Is Creationism The Answer?
(Part one of Two Parts)
(Investigator 88, 2003 January)
What is Creationism? Creationism is a belief held by Christian fundamentalists – people who believe that the Bible is literally true and inerrant – concerning the origin of the Cosmos. The following ideas can be considered central to Creationism:
1. That the Universe was created by God and that the Bible, specifically Genesis, gives an accurate and factual account of this process.
2. That the Earth and the Universe are no more than 6,000 to 10,000 years old.
3. That the flood as described in Genesis inundated the entire world, and all contemporary organisms are descendants of those carried on Noah's ark.4. That scientific evidence supports the above beliefs.
Suppose that none of the current scientific theories concerning the origin of the Universe, life and mankind can account for the emergence of these phenomena. Would this mean that Creationism is true by virtue of this fact? The answer is no, it would not. However, before I proceed to demonstrate this fact, some preliminary comments need to be made about science, pseudoscience and religion.
Creationists sometimes claim that because scientific theories are subject to change, and some scientists disagree on such matters as the emergence of life through chemical processes in the remote past, that these facts indicate the theory of evolution is wrong, and the only alternative is their version of a supernatural creation. This belief is false and probably arises from the Creationists inability to perceive the difference between science and religion.
Scientific theories are provisional (there are no ultimate truths) because they are based on observation and experiment, and therefore are subject to revision, or in some cases rejection in the light of new findings. For example, at one time scientists thought that life could not be understood in terms of natural processes. Instead they postulated a Vital Force in order to account for biochemical reactions. However, when Friedrich Wohler and then Hermann Kolbe synthesised organic chemicals from inorganic compounds, vitalist theories were shown to be false, and were eventually abandoned as a result of these and other scientific experiments.
By contrast religion, especially the fundamentalist version, is dogmatic in that its adherents believe an eternal truth has been revealed to them, that this truth is eternally valid (not subject to revision in the light of new facts), and that facts unfavourable to dogma must be disregarded. The Creationist's assumption that the Bible can be used as a guide to the elucidation of nature is nothing new. This idea was one of the basic assumptions that permeated Christian thought for well over a thousand years. However, every time science and religion have come into conflict over an aspect of the natural world – whether the Sun and planets orbit the Earth or the Earth and planets the Sun; the existence of the antipodes, or the origin and meaning of comets – it is the theological world view that has been shattered. As can be seen, history shows that even religious "truth" is of a provisional nature because Scripture was written, and is interpreted by fallible men.
Creationists do a
to religion by insisting that the Bible – the product of a
culture – is capable of providing us with scientific data concerning
origin of the Cosmos. Religion is primarily concerned with questions of
morality and value, rather than accurate descriptions of physical
non-religious in nature
because theological statements add nothing to our understanding of
To believe in the Biblical account of creation requires an act of faith. Firstly, one must have faith that God exists. Secondly, one must (if one is a Creationist) have faith that the account is accurate. After all, there is no evidence outside of the Bible that God said this, or did that. Creationists may argue that God revealed the truth to the authors of Scripture, however, this also requires an act of faith – the men who wrote Genesis have been dead for over two thousand years, and can't be questioned in order to determine the validity of this assumption. By contrast, science does not require acts of faith – it is based on the testimony of nature which is accessible to all people (unlike the supernatural realm), and therefore its theories are capable of being tested.
their beliefs are
scientific, however, this is not the case, and this becomes even more
when we consider that science: is:
(1) Guided by the laws of nature.
(2) Can be explained by reference to those laws.
(3) Formulates theories that can be tested using nature as the touchstone of truth.
(4) Is provisional – no ultimate truths.
(5) Is falsifiable – theories can be disproved by empirical facts.
The belief that
created the Universe
does not meet any of these criteria, and therefore can't be considered
a scientific theory. Moreover, Creationism does not even conform to the
logical structure of science which is as follows:
By contrast the
structure of creationism
is pseudoscientific. Firstly, the starting point is a dogmatic
(God is the Creator), rather than a hypothesis. Secondly, appeals to
(God and the Bible) are made, and are never subjected to impartial
Thirdly, scientific literature is often misquoted, or quoted out of
The Quote Book, which purports to show widespread
support for creationism among scientists contains over one hundred
of this type) in an attempt to prove ideas. Thirdly, when faced with
that refutes their beliefs (in the case of creationism, the idea that
Earth is 6,000 to 10,000 years old) Creationists cling to their beliefs
in spite of the evidence – dogma is more important than truth.
The Existence of God
Having concluded my preliminary comments, I shall now show that the central beliefs of Creationism, as listed in the introduction of this article, are not supported by any evidence. Please note: in this instance I am highlighting the deficiency of Creationist reasoning. I am not attempting to prove that God does not exist.
frequently used by Creationists
in an attempt to prove the existence of God is the Argument From
and, in its most basic form, runs something like this:
Are crystals the product of an artificer – the god Vulcan, perhaps? The answer is no, they are not. Crystals form as a result of non-conscious natural processes. Thus it can be seen that things which display order and complexity are not necessarily the product of intelligent design, Indeed, our criteria for intelligent design is based on the nature of human artefacts that we know are the products of intelligent design. However, we can't be certain that the Universe is the product of intelligent design just because it displays order and complexity.
For example, an orrery (a mechanical model of the solar system) is obviously the product of intelligent design because it possesses all the signs of a manufactured item – it is made of brass and steel, the motions of its tiny planets are due to a clockwork mechanism and all its parts bear the impressions of tools.
Now compare the orrery with the solar system proper. What evidence is there that the solar system is the product of intelligent design? If the motion of the planets was controlled and powered by celestial clockwork mechanisms, then this might be evidence that it was. However, the only thing that the orrery and the solar system have in common is that their motions are guided by natural laws. Creationists may argue that the laws of nature are evidence of intelligent design, however, because natural laws are mathematical expressions of the properties of matter, they would have to prove that matter is the product of intelligent design and, needless to say, atoms do not bear the impression of tools.
As we can see, the design argument does not succeed because it is based on a faulty analogy and tends to assume as being true what in fact needs to be proved – that order and complexity are always signs of intelligent design. Moreover, even if it could be shown that the argument provides a strong case for the belief that the Universe is the product of a supernatural intelligence, it still can't prove which god is responsible for the Creation. It might be the God of the Hebrews, then again, it might be the Gods of the Hindus.
part one. In the
next issue we shall
examine the age and origin of the Universe and the Biblical Deluge.
shall then be followed by an assessment of Creationist ideas.
(Investigator 90, 2003 May)
Age & Origin
What can science tell us about the age and origin of the Universe? In a very simplified form it is as follows: Through observation, astronomers have discovered that all the clusters of galaxies that comprise the Universe are rushing away from each other, which leads to the conclusion that the Cosmos is expanding. This fact also leads to the conclusion that in the remote past, all the matter in the Universe was compressed into a single point that exploded outwards (the Big Bang), and eventually coalesced into galaxies of stars leaving behind the remnants of the radiation produced by the Big Bang – the cosmic background radiation – as evidence of the event.
the rate of
the red shift of the galaxies, and taking into account the braking
of gravity, the Big Bang is estimated to have occurred about fifteen
years ago, and this is the approximate age of the Universe. If the
had a beginning, then what existed before the Big Bang, and what was
cause? According to modem cosmology, the first part of this question is
meaningless - the Universe did not originate in space-time because
originated with the Universe, and before the Big Bang there was
The answer to
second part of the
question is that the Universe came into existence out of nothing, an
that was caused by nothing. Now the idea that an entity can
emerge from nothing is not as absurd as it first appears. For example,
physicists have discovered that certain subatomic particles behave in
By contrast the
than observing the Universe and basing their ideas on these
assume that the Bible is a divine revelation that gives an accurate
of the origin of the Cosmos. However, that the Biblical account of
is the product of human minds, rather than of divine origin, can be
from the fact that the ideas it contains appear to be derived from
more ancient Middle Eastern myths:
The age of the Earth can be determined by analysing radioactive elements found in rocks – a process known as radiometric dating. This technique works because radioactive elements are unstable, and their atoms decay at a constant rate over time. During atomic decay, alpha and beta particles are thrown off by the atom, and the emission of these particles changes it into a "daughter" atom - either an isotope of the original or "parent" atom, or a completely different element.
As the process
continues, the daughter
atoms increase in number while the parent atoms decrease. The
of parent and daughter atoms can be measured to obtain the half life of
an element – the length of time required to reduce the number of parent
by half. For example Uranium-238 (decays to Lead-206) has a half-life
4.5 billion years, and an effective dating range from 10 million to 4.6
billion years. Using radiometric dating, scientists have been able to
the age of the Earth in the following way:
Creationists know radiometric dating has discredited their claims that the Earth is extremely young. In an attempt to preserve their beliefs they have claimed that the speed of light at the time of the Creation was 200 billion times faster than its present speed (about 300,000km per second) and has since then slowed down as a consequence of original sin. If this claim were true then the decay rate of radioactive elements, upon which radiometric dating depends, would have been extremely energetic and therefore their half-life much shorter and, taking this into account, the Earth would be very young.
Unfortunately for the Creationists, one can't blithely alter the laws of nature that govern the speed of light and expect the rest of the Universe to remain unaffected. If the speed of light was as fast as the Creationists claim, then the Sun's nuclear reactions would have been so energetic that the intense radiation would have melted the entire Earth. Indeed, every star in the Universe would have been similarly effected, and the liberation of all this energy on a cosmic scale would have reduced the Creation to ashes. Needless to say, that we exist along with the rest of the Universe is ample proof the Creationists are wrong.
How did the
arrive at the date
of 6,000 to 10,000 years for the age of the Earth and the Universe?
were the observations and experiments that led them to this conclusion?
The answer is that no observations or experiments were made or
– these dates are based upon Biblical generations, and are therefore an
appeal to authority rather than empirical facts:
Various Christian scholars made calculations of their own and decided that the Creation took place in 5500 BC, with an arguable difference of a decade this way or that. This would make the world nearly 7,500 years old.
the calculation that had the most influence was that of James Ussher
an Anglican bishop of Irish birth. He worked out the creation of Earth
as having take place just 4,000 years before the birth of Jesus – that
is, in 4004 BC. Editions of the King James Bible ("the Authorised
which is usually accepted as the Bible by the devout
of the English-speaking world, generally have Ussher's chronological
placed in the margins or at the heads of the columns."
(I. Asimov: Exploring the Earth & the Cosmos, page 195.)
the entire Earth
was inundated by the Biblical flood and that this deluge was
for the formation of many geological features. This belief is not new.
It is found in early writings on geology such as John Woodward's
Towards a Natural History of the Earth (pub. 1695) in which he
that the flood dissolved the Earth's crust, produced fossils which were
seen as evidence for the flood, and reshaped the world to its current
This belief came to be known as Catastrophism. However, as science
mounting evidence led to increasing scepticism that the Deluge could
for geological features, and the fossils found therein:
The theory the scientific world was awaiting arrived with the publication of James Hutton's two volume The Theory of the Earth (pub. 1795) in which he stated that geological features can be explained by natural processes acting over millions of years. Here are some of his main conclusions:
connecting thread between
the present and past and allows us to reconstruct events never
by humans. Comparative or analogical reasoning both among ancient
and between ancient and modem ones must be employed very extensively.
is a two-way process, for in some cases the past is a key to [a] better
understanding of the present." (R.H. Dott Jr. & R.L. Batten:
of the Earth, page 41.)
surprisingly, such a
to be inexplicably absent... Furthermore, in the record of rocks, we
evidence that some sedimentary rocks (and fossils therein) are formed
freshwater environments whereas other sedimentary rocks are formed in
marine water. This presents a slight insuperable problem as the
flood fluids were either fresh or saline but unquestionably could not
both. Clearly, there was no Great Flood." (I. Plimer: Telling Lies for
God, page 75.)
Marine organisms and the seeds of terrestrial plants would need to have been taken on board the ark because the flood waters would have changed the salinity of the oceans and disrupted the entire aquatic ecosystem thereby killing the former. As for the latter, mature plants and their seeds would have been killed by being uprooted and buried, seeds by salinity or germination, in a hostile environment. Moreover, one wonders how Noah managed with two blue whales (many of which exceed 100 ft), or how he obtained polar bears and penguins both of which live in environments far removed from the Middle East, or the extremely rare Pennantia baylisiana tree which is only found on Three King Island off New Zealand.
deluge is not
a historical event,
it is in fact a myth derived from the literature of other ancient
Eastern cultures, for example: the Babylonian Enuma Elish, the
of Atram-hasis, and the Epic of Gilgamesh all predate the
Creationism is not the answer. After having examined the central tenets of this dogma, it is clear that they are not supported by any evidence. Creationists can't prove that God exists or, for that matter, which God or gods exist. Their beliefs concerning the age of the Earth and the Deluge are refuted by the testimony of Nature, and their assumption that the Bible is a divine revelation is disproved by archaeology and comparative mythology.
unfounded, why do Creationists
cling to their beliefs despite the overwhelming evidence that proves
are wrong? The answer is that they do so for purely psychological
reasons – some
people have a great need for certainty during periods of rapid social
brought about by the discoveries of science; discoveries that threaten
traditional Christian views of humanity and our place in the Universe:
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