by Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger
In his article, “Geocentrism and Creation,” Answers in Genesis (AiG) resident astronomer Danny Faulkner laments that “while geocentrists are well intended, their presence among [young Earth] creationists produces an easy object of ridicule by our critics.”
This is a revealing statement. In claiming that geocentrism is ridiculous Faulkner is also implying that young Earth creationism is intellectually credible, i.e, “they” are crazy, but “we” are within the bounds of legitimate science. Interestingly, geocentrists make similar appeals to scientific legitimacy. Gerardus Bouw – author of Geocentricity: Christianity in the Woodshed – told journalist Daniel Radosh that his serious scientific labors really needed to be distinguished from “those other, really crazy geocentrists” (Rapture Ready, 294).
Of course, in his efforts to “mainstream” young Earth creationism Danny Faulkner elides the obvious point that many Christians find young Earth creationism itself (with its claims that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and that humans walked the Earth with dinosaurs) to be bizarre and embarrassing.
But Faulkner’s concern with ridicule raises an interesting question about the role of science in young Earth creationism. Why bother with science at all? Why a Creation Museum? If Christians are to stand on the authority of the inerrant Bible – factually accurate in all that it teaches, including what it teaches about science and history – then isn’t that enough? “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Right?
Not really. It turns out that the Bible is not nearly enough for young Earth creationism.
As we argue in Righting America at the Creation Museum, biblical writers (and basically everyone else in those days) understood the cosmos in the following terms:
the Earth is flat, circular, and immovable and is surrounded by a sea. Enclosing both the Earth and the sea is a fixed dome or firmament with stars embedded in it. The Sun crosses that dome each day. Above the dome are heavenly waters and a heavenly realm beyond that (104-105).
The fact that biblical writers assumed this ancient cosmology is made apparent by statements made in both the Old and New Testaments. To highlight just a few examples, Genesis talks about God setting the two great lights “in the dome of the sky” (1:16-17). Psalm 19 (verse 6) describes the Sun crossing the sky each day. And the Apostle Paul assumes a three-tiered cosmos in his letter to the Philippians when he says that all will bow to the name of Jesus and then, to underscore the point that all will bow, says that he means those in all three tiers of the cosmos: the heaven, the earth, and under the earth (2:10).
Of course, it makes sense that the Bible reiterates the understanding of the cosmos that people (including the biblical authors) took to be true at the time. And given AiG’s commitment to a literal reading of the Bible, it is especially notable that the images of the universe on display at the Creation Museum reflect not that ancient cosmology but, instead, modern scientific understandings of our solar system and the universe. There are lots of images of the Earth, our solar system, the Milky Way, and so forth at the Creation Museum. None of them conform to the ancient cosmology of the Bible. The Earth appears as a sphere floating in the vast expanse of the universe rather than as a flat circle surrounded by water. Instead of the Sun moving across a dome that is part of a three-tiered structure, the Sun is shown at the center of a solar system with eight large planets (the Earth among them) orbiting it. All this would seem to suggest that when it comes to representing the cosmos at the Creation Museum, mainstream science rather than a literal reading of the Bible has won the day.
In her brilliant study, The Book of Jerry Falwell, Susan Harding makes the observation that in “fundamentalist rhetorical combat” the winner is the one who can “establish his biblical interpretation is ‘more literal’ than another’s” (73). This is true as far as it goes, but “more literal” is not enough in itself, and sometimes the interpretive victory can take decades. Take, for example, young Earth creationism. It has always been “more literal” than old Earth creationism. But old Earth creationism held sway in American evangelicalism until John Whitcomb and Henry Morris’ The Genesis Flood (1961) – which argued that the geological features that give the “appearance” of an old Earth were really the product of Noah’s Flood – swept through American evangelicalism.
It turns out that the cultural capital of science remains very powerful in modernity. This is true even among biblical creationists, who seek – need – the imprimatur of respectable, not ridiculous (at least to some percentage of evangelicals) science. But if and when those creationists who believe – like Gerardus Bouw – that the sun revolves around the earth get a geocentric version of The Genesis Flood, then the “more literal” geocentric take on the Bible will likely supplant young Earth creationism in the hearts and minds of American evangelicals and fundamentalists.
More literal wins, but it needs the cover of something that looks like science. The Bible, in and of itself, is not enough.
As a College of the Ozarks alum (’85) and former U.S. History student of yours, Dr. Trollinger, I’m delighted to find this blog and read it regularly. As the only (begotten) son of a pastor in a very conservative Baptist church, my rearing echoes many of your observations. Thankfully, I attended that “liberal Presbyterian college”–as my mother put it!–and began there in earnest a logical, historical-critical approach to the interpretation of scriptures that has changed my life significantly for the better. Again, thanks for this blog–may it profoundly encourage and affirm countless other recovering literalists!
It is great to hear from you, David — thanks for your good response. As you know very well, there are many, many recovering literalists out there!