A little while ago I posted a podcast with young earth creationist Terry Mortenson. Since then I have had a respectful exchange with Dr. Mortenson via email. At one point Dr. Mortenson asked me whether I have read any recent young earth creationist literature. I thought it might be worthwhile to post my response here:
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I read a lot of young earth creationist literature thirty years ago, but I have read little since then. There are several reasons for this. First, as I noted in an earlier email, I believe that young earth creationism is based on a faulty literalist hermeneutic (interpret literally where possible) which fails to recognize the proper genre of the two Genesis creation narratives.
Second, I believe that young earth creationism as it presently exists is a minor cul-de-sac in Christian history. This message came through when I read Ronald Numbers’ important book The Creationists, 2nd ed. (Harvard University Press, 2006). Numbers demonstrates how modern creationism was inspired by Seventh Day Adventist hermeneutics and in particular the pivotal work of George McCready Price. In contrast to this, as I read Christian history I find that Hexameral literature (i.e. commentary on the Genesis creation narratives) has always been diverse and has encompassed a broad range of perspectives.
This leads into the broader point that as I read church history I find that the most intellectually robust and credible expressions of Christianity have typically been the ones that engaged with the Wissenschaft of the day whether it be Justin Martyr on Platonism, Augustine on Neoplatonism, Aquinas on Aristotelianism, Erasmus on humanism, or the litany of great Christian theologians, scientists and philosophers who have creatively engaged modern science from Big Bang cosmology to NeoDarwinian evolution.
This leaves me without a good reason to consider the claims of young earth creationism. No doubt you believe that you have some evidence that supports young earth creationism. But every field of study has minority opinions on the periphery and those minority opinions have at least some considerations in favor of their position. A 9/11 conspiracy theorist or climate change denier can certainly proffer some evidence in favor of her position, and the non-specialist will likely not have a rebuttal for specific points. However, that is hardly adequate for the non-specialist to take the minority position seriously.
The greater the consensus among pundits in a relevant field, the stronger our prima facie deference should be to that consensus. As I noted in my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think, more than 99% of scholars with graduate degrees in the sciences accept evolution. I arrive at this approximate figure based on extrapolations from the contrasting numbers that signed the “Dissent from Darwin” and “Steve” lists. Given that the Dissent from Darwin list included both young earth creationists and old earth creationists, one can estimate that the number of scientists with graduate degrees in the sciences who would accept young earth creationism is significantly less than 1%.
For me, that consensus is not merely an amorphous whole. It consists of many scholars I have spoken with on these topics including world class scientists like Don Page (I interviewed Page here) and Francis Collins (I heard Collins speak two years ago at a BioLogos conference in New York).
Suffice it to say, it would take very powerful evidence for me to consider a vast consensus of experts to be fundamentally mistaken, evidence that consisted not merely of technical rebuttals to specific claims, but of a plausible narrative to explain why such a large group could be so desperately wrong about something so significant. Thus far, the only explanation I’ve seen from young earth creationists to explain this disparity attributes sin and/or sweeping incompetence to the 99%, and I don’t find those explanations to be plausible, not least because I know many of those who make up the 99%.
As a result, I place young earth creationism in the same category as 9/11 conspiracy theories and climate change denial, namely as a minority opinion that I do not consider a plausible understanding of origins.