There is no doubt that the most central issue in the evolution/creationism debate is whether creationism deserves to be called science. Creationists argue vehemently that it does, for obvious reasons: if that were the case, creationism would be a competing scientific hypothesis deserving of teaching time in public schools alongside evolution. Most scientists, on the other hand, dismiss creationism as religious and inherently non-scientific.
The “demarcation problem” – where exactly to draw the line between science and non-science – is a thorny issue that has occupied many prominent philosophers without producing a clear answer, and this essay will not attempt to solve it. However, notwithstanding the fact that the exact boundary between science and non-science is somewhat fuzzy, there are some cases that clearly fall on one side or the other of that line. This essay will argue that creationism is one of these – that it fails the most crucial requirements for science, and moreover, fails so obviously that there can be no doubt of its status.
- A scientific hypothesis must be testable and falsifiable. That is to say, a hypothesis must make predictions that can be compared to the real world and determined to be either true or false, and there must be some imaginable evidence that could disprove it. If an idea makes no predictions, makes predictions that cannot be unambiguously interpreted as either success or failure, or makes predictions that cannot be checked out even in principle, then it is not science.
Various forms of creationism fail on all three counts here. For example, “intelligent design” creationism makes no testable predictions at all – it makes no checkable claims about how to identify design, who the designer is, what the designer’s goals and motives are, what the mechanism of design is, or when and where the design takes place. In fact, it makes no positive claims whatsoever, other than the hopelessly vague assertion that some intelligent being played a role in the diversification of life. Unless additional details are provided – and advocates of ID have so far steadfastly refused to provide them – ID is untestable and unfalsifiable, and can thus be firmly excluded from the domain of science.
Other forms of creationism, such as the young-earth creationism derived from a literal reading of the Bible, do make some testable claims. However, when these claims do not pan out, YEC advocates typically seek to rescue them from falsification by adding additional qualifications that make them untestable. For example, when radiometric and other dating methods show the Earth to be older than the 6,000 years YEC predicts, advocates of this idea often respond by saying that the world was created with an “appearance of age” – that it came complete with false evidence of a history that never happened. No conceivable evidence could prove this idea wrong even in principle, making any version of creationism that relies on it unambiguously not science.
Even some of creationism’s defenders admit this. Henry Morris writes in his textbook Scientific Creationism that “Creation… is inaccessible to the scientific method”, and that “It is impossible to devise a scientific experiment to describe the creation process, or even to ascertain whether such a process can take place.” His colleague and fellow creationist Duane Gish agrees, writing in Evolution: The Fossils Say No! that “We do not know how the Creator created, what processes He used, for He used processes which are not now operating anywhere in the natural universe. This is why we refer to creation as special creation. We cannot discover by scientific investigation anything about the creative processes used by the Creator.”
- A scientific hypothesis must be naturalistic, relying only on principles of cause and effect and laws of nature to explain observed phenomena. An idea that is not naturalistic – i.e., that incorporates supernatural intervention and miracles – cannot be part of science, because it is impossible to test, disprove, or further investigate. Once one has concluded a miracle has occurred, there is nothing more that can be done. The proposal that a miracle happened can explain absolutely any imaginable scenario with equal ease, which is the same as saying that it really does not explain anything at all. On this score, there is abundant evidence that creationism in all its forms is not naturalistic, and indeed is absolutely dependent upon miracles, as creationists themselves admit (see below).
- A scientific hypothesis is almost always fertile, suggesting new areas to study and expand our knowledge and giving rise to new hypotheses in turn. Creationism does not do this; it is scientifically sterile. It explains observed facts in an ad hoc way but suggests no surprising consequences, nowhere to focus our efforts on next, and cannot be used to derive further predictions. Whatever we find, whatever patterns or evidence we uncover, the creationist explains it simply by assuming that that is how God must have wanted it, for unknowable reasons of his own. This does not add to our knowledge and does not lead to new avenues of research.
- Finally, a scientific hypothesis, in addition to being testable, must actually be tested. The essence of science is its self-correcting mechanism, in which hypotheses are constantly revised and refined to comply with new evidence. Those ideas that survive the test of time, that pass every test to which they are subjected, become generally accepted knowledge and are added to the scientific canon. Nevertheless, no theory is ever considered to be proven beyond any further possibility of doubt, since there’s always the chance that that one startling bit of evidence might turn up tomorrow. In short, doing science means always accepting the possibility of error, and always being willing to test your ideas and accept the results whatever they may be.
This, more than anything else, is the one thing creationists refuse to do. Creationism starts with the Bible and goes nowhere. Most major creationist institutions, despite annual budgets in the millions of dollars, do not fund or perform any original scientific research at all. Indeed, such research would be redundant as far as creationists are concerned; they are already so convinced of the correctness of their conclusions that they see no need to test them. (If any reader thinks this is in any way an exaggeration, see below.) The moment you say, “I know I’m right and nothing could ever convince me otherwise”, you are no longer doing science.
For further evidence that creationism is not science, consider their “Statements of Faith”. Almost every major creationist organization has one, which consists of a list of tenets that all members of that organization adhere to. The mere existence of such a thing is suspicious; no legitimate scientific body would require its members to hold certain opinions as a precondition of belonging. But it is in the specific wording of these statements that the creationists’ bias comes out most clearly. These affirmations show in exceedingly clear detail that creationists subscribe, not to the self-correcting system of science, but to the infallible dogma of fundamentalist religion.
Presented for your approval, here are excerpts from some of the statements of faith of prominent creationist organizations.
- The Institute for Creation Research: Tenets of Creationism
In their belief statement, the ICR attempts to draw a distinction between “scientific” and “Biblical” creationism, claiming that the former can and should be taught in public schools, and that only the latter is religious. However, their version of “scientific creationism” includes statements such as “The physical universe of space, time, matter, and energy has not always existed, but was supernaturally created by a transcendent personal Creator who alone has existed from eternity” and “The phenomenon of biological life did not develop by natural processes from inanimate systems but was specially and supernaturally created by the Creator”. These are patently religious statements by any meaningful definition of the word, explicitly invoking supernatural creation, which is definitively outside science. The ICR also boasts “a firm commitment to creationism and to full Biblical inerrancy and authority”. (Note, also, that elsewhere the ICR specifically identifies itself as “an arm of the church”).
- Answers in Genesis: Statement of Faith
AiG’s Statement of Faith delivers the most brazenly anti-scientific statement to be found in any creationist document, which is the following, at the very end: “No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.” Apparently, as far as this group is concerned, when reality contradicts their interpretation of the Bible, it is reality that is wrong. This is not science, but the antithesis of science. Declaring that you know you are right, that the evidence cannot sway you, and more, that you will reject any evidence that contradicts what you believe, is as unscientific as one can possibly get, and shows in the clearest way imaginable that the brand of creationism these groups espouse is not science but religion.
- Reasons to Believe: What We Believe
This old-earth creationist organization’s doctrinal statement says the following: “The following paragraphs express the doctrinal convictions of every member of the Reasons to Believe staff and board of directors…. We believe the Bible (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) is the Word of God, written. As a ‘God-breathed’ revelation, it is thus verbally inspired and completely without error (historically, scientifically, morally, and spiritually) in its original writings.” Reasons to Believe also proclaims that it belongs to the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy, a group whose own doctrinal statement includes this: “We deny that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it.”
Again, these are not scientific, but religious statements. Declaring that their interpretation Bible is completely true and that no evidence can ever disprove any part of it is an admission that their view is unfalsifiable. (Try, by contrast, to find a scientific body saying, “We deny that external evidence can ever disprove evolution or hold priority over it.”) The creationists have come to the table with their minds made up, and they don’t want to be confused by the facts.
- The Creation Research Society: Statement of Belief
This document reads in much the same vein as the others. “The Bible is the written Word of God, and because it is inspired throughout, all its assertions are historically and scientifically true in the original autographs.” Of course, one’s personal religious beliefs do not prevent one from doing legitimate science. However, when the two are this intimately intertwined, the author’s scientific integrity and objectivity must inevitably be compromised, because their belief that their interpretation of the Bible must be true will tend to override and color everything they observe. Real scientists, by contrast, must always follow where the evidence leads, regardless of whether that evidence overturns a generally accepted theory or even a cherished personal belief. Can any member of the CRS honestly state that they would accept evidence contrary to creationist doctrine?
In closing, it is worth noting the asymmetry here. Imagine if the scientific world was as biased towards evolution as the creationists are against it. Imagine if Nature and other top scientific journals boasted on their masthead that they possessed a “firm commitment to the truth of evolution and the inerrancy and authority of Charles Darwin”, and refused to accept any papers submitted by anyone who held creationist beliefs. Imagine if science popularizers like Stephen Jay Gould or Ken Miller wrote that, “By definition, no apparent, perceived, or claimed evidence in any field, including biology, geology and physics, can be valid if it contradicts evolution.” Imagine if publishers of science textbooks or associations of science teachers declared, “We believe that the Origin of Species is completely without error, and all its assertions are historically and scientifically true in the original autographs.” Imagine, in this scenario, what an outcry the creationists would raise against unscientific bias and prejudice – and justifiably so. Now return to the real world, where exactly the opposite situation pertains. What does this say about the scientific status of both sides in the evolution/creationism debate?