I was born in eastern Los Angeles, CA and raised in rural Pueblo, CO. Life was great. But just before I entered high school, my family moved to northern Utah, where I found myself quite alienated. Fortunately, I found refuge in close-knit circles of…how would you say? Nerds. Yes, we were nerds, but not the kind you’d expect to enact revenge on your fraternity. We were simply students that cared to pay attention in class, involve ourselves in Science Olympiad, play 4-way chess to pass the time in study hall, and skip out of gym class to improve our electric guitar skills. Needless to say, high school was not a challenge, but that didn’t prevent us from exploring academic opportunities while we had the chance.
I am sure that every high school has its cliques, but high school in Utah was special, to say the least. I was a white, Protestant (Reformed) Christian from a stable, financially sound family in the western United States, but still found myself in a tiny minority. A vast majority of students were LDS (Mormon), and I was active enough in my own faith that my social opportunities became equally limited. Many of my nerdy friends, on the other hand, were former “this or that”, atheists and agnostics, who were likewise alienated and unchallenged.
So we challenged each other.
Most days were spent arguing over philosophy, politics, and scientific controversies we had simply read about second hand. Oh yes, we were bright, but sufficiently naïve that we didn’t recognize how unqualified we were to debate most of these issues. One of the major topics: the age of the Earth. None of us were geologists, but I distinctly remember exchanging points, facts, and articles we read to convince the group there was a valid controversy. My library was growing exponentially, and included the first book I had ever read on geology: Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe by Dr. Steven Austin of ICR.
All these years later, I am thankful for the slightly foolish experience, as it has since directed my academic journey. Leaving high school, I was certain that I would be a biologist and that it wouldn’t take long. Before my first semester of college even began, I was already a sophomore with a full academic scholarship. By the end of my second semester, I had accumulated enough credits to be considered a senior, meaning it was past due for me to declare a major. My original plan was stalled by the fact that my university had no Biology department officially, so I decided to work toward a chemistry minor instead, hoping to transfer to a school with a better program. At this time, I also discovered that my middle-school physics teacher was also an adjunct geology professor at the university and taught an introductory course in geology.
I had to sign up.
Very quickly, I realized that the same qualities that attracted me to the biology department also described geology, perhaps even to a greater degree: 1) it was a fast-growing field, with ample opportunity for new research; 2) it seemed to be riddled with controversy, and I loved controversy. The following semester, I added more geology courses to my schedule, and declared a new major.
As I progressed toward the completion of my undergraduate degree, I was not disappointed with geology as my final commitment. My initial assessment was ‘dead on’ — well, except for a couple points. Looking back, I perceive myself as better fit to study geology, having come into the subject with the impression that there was a valid controversy over fundamental issues like the age of the Earth, origin of sedimentary layers, radiometric dating, or the rate of plate tectonic motion. Thus I learned always to be skeptical of the fundamentals behind ‘conventional geology’, both in the class and in the field, until I was fully convinced of their validity. Likewise, taking the advice of AiG researchers, I questioned the fundamentals that guided ‘Flood geology’. In YEC literature, the creationist controversy is often presented as two models ‘digesting’ the same facts. At the outset, this seems fair — scientists use this approach all the time. Elsewhere, this can be related to research guided by ‘multiple working hypotheses’, where competing hypotheses about a given phenomenon are used to make mutually exclusive predictions. Data is then collected and analyzed to falsify or refine each model, after which the model with greatest amount of supporting evidence gains credibility over the other.
So I went to work, carefully examining the evidence. However, I would soon discover that the analogy hardly fit the young-Earth controversy. Each new geology course, field trip, and library research project brought with it new challenges that were simply overlooked by most publications coming from AiG. My growing impression was that even the semi-technical and journal research articles were blatantly reductionistic, depicting complex geological problems as unequivocally inconsistent with conventional geology while offering simple solutions from a young-Earth perspective. But despite my conviction that the controversy was settled, had it ever existed, I continued my study of YEC literature.
I could not help but to wonder, ‘How do organizations like this gain so much credibility?’ It was obvious to me that it was not grounded in strength of scientific observation or any consistent, unifying theory that explained the data. Furthermore, there was no predictive power in the young-Earth model that would produce new knowledge in the Earth sciences (e.g. the structure of sedimentary packages and, consequently, where to find oil/gas resources). Yet nearly half of the population believed in a young Earth, and that scientific theories concerning historical geology and biological evolution were struggling to find good evidence, being grounded rather in the blinding naturalism of leading scientists. I felt I was at an advantage to answer this question, having been actively involved in studying both sides of the argument, but could not come up with a satisfactory answer. So I put it this way: if I ask the majority of scientists why they think most of the populace is skeptical about 1) the age of the Earth, and 2) biological evolution, what would their answer be? I speculate the following (with some help from experience):
1) They are scientifically illiterate, and simply don’t know any better.
2) They are blinded by religious convictions, and thus are delusional regarding the evidence.
This perception of YEC is rampant throughout academia, and it’s simple to test. How? Try entering a university geology class and ask whether the professor is ignoring the Flood geology model while interpreting the sedimentary rocks he/she brought to class (or maybe you’ve seen it happen?). You could also take the next step, though. Take a few technical papers from AiG’s archives and turn it into a testable research project. Collect the data and interpret it in light of the global flood. Then submit the paper to a journal such as Geology, Nature Geoscience, or even GSA Bulletin. If you get a response other than (1) or (2), please let me know.
So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t I just take a note and ignore organizations like AiG?
Well, no, and that’s the problem. Not only is it the problem, it’s the answer to my question (or so I will endeavor to show). It is true, academia tends to dismiss any claims of YEC at the outset and couldn’t care to take it seriously. Are academics fearful of the outcome, that the evidence will overturn their worldview? I don’t think so. The reason is that any successful researcher in the Earth sciences has no time to take it seriously and often assumes that creationism will disappear on its own (particularly if we increase standards and funding for education). In the meantime, they respond with “Well, if you actually knew something about geology, etc., then you would realize the absurdity of your claim. So read a book, take my class, and stop promoting pseudoscience.” However, this neither results in better education nor in the diminished influence of YEC.
Enter Answers in Genesis. This is an organization comprised of graduate-degree holding educators, researchers, and more, that are willing to spend a lot of time and money providing a bridge to the general public, so that the 90% of the population who chose a non-scientific career path can be actively involved in the controversy. In a nutshell, academia treats the general public as ignorant laity that can’t be trusted with the evidence outside of a classroom (tuition paid up); AiG researchers treat the general public as their peers, not only sharing the evidence for free but giving it a purpose. As a theological son of the Reformation, I don’t feel it necessary to explain which approach I perceive as superior.
Now, a minor caveat — I know I am being overly categorical here, in which case I would be guilty of great hypocrisy. So let me be clear that my simplification is intentional. I am setting forth a basic observation and hypothesis that I hope to unfold in this blog. The reason is that I have many friends (past and present) that adhere to YEC and many friends (past and present) that despise it. Understanding that by definition there are exceptions to the rule, I would yet propose that a vast majority of YEC’s are not simply illiterate when it comes to science (1) or unreasonably dogmatic (2) in assessing the evidence. On the contrary, many of them are bright individuals that excel in their own fields. Often, they are widely read in philosophical and religious topics and willing to adjust to evidence and experience in search of the truth (i.e. not blinded by religious convictions). They are high school and college graduates who are familiar with the principles of Earth science. Just familiar enough, in fact, to understand models of Earth history set forth by AiG and others and deem them plausible.
And that’s it. That is all that’s needed to sustain the life and growth of YEC. Imagine for a moment that you are called as a juror in case that involves two expert witnesses, discussing a field with which you are only familiar on a basic level. Both witnesses are working hard to convince you that the evidence supports their respective attorney’s case. However, in the course of the trial, you realize that one of the witnesses has never studied the opposing point of view. He merely dismisses the interpretation as absurd, using technical jargon in a condescending fashion, and accuses the other witness of being biased by a view (political, philosophical, religious) that you also hold. On the other hand, the second witness speaks calmly and reasonably, conveying a sincere, lovable personality, while using terms that make you feel like a colleague in his discipline. He does this by making the evidence sensible in light of your basic understanding of the subject. At this point, it doesn’t matter so much whether he is right. The point is, his case is solid as far as you are able to judge, and the truth will not affect the way you conduct your own profession once the trial is over.
As a scientist, I am fascinated by the world and the research that elucidates it for us. As a Christian, I believe that truth matters and it is meant to be shared. These are my motivations in writing this blog, and I pray I can remain committed to both. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts, and I do hope you are blessed by them, whatever your point of view may be.