The following is a mock debate between an individual who claims to be both an atheist and accepts evolutionary theory for the understanding of our origins (we will call him Bob), and a Christian young-earth creationist (we will call him Tim, cause that’s my name).
The purpose of this exercise is to show the normal questions I get asked and my typical responses. As a spoiler alert – there is no reconciliation. The goal of this is just for my adherents to gain a little clearer understanding of where YEC is coming from. I believe we are commonly misunderstood.
Evolution of the species is a scientifically and universally accepted fact with an overwhelming amount of evidence that aligns with its predictions. It is both observable in action is today’s laboratories and throughout history in the fossil record. Multiple independent and reliable methods of dating confirm an earth approximately 4.5 billion years old and a universe much older. Creationism is an unscientific belief system that has no evidence, and deserves no place in our scientific community, schools, or in the mind of any rational thinking educated person.
Evolution on a small-scale, in the sense that animals change and adapt to their surroundings better known as natural selection, is a proven and observable fact. No one disagrees with that. Where we differ is the lengths to which that process can explain the origin of all life on the planet. We believe that once we step outside the realm of direct observation we step into the realm of interpretation, and then it is anyone’s game as long as your interpretation aligns with the evidence. Creationism is not sweeping aside the evidence as often assumed, it is reinterpreting the evidence in light of what we consider additional information – the Bible.
NATURAL SELECTION –
Can you tell me where red official turns to orange or orange to yellow, etc? That is the concept behind natural selection. If we can see it in action today, then we have no reason to not accept that it has always been a process of slow change all the way back to the beginning of time. It only helps that all other evidence from DNA sequencing to the fossil record confirms this understanding.
You said that you have “no reason not to accept that natural selection has always been a process of slow change all the way back to the beginning of time”, but I believe I do. I understand the modern-day observations we have made, especially regarding the flu virus and other examples of adaptation like lactose intolerance. Natural selection is a very real phenomenon in our world. The Bible gives me reason to believe that NS was not always a part of the world. According to the Bible God created the world perfectly and hates death. The process of death begins with decay. We believe that this process began after Adam ate the fruit in the garden. God cursed the world and nothing has been the same since. Without this decay process, NS would not have been activated – the genome would have remained pristine free of mutation – therefore NS does not go all the way to the beginning of time. We also believe there is no piece of evidence that disagrees with this interpretation since any piece of historical evidence (such as the fossil record) would have been thousands of years after this event in the garden.
THE FOSSIL RECORD –
Alright, look – we can see the transition of species recorded in the fossil record from lower life forms to more complex and on up through modern creatures including humans. It is a complete record that agrees with our DNA sequencing. These fossils are preserved in rock layers that take millions of years to accumulate, much much longer than the 6000 years of the Biblical timeline.
That’s your interpretation. Let me share mine. I too see order in the fossil record, but I see an order of burial in the flood of Noah’s day. The more complex creatures would have been able to outlast and/or outrun the flood as waves scoured the land over several months. Less complex animals would be captured first and on up through humans being last. I see the rock layers, but disagree that it happened over millions of years. I see the rock layers as being formed as the waters drained slowly over the next year after the flood. Take the Grand Canyon, and there’s two valid interpretations – either a little bit of water over and long period of time OR a lot of water over a little bit of time. Either interpretation can make sense of the evidence.
You keep using this word “interpretation”; I’m not sure exactly what you mean when you use it. Scientists do not randomly interpret things to fit their opinions on how things should work. There’s this little thing called The Scientific Method that they follow to avoid this. They also submit their findings to a process called peer-review that weeds out any biased results. Do you find it problematic that creationists do not follow these methods?
Bob, when I speak of “interpretation”, I am talking about evidence that is interpreted in light of a couple starting assumptions that scientists cannot get around. The first assumption is naturalism, the concept that everything can and should be explained through natural-only processes. The second assumption, specifically when it comes to historical sciences like this, is uniformitarianism – the concept that the rates and measurements we make here in the present should be extrapolated back through all of history as constant. Neither of these assumptions can be verified as accurate, but are required to make conclusions about past events that are no longer observable. I’m not ignoring the scientific method or peer review, simply shining a light on these two dirty little secrets. If these starting assumptions are incorrect, then all conclusions drawn from them fail as well. As for creationists, you are incorrect – there are thousands of creationists who currently practice science and are published in peer-reviewed journals. But we see historical sciences differently than you, and are therefore normally not published on those topics.
Well, I am definitely not going to let those accusations slide. Naturalism is a logical assumption. With a lack of evidence of anything else, it only makes sense to understand it that way until shown differently. Do you have some evidence for supernaturalism that I do not know about? AND, if the evidence can be explained naturally – why would we need any other explanation?
The supernatural realm is all around us every day. I believe deep down you actually know that. A person can’t function without understanding that. Think of it this way – if your naturalistic understanding of the origin of the universe, world, etc. is correct and everything is the result of natural processes and methods – what/who/how did these natural processes or universal laws that these things follow come into being in the first place? Did the pilgrims land in America and magically the laws of the land came into being? Sounds like you believe in magic, Bob. I think my explanation of a lawgiver and method originator is a simpler explanation, more logical, and helps make sense of the world around us. If we were truly living in a constantly changing universe, we couldn’t test anything since we wouldn’t know if the measurements were constant. The fact that we can even do science proves a theory of consistency that we now live in. You actually borrow from my worldview every time you do science since it would be impossible under yours.
No, no and no. You just contradicted yourself! Before this you claimed that we use some incorrect assumption of uniformitism of history, and then you’ve said that uniformitism proves God. You can’t have it both ways, Tim.
That’s a fair shot, Bob. What you are missing is this Biblical concept that we no longer live in the same world as the original creation. We live in a cursed version of that world now filled with decay and death. The original creation would have been set up under a specific set of natural laws, but the cursed world would not be following a different set of laws – the laws we now recognize. Therefore it is still incorrect to assume uniformity all the way back to the beginning of time.
That explanation seems a little confused and circular, but moving on – let’s talk about this uniformitarianism idea. When we measure something and it measures this rate, then we test it tomorrow and measures the same rate, and then we measure a specimen buried for millions of years and it measures the same rate – why would we abandon that rate and exchange that thought for “God did it”? It seems much more applicablethat the rate is constant and reliable.
True. The rate is constant and reliable – in the present. But you have to admit that you have not actually observed that rate for all of history. The evidence you’ve collected has fit the puzzle you’ve created for it, therefore you’ve assumed that all species and all specimens must follow that for all of history. That seems like quite a jump to me. Enter the Bible. I believe the Bible describes three events that if true put quite a crimp in uniformitarianism. 1: a rapid 6-day creation (specimens literally popping into existence with built-in apparent age), 2: a cursed world following sin (the actual onset of decay, mutation, death cycle), and 3: a worldwide flood (a destruction of all previous natural evidence). If those three events happened the way the Bible describes then uniformity of history and rates/processes fail – and we can explain why, but without that knowledge I can understand why you have come to the conclusions you have…. but they don’t disprove my interpretations.
THE BIBLE –
Look Tim, I’ll play your game. Yes, if the Bible were shown to be true, then those three events would cause a big problem for uniformity of all history and complicate our results. But why should I accept the Bible, a massively translated over and over again 2000 year old book written by a bunch of pre-scientific Bronze Age goat-herders over scientific principles tested over and over again?
Fair enough. Now at this point I could go into the methods we use to gauge the reliability of historical documents, the statistical impossibilities of that many fulfilled prophecies, the continuing wealth of archeological confirmations, the meticulous process of scribe translations, the non-contradictions, the historical evidences of Jesus and his resurrection as well as other third party Biblical confirmations, personal revelation, experience, the fact that it was written over the course of 1500 years by over 40 authors on 3 continents yet tells an internally consistent story, and on and on… BUT my goal here is not to convert you. This isn’t the venue for that. My goal is to get you to understand that my point of view is internally consistent. I am not an illogical, irrational, science-denier as often claimed by those that don’t understand my positions. I don’t believe God put dinosaur bones in the ground to test my faith. That is not young-earth creationism.
Well obviously we could debate all of those points, but very well – we’ll move on. I don’t mind that you hold these beliefs yourself, but why not keep them to yourself. Practice them in your home, your church – but come on, they have no place in a science classroom! You have to admit that.
Yes, if you define science as the study of the natural world – then creationism has no place in the science classroom. But I am much more interested in the truth of the matter. If science can only give us natural explanations, and the world is truly supernatural, then I want my children to learn the limits of science. I don’t think it is currently presented that way, is it? Evolution and an old-earth are taught as fact! But we’ve already seen how these “facts” are based on assumption and interpretation, not observation! I thought science is supposed to be based on observation and repetition? We can neither observe nor repeat the past. I’ve got no problem with modern science that has given us computers, put men on the moon, and created flu vaccines – but when you start to tell my child that it is a fact that a puddle of goo turned into a fish that turned into a dinosaur that turned into a bird and on and on, we’ve got problems. That’s not science, that’s science fiction. You’ve put together a fascinating story built on naturalism and uniform assumptions, but that doesn’t make it fact.
Not true. The theory of evolution is evolving itself. In fact parts of it are starting to resemble creationist predictions. Take in fact “junk DNA”, long touted as evidence for evolution – now being shown to not be junk after all. Creationist predictions would say that God don’t make no junk, and it turns out that is right. Take the supposed “tree of life”. Scientists are now saying the tree has been chopped down and more than likely resembles a bush. Well creationists have been calling it the “orchard of life” for decades. There is much confusion on these common ancestors you speak of. One scientist says this lineage, another says this. It is confusing, almost as if you can make anything you dream up work! As for the overall idea of micro vs. macroevolution, there is a legitimate debate. Take this quote from the respected scientific journal NATURE in 2001:
“A long-standing issue in evolutionary biology is whether the processes observable in extant populations and species (microevolution) are sufficient to account for the larger-scale changes evident over longer periods of life’s history (macroevolution). Outsiders to this rich literature may be surprised that there is no consensus on this issue, and that strong viewpoints are held at both ends of the spectrum, with many undecided”
Not at all. Teach evolution. Teach old ages of the earth. Just be honest about it. Let the students know, these conclusions are only valid if the starting assumptions are valid. And that there are other theorists and philosophers who come to different conclusions. That’s it. I’m not saying teach God, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Not at all. Just be honest about the limits of historical sciences. Stop raising up a generation of people who think they have no other options but to believe what is spoon fed them and if they disagree they are alone and will be mocked. That is unacceptable.
CONCLUDING STATEMENTS –
At this point I don’t think we have much more to talk about, I just can’t believe that an overwhelming majority of educated people could make what you describe as such an “easy” mistake. When every evidence we find aligns with an evolutionary past, then we have no other option but to accept it. Throwing God, the Bible, and creationism into the mix with no evidence just complicates the system and leads to chaos when it isn’t even needed. Many Christians have no problem reconciling evolution with the Bible. Young-earth creationism is a concept that will continue to fade away as more and more people are educated and that is why we must defend it – so our species can move on from the era of myths and legend.
I’ve heard it said that the truth is still the truth even if no one believes it, and a lie is still a lie even if everyone believes it. This is not an argument over my evidence verses yours. We both have the same evidence, but differing conclusions because of different starting assumptions. Neither of our starting assumptions can be proven since we can’t go back and observe it. Therefore this debate will never fade away because there will never be an answer to whose starting assumptions are correct. Whether you believe in evolution or creation, it is an unseen belief system taken on faith. Christians who accept evolution do so at the cost of their Bible remaining consistent and non-contradictory. I am not willing to go to that length or else I might as well discard the whole thing, plus I’ve never seen a piece of evidence that does not align with a young-earth view when looked at through Biblical assumptions. I believe in the absence of human observation, we should accept the observations recorded in the Bible from the one who knows all and can never lie! In the end you just have to decide who you will trust – man’s word or God’s word.
Obviously there are a wealth of more questions to this topic and only a broad overview was discussed. For more Q&As see my TOP 20 FAQ here or leave a comment!