I was recently interviewed by fellow Energion author Steve Kindle regarding my newly released book God the Creator: Toward a More Robust Doctrine of Creation. The video is below.
According to Todd Wood there’s a real difference, and I agree, although I think real creationists are a bit thin on the ground. He writes about this on the Center for Faith and Science International web site. One of the requirements, in my view, is the admission that the foundation of young age creationist thinking is accepting Genesis 1-11 as history and building from there. To claim that one accepts young age creationism based solely on current scientific evidence is simply no believable.
That is precisely where Todd Wood and Kurt Wise (author of Faith, Form, and Time–the one creationist book you should read if you want to understand it) are refreshingly honest. They admit they start with their conviction about what the Bible says and that there is much science to be done to back up such a view.
What caught my attention in this article is the reference to George McCready Price, a Seventh-day Adventist who pioneered modern day creationism and flood geology. I got to Price’s writings by starting with Frank Lewis Marsh and his small book Evolution or Special Creation. Marsh was somewhat more accessible than Price.
Despite the fact that I believe that to read Genesis 1-11 as history is generally to misread it, I appreciate the faith stance of Todd Wood and Kurt Wise and their honesty in admitting their starting point in faith.
(I’m experimenting with Zemanta. I may have overdone the linking!)
Andrew Lamb has commented on a post I wrote back in July. I have responded to most of the comment there, but he references an article of his own, Immeasurable Age, and it employs an approach that, while I do not think it has merit, is so common in both public discourse and apologetics, that I want to respond.
In the comment he states:
Contrary to your assertion Henry, age is dependent upon assumptions, i.e. age is not something that can be measured. See the article Immeasurable age.
It’s interesting to note here that Mr. Lamb introduced the term “measured” and then uses a mildly eccentric definition of the term. Apparently if any form of inference is involved, one is not measuring. But we use various types of inference in a number of measurements. For example, inference is involved in measuring radio frequencies. One observes the effect and from there infers the frequency.
Now you should rightly point out that my example of inference is substantially different than the types of inference involved in determining the age of the earth. (Note again that I did not use the term “measure.”) That is why I called his use only mildly eccentric. There is no device, such as a time ruler that I can put up against the time line of earth’s history and read off the actual age. That is the nature of historical study, whether human history or historical science. (At the end of this post I will provide links to a couple of online sources on the age of the earth. I’m not planning on discussing the actual science, but rather the general approach.)
I would prefer better definition of terms like “assumptions” (which Mr. Lamb uses) or “presuppositions” (which is seen frequently elsewhere). In this case Mr. Lamb is using “assumption” in a manner that borrows some of the baggage of “presupposition” without actually going there. (A presupposition is something one must suppose or assume to be true to make sense of a worldview, i.e. it is unquestionable within that worldview. An assumption can be something that one takes temporarily to be true, but which one intends later to test–or not, as the case may be.)
Thus I would immediately disagree with the definition Mr. Lamb provides in his article:
All three methods involve making assumptions. Assumptions are things we believe, but which cannot be proven.
That definition is closer to the definition of a presupposition. Now note that I’m not much of a fan of the term “presupposition” either, but I’m much happier with it when it is either carefully defined by an author, or used in a standard defined sense. I have found so many senses of the term, however, that I think each author would do well to state how he understands the term whenever it is used.
A more serious problem, however, is the way that this idea is used in the article. We are told that because the age of the earth cannot be measured, but is rather based on assumptions, pretty much anything goes. Lamb gives a number of ideas of measuring age based on clearly false and ridiculous assumptions, such as checking your current rate of growth and extrapolating, thus implying without saying so that scientific assumptions (if such they are) are also perversely stupid. One could summarize this as “It’s all based on assumptions (probably bad ones), so why not ours?”
When it comes to the age of the world, we can use historical methods (method 1 above), which involve assuming or trusting particular records to be accurate. This is the way we at CMI calculate the age of the earth. We trust the Bible to be a supremely reliable record of world history, and from the information in the Bible we can calculate that the world is about 6,000 years old.
So we are to believe that the assumption that the records in the Bible are accurate, and the assumption that rates of radioactive decay have remained essentially unchanged, are to be placed on the same level. Then if one is a Christian, of course one should accept whatever the Bible says over equally speculative scientific options.
I hope you note the way I worded that. I believe a number of my more conservative friends would be uncomfortable with the idea that the accuracy of Biblical records was simply one assumption among many, so hey, why not accept it.
But the assumptions involved are not even close to the same level. An age based on radioactive decay may be based on an assumption of a constant rate (though more on that later), but the assumption that the earth is 6,000 years old is based not on a single assumption, but rather on a large number of them.
- We assume the Bible’s accuracy
- We assume that the Bible intends to present us with history in specific passages
- We assume that we read those passages correctly
- We assume that genealogies are, or are even intended to be, complete
- We even make an assumption of constant rate in reading Genesis 1, that each day is 24 hours long even when it occurs before the appearance of the sun
- . . . and many more
But do we have to make such assumptions, or are these things testable? Other ancient records go well beyond the 6,000 year history based on the Bible. The great pyramid and the Sumerians, amongst others, would have live through the great flood. In later years, records from these other nations can be synchronized with part of the Biblical record. If we can synchronize the record at one point, why would we take the Bible in isolation earlier, unless it proved to be accurate in providing this specific type of historical data?
I discuss the issue of historicity in the Genesis accounts on my Participatory Bible Study Blog in articles Historicity of Genesis 1-11, Literary Types in Genesis 1-11, and Perspective on Vocabulary and Genre in Genesis 1-11. To summarize, there are good indications that these chapters are not intended as narrative history, and if they are not narrative history, then the assumption (!) that one can glean that type of information from them would be incorrect.
But my intent here is not to prove the 6,000 year old earth wrong. While I avoid the term “prove,” I think that the evidence against a young earth is so strong that it is perverse to reject it. But what I am concerned with here is what one does with the concept of “truth.” This isn’t capital T “Truth” with which one can pound the table, but valid data on which one can base sound decisions for one’s life.
I depend on such information from science and technology all the time as I live my life. I’m using a computer that is based on such information. Of course, I am again not speaking of historical information.
So let’s turn to the resurrection. I’ve discussed recently how far from proof this is, and looked at a couple of attempts to place it on firmer ground. Some of my conservative friends may be concerned that I’ve given away the store by stating that a miracle can’t be the most probable explanation of an event by nature from an historical point of view.
But one can provide some evidence that sets up the circumstances and the results of the resurrection. This too is based on many assumptions. First, one assumes that there were witnesses, that nobody just made this all up. Second, one assumes that this material was passed on with any sense of accuracy. Both of these assumptions involve a set of other assumptions about the nature of the ancient world and how its people worked.
But if I use the word “assumption” in the manner in which Mr. Lamb uses it, I would say, “Well, those are your assumptions, and that’s how you choose to believe.” There’s no basis for testing and discussion. Any believe is equally plausible because they are all based on assumptions. But are all assumptions equal?
What I would suggest rather, is that each of those assumptions can be discussed and tested and we can discover what is more or less probable. Then we can build a complete picture based on the best set of parameters we can work out. Note that I begin to deviate seriously here from the definition of “assumption” that I stated earlier. That’s because I believe it is the wrong concept to use.
“It’s all based on your assumptions” parallels “that’s just your interpretation” in terms of tearing down the possibility of intelligent discourse and discovering truth. “That’s just your interpretation” suggests that a text actually has no meaning of its own, and anyone can read into it whatever they desire with equal validity. “It’s all based on your assumptions” does the same thing to scientific data.
As used here, some “assumptions” are more equal than others, with apologies to George Orwell. Only in this case I’ve inverted the idea, and it is true and right that some assumptions be more equal.
In fighting what he perceives as falsehood, Mr. Lamb has taken an unwitting (I hope) shot at any sort of truth or validity.
To simply consider one thing regarding the age of the earth, one of the most common young earth creationist objections to constant rate in a natural process is the idea that the global flood would have massively changed deposition rates, as indeed it would. But the first point here is that there is no assumption that deposition rates everywhere and at all times are the same, but rather than the physical laws that govern them remain the same.
Scientists are well aware that a flood deposits different things at different rates depending on the specific conditions. That’s why they can look at the state of the geologic column and be quite certain that there was no global flood. It would have left certain depositions. Old earth creationists are willing to go with the evidence here and understand the flood to be more local, though certainly great enough to stand out.
Amongst the things that one can use to check deposition are the fossils of creatures that lived at that time. For example, if a layer was deposited instantly in a massive flood, all of the creatures involved would have to have been alive at one time.
Just as we can divide up the various assumptions that we would have to make about the Bible in order to get the young earth position, we can divide up the assumptions here as well. Then we can test these one against another. One need not make all these assumptions at once, and many of them can be tested and determined to be probable or improbable.
Let me provide references to a couple of articles:
Abundant Evidence, Skepticism, Apparent Age (from the American Scientific Affiliation). Provides a more detailed discussion of the relativism involved in this type of argument.
FAQ: Age of the Earth (Talk.Origins Archive). Goes into more of the nuts and bolts.
CB102: Mutations Adding Information (Talk.Origins Archive). A good starting point on this issue, raised in Mr. Lamb’s comment to the earlier post.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is an interesting philosophy in politics and war. Usually the amity between “enemies of enemies” lasts about as long as hostilities between those particular enemies. Wesley Elsberry has posted an excellent article on problems with the “two model” approach to the creation-evolution debate.
To summarize, though you should go read his excellent post, anti-evolutionist strategy depends on the notion that if the theory of evolution falls, then creationism will be the only alternative. One response to this has always been to ask just which alternative theory would win, considering Hindu, Native American, and many, many other creation myths available. But if one simply considers the various Christian views that gather under the umbrella of intelligent design (ID), then the question would be which ID wins if evolution loses.
The problem is that none of these approaches is actually a coherent theory, and to the extent that they approach having the elements of a theory, various of their bodily appendages are sticking out of the edges of the big tent. ID is at best an observation, or better a supposition, not a theory. That is, it explains nothing, but rather points out things that it alleges cannot be explained without proposing an alternative, that is if we take seriously the suggestion that the intelligent designer is not God.
Partially under this big tent of ID, we find young earth creationists, old earth creationists, ruin and restoration creationists, and the occasional theistic-mostly-evolutionist. The problem is that each of these views would tend to produce very different results in the fossil record and in the behavior of living organisms.
A few years back I reviewed the book What is Creation Science?, and noted that they tried to distinguish debates about the age of the earth, a global flood, and the idea of special creation, apparently to be understood in a vacuum. They wanted to argue them separately.
But consider the common statement by creationists that new species appear abruptly in the fossil record, precisely as you would expect them to appear had they been specially created by God. Is the age of the earth and the question of a global flood irrelevant to this point? Hardly! This statement would generally match an old earth creation model, because in that model the age of the earth is accepted at about 4.5 billion years, and these species are supposed to have appeared over long periods of time. I’m not certain why God would want to create in that fashion, but that’s not my subject today.
Because of the long periods of time available, creatures would have been fossilized, and if God created in the phased pattern suggested, then one would expect new species to appear and disappear abruptly. I’m ignoring the great difficulties with fossil preservation and discovery here. There will always be a first specimen of a particular species, and a last specimen of a particular species. The “abrupt” separation is a matter of classification, a binary choice that doesn’t mirror the actual history in detail, nor it is intended to. We would always assume there are many, many creatures who lived and died but weren’t fossilized or whose fossils have yet to be discovered.
But the young earth creationist shouldn’t use this argument, because by his view all of life should have appeared abruptly in the fossil record, and then continue forward without disappearance, except for a few extinct species. How many species should become extinct in a matter of a mere 6 to 10 thousand years?
I don’t know if there are young earth creationists who don’t believe in a global flood. Normally the two go together because they are derived from the same approach to interpreting Genesis 1-11. But if the young earth creationist believes in a global flood he shouldn’t believe in any substantial number of fossils at all. A mere period of less than 2,000 years from creation to the flood should produce very, very few fossils. They should all be the result of the global flood.
So if our hypothetical young earther believes in a global flood, he shouldn’t be looking for any sign in the fossil record of the origin of species; that all happened in one week, so you wouldn’t have any of the intermediate states fossilized. One should then look for a different principle of sorting for fossils, as indeed various creationists have done. It is not my purpose to examine those views here except to point out that they are each different.
Then there is the difference between old earth and young earth creationists over the entrance of sin into the world. Was human sin the cause of all physical death? I’m not going to go into detail, but again this would have an impact on the evidence that we would be likely to see.
Thus even leaving out other religions, just Christianity can produce quite a number of alternative views. Which one is supposed to replace the theory of evolution as a model? Again, ID is deceptive by trying to pretend that these views have enough in common to belong under a single tent. It is also deceptive in suggesting that it actually proposes an alternative model. It really proposes that we have either the theory of evolution or, well, not!
Even the fig leaf garment of one of the rather weak creation models is here removed, yet we are all supposed to believe that we are hearing a debate between two substantial theories. Actually all we are hearing is the proposal that we dump around a century and a half of scientific progress and refinement in favor of saying “I don’t know.”
I’m rather interested in this specific point because Florida is working on a so-call academic freedom bill, which proponents claim has nothing to do with religion, or even with ID (see the Florida Citizens for Science blog. But what they can’t produce is the alternative scientific information they propose should be in the classroom, but which is not allowed there now. The only beneficiaries of their law would be ID or some one or other of the more specific creationisms that are available. We thus know from the start that their effort is deceptive.
As one final note I believe this is also an indication that ID bears a closer resemblance to theology, where multiple alternative explanations for one thing can coexist and be bundled loosely, than to science, in which competing theories are constantly tested in the hopes of discarding those that don’t make it and keeping those that do. Theology studies something that is very hard to get into the lab by its very nature. ID seems to bear some resemblance to that.