YOUR Curmudgeon once again brings you the view from Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of creationist wisdom. They have a mind-numbing new article at their website: Science or the Bible? We’ll give you some excerpts, with bold added by us.
The Bible’s account of beginnings cannot be tested in a laboratory, so secular scientists — and even some Christians — believe it is not science and must be classified as religion.
Secular scientists claim that their view of beginnings (evolution) can be tested in a laboratory, so their view is scientific. For instance, they point to mutated fruit flies or speciation observed in the field (such as new species of mosquitoes or fish).
But this is where many people are confused — what is meant by “science” or “scientific.”
No one claims that “beginnings” — or rather, historical science like evolution — can be tested in a lab, except in limited ways. There are other methods, which we’ll discuss later. But with that flawed statement as AIG’s introduction, the issue is presented. Let’s read on:
Before we get caught up in a debate about whether the Bible or evolution is scientific, we have learned to ask, “Could you please define what you mean by science?” The answer usually reveals where the real problem lies.
The AIG method of defining science — as you may have guessed — avoids the way that term is used by scientists. For example, this simple yet serviceable definition comes from the National Academy of Sciences, which we found here:
Science: The use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.
AIG, however, prefers to consult a dictionary:
[M]ost dictionaries give the following meaning of the word: “the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.”
Although there are other uses of the word, the root meaning of science is basically “knowledge.” In fact, in the past, philosophy and theology were considered sciences, and theology was even called the “queen of the sciences.”
That “definition” — which equates science with “knowledge” — is so broad that it’s useless. That, of course, is exactly the reason AIG is using it. With that meaningless definition as a guide, the AIG article continues:
But over the past 200 years, during the so-called Scientific Revolution, the word science has come to mean a method of knowing, a way of discovering truth. Moreover, many people assume that modern science is the only way to discover truth.
Did you like their “so-called Scientific Revolution”? Anyway, they grudgingly acknowledge that something has been happening to affect the meaning of science in recent years. However, they introduce a glaring ambiguity — that modern science is about discovering “truth.”
We don’t want to imitate Pontius Pilate, but what’s truth? The word has a number of meanings. There is spiritual truth, which is one kind of thing; and then there is the truth of statements that are verifiable by observations of the objective world. For example, on 22 July 2009, there will be a total solar eclipse that starts in India, runs through China, and then continues into the Pacific. That’s the truth, but there’s nothing spiritual about it. What kind of “truth” is AIG talking about? Or do they just want to toss the word around to mislead their readers? Here’s more:
To help people clear up the confusion, we have found it helpful to distinguish between two types of modern science, and compare how each one seeks to discover truth:
Oh goody — they’re going to be helpful. Let’s see how they do that:
1. Operation science uses the so-called “scientific method” to attempt to discover truth, performing observable, repeatable experiments in a controlled environment to find patterns of recurring behavior in the present physical universe. For example, we can test gravity, study the spread of disease, or observe speciation in the lab or in the wild. Both creationists and evolutionists use this kind of science, which has given rise to computers, space shuttles, and cures for diseases.
Yes, the “so-called” scientific method. Hey, why do they invent the expression “operation science”? There are well-established terms for what they’re struggling with. More on that later. Let’s go on with AIG’s attempt to be helpful:
2. Origin science attempts to discover truth by examining reliable eyewitness testimony (if available); and circumstantial evidence, such as pottery, fossils, and canyons. Because the past cannot be observed directly, assumptions greatly affect how these scientists interpret what they see.
What they’re getting at is the well-known fact that some sciences are known as “historical sciences” because they study past events. There are many historical sciences, such as cosmology, geology, climatology, plate tectonics, anthropology, paleontology, and of course evolution. This is in contrast to the “experimental sciences” like chemistry, that can be mostly conducted with lab experiments. The key to understanding this is that although historical events can’t be re-created in the lab, historical sciences are indeed scientific, because they’re based on verifiable observations and they produce theories are testable. You’ll see; but you have to stay with us.
Moving along, we come to a concrete application of AIG’s clumsy definitions:
So, for example, how was the Grand Canyon formed? Was it formed gradually over long periods of time by a little bit of water, or was it formed rapidly by a lot of water? The first interpretation is based on secular assumptions of slow change over millions of years, while the second interpretation is based on biblical assumptions about rapid change during Noah’s Flood.
See? It’s “secular assumptions” and “biblical assumptions.” One set of assumptions is just as good as another, right? Now they come to the point:
Molecules-to-man evolution is a belief about the past. It assumes, without observing it, that natural processes and lots of time are sufficient to explain the origin and diversification of life.
Molecules-to-man evolution is not proven by operation science; instead, it is a belief about the past based on antibiblical assumptions.
The Bible, in contrast, is the eyewitness testimony of the Creator, who tells us what happened to produce the earth, the different kinds of life, the fossils, the rock layers, and indeed the whole universe. The Bible gives us the true, “big picture” starting assumptions for origin science.
That’s the general idea. It’s what happens if one shamelessly (and “helpfully”) tries to control the dialogue by adopting such a vague definition of “science” that it refers only to undifferentiated “knowledge” and a quest for undefined “truth,” which — with respect to past events that can’t be recreated in the laboratory — must be based entirely on secular (i.e., trashy) assumptions.
There’s much more to the AIG article. Read it all if you like. It’s not worth much, because their predictable conclusion is built right into their ridiculous definitions. Still, this is worth refuting. How shall we do that?
Our problem is this: How do we explain to an open-minded creationist (if such exists) that the scientific approach to learning about the past has actual scientific value — the results of which are far more “true” (i.e., objectively verifiable) than some account that rests upon mere assumptions?
Aside from wandering through what will probably be a fruitless discussion of the relative merits of natural versus supernatural explanations, there is yet another method of explaining the merit of a scientific explanation of the past — cross-confirmation by independent lines of evidence.
Consider the theory of evolution: Originally, Darwin had only his observations of living organisms and a few fossils. Later the science of genetics became known, and it’s entirely consistent with evolution. Finally we have the discovery of DNA, and what’s been learned as a result is strikingly consistent with evolution. It’s highly unlikely that several independent lines of evidence would all converge to support one theory if that theory weren’t an accurate description of reality.
Or consider the theory of continental drift — originally based only on the shape of the continents, but later confirmed by the discovery of undersea evidence of seafloor spreading like the mid-Atlantic ridge. And finally there are extremely precise satellite measurements that confirm the motion of continents. Further, there are similar plant and animal fossils that are found at the same geological level along once-connected continental shores, indicating that those continents at one time were an unbroken habitat.
It’s the same with geology and cosmology. This post is already too long, but you can easily learn that those historical sciences have also been confirmed and strengthened by discoveries from independent lines of evidence.
Now let’s put it all together in one grand package: Consider the discovery of Tiktaalik, the fossil of a transitional species midway between finned fish and four-footed land animals. It wasn’t an accidental discovery. It was found by predicting that such a transition occurred approximately 363 million years ago, before which, according to the fossil record, there were no four-legged vertebrates living on land. Relying on geology, an appropriately aged and conveniently exposed rock stratum was located in the Canadian Arctic that had once been an ancient shoreline. That’s where the search commenced.
Are you following this? Testing a prediction based on both evolution and geology, the scientists searched for the fossil of a transitional creature that — according to the theory of evolution — must have once existed in a place and time like the one geologists said they were searching. After five years of effort their search was spectacularly successful — simultaneously confirming the validity of both geology and evolution theory. That’s why historical science is scientific, even if it doesn’t happen in a laboratory.
So there’s a bit more to historical science than just conjuring up a fanciful tale based on one’s worldview. Does AIG know this? Maybe, but maybe not. It doesn’t matter. Whether they’re intentionally misleading their followers, or whether they’re totally ignorant, the result is the same.
Finally, as a reward for having plowed through this post, if you want to see the AIG methodology in its fullest application, check out: The Scientific Case Against Craterism.
Update: See The Lessons of Tiktaalik.
Update: See Answers in Genesis Explains Science to Us.
Update: See ICR Says Scientists Don’t Understand Science.
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