Creationism and Australia’s First Nations

by Doru Costache

I don’t refer in public to private conversations, not usually, but since this one does not amount to confession or spiritual guidance, I’ll give it a go. In short, the other day I was approached by a man who enquired about Orthodox Christianity. I asked how did he stumble on my name and he pointed to the usual culprit, @sgtmission, which is where most people find me when they don’t look for my academic work.

No matter. During the conversation, my interlocutor enquired about the acknowledgment of country we include before we pray, not finding it appropriate in the context of worship. He was mildly pleased when I pointed out that it’s not part of the services. This took me by surprise, anyway, as most historical Christian churches acknowledge country, in recognition of the more than sixty thousand years of Aboriginal life and culture here. I actually told him this, adding that it’s a form of recognising that all of us—come to these shores within the last two centuries or so—are guests, not hosts. This took him by surprise, but he quickly turned to my reference to the sixty thousand years. He asked, “Do you really believe that?” And I said, “Yes,” explaining that the archaeological and the genetic evidence proves the Aboriginal dwelling here for that entire stretch of time.

This is where the conversation turned really sour. The man dismissed my last point because of creationist convictions. “But don’t you believe in creation?,” he asked. “I do,” I replied, “but I’m no creationist. I believe in creation as a theological viewpoint on reality and in evolution as a scientific description of things.” After a moment, he said, “Well, for me creation is extremely important.” I replied cheekily, “You should stick closer to Christ than to creation.” He replied promptly, “I can’t dissociate Christ from my creationist convictions.” This is pretty much where the communication broke down, but not before my pointing to and providing a couple of links, including to my article “The Orthodox Doctrine of Creation in the Age of Science,” for further reading.

I don’t know whether I’ll hear back from him or not. If I do, despite already having had my fill of bickering over creationism and evolutionism, I would clarify that I believe in creation, not in creationism, and that I acknowledge evolution as the current scientific view of things, though I oppose evolutionism. I draw a very sharp line between the doctrine of creation, as articulated in the Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople, and creationism. The doctrine of creation simply states that everything that exists is created by the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. It does not determine the age of the universe, nor what the “technology” of creation might be. In turn, creationism amounts to a supernaturalist ideology that attempts to explain how and when things came to be. In short, creationism insists that all things exist exclusively due to divine activity, without natural factors being in any way involved; hence the very tight framework of seven thousand years, if memory serves, without which affirming God’s might would be impossible, apparently… I have to point out that, we, Orthodox, don’t believe in a God that juggles with nature as some Christians juggle with words; creationism stands against our own tradition.

Anyway, to finish the above, I’d also add that I adhere to the idea of evolution in that it accounts for the “mechanics” of nature, regardless of how superficial our understanding of the natural processes might be, while I denounce evolutionism as the other evil twin. Evolutionism is a naturalist ideology that attempts to explain nature without any reference to God’s ongoing activity in the universe. In this case, the billions of years that took the universe and life to get where they currently are would be a definitive proof of God’s inexistence, or at least inactivity… Thus, creationism is a theistic ideology, while evolutionism is an atheistic ideology. Which means, Orthodox Christians should run away from both as the devil flees from the smoke of incense, as the saying goes.

By the way, I have addressed these matters in the article mentioned above, in the very recent articles “The Cosmology of David Bohm” (coauthored with Richard de Grijs) and “Patristic and Neopatristic Antecedents of Scientifically Engaged Theology,” and in book chapters such as “One Description, Multiple Interpretations” and “A Theology of the World.” Readers might also want to consult my monograph, Humankind and the Cosmos: Early Christian Representations, where I discuss relevant issues in a number of instances.

But let me return to my pain, for the conversation referred to above saddened me deeply. Until now, I could not grasp the complex reasons that led to the failure of the Voice proposal, largely blocked by conservative Christians and right wingers, and continue to fuel the animus of these groups against the First Nations. I used to suspect many factors, of which one, seemingly freudian in nature, is unwillingness to recognise that modern Australia is built on blood and dispossession. I would have never thought, however, that creationism could play a role too. But it does. My interlocutor made that clear. In short, certain Christians cannot acknowledge the timeframe of sixty thousand years of Aboriginal inhabitation of this land because it would amount to abandoning the creationist myth of a universe created a few thousands of years ago… Acknowledgment of reality would render the myth useless. Yeah, what a loss that would be… Anyway, against the backdrop of this twisted worldview, saying “No” to the Voice—and to the First Nations more broadly—is a way of making sure creationism remains unchallenged… Ideology rules, mythology rules. Reality matters not. Nor does humanity.

Now, if Australian Christians, Orthodox or otherwise, will ever come to reject the creationist myth on the grounds I have described above, would they also reevaluate their attitude to the First Nations of this land?

31 January 2024 © AIOCS

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