Creationist escape hatch
|The divine comedy
|Cogito ergo sum
Logic and rhetoric
A creationist escape hatch is an unarguable, unfalsifiable statement or reply that attempts to end all further discussion. When creationists use one of these statements against you, they usually think they have won the debate and you will roll over begging for mercy. Some of these points are indeed very tricky philosophical conundrums, but they aren't entirely beyond questioning. In fact, the circular nature and "unquestionable" outcomes of some of these points are what should be questioned. For the most part, these escape hatches don't actually prove much either way, but are worth knowing about.
On the other hand, it would do the rational person well to note that if a creationist uses one of these arguments, they have effectively admitted that they've failed in their attempts to falsify the much-spat-upon naturalist worldview; the presuppositionalist door swings both ways.
Who can argue with an omnipotent, omniscient supernatural being? Goddidit is the ultimate escape hatch, as it absolves the creationist of having to provide any evidence whatsoever. How much of this sort of argument is begging the question is controversial; on the one hand, you most certainly have to assume a god exists to prove it exists through Goddidit, while on the other hand, omnipotence is part of the definition from the outset.
- Biblesaysso — a suitable alternative, most often used with the phrase "the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it."
- Aliensdidit — the same concept applied to Extraterrestrials.
- TheFalldidit — a newly emerging theme that conveniently makes the Earth 6000 years old (or any age you like, if you fiddle the numbers enough), and/or explains why the human body is anything but perfect despite being made in God's image.
- Flooddidit — as above, with the global flood explaining everything from fossils ordering to mountains forming.
- Gaysdidit — basically Goddidit but specifying the reason.
God is outside of space and time or is not subject to natural laws
This is possibly one of the more important and common escape hatches — putting God "outside of space and time" or "outside the natural laws" is a great way of putting the entire hypothesis outside the reach of science. This is often the position of those who believe in Non-Overlapping Magisteria; however, it is not a completely airtight argument (it certainly doesn't prove anything). We're not even sure what being "outside of space and time" even means, really, but it usually centers around the fact that because God is "outside" space and time that he/she/it is not observable, testable, nor falsifiable. This is a very interesting admission because it has some remarkable consequences that work very much against the creationist (or any religious believer, in fact). Put simply, if God is outside the Universe and cannot be detected in any way, its existence is moot; it doesn't matter either way, God could be anyone or anything or completely non-existent entirely. Consider the following dichotomy:
- God is able to perform actions that violate natural laws as we know it. In this case, God can be detected by the nature of these actions.
- God is not able to perform such actions, or chooses not to. In this case, God's existence is not relevant to any question answerable by science.
The creationist cannot have their cake and eat it too, by having God totally immune from naturalistic scrutiny while still controlling and affecting the Universe. The creationist response to this would almost certainly be to repeat the original point.
And this isn't even mentioning the odd position that one can make God totally "unknowable" on one hand and then make grand descriptions of His omnibenevolence or power on the other. If we're talking about a realm entirely beyond the ken of human beings, there's no reason to assume that anything we say or suppose about it will in any way be accurate.
Earth was different before the Fall or the Flood
Diseases infecting people? Too much water during the Flood? Not enough oxygen at the water level of the Flood? Just say it was different back then! Variations include physical conditions in Earth being different back in the day, c-decay, that Radiometric dating is inaccurate, as laws of physics were different in the past, and time-dilation fields. This is really a case of special pleading, arbitrarily changing the rules. There are some very specific rebuttals to these sorts of arguments. In general, to propose that features were different in the past, one needs to propose a mechanism for that change.
The creationist response to that is goddidit and we return to the top of the list…
Were you there?
How do you know? Were you there? is an especially stupid escape hatch response favoured by Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis and is often taught to children as the correct response to any evolutionary argument — or, for that matter, any presentation of science in any field that contradicts YEC, such as the Big Bang.[note 1] The implication here is that only first-hand eyewitness testimony is actually worth anything. This in itself is an odd assertion, given that eyewitness testimony is considered notoriously unreliable in legal trials next to things like DNA evidence or fingerprints due to the ability of people to lie and the fact that our memory is not as faithful to real life as we tend to think it is. But what is especially self-defeating about this escape hatch is the fact that anyone asking this can have the question turned back around to them — as they certainly weren't at the beginning of the Universe, whether that was 12 billion years or 6,000 years ago, to demonstrate creation one way or another. Naturally, this is often met with any of the other escape hatch arguments presented on this page and circularity ensues. One of the canned responses that Ken Ham has encouraged, for instance, is along the lines of "I know someone who was — and His book tells how he did it." That, of course, compounds the escape hatch with an argument by assertion, an argument from authority, and a bit of question begging.
Evidence, not proof
When creationists have weak to no evidence for their assertions, they usually say that it's "evidence, not proof" of creationism. Unfortunately for them, it's often not evidence at all, at least for their claims.
The existence of X has never been disproven
In this case "X" may be whatever supernatural entity is being proposed. It is usually considered to be argument from ignorance, naïvely summed up by the phrase "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". Of course, it will be always impossible to disprove a supernatural explanation; such explanations invariably hide in our lack of knowledge about the world. That is why extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Originally, the gods made the plants grow until we noticed that plants came from seeds, then they pulled chariots across the sky in the form of the Moon and the Sun until we noticed that they moved of their own accord, now they just work hard-to-define miracles and one-off flukes of statistical likelihood. Supernatural entities exist only where believers in them put them: "outside" the realms of reality, and when those are disproven, the boundaries will be pushed back further.
You will never disprove what, almost by definition alone, will lie outside what can and can't be disproven. But then again, that's the point of this particular escape hatch.
In a less supernatural sense, this argument is similar to Russell's teapot — disproving things can be very tricky when the burden of proof doesn't actually lie with you. We cannot conclusively disprove a global flood or the claim that it made the Grand Canyon; all we can do is state that there is no evidence for it, that there is ample evidence that the canyon was made differently, and conclude that in all likelihood, the reason there is no evidence is that it didn't actually happen.
In conclusion: Don't even bite in the first place! It's a trap, tailor-made for people who like to disprove nonsense. A very attractive one. But: There is no need to disprove something that hasn't been shown to exist (through reliable observation) in the first place! The burden to do that still lies with those making the positive assertion.
Science has no explanation for X
Often, creationists will retreat into the "science doesn't know, ergo God" arguments. This works well as an escape hatch, not least because the phrase "science doesn't know everything" is true, and it takes effort to explain why that doesn't imply "science will never know this particular thing". Likewise, it is worth pointing out that while science may not currently provide an answer to a particular question, this doesn't grant free interim license to make up whatever stories one likes to fill in the gaps.
- Incidentally, Richard Lenski was there when some E. Coli mutated to use citrate as a food source.