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Machines Like Us

The likely cause of death of young-Earth creationism

Monday, 27 February 2012
by Mano Singham

Russian scientists have managed to grow a plant from 32,000 year old seeds that had been buried by an Ice-Age squirrel. (Who knew that the Ice Age animated films were documentaries?) The previous record for such an achievement was a mere 2,000 years. This is an interesting story in its own right because of what we can learn scientifically about how plants evolve over time since there are contemporary versions of the same plant.

But what struck me was the way that our local newspaper The Plain Dealer reported it. Like the dog that did not bark in the night in the Sherlock Holmes story Silver Blaze, what was noteworthy was what was not said. The paper ran it straight with a long story on page 2 of the front section with a prominent heading giving the age of the seed. There was no attempt to try and accommodate those creationists who think that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. The article and heading simply assumed that there was no question that the seed was much older than that. This is in contrast to how much sensitivity there is whenever the word evolution appears.

I am curious as to how young-Earth creationists, and hard as it is to believe there are many in America, react to news stories like this that matter-of-factly challenge their core beliefs without any kind of hedging. Do they get angry? Do they try to avert their children’s eyes from them? Do they create an alternative ad hoc explanation, involving biased and mistaken scientists and media? I suspect that the last option is the likely one but you have to think that this will eventually wear them down since this kind of discovery of very old things happens repeatedly and they will get exhausted. There are only so many small fires that you can put out before it gets out of hand and the whole structure burns down.

I suspect that creationism will eventually die like this, a death of a thousand cuts rather than a climactic battle with evolution, with belief in a young Earth quietly disappearing first. The next belief to go will be that humans have been around for less than 10,000 years, leading to some unspecified form of god-guided evolution that too gives way to thinking of god’s role being just to initially create the universe and in some mysterious way creating and interacting with each person’s soul.

This will be their last stand.