Progressive Old-Earth Creation

( Is it logically inconsistent? )

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.


      An Introduction to the Question
      This page examines one question — When a conclusion is reached by scientific consensus (by the majority of current scientists), should we accept this conclusion? — in two areas
      We can look at this Consensus Question for AGE (when we ask "Is the universe young or old?") and DESIGN (when we ask "Has the history of nature included only undirected natural process?").

      When we ask "Should we accept the consensus?" in each area, and compare the answers given by three views, it may seem (superficially but not on closer examination) that only two of the views are internally consistent:
• young-earth creation says "never accept the consensus, in either area."
• evolutionary creation says "always accept the consensus, in both areas."
• progressive creation says "sometimes accept the consensus."

      This page explains why — even though progressive creation accepts the consensus in one area (for questions about age) but rejects it in the other area (for questions about design) — there is no logical inconsistency.  Why?  Because in a comparison of the two areas, age and design, we find major differences in:  1) scientific evidence supporting the consensus theory,  2) views about the reliability of historical science,  3) relationship between consensus and challenger theories, and  4) potential bias due to cultural-personal influences inside and outside the scientific community.
      We'll look at these four differences  —  1. scientific evidence  2. views about science  3. theory characteristics  4. scientist bias  —  plus a summary about humility, after introducing the competing theories: two for age, and two for design.

note:  Only half of what's below is in the main body
(theories 1-2-3-4 humility), the rest is an appendix.

      Two Theories about Age
      Theories of conventional geology propose that the earth is more than four billions years old, and its geology and fossil record were produced over a long period of time by a combination of slow (uniformitarian) and fast (catastrophic) natural processes.
      A theory of young-earth flood geology proposes that the earth is less than ten thousand years old, and almost all of its geology and fossil record were produced in a short period by catastrophic natural processes during a global flood.

      Two Theories about Design
      A feature (an object, organism, biochemical system,...) could have been produced, during the history of nature, by nondesign (with production by undirected natural process) or design (with production by design-directed action that converts an agent's unobservable design-idea into a feature we can observe).  With proper definitions, design and non-design are mutually exclusive (it was one or the other) so the non-design is supported if the production of a feature by undirected natural process does seem plausible;  and if this does not seem plausible, design is supported.  { Four Types of Design  Could we scientifically detect design in nature? }
      two theories:  old-earth evolutionary creationists think God designed the universe so it would totally self-assemble by natural process;  old-earth progressive creationists think God designed the universe to partially self-assemble, and then during history God occasionally supplemented natural process with "miraculous appearing" design-directed action.

      1. Scientific Evidence
      The most important difference between consensus theories about age and design is the scientific evidence.
      For age-questions, there is overwhelming scientific evidence for an old universe.
      But for design-questions, there are scientific reasons to question whether undirected natural process was sufficient to produce the first life and all complex life.

      Overwhelming Evidence (about age)
      Evidence from a wide range of fields — including the study of coral reefs, ice cores, sedimentary rocks, the fossil record in geological context, seafloor spreading and continental drift, magnetic reversals, genetic molecular clocks, radioactive dating, the development of stars, starlight from faraway galaxies, and more — indicates that the earth and universe are billions of years old.  Because "a long time" is an essential component of many theories that in other ways (such as the domains they explain and the proposals they include) are relatively independent, it is less likely that suspicions of circular reasoning are justified.  {more about age-science}

      Scientific Questions (about design)
• For naturalistic theories proposing a natural chemical evolution of the first carbon-based living organism, the current scientific consensus is that these theories seem implausible.  {details: Theories about the Origin of Life}   Unless scientists demand that a naturalistic theory MUST be the conclusion, due to methodological naturalism, there is little reason for scientific confidence in naturalistic chemical evolution.

      • Many aspects of neo-Darwinian theory are strongly supported, but a page about Logical Evaluations of Evolutions explains why — when the scientific principle of logical comparison is ignored — theories of biological evolution appear to be scientifically stronger than they actually are.  Here is a brief summary:
      Often, support is illogically shifted from a strongly supported aspect of evolution (such as basic fossil-E progressions, micro-E changes in drug-resistant bacteria and finch beaks, or minor macro-E with small changes in otherwise similar species) to a less strongly supported claim (like Total Macro-E with a 100% natural evolution of all biocomplexity).
      Also, the important scientific differences between two theories of old-earth progressive creation (by independent creation or by genetic modification) — with full common descent being rejected by the former, but accepted by the latter (which I think is the most likely method of creation) — are usually ignored.  Most evidence typically proposed in support of evolution is irrelevant when comparing 100-% Natural Total Macro-E with progressive creation by genetic modification.
      Strong support for Total Macro-E requires strong answers for tough questions, by asking "How many mutations and how much selection would be required, how long would this take, and how probable is it?" and "Could a step-by-step process of evolution produce systems that (because all parts seem necessary for performing the system's function) seem irreducibly complex?" since there would be no function to "select for" until all parts are present.

Therefore, based on scientific evidence-and-logic I accept one consensus conclusion (about age) but question the other (about design).

      2. Views about Historical Science
      What happens when we ask, "Can historical science produce reliable conclusions?", for questions about age and design?

      When we ask questions about age, most proponents of young-earth theories are super-skeptical about the ability of historical science (as in geology or astronomy) to reach reliable scientific conclusions about history.  They ask, "Were you there?", and declare that "no" means "therefore you can't know much about ancient history."  By contrast, the two old-earth theories are confident about historical science.   {more about historical science}

      Similarly, when we ask questions about design, many proponents of evolutionary theories are super-skeptical (*) about the ability of historical science to determine anything about historical design-directed action by an agent, at least if the agent and action might have been supernatural.  {* I say "many" instead of "all" because some proponents of theistic evolution think design-action is scientifically detectable in principle, but in reality has not been detected. }
      By contrast, old-earth proponents of design theories are confident that scientists have developed, and will continue improving, scientific methods (based on a logical evaluation of observable evidence) to cope with the challenges of distinguishing between design and nondesign.  As with all science, for design questions we cannot obtain proof, but we can develop a rationally justified confidence about "a good way to bet."   {what about future science?}

      Old-earth design theorists think historical science can do more (for age questions) than is claimed by skeptical young-earthers, and can do more (for design questions) than is claimed by skeptical evolutionists.  Thus, old-earth progressive creation is logically consistent in accepting the reliability of historical science in both areas.   {both types of super-skepticism are good ideas taken to an extreme}

      3. Characteristics of Theories

      A.  When defending a self-acknowledged weakness in their own theory, young-earth creationists and evolutionary creationists both appeal to future science by claiming "there is a plausible answer and, although we haven't found this answer yet, we will in the future."
      B.  Two Trump Cards:  Another young-earth defense is to play the trump card of scriptural authority by claiming that, regardless of the evidence and logic, a Bible-believing Christian MUST conclude that "it happened as described in [our interpretation of] the Bible."  Similarly, an evolutionary creationist can play the trump card of methodological naturalism by claiming that, regardless of the evidence and logic, a scientist MUST conclude that "it happened by natural process."
      In contrast with appeals to future science (A) or a nonscientific trumping of current science (B), progressive creationists favor critical thinking about realistic expectations for future science (A) and giving a high priority to scientific evidence-and-logic (B).

      C.  Young-earth creationists sometimes appeal to miracles when they acknowledge a weakness in their own theory (*), but old-earth progressive creationists appeal to miracles when they claim a weakness in the opposing theory of all-natural evolution.  In contrast with young-earth creationist who say "our theory is inadequate so we'll propose miracles," progressive creationists say "your theory (about a totally natural evolution) is inadequate so we'll propose miracles."   {* For example, miracles seem necessary in flood geology to explain the dissipation of heat during a global flood, with enormous amounts of heat produced by runaway subduction and accelerated radioactive decay and in other ways.  And an initial creation with miraculous apparent age is often used to explain away difficulties in young-universe astronomy theories. }
      But despite the important difference in young-earth and old-earth theories (re: whose "theory weakness" inspires a claim for miracles), both agree that God does miracles whenever he decides that natural process is not sufficient to achieve what he wants to happen in history.   /   And young-earth creationists claim both types of miracles:  they defend weakness in their own theories of flood geology, and they attack weakness in non-creationist theories of chemical evolution and biological evolution.

      D. Can historical science produce reliable conclusions?  { Section 2 }
      Most young-earth creationists are skeptical for age-questions,
      many evolutionary creationists are skeptical for design-questions;
      but progressive creationists are confident for BOTH questions.

      None of these four characteristics is a strong argument for old-earth progressive creation.  They are just factors to consider when theories are being evaluated, as explained below.

      4. The Bias of Scientists
      Sections 1-3 examine science (and logic), now we'll look at scientists (and bias).  This section, which is now in the appendix, ended with a conclusion:
      Let's compare the scientific evidence-and-logic in two areas, as summarized in Section 2When we look at age-consensus (claiming the earth and universe are old) I think the conclusion is scientifically strong and "confidence about correctness" is warranted, despite the possibility for bias during evaluation.  But when we look at design-consensus (claiming that theories of chemical evolution are even moderately plausible, or that all aspects of 100%-natural biological evolution are "facts" beyond doubt) I think the conclusions are biased and are overconfident — i.e., current estimates of plausibility-status don't seem to match the estimates that would be produced by purely objective, scientifically logical evaluation — because I think there are valid scientific reasons for questions.

      Appropriate Humility
      This page has explained — by looking at historical science, scientific evidence, theory characteristics, and scientist bias — why I think my theory proposing old-earth progressive creation is logically consistent in accepting one consensus conclusion (about age) while questioning another (about design).  But this view is held with humility because, as explained in my FAQ about Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, I think that...

      In science and theology, our humility should be appropriate, not too little and not too much.  We can make some claims, but not others, with confidence. ...  In my opinion:
      When we ask questions about age, scientific evidence for an old earth (and universe) is extremely strong , and theological arguments about age — claiming biblical support for either an old earth or young earth — are weak.  Therefore, an old-earth conclusion seems justified.
      But when we ask, "Can natural process lead to a total assembly of the universe?", scientific and theological arguments — claiming support either for 100% natural evolution or against it — are not decisive. ...
      You and I should say in public — and believe in our hearts and minds — that "IF God created using another method (differing from the way I think He created, regarding either age or evolution), then God is worthy of our praise."  But this humility (if... then...) is compatible with humbly explaining, using arguments from theology and science, why we think a particular view is most likely to be true.


Shorter versions of
most pages below

are in an FAQ for
Creation, Evolution,
and Intelligent Design


Two Books of God:
Scripture & Nature

Young-Earth Views:
Theology & Science

Historical Science &
Young-Earth Skeptics

Death before Sin?
Theology for Humans

False Apparent Age:
Starlight & Theology

Entropy and Evolution:
Second Law of Thermo

Four Types of
Intelligent Design

Logical Principles for
Evaluating Evolutions

What can a Christian
believe about evolution?

Theistic Evolution and
Christian Theology

Progressive Creation
and Theistic Evolution

Anthropic Principle:
Design & Multiverse?

Science and Religion
in Conflict?  Warfare?

Mutual Interactions of
Science & Worldviews

Public Schools: Critical
Thinking and Evolution


Homepage for Origins


4. The Bias of Scientists (in evaluations & conclusions)
      Sections 1-3 looked at science (and logic), now we'll look at scientists (and bias).  { This is a brief outline of the original uncondensed section which I recommend reading. }

      Methodological Influence
      In this page, speaking as an old-earth progressive creationist, so far I have expressed confidence in the basic logic of science.  But now I'll challenge the rationality of a restriction added to the basic logic.
      The current consensus methodology, accepted by most scientists, includes rigid methodological naturalism (rigid-MN, or just MN), a proposal to require that scientists can include only natural causes in their scientific theories.   { An open science uses testable-MN by treating MN as an assumption that can be tested, not a conclusion that must be accepted. }
      How does MN affect the process and results of science?  With MN the scientific conclusion — no matter what is being studied or what is the evidence — must be that "it happened by natural process."  The circular logic of MN automatically converts a naturalistic assumption into a naturalistic conclusion that does not depend on the process of science (using evidence and logic) yet the conclusion is considered scientific.  Thus, rigid-MN provides a way to bypass the process of science and then claim the authority of science.
      If any non-natural events did occur during history, MN could force scientists to reach some false conclusions.  And MN can decrease the quality of critical thinking about naturalistic theories, which are unfalsifiable (since they're protected by MN) when they're compared with non-naturalistic theories.
      For a design theory, if we suspect that the design-action was miraculous action by a supernatural agent, this possibility of non-natural action is rejected by MN, and some design theories are automatically eliminated from consideration.  Opponents of design also try to "win using science" by arguing for the scientific plausibility of their naturalistic theories.  But in case these arguments are not decisive, or to mandate naturalistic science in science education, there is always a backup plan to "win using non-science" by appealing to MN. }

      Cultural-Personal Influences
      A scientist can be motivated to produce a biased conclusion (or to accept it) by a variety of influences:  shared thought styles in a scientific community (about "proper ways to think," such as rigid methodological naturalism);  internal personal worldviews (young-earth creationism may seem required by a literal interpretation of Genesis, naturalistic evolution may seem required by atheism or inflexible agnosticism, and reasons for personal preferences to accept or reject a naturally self-assembling universe can be scientific or theological, philosophical, emotional, and aesthetic);  external group pressures (for a thought style, worldview,...) leading to personal self-interest in a community where practical professional benefits depend on colleagues who make make important decisions that affect the gaining of respect, employment, promotion, research funding, publications, honors, and positions of influence, and for either question (age or design) arguing against the majority consensus will usually be detrimental to the career of a scientist.
      But a biased conclusion isn't necessarily a wrong conclusion.  Why?  Even if scientists (as individuals or in a group) are motivated to reach a particular conclusion, maybe they can overcome their bias and can objectively evaluate.  Or they might strongly hope the evidence will point to a certain conclusion, and might be incapable of objective evaluation leading to the opposite conclusion, but an objectively neutral evaluation of the evidence actually would point to the desired conclusion, so their "tendency toward bias" does not lessen the logical credibility of their conclusion.
      Let's compare the scientific evidence-and-logic in two areas: [what follows is a summary of the full conclusion]  When we look at age-consensus... I think the conclusion is scientifically strong and "confidence about correctness" is warranted,... but when we look at design-consensus... I think the conclusions are biased and are overconfident... because there are valid scientific reasons for questions.

Apparent Age   Historical Science
Extreme Ideas      Future Science

two terms:  Although progressive creation and evolutionary creation both propose an old earth, sometimes progressive creation is called old-earth creation.

      Apparent Age
      Quoted from the introductory summary in my page about Apparent Age:
      Theories of apparent age should be taken seriously, because IF everything was created recently in a 144-hour period, THEN some appearance of age would be necessary to produce immediate functionality. ...
      I think "apparent age" theories are worthy of careful, respectful consideration.  But when all things are considered, I think an "actual age" theory — proposing that God created an old universe from the beginning so what we see is the actual history (with no apparent history) of what really happened — is preferable;  it is scientifically supported, theologically satisfactory, matches our common sense intuitions about the reality of our experiences, and provides a solid foundation for science and for living by faith.

      Can historical science be scientific?
      As explained in Part 1, young-earth creationists and evolutionary creationists are both super-skeptical about historical science, but in different ways.  In a three-part series, the first page — Historical Science is Empirical and Scientific — explains why (contrary to both skepticisms) historical science can let scientists reach reliable conclusions about age-questions and design-questions.  The second page — Historical Science and Young-Earth Creationism — answers the radical relativism of young-earth skeptics.

      Good Ideas taken to Extremes
      The following excerpts are quoted from the Introduction and Summaries (for Sections 2 and 3) in a page that asks, Should scientific method be eks-rated?  {with eks replacing x, to fool the filtering programs}
      Should our confidence in science be lessened by the limits of logic and the influence of culture? ...  [My comments and conclusions] are based on a simple principle (that if a good idea is taken to extremes without sufficient balance from rational critical thinking, there may be undesirable consequences) and an assumption (that undesirable consequences should be avoided).

      2. The Limits of Logic   This section is relevant mainly for questions about design, where opponents of design say "you don't have proof, so you should be quiet." }
      Can science cope with the limits of logic?  Everyone agrees that there are limits.  It is impossible, using any type of logic, to prove that any theory is either true or false. ... [an explanation of "why" is in the eks-rated page but has been omitted in this appendix] ...
      Yes, these skeptical challenges are logically valid.  But a critical thinker should know, not just the limits of logic, but also the sophisticated methods that scientists have developed to cope with these limitations and minimize their practical effects.  By using these methods, scientists can develop a rationally justifiable confidence in their conclusions, despite the impossibility of proof or disproof.
      We should challenge the rationality of an implication made by skeptics — that if we cannot claim certainty, we can claim nothing.  Modern science has given up the quest for certainty, and has decided to aim for a high degree of plausibility, for a rational way to determine "what is a good way to bet."

      3. Radical Relativism   { This section is relevant mainly for questions about age, where young-earth proponents claim that "young-earth and old-earth interpretations of the evidence are equally valid, so a conclusion depends on what a scientist wants the conclusion to be." }
      Is one idea as good as another?  An extreme relativist claims that no idea is more worthy of acceptance than any other idea.  Usually, relativism about science is defended by arguing that, when scientific theories are being evaluated, observation-based logic is less important than cultural factors.  But if theories are determined mainly by culture, not logic, in a different culture our scientific theories would be different.  And we have relativism.
      As with many ideas that seem extreme, radical relativism begins on solid ground.  Most scholars agree with its two basic premises: the limits of logic and the influence of culture.  But there is plenty of disagreement about balance, about the relative contributions of logic and culture in science, about how far a good idea can be extended before it becomes a bad idea that is harmful to rationality and society. ...

      Future Science
      Current theories for a natural origin of life seem implausible.  Is it rational for scientists to consider the possibility that life might have been the result of design-directed action?  Of course, certainty is impossible because we can never propose and test all possibilities for non-design.  But we could develop a logically justified confidence that our search has been thorough yet futile, and no promising approaches remain unexplored.
      If a design theory claims only to be "more probable" or to warrant "a high level of confidence" this is the standard by which it should be judged.  It seems unreasonable for critics of design to demand — along with radical postmodern critics who challenge the credibility of all science — that if scientists cannot claim the certainty of proof, they should claim nothing.
      Future developments in science could make the status of non-design increase (if we discover how a feature could have been produced by non-design) or decrease (if new knowledge reinforces our doubts about non-design).  To decide which "future science" is more probable, we must predict improvements in current theories and inventions of new theories.  For example, we can look at each reason that a natural origin of life seems implausible — due to properties like the unfavorable chemical equilibria for synthesizing biomolecules, and the high degree of biocomplexity required for metabolism and reproduction,... — and then try to imagine ways in which future knowledge might change our views of each property.  We can ask, "How likely is each change?" and "How would it affect our evaluations for a natural origin of life?"
      Doing this well requires creativity (to imagine what could be) plus criticality (to make realistic predictions about what is probable in reality, not just possible in our imaginations) so we can avoid the extremes of insisting that in this area of science "nothing new will ever happen" or "anything could happen."


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Is old-earth creation logically inconsistent?
(in the original uncondensed longer version)

comparisons of similarities and differences
between two old-earth views of creation:
Old-Earth Creation: Progressive & Evolutionary

Historical Science: is it scientific?

The Origin of Life: Is it a test-case for naturalism?

Interactions between Science and Worldviews

other pages by Craig Rusbult about
Origins Questions

This page is

Copyright © 2003 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved