ICR Says Scientists Don’t Understand Science

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!

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “ICR Says Scientists Don’t Understand Science

  1. I’d also mention that law provides a poor model for science.

    A trial has features which would not be acceptable in science. Some kinds of evidence are excluded in a trial, such as evidence which is illegally obtained; and some kinds of evidence are accepted, such as about the persons involved. A trial must come to a final conclusion after a restricted amount of time – it is not allowed to say, “we don’t know”, and once a case is decided, we can’t go back and do it over again. There are two, and only two, sides to a legal case. The advocates for the two sides are advocates. Etc. etc. etc.

    This is not to say something bad about the law, but to observe that the goals of the law are different from the goals of science.

  2. You owe me a new irony meter. This broke mine!

  3. TomS says: “I’d also mention that law provides a poor model for science. ”

    But that’s the model the creationists have chosen, because they can’t prevail in terms of science, and they claim their “eyewitness evidence” is superior to everything else. Unfortunately for the creationists, even by trial rules, they’ve got nothing.

  4. So Curmy, if you ever decide to commit a crime, here’s how you get away with it:
    1. Limit eyewitnesses.
    2. Demand an all-creationist jury.
    3. Use the Ken Ham defense strategy – “Were You Theeeeere?
    4. Point out that DNA analysis, fingerprints, gas chromatography results and spectroscopy readings are just “historical” artifacts.
    5. Retire to your newly-purchased private Caribbean island for a life of comfort, fruity tropical drinks, and scads of scantily-clad eye candy.

    Bon Voyage!

  5. Let’s hear it from the witness himself. We’ll believe him…

    How would you swear Him in?

  6. Good plan, Cheryl Shepherd-Adams. I’ll get right on it.

  7. If you have a strong stomach, I recommend going the AiG website, where you can download some PowerPoint presentations done by the clowns at ICR.

    The presentations are so horrifically stupid that one doesn’t know whether to laugh, upchuck, or cry. Maybe all three.

  8. Supernovae are a great example of how stupid this creationist distinction is. When you peer through a telescope and observe, in real time, the spectra and actions of an exploding star, you are simultaneously doing both operational and historical science. What you are seeing happened in the past.

    You don’t even have to quibble about age of the earth to make this point. Some YECer insists the universe is 6k years old? Okay, it’s still the case that you’re seeing something that happened thousands of years ago. And if you can do “operational” science on one type of event that happened thousands of years ago…

  9. Funny that creationists–Christian and Muslim ones anyway–are so selective on eyewitness evidence. If they were honest they would become Hindus.

    This miracle was witnessed by tens of thousands of Hindus all over the globe in 1995.


    Watch it on youtube here.

  10. The ICR builds their case on the premise that they have a perfect witness, yet they can neither produce their witness nor even provide evidence that he exists. Even if they did, he would have a hard time convincing people that he created the earth 6,000 years ago – the contrary evidence is overwhelming.

    I would argue that if god exists, he must have appeared on the scene about 6,000 years ago and decided to take credit for what had already happened, but messed up the story about how it came to be. He must have left some time shortly afterwards, since he’s evidently no longer around. Maybe he was concerned that science would one day be invented and humans would catch on to him.

    That’s at least as plausible as anything ICR makes up.

  11. Just wonder . . . where did these brilliant folks study their philosophy of science? Do they even know what the philosophy of science is?

  12. Terry C. Maxwell

    Thanks for the informed comments. My hope is that ICR has influence only on true believers of creationism since they don’t have a clue what science is.

  13. I didn’t read the ICR article or any of the other references, but did ICR mention the DI? Surely they must think that the DI doesn’t “understand” science either, given how DI folk (Discoveroids) either reject ICR’s (& AiG’s) radical young-Earth “theory” or “play dumb” about it. The DI also does not want to teach “creation,” but only pseudoscientific arguments “designed” to promote unresonable doubt of evolution (which indirectly promotes YEC and OEC anyway). Surely ICR must find that just as appalling as they find the audacity to teach only that which has earned the right to be taught as science.

    C’mon people, you know that refuting them just feeds their “martyr” complex, and gives them more facts to misrepresent. Hit them where it really hurts – in the big tent.