I recently completed my term paper for the philosophy class I’m taking at SB City College. I had previously written an essay debating the relative worth of the color green and posted it here, and I thought I’d post my term paper too as a sort of no-hassle content update. I apologize if any Young Earth Creationist reads this and is offended, but these are, more or less, my thoughts on the matter. It starts with a syllogism and proceeds to define terms and discuss the soundness of the argument — as I have free reign, I’ve made it somewhat annotated in that some words have links to relevant websites.
Again, this is not a jab at people who find themselves on the YEC side of the spectrum but an attempt to point out some of the behavior that makes dealing with YECs frustrating and makes dealing with non-Christians harder for non-YECs. Thoughts welcome as always.
Syllogism: No competent scientist is a Young Earth Creationist. Some Christians are competent scientists. Therefore, some Christians are not Young Earth Creationists. (FERIO, EIO-1)
We first define the terms. “Christian” can be simply defined as one who follows the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, believing him to be the Messiah, and adheres to major tenets of the Christian faith. Such a person might affirm these tenets according to a creed like the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, or similar. “Young Earth Creationist,” “Young Earth Creationism,” “YEC,” and similar terms all refer to a belief and to the adherents of the belief that the Earth, all life on it, and indeed the whole of the universe / creation was created directly by God in six twenty-four hour days, approximately seven thousand years ago. Such adherents hold that all evidence toward positions that they perceive as incompatible with YEC views is either mistakenly interpreted, flawed, or falsified.
The tricky term to define is “competent scientist.” We will define it here as one who espouses the “scientific method” as the final word in ascertaining the facts pertaining to a description of the naturalistic world. Such a person claims that the facts about nature’s processes ultimately lie within nature itself, even if those findings seem initially to contradict previously held interpretations, be they observational or philosophical in nature. We have chosen this definition based on the belief that “competent science” is a theoretical and experimental attempt to ascertain and organize knowledge of the naturalistic world based on the acquisition of empirical and measurable evidence.
We will continue to dwell on the term “competent scientist” for a bit. The major premise of the syllogism is somewhat harsh. No competent scientist espouses Young Earth Creationism? As stated above, a competent scientist allows the natural world to “have the last say” in describing the natural world; in other words, he or she is a methodological naturalist. Note that we do not claim that a competent scientist is always correct in his or her understanding; experiments may be carried out incorrectly and theory may fail to take critical points into account. Note also that here we are not saying that a competent scientist necessarily espouses an ontological or metaphysical naturalism, the belief that nothing that cannot be studied by the natural sciences exists.
Examples of competent scientists then include such notables as: Aristotle, who posited the geocentric cosmology of the universe, [note: I probably should have said Ptolemy here; the system wasn’t formalized ’til c. AD 200. Might be why I got only 195/200.. actually it was because, like most things I write (including here, whoops), I didn’t proofread. This document has been edited accordingly.] incorrect as it was, based on theory and observation of the world; Johannes Kepler and Nicolas Copernicus, who laid the groundwork in observation and theory for the switch to the heliocentric astronomical model; Galileo, who contributed empirical evidence to the model; and Isaac Newton, whose theory of gravitation finalized a mathematical method of prediction within the model. All of these men allowed their observations of the natural world to inform their opinion of how nature works, even in the face of seemingly drastic conflict with prevailing Christian teachings; incidentally, the latter four of these men would have affirmed their beliefs in the tenets of Christianity as defined above.
Given this understanding, we say that anyone who does not adhere to methodological naturalism, either because of preconceived notions of what nature is or ought to be, or because of an inability to accept current observational evidence, is not performing competent science and is therefore not a competent scientist. We note that proving that no YEC adherents are competent scientists is logically equivalent to proving that no competent scientists are YEC adherents. Young Earth Creationists, though many do work in “scientific” capacity at institutions such as the Creation Research Society or the Institute for Creation Research, hold by their own account that “no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.” [note: ‘General’ no. 6] Interesting is that while YEC adherents affirm that “evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information,” [no. 6 again] they do not apply this standard to their own interpretation of scripture. Instead, they allow a strictly literal interpretation [taken from ICR tenets — note that it is not a strictly literal translation] of a few verses of scripture to influence their entire worldview. Christians at institutes such as ICR dedicate the bulk of their efforts not toward furthering a complete understanding of the natural world, but toward poking holes in evolutionary theory and ancient-earth ideology, and attempting to reconcile scientific evidence with their own worldview.
Note that we do not say YEC adherents are necessarily wrong in their worldview. Most scientists operate under the constant assumption that at any given moment, everything they know could be turned upside down. In 2004, Steven Hawking presented a theory on black hole “leakage,” overturning his own staunchly held position that black holes are “tight.” It could very well be that the entire universe is seven thousand years old and many generations of scientific progress have led us astray. We might be wrong. But instead of admitting that they too could be wrong and attempting to reconcile all evidences, YEC adherents demand that the natural evidence corroborate with their philosophical viewpoints. In essence, this compromises their ability to do “competent science” and therefore makes them incompetent scientists. No person who forces naturalism to support certain philosophical truths can be a competent scientist, and Young Earth Creationists, by their own word, fall victim to this snare.
The minor premise, that some Christians are in fact competent scientists, is not quite as complex. We could again cite examples from history of Christians who practiced competent science; we could also point out more recent scientists such as Francis Collins, lynchpin figure in the mapping of the human genome, or Karl Giberson, a biologist who has written numerous books on the subjects of faith and science. Logically, only one competent Christian scientist is required for the syllogism to hold, but we can achieve a greater effect by showing that there is a sizable contingency of Christians in the sciences. A 1997 article by Edward Larson and Larry Whitham reported that about 40% of US scientists believe in a “personal god.” Obviously this does not necessarily equate with Christianity, but given that Christianity is a majority religion in the United States, it can be inferred that at least a sizable chunk of that 40% of scientists might claim Christianity.
Why make this argument in the first place? What do we have to gain by showing that a given group of Christians does or does not affirm any particular viewpoint? As stated above, our purpose is to show that a non-trivial subset of Christians rejects the almost universally-ridiculed beliefs inherent in YEC ideology. YECs represent an extremely vocal minority which does a disservice to the rest of Christianity in their wanton disparagement of any viewpoint that they perceive as even slightly different from their own. Christians are already perceived as being closed-minded, hypocritical, and judgmental, a stereotype which unfortunately is only confirmed in many YECs. Many Christians, however, are not as staunch in their presuppositions about reality. Many affirm the theory of evolution in addition to the tenets of Christianity and see them as fundamentally compatible.
For Christian scientists who might want to reach out to their non-believing brothers and sisters, the ability to relate to others free from stereotypes is paramount. No competent scientist will reject a worldview that includes methodological naturalism for one that sneers at the natural world. By showing that belief in God is not incompatible with belief in evolution and scientific consensus, non-YEC Christians can show love to a constituency that the YECs simply cannot, and for the most part would not dream of touching –but only if they are allowed to be seen separately from their YEC counterparts.