Mailbag: Confused Creationist Student Returns

It is time for another entry in the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact info on the about page.

Creationism is the scientifically false belief that all life appeared suddenly with their key features already fully formed. Sometimes, as is the case with young earth creationism, it also holds that the age of the earth is just a few thousand years old in contrast with the modern estimate of around 4.6 billion years. This is at odds with modern science that concludes based on a massive amount of evidence that all life shares a common ancestor in the past and has changed over time.

In a previous article, Debunking Denialism responded to a post written by a creationist student that tried to leverage moral arguments against the well-supported explanatory model of evolution. It was pointed out that scientific facts cannot rob us of our humanity, that many of the early scientists who discovered the empirical foundation of evolution where themselves Christian, that carbon dating is not used to date the age of the earth, that there was no global flood, that the Cambrian radiation is evidence for evolution, that evolution is not the same as random chance and debunked many other common creationist myths.

Now, the author of that post has written a detailed response in the comment section to the previous post. His comment can be read in full here. The rest of this mailbag is a point-by-point response to some of the arguments and claims that he brings up.

My purpose in writing the article was to show Christians on campus who are “compromising” and believe in evolution and God that this is not right.

Accepting scientific facts for what they are is not a compromise. It is a courageous effort to grapple with the reality works, regardless of personal beliefs. Many devout Christians accept evolution, from the Catholic Church to many evangelical biologists. They have adopted the stance that truth cannot contradict truth and if some aspect of science appears to contradict their religion, they consider that to be a failure of the human understanding of religion, not as a failure of science. We should be careful to distinguish between Christianity and creationism. The former is a world religion, whereas the latter is a specific belief about the origin of different kinds of animals. The former does not necessarily imply the latter.

I also wanted to expose those that aren’t Christians to the other side that they may have never heard, so they could ask questions.

Burchfield wants us to be generous and consider creationism and evolution to be two different “sides”. But that is not how science works. Shamanism is not “the other side” of medicine. The idea that the moon is made of cheese is not “the other side” of planetary physics. Phlogiston is not a different “side” to the science of oxidation. The idea that bleach cures cancer is not “the other side” of cancer treatment. The technique of attempting to undermine some scientific position by claiming that there is a legitimate debate and that “the other side” (typically consisting of some form of pseudoscience or quackery) is just as valid. This is called false balance and Debunking Denialism has covered this and many other science denialist tactics.

[…] Anyway, my original article, which was not published, was about how creationism is dismissed too easily, not that it is greater than evolution from an academic perspective, but that it is at least comparable.

It is not comparable. Evolution is a well-supported scientific explanation for the origin of biological diversity supported by mountains of evidence, from genetics and biochemistry to paleontology and biogeography. Creationism, on the other hand, is based on distortions of empirical observation, quotations of out of context and other deceptive claims.

The real focus of that article was on the consequences of evolution on human morality.

Evolution, like the atomic theory of matter, quantum mechanics or mitosis, is irrelevant for human morality. It is just a scientific model, not a moral theory. In fact, no scientific model counts as a moral theory. This is one of the great confusions of creationism.

[…] Look I am no scientist. I have done enough research to feel secure in my Christian faith, but I am by no means able to convince a large group of people based on my SCIENTIFIC knowledge.

It is okay to not be a scientist. But it is a disservice to make stark pronouncements about a scientific field for which one has very little accurate knowledge about. It is also misleading to say that reading creationist arguments qualify was research. Research, at the very minimum, requires reading published scientific literature and preferably doing actual experiments. There is a great quote by Augustine from De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim that fits nicely in this context:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

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Or to put it more bluntly: if some Christians cannot get even basic aspects of science right, why should they be trusted when it comes to matters where we cannot do any scientific research, such as the existence of the divine, heaven and so on? This is what makes creationism such a tactically unwise position to hold for any religious person. Besides the fact that it is a scientifically false position, of course.

However, I do believe I have a strong case from a moral point of view.

Would Burchfield argue against the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease by leveraging moral arguments. I highly doubt it. That very notion is absurd, as is arguing against evolution by referencing moral arguments.

The last thing I will say about the scientific side is this. There are many former evolutionist scientists who have become Christian Creationists, even despite the perceived “mountain” of evidence against creationism.

Actually, it is rather the opposites. Many of the scientists who discovered the scientific basis for evolution (taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, geneticist Gregor Mendel, paleontologist Georges Cuvier, geologist Charles Lyell and many others) believed in the existence of a divine creator. Yet that did not dissuade them from following the scientific evidence no matter where it led. They came to the conclusion that the age must be old, that species have changed over time and many other conclusions we now accept as obvious facts of nature.

I have seen enough to be convinced that creationism is at least possible from a scientific point of view, just like you believe evolution was possible from your scientific point of view.

Science is not about what is possible, but what is, given the evidence, probable. Almost everything that does not entail a direct logical contradiction is possible. For instance, the notion of mice with a mass of two tons, floating skyscrapers or nose hairs the size of planets are logically possible, but that does not make them probable or scientifically reasonable ideas. There is something else that is needed to bridge that gap and that something else is scientific evidence.

Both of our theories have flaws (I’m sure you will say that I am trying to make evolution and creationism equal and they aren’t even close to equal scientifically. But frankly I don’t care).

Indeed, I will point out that this is the pseudoscientific technique called false balance and that it is not an accurate representation.

[…] Maybe I did not make this clear, but my article was from a Biblical perspective on creation (dating the world at approximately 7,000 years old). Therefore I do not take into account other versions of creationism.

Looks like we have a lot of ground to cover. More information about radiometric dating methods can be found in the Age of the Earth article at TalkOrigins website. Debunking Denialism also has an article called Refuting “Radiometric Dating Methods Makes Untenable Assumptions!”.

I also do not believe that you understand Christianity. You seem to believe that someone could be a Christian and a believer in evolution but that is not the case. The Bible states explicitly what happened during Creation, and it wasn’t evolution. In order to believe in the inerrency of Scripture and therefore be able to have full assurance in the Scripture being the Word of God, you must believe in everything in the scripture. You can’t pick and choose.

Religious texts were written, copied and translated by imperfect humans. Even if we, for the sake of argument, accept that the original writings were inerrant, we have no access to those, but only copies of copies of copies of copies etc. The Genesis account of creation does not specify a method, only that it happened because Yahweh wanted it to happen. Even the early verses of the gospel of John does not provide a detailed account of the mechanism by which species diversify. Burchfield seems to be laboring under the notion that his particular literal interpretation is not an interpretation. In fact, there are plenty of parables and other stories in the Bible where it is impossible to read it literally.

[…] Another criticism I have of your responses is that you claim evolution is an explanation of biodiversity, so therefore it cannot be used in an argument about the meaning of life, conscience, or morality. I take issue with this because our origin is tied to who we are and what we are.

That is only because those are things you associate with it. Evolution has no more to do with the meaning of life or morality than the atomic theory of matter, the germ theory of disease, quantum mechanics, how to throw a baseball the farthest or how to unclog a toilet. Your body consists of atoms and you sometimes get a cold. Has this anything at all to do with the meaning of life or morality? No, because they are scientific explanations to some part of the observable world.

According to evolution we are simply animal, with no spirit.

Humans are animals because we are not fungi, bacteria, plants or unicellular parasites (the five kingdoms of life). At its most basic, it has to do with humans having animal cells (rather than any of the other cell types). Humans have cells that have a nuclear membrane, but not a cell wall and we clearly consist of more than a single cell as adults. If you reject the notion that humans are animals, you would be forced to believe that humans belong to one of the other four kingdoms. Needless to say, it would be a bit weird if you chose to believe that humans were really fungi.

Evolution is an explanation for the origin of biological diversity. Why are birds more similar to each other than any of them are to reptiles? Why are birds and reptiles more similar than either of them are to mammals? Are are trees of different species more similar to other trees than to ferns? Many of these questions have clear scientific answers: birds share a common ancestor in the past at a later date than the common ancestor of all birds and all reptiles do.

Evolution makes no comment about souls and spirits or angels and demons. You are welcome to believe that humans have some innate spirit that is immortal, but it has nothing to do with evolution or any other science.

[…] Christianity says that humanity has a body, soul, and spirit. Animals have bodies, but they do not contain a spirit, because they are not created in God’s image, unlike humanity. Humanity according to the Bible, have spirits, and these are eternal parts of us. According to Christianity, when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, we are given the power to overcome sin and our spirits are awakened. Without the baptism of the Holy Spirit we are simply people trying to do right and wrong “in our own strength”.

Christian doctrines but it has nothing to do with the scientific explanation to the origin of biological diversity. Just like you would never bring up those doctrines to argue that atoms or viruses do not exist, it is a mistake to bring them up against evolution.

So because evolution says we were not created in the image of God, evolution says that we could not have spirits, and therefore we cannot be baptized in the Holy Spirit, and therefore cannot overcome sin.

Evolution says that all life on earth is related through a process called common descent. It says nothing about specific religious doctrines like souls, spirits, deities, sin, baptism and neither does any other model like the atomic theory of matter of the germ theory of disease. It just tells you that trains are made of atoms and sometimes germs can make you sick. Trying to claim this has some bearing on specific religious doctrines is a disservice to both science and religion.

You can see why this makes evolution incompatible with Christianity not only because it directly opposes the Bible, but also because it makes it impossible to practice Christianity. Basically my conclusion is this. If you are a Christian and have met God, and have a personal relationship with Him, and have seen supernaturally miraculous things like I have, then you cannot be a believer in evolution. Christianity and evolution are by nature incompatible.

Yet, millions of Christians see no problem in accepting the world that science has shown us.

If you aren’t a Christian I leave you with these questions and challenges. Why do you place such faith in evolution and not creation? Both have difficulties from a scientific perspective. What made you choose evolution? Was it because the scientific community believes in it? Just because everybody believes a lie that doesn’t make it truth. Have you ever given Jesus a chance in your life? How can you claim to know that Christianity is false if you have not given Christian practice a chance? […]

Evolution, like any other scientific model, does not require faith. This is because of the massive amount of scientific evidence. Science is based on knowing and not on blind faith. In a final analysis, Burchfield confuses the religion of Christianity with the pseudoscientific position of creationism. These are not the same and conflating them is a mistake.

Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

3 thoughts on “Mailbag: Confused Creationist Student Returns

  • November 28, 2017 at 13:09
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    Halleluja! A fine point by point knockdown of the silly creationist arguments we see on a daily basis.

    The logical disconnect in their efforts to defeat the ‘ebil evolutionism’ is breathtaking. Fact should always trump belief. But Trump defeats sanity through inanity.

    Reply
    • November 28, 2017 at 22:28
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      I have been neglecting creationism for some time. Most likely because there is so much other pseudoscience out there and once you master the 300 or so arguments creationists regurgitate over and over, it is not exactly challenging. Then again, I could say that about every pseudoscience.

  • November 30, 2017 at 17:48
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    “…the notion…nose hairs the size of planets are logically possible, but that does not make them probable…” You never met my father, did you?

    Great post, btw. It reminded me of something Ken Miller said. To paraphrase, the God of creationism is like a mechanic who has to keep opening up the hood to tinker with the engine because he couldn’t get it right the first time.
    And I’d not be the first to note that either evolution is true or God went through a lot of trouble to make it look like it is, so as to deceive His children. To discount evolution is to worship a God who’s a liar.
    Really, anyone who believes in an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God would do well to accept the fact of evolution. To deny the latter is to contradict the former.

    Reply

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