Science or “Science”?

Two weeks ago I met a Young Earth Creationist.

He seemed a nice enough fellow. A pilot. Obviously smart. We had a pleasant conversation about several Evolutionary Biology topics.

We met at a meeting of the Atheist Society of Knoxville. It is a somewhat open meeting, so anyone can attend, but many of my friends treated him, well, poorly.

My personal history from faith to atheism would never have happened if kind atheists had not helped me find honest, kind answers. I hoped to at least be kind with him.

He pointed me to an article on which he felt could be a starting point for a meaningful discussion. It is here:

I am going through it with my thoughts, maybe a couple references, so I can discuss intelligently if I meet him again at the meeting tonight. This is, of course, by design. (That was a clever Darwinist pun.)

Here goes…

On what is science (this is kind of a baseline thing one must agree on if we are to discuss, well, “science”.)

From the article:

they [anti-creationists] will cite a list of criteria that define a ‘good scientific theory’. A common criterion is that the bulk of modern day practising scientists must accept it as valid science.

Hmmm…well, no. That’s not a well understood definition. A “good scientific theory” is a  well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation.

It seems as if this article is saying a theory is simply something we all agree on. “Well tested” means it has been repeatedly observed or confirmed through experiment or in the natural world. That’s more than a “majority vote,” that is a variety of scientists doing the work of prediction (more on that in a minute), experimentation and observation.

The beginning of this article makes me wonder a little if the writer understands the difference between “hypothesis” and “theory” in the scientific sense.

In the vernacular, “theory” means very little. “I have a theory the housekeeper stole your jewelry.” But in scientific terms, that would be referred to as a “hypothesis.” If it were tested (like by checking the home video monitor) and found to be true, then it would become a theory.

Again, from the article:

Another criterion defining science is the ability of a theory to make predictions that can be tested.

According to Live Science (and many, many other places) here is the definition/description of the scientific method:

The steps of the scientific method go something like this:

  1. Make an observation or observations.
  2. Ask questions about the observations and gather information.
  3. Form a hypothesis — a tentative description of what’s been observed, and make predictions based on that hypothesis.
  4. Test the hypothesis and predictions in an experiment that can be reproduced.
  5. Analyze the data and draw conclusions; accept or reject the hypothesis or modify the hypothesis if necessary.
  6. Reproduce the experiment until there are no discrepancies between observations and theory. “Replication of methods and results is my favorite step in the scientific method,” Moshe Pritsker, a former post-doctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School and CEO of JoVE, told Live Science. “The reproducibility of published experiments is the foundation of science. No reproducibility – no science.”

Some key underpinnings to the scientific method:

  • The hypothesis must be testable and falsifiable, according to North Carolina State University. Falsifiable means that there must be a possible negative answer to the hypothesis.
  • Research must involve deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is the process of using true premises to reach a logical true conclusion while inductive reasoning takes the opposite approach.
  • An experiment should include a dependent variable (which does not change) and an independent variable (which does change).
  • An experiment should include an experimental group and a control group. The control group is what the experimental group is compared against.

The sentence from the Creation article seems to indicate and understanding of this method: A theory should be able to make predictions and those predictions should be able to be replicated and/or falsified.

But the Creation article goes on to say:

they [anti-creationists] question the value of the creationist model in making predictions.

Creation is, by definition, magic. It says “why does the eye work the way it does?” and answers with “God made it that way.” How can that be tested or falsified? I’m having a hard time seeing it. The article then goes on to correctly state the point I just made:

Since, they say, creation fails their definition of ‘science’, it is therefore ‘religion’, and (by implication) it can simply be ignored.

Creationism has no real bearing on science.

But then the article goes on to ask “What is Science?”

Many attempts to define ‘science’ are circular. The point that a theory must be acceptable to contemporary scientists to be acceptable, basically defines science as ‘what scientists do’! In fact, under this definition, economic theories would be acceptable scientific theories, if ‘contemporary scientists’ accepted them as such.

This is a straw man argument. The article is using an uninformed and untrue statement, attributing it to “scientists” then refuting it.

The Scientific Method is as defined above. It pretty obviously doesn’t fit this straw man. It is not about consensus, it is about replication.

Their next argument is also specious:

In many cases, these so-called definitions of science are blatantly self-serving and contradictory. A number of evolutionary propagandists have claimed that creation is not scientific because it is supposedly untestable. But in the same paragraph they claim, ‘scientists have carefully examined the claims of creation science, and found that ideas such as the young Earth and global Flood are incompatible with the evidence.’ But obviously creation cannot have been examined (tested) and found to be false if it’s ‘untestable’!

This may be a little confusing, so let me see if I can break down how the author of this article came to this erroneous conclusion.

In some cases, creationists make claims something happened or “is the way it is” because God made it that way. Those claims are, obviously, untestable by the scientific method.

But in some cases (as we will see in a moment in the article) they want to claim a certain effect we see in nature (like the Grand Canyon) as formed through natural means but much more quickly than current scientific theory states. Those claims – claims natural process created a certain effect, ARE testable.

By lumping both together here in one paragraph, the author creates another straw man.

Wow, I am getting bored with this already…I think I’ll revisit this at another point.

If you want to read more about creationism and specifically Young Earth Creationism from REAL scientists, go here:

You can register for the forum and actually ask questions and get answers.



9 Comments on “Science or “Science”?”

  1. drshellking says:

    You know, I met with a friend of mine who has poor science literacy. After over an hour of discussion on a variety of discussion of non-issues, all revolving around the core subject of science it wound up being frustrating for both of us because we were not speaking the same language, and not for lack of trying. I tried defining terms in a lexicon that I really believed that she would understand, only to find that she was resistant and found fault with the definitions. I could not understand what it was that she was asking me about, really, really. I wound up starting with history of art and science being controlled by the church (which was a place where we could agree) and left it at that. It was a small victory after all of that effort, but what else could I ask for?
    I feel your angst on this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fictionalkevin says:

      That’s one of the things I’ve considered in talking with him. We only had a brief chance to talk tonight, but I can see this being a huge issue.

      He has my email and phone number now so we’ll see if he wants to talk. I don’t really care if he does or not, but if he wants someone who has no faith to be kind to him, I can probably do that.


  2. Everyone has faith, sometimes it’s in a deity, others or yourself. We should be kind to everyone, until they give us a reason not to be. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I respect your efforts to engage in debate and dialogue with this creationist, and your research to be prepared for the possible next round in the conversation. I’m also impressed that Knoxville has an atheist gathering! Who’d a thunk…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, in truth, the gathering is more of a baby sacrifice, but we try to not be to vocal about it. Fundamentalists hate it when we eat Baby Back-ribs.

      I actually decided this morning not to try to discuss this article with him, but instead to focus on hearing his thoughts on one specific claim about evolution/intelligent design and talk about the specific primary scientific literature related to whatever claim he chooses rather than simply using non-primary sources to discuss semantics. Seems more fruitful. We’ll see.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Shhh…I won’t tell about you crazy, immoral, baby sacrifice loving, atheists. I like your new approach as well…just be you, be kind, listen and thereby maybe expand his perspectives.

        Liked by 1 person

      • As I thought about it – and watched him talk with others last night – it became obvious he was (unintentionally) moving the goal posts with a shotgun approach.

        Trying to talk about evolution as a whole through attacking tiny parts of the theory but focusing on semantics, quoting non-primary “op-ed” sources.

        All of that is just wasted breath and, well, boring.

        Liked by 1 person

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