Do Creationists Oppose "All of Science"?
with an Appendix: Scholarly Evidence that Creationists Do Not Oppose "All of Science"
by Richard Peachey
During the debate "Evolution versus Creation: War of the Worldviews!" (May 5, 2006), near the beginning of his opening remarks, evolution spokesman Scott Goodman showed the following on a PowerPoint slide:
"Definition of Terms
"Evolution: In fact, what is meant is all of science, for the belief system of creationism rejects and attacks virtually the entirety of modern scientific knowledge, not just evolution." [emphasis added]
During the rebuttal phase of the debate, I as the creation spokesman answered that claim as follows:
Scott has tried to tell you that creationists reject virtually all of science.
I respond that this is nonsense. The so-called war between religion and science as publicized by people like Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper is just historical fiction. Science historians more and more are agreeing on that.
By and large, it was creationists who invented science: men like Boyle and Newton and Linnaeus. The Bible supports ethical scientific investigation, for the glory of God and for the benefit of humanity.
Now creationists often do reject the speculative historical reconstructions of evolutionary biologists. Even their own peers often refer to those as "Just-So Stories." And we question naturalistic philosophical assumptions; we argue that those are not the same thing as "science." When fraudulent activity occurs within the scientific community, or censorship, or reinterpretation of old evidence, or any kind of questionable activity, we take note. Certainly.
But we don't take issue with the established empirical or observational data of science, facts that can be established through repeated use of the experimental method. We accept the data and much of the theoretical framework of physics and chemistry — what are called the "hard sciences." And we accept at very least the empirical observations of biology, geology, and paleontology.
The parts we are hesitant to accept are largely confined to the historical reconstructions, which are one or more levels removed from actual data. Things like molecules to man evolution. Speculative "origin of life" chemistry. The "Big Bang" model with its add-on "Inflation."
When I was taking my science degree, I would have reasonably friendly discussions with some of the science instructors now and then, on topics such as examples of biological evolution, or "origin of life" chemistry, or the "Big Bang." But most of the time, the course material itself generated hardly any worldview difficulties for me at all. In fact, I went through a whole year of Cell Biology with only one minor discussion on evolution. And that course was taught by an atheistic evolutionist.
My most serious clashes were actually with philosophy instructors. I think it would be more accurate to say that creationists reject a lot of current philosophy than to say we reject science.
By the way, if Scott had done his homework, he would have known that even the people on his own side don't agree with him. I refer him to the article by Bainbridge and Stark in the Summer 1980 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, which says:
". . . there is vast opposition to Darwin by masses of ordinary citizens. While antagonism to other parts of science may also be felt by fundamentalists, it is the theory of evolution that receives the most concerted attack. Undoubtedly, this reflects the head-on competition between Darwin and Genesis. We must not assume, however, that fundamentalists reject science as a whole any more vehemently than do other groups. . . . It would be a mistake to conclude that fundamentalists oppose all science. . . . they have registered opposition to but a single theory, one that directly contradicts the Bible." [William Sims Bainbridge and Rodney Stark, "Superstitions: Old and New." The Skeptical Inquirer 4(4):19, 22, Summer 1980. Bold print indicates emphasis added. A lengthier citation from this article is given in the appendix, below.]
Appendix: Scholarly Evidence that Creationists Do Not Oppose "All of Science"
William Sims Bainbridge and Rodney Stark, "Superstitions: Old and New." The Skeptical Inquirer 4(4):18-31, Summer 1980.
[page 19] "Many writers have described the fundamentalist campaign against the teaching of biological evolution in the schools, focusing on hard-core groups of creationists who constitute a small, though active minority. We will show that there is vast opposition to Darwin by masses of ordinary citizens. While antagonism to other parts of science may also be felt by fundamentalists, it is the theory of evolution that receives the most concerted attack. Undoubtedly, this reflects the head-on competition between Darwin and Genesis. We must not assume, however, that fundamentalists reject science as a whole any more vehemently than do other groups. . . .
[page 22] "The results in Table 1 and Table 2 should not be overinterpreted. It would be a mistake to conclude that fundamentalists oppose all science. Here, they have registered opposition to but a single theory, one that directly contradicts the Bible. But it would be an equally great mistake to conclude that religious liberals and the irreligious possess superior minds of great rationality, to see them as modern personalities who have no need of the supernatural or any propensity to believe unscientific superstitions. On the contrary, we shall see that they are much more likely to accept the new superstitions [emphasis is the authors']. It is the fundamentalists who appear most virtuous according to scientific standards when we examine the cults and pseudosciences proliferating in our society today. . . .
[page 24] "Before we leap to the false conclusion that the students with no religion are rational, scientific secularists, we should look at Table 3, which reports the distribution of responses toward some recently popular superstitions. . . .
[page 26] "As a whole, Table 3 shows two very interesting things. First, it reveals that 'born agains' are much less likely than other students to accept radical cults and pseudoscientific beliefs. Second, it reveals that the group with no religious affiliation is receptive to these unscientific notions. On three of the seven items, in fact, those with no religion are the most favorable toward occultism. Those who want to blame fundamentalists for their opposition to Darwin ought to praise them for their responses reported in Table 3. Those who hope that a decline in traditional religion would inaugurate a new Age of Reason ought to think again. . . .
[page 27] "Our questionnaire research suggests that strong religion prevents occultism. Therefore, we would expect to find that interest in deviant cults and in the paranormal was greatest where the churches are weakest — in the Pacific region. In fact, this is the case. . . .
[page 30] "Conclusion
"Traditional religion is not simply the enemy of rationality and science, but it plays an ambivalent role. True, fundamentalists show high levels of rejection of the theory of evolution. But they also reject a wide range of occult of pseudoscientific ideas that may threaten the progress of human culture. Persons with no religious affiliation are often among the first to toy with novel or exotic supernatural notions and are not the secular rationalists we might want to think them. Cults flourish precisely where the conventional churches are weakest, in the western parts of the country. Here, too, numbers of unchurched people seek private contact with the supernatural, as shown in the distribution of Fate magazine 'mystic experiences' and 'proofs of survival.' Therefore, a further decline in the influence of conventional religion may not inaugurate a scientific Age of Reason but might instead open the floodgates for a bizarre new Age of Superstition."
John H. Evans, "Science & religion: A false divide created by rhetoric." Vancouver Sun, Oct. 17, 2011, p. A13. Originally published in Los Angeles Times, Oct. 10, 2011. <http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/10/opinion/la-oe-evans-protestants-20111010>. John H. Evans is a professor of sociology in the University of California San Diego Division of Social Sciences.
"While many conservative Protestants disagree with the scientific consensus about evolution, you cannot infer their perspectives on other scientific issues such as climate change from this one view alone. Fundamentalists' and evangelicals' relationship with science is much more complicated than the idea that they 'oppose science.'
"I recently conducted survey research comparing the most conservative of Protestants — those who identify with a conservative Protestant denomination, attend church regularly and take the Bible literally, or about 11 per cent of the population in my analysis — with those who do not participate in any religion. The conservative Protestants are equally likely to understand scientific methods, to know scientific facts and to claim knowledge of science. They are as likely as the nonreligious to have majored in science or to have a scientific occupation. While other studies have shown that the elite scientists who work at the 20 top research universities are less religious than the public, it appears that the vast majority of people with workaday scientific occupations are like their neighbours, religiously speaking.
"On most issues, there is actually very little conflict between religion and science. Religion makes no claims about the speed of hummingbird wings, and there are no university departments of anti-resurrection studies — scientists generally are unconcerned with the vast majority of religious claims and vice versa.
"There are, of course, a few fact claims in which conservative Protestant theology and science differ, such as the origins of humans and the universe. Here we find that typical conservative Protestants are likely to believe the teaching of their religion on the issue and not the scientific claim.
"We could complain that they are being inconsistent in believing the scientific method some of the time but not always. Yet social science research has long shown that people typically are not very consistent. The people who are more consistent are those who are punished for inconsistency: philosophers, media pundits, political activists and politicians.
"Besides, conservative Protestants don't think of their own views as inconsistent, and they have a long-standing way, going back to at least the mid-19th century, of dividing the scientific findings they believe and don't believe. They tend to accept scientists' claims that are based on direct observation and common sense and to reject those based on what might be called unobservable abstractions. Since nobody was around for the Big Bang and for human evolution from lower primates, these unobservable claims are treated with more skepticism than measurements of the effect of airborne carbon on planetary temperature. . . .
"Conservative Protestants are not fundamentally opposed to all science."
David Goldston, "The Scientist Delusion." Nature 452:17, March 6, 2008 <http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080305/full/452017a.html>.
"It is true, of course, that the US population is far more religious than that of, say, western Europe, and this has created significant resistance to the acceptance of evolution in particular. Yet although a remarkably high percentage of Americans do not believe that humans evolved from earlier life forms — polls generally place the number at 40–50% — the figure has held relatively steady for at least a quarter of a century. Moreover, those statistics mask a number of attitudes that are far more favourable to science. For example, a 2006 poll conducted for a science organization asked who the respondents would be 'interested in hearing from' about evolution, creationism and intelligent design. The two categories that ranked highest were scientists (77%) and science teachers (76%). Clergy ranked high, but 15 percentage points lower than scientists; and only half as many people were 'very interested' in hearing from clergy compared with scientists.
"Even the nature of the intelligent design crusade reflects the high stature of scientists. Intelligent-design advocates try to sell their wares as science rather than religion partly as a legal gambit; the Supreme Court has ruled that religion cannot be taught in US public schools. But intelligent design is also framed as science because its purveyors know that science and scientists are held in high esteem and epitomize modern, forward-looking, hopeful aspects of US society. . . .
"But it is important for scientists to understand that they do not face a public inherently hostile to science (even among the relatively small percentage who are fundamentalists), and that public attitudes towards both science and religion are complicated and often contradictory. It's not even clear what most people mean when they say they don't believe that humans have evolved. Is this detail a matter of some concern to them, or is this just a casual way to say that they viscerally reject the notion of a random Universe? Evolution is largely a symbolic issue to the public, and may be a poor measure of how religious attitudes affect the reception of science more generally."
A further thought: There's nothing irrational in maintaining a healthy skepticism about "science" in general.
Andy Stirling (University of Sussex, UK), "Intolerance: retain healthy scepticism." Nature 471:305, March 17, 2011 <http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v471/n7338/full/471305a.html>.
"But rational scepticism is as important outside as inside the social practices of science. Hence the motto of Britain's Royal Society, 'Nullius in verba': take nothing solely on authority — even from scientists. Suppression of rational scepticism is also potentially undemocratic. . . . Inhibiting reasonable social questioning of science can foster disingenuity, polarization and untrustworthiness. The progressive social potential of science is therefore supported, not hindered, by greater political tolerance for scepticism."
Lawrence Solomon, "Dare to question establishment science." National Post, April 6, 2012 <http://opinion.financialpost.com/2012/04/06/lawrence-solomon-dare-to-question-establishment-science>.
"The better educated you are, the more likely you are to put your trust in science, or so says what scientists call the 'knowledge deficit model' of scientific illiteracy. So why do conservatives become more and more skeptical of the scientific establishment on issues such as global warming as they become more and more educated? And why do conservatives, who once held science in very high regard, now hold it in relatively poor odour?
"This rising distrust among better-educated conservatives 'is a significant finding and the opposite of what many might expect,' said Gordon Gauchat, author of a study published last week in the American Sociological Review that portrays educated conservatives somewhat as a species of their own. Gauchat, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina, offers several possible explanations for what makes conservatives tick in his study, Politicization of Science in the Public Sphere: A Study of Public Trust in the United States, 1974 to 2010. . . .
"The only possibility that Gauchat seems not to have considered is that these well-informed conservatives are not anti-science at all but are instead aware — as Gauchat and other pundits are not — that much of what passes for science today is deeply compromised."
Marni Soupcoff, "Tennesee's 'Monkey Bill' won't immerse schools in creationist chaos," National Post, April 10, 2012 <http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/04/10/marni-soupcoff-tennessees-monkey-bill-wont-immerse-schools-in-creationist-chaos>.
"I’m not a creationist. I have no bones with Darwin. But just as I sided with Henry Drummond [in the play Inherit the Wind] when he argued that outlawing the teaching of evolution in public schools would be a dangerous step toward censorship of privately held ideas, I now find myself siding with people who think outlawing questions about evolution would be an unfairly dogmatic and rigid step in the same direction.
"Is it not possible that kids exposed to a healthy debate about the subject could emerge with a better understanding of both the thoroughly scientifically proven theory of evolution and the questions that inevitably remain — as they do about any scientific concept, even something as indisputable as gravity — despite how much we know?
"The threat to a child’s education is a lack of information, not a surfeit. The threat to society is a law that muzzles expression, not one that protects it. It is interesting to know, when learning any concept, how it came to be accepted and by what criteria it was judged, so that one can better put it in its place.
"The Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences have written a letter arguing that the bill would 'miseducate students, harm the state’s national reputation and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy.'
"Indeed, they’re right about that middle part. As delightful as [Baltimore Sun reporter H. L.] Mencken seemed to find depicting the people of Dayton as backward hicks in 1925, he at least found room for a touch of nuance. Today’s media positively glories in portraying American southerners as stunningly stupid bible-thumpers. And this bill will not help in that regard.
"Yet the predictions of miseducation and weakened competition seem too calamitous by far — science and questions can co-exist. The former would be nowhere without the latter, and developing the ability to form meaningful questions about matters of established wisdom is a crucial part of a student’s education. Who will ultimately make the better scientist — the kid whose teacher uploaded facts about evolution onto the blackboard, or the kid who was called on to use critical thinking to test and probe evolutionary theory? As long as Tennessee public school teachers are not trying to teach kids that one religion is superior to others — which would be unconstitutional and also specifically forbidden by the bill — I see no harm in a law stating that no part of the science curriculum is beyond discussion."
Arnold Aberman, former dean of University of Toronto medical school, from his May 30 presentation at Lakehead University's convocation, Financial Post, Jun 11, 2014 <http://business.financialpost.com/2014/06/11/blinkered-thinking-in-academia/>.
"It was 'settled science' when I was a medical student in the 1960s that duodenal ulcers were caused by excess gastric acid, exacerbated by stress. Treatment then focused on reducing acidity and stress – either by pills, surgery or psychotherapy. I would have failed medical school and would not be standing before you today if, on my final exams, I wrote that ulcers were caused by infection.
"Then in the early 1980s Robin Warren and Barry Marshall of Australia isolated Helicobacter pylori from patients with ulcer disease and concluded that these bacteria were the cause of duodenal ulcers. They did not have an easy time – after all this was against 'settled science.'
"As Barry Marshall recounted in his Nobel Prize lecture, his results were not believed, even though he had started successfully treating patients who had suffered with life threatening ulcer disease for years with antibiotics. So, in 1984, frustrated by the lack of acceptance of his discovery, Marshall decided to infect himself with H. pylori – without discussing his plan with the ethics committee of his hospital. He became severely ill and biopsy showed colonization and classic histological damage to the stomach. He then treated himself successfully with antibiotics.
"He still had a decade ahead of unsuccessful research grant applications and rejected manuscripts. Private investors had to fund the clinical trials that finally vindicated his research findings. In 2005, Warren and Marshall were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery.
"And of course, the ulcer story is not unique.
"In 1982, Dan Shechtman of Israel's Technion University discovered quasicrystals, crystalline material whose atoms did not line up periodically, which, if true, violated over a century of crystallography 'settled science.' His work was ridiculed by his colleagues for years. Linus Pauling, a 1954 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry himself, said that Shechtman was 'talking nonsense' and that 'there was no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasiscientists.' Eventually he was proved correct and in 2011 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
"The 'settled science' of the value of mammography in the early diagnosis of breast cancer has been challenged because of the incidence of false positives. And most surprising, in the past month, a meta-analysis of 73 published studies of over 530,000 subjects found no relationship between cardiovascular disease and consumption of fatty acids. So much for that 'settled science.'
"So what can we learn from these examples. Not, of course, that there is no 'settled science.' But that claiming 'settled science' is a statement, not an argument. Truth is not discovered by voting. What is 'settled science' today may be labelled a mistaken belief tomorrow.
"So what is my advice to you, fellow graduates? . . . You can’t learn in an echo chamber, welcoming only your ideas. Listen to those who you do not agree with – in fact, I urge, seek them out. Oppose their theories with facts, not with censorship. Be very suspicious of those who want to cut off debate with 'this is against settled science.' Appealing to authority is a sign of weakness, not strength."
" 'Anti-Science': Unpacking a Vague & Distorted Label." Podcast by David Boze. <http://intelligentdesign.podomatic.com/entry/2013-04-01T16_44_10-07_00>
Jay Richards, "When to Doubt a Scientific Consensus." The Stream, Jun 20, 2014 <https://stream.org/doubt-scientific-consensus/>