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Creationism and Science

QUESTION: Creationism and Science - Proving or Believing


According to mainstream science, the earth is several billions of years old. It is proposed that during this time all life forms evolved and the fossil bearing layers of the earth were formed. Oftentimes, it is claimed that this is an irrefutable, proven fact. Anyone who does not believe this is labeled old-fashioned (or worse). But to what degree is this claim based on facts? How strong is the evidence?

In the first two articles (the series starts here) we examined the possibility of these billions of years, in which the fossil bearing layers of the earth were formed, taking place during the days of creation. In that case the creation days must be interpreted as long periods of time, or eras. But we concluded that we must reject this view for biblical reasons. We found that the layers of the earth must have formed after the fall of man into sin, because they testify of disasters, suffering, and death. Is it possible that all these millions of years took place prior to the fall? The Bible certainly doesn't leave any room for this. When we reject the notion of long creation eras on exegetical grounds, this has two dramatic consequences for origins science:
  • First, we also reject the widely accepted scientific explanation of very old (millions of years) layers of the earth and the evolutionary development of the life forms we find in these layers. It seems quite daring to challenge the results of modern science in this area. Isn't "science" capable of great achievements? Consider for example the intricately built computers, or the space probes that are being sent to their destinations with extreme precision. Can anyone question these things? Then why question the findings of the science of origins? Doesn't this equate to ignoring the apparent results of science? Isn't this a sign of narrow-mindedness? Aren't we making the same mistake the Church made in the days of Galileo, when they stubbornly clung to the notion that the sun was orbiting the earth? (Joshua 10:12), even though 'science' had already proven it's the other way around? Still, our theological objections to the long creation eras force us to ask the following crucial question: how strong is this claim of a creation history of this earth that spans millions and billions of years ? I would like to answer this question in the first part of this article.

  • Secondly, this poses an enormous challenge for us Christians, namely to formulate an alternative explanation for the origins of the layers of the earth and the fossils we find in them. In the second part of this article, I will make a case for solid, biblical creationism as a necessary scientific alternative.
Creationism and Science - Science of Origins.
Let us not forget to always critically examine scientific knowledge. Science is, after all, the work of fallible men. Theories and models are drafted, revised and often even rejected. Even major concepts, paradigms, can change. There's nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, this is how science works. An example is the concept of continental drift, proposed first in 1915. Adherents of the theory were mocked and ridiculed into the 1960s, but now it is considered general knowledge even for elementary school students.

Furthermore, there is a huge difference between experimental science and origins science. Experimental sciences, such as chemistry and physics, investigate the operation of natural laws in the present. In the realm of experimental science it is possible to test the correctness of hypotheses and theories, using direct observations and experiments. This is not possible in the science of origins. This type of science studies fragmented remnants from a distant past -- earth's layers, fossils, and archaeological objects. The researcher tries to reconstruct how these "facts" (traces of events in the past) came to be and which processes and events may have occurred in a past that is long gone. The researcher wasn't there when these events took place, so it is impossible for him to gather any information from direct observations. Even worse: the events he may propose as explanations cannot be tested or simulated by experiments either. No matter how reasonable or credible his theories are, it is impossible for him to know whether his interpretations and reconstructions are truly correct.

This means that the formulation of theories in origins science is per definition a speculative business and that there's much room for multiple interpretations of the same 'traces of facts' from the distant past. Because of this, personal preferences and presuppositions play an important role when theories are being formulated. Consider for example the fossilized bones of a dinosaur. The shape of an animal can be reconstructed reasonably well from these bones, but otherwise our thinking about these animals is rather speculative: were they warmblooded or coldblooded? Did the animal live at the location it was found or is it possible it was transported by a flood? Was this flood a disaster in the same order of magnitude as our current floods, or were factors involved we cannot have any knowledge about? How can we even research this? And how much time was needed to form the earth layer in which the animal was found? Hours? Or a millennium?2 In short, in the historical sciences we are dealing with large margins of error. This also means that providing 'evidence' for or against a certain theory is a lot more difficult than in the case of experimental sciences, if not impossible. This is the reason that in mainstream origins science no less than one hundred (!) theories have been proposed for the extinction of the dinosaurs, without even knowing what the most probable cause would be. At best, one could assume that the best theory (or the most probable theory) is the one that explains most facts satisfactorily, but even then subjective interpretations and personal preferences play an important role.

Creationism and Science - Modern Science of Origins.
Many Christian scientists have justly pointed out that evolutionary explanations of science are in fact unproven. But in the last decades even secular scientists have come to recognize this lack of evidence, and new insights have been gained in biology and geology. A number of widely accepted theories have since been revised or expanded with secondary, supporting theories to explain this lack of evidence. It is interesting that this only caused the lack of evidence for the theory of evolution to be amplified: important pillars of evolution are collapsing. In the second half of this article, I will discuss three crucial aspects of the theory of evolution, but first I'd like to focus our attention on two popular arguments for the old age of the earth:
  • The thickness of the earth's layers - The first argument for the old age of the earth's layers is their thickness. The formation of such a thick layer must require an enormous amount of time, so it is argued, because the growth of such layers and other geological processes surely can only take place very slowly and gradually, as is observed in the present. For nearly two centuries this argument was unquestioned. But now this principle, called "actualism," is considered outdated. Since the 1980s, large impact craters of celestial bodies have been discovered on the earth and scientists have started to consider the potential catastrophic effects of such impacts: large-scale volcanic activity, drastic climate changes, rapid formation of mountain ranges, huge floods, mass extinctions, accelerated movement of tectonic plates. And in May of 1980, the eruption of Mount St. Helens unexpectedly caused the rapid formation of thick sedimentary layers, in which deep canyons were cut that completely hardened in only a few years time. On a smaller scale a pattern was created identical to the Grand Canyon. Prior to this event scientists thought millions of years were needed for such processes.

    It is now widely assumed that practically all types of the earth's layers can be formed in short time spans by catastrophic events. This is called "neo-catastrofism." But... the millions of years are still around. It is supposed that long periods without any geological activity existed between these episodes of rapid formation of earth's layers.3 How long did those periods last? Did they even exist? It is certain that they cannot be proven. It is also known that the planes between the individual layers often don't show any signs of erosion or pedogenesis (soil evolution). So it is not hard to defend the claim that the layers of the earth were deposited rapidly, without long periods of time in between. These findings have caused an important supporting pillar of an old earth history (millions of years) to collapse, namely the thickness of the earth's layers.

  • Radioactive dating - The second 'proof' that is often used to support an old earth is the fact that age can be measured. Radioactive dating methods are used to do this. However, many objections can be raised against these methods. They rely on a large number of assumptions that cannot be verified experimentally. Miall, a non-creationist scientist, notes that the exact mathematical formulas cloud the fact that the entire radiometric framework is built on an uncertain foundation of assumptions and can give a false sense of accuracy while the results are completely wrong.

    Furthermore, it is known that dates from different dating techniques can produce a wide range of different values. At least 70% of all common measurements is therefore disregarded as "bad data." Even more, dates determined from recently formed lava rocks appear to be incorrect. Volcanic deposits from the Mount St. Helens eruption gave ages of millions of years and lava rocks from a Hawaii eruption in 1800 were estimated to be 140 million to 3 billion years old, using several dating techniques. Of course geologists have formulated additional hypotheses for these clearly erroneous results. The lava rocks were supposedly contaminated with material from the volcanic mantle. But if that is true, then of course the next question is: if the dating of recent lava rocks is unreliable, is it possible that the dating of older rocks is equally unreliable? It is assumed that this is not the case, but again... this has not been proven. Even more: it cannot be proven.

    This idea seems very unlikely, because traces of life have been found in earth's layers thought to be very old, based on radioactive dating methods. Undamaged DNA was found for example underneath layers of an ice sheet in Greenland, which are supposed to be between 500,000 and 800,000 years old. Soft dinosaur tissue has been found, including undamaged DNA, in samples that are supposed to be 65 million years old. And in Permian rock salt (supposedly 250 million years old) living bacteria have been detected. The conclusion is that radioactive dating methods are far from convincing.

<Read Part 2 of Creationism and Science Now!

[1] This article was written by W.A.M. von Lindheim - Westerink and first published (in Dutch) in the magazine Nader Bekeken (Vol. 17, Nr. 11, November 2010). Used with permission and (where necessary) adapted for internet publication.
[2] Until recently it was believed that the formation of granite requires millions of years. In a recent article in Nature magazine the amount of time required is estimated in terms of centuries and even months.
[3] See the work of (non-creationist) Ager, D. 1993, The new catastrophism, Cambridge U.P; V. Clube and B. Napier; S.J. Gould.

This article is also available in Spanish.

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