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:

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