This may not end well.
Now, I’m friends with all sorts of people across the religious spectrum and, while I’m tackling this issue as non-biased as possible, we’re gonna be looking at creationism today. This means that a lot of my friends are going to be up in arms. This issue is the ax in the ground that—near as I can tell—cracked open the rift between the religious and scientific communities. There are a lot of creationist theories, so for the sake of accuracy, I’ll say we’re looking at the form of creationism started by two angry old white dudes at the turn of the last century. If you’re one of my Christian friends, that theory is not “Theistic Evolution”. That theory is in fact hard line young earth creationism. The idea, contrary to almost all evidence, that the earth is only 7,000 years old, and it was made on this specific day. There are saints who agree to this, but, to my knowledge, the Orthodox Church has set no firm dogma regarding the date of creation.
I’ll be pulling quotes from the historical side of the fence first, namely quotes from, and on, George McCready Price (the progenitor of the hardline young earth idea), whose head you see on the right in the picture above, and St. Augustine, a man from the tail end of the fourth century who might have a surprisingly progressive view on the subject. So, to start us off, let’s introduce ol’ Georgie Boy. ‘Cause everything floats down here, kids.
Mr. Price was not a man known for keeping a level head when presented with new information. He had a famous written exchange with then president of Stanford, David Starr Jordan, which ended with the latter telling him his views were “…based on scattering mistakes, omissions, and exceptions against general truths that anybody familiar with the facts in a general way cannot possibly dispute.” Price called the Day-age creationist theory—the one that says that the biblical “seven days” were actually stand ins for thousands or billions of years—“the devil’s counterfeit.”
He really, really stuck to his guns is what I’m saying–like they were coated in Krazy Glue and Fly Paper.
So, what was the “proof” that made him consider his theory correct? The things that Jordan called “Mistakes, omissions and exceptions”: Solitary rock formations that held fossils from different eras in close proximity to one another. That was enough for old McReady to start throwing punches at commie evolutionists; like a weird Muhammed Ali, who believed in the simultaneous existence of eagle-sized dragonflies and modern honeybees.
One should note, however, that said rock formations are exceedingly rare, and the proximity is almost always explicable, and Price never saw any of these formations for himself, but merely “read of” them. They can be explained by both drought and elevation, among other variables. Price was a layman, and certainly too ignorant to be considered an authority on matters of geology. His students noted that he could “barely tell one fossil from another.”
So when you picture the man who pushed the hardline version of the Young Earth theory out of its deceptive gate, don’t picture a saint in a toga. Picture a man with yard long jowls and a constipated face, stumbling around a fossil filled canyon in a half-suit with suspenders, and being confused by rocks.
That’s historically accurate.
Ah, the prehistoric forest of Canton City, which has been in existence for one ninth of the history of the Universe.
The point being that there were Christians who supported ideologies that were wrong in the 1920’s, it wasn’t all Tolkien and Lewis (whose thoughts are generally accepted in Modern Christendom). Next we’ll introduce St. Augustine–whom I’ve chosen because, of all the church fathers, he’s the most widely read in the west (meaning Roman-Catholic and Protestant traditions)–so here we go.
Augustine is mostly known for his treatise Confessions in Thirteen Books. In it, he wrote not only of his own wrongdoing, but basic guidelines for conversion in the early church. We will not be focusing on Confessions. There are a few books Augustine wrote that many tend to overlook–including his contribution to this article, The Literal Meaning of Genesis.
That’s right. This issue was, at the very least, in debate amongst Christians as early as the fourth century. It was never set in stone. The argument is still nuanced today (in the religious sphere), but the Church fathers (which I will refer to as “the fathers” from here on) had some surprisingly progressive things to say. Augustine himself held that everything was simultaneously created, and that the earth was some 6,000 years old at the time that he walked it. I can hear my atheist friends snorting, and saying “What’s so progressive about that?” As such, I respond: aside from the fact that that theory sounds frighteningly akin to The Big Bang theory (minus a few billion years); St. Augustine saw the days listed in Genesis as a logical framework which God gave to humanity, that they might make sense of the chaos that was the creation.
It may or may not have looked like a manipulated photo of my friend smoking.
Making order from chaos is something God tends to do. Here’s what Augustine had to say about the kind of stubbornness found in ol’ Georgie boy. This is where the progressiveness comes in.
“…It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing… to hear a Christian, presumably given the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is… that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and–to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil–the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field… and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions…how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection… the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven? ” –The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Volume 2
That quote, to use a word not lightly used in my circles, is quite damning. I would not present Augustine’s opinion on the creation as uniform, however. St.Basil, in his series of homilies (sermons) that later became a part of Apologia in Hexameron, stated–quite clearly–that he thought anyone who interpreted the creation in Genesis as less than literal, was a babe playing with the divine equivalent of matches. Indeed, to Basil the account was simple, and the consequences of over complication obvious:
“Those who want to give their own opinion as exegesis believe that they are more intelligent than the holy spirit.”–Apologia in Hexameron
This quote is also damning!
“So”, I hear my Christian audience asking, “Why bring up creation at all?”
That answer is simple: This issue, if not resolved in the two thousand year history of the church, has at least been hotly debated by everyone within her walls. This is not a simple, cut-and-dry matter of opinion. The leaders of the pre-congregational (pre-denominational, in modern speak) church were in arms over it! It’s not supposed to be a simple matter of “categorize it and leave it be”. The Fathers didn’t think so either. They also–and I know this will come as a shock to most people who have taken a side of the fence–thought the matter of a firm date for creation to be secondary to what Genesis was actually for: a guide to learning the first gifts God bequeathed to man. In summation: This argument is tough, it is diverse, and it is important to the modern world. Please hear me out on this.
I’m begging you, here.
And now we get to the second part of that title up there, the “and Climate Change” part. I will give my readers no delusions as to my idea of the Cosmology. I am a firm believer in Theistic Evolution, the idea that the long process involved in the Theory (capital T) of Evolution is something guided and guarded by God. We are no longer discussing the creation. As awkward as this segue is, we’re moving on to the disastrous effects that the Young Earth Creation theory has had on the global community at large.
That’s right kids; today, in my first piece that goes above five hundred words, I’ve emphasized that I’m religious, that I also believe in evolution, and that we’re going to be talking about Global Warming. On the internet.
This may not have been the best choice.
For my next stupid, stupid, insanely stupid choice, I’d like to talk about politics!
This is gonna go real well. I’ve devoted the first two print-pages of this argument to the account of the Creation, and there is a reason for that. When I watch the news, and see men in political office denying the existence of man’s effect on the environment, I almost invariably hear the words “God’s plan” and “Hubris”. Let’s listen to what Republican representative Larry Pittman, of North Carolina, has to say on the topic! See if you can pick out what I mean:
“Our climate runs on a cycle. It goes up and it goes down and the Lord designed it that way. And the main thing that causes Global Warming is the Earth’s relationship to a big ball of gas that’s burning out there that we call the sun, and it is the height of hubris for human beings to think that we can have any effect on that.”
That, ah…. that makes a third damning quote I’ve pulled out in the past page and a half. Here’s the trouble with Representative Pittman’s hypothesis: climate scientists are not arguing that the Earth’s climate runs on cycles. In that community, it’s common, accepted knowledge. These cycles are referred to as El Niño and La Niña respectively. They account for the basic warming and cooling effects on the climate of the Earth as early as ten thousand years ago. The issue of Cycles is completely irrelevant to the issue of Climate Change–here’s why.
In 1763 there was an invention that changed the face of the world. The Steam Engine. From there onward, human progress has become more attainable, more efficient, and more destructive. We gained knowledge faster thanks to the convenience afforded by engines removing us from fields. When one farmer could do the work it used to take one hundred men to do, we started devoting our time to war and technological progress. Because we were bored.
Which is also why we take subpar pictures of the woods near our house.
The issue found here is not that engines exist, and not that they might be good for mankind, but that the fuels they use–up until recently, with the advent of electric and even hydrogen engines–release what are known as greenhouse gasses. Those gasses have the large scale effect of a pane of glass in a greenhouse… hence the name.
I worked in a greenhouse during a humid Ohio May, in ninety degree weather. The phrase “Hot as boiling” doesn’t even come close to describing it. This argument’s teeth are broken by those facts. One ought not argue that the Human effect on the earth is the Height of hubris, because we carry a scriptural responsibility to bear in mind the effect we have on all things.
One ought to argue that fighting climate change is a strong component of compassion.
So here is the hole in the “Solar Cycle” theory that Mr. Pittman put forward: It doesn’t address the massive upscale in greenhouse gas levels and emissions that have happened in the past three hundred years, or the fact that temperature–on a global scale–is rising in correlation to those levels.
It denies the idea that Engines running on Carbon based fuels are having an effect–which is mostly his argument–but without some refutation of Ninety Seven Percent of the scientific community, it’s not an argument. This is the poison that the hardline Young Earth Creation theory hath wrought, from the time that it was popularized by Mr. Price.
Human beings should be too finite to observe change in climate in one lifetime. It normally happens slowly over centuries or millennia. The difference between Climate and Weather is the difference between talking to one guy in a swimming pool and talking to all the people in all the swimming pools for one hundred years. Climate is way, way bigger, and the effect we’re having on it, by merely being observable is arguably bad. In the best scenario, it would mean that we were altering things too quickly for the natural world to keep up. We aren’t operating on the best scenario. This brings us to the next point on the list.
I’ve spoken with a lot of people who deny the idea of human caused Climate change. It’s always upsetting, but there’s a specific line of reasoning that I find particularly painful. This is where the Creation debate carries cogence. I have, over the many times I’ve either participated in or avoided this argument, heard people say “The Earth was a gift from God, and he will maintain it.” This causes me to recoil, both theologically and scientifically speaking.
We’ve seen the scientific side, so now, let’s talk theology, and here, I will specifically address the conservative side of the audience that might be reading this. To paraphrase comedian Louis C.K., “If you believe the earth is a gift from God, why would you think that you shouldn’t look after it?”
I bring out a… rather vulgar comedian to make my point more quickly. I ask the question of you–even in the face of strong denial of Climate Change, for which I hope my arguments, though general, have been enough–barring the Earth, which gift that God gave humanity demands no respect? Which gift, of the myriad of His gifts, is not given to us with an equal measure of responsibility?
Our bodies are to be treated as temples. We are to thank God before the consumption of food. Upon waking. Before sleeping. We are called to thank him for reason, and emotion. For tragedy and prosperity. For marriage, for love, for the opportunity to work, we are to thank God. Then, in doing so, we are called to attempt reflecting his will for us towards the world at large.
Why is the world itself any different? If, at the time of creation, we were given dominion or mastery over the world, one should argue that this does not mean the right to consumption; else Gluttony would not be a sin.
Gluttony, by the by, is possibly my most egregious sin.
Some might be saying “But, just because I don’t believe in Climate Change doesn’t mean I don’t think the Earth deserves respect!”
That carries its own set of issues; mostly that the consensus from the scientific community–which contains people of all faiths, believe it or not–is that human caused climate change is very real, and very dangerous. Which means that denying it is, itself, a form of disrespect. The same disrespect that someone shows when they commit any other sin. 97% is not a debatable number, no matter how you slice it. If you asked your mechanic “are you sure my engine will turn over?” and he said “I’m 97% sure it won’t without exploding first.” would you still put your key in the ignition and turn it? Because that’s the kind of denial it takes to refute the data regarding Climate Change.
So now we come full circle, jumping back to church history with all the awkward force of a fat nerd at a keyboard. In the U.S., there is a troubling amount of ignorance and doublethink regarding the early church. I’ve held discussions with folks who love Jesus as much as I do, but disregard all the pieces of church history before the time Luther nailed paper to a door as “irrelevant” at best and “misleading” at worst. In these cases, either the early fathers the “Paters”, or Patriarchs of the church are assumed to be in agreement, or are assumed to be deceivers sent to guide someone away from salvation. This is troubling for many reasons, and a few questions arise from it. During the time before the printing press made books readily available, and before widespread literacy, how did the masses, learn about scripture?
This. This was how they learned.
The answer is simple: The Presbyters, or church elders. This includes all the opinions of both the saints I’ve listed above and many more besides. When you hear a man saying that the Bible says something and all good, God fearing folk ought to believe in a specific way, the first thing you should do is check his knowledge of what the church fathers said. A man saying that something is the indisputable will of God is a dangerous thing because, even in the annals and halls of Christendom, there are very few matters for which there is no dispute to be seen.
Which is to say, that while the church might debate on these issues, and might have conflict, and might have to roll up her sleeves and solve some problems, she is the final authority on the matter. Unless a politician got into Congress on a theology degree, they should neither be expected or desired as an authority on what God has to say. To open those gates is to show a beating heart to the world, and allow claws and scalpels to reshape it however they see fit.
This is why the “ceremony” in “High Churches” exists.
This is why church history carries importance.
I, also, don’t have a theology degree. I’m just one of a thousand morons with an opinion here.
Thus I hear you saying “But Brian, aren’t you claiming to know the indisputable will of God? Why does your opinion carry weight?”
I know it to be God’s will that we give the gifts he bequeathed to us the highest respect that we possibly can.
At the risk of being inflammatory, and though it is said in the Bible that you should condemn no one: You cannot berate a person who possesses no faith, or who has sinned, for disrespecting God’s blessings, and then turn about and look at the state we’re putting the world into and say “God will take care of it.”
There are people who are hurting because of this. Homes and families and entire countries have been devastated by the effects of fossil fuels in both the sense of war and environment. In the case of the world, and the case of Christendom this cannot be ignored.
In both cases, you are called to be his hands and feet, and if that is where you’re standing, his hands and feet aren’t moving nearly fast enough.
Credit for images of hurricane damage goes to: