Today’s wondrous article comes from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) — the fountainhead of young-earth creationist wisdom. It’s titled San Angelo Biologist Suggests Children Don’t Need All Views of Science, in which ICR expounds upon one of the principal pillars of creation science.
It’s the bifurcation of science into artificial categories they call “operational” science and “historical” (origins) science. According to creationists, only the former is reliable science. When it comes to past events, science is worthless compared to scripture. We’ve seen this line from other young-earth creationists — especially Answers in Genesis. See, for example, this post from two years ago: Creationism and Science, and we touched on it again here: Answers in Genesis Explains Science to Us.
Okay, let’s find out what the creation scientists at ICR have to say. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
Dr. Terry C. Maxwell, professor of biology at Angelo State University, objected to the fact that ICR trains parents to teach their children the creation view and to teach them the failure of evolution — specifically, the failure of evolution to supply eyewitness testimony to support its assertions. Maxwell claimed that “actual science disagrees” with this view.
Maxwell’s objection is a letter-to-the-editor appearing in a newspaper that doesn’t like bloggers to copy anything, so you’ll have to read it for yourself: Evolution is a fact . Let’s read on to see how ICR responds:
However, rather than supply eyewitness testimony supporting his own evolutionary views, Maxwell cited circumstantial evidence from a variety of scientific disciplines. Had Maxwell actually attended some of ICR’s talks (I personally gave four of them), he would have known that ambiguous circumstantial evidence is no substitute for eyewitness testimony in a forensic question like the origin of the universe and of life.
Aaaargh!! They want eyewitness testimony for evolution! We continue:
In one of my talks, I made a clear distinction between operational science — the type of science that involves the scientific method and which has led to numerous discoveries on which our lives and health depend — and historical science, for which the scientific method does not apply since no one can travel back in time and observe the past. When trying to answer historical questions, science always provides weak and ambiguous evidence; reliable eyewitness testimony (such as that found in the Bible) is critical to filling this knowledge gap.
That’s the same distinction made by AIG, about which we’ve previously written. It seems that creation science depends upon it. But as everyone knows from innumerable examples in the criminal justice system, eyewitness evidence is often the least reliable evidence in a trial when compared to circumstantial evidence — which includes fingerprints, DNA, and other physical clues.
Eyewitnesses often tell conflicting versions of what they claim to have seen. Their perceptions may be imperfect, or perhaps they’re lying (witnesses have been known to do that). But even when the prosecutor has no eyewitnesses, and when the defendant’s girlfriend testifies that he was with her all night when the crime occurred, circumstantial evidence can be quite sufficient to convince a jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Eyewitnesses are sometimes mistaken, but fingerprints don’t lie. No eyewitness are necessary when there is circumstantial evidence like the defendant’s fingerprints at the scene, a bullet from his gun in the victim’s head, the victim’s blood on the defendant’s clothing, his wallet in the defendant’s pocket, and muddy footprints at the scene of the crime match the defendant’s muddy shoes.
As it is in crime detection, so it is in learning about the distant past. It’s true 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.
But the distinction between the historical and experimental sciences is merely procedural. Some phenomena — like supernovae, undersea volcanoes, and ancient ice ages — don’t readily lend themselves to lab work. The key to understanding this is that although historical events can’t be re-created in the lab, the historical sciences are indeed scientific, because they’re based on verifiable observations and their theories are testable.
Our favorite example is The Lessons of Tiktaalik. That fossil is a transitional species midway between aquatic vertebrates (finned fish) and four-limbed vertebrates living on land. It was found by predicting from the theory of evolution that such a transition occurred, and by further predicting from the extensive fossil record that the fish-to-land transition was approximately 360 million years ago, before which there is nothing in the fossil record showing any 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 was conducted, and where Tiktaalik was found — exactly when and where it was predicted to have lived — simultaneously confirming the validity of evolution theory, the fossil record, and geology. That’s why historical science is scientific, even if the past can’t be re-created in a laboratory.
Here’s the conclusion of ICR’s article:
Sadly, Maxwell’s letter illustrates the profound misunderstanding of science that still pervades the academic community. Teaching creation will not “marginalize” students, as Maxwell claims; rather, it will train them to be better scientists.
What do we learn from this? We learn that the creationists’ attempt to discredit our knowledge of the past because we lack eyewitnesses, although ignorant, stupid, and wrong, is actually somewhat clever. It’s an argument they’ll never lose, in the sense that their eyewitness — God — is unique. He was there, he doesn’t lie, his memory is perfect, and they have what they claim is an infallible record of his testimony. In order for another eyewitness to contradict him, that witness will need a time machine, which doesn’t exist. So creationists have the best of all possible witnesses, and there are no others. They think they win.
However, creationists don’t have the actual testimony of their eyewitness. What they’ve got is hearsay — the ancient writings of mere men who claim to have recorded God’s testimony. Although God doesn’t lie, preachers sometimes do, and prophets have been known to be wrong — sometimes spectacularly so. Further, the scribes who produced scripture were imperfect men, sometimes with motives of their own, and therefore their transcribed and translated accounts of God’s word can never be free of doubt.
When verifiable physical evidence contradicts the hearsay that creationists offer as eyewitness testimony, we say: That’s nice, but it’s inadmissible. Let’s hear it from the witness himself. We’ll believe him. Until then, we’ll go with the scientific evidence. Case closed!
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