Sorry, ‘Theistic Science’ Is Not Science

Brian Bolton

A recently published book documents the creationist misrepresentation of science called “theistic science.” Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Humanity (2015) consists of a reprint of a book of the same title published more than ten years earlier, followed by a thorough update that constitutes one-third of the text.

The authors are Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, both executives and scholars with Reasons to Believe (RTB), a Christian ministry located in Southern California. They have graduate degrees in science (chemistry and astronomy, respectively) and have written many books that profess to put biblical creationism on a scientific foundation.

Rana and Ross’s work focuses on the “scientific case for God’s existence and the Bible’s reliability” and the “integration of scientific fact with biblical faith.” Throughout Who Was Adam? they describe their creationist approach to human origins as science.

However, Rana and Ross also make clear their fundamental biblical premise: “We believe life’s origin and history cannot be fully explained apart from the direct involvement of the Creator, who repeatedly intervened in Earth’s history, initiating new life-forms, including humans who alone were made in His image.”

This premise reflects Rana and Ross’s explicit statement that creation by supernatural intervention is the foundational assumption of RTB’s human origins model. The central presupposition of “theistic science” is operationalized in the repeated use of phrases such as “God’s handiwork,” “Creator’s direct action,” “work of the Creator,” “God’s creative work,” and other causal behavior attributed to the biblical deity.

The RTB strategy does not satisfy the basic requirements of a scientific endeavor, and in this article I explain why, giving numerous examples taken primarily from the ten-year update of Who Was Adam?.

Creation Model

The RTB human origins model is based on all Bible verses that describe God’s work in creating humans and that recount early human history. Six well-known assertions illustrate the RTB creation model’s testable propositions:

  • God created Adam and Eve as the first humans (the primordial couple) through direct intervention.
  • All humans came from Adam and Eve, who are the parents of humanity.
  • Humans originated in a single geographical location, the Garden of Eden.
  • A universal (but regional) flood shaped early human history.
  • Life spans of the first humans were once longer than 900 years but shortened after the flood.
  • Humans are behaviorally distinct (in ways that reflect God’s image) from the earlier hominids and the great apes.

The authors’ stated objective is to demonstrate that a traditional biblical view of human origins has scientific credibility. They assert that the RTB model recasts the biblical scenario into scientific terms. It is purported to be like all scientific ideas or models, in that it is poised to stimulate future scientific work. With RTB’s biblical model, Rana and Ross argue that the concept of creation is testable and has entered the scientific domain. Not surprisingly, they state that Who Was Adam? is primarily a scientific book.

Scientific Principles

Before listing concrete examples of Rana and Ross’s approach to defending the RTB biblical view of human origins, I want to outline the major violations of scientific logic embodied in their work:

  • The RTB creationist propositions are immune from refutation or falsification, because the Genesis account is held to be literally true. The premise of verbal inspiration or inerrancy of scripture contravenes the basic assumption of scientific hypothesis testing, which requires that negative evidence result in rejection of the tentative propositions that are formulated.
  • The RTB model is based on the alleged reality of supernatural causation, which is the core assumption of “theistic science.” Rana and Ross continually invoke God’s motives and actions in explaining scientific research findings or dismissing evidence that contradicts their creationist claims.
  • One of the hallmarks of the scientific approach to knowledge discovery is objectivity. This means that independent evaluations of evidence are essential in making judgments about scientific claims. Yet Rana and Ross by themselves generate all conclusions about the validity of the RTB model, even when their opinions are flatly contradicted by the scientific consensus.
  • Rana and Ross repeatedly engage in circular reasoning in defending the RTB human origins model against unsupportive or contradictory findings. Specifically, they regularly invoke ad hoc theological explanations, including common design (rather than common descent), the Noachian Deluge, and the mysterious life attribute of “soulishness.”
  • The false equivalence of biblical creationism and human evolution as scientific explanations is routinely advanced by Rana and Ross. This comparison is unwarranted because the former is faith-based while the latter is evidence-based. One is accepted by believers as God’s truth while the other is subject to ongoing revision on the basis of abundant empirical data.

In what appears to be an inconsistency with their scriptural inerrancy assumption, Rana and Ross state that the RTB model represents only one of many possible biblically derived models for humanity’s origins. They explain that considerable freedom exists within the RTB creation framework for adjustments, fine-tuning, revisions, refinements, and extensions. Of course, the authors’ concession gives the biblical creationists a lot of flexibility or “wiggle room” in integrating scientific findings into the RTB model.

The basis for this flexibility is the authors’ declaration that the Bible must be “properly interpreted and understood”—but who decides what constitutes proper interpretation? They do! For example, the authors accept the “day-age interpretation” of the first chapter of Genesis, which considers creation “days” to be long periods of time. Thus, they are able to embrace the true ages of the universe and planet Earth, while excoriating the young-Earth creationists as not scientifically credible.

Unscientific Reasoning

The following twenty arguments, interpretations, and conclusions exemplify problems with Rana and Ross’s scientific reasoning.

  • “Unfortunately, the latest results show no direct evidence for the flood; however, this does not mean there is no evidence for the flood.”
  • “We argue that modern humans occupied these sites after the flood and align closely with the timing and location of humanity’s creation.”
  • “The popular interpretation of these salient discoveries challenges RTB’s prediction, but these interpretations are controversial and reasonable alternative explanations exist.”
  • “At least on the surface this insight appears to support the evolutionary framework. However, the results readily fit within the scope of the RTB creation model.”
  • “This finding could be viewed from a biblical vantage point; for example, birds and mammals are ‘soulish’ creatures created with the capacity for emotion.”
  • “We would argue that God endowed some animals with soulishness and that chimp response to death reflects their soulishness, not a deep evolutionary connection to humans.”
  • “The high degree of human-ape genetic similarity is not problematic for RTB’s model; we view the similarity as reflecting shared designs, rather than shared descent.”
  • “Pseudogenes can legitimately be viewed as the work of the Creator who intentionally introduced these features into genomes for a specific purpose.”
  • “Despite the scientific community’s near-consensus, we maintain that our interpretation—that humanity originated from a primordial pair—has scientific legitimacy.”
  • “Given the seriousness of this challenge to our model, we are unwilling to accept the results; we contend that the population sizes generated by these methods are merely estimates, not hard and fast values.”
  • “We are not willing to abandon our conviction that mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam correspond to the biblical Adam and Eve.”
  • “Human origination from a small population is still consistent with the existence of historical Adam and Eve; it could be that the population-size estimates pertain to sometime after Adam and Eve’s creation.”
  • “These results provide a crude (at best) guess and do not necessarily mean that humanity arose from multiple populations residing in different locales; it could merely be an artifact of experimental design.”
  • “These events could be taken as evidence for the Creator’s role in designing the fusion. Perhaps God used a preexisting template to create hominids and human beings. Could not God be thought of as a divine genetic engineer?”
  • “Our graph presents a simplistic view of the natural history of hominid brain size, but one that allows what we believe to be a real trend in the data to be readily pictured.”
  • “The substantial discrepancy between humanity’s origin and the emergence of agriculture could be explained by the first humans engaging in small-scale, mixed farming at levels that escape scientific detection.”
  • “We concede that these new insights do not rescue the RTB model completely from the challenges stemming from the Neolithic Revolution, but they do make it much more likely that early humans engaged in some form of proto-agricultural practices.”
  • “There are no 900-year-old human fossils because humans aged more slowly prior to Noah’s flood, long biblical life spans may only apply to a few people, and murder was rampant in the era before the flood.”
  • “God created microbes for a variety of reasons, but He did not create corresponding human pathogens when He made humans; however, God did create beneficial microbes as part of His good creation.”
  • “Even though most scientists interpret the genetic similarities between humans, Neanderthals, and apes as compelling evidence of common descent, we interpret these data as reflections of common design.”

In each of these twenty examples, Rana and Ross argue against the majority scientific interpretation, or they simply reject the overwhelming scientific consensus. To buttress their contrary opinions, they always provide some kind of rationale, of which there are three types.

First, there are standard ad hoc theological explanations that have no basis in science, such as: after the flood, soulishness, work of the Creator, prior to Noah’s flood, God’s handiwork, divine genetic engineer, and common design. Second, there are vague criticisms, including: artifact of experimental design, escape scientific detection, and aged more slowly. Third, there are non-specific objections like: controversial, mere estimates, and crude guesses.

Because they invoke common design so often in Who Was Adam?, Rana and Ross argue that godly design is actually a respectable scientific concept. To accomplish this remarkable transformation from theology to science, they reached back in history to a pre-Darwin British biologist named Sir Richard Owen, who promoted a theistic explanation (One Cause, the Creator) that Rana and Ross refer to as an “alternate scientifically robust model that makes sense of biology.” Thus, RTB’s biblical creation model employs this “scientific precedent to interpret shared features as a reflection of God’s intent by repurposing common designs.”

Rana and Ross’s preeminent violation of scientific logic deserves special attention due to its ubiquitous presence in their book. This is the use of circular reasoning, which entails invoking theological concepts to defend the RTB theistic model against nonsupportive or contradictory scientific findings. The bottom line for this logical fallacy: theological beliefs cannot legitimately explain away scientific evidence for the purpose of vindicating theistic propositions.

Evolution Criticism

Rana and Ross just can’t seem to resist the impulse to attack human evolution, apparently believing that their criticisms strengthen the case for the Genesis creation narrative. In fact, the alleged difficulties with evolution, even if true, would not constitute evidence in favor of creationism. Here are six of their criticisms of evolution:

  • “That human evolution occurred is as much a hypothesis as how it occurred.”
  • “This demonstrates just how tentative and speculative the central tenets of human evolution are.”
  • “It is eye-opening to realize how much uncertainty and speculation is associated with human evolution scenarios.”
  • “It is impossible to interpret the fossil record from an evolutionary perspective.”
  • “Evolutionary biologists’ insistence that humanity emanated from a population (not two individuals) results in a theory-laden conclusion.”
  • “Confusion associated with the interpretation of hominid fossils from an evolutionary view supports RTB’s biblical creation view.”

Contrast these severely critical remarks questioning the validity of human evolution with the circular ad hoc theological explanations, endless excuse-making, and outright denial of scientific consensus that Rana and Ross use to defend their RTB human origins model. The last assertion above is especially noteworthy for illustrating the logical fallacy of arguing from ignorance.

Overall Evaluation

Rana and Ross claim that science affirms the RTB human origins model in ten areas of research, for which they apply the following descriptors: “effectively accounted for,” “new insights support,” “in line with (but presents a problem),” “in accord with,” “readily accommodates,” “makes sense of,” “expand the model,” “a tour de force,” “a fulfilled prediction,” and “a reflection of God’s intent by repurposing common designs.” It is important to recognize that failure to contradict a claim does not constitute strong support for the claim. Only two of the ten descriptors are clearly affirmations, and the last is just one more ad hoc theological explanation.

The authors next identify five areas where science has challenged the RTB model. First, they admit they were wrong about the dates for Adam and Eve but say their corrected dates still harmonize with scripture and, after re-interpreting two Genesis chapters, they conclude that Adam and Eve were created during the most recent ice age!

Contradicting Rana and Ross’s prior position that modern humans and Neanderthals did not interbreed, strong evidence now shows that they did interbreed. However, the authors argue that from a Christian perspective, humans and Neanderthals are distinct products of God’s creative activity and therefore this does not invalidate the RTB model because the ability to interbreed is a manifestation of shared design, not common descent.

Rana and Ross characterize human-Neanderthal interbreeding as morally repugnant, sordid, salacious, sinful, distasteful, degenerate, and comparable to bestiality. Then they excuse this condemnable miscegenation by explaining that the Bible and history testify to humanity’s depraved nature after the Fall. They declare that it should not be surprising that humans interbred with Neanderthals, given the human propensity for intercourse with animals! Even after this admission, Rana and Ross assure us that RTB’s model can accommodate evidence for such degenerate behavior.

A key feature of the RTB model centers on the idea that humans are uniquely created in God’s image. Rana and Ross admit that the very large discrepancy of up to 100,000 years between the first appearance of humans and the emergence of symbolic capacity (reflecting God’s image) is a potential problem and, after offering a partial explanation, they acknowledge some residual discomfort.

The authors concede that one of the most significant challenges leveled against RTB’s creation model relates to humanity’s original population size. Was it several thousand people or just two individuals? They currently believe—even though almost all geneticists disagree—that the RTB model can withstand this challenge.

After their detailed review of a variety of research studies that address the propositions of the RTB human origins model, the book concludes by stating that “we trust that Adam’s identity has been established as an image-bearer of his divine Creator.” Thus, they achieve a theological conclusion that is independent of the scientific evidence. Not surprisingly, the conclusion follows directly from their faith-based premise that I summarized in the introductory section of this article.

Rana and Ross have produced creative and sometimes incredible arguments to provide people of faith with “reasons to believe” the alleged truth of the Bible’s creation narrative. For the reasons given in this article, I do not think they accomplished their goal within the parameters of science. Can the biblical creation chronicle be reconciled with factual scientific knowledge? Who Was Adam? demonstrates that the answer is no. In other words, “theistic science” is not authentic science. Instead it constitutes a strategy for sustaining biblical faith.

Finally, I want to express my admiration for the tremendous energy and commitment that Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross demonstrate for their work. They carefully reviewed seventy pages of references consisting mostly of mainstream scientific publications and attempted to integrate the findings into their biblical creation model. There is no doubt in my mind that they are sincere, honest, knowledgeable investigators. I think their efforts are misguided, but my critical comments should not in any way be construed as questioning their integrity. From the perspective of science, they are simply wrong.


Reference

  • Rana, F., with H. Ross. 2015. Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Humanity. (2nd ed). Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe Press.

A recently published book documents the creationist misrepresentation of science called “theistic science.” Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Humanity (2015) consists of a reprint of a book of the same title published more than ten years earlier, followed by a thorough update that constitutes one-third of the text. The …

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