Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Science! Part 2

[continued from here, here and here]

Dr. R Scott Clark in his most recent Heidelcast did a part 2 on the issue of science. I appreciate the podcast and its explication of some of the opposition to the YEC position, while at the same time I think that the fundamental issues I have previously raised regarding the inability of much of Reformed Christianity to adequately deal with origins remain. As preparation for my response, I have written 2 prior posts on science and the philosophy of science.

Before I begin, let me once again voice my appreciation with Dr. Clark's interaction with some of my position (around the 6-7 minute-mark), as it drives me to explicate my position better.

The Nature of Science

In the response to my article, Clark portrays part of my response to involve some sort of "turf war" contrasting scientists between the two camps (YEC and non-YECs) at the 6 to 7 minute mark. In his response, Dr. Todd Pedlar refreshingly does acknowledge that such is in some sense right that "people do interpret evidences differently." It seems that the contention is not with the fact that some YECs are scientists, but rather the objection lies in the nature of the scientific method. According to Pedlar,

"... one of the things that, I think, is most heavily criticized of the Ken Ham fellowship of scientists, as it were ... do they propose models that are testable? Do they propose ideas that will bear more experimental fruit. One of the hallmarks of science in general is that observation leads to model-building, and model building leads to prediction, and prediction leads to verification, or falsifiability, to use Karl Popper's term - philosopher of science. And so, most of the scientific world have very little to say that is positive about those who, umm.... have a model they are trying to fit everything into, as opposed to building a model out of observation (7:37-8:38)

It goes without saying that the philosophy of science and scientific methodology that Dr. Pedlar here espouses is the mainstream view of science in the scientific community. It is also clear that the implications of Popper's philosophy of science has not been worked out yet, for it is not sufficient to think that it merely involves changing the process from one of verification (logical positivism) to one of falsification. Verification is not the same as falsification after all. As I have pointed out, the implications of changing the view of science from one of verification to one of falsification is that science is no more about getting the truth but about refuting falsehood.

But back to the main point. Dr. Pedlar speaks about the necessity of model building. To the extent that this is what scientists do, it is true that scientists work in this manner within the scientific community. The question for us however is not what scientists do or think they are doing, but rather what is actually happening regardless of the perception of scientists. It is here that we have to disagree with Dr. Pedlar on the way science works. Observation does lead to model-building, that is true. But why one model is chosen instead of the potentially infinite other models that will fit the observations? After all, affirming the consequent is a logical fallacy regardless of how many times people do it. The model chosen might be simpler to another potential model and thus eliminated by Occam's Razzor, but since when has simplicity become a virtue in science?

Pedlar's view of observation leading to model-building, which then give rise to predictions which can be verified, is a simplistic view of how science works. First of all, he does not differentiate between a "model" and a "paradigm." Secondly, this type of simplistic view does not account for how science can absorb lots of abnormities before the reigning paradigm breaks down. For example, the Lamba-CDM Big Bang model predicts a huge quantity of dark matter and dark energy, which simply has not been found. Assuming the simplistic view of science advocated by Dr. Pedlar, shouldn't the absence of dark matter and dark energy imply the failure of the standard Big Bang model? Yet why do most scientists still hold on to the theory? Or in biology, why do biology textbooks simply assume that abiogenesis occurred, even though no model has been able to make it even halfway plausible for life to arise out of non-life? How about the fact that both the absence and presence of transitional fossils in the fossil record are both considered evidences for evolution? Surely if science were to proceed in the simplistic manner of observation-model-testing, then much of what considers itself science today should be relegated to speculation?!

As I have said, the issue in the origins debate is not one of science per se, but one of paradigms. Paradigms by their very nature are not testable or falsifiable. The only thing that would break a paradigm is absurd complexity, as in the case of Ptolemaic astronomy. But let us look into the specific charge of Dr. Pedlar.

The specific charges in this short citation is that scientists in general have been fruitful in the construction of scientific models which yield results, whereas YECs in general are guilty of having an a priori model that they try to fit the evidence into. This is a misleading statement for the simple reason that the relation between science and evolution and Big Bang theory is not clearly elucidated. Furthermore, I am not interested in the "Ken Ham fellowship of scientists." It is noted that Creation Ministries International for example have scientists that do not do all of their "science work" in creation science, for the simple reason that most of science can be done without reference to the origins issue. Most of science is what we call "operational science" as opposed to "historical science." Pedlar's statement is thus misleading because it is a comparison of apples to oranges. True YEC scientists do a lot of their science work without having to throw in "YEC phrases," whatever those are, in their scientific research. In other words, their scientific research at points is indistinguishable from non-YEC scientists, precisely because one does not have to bring in the origins issue into most scientific research.

If Dr. Pedlar wishes to do a fair contrast, then the contrast must be between YEC scientific models versus models that are explicitly evolutionary, i.e. in paleontology, evolutionary biology etc. One must compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges. In evolutionary "science," it is surely the case that one has a "model" where one is "trying to fit everything into," so surely Dr. Pedlar should reject the mess that is paleontology for example? The fact of the matter is that "historical science" is not really science but rather historical reconstruction using science (among others) as a tool. One cannot accuse YECs for having "a model that they are trying to fit everything into," without at the same time not accusing paleontologists and evolutionary biologists of committing the same. If the claim is made that paleontology and evolutionary biology have multiple models, then so do YEC. The issue is now how many models they might construct, but that the models are themselves tied to a certain narrative of how things actually are.

A new gnosticism?

"one of my long term concerns about creation science, young earth science, is that the message I get from them is that, well, it seems like it takes billions of years for light particles to reach us (if that is even the right way to put it), but really that's an appearance, not a reality. And so that strikes me as being a little bit gnostic as well -RSC (9:48)

Another concern that is especially germane to the discussion regarding YEC science is the idea of apparent age, and the lightspeed question. That is why I have dedicated one entire post to the issue just to show that fear of the questions and the solutions supposedly offered by YEC science is totally unfounded. To put it nicely, if one were to know the current level of YEC science in this area, one would have seen that such fears are baseless. It has been decades since any YEC scientist, if they had ever done so in the beginning, postulated such stupid theories to solve the question of starlight.

The issue before us is that starlight does not come with an age tag. The "age" of the light is a calculated figure from distance divided by the absolute velocity of light in vacuum (c). The simple way out is to just assume those and therefore infer that light from an object 13 Giga light years away must take 13GYrs to arrive to earth. However, here is where paradigms come in. Why must we be constrained by simple models regarding space-time? One viable alternative postulated by Moshe Carmeli has come up with a potential solution to the starlight question without compromising the integrity of the information from distant starlight. It must be said here that it is likely that Carmeli is not a Christian, just as Kuhn is not a Christian. It is after all not whether the people behind the theories are Christians so much as that their theories help us to re-think beyond the current reigning paradigm.

Dr. Clark worries about some version of gnosticism in YEC science. I think that such worries are decades out of date, and do not reflect contemporary YEC thought.

Christians and intellectual credibility

One concern Dr. Clark has is with YEC thought and intellectual credibility. He mentioned his experience sitting in meetings of a creationist organization in the Midwest (around the 12:10 mark). On the one hand, he has a point, but only if those organizations were actually claiming to be doing science. Informal student discussion groups discussing evolution for example function likewise with talks and discussions by students. It seems to me that such a "creation science organization" is more about apologetics than about science. That is why when I talk about YEC scientists, I do not mention any Tom, Dick or Harry, but refer to credentialed scientists. "Lay" creationist organizations are not so much about science but about apologetics. If we were to see them as similar to any informal science discussion groups, then we wouldn't be so uptight about them.

On the other hand, believers generally do discern the threat posed by the general evolutionary theory. If they wish to voice objections, I don't know why we would want to speak about "intellectual credibility," since after all, these are not scientists. Do we see evolutionary scientists speaking of intellectual credibility issues when some zealous evolutionists misrepresent certain teachings of evolution? No, because the ignorance of zealous evolutionists do not reflect on the intellectual credibility of evolutionary scientists. So why is it that Christians are so embarrassed by the lack of acumen in "lay" creationist organizations? Furthermore, while certainly we should not be anti-intellectuals, intellectual credibility can often be a mask for the craving for recognition from the secular world. If gaining respectability involves compromising the faith, should Christian pay that price? I should hope not!

Lastly, the way out here to transcend the reigning paradigm. While this phrase has been misrepresented and misapplied, in the interests of using the phrase not exegeting the verse, why is it that Christians are always followers two steps behind the world when it comes to science? Instead of parroting the scraps the world offers, shouldn't Christians "be the head, not the tail"? We should be attempting to think ahead and blaze new paths in the scientific field. Instead of being reactionary, we should be pro-active in investigation. Science is (or should be) about free enquiry, so why should we feel constrained by the reigning paradigm with its failing models? Be imaginative! Explore! Question assumptions! Think outside the box! Do not be afraid of going where no one has thread, if indeed you wish to do science.

The YEC echo-chamber?

"I think that what happens within the creation science community, an echo chamber of sorts ... the community tends to be very small... tends not to be open to much investigation by anyone who disagrees." -Pedlar (14:12)

Here, we see a rather skewed view of the YEC community. If by the "YEC community," one refers only to explicit "lay" creationist organizations, then I wouldn't be surprised if that applies. That YEC science in general is not open to investigation by anyone who disagrees is a rather disingenuous statement. In the sense that it applies to "historical science," there is no real difference between it and its evolutionary equivalent in paleontology and evolutionary biology, both of which have an overarching metanarrative that cannot be questioned. In the sense that it overlaps with operational science however, YEC proposals are open to investigation by anyone who disagrees. In the example I have probably hammered to death, Caremelian cosmology is evidently open to investigation. In taxonomy, the idea of "kinds" or "baramins" is also open to investigation. And who can forget the evolutionary idea of phylogenetic recapitulation, which creationists have long repudiated? If all these sound narrow in scope, that is because most YEC science is catered to counter its evolutionary "historical science" counterpart. So is it an "echo chamber"? Perhaps the counter to this is to enquire whether paleontology or phylogenetics is an "echo chamber" since it is not open to investigation by anyone who disagrees. Try disagreeing that (macro)evolution actually occur and see whether you can work in those two fields!

Michael Polanyi

Lastly, Dr. Clark raises the person of polymath Michael Polanyi in the later part of his podcast. While I do not have the sources here to do so, or the time, it is my contention that Polanyi and Kuhn are not saying the same thing, regardless of surface similarities their systems have with each other. Polanyi can be said to be truly post-modern, as his personal knowledge is neither objective nor subjective, whatever that is supposed to mean. Kuhn recognizes the subjectivity of scientists but acknowledges it as subjectivity (not "personal") and subsumes it within paradigms, which are meta-structures for enquiry. Kuhn's paradigms are objective phenomena, not neither-objective-nor-subjective-but-personal phenomena. In my opinion, Polanyi is way over-rated. I much prefer Kuhn's historicist approach than Polanyi's "personal" approach.


In conclusion, I think I have vindicated my position on YEC science. Christians should understand more about the nature of science, and know more about the direction YEC science is going. Ignore the chaff produced by run-of-the-mill creation science organizations. Focus on the actual advanced and developing scientific thought within YEC scientists, and whether one agrees or disagrees with all that they propose, know that any such theory is developing within an alternate paradigm and is just as much science as research done within the current reigning paradigm.

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