Thursday, July 2, 2009

Creationism is not a theory!

An otherwise ok article posted on Alternet recounts a visit to The Creation Museum by a group of paleontologists, biologists, anatomists, and so on: you know, scientists. The museum is a theme park constructed by and for fundamentalist believers in Biblical literalism. It's located in Kentucky (of course- they also gave us Senator Mitch McConnell) west of the greater Cincinnati area.

The theme of the museum is captured in this paragraph from their home page:

Prepare to Believe

The state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot museum brings the pages of the Bible to life, casting its characters and animals in dynamic form and placing them in familiar settings. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers. The serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Majestic murals, great masterpieces brimming with pulsating colors and details, provide a backdrop for many of the settings.

Children and dinosaurs romping together? Yes, these folks believe that the Earth was created sometime before midnight on Oct 22, 4004 BC, as calculated by Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656). In other words, they are loons who have not yet entered the 21st; no wait, the 20th; er, the 19th; yikes, not even the 18th century. But enough of that; my attention was grabbed by this:
Creationism is a theory not supported by most mainstream Christian churches.
True enough, I suppose, but there's a problem. Creationism is not a theory, not in the scientific sense of the word. For scientists, a theory is a set of interconnected hypotheses that describe and/or explain some aspect of the world. The hypotheses must be logical, falsifiable, and above all constructed from the analysis of data collected by way of systematic, objective investigation of the empirical world.

Creationism is what some of us call a folk model or even, in our more charitable moments, a folk theory. Most all cultures have one or more; for summaries of some, see here. The Judaeo-Christian version was made up by the more creative members of a tribe of pastoral nomads some thousands of years ago, perhaps assisted by heat, thirst, hunger, or any number of other imagination-enhancing elements. It's fantasy, not scientific theory. There is no empirical evidence for it, and no, the Bible does not count as empirical evidence for anything except the existence of the Bible.

Strictly speaking, even evolution is not really "a theory." Evolution, the change over time observed in Earth's living organisms, is the fact that Darwin's theory of natural selection was developed to explain.

It's very difficult to get this idea of what it means to be a scientific, as opposed to a folk, theory across to people. This past summer semester I had one student who got all the way through an introduction to cultural anthropology only to write, in his final essay:
The Big Bang Theory, evolution, and many other theories are just that, theories.
He retained the folk definition of theory to the end, despite the time spent explaining that theory in science does not refer to a casual, unsupported guess. I'm not prepared to state categorically that religion makes you stupid, but there is some empirical evidence for that hypothesis, and it is falsifiable.


  1. You forgot, Evolution is not science either. In fact,if modern day theories of evolution (they change daily) are correct, than everything we know about physics is false. (Newtons Laws couldn't exist) The fact that everything has to have come from nothing is not able to be ignored.

    I'm not claiming to be a creationist, but please refrain from using your biased opinions, which is evident in your claims! Neither IDEA has been proven.

  2. You are correct: "Evolution is not science."

    Science is a method, a process for developing knowledge about the world. Evolution is an aspect of the world, the process by which life in the world changes biologically over time.

    Evolution does not have to be "proved" and more than gravity, another aspect of the world, has to be proved. Biological evolution has been observed, empirically, to be a fact about life.

    You need to learn the difference between fact and opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but everyone isn't entitled to their own facts.

    As for the rest: nonsense.

  3. Dave that is in a closed system, we are in an open system. Come on! That's like that worst creationist argument ever and so wrong.


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