Answers In Genesis can’t stand the idea that the echidna evolved

Echidna-04.jpgWhen the creationist website Answers In Genesis sets out to debunk the theory of evolution, it loves to set up red herrings that it thinks will “stump” the theory of evolution and prove their own theory that God made everything all at once, and from scratch. So the AIG folks always set the stage with a cute nod to its readers that they’re going to explain, Oh So Simply, how evolution fails the test of scientific verity. In a post titled Echidna: Outback Oddity, the stage is set this way:

Evolution is hard-pressed to explain this prickly little digger. That’s because the Creator made it like no other single animal.

The intent is pretty clear. Evolution just doesn’t “get” the complexity of nature. Only God can do that. So they go on to complain, with seemingly vexing questions, as to why the animal is such a puzzle among living creatures:

You might think that spiky little animal waddling along the forest floor is a porcupine. But it has a long, sticky tongue and it digs for ants, so maybe it’s some kind of anteater. Nope? Well, it’s a mammal, at least, right? Wait—it lays eggs. Mammals don’t lay eggs. So what is this thing?

In order to understand all these questions in context of their evolution, one must first acknowledge that there is a time and environmental influence scale sufficiently long and diverse enough to provide the various configurations that went into evolving an echidna.

 

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Graphs like these make creationists go ape. 

And of course, creationism denies any such time scale exists. The popular claim among the creationist sect is that the human genealogy mapped out in the bible dictates the total age of the earth at about 6,000 years. Some are even willing to admit that it might map out at 10,000 years. 

But in any case, these genealogies also require that creationists accept a time scale for human lifespans that in some cases extend for 900 years. You heard that right: creationists insist that at one time human beings were capable of living for nine centuries. That’s almost a millennium.

The oldest known verified lifespan among human beings tops out at about 115 years. So creationists are basing their entire worldview and the age of the earth on an unverified, rendition of oral history before the advent of written language to establish the potential lifespan of human beings. On the website creation.com, the explanation goes like this:

In the book of Genesis, the Bible routinely records human lifespans which seem outrageously different from our experience today. Adam lived to 930 years; Noah even longer, to 950 years (see graph below). These long lifespans are not haphazardly distributed; they are systematically greater before the Flood of Noah, and decline sharply afterwards.

These great ages are not presented in the Bible as if they are in any way extraordinary for their times, let alone miraculous. Many people are quick to scoff at such ages, claiming they are ‘biologically impossible’. Today, even if they avoid all fatal diseases, humans will generally die of old age before they reach much past 100. Even the very exceptional cases don’t make it much past 120 years.

geneticsThey go on to claim that it was a radically pure form of genetic sustainability and environment at work to produce such long lifespans. Somehow, the earth was simply a better place to live, and that allowed human beings to survive for nearly a millennium.

But even that’s not the end game of the creationism discussion. It has far less to do with biology than it does with theology. As creation.com goes on to explain:

 

Of course, the ultimate reason for all aging and death is the Curse on all creation recorded in Genesis chapter 3. Adam was told that if he disobeyed God, ‘dying, you shall die’ [lit. Hebrew]. Adam immediately died spiritually, and began to die physically on the very same day, just as we are all dying today.

Modern genetic research shows that we all inherit the inevitability of aging and death. When we look at our encroaching wrinkles in the mirror, it should remind us of the awfulness of sin in the sight of a holy God. And it should cause us immense thankfulness that God has provided a way of escape from His own righteous judgement on sin, through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So to abide by a creationist’s worldview, we must begin with a massive rationalization of the age of the earth based on the miraculous nature of human lifespan upon which biblical genealogy is based.  Thus we must draw on theology as the starting point for any explanation of nature, science and the history of the earth. The limitations of this worldview are breathtaking in their shallow regard for the functions of nature. It’s all “wave of the hand” level thinking cloaked in language stolen from science to justify creationism as a legitimate scientific worldview.

So you can see why creationists love the echidna as a symbol of the inherent complexity of nature and the supposed confusion on the part of evolutionary scientists to seam together the forces of environmental conditions, selective pressures and population adaptations that could produce an animal seemingly constructed from so many sources. How could evolution accomplish such a feat? The goal of creationism is not to explain the possibilities, but to heighten the impossibilities and keep religious thinkers as far from material explanations as possible. This is how that is done:

The echidna seems to break all the rules. It’s a mammal, but it lays eggs. It’s warm-blooded, but it has a low body temperature. It lives on land, but it detects food like some fish do. And, like so many other rule-breakers, such as the platypus, the echidna settled in Australia.

That last word in the bunch, “Australia,” is already proof that the case of the creationists against evolution is beginning to break down. It is consistently true that when a population of any creature is forcibly isolated from another through migration or some other happenstance, the isolated population becomes subject to the environmental pressures of that new environment. Some attributes of the ancestors may persist as the population is subjected to the needs for survival in all new circumstances. Even some of the formerly vital functions of a land creature can wind up useless and essentially vestigial as a line of land-based living things shifts to an aquatic lifestyle. The vestigial remnants of hips in whales is an excellent example of how nature “plays” with usefulness and the lack of it.

flightlessWe also have flightless cormorants on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. For what good reason would a species of bird perfectly capable of flying in its ancestry relinquish the ability to fly? The answer is simple: Flying costs energy, and cormorants isolated on the Galapagos had no need to fly away from predators that did not exist. The rewards of evolution as sometimes ironic, yet still functionally beneficial.

The same can be said of the echnida. All the attributes wrapped together in a seemingly inconclusive creature are actually quite conclusively beneficial in the habitats of Australia that it occupies. There is a hard, fast rule to evolution that defies any other explanation of existence. If a creature is not equipped to survive or adapt to the habitat available, it will cease to feed and breed, and eventually die out.

This is what has happened to 99% of all living things that ever existed on the earth. Creationists like to claim that every kind of living thing that has ever existed on earth was borne up and carried around in an ark for a year, then released back onto the surface of the earth. This is a pathetically shortsighted view of how nature functions. There is no explanation of how highly specific lifestyles of desert scorpions in the Southwest United States were somehow able to migrate across salty oceans or through freezing landscapes across the Bering Straits to arrive at the Middle East where Noah waited with the appropriate food to nurture and regenerate entire populations of such specialized creatures in this world.

But as we’ve seen, that is not really the issue at heart with creationism. It is always about confession of sin and the admission that God is in control, and that nature cannot possibly operate on its own. Again, we find evidence of this religious worldview as the Answers In Genesis site struggles to justify its case:

Evolutionists have always had trouble explaining how it’s related to any other animal. So instead, to explain its oddities they invoke “convergent evolution” (the belief that a similar “need” produces similar designs in completely unrelated animals). But creationists understand that the echidna’s traits point to a Creator who made many unique kinds of animals.

Echidna

It goes on to say:

God gave the echidna nerves in its snout that detect electrical impulses from nearby ants, termites, and other potential snacks. God designed the echidna as a digger, with powerful legs and strong claws. He also equipped it with special ear holes to help keep its ear canals clear of dirt. Finally, God gave it electroreceptors, like sharks have—nerves in its snout that detect electrical impulses from nearby wiggling snacks.

The idea that all these attributes could have converged in a single creature is anathema to creationism because its worldview is so constrained in timespan that it must use shortcuts to explain anything, or everything. The most (and only) convenient justification for this shortcut in time and complexity is a very literal interpretation of the opening chapters in the Book of Genesis.

In other words, creationism demands that people accept the laws of nature were radically broken in terms of human lifespan in order to assert the claim that the earth could not possibly be old enough to allow evolution to happen. That conflicted worldview is the convergence of great irony, human arrogance, fear and selfishness into one singular creationist mindset.

In other words, the better question we should be God is why the world should create such a conflicted creature as the creationist. After all, Jesus was quite at home with the concept that the natural world could be a source of great wisdom. He taught using parables steeped in organic truths. And he lectured his disciples when they expressed fear that people could never understand his message if he did not talk in literal terminology.

He called them “dull” and “without understanding” for these claims. Which makes the closing argument about the echidna found in Answers In Genesis sound painfully desperate for approval and justification. The authors begin to sound like children desperate to have their fifth grade theme paper graded with an “A” when in fact it is frightfully obvious they never did the research in the first place. Instead they credit God on the basis that no great teacher could give them a failing grade if they quote the Almighty.

Echidnas are just one example of how our Creator filled the earth with abundant, diverse, unique life that speaks of His handiwork, not evolution. These quirky little monotremes simultaneously demand and defy categorization. But whatever classification rules they may break, in demonstrating the creativity of our great God they obey His command, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6)!

As noted, Jesus didn’t give his disciples or the Chief Priests a pass when they exhibited such dogmatic ignorance and legalistic tendencies. Neither should we when creationists try to use scientific sounding language to make a legalistic case for the primacy of God in material processes. There is plenty of meaning to draw from nature without relegating it to a pathetically tiny backseat in human history. Just ask Jesus.

 

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Why the Bible isn’t a brick to be thrown

The Christian Bible is a tremendous source of insight on the human spirit. It transcends humdrum human understanding as well. As such, it is a book that is foundational to much of what we call the human condition.

But while the Bible is considered by Christians to be foundational to understanding the role of God in our lives, it is critical to know how the book is intended to be used.

Let us consider, for example, the contention that the Holy Bible is the only source of trustworthy knowledge for the human race. Recently a Tweet by Seth MacFarlane was shared on Facebook. It read like this and received no less than 15,180 Retweets.

seth-mcfarlane

The people who also shared this to their Facebook page no doubt got resistance to those Christians that have not updated their personal beliefs to accommodate the idea of evolution. One supposed retort pasted in response contained the following counter-meme:

roosevelt

Roosevelt was a noted conservationist, but it may indeed surprise ardent creationists that his understanding of the origins of the human race included the processes of evolution. Here are Roosevelt’s own words as contained in a 1916 article published in National Geographic. The article was titled “How Old Is Man?” (Source: scienceblogs.com)

“The mammals, which for ages had existed as small, warm-blooded beasts of low type, now had the field much to themselves. They developed along many different lines, including that of the primates, from which came the monkeys, the anthropoid apes, and finally the half- human predecessors of man himself.”

Clearly these are not the words of a man who believes that a thorough knowledge of the Bible transposes what one can learn about science in college. What Roosevelt was implying in his quote is that spiritual knowledge provides on temperance that one may not gain simply through a college education. This temperance and ability to weigh the relative merits of human behavior is indeed valuable. In modern parlance,  we might call it emotional intelligence.

But to imply that one should toss one’s college education out with the bathwater and trust only the Bible for information about how the world works is clearly not the intent of what Teddy Roosevelt had to say on the matter of human evolution.

Yet it also turns out that Roosevelt was captive to some dangerous beliefs that were the product of less-than-advanced thinking in his time. Some flirt with a form of religious judgment, while others cast aspersions pre-historical human beings as being inferior. This should be the thing that is most upsetting to Christians, because it implies that people like Adam and Eve or Moses and Abraham were likely knuckle-dragging dolts without intellect, much less divinity coursing through their minds:

“The earliest monuments beside the lower Nile and lower Euphrates, like the earliest monuments on the high plateaus or in the dense tropical forests of the new world, are purely modern — are things of yesterday — when measured by the hoary antiquity into which we grope when we attempt to retrace the prehistory of man, the history of his development from an apelike creature struggling with his fellow-brutes, to the being with at least longings and hopes that are half divine.”

 

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Painting of UFC fighter by Christopher Cudworth

This idea that the earliest humans on record were brutelike and unrefined runs directly in conflict to the Christian narrative that men such as Moses were so full of insight we can scarcely imagine their brainpower. But you see, too many Christians want to own the narrative for themselves, and as such, struggle to possess both science and religion for themselves. They seek to deny the path of evolution that led to human awareness.

 

The idea that human awareness came from strictly material origins is anathema, insisting instead that human awareness must have burst upon the scene in the singular case with Adam and Eve. Never mind that these figures could just as easily symbolize the point in time when comprehension of God came into being. This was Creation as released through advancement in human culture. It precisely parallels the New Testament narrative in which Christ comes to earth fully formed, and a part of God, to lead human beings to even greater awareness. What’s so hard to understand about that? Well, even the disciples had a bit of trouble grasping the fluid narrative of Christ’s message. So today’s Christians possibly can be forgiven for being stubborn about their fixed beliefs.

Throwing bricks

The world was essentially born anew into awareness at that moment, and a comprehensive explanation of how the earth was formed through material means was unnecessary to the  just as the New World is predicted to come at a future date

The real brutes are those who deny that religion and science can co-exist, and that one can inform the other without implication of falseness. That is where real human progress awaits, at the intersection in history where religion is not used to dumb down the population. The intent of the Bible is to elevate the notion that the human race in all its material force can still be capable of higher thinking. That is where spirituality awaits as a source of wisdom to guide our actions, inform our stewardship and fuel our love of the earth as an expression of God’s creative power and love.

But when Christians only extract the Bible like a brick from the foundations of scripture, and throw those bricks around in defense of a small and narrow-minded view of the great walls of wisdom, it only hurts the faith.

 

The miracle of convergent evolution and faith

convergence4There’s an interesting thing that happens in evolution called “convergence.” That is, through selective forces such as habitat or climate or competitive adaptation, different kinds of animals and plants can appear to look alike. One of the most familiar examples is the convergent evolution of functional wings in birds, bats and insects.

Playful evolution

It’s an interesting fact that evolution sometimes also works in “reverse” when it comes to evolved physical characteristics such as wings. That’s why we find flightless species of penguins and cormorants. These birds no longer needed to fly to survive and their wings have evolved to be used for different purposes, or practically no purpose at all.

Flightless cormorants are birds whose wings have "devolved" through lack of need to fly.

Flightless cormorants are birds whose wings have “devolved” through lack of need to fly.

Why would any bird cease to fly? There seems to be so much value in the ability to fly away from potential predators or to fly in pursuit of potential prey. The answer (in part) is that when you live in an environment where swimming for prey and escape is the more efficient manner of existence, then flying becomes an unnecessary use of energy.

By contrast, penguins use their wings to propel through water in pursuit of fish while flightless cormorants simply rely on their back feet to propel them through the water in pursuit of the fish they eat. And it works. So are penguins going “backwards” in terms of evolution? Not really. They’ve simply evolved in a different direction from other forms of flying or flightless birds.

Dumb choices? 

Penguins sometimes use their bellies to slide across the ice.

Penguins sometimes use their bellies to slide across the ice.

If you choose to think in anthropomorphic terms (projecting human characteristics on animals) you could criticize penguins for making poor evolutionary choices.“Look at you stupid penguins! Now you’re not like the rest of the birds! You made a dumb choice. Now you can no longer fly!”

There’s a problem with that line of thinking. The many species of penguins on this earth did not “choose” to become flightless. They became flightless in practical response to the environments where they live. Flying to capture food or escape predators was no longer useful.

Evolution at work

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A Texas blind salamander

There is no end to the odd number of ways evolution** works on living creatures. We also have blind salamanders that live in caves. They no longer need their eyesight to find food in an environment where there is no light. We also have mammals known as bats that have poor eyesight, yet navigate through the night sky using echolocation to avoid trees and zero in on flying insect prey.

Nature is thus a highly creative source of evolutionary invention. This includes convergence, where different types of animals or plants evolve the same characteristics such as limbs or wings or eyes. There is also divergence, where through genetic variation or interbreeding changes in physical structure become part of the selective forces at work in the survival of a species.

About sex

Of course evolution also works with physical and behavioral characteristics in seemingly confusing ways. In the animal and plant world it is quite common for all sorts of living species to have both male and female sexual characteristics. In such cases we use the general scientific term of  hermaphrodite to describe these multisexual life forms.

In nature hermaphroditic animals and plants are known to assume both sexual roles in the mating process. Some types of living things begin as a male and change into a female. Others work female into male within a single lifespan depending on their lifecycle. Still others are bidirectional in nature, switching sexual roles from one gender to another and back again.

There’s a difference, but it’s natural and normal

Among human beings the term used to describe people with both sexual identities or physical characteristics is intersex or transgender to describe people with both male and female body parts. 

Again, these are not people who have chosen to be both male and female, nor are they. Yet transgender people are often forced by culture and society to make choices people should never have to make. Society seems to demand that they choose one sex or the other or be forced to live in a dichotomous world where they are not accepted by either sex.

The same holds true for homosexual people as well. While the sexual characteristics of a homosexual person are not necessarily demonstrated in a physical sense, the sexual orientation of a homosexual person who is sexually attracted to those of the same sex is just as biologically expressive as being transgender.

Fears and actions

Of course these differences in human sexual characteristics and orientation have long been ostracized by societies that fear differences of any sort. In fact many societies fear even the common sexual expressions in women and men. Basic functions such as menstruation were once considered “unclean” by ancient cultures. This prejudice and fear against menstruating women was codified in the Bible with calls to isolate women from society for a period of days until they were judged to be “clean” again. The same rules applied for men who ejected semen onto their clothes.

Even in today’s society, sexual repression and control over a women’s body is carried out in ancient tribal traditions that mutilate the clitoris of young women to deny them sexual pleasure in intercourse. This brand of controlling behavior is the sign of a culture that has not evolved in its comprehension and understanding of individual equality and gender roles in society.

Canonized fears

Even supposedly advanced cultures embrace ancient taboos because they mask a brand of machismo based on ignorance and fear about the female gender. These male fears are canonized in the Genesis creation story where Eve tricks Adam into trying fruit from the “tree of knowledge.” Notice the interesting theme at work in that creation tradition? Right away it is knowledge that is the enemy. Remain ignorant and you’ll be safe from all temptation, says Genesis.

Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah

It carries through many other biblical stories as well. When Delilah secretly cuts the hair of Samson he loses his legendary strength. The power of such stories holds true to this day, as evidenced by this question and answer posted on Yahoo! Answers.

Q: Do you lose strength when you cut your hair?

A: Wow, are we bored today? No, you cannot lose your strength if/when you cut your hair. Samson was a biblical fable used to demonstrate that when you forget your faith, and rely on the wrong thing, you can and will lose everything you have. (Not that I’m really Christian or anything, just completing the train of thought, *grin*)

Of course the real meaning of the story focused on being dedicated to God in faith. Yet how interesting it is that this notion persists that a man could lose strength by having his hair cut.

There are many such perceptions that masculine traits are evidence of strength and personal valor. When people don’t follow these “norms” they immediately come into question by society. These prejudices against men who act feminine or engage other men in a homosexual relationship are also canonized in the Bible.

It is interesting to note that while the Bible calls homosexuality a sin in some cases, it is just as often used as a warning of symbol for fears about falling into other types of sins. Here is one such example:

Romans 1:26-32, “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”

wipe_out_homophobia_by_wipeout_homophobia-d4835i7This passage foremost condemns anything other than the “natural use of a woman,” which is rather a patriarchal manner in which to view women as a rule. And the fact of “men with men working that which is unseemly” actually reveals the entire lack of knowledge that in most of nature, such clear lines of demarcation and behavior do not always exist. Absent the knowledge of modern science, the Bible falls into a definition of “normalcy” that depends far too much on fear and not enough on understanding.

And for homosexuality to stand at the start of it all seems like a certain condemnation. But the real message of this passage is a condemnation of people acting out of control. That’s the real message of the Sodom and Gomorrah story in the Bible as well. When strangers wander into town, they take refuge with Lot. The townspeople call them out because town tradition states that strangers found after dark are fair sport for all sorts of abuse. God is disgusted not just with this tradition, but all sorts of abusive behavior in these towns. He blots them out for their transgressions, but homosexuality was not the sole cause for that wrath. Yet that story has been used to condemn homosexuals for “sodomy” based on a fear of sexual practices that do not supposedly fit the “normal” behavior of human beings.

Thought control

It’s all about thought control, plain and simple.

In 2015 this practice of imposing thought control based on ancient and ignorant prejudices is being called into question by none other than Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church. He takes ancient bad habits to task by calling people to remember that Jesus himself came to turn the law over on its head. The Catholic News Service reports:

Jesus did “strange things,” like “walk with sinners, eat with tax collectors” — things the scholars of the law “did not like; doctrine was in danger, that doctrine of the law” that they and the “theologians had created over the centuries,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.

The scholars were safeguarding the law “out of love, to be faithful to God,” the pope said, but “they were closed up right there,” and forgot all the ways God has acted in history.

“They forgot that God is the God of the law, but is also the God of surprises,” he said.

“God is always new; he never denies himself, he never says that what he had said is wrong, but he always surprises us,” the pope said.

20130911cnsbr1564-1024x730But the Pope doesn’t stop there. He dispenses with ancient prejudices by taking his line of thought to conclusion in this way, as the CNS reports:

The scholars of the law also forgot that the people of God are a people on a journey, “and when you journey, you always find new things, things you never knew before,” he said. But the journey, like the law, is not an end in itself; they are a path, “a pedagogy,” toward “the ultimate manifestation of the Lord. Life is a journey toward the fullness of Jesus Christ, when he will come again.”

The law teaches the way to Christ, and “if the law does not lead to Jesus Christ,” he said, “and if it doesn’t get us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead.”

Pope Francis is forced by tradition to make these statements as part of a transitional focus on change. The church cannot just flip its doctrine lest it come off as too flip for its position as an authority on faith. Yet the message is clear: We must dispense with ancient prejudices or find ourselves set apart from God and Christ.

And this is the convergent evolution between the church and the life of Christ. It has taken 2015 years for the church to come around to this understanding. In between there have been persecutions of millions of people based on ancient prejudices against Jews and Muslims despite Christ’s call to love our supposed enemies. There has been canonized and politicized prejudice exercised against homosexuals, lesbians and transgender people despite the fact that all these characteristics and orientations are manifested wholly in God’s own creations. It continues to this day. 

thYet perhaps we are finally evolving as a faith. The church can only find use of its true wings if it is allowed to embrace all the many forms of human beings. That is, we are homo sapiens.

The word “homo” means man. The word sapiens is based on the root Latin word “sapere” that means wise. Perhaps now the scientific term describing human beings––home sapiens––is at last converging on something approaching the truth. Sometimes it takes a long time for evolution to work in this world. 

* unprincipled (often used as a humorous or affectionate reproach)

**For a long time questions by those who doubt the theory of evolution focused on the idea there were no transitional forms in the fossil record to demonstrate links between ancient dinosaurs and modern creatures.

In the world of birds we have long had the skeletal imprint of the archaeopteryx, an apparently transitional form of dinosaur with feathers. Thanks to recent fossil discoveries from China we how have dozens more examples of feathered dinosaurs. These extinct life forms demonstrate structural progressions from feathered dinosaurs to modern birds. Some of these fossils exhibit such clear detail that scientists are even able to discern and analyze structures such as cones in the retinas that tell us these creatures could perceive color. These similarities demonstrate clear structural and functional relationships and serve as clear evidence of evolution at work throughout history. .

The entire message of Genesis comes down to one thing: “You should know better than that.”

By Christopher Cudworth

Nature and eternity are foundations of the BibleThe narrative of the Book of Genesis begins with the creation story at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. As such it is also a watershed in terms of competing worldviews. Some take as literal truth these fundamental ideas: God created the world in seven 24-hour days, created man from dust and woman from the rib of man, kicked them out of the Garden of Eden for cheating on a few rules set up by God to protect them, and then the trouble started.

Ostensibly sin entered the world through the actions of Adam and Eve. Eventually the nasty little habit of people doing bad things led God to wipe out most of the living things on the planet. That’s according to the legend of Noah and his ark, which is also considered a literal truth by those who consider that important to the verity of the Bible.

Having read the entire Book of Genesis over many times, and having read everything I can about the book from both literal and metaphorical perspectives, there’s a plain fact staring everyone in the face that is too often ignored. The entire message of the Book of Genesis comes down to one thing, something God wants us all to know. “You should know better than that.”

If you take the Bible literally, that is still the message of Genesis. “You should know better than that.” God warned Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden. But they did. They obviously should have known better.

As chronicled in the rest of the Bible, God repeatedly tries to warn his chosen people and all those who would listen that they need to have faith and trust in the principles God has mapped out for the human race. Time and again people breach these promises from God and all hell breaks loose.

When wandering in the wilderness after being freed by Moses from bondage by the Egyptians, the Israelites complain and moan and create idols in defiance of God’s orders to be faithful. God is not pleased.

Later on in biblical history God’s people complain that they have no king. God tells them, “Pay attention to my guidance and you’ll never need kings.” But they insist, and the kings turn out to be flawed and tragic and selfish. Just like the rest of us. God tried to tell them. “You should know better than that.”

Of course the entire arc of the Book of Genesis ultimately points toward the arrival on earth of God’s own Son. That would perhaps be Yeshua, if we were hewing to the pronunciation of the day. To those of us reading various translations of the Bible, that man is Jesus.

Whose main message is that you should love one another even to a fault. You should even love your enemies. That is the only true path to forgiveness, grace and salvation.  Versus the ugly path our journeys take when we let our base instincts rule the day. In so many words the primary message of Jesus was an echo of Genesis. “You should know better than that.”

The people who really should have known better never accepted the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. They conspired to have him killed and succeeded in their mission to retain power and authority over the religion of the day. Of all people, they should have known better than that. Problem was, they were so obsessed with the rule of law and owning that authority for themselves, they could not see that they were the very real problem Jesus came to address.

Which brings us to the current day, and how so many people wield the message of Genesis like a weapon. They brandish a literal interpretation of the Bible as if it were God’s own words. But let us not forget––the real message of Genesis is this: “You should know better than that.”

God has been telling us the same thing for millenniums, yet people refuse to listen. They’re so busy being faithful to the idea of what the Bible is about they fail to see the basic message of it all. “You should know better than that.”

Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites and a brood of vipers for being so possessive of the truth. He blamed them for obscuring the true message of scripture, which is and always will be, “You should know better than that.”

So those of us who believe in evolution and do the honest work of reconciling the legitimate worldview of science to our faith cannot be blamed for for being the ones who undermine the true message of scripture. That has long been the work of those who patently should know better.

Jesus admonished his own disciples for failing to grasp the meaning of his parables. “Are you so dull?” he asked them. See, there’s a whole lot of truth that is healthily accessible through metaphor. That’s why Jesus taught in parables, to help people get a grip on spiritual principles by using natural examples such as mustard seeds and yeast to explain the growth of faith and the reach of grace. People “got it” because the truth was distilled to a simple principle.

Divorced from these cogent examples, the Bible really is just words on a page. We lose the symbol of the Lamb for Jesus Christ. We lose the foreshadowing of Abram willing to kill his own son Isaac. We lose the glorious fight that David engaged in for God. But we also lose the significance of the hugely flawed human being that David was, and why his sins hold true for us as well. Indeed, God did not even allow David to build a temple in His honor. God told David, in so many words: “You have too much blood on your hands.”

The patent irony of God’s decisive powers should not be lost on us. Even when you are a dedicated servant of God, not everything is going to go your way. Truly, you should know better than that. But just because our lives have difficulty does not mean that we are not special in the eyes of God. All things in the universe are special in the eyes of God.

For those of us with a hunger for attribution, the 14+ billion year history of the universe only confirms the special nature of our existence. The fact that for millions of years human beings did not exist on this earth, and the fact that 99% of all living things that ever existed are now extinct makes it even more special that human beings know how to survive. Yet we waste that gift of creation in so many ways. We have poisoned and polluted and abused our world many times over, and often in the name of God. Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Nothing in that phrase justifies abuse of the earth. In fact the word ‘dominion’ can be translated in other ways, especially to mean ‘good stewards.’ Yet that is not the legacy demanded by so many who take the Bible literally. They proceed with such force of will and selfish perspective it cannot possibly be the will of God. Yet they claim it so.

Remember that God favored David in many ways. Yet when it came time for David to honor God by building a temple in His name, it was not for that servant to receive that honor. That fell to his son Solomon, a wise man in many ways, yet also a flawed individual.

It was a harsh directive God returned to David. “So you thought you could earn the right to build a temple to me through violence alone? You should know better than that.”

That is the lesson people refuse to learn. Yes, you may have done your job well in your devotion to God. But you can also do it too well, which was the lesson for both David and the Pharisees. By being so religious and forceful that you miss the true message of God, it become possible that ego and desires run your soul when a share of prudence, consideration and metaphorical breadth of mind would serve you so much better than that other thing you do.

The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age

The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age is being revised for release on Amazon.com

Why great wealth does not always add up to great insight

Painting by Christopher Cudworth of Chicago skyline with peregrine falcon.

Painting by Christopher Cudworth of Chicago skyline with peregrine falcon.

As a very young artist I was fortunate to receive a series of commissions from a man who would go on to earn great wealth. At the time I met him, he was in the early throes of a vision that led to one of the top investment trust companies in America. A decade or more later he sold his firm to a larger entity for a profit of $400 million dollars.

For a short period of a couple years I worked for that company. That was a strange experience in some ways. The man who founded the company was also a zealous Christian fundamentalist. He formed several churches during his life. At times it was rumored that he wrote the sermons himself, critiquing the pastors he hired to deliver them.

With his growing wealth he accumulated a collection of some of the rarest bibles in the world. Then he built a bunker residence in western Michigan. If it weren’t for the fact that the man was quite sociable and publicly driven to convince the world that his visions were true, it might all seem rather like a Howard Hughes story.

Sadly, the man literally died of disease that hardened the flesh and organs of his body. His trust outlived him and is overseen by a team of trusted managers to provide for his wife and family.

So this is not to criticize the man personally. As stated, our relationship was an interesting one. At a time when I was no longer working for the company, he called me up for additional art commissions. He was thinking big as usual. “I want two 4′ X 4′ paintings of falcons for either end of my board room,” he told me. “I can hire you for $1500 or I can hire Robert Bateman (a famous wildlife painter) for $50,000. Do you want the job?”I took it, and hauled those paintings in for approval several times. He finally purchased them.

So I knew him well enough to at times discuss aspects of life and faith and success. During one of our transactions I asked for a little more money because I’d worked particularly hard on a painting of a bald eagle. I was 17 years old, and requested $120 for a painting upon which we had agreed on a price of $100. He pulled out his Bible and gave a short sermon backed by scripture. The point he was trying to make is that a ‘bargain is a bargain.’ Yet he still payed me the extra $20.

PaversHe was certainly a man of convictions. As his wealth grew so did his ability to focus on theological issues. He developed his own theory about the coming Rapture. It was based on a series of convoluted scriptural references that was essentially debunked by fellow Rapture conspiracists who debate such things with avid furor.

So interesting that it’s all based on the original conjecture of a host of believers convinced that the Bible holds patent clues as the End of Time. One particular 1800s American preacher named John Darby particularly popularized the myth of The Rapture. From there it spread into a myriad of strangely fantastical versions of Armageddon based on bible takings from the books of Daniel and the Book of Revelation.

But the Rapture was not all that fascinated my wealthy friend. He funded a search for Noah’s Ark and provided money to the leading creationists of the early 80s.

DSCN1904All this literalism and reverse literalism made for a complex vision of a man who was obviously smart enough to become one of the wealthier men in America. Yet when I stood in our office one day talking toe to toe with one of the leading creationists of the day, he could provide no answers to the simplest questions of biology or geology. All it took to confound the man about the age of the earth was a simple illustration of the theory of plate tectonics. He was instantly at a loss to reconcile such hard evidence of times past.

That’s because creationism is essentially a science of denial, not one of discovery. It depends on anachronism for its verity. It has no forward progress in its makeup. No new knowledge can come from it. It is nothing more than a lockbox for a literalistic worldview of the origins of the human race and the universe.

At the same time it is something of a Pandora’s Box, because creationism, upon its release in the world, knows no limits in its mad schemes to rule the worldview of all those who encounter it. Creationists work hard to promote their very limited perspectives on history. They depend on props like a literal world flood to explain geology, and Noah’s Ark and the character of Adam to describe all the types of animals in the world.

Yet they cannot explain the complex fact that blind salamanders in Tennessee caves somehow migrated out of their native environment all the way across an ocean to reside in an ark for forty days and forty nights. Then they swam and crawled across deserts (with no working eyes!) to get back to their dark, watery caves below the earth. There are millions of creatures just like this, that had no way to navigate or manage a trip across thousands of miles of ocean just to get to an ark.

IMG_0169Yet that is what the man with all the wealth in the world wanted to have everyone else believe. He put a ton of dough behind the idea, and might certainly have helped fund projects like the insane Creation Museum in Kentucky if he felt that it might convince a few more people that the Bible was literally, infallibly correct.

We’re stuck with these inane beliefs because people with low levels of insight on scripture and science refuse to give in lest they find their entire worldview is a house of cards. And so it is that between 30% and 50% of Americans who hold these views are still trying to jam prayer into public schools, and force textbooks to present a Christian form of creationism as possible fact.

The great wealth of Christian knowledge lies not in the sick obsession with proving an anachronistic view that even Jesus would have laughed at. After all, Jesus taught using highly organic, highly symbolic parables to present spiritual concepts. He lampooned the Pharisees and others who sought to turn scripture into rigid laws and a worldview that punished people for believing otherwise.

And Jesus insisted to the wealthiest men of his time that the best thing they could do to enter the kingdom of heaven was to relinquish their wealth and seek sources of greater insight. Because when you have enough money to buy what you want to believe, you tend to ignore and resist everything else. And that’s the problem in America right now on many sides of the aisle.

The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age

The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age

Ken Ham the Creationist versus Bill Nye the Science Guy proved a lot about how wrong Ken Ham has the Bible

By Christopher Cudworth

Bill Nye listens carefully as Ken Ham makes the claim that the Bible is a better source of fact than material science

Bill Nye listens carefully as Ken Ham makes the claim that the Bible is a better source of fact than material science

It appeared from watching the “debate” between creationist Ken Ham and scientist Bill Nye that Ham wanted desperately to prove science wrong about everything.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the conclusion of the so-called debate. Ham never mustered the ability to answer simple questions that would have proved creationism has any sort of relationship with science. His entire contention rested on the contention that the Bible must be understood “naturally” in order to understand the world. That is, the parts in the Bible Ken Ham judges to be crucial to a literal interpretation of scripture must be abided to the letter. The other parts, such as the “poetry” of Psalms, according to Ham, actually have no real bearing on the role of the Bible as science. Wow. That’s a whopper.

Yet that is the biblical foundation of Ken Ham’s creationist worldview. It begins with a denial of a significant portion of the Bible’s verity. Creationism literally starts with the assertion that not all the Bible can be trusted as fact.

And that’s just the starting point of a confused, frustrating and inaccurate worldview. Ken Ham seems to misunderstand and completely disregard the nature of what Christians call the New Testament. In fact he makes very few references to Jesus in any of his assertions about creation.

He certainly never mentions the methods by which Jesus himself taught by using organic metaphors. In simpler terms, Jesus used symbols from nature to illustrate spiritual principles. That way everyday people could comprehend what he was trying to teach about the nature of God.

But Ken Ham can’t seem to grasp or embrace that style of teaching, about nature, or about science. He prefers instead the literal view of scripture. His motive appears to be focused on leaving no room for interpretation. He is a zealot about that.

Of course that is the very same legalistic approach used by the Pharisees, leaders of the faith in Jesus’ day. He branded them a “brood of vipers” in clear reference to the Genesis depiction of Satan as a serpent.

You don’t have to take that reference literally to get the message. Jesus would not have liked Ken Ham. Jesus would have knocked the Creation Museum to the ground because it is a crass attempt to control the faith and belief of people through legalistic force and deception.

So the truth speaks for itself. Ken Ham is at odds with Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. Ken Ham considers Jesus’ method of teaching with metaphors inferior to his own brand of truth based on narrow interpretations of a book written 2000 years ago, conveyed originally as oral tradition and translated multiple times.

The simpler, more clear understanding that Jesus gave to all those who would listen is not good enough for Ken Ham. Jesus would gladly have accepted the findings of science.

Jesus said God is nature, and nature is God. All things worthy of consideration can be discerned through that simple statement. Anything else is fiction, or worse, a lie about the Word of God. And God is never happy about that.

On why we should all read about faith and what it means to the world

Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

By Christopher Cudworth

Sitting in the admissions office of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago felt right.

A little more than two years ago a young man that had served as our church Youth Pastor had invited me to visit the school. “I think you’d like it,” he told me.

Our conversations as he prepared to leave his position at the church and begin studies to become a Lutheran pastor had centered on ministry to high school students, yet over coffee one morning the topics widened. I explained the process of writing my book, “The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age,” and how it changed the way I viewed writing about, and reading about, faith in the world.

The experience of trying to get an agent for the book had taught me a few things. The theme was the same with every contact. “You’re not a minister. You’re not a college professor. What credibility do you have to write such a book?”

Credibility is important. It gives people a foundation upon which to trust what you write. The process of earning credibility can also challenge the manner in which you arrive at your conclusions.

Regarding Masters

The message stuck with me. Despite the fact that I had spent 7 years researching and refining the book, it was true. I was not technically qualified to write it. Not in the eyes of those who make such decisions anyway.

It’s not enough that your friends call you “courageous” for taking on biblical literalism as a worldview. You must vet your viewpoints in the theological world before tearing away the dogmatic garments of the modern day Pharisees who stand in opposition to so much practical truth.

Simple truths and basic contradictions

Yet it’s a simple fact really. Biblical literalists stand in opposition to the teaching methods of Jesus Christ, who consistently used organic metaphors to convey spiritual truths through parables designed to bring the common mind to faith in God. Ignoring that principle is basically a slap in the face to Jesus. It’s like telling him, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t you know that God’s Word must be taking literally or it has no meaning at all?”

While classic, the old ways of thinking may not be sufficient for a new world. Nor have they ever been.

While classic, the old ways of thinking may not be sufficient for a new world. Nor have they ever been.

Actually the community of believers who take the Bible literally never actually get close to discussing the teaching methods of Jesus. They’re stuck way back in Genesis and a literal 7 days, an Adam and Eve that were transmogrified from the dust of the Earth and a Serpent or Snake who tricks Eve and then Adam into disobeying God’s warning not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Of course we all know the story. Adam and Eve fall for the Serpent’s logic, thereby causing the Fall of Man.

Bad Beginnings? 

Original Sin is the pet concept that emerges from that creation story. But that quick-take worldview ignores a key aspect of the tale. What we miss by taking the story literally is the Serpent’s methodology in tricking Adam and Eve. In a crafty use of the first brand of scripture known to Man, the Serpent engages Eve in legalistic use of God’s own words to undermine her trust in God. Here is how the ploy works:

Christianity is not entirely clear on what the "serpent" really is, or looks like. So how can we take such a creation story literally?

Christianity is not entirely clear on what the “serpent” really is, or looks like. So how can we take such a creation story literally?

The Serpent’s Deception
3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”…

How very similar is this exchange to the passage in Matthew 15 in which Jesus engages the Pharisees over the issue of turning the Word of God into a legalistic trap:

1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” 3Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?

The comparison between literalism and legalism is given a direct connection to the Serpent in the Book of Genesis in Matthew 23:33, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

It is a sad fact that today’s adherents to biblical literalism are playing the same game that Pharisees played with Jesus so long ago. Yet the pain and misdirection caused by today’s brand of scriptural literalism is just as potent as that depicted in Genesis with deception by the serpent, and just as power-mongering as the Pharisees of the New Testament.

And that is the point from my motivation to attend a school of theology emanates. I believe the most important thing in the world right now is to counter biblical literalism and all its awful consequences. Literal interpretation of the Bible is being used to persecute gays, to resist legitimate science, to argue against the theory of evolution and to undermine political and ethical justice on a broad spectrum of issues.

Reason and Reasons
It’s not about a mid-career change for me, or anything prosaic as that. It’s about finding ways to make the world a better place. Martin Luther changed the world by pointing out the very simple fact that we are saved first and foremost by grace. The new reformation should finish the job of removing all barriers from our acceptance of grace.

Yet we also need to define what it means to exist within and attend to the Kingdom of God. How we understand the nature of that “kingdom” is crucial to our stewardship of creation. The dangerously ironic consequence of a worldview founded on biblical literalism is the attitude that nature and all of creation is essentially a disposable tool of God, one that has no purpose other than our own somewhat greedy sustenance and no other significance than as a temporal stage between Creation and Armageddon.

Challenges

We can do better than old ships and sails of theology. And we should.

We can do better than old ships and sails of theology. And we should.

We need to challenge this fatalistic worldview at its very roots. That begins with the misinterpretation of Genesis as a literal document. Yet it also extends to our regard of scripture as a wholly inerrant document. It simply isn’t, that way. Any faith dependent on that premise is brittle, frail and sad, thus requiring a defensive posture to sustain.

The book of Romans 1:20 contains a telling point of scripture, one that reveals the idea of organic fundamentalism, the key understanding that nature itself, and our metaphorical understanding of it, holds keys to our comprehension of God and all that we read in scripture:

Romans20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,  so that people are without excuse.

Nowhere in this passage, or any other in the Bible for that matter, does it say that we must take a literal approach to conceptions of God. In fact as demonstrated by Jesus himself, we are to do the opposite.

Recall that literalism and legalism produced the approach that one could earn the way into heaven through God works doled out by the church and vetted by leaders who earned earthly power through the system set up by the brand of Pharisees leading the Catholic church at the time.

Then along came Martin Luther, who saw through the giant ruse of literalism and legalism, and who launched a Reformation that transformed the faith, made it new again. We can view this passage in a fresh light in contradiction to the brand of literalism now vexing the world.

Nature and eternity are foundations of the Bible

There is more to the theological landscape than meets the eye. Creativity, not just creation, is part of scripture. Click for larger view.

Ephesians 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works,  so that no one can boast.

For there are many who “boast” that their literalistic view of the bible constitutes the “works” of real Christianity. Yet we also know that God’s invisible qualities are visible in Nature, and through the Word, and that there is no excuse for ignoring these greater, most important facets of faith realized.

And that is why the pursuit of truth is so important to me, and why sitting in the office of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago felt so very good, and so very real. Because each Reformation has to start somewhere. We all play a part in the heart of faith.

If Bill Nye the Science Guy debates Ken Ham over evolution and Genesis, things could get sticky as a spider web

By Christopher Cudworth

argiope6252a“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne’er come down again.”

It’s a classic tale of deceit for advantage.  The spider uses an inviting scenario to invite the fly to the table, when in fact the intent is to make the fly a meal.

So goes the proposed debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the leader of a group that calls itself “Answers In Genesis.”

We must start with the name of the organization to see how confusing this debate will likely be, or could become.

No Scientific Answers in Genesis

Evolution explains the structure and function of all living things. Genesis does not. It only deals with purpose.

Evolution explains the structure and function of all living things. Genesis does not. It only deals with purpose.

See, when it comes to science, there are no answers in the book of Genesis. None. The only references to the character and structure of living things are made in broad generalities, that various “kinds” of creatures walk, crawl and swim on the earth. It does not categorize them or describe them beyond a preschool level of understanding nature and all its workings.

So the supposition that Genesis somehow holds all the answers to the manner in which the world works and all its complexity is a bold farce.

People Walking With Dinosaurs

How bold? The Creation Museum that has been generated from the teachings of Answers in Genesis insists that people walked the earth at the same time as long-extinct forms of dinosaurs. Achingly sad attempts have been made to prove this fact, including the contention that fossilized dinosaur prints in a bed of Texas rock were actually made by humans. The explanation for the supposedly human footprints alongside the dinosaur tracks is found in the mere fact that mud collapses on its edges in many conditions. But the fantasy and appeal of humans and dinosaurs walking together was so strong that folks like the Answers In Genesis people tried to make a big deal out of it.

That is because there is a major clique of people who cannot see the world through anything other than an anachronistic lens in which the Bible is to be taken literally. This cabal is so desperate to find evidence to support their backwards-thinking theories of creationism and intelligent design, the merest conundrum of science sends them scurrying to catalog the fact that “science is wrong.”

The beauty of science is that makes right from many wrongs

Science is always wrong. That’s the beauty of it. Science is cannibalistic in its willingness to disprove theories and replace them with better ones. But that’s what makes science work in the world. If it cannot be repeatedly demonstrated through experimentation, or documented to be verifiable through supporting evidence, it does not stand up as science.

That’s a harsh reality. Science deals in harsh realities. It makes right from many wrongs, whereas religion takes the attitude that three wrongs can never make a right.

Different priorities

The harsh reality that Answers in Genesis emphasizes (and considers paramount and superior to the priorities of science) is the harsh reality of divine salvation.

Ken Ham may care deeply about your soul, and he may indeed worry that anything that appears to contradict the Word of God may prevent you from making that vital connection with God. But Ken Ham makes the rude assumption that only a literal take on the Bible has verity.

The priorities of Jesus

Jesus revealed spiritual truths by using organic symbols from nature as metaphors.

Jesus revealed spiritual truths by using organic symbols from nature as metaphors.

In fact in reading the Bible we find that Jesus himself taught by using metaphorical symbols from nature to convey spiritual principles that his audience might otherwise fail to grasp if they were not presented in a form that allowed them to conceive and visualize the truth he sought them to grasp. In my book The Genesis Fix, I call this method of teaching “organic fundamentalism,” and its practice is found not only in the parables of Jesus, but throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Here’s how it works:

True simplicity of faith comes in having the liberty and latitude to discover what scripture means to say rather than accepting a merely literal interpretation of a religious text. We might call this metaphorical tangibility; that is, approaching life and wisdom with an eye toward its unifying symbolism. This is the common denominator in biblical knowledge. Organic fundamentalism isn’t just a “here or there” phenomenon in the bible based on texts selected to make a case in favor of naturalism as a foundation for truth. Scriptural knowledge is consistently (even persistently) delivered to us through use of metonymy from nature to describe the abiding principles of God. Organic fundamentalism founded on observational naturalism is plainly the root source of biblical knowledge and the primary tool for understanding concepts of God. 

At odds with Christ

Ken Ham can't see the trees for the forest.

Ken Ham can’t see the trees for the forest.

So this raises the question of whether Ken Ham’s worldview has any verity at all if in fact his seemingly simple explanations of nature are in fact not in accordance with the teaching methods of Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus would have labeled Ken Ham another brand of Pharisee, someone so caught up in legalism and the hunger for power over the Word that he has lost sight of the forest for the trees. He is, in other words, a modern day zealot in search of a position in this life, not the Holy Man he claims to be.

A nasty web of religious words

When Billy Nye debates Ken Ham he will first have to sort through the many webs and fabrications of “fact” that Answers In Genesis has woven to ensnare scientists in a religious, not a scientific debate. The complicating factor is that when the version of religion is even wrong, you are in a very sticky situation. Bill Nye may well find himself having to correct Ken Ham on his religious facts in order to debate his ostensibly scientific contentions that creationism is real and true.

It isn’t, of course, and Jesus never would have demanded that it be so. Most certainly he would have appreciated the spider and the fly allegory in the poem that starts out this essay. Jesus often found himself in situations where supposedly scholarly religious leaders tried to entrap him with their words. Jesus usually deferred them by answering back with questions that were equally unanswerable and that illustrated the falsity of the original question.

This column of limestone in an Iowa forest perfectly illustrates the enormous timeline it took for oceans to lay down layers of silt that turned into stone, and the many years of hydrology and erosion it took to become a column before us.

This column of limestone in an Iowa forest perfectly illustrates the enormous timeline it took for oceans to lay down layers of silt that turned into stone, and the many years of hydrology and erosion it took to become a column before us.

Bill Nye the Science Guy could learn a few things from Jesus before he debates Ken Ham the Creation Guy. As he argues in favor of evolutionary theory, and how evolution explains the world, he may find himself mostly tugging away at the sticky questions Ken Ham throws at him about how science is frequently wrong. That would be missing the point entirely, because the point of this argument is that science actually works in a practical sense. It is the foundation of medicine and a thousand other practical applications without which the world could not operate.

So here’s the irony: Bill Nye would be wise to learn from Jesus about how to argue with a religious zealot if he doesn’t want to get stuck in a web of wordy deceit.

genesiscover1.jpg

Bird migration from the perspective of creationism and intelligent design

 

Did birds walk or fly to Noah’s Ark. Or run?

Birds are clearly sinners. Of the worst kind.

Otherwise, why would birds be forced every fall to fly thousands of miles south to warmer climes, only to fly back again in the spring?

According to a literal interpretation of the Bible, God has always punished animals for their sinful nature. For example, Genesis 3:14: “So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”

Well, it seems that serpents or snakes have gotten off easy, doesn’t it? And given that the serpent represents Satan himself in this passage, how much worse must birds be compared to the plight of serpents?

If we take the Bible literally, God does seem to have a rather low opinion of birds in general. Matthew 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ? …

God also reportedly wiped out all the species of animals in the world, with exception of specimens that supposedly snuck onto the ark.

Genesis 7:23 “Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.”

That would be some 10,000 or so species of birds, including penguins, who must have walked or swam one helluva a long way to make it from the Antarctic to the deserts of the Middle East. That’s where the ark supposedly gathered all the species of animals and insects of the world. Granted, birds are known for the miraculous migratory abilities, but it seems truly unlikely that the flightless Kiwi or the flightless cormorants of the Galapagos archipelago were able to cross oceans and land to walk up onto an ark.

But perhaps creationism is right about these things, and birds really did use their migratory capabilities to travel from all points around the world and end up in a cramped ark with enough insects to eat, nectar to ingest, seeds to consume and gravel to put in their crops so they could digest their food. There must have been mounds of bird poop and guano so deep from 20,000 birds, and yet 7 people on the ark somehow managed to tend to all these species for 40 days and 40 nights and not lose a single bird.

Then when the worldwide flood supposedly subsided, Noah kicked all the birds out of the ark and forced them to walk and fly all the way back to the islands of Madagascar, the ice floes of the arctic, the deep forests of Brazil and Ecuador, the deep jungles of central Africa and the fearsome plains of southern Africa. That was the first bird migration, you see.

According to the Bible and creationism, birds perform one important function in relation to human beings. They eat them when they’ve died. Isaiah 18:6: “They (human enemies) will all be left to the mountain birds of prey and to the wild animals; the birds will feed on them all summer, the wild animals all winter.”

The Bible also blames birds for all sorts of trouble. Luke 8:5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up.”

In the end, birds seem to be little more than a measure of what a man is worth. Matthew 10:31: So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

So, it is no wonder that those who believe in the creationist version of bible interpretation hold bird migration in little apparent respect. The Bible hardly mentions migration, and only in reference to flocks of birds, but not their great travels. How disappointing for an arctic term to make such a long annual journey from Arctic to Antarctic and back with not a mention in the Bible?

It is sad the Bible disrespects bird migration so badly. But the creationist worldview insists instead the God throws birds around like seed in a field. They sprout up from nothing, and are not apparently affected in their life cycles or development from one species into another despite mounds of evidence that birds have ancestors in feathered dinosaurs, and that bird migration is a natural and evolutionary response to climactic changes brought on by the seasons.

No, creationism doesn’t need all that supposedly scientific mumbo-jumbo to explain bird migration. See, it all started when all those birds had to crawl, walk, fly, hop, swim and otherwise hump along to the ark. Then they had to do it all over again to get back to their native habitats, finding plenty of food along the way despite the horrid devastation of a worldwide flood. Apparently fully developed species of jungle flowers cropped up along the path of tropical hummingbirds and fruit eaters.

Giant Skuas must have fed on carrion, and the vultures might have had a field day in the days following the great flood. But then the other birds had to breed like crazy to provide enough food for their ravenous cousins. Relax, it’s all part of God’s plan.

And if you want to brand God’s plan by calling it “intelligent design,” we can suppose that will work just as well to explain the intricacies of bird migration. Intelligent design says that nothing in nature happens without God’s hand getting involved. But God would have to be a major control freak and just a bit callous to send a band of hummingbirds across the Gulf of Mexico into a tropical storm that blasts them all down into a salty brine where they become food for oceangoers. That’s not intelligent design. That’s stupid design. But perhaps we need a new brand of science called Stupid Design Theory to explain all the waste and death God seems to foist on birds each year during migration. Add in bird strikes on windows, millions of birds killed on urban structures like skyscrapers, birds killed by cats and dogs and birds simply falling out of the air dead from exhaustion. All quite intelligent, wouldn’t you say?

So when you walk out in the height of autumn bird migration, do not think that you are witnessing one of the miracles of evolutionary adaptation. Those birds are all practicing their journeys in case God gets pissed off all over again and decides to break His promise as stated in Genesis 9:13: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” Then the rest of us will get no warning…but two of every type of 10,000 species of birds on earth will begin a long journey back to the New Ark, wherever that may wind up (perhaps in South Florida where there are plenty of cruise ships, although their safety records of late are not so good) to climb on board for another re-creation of creation. God might love a little deja vu. The Left Behind people seem to think so. Is the Rapture nothing more than a spiritual migration for human beings? Starts to make you think, now doesn’t it?

Yes, creationism is a wonderful worldview because it explains bird migration so easily. Forget about birds navigating by the stars or landmarks. Forget about the heroic efforts of modern day scientists to teach populations of cranes to learn new migration routes. And especially, forget about all those fall warblers timing their passage cleanly with their insect food sources in the advent of fall, or all those ducks winging their way south on November breezes. Don’t worry your little heads about bird migration at all. God has it all figured out. Birds are just pawns in the paw of the universe.

Now go out and elect a God-fearing politician. They really do know what’s best for you, and science to boot.

How the state of Tennessee, creationism and denial of global warming add up

In 2009, well before the state of Tennessee took the socially regressive step of formalizing its support for teaching the “controversy” over the relative merits of science versus creationism and intelligent design, I wrote an essay online at Associatedcontent.com (now Yahoo! voices) tracing the connection between people who don’t believe in evolution and those who refuse to accept the idea that manmade global warming is a reality. The principal point was that basic disbelief in science resulting from anachronistic religious beliefs made it impossible for people to grasp the dynamics contributing to manmade global warming.

There is a definable overlap between people who do not believe in global warming and those who do not accept the theory of evolution. A 2005 CBS poll on belief in evolution showed that 51% of Americans do not accept the scientific theory of evolution. Furthermore, 55% said they believe God created humans in their present form.

Based on these statistics, it is no wonder that a large faction of people do not accept global warming when they do not (or cannot, or will not…) accept basic science and its predictive abilities contributing to theories of gravity, physics, chemistry, germ theory, genetics or any of the other key sciences now deemed critical to understanding how the physical world operates.

A 2009 Gallup poll found similar results about American beliefs about evolution: “On the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, a new Gallup Poll shows that only 39% of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don’t have an opinion either way. These attitudes are strongly related to education and, to an even greater degree, religiosity.”

Perhaps you saw the chart recently making the rounds online showing that America ranks far below other developing countries in how it embraces science, especially evolution. The brand of anachronistic religion known as fundamentalism founded on biblical literalism is clearly to blame for this regressive trend in America’s understanding of science. But the more scholars challenge the retrograde contentions of religion, the deeper those factions dig in. By any rational measure or definition of science, America is winning the race to become more stupid. And perhaps it is beginning to show in the nation’s progressive decline as a superpower. And this trend of Americans against science is beginning to having profound political repercussions on the international stage, making America look like some sort of backwoods hick rather than the nation that proudly led scientific and technological advances such as invention of the fuel combustion engine, launching of rockets to the moon and development of medical discoveries to cure disease and prolong life.

By losing its respect for basic science, America is basically losing respect for itself while allowing a brand of dogmatic religion to ascend to the point where it threatens to upend even our political system by throwing millions of votes toward candidates all too willing to borrow the authority of religion for the attainment of absolute political power.

It is no coincidence, for example, that former President George W. Bush resisted action on global warming. Bush and the conservative think tanks that informed his Presidency, along with evangelical leaders eager to share power, helped promulgate the notion that manmade global warming is based on “junk science.” The Bush administration even altered reports by climate scientists to better reflect the administration’s philosophy on global warming, redacting key findings and simply re-writing parts they did not like.

This blatant resistance to credible scientific opinion is a hallmark of a stubborn ideology. For George W. Bush also expressed disbelief in evolution and publicly supported teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public schools under the guise of “tolerance.”

Melting glaciers, shrinking polar ice caps, rising seas and profound weather events brought on by global warming may ultimately convince even the greatest skeptics that manmade climate change is real. But when that happens, it will undoubtedly send conservatives running to find ways to place blame on scientists and the so-called “liberals” who support them for letting it all happen. The argument will be that scientists just weren’t convincing enough.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Thursday, January 22, 2009.

http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2012/04/11/tennessee_evolution_law_allows_creationism_intelligent_design_in_the_classroom.html