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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Science Will Survive. In Fact, It Might Even Improve…

Posted by jlwile on November 7, 2011

Steven Newton is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education. He has a B.A. in History from the University of California at Berkeley and a M.S. in Geology from California State University at Hayward. Most importantly, he is a fervent believer in evolution. Because of this, he tends to watch trends in science education as well as the scientific community. His observations recently led to a very interesting article in New Scientist.

The article discusses the fact that young-earth creationists have been presenting at scientific conferences and publishing in the peer-reviewed scientific journals. Since he is a geologist, he is focused on meetings of the Geological Society of America (GSA), where young-earth geologists have presented papers and led field trips in recent years. While he thinks that this is a bad thing, he rejects calls to ban them from the meetings. He says:

Scientific organisations will continue to experience creationist infiltration; this week’s GSA meeting will include several presentations by creationists. But it is important for scientists not to overreact and to remember that science is far stronger than any creationist attempts to undermine it.

While his reasoning is deeply flawed, his final conclusion is correct. As a result, we should at least give him partial credit for his endeavors.

To see the flaw in his reasoning, you need to start with a question that he asks in his article:

It’s not surprising that they were able to do so: the presenters had received decent geology educations from legitimate institutions. Geologically, they could talk the talk and walk the walk. But why? What is the point of giving a talk on marine strata in the late Cretaceous, as Marcus Ross of Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia, did, when you actually think the Earth is only a few thousand years old?

He goes on to answer his own question, stating that these silly creationists are doing it just to gain legitimacy. While I expect that might be true in some cases, it is definitely not true for Dr. Marcus Ross. Dr. Ross speaks and publishes in his field because he is actually trying to improve the science in his field by shattering a paradigm that he thinks doesn’t work and demonstrating that there is a better one. I expect that’s true of many young-earth creationists who speak at scientific meetings and publish in the peer-reviewed journals of their field.

Of course, when you start challenging reigning paradigms, a lot of scientists become rather upset. As Newton writes:

Geologists are understandably fuming. After I wrote about attending a creationist-led field trip at the 2010 GSA meeting for the American Geological Institute’s magazine Earth, a number of GSA members expressed their outrage. Many proposed that presentations by creationists be banned outright.

Now if our young-earth ideas have no scientific merit at all, why should we be banned? Why not use us as an object lesson on how science should not be done? Why not use us as a source of amusement? I have been to a lot of scientific conferences, and I can tell you that most of them could benefit from a bit of humor!

Newton agrees that young-earth creationists should not be banned from the scientific conferences or from publishing in the scientific literature. If we use the proper methodologies (many of us do) and have the proper education (many of us do), we should be welcome to present our conclusions. After all, where’s the downside? If we are wrong, science will weather our attempts to “undermine” it.

But what if we are right? If young-earth creationists are on to something, science needs to change some of its paradigms. So as I see it, this is a win-win situation for science. If we are wrong, science isn’t hurt, and some conferences and journals get a bit of much-needed comic relief. If we are right, science strongly benefits by being forced to discard an unworkable paradigm. Either way, young-earth creationism is good for science.

One of the more interesting paragraphs in Newton’s article appears near the end. He writes:

The GSA is not the only organisation facing this issue: the Society for Developmental Biology, the Entomological Society of America and the American Society for Cell Biology have all encountered similar problems. And it’s not just at these relatively informal meetings that creationists have surfaced. Peer-reviewed scientific journals, such as the Journal of Paleontology and Geology, have published – almost certainly without being aware of the authors’ true views and motivations – papers by creationists arguing minor details of what they imagine occurred during Noah’s flood.

What does this sound like to you? To me, it sounds like young-earth creationism is on the rise in scientific circles. I don’t recall many young-earth creationists giving talks related to their views at scientific conferences back in the 1980s and 1990s, when I was doing original research and attending such conferences. I also don’t remember very many journal articles written by young-earth creationists back then. Now, even someone who thinks we are loons admits that we are doing both!

Yes, young-earth creationism is on the rise in scientific circles. I think it’s because more scientists are looking at the data instead of simply accepting what the “old guard” wants us to believe. Even if I am wrong and young-earth creationism is on the rise for some other reason, it’s hard for me to imagine a downside when it comes to scientific progress.

Comments

18 Responses to “Science Will Survive. In Fact, It Might Even Improve…”
  1. Tim Helble says:

    In the future, I think what we’re seeing right now with respect to young earth creationism in scientific organizations such as the GSA now will be just a “blip” when looked at with a long-term view. A “paradigm neutral” approach applied to the claims of flood geology, such as simple math, can be used to show that it’s not just a matter of using the same data, but coming to different conclusions. In a hundred years, I think even in the Christian Church young earth creationism will be largely viewed as a peculiar oddity of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

  2. jlwile says:

    Tim, I certainly agree that it is more than just using the same data. Old-earthers have the data they like, and they tend to concentrate on it. Young-earthers have the data they like, and they tend to concentrate on it. Obviously, the correct view will incorporate all of the data, and that hasn’t happened yet. I do think the trend is on the young-earth side, however. The more data I see, the more convinced I am of the young-earth view.

  3. JL says:

    An encouraging sign is that flood geology is starting to become assessed critically on its own merits. For example, noted geomorphologist C.R. Twidale has responded to an article on Ayers Rock in AIG’s online technical journal, noting that “Controversy and informed debate are the lifeblood of scientific investigation. Thus Ken Patrick‚Äôs 2010 paper on the origin of Uluru is welcome.” (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/arj/v4/n1/geomorphology-uluru-discussion) The NCSE has also published a critique of Vardiman’s & Oard’s Pleistocene geology on technical grounds (http://reports.ncse.com/index.php/rncse/article/view/72/63). Hopefully this trend will continue.

  4. jlwile says:

    I agree, JL. The key is to evaluate competing ideas on their scientific merit.

  5. Ben Fournier says:

    Cool that some leaders, although opposed to young earth views themselves, are allowing the academic freedom to have such talked about rather than merely suppressed and dismissed as people like Dawkins seem to insist upon.

  6. Tim Helble says:

    This does make for a bit of irony. You have a Christian (Ken Patrick) writing a paper from a young earth perspective on the origin of the Uluru. Then you have a Christian (Larry Collins) writing a paper from an old earth perspective which presents a critique of some young earth creationists’ interpretation of pleistocene geomorphology.

  7. jlwile says:

    Ben, that’s because some leaders are more interested in real science than is Dawkins and his ilk.

  8. jlwile says:

    Tim, I fail to see the irony here. In fact, this is exactly how science should be done. One scientist makes his or her case, and another attacks the arguments on its scientific merits. The only odd thing here is that it happens so rarely.

  9. Ben Fournier says:

    Yes Dr. Wile, I suppose they are interested in real science rather than enforcing creeds. That’s what’s cool. Any idea why they are now starting to allow academic freedom of speech now rather than continuing the previous program of outright censorship?

  10. Ben Fournier says:

    I ask the second half of the question because when others have allowed creationists to have a voice they have also be silenced before, so now that there is academic freedom of speech being somewhat more permitted without firings occurring yet I’m wondering if it is more like a trial run or if they are only going to be allowing the creationists with the worst arguments to be allowed publications and floor time while censoring those they perceive to be more a threat to current orthodoxy. The particular people directly permitting creationists to speak may indeed desire truth to prevail, whatever truth is, but I doubt that anyone with a political mind who would be higher ranking than them would care about truth.

  11. jlwile says:

    Ben, I think the answer to your question is that the data are becoming harder and harder to ignore. A generation ago, there wasn’t a lot of work on alternatives to evolutionary theory or alternatives to standard ideas regarding the age of the earth. As more and more serious scientists have been gathering more and more evidence, however, that evidence gets harder and harder to ignore.

    I really don’t think there is any concerted effort to try to suppress scientific evidence. However, I do think there is a natural tendency for scientists to work within the accepted paradigm and avoid trying to challenge that paradigm. As a result, it takes lots of evidence before people will take such work seriously. As a result, the wheels of science turn slowly, but they do turn. I think you are just starting to see the effects of this slow turning. My gut feeling is that the turning will continue.

  12. Ben Fournier says:

    Dr. Wile, it would make sense that with increasing evidence that it would become increasingly difficult for scientists who seek to be objective to ignore the conclusions the evidence leads toward. However, I still find an optamistic appraisal difficult regarding humanity especially regarding issues of objectivity and honesty. It’s good to occasionally find a few good examples, but they are rare in my experience. However, I congratulate you on being able to be optimistic and I hope your appraisal is correct.

  13. jlwile says:

    Ben, I hope so as well!

  14. Rio says:

    Did you know that archaeologist recently found a artifact in Jerusalem that says “Christ the Magician” on it, in Hebrew or some other language, they think it was pagans who wrote it

  15. jlwile says:

    Thanks for your comment, Rio. I read about that back in October. It is a cup-like bowl that says something like “by Christ the magician” or “the magician by Christ,” depending on who is doing the translation. Since it was found in the underwater ruins of Alexandria’s harbor, there is at least some possibility that it refers to Jesus Christ, although the word “Jesus” appears nowhere. The archaeologists think that it shows that Christianity might have been mixed paganism.

    I see two problems. First, the archaeologists can’t be certain of the timeframe. They say that it dates from between the late second century BC to the early first century AD. Of course, it would have to be towards the end of that window if it actually refers to Jesus Christ, so that makes the connection a bit suspect. Also, there is nothing on the bowl (artwork, the name “Jesus,” etc.) to indicate the “Christ” to which it refers. Since there were many who claimed to be Messiah during this time period, the term “Christ” could refer to many different people.

  16. Psalm19:1 says:

    Reminds me of something that happened to me when we went on vacation to Utah, we where at Arches National Park, and we went into the visitor center, of course I went straight for the books. But none of them where from a young earth view point. Well I went and I found somebody and I asked her if they had some that I just couldn’t find. She told me “we are scientists here, and only rely on scientific proof”. I thanked her and walked away and a few moments later she came back “I’m interested I’ve never studied creationism before” (how does she claim to be a scientist if she never judged bolth sides?). I stumbled over a few words trying to think of where to start and she interrupted me (obviously because she didn’t want to hear anymore) and walked off. A few moments later I walked up to her again and said “if you are truly interested in learning more about creationism I have a really good book for you.” She quickly said “no thanks I’m a scientist I only rely on science”

    My point in this is how can creationism be on the rise If the leading group won’t even listen to our side or consider the evidence? Granted this was a incredibly simple example but as you said above they are trying to ban creationists views from their organizations. If they won’t listen than how can they hear? If they don’t measure the data on a fair scale then how will they know what comes out on top? I think their goal is not to find the truth but to try as hard as they can to make what they believe the truth.

  17. jlwile says:

    “Psalm 19:1,” creationism is on the rise because there are scientists who are more interested in the truth than they are in ideology. As a result, unlike the woman you encountered, they actually try to see what the data say. As you indicated, someone who is not willing to investigate an alternative view is not being scientific; he or she is being dogmatic. There are a lot of dogmatic scientists out there. Indeed, there are some dogmatic commenters on this blog. However, there are enough honest scientists out there that the data are being discussed and analyzed, even though people like the woman you encountered don’t want that to happen. Because the data are being discussed and analyzed honestly by at least some scientists and laypeople, creationism is on the rise.

  18. Psalm19:1 says:

    Thanks :) maybe your right, you have certainly had more experience in the realm of science than I have! I’m glad there is hope!

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