My single biggest problem with Creationists is something that I’ve done in my title: treating them as a monolithic group that all believe the same thing. That’s not doing justice to the reality of the situation. Let me explain the logical fallacy.
A Vocab Lesson
First of all, when I use “Creationists” in the title, I mean militant Young- or Old-Earth Creationists; both believe that God created like described in Gen. 1-2, but they interpret the time frame differently.
Creationists of this group will often identify their opponents as “Evolutionists”, while they are actually targeting atheists who use evolution as a way to defend their atheism. It’s relevant to know here that those atheists in most cases will use exactly the same vocabulary: they are Evolutionists, and their opponents are Creationists.
And that’s where the big problem comes: evolution is not a philosophical worldview; it is a scientific theory. Atheism is a worldview, not a scientific theory. By mixing those two up, “Creationists” are making the same mistake as their “Evolutionist” counterparts.
What are the consequences of this logical fallacy? First of all, the logical fallacy being made is actually a combination of several problems: the “black-or-white” fallacy, which suggests that there are only two options while in fact there are more; the “no-true-Scotsman” fallacy, which suggests that an argument is incorrect because it doesn’t represent the pure form; and the “composition/division” fallacy, which suggests that if a part of the argument is true/false, the whole argument is.
A big consequence of the “black-or-white” fallacy is that massive amounts of Christian academics (and atheists for that matter) cannot identify with any of the groups defined. If they claim to be Christian, the “Evolutionists” will put them with the “Creationist” pack. If they identify as Evolutionist, the “Creationists” will put them in the atheist camp.
Basically, if you are a scientist (or non-scientist for that matter), who identifies as a Christian, but also sees evolution as the most accurate theory for the origin of species, you’re in big trouble because the two most vocal camps in this field will reject you. This also results in the “no-true-Scotsman” fallacy: if you claim to disagree with either of the positions or agree with aspects of both, then you’ll be considered either not a true scientist or not a true Christian.
Next, by confusing “evolution” and “atheism”, the debate partners are committing a “composition/division” fallacy. They see evolution and atheism as interchangeable and in their argumentation will make claims about atheism based on the argument about the true/false nature of an evolutionary claim. By also using the same lingo as Richard Dawkins and the likes, Creationists are validating their claim that evolution equals atheism. They are succumbing to the same Modernist – and Materialist – arguments and approaches of that camp.
Next to these three fallacies, it’s also quite easy to find “appeals-to-emotion” (e.g. by using emotional arguments), “ad-hominem” (e.g. by name-calling), “appeals-to-authority” (e.g. by name-dropping), and “ambiguity” (e.g. by blurring lines between fields). Without much effort, it was possible to find examples of at least seven types of fallacies in the Creation-Evolution debate as depicted by most mainstream media (and unfortunately also by a lot of Evangelical churches).
One of the best comparisons I’ve seen is saying the Creationists and Evolutionists are like pro-wrestlers in their argumentative fighting: it looks very impressive, but it’s all a big show: “In the same way that wrestlers only mimic the gestures of actual combat but never really fight, Dawkins and Ham only participate in an imitation of intellectual argument.” (Richard Dawkins and Ken Ham are the stereotypical representatives of each stream. See video below.)
Erring Biblical Inerrancy
The Bible is not a science book. Modern science has developed as such only in the last few centuries. Hence, concepts like “inerrancy” (the Bible cannot err or make mistakes) are asynchronous: they are reading modern terminology into a source that was not intended to work in such a way. Christians who defend inerrancy struggle to find creative solutions to verses like Psalm 75:3 that talks about the pillars of the earth – something that matches a flat earth perspective – to squeeze it into a modern understanding that the earth is not flat.
I am not a fan of inerrancy because it is a modern concept that is given way too much authority. If truth depends only on feasibility with modern science, we are not doing truth justice. I believe the Bible is truth but I also believe it is truth explained in vocabulary and concepts that made sense for the original audience. So I believe Gen. 1-2 to be truth but it explains that truth by using a then-contemporary understanding of the universe. And that’s not a scientific understanding, simply because modern science didn’t exist yet.
A Way Forward
So how can you detect these fallacies and what should we do? There are a few ways to detect them. The most important one is when “evolution” and “atheism” are used as synonyms. They are not. Evolution is a scientific theory; atheism is not. I know quite a few people who are Christian, but think evolution is the best theory to explain the origin of species. Within that group, there are varying opinions on the level of God’s influence in the evolutionary process, going from God created the potential for evolution to God guided all the evolutionary steps. Each one of those Christians sees God as Creator and in that sense technically is a Creationist, but they would be very reluctant to accept that label because of its loaded interpretation.
Another way to detect it is if they speak of two views. That should make you suspicious in any case; the world is often not that simple, especially when it comes to this sort of topics. It’s quite easy to distinguish at least six approaches to this debate, each with its nuances within. Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate gives a good introductory overview on this.
Discovering the Problem
When I did my Master of Science, I looked into the Creation-Evolution debate. I started off as a militant Young-Earth Creationist; God created literally in six days and the earth is only about 10,000 years old. Doing research changed my opinion on that. Why? Not because I started reading atheist perspectives like Dawkins’ (although I did that too). It changed because I encountered a lot of Christian scientists who did not have issues with evolution as a scientific theory, and did not see it as a competitor for their Christian worldview. And I encountered atheists who carefully avoided confusing evolution with their atheism. While they were explicit about their atheism, they did not make evolutionism drag their atheist cart; they admitted that this would be confusing two different concepts.
And that is my big problem with Creationists and Evolutionists alike: they make it seem like there are only two options because they confuse science and worldview. During my research I found out that wasn’t the case at all: you can perfectly hold a God-believing worldview and accept mainstream scientific theories.
Debunking people like Dawkins is really not that difficult; you just have to point out the flaws in their connection between science and worldview – and those are plenty. But by not understanding this, Creationists have taken on a battle they can never win – nor can Evolutionists for that matter: they are having a debate on a philosophical level but with arguments on a scientific level.
Confusing these two is simply detrimental to the option of having an outcome because the arguments are not addressing the core of the debate, they are mere illustrations each of the combatants has found in search for support for their worldview. It contradicts the method of contemporary science by already providing the outcome before doing the actual research.
I’ve stopped following this debate in recent years because, frankly, after my research had finished I had found peace in that I didn’t have to choose between science and worldview. It also helped a lot that in South Africa this debate is rather marginal.
There are two things that I’ve learnt from my years of diving into this topic. The first is that I can accept mainstream science but still appreciate and even attribute nature and creation to God. I can enjoy a stunning sunset and thank God for that, without being a “Creationist” in the narrow sense of the word.
The second is that it’s become quite easy to point out the above mentioned logical fallacies. If apologists for either side wish to engage in a debate, just listen to their argument’s assumptions, and it’ll be easy to make a split between their scientific and their philosophical/theological reasoning.