The Times Discovers the Young-Earthers

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.

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The NY Times sent a reporter to the First Conference on Creation Geology, and came back with a discouraging tale of creationist blindness. The two stars are Kurt Wise, old school, and Marcus Ross, new school. Ross recently recieved a Ph.D. for his paleontological work on mosasaurs — marine reptiles…

You are correct that it is a slur on scientist. But it also illustrates something else. She is working from an assumption that "Science" means to "Know". When, truly, science is just the DESIRE to know. Science is the rigid process of uncovering facts from all available evidence. And the very nature of science is to let the chips fall where they may. Let the YEC crowd show their science.

By Dale Boley (not verified) on 25 Nov 2007 #permalink

My favorite line -
"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."

Even the cranks have cranks. How nuts are you if the loonies think you're loony?

I totally agree. Unless the YEC's are able to throw out their bibles (or at least admit that it is not a historically accurate literal translation of the word of God) when they discover that the evidence does not support their book... then it is not science.

Now, science is not always about observation. Some guy may think to themself "hmmmm... I think this is what's going on, lets test this." Then they find out something from the tests. The YEC's are just using quackish pseudoscientific garble in an attempt to pass off their bogus ideas about the creation of this world. It's kind of funny really.

The article did have a few good quotes but they were not followed up with critical commentary. A good example is the ending paragraph about Kurt Wise, who studied under Gould:

When consulting for the Creation Museum, he considered his most important duty to be "presenting a coherent story line about the earth's history," he said. "Even if it's wrong."

"Lord of the Rings" presents a coherent story line--should it be taken as a historical text?

By Mark Duigon (not verified) on 26 Nov 2007 #permalink

Re Kurt Wise

Prof. Wise has publicly stated that it makes no difference whether a 6000 year old earth is true or false. To reject it is to reject the revealed word of god. See below for a comment by Richard Dawkins.

Sadly, an Honest Creationist
by Richard Dawkins


The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 21, Number 4.


Creation scientists have more need than most of us to parade their degrees and qualifications, but it pays to look closely at the institutions that awarded them and the subjects in which they were taken. Those vaunted Ph.D.s tend to be in subjects such as marine engineering or gas kinetics rather than in relevant disciplines like zoology or geology. And often they are earned not at real universities, but at little-known Bible colleges deep in Bush country.

There are, however, a few shining exceptions. Kurt Wise now makes his living at Bryan College (motto Christ Above All) located in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the famed Scopes trial. And yet, he originally obtained an authentic degree in geophysics from the University of Chicago, followed by a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard, no less, where he studied under (the name is milked for all it is worth in creationist propaganda) Stephen Jay Gould.

Kurt Wise is a contributor to , a compendium edited by John F. Ashton (Ph.D., of course). I recommend this book. It is a revelation. I would not have believed such wishful thinking and self-deception possible. At least some of the authors seem to be sincere, and they dont water down their beliefs. Much of their fire is aimed at weaker brethren who think God works through evolution, or who clutch at the feeble hope that one day in Genesis might mean not twenty-four hours but a hundred million years. These are hard-core young earth creationists who believe that the universe and all of life came into existence within one week, less than 10,000 years ago. And Wiseflying valiantly in the face of reason, evidence, and educationis among them. If there were a prize for Virtuoso Believing (it is surely only a matter of time before the Templeton Foundation awards one) Kurt Wise, B.A. (Chicago), Ph.D. (Harvard), would have to be a prime candidate.

Wise stands out among young earth creationists not only for his impeccable education, but because he displays a modicum of scientific honesty and integrity. I have seen a published letter in which he comments on alleged human bones in Carboniferous coal deposits. If authenticated as human, these bones would blow the theory of evolution out of the water (incidentally giving lie to the canard that evolution is unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific: J. B. S. Haldane, asked by an overzealous Popperian what empirical finding might falsify evolution, famously growled, Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian!). Most creationists would not go out of their way to debunk a promising story of human remains in the Pennsylvanian Coal Measures. Yet Wise patiently and seriously examined the specimens as a trained paleontologist, and concluded unequivocally that they were inorganically precipitated iron siderite nodules and not fossil material at all. Unusually among the motley denizens of the big tent of creationism and intelligent design, he seems to accept that God needs no help from false witness.

All the more interesting, then, to read his personal testimony in In . It is actually quite moving, in a pathetic kind of way. He begins with his childhood ambition. Where other boys wanted to be astronauts or firemen, the young Kurt touchingly dreamed of getting a Ph.D. from Harvard and teaching science at a major university. He achieved the first part of his goal, but became increasingly uneasy as his scientific learning conflicted with his religious faith. When he could bear the strain no longer, he clinched the matter with a Bible and a pair of scissors. He went right through from Genesis 1 to Revelations 22, literally cutting out every verse that would have to go if the scientific worldview were true. At the end of this exercise, there was so little left of his Bible that

. . . try as I might, and even with the benefit of intact margins throughout the pages of Scripture, I found it impossible to pick up the Bible without it being rent in two. I had to make a decision between evolution and Scripture. Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible. . . . It was there that night that I accepted the Word of God and rejected all that would ever counter it, including evolution. With that, in great sorrow, I tossed into the fire all my dreams and hopes in science.

See what I mean about pathetic? Most revealing of all is Wises concluding paragraph:

Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.

See what I mean about honest? Understandably enough, creationists who aspire to be taken seriously as scientists dont go out of their way to admit that Scripturea local origin myth of a tribe of Middle-Eastern camel-herderstrumps evidence. The great evolutionist John Maynard Smith, who once publicly wiped the floor with Duane P. Gish (up until then a highly regarded creationist debater), did it by going on the offensive right from the outset and challenging him directly: Do you seriously mean to tell me you believe that all life was created within one week?

Kurt Wise doesnt need the challenge; he volunteers that, even if all the evidence in the universe flatly contradicted Scripture, and even if he had reached the point of admitting this to himself, he would still take his stand on Scripture and deny the evidence. This leaves me, as a scientist, speechless. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have a mind capable of such doublethink. It reminds me of Winston Smith in struggling to believe that two plus two equals five if Big Brother said so. But that was fiction and, anyway, Winston was tortured into submission. Kurt Wiseand presumably others like him who are less candidhas suffered no such physical coercion. But, as I hinted at the end of my previous column, I do wonder whether childhood indoctrination could wreak a sufficiently powerful brainwashing effect to account for this bizarre phenomenon.

Whatever the underlying explanation, this example suggests a fascinating, if pessimistic, conclusion about human psychology. It implies that there is no sensible limit to what the human mind is capable of believing, against any amount of contrary evidence. Depending upon how many Kurt Wises are out there, it could mean that we are completely wasting our time arguing the case and presenting the evidence for evolution. We have it on the authority of a man who may well be creationisms most highly qualified and most intelligent scientist that no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, no matter how all-embracing, no matter how devastatingly convincing, can ever make any difference.

Can you imagine believing that and at the same time accepting a salary, month after month, to teach science? Even at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee? Im not sure that I could live with myself. And I think I would curse my God for leading me to such a pass.

Yes, so pathectic,but that it the grip of faith.It also keeps those evolutionists who should know that evolution is dysteological while their creationist evolutionism is teleological, thus contradictory! Amiel Rossow shows this in the case of Kenneth Miller in his article on him @Talk Reason.
Faith is the Ijust say so of credulity1 And it begs the questron as theists are wont to do.

By Morgan-LynnGri… (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink