Creationism Is Not Science

 Creationism vs ScienceMy previous post was a parody of religion and its malign influence on humanity. In particular, I was pointing out the way that superstition in the form of religion stops progress, and also the fact that it is only science that has enabled humanity to leave the caves and have the potential, at least, to live long and healthy lives in comfort and safety.

It can hardly be denied that religion has caused untold misery through the ages, and even now, thousands are being killed and maimed in the name of religion. But not only are people being murdered by the thousands, vaccination workers in Pakistan are being targeted and killed. Millions of lives have been saved through one of science’s greatest triumphs, and yet the ignorance and anti science of religion is managing to kill even more people by killing the very people who could have saved their lives.

All of that is bad enough, of course, but even in the western democracies there is a pernicious wave of anti science trying to worm its way into educational institutions – creationism. This is dangerous and has to be stopped. No one is trying to to prevent the religious from pursuing their beliefs in their places of worship or in the privacy of their homes, but there is no place in a science class for something that is not only not science, but is overtly the enemy of science.

I wrote the previous post after looking through some of the comments left on earlier threads. One of my creationist commenters said:

1) You believe that Creationism is unscientific.
2) Creationists believe that Creationism is scientific.
3) Both of these opinions are based upon different interpretations of the evidence and data. Both sides believe the other side is wrong.

Currently, Evolutionists hold the reins steering the direction of scientific teaching in our places of learning, It was not always so, and there may come a time when it will not be again.

There are few things I claim with certainty, but one thing is certain beyond any shadow of doubt: creationism is unscientific. Let me deal with the above points:

Point 1: The problem with creationism is that it works in completely the opposite way that science works. The thing that marks creationism as unscientific – even outright anti science – is the fact that it starts with the conclusion it wants to prove. Consider the fact that there are thousands of religions, each with its own creation story: each one has a different conclusion for which evidence has to be found. It’s easy to find evidence that supports a belief, but is the evidence falsifiable? If not, it is not science.

Point 2: Yes, creationists believe that creationism is scientific; in this post I will show why they are wrong.

Point 3: “Both of these opinions are based upon different interpretations of the evidence and data.” Except for one simple fact: creationists do not discover any evidence or data; real evidence and data are found by real scientists, and creationists can only attack the scientific evidence. They produce nothing original themselves. In any case, if evidence is open to wildly different interpretations, then you need better evidence.

The last point (not numbered) is either an expression of ignorance or an aspiration to overthrow science. It also sounds vaguely threatening.

One thing that can be said about creationism is that its proponents are profoundly ignorant about science. It is not what they think it is. In the simplest way I can think of stating it, science is a three stage process: observation; formulation of a hypothesis; testing the hypothesis. (It’s more involved than that, of course, but as an outline it covers the basics.)

Science begins when a phenomenon is observed. Whether it is something mundane or something totally unexpected, a curious person wants to know what is going on. Next, a possible explanation (the hypothesis) for the phenomenon is formulated – an explanation that is at least plausible. Then the hypothesis is tested to see if it does, in fact, explain the observation.

But here is the unexpected thing (which creationists cannot seem to grasp): the hypothesis is not tested to try to confirm the hypothesis, it is tested to try to disprove the hypothesis. In other words, a scientist tries to prove that the hypothesis he (or she) thinks is true is actually false (that’s called the null hypothesis). If it is false, then the scientist goes back to the original observation and formulates a new hypothesis to be tested. But even if the hypothesis is confirmed, it is held only tentatively – more testing needs to be done.

 

The principle of falsifiability in science is crucial. If a hypothesis is false, then there must be a way to prove it. This is not the same as trying to prove a universal negative. It is not possible, for example, to prove that psychics aren’t real. Even if a psychic fails a properly conducted test, all it tells you is that that person failed that test on that day at that time, but hey, they might get it right another time. No, falsifiability means that the parameters of any hypothesis should include a way to tell if the hypothesis is wrong. Although some people claim that evolutionary theory is unfalsifiable, for example, all it would take to falsify it would be (as someone famously said) to find a rabbit fossil in the precambrian. And there are many other possible ways to falsify evolutionary theory if it happened to be wrong.

Here’s the crunch – creationism does not provide much in the way of testable hypotheses. Ask a creationist how to test the hypothesis that his or her particular deity created the world and what do you get? Apologetics – in other words, a list of excuses to try to say why any particular creationist belief is not testable (but they still claim that creationism is scientific).

Here’s an example: Young Earth Creationists (YECs) insist that the Earth is no more than six thousand years old. Now that’s a hypothesis that can be tested.
Carbon 14 is a radioactive isotope that is abundant in nature and absorbed by all living things. When a plant or creature dies, it no longer replenishes that C14, which then decays at a known rate. By measuring the amount of C14 in an organic sample, the age of that sample can be calculated. The technique can measure age up to about fifty five thousand years, after which there is not enough C14 left to be measured. The technique has been tried and tested and is reliable.

If any material is dated that is older that six thousand years, then the hypothesis that the Earth is no more than that age is falsified. And that is what happens routinely (not even counting other types of radiometric dating that can go back billions of years).

Can the creationists accept these scientific findings? No, of course they can’t. God must have created the world with the “appearance” of age. Or perhaps Satan planted those fossils in the ground to beguile godless scientists. Even the speed of light must have changed in the last few thousand years just to make it look as though the young universe itself is old. All said with a straight face and no evidence whatsoever. If creationism really were scientific, then those YECs would accept that the Young Earth hypothesis had been falsified. But it isn’t, and they don’t.

It gets no better with any other aspect of religion. Hindus, for example, believe that there are an infinite number of universes – past, present and future, each lasting for trillions of years until they are all reborn. The latest measurements from science reveal that our universe is about 13.82 billion years old, but there is no way to test (falsify) the Hindu hypothesis (more accurately, faith), so the claim is not scientific (whether it is true or not).

Should creationism be given equal time in science classes? It’s easy to see one major problem: add together the number of creation stories from the thousands of religions that exist, then divide the number of hours dedicated to science in schools by the number of creation stories there are, and you would be lucky to have more than just a few seconds per week when science can be taught. And it goes without saying that each religion will have strong objections to anyone else’s religion being taught.

And that is what would happen – science classes would be replaced by religion, and the in-fighting in schools between those religions would just mirror the upheavals that have dogged mankind for thousands of years. No more scientific progress, just religious warfare but on a classroom level.

Creationism is not scientific, nor is it compatible with science. If religions ever did apply science and, more to the point, accepted scientific findings, then religion would just die out. Planets follow their orbits according to well established laws of physics, and there is no need to suppose they are being pushed by angels. Earthquakes happen because of tectonic movement, not because of some god’s wrath to visit punishment on wicked people. In short, the laws of nature follow regular and predictable patterns; gods are an unnecessary hypothesis.

I’ll mention one more thing: creationists point to the fact that many scientists, past and present, were/are religious, as if that proves that science and religion are compatible. The simple fact is this: scientists do not get their scientific results from prayer, even if they do have religious beliefs. Even if Isaac Newton was a devout believer in a divine creator, he saw himself as merely describing what he believed his god had put in place. (He did, apparently, believe that his god inspired him, but the bottom line is that he still had to do his own working out.)

That, in fact, is very important to keep in mind. Science is an endeavour that describes nature rather than trying to explain it. Newton described the laws of nature from his observations and calculations. But the supernatural as an explanation is something that cannot be tested scientifically. Newton and many other scientists may well have believed (and many still do)  that a god or gods are the ultimate explanation for everything that exists, but however religious a scientist might be, he or she can only describe the facts of what is going on out there, they cannot prove or disprove the existence of a deity that might or might not be behind it all.

My correspondent said:

Currently, Evolutionists hold the reins steering the direction of scientific teaching in our places of learning, It was not always so, and there may come a time when it will not be again.

But it’s not going to be much of a science exam where the answer to every question is, “God did it.”

That would be the end of science and a return to the dark ages.

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