As I described in the introduction to my more poetic post “There is a grandeur in this view of life…,” fossil hunting is one of the most exciting and rewarding activities I’ve even taken part in. It might not be easy work and it often does not bear petrified prizes, but a few scraps of bone, a tooth fragment, or a fossilized shell is still an amazing vestige of a distant past that no human has ever seen. Young Earth Creationists, on the other hand, contend that the world is only about 6,000 years old and that when the first humans were evicted from Eden they had to content with the mighty dinosaurs, theropods like Tyrannosaurus acquiring a taste for flesh outside the garden gates. While Caveman may have been a b-grade comedy to you and I, to creationists this encounter between a blind man and a theropod is actually more reality than fantasy;
An article appearing in today’s New York Times by Hanna Rosin, however, gives YEC “geologists” far too-much credit, and while the piece suggests that YECs are starting to embrace science this is most certainly not the case.
After an introduction that serves as a sharp contrast to my own fossil-prospecting foray, Rosin tells us that creationists are becoming much more open to science. She writes;
Creationist geologists are thriving, paradoxically, at a moment when evangelicals are becoming more educated, more prosperous and more open to scientific progress. And though they are a lonely few among Christian academics, they have an influence far out of proportion to their numbers. They have just opened a state-of-the-art $27 million museum in Kentucky, and they dominate the Christian publishing industry, serving as the credentialed experts for the nearly half of Americans who believe in some version of a young earth. In a sense, they represent the fundamentalist avant-garde; unlike previous generations of conservative Christians, they don’t see the need to choose between mainstream science and Biblical literalism.
As Don Prothero noted in his recent book Evolution, however, science is not all about credentials, and if a scientist makes a big deal about where they got their degree or the level of their education it should immediately raise a red flag. Indeed, rather than indicating a greater acceptance of science, the association of YECs with academic institutions instead marks a change in strategy, attempting to co-opt the mantle of actual science for their own purposes. Those familiar with this debate know that a doctorate in “Truthology” from Liberty University is not to be respected, but we live in a culture where a degree from a school like Harvard lends an air of prestige to those who obtained a degree from such a school, even if the field being discussed is entirely unrelated to the person’s area of study. Contrary to Rosin’s article, credentialed YECs still reject mainstream science even though many (most famously jailbird Kent Hovind) claim to love it. Biology, geology, cosmology, physics, chemistry, anthropology, and even history are all thrown out by young earth creationists; such disregard for the work in so many disciplines because of a religious preference is in direct opposition to science, not consonant with it. The whole YEC stance is inherently unscientific; a scientist attempts to understand the natural world as it is, whereas creationists throw out anything that does not fit in to their preferred worldview. The case of Marcus Ross, a YEC who recently received his Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island, can serve as an important example of what’s wrong with many of these “credentialed” scientists. While they may boast graduate-level degrees from various institutions, they were not invested in their studies, and they merely went along with the motions so they could strategically say “I have a doctorate from a secular university in geology and I’m a young earth creationist.” Such a sentiment is appalling; why should I believe someone who essentially lied to themselves and cared nothing for contributing to science just so they could hang their degree on the wall?
The problem with “Flood Geologists” is that they’ve claiming that they’re becoming more rigorous in their testing and methods when they are actually doing nothing of the sort. While they might not be taken in by the hoaxed human tracks claimed to be found with the dinosaur trackways discovered by R.T. Bird, they still are obsessed with trying to figure out the problem of “sorting” as a result of the Flood, the transition of fossils clearly showing the evolution of life on earth through time. When looked at scientifically, the fauna in one strata can be understood in terms of evolution in relation to forms in strata above or below the layer within the formation, but creationsts obviously reject such an idea. What they must try to do, then, is figure out why we there are no chickens found in the Cambrian strata, no humans in Cretaceous strata, and no trilobites in Miocene strata. They’re still throwing out the vast weight of the evidence because they cannot think to take the conflicting Genesis narratives of creation as an allegory (or even as not being representative of history whatsoever), and as long as they dismiss whatever doesn’t fit the Bible out of hand they will never actually be carrying out a scientific study no matter how much fancy equipment they accumulate or how many hypotheses they name.
Creationists are regarded as being scientific by some because the vast majority of people in this country have no idea what science is or how it proceeds to answer questions about the natural world. The stereotypical scientist has a Ph.D., a white lab coat, plenty of fancy equipment, and a few pet hypotheses, but this is a gross Hollywood caricature of science. Young Earth Creationists, as far as I have seen, are as unscientific as they have ever been, they’ve just become more strategic in trying to take on the mantle of science to gain respect and are supported because their crackpot ideas seem to match what many people would like to be true. Even the author of the article, Hanna Rosin, attributes a more rigorous and scientific attitude to YECs than actually exists, and while there are some Christian colleges like Wheaton that have given up trying to prove that there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark, there are still millions of people who will believe Answers in Genesis over actual scientists because they have certain ideological commitments. This post is primarily preaching to the choir, though, and the people who most desperately need to understand science are either being let down by our absolutely horribly public school science programs or simply do not care. Information about evolution and good science in general is at the fingertips of anyone who wants it, but it seems that the majority of people in America simply don’t care; they don’t know and they don’t want to know. Such a preference for ignorance is difficult for me to understand, but it is the reality of the situation, and I fear creationists will continue to take advantage of that for some time to come.