2019 Letters to a Creationist, Part 3: Minds Changed?

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.

Sigh.

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.

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Hi Rachel,

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.

  1. 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).

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  1. 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:

Six-Day Framework View of Genesis 1

Anyway, this is just FYI.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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:

Matthew 13:32 Interlinear, on mustard seed

And Mark 4:31 as “the smallest of all the seeds which are upon the earth [or ground]”:

Mark 4:31 Interlinear on mustard seed

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.

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  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.

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  1. 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.

Gene changes in whales compared to land mammal (hippo). Source: McGowen, et al., Molecular evolution tracks macroevolutionary transitions in Cetacea . Trends in Ecology and Evolution, May 2014

In case you are curious, here is where the leg-growing SHH gene (here coded as bmy_12671) sits in the bowhead whale genome:

Bowhead Whale Hind Leg SHH Gene Location
Source: http://www.bowhead-whale.org/annotations/results/?s=shh

 

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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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/

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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!

Blessings,

Scott

About ScottBuchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, folding scooters, and composting toilets. Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 100 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas.
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15 Responses to 2019 Letters to a Creationist, Part 3: Minds Changed?

  1. jimvogan@juno.com says:

    Excellent work. In the end all you can say, as my friend Mario says, is “Believe whatever you have to believe to get you through the night.”

    That is, assuming she is not also a climate-change denier or a Trump supporter. Some beliefs do more harm than others.

  2. I admire your patience. Regarding the Grand Canyon, for me the killer arguments are the Coconino sandstone, whose individual grains as well as cross bedding identify it as a desert deposit, mudcracks in the Tapeats, and the clear evidence of erosion and infill in the paraconformities that your friend mentions, notably between the Redwall and Muav sandstones, and between the Supai Group and the Redwall. As I expect you know, all of this is discussed at some length them David Montgomery’s The Rocks Don’t Lie, and in specifically Christian context by the multi-author (you probably know some of the authors) Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth.

    If someone accepts the strength of the scientific case here for an ancient Earth, but persists in rejecting that as contrary to core beliefs, then they are being perverse, but at least consistent. What I find culpable is the insistence, after examining such evidence, that the Grand Canyon can be understood in terms of creationist Flood Geology, arguing for instance as your friends does that after all, the paraconformities are *nearly* flat, so that is good enough.

    I had hoped to find here some advice on how to move forward at this point. But it looks as if that may be impossible

    • Yes, I wish I could commend some effective approach for changing peoples’ minds here, but it is hard to compete with gut level convictions with mere physical facts, especially when the other side provides a barrage of countervailing “facts” that seem convincing to the layman. It takes some mental effort, and confidence in one’s own abilities, to really balance the claims and counter-claims and counter-counter claims. The waters are muddied enough that for most folks they just latch onto the fact set that suits them.

      That said, ( A ) There is the occasional Y E creationist who sees the light, eventually (such as me), and ( B ) I think polls show that Y E creationism is slowly losing ground. A high percentage of the children of evangelicals are abandoning church and much of the fundamentalist tendencies of their parents, even if they retain a private faith. There will always be a rump that remains, but I think twenty years from now, if we are still around, we will see a noticeable decline in this problem. I don’t know a single under-30 evangelical that is fired up by Y E creationism. (That is from U.S. perspective – -don’t know the trends in the U.K.).

      • Thanks, Scott. In the UK, there is a general decline in religious belief, and a majority (especially among the young) who have no religious affiliation, although the census questions on which I base that do not directly test belief in a God.

        On the other hand, there have been some murky compromises. The Church of Scotland’s liberal wing has persuaded its conservative wing to go along with greater tolerance of homosexuality, in turn for giving a very free hand to Highland Evangelical College, which has close links to the US Southern Baptists. In England, for ideological reasons, successive Conservative governments have farmed out the state education system to non-governmental bodies, including, on a very large scale, the Church of England. Whether this will lead to an increase in belief, or total inoculation against it, it is too early to say.

        Can you tell us more about what circumstances enabled you to escape from YEC? I know you have an education in science and engineering, but that in itself is no guarantee of accepting either evolution or an old Earth

  3. Paul, I tell my story in these two articles, here https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/evolution-and-faith-my-story-part-1/ and
    https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/evolution-and-faith-my-story-part-2/ .

    The shorter version: I was exposed (by John Whitcomb, himself!) to a dose of Y E creationism as an undergrad. Whitcomb came to town, sponsored by campus Christian group, and gave presentations complete with slides of what seemed like compelling evidence of the failure of old earth geology. Things like polystrate fossils, and recent lave flows radioactively date to be hundreds of thousands of years old. This was long before you could Google “Debunk polystrate fossils”, so I had no counterbalancing information. As years passed and I got more science information, I cooled to the young earth part, tho not formally turning against it. My decisive break there was reading books by Hugh Ross, in the mid 1990s. He is a strong evangelical, with astrophysics background, who likes to use Big Bang/fine tuning (entailing an old earth) as pointers toward God as creator of universe (this was before the multiverse proposal became popular). He specifically debunked what he called “bogus evidence for a young earth”. With his information before me, it was obvious that Y E creationism was bunk. The Ken Ham crowd naturally denounces Ross and his Reasons to Believe ministry as “compromisers”.

    At that point I was still anti-evolution (as is Hugh Ross). The Intelligent Design books seemed credible, partly b/c my knowledge of biology and genetics was minimal.(My only formal bio exposure was high school class 1970’s..when they didn’t even know about introns!) . A turning point for me was when a friend at work mentioned that during reproduction, sometimes genes and other whole sections of DNA can get duplicated and added to genome. It was immediately clear to me that that sort of thing offered a mechanism for increasing size and diversity in genome. This was c. 2006 or so, by which time if someone really wanted to weigh alternatives, the TalkOrigins site had entries on everything, so that was helpful to me. [Sadly, TalkOrigins seems to have gone into stasis since about that time, which is a shame b/c it is so complete and well indexed…if it were brought up to date, it could be a great one-stop shopping resource.]

    Creationism was not at all a focus in my thinking. And then, as I discuss in those articles, someone gave me a copy of John Sanford’s Genetic Entropy and challenged me to get on board the Y E/anti-evolution bandwagon and use my training to promote the cause. But when I ground through that book chapter by chapter, and educating myself along the way on genetics, I was appalled at the misrepresentations, and the consequent deception of the laity. That is what ended up launching me in blogging on the subject.

    This was maybe more than you wanted to know. I was not a typical YE True Believer, since (a) I have more scientific background than most, (b) I am kind of ironical and skeptical (compared to the average person in the pew), and (c) I loathe being deceived and/or misleading others, so I am motivated to check my own confirmation bias and to test and retest what I believe.
    A lifetime in the lab has made me lean towards letting the data speak, even if there are some unexplained outliers, and not prematurely squashing everything into some comfortable theoretical framework. Applied to creationism, it means that as an evolutionary creationist I have to live with some dangling ends theologically, compared to the tidy box offered by Y E creationism.

  4. Thanks, Scott; all of this is very helpful. Do you think that Sanford is deceiving himself, or that he is consciously lying (going beyond the degree of simplification acceptable when explaining complex material)? This is a question that I often ask myself about creationists. I don’t know, for example, whether Ham is a straightforward bullshitting scoundrel, like the UK Prime Minister, or whether he really believes in his parallel universe. With Behe, I’m pretty sure that the latter is the case.

    All in all, you have reinforced my impression that the correct approach to creationism is to attempt to evoke the “ironic and sceptical” attitude that is implicit in scientific fallibilism, and, indeed, that it is this attitude, rather than the mere rejection of creationist error, that in my own work I should be attempting to foster

    • Paul,
      John Sanford is a good test case. As a veteran professor of botany, and innovator in genetic manipulation of plants, he seems well equipped to engage with the truths of genetics.
      Here is my long, long review of his book:
      https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/stan-4/
      If you scroll down to the end, you will find a link to an essay he wrote trying to rebut my critical review. And also a link to my rebuttal of his rebuttal.

      My take is that he really believes what he is saying. I think it is all about selective filtering, what facts and implications you allow into your consciousness.
      Once someone gets really invested in some position that they identify with at a gut level, then there is an overwhelming emotional urge to suppress dissonant information, and soothe one’s self by scurrying back to voices that reinforce your position. With most controversial issues, there are enough aspects/angles, and enough facts in play, and enough spokespeople on either side, that one can easily lose one’s self in one’s comfort zone.

      I’ll mention a political anecdote that I hope is far enough back in the past not to raise the hackles of any readers here – – back around 1968 or so, Ted Kennedy (brother of JFK) looked to have a serious shot a presidential candidacy. But one night he was driving with a young woman “to the ferry” in an area he was very familiar with. He was parking in the dark, doing who knows what with the young woman. When a deputy sheriff approached the car, wondering if they were lost, Kennedy took off fast in the opposite direction of the ferry. He drove off a low bridge with a young woman in the car into water deep enough to cover the car. He managed to escape the car. There were houses nearby, including one with a light on at that hour, but instead of banging on the doors and summoning help, he swam a nontrivial water channel, got to hotel, cleaned up and appeared in public looking dry and well, as if to establish an alibi that he had not been in the car. Even the next morning he chatted with folks like nothing happened, not telling anyone about the incident. The young woman survived for a while breathing an air bubble in the car, but died. She likely might have been saved had Kennedy notified authorities immediately. This being Massachusetts, and he being a Kennedy, he only got a legal handslap instead of doing hard time for killing this young woman. (This is from memory…can fact check on Wikipedia,” Chappaquiddick Incident “)
      OK, so that is the seamy background. A year or two later I was walking around the site of this incident with a friend from Boston. We walked through the intersection where he claimed to have mistakenly taken the wrong turn. We walked past the houses where he did not call for help. I wasn’t trying to press any big political point, but it was obvious that Kennedy was lying about “accidently” taking a wrong turn (he turned right onto a dirt road, which led down to the bridge, instead of simply following the paved road around to the right, to the ferry, as usual), and also acted only to try to protect his political skin at the cost of that girl’s life. But my friend just couldn’t see it. She could not bring herself to acknowledge that Kennedy had done anything reprehensible.

      In the case of Y E creationism, in the preface to the sixth printing of their canonical text, The Genesis Flood, Whitcomb and Morris candidly revealed the basis of their thinking:
      “We believe that the Bible, as the verbally inspired and completely inerrant Word of God, gives us a true framework of historical and scientific interpretation, as well as of so-called religious truth. This framework is one of special creation of all things, complete and perfect in the beginning, followed by the introduction of a universal principle of decay and death into the world after man’s sin, culminating in a worldwide cataclysmic destruction of the “world that then was” by the Genesis Flood. We take this revealed framework of history as our basic datum, and then try to see how all the pertinent data can be understood in this context…the real issue is not the correctness of the interpretation of various details of the geological data, but simply what God has revealed in His Word concerning these matters.”

      On this telling, the authors KNOW that the earth was recently created, that decay and death only entered the world following Adam’s apple, and all terrestrial life was drowned apart from the humans and animals on Noah’s ark. Knowing this to be the case, they feel justified in distorting or ignoring whatever physical evidence points to an old earth – they KNOW that old-earth evidence must be invalid, so they need give it no credence and indeed SHOULD give it no credence: “We take this revealed framework of history as our basic datum, and then try to see how all the pertinent data can be understood in this context.”

      I’d just like to add that the tone on your site is generally open-minded and fact-based. However irritating you may find the Y E creationists, you don’t bash them as evil imbeciles like R Dawkins does. His tone is red meat to his fans, but is completely counterproductive – it just gives the YEC’s reason to claim that the evolutionists are evolutionists because they are anti-God.
      And again…even if you and I did nothing more in this area, I think the problem is slowly resolving itself with time. Happy holidays…

      • Thanks again. I think political partisanship is a good model, and I do remember Chappaquiddick (sp?); and thank you for your kind words. I find much of what Dawkins says about religion to be both true and relevant, but his commitment to the Conflict Thesis is self-indulgent, unhistorical, and assuredly countereffective.

        This from the chapter summary of the book proposal that I am preparing right now to send out to agents (suggestions welcome!):

        “More can be accomplished by sympathetic listening than by outright hostility. For anyone reared in a biblical literalist tradition, accepting evolution requires deep rethinking about their relationship with the world, their friends, their family, and their God. Anyone in this position deserves sympathetic support. Because uncomfortable information is more readily accepted from those seen as allies, I suggest pointing to statements by religious bodies in support of evolution, books (e.g. Finding Darwin’s God, and Adam and the Genome) by believers explaining how they reconcile religious faith and evolution, and a tradition of evolution theology going back over 100 years (Charles Kingsley, Asa Gray, Henry Drummond, the Clergy Letter Project).”

        Part of my hidden agenda is to offer my fellow unbelievers an alternative to Dawkinsism.

        Happy Holidays to you as well

      • I say “Amen” to what you wrote. I’ll dump some related thoughts here, take them for what they are worth.

        Comments on Christian sources on evolution – – For most evangelicals (excluding some hardshell fundamentalists, who will be unreachable anyway) older than say 40 years old, Billy Graham’s name is held in high esteem. So citing his acceptance of evolution might be even more impressive than Finding Darwin’s God (authored by a Roman Catholic) or Adam and the Genome (by lesser known authors), though it is good to cite them also.
        See https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2010/11/06/billy-graham-on-evolution/ for Graham quote on being OK with evolution.
        A couple of other, somewhat older pro-evolution books by evangelicals include Coming to Peace with Science, by Darrell Falk (spelling?), and The Language of God (2006) by Francis Collins. Collins has name recognition for heading the Human Genome project, and also as head of the National Institutes of Health for a number of years now. His book starts off with his conversion experience, which would endear it to conservative Christians.

        There is also an older book, which I have not read but gets referred to a lot, called Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders, which has impressive quotes from some of the earliest “fundamentalist” authors like B B Warfield who were super orthodox but were OK with evolution. (Pre 1920 or so, the fundamentalist movement was actually quite scholarly, only later did it get taken over by populists…see https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/exposing-the-roots-of-young-earth-creationism/

        Comment on strategy: I think in terms of sheer tonnage of truth denial, the Y E position is far more pernicious than anti-evolutionism. Most Intelligent Design (ID) folks accept modern geology and astronomy, including the appearance of the various fossils at the various ages that science finds. Their main schtick is that “unguided” physical processes cannot account for the genetic changes involved in the appearance of, say, a new organ, and so they insist there must have been some intelligent intervention along the way. You and I know that is incorrect, but compared to claiming the earth is only 6000 years old, that seems to me to be a more minor peccadillo.

        So…helping Y E C’s move from YE to Intelligent Design , i.e. accept old earth, but not evolution, is actually a huge, positive step, even if that is all that happens for a given individual. Since the most theologically threatening aspect of modern science for Christians has to do with human origins (Fall, Sin, and thus meaning of Atonement), moving to this ID position sidesteps the hardest theological issue. So this is a much easier step to take than going all the way to evolution, and it does away with the bulk of the factual errors.
        Now, this move can also set a person up for better overall engagement with science, and later coming to accept evolution as well. That was my trajectory.

        So, I’d suggest focusing mainly on age of the earth issues. This is the strategy of a number of Christian geologists that I know of. They talk about rock layers, lake varves, and correct the YEC lies about radioactive dating, but just don’t push evolution.
        The book Beyond the Firmament (2007) by Gordon Glover works hard to make old earth theologically palatable to evangelicals, but takes a neutral position on evolution. This book was well received when it came out, but I don’t know how popular it still is. Glover also has a YouTube series.
        Hugh Ross has started an influential ministry called Reasons to Believe. He is an astrophysicist, and as I mentioned earlier, his clear refutation of Y E bogus evidence was helpful in my journey. He tries to use things like Big Bang to validate his day/age model of Genesis 1 as a means to build faith in the reliability of the Bible. He is anti-evolution, but again, he got me ~80% along the way.

  5. Thanks again. The quotation from Billy Graham is particularly helpful. Regarding evolution, one can add whole organisations (Biologos, ASA, and in the UK the Faraday Institution) that actively promote the science from a Christian point of view. Regarding an old Earth,my friend (the Rev) Michael Roberts has convincingly shown that the 19th century Anglican Church cheerfully embraced, and its members notably contributed to, the emerging science of deep time geology. See for example https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2019/12/14/geology-and-genesis-unearthed-or-why-there-was-no-punch-up-between-geology-and-genesis/ and links therein. You may enjoy Michael’s blog

  6. Pingback: 2019 Letters to a Creationist, Part 2: Young Earth Evidence | Letters to Creationists

  7. Theo MA says:

    Several years ago I was listening to my pastor defend his view that only women could be Elders of our church. At that point in time I was on the pastor’s side of the argument. But as I listened to him discuss the bible passages it suddenly seemed clear to me that (to decimate a huge argument) the bible could well be speaking from within its own cultural setting. i.e. that the reason the bible doesn’t explicitly command male Elders was because it was an assumed cultural norm at the time for them to be male. I ended listening to my pastor’s complementarian talk being open to the the other side. I could see a way that egalitarianism could work.

    It seems to me that we are only able to reject our existing views when we see an alternative view that is coherent and believable. Arguing over the details of the debate doesn’t help if you cannot see a way to another view. If your raft is burning in the middle of the sea, no land in sight, and no other raft anywhere else in the sea, then you don’t simply swim in the direction of the horizon. Rather, you desperately try to put the fire out. There are lessons in organisational change management that use such ideas.

    I think that some YECs are wedded to their views not because of the strength of the arguments, but because they cannot see another way of believing God. Arguing about varves is not the point that matters to them. It is giving them a way to see God as still being God, the bible is still true, Jesus is still Lord and Saviour, even if the earth is 4.5 billion years old.

    • Theo,
      I think you have stated a key issue here. The fact that almost no Protestants today demand that women wear head coverings in church (contrary to Paul’s direct commands) shows that, yes, Paul was a man of the first century and shared the views common to that time, unless he had received direct revelation or apostolic teaching to the contrary.

      Paul did get special revelation concerning Jew/Gentile relations; it does not appear that he got such enlightenment regarding natural history, and so he (like nearly all first-century Jews) would naturally assume that the Adam and Eve story should be taken literally.

      Thanks for the insights here.

      • As an outsider, I cannot but wonder how you tell which of Paul’s utterances were based on “direct revelation” and presumably infallible, and which were just his opinions as a man of his time and place, however wise or insightful

      • Paul, that is a fair question.
        I was speaking as one believer to another, and (implicitly) referring to what Paul himself claimed as the sources of his teaching. For some subjects (e.g. the basic truth claims of early Christianity, such as the death, burial, and subsequent appearances of Jesus, I Corinthians 15:1-6) Paul attributed to teachings/traditions that he had heard from the disciples/apostles of Jesus. For others, such as his (highly controversial) teaching that Gentiles who follow Jesus are now included in God’s favor on the same basis as Jews, he claimed direct revelation. In at least one case (on whether cerain people should get remarried – -I Corinthians 7) he explicitly stated that he had no special revelation, but just offered his personal opinion.

        For us 2000 years later, it is often not clear from within the text itself what level of authority he was claiming at each point. Note that most of his letters were written to congregations that were struggling with one or more specific and often serious problems, He was probably pacing back and forth, talking through these issues while a scribe was scribbling down what he was saying. I don’t think he wrote draft after draft, making sure to properly nuance every phrase.

        Where this is important in the creation/evolution debate is there are a couple of passages (Romans 5, I Cor 15) where Paul mentions the Genesis creation/fall account as though it happened literally. And of course the YEC’s seize on those. My take on those passages (which of course is not accepted by the YEC’s) is, yes, Paul probably did think it happened literally. He was a pious first century Jew, and so of course he would likely think what most pious first century Jews believed, unless he thought he had received some authoritative teaching (either from apostles or via his own direct revelation) to the contrary. In the cases of these two passages, Paul is motoring along with intense arguments regarding the basis of salvation (in Romans 5) or the reality of the future resurrection (I Cor 15), and cites the Genesis creation/fall story merely to buttress his arguments there. It doesn’t seem to me that he is pounding the table and insisting that the Genesis story happened literally; he simply assumed that it did, and used that common point of reference with his readers to promote his arguments.
        As with any text, what you take away from it depends heavily on the assumptions you bring to it…

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