I grew up in a family in which science was greatly respected. My father was a physician, and I learned to enjoy physics, chemistry and biology.
My family was also deeply religious. My parents believed the Bible, and were committed to following it.
Their belief in the Bible led to a belief in the creation of the world in six literal days of approximately 24 hours, as indicated by a straightforward reading of Genesis 1. This belief was reinforced by their reading of the Fourth Commandment, where the Sabbath is stated to memorialize a six-day creation with a rest on the seventh day. The Sabbath is a literal day, and this implied that the six days of creation were also literal days.
My parents solved the conflict between the majority of scientists and the Bible in this area by believing that science, if done properly, did not really conflict with a recent creation. It was only when science was misunderstood or misused that it conflicted with a recent creation. My father remembered the struggles he had had to integrate Piltdown Man into his worldview, before it was discovered to be a fraud. Understandably, he did not fully trust evolutionary science.
The way I was taught science, it had no room for authority without evidence. Rather, the only acceptable authority was that which was backed up by evidence, and only precisely to the extent that it was backed up. My religious tradition was similar in some ways. Only tradition that could be backed up by Scripture was worth anything. The two attitudes were compatible, except at one point. The religious tradition was willing to accept Scripture without much question, whereas in principle, science might ask the question, why choose Scripture? Why not choose the Koran or the Vedas or the writings of Confucius? Or why not reject holy books entirely? And what does one do when science apparently conflicts with Scripture?
Many of my teachers in college had an answer to the latter question. They said that the evidence from science was equivocal at best. Scripture provided the additional evidence to allow one to choose a theist and Christian position. This way of answering the question at least did not require one to be a scientist to be saved. It seemed to me to be unsatisfying, but I had nothing better to suggest.
In college, I took a double major in theology and chemistry. For my senior chemistry seminar I wanted to examine a subject related in some way to theology, so I chose to review the experiments that had been done relating to the origin of life. It was popularly reported at the time that experiments had created life in a test tube, and had shown how life could have appeared on a prebiotic earth spontaneously. I was expecting some room for doubt, but was to find in the main a plausible scenario somewhat supported by the experiments.
The evidence seemed (and seems) overwhelming that spontaneous generation did not happen.I was stunned by the one-sidedness of the evidence I found. In fact, the evidence seemed (and seems) overwhelming that spontaneous generation did not happen. (A more detailed account, with general references, is in my book Scientific Theology, La Sierra University Press, 1997.) This evidence convinced me of two things. First, from that time on I never doubted that there was a God. I might not know whether He cared for me, but He certainly existed. Mechanistic evolution was dead. Second, at least in some cases, science can support theology. Theologians can expect the scientific evidence to come out strongly in their favor at least some of the time.
However, this evidence had no bearing on the dispute between theistic evolution, or progressive creation and special creation. That discussion seemed to bog down in intractable disputes. It would be hard to decide whether a similarity between two groups (species, genera, families, etc.) of creatures was due to design or to common descent. How could one tell what a designer would not do? Or how could one tell what features could not be caused by common descent? And if one backed a theistic evolutionist into a corner, he would always reasonably respond that this is one area where God intervened. On the other hand, special creationists believed in some evolution [AiG editor’s note: which is really the observable processes of natural selection and speciation. AiG advises against calling simple non-information-increasing variation “evolution” (see Variation and natural selection versus evolution) and against the related idea of differentiating micro- from macro-evolution] on the lower group levels.
The major difference between theistic evolutionists and special creationists seemed to be time. This includes relative time and absolute time. Relative time includes questions such as how fast the Cambrian strata were formed, how much time passed between the Ordovician and the Permian, and how fast the Grand Canyon took to form. Absolute time includes the absolute date of the Pliocene or the Jurassic or the Cambrian. These dates are almost exclusively based on evolutionary estimates and radiometric dating.
I decided to investigate radiometric dating. A summary of my results may be found in Scientific Theology. Very briefly, for potassium-argon dates, the assumption that argon is driven off is demonstrably not valid, and one cannot be sure that the clock is reset. This point is underlined by multiple dates that are too old, even for the evolutionary timescale. There are also problems with “too young” dates, which are not adequately explained as the result of argon loss. These dates suggest that the evolutionary timescale is too long. There is a gradient of argon in the geologic column, with more argon in the older rocks and less in the younger rocks, regardless of their potassium content, including in minerals with no potassium content. This creates a sort of instant timescale—just add potassium.
There was also a problem with selectivity, which could be documented from the literature. Other dating methods had similar problems. Rubidium-strontium dating isochrons could be mimicked by mixing lines, which require essentially no time to form. There were multiple examples of inaccurate dates by anyone’s timescale, including ones that matched potassium-argon dates. Uranium-lead dating was also done by isochrons, and when incorrect dates were explained by discordia lines, these lines could also be reproduced by mixing lines. There were multiple examples of lower concordia ages which were not accurate by anyone’s timescale. There was the data set on uranium dates on pleiochroic haloes in coal, which seemed to indicate an age for the coal (conventional age around 100 million years) of less than 300,000 years. Uranium disequilibrium dating, fission-track dating and amino acid dating (which is not radiometric) all had their problems, as did other, less-established methods. Often the data were more easily explained on the basis of a short timescale rather than a long one.
Carbon-14 dating was the most fascinating method of all. Fossil carbon, with a conventional age of up to 350 million years, repeatedly dated to less than 55,000 radiocarbon years. This is compatible with a date of as low as 4,000 years in real time (the date of the Flood would have to be determined on other grounds). It is incompatible with an age of millions of years, or even realistically with an age of over 100,000 years or so. It basically forces one into accepting a short chronology for life on earth.
Thus, if one accepts a designer intelligent enough to produce life, and a short timescale, it becomes very difficult to avoid the claims of the Bible. There is also the inability to adequately explain the Creation Week on the basis of Mesopotamian or Egyptian legends or customs. This implies that Genesis 1–9 is not just myth, but an account of what actually happened.
I arrived at that conclusion by following the data. I am not afraid of further data. I welcome challenges and actually look for them. I believe that if we do our homework carefully enough, and without succumbing to bias, we will find that the Book, including a literal 6-day creation, will stand. When properly understood, nature testifies to the trustworthiness of God’s Word.