Same Facts Different Views?

Same Facts Different Views? August 10, 2009

Is the difference between a creationist and an evolutionist just a choice of interpretive frameworks to apply to the same facts?  Is the problem only their disagreement in “presuppositions?”  PZ Myers explains why this isn’t so as part of his report on his trip to the Creation “Museum” which discusses the sign pictured below with Blaghag

This is their core premise.  They claim that scientists and creationists are all working from exactly the same set of facts, and the only difference is in how we interpret them…and that they have an extra source of information that scientists reject, the Bible.

twoviewsdiorama.jpegTheir first big exhibit is a perfect example of the principle in action. It’s a model of a dinosaur dig, with two men working away at excavating the bones. There is a video accompanying it in which the two views are presented. The younger Asian fellow in front says, and I paraphrase, “This animal died about a hundred million years ago. Its body dried in the sun for several days before being slowly buried under layers of sediment in a local flood.” Then the avuncular creationist says, “I see the same bones, but I believe this dinosaur was killed suddenly about 4400 years ago in a huge global flood, which buried it deeply all at once.” And then he goes on to explain that see, they have the very same evidence, but he understands it in the light of God’s word.

It is a profoundly dishonest display. No, they are not using the same evidence: the creationist is ignoring all but the most superficial appearances. The scientist says a few details about this particular dinosaur, but what Ken Ham hides is that every statement would have a large body of evidence in its support. This isn’t two guys stating their mere beliefs in a field…it’s one guy, the creationist, closing his eyes to the evidence and spouting Biblical gibberish, and one scientist stating the conclusions of substantial investigations.

The scientist does not say a particular fossil is 125 million years old simply because he feels like it. It’s a conclusion built on careful observation of the geology — if you read a paleontology paper, you’ll often find a substantial discussion of the details of the rocks surrounding the specimen — and by the morphology of the rocks, the history of the area, the physics of the radioisotopes present, the other animal and plant fossils found in the same plane (which, in turn, had their ages evaluated). It is the product of an impressive consilience of evidence, all of which the creationist is rejecting, or more likely, of which he is utterly ignorant.

As I hope to argue at more length soon in one or more posts, this attempt to boil down every viewpoint as equal but simply different is a sign of the desperation of contemporary religious belief.  They know that their faith beliefs lack adequate justification and depend on enormous assumptions, so they try to reduce every inference in all of knowledge to a comparable leap of faith.  Because they approach facts with the demand that they fit an entirely preconcieved view of the universe, everybody does exactly that thing.  Every paradigm that serves as a reference point for thinking gets collapsed into being exactly the same thing as a faith commitment, even though irreligious/apolitical paradigms do not have any of the baggage of centuries old dogmas which cannot be rejected, nor do they cede divine authority to specific authorities, nor do they commit to supernaturalisms and superstitions which are centuries out of date intellectually, nor do they intermix their desires for happiness or eternal life or forgiveness for their sins into their assessment of facts and theories.  In short, the fact that we do not look at facts in isolation but only ever through combination with specific theories and using particular methodologies, does not mean at all that the particular sorts of unjustified and unjustifiable faith leaps are at all present in genuine science, philosophy, and other academic studies.

Anyone who will attempt to make it sound as though any use of theories and frameworks in looking at facts is equally subjective in order to protect their own objectively ludicrous inferences is someone who is trying to sell out reason for relativism on the hopes that this will give their ideas equal respectability that they cannot earn in direct competition on objective grounds and in accordance with the multiple sets of criteria we have for logically assessing, verifying, and falsifying inferences and theories.

Presuppositions and other influences on interpretations can and must be scrutinized and prove that they can stand up to independently confirmable tests of verification, falsification, predictive power, parsimoniousness, conceptual analysis, logical analysis, statistical analysis, historical analysis, repeatable experiments, widespread human experience, the power to generate unexpected truths, genuine coherence with the rest of known reality, etc.

Read the rest of Myers’s account of his trip for his take on other aspects of the “museum.”  See the first installment of Blaghag’s recap of her trip here.  Here’s a highlight of her account:

The first thing you’re greeted with is an impressive mastodon:
It’s description, however, was less impressive. I made a mistake of not taking a photo of the sign so I don’t know the exact number, but they hilariously think that the last ice age occurred within the last two or three thousand years. We already had major human civilizations around at that time, many of those who had written records. I don’t think we’ve discovered any Egyptian hieroglyphics about extreme temperature changes. They’d probably claim that just because we can’t find them doesn’t mean they don’t exist (sound familiar?). But really, it’s pointless to harp on this one fact, since the whole museum is filled with ridiculous dating. As PZ already pointed out, it’s hilarious that they take the time to say dinosaurs were alive and well in 2348 BC. I wonder what would be harder for multiple human civilizations to fail to record: giant lizard creatures roaming the earth, or drastic temperature changes and cold? Hmmm…

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