Vol. 11 No. 2 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
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The Not-At-All Scientific Creationists
By Delos McKown, Ph.D.
Some people are content to let religious faith be faith. Other people are not content until they convince you and me that what they have faith in is factual. In the 20th century, of course, the model for making factual statements about the world is science. So, what more obvious way nowadays to try to convince other people that one's faith is factual than to call it scientific, whether it is or not?
Here is how it works. If you have faith, let's say, that much, if not all, of the evil in the world is due to a fallen and very wicked angel, named Satan, you could call your faith "Scientific Satanism." That ought to persuade others!
Or, if you believe that people who share your faith are going to get to live in heavenly bliss after death, your faith-position could be called "Scientific Salvationism." How very persuasive that sounds.
By the same token, if you believe that the whole great universe (still beyond our conception in many ways) came into being the way the Bible says it did (in Genesis, chapter one), then you could call yourself a "Scientific Creationist." That ought to settle the issue. But does it? No, of course not.
At this point it should clarify matters to ask the following question: What precisely is it that the so-called scientific creationists think (and want you and me to think) that they are being scientific about? The answer is simple: They want us to think that they are being scientific about an article of their religious faith. Which article of religious faith? The one holding that the Bible-god designed and made the universe much as a human inventor might design and build a machine, an appliance, or something electronic, such as a computer.
Taken as a whole, is the universe (which still holds many mysteries) really like a machine, an appliance, a computer, or other human contrivance? Does the order we see in it presuppose design? Is it here, so to speak, for a purpose? Is it an artificial sort of thing (i.e., a work of artifice) rather than being natural in its own right?
One could, of course, answer yes or no to any of these questions and feel supremely confident that one's answer is the right response. But, so what? Science is not based on how somebody or other feels about things, nor is it based on how strongly somebody or other feels. It is based on evidence--objective evidence. This kind of evidence is not simply stumbled over or picked up by coincidence. It has to be sought. It can only be had from experiments designed to test which of one's ideas is (or are) objectively true without regard to one's hopes or other emotions.
Wishful thinking is not allowed in science.
What sort of experiment(s), we might ask, would have to be undertaken to give solid evidence that the "Scientific Satanists" are right in believing that much, if not all, of the evil in the world is caused by a powerful, invisible, wicked being called Satan? What sort of experiment(s) would the "Scientific Salvationists" have to set up to prove beyond reasonable doubt that people who share their religious belief system will get to live on after death in eternal bliss?
By exactly the same token, what sort of experiment(s) would the so-called scientific creationists have to set up to give objective evidence that the universe is really like a human contrivance? What would prove that order in the world can come only from intelligent design, that the universe is an artificial contraption meant to achieve some purpose(s) or other? What branch of science would one turn to to show all of this, physics, chemistry, geology, biology? In point of fact, science does not even deal with the questions raised above.
In their delusion that they can be scientific about an article of their own religious faith, the so-called scientific creationists conveniently ignore a crucial point about science and hope that the rest of us will not notice what has been left out. The crucial point is this: When scientists set up an experiment intended to put some theory or other to the test, they have to be clear ahead of time as to what kind of results (such as data) would support the theory being tested and equally clear about what kind of results would pull the rug out from under the theory being tested. In short, whenever a scientific theory is being tested, there is an element of risk involved for the person whose theory it is. The embarrassment of being wrong is at stake. The likely waste of research money is at stake and the difficulty of finding more. The effort of having to go back to the old drawing board, to start all over again, is at stake.
The point of all this is that the so-called scientific creationists will never tell anybody what risks they are willing to take. They will never say what experimental results would pull the rug out from under their pet (religious) ideas about the universe. To them that would be treachery against their deity, so they must pretend that all data confirm their faith and must equally pretend that no experimental results could ever count against it.
In other words, they could never let science prove them wrong. Taking everything as evidence that they are right and never telling others ahead of time which consequences would make them wrong, they hold themselves up for what they are--scientific frauds.
We have all heard the old saw to the effect that if something looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck, then it is a duck. This can be made negative and turned against the so-called scientific creationists. If no experiment can be designed and carried out to test a particular creationist idea, if all conceivable results (or experimental data) are said to support the idea at issue and none can be given that would shoot it down, and if other competent researchers cannot duplicate the experiment and predict the same results, then it is not science, no matter how often or loudly it is called science.
It is bad enough that the so-called scientific creationists cannot let their religious faith be faith but proceed to delude themselves into thinking that their faith is scientific; it is even worse that they deceive others with their folly.
Prof. Delos McKown, a Foundation member, heads the Philosophy Department at Auburn University, Alabama.
Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker
Eve and Harrold, The Creationist Movement in Modern America
Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism
Gould, Ever Since Darwin
McKown, The Mythmaker's Magic
Newell, Creation and Evolution: Myth or Reality?
Ruse, But Is It Science?
Strahler, Science and Earth History, the Evolution/Creation Controversy
March 1994 Excerpts