Tuesday, July 26, 2016

William Dembski Comes Face to Face With the Closed-Mindedness of Young Earth Creationism

Disgraced Christian Comedian Mike Warnke once upon a time referred to someone as being so narrow-minded that he “could look through a keyhole with both eyes.” That is, apparently, what William Dembski found when he attempted to engage the young earth creationism movement about some of their core claims. He has a fairly lengthy post on his own site, in which he reposts an updated interview that he did with The Best Schools.

I, and others (here, here and here), have been very critical of Dembski over the years because of his persistent misunderstanding of the basic workings of evolution.   Nonetheless, I share his consternation.  A bit back, he wrote a book titled The End of Christianity (which I am embarrassed to say I have yet to read) in which he addressed the notion of evil within a Christian context that allowed for an old earth creation. He writes:
What I was dealing with in The End of Christianity is a more narrow problem, namely, how to account for evil within a Christian framework given a reading of Genesis that allows the earth and universe to be billions, rather than merely thousands, of years old. I’m an old-earth creationist, so I accept that the earth and universe are billions of years old. Young-earth creationism, which is the more traditional view, holds that the earth is only thousands of years old.

The reason this divergence between young-earth and old-earth creationists is relevant to the problem of evil is that Christians have traditionally believed that both moral and natural evil are a consequence of the fall of humanity. But natural evil, such as animals killing and parasitizing each other, would predate the arrival of humans on the scene if the earth is old and animal life preceded them. So, how could their suffering be a consequence of human sin and the Fall? My solution is to argue that the Fall had retroactive effects in history (much as the salvation of Christ on the Cross acts not only forward in time to save people now, but also backward in time to save the Old Testament saints).
Make no mistake, Dembski still does not accept biological evolution, at least not to the level that is traditionally accepted within the scientific community.

The overall reaction he received surprised him, although in hind sight, some of it should have been predictable:
Ken Ham went ballistic on it, going around the country denouncing me as a heretic, and encouraging people to write to my theological employers to see to it that I get fired for the views I take in it.
That's the “both eyes” part.  Then he says something that I have thought for some time, and it is something that has been touched on by writers such as Mark Noll and Karl Giberson:
There’s a mentality I see prevalent in conservative Christian circles that one can never be quite conservative enough. This got me thinking about fundamentalism and the bane it is. It’s one thing to hold views passionately. It’s another to hold one particular view so dogmatically that all others may not even be discussed, or their logical consequences considered. This worries me about the future of evangelicalism.
I have seen this mentality rise within the young earth creation community. To an extent, it has always been there, in that there is, in published book after book (no scholarly articles), no possibility broached that the strict, literal reading of the Primeval History cannot be correct.  This is a serious problem within fundamentalist evangelicalism and is part and parcel of the entire problem that the movement has with any sort of reasoned academic debate.

It is also the same mentality that encourages the break with the historical church and the writings of the church fathers, to the point where many fundamentalist evangelicals are so busy trying to be evangelical that they don't know what "Christian" actually means.  One last quote from Dembski drives this point home:
Fundamentalism, as I’m using it, is not concerned with any doctrinal position, however conservative or traditional. What’s at stake is a harsh, wooden-headed attitude that not only involves knowing one is right, but refuses to listen to, learn from, or understand other Christians, to say nothing of outsiders to the faith. Fundamentalism in this sense is a brain-dead, soul-stifling attitude. I see it as a huge danger for evangelicals.
The young earth creation movement is the embodiment of this mindset.

I encourage you to read the whole interview.  He has some very damning things to say about how the fundamentalist evangelical world treated him after the book came out.

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