Most arguments against Creationism (and its bastard stepchild “Intelligent Design”) are predicated on its conflict with established fact and its misuse or misunderstanding of science. But that only addresses part of the question, and specifically, the part that those who are invested in the religious perspective are most likely to ignore. But Creationism isn’t just bad science, it’s bad theology as well.
I was raised Lutheran, in a branch of the church that found no conflict between faith and knowledge. The pastors spoke positively about evolution, about studying the historicity and authorship of the bible, and similar topics where investigation has superseded older appeals to authority.
In college, however, I was attracted to an emotionally-engaging Pentecostal youth ministry that served the campus. Part of the attraction was a style of interaction that was open and welcoming, part of it was that they co-opted the music of my generation rather than relying on centuries-old hymns. Another attraction was simply wanting to be with my friends, some of whom were already members of the churches that sponsored this group.
Almost immediately however, I had difficulty with their biblical literalism and willful denial of much of established science. Because Creationism doesn’t simply require disbelief in evolution, it demands you ignore geology, physics, and chemistry as well.
At some point, my inner conflict built up to a degree that I required answers. I approached the pastor and laid out my concerns. He replied with a single sentence, and relayed it with a beatific smile, “How many rings were there in tree trunks in the Garden of Eden?” Then he walked away.
I was nonplussed, to say the least. I have encountered many forms of this argument in the years since, and it astounds me that it is often simply accepted as face value. Another way of restating the argument is this: “God can do anything, so simply accept that the world was conjured up into something with the appearance of a pre-existing state.” Some have even used this to argue that the dinosaurs were not real; they’re either fakes or simply an illusion that God uses to “test us.”
Now there’s no logical problem with this conception of the world, if you assume an omnipotent creator. However the implications of this view are not frequently examined. If God can create a tree, an animal, or a world ex nihilo, then it’s completely arbitrary to say that it was done in the distant past (or some 6000 years ago as the Young Earth types would have you believe.) God could have created the world in its present state at any time.
Perhaps the world didn’t exist until your birth (or mine) and it was merely created as a way to measure of your faith. Or perhaps it was created, fully populated a mere thirty seconds ago, and all your memories of the past are like those tree rings in Eden, simply an artifact of creation.
This view of creation turns God into a trickster, constructing an illusion in place of truth. A God who does not say “Let there be light,” but one who says, “Let there be starlight that appears to be thirteen billion years older than it truly is.” And there is no getting around the implication therefore, that nothing is as it seems. Anything could have been spontaneously created with the appearance of age.
This leaves us living under the control of Descartes’s demon, or in contemporary terms, in The Matrix: reality is simple not knowable. This is not a logically inconsistent position, nor is it outside of the realm of an omnipotent deity. It is expressly not the deity the Creationists profess to worship, but it is the one that results implicitly from their choice to deny the objective facts we derive from a scientific world view.
In their misguided attempts to present centuries-old tribal myths as literal truths, Creationists end up with a world where nothing can be known to be true, and that can not be good theology.