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Epistemologically, is there any difference between a belief in non-interventionist evolution and a belief in young-earth creationism? If so, what is it?

I'm not interested in the question of whether evolution is compatible with religious belief but rather in discerning whether there is any meaningful epistemological distinction between what Richard Dawkins (as a prototype) believes and what is believed by many Biblical literalists. Is one belief more "justified" or "sound" than the other? Do these beliefs belong to the same "class" of knowledge or are they fundamentally different?

  • They're pretty much polar opposites? I don't follow your question? – Richard Apr 15 at 20:36
  • experimentation with rock erosion rates can show clearly that river valleys are millions of years old. Thats before we discuss any of the thousands of other methods we can use to clearly demonstrate the geological age of the earth. What is the basis of your argument that the two theories are epistemologically equal? One is empirically provable, the other is not. – Richard Apr 15 at 23:39
  • I feel it is a mistake to oppose the terms 'creation' and 'evolution'. Nothing can evolve until something has been created. Evolutionists have evidence on their side for the process but have no explanation for creation. Evolution is biology. Creation is metaphysics. Evolutionary theory has nothing to say about Creation, only speciation and diversity. . . . – PeterJ Apr 16 at 14:00
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There is a big difference in how you view understanding the natural world. If God exists and intervenes according to His whims, then every result you get is suspect: maybe this is not the way things normally go, but is an exception necessary to fulfill His plan. The exceptions could be arbitrarily complicated since they are from a hyperintelligent being.

If God sets things up and leaves it all alone, the epistemology is essentially the same as if there is no God. There are regularities that are well-modeled as arising from simple rules; our task is to uncover these rules and work out the complex consequences that can arise from complex interactions of matter, etc..

You can also imagine things that span the full continuum in between, where God sets up arbitrarily complex rules in advance. Despite this, there is a qualitatively different epistemology when you can presume that there's no supernatural meddling.

This, I should point out, applies only to the epistemology of science. When it comes to fundamental epistemology--how is it possible that anyone can know anything at all?--then having a deity is very convenient since one can argue (indeed, one needs to argue) that the deity has ensured that perceptions are reliable etc. so that mechanisms for knowing things work, they are as they seem (or close enough), etc.. When you are missing a deity to ensure this, epistemology gets harder. (Admittedly, the "I know there is a deity who ensures that we can have knowledge" step is a pretty tough one to tackle.)

So, in short: if you are a philosopher (not of science), then young-earth and non-interventionist deism look the same. If you're anyone else, young-earth looks profoundly different, while naturalism and non-interventionism look the same (with respect to epistemological concerns).

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I highly suggest checking out Kenneth Pearce's Leibniz's Theistic Case Against Humean Miracles, which argues that miracles themselves ought to be thought of as law-abiding within the Judeo-Christian system of thought. So let us suppose that the universe is ultimately rational—that is, rule-abiding. Can we know those rules fully?

Let's take a step aside and look at Rex Kerr's use of 'whims'. Strictly speaking, this could mean two things:

  1. God's whims are fundamentally irrational, unpredictable, and unable to be modeled.
  2. God's whims are actually the result of rational thought, but we'll never understand it.

The first option is probably similar to how many thought about the gods of the Roman and Greek pantheons. Those gods did all sorts of weird and crazy things, and there didn't seem to be any fundamental, underlying pattern to them except that they act like humans do.

The second option is discussed in Pearce's work as understandable by 'infinite minds', but not 'finite minds'. The idea that human rationality is somehow 'less powerful' than the rationality of the universe is a thought that has been around for a while. WP: Epistemic theories of truth may be of interest on this topic, although comments are welcome for something better.

The commonality between both options is that a barrier to human knowledge is set up. This is essentially the idea behind Intelligent Design: there are some things we will never know [fully], and therefore we must start from intelligence which can do things, and not impersonal particles & fields. But where precisely is this 'barrier to human knowledge'? We would only know it by banging our heads up against it. For example, suppose that science grinds to a halt. No matter what experiment is conceived of and run, we don't learn anything new.

Does Richard Dawkins ever believe science will 'end', or hit a barrier? I don't know, but that is almost irrelevant: he surely acts as if we haven't hit any such barriers yet. The creationist, on the other hand, seems to have 'given up' in some respects. Not all: they're working on stuff like baraminology. The ultimate test of their efforts, in my mind, is whether they can tell us about new and cool aspects of reality that we didn't know before. Mere stories are indistinguishable from the Emperor's New Clothes, but if e.g. medical cures were derived from YEC 'research', they would be accepted.

You could say that YECs accept divine revelation as a source of knowledge while Richard Dawkins rejects it. How important this distinction is, is unclear to me. Suppose that YECs figured out a way to read the Bible, come up with new physics, test that physics, and find it to be an improvement on what we have already. Dawkins would, perhaps after a bit of consternation, admit that the Bible may well be a good source of hypotheses, when read correctly. This, it seems, would diminish the gap between accepting divine revelation as knowledge and accepting it as tentative knowledge.

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Apart from any (a)theological or biblical references, non-interventionist evolution and young-earth creationism (YEC) are comparable. Both make claims about the physical world, present and past, that in principle can be tested. The challenges of testing claims about the distant past applies to both.

Their key claims are comparable: (1) the evolutionary tree of life compares with the creation orchard (see 1); (2) the evolutionary natural kind called 'organism' compares with the creation natural kind called 'created kinds of organism'; and (3) the evolutionary timetable for life on earth starting >1 billion years ago compares with the creation timetable for life on earth starting <10 thousand years ago.

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