The Language of God: YEC is Dumb

The Language of God, Chapter 8

By B.J. Marshall

I can summarize this chapter by quoting Collins himself: “Thus, by any reasonable standard, Young Earth Creationism [YEC] has reached a point of intellectual bankruptcy” (p.177). He spends the bulk of this chapter providing reasons why YEC is horribly flawed, and then he concludes with a “plea to reason” that is anything but.

Sadly, I don’t think Collins does enough (anything, really) to debunk YEC other than saying it’s wrong. All he says is that, for YEC to be correct, we’d have to throw out all we’ve learned about chemistry, cosmology, geology, and biology. Assuming that his readership comprises theists who hold some Creationist views – and Collins calls himself a Creationist (p.171) given that God is behind it all – I would have thought that Collins would have worked harder to bring any YECs around. Here are two examples, which really wouldn’t have required much ink to explain:

Aside from asserting that YEC is incompatible with science, Collins makes two other arguments. His first is that there’s no reason to take the Bible literally. After all, does anyone take it literally when the Bible states that the right arm of God lifts up the nation of Israel (p.175)? (Of course, Collins then fails to provide some objective measure of how one should know which verses are literal and which ones aren’t.) His second is that, by alleging things that are contradictory to all scientific findings, YEC seems to fall back on a Trickster God.

Collins says that YEC does more to damage the faith, by demanding the believers assent to fundamentally flawed claims about the natural world. He states that children, brought up in YEC families and churches, will inevitably see the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and leave the faith. If only that were true!

Finally, his conclusion with the subheading “A Plea for Reason”:

As believers, you are right to hold fast to the concept of God as Creator; you are right to hold fast to the truths of the Bible; you are right to hold fast to the conclusion that science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence; and you are right to hold fast to the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted (p.178)

He continues by saying these battles between science and faith cannot be won by attaching one’s position to a flawed foundation. He quotes Benjamin Warfield to emphasize his point: “None should be more quick to discern truth in every field, more hospitable to receive it, more loyal to follow it, whithersoever it leads” (p.179).

The cognitive dissonance is almost too much. Collins encourages others to avoid attaching positions to a flawed foundation, yet at the same time he says one is right to accept the untestable and unverifiable “truths” of the Bible and that one is right to hold that God must be the answer to pressing questions of human existence because science can’t explain them (yet).

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  • HP

    I’ve long felt that if you’re going to be a creationist, then YEC is the only self-consistent way to go. If you accept a 4 byo Earth and 14 byo universe, and still cling to creationism, all you demonstrate is that you really can’t grasp big numbers. The universe is so big, and so old, and so full of stuff, then you pull some odds out your ass like “one-in-sixty-four billion,” and yet there’s still plenty of time and plenty of stuff to account for a material universe. Add in Multiverse theory and the weak anthropic principle, and there’s really no rational support for the OEC position.

    I hate to find myself agreeing with Ken Ham, but Old-Earth Creationism is more problematic than YEC.

  • http://shelter.nu/blog/ Alex

    Heh, @HP, I get and agree with what you’re saying, except that last part. Changing the fundamental axioms to make 2+2=23462387 isn’t much better or worse than making 2+2=0.4523236. I simply can’t say that one or the other is worse; they’re both unbelievably stupid on so many levels, so I can’t bring myself to discriminate between them. :)

  • Bob Carlson

    I hate to find myself agreeing with Ken Ham, but Old-Earth Creationism is more problematic than YEC.

    Perhaps it seems that way to you, but an astrophysicist and others at Reasons.org don’t appear to agree. They even sell a book titled Creation as Science: A Testable Model Approach to End the Creation/Evolution Wars. Note (ugh) that 22 of the reviewers on Amazon gave it five stars and only five gave it one star.

  • Le Grolandais

    Not specially related, but i was just reading this report from the European parliamentary assembly about dangers of creationnists

    http://assembly.coe.int/main.asp?Link=/documents/workingdocs/doc07/edoc11297.htm

    It’s consistent with the observations of Collins about the fact that science doesn’t have all the answers. If it had, it would be religion and not science, and this report adress this issue.
    Since the fall of the iron curtain, creationnism and obsucrantism are gaining more and more popularity in Eastern Europe, partly because religion was banned from stalinists countries (one of the few good things done there). But Western Europe is affected too (Ireland for example).

  • Petrucio

    science doesn’t have all the answers. If it had, it would be religion

    No, it wouldn’t.

    religion was banned from stalinists countries (one of the few good things done there)

    WTF you have got to be kidding me.
    This idea is so wrong I don’t know where to begin.

  • Le Grolandais

    Mmmmh. Basic French anti-clericalism from me.

    « On pendra le dernier patron avec les tripes du dernier curé » (joke)

    In first place, I wrote that forbidding religion was wrongly done in stalinists countries, but the idea I agreed with is to avoid teaching religious stuff to kids. Kids learn science, math, history (with a touch of propaganda), greatness of Stalin (yeah, I know), etc, without being in religious schools. There were less social vectors of religious contamination than now.
    The stupidity of stalinism was to point religion as an enemy, the best way to let that surviving, and unfortunately, it survives greatly, see Poland

    But it’s a very long process for me to find the correct words that’s why I schematize quickly.
    American are touchy with first amendement ?

  • Le Grolandais

    Same thing to my wrintings apply with the thing about science. What I mean is that Science is about doubt, not having answers right there, right now, is not a problem in science, although it seems a problem for religious zealots :

    you are right to hold fast to the conclusion that science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence

  • Dave

    I just finished reading this book, and I have to say that I disagree with the tone of this review. In my view, this is exactly the kind of book and these are exactly the kind of arguments that we need to get these mushy-brained creations to accept the evidence and conclusions generated by science. If we could get even a fraction of YECs to read this book and buy into what Collins is saying, it would be a HUGE and MASSIVE advance for reason. Millions of people would now accept some of the most significant findings of science generated over the last century. For me, that in itself would be enough that I could forgive whatever mental mushiness it gets replaced with.

    IMHO.

  • Ben

    @Dave – That’s a big if. “If we could get even a fraction of YECs to read this book and buy into what Collins is saying, it would be a HUGE and MASSIVE advance for reason.”

    You could say the same thing about the God Delusion! Or Introduction to Biology textbooks! I think the point here is that B.J. is suggesting that “if” is unlikely to come true with the kinds of arguments Collins makes. I haven’t read the book myself, though.

  • Dave

    @Ben, I hear you and I don’t disagree, but I’ve many frustrating conversations with these creationist types; I’ve wracked my brain to come up with a way that would let them give up on the anti-science stuff without making them feel like they are betraying their faith or giving in to us heathens. At least Collins is offering them a path they could take that they might find palatable.

  • jack

    @Dave

    In my view, this is exactly the kind of book and these are exactly the kind of arguments that we need to get these mushy-brained creations to accept the evidence and conclusions generated by science.

    I understand the point you’re making, and I agree that a clear-headed explanation of evolution and a refutation of YEC nonsense are more palatable for believers if they come from a scientist who believes in god, but Collins’ book is really not very good for this. As BJ points out, he doesn’t do the hard work of finding and explaining the evidence. I vote for Ken Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God, athough I disagree with the theistic message he delivers near the end of the book.

  • Petrucio

    American are touchy with first amendement ?

    I’m from Brazil.

  • BJ Marshall

    I’ll concede that the way Collins addresses Creationists is a start, but I just don’t think he goes into enough depth. As I read it, it seemed to me that, while Collins was in fact refuting Creationism, his refutation was half-assed. He could have easily done more without using significantly more ink or losing his readership’s interest.

  • thewordofme

    Le Grolandais on comment #7 writes:
    “you are right to hold fast to the conclusion that science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence.”

    Exactly what are the most pressing questions of human existence? Anyone…Anyone.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Exactly what are the most pressing questions of human existence? Anyone…Anyone.

    That’s obvious: whatever questions science can’t answer this week. :)

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin perhaps?

  • anti_supernaturalist

    questions answered

    Since strata and fossils, red-shift and fixed speed of light speak to us today of deep time and deep space, then they also did so throughout human history. Even when science, like fundamentalism, could not or would not pay any heed.

    the anti_supernaturalist