Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Dialoguing with Creationists
What they have to put up with. The cognoscenti tend to be much more tolerant
of muslim jihadists, enviro-terrorists, and lunatic New Age 2012 Apocalyptics.
THE BEAGLE BARKS. Something I'd never done, to be honest. Visit a couple of large-scale creationist sites. You know how they'd be. Crazy. Ranting. Not quite sure how to spell 'science,' let alone talk knowledgeably about it without going into a spasm of glossolalia. That's how I thought they'd be, too. There may well be sites like that, but they weren't the ones I found. Trueorigin.org and ScienceAgainst Evolution.org turned out to be far more intriguing than I thought they'd be when their names cropped up in my search for commentary on the latest dating of moon rocks. (I can't help being fascinated by the moon; it's much more mysterious than anyone lets on.) My first stop was at TalkOrigins.org (the educational site most evolution advocates send doubters to for remedial insight) where I encountered a fairly detailed effort to debunk some creationist claim that the moon was a great deal younger than moon rock analysis seems to suggest it is. I was surprised by the level of seriousness the author was applying to the task of defeating the creationist position. Then I proceeded to a direct creationist rebuttal of the TalkOrigins argument, and I was surprised again by the formal, scientific nature of the counter-argument. What was going on here?
I'd seen TalkOrigins before, but despite a burdensome level of detail, the contributors don't ever really add much to a basic understanding of the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution. They're too defensive and irascible to be a fun read. But it hadn't ever occurred to me that there might be areas where the creationists were going toe-to-toe with evolutionists and holding their own. So I started banging around at TrueOrigins, which somehow led me to ScienceAgainstEvolution and an altogether new understanding of the conflict between the two most extreme poles of thought on human origins. They are going toe to toe, about almost everything, and it's the creationists, not the evolutionists, who are willing to pursue the tiniest details in the most expansive possible range of subjects, including paleontology, anthropology, archaeology, geology, biology, microbiology, genetics, morphology, chemistry and organic chemistry, radio-carbon dating, the history of science, and even physics and cosmology. It's total war, and more often than you'd guess it's the evolutionists who end debates with empty declarations of victory that are reminiscent of press releases issued by Baghdad Bob. (If you don't believe me, wade through this and this -- and anything and everything else that strikes your fancy at both sites -- before you ignite your comment flamethrower.)
As with all omnibus sites, the level of quality varies, and some of the creationist titles make me cringe ("Did God Make Pathogenic Viruses?"). But there's more going on here than dumb and blind resistance to settled science. I'd be willing to bet that internet snobs like Rand Simberg and the usual insect horde of atheist-evolutionist commenters would crumble in a debate with the best of the creationists. (See, for example "The Hubble Variable,") They're not all backwoods lunkheads with a degree from Bob's Bible College and a passionate determination to stop the clock at 0:00 Scopes time.
But, as with most of you, they still make me uncomfortable. Are they (mostly) highly educated scholars and writers who are nevertheless monomaniacs about a certain book published in 1611? Or are they true descendants of a tradition that began with Isaac Newton and has continued against all odds into the present day, with its original values intact in terms of both religion and science? I don't know. So I sent an email to the lead contributor at ScienceAgainstEvolution. Here's the text of my email. Judge for yourselves whether its questions are on or off the mark:
I have read a large percentage of your website, and I'm impressed with the elegance of your logic and the caliber of your learning, argumentation and writing. But I have some questions I don't see answered or even addressed, except obliquely, on your site.
By way of introduction, I should explain that I, too, am a foe of the evolutionists (much bloodied in individual combat, though not without scalps of my own). I am as appalled by you at their pernicious practice of smuggling strictly material naturalism into science as if it were an incontrovertible fact, not a faith of its own, which it unquestionably is. You have specified much that I have divined and argued myself from an intuitive rather than an expert perspective. But some -- or maybe more than some -- of what you do is troubling to me.
I have for years found myself in a lonely middle ground -- smack between you and the evolutionists.
I believe the Bible may record a metaphorical approximation of creation without being wholly or explicitly accurate -- and without being completely necessary to a view of the universe as an act of conscious creation that neither violates its own laws in any particular nor precludes the possibility of an omniscient (and therefore intimately personal) deity.
But I feel no obligation whatever to accept every miracle and anecdote in the Bible as an indispensable ingredient of scientific truth. When you write as determinedly about the sea-going zoo potentialities of Noah's Ark as you do about microorganisms acquiring immunity to antibiotics, it makes me... well... extremely nervous. Rather than pick a philosophical and religious quarrel with you, I'd prefer to ask you some specific questions and make up my mind from your answers. Some of my own beliefs and articles of faith will become evident from my questions, and when they do, you are free to address them directly as well as matters of science. Is that fair?
1. What is the age of the universe (and, btw, of the earth)?
It's not enough to say you don't know. There is scientific evidence. Is the entire universe c. 6000 years old as the Biblical literalists would have it, or is it some number of millions or billions of years old, as even your own arguments seem to allow that it may be? We all draw the veil somewhere, choose some point past which we cease trying to speculate. But it does matter where you draw the veil. The evolutionists -- or rather their co-conspirators as you would have it -- draw it at the very moment of their self-generating, causeless creation, the Big Bang. You speak knowingly of red shifts and retreating stars, red dwarves, supernovas, etc, but if you refuse to account for their behaviors in terms of time, you are more cowardly than the evolutionists you accuse of the worst possible philosophical crimes. You become as absurd as the cleric who explained away dinosaur fossils in the 19th century by declaring that God had made the earth with a false record of the past buried within it. If the entire point of the universe was Earth, then the histories of stars and constellations and galaxies are as phony as the bishop's fossils.
But I can't find your scientific history of the universe anywhere. Which would seem to indicate that your history is not a story at all but a vignette. That's a charge against you by the evolutionists I find credible until you prove otherwise.
Even if you default to the Bible, you still have an obligation to translate the imagery of Biblical verses into terms that make sense and provide some detail about what the act of creation entailed, what it merely set in motion rather than completed, and how it corresponds with what we see in the summer sky and in our telescopes. Genesis says nothing about galaxies and red shifts. You use these terms freely. Explain the connection.
2. What is the history of life on Earth?
You snipe the evolutionists to pieces. You dismantle their assumption of a single primitive species of origin that flowered through evolution to become all the life we see about us today. But once again, they are the ones -- soulless materialists that they are -- who have a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. You don't. Or you don't have one you describe. Is yours a story of unremitting entropy? In the beginning, all species were... then some died... then the Flood came... and many, many more died... and now all that remains is a diminishing subset of the original creation limping toward inevitable extinction? Dreary. At least the evolutionists have the Cambrian Explosion -- a creative burst of new life that signifies the possibility of others. So you snipe away their geology and their phylogenies and their drab uniformitarian theories of slow species progress... to what end? Proving them wrong does not give you an actual story that transcends an initial wind-up of the great big doll of life that winds down sorrowfully for millennia, er centuries, (or is it only decades) until the ultimate husbandman of God's creation is left with only memories of parrots and plesiosaurs and plumage past. So we're this huge flash in an unexpectedly tiny and short-lived pan? If you're looking for epic scale and scope, it would seem the evolutionists are telling a much more interesting tale of underdogs and improbable triumphs rather than your litany of accelerating loss. You have an obligation to do better. Much better. Dates would be a huge plus.
3. Why are you so silent about the implications of quantum physics?
If ever a field of science offered an opportunity to overthrow the mechanical theories of Darwin and his descendants, defeat the limitations of time, and offer a window into the role of conscious intelligence as an intrinsic part of a meaningful universe, it is quantum physics. Not mentioned in the Bible. Is that the problem? Or does it make the universe too much bigger than the Earth and the race of Man? I wouldn't know. You occasionally reference acquaintanceship with quantum mechanics, but it seems to play no role in any of your arguments except as a crowbar to use where convenient on the skulls of evolutionists. Are you conversant with Roger Penrose's theories about the Quantum Brain, which open the door to a universe in which the consciousness of Christ could be a divine event that both elevates man and allows for a universe of infinite intelligence that does not violate its own laws? Or are you merely content to let the retro-minds of Dawkins and his ilk tear Penrose to pieces in some back alley of academic science? I know I would find your answer to this question especially illuminating. So might others.
Well, that's all for now. Enough. If you answered these three questions -- the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost of cosmological questions, as you will realize if you think about it -- you will do much to relieve my uncertainties. If you care to.
Well, we'll see if there's any answer. If there is, or isn't, I'll let you know.