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What distinguishes origins and operational science?

Origins vs operational science

We often speak of a distinction between origins and operational science. What distinguishes them? Does God see it any differently from us? CMI’s discusses these questions in today’s feedback:

J.C. from the United States writes:

Question: From the point of view of our biblical Creator and rightful Judge, what is the essential distinction between operational science (dealing with experiment and observation in the present—Science that puts a man on the moon) and origins science (purporting to explain origins and all things "prehistoric", notably the evolution of all things?)

CMI’s Lita Sanders responds:

Dear Jeffrey,

As we explain in several of the items in our Science Q&A, the distinction between origins and operational science is that the latter deals with things that are repeatable and observable. If I tell you that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius, well, you can test that for yourself as many times as you like. All of operational science is like this in principle, even if it gets a lot more complex than that.

Origins science takes what we can find out through operational science and tries to apply that to the past to explain what we see in the present. Criminal forensic science (popularized unrealistically by many popular TV series) for instance, tries to use the evidence to reconstruct a crime to figure out what happened, and who committed the crime. To a much larger degree, origins science tries to take what we know about biology, chemistry, and geology today, and extrapolate back to try to find out things about the earth’s past. (see CSI and CMI and CSI and evolution).

Origins science is trying to answer historical questions: how did we get here, what happened in the past to give us what we have today? And origins science is not completely invalid; our own creationist geologists and cosmologists, for example, engage in a sort of origins science, for instance when Michael Oard hypothesizes that certain conditions during the Flood led to the dinosaur eggs, tracks, and bonebeds that we see today (see The extinction of the dinosaurs and Dinosaur Challenges and Mysteries). The difference between evolutionary origins science and creationist origins science is that creationists realize the historical nature of the questions, and therefore turn to a historical text—i.e. Scripture—to inform them about what sort of big historical events may have caused what we see today (see Biblical history and the role of science). There is still debate among creationist scientists, for instance, about things like plate tectonics or about what stage of the Flood certain strata represent, but for us, the Bible gives us a historical ‘scaffold’ on which to hang our ideas (see Flood models and biblical realism).

It would be common for evolutionists to say that this dependence on the Bible to give us our historical framework for doing operational science biases us in a way that’s unacceptable for true scientists. But the evolutionary scientists have their own ‘scaffolding’ on which they hang their ideas. For instance, there are many different ideas about the relationships between various groups of animals and how they are related to each other, but all of them assume millions of years of evolution. Not even findings like DNA in a dinosaur leg bone, or the numerous living fossils , or the evidence that the genetic codes of multi-celled organisms are accumulating errors at an alarming rate which dooms them all (including us, except Jesus has promised to return first) to extinction—none of these findings make them question their ‘scaffold’; they can even absorb these into their ‘scaffold’.

So in other words, operational science is the stuff that requires lab coats and goggles; when you run an experiment and collect data. Origins science is when you try to apply those results to explain what happened in the past to explain what we see in the world today. And surprisingly to some, origins science is not limited to godless evolutionists; it’s something that creationists can do, informed by the historical record of Scripture, to the glory of our God and Creator.

Does God recognize this distinction between operations and origins science? In one sense, all truth is God’s truth, so there’s no distinction at the level of correspondence with reality between historical truth and scientific truth. Nevertheless, even God recognizes the difference between natural regularity (which operations science investigates) and history (which origins science investigates). God testifies about certain unrepeatable events in the past (e.g. Exodus 20:2, 11). Neither can we know God apart from historical revelation—His acts in history (including his authorship of the Bible) accurately reflect His eternal and unchangeable nature sufficiently for us to know Him. Moreover, God can’t judge us without appealing to history—all our relevant acts will be past events from the perspective of Judgment Day. But neither can we act as we do apart from God sustaining the universe in a way amenable to operations science investigation (e.g. Genesis 8:22, Colossians 1:17). Both science and history are investigations in time—they are temporal activities that operate with respect to this creation. God genuinely interacts with us, and grounds us, in time (both immediately in miracles and witness, and mediately in ordinary providence), though He in himself is not subject to time. Therefore, He comprehends and validates the conceptual distinction between history and science essentially as we’ve made it on the website even if He is not definable by them in himself.


Lita Sanders

Published: 22 September 2013

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