I’ve been seeing this argument a lot lately: it’s a brand of exceedingly indiscriminate relativism that is being prominently peddled by Answers in Genesis.
Creationists and evolutionists, Christians and non-Christians, all have the same evidence–the same facts. Think about it: we all have the same earth, the same fossil layers, the same animals and plants, the same stars—the facts are all the same.
The difference is in the way we all interpret the facts. And why do we interpret facts differently? Because we start with different presuppositions; these are things that are assumed to be true without being able to prove them. These then become the basis for other conclusions. All reasoning is based on presuppositions (also called axioms). This becomes especially relevant when dealing with past events.
It’s true, I do have some presuppositions. I think that explanations should deal with as much of the evidence as possible; they should avoid contradictions, both internal and with the evidence from the physical world; they should be logical; they should make predictions that can be tested; they should have some utility in addressing new evidence. It’s not too much to ask, I don’t think. “Darwin” is not one of my presuppositions, however. Charles Darwin provided a set of explanations that, after some modification, meet my criteria. I am quite prepared to throw Darwin out, however, if a better explanation came along or if evidence that contradicted his ideas were discovered.
I am not prepared to throw out logic and consistency. The creationists are.
Their cartoon version of equivalence highlights their problem. If we all have the same facts and just different interpretations based on what book we use as a starting premise, how do we discriminate between better interpretations? Are they all equally valid? Imagine “Darwin” replaced with “Koran” — do they really want to argue that the Islamic vision of the world is just as useful as the Christian view? (I would, of course, but that’s because I think both are foolish and narrow.) Swap in the Book of Mormon: that does not mean that suddenly there is truth to the notion of pale-skinned Hebrews warring across the New World in bronze chariots. The existence of Lord of the Rings does not imply that Tolkien fans should believe the world really was populated with elves and orcs, once upon a time.
There are presuppositions, and then there are presuppositions. We should at least try to test our premises, and I think we can all agree that it is possible to rank different presuppositions on the basis of how well they describe reality. Most of us can recognize that Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and Star Wars are fictions, that what they describe doesn’t exist, and that they probably aren’t very good filters to use in evaluating paleontological evidence. That someone who has accepted The Force as his one true religion does not mean that his claim that Homo erectus is a Wookie requires recognition as a reasonable interpretation.
Similarly, the Bible does not hold up well as a rational presupposition. Its descriptions of how the world works (and, as every rational person knows, it was not intended as a science textbook) are inadequate and full of errors. The portions of the book of Genesis that creationists use as their sole source for the origin of life on Earth is only a few lines of vague poetry, with two self-contradicting accounts of the sequence of events…and it’s a sequence that does not correspond at all well to the observed record of events, and that blithely lumps fish and birds into one useless catch-all category. If this is their lens for viewing the world, it’s a cracked one that is almost entirely opaque.
And no, the fact that the Bible contains one line that mentions a mythical creature called Behemoth does not mean it adequately accounts for all of large animal zoology, nor can one simply claim it is equivalent to a dinosaur, and therefore the Bible is a complete account of the history of life. Dinosaurs were diverse. And shouldn’t it be a greater omission that the Bible fails to mention anything about bacteria?
The patently incomplete nature of the Bible’s descriptions of Earth’s history led honest creationists to admit that further understanding of the Creation required evaluation of the physical evidence. You can’t just claim that humans and dinosaurs coexisted 6,000 years ago: there is no fossil evidence that they were contemporaries, there is no sign of dinosaurs existing so close to the current time, and even within the period of the Mesozoic we can find evidence of faunal succession — the forms found in the Triassic are different from those of the Jurassic are different from those of the Cretaceous. It is not sufficient to simply claim the Bible is your presupposition, therefore you can freely invent facts to fit it — there ought to be some corroborating evidence that shows your interpretations are reasonable. There aren’t any.
And please, when your presuppositions lead to ridiculous assertions, it’s time to question your premises. One of the examples this silly AiG article uses to justify its peculiar relativism is the interpretation of dating methods. Can you see the glaring problem in this rationale from the disgracefully sloppy work of Russell Humphreys?
Consider the research from the creationist RATE group (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) concerning the age of zircon crystals in granite. Using one set of assumptions, these crystals could be interpreted to be around 1.5 billion years old based on the amount of lead produced from the decay of uranium (which also produces helium). However, if one questions these assumptions, one is motivated to test them. Measurements of the rate at which helium is able to “leak out” of these crystals indicate that if they were much older than about 6,000 years, they would have nowhere near the amount of helium still left in them. Hence, the originally applied assumption of a constant decay rate is flawed; one must assume, instead, that there has been acceleration of the decay rate in the past. Using this revised assumption, the same uranium-lead data can now be interpreted to also give an age of fewer than 6,000 years.
Using their Biblical presupposition, they need to explain away the evidence of the accumulation of radioactive decay products by assuming that decay rates were roughly one million fold greater in the recent past. They are making a “revised assumption” that would mean that the planet should have exploded into a great glowing cloud of hot vapor a few thousand years ago! Shouldn’t that sort of compel you to rethink your excuses? But no, these guys just sail past the glaring contradiction with empirical reality as if it didn’t exist.
There’s a good reason creationism is not regarded as a fair equivalent to the scientific point of view. It’s because the former fails to pay attention to the physical evidence, while the latter is built, not on presuppositions, but on that evidence.