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    31st December 2005

    Science…

    A few days ago I was all fired up to post a response to an editorial in the Loveland Reporter-Herald – an editorial that praised Judge John E. Jones III’s ruling that Intelligent Design is merely creationism in disguise and therefore not proper fare for the classrooms of public schools. I agree (for an interesting take on this subject see an editorial by Cal Thomas, a Christian who is the most widely syndicated columnist in the U.S.), but there were a few things in the RH article that didn’t sit very well with me, particularly these two stalwarts of the article:

    “Belief that a creator must have had a hand in nature is rooted in faith.

    Faith cannot be verified and it is not science.”

    ” ‘Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect’, Jones wrote. ‘However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.’ ”

    As I take it, the definition of science that seems to be implied in the above statement that “faith is not science” would be the things that are known through the application of the scientific method. The scientific method is the “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.” (From Merriam-Wester) In other words the science that is taught in classrooms – earth science, biology, chemistry, physics, etc. – is supposed to be based on repeatable experiments and observations and/or continuing and predictable natural processes.

    This last part about continuing natural processes is where most people ground the scientific roots of theories of origination and evolution. There are artifacts and fossils that give us a framework within which we can fill in the missing pieces assuming that natural processes took place in the past as they continue to do in the present. This makes sense. However, even in the fairly recent past – lets say 10,000 years ago – this becomes a process that involves more speculation than science (as we just defined it – and it is safe to assume that this definition is the only one viable in the context of this argument). To reconstruct what was going on with humans 10,000 years ago – humans, of whom we have the most evidence of all creatures – is simply us guessing what what was going on based on the best evidence.

    This process – reconstructing a series of past events and their causes from this best available sources – is what we would call historical inquiry or historiography, or some similar phrase. As soon as someone produces a theory of origination or evolution based on repeatable experiment and observation; as soon as someone reproduces in laboratory the independent origination of life and its evolution from simple single cell organism to human being – we may legitimately call this theory science. But until that day we must place such a theory in its proper realm, the imprecise world of the historian. “Scientific” theories of origination and evolution are historical constructions based on the best available evidence and employing speculation – well-reasoned speculation, but speculation nonetheless – to fill in the story that the physical evidence cannot tell.

    Creationism does the exact same thing. It esteems different items as the “best available evidence”, namely texts implying that some supernatural force must have been behind the origination and development of the whole world and its living members.

    And since I’m sure you all agree with me at this point that these “scientific” theories are in reality historical constructions, perhaps we should apply the same standard to this case as to most cases of historical inquiry: Generally existing texts must be corroborated with any existing physical evidence or any other existing texts. In this case, the texts which describe the origination of the cosmos agree that it was a supernatural force that was the catalyst for all which now exists. There is no physical evidence that remains from the day of creation or the moment of the “big bang” as it might be; what we have for physical evidence is the observable natural processes continuing in this present day.

    These natural processes might point back through a number of links that look like evolution, but the question is still, “What started the chain reation in the first place?” “How could something be moved if not by a mover?” is a related ancient question that still demands an answer. The R-H article says of creationists and in particuular those who adhere to ID, “Its proponents postulate that nature’s complexity cannot be explained by evolution alone, that some divine intervention made the earth’s intricacies possible.”

    As I said, a few days ago I was all hot to write something about this, but now I’m not going to do any such thing…

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    Copyright 2005 by Daryl Holmlund - All rights reserved.