How do I fairly teach YEC Cosmology/Geology?

Yes this is one of those ‘teach all theories’ posts. Not quite a ‘teach the controversy’ but similar. It doesn’t have to be an equal time type of thing but how can I teach such perspectives on a science class (without adding extra verbiage that will upset some students and leave me continually with a subset of nasty student evaluations)?

For example, in Cosmology, there isn’t a single thing in the entire universe that points to a young Earth or universe. The idea is rather absurd with annual records of varves or ice cores, with reliable radiometric dates and the many other dating methods from cosmology or geology. How do I discuss some of the best evidence provided by the world’s biggest YEC organization of the Earth’s decaying magnetic field that features a graph that was literally made up and that ignores over 98% of the geomagnetic reversals and evidence that it was weaker at points in the past. Or how about the origin of the elements which is either the well studied field of nucleosynthesis… Or God just made them the way they are as Danny Faulkner notes:

Can we develop a creationary model to explain the chemical composition of the universe? Perhaps. Much of the Creation Week was miraculous, or at least outside of the realm that science today is equipped to probe, so one could posit that God created the elemental abundances pretty much as they exist today.

He goes on to further proposes maybe nucleosynthesis happens as we know it to today much faster in the past. So stars live and die at rapid rates and gravitationally collapse and rinse and repeat or something.

Anyways this is an honest question. How can I fairly present YEC ideas (presumably giving some students the idea they have equal merit) such that YEC students won’t feel I’m just teaching ‘my opinion’ with bias?

Note: this also applies to the anti-science Old Earth Creationist positions that reject things like the theory of evolution/common ancestry.

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Remind them that scientific theories have to obey the rules of mathematics and measurement.

Then discuss the sizes of the respective error bars on young earth and old earth models.

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Well, YECs are the ones who ostensibly should have no problems with miracles, right? So happily pile up all the needed miracles on their side of the ledger. And you can in all sincerity admit that science doesn’t prove that God didn’t orchestrate the entire thing. It may sound like a parody to you, but for some of them it may be a life line until they are in a place to come to terms with some of this.

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Seems like the way to go. A “miracle miracle explains that” version of YEC is the only thing you could teach without contradicting scientific data. And perhaps that is what YEC is. So why not? Also:

He goes on to further proposes maybe nucleosynthesis happens as we know it to today much faster in the past. So stars live and die at rapid rates and gravitationally collapse and rinse and repeat or something.

That sounds a bit like it contradicts the principle of uniformity.

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If that is the job, you have to do it, but you can do it with full disclosure of the evidence and arguments for and against each position. That way it is up to each student to draw their own conclusions which is most appropriate anyway. It may be a waste of valuable class time to you, but will appropriately place the decision on the students as to what to believe with full knowledge of the facts.
I am sure that will be difficult to present what you see as false proposals, but so long as you can also present the criticisms of those arguments, you can do so without compromising your integrity, in my opinion.
No doubt you will be pressed to state your position, and hopefully you have the freedom to do so in a empathic way. You will probably have to counsel some who have a difficult time with finding their beliefs challenged, and will need to be prepared for that.
You might even bring up the position Todd Woods takes that the evidence doesn’t support a young earth, but he believes it anyway, because…miracles. Then say that discussion can continue in philosophy class as it goes outside the realm of science.

I have to admit, this advice seems pretty hollow when not in your shoes.

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That is not an enviable spot to be in!

Jeremiah 33:25 may have some application, judiciously applied:

This is what the LORD says: If I have not established My covenant with the day and the night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth…

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The problem is… they don’t have equal merit. There is overwhelming evidence for one and not the other. I don’t think it would be completely honest to present them as equal.

I agree with others that you’d have to appeal to miracles. Maybe, “Some people believe xyz. Existing scientific evidence doesn’t support that idea, but science can’t rule out miracles.” God could have created everything last Thursday if he wanted to.

The important thing for protecting the faith of these students is for them to understand that the Bible doesn’t teach the age of the earth, and our faith is not based on knowledge of the age of the earth. For me, when realizing my preacher had been teaching false science, it became a trust issue… I questioned everything else he was teaching. In reality, he is not a scientist. He’s very knowledgeable about the Bible, but when it comes to science, he has to get his information from other sources that are outside the Bible, and those sources aren’t necessarily accurate.

Even if you take the ages of people in the genealogies as being correct, that only tells you how long ago Adam and Eve were. There are multiple “literal” (and non-literal, but your YEC students will be looking for literal) interpretations possible. And if you’re going to Genesis 1 to see how and when God created the earth, you’re asking the wrong question.

The main thing is that you don’t want them to throw out the baby with the bathwater if the material you present causes them to question their faith. Maybe explaining some different interpretations of those early chapters (in a brief way, just a quick survey with references for them to learn more) might be helpful. If they see that there are people who do take the Bible seriously and do think it’s inerrant (that will be important to the YEC) and do think Genesis 1-11 is historical (again, also important to YEC), they’ll feel safer stepping into real science. I’d recommend some books such as Walton’s Lost World series and Davidson’s Friend of Science, Friend of Faith.

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I’ve almost incorporated something like this, but think I did it in the wrong way. I’ve had students simply just propose that the fall means that fallen man cannot make accurate conclusions about nature (but YEC isn’t an interpretation, it just simply is - very straightforward!). So I asked them in what way the fall could go ahead and corrupt some basic measurements on something like varves (either in terms of counting annual layers, cross checking with radiocarbon and potassium argon dates). And then I get a bunch of nasty evaluations as a result.

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I wonder how you would test on that material. I suppose you test on the material presented, whether you agree with it or not, but it would be difficult. It would be sort of fun to ask for an essay on the topic “what are the top arguments for a young vs old earth along with their criticisms.” It would be tough to grade but would force students to think it through and put it on paper (or a thumb drive, I guess, these days.)

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I’ve started to try to include various statements ad nauseum but fear it sometimes comes out the wrong way. So for example, the following didn’t necessarily actually occur, but God made it to look as if it did:


This is galaxy ESO 137-001 that @DavidMacMillan taught me about one day. It is moving presently at a whopping 4.5 million miles per hour (towards the top left of the image) leaving a trail of gas in its wake. The trail of gas is at least 250,000 light years long which doing some simple math this fully formed galaxy (how long did that take?) has been moving this way for at least 45 million years. So it is always possible that God made this galaxy to look as if it’s been gravitationally pulled for 45 million years.

I think some do respond positively to these types of statements, others presumably find them obnoxious.

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I think maybe my problem with going too far along this path is that I find it incredibly offensive as a scientist. That is, we are not studying things that actually happened, but things that God just simply made to look like they happened. And then he didn’t even made things to look as if they’ve happened in a way consistent with the way YEC read his book. There’s no reason for any other galaxies at all, or really even any other planets. There’s no reason to make the sun’s Helium content be consistent with 4.5 billion years of nuclear fusion above and the ratio of radioisotopes on the moon and other solar system objects to just so happen to match the same dates. But yeah maybe God just made it look as if the solar nebula collapsed 4.5 billion and instead he made it fully formed with a fake history.

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I am curious to know your aim and more about the context. Are you trying to provide students with exposure to YEC pseudoscience so that they will learn to recognize and evaluate it? Or are you in a teaching position that requires you to “teach both sides” to some degree?

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“Leaving a wake” is a curious way to phrase movement through space. And since @DavidMacMillan is present here, maybe I/we can learn more about this from him too even if that is tangential from the topic of YEC interactions - I’ll get back to those in a moment. But I want to ask for clarification first.

As a child looking at a picture of a comet, I remember having the distinct impression that it would have its “fiery tail flaming out behind it” in the same way that fire might trail out behind some ignited flaming object flying through the air. There is the visual association we all have of fast moving stuff “leaving a wake” as it travels through air. But we know it isn’t so. The comet’s tail is the sun’s solar wind blowing gas away from the comet, regardless of the comet’s motion relative to the sun. In the same way, how could a galaxy be “leaving a wake”? …as if there were some “etheric” atmosphere it was racing through! Or if it is being “stretched apart” (galactic scale spaghettification?) , then what could be gravitationally pulling on it over such a large distances, and in any case, it wouldn’t just be the gases being pulled, as if gravity was selective about its attractions. Help!

Now … am I asking questions with the motivation to poke holes or cause problems with something that offends me? Not at all - I just want to learn. But even if I was ideologically motivated by a desire to cast doubt on nearly the entire scientific enterprise, then that while that would rapidly become irritating, yet as the professionals in the room, I think teachers have some obligation to always assume the best of their students’ intents, and to use any such questions (however motivated) as teaching opportunities. And I do think that earnest students - whether YEC or not, do often respond well to teachers who are willing to respect their inquiry at face value, responding to it as candidly as the teacher can.

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I saved that picture on my phone when I read his article, and I pulled it up just last week when discussing age of the earth and universe with my kids. :slight_smile:

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I understand exactly where you’re coming from.

I have had at least three YECs tell me that I am “taking Deuteronomy 25:13-16 out of context” by applying it to the creation and evolution debate, or to science in general. I pointed out to one of them that there is nothing whatsoever about the context of those verses that even hints that it should apply to some contexts but not others, and that science is all about honest and accurate weights and measures, and at that point the discussion got very nasty. I was accused of being “in unbelief” and of “using those verses to attack the Bible.” (Uh, sorry, but those verses are the Bible…)

These guys make the Pharisees and the Sadducees look like anarchists by comparison.

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Great question!

It turns out that in this very specific case, the childhood intuition about comets actually matches what is going on here. This galaxy is falling into the center of a tightly-packed galaxy cluster where the gas between galaxies (technically called the “intracluster medium”) is dramatically more dense than in the average intergalactic medium. As a result, diffuse gases that are normally swirling around inside the galaxy – nebulae, the interstellar medium, etc. – are being stripped by ram pressure interactions with the intracluster medium. This causes the intracluster medium, now mixed with stripped-away gas from the galaxy, to heat up. The heat is the blue glow we see.

So what we are seeing here is the “solid” parts of the galaxy – the stars and planets and black holes and star clusters – punching through a dense intergalactic/intracluster gas cloud while the gaseous parts are mixing with the cloud and heating it up. It’s like a snapshot of a tracer bullet punching through ballistic gel.

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My goal is mostly to not get in trouble with the charge that I am presenting strawmen of YEC arguments and only presenting a ‘biased evolutionary view’ that leaves several students every semester wondering if I’m a Christian at all. And they complain and then, poof, I’m gone.

A little bit more so of this, but it was unclear how to do this. I think the main charge was to not leave students feeling like their view (YEC, which a significant portion of the student base is) was misrepresented and strawmanned in a science class.

Yikes. That’s a really really tough position to be in! Sorry about that.

It’s going to be very hard to present YEC arguments without making them seem dumb because, well…

I am not a teacher so I claim no special expertise here, but the main thing I would say would be to couch things consistently. If you make claims about science, say “the scientific consensus” rather than just stating them outright. That might help you seem more neutral.

Here is some research on discrete-source gas interactions with dense intergalactic gas: https://academic.oup.com/mnras/article/309/1/161/1153741

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@amanda talked about a professor’s approach that she found helpful in one of the recent Language of God podcasts. Basically, it was a non-argumentative, “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but I want you to understand how scientists look at the evidence” tactic. Of course, student expectations are different going into a science class at a state school versus where you teach.

Maybe if you could approach the whole thing as trying to help students understand where the scientific community is getting its assertions. Then you could explain their critiques of YEC claims and not even pretend they have merit. It seems like if you set it up as an exercise in evaluating various positions, there is no way to be perceived as being “fair” to YEC. But if you set it up as, “This is a science class, and our goal is to understand where the scientific community is coming from on these topics and I want to give you the tools and information you would need to pursue a scientific vocation in a secular setting,” then you have sort of set it up as not your personal negative evaluation of their wrong-headed views, but as an explanation and preparation. They can learn YEC apologetics in Bible class. I think some students will still be offended and think you are a heretic, but what can you do? But it would seem that the more you can reduce their impulse to feel defensive, or worse, ignorant, the better.

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I never taught in a Christian school, but this looks like the best advice to me. You also could tell them that your class is an exercise in apologetics, but your job is to present “the other side” – the scientific side. It’s their job to consider how they would reply. Throw in the YEC stuff as bonus questions. Give a scientific fact related to the unit and ask them to answer it from a YEC perspective. Extra credit to the most outrageous answers. (@jammycakes will no doubt object to my lack of honest measures here!)

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