Although this is an important question, its tone implies that science is a foe to the young earth creationist. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Science is a useful tool to test the validity of knowledge and the models that describe the present, reconstruct the past, and predict the future. However, care must be taken to identify the philosophical foundation of science and the scope over which it applies. Consideration of these issues becomes crucially important when dealing with deep time evidences against young earth creationism.
Deep time in its current form began in the eighteenth century as geologists attempted to explain the presence of bedding planes and erosion features with processes that operate slowly by today’s standards. Since Darwin’s evolutionary theory also required vast amounts of time, it became a second independent confirmation for deep time.In each of these seemingly independent evidences of deep time, there is an assumption aptly stated by Charles Lyell that “the present is the key to the past.” During the twentieth century, quantitative methods were added as supporting evidence with such techniques as radiometric dating, molecular clocks, and cosmological expansion.
In each of these seemingly independent evidences of deep time, there is an assumption aptly stated by Charles Lyell that “the present is the key to the past.”Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology; Or, the Modern Changes of the Earth and Its Inhabitants Considered as Illustrative of Geology (Salt Lake City: Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, 1833). In order to properly apply this statement, three conditions need to be true: 1) The initial state of the system is known or can be reasonably inferred. 2) The rate of processes are constant or can be determined over the history of the system. 3) The system has been isolated from contamination or competing processes and, if not isolated, the impact from outside sources can be taken into account. Citing violations of these three conditions, young earth creationist literature provides numerous examples of discordant deep time results.See Andrew Snelling, Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation and the Flood (Dallas: Institute for Creation Research, 2009), 867-906. For examples such as short period comets, ocean sea salt, and radiocarbon dating. However, these are not taken seriously because the evidence for deep time is so well established that there must be alternative explanations for the discordant results.
The Process of Science
This default reaction to dismiss or minimize the value of discordant results highlights the role that philosophy plays in the process of science. Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions states that the process of science is influenced by paradigms.Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). A paradigm is a framework for organizing one’s understanding of a subject and influences what data are relevant and what models are valid. The dominant paradigm is challenged when discordant data are observed and new competing paradigms are formulated to resolve the anomalies. Kuhn documents several transitions to new paradigms and their impact on our current understanding of science.
On the surface, it appears that the young earth creationist position is merely a competing paradigm to the dominant one. Although there is a paradigm difference with regard to data interpretation and evaluation of acceptable models, the issue is much deeper than that and deals with faith commitments.These meta-statements about science transcend any validation by evidence, but must be accepted by faith in order to conduct science in a productive manner. The word ‘faith’ is purposefully chosen because as stated in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” What one accepts by faith determines the substance of one’s view of reality. It also determines how one interprets data as supporting evidence for one’s belief. This connection between faith, ontology, and epistemology is not an inherently religious issue, but it is basic to how humanity makes sense of the world.
If the word ‘faith’ is considered objectionable in this discussion, it can be replaced by ‘first principles’ as expressed by Ernst Mayr. In his book This Is Biology: The Science of the Living World, he states three ‘first principles’ that make science possible:Ernst Mayr, This is Biology: The Science of the Living World (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1997). 1) The real world is objective and independent of human perception. 2) The world is structured and not chaotic. 3) The universe has a historical and physical continuity because everything in the universe is causally connected. These meta-statements about science transcend any validation by evidence, but must be accepted by faith in order to conduct science in a productive manner. This starting point also provides a common playing field whereby atheists, agnostics, and believers can produce results that have utilitarian value for everybody.
These principles work well when conducting science in an environment where variables can be controlled and multiple experiments can be conducted to verify the validity of a hypothesis. However, when interpreting unique events and extrapolating into the past and future, Mayr’s third principle invariably leads to philosophical naturalism, i.e., all reality is restricted to the physical realm with no supernatural influences. This is exactly where deep time and young earth creationism diverge.
The Principles of Young Earth Creationism
Young earth creationism holds to a more fundamental set of ‘first principles.’ 1) An omnipotent, self-existent, volitional Creator brought everything into existence by his choice without restrictions of preexisting material. 2) This Creator is relational and intends to have a personal relationship with his creation. As a result, this Creator revealed himself in an unambiguous manner to humanity, the recipient of his image. Within this context, the Old Testament Scriptures are taken to provide authoritative truth statements that define reality and reveal how the Creator has worked through history. Humanity’s rejection of the Creator’s authority by the choice of Adam and Eve initiated the process whereby the Creator provided the means of restored relationship. This redemptive-historicalThis redemptive-historical narrative along with what is expressed in Genesis 1–11 indicates that the Creator’s interaction with the creation is on the order of thousands of years rather than millions and billions. narrative along with what is expressed in Genesis 1–11 indicates that the Creator’s interaction with the creation is on the order of thousands of years rather than millions and billions.
Acceptance of a young earth creationist’s first principles and subsequent conclusions provides a rational basis for Mayr’s first principles, but it also restricts the scope over which science is valid. Mayr’s statement that the real world is objective makes the most sense if there is in fact a Creator, one who establishes reality independent of our perception of it. The regularity and structure of the universe is anchored in the lawful, non-capricious and rational nature of the Creator. Causality and continuity of physical phenomena make it possible for us to understand the creation and, thereby, act as responsible stewards of it. However, this third statement by Mayr cannot restrict the possibility of supernatural activity, or what we would call miracle.
When the possibility of miracles is introduced into the creation, a caveat is applied to Lyell’s “the present is the key to the past.” Extrapolation of causality and continuity is limited because it is contingent on the expressed purposes of the Creator. In some cases, the Creator has interacted with the creation in catastrophic and profound ways; deep time conditions are thus superseded. However, if the purposes of the Creator had not been expressed, there would be no reason to believe that science is possible and has value. As a result, young earth creationists must interpret data and develop models with the assumption that the creation operates causally and with physical continuity within the context of revelation clearly communicated by the Creator.
In light of what has been discussed, the issue of “overwhelming scientific evidence” must be addressed. From my experience, textbooks and debates expressing a contrary view to young earth creationism tend to cast the whole weight of scientific knowledge against it. Young earth creationists value much of the scientific knowledge that provides the basis from which our technological world operates. Exception is taken to evidences that are contingent on deep time assumptions. Science is often used as a trump card to squelch objections because it is seen as a final authority. However, for the young earth creationist, science has limits and is not a self-existent authority. Science is valid only within the context of a self-existent Creator. The final word—evidence—is problematic because the same data can be used as ‘evidence’ to support two worldviews that are mutually exclusive. Data only becomes evidence when interpreted within one’s worldview. Evidence can give confidence that one’s worldview is consistent, but it should not act as a magic bullet to thwart opposing worldviews. A worldview can be evaluated as being reasonable and consistent with reality only after one has considered all of life (physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, social, and moral). In any case, regardless of our assessment of whether a worldview is valid, for a young earth creationist, reality and truth are defined by the Creator, independent of humanity’s perception of it.