Creationism and Critical Thought
Later this month, the Wabash Christian Men will host Dr. David N. Menton, a creationist speaker from the group Answers in Genesis. If recent history serves as an indicator, the reaction from the most vocal corners of our campus will be swift and negative. Eyes will roll, skeptics will scoff, and The Bachelor, no longer able to fill its pages with actual news, will write an editorial or two expressing its indignation.
Such outrage has typified the reaction to the last two Wabash Christian Men speakers, both of whom spoke on the effects of pornography – and had the audacity to frame their struggles with it in spiritual terms. The reactions had a similar theme: that religion, or the evangelical Christianity anyway, could never be mixed with academics – that the lectures, being motivated by a religious agenda, were tainted and devoid of academic value. “We do not have a problem with religion in and of itself,” The Bachelor wrote after Michael Leahy presented Porn Nation to Wabash College last spring, “However, we do have a problem passing religion off as some sort of honest and open exploration of an issue.” In other words, conservative Christianity is all right for dunces who do not wish to engage in “honest and open” discussion. But when those dunces start to give lectures in an academic environment, why, then, the entire foundation of critical thought at Wabash is beginning to crumble!
Those looking for a complete separation of church and thought will not likely be pleased with Dr. Menton’s style. His lectures are often laced with Biblical passages and overt Christian references. He leaves no doubt that his agenda is an evangelical one. He believes that he has a duty to “reach teens and college students with the creation / gospel message,” according to the Answers in Genesis website. However, his arguments, should his many inevitable critics on this campus choose to listen, are not entirely without merit. They are, to say the least, acceptable contributions to our College’s discourse—certainly not to be discarded because of their spiritual nature.
Dr. Menton received his B.A. from Mankato State University in Mankato, Minnesota, and his Ph. D. in cell biology from Brown University. He taught anatomy at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he was honored as “Professor of the Year” in 1998. He has written numerous papers on creation science and contributed his writing to the book War of the Worldviews, along with eight of his fellow creationist from Answers in Genesis. Dr. Menton recently gained a larger level of national prominence due to the opening of the well-publicized Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, in 2007. He has appeared on the media circuit in promotion of the museum, most notably on ABC’s World News Tonight with Charles Gibson.
The controversial Creation Museum, which promotes the idea of a young earth in which man and dinosaurs once lived side by side, is funded by donations to Answers in Genesis – an evolution, so to speak, of various creationist groups from the 1970s which were composed of scientists who bucked the scientific majority on the origin of earth and mankind in favor of a worldview still compatible with the Biblical accounts in Genesis. Their ideas are, at a minimum, very debatable. But at Wabash College, there should be a free market of ideas. If ideas are debatable, then let there be debate. The visceral reaction to Christian speakers from many on campus sometimes gives the impression that creationists are correct in one of their common criticisms of their critics—that they are afraid to hear alternative points of view.
Dr. Menton is most certainly a creationist. He believes the Biblical account of Genesis to be literal fact. Critics will no doubt accuse his ideas of being “unscientific” as a result. But, as Dr. Menton has pointed out, that all depends on what the meaning of the word “science” is. “In its broadest sense, the word science merely means knowledge or experience,” he wrote in a 1998 issue of The Lutheran Witness, “But when most of us think about the wonderful achievements of science, we are generally thinking of a particular type of science known as empirical science.” Empirical science, of course, is the scientific method which we were all taught in grade school and continue to be taught at Wabash. By that definition, most creationists will admit, creation science is indeed “unscientific.”
But Dr. Menton prefers to use the word “science” in the much broader sense of gaining knowledge of the world around us – or, to a creationist, knowledge of God’s handiwork. The creation scientist’s dispute, then, is not with science itself, but with the narrow definition that it has come to represent.
He identifies what are, in his view, three problems with limiting the definition of science to empirical science alone. First, empirical science must deal with things that are observable. Second, the phenomena that are being observed must be repeatable. And third, the hypotheses that are generated by the observations must be testable. His argument is that neither the theory of evolution nor creation is “science” in this regard. In an empirical sense, neither will ever be proven “scientifically.” Neither will ever be scientific fact. The creationist’s belief in Genesis is more by faith than by evidence. The creationist’s agenda is more to critique theories which make that account impossible, than to prove the account itself to be true.
Dr. Menton and his fellow creationists, along with the less officially religious proponents of “Intelligent Design,” do just that. They offer critiques of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some of their points are valid. Some of them, most likely, are not. But a critique of evolution should be welcomed on this campus just as much as a critique of any other theory, regardless of the speaker’s religious beliefs or motivations.
The critiques offered by creationists vary from individual to individual, but most of them focus on the inherent complexity of life on earth and argue that it is impossible, or infinitely improbable, for such life to emerge by random mutation. Dr. Menton, being a professor of anatomy by trade, likes to focus on the human eye. He likes to point out that Charles Darwin himself marveled over its complexity. The human eye is an organ of matchless sophistication, each individual part seemingly dependent upon the rest of the eye to function properly. For such an incredibly interdependent organ to evolve by virtue of random mutations, creationists posit, would be near impossible, since each step leading up to final product would not be functional and would be subject to elimination by natural selection. Darwin had an explanation for the eye’s evolution (one that is admittedly far too complex for the simple history major writing this piece to even attempt to outline), but even he freely acknowledged that the proposition that such an incredible instrument evolved by chance seemed to be “absurd in the highest possible degree.”
Continuing to focus on his specialty in the realm of anatomy, Dr. Menton also builds similar cases around the human ear, bones, and hair, claiming that they are far too complex to have been brought about by anything other than an intelligent Creator. He likes to quote a Scriptural proverb when talking about these points: “The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made them both” (Proverbs 20:12). For Dr. Menton, it seems that science, the study of God’s creation, is both an academic and a spiritual endeavor. The two need not be mutually exclusive. The spirituality inherent in Dr. Menton’s lectures does not limit his ability to make an argument that has secular viability, and should not be sufficient cause for the usual protesters on campus to huff and puff about his even being invited to speak. He represents a frequently neglected voice of both science and Christianity in an academic environment that is too often aggressively secular in its bias, but he is not, as his critics prone to name-calling may claim, unintelligent.
Dr. Menton has distinguished himself in the realm of academics, obtaining his Ph. D. from an Ivy League school in the scientific area of cell biology. He writes not just about creation, but about also other biology topics, including the barrier function and the biomechanics of skin. When it comes to science, he is no dunce. His arguments are often derided for the mere fact that he offers critiques of a theory that has been accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. In other words, he is ridiculed for being unwilling to accept what everyone tells him he should, for challenging the scientific status quo, for coming to his own conclusions about a subject where most people seem to be in lockstep. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, or even his methods of reaching them, is this not the essence of critical thought? Too often it is assumed that acknowledgment of a Creator inhibits critical thought. It is time that more respect is afforded to those for whom critical thought leads to acknowledgment of a Creator.