Author: Liebers Kate
Date: June 2008
Some creation scientists regard evolutionary theory as threat to the Christian religion; some scientists regard creationist theory as a threat to science. Nevertheless, there is one message on which both scientists agree: Don't believe everything you read.
Launched this year, The Answers in Research Journal (ARJ) publishes articles that address scientific evidence with a faith-based angle.The journal is founded by creationist organization Answers in Genesis (AiG), of which the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky and the Answers print magazine are affiliated.
AiG is "dedicated to enabling Christians to defend their faith and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively," according to the AiG mission statement.
The editor of ARJ, Andrew Snelling, PhD, said he has high expectations for the new free-access online journal. "The objective is to publish the best research possible from a creationist perspective in the sciences, humanities and theology," he said. ARJ articles are peer-reviewed and follow a similar research format similar to mainstream science publications.
The Bible vs. Science Textbooks
The creation-science journal is "not that different from other journals as far as the science goes," according to AiG researcher Georgia Purdom, PhD.
"The main difference," she continued, "is the starting point or the view point for looking at the science."
According to Purdom, in order for an article to be published in ARJ, the author's position must be consistent with the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Purdom explained how the peer-review process includes not only fact checking, but also faith checking.
Similarly, everyone working with AiG must sign a Statement of Faith. The declarations within the document range from "The scientific aspects of creation are important, but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ," to "No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record."
According to Miami University Zoology Department Chair, Douglas Meikle, PhD, such a pledge threatens objectivity and essentially defeats the purpose of science."If that pledge genuinely reflects what you believe and think and how you're going to make conclusions, it precludes your being able to actually do research," Meikle said.
Snelling, however, stated that all scientists have certain beliefs that are reflected in their data interpretation. "Every scientist has to make assumptions or has beliefs about how the evidence all fits together," said Snelling. "If it's legitimate for [evolutionary biologists] to have their belief system on which they base their science, it's just as legitimate for a Christian to have the Bible as their belief system for which they base their science."
Some scientists would argue that science is not just another belief system. As Meikle explained, science and religion are two separate entities, so believing in both evolution and Christianity is not inconsistent.
"Scientists can't address the issue of an omnipotent, omniscient creator with their science. It's out of the realm of science.. Scientists are not in a position to address anybody's faith," he said.
Meikle also emphasized the impossibility of proving or disproving the existence of God through material evidence. He said that scientists could look at the same data and discuss it while acknowledging possible assumptions, but ultimately cannot scientifically prove the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural God.
Snelling and Purdom, however, seem to disagree with that position. "We don't have the past," Snelling said. "All this evidence exists in the present. The scientist goes out, how does he figure out what happened in the past? He has to have some assumptions."
While creation scientists read the Bible to deduce that the earth is 6,000 years old, other scientists use radiometric dating to deduce that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. According to Snelling, a scientist who assumes the rates of geological processes in the past are the same today is working within a different belief framework than the creation scientists.
Regarding this rate of geological change, Snelling asks how a scientist can know for sure."[The researcher] wasn't there a million years ago to see if things were happening at the same rate that things were happening today," Snelling said.
Although Snelling did not claim to be present at the Earth's genesis himself either, he claimed he could disprove mainstream science."I can prove [a non-creationist scientist] is wrong," he added, "because his faith position is that these [geological processes] happen slowly and gradually and on a small scale like they do today."
Meikle said, "All [the creation scientists] really have available is the opportunity to try to discredit various components of evolutionary theory. Because what evidence could you collect to test the idea of creation by a creator?"
For the creation scientists, this evidence lies in the Bible.
"The real problem is that people are not prepared to accept, and that's their choice of course, that the Bible is a reliable historical account because it is based on what God has told us. God has given us that communication," said Snelling.
The Meaning of Objectivity
Meikle said the most compelling support for evolutionary theory has been the recent revelations in molecular biology. (Purdom, who rejects evolutionary theory, holds her doctorate degree in molecular genetics.)
Meikle said genetic data has begun to confirm the evolutionary models that suggest how animals are related based on physical appearance. Both sources of information external appearances and internal genetic structure show common ancestry, according to Meikle.
For creationists, there is no common ancestry. Genesis states that God created the birds and sea creatures on the fifth day, and land animals as well as man and woman on the sixth.
"As for the dinosaurs, why do you think the ancients referred to dragons?" Snelling said, suggesting evidence for a co-existence between humans and dinosaurs despite conflicting fossil evidence.
Purdom said there was science-based evidence supporting the Bible's word; it is a matter of "drawing the right conclusion."
Take, for Purdom's example, "junk" DNA.
The so-called "junk" label was reserved for DNA fragments that appeared to be functionless. Purdom said researchers had once dismissed this genetic material as "evolutionary leftovers," yet had since found such DNA to serve a purpose and thus implies divine creation.
"From a creationist's perspective we would have said it's not junk, that an intelligent designer, being God, designed it. It has a reason; it has a purpose so we should study it and find out more about it," she added.
Purdom said that presupposed evolutionary theories have prevented further investigation of mysteries such as junk DNA. According to Purdom, these preconceived notions have "really inhibited science."
Meikle agreed that although some scientists might "approach their research with various degrees of bias," the objective scientists are willing to debate the evidence and the validity of their conclusions.
Creation scientists, however, accept the evidence that confirms their preconceived beliefs about how God created the world. After all, they have that Statement of Faith pledge to abide by.
According to Meikle, researchers driven by a religious belief tend to pick-and-choose certain data.
"[Creation scientists] will give in on the micro evolutionary changes," said Meikle. "What they really hate is the macro evolutionary changes because that talks about the origin of species, one from another, and Homo sapiens are part of that."
Consequently, Purdom said she has no problem with natural selection and the changes within animals. Some creationists use the example of a wild wolf eventually developing into a variety of domesticated dogs.
"You see speciation events occurring, I don't deny that," she said, accepting that different breeds of dogs could originate from an ancestral dog, such as the wolf.
"But that is totally different," Purdom continued, "than one kind of animal becoming another kind of animal."
For one animal (like a monkey) to develop after many generations into another animal (like a human) would conflict with the account in the book of Genesis which states that humans were created after creatures of the land, sea and sky.
"We have a particular viewpoint," Purdom stated, referring to the ARJ. "We start with the Bible as being true. And many other journals do not. They are going to start with human reasoning as the basis for truth."
With that, creation scientists and other scientists seem to agree.
"That's all we have, our brains," said Meikle. "If you want to have faith that the earth is 6,000 years old and ignore data, that's fine by me. It sounds incredibly dumb, but if your faith takes you there, that's fine. But it's a statement of faith."
"If you really were going to learn something about evolution, give me three, four years to teach you the basics of biology and then to build on them," Meikle said.
Finding compromise between God and Darwin
Not all find conflict between religion and science. Some question the actual length of a day in Genesis to accommodate evolutionary principles. Theistic evolution, for example, is a view in which evidence of evolution is compatible with some religious interpretations: that God is in charge of evolution.
In Meikle's evolutionary biology class, evidence for a rapid change in speciation within the Cambrian period is discussed. This large variety of animals may not have developed within one day as written in the Bible, yet in context with the entire evolution model, the possible differentiation between species was comparatively rapid.
There is also geological evidence, Meikle noted, of a very large flood that happened almost instantly. Although it may not have been worldwide, such evidence could correlate with accounts of a massive flood.
Ken Ham, president and founder of AiG, interprets the Bible literally.
Ham said that when he has a question about creation, the answers are clearly stated in the Bible. Although the Bible does not state how long a day is, it is written that day and night were created first, followed by animals and humans on the fifth and sixth days.
"If you believe that you're just an animal and there is no God and you're a result of natural processes, then who does determine morality?" said Ham. "Someone who doesn't believe in absolute authority really has no basis ultimately for any morality."
Similarly, Snelling said many reject creation science because they want to avoid the correlating circumstances.
"If there was a global flood then the Bible is right and therefore there has to be a creator and therefore they have to acknowledge Him and, as the Bible says, they have to repent and acknowledge His existence. They would rather try to explain the evidence without acknowledging His existence," said Snelling. "So it's actually a spiritual issue it's not a scientific issue."
Meikle, speaking as an atheist, said he was offended that creationists assume that this makes him an evil' person. He said he tries to live by the all the commandments, excluding the commandment that acknowledges God.
"I think [the commandments] are fundamentally important because I'm an evolutionary biologist.here's a certain irony; I think evolutionary biology explains why the establishment and adherence of those set of rules is so critically important for a society of humans to behave in a civilized fashion," Meikle said.
Meikle explained how evolutionary theory suggests how people might be predisposed to steal, for example, in order to benefit the self. Yet, if the principles of Christianity were valued, those who disobeyed them would be naturally selected against and isolated.
"It's human nature to believe in a higher power," said Meikle.
Consequently, Ham expects both Christians and non-Christians to read ARJ.
Ham hopes that the Christian readers will "be much more equipped and able to answer questions to defend their faith."
For the non-Christians readers, Ham hopes they will "understand that there's a whole different way of looking at the world and at evidence, and to be challenged to consider the possibility that the Bible really is a book of true history."
With less theological emphasis, Snelling's said his aim is to produce a high-quality science journal. Despite the textual references to God, Purdom said that there are no moral implications involved with the journal, but "people can make them themselves."
Meikle, however, said he hopes it will have very little impact.
"I don't understand this demonization of evolution.I think it is seriously misguided and erodes our understanding of science," Meikle said. "I don't mean to dismiss the religious beliefs of Christians. I do, however, when they're.attacking the evolutionary theory.. It's anti-intellectual. It's anti-science. It's anti-thinking."
As many scientists continue to question, research, and test various theories, the studies of AiG creation scientists reflect their beliefs of the universe as it is stated in the Bible. Their research can be accessed at: http://www.answersingenesis.org/arj.
Written by Kate Liebers
Reviewed by Nira Datta
Published by Pooja Ghatalia.