Br. Wieske's original comment and our reply are copied here for convenience to set the stage for his new contribution.
Calvin Wieske: I also applaud the purpose and vision of this blog as a forum for the debate and study of both “…the relationship between worldview and academic theories” and the “…varying degrees of conflict between faith and academics” as mentioned in your introductory post. Having read through a number of articles and collected papers on this blog, along with the personal profiles of the contributors/editors, however, it appears that the four managing blog editors confess to be old-age creationists. Is this true? And if so, would you consider this blog to be an open discussion on the conflict between christianity and science? Or could it be perceived to be a somewhat biased forum for old-earth creation apologetics? In no way do I wish to imply that the intent is to be biased, I am simply wondering if we could avoid the possibility of such bias by perhaps enlisting one or two young-earth creationist contributors/editors to ensure fair treatment of both sides and ensure balanced discussion. This could also discourage viewers from wrongfully assuming that most (if not all) ‘academics’ hold to an old-earth creation theology. Is there merit to my comments or am I coming across as judgemental? I look forward to your response.
Reply by Reformed Academic: We appreciate your letter, Calvin, both for its pleasant tone and because it allows us to explain once more the approach we have been following on this blog. You are right in stating that we are focusing on old-earth creationism. We are doing so, however, not because we oppose or fear an “open and balanced discussion on the conflict between Christianity and science,” but in order to encourage and promote such a discussion. As you have undoubtedly noticed, the old-earth approach appears to be no longer acceptable in the Canadian Reformed Churches. Instead, young-earth creationism is widely promoted as the only possible and acceptable biblical view, such in blatant opposition to a well-documented Reformed tradition, which allowed the discussion of various other theories. (On this Reformed tradition see our blog post “Young-Earth Creationism: A History”; an essay, incidentally, that was also submitted to Clarion but was rejected as unsuitable.)
The immediate reason for establishing the blog was, in fact, the sudden decision of Clarion to censor material written from an old-earth-creationist point of view. This happened about four years ago. Since then, Clarion has steadfastly supported young-earth creationism, denounced old-earth creationism, and continued to close its pages to articles attempting to explain the latter view. In short, young-earth creationism gets all the attention in our printed media it could possibly desire; it is also taught in our schools and occasionally even proclaimed from our pulpits. You will understand that we therefore see no need to invite young-earth-creationist contributors/editors to join our ranks. We do, however, accept and publish comments by people who disagree with us, including young-earth creationists. Indeed, we welcome such comments and the discussions to which they give rise.
We realize that many of our church members approve of the current CanRef attitude because they believe that any deviation from a literalist explanation of Genesis 1 is dangerous, even heretical, and must therefore be forbidden. We understand that position, but, although some of us have held it in the past, we no longer subscribe to it. We have given the reasons in several of our blog postings. One argument, as noted above, is that it is against the tradition of our churches, and indeed of the Christian Church as such. Different viewpoints on apparent conflicts between Scripture and science have traditionally been allowed, already in the early church. In addition to the essay mentioned in paragraph 1 of this response, we refer you to the work of Dr. Peter J. Wallace, particularly to his essay “The Doctrine of Creation in the History of the Church,” which you can also find on this blog under “Collected Papers.” Another reason is that declaring a young-earth interpretation of Genesis 1 to be the only acceptable biblical approach creates unnecessary and dangerous stumbling blocks both to fellow-believers (not least to our students and academics) and to “seekers.” Aware of the advances in medicine, technology, and so on, which were achieved, in God’s providence, by modern science, many find it difficult, indeed impossible, to agree to the demand that, in order to be a Christian, they must denounce well-established and fruitful scientific theories as deceptive. We ask for a free and open discussion of the issues at stake first of all to help these people. We do it also, however, for the sake of our churches as such, which we fear are succumbing to a type of “fundamentalism” that is foreign to their tradition.
Here follows Calvin’s essay in response. We welcome the critical engagement of our readers. As all of us are busy, we don’t expect to respond ourselves very quickly though.
Bias, Fraud and the Question of Compatibility
A guest post by Calvin Wieske
Thank you for your reply! I apologize for the delay, but I wanted to ensure due diligence in a response. In fact, I used to think that an old earth was plausible, and that it did not really matter biblically. I am no longer of that opinion, however. Again I applaud your joint venture to encourage and promote open and balanced discussion on this controversial topic, and It is my intent that what follows will be written accordingly.
I have indeed noticed that the Canadian Reformed churches tend to encourage a young-earth view, while encouraging the exclusion of old-earth doctrine from both the classroom and the pulpit. From my experience, there is a good reason for this, which is similar to that which you have put forward for starting this blog. The need for this blog as described in your reply to my comment on “Introducing Reformed Academic” was, if I may summarize, “…the sudden decision of Clarion to censor material written from an old-earth-creationist point of view…[while] young-earth creationism gets all the attention in our printed media it could possibly desire”. What is not mentioned is that modern secular science pushes evolutionary thinking in all forums, whether it be public schools where it is taught as fact, or the news, where fossils are frequently trumpeted as being the latest “transitional form” or “evolutionary breakthrough”, when closer scrutiny reveals a lot of extrapolation, and very little hard evidence. In addition, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic and other programs including the BBC’s Emmy-winning “Walking With…” documentary series bring the distant evolutionary past right into your living room in high definition, neglecting to mention that the events portrayed are merely artists’ renderings of scientific conjecture. In fact it might be said that evolution gets all the attention in mass media it could possibly desire. This has undoubtedly led to the hesitation of Canadian Reformed publications to contribute to our continual exposure to evolutionary rhetoric.
Nonetheless, you are not evolutionists, but old-earth creationists, and I understand this. However, the famous English biologist and evolution advocate Thomas Huxley was adamant that evolution and special creation were mutually exclusive, stating, “evolution excludes creation and all other kinds of supernatural intervention”. [Evolution and Ethics (London: Macmillan and Co., 1894), p. 6)] In fact, throughout my post-secondary education, this lack of compatibility was a fact that was agreed upon by the vast majority of my professors, and I don’t think it would be remiss to say that most modern secular scientists share this sentiment. This is not surprising since the theory of evolution is a logical result of the belief that God does not exist and the subsequent need for an alternative explanation of life as we know it. Therefore, it is no longer a question of whether the creation days can be seen as non-literal or non-twenty-four hour days, but a question of whether evolution undermines the Bible, and therefore attacks all that we, as Christians, hold dear.
It is no secret that evolution depends on long ages. How else could advanced life forms come from nothing, or even from eternal, lifeless matter, without supernatural intervention? In fact, materialism (the theory or belief that matter or energy is all that exists) is the driver of evolution, and this, coupled with uniformitarianism, creates the biased worldview of secular scientists. Prominent atheist, evolutionist and critic of creation and intelligent design Richard Dawkins admits, “the fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some ten billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing - is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.” [“From Tale to Tail on the Path of Pilgrims in Life”, The Scotsman, 9 April 2005.] The late paleontologist Dr. Stephen Jay Gould in his 1977 article “Evolution’s Erratic Pace” (reprinted in his 1980 book The Panda’s Thumb) admits, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as a trade secret of paleontology. Evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.” This is why Gould and his colleague Niles Eldredge developed the idea of “punctuated equilibrium” which describes the history of life as long periods of evolutionary stability ‘punctuated’ by rapid instances of evolutionary branching. In fact, even the word ‘rapid’ here is misleading, as it usually translates to instant appearance of new forms in the fossil record, with a glaring absence of precursors. This theory is in direct contrast to the more common theory of gradual evolution and the work of Charles Darwin, who admitted he must throw out his entire theory if the geological record did not show, “intermediate varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life.”
This is not to say that scientists have not produced examples of ‘transitional forms’ from the fossil record, but rather that they have failed to uncover a definitive record of evolutionary transitions over time, as their predecessors had predicted they would. In fact, these ‘transitional fossils’ are actually distinct creatures, whose status as ‘evidence’ is open to interpretation, and whose fossils often appear (and/or disappear) from the fossil record around the same time as their so-called ‘evolutionary descendants’. The coelacanth is a well-known example of a so-called ‘transitional fossil’, assumed to be a transition between fish and tetrapods (four-legged vertebrates) because of its lobe-like fins. It was believed to have evolved into its modern form around 400 mya (million years ago) and then become extinct 65 mya, as was documented in the fossil record. This was debunked in 1938, when a fisherman caught a live coelacanth off the east coast of South Africa. Since then, many more have been caught and some have even been photographed in their natural habitat. Rather than be embarrassed by their mistake, scientists’ put some of these ‘primitive’ fish in museums and ironically label findings such as these (there are multiple examples) “Lazarus” taxa, after Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11. In the same way scientists coin other oxymoronic terms such as “evolutionary conservatism” or “evolutionary stasis” to explain how an animal remains identical despite over 400 million years of environmental fluctuations, not to mention the selective pressures caused by the evolution of everything else in their environment (as their theory predicts). Animals like the coelacanth are described as ‘primitive’, because of their perceived lack of evolutionary progress, regardless of the fact that they often exhibit unique, complex traits that allow them to survive in their environment (in this case, a ‘primitive’ fish ironically survives 400 my of so-called evolution-driving selective pressure by not evolving).
Examples such as this are useful for illustrating the bias of secular science, as dictated by their worldview. Another example is the term “convergent evolution” which is used to explain how animals from different (theoretical) lineages have acquired ‘analogous’ traits independently, presumably by independently evolving different structures numerous times for the same function (e.g. wings, which have the same function, but completely different structure and origin on bats, insects and birds). In contrast, “divergent” evolution is used to describe different uses and functions of ‘homologous’ structures that have presumably originated in a common ancestor, but have ‘evolved’ for different uses (e.g.. various animals share a similar limb structure made up of a humerus, radius and ulna, which are used for vastly different functions). In this way, evolutionists cover their bases by making the evidence fit their theory, thereby proving that they are not searching for the truth, but rather seek proof for their worldview, regardless of the evidence.
In a rebuttal to Herman van Barneveld’s comment on “More About Origin and Operation Science: A Response” by Jitse van der Meer, brother van der Meer says, “I expect that deeper insight into the causes of the evolution of new body plans (jellyfish, worms, sea urchins, insects, mammals) will come from developmental biology – the study of embryonic development”. In fact, studies on embryonic development in the past have accomplished the opposite. Evolutionarily we would expect the embryonic development of ‘homologous’ traits in two different species to be similar if these traits were inherited from a common ancestor. Instead, however, studies on the development of ‘homologous’ traits have yielded (evolutionarily) surprising results. One such example is the development of digits (fingers and toes) in frogs and humans. Humans develop a spade shaped structure, followed by the digits (e.g. fingers) differentiating as the cells between them are destroyed by apoptosis (programmed cell death). Frogs, on the other hand, grow their digits outwards from a ‘bud’ by way of cell division at growth points (Futuyma, D., Evolutionary Biology, Sinauer Associates, Massachusetts, U.S.A, 2nd ed., p. 436, 1986). This is remarkable since it essentially indicates that the development of these ‘homologous’ structures could not come from shared genes. Some might say then that this is an anomaly, where what appear to be ‘homologous’ traits, are simply similar structures that evolved independently. This is not an obscure example, however, as embryonic development of ‘homologous’ structures differs widely in other animals as well, even in salamanders and frogs which are both amphibians (Fröbisch, N.B., and Shubin, N.H., “Salamander limb development: Integrating genes, morphology, and fossils”, Developmental Dynamics 240(5): 1087-1099, 2011 cited in Statham, Dominic., “Homology Made Simple”, Creation 34(4): 43-45, 2012).
The point here is not that secular scientists are biased while Christians are not, but rather that we are both biased, and our differing worldviews dictate how we interpret the evidence. In other words, the fallacy lies in evolutionists’ interpretation of the evidence. In addition, this illustrates how the evidence has not created their worldview; rather their worldview was firmly established before they began examining the evidence. In the past this may not have been as prominent, as the secular worldview was not as rampant and at that point it could perhaps be argued that some Christians hypothesized the potential of an old earth based on their scientific study. If this was so, however, they were relatively few, and I believe many of them would have retracted their views had they seen the blatant anti-Christian bias of scientists today, as well as the continuing lack of evidence to uphold their theories.
In a continued response to Herman van Barneveld’s comment on the aforementioned article, Jitse van der Meer states, “today the fossil record is sufficiently complete to be confident that there are strata with marine fossils such as corals that contain no fish because at the time there were corals, but no fish. This cannot be explained as the result of Noah’s flood, for instance, because it would have mixed up corals and fish”. This betrays a bias in interpretation along the lines of what I have mentioned above. Strata with marine fossils such as corals, which lack fish, could indeed be interpreted to indicate that fish had not yet evolved, from an evolutionists’ point of view. From an unbiased point of view, however, what we see are diverse corals which recent research, including that of a team led by David Miller of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, Australia), reveals that corals are complex organisms which are estimated to have 20-25,000 genes, potentially 2,000 genes more than humans! In addition, the lack of fish in coral bearing strata no more proves the nonexistence of fish than the lack of the coelacanth in the last (alleged) 65 my of rock strata proves its extinction. In fact, this phenomenon is relatively common, a result of fossil bias due to the effects of differing organism mobility and hydrodynamic sorting. While corals are sedentary, fish are mobile, allowing them opportunity to escape fossilization events (catastrophic burial for example). In addition, upon death, many animals including fish tend to bloat, causing them to float and degrade before they can be fossilized. These are also reasonable explanations for the relative lack of human fossils in geologic strata. In general, the effects of differential mobility, hydrodynamic dispersion, habitat, anatomy and other factors are well known to create bias in the already sparse fossil record which I will not go further into at this point.
Jitse van der Meer also states, “Herman has been misled by scientific creationists to think that there are no transitional fossils. The fossil record does include fish with legs, fish with lungs, dinosaurs with feathers, mammal-like reptiles etc.” I have already mentioned the coelacanth as evidence of this erroneous thinking, and might add that ‘primitive’ ‘transitional fossils’ known as lungfish (freshwater fish which can breathe air with their lungs) can be found living today in Australia, South America and Africa. These ‘primitive’ animals have been created with unique systems that allow them to survive seasonal drying of their habitat by breathing air and estivating (a form of hibernation) in mud, another example of miraculous ‘evolutionary stasis’ to an evolutionist presumably. I could go on, but you get the point, there are always two sides to the story that must be explored.
Van der Meer then explains, “New information is added to the genome of plants and animals by duplication of existing genes followed by mutation of the duplicate as well as by duplication of entire chromosomes”. This is indeed true to a degree, but one must only look to the incidence of Down’s Syndrome in humans (which is caused by a partial or complete third copy of chromosome 21) to see the adverse effects this generally has on the recipient. Van der Meer adds, “Mammals have four sets [of homeotic genes] on four chromosomes. It is generally accepted that they arose by two successive chromosome duplications and subsequent mutations in the duplicate genes.” Generally accepted by secular science, perhaps, but there is certainly no proof of this. Van der Meer is correct, however, in noting, “There is, however, a far more serious problem, namely that of the origin of genetic information. There is strong evidence from polymer chemistry against a molecular mechanism that produces genetic information where there was none before.” This is, in my opinion, one of the largest nails in the coffin of evolution.
Contrary to Darwin’s predictions, therefore, Dr. Gould points out a problem that can’t be ignored, namely the lack of definitive scientific evidence of evolution and an old earth, despite years and years of biased study and the teaching of evolution as fact in schools, museums, tourist attractions and elsewhere in the public forum. Perhaps this is why creation science has “flourished mightily over the past three or four decades” against all odds, as mentioned in the introduction to “Young-Earth Creationism: A History”. In fact, Dr. Oosterhoff, in her article introduced in that blog posting, admits that The Genesis Flood (1961) by John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris “conquered not only fundamentalism and much of American evangelicalism as a whole, it found adherents also in conservative protestant churches…Seventh-Day Adventists and Southern Baptists…several members of Reformed and Presbyterian churches [and] even had adherents among Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses.” Was this an accident, or by design? Were these people all misled, or perhaps was God using these men to bring the church back to the Bible? Admittedly, The Genesis Flood contains some examples that are outdated with new scientific developments today, not unlike secular science textbooks of the day. Why is it, then, that its legacy of young-earth creation science lives on?
This is a loaded question. Perhaps it is the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. Perhaps it is the instant ‘explosions’ of life followed by loss of diversity and relentless extinctions that we see instead. It may even be the fact that the evolution movement has been so anti-religious that it is a backlash against the attack of science on the church. What is clear is that for most of written history, the church believed in twenty-four hour creation days, because they had no reason to question it. With the increase in scientific knowledge, new theories were born and there have been numerous young-earth and old-earth theologians since. Calvin and Luther held to a young-earth, as did Augustine, although he allowed for varying lengths of the creation days. Kuyper, Schilder, Bavinck and others allowed an old-earth but none professed evolution, and many of their contemporaries differed on their theories of old-earth creation between the Gap Theory, Day-Age Theory and Framework Hypothesis, among others. But you know all this, so what is the point? The point is that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to conclusively prove or disprove either old-earth creationism or young-earth creationism with our existing scientific evidence. A couple reasons for this include incomplete data and biased interpretations but we are also impeded by the physical, temporal and intellectual limitations that we face as fallible, fallen humanity. Does this mean that we should give up this discussion? I think not.
Brother van der Meer continues in his rebuttal to Herman van Barneveld, “For [creation scientists,] science is a means to show that the Bible is true, not a means to glorify God by studying his works. This became clear after various experiences with scientific fraud on their part for the sake of harmonizing science with Scripture. I am referring to their claim of having found human and dinosaur footprints in the same rock, known as the Paluxy River affair, their selective use of radiometric data in an attempt to undermine the credibility of an ancient earth, their claim that the observed exponential decay of the Earth’s magnetic field proves that the Earth cannot be more than about 10,000 years old known as the Thomas Barnes affair.”
Surely this is a bold accusation, besides being a vast generalization. Admittedly, there have been some regrettable instances in the past where perhaps religious fervour, lack of due diligence and other factors contributed to Christian scientists presenting fraudulent or incorrect data. Perhaps some of this fallacious information was even presented knowingly, with manipulative intent. Does this mean that all Christian scientists are guilty of this? And are we better than them? Is this not the human nature that we all struggle with? In Psalm 53 David writes, “God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (vv. 2, 3 NIV 1984) The problem is, not one of us is perfectly knowledgeable, nor without sin. This is not to be an excuse, however. True science demands that fraudulent and outdated arguments be swiftly exposed and corrected by peer evaluation, as many young-earth creationists have done in regards to the aforementioned controversies. In contrast, we could examine the work of respected German evolutionist Dr. Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel’s altered embryo drawings are famous frauds which were not only a manipulative lie, they are often defended to this day, and are even included in science courses and textbooks, regardless of the fact that they have been admitted fakes for years. A quick background and an example of evolutionists defending these falsified drawings is available in this video from the Discovery Institute.
An article from LiveScience called “Oops! 5 Retracted Science Studies of 2012” by columnist Christopher Wanjek sheds more light on this topic. Mr. Wanjek notes, “It seems that an increasing number of scientific studies are just plain wrong and are ultimately retracted. Worse, a study published in October 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (uh, if it’s true) claims that the majority of retractions are due to some type of misconduct, and not honest mistakes, as long assumed”. Mr. Wanjek’s obvious sarcasm aside, it is clearly evident that secular evolutionists are prone to the very ‘scientific fraud’ that van der Meer paints as a defining character of young-earth creationism. Creationists openly admit the bias that comes with their belief in God as our creator, while secular scientists claim to be objective. Van der Meer appears to accept the secular claim that belief in a godless evolutionary process does not create bias in scientific study. I would contend that this is naïve at best. The point here is not to be combative but to establish that science, in theory, is supposed to be an unbiased, objective interpretation of the world around us by means of the scientific method. In reality, however this is rarely the case. Am I saying that human error, bias and fraud force us to abandon scientific study and embrace skeptical, cynical or agnostic attitudes? Certainly not. I think we all agree that the study of God’s Creation is an excellent way to improve our knowledge of God’s incredible power and majesty as well as improve the lives of many who are struggling in a fallen world. It is important, however, to remember the limitations of our fallen world, including that of man, and avoid putting our experiences, studies and perceptions of this world above the infallible revelation we have been given in the Bible.
The one thing that is constant, trustworthy and true throughout the ages is the holy, infallible Word of God. Should not the Bible, therefore, be both the starting and finishing point of such discussion? It is true that long ages and theistic evolution were considered a possibility by some Christians in the past, but it is also true that these Christians were partially relying on misleading, outdated or biased information, while anticipating future scientific findings that never came to fruition. It is also true that humans are sinful, fallible and prone to bias and Christians are by no means exempt from the consequences of these flaws. It is my opinion, therefore, that today’s church has only recently come to understand how at odds evolution is with scripture, and this has undoubtedly been a contributor to the censoring of old-earth ideas. In her aforementioned article [introduced here], Dr. Oosterhoff admits, “Disagreements on this issue are as violent as they have ever been and belong to the most divisive issues among conservative Christians”. Is this not perhaps a reason in itself to censor it from certain publications at the discretion of the editor? This Reformed Academic blog may be used freely as a forum for the discussion of various academic topics, but in a periodical whose mandate differs from this forum, perhaps censorship was the right choice, in order to maintain unity in the church and avoid creating schisms and unrest. One might argue that if periodicals such as Clarion and Reformed Perspective would like to avoid these schisms then they should also censor articles defending young-earth creationism. I would contend that since young-earth arguments do not require a re-interpretation of scripture, and since they are consistent with the belief of the majority of subscribers, the editors of these magazines would be hard pressed to find a reason to do so.
Finally, I would like to submit for your consideration a challenge to your accusation that the Canadian Reformed Church has unfairly censored and attacked old-earth creationists. Dr. Oosterhoff notes in her article, “The Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches…does not take an official position on the matter”. Isn’t this precisely to avoid “binding consciences” or creating “divisive issues” among Christians? In addition, our confessions do not condemn old-earth creationism directly, nor are people labeled as heretics or excommunicated for such ideas, at least not by the church as a unified body, despite some being of the opinion that this should be the case. On the other hand, “Young Earth Creation: A History” refers to Korean Christians as “creationist propagandists” and other young-earth creationists as “anti-Darwinists” and “anti-evolutionists”, which is itself divisive and accusatory language (although perhaps it is not meant as such).
Overall, both reading science into the bible, and describing creation from the bible have led to embarrassments in the past, such as accepting the Greek theory of four elements, the existence of a solid dome ‘raqi’a’ or ‘firmament’ in the sky which holds water, a geocentric theory of the universe, a flat earth, and other ideas which we have since corrected. It is important then, that we look at the Bible as the only infallible source of knowledge, and avoid extrapolating beyond God’s Word. In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul reminds us take care in all aspects of life since, “Everything is permissible-but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible-but not everything is constructive” (NIV 1984). I believe that Reformed Academic was created with verse 32 of 1 Corinthians 10 in mind, “do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (NIV 1984) as explained in the introductory post. Nonetheless, the devil seeks to twist even our best intentions, and I maintain that the tendency to set secular science above a literal reading of the Bible is unwarranted by the evidence and undermines the very doctrine which you seek to protect. The Devil would love to see these discussions cause divisions in the church, to separate us from God and our neighbour. We must keep this in mind so that we are not judgmental, but rather discuss our differences peacefully as brothers and sisters in the unity of Christ, in a spirit of mutual edification. In this way we can work together to hold off the attacks of the Evil One, for “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV 1984)