The arguments young-earth creationists use in their efforts to discredit scientific evidence and theories
As a geologist, I’m often asked about the arguments that creationists- namely young-earth creationists- use to advance their views and discredit modern science. Many people dismiss creationist arguments as idiotic nonsense, but I disagree entirely with that. Their arguments are clever and designed to confirm the beliefs of those who are already creationists.
Yes, they are terrible and wrong, but the way the best creationist arguments are cherry-picked and cloaked in a veneer of science is something special and, in many ways, quite unique to the anti-science community. You really don’t see the same level of “using science against itself” among climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers or even flat earthers.
Their arguments are not designed to sway the scientifically literate (though most creationists fervently believe they should), but are designed to confirm what the flock already wants to know is true while muddying the waters for any Christian/Muslim who lacks a firm understanding of science.
(see rebuttals at the bottom)
For example, did you know that there are dozens of mountains where the tops of those mountains are made of ocean sediments? Even the top of Everest! What greater proof of a global flood do you need?? (a)
Those idiot geologists conveniently ignore all of those places where the geologic formations are out of order! There are hundreds of places where this happens! They don’t even understand what’s going on! (b)
There are so many gaps in the fossil record! Sooo many, so so SO many gaps, it’s terrible. Those evolutionists have never found those missing links they’ve been looking for all these years! ©
Polystrate fossils, that’s a good one. Fossilized trees that reach through multiple geologic layers. Did these trees live for millions of years? No, of course not. They were caught in a flood and the layers deposited one after the other! (d)
As a former creationist, I used to love the pleochroic halo argument. Decay of certain radioactive elements produce a halo pattern of damage, but they go through a gas phase first. It doesn’t make sense, the gas would flow away. It’s nonsense! Obviously, creation is part of the explanation. (e)
The oceans aren’t salty enough. Salt flows into the ocean, but there isn’t nearly enough salt in there to be as old as scientists claim! (f)
Radiometric dating doesn’t work! There are thousands of examples of carbon dating giving terrible results. Like a granite that was supposed to be 100 million years old that was dated to 15,000 years or a seal skin from the 1800’s that was dated to 9,000 years. (g)
Oh, and there are native American and other ancient rock paintings depicting dinosaurs. How could they have known what dinosaurs looked like if they’d never seen any? Heck, there are fossilized human and dinosaur footprints side by side! (h)
Do you see how, to someone desperately wanting to believe in divine creation over science, these arguments could serve to confirm everything they want to believe? They can even make believe that they’re being scientific… that they’re being more skeptical than those gullible scientists who refuse to look at all the problems with their theories.
Some of the most egregious arguments use fantastic evidence for an old earth and retool it as a creationist argument. I just glanced at an Answers in Genesis page titled “Transcontinental Rock Layers.” Why, did you know that some rock layers actually span multiple continents, separated by an entire ocean? Why, that wouldn’t make any sense at all unless they were emplaced by a global event… like a flood??? (i)
A lot of us find these arguments insidious because they are blatantly anti-science, but cloaking themselves in science, and convincing those who want to be convinced that they are not opposing science, but advocating for the purest science (since all the other so-called scientists ignore these very obvious arguments listed above, as well as dozens more). In fact, scientists are often portrayed by creationists as idiots unable to see the obvious or as satanists trying to pull the wool over the world’s eyes in an effort to deny God his creation, all of this while the creationist is still claiming to be using science.
And that’s what makes creationism the problem it is in religiously fundamentalist parts of the world. Anti-vaxxers may be confused and paranoid/gullible, but there is not an innate deep-down burning desire for them to hold fast to that anti-science belief. The same goes for climate change deniers and other anti-science positions. Creationist arguments, though, allow fundamentalists to claim to be followers of science as well and are enough to confirm for them what they desperately need to know is true. And because their “science” leads to God, they of course want it taught in schools.
(a) Ocean sediments on mountaintops is not hard to explain. Take Everest, for example. It is formed in the Himalayas where the Indian Plate is smashing into the Eurasian Plate. Do you know what used to be between those plates when they weren’t touching/colliding? Ocean. The sediments of which have been crumpled and pushed skyward along the Himalayas. Not a big mystery and not uncommon.
(b) Out of place rock layers? Yeah, we’re not confused by those despite what you might have heard. Where it does happen, and it’s not that common, the rock units are extremely deformed into folds (which is very common). Sometimes those folds are pushed over one another in extreme cases, leading to overturned units. Where you would normally expect to find abcd units as you go down, you discover abcddcbaabcd units. Or sometimes just dcbabcd. It is always the result of folding deep within the Earth, which has been eroded down to (or uplifted) and exposed. No random ordering, sometimes it’s just reversed because of folding. And no, nothing was lifted out of the ground and flopped over, it all happens deep underground as things get squished over millions of years in some places.
(c ) There are always going to be “gaps” in the fossil record. No matter how many gaps you fill in with “intermediate species” as creationists like to call them, there are always more intermediates between the intermediates. In fact, for every gap in the fossil record you fill, you create two more on either side of it! Claiming there hasn’t been any advancement since the days of Darwin is laughable.
(d) Hey, polystrate fossils. Here’s a true one. They do generally require pretty fast deposition, often in the form of floods. Not all at once, of course- floods over dozens or hundreds of years. They aren’t evidence of a global flood. In fact, they’re the greatest evidence against a global flood. They’re incredibly rare; the planet should be covered with these polystrate fossils if there really had been a global flood (it’s not).
(e) I don’t hear much about pleochroic halos much anymore- it may have been a creationist fad in the 00’s. The creationist argument involving them didn’t actually make a ton of sense when you worked it out (except that radioactive decay might be super fast I guess) and the fact that we see these occurring in materials from nuclear reactors was pretty good evidence that they were very easy to explain.
(f) Not enough salt in the oceans is an old argument and assumes salt never leaves the ocean, which it does through evaporite deposits, subduction and even the air (park your car by the ocean for a few years and discover what the salt does to it). We now know the oceans aren’t a final destination for salt, but an integral part of the salt cycle.
(g) Every argument against radiometric dating misuses radiometric dating. Not every technique can be used in every place. For example, carbon dating can only be used to date materials that have non-selectively consumed carbon in the last 20,000 years or so. That excludes all rocks, it excludes all non-biologic material, and it excludes the occasional animal like some seals which consume shellfish deep within the ocean that may be hundreds of years old and which, themselves, consume carbon that took a long time to reach them. It excludes dinosaur fossils because fossils are rock, not organic material, and they are far too old. C-14 decays much too fast to date anything millions of years old- there’s no C-14 left to measure after a while! Likewise, long-lived radioisotope techniques like K-Ar can’t be used to date young material because not enough has decayed and, like carbon dating, the material must be one that would naturally include the parent isotope. It’s science, folks… sometimes it’s complicated. That’s why we get masters and PhDs.
(h) Rock paintings and footprints? Nope, nope, nope. Yes, to someone who has seen children’s drawings of dinosaurs, some rock art can look a little dinosaur-like, but you have to be really selective because there are also a lot of very bizarre creatures depicted that don’t look like dinosaurs or anything else. Native mythologies and their artists could be quite creative. As for the footprints, those have been very widely debunked. It just doesn’t happen. I mean, seriously, if people and dinos ever lived side-by-side, we’d have found at least one non-fossilized bone lying around at some point! Just one!
(i) This one was physically painful for me to read, even just the title. Continent-spanning rock layers as proof of a global flood? No, it’s proof of plate tectonics over millions of years. I guess the argument is that the continents spontaneously jumped thousands of miles in a few days without ark-overturning tsunamis or tearing the planet in half or melting the entire Earth’s surface and boiling everything into outer space. It’s laughable. Just sadly, sadly laughable.