God's Existence, Science and Faith, Suffering and Evil, Jesus' Resurrection, and Book Reviews

Philosophy of Science, Circumstantial Evidence, and Creation

The Big Bang: Evidence of Creation Out of Nothing


For those who have followed me for some time, you know that I take a strong stance on the importance of defending the Christian worldview in its specific claims about reality, as opposed to only defending general claims. For those who are not familiar with my reasons for this position, please see my posts here and here. One of the theological debates that I defend specifically is a particular view on creation. I take the old-earth creation (OEC) position that holds to the literal historicity of the records of Genesis 1-11. I came from a position of young-earth creationism (YEC) but changed due to the lack of scientific evidence supporting the view and the complete compatibility of OEC with Christianity. A couple years ago, a prominent YEC leader (Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis) debated Bill Nye on the scientific status on YECism. Ham constantly drew a distinction between "observational/operational science" and "historical science" to say that what happened in the past cannot be known. I wrote a post last year critiquing this philosophy of science and provided a followup clarification on my position (here and here, respectively).

Since then I have read and reviewed one of the foundational works on the philosophical distinction (Origin Science: A Proposal for the Creation/Evolution Controversy by Norman Geisler and J. Kirby Anderson). My previous posts dealt with the distinction as presented by Ken Ham (and many other YEC proponents); however, today I want to deal with the distinction as presented by Geisler and Anderson. There is a wide chasm between the two understandings, and if Ken Ham is getting the distinction from the work of Geisler and Kirby (or someone who agree with their distinctions), then he has misunderstood the distinctions. My goal is to explain the distinctions made by Geisler and Anderson and show how they have been misunderstood by Ken Ham and other YEC proponents. I will also show that the rejection of circumstantial evidence in Ham's understanding necessarily undermines the presuppositional grounding of knowledge of all events recorded in the Bible, which is what Ken Ham promotes in place of a circumstantial, evidential approach to discovering the mechanisms, timing, and purposes of creation.

Observational Science

Events discoverable through observational science are events that occur in the present and recur naturally, governed by the laws of physics. They that can be observed live or in real-time. These phenomena can be either naturally recurring or agent-initiated and repeated experiments. If our observations are accurate, then this stands as empirical evidence of current events, and the present operation of nature can be known. From multiple observations, scientists can develop theories that describe the events. The theories predict what should be discovered in the future and are tested by their ability to accurately predict these future discoveries. Theories are altered as some predictions succeed and others fail. Once a theory has been tested and passed (based on successful prediction more than it fails, by a wide margin), then it can be considered a law of physics. Observational science deals with the discovery of present, regular events. 

Historical Science

Events discoverable through historical science are recurring events that have taken place in the past. These can be discovered by applying the principle of uniformity (described below) to recurring, presently observable phenomena. Both the principle of uniformity and observational science are necessary for historical science. By the principle of uniformity the laws of physics that govern the present (discovered through observational science) can be extrapolated into the past. Consequently, if the principle of uniformity is accurate and our observations are accurate, then it necessarily follows deductively that historical events can be known with certainty. Historical science deals with the discovery of past, regular events. 

Origin science

Events discoverable through origin science are singular events of the past. There is no recurring pattern in the present that can be used to discover them. They are not the result of the laws of physics. Since these events have taken place in the real world (see below), they leave physical evidence that DOES behave according to the laws physics. The principle of uniformity and observational science can be used together (historical science) to specifically identify singular, past events. When taking the evidence left by an event and currently observed laws of physics, if working backward in time using the laws of physics cannot produce the evidence discovered, then we have positively identified a singular event that is not governed by the laws of physics. When multiple pieces of evidence are discovered (known with certainty- see Historical Science above), that cannot find their explanation in current laws, we can build a circumstantial case for a past, singular event.

This is similar to how a homicide detective can piece together a case for a singular, past event that is not governed by the laws of physics (a murder, specifically). If the evidence at a death scene cannot find an explanation in currently understood laws of physics and the principle of uniformity (together, historical science), then the detective has positively identified (has knowledge) that a past, singular event has, in fact, taken place. If this method is not a reliable source of knowledge, then no murder could ever be demonstrated to have taken place, and all murderers would be exonerated (if the legal system they are tried under subscribes to "innocent until proven guilty"). Homicide detective J. Warner Wallace describes this method in his two apologetics books "Cold Case Christianity" and "God's Crime Scene."

A Common Conflation

It is important that historical science and origin science not be conflated with each other. A conflation takes place when one does not recognize a difference between two things or concepts. While both historical science and origin science do deal with past events, the differing feature is the kind of event in the past. Historical science deals with recurring events governed by the laws of physics while origin science deals with singular events that are not governed by the laws of physics. This is an important difference when it comes to the proper application of each and the level of certainty they are capable of producing in the discoveries of events in their realm. Events discovered by historical science can be done so deductively (which gives 100% certainty of the conclusion when true premises and valid reasoning are used), while events discovered by origin science are done so abductively (which gives less than 100% certainty of the conclusion- the certainty level is based on the various factors described by Wallace in "God's Crime Scene").

Knowing The Past Via The Sciences

The certainty of the past, singular event is obtained through a series of logical steps. First, empirical observation of how the present operates is noted (observational science- certainty through empirical observation). Second, the principle of uniformity is applied to the observations of the present to discover past, regular events (historical science- certainty through deductive reasoning). Third, if the event in question cannot be explained by the laws of physics being applied to the past, then we can be certain that we have discovered an event that is not explainable by physical laws. If many events that follow this pattern are discovered, they can all be collected to build a circumstantial case that contains an extremely high level of certainty of the past, singular event (origin science- certainty through abductive reasoning).

If someone is to claim that past, singular events cannot be known, then they must deny either observations of the present, the laws of physics, or the principle of uniformity. If all of these are accepted, then knowledge of the past, singular event cannot reasonably be escaped.

The Principle of Uniformity

When the current laws of physics are applied to events backward in time, there comes a point at which the laws break down. This point is the beginning of the laws of physics, along with the matter, energy, and space that they govern. This breakdown is positive evidence of the beginning of the universe. Norman Geisler and J. Kerby Anderson explain that there is a key distinction created by this discovered singular, past event. It is the difference between uniformitarianism and the principle of uniformity:

"There is a crucial difference between uniformitarianism and the principle of uniformity.
Uniformitarianism assumes that all past causes will be natural onces like those observed in nature at the present. This is not a scientific assertion, but a philosophical one. That is, this kind of uniformitarianism is not justified by observations of a repeated pattern of events in the present. Rather it is a metaphysical speculation which goes well beyond the domain of operation science. Such uniformtitarianism is not science but scientism. It is not the scientific study of nature; it is philosophical naturalism...
In contrast to naturalistic uniformitarianism, the principle of uniformity simply says that 'the present is key to the past.' That is, it affirms some kind of analogy between present and past which is not limited to secondary causes." (pg 106-107)
"According to the principle of uniformity, if effects from the past and the present are shown to be the same kind, and the cause of the present effects is known or repeatedly observed, then it is plausible to assign the same kind of cause to the effect in the past." (pg 144)

For YECs and naturalists, observations of the present cannot be denied because they are experienced via the senses in the present. The empirical nature of the senses provides YECs and naturalists with certainty of what is taking place in the present. The laws of physics are difficult to deny once they have been shown time and time again to accurately describe regular events.

The laws that have been established today explain the empirical observations of scientists. The principle of uniformity affirms that the laws of physics have been the same throughout history. YECs such as Ken Ham affirm that the laws of physics have not changed since God created them, and they appeal to Jeremiah 33:25-26 for such certainty of that reality (see the Q&A session of the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye). All scientists (theistic or naturalistic) assume the principle of uniformity in their philosophy of science. Anytime they perform an experiment repeatedly or observe a phenomenon multiple times, they expect uniformity between the first, second, and so on occurrences. Without such uniformity, theories could not be formulated, much less, tested; thus, the scientific enterprise would collapse. The principle of uniformity is necessary to conduct even operational science, and it has a basis in Scripture for the Christian. There is no reason that anyone should deny the principle of uniformity.

The principle of uniformity is not the same as uniformitarianism, and denial of uniformitarianism is justified by the evidence, as we will see. But, such evidential reason to deny uniformitarianism is necessarily dependent upon a discovery that YECs staunchly reject because they believe it to be incompatible with the Bible.

The Big Bang

When the currently established laws of physics are applied to the past via the principle of uniformity, a breakdown of the laws of physics that govern recurring events does appear. But it does not show up until approximately 13.7 billion years into the past. This is the discovery that justifies the rejection of uniformitarianism. Interestingly enough, the rejection of uniformitarianism is necessarily dependent upon the acceptance of the principle of uniformity. Geisler and Anderson make this point in their book Origin Science:
"With the advent of the big bang theory and modern physics, a totally naturalistic viewpoint was delivered a severe blow. No longer is nature viewed as an eternal and closed continuum of interlocking and determined events. A discontinuity exists at the beginning of the universe, and within the universe there is probability not absolute necessity, of events. In short, it is not a closed universe but an open universe. This has reopened the door for historic views of origins which were set aside and ignored for more than a century after Charles Darwin, but never really disproved." (pg 128)
If the YEC wishes to continue to affirm the universe is only 6,000-10,000 years old, then they have surrendered the evidence that justifies their rejection of uniformitarianism because the established laws of physics do not break down 10,000 years into the past; they continue. And if the universe was created at that time, its creation could just as easily have been the result of the current laws of physics (some that may not yet be discovered) as it could have been the result of a transcendent Creator. By positing that what happened at the moment of the creation of the universe is not within the realm of science to discover, Ken Ham and many like-minded YECs have affirmed that it could have been either cause, and nature cannot tell us which one. This is a necessary conclusion of rejecting the big bang. But in order to justify that, ultimately science, somewhere, must be denied. Whether current observations or the laws of physics (both, observational science) or the principle of uniformity (historical science), one of the sciences must be denied.

SIDE NOTE: Interestingly enough also, by denying big bang theory, YECs are still stuck in the point in the history of the philosophy of science that affirms uniformitarianism. The whole purpose of Geisler's and Anderson's "Origin Science" is to show that origin science (discovery of past, singular events) is a legitimate science. However, that reality is based on the validity of the big bang theory which was necessary to show uniformitarianism to be false. If the big bang is denied, then the denier is logically stuck agreeing with the likes of Charles Lyell, James Hutton, and Charles Darwin in their acceptance of uniformitarianism and empiricism (see Chapters 4-6 of "Origin Science" for more details on this necessary connection).

"Science Deniers?"

The fact that circumstantial evidence cannot provide 100% certainty (see Origin Science above) and the fact that theories must be revised (because they failed in a prediction) seems to be justification enough for the YEC to deny the truth of the big bang. They like to show where there are holes in various big bang models (complain that "the big bang" is not a law, even though the vast majority of the evidence from observational science and historical science are consistent with some kind of big bang [specific theory still in debate] that took place approximately 13.7 billion years ago). Geisler and Anderson explain that this tactic is unscientific and a different strategy must be implemented:
"If creationist views are to gain scientific credibility then they must follow the principles of origin science and build a positive case for a primary cause, rather than relying on the ineffective means of pointing out flaws in various evolutionary hypotheses." (pg 157)
YECs who follow Ken Ham in this rejection, though, must deny one (or more) of these: current observations, the laws of physics, or the principle of uniformity. If naturalists wish to deny that the universe had a beginning, they must deny one of those three also. Interestingly enough, both the YEC and naturalists deny the second. They have both affirmed that the laws of physics that we have discovered do not accurately describe all of reality. The YEC is praying that a new law will be discovered that brings the breakdown of the physical laws to a mere 6,000-10,000 years ago; while the naturalist is holding out hope that a new law will be discovered that brings the big bang into the realm of repeatable phenomena (via the multiverse, usually). However, Geisler and Anderson explain that such denials are unscientific:
"The question is not what are the theoretical possibilities about the past but what are the actual regularities of the present in terms of which one can understand the past. Scientific understanding is not based on luck or odd events. Rather, it is grounded in repeated experience of constant conjunction." (pg 147)
Neither the YEC nor the naturalist accepts the conclusion that the circumstantial evidence warrants. They must develop some theory that can pass the test of continued accurate prediction to remove the currently established big bang from its evidentially superior status. Neither has been successful. So in the meantime, in order to maintain their worldview, they must continue to deny the value of circumstantial evidence in obtaining knowledge of past, singular events. Unfortunately, this causes a major problem for the YEC.

The Reliance on Circumstantial Evidence

An extremely powerful circumstantial case has been presented for the beginning of the universe. This case has been so powerful that it has overthrown steady-state models and oscillating models, both of which would be preferable to the naturalist because neither requires a "beginner." YECs deny that circumstantial evidence is useful for discovering truth (which is the denial of circumstantial evidence's epistemological categorization [and origin science's categorization as the same], as I described in my post from a few weeks ago). Both Geisler and Anderson affirm that circumstantial evidence and origin science are reliable sources of truth (they affirm their epistemological categorization), which was the whole point of their book. Geisler and Anderson established that past, singular events must be established via circumstantial evidence, and the YEC affirms this. So, if someone denies the value of circumstantial evidence to discover something that actually happened, then they necessarily deny that past, singular events can be known evidentially. That leaves two options for the YEC to maintain their worldview: presuppositionalism and personal, special revelation.


In their denial of current laws of physics, YECs affirm their particular interpretation of the Bible. The Bible that they believe has been transmitted reliably through history to the present day. The transmission of which requires numerous past, singular events that are not governed by the laws of physics (free agency is required). Past, singular events which can only be established (known) via circumstantial evidence. But circumstantial evidence is what they deny can reveal truth about past, singular events. So, the YEC who denies that circumstantial evidence is a source of knowledge must surrender any evidential reason they have to believe that the Bible has been transmitted reliably through history to the present day. Further, because transmission cannot be established evidentially (must be presupposed), so too must the claim that the authors of the Bible make (to be eyewitnesses of the events they record) also be presupposed (witnessing an event is also a past, singular event that must be established with circumstantial evidence). The YEC is then forced into a completely presuppostionalist position regarding their view of creation, and even every other claim of the Bible, including the Resurrection. There is no room for evidence on this view.

The implication here is that any person who prefers their "holy" book can take the same position of presupposing the reliability of their own "sacred" text, and there is no way to distinguish between the two (or more). If circumstantial evidence is not a reliable source of truth (which would be used in this case to test the claims of the past made by the various texts), then people must make their decision of which text to believe based on a feeling.

Personal Special Revelation

These feelings are often thought to be of a supernatural source. Anyone who claims such feelings has ultimately claimed that they have received a personal, special revelation. Since multiple worldview make claims that are based on feelings (the "burning in the bosom" of Mormonism) or special revelation (Mohamed in Islam or Joseph Smith in Mormonism), there must be a way for on-lookers to distinguish the authentic from the fraudulent.

If the person, who claims personal, special revelation, affirms that the Bible has been reliably transmitted and that the authors were eyewitnesses, then to verify the claim of personal special revelation, they are subject to the test of a Prophet or Apostle. If the position of a Prophet or Apostle cannot be demonstrated, then the person's claim of personal, special revelation should be rejected. And the content of their claimed revelation, which is that the Bible was written by eyewitnesses and that it has been reliably transmitted through history, should not be believed until justified by some other means.

What Now?

Ultimately, without circumstantial evidence, the YEC has no good reason to hold to their view either evidentially or presuppositionally. So what is left? To simply reject it. But am I saying that the entire Christian worldview should be jettisoned? Not at all. For in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul states that it is the singular, past events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection that the Christian worldview depends upon. (Of course, it did not escape my notice that if circumstantial evidence cannot establish truth about past, singular events then we do not know if 1 Corinthians 15 was even transmitted accurately. If you do grant the epistemic categorization of circumstantial evidence, see this presentation by Gary Habermas). Unless a view can be shown to necessarily undermine one of those three, it is not incompatible with Christianity.

The YEC must begin by properly understanding the distinctions among observational, historical and origin science. They must also understand that just like the observations of the present events in nature must be interpreted and a theory must be formulated to describe them consistently (which will require alterations until it can explain all the data), so too must the Bible be interpreted and a worldview formulated and altered until it explains all the data. Changes in a theory or a worldview can be either minor, major, or catastrophic. The first two do not require the rejection of the entire theory or worldview while the third does (I describe this in much greater detail in my post "Is Your View Falsifiable?"). The rejection of young-earth creationism is a minor alteration because it does not affect any of the essentials of the Christian worldview (see "Zombies of Christianity," and "Does Old-Earth Creationism Compromise Scripture?" my review of the book "Peril in Paradise" by Mark Whorton). But with what can we replace this portion of our worldview? It must be a view that consistently accounts for all the data contained in both of God's revelations: nature and Scripture (see "Are Nature and Scripture Compatible?"). Here are four books that I highly recommend beginning your investigation into an alternative (the first should be obvious):

  1. Origin Science by Norman Geisler and Kirby Anderson
  2. The Bible Among The Myths by John C. Oswalt
  3. Peril in Paradise by Mark Whorton
  4. Navigating Genesis by Hugh Ross

"Origin Science" is the book I have heavily used in this post. It is a foundational philosophy of science text that should not be skipped by any Christian interested in the creation/evolution debate. "The Bible Among The Myths" argues for the authors of the Bible belief that what they were recording was actual history. "Peril in Paradise" addresses theological concerns with animal death before the Fall of Adam and Eve. "Navigating Genesis" provides an interpretation of the Genesis 1-11 text that takes it as a historically accurate record that is verifiable by observational science, historical science, and origin science, and that escapes the theological problems inherent in the Perfect Paradise paradigm of young-earth creationism.