Jonathan Kane is a science writer who has written three previous posts for Panda’s Thumb: Creationist classification of theropods, Five principles for arguing against creationism, and General intelligence: What we know and how we know it. He is the editor and primary author of God’s Word or Human Reason? An Inside Perspective on Creationism, co-authored with Emily Willoughby, T. Michael Keesey, Glenn Morton, and James R. Comer, published December 2016 by Inkwater Press. Matt Young is this post’s moderator.
In the August 2018 issue of the Journal of Creation, John Woodmorappe published a negative review of my book: “A detailed rehash of all the canned anti-creationist shibboleths: A review of God’s Word or Human Reason? An inside perspective on creationism (Jonathan Kane, Emily Willoughby, and T. Michael Keesey)”. Journal of Creation 32.2: 42–47. Pierre Jerlstrom, the editorial coordinator of the Journal of Creation, has invited me to write a letter replying to Woodmorappe’s review in that journal, and my letter is scheduled to appear in the the journal’s next issue (volume 32 issue 3). However, my reply is restricted to 1,000 words as per the journal’s standard guidelines for letters. Since Woodmorappe’s review is several times that length, it isn’t possible for me to adequately respond to it in that amount of space, so I’ve decided to write a longer response here as a supplement to my letter.
Existing YEC responses
As is suggested by the title of his review, the central theme of all Woodmorappe’s criticisms is that my book’s arguments are not actually new and that creationists have already dealt with most of them. He gives three examples: the book’s discussion of desiccation mudcracks in Glenn Morton’s chapter about stratigraphy, the discussion of nylon-eating bacteria in a sidebar of my own main chapter, and the criticism of the RATE project in Emily Willoughby’s chapter about radiometric dating.
Before examining these criticisms in detail, I should clarify that as a general principle, I don’t have a problem with creationists making the sort of complaint that Woodmorappe is making, if an argument against creationism really is ignoring the existing creationist literature about its subject matter. As I mentioned in my “five principles” article, I’m aware that this flaw has existed in numerous other books that criticize creationism, and I put a lot of effort into avoiding it as the lead editor of my own book. I ended up leaving out a few arguments against creationism that I would have liked to include, due to deciding that the creationist literature on their topics was so extensive, the difficulty of addressing all of it outweighed the value of bringing up these points. More than anything else, what I object to about Woodmorappe’s claim is his unwillingness to acknowledge the effort that I and the other authors put into avoiding this problem.
The first point Woodmorappe objects to is Glenn Morton’s argument that since desiccation mudcracks are formed by mud drying and cracking, strata that contain these cracks could not have formed during a global flood. In response, Woodmorappe points to a 2016 paper by him in the Journal of Creation, in which he wrote, “Recent research confirms earlier studies that demonstrate that there is no clear-cut morphological distinction between subaerial desiccation cracks and syneresis (subaqueous shrinkage) cracks.” The source for this statement is a 2007 paper published in Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, but this paper does not support the point that Woodmorappe cited it to make.
Woodmorappe’s argument apparently is referring to a quote from the paper that says, “We agree with Plummer & Gostin’s (1981) conclusion that no single feature of a shrinkage crack can distinguish between subaerially formed mudcracks (desiccation cracks) and subaqueously formed synaeresis cracks.” While this quote appears to support Woodmorappe’s argument that there’s no clear way to tell the two types of crack apart, it does so only when it’s taken out of context. The authors of this paper go on to describe several features that can be used to determine that the strata they are examining contain desiccation cracks rather than syneresis cracks, such as the presence of quartz silt inside the cracks, and the existence of multiple generations of cracks. Examining these details, the authors conclude, “We are not aware of any syneresis cracks having the properties we recognize and describe in the previous paragraphs, and with great confidence we reject the hypothesis of subaquaeous crack formation in carbonate muds.”
In fact, Morton’s chapter made this exact point: that creationists are fond of claiming that all mudcracks in strata from the Flood are actually synaeresis cracks, but they have consistently overlooked the various ways that exist to tell the two types of crack apart (pp. 41–42). While Woodmorappe has accused Morton of ignoring his response to Morton’s point, in this case the reverse is true. In Woodmorappe’s 2016 paper that his review cites, he was making a point that Morton’s chapter has in fact responded to, and his review does not acknowledge Morton’s response to it.
Woodmorappe’s second example of a claim that creationists have already dealt with is the book’s discussion about nylon-eating bacteria. Woodmorappe states, “For example, there is one [claim] about the ‘mutation’ that enables bacteria to eat nylon, which has been examined by creationist scholars and found wanting.” For this statement, he cites a 2015 paper by Royal Truman from the Journal of Creation.
However, this paper does not support Woodmorappe’s point, either. Truman’s argument is that the type of change caused by this mutation, which involves modifying an existing enzyme to alter its function, is not the type of change required for macroevolution. Crucially, Truman does not dispute the central conclusion that these bacteria have gained an ability that they previously lacked, which is the point that my book uses these bacteria to make. This point is worth making because in the past, when creationists have argued that mutations cannot produce new information, they have sometimes defined “information” in terms of functions that are gained or lost. (One example of this definition is the discussion about destroying the functionality of a gene in this article.) Nowadays, creationists more often define “information” in terms of protein specificity, and the book acknowledges that this second definition cannot be addressed by the nylon example alone, which is why my discussion of these bacteria is followed by a second example involving a mutation in humans.
Woodmorappe’s last example concerns Emily Willoughby’s 41-page chapter about radiometric dating, which focuses on critiquing the methods and conclusions of RATE (Radiosotopes and the Age of The Earth), the largest YEC project about radiometric dating. Woodmorappe’s response to this chapter is as follows:
There are also many criticisms of the findings of the RATE (Radioactivity (sic) and the Age of The Earth) Project. These, too, have been answered.3
The footnote given here looks like it’s a source for these sentences, but it actually isn’t. What the footnote says is, “For example, at creation.com, look up ‘Helium’ and ‘Humphreys’.” Woodmorappe appears to be referring to the lengthy debate that occurred between Gary Loechelt and Russell Humphreys over Humpreys’s research about helium retention in zircons, because when Emily discusses Humphreys’s research in this area, Loechelt is one of the sources that she cites. But without Woodmorappe citing any particular source, it’s impossible to know for sure whether that’s what he means. If it is, he is focusing on a relatively minor part of Emily’s chapter, since the emphasis of her chapter is on RATE’s arguments about accelerated decay.
Whatever the merits of Humphreys’ and Loechelt’s arguments, Woodmorappe’s demand that readers do the work of finding a source for his statement smacks of laziness, as does the fact that he apparently forgot what the acronym RATE stands for. It is impossible to respond to this point unless he can be clear what actual argument he is making.
Old and new arguments
As a general statement, Woodmorappe is correct that the book makes use of some arguments against creationism that are already well-known, but this criticism does not apply to the entire book. The only chapter that relies primarily on already-existing arguments is Glenn Morton’s chapter about stratigraphy, partly because creationist explanations for features of the fossil record that challenge the diluvialist perspective (such as desiccation cracks) have largely stayed the same for the past decade or so. Most of these existing creationist arguments have already been responded to by Morton and others, and consequently in this area there isn’t a lot of opportunity to make entirely new arguments against the creationist viewpoint. However, the book has six main chapters—including the first chapter, which is an introduction to the scientific method—and every chapter after Morton’s (Chapter 2) consists primarily of new material. In the context of Woodmorappe’s claim that the book relies primarily on recycled arguments, it’s worth reviewing some of the points that I and the other authors are presenting for the first time:
- Contrary to RATE's claim that pre-Flood soil did not contain any potassium-40, measurable amounts of potassium-40 are regularly found in Precambrian sedimentary rocks, which according to RATE's model are those that were deposited before the Flood. (Point made in Chapter 3, pp. 96–97.)
- RATE's cosmological cooling mechanism would have caused the sun's light-emitting layer to go out. To be fair, a somewhat similar criticism was made by Michael Oard in the Journal of Creation, mentioning that RATE's cooling mechanism would have caused the oceans to freeze, but Oard did not mention how this mechanism would have had a similar effect on the sun's photosphere. (Point made in Chapter 3, pp. 90–91.)
- The fossil record has repeatedly confirmed predictions made by the theory that birds are descended from dinosaurs. (This point is made all throughout Chapter 4.)
- Contrary to creationist arguments that birds have a different three fingers from the three found on theropod dinosaurs, this apparent discrepancy can be explained by a developmental frameshift, and the genetic and developmental data demonstrates that such a frameshift actually took place. (This point had previously been made in some technical paleontology sources, but pp. 172–175 in Chapter 4 is the first time it's been presented in a popular book.)
- Jeffrey Tomkins's "ungapped" method of DNA comparison is not a reliable way of measuring the similarity between DNA sequences. (This point had previously been made in some blogs and forum discussions, but pp. 242–243 in Chapter 5 is the first time it's been made in a book.)
- Three unrelated areas of data—anatomy, fossils, and DNA—all tell the same history regarding the origin of the human species. (This point is made all throughout Chapter 5.)
- In the United States, more than half all of creationists belong to church denominations whose official position is to accept evolution. (Point made in Chapter 6, pp. 273–274.)
- By arguing that our understanding of Hebrew grammar must be modified in order to interpret the account of Noah's Flood as a single plainly-written narrative, the Cataclysm Chronology Research Group is undermining creationist arguments that a literal/historical interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis is the only valid one. (Point made in Chapter 6, pp. 290–291.)
The only one of these points that’s discussed in Woodmorappe’s review is the third one, regarding successful predictions made by evolutionary models. Thus, rather than the book as a whole being a rehash of old arguments, it would be more accurate to say that Woodmorappe has decided to focus on the particular parts of the book where that’s the case. Unfortunately, this means that my response to his review must focus on those parts of the book as well, even though I consider the book’s new arguments to be more important. So for the purpose of addressing Woodmorappe’s claim, I’ll more closely examine some of arguments presented in my book that had been previously published elsewhere.
Breaking with the YEC consensus view
John Woodmorappe was an unusual choice to review this book, especially because the Journal of Creation had previously declined a review of it by Marcus Ross, who has a Ph.D. in vertebrate paleontology. (Ross informed me of this in January 2017.) According to my correspondence with Glenn Morton, Woodmorappe most likely wanted to review the book because there has been a longstanding rivalry between the him and Morton, that began in the 1980’s when they were both creationists. In fact, both Morton’s chapter and Woodmorappe’s response to it make many of the same points that they made against one another more than thirty years ago.
However, this time around there’s an important difference: it’s no longer the 1980’s. In many cases, when Woodmorappe criticizes the book’s arguments for their age and implies that creationists have long known these arguments to be flawed, the reality is closer to the opposite—they are points that young-Earth creationists generally accept nowadays, but that Woodmorappe apparently still doesn’t. Probably the most severe example is Woodmorappe’s argument against the existence of the geologic column. In his review, Woodmorappe writes:
There is the old saw about me "setting out to prove that the geologic column did not exist" (p. 19). This is utter nonsense: I already knew that the geologic column did not exist, and this is not changed by the fact that 1% of Earth's land surface has representatives of all 10 Phanerozoic systems in place.
The paper that Woodmorappe is discussing here, which took the perspective that the geologic column does not exist, is one that Woodmorappe published in 1981. But what do modern Flood geologists say about whether the geologic column exists or not? In Grappling with the Chronology of the Genesis Flood, a book published in 2014, Andrew Snelling gave this summary (and this quote is included in Morton’s chapter):
Some biblical creationists believe that the fossil record, as depicted in geologic column diagrams, does not represent reality. Such an assessment is usually based on the unfortunate claim that the geologic column is only theoretical, having been constructed by matching up rock layers from different areas of the world that contain similar fossils, as if that were the only criterion being used for such correlations. [...] Contrary to such claims, it is possible to walk across various regions of the earth and observe that the rock layers and fossils contained in them generally match what is depicted in the widely accepted geologic column diagrams.
Snelling’s view is not by any means an unusual one among modern YECs. In 1996, a collective statement by nine flood geologists concluded that the concept of a global stratigraphic column is generally valid, while rejecting the conversion of this column into a geologic time scale. A third source that summarizes creationist views in this area, but that was published about a month too late to be mentioned in the book, is this 2016 paper by Warren Johns from Answers Research Journal. Johns writes:
Most YECs with training in geology accept the reality of the geological column. A good example of this is Snelling’s Earth’s Catastrophic Past (2009), which is an updating and thorough revision of Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood (1961). Snelling fully accepts the reality of a worldwide geological column; Morris, as noted above, did not.
In addition to Woodmorappe’s rejection of the existence of the geologic column, another example of this pattern is his response to Morton’s discussion about the respective thickness of sediment on continents and in oceans. Morton’s argument, originally described in a CRSQ paper from 1980, is that since sediment is deposited more readily in deep water than in shallow water, a global flood should have deposited most of its sediment in the deep ocean rather than on continents. Yet in fact the opposite is true, with Phanerozoic sediments being thicker on continents than in the oceans. In response to this argument, Woodmorappe writes:
The Floodwaters were only a few kilometers deep—negligible compared with the thousands of kilometers of continental width. Consequently, unlike Morton's 'pan in the bathtub', the free movement of water-borne sediments into ocean basins was very limited. That is, it was much more probable for sediment to be deposited somewhere on the continent than washed out into the deep ocean.
But as in the first case, when one looks the consensus among professional creationists, one finds a very different perspective. This issue concerning the thickness of sediment on continents compared to in oceans was examined in a 1994 study by six flood geologists. It is among the most highly cited creationist studies of all time, with 117 citations on Google Scholar, and is one of the seminal publications in the creationist field of Catastrophic Plate Tectonics. Regarding this issue raised by Morton, the paper states:
As Morton (1987) points out, most Flood sediments are found on the continents and continental margins and not on the ocean floor where one might expect sediments to have ended up. Our model provides a number of mechanisms for the transportation of ocean sediments onto the continents where they are primarily found today.
The quoted study goes on to present a model for how this redistribution of sediment could have occurred, and Morton’s chapter discusses and argues against that model as well. These creationist models of sediment redistribution were further developed by the YEC project known as FAST, or Flood Activated Sedimentation and Tectonics. By arguing that Morton’s point about the distribution of sediment is a non-issue, and that that there is no need for any creationist model to explain how sediment was transferred from oceans to continents, Woodmorappe is ignoring the past 20 years of creationist scholarship in this area.
Responses and non-responses
Despite Woodmorappe’s claim that my book’s (and particularly Morton’s) pre-existing arguments have been previously refuted by young-Earth creationists, in the examples given above the YEC community has accepted these arguments as valid, and has proposed new models to take them into account. However, there are two other ways the creationist community has responded to some of these arguments: either by struggling to deal with them, or by simply ignoring them. I’ll provide one example of each type of response, or absence of it.
A case where creationists have struggled concerns the classification of hominid fossils, and their lack of agreement about which of these fossils are apes and which are humans. Their various classifications of these fossils are compared in the book’s fifth chapter, by T. Michael Keesey (pp. 232–233). This type of comparison was first made in an article by Jim Foley at Talk.Origins, and was later discussed in Kenneth Miller’s book Only a Theory, although Keesey’s version of the comparison includes one additional creationist study that wasn’t discussed by Foley or Miller. This particular issue also has been discussed a fair amount by creationists, and Keesey’s chapter mentions some of their responses.
The first serious attempt at a response was this paper by Todd C. Wood, which classified hominid fossils using statistical baraminology techniques. Wood expressed hope that his more rigorous method of classification would put an end to criticisms that creationists’ classification of hominids was arbitrary and meaningless, but his results did not bring the YEC community any closer to a consensus—instead, a large number of other YEC’s rejected Wood’s results. Wood subsequently published a response in which he defended his conclusions, but there is no sign that this response persuaded any of his critics. So contrary to Woodmorappe’s suggestion that the book’s pre-existing arguments have been thoroughly dealt with by YEC’s, the question of how to classify hominid fossils appears to be an ongoing problem that they are still trying to solve.
An example of an argument that’s been ignored, again from Morton’s chapter, concerns the animal burrows in the Haymond Formation. Since the 1990’s, Morton has been arguing that the 15,000 layers of burrows in the this formation are incompatible with the formation being deposited by a global flood. This is a challenge to Flood geology models because the Haymond Formation is part of the Pennsylvanian system, which is regarded as Flood deposited by all of the major diluvialist models except Recolonization Theory.* As far as I have been able to tell, the only creationist papers published since 1990 about the origin of the Haymond Formation are Howe and Williams (1994) and Howe and Froede (1999), and neither of these papers discusses the animal burrows. Thus, while Morton’s argument about animal burrows in the Haymond Formation is about 20 years old, it appears to have never been answered.
For the most part, it’s only possible to examine how creationists have responded to the book’s arguments in cases where our arguments aren’t new to the book, since the creationist literature hasn’t yet had time to respond to (or ignore) arguments that I and the other authors are presenting for the first time. However, there are two exceptions. The first exception is the creationist response not to the book itself, but to an article that I wrote as a supplement to the book, about the ways that creationist organizations classify birdlike theropods. My supplementary article was discussed by Todd C. Wood in his blog post here, in which Wood implied that he agreed with some of my own article’s points.
My article also received a positive response from Answers in Genesis—sort of. In my article, I had pointed out that Answers in Genesis was contradicting themselves about the classification of Epidexipteryx: In 2008 they argued that it is an extinct bird, and in 2014 they argued that it is a dinosaur that does not actually have feathers. At some point after my article was published, Answers in Genesis removed their 2008 article calling the animal a bird, and replaced it with redirect to their 2014 article calling it an unfeathered dinosaur. (The original article from 2008 is archived here.) Answers in Genesis has not acknowledged my article in any other way, but their removal of their 2008 article probably is the closest I can expect them to come to admitting a mistake.
The other case where creationists have responded our new arguments, and the more significant one, is the study by McLain et al. that was presented on July 30 at the Eighth International Conference on Creationism. In this study, McLain argues that the time has come for creationists to accept the existence of feathered dinosaurs, as well as that the anatomical boundary between theropod dinosaurs and birds is not clearly defined, and that it is unclear which category Archaeopteryx ought to be placed in. This study brings up several of the specific points made in Chapter 4, my own largest contribution to the book.
Specific points from Chapter 4 brought up in this study include that as far back as the 1860’s the non-evolutionist paleontologist Johann Andreas Wagner classified Archaeopteryx as a reptile, that dinosaurs with furculae (wishbones) were discovered after Gerhard Heilmann had rejected the dinosaur-bird connection based on the assumption that dinosaurs lacked them, and that William Beebe correctly predicted the existence of four-winged feathered reptiles more than eighty years before fossils of these animals were discovered. Although the goal of McLain’s study is to explain this data within a creationist worldview, he also acknowledges that “[i]f Darwinian evolution were true, then it would be reasonable to conclude that birds evolved from dinosaurs.” His study cites my book, so he clearly has read it. Based on the number of arguments from the book that his study brings up, several of which have never before been acknowledged in the creationist literature, there is a distinct possibility that the book influenced his study’s conclusions.
McLain’s study was published around the same time as Woodmorappe’s review, and the contrast between them illustrates the contrast between the two types of creation science described here. As a creationist who’s concerned primarily with attacking evolutionary ideas, Woodmorappe is determined to refute the book’s arguments at any cost, even if doing so involves rejecting concepts (such as the existence of the geologic column) that are widely accepted in creation science. But meanwhile, among creation scientists such as McLain who care about coming up with models that are as consistent as possible with the data, some of the book’s points have been quietly accepted.
A major theme of Chapter 4 is the ability of evolutionary models to make predictions that have gone on to be confirmed by future discoveries. Woodmorappe’s review responds to this point by listing some successful predictions made by creationism, as well as by arguing that evolution takes credit for its successful predictions but not those that were unsuccessful. He also mentions a few accomplished scientists who were creationists, even though my chapter specifically points out why those sorts of examples aren’t relevant to the argument it is making. In this part of the chapter my most important point is that it is possible to measure the overall reliability of each worldview’s predictions, by examining whether or not its predictions have been able to serve as the basis for advances in technology or bioscience. In other words, I am asking whether there have been any advances in these fields based on creationist models themselves, not advances made by a person who happened to be a creationist, because creationist beliefs do not prevent a person from making useful advances in other areas of science.
For example, if Flood geology really is the most accurate explanation for the geologic column, why has no petroleum exploration company ever used diluvialist models to outpace its competitors who were relying on the less accurate old-Earth models? If it really is possible for radioactive decay rates to fluctuate widely, without energy-intensive processes such as stripping all of the electrons from an atom, why has no YEC physicist applied this model to develop a more efficient form of nuclear power? Jim Mason’s chapter in Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels argues that the small fluctuations in modern-day decay rates show that much larger changes are possible, so YEC models expect accelerated decay to be possible in the present as well as in the past, and this model would have important real-life applications if it were correct.
If YEC models were accurate, their lack of wide acceptance wouldn’t be an obstacle to new technologies being developed based on them, because lack of wide acceptance hasn’t been an obstacle in the case of other physical models. For example, until 2014 or 2015 bubble fusion was not taken seriously by most physicists, but private companies saw enough promise in bubble fusion as an energy source that they began working to develop it as a technology, and this private research may eventually vindicate the theory. Private companies are profit-driven, so it makes little difference to them whether a theory is widely accepted or not, as long as it shows promise to be used as the basis for a lucrative product or service. In order to argue that creationist models are true but no company or entrepreneur has ever taken advantage of them in this way, it’s necessary to invoke special pleading as to why these models are different from every other valid physical model that has real-life applications.
Woodmorappe rightly chose to focus on one particular example of a successful prediction made by common descent, because it is the book’s most important example of these predictions leading to an advance in bioscience. (I say “common descent” instead of “evolution” to distinguish this prediction from those based on processes such as speciation, that are part of the theory of evolution but that are accepted by most creationists.) This advance is the discovery of three genes and the proteins they code for that give chimpanzees their resistance to HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus). In a separate study conducted three years later, one of these chimpanzee genes was found to confer the same disease resistance to human cells if implanted into them. In his review, Woodmorappe appears to have misunderstood why this discovery is significant. He writes,
The authors claim a fulfilled evolutionary prediction when it comes to the similarity of human HIV and chimp SIV (p. 177). This argument attests to human-chimp similarity but begs the question about the origin of this similarity. Common sense alone would generally predict that the engine of a car could more likely be successfully swapped with that of a like-sized car than that of a truck. [...] There is nothing in evolutionary theory itself that specifically predicts, in advance, the biomedical compatibility (or, for that matter, incompatibility) of particular chimp features with humans. (Emphasis in original.)
Woodmorappe is presenting an explanation for the fact that the human cells were capable of functioning with the chimpanzee version of this gene, but that compatibility is not the prediction being discussed. The prediction being discussed was researchers’ theory about which specific genes give chimpanzees their resistance to HIV and SIV.
This disease resistance exists in chimpanzees and not in humans, so researchers concluded that therefore the trait must have evolved in chimpanzees after their ancestors diverged from ours, and thus the chimpanzee version of the gene must have been heavily modified by natural selection. By searching for chimpanzee genes that showed signs of heavy selection, these researchers identified three genes, known as ICAM’s, that give chimpanzees their resistance to HIV and SIV. The transplanting of one of the chimpanzee ICAM’s into a culture of human cells was significant because it made the human cells resistant to HIV, demonstrating that the genes they had identified did indeed have this effect. The prediction that chimpanzees’ genes for HIV/SIV resistance must show heavy selection was based on the theory of common descent, so when the genes were identified on the basis of that prediction, it was an example of this model producing a real-life benefit.
More than any other part of Woodmorappe’s review, his misunderstanding of this point has caused me to question the fundamental nature of academic debates. Perhaps naively, I had been under the impression that if a point is explained in a manner that is both clear and logically airtight, other people will be forced to either concede the point or ignore it, even if they don’t accept the entire argument the point is being used to support. But in this case, among the dozen or so people who have offered me their comments about Chapter 4, no one else has found my explanation of this point difficult to understand. This situation suggests that when a person is sufficiently entrenched in a particular position, and when a certain point is sufficiently damaging to that position, it might simply be impossible to prevent the person from creating a strawman of the point when responding to it.
Does creationism harm Christianity?
Although it’s a relatively minor part of Woodmorappe’s review, one question that he raises is important to answer, because it relates directly to one of the book’s major themes. His question concerns a survey discussed on p. 292 in James Comer’s chapter (Chapter 6), showing that between twenty and thirty percent of young adults who stopped attending church said that they had done so because they perceived Christianity as anti-science, and were turned off by Christian attitudes towards evolution in particular. Woodmorappe rhetorically asks:
Let us say that the survey is accurate. For someone already rejecting the authority of part of the Bible, why is it so difficult to proceed to the rejection of the authority of the entire Bible? (Emphasis in original)
Comer’s and my argument in this part of Chapter 6 is not that it is difficult to go from rejecting creationism to rejecting Christianity entirely, but that this outcome is preventable, at least in principle. Woodmorappe’s review does not make it clear whether he agrees or disagrees with that conclusion.
At the time when my book was published in December, 2016, there was not much data to suggest that the portion of Americans who are creationists had meaningfully changed since the 1980’s. But the newest poll data, published in May 2017, suggests that in the United States creationism is on the decline, having recently reached its lowest level—38%—since the poll began in 1981. This number had been 46% in 2012, so the 2017 polling data shows a decrease of 8 percentage points within five years. This information is important as background because if creationists think that they can prevent creationism from declining in the United States, the polling data suggests that expectation is no longer realistic.
What can be controlled, or at least be influenced, is whether the people who abandon creationism end up as theistic or atheistic evolutionists. From a practical standpoint, this is where creationist arguments potentially have the largest impact, and in particular their arguments that evolution undermines the Bible’s authority, that it negates the need for a savior, or other arguments along those lines. If a person is convinced that evolution and Christianity are incompatible, then if they are among the 8 percent of Americans who’ve recently abandoned creationism, they’ll have no choice but to give up on Christianity as well. (Glenn Morton very nearly abandoned Christianity for this reason in the 1990’s, but his faith ultimately was preserved by adopting the “Days of Proclamation” view.) On the other hand, a person who believes that evolution and Christian faith can be harmonized may still lose his or her faith when they abandon creationism, but in those cases losing one’s faith is not an inevitable outcome.
Woodmorappe’s review argues that if creationism really were a detriment to Christianity, then atheists would be advocates of creationism being taught alongside evolution. Woodmorappe presumably is aware that atheists are almost universally opposed to creationism, but his argument seems to be that atheists would support the teaching of a viewpoint that they disagree with if it would have the longer-term result of encouraging people to give up their religion. However, activists never actually work this way, even if in cases where it could be an effective long-term strategy. For example, in the aftermath of the 2016 election, a widespread view among both Democrats and Republicans was that Donald Trump’s win represented a backlash against condescending attitudes on the left, particularly on college campuses. (For example, see Rob Hoffman’s article here.) But not many of Trump’s supporters are arguing for the adoption of safe spaces and trigger warnings, because even if those practices have helped push people into the Trump camp, most of his supporters oppose those practices just as much as they want Trump to win a second term.
One shouldn’t expect atheists to advocate the teaching of a viewpoint that they oppose, but there is one area where the arguments made by atheists and by creationists are nearly indistinguishable. The most influential creationist argument—that evolution leaves no room for God—is routinely made by people from both camps, often with very similar wording. One famous example of a book by an atheist that makes this argument is Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion (pp. 143–144). This is one of the ironies mentioned in Chapter 6, to which Woodmorappe appears to be oblivious: when atheists argue that evolution and Christianity are incompatible, it is for the explicit goal of convincing religious people to give up their faith, but creationists have made this exact point far more persuasively and effectively than atheists have.
What professional creationists could learn from my book
To a lot of readers, my making the points that I’ve made above probably will seem like an exercise in futility. The Journal of Creation is read primarily by professional creationist authors, and it would be pretentious of me to think that my book or my response here would be enough to convince any of the professionals in this area to accept the theory of evolution. However, I think that for this portion of its audience, the book still has a purpose.
I am probably in the minority among PT’s authors for saying this, but I believe that it is theoretically possible to be an intellectually honest creationist. I think there are two requirements: first, one most acknowledge that despite the various scientific objections creationists have raised to evolution, the most important reason anyone is a creationist is based on their understanding of the Bible. And second, one must acknowledge that on the basis of the evidence currently available, evolution is a better-supported theory than creationism is.
The professional creationist who comes closest to this ideal is Todd C. Wood. I am not sure whether Wood has directly stated that he thinks the evidence supports evolution over creationism, but in many of his articles (particularly this one), he has acknowledged that evolution works very well as a theory to explain the data, and that his reason for rejecting it is entirely that he considers it incompatible with his understanding of the Bible. Kurt Wise hasn’t published much on this topic recently, but in this well-known essay, Dawkins discussed how Wise is another example of a professional creationist who’s taken this approach.
For a creationist taking this approach, the focus is not on trying to debunk evolution, but rather on developing an internally consistent set of creationist models, with the hope that these models could eventually become a viable alternative. Doing this requires a degree of engagement with the data along the lines of what’s demonstrated in McLain’s study, and presents a stark contrast to the approach traditionally taken by creation scientists. Creation scientists have traditionally dealt with the evidence for evolution or an old Earth by denying that it exists—such as by arguing that the geologic column doesn’t exist, that feathered dinosaurs don’t exist, or that the degree of similarity between the human and chimpanzee genomes is only 70–80% instead of >98% (see pp. 241–246 in Chapter 5). On the other hand, creationists such as Wood and McLain typically acknowledge all of these lines of evidence, and search for ways to account for them within the creationist worldview.
As demonstrated by the McLain (2018) study, along with the Garner et al. (2013) study that it builds upon, this more empirical, model-oriented approach to creation science has gained momentum in recent years. However, as Woodmorappe’s review demonstrates, old habits die hard. Will this split between the two types of creation science always exist, or will one of the two factions eventually win out?
I don’t know the answer to that, but one thing that I think is very clear is which of the two factions deserves to win. If my book is able to move even a small number of professional creationists into the Wood/McLain camp, then among that portion of my audience, it will have had the effect that I hoped for.
*^ Recolonization Theory is a creationist model proposing that all Proterozoic and Phanerozoic strata are from after the Flood, and that the order of fossils in the geologic column represents the order that plants and animals recolonized the post-Flood world. This model was (I think) first proposed in this 1982 paper by Glenn Morton, during Morton’s early years as a creationist. Recolonization theory is somewhat less contradicted by geological data than other Flood geology models, but Answers in Genesis rejects it as a “compromise”.