Are Young Earth Arguments Ad Hoc?!

Posted: September 23, 2014 in Young Earth Creation Science
Tags: , , , , ,

war kids

Young Earthers are often accused of arguing in an “ad hoc” manner.1

Confused about what this means exactly?  I suspect young Earth critics are as well; but let’s be as fair as we can to them.  I think it’s best to construe them as accusing us YECs of being the annoying neighborhood kid who never falls down when shot.

We all know the type.  We’re playing war and we’re too poor for fancy Nerf-shooters so we use sticks for guns.  If a good stick isn’t available we’ll use fingers instead.  We point and shoot…“bang! bang! Got you!”.  But there’s always an annoying kid in the neighborhood who cries out, with all the indignation his reprobate little heart can muster:  “nuh uh! You didn’t get me!”

Ever try arguing with this kid?  His responses are a perfect illustration of ad hoc reasoning.  First, he’ll say you missed your pretend shot.  “I was aiming right at you though,” we’ll reply.  Ok, fine, so maybe he was wearing body armor?  “Yeah, but I shot you in the head”, we say.  Yeah, but what we didn’t know was that, not only was he wearing armor, he’s also Wolverine, so bullet wounds instantly heal.

Getting angry, we might play our own ad hoc game at this point and reply:  “oh yeah?  Well my bullets were adamantium-laced and can pierce Wolverine’s skull!”  Of course, our buddy is ready with something like:  “yeah, but what you also don’t know is that I’m Wolverine from an alternate universe and I have the power of a god and can’t be harmed by bullets!” 

The neighborhood kid is “tacking-on” new facts as a way to rescue an initial thesis which he refuses to give up because he’s so emotionally attached to it.  His belief that he wasn’t shot is “immune from revision”.  But furthermore, this immunity has effectively removed him from the war game all together.  In other words:  given the parameters of the game, no alternate-dimension god-like Wolverine can be allowed without ruining it.

Back to the Young Earth critics: 

I take them to be suggesting something similar.  They seem to be suggesting that Young Earthers hold to their belief in a particular historical narrative so strongly, that, to rescue it from revision, they end up having to “tack on” a long string of arbitrary and…”ad hoc” … explanatory propositions.  So many, as a matter of fact, they end up invalidating the “game” of scientific analysis all together.

In response to this sort of accusation, Dr. Bahnsen accuses the critic of “concealed ax grinding”.

“It is a pernicious idea that every truth that is significant is exclusively determined by empirical (observational) procedure, consigning the remainder of the truths (as well as all necessity) to the conventions of language. To hold such an opinion is well concealed ax-grinding.”

Well…perhaps not as “well-concealed” anymore, thanks to Dr. Bahnsen.  He’s saying some people grant revisionary immunity to the idea that “the only significant truths are those truths determined via empirical procedures”; some people also grant revisionary immunity to the idea that the Earth is very old; and some, like us Young Earthers, grant revisionary immunity to the idea that the Bible is our guide to how we interpret nature.

In terms of the Young Earth critic, what is happening is this:  he has (slyly) traded a strong emotional attachment to a Scriptural narrative for a strong emotional attachment to some evolutionary myth.  Where the Young Earther grants revisionary immunity to a literal reading of Gensis, the Young Earth critic grants revisionary immunity to whatever version of old-age mythos he holds to.  The dirty little secret here is that all parties in the discussion have a set of beliefs they will not allow to be revised.

So when a critic of Young Earth models accuses the Young Earther of being “ad hoc”, we need simply reply that all of us must argue in light of a set of basically-held beliefs…even the Young Earth critic!

If he’s philosophically savvy, he might reply (at this point) that such a move ends in skepticism for everyone and science would be an impossible enterprise.  We could never properly analyze any empirical data because we’d never know from which set of basically-held beliefs we should argue from.

At this point, all the Young Earther has to do is smile and say something like:

“…yeah, you’re right.  The only way we could do science at all is if we had some authoritative word about which set of basically-held beliefs we are to hold as immune from revision.” 

Bang! Bang! Got you! 🙂

1. While accusations of “ad hoc” reasoning are fairly common on the internet, I’ll provide two examples to clarify. The first, from Patheos blogger James McGrath:

“But when young-earth creationists add such ad hoc justifications (as they must time and time again), it inevitably involves not merely departing further from what the scientific evidence indicates, but also adding additional extrabiblical scaffolding to buttress the young-earth creationist view of “what the Bible says,” making the young-earth system as a whole resemble “what the Bible says” even less than it does now.”

The Second, from “Talk Origins” author David Matson in critique of Dr. Hovind:

“Aside from totally ignoring the last 60 years of solar science, this ad hoc argument also ignores the massive evidence relating to ancient climates. (A much larger sun in our recent geological past would have had a noticeable effect on the climate.) The creationist advocates of the Helmholtz contraction argue that their idea rules out the possibility of past geological ages. Just the opposite is true! The evidence for ancient climates, spanning millions of years, is massive and well documented; it rules out this ad hoc use of the Helmholtz contraction.”

  1. Good article. I’m a presuppositionalist and YEC too and have a website, blog, and facebook page.


    • Aaron Dale says:

      Ha! I saw you on a “Sunday Night Sinner and Saints” episode. Well done, sir. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to link to your website in my “Presupper” blog roll.


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