Creationism: Fitting Science into the Bible

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.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Ibis3

    Answers in Genesis has been moving away from an evidentialist approach toward a presuppositionalist approach

    Since science has had enough evidence to discount a young earth and global flood since at least the nineteenth century, it’s clear that AiG has always been presuppositionalist.

  • Ibis3

    I mean, their name itself gives it away: Answers in Evidence? Answers in Reality? Answers in What We Can Discover in Nature and Studies of Human Civilisation? No. Answers are not found in any of those things. The only answers they are interested in are the ones they can glean from their book, written by primitive people who didn’t even have the knowledge and most advanced science of their own time.

  • Contrarian

    After all, the above clip states flat out that Answers in Genesis simply rejects evidence that contradicts what the Bible says.

    No they don’t. Note: “… no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence … can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.” They are not rejecting the basic observations whence anti-Scriptural evidence is inferred. They are instead rejecting inferences from those observations which contradict with Scripture. Here’s what they’re effectively doing: they’re taking (their interpretation of) Scripture and elevating it to the status of fundamental observation.

    You can’t (actually you aren’t supposed to) reject any valid observations. Instead, you’re supposed to find an explanation that fits all of your observations. Taking Scripture and elevating it to the level of observation effectively says, “We will consider no explanation of the available evidence which contradicts Scripture.”

    So they’re not rejecting evidence. Instead, they’re rejecting inferences which are inconsistent with their interpretation of Scripture.

    • JeseC

      This is what we call in Bayesian logic a prior probability. Generally before you start gathering your evidence, you have prior probabilities of how likely each of your theories are to be true – your estimate of how plausible each theory is. Then you look at your evidence and use it to adjust the probabilities of your different theories. This is a fair approximation of how science works. You take your theories, figure out how good they are, and then adjust that based on your findings. It’s actually pretty cool, and assuming everyone’s doing their math right two people starting with different likelihoods will end up converging on the same point given more and more evidence.

      However there’s a funny thing that happens if you add in certainties (probabilities of 0% or 100%). These never move, no matter what other evidence you get. That’s what these people are doing: they’re setting the prior probability of young-earth creationism being true at 100%. This means that, no matter what else they find, they can never move away from it. Instead the probabilities of their other theories adjust to fit around this one. There’s something like science going on here, but it’s not actually science.

      • Contrarian

        I’d say that science is actually a reasonable approximation to Bayesian inference. Few people actually think in terms of adjusting a prior distribution based on the conditional probability of available evidence, so AiG’s method is sort of cobbled together.

        How does Bayesian inference regard self-referential hypotheses, like “The probability that Bayesian inference works” or “I exist”? Presuppositionalists make the (flawed) argument that Scriptural literalism is logically necessary for rational analysis, which is their justification for tagging “Scripture is literally true” with a big fat 1.

      • Caravelle

        @Contrarian : Well, whatever the prior probability for “I exist”, it’s continually reinforced every millisecond I’m aware of my own existence, so it gets very high very fast. And then of course there’s the fact it’s a word game; what do we mean by “I”, what do we mean by “exists” ? Ultimately one good thing to keep in mind is that even with those logical self-evident truths, you can still be wrong if your brain gets it wrong. Which can happen any day through brain farts, or more radically so in dreams, or in the scariest case through brain damage. Hence the impossibility of absolute certainty.

        As for “Bayesian inference works”, again whatever the prior probability is, it’s confirmed every time you run through the equations and find results consistent with each other, and that match what’s observed in the world. That’s been done enough for the mathematical and scientific community to be very confident indeed that it works.

        Your question reminds me of a friend who tried to figure out how “circular logic is valid because circular logic is valid” was wrong. And of course on its face it isn’t. What he did find is that as a system of logic goes it gave “bad” results (can’t remember exactly what – something like statements could be true and false at the same time or something).

        I suspect something similar is wrong with presupposing the Bible is true. It’s not so much that it’s logically invalid, it’s that once you go through the implications you run into problems.

    • Ibis3

      Yes they do. Anything they observe that contradicts what the Bible says is rejected as evidence. To them, such observations necessarily only appear to be evidence. They reject not only inferences and conclusions based on the evidence, but the evidence itself.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    I was part of the mob that toured Ken Ham’s monument to lies and folly three years ago. It’s a profoundly weird place. I blogged about it at the time:
    http://humanistottawaweb.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/theyre-so-cute-when-they-play-science-museum-part-1/

    TL;DR:

    In the first 60 or so feet of the Walk Through History, the Creation Museum has actually made two devastating concessions:

    1) That “mainstream” science essentially has it right, as far as the evidence and human reason goes.
    2) That their conclusion is driven overwhelmingly by religious dogma; that you would never arrive at the young-earth creationist account of natural history from the evidence of the world itself. You only get there if you begin by assuming that Genesis is true, and then proceed to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate the evidence to fit.

    Presuppositionalism is just an excuse to cherry pick, ignore and otherwise distort the evidence while pretending that yes, you are so doing science, and sound all philosophical when discussing it.

  • josephine

    I took a class at a fundamentalist university all about the relationship between science and religion. It was framed to me as two different ways of approaching that relationship – one way is to look at science through the lens of scripture, the other to look at scripture through the lens of science.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X