Monday, 19 January 2009

Is creationism scientific? (Revised)

Stephen Law, CFI London, Weird Science, Conway Hall 17th January 2009 2pm-3pm


Polls consistently indicate about 100 million Americans believe the entire universe is six thousand years old and that all species were created as described by Genesis. Even more amazingly, many of these people also believe that this theory is consistent with the scientific evidence. Indeed, there are multi-million dollar research centres in the U.S. run by PhD-qualified staff, that aim to defend young-Earth creationism. How have so many people become so deluded about what is, and isn’t, good science? What are the basic confusions? Stephen Law illustrates with his own pet theory – that dogs are spies from the planet Venus.

About Stephen Law

Stephen Law is senior lecturer in philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London, editor of THINK: Philosophy for Everyone (Royal Institute of Philosophy), and Provost of CFI London. He is the author of many philosophy books, including The Philosophy Files (for children 12+) and The Philosophy Gym (which contains such dialogues as “The Strange Case of The Rational Dentist” and “What’s Wrong With Gay Sex?”)



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Stephen is coming from a philosophical rather than scientific approach - as opposed to the speakers this morning. Still he is considering the status of what counts as evidence. He is focusing on Young Earth Creationism (YEC) but he claims this analysis could be equally applied to other pseudo-sciences. Anyway YEC believe that:
  • Genesis is an accurate description of creation
  • The entire universe is 6000 years old
  • All species were created by god within a period of a few days
Now an unbelievable 45% of US Americans believe this, including 33% of college graduates! More surprisingly, in the UK 12% of students believe this and 19% claim they were taught this as fact in school!!! They also believe it is good science with empirical evidence to support this! So this is not a topic to be scoffed at.

The Fossil Record

How do they explain the fossil record, given that this is well explained by the current evolutionary biology approach and supports Common Descent? They use the :-

The Flood Theory

Adam and Eve existed at the same time as all other species including the dinosaurs! The flood really happened and the remainders drowned and the torrents produced the sedimentary layers since they were buried in an non random order in the left over mud from the flood. Man was smart and avoided drowning hence man is only in the highest layers. And many other ad hoc explanations used to explain the non random order of species in these layers. This is called Flood Geology so the fossil record fits with and does not contradict creationism.

A question from the audience is "did they do any tests with animal corpses to see if this hypothesis is correct"? Um no, big surprise. The fossil record is older than 6000 years e.g. radio carbon dating but they have other explanations to explain away the reliability of such dating systems. There is full listing of these (IMHO ad hoc?) explanations in Answers In Genesis (and check out No Answers In Genesis for all counter-arguments). The creationists believe that even T. Rex's were on board Noah's Ark - no the flood did not get rid of the dinosaurs! Maybe Noah had only their eggs or the T, Rex then was vegetarian! (I know there are too many exclamation marks here but this is my live response to these statements). What about light from stars? They can "explain" this too!

The "Fit" Theory of Confirmation

There is multi-million dollar funded institutes to make the evidence fit the theory . This is how they think science is done in general, this is what Ken Ham claims. This is the "fit" theory of confirmations otherwise known as cobblers (Stephen's word). However any theory can be made to fit the evidence. Stephen uses the example of showing how "Dogs are Venusian spies"!! Much work has been done to create such pseudo-explanations, yet the theories are NOT well-confirmed by the evidence.

First Moral

Any theory can be made to fit the evidence. This does not make it confirmed or supported by the evidence. So what will?

Strong Confirmation

To be strongly supported, the theory must make
  1. predictions... (clear and precise not vague and ambiguous)
  2. ... that come true...
  3. and surprising (not just likely based on this theory but also it should be unlikely based on rival theories)
The Theory of Evolution

It is strongly confirmed because is makes clear and concise surprising predictions repeatedly shown to be true. For example, the classic prediction is that finding a rabbit fossil in the pre-Cambrian would be a huge challenge to the theory of evolution. There are many other bold predictions none of which have been dis-confirmed. The millions of fossils found in the fossil record have repeatedly confirmed the predictions of the theory of evolution. It is extraordinarily well confirmed.

There is no equivalent claim that could challenge YEC. Any result can fit this theory, it makes zero predictions of a surprising, clear and precise nature. Somehow creationists think this a virtue! In addition, it is their failure to make predictions that is in favour of the theory of evolution. If you never take a risk, you do not have no support for your theory.

Parallels with mental illness

The fit theory of confirmation is very similar to certain conditions of mental illness. Such reasoning is close to lunacy. Creationists have been confused into thinking this is good reasoning whereas is a possible path to madness! It is symptomatic of mental illness. And schools which teach this claim they are moral educators - they are faith schools, are they not! Indeed, in my view, is not such education - teaching lies - through twisting the idea of what good science is - and encouraging lunatic thinking, is surely immoral.


A very different talk to this morning but very interesting, especially as I guess many skeptics and rational thinkers would not have bothered to analyse this in the UK, but we should all be on our guard, given this growing belief in young earth creationism in the UK.


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