‘It’s not science’
Published: 28 February 2002 (GMT+10)
Revised 18 September 2014
Anti-creationists, such as atheists by definition, commonly object that creation is religion and evolution is science. To defend this claim they will cite a list of criteria that define a ‘good scientific theory’. A common criterion is that the bulk of modern day practising scientists must accept it as valid science. Another criterion defining science is the ability of a theory to make predictions that can be tested. Evolutionists commonly claim that evolution makes many predictions that have been found to be correct. They will cite something like antibiotic resistance in bacteria as some sort of ‘prediction’ of evolution, whereas they question the value of the creationist model in making predictions. Since, they say, creation fails their definition of ‘science’, it is therefore ‘religion’, and (by implication) it can simply be ignored.
What is science?
Many attempts to define ‘science’ are circular. The point that a theory must be acceptable to contemporary scientists to be acceptable, basically defines science as ‘what scientists do’! In fact, under this definition, economic theories would be acceptable scientific theories, if ‘contemporary scientists’ accepted them as such.
In many cases, these so-called definitions of science are blatantly self-serving and contradictory. A number of evolutionary propagandists have claimed that creation is not scientific because it is supposedly untestable. But in the same paragraph they will claim, ‘scientists have carefully examined the claims of creation science, and found that ideas such as the young Earth and global Flood are incompatible with the evidence.’ But obviously creation cannot have been examined (tested) and found to be false if it’s ‘untestable’!
The definition of ‘science’ has haunted philosophers of science in the 20th century. The approach of Bacon, who is considered the founder of the scientific method, was pretty straightforward:
observation → induction → hypothesis → test hypothesis by experiment → proof/disproof → knowledge.
Of course this, and the whole approach to modern science, depends on two major assumptions: causality1 and induction2. The philosopher Hume made it clear that these are believed by ‘blind faith’ (Bertrand Russell’s words). Kant and Whitehead claimed to have solved the problem, but Russell recognized that Hume was right. Actually, these assumptions arose from faith in the Creator-God of the Bible, as historians of science like Loren Eiseley have recognized. Many scientists are so philosophically and theologically ignorant that they don’t even realize that they have these (and other) metaphysical assumptions. Being like a frog in the warming water, many do not even notice that there are philosophical assumptions at the root of much that passes as ‘science’. It’s part of their own worldview, so they don’t even notice. We at CMI are ‘up front’ about our acceptance of revelation (the Bible). Unlike many atheists, we recognize that a philosophy of life does not come from the data, but rather the philosophy is brought to the data and used in interpreting it.
Perceptions and bias
The important question is not, ‘Is it science?’ One can just define ‘science’ to exclude everything that one doesn’t like, as many evolutionists do today. Today, science is equated with naturalism: only materialistic notions can be entertained, no matter what the evidence. The prominent evolutionist Professor Richard Lewontin said (emphases in original):
“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”3
Now that’s open-minded isn’t it? Isn’t ‘science’ about following the evidence wherever it may lead? This is where the religion (in the broadest sense) of the scientist puts the blinkers on. Our individual worldviews bias our perceptions. The atheist paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould, made the following candid observation:
“Our ways of learning about the world are strongly influenced by the social preconceptions and biased modes of thinking that each scientist must apply to any problem. The stereotype of a fully rational and objective ‘scientific method’, with individual scientists as logical (and interchangeable) robots is self-serving mythology.”4
So the fundamentally important question is, ‘which worldview (bias) is correct?’, because this will likely determine what conclusions are permitted to be drawn from the data. For example, if looking at the origin of life, a materialist will tend to do everything possible to avoid the conclusion that life must have been supernaturally created.
Science a creationist invention
Of course the founders of modern science were not materialists (Sir Isaac Newton, widely considered the greatest scientist ever, is a prime example) and they did not see their science as somehow excluding a creator, or even making the Creator redundant (see The biblical roots of modern science: A Christian world view, and in particular a plain understanding of Scripture and Adam’s Fall, was essential for the rise of modern science.). This recent notion has been smuggled into science by materialists.
Michael Ruse, the Canadian philosopher of science also made the strong point that the issue is not whether evolution is science and creation is religion, because such a distinction is not really valid. The issue is one of ‘coherency of truth’. See The religious nature of evolution.
In other words, there is no logically valid way that the materialist can define evolution as ‘science’ and creation as ‘religion’, so that he/she can ignore the issue of creation.
A valid distinction
However, we can make a valid distinction between different types of science: the distinction between origins science and operational science. Operational science involves discovering how things operate in today’s world—repeatable and observable phenomena in the present. This is the science of Newton, Einstein and Planck, for example. However, origins science deals with the origin of things in the past—unique, unrepeatable, unobservable events. This is why it could also be called ‘historical science’. There is a fundamental difference between how the two work, even though both are called ‘science’, and operational science does have implications for origins (or historical) science. Operational science involves repeatable experimentation in the here and now. Origins science deals with how something came into existence in the past and so is not open to experimental verification / observation (unless someone invents a ‘time machine’ to travel back into the past to observe).5
Of course it suits many materialists to confuse operational and origins science, although I’m sure with most the confusion arises out of ignorance. Tertiary (college / university) courses in science mostly don’t teach the philosophy of science and certainly make no distinction between experimental / operational and historical / origins sciences.
Both evolution and creation fall into the category of origins science. Both are driven by philosophical considerations. The same data (observations in the present) are available to everyone, but different interpretations (stories) are devised to explain what happened in the past.
Note that this distinction between operational science and evolution is not an invention of creationists. High-profile evolutionists such as Ernst Mayr and E.O. Wilson both acknowledged the distinction.
The inclusion of historical science, without distinction, as ‘science’, has undoubtedly contributed to the modern confusion over defining science. This also explains the statement by Gould (above), who, as a paleontologist, would have liked there to have been no distinction between his own historical science and experimental science. Gould rightly saw the paramount importance of presuppositions in his own science and assumed that it applied equally to all science. This is not so, although some presuppositions play an important role in operational science.6
Do you believe in hot water?
Creationists have absolutely no problem with operational science, because the evidence drives operational science. It does not matter if you are a Christian, a Moslem, a Hindu, or an Atheist, pure water still boils at 100°C at sea level. However, the true Hindu might still think it is all an illusion, and some atheists embracing postmodernism espouse that ‘truth’ is an illusion. However, origins science is driven by philosophy. One’s belief system is fundamental to what stories one accepts as plausible. Now if the majority of practitioners of origins / historical science have the wrong belief system (materialism), then the stories they find acceptable will also be wrong. So a majority vote of ‘contemporary scientists’ is hardly a good way to determine the validity of the respective stories. And origins science, or historical science, is essentially an exercise in story-telling—Lewontin alluded to this story-telling in the quote above. James Conant, past President of Harvard University, made the point quite forcibly, with a scathing assessment of the inventive scenarios that often characterise historical science. See also Naturalism.
The evidence matters
Now in pointing out that presuppositions drive what stories are acceptable in historical science, I am not saying that it is merely or solely a matter of those philosophical/religious assumptions. The stories still have to account for the evidence in a coherent manner. That is, the stories provided can often be tested according to the evidence. For example, the claim that coal-bearing geological strata were laid down over many millions of years is flatly contradicted by the evidence of polystrate tree fossils, with their roots broken off, traversing those strata (how did they stand there for millions of years while the layers of deposits built up around them, and all without rotting away?). There are many facts that contradict the evolutionary story: here are 101 evidences that speak against the billions of years of age claimed for the earth: Age of the earth. There are also many counts against the story of biological evolution; see 15 Questions for evolutionists.
If the same data could be consistently interpreted in two entirely different ways, then Romans 1 would have no basis for saying that people have no excuse for denying that things were created by God because it is clear from the physical evidence.
We can speak of a ‘coherency of truth’ as a test; that a truthful account of history will give a coherent (logically consistent) account of the evidence.
Define terms consistently!
It also suits materialists to shift the definition of evolution to suit the argument. Let’s be clear that we are discussing the ‘General Theory of Evolution’ (GTE), which was defined by the evolutionist Kerkut as ‘the theory that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form.’7 Many, perhaps inadvertently, perform this switching definitions trick in alluding to mutations in bacteria as corroborating ‘evolution’. This has nothing to do with demonstrating the validity of the belief that hydrogen changed into humans over billions of years. The key difference is that the GTE requires not just change, but change that substantially increases the information content of the biosphere. See also this discussion of definitions.
Predictions or ‘postdictions’?
Many evolutionists claim mutations and antibiotic resistance in bacteria (operational science) as being some sort of prediction of evolution (origins science). In fact, genetics (operational science) was an embarrassment to evolution, which could have been a factor in Mendel’s pioneering genetics research going unrecognized for so many years (Mendel’s discovery of discrete genes did not fit Darwin’s idea of continuous unlimited variation). When mutations were discovered, these were seen as a way of reconciling Darwinism with the observations of operational science—hence the ‘neo-Darwinian’ synthesis of Mayr, Haldane, Fisher, etc.
What about the predictions of evolution vs creation? The track record of evolution is pretty dismal. See How evolution harms science. On the other hand, modern science rides on the achievements of past creationists—see How important to science is evolution? and Contributions of creationist scientists. For one clear example of modern-day scientific predictions based on a creationist model, see Beyond Neptune: Voyager II Supports Creation.
Many ‘predictions’ of evolutionary theory have been found to be incompatible with observations; and yet evolution reigns. For example, there is the profound absence of the many millions of transitional fossils that should exist if evolution were true (see Are there any Transitional Fossils?). The very pattern in the fossil record flatly contradicts evolutionary notions of what it should be like—see, for example, The links are missing. The evolutionist Gould wrote at length on this conundrum.
Contrary to evolutionists’ expectations, none of the cases of antibiotic resistance, insecticide resistance, etc. that have been studied at a biochemical level (i.e. operational science) have involved de novo origin of new complex genetic information. In fact, evolutionists never predicted antibiotic resistance, because historically it took the medical field by surprise—see Anthrax and antibiotics: Is evolution relevant?
Contrary to evolutionists’ expectations, breeding experiments reach limits; change is not unlimited. See the article by the creationist geneticist, Lane Lester. This matches what we would expect from Genesis 1, where it says that God created organisms to reproduce true to their different kinds.
Another failed evolutionary ‘prediction’ is that of ‘junk DNA’. Evolutionists long claimed that 98% of the human DNA is junk, mere leftovers of our supposed evolutionary ancestry. This has hindered the discovery of the function of this DNA, now known to be at least 80% functional, and probably 100% is functional. See Dazzling DNA.
Evolutionists expected that, given the right conditions, a living cell could make itself (abiogenesis); creationists said this was impossible. Operational science has destroyed this evolutionary notion; so much so that many evolutionists now want to leave the origin of life out of the debate. Many propagandists claim that evolution does not include this, although the theories of abiogenesis are usually called ‘chemical evolution’. See Origin of Life for an explanation of the many profound problems for any conceivable evolutionary scenario.
Note: Claiming fulfilled predictions as proof of a hypothesis is known as the fallacy of affirming the consequent. However, if a prediction is falsified, it amounts to formal disproof of the proposition, so evolution has been formally disproved with multiple failed predictions.
Falsified but not abandoned
So, why do evolutionists persist with their spurious theory? For many it’s because they have never heard anything else. For avowed materialists it’s the ‘only game in town’—the only materialistic story available to explain how everything came to be; the materialist’s creation myth. It’s a bit like the proverbial ostrich putting its head in the sand, thinking that all that exists is what it can see under the sand. The ostrich’s worldview excludes everything that it does not find convenient. In the darkness of the sand, all unacceptable facts cease to exist.
The persistence of evolutionary thinking in the face of so much contradictory evidence indicates that the philosophical presupposition of materialism (atheism) is being permitted to trump the facts. The paradigm has priority, no matter what the evidence, because the secularist ‘cannot allow a divine foot in the door.’ For a summary of the failed arguments for evolution, see Arguments evolutionists should not use.
Light in the darkness!
Jesus Christ came as ‘the light of the world’ (John 8:12), when the Second Person of the Trinity took on human nature (see The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?). He came to shed the light of God in dark places. The greatest darkness is to live without God; to live as if you are a cosmic accident, just ‘rearranged pond scum’, as one evolutionist put it. Sadly, many are being duped into thinking that way, and we are seeing the horrendous consequences in escalating youth suicide, drug problems, family break-up, violence, etc. How much we need the light of Jesus to shine! God will hold each one of us accountable—all of us deserve His condemnation. But the Bible says that He has provided a way of escape through Jesus Christ for all that turn to God, humbly admitting our need of forgiveness. See Here’s the Good News.
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- Causality: the principle that all effects or events are caused by something preceding it that is sufficient to explain the effect or event. This is a basic principle of rationality. Return to text.
- Induction: that conclusions drawn from limited observations are applicable to the universe at large. Return to text.
- Lewontin, R., Billions and billions of demons, The New York Review, January 9, 1997, p. 31. Return to text.
- Gould, S.J., Natural History 103(2):14, 1994. Return to text.
- One might object that looking through a telescope to view a star that is a thousand light-years away involves observing the past, because you are observing the star as it was a thousand years ago. However, the observations are of the light rays entering the telescope at that moment. What those observations might tell you about that star 1,000 years ago are inferences, however reasonable. And it is not possible to do an experiment, which requires repeated observations of causes and their effects. As an example of how astronomical observations are subject to interpretation driven by presuppositions, see Clear picture—blurry story? Return to text.
- See Sarfati, J., Why does science work at all? Creation 31(3):12–14, 2009. These presuppositions are not controversial because everyone involved in experimental science tacitly accepts them as true. Return to text.
- Kerkut, G., Implications of Evolution, Pergamon, Oxford, UK, p. 157, 1960. Return to text.