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Creation 22(1):6, December 1999

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Editor’s note: As Creation magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this. For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles and Further Reading below.

Fossil flip-flop

How objective are scientists?

by Tas Walker

Specimens courtesy of Andrew Snelling
Fossil belemnites.

Are scientists always objective? Do they always interpret the evidence with an open mind? Some time ago I experienced first-hand how a scientist’s beliefs affect the way he looks at the evidence.

Whilst a geology student at university, I needed to identify a fossil. After consulting the Atlas of Invertebrate Macrofossils 1 I had tentatively identified it as a belemnite2 of the genus Hibolites. However, paleontology was not my specialty so I sought advice from an expert.

The research paleontologist at one of the major universities in our state was the obvious choice.

I had always found him helpful even though he was unimpressed by my ‘young earth’ stand. For over 30 years he had written extensively on paleontology, and was now the only lecturer on the subject at that university.

I wanted to be sure I was not making a wrong identification. I also wanted to be more specific in my classification.

I showed him the belemnite and explained that it was found near Warwick, U.K. (In hindsight I must not have made it clear that it was from the U.K. There is also a town called Warwick in the state of Queensland, Australia.)

He looked carefully at the specimen using his hand lens.

‘No, this is not a belemnite,’ he announced, ‘it is an iron concretion.’

I was amazed. It looked like a belemnite to me. But then, he was the expert.

‘Iron concretions can do funny things,’ he explained. ‘People who are not experienced in this field can be easily tricked by them.’

Even careful observation of a hand specimen under a magnifying glass can be wrongly interpreted if it does not fit one’s preconceptions.

Well, he was the authority, so I reluctantly accepted his assessment. We talked a bit more. I showed him the diagrams from the Atlas that looked like my specimen. I then mentioned afresh that I was talking about Warwick, U.K.

‘U.K.!’ he exclaimed. ‘Let me have a look at that again.’ A second time he looked carefully at the specimen.

‘Yes, it is a belemnite. When you look carefully you can see the way it is formed on the edges here. I thought you were talking about Warwick, Queensland. It is actually a very nice specimen. Some of the markings on the guard are preserved.’

The confusion occurred because he knew the local geology of Warwick, Queensland. He did not think that belemnites could come from the area because the outcrops were the wrong ‘age.’

His geological knowledge was impeccable. But his wrong identification of the fossil illustrates how the geologic age system can be self-reinforcing.

There may well have been fossils found in the ‘wrong place’ but even so, not necessarily recognized as such.

We talked some more. I thanked him for his assistance. However, I don’t think he realized what an amazing demonstration he had provided of how his preconceptions affected his science. Even careful observation of a hand specimen under a magnifying glass can be wrongly interpreted if it does not fit one’s preconceptions. And preconceptions are so strongly linked with one’s worldview.

That is why creationists must not be deterred when apparent conflicts arise. They simply signal that we need to ‘dig deeper.’

We should not rule out the possibility that the data itself was wrongly recorded as a result of pressure from evolutionary preconceptions.

References and notes

  1. Murray, J.W. (ed.), Atlas of Invertebrate Macrofossils, Longman, Essex, 1985. Return to text.
  2. An extinct squid-like creature. Usually only the guard (one part of the two-part internal skeleton) is fossilized. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

The Fossil Record
by John D Morris, Frank J Sherwin
US $20.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

Daniel T.
God bless you

I want to study Astronomy and Nuclear Physics.

I'm a Biblical Creationist, but I have this insecurity that science will change my perspectives and inferences on Creationism.

I would also like to belong to 'Union Astronomical Internacional', or to some large organization to raise my knowledge in astronomy and nuclear physics.

How can I study a career without losing my creationist base and Faith
Tas Walker
Hi Daniel, These resources may be of help.
"Practical tips for navigating a secular education system. School and university are increasingly places of spiritual warfare. Biblical belief is openly attacked. It’s not easy. Here are some resources that provide very practical advice:"
VIDEO: Ten tips on how to graduate with your faith intact
BOOKLET: The Creation Survival Guide (multiple formats)
ARTICLE: How do I do my assignment about evolution?
ARTICLE: Four steps for surviving evolution classes
Peer pressure at university is very strong in subtle ways, so it is important to stay connected with your church and other believers.
I wish you all the best for your plans and future career.

Scott B.
A human gives a dog dog-food and a cat cat-food. The dog interprets the data to mean that the human is the master. The cat interprets the data to mean that the cat is the master.
Steve W.
This logic also applies to the scriptures. The Bible can also be wrongly interpreted if it does not fit one's preconceptions. Just because we can count back 6,000 years to Adam, does not mean that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. I can see why he was unimpressed with your young Earth stand, when the overwhelming scientific consensus points to an old Earth. I think you would get a laugh out of God, if you told God the Earth is only 6,000 years old when He actually created it 4.5 billion years ago. You ask "How objective are scientists?". The same is true for believers. How objective are believers when they read the scriptures? God made everything we can see. He is the author of the Bible, science and nature. They should all be in agreement and harmony. If the Earth offers plenty of evidence that it is old, then something is amiss for young Earthers. God's Word is inerrant, but man's interpretation of it may not be.
Tas Walker
There is not space here to deal with all the issues you raise. I encourage you to explore creation.com further. There is a good search box and the Q&A is helpful.
Yes, the Bible can be wrongly interpreted if we come at it with wrong beliefs. The big one is thinking the 4.5 billion year age of the earth is objective fact. The consensus you mention is due to all the researchers/publishers/teachers/writers/grant-givers/administrators/media working within the same belief system. That begins with naturalism, meaning no God is allowed, no supernatural creation is allowed, and no global Flood is permitted. If you start from that position you will end up in the same place. You will also end up with no Adam and Eve, death and suffering before sin, no point to Jesus' death, a creator that is a moral monster, and an inconsistent belief system. Try searching for "six days", "death and suffering", "age of the earth", and "how dating methods work". You will find lots of helpful articles and videos. I hope you enjoy reading them and are blessed in your endeavours.
Gina T.
Excellent and easy to understand. Thank you!
Bob S.
Thank you, Tas, for a great article. Perceptual errors of this kind seem to happen quite automatically without malice of forethought. The fake reality of the paradigm seems more real than reality itself. And it is self-protective and self propagating. The problem of paradigms is not found among unbelievers only. It's been said that the "world" that Christians must most be concerned with overcoming is that "world" that we carry about in our minds. One can only wonder how much we ourselves filter the Creation and the Bible by our own paradigms and how much division that causes in the Church. I praise God that we have the sure promise of a Paraclete Who is revealing real reality to us as we submit to Him.
murk P.
Thanks Mr. Walker, nice job exposing that the intellect is ethical.

The professor must hold as true that there is no purpose and direction to anything thus that anything can happen

Yet at the same time the fossil could not have been found in Queensland

And he could not come to this conclusion if nature were not uniform, logic was not universal, invariant and immaterial, that all "facts" are connected by an overarching plan / direction / purpose to the universe thus that not anything is possible

As if we could answer how do we know without first answering what do we know

We all must believe in a comprehensive framework of the nature of reality within which to sort, filter, categorize our experience of reality, as the professor so aptly demonstrated in response to your question.

and the only way to have this framework is by revelation of the one who does not lie

anyone denying this clear revelation is lying as the professor so aptly demonstrated

i thank God that He made it so plain for all men (Romans 1:19)

keep up the good working, testifying to the truth
Errol B.
Thanks Tas, a nice easy to understand article. A great example of what happens with raw data before the peer review filter gets hold of it. In an interview on Medscape posted in May 2013, evolutionist & genome guru Craig Venter said in regards to agendas; peer review is like ‘the prisoners running the prison’. In relation to origins, Darek Isaacs, author of ‘Dragons or Dinosaurs?’ points out the effect this has on the secular world when enough data is filtered in this manner, he calls this ‘poor compilation scholarship’. They adjust their own data (like individual pixels in a big picture) to fit in with their peers, but all their peers are doing the same.
We don’t have deity detectors or miracle meters, so deities and miracles are not allowed to exist, therefore all conclusions regardless of the data MUST support the paradigm of pure naturalism. Didn’t Dr Scott Todd teach something like that?
graham P.
These older 'scientists' have decided long ago that there is no supernatural nor any God, and no amount of evidence makes any difference. However, there seem to be many younger 'scientists' who haven't decided this, and although they truly believe in billions of years, they do so mainly because they have been conditioned into it.

Creation.com's excellent resources are a good way to break that conditioning and allow them to process natural history more fully, which usually results in abandoning billions of years....
Ian M.
That's quite disappointing. If he had inspected it closely and seen good signs it did look like a belemnite he should have at least asked something like "Where exactly did you say you got this from, again?"

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