Young Earth Creationists: What They Say and What They Do

Young Earth Creationists: What They Say and What They Do

A couple of days ago I wrote an entry about young earth creationists and presuppositions. Two commenters have now taken me to task over my claim that young earth creationists try to dodge their main presupposition, that Genesis is narrative history conveying accurate science.

Commenter Jonathan Bartlett said:

I think you are slightly confused on some of the issues. Scientific creationists DO NOT say that they came to believe in YEC because of the evidence. What they do say is that they believe that YEC can be _supported_ on the evidence alone, and believe that it can be investigated and analyzed scientifically without respect to the Bible. There is a difference between the _inspiration_ for an idea and the _support_ for an idea. Science should, in theory, criticize only the _support_, and not the _inspiration_, and it is on this basis that scientific creationism attempts to make its case . . .

I am always delighted when someone accuses me of being confused, and I am most frequently accused of confusion by creationists who generally believe that I don’t understand their position, even though I was myself a young earth creationist most of the way through college and only slowly rejected it over a period of years. And just to prevent the normal reply that obviously I was led astray by my secularist professors, I am a graduate of a Seventh-day Adventist college where the dominant view was YEC.

What’s interesting about the paragraph I quoted from the comment, however, is that it accuses me of confusion while at the same time demonstrating the very thing I describe! My contention is that the young earth creationist position is founded on the presupposition that Genesis 1-11 is narrative history that is accurate in its science. I didn’t specify “inspiration” as opposed to support, because I don’t think that matters all that much. In what sense would it be possible for something to be “investigated and analyzed scientifically without respect to the Bible” and yet impossible for one to “get to” (my unscientific terminology) that same thing through science?

When a young earth creationist sets out to demonstrate his theory apart from the Bible, he is, in fact, claiming that it is scientific. In the link I provided in one of my own comments, a young earth creationist claims to be prepared to debate the issue without referring to religion. He’s avoiding the presupposition, pretending it’s unnecessary, whether he confesses to getting inspiration from the Bible or not.

My basic claim here is that such an activity denies one of the presuppositions of young earth creationism, and that this presupposition is essential, and is actually held by the young earth creationists. Young earth creationism will completely fail without that presupposition. It cannot be scientifically supported. It fails tests from archeology through physics, geology, biology, astronomy, and so forth. Its predictions fail. The Bible is not merely an inspiration, it is a fundamental element running through the YEC position, and not merely the Bible, but a specific category of literalistic view of the Bible.

There are two reasons YECs want to avoid this fact. First, there is the first amendment in the United States. They would like their dogma taught in the public schools. Since their dogma is religious (though I believe theologically unsound), they have failed to get the courts to accept it. But when they go to court and claim that their position is scientific when it is, in fact, attached at practically all points to the Biblical text of Genesis 1-11 read as narrative history, they pretend, and I repeat pretend not to employ the (very bad) presupposition that is fundamental to their entire system.

The second is that science has gained a high level of public respect. It has earned it. So to be respectable, the YECs have to place themselves on a level with science. They accomplish this in two ways. 1) They claim that their own view is the really scientific one, and 2) They degrade the scientific claims of their opponents by claiming they are merely the result of scientist’s presuppositions or their faith in _____ (fill in claim of moment here).

Young earth creationists really shouldn’t talk about presuppositions. It doesn’t work well for them.

Another commenter, macht, also is severely bothered by my “get to” phrase. Before I quote what he said, let me say that I think it is nonsense to claim that one can be inspired by the Bible to create a scientific model, then to claim that one can fully analyze and test that model scientifically without reference to the Bible, yet one can’t “get to” the model through science.

If one can fully analyze and test a model, one can assemble that model based on hypothesis and testing. Science works that way.

Here’s the quote:

Morris and Parker think that evolution and creation are two different worldviews that ultimately cannot be confirmed or falsified by science. But they also say that these two worldviews each have a “scientific model” which can be confirmed or falsified. As far as I can recall, they don’t claim that we can “come to” either one without presuppositions. What they say is that each scientific model attempts to explain empirical data within their own frameworks and that when we evaluate each, the creation science model is confirmed and the evolution science model. . . .

This is an example of the pervasive prevarication of young earth creationism. Evolutionists have faith; they have faith. Evolutionists have a worldview; they have a worldview. Evolutionists have presuppositions; they have presuppositions. It’s all just one happy presupposition party in which your guess is as good as mine, so who are all those nasty scientists, and a few Biblical studies types like me, to criticize? (It’s another topic, but it’s interesting to note that we have this sort of post-modern “we all have our reality” view, except that we’re supposed to come out believing YEC is TRUTH.)

So what are the presuppositions of young earth creationism? There is a God. He inspired a book. That book must be taken literally, and its first 11 chapters are a historical narrative of prehistory. Even though the writers, however divinely inspired, had no scientific skill at all, one must take their words as science. Maybe I missed some, but that’s the gist.

What are the presuppositions of biological evolution? Hmm. Let’s see. You learn about nature by observing nature. I should add, of course, that the scientific method has been repeatedly shown to work as the specific means of studying nature, as is testified by this computer on which I’m writing and all the various accomplishments of technology that lie between this computer and the one on which you will read this post. It may be a worldview, but it works!

The worldviews are not equal. One works and the other doesn’t. The theory of evolution is validated, and young earth creationism is not.

12 thoughts on “Young Earth Creationists: What They Say and What They Do

  1. Henry, to be fair to evolutionists, surely we presuppose one of “There is not a God” or “He did not inspire a book” or “That book must not be taken literally, and its first 11 chapters are not a historical narrative of prehistory.” For if anyone has none of these presuppositions they will believe in YEC. As someone who holds only the third of the presuppositions I listed (i.e. I hold that there is a God and he inspired a book), I don’t think it is entirely unreasonable to accept none of them.

  2. Well, I believe there is a God and he inspired a book, so let me go to the Genesis 1-11 presupposition. Do I need to presuppose that Genesis 1-11 is not narrative history. In my own experience that was not the case. I believed it was, until too much evidence came knocking, and then I had to ask whether my previous belief was valid.

    That’s my problem with so much usage of the term “presupposition.” It is too frequently used for something that can easily be examined, and kept or discarded. Of course, that is based on my admitted presupposition that the world around me can be perceived to some extent and examined.

  3. I wouldn’t exactly say I was “severely bothered.” I just thought you interpreted Morris and Parker incorrectly. I wasn’t even talking about whether their claims were plausible (they aren’t). I was just trying to describe them accurately.

    They seem to be making a distinction that a lot of philosophers of science have made – the distinction between the context of discovery and the context of justification. They don’t use those terms, but what they are saying is that the context of discovery is where presuppositions come into play but that in the context of justification both models can be described scientifically free from presuppositions.

    This isn’t nearly as implausible as you seem to think it is. We have no problem separating heliocentrism from the religious presuppositions that helped lead to it. Morris and Parker are saying the same thing. They surely are wrong that their model is confirmed and the evolution model is falsified, but the structure of their argument isn’t nearly as inconsistent as you claim.

  4. macht wrote

    They seem to be making a distinction that a lot of philosophers of science have made – the distinction between the context of discovery and the context of justification. They don’t use those terms, but what they are saying is that the context of discovery is where presuppositions come into play but that in the context of justification both models can be described scientifically free from presuppositions.

    I do not believe that they’re using Reichenbach’s distinction. It’s been a long time since I’ve read either Morris or Parker (ca. 15 years) so I won’t address their positions. But I recently attended a talk on ID (Dembski/Behe variety) by a YEC molecular geneticist, Georgia Purdom, who recently went to work for Ken Ham at AIG. She was very clear that ID fails because it does not have the ‘right’ presuppositions. In answers to questions after the talk she explicitly said that evidence does not speak to presuppositions or scientific models, but rather presuppositions govern how evidence is interpreted and therefore the ‘scientific’ models based in those presuppositions are invulnerable to evidence. Presuppositions are all; models and evidence depend upon them, not the reverse. And, of course, she said “We [YECs] know the right presuppositions.”

  5. I’m not exactly sure what Georgia Purdom’s claims have to do with the position Morris and Parker laid out in their book, but I think her position seems to be more representative of most creation scientists than Morris and Parker’s position.

  6. I see that Lofton has posted his responses to you at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Though he argues against your ideas, I think the content of his post there actually supports your earlier interpretations and comments.

  7. You’ve misphrased your presuppositions. We don’t believe that Genesis must be considered false; we believe that it can be considered false.

    The question of whether we should consider it true or false is thus free for the testing – it’s a “post-supposition”.

  8. I get into a similar debate over inerrancy. An inerrantist will tell me that I presuppose that the Bible is in error, while they presuppose it is not. Equal presuppositions, no? Well, no, they aren’t. I will allow that any particular data item in the Bible might be correct or it might be in error, and then work to discover which. They presuppose that all must be correct. I have two options each time. They have one.

    I think Genesis 1-11 works the same way.

  9. By “That book must not be taken literally”, I meant “It is not true that that book must be taken literally”. Sorry for the ambiguity.

  10. I would agree with Georgia Purdom when she says (your report) In answers to questions after the talk she explicitly said that evidence does not speak to presuppositions or scientific models, but rather presuppositions govern how evidence is interpreted and therefore the ’scientific’ models based in those presuppositions are invulnerable to evidence. This is faith. Or as Pascal puts it – ‘The heart has its reason which reason does not know’ and confirmed by Psalm 14:1 ‘The fool says in his heart: ”There is no supernatural creator who oversees, etc. etc.”

  11. “If one can fully analyze and test a model, one can assemble that model based on hypothesis and testing. Science works that way.”

    I think this is where the issue lies. I think your view of science doesn’t take into account the history of science — i.e. the way that science has actually advanced. Hypothesis and testing come _after_, they are not the raw material of scientific breakthrough. The raw material of scientific breakthrough is the creative mind of the scientist.

    Take relativity, for instance. When it came out, the evidence was _against_ it, yet Einstein held onto it. Why? Because he had a vision of what reality was like and investigated it. Eventually the evidential problems were sorted out, but that happened after-the-fact.

    When Gallileo proposed the heliocentric model, it upset not only astronomy, but physics as well. On top of that, it didn’t have the evidential support, and in fact what Gallileo thought was his main argument turned out to be false (he thought the tides were the result of the oceans sloshing around – this was his clenching argument – he also thought that the idea that they were the result of the moon were absurd). But heliocentrism won the day, not because Galileo found a model that fit the data better (it did not) or that made better sense of the world (it completely upset all theories of physics without offering an alternative), but it was an intuitive, creative spark of genius that would take centuries before the evidence came in. It wasn’t until Newton that a physical theory was able to make sense of both physics and heliocentrism. Before Galileo, physics was thought to be based on distance from the earth. That’s why the stars don’t fall — they are at a distance where they have different physical laws. With Galileo, physics lost all reasonings for how the stars seem to obey different laws (which Newton cleared up).

    All this to say that it is not hypothesis and testing that results in scientific breakthroughs. These come after-the-fact, and are used to convince other people. It is the creativity and vision of the scientist which actually creates breakthroughs. Obviously, this doesn’t occur absent serious study of nature, but it doesn’t flow simply from observation+hypothesis+testing either.

    A good book on the subject is “For and Against Method”, which contains Imre Lakatos’ lectures on scientific method as well as his correspondence with Feyerabend.

    As for creationism, you may (or may not) be interested in my own views on the subject:

    http://crevobits.blogspot.com/2006/02/history-creation-observables-and.html

    A short tidbit:

    “cientists rely on observation to build models. While we may have circumstantial evidence of what happened in the past, historical documents provide the only first-hand evidence of what occurred. Should not a scientist conform their theories to observations, rather than the other way around? Do not scientists often rely on the observations of others? Why is it then out-of-bounds to consider the observations of the ancients in consideration of physical theory?”

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