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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen

Creation Science

Speaking as someone who has traditionally defended religion as something human, necessary and good, I felt that I had to speak out on this whole debate that has reemerged in the media of late. Apparently, there's a serious push in some parts of this country to insist that "Creation Science" be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

I want to back up a minute and examine this "Creation Science". According to this camp, creationism is a reasoned, scientific model for explaining the origin of the universe. So I went online to seek out more information on the research being done.

Out friend Google turned up about thirty million hits on the term, and to be fair, I didn't visit them all. But a survey of the top twenty or so started to shed some light on what this alternative theory is all about.

The number one site is The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and though their masthead quotes Romans 1:20, I dug through their material to find their evidence. To their credit, the ICR endeavors to support the idea of creationism without mentioning any religious dogma or text. According to their Summary of Scientific Evidence for Creation, the creationist model of the universe rests on the notion of the sudden emergence of life and the universe as a whole, and rejects the idea that gradual, natural processes can sufficiently explain the emergence new "kinds":

The scientific model of creation, in summary, includes the scientific evidence for a sudden creation of complex and diversified kinds of life, with systematic gaps persisting between different kinds and with genetic variation occurring within each kind since that time. .... The creation model questions vertical evolution, which is the emergence of complex from simple and change between kinds, but it does not challenge what is often called horizontal evolution or microevolution, which creationists call genetic variation or species or subspecies formation within created kinds.
And what are these "kinds" that form this crucial barrier between "horizontal" and "vertical" evolution? It's not well-defined in the paper. They explain:
Systematic gaps occur between kinds in the fossil record. None of the intermediate fossils that would be expected on the basis of the evolution model have been found between single celled organisms and invertebrates, between invertebrates and vertebrates, between fish and amphibians, between amphibians and reptiles, between reptiles and birds or mammals, or between "lower" mammals and primates. While evolutionists might assume that these intermediate forms existed at one time, none of the hundreds of millions of fossils found so far provide the missing links.
By this explanation, a "kind" roughly corresponds to an entire taxonomic Class of organisms, such as amphibians or birds. Coincidentally, these are exactly sort of large-scale changes that would be impossible to prove through examination of our spotty fossil record. Let's not forget just how rare fossils are. Taphonomy is an extraordinarily random and selective process:
...only a few [species], living in favoured environments and possessing hard parts, will have any likelihood of being preserved (a large number of known phyla have no members which possess hard parts, and most phyla have members which possess no hard parts). On top of this, the vast majority of fossils have not been discovered since they have either eroded away previously or remain buried and out of reach. So the fossil record is not a comprehensive record of all life that has existed on Earth.
Simply pointing out that there are gaps in the fossil record seems like better proof for taphonomic bias than creation.

This same process of negative reasoning applies to the emergence of life in general. Citing a lack of fossilized evidence, the paper points out that life suddenly appears in all its complexity, and reasons that by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, order will not prevail over entropy without energy being added to the system. It is unclear in their argument why the primordial energies of the Big Bang, coalesced into stars like our sun, should be insufficient to provide the energy for this change.

Finally, the ICR paper further clarifies their model by stating that "mutation and natural selection are insufficient to have brought about any emergence of present living kinds from a simple primordial organism". While they correctly identify mutation as being unlikely to produce useful changes, they forget embryonic variation, which is the most important factor in the process of change. True, Downs Syndrome is not a useful adaptation. Being taller or faster is.

It goes on to say that the concept of natural selection is tautological because it states that the fittest specimens reproduce more successfully and defines those specimens as fittest as those that produce more offspring. This is, of course, a gross misrepresentation of Darwin's theory. The "fittest" organisms are those that are best suited to their environment, based on their success in competitive arenas of biological interaction, such as reproduction and feeding. Like the principal of causality, the principal of natural selection is so simple it seems obvious, but we can still draw conclusions based on the principal by examining its particulars. It's tautological to say that an effect is that which has been caused, because a cause is that which has an effect. But it is the foundation of most fields of logical inquiry that all phenomena arise from other phenomena. Likewise, inherited traits that promote survival are more likely to be passed on, but that doesn't change the fact that this pattern will promote the continual change and improvement of species into ever more survivable forms.

But beyond the scope of this well-written but logically flawed paper, there is an underlying assumption that if evolution is incorrect then creation is somehow the only viable alternative.

A major goal of creation science is to point out the weakness of evolutionary theory, because basically there are only two alternatives for how we got here, and if naturalistic processes are incapable of the task, then special creation must be the correct answer. ....[M]uch scientific energy has been wasted over the last century in the search for evolutionary evidences and experimental proofs, which have been unsuccessful so far and will continue to be. How much further might we be in some areas of scientific understanding if a model of special creation had been the working hypothesis?
What do Creation Scientists Believe?
And it's this unspoken assumption that ultimately destroys their argument. Creationist literature that does not resort to reference to religious concepts ends up defining itself as not-evolution. Nothing in their argument positively asserts any sort of scientifically-based alternative at all.

Comments on Creation Science
  Comment from Anonymous Anonymous at Friday, May 06, 2005 8:28:00 PM
Spirituality = good and necessary and personal.

Religion = corrupt and political.

Creationism = retarded.
-m
  Comment from Blogger Herself at Saturday, May 07, 2005 9:27:00 AM
I'm so glad that you addressed this issue. As an Anthropology teacher (and rational human), creation "science" drives me berserk. I have never seen the conflict between believing in God and accepting science. There's an article linked on my blog that addresses the latest issue on this from Kentucky. Apparently, they want to redefine science, "not limiting it to theories based on natural explanations".
Holy crap, literally.
  Comment from Anonymous Anonymous at Tuesday, May 10, 2005 2:16:00 AM
Herself,

BOO! I wanted to give you props on your Blog post, but you don't welcome the anonymous :)

Anyhow, high praise to you, and, YES, I think you should start teaching witchcraft! lol Anyhow, I sympathize with your conflict. You are eloquent, and clear-minded, it's a shame that folks like you have to deal with folks like them. My best to you.
-Markus

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.