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At a glance, evolution and creationism are at drastic odds. One says that humans are descended from single-celled ocean creatures. The other that God created humans in approximately their current form.

Today, some argue that evolution and creationism are compatible. How can this be?

The way to argue for compatabilism is to assert that a definition of creationism, different from the common sense one, is in fact the correct one. So how are we to judge which definition is right? Let us examine the two candidate meanings of creationism.

The incompatabilist definition of creationism is that God created the world in 6 days less than 10,000 years ago, and created the animals approximately as they are today.

The compatabilist definition of creationism states: God created the world.

It may seem strange to choose between definitions when they mean different things, instead of simply assigning them different words. But ponder this question: which version of creationism should the proponents be defending, if they believe their theory is true and want to understand something through it?

There are two main things to be understood through creationism: Christianity, and physics. Thus, I propose that a bolder and scientific definition with more explanatory power would be better, and also one that matches the Bible.

Lots of explanatory power is preferable because explanations help us to understand. The incompatabilist definition says a number of things about reality, such as the age of the earth. In contrast, the compatabilist definition of creationism tells us very little; it doesn't give any details about God creating the world.

A more scientific definition is better for learning about physics because physics is concerned with scientific questions. To be scientific, a statement must be able to be criticised by observations or measurements.

Boldness is how much a statement exposes itself to criticism. Boldness is good because less bold statements are less conducive to making progress. This is because if one holds a bold theory, but is wrong, one stands the best chance of finding out his mistake and correcting it. By being exposed to criticism, bold, false ideas are best able to be replaced by better ideas.

The incompatabilist definition of creationism is partially scientific and very bold -- it would be proven false if we could show any of the following: the world is older than 10,000 years, the world was created in more or less than 6 days, or animals have changed significantly over the years. In contrast, the compatabilist definition of creationism is unscientific because no measurement or observation could possibly prove God didn't create the world. It is also less bold, because it uses vagueness to avoid being contradicted or criticised.

For creationism to help us understand Christianity, creationism must match what the Bible says about creation.

The incompatabilist definition of creationism matches the Bible very well. Someone unaware of the debate who was asked to write a book report summarising what the Bible says about creation would almost certainly say something similar. By contrast, the compatabilist definition was intentionally designed with concerns other than the scripture in mind, namely how to say something similar to the Bible without contradicting evolution. Thus it matches the Bible less well.

The incompatabilist definition has come out better on every count, and thus we shall use it.


On the incompatabilist side are arguments such as:
1) Without God, why would people act morally?
2) God created the world in 6 days, not billions of years.
3) Evolution says I came from a monkey; I didn't.

On the compatabilist side are arguments like:
4) Why can't I believe in evolution and creation?
5) Maybe God created the Big Bang then let evolution be his method of creating the world.
6) How do you know how long a day is before the sun is created? Maybe the six days God created the world in were billions of years long.

The first incompatabilist argument is a version of this argument: "If I am wrong, the world is grey and gloomy, therefore I am right." This is a fallacy because something depressing could be true.

The second argument is a claim about what creationism says. It matches our preferred definition, so it is strong for the same reasons we chose that definition.

The third argument contains a fallacy and a valid point. The valid point is that creationism says people did not come from lesser creatures, but evolution does, therefore they are in conflict. The fallacy is the implication that you should believe you didn't come from a monkey because this guy says you didn't, which is an argument from authority.

Moving on the the incompatabilist arguments, the fourth argument is ambiguous. It may mean that the arguer sees no contradiction between evolution and creation, thus they do not contradict (a fallacy -- argument from ignorance). Or it may mean that the arguer is not yet persuaded, which is no argument that he is right.

Argument five may seem reasonable, but it conflicts with our definition of creationism. It is poor for the same reasons the compatabilist definition of creationism is poor.

Argument six attacks the meaning of a day. This is very silly, because everyone, compatabilists included, live their lives as if a day is 24 hours long. For example, compatabilists show up for work on time, and do not say on Monday morning, "It's still sunday, I don't work today."

I conclude the incompatabilist position is better. Its definition of creationism is preferable, it has a strong argument behind it (that 6 days and billions of years are, in fact, different lengths of times), and no reasonable arguments for the opposing view exist.


Incompatabilist: A person who believes creationism and evolution contradict each other.

Compatabilist: A person who believes creationism and evolution do not contradict each other.

Physics: The science devoted to learning about physical reality. It contains biology, chemistry and biological evolution.

Boldness is how much a statement exposes itself to criticism.

Scientific Proposition: A proposition that can be criticised by observations or measurements.

Explanatory Power is how much something tells us (about anything).

Elliot Temple on October 11, 2004

Comments (3)

Hmm. But I think you misstate the purpose of the compatibilist theory. Nobody points to the Bible creation story (however understood) in order to explain "Christianity" let alone "physics". It is not actually a theory about either one of those things, or shouldn't be anyway (I guess there are fundamentalists who think it's important, but hey). Frankly for most the creation story doesn't figure very prominently in Christianity in the first place; it's more like a nuisance. Christianity would be perfectly intact if you could just lift that part of Genesis clear out of the Bible and toss it. Christianity's teachings have virtually nothing to do with how the world was created (other than the general propositon that God did it) or how long this took, let alone how this or that species of critter appeared (although the idea that man is special is important).

So it seems to me that primarily, the compatibilist theory is part of a theory about how you can actually learn to understand some parts of the Bible metaphorically or as myths, so that you don't reject the good parts merely because some other parts (in many cases tangential parts, such as the # of days God used to create the world according to some Jew 2500-3000 years ago - really, who cares?) contradict what we know scientifically about reality.

This is a very useful theory. It lets you say to someone "ok fine the world was not created in 7 days as we know them, nor were all the species created as we know them, they evolved to be this way. We've filled in lots of the details about these things and can see that it's different than the Bible describes, but this is the best they came up with back then, & it works ok as a framework. Anyway, let's talk about the *important* stuff now (Jesus's words etc)."

In other words it rescues the Bible - a book which contains some useful and important truths - from being ignored/disdained by some number of people (myself included) just because detractors can point to literal inaccuracies.

So maybe compatibilist creationism is just a theory about why the Bible need not be thrown away? :)

Blixa at 9:38 AM on October 11, 2004 | #1138

I have nothing against people like that Blixa, but ... *they are not creationists*. This is good! And compatibilism is a step in that direction. However, taken seriously, it doesn't really make sense.

also, creationism was originally a scientific theory about physics. and a perfectly good one. if only it had stayed that way, it'd be rejected by now.

Elliot at 9:51 AM on October 11, 2004 | #1139

I think what I'm saying is just that there are very few people who *actually believe* what you are calling "compatibility creationism" in the first place. For the vast majority of people who pay lip service to something resembling compatiblism, all they're really saying is "a lot of this stuff is just metaphor, don't reject the Bible over it". They don't *really* believe that the author of the Bible used the word "day" to denote "a really long time seven of which it took for the Big Bang to happen" or whatever. They're just saying Hey, this is still a pretty reasonable myth... a lot better than saying we all sit on the back of a giant turtle or whatever. Now let's move on...

You're right that taken seriously the compatibilist interpretation doesn't make sense. And, they don't take it seriously, they take it metaphorically (at best), like I said.

I'm sure you could point me to a few websites of *actual* compatibilists or whatever but they are minor. Even many of the people who frequent them probably don't take them seriously. It's sort of like being black and following Al Sharpton as a "black leader". You may not actually agree with or respect very much what he's doing but he seems like an effective cheerleader for "your side" so you'll take it.... (I'm not saying this is good)

Whatever - enough jibber jabber from me

Blixa at 12:24 PM on October 11, 2004 | #1140

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)