Contesting Christianity: Young Earth/Creationism

Sign with line through Christian cross(This post is part 6 of the series entitled “Contesting Christianity.” Please see the index for the other posts in this series.)

CreationCreationism was always one of my favourite issues as a Christian. I spent time online debating people who defended evolution, and I enjoyed “poking holes” in their arguments. Of course, despite my zeal for debates and apologetics, I had never actually read any books by evolutionists or spent any time researching what evolutionists said—my information always came from creationist sources. So, I would hear what creationists had to say, and I would hear what creationists said evolutionists had to say, but I never heard what evolutionists themselves had to say (outside of the debates I had). Creationists, of course, aren’t going to bring up arguments that they can’t deal with, so I was clearly missing out on the best arguments for evolution. When I actually spent some time researching the issue, I realized just how much I had missed. So this post will attempt to summarize the arguments for a young earth and for creationism, as well as what I feel to be the best arguments against these views. Obviously I don’t have room to cover everything (this post is long enough as it is!), but there is plenty of information out there for those who are interested in learning more. I will put some links to further reading at the bottom of this article.

Age of the Earth

Not all creationists are young-earth creationists. There are some who accept the age of the earth as concluded by science, which places it at approximately 4.54 billion years old. Other creationists, however, do not accept this age, so I thought it best to separate this topic from the more general claims of creationism.

James Ussher

James Ussher

Often it is claimed by young-earth creationists (YECs) that the earth is somewhere around 6,000-10,000 years old. The lower bound of this claim is derived from work by Archbishop James Ussher, who created a chronology from the lists of lineages found in the Bible and arrived at the conclusion that the world had been created by God on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BCE. Of course, Ussher’s conclusions were based on the ages listed for the people mentioned, as well as assumptions about when they would have had children. Today, most creationists view it as, at the very least, too specific of a conclusion for what can be known about the biblical chronology. However, many still use the 6,000-year estimate as some sort of reference point.

There are two major claims made by YECs that are most relevant to the age of the earth. The first is that the Noahic Flood can account for many of the geological changes that scientists claim would take millions or billions of years to create. The second is that radiometric dating methods are unreliable and/or give estimates that are much longer than they should be. I will deal with each of these in turn, and then provide a few positive arguments for the age of the earth as determined by science.

Flood Geology

There are some creationists who make arguments such as, “The erosion rates of Niagara Falls limit it to an age less than 10,000 years, so it can’t be older than that!” The correct response to this is, “Okay fine, so what?” The first thing to remember is that scientists do not claim that every natural phenomenon was always here from the beginning of the earth. The earth has undergone massive changes over its rich history, and so it is not at all useful to point to specific things as being “young” and then extending this to mean that the earth must therefore be young. However, it does work the opposite way. If someone can point to something as being “old”, that can be extended to mean the earth must be at least that old—since the earth had to already be there for the phenomenon to take place on it. So it is important to keep in mind that YECs have their work cut out for them—the existence of even one old phenomenon means that their model of the world is wrong. Of course, such phenomena must be dated properly, etc., but if just one can be proven to be millions or billions of years old, then YEC is false.

Colorado RiverWith that in mind, let’s take a look at some common examples. Creationists sometimes point to the Grand Canyon, stating that it could have been carved out by the massive currents of water present in the Flood. Any competent geologist, however, would tell you that this is absurd. The Grand Canyon was formed by the Colorado River, and the basin cuts through about 18 different layers of rock which span about 1 billion years of time. Even if the Grand Canyon itself was of recent origin, one would still have to explain the many layers of the geologic column and how they got there. Moreover, the Canyon does not look anything like what we see from other sudden floods. Floods create wide, shallow beds rather than deep, winding channels. They don’t meander around in twisting paths; they are fairly wide and straight. We have examples of both, and the differences are quite apparent, especially to a trained geologist. Finally, since most YECs are forced into claiming that the geological column was also laid down during the Flood (to explain fossils and such), it is difficult to see how the Flood could lay down 18 distinct types of sediment, allow time for it to harden, and then cut through it extremely quickly (as far as erosion is concerned). It all begins to get extremely implausible when the Flood has to explain it all.

Carlsbad CavernsAnother phenomenon that can be difficult for creationists is the creation of caves. Caves can be created through a number of means, including erosion, dissolution, lava, glaciers, and fractures. But the most common type of formation, including that of caves like the Carlsbad Cavern, is dissolution. This is where an acid, like sulfuric or carbonic acid, is brought to an area by water, and slowly eats away at limestone bit by bit until a cavern is formed. Caves formed by sulfuric acid typically are formed more quickly (because sulfuric acid is much stronger than carbonic acid), but these processes still take time. A large amount of time. And these reactions cannot really be sped up, because the acid can only react with the surface area of the limestone with which it comes in contact. As it eats away at the rock, obviously that surface area grows, but the reaction itself simply takes time. And increasing the amount of water or the amount of acid simply does not do anything to speed it up. With the Carlsbad Cavern, although the different “rooms” were formed at different times, estimates place the “Big Room” at about 4 million years old. There is simply no way to explain these caves through a large Flood (in fact, increasing the amount of water would only dilute the acid solution, making the process slower).

There are so many other natural phenomena that I could point to as evidence of an old earth. The geologic column itself is evidence for an old earth, since it is difficult to see how a Flood could lay down so many layers of sediment, allowing each to harden before laying down the next one (so they won’t mix together), and also preserving details like footprints, mud cracks, raindrop impressions, and so on. But I simply have neither the time nor the space to cover them all. Those who want more examples can view the links at the bottom of the page. However, as I mentioned, if even one natural phenomenon took place millions of years ago, this makes the earth at a minimum that old. I have given two examples where it seems clear that the processes took much longer than 6,000-10,000 years to complete. Thus, if this is correct, the age of the earth must be older than this.

Radiometric Dating

Another claim of YECs is that radiometric dating is flawed, therefore giving unreliable results. I’ll try to give a (very brief) explanation of what radiometric dating is and how it is used, and then we’ll examine if it truly is unreliable.

Decay Rate GraphRadiometric dating is the process by which materials such as rocks, minerals, or organic compounds are analyzed to determine their age. It relies on observing the amount of a certain radioactive isotope (of which various ones are used) and determining how much of it has decayed. A common isotope that many people know is carbon-14. This element is exactly the same as regular carbon (carbon-12), except that it has 8 neutrons instead of 6. But over time, carbon-14 breaks down, or “decays”, into carbon-12, and this decay occurs over a predictable length of time known as the “decay rate”. The decay rate is measured by half-life, which is the point at which half the carbon-14 will have decayed into carbon-12.

However, carbon-14 is not the only isotope used to date objects. In fact, it has a relatively short half-life (5,730 years), so it is not useful for dating anything older than about 58,000 years.1 Other dating methods include potassium-argon, uranium-lead, and rubidium-strontium. The principle is the same for these isotopes, but the half-lives of these isotopes are much longer than carbon-14. Thus, they can be used to measure the age of materials much older.

Radiometric dating does rely on several assumptions, which creationists claim are false. These assumptions include:

  1. The initial conditions of the rock sample are accurately known.
  2. The amount of parent or daughter elements in a sample has not been altered by processes other than radioactive decay.
  3. The decay rate (or half-life) of the parent isotope has remained constant since the rock was formed.

The first assumption can be avoided by using isochron dating. I don’t have the space to discuss this in detail, but essentially it does not rely on any assumptions about the initial conditions. The second assumption is important, but is something that can generally be avoided by doing good research. Scientists have found certain cases where contamination can be an issue; for instance, mollusks cannot be dated properly using carbon dating methods, because the shells that they form can come from limestone which is much older than they are. But once scientists know this, they can simply avoid using that method in that situation. The fact that the method doesn’t work under some conditions doesn’t mean that it does not work at all when used in proper conditions.

Tree RingsThe third assumption is a little trickier. After all, we haven’t been measuring the half-life of uranium for billions of years to know if it has remained constant. What scientists have done, however, is subjected isotopes to numerous tests to see if they can artificially change the decay rates. Temperature, pressure, chemical environments, and electromagnetic fields do nothing to influence the rate. So it is reasonable to assume that it would not be affected by normal conditions on Earth. However, we can go further than that. Radiometric dating can be calibrated using non-radiometric dating methods, such as reliable natural cycles on earth, luminescence dating, and observation of gamma rays (given off by radioactive isotopes) from supernovae. For carbon-14, another method that can be used is tree ring dating. Essentially, one can take a large tree, count the rings, and also use carbon dating on sections of the tree. Carbon-14 dating lines up very well with this independent dating method. So, there are other dating methods that help support the assumption that the decay rate of radioactive isotopes has remained constant over time.

If these three assumptions are true, and if good research is done (by not contaminating samples, using the methods improperly, etc.), radiometric dating can provide an important and reliable tool for dating ancient objects. And since this method routinely produces dates for rocks and other objects that are millions of years old, we can be reasonably confident that these objects are, in fact, millions of years old. Thus, the world itself cannot be young.

Evolution

As previously mentioned, not all creationists are young-earth creationists. Some accept the age of the earth, but still object to evolution on other grounds. This subject has been the topic of entire books—see, for example, Why Evolution Is True by Jerry Coyne (amazon.ca) and The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins (amazon.ca)—so I can’t possibly hope to cover all the arguments either for or against, but I will try to provide a few of the common arguments.

Transitional Fossils

One of the most common arguments made against evolution is that “there are no transitional fossils.” Unfortunately, this is simply untrue, despite its prevalence. As far as I can tell, the argument relies on an ambiguity in what exactly a “transitional fossil” is. If one is looking for a bizarre mix of organisms that is half of one species and half of another, like a crocoduck, then of course there are no transitional fossils. Despite what Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron have said, such a hybrid would be more of a disproof of evolution than support for it. Evolution does not predict half-lizard, half-bird creatures in that sense. But a more accurate understanding of what would constitute a transitional fossil is that it would show a mix of characteristics between two species or phyla. So while we might not expect lizards with half a wing, we might expect lizards with proto-feathers, or lizards that show evidence of perching on trees. And we do find many of these sorts of fossils.

Anchiornis huxleyi

Artist's rendering of the "Anchiornis huxleyi"

For example, many fossils have been uncovered that are clearly intermediates between theropod dinosaurs and birds. Several of these fossils have been discovered fairly recently, and include species such as Anchiornis huxleyi, Epidexipteryx hui, and Archaeopteryx lithographica. These fossils display animals which are clearly lizard-like, but have distinctive characteristics similar to modern birds (the most prominent of which are the proto-feathers, but there are other differences as well). Another example is the evolution of modern whales from Pakicetus inachus. Whale evolution is one of the best documented examples of evolution, and shows a clear transition from a land-dwelling, four-legged animal to the sleek, ocean-dwelling animal we know today. Particularly clear is the transition of the nasal cavity from the front of the skull up to the top (where whales now have a blowhole), and the diminishing size of the pelvic bone as whales lost their legs.2 And let’s not forget human evolution, which is also well documented, to the point where creationists themselves don’t always agree one whether to classify certain fossils as “human” or “ape”. Simply put, we have ample evidence of transitional fossils.

Human Evolution

Speaking of human evolution, there has always been resistance to the idea that humans evolved from “lower” animals. Even Alfred Russel Wallace, the man who independently struck upon the idea of natural selection around the same time as Charles Darwin, accepted evolution for other animals, but denied that it could explain the development of humans. However, there are many reasons to believe that humans are, indeed, relatives of the great apes. I’d like to mention just one that I find particularly interesting.

Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes in our genome. The other great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) all have 24 pairs. This might cast some suspicion on the claim of a common ancestor—where did the extra pair go in humans? However, what we have discovered from sequencing the genome of humans and other apes is that human chromosome #2 is the product of two ape chromosomes that have fused together. There are clear, unambiguous signs that are present when two chromosomes fuse, and the fused chromosome that we have is (with a little variance) identical to these other two ape chromosomes. Ken Miller, himself a theist, has given an excellent talk describing this finding. The YouTube video is here; it is only four-and-a-half minutes long, but it succinctly describes the amazing evidence that this provides for human evolution. To me, this is essentially proof beyond all reasonable doubt.

Endogenous Retroviruses

ERV EvolutionEndogenous Retroviruses (ERVs) are viruses with a very special skill. When an organism is infected, what the virus does is inject its own RNA code into the host cell’s DNA, so that the cell now diverts resources to producing more copies of the virus. If the virus happens to infect the sex cells of the organism, these additions to the DNA get passed onto the offspring, and can therefore become a permanent part of the genome of that species given enough time. Since ERVs are hereditary, these can provide a useful tool for determining ancestry.

When examining the genomes of different species, we can compare them and see if they include ERVs in the same location. With the relatively tiny size of these ERVs compared to the entire genome, the odds of even one of the exact same ERV appearing in the exact same place one two genomes is vanishingly small. But when we examine species, we find they often have ERVs in the same location. For example, humans and chimpanzees both have thousands of these retroviral insertions,3 and humans share all but 82 ERV insertions with chimpanzees. When examining the genomes of other organisms, one can establish a nested hierarchy that shows ancestry based on how many ERVs the organisms share with each other. To claim that an intelligent designer put these ERVs in the same location within all these species would be strange, to say the least, and to say that these similarities came about without shared ancestry is incredulous. The probability of such an event is so low it is not even worth considering.

Converging Evolutionary Trees

Tree of LifeThe final proof for evolution that I want to mention is the convergence between different disciplines. Scientists have many ways to produce an evolutionary tree showing ancestry. For example, they can compare the anatomy (the bones, organs, and other structures) of organisms to look for similarities. They can examine the fossil record to look at transitional forms. The fossil record also can be used to indicate relative time periods; fossils appearing in older rock formations can be concluded to be older than those appearing only in newer rock formations.4 Geographical studies can reveal how the locations of current organisms and fossils show divergence in species. (For example, it helps to answer the question of why marsupials are, with few exceptions, only found in Australia.) Embryology can be used to compare common characteristics between embryos of different species. Genetics offers us many new ways to compare species. Scientists can compare them based on total nucleotides (“letters”) in the DNA, or on ERVs, or on non-coding regions of DNA, or on each individual gene, of which there are thousands. All of these disciplines can independently produce a “tree of life”, showing the hierarchical ancestry between species. And without fail, these trees line up with each other. For the millions of species to be mapped by independent fields and yet converge on a similar result would be astonishing if the ancestry underlying it did not actually exist. The hierarchy can be proven over and over again using thousands of different methods, and yet the results are always the same. There is no other answer for such convergence unless one is willing to believe that God is intentionally deceiving us.

Conclusion

The evidence I’ve provided here appears, at least to me, to be conclusive. I have not even had the space to provide half the evidence in favour of evolution, yet it seems clear that the earth is in fact old, and that evolution did indeed occur. There are simply too many ways for evolution to prove itself true, and without fail, it does so every time. Of course, scientists are not finished studying evolution. There are still many details to be worked out. But the overall picture is clear: Evolution is a fact of life. While this does not challenge the existence of God, or refute that he “set things off”, it does mean that creationists must, at the very least, come to a different understanding of what their God is like. There are certainly theistic evolutionists who update their beliefs in light of the evidence for evolution. But a full examination of the evidence prevents any sort of answer that denies the common ancestry of life on earth. As such, a Christian belief system that includes creationism (in the sense of rejecting evolution) is simply in contradiction with the world in which it exists.

More Information

Notes:

  1. Note that this is still about 10 times the age that YECs attribute to the earth. []
  2. Interestingly enough, some whales do still develop vestigial pelvic and leg bones which remain unattached from the spine, simply suspended in their body. []
  3. According to this paper, part of the Human Genome Project, humans have approximately 203,000 retroviral insertions. []
  4. One clear disproof of evolution would be to find mammals in Precambian rock. []

25 responses to “Contesting Christianity: Young Earth/Creationism”

Rodrigo Guerrrero

It is interesting how in the end you have proven nothing. In the end it comes down to faith on both sides. Men fail and are wrong all the time so I put my faith in God. There is reason to believe either side of the argument. The real question is whom do you trust and put your faith in? I chose God.

Jeff

Thanks for the comment, Rodrigo! I am really not sure where you get the idea that “it comes down to faith on both sides.” I completely disagree. Science works by systematically taking a look at the evidence and then formulating theories which best explain it. And science works—we know that by the incredible gains it has provided us. Evolution is no different. Biologists, geologists, embryologists, paleontologists, and geneticists have taken a look at the evidence, and they all wind up agreeing that evolution best explains it! That has to count for something.

You are correct that people are sometimes, even often, wrong. But that is why science includes the input from many people with many different areas of expertise, many different starting points, and many different perspectives in order to try and cancel out the biases that humans can have. The process works, and we know it works. Not perfectly, but it does work. To say, “Well, evolution has evidence in its favour, but it has a possibility of being wrong, so I will put faith in God instead” is simply not a reasonable position to take. We are not looking for certainties; we are looking for what explanation has the most evidence in its favour. In other words, what explanation is most likely to be correct. And thus, I think evolution is a much better explanation.

However, it seems you disagree, which you are free to do. I am interested in why you think God is a better explanation, though. How does “God did it” provide a better explanation for the earth and the life on it than evolution? Then perhaps we can discuss this in more depth.

Thanks again for stopping by, Rodrigo!

Kristin

Hey Jeff,
Interesting series. I read your posts, although I don’t always comment.

I’m wondering if your belief in evolution being true (as opposed to creation) is one of the reasons you don’t believe in God now. I don’t want to debate about evolution being true or not, but I do think it’s interesting if that caused you to change your mind (from “yes” to “no” about God). To me, evolution or creation, it doesn’t change my belief that Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life and died for me. I think that’s the most fundamental thing. Obviously if the Bible isn’t true (and maybe that’s your point with this post) there are problems, but I’d rather start with Jesus and work from there.

Thanks for your interesting read Jeff! Merry Christmas!

Jeff

Hey Kristin!

That’s an interesting question, and something I’ve thought about before. But I don’t think that evolution is one of the reasons I don’t believe in God. I think that instead, it’s simply a lack of a barrier for me–if that makes sense. I investigated evolution very early on in my own time of searching, and when I came to the conclusion that evolution was correct, I immediately then looked at ways that Christians have adapted their beliefs to accommodate it. Some people view Genesis as allegorical, others try to argue that the “days” of Genesis are really long periods of time, and others claim that there is a gap in between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2. But regardless of which makes the most sense, I think it is totally possible to accept evolution and also believe in God. I don’t think evolution necessarily says anything about God’s existence. However, it might change how believers view him. Instead of viewing him as a sculptor, constantly meddling with the stone to create his finished work, one might need to view him as more of a composer, creating a piece of work that, once finished, plays out its melody without the need for continual intervention.

So I think you’re right: Evolution doesn’t, and shouldn’t, change your beliefs about Jesus, or the church, or sin. It’s a description of how life on earth diversified and spread, not a statement of faith about metaphysics and the supernatural. Of course, it might have implications about the Bible, like you mentioned (and despite what you say about starting with Jesus, our only source of information about him is from the Bible), but I think that those, by themselves, can be resolved and still leave one’s faith intact.

Anyway, I’d be interested to know what you, coming from a Bio-med. background, think about evolution. Thanks for your comment, and Merry Christmas to you too!

vegeta

considering that the bible is the only source of knowledge on Jesus (real name Joshua) you might want to check into that. It also looks like you dont understand the implications of evolution on your faith if it doesnt really matter to you. The whole point of Joshua was to atone for the mistake that adam and eve made in the garden after creation. No adam and eve no need for jesus and the rest of the story dissolves into mythology.

Rodrigo Guerrrero

Jeff,

My point is very simple. None of the evidence presented in your article constitute proof of evolution. In the final analysis you take things on faith. Like the faith you have that radiometric dating is valid. We all know. it is reliable, but it is validity we question. You just cannot prove the assumptions, you mist take them on faith.

BTW, no all scientists agree with your point. There are many reputable non Christian scientists that believe evolution is nothing more than fairy tales for grownups. Even Noble prize winners.

Think critically and keep looking for answers. We ate a long way off from proof.

Rodrigo

Jeff

Rodrigo,

I still don’t know how you can say “None of the evidence … constitute[s] proof of evolution.” How else is one supposed to provide “proof” except by presenting evidence? This statement of yours seems nonsensical.

I think you and I have different ideas of what “faith” is. I tend to describe faith as something like, “Belief in something, even in the absence of, or despite, the evidence.” As far as I’m concerned, it’s not faith to believe in something that has ample evidence to support it. But it sounds to me like you would define faith as something more like “Making a jump to a conclusion from premises which do not guarantee that the conclusion is true.” If this is your definition, then you are describing induction. So in a trivial sense, then yes, according to your definition, both you and I have faith. But if that’s your definition of faith, everyone takes pretty much everything on faith. You take it on faith that your eyes are working properly and that your brain is correctly interpreting the words that you’re reading. This seems to me to be too broad a definition of faith.

As far as reliability vs. validity of radiometric dating, you’re fine to challenge the validity of it, but the arguments that I’ve heard from creationists do specifically contest the reliability of it. Like I mentioned in my article, they question whether the assumptions of radiometric dating can be justified. So, I provided evidence to support the justification of those assumptions. If you would like to say, “I agree that radiometric dating gives consistent results, but that those results don’t really measure the true age of the earth,” then fine, but you’ll have to provide evidence to support that assertion. As I pointed out, radiometric dating has been checked against other dating methods, like tree ring dating, supernova gamma rays, coral growth, etc. If you want to challenge the validity of radiometric dating, you’ll also have to provide a response for why it also agrees with all our other methods of dating.

Finally, I’m aware that there are scientists out there who do not accept evolution. They are a tiny, tiny minority, however. Moreover, most of the scientists who don’t believe in evolution are not biologists. So really, their views on evolution don’t count for much. They can be brilliant in their own fields, but I wouldn’t hold the word of an astronomer when talking about genetics any higher than any other non-geneticist. Regardless, science is all about challenging accepted notions and questioning things, so I wouldn’t expect there to be complete unanimity about evolution. That the vast majority of biologists do accept it, however, despite the incredible gains one might make by proving such a well-established theory to be wrong, by itself provides something in its favour.

Anyway, I do appreciate your comments. I’d be interested to hear what you have to say about my response. Thanks!

Kristin

Hey Jeff,
Thanks for the reply, that’s exactly what I was wondering about.

I’m not entirely sure what I think about evolution. I took an evolution course (biology department) back in second year, but unfortunately I don’t remember a lot of it now. I don’t remember being utterly convinced of anything at the time, but I was going in to it with the attitude that I wasn’t going to be convinced.

I think there is definitely some evidence that points towards evolution, or that seems pretty coincidental (such as the fused primate chromosome in humans that you talked about). So I can definitely see why you, and many, many people, think it is true! I definitely believe that changes occur within the species in order to help us survive better/function better.

However I also find the more I study science, the more I can’t imagine there not being a God. For example, I did a presentation a while back on the synthesis of cholesterol, which is synthesized from Acetyl-CoA (2 carbons) eventually forming cholesterol (27 carbons), which involves over 30 different enzymes. That is amazing to me! If just one of those enzymes isn’t working, cholesterol won’t be synthesized. There are a lot of mutation studies on enzymes/proteins, where one specific amino acid is mutated to a different one, and the enzyme isn’t functional anymore.

There are enzymes for just about every reaction in the body, and they’re so specific for one, or a few very closely related, substrates. I think the pathways that involves multiple, sequential steps are what blow my mind the most. How would all of these enzymes just evolve, they just all happen to be functional and work together to do the necessary job. Things like that make me think there has to be some divine planning. Evolutionists often say that this happened over millions/billions of years, and that’s how it all works now, but I have a hard time believing that one.

So I guess to summarize, I don’t want to ignore the world I’m living in or ignore the evidence, but the more I learn about science, the more I think how awesome God is too.

Jeff

Well Kristin, I think your response is a fair one. I don’t think that going into a course on evolution with an attitude that you weren’t going to be convinced is a very scientific way to go about things, but whatever, lol.

Your argument is essentially the case for “irreducible complexity“, which is a common argument from the Intelligent Design movement. And I agree that such complex systems really do seem too incredible to have come about through natural selection. But the difficulty is that when Intelligent Design people make statements about, say, the bacterial flagellum, or the eye, or blood clots, then a scientist in the field comes along and takes the time to show how it could have come about in stages. When you remember that organisms tend find uses for things, even if they aren’t what they were originally used for, it becomes clear that a lot of these cases are cases where something evolved and was used for one purpose, then gradually got repurposed and was used elsewhere.

Now of course, I am no expert in cholesterol synthesis, so I don’t have a particular answer for that and how it developed. But if there are precursors to cholesterol that can be used (though less efficiently) by cells, it’s not as big of a step to say, “Well, cells probably used to do use this precursor, but then somewhere along the way, cells became able to synthesize cholesterol more completely, and this increased their efficiency, causing selective pressures to favour these organisms.” That at least seems like a reasonable first guess. Then of course, it’s important to remember that the enzymes were evolving along with the process itself. It’s not like cells evolved all these proteins, and then one day decided to use them and hey, look, it produced cholesterol! The process can be increased step by step, with the enzymes adapting (or getting repurposed) at each step. After the whole process is put together, then the enzymes can become more specialized (leading potentially to more efficiency), to the point where now the enzymes could no longer do any other task other than the one involved in cholesterol synthesis. Thus, looking at it millions or billions of years later, it looks irreducibly complex, but really, it’s because the enzymes and the process evolved together over time, continually increasing efficiency.

It’s totally fine to look at things and say, “This is so amazing!” Because they are! But the amazingness of things we see, or our lack of an explanation for why things are so amazing, does not let us just jump to, “Therefore there must be a magic invisible person in the sky that made it.” I know that’s kind of an exaggeration, but I’m trying to say that the lack of a natural explanation doesn’t mean that it must be supernatural in origin. It just means that science isn’t done yet.

Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough. Let me know if what I said makes any sense 😀

Kristin

Hi Jeff,

You’re absolutely right, it definitely wasn’t the best attitude at all! I kind of wish I could take the course again now, I think I might get a lot more out of it.

Your reply did make sense. I was somewhat familiar with the term irreducible complexity, but I understand it more now, so thanks. I have to admit, your explanation does make some sense as to how these crazy things could have evolved to get to the point where they are now. I sometimes think it’s a cop-out for people to explain the process as “well it happened over billions of years”, but you probably think it is just as much a cop-out to say “it was created that way, that’s just how it is.”

Anyway I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced, but you’ve definitely at least gotten me thinking and inspired me to look at some of my old course notes. Thanks for all the thoughts and responses.

Looking forward to the next post in the series!

vegeta

From my perspective. Evolution is like gravity. Very simple on the first look (descent with modification) but gets pretty heavy the more you delve into it. Really the hardest part is since humans are purpose engineers (we make things for a purpose) we assume that same for the biological, getting rid of that notion is the hardest part. Once you can do that you will see it more clearly. And to do that really it just takes more knowledge about evolution and a larger knowledge of species (b/c man shit can get really weird and you just dont see it around you or learn about it in normal lower bio classes) basically to understand the world and evolution you have to know A LOT of information and to be creationist you just have to trust what some guy told you in church (not knocking on creationists really i just find it all interesting. and most people dont give a rats ass and thats fine with them. and thats fine with me just as long as they leave it to people that really know and care about it)

Rodrigo Guerrrero

Jeff,

I

My point is that all your evidence is circumstantial and can also be explained by other factors. None of it proves evolution is true and your conclusion is based on your worldview. If we were intellectually honest, at best you can say evolution is probably true, but we just don’t know. In fact, we will probably never know. This is why scientists still call it a theory.

Happy new year.

Rodrigo.

Jeff

Rodrigo,

I have tried to write thoughtful, reasonable responses to your comments. And yet, this is the third time you have essentially ignored what I have written and merely restated your original assertions. If you’re going to say that my evidence “can also be explained by other factors”, then you have to actually provide a description of those other factors. Otherwise, what you’ve said is simply an assertion. I don’t have the time nor the motivation to argue against bare assertions from you. If you want to back up anything that you say, or to address my responses, I’ll be pleased to continue on this discussion. But I don’t feel the need to respond to someone who talks about “intellectual honesty” yet doesn’t take the time to actually support what he says with evidence.

vegeta

i dont think he read anything. A Reptile with FEATHERS DUDE! We got a fossil REPTILE (with TEETH) that has FINGERS ON ITS FEATHERED WINGS WITH A BONY LONG TALE!!!! If that just doesnt blow your mind i dont know what will.

Jeremy C

Jeff,

Sorry to be posting so long after you wrote this piece, I only discovered your blog today.

Your above piece missed out that it is very hard for creationists to justify their interpretation(s) of Genesis 1 to 3 (I write as a conservative evangelical not from liberal background). A very good book examining Gen 1 to 3 with theological critiques of a creationist conclusion and other positions is In the Beginning by the french theologian Henri Blocher (conservative evangelical).

Jeff

Hi Jeremy,

That’s sort of a strange thing to hear from a conservative evangelical! Just taking a brief look at Blocher’s views, it says he subscribes to a framework interpretation that views the creation account as a symbolic theological structure that emphasizes God’s role in creation and the importance of the Sabbath. I think that’s an entirely reasonable way to look at it. Genesis as a whole is a written mythology (in the technical context, with no negative connotations implied) of the Hebrew people, so the creation story is like every other creation story that exists — it emphasizes the values and the beliefs that were important to the people who made it. So I think Blocher’s view is much more consistent with our understanding of virtually all pre-modern societies.

But I’m interested in how you reconcile that with your conservative evangelicalism. Would you consider yourself a literalist for other areas of the Bible, and if so, how do you determine which areas to take literally? And do you ever run into issues with other Christians who might see your views on Genesis as too compromising?

I’d love to hear more about your views on this. Thanks!

Jeff

Jeremy C

Jeff,

Thanks for being interested and if you have time Blocher’s book is well worth reading, no matter where you stand on the judeo/christian worldview.

WRT to your question on reconciling the rundown you gave of Blocher’s book with my being a conservative evangelical don’t forget I said Blocher is a conservative evangelical (a friend of mine studied under him) – if I have understood what you were asking. There are a whole lot of conservative evangelicals who have a similar standpoint that includes assessing the bible as using a variety of styles including straight narrative, metaphor, story telling, mythology etc.

Thats a hard question about what bits do you consider literal – its just not easy and everyone makes mistakes. An example of my thinking is that I would think that the story of Jonah and the book of Job are not literal but they might have been real people with sections in those stories based around historical narrative while I think that the flood could’ve been true but a local event ( I know I am opening myself up to lots of questions etc, these are only my opinions). In saying I am a conservative evangelical I would say the bible is God’s communication to us and is inerrant but that both my understanding and interpretation is not inerrant and as I said I’m gonna make mistakes with it.

Coming back to Gen 1 to 3 I would think that a creationist conclusion is not the inevitable reading of those passages i.e. you can use the narrative to argue against a creationism conclusion without needing external factors such as science. Sorry to write at length.

Jeff

Jeremy,

Thanks for your response! It’s interesting to hear your views on this. I think conservative evangelicals often get painted with a broad brush as all believing this or that, so it’s good to hear that there are some out there that are more reasonable 😀

So you mention that you believe the Bible is inerrant, but that your understanding of it is not. Do you believe the inerrancy of the Bible extends to the writers of its books, or would you say that they are fallible as well? So in other words, do you think Jonah and Job are not literal because they were not intended to be literal stories, or because the writers believed them to be literal but made a mistake?

Not trying to argue with you, I’m just genuinely curious what your standpoint would be on these sorts of issues. Thanks for your response!

Jeremy C

Jeff,

Apologies for taking a while to get back to you. On inerrancy I believe that its God who wants to communicate with us by getting the bible written and given his nature he can do this through fallible people.

On Jonah and Job, if I am right, and they are largely not literal stories I would say the authors knew and intended them to not be literal (but heh! I could be wrong on Jonah afterall Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea had two episodes where Admiral Nelson was swallowed by a whale………..).

I read a lot of blogs where writers of the bible are referred to disparagingly as ‘goat herders’ etc but I think these writer were very very sophisticated in their thinking and we just put them down because we think we are superior because we have facebook accounts and watch America’s Next Top Model. I’m not saying you take that approach.

I think the bible is pretty suprising and, sad to say, it seems a lot of people both christians and non christians are pretty ignorant about it (as I would’ve been if hadn’t bene lucky) for example one book of the bible has no mention of God at all and another book is mostly about sex

Jeff

I see, I see. Well, I agree that the writers of the Bible were not just “goat herders” (I mean, most goat herders wouldn’t have been literate at that point anyway!), but as far as how sophisticated they were, it sort of depends on which book of the Bible we’re talking about. It takes skill and wisdom to write a book like Ecclesiastes; it takes no skill or wisdom to write a book that just condemns some other country for being evil, like many of the books of the minor prophets. The Bible really is a product of its time, and that includes both the intellectually uplifting and morally backward aspects of the culture of the ancient Middle East. But that’s not a reason to dismiss it out of hand. It’s just important to recognize the cultural contributions!

At any rate, you’re right—a lot of Christians and non-Christians are pretty ignorant about the Bible. It’s a shame, considering the influence it’s had on the development of Western literature and society. For that reason alone, I think it’s important to study the Bible.

Anyway, thanks for your response! It’s been good to hear about your thoughts on Genesis, literalism, and so on. All the best to you!

Jeff

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