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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Editor's Note:
It seems that March, not April, is the cruelest month. For the second year in a row, the Post of the Month contest for March brought a slew of excellent candidates, each deserving to win in its own way. Once again, I have decided to put up several, rather than just one. In this case, all the posts from this month viewable below share a common theme.
--PotM Coordinator

Real Science

Post of the Month: March 2003

by John Wilkins

Subject:    Real Science versus BOGUS SCIENCE
Date:       March 18, 2003
view entire thread

J McCoy <> discussed how creationism and other bogus sciences operate, quite accurately for the main part:

> 1. Emphasis is in getting published in approved journals. This limits
> approval to a very small group of people.

Real science: competition for publication in prestigious journals based on how good the work is.

> 2. No diversity in thought allowed. No competition or accountability.

Real science: anything goes so long as the data supports it. The more "unorthodox" the conclusion, the more stringent the testing, but if you get past, there's a very big payoff up to and including a Nobel.

> 3. Only one philosophy allowed, such as theory of evolution.

Real science: established theories are taken for granted unless there is evidence to the contrary or a real anomaly. The onus is on the dissenter, as it should be, to establish the contrary position.

> 4. Claim is made to the "majority" who believe supposedly the same
> way.

Real science: no claims about what the majority thinks are made - scientists will make up their own mind, and often do. Contrary bunch, really...

> 5. Repeated mistakes made over assumed theory. (Hence age of the
> galaxy was 1.5 billions of years old, 3.5 billions of years old, and
> on and on. Or, a pig's tooth is cited as a man's ancestor, then
> corrected but same theory retained inspite of reproof. )

Real science: as new data come in, or measurements are refined with new techniques, estimates of things like age, or constants, etc., are revised. Theories are sometimes revised if the data require it.

> 6. Inspired hoaxes to get people to believe in theory.

Real science: hoaxes are considered to taint the work of the hoaxers, and uncovered hoaxes ruin careers of scientists. There was a case of this in physics a short while back. Similar things have tainted paleontology (an Indian guy who was planting fossils has had all his work discredited even if it was plausibly correct) and archaeology (a similar case has happened in archeology with a Japanese fraudster planting materielle). Anyone who coauthored with a known fraudster is suspect and their own work considered tainted.

> 7. Cannot be shown in laboratory to work.

Real science: if a phenomenon should be able to be shown to work in a lab setting, then if it cannot be it is discredited. Some things that cannot occur in a lab, because they take too long to happen, or require more individual samples than can be included in a lab setting, are inferred from lab and field data.

> 8. Opponents of said bogus scientific theory are called
> "flat-earthers" when this is known to be false. Defenders of the bogus
> scientific theory start personally attacking opponents, rather than
> dealing strictly with the evidence.

Real science: namecalling only occurs when a science is split down the middle on some methodological question, in my observation. Scientists, though, are human, and sometimes behave badly. If all scientists namecall, though, that's a pretty good indication that the work they are insulting is worthless as science. An example is the way Mengele is treated by medical researchers. They rightly dismiss him as a fascist lunatic.

> 9. Defenders of bogus scientific theory resort to sarcasm and laugh at
> opponents, hence revealing their intellectual backruptcy.

Real science: defenders of a proper scientific theory sometimes resort to sarcasm and laugh at opponents, when their opponents are laughable or ridiculous. This is because science is done by people who express themselves in human ways when confronted by idiocy.

> 10. Defenders promote heavily blanketed text that say how something
> could happen, but can't defend the idea in a laboratory. (I.e. "Read
> this text on how abiogenesis could happen. Sorry, we can't do it in a
> lab.)

Real science: speculation is indulged in when an interesting topic is not amenable to present day experimental work. It's called theoretical science (e.g., theoretical biology), and, like the maths on which it relies, it sometimes pays off with good research programs. However, simulations and mathematical modelling of phenomena is an integral part of science and has been since the beginning. Often it incorporates recent experimental work to change the assumptions of the model. When such models are well-supported by data, then they become good hypotheses, and eventually graduate to accepted theory. This is how science develops over time, even when people who are not scientists want simpler answers or certainty found, it is claimed, only in religious revelations.

> 11. Defenders attack their opponents as being quote-miners, rather
> than presenting entire text. Defenders will continually drag on the
> arguments trying to force you to provide the entire text, thus proving
> that they do not know context in the first place, and are making
> statements out of the top of their head. These are mere assertions.

Real science: treating source material with care and honesty is part of the basics of academic behaviour; if you don't quote people correctly, you are probably not going to handle data honestly either. Anyway, this is people's reputations you are playing with, if you misquote them.

> 12. Defenders never acknowledge when their opponents are correct. And
> never apologize.

Real science: published errata in the journal where you previously published when a mistake is pointed out to you. Check out any journal for examples.

> 13. If opponent correctly is found to have cited quote accurately, the
> person who made the quote is discredited.

Real science: admit when your opponent has made a valid point.

> 14. Letters are written to person who is quoted with an attempt to
> gain an admission that the quote was taken out of context. The letter
> may read something like, "there are creationists using your words to
> promote their theory and debunk evolution. Did you really say that? I
> bet they are wrong." This unscientific letter writing is used to
> coerce the response intended. The letter is never revealed to the
> public and you only get to read the denial. Please, print the letter,
> stupid.

Real science: ask the author when in doubt. If you are wrong and the opponent is right, then you admit it. If the author says that the quote misrepresents their statement, then it does unless you can find solid evidence. Real Science is all about evidence.

> 15. Defenders of Bogus Science start condemning scientists with
> accepted degrees as having snuck into the system.

Real science: if a person has passed through peer review, then their work is science; you may not like it, but if they can walk the walk, then they are part of the wonderful human enterprise known as science.

For examples of real science, one has only to read the pages of a science journal, like, oh, I don't know, Science? Nature? Evolution? PNAS? where you will find all these features demonstrated. For examples of bogus science, try Ex Nihilo or the ICR newsletter...

John Wilkins
B'dies, Brutius

[Return to the 2003 Posts of the Month]

The Epistemology of Natural Science

Post of the Month Runner-Up: March 2003

by Steven J.

Subject:    Re: Dr. James Boice and the evidence from Noah's flood
Date:       March 1, 2003
view entire thread (Marcus B. O'Dell) wrote in message news:<>...
> gen2rev <> wrote in message news:<>...
> > "Marcus B. O'Dell" wrote:
> > >
> > > Lenny, the short answer is that they will never give you an answer
> > > with regard to Intelligent Design which is verifiable scientifically,
> > >
> > > My current understanding of this topic is roughly this:
> > >
> > > Current natural science is based on an epistemology of science which
> > > leaves no room for God, a god, or any gods.
> >
> > This isn't true.
> Why not? Please explain why to me. I've been wrong before and will
> be wrong in the future, but knowing where I went wrong is more of an
> aid to me than just saying "This isn't true." Thank you.

The epistemology used in current science assumes that:
[a] there exists an objectively real universe that we perceive,
[b] that it operates according to discoverable regularities,
[c] that omphalism and similar "supernatural" deceits do not exist,
[d] that effects consistent with known causes are properly attributed to those causes,
[e] that effects inconsistent with known causes are probably the result of unknown causes acting regularly according to their own nature.

All this assumes that God does not act deceptively in nature, using miracles that exactly mimic the effects of natural causes, or causing our senses to grossly and anomalously confuse us, or using miracles to hide the effects of other miracles. Creationism's problem, in most formulations, is that it refuses to rule out the possibility that God operates in such a deceptive manner.

This leaves two possible roles for God in nature. On the one hand, God could intervene in the regular course of nature according to some discoverable pattern based on His Own intentions, producing miracles that leave discoverable, distinctive empirical effects. God would, in this case, be studiable as a regular but rarely-acting cause, along the lines of many natural causes. Conversely, God could be accepted on faith as the One acting behind the laws of nature, setting them in motion and somehow working His will through them in a manner which is too subtle for humans to discover (and therefore, by definition, outside the class of regularities of nature with which science deals).

> > > Natural science is based
> > > on the idea that a nonpositioned observer
> >
> > What is a "nonpositioned" observer?
> Nonpositioned in this context means from without (as opposed to
> within) any particular frame of reference. A nonpositioned observer
> is outside from and neutral to (with regard to position) from the
> object he (or she) is manipulating and studying.

The trouble is, all observers must necessarily be within some particular frame of reference. And experimenters and observers can never be entirely outside of and neutral to the objects they are manipulating and studying (obviously, this is more of a problem with regard to, say, subatomic particles or research animals than, say, distant galaxies). Dealing with the necessary "positioning" of observers has been a recurrent theme of science, and the philosophy of science, in the last century.

> > > can manipulate and measure a
> > > given phenomenon to understand that phenomenon's properties.
> > >
> > > A science based on Intelliegent Design would definitely not be based
> > > on an epistemology of science that excludes God;
> >
> > Why not? What about extraterrestrial designers?
> Good point, but then the question becomes, who designed the
> extraterrestrial designers? You eventually come full circle back to
> the same point.

It seems to me that one could acquire evidence for extraterrestrial designers without having any clue as to who, or what, designed them. Just as one can study evolution without studying abiogenesis (or, for that matter, study the American Civil War without studying the English Civil War), one could infer the actions of designers, or a Designer, without being able to infer the origins of such a designer. It might not be fully satisfying, but it could be done.

> > > it could not because
> > > by not explicitly articulating the place of God in its body of
> > > knowledge that science implicitly denies it.
> >
> > How have you come to this conclusion?
> An epistemology of Natural Science that explicitly attempts to
> articulate Everything with the Noticeable Exception of God seems to me
> to implicitly deny it. I will not say that they may not have
> succumbed to a major fallacy here but some one needs to say so and
> explain their point if I did.

An epistemology of natural science that explicitly attempts to articulate everything that proceeds according to humanly discoverable regularities of nature might seem not to explicitly deny God. Even Robert O. Wilson, who, I think, does explicitly deny God, notes that some aspects of the universe might be beyond the purview of science simply because our minds are not capable of understanding them. The epistemology of natural science does not demand that everything that exists be studiable by science; it merely demands that things that seem to be understandable by science not be tricks or illusions played on us by Something or Someone beyond human understanding.

> > > A science that would
> > > support Intelligent Design might be based on an epistemology of a
> > > science based on God or might even begin with an ontology of God's
> > > being.
> >
> > What about ETs?
> Again, who created the ETs? Or did they create themselves?

Perhaps they evolved without intelligent interference, and then began to interfere with evolution on other worlds. Perhaps they are necessarily existent beings who have always existed. Not knowing where they came from does not prevent us from inferring their existence, if there is evidence of that existence.

> > > Based on my understanding of the epistemology of the natural sciences,
> > > it is impossible to articulate a theory of Intelligent Design in
> > > natural scientific manner. You have every right to doubt those who
> > > try. The natural sciences are simply incompatible with God.
> >
> > What?!?!
> Yes, you read right. Please articulate a counter-argument or post a
> link to one if you feel my analysis is in error. I learn new things
> each and every day. I hold open the possibility that I may be wrong.

It seems to me, at least, that a theory of intelligent design that was willing to posit something testable about the motives, methods, and design philosophy of the Designer would be as "natural" and compatible with natural science as any other sort of theory about life. It ought to offer some sort of testable predictions different from those of common descent by nonteleological mechanisms, but I would not think that an actual theory of intelligent design would be that hard. It seems to me that the principal problem facing the ID advocates is not that intelligent design is incompatible with naturalism (after all, as ID proponents themselves point out, natural science routinely accepts intelligent design as a probable explanation of stone tools found by paleontologists and archaeologists), but the ID proponents' fear of proposing a falsifiable theory, and having it falsified.

-- Steven J.

[Return to the 2003 Posts of the Month]

Evolution and Moral Choices

Post of the Month Honorable Mention: March 2003

by Kyle Christopher Maxwell

Subject:    A few thoughts on being a Christian who believes in evolution
Date:       March 21, 2003
view entire thread

A few days ago I was asked, in email, to explain what bearing my belief in evolution has on my moral choices. I just wrote a letter back to the person who asked that question of me, and I thought my answer might be of interest to the group. Forgive the relative lack of organization of these thoughts: I wrote this all in just one draft.


Accepting the veracity of the theory of evolution has virtually no bearing on my moral choices, one way or the other. The only reason I use any qualifier is because my life, like all lives, is a tangled skein --that is, every element does influence other elements in at least a tiny way -- but evolutionary theory has no disproportionate impact.

I believe in God. I believe God created the universe and earth and humankind through the agency of natural law; God acts almost solely through the agency of natural law. Natural selection and genetics are the mechanisms God has used to bring us to our current state of being, in other words. In revelations to humankind in earlier ages, the Lord used languages, necessarily, that persons of that age were capable of understanding, and thus did not go into detail as to the mechanism of biology, physics, geology, chemistry, and astronomy -- and, in fact, doing so would have detracted from the purpose of God's revelation, which was to guide us spiritually and morally.

Let me give you an analogy. The Old Testament is a product of the Bronze Age cultures of the Middle East. These cultures believed that the Earth was surrounded by a glass-like dome, the firmament, outside of which was an endless expanse of water; the stars were thought akin to lamps on the inside slope of this some, and there were windows which could be opened to allow water to fall in the form of rain. The Bible reflects this belief in several places; in the story of the Flood, for instance, and in Psalms, there are references to the windows of Heaven. (Forgive me for being unspecific; I haven't my Bible at hand and very shortly must begin my day's work, so I shan't look up the reference right now.) Today, of course, we have through the study of the science of meteorology learned much about the mechanisms of weather; we understand how variations in atmospheric temperature, humidity, and pressure combine to create different weather systems. We do not, however, assert that the lack of literal truth to Old Testament descriptions of the weather mean that the Bible is untrue; we merely believe that these assertions were metaphoric and poetic and reflected the understanding of the persons who wrote them down however many thousand years ago.

Of course, any thought construct can be perverted. It's true that some persons have used evolutionary theory to justify racism, for instance, claiming that persons of my race were less evolved than Europeans and thus could be abused or enslaved without moral consequence. (This belief is not actually SUPPORTED by evolution or taxonomy, as all human races are members of the same subspecies and racial differences are only superficial.) Remember, though, that people misuse the Bible in similar ways. There are white racists who claim that persons of African descent are descended from Noah's son Ham, who was cursed for seeing his father's nakedness, and thus are meant to be servants to Europeans; are they not misusing God's revelation to justify their own wickedness?

In sum, Don, the theory of evolution is merely an account of the mechanisms God has used to create us. It can no more be a guide to our moral choices than Newton's laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics, or Boyle's law. Bear in mind, by the way, that scientific laws (of which evolution is one) are descriptive, not prescriptive or normative. That means that scientific laws describe what DOES happen in the universe; they do not tell you what moral choices to make. Many persons make a mistake here by confusing the different meanings of the word law. For example, they'll think that the law of gravity "punishes" a person for stepping off a cliff. That is not so. The law of gravity describes how an object moves in a gravitational field. The choice of how and where you place yourself in such a field is up to you.

I hope this helps.

Yours in Christ,
Kyle Christopher Maxwell.
Maxie Maxwell.

"In the middle of the journey of my life,
I found myself in a dark wood
Where the straight way was lost.
Oh, it is hard to speak of what I saw there,
Which even in recall renews my fear."

Dante Alighieri

[Return to the 2003 Posts of the Month]

Worldviews in Collision

Post of the Month Honorable Mention: March 2003

by Chris Ho-Stuart

Subject:    Re: Update:  Our very own Lenny Flank --Stuart, Lenny
Date:       March 15, 2003
view entire thread

\(BigDiscusser\) <> wrote:
> Stuart--I do think modern science has overstepped its bounds and "gone
> off the rails".

I think you mean me. I'm Chris Ho-Stuart.

Yes, I am sure you think that. You are also completely unable to give any reasonable basis for this opinion. The criticisms from so-called scientific creationists of mainstream science, are unmitigated pseuodoscientific codswallop... a grotesque parody of human thought.

I say that based on years of careful examination of those criticisms, on a case by case basis, on their own intrinsic merits. This is not a matter of philosophical presumptions; it is purely and simply that the work is grossly incompetent.

> Lenny, a science teacher could present sciences view of
> evolution--and then always state that there are many people who do not
> accept this science version because that version limits itself by the
> constrictions of the scientific method.

In America in particular (not so much in the rest of the world, thankfully) there is a strong view being pushed that showing how natural processes are the cause of some phenomenon is the same as showing that God is not involved.

There are basically two kinds of people who push this idea of a conflict between science and religion; on the one hand strictly materialistic atheists; on the other hand so-called scientific creationists.

I think it would be good -- but politically difficult -- if students received some background to this philosophical debate.

It would be fair to say that there are many people who reject the findings of science because they prefer a naive religious perspective of extreme literalism, which was already naive in the middle ages; and that they will never allow any empirical evidence of study of the world to moderate or inform their faith.

> And that the scientific
> presentation is only part of the story--there are other ways to look at
> our creation.

A science class should focus on the scientific way of looking at the world. Full stop.

But it might be appropriate to note in a science class that there are other ways to look the world than by scientific empirical methodology; and that many scientists do also hold, in parallel, faith based views. Not as alternatives, but as a distinct aspect of a comprehensive world view which is held in parallel to simple empirical facts studied by science.

That is... many mainstream scientists are Christians, and acknowledge God as the creator and sustainer of all the natural world; and that God underlies all things, and that all things work together according to his purposes -- a view held by faith and not by any empirical argument.

In studying evolution, and geology, and astronomy, and cosmology, such scientists use exactly the same methodology and models as anyone else; the only difference is that a Christian considers that they are using the tools of science to examine God's creation.

On the other hand, there are Christians who see the workings of the natural world as DIFFERENT from God's actions. They actually regard scientific models of evolution and geology as being atheistic, because they see God's action as an alternative to natural processes.

Creationists DO NOT acknowledge different parallel ways to look at the world; they have a bizarre blinkered vision in which it is not possible to simultaneously accept God as creator of world, and the same time to see his hand in the natural processes of that world.

It would be worth pointing out that the natural processes studied in science, of how a fully formed adult human arises by physical processes and transformations from a single cell (the zygote) over a couple of decades, make no mention of God either; and yet most Christians accept God as their individual creator.

It would be worth mentioning that there is no credible empirical model from the scientific creationists to explain the empirical data.

In this context, it would ALSO be appropriate to note that there are other views as well, not part of the Christian religion, in which all the world is seen as having a unity and harmony, and that full human potential corresponds to achieving a kind of deep abiding appreciation of that unity... nirvana, or enlightenment, in many eastern traditions.

One of the great religious thinkers in the modern world is the Dalai Lama, and it would certainly be appropriate to see his often wise perspective on interaction of science and religious faith. Here is an extract from

More than any other religious leader, he inspires medical research into the physiology of meditation and prayer. He bluntly tells Buddhists that when science argues with their traditional doctrines, trust science: "Buddha himself said, 'My follower should not accept my teaching out of respect but rather by investigation and personal experience.'" That's rather close to the scientific sort of approach." His talks with medical and brain researchers encourage him in his hopeful view as to the human capacity for compassion, regardless of religion.

American Christians in particular can learn a lot from this.

> And that Creationism is one of them that has another view
> which encompasses love, emotions , conscience feelings, thoughts etc.--a
> non-material view of life via religion and the Bible. God bless,

That would be arrant nonsense.

Scientific creationism is a sterile program relating to simple matters like the age of the Earth etc., and rejecting the plain and unambiguous evidence.

It has NOTHING to do with encompassing love, and emotions, etc. THAT is a distinct matter entirely, and there is nothing in mainstream science to invalidate love, or conscience, or feelings, or any of the things which make us uniquely human.

It would be a gross disservice to science, and to religion, to suggest that only creationists have a view that encompasses love, and emotions, and conscience, and feelings, and God.

But it is not the job of a science class to address that fallacy; the church, in my view, are the ones who should be tackling this heresy full on. If they do not, they will continue to lose members, who are being taught by creationists that the findings of science conflict with their faith. Many young Christians drop their faith when they learn just how solid the scientific evidence happens to be.

I do not see that as a big problem -- but the church SHOULD see it as a problem, and would be well advised to do a lot more to address it.

Cheers -- Chris

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