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Origins science

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Origins science is science concerned with the study of origins, such as the origins of the universe, galaxies, stars, the solar system, and living things. Origins science is a subset of historical science, the study of past events. The two main examples of origins science (evolution and biblical creation) are limited in their ability to be tested, but each does produce testable predictions and each can be falsified in some respects.

Contents

Origins science compared to other science

Origins science differs from regular science in that its focus is on one-off events which occurred in the past. These events include the origin of the universe, galaxies, stars, the Solar system, Earth itself, life and the variety of living things, and geological formations.

The main competing hypotheses in the area of origins science are biblical creation and various evolutionary ideas. The latter includes biological evolution itself, which attempts to explain the origin of the diversity of life, chemical evolution or abiogenesis which attempts to explain the origin of life itself, nucleosynthesis which explains formation of most elements. and the Big Bang which attempts to explain the origin of the universe.

It is often argued—by critics of the respective views—that these hypotheses are not actually science on the grounds that they don't meet the requirements to be considered science. This is, however, an over-simplification.

Origins science is a form of historical science as it studies events that occurred in the past. It is therefore an attempt to determine what has happened in history (or pre-history). Regular science is concerned with how things work, whereas historical science, including origins science, is concerned with past events.

Ernst Mayr:

For example, Darwin introduced historicity into science. Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.[1]

Massimo Pigliucci also points out that historical science is different to other science, referring to

a standard of proof that is not required in historical sciences because it is sufficient to show that related forms appeared in the right temporal sequence and that they were intermediate to each other.[2]

Evidence

Regardless of which view one has, everyone has the same evidence. What differs is how the evidence is understood.

This is like a court case, where both sides have the same evidence, but each side tells a different story about it. The prosecution tells a story about the evidence, trying to convince the jury that their story is the correct one. The defence tells a different story about the same evidence, also trying to convince the jury, but convince them of a different story.

Fundamental assumptions

A fundamental difference between Biblical creation and evolutionary explanations concerns the sorts of explanations allowed. Evolutionary explanations are, in principle, based on the view that only naturalistic explanations (explanations that follow the laws of physics and chemistry, etc.) are acceptable, as evolutionists believe that only these sorts of explanations are scientifically testable.

Biblical creation, conversely, is based on the view that the laws of physics and chemistry are inadequate to explain the origins of various things, including the origins of the laws themselves, and including various things that evolutionists say they explain. It therefore allows for explanations that supersede those laws. However, this allowance is not unlimited. It is only invoked where there are reasonable grounds for doing so, including cases in which the Bible indicates that God acted within his creation (and even then only if it's in a way that would override those laws).

Biblical creation is therefore criticised by its opponents for invoking ad hoc miracles.

The principle behind evolutionary explanations, however, cannot itself be demonstrated to be true, and therefore remains an act of faith on the part of its followers.

Geneticist and Marxist Richard Lewontin made very clear that people like him look at the evidence in a particular way.

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.[3]

Different glasses

One way to understand this difference of fundamental assumptions is by using the analogy of seeing the world through different glasses. Carl Wieland wrote:

When we start to look at the world through the right glasses, namely the revelation from its Maker, not surprisingly we find that things fall into place and make sense ... Evolution/long ages is probably the main reason given today for rejecting the claims of the Bible. This view was developed by interpreting the ‘facts’ through non-Biblical glasses.[4]

Writer Terry Novich takes up the theme:

According to evolutionists many of the facts used by scientists in this field formed during pre-history. But according to creationists they simply formed in history since there is no such thing as pre-history, as man has been here from the beginning.
Consequently, it stands to reason that experimental science isn’t a possibility here, as no-one can repeat history. Only observations in the present are possible. This is true for both evolutionists and creationists alike.
So, it follows that everyone is basing their conclusions on their own presuppositions—their own particular belief system. The differing views are simply a case of using a ‘different pair of glasses’ whilst viewing the same facts.[5]

Commentator Chris Uhlmann pointed out how we often don't realise that we are looking through ideological glasses:

No one sees and hears exactly the same thing. We all watch the world through ideological lenses fashioned over a lifetime to be so comfortable that we are usually unaware they are on.[6]

Palaeoanthropologist Milford Wolpoff refers to this as the framework in which the scientist works:

I believe a framework is not something that can be eliminated in order to provide “objectivity”. In my view, “objectivity” does not exist in science. Even in the act of gathering data, decisions about what data to record and what to ignore reflect the framework of the scientist[7]

Testability

Origins science suffers from the limitation that it is not possible to run tests to directly see if the event under study has occurred. In some cases tests can be run to see if the event could occur, but even this would not demonstrate that it did occur. For example, a test showing that scales can easily convert into feathers (as required for dinosaurs evolving into birds) would not demonstrate that this had happened, although it would make it more believable.

Predictions

Scientific models must be capable of making predictions that can be tested against observations. These predictions can include postdictions or retrodictions, where the observations are already known, but the goal is to see if the model would produce the results that are observed. As origins science is about past events, most predictions are actually postdictions.

The strength of predictive evidence depends on how specific and unlikely the predicted outcome is. If an evolutionist, for example, predicted that we should find a fossil of a creature with some features common to both reptiles and birds, such a prediction is not as useful as one which specified which actual features would be found.

Both main views of origins are capable of making predictions according to their models.

Speciation

Using speciation as an example, both views would predict that living things produce offspring which are not identical to their parents. Indeed the views both require variability. The evolution model requires (unlimited) variability to account for all living things having descended from a common ancestor. Creation requires (rapid) variability to account for the varieties of living things occurring in the few thousand years since Noah's flood.

This variability has at least two aspects to it: the amount of variability and the rate of variability and therefore the time needed.

Amount of variability

The evolution model proposes that the variability is unlimited, so that all of life is thought to have developed from a common ancestor. Thus evolution proposes that this variability, over generations, can give rise to new species (known as speciation), phyla, families, and so on. Inherent in this is that variability can give rise to new features, such as new organs and metabolic functions. For example, evolution proposes that at some stage a creature without feathers evolved into one with feathers. Thus feathers are an example of a new feature which this variability must produce.

The creation model proposes that variability is limited to being within the original "created kinds", and that this variability cannot form new features such as new organs and metabolic functions. More precisely, this variability can produce no new genetic information, although what might appear to be new metabolic functions could occasionally come about by means of a loss of genetic information.

Rate of variability

Evolution allows many millions of years for this variation to occur, and there has been an expectation that living things would take a long time to vary, although slow variation is not a requirement of evolution.

Observations show that living things do vary, thereby confirming the predictions made by both creation and evolution. As such, this prediction is not very useful, as it fails to distinguish between the two competing views.

Observations also show that variations, even to the extent of speciation, can occur rapidly. This confirms the creationist prediction of rapid variability, and although examples of rapid variability have often surprised evolutionists,[note 1] this is not fatal to their hypothesis. Observations have never shown new organs arising. There are also very few claimed examples of new metabolic functions arising, all of which are disputed by creationists as to whether they constitute new genetic information.

Of course, evolutionists believe that evolution occurs over time spans too long for us to observe, making it very difficult to directly test this prediction.

Falsifiability

Another criterion for a hypothesis being scientific is falsifiability, or the conceptual ability to be able to prove an idea wrong.

Creationism is often claimed to be unfalsifiable, on the grounds that the Creator is untestable and therefore unfalsifiable or on the grounds that the Creator could have made creation look like any other explanation, such as evolution.

For example, Leon H. Albert writes:

By definition, "scientific" creationism is irrevocably grounded in an appeal to the existence and operation of an obviously omnipotent supernatural being—that is, a being that by its very nature is capable of virtually anything. It therefore follows that there is literally no conceivable observation that cannot be reconciled with the virtually limitless actions of such a being. "Scientific" creationism thus lacks the central defining characteristic of all modern scientific theories. It is absolutely immune to falsification.[9]

However, the creation model is not merely a general claim that "God did it", but a set of specific claims, and these claims exclude the possibility of God creating in a way that looks like evolution. That is, if evolution (from a common ancestor) was proved to be true, it would not falsify the idea that "God did it", but it would falsify the biblical creation model of origins. This possibility is recognised by Mark I. Vuletic, although his example is one that creationists would dispute:

Far from being unfalsifiable, the hypothesis that the earth was created 6,000 years ago by a supernatural entity has been falsified by the discovery of so much data that points to the old age of the earth.[10]

Falsifiability is related to testability, and therefore the ability to falsify origins science depends on the ability to run tests.

As it is not possible to directly test that dinosaurs did evolve into birds, or that God did create birds on the fourth day of creation, in this sense both these example claims are not falsifiable. However, this does not mean that no individual claims of origins science are falsifiable. To the extent that specific predictions can be made and tested, origins science models can be falsifiable.

In principle, if a falsifiable hypothesis is falsified, the hypothesis is rejected. In practice, however, many hypotheses can be modified and retested. Although this is legitimate to some extent, a claim that is so flexible that it can be modified to accommodate almost any observation is useless scientifically.

This occurs in some areas in evolution. For example, Darwin said that "finely graduated organic chain[s]" of transitional forms must have formerly existed, although we have "have no right to expect to find" them.[note 2] These "finely graduated chains" have never been found in the fossil record. Evolutionists have typically cited the "extreme imperfection of the geological record" (to use Darwin's words) or the special conditions required for fossilization as an explanation of the lack of transitional fossils, although even then the lack has been referred to as "surprisingly jerky" (David Raup) or "a persistent and nagging problem" (Stephen Jay Gould). This lack of expected evidence has led some scientists, notably Gould and Niles Eldridge, to account for part of the lack by modifying the hypothesis. This modified hypothesis is known as "punctuated equilibrium". Not all scientists agreed with Gould and Eldridge, and others proposed a state part way between the gradualistic expectations of Darwin and punctuated equilibrium. The result is that evolution can accommodate relatively few transitional fossils, many transitional fossils, or somewhere in between. That is, almost any observation of transitional fossils would be consistent, and almost none could falsify it.

Evolutionists have proposed a number of ways in which evolution could be falsified, although it is not always clear that a negative result would actually be accepted as a falsification of evolution. For example, J. B. S. Haldane said:

It is never, however, necessary to postulate a leap which would imply prevision by a designer. That is why one finds no example of various mechanisms, such as the wheel and magnet, which would be useless till fairly perfect.[13]

Since then, bacteria have been found that use magnetized iron oxide crystals up to a micrometer long for navigation, and a few rotating molecular structures are known to be used by living cells, including the ATP Synthase motor found in all living cells. (No wheels and axles for locomotion have been found, however.) Nevertheless, evolution is not considered by its supporters to have been falsified.

It is difficult to definitively falsify an idea because there is often more than one way to explain an observation. For example, Hadrosaur fossils found in North Dakota were found to have "cell-like structures", which were subsequently found to have amino acids "suggesting that the cell-like structures were indeed cells", but no whole proteins were found. In principle, whole proteins could indicate that the sample was much younger than its estimated age of 66 miilion years, that proteins can survive much longer than currently believed, or that the sample had been contaminated with modern proteins. The researchers indicated that, had they actually found whole proteins, they would have attributed the fact to contamination, although they had done their best to avoid that possibility. As creationist David Catchpoole put it, "Such is the sacrosanct view of the millions-of-years timeframe, the researchers would rather question their own analysis than the supposed age of the fossil!"[14]

In summary, both creation and evolution are unfalsifiable as views, but specific models and specific claims made by each may be falsifiable.

Notes

  1. For example, Professor Shine, talking of variability in cane toads, said, "I'm amazed at the speed that it's all happening".[8]
  2. Darwin conceded[11] that the lack of such fossils "is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory", but discussed various reasons this might be the case. He concluded,[12] "What geological research has not revealed, is the former existence of infinitely numerous gradations, as fine as existing varieties, connecting together nearly all existing and extinct species. But this ought not to be expected" and "If then there be some degree of truth in these remarks, we have no right to expect to find, in our geological formations, an infinite number of those fine transitional forms which, on our theory, have connected all the past and present species of the same group into one long and branching chain of life."

References

  1. Mayr, Ernst, Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought, Scientific American, July 2000.
  2. Pigliucci, Massimo, Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science, p.255, Sinauer Associates, 2002, ISBN 9780878936595, quoted by Luskin, Casey, Icon By Icon: Responding To Massimo Pigliucci On Jonathan Wells's Icons of Evolution, Evolution News and Views, Thu. 5th June, 2014Thu. June 5th, 2014.
  3. Lewontin, Richard, Billions and billions of demons (review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, 1997), The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997, quoted by Creation Ministries International
  4. Wieland, Carl, The Wrong Glasses, Creation 19(3):4, June 1997.
  5. Terry Novich, My amazing paradigm change, 20 May 2008.
  6. Uhlmann, Chris, Plotting a balanced course in a climate of angry grievance, The Drum, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 25 March 2011.
  7. Wolpoff, M. H., Paleoanthropology, Second Edition, McGraw-Hill, Boston, p. lv, 1999, quoted by Peter Line, New Missing Link: Real or Imaginary? 31 March 2006.
  8. Snakes vs Toads—Fran Kelly interviews Professor Richard Shine, ABC Radio National "Breakfast" program, 6 April 2006, quoted by Catchpoole, David, and Wieland, Carl, The Cane Toad 'War', Creation 32(2), April 2010, p.20-23.
  9. Albert, Leon H., "Scientific" Creationism as a Pseudoscience Creation Evolution Journal 6(2), Summer 1986, p.25-34.
  10. Vuletic, Mark I., Methodological Naturalism and the Supernatural (1997) with post-conference notes (updated 4-7-1997)
  11. Charles Darwin, Origin of Species.X. On the Imperfection of the Geological Record: On the Absence of Intermediate Varieties at the Present Day
  12. Charles Darwin, Origin of Species.X. On the Imperfection of the Geological Record: On the Absence of Numerous Intermediate Varieties in Any Single Formation
  13. Haldane J.B.S., "Haldane to Dewar," in "Is Evolution A Myth?," C.A. Watts & Co. Ltd/The Paternoster Press: London, 1949, p.90, quoted by Stephen Jones
  14. Catchpoole, David, dino Protein Denial, Creation 32(2), April 2010, p.18.
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