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How to think (not what to think)


Published: 1 November 2016 (GMT+10)
Debates often end in a tug-of-war over basic facts. This is a result of people misunderstanding how science actually works. In fact, the “evidence” often supports both sides in a duel of scientific theories. If you really want to get to the heart of an issue, you have to sort the arguments and evidence into categories, as explained below.

We at CMI have spent many hours writing and speaking on scientific and theological issues. We have said over and over again that one does not have to ‘turn off one’s brain’ when going to church and that there is a rich, intellectual foundation to biblical creation. We have disavowed conspiracy theories, and have encouraged others to do so as well.

Yet, the world seems to be sitting at a crossroads. After Wikileaks, Snowden, Snopes, ‘fact checking’, YouTube, etc., came on the scene, many people have grown skeptical about basic facts of science. This is compounded by the now-exposed lies of certain climate change advocates (e.g., the infamous “hockey stick” graph). And, it corresponds to a dramatic loss of confidence in most sources of authority, be it an authority in the secular, scientific, religious, or media realms.

Thus, we have suddenly been besieged by people who have huge questions about things that are easily shown to be true or not. “Did the United States land multiple astronauts on the moon?” “Are we at the absolute center of the universe?” Or “Is the earth actually global?

These types of questions are different from “Did humans evolve from ape-like ancestors?” or “Is the earth billions of years old?” In fact, and as anyone who has spent time following us knows, we can divide most questions into two camps: operational vs. historical science. You can read about how modern operational science was pioneered by Christian creationists here, so we don’t have to restate the details. You see, in the realm of operational science, there is a place where things can be known. Once you assume you are not dreaming and that the world is not a mirage (don’t laugh, this is a major foundational belief of several important world religions, e.g. Buddhism) you can put two-and-two together and draw firm conclusions in multiple areas of science.

The predictions of opposing scientific theories often overlap. Any argument that is true for both sides (zone II) cannot be used as proof for one side. Yet, we often hear arguments like, “The fact that species change over time proves Darwinian evolution?” But since 'change over time' is accepted by biblical creationists, this cannot be “proof” of evolution.

There are many different ways to think through these things, but here is one very powerful method. This Venn diagram illustrates two competing theories, represented by the blue and red circles.

Contrary to the way most people think, competing theories are often not mutually-exclusive. In fact, they often predict many of the same things (represented by the area of overlap, zone II, in purple). For example, both creation and evolution can handle ‘change over time’ and ‘natural selection’, so neither of these can be used as “proof” of evolution. Both of these ideas sit comfortably in zone II. Thus, evolution cannot be defined simply as “change over time”. In fact, that is about the lamest possible definition. Any definition of evolution must also include a belief in common ancestry, which is definitely not in the area of overlap!

Anything in zone II is “non-discriminating information”, or information that cannot be used to make a distinction between the two theories. Evolutionists have been blurring the lines between the zones for over a century. One way they do this is to give as ‘evidence’ things creationists generally accept and then falsely conclude that evolution must therefore be true. We often hear that species changing over time proves evolution, but even though change is necessary for evolution, they cannot demonstrate how the change is sufficient to explain common ancestry (i.e., the changes we see are almost always downhill). Many of their attempts at producing “zone III arguments” have fallen by the wayside (e.g. alleged ape man fossils, see link above). They have also been trying to steer the conversation away from specific zone III arguments that argue most strongly against their theory. For example, there is a recent trend to claim that chemical evolution is not really part of evolutionary theory because evolution only deals with living things. This, of course, is ridiculous since the origin of life has always been part of evolutionary theory. They know that this is a huge Achilles’ heel for them.

The recent flat-earth phenomenon has been spawned by social media and inflamed by certain individuals who do not understand some pretty simple concepts. In this case, our Venn diagram shows that all of the supposed flat-earth evidence is accounted for in the rotating-globe model and that there is no “zone I” for them. That is, nothing in the flat-earth model disproves the fact that the earth is a sphere and much in the spherical-earth model disproves the flat earth.

Most people spend their time arguing about things that fit in the area of overlap. Very often, this results in a sort of tug-of-war over basic facts and the conversation just goes in circles. If you really want to get to the heart of something, you have to get to the outer regions, zones I and III. These are the make-it-or-break-it questions. This is the place where you can really answer something.

For example, if the earth was flat and spinning about the North Pole, one can easily explain why the stars rotate counter-clockwise around the north star. But this is also explained with a spherical earth, so this is a “zone II” argument. However, and this is the kicker, flat-earth theory cannot explain why stars rotate clockwise about the southern pole for stargazers in the southern hemisphere. This is simply not possible unless the earth is indeed a rotating sphere. In fact, there is no “zone 1” for the flat-earther. That is, there is no observational or physical evidence in that theory that is not readily explained by the earth being a sphere. Worse, there is much they cannot explain. Worse yet, some of their ‘evidences’ are demonstrably untrue. Beware!

You see, one can pile up hundreds of facts that support a pet theory, but this does not make that theory true, for you have to discriminate among the ‘facts’ and sort them into categories. As Einstein is reported to have once said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” This is the way science works. If you are not willing to ask questions that might actually disprove your theory you risk falling into logical, scientific, and doctrinal dead ends.

Asking the right questions caused the scientists and theologians who work for CMI worldwide to reject things like the belief that all species have a common ancestor, the spontaneous origin of life, and deep time. And, if you are wondering at this point why we don’t test ‘creationism’ you fail to realize that most of us were once evolutionists and so we absolutely tested both theories. Yet, in rejecting evolution and deep time we have not rejected experimental science, nor logical deduction.

In fact, we love science. We love thinking. We love exploring and marveling about the world that our Creator made. And, because our God is a God of logic and order, it is not a stretch to conclude that the Ultimate Lawgiver would have created a universe that operates according to logic and laws. This is the reason we can embrace science and the Bible at the same time and without contradiction. And this is why we reject things like conspiracy theory, alt science, and deep-time naturalistic evolutionary theory.

Helpful Resources

Evolution's Achilles' Heels
by Nine Ph.D. scientists
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Sam H.
Very interesting article. Sometimes I attempt to converse with people on social media using rationality and not just regurgitation of what someone else said somewhere. It usually goes nowhere, though, because nobody can see how the creation model is a good model while being unable to explain the evolutionary model they supposedly believe in.

Something that stood out to m in this article and made me start surfing through a bunch of other articles was mentioning the "hockey stick" graph. I could not find any article on it, so it would be interesting to read through a CMI response to "Before the Flood" documentary. I believe something is happening to the climate, but not certain to what the true root cause of it is. Climate change seems like a prime area for rational thinking and application of the creation model and how it affects/predicts things about the climate.

Thanks for yet another great article!
Robert Carter
Regarding the "Before the Flood" documentary, we try to stay out of the climate change debate except where it intersects with plain Bible teaching (e.g., the environmental effects of Noah's Flood) or basic science. Thus, in the future we may or may not review the movie, but the decision will be based on how it deals with our understanding of Scripture.
Alan A.
Yes, you have a point about the unverified and false theories like flat earth, but it felt like a jump to talk straight from wikileaks to flat earth. By that, I mean people have learned about whether or not someone did a crime or lied based on leaks. At the same time, that insight doesn't prepare someone to answer what the Earth's shape is (among other theories).

All a leak does is verify things like media collusion with Hillary (among many other things). It has been interesting to watch people make the jump to calling Hillary a sex trafficker, too, before such leaks support it. Can people have similar events in leaks for science subjects or models? Unlikely. Scientists would need to be caught admitting they are lying or something. (Hence, exposed hockey-stick.)

The crazier theories tend to have less evidence, but, because of how crazy they are, the author of them can enjoy more attention. It seems like people do not want to make good theories because that would be too hard and wouldn't get enough views.
Robert Carter
The point was to show the source of some of the disillusionment. That's all. There is no direct connection between Wikileaks (etc.) and flat earth. The cultural trend is to reject most sources of authority because of a melange of factors, and these are just a few of the culprits.
Joseph M.
Before we can argue, two basic things (amongst others uniformity, etc.) are required; 1) our senses must be reliable; 2) we must be rational.

The Venn diagram illustration relies on 2), that is, both parties are trying to be rational by arguing out irrational or fallacious statements.

Unfortunately conspiracy theorists tend to be at level 1) and they assume any physical proof you show them against their theory is somehow a forgery (i.e. picture is photo-shopped) or its something else we are observing (i.e. its not a satellite, but a flying space object).

Using rational reasoning with someone who denies 1) is really futile, because their senses will be viewed as unreliable when viewing the physical proof you show them and they will deny the obvious. The best approach it seems is

Proverbs 26:4-5 (NIV)
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.

For example, an answer might be, why should I accept your pictures/maths if you don't accept mine?
John Z.
I think that a lot of folks reject conspiracy theories because they are emotionally unacceptable to them. Concerning 9/11, thousands of engineers, military members, architects, and other professionals reject the official story. The official story for the moon landings is also rejected by many.

Like evolution, there is a bias. People don't want the conspiracy theories of 9/11 and the moon landings to be true, and so they're rejected. Simply, the circumstantial evidence cannot be explained in terms of the official stories, no matter how hard you try.

It doesn't make the conspiracy theorists stupid.
Robert Carter
Nobody said conspiracy theorists are not smart. And in my experience, the people who reject conspiracy theory are not rejecting it because they want or don't want something to be true. They are rejecting it because the theories do not line up with the facts. You brought up the emotional side, but note that one could easily turn your argument around and say the conspiracy theorists are the ones being driven by emotions. Since this is true, we have to get past this poor argument and dig into the details, properly sort the details into categories (what we can know [facts], who is lying, what is ambiguous [non-facts], what is non-discriminating, etc.). But this is certainly not the correct forum for doing so.

If any reader wants to be challenged on "conspiracy", start with the links in this article.
graham P.
Great article: Robert Carter's stuff is excellent, especially the microbiology DVD's. I would add to the assumptions though, in the article. IE not dreaming and not a mirage. If the universe is inhabited by God, or spirits, then they can interfere with physical things, rendering experiments suspect. Imagine if scientists tried to prove you ate pancakes for breakfast: you could allow them to prove it if you wanted, by eating them when you were being assessed. But you have free-will and can not eat them later on....IE it's not science, because you the subject have free will. Likewise, if we assume that spirits exist and can interfere, then our experiments are suspect. Science only works if we assume that the universe is not capricious. We believe that God is not capricious, which is part of our faith.
Robert Carter
Thanks for the kudos. As far as "capriciousness" goes, you took the words right out of my mouth. I often use that exact word during my talks. Since God is the creator of the universe, and since God is not capricious, the universe therefore should follow.

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