How should Christians approach prehistory?
You echo my thoughts on the subject perfectly. I've always rolled my eyes at fundamentalists, and they've done more than anyone else to turn me off from Christianity as a youth, particularly the low church protestant variety ... which is precisely the dynamic you describe.
Meanwhile, research into the Younger Dryas Impact has shown that the Flood story is almost certainly a preservation of a very old and absolutely axial trauma in the history of our species, thus indicating that there is truth in the Bible ... if only one relaxes one's insistence on narrow-minded materialist literalism. Not sure if you've come across it, btw, but if not look up Abu Hureyra, which may have been the basis for Sodom and Gomorrah.
Realizing that it was quite possible to reconcile mythic understandings a la Lewis and Tolkien with Christianity was also revelatory for me. The insistence of so many Christians that anything not in the Bible is of the devil never sat right. It breeds a lack of imagination and curiosity that impoverishes the soul as well as the intellect.
Like I said in my note earlier, I have some serious bees in my bonnet about this. That being said, I’ll tread carefully to make sure that I’m responding to what you wrote instead what I think you wrote.
That being said, here’s my bit of pushback to all this.
First of all, the whole “we have human history dating back before” is questionable. No, what we have is a bunch of artifacts that archeologists think goes back ten thousand years ago or whatever. But it could have easily been interpreted to be much younger. This is what the Young Earth Creationists (YEC) basically contend.
This reminds me of how people believe that dinosaurs live over 65 millions years ago, with most not realizing that we've found soft tissue in these bones (which would be impossible for something that’s millions of years old). But I digress. The point is that the prevailing view of how old human history is pretty much depends on how mainstream scientists interpret the evidence, not the evidence itself.
But I don’t want to get into the rabbit hole of “carbon dating” here, so let’s move on.
I don’t know if you’ve looked up what the YEC have put out. If you haven’t, I suggest you do and take a closer look of what they say. These aren’t people illiterate in science. They know their science and the evidence, they just come to different conclusion. Based on their metaphysical assumptions you might say… yes, so do mainstream scientists. You don’t have to agree with the YEC, but I think you’re being unfair to them.
I also found it funny that you brought up St. Augustine. This won’t help your case at all considering that St. Augustine believed that the whole world was formed in just one day (based on an erroneous translation of the Bible).
There’s honestly a lot I found wrong in this post, but this comment is already long as it is. Thus, I will focus on your comment about you’re trying to get “Christians to break free from feeling guilt from not accepting fundamentalist movement”. Lolwut? “Christian Fundamentalism” is basically a curse word nowadays. What are you talking about?
If anything, we should try to get Christians to break free from feeling guilt from not accepting mainstream science.
Now don’t get me wrong, I get what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to get Christians to explore some alternative history that’s been overlooked. I like these things too (and wish that more Christians tackle these things too). But to attack YEC over this is just misguided. If anything, YECs should naturally be more open towards these things since they already believe in an “alternative history” anyways.
And that’s my rant, lol.
You can really get into some rabbit holes with ancient history.
For example, while most modern Christians would consider the mention of giants in the Bible to be meant to be entirely mythological, but then you read some odd archaeological discoveries that seemed to be hushed up in a hurry.
Then there are the ancient copper mines in Michigan, done far before any advanced civilization we know of was capable.
The past is far more interesting and mysterious than both the "I ******* love Science" people and the literal creationists think.
great essay my friend,
I'm glad you brought this up...a topic with is hardly discussed.
I believe that the literalist/fundamentalist movements started as a reactionary movement to modernism and the Industrial Revolution. these events completely shook up the world and resulted in many leaving the faith. how can an old time religion compete in the age of "Miracles and Wonders"? during this time Christianity was losing followers to rationalism and scienticism, so the fundamentalist had to "prove" the Bible as a literal version of events, both historically and scientifically. this is and was a great tragedy. to think how many modern folks were turned off of the Gospel because of this insane message?
hopefully we can correct this for future generations.
Many non fundamentalist christians have a literal interpretation of genesis, including church fathers who fought augustine on this matter.
A much needed article. One thing that really turned me off regarding the atheist movement in the 2000s was that they often debated more outlandish fundamentalists but never wanted to engage with an educated Christian from any other sect; they treated Christianity like a monolith represented by a few people who might as well be strawmen. There is something ominous about how pop culture creates a binary between materialism and this fairly new and theologically unsound religious movement. I also agree that there is a need for Christian scientists; the lack of ethics in the field has done a lot of damage. We may also deeply benefit from that little bit of doubt in scientific dogma that loyalty to another belief system brings, like in the case of geologist Len Cram, a Christian man who decided to put the scientific establishment to the test and "fact-check" their belief that gems need millions of years to form. He ended up proving that you can grow gems artificially like a mortal Feanor.
People need to realize (especially Christians) that evolutionary theory has huge philosophical implications. There is a reason why the Communists, National socialists, British empire, robber barons and the modern scientific community all subscribe to evolutionary theory. From the very beginning it has been as a political tool to promote a materialistic and nihilist worldview where truth just like man and the rest of creation had to evolve from a supposedly archaic form. The church has never historically taught that Genesis is allegory or that the earth was old or that man evolved even though such beliefs did exist in the pagan world. It was only recently that Catholics, protestants, and some Orthodox christians started to espouse such ideas.
I read this this morning and I've been thinking about it all day. I don't know much about the history of the "young earth" thing. I was raised Catholic with that in the packaging. Everyone I know who espouses such theories is hungry for science. They gobble up any and all scientific resource from any and all sources, not just Christian. I have no idea how many conferences and talks I went to as a child, hosted by very respected scientists who had been expelled from mainstream science for questioning the popular theory. Many weren't even Christian. They discuss in open and friendly fashion and most who didn't adamantly agree would say it didn't really matter as long as you believe God created everything. Some argued that it wasn't possible to know for sure and that's where faith comes in. I disagree, I think we can know for certain a hell of a lot more than we admit.
My point is that young earth creationists are not really science-dismissing fundamentalists. If anything they ARE the Christian scientists. Obviously there's variances within the group, but I mean generally. Insane wackadoos on Twitter are not indicative of a entire scientific area of research.
Moreover, our modern perception of time is just that, modern. Time, to some extent, does not exist, but aids us in perceiving an infinite now. Not to get too metaphysically wacky. But God could have completed each day's creations in a snap of his fingers which could have been simultaneously a thousand years and twenty-four hours. Mostly it doesn't matter. But the idea that the world is zillions of years old is the chief arguing point for people who maintain that cosmically accidental evolution is the only answer to why we exist. Thus it began to matter. Which sucks because, as you said, it can get in the way of far more interesting discourse.
I'm glad you wrote this because it helped me think about things from angles I don't usually use. In the future, I'd love it if you could add a bibliography or footnotes or something. I love looking into things further. And I'm pathologically incapable of taking any scientific fact at face value (all that YEC upbringing, I guess).
(Also, the tiniest little side note as I respectfully tip my hat to you: some of us ladies also enjoy scientific and intellectual pursuits as well.)
A great book on exactly this topic is
“The Lost World of The Flood”, highly recommend it.
The Garden of Eden narrative from Genesis 2:4 onwards has to be accepted a literal history since that's when poetry, mythological language switches to Prose.
Genesis 1-2:3 is metered and meant to be sung.
Thoughts provoked by your text (came here via Barsoom):
"Christian science"; science is science, it is neither christian or atheist or islamic or whatever, except when a specific discovery or attitude to/understanding of science is referred to.
When, how and why water boils has nothing to with religion. I think the various instances when cults have opposed science have tainted the well re: religious understanding and beliefs.
Instead of keeping the material - the vulgar if you will - and the spiritual separate in understanding and application alike, they have been intertwined and confused leading to purely material porcesses being interpreted in a religious context, and vice versa. F.e. that schizophreniac hallucinations and religious exstacy activates the same areas of the brain in the same manner; this has been used as "evidence" that religion is a delusion as well as neuropsychiatry being a materialist understanding of religion.
Both are of course wrong. /If/ a religious perspective is chosen, /then/ it is revelatory exstacy. /If/ a materialist perspective is chosen, /then/ it is simply neurons firing in such a way as to cause hallucinations.
In both cases, it is neurons firing in the brain - the why and how to go forth from the experience is what matters. Is the individual in danger from itself? Is it a danger to other or in danger from others? Does it ask for help?
Those are the important questions in this example, and I'd argue they can easily be extrapolated to any other issue.
Personally, I wouldn't call myself religious in any this-side-of-the-year-1000-sense, nor would I refer to myself as atheist. I mention this not because I'm so bloody important and interesting (damn the internet generations for mukking up language so you need to CYB all the time!) but because religion is the topic, and one's personal stance is sort-of important for a comprehensive understanding of any argument brought forth (whereas f.e. boiling water is rather indefferent - is indeed incapable of having opinions at all - to what I think).
Don't know if this makes any sense, but since your post provoked thinking I felt inclined to try and return the favour. Also, you and Carter referencing you getting a hard time from commenters piqued my interest - always more interesting when the comment section resembles the House of Commons of old, than some Facebook or Reddit consensus-orgy.
Indeed, anyone who has ever dealt with civilizations prior to the 17th century will know that "thousand years", "ten thousand", "millions", always mean, in a poetic way, "a long time" and not some literal quantifiable fact.
Similarly, it is foolish to assume that the Bible must have included all of existence within it for it to be truly the work of God. No church father ever said "sola scriptura" for this very reason. There are other texts and ideas that can supplement the Truth of the Bible. The church fathers used Hellenistic science and philosophy and we should be sing the same exact tools of this age, for the same purpose.
The Bible is fundamentally about the relationship of man to God, and more specifically, as you very astutely state, man's fall. Through that understanding, it is no coincidence that the fundamentalist idea of a 6000 year old earth closely coincides with the flowering of settlement after the flood. Yet, even then, it is unfortunately off by about 2000-3000 years.
Fundamentalist American-brand Protestantism drove me away from Christianity at an early age.
Discovering the Aristotelian and Platonist roots of Christianity through other avenues was a major part of rejecting atheist/materialist beliefs. I look at the writings of C.S. Lewis, or Aquinas and Augustine, and it makes me sad for how far the faith has fallen in the US. It makes me angry for the stupidities that were forced on me in its name.
It’s interesting to note that Yahweh, baby-massacring god of Moses, never claimed to be the creator at all, only to be who he was. The creator was a different God—or Gods. Indeed, Elohim is plural, and in the context of the ancient world, “Gods” could easily have meant the pantheon of pagan gods that were widely revered throughout the known world. ‘Ware mistranslations.