"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Academics fight rise of creationism at universities

The Guardian reports on this worrying trend - long established in the United States and increasingly a problem here - where growing numbers of students appear to believe that the Creationism/Evolution debate is in some way undecided:
"A growing number of science students on British campuses and in sixth form colleges are challenging the theory of evolution and arguing that Darwin was wrong. Some are being failed in university exams because they quote sayings from the Bible or Qur'an as scientific fact and at one sixth form college in London most biology students are now thought to be creationists.

Earlier this month Muslim medical students in London distributed leaflets that dismissed Darwin's theories as false. Evangelical Christian students are also increasingly vocal in challenging the notion of evolution."
It seems it's a rather more urgent problem than people imagine. One sixth-form biology teacher suggests that we could soon have a situation where a majority of the next generation of medical and science students could well be creationists:
"'The vast majority of my students now believe in creationism,' she said, 'and these are thinking young people who are able and articulate and not at the dim end at all. They have extensive booklets on creationism which they put in my pigeon-hole ... it's a bit like the southern states of America.' Many of them came from Muslim, Pentecostal or Baptist family backgrounds, she said, and were intending to become pharmacists, doctors, geneticists and neuro-scientists."
The need to challenge psuedo-science has been well-made by people like Richard Dawkins and Steve Jones. But another line of attack would be to challenge the dodgy theology behind Creationism because attempts to fit the creation story in Genesis to scientific data are bad exegesis, as well as being bad science.

For instance, attempts to adapt the obvious age of the earth with the six day creation story by arguing it doesn't necessarily mean literal days doesn't wash because there is absolutely nothing in Genesis to suggest these were not literal days - and indeed no-one thought of arguing otherwise before Darwin came along.

And cleaving to the literal account simply flies in the face of what we already know about the age of the earth. Some have attempted to get around this by arguing that a miraculous creation would have the appearance of age, even though it was completed in six days. But leaving aside the obvious problem of evidence for this (i.e. there isn't any), this also surely creates a theological problem by effectively involving the Creator in an act of deception?

Finally, there's a point so obvious that I've often wondered why more people don't make it: there is not one but two creation accounts* in the book of Genesis and since they don't agree**, the law of non-contradiction - essential to any coherent thought - means that they can't both be right.

*(Genesis Ch 1, vs 1-31 and Ch 2, vs 4-22)

** First account: water covers the earth, is gathered into one place, then vegetation, then animals, finally man. Second account: earth is dry, then streams come up from the earth, then man is created, then vegetation and animals.

Form critics usually argue the accounts were written by two different people; the latter, as well as differing over the details, shows a very anthropormorphic view of God, which is completely absent from the first account. Fundamentalists should bear in mind that the editors of the Bible were not stupid and would have been aware that these accounts don't agree. But it obviously didn't bother them, which would tend to suggest that their attitude to the texts they were dealing with was somewhat different to that of the average fundamentalist - who is always and everywhere a very modern creature. In case anyone thinks I'm having a go at the Bible to the exclusion of the Koran, it should be pointed out that the discipline of form criticism does not exist in Islamic scholarship.

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