Young Earth Creationism and Me

Young Earth Creationism and Me August 13, 2011

Realizing that Young Earth Creationism (YEC) was wrong was the first step on my journey out of my parents’ beliefs. My parents made YEC the center of their beliefs, and taught me that everything else rests upon it. I studied YEC in detail beginning when I was about twelve, and I was convinced of its truth and of the falsehood of evolution. When I came to college, however, I engaged in debate on this topic with other students I knew. I was convinced I could convert them into Young Earth Creationists, because I was convinced my position was right. But I found over time that my arguments were either flawed or flat out wrong. After months and months of this, I finally admitted that I had been wrong.

Understanding how wrong my parents were on this issue, an issue they had made center stone of their beliefs, made me realize that I had to question and rethink everything that they had ever taught me. Every belief was suspect and I had to start from scratch. That started my journey out of Christian Patriarchy and fundamentalist Christianity.

And so I offer this post, which is an explanation of why I changed my mind on this issue. I feel like I owe you an explanation. I’m going to give you a list of points that were key in making me realize I needed to rethink this issue, and I will finish with a list of links for future research. Please don’t think I am telling you what to believe. Instead, I am merely sharing my experiences and epiphanies and asking you to keep an open mind and be willing to do further research.

Introduction. First of all, my parents’ way of seeing scientists as some sort of conspiracy was wrong. Science is about looking at the evidence around us and then trying to form models to explain what we see. Scientists are after truth, not any specific agenda. There is no grand conspiracy. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can trust that scientists have some idea of what they’re talking about. After all, they’ve studied their field for their entire lives, and let me tell you, grad school is tough. But you don’t have to simply trust the scientists on this issue, you can also look at the evidence and arguments yourself. It’s not like the scientists are trying to hide something or like they are putting forward a theory with no evidence to support it. For every supposed “hole” in the theory of evolution put forward by Young Earth Creationists (i.e., the rock layers in the Grand Canyon are out of order, the flagellum is irreducibly complex, etc.), scientists have an answer (which of course is the part creationists leaders don’t tell their followers). The reality is that there is tons and tons of evidence, and it is all on the side of evolution. You know how they say evolution is a “theory”? Well, so is gravity. Scientific theories mean something. If something is a scientific theory it means that it is the best explanation we have for the evidence, and that it has never been contradicted.

One more thing before we get started. My parents taught me that evolution and Christianity are not compatible. I found, though, when I left the YEC camp, that they actually are. In fact Catholics and mainline Protestants accept the scientific theory of evolution. They believe that God used evolution as a tool to create the world, watching the process unfold and guiding where needed. This is calledtheistic evolution. Similarly, there are evolutionary scientistswho also believe in God. Christianity and evolution are indeed compatible, and I think that this is important to remember. Young Earth Creationism is the idea that the earth was created in six days less than 10,000 years ago. The most common figure put forward based on Old Testament chronologies and genealogies is that the earth was created in 4004 B.C.E. According to YEC, the whole earth was destroyed in a global flood, generally put around 2300 B.C.E. It was this global flood that laid down all the rock layers and buried all the fossils. This is called “flood geology.” As a popular YEC song explains, “If there really was a worldwide flood, what would the evidence be? Billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth.” If the YEC hypothesis is correct, this is what we should see. Except that it’s not.

1. Rock Layers and Water. Flood geology holds that all the rock layers were laid down by water. They weren’t. Many of the layers throughout the geological column were laid down in desert conditions or show evidence of natural wind erosion. These layers simply could not have been laid down by a global flood. Similarly, there are animal burrows and nesting areas in numerous of the rock layers supposedly laid down by the flood. There are layers throughout the geological column that show evidence of animals living on them in calm and peace and most definitely in the open air. There are even layers throughout the geologic column that show evidence of volcanic eruptions occurring over long periods of time and in the open air. There is absolutely no way one could look at those rock layers and think they were all laid down by water. This I think was the most important point for me in my realization that YEC was wrong. If YEC was correct, the rock layers would be clearly laid down by water. They aren’t. They are clearly laid down not by water.

2. Rock Layers and Order. Now if these layers were laid down by the flood, we would not only expect them to show evidence of being laid down by water but also to show evidence of catastrophic flood conditions, with the fossils and plants and pollen all jumbled together. You wouldn’t expect the fossils to be neatly in order or for the pollen to sort itself into specific layers.But that is exactly what you find. When we look at all the rock layers from way back when, pollen for each type of plant is only found within the layer with that given plant. There is not a single grain of pollen out of order. And it’s the same for everything else. Plants from a given layer are only in that layer, animals from a given layer are only in that layer, etc. When geneticist and biologist J. B. S. Haldane was asked what would disprove evolution, he said “fossil rabbits in the Precambrian era.” The point is that if it had all been laid down by a flood, you should expect to find things like, say, cows and dinosaurs mixed up together, or pollen spread throughout. But you don’t. At all. The layers don’t show any evidence of having been laid down by a global flood, and this is incredibly important.

3. Problems with Noah’s Ark. But there are even more problems with a global flood, and they have to do with the idea of Noah’s ark. I was taught that each animal and person on the ark had tons of genetic diversity, and that that is how we’ve ended up with all of the diversity we see today in spite of the fact that the ark contained only two of each kind.Except that that’s not how genetics works. It just doesn’t. When you take two individuals from a given population and breed them and then their decedents, etc, you end up losing huge amounts of diversity, and there is literally no way around this. It’s called theFounder Effect. There are more questions, too. How did all the diseases survive the flood? Were Noah and his family really carrying all of them? How about STDs? That must have sucked. How about animal diseases? Were all the animals they took sick? What did the animals eat when they got off the ark? There were no plants for the herbivores to eat, and if the carnivores ate something they’d eliminate a species right there.And the problems go on and on.

4. Timeline and Age of the Earth. While creationists differ on whether the earth was created 6,000 years ago or as much as 10,000 years ago, I was taught that, based on a literal reading of Old Testament genealogies, the earth was created in exactly 4004 B.C.E. There is a problem with this timeline, though. You see, we actually know of civilizations that existed before the flood supposedly occurred and continued to exist without break. As I was taught, the flood supposedly occurred around2300 B.C.E. This means that there should be no evidence of human civilization prior to 2300 B.C.E. (the flood would have destroyed all previous evidence). The reality is that we have evidence of the Sumerians and the Egyptians going back as far as3500 B.C.E. This means that the global flood timeline is totally off. This doesn’t even begin to address the age of the earth as indicated by geology. Simply put, this planet appears to beold, reallyold. Why would the earth appear so old if it was only created 6,000 years ago?

5. Ape and Human Skulls. Next, I was always taught growing up that any skulls that were found and proclaimed “missing links” were either humans or apes, and not missing links at all. Yet strangely, as i began to research the issue I found thatcreationists disagree on whether some of the skulls were human skulls or ape skulls; as in, some creationists say a given skull was an ape skull, and others say it was a human skull. Huh. Sounds to me then like it must have been something in between!

6. Missing Links. While we’re on the topic of missing links, let me say this: archeologists have found tens of thousands of missing links. I was taught growing up that there are no missing links or transitional fossils. This is, quite simply, a blatant lie. For example, there aredinosaurs with feathers andeverything in between. And that is only the beginning. Scientists have found so many “missing links” that they have laid them out in entiresequences of evolutionary development. The reality is that the “missing links” aren’t actually aren’t actually “missing” at all. Indeed, every fossil ever dug up fits into the general pattern predicted by the theory of evolution. Not a single one is out of place. The theory of evolution is far from unsubstantiated.

7. Vestigial Organs and Bad Design. Finally, there is the whole issue ofvestigial organs. Did you know that whales have hip bones? Whales and dolphins were originally land animals and then moved back into the water. That explains why, unlike fish, whales and dolphins are mammals, being warm blooded, breathing air, and having live young, and this is also why both have hip bones and small undeveloped hind legs that they don’t use. The evidence of these creatures’ evolution is clear. And this is only one example of many. For example,pythons have leftover leg bones. A similar point is that many animals actually show evidence of very bad design. Ostriches for example have hollow bones like other birds, but as land animals have no need for them. This makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. Giraffes have a particular nerve called the vagus nerve that loops from the voice box around all the way down the neck, around the heart, and back up to the brain. This is extremely inefficient and not beneficial in the least, but it makes sense given that the nerve almost certainly developed before the giraffe’s neck has become long. And these are only a few examples among many.

8. Science Increases in Precision. One argument I heard against evolution is that the science is constantly changing and that accepted “theories” are constantly being changed. This deserves some clarification. Yes, the science changes with new information and research, but the topics being debated today are not whether evolution occurred (this is so well attested that it is considered settled fact), but rather how it occurred. Let me give you an example. Last year Science Daily ran an article on bird evolution that reported the following: “A new study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides yet more evidence that birds did not descend from ground-dwelling theropod dinosaurs, experts say, and continues to challenge decades of accepted theories about the evolution of flight.” Ah ha, the creationists say. You see! They were wrong! Birds did not descend from dinosaurs! Evolution is wrong, young earth creationism is right! But the reality is that when creationists say this kind of thing they are twisting both the article and the scientific find.

The article continues as follows: “The weight of the evidence is now suggesting that not only did birds not descend from dinosaurs, Ruben said, but that some species now believed to be dinosaurs may have descended from birds.” You see? The question is not whether dinosaurs and birds evolved, and it’s not even whether they are related. The question is how this took place. Any scientific debate over evolution today centers over how it occurred, not over whether it occurred. Let me give an even more recent example from last month. A new transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds was discovered, leading to scientists suggesting that Archaeopteryx should be reclassified as a birdlike dinosaur rather than an actual link between dinosaurs and birds.

The creationists naturally jumped up to say “Science Stunner! Missing Link for 150 Years and Now It Isn’t?” But the reality was that they werecompletely misunderstanding both the discovery and the science. The reclassification of Archaeopteryx is not a failure of evolutionary science, but rather a sign that this science is becoming more carefully defined. The relationship between dinosaurs and birds was not in question (in fact, the new transitional fossil discovered added to a growing list of links between the two), merely the classification of a single fossil. While scientists had thought Archaeopteryx was an ancestor of modern birds, they now believe that it was actually a cousin of modern birds. Furthermore, this classification was changed based on increased information and evidence about how dinosaur-bird evolution occurred. And you know what else is interesting? While the creationists are today crowing about how “Archeopteryx is just a dinosaur!” (albeit one with feathers), they had originally argued that it wasjust a bird. Huh. Now that’s interesting.

9. Deceptive Quote Mining. Essentially every time creationists quote a scientists saying that evolution has problems, they are actually deceptively editing the quote. For example, you may have heard creationists mention the following quote from Charles Darwin to prove that even he did not believe in evolution: “To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.” This quote is accurate.It is simply not complete.

Here is the rest of the quote: “Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound.” And creationistsare very very good at distorting scientists quotes in this way.

So really, any time creationists bring up a quote of a famous scientist saying evolution is flawed, you really can’t assume that that scientist actually meant or really even said what the creationists say he did. What creationists are best at is misrepresenting both science and the views and ideas of actual scientists.

Conclusion. Now remember that this list is not exhaustive. These are just the things that first made me go “huh, something is very wrong here.” Even though I realized that Young Earth Creationism was patently false, I still wanted to learn more about the theory of evolution before I could fully trust it. Therefore I did a lot more research, and the more I read and learned the more it all lined up. I learned that every creationist argument against evolution is baseless. I found that the theory of evolution actually makes perfect sense. The truth is that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and I encourage you to explore it for yourselves. I spent twenty years of my life thinking that evolution was a lie and that young earth creationism was the theory with the evidence behind it, but I was the one who had been lied to.

If you still think this hyperbole, let me point something out. Answers in Genesis’ own statement of faith states the following: By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Did you catch that? When they come upon scientific evidence that contradicts their fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, they simply throw it out. How anyone can think that Answers in Genesis does good science with this as a starting point is beyond me. But don’t take my word for it. Do some research for yourself. In case you’re interested, here are some helpful links:

Refutation of creationism and evidence for evolution in a searchable archive

A guide to the fallacies of creation science directed toward laypeople

An index of all creationist claims with refutations for each

An excellent article listing of fifteen main answers to creationist objections

A witty evolutionary biologist’s tour of the creation museum

A fairly academic list of major evidences for evolution

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