Defender's Guide to Science and Creationism

Mark Vuletic

Assertion

Evolution and creation are the only two options.

Background

Creationists often treat "evolution" and "creation" as comprehensive views about the nature and history of the entire universe. For instance, the Institute for Creation Research contrasts what they call "the evolution model" with what they call "the creation model." According to the ICR, the "creation model" includes the following claims:

  • The universe and the Solar [sic] system were suddenly created.
  • Life was suddenly created.
  • All present living kinds of animals and plants have remained fixed since creation, other than extinctions, and genetic variation in originally created kinds has only occurred within narrow limits.
  • Mutation and natural selection are insufficient to have brought about any emergence of present living kinds from a simple primordial organism.
  • Man and apes have a separate ancestry.
  • The earth's geologic features appear to have been fashioned largely by rapid, catastrophic processes that affected the earth on a global and regional scale (catastrophism).
  • The inception of the earth and of living kinds may have been relatively recent. (Gish et al 1981)

According to the ICR, the "evolution model" includes the following claims:

  • The universe and the solar system emerged by naturalistic processes.
  • Life emerged from nonlife by naturalistic processes.
  • All present kinds emerged from simpler earlier kinds, so that single-celled organisms evolved into invertebrates, then vertebrates, then amphibians, then reptiles, then mammals, then primates, including man.
  • Mutation and natural selection have brought about the emergence of present complex kinds from a simple primordial organism.
  • Man and apes emerged from a common ancestor.
  • The earth's geologic features were fashioned largely by slow, gradual processes, with infrequent catastrophic events restricted to a local scale (uniformitarianism).
  • The inception of the earth and then of life must have occurred several billion years ago. (Gish et al 1981)

The creationist belief that these two "models" are the only two options is implicit in the way they argue for creationism: virtually all creationist arguments aside from strictly theological ones are just arguments against one or another of the claims of the "evolution model," as though disproving it would show that creationism is correct.

arguments against one aspect or another of the "evolution model." But even a complete disproof of the one would not translate into a proof of the other unless they were the only two options.

Analysis

I. More than two alternatives

Even a complete disproof of the "evolution model" would not prove that the "creationist model" is correct unless the two were the only options. However, it is clear on even a cursory glance at the ICR's two "models" that they do not exhaust all of the alternatives. Here are a just a handful of other possibilities, ranging from popular ones all the way down to extremely fanciful ones (but few more fanciful than creationism):

  • There is the view that a god was responsible for the origin of the universe, but everything subsequent happened as science indicates it did.

  • There is the view that a god was responsible for the origin of life, but everything subsequent happened as science indicates it did.

  • There is the view that all life evolved naturally from a common ancestor, except that the human soul was placed directly into human beings by God at some point. Pope John Paul II affirmed this kind of account in his message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 22 October 1996. Esteemed Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne concurs, acknowledging that "the fact of evolution is evident" (Swinburne 1986:1), but leaving the soul for God to create.

  • Arguably the "evolution model" above does not even represent mainstream naturalism, since most evolutionists (whether believing or nonbelieving) accept that mechanisms other than mutation and natural selection play a role in evolution, though there is debate about their comparative impact.

  • There are alternative fringe naturalistic accounts, such as Lamarckianism or John Davison's semi-meiotic hypothesis.

  • One can deny that the world had a real history at all. One might, for instance, embrace the idea that the apparent reality one perceives is in fact an illusion generated by one's own mind (solipsism), by an evil higher power (the "evil genius" of Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy), by a good higher power (the God of Berkeley's Enquiry into the Principles of Human Knowledge), or by a complicated machine into which your brain is directly wired (the "brain-in-a-vat" scenario, brought to a new generation by The Matrix). For creationists who object to the fancifulness of this kind of scenario, it is instructive to note that Harun Yahya, the leading creationist in the Islamic world, actually accepts a view like Berkeley's:

    Since each object is only a collection of perceptions and those perceptions exist only in the mind, it is more accurate to say that the only world that really exists is the world of perceptions. The only world we know of is the world that exists in our mind: the one that is designed, recorded, and made vivid there; the one, in short, that is created within our mind. This is the only world we can be sure of. (Yahya 2001)

    I must add a brief reflection here: Yahya complains constantly that evolution undergirds atheism. On the contrary, if I wanted to advance atheism at any cost, I would consider Yahya my best friend. I would buy his books at volume and distribute them to everyone I met. This is because if the only world is "the world that exists in our mind," then there cannot be a god external to us. In fact, the logical consequence of Yahya's view is outright solipsism. If there is no external world, then your mind may just as well be eternal, with the entire apparent history of your life having been created by the unconscious part of your mind. Perhaps every once in a while, your mind purges itself of its memories and starts anew, so you will experience something like reincarnation. If Yahya's books are in fact as popular in the Middle East as I hear, then Islam likely will soon vanish from the face of the earth as Yahya's books lead one Muslim after another down the path to solipsism.

  • One can simply remain agnostic about our origins, and wait for further advances in science to be made. Although some creationists—as though they themselves were God—try to threaten people with eternal damnation if they do not make an immediate decision, there is no reason not to be patient and retain an open mind if one is not yet convinced either way.

Clearly, there is no simple dichotomy between the ICR's two "models."

II. Inadequate to point at imagined problems with evolution

Even if creationism and evolution were the only two alternatives, it would not be enough for creationists to point to imagined problems with evolution. Creationism has its own problems, and nowhere near the positive evidence that has been amassed for evolution. Hence, whatever the problems (real or imagined) with evolution, creationism will remain less plausible in the absence of a strong positive case. Notably, however, creationists rarely even bother submitting papers (that deal with creationism) to respected scientific journals: of the handful that have been submitted, only one has actually been published, and that one was later retracted by the journal that published it. Creationists, recognizing that there is no positive scientific case to be offered for their legends and myths, prefer to take their case directly to the public and to the government—to advance their agendas through rhetoric and legal maneuvers—since logic, reason, and scientific methodology are of no help to them.

The situation is analogous to two rival candidates running for office: Candidate C complains that while incumbent E was in office, the number of unemployed increased—never mind that the entire population increased proportionally. C complains that E is irresponsible, and that C will lower unemployment substantially if elected. However, C never spells out to the public how C intends to accomplish this; instead, he does nothing but slander E. Only when he is addressing certain superstitious circles does C explain that he will lower unemployment by doing a voodoo dance every morning.

References

Gish DT and Bliss RB. 1981. Summary of scientific evidence for creation. Impact 95-96.

Swinburne R. 1986. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon.

Yahya H. 2001. Evolution Deceit. www.harunyahya.com/evolutiondeceit19.php. Spotted March 30, 2002.

Last updated: 08 Feb 2016

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