Sunday, 22 January 2012

Creationism Crisis for Christianity = Opportunity for Buddhism?

Crisis in Christianity
From the rationalist's point of view, Christianity is deteriorating rapidly, with a headlong retreat into obscurantism, anti-science and general dumbing-down.

Quotes from a recent article at The Huffington Post:  New Survey of Protestant Pastors Shows Rejection of Human Evolution  by Brandon G. Withrow 

"In a new survey of American Protestant pastors by Lifeway, 73 percent of ministers disagree with the statement "I believe God used evolution to create people." Of that large number, 64 percent strongly disagreed. As you might expect, the numbers were close to the same for the question, "I believe Adam and Eve were literal people," with 74 percent strongly agreeing and only 1 percent not sure."

"The survey of 1,000 ... also found that ministers are almost evenly split on whether the earth is thousands of years old."   - In other words, 50% of pastors reject the entire science of geology, instead  they believe that the earth was created according to the Biblical timescale within the last 10,000 years -  a Christian doctrine known as 'Young Earth." 

"Evangelicals tend to be the least likely category for embracing evolution, and here's why: The acceptance of evolution and potential rejection of Adam and Eve can require more changes than just how one reads Genesis 1; it could result in a rewriting of the idea of original sin. It can affect the evangelical narrative. Without the sinful nature acquired by a real Adam, how does one engage the problem of evil and the necessity of the work of Jesus? Does this nullify the evangelium or "good news" of the Bible?

"But is this slippery-slope warning the only way to approach the conversation? Not all are convinced that past evangelical approaches to the Bible are always the best.

"Peter Enns, author of "The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins," recently wrote on his blog that "Evolution threatens the evangelical narrative. And it's not a joke. The threat is real." [Full disclosure: I am a personal friend of Peter Enns]

"He continued: "It really does come down to the ... Bible: what is it and what does it mean to read it well? The evangelical movement has invested a lot of energy in building thick walls around the Bible, ready to defend it against challenges, real or perceived, that threaten its safety."

"Enns' solution, however, is not to flee the threat, but to learn how to write "new narratives ... where openness to theological change is warranted." Enns believes that Evangelicals need to work on, and improve upon, how they read their Bibles, not reject evolution.

"Young Earth Creationist Ken Ham sees it differently. In reacting to the survey by Lifeway on his blog at Answers in Genesis, he sees the main problem (in terms of priority) as that of an old earth instead of evolution. "For the secularists," writes Ham on his blog, "they have to have millions of years -- without this they can't postulate enough time for evolution." The slippery-slope does not start with Adam; for Ham, it starts with the geological timeline.

"Bottom line - -evolution is really not the problem as much as the age of the earth," says Ham. "Millions of years is the problem in today's world that has resulted in a loss of biblical authority in the church and culture and has led to an increasing loss of generations from the church." The belief that the world is millions of years old is, according to Ham, a "lie of Satan in this present world" that "permeates the church."

Shackled to a corpse?
This insistence on the Biblical creation myth is shackling Christianity to a corpse.   The widespread anti-evolution, anti-geology, anti-rationalism attitudes within  the churches will alienate an increasing number of intelligent people.   The Young Earth doctrine also requires believers to reject...

- Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is the scientific study of earth movements, which proposes that the continents have not always had their present shapes and locations, but have gradually drifted over the course of millions of years. Many of these movements are still continuing. Where plates slide past one another they give rise to seismically active faults such as the San Andreas fault in California and the Great Glen of Scotland.

- Dating by radioactive decay
When the current isotopic composition and rate of decay of radioactive isotopes in rocks is extrapolated backwards, many samples appear to be  hundreds of millions of years old. The fundamentalist counter-argument is  that the rate of decay was much higher in the early days of the earth.  However, this implies that the background radiation immediately post-creation was hundreds of thousands of times what it is now, which would be severely damaging to the reproductive abilities of all creatures.   Living in the Garden of Eden would be equivalent to sitting on top of Chernobyl.

- Cosmology
Many of the galaxies in the Universe are so far away that light has taken millions of years to travel from them. But according to Genesis, God created the stars after the earth, so in theory we shouldn't be able to see them.  The Fundamentalist explanation is that God has constructed a vast planetarium surrounding the solar system, from which He projects the appearance of an old universe towards us in order to tempt sinners into disbelieving the Bible.

- Genetic code
Humans and our nearest primate relatives such as chimpanzees have over 98% of the 'text' of our genetic code in common. The 'alphabet' of the code is identical.  This is totally unacceptable to Christian Fundamentalists and is explained as being a lie spread by secular humanists.

A Teachable Moment for Buddhism? 
As Christianity dumbs down, could Buddhism become more attractive to rational people in search of a religion?  Buddhism does not rely on any particular creation myth, and is philosophically more predisposed to evolution than to creationism.

Special Creation and essentialism
Creationists believe that species are unchanging and derive their forms by reference to a divine blueprint. Theology has long been dominated by the ideas of the Greek philosopher Plato, who taught that the species were invariant, deriving their characteristics from reference to 'essences' or 'ideal forms' which were fixed, eternal and inherently existent.

Buddha with cherry blossom

To a Creationist a rose is a rose is a rose, and would smell as sweet by any other name. There is no way a rose bush could fade into a strawberry plant, or a cherry tree, or a tangle of brambles, or a mountain ash, or a raspberry cane, or a hawthorn bush, or an apple tree. These are all totally distinct and immediately recognisable species - separate types of plant with nothing in between. Theologians base their time reckoning on the chronology of the Bible which states that the world and all its species were created in six days of a single week around 4004 BC .

Burnet rose

Evolution and impermanence
Evolutionists believe that species arose by gradual change from simpler forms. Strawberry plants, cherry trees, blackberries, raspberries, hawthorns and apples all have a family likeness because they all arose from a common ancestor, which resembled a primitive rose. Hence botanists call this plant family the Rosaceae.


Similarly, all primates (including humans and apes) have a common ancestor. Going back further, all species of mammals diverged from a common ancestor, and so on into the dim and distant past until we reach one common ancestor of all lifeforms, which originated the DNA coding which is universal for all plants, animals, fungi and bacteria on earth.

Consequently, to evolutionists the biological species concept does not reflect any underlying reality. A species is purely a snapshot of an interbreeding population of organisms at a particular epoch in time, and as time progresses the characteristics of that population will gradually change in response to selective pressures.

From 'Evolution' in Buddhism A to Z

Buddhist philosophy
Buddhist philosophy is evolutionary and thus agrees with the scientists rather than the theologians. Buddha taught that all things are impermanent, constantly arising, becoming, changing and fading . Buddhist philosophers consequently rejected the Platonic idea of production from 'ideal forms' as being the fallacy of 'production from inherently existent other'. 
According to most schools of Buddhism there is nothing whatsoever that is inherently or independently existent.

The two main creationist objections to evolution are:
1 Disagreement with Genesis
2 Blurring of the theological distinction between human and animal

Neither of these pose any threat to Buddhist philosophy. The first objection is based on the need to maintain the truth of a particular creation story in order to preserve the underlying basis for all Biblical truth. This is not a worry to Buddhists because there is no corresponding Buddhist creation myth, and Buddhist philosophers have always accepted that the universe is many hundreds of millions of years old.

The second theological objection is that evolution states that there is a continuum between ape and man, i.e. human and animal.(A favourite anti-evolutionary slogan is 'Don't let them make a Monkey of You!). 
This is not a problem for Buddhists, who believe that both humans and animals possess sentient minds which survive death.  However, it is a major problem for theologians. The church has always taught that only humans have immortal souls, whereas animals are automata whose minds cease at death.
Christians believe that humans and animals were created separately and hence are totally different types of being. But if there was a gradual transition between animal and man, as the evolutionists claim, then such theological beliefs fall apart.

The theologians are left with three alternative unpalatable viewpoints:

- Both humans and animals are and always have been automata (the materialist's position).
- Both humans and animals are sentient beings whose minds survive death (the Buddhist position)
- At some arbitrary date in the past, the apemen were suddenly equipped with souls.

The undermining of the doctrine of the distinction of human from animals is probably an even greater threat to the theological viewpoint than doubt about the literal truth of Genesis.

Buddhism could attract increasing numbers of adherents by emphasizing its compatibility with science, in contrast with the increasing irrationalism and intellectual degeneracy of both Christianity and Islam.

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy


sunyavadin said...

I am a student of Buddhism and agree with a great deal of your commentary on these issues. But I don't think that Ken Ham and young-earth creationism are representative of the mainstream Christian view. There are considerably more sophisticated Christian views that that around. And I agree that Buddhism (and Indian thought generally) has an evolutionary perspective, but it would never agree with the fundamental Darwinian view that 'mind is a product of matter'. That is an unbridgeable gulf.

seanrobsville said...

I agree that mind is NOT a product of matter. See


Even Richard Dawkins rejects Darwinian determinism: