Why biblical dogmatists are often incorrect and why many atheists have generally missed the point in the "God" debate.
The young earth creationism phenomenon seems as if it will never disappear. In spite of voluminous amounts of evidence, religious ideology has transformed the minds of the individuals that subscribe to this mode of thinking into machines that systematically reject all things related to science. Their movement consists in the systematic and unending increase in the “burden of proof” which they claim rests with science.
The atheist position often leads individuals who are categorized (or self-categorized) as atheists to ineffectively communicate their own views in a convincing manner to theists and creationists. This debate most often consists of two systems of thought, each willfully bound and determined to dominate the other.
This is highly-relevant, as many atheists tackle the arguments coming from young earth creationists with logic while ignoring the fact that the Christian conception of God often centers around the mental abandonment of all challenges to his all-present power (faith over reason, specifically because God is un-knowable). I have endeavored to re-create the same type of reasoning and, in the process, illustrate the root of the problem.
I additionally encourage all readers to watch the entire informational video session 100 Reasons why Evolution is so Stupid:
I. The Argument from Interpreted Scripture
Young Earth Creationism contends that the earth is far younger than modern science indicates. In fact, it often appears as if many have somehow convinced themselves that they are the victims of a secret plot by a massive, worldwide cabal of university professors to discredit the holy word of God.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share many things. Among them is an approach to the origin of things based, in large part, on Abrahamic mythology. How do Creationists define human history? Human history in this thinking spawned from the union of a single male and female couple (Adam and Eve). In the process all of humanity is endowed with the never-healing wound of original sin.
This sin consists in the learning of information and, in the process, becoming more in-tune with the physical world (and thus becoming further away from God). A literal interpretation of scripture in opposition to science was not, at least historically, always the normal state of affairs in every society. It is not until the latter half of the 19th century that rabid fundamentalism (largely an invention of purist American Protestant sects) came into being.
Notice in the previous clip that Ham admits his bias. His faith rests in the “word of God” (which was written then translated many times over by humans). Necessarily investigative professions geared toward finding only data confirming creation have arisen. Flood Geology, as a practice, generally asserts a view of the world as defined by the Old Testament book of Genesis. Evidence for the biblical accounts, according to flood geologists, does exist. The most important piece of this evidence, of course, is the biblical flood of Noah.
Many claim that much of the topography of Earth was greatly shaped by (and is, thus, scientific evidence of) a fairly rapid (at least in geologic time), enormous, and mysterious “release” of a body of water somewhere between the ancient Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains of the United States.
Genesis 6:13 reads, “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.'” Genesis 6:17 continues, “I am going to bring flood waters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.”
This flood, according to this conception, is understood to be the cause of the grand canyon, despite the fact that there are mountains (no pun intended) of geological evidence that indicate a painstakingly-slow process of erosion. It is also used as an explanation as to why there are fossils deposited in different geological strata.
Animals killed in the flood, according to Creationists, were buried quickly by the rushing sediment of flood waters and, thus, turned into fossils. With respect to fossils, this point is demonstrably false. The theory of a “quick fossilization” still fails to adequately account for the quite-pronounced and global distribution of fossils throughout those layers of strata.
There are nearly too many scientific reasons why a young earth is unlikely to list in easily-readable form here. Evidence from the US Geological survey makes a very strong case for the importance of Earth’s impact craters in providing a reliable date. On average, evidence indicates that a planet will be struck by a major asteroid approximately every 313,000 years.
If this holds true then it is clear that if, indeed, the earth is very young, then very few, if any, major impact craters would exist. There are hundreds of these all over the planet. Furthermore, the scientific dating practices that young earth creationists often criticize can also be turned against them.
Evidence of the predictable decay of the atomically-unstable Carbon-14 molecule in formerly-living things has been criticized by creationists as unreliable. When, on the other hand, evidence that the DNA molecule itself has a predictable decay rate is presented, they are unable to explain why the vast majority of dinosaur fossils found have little or no DNA remaining. This indicates a much longer history of life on Earth.
Evidence coming from the relative concentrations of nitrogen molecules within natural diamonds also indicates that those diamonds can spend over 200 million years being formed in the upper mantle. Evidence from the observation of a process called “Space Weathering” also indicates that the universe is much older than 10,000 years and that it could in fact be millions (if not billions) of years old.
Old Earth Creationism is easily more compatible with the scientific process. In religious systems, like Hinduism for example, the Earth is said to be millions of years old and the universe is determined to have been destroyed many times over.
Recently, South Carolina 8-year-old Olivia McConnell, who happens to have a great interest in science and Paleontology, petitioned for her home state to receive credit for the discovery of the first fossil in North America. Republican lawmakers reacted unexpectedly, injecting bizarre, nonsensical, and scripture-inspired statements into the law:
“The Columbian Mammoth, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field, is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina and must be officially referred to as the ‘Columbian Mammoth’, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field.” (H 4482, session 120) Once again, the “fact” of this creation taking place on the sixth day has absolutely little to no relevance to the current daily existence of humanity, much like the unneeded “God hypothesis.”
The Institute for Creation Research has even attempted to argue that the Second Law of Thermodynamics disproves evolutionary theory. This argument makes little sense as this law applies only to system-specific variables and the universe is not a closed system. Similarly creationists have argued that there are instances of “irreducible complexity” in the natural world that cannot be explained by evolution. This has been demonstrated as thoroughly untrue. Although it is not representative of a biological entity, a common mouse trap represents this quite well.
As yet another example, the students attending one of Texas’ largest charter schools (around 17,000 students) are now presented with small blurbs explaining in a matter-of-fact way that the Theory of Evolution is both “dogma” as well as an “unproved theory”. These are the types of situations that are the unfortunate result of intellectual ignorance (and often downright confusion). This is not science and should never be defined as such.
A convincing argument could be made that there are benefits to be had in teaching schoolchildren about creation, however the textbook blurbs could more closely resemble: “Creation, although thoroughly disputed by a significant majority of modern academic and scientific thought, presents a view counter to that of evolution. Creationists stress that evolution is only a theory, although Creation Science itself has not yet met the requirement for proof and can, in fact, be ranked lower on the truth scale as ‘conjecture’.”
In response to criticism, some creationists often fall back on logic to explain things. “You can’t prove that God doesn’t exist!”, “You can’t prove that God didn’t create the universe!”, and “You can’t prove that fossils weren’t invented by the Devil to fool humans!” Sound familiar?
Premise: A negative statement cannot be proven.
(Bertrand Russell’s Teapot): It cannot be proven that there is not at least one magical, cosmic teapot that orbits the solar system and of which only I am capable of obtaining knowledge.
(Pastafarian Flying Spaghetti Monster): It cannot be proven that there is not at least one omnipotent entity which is completely beyond the realm of human understanding and also a Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Therefore: It cannot be “proven” that God does not exist or that God did not create the universe as with respect to many conceptions of God the definition of premises remains subjective and malleable and few if any of the premises can be considered to be untrue.
This is the source of the famous statement by French scientist Pierre-Simon de Laplace (1749-1827) made when asked why God was not incorporated into his calculations, “Je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothese.” In other words, the truth value of the statement is basically irrelevant and unnecessary to the scientific process. What this means is that it is possible to proceed as if things that have not yet been proven do not exist because assuming the opposite can influence the results of scientific inquiry into the natural world.
A related argument that is worth considering proceeds in this way:
Premise: There is only one thing.
Premise: God is this one thing.
Premise: The scientific process attempts to establish the truth of this one thing.
Therefore: God necessarily exists, as God is everything in existence (which is a single thing), and, furthermore, science attempts to establish the truth of God because God is the only thing that science can investigate.
II. Atheism and the Death of God:
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote in The Gay Science (1882) that “God is dead”. This quote is often thrown around by atheists as a sort of war-trophy. It is often the case that these individuals have not properly read his works. Nietzsche writes “Where has God gone? […] I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers.” This, for Nietzsche, is something of a direct challenge to atheists.
But how is the Judaeo-Christian God dead if this God never lived in the first place (as little to no empirical evidence exists for either Christ’s relationship to a divine power or for his resurrection)? Nietzsche’s assertion that humanity has become the murderer of God indicates that society has, in many ways, proceeded intellectually beyond the previously widespread necessary existence of religion and the belief in God (which in earlier times would have most likely meant the difference between life and death for any number of reasons). In other words, humans have killed God by making God irrelevant. For Nietzsche the death of God also meant the loss of moral certainty that had come along with Christian culture in centuries past.
Despite this, it is likely that religious practice will continue to be a part of human life for plenty of reasons just as it has been in the past. The most obvious of which is that common religion binds communities together (often rural ones).
It can be argued that in many instances, however, the application of theology to scientific methodology is completely absurd or that it brings nothing more to the picture of the natural world formed by that methodology. Science works in physical reality because it is a construction of that reality.
Similarly, creationism itself can be seen as an ideological result of the evolutionary process. Because of this, religious doctrine cannot invalidate the system in which it exists. This is my closest estimation to the standard atheist argument against the existence of God which proceeds logically to only accept the existence of a thing if there is evidence for it and to not hold the existence of that thing to be conditionally valid:
Premise: God is an existing thing in the observable (measurable) physical universe.
Hypothetical: Things that exist are empirically present in the physical world.
Premise: God is not (and cannot be by most Christian traditions, i.e. “God is unknowable”) empirically-present in the physical world.
Therefore: It can be inferred that God is not an existing thing in the observable universe as far as can be determined through empirical observation.
III. Final Analysis
Logic is a tool, and can be said to have roughly the same validity as any other item humans use on a daily basis apart from the fact that it is an essential part of the way that thinking beings interact with the world. To that end, it is also true that if strong evidence of God’s existence or his creation of the universe suddenly appeared, scientists would inevitably pounce on the information. Science has given mankind many things of merit in a relatively-short period of time and has little reason to knowingly-hide information from the public.
The rights of individuals to believe whatever they desire cannot be infringed upon, however, when educational institutions and governments begin to alter their behavior in order to appease these individuals, inefficiency and the well-being of the system come into question.
One could certainly say that it does the average individual no more good to believe in a materialist conception of the universe than one of many mythologies long since past apart from the ability that this picture has to allow the individual to gather information about the world scientifically. A convincing case can be made that mythology is not useless, indeed, it can be argued that mythology is quite useful.
Did the gods of the past exist? Those entities whose legions of followers are now dead and buried (Zeus, Isis, Odin); are they gone as well? Are they somehow less “real” than the Judaeo-Christian God? or do they persist in the minds of millions of individuals today in abstract form?
A strong argument can be made that theology and religious thought are secondary results of the evolutionary process. In fact, some scientists now think that the human brain is hard-wired to believe in God. Religion itself, then, is a substantial part of the evolutionary process as well, creating organization between humans and giving isolated groups (a good, evolutionary, reason for the disparity in traditional dogma among religions around the world) a sense of unity. Religion (and thus scripture) are by-products and drivers of the evolutionary system, for that reason they cannot invalidate it.
The atheist conception that “God does not exist” is clearly grammatically-true by a strict definition of terms. The “God hypothesis” when formulating scientific views of the world is, therefore, completely irrelevant and unnecessary. Even in the religious case of deist belief (where cognitive dissonance can only be maintained up to a certain point), scientific discoveries hold serious weight as scripture is seen as a set of more or less metaphorical moral tales.
Premise: Things that are real are represented through the organized thought of human beings.
Premise: God is represented through thinking (language) and is a part of the subjective “reality” of many conscious beings.
Therefore: In this sequence of statements God conforms to my chosen definition of “real”. (i.e. in this sequence of statements God is real, basically in a similar sense to that of the fictional character, Tinker bell , who maintains a reality only as long as people believe in her although it must be noted that it is possible for one to lack a belief in God and for God to simultaneously be present as a concept in one’s mind. This could also be said to be the case for Tinker Bell as one could retain her memory once she has disappeared due to disbelief).
While the distinction between “real” and “existing” may be logically-important, the truth is that, conception or not, God, in the form of human thought and language is a very real part of life for people around the world. This is specifically-why it is often argued that, in the interests of respect for both the evolution of societies and the maintenance of personal religious freedom, the official practice of knowledge-gathering and analysis must be wholly-separate from any theist or irrationally-dogmatic creationist ideology.