Two geologists meet at a national geology professional meeting. They are acquainted because of geological research they have both done and had published in professional research journals. Caleb is a Christian and a creationist, while Austin has no confidence in either belief. They enter a conversation and seek to understand each other.
Caleb: It’s good to see you again, Austin. I enjoyed your latest published research article and thought your approach was creative and helpful.
Austin: Thank you, Caleb. I’ve read some of your excellent published papers, and they really puzzle me because I see what looks like an unsolvable enigma. The story that’s making the rounds among your colleagues is that you believe in God and the story of divine Creation as it’s told in the Bible. Are you willing to speak to that?
Caleb: Yes, I don’t mind saying that I do believe in God and in the Bible’s Creation story. I understand that this will cause many scientists to doubt my scientific credibility, but I will trust that you honestly wish to understand what this is all about.
Austin: Yes, I do seek an honest understanding. Your PhD is from a prestigious university, and the research I see in your publications is well done. Your evidence seems to be strong, and it supports your conclusions. What puzzles me is how to reconcile this with your belief in such an unscientific concept as Creation. There must be something confused in there that could allow you to practice quality science in spite of your completely wrong philosophical foundation. Everybody knows how false and unscientific creationism is.
Caleb: You’re asking an honest and probing question. In order to answer the question, we’ll need to consider a couple of the possible meanings of the term unscientific that are quite different from each other. One meaning is that it’s impossible for a creationist to even think like a scientist. He or she is incapable of understanding the relationship between the evidence that a scientist discovers, the interpretation of that evidence, and the conclusion that is drawn from it. If this definition of unscientific is correct, then, yes, a creationist’s work would be fundamentally unreliable.
Austin: I suspect that any meaning of unscientific will apply to the idea of divine Creation, including this one. Since Creation is a confused idea, coming from a prescientific era, it must not, in reality, be the concept that guides your successful research practice. Where is the disconnect between your belief system and your research?
Caleb: The best way to understand this might be to consider an example. Let’s say that I found some very well-preserved fossils of whales, and I want to understand how quickly they had to be buried in order for them to be so well preserved. My evidence would include detailed data on what science knows about the preservation of fossils. For example, are most of the bones and joints still largely joined together? Are the bones intact and well preserved—not decayed or damaged by scavengers? We also look for evidence of the time it takes for modern whales to reach various stages of decay and the damage from scavengers after they die. Then we compare that evidence with the fossil whales I found in order to conclude what is the most probable time that elapsed from the death of the fossil whales till their burial. Now, if I believe in a Creator, how would that belief interfere with my straightforward analysis of my research data and my conclusions?
Austin: That’s an interesting example, but if you believe in myths, that will certainly interfere with clear thinking, no matter how good your evidence is.
Caleb: Hmmm. You’re making an assumption—that belief in Creation several thousand years ago will keep me from using clear thinking when comparing my observations of the fossil whales with modern whales. You need to justify that assumption. Modern whales decay and disappear in months or a few years. Why would that not apply to fossil whales, provided the conditions were similar?
Austin: Well, your thinking can’t be clear when . . . OK, I am making an assumption. Justify your thinking that the assumption is not valid when most scientists will agree with me that a creationist can’t be a clear thinker.
Caleb: Actually, I wrote an article on the topic of whales that we’ve been talking about. For twenty or so years, other scientists had studied those same whales and the sediments that buried them, and they all assumed that it took thousands of years for each whale to be buried. Because of my creationist presuppositions, I entered the project without any such assumptions. I just let the evidence speak to me. When I was finished, the scientists who reviewed the papers that I submitted for publication agreed that the evidence I presented supported my conclusions. My belief in Creation apparently did not affect my scientific thinking about whales. Actually, it gave me an advantage. Because of the Bible’s story about a worldwide Flood, I was open to the possibility that the whales and the sediments they were found in could have been brought together quickly. I didn’t assume that it happened fast, nor did I assume that the fossils had been there for thousands or millions of years. I just let the evidence speak to me. But my belief in a global Flood helped me to be open to the idea of the rapid burial of the whales—an idea that probably would not have occurred to an evolutionary scientist.
Austin: Wait a minute. Doesn’t your belief in the Bible force you to think it all happened very fast, not over millions of years?
Caleb: I wouldn’t say that my belief in a divine Creator forces me to believe in a rapid burial of the whales we’re talking about. But it does open my mind to that possibility, whereas an evolutionary scientist wouldn’t be as likely to think of it. I don’t feel the need to prove my thinking about ancient history. But if I open my mind to consider various options, I believe the evidence won’t lie to me. Truth will defend itself.
Austin: I’m skeptical. You’re claiming that a creationist can do research that’s valid scientific thinking, and their research is not necessarily unscientific.
Caleb: I am claiming that careful research by a creationist can be valid science, although the underlying concept, that God created life several thousand years ago is based on faith, not science, since nobody was there to observe and verify that Creation event.
Austin: Your comment that the idea of God creating the world several thousand years ago not being based on science reminds me of something you said a moment ago—that the word unscientific has two meanings. You gave me one definition. What’s the other one?
Caleb: Another meaning can be that creationism is unscientific to today’s scientists because they have put their confidence in a noncreationist philosophy, and thus they will not accept any creationist concepts because they think such concepts cannot be true.
Austin: That is certainly correct. Science is based on confidence that no god has tampered with anything that science studies. Thus creationism can’t be trusted and can’t be considered a valid basis for doing science.
Caleb: I agree that if we accept this way of defining science, it obviously makes creationism, by that common definition, unscientific. But this definition can be challenged. In the study of the ancient past, we all depend on a type of faith. I can’t prove that there is a God or that He is the Creator. But can you prove that there is no Creator?
search for truth
Austin: That is just known to be correct. Science replaced the ancient myths about Creation and a God who tinkers with nature. Science has made tremendous progress since that change occurred, and scientists insist that science must be objective. Things known to be true don’t need to be proven.
Caleb: Actually, the great scientists who initiated the advance of modern science were all creationists—persons like Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, Linnaeus, and others. Modern science developed on the backs of great creationists. Their work, I suggest, falsifies your claim that creation ism can’t be scientific. Your last statement that what is known to be true doesn’t need to be proven is just another assumption. I challenge you to prove it.
Austin: OK, I can’t prove it, but some assumptions are so integral to how scientists now think that it’s foolish to question them. You can’t be accepted as a scientist if you insist on being a creationist.
Caleb: That may be true in some cases, but I’m interested in finding true scientific answers, and I’m not very concerned about what others think of me.
Austin: Even if you don’t care about that, our scientific ideas must come through the scientific process and not claim that some ancient prophet gave the idea.
Caleb: The problem you are not recognizing is that some very good, published research has been done by me and quite a few others who think like I do.
Austin: I have a lot of trouble accepting that. Evolution and geology always get it right. Can you describe any exceptions?
Caleb: If I described all the exceptions I know of, we would never get to the rest of these geology meetings. To begin with, Darwin’s theory predicts that all life-forms came through the evolutionary process of random mutations and natural selection. There is a growing recognition by molecular biologists that this process does not and cannot work. Analysis of DNA in the last few years has revealed processes that are incompatible with the Darwinian theory. The evolutionary theory can explain small changes in living things as they adapt to changing environments, and all creationists who are worth their salt accept this. It’s called microevolution.
But no version of evolution has ever provided a realistic explanation of how truly new structures can come about—things such as feathers, bones, kidneys, livers, not to mention the love that makes a person risk death to save a friend. Living cells are much too sophisticated for random mutations to bring about any significant changes.
It’s also being found that protein is present in many very ancient fossils dated at tens of millions of years old or more. But proteins don’t survive more than a few thousand years at most. Something is wrong with that time scale, and there’s much, much more I could say.
ideas under scrutiny
Austin: OK, there are anomalies that I can’t explain, but science still can’t accept the creationist insistence to bring ideas into science from mythological sources.
Caleb: Actually, your attempt to define where an idea comes from cannot be defended. A scientist can get an idea from anywhere. What makes it scientific is what he or she does with the idea: can a way be found to test it? All that’s needed is to define competing hypotheses and devise what experiments or observations could test between the hypotheses. In this process, a creationist’s thinking can be entirely valid from a scientific perspective.
Austin: I think I’m beginning to understand your point. As long as creationists adopt proven scientific methods to arrive at their conclusions, they can carry out valid scientific research, even if their presuppositions about origins happen to differ from mainstream science. Is that what you’re saying?
Austin: Well, I guess that from now on, when I read something written by a known creationist, rather than writing him off just because he believes in a God who created the world, I’ll pay careful attention to how he reaches his conclusions, and if he uses good scientific methods, I’ll accept him as a genuine scientist, regardless of his or her beliefs about origins.
Caleb: Austin, I’m glad you understand. I’ve enjoyed our conversation. (Caleb glances at his watch.) And now I think we both have meetings coming up in the next few minutes.
Austin: I’ve enjoyed the conversation. Maybe we can talk again before the weekend is over.
Caleb: Any time!
find out more about creationism
- Behe, M. J. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Free Press, 1996.
- Brand, L. Creation? Really? A Conversation on Origins. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press®, 2019.
- Brand, L. Genesis and Science: Where Is the Evidence Going? Nampa, ID: Pacific Press®, 2020.
- Brand, L. R., and A. V. Chadwick. Faith, Reason, and Earth History: A Paradigm of Earth and Biological Origins by Intelligent Design. 3rd ed. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2016.
- Meyer, S. C. Darwin’s Doubt. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.
Leonard Brand is a professor of biology and paleontology in the Department of Earth and Biological Sciences at Loma Linda University. The foundation for his teaching and geological research has been the application of biblical principles in education and scholarship.