Defining science might not be as easy as initially thought. Anything with centuries long history, one that involves the intricacies and complexities of religion, philosophy, and other bodies of human belief, is seldom easy to capture in just a handful of paragraphs. But thankfully, science, as it is seen today, has a number of distinct characteristics that separates it from other disciplines and other means of acquiring knowledge about the universe. What are some of these distinguishable traits?
Firstly, science seeks to explain things. Why, for example, if I throw a ball across an open field will it arch in a parabola, as opposed to a circle or a square, and then fall back to the ground? Why doesn’t the ball just keep flying away into the sky? No doubt Newton’s law of universal gravitation will help answer that question. This is why we do science in the first place. We do it because it helps build knowledge and understanding about how the natural world works, and learning such things has had a good track record of elevating our quality of life, increasing our knowledge, and assisting and benefiting us human beings in so many ways. Science, secondly, emphasizes predictability. The laws of nature allow for us to predict what will happen under certain conditions. Our apprehension of the law of gravity, for example, allows for us to predict that if one throws a ball up in the sky it will no doubt fall back down. Third, and just as important, is that of testability. A scientific claim allows itself to be analyzed against the real world, and invites scientists to examine a hypothesis to see whether or not it can be supported or falsified by the data of actual experience. Testability can thus lead to one of two conclusions: confirmation or refutation. It might lead to confirmation given that empirical evidence supports a hypothesis or, if a hypothesis lacks empirical support, then possibly refutation. A scientific claim must also be falsifiable. It must be open to refutation perhaps by facts supporting another hypothesis that can better explain phenomena. Take Kepler’s Laws that describe the motion of the planets; these are laws that are foundational to much of modern astronomy and physics. Kepler’s Law of Orbits, for instance, says that all planets move in elliptical orbits with the sun at one of the two foci. Well, if scientists discovered planets orbiting in squares then Kepler’s Law of Orbits would be considered false, hence scrapped.
No scientific theory is ever “proven” in any absolute sense simply because science continues to seek after new evidence. What we might consider a compelling theory today might be overturned or revised tomorrow. This is not to say that science and scientific theory are somehow unreliable, because many theories are accepted on the basis of compelling evidence, as well as because of the fact that further scientific investigation continues to support them (Big Bang theory, for example). A good scientist must therefore always be ready and open to rejecting his or her theories should they fail to account for new or reconsidered evidence. Thus, generally speaking, science hopes to understand the history of the universe and how the natural world works, with observable physical evidence being the basis from which we can learn about the world.
The question then is, how might one understand creation-science given this definition and understanding of science? We will return to this question shortly after we’ve defined what creation-science is.
One proponent of the view, Duane Gish, encapsulates the general idea of what creation-science is promoting, “By creation we mean the bringing into being by a supernatural Creator of the basic kinds of plants and animals by the process of sudden, or fiat, creation…We do not know how God created, what processes He used, for God used processes which are not now operating anywhere in the natural universe. This is why we refer to divine creation as Special Creation. We cannot discover by scientific investigation anything about the creative processes used by God” (1).
Creation-science is often based on literal interpretations and inerrantist presuppositions of the narratives of particular religious texts, specifically the Genesis text of the Bible (2). Proponents argue that the Earth is just a few thousand years old (roughly 6 000 to 10 000 years), that Adam and Eve are the progenitors of the entire human race, and that there really was a global flood that encompassed the entire Earth as presented in the story of Genesis 6. Naturally, such a proponent will oppose evolutionary theory as well as any scientific evidence suggesting that there never was a global flood and that the Earth is at least four billion years old. According to Loren Haarsma, a physicist at the theistic think tank Biologos, “Some Christians, often called ‘Young Earth creationists,’ reject evolution in order to maintain a semi-literal interpretation of certain biblical passages. Other Christians, called ‘progressive creationists,’ accept the scientific evidence for some evolution over a long history of the earth, but also insist that God must have performed some miracles during that history to create new life-forms. Intelligent design, as it is promoted in North America is a form of progressive creation. Still other Christians, called ‘theistic evolutionists’ or ‘evolutionary creationists,’ assert that the scientific theory of evolution and the religious beliefs of Christianity can both be true” (3).
In fact, proponents will try to argue that the evidence in the world supports both a young Earth an a universal flood; this was a view argued for by the Canadian Seventh Day Adventist and amateur geologist George McCready Price (1870-1963) in his books The New Geology (1923) and Illogical Geology (1906) which proved to be convincing to Christians who lacked any training in geology. It wasn’t be long afterwards that Henry Morris (1918-2006) and John Whitcomb revised and updated his 1923 work The New Geology. Morris and Whitcomb soon released their own book The Genesis Flood in 1961. The duo argued that, on the basis of their interpretation of the Bible, the Earth was 6000 years old, that the fall of man transformed nature by initiating the operation of the second law of thermodynamics, and that Noah’s flood was the correct explanation for most of the geological evidence and fossilization that scientists observe today. However, the movement didn’t stop there as since the 1960s three major Young Earth Creationist (YEC) organizations have accumulated quite a bit of influence. These notably being The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) (founded in 1972 by Henry Morris and now run by his son John), a larger international organization Answers in Genesis (founded by the Australian Ken Ham) and Creation Ministries International (founded in Australia in 2006). The evidence that YEC scientists have offered for their Young-Earth views have received little scientific response from mainstream scientists. This is because, on scientific grounds, their claims are unanimously seen to be both absurd and problematic. Likewise the overwhelming consensus of professional biblical scholars view a YEC biblical interpretation as profoundly anachronistic as well as an unwarranted reading of the opening chapters of Genesis. This latter fact is not only consistent with my own views of biblical exegesis, but is also the one shared by just about all the biblical scholars, Christians and non-alike, who I’ve engaged in Old and New Testament Studies. We will examine a theological and scriptural response to YEC in greater detail elsewhere. But beyond these few organisations, how accepted are such views by the general public?
Critics will take pleasure in the fact that adherence to creation-science among the general public has dropped quite significantly. In America, where creation-science has generally had a notable presence, only 38% of Americans believed God created life some time in the past 10 000 years; the lowest figure in 35 years (4). Only 22% of Canadians and 17% of Britons believe similarly (5). Nonetheless, despite it diminishing, creation-scientists will try to argue that creation-science is legitimate science and therefore must be taught in public classrooms. Critics, however, observe that what is masqueraded as “science” (creation-science) it is actually a form of religion, specially one constructed upon “dogmatic biblical literalism” (6).
Responses to Creation-Science.
Contemporary scientific consensus opposes the views proposed by creation-scientists. It is no secret that the backlash against creation-science has been significant from both Christian and non-Christian spheres (7) (8). The National Science Teachers Association, for example, in no indirect way opposes teaching creationism as science (9). Other prominent scientific organizations such as the American Anthropological Association, Association for Science Teacher Education, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the Geological Society of America, the American Geosciences Institute, the American Geophysical Union, among numerous other professional teaching and scientific societies, have opposed scientific creationism and view it as a pseudoscience. According to the American Academy of Religion, creation-science should not be taught in science classes given that is “represent[s] worldviews that fall outside of the realm of science that is defined as (and limited to) a method of inquiry based on gathering observable and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning” (10).
One of the obvious critiques commonly leveled against creation-science is that is denies an overwhelming amount of empirical evidence and scientific consensus. As the Royal Society states, “a belief that all species on Earth have always existed in their present form is not consistent with the wealth of evidence for evolution, such as the fossil record. Similarly, a belief that the Earth was formed in 4004 BC is not consistent with the evidence from geology, astronomy and physics that the solar system, including Earth, formed about 4600 million years ago.” This includes creation-science’s conflicting with the dating methods of geology, astronomy, cosmology, and paleontology. Significant difficulties sustaining a young Earth view is compounded by the age of the earliest pottery discovered, the age of ice cores, the oldest known trees, and the layers of silt deposit in Lake Suigetsu; all of which point to a far older Earth than creation-scientists have argued for. Some creation-scientists, aware of the evidence for an older Earth, have argued that the Earth was created with the appearance of age. One could entertain that speculation theologically (we shall do so elsewhere), however, scientifically it is problematic because it renders the hypothesis unfalsifiable. On such a claim no evidence could ever possibly be discovered or produced that could falsify the claim that God created the Earth with an appearance of age; the creation-scientist could always dismiss any evidence to the contrary stating that God just made it that way.
Another scientific criticism leveled against creation-science is that many of his beliefs involve supernatural forces that lie outside of nature (they depend on supernatural intervention) and, as a result, do not allow for predictions. Thus, many of the claims and beliefs that creation-scientists hold can neither be confirmed nor disproved by scientists. According to the National Academy of Science, “In science, explanations must be based on naturally occurring phenomena. Natural causes are, in principle, reproducible and therefore can be checked independently by others. If explanations are based on purported forces that are outside of nature, scientists have no way of either confirming or disproving those explanations” (11)… “they begin with an explanation that they are unwilling to alter—that supernatural forces have shaped biological or Earth systems—rejecting the basic requirements of science that hypotheses must be restricted to testable natural explanations. Their beliefs cannot be tested, modified, or rejected by scientific means and thus cannot be a part of the processes of science” (12).
Creation-science thus fails, at least on this level, to makes its case in favour of it being considered a viable science. This not only goes for creation-science, but also other untestable and unfalsifiable explanations of the world derived from myths, as well as personal, philosophical, and religious beliefs. This is not to say that any of those beliefs are false, but rather they cannot be said to be scientific beliefs.
Creation-science also fails the criteria of testability, confirmation, and falsifiability. A scientific theory puts itself in the firing line, so to speak, through opening itself up to being falsified on the basis of new information and facts. Creation-science doesn’t do this; rather, advocates of creation-science seem to be at work constantly protecting their views against threat, hence why they’ve been ostensibly criticized for promoting and inventing ad hoc hypotheses to save their assumptions (13).
Further, perhaps more of a critique in terms of dishonesty and integrity than a pure scientific one, is the creation-scientist’s often blatant misquoting of authorities. According to philosopher of science Michael Ruse, this is best seen in how creation-scientists have engaged evolutionary theory literature, “Almost invariably, the creationists work exclusively with discoveries and claims of evolutionists, twitching their claims to their own ends… When new counter-empirical evidence is discovered, creation scientists appear to pull back, refusing to allow their position to be falsified” (14). One creationist, Gary Parker, misquotes Richard Lewontin, and gives the impression that Lewontin actually viewed the human hand and eye as evidence for God’s design (15); an odd claim given that Lewotin was known for his materialistic disposition as he once penned that “materialism [in science] is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door” (16). Instead, Lewontin merely penned that such was rather a belief held by people prior to Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution.
I wish to end off by observing a few important points. Firstly, as opposed to what many advocates of scientific-creationism will argue, mainstream scientists do not reject it because scientists don’t believe in God, or because they are anti-God/Christianity/the Bible, or whatever other reason creation-scientists can come up with, but rather because it doesn’t offer testable, falsifiable hypotheses. In fact, though the specifics most certainly vary, more than half of American scientists believe in God, or some form of higher power, and find that science needn’t conflict with such belief and, in other cases, that science supports belief in God.
Secondly, this is not to suggest that proper science doesn’t have its place in a theist’s beliefs, or that it cannot be used in support of those beliefs. It surely can. Several theological arguments (the kalam cosmological argument and the teleological argument, for example) make use of scientific evidence to support premises that have obvious theological significance.
Finally, it is also worth noting that just because creationism, whether that be scientific-creationism or other forms of creationism (evolutionary/progressive creationism, Old Earth creationism, creationism in other religions etc.), isn’t science, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true; rather, it just means that it isn’t science. Hence why it shouldn’t be taught in science classes and, if alleged to be science by advocates of creation-scientists, ought to be deemed pseudoscience.
1. Gish, D. 1979. Evolution? The Fossils Say No! p. 40.
2. National Academy of Sciences. 2008. Science, Evolution, and Creationism.
3. Haarsma, L. 2010. God, Evolution, and Design. p. 168.
4. Swift, A. 2017. In US, Belief in Creationist View of Humans at New Low. Available.
5. The Huffington Post. 2012. Believe In Evolution: Canadians More Likely Than Americans To Endorse Evolution. Available.
6. Ruse, M. 1982. Creation-Science is Not Science. p. 38.
7. Aron, R. 2016. Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism. p. 182.
8. Bates, S. 2006. “Archbishop: stop teaching creationism.” Available.
9. NSTA. Ibid.
10. Branch, G. 2010. American Academy of Religion on teaching creationism. Available.
11. National Academy of Sciences. 2008. Ibid. p. 10,
12. NAS. 2008. Ibid. p. 43.
13. Ruse, M. 1982. Ibid. p. 43.
14. Ruse, M. 1982. Ibid. p. 43-44.
15. Parker, G.. 1980. “Creation, Selection, and Variation,” in Acts & Facts. p. 144.
16. Lewontin, R. 1997. Billions and Billions of Demons. Available.