A Paul Mirecki, U. of Kansas professor of religious studies, recently resigned due to the stir he caused there by insulting religious fundamentalists (some of whom go to that school) because of their creationist views. The CNN report, "Anti-creationism prof quits department chair," summarizes the situation this way,
A recent e-mail from Mirecki to members of a student organization referred to religious conservatives as "fundies" and said a course describing intelligent design as mythology would be a "nice slap in their big fat face." Mirecki apologized for those comments.
Perhaps if he had toned down his insulting rhetoric, without necessarily pulling his intellectual punches, he might have come out smelling like a rose.
As it happens, I agree with him that creationism is a myth. One need not reject the content of Genesis 1-3 to come to that conclusion. The same God who designed and created space-time also inspired human authors to write the Book of Genesis. It is helpful to realize that the Book of Genesis was not written as a treatise on cosmology, but as instruction in fundamentals of faith:
- God is the origin of all things.
- God made human beings to share in his attributes of intellect and free will -- his image and likeness.
- God chose to create human beings as male and female. This complementarity was an intentional adjunct to our being made in the image of God, who is Father and Son, united in a love so total it is the third person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
- Our first parents, who were in some way a special creation of God, chose to limit their trust in God, and to seek their own will rather than his. This imperfect cooperation corrupted their ability to receive subsequent blessings from God, and predisposed them to seek their own will, rather than God's, in the future.
- As their children, we all inherited that tendency to sin, known as concupiscence.
- In addition to our wills being darkened, our minds were also darkened.
- Besides losing trust in God, we also lost trust in each other. We came to feel embarrassment when exposed to others, rather than total ease.
Apart from the realization of God's trinitarian nature (which is only hinted at in Genesis), all of this is abundantly clear from Genesis 1-3.
None of this contradicts what cosmologists say about the structure or history of space-time. (It doesn't even contradict what Prof. Stephen Hawking says about modelling the originial singularity.)
It leaves open deep questions that only science in cooperation with revelation could uncover, such as when in history did human beings acquire free will? Where were Adam and Eve (or whatever the names of our first parents were) before the Fall? For example, did the physics of the universe change after the Fall, or did our first parents, in some way, step into space-time, in continuity with the evolution of human beings from more primitive forms? If the latter, where did they "step from?" Did God regularly intervene in the evolutionary history of the world, or did he design the universe in such a way that evolution could operate on its own?
None of this is known, and it is not likely that much of it can be known. None of these questions are amenable to a purely scientific assessment. Indeed, to take the last question, science is forced by its own limitations to assume that evolution operates without miraculous intervention, and to try to discover the principles that explain the phenomena that show up in the fossil record, even though this project is doomed from the start if the answer to the question is that God regularly intervenes.
Nevertheless, in spite of these limitations, science can answer some very important questions. For example, cosmologists have shown, quite definitively, that the universe is on the order of 15 billion years old. Geologists have shown, quite definitively, that the earth is some 6 billion years old. Paleontologists have shown, quite definitively, that dinosaur fossils go back hundreds of millions of years. Anthropologists have shown that primitive anthropoids go back some 6 million years, and Homo Sapiens goes back over 160,000 years. All of these things are challenged by people who call themselves creationists, and all of the arguments presented by creationists are easily demolished by physical evidence and reason.
Prof. Mirecki may have been imprudent in his insults, but he was not wrong in his scientific judgments regarding creationism. Creationism is a myth, and people have every right and duty to oppose its presentation in the school system as a "competing theory."
Where we run into problems in the current day discussion is where we come upon questions that science cannot answer definitively, questions that properly belong to a different category of inquiry, known as meta-physics. It is here where the so-called "design" theory comes into play. The deep questions are open to speculation, but there is very little one can do to answer such questions, without resort to data that is not properly the province of science.