Creationism, technology and intellectual consistency


One of the common refrains of the millions of people worldwide who do not accept modern old-earth geology and evolutionary biology is that while some portions of modern science may be true, other portions, such as the notion that the earth and its fossils are many millions of years old, are suspect if not completely in error. In other words, many wish to pick and choose, cafeteria-style, among the major precepts of modern science, accepting some but rejecting others. For example, a 2010 Gallup poll found that while Americans in general are accepting of science and technology, nonetheless 40% believe that “God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years” [Newport2010].

In one respect, the “cafeteria” approach is entirely reasonable, since some scientific theories are much more firmly established than others. One example of public scientific controversy is Homo floresiensis, the remarkable hominin fossil more commonly known as the “hobbit” due to its diminutive size, which remarkably co-existed with humans until as recently as 17,000 years ago [Wade2004]. One group of scientists insists that these skulls represent a distinct species of hominids, but others dismiss such claims, saying that they suffered from a malady that causes dwarfism in humans. The consensus of peer-reviewed studies seems to be shifting to support the original hypothesis, but one would be well within reasonable bounds to be skeptical [NS2010].

But other theories, more basic to the core of modern science, are not so easily dismissed. In particular, the basic notion that the earth is many millions of years old is extremely well established at the present time. These dates, and the underlying radiometric schemes they are based on, have been scrutinized in many thousands of peer-reviewed papers for at least 50 years, and are widely regarded as highly reliable, although still subject to occasional minor errors of various sorts (see Ages and Reliability).

Almost as well established is the fact that biological species on earth today are descended from one or a few original species over the eons, and that the chief forces in this evolution have been mutation and natural selection. This central tenet of evolutionary theory has been tested exhaustively in many thousands of peer-reviewed papers (e.g., in recent DNA studies), and is not presently considered to be in serious doubt in the scientific community (see DNA and Evolution).

Scientific theories in everyday life

Is it really possible to cleanly separate those well-established scientific theories that we like from those that we might not, accepting some and rejecting others?

One key body of evidence in geology and evolution are the radiometric dates of various rock layers, which are based on measurements of trace amounts of certain radioactive isotopes in rock minerals. A key assumption in these measurements is that radioactivity is correctly described by certain key principles of quantum mechanics, and that these principles do not change measurably over time, nor are they affected by temperature, pressure, magnetism or chemical combination. In a similar way, modern big bang cosmology is based in part on general relativity, and the calculated age of the universe had better not be less than the age of rocks on the earth, or else we have a major problem! Thus any scientific experiments or measurements that threaten the integrity of either quantum physics or general relativity pose a grave challenge to both modern geology and evolutionary biology.

Now consider some of the everyday technologies that we rely on:

  1. Millions of hikers and others use Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to find some of the more than one million “geocaches” hidden at spots provided at the Geocaching website. Many millions of others routinely use GPS receivers in their automobiles to ensure that they will not take a wrong turn or get lost. Yet GPS technology relies heavily on the principles of quantum physics. In particular, each of the 24 GPS system satellites, which orbit the earth at an altitude of approximately 20,200 km (12,550 miles), contains an atomic clock that must generate an exceedingly finely tuned frequency (10.23 MHz). If this frequency were to change even slightly, because the laws of quantum physics underlying the atomic clock are not understood correctly or change with time, this would wreak utter havoc on the GPS system [GPS2011].
  2. GPS technology also critically relies on Einstein’s relativity, both special relativity (the slowing down of clocks moving at very high speed) and general relativity (the slowing down of clocks in strong gravitational fields). In the GPS system, such effects are not only measurable, but indeed must be taken into account, or otherwise errors would quickly accumulate to the point that the system would be hopelessly inaccurate [GPS2011].
  3. iPhones and similar smartphones employ a large amount of very sophisticated, custom-designed computer circuitry — memory chips, processor chips and clock controllers. These chips, like numerous others in our high-tech world, are designed based on the laws of quantum physics in a critical way. Thus if these laws are not understood clearly, or if they do not apply in certain exotic settings, or if they change gradually over time, then these devices might fail to work. Smartphones also broadcast and receive signals using very sophisticated mathematical-based coding technology. If these theories are not sound, smartphones might fail unpredictably.
  4. Modern medicine crucially relies on very sophisticated electronic technology, not to mention x-ray, MRI and sonogram imaging. These devices also crucially rely on principles of quantum mechanics in their design. Along this line, antibiotic and other medicines to fight disease must be used carefully as directed, in order to prevent the rise of mutant strains (by evolution!) that defeat our antibiotic defenses.
  5. Finally, all of the above disciplines (quantum physics, relativity, electrical engineering, medical engineering and evolutionary medicine) rely heavily on sophisticated mathematics and computer science. If some fundamental flaw were discovered in the edifice of modern mathematics or computing, the entire structure of modern science and technology, even some aspects of geology and biology, would be drawn into question.


Below a certain level, all of modern science is interconnected, and thus one cannot accept certain key empirically-derived theories but reject others. As philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is reputed to have once said, “Science is not a taxi-cab that we can get in and out of whenever we like” [Cutting2011].

If nothing else, the “cafeteria” approach that some employ is intellectually inconsistent — if one really believes that much of modern geology and biology should be rejected because radiometric dating (and thus quantum theory), for instance, is not reliable, then one should avoid using any smartphone or GPS device, since, as we have seen, at some level they are designed on the same physical principles as radiometric dating. In fact, one should distrust and avoid a wide range of computers and high-tech gadgets, since virtually all of these critically rely on electronic designs based in quantum mechanics.

Along this same line, if one does not accept old-age geology or evolution, then to be consistent one should wear a bracelet instructing emergency medical personnel not to utilize electronic or MRI equipment when treating you, because such devices, based as they are on quantum mechanics, are presumably not reliable. One should also ignore the very frequently prescribed medical directive to use an antibiotic through its full course, so that the targeted antigens do not develop resistance to the drug, since this directive is based on evolutionary biology.

This does not mean that we should accept anything that emanates from the world of modern science without question — countless genuine controversies are discussed in peer-reviewed literature every day — but it does mean that blanket and unthinking rejection of well-established scientific results, simply because we might not like the conclusions, is neither productive nor intellectually consistent.

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