Creationism and Creation Science
Creationism and Creation Science
The belief in the account of the creation of the universe as presented in Genesis. Some creationists consider the theory of creation described in Genesis to be a scientific account and the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution to be false.1 These creationists refer to their belief as creation science.
Advocates of creation science have campaigned to have the biblical version of creation taught as a science in U.S. public schools along with the theory of evolution, which they dispute. The state of Arkansas passed a law requiring the teaching of creationism in public schools. In 1981, the law was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge who declared creationism to be religious in nature. A similar Louisiana law was overturned in 1982.
In their defense, creationists have asserted such things as evolution is not a fact, it is just a theory. Some scientists, such as Carl Sagan, on the other hand, have asserted that evolution is a fact, not a theory. Stephen Jay Gould claims that evolution is both a fact and a theory. That evolution has occurred is a fact; the mechanism by which it occurred is theoretical. Darwin, notes Gould, "continually emphasized the difference between his two great accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory--natural selection--to explain the mechanism of evolution." Darwin's proposed theory initiated a very fruitful debate. Creationists, mistaking the uncertain in science for the unscientific, see the debate among evolutionists as a sign of weakness. Scientists, on the other hand, see uncertainty as simply an inevitable element of scientific knowledge. They regard debates on fundamental theoretical issues as healthy and stimulating. Science, says Gould, is "most fun when it plays with interesting ideas, examines their implications, and recognizes that old information may be explained in surprisingly new ways." Thus, through all the debate over evolutionary mechanisms no biologist has been led to doubt that evolution has occurred. "We are debating how it happened," says Gould.2
One sign that an idea is not scientific is the claim that the idea is absolutely certain and irrefutable. An idea which is absolutely certain cannot be empirically tested. Claims of infallibility and the demand for absolute certainty characterize not science but pseudoscience. The idea of creationism is a good example of a non-scientific theory because it cannot be falsified. "I can envision observations and experiments that would disprove any evolutionary theory I know," writes Gould, "but I cannot imagine what potential data could lead creationists to abandon their beliefs. Unbeatable systems are dogma, not science." What makes so-called "scientific creationism" pseudoscience is that it attempts to pass itself off as science even though it shares nothing in common with scientific theorizing. Creationism will remain forever unchanged as a theory. It will engender no debate among scientists about fundamental mechanisms of the universe. It generates no empirical predictions which can test the theory. It is taken to be irrefutable. No evidence will ever be accepted which would falsify it.
The history of science, however, clearly shows that scientific theories do not remain forever unchanged. The history of science is not the history of one absolute truth being built upon other absolute truths. Rather, it is the history of theorizing, testing, arguing, refining, rejecting, replacing, more theorizing, more testing, etc. It is the history of theories working well for a time, anomalies occurring (i.e., new facts being discovered which don't fit with established theories), and new theories being proposed and eventually replacing the old ones partially or completely.
Of course, it is possible for scientists to act unscientifically, to be dogmatic and dishonest. But the fact that one finds an occasional oddball or charlatan in the history of science (or a person of integrity and genius among pseudoscientists) does not imply that there really is no difference between science and pseudoscience. Because of the public and empirical nature of scientific debate, the charlatans will be found out, errors will be corrected and the honest pursuit of the truth is likely to prevail in the end. This will not be the case with pseudosciences, where there is often no method of detecting errors much less of correcting them.
Some theories are so broad or vague that they predict just about anything. They can't be refuted, even in principle. Everything is consistent with them, even apparent contradictions and contraries! Other theories allow definite predictions to be made from them; they can, in principle, be refuted. They can be tested by experience and observation. A religious cosmology, such as that offered in Genesis and accepted as a literal account of the origin of the universe by fundamentalist Jews and Christians, is of the former type of theory. The Big Bang Theory and the Steady State Theory are examples of the latter type of theory. The religious cosmology we call `non-scientific' or `metaphysical'; the Big Bang and the Steady State theories we call `scientific.' Metaphysical theories are "airtight" if they are self-consistent, i.e., contain no self-contradictory elements. No scientific theory is ever airtight.
A cosmology held by a religious group may be scientific, however. For example, if a theory says that the world was created in 4004 B.C., but the evidence indicates that the earth is several billions of years old, then the theory is a scientific one if it is thereby taken to be refuted by the evidence. But if, for example, the ad hoc hypothesis is made that God created the world in 4004 B.C. complete with fossils to make the earth look much older than it really is (to test our faith, perhaps, or to fulfill some mysterious divine plan), then the religious theory is metaphysical.3 Nothing could refute it; it is airtight.
If the age or dating techniques of fossil evidence is disputed, but considered relevant to the truth of the religious theory and is prejudged to be consistent with the theory, then the theory is a metaphysical one. If the religious cosmologist denies that the earth is billions of years old on the grounds that scientific tests prove the earth is very young, rather than very old, then the burden of proof is on the religious cosmologist to demonstrate that the standard scientific methods and techniques of dating fossils, etc., ar erroneous. Otherwise, no reasonable person should consider such an unsupported claim which would require us to believe that the entire scientific community is in error.
The unscientific nature of pseudoscientific religious cosmologists is evident not just in their overriding concern to make facts fit a preconceived theory. This is a human tendency which affects scientists, too.4 Rather, the unscientific nature of pseudoscientific religious cosmologists is evident in the belief that the absolute truth has already been revealed and inquiry is not needed to search for the truth. To the pseudoscientific mind, truth is not something which must be constantly open to question, refinement, and, possibly, rejection. To the pseudoscientific mind, truth seems to be something that is considered to be given only to special people who are entrusted to keep and guard it forever.
There are many believers in a religious cosmology such as that given in Genesis who do not claim that their beliefs are scientific. They do not believe that the Bible is to be taken as a science text. To them, the Bible contains teachings pertinent to their spiritual lives. It expresses spiritual ideas about the nature of God and the relationship of God to humans and the rest of the universe. Such people do not believe the Bible should be taken literally when the issue is a matter for scientific discovery. The Bible, they say, should be read for its spiritual message, not it lessons in biology, physics or chemistry.
See related entries on God and pseudoscience.
1. One of the main leaders of `scientific creationism' is Duane T. Gish, author of Evolution, the Challenge of the Fossil Record ( San Diego, Calif. : Creation-Life Publishers, 1985) and Evolution, the Fossils Say No (San Diego, Calif. : Creation-Life Publishers, 1978).
2. Stephen Jay Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory," in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes (New York: W.W. Norton & Company,1983), p. 256.
3. Philip Henry Gosse made this claim in Darwin's time in a work entitled Creation (Omphalos): An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot, published in 1857.
4. It is true, though, that the pseudoscientist often invents a theory to fit his beliefs, then uses the beliefs to support the theory. This type of circular reasoning is common among those who use ancient myths to support their theories and their theories to explain the ancient myths.
Compare the work of von Daniken and Velikovsky and that of Julian Jaynes in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976).