Sunday, September 02, 2007

Lucy and the Beginning of Humans

This morning's San Antonio Express-News announces that a museum in Houston will continue with their plans to display the remains of Lucy, the most famous member of the australopithicus aferensis species. Scientists for many years believed that hominids probably evolved a larger brain at least at the same time--if not before--as they developed a full bipedal mode of walking. But Lucy changed that thought. Discovered in the early 1970s, she stood about 3 feet 8 inches tall, clearly walked on two legs, but still had a small brain capacity. Her kind roamed parts of the earth 1.5 to 4 million years ago. The big controversy for most people is whether or not Lucy should be allowed to travel and be displayed, or should such a find as this be protected from the probably accidents such a trip would incur.

But if you're a typical young-earth creationist, as I was until probably only 10 years ago myself, there are so many things in that first paragraph that you disagree with you can't see straight anymore, and they don't have anything to do with whether or not Lucy is fit for a tour. Creationist viewpoints range from such hominids as Lucy didn't really exist (the totally anti-intellectual viewpoint found in extreme fundamentalism Christianity, where Satan has manipulated the fossil record to trick us) to such hominids existed but are now extinct, not surviving long after the Deluge of Genesis 6. The age of the earth is chalked up to that Deluge, when God told Noah to build an ark and then he destroyed the rest of the world, wanting to start again with Noah's family and the animals he rescued. I hope to spend several posts showing how my own understanding has evolved in understanding evolutionary process and scientific theory in general.

10 or so years ago I had begun to see what I thought were horribly anti-intellectual turns among conservative Christians here in the US. While a staunch conservative myself, I was beginning to be challenged with alternative points of view, mostly as a reaction to the extreme fundamentalism I saw in my own tradition. I will not be able to do justice in just a few paragraphs to my changes in thought, but one early important piece was reading Hugh Ross's book Creation and Time (published 1994 by NavPress). Ross is an astronomer by education, and for him the stars in the sky point to the fact that the universe cannot be only 10-25,000 years old, unless you really start to say theologically that God is trying to trick us.

If the speed of light is a constant, then it took an enormous amount of time for the light of particular stars to come to earth, much much more than 25,000 years. In fact, even most Christian astronomers, according to Ross, believe the earth to be the 4 billion or so years that other scientists believe. To see anything else is to manipulate the clear evidence. Ross is what is called an 0ld-earth Creationist, or progressive Creationist. He rejects the idea of evolution having answers for the variety of life and the intelligence of humans today, but he believes that the clear evidence points to a very old earth. Even this is villified by the fundamentalists as some sort of capitulation to science at the expense of biblical truth. I will deal specifically with this thought (scientific truth contradicts biblical facts) in a later post.

For now though, I had evolved myself to thinking that old-earth creation better represents the facts as I knew them, and did not contradict a reading of the Bible except for the forced pseudo-literal reading of extreme fundamentalism. Conservative evangelicals will at this point probably see me heading right down a slippery slope into liberal theology, just like those who condemn the thinking of Hugh Ross, and leave me for "dead" theologically. But if you're still with me, I will pick up at this point in my next post.

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