Researching Creation

October 12, 2009

Discussions around the Web / Is Creation Research Just Circular Reasoning?

JB

One objection that I often hear about Creation Research and specifically Creation-oriented journals is the accusation of "circular reasoning".  A recent discussion I was having with Clever Badger was on just this topic.  While I don't think that the charge is legitimate, I believe that those who level the charge are doing so in good faith.  There is a legitimate question on the methods of science in there, and I think it deserves a good and well-thought-out answer.

Here is Clever Badger's objection:

The problem here is that it presupposes a literal interpretation of Genesis. In other words, the ARJ [Answers Research Journal] isn’t looking for objective research – it’s looking for writers who can force data to fit a predetermined conclusion (e.g. that the diversity of life on Earth today can be somehow traced back to pairs of animals coming off of a boat several thousand years ago). That’s not how science works. The ARJ is basically saying that they don’t want articles that disagree with their position

Basically the accusation is circular reasoning - that people are presupposing a literal interpretation of Genesis and then using that presupposition to argue for that very conclusion, and call it a publicly valid argument.  I have, indeed, seen bad arguments of that sort, but I think that Clever Badger is misinterpreting a lot of what is going on - both in Creation circles and secular circles.

First of all, Clever Badger is implicitly stating that the same kind of presuppositions are not occuring in secular science.  To examine that claim, let's take a look at two journal purpose statements.

The first, is the Creationist ARJ's journal (note that while I am a fan of ARJ, the reason that they are being focused on is merely because AiG [the publisher of ARJ] was the original target of Clever Badger's post - there are many other good Creation journals as well):

ARJ is a professional, peer-reviewed technical journal for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific and other relevant research from the perspective of the recent Creation and the global Flood within a biblical framework...

ARJ is a professional, peer-reviewed technical journal for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific and other relevant research from the perspective of the recent Creation and the global Flood within a biblical framework...

Now, let's look at the mission statement for another publication - the journal Evolution:

Evolution, published for the Society for the Study of Evolution, is the premier publication devoted to the study of organic evolution and the integration of the various fields of science concerned with evolution. The journal presents significant and original results that extend our understanding of evolutionary phenomena and processes.

So, ARJ is a journal published by a Creation organization, for the purposes of furthering our understanding of Creation in an interdisciplinary manner.  Evolution, is a journal published by the Society for the Study of Evolution, for the purposes of furthering our understanding of evolution in an interdisciplinary manner.

Hmmmm......

As you can see, every scientist presupposes the basic tenets of their field.  The purpose of these fields is to learn and understand more on the basis of these tenets.  The journal Evolution presupposes common ancestry (I challenge anyone to find an article in Evolution giving a comparison of common ancestry to other hypotheses), the journal ARJ presupposes Biblical Creation. 

I think that the stumbling point is that many people think that Biblical Creation is the stopping point, rather than the starting point.  For some people it is, but for many Creation researches, Biblical Creation is the starting point of what we do.  The goal is to use Biblical Creation to better understand nature.  In fact, many of the foundational principles of many branches of science were based on just that supposition.

For instance, many do not know that Steno, known as the "Father of Geology", was motivated by Creation, and used Biblical Creation principles to formulate his laws of stratigraphy.  It was precisely because he believed in the global flood that gave him the intellectual capacity to argue that Shark's teeth found inland were the remains of buried animals and not created by God in situ, as was a common geological notion in his time.

Likewise, Gregor Mendel, was motivated by his disbelief in evolutionary principles for his experimentation in pea plants.  His paper, which is the foundation of genetics, was actually explicitly anti-evolutionary (it took the evolutionists about 50 years to find a way to incorporate genetics into evolutionary theory).

Similar stories exist for Keppler and many other scientists who were foundational to their field.  They used Scripture to understand Creation better. 

Another interesting example is the Big Bang theory.  Most people don't know that LeMaitre, who originally proposed the Big Bang, was working from the same data everyone else was.  The only difference is that he also added to his data a touch of Biblical history and Catholic theology.  The notion that the universe expanding was not new, but LeMaitre was the one - based on his belief in a beginning - who used that notion to propose that the world originated as a "cosmic egg" (which is very Thomistic in its outlook).  In fact, an early, unpublished paper by LeMaitre described the his ideas specifically in support of Genesis, saying that the beginning happened "as Genesis suggested it".

As you can see, presuppositions are present in all of science, and Biblical presuppositions have been key in the founding of nearly every major branch of science.  Many people have a view of science that is very dry, calculating, and objective.  Science has never been as dull, or as objective, as people's descriptions of it.

In specific reference to Creationism, it is interesting to note that criticisms of evolution have been allowed in the secular, scientific literature, but only when it is posed as an "unsolved problem" for understanding evolution, rather than as a possibility that evolution is false.  For instance see this abstract.  I know of several ID papers published in this same manner over the last few years, but the authors have asked me not to disclose them as IDists because they want the papers to be evaluated "on their own merits".

So, going back to my discussion with Clever Badger, Clever Badger also notes the apologetic aspect of Creationism.  However, showing that scientific theory X doesn't make sense, or that theory Y is a better explanation for facts A, B, and C is in fact a legitimate part of science. 

But can an external belief be valid in such a context?  Absolutely so!  External beliefs are perfectly valid heuristics for finding scientific ideas.  In fact, in Gilkey's Creationism on Trial, he notes that historians of science believe that Gould's punctuated equilibrium came from his Marxist beliefs (they both hinge on revolution, rather than gradualism, being the defining mode of life).  Why isn't this invalid?  Because Gould never uses Marxist ideology as evidence.  The submitted evidence is all externally verifiable.  Likewise, for apologetic Creationism, the Bible is used as a heuristic for finding one's own position, but not as an external justification for it.

So, to summarize, there are two basic forms of Creation research (though many engage in both):

a) use Biblical Creation as an assumption to learn more about nature.  This is not circular because it does not use the findings as a reason to believe that Biblical Creation is true, nor does it claim that its findings should be reasonable or valid to people in a different perspective.

b) engage in apologetics for Biblical Creation.  This is not circular because although the Bible was used by the researchers as a heuristic for their own positions, it was not used as an external justification to others.

Certainly there is interplay between these two poles, as some ideas discovered by the group in (a) can in fact be used and/or proven without reference to scripture, despite the fact that it was originally studied in that way.  Likewise, apologetics can sometimes reveal very interesting aspects about the nature of creation.  This latter notion is often what happens with my studies.  It starts off as apologetic, but later sparks additional ideas and questions which lead to a greater understanding of God's creation for those who share my assumptions.

So, hopefully this gives you a little insight into the thinking behind Creationism.

September 28, 2009

Discussions around the Web / Petrified Logjams, Microbes, Stone tools, and More

JB

Interesting Bits from Around the Web:

February 17, 2009

Discussions around the Web / Cavemen are Like Us and a Great Creationist Profile

JB

Two things I noticed on the web today:

  • The #8 story of science in 2008 is that neanderthals were just like us.  The funny thing about this is that Answers in Genesis has been trying to convince everyone of that for years now.  Funny - I don't see them getting any credit for that ;)
  • The ICR posted up a great profile of Benjamin Carson.  Benjamin is the chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Medical School.  His profile is incredible check it out.

January 18, 2009

Discussions around the Web / Interesting January Conversations

JB

Here are some recent discussions that I found interesting:

December 11, 2008

Discussions around the Web / Todd's New Blog and a New Book on Genesis

JB

Todd Wood, author of Understanding the Pattern of Life, and one of the BSG's founders, as well as part of the team which sequenced the rice genome, just started a new blog on Creation.  He has a great article summarizing Jean Lightner's paper on skin color and the generation of diversity.

Also coming is a new book on Genesis and Creation edited by Terry Mortenson.  This books aims to be a seminary-level book for understanding the Creationist perspective on Genesis.  From the table of contents, it looks like it covers:

  • History of exegesis of Genesis
  • The events surrounding the Church's change of position regarding Genesis
  • The relationship of nature to revelation
  • The genre of the text
  • Critiques of other interpretations
  • The relationship between Genesis and other near-eastern documents (this is actually not based on the table of contents but from a marketing announcement)

I hope to read it soon!

 

October 21, 2008

Discussions around the Web / Ken Ham on BeliefNet

JB

Apparently Ken Ham will be appearing on a web debate among Christians on BeliefNet, debating Karl Giberson.  Could be interesting, annoying, or painful.  We'll see.  I'm currently reading Nature's Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith.  Afterwards, I'll review it, with an eye towards why I think Creationism is important to the Church.  Maybe Ken and I can compare answers afterwards :)

October 03, 2008

Discussions around the Web / Ian Juby's New Website

JB

For those of you interested, Ian Juby just overhauled his website, and has some interesting material on it.  Ian has regularly allowed me to repost his emails and newsletters here which have had some pretty interesting material in it.  For instance, Ian reported on the cause of "death pose" in dinosaurs long before it was published in technical journals.

He also is starting a new blog which I will suggest for those of you wanting to keep current.

September 22, 2008

Discussions around the Web / Web Discussions on Variations in Decay Rate

JB

There is an interesting discussion about the annual variations in decay rates that we previously talked aboutHere is the blog post.  Check out especially the comments.

September 20, 2008

Discussions around the Web / New Creationism Blog

JB

It looks like we have a new blog - New Discoveries and Comments about Creationism.  Apparently this sprung out of a previous web page the author has been maintaining, and just decided to convert it into a blog.  One interesting item which I had not seen elsewhere is that Henry Richter from the Explorer I project recognized design in the universe and then sought out Christianity.

September 04, 2008

Discussions around the Web / Talking with Evolutionary Creationists

JB

I've been having a very interesting discussion with some evolutionary creationists (I think that's Theistic Evolutionists with a new name and slightly different emphasis) that you all might be interested in.  Also relevant to this discussion is a conversation about ERVs that we had a long time ago at UD. Here's another UD post on taxonomy and molecular systematics with good links.

I'm probably not going to be able to post on this much more, as it is taking up waaaay too much of my time.