* For John Whitmore *
Back in the Precambrian several thousand years ago, coveting culinary adventures beyond the provisions of Paradise and talked by a walking snake into eating the only fruit God strenuously warned them against, our Greatest Great-Grandparents traded everlasting nudist bliss—theirs and ours—for leathers and harsh discipline by a neophyte Grim Reaper, who, mere generations later, in a Flood higher than Everest and a Grave deeper than Grand Canyon, overzealously drowned and then buried everything that breathed save the fortunate residents of a floating zoo called Ark. Or so we heard last time from an old friend of my usual guest.
Hello everyone, I’m “Dr. X.” My usual guest is the fascinating “Dr. Why,” and what you’re reading is his authorized intellectual biography.
I’m very pleased to announce that Dr. Why has joined us again today, presumably to laud the engaging introduction to young-Earth creationism I gave last time in his absence. Dr. Why?
Y: It certainly was engaging, Dr. X. Very clever of you to “interview” young-Earth creationism personified as my “old friend, Yec.” And you presented a helpful caricature of Yec’s key ideas about Earth history.
X: Thank you, Why.
Y: But you’re nevertheless mistaken about Yec’s motivations and wrong to treat it as a mere side-show freak.
X: Yec itself says its primary motivation is faithfulness to a literal interpretation of the Bible, Why! But first tell me why I shouldn’t treat it as a freak.
Y: Better to break the circle of abuse?
X: You seem to think Yec isn’t really a freak.
Y: As I’ve often said, X, I’m with you in finding young-Earth creationism unbelievable—
Y: —but you seem to know it about as well as your caricature suggests. In which case it’s no surprise you think it’s a freak: everyone looks freaky in caricature.
X: Go on.
Y: As I’ve pointed out before, X, the historical sciences build on founding hypotheses that Yecs reasonably doubt. For example, conventional historical geologists assume that no God has ever intervened in Earth history. It’s a very helpful assumption—if it’s a correct one. But anyone who doubts it has reason to doubt all of historical geology, because uniformitarianism misleads methodically—it’s a source of systematic error—if God has intervened in Earth history. And that’s clearly reason enough for those sympathetic to Yec to try to reinvent geology so that it’s at least logically compatible with the hypotheses they consider. It would be freaky if they didn’t. You can’t discern an act of God with a method that proscribes divine activity, X!
X: Nor can you do science if God’s out working miracles, Why!
Y: So we should build the conclusion that God isn’t working miracles into our method of inquiry? Exclude interventionist hypotheses by fiat? That’s ironic. And it isn’t science if we don’t? I say either that’s not true, or too bad for science if it is. Because what if you thought interventionism an interesting hypothesis and wanted to test it? To be specific, what if you sincerely wanted to know whether Noah’s Flood could reasonably be blamed for some large portion of the geologic record—like some of geology’s founders once did, and like I did back when I was a Yec? How would you rationally investigate that possibility?
X: Geological methods are rational, Why.
Y: Yes, but as I’ve been saying, X, conventional geology assumes uniformitarianism. You can’t test the hypothesis that the present is not key to the past while methodically acting as if it is!
X: So we have to allow creationists to invoke miracles every time a finding conflicts with their pet theory? Because otherwise we stack the deck against them?
Y: To deny miracles systematically is to dismiss Yec without even considering it—which is definitely not a rational way to appraise it. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine pinning down a position that’s allowed recourse to miracles, so I think you’re right to be concerned about the possibility of abuse. I had the same concern when I was a Yec. But so do lots of Yecs. Professional Yecs know they’ll never make their case by invoking miracles willy-nilly, so most of their hypotheses don’t involve any.
X: But they can’t even get started without miracles, Why! “Noah’s Flood covered the highest mountains” they say! But where did all that water come from? Hocus-pocus! Where did it go? Presto! “The Flood buried the continents under miles of sediment” they say! Why didn’t it wash them clean instead? Abracadabra! Why aren’t the ocean basins filled with mud? Alakazam! These are colossal problems for so-called Flood geology, Why! And no miracles required? Flimflam!
Y: The Yecs I know prefer to save their miracles for creation week, X. So suppose they posited that Earth at birth had a slightly cooler crust and hotter mantle than today. Suppose they modeled this newborn Earth on a Cray supercomputer, which showed that, if suitably disturbed, its crust would fracture into plates and subduct catastrophically; that continents would race around the globe at 20+ mph, scraping up sediments; that hot new ocean floors produced at spread centers would jet enough steam into the sky for forty days of rain, swell the oceans over the highest mountain, then cool to receive them back again. Zip! Zap! Zowie! Pow! And for an encore, suppose further modeling showed that crust subducted to the core would make Earth’s magnetic field flip fast enough to racing-stripe the ocean floors. Voilà!
Y: But this is exactly what some Yecs are attempting, and with surprising sophistication and some show of success.
X: You’re thinking of that geophysicist U.S. News & World Report covered some years ago—
X: They haven’t.
Y: No, but suppose for sake of argument they eventually do: to the satisfaction of qualified, hostile judges, they overcome the colossal problems you identified—without making new ones—just by positing certain specially created initial conditions. I’m asking you to consider the mere logical possibility of that happening. Would you object to their invocation of miracle then?
X: Of course I would. Principled or willy-nilly, miracles have no place in science.
Y: In which case you exclude Yec—interventionist theism, even—merely by fiat. You don’t reject it because it’s been tried but failed; you exclude it from consideration by embracing diametrically opposed founding hypotheses and refusing even to consider the possibility that they’re mistaken. An awkward position for an allegedly objective inquirer after truth, isn’t it?
X: Only when you put it like that, Why. Readers, please don’t leave us.