the idea that there was a first homo sapiens and remain within the bounds of "genuine science" as long as we don't work too hard, the way they do at the creation museum, trying to show that every word of Genesis is literally and perfectly compatible with what we can observe right now.

Regarding (3), I would point out that Saint Augustine, whatever his beliefs may have been about the character of life in the Garden of Eden or even whether he thought the Garden of Eden was more than just a metaphor, wrote an entire treatise against the impulse to read Genesis in a literal fashion, and we can find similar tendencies in other Fathers, both East and West. All, for example, seem to think that the task at hand when reading Scripture is interpretation. If the Scriptures were literally true in the sense supposed by the fundamentalists then interpretation would not be necessary: the texts could stand on their own as meaning exactly what they say. But nobody in antiquity thought that. They almost universally take a text and point to the various shades of meaning it can have depending on what you're willing to read there. Indeed, they often use the expression "If you will" to introduce an interpretation.

Having said that, I will freely admit that plenty of Fathers have what I myself would regard as a moribund anthropology and cosmology, but I'm not sure I would put that down to reading Genesis literally. It might have been due simply to the fact of living at the times they lived. But I do know that the truths of theology are independent of the empirical truths of anthropology and cosmology. That is, if Gregory Nazianzen had a bizarre view about "heavenly spheres" or something which turns out not to cohere with how we interpret astronomical facts these days that does not lessen one little bit the value of his contributions to theology, which, as far as I'm concerned, are as true today as they ever were, just as Genesis is (and just to be clear: when I say "just as true" I do mean that I believe they are true in a very real and robust sense, a sense that is binding upon us as Christian believers).

Terry Hebert said...

Of course, plants are living.

But do all plants die when humans or animals eat FROM them? When one eats an apple, does the tree that produced the apple die? Rather, cannot humans and animals harvest and eat fruits, nuts, some vegetables, and grains without killing the plant, the tree, or the vine that bore the particular species of fruit?

And, since you mentioned the "binding" importance of Genesis to your faith, then please consider what it says. According to Genesis 2, after God created all things, He planted the Garden and placed Adam in it. He gave Adam every TREE in the Garden for food, except one. Did Eve kill the TREE when she ate its fruit?

Thus, in the Garden, prior to the fall, must a plant die when animals or Adam and Eve ate from them? Before Adam introduces death, (according to St. Paul) does death appear in the Genesis record?

(BTW: When, in the binding Genesis account, did animals and man begin eating flesh? Was this before or after the fall and Adam's introduction of death to the world? Please read with binding care.)

Therefore, since death reigns from Adam to Christ, and not before, and since God didn't create death, an incomprehensible thought theologically, and since God didn't use death to create, because death didn't exist prior to creation, a Christian cosmogony should not propose death until the time described by the Apostle.

Remember too that the whole creation groans waiting for Adam's resurrection.

May I ask you? In your Christian world view, does revelation trump "science?" Or, does "science" trump revelation? You do realize, don't you, that they are NOT always compatible with each other. Do you read the Bible through "scientific" filters? Is "science" really your binding authority?

Notice too that your view of Genesis informs your view of Romans and your view of Christ's own references to the Genesis record.

In order to maintain your view that Genesis is binding, i.e. authoritative, I suspect that you have much more to reconcile than you first presumed. Otherwise, your view of "science" will be your binding authority.

May the Lord have mercy on us all!

John Farrell said...

You do realize, don't you, that they are NOT always compatible with each other.
Quite true. And St. Augustine gave us pretty clear guidelines to follow when what we can know by reason bluntly contradicts scripture. We re-interpret scripture. Otherwise, as he warned, and as the Cretin Museum affords a perfect example of, Christians will be mocked for fools by non-believers.

The Museum makes me wonder, frankly, with Christians like these...who needs atheists?

Terry Hebert said...

Please kindly quote St. Augustine's remark for me. I don't remember that he wrote what you claim.

Scott Carson said...


The Cretin Museum does not say that humans could eat what fell from plants. It says that plants are not alive at all.

And the reason they give is that plants do not have souls.

Your own spiritual hero, Saint Augustine of Hippo, not only says that plants are alive, but he says that they have souls. Who are you going to believe, a Doctor of the Church or a bunch of fundamentalist heretic morons?

Saint Augustine wrote an entire treatise criticizing the tendency, which was not as widespread in his day as it is in ours, actually, of interpreting Genesis literally (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim, which you can download and read from this website). He points out what ought to be obvious to everybody: the book of Genesis is not a book of history, but a collection of folk-tales that tell truths through metaphor, allusion, poetry, and myth.

There's absolutely no reason to think that Genesis anywhere says what the creationists say it says. They think that what it says is that God created the world in six 24-hour periods about 6000 years ago (a time line they conjure up by counting lifespans as indicated in Genesis). Quite frankly, I don't even see any reason to try to refute such an idea. It would be like trying to prove to a child that the story of Jack and the beanstalk is not literally true. Any grownup knows that it's just a fairy tale, but it might be rather difficult to convince a child of that. But why even try? Let the kids believe what they want, as long as the content of their belief does not lead them into error.

The creationists have beliefs about the creation of the world that are false, just as the child who believes in gigantic beanstalks has beliefs that are false, but just as the child may come to believe that perseverance and ingenuity are good things because of what Jack did, so, too, the creationists may come to believe that God is the creator of all things, Lord of all things, just, merciful, and compassionate. As long as the creationists believe those things, which are the real truths taught by Genesis by means of mythological stories about our origins, then I suppose it doesn't matter all that much what they think about evolution. It's not like any of them is trying to get a job as a scientist or anything.

I don't have any fears that creationists are going to start taking over academia any time soon, because they're so obviously wrong. That's why I don't bother putting forward complicated refutations of their views the way some philosophers of science do (indeed, whole textbooks are devoted to the refutation of these folks). Such effort is literally a waste of time: first, because it will not convince them. They are unconvinceable because they are invincibly ignorant. They are in the grip of a theory and they will not abandon it no matter what evidence you offer. Indeed, when you offer evidence that they are wrong, they take that very evidence and claim that it actually supports their view (as my friend did when he said that God put dinosaur bones in the hills to test our faith).

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is not necessary to try to refute them. Their view has already been condemned by the Church. Blessed Pope Pius XII asserted, in his encyclical Humani Generis, that the theory of evolution is compatible with the Christian religion, and his view has been supported by Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Only heretics continue to maintain this obviously false point of view.