A Small Clarification

In the aftermath of yesterday’s Creation Museum report, I’m getting comments and e-mails from Christians who are both thanking me for taking the hit for the team and also wanting to make sure I don’t think all Christians believe in creationist clap-trap. My response to both of these:

1. You’re welcome.

2. Of course not.

And toward the latter, I do think it’s worth reminding other folks that making the lazy equivalence between creationists and Christians is not a smart thing to do. Indeed, it’s worth noting that creationism isn’t even inherently Christian; here’s some Islamic creationism in Turkey for you to chew on, had you not been aware it existed. I’m sure it will absolutely delight most creationists here in the US to know they have common cause with these Islamic counterparts.

But, yes. Not every Christian is a creationist; not every creationist is Christian, even if it happens to be that nearly all creationists here North America are of that particular breed. They’re two largely separate conceptual ideas whose populations overlap on the Great Cosmic Venn Diagram of Life. Personally, I think it’s grand that so many Christians are able to separate what they see as the blessings of grace received from Christ, from an obligation to think the universe as we see it was slapped together in 144 hours and that Adam is responsible for thorns.

40 thoughts on “A Small Clarification

  1. I’m a Christian and I believe that God created everything. He is, always was, and will always be. That being said, just because I don’t know how he did it or what methods were used does not mean that He didn’t do it. I’m okay with not knowing and actually take comfort in the fact that God is so much more than myself or anyone else can understand.

  2. John said: “Personally, I think it’s grand that so many Christians are able to separate what they see as the blessings of grace received from Christ, from an obligation to think the universe as we see it was slapped together in 144 hours and that Adam is responsible for thorns.”

    Exactly!

    Hey, just for Fox-news-style, fair and balanced reporting — or at least some equal time — how about a snarky visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History?

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I forwarded your essay to God and everybody, for as Sarah Monette put it, you visited the “museum” so the rest of us don’t have to.

    As a practicing Christian, I ricocheted from giggling like a little girl, face-palming and sudden terror as I read your review. The terror was based solely on, “Oh hell, people are going to think we ALL believe that nonsense.” Creation Museum, meet the concept of METAPHOR.

    Uh oh, I’m back to face-palming. I’m going to go look at the slide show again so I can giggle like a little girl.

  4. Ah well, John, maybe the next time you’re in D.C. I’m up in central PA, so I only make it down there once or so each year.

    Still, the Museum of Natural History would be a good antidote to your recent experience — snark or no snark.

  5. Drew I can undertake a review of the Museum of Natural History for you (I’ll be in the area for thanksgiving holiday). I’m not sure my snark will be up to par given that I’m a rather big fan of actual science (and my initials aren’t JS), but I’ll do my best.

    Here’s my problem with creationism (besides the obvious): evolution is freaking cool. Why would I as a Christian want to devalue the miracle that is the universe and the presence of life on Earth by denying the amazing process by which they came into existence?

  6. Speaking of responses to the essay, have you gotten any emails from creationists/people associated with the museum about it? If you do, any chance you’ll grade them for us?

  7. That lavishly illustrated atlas isn’t just turning up in Turkey. My (liberal Christian) university library received a copy. We’ve been passing it around, admiring the pictures, and speculating on who would actually use it. The natural sciences don’t want it for obvious reasons, but the religion department doesn’t, either.

  8. Our wonderful host pointed out, “it’s worth noting that creationism isn’t even inherently Christian.”

    The sons of Bor then carried Ymir to the middle of Ginnungagap and made the world from him. From his blood they made the sea and the lakes; from his flesh the earth; from his hair the trees; and from his bones the mountains. They made rocks and pebbles from his teeth and jaws and those bones that were broken.

    I defy anyone to prove otherwise!

    ;-)

  9. “To be clear, the “horseshit” I’ve been speaking of is not Christianity, it’s creationism, which to my mind is a teleological quirk substantially unrelated to the grace one can achieve through Jesus Christ.”

    Methinks your horseshit-o-meter still needs adjusting. Nice try, though; you had me going there for a minute.

  10. I wonder if we can catalog it as an art book. Some faculty feel quite possessive about “their” parts of the collection (they have a lot of input into acquisitions, so there’s some basis for that feeling) and wouldn’t want it in there.

    Of course the decision is ultimately ours, but we don’t really want it either…

  11. “John Scalzi Says:

    Sadly, Drew, it’s not local.”

    So, we now have a new fund raiser? Just think of the possibilities. John just might have hit upon a new revenue stream: snark-filled trip reports to the destinations of our choice.

    All kidding aside, thanks so much for the sacrifice. As an evolution respecting Christian, I would probably have been much less patient (but equally snarky) had I visited.

  12. Funny enough, I had this same discussion with my priest at one point, and his comment was, somewhat snarkily, “Some people don’t understand complex subjects, like allegory, and metaphor”.

    This is a catholic priest speaking now, and HE isn’t supporting literal creationism.

  13. There was a very interesting issue of Discover magazine dedicated to Islamic Creationism and how it has pretty much single handidly stiffled all scientific endevours in the majority of the middle east (I say majority, as Qatar seems to actually get it, and has been courting western professors in the sciences to come teach at Qatar schools like crazy). The article’s purpose was twofold, first to show that hey, creationism isn’t unique to christianity, and second to demonstrate the repurcussions of it becomeing too prevelant in society.

    Its generally a false assumption to believe that religion and science are contradictory. One of my favorite books on the play between the two is “The Universe in a Single Atom” by the Dalai Lama which deals with that specific subject. Specifically towards Christianity, Brother Guy Consolmagno, the head of the vatican observatory and a very accomplished planetary physicist (most of his work revolves around the evolution of small planetary bodies), is an excellent voice of understanding from Christianity. I strongly suggest looking up some of his interviews and writings (among other things he claims that fear of science is ultimately a fear that your faith is wrong), but an excellent start, and pertinent to creationism, is this excellent interview about intelligent design (which is just fancy creationism after all). It really does demonstrate that faith alone is not the foe of science, and that often than can go hand in hand (the underpinnings of evolution, the concept of inherited traits, was the result of the experiments of a Catholic Monk after all). I generally shudder when all of christianity is attacked as nonsense because certain members happen to believe in nonsense. Science has had some pretty false perspectives in its time as well, and I would rather scientific understanding not be condemned because the idea of an Aether was once popular.

  14. As Creationism is based on Old Testament traditions it is also the accepted version of history in Judaism. I have the same debate with my Orthodox Jewish friends as I do with my Evangelicals. So the physicists, geologist, archeologist all have it so arse backwards that they confused billions of years with thousands????? That’s a pretty big margin of error…

  15. @ Corey:

    Within the Orthodox Jewish world there are several books available that try to reconcile current scientific theories for the creation of the universe/life on earth/etc. with biblical creationism. Simply put, we’re not afraid of allegory and metaphor. :-)

    (“Genesis and the Big Bang” is a decent enough book, though it has a few holes as well)

  16. I went to Catholic schools from 1st through 11th grade, and we were taught evolution. (But then, Catholic theology doesn’t interperet the Bible in a completely literal fashion.)

  17. As I recall, there’s a nice natural history museum in Cincinnati. Certainly the art museum is world class, as is Toledo’s.

    I think you could visit any of them. I’d like to hear your comments.

  18. I trolled the comments here and didn’t see anyone mention the court opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover School District, the 2005 Pennsylvania case that smacked the school board about the head for even attempting to let Intelligent Design hoo-hah into the curriculum.

    The opinion by Judge John E. Jones III is a delight to read, having a calm, forthright level of snarkiness only achievable by a life-appointed federal judge wholly immune to political considerations. It’s long (140 pages or so) but hey, people, it’s doublespaced, and it’s a great example of what our legal system can achieve when allowed.

    It also concisely captures the critical reason why ID is not science. “For ID to be considered science, the ground rules
    of science [would] have to be broadened so that supernatural forces can be considered.”

    There’s a number of places the opinion is available. Try
    http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf
    and if that doesn’t work, just Google “dover jones opinion” and a half-dozen locs will come up.

    To my dear John Scalzi, who is currently my most favorite author: I loved your post on the Creation Museum and your snark warms my heart. But on this subject, I must award the crown of snark to Judge Jones, if only because he carries a bigger stick to enforce his view. (Think of court opinions as blogs with enforcers.)

  19. Lisa, the Catholic Church, at least, long ago moved away from any unforced difference between faith and reason. The catechism is pretty explicit:

    “…methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”

    Which lets me be, without contradiction, a Catholic who believes absolutley in evolution.

  20. Michael @13: I’m with you on that one.

    Once we’re over the problems of the book of Genesis, there are still a lot of mighty big historico-textual-philosophic problems regarding the rest of the biblical canon before one can say that such a thing as the grace of Christ exists or is worth believing in. The “Sunday School” Christ is one thing, but that “Christianity”.

    @26: there’s a big problem there just with HIV, condoms and the Catholic Archbishopic’s message on those.

  21. But, yes. Not every Christian is a creationist; not every creationist is Christian, even if it happens to be that nearly all creationists here North America are of that particular breed.

    Yeah, we really need to get a better entrance exam. Ugh.

  22. “Not every Christian is a creationist; not every creationist is Christian, even if it happens to be that nearly all creationists here North America are of that particular breed.”

    On the other hand, two of our presidential candidates are on the record as disbelieving evolution, Tom Tancredo (actually, is he still in?) and Mike Huckabee (who is doing well in Iowa).

  23. @#26

    The PBS series Nova actually took a departure from their normal format to present a two hour special on that very court case last night. Their reasoning was that the testemonies within the case did an excellent job of presenting a fair primer on both ID and evolution, as well as showing why ID is not science and its critiques of evolution are incorrect. Nova has a website specifically concerning that episode.

  24. …Turkey for you to chew on

    Mmmmmm… turkey….

    This is a catholic priest speaking now, and HE isn’t supporting literal creationism.

    Lisa, the Catholic Church, at least, long ago moved away from any unforced difference between faith and reason.

    Yeah, we’re not only talking Aquinas, here: Augustine of Freakin’ Hippo was perfectly able to conceive of Genesis 1 and 2 as metaphorical. The Fourth Century is too modern for this crew, which doesn’t really surprise me.

    Then again, the aforementioned people are to be discounted anyway, on account of their being papists, and hence burning in Hell.

  25. Actually, if John Scalzi were going to Washington DC, I’d ask him to visit the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. The top floor has an exhibit devoted to various groups of people— each of them introduced by their creation myths. SMAI — the better kind of Creation Museum.

  26. Hope, that *does* sound pretty cool. I think my brother went there, but I haven’t.

    Speaking of other creation stories, the Japanese ones are pretty interesting.

  27. Ari, of course there are Jewish traditions that attempt to reconcile Dogma and Science. There are many great Jewish thinkers even among the orthodox community that embrace science, just as there are devote Christians who believe in science and still maintain a relationship with Christ. I had Shabbat dinner at an Orthodox Rabbi’s house this past Friday night. Another of the Rabbi’s guests was attempting to argue that the similarities (words similar in phonetics and meaning) in disparate languages proves the story of the tower of Babel. In his mind it was proof positive that Hebrew (or a very similar language) must have been the language of Adam in the Garden. He couldn’t process the possibility of Proto Indo European and Hamito Semetic languages having naturally influenced each other though thousands of years of trade an exposure. Nor the possibility that if they did indeed arise from the same, even older, root language, that that root is unlikely to be similar to any modern derivation. His world view could not process an old earth. I am not attempting to suggest that all Orthodox Jews take a literal interpretation of the Tanakh; however the vast majority of Orthodox Jews I know do. Even in the conservative synagogue at which I attended Hebrew School as a child, I was not taught to look at the stories of the Tanakh in terms of allegory. I wish it had. I might not have turned my back on Judaism for as many years as I did.

  28. Way back when, when I was a reporter, I did a story about how the local Catholic school (Jesuit, natch) did a much, much better job of teaching about evolution in biology classes than the local public high schools.

    My own personal feeling: creationists don’t exhibit a lot of faith in God if their faith is bound by a literal interpretation of the creation story.

  29. Jesus spoke in metaphor, especially when explaining Heaven and how to get there. Why? He knew the real Truth didn’t he? Unfortunately, human beings don’t think in Truth. We think in metaphor down to a level more basic than we have observed. When God speaks to us, He speaks in metaphor because Truth fits in our heads like light fits in a bottle.
    Metaphors have context. When you extend a metaphor, sometimes you get greater understanding but sometimes you lose context and get the ridiculous.
    The Creation Story is a metaphor explaining the existence of sin and suffering. There’s much more to learn from it, I’m sure, but let’s keep it in context.

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