Posted tagged ‘gradualism’

More Thoughts on Furthering the Dialogue on Creation

February 14, 2015
Appearances can be deceiving. How old do you think this canyon is? How long did it take to form the layers that were carved out? If I told you the majority of what you see took less than 5 years to form, would you call me a liar?

Appearances can be deceiving. How old do you think this canyon is? How long did it take to form the layers that were carved out? If I told you the majority of what you see took less than 5 years to form, would you brush that off as a pleasant fiction?

It’s been my pleasure to read some recent posts by Doug Wilson and Gavin Ortlund regarding Creation and Earth history. Doug started with this post, to which Gavin responded here with 4 points. Wilson then responded here, to all but Gavin’s 4th point. Wilson wisely left point 4 unanswered, suggesting that someone should respond who has more of a science background. And, while I’m more at home swimming with whales in the open ocean than writing blog posts, I felt compelled to respond. So, here goes this scientist’s attempt to further the dialogue on Creation.

Before I start, I want to say that I really appreciate Gavin’s effort to make a “friendly appeal” towards dialogue on Creation. Well done, and I hope to follow his lead with some friendly iron sharpening of my own.

Discern Between Scientific and Historic Research

Gavin’s point 4, the one Wilson left unanswered, was a call for young earth creationists to get “specific with the scientific evidence.” But this has been done, and is being done, in a thousand different ways (see below).

More importantly, the “scientific evidence” is not the problem at all. The problem is the interpretation of the evidence, which leads to another big issue. If anyone, young-earth, old-earth, or other, is truly interested in furthering the dialogue on Creation, they will put a greater effort into discerning between scientific research and natural history research. Scientific research is testable, repeatable, and verifiable. Natural history research involves drawing unverifiable conclusions from data. Natural history research is about interpreting unobserved past events.

In my opinion, a more scholarly approach to the Creation dialogue involves making a clear distinction between a scientific thing and a historic thing.  It’s been over a decade now since the call was made to move beyond scientific creationism, so young-earthers and old-earthers alike should be putting more effort into properly discerning between the two.

You don’t have to be a scientist to discern between the two types of research. You just need to know how to read a recipe. If you cannot, or just refuse to, acknowledge the difference between scientific research and natural history research, then you are not furthering the dialogue on Creation.

Energy or time?

Gavin wrote that “one step that will greatly help the dialogue about creation in the church is for young-earth creationists to pay more attention to the specifics and particulars of the evidence for an older earth and universe.”

If any Christian writes, speaks, or preaches like they have no clue of the vast amount of material published by young earth creationists regarding “specifics and particulars of the evidence,” then they are not furthering the dialogue on Creation. I am trying to say this in as friendly a way as possible, but a statement like that shows a lack of effort to research a matter before writing about it. It is the glory of kings to search a matter out (Proverbs 25:2), so act like a king.

Remember also, we are talking mainly about history here, and conclusions about the unobserved past depend on interpretation. For Christians, the biggest differences between old and young earth views stem from our presuppositions. Were high-energy, short term events the dominant shapers of earth’s surface? Or was it low-energy, slow, and gradual? The interpretive differences result mainly from how much emphasis the researcher places on catastrophism (high energy, short duration) versus gradualism (low energy, long duration).

Do you want to learn about what creation researchers are saying about the Grand Canyon? Starlight and time? Ice layering, etc? Then click here, or here, or here, or here, or many other places. If you would like, you can also read about some of my natural history research. I conducted an age-calibration experiment of the Ar-Ar radiometric dating method, and found that method overestimated the age of my sample by a factor of 55,000.

Read, and you will find that there are many reasons, good reasons, to be skeptical of the methods and models used to speculate about billions of years of earth age.

Here’s some advice for old-earthers who are serious about furthering the dialogue on Creation. It’s the same advice my advisor gave me when I turned in the first draft of my PhD research proposal. Across the top of the proposal in big red letters was the word READ. Read young earth creation research. Search the matter out.

And to that I would add, PRAY. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment to further this dialogue in the best possible way, which is the one that will bring Him the most glory.

Unsettle the (Secular) History, Burn the “Fictitious History” Strawman

As Doug mentioned, “the science is always settled until somebody unsettles it,” and this is true. But, keeping on track with discerning the scientific from the historic, it might be better to say, regarding earth age, that “the history is always settled until somebody revises it.”

In Gavin’s post, he quotes Robert Newman, who said “In harmonizing the revelation God has provided us in his Word, the Bible, and in his world, the universe, it seems to me that it is much preferable to spend our efforts on models that do not require us to believe that God has given us fictitious history.”

Newman’s argument is a logical fallacy. He sets up a straw man by portraying young earth creationists as a group that sees a lack of harmony between His word and His works, and seeks to harmonize the two with fictitious models. If Christians are truly interested in furthering the dialogue on Creation, then they need to rain burning sulfur down on the “fictitious history” strawman.

Personally, I think most young and old earth Christians are honestly searching for truth. In that search, we all need to be curious and open minded, not “settled,” having a healthy skepticism of any manmade models that speculate about earth’s past. Are you putting too much faith in the models of men? If so, consider that you may be closing the door on adventure and exploration, and stifling the curiosity of the next generation. I don’t want to be the one responsible for closing that door, do you?

I am not exactly sure what it is in our human nature, maybe pride, but it seems like there is a desire among some that, before they die, they are required to come up with their own personal “theory of the universe”. For the vast majority of old earth creationists, I think one reason they are unaware of young earth arguments is because they believe the history about the unobserved past is settled history. The big bang is their cosmology, and they have probably never thought to search out alternative models. They are probably unaware of the assumptions behind the big bang model, like the universe is homogenous, and no one place is more special than another.

But what if that’s not true? Are we really so arrogant to believe that here, in the 21st Century, we have all of history figured out? A 6,000+ year old universe sounds like a really, really old universe to me, but if you think it’s billions, not thousands, then it seems you should be more, not less skeptical that your model is valid. You have a lot more history to explain than I do!

Are you familiar with the big bang model? Could you list 4 other models of cosmology? Have you heard of Einstein’s metrics? If your answer to the last two questions was “no”, then it would be a wise move on your part to do a lot of research before you write any more about why we need to doubt the creation days were 24 hour periods, like Justin Taylor did recently.

Don’t hamstring the dialogue on Creation like a wolf on an elk calf, leaving it hobbled and helpless. Find ways to nurture it instead. Understand at least something about the young earth position. One presupposition of a young earth creationist is that, regarding history, God’s word is authoritative. It is an axiom to build our understanding of all history on, including natural history.

Like Justin Taylor’s article, it seems the most common theme among old earthers is they place too much emphasis on doubting biblical history. Not enough emphasis is placed on doubting manmade models like the big bang, plate tectonics, gradualism, etc. I find that old earth Christians are often enthusiastic about doubting evolutionism, which is wonderful. But the same people who rightfully acknowledge problems with evolutionism, like the lack of transitional fossils, at the same time fail to acknowledge the fact that the majority of those fossils are buried in water-deposited sedimentary rock found almost everywhere on earth’s surface, and averaging one mile thick. But where is the doubt about the old earth assumptions of all that rock being formed slowly and gradually over millions of years? Why not show a little skepticism about that, too? After all, rapidly-buried creatures preserved in thick, water-deposited rock layers all over the earth sounds very much like something we would expect from a worldwide cataclysm like the Genesis Flood.

In the 1900’s, J. Harlan Bretz was skeptical that the Channeled Scablands were formed slowly and gradually. He was able to show how they formed rapidly from floodwaters released as late-Ice Age dams burst. Or take the photo above, which shows where the River Lethe carves through layered deposits from the 1912 Novarupta volcano. By the time Robert Griggs explored the area in 1917, the canyon was already carved through all that material!

Sometimes, what may sound like just a pleasant fiction, turns out to be reality after all. Acknowledging that our eyes and our minds often deceive us will do much to further the dialogue on Creation.

Avoiding Endless Genealogies

In I Timothy 1:4, Paul warned Timothy to avoid “endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Think about the book of Genesis. Think about the genealogies in other places in the Old Testament, or in Matthew and Luke. Think also about the unfolding story of God’s relationship with man in Scripture. And think about your own family’s genealogy. When pondering your own family tree, you would think it strange to insert a million+ year gap in the middle of it. The main message from any genealogy is a message of continuity.

Continuity is also at the heart of the idea of covenant. A covenant is about an agreement, a relationship. A wise pastor I know described covenant in Scripture like this:

The gospel set forth in the context of God’s eternal plan of communication with His people as it unfolds in the historical outworking of the redemptive plan of God. Covenant theology is central to the message of the Scriptures, which testify to God’s redemption of His people in and through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Christian, what do you believe? Is God’s plan of redemption, as revealed in Scripture, continuous and covenantal, or broken and discontinuous?  If it is broken and filled with gaps, what will you put in those gaps? How long were they? Do your beliefs about history promote speculation of God’s word more than they do speculation of man’s word?

In my opinion, furthering the dialogue on Creation means that some pastors and theologians need to take more care to avoid endless genealogies and the speculations they promote. I’m praying more teachers of the Word will focus on encouraging Christians to be scientists and engineers and doctors, developing new technologies and other things by using what God made to serve Him and serve others. Furthering the dialogue on Creation will mean spending a little more time focusing on what God called us to do in Genesis 1:26-28, and a little less time on what God meant by “day”, filling in the supposed gaps with an endless supply of speculative claims.

What does EVOLUTION really mean?

September 30, 2013
This AP Biology laboratory activity works just fine without the controversial word

This AP Biology laboratory activity works just fine without the controversial word “evolution” included. “Population Genetics and Inheritance” would be a better title.

The Evolution of “evolution”

The word “evolution” can mean a lot of things, which in turn leads to a lot of confusion! A brief look at the etymology reveals that “evolution” was originally a Latin word for “an opening of what was rolled up,” as in the growth of a plant from a seed. Charles Darwin actually used the word only once in Origin of Species, as he preferred “descent with modification.”

Today though, “evolution” is not so easily defined. Now, evolution might refer to anything from Darwin’s idea of descent with modification, to the idea that the whole universe is a progression of interrelated phenomena. Or, it may just mean “change,” which is the way I used it to describe how the term “evolved,” or changed over the years. The many faces of the modern definition have obvious scientific, historic, and religious implications. Let’s briefly explore these implications, and see how they may or may not relate to the creationism/evolutionism battle.

Evolution and Science

Evolution does indeed have a scientific component to it. For example, there are creationists who have PhD’s in evolutionary biology and actively work in this field. Some of you are probably thinking “how can a creationist be an evolutionist?!” Well, think about it. Darwin’s idea of “descent with modification” does occur, right? We are not all clones, right?

You look similar, yet also different, from your parents. You are walking proof that limited descent with modification is real. There is some obvious “phenotypic plasticity”, or more simply, built-in flexibility, that, within limits, allows organisms to adapt and change. So, a creationist can be an “evolutionist” in the sense that he/she is conducting research on mechanisms of inheritance. The problem is not that the creationist is being a heretic and rejecting the Genesis account, where God clearly says He created different kinds of organisms. The problem is the many faces of the word “evolution,” and applying the “universal progression” idea of evolution in this instance is improper.

The photo above is from my DIVE Biology curriculum. Lab activities designated “AP” are recommended by the College Board, creators of the AP exams that high schoolers can take to receive college credit for high school work. However, because of the confusion over what “evolution” means, tagging on that word alongside “population genetics” is unnecessary. If, by evolution you mean the “universal progression” idea, then it is laughable if you think this lab activity is going to prove that. The lab is actually just a card-type game that uses multiple forms of the same gene, called alleles, to show the effects of a lethal mutation on a population. It also teaches students about the inheritance mechanism known as genetic drift.  However, if by “evolution” you mean the self-evident truth that limited “descent with modification” occurs, then this lab does a pretty good job of showing how some genetic mechanisms of inheritance work. Because of confusion over the word evolution though, it would be more appropriate for the College Board to title the lab simply “Population Genetics”, or “Population Genetics and Inheritance.”

But what happens when an evolutionary biologist, who is not a creationist, finds out creationists oppose the teaching of “evolution” in schools? Well, they may end up saying pretty crazy things! For example, take evolutionary biologist Dr. Justin Bahl, who in a recent opinion article in the Houston Chronicle, claimed that creationists opposed research on pathogenic viruses!   Obviously, his confusion is over the word “evolution.” Creationists object to the naturalistic “universal progression” idea of evolution. However, I have yet to hear of a creationist who opposed research on how diseases develop resistance! Instead, a creationist who is also a scientist would use every inheritance mechanism currently known in an effort to discover disease cures.

Viruses, bacteria, etc. develop drug resistance. This is self-evident. It is also self-evident that viruses and bacteria almost never show the “universal progression” idea, which would require they create new, functional information, and lots of it. They have never displayed anything more than a limited “descent with modification.”

Rapid evolution” is another growing area of “evolution” research that interests creationists. A Google search of the phrase “rapid evolution” produced 130,000 results! So what is “rapid evolution,” and how is that different from just normal evolution? Well, the difference lies in Darwin’s idea that evolution requires millions of years of “numerous, successive, slight modifications” (Darwin’s own words in Origin of Species). But Darwin’s “gradualism” is really part of the unscientific “universal progression” idea.

Darwin said his theory would “absolutely break down” if it could be demonstrated that a complex organ formed without involving gradualism. Well, that’s exactly what happened in a transplanted population of wall lizards, who developed a “brand new structure”, without any known genetic changes! But, they are still just wall lizards, with no change of kind.

So what is “rapid evolution”? Well, it is exactly what scientists like Dr. Bahl study! “Rapid evolution” is about studying fairly significant changes in populations that occur in just a few generations. It occurs in everything from the viral pathogens Dr. Bahl researches, to plants, to trout and more. To a creationist though, “rapid evolution” is mainly just adaptation, and the more we learn about it, the more it confirms what creationists already knew, that life was designed to adapt! Also, “rapid evolution” is what creationists sometimes refer to as “microevolution.”

Evolution and History

Creationists have no objections to testable, repeatable science. So what is this creationism/evolutionism battle about then? Well, it is a battle over how to interpret history. Scientific research is about conducting experiments and verifying the results with further experimentation. Natural history research is ultimately about interpretation, not verification. It really boils down to storytelling. In fact, a common phrase geologists like to use is “every rock has a story.” Under what conditions was it formed? What is it composed of? When was it formed? Geologists and other naturalists can perform a variety of scientific tests that can then be used to help them write a story about the past. However, any story they come up with, creationist or otherwise, is still an interpretation, not a verification, of the past.

But if history is about interpretation and storytelling, while scientific endeavors are about repeatability and verification, then why is history part of a supposedly scientific course like biology? Well, history does matter, so you cannot completely exclude it. However, when a biology textbook writer inserts the unscientific “universal progression” idea of common descent from single-celled organisms, to the exculsion of ideas related to uncommon descent, then that’s a problem. In a biology textbook, the natural history component should be very minor, and should not dogmatically assert the “universal progression” idea, using descriptions like “animals arose from bacteria,” etc. One focus of any historic component in a biology course should be on using the body of past scientific research to further unlock the mysteries of the various mechanisms of inheritance.

Evolution and Religion

Ironically, while confused scientists like Dr. Bahl are making false claims that creationists are “anti-science,” it is actually the evolutionists who are stifling scientific progress! A glaring example is Eugenie Scott, the soon-to-retire director of the evolutionist propaganda mill known as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Behaving like a villain of science, Scott recently proclaimed that the 21st Century Science of epigenetics was too hard for high school students  to learn! This is completely false. Epigenetics relates to the set of biological information that directs the genes, switching them on and off at certain times and places. Epigenetics is like the captain that directs the “ship” known as the genome. This is an analogy a 5-year old could understand! Epigenetics is also another mechanism of inheritance that is contributing to our understanding of human health-related topics like those Dr. Bahl studies.

But why would an organization like NCSE, whose purpose is supposedly to defend the teaching of evolution, be opposed to teaching evolution? Once again, it depends on what you mean by “evolution”. The evolution NCSE is defending is the “universal progression”, naturalistic form, and they make this abundantly clear. As dogmatic Darwinists, they presuppose a simple cell filled with one-dimensional (linear) DNA that randomly mutates and magically generates new information.

But 21st Century science reveals that the cell is anything but simple, and DNA actually works in 3-dimensions (4 if you include time), not one! To say a cell is “simple” is as false as saying the infrastructure running New York City is “simple.” Since dogmatic naturalistic beliefs also presuppose gradualism, they often feel a need to suppress new discoveries related to cell complexity.

And yes, naturalism is a religious belief system. As a recent lawsuit filed in a federal court states, naturalism directs one to ask “ultimate religious questions” such as “where do we come from?” Ultimate questions like this are not scientific questions, because we can’t use scientific methods to answer them. There really is no conflict between science and religion. The “battle” is about religious belief systems, like naturalism and Christianity. And it is a battle, not a war, because the war has been won through Christ!

While secular humanists and atheists almost always have naturalism and its related components like evolutionism as core tenets of their religion, many other religious people view God as using evolutionism to bring about life. So, it is not just atheist/humanist folks who incorporate the “universal progression” form of evolution into their religious beliefs. Many theists do as well, which is why it is right to say that it is a violation of the 1st and 14th amendments when a public school uses naturalism in an effort to address origins questions.

Should scientists drop the word “evolution?”

Journalists, who are typically not scientists, are almost always confused about evolution, to the point that some even think Texas has banned the teaching of evolution! Of course, that is as false as Dr. Bahl’s claims that creationists are against the study of diseases. But, because so many are so confused about evolution, mainly because it can mean so many different things, wouldn’t it be better to just stop using the word in scientific circles? Instead of “evolutionary biology”, we could have “hereditary biology.” This wouldn’t change Dr. Bahl’s job a bit, as he would still be studying how pathogens use different mechanisms of inheritance to develop drug resistance. And instead of studying “rapid evolution”, scientists could study “adaptation” instead, as this is mainly what is happening. Environmental conditions change, and organisms adapt.

So yes, scientists should drop the word “evolution,” and put the “universal progress” form of it in a philosophy, history, or religion class. In America, the time is past due to take the religious, “universal progress” form of evolution out of the public school science classroom where legally, it doesn’t belong.