Can they all be wrong?
If ‘science’ and ‘all those scientists’ have shown evolution to be valid, how can anyone claim otherwise? Much of the resistance we meet in the creation science ministry is vaguely based upon this sort of notion.
It is fairly easy to point out that we cannot directly observe or repeat the past, and so the normal scientific method, by which we now understand so much of how the present world operates, cannot be applied here. Nevertheless, many find it hard to cope with the idea that the acceptance and development of the whole framework of evolutionary thought has a great deal to do with individual biases and beliefs of scientists themselves. The popular idea is that scientists are like emotionless robots who have buried their personal prejudices in the cause of an unbiased search for truth. Perhaps the virginal white of lab coats somehow contributes to this image!
Even those who admit that, as individuals, scientists have prejudices and strongly held beliefs, often maintain that, nevertheless, the progress of scientific thinking and knowledge as a whole operates with purity and precision. The ‘rough edges’ of each scientist’s personal preferences and biases become polished off when ideas, like stones in a tumbler, clash and contact each other in the scientific arena.
Of course we maintain that it is not, and cannot be, quite like this, and that the background biases of scientists, whether individually or collectively, will influence their research and conclusions in this area. This is true for creationist scientists as well, of course. In fact, rather than acting as a correcting factor, the influences of a ‘group’ interaction result in an even stronger collective bias. The tendency towards a unified, broad and monolithically impressive category of thought is accelerated by two phenomena.
One is the readily demonstrated and well-known psychological phenomenon of ‘group pressure’, in which an individual’s perception is altered by the knowledge that all his peers see it differently. The other, more important one, is that all incoming facts from then on are interpreted in the light of that theoretical framework. This is why we experience real shock and horror as the reaction of many scientists when they hear that a fellow scientist, known to be intelligent and highly qualified, rejects evolution. To them it is the same as rejecting the observed facts of gravity, because what they see as ‘facts’ have already been predigested through an evolutionary grist mill containing certain assumptions.
“What research are you doing?”
“I am measuring the ages of moon rocks.”
“What are you measuring?”
“I told you—the ages of moon rocks.”
“No, I mean what are you really measuring?”
“Oh, I see what you mean—I am measuring the amount of certain radioactive substances in moon rocks, which I then interpret to mean how old they are in the belief that certain assumptions are true.”
“Here we see, in the side of this cliff, evolution in action. The fossil snails at the bottom here are small, rounded, and have thick, heavy shells. We see here how, after one or two million years, represented by these two feet of sediment, the snails now have thinner shells, are slightly larger and more oblong. In other respects, they seem to be the same species.”
“Excuse me, but all I see is a layer of sedimentary rock with the snails of this species tending to be slightly different in the top and bottom layers. You are assuming that the layer took millions of years to deposit. Another explanation for the same facts is that the sedimentary layer was rapidly deposited, and the shells of this one type were sorted out, as flowing water tends to do.”
A broad flexible model such as the general concept of evolution will then develop its own inexorable momentum, from being accepted by a majority to being accepted by an overwhelming near-universal majority. Since all relevant facts are from then on only understood and seen in the light of the evolutionary/long geological ages framework, it is no wonder that, before long, any deviation from this framework is regarded as being something equivalent to belief in a flat earth.
The Christian understands from both revelation and experience that the most prevalent and pervasive human bias is against the God of the Scriptures. He thus should not be surprised by the overwhelming popularity of evolution, if what I say here about the essentially human and fallible nature of scientific thinking is valid.
To support my contentions, I will quote none other than Stephen Jay Gould, from his book Ever Since Darwin. Gould is an eminent and distinguished scientist, philosopher and science historian. At Harvard he taught biology, geology, and the history of science. To avoid accusations of misrepresentation, I make it clear that he is certainly no friend of creationists (on page 146 he calls us ‘yahoos’). He is an atheistic materialist by his own admission and perhaps the world’s leading evolutionist spokesman of his time. Certainly he is among the most intelligent, eloquent and readable of evolutionists.
Dealing with a fellow evolutionist’s attacks on Darwin’s understanding of selection, Gould says (on page 44):
“I am a strong advocate of the general argument that ‘truth’ as preached by scientists often turns out to be no more than prejudice inspired by prevailing social and political beliefs.”
Dealing with the history of evolutionary thought (p. 15):
“Science is no inexorable march to truth, mediated by the collection of objective information and the destruction of ancient superstition. Scientists, as ordinary human beings, unconsciously reflect in their theories the social and political constraints of their times.”
Dealing with the shift in geological opinion from ‘fixed’ to ‘drifting’ continents (p. 161):
“Why has such a profound change occurred in the short space of a decade? Most scientists maintain—or at least argue for public consumption—that their profession marches toward truth by accumulating more and more data, under the guidance of an infallible procedure called ‘the scientific method’. If this were true, my question would have an easy answer.”
Further down the same page he says,
“Facts do not ‘speak for themselves’; they are read in the light of theory. Creative thought in science as much as in the arts is the motor of changing opinion. Science is a quintessentially human activity, not a mechanised, robotlike accumulation of objective information, leading by laws of logic to inescapable interpretation.”
Viewing the facts
As we have been saying for years, the facts are the same, it all depends on which ‘glasses’ you view them through. Particularly in the case of evolution, it is not the facts which force the theory, but the theory which determines the ‘reading’ of the facts.
Which brings us to another point often raised in defence of evolution. We are asked—how can you say that scientists are biased in favour of the theory of evolution when there is not just one theory of evolution, and when we see scientists continually discussing, arguing about and modifying their particular evolutionary theories?
This misunderstanding arises through a failure to appreciate that what is negotiable for evolutionary scientists is how evolution happened, not whether. By ‘evolution’ here I mean the idea that all the design and complexity in the world can be explained by the operation of time plus chance plus the basic physical laws—that is, nature is basically self-created.
An accumulation of convincing arguments may finally, after bitter resistance, persuade a gradualist to become a saltationist (different theories on how evolution supposedly took place). Yet neither position will at any stage cause him to suffer the sort of academic disgrace, ridicule, ostracism, job discrimination and inability to publish further in respectable journals that has been the lot of otherwise reputable researchers who have openly stated that they regard the facts as more supportive of biblical creation than any other position.
At this point a note of caution is in order—let us not be found to be rejecting science as such, or rejecting evolution basically because it is the ‘establishment’ view. There is a human tendency, on occasion, to derive a perverse satisfaction from being ‘different’.
Since we are openly discussing the effect of beliefs, prejudices, and other social/psychological factors on this whole area, perhaps we should carefully consider the positions of those who are both professing Christians and active in academic science. With the growing enlightenment within the churches towards creation, many of these are being actively quizzed by fellow church members on their own position in this matter. Their fellow Christians are often surprised to find them professing belief in evolution.
To be fair, many of these scientist Christians have never really considered the New Testament consequences and inconsistencies of their position and how it relates to the Gospel. And many would rather the whole subject had not been brought up at all! Many accept evolution more or less as a ‘side effect’ of their early training, and almost always one finds that their own work in one of the many specialised branches of science is really quite independent of the validity or otherwise of evolution. Along with most non-Christian scientists they usually regard the most convincing evidence for evolution as being not in their own specialty, but in someone else’s field.
The classic example of this is the extremely distinguished zoologist, Pierre Grasse, who after stating in his book Evolution and Life that he has absolutely no idea how evolution could have happened (having systematically debunked all the popular mechanisms), explains that the reason he is an evolutionist is because the evidence appears to be in the fossil record, with which he is of course less familiar.
However, when we talk to paleontologists, the scientists who specialise in fossils, we frequently find they are convinced about evolution not on the basis of the fossil record (which many today frankly admit does not really show evolution since there are no clear-cut ‘in-between’ forms), but on the basis of arguments and statements from people in some other field.
Unfortunately, some Christians in scientific academia have actively embraced ‘another gospel’ as a result of their evolutionary presuppositions. And these are usually the people who vehemently and publicly oppose creation ministries. We should sympathetically consider the enormous pressures on an academic who, faced with biblical and scientific evidence for a non-evolutionary history of the earth and man, knows that public acknowledgment and acceptance would probably mean the end of his/her prestige and possibly career. Nevertheless, recent history teaches us that:
- Evolutionary emphases in science have shipwrecked the faith of many and acted as an impenetrable barrier to accepting Christ for countless others.
- When qualified people begin to espouse the evidence for creation/flood on campuses, far from being an intellectual barrier to Christianity as has been claimed by some, this has resulted, in my personal experience, in a mini-revival of faith, particularly in the science and engineering faculties!
Those Christians who, even if only by their silence, are colluding with a thought-system which is not only totally opposed to God’s word and denigratory of His glory, but is in practice a barrier to His Gospel in the lives of the people with whom they come in contact, would be wise to seriously assess whether they could be considered to be ashamed of Christ and His Gospel.
The Son of Man has warned that at His return He will be ashamed of those who were thus ashamed. This seems a terribly high price to pay to avoid a few years of possible academic persecution in the present.
‘All those scientists’ can be wrong—and often have been! Doctoral theses were written on Piltdown ‘man’—a crudely ‘doctored’ orang-utan’s jaw attached to a modern human skull. The reason this hoax dominated textbooks for many decades as the chief evidence for man’s evolution is not because of a mistake, a small aberration somewhere along the line of a self-correcting march towards truth, but because of the strong influences of presupposition and prejudice. In short, evolutionist believers had what they were looking for. This caused even the most respected researchers to overlook obvious file-marks on the teeth, and to call the unaltered brain markings on the (modern human) skull ‘obviously primitive’.
To insist that, had evolution been invalid, more than 150 years of research since Darwin would have thrown up enough evidence to discredit it, is an understandable position on the surface. But, as we have seen, it is a position which is not in tune with the limits of science and the realities of human nature.
An acquaintance of mine (a Ph.D. geologist who has recently become a creationist) told me he could have kept studying geology and rock formations for 150 years and would never have known there was any evidence for creation/flood. This was because, along with other geologists, he was looking at everything through the eyes of the theory of long geological ages and evolution. Once he had a fuller understanding of the areas of presupposition in scientific reasoning (the difference between raw facts and the interpretation of those facts) and applied it to his research, he was able to look at the same sorts of rock formations and find the evidence for creation and the Flood ‘screaming’ at him from all directions!
This testimony from a highly qualified earth scientist, who is also a radiant Christian, is an excellent illustration of Gould’s own words, quoted earlier, about the way science works. I thank God that this geologist is willing to take a professional stand for his Creator and Lord, even if it means being classed as a ‘yahoo’ by such as Gould.
Re-posted on homepage: 10 November 2021