Most of what is important to Christians doesn’t involve correct knowledge of the physical world. It’s primarily ethics and understanding how God is interacting with us. This last part includes knowing what our fate after death may be and also learning about God’s character—crucially, that God is good and therefore worthy of our trust and worship. However, it is on this point that questions about material reality are relevant to faith.
For many believers, the genesis and natural history of our world have become an existential either/or dilemma. By insisting that the earth is young, you supposedly also affirm a good God. But if the earth is ancient, providing time for evolution-via-suffering, then theistic evolution must be the creative vehicle and God is therefore necessarily bad. So, part of the unpacking process in the faith/science conundrum is determining if such views are true or not. But the whole topic is even more complicated.
End Runs around Science
The phrase “end run” comes from American football. Instead of trying to run the ball directly through the opposing line, you run around the end where, it is supposed, resistance is less. That’s not always true in football, but in popular culture, the term more generally means to avoid confronting the opposition’s strength. In football, that’s purely tactical. In life, it can mean deflecting things that might be distressing and difficult.
Conventional science is quite powerfully convinced that the earth is very old and life has evolved. And since science is limited to physical reality, any religious implications are irrelevant. But, as noted above, if certain theological premises are accepted, acknowledging deep time and evolution to be true is anything but irrelevant for a believer. Hence there is a temptation to find ways to avoid dealing with consequences that could be fatal to one’s faith.
A Theological Landing Place
Many believers, of course, address the issues head-on. But in this essay, I wish to focus on a (non-exhaustive) set of “end runs.” There is so much fear, misdirection, and poor thinking swirling around this complex subject that many are fixated on defending their position. Upton Sinclair somewhat famously quipped: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” By analogy, many Christians view acceptance of deep time and evolution as ultimately destroying the concept of a good God, with a consequent slippery slope leading down to unbelief. Thus “salary” means “salvation,” and it is understandably hard for anyone to risk destroying hope for eternal life. And if abandoning belief in a young earth inevitably produces this conclusion, then Sinclair’s word “difficult” becomes an understatement. So, there’s an overarching issue that shouldn’t be ignored. Will consideration of deep time and evolution, on their own terms (that is, “head-on”), destroy faith and put at risk the foundational belief of hope for life after death?
Addressing this metaphysical question is crucial. However, because it is itself a major topic, space limitations prevent me from doing so here. I have, therefore, written a follow-on piece (to be linked to this one when available. (Now posted: A Theological Landing Place for the Young Earth Creationist), and unfortunately can now only promise that there are possibilities for “salvaging” God’s goodness, even if a head-on examination of the relevant science may not completely “save” traditional Christian metaphysics.
Because a small but potentially crucial portion of the religious domain involves the physical world, revelatory information (e.g., the Bible) is obviously relevant. But humans also learn about their world from experience, data gathering, testing hypotheses, and valid reasoning. That is, processes like the scientific method. Here then are two different magisteria—teaching authorities—that should have bearing on the subject of physical reality.
The Christian God is presumed to be omniscient, which is obviously superior to fallible human understanding. Therefore, we encounter my first end run:
End Run #1: Because information from God is infallible, but human-derived knowledge is not, we ought to set aside science in favor of revelation in our understanding of physical reality.
I’ve written at length about this before (like here), so now I’ll be as brief as possible. Christians consider the Bible to be inspired by an omniscient God. Okay, but humans are not omniscient, thus they fallibly interpret this material. Even if what is read seems to be so obvious that we’re confident of its meaning, our interpretive fallibility means we should keep an open mind about whether what we think we understand is indeed correct.
The salient point is that we should not summarily dismiss science. Assuming the Bible is inspired does not thereby privilege our interpretations of it. Further, and perhaps unpleasant to recognize, believing the Bible to be inspired is itself a conclusion, resting on prior beliefs and inferences. No one sprang from their mother’s womb believing the Bible is the “Word of God.” So, there has been a fallible process, first of elevating the Bible to inspired status, second of choosing a (perhaps subliminally and/or culturally “tainted”) method of interpretation, then reaching conclusions on what “God’s Word” actually says about physical reality. Such risks mean we should consider both revelation and science equally and fairly, based on the weight of evidence, while humbly recognizing human interpretive imperfection.
End Run #2: Ellen White believed in a young earth. She was inspired by God and thus her word is sufficient to end further examination.
For example, one Adventist writer bluntly stated: “Clearly, the Seventh-day Adventist Church cannot turn its back on young-earth creationism without also repudiating the prophetic authority of Ellen White.”
This is, essentially, an extension to #1, but by and for Adventists. It presumes she is inerrant, and thus her clear acceptance of young-earth creationism (YEC) becomes normative. But even if you have a high view of Ellen White, viewing her as inerrant is extreme. Notably, because she herself disavowed it, but also because there are some demonstrably false statements in her massive literary output. Inerrancy is a very high bar to set.
End Run #3: How can you be a real Christian when you question what the Bible says about origins?
Here’s a fallacy known as a “loaded question.” There is a silent premise that YEC is truly “what the Bible says.” Yet there are many genuine Christians who do not accept this and have reasons why a literal reading of Genesis might be problematic. The traditional interpretation should not be above reconsideration even though once there was no reason to doubt it. Now both magisteria need to be carefully evaluated.
Of course, science should not be summarily dismissive about religion having views on physical reality. By definition, science is agnostic about metaphysics, so it can have no opinion on possible God-inspired information. But in actuality, many, if not most, science practitioners lean atheistic and thus toward the philosophy known as scientism, which can then bleed into their scientific presuppositions. Also, some religionists, trying to demonstrate that deep time and evolution are false, have produced some very bad science and correspondingly head-shaking argumentation. (But don’t accept my declarations at face value. Examine it for yourself, from the evidence.)
When anyone operates in service of ideology, they go quite outside the boundary of scientific purview. Unfortunately, humans frequently lean toward imposing their worldviews on interpreting physical reality. Ironically, this reality of some scientists’ a priori disparaging of the religious hypothesis leads to another end run:
End Run #4: There is a conspiracy in academia to suppress any attempt at disproving the accepted belief in deep time and evolution.
Perhaps the most notable example is the 2008 film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It argues that the scientific community blocks attempts by those advocating for YEC and intelligent design to refute the accepted paradigm. And while this does happen, the actual reason for dismissal is that, generally, the YEC “science” is bad. (And again, investigate these conclusions for yourself.)
Now consider three more end runs, found interspersed in one extended quotation from Adventist author Clifford Goldstein in his book Baptizing the Devil:
Then there’s the vaunted “scientific method” with its mythic epistemic status. Apply the “scientific method” to any question, and isn’t truth guaranteed at the other end? Isn’t the method the modern age’s Oracle of Delphi? When the “scientific method” reveals something, what mortal dare challenge it?
Yet contention exists on what the scientific method is, how it works, what it reveals, or if it even exists. Paul Feyerabend dissed the whole notion of the scientific method. “This book proposes a thesis,” he wrote, “and draws consequences from it. The thesis is: the events, procedures and results that constitute the sciences have no common structure; there are no elements that occur in every scientific investigation but are missing elsewhere.” According to Feyerabend and others, no “scientific method” exists. It’s a myth, intellectually akin to bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Also, if one believes that science does explain reality, what entails a proper explanation? How far down does science have to go before we have a complete explanation of “the lining of the world”?
End Run #5: Disparagement of science, an ad hominem attack.
The term “ad hominem” means “against the man” but can be justly applied as an attempt to also disparage an idea by using pejorative phraseology. Then the reader’s mind can be prejudiced through uncritical acceptance of such labeling. In the above quote, we see the words and phrases “vaunted,” “mythic,” “truth guaranteed to come out at the end,” “Oracle of Delphi,” “what mortal dare challenge it,” “akin to bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster.”
Now, I’d have to dig into the reference to Feyerabend, but it seems unlikely he actually equated the existence of the scientific method to bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Or worse, that no scientific method actually exists. But either way, this is hyperbole and misrepresentation. Readers, no matter what their worldview leanings, ought to be jarred by such excessive characterizations.
End Run #6: Equivocation over the words “truth” and “reality.”
Equivocation means inappropriately using a word that has multiple and quite different definitions, thus giving the impression you’re using it one way while silently shifting over to the different definition. In the quote from Goldstein’s book, equivocation occurs over the words “truth” and “reality.” The issue is the same for both words. Science deals with physical reality exclusively—by definition. But this quote infers that a broader reality is at issue. “Truth” is more normally viewed in a wall-to-wall sense that includes both physical and metaphysical reality. I suppose one could cautiously use the word “truth” in a limited, physical-only sense. But the attempt here is to unfairly tar science as claiming to be the sole arbiter of the broad definition of truth and reality. This is the view of scientism, not science.
End Run #7: There is no consensus definition of the scientific method. How then can it deliver truth?
Words as definitions can be both muddy and circular. Thus, the idea that “contention exists on what the scientific method is, how it works, what it reveals” isn’t in itself necessarily extreme, depending critically on the meaning and extent of “is,” “how,” and “what.” But this ambiguity exists at the margin. It is a giant leap from recognizing marginal ambiguity to claiming non-existence! The core principles of the scientific method are demonstrably understood. Otherwise, science would be making no progress at all, as practitioners would be flailing about with unfruitful and inconsistent methodology. To infer otherwise, as the quote from Goldstein does, is quite astonishing. But if you can convince your audience that the scientific method really doesn’t exist, then science itself is correspondingly discredited.
End Run #8: Science has changed but the Bible has not.
Here’s a quote from an article on YEC website Answers in Genesis: “The best ‘evidence’ for evolution keeps changing. . . . While evolutionary scientists keep getting it wrong; the Bible never changes.”
The argument here is that since science has demonstratively changed throughout history, and the Bible is, obviously, a specific (and presumably inspired) source, then the Bible should override any possible scientific explanation. It is both inspired and immutable. The first part—that science has changed—is nominally true but highly misleading. In reality, changes in science that have “flipped the script” occurred well in the past. In modernity, scientific knowledge has mostly been enhancements of what was discerned earlier. Even a supposed counter-example, like Einsteinian versus Newtonian physics, is not a 180-degree flip. Nor is the slow acceptance of plate tectonics throughout the 20th century. The argument infers that YEC can reverse the scientific acceptance of an old earth. While it is theoretically possible, the author of this quote is inferring it is probable. To hope for a complete geology/paleontology reversal—based on the abandonment of early scientific hypotheses—is just not supported by history.
As for the Bible never changing? Obviously, the books (in their original languages) are the same, although linguistic and cultural research can improve and modify our understanding. But a static Bible is not the point. The issue is human understanding of what the Bible is saying. And that has demonstrably changed throughout history.
End Run #9: If YEC is not true, the Sabbath doctrine is not true.
From Mark Finley in an Adventist Review article: “The theory of evolution also assaults each major biblical truth, beginning with the Sabbath. If the days of Creation were long periods of indefinite time, what significance would the Sabbath have at all?”
There are two similar words with quite dissimilar meanings: rationale and rationalization. The word “rationale” signifies a rational argument demonstrating that a set of sound premises moves validly to a conclusion. Conversely, “rationalization” proceeds backward. It takes a desired conclusion and places an argument around it in an attempt to justify that conclusion. In the above quote, we have a rationalization. The important thing to Finley is protecting the truth of the Sabbath doctrine. The statement seeks to link YEC as necessary to the Sabbath—or that doctrine will fall. Indeed, if you look at the whole article, its purpose is to get the reader to reject considering evolution because it supposedly damages Adventism so deeply. Now, the arguments on exhibit might be true. But a genuine rationale could care less about salvaging some particular conclusion. To point out the value of protecting a cherished conclusion is at best a non sequitur, but if the reader/listener wants the position preserved, then any rationale can get inflated in perceived legitimacy. That’s the danger. Uncritical acceptance of whatever rationales are offered because of a desire to hold on to some conclusion.
End Run #10: The public too often uncritically accepts conventional scientific conclusions, like evolution, because science has been very successful and scientists are impressive people.
Here’s another quote from Goldstein’s book Baptizing the Devil:
Why, then, the irresistible lure among so many Christians . . . by seeking to harmonize evolution with Scripture? . . . The overarching answer is tied to the overarching contemporary belief that evolution must be true, because science says it is. After all, It’s science! . . . When the world’s greatest thinkers; the best and brightest; the feted experts . . . when all these believe in evolution . . . many Christians think that they must do the same.”
This argument is suggesting that the “overarching answer” to why “so many Christians” accept conventional science is not because the theories are convincing. Rather, it’s that science has been so successful that many Christians are either wowed or cowed into acceptance. And yes, I’m sure this does happen, and it shouldn’t. But the quote would have us believe that the “seeking to harmonize” is dominated (“overarching”) by giving science unwarranted prestige. The false claim here is that it succeeds by intimidation.
Actually Dealing with Science, and a Landing Place
This essay has tried to illustrate, via my 10 so-called end runs, ways to evade addressing the actual science involved with deep time and evolution. But it is also important to discuss:
a) What science actually says, and the resultant problems for a young earth perspective.
b) The theological reasons for clinging to a YEC position and whether there is some “landing place” that doesn’t necessitate the presumably unbearable necessity of theistic evolution.
Because I don’t think this topic is complete without some attempt to address these related issues, I will outline a landing place for the young earth creationist in a follow-on article.
Part two of this series: A Theological Landing Place for the Young Earth Creationist.
Notes & References:
 I have partially addressed this before: here and here. Also, there is an excellent article, titled “Argumentation and Fallacies in Creationist Writings Against Evolutionary Theory,” which more exhaustively looks at fallacious reasoning in the contention between young earth creationism and conventional science.
 Unfortunately, for busy and non-science-literate Christians, an examination can be daunting. One resource I suggest, written by authors who are both Christians and have relevant credentials, is The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah's Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? Read it even—or especially—if you lean toward YEC. See if you can fairly counter the extensive evidence and argumentation they offer.
 Goldstein, Baptizing the Devil, Chapter 1, in the section labeled “The compromise.”
Rich Hannon, a retired software engineer, is columns editor for SpectrumMagazine.org.
Previous Spectrum articles by Rich Hannon can be found by clicking here.
Title image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class D. Keith Simmons (public domain).
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