This is the English (and re-written) version from my review of ‘The New Creationism’ by Paul Garner. An English version, by request and because it might trigger an interesting (and I hope constructive) debate on the way creation science is developing with a wider audience than the normal Dutch speaking bunch.
I am aware that I am a rather severe critic – not just of this book but of any book I review. So let me just start by saying I think the idea behind the book (giving an overview of creation science) is very good. Apart from a number of factual disputes, my main objection to the book lies in the fact that it doesn’t in my opinion stimulate a healthy debate on the models it describes.
Enough introduction, lets start with the review!
The New Creationism – What’s new?
When debating young earth creationism with creationists, I’m often told my grasp of creation science is not adequate. So when I recently heard from two different sources that The New Creationism by Paul Garner gave a very good overview of modern creation science, I bought the book and read it. Here’s my review.
The book is divided into themes: the beginning of the heavens and the Earth, Time and dating, origin of species and the Flood. For each of these themes, Garner describes current creation science insights and theories.
The first theme is an alternative for the regular cosmological models (based on a big bang, some 14 billion years ago). Garner sets out by describing three bits of evidence for a Big Bang and three problems for the theory (with a bonus fourth one after that).
This is a well known rhetorical trick, the use of which is by no means limited to young earth creationists: mention three points in favour, and three points against a theory and you create the impression the jury is still out on this one. But off course, there are heaps and heaps of evidence used to back up the current cosmological model. There is a reason why probably 99 percent of astronomers (including a great many Christians) are satisfied with this model – even to the extent that they are ‘dismayed’ by its success! (Note: this is not to say the model is therefore true, only to say the scientific consensus that the model works very will is huge).
Garner raises these three points of criticism with the Big Bang;
1) The cosmic radiation is too smooth
2) The most distant galaxies are too mature
3) The relative abundances of light elements were not really predicted by the Big Bang theory
A fourth point is added later, the observation that there’s a redshift quantization in distant objects, rather than a gradual change in redshift.
Are these points of criticism really a problem for the current cosmological models? Well, the recent Planck data on the cosmic background are in line with the current theory. Of course, these data came in after the book was published (in 2009). The same goes for the second objection: recent data seem to explain the maturity of distant galaxies. But astronomers inform me that even before these new data came in, both ‘problems’ were never thought to be a serious challenge to the current theory.
Whether 3 is valid would take a long debate, so I’ll skip that (because even if it is valid, it would do nothing to negate the Big Bang theory, as this point isn’t a falsification).
The bonus-problem of quantized redshift is different, because in 2009, it was already clear that the original observation was based on too small a sample and suffered from problems with the data analysis. Garner should have known this and at least included it in his discussion.
I have gone through this part at some detail, as it shows one of my main concerns with this book: too often, Garner ignores (or is not aware of) recent findings and exaggerates the problems of standard scientific theories.
White hole cosmology
As an alternative to the Big Bang, Garner explains the White Hole Cosmology by Russel Humphreys. All of creation has appeared from a ‘white hole’, which has the same amount of time-distorting gravitational force as a black hole. However, it is not sucking up matter, but matter came out of it during creation week. When Earth came from the black hole, the stars and planets had come out before. The time distortion in the White Hole means that a few days of creation week could be billions of years for the stars.
The description of White Hole Cosmology lacks detail and leaves many important questions. How can anything come out of a white hole? How could Earth remain intact when gravitation is so strong as to cause a serious time dilation? What proof do we have, or what predictions does the White Hole Cosmology make that is different from standard cosmology?
One prediction is that the earth should be in the center of the Universe. And the quantized red shift is supposed to be proof of that – but alas it has been refuted. Furthermore, Garner doesn’t mention any of the many problems raised by critics of White Hole Cosmology, like these pages.
My main problem with this section (and it is repeated in the other themes) is that Garner doesn’t give me enough information to make up my mind on the subject. As presented here, White Hole Cosmology just doesn’t make sense to me, with my (limited) understanding of black holes, relativity and time. I feel that he should have made more of an effort to draw in the moderately informed reader, who will not be convinced at all by this presentation of the creationist model.
Garner uses a lot of quotes from the Bible in his book. I have no objection to this. But his handling of 1 Peter 3:3-7 did make me raise my eyebrows. In fact, they nearly hit the ceiling! Interpreting verse 4b as a critique of uniformitarianism in geology seems stretching it far beyond breaking point. Furthermore, a serious scientific discussion on the issue is now blocked by Scripture.
In the geology section, Garner mentions a number of problems for a young earth interpretation, and offers a solution to these problems. Of course, the ‘I have such a good answer to this question that I will raise it myself’ is also a well known rhetorical trick, employed by many (and yes, that includes theistic evolutionists!). But when in the paragraph on varves Garner states that such layers in lake sediment can be formed by catastrophes like the Mount Helen eruption, he is missing an important point. Many varves are made by organic matter (algae blooming and dying with the seasons), not by the influx of sediment. This article shows that varves are still a major challenge to young earth creationism.
In his discussion of radiodating techniques, the well known RATE research project is leading. Again, none of the very extensive criticism raised against RATE (both in how the experiments were done andin the interpretation of the results) is mentioned.
Next is biological evolution, and we’re given a generous helping of Intelligent Design, degenerative mutations and such. The alternative theory here is a concept developed by Todd Wood, which is rapid evolution by pre-programmed genetic information. The instable climate after the Flood would have provided strong natural selection, activating dormant variation in the DNA of the ‘baramin’. So, one pair of dog-like creatures in the Ark could spawn al canines in the fossil record and still alive.
The variation is unlocked by ‘Altruistic Genetic Elements’, mobile bits of DNA that can switch on genes or gene clusters. Again, details on how this should work are lacking, so it is impossible to see how realistic this model is.
Furthermore, the AGE-ing system raises an important theological concern: apparently, God has already provided all creatures with a means to survive the Flood in the creation week. I have a similar problem with the explanation given for the occurrence of poison snakes after the Fall: the snakes were created harmless, but with the genetic program to make poison and fangs to use it!
This brings us to the problem of evil. Garner tries to show that many things now evil (like bacteria) could have started out neutral or good. That sounds great, but my question would be: what about gravity? If everything in Paradise was created harmless, could Adam fall from a tree or a cliff? This sounds like a trivial question but it isn’t. The point is, you can’t make a totally safe Earth without any chance of any sort of harm. This is a challenge to the young earth paradigm of a ‘perfect Earth’.
A few more problems I encountered. The runaway subduction model looks interesting, but I can’t see how it can work without ripping the Earth apart. I have to repeat myself: there is just not enough information in this book to make up my mind. Furthermore, my limited knowledge of geology goes against the presented model. Though I am aware that ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing’.
A minor point: the ‘fountains of the deep’ are taken literal in this model, whilst the ‘floodgates of the Heavens’ are not. The water mantle, part of creation science for decades, is gone without any reference.
In the paragraphs on fossils, the mythical griffin is said to be possibly inspired by fossils. But why doesn’t the same hold true for Behemoth? Garner acknowledges the problem caused by the distribution of fossils, for example that no mammals or birds are found in deep geological layers. But he doesn’t mention the fact that almost all fossil species are now extinct.
The Ice Ages are, in the creationist model, one Ice Age. Garner argues that glaciers were formed in situ and did not spread from the North (which would have taken too much time for this model). He cites the lack of north-to-south transport of rocks. That might be the case in the US (I don’t know about that), but where I live, we have plenty of rocks from Scandinavia that were brought here during the Ice Age(s).
These are all details. Important details, but I’d like to take a step back and summarize my most important objections to the book.
As I have mentioned before, Garner paints too rosy a picture of creationist models and too dark a picture of standard scientific models. He barely mentions the criticism that many of the models he describes have drawn. There is no reason why he should try to answer all this criticism, which would be beyond the scope of this book. But to leave out nearly all criticism is not right. For one, the naïve reader might get the impression that creation science is more or less finished. Everything is explained, so no further research is needed. Case closed.
Critical reflection is the first step in making your own models better. It points the way to further research. And research is something that is sadly lacking in creation science. Real research, not just conjuring up explanatory models, but making predictions from your models and testing them with real data! The RATE project was an interesting start, but the group never seems to have done any follow-up science to address the many critiques from both Christian and non-Christian scientists.
A second point is that Garner is not providing the detail necessary to evaluate the models he describes. I have made this point repeatedly. I do appreciate you can’t explain all the details, but this book doesn’t provide me with enough information to be able to judge how realistic the models are.
Third, the evolution of creation science (forgive the pun) is not visible in this book. Icons of older creation science like the water mantle have simply disappeared. Competing cosmological models, like the one by Setterfield (which has many, many problems) are not mentioned. A young branch like creation science should not hide its past. To acknowledge past errors and show there is active debate on some issues is a sign of strength! But this is sadly lacking in the book.
Finally, the models are not integrated. What is the influence of White Hole Cosmology on geology? How could the Earth survive runaway subduction? Where in geology do we find the Flood, and what does this tell us about the animals in the Ark? If there has been rapid decay of radio-isotopes, how is it possible to explain the steady reduction in C14 content of varves? These are all questions that might be answered by creationists. But there are precious few of such questions in this book. This means it won’t stimulate further research.
As an outsider (with a keen interest in creationism!) my conclusions are not very positive. Creation science is too reactive (rather than proactive and creative), too scattered over small groups that are not cooperating and there appears to be a disconcerting lack of real debate. This book does not convince me that creation science is really fertile.
As I wrote at the start of this blog post, I hope for a constructive debate!