Through my work with Salvo Magazine, I have started to get involved in the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. I have found ID refreshing after my past involvement in the fideistic wing of young earth creationism (YEC).
During my life I have spent a lot of time among young earth creationists, including living for almost two years at a YEC Bible college. On multiple occasions I have lived with house-mates who were YEC. I even experienced the extreme type of fanatical YEC like something out of a horror movie, with well-meaning zealots trying to cast demons out of me because I couldn’t bring myself to say I knew for certain that the universe was only six thousand years old. Throughout these experiences there was a recurring idea that kept popping up among my YEC interlocuters. This idea is particularly associated with Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis but is not limited to them. While there no necessary connection between this idea and truth-claims about the age of the universe or one’s position on evolution, this idea did tend to be bundled into YEC polemics. The idea I’m referring to, if stated in its crudest form, can be reduced to the following three premises:
- Everyone has biases and assumptions that they bring to the evaluation of scientific evidence, and indeed to everything in life.
- Because of #1, it is impossible to objectively adjudicate between competing claims.
- Alternatively, we must simply choose which approach to the evidence fits with your assumptions.
This might seem like a caricature, but just last night I was having dinner with a YEC friend and I laid out these three premises to give him a chance to repudiate premises 2 and 3. Instead, he said he agreed with all three premises.
Obviously this whole argument a massive non-sequitur, given that premise 1 (a true statement) does not imply premise 2 (a false statement). This is the same itinerary that postmodernists travel along, as they move from the fact that all knowledge is conditioned, that there is no neutrality (that is, no condition whereby our personhood and experiences in life can somehow be suspended to achieve a totally sterile and detached rationality), and then conclude that it is impossible to objectively compare and evaluate the claims of competing interpretive communities. What they miss is the idea that we find in both Plato and St. Paul that through questioning, through the philosophical life, we can be self-critical of our assumptions, and we can rationally compare and contrast our biases with those of others while still remaining persons with a background, with emotions, with agendas, etc. It is a testament to postmodern assumptions that when we speak of “objectivity,” most people now “hear” us implying a condition evacuated of all personhood and subjective background. But as so many Christian philosophers have pointed out, including one that I interviewed for a podcast in 2019, we don’t need a “perspective from nowhere,” a type of epistemological Switzerland, in order achieve objective rationality.
Back to the above argument I heard so many times among YEC. The real casualty occurs when we reach premise 3, because in practice this leads to the type of fideism, question-begging, and faith vs. reason antithesis. Why? Because premise #3 offers the epistemological justification for arbitrarily choosing approaches to the evidence that simply correspond to our own agenda, so one can feel justified (even pious) in declaring, “Everyone has their biases, their agenda, so when I simply pick the explanation that best fits what I already believe, I’m simply doing what everyone does.” Such an approach, of course, violates basic scientific ethics and epistemological virtues, the equivalent to a researcher falsifying data to fit his agenda. And from an evangelistic perspective it is a disaster since it helps fortify the stereotype that ever since Galileo, Christianity and science have been enemies.
An alternative can be found in the ID movement, and particularly the scientist Stephen Meyer. From my Salvo article, “Dr. Stephen Meyer on the Return of the God Hypothesis”
“…it is clear that Meyer does have a spiritual background that is integral to his entire career, yet that doesn’t preclude him from using objectivity (well-ordered thinking, rationality, logic) to compare and contrast different interpretative frameworks in order to assess which explanation of the evidence is the best. Meyers shows that you can be a full Christian and a full scientist at the same time.”
To read more of my writings about Young Earth Creationism, visit my Creation and Evolution Archives.