At the outset, I should confess that I am a young earth creationist. For biblical and theological reasons primarily, I accept a young earth as the creation position on the side of the angels.For a brief defense, see my “All Truth is God’s Truth: A Defense of Dogmatic Creationism,” in Creation and Doxology, ed. Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2018), 59-76. Many of my good friends are either evolutionary or old earth creationists and I respect insightful defenses of those positions; however, I find all of them ultimately unpersuasive.
Why then am I moderating the present Areopagite, given that I fundamentally agree with all five respondents? Good question and the answer is simple: I’m here as umpire, not to score goals for my side. That’s my modest aim, as it was with the other symposia on evolutionary creationism, old earth creationism, and intelligent design.
If the bias worry still niggles, please recall the posed question: “Is it really tenable to be a young earth creationist in the face of the overwhelming scientific evidence that counts against it?” No kid gloves here. Let me also add that I consulted with Steve Moshier for the mainstream geology perspective (he is professor of geology at Wheaton College). I have my bases covered.
So much for preliminaries, back to the dialogue.
Questions for Joe Francis
Joe, your response crystallizes classic concerns from young earth creationists. Your brief history of the main YEC organizations and their relationship to each other (and to the ID movement) was very helpful.
At one point, you cite Raymond Damadian and Jeffrey Williams to support your claim that young earth creationism “has made significant contributions to scientific discovery.” These men had distinguished careers, but neither of them did research on origins questions.God authored both nature and holy writ, so why did science not corroborate Scripture? And why does this discrepancy continue today? Damadian was a physician and Williams an engineer.You said that Colonel Williams “holds the record number of days in space.” Interestingly, he is only the leading male American astronaut. Peggy Whitson has Williams beat by 132 days! Her record was set in 2017. Their respective areas of scientific training have no direct bearing on creationism. You even concede that scientists usually endorse a young earth out of “respect for and devotion to the truth of Scripture rather than scientific evidence.” That is telling.
Why does nature not readily yield scientific findings consistent with your creationism? Many scientists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries wanted the earth to be young, they assumed that it was, yet their scientific findings gradually took them in a different direction. God authored both nature and holy writ, so why did science not corroborate Scripture? And why does this discrepancy continue today? It would be helpful to give an explanatory account of this discrepancy, especially in light of your statement: “the scientific data which appears to counter the young age creation position should be considered more tenuous or unsettled than overwhelming.” I grant that all sides need epistemic humility. However, some readers will be surprised at your choice of words—“tenuous”? “unsettled”? The picture you give is hard to square with the literally countless and independent studies underlying the consensus position. Unless you offer a plausible account that can explain why the discrepancy continues, this language seems more bark than bite.
Interestingly, you argue that baraminology has been “corroborated by evolutionary scientists.” As support, you cite Phil Senter’s 2010 paper in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.The article is available online: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.02039.x You are correct that he uses statistical methods from baraminology, but he does so in order to demonstrate the relatedness of coelurosaurian dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx, other early birds, and a wide range of nonavian coelurosaurs. However, these evolutionary connections are widely rejected in baraminology literature. Senter is using the methods of baraminology to show that creationist assumptions are mistaken.See the subsequent exchange between Todd Wood and Senter: Todd Wood, “Using Creation Science to Demonstrate Evolution? Senter’s Strategy Revisited,” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24 (2011): 914-918; Phil Senter, “Using Creation Science to Demonstrate Evolution 2: Morphological Continuity Within Dinosauria,” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24 (2011): 2197-2216. Have I misunderstood the paper?
In your argument from cosmogony, you point out the “data which supports a young universe, including the presence of young comets, the rapid evolution of binary stars and globular clusters, and the young age of Jovian planets as suggested by their high interior temperatures.” Notice the descriptors: young comets; rapid evolution; young age. Do you mean that only YEC scientists would endorse these age measurements? Or, would mainstream scientists concur with these descriptions? If only YEC scientists recognize these ages, then the data are not as compelling, since presumably no one outside YEC circles interprets them as you do. If mainstream scientists agree with how you interpret the ages, then some might accuse you of taking an ad hoc approach to science. That is, although the scientific evidence points overwhelmingly against YEC, you conveniently focus on the outlying data. You appeal to mainstream data when it suits you; however, when it goes against your position, you disparage them. Heads I win, tails you lose. Am I reading this right, and is this a problem for creationism?
Questions for Steven Gollmer
I am grateful, Steve, for the conceptual clarity of your response. You tie the pieces together nicely. I was also helped by your analysis of Charles Lyell’s dictum “the present is the key to the past” and Ernst Mayr’s first principles.
That leads to my main question. You say that Mayr’s first principles and Lyell’s dictum rightly apply to science. However, if we want to understand nature in the past or nature in the future, you advise us to abandon the implicit philosophical naturalism of Mayr’s third principle—leaving open the possibility of miracles in the historical sciences.However, if we want to understand nature in the past or nature in the future, you advise us to abandon the implicit philosophical naturalism of Mayr’s third principle—leaving open the possibility of miracles in the historical sciences. In your words, the priorities of YEC restrict “the scope over which science is valid.” That last bit tripped me up. Do you mean that we can only understand origins using divine revelation, not science? If so, it would seem to follow that physicists and biologists are not qualified to study the origins of the universe or of humanity. This conclusion seems counterintuitive, if not controversial.
Along these lines, your scientific evidence for a young earth includes an endorsement of Andrew Snelling’s Earth’s Catastrophic Past with its “numerous examples of discordant deep time results” (including short period comets, ocean sea salt, and radiocarbon dating). In a recent essay, Stephen Moshier challenges Snelling’s specific claims.See ch.17 in Robert Bishop, Larry Funck, Raymond Lewis, Stephen Moshier, and John Walton, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018). Chapter 17 is by Stephen Moshier, “Reading Earth’s History in Rocks and Fossils” (pp. 290-327). I realize there is no space for you to give a full-blown critique, but I welcome any reactions to Moshier’s analysis.
One more observation. In your account, young earth creationism has two first principles:
- An omnipotent, self-existent, volitional Creator brought everything into existence by his choice without restrictions of preexisting material.
- This Creator is relational and intends to have a personal relationship with his creation.
This left me confused. You describe the two principles as distinctive to the YEC position, and yet any Christian in the sciences can accept both principles as a basis for doing science. Most evolutionary and old earth creationists would heartily endorse them. In what way are these principles distinctive to young earth creationism?
Questions for Stephen Lloyd
Steve, I enjoyed reading your remarks, including your argument that Christian doctrines are an interlocking package deal. This insight resonates with the early creeds and confessions, and it is underappreciated in the origins debate.
Your thesis is that interpretative frameworks make all the difference. The mass of evidence supporting an old earth need not count as evidence against a young earth because “the ‘old earth’ and ‘young earth’ narratives are so different.”Scientific evidence cannot invalidate young earth creationism if the evidence has been interpreted through the lens of evolutionary theory. Interpretative paradigms matter. Scientific evidence cannot invalidate young earth creationism if the evidence has been interpreted through the lens of evolutionary theory. Interpretative paradigms matter.
Does it logically follow from this argument that young earth creationism has an antirealist rather than a realist view of science?Realists think science describes the nature of the world, the truth out there; anti-realists think scientific theories are useful fictions that do not describe the way the world really is. And if so, is that price too costly to pay? Consider that modern science arose largely from the Christian worldview and therefore presupposes several theological commitments. One might think that any viable Christian view of science must be realist at some level (even if creationists like Gordon Clark, John Byl, and others argue for antirealism on theological grounds).
You describe young earth creationism as a fruitful research program, by which you mean that it has “great explanatory and predictive power.” Many non-YEC readers would be skeptical of this claim. Granted, you clarified why you don’t find such skepticism surprising given the different lenses through which they interpret the data. Nonetheless, would you summarize some of the most significant examples you were hinting at?
In any case, the real drama is on the theological side of the ledger. I was struck by this provocative claim: “If physical death has always been present (as in evolutionary history), Jesus’ physical death on the cross can have nothing to do with payment for sin, and his resurrection is incoherent as a victory because Jesus is defeating an enemy (death) he made at the beginning.” Let me ask two clarifying questions.
First, when you say “physical death” do you mean human death only, or would you include animal death as well? If you are including animal death, have you thought about where to draw the line?For Walton and other evangelicals, physical death is not the radical antithesis that you claim. I would like to hear you comment on this perspective as you clarify your position. For example, would you include all vertebrates? Invertebrates? Would you include microscopic organisms as well? If not, why not?
Second, your argument emphasizes sin and its connection to death. If physical death has always existed, then sin is not the cause of death; if sin is not the ultimate cause of death, then Christ dying to make atonement for sin makes no sense. Assuming that’s your core thesis, does it matter that Christ’s atonement included bearing the wrath of God, the Father turning away from him—in short, a spiritual death? Does the fact that Christ’s atonement was not merely a physical death affect your argument in any way?
All this death talk reminds me of John Walton’s thesis. He argues that God made human beings originally mortal. Even prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were mortal creatures who avoided physical death by eating regularly from the Tree of Life. According to Walton, physical death was a real possibility before the first sin; once they were cast out of Eden, Adam and Eve were unable to eat from the Tree of Life and thus succumbed to their created mortality. For Walton and other evangelicals, physical death is not the radical antithesis that you claim. I would like to hear you comment on this perspective as you clarify your position.
Questions for Marcus Ross
The finite vs. infinite game analogy is stimulating. It gives creationists a fresh lens into a debate that often feels stale and intractable. I also agree, Marcus, that many people dislike the finite-game rhetoric that has dominated creationist literature. “Anti-evolutionism,” you rightly say, “is of little use to us because showing that other positions are wrong does not necessitate that our position is right.” A sentence to start a revolution!
However, how representative is yourHowever, how representative is your approach within the wider YEC movement? You do say that the infinite-game strategy includes “a rapidly growing number of my fellow young earth creationists.” approach within the wider YEC movement? You do say that the infinite-game strategy includes “a rapidly growing number of my fellow young earth creationists.” I can’t tell whether your remarks are merely anecdotal, or whether they capture wider trends.
In your defense of creationist work, you mention bioturbation and the work by Leonard Brand and Art Chadwick.Bioturbation is a soil phenomenon studied in a sub-discipline of geology called ichnology. Their research suggests that sedimentary rocks show very little evidence of heavy bioturbation. In conversation with Stephen Moshier, however, he told me that those findings are different from his experience examining rocks in the field, from the Appalachians, the Midwest, and the Southwest. One of his specific examples is in the Grand Canyon—the Cambrian Bright Angel Formation—and it is extensively bioturbated from bottom to top (500 feet).In addition, see David Elliott and Daryl Martin, “A New Trace Fossil from the Cambrian Bright Angel Shale, Grand Canyon, Arizona,” Journal of Paleontology 61 (1987): 641-648; Larry Middleton and David Elliott, “Tonto Group,” in Grand Canyon Geology, ed. Stanley Beus and Michael Morales, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 90-114. Can you help adjudicate this difference of opinion?
I have similar questions about Steve Austin’s dissertation.My comments in this paragraph draw extensively from my correspondence with Steve Moshier. Austin’s work is significant and widely quoted in the literature, but according to Moshier, his conclusions for the KY No.12 coal bed do not apply to most coal beds. Moshier claims that most coal beds show clear evidence of plants rooted into the underclay (soil) with intact forest ecologies. Many coal beds are transected by river channel deposits and some show lateral transitions into shallow marine deposits. Austin’s model never explained why multiple coal beds are found in vertical successions in particular places around the world and in rocks of similar age (e.g., the Carboniferous), not simply randomly distributed in the rock record.For further documentation, see Stephen Greb, David Williams, and Allen Williamson, “Geology and Stratigraphy of the Western Kentucky Coal Field,” Kentucky Geological Survey, Bulletin 2, Series XI (Lexington: Kentucky Geological Survey, 1992); Stephen Greb, William Andrews, Cortland Eble, William DiMichele, C. Blaine Cecil, and James Hower, “Desmoinesian Coal Beds of the Eastern Interior and Surrounding Basins: The Largest Tropical Peat Mires in Earth History,” in Extreme Depositional Environments: Mega End Members in Geologic Time, ed. Marjorie Chan and Allen William Archer, Geological Society of America, Special Paper 370 (Boulder: Geological Society of America, 2003), 127-150. Furthermore, in Moshier’s interpretation, the global coal carbon far exceeds the amount of carbon one would expect from plants living such a short time between the creation week and the flood (2000 years). (I note, too, that other Christian geologists question the Coconino Sandstone work by John Whitmore and Leonard Brand that you reference).E.g., see Timothy Helble, “Sediment Transport and the Coconino Sandstone: A Reality Check on Flood Geology,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 63.1 (2011): 25-41.
I am sure you have thoughtful responses to these criticisms of YEC work, but I also wonder what is happening at a deeper level in these disagreements. In light of Steve Lloyd’s comments, do you think that mainstream geologists can even assess YEC work “objectively”? Can such geologists grant the scientific evidence you are invoking, even if they reject YEC philosophical or theological underpinnings? Or, do you think that scientists committed to methodological naturalism cannot in principle judge the validity of this YEC work fairly? My question is whether you believe YEC creationists can enter into the broader scientific discourse, or whether they will always be a minority, sectarian group playing an infinite game.
Questions for Gordon Wilson
I want to commend you, Gordon, on the confidence that brims throughout your remarks. You rightly place the emphasis on Scripture, the believer’s supreme authority.You rightly place the emphasis on Scripture, the believer’s supreme authority. Had Martin Luther considered the questions before us, he might well have said that biblical authority is the hinge on which it all turns. Had Martin Luther considered the questions before us, he might well have said that biblical authority is the hinge on which it all turns. (Apologies to historians for the anachronism).
The physical evidences that you cite raise a number of questions, but I will limit my comments to a few areas. The first relates to your claim that Noah’s flood is the “most reasonable explanation for the existence and abundance of fossils,” and that it “has immense explanatory power for what we see in the fossil record.” Most geologists would sharply disagree with you; if you think this consensus reflects some kind of systemic bias, are you close to advancing a conspiracy theory? For example, Stephen Moshier’s chapter in The Lost World of the Flood calls into question much of what you say about fossilization.Stephen Moshier, “Proposition 15. Geology Does Not Support a Worldwide Flood,” in Tremper Longman and John Walton, The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018), 150-61. How would you respond to his arguments that the amount of fossil material in the rock record is consistent with hundreds of millions of years of deposition and impossible to reconcile with a world only thousands of years old? Even history reminds us that the early geologists who first argued for an ancient earth were Western Christians from an ostensibly Christian culture. If a global flood is the best explanation for the evidence, why did they not discover this?
You write that, “data invoked to support an old earth are interpreted according to unproven assumptions.” Are you being too dismissive of the other side? For example, getting the same age for a rock using multiple decay methods suggests that decay rates for the methods have not changed over time.For most of this paragraph, I am channeling my inner Moshier. The isochron method provides information on the amount of daughter isotopes in the specimen at the time of formation, satisfying the assumption of known original isotopic ratios. Moreover, there are non-radiometric methods with effective age ranges that overlap with radiometric methods, and the independent methods yield consistent results.This rhetoric shows little sympathy for other serious Christians who think differently. I am not saying that diversity of opinion prevents us from having deep convictions on these matters. The phrase “unproven assumptions” glosses over all that. However, you do mention the RATE project—I assume you have read the exchange between the RATE authors and Randy Isaac.Randy Isaac, “Assessing the RATE Project,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 59.2 (2007): 143-46. The RATE authors responded, followed by a final surrejoinder from Isaac—see here: https://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2008/PSCF3-08Bertsche.pdf What do you see as the central issues at stake in their exchange?
On a related note, thank you for reminding us about Mary Schweitzer’s soft tissue discovery in the femur of T. rex. Creationists have used this fascinating case to their advantage. As one might expect, however, others interpret this ancient soft tissue differently. In fact, Schweitzer’s own team argued that iron is likely the acting preservative in dead tissues.Mary Schweitzer et al., “A Role for Iron and Oxygen Chemistry in Preserving Soft Tissues, Cells and Molecules from Deep Time,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281 (2014): 20132741. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2013.2741. For an accessible discussion, see Mary Caperton Morton, “Cretaceous Collagen: Can Molecular Paleontology Glean Soft Tissue From Dinosaurs?” Earth 62.11 (2017): 36-45. Available here: https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/cretaceous-collagen-can-molecular-paleontology-glean-soft-tissue-dinosaurs Do you think that explanation has any plausibility?
Finally, I want to press you on the tone of your response. I commended you earlier on your confidence in Scripture. I meant it . . . but I also think it can be a double-edged sword (no pun intended)—this issue permeates the broader YEC literature and is worth commenting on. For instance, you say things like the following: “Many of these supposed scientific evidences against YEC are blown away like chaff when the tenuous nature of old earth assumptions are placed ‘in the dock’ and other evidences cast large ‘shadows of doubt’ in the case against young earth creation” (my emphasis). This rhetoric shows little sympathy for other serious Christians who think differently. I am not saying that diversity of opinion prevents us from having deep convictions on these matters. Not at all, that posture would lead to exegetical skepticism, which is a dead-end for Christians. Rather, my concern is that your tone is dismissive, almost naïve, as if no sensible Christian could possibly think differently.
Overplaying your hand rhetorically hurts young earth creationism in the end. Not only does it undermine Christian honesty, it encourages an obscurantism that brings disrepute to the faith. And, of course, it does nothing to persuade non-YEC believers; quite the opposite, for they see these flaws and then infer that the YEC position itself is indefensible. In that light, I am curious to hear your thoughts on Marcus’s plea to reimagine YEC as an infinite-game strategy. I say this reluctantly, but parts of your response echo the finite-game strategy that Marcus describes: “consider the scores of books and articles that claim to have ‘defeated,’ ‘demolished,’ and ‘refuted’ evolution, or predicted its imminent collapse.” Gordon, I would love to hear your additional thoughts on these important matters.