‘Rocks on their [creationists’] heads’ jeered the 1996 article in a leading Australian newspaper.1 The author, a leading humanist academic, was gloating about the ‘discovery’ of evidence of fossil ‘life’ in a small Antarctic rock, possibly from Mars.
The news of ‘the rock’ came via a press release from NASA, with a presidential announcement, and stunned the world. Now, after many others have looked at it, the ‘life’ claim is near-universally regarded as a fizzer. It has even been suggested that the ‘evidence’ may have had more to do with NASA’s need for secure funding, than with anything resembling past life.
But such a cynical view does not explain the fervour of the worldwide media ‘hype’ (including in the scientific press) which followed. Nor the widespread glee at the death blow this news would deal to any lingering ‘religious’ explanations of reality.
Mainstream church representatives, having long since sold out the Bible to evolutionary belief anyway, fell over themselves in declaring that it would not affect their faith. Of course not; once you have a god who ‘creates’ by billions of years of death and accident, anything goes. If it took two-thirds of those supposed immense spans of time to go from bacteria to—wait for it—more bacteria, then why couldn’t he/she/it take a fancy to starting life on another planet, then let it die off for kicks?
The gloaters, though left with egg on their faces because the evidence disappointed their evolutionary faith, were actually being very logical; fossil life on Mars, unless it were from past contamination with Earth microbes,2 really would seem very strange for any consistent understanding of Christianity.
At least such scoffers were (almost) open about their religious agenda. The idealistic notion that science is free of faith-agendas is just a quaint relic, say today’s philosophers of science. Were you taught that Copernicus’ proposal of a sun-centered solar system was a triumph of observation and reason? His real agenda likely involved the divine place of the sun in the mystical Hermetic writings.3
Agendas aren’t incompatible with discovering truth, but let’s all (anti-creationists included) be ‘up front’ about them—because we all have them. NASA researchers and others may well have an agenda driven by the need to continually reinforce their evolutionary/humanist faith, thus denying the Creator God who owns them. But this does not mean they won’t make accurate observations and discoveries along the way.
Creationists (a.k.a. Bible-believing Christians) in science have an agenda, too—they believe the revealed written Word of the Creator God. The common suggestion (by those with an opposing agenda to serve) that they therefore cannot ‘do real science’ is palpable nonsense—see our interview with a prominent molecular biologist.
Like Copernicus, you can make the right discovery with the wrong agenda, and vice versa. But often, the right agenda is needed before mistakes can be corrected and the truth comes to light.
For instance, the world would have kept on believing that archaeology denied the Bible’s account of Jericho’s walls (The walls of Jericho), unless Dr Bryant Wood of Associates for Biblical Research had had an agenda. Confident in God’s infallible Word, he researched and dug, discovering the mistakes in interpretation which he knew had to exist. Having the same agenda helped us to see and confidently expose the ‘Mars life’ debacle for the fantasy it was4—while most of the world was still awestruck. Without such an agenda, would anyone have bothered checking the official story of Yellowstone’s ‘petrified forests’ (The Yellowstone petrified forests: evidence of catastrophe)? The myth that they proved an old earth would have remained intact.
Having the right agenda doesn’t protect you from making mistakes—or from being exploited by phony claims (Has the Ark of the Covenant been found?). But it means that the science you do has a better chance of ‘getting it right’ in the long run.
And when confronted by the next ‘unanswerable challenge’ to the Bible, like the Yellowstone forests and Mars rock were supposed to be, you can have the confidence that the answers are there, waiting to be uncovered by diligent research.