The trouble with the $27 million Creation Museum, which replaces the scientific method with word for word Christian Biblical literalist theology, is that it makes all Christians who don’t accept evolution look stupid. In doing so in such a publicly visible way it undermines the credibility of all Christians, especially those who are researching alternatives to Darwinian evolution using the tools of the scientific method. It also gives the growing movement of militant atheism, as exemplified by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, an easy opportunity to misrepresent all Christians as “irrational.” The mainstream media, including the Los Angeles Times in its recent editorial “Yabba-dabba science,” are only too happy to lend assistance to this misrepresentation.
Owned by the “Young Earth Creationist” organization Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum claims that the universe, earth, and man are only 6,000 years old, and that dinosaurs co-existed with man. The premise worked well for The Flintstones cartoon show, but has zero credibility within the scientific community in general and the Christian scientific community in particular. Most Christians, and almost all Christians who work as scientists are “Theistic Evolutionists.” Dr. Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome project, for instance, holds such views, as does Dr. Simon Conway Morris, a leading British paleontologist and professor at Cambridge University.
The Answers in Genesis organization has scrounged up 175 PhDs. from around the world who, apparently in all sincerity, buy into this Biblically based rejection of the scientific method. As Dr. Eugenie Scott, president of the National Center for Science Education and a non-theist, points out, most of these PhDs. have their degrees in areas other than evolutionary biology. “I’m sad to say this of my fellow PhDs., but the mere fact that you have a PhD. doesn’t always mean you know what you’re talking about,” she concludes.
Despite the atheist Sam Harris’ irresponsible and false claim in his recent best selling book, Letter to a Christian Nation, that “half of the American population believes that the universe is 6,000 years old”, a 2004 study by UC Santa Barbara Professor of Sociology Otis Dudley Duncan and Indiana State University’s Dr. Claudia Geist concluded that at most 18% of Americans are Biblical literalists in their views on creation and evolution. And yet, even among these Biblical literalists, the anti-scientific methods of the “Young Earth Creationists” are probably embraced by only a minority, with the majority falling into the “Old Earth Creationist” and “Intelligent Design” schools of thought.
My guess is that most Biblical literalists belong to the “Old Earth Creationist” school of thought, characterized by the research of Dr. Hugh Ross’ Los Angeles based Reason to Believe organization. With a PhD. in astronomy from the University of Toronto, Dr. Ross embraces the scientific method, and in fact, is using it to test the “Old Earth” theory, which is part of the scientific mainstream in that it accepts the 4.5 billion years age of the earth assertion.
Ross differs from evolutionists in that he believes that while adaptation within species occurs, species themselves were created fully formed. Not a hypothesis that most of us theistic evolutionists accept, but one that is in fact amenable to scientific testing. His organization is currently testing the biblical account of Adam and Eve as the first two humans by looking at the origins of human DNA structure. Their theory is that modern human DNA began in a localized area from a very small population group. Empirical evidence that supports this theory would also tend to support the Adam and Eve story from Genesis. I’m not holding my breath that the results of the study will confirm the hypothesis, but you certainly cannot fault the methodology of the study as being “unscientific” or “irrational.”
Other anti-evolutionists are part of the “Intelligent Design” school of thought, which argues that the complexity of life is so great that it must have been created by an intelligent entity. Biblical literalists and non-believers alike can be found in this school of thought.
This group delights in pointing out the flaws in the traditional Darwinian evolutionary theory (species have not evolved in the kind of slow linear progression Darwin’s theory would predict, but rather in a “punctuated equilibrium” of long periods of stasis followed by short periods of rapid change). However, to date, no one from the movement has set forth a testable hypothesis that can be subjected to empirical observations and repetitions consistent with the scientific method.
The mainstream media, the Los Angeles Times included, have done a disservice to the public dialogue on this matter by publicizing the smallest and most ridiculous group among Biblical literalists, incorrectly lumping the scientifically based literalists with them, and then setting up a public dialogue between the Flintstones on the one hand and Professor Peabody on the other.
Chris Mathews dropped a “Yes or No” pop-quiz during a Republican Presidential contenders as to their acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Three candidates (Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, and Tom Tancredo) answered no to this question, and the mainstream media, the Los Angeles Times included, were quick to portray these men as dogmatic and irrational “Young Earther Creationists”, even though all three could be described more accurately as “Intelligent Design” or “Old Earth Creationist” proponents.
The Los Angeles Times misrepresented their positions as follows:
“Three men seeking to lead the last superpower on Earth reject the scientific consensus on cosmology, thermonuclear dynamics, geology and biology, believing instead that Bamm-Bamm and Dino played together”
This is a false characterization of their beliefs, and a false characterization of many Christians who are Biblical literalists. Huckabee, for instance, later elaborated:
“I believe that the creation has a creator. I believe there is a God. And I believe God put this whole creative process in motion. How he did it and the time frame in which he did it, I honestly don’t know.”
The Los Angeles Times “Yabba Dabba Science” editorial is correct in pointing out that “religion and science can coexist.”
The trick here for the Times, and the bulk of the mainstream media, is to give a fair and accurate account of the public dialogue on issues where religion and science intersect. While it plays to the Los Angeles Times editorial board’s sense of intellectual superiority to pit the “caveman and dinosaur” crowd against the learned professors, it is not an intellectually honest way to cover the scientific and political debate surrounding the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The mainstream media needs to make a clear distinction between the anti-scientific methods of “Young Earth Creationists” and the scientifically based approaches of “Old Earth Creationists” and “Intelligent Design” advocates. Most importantly, the dishonest practice of lumping “Old Earth Creationists” and “Intelligent Design” advocates into the same intellectual trash bin as “Young Earth Creationists” should stop immediately.
Michael Patrick Leahy is the author of the book Letter to an Atheist, and managing editor of the new online magazine, Christian Faith and Reason. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College and has an MBA from Stanford.