Last night I attended a meeting at St Mary’s Church in Ely addressed by Dr Denis Alexander of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. Readers of this blog may know Denis as the author of Creation or Evolution: Do we Have to Choose? published by Monarch in 2008.
Denis’ lecture basically summarised the thesis of his book, namely that the biblical account of creation and the evolutionary explanation of origins are complementary, rather than competing, narratives. He appealed to his audience to accept both the evolutionary and theological narratives and seek models for understanding how they relate to one another.
Of course, I disagree with Denis about the compatibility of evolution (in the sense of universal common ancestry) with the biblical record of creation. If you want to explore the reasons why, the theological arguments outlined by my BCM colleague, Steve Lloyd, in the recently published book Debating Darwin: Is Darwinism True & Does it Matter? (Paternoster, 2009) are a good place to begin. Steve shows that the debate is not merely over the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis but the coherence of the historic Christian understanding of core doctrines such as the cross and resurrection. The arguments in Steve’s carefully reasoned chapter are very pertinent as we try to evaluate the theistic evolutionary thesis presented by Denis.
However, what stood out for me last night was the description Denis gave of young earth creationism. According to Denis, young earth creationists believe that the creation occurred less than 10,000 years ago (so far, so good), that every species was separately and independently created by God (no!), and that Genesis should be read as a scientific text (again, no!). It needs stating very clearly that young earth creationism is not, and never has been, synonymous with belief in species fixity. Earlier this year, at the Genesis Kinds Conference, I presented an historical survey of scholarly Christian views on the origin of species from the seventeenth century to the present day. Far from unanimously asserting that species are fixed and immutable, many creationists, both before and after Darwin, rejected fixity and embraced the idea of biological change within broad limits. Today, acceptance of species change within broad limits is integral to creationist thinking in the biological sciences. And as for young earth creationists reading Genesis as a scientific text, that isn’t how we see it all. We read it as an historical text with implications for how we reconstruct earth history, perhaps, but not as a scientific text. That would be anachronistic and very silly.
I did have the opportunity to point these things out during the question time, and Denis was very gracious in acknowledging that what he had said was mistaken and that he’d seek to be more careful in future. Afterwards I wondered how Denis could have got it so wrong in the first place. Perhaps as young earth creationists we haven’t been as careful as we ought to have been in setting out our own position. Perhaps naïve claims made by the less well informed have been taken as representative of young earth creationism as a whole? But the main lesson I think we should draw from this is that all of us bear some responsibility for making sure that we represent the views of others fairly and accurately – and let me be clear that that applies as much to creationists making claims about evolutionists as it does to evolutionists making claims about creationists. Perhaps some of the ‘sting’ might even be taken out of our discussions if we all sought to raise our game in this respect.