Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rendering Out Truth: 3 Critiques of Creationism II (12 Feb 2012)

[A Pastoral Blog, Part II]

2. Creationism as an Escapist Fantasy (21 May 2010)

 “Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold.”
-          Isaac Asimov, quoted in
Richard Dawkins’ 
Unweaving the Rainbow
(1998), p. 142)

A couple years ago I was re-reading Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow, a wonder-book that he addressed to poets and artists.  I had read it twice before, and on this read I was particularly struck by the above quote from Asimov in the chapter on superstition and pseudoscience.  Dawkins was addressing how these belief systems hijack our sense of wonder and awe; side-tracking people into a pretense of knowledge that either has no foundation or that has been dis-proven outright.  As I read about the various systems of pseudo-knowledge, I was suddenly reminded of creationism; and saw into it at a much deeper level.

I had also recently heard a conservative religious person criticizing fantasy gaming.  They were saying that the primary problem with fantasy gaming – e.g., D&D and other games like it – was that it provided an ‘escape’ from reality into which the gamer can flee and leave their ‘real’ life behind.  The conservative pundit urged that this is dangerous, and the newscaster interviewing them said “so you think people should always live in the ‘real’ world and not seek ‘escape’ from it?”  The pundit said "Yes," and while the interview – which wasn’t more than 5 minutes long – quickly brought up some interesting points about why some people may need to escape from their reality for a time, and how traumatic experiences may force people to cocoon themselves in an imagined world for a while in order to heal, I was stopped in my tracks by the insight that creationism is itself an escapist fantasy!
I have started playing D&D and a gaming friend of mine has made me much more aware of the gaming world than I used to be.  I have come to realize that most all gamers are completely aware that the world in which their game is set is fictional, and that they are aware of the dangers of escapism.  A little recreational escape from the trials and troubles of daily life can be a good thing -- like watching sports or moves -- and most gamers seem to be able to do this and then return to the daily round of life and take care of what they need to take care of.  They hold down jobs, deal with ‘real’ life, and they glean insight from their gaming experience that allows them to function better in the ‘real’ world.  Creationists, I would argue, are – as a group – more guilty of the kind of ‘escapist fantasizing’ than the great majority of gamers have ever been.  I say this because it is an implicit part of creationism’s belief system that it is about the real world.  _And this is a dangerous categorical confusion!
Creationists would not really be creationists if they saw the Genesis texts as literary and mythic -- i.e., fictional -- stories out of which to glean insight and wisdom.  The gist of creationism is that the Genesis stories are historical accounts of the real world.  And so, they live in the world, day by day, under the illusion that it was recently created (6 – 12 thousand years ago, depending upon how literalistic a particular creationist is), and that the life forms around us -- and ourselves included -- do not change significantly and have not evolved.  But as the Earth is actually over 4 billion years old, and as life has been evolving for almost 4 billion years on this planet, the creationist is actually living in a fantasy world and mistaking that world for the real world!  Thus, the pundit’s critique of fantasy gaming and its dangers actually applies more to creationists than it actually does to gamers!  A sad irony, but true.
By turning to science and accepting the truth of evolution, a person of faith leaves escapist fantasy behind and enters into an engagement with the ‘real’ world – the world that ‘God’ has created (over the course of billions of years).  They also accept the true nature of human being; as an evolved species that has emerged – by divine nurturance – from the Evolutionary Tree of Life.  The believer who accepts the revelations of science and the truth of evolution in particular is also able to embrace Scripture as what it really is; a mythological source-text that helps them understand their relationship to Earth, Cosmos and the Divine.  To accept evolution – and all the revelations of science – is to awaken in the real world, give up the temptation to fantasist escapism and embrace life as it is.  It is to accept truth on all fronts, and not deny one truth in order to affirm another.

3. Creationists: Watching Shadow-Plays in a Cave (2 Sept 2010)

“God and truth cannot be incompatible.” (xii)

- John Shelby Spong
Jesus for the Non-Religious (2007)
      Then, in September of 2010, I was listening to a lecture on Plato’s dialogue “The Republic” and as the lecturer was discussing the Analogy of the Cave, I had a sudden insight.  For those who may not be familiar with it, Plato’s analogy is a story about the state in which most of us find ourselves before we begin seeking wisdom.  We are like people watching shadows dancing on a wall deep in the darkness of a cave, and mistaking those shadows for the real world.  It then portrays a search for personal enlightenment, in which the philosopher – i.e., anyone in love with wisdom – finds his way out of the cave into the Light.  He or she then deals with the responsibility that comes with enlightenment; specifically—that the one who is enlightened must return to the cave and help enlighten others, at whatever cost to him or herself.
       While Plato had his own agenda in telling this story, it is more broadly applicable than he would probably have allowed; and has become one of the touchstones of western philosophy and spirituality.  What I saw in my imagination as the lecturer (David Roocknik) was describing the cave and its inhabitants was simply a group of creationists, all sitting in a row and watching various scenarios about the supposed beginning of the world (based on the mis-interpretation of scripture) being projected on the wall by powerful people who have the money and influence to keep these believers held enthralled by the illusions they had generated.  The captives were watching movies about Noah’s Flood and the Seven Day Creation story.  They were watching propaganda films depicting falsified evidence that dinosaurs and human beings were once on the earth at the same time.  They were watching videos in which a whole worldview based on these erroneous fictions was being etched out.  _And the creationists, having been kept ignorant of science and a scientifically based worldview, were simply accepting it all, because they knew no better.
      This vision of creationists in the cave almost brought me to tears, as I know how sincere most religious people are, and I realize that they would be disturbed by being encouraged to give up their illusions as illusions and ascend out of the cave into the Light.  I feel for creationists, as I was once was one myself.   Back in the late 1970’s, I joined up with evangelical and charismatic Christians on the campus of the college I was attending, and was willingly deluded into believing in the Young Earth.  I denied the truth of evolution for a couple of years, as I didn’t now any better.  I was warned never to listen to evolutionists and to walk out of classes where evolution was even mentioned.  [Now, creationists in college classes are more militaristic; but we weren’t back then.]  I understand the unhealthy detachment from the outside world that creationists go through in order to block-out the revelations of science.  I also know how hard it is to extricate yourself from these delusions, and find yourself in the Light with your faith in 'God' intact.  _But it is possible.  And it is always better to embrace truth than to willingly go along with what just ‘feels right’ and which makes you comfortable.

      If you re a creationist, I urge you to seek the Light that you can find in the revelations of science.
      If you are a religious person, I encourage you to pray for creationists daily in love.
So be it.

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