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In the infamous creation museum a strategically very shrewd exhibit, where a scientist and a biblical scholar both study the same fossils, is being presented:

enter image description here

The sign says

“different scientists can reach very different conclusions, depending on their starting assumptions.”

The argument obviously is that both interpretations are on the same intellectual level and are therefore equally valid.

Why is this wrong? My gut feeling is that

  1. you use far more assumptions when starting from the position that the Bible is true (but is having more assumptions problematic in itself?),
  2. you are running into all kinds of problems when you state that "anything goes" (Stephen Law calls this "going nuclear") - effectively it states that no real knowledge whatsoever is possible.

I think key in this debate is the demarcation problem but my question is more practical: What is the best rebuttal against (the philosophical mindset of) this exhibit?

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    Do creationists actually dig up fossils, do experiments, examine DNA sequences, etc.? Our do they just look up the answers in The Book? – Dan Christensen Feb 2 '15 at 19:02
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    @DanChristensen: In a way I hope that they don't dig up fossils because they are not qualified to do that and would destroy them by accident (or even consciously, who knows...) – vonjd Feb 2 '15 at 19:05
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    It's not clear to me what is meant by them being at "different levels". A definition of those levels would be required to answer whether they are at different levels. Also, the sign seems true, so I wouldn't offer any rebuttal. It's too vague, too, so ultimately useless as a defense of anything. Different scientists indeed reach different conclusions all the time. – Smig Feb 2 '15 at 19:10
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    Not a complete answer, so a comment, but yes, having more assumptions is problematic in itself. A scientific approach is expected to put work into challenging every significant assumption made, try to falsify it, and try to fit the available evidence without using that assumption. If an assumption can be removed while still fitting the evidence, then it should be removed, it's not an arbitrary or neutral choice to still keep assuming it if it's not justified. – Peteris Feb 3 '15 at 3:47
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    "In a way I hope that they don't dig up fossils because they are not qualified to do that" Shouldn't you actually be basing that assessment based on, I don't know, their actual qualifications, and not their religious beliefs? Or are you so intolerant as to say that no school should train and issue a degree in archaeological excavation to a person who demonstrates competence, because of that person's religious views? (In which case they are unqualified only because you and those who agree with you denied them the training) – Ben Voigt Feb 4 '15 at 0:54

17 Answers 17

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The slogan

different scientists can reach very different conclusions, depending on their starting assumptions.

is misleading in the context of the "debate" between evolution and creationism.

Scientists aim to explain how the world works. If two scientists disagree about some issue, then at least one of them is wrong. That is, at least one of them has an idea that does not correspond to how the world works. That doesn't imply they are both equally right.

How would they sort out their differences? Scientific knowledge is created by noticing problems with current knowledge, proposing solutions to the problems, and criticising those proposals until only one is left and it has no outstanding criticisms. One way of criticising a proposal is to do an experiment, but it's not the only way. If the theory doesn't solve any problems, then it will be rejected without testing. For example, nobody tests the idea that eating grass cures cancer because that idea doesn't solve any problems.

Creationism doesn't rise to a standard where it can be considered a serious option for explaining anything in biology. If God made the world he could done it any way he liked. He could have made it 6000 years ago (or 5 seconds ago) and make it look billions of years old. Creationism doesn't exclude any conceivable state of affairs and so cannot explain anything about how the world works. Why do humans and chimps have about 96% of their DNA in common? God did it. Why? Dunno. God be godding. If we're going to accept that as an explanation, we might as well give up and just say "shit happens" and be done with it.

The theory of evolution does make predictions and solve problems, see any book on evolutionary biology by Dawkins. It also fits in with ideas from other fields such as the theory of computation and epistemology: see "The Fabric of Reality" and "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch.

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    Agreed. Citing the work of gods, demons or fairies cuts off any further scientific inquiry with an untestable hypothesis. As such, it cannot be science. – Dan Christensen Feb 2 '15 at 18:47
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    The idea that eating grass cures cancer would solve a very important problem: cancer. So I suspect the reason this particular idea has been rejected is because it actually has been tested (albeit not formally) and found not to work. – David Z Feb 2 '15 at 21:42
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    @alanf I don't know, why would a certain bark be adapted to cure headaches? It's not that the plant is adapted to help us, it's just a happy coincidence. There's nofundamental reason the same thing couldn't be the case with grass and cancer. – rlms Feb 3 '15 at 10:39
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    You don't infer the past. You make guesses about it and criticise the guesses. Any hypothesis about why something happened in the past that is any good will have implications beyond the issue it was originally intended to explain. And those implications can be tested and will in general differ for different theories. Creationism doesn't get up to that level. It falls at the first hurdle by not even being a candidate to explain anything. – alanf Feb 4 '15 at 10:34
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    If quantum mechanics is correct, then at least one of them is wrong. If they have not yet interacted with any system that carries information about the cat, then there are two versions of the cat, one is alive, the other is dead. So they're both wrong. After that information has arrived, there are two versions of each experimenters. One version of them would see the cat dead if they checked, the others would see it alive. So then in each version of them only one of them is right. See "The Fabric of Reality" and "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch. – alanf Feb 4 '15 at 17:12
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The big picture of current evolutionary theory draws from many different fields, like biology, paleontology, geology, physics (radiometric dating) and chemistry. There is a strong consensus between scientists that the results of their respective fields support the big picture, e.g. evolutionary synthesis is a consensus among biologists.

So, while different scientists may reach very different (i.e. incompatible) conclusions depending on their starting assumptions, they currently don't. Scientists in different disciplines start from different assumptions, but their results support and deepen evolutionary theory.

The sign you posted follows the Teach the controversy strategy, which tries to undermine this sociological state of affairs.

The practical rebuttal is to block the philosophical lures and give a sociological answer: currently, scientists starting from different assumptions do not, as a matter of fact, reach incompatible conclusions.


Bonus answer:

This counter-strategy is sound, but it may be counterproductive more generally as it obscures the fact that controversy exists in science without undermining science (scientific pluralism).

Taking biology as an example: scientists coming from evo-devo argue that evolutionary theory needs a rethink. They propose a broader framework, termed the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, to account for epigenetic inheritance and other phenomena, claiming that neo-Darwinian synthesis is an incomplete theory.

So, the extended practical rebuttal is that scientists do not draw incompatible conclusions with regard to evolutionary theory, and where they do reach very different conclusions with regard to the current limits of evolutionary synthesis, these conclusions do not include, imply, support or suggest creationism.

This is, incidentally, also a rebuttal to the false dilemma that defenders of creationism in the form of "intelligent design" often make, a fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses in particular: "Intelligent" isn't the only conceivable alternative to evolutionary theory (supposing it is an alternative at all), so the weakening of evolutionary theory doesn't make "intelligent design" any stronger. Logically speaking, even showing modern evolutionary theory to be false would not change the probability of "intelligent design" being true a bit.

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    @DBK: In your answer, what do you mean by the thought: "The practical rebuttal is to block the philosophical lures and give a sociological answer?" This sounds way off! Your statement is strong evidence of sidestepping. You've even emboldened your answer to invite repeat as a meme. Shouldn't you consider your statement as typical of 'politics in science' and the resort to--as F.A. Schaeffer has said--"...sociological science" (one sees what one wishes to see)? – Darcy Davis Feb 2 '15 at 17:48
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    @DarcyDavis: I had to google Schaeffer's "sociological science" up… It seems to denote social engineering coupled with relativistic assumptions. I have a hard time understanding what that has to do with my plea for a sociological answer - unless one thinks that the admission that science is a social phenomenon and the establishment of a scientific description of it within sociology implies those consequences (which seems outlandish to me). … – DBK Feb 2 '15 at 18:47
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    … (Incidentally, my 'sociological answer' appeals to matters of fact, while it's the "different assumptions may lead to different conclusions"-thesis that tries to exploit a relativist/skeptic view of science.) … – DBK Feb 2 '15 at 18:48
  • … My rationale for a "sociological answer" is the following: The "different assumptions may lead to different conclusions"-thesis is formulated as an abstract possibility thesis. Instead of discussing ways in which it might be a correct assertion or situations to which it may apply ("philosophical lures"), one simply cuts off the relevance of this thesis to the current situation in biology and related sciences: the thesis simply doesn't apply here. How do we know it? Through sociological investigations that confirm the current consensus in the sciences, different assumptions notwithstanding. – DBK Feb 2 '15 at 18:48
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    @vonjd: Yes, indeed parts of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis are being interpreted as introducing (and acknowledging) Lamarckian elements into modern synthesis. – DBK Feb 2 '15 at 19:27
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I think the honest answer is best viewed through the teachings of Karl Popper, notably the Falsifiability Criterion, according to which anything scientific has to supply a self refuting empirical criteria. That is, in the absence of an empirical way to test the hypothesis -- upon failure of which the theory is refuted -- the theory in question is hereby not falsifiable, hence not scientific.

As presented, this could be an ideal behind scientific making. As such, it may be perceived as a defining characteristic to which science always aspires, doesn't always achieve. As Creationism assumes the existence of god, it is not falsifiable (There isn't, by any definition, an empirical test upon failure of which we deny the existence of god) and as such it is being demarcated from the natural sciences.

I disagree that

The practical rebuttal is to block the philosophical lures and give a sociological answer ...

in an attempt to win the debate over the current state of affairs, as there is simply no need to give in to such historico-cultural matters in this context of knowledge. Claims such as The Incommensurability of Scientific Theories, whether formulated by Fayerabend or as it was plagiarized from Polanyi by Kuhn has long been given strong rebuttal themselves -- see Davidson in here for example.

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    I like the phrase "Not even wrong" to describe something that's unfalsifiable. – Bobson Feb 4 '15 at 15:11
  • I would suggest that it's important to distinguish between statements which could be false in undetectable ways, versus those which--if false--would be detectable as such. For example, a statement "any time X is observed, Y will not be" would, if false, be readily observable as false. Note that the statement as given would be true even if X and Y could be simultaneously present, if the circumstances that would allow the observation of X would preclude the observation of Y. – supercat Feb 6 '15 at 0:39
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“different scientists can reach very different conclusions, depending on their starting assumptions.”

This is true so far as it goes, but it stops before the critical step that distinguishes natural science from creationism: scientists then check their conclusions against reality, and reject or change their assumptions if reality and conclusion don't match. Creationism can't do this, since their assumptions (that the Christian God created the world in the manner described in the Bible) are not open to question.

As a contrived example to contrast the two methodologies: the assumption is "a circle's circumference is three times its diameter" and the conclusion is "therefore, a circular object ten cubits across will have a circumference of 30 cubits". Someone following scientific methodology will find an object 10 cubits across and measure the circumference; when they find it to be around 31 cubits, they'll reject the assumption ("okay, maybe it's 31/10 times the diameter, maybe the ratio varies from object to object, maybe it's something else. I need to measure more things."). Someone following creationist methodology will simply accept that their assumption is correct, since it came from their holy book. Any counter-evidence will be ignored.

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    The $\pi$ example is brilliant! – abalter Feb 4 '15 at 15:17
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    If you're building round objects with cubits I hope its a damn perfect circle, but probably its built with stones or wood or some other imperfectly shaped resource, Of all the variances I doubt you will get the perfect ratio that is pi. I'm pretty sure that's why the ancients figured 3 was close enough. Its not that it's not questioned (is it exactly 3?) it's that 3 was close enough for their purposes. Are you suggesting that creationists reject pi? – Octopus Feb 4 '15 at 16:59
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    @Octopus Actually Pi has been known to multiple DP for thousands of years: www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/HistTopics/… – Tim B Feb 8 '15 at 22:05
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    presented for your edification here is the complete list of fractions in the bible: – hildred Feb 9 '15 at 7:12
  • @hildred: Is that comment incomplete, or are you claiming that the list is empty? If the latter, you are deplorably misinformed: the fraction one-tenth appears in Genesis 14:20 and then dozens of times after that. There are other fractions in the Bible as well. – Ben Voigt Dec 24 '15 at 17:33
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A theory is a model that has predictive power.

When scientists talk about evolutionary theory they make statements to the effect of "If this is true we'd expect to see such and such". They then go and see if they can find "such and such". If they cannot then the model is revised. The model is always as consistent as possible with the entire body of evidence. This isn't always possible and results in scientific dispute. The by product of these disputes is a new model that is more consistent with the entire body of evidence than its predecessor. Both the new model and its predecessor have explanatory power but the new model explains more (see einstein vs. newton) this is known as verisimilitude.

Creationism is a model with little predictive/explanatory power. It takes a limited number of observations and attempts to show how they are consistent with a recent creation event. To do this its proponents have to stick to a small subset of the available evidence. Kent Hovind and Ken Ham are famous for this. The will produce a rudimentary mathematical model showing its possible the dogs you see today evolved from a common ancestor on the ark. This model has explanatory power, but it only attempts to explain one sliver of the available observations. It does not simultaneously explain the dogs we see today, the 350 foot deep chalk deposits at dover, and the well ordered fossil record at the grand canyon(see bunnies in the cambrian).

Interestingly enough if creationism/intelligent design proponents were to revise the model to be consistent with all the evidence you'd have something that looks very much like evolutionary theory.

  • +1: I agree: They would have to concede that the potential to change is programmed into all living things (mutations and artificial selection, e.g. evolution from wolf to dog), they generally agree that microevolution is taking place and the would have to accept that it looks like as if macroevolution had occurred. – vonjd Feb 3 '15 at 9:52
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    This issue with this display is they hyperbolize the ambiguity. The models produced within the scientific community are beyond our imagination's wildest visions of accuracy. They are honed to the finest edge and consistent with millions of experiments and observations. On a daily basis each and every individual on the planet trusts their lives to these models. To simply say "split the difference our approach is exactly the same we just started with different assumptions" is absolutely laughable. – nsfyn55 Feb 3 '15 at 16:25
  • Oh you sillies. I find that computers, airplanes, x-ray machines and antibiotics based on Biblical knowledge work JUST as well as those fancy-shmancy sciency-ones. Haven't we all had that experience? – Spike0xff Feb 3 '15 at 17:25
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    +1 because they throw away most of the evidence because it doesn't agree with their theory, or dismiss radio carbon dating as fundamentally flawed. In my college physics classes, we liked to call that kind of cherry-picking, "your methodology is crap". – Ernie Feb 4 '15 at 0:29
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    @bdares: "The reference to human lifespan was also to acknowledge that it would take what would be considered a very long time" This is not true. One can apply inductive reasoning. For instance, mathematicians have demonstrated the maximum distance between two primes. This did not involve sitting down with a sheet of paper and writing out every known number. "predictive power isn't the single best..." This is also untrue. Its the only metric...period. – nsfyn55 Feb 6 '15 at 23:41
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One of the clearest answers in modern times was given by Stephen Jay Gould, in one of his books. Gould was a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard, died about 13 or 14 years ago, but his books are still available and popular. He came up with the theory of evolution called punctuated equilibrium.

He dealt with this subject in his book Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections on Natural History, specifically Chapter 19: Evolution as Fact and Theory.

In this chapter he writes:

"The basic attack of modern creationists falls apart on two general counts before we even reach the supposed factual details of their assault against evolution. First, they play upon a vernacular misunderstanding of the word 'theory' to convey the false impression that we evolutionists are covering up the rotten core of our edifice. Second, they misuse a popular philosophy of science to argue that they are behaving scientifically in attacking evolution. Yet the same philosophy demonstrates that their own belief is not science, and that 'scientific creationism' is a meaningless and self-contradictory phrase, an example of what Orwell called 'newspeak.'"

"In the American vernacular, 'theory' often means 'imperfect fact'--part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus, creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is 'only' a theory, and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists can't make up even their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it?..."

So, first you have to differentiate between evolutionary fact and evolutionary theory. The fact is that when we dig in the earth we find the remains of animals that are no longer on this earth and we have no written record of their existence. Second, as we dig deeper and deeper, the forms of those animals become simpler and simpler. Third, through established scientific methods (i.e., radiocarbon dating) we can establish the times that these animals existed. These are evolutionary facts. These are the world's data.

Gould further states:

"Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.' I suppose apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in a physics classroom...Evolutionists have been clear about this distinction between fact and theory from the very beginning, if only because we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred. Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory--natural selection--to explain the mechanisms of evolution."

Evolutionary theory is how we explain these physical facts that we have dug up. An evolutionary theory must be able to explain the evolutionary facts that we have been presented with (dug up). If you present an 'evolutionary theory' that does not support the facts, then it is not a theory it is an unfounded conjecture - a guess. Calling a conjecture a 'theory' does not make it a 'theory' - as can be seen from Prof. Gould's quote above.

Scientific evolutionary theories have some variations (witness Gould's own punctuated equilibrium theory vs classical slow or gradual evolution), but they are all based on the facts that have been literally dug up.

Creationist 'theory' or better guess or conjecture, does not base itself on the evolutionary facts that have been dug up.

  • Niles Eldredge was also involved in punctuated equilibria. See his "Eternal Ephemera" for a history of Darwinian theories. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punctuated_equilibrium – Frank Hubeny Mar 1 '18 at 2:32
  • @FrankHubeny until his death, it was GOULD and Eldridge. Since his death, its been Eldridge that's been the voice and publications... – Swami Vishwananda Mar 1 '18 at 5:05
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Full disclosure: I am no expert in Scientific Methodology, and make no claim to be.

From my basic understanding of proper Scientific Method, I can point out the most misleading bit about that sign is the end:

“different scientists can reach very different conclusions, depending on their starting assumptions.

more specifically, the starting assumptions bit. Good science specifically starts with as few assumptions as possible. What's interesting here is that what the rest of the sign says is true.

It is indeed difficult/impossible to remove all assumptions from a scientist's brain, as things like culture and upbringing instil ideas seen as "obvious truths" in the scientist's mind, and therefore do not require questioning. It is both a beauty and a curse that a scientist in China with Buddist upbringing will start out with a vastly different set of 'truths' than a Western scientist with Christian/Atheist upbringing. More difficult still is recognizing that Western Science has it's own particular set of 'beliefs' that we do not question (because we don't view them as 'beliefs') that are not shared by our scientist friends in other cultures.

Setting aside THAT lengthy debate, let's focus on what we CAN recognize as an assumption: The Bible.

The interesting bit here is our Creationist friends do not view it the same way we do. In first-hand debates with like-minded Creationist friends, I've had people tell me, "If you can prove that Jesus was not resurrected, I'll stop believing today." Yet when pursuing the debate further, the same person pulled a King James Bible out of their pack, flipped it to a page, and began reciting a verse to prove me wrong.

The difference here is that Creationists tend to view the Bible as evidence, and view Darwin's Evolution as the assumption.

Alternatively, those favouring Evolution tend to see the Bible as an assumption (and thus should NOT be used as evidence) and look for other facts as supporting evidence.

If you re-read the sign now you may see how it can have vastly different meanings to the reader, based on the reader's primary assumptions walking up to it.

Thus, if your intent is to challenge the implied conclusion of the sign, you may wish to start with "The Bible as evidence, vs. The Bible as an assumption" (not admissible as evidence) point rather than trying to 'prove' anything just yet. 'Proof' becomes a very muddled word if both parties have a different definition of what 'evidence' is.

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    'Proof' a "very muddled word?" Not if one party is just plain wrong. – Dan Christensen Feb 3 '15 at 4:31
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    +1: Good point: Nailing them down (no pun intended) on the point that they take the Bible as an assumption means that they cannot prove anything with it. – vonjd Feb 3 '15 at 8:05
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    Maybe better to say proof is irrelevant if two parties are not communicating because they are using the same words to mean different things. I find that arguing with Creationists is pointless, because they have divergent concepts behind most of the necessary words: science, authority, proof, evidence, truth, God, etc. etc. They literally speak a different language. You don't understand them, they don't understand you. – Spike0xff Feb 3 '15 at 17:34
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    Proof is for math. Science has supporting evidence. There is no such thing as a scientific proof. – user13574 Feb 4 '15 at 23:40
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“different scientists can reach very different conclusions, depending on their starting assumptions.”

The sentence is correct, but it does not prove the point the creation museum wants to imply. What exactly is science and a scientific approach ? While there are many, many explanations, I think the most succinct explanation is that science tries to get information about something where people from different cultures and worldviews can agree to get the most accurate representation of the known observations together.

Let's say what that means if you are a scientist and you are investigating a tyrannosaur skeleton. What do you write in your observation book ?

"Found an incomplete skeleton at location XYZ. Started excavation at the timepoint XYZ and ended XYZ. Skeleton consists of X parts, please see the excavation map where the parts have been found and the photo page for each fossilized bone found. Strata seems to be in the Santonium epoch, I appended a sample for further observation. Tibia bone has severe fracture."

What this description shows is that it can be read, understood and accepted by everyone, both cavemen and scientists of the 25th century (Well, the Santonium epoch must be explained further, but it can be done). The scientist tells only the observations he/she made. Now he/she can make further statements:

The fracture seems to be relatively fresh, perhaps shortly before its death. I think it is probable that it was wounded, retreated to this position and starved.

This may trigger disagreement. The caveman looks at the location (it is geologically stable, so not much change) and says that a wounded animal would never choose such an exposed position. Another scientist says that he excavated many fossils and in his experience the fracture is not fresh. The 25th century scientist may shake his head and point out that the bone has been reexamined with XYZ technology and found to be fractured 2,5 years before the demise of the tyrannosaur. What is important is that everyone has in fact different experiences and they are arguing from their point of view. There is nothing wrong about it, each other can talk and argue together.

The concept is "methodological naturalism". It may be that you have deep inner convictions, are Christ, Buddhist, Muslim etc., but if you discuss scientific questions, you stick to the things which all participants accept. You do not try to find solutions which does not explain anything ("If I cannot explain that, I introduce God/demon/whatever"). That the dinosaurs are 4000 years old because your Bible says so is not a valid argument because a Buddhist does not believe in a Bible. But both can agree that there is an excavated bone which looks fractured. This works in reverse, too: If the scientist which wrote the report is a deeply believing Christ, but stick to the facts he/she is a better scientist than a humanitarian atheistic scientist letting his emotions clouding his judgement.

Some misconceptions uttered here:

scientists then check their conclusions against reality, and reject or change their assumptions if reality and conclusion don't match.

In your dreams. Really, scientists are humans and I am sick that we are painted as defenders of wisdom. Scientists are not better than other people ! They may have pet theories, build groups, hate each other's guts, fight for funds and act irrationally & unfair. (See the feud "Out of Africa" vs "Multiregionalism" in anthropology). But it does not mean that scientific work is not done and most scientists could not work together most of the time. But conflicts arise from time to time.

If two scientists disagree about some issue, then at least one of them is wrong. That is, at least one of them has an idea that does not correspond to how the world works.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Both scientists may be wrong. Both scientists may be partially right. One scientist may have the correct argumentation, but he/she is still wrong because the data the argumentation depends on is not correct. It may even be that there is not enough data or conflicting data to come to a conclusion, the question may be not resolvable (currently) and a discussion may be pointless. Everything is possible.

ADDITION: I thought the answer to the last question: "What is the best rebuttal against (the philosophical mindset of) this exhibit?" is quite obvious.

If you are someone which is interested to settle the question about a dinosaur skeleton and you never have encountered the Bible the question automatically arises: "Which information has the bible which is relevant to the excavation of the dinosaur skeleton ?" You are asking this question completely neutral and you are genuinely interested.

Does the bible mention dinosaurs ? No. There is a dragon, a leviathan and a behemoth. None of them has realistic properties or is remotely like a dinosaur. No seven heads or several horns, no throat with fire or smoke, no dinosaur capable to hide itself in mud. Apart from that, the descriptions are fantastic, the dragon is throwing stars down.

Given that, is the Bible at least consistent (meaning that it does not contradict itself) ? No. The bible states that the human came after the animals (Genesis) and two pages later it states that the animals came after the human. Adam and Eva were the only humans and had only two childs: Kain and Abel. How were humans then able to procreate ? In the New Testament the differences between the evangelists are stunning.

Given all that information, every information from the Bible or extracted from the Bible (the 4000 years BC often quoted are the addition of ages which are itself completely exaggerated from a modern viewpoint) is simply not relevant for the examination of the dinosaur skeleton and should never find its way into the discussion. This is a viewpoint which can be understood even by a religious Christian. If he/she can understand that people may come from a completely other culture and never came in contact with the Bible, he must contain the discussion to argumentations which can be shared. This disallows also "leaps of faith" by invoking explanations of indefeasible origins (supernatural, taboo).

  • Not sure you're helping the OP, but great post. – Spike0xff Feb 3 '15 at 17:48
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    Interesting but I think it doesn't answer my question. – vonjd Feb 4 '15 at 9:54
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    @vonjd I hope my addition makes the difference between the viewpoints clearer. – Thorsten S. Feb 7 '15 at 13:02
  • "Wrong. Wrong Wrong." he said at least one of them is wrong. That is also what you said although you added some other things that doesn't disagree with "at least one of them is wrong". – Tim B Feb 8 '15 at 22:25
  • @TimB There are instances when scientists are acting on assumptions that belonging to one category automatically excludes belonging to another category (False dilemma). For example: In very rare instances people are born who not only share anatomically/hormonally a body of both sexes, but also have a chromosomal cross-over: They are also genetically a mix of both sexes. Therefore two statements of "X is a man" and "X is a woman" from scientist are both true ! (Both wrong is not correct because there is no absence of male/female properties). See also the reptile/mammal question of the Platypus. – Thorsten S. Feb 10 '15 at 21:59
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Creationism is to theology what alchemy is to science, or what arithmetic is to mathematics or what school-physics is to physics itself.

It was Kant who remarked of the 'proofs' of God that the one from Design is the one that most deserves respect. I placed the word proof in quotes as they are not proofs in the sense of mathematics, but as in 'argument for'.

For example, Aristotle, one of the founders of science in the Western tradition, treats evolutionary theory in his Physics and Metaphysics. He also treats chance and spontaneity as causes in themselves (ie, opposed to determinism). This, too, is not just in evolution but also for the universe itself. Compare the contemporary debate where the universe starts as a quantum event, as a spontaneous event. He also treats the theory of the One from a number of different perspectives. He considers the Pythagorean perspective which is consonant with Plato. He also considers his own perspective on the Unmoved Mover, an infinite principle, substantively and quantifiably and which is distinguished from the notion of the All or Whole, understood as that without lack.

This tradition should be distinguished from that of Lucretius, which itself derives from Epicurus. It is this tradition that sets its metaphysical face against that of Aristotle.

So, at bottom, and when considered rightly, they are at the same level in that they treat fundamental questions in fundamentally incompatible ways. However, in the history of ideas, they are intricately interwoven (as pointed out by Hegel in his History). They are a dialectic. Compare this with Hegel's notion of the dialectic of Being (theism) and Non-Being (atheism) as sublated into the Becoming of science and theology.

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    Thank you, but I am afraid I don't fully get your point. You are mentioning many interesting ideas yet at the end you are writing: "So, at bottom; and when considered rightly, they are at the same level"? – vonjd Feb 2 '15 at 17:18
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    Metaphysics means at the foundations; so I mean at this 'same level', which is at the 'bottom', and which is the 'right' place to consider these questions at. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 2 '15 at 18:03
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I see two common themes in the previous answers:

  1. Unquestionability leading to weird and incorrect interpretations of evidence.
  2. Lack of motivation because of the availability of a cop out, "Dunno. God did it. End of discussion."

I'll start with the second one:

Lack of motivation

From an evolutionist perspective, I can see how you would come up with that, but from a creationist perspective, it completely misses the point of doing research.

Creationist research is not so much about curiosity as is it about a relationship with the One who made both them and the stuff around them. One of the best ways to get to know someone is to study their work. This is the primary motivation.

A secondary motivation is still curiosity because the Bible is not intended to be a scientific textbook. Where it mentions events and phenomena, it is accurate to the extent that people observed and recorded at the time, but the actual cause of such events is fascinating to discover and sometimes unintuitive at first, just like secular science. And in a loose sense of Matthew 6:33, it's a fantastic bonus to discover things that turn out to be useful in engineering.

Unquestionability

Actually, from a creationist perspective, evolution has the same problem, because you cannot question the non-existence of any kind of authority beyond the highest-evolved animal at any given time or the (yet-unexplained) laws of physics. Try to publish an article that does question this, and most peer-reviewed journals will reject it because it goes against their religious beliefs.

From a creationist perspective, evolution is simply the origins component of a religion called humanism that worships humans and their accomplishments. From a creationist perspective, the creation/evolution debate is not religion vs. science, but religion vs. religion.

Bonus point

We often see science being used to prove evolutionary claims, and while I won't say a lot about the unavoidable circular arguments on both sides, I will point out that there are some things that simply cannot be tested as claimed, also on both sides.

For example, we can choose a star at random and measure its present composition. Anyone with sufficient equipment and the knowledge to use it can verify that, so it would be foolish to argue that point. But when you try to explain how the star got to be that way, you can't test that. You can't wait a few million lifetimes to see if a theory pans out that requires that timescale. You can try to accelerate it in a lab or look at other stars that are supposed to be on the same track, but then you have to verify that the accelerated test is an accurate representation of the slow version or that the other stars are in fact on the same track. So you still have to go the long way around.

In the same way, we can measure how much parent and daughter elements there are in a sample, but we can't say how old it is without introducing assumptions about the original amounts, contamination, variations in its half-life over long periods of time (we could only measure that recently), etc.

Therefore, creationists see two kinds of science:

  1. Observational science deals with things that can be tested completely at any time by anyone with the proper skills and equipment. It would be foolish to argue with the direct results of these tests, regardless of your personal beliefs.
  2. Origins science attempts to use these results, combined with logical speculation, to figure out what happened in the past. Because of the speculation part, despite rigorous attempts to use the most solid logic possible, it is still heavily influenced by the researchers' presuppositions. This makes origins science much weaker than observational science, to the point that it is always open to question.
  • This is very clearly argued, but the "origins" part is badly wrong. Observational science can easily be worse than origins science because lots of it is indirect (must be, as the phenomena is not easily or accurately detected with our innate senses) and because if there is lots of evidence left behind by the originating process, you can get better observations of that historical process than you can of some present but difficult-to-experiment-on process. – Rex Kerr Feb 3 '15 at 19:48
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    So with e.g. young earth creationism, this line of thinking might lead one to think, "well, the normal view is open to question, maybe they have a point?", when in fact it's closer to, "YEC is about as wrong as anything can be, violating literally dozens of very well-understood and observed phenomena". (Also, FWIW, papers get rejected by introducing any complicated but not obviously strictly entity unless they include very good reference for that entity. This yields conservative well-tested knowledge. If wanting that is a "religion", well, yes, it's a religion.) – Rex Kerr Feb 3 '15 at 19:51
  • I agree that creationists make this differentiation between observational and historical science because it fits their agenda "teach the controversy" but scientists don't do that because it is not clear what the difference should be. – vonjd Feb 4 '15 at 11:30
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    -1 for trying the old "science is just another religion and their faithful are just as bad" rhetorical trick. No, isn't, and no, they're not. No false equivalence cookie for you. – Shadur Feb 6 '15 at 8:10
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    Also, the entire 'theory' of Ignorant Design is almost literally #2 -- pretty much all of their arguments boil down to, essentially, "I don't understand how this could have happened, therefore no one else can either, therefore ID (and therefore, by induction, God)." If that's not laziness, it's willful obtuseness. – Shadur Feb 6 '15 at 8:13
3

I think the slogan is true, but I don't think it forwards the creationist worldview in any way.

Ultimately we form our beliefs taking into account previous assumptions about the world. If those assumptions are different, conclusions of our findings might be different. If the sign is meant to argue that scientists only reach their conclusions due to their assumptions (which I'd argue is true and perfectly acceptable), then the sign also admits the view it's supposedly defending to be victim of the same fault. An attack on evolution would need to attack those assumptions if it's not attacking the reasoning that built upon them.

For a more explicit illustration, we might refuse the assumption that the objective world exists, and therefore conclude that there's no evidence that dinosaurs existed.

3

Creationism uses science's rules, but derives from an unscientific set of assumptions.

The creationist arguments that have been given to me all stem from one key scientific argument: a scientific theory which does not match the data is inferior to a theory which does. They argue that evolution does not match the data sufficiently, thus creationism is a preferable theory. Consider how much more elegant Newton's world was, but the data matches Einstein's.

The argument stems from a disagreement as to what one considers a scientific source: specifically the Bible. Most creationists (all of them I've talked to, but there may be counterexamples) believe the literal words of the Bible are Truth, and thus qualify as evidence in a scientific claim. Anything which contradicts the Bible is False, and false theories are not appreciated in science. They then pile on scientific evidence to defend their claim.

What I have found is that, if you accept the literal words of the Bible as Truth, the story they create with their scientific evidence is actually quite compelling. However, the general scientific community does not accept religious books as "bible truth." (such a strange topic, where "bible truth" becomes such an ironic idiom). When you remove the "evolution has to be false, because it disagrees with the Bible" datum, there is still a large body of evidence to back their claims, but it is eclipsed by the comparatively massive body of evidence disagreeing with their claims and agreeing with the theory of evolution. Daring to jump to generalities: for every one dataset claiming creationist truths, there's a dozen larger datasets refuting it.

My experience is that there is a relatively hard line drawn to distinguish creationism from other religous-scientific arguments. As best as I can tell, those that believe in creationism all believe the literal words of the Bible are true. There is a body of Chistians who are willing to hold a less extreme position and argue that some of the stories are metaphorical, not intended to be read as a literal series of physical events. These people usually hold a less conflicting position. I've found many who believe God created the world, but did so predominantly with the laws of physics. I do not categorize those people as creationists because their view is often not inconsistent with measured data (there is no evidence that God gave the "spark of life" to the first organism, but there is also no scientific evidence he didn't either.) These people are usually willing to accept evolution as a mechanism, and are willing to throw that mechanism away just as fast as science refutes it, for they are not tied to the mechanism but rather the message.

So, in conclusion, creationism and natural science are not on the same level, because they disagree about the credibility of a major source of data. However, it is not clear which one is on a "higher" level because of relative perspective. If you already believe in the literal truth of the words of the Bible, it seems natural science is missing something. If you believe otherwise, it appears creationists are trying to do bad science.

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    Creationism does not in fact use science's rules - or at least they stop using science's rules the moment they lead to conclusions they don't want to hear. If you follow a rule only so long as it's convenient you might as well not follow it at all. – Shadur Feb 6 '15 at 8:09
2

Logically, there are assumptions, reasoning, conclusions and facts. Ideally creationism and natural science would be on the same level in terms of the first three, however philosophically we are really only satisfied when we can test our ideas against the hard evidence.

We can't choose all of our assumptions, and we are only looking for the ones which are consitent.

1

I think the fundamental problem here is not that different scientist can reach different conclusions, rather that assuming that a Biblical account is accurate and then arranging facts to fit that narrative is not science.

One of science's essential qualities is that there are no absolute truths and through reexamination all "conclusions" need to be revisited. That is not possible if we assume that Biblical facts cannot be refuted. They are neither self evident nor empirically verifiable - they are literary account. While the Bible maybe correct, it cannot be used as the starting point of a scientific inquiry.

  • I'm sorry, but I have to very strongly disagree with your statement of 'One of science's essential qualities is that there are no absolute truths'. That is an epistemological claim that science literally has no ability to engage with or answer. The 'essential' qualities of science are the scientific method, period. It has a few steps and that's it (multiple ways to slice and dice them though) but roughly they are: Hypothesis, Test, Analyze, Conclusion – Aaron Marcus Feb 4 '15 at 17:31
  • You are right - I worded it poorly. I meant that science has the quality of falsifiability. My reasoning was that whatever is falsifiable also does not represent an absolute truth. However, absolute truth has other connotations beyond that, which are not related to science as you pointed out. – Gratus D. Feb 5 '15 at 16:08
1

"What is the best rebuttal against (the philosophical mindset of) this exhibit?"

The best rebuttal to me is that the Bible is a mythology that ignores the other mythologies of the world. And most other mythologies will easily agree with the discoveries of "modern science" about evolution (many already did way before Darwin). So, while Bible has a rigid mentality (typical of monotheisms), the other mythologies (polytheists) are more open and flexible, just like science. I have never seen a daoist or confucionist or hinduist deny darwinian evolution.

In short: Bible don't need science to be disproven, it needs other mythologies.

0

“different scientists can reach very different conclusions, depending on their starting assumptions.”

This is a vague statement. Words are used to convey ideas. The same words can convey a different idea in different circumstances. Based on Ken Ham's (and the creation institute in general) public appearances, I suspect the idea the author is trying to convey is that

There is equally as much scientific evidence that Ken Ham's idea of the Christian God (formulated based on his own interpretation of Scripture) created the universe in one week approximately 6000 years ago as there is that no Supreme Being exists, the Bible is false, and the universe exists by accident.

Now if we consider the nature of science (the framework through which we learn about the natural world by observation and reason), we can see that the idea mentioned in the previous paragraph is clearly false as we have no means by which to observe God or subject Him to scientific investigation. So, although the statement appearing on the sign is obviously true (if one scientist assumes the Bible is true and another does not, they will reach different conclusions), I think its intended meaning is false. Contemporary western science just isn't in a position to answer the question "Does God exist?".

  • I think the question is not "Does God exist?" (whatever God means) but "Is evolution a fact?" – vonjd Feb 4 '15 at 8:59
  • @vonjd If that's your question, I don't think this belongs in philosophy. Maybe it's a biology or a history question but it sounds like you want to hear an evaluation of the validity of Ken Ham's scientific claims. If you'd like to hear my evaluation of them, you should take any of them seriously. Whether or not God exists or was involved in the creation of the universe is an entirely different question. – sirdank Feb 4 '15 at 18:04
  • Some people study science, observe complexity, and realize creation. Regardless, all people choose belief via bias. – Noctis Skytower Feb 5 '15 at 18:29
-2

Who decides that a piece of work is "art"? A group of people defining themselves as artists or art critics.

Who decides a theory is valid? A group of people defining themselves as scientists.

Don't jump on me! Not yet, at least. Let me finish.

I agree that "science" operates in a way more formally than, say, art. But there are many things accepted as incontrovertible truth by the scientific community without proof that they are actually true. True, they found big bones of giant reptiles. This proves dinosaurs existed. But how can they, just from the bones, decide the color of their skins, their cries, their social behaviour.

And that applies to many other scientific fields. As DBK said, the general consensus determines scientific truth.

But how often has science been wrong? Look at a simple thing like the atom. How many times have we discovered that we could split it into smaller and smaller pieces?

So, saying creationism and natural science are not on the same level because the former is not "exact" is wrong.

However, I do believe they are actually NOT on the same level.

Creationism is the history of what God made.

Natural science is the study of the rules God used to create.

The one does not exclude the other. It is like comparing history with physics.

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    This would be more persuasive if you demonstrated more knowledge of science, for example, how scientists have come to their theories about the color of dinosaur skins, cries, & behavior. VERY few things are 'accepted as incontrovertible truth' in science, and you may find that 'proof' is not used in science in the sense you seem to be using it. Also there's a well-known methodology (called the scientific method) that you have to follow to be a scientist: Printing 'scientist' on your business card doesn't cut it. – Spike0xff Feb 3 '15 at 17:42
  • What I like about your answer is that it is even an inner-theological conflict: The rules God used to create contradict creationism. – vonjd Feb 4 '15 at 11:35
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    @Spike0xff I've actually studied in a Science High School, so I know about the scientific method: the same method Newton used to define his theories. Theories later contradicted by Einstein. Scientists come to their truth with suppositions. "Supposing that statement A is true, if nobody can demonstrate otherwise, than this my new theory is true..." Beware, I'm not trying to say science is a bad thing or is wrong, most of the discoveries look correct. Just that often the truth is what scientists convince the others to believe... ;) – algiogia Feb 4 '15 at 15:39
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    @algiogia My question is perhaps the most widely known example of a 'loaded question', one that has no intention of getting an answer but rather of confusing the issue and confounding the respondent. It contains a probably fallacious presupposition and attempts to limit respondent to a single answer. That's much like the question you asked. But you're right, I should've labeled it as such. – user2338816 Feb 7 '15 at 7:40
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    "I agree that "science" operate in a way more formal than say, art. But there are many things accepted as incontrovertible truth by the scientific community without proof that it is actually true." - that is not how science works. Researchers put years of tedious work into developing a model (a set of rules which match their observations), eg. analyzing tracks, food in fossil's stomachs, distance to relatives, etc. for the probable social habits of Dinosaurs. Then they publish it for peer review, where a pack of other ravenous scientists try to refute their model. – Cygon Feb 8 '15 at 18:18

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