Every so often a mainstream news outlet rediscovers that young-Earth creationists still exist. This leads to bemused, but respectful articles. The most recent example is this article from The New York Times Magazine. It was written by Hanna Rosin.
It’s the usual perfunctory effort so typical of this genre. We get paragraphs like this:
Creationist ideas about geology tend to appeal to overly zealous amateurs, but this was a gathering of elites, with an impressive wall of diplomas among them (Harvard, U.C.L.A., the Universities of Virginia, Washington and Rhode Island). They had spent years studying the geologic timetable, but they remained nevertheless deeply committed to a different version of history. John Whitmore, a geologist from nearby Cedarville University who organized the field trip, stood in the middle of the fossil bed and summarized it for his son.
“Dad, how’d these fossils get here?” asked Jess, 7, looking up from his own Ziploc bag full of specimens.
Whitmore, who was wearing a suede cowboy hat, answered in a cowboy manner — laconic but certain.
“From the flood,” he said.
Warms your heart, doesn’t it?
The problem with the article is that in several places things are phrased in a way that suggests the creationists are making some actual scientific progress on something:
What was remarkable about the afternoon was not so much the fossils (the bed is well picked over) but the gathering itself, part of the First Conference on Creation Geology, held on the Cedarville campus. Creationist geologists are now numerous enough to fill a large meeting room and well educated enough to know that in rejecting the geologic timeline they are also essentially taking on the central tenets of the field. Any “evidence” presented at the conference pointing to a young earth would be no more convincing than voodoo or alchemy to mainstream geologists, who have used various radiometric-dating methods to establish that the earth is 4.6 billion years old. But the participants in the conference insist that their approach is scientifically valid. “We’re past the point of being critical of evolutionists,” Whitmore told me. “We’re trying to go out and make new discoveries and actually do science.”
Now numerous enough? Rather suggests that they are winning converts among the scientific elite. But then consider this:
This creationist approach to science is actually a relatively modern phenomenon, only about 50 years old.
And later, this:
Now the movement can count hundreds of scientists with master’s or Ph.D. degrees in the sciences from respectable universities.
Gosh! Fifty years have gone by and they’re up to hundreds. Impressive growth indeed.
Alas, there are other problems with that original paragraph. We’re told scientists will not be convinced by any evidence that comes out of the conference. I do not know if it was intended this way, but I see that as a slur against scientists. If the conference goers produce any real evidence to support a young-Earth, scientists will take that very seriously, of course. The judgment that their evidence is on a par with voodoo will come after, not before, the presentation. It’s just that the YEC’s have cried wolf so often, and have shown themselves over and over again to be incompetent in their subjects, that most scientists are dubious that this time will be any different.
Lest you think I’m overreacting, consider this excerpt from near the end of the article:
The new creationists are not likely to make much of a dent among secular scientists, who often just roll their eyes at the mention of flood geology. But they have become a burden to many geologists at Christian colleges around the country.
Secular scientists? They just roll their eyes at flood geology? Nonsense and nonsense.
There is no scuh thing as secular science, of course. There is science, and there is nonscience. The young-Earthers, as described in the article, behave thusly:
Whitmore told me before describing a method that hardly seemed more scientific. “Instead, we think: ‘Here’s what the Bible says. Now let’s go to the rocks and see if we find the evidence for it.’ ”
That, I’m afraid, is not science. Not unless you add a big proviso saying that the Bible will be discarded when the sought after evidence fails to turn up, and the article makes it clear that no such proviso is likely to be forthcoming. For Rosin to talk so casually about secular scientists vs. Christian scientists merely plays into the fundamentalist view of things.
As for scientists rolling their eyes at flood geology, they actually do considerably more than that. They point to specific reasons for rejecting it as erroneous, and point to actual evidence establishing its falsity. But Rosin can barely bring herself to mention that, instead preferring to concentrate on the divisive effect of young-Erathers on the Christian community generally.
The article has a few other choice nuggets:
Like any group of elites, they were snobs about their superior degrees. During lunch breaks or car rides, they traded jokes about the “vulgar creationists” and the “uneducated masses,” and, in their least Christian moments, the “idiots on the Web.” One leader of a creationist institute complained about all the cranks who call on the phone claiming to have seen dinosaurs or to have had a vision of Noah’s ark. (How Noah fit the entire animal kingdom onto the ark is a perennial obsession.)
Make of that what you will.
Rosin really ought to have made it clear that scientists reject young-Earthism not because of any commitment to sceularism or liberal Christianity, and not out of bias or snobbery either. They do so because the scientific claims of the YEC’s have been shown to be wrong over and over again. And she ought not to have been so credulous in portrating them as actual scientists just interested in following the evidence and explaining nature as best they can.
On the other hand, perhaps it is useful to point out that at least the YEC’s pretend to do science. That puts them a step ahead of the ID folks, who have shown little interest in doing likewise.