The Answers to the Future Lie in our Past
There are some who claim the earth is only between six and ten thousand years old. These people believe that the earth was formed as is, by the hand of God in only six days. These are the proponents of a “Young Earth Hypothesis”, and they cling to this idea for several reasons, not the least of which is found in religious indoctrination, and a system which depends upon the efficacy of their holy texts which claim this to be the case. While most people will look at this hypothesis and simply dismiss it as lunacy with the wave of a hand, the fact that I feel compelled to write about it means that I see it as a real problem.
Many say that beliefs of this sort are harmless, for what difference does it really make? Let the people believe what they want, and just get on with life, right? To that I say, there are implications in this set of beliefs that are harmful to our present state, for denying the roots from which we came can only make our future more difficult to deal with. So what are these implications?
The Young Earth Hypothesis depends completely on the words of the Old Testament. It says that the earth was created in six days by God, and that during those days, all the plants and animals we see on earth, as well as the sun, moon and stars, were all placed here “as is”, and the cycles of the earth began from there. From here, man was created first, and woman as an afterthought to keep him company. The earth’s central point was the Garden of Eden, which contained all creatures, and one would assume that this means everything from alligators to chimpanzees to kangaroos. This was a place where everything was provided for one man, including a mate, and this man would never be found wanting. There was no pain, no suffering, and no death, and all the creatures lived in harmony with one another. (One can only assume, at this juncture, that the rest of the universe was only created as a backdrop in which to play out God’s grand plan.) This, according to the story, was between six and ten thousand years ago.
It’s a story that sprung from the minds of people who had a very limited range of knowledge. Kangaroos would never have been envisioned to be in the Garden of Eden, because the people who invented this story would have had no knowledge of such a creature. However, if the Garden of Eden indeed contained all the creatures on earth, as claimed, then it would have also contained naked mole rats, whip-scorpions, liver flukes, bott-flies and tapeworms, not to mention Sumatran tigers and penguins, for these are among the many and diverse animals we know to exist in today’s world. Presumably, these animals had no need for sustenance in the Garden of Eden, for what would a tiger eat if not other animals?
The fact that man was created first, from dust, and woman only came after shows that this story was written by a male, and one who was trying to reconcile this origins story with his own prejudices about the nature of male/female interplay. It was phrased in such a way that man was seen as most important in the chain of things, and woman as a companion for man.
To a believer, this story is all they need to stop asking questions. It contains just enough explanation as to sate the initial eternal human question “Where did we come from?”, and does little else. On can imagine the thought process going a little like this:
“The earth is how it is right now, and I have known nothing else, so it must have always been this way.”
As silly as this may sound, to a civilization that had little knowledge of its own history, very few, if any, written documents outlining the past, and a limited lifespan within generations, this makes complete logical sense. One can only deduce the facts in a situation based upon the information they have at hand. When ancient man looked about himself at the animals and plants, it seemed to him that the earth was perfectly suited for life to exist upon, yet the reverse is true; Life is perfectly suited to exist upon earth.
To an inquiring mind, the Young Earth Hypothesis raises more questions than it answers, and these questions, when answered truthfully, unravel this hypothesis in one fell swoop. The biblical accounts show just how uncreative the ancient people were, and also how willing they were to accept the idea of a young earth, due to their limited scope of knowledge about the wider world.
Garden of Eden aside, the real answer to the origins of the world are far more complex and occupy a much larger amount of time and history than a bronze-age author would have had the capacity to fathom. Life on this planet arose through a process called “abiogenesis“, which literally means “the beginning of life”. The process on earth began about 3.5 billion years ago, and very very slowly changed and adapted, becoming more complex along the way to arrive at what we see now. The earth’s conditions were such at the time of abiogenesis that simple life was able to occur, and as the earth changed, cooled and solidified, the conditions also changed. We can watch the process of adaptation in the lab and field, and we call this adaptation “evolution”. All creatures have evolved over millions of years to the state that now occupy, but the simplicity of this description belies the incredibly complex and diverse nature of the process itself. Without re-writing what has been written many times, the facts stack up in favour of this version of events, and as we learn more, the more amazing and incredible the real story becomes.
Having the tools of science and history at our fingertips, we can easily deduce that the process of evolution has no teleological end, and that every creature continues to evolve as the planet constantly changes. Adaptation is the key word here, not a conscious adaptation, but one that happens through evolutionary natural selection. (Forgive my use of the words “creature” and “selection” here, for they are in themselves loaded with creation and teleological subtexts. The terminology, I’m afraid, can and will be used against this argument by those who wish to turn a blind eye to it, but semantics in this case are a moot point.)
So what’s the harm in believing that the earth was created for us? They are many and varied, not the least of which is the idea that, if the earth is here for us, then we must use it as such. Biblical texts actually state that the earth, and all upon it were placed here for humans to use, and by this idea, believers can and do use this as an excuse to consume everything the planet has to offer in the name of their beliefs. Of course, as we have seen in recent years, the earth is a finite system, and one that can, and will, run out of natural resources if we continue to use them in the manner that we do. This is in no way blaming religion for the way our consumerist societies have decided to conduct themselves, rather, it is pointing out that to a believer, the use of resources is condoned. Of the earth was created for man, then it is only right that we use up what we can to make our lives more comfortable, rather than preserving what we have for posterity.
Another thing that Young Earth Creationism does is satiate our lust for knowledge and replaces is with an overly simplified version of events. Our progress as a species depends upon our ability to observe, predict and reproduce our findings. Not only in a lab, but in practice too, we create new and better ways to do things by manipulating the objects and materials we have at hand, and this can only be done with an honesty toward our findings. To believe that humanity has only existed for under ten thousand years satisfies the believer into believing what is not true. From bad information comes bad beliefs, and from bad beliefs can only come bad decisions.
There are no arguments in existence that can back a Young Earth Hypothesis. Every iota of knowledge we have gleaned in human history points away from a young earth, to a very ancient and complex universe. However there are those who stand by the hypothesis as fact, and will do anything they can to back their position. They even have a list of questions to avoid when debating the subject, because the rigours of reality have debunked these lines of inquiry. These debates always take the form of a creationist claim being called into question, then the refutation coming from a firm knowledge of our historical reality, then the creationist catchcry “Well how do you explain [insert biblical account here]?” The problem is, we don’t need to explain any biblical accounts, for they are just stories.
I can see, gradually and slowly, that these people are losing traction in the debate, and will continue to do as as long as we continue to learn. But be warned, our futures depend upon our knowledge of the past, and knowledge is dependent upon education, and particularly secular education. If we ignore the need to continue to learn, we do so at our own peril. Education is an investment in our futures, and will only pay off in time. If we do not educate, if we do not continue to learn as individuals, and if we do not stand behind the need for rational and real debate, we will find ourselves in a world of trouble. At this point, we will look back and ask ourselves “Where did it all go?”
Douglas Adams puts it best in his “Puddle Analogy”: