Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Testable Creation Model, part 2

In this entry, I will deal only with the brief note that Rusty Lopez made in reference to a testable creation model. In the next few days, I’ll post a longer and more detailed critique of the model presented by Hugh Ross that Rusty referenced in his note. I’ll put his statements in italic and my own responses in plain type.

A Scientifically Testable Creation Model…How is this possible? Are we saying that science can prove creation?

No. Reasons to Believe is saying that we can test the predictions made by competing scientific models.

We can at least begin with an area of agreement. Testing a hypothesis does not “prove” that it’s true, and with historical theories testing is done primarily by either confirming or disconfirming predictions that logically flow from the theory. My only disagreement here is that I don’t think it’s accurate to say that what either Rusty or Hugh Ross is doing is testing a “scientific model”. What they are doing is testing whether or not a particular creation story can be reconciled with a scientific model. That may be valuable in a theological context, but means little in a scientific one. Big bang cosmology, or evolutionary theory, is either true or it is not true, and whether it agrees or disagrees with one’s interpretation of Genesis has no bearing on whether it is true or not. Those are models that can be tested against the data and from which inferential predictions logically flow and they are tested solely on the basis of whether they have explanatory power, not on whether they agree with one’s religious views. With that caveat, let’s get to the substance of the matter…

The Biblical model posits that God exists outside of the created order and that He not only created the universe and all that it contains at a finite point in the past, but that He created Time as well. The prediction made from this would be that space-time began at a finite point in time in the past through a transcendent event. Through data such as the WMAP results, confirmation of the validity of the Big Bang continue to pour in. Such a model is consistent with the statements found in the Bible.

I would argue that this is reading an awful lot of detail into the bible than is warranted by the text, that it’s a retrodiction, not a prediction. Nowhere in Genesis 1 does it mention a space-time continuum, nor is there any evidence that the ancient Hebrews had any such conception whatsoever. It says that he created “the heavens and the earth”, but it says nothing about “time itself”. Nor, I might add, does big bang cosmology say anything about a “transcendant event”. I will agree that one can interpret Genesis in a manner that makes it “consistent” with big bang cosmology, but that is not at all the same as saying that it “predicts” big bang cosmology. There is a bait and switch at work here. The syllogism goes like this:

Premise: the bible is consistent with big bang cosmology
Premise: big bang cosmology is supported by a good deal of evidence
Conclusion: the bible is supported by a good deal of evidence

But this is an invalid syllogism, isn’t it? Being “consistent” with a scientific theory does not mean that it predicts the nature of that theory and the evidence that supports it, especially when it is consistent with other creation stories as well. The bait and switch comes by not making clear the distinction between a scientific theory and a religious or philosophical inference drawn from that theory. Hugh Ross and William Lane Craig argue that big bang cosmology is evidence for the existence of God; Quentin Smith argues that big bang cosmology is evidence against the existence of God. Those are both non-scientific inferences drawn from the scientific theory. But the strong and growing support for the big bang does not necessarily support the Genesis story that it is consistent with, any more than it necessarily supports Quentin Smith’s atheism. I should also note that I do not dispute the argument that the big bang leads one to conclude that the universe was created by something. I am a deist, not an atheist.

If in fact, God is the Designer of all life, then we should expect life, in its most simplest form and in its earliest form, to be complex. Why? Because an omnipotent designer is not constrained to build systems from the simpler to the more complex, as is posited by Evolution.

This is a very odd statement. Of course it would be true that an omnipotent designer would not be constrained to build systems from the simpler to the more complex, but then that leaves one with some difficulty explaining why the natural history of life on earth DID go from simpler to more complex systems. As an old earth creationist, Hugh Ross (and presumably Rusty as well) accepts the validity of radiometric dating and the ancient age of life on earth. But if we start from that point of agreement, it becomes clear that the evidence is against the above claim. The earth is ~4.55 billion years old. The first life appears on earth in strata ~3.9 billion years ago, and those life forms are anaerobic bacteria. Over the course of the next 3 billion years, while the forms of bacteria become more diverse and relatively simple multicellular organisms begin to appear, nothing more complex than algal stromatolites is found on the earth.

If, as Rusty claims, “an omnipotent designer is not constrained to build systems from the simpler to the more complex”, then why would he propose that an omnipotent and unconstrained designer DID create life from simple to complex? I’m sure the response will be that even bacteria are highly complex organisms, and relative to non-organic entities, that may be true. But relative to the vast increase in diversity and complexity that took place in the last 800 million years, why did this unconstrained designer only work with the relatively simple bacteria and stromatolites for 3.1 billion years prior to that? Surely an omnipotent and unconstrained designer doesn’t need to create starting with the relatively simple and working his way up to the relatively complex, but that is in fact how life appeared on the earth. Clearly 3 billion years of nothing but relatively simple bacteria is not a prediction that flows from it having been designed by an omnipotent and unconstrained designer. At best, one could argue that they’re not necessarily inconsistent, but then that only feeds a larger problem – the existence of an omnipotent designer could be consistent with absolutely any set of data. It is, quite literally, untestable.

We should expect life forms to appear quickly in the fossil record.

As opposed to what, exactly? A life form either appears or does not appear, “quickly” has nothing to do with it. Fossils freeze a specific moment in time, and the fossil record as a whole (the order of appearance of the various species) can only show trends. That order of appearance, I would argue, is a very powerful prediction made by evolution that would not logically flow from the existence of an omnipotent, unconstrained designer, and this is an ideal set of data to examine to help us judge which of these two models predicts the evidence better in terms of the fossil record. We’ll start with what I assume is a basic agreement on the order of appearance of the major animal groups in the fossil record, in this order: fish —> amphibian —> reptile —> mammals and birds. I don’t think either Rusty or Hugh Ross would dispute that this is the order in which those groups appeared on the planet. Evolution says that they appeared in that order because they evolved in that order, that birds and mammals both split off from different groups of reptiles, reptiles split off from amphibians, and amphibians split off from fish. Now this is a perfect example of how we can make logical inferences that predict the nature of new evidence and use them to support a theory…

If evolution is true, and each of these major animal groups split off from the previous one, then what would we expect? Well, we would expect that since each of these new groups split off from an already existing one, the order of appearance within those groups should be as conspicuous as the order of appearance in general. If the first amphibians split off from fish, then the first amphibians could only be slightly different than fish; if birds evolved from reptiles, then the first birds must have been very similar to reptiles; and so forth. And what does the fossil record show? Precisely that. The first amphibians to appear are the most fish-like, so much so that they retained internal gills and were still primarily aquatic. Over time, amphibians become more and more diversified and less fish-like, with later forms being successively more terrestrial and less aquatic. The first birds to appear are so reptile-like that they would be classified as theropod dinosaurs if not for the feathers. We now have multiple feathered theropod species to bridge the gap, and they all appear very early and share most of their traits with reptiles, not with modern birds. Over time, they diversified and became less reptile-like. The same can be said of the first mammals, which are so identical to the therapsid reptiles that they evolved from that where exactly you draw the line between the two groups is largely academic. And just like the other lineages, they start out with only one or two species that looks just like their presumed ancestor, then over time new branches appear that are successively less like those ancestors and more like modern mammals. This is exactly what evolution would predict. Indeed, if it wasn’t that way, evolution would be falsified. If modern birds appeared all at once in the fossil record, with entirely avian skeletal structure and feathers and fully adapted for powered flight, there would be no way to link them to reptiles, and the same is true of every other major animal group. But they don’t appear that way, and the order in which they do appear is precisely what evolution predicts. But why would an omnipotent and unconstrained designer create that way? Without constraints, why bother to create amphibians that look just like those last fish you made and then tinker with the design a bit, with each new branch of amphibians that you create looking a bit less like fish? An unconstrained and omnipotent designer could have simply created modern birds, not bothered to tinker with reptiles one trait at a time, adding feathers here, unfusing the vertebrae there, etc, until he had a modern bird. Why, in short, would an omnipotent designer choose to create in precisely the order to make it appear as though evolution had taken place? At the very least, it is folly to claim that the order of appearance is predicted by the existence of an omnipotent designer.

Finally, the Bible describes the human race as coming from two individuals, specially created in the recent past – anywhere from 6,000 to 50,000 years ago. The scientific evidence is mounting that humanity came from a small group of individuals in the recent past. Anthropologists refer to the “Mind’s Big Bang” when describing how the attributes of humanity exploded onto the scene. Virtually all genetic links to Neandertal and other primates have been eliminated.

This is a mish mash of different claims, but none of it is consistent with the evidence. First, Homo sapiens is far older than 6000-50,000 years. True Homo sapiens remains have been dated as far back as 120,000 years, or 2 1/2 times older than Rusty says the bible allows even at its most generous point. And of course all of humanity came from a small group of individuals, that is true of any species whether it was created ex nihilo or whether they split off from an ancestral group. That is not a “prediction” that validates creation in any way. As far as the “Mind’s big bang” goes, the fossil evidence shows that there was no “big bang” at all. Upright bipedal primates with big brains didn’t just suddenly appear at some point. The hominid fossil record shows a very clear progression in all of the key human traits – brain size relative to body size, bipedality, dentition, the use of tools, and cultural sophistication – from the miocene primates to modern humans. Again one must ask why it would logically follow that an omnipotent and unconstrained designer would spend the last few million years tinkering with animals, making a series of species with each one having a slightly larger brain and better adaptation to walking upright than the last one, dentition patterns less and less ape-like and more and more like modern humans, each one a bit more culturally sophisticated than the last one, each one capable of making and using slightly more complex tools than the last one, when obviously he could have simply waited until 6000-50,000 years ago and zapped humans into existence fully formed. Was he making rough drafts? That would imply constraint. Was he trying to fool us into thinking that evolution as true? I’m sure that’s theologically unacceptable to my correspondent. Lastly, it is simply false to claim that “virtually all genetic links to Neandertals and other primates have been eliminated”. Eliminated by whom? Certainly not by scientists. The mtDNA studies on Neandertals show that they are an evolutionary cousin and not an ancestor, but that is a far cry from “all genetic links have been eliminated”. That’s like saying that you have genetic links to your parents, but none whatsoever to your aunts and uncles or cousins.

In short, the fossil record looks just like what evolution predicts that it would look like. At the very best, one can try and reconcile that record with the whims of an omnipotent designer, but to claim that the evidence is predicted by the existence of such a designer is simply not a tenable position.

I’ll be back at some point with a more thorough critique of the views of Hugh Ross that Rusty refers to.