Saturday, May 31, 2014

David MacMillan: Understanding Creationism

Over at Panda's Thumb, David MacMillan is writing a short series on the subject that has baffled people like me for years: why, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, do young earth creationists continue to reject evolutionary theory. From Part 1:
We understand the theory of evolution to be a series of conclusions drawn from over a century of research, predictions, and discoveries. This theory allows us to understand the mechanisms in biology and make further predictions about the sort of evidence we will uncover in the future. Its predictive power is vital to success in real-life applications like medicine, genetic engineering, and agriculture.

However, creationists don’t see it the same way. Creationists artificially classify medicine, genetic research, and agriculture as “operational science,” and believe that those disciplines function in a different way than research in evolutionary biology. They understand the theory of evolution, along with mainstream geology and a variety of other disciplines, as a philosophical construct created for the express purpose of explaining life on Earth apart from divine intervention. Thus, they approach the concept of evolution from a defensive position; they believe it represents an attack on all religious faith.

This defensive posture is reflected in nearly all creationist literature, even in the less overt varieties such as intelligent-design creationism. It dictates responses. When creationists see a particular argument or explanation about evolution, their initial reaction is to ask, “How does this attack the truth of God as Creator? What philosophical presuppositions are dictating beliefs here? How can I challenge those underlying assumptions and thus demonstrate the truth?” Recognizing this basis for creationist arguments is a helpful tool for understanding why such otherwise baffling arguments are proposed.
This kind of thought is always on display with Ken Ham, who continually refers to evolution as “their secularist religion” despite literal pleading from scientists who know better. The problem is that Ham is very persuasive and holds vast importance in the evangelical community. It doesn't matter that, as MacMillan notes earlier in his post, there are no young earth creationists that understand evolution even rudimentarily. They simply aren't interested in learning about it.  Why should they? On the other hand, the idea that evolution is presupposed on atheistic terms is ludicrous to your average evolutionary biologist.  Scientific research does not and cannot convey truth. It is just science, no more and no less. As someone recently wrote in the comments on this post:
When I do math and I don’t pray or think about God, it’s not atheistic math, it’s just math. When I drive and am not thinking about God, it’s not secular driving, it’s just driving. And when I go into the lab and I’m thinking about the lab experiment and not theological issues, its not agnostic science, it’s just science. Adding an adjective implies some sort of intentional avoidance of theism or purposeful distance from theism, when the real truth of the matter is that nobody is avoiding anything, they are just focused on their jobs/hobbies/whatever.
Amen. Ham and like-minded creationists are adding an ontological layer onto the practice of evolutionary biology that does not exist.  If you simply study the fossil record and modern genomics, the evidence for evolution is enormous.  Calling it a “secular religion” won’t make that go away.


  1. Anonymous9:50 AM

    "there are no young earth creationists that understand evolution even rudimentarily". Really? Not one? Not even Todd Wood or Kurt Wise?

  2. Whoops! Meant to write very few. Both of them do but have rejected it for reasons that I find unconvincing.