Sunday, 26 May 2013

God, the universe and everything

So the Higgs boson goes to church, and the priest says, “Thank goodness you’re here. We can’t have mass without you.”

Boom, boom! (which might be to emphasise the punchline or it might be the distant echo of a big bang)

Marathon road closures thwarted my efforts to attend a city centre church this morning. I was similarly thwarted a few weeks ago by the half marathon—note to self: don’t just put those circulars from the council straight in the bin—but on that occasion I managed to make it to New Restalrig, which happens to be on my side of the barricades. Not so this morning. Eleven o’clock came and went and still I was stuck in a contraflow.

So in lieu of a church review, I thought I’d set down a few observations about creationism, which is all over the religious TV channels like a rash but hasn’t actually cropped up in any of the churches I’ve visited in the past six months. Odd that, and I’m not sure why. I’m also quite disappointed, because I’d be up for a good tussle with a creationist one of these Sundays. Maybe I haven’t been to enough independent evangelical churches, or maybe they keep the really loopy stuff back for a while and impose the requirement to believe what is scientifically disprovable only once their initiates are warmed up a bit.

The thing that puzzles me about creationism is why it’s become such a touchstone for faith in our times. It didn’t used to be a problem for people to believe both in God and in science, but now religion and science are presented as two competing and incompatible paradigms, not only by the evangelicals but by the Dawkinsian atheists too.

Was it ever thus? Well, the paradigms clearly don’t align, but thoughtful people who concerned themselves with this misalignment used to find ways to reconcile scripture with observable evidence. I’m thinking, for example, of Hugh Miller’s suggestion that the six “days” of creation were geological eras long enough to have formed the rocks he studied; his scientific enquiries didn’t dent his faith any more than his faith dissuaded him from pursuing geology. These days, Hugh wouldn’t get a look-in with the creationist hardliners, and many of today’s “bible-believing” Christians would laugh that founding father of the Free Church out of town if he didn’t toe the party line.

If any readers are unfamiliar with the central tenet, it’s basically this: the bible is 100 per cent true and Genesis describes exactly how God created the universe and all that it contains in six literal 24-hour days, and the theory of evolution is untrue and evolution does not take place and never has. Then, in response to questions from incredulous rationalists, or to pre-empt them, there’s a further layer of theory about Noah’s flood, dinosaurs, fossils, carbon dating, etc, etc.

The entirely joyless “Dr” Grady McMurtry gives some especially snoozetastic lectures on carbon dating, oft repeated on Revelation TV. He uses lots of scientific terms and claims a comprehensive knowledge of a range of scientific disciplines, but I hae ma doubts. I’ve linked before to his credentials, courtesy of Gordon Hudson’s blog, a must-read for every recovering evangelical out there. I'd like to say the man's a buffoon – Grady, I mean, not Gordon – but, alas, he's an intelligent man peddling a corrupt philosophy, all the while assuming an air of authority, which makes him all the more despicable. If he were simply a fool, I might be able to pity him.

Dr Richard Kent makes similar polymathic claims. Now he really is a doctor, albeit a medical one, but he’s no more a physicist, biologist or chemist than McMurtry is. He isn't pretending to be, of course, but it’s got to make you suspicious when a lecturer jumps from subject to disparate subject, claiming expertise in all of them … now let’s look at the human eye (created, not evolved) … now let’s consider the dust on the surface of the moon (evidence of a young universe) … now let's measure the beak length of Galapagos finches (Darwin was lying or wrong) ... now let’s switch disciplines again while I give you yet another example of how science gets it wrong and I, armed with my trusty bible, get it right. It’s laughable, and what I can’t work out is how the faithful don’t see through him.

But if you want the proper baying-at-the-moon crazy stuff, you should check out Ken Ham and Kent and Eric Hovind. The most worrying thing about Hovind senior, apart from his criminal record, is that he seems always to be preaching to a crowd of primary school children who are being taught that humans and dinosaurs co-existed before the flood. What? Yes, really! And this has got to be with their parents’ knowledge and blessing.

This kind of thing makes you see why the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is performing such a vital public service, as well as giving us all a good laugh. After all, you have to take this stuff with a big pinch of salt, or a ladleful of carbonara. Oh yes, and they call their followers “pastafarians”. Classic!

I think there’s a kind of Christian machismo among the creationist evangelicals, as if believing more and more unbelievable things proves how strong your faith is. It also builds up interdependency, or even codependency (and I use the term advisedly), among the faithful – they would call it “fellowship” – because they are investing so much in membership and solidarity. Asking questions is unacceptable, as I've mentioned before, so if anyone points out that the emperor has no clothes, it serves not to embarrass the emperor but only push the dissenter to the fringes, from whence he or she will eventually detach from the group. 

At some stage in the next six months, I hope I will actually come face to face with a real live creationist. I can think of only one person I know who believes in the young earth theory, or admits to it, but the last time we met it wasn't the time or place for a theological debate. Next time you're in town, N, we'll have that bottle of wine! So if any readers can recommend a church where I'm likely to hear some loopy, or even some well argued, creationist preaching, do let me know. As I said, I'd relish a good old tussle. 


  1. I suggest Carrubbers Christian Centre or Charlotte Chapel. Both are creationist, but you won't find them shouting about it unless you ask for proof that God exists then its usually the first thing mentioned. "God exists because I can prove that all the animals could have fitted on the ark".

  2. I've been to both already this year and the subject wasn't on the agenda.

    All I can say is, it must have been some ark ... with some uncomfortable animals.