Seven years ago, I left young earth creationism. Three years ago, I blogged about the reasons I left. What stunned me most, at the time, was just how unscientific creationist claims were. I felt conned. When I actually looked at the science, and not just by reading Answers in Genesis and other creationist literature, the entire thing just fell apart. The rock layers don’t look like they were laid down by a global flood. There are transitional fossils between humans and our ancestors—creationists cannot agree on whether they think these fossils are human fossils or ape fossils.
But recently, I’ve been struck by something slightly less specific. Namely, that while Answers in Genesis scientists claim they are doing science, they actually aren’t. Actual science uses the scientific method. Young earth creationists don’t.
When you use the scientific method you form a hypothesis based on your observations and then test that hypothesis through experimentation. Then—and this is the important part!—you adjust your hypothesis based on the results of the experiments. Let’s be very rudimentary and consider Sally’s recent test of magic. Sally formed a hypothesis that magic does not work and tested it by waving a wand over me and chanting an incantation (“abracadabra,” to be exact). If I had turned into a butterfly, Sally would have been forced to revise her hypothesis. And that is in fact the point.
When doing science, you have to be willing for your hypothesis to be wrong. Young earth creationist scientists do not make that allowance, and they are therefore not doing science. But don’t take my word for it—let’s go to the source and see what Answers in Genesis has to say on this score:
The Bible must come first in our quest for knowledge; it is superior to other sources of information, including knowledge gained from the natural sciences.
The Bible comes first. And what does the Bible say?
At this point, we have established that the Bible unequivocally teaches a “young” earth. In other words, God created the universe and the earth in six ordinary days, roughly 6,000 years ago.
In other words, they start with their conclusion. They are not in fact open to scientific experimentation pointing in any other direction, because they have already decided the end point. This is not how science works.
One term that is sometimes thrown around is “falsifiability.” Basically, scientific theories should be “falsifiable”—there should be a way to prove them wrong. For example, Sally’s (very rudimentary) hypothesis was falsifiable—if I had turned into a butterfly, that would have proved her hypothesis false. The trouble is that Answers in Genesis rejects falsifiability entirely—and openly.
By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.
In other words, if evidence contradicts their predetermined conclusion, they de facto consider it invalid. This is not how science works.
Let’s imagine what this would look like if applied to actual science. I mean, this would be like Sally concluding from the beginning that not only is magic not real, but that any evidence in favor of magic being real is not valid. Imagine if she had conducted her experiment and I had turned into a butterfly. She would then reject that evidence and hold to her hypothesis that magic is not real—in the face of blatant evidence that this hypothesis is incorrect.
Young earth creationists like those at Answers in Genesis are only playing at doing science. And if you read their actual words, you see that on some level they’re pretty honest about that. For them, the Bible is more solid evidence than any amount of experimentation.
There are several problems with treating scientific theories about nature as if they were at the same level as Scripture. First, as mentioned in chapter 4, nature is cursed (Rom. 8; Gen. 3), whereas the Bible is not. This instantly places the Bible in a higher position.
Second, scientific theories are not nature; rather, they are statements made by men about nature. As such, they are fallible—whereas the Bible is not. It is true that we can misunderstand the Bible and we can also misunderstand scientific claims. However, we must remember that the Bible is never wrong, whereas scientific claims sometimes are.
Third, the way in which we interpret nature is strongly dependent on what we believe about the world. In order to do science at all, we must accept some of the truths of the Bible. As such, the Bible is actually the foundation of science.
This is not to say that we should never trust scientific theories; many of them are very well established. However, when there is a conflict between the ideas of men and the Word of God, the Bible must be considered our ultimate authority, because scientists can and have made mistakes. (It happens a lot—take it from me!) But God knows everything and never errs nor lies. So, unlike human wisdom, the Bible is an infallible source of information. Since the Bible teaches a young earth, we can know for certain that the earth is young.
To turn Sally’s experiment around, can you imagine someone claiming that the Harry Potter books are unequivocally true, and that any scientific evidence contradicting what is written in them is de facto not valid? Now imagine that that person claims that science actually backs up the Harry Potter books. Would anyone take them seriously? I sure hope not. But that is about how seriously we should take young earth creationists’ claims that they are doing science.
I once asked a young earth creationist brother what he would do if there were a scientific discovery that squarely and obviously contradicted young earth creationism. He told me he would assume that a future scientific discovery would invalidate that discovery. In other words, there was utterly no way scientific evidence could change his mind. Why? Because his belief about the origins of the earth was religious rather than scientific.
In contrast, when biologist J. D. S. Haldane was asked what would disprove the theory of evolution, he had an actual answer: fossil rabbits in the precambrian. In other words, evidence that contradicts established scientific theories forces scientists to reconsider these theories and change their hypotheses to better fit the evidence. This means that Answers in Genesis’ talk about scientists being wrong is not proof that science cannot be trusted but rather proof that science can be trusted. Why? Because it means scientists are willing to adjust their theories and change their hypotheses in the face of new evidence. This is how science works.
At least for evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, religion is very concerned with certainty. All it takes is a read over Wikipedia’s Origins of Birds article to see that science is more about questions. Were birds descended from dinosaurs, or did they have a similar common ancestor with dinosaurs? These are the sorts of questions scientists ask as they compare evidence, create hypotheses, and dialogue in scientific journals. Science isn’t about starting with a settled conclusion. It’s about embarking on an open-ended process of discovery.
It’s not just that young earth creationists’ scientific findings are unscientific, it’s that young earth creationists are not actually doing science in the first place.