Why I’m not a Young Earth Creationist

July 19, 2012

Young earth creationism (YEC), in my humble opinion, is both wrong and dangerous to Christianity. I’m writing this, because of a recent conversation with a knowledgeable man, who is also a young earth creationist. Yes. We politely disagreed on whether evolution is true or not. To win the debate, he started to claim that young earth creationism was central to the gospel.

Whether or not you think young earth creationism is true, I hope you’ll agree with this is a very dangerous way to argue. The gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, to restore our relationship to God. It is salvation through faith alone in God which saves us. So equating the gospel with YEC views is simply wrong.

But equating Christianity with opposition to evolution is not just wrong, it’s dangerous. If you equate being anti-evolution with being Christian, what happens when you discover there’s good reason to believe evolution is true? All of a sudden you’re convinced there’s good reason to not believe the gospel.

I won’t harp on about Christianity being compatible with evolution. There’s websites dedicated to pointing that, and they do it in a much more eloquent way that I could. I’m also partial to a series of podcasts by Thomas Hopko, which discuss it in an intelligent way. In addition there’s also several books, such as those by Francis Collins or by Karl Giberson.

What I did want to do is respond to a couple of YEC/intelligent design arguments, which I don’t think any thinking Christian should offer. The first is this

New information can never be created

This argument is, quite frankly, obviously bunk. Information increases all the time.

Since Shannon in the 1950′s we’ve known how to measure information. We measure it as entropy. Entropy measures average the number of bits (say, on your harddrive) which would need to be used to store something (be that a message or the state of a physical system).

Imagine you have a very boring, predictable message you want to store on the hard drive.

00000000…000000

You don’t need many bits to do that. You can just store on the hard drive: “The message is always 0 one million times” and you’re done. It uses almost no space on your hard drive.

On the other hand if the signal is really random, you need lots of bits to store it. Imagine a million random zeros or ones:

0110010001101001…

If there’s no pattern all, then the best you can do is to just record the values which are sent. If the signal is something in between, then you use a program like “zip” to compress it. You’ll find the more ordered the message is, the smaller the zip file. The less ordered it is, the larger the file. Entropy is like a measure of how large the file would be with the perfect zip program.

The same concept applies to physical systems. Think of a simple physical system, which could be in one of several different states. If it is very disordered, you need more bits to store it. If it’s not disordered you need fewer bits. Entropy is what we use to measure that. If something is more disordered, it needs more bits to store it, and so has higher entropy. If something is more ordered, and needs fewer bits to store it, and so has less entropy.

Broken egg

So now it’s obvious the argument information never increases is just wrong. If you drop an egg on the floor, becomes more disordered. In physics, we’d say the entropy has increased. And you now know that just means the information needed to describe it has increased.

Information (or entropy) increases all the time. In any closed system it will increase. It’s such an important that we’ve made it into a physical law, the second law of thermodynamics.

So simply saying information is never “created” is simply wrong.

Specified information never increases

The next thing my YEC friend did was tell me specified complexity never increases. I’ve read and listened to enough intelligent design literature and exponents to have some idea where they’re coming from. The idea seems to be that any information which is created is always useless, and can’t have a role in producing something useful, like an eye.

Well, again, I have to simply disagree. Natural selection provides an obvious way for specified complexity to increase. We’ve already agreed (I hope) that information does increase. The question is whether that information can be useful for anything.

Before people get all annoyed – “natural selection” is not atheism. It does not imply atheism. It’s something very simple, which I hope we can all agree happens, and happens a lot.

Natural selection is simply the idea that weaker animals are more likely to die out. They’re less likely to have lots of healthy children, and if they pass on the gene that makes them weak to their children, they’re even less likely to have grandchildren. Think about it. Which is more likely to have lots of surviving children – a healthy animal or a sick one? Obviously the healthy one. That’s all there is to it. No atheism. No magic.

The simple idea is that animals which are fitter, better suited to their environment, able to run faster and further are the ones that get the chicks. They’re the ones which have lots of kids. They’re the ones that (at least on average) don’t die early. It’s not atheism, it’s just common sense.

So how does natural selection help? Well, let’s say you have an animal which has a gene for better sight. Well then that gene helps them see both predators and prey better. It helps them survive, and (on average) they have more offspring than one which has worse sight. Their children have better sight, and because they survive better, over time there’s more and more animals with good sight. Specified complexity is naturally selected for because it helps animals survive.

So we (I hope) agree new information can come into existence, and specified information can come into existence because specified information helps animals survive.

That evolution has never been observed

Finally, my YEC friend repeatedly said that what I was saying was impossible, and had never been observed in the real world. At the time I didn’t know what to say, and just pointed out that bacteria in hospitals build up resistance to drugs, and that plants we grow are very different now to their wild versions a few thousand years ago.

Next time this comes up I will be able to give better examples. Among the many excellent essays on biologos were two by Dennis Venema. He describes his path from intelligent design to evolution, and how he thought about it as a Christian. But he also gives examples of “specified complexity” coming about due to evolution which you can read here.

E-Coli

One example he gives is of the Long Term Evolutionary Experiment (LTEE). It started in 1988, with twelve identical strand of e-coli. E-coli (apparently) is a simple bacteria and it reproduces by simply dividing, which produces two clones of itself. That’s important, because the only changes which occur to their genetic make-up are through mutations. There’s no way you could claim “it was already there”.

As Venema describes:

Each day, each of the twelve cultures grow in 10ml of liquid medium with glucose as the limiting resource. In this medium, the bacteria compete to replicate for about seven generations and then stop dividing once the food runs out. After 24 hours, 1/10th of a ml of each culture is transferred to 9.9 ml of fresh food, and the cycle repeats itself. Every so often, the remaining 9.9 ml of leftover bacterial culture is frozen down to preserve a sample of the population at that point in time – with the proper treatment, bacteria can survive for decades in suspended animation.

So basically, grow ecoli every day for years and see how 12 different strands of it change. All twelve strands quickly adapted to their petri-dish environment (and in fact they evolved in a similar way):

All 12 populations improved quickly early on, then more slowly as the generations ticked by. Despite substantial fitness gains compared to the common ancestor, the performance of the evolved lines relative to each other hardly diverged. As we looked for other changes—and the “we” grew as outstanding students and collaborators put their brains and hands to work on this experiment—the generations flew by. We observed changes in the size and shape of the bacterial cells, in their food preferences, and in their genes. Although the lineages certainly diverged in many details, I was struck by the parallel trajectories of their evolution, with similar changes in so many phenotypic traits and even gene sequences that we examined.

And it just continued on like this. I’m sure at this point all the intelligent design people are with me. It’s just “micro-evolution”, right? The same thing for month after month, year after year. But then one day, something new happened! Lenski (a scientist who was involved in the project) writes,

Although glucose is the only sugar in their environment, another source of energy, a compound called citrate, was also there all along as part of an old microbiological recipe. One of the defining features of E. coli as a species is that it can’t grow on citrate because it’s unable to transport citrate into the cell. For 15 years, billions of mutations were tested in every population, but none produced a cell that could exploit this opening. It was as though the bacteria ate dinner and went straight to bed, without realizing a dessert was there waiting for them.

But in 2003, a mutant tasted the forbidden fruit. And it was good, very good.

Amazing! Totally new specified information. They were able to go back to the frozen samples and see exactly which gene mutations led to the ecoli being able to eat citrate. The gene that allows it actually mutated long before it was actually used. The first e-coli able to eat citrate did so very badly, but they got better very quickly. And finally, there’s essentially two strands left. One strand eats both citrate and glucose, the other just gets very good at eating glucose:

Despite the “takeover”, a fraction of the population unable to use citrate persists as a minority. These cells eke out a living by being “glucose specialists” – they are better at using up glucose rapidly and then going into stasis before the slightly slower citrate-eaters catch up.

And that, it seems to me, is an example of specified complexity evolving.

So why aren’t I into all this intelligent design stuff? Well it’s simply because the arguments they put forward are wrong. They’re wrong about the arguments they make about evolution. But perhaps more importantly, they’re wrong about why we’re saved. We’re not saved through believing in evolution or not. We’re saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

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23 Responses to “Why I’m not a Young Earth Creationist”


  1. “But equating Christianity with opposition to evolution is not just wrong, it’s dangerous.”

    This statement is not just wrong, it’s alarmist.

    “If you equate being anti-evolution with being Christian, what happens when you discover there’s good reason to believe evolution is true? All of a sudden you’re convinced there’s good reason to not believe the gospel.”

    Hasn’t happened after all this time and I’m confident that it will stay that way.

    And I can’t believe you’ll take the pseudoscientific route of comparing lifeforms to non-living computer systems–very different, by the way (a child could even tell you that). But, if even take that route, keep in mind that you can store more information (the computer did not develop it’s own information, it’s simply holding the information you put into it), but because of this, it is more vulnerable to problems such as crashes and burnout.

    What I think is truly dangerous for anyone is not using your brain and not critically thinking. Too many supposed Christians blindly accept evolution because there’s “proof” while never taking the time to examine what this “proof” actually consists of–wild conjectures and unreliable dating methods that have nevertheless been deemed the gospel Truth by evolutionists.

  2. Chucky Says:

    > Hasn’t happened after all this time and I’m confident that it will stay that way.

    Yes, you’re right.

    > And I can’t believe you’ll take the pseudoscientific route of comparing lifeforms to non-living computer systems–very different, by the way

    True. I also compared physical systems to a message, and they’re not exactly the same. I was using it as an example to give people an idea what entropy is. I think, considering it’s the intelligent design people making the argument about “information” in our genes, they wouldn’t be opposed to it. I think they’re right about that, our genes do store information, but instead of binary (just 0 or 1) there’s four different basis pairs (A, T, G and C).

    > What I think is truly dangerous for anyone is not using your brain and not critically thinking. Too many supposed Christians blindly accept evolution because there’s “proof” while never taking the time to examine what this “proof” actually consists of.

    I’m completely with you. I agree Christians should take the time to do that, and be prepared to go one way or the other. What we shouldn’t be doing is *not* looking at it, and just saying one way or the other means we don’t accept the gospel.

    I’m not Atheist Andy. Really I’m here saying this because I think it’s important for Christians.


  3. Thanks for your response. I’m surprised that you agreed with most of the points I made considering the danger you saw in opposition to evolution (and the connection to Christian belief). But perhaps you thought that the many that question evolution only do so because of their Christian beliefs. I can’t speak for all, but I believe most question it because of examination of the purported (and tenuous) “evidence.” I wouldn’t be surprised if there or many of various faiths–or no faith–that also question evolution.

  4. Chucky Says:

    I do think it is dangerous, but that doesn’t mean I will disagree if you make good points. I guess I gave an example of evolution in this post. Why aren’t examples like that convincing to you?

  5. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Meh evolution has and is happening. It’s been experimentally observed. Lenski’s experiments with bacteria immediately come to mind.

    Most people who reject evolution just to so to the extent that the theory disagrees with their theology


  6. “I guess I gave an example of evolution in this post. Why aren’t examples like that convincing to you?”

    I will get back to your question later today when I have more time.


  7. “I guess I gave an example of evolution in this post. Why aren’t examples like that convincing to you?”

    Sorry I took so long to get back to this question. The answer is simple: It doesn’t prove evolution, it proves what we already know about the adaptive abilities of all lifeforms. And these adaptive abilities have limits–in fact where an organism gains in a certain area to be able to survive in it’s environment, it loses in another area. It becomes more vulnerable. Such is the case with a fresh water fish that can adapt and survive to an environment where salt is gradually added to it’s environment. It is able to adapt to the salt water, but it did not gain anything extra–it actually traded it’s ability to survive in a fresh water environment to adjust to an increasingly salinated one as that fish would die if you placed it back into fresh water.

    Another (hypothetical) example is our adaptive ability to retain beneficial flora (bacteria) in our bodies in order to survive on a modern day diet. What if this ability as a result drained out natural ability to produce our own vitamin C–something that we used to be able to produce ourselves? Yes, we gained the ability to store beneficial bacterial in our gut, but the trade off is having to find vitamin C from other sources.

    Although the study you cite does not mention anything about this, I suspect that there was a ultimately a trade off that allowed the e-coli strain to finally be able to digest citrate. It’s about organisms needing to maintain homeostatic balance, while making the essential adaptive changes to survive. With this in mind, the idea of evolving from a single molecule, to single-celled organisms, to multicellular organisms, to ultimately everything on Earth requires a suspension of one’s logic and critical thinking processes.

  8. Billy Says:

    synapticcohesion, I think you misunderstand evolution. Even if there was a trade off – and there often is, what is important is whether the organism has a selective advantage.
    Also, your vitamin C comment is wrong. The loss is due to the loss of large chunks of the gene (about 63 million years ago. This is something that is shared in other primates, so it is not due to a modern diet. Also, the remaining fragment of the gene is flanked by an viral relic. Both of these facts argue for common descent.
    I don’t intend to return to argue, as I find creationists are generally misinformed (as evidenced by your posts – I state this purely as a fact, and not as a personal attack). I would like to recomend you read a book on evolution written by real scientists, not creationist propagandaists. Try Why evoltion is true by Jerry Coyne, the making of the fittest by Sean B Carrol, Evolution, what the fossils say and why it matters By Prothero, or Relics of Eden by Fairbanks (the latter being a christian).
    Evolution is supported by several thousand peer reviewed papers every year. Creationism produces none (despite their claims to the contrary).
    PS, if you want an example of a new structure, try the caecal valves of wall lizards. Want a new species, try the maderia house mouse, want an example of increased “information”, try our opsin genes. There are many many examples, please read scientific material with an open mind – I once tried to be a creationist, I found it impossible. However, I do agree, evolution removes adam and eve and that causes a problem for christianity.


  9. “Also, your vitamin C comment is wrong.”

    You do know what hypothetical means, don’t you? I never claimed that was the reason that we do produce vitamin C.

    “The loss is due to the loss of large chunks of the gene (about 63 million years ago. (right….)
    This is something that is shared in other primates, so it is not due to a modern diet. (remember I said “hypothetical”)
    Also, the remaining fragment of the gene is flanked by an viral relic. (mmm-hmm)
    Both of these facts argue for common descent.”

    Wishful thinking is more like it.

    “I don’t intend to return to argue, as I find creationists are generally misinformed (as evidenced by your posts – I state this purely as a fact, and not as a personal attack).”

    Oh, of course. By the way, please look up “hypothetical.”


  10. I never claimed that was the reason that we “don’t” produce vitamin C.

    Typo.


  11. “The loss is due to the loss of large chunks of the gene (about 63 million years ago.”

    Yeah we know so much about DNA, we label what we don’t understand as being “junk,” yet we somehow know that we “lost large chunks of this gene about 63 million years ago.” And the faithful accept these ridiculous assertions without any evidence or proof. Although I was simply making up a hypothetical situation with the intestinal bacteria example; my hypothetical situation makes a lot more sense than the “we know 63 million years ago this chunk went missing from our genes.”

  12. Austin 3:16 Says:

    >> Although I was simply making up a hypothetical situation with the intestinal bacteria example <<

    And with the example of e-coli and the ability to digest citrate.

    Your main objection to evolution seems to be on the basis of stuff you've made up.

    Which is probably not the most rigorous basis.


  13. “Your main objection to evolution seems to be on the basis of stuff you’ve made up.”

    Right. You conveniently forgot my first (real) example of the freshwater fish. And, no, my main objection to evolution is a result of my keen BS-o-meter that is built into my brain. Not everyone has this evolutionary trait.

  14. Billy Says:

    synapticcohesion, I popped back to give you the courtesy of reading your response. Sadly, you are an example of why folk don’t debate creationists.
    I fully understand the term hypothetical and I don’t think you understand molecular evolution (btw, I’m a molecular biologist and your comment about wishful thinking displays your ignorance of the field). So effectively you are “hypothetically” making up reasons to refute evolution that bear no resemblance to reality. How is that a refutation?
    Like I said, to don’t neccessarily trade something off – you just have to be better adapted. I would say that grasping such a fundamental concept would be essential before you even hold an opinion on the subject, and I cant stress enough how fundamental this concept is. I recommended some books, but you are clearly a lost cause – again, this is why folk don’t take creationists seriously.
    Whether you accept the evidence or not, you clearly are not in a position to evaluate it or debate it.

    Oh, and your point about fish is entierly a red herring so to speak – again, a failure to grasp the basics.

    I bet you wont watch this video on ERVs that you label wishful thinking. If you had an understanding of science, you would see the video makes predictions and tests them. You on the other hand just use terms like “wishful thinking” and “BS” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUxLR9hdorI

    You have said nothing of substance, and I don’t see any point returning a second time to cast pearls before swine.

  15. Austin 3:16 Says:

    >> Right. You conveniently forgot my first (real) example of the freshwater fish. <<

    You've speculated that a saltwater fish can be gradually exposed to fresh-water and thus adapt to fresh water whilst simultaneously losing it's tolerance for salt water.

    You've cited no authorities or examples of this. Hence it's something else you've made up.

    And it fails to account for species such as the bull shark which can tolerate both fresh and salt water.

  16. Austin 3:16 Says:

    >> You’ve speculated that a saltwater fish can be gradually exposed to fresh-water and thus adapt to fresh water whilst simultaneously losing it’s tolerance for salt water.<<

    My apologies your made up example was fresh to salt water not the other way around.


  17. “I fully understand the term hypothetical and I don’t think you understand molecular evolution (btw, I’m a molecular biologist and your comment about wishful thinking displays your ignorance of the field).”

    Well I am a neurosurgeon. One of the few to examine cranial fragments of “Lucy.” I told my colleagues that I remain skeptical that they are nothing but the remains of an ancient chimpanzee, but as my career was at stake at the time, I chose to not pursue the issue.

  18. Austin 3:16 Says:

    >> You do know what hypothetical means, don’t you? <<

    Well one possible meaning from dictionary.com is "highly conjectural; not well supported by available evidence."

    ie something you've just made up.

  19. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Hey Chucky,

    Evolution can explain the diversity of life, but not it’s origin.

    What’s your take there ?

    ta


  20. “Evolution can explain the diversity of life, but not it’s origin.

    What’s your take there ?”

    The answer: The Big Bang and the magic molecule. What exploded and from where did it come from? Why don’t any more magic molecules with such an abundance of world-creating genetic information exist anymore? Who knows? ;)

  21. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Oh great, more “hypotheticals” from Hans Christen Andersen, just what we need.

  22. john mcdermott Says:

    macro-evolution is a fairly tale my friend, young earth is true

  23. Dominic Says:

    1. ‘Young earth’ – why not? God can do whatever he wants – so no human ‘logical’ argument can ever be sure of itself, whereas God’s word says…
    2.”The gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, to restore our relationship to God. It is salvation through faith alone in God which saves us.” yes, it saves us from our SINS – where did they come from without the Biblical account?
    3. The Bible lays out for us ‘one man sinned’, which affects all, and ‘one man was righteous’, which can also affect all people. No Genesis account, no pattern, and Jesus and Paul both wrong with their theology. which can’t be right…


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