KINDS OF CREATIONISTS
…As always, the battle is not simply one of fact and truth. It is rather a struggle for the hearts and souls of people, with deep implications for the ways in which we live our lives and regulate our conduct. It is a religious or metaphysical battle, not simply a dispute about scientific theory.
—Michael Ruse, The Evolution-Creation Struggle, 2005:261
For the past few years I was becoming more and more convinced that discussing, arguing with Creationists about evolution wasn’t going to accomplish anything. The argument was not about facts, Creationists and Darwinians were talking about different things. Darwinians were talking about the reality of evolution, the scientific evidence for it. Creationists were talking about God and the Bible as a guide to a way of life. Both sides were talking past each other, neither able to convince the other side.
Recently I read the above quotation. Ruse summed up the situation succinctly: it is not about science but about how we live and how we justify it. I also realized that I was not the only one who saw this. Having said that I will deal with Creationism as if it were a science, knowing that it is probably futile. You can believe in Creationism if that is what you want, just don’t tell me it is supported by scientific facts, etc.
Some scientists will tell you that it is a waste of time, time they do not have, to rebut Creationists and pseudoscientists.1 A large factor in this reasoning is that no matter how completely you destroy their arguments, expose their false facts, bad logic, misquotes, and outright lies, they will come right back the next day with the same stupid arguments. In fact if you look back at the arguments the Catastrophists used 175, 200 years, or more ago and compare them with some of the Creationist’s arguments of today, they haven’t changed. They were wrong then and, with the greater knowledge we have today, even more wrong now.
In that respect those scientists are right, it is a waste of time. I have no real expectation of putting an end to any pseudoscience. I do have some hope that a few of the people who think that there might be “something” to the claims of one or more of the pseudosciences (esp. Creationism) will see them for what they are. What I do hope to accomplish is to use Creationism as an example of what are not science and to show how they differ from science. At the risk of being accused of a “straw man argument,” there are a number of variations on creationism (and some do not exactly make their claims explicit) that somebody is sure to claim I used an unfair model, I will try to compare and contrast pseudoscience and science. Creationism as a science is simply bad science.2 Some Creationists (the Young-Earth Creationists3) seem to avoid science all together, ignore it and simply argue on the basis of the Bible being literally true. In a way I have no argument with them, for there is no common basis. It is theology and not science. They make no claim to be scientific or even to explain scientific facts. My concern here is with those who accept the facts, try to explain them within the framework of the Bible, and claim to be scientific.
For a long time I gave the Creationists the benefit of doubt. I was willing to believe that people are basically honest and trustworthy, that they simply did not understand evolutionary theory, did not know many of the facts, or did not fully comprehend the breath and depth of the evidence. I was a junior in college when I came across a small book from the Jehovah’s Witness about evolution. At the time I had a rather limited knowledge of evolutionary theory. Even with that limited and superficial understanding, as I read through the book I could see that the author(s) had no understanding at all. That the author, or authors, were deliberately confusing the issues, falsifying ideas, and failing to understand the theory did not cross my mind. I can no longer believe that, at least not of the leaders. Maybe their followers had accepted what they have been told by the proponents of Creationism, believing that their leaders are honest (after all they are Christians). They do not have the necessary background knowledge to evaluate the claims of Creationism or to understand how they have been mislead and given a very biased, unbalanced, and distorted version. I can no longer accept that their leaders are simply and honestly mistaken. I have come to the opinion that their leaders deliberately distort the real facts, cover them up, and ignore them. They are aware of what they are doing and continue to violate the trust of their followers and take advantage of their trust and lack of knowledge. They deliberately deceive and manipulate their followers.
It is hard for me to write this post, to write it without anger and rage, because what Creationists do is, to me, one of the worst things a scientist can do. Supposedly these are the same people who believe that lying is a sin.
The debate between evolution and creation is not a scientific debate. True, there are criticisms of evolution (more properly-natural selection). Some of them are scientifically valid and discussion of them should be part of a scientific curriculum.
However, the debate between evolution and creation is a between science and religion, and therefore belongs in a theology or philosophy class. I would prefer to not talk about creationism but I cannot. I will use it to illustrate other points of view, styles of thinking, and how science differs.
In a way there is not much to argue scientifically about with creationism. There is little science in it. One critic complained that their arguments “often involved logic, a stubborn denial of the evidence, a shallow understanding, or reckless disregard for truth.”4 Another criticized the “Creation-scientists appallingly unprofessional research methods.”5 Scientists usually maintain a certain decorum in public so comments like these, and these aren’t the only ones, are indicative of a much greater depth of feeling.
Creation science denies a lot of the established scientific facts, their hypotheses are untestable (not just there aren’t testable hypotheses, see below, they just avoid them), and they try to prove that they are right rather than try to find out whether they are true. (As I read it pointed out: “As Christian, we know …”, rather than the more scientific approach of “As Christians, we hypothesize …”). Perhaps their biggest failure as scientists, is that they rarely admit to errors and never change their basic hypotheses. Scientists have to be willing to accept that everything they believe could be wrong and to change their ideas. Evolution, continental drift, quantum mechanics are all examples where scientists accepted new ideas (“paradigms”) that overthrew their earlier beliefs and ideas. Creationists may claim that they accept the possibility that their hypotheses may be wrong and would change. But they are only paying lip service. To them the Bible (at least their interpretation of it) is True, absolute truth with a capital “T.” Everything must be made to fit a biblical interpretation, no matter how tortured the logic or how much evidence has to be denied. Their arguments are little more than modernized versions of what the Catastrophists argued 200 years ago.
I came across an argument by the Creationists that implied evolution could not be true because the evolutionists disagreed among themselves. Many of these disagreements are over the details of evolution, not evolution itself, although some of the disagreements are of major importance. I recall coming across the figure of 27,000 as the number of different Christian sects, not churches but sects. Twenty-seven thousand different ideas about Christianity, different enough to form a separate group. Talk about not being able to agree.
The Creationists, themselves do not agree about all the details, and even major aspects of creation. They do seem to downplay their differences. Rather than there being a sharp division between evolution and creationism, there is a continuum between the two, as is there a continuum within creationism. At the extreme end of creationism area those who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Some believe in a stricter interpretation than others, the strictest are the Flat Earthers. Yes there are still people in the United States that believe that the Earth is flat, a flat disk. The Bible says so and that supersedes anything science says or personal observation implies.
Not quite as strict in interpretation are those who still believe in a geocentric solar system. The Earth is a sphere around which the moon, planets, a stars rotates. Their view and that of the Flat Earthers are similar to the ancient Hebrews and others before Copernicus. Of course they both believe that God created the Universe, plants, animals, and man in six days about 6000 years ago.
When people speak of Creationists they, primarily are talking about either Young Earth Creationism (YEC) or Old Earth Creationism (OEC). In both cases God created everything, nothing evolved. They both believe in a heliocentric universe. The difference between two being how much time elapsed. The YEC’s believe that the Earth is 6000-10,000 years old, maybe 15,000 at most. OEC’s believe that the Earth may be billions of years old but man is a recent creation about 6000 years ago.6
However even the OECs are divided about how God created the world, everything in it, and how long it took. There are Gap Creationists who believe there is a temporal gap between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 when God destroyed the world and then much later re-created it. There are Day-Age Creationists who believe that the Biblical day is some unspecified age of thousands or millions of years. Then there are Progressive Creationists who accept more of modern science and believe that God created progressively more advanced kinds of animals and plants over along time.
Intelligent Design Creationists (ID) can fall into one of several of the previous categories. They can believe in a Young Earth or an Old Earth. They seem to be basically willing to allow evolution but an evolution closely directed by God, even to the point that He created the appropriate mutations, etc. to create the “impossibly” impossible collections of necessary mutations for the intelligent designs.
There are also Evolutionary Creationists (EC) who seem to believe that there was evolution but God directed it to bring about the world as He planned it. And there seem to be two kinds of EC’s: the ECs who believe that God was continuously and actively involved in every detail and the Theistic Evolutionists (TE) who believe that God just started it all and it unfolds according to the laws of nature without His intervention. He may or may not have designed the laws to yield the results He wanted. TE is the view of mainline Protestants and also the Catholic Church. Evolution happened, man did evolve from apes, but God at some point, perhaps 6000-10,000 years ago, infused man with an immortal soul.
If Creationists are going to imply that not being able to agree is a mark of being wrong, that evolution cannot be right because evolutionists disagree among themselves, they should look to themselves. They are at least as bad.
Addendum, If you are interested in knowing more about the history of Creationism, I recommend you read Ronald Numbers: The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design (1992 Ronald L. Numbers, Harvard University Press). It is a very good book, but be warned it is over 600 pages long.
1 Since the main topic of this blog is evolution, and Creationists claim they are the opposite of evolution, I will concentrate on Creationism. Creation Science claims to be a science and since they violate science’s norms, calling them pseudoscientists is appropriate.
2 … In speaking of bad science, I am rather referring to ideas and theories which, driven by underlying metaphysical commitments, simply violated or ignored all standard methods of good science.—Michael Ruse, The Evolution-Creation Struggle, 2005:34
3 Of course, the denial of the scientific data by the Young-Earth Creationists means the extreme of obscurantism, but their position, however absurd, is fully consistent and hence logically unassailable. p 181
4 Tim M. Berra, Evolution and the Myth of Creationism. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1990:125-126.
5 Robert T. Pennock, Tower of Babel, 2000:219.
6 The dates range from John Lightfoot’s, a 17th century Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, 9:00am on September 17, 3928bc to the Archbishop Ussher’s (circa 1650) 9:00am (or 12:00pm), Sunday October 23, 4004bc (or March 23, 4004bc). The Bishop Ussher, whose chronology is commonly used, dated Creation at 3/23/4004bc or 10/23/4004bc. Martin Luther dated it at 3960bc. The Jewish traditional date is 3761bc. Noah’s Flood has a range of dates of 2348 to 2105bc. The Mosaic chronology also calculates Noah’s Flood as beginning November 18, 2319bc.