Common Misconceptions on Evolution vs. Creation[ism]
So right now I'm taking on online course in Evolutionary Biology, and the very first discussion forum has the topic of evolution vs. creationism. My freedom to respond in the forums is limited, so I'm venting here. Apologies in advance.
The number one argument I'm hearing - both in the text and, repeatedly, in the forums - is that the Bible is not a science textbook. (This one is coming from the people who have a Christian background.) Since it's not a textbook, it should be used only as an item of faith. Evolution - science - that deals with observable things we can really know. But our faith is based on feelings and spirituality. So evolution and the Bible can be believed together without any difficulties whatsoever.
And yes, the Bible is not a science textbook. But you know what it is? A historical record. The Old Testament in particular is full of genealogies, numerical records, and other data that help to make this point. Ever read the book of Numbers? It's (mostly) just that - numbers. Records of inventory of a historical group of people. The first fourteen chapters of 1 Chronicles consist of genealogies or other types of lists of individuals. Those are not things that were written with the intent of feel-good spiritual enlightenment. They are part of the cultural data, now a historical record, of a real people with a real history.
And that history begins with Genesis.
Yes, there is poetry and prophecy and parable in the Bible, but Genesis is clearly one of the historical accounts. The first eleven chapters of Genesis includes the creation story, the Fall of Man, the great flood, and the Tower of Babel, as well as three sets of genealogies. The chapters then run seamlessly into chapter 12, which starts the account of Abraham - a real, historical person that secular and Christian experts alike know existed.
Considering this, we should never dismiss the creation account in Genesis as faith-based, spiritual-feelings-focused, some sort of poetic, tale. It is, along with the rest of the book, history. Believe in evolution if you will, but please don't say it can be believed with alongside Scripture simply because the Bible's origins story can be ignored just because it wasn't meant to be a textbook. It was meant to be taken as history.
And another thing - what's with all this faith vs. science stuff? Our very own textbook says this:
"Thus all biologists are in some sense evolutionary biologists, for evolutionary biology is not a specialty, like genetics or development - it is an explanation of what is investigated by all biological specialties." (Stearns & Hoekstra, 2005, p. 6)
In other words, the origins-story given by evolution is a unifying idea - a worldview, if you will. Yes, we have experimental evidence confirming natural selection, speciation, adaptation, mutation, genetic drift, the founder effect, and any other type of genetic variation influenced by environmental stresses. BUT that is NOT evidence that everything evolved from a common ancestor! The textbook mentions fossils as evidence of that, but there is no biological evidence for common descent, and fossils are interpreted based on the worldview (like common-descent evolution) that the paleontologist possesses.
Another common note - this one more from the atheists - is that those creationists insist on taking the whole Bible literally, which obviously leads to problems.
I'm sorry, what was that?
No. Just - no. Historical accounts should be taken literally. Historical accounts include the creation account. This can be shown by basic hermeneutics. Hebrew poetry is very distinctive, and can be noted from other styles of Scripture at a glance in our English Bibles. Prophecy, parables, and poetry are, in the Bible, very distinctive and have very distinctive literary styles that set them apart from history. Both modern Hebrew scholars and hundreds of years of theology have told us that it is nonsensical to interpret Genesis 1 and 2 in the way we interpret those other types of passages. Genesis 1 and 2 were meant to be taken literally, since they were meant to record an actual, historical event.
Finally, the class resources have reminded us that this is not a theology course. Thank you. Then by what grounds do you dare to tell me anything about my faith at all? You think, as a scientist, that you have authority to say that evolution is compatible with Genesis, since it can be dismissed as faith-based touchy-feely fliff-fluff anyway?
I will gladly jump into a little theology with you, show you verses in which Jesus refers to the creation and the fall as historical, and, later in the New Testament, where major doctrines of Christianity are built directly off of those first few chapters. But why would you care? We are concerned in this class with biology. So can we leave it at that please? Don't tell me what the Bible actually means and what it allows for.
The problem is, they are not just stating opinions when they insist my Bible allows for evolution. They back up their arguments with facts. The general Christian population accepts evolution. The Pope has already been cited twice in the class as having said there is no discrepancy between Genesis and common-descent evolution. So I really can't blame them for insisting this bad theology is ok for me to accept. I am only a minority in the Christian community. And in science, what has been accepted by the majority often holds lots of power.
I've rambled. So to sum up:
1. The Bible is not a science textbook, but it is a historical account. The creation account is part of that history.
2. Saying "science vs. faith" trivializes Christianity and ignores the worldview nature of common-descent evolution.
3. Creationists do not take the whole Bible literally. They take the history in the Bible literally.
4. The fact that many Christians have accepted common-descent evolution does not make it good theology to blend the creation account with common-descent evolution.
P. S. Notice how I've clarified "evolution" as "common-descent evolution"? There is a difference between the type of evolution seen in the Galapagos Island Finches and the type of evolution that says man evolved from apes.
I hope the rest of the course focuses on science. Microevolution - how species experience change according to environmental stresses - is something I find absolutely fascinating. But if they keep up with this worldview stuff (and I feel obligated to keep my opinions to myself), I am going to go absolutely insane.
Stearns, S. C. & Hoekstra, R. F. (2005). Evolution: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.