While looking through past sermons to see what I’ve said before on a particular text, I stumbled across this sermon that I preached a little over three years ago. In the hopes that it might turn up in someone’s search engine, let’s see if we can’t shed a little light on the so-called Creation Museum and reveal what it really does: put faith to death. This sermon was originally preached at St. James Episcopal Church, in Greenville, SC.
Trinity Sunday Year C
3 June 2007
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Canticle 13
Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
This past week marked the opening of a uniquely American venture: The Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY. According to an ABC News Online article, “The museum is intended to convince visitors that [the scientific theory of] evolution is wrong and that the biblical story of life on earth from Adam and Eve to Noah’s ark is scientifically verifiable. The museum depicts Adam living with animals, including a dinosaur.” Science has said it is impossible that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time.
Designed by the same person who designed many of the theme parks for Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, the $27 million dollar edifice contains animatronic dinosaurs, a movie theater with seats that rumble, and high-tech exhibits that depict a two-story section of Noah’s Ark which has a dinosaur on board, that the Grand Canyon took only a few days to form as a result of Noah’s Flood, and that Cain married his sister to people the earth.
The goal of the museum is to challenge the prevailing scientific view of the earth’s origins that, according to Answers in Genesis president and founder, Ken Ham, threaten the faith of Christians, and that have brought about social ills such as abortion and pornography.
A recent ABC News poll revealed that sixty percent of Americans believe that God created the earth and all that is in it within the last 10,000 years. It matters not that it only takes eight minutes for light from the sun to strike the earth, while it took one million years for the energy we see as sunlight to move from the center of the sun where it is generated to the surface of the sun where it is radiated, because the Bible, they claim, reveals that the world could not possibly be more than 10,000 years old.
Scientific findings say that the first homo sapiens entered the geologic calendar somewhere between 400 to 200 thousand years ago, and bones have been found to support this data. Fundamentalists claim carbon dating of bones is flawed. And on and on and on it goes, where it stops, nobody knows.
Tempting as it is to stand here and having set-up an easy target, take numerous pot shots at it, I don’t think that serves anybody well. The battle between modernity and the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible as presented by the fundamentalist movement is about or just a little over one hundred years old in America. Having grown up in a religious home and church environment that held these views as precious truths, I have some empathy for the people who hold them, even though I no longer feel sympathetic toward their views.
In the New Testament, I simply never see Jesus ridiculing someone for their beliefs; but I do see Jesus often challenging self-satisfied beliefs, challenging unjust, tyrannical systems that hold people down, beliefs that hold people hostage figuratively or literally, or beliefs that some people are less than human.
The people who’ve built this museum for their particular set of beliefs would probably claim that they are following the example of Jesus, in challenging the smug certainty of evolution and its God-less lack of any moral absolutes. To the contrary, however, it is two statements made in the media that I, as a minister of the Gospel in a church of mainstream Christian tradition, wish to challenge.
In the ABC News story, we read, “’In an evolutionary world view, why should you have things like absolute morality? Why would it be wrong to kill someone?’ said Jason Lisle, of Answers in Genesis. ‘I’m not saying that evolutionists aren’t moral. I’m saying they have no reason to be moral.’”
Though Jean Baptiste de Lamarck in 1801 first espoused some ideas that we would recognize today as suggesting a kind of evolution of a species, it is with the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s Origins of the Species that we typically mark as the beginning of “an evolutionary world view.” Did you know that Darwin was set to be an Anglican clergyman until he was invited onto the HMS Beagle for its five-year botanical mission? After returning home and publishing his books, I seriously doubt he abandoned his sense of morality. I doubt he killed anyone, though his critics would claim that he wished to kill trust in the Holy Scriptures.
And for centuries and millennia before Darwin, even before the construction of the Bible from widely different sources of over thousands of years—history, poetry, oral stories passed down for generations, and even personal letters—there have been ethical systems and moral people walking the planet, seeing good in others and treating others well, whether they believed in God, and especially Christianity’s God, or not.
To claim that just because someone assents to the theory of evolution as a plausible explanation for the varieties of life on the planet and in the fossil record “they [now] have no reason to be moral” taxes the limits of human logic and reason–two qualities of “wisdom,” which is itself praised by the Bible in the Proverbs lesson today.
Even in the earliest days of the church, the ethical systems of Aristotle and Plato had much to contribute to the development of the Church’s fledgling theology. Augustine and Aquinas (much later) simply Christianized it, yet it didn’t begin with them, but with the Greeks, years before Jesus of Nazareth walked the planet and before the idea of the Bible was ever conceived.
It is ludicrous to suggest that someone who acknowledges the theory of evolution would then have no reason to love his or her spouse or remain faithful to her or him, to continue to love one’s children, or have any moral reason to resist the urge to kill someone.
But more puzzling for me on this Trinity Sunday, the Sunday on which we honor our Trinitarian experience of God, is a second claim made in this news story. To quote the article once more: “The group running the museum says there are two audiences they hope to reach: Christians who need scientific proof that their beliefs are true and non-Christians who need to be saved.”
I can only guess as to whether the Answers in Genesis group would consider anyone who did not hold their particular views about the Bible and evolution as non-Christian; I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. When one is convinced of one’s own absolute certainty about something, all dissenters get labeled as heretics or “the great unwashed.” But the claim regarding the first audience they hope to reach troubles me more: “Christians who need scientific proof that their beliefs are true.”
As I understand it, if one proves something beyond doubt, there is no need for any faith concerning it. In the Bible, faith is defined in the Letter to the Hebrews as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Things hoped for; evidence unseen.
One cannot be certain in something that is hoped for; for example: I have faith that the Chicago Cubs are going to win the World Series someday in my lifetime. I have absolutely no evidence to support this notion, but I certainly hope for it: in a sense, it is a faith statement regarding a lightweight, trivial matter, not to be confused with the serious faith claims of organized religion.
Persons of faith do not need scientific proof that their beliefs are true. By definition, matters of faith are matters beyond things that can be proven; faith is the decision to hold things as true for you without any proof. One simply chooses to accept it as so, on faith. To attempt to prove an article of faith is to effectively kill it as an article of faith; one doesn’t have faith in things that can be proven.
It surprises me that people who hold the scriptures as literally true seem to collectively forget this first verse of Hebrews, chapter 11. So it seems that the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, not only sacrifices the disciplines of good science, but it also sacrifices the concept of genuine faith. What motive actually lies behind this faith-killing effort?
After more than a decade of thinking on, and reading about, and discussing this topic, it seems to me that it is fear that drives this effort. Fear that if something in the Bible isn’t true, even scientifically true, then nothing else in the Bible could be considered reliable, either. “If you can’t depend on all of it, then you can’t depend on any of it.” This is how the domino effect argument goes, also known as the fallacy of the slippery slope. It is a logical fallacy; it does not necessarily follow that if one thing in the Bible is not factually true, then all things in the Bible are untrue.
Ultimately, I see this $27 million effort to prove religious faith as exemplary of a belief in a rather small god, a domesticated god, if you will; a god who has allegedly put the totality of all possible truth and knowledge into one book, which is claimed to have no possibility of error or contradiction, and in some respects has been elevated to the status of a god itself. I see fundamentalism as a form of idolatry, where the unbiblical worship of the text itself is more important than the message of the text.
It is a fear that God could be killed by science (as if), that God needs us to defend these essential truths, which must be treated the same way one treats the truths of mathematics or physics. It is a fear that without our efforts to support the text as inerrant, the entire edifice and structure of faith will come crashing down, a victim of the Enlightenment and its dastardly weapons of science and reason.
And so, a relationship with the text of the Bible has been substituted for a relationship with the living, Creator God to whom the Bible points.
Today, we observe Trinity Sunday, a doctrine of the church that attempts to explain that which is really beyond explaining. We humans may call God “Trinity,” but that is solely for our benefit, to help us grasp the multivalent encounters with God that humankind has recorded in Holy Scripture. The Trinity is not a total description or explanation of God. Some aspects of God remain a mystery to us in this life; but Trinity is enough for now. It is enough for us to know God personally, as well as transcendently and even sacramentally.
The Creation Museum has forgotten that certainty does not drive out fear; in matters of faith, what drives out fear is love. To follow Jesus is to love as he taught us and showed us how to love, not to worship or believe in the Bible as a substitute for loving. To follow Jesus is to attempt to do the things he did, and even greater things than he did, motivated by our love for God and love for our neighbor.
I have on the desktop of my computer at home a slide show of pictures taken of deep space by the Hubble Space telescope. They are absolutely awe-inspiring photos to me; I am dumb-founded by the beauty and vastness of the universe, its age, its order out of chaos, and—I hope and presume—its continued creation of colorful stars, gasses, dust and planets.
To ponder this incredible, ancient, too marvelous for words creation, wrought by the power of God through the forces of evolution, of billions and billions of years of existence and constant change, it brings to mind the words of the psalmist in praise to God found in Psalm 8:
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor…
O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
To live in the world as one created in the image of God, as all human beings are, is to embrace my role and part as a co-creator with God in this life. God even allows us complete and total freewill to either choose to extend the grace of God in my creations of love toward others, or to choose my own desiring, and miss the mark when I do less than what God desires for me to do.
Still, this ever-creating God blesses our best efforts and redeems our worst ones, all the time wooing us to choose the better, to aim higher, to dare to do a great thing in God’s eyes, and not be afraid of human opinion or consequence.
I find the Bible becomes even more real, more truthful and meaningful to me when I see that it reflects the fallibility and errors of the human lives that struggled to record their ineffable encounters with the Holy Trinity—words typically escape us in those encounters. But what we have in Holy Scripture is enough; Scripture has stood and will continue to stand the test of time.
I can see myself better in its pages when those pages are smudged with the fingerprints of human frailty, yet reveal a heart which still pursues the Holy One in Three. I find that it fosters greater faith in me when biblical truth resonates within me as an experience of faith and hope, rather than as a “fact” that I can either take or leave.
So, I am saddened by the opening of the Creation Museum, in Petersburg, KY; saddened that some people prefer the comfort and certainty of so-called “facts” to the vibrancy of a child-like trust in God when we embrace faith and hope and love.
Perhaps one day, when we all get to heaven—evolutionists and creationists alike—and gain that clear understanding that Paul says we shall have instead of this lifetime of looking in a dim and poor mirror image, perhaps then we shall see and understand what God had in mind for the universe, Creation and evolution, for us as co-creating humankind, made in God’s image, and for the Holy Scriptures themselves.
Perhaps we shall all be as dumb-founded and awe-filled then as we are now when looking at photos from the deepest reaches of space, beholding the majesty, beauty and wonder of God’s glorious, ever-evolving, ever-loving Created Order.
O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted, indeed, is your Name in all the Universe!