Why would God dress the world in shades of evolution?
The American evangelical creationist Dr Kent Hovind recently visited Ireland. He gave public talks in Dublin and Cork and appeared on the Marian Finnucane Radio Show. Dr Hovind speaks on behalf of "creationist science", but creationist science is a contradiction in terms. If you accept special creation as envisaged by the creationists, the world is not explainable scientifically.
Creationism rests on a literal interpretation of the Bible's account in Genesis of how God created the world. Creationists believe that God created all living species at the same time in more or less the same form as they exist on earth today. They believe the universe, the earth and all its biological species were created about 6,000 years ago, deriving this figure from genealogical data recorded in the Bible.
They believe that the geological features of the earth and the fossil record of past living forms found in the earth's rocks were formed as a result of the great flood as recounted in the Bible story of Noah. The creationists believe their literal interpretation of the Bible with unshakeable faith. No scientific evidence, the work of man, could convince them of something that is contrary to the "word of God".
Evolutionists believe that the earth is about five billion years old and that life spontaneously arose as a single simple form from lifeless molecules about four billion years ago. They believe that all the myriad life forms on earth are descended from that original simple form. They believe that present living species are descended with modification from previous living species.
The theory of evolution is not informed by the Bible. It rests on scientific evidence and, if compelling contradictory evidence were to come forward, science would have to discard evolution. The scientific evidence on which evolution rests is compelling and comes mainly from three sources - evidence from the fossil record, evidence from the comparative anatomies of living organisms, and evidence from comparative molecular data from living organisms. I summarised this evidence in last week's article.
If you are a creationist, believing that God created the world and all living creatures at the same time, then you also must believe that He deliberately peppered everything with detailed evidence that the universe is about 15 billion years old, that the earth is about five billion years old, that all living creatures are genetically related to each other and that all species evolved from other types with modifications.
However, you are not free to believe any of this evidence - you can only believe the literal interpretation of the Bible. Furthermore, you must attack anyone who believes the natural evidence uncovered by science, evidence that in your mind contradicts the word of God.
Creation science is not science. Science is based on ideas that are testable. What the creationists believe is not rational, but it cannot be disproved. You cannot prove that God did not act in this capricious and arbitrary way about six thousand years ago. Of course, why God would do this, and camouflage everything in the robes of great antiquity and evolutionary descent is anybody's guess. Perhaps it was all done to test our faith in the literal word of the Bible!
Evolution could be made false, as could any scientific proposal, if facts came forward to profoundly conflict with its tenets. For example, if the fossil of a major body plan were found in rocks far older than the evolutionary scheme says such body plans existed, evolution would fall.
No such fossils have ever been found. Creationism rests on faith and its adherents are immune to the persuasive effects of contrary natural evidence.
Creationist science puts forward very little scientific evidence in favour of special creation. It adopts a wholly negative stance. It spends most of its time scanning the scientific case for evolution and harping at perceived weaknesses in this position.
Many people have the impression that religion, as such, is opposed to evolution. This is not the case. The mainline Christian churches accept the broad general thrust of evolution. Creationism is adhered to mainly by fundamentalist religious groups. The movement is particularly strong in the US.
Fundamentalist culture has very little intellectual tradition. It believes every word in the Bible to be the literal inspired word of God. Fundamentalists oppose any interpretation of the Bible outside the literal in the fear that if interpretation is allowed in any part then it must be allowed in all and, in that event, the entire credibility of the Bible would collapse. They also fear that if people believe in evolution and see themselves merely as very clever descendants of an ape-like animal, they will not feel bound by any absolute moral code.
But it is perfectly feasible to be a Christian and also to believe in evolution. Mainline Christianity has long accepted that parts of the Bible are not meant literally. It is quite acceptable for a Christian to believe that the world exists by the will of God and also to believe in all of the natural mechanisms of the world as revealed by science.
The most important part of the Bible for Christians is the New Testament which asks us to love our neighbour, forgive our enemy and take responsibility for our own lives. I think this advice can safely be interpreted literally, but the Bible's Genesis story must be interpreted in the light of scientific findings.
William Reville is a Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry and Director of Microscopy at UCC.