Sunday, July 12, 2009

Young Earth Creationism as Innumeracy

Almost half of Americans believe that the entire universe was created within the past 10,000 years.

I am a centrist on creationism, as on most issues. I am with the 38% who believe that God has superintended evolution over millions of years. I think the "young earth" view is completely implausible.

So why do so many people believe in young earth creation? I believe it is because most people have no sense of history beyond their own grandparents, or perhaps their great-grandparents. Beyond that, all time seems equally distant. 1 thousand years, 10 thousand years, 10 million years, 10 billion years -- to a huge plurality of people, these are all just different ways of saying "a long time ago."

To be sure, there are some well-educated people who believe in young earth creationism. For them, their primary commitment is to the Bible; moreover, they are committed to a particular theory of Biblical interpretation. Young earth theories are a loyalty test to their more important intellectual commitment to their view of Scripture.

For the mass of people, the other 44.99 of the 45% of Americans who profess a young earth view, the important thing is that God is in charge. How many years God has been in charge is a quibble. What matters is that God has been in charge for all of the years that there have been. How many that is doesn't matter in any way that affects them.

When most people check the box on the poll marked "God created the world pretty much in its present form within the last 10,000 years" they don't really mean 10,000 years as opposed to 10 million or 10 billion. They mean "God created the world and I don't care what number you use."

Young earth creationism reflects innumeracy. But it reflects a deeper commitment to God's sovereignty.

7 comments:

TallCoolOne said...

Committment to God's sovereignty without a coherent philosophical ground is nothing other than (mindless) fundamentalism.

If that is centrism, tie me up in atheism.

mindless fundamentalist said...

Is it easier to believe that God superintended evolution over a long time than it is to believe he created a universe 10 thousand years ago that seems to be older than it actually is? Both ideas seem to me to be a leap of faith.

samoabob said...

While I agree, to a point, with your premise, I think "young earth" people would disagree with you. The 10,000 year figure isn't arbitrary - they arrive at it by adding up the generations listed in various Old Testament geneologies and taking into account other time spans mentioned in scripture. So to them 10,000 years isn't a stand-in for "a long long time ago", it's the approximation of how old they believe the earth to actually be.

Gruntled said...

6000 is indeed the result of a calculation (by Bishop Ussher). That is the particular theory of biblical interpretation that I had in mind. This calculation is only one of many ways of calculating the age of creation from the Bible. AND believing that the Bible contains an exhaustive chronology of all the time of creation is only one of many theories of what the Bible is about.

michael bush said...

I suspect some are anxious about the larger numbers. For some, it's not "I don't care what number you use," but "Those big numbers of years leave me feeling insignificant."

greg said...
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TallCoolOne said...

What I meant by "coherent philosophical ground" is an understanding of knowledge that doesn't itself rely on rejecting or ingnoring the findings of sciences which "we" don't happen to like or find disturbing. Gruntled offered a glimpse at how this might be important, even at how this might be done, but for some reason seemed to shy away from making an explicit committment to such a program. Instead, he appeared (to me) to opt for a maximally nice reading of a manifestly unnatural situtation.

For me, only the RC Chuch, most Orthodox Churches, a smattering of main line Protestants -- though not their organizations -- and various among Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist schools have managed to hold this kind of position. The forces pulling all of them in opposite (and incoherent) directions, though, are incredibly strong, and it remains to be seen whether or not we might be on the verge of entering a new Dark Age of (paradoxical) technological sophistication.