The Conscience of John Mark Reynolds Speaks...

I have just read the latest post of young-earth creationist/Discovery Institute fellow/Biola professor/blogger John Mark Reynolds. I think I am just going to have to occasionally serve the role of his guilty conscience in matters scientific. He has apparently thrown his own scientific conscience down a well somewhere, or he wouldn’t be able to say the wildly hypocritical things he does.

In his latest, Reynolds is preaching about how Christianity, in his view, depends upon on hard, honest connections to the visible world. It is not, he says, like the Heaven’s Gate cult or other wacko groups:

However, a rational person does not just need beliefs that fit together in his own head, but beliefs that fit with and explain his experience of the world. As a set of beliefs, a world view, stops being connected to the real world or as the connections grow smaller and smaller, it becomes more and more irrational.

The Heaven’s Gate cult is a good example. In 1997 all the members of this California religious group committed suicide in the mistaken notion that the comet Hale-Bopp was a sign that it was time to die and go to heaven. Sadly, there was no connection between what they believed and the real world. Their beliefs were perfectly consistent and if any of them had been true it might have been interesting to listen to them. Consistency in the web of belief is not good enough. A person also has to ask, “Are my beliefs connected to reality?”

Some Christians will say, “I know in my heart that my beliefs are true!” This is not good enough. Any number of foolish things can be justified in the human heart. There has to be a connection between beliefs and the outside world. This has become more difficult for Christians in the last two hundred years. Most mainstream science has rejected important components of a Biblical world view. Traditional Christianity believed God worked in the visible world. Science is no longer allowed to see that action, even if it exists. It feels free to ignore divine action as being either non-existent or so rare and unimportant that it can be safely ignored. For most of church history, Christians felt comfortable with science. It supported their view of the world. Now for many Christians there exists a tension, or at least a worry, that their beliefs are not so different from Heaven’s Gate.


Christians must love a real God passionately enough to crave knowledge of him. The must love His Word enough to find that the Bible itself does, as a whole, connect to the visible world. Christians must have faith, but this faith should be consistent with reason which is not a mere religious rationalization. The Heaven’s Gate cult is alleged to have bought a telescope to look at the comet Hale-Bopp. When their view through the telescope did not confirm their beliefs, they returned the telescope on the assumption it was defective. This is the path of madness that leads to death.

(Bolds added.)

All well and good, so far. Christians shouldn’t be like the crazed cultists who explain away inconvenient facts that don’t agree with their prior religious beliefs. That’s high-minded talk, that.

John Mark Reynolds of 2007, meet John Mark Reynolds of 1999. What are we to think about you?

Natural science at the moment seems to overwhelmingly point to an old cosmos. Though creationist scientists have suggested some evidences for a recent cosmos, none are widely accepted as true. It is safe to say that most recent creationists are motivated by religious concerns.


As it is now interpreted, the data are mostly against us. Well and good. We take this seriously. Eventually, failure to deal with that data in a recent creationist scientific theory would be sufficient reason to give up the project. […] Recent creationists should humbly agree that their view is, at the moment, implausible on purely scientific grounds.


Presently, we can admit that as recent creationists we are defending a very natural biblical account, at the cost of abandoning a very plausible scientific picture of an “old” cosmos. But over the long term, this is not a tenable position. In our opinion, old earth creationism combines a less natural textual reading with a much more plausible scientific vision. They have many fewer “problems of science.” At the moment, this would seem the more rational position to adopt.

(Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds (1999). “Young Earth Creationism.” in: Three Views on Creation and Evolution, edited by James Porter Moreland and John Mark Reynolds. Zondervan, pp. 41-75. Pages 49, 51, 73. Bolds added.

Just how much clearer could it possibly be that John Mark Reynolds is actively engaged in denying reality because it doesn’t fit with his prior religious beliefs? He basically admitted it in 1999. So how is this any different from the very wackos he criticizes in 2007? How can he claim Christians’ view of the world should be connected to the observed real world, and yet arrogantly, scandalously dismiss everything from radiometric isochron dating to thermoluminescence to stellar distances to the complete absence of non-radiogenic nuclides with short half-lives to ice cores to varves to tree rings.

I am well aware that most Christians think that John Mark Reynolds’ attitude is ludicrous – in fact, most of the pages I linked to above were written by Christians, even evangelicals.

Reynolds has written in various places that a particular Bible reading should be surrendered if the empirical case against it makes the reading “hopeless.” Geocentrism is given as an example. But just how much more hopeless could the case for a young-earth possibly get? Why should anyone take Reynolds seriously as an honest, reliable thinker when he won’t even take his own high-minded advice about keeping ones’ views connected to the real world and “following the evidence where it leads”?

I know that some PT readers may be tired of me harping on this, but (1) I am morbidly fascinated by the creationist mind and (2) if, at some point in the future, John Mark Reynolds wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes he’s been living a lie and that his own Christian beliefs are telling him to deal with reality, suck it up like the grown man he is, and admit that the young-earth view is wrong, then it will have been worth it.

PS: So far the only (implicit) response I have seen out of John Mark Reynolds is that the people who criticize young-earth creationism are “rude.” I guess he doesn’t think it’s rude when he calls UFO cultists deluded.