Saturday, November 22, 2008

 

Creationism and Creeds

Three Hierarchies has been discussing how one Lutheran bishop has elevated six-day creationism as an indisputable part of Lutheran doctrine. This kind of thing is one of my pet peeves with evangelicals. Let's put aside for argument the question of whether God created the Earth in six days some 5000 years ago, and concentrate on the importance of this doctrinal point. Is it really on the same level of importance as the bodily resurrection,transubstantiation, salvation by faith alone, and suchlike? No. In fact, the topic was of no more than minor interest before 1880 or so. People did think about it-- Augustine famously considered six-day creationism absurd-- but it was a matter of explaining a particular Bible passage.

The main defense for insisting on creationism is that it is a good indicator of a person's views on more important topics. That is indeed a good general argument. One of the "Five Fundamentals" was the Virgin Birth. That is doctrine trivial in itself, but it is a good indicator of whether a person believes in miracles, prophecy, and Scripture. Creationism serves as an indicator of inerrancy, but it is not a good one. A person can believe the Bible is inerrant without believing in six-day creation, by simply treating Genesis 1 as a metaphor, a reasonable thing to do given its style and context. A person can also believe in six-day creation without believing the Bible is reliable, by believing that Genesis is reliable but nothing outside the Torah (an Orthodox Jew, for example, would reject the New Testament).

A second defense would be that belief in creationism is a good indicator of a person's willingness to buck the conventional wisdom. It shows you are willing to believe something that seems ridiculous to modern intellectuals. That is a good willingness to have, but this is not ground well chosen for exercising it. For one thing, belief in the bodily resurrection does about as well in showing that you are willing to contradict secularists, and that is a far more central doctrine. For another, creationism is highly culture-bound, unlike most other doctrines. As I said before, anybody before 1880 would wonder why it was so prominent, whereas the bodily resurrection has always been a point of contention between believers and unbelievers. For another, the particular method of creation has no implications for actual behavior, so it is picking a fight on a purely intellectual ground, without convicting anyone of sin. A better issue, though equally non-central and particular to our culture, would be the sinfulness of homosexuality. That doctrine is undisputably biblical, and much more offensive to modern unbelievers. If Christians are going to look unreasonable, let us do it on issues that really get other people riled up because they actually matter.

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