CSI and evolution
Published: 29 November 2012 (GMT+10)
Revised 3 April 20141
We often distinguish between the science of present processes and the science of figuring out what happened in the past (see ‘It’s not science’ and Argument: Creationism is religion, not science). It’s a helpful distinction to make because it shows that we need to test evolution and millions of years differently than we would test, say, gravity or the speed of light. It also shows how there is generally a greater potential for uncertainty in the science of past events than there is in the science of present processes.
But many critics of biblical creation have found what they think is a good counter to this distinction. They claim that the science used to show that evolution is fact “works just like CSI” (Crime Scene Investigation).2 This argument seems stronger than the simplistic ‘religion vs science’ idea. The scientific approach used by evolutionists to try to reconstruct the past does have a lot in common with CSI—they are both examples of what could be called ‘forensic’ or ‘historical’ science (see CSI … and CMI). In each case, there is an attempt to use good science to reconstruct the past.
CSI shows abound on TV these days. They give us the impression that CSI is ‘all about the facts’ and that ‘the facts speak for themselves’. This is a blatantly false picture of how forensic science actually works. The facts can’t speak at all, let alone for themselves. Rather, people interpret the facts according to their assumptions about the past.
There are also numerous uncertainties in forensic science that show that the TV programs give us a blatantly idealized picture of what really goes on. For instance, evidence can be ‘planted’ by criminals wanting to confuse the forensic detectives. Lab technicians can inadvertently mess up the experiment. The experimental method used on the evidence may be suspect (for a whole host of reasons). Investigators can draw poor conclusions from the data. Unusual circumstances may invalidate an inference from a general scientific principle to the specific historical situation presented by the crime scene because the principle doesn't take into account those circumstances. Therefore, the gap between circumstantial fact and forensic inference is quite large, and filled with questionable assumptions.
A famous example of the problems inherent in CSI is Australia’s famous ‘dingo trial’. Lindy Chamberlain was imprisoned for years for murdering her baby, but her conviction has not only been quashed—she has received an official pardon, and a recent inquiry found that a dingo ate her baby. Her conviction was based on the scientific forensic evidence, interpreted by fallible human beings, which led to the false reconstruction of the past. However, the eyewitness testimony—that her baby daughter was still alive and crying after the prosecution said she already had to have been killed—was ignored.
Nevertheless, creationists acknowledge that, despite these uncertainties and occasional spectacular failures, forensic science (and other examples of what can be called ‘historical science’, like archaeology) can be very useful and helpful in investigating the past. There are plenty of cases where the forensic evidence has served to show that a witness should not be seen as credible, due to a factual contradiction, for instance. Cases can be built primarily on forensic evidence that is sufficient to lead to convictions that match with the eyewitness accounts or later confessions. But if that’s the case, can creationists affirm the (general) reliability of forensic science in criminal trials and yet completely reject evolution and long-age geology?
It's understandable that an evolutionist would ask this question, but it has some good answers. The first and most obvious one is that in talking about CSI, we are talking about a methodology, not a conclusion. The same forensic approach can be used by creationists, using a different starting point (i.e. different assumptions about the past) to reach a quite different conclusion from the same facts (see The wrong glasses). But there are additional factors which give reason to question the reliability of the ‘CSI’ used by evolutionists to study the past history of our planet.
It’s usually pretty obvious when a crime has happened. But CSI teams typically don’t just assume that one happened. An investigation will close if ‘suspicious circumstances’ turn out not to be so, i.e. there’s been no crime. But what about when one comes to the rocks and fossils, and even the structure and patterns of living organisms today? There, it’s like assuming that a dead body is always indicative of a crime—evolution and long ages are assumed in advance to be the only reasonable explanation available. CSI leaves open the possibility that a crime didn’t cause the ‘crime’ scene, but evolutionists always assume the rocks and fossils preserve an evolutionary story. The question for them is not so much whether evolution happened, but how.
Establishing a timeline—problems with forensic ‘clocks’
Timeframe is an important part of establishing what happened in a crime. But establishing a timeline based on forensic evidence alone is very tricky business. It is fraught with many questionable assumptions. This is the case even when CSI teams have decades’ worth of systematic data showing that their ‘clocks’ (methods of establishing timelines based on physical evidence) are generally reliable. Moreover, many forensic investigators have seen their ‘clocks’ work—they have been verified by eyewitness reports. They have also seen when and how they fail.
Long-agers do not have that luxury with their ‘clocks’. They must extrapolate their datasets back thousands and millions of times to establish a timeline. It is one thing to assume that a CSI ‘clock’ will be reliable this time because we’ve seen it work before. But evolutionists have never seen their ‘clocks’ work. How could they? We haven’t been investigating anywhere near long enough to verify million-year timelines!
Moreover, there is evidence that the deep time ‘clocks’ don’t work. Carbon dating consistently gives thousands of years for fossils and diamonds that are supposedly many millions of years old and there are plenty of cases of false dates for rocks of known age (K-Ar dating, for example), which cast serious doubt on the methods being used to give ages for rocks of unknown age. The fact that the carbon dates are just pushed aside/rejected out of hand shows that the whole paradigm is driven by the story, not the evidence. That is, dating is a story-telling exercise as much as any other part of the evolutionary history.
Could there also be any mitigating circumstances that would suggest long-agers had misread their ‘clocks’? Long-agers ask this question—but only in a specific long-age framework. When the forensic data doesn’t fit that timeline, it is reinterpreted or ignored (See Age of the earth). However, the Bible records some events that would produce such mitigating circumstances—the Creation, the Fall, and Noah’s Flood. They would skew many long-age ‘clocks’ toward an older timeline. They may have caused the ‘clocks’ to ‘tick’ much faster than they do today—and there is evidence that this has occurred, in fact (see RATE group reveals exciting breakthroughs!). So, unlike CSI ‘clocks’—long-age ‘clocks’ can’t be independently verified, and long-agers ignore evidence of mitigating circumstances that could drastically reduce their timeline.
Where are the evolutionary skeptics?
Think about a murder trial. There is a prosecutor and a defendant. Both sides seek to prove their case using the evidence presented. One tries to prove the defendant is guilty, and the other tries to cast doubt on his guilt. Each side adopts different starting points to interpret the evidence. What does this mean for CSI methods? It means they will be vigorously tested to see just how reliable they are. Judges, juries, witnesses, and lawyers all debate and evaluate forensic methods. They have to—nobody wants to send an innocent man to prison, or let a guilty man get away, just because some method was more or less reliable than we supposed.
Of course, we all have heard cases of wrongful conviction, like the dingo case, and likely cases of wrongful exoneration too. So even with this rigorous testing system in place, mistakes can very easily be made. But there are no such checks and balances with evolution and long-age geology. Peer review is not the vigorous fact-checking enterprise it is often made out to be. The peers who are doing the reviewing are typically all evolutionists. So unlike in the murder trial where two sides debate the matter from different assumptions, in evolutionary natural history everyone adopts the same framework—evolution and long-age geology. In essence, evolution and long-age geology are always innocent, and biblical creation is always guilty.
Eyewitnesses—synergy vs abandonment
CSI doesn’t operate alone. It often works with, and sometimes against, another form of historical evidence—testimony, to establish what happened in a crime. But most of the time, testimony and forensics work together to paint a picture of what actually happened.
On the other hand, long-agers have to assume that no testimony could be relevant to what they are studying. They assume they are studying ‘prehistory’—which by definition cannot involve testimony. This rules out the Bible before evidence is even considered, and leaves forensic science as the only way to investigate prehistory. And while it is true that witnesses can be fooled, so can forensic scientists. There are also certain biblical events like Creation, the Fall, and the Flood, when God acted powerfully in history, that would inevitably produce problems for anyone relying solely on forensic science, without knowing of the biblical testimony (or while rejecting it—2 Peter 3:3–6. See BioLogos and the age of the earth). That’s typically not a problem for CSI (though remember Lindy Chamberlain), but it’s a fatal problem for investigations of evolution and for long-age historical geology—they cannot work with testimony. But God was there. God has told us what happened from the beginning in Genesis. And He is the perfect eyewitness—He knows everything and never lies.
Evolutionary methods—bad CSI
Do evolutionists use CSI? Yes—but the way they do it is suspect, especially when they try to disprove the Bible. CSI teams work with timeframes that allow the reliability of their ‘clocks’ to be tested; long-agers don’t have that luxury. No CSI team in history has ever had to deal with events like the Creation, the Fall, and the Flood. No CSI team ignores testimony; evolutionists must. And CSI methods and conclusions get tested by skeptics all the time; evolutionary methods and conclusions only get ‘tested’ by evolutionists. Evolutionists do CSI; they just do it badly.
Biblical creationists use CSI-type methodology as well, as already indicated. However, biblical creation follows the spirit of CSI much closer than evolution/long-ages. Testimony is not ignored; it is embraced. Biblical testimony forms a solid basis from which to do CSI—it is God’s eyewitness testimony. And that testimony is not alone. For example, there are numerous legends of a global flood from all over the world. Legends are not good testimony by themselves, but they have sufficient similarities with the biblical Flood narrative to provide independent corroborating testimony with the Bible (see Noah’s Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic). This paints the forensic evidence in a vastly different light from what we might assume apart from testimony.
A caution—and exhortation
CSI is a useful, but fallible methodology. And while the Bible isn’t fallible, forensic science based on the Bible is. Forensic models of history are useful to show how the facts of the present world make sense within a framework of biblical history, and they help to confirm that history. And some forensic models may be better than others. But all such models are always wide open to revision, even abandonment (see Flood models and biblical realism). So don’t place your ultimate trust even in creation models—place your ultimate trust in the Bible—nothing less, and nothing more.