Friday, November 21, 2008

Science and Faith at War?  4.5. YECs as Useful Idiots

Notes from a Sunday School that began on May 25.

Comments, corrections, and routine editing: absolutely welcomed!

4.5. YECs as useful Idiots

One thing I would advise my YEC friends of is to be careful that they are not used as "useful idiots." This is usually done in the form of a cheap "Heads I Win Tails You Lose argument." And I hate cheap arguments, I Just hate 'em. Regardless of whose side they are on.

Let me start with a cheap argument from "our side." I have often read analysis along the lines of: If you accept evolution, then it logically follows that you must endorse Eugenics.

The purpose of this type of approach is clear: you can then attack the person for either (a) being a hypocrite if they don't endorse Eugenics, as you claim they must, or (b) argue against the horrors of Eugenics in the unlikely event that they do.

The person making this argument is looking to frame the debate in a cheap heads I win, tails you lose format.

To make matters worse, this type of argument sacrifices a legitimate question: Does accepting evolution lead to an endorsement of Eugenics? –sacrifices it on the altar of declaring victory without debate. The question—which is one that might be asked in good faith—remains unspoken.

There are a couple of these arguments, from atheists, that I come across with some regularity.

One is: If you actually believe the bible is inerrant, you must adopt a YEC position; it's the only logical conclusion. If not, you're a hypocrite.

Another is: If you actually believe the bible is inerrant, you must endorse the death penalty for blasphemy, adultery, and homosexuality. And, of course, you must also endorse slavery. It's the only logical conclusion. If not, you're a hypocrite.

In the first case, the person making the argument doesn't want to bother dealing with the Framework Hypothesis, or the Day-Age Theory—views of Genesis that have support among conservative Christians who affirm inerrancy. The person making this argument always has a goal: they want to show that science and the bible are incompatible. So, in their laziness, they demand that you accept a vulnerable position or be declared a hypocrite. Anything else requires too much homework.

Sadly, some YECs will play the "useful idiot" in this game. They will delight in trumpeting the fact that anyone with any credentials of note claims that their interpretation of Genesis is the only legitimate one, even if the person making the argument only wants, ultimately, to demonstrate what fools they are.

The classic example of this is James Barr, Oxford Professor of History, who once nebulously wrote:
Probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience;

YECs, including luminaries such as John Morris, who don't give rat's ass what astronomers at world class universities believe, quote Barr as a sage. They neglect, however, two inconvenient facts: (1) Later in the same letter that is the source of the quote, Barr danced, writing that, in effect, (1) he is not really sure what scholars believe, since the matter doesn't come up for discussion much and (2) at the time he made the statement he was promoting his book, Escaping from Fundamentalism, which, among other things, was written to show the foolishness of the inerrancy position—therefore how convenient that inerrancy demands the YEC interpretation.

Again, there is a legitimate question lurking in the background: Does biblical inerrancy demand a Young Earth View? Too bad: the question is jettisoned for expediency.

More recently I was presented, for the nth time, with conundrum number two: Modern Christians must endorse death penalties for all sorts of crimes, and they must endorse slavery, or they are hypocrites. Heads they win, tails we lose. The legitimate questions, such as: why don't Christians endorse the death penalty for blasphemy? are tossed overboard—because arguing along the lines of have you stopped beating your wife? is so much easier.

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