Someone named Stephen has asked some questions on my “creationist questions” page and I am moving my response up to the main page.
Just to get a couple points of order out of the way I want to note that you asked three questions at once and only one (#3) touches on evolutionary biology, violating my question guidelines in multiple ways right off the bat. However, I said might grant some leeway and I will in this case.
Stephen: First, to clarify, I am a college student, almost through with my history degree (as a major), I have a minor in geology, and I have taken enough courses to almost have minors in philosophy and anthropology (just establishing that I am not an uneducated internet troll…. at least not completely). This does not make me an authority on the debate between evolution and creationism, but I have studied enough to be fairly well versed in the arguments that each side uses.
OK, good to know; as it would mean that there is no reason you should be making any glaring errors in those areas, yes?
Stephen: I was home-schooled by choice and was taught evolution and creation equally…
You were taught about a mature and productive scientific field and the relatively brief creation story from the Hebrew scriptures (backed up, no doubt, with the pseudoscience, misrepresentations and misinformation of “creation science”), “equally”?
You should understand that from my perspective that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Stephen: I studied the sides and decided to pick the side that, I believe, has the least number of holes in its arguments. I decided to become a creationist, but I still see both sides and am willing to keep my mind open to all possibilities.
Well then, my question would be what are some of the supposed “holes” in evolutionary theory? Please do not tell me they are of the sort usually put forward by “creation scientists”, I have a library full of those bogus arguments.
Again, from my perspective creationism is collection of long refuted empirical claims (young Earth, Flood geology) backed by a premise (“God did it”) that is fundamentally untestable and therefore scientifically useless.
Stephen: Question 1: How do you define science (yes, I am talking about the AIG argument between “testable/repeatable science” and “historical/perceived science”)? I do mean you specifically, as different words mean different things to different people, and “standard definitions” do not always fully encapsulate this idea.
In the context you seem to be asking (that of Answers in Genesis’ idiosyncratic redefinition of science), I would say that science is a process wherein people derive coherent explanations about the state of the natural world which are testable by further, intersubjective, observations of the natural world. This holds regardless of whether the particular phenomenon under examination is something that occurred in the past or is currently ongoing.
In science, one does not have to be able to repeat the occurrence of something in order to explain it. What is necessary is that the observations that are made to test the explanation be repeatable by anyone who makes the effort, i.e. not subjective revelations knowable only to an individual or an elect few.
As with forensic science used against criminals, one need not repeat the crime in order to make observations (of finger prints, DNA, etc.) to build a case as to who the most likely perpetrator is.
The same is true when one is trying to explain the current state of nature be it biological, geological or astronomical. We do not need to repeat, in full, the processes that lead to the current state of affairs in order to piece together a case against the most likely “perpetrator”.
Of course, in practice, there is more to it than that but I am not writing a book on the philosophy of science.
Professional creationists want to muddy the waters on this because their explanations either have failed to hold up against observations of the natural world, or are simply not testable by such observations. In other words, their ideas are either failed science or non-science and so they try to tear down good science in an attempt to mislead people into believing that their ideas have merit.
Stephen: Question 2: Why do scientific laws exist: gravity, thermodynamics, etc. if no one created them (yes it does seem like a silly question, but believe it or not, I have found this question to be helpful)?
This is a question about cosmology and is essentially asking why the universe is the way it is. My answer is, I do not know. Cosmologist are working on such questions and they may or may not be able to answer some or all of them someday, however I see no reason to assume that if they do find answers to them that they will include the idea that the universe was “created” by a conscious being of some sort.
Any explanations that cosmologists do come up with will have to be testable by observations of the natural world in order to be scientific. “God did it” does not meet that criterion.
Stephen: Question 3: How do you believe that things such as a conscience, idea of self-awareness, and the ability to fully reason came to be? Yes, this is a philosophical question, because philosophy is the first “science” and was the root of all the other disciplines.
I don’t know if the ability to “fully reason” actually exists and I would quibble with you that these are necessarily philosophical questions. I would say that the evidence suggests that these things are evolved characteristics as we see them in a continuum in the animal world with humans merely being at one end of the spectrum.
Stephen: In addition, evolution influences much more than biology, geology, and physics (to name a few of the traditional sciences) in its scope, and all aspects of the theory need to be considered.
I disagree. Biology, geology and (to a lesser degree) physics influence evolutionary theory but not the other way round. Evolutionary theory had to be consistent with the facts of biology (obviously) but also geology and physics in order to be considered successful. Theories of geology (plate tectonics etc.) or physics (relativity etc.) do not need to factor in evolutionary theory but rather stand or fall based on observations from those fields.
If inconsistencies between evolutionary theory and say, plate tectonics, were discovered, then those would have to be worked out, but physical geologists who are trying to solve geological problems do not sit around worrying about how their findings might affect those of biologists. They find what they find and it is up to the biologists to figure out whether their own theories can be made to fit with the new data or must to be scrapped in favor of new ones.
What you are talking about reflects the conspiracy theory thinking of creationists, wherein all of modern science is some sort of evolutionist plot to discredit the Biblical account of creation, it isn’t.
The actual problem is that the facts of nature, biological, geological and physical, simply are not consistent with creationism and creationists have adopted this conspiracy idea as a way to avoid facing that fact.
Stephen: Especially since the idea of “origins” is one of the three fundamental questions of philosophy (IE: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?).
“Where did I come from?” is an empirical question answered by science; proximally by reproductive biology and evolutionary theory more distally by astronomical and cosmological theories. You would have to be more specific to get answers that are more specific.
“Why am I here?”—assuming it is not merely a rephrasing of the previous question—is a question that assumes something not in evidence, that there is some externally imposed purpose to our existence. It could be that there is no “why” and therefore the question is incoherent.
“Where am I going?”, again this assumes that you are going anywhere. Barring evidence that anyone is going anywhere this question is also incoherent.
Stephen: By the way, I have heard your comparison of “playing chess with pigeons” before (in relation to evolutionists). Is that saying original (to you) or did you get it from elsewhere? If so, where?
The answer to that may be found in the tab at the top of my blog titled “Playing Chess with Pigeons?“. It is taken from something first written by Scott Weitzenhoffer in reference to creationists; so if you have seen it being used in any other way it was pilfered directly or indirectly from him.
Thank you Troy, well done I thought. The answers to the question of why the physics of our universe are as they are… well my mind just kind of stops right there. But I do think that if our universe did operate differently, we would not be here to ask the question.
“I decided to become a creationist”
It surprises me that, when choosing between evolution and creationism, anyone who actually has a grasp of science and what it involves would decide to become a creationist, since creationism is non-scientific.
Good stuff. Why the Universe is the way it is may be a good question, or a muddled amalgam of several questions, but has nothing to do with evolution, which took place within a universe that is the way ours is.
Stephen confuses questions about how he as a person should relate to the universe, and questions about what kind of place the universe is. It may be helpful to point that out. Listing his fallacies will not be helpful to him, although it may, as here, help bystanders clarify their ideas.
If we are to help the Stephens of this world see the light (and thwart their attempts to plunge us back into darkness) we need to understand their motivation.
Wasn’t I reading your comments on WEIT about 2 minutes ago?
I tend to agree with Paul’s comment, especially the first paragraph. I don’t know (yet) why the Universe is arranged the way it is, but given that it IS arranged this way, evolutionary theory is entirely scientific, and creationism isn’t.
Though I would like to know what version of creationism Stephen accepts. Stephen, if you’re reading this, which of the many ideas that can be called “creationism” do you believe? Young-Earth? Old-Earth? Day-age? Gap theory? Perhaps you are like someone else I once knew, and reject both evolutionary theory and religious ideas on Creation in favor of something else like Fred Hoyle’s panspermia?
Stephen made reference to AiG in his question which implied to me that he is likely a YEC but it’s fair to ask.
RE: Panspermia; let me guess, Charlie Wagner?
He referred to AiG? I missed that. Yes, that makes it much more likely that he’s a YEC. However, I’ve met people who thought AiG was a valid source even though they weren’t YECs. So I’m trying to be a good little scientist ;-) and not assume anything.
Yep, Charlie Wagner. (There’s a name from the long dim and distant past, eh?) I never did understand how he could be so rigidly anti-evolution without being a creationist, but he obviously never had any problem with it.
Panspermia does nothing about solving the problem of abiogenesis – it just moves it to somewhere that is even harder for us to observe it’s circumstances.
I made mention of Marijke in response to Troy’s original posting.
Reading Stephen’s email and your response above was a bittersweet experience.
The sweetness came from your lucid and measured response to each aspect of Stephen’s query. I was reassured (and comforted) that the world my kids are entering does have people like you who are motivated enough to advocate for and exemplify critical thinking skills.
The bitterness came from the yet-again reminder that advancing age is pilfering my faculties. There was a time when I would not have overlooked some of the fallacies in Stephen’s email.
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