Magazine article Skeptic (Altadena, CA)

The Core Conflict between Creationism and Evolution: Do Unique Definitions of "Science" and "Proof" Allow Creationists to Disregard Evidence of Evolution?

Magazine article Skeptic (Altadena, CA)

The Core Conflict between Creationism and Evolution: Do Unique Definitions of "Science" and "Proof" Allow Creationists to Disregard Evidence of Evolution?

Article excerpt

IN FEBRUARY OF 2014, SCIENCE EDUCATOR BILL NYE engaged in a debate with the president of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, on the topic of evolution and creationism. (1) The curious thing about this debate was that Bill Nye seemed to be the only one interested in empirical evidence, citing research from geology, paleontology, biology, physics, cosmology, and biodiversity to support a scientific view of natural history.

At this point, you may feel that I am being unfair to Ken Ham in suggesting that he was not interested in empirical evidence. After all, during the course of the debate he did mention the fossil record, geology, and various species of animals. However, in Ken Ham's own words the debate was not about empirical evidence, instead "the creation/evolution debate is really a conflict between two philosophical worldviews based on two different accounts of origins or historical science beliefs." (2) While Nye's comments made it clear that he thought the debate had to do with empirical evidence, Ham was equally clear that the center of the debate revolved around the nature of science, rather than evidence.

During the course of the debate, Ham went to great lengths to make a distinction between observational science and historical science. While Ham's definitions for each term were poorly defined and inconsistent, the main point he tried to make was that science about the present state of the universe (what Ham calls observational science) is trustworthy and science about the past state of the universe (what Ham calls historical science) is not trustworthy because "it is based on one's starting point." Ham is not shy about describing his own starting point: "We admit our origins or historical science is based on the Bible," and he claimed that the starting point of scientists is what he refers to as the "religion of naturalism." According to Ham, if you start with the Bible, the historical science reveals that creationism is true, whereas if you start with the religion of naturalism the same evidence leads to the belief that evolution is true. From Ham's perspective, the conclusions of historical science have more to do with your religion than with evidence.

Unfortunately, Ham equivocated when he also claimed that if "the Bible's account of origins is true, then there should be predictions we can make from this, that we can test with observational science." This statement indicates that Ham thinks that empirical evidence can settle the question of origins, and that the empirical evidence is on his side. Getting to the bottom of this is tricky, as Ham is never clear on the definition of his terms "historical science" and "observational science." Given Ham's statements in the debate, it appears that he thinks that observational science can confirm the Biblical account of natural history because the observations are made in the present time. It also seems clear that Ham thinks that observations made in the present time that support evolution cannot confirm that evolution is true because those observations are applied to a past event and are therefore part of historical science. If this is a correct interpretation of Ham's philosophy of science, then it seems that empirical evidence for evolution is ruled out a priori, while empirical evidence for Biblical creationism is allowed. This unique approach to philosophy of science is quite self-serving, therefore it is no surprise that the nature of science, not empirical evidence, is at the core of Ham's argument. If Ham can convince people that his definition of science is correct, then that is to his advantage.

For anyone still not convinced that the nature of science, not evidence, was at the center of Ham's approach to the issue, it should be noted that Ham used the terms "observational science" and "historical science" a total of 67 times during the debate. Nye mentioned these terms only 6 times. Ham also claimed on 8 occasions that the definitions of science and/or evolution have been "hijacked," and went on to state his version of the "true" definitions. …

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