When Orson Welles’ 1938 radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds threw thousands of people into panic — stirring them to say frantic good-byes, flee their homes and cities, and even prepare to take their own lives — pundits roared at the public gullibility. It’s tempting to nod in agreement with the New York Tribune columnist who praised both Welles and CBS for making an “important contribution to the social sciences” by casting “a brilliant and cruel light upon the failure of popular education.”1 In the words of one nine-year-old boy, the people who believed the invasion was real must have been “dumb-bells.”2
Readers who have listened to the broadcast or read its transcript may be more charitable in their judgments. Given Welles’ theatrical brilliance, his plan to pull off a Halloween prank of national proportions was almost certain to succeed. Asked later about his motivation for creating such a realistic dramatization, Welles explained that he “wanted people to understand that they shouldn’t take any opinion predigested, and they shouldn’t swallow everything that came through the tap, whether it was radio or not.”3
Radio, television, books, newspapers, the Internet, and the person in the next cubicle all supply “facts” and opinions that influence one’s beliefs. In the case of the 1938 broadcast, an undercurrent of fear and dread, along with preconceptions and limited information all contributed to the ensuing pandemonium. Some of these same factors heighten the conflict over creation and evolution issues today, instigating one battle after another. For a glimpse at how caustic and personal these battles have become see appendix A, “Creation/Evolution Verbal Warfare,” pages 205–207.
Historically the term “creationist” has applied to anyone who acknowledges that a Creator is responsible for bringing the universe and life into existence. In that sense, it pertains to nearly half of all practicing scientists (see chapter 2, pages 27–28).4 Over the past several decades, however, in the face of emerging scientific challenges to traditional beliefs, the term has taken on a much narrower meaning. Today “creationist” typically refers to someone who believes that:
• The Genesis creation days must be six consecutive 24-hour periods and God created all things in that span.
• The Genesis genealogies contain few if any gaps and therefore, the creation week occurred between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.
• The flood of Noah’s time (Genesis 6–9) was a global event, submerging all the continents and destroying all land-dwelling, airbreathing animals (except those aboard the ark).
• All land animals on Earth today naturally descended from (at most) the few tens of thousands of pairs of creatures on Noah’s boat.
• The flood of Noah’s day accounts for virtually all the geological features, fossils, and biodeposits found in Earth’s crust.
Several parachurch organizations have advanced this set of teachings, commonly referred to as “creationism” and “creation science,” so effectively that many evangelical pastors, congregations, schools, broadcasters, ministry leaders, and missionaries adhere to them more or less by default and remain largely unaware (or distrustful) of any alternative biblical view of creation. Most reporters, pundits, and secular scientists see these teachings as part of all evangelicals’ belief system. Thus, the terms “creationism,” “creationist,” and “creation science” as used in this book refer to that common meaning.
However, the word “creationist” may occasionally be used with a qualifier to refer to someone who, by contrast, believes the biblical account of creation and gives credence to the findings of science. These individuals typically embrace both the truthfulness of Scripture and the scientific evidence for a multi-billion-year history of the universe, Earth, and life on Earth.5
Scientists initially used the term “evolution” with reference to nature’s change over time — change brought about by any and all means. By this broad definition, even the Bible describes evolution. In recent decades, however, the word “evolutionist” has generally been applied to someone who asserts that all the changes observed in the record of nature (including the origin and history of the universe, Earth, and all life) can be attributed to strictly natural causes. Unless otherwise qualified, the terms “evolutionist,” “evolutionism,” and “evolution science” in this book refer to this core belief.
For thousands of years, scholars from various cultural and religious backgrounds have proposed intelligent design as an explanation for many of the special properties of the universe, Earth, life, and humanity. For over a century, every student at Britain’s Cambridge University was required to study William Paley’s famous text Natural Theology, in which Paley infers from his detailed study of nature that the properties of living organisms demand a divine Creator.
Even apart from questions about how the universe and life began, intelligent design has long been acknowledged as a legitimate scientific conclusion. In such disciplines as archeology, anthropology, and forensics, researchers evaluate, differentiate, and interpret evidence or artifacts based on various indicators of intentionality or purposeful design.
About a decade ago, however, a diverse group of creation advocates formed an alliance that has become widely known as the Intelligent Design movement (IDM) (see chapter 2, pages 29–33). Their goal is to advance public instruction of the intelligent design concept, the inference that an intelligent designer is responsible for the origin and history of life. By refraining from making a specific identification of the designer, the movement has sought to remove any particular religious bias and therefore any apparent legal basis for disallowing the teaching of intelligent design in America’s classrooms.
Each of the major combatants in the protracted creation/evolution battle wants exclusive rights to the story of the cosmos and of life — a story that carries enormous significance for every person on Earth, past, present, and future. That story holds the key to unlocking the great mysteries of life: Why (and whence) did humanity get here? Where is humanity headed? Did God (or gods) spring from human imagination, or did human imagination come from God? Who or what determines the meaning of life?
Winning the position of authority on that story seems to have eclipsed all other objectives. At least that is what the strategies and tactics of the combatants suggest (see chapter 2). Is there any basis for hope, then, that any of the creation/evolution controversies will be resolved?
Delos McKown, chairman of the philosophy department at Auburn University, wrote: “The twenty-first century will likely witness, as never before, the battle of science with soteriology [the doctrine of salvation], of free enquiry with religious dogma desperately held and tenaciously maintained.” 6 He bases this dismal forecast of ongoing conflicts on an evident trend: despite amazing advances in research, the creation/evolution controversies proceed not toward resolution, but rather toward greater polarization and entrenchment. Such a clear and persistent direction leaves little room for optimism.
McKown’s words supply an important clue, however, both to the problem and to its solution. He refers to “religious dogma” (presumably creation doctrine) and contrasts it with “free enquiry.” His phraseology implies that the Christian approach to creation is rigidly fixed and absolute, neither proved nor provable. However strongly Christians may object, this characterization is widely accepted and largely true, not just in America but worldwide.
The diversity of opinion within Christianity — even among evangelicals — on such issues as predestination and free will, the nature of the sacraments, the essentials of salvation, and the future of the world divides Christians into many denominations. Yet the world still recognizes this panoply as essentially Christian, and some Christians consider this diversity positive and healthy. Why, then, is enquiry on the topic of creation considered off-limits by so many Christians and non-Christians alike?
One contributor to the “closed-minded” Christian image is the sad fact that many Christian churches, schools, broadcasters, and book/audiovisual distributors have shown themselves unwilling to consider — or even to hear — alternative interpretations of the biblical creation texts.7 Australian geologist Ian Plimer observes, “Criticism of creationism is just not tolerated; it is avoided at all costs and every effort is made to silence, discredit or belittle the critic.”8 To make matters worse, the familiar young-earth view makes Christians so easy to marginalize and ridicule that mainstream media and academia often reinforce this view as the Christian position and capitalize on it.9
Another contributor to the problem is that creationism’s high profile silences many scientists and other scholars of faith from mentioning their creation beliefs in public. They keep quiet, not wanting to be branded as “evolution-phobic” or as skeptics of mainstream science who advocate placing religious dogma into public school curricula.10 Consequently, the public rarely, if ever, hears about (or from) Christian scholars (not to mention other critics of Darwinism) and their variety of views on creation.
While discrimination against people must be avoided at all costs, failure to discriminate between truth and fiction represents a serious problem. All people are created equal, but not all truth-claims are equally valid. Tolerance among people who hold different beliefs about origins reflects an appropriate respect for diversity. However, not all beliefs or interpretations correspond equally well with physical reality. Some correspond well, some correspond poorly, and others flatly contradict.
Philosopher J. P. Moreland says, “Reality makes propositions true or false. A proposition is not made true by someone’s thinking or expressing it, and it is not made true by our ability to determine that it is true. Put differently, evidence allows us [to] tell if a proposition is true or false, but reality (the way the world is) is what makes a proposition true or false”11 (emphasis in original). In The War of the Worlds, a long-legged water tower resembled a Wellesian Martian. In the dark of night, a man believed the tower to be a Martian. However, the structure he shot was still just a water tower. Daylight revealed the cold, hard (bullet-scratched) reality.
Exploring the physical evidence related to the origin and history of the universe, life, and humanity can illuminate the strengths and limitations of a particular interpretation. Asking appropriate questions can help reveal which explanation most closely corresponds to facts. Does the Darwinian approach offer an adequate explanation? Is a conclusion of a recently created Earth and universe warranted either scientifically or biblically? Do human beings possess unique spiritual properties? Just as importantly — can a particular position withstand the testing afforded by new discoveries and new understanding? All credible evidence must be considered when determining how closely a particular explanation (or prediction) corresponds to reality.
In this healthy competition of ideas, tolerance and discrimination can and must be exercised in balance. Christian scholars ask their peers in the science community to demonstrate balance by a willingness to entertain the possibility of both natural and supernatural explanations for life’s origins and development. Theoreticians have already demonstrated that willingness in the arena of cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and development of the universe (see chapter 3, pages 44–51). Meanwhile, the science community challenges Christians to demonstrate some balance among themselves by discriminating against interpretations and explanations that contradict established data.
Discrimination is not to be confused with censorship. Major participants in the creation/evolution conflict have attempted to stonewall discussion of each other’s models. Thus, they have barred each other’s models and, consequently, have forfeited the benefits of evaluation, critique, and testing. Such censorship benefits no one (see chapter 12, pages 195–196).
For healthy, productive discrimination to occur, more creation/evolution models must be put on the table, models that can be verified or falsified,models that effectively predict future scientific discoveries. This book highlights one such model (still in progress), the Reasons To Believe (RTB) creation model, emphasizing the model’s testable and predictive features. This model is offered in the hope of providing a viable, broadly integrative explanation — superior to previously proffered explanations — for the universe’s and life’s origins and histories. It is offered in the hope of encouraging development of competing models more testable and predictively successful than currently existing ones.
The challenge to consider all credible positions represents an exhilarating opportunity. It offers a way for all creation and evolution debate and research participants to regain some measure of respect and credibility. By replacing fear, preconceived ideas, superficial knowledge, and a lack of sophistication with rigorous scientific standards, set and maintained along the lines of Moreland’s definition of truth, this quest could yield unprecedented breakthroughs. But first, unpackaging the strategies and animosities that separate the most widely publicized positions in the creation and evolution conflict may lead toward the kind of understanding, the ceasefire, necessary for objective testing to begin.