There is an admirable quality to the persistence with which creationist Christians seek to defend their biblically literal worldview. Every year it seems creationists trot out new biblical texts as proof that evolution is false.
The latest so-called proof text comes from 2 Peter:3 (KJV): “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”
Creationists contend that the “scoffers” to which 2 Peter is referring are modern day scientists, or any person who accepts the theory of evolution. These so-called scoffers, “walking after their own lusts,” are accused also having the nerve to contend that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation,” and indict scientists for employing a basic scientific principle known as uniformitarianism, the “assumption that the natural processes operating in the past are the same as those that can be observed operating in the present.” To clarify, scientists use this statement: “The present is the key to the past” as a sort of shorthand for uniformitarianism.
Science does indeed maintain that the basic functions of nature remain the same today as they have in the past. The wind blows. Rain falls. Rivers carve canyons through rock. Mountains crumble under the influence of these elements. Uniformitarianism covers all the basic principles of geology.
Yet science has also long recognized the impact of catastrophic events on the earth. Volcanoes erupt. Earthquakes happen. Tectonic plates carry continents slowly around the face of the earth. When continents collide, mountains get pushed up and chunks of continental shelf get shoved down into the earth, causing more earthquakes. We know these things because they have been studied and tested and are now well understood. The world and everything on it is continually evolving. The modern evolutionary synthesis sees evolution and uniformitarianism as effective tools to describe earth’s processes.
But boy, that is a worldview that really bugs creationists, who apparently want to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to deciding who should believe what.
Creationists hate it when scientists say that nature is always changing (evolution). Yet they seem to hate it just as much when scientists say that things in nature stay the same (uniformitarianism).
Of course we all know why creationists really hate evolution: It appears to contradict the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, and how creation of the earth is interpreted literally from the Bible.
Creationist hatred for uniformitarianism is a somewhat old argument against science, yet creationism has a sustaining reason for denial of this basic scientific principle. Uniformitarianism contradicts a significant keystone of the biblically literal worldview, the Great Flood.
Creationism clings to the idea that at some point in recent world history a prodigious flood covered the entire planet. According to some creationists, the Great Flood submerged all the eath, even the tops of the tallest mountains in the world. That would mean floodwaters rose more than 5 miles above sea level, 29,000 feet of water, much of it salty, covering every square inch on earth. Somehow all that water vanished in a relative instant after covering the earth for 40 days and nights.
We know the rest of the story, too. Noah popped out of the ark, started a new family and let the animals wander free to start life all over again on planet earth. No explanation is given, of course, for how kangaroos crossed oceans to get to Australia or how blind cave salamanders wound up living underground in Kentucky. We’re all supposed to ignore these details in support of the dilivian (and delusional) theory of biblically literal creationism.
We must conclude that essentially, creationism is a science of denial.
It is ironic therefore that creationists should be the ones using 2 Peter to accuse modern day scientists of saying that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” It is evolutionists, after all, who say that nature is always changing. Even uniformitarianism recognizes that it is the dynamics of nature that stay the same in nature, not creation itself.
It is in fact creationists who claim (as in 2 Peter) that creation is forever unchanged. It is creationists who maintain that earth and mountains and seas are unmoved since the dawn of creation. It is creationists who are the true “scoffers,” doubting God’s ability to use natural processes to create complexity out of simplicity, to raise humans from the dust of genetic history and to illustrate the “promise of his coming” through consistent mention of natural wonders in the book we know as the Bible. Our concept of God in the Bible comes to us largely through the literary tool of metonymy, the use of one thing (usually nature) to describe the quality of another (God and spiritual principles.) In my book The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for the Modern Age, I describe the use of metonymy to describe God a form of organic fundamentalism. It is a far better way to read the Bible than the literal approach of creationism.
Yet creationists scoff at using the power of metaphor to describe God. Their cynical worldview of the ideas behind evolution and science also scoff at God’s truly creative powers. Creationism should therefore be justifiably subjected to Christian scorn. Creationism is neither biblical or scientific. It is a sad, anachronistic and selfish attempt to own biblical authority all for themselves. The Bible tells us God hates those kind of believers, stiff-necked, stubborn and rigid. Jesus despised the Pharisees for the same reasons.
The “last days” are indeed here for anyone who believes as creationists do. 2 Peter is a warning not to evolutionists for pursuing science, but for believers not to engage in the close-mindedness of literalism. “fFor since the fathers fell asleep” in creationism, they have closed their minds to the true wonders of God. Creationists are sleep walkers in the modern world, half aware of what is happening around them. They grasp for sleepy-minded ignorance of the past as if being half awake is the preferable reality. Their worldview is certainly no key to a healthy present or even a future with God.
Rational believers by contrast try to make sense of the Bible in a modern context. It is our duty as Christians to bring God’s word into life and reality through reconciliation of the past and the present. It is our calling, as 2 Peter really suggests, to “wake up” and reconcile the Bible with modern science, not fall asleep like our “fathers.” It is not that hard if we ony try.
Creationism clothes itself in surety and righteousness, but 2 Peter reveals that creationist scoffers have the Bible all wrong. By turning a literal Genesis into doctrine and using the reverse literalism of Revelation to know both the beginning of creation and the end of time, creationists places their faith between brittle bookends of rigidity.
Jesus Christ knew better. He taught that metaphorical is a legitimate portal to truth through his parables. Of course these truths were lost on the minds of rigid believers.
The Bible warns us not to be “stiff-necked” believers, and to avoid the “lusts” of false righteousness in our passion for God. Beware the teachings of the not-so-modern zealots behind creationism, or you could wind up on the wrong end of faith itself, a “scoffer” in the eyes of God.
* Note: the word “lusts” as it appears in 2 Peter is translated “passions” in the Revised Standard Edition. The term pertains not so much to sexual desires as it applies to habits of mind that might better be characterized as “obsessions” or “doctrine.” The King James interpretation may be favored by creationists for whom the hint of supposed depravity makes a appealing weapon for die-hard cultural warriors.