Growing up, I honestly thought that creationism was a scientific theory. I thought that if you looked at the evidence out there and evaluated it honestly and without bias, it would point to a young earth creation. I thought that if, say, a Muslim or a Hindu or a Taoist looked at the earth without preconceived evolutionary ideas, they would conclude that it was created six thousand years ago and destroyed by a flood fifteen hundred years later, and that genetics similarly showed that humans all descended from two people at the time of creation and eight people at the time of the flood – even without ever having seen, read, or even heard of the Bible.
What I didn’t realize was that groups like Answers in Genesis quite simply look at the scientific evidence and then try to fit it into the Bible. In other words, while scientists look at the evidence and say “what does this tell us?”, creationists like those of Answers in Genesis look at the evidence and say “how can I make this square with Bible?” Let me offer you an example from an article that seeks to answer the question “When Did Cavemen Live?” (Andrew Snelling and Mike Matthews, Answers Magazine, vol. 7, no. 2, 51-55):
Let’s first consider the timetable of these early fossils. The Bible gives invaluable clues.
First, we know that the entire human race consisted of eight individuals at the end of the Flood, around 2350 BC. This was one “family,” but four were women who married into Noah’s line. So the maximum number of family lines who brought their genes onto the ark was five (four potentially unrelated women, and one line of men).
Furthermore, we know that all humans who settled the planet after the Flood were descended from Noah’s three sons: “These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated” (Genesis 9:19). …
Noah’s growing family eventually moved en masse to the plain of Shinar (in modern Iraq), where they decided to build a city.
No cavemen yet.
The dispersion from this first city, Babel, sets the oldest time limit for the humans whose remains occasionally appear in caves. The Bible does not give a specific date for this event; but it does say that the earth was “divided” in the days of Peleg, five generations after Noah; and presumably this is a reference to Babel. If the dispersion from Babel occurred at Peleg’s birth, the earliest date would be one century after the Flood, around 2250 BC according to the Masoretic text.
In other words, Answers in Genesis seeks to answer the question of when cavemen existed not by looking at the actual evidence but rather by looking at the Bible, and then trying to fit the evidence we see into what it says. After asking when cavemen lived, the authors of this article approach the Bible for the answer, and then go from there. That’s simply not science.
I’ve known this for a while, of course. Reading the article that the above passage is excerpted from just hit me over the head with it again.
When I first went to college, I had been seeped in Answers in Genesis literature. I thought the world of them. I thought they were doing real science. When I began arguing with those I met in my dorms and classes, trying to use “creationist apologetics” on them, things got weird. For one thing, I found that many of Answers in Genesis’ arguments simply didn’t hold up when subjected to scrutiny. But there was something else, too. One of the other students I argued with about this pointed me to a statement in Answers in Genesis’ statement of faith:
By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.
Reading that was a light bulb moment. It was the moment I realized that Answers in Genesis wasn’t actually doing science. After all, the above clip states flat out that Answers in Genesis simply rejects evidence that contradicts what the Bible says. And that’s not how I was raised to operate. I was raised to follow evidence. I was of course taught that the evidence supported the beliefs my parents had taught me, but I was nevertheless raised to follow evidence and not simply reject it, ever.
As I’ve learned since this realization, Answers in Genesis has been moving away from an evidentialist approach toward a presuppositionalist approach. The evidentialist approach is a scientific approach that involves following the evidence, trying to eschew bias and honestly evaluate the data. I was raised on this approach. The presuppositionalist approach means that you “presuppose” something, not based on evidence but rather just because, and then you go from there. Today, Answers in Genesis “presupposes” that the Bible (and their literal interpretation of it) is completely true and without error. And then they look at the scientific evidence.
And so, when people talk about creationism as science, I don’t have a whole lot of patience. When creationists actually get pieces published in legitimate peer-reviewed scientific journals, where they will have to base their arguments solely on the scientific evidence and not on the Bible, I will give them another hearing. Until then, they’re out of luck with me.