Is Creationism The Answer?

(Part one of Two Parts)

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 88, 2003 January)


Introduction

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.
<>Because Creationists believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, they reject the theory of evolution and all the evidence that supports the idea of a natural origin for the Universe, life and mankind. Is the Creationist position tenable?
   

Science, Pseudoscience & Religion

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.

Indeed, Creationists do a great disservice to religion by insisting that the Bible – the product of a prescientific culture – is capable of providing us with scientific data concerning the origin of the Cosmos. Religion is primarily concerned with questions of morality and value, rather than accurate descriptions of physical processes. For example:

"And God said, "Let there be light;" and there was light. And God saw that the light was good." (Gen. 1:3-4.)
Is this a scientific description of a physical process? The answer is no, it is not. Firstly, the cause of the event is alleged to be supernatural – science deals with natural causes. Secondly, the process of creation is magical in nature – God wishes that light appear, and it does. Thirdly, an ethical assessment of the event is given – scientific descriptions do not contain such assessments.

Fourthly, science is non-religious in nature because theological statements add nothing to our understanding of natural processes:

"To say that God has so designed the natural world that freely falling physical objects accelerate towards the ground at the rate of 32 feet per second per second add nothing to the scientific statement that freely falling objects accelerate at the rate of 32 feet per second per second." (M. Charlesworth: Science, Non-science & Pseudoscience, page 6.)

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.

Creationists claim that their beliefs are scientific, however, this is not the case, and this becomes even more apparent 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 God 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:

"Observations give rise to conjectures and hypotheses, which in turn are checked out by performing experiments. If the experiments don't confirm the hypothesis, then new hypothesis are formed... Those hypotheses that survive are encapsulated into empirical relationships, or laws, which in turn are embodied in larger explanatory theories." (J.L. Casti: Paradigms Lost, page 13-14.)

By contrast the structure of creationism is pseudoscientific. Firstly, the starting point is a dogmatic assertion (God is the Creator), rather than a hypothesis. Secondly, appeals to authority (God and the Bible) are made, and are never subjected to impartial inquiry. Thirdly, scientific literature is often misquoted, or quoted out of context (the Creationist's The Quote Book, which purports to show widespread support for creationism among scientists contains over one hundred errors of this type) in an attempt to prove ideas. Thirdly, when faced with evidence that refutes their beliefs (in the case of creationism, the idea that the 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.

The argument most frequently used by Creationists in an attempt to prove the existence of God is the Argument From Design and, in its most basic form, runs something like this:

    1. All things that display order and complexity are the products of intelligent design.
    2. The Universe displays order and complexity.
    3. Therefore the Universe is a product of intelligent design.
Although this argument is arranged in logical form, its conclusion is only true if its premise – all things that display order and complexity are the products of intelligent design – is true, and this is where the problem lies. For example, mineral crystals display order and complexity due to the nature of the underlying configuration of the molecules, atoms and ions whose arrangement is responsible for their various geometric forms.

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.

End of part one. In the next issue we shall examine the age and origin of the Universe and the Biblical Deluge. This shall then be followed by an assessment of Creationist ideas.
 




 
Is Creationism The Answer?

(Part Two)

Kirk Straughen

(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.

By calculating the rate of expansion using the red shift of the galaxies, and taking into account the braking effects of gravity, the Big Bang is estimated to have occurred about fifteen billion years ago, and this is the approximate age of the Universe. If the Universe had a beginning, then what existed before the Big Bang, and what was its cause? According to modem cosmology, the first part of this question is meaningless - the Universe did not originate in space-time because space-time originated with the Universe, and before the Big Bang there was absolutely nothing:

"Because normal physical causation takes place within time, with effect following cause, there is a natural tendency to envisage a chain of causation stretching back in time, either without any beginning, or else terminating in a metaphysical First Cause, or Uncaused Cause, or Prime Mover. But cosmologists now invite us to contemplate the origin of the Universe as having no prior cause in the normal sense, not because it has an abnormal or supernatural prior cause, but because there is simply no prior epoch in which a preceding causative agency – natural or supernatural – can operate."
(P. Davies: The Day Time Began, page 32 in New Scientist, Vol. 150, No. 2027.)

The answer to the second part of the question is that the Universe came into existence out of nothing, an event that was caused by nothing. Now the idea that an entity can spontaneously emerge from nothing is not as absurd as it first appears. For example, physicists have discovered that certain subatomic particles behave in this way:

"Elementary particles, it turned out, can spontaneously pop out of nothingness and disappear again, if they do so for a time so short that one cannot measure them directly. Such virtual particles, as they are called, may appear as far-fetched as angles sitting on the head of a pin. But there is a difference. The unseen particles produce measurable effects, such as alterations to the energy levels of atoms as well as forces between nearby metal plates [a phenomena known as the Casimir effect]."
(L.M. Krauss: Cosmological Antigravity, page 37 in Scientific American, Vol. 280 No. 1.)

By contrast the Creationists, rather than observing the Universe and basing their ideas on these observations, assume that the Bible is a divine revelation that gives an accurate account of the origin of the Cosmos. However, that the Biblical account of creation is the product of human minds, rather than of divine origin, can be inferred from the fact that the ideas it contains appear to be derived from other more ancient Middle Eastern myths:

"The oldest of these myths are three, probably handed down from barbaric traditions. In the Babylonian myth, derived from Sumerian sources, man was made from clay by Bel; in Egypt, the god Khnoumou, and in Greece Prometheus, fashioned him from clay on a potter's wheel... The Jewish story naturally derived from the folk-lore of the country they lived in, the myths of the Semites of whom they were a part. It was in the Sumerian legend that the gods first made light. Then Tiamat, the ocean goddess, rebelled against them, and Marduk (a name of Bel) offered to subdue her if he were given rule over heaven and earth. He divided her into two, forming with the halves the upper and lower waters, sea and sky, a myth take from the Egyptians. Next were created sun, moon, and stars. The resemblance to Genesis, in which light was first created, followed by the upper and lower waters separated by the firmament, is close. The order of creation of other objects is the same in the two myths, save that in the Sumerian the heavenly bodies came second, and in the Jewish version fourth. This was probably because Chaldeans regarded the study of stars (astrology) as of highest importance."
(M. Yearsley: The Story of the Bible, page 60.)

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 of decay continues, the daughter atoms increase in number while the parent atoms decrease. The percentage 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 atoms by half. For example Uranium-238 (decays to Lead-206) has a half-life of 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 establish the age of the Earth in the following way:

"... good evidence suggests that the Earth formed at the same time as the Moon, the other planets, and meteorites ... Through various methods of radiometric dating, it has been possible to determine the ages of meteorites, and of "Moon dust" brought back by astronauts, as 4.6 billion years. By inference, the time of formation of planet Earth, and indeed of all the other planets and meteorites in the Solar System, is 4.6 billion years ago."
(R.F. Flint & B.J. Skinner: Physical Geology, 2nd edition, pages 101-102.)

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 Creationists arrive at the date of 6,000 to 10,000 years for the age of the Earth and the Universe? What were the observations and experiments that led them to this conclusion? The answer is that no observations or experiments were made or performed – these dates are based upon Biblical generations, and are therefore an appeal to authority rather than empirical facts:

"If, however, one calculated backward in the Bible to the birth of Abraham, then, since all the ancestors of Abraham were given, right back to the Creation, with the age at which sons were born to each, it was possible to calculate the year in which God created Earth, in accordance with the description in Genesis...

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.

To English-speaking Protestants, however, the calculation that had the most influence was that of James Ussher (1581-1656), 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 Version"), which is usually accepted as the Bible by the devout Protestants of the English-speaking world, generally have Ussher's chronological system placed in the margins or at the heads of the columns."
(I. Asimov: Exploring the Earth & the Cosmos, page 195.)
 

The Flood

Creationists claim that the entire Earth was inundated by the Biblical flood and that this deluge was responsible 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 (1665-1728) Essay Towards a Natural History of the Earth (pub. 1695) in which he claimed 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 form. This belief came to be known as Catastrophism. However, as science advanced, mounting evidence led to increasing scepticism that the Deluge could account for geological features, and the fossils found therein:

"In Italy, the Abbe Moro, a churchman interested in geology, dismissed the Deluge as a supernatural event and attempted to explain the formation and subsequent alteration of mountains, hills, and valleys in terms of volcanic eruptions. In France, Bernard de Jussieu, demonstrator at the Botanical Garden in Paris, in attempting in 1718 to account for the impressions of tropical plants which he had observed in the strata at St. Chamond, was content to suppose a great flood from the southeast, but his colleagues in the Royal Academy were more sceptical. The Secretary of the Academy, Bernard de Fontenelle, and the great entomologist Reaumur were convinced that the Deluge could never have produced these impressions, still less the great banks of oyster shells in Turenne more than one hundred miles from the sea. Clearly, the scientific world was ready for a theory of the earth which would dispense with the Deluge and seek the key to fossil phenomena and earth history in nature itself, as Hooke and Steno had tried to do."
(J.C. Greene: The Death of Adam, page 63.)

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:

    1. Rock strata is formed by the gradual deposition of sediment in the ocean.
    2. Subterranean heat and pressure alter the strata through consolidation and elevation.
    3. The face of the Earth is eroded by water, wind and organic decay.
Further evidence that geological features are the result of natural processes acting over immense periods of time, rather than the Biblical deluge, was presented by Charles Lyell (1797-1875) in his three volume Principles of Geology (pub. 1830-1833), and it is probably fair to say that science based, as opposed to theologically based geology dates from this period. As the science of geology advanced, the theory of uniformitarianism was refined in the light of growing evidence that the Earth was subject to dynamic evolutionary processes, rather than being a rigid steady-state system as envisaged by Lyell:
  "While the Lyellian doctrine of uniformitarianism in its strict form is no longer acceptable, the assumption of uniformity of natural laws (actualism) is mandatory for rational historical analysis.

Actualism provides a connecting thread between the present and past and allows us to reconstruct events never witnessed by humans. Comparative or analogical reasoning both among ancient situations and between ancient and modem ones must be employed very extensively. This 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: Evolution of the Earth, page 41.) 

The idea of a global deluge has been given a fair hearing in the scientific community, and was eventually rejected because there is no evidence for the event. Indeed, there is considerable evidence to the contrary:
  "The geological evidence against a global flood is overwhelming. Floods deposit high-energy sediments (for example, gravel) whereas less energetic conditions deposit sands, silts and muds. If there was a global flood, then the worldwide sequence of sedimentary rocks would grade upwards from high-energy sediments (i.e. conglomerate = ancient gravel, sands) deposited during the height of the flood to low-energy sediments (siltstone, mudstone, claystone) deposited during the waning of the flood...

Not surprisingly, such a gradation seems to be inexplicably absent... Furthermore, in the record of rocks, we see evidence that some sedimentary rocks (and fossils therein) are formed in freshwater environments whereas other sedimentary rocks are formed in saline marine water. This presents a slight insuperable problem as the fictitious flood fluids were either fresh or saline but unquestionably could not be both. Clearly, there was no Great Flood." (I. Plimer: Telling Lies for God, page 75.)

The idea that all modem organisms are the descendants of those carried on the ark is as absurd as the idea of a global deluge. In the Bible the dimensions of the ark are given as 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width and 30 cubits in height. The length of the ancient Hebrew cubit was about 17 inches, and therefore the ark would have been approximately 425 feet, by 70.8 feet, by 42.5 feet. A vessel of this size could not possibly hold the 10 million species of plant and animal now known to exist, let alone the food required to feed the animals for 371 days at sea.

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.

The Biblical deluge is not a historical event, it is in fact a myth derived from the literature of other ancient Middle Eastern cultures, for example: the Babylonian Enuma Elish, the Epic of Atram-hasis, and the Epic of Gilgamesh all predate the Biblical version:

"The points of resemblance between the two [Babylonian and Hebrew narratives] are far too numerous and detailed to be accidental. In both narratives the divine powers resolve to destroy mankind by a great flood; in both the secret is revealed beforehand to a man by a god, who directs him to build a great vessel, in which to save himself and seed of every kind... In both narratives the favoured man, thus warned of God, builds a huge vessel in several stories, makes it water-tight with pitch or bitumen, and takes into it his family and animals of all sorts: in both, the deluge is brought about in large measure by heavy rain, and lasts for a greater or less number of days: in both, all mankind are drowned except the hero and his family: in both, the man sends forth birds, a raven and a dove, to see whether the water of the flood has abated: in both, the dove after a time returns to the ship because it could find no place in which to rest: in both, the raven does not return: in both, the vessel at last grounds on a mountain: in both, the hero, in gratitude for his rescue, offers sacrifice on the mountain: in both, the gods smell the sweet savour, and their anger is appeased."
(J.G. Fraser: Folklore in the Old Testament, page 62.)
 

Conclusion

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.

If Creationism is unfounded, why do Creationists cling to their beliefs despite the overwhelming evidence that proves they 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 change brought about by the discoveries of science; discoveries that threaten traditional Christian views of humanity and our place in the Universe:

"One may look upon fundamentalism as one rather clear cut response to the set of challenges presented to modern Protestantism. The nineteenth-century discovery of historical methods of probing the Bible, the rapid increase in scientific knowledge and the large social changes of the period were bound to provoke a need for certainty in religion which in its own manner fundamentalism has continued to provide." (N. Smart: The Phenomenon of Christianity, page 103.)

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