The Blasphemy of Creationism


Calvary_chapelThe story of the UC-Calvary lawsuit has been all over the atheosphere in the last few days. I’m not going to get into it in much detail (good pieces about it on Daylight Atheism and Dispatches from the Culture Wars), but to give you a quick summary so you know what I’m ranting about: A federal judge recently issued a preliminary ruling saying that UC Berkeley could, in fact, refuse to give college credit in biology for courses that taught young-earth creationism. (Calvary Chapel Christian School was trying to argue religious freedom; UC Berkeley was arguing that Calvary could have all the religious freedom they wanted, but they shouldn’t expect UC to drop its academic standards and recognize non-science as science.)

So the Daylight Atheism piece on this had an excerpt from one of the textbooks in question. The textbook is Biology for Christian Schools, and the excerpt is as follows and begins now:

(1) “‘Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so,’ is the only [position] a Christian can take…”
(2) “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”
(3) “Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible.”

Biology_for_christian_schoolsAnd this isn’t buried somewhere in the back. This is on the very first page of the textbook. The science textbook.

After the top of my head had finished blowing off, I finally figured out why exactly this bothers me so much. Apart from all the obvious reasons, of course: the arrogance, the close-mindedness, the complete missing of the point of what science is about, etc.

What bothers me so much about it is how grotesquely disrespectful it is to their own God.

Let’s say you’re a theist. Let’s say you believe in God, a creator god who made the world and the universe in all its beautiful and astonishing complexity.

Wouldn’t you want to understand that universe, as well and as thoroughly as you could?

GalaxyTo me, the idea that scientific evidence is always trumped by the Bible is one of the most disrespectful attitudes you could possibly have about God. Even if you believe that the Bible was written by God (and you ignore all the evidence to the contrary), wouldn’t you believe that the universe was also written by God? And in a much more direct way than the Bible was written, without having to be dictated through human secretaries? Wouldn’t you put the universe, at the very least, on equal footing with the Bible? In fact, shouldn’t you really be seeing the universe as much higher, much more important than the Bible, because the Bible is just one small part of God’s creation and the universe is so much more vast?

BibleIt seems to me that setting your human religion above the enormous and awe-inspiring majesty of God’s creation is blasphemy of the worst kind. To say that the Bible is always more real than the reality of the universe seems to me to be spitting on God and his creation. And it’s not just spitting on the universe: it’s spitting on that part of God’s creation that is your brain and your mind, your capacity to perceive the universe and use reason and logic to understand it.

Breaking_the_spellOf course, this sort of thinking is a perfect example of what Daniel Dennet was talking about in “Breaking the Spell”: the ways that religion functions as a self-perpetuating meme, one that has built up an impressive array of armor and weaponry to defend itself against being seriously questioned. The idea that sacred texts can’t be questioned; the idea that letting go of doubts and questions about your faith will make your life easier; the idea that holding onto faith in the face of evidence contradicting it makes you a good person… all of these function as an immune system that stops questions from breaking down the belief, or even from penetrating it in the first place.

Synchiropus_splendidus_2_luc_viatouBut I think that’s awfully sad. To think that your faith — not just a general faith in the existence of God, but your particular version of the specific details of how God does and does not work — is more real than the reality of the universe…. that’s just sad. It’s isolating. It’s cutting yourself off from reality, from the enormous, majestic, unutterably complex, constantly- surprising reality of the physical universe. And if you believe in God, a god who created all this majesty and whatnot, it’s cutting yourself off from God.

It’s saying that, given a choice between trying to understand the reality of God’s creation, and convincing yourself that you and your sect are right, it’s more important to be right. And that really is placing yourself above God… in a way that I think is more blasphemous than anything any atheist could ever come up with.

(Photo of Synchiropus splendidus by Luc Viatour.)

Comments

  1. gruntled atheist says

    I have been trying to put words to this very idea for the longest without success. So now you have just typed out my thoughts so casually, so clearly, so convincingly in a very short article. You are truly a disgusting person. I am disgruntled. But I plan to steal your article anyway if that is ok, with credit, of course. Since I am here, thank you indeed for all your wonderful articles.

  2. Kevin L. says

    Very well written, Greta. I might note that your point that essentially disregarding the universe is disparaging to its creator is the central thesis of Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason.” You’re in good company.

  3. says

    OMG! That “Biology for Christian Schools” textbook is the exact same book I had at my Christian High School in Cambridge, Minnesota!
    Not-so-fond memories. Those Bob Jones Press books are so full of lies and anti-reason…

  4. says

    Ah, but you’re postulating a God who thinks like you: open-minded, liberal, intelligent, rational, curious, and interested in others. The God postulated by the people who wrote that book thinks the way they do: authoritarian, closed-minded, rigidly rule-bound…
    I always figured that any god in a reasonable universe would love me whether or not I believe in him/her/it, would recognize that I have done my best to be a good person and do right by others, and reward me accordingly. But that’s my own notion of a just and reasonable god, and some people seem to prefer the Big Bad Daddy in the Sky. Sadly, rational arguments get nowhere with those folks.

  5. mercurialness says

    I know more than one scientist who sees God that way; too bad the creationists never believe us when we say that there are scientists who deeply love their God.
    RE:Deirdre:
    I’ve always felt that the God they see is developed to think more like a human than a God who has created the universe and now is letting the Rube-Goldberg machine run, but I suppose that is just a matter of perspective. I have to say that I always felt that acting as though God thought in the way that humans do, and that our logic was his logic, was quite blasphemous.
    I always find it fascinating when atheists are more concerned about respecting a God than Christians.

  6. says

    greta this is one of the better treatments i’ve read and i think it’s ironically pretty in line with the condemnation of the pharisees as delivered in the nt
    hope you recooped from your case, i’m still working on mine :)

  7. says

    Yes, that is a form of blasphemy; and Early Christians such as St. Augustine recognized it. In a quote you can find on Wikipedia, Augustine basically said: a) then saying something that is demonsrably wrong, and then claimimg superior knowledge based on the Bible, really makes Christians and Christianity look stoopid and hinders efforts to convert everyone to the One True Faith; and b) if YOUR INTERPRETATION OF Scripture conflicts with observable reality, then YOUR INTERPRETATION OF Scripture is wrong. (Not Scripture itself, of course, just YOUR INTERPRETATION OF it; Scripture is Perfect, YOUR INTERPRETATION OF it is not.) Yes, that distinction is yet another dodge intended to shield belief from reality; but it’s better than many other such dodges I’ve seen, and at least allows theists to study reality with less chance of running into ideological blind-spots.

  8. says

    Here’s another way of looking at it: if your spouse spends all day cooking a fancy turkey dinner, and you take a few bites and mistake it for a roast beef TV-dinner, your spouse is gonna be pretty pissed off. Now imagine how much more unappreciated God would feel if he spent at least thriteen billion years creating this Universe, and you just shrugged and said it didn’t take more than ten thousand years, and was gonna be tossed out sometime in the next century anyway.

  9. says

    Love this one:
    “‘Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so,’ …
    Except that the Bible was written by men and a committee of men decided which of men’s writings were to be accepted and which werent.
    Also, “(2) “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong” is an argument I recently ran up against. I was at work (in a physical labor, high-paying job) and met another woman who insisted that a woman’s place is in the home and earning money (especially if it’s more money) than the man emasculates him. I trotted out case after case and study after study of how women and men are not all that different and how the family loses when each member is not allowed to contribute to the best of his or her ability and what did she think of that? She said “then the studies are wrong”.
    There’s no arguing with that. Apparently she missed the irony that she was making a whole bunch of money doing manual labor in a male-dominated field while having this debate while her husband sat at home unemployed.
    Joreth
    http://www.theinnbetween.net
    http://joreth.livejournal.com

  10. says

    Well, yes, BUT…
    If you have on the one hand, a divinely inspired message from a very personal and omnipotent God, that says X about the universe, or conception, or gays, or what have you…
    … and on the other hand, you have a fallible human who says the opposite…
    …it’s not disrepectful to your God to side with his direct communique, and assume that the fallible unsaved human is in error (as a species, we do have a terrible scientific track record) and that with enough dedicated study by God-fearing scientists, the real truth will be uncovered.
    They really don’t believe that their faith is more real than the reality of the universe, they just think the real reality has yet to be uncovered.
    And when someone is getting their knowledge of said universe from books like these — it’s not really surprising.
    (BTW, I’m another ex-student of the BJU title… sigh.)

  11. John B Hodges says

    (JBH) A Basic Deist argument, from THE AGE OF REASON by Thomas Paine:
    (1)An Omnipotent, Omniscient, etc. Creator would have no need of human messengers. If God wants me to do something, or know something, God should tell me, not you. If God wished to give a message to all humankind, he/she/it could write it on the face of the Moon, in letters five miles wide, and teach humans to make telescopes. There are any number of ways God could make their message un-counterfeitable. It would make no sense for such a being to whisper their message in one person’s ear, and say “go tell everyone else”.
    (2) If God speaks to a person, that is “revelation” only to the person spoken to. Their account of it to other people is not revelation, it is hear-say. Humans can be mistaken, they can have dreams and hallucinations, or they can be impostors and liars. It is not proper to take the word of a man as being the word of God, and thereby put a man in the place of God.
    (3) For both reasons (1) and (2), any alleged “revelation” DELIVERED BY HUMAN BEINGS must be presumed fraudulent.
    (4) So, it is not a matter of having the Word Of God on one hand, and the word of a fallible human scientist on the other. You have the word of some men on both hands. Neither should be taken as “revelation”; both should be considered critically.

  12. says

    I think this post and the subsequent comments reflect less about the nature of a proper God and more just lifting up a mirror.
    Sure, my idea of the perfect God is ________, and other people’s perfect God is ________. Far more indicative of the nature of the person than the nature of God.
    Of course, this depends on a belief in God, which many of us don’t actually have, so perhaps my entire comment is superfluous.
    As far as the Bible goes, I’m more inclined to agree with SueDoc by virtue of what I remember I was like when I was borderline fundie.

  13. John B Hodges says

    (JBH) Ah, yes, “mysterious ways”… an omnipotent God chooses for some reason to communicatre in a way that looks exactly like all the FALSE prophets, indeed looks just like untreated schizophrenia. To preserve our “free will”, to allow us the option of believing or disbelieving, with eternal fire if we guess wrong.

  14. Regina says

    What scares me about this attitude towards science is that it is being taught to children, who then believe it as fact and rarely find themselves curious enough about the natural world and science to look into it further. The sad fact is that children are barely exposed to science at all in public schools (much less the misinformation they are taught in christian schools or in home schooling), and this will only lead to less science interest in general in the future. This is incredibly disheartening to me.

  15. says

    I not only was instructed from this textbook, but attended Bob Jones Academy and sat under one of the editors of the book. Here is the interesting thing. I was taught evolution. And no, it was not taught as ridiculous ideas upheld by flimsy manipulation of facts. It was presented fairly. Of course it was presented to a group of people saturated with the Creation account of man’s beginnings.
    I personally am sympathetic with your post. I think it is SueDoc that capsulized my own feelings. I believe that scientific research will always ultimately lead to a loving Creator who interacts with His creation in a manner that is consistent with His own character as revealed in the Scriptures. I do get the impression that this view is not one held by most who post here! :)
    I think the editors stated the case poorly when they phrased their opinion the way they did. I spent 11 years at Bob Jones and will be the first to say they’ve made some big mistakes.
    I also believe that it is intellectually dishonest for a Christian to say that Intelligent Design is just another scientific theory. If Intelligent Design is accepted as valid, the only logical conclusion, ultimately, ends in an acceptance of a Designer. You are then limited in documents recording information dealing with the activities of said Designer.
    I’m not pushing my beliefs here as much as saying that Intelligent Design is not necessarily free of religious connections and that is exactly why it is rejected as scientific.
    Anyway, thanks for the time and thought you put into your post!
    Michael

  16. says

    You will either have faith in God or faith in no god. Not one of you can claim to have no faith, it is simply a matter of where you place it.
    The Bible is a historically accurate book and you will find it to be scientifically closer to the evidence than any evolutionary theory you will hear. Most of modern science involves something happening with no cause by no means or plan, akin to magic. A supernatural being creating something is logical. Nothing becomes something by no means is not.
    Why doesn’t God write JESUS on the moon? Because he has written his name on every creature (ever heard of DNA?) and has made a Universe so amazing and an Earth so unlikely that the unprejudiced mind understands design must be involved.
    Secondly, He wants man to choose Him by faith. We have a choice to believe or not. God gives the evidence and allows you to choose. Choose the limits of your brain or choose the Creator of that brain, it is your call.

  17. Eclectic says

    radar: Faith, for theological purposes, is generally defined as belief in the absence of (or more generally, exceeding) evidence. There are other definitions like confidence in, or loyalty to, something, that don’t seem as applicable.
    I believe there are no deities (of a personal variety) because I’ve looked for evidence but failed to find any. So, just like I’ve decided that there is not a little man living in my fridge who hides when the light goes on, I’ve decided that there is no personal god who has any interest in my (or anyone else’s) morality.
    But that’s just a matter of observing that the existence of such a deity would have certain implications which seem to be missing. The evidence available to me supports the no-gods theory better.
    Give me some evidence which actually holds up to scrutiny, and I’ll happily change my mind. (The evidence found at the end of Carl Sagan’s (fiction) book Contact is an example I often use.)
    Write the ten commandments (or appropriate excerpts from the Vedas, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, or Avesta) on the face of the moon so that everyone can see them every night and it will be clear that someone very powerful cares.

  18. says

    We ignostics find God to be like a square circle, and therefore He cannot be! The terms the First Cause and the Designer have no referent, merely beg the question,affirming ignosticism.
    Google skeptic griggsy , naturalist griggsy, rationalist griggsy , sceptiquegriggsy or esceptico griggsy to find my incisive refutation of theism @ many sites world over in several languages.

  19. says

    There is a blasphemy of ignorance. If so-called Christians are interested in truth, noy just reinforcing their own ignorance, go to:
    IN DEFENSE OF GOD! The Bible Is Not Only NOT HOLY, It Was Not Inspired By God – The Bible Is Blasphemy! Op-Ed
    http://tabacco.blog-city.com/in_defense_of_god_the_bible_is_not_only_not_holy_it_was_no.htm
    If you decline, you will know you are afraid to test your own faith!
    Tabacco (Truth About Business And Congressional Crimes Organization)

  20. says

    I’ve heard an argument from a particularly bright, non-fundamentalist Christian that the dogma of biblical inerrancy is a form of idolatry — worshipping the book instead of its author. The idea of creationism as blasphemy has also been expressed very nicely in one of my favorite filksongs: The Word of God, by Echo’s Children.

  21. Sensemaker says

    (1) “‘Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so,’ is the only [position] a Christian can take…”
    (2) “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”
    (3) “Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible.”
    This sounds more like an atheist’s straw man description of Christianity than a real, serious modern Western-world Christianity.
    This seems to be a recurring phenomenon -satire of religion and other woo is often indistinguishable from seriously ment religion and woo.
    Sensemaker

Leave a Reply