Are any scientists persuaded by science alone to accept a young Earth?

John Ankerberg explains what happened when he asked the two leading proponents of young Earth creationism, John Morris and Duane Gish, whether any prominent scientists had ever been convinced by science alone to accept a young Earth. (H/T TQA)

Excerpt:

John Morris says no:

When I was arguing for the young earth view in the early years of our television ministry, I remember when my friend Dr. John Morris, the President of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and one of the world’s largest young earth organizations, was being interviewed on KKLA radio in Los Angeles. He was asked, “Had he or any of his associates ever met or heard of a scientist who became persuaded that the universe or earth is only thousands of years old, based on scientific evidence without a reference to a particular interpretation of the Bible?” Morris’ answer was no, he had not.

Duane Gish says no:

Later, Duane Gish, also of ICR, was asked the same question. I was interested in his answer as I had invited Dr. Gish to be my guest in the very first debate I held on science and the Bible. I had arranged for him to debate Dr. Vincent Sarich, who was the Chairman of the Department of Anthropology at Berkeley and an evolutionist. When Dr. Gish was asked if he knew of any scientist who had ever been persuaded by the scientific evidence that the universe or the earth was 6,000 years old, he also said no.

I think that this is telling. Young Earth creationism is very much an inward-focused activity.

Take a look at the locations for upcoming events for Answers in Genesis:

  • First Baptist Church Kimberling City
  • Macedonia Baptist Church
  • Cornerstone Church
  • Antioch 1611 Baptist Church
  • First Baptist Church
  • Grace Community Church
  • Colonial Baptist Church
  • Evangelical Free Church of Bay City

And the Institute for Creation Research:

  • Glenview Baptist Church
  • Lakeside Baptist Church
  • First Baptist Church
  • Ridgeview Church

Contrast that with the recent Reasonable Faith UK tour, which features public debates and lectures at the top universities in the UK, against the top scientists and philosophers in the UK.

Here are some of those events:

Monday 17th October 2011
7.30pm “Does God Exist?
Public Debate with Stephen Law, lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, London and Editor of the magazine of the Royal Institute of Philosophy THINK. Arranged by Premier Radio.
Westminster Central Hall, Storeys Gate, London, SW1H 9NH

Tuesday 18th October 2011
12.45pm Student Lecture “The Evidence for God” 
Pippard Lecture Theatre (Sherfield Building), Imperial College London (South Kensington Campus), Exhibition Road, London SW7 2AZ

Wednesday 19th October 2011
7.30pm Public lecture “The Origins of the Universe – has Hawking eliminated God?” on Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design followed by a panel response
William Lane Craig will discuss the issues arising from his presentation with Revd Dr Rodney Holder, physicist with the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge.
St. Andrew the Great, Cambridge

Thursday 20th October 2011
7.30pm Debate at the Cambridge Union: “This House Believes that God is not a Delusion”
Proposing the motion: William Lane Craig and Peter S. Williams
Opposing the motion: Arif Ahmed and Andrew Copson
The Cambridge Union, Cambridge

Friday 21st October 2011
7.30pm “Does God Exist?
Debate with Professor Peter Millican, Gilbert Ryle Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford University
The Great Hall, Birmingham University, Edgbaston, B15 2TT

Tuesday 25th October 2011
7.30pm Lecture “Is God a Delusion?” A Critique of Dawkins’ The God Delusion
[or a debate with Richard Dawkins if he should accept the invitation]
Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3AZ

Wednesday 26th October 2011
7.30pm “Does God Exist?
Debate with Dr Peter Atkins, former Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University
University Place Lecture Theatre, Manchester University, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL

I think that Christians need to reflect on what arguments can actually be sustained in public with good science at the highest levels, and which arguments are not sustainable in public. I don’t mind if someone is a young Earth person, but they should have a realistic view of how defensible that position is scientifically.

UPDATE: J.W. Wartick evaluates common arguments for young Earth creationism here.

UPDATE: An excellent debate, with summary, on the age of the Earth, featuring Jason Lisle and Hugh Ross.

14 thoughts on “Are any scientists persuaded by science alone to accept a young Earth?”

  1. Query: When you come across scientific evidence that counters your biblical view, what do you do? Do you discard theology in favor of good science or is “good science” in question when it runs counter to clear Scripture? Just a question — a general question (not necessarily about age-of-the-earth notions).

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      1. I would tend to agree, but we still need to be aware that we are finite beings dealing with fragmentary evidences providing an incomplete picture that needs to be fairly and honestly interpreted without a gung-ho rush to interpret said evidences in one’s own favor. Whether it’s the fields of ‘science’ or biblical studies (cultural backgrounds, archaeology, linguistics, text-critical finds, etc.) progress is slowly made and views refined.

        We may believe as a matter of faith that there will be no *ultimate* discrepancy between science properly interpreted and the Word of God properly interpreted (I agree !!), but fallible (and biased) human beings can and do make erroneous judgments in regards to evidences (scientific and biblical), and we need to tread carefully.

        ISTM, when some miracle (e.g. Jesus turning water into wine) is related in the Bible, it may be accepted by most/all evangelicals at face value (properly interpreted according to standard methods, of course). But if another passage says something that modern ‘science’ claims to have a different — and more ‘authoritative’ — explanation for (Creation, the Flood, etc.), Christians will split: some accepting the authority of the Text and waiting to see if the progress of science changes things (as it has in the past); and others starting with science as fully authoritative and final, and consequently seeking an alternate interpretation for the biblical account.

        Now, certainly, at any point of discrepancy, it’s good to look at both/all sides and see what legitimate changes may be made to the pros and cons of each viewpoint in an effort to find reasonable resolution (i.e. non-contradiction) between the Bible and science. (And this includes looking at heretofore unconsidered views that may be perfectly legitimate Biblical interpretations. E.g. there may be more nuanced interpretations of Creation week than simply an ‘old earth’ vs. ‘young earth’ conflict.) And humility and open-mindedness are essential.

        Still, I must admit that I really don’t understand the view (or practice) of some evangelicals of taking admittedly progressive and incomplete scientific evidence/’knowledge’ and setting it up as, for all practical purposes, a final authority over the Word of God, such that their interpretation of the Biblical passages becomes dependent on what science already claims to know is true. (“Hmmm…. Was it a global or local Flood ? Wait… Let me see what science, in its vaunted superiority, has definitively and unalterably determined Earth’s geophysical history to be so I know what to look for in Genesis and how to reinterpret inconvenient passages.”) In fact, sometimes, in my more facetious moments, I’m surprised that people like Ross don’t simply reject things like Jesus’ miraculous change of water into wine on the basis that ‘science’ hasn’t declared such to be possible yet. When secular science re-create the event, then they will declare that it’s alright if God does/did it. (But then, of course, it won’t be necessary to have it be a miracle, since ‘science’ will tell us how it was *really* done.)

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          1. (I hope HTML tags work or I’m in deep doo-doo.)

            Hi, WK

            Yes, thank you, I know about that debate but have yet to listen to it. (It’s on my to-do list.)

            But, FWIW, I already know I’m in quite disagreement with Ross’ day-age approach to Genesis 1. In fact, it was Ross’ own tape series on Genesis 1 (listened to many years ago) that provided some key points that, IMO, refuted his own day-age viewpoint !

            And, lest one think that the only debate out there on this matter is “old universe/old earth/day-age” Creationism vs. “young universe/young earth/literal day” Creationism, one should realize that there are also “old earthers” who decidedly reject the day-age interpretation (e.g. Robert C. Newman who accepts the “literal day separated by ages” interpretation). So the choice is not so cut-and-dried. One can accept ‘old earth’-ism without accepting the day interpretation of Ross, et. al.

            In any case, though I’m personally definitely against the day-age theory (a literary and linguistic question, not a scientific one), the jury is still out for me regarding age and some other questions.

            Edit:

            Another point I just decided to offer at the last minute here (though it took me over an hour to type it up !). My apologies for its length:

            Suppose we were to get in our silver DeLoreans and travel back to 1st C Israel. Cana, to be specific. And (continuing with the water-to-wine example I’ve already used in the above post…) we were to find that someone who attended the wedding at Cana was able to smuggle some of that miraculous wine out for us, and we took it down to Cana Labs, Inc. for our chemist friend to examine for us. (And then we may even report our findings to Ross & Co.)

            What do you suppose she (an open-minded skeptic who, like Ross and others, won’t accept a biblical claim that present scientific studies don’t confirm) would find when subjecting the ‘wine’ to her tests ?

            Now, I’m no scientist myself, so I simply don’t know what kinds of tests would be run or what the results would have been. But ISTM that there are only a few possibilities:

            1) She would see the molecular structure of wine and only wine under her microscope. Not having witnessed the so-called ‘miracle,’ she would undoubtedly say, “Science [or at least her limited knowledge and application of it] has shown this to be only wine. I see no miraculous liquid here, no reason to say it came directly from water by miracle. You must be mistaken.” So, our miracle-claim will simply be re-interpreted by others (who let science rule) to fit the superior scientific ‘evidence,’ as liberal commentator Wm. Barclay re-interpreted the feeding of the 5000 miracle as a miracle, not of provision by God (bread and fish ‘recently made’, or “young” bread and fish, if you prefer), but of generosity, people sharing their provisions.

            2) She would find the molecular structure of water and only water and be amazed that it looked and tasted like wine ! But we know Ross, et. al. wouldn’t like to hear that, since they don’t like the “appearance of age” approach to Genesis 1. So Ross at least wouldn’t be willing to accept the chemist’s observations (of its wine-taste) over the actual science involved because an appearance of wine that was actually just water (like an appearance of an old earth recently created) would make God deceptive (as I’ve heard Ross say).

            3) She would see wine with a mixture of water. But, she would ask, where did the wine come from and how does it have the taste of good wine ? She would likely assume someone just poured wine into a water pot. And, from Ross’ perspective, this way would again make God ‘deceptive’ in providing a ‘taste’ miracle when the science wouldn’t account for it.

            4) She would see some weird, new molecular combination of water and wine. This, of course, might be fine for her and her lab, but it still wouldn’t account scientifically for how it got here, nor why this unique molecular configuration (loaded with more water than normal wine) still tasted like wine — and the best (i.e. not watered-down) wine at that !

            There may be other possibilities. I don’t have the time (or intelligence) to come up with them. (If there are more I’m delighted to hear them, since I’m truly trying to understand these things.) But they would probably entail suggestions about sub-atomic particles or some such thing, which, of course, may, in fact, be part of the ‘physical’ explanation, but they would still require a Divine Agent/Agency causing the event, and THAT could not be detected scientifically — not even so soon after the event as our chemist friend is looking at things.

            ISTM that whatever may have been the true ‘nature’ and properties of the miraculously created wine, ‘science’ — even advanced science back then — isn’t going to help a lot in its investigation:

            If ‘science’ says it’s wine, then how do we prove scientifically that it came, not through a long process of natural fermentation of crushed grapes, but by supernatural change directly from water ? Where did all the ‘grape DNA’ come from ?

            If, OTOH, ‘science’ says it’s water, then how does it look & taste like wine ? “Appearance of Wine” deception on God’s part ?

            If ‘science’ says it’s water & wine of a new ‘kind’ (or even just water & wine mixed), ‘science’ still won’t offer a reasonable explanation of how the wine and its combination with water came about. Since scientists ‘know’ things like that just don’t happen, they’d wait til some scientific explanation came along to account for what really happened. Miracle denied.

            To me, the more that ‘science’ would determine the substance to be exactly what the wedding guests tasted it to be (i.e. GOOD wine), the more it would look like a miracle that was designed to be fully integrated into the physical order of things without necessarily being ‘backwardsly’ detectable as such. IOW, ‘science’ — and certainly ‘science’ in the 1st C — couldn’t prove to the Cana skeptic that the wine came directly from water. But that’s what I would accept in direct contrast to what the Cana scientists would tell me must be the case. I wouldn’t care how many ‘respectable’ scientists produced peer-reviewed papers on the ‘non-miraculous’ nature/properties of the wine they examined. (In any case, it’s more the miraculous origin of the wine, not necessarily its properties. Perhaps also with the universe itself ?)

            And why MUST God leave traces for all the scientifically-minded to discover anyway ? Since Jesus’ purpose was to create wine for the wedding, not to provide a fun project for Cana research scientists, he can’t be accused of ‘deceiving’ the chemist just because she assumes that the item in question can’t possibly be more recent than (agricultural) science determines it must be, (according to the way scientists know things normally happen, that is).

            Maybe later discoveries would allow our friend to delve ‘deeper’ into the wine’s properties where she might find something that would support our claim of its miraculous origin. But wouldn’t we be left mostly with the above options ? And couldn’t we can say this now about ‘science’ when it says something it feels is decidedly in opposition to Biblical claim ? (Old earth, young earth; old Adam, young Adam, local flood, global flood, etc.) Has science really in all cases (geophysics, astrophysics, archaeology) given its “final answer” ?

            So, in general, all of this makes me wonder just how much I am to hand over to science. Must I allow present scientific ‘conclusions’ to trump an interpretation of a biblical passage which I believe is more responsibly derived (despite dissenting opinions) ? I do believe that science is our best resource (apart from first-hand testimony of a Divine Eyewitness whose testimony I hold trustworthy) for finding out things about the physical world and universe. But I’m not sure I would trust scienists‘ conclusions about everything. If — IF — the choice comes down to them or God, I know whose side I’m landing on. ;-)

            [Btw, in some of my remarks above I’m not necessarily agreeing with the ‘appearance of age’ interpretation, even though I was tempted to suggest that the wine created was not only ‘best’ by not being watered down and being free of impurities, but also by being/tasting ‘old’ compared to new/young wine, in which case we’d have a biblical example of Jesus/God creating something recently that had an appearance of age. ;-) No, in fact, I was simply using that language to make a point: any work of creation or miracle-working power seems to me to be either a bringing into existence of that which wasn’t there before (water to wine) or a restructuring, reassembling, reordering of something(s) already existing (healings, stilling the storm, etc.). And some ‘Power’ is active in each case that isn’t necessarily going to be found when investigating scientifically, precisely because it has its ultimate source in Divine, and, therefore, metaphysical/transcendent, Agency. )

            Here endeth this rambling mind-numbing trip into my numb mind. Sorry for taking up so much space. :-)

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  2. Of course no scientist is persuaded to accept the young earth view from science alone. Likewise, no one is persuaded of the old earth view from science alone. The old earth view is dependent on assumptions, such as uniformitarianism, which cannot be proven scientifically.

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    1. Contemporary geology is not uniformitarianist. Rather, it takes aspects of both uniformitarian and catastrophist accounts in order to make a complete picture of reality. By going to the opposite extreme of “catastrophism explains everything,” young earth creationism has committed the very error they accuse others of: adhering to a false methodology.

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  3. Wintery, you seem to be saying that since no prominent scientists have been persuaded that the earth is young based only on scientific evidence, we should be careful of promoting the YEC position in the public square (as it is not very scientifically defensible). While you have a good point – that we should be careful of what stands we take to make sure they are defensible – you seem to be going about this question of defensibility in the wrong way.

    There are few problems with your logic. First of all, is it in fact true that no scientists have been persuaded of the YEC position by scientific evidence alone? The fact that John Morris and Duane Gish knew of no one who had is not evidence that there is no such person(s).

    Second, this appears to be a slight to those of us who believed in the YEC position before learning the science that supports it. The implication is that we couldn’t have been unbiased about the science. We must have allowed our interpretation of the Bible to cloud our view of science. We are just tenaciously holding on to our religious viewpoint and ignoring scientific evidence. While there are plenty of people who hold the YEC position only because of their interpretation of the Bible, I don’t think that is the case for many of us. There are many scientists (including myself) and informed lay people who have sincerely looked at the evidence and are convinced by the scientific evidence that the earth is young. While we also believe that this is what the Bible teaches, that does negate our scientific opinion that the earth is young.

    Thirdly, how any person comes to believe the YEC position is irrelevant to whether or not the YEC viewpoint is defensible scientifically. The question is how defensible the YEC position is, and that depends on the scientific evidence for it, not the background of its supporters. There are many scientific evidences for a young earth (whole books have been devoted to them), and thus the YEC position is defensible in the public square.

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  4. Correction: While we also believe that this is what the Bible teaches, that does NOT negate our scientific opinion that the earth is young.

    As an example of evidence for a young earth, I will point out the results of the RATE project (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth). This project involved multiple scientists in several fields (notably geology and physics) that examined the question of radiometric dating and how it relates to the age of the earth. The consensus of the researchers, after examining multiple evidences, was that millions of years worth of radioactive decay had occurred…but that there was good scientific evidence that it had not actually taken millions of years. In other words, there has been, at some point in the past, a period of rapid decay (radioactive decay happening at a much faster rate than it does currently).

    One particularly telling piece of evidence was seen when examining zircon crystal specimens. Zircon normally excludes lead when forming crystals, yet often incorporates uranium. Thus, one can determine the amount of radioactive decay that has occurred in the crystal by determining the amount of lead daughter product. A by-product of the radioactive decay of uranium is helium. However, helium diffuses out of zircon crystals at a faster rate than it is made by radioactive decay at today’s rates. Thus, one would expect that zircon crystals that formed millions of years ago would have lots of lead and no helium (due to its diffusion out of the crystal). What the researchers thought they would find if the earth is young is a low level of lead in the crystals (meaning that not much decay had occurred). However, what they found surprised them. The zircons contained lots of lead AND lots of helium. Thus, lots of decay had happened, but it had happened at a fast enough rate that the helium had been able to build up in the zircon. The conclusion of accelerated decay was suggested as a way to reconcile the differing chronometers provided by this (and other) evidence.

    This is just one example of evidence for a young earth. There are some evidences that, on first glance, appear to support an old earth, but on further investigation support a young earth. Radioactive decay is one of these.

    For more information on the RATE project, the results are published in book form as Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth (Volumes I and II) and they are available at Amazon.

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  5. WK, I would not expect any scientist to be persuaded that the earth is young by the science alone…even if it were young.

    This is not an argument for a young earth, but I’m not sure how valid the question is, especially if you believe that anything was created by God ex nihilo. In such a case, how old would science say it is?

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  6. Why should we care about ‘respectability’? Truth should be our overarching concern. It doesn’t matter whether we are ridiculed for holding to ‘young Earth’ creationism, whether materialist scientists sneer at us. They’ll never be convinced, anyway.

    It may be, that if one is a materialist, one can’t help but see the world as ‘old’, because it appears so. However, Adam and Eve appeared as full-grown adults when they arrived on this earth – unlike all other humans since – and if we can wrap our heads around that, we can accept the idea of a brand-new-world that looks ‘already old’, so to speak. It’s the same thing. Accordingly, one shouldn’t expect materialists to buy in, because their worldview automatically rejects such explanations, trying to reason purely from the empirical evidence, rather than accepting the authority of Scripture.

    Let us eschew trying to convince the world through reason alone, allowing them to set the terms of the discussion; let us instead boldly proclaim the Gospel, and ignore the detractors.

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  7. Hi Wintery
    Thanks for maintaining an interesting blog which delves into issues on which we share common interest. I have noted your skepticism regarding YEC. I am a former atheist with a longtime layman’s interest in science – autodidactic polymath – and while I lack formal education I am proficient in the methods of science and logic.
    When I entered the church I struggled with the interpretation of Genesis and how to reconcile it with “good science.” As you say, the book of science and the book of revelation, when properly interpreted, should agree. After a decade of study, study which deliberately avoided YEC arguments, I had not found a coherent concurrence of “good science” and Biblical history – every effort to harmonize the two eventually bent one out of shape to accomodate the other.
    Fortunately, the good efforts of the ID community had undermined my erstwhile confidence in the infallability of “good science” allowing me to confront some of my most deeply held prejudices (a daunting experience).
    Around this time I was asked by a friend to read and review a YEC book he had received in the mail, and almost refused, but out of consideration for my friend, I did read the book. It was less about science than it was about prejudice, why we won’t be convinced by science (or reason) alone. Even now, having learned how tentative and specualtive so-called “good science” really is I was disturbed and conflicted by the thought of accepting Genesis are a relatively accurate account of history.
    I will say that I still have some difficulty with literalism and am aware of the difficulties it presents given the hypotheses of “good science.” However, many of the best attested scientific hypotheses assert an atheistic universe and I am convinced of both the necessity for, and the existence of, God so hypotheses which deny God must be mistaken. Even so, they present some sound arguments against the literalism of Genesis which YEC has not yet adequately answered.
    Given a choice between the speculative hypotheses of “good science” and the necessary existence of God I have determined that I should (tentatively) accept and confess the historiticity of Genesis rather than try to reshape it into the image professed by atheistic science.
    As G. K. Chesterton noted, science has admittedly gotten everything wrong and rewritten every theory but we are supposed to trust them because only science can give us truth. I disagree, only God can give us truth, and if science disagrees with God’s revelation then the error is more likely to reside in scince than revelation.

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