Reasons to Believe’s Continuing Assault on Science

Brian Bolton

On a Sunday morning in early February 2020, I attended a presentation at a local Baptist church titled “Science and Faith: Finding Truth in All Things.” The speaker was Anjeanette (A.J.) Roberts, a staff member with Reasons to Believe (RTB), a Christian ministry headquartered in Southern California that promotes old-earth biblical creationism.

Roberts is a pleasant person with an academic background in molecular biology, specializing in virology. I had anticipated that she would address the topic of “theistic science,” the pseudo-discipline that incorporates Christian beliefs into scientific claims. Instead, the presentation was mostly her Christian testimony, with some scripture reading and a variety of anecdotes. It concluded with a prayer.

When leaving, I received a complimentary copy of Building Bridges: Presentations on RTB’s Testable Creation Model, Reasons to Believe’s latest overview of the ministry’s version of biblical creationism. Published in 2018, it consists of six brief chapters by Fazale Rana, A.J. Roberts, and Jeff Zweerink.

It’s a remarkable publication because the essays demonstrate beyond any doubt that Reasons to Believe’s creationism model is not science. It is in fact the very antithesis of scientific reasoning, because the authors start by assuming they know the truth—biblical Christianity—and then search selectively for evidence that is compatible with their faith.

Christian Faith, Science, and Creationism

Jeff Zweerink is an astrophysicist who specializes in intentional design from multiverse theory, dark energy and dark matter, and exoplanets. He speaks and writes on the compatibility of faith and science. The following quotes summarize his perspective.

  • “The universe that God revealed to us through the Bible matches the universe that we see when we study creation.”
  • “It seems natural to conclude that when we see design it is because a designer exists and created the universe to support humanity.”
  • “Not only does the scientific evidence demonstrate the rationality of belief in God, I would argue that God’s existence provides the best explanation of our scientific understanding of the universe.”

A.J. Roberts became a Christian at age twelve when she became convinced of the gospel message of Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection. She has expertise in microbiology, immunology, and infectious diseases. Her special interest is integrating science and Christianity, as illustrated by the following quotes.

  • “As a Christian who is also a scientist I often use scientific discoveries to help others see how God reveals himself to us in creation.”
  • “I believe that this evidence strongly supports a view of progressive creationism and a common design model. God created life, over long epochs of time, according to specific kinds.”
  • “In contrast to the restrictive commitment to naturalistic explanations, a Christian or theistic paradigm is actually better for science. If we seek we will find when we seek with all of our heart. This is a promise of Jesus, recorded in the gospel. Thanks be to God!”

Fazale Rana is a biochemist who has written about the origins of life, the cell’s design, and the creation of life. He is dedicated to communicating to skeptics as well as believers the evidence for God’s existence and scripture’s reliability. The following quotes express his Christian viewpoint.

  • “There is scientific merit to a view that regards human beings as the product of a creator’s handiwork, specially endowed with intelligence and the capacity for speech—qualities necessary for beings assigned as God’s vice regents on Earth and that align with the image of God.”
  • “The human genome appears to be far more elegant and sophisticated than we could have ever imagined. It displays features that bespeak a creator’s handiwork.”
  • “If we allow ourselves to relax the philosophical (nonscientific) restrictions on science, we are free to admit that the data from anthropology supports the notion that human beings are God’s exceptional creations.”

Christian Anxiety and Science Denialism

These testimonial statements by the authors of Building Bridges establish unequivocally that their Christian faith constitutes the framework and filter through which they interpret scientific findings. The universal causal explanation for everything that exists is the god of the Holy Bible. All phenomena must be integrated into the Christian worldview, and nothing makes sense otherwise.

As Rana emphasizes, “If human evolution is truly a fact, then there can be no ultimate meaning or purpose to human existence, then human life has no inherent value and people lack any dignity, then we are not accountable to a creator.” In other words, life is completely meaningless without the assurance and direction of Christian faith.

Rana’s declaration is obviously not a scientific statement but instead an expression of utter dependence on belief in a cosmic father figure, referred to as the “divine mind” and “divine creator.” Based on their testimonials, it can be concluded that Roberts and Zweerink agree wholeheartedly with Rana’s avowal.

Because the three authors have backgrounds in traditional scientific disciplines, it is reasonable to expect them to be versed in the philosophy and methodology of science. This expectation is not realized. In their efforts to justify the distortion of science by making it subservient to Christian theology, the Reasons to Believe creationism advocates commit four major violations of the principles of logic and scientific investigation.

1. Selective Acceptance of Evidence

In his chapter on human origins, which concludes with “The Scientific Case for Adam and Eve,” Rana mentions only the evidence that can be viewed as compatible with, or at least not contradicting, Reason to Believe’s divine creation story. In a previous discussion of this serious violation, I gave twenty examples where Rana and colleague Hugh Ross rejected the scientific consensus, because they said accepting the evidence would compel them to deny the biblical foundation of their human origins model (see “Sorry, ‘Theistic Science’ is not Science,” Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 2018).

The basic principle of scientific hypothesis testing is that if the empirical evidence does not support the claim being evaluated, then it is the hypothesis that must be rejected or modified, not the evidence. Rana and Ross have the logic of hypothesis testing backward. They assume the truth of their Bible-based hypothesis and dismiss all evidence that fails to support the Reasons to Believe theological conception of human origins.

2. Invoking a Designer

The Reasons to Believe creationism model considers shared biological features of organisms evidence of “common design, not common descent.” To justify this explanation, the pre-Darwinism theological conception of archetypal designs that existed in the mind of the first cause is invoked. The originator of this idea was nineteenth-century British biologist Sir Richard Owen, who defined the archetype as “an exemplar on which it pleased the Creator to frame certain of his living creatures.”

Rana summarizes by saying, “In Owen’s view, the archetype existed only in God’s mind and was manifested in the created order in the form of shared biological features, thus representing a teleology of a higher order.” This religious explanation is the basis for Rana and Roberts’s numerous references to the appearance of design in the basic expressions of life on earth. Based on an entirely different rationale, Zweerink states repeatedly that the universe “looks like” it was designed for life.

Rana and Ross have previously described Owen’s proposal as a respectable scientific explanation, which it obviously is not. It clearly involves a theological explanation for observed regularities in nature, a claim that cannot be subjected to objective evaluation. Specifically, the mechanism is impossible to verify or refute, because the archetypes are alleged to exist only in God’s mind, a hypothetical entity that is beyond examination by science. It is more parsimonious to assert that the casual agent (God) exists only in the human imagination.

3. Supernatural Causation Defended

Rana complains endlessly that methodological naturalism is unfair to theists, because supernatural beliefs are not accepted as legitimate explanatory concepts in the scientific endeavor. He then alleges that this restriction renders science an “inherently atheistic enterprise.”

The reason for this exclusion is incontestable: there has never been one single demonstration of a supernaturally caused event. The best modern example of the failure to document a common supernatural claim is the case of Christian prayer. Five major replicated clinical trials carried out by devout Christian investigators demonstrated conclusively that God doesn’t answer prayer (see “Have Christians Accepted the Scientific Conclusion That God Does Not Answer Intercessory Prayer?,” Free Inquiry, December 2018/January 2019).

Yet Rana repeatedly pleads for a “relaxation on the restrictions of methodological naturalism,” so that theological explanations like those invoked by the book’s authors can be treated as scientifically verified causal factors. Rana’s argument is really pointless for two reasons: there is no scientific support for claims of supernatural causation, and Rana and his colleagues disregard this undisputed canon of science anyway. Instead, they view the natural world exclusively through the lens of their Christian faith.

There is a straightforward distinction between science and faith. Science has proven to be the best strategy for ascertaining knowledge about the natural world. In contrast, faith is the exclusive “mode of knowing” about the postulated supernatural realm.

No assumed supernatural agents or processes—not gods or devils, not angels or demons, not prayers or curses—can cause or influence events in the real world. Purported knowledge of the supernatural is accessed through faith, whereas reliable information about the natural world is discovered through science.

4. Creationist Illogic

Two of the authors, Rana and Roberts, commit the logical error of arguing that alleged problems with the overwhelming evidence for human evolution actually constitute support for their old-earth biblical creationism beliefs.

This false-choice fallacy would be valid only if there were only two possible explanations for human origins and only one could be correct. In this hypothetical circumstance, evidence that discredited one claim would constitute support for the other. But this is not the case here.

In fact, there are numerous competing creationism scenarios, including three very different biblical creation formulations (young-earth, old-earth, and intelligent design), as well as many other religious creation narratives, such as Hindu, Confucian, and Islamic, and the creation stories of native peoples around the world, including Australian Aborigines and American Indians. All these stories are just as reasonable as Reason to Believe’s Bible-based version.

I suggest that an initial step in resolving this creationist confusion would be for the Reasons to Believe staff to hold a summit meeting with representatives from Answers in Genesis (young-earth) and the Discovery Institute (intelligent design) for the purpose of developing a unified Christian view of the origin and history of humankind on earth that all Christians could endorse.

Of course this would not be easy, given the long history of disrespect, acrimony, and disparagement among the participants. For example, Answers in Genesis leaders have charged that the Reason to Believe’s creation model “contradicts Scripture, assaults God, and undermines the gospel.”

On the other hand, in his introduction to Building Bridges, Rana stresses that nothing is more effective when reaching out to adversaries, whether they be skeptics, nonbelievers, secularists, or people of other faiths, than establishing friendships first. Surely this advice applies to fellow Christians too.

For all biblical creationists, the central complaint about evolution is that humans are reduced to just another species of animal. This is unacceptable to many Christians, because the Genesis account of separate creation supports the fundamentalist dogma of “human exceptionalism.”

One point on which all Bible-based creationist approaches must agree is the exact process by which God created humankind, because scripture is unambiguous on this assertion. God created humans in his image (Genesis 1:27), forming the man from dust (Genesis 2:7) and the woman from the man’s rib (Genesis 2:22).

Doesn’t this unequivocal specification provide the biblical platform for an affirmative program of exploratory investigation that would put a unified Christian creationism model on a solid foundation of scientific research?

Conclusion

It’s clear from the essays in this slim volume that Reasons to Believe is no longer attempting to achieve legitimacy in the mainstream scientific community but rather has decided to direct its efforts to indoctrinating Christian believers in its idiosyncratic and incorrect view of science. Instead, its members should publicly acknowledge that their work is entirely an expression of their sincere Christian faith and end their embarrassing misrepresentation of the philosophy and methodology of science.


On a Sunday morning in early February 2020, I attended a presentation at a local Baptist church titled “Science and Faith: Finding Truth in All Things.” The speaker was Anjeanette (A.J.) Roberts, a staff member with Reasons to Believe (RTB), a Christian ministry headquartered in Southern California that promotes old-earth biblical creationism. Roberts is a …

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