Creationism and Church Attendance

It turns out that Young Earth Creationists are still around, at least according to some Christianity Today figures. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, really, since many churches still teach Young Earth theories over and against the multitude of scientists who would say such beliefs are utter nonsense.

So that you do not try to figure out exactly what I believe from my inevitable bias, I’ll say it outright: I land in the Young Earth Creationist camp, but loosely so. If it were accepted by the Church at large and by the majority of pastors, or I were presented with a particularly strong and convincing case without many counter-points, my faith in a powerful and sovereign God would not be damaged. The reason I haven’t spent much time seeking out information on the subject is twofold: I am not a scientist, and, the ancient origins of the Earth reside in God, whether 6000 years ago, 4.54 billion years, or any other figure that someone may postulate.

But this Young Earth position is, apparently, driving people out of the Church. So argues Karl Giberson, Ph.D over at the Huffington Post. The reason given for people leaving the Church, at least when it comes to science, is that the Church is viewed as “antagonistic to science.” One example that Giberson brings up is that of apologist Ken Ham, who encourages children and students to ask the question “Were you there?” when presented with any statement detailing the past. The standard, as Giberson rightly points out, is pretty insane. After all, the answer will always be no. But if I say that Jesus died on the cross, or even that George Washington was the first president of the United States of America, then I will also be forced to answer that “No, I was not there.” This sort of standard–where personal experience is the only reliable justification for knowledge–is destructive to nearly all knowledge. No piece of news would be trustworthy, nor would any person be able to communicate their knowledge to you in a way where you could pass it on. The buck stops after just one transition, since direct experience would no longer exist.

This is obviously problematic, and it strikes me as sad that such a poor argument stands for the position with which I associate myself. But what I find odd is that as Giberson calls for the Church to stop being “antithetical to science” (to whatever extent it actually is, anyways), his statements come off as abrasive and divisive. The call, it seems, is not for unity, but rather for a step away from one belief towards another. The counter point to this, as I suspect Giberson would say, is that he is simply making a call for Christians to affirm truth. And this may well be the case, but here is what I suggest.

Since it appears to me that there are intelligent people on both sides of this particular point (Ken Ham’s arguments, I think, misrepresent many Young Earth Creationists), and since the doctrine does not pertain to salvation or the Gospel message directly, I think the solution is to not worry so much about the issue within the Church. Of course, this does not mean we should stop seeking truth. Our responsibility as followers of a God of truth is to worship God for who he is, and we can most genuinely do that when our beliefs most accurately align to reality. But when it comes to the unity of the Church, it seems worthwhile to not let this issue be divisive. Don’t shy away from it, and make sure that you have healthy discussion with fellow believers and non-believers alike, but pastors, elders, and lay-people should all accept and respect people who have sought an answer, even if they conclude something that does not match exactly what they believe.

What does matter, however, is affirming that God had his hand in Creation, whenever that happened. Genesis takes this as one of its primary points, at least for the first portion of the book; God is the source of all matter, living or non-living. Let’s remember which issues are most important (Jesus’ resurrection, for instance) and try not to quibble about issues like how old the Earth is.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

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  • Philip Gray

     I personally think that the church is short-changing the children of the congregation members if they don’t stand for the scientific theories. 
     Let me explain:  An older earth allows for the decay rates of radioactive materials, the location of subterranean fossil fuel sources, the location of continental shelves, etc.   If we want our kids to have the opportunity to understand geology for energy, engineering or legislative reasons, then they’ll need to, at least, understand an older earth even if they don’t believe in it.
     The theory of evolution is also a useful tool for our children.  Science shows evidence of rapidly evolving haplotypes in humans by comparing our DNA to that of a chimpanzee and using the theory of evolution.  Those haplotypes sometime affect cellular meiosis and mitosis by not aligning correctly and are hot-spots to watch for genetic disorders and develop new treatments and medicines.  They also tend to be located around transcription factors (that determine how genes are decoded) or master control genes (that turn gene expression off or on) which is also highly important to making new medicines.    This knowledge allows tools for our kids to become knowledgeable dependable medical doctors, lawyers, politicians, etc..

     Also, there is a huge difference between accepting the evidence and theories of science and forming a belief.   Beliefs do not require the prerequisite of truth, whereas evidence from observation is generally taken as being as close to truth as possible..
      A real scientist would say, “Don’t believe anything.  Take nothing for granted.  Use the latest evidence as a guide, don’t believe it, and be pleasantly surprised if it works.”
       It’s important, if we want our children to have the best tools in their lives, to make sure our children understand the usefulness of the evidence and theories that science provides, even if they don’t believe in them.

  • Mgroop

    I think you misrepresent Ken Ham’s take on “Were you there?”. The point is not if you “Mr. Arnold” were there, but was anybody there. In all the examples you cite, somebody was there to record the actions. Matthew, Mark, etc wrote about Jesus. Scores of people wrote about Washington first-hand.
    In the case of Creation, no person was there. That is his point, not were you specifically there. At least that is my interpretation.
    This leaves us with observation (the foundation of science). But after observation is where human error creeps in, for example. The continents were once together, now they are separated by the Atlantic Ocean. They are separating at a rate of 5 cm per year. They are separated by roughly 5500 km. That is observation.
    One person could deduct that means that they have been separating for 110,000,000 years. But another person could disagree saying that you are assuming that the 5cm per year is a constant number. Both conclusions are scientifically valid based on the observations mentioned. One would yield an old-earth conclusion, the other could yield a young-earth conclusion. But since nobody was there, we can’t know for sure.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t like to think of beliefs as necessarily lesser than knowledge; it seems to me that all of our pieces of knowledge begin as beliefs, and only become knowledge when they satisfy whatever conditions we believe lead to knowledge (standard formula might be justification, truth and [of course] belief itself, though most everyone agrees there must be at least one more condition).

    I agree that we should recognize the usefulness of science. I hope I didn’t come across as someone who hates science or disapproves of the use of it. If I did, I do apologize. It’s something I will work on.

    I do wonder, however, whether the Church is in a position where teaching our children science is necessarily her job. Is it the Church’s job to teach about every single aspect of life? I think it is the job of the Church, through scripture and the Holy Spirit, of course, to teach clear doctrines concerning God and the way we live our lives in light of that. Of course, we do have to talk about science at some point, but I don’t think this is a primary purpose of the Church at large, at least in most cases. This is what I believe at the moment, but I admit I’m still forming this particular belief.


  • Anonymous

    Huh. That makes a lot more sense.

    I was actually equating (mentally, and apparently rather unfairly) Ken Ham’s argument with one I heard preached at an apologetics seminar years ago. The rhetoric I heard was to teach kids to simply ask “why?” when touring museums until the poor tour guide wanted to scream. It struck me as an odd way to ‘prove’ anything, particularly since most tour guides are volunteers or just working the job to move on; they memorize what they have to and that might be it.

    It does sound to me that apologists like Mr. Ham still want to ask those questions in order to uphold the beliefs of the Church. The point of his questions is still to rule out Old Earth theory as truth, at least as it sounds to me. The argument is against one thing, and (I think) primarily for the Young Earth theory. After all, Moses presumably heard from his parents who heard from theirs who heard from theirs until we reach Adam that God created the world from nothing, since there were no people before then. Following that it is a matter of tracing genealogies to arrive at the conclusion Young Earthers get to, at least if my understanding of the theory is correct.

    I think the natural conclusion of Ken’s argument is that “No, scientists were not there. But Adam was. He was the first human observer.” After all, Ham’s entire point is that observational science is primary and that inferential science is problematic (or at least suspect).


  • Nathan Bennett

    I have actually met Ken Ham. I walked up to him to ask him about ANOTHER Young Earth creationist when I talked to him, but that is tangential.

    One thing that I have found important for faith is that we take it largely on authority; at least, we largely take the narrative framing our beliefs on authority. A Talbot seminary guy once tried to correct me on that, but I still think it. For what proof we have, we still have to take the message on authority because we can ignore it otherwise.

    Presuppositional apologetics, which deals with the underlying assumptions that go into people’s beliefs, works not from trying to disprove the other side’s arguments but by trying to show the faulty assumptions supporting the other side’s reasoning. This branch of apologetics may have a better response to the broader secular humanistic thingie trying to snuff out religion by force of words rather than force of reason (i.e. Richard Dawkins, you are rather clever, but the six bad puns you just made to say that Christianity is stupid do not answer my question, and you have not shown me where to find the answer if you do not want to take the time to answer it yourself) than the attempt to “prove” the theory of evolution right out of all the textbooks (evidential apologetics). Even if the evidential approach proves the truth, you can prove anything if you have your arguments properly lined up, and people with different presuppositions will read your evidence differently than you will.

    I cannot now conceive of what the presuppositional response might be, but whether you use evidential or philosophical illumination to counter opponents of the truth, you will make a tactical or even a strategic error by attempting to use the mere weight of your arguments to bring someone over to your side when you have neither pulleys, winches, nor levers on your side. Christianity should have martyrs, not Thought Police.

  • Edward Bennigsen

    Agreed, Plato defines knowledge as a “true, justified belief”, which works for me :) So all knowledge is actually belief, with the added conditions that it must be true (quite hard to verify, and also contentious!) and justified (not so hard, I suppose).

  • jamesfarnold

    Have you read Gettier at all? His problem (named after him) with the JTB theory of knowledge really shook up the epistemology world in the 1960’s, and the face of that field hasn’t really recovered. It’s interesting reading, and I think he provides a pretty convincing problem (though I still hold a form of JTB, and JTB for almost all circumstances, probably).

  • Edward B.

    Hm, sounds interesting… When we studied epistemology we pretty much said that was the de facto standard of defining knowledge.

    Of course, postmodernism posits that there is no absolute truth… but that is pretty pointless. And impossible to verify as if it is true, how can it be? ;)

  • jamesfarnold

    If you didn’t talk about Gettier problems, I don’t think you really covered contemporary epistemology, to be honest.

    That said, JTB is the ‘standard model’ because it was used for many years. Gettier provides an example where it appears that JTB is satisfied, but almost no one is willing to attribute ‘knowledge’ to the case. It’s really fascinating stuff.

    Postmodernism just changes what the definition of truth is, such that it is primarily relative, either to an individual or to a culture, or to a text, or some other relation. There is still some sort of knowledge, and perhaps can still be useful to some degree, but for the most part it makes epistemology pretty difficult to actually see any success.

  • Corey

    I think this topic will be one that churns until Christ returns. I do wonder why, though, you presume that it is not the church’s job to teach science. After all, we teach the super-natural, and to define that, we need to understand the natural. Otherwise, we become like the history channel, always trying to explain miracles through natural occurrences. If we apply the standard to other miracles in the Bible that we do to Creation, we have to discount many, if not all of them. Jonah had no witnesses, nor did Moses on the mountain. If we say that Creation in 6 days (yom) is not scientifically viable, should we not apply that to the resurrection, the visions of Daniel, Isaiah and John? I do not think that is should be the leading identifier in a church, but because some essential truths, like original sin, come from the Genesis story, the veracity of the original account is not just up for grabs.

  • jamesfarnold

    “If we apply the standards [of science] to other miracles in the Bible that we do to Creation, we have to discount many, if not all of them.”

    Perhaps, but the difference here comes down to evidence. “Science” (which is already a bit of an odd brushstroke to paint with) has evidence that the earth is far older than our Biblical account appears to claim. “Science” may make claims on other miracles, like the Resurrection, but a single, localized act somehow strikes me as different than something like the age of the earth. There isn’t any present-day evidence that Jesus is still dead, for instance. If we found the bones of Jesus, and we were certain they were the bones of Jesus, we should walk away from Christianity, plain and simple.

    “I do wonder why, though, you presume that it is not the church’s job to teach science.”

    In short, because it doesn’t look like Scripture prizes science, certainly in comparison with other disciplines (theology, ethics, the like). I don’t think we should ignore or avoid science by any means, of course. But while the Church may have a need to teach some things in science, there are a lot of topics that just seem like they are unnecessary inside the church walls, for the most part. Algebra is relatively important for a lot of things, but it would be odd for the local church to offer classes in it. It just isn’t the church’s specialty.

  • Edward B.

    Sorry for not replying earlier, hardly ever check my Disqus notifications!

    And yeah, I took a one year course and we spent maybe 4 months overall doing epistemology (rest of the time we did political philosophy). We started with Plato (JTB, realm of the forms), then Locke, Hume and finally Berkeley (Idealism etc). So we mainly dealt with rationalism vs empiricism and if sensory experience could give us true knowledge of the world (Locke vs Berkeley).

    If I’d carried on the course we might have done more up to date philosophy but that was as far as we got! And yes, postmodernism is confusing to say the least…

  • Dan

    Just curious: Who ARE the intelligent people behind 6-day creationism?
    What are their credentials and are they relevant to the fields of biology, geology, cosmology? What accredited universities do they teach at (if at all)? Are any of them doing active research in the biological or earth sciences and what public contributions have they made to the advancement of the sciences? Have they been published in peer review journals? What is their reputation and reception in the broader, scientific world? Find me someone who meets all of these criteria.

  • jamesfarnold

    Hey Dan,

    Thanks for the reply. A few thoughts:

    1. Asking questions about reputation may not be helpful, if the point is that there are sometimes intelligent people who disagree. After all, perhaps someone’s reputation may be lacking if they disagree with scientific orthodoxy, so to speak. After all, the majority isn’t always right.

    2. Most people who I know that land in the 6-day creationism camp (and those who I would also call intelligent) have a stronger background in philosophy than they do in the sciences, admittedly. I’m not so quick to discount philosophy of science, however. After all, science can ask a lot of questions, but questions about itself are left to philosophy, rather than testable inquiries.

    3. I’d say that the majority of people who aren’t scientific in their background but are philosophically minded (and Christians) end up agnostic on the issue of the age of the earth. I myself land here, though I don’t think I did when I wrote this post. In fact, I tend to believe that an old earth is more likely after an examination of the evidence, but I’m still rather suspicious of the explanatory power of evolution, for a variety of reasons (intelligence, the mind, metaphysical ‘substance,’ etc.). But I’m willing to examine evidence as it creeps up.

  • Dan

    I’m suspicious of the fallacy of reductionism (we’re “nothing but”), but not of the explanatory power of evolution within the scope of biological sciences. If we simply understand it as a mechanism for how life is assembled and has developed (the “material” or “proximate” cause), and not the grand explanation of everything (the “ultimate” cause). This is where I think atheists get into real trouble, and where Christians too often fall for the bait.

    God can (and does) use secondary causes to bring about his purposes in the natural world. (which we see clearly in embryology, child birth, etc.). I find it more helpful to talk of God as the overseeing architect, rather than the micro-managing engineer.
    As a Christian, of course, I believe he has entered our world and calls us into union with him — but he is not an “hypothesis” with which we need to use to explain the mechanisms of the natural world.

    I would highly recommend “Finding Darwin’s God” by Kenneth R. Miller (professor of biology at Brown University), and also a Catholic Christian.

    Also, anything by Francis Collins, Denis Alexander (Cambridge University), John Polkinghorne.

    Also highly recommended is “Beyond The Firmament” by Gordon J. Glover

    Also, check out , The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and their education website, The American Scientific Affiliation.

    Search also: Calvin College’s statement on evolution, Wheaton College’s statement on age of earth, Baylor University’s statement, etc., Father Coyne of the Vatican Observatory

    The resources in support evolution, geological sciences within the Christian community are immense.

  • Dan

    Another thought — you would agree that peer review is an essential element in the public sphere of the sciences? I find it troubling that Creationists (or even Intelligent Design advocates) rarely, if ever, engage with scientific peers in any meaningful, public arena.
    This is what I was getting at in regard to “respect”.
    Science is an open process — anyone can propose a theory, and subject their theory to testing.
    I agree that science is never decided by “counting noses”. Some unpopular ideas at first end up winning in the end.

  • jamesfarnold


    I agree that it is troubling that intelligent design advocates don’t often “engage scientific peers in any meaningful, public arena.” I suspect if they have trouble publishing, it’s due to some scientific biases against any paper that isn’t naturalistic in its assumptions. But you’re still right.

    I’m not even opposed to the idea of evolution as a theory that works within the confines of God’s created earth. My issue is when people take the concept and run with it in directions that I think are unwarranted. I don’t think naturalistic evolution can explain minds, consciousness, etc. But I’m okay with the idea that evolution occurred (as you said in another comment, God may have used it as a secondary cause for his purposes in the natural world). I’m just not wholly convinced.

    I’ve read much of the literature. I’m not familiar with everything you link (in the other comment), but with a fair amount of it. Thanks for the continued information and engagement.

  • Hermonta Godwin