A survey for those of religious faith

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This is inspired by an exchange I had today with another blogger as well as the CARM survey that I filled out awhile back. These are three questions that I would ask of any fundamentalist or young earth creationist. They are as follows:

1. According to a 2014 Pew poll, 64% of Americans don’t believe in Darwinian evolution.

I decided to look at this through a different lens, and I have a statistic that I would like to throw into the mix here. According to a National Geographic survey, 77% of all Americans “believe there are signs that aliens have visited Earth.” That would seem to suggest that 77% of Americans believe aliens exist. If the Pew poll was accurate, shouldn’t that number be a lot closer to 36%? Because if you do not believe in Darwinian evolution, then either a) aliens shouldn’t exist, b) life comes about through neither God nor evolution, or c) God also created aliens. The latter two options are not supported by young earth creationists like Ken Ham. So if we combine the two statistics, we’re left with 13% of Americans that believe that God created aliens or some other variation on the two popular explanations for how life came to exist. 

I would argue that these two statistics are reflective of the fact that it isn’t as simple as either “you believe in Darwinian evolution or you believe that God created man as outlined in x religious document.” To me, these two statistics would suggest that religious/spiritual and scientific beliefs lie on a wider spectrum.

How would you, as a person who interprets scripture literally, explain these two statistics?

2. Let’s talk about cosmic expansion or inflation. In this sense I’m not talking about inflationary theory–that everything suddenly expanded at a distant point in the past but after the big bang occurred. In this sense, I’m talking about the fact that things in the universe are moving away from each other.

This is observable by anyone. You can look into a telescope and observe the red/blue shifts that denote movement. The Doppler effect has been scientifically demonstrated to accurately explain such shifts in relation to movement. Again, we can verify this in a lab.

This is my question to fundamentalists: if x religious text is a literal document–it historically and scientifically represents an accurate account of how the universe came to be and why it is the way we see it (this last part is particularly important)–can you provide evidence in scripture that supports the expanding universe that we see?

3. This last question deals with evolution. A common criticism leveled at scientists who support evolution is that it has never been observed. But just because something has never been observed does not mean it can’t happen. Saying something did not happen is NOT the same thing as saying something can’t or won’t happen.

So consider the following. Organisms can physically change in response to their environments. We can and have observed this happening: appendages/sensors/etc. can change length, color patterns and the like can change, etc. While this is not in and of itself “proof” that evolution is a real process in nature from the standpoint of a young earth creationist or other fundamentalist, in that light it WOULD be proof that God created the creatures on the earth so that they may physically change in accordance with a change in their environment.

If this is true or at least possible, is it not then possible that God designed the creatures on the earth to be able to change to such an extent that they become a “new” creature if necessitated by future environmental changes?

I honestly am curious to know how religious fundamentalists would answer these questions. This is of course open to anyone to answer, regardless of faith, background, or scientific training. Feel free to answer as many of the questions as you wish. Thank you for your participation!

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11 thoughts on “A survey for those of religious faith

  1. YEC here – I’ll take a shot at answering all three questions:
    1) There are times when I don’t like calling myself a YEC because, to be honest, there are a lot of people out there who are YEC more out of a lack of understanding of science than genuine conviction that the science is better explained by a young earth than an old one. Sadly, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if there are YECs who believe in aliens who have just never stopped to think about the issues those things pose when taken together. That being said, there are movements such as Intelligent Design which reject Darwinian evolution but are not attached to any faith based tradition; they look at the evidence and say “Darwinian evolution can’t explain this; life really looks as though it was designed”, and then proceed to wrestle with how that fits into a materialistic worldview. One solution is panspermia, which requires that life on Earth did not originate here; in such a view, the rejection of Darwinian evolution is actually predicated on life outside of Earth existing. So, you may find that a proportion of the overlap between the “aliens exist” group and the “Darwinian evolution is wrong” group could come from movements such as Intelligent Design.

    As an aside, theologians have, at various points throughout history, pondered whether life could exist on other planets and fit with the Bible. It’s a rather interesting discussion from a purely academic point of view. The reason I mention it is that Christian theology doesn’t explicit exclude the possibility of aliens, although they’re generally considered to be highly unlikely in YEC circles.

    2) There are some interpretive issues worth bringing up here. As with my answer to the first question, I have to preface this by saying that there are YECs who really don’t know what they’re talking about (then again, that’s not really unique to any group; I’ve met atheists who “know” the theory of evolution is true, but have no abilty whatsoever to defend that position). Having given that disclaimer, if you talk to a YEC who does know what they’re talking about, there are two nuances to the position that you seem to be missing. Firstly, we don’t read the entire Bible “literally”; we attempt to read everything in the Bible within the appropriate genre framework for the text that we are reading. If we are reading a section of the Bible that is written as history, we interpret it as describing actual historical events. If we are reading a section of the Bible that is written as poetry, we anticipate the use of metaphor and figurative language. We all know, even within our every day experience, that different genres need to be read different ways. Fairy tales shouldn’t be read as science textbooks; newspaper articles shouldn’t be read as fiction (well, that one is perhaps debatable at times, haha…). There is debate among Biblical scholars as to the genre of the early chapters of Genesis. Some of the textual markers seem to indicate that it is giving a historical account. It is definitely written in poetic form, but history can definitely be written poetically (doing so makes it far easier to remember and recite in an oral culture). Some other genre markers could suggest that it fits better in the Ancient Near East creation myth genre. I personally find most persuasive the argument that it is history written poetically, and therefore I read it the way I would read a history book.

    The reason why it is important to make this distinction is that there is a big difference between a history book and a science book. If I read a historical account of an economic boom that follows the constuction of a canal linking vital sea routes, that’s sufficient detail for a history book. It’s told me nothing about how the canal works, how it was designed or how it was constructed; all I’m told is that there was a canal. A scientist, armed with that history book, may then be able to examine the site and explain those scientific details, but the historian doesn’t really care. I read Genesis as history, not as science. God created in six days, approximately 6000 years ago; several generations down the track, there was a worldwide flood. Those are historical events, but they’re tremendously devoid of scientific detail. If you go to an organisation like Creation Ministries (once upon a time they were the same organisation as Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis; thankfully, that is no longer the case and, unlike AiG, CM actually do a really good job of arguing the scientific case for a young earth), you’ll find plenty of material regarding how what we observe today actually fits with the historical events described in the Bible. I could summarise it here, but I probably won’t do it justice – their website http://www.creation.com, so check it out of you’re interested.

    3) No YEC who knows their stuff denies that creatures “evolve”, in the the sense that natural selection filters out organisms from a group that aren’t as well suited for their environment and leaves the ones that are best suited. The YEC argument is that this is a primarily destructive process; the genetic information is already there, and natural selection causes the information that causes a successful phenotype to be preserved while information that causes an inferior phenotype is lost. Mutation is a similar process; mutations distort something that is functional; sometimes this results in a beneficial effect on the phenotype, but alongside those benefits comes the cost of the damage to the genotype (e.g. sickle cell syndrome). The YEC position is then that God created a number of progenitor species with high genetic diversity that, over time, became a number of species via natural selection. Each of the descended species is more specialised for its environment than the progenitor species. However, because no process adds more information, species don’t develop new components that they didn’t have before; a bird remains, fundamentally, a bird, for example. Once again, Creation Ministries do a better job than I can of explaining this; they have a ridiculous amount of material on their site, and I can almost guarantee you can find an answer there (and, if you can’t find anything even after searching their existing material, you can send them a question and they usually reply quite promptly).

    1. Wow! Thank you for such a thorough and thoughtful response.

      Your answers were, by and large, more nuanced than answers I have received in the past to similar questions. Which I appreciate, because it goes a lot farther in terms of producing meaningful discussion.

      One follow up to the evolution question. An evolutionist would not argue that the genetic information changes (although I suppose one might–and that’s a big might–argue that in the past, DNA from bacteria and viruses “added” some additional information). What an evolutionist might argue is that the “degradation” of a trait can be beneficial, and that something might “degrade” to a point that it no longer remotely resembles the original thing.

      I would liken it to an atom. You can take a larger atom and knock electrons and other particles off through natural or artificial processes. In this case, all of the fundamental components are still there (electrons, neutrons, protons, etc)–but the element that remains is no longer the element that was, and might even have vastly different chemical properties; an entirely new element has been formed through processes that were strictly entropic or degrading.

    2. Sorry for the separate follow ups, but one final note on evolution.

      I think an evolutionist might argue that one need not need add information to change the physical structures and characteristics of an organism. One can think of DNA like Lego blocks. You can have a set number of blocks that never changes and produce a wide and vast array of objects or structures that are completely new or different from each other. You haven’t added anything. You’ve simply rearranged what’s already there to create something completely different and new. So too might one argue that natural processes put selective pressure on DNA.

      1. Replying to both of your comments in one here. I’m a big fan of meaningful discussions with those I disagree with; there’s something fun about being forced to properly examine your own way of thinking by encountering ways of thinking that differ from your own. As a Christian, I would obviously prefer to see everyone become Christian – belief in Hell sort of makes that a given – but I recognise that those who aren’t Christian generally have a reason for being so, and that in itself can be interesting to discuss.

        It is definitely true that something can, to borrow your air quotes, “degrade” to the point where it no longer resembles the original thing. The problem for evolution is that the intermediate state always needs to have, at worst, a neutral effect on reproductive success if it is to have a high chance of remaining within the gene pool (effects of inbreeding where a detrimental mutation is paired with a beneficial trait notwithstanding). This is particularly notable for accused cases of irreducable complexity (not sure whether you’ve encountered this argument before – on the off chance that you haven’t, it’s the idea that there are systems that exist in organisms that, if simplified in any way, cease to have any function). If an organism is producing a whole bunch of useless components that are very nearly, but not quite, making a useful system, it is at a notable reproductive disadvantage due to the wasted energy and material. One of the commonly referenced examples of irreducable complexity is the flagellum of a bacterium. Essentially, it operates on a molecular motor that, with a single component failure, ceases to do anything whatsoever. In order to demonstrate that it could have evolved, each of those components would have to have offset the material cost imposed on the bacterium by producing them for them not to impede reproductive success. Either they all had to have some other, independent function or, in a single generation, a mutation had to occur in every single comparable component of the previous generation as well as a mutation that allowed the bacterium to put them all together. I have no issue with the idea that mutation could, in theory, allow the genetic information that produces an arm to eventually end up producing a wing. It’s the viability of the intermediate states, and thus the reproductive success of creatures with the intermediate states, that cause me to question whether such a process would ever result in new creatures existing, or whether that genetic line would be filtered out by natural selection.

        It’s true that, once you already have DNA, evolution doesn’t necessarily need to create new information; it simply needs to reorganise what’s already there. However, there are two issues with this. Firstly, the information needs to come from somewhere in the first place. Even before I was a YEC, abiogenesis always seemed the weak point of evolutionary theory. If you can’t get life out of a pool of chemicals, it doesn’t really matter whether evolution would be able to change one species into another. At some point or another, random processes need to add information. Secondly, reorganising the bits is all well and good if you’re using Lego, because any configuration of those bits is potentially able to be built. Because of the complexity of life, most configurations will cause the organism to be unviable. The question is whether the distance between viable configurations is sufficiently small as to be bridged by random change; I don’t believe that it is.

  2. Good questions, although there are so many more that I don’t know how you just settled on 3. lol Like how did Noah gather all the animals when not every animal was indigenous to the region Noah lived? Or why do we share almost the exact same DNA as a chimpanzee if we didn’t originate from the same parent species 7 million years ago? Then more importantly, why bother with radioactivity. It is radiometric dating that has allowed us to determine the age of Earth, fossils and the like. The radioactive half-lives of various radioactive pairs show how old the Earth is. Why would God put that scientific process out there to make the Earth appear so much older? It’s one thing to test people’s faith, but isn’t all the violence and horror in the world enough of a test of faith that we don’t need to develop a scientifically reliable process, discovered through careful experimentation using the scientific method to show the age of the Earth as over 4 billion years. That seems a bit overkill as a test of faith if the young earth creationists are supposed to be right.

    1. Unfortunately I already know the popular religious answers to most of those questions. For instance, God commanded the animals to go to Noah–Noah did not have to seek out and collect them. Shared genetic material is often an argument that supporters of intelligent design use. And so forth.

      Of course each of those questions that you’ve posed is still perfectly valid. And I’m never satisfied with the religious explanations for them. So rather than try to reinvent the wheel, I thought I would take a different route this time.

      I formulated these three questions for two reasons. One, they’re questions I have never heard the religious answer before. And two, I’ve asked some of them in a hypothetical way that’s embedded within a religious context–I’ve taken the discussion to their grounds, so to speak, and “taken the science out of it.” Almost.

      If a biblical argument cannot be made or supported by biblical evidence, I feel that would go a lot farther in getting people to question whether or not their religious beliefs really, truly reflect reality. Because science certainly isn’t doing that. In some instances science even pushes people closer to faith and religious belief.

      Of course people like Jerry Coyne would probably hate me for even making this survey, and then crucify me (haha) for asking for biblical evidence. I know a lot of people feel that science and reason should stand up against faith and that’s the end of it. But I feel like that just makes people of religious faith throw up walls, and then NOTHING gets through to them.

      1. You’re definitely taking the proper tack in getting people to think about their beliefs. I have a hard time with it especially on the internet where you only have a chance to write one comment and then you tend to put the most devastating argument you can think of. As I’ve blogged about before, what I’ve learned about belief is that it works like a drug, releasing dopamine in your brain as you reinforce those neural pathways. As a result it becomes increasingly difficult (physically) for anyone to stray too far from those pathways. Thus change has to come slow and incrementally and weaker arguments often have a better chance at landing instead of the stronger arguments that science would allow one to make. As you correctly pointed out, people just throw up walls because the brain cannot accept that it might be devastatingly wrong about something they’ve believed for years and represents a large part of their world view. Because if you are devastatingly wrong about one thing, you start to doubt everything you know…and well it has to be very uncomfortable to feel that way when you think about it. And that’s why humility is such an important human trait, one that all people of faith are supposed to have and that’s “you don’t know it all” and so you may be wrong, and you may have more to learn. 🙂

    2. Are you saying you have provided evidence of any of your claims. Listen I know how radioactivity works. Please read any introductory geology textbook that describes how radiometric dating works. There are relative dating principles that geologists use. Radiometric dating is not one of them. Supercontinent? Are you talking about Pangaea. We know that existed over 200 million years ago.

      And please find me a credible, peer-reviewed source that says we only share 70% DNA with chimps.

  3. I was hoping to get to this one sooner, but life is busy.

    1: As for polls, it would be great to have all the demographic information. Different denominations will inevitably see things differently. Evangelicals are less likely to believe in aliens, ghosts or evolution than more liberal denominations. Less educated people will tend to produce different results than those better educated, and so forth.

    I have a hard time believing that 77% of all Americans believe aliens have visited earth, but I’ll accept that for the moment. And I’m not sure if there’s another option for those who don’t believe in evolution besides “aliens shouldn’t exist” and “God also created aliens”. While I don’t have enough information to reach a solid conclusion, I’d explain these statistics as follows: I’d think that many of those who don’t believe in evolution do believe that God created aliens. I’d consider that the 36% who do believe in evolution also believe that aliens exist one way or another. Then it’s not hard to imagine that 41% of those who reject evolution also believe that God created aliens. And that would leave 23% of Americans who neither believe in evolution nor aliens, which kind of does make sense to me. It’s only a minority of people who seriously consider the theological and scientific implications of evolution and the existence of aliens.

    2: I think we discussed this previously, but Psalm 104:2 and Isaiah 40:22 hint that the universe may be expanding.

    Psalm 104:2: The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent

    Isaiah 40:22: He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

    These verses suggest that God stretches or spreads out the heavens.

    3: I agree that, just because we can’t see evolution happening, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t or can’t happen. But if we have billions and trillions of different organisms on the planet, we should see evolution happening somewhere- if it’s possible. Further, if evolution is science, then it should adhere to the scientific method, which requires experimentation and observation, and be repeatable. Considering that it’s not supported by the scientific method, one must admit that evolution isn’t even a valid scientific theory.

    Creationists acknowledge that organisms change from generation to generation. That’s observable, and we call that speciation, adaptation, or natural selection. These organisms haven’t evolved into a different kind of organism. It’s one thing for an organism to produce traits that already exist within its genome- such as hair color and length- but it’s another thing to have an organism, like a dinosaur, to grow feathers when the genetic information for feathers never existed in previous generations. Therefore, believing that organisms can physically change in response to their environment (observable) is an entirely different concept than believing that those changes will result in a radically different kind of organism with unique features and traits previously absent from its ancestors (never observed). Therefore, since we’ve never observed such transformation, what compels us to accept this by faith, and why should we teach it as fact to students?

    Further, while it’s POSSIBLE that God could design creatures on earth with the ability to change to such an extent that they become a “new” creature, the point is that God didn’t do it. How do we know that? Because he told us. He told us that he created organisms to reproduce after their kind (Genesis 1). Therefore, as a Bible believing Christian, I believe what God says and find it irrelevant that God could do something that he told us he didn’t do.

    1. Thank you for the reply!

      I still have problems with the idea that “organisms reproduce after their own kind,” refers to evolution. It seems to me that what that is saying is that animals can’t breed between species, which has nothing to do with evolution. “Organisms reproduce after their kind,” to me says that a fish can’t reproduce with a bird, not that natural selection and mutation can’t produce change in an organism.

      Thank for the scripture that you provided. As usual, your insight and information is greatly appreciated!

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