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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Session Three: Creationism: What, Who, and Why?

Well, this is my night to teach, and also my first attempt to make a PowerPoint presentation work, without a lot of help.

As you will recall, the last session was Session Two: Why is origin of life such a difficult problem, where biosimilars expert Don Wallar dealt expertly with the various conundrums.

Tonight, we deal with creationism - the view that specific acts of creation (from outside our universe) are necessary to get life started and guide it on its way.

Among other things, we will look at the following:

1. Most cultures have creation stories, and creation stories usually tell you more about the culture than they tell you about anything else.

2. The Western monotheist creation story was a key driver for science.

What difference did the doctrine of creation make to science?

Oxford mathematician John Lennox notes in his excellent book God's Undertaker:
" ... the rise of science would have been seriously retarded if one particular doctrine of theology, the doctrine of creation had not been present." (P.22)

Why? The first verse of the Bible says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Note what this implies:

1. Creation was an event. (Not an eternity)

2. It took place at a specific moment in time. (0 seconds)

3. Humans can understand it. (Otherwise, why are you being given this information?)

None of these three assumptions is self-evident. Many cultures have not shared them.

If you thought that the universe has always been supported on the backs of an infinite series of turtles swimming in an endless sea, you would not be tempted to investigate much further. Such a creation is not an event, and it takes place at no specific moment in time. It is not suitable for study because it invokes infinite resources.

(Incidentally, this is true whether you consider the Turtles account plausible or not. One might construct a plausible creation account that similarly discouraged science by presenting a series of assumptions that do not invite study because they are always invoking infinite resources.)

3. Until the advent of modern geology, beginning in the late seventeenth century, there was no information from science about the origin of Earth or its life forms. In the Western world, genealogy was conventionally used to date the Earth, using the generations in the Bible.

This account was not preferred to some other account. There was no other account of any consequence. But geology showed that Earth was probably much older than human beings. Traditional creation stories were reexamined, to account for that.

4. Most Christians (and other Western monotheists) did not consider this a particularly difficult problem. The Bible does not say how old Earth is and different passages give different ideas, depending on who is writing, when, and what point they are trying to make.

However, a number of cultural factors intervened to create some pretty serious conflicts that reverberate to the present day ... more tonight.

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