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Countering Some Creationist Arguments

I recently had an e-mail correspondence with a creationist, whch I mentioned in my latest update, which led me to post parts of it as a new essay on my main site, Confidence in Historical Knowledge. There were other parts of that e-mail correspondence that I thought were pretty good, but a little more controversial than my normal fare for my main site, and a little bit off topic from the rest of that essay, so I decided to post them here on my blog, with a few changes from the original e-mail.

One issue that's common is to conflate multiple topics, which really aren't all that related, such as the big bang and evolution of life. This is especially common among people who reject the science on religious grounds, since religious creation stories commonly account for the creation of the universe and everything in it (and since I live in the predominately Christian U.S., this usually means people looking at the creation story of Genesis). But these really are separate concepts in science. Look at it this way - the big bang occured somewhere around 14 billion years ago. Our species has been around for around 100,000 to 200,000 years. To put that in perspective (using the 200,000 year figure), humans have been around for 1.43e-5 the time since the big bang. (Note that I'm referring to when the big bang occurred, and not calling it the beginning of the universe. Big bang theory describes what happened after that moment, not how everything got there in the first place. Who knows, the universe could be thousands of times older than the time since the big bang, existing in some state that we don't know about.) The United States is 200 years old, so the U.S. has been around for 1e-3 the time of humans. In other words, the origin of humanity and the big bang are so far removed, that trying to equate the two is even worse (by 2 orders of magnitude) than trying to equate the origin of the U.S. with the origin of humanity. They should be treated as separate events.

Another point I want to address is directed at the Christians who reject science about the past because it conflicts with their interpretation of the Bible. I've even received an e-mail in response to other essays I've posted on my website, stating, "There is only one historical account of origins events and that is the Bible which claims that the only eye-witness to the events is God."

I will address this in two ways. First, the Bible is not the only proposed historical account of origins. Most religions have their own explanations. Just look at the appropriate Wikipedia page - there are dozens just on there.

The second thing I want to say on this, is even if you accept the Bible as being true, it is only one source of evidence, and still open to interpretation. The most famous example of this is Copernican astronomy, and in particular the conflict between the Catholic church and Galileo. Based on their observations, scientists put the sun at the center of the universe, and said that the earth orbitted it. The church, using numerous Biblical passages as support, said that the Earth was the center of the universe. (Neither party was right, but science was on its way to getting at the right answer, and was at least more accurate than the church.) Nearly all Christians today would say that the Catholic church was wrong, and were misinterpreting the Bible. That may be the case, but it shows the problem in relying on only one source of evidence.

As two other examples, look to the germ theory of disease, and slavery in the American south. The germ theory of disease - that disease are caused by infectious agents, was initially rejected by many, on the grounds that diseases were punishments sent by God, and of course they could find the passages to back up that claim. (See this post from The Panda's Thumb.)

During and prior to the U.S. Civil War, many southerners used the Bible as a justification for slavery. I won't say much on this, other than to direct readers to this page at ReligiousTolerance.org, which quotes several prominent figures from that era, and has further links to the relevant scripture passages.

I bring up these examples not to show that the Bible is definitely wrong, but to show that people's interpretations of the Bible can be wrong. So, even if you do consider the Bible to be accurate, should you reject scientific theories based on your interpretation of the Bible, or should you incorporate scientific knowledge, to aid you in your interpretation of the Bible? What if Genesis was meant to be read allegorically, or figuratively?

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