Is Creation Science An Oxymoron?  Response to Moreland

Richard H. Bube

Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering

Stanford University

Stanford, California 94305

From: PSCF 46 (March 1994): 19-21.

J.P. Moreland's paper, "Conceptual Problems and the Scientific Status of Creation Science" starts with the issue of whether or not the description "creation science" is an oxymoron. It concludes that the argument cannot be sustained that creation science is not a science but a religion because it utilizes broad philosophical and theological concepts, or that creation science cannot be faulted by simply citing the presence of philosophical, ethical, and theological conceptual issues within creationist theories.

Part of the argument is to point to various other areas of science where participating scientists have indeed used philosophical, ethical, or religious conceptual issues as part of their theory formation. Such an approach has two shortcomings.

(1) The question needs to be settled whether practicing scientists have been consistent in using philosophical, ethical, or religious conceptual issues as part of their theory formation. It is quite possible that other scientists have also violated the structure of authentic science for their own particular philosophical or religious reasons. The appropriate response in such a case would be to recognize that these scientists have been involved in an inappropriate activity that we ought not to imitate, not adopt their practice as normalizing for others. Believers in atheism who allow their atheistic convictions to dictate their involvement in the theory of evolution are no more capable of doing authentic science than are theists who allow their theistic convictions to cause them to reject any theory of origins involving natural processes.

(2) A distinction must be drawn between the role of philosophical or religious concepts in forming a theory, and the injection of these concepts as part of the mechanisms of the theory. It may be that scientists carrying out authentic science may be influenced in the choice of a theory by philosophical or religious convictions. The first thing that they then need to do, however, is to set forth experimental tests of this theory as a scientific theory, quite independent of those philosophical or religious concepts. If the theory cannot be tested, either directly or indirectly, with a description in natural categories, then it is concluded that a scientific description cannot currently be given. Such uncertainties may give rise to a long period of time in which the appropriate theory must remain open because no adequate test can be constructed. If, however, the effect of the philosophical or religious convictions on theory formation is to propose that an essential mechanism of the theory is a supernatural act, which by definition cannot be tested scientifically, then such a theory cannot be considered to be a scientific theory.

Such extended semantic discourse, however, does not really deal in a straightforward way with the original issue. The reasons for regarding creation science as an oxymoron are far simpler and far easier to cite.

First of all, consider a basic simple definition of what constitutes authentic science. Authentic science is a particular way of knowing, based on descriptions of the world obtained through the human interpretation in natural categories, of publicly observable and reproducible sense data, obtained by sense interaction with the natural world. The descriptions of science must be obtained through human interpretation of data, and human interpretation of data may be influenced by a variety of philosophical, metaphysical, religious and cultural inputs. But the crucial consideration here is that to be part of authentic science, such descriptions must be given in natural categories. This choice is not made because anti-religious scientists are committed to "methodological naturalism" in order to advance their philosophical agenda, but simply to define and delimit the range of descriptions that can reasonably claim the support and validity of authentic science.

The limitation to descriptions in natural categories is inimical to Christian theology only if one adopts the mistaken attitude of scientism, i.e., that science is the only source of assured knowledge and truth. Clearly if one believes that only science can provide meaningful knowledge and information, then this is tantamount to asserting that all meaningful knowledge and information must be in natural categories. But if scientism is recognized as an unjustified extrapolation from science into metaphysics, philosophy, false religion, or world view, then other possibilities become evident. If there exists in the world a phenomenon that cannot be adequately described in natural categories, then the net result will be that it will not be possible to obtain a defensible scientific description. Other kinds of description, other ways of knowing must be brought to bear. Here again it is important to recognize that to say that a phenomenon can be adequately described in natural categories scientifically does not mean that it can be exhaustively so described, or that such a description rules out the possibility or the importance of recognizing beyond the scientific description the activity of God.

People are, of course, free to disagree and attempt to change this definition, but a high degree of caution is advisable. This definition is the working format for authentic science by people who are actually engaged in doing authentic science. There is furthermore a close relationship between the defense of authentic science and the defense of authentic Christian theology. Efforts to impose theological ideas on science, and efforts to impose scientific ideas on theology are both destructive of the validity which we would like to be able to associate with authentic science and authentic theology.

A scientist may be led by his religious convictions to propose the theory that the earth came into being 10,000 years ago. This could be in principle a scientific theory. To validate such a theory he must then involve himself in extensive testing of the apparent age of the earth. He cannot do authentic science by starting with the assumption that he knows that the earth is 10,000 years old, and then try to find evidence that supports such an assumption; such an activity would be pseudoscience. But if a scientist were led by his religious convictions to propose the theory that the earth came into being 10,000 years ago with all of the evidences of being 5 billion years old, then this could never be classified as a scientific theory, because no conceivable test could ever be made of its validity. The conclusion that it cannot be classified as a scientific theory does not demand that it not be true, only that it cannot be described in a way consistent with that limited discipline known as authentic science.

In a sense the issues raised in Moreland's paper constitute a kind of "straw man." They miss the main points of contention. Let us return to the basic question, "Why is creation science an oxymoron?" Three basic reasons can be cited.

(1) As a matter of fact, "creation science" must necessarily be "anti-evolution science." Since the assumption of the reality of divine creation rules out (for the advocate of creation science) the possibility of any description in natural categories, the only place to attack is against the proposal that there are such descriptions, namely those encompassed in some theory of biological evolution.

Now the anti-Christian aspects of evolution do not arise from the biological theory of evolution itself, which has been frequently integrated into a totally biblical perspective. The anti-Christian aspects of evolution arise from the development of what we may call evolutionism, an inherently anti-Christian world view which views evolution within the framework of scientism. The place for a Christian to attack, therefore, is the claim that evolutionism is really based on the theory of biological evolution. The failure to do this constitutes a major tactical error of so-called creation science.

(2) Neither "creation science" nor "anti-evolution science" can be accepted as authentic science for a very simple reason. Both of these assume that science can be done for the purpose of establishing a previously accepted model. But the strength of properly functioning authentic science is that any attempt to direct scientific activity because of any previously accepted model dictated by philosophical, metaphysical, or religious concerns is rejected. This is no more unique as a critique of "creation science" than it would be as a critique of a proposed "evolution science." Attempts to establish evolution by doing science are no more valid than are attempts to establish creation by doing science. Investigators who shape their scientific inquiry, descriptions and conclusions because of their belief in the validity of evolution are doing at best bad science, and at worst pseudoscience. Investigators who shape their scientific inquiry, descriptions and conclusions because of their belief in the validity of creation are again doing at best bad science, and at worst pseudoscience. Authentic science must be directed toward the open question of how to describe what is in natural categories, in the best way possible, unless it is found not to be possible.

(3) It is not possible to scientifically provide evidence for "creation," if by creation is meant, as is usually the case, supernatural activity by a divine intelligence outside the possibilities of scientific description. Science can in principle provide the framework for deciding that we cannot describe origins scientifically, that certain events happened in history in a way that we cannot describe scientifically. Science can in principle also provide us with evidence that would be consistent or inconsistent with insight into God's creative activity. But if God were to have created living creatures instantaneously by fiat, then the only scientific description for the event is "spontaneous generation," not "creation." The choice to identify such acts with God's creation is a choice made out of a faith context of a life committed to God, not one that can be provided by science. This is why, for example, one might defend the possibility of offering instantaneous vs. process descriptions for origins in education in science, or of offering creation as a religious interpretation of the scientific evidence in education in human thought and history, but one cannot defend the inclusion of creation as a scientific mechanism in a science curriculum.

Unfortunately, this paper does not deal with any of these objections to the phrase and concept of "creation science." Until the proper distinctions are made, the proper inferences understood, and the proper applications put into common use, this subject will remain one of confusion for many Christians not trained in science.

1994