Saturday, July 26, 2014

Creationism and .... Gnosticism (!?)

The gnostic solution to human unhappiness is gnosis: complete knowledge—descriptive and normative—of the origins of the fall, the scandal of evil and the pathway to redemption. ... Knowledge of the course that history must run from beginning to end if what transforms the gnostic from a person of "mere" faith into a revolutionary filled with the missionary zeal of fanatical certainty. Whether formally acknowledge of not, one is saved in gnostic soteriology not by pistis (faith) but by gnosis (knowledge) that serve as a "liberating science" or "diagnosis-therapy" of the human condition and counter-explanation of material realities.

... It [Gnosticism] is indeed a revolutionary "science" that frees the true believer from the "false consciousness" associated with ordinary science, fallen human senses and rationality. ...

[Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 91-2]

A rather bizarre attack against creationism by Osborn comes in chapter 7 when he attempts to stick the odious charge of Gnosticism onto creationists. Osborn does acknowledge the fundamental difference between the two as systems of thought, viz, that creationists affirm the goodness of matter while Gnostics denigrate it (p. 88). Osborn attempts to make the charge stick by broadening it from particular doctrines of Gnosticism to a "gnostic" spirit of a "general orientation towards the problems of suffering and alienation" (p. 89). Now, since Gnosticism borrows from Christianity (and the mystery religions), some level of similarity of Gnosticism with orthodox Christianity is unavoidable. The question however to be asked is whether any of these supposed qualities of the "gnostic spirit" are unbiblical, not whether they are found in varieties of Gnosticism.

A key attack upon creationism with regards to the "gnostic spirit" is the idea that creationists deny science for some "deeper" science of esoteric knowledge. Creationists also tend towards salvation by gnosis. Both of these betray a very real ignorance of creationism on the part of the author, which, among other reasons, makes me wonder how much research into creationism he has actually done before writing this book.

First of all, creationists do not deny science for some "deeper" or esoteric science. We have always held that the science is there for anyone to see. The problem is that evolutionists obscure the evidences and postulate multiple ad hoc hypotheses to protect their main theory. Since Osborn does not deal at all with the sciences, his claim is just that, a mere claim without proof. Attacking evolution is not the same as attacking science, in the same way that questioning global warming (or any other controversial topic) is not a denial of climate science. Osborn has not shown any familiarity with the scientific arguments against evolution, so he has no evidence to back up his supposed claims about esoteric, "gnostic" science.

Secondly, Osborn has not shown any understanding of the relation between knowledge and faith. Faith in contemporary Reformed parlance is stated to be made up of the three elements notita (knowledge), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust). Notice that faith includes at least some knowledge; one cannot have faith in someone or something without some knowledge of what the object of the faith is. So to state that one is saved by knowledge just because creationism emphasizes the importance of getting the truth of creation right is an error. Moreover, creationists in general do not believe that one has to hold to YEC in order to be saved. It is a matter of consistency, not a matter of salvation. So the second charge by Osborn does not stick at all.

Lastly, it amuses me to see Osborn trying to lump in the quality of "permanent revivalism" as being part of the "gnostic spirit": that the small group of elitists are out to "change the world" (p. 90-1). If there is anything about Gnosticism, it is that the spiritual, the pneumatichoi, are not interested in helping the psychikoi (soulish) or the sarkikoi (fleshly). Rather they are occupied with personal ascension towards paradise. Here also, Osborn's ignorance of history shows. Revivalism is a post-millennial concept especially from the Second Great Awakening in America, and something supported by the "progressives" of the times (i.e. New Have theology, Charles Finney and Oberlin theology), not by so-called "Fundamentalists." The difference between the "Fundamentalists" and the "Liberals" is that the Fundamentalists kept the evangelistic part of revivalism, while the Liberals kept the social activist aspect of revivalism.


Ron said...

Contrary to what you have written, I do not directly equate creationism with Gnosticism, as Conor Cunningham does in his excellent book “Darwin’s Pious Idea”. Rather, I point out that SOME versions of creationism display decidedly Gnostic tendencies–those, for example, that appeal to esoteric knowledge and that see the creation/evolution debate in sharply Manichean terms as an epic struggle of good versus evil. In fact, I argue in explicit opposition to Cunningham that claiming that all creationists are Gnostic or quasi-Gnostic is “too broad an indictment that does not correspond to the lives and thinking of many creationists I know.” It is unfortunate that once more you have demonstrated your inability to carefully attend to an author's work.

PuritanReformed said...


true, you did make that qualifier, but one qualifier against an entire chapter painting creationism as mostly Gnostic? It seems to me that your qualifier is merely trying to say that some versions of creationism are less Gnostic, a matter of degree as it is. I don't see any qualifier that suggests a difference in kind not in degree.