Creationism is not like belief in the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection of Christ
There are some out there who assert that a belief in God is not compatible with accepting science. Some try to put a finer point on it; they assert that belief in either the virgin birth of Christ, or the bodily resurrection of Christ, is not compatible with science. I want to argue that it is.
First, I do not mean to assert that I personally believe in either. I have addressed the latter (bodily resurrection) in a blog post several years ago that is currently offline as a result of a dead disk. I’ll dig up the text of that and repost it here at some point. Short form: my answer to “did the bodily resurrection physically happen?” is “probably not.” Believe it or not, I am not alone among Christians in thinking that. However, it is reasonable to hold that belief while accepting science, without any need for hypocracy. It’s not consistent with “philosophical materialism”, no, but that’s a question of philosophy, not of science.
Some say that the scientific world view is not consistent with miracles. The reason is that the hypothesis that supernatural intervention happens has not stood up to scrutiny. There is no scientific evidence for it, and in the centuries in which we’ve been doing science, if it was happening we would have seen the evidence for it. What’s more, many things that were previously believed to be the fiat of God have come to have naturalistic explanations (e.g. the ignition of the Sun, the origin of the human species). So, science would seem to rule out miracles.
In fact, it does not, and any scientist who is being careful enough, and precise enough in his language, will say that. Science certainly gives no reason to believe in supernatural intervention! And, it gives many reasons to believe that supernatural intervention is an obsolete concept. However, as with many things that we do not detect in a scientific experiment or an observational program, science doesn’t rule out miracles; it merely sets an upper limit on their frequency. In other words, miracles (in the form of supernatural intervention) must happen extremely infrequently and irregularly to be consistent with the body of scientific observations.
Consider creationism. Creationism makes factual claims about the creation of the Universe (created in 7 24-hour days a few thousand years ago, with a specific order of events) and about the origin of the human species (created in its current form by God). These factual claims are false; we know them to be false, because we have extensive scientific evidence that points to other explanations. Creationism is wrong, and belief in creationism is not consistent with accepting modern science.
On the other hand, consider the bodily resurrection of Christ. Now, we know that biological organisms that have died and stayed dead for three days decay enough that they cannot be revived. (It may well be that one day we will revive some of the cryogenically frozen people we have right now, but I think we can all agree that Jesus was not cryogenically frozen.) However, the bodily resurrection of Christ is a singular event. To believe in it is to claim that once, one guy, was bodily resurrected. (Let’s leave Lazarus out of this for simplicity.) Believing in the bodily resurrection of Christ does not claim that this happens regularly. What’s more, this belief does not make any claims that contradict any scientific evidence we have. It says that once, there was a miracle, and something that cannot happen according to our understanding of biology, did happen.
Could this be disproved? Probably not. I seriously doubt that if we found the remains of Jesus that we would be able to convince ourselves to any reasonable probability that that is what they were. Likewise, with the virgin birth, if we were to somehow find the remains of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, perhaps we could do DNA comparisons to find out of in fact Jesus is carrying Joseph’s DNA. (Interesting theoloigcal aside: he’d better be if he’s of the house of David, but then again, I’m not writing about inconsistency in the Bible… inconsistency in the Bible is well established.) But, again, this has not been done, and indeed I would be very surprised if we were able to collect the samples (or, invent the time travel) that would allow us to do that test.
Science tells us that miracles really cannot be happening very often at all. But it sets an upper limit, it does not tell us that miracles never happened. The methodology of science requires us to omit miracles in our explanations; something we cannot explain through naturalistic means remains an open question, at least for the time being, to science. Science tells us that the creation story in Genesis is not history, but it does not tell us anything directly about the specific bodily resurrection of Christ or the specific virgin birth of Christ. Science does not have a mechanism for it, so if it happened, it was miraculous, and outside science as we understand it. Science gives no reason to believe in miracles, and indeed convinces us that they are not happening with any regularity at all. However, because we cannot absolutely rule them out, it is not inconsistent to believe that those specific miracles happened, while accepting the results and methodology of modern science.