Preface for blog: This is the last in a series where I show my side of a dialogue with a young earth creationist who I will call Rachel. She had sent me links to some videos that she and her husband had made, where they presented scientific and exegetical arguments in favor of young earth (Y.E.) creationism, and invited my comments. In Part 1, I posted the cover email I sent her, which dealt with Bible interpretation. I attached a Word document to that email, which addressed many of the scientific claims made in her videos. I posted that document as Part 2 of this series.
My experience has been that it is nearly impossible to change the mind of someone who has intentionally embraced Y. E. creationism. But not totally impossible – – after all, I used to be an enthusiastic Y. E. creationist. There was some reason to hope that I might impact Rachel’s views, since there were several positive factors with her. From our prior encounters at church events, she knew me to be a devout evangelical Christian, so I think she was inclined to give me a serious hearing. Also, she has a background in the sciences, and is a courteous and careful listener in person. She gave every indication of simply wanting the truth.
So, I decided to run an experiment. I took a number of what seemed like the strongest scientific young earth points on her videos, and marshalled the facts to show that these claims were incorrect. I put a number of hours into this, trying to answer the specific claims, and also anticipating and answering the common Y. E. creationist rebuttals to the old earth evidence. I included a number of figures to illustrate fossil intermediates, and showed how her Y. E. creationist sources had twisted some scientists’ quotes to (dishonestly) make it seem like these scientists were admitting that the fossil record does not support evolution.
Alas, my efforts were in vain. Judging by her email reply, she clearly read what I wrote (i.e. Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series), but nothing seemed to penetrate. I post below my final response to her email reply. Her words are in italics.
I am sure that in her mind she was earnestly trying to engage with the facts. But it seems that she ignored the import of much of what I wrote, and simply repeated what she found on various Y. E. creationist web sites. What I found particularly disheartening were instances where she (with no basis) just reiterated the specific young earth claims that I had specifically disproven.
For instance, the annual sets of sediment layers (varves) that accumulate in certain lakes furnish very straightforward evidence for an earth much older than 6000 years. We know how these layers form; we can simply drill down in the lake bottom, pull up a core, and (carefully) count the layers. Moreover, these varve counts are corroborated via radioactive dating to local tree ring data and volcanic ashfalls. Naturally, the Y. E. creationists try to cast doubt on these straightforward results, typically by calling attention to instances where sediment layers can be non-annual. To forestall this, I wrote to Rachel (in Part 2 here) that scientists are well aware of this possibility, and so they take pains to distinguish between real annual varves and non-annual random layers:
“As may be expected, YE creationist organizations make various objections to lake varves. For instance, they claim that more than one set of sediment layers per year can be laid down in lake sediments, and thus we cannot trust these deep cores of lake sediments. Of course multiple layers do form in some lakes – -that is obvious, and scientists are well aware of that and they are quite capable of distinguishing between real annual layers and other layers. Scientists specifically choose lakes that are relatively narrow and deep, to avoid issues with wind storms stirring the bottom sediments.”
Nevertheless, (as shown below) Rachel apparently ignored what I had written, and simply repeated a standard Y. E. creationist line: “…… I’ve seen experimentally how some conditions can produce layers that look like seasonal varves. This can be generated with wave tanks…”. Furthermore, though I gave additional answers to her responses as shown below as Part 3, there is no reason to believe she took this further information to heart, even though I took the effort to e.g. hunt down and show her the actual location of the leg genes in the whale genome.
But this is how most dialogs with Y. E. creationists go: these folks simply ignore the evidence that is against their position, and repeat and repeat the same old party lines. (Another common tactic is, when backed into a corner on some topic, to change the subject and bring up some other topic. And another, and another, till the scientist who is trying to educate them drops from sheer exhaustion. To Rachel’s credit, she did not do this).
How is this response possible, from a woman I know to be so generally reasonable and informed? I think it comes down to the human tendency of confirmation bias. Per Wikipedia, this is: “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs or hypotheses….The effect is stronger for desired outcomes, for emotionally charged issues, and for deeply-entrenched beliefs.” We all do this, especially with “emotionally charged issues” like politics and religion.
Rachel noted in her email to me that she was in the past “not feeling confident about Genesis 1-11,” but now the Y. E. creation perspective has “helped me to be more convinced” about the authority of the Bible there. It is hard to compete with that sort of spiritual/emotional reinforcement given by Y. E. creationism.
So was our dialog a complete waste of my time? Maybe, but I don’t know whether Rachel and her husband might be open to reconsidering their position at a later time, and I don’t know who is reading these blog posts on the internet. My own journey out of Y. E. creationism took years, and multiple exposures to pro-science articles, especially ones by authors who were not hostile to my faith.
Anyway, Rachel and I have agreed to disagree in this area, and not let it cloud our fellowship. In the current climate of polarization, our small measure of civility here is something to be grateful for.
* * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I will offer some comments on the points you raised in your email, in order, except will deal first with point 6 because it is perhaps the most foundational. I will put your remarks in italics.
- 6. Do you acknowledge any faith commitment to the idea that if scientists seek, they will figure it out and get things right? If God stated Genesis 1-11 authoritatively, and correctly, and we seek some other explanation that is consistent with the reasonings of naturalistic scientists, might we get something wrong?
I do acknowledge that God stated Genesis 1-11 authoritatively and correctly, just as I acknowledge that God stated in I Chron. 16:30 (“The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved”) authoritatively and correctly and Jesus referred to the mustard seed as the smallest of all the seeds of the earth authoritatively and correctly (and referred to Herod as a “fox” and himself as a “door”, etc.). This is entirely different than whether we should take each of these passages as literal statements about physical reality or not. We normally utilize the information provided by the physical world to make that determination. That is why, even though Protestant and Catholic alike vehemently affirmed that I Chron. 16:30 must be taken as giving information about the physical world, today we use the results of science to take a non-literal interpretation.
If someone chooses to eschew that normal procedure of using physical information, and instead make a command decision that Gen 1-11 must be taken literally, no matter what the physical evidence actually is, that’s OK, but that is elevating one’s interpretation over the physical evidence, not elevating the Bible itself over the physical evidence.
And, is it deceptive of YEC to say, “yes, we are committed to Scripture,” divulging their bias, and then argue according to their bias? I do not find that to be deceptive.
I completely agree with you, that is not deceptive, as long as the subsequent arguing is done with integrity.
There are some YE creationists who do treat the physical evidence with integrity. Geologist Kurt Wise is an example of this. He is scrupulously fair in treating the evidence of the age of the earth and evolution. Even Richard Dawkins referred to him as an “honest creationist.” Wise wrote, “I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”
Here, Wise indicates that no possible amount of scientific evidence can ever sway him from his YE position. I respect his clarity.
Wise has critiqued a lot of the Answers in Genesis presentations for being inaccurate. He does not deny the presence of impressive transitional fossils at the higher grouping levels:
“…Darwin’s third expectation – of higher-taxon stratomorphic intermediates – has been confirmed by such examples as the mammal-like reptile groups between the reptiles and the mammals, and the phenacdontids between the horses and their presumed ancestors. Darwin’s fourth expectation – of stratomorphic series – has been confirmed by such examples as the early bird series, the tetrapod series, the whale series, the various mammal series of the Cenozoic (for example, the horse series, the camel series, the elephant series, the pig series, the titanothere series, etc.), the Cantius and Plesiadapus primate series, and the hominid series. Evidence for not just one but for all three of the species level and above types of stratomorphic intermediates expected by macroevolutionary theory is surely strong evidence for macroevolutionary theory. Creationists therefore need to accept this fact. It certainly CANNOT said that traditional creation theory expected (predicted) any of these fossil finds.” [My italics added here]
Wise is willing to consider the “appearance of age” approach to interpretation of Genesis. That is, maybe God created everything 6000 years ago, but with the full appearance of being billions of years old. This approach notes that if you came across Adam a minute after his creation, he would have looked as if he had been alive say 20 years already, and presumably with a navel, as if he had been born the usual way. This appearance-of-age approach then says that maybe this principle extends to the whole created order: the universe looks as if it has been around for 13.8 billion years, and genetics and fossils look as if God used evolution to shape the current biota. This approach allows a YE creationist to hold to a 6000 year old earth, while being comfortable with [instead of denying] all the evidence which, seems as if the earth is old. I have some philosophical reservations about this approach, but it is a self-consistent, honest approach, in contrast to the usual Answers in Genesis approach.
Wise’s protégé, Todd Wood, is also a committed YE creationist, who again tries to be honest with the data. He had this to say about the evidence for evolution:
“… Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.
…Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn’t make it ultimately true, and it doesn’t mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives. It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution. I am motivated to understand God’s creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective. Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence. Please don’t be duped into thinking that somehow evolution itself is a failure. Please don’t idolize your own ability to reason.”
So those are honest YE creationists, with whom I have no problem. My problem is with Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, etc., who try to deceive laypeople into believing that there are no transitional fossils, that all lake varves are questionable, that the glacier core layers are unclear, etc. They accomplish this by ignoring the bulk of the physical findings, misrepresenting what scientists actually do, misrepresenting quotations, sometimes outright misstating the core facts, and above all issuing a continual stream of misleading distractors. I noted several instances in your slides where you presented some of these misleading distractors (rapid snow accumulation near coast of Greenland, no blowhole for Rodhocetus, doctored Colin Patterson quote, etc.) . Again, not blaming you at all, but just to note how plausible their presentations can be if you want to believe them.
These organizations continue to promote so-called evidences for a young earth, even after being clearly informed why their assertions are incorrect. This is plain dishonesty; it is not merely arguing from a clearly-stated bias. But it is successful in keeping gullible lay people energized. I have detailed several of these erroneous claims, e.g. salts in the ocean, earth magnetic field, helium in the atmosphere, and folded rocks here: https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/evidences-for-a-young-earth/ (Sorry to be so blunt, but that is what I observe, unfortunately).
- I definitely understand the point about the sun moving in the sky, that it can be a frame of reference that is the reason for the Scriptural words, and I do acknowledge that I am convinced that the earth orbits the sun, and it was not necessary for God to go into this.
However, when Genesis speaks of evening and morning, repetatively, that need not be poetic only. It can point out 6 days, rather than periods. Othewise, I don’t see it written as poetic, but the names of people are given that Jesus specifically references in geneologies.
I think this is a sign that it is not merely poetic. I’m glad you have faith and love the testimony anyway. I did have faith for years, not feeling confident about Genesis 1-11, and I am also glad that your daughters have faith. For me, it helped me to be more convinced.
I understand what you are saying here. Just one main comment, which is that the age of the earth up till the creation of Adam is a different issue than the time since Adam. Many educated conservative Christians endorse an Old Earth creationism, which accepts the evidence for an old (billions of years) earth prior to Adam, while still taking the Genesis genealogies literally (so only 6000 years since Adam). Hugh Ross is a well-known exponent of this viewpoint. It’s not a view I share, but thought I’d mention it.
And a side comment, that one reason many conservative Christian scholars think that six consecutive 24-hour days is not the meaning of Gen 1 is because of how these days are neatly structured into two triads (Days 1-3, Days 4-6) which correspondingly address the primordial conditions of formlessness and emptiness (Gen 1:2). Thus, it seems that the organization of Gen 1 is thematic, not necessarily chronological:
Anyway, this is just FYI.
- As for the sign of Jonah, I feel that more signs are not necessarily given to a wicked and adulterous generation, but that there is still testimony given all around us, (Romans 1), and, I am also convinced there is flood evidence. I think we have all seen answers to prayer, which are also signs.
Jesus also said that if every tongue were stilled, the rocks would cry out, and I see that as a continuing revelation, like the heavens declaring the glory of God. What do the rocks cry out?
Isn’t the top of the Coconino formation flat? The ripple marks on the side could be perturbations by wind or water, no? Isn’t there another layer of sediment right above it without much nonconformity? Does that not speak more of water than of wind, if so?
I wish it were true that there is Flood evidence, but I have looked carefully and found none.
As for the “rocks crying out”, this is from Luke 19:40 , “He answered, “I tell you, if these [cheering crowds] were silent, the very stones would cry out.” The context of this is the Triumphal Entry. Jesus said that if (for this particular event) the people had not cheered, the rocks would have cried out. However, the people did cheer, so the rocks did not cry out. This verse is not about geology.
As for the meaning of Psalm 19 and Romans 1 re revelation of God in nature, please see https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/a-survey-of-biblical-natural-theology/ .
Key point: Whatever aspect of nature Paul had in mind when he asserted in Romans 1 that God’s “eternal power and divine nature” are displayed in nature, it had to be something that was readily accessible to everyone since ancient times, not requiring twentieth century observations of rock layers, measurements of salt in oceans, or lengthy explication by Answers in Genesis apologists. Presumably Paul was referring to the size and intricate functioning of the natural world as a whole, which demonstrates to everyone everywhere the power and skill and care of the Creator.
To my knowledge, the Coconino Sandstone is the only major Grand Canyon formation deposited as mainly dry, wind-sculpted material. Like any desert, there was likely some rain and some water present some of the time. All the other Grand Canyon layers, including the ones just above the Coconino, were deposited under water, as the sea level relative to the land rose and fell and rose and fell over millions of years – -driven partly by plate tectonics, but also by repeated glaciations at the poles which can cause sea levels to change by hundreds of feet. All indications are that the land of the Grand Canyon stayed fairly level over many millions of years, so if it got raised a little above sea level, the exposed land surface would erode a bit but stay fairly flat, like much of the US Gulf Coast today. And every time the sea advanced back in over this eroded land surface, the surf action would tend to level out most of the remaining humps and dips in the landscape (like we see in the fairly level sand at the surf-line today on the Gulf Coast), yielding a flat surface for depositing the next layer of under-sea sediment.
- My husband looked up the translation of the small mustard seed, and he found not that it is the smallest seed, necessarily, but the small seed sown in the garden (possibly at the time). Surely there are small seeds that blow around and drop, like dandelion, and basil.
I agree that this is a reasonable interpretation of the text, but that is not what the text itself says.
Matthew 13:32 describes the mustard seed as “the smallest of all the seeds”, according to the Greek text shown in this interlinear translation:
And Mark 4:31 as “the smallest of all the seeds which are upon the earth [or ground]”:
Now, if you want to incorporate the physical observation that the mustard seed is not in fact the smallest of all the seeds on the earth, and hold that Jesus was speaking to a group of people at a particular time and place, with their understanding of seeds and so on, and thus depart from the literal interpretation of these verses, that is fine (and I think proper), but again please note that is what the majority of educated Christians do with Genesis 1.
- I am not particularly convinced by the calibration methods of the Genesis 1-3 teacher. Again, repeating “evening and morning” does not prove merely poetic thought to me.
I understand. Though as noted above, there are reasons besides the repetition to indicate other than six 24-hour days – – e.g. on the first 3 days, there was no sun to mark the 24-hours.
- The whale leg bone genes were particularly mystifying to me. I saw two little bones in diagrams, and we thought they had something to do with reproduction.
Nevertheless, Carl Wieland, a physician, has gone to tremendous lengths to produce “Evolution : Grand Experiment” videos, likely available on youtube, where he examines the land mammal/whale missing links. (I certainly understand your clear explanation about some missing links being understandably missing, and that most creatures are not fossilized, such as Colin Patterson went on to say). Dr. Wieland has a fascinating story, worth hearing. I think there must be quite a bit of info. on the genes that are not expressed as whale legs. I have never heard that before, and perhaps those genes are for something else? They clearly would not have identical coding to legs that we would recognize, but if this were true, it is curious. Sounds “vestigial”. How could they test this? Surely they could not replace it for the genes on land animals in the lab and wait for legs to grow there? Now, that would be something to see. It might be interesting for you to watch the Carl Wieland videos.
Evolution requires that there would have been a long sequence of animals in between a four-footed mammal ancestor, and present whales (which includes dolphins) which have no visible hind legs. And the fossil record, especially as filled in during the past 3 decades, shows exactly that. YE creationists can mount all the peripheral objections they want, but the fact stands that the types of transitional fossils predicted by evolution are there.
I am rather familiar with the litany of YE creationist objections for whales. As I noted in my earlier note, they all tend to be like the one with the Rodhocetus blowhole: true factoids which do not obviate the actual fossil evidence.
One such objection is that shrunken hind legs in some of intermediate species may have some function in assisting alignment during copulation. Another is the remaining pelvis and inner tiny hind leg bones in today’s whales retain some function in anchoring organs, including sex organs. This all may well be true, but that does not in the slightest take away from the fact that these fossil species display the sequence of skeletal transitions predicted by evolution.
As I also mentioned, another thing that evolution predicts is that for parts and functions that have been lost in whales compared to regular land mammals, such as loss of exterior hind legs, loss of enameled teeth (for baleen whales), loss of olfactory lobes (no longer needed for smelling in air), etc., we should still find the original genes there, but deactivated (either inactivated by mutations, or down-regulated). The diagram below notes a number of such genes, as predicted by evolution. I marked with yellow highlighter the genes color-coded red, which is where the genes have been inactivated by mutations. These include the genes for the teeth and the olfactory lobes. And also highlighted the ones coded purple, where the genes are still functional but the degree to which they are expressed has changed. The relevant hind leg genes, called SonicHedgeHog (SHH) and HAND are still there in the genome and are still functional as genes, but they are no longer expressed as before.
In case you are curious, here is where the leg-growing SHH gene (here coded as bmy_12671) sits in the bowhead whale genome:
YE creationists can always come up with rationalizations after these genetic observations have been made, such as, “Maybe the Creator decided to re-use similar genes” or “Maybe there is a use for these apparently non-functional teeth genes that we just haven’t discovered yet.” But YE creationism would not have predicted these specific genetic features, whereas evolution did. This is why evolution is a useful explanatory framework, and YE creationism is not.
- The seasonal varves… I’ve seen experimentally how some conditions can produce layers that look like seasonal varves. This can be generated with wave tanks. I saw it in a video.I could probably find a link to that video, though it is not always my favorite video. All it takes is one set of conditions that produces “seasonal varves” that are not seasonal to show that they might not correspond directly with years.
The fact that nature, and humans with wave tanks, can produce non-annual sets of light/dark layers is irrelevant. As I stated in my earlier note to you, scientists are completely aware of the possibility of spurious non-annual layers, which is why they take pains to analyze the lake core sediments to be sure they are in fact annual cycles. They observe the current sedimentation pattern in the lake (e.g. dark, fine organic matter in winter under the ice; mineral matter like sand and silt washed in the spring thaw; algal remains late spring/summer) in the lake, and analyze the chemical contents of the cored layers to verify that this annual progression of seasons is represented. Also, they know the current rate of sediment deposition, in mm/year, and would be suspicious if there were some sudden departure from that rate in the lake cores.
There are ways to further verify that these are not random/nonannual sets of layers. For instance, a volcanic eruption in southern Italy produced a distinctive layer of ash across southern and central Europe called the Neapolitan Yellow Tuff. This layer shows up in at least two lake sediments that I am aware of. In the German lake Meerfelder Maar, we count down the annual layers and find the ash layer at 14,230 BP (before 1950). For a lake in southern Italy (Lago Grande di Monticchio), we can count down the varves and get a date of 14,120 BP. That is less than a 1% difference in dating, for two lakes that are 600 miles apart, with varves counted by two different research teams. I have difficulty imagining clearer proof of the reliability of the annual nature of properly chosen lake varves.
- The oldest civilization that we know (China) claims about 5000 years, and the oldest bristlecone pine tree they have found is about 5000 years (Methuselah), and recently a Harvard graduate has written a book called Replacing Darwin (Nate Jeanson?) which shows genetic pointers in mutation rates that point to 6000 years. Is there something to look at there?
Some chronological markers go back 5000 years, but some, as I noted earlier, go back much longer.
Re Replacing Darwin – as you can tell from my extensive blog articles, I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours reading and evaluating YE creationist literature. Every couple of years they come up with a new attempt to refute evolution. I wrote probably the most comprehensive review on the web (over 100 references) of John Sanford’s Genetic Entropy, which was 2005’s YE creationist bid to demolish evolution. Since in every case I have found that, when all the facts are on the table, the YE case fails, I don’t have the energy to read and analyze yet another such book.
So here is what I suggest: By all means read the book and the YE creationist positive reviews of this book, but also in fairness read a critique of the book by a practicing scientist, such as this examination of a key chapter: https://evograd.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/reviewing-replacing-darwin-part-7-a-nuclear-catastrophe/
Well, you have raised some more interesting points here. I have tried to respond to them in the attached document. This exchange has been stimulating, but I need to close it out now. We will be traveling and occupied now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I hope it has been useful to you to receive some comments on your specific concerns. I am sure that there is room for a variety of viewpoints in this area.
I hope you all enjoy the summer!