America is struggling with its religious heritage, and this plays out today in our society’s many dimensional torment over public education, women’s access to medicine, and a long list of minor issues and even to Congressional funding bills.
Often have we discussed here the shortcomings of creationism in comparison to modern science. Not often though do we delve into the deeper struggles of why people even believe what they do - what is the basis for religious thoughts and practices, and why does that matter?
The rejection of evidentiary/empirical systems of thinking - modern science and associated disciplines - lay deeply with clinging to very, very old systems of beliefs and social practices.
The US is still a dominantly “Christian” nation by self admission (as evidenced by the exhaustive Pew Research polling on religion). A recent Gallup survey confirmed the Pew Research results about the continued dominance of Christianity in America, though their definition of “Christian” is rather broad.
A non-trivial portion of the self-declared Christians in the US identify as “evangelical”, “fundamentalist”, or “conservative”. The latter is an important category as non-Protestants may not want to identify with the Protestant label of “Evangelical.” Within many Christian groups, preachers and theologians - the nominal intellectual leaders - readily close their eyes to evidence and research in history and archeology.
Consider this: “Evolutionary creationism” site Biologos has spent nearly a year running posts by Southern Baptist leaders who are trying to refute evolution (or “Darwinism”), through the process of Biologos allowing (in some generous show of brotherhood on the part of Biologos) said authors a voice in the conversation at their website.
These posts garner some comments at that site, but on the whole my take (after searching the web for other forums and blogs following these discussions) is that there is little real conversation in progress, and that not much is accomplished.
And the question is: why?
The answer I propose lay in the inherent need for a Magickal answer to the deep problems to life, as evidenced in the last “Southern Baptist Voices” entry, and it has very little to do with biology proper:
Southern Baptist Series: Evolution and the Problem of Evil
The problem of evil is one of the most persistent and intuitive challenges to the Christian faith and the existence of God. The classic defenses or theodicies that have been used to answer this challenge include the Freewill Defense (God is not responsible for much of evil because it is caused by the free actions of humans), the Soul Making Defense (God allows or sends some evils or suffering in order to build human character in overcoming adversity), and the Eschatological Defense (although the cause of some suffering may be beyond our understanding, whatever suffering we may experience in this life cannot compare with an eternity of blessing in heaven).
These theodicies or defenses to the problem of evil, however, normally presuppose the standard view of divine creation. Were one to propose creation by means of theistic evolution, some of the presuppositions for these responses to the problem of evil no longer function. Therefore, advocating some form of theistic evolution poses problems for standard explanations of the problem of evil.
What a strange thing to write. Why should anyone lament the extirpation of the whole Theodicy problem?
Indeed, one of the side benefits of the discovery of evolution, the old Earth, and the chemical basis of life is that “evil” per se can be seen as a concept of human creation, part of the evolution of culture, a way for societies to draw boundaries around that which is thought to be bad for an individual or group. Thus there is no longer a need to come up with an excuse for an omni-benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God to “allow” evil to exist.
The Southern Baptist Voices article by Dr. Steve Lemke demonstrates the source of the unwillingness to let go of the problem - the continued dependence upon the idea of a Magickal (“inerrant”) book, as witnessed by Dr. Lemke’s numerous references to Biblical books.
The problem to which Dr. Lemke closes his eyes - and which his Biologos hosts also do to some extent - is that the Book itself is a human creation, a multitude of works by a Near Eastern culture over 4 or 5 centuries (roughly between 2400 and 1900 year ago.) If only a more critical eye was given to this, then the other, derived issues (such as persistent Theodicy) would fall into line as lesser problems that could be dealt with in a fashion that makes much more sense.
There are many discussions in contemporary research on antiquity that one can fruitfully follow to come to a better, more accurate, more mature, and ultimately more rewarding (because of a basis in reality) view of the Bible and the meaning of the stories contained therein.
For example (and presented here more as a matter of convenience and timeliness), regarding the Pentateuch, skeptic Neil Godfrey (“Vridar”) has been discussing the work of Russell E. Gmirkin on the late origins of the Pentateuch:
The Books of Moses — Unknown 300 years Before Christ?
Why the Books of Moses should be dated 270 BCE (clue: ‘Rabbits’)
Now, I’m not convinced by Dr. Gmirkin and Mr. Godfrey that the Pentateuch was necessarily originally written in Ptolemaic Alexandria, but if those “Books of Moses” didn’t originate there then they certainly were seriously redacted at that time and place.
Godfrey usefully provides a timeline image [Ed. updated]that lays out the temporal relationship of several authors/writings of that era, and importantly includes a flurry of non-canonical Jewish writings post 270 BCE, the contents of which can be associated with movements that would later become part of a nascent Christianity.
This is just one (rather small) example of a current academic discussion that touches on the origins of the Bible. There are numerous, truly voluminous, works that have been accomplished and continue to be performed in critical (read: analytical as opposed to devotional) research about the religious writings of the theistic religion(s) in the Near East of the Iron Age into late antiquity. Sometimes final answers about the origins of religious texts are out of reach, lost to the proverbial sands of time, but that does not dismiss the exhaustive work and discoveries achieved.
Yet to all this work (on antiquity and the origin of religious writings) the authors of “Southern Baptist Voices” at Biologos, as with much of the rest of American Evangelicalism’s productions, writings, and sermons, turn a blind eye.
With self-willed ignorance.
And this is why I’m coming to the conclusion that Biologos is, harsh as it may sound, just peeing into the wind - contemporary American Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christianity is stumbling not primarily over biology but rather over history and archeology and most of all over discoveries about the Bible and its origins.
Fundamentalists close their eyes to solid biology not because of the biology but because of their fear of losing the Magick in the Book.
I have said it before and will repeat it here: What Evangelicals and Fundamentalists fear most is not Darwin and evolution, but rather Wellhausen (and all who follow in his footsteps even if they reject the Documentary Hypothesis) and a critical analysis of the origin of the Biblical books. And fundamentalists punish their academics when their scholars cross doctrinal lines.
Maybe our national conversation ought to start there, and bring America out of the age of Magick and into the modern age?