The joy of being an atheist who still goes to church is that you have friends who gravitate towards the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) worldview - both the earth and the universe are 6000 years old and evolution is a dirty word. Bishop Ussher got it right, dagnabbit!
For reference, Creation Ministries International have a PDF available which demonstrates the chronology of the earth according to the Bible.
So why is having YEC friends a joy? Because you can do what I do and constantly probe them with real-world counter-examples to show them how their worldview doesn't line up with what we know about reality.
One question I have thrown out recently is this: If the universe is 6'000 years old and started out at a central point, how come there are galaxies and stars 13'000'000'000 light years away? If those stars travelled 13'000'000'000 light years in the space of 6'000 years, then they travelled 2.16 million times faster than the speed of light, which has some very unfortunate effects on different aspects of physics and cosmology.
The unfortunate fall-out of the YEC worldview is that it makes a person either intellectually honest at best, or hypocritical at worst.
A YEC will accept the findings of, and use the knowledge gained by, sciences such as electrical science (even YECs have to turn a light switch on at some stage in their life), mechanical/industrial science (all the YECs I know drive cars and fly on aeroplanes), geo-engineering science (I've never met a YEC who is afraid to cross a bridge over a river!), medical science (all YECs go to hospital at some stage, for some reason), nutrition and dietetic science (you know, to know how to eat a healthy diet), and every single other field of science except for the three that hit hardest at the YEC worldview:
Paleoecology, cosmology and biology.
Here I want to highlight how, for the YEC worldview to be correct, they need to rely on either magic or on a version of evolution that not even evolutionists recognise.
Disclaimer: while I don't fully understand the theory of evolution or the exact mechanisms of how it works, I accept that the scientists that have studied the theory accept it.
Evolution has been tested, observed, verified, which meets the fundamental criteria of science.
There are challenges to Darwinian Evolution, just like in any field of science, and every theory, bad or good, should be challenged. But we don't challenge science with pseudoscience - we challenge science with better science, and YECs are yet to produce better science. If they did, it would be science and the argument would be over something else.
Before I get to the crux of this post, I want to challenge those who may think that I am accepting evolution by faith:
If I want to consider and accept any scientific hypothesis, do I have to go to university, get a undergraduate degree, get an Honours degree, a masters, then spend another four years writing a thesis in order to get a PhD, just so I can say I am suitably informed to have an opinion on a subject?
You probably haven't studied microbiology, yet even people who have no tertiary education still know that viruses cause colds and flu and that eating raw chicken is a really bad idea.
Nature.com report, quoting an academic article from PLoS Biology, that there are approximately 8.7 million species of life on the earth today, which incorporates millions of species of animal. This, bear in mind, is not a forensically accurate figure, but it's the best and most recent answer the Google machine spat back at me - as well as being the one with the most references to actual people at actual universities.
What I want to stress is that the idea of there being millions of species of animal in existence should not be in dispute.
So, time to do some maths:
Based on the chronology provided by CMI, the flood of Noah happened approximately 5000 years ago.
5000 years x 365 days = 1'825'000 days. Let's keep this figure in the back of our head.
How many animals were on the ark? This is a hard one because the Bible uses the vague word 'kind':
They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings.This to me is more a representation of function (does it walk or fly, how many legs does it have, does it lay eggs or give birth, etc.) rather than taxonomic rank or classification.
- Genesis 7:14
How many animals can eight people without professional veterinary experience look after for a year, on a boat with no proper ventilation, plumbing or professional medical assistance? This is a vexed question, so I'm going to be over-generous (and I mean over-generous) and say that there were 2'000'000 animals on the ark, representing 1'000'000 species (two of each animal, thus two of each kind).
To do this, I have strictly equated: 1 pair of animals = 1 kind = 1 species, and have disregarded the seven of each clean animal taken on board for sacrificing, as they were going to be killed at the end of the flood anyway (as per Genesis 8:20).
One, this makes the maths easier, two, if one kind represents more than one species, then this breaks the classification system for species - the goalpost of 'kind' moves to wherever you want it, creating an equivocation fallacy (you have to be consistent with your terminology to make your argument coherent) and three, if one kind represents less than one of each species (i.e. two million animals represents 10'000 species rather than 1'000'000) then the number of species on board the ark goes down, which makes the conundrum I am about to throw out to you even harder for YEC to stand.
Other assumption I have made:
1. There was no procreation while on the ark.
2. No animals died while on the ark (either by sickness, attack from other animals, accidental death or old age).
The same 2'000'000 animals that went in to the boat are the same 2'000'000 that went out.
So, at the end of the flood in 3000BC, a boatload of 2'000'000 animals, representing 1'000'000 species, goes out, finds their own patch of turf and get procreating.
Thus, begins the conundrum.
1'825'000 days ago, we had 1'000'000 species. We now have 8'700'000 species.
To explain this, there are only two hypotheses available to the YEC apologist as to why the number of new species has increased markedly since the end of the flood:
Under this hypothesis, God created millions upon millions of new species after the flood, just as he had created the first million species before the flood.
Under this hypothesis, it was nature itself that used a mechanism inherent to all reproductive life on earth to create all the varieties of animals into their species. Not their kinds (I prefer not to use kind because it is such a loosely defined word), but their species.
So now, to answer the question, which hypothesis makes more sense?
Let's consider first, the God-did-it Hypothesis.
Under this hypothesis, we have to think not only how, but why God created millions upon millions of new species after the Noachian flood.
Because this exposes one of the biggest traps that when defending not only Creationism, but Christianity as a whole - in anything and everything that happens, as well as asking the how question, you also have to find a why component and add it (if it can be found) to every answer - Christians are the ones claiming an intelligent force is either controlling everything, or at the very least is mindful of everything, so an intelligent why has to be added to every explanation from the Christian worldview - if an intelligent why cannot be found, then it defeats the purpose of having an intelligent God.
How? There is only real one option available here to the Christian, which is magic. If God uses special words or special actions to make something exist when that thing didn't exist before, then this is the very definition of magic. And if God uses words to give life to something inanimate (such as dust or clay), then this is the definition of a golem spell.
(And remember, what is a miracle in your religion is just magic in the eyes of another religion).
Why? I'm stumped. Why would an intelligent God create 1'000'000 species of animals, tell Noah to build a custom-design boat to for the sole purpose of keeping alive one pair of those species so they can repopulate the earth after a cataclysmic flood, then just go ahead and create new species anyway? And not just a handful here and there, but seven new species for every one already in existence!
If God was just going to magically create new species after the flood, then why did he tell Noah to build a large boat to keep the species alive when he was just going to magically create new species anyway? Couldn't God have told Noah to build a boat just large enough for his family to survive, and not need to take along animals as well?
The Nature-did-it Hypothesis:
How? Biology has observed a mechanism by which new species are created, which is called speciation.
You, the reader, are free to come up with an alternative explanatory mechanism, but then you start distancing yourself from the best available science.
Speciation occurs via a number of methods, but there should be no doubt that speciation not only has happened, but is happening.
Why? Great question. The simple answer is that whatever lives and has the capacity to reproduce also finds ways to adapt to their environment, to acquire traits, and to pass those traits on to their offspring.
Hang on a second - what is the ability of organisms to inherit and acquire traits and pass those traits on to their offspring called? Evolution!
Now, the kicker - how do we get 7.7 million new species to be created in 5000 years?
We have either God-did-it using magic, or Nature-did-it using evolution.
Now, magic sounds pretty lame, doesn't it? So the only hypothesis left, even by virtue of sanity and logic alone (let alone actual real-world scientific data) is Nature-did-it.
[The biggest reason I sour to the idea of magic is lies in the answer to this question:
In what field of life (other than religion) does magic explain something better than what a naturalistic theory does?
"I don't know how jumbo jets fly!" - magic!
"I don't know why I have the flu!" - magic!
"I don't know why Port Adelaide lost the 2007 Grand Final to Geelong by a record margin!" - magic!
You wouldn't accept magic as an explanation for anything else in life, so why accept it here?]
Now, it turns out that most YECs accept microevolution (you know, the good evolution). Good, so let's work with that.
But what about those numbers? How do we get 7'700'000 new species in 5000 years?
To crunch the numbers:
8'700'000 species today minus 1'000'000 species on the ark 5000 years ago = 7'700'000 species in the course of 5000 years.
7'700'000 species / 5000 years = 1'540 species per year = 4.219 species a day.
4.219 species a day, every day, for the last 5'000 years. By the end of each and every week, 30 new species will have formed.
You know how earlier I gave the figure of 1'000'000 species on Noah's Ark? Let's drop that down to 10'000 and see what numbers we get.
8.7 million species - 10'000 species = 8.69 million species.
8.69 million species / 5'000 years = 1'738 species a year = 4.76 species a day.
What happens if we increase the number of species on Noah's Ark to 2'000'000?
8.7 million - 2 million = 6.7 million.
6.7 million species / 5000 years = 1'340 species per year = 3.67 species per day.
(Also, how do 8 people look after 4 million animals for a year?)
So whichever way you look at it, Noah's Flood creates a big problem for Young Earth Creationists.
The Bible tells us that 8 people with no professional qualifications (their only qualification was that Noah was righteous) looked after 10'000, 100'000, 2 million or maybe even 4 million animals, in the space the size of a boat, with no external food supply, for a year.
The real-world tells us that teams of zookeepers (people with minimum three years university qualification) look after roughly 5'000 animals, over the space of hectares, using sophisticated supply chains.
Belief in a literal reading of the Bible requires you to believe that after the flood, to concord with what science tells us, new species are generated at the rate of 3.67 to 4.76 a day.
The real world tells us that species form in the space of anything to 10 years up to 1'000'000 years.
Something isn't right here.
Young Earth Creationists could be irrational and say God using magic is the best explanation, but then magic is not a rational explanation.
So the only rational option left is to accept evolution - but accept a version of evolution that is so much faster and rapid than anything observed or reported by actual biological scientists.
But this then leads us to a fatal trilemma for YEC:
either the science is wrong, the explanatory mechanism is wrong, or the Bible is wrong.
Until next time, stay cool, stay healthy, stay rational.
And if you find those 30 new species by next week, let me know.