Is Creation Science?
|by||Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.|
On June 22, 1633, Galileo confessed to the “heresy” of believing that the Earth orbits the Sun. With that statement in hand, the Holy Office of the Roman Catholic Church prohibited the aging scientist from discussing the Copernican view of the Solar System, and sentenced him to house arrest for the remainder of his life (Hummel, 1986, pp. 118,123).
And so began the long conflict between faith and science, at least according to the popular view. From that day forward, Galileo became a martyr for free thought, sacrificed at the altar of an ignorant, authoritarian church.
More than two hundred years later, the church and science faced off again, this time over the writings of a certain Charles Darwin. It took place on a balmy June day in 1860, at the annual meeting in Oxford of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The protagonists were Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, and Thomas Huxley, professor of natural history at the Royal School of Mines. Bishop Wilberforce mounted the floor first, giving a critique of Darwin’s new book, The Origin of Species. Apparently he ended his speech by inquiring of Huxley whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey. Huxley got up to defend Darwin’s views, adding that if the choice was between an ape for a grandfather, or a man who ridiculed science, his preference was the ape (Blackmore and Page, 1989, pp. 102-103).
No one knows exactly what was said at that meeting, but in later years the exchange achieved powerful legendary status. The scientist had beaten the bishop publicly, and in his own diocese. Again, the popular picture has reason triumphing over blind faith as it pushed the church aside in its unrelenting pursuit of scientific progress.
This view gained momentum in the remaining decades of the nineteenth century. In 1874, John William Draper wrote a book titled History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science. Then in 1896, Andrew Dickson White published A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. Both books received wide distribution, and helped sustain the tension into the modern era (Russell, 1985, p. 193).
Many historians of science now reject this simple view of conflict (Lindberg and Numbers, 1986, p. 6). To be sure, great minds clashed through the centuries, but what they were saying about science and religion often reflected only the currents of social change swirling around them. Yet the origins issue remains a topic of intense debate. Few people speak of the creation/evolution “discussion” or “dialogue.” Even after making a case for a kinder, gentler consideration of the issues, Numbers lapses into military language in his analysis of creationists. He talks about the fundamentalist “crusade” against evolution (1986, p. 394), and the “battle” to get scientific creationism into public schools (1986, p. 413).
Part of the problem is that there are no ground rules for a reasonable discussion of origins. Creationists would like an opportunity to give scientific reasons for why they believe what they believe. However, many evolutionists fear that creationists must necessarily abuse science to use science. Creationism, they claim, is a religious dogma, and therefore closed to the usual rigors of scientific investigation. Hence Stephen Jay Gould has labeled “scientific creationism” an oxymoron—a contradiction in terms (1987, 8:64). Also, many evolutionists claim that evolution is a fact, while admitting that they do not understand the mechanism and details completely. This elevated view of evolution prompts creationists to hurl the accusations of “religious dogma” back on the evolutionists’ side.
To complicate matters, some Bible believers are uncomfortable with the idea of defending creation on the field of science. A few have retreated, seeing science as a threat to their faith. Some fears may stem from the conflict described previously; scientists are seen only as adversaries. It also may come from the perception that science has been the source of many evils: atomic weapons, death-camp experiments, ethically questionable medical practices, and so on. Still others object outright, claiming that science and religion are on two different planes separated by a distance equal to a “leap of faith.” In other words, they believe it is impossible, or improper, to present any rational proof or evidence that would lead anyone to a belief in the Creator (Sproul, et al., 1984, p. 34).
The results can be unfortunate. In a world of ever-increasing technological complexity, where scientism often reigns supreme, retreat only serves to alienate the Gospel from people seeking genuine reasons to believe, or continue believing, in God. And placing science and religion into separate compartments, with scientists determining truth in one area, and theologians determining truth in the other, can lead ultimately to the compromise of theistic evolution (Moreland, 1989, pp. 12,217).
THE GROUND RULES
There is a need to step back from this debate and look for a better way to present the wealth of evidence in favor of creation. Opponents still may not agree with the conclusions, but it should allow creationists to present a consistent, scientific case. Perhaps the best approach is to put creation and evolution on an equal footing. This is not an attempt to dodge the issue by saying both ideas are true. Rather, it is an effort to set up a reasonable framework for discussing the origins issue. The first place to begin, however, is among those who profess a belief in God.
On Science and Religion
Faith need not exclude science. Yes, faith involves an emotional or heart-felt response to God, but it also involves an intellectual response. Abraham, Moses, and the other children of God listed in Hebrews 11 were faithful, with no help from modern science. Noah’s building of the ark, for example, was not based on his personal study of marine engineering or hydrology, but rather a decision to obey God’s command. However, surely some of Noah’s faith came from the knowledge that God could and would work in nature to achieve His ends, including sending a worldwide Flood and preserving Noah and his family on the ark.
Throughout the Old Testament, God invited His people to compare His miracles and prophecies with the claims of pagan religions (e.g., Isaiah 41:21-22). Then in the New Testament, Christ and the apostles sought a spiritual response from a reasonable consideration of what people had seen and heard (John 5:36; Acts 2:14-41; 17:16-34). Peter gave Christians explicit instructions to defend the reason for their hope of eternal salvation (1 Peter 3:15).
Further, God appealed to the creation as a demonstration of His existence and power (e.g., Job 38-39; Isaiah 40:26; 45:12). That God’s revelation of His will to Moses began with the account of creation is no coincidence, for it established His unique nature and role in the faith of Israel. The apostle Paul told Christians in Rome that unbelievers always have had the opportunity to recognize the existence of a Creator by studying the creation (1:20). Of course, it is not possible to come to a saving knowledge without special revelation (Romans 10:17), but it is possible to understand the need to seek out the Creator by looking at His natural or general revelation. Although salvation by grace is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8), it does not follow that faith is irrational—that it has no tangible ground in “right reason,” as Warfield put it (1977, 1:236-237). This “right reason” may include an investigation of natural revelation using the tools of modern science.
Christians need not fear science. Nature and Scripture have a common Author, which means that the facts of nature will complement the statements the Bible makes about the physical world. It is not a matter of making one the servant of the other, but of interpreting both correctly. Scientists may disagree with theologians, but true science and true religion never should be in conflict (see Thompson, 1984, 1:17). Finally, Christians should understand that science itself is not evil. Rather, the application of science or technology for immoral purposes is evil, although this improper use is not always perpetrated by the original researcher or inventor.
Thus, science interacts with religion not only through a study of natural revelation, but also through a consideration of broad issues such as philosophy and ethics. This does not mean to say that the relationship always will be harmonious. To say otherwise is to suggest that someone has answered all the questions. What it does mean is that faith and science can interact in useful ways.
On True Science
Creationists appeal to a supernatural cause to explain a unique event: the origin of the Universe, the Earth, and all life. For many evolutionists, that explanation is just plain unscientific. The late Judge William Overton expressed his agreement by striking down the Arkansas Balanced Treatment Act that required the teaching of both creation and evolution in the State’s public schools. In his 38-page decision, Overton dismissed creation theories because they do not conform to what scientists think and do. His opinion is worth examining in greater detail, not because he is a scientist or philosopher of science, but because he based his criteria on the testimony of people in these fields. Judge Overton concluded that a theory is truly scientific when:
(1) it is guided by natural law; (2) it has to be explanatory by reference to natural law; (3) it is testable against the empirical world; (4) its conclusions are tentative, i.e., are not necessarily the final word; and (5) it is falsifiable (as quoted in Geisler, 1982, p. 176).
While the decision disappointed creationists, Overton’s definition left some philosophers of science aghast. Chief among them was Larry Laudan, who found fault with all five criteria. “The victory in the Arkansas case was hollow,” he complained, “for it was achieved only at the expense of perpetuating and canonizing a false stereotype of what science is and how it works” (1988, p. 355). Nonetheless, most anticreationist publications refer positively to Overton’s ruling, and others certainly share his characterization of science (Futuyma, 1983, pp. 168-174; National Academy of Sciences, 1984, pp. 8-11). Grouping the first two criteria under one heading, the problems with Overton’s criteria are as follows.
Science Does not Have to Have Natural Explanations
As Blackmore and Page noted: “In a previous age the essence of science was to discover God’s ways of working. Miraculous interventions were perhaps rare, but certainly permissible. They would have found Overton’s dismissal of miracles presumptuous” (1989, p. 161). A century or more ago, many scientists had no problems seeking natural causes, while recognizing that supernatural causes may be necessary in some cases (Moreland, 1989, p. 226). In today’s controversy, evolutionists have limited themselves to purely natural causes; creationists have not. Neither choice makes one more or less scientific than the other.
Science is not Always Empirical
People can observe or experience the same phenomena, but come to quite different conclusions. For example, the Ptolemaic idea that Earth is at the center of the Universe directly contradicts the Copernican idea that the Earth and other planets orbit the Sun. Unfortunately for Galileo, more convincing evidence for Copernicus’ view would have to wait for the superior observations and analyses of scientists like Brahe, Kepler, and Newton. In the meantime, empirical science could not judge one theory better than the other. Both models fit the data available at the time, and made fairly accurate astronomic predictions.
Also, empirical science cannot test the central claims of creation and evolution directly (e.g., the creation of man, or the Big Bang). However, it still is useful in two ways. First, as the next section will show, empirical science can provide analogies on which to test these central claims. Second, origin theories make other peripheral claims that empirical science can test directly. For example, creationists suggest that most seemingly vestigial organs have genuine functions. This claim is based on the belief that God created all major animal types, the organs of which should show evidence of purpose, not degeneration from a completely different ancestral form. Empirical science can discover whether a given vestigial organ is functional. Laudan suggests that evolutionists disprove such empirical claims, rather than pretending that creationism makes no such claims at all (1988, p. 352).
Science is not Always Tentative
At any one time in history, scientists hold to core beliefs—ideas that need to be true if they are going to function in their work. Such dogmatism can be useful, although there is a fine line between consensus and censorship.
The reasoning behind this criterion goes back to the idea that creationists cannot practice true science because they base their beliefs on a doctrinal statement. In other words, it unfairly accuses creationists of intellectual dishonesty. This is nothing more than an attack on creationists themselves, which is not the same as defining science (Moreland, 1989, p. 230).
Science is not Always Falsifiable
As a criterion of science, falsification is the idea that scientists have to disprove alternative, related ideas before they can call their theory truly scientific. Unfortunately for evolutionists, this nullifies all scientific arguments against special creation because, they say, creation cannot be falsified (Numbers, 1992, p. 248-250). The obvious contradiction (that creationism is both false and unfalsifiable) reveals the limitations of such a test.
In summary, all these practices have a place in science, but ultimately they are not reliable in distinguishing science from nonscience.
Laudan grants that creationism satisfies the last three of Overton’s requirements (1988, p. 354). He even takes the first two criteria to task, arguing that not all scientific ideas can be explained by natural laws. For example, Galileo and Newton described gravity before anyone explained it. And Darwin discovered the phenomenon of natural selection before anyone understood the laws of heredity on which it depended. By Overton’s rules, “we should have to say that Newton and Darwin were unscientific” (1988, p. 354). Yet the issue still remains: can science seek non-natural causes? Were great scientists of the past justified, or merely naive, in their willingness to allow divine intervention in nature?
Creationists have realized that the only way to resolve this issue is to find the common ground between evolution and creation. This may seem a fruitless task at first, seeing that they represent two quite different world views. But they share this fundamental belief: that the Universe and life are the products of one or more unique events. In particular, evolutionists speak of the Big Bang, and the origin of life from nonlife. Neither event is occurring today. Life is not arising spontaneously from nutrient-rich environments and, fortunately for humankind, Big Bangs are not rending space asunder on a regular basis. Similarly, creationists believe that the Universe and life are the products of a divine creative act, and further, that a worldwide Flood shaped the present world. These events also are unique. God finished His creation on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1), and promised that He never again would destroy mankind with a Flood (Genesis 9:15).
What people imagine as “science,” including Overton’s caricature, cannot begin to deal with these claims, but they still are open to scientific scrutiny. While the answers may not lie directly under the lens of a microscope, or in a test tube, they may come by testing the claims against knowledge gained by empirical science. In an effort to refine this distinction, Charles Thaxton and his colleagues suggested separating operation science from origin science. The first deals with the recurring phenomena of nature, such as eclipses, volcanoes, reproduction, etc., while the second deals with singular events, such as the Big Bang, creation, etc. (1984, pp. 203-204).
Origin science may be a new term, but it works by the standard principles of causality and uniformity, which always have been a part of doing science. The principle of causality says that every effect must have a prior, sufficient, necessary cause. The principle of uniformity (or analogy) says that similar effects have similar causes.
Still, evolutionists may argue that creationists have done themselves no service by making a separate science out of singularities. Defining a nonempirical science is one thing; proposing supernatural causes is quite another. For this reason, they always will view creationism as unscientific. But the idea that history consists of an unbroken stream of natural causes and effects is merely a presumption on their part. Perhaps they fear a new generation of doctoral students invoking God when they cannot explain something in their research projects. Yet this fear is unfounded. As stated earlier, most scientists of the past had no problem with divine intervention. Indeed, one of the driving forces of early Western science was the idea that the Universe, as God’s creation, was open to rational investigation. In doing good operation science, these scientists would seek natural causes for regularly occurring events. Many of them recognized, however, that unique events may require a cause beyond nature. Only analogy with the present can determine whether the cause is miraculous or naturalistic (Geisler and Anderson, 1987, p. 16).
WAS PALEY’S WATCHMAKER STILLBORN?
In 1802, William Paley applied analogy in full force through his book, Natural Theology. Paley tells a story of a man who finds a stone. From the natural appearance of the stone, and its lack of purpose, the man assumes it is the product of nature. Later he finds a watch, and because of its inherent purpose, he assumes it is the product of a watchmaker. What is the difference between the rock and the watch? “Wherever we see marks of contrivance,” Paley wrote, “we are led for its cause to an intelligent author” (1802, p. 232, emp. in orig.). Paley concluded that design in nature demands a cause that exists beyond and before the natural world. That cause he identified as God—Designer and Creator.
Yet many skeptics believe that Paley’s work was defunct before he ever put pen to paper. More than fifty years earlier, David Hume had argued that miracles cannot be true because the world normally operates using natural causes. For example, if a man says he witnessed someone being raised from the dead, which of the following is most likely: that a man can deceive or be deceived, or that a person can be raised from the dead? Hume would take the first option, because (for him at least) it is easier to believe than the second (1748, p. 657).
Belief, Hume argued, derives from the guiding principles of uniformity and causality. Are these not the same guiding principles of origin science? Then how is it that Paley could allow miracles, while Hume could not? In part, Hume was reacting to a popular idea of his day that God not only designed the Universe, but also operated the Universe like a machine. God was every cause, not just the first cause: He maintained the Moon in its orbit of the Earth, and made the apple fall to the ground. Hume found this idea totally unpalatable and, as often happens, swung to the opposite extreme in response. God never could cause any effect, because that would violate all reasonable human experience about the way nature normally operates. If God could intervene at any time, then experience is useless, and science has no value. Hume’s uniformity gave rise to uniformitarianism, and thence to the contempt for miracles among so many scientists of the modern era.
The problem with this view is that miracles are supernatural, not antinatural; they are beyond nature, not against nature. Further, they explain certain unique events, not all regular events. Paley appealed to a divine Creator because no known natural cause was sufficient to explain the design he saw in the living world. Ironically, Paley said he founded his conclusions on “uniform experience”—precisely the same phrase coined by his skeptical predecessor (see Geisler and Anderson, 1987, p. 145).
Yes, creation is science. Judge Overton’s answer was to redefine science, with dire consequences for science itself. In fact, there is nothing about science that prevents a Bible believer from practicing good science, or even investigating the existence of God.
However, miracles remain the sticking point. Some scientists feel very uncomfortable with the idea that an effect might have a supernatural cause. Note that this is only a feeling, a presumption, on their part. Creationists have no interest in making God a capricious, meddlesome Agent Who works to achieve every natural effect. Rather, He is the Cause of unique events that cannot be explained by recourse to purely natural explanations. Origin science provides a consistent way to test this claim, along with the central claims of evolution—claims that are not amenable to testing under empirical or operation science. Yes, there is more than one way to do science.
When people belittle the scientific status of creationism, they attack its believers, not its claims. Prejudice, not truth, sustains the idea that faith and science must be in conflict. Christians can use science to defend their belief in the Genesis account of creation, and should not be intimidated into thinking otherwise.
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