Creation vs. Evolution: Paradigms

Until last year, I was a Christian who could happily reconcile my faith with evolution. It was inconceivable to me that evolution could be wrong. After all, nearly all scientists state that it is a fact. I am an educated person - not a scientist, but aware of the main lines of evidence for evolution.

Eventually, a friend explained how problematic evolution is to the Christian faith. His arguments concerned animal death before the Fall, and the historical Adam. At first I brushed it off, as I had an answer to his theological objections. I was well versed in evolutionary creation. But when I thought deeper on these issues, I became convinced that the Scripture teaches a recent creation and that evolution cannot be true.

I was still wary about the scientific evidence, since evolution seemed so ironclad to me. But then I realized something - and this is the main point of my post. Nobody knows what happened in the remote past. The past is, by definition, unrepeatable and unobservable. All dating methods rely on unprovable assumptions, even those favored by YECs (ocean salinity, for example). Ultimately, our paradigm - our worldview assumptions - will determine how we interpret the evidence around us. I found that creation scientists have satisfactory answers for present-day observations that seem to support evolution, like: the fossil record, homology, and radioactive dating. Most importantly, I realized that the scientists who first developed the theory of evolution (both biological evolution and modern geology) were committed naturalists. All modern scientists, except creation scientists (who presuppose the truth of Scripture) employ methodologies that exclude divine creation from the outset (methodological naturalism, uniformitarianism, etc). These methodologies, which even Christian scientists hold to, preclude them a priori from viewing the evidence we see as support for recent creation and a Global Flood. I am not suggesting there is a conspiracy. Only that scientists are fallible people too, and it is human nature to only see what we want to see. It is human nature to interpret the evidence according to one’s pre-existing worldview assumptions (or paradigm). What struck me is this: It isn’t that there is an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence for evolution / long ages. Rather, it only suffices as good evidence if one already believes in the evolutionary paradigm. Thus, the creation/evolution debate is not a scientific debate. It is a philosophical one.

What are your thoughts on this? I would love to hear what you all think. Thank you in advance, and God bless.

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Hi, David - and welcome to the forum.

Regarding the last bit above - many of the scientists who contributed to the present day understandings of an ancient earth, with many artifacts that cannot be explained by one cataclysmic, global flood, and even toward our understandings of the evolution of life itself … many of those were Christians - and even the ones that weren’t were steeped in cultural worldviews that had not been ancient in scope. In short, if it were true that scientific theories were as driven by philosophy as you suggest, then that would have precluded what seemed strange to everybody back in the 17th and 18th centuries. In other words, it was slow, evolutionary development of everything that had the philosophical uphill climb (the young-earth creationist view enjoyed a kind of default status of presumption) because nobody in those times and before had any reason to suspect otherwise.

[Added edit: As Christy correctively points out below - even this last bit is probably being deceptively charitable toward the YEC position, as they really don’t even have this in their favor as they might wish everyone to believe. My only point was to show that, in contrast to your thesis, there was virtually no “pro-evolutionary-minded” philosophy in place back in these centuries; and if science was as malleable to philosophy as you suggest, these at-that-time counter-intuitive understandings would have never prevailed without mountains of real science accruing in their favor.]

While it is true that philosophy does (I think) have a significant part to play in how we develop our scientific understanding, there is only so much elasticity. No matter what my philosophies may be, science will not accommodate me in thinking just anything. Eventually - in order to believe in a flat earth, or a geocentric universe, or … yes … even flood geology or sudden appearance of special created kinds, there is just too much special pleading - too much handwaving away of mountainous problems that are not problems for mainstream science for the former to be considered serious contenders. It isn’t that science has explained everything or doesn’t have any problems of its own. It does, to be sure - but not nearly so many as young-earth creationism has. Your initial instincts were correct that there is just too much evidence (not proof) that lines up too well with deep time and gradual development. Others here will weigh in with good details. Hopefully we can continue a good discussion. Feel free to look back through past threads over any particular topics that interest you.

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The past leaves an observable record, so it is a fallacy to claim we cannot reliably infer what happened in the past because no one was there to observe it.

This is a highly disputable claim. YECs have never successfully contested the reliability of radiometric dating. See the RATE project debacle where they were forced to admit it after spending quite a bit of money to undermine the data.

They aren’t satisfactory to a single person I know with an actual background in science. I agree they can make arguments that sound convincing to people not equipped to challenge their misuse of primary sources or their fundamental misunderstandings of things like genetics.

They were committed to methodological naturalism in science. That doesn’t mean they would assert that the natural world is all of reality or that science is capable of investigating all of reality. Regardless, the theory has been tested for a hundred years, held up remarkably well in its main ideas, and been significantly refined to account for new data and observations. 99% of scientists today, including the Christian ones who affirm there is a supernatural reality that science can’t study, accept the evolutionary model.

That’s not a denial of a Creator, that’s just playing science by the rules of the game. Science does not have the tools to investigate God. Presenting a natural explanation of something in no way entails “therefore God wasn’t involved.”

If there had been a global flood, it would have left evidence in the natural world that could be investigated using the tools of science. Based on what we know about how water and rocks work, we can make predictions about what we would likely see if a global flood had occurred in relatively recent history. None of those predicted observations pan out. Flood geology comes up with ad hoc explanations of what is seen. They have been incapable of coming up with a model that is actually predictive of what will be found. Not to mention that there are piles of evidence that explicitly disconfirm the model. That makes it a bad hypothesis. Whether or not God caused the hypothesized flood is irrelevant.

That is the Kool-Aid the creation scientists want you to drink. It’s not an accurate assessment of reality though.

No, the philosophical debate is over a Creator vs. naturalism. There is no real scientific debate over creationism vs. evolution, because science disproves creationist claims about the age of the earth, the flood, and things like rapid speciation or artificial “kinds” boundaries. Creationists know they can’t win a scientific debate, so they intentionally try to frame evolution as a worldview or a religion or a belief system. This is a disingenuous rhetorical move. The whole point of the scientific method is to remove bias that comes from the worldview or religion of the scientists. That’s why Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist scientists can all verify one another’s conclusions.

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And just wondering, have you spent any time investigating the “worldview” that birthed flood geology? Creation scientists don’t want you to know the whole movement was birthed with the visions of a Seventh Day Adventist prophetess.

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Historically, although people did not assume an ancient earth and may have presumed a global flood, they also didn’t embrace modern YEC or creation science which is an invention of the 20th century. When YEC orgs claim everyone thought like them for all of Christian history, they are being deceptive. They may have held some general ideas or Bible interpretations in common, but the specific “scientific” explanations YEC offers are recent inventions.

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If the “no death before the fall” argument is important to you, you might want to check out these resources.

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Hello DavidS,

“the creation/evolution debate is not a scientific debate. It is a philosophical one.”

Yes, that is largely fair to say. The “science” often takes a back seat to the philosophy, even while many people aren’t versed in philosophy, and diminish the role of philosophy. Notice that some people don’t want to discuss “creation/evolution”, and slip instead to “evolution/creationism”, whereas they won’t allow “evolutionism/creationism”. There’s a wide range of personal definitions out there!

“a friend explained how problematic evolution is to the Christian faith.”

I disagree with this, though. There’s little problem with either evolutionary biology or deep time for Christianity. The main problem is when the notion of “evolution” is exaggerated into an ideology known as “evolutionism”, as if “everything evolves”, society, culture, language, religion, etc. BioLogos is officially against “evolutionism”, even though its official anti-evolutionism gets very, very little attention, closer to silence on the Forum.

What level of educational degree involved with study of the age of the Earth does your YECist friend have, could you tell us, so we know what level of YECist indoctrination you might be facing? It could be that they’re a 7th Day Adventist in the Ellen G. White tradition with little training in Earth and ocean sciences or geology, in which case it would be easier to frame.

“Most importantly, I realized that the scientists who first developed the theory of evolution (both biological evolution and modern geology) were committed naturalists.”

Charles Lyell, Darwin’s mentor and friend, was not an atheist, if that’s what you mean to imply by “committed naturalist”. Note, however, the difference between “naturalist” as a profession, i.e. position or job, and “naturalist” as an ideologue normally an anti-theist, or at least non-theist. It seems you may have collapsed those two meanings.

More importantly, the first uses of the term “evolution” in English were by philosophers, who used it in a Christian context to describe the “unfolding” of God’s Creation. Were you aware of this historical usage of the term “evolution”?

So-called “methodological naturalism” is wrong-headed and hearted, I agree with you. Paul de Vries clearly got this wrong. He seems to know that now, but it’s too late; the genie is out of the bottle.

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Hi Mervin. Thank you for the reply. I appreciate your perspective.

I think this is an overly simplistic view of the emergence of evolutionary biology. By Darwin’s time, academics were already moving away from reading Genesis as history. Most were explicitly hostile to Christian faith. As you might already know, Charles Darwin was not the first person to think of evolution. The idea preceded him by at least 100 years. His own grandfather was an evolutionist. Darwin’s contribution was to propose a coherent mechanism for evolution (variation and natural selection). I think it’s noteworthy that evolution and the idea of long-ages pre-dates the modern evidence that we allegedly have for them. For example, Lyell was one of the first to suggest the Earth has a vast antiquity. But his ideas pre-date radiometric dating, which is currently proposed as the best evidence for those long ages. The same is true with Darwin. And both men hated Christianity. These seem to be philosophical commitments, masquerading as science.

I am not a flat-earther, and I am not a geo-centrist. In my opinion, one’s worldview bias does not play a significant role in questions regarding the shape of the earth, or whether the earth orbits the sun, since these things are observable. For example, I can board a spaceship and see - with my own eyes - that the earth is spherical. I cannot get into a time machine and witness the past history of life. I think we need to make a distinction between observational science and historical / origins science. These things are radically different, since what one believes about origins is greatly influenced by his/her worldview. Creationists and evolutionists deal with the same evidence and arrive at very different conclusions. That’s because science doesn’t speak for itself. It must be interpreted. For example, rocks don’t come with birth-certificates. Scientists measure the ratio of radioactive isotopes in the rock, and assign a date by assuming the initial conditions, assuming that the rate of decay hasn’t changed, and assuming a closed system. The dates they arrive at are based on these unprovable assumptions.

Hi Christy, thank you for the reply.

I agree with this statement. But there is a difference between an inference, even if it is well-supported by the evidence, and knowing something for a fact. We can’t know what happened in the past, unless we have a reliable eyewitness account.

My point is that all dating systems rely on unprovable assumptions. In the case of radiometric dating, we have to assume 3 things for it to be accurate: 1) The initial ratio of isotopes in the rock sample, 2) that radioactive decay has been constant, and 3) That there was no contamination / mixing / leakage of the sample. None of these assumptions are provable, since we are only working with the present (we cannot observe the initial conditions, the past decay rate, or prove that there was no contamination). If I am incorrect in this, please correct me.

Maybe creation scientists don’t provide satisfactory answers for you, and that’s OK. But it’s not true that creationism is only convincing to the scientifically illiterate. There are dozens of eminent PhD scientists who believe in six-day creation. You are free to disagree with their conclusions, but they are not scientifically illiterate. I am not a scientist myself, but I am a scientifically literate layperson with a bachelors in mechanical engineering.

Yes, they are committed to methodological naturalism, and this is precisely the problem. You are right in saying that it doesn’t commit one to asserting “that the natural world is all of reality” or “that science is capable of investigating all of reality”. However, methodological naturalism does commit one to saying “I can only accept natural causes for the phenomena of nature.” This is fine when it’s applied to everyday experiments in the lab. But when it is applied to questions of origins, it restricts one to a view that, somehow, nature created itself (which is evolution, in a nutshell). Methodological naturalism absolutely prohibits scientists from coming to the conclusion that God supernaturally created the world in six days, even if all the evidence pointed to such a conclusion.

Yes, there should be evidence in the natural world if such a thing happened. I’m convinced that such evidence exists for a Global Flood. Debating that evidence isn’t the point of my post here. I’m more interested in the philosophical debate going on. Ultimately, the Global Flood (if it even happened) is something that happened in the unobservable, unrepeatable past - so we cannot know whether it happened or not, unless we have a reliable eyewitness account. If one rejects the Bible, or reads the Flood story allegorically, they will inevitably explain the rock strata in other ways (no matter what the evidence). But if one reads the early chapters of Genesis historically, as I do, they will see evidence all throughout the rock layers. It’s a debate about worldviews, not the evidence itself.

If the scientific method includes methodological naturalism, then it is inherently atheistic (when applied to questions of origins). I am not opposed to methodological naturalism in everyday, observable / operational science. But when applied to origins, it leads inevitably to an atheistic worldview. This is not a fair playing field. Rather, it is excluding creationism a priori.

This is Gregory’s personal understanding of what evolutionism means. It’s not how it’s generally used.

Lots of things evolve, because evolve just means “changes over time.” Acknowledging that biological life is not the only thing that changes over time is not what is generally meant by evolutionism. Please don’t derail the conversation. What BioLogos is against is the idea that “evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God.” If evolutionism just means “accepts evolution” then the shoe fits.

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“Creationists and evolutionists deal with the same evidence and arrive at very different conclusions.”

Yes, that is fair to say. It’s apparently a terribly difficult thing for some people to admit. The hybrid ideology “theistic evolutionism” may partly explain this, though, again, “evolutionism” is rejected by BioLogos, officially. That’s where the confusion arises.

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Hi Christy, thank you for the article.

Actually, yes, I am aware of the worldview that birthed modern creation science. I am not a Seventh Day Adventist myself. And to be honest with you I find their theology utterly distasteful. I am not a fan of Ken Ham either, although I agree with his conclusions, because he is incredibly hostile. He is not a good ambassador for creationism. There are many more qualified, thoughtful, respectful creationists. But alas, they don’t have the same platform as Ham.

Having said that, I also know that accommodating Genesis with evolutionary biology is a modern idea. Contrary to what many theistic evolutionists believe, the Church Fathers were all six-day creationists (by modern classification). Even Augustine, who is often claimed to have read Genesis allegorically, believed the Earth was no older than a few thousand years. He believed in instantaneous creation, which is quite bizarre. But he wasn’t an evolutionist in any sense of the word. None of the Church Fathers were. While I despise Ellen G. White, I recognize that a blind squirrel can find a nut every once in a while. She was wrong on a lot of things, but not six-day recent creation.

For good reasons … the facts on and in the ground were showing them a different story.

I suggest this is also overly simplistic and misleading. It is true that Darwin walked away from the faith of his youth, but that had more to do with his life circumstances and the loss of his daughter than anything he was publishing about evolution. Even in his later years when he wouldn’t own such a faith, I think ‘hatred’ is an unwarranted and inaccurate word. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

Very good. And I wasn’t suggesting you were - but my point still stands. You don’t get to have it both ways. Either science can and does sometimes assert itself in contrarian fashions against prevailing worldviews (as it did against geocentric stuff back in that day), or it cannot. Science / reality is only so-malleable to our wishes and philosophies. Eventually we will be forced into growingly massive cognitive dissonance if we want to keep insisting on something in the face of accumulating evidence. Your flood geology is just one of those things.

Actually, you can. Just go to the grand canyon and look at all the non-conformities in its highly visible, exposed layers that show many discrete periods of marine environment interspersed with periods of dry land environment complete with surface erosion, caves, animal life cycles, etc. It simply isn’t true that science is limited to things that happen presently. Past events leave evidence too. Anybody who wants can see it. I have yet to hear any flood-geology interpretation that successfully explains all these layers in the grand canyon, some of which were formed by long, slow, sedimentation; separated from others that also have their own periods of slow sedimentation in a completely different time. One big flood simply can’t do that work - not to mention the mysterious work of fine sorting species in far more peculiarly precise ways than what one large flood can explain.

In the end, that dog just doesn’t hunt.

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Which, IRC it sounded an awful lot like what Milton wrote in Paradise Lost… which she happened to have on her bookshelf.

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But it was inferences related to direct observations that led people to think species changed over time, not a mission to destroy Christianity or belief in God or discredit the Bible. Attributing those kind of motives to the people who were making the observations is creationist propaganda, not history.

That’s overly simplistic and makes a causation/correlation error. “I hate Christianity” isn’t philosophy masquerading as science. “There are similarities in body plans between species and it appears fossils with less complex life forms are near the bottom” is not a philosophical statement, and you could make that observation no matter what you thought about Genesis or God.

The age of the earth is a measurement. Fossils in strata are observable. Worldview bias does not affect counting and measuring or looking at fossils.

This is a fake distinction invented by creationist propaganda that is not recognized by real scientists. All science requires inductive, deductive, and abductive reasoning. Both observational science and historical science use the same scientific method.

What one believes about origins is irrelevant to what can be measured and observed, and hypotheses that can be confirmed or disconfirmed and make further verifiable predictions.

But they do not follow the same procedures to arrive at their conclusions, and therein lies the rub. Creation scientists must fit data to their preestablished ideas of what the Bible says must be true. They often create imaginary scenarios “that could have happened” to do this. This isn’t science. Science doesn’t have preestablished conclusions that must be true, the whole endeavor is to try to disprove hypotheses.

Decay rates are established through observable laws of physics. They are reliable within their error bars. What unprovable assumptions are you talking about? That decay rates ae steady thought time? Have you error looked into attempts to get decay rates to be different? Again, look up the creationist RATE project. It failed.

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Hi Christy, thanks for the articles.

As I indicated already, I used to be a well-read theistic evolutionist. I read John Lennox’s “Six Days that Divide the World” (a polemic against creationism), I used to argue with creationists online, and I would often read articles from BioLogos, like the ones you linked to. I had “answers” to all the theological difficulties that eventually brought me to creationism. I believed Adam’s sin introduced only “spiritual death.” I also believed that nowhere in the Scriptures is animal death listed as a consequence of the Fall. But eventually, when I thought about these issues on a deeper level, I came to a crisis point. If you don’t mind, I’d like to probe a bit. I have a couple questions for you.

  1. If God created the world with billions of years of animal death and suffering, then what does this say about God’s character? Does God care about the animals? Will the New Heavens and the New Earth have animal death and suffering? If not, then why not? After all, God created the world with these things in the first place, so I struggle to see how it can be “bad” on this view.

  2. If Adam’s sin brought only “spiritual death” to mankind, why did Christ have to physically die? Why does St. Paul call death “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26)?

  3. If Adam and Eve were not our first parents, or if they were not the only people alive, then what does that say about those who weren’t descendants of Adam and Eve? Even if we reject the doctrine of Original Sin (which I recognize not all Christians accept), I still see this as problematic. One of the reasons that Christ saves us is because he is our kinsman redeemer. He is our cousin, so to speak. He took on our very nature, as part of our extended family. But if Adam and Eve were not supernaturally created as the first human pair, then there were (or still are) people not descended from Adam, and thus not kin with Christ. Do you believe that Adam was a historical person? If not, was St. Paul (and the other NT authors) wrong when he referenced him?

Maybe I misrepresented your view on these subjects. If so, please kindly correct me. I understand there are lots of views within theistic evolution on these issues. I am intrigued to hear how you respond to these questions.

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Well, it has to be, since evolutionary biology is a modern idea. Clearly nothing in the Bible “teaches” evolution, so there is absolutely no reason Christians in earlier time periods would have thought to accommodate it. Christians accommodate germ theory now too. We also know that men don’t plant seed in women to grow babies. In order to accept modern ideas of reproduction you don’t have to go back in history and find Christians who saw gametes in the Bible and always understood it that way.

This isn’t “compromise,” it’s refining our understanding of the world based on what is now known. There is good evidence that the weird passage in 1 Corinthians about women covering their hair was accommodating a first century medical belief that the hair held semen for both men and women and was part of human’s sex organs. That’s wild, but we don’t need to believe that today to accept Paul’s teaching. We contextualize the main points and harmonize them with what we know. We don’t insist women cover their heads, because we don’t associate hair with genitalia anymore.

ETA: I’m linking this summary of the Martin paper which was published in a biblical studies journal, because the paper is not publicly available and this is a good summary. The arguments are not specifically related to LDS, if that is a concern for anyone.

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With respect, saying they were not Evolutionists is neither here nor there. After all, they did not subscribe to Newtonian physics, relativity, or a Copernican understanding of the solar system. They didn’t hold to a big bang model, or believe in the existence of the Higgs-Bosen because they neither new of these scientific theories nor the evidence for them. And, even if they had the evidence, they did not have the technology nor the culture tools to interpret it correctly. How can those who lived well over 1,000 years before Charles Darwin have any notion of what he would discover?

I also feel it is incumbent on me to point out that none of the Church Fathers were Young Earth Creationist in the modern historical-grammatical hermetical sense. Not one. How could they subscribe to a interpretive model that did not exist in their time? Sure, they may have believed that the earth was created in 6-days. However, when one reads the primary sources in context one sees that they are far more concerned with the theological, spiritual, and typological interpretation of those passages than ‘creation science’. Even Basil, who is sometimes hailed as the Church Father YEC par excellence is far less concerned with the ‘plain reading of the text in context’ than your average YEC.

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Hi Gregory, thanks for the reply.

Evolution requires death, as the fuel for creative change. Personally, I find this irreconcilable with St. Paul’s statement that death is “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26), and other Scriptural testimony. Also, evolution makes the existence of Adam and Eve problematic, to say the least. These issues have direct relevancy to Christ, and how he saves us. After years of being a theistic evolutionist, I eventually had to let go of it because evolution is riddled with theological problems.

My friend had a bachelors degree in biology from UNC. While not a “scientist” himself (strictly speaking) he was qualified to speak on these subjects. He also isn’t a Seventh Day Adventist. Personally, I hate Seventh Day Adventism, and Ellen G. White. While I recognize they were influential in the rise of modern creation science, that isn’t relevant. The Church Fathers were all six-day creationists (by modern classification). There’s no way around it. Theistic evolution is a very modern idea. Even a blind squirrel (Ellen G. White) can find a nut every once in a while. She was wrong on a lot, but she was right about six-day creation.

I understand that “naturalist,” as a profession, is different from “naturalism,” as a philosophy. Lyell may not have been an atheist, but he certainly operated by methodological naturalism. And he was quoted in a personal letter, saying he wished to “free the science [of geology] from Moses.” In other words, he absolutely rejected the historical account of creation in Genesis, he believed in the principle of uniformitarianism, and he sought a naturalistic account of Earth history. The other scientists had similar motivations.

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To be clear, it’s also Gregory’s interpretation as a PhD in sociology who has studied evolutionism specifically, in multiple countries, and published two books on the topic.

The positioning of “evolution” vs. “creationism”, instead of “creationism” vs. “evolutionism”, in contrast, is Christy’s perspective, which I happen to disagree with. Instead, I believe ideologies should be compared with each other, rather than ideology with science, as Christy’s framing does.

I trust that DavidS and others will explore and eventually adopt the best available explanation for themselves.

p.s. note to self: you are awaiting a generalist colloquial dictionary quotation saying “evolution = change” as an excuse to (not really, but kinda) justify evolutionary sociology, psychology, anthropology & economics.

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