Science: The rules of the game
As the ‘rules’ of science are now defined, creation is forbidden as a conclusion, even if true.
‘Creationism isn’t science.’
‘They don’t understand the rules of what science is, or they deliberately ignore them.’
Comments such as these flow readily from the pens of the many critics of the modern creationist movement. Why are such comments so widely and passionately believed? I believe that the only rule creationists are ‘breaking’ is one which cannot be said to properly belong to a scientific inquiry into origins, and which effectively imposes a religious dogma upon science.
Rhonda Jones (Professor of Zoology, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia) is one who has reacted with what she calls ‘stunned indignation’ to the suggestion that science students should have evidence for creation presented to them along with evidence for evolution (Quadrant, August, 1988).
She gives two criteria which she feels are universal to all definitions of science. She insists that evolutionary theory meets both requirements, but creationism meets neither. Let’s examine these.
(1) ‘Correctibility—some acknowledgment that what we currently think can be changed by future discoveries.’
It is a common caricature of creationism to paint it as a fixed, immovable set of ideas that leaves no room for change or discussion, as opposed to ‘real’ science (read ‘evolutionary theorizing’) which is vibrantly alive with constantly changing ideas and concepts refined by new evidence. This is, of course, simply not true. There are, always have been, and presumably always will be many healthy scientific controversies among creation-oriented scientists. The speed of light decay theory is just one example that springs to mind (this is the belief that the speed of light is not constant, but has been decreasing).
It is true that there is a ‘bottom line’ in the creationist framework belief in the literal truth of Genesis. However, there is a ‘bottom line’ for evolutionary theorists too just as fixed and immovable, in my experience. It too is a belief that the world has made itself. Put another way, it is a belief that natural processes and causes must have been sufficient to build planets and people from particles.
There are indeed many controversies about the mechanism of this self-transformation. Opinions shift and scientists are often willing to correct and abandon their ideas about how evolution happened. But they are not prepared to abandon the bottom line, the belief that some sort of evolution did occur. To put it another way, the how of evolution is negotiable, but not the whether.
At the 1967 Wistar Institute Symposium, top-level evolutionary biologists and mathematicians met to mathematically test the idea of evolution by mutation/selection. When the super-computers finished crunching their numbers, it was obvious that the answer was ‘impossible’. It was reported that when someone very cautiously (maybe even rhetorically) asked whether this meant that perhaps one should look at special creation as an option, there were loud cries of ‘No!’ ‘No!’ from the floor.
(2) ‘A commitment to finding out how the world works by studying the natural world itself.’
Creationist scientists are of course equally committed to this statement, since you will notice it refers to ‘how the world works’, not how it came to be. The evolution/creation question is not about how the world works. Given that the world works in the way it does, this says nothing about whether it originated in the same way.
Nowadays we are told over and over that one of the rules of scientific investigation into the past is that it must assume that present-day processes have been the cause of building all things into their present state from very simple beginnings. To postulate a supernatural cause is simply not science, we are told.
A little parable by this author (‘A Tale of Two Fleas’, Creation 2(3)37–38, July 1979) told of two scientific fleas living in a motor-car, pondering how it came to be. One insisted that, since it was the most logical conclusion from the evidence, the car was not made by processes operating in the car. The other demanded that such religious ideas not be brought into the flea schools, because science could only deal with the sorts of processes observable and operating today. To propose a maker who could not now be seen, and a process of making that was no longer operating, was by definition unscientific in spite of the fact that it happened to be true! This flea was locking the investigation into the belief that the way the world WORKS is also the way it ORIGINATED. He believed that anything else was breaking the rules of science. Hadn’t their science developed by means of studying only the present-day, naturally occurring processes in the car? His ‘rules’, of course, meant that it became impossible for him to deduce logically the correct explanation in the case of the car. This is not just a cute story about fleas it is exactly the mindset operating today, as two recent incidents attest.
One of the handouts at a recent youth conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) dealing with the creationist issue had a lot of content on what is, and what is not, science. It claimed that even if a creationist has a string of degrees, if he functions as a creationist he is a pseudo-scientist by definition. And a major part of the argument was exactly what we have been discussing here. It was stated that even if the truth were that, say, pigs, horses and sheep had certain features in common because a Designer had used the same basic plan when He created them, no scientist worthy of the name could conclude such a thing and still be regarded as following science.
If you think about it, this is amazing indeed. It is admitting that even if creation is true, you’re not allowed to reach that conclusion, or even consider it, on the basis of logical deduction from the evidence.
I would submit that, at the most basic level, the scientific endeavour has a lot to do with a search for truth. Unless our study of ‘how the world works’ is trying to get us even closer to something that is objectively true, is trying to bring our limited understanding of the world closer to what the world is really like, what is the point of doing science at all? In the same way, when we attempt to study origins scientifically, surely we are trying to get as close as possible to the details of what really happened (keeping in mind that the scientific method cannot ultimately prove or disprove matters related to origins because they involve the unrepeatable, unobservable past).
However, the ‘rules of the game’ are now such that one conclusion is eliminated by definition before we even begin to look at the question scientifically. Nevermind that it may be true it’s disqualified before the race begins!
Tightening the Strait Jacket
The second incident helps to reinforce and expand on the above. Both are utterly typical of thought patterns today. I was talking with a lecturer in biology who had shown himself to be extremely hostile towards creationists.* He identified himself as a church member who was actively speaking against creation ministries in church circles.
His main concern was that creationists were breaking the rules of science. He insisted that the only processes it was proper to bring into a scientific discussion of origins were those we can study today. It seemed he had not considered that what he was doing was making an a priori exclusion of a possibly true explanation, based on a belief (non-provable, metaphysical, religious) that the way the world works is the way it originated. And of course, this is a starting belief-something adopted as a ‘rule’ before the evidence is considered.
In the same way, the ‘evolutionist’ flea in the motorcar had locked himself into a research framework which forced him to come up with an evolutionary (self-made) explanation, even though no observed process operating in the car was building new cars. The only thing science is allowed to do, according to these new rules, is to consider which evolutionary models are better than others.
How did such a new rule come about? Science began as a study of how the present world works, so it was necessary to exclude the supernatural or the miraculous. To scientifically study the way the present world works, it has to be assumed that the world behaves in a predictable way, so that what goes down one day will not, capriciously and unpredictably, go up the next. To the Christian, this was and is evidence of God’s working in a uniform, trustworthy and normative way through natural causes.
Not only is this not in conflict with Scripture, it is actually a consequence of a biblical world view, which is why most scholars agree that the scientific method flowered in Western post-Reformation Europe. Greek gods could have been deceitful and changed the rules. Eastern thought sees the universe as a great mind so there is no reason to think that nature may not change its mind! A God who is truth, who instituted the laws in the beginning, who created the universe and is ‘the same yesterday, today and tomorrow’ was, and is, the rational philosophical basis for assuming the uniformity of natural law at all times and in all parts of the universe.
Doesn’t belief in the miracles recorded in Scripture conflict with this scientific approach? How can we consistently function through science if we believe that dead men can rise, for example, even though repeated observation today shows they do not?
The great Bible-believing scientists of the past who were Christians generally had no problem or conflict between this and their scientific approach, for good reason. The instances of supernaturalism recorded in Scripture are those in which God chooses, for special and non-arbitrary purposes, to reverse/intervene in His laws for example raising the dead, or walking on water. Taken over the whole span of history covered by Scripture, it is clear that these are intended as special events, largely ‘one-off’ and not as the normal. It is clearly implied that the reason why the resurrection of Lazarus was such a stupendous miracle and sign was precisely because, in the normal, uniform operation of events, dead men stay dead.
So we would view the miracles of Scripture as God’s working in a non-normative fashion. We would not expect to be able to repeat or observe this at our whim. So believing scientists agree that such processes are not to be taken into consideration when studying the way the world works.
Can One-Off Miracles Occur?
However, there is no logical reason to extend this to a study of origins. Virtually all scientists would agree that there is no way science can say that non-normative ‘one-off’ events (miracles) could not occur. All they can say is that they do not appear to be happening frequently today (by definition, since a miracle is an event opposed to the predictions of uniform, natural law). How, then, can it be scientific to exclude miraculous, non-normative, original ‘one-off’ creation to set the rules so that even if it is both the correct explanation and the most logical deduction from present evidence, it is ‘banned’ a priori? The only scientific statement anyone can properly make concerning supernatural, fiat creation is that it cannot be observed to happen today. And this is a conclusion consistent with both evolutionist and biblical ideas of origins.
The confusion arises in part because of a failure to understand that the field of origins is a study trying to work out what has happened, whereas the context in which science arose was a study of how things are happening. Whether things were made originally by supernatural creation or not does not in the slightest bear upon the validity of the scientific method for a study of how the world works in the present, as a moment’s thought will show.
The scientific rules which the majority apply to origins research today thus demand adherence to a statement of belief no less rigid than that of any creationist organization. This is the belief that the world arose by non-miraculous processes. Those who prefer theism would say that it arose by a god working through process, only within the framework of natural law. Such a god inevitably becomes, in the most common thinking in theological circles today, bound by the laws of nature and essentially indistinguishable from the Hindu concept of an impersonal god-force which is, in turn, essentially indistinguishable from nature itself. This needs to be remembered when considering statements made by high-profile theistic evolutionists about God and science.
Facts or Rules
The above ‘rule’, which they insist on in their definition of science, certainly does not exclude a god. But it most definitely excludes the transcendent Creator God of the Bible, and the possibility of Genesis creation of a fully functional cosmos. Notice that it is not the facts which exclude this, but the rules.
It is clear that a religious dogma has been forced upon science, one which allows only evolutionary (naturalistic self-transformation) models to be discussed in scientific circles. Note that ‘religion’ does not necessarily include a god — it is a world-and-life view, held with ardour and faith, incorporating beliefs which cannot be directly and conclusively tested or disproved. The atheist’s conviction that there is no God obviously qualifies as a religious belief system.
Of course, for most people at some point, since origins is improvable, there is a step of faith in deciding which framework of explanation is believed to be true. Looking at the way in which each of the two basic possibilities fits the evidence of the present world seems to be not at all unreasonable in assisting in that faith decision.
To see scientists state openly that creation may not be considered, even if true, is a sad indictment on the departure of science from its intuitively perceived mandate as a search for truth and reality. It makes nonsense of the widely held belief that science is philosophically ‘neutral’ in such matters. It also seems a powerful confirmation of the Bible’s statements that unregenerate men do not like to retain God in their knowledge, and prefer to worship the created things rather than the Creator.
- * By way of an interesting aside, I asked this biologist whether he believed in life after death. The purpose was not to put him on the spot. I presumed he would say ‘yes’, and my intent was to ask him on the basis of which Scripture passage, and how did he know that this particular verse was not one of the errors he clearly believed the Bible to contain, and so on. His answer: ‘I believe I have eternal life’.
Something in the way his answer was given prompted me to ask specifically whether he believed that in a real way, the conscious individual he now was would still be in existence after his mortal body had rotted away. His answer: ‘I’m not sure about that’. How utterly sad. Yet how can it be otherwise once the logical foundations of Christianity are destroyed by evolutionary theology?
It is also a good illustration of the son of ecclesiastical ‘doublespeak’ that Francis Schaeffer tried to warn the Church about. If only the average Christian knew how many of the influential people in many denominations are going around using ‘God-words’, such as ‘salvation’, ‘resurrection’ and ‘eternal life’ but with a completely different meaning to them. These tend to be the same people who seem to be the most violently threatened by creation ministries.