Jan 03 2013

Created History

Creationists are an endless source of logical fallacies and pseudoscience. There are several reasons for this – creationism is institutionalized motivated reasoning, they have had over a century to make up fallacious arguments, and evolutionary theory is complex and multifarious so there are many opportunities for distortion and error.

For this reason creationism is an excellent foil for learning critical thinking skills. But it is also challenging, because effectively countering creationist arguments often requires a thorough and accurate understanding of evolutionary theory, geology, paleontology, genetics, and even astronomy and physics, in addition to familiarity with creationist arguments themselves. Often the errors in logic and distortion of scientific facts are subtle or a few layers deep, and having only a superficial understanding of the arguments can get even scientists into trouble. This is partly why the infamous Duane Gish was so “successful” debating evolutionary scientists in public – they knew the science but they did not have a mastery over creationist nonsense.

A recent example of this, in my opinion, comes from debate.org. A debate was started by someone wishing to defend evolutionary theory who wished to focus on one issue (it’s always a good idea to keep any such debates as focused as possible). His position is this:

This is a debate that can take many forms and include many arguments, but I will simply make one observation that I think immediately decides the debate:

The fundamentalist idea that the universe is only a few thousand years old must also come with a denial of the known, immense distance between other galaxies and our own. If the cosmos were only a few thousand years old, and the speed of light is accepted as known, then we would have no way of seeing these very distant galaxies, the light from which having to had traveled billions of years to make them visible to us.”

This position is, of course, absolutely correct. Light had to travel for billions of years to reach the earth – therefore the universe must be billions of years old. From a scientific point of view there is no debate here. But, of course, creationists have heard this argument before and they have a response. I don’t think the person defending the above statement adequately dealt with their known response either in the original statement or in rebuttal. Here it is:

“It’s really not that hard to answer those questions no matter what understanding you come from. God of course created them full grown to start with. Adam did not have to wait for the trees to grow old enough to bear fruit from a seedling start. God did not create trees as seeds in the ground, and God according to Genesis did not create an egg for the first chicken to hatch from. The Starting place of growth of all creation is clearly full grown adulthood.

The light-year travel time is clearly by the same extension created already reaching the earth. Basically at the same extension that God created all the matter and energy and photons in the star light-years away, he also simultaneously created every photon from its rays traveling to earth.”

God, creationists say, created the light already on its way to the earth. The defender of evolution in this debate tried to deal with this by saying that the parameters of the debate were science and therefore any argument about God or the bible is outside those parameters, but that is a tangential way to argue the point, and the original reference to “the fundamentalist idea,” it can be argued, opens the door to fundamentalist arguments.

It is better, in my opinion, to address the many problems with this line of argument head on. The main problem with the creationist defense is that it is non-falsifiable (a point which is eventually made in the debate). It is the equivalent of saying, “it’s magic,” or “and then a miracle happens.” These statements are indeed not allowed in science, because they are incompatible with scientific methods and logic. If you can wave a magic wand and fix any apparent contradiction or disconfirming evidence, then you are not doing science.

From a purely logical point of view it also makes for a closed belief system, immune to refutation.

The problem is not that creationists cannot accommodate their beliefs to the evidence, the problem is that they cannot do so without invoking magic or miracles – the unlimited power of God.

There is another more embarrassing problem for the creationist position (to clarify, in this article I am referring to young earth creationists) – not more fatal, but more silly. The creationist in this debate, as with creationists generally,  is assuming that the only problem with the speed of light and cosmic distances is that of light reaching the earth from distant objects. There is a much greater problem, however – light reaching the earth from distant events. Those objects (galaxies, in this example) are not static. They have a history.

Let us consider, for example, supernovae. These are events that are occurring all over the universe, on average about once per galaxy per century. Let’s say God created a star in the Andromeda galaxy 6,000 years ago. The star was created mature, near the end of its life (for the sake of argument, let’s grant creationists that premise), and so it quickly goes supernova. The light from that event would still take about 2 million years to reach the earth. The only way we can see a supernova in Andromeda is if that event took place 2 million years ago.

If creationists are now going to rescue their concept of a young universe with the argument of created history they have a serious logical problem on their hands. This would mean that God, for some reason, not only created light from existing stars all along its path to the earth, but imbued that light with a fake history of that star, including all the things that would have happened to that light if it actually had been traveling along that path for millions or billions of years. This includes being bent by gravity and absorbed in gas clouds.

God also must have created streams of light from fake stars that never existed, to create the illusion that such a star did exist but went supernova millions or billions of years ago.

In other words – the analogy to creating mature trees or animals does not hold. God must have not only created a “mature” universe with light already traveled to some arbitrary distance, but he also created an entire fake history of the universe, including events that never actually took place.

This is why this creationist argument has been often mocked by saying that God could just have easily created the universe 5 minutes ago, but imbued the universe with a fake history, including all your own memories, and a history of people that never actually existed. There is no fundamental difference between saying God created the earth 6,000 years ago with a fake history of billions of years, or 5 minutes ago with a fake history of billions of years.

This brings us back to the closed irrefutable belief system. The creationist argument leads unavoidably to the conclusion that God created a universe that looks exactly, in every detail, as if it is 13.75 billion years old with a natural history and evolution. When scientists investigate that universe, that is what they will find. By creationist’s own argument, then, the scientific answer to the question of the age of the universe is 13.75 billion years, and the answer to the question of how life came to its current form is organic evolution. The evidence (fabricated by God or not) leads unavoidably to these conclusions.

Creationists must believe, based upon faith alone, that the world is not really the way it appears, but was recently created by an unfathomable God to create the illusion of history. They can now waste their time wondering why God would do that.

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