Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What is a Creationist?

Over on Panda’s Thumb, they use the term loosely as a synonym for “moron”, although they never explicitly define it as such, that being much too impolitic.

In fact, they never get around to defining “creationist” at all. One of the most prolific commenters on PT, the ‘Rev. Dr.’ Lenny Flank, who sometimes calls me a creationist, recently asked:
Hey Heddle, why, again, do all the creationists think Big Bang theory is wrong …… ?
But of course, I don’t think the Big Bang theory is wrong—so, Lenny, am I or am I not a creationist? Inquiring minds want to know.

This discussion led to my once again requesting a definition for “creationist.” To his great credit Russell, another regular commenter on PT, made a stab at it:
Here’s my understanding of “creationist”: someone who rejects the conclusive evidence of common descent, and/or someone who believes that supernatural intervention is necessary to explain the current state of the natural world, particularly that part of the natural world we call biology. Now, I’m sure you can construe that to include “theistic evolutionists” - indeed, I know some who proudly lay claim to the label “creationist”. But as long as they recognize that their understanding of divine intervention can never fall under the purview of science, they’re not “creationists” in my understanding of the word.
While I applaud the attempt, this is a bizarre definition indeed. Whether one is a creationist should not be tied to the notion of common descent—otherwise it would have been impossible to label anyone a creationist or a non-creationist prior to the advent of the theory of common descent. Was Augustine a creationist? Surely he was, and would have been designated as such—yet he neither affirmed nor denied common descent, given that he never heard of it.

Likewise the phrase: “particularly what we call biology.” How can whether or not one is a creationist be tied to biology? Were people indistinguishable as creationists or non-creationists before the advent of biology?

Expunging the ill-conceived tie-ins to common descent and biology, there is, contained in the paragraph, a decent core definition, which I’ll paraphrase:

Creationist: someone who believes, to some nonzero but unspecified extent, that invoking supernatural intervention is necessary to explain the natural world.

I accept that as nice, concise description. No muss, no fuss. There are, however, problems for the PT faithful with that definition—I’ll get back to that point.

Later in his definition, Russell performs a little sleight of hand. After arguing that theistic evolutionists might be shoe-horned into this definition, he adds: “But as long as they recognize that their understanding of divine intervention can never fall under the purview of science, they’re not ‘creationists’.”

Do you see it? The core definition stated that a creationist believes that supernatural intervention, at least at some level, is required to explain the natural world. Fair enough. Here is a modification—apparently being a creationist now requires acknowledging that the divine intervention never falls under the purview of science. But that is something altogether different. (The purpose for this switcheroo is to allow a loophole for friendly Christians to walk through and avoid being creationists, people like Ken Miller.)

By the first part of Russell’s definition I am a creationist, by the second part I am not. For I agree: divine intervention does not fall under the purview of science. I walk right through the Ken Miller loophole.

So, while Russell at least tried to define “creationist”, in order not to saddle certain useful Christians he had to leave a loophole big enough that many of us whom they will insist on calling creationists (not that I mind) can easily mosey on through. In other words, Russell’s definition is fatally inconsistent.

True to form, another commenter used the first part of Russell's definition to label me a creationist, while conveniently ignoring the second part. I wager he would invoke the second part to argue that PT's good buddy Ken Miller (and alleged good Catholic) is excused from bearing the heinous scarlet 'C'.

I have asked if they will accept the definition I presented above. (At the time I posted this there were no responses. It should be interesting—because my definition, which I think is fair—essentially equates “creationist” to, at a minimum, a deist. After all, if you believe that there was a God, even if you now believe he is hands-off (or even dead)—you still affirm a minimal divine intervention of setting up the initial conditions.

Which brings me to my final point. While I can live with the definition above, I think the best and most accurate definition is:

Creationist: someone who believes in God

Because if God didn’t create, then what did He do?

Of course, the PT crowd could never accept that definition. Ken Miller and at least some of the PT staff profess belief in God. You see the problem.

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