Old-Earth Creation:

Is it 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:  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 seems that only two of the views are internally consistent:
      young-earth creation says "never accept the consensus, in both areas."
      theistic evolution says "always accept the consensus, in both areas."
      old-earth creation says "sometimes accept the consensus."

      This page explains why — even though old-earth 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) views about the reliability of historical science,  2) scientific evidence supporting the consensus theory,  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. views about science  2. scientific evidence  3. theory characteristics  4. scientist bias  —  after introducing the four competitive theories: two for age, and two for design.

      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
      To explain the origin of a feature (an object, system,...) during the history of nature, the two possibilities are nondesign (with production by undirected natural process) and design (with production by design-directed action that converts an agent's unobservable "design idea" into a designed feature we can observe).        There are several types of design, due to differences in the agent, timing, and detectability.  The design can be done by a natural agent (using natural action) or a supernatural agent (using natural or supernatural action).  For a supernatural agent, the design-action can occur at the beginning of history (in a design of nature) or during history, and during history it can be detectable or natural-appearing.  This paper will focus on questions about detectable design-action during history.  { Another possibility is design-action at the beginning of history, with God designing the universe so a feature would be created by natural process. }
      How can we distinguish between nondesign and design?  With proper definitions, design and non-design are mutually exclusive (it was either one or the other) so non-design is supported if the production of a feature by undirected natural process seems plausible; and if this does not seem plausible, design is supported.
      What is the current status of design theories?  For some features, such as a bird nest or the faces on Mt Rushmore, a conclusion of design is strongly supported and is accepted by all scientists.  These noncontroversial conclusions will be ignored in the theory comparisons (of design vs nondesign) in this page.  Instead, the focus will be on the production of other features, such as the first carbon-based life, for which some scientists accept design but the majority of scientists reject design.  Usually, disagreements occur when there is an implication of supernatural design-action during history.        Later in this page, I'll ask an important question:  When a claim for design is rejected, is this conclusion based on scientific logic or nonscientific philosophy?  Is it being rejected because the evidence-and-logic indicate a production by undirected natural process, rather than design-directed action?  Or is it being rejected because accepting a design theory would imply accepting the possibility of supernatural design-directed action?

      1. Views about Historical Science
      What are the differences between proponents of three theories — young-earth creation, old-earth creation (with design-directed action), and old-earth evolution (with only undirected natural process) — when we ask, "What are the capabilities of historical science, 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 any reliable scientific conclusions about history.  They ask, "Were you there?", and declare that a "no" means "therefore you can't know much about ancient history" and that "presuppositions determine conclusions."  [the two old-earth views disagree]

      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 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 (which are based on a logical evaluation of observable evidence) to cope with the challenges of scientifically 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."

      Old-earth design theorists say that science can do more (when thinking about historical age questions) than is claimed by skeptical young-earth flood geologists, and also that science can do more (when thinking about historical design questions) than is claimed by non-design theorists.  Thus, there are differences between the claims of old-earth design (about what is science, re: age and design) and the claims (about what is not science) that are often made by young-earth creationists (re: age) and proponents of non-design (re: design).  Old-earth creation is logically consistent in accepting the reliability of historical science in both areas.

      2. 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, a logical evaluation of evidence indicates that there are serious scientific questions about some aspects of a theory of Total Natural Evolution, even though many aspects of neo-Darwinian theory are strongly supported.

      Overwhelming Evidence (about age)
      Young-earth "flood geology" theories, which propose that a global flood produced most of the earth's geology and fossil record, lead to incorrect theory-based explanations of geological formations, the arrangement of fossils in this geology, and the biogeographical distribution (now and in the fossil record) of animals and plants.  Although young-earth science makes some valid claims for the geological importance of catastrophic events, this does not contradict the old-earth theories of modern geology, which propose a combination of slow-acting uniformitarian processes and fast-acting catastrophic events such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and floods.
      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.  With this independence, the old-earth evidence is not like a "house of cards" where if one part falls it all falls.  It is more like a strong house with a ceiling supported in many ways:  by concrete walls reinforced by steel rods, plus granite pillars, wood beams,...  Each support would be sufficient by itself, but when combined the support is even stronger.  The young-earth task of pulling down the "old earth house" would require discarding much of modern science.  This isn't likely to happen, nor is it a desirable goal.

      Scientific Questions (about design)
      A page about Logical Evaluation of Evolution explains why — when the scientific principle of logical comparison is ignored — evolutionary theories appear to be scientifically stronger than they actually are.  Here is a brief summary:
      Often, support is illogically shifted from a strongly supported meaning of biological 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 meaning (like Total Macro-E with a natural evolution, from bacteria to humans, of all biocomplexity).  This shift, which increases the apparent support for evolution, is not logically justified.
      Also, the important scientific differences between two theories of old-earth creation (by independent creation or by genetic modification) are ignored.  In a comparative evaluation we should focus on the differences between competitive theories, instead of wasting time on questions where both theories agree.  ( The full page has a table showing the similarities and differences between four theories. )  When we ask, "Does this evidence really matter?", we see that most of the evidence typically proposed in support of evolution is irrelevant when comparing Total Macro-E with old-earth creation by genetic modification, or with a basic theory of intelligent design.
      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.

      For another naturalistic theory — proposing a natural chemical evolution of the first carbon-based living organism — the current scientific consensus (of those who do research in this area) is that this theory is highly implausible, for a variety of reasons that are summarized in The Origin of Life.  Currently, most evidence is against a theory that life began by undirected natural process.  But in most textbooks a theory of chemical evolution is labeled "the scientific explanation."  Is this because the evidence for it is strong, or because a naturalistic theory MUST be the scientific conclusion, if methodological naturalism is adopted.  So what is the consensus conclusion about chemical evolution?  Is it what the experts think (that it's scientifically implausible) or what the textbooks say (that it's the scientific conclusion)?

      a summary
      I think the scientific evidence for an old earth and old universe is overwhelming, but there are reasons to question whether undirected natural process was sufficient for producing the first life and complex life.  Therefore, based on scientific evidence I accept one consensus conclusion (about age) but question the other (about design).

      3. Characteristics of Theories

      Characteristics of Competing Theories
      This section compares the logical characteristics of the four competing theories (two for age, two for design) described earlier.  For simplicity, I'll assume there are only two theories in each area.  { This section is dense in ideas, so if you don't like it please feel free to move on to Section 4. }

      For age-questions,
      flood geology (young earth) and conventional geology (old earth) both propose that observed features were produced by undirected natural process (UNP), so it's UNP vs UNP.
      1a) young-earthers propose non-UNP miracles when there is a self-acknowledged weakness in THEIR OWN theory.  For example, miracles seem necessary to explain the dissipation of heat during the rapid plate movements (which are needed to explain some observations) of runaway subduction.  And an initial creation with miraculous apparent age is often used to explain away other difficulties in young-universe theories.
      2a) or young-earthers, to defend a self-acknowledged weakness in their own theory, can claim that "there is a plausible young-earth explanation, we just haven't found it yet";
      3a) or young-earthers can 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."

      For design-questions,
      non-design and design propose that observed features were produced by undirected natural process and design-directed action, respectively, so it's UNP vs agent-action.
      1d) old-earth creationists imply non-UNP design action (which could appear miraculous *) when they claim there is a weakness in OPPOSING theories (* a creationist moves beyond the limits of a basic design theory by proposing that the design-action was done by God);
      2d) evolutionists, to defend a self-acknowledged weakness in their own theory, can claim "there is a plausible evolutionary explanation, we just haven't found it yet";
      3d) or evolutionists can play the trump card of methodological naturalism by claiming that, regardless of the evidence and logic, the scientific conclusion must be that "it happened by UNP."

      COMPARISONS (to find similarities and differences)
      Notice the difference between 1a and 1d:  miracles are proposed by flood geologists due to weakness in THEIR OWN theory, and by old-earth creationists (*) due to weakness in the OPPOSING theory.
      But we see similarities in 2a and 2d, in claims (by flood geologists and evolutionists) that "we haven't found it yet, but we will in future science."
      And there are similarities in 3a and 3d, in claims (by flood geologists and evolutionists) that nonscientific criteria (scriptural authority or methodological naturalism) should trump the evidence-and-logic of science.
      In contrast with appeals to the inevitable success of future science (in 2a & 2d) and the nonscientific trumping of current science (in 3a & 3d), old-earth creationists want to rely on evidence and logic, along with a creative-and-critical evaluation of future science in the liberating context of an open science that is free of nonscientific restrictions.

      What are the capabilities of historical science?  As explained in Section 1,
      young-earth creationists are super-skeptical about historical science for age-questions;
      similarly, many evolutionists are super-skeptical about historical science for design-questions.
      By contrast, old-earth creationists are confident about historical science for both questions.

      Despite the important difference between 1a and 1d (re: whose "theory weakness" inspires a claim for miracles), flood geologists and old-earth creationists 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: 1a (to defend weakness in their own theories of flood geology) and 2a (to attack weakness in non-creationist theories of chemical evolution and biological evolution).

      4. The Bias of Scientists
      Sections 1-3 looked at science (and logic), now we'll look at scientists (and bias).

      This section has been moved into a page about critical thinking (excerpts from it appear later), but here is a summary of some relevant ideas:

      Methodological Influence
      In most of this page, speaking as an old-earth creationist, I have expressed confidence in the basic logic of science.  But I question the rationality of a restriction that has been added to the basic logic.
      In the current scientific community, the consensus methodology — accepted by the majority of scientists — includes methodological naturalism (MN), a proposal to restrict the freedom of scientists by requiring that they include only natural causes in their theories.
      How does MN affect the process and results of science?  The circular logic of MN converts a naturalistic assumption into a naturalistic conclusion by declaring that when we ask, "Has the history of the universe included both natural and non-natural events?", the only acceptable answer is "no."  With MN the inevitable scientific conclusion — no matter what is being studied or what is the evidence — must be that "it happened by natural process."  Because this conclusion is automatic, it does not depend on the "evidence and logic" process of science, yet the conclusion is considered scientific.  Thus, MN provides a way to bypass the process of science and then claim the authority of science.
      If non-natural events did occur during history, MN will force scientists to reach some false conclusions.  And MN can produce a significant decrease in 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 and was done by a supernatural agent, there is an implication of non-natural action.  But if this possibility is denied by MN, some design theories are automatically eliminated.  { Opponents of design try to "win fairly" by arguing for the plausibility of their naturalistic theories.  But in case these arguments are not decisive, there is always a backup plan for "winning by any means necessary" by appealing to MN. }

      Personal and Cultural Influences
      A variety of influences can motivate a scientist to produce a biased conclusion.  These influences include personal worldview (which includes religion and much more), methodology (such as MN), and professional self-interest.  The opinions of a scientist can be influenced by shared assumptions within a scientific community about "proper ways to think" and by people who — because they make important decisions about hiring, funding, and publishing — have the power to reward or punish their peers, and thus to influence their behavior.
      In either area, for questions about age or design, arguing against the majority consensus will usually be detrimental to the career of a scientist.  Almost always, it will be unwise — at least in terms of gaining respect, employment, promotion, research funding, publications, professional honors, and positions of influence — to adopt young-universe theories in geology or astronomy, or to question the total sufficiency of natural evolution in biology.  Therefore, a scientist who is motivated by personal-cultural influences will be motivated to adopt both old-earth science and evolutionary science.
      But these motivations do not mean that conclusions in both sciences are equally biased.  Why?  Because even though scientists (as individuals or in a group) may be motivated to reach a particular conclusion, this does not necessarily mean that the process of scientific evaluation, or the conclusion reached, will be biased.  Perhaps the scientists can overcome their "tendency toward bias" and make an objective evaluation.  Or a person (or group) might strongly hope that the evidence will point to a certain conclusion, and might be incapable of an objective evaluation leading to the opposite conclusion, but the reality is that an objectively neutral evaluation of the evidence actually does point to the desired conclusion, so the scientist's bias (during the process of evaluation) makes no difference because a neutral evaluation would also lead to the same desired conclusion.
      Therefore, we cannot say that "If scientists have a motivation to be biased, their conclusion will be biased."  Instead, we should look at the evidence and ask, "If there was a neutral evaluation of the evidence, based on pure logic without bias, what would be the conclusion?"
      When we look at the evidence and logic, I think the consensus conclusion is biased (i.e. its estimate of plausibility does not match an estimate based on pure scientific logic) when we look at one conclusion (about all aspects of totally naturalistic evolution being a "fact" that is beyond doubt, since I think there are valid scientific reasons for questions) but not the other conclusion (about the earth and universe being old).

      What about religious influences?  In my page about Interactions between Science and Religion in Origins Science, I claim that "a theist has options (young-earth creation, old-earth creation, or theistic evolution) and is free to follow the evidence and logic of science to any conclusion."  But if a person believes that the Bible teaches a young-earth view, there will be personal pressure to achieve personal consistency by also believing young-earth science.  For an atheist or a rigid agnostic, there will be personal pressure to believe naturalistic theories, and in some groups (where there is antagonism toward religious views) there can also be group pressure.  Similarly, in some parts of the Christian community, there will be group pressure to adopt a particular view;  this is especially common for young-earth creation, but can also occur for old-earth creation or theistic evolution.

      The ideas above, especially about methodological and personal-cultural influences, are explored more thoroughly in Critical Thinking in Closed Science (and Open Science).  Here is an excerpt:
      What has been the response to theories of design?  When Michael Behe submitted papers about irreducible complexity to science journals, individual editors were interested, but groups were intolerant.  One editorial board concluded its letter of rejection, "Our journal... believes that evolutionary explanations of all structures and phenomena of life are possible and inevitable."
      In an open-minded free science, the response would be different.  Behe's thought-provoking questions would be welcomed as an opportunity to gain a more complete understanding of evolution at the molecular level.  The journals would be eager to communicate new ideas, to host invigorating debates between critics of a theory and its loyal defenders. ...  In a community of scientists who are exploring freely, thinking flexibly, and dedicated to finding truth, Behe's tough questions would be used as a stimulus for critical analysis, creative thinking, and productive action.

Apparent Age   Historical Science
Extreme Ideas      Future Science

      Apparent Age
      From the introductory summary in my page about Apparent Age:
      Theories of apparent age should be taken seriously, because IF everything was created in a 144-hour period, THEN some appearance of age (the essential-AA) would be necessary to produce immediate functionality.  But there is another important claim involving if-then logic:  If God wants to avoid misleading us with false history, then God will create a universe that is old, so it can actually be the age it appears to be.  { A common claim — that "God has declared the universe to be young in Genesis 1, so if it is not young then God is a liar" — is based on an interpretation that is only one of several good interpretations. } .....
      I don't think it is wise to use a theory that includes nonessential apparent age [which would not be needed for immediate functionality] — especially when, as is usually the case, this is combined with scientifically inadequate flood geology — as an essential part of a foundation for science or 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 who ask "Were you there? Did you see it?", and imply that "no" means "then you can't know anything about it."

      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."

      Good Ideas taken to Extremes
      The following excerpts are taken from the Introduction and the 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).

      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."

      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. ...

This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
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Here are other related pages:

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

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