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Feedback archiveFeedback 2003

If you are truly scientists / There will be skeptics

7 February 2003, reposted 8 September 2006

CMI Scientist Dr Don Batten Our first letter (below) is from R.S. of CA, USA. He ostensibly writes about Dr Wieland’s article on Davies and c-decay, but he uses it to raise other issues about creation in general. However, he ignores what we frequently point out about the roles of biases to form the paradigm (framework) from which data are interpreted. He also appears to have a fairly naïve view about the philosophy of science in other areas. Finally, he seems unaware of the answers we’ve long provided to the ‘distant starlight’ problem that have nothing to do with c-decay.

Although R.S. has violated our feedback rule about checking our site first before writing, as shown below, we believe that the letter and response by Dr Wieland would be instructive.

[Note added 2006: This has been updated with some new information from the RATE group on helium diffusion and the tu quoque argument that big bangers have their own difficulties with light travel time.]

Our second letter (following) is from Sara Marie of PA, USA—a former skeptic.

If you are truly scientists …

Dr. Wieland,
Dear R.S.,
I found your article regarding Paul Davies paper on the variable nature of the speed of light well balanced and informative. Nevertheless, I believe it is still beside the point when it comes to the position of young earth creationists on the age of the Universe.
How could it be ‘beside the point’? Consider—logically, if c was much faster in the past, then the alleged evidence for a vast age that means so much to you vanishes in a flash.
Specifically, YECers take a theological position with regard to scripture (one that I do not share), and then attempt to search for facts that will support it.

Many evolutionists first attack creation as being ‘untestable’, then go on to explain how it has been examined, i.e. tested, and proven false!

The comment about ‘searching for facts’ is most inappropriate, since the very article you cite advised against using this alleged support for c-decay as evidence for a young earth. We have also advised against a number of arguments (see Arguments we think creationists should NOT use), and (with a heavy heart) pointed out fallacious arguments in the work of fellow creationists (see Maintaining Creationist Integrity and Unleashing the Storm). These all show that we are careful not to use fallacious or even speculative evidence to support our view.

This both seems backwards for the purpose of science, and in the case of the speed of light ridiculous.
If you are truly scientists, …

Many creationists are scientists by any normal criterion, e.g. a number of CMI staff have earned Dr titles and have published in secular scientific journals. The only way this can be denied is by a stipulative definition that no creationists are scientists, an example of what’s sometimes called the ‘No true Scotsman fallacy’ [Note added 2006: see subsequent feedback discussion].

We have also pointed out the materialistic bias behind evolutionary theory, but I don’t often notice them being denigrated for their faith positions. A few evolutionists are honest enough to own up to their biases, e.g. Lewontin and Todd.

and your hypothesis is that the earth and the universe are less then 10,000 years old, you should set up an experiment to test that position. For example, given such a time period, what would be a unique feature of star light that you would expect to see in the night sky? Based on this hypothesis, go perform an experiment as to the existence or non-existence of that feature, and then publish the findings (regardless of the results).

You’re in effect saying that a scientist may not have a broad historical model which has all sorts of supporting data, if one aspect of that model has prima facie problems. You seem to be adopting the Popperian falsification criterion after Karl Popper. Evolutionists tend to regard Popper as a great philosopher of science when they can use this criterion to bash creationists, but regarded him as naïve when he attacked evolutionary theory on the same grounds!

It’s unproductive for us to get embroiled in debates on what counts as ‘science’, since philosophers of science can’t agree. This is especially so when many evolutionists, surprisingly including one as astute as the late Stephen Jay Gould, first attack creation as being ‘untestable’, then go on to explain how it has been examined, i.e. tested, and proven false!

Thomas Kuhn’s famous book on scientific revolutions showed that real scientists don’t work the way Popper said. In reality, scientists can tolerate many anomalies in the ruling paradigm, and it takes a lot for this to be overthrown and replaced with a new paradigm (see also this confirmation by Professor Evelleen Richards, Science Historian). And Imre Lakatos pointed out on a logical level that theories don’t stand on their own, but are protected by auxiliary hypotheses. The falsification can be applied to one or more of these, while leaving the core theory intact. See this logical discussion on verification and falsification.

To apply this to the point at hand: it would be just as philosophically invalid for someone to have said to Darwin that he could not support evolution simply because the expected fossil links (by his own admission) were not there in the rocks. His comment back then was they hadn’t been found yet. Later evolutionists postulated other explanations for the paucity of links. Using Lakatos’s terminology: a major prediction of the core theory (goo to you evolution) would be lots of transitional forms, with an associated (implicit) hypothesis that the transitional forms would fossilize readily. All that had been found in Darwin’s day, and the situation is largely unchanged today, were a handful of debatable ones. Darwin could reasonably appeal to an auxiliary hypothesis to protect this core theory, namely that there had not been enough collecting yet. Other evolutionists have appealed to a (related) auxiliary hypothesis, the poverty of the fossil record, which implicitly denies the associated hypothesis mentioned first. Both auxiliary hypotheses have since been falsified by the passage of time and the immense richness of the record that has been revealed.

We do not respond by denying people the right to appeal to auxiliary hypotheses.

The Occam’s razor hypothesis (analogous to yours about the light-travel time) was, all along, that the transitional forms never existed in the biosphere. I.e. frog-to-prince evolution has not happened. But even though there is an element of ad hoc to it, it is nevertheless philosophically valid for evolutionists to postulate secondary explanations to try to solve the problem without abandoning their axiom (materialism) and the core theory to explain this. (I think of course that overall, their axiom is overwhelmingly worthy of abandonment, I merely seek to introduce a point).

One is free to abandon one’s axiom, but that would be when the evidence was overwhelmingly against it. In the case of our axiom of a young world, the Scriptural evidence is overwhelmingly in its favour, and the inconsistencies that mount up for the ‘old-age’ Bible-believer are staggering. (Death and disease before the Fall, Jesus becomes a deceiver regarding people created at the beginning, etc. etc.).

If you are not prepared to do that why should anyone anywhere ever take the concept of a young earth seriously? Barring a test as proposed above, I cannot see any reason they should; if for no other reason then that the contrary evidence is over their heads every night. That is star light that, as far as anyone can currently tell, took millions and in certain cases billions of years to reach the earth.
Until you can resolve this problem, young earth creationists are just spitting in the wind.

The starlight per se tells us nothing about how long it took to get here. One has to interpret that based on assumptions/presuppositions. They are certainly overwhelmingly reasonable ones. I.e. that light has always behaved just as it does now, that constants don’t change, that time is constant. But then, since Bohr, Planck, Einstein and Heisenberg, we have learnt that the most reasonable, commonsense assumptions on the nature of the universe are not always appropriate.

And while we are cautious about c-decay theories, they were first proposed by evolutionists, and still are being proposed by them. So it was not unreasonable, from a logical perspective, to regard the constancy of c as an auxiliary hypothesis that could be questioned.

For instance, it is reasonable at first glance to believe that radiometric decay rates have not changed, since they are not seen to be changing now in our observations of the natural world. But then one would expect that the helium in hot rocks, generated by radioactive decay, would not be excessive in the rocks, yet deficient in the atmosphere. However, that is the case. That overwhelmingly suggests, given the measured diffusion rates of helium through rocks, a burst of accelerated decay. Apart from its obvious implications for radiometric dating, this might have all sorts of consequences for other quantum/subatomic processes, with which the behaviour of light is mathematically intertwined.

[Note added 2006: Dr Russell Humphreys has updated this argument considerably, including quantitative measurements of helium diffusion. See our summary, Dr Humphreys’ technical paper, his chapter in Radioactive Isotopes and the age of the Earth 2 ch. 2 (technical), and his responses to critics.]

Big-bangers have their own enigma with the travel time of light, called the horizon problem. So beware of pointing the finger at creationists because of light travel time, because you will have three of your own pointing back at you for the same reason!

How would you, though, react if, following your lead, I said that the helium molecules in that ‘wind’ to which you refer were overwhelmingly testifying, day in, and day out, to the ridiculousness of long-age belief based on radiodecay? No doubt you would try to come up with secondary explanations (auxiliary hypotheses) for the data. But that is exactly the privilege you seek to deny us! And the logical corollary to your challenge re the ‘experiment on starlight’ would be for me to say ‘until you make a prediction of what you would expect to find in studying those helium molecules, and confirm it, you have no right to hold to your belief in the interim and still claim to be scientific.’ You would rightly respond that the ‘answer’ to the helium dilemma may have nothing to do with observations on the helium molecules themselves.

The same, of course, is applicable to the light one observes. I hope the analogy helps make the point.

In our case, we also point out that the anti-YEC presupposes a pre-relativistic notion of absolute time. But Einstein’s General Relativity shows that gravity slows time itself, therefore it is possible to have time moving slowly on Earth (the reference frame of the Bible) and faster in distant galaxies. And questioning a key assumption of the ‘big bang’, i.e. that the universe has no centre and no boundary (edge), but keeping GR, has led to an alternative cosmology that appears to solve the distant starlight problem. See How can we see distant stars in a young Universe?—you need to address what we actually say before dogmatically declaring that there is no possible answer.

[Note added 2006: Also, you should be aware that big-bangers have their own enigma with the travel time of light, called the horizon problem. So beware of pointing the finger at creationists because of light travel time, because you will have three of your own pointing back at you for the same reason!]

May I recommend JP Moreland’s Christianity and the Nature of Science? He cannot be classed as a committed young-earth supporter, but he is a sophisticated and up-to-date philosopher of science, and it should become apparent that you have relied upon a rather simplistic view of the scientific enterprise in your e-mail.

Most importantly, if you are a Christian, you are being an accessory (hopefully unwittingly) to the undermining, in our culture, of the Word of the One who sought and bought you.


Sincerely, Carl Wieland

Dr Carl Wieland
Managing Director, Creation Ministries International–Australia
Editor, Creation magazine.

There will be skeptics …

To Everyone who labors for the Cause of Christ Jesus Our Lord:
I want to thank you for being faithful in providing resources to believers and even answering the sceptics and opposers. There will be skeptics. And being a former skeptic, I have to say that often the ‘evolution’ issue is used as a reason, or excuse, to hang on to our own sin and sinful ways and a reason to grumble against God and/or his representatives. Keep being faithful to God’s calling. I will join you in praising God at the life changing of even the hardest skeptics.
Tuyo en Cristo,
—Sarah Marie

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