Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Creation Museum’s Spectacular Failure

The Christian Century’s Jason Byassee presents a first-hand account of the Petersburg, Kentucky-based Creation Museum, which opened last May. The museum, which is the first of its kind to advocate young-earth creationism, the belief that 1) God created the earth in six twenty-four hour days (based on a literal-factual reading of Genesis); and 2) Earth is about 6,000 years old (based on chronological and genealogical documentation found elsewhere in the Bible). Accordingly, Byassee notes that the Christian apologetics group Answers in Genesis (AiG), who funds the museum, tries to ignore old-earth creationism and fails to directly cite intelligence design theory as part of the museum’s message. Instead, there are “abundant references to Darwin himself at the museum in the course of doling out ammunition with which to attack him.”

Ironically, Byassee demonstrates that the Creation Museum’s attacks upon Darwin and evolution require quite a bit of borrowing from evolutionary theory, as well as from intelligent design theory. It argues that dinosaurs did indeed once roam the earth, but they coexisted with people until the Genesis Flood made them largely extinct. The eyes of a chameleon are “irreducibly complex,” and therefore couldn’t have evolved. There are billions of stars and galaxies, but “gravitational fields” are responsible for their great distance from Earth in only 6,000 years’ time. Even a mocking reference to “Enlightenment High School” in one of the museum videos “represents great trust in the Enlightenment. It is, after all, creation science that is presented as superior to Darwinian theory.”

After a lengthy account of the museum’s displays and visitors, Byassee offers an admirable amount of restraint in his criticisms, even as he refers to the Creation Museum’s “worldview” as a “spectacular failure.” He argues that AiG is too anthropocentric in its claims; humans “remain part of the animal world even as they reflect the image of God.” Additionally:

“A further theological problem for AiG is that it seems to think that the move away from its ‘biblical worldview’ explains all wars and suffering—as if the Fall has to do with the loss of a worldview, not the human condition of sin.”

In other words, AiG is promoting an either/or theology based upon Biblical hermeneutics, or interpretive approaches. Believing in a young earth means accepting their hermeneutic that we are to read the Bible as the inerrant word of God. This makes the creation story of Genesis a simple, straightforward, and entirely factual account of God’s activity. Any other hermeneutic, on the other hand, leads to what they term as “the slippery slide to unbelief” in the hopeless state of humanity. In their view, there is no in-between position to one to take. We are either correct and on the side of righteousness, or compromised and proxy to the kind of evil that results in “wars and suffering.”

As an evangelical organization, the hermeneutic upon which AiG relies is quite familiar to evangelicalism in general. Fred Clark of Slacktivist calls this a “means what it says and it says what it means” approach, and contends that it leads to two problems:

“First, such an approach doesn't work. Second, this isn't really what they're doing anyway. The supposedly literal approach begins with certain presuppositions (cultural, personal, psychological, economic) and then finds these very same presuppositions as obvious and self-evident in the plain meaning of the text. Thus the sacred word becomes a mirror and our exegesis begins to resemble Stuart Smalley's daily affirmations.”

Thus we have the Creation Museum stridently presenting a “factual” hermeneutic of the earth’s creation that is loaded with naïve assumptions about science, history, evidence and human nature. Byassee gets it right when he points out that AiG is basically demonizing those whose disagree with young-earth creationism, holding them responsible for the state of the world today. What’s sad about this is that AiG purports itself to be a “Christianity-defending” group. Yet in constructing what amounts to a theological and ideological house of cards, they demonstrate remarkably little faith—whether in God, humanity, or even the possibility of their own fallibility.

No comments: