Creationist Nonsense: Science assumes no God

Still on the subject of Ken Ham’s creationism (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/conspiracy-against-creationism-and-ken-hams-intollerance/) and his Facebook response; one of Ken’s followers made a comment that I wish to address. Hopefully this will be the last of my posts on this particular episode, for now at least.

On Ken’s Facebook (yes, I did stalk Ken’s Facebook profile to see what was being said about my blog posting) page a commenter made the following remark.

 

So, wait… he claims that scientists don’t begin with the assumption that there is no God, then goes on to say that, because we can only observe the natural world, then that must be all there is… How is that not an assumption?

 

Every part of me wants to shout “Read the freaking context and get with the understanding numbskull!”.

However, this is one of those misunderstandings that is widespread among the Christian community. The negative side of this is that it undermines the scientific process and makes it harder for science to be viewed as credible. The really sad part of this is that its often people in the congregation hearing this nonsense who don’t get science commentary from anyone other than the person in the pulpit. At its worst, this is damaging to the wider populace.

The section of my post that the commenter clearly didn’t get is this paragraph.

<blockquote>This is a basic understanding failure. The fact that its made by a leading Creationist apologetic is damning and pathetic. He really should know better. Scientists who claim there is no god do so because of the evidence they see. Its this evidence that has lead them to the conclusion of evolution and its this evidence that falsifies the Biblical accounts of Adam and Eve and The Flood. Its not then unreasonable to conclude there is no god. Science looks at natural processes because that is all that we can see and gather evidence from. That evidence is explained by those natural processes only and therefore its an easy conclusion to make that no god was involved. There is no predetermining the non-existence of any god and then building a theory which excludes it, as Ken Ham would have people believe. </blockquote>

The commenter clearly didn’t get that those scientists who don’t believe in god (or people like me who believe there is no god) do so because there is no evidence. The commentator clings to the misapprehension that is conclusion is an assumption.

I understand the misunderstanding because I was there once and I’ve heard this same misunderstanding preached at conferences.

The very important point here is that seeing the natural world and concluding no god is far more than an assumption. For starters there is the very valid null hypothesis, which leads from nothing being assumed. If you can’t see it or measure, assume its not there.

Yes I know, I used the assume word and creationists everywhere are pointing and shouting “See he even admitted he assumes no god, right after denying that was the case. Atheists are so inconsistent.”.

That would miss the point of course.

Without the evidence evolution is not assumed either. Both the creationist god and evolution start at the same point of validity when there is no evidence on the table.

Its not until the evidence comes out that the scales begin to adjust. This is the point at which conclusions are made and tests are created for the expressed purpose of disproving the conclusion. Its at this very critical point that creationists again fall over. They argue that god is supernatural and so not bound by our man made laws of science and so he can’t be tested. Not to mention the passage somewhere that expressly forbids testing the lord. I’m not sure if it applies to the scientific process, but then a heathen like me probably won’t care.

Anyway, with all the claims that Creationists will have for the existence of god, you’d think that somewhere there would be some evidence that at least merits a second look. Creationists will make a whole song and dance about the issue of testing evolution in the lab and how timescales simply don’t allow it. Yet where are the tests for god in the lab?

Multiple fields of science have independently confirm various aspect of evolution and the age of the earth. Yet nothing can come up with a test to show even a hint of god.

Its not an assumption to say there is no god, it’s a valid scientific conclusion after many years of study have shown no evidence for supernatural activities. If everything that we currently know shows a natural explanation time and time again, at what point is it acceptable to say “There is no evidence of any god and until that changes I shall not believe in one.”?

The commenter I quoted will likely still claim this is an assumption, they would be wrong.

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Interpretation or valid conclusion?

Over at A Different God (http://adifferentgod.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/a-response-to-a-creationist-part-3/) Jesse has written a decent four part series answering a creationist.

On part three, poster Ryan responds to me by saying that the evolutionary conclusions that scientists have come to are merely a different interpretation of the evidence.

Rather than dump a long reply on Jesse’s blog I felt it would be more appropriate to make it into a blog posting of its own because it accurately describes how I once thought.

Creationists will argue that their viewpoint is a valid interpretation of the scientific evidence that is gathered from the world around us. The trouble with this viewpoint is that it presupposes the correctness of creationism and then seeks to validate it by seeking confirmation in specific pieces of scientific evidence. Items that conflict creationism are disregarded and explained away.

The big issue that is consistently ignored is that the evidence of evolution is wide ranging and bountiful. Its not just in the visibly similar anatomy of animals, its not just in the skeletal structure too. As scientific advances continued over the years we have seen DNA evidence join the fray and confirm many of the ideas that scientists already had, as well as throw up a few surprises and clarifications.

What’s more, there is nothing in the anatomical or genetic evidence that cannot be explained through evolutionary theory, which means that there is nothing that a creationist can point and say it is evidence for God and not evolution.

Which is where we get onto the subject of interpretation.

The creationist will insist that all the evidence we see could be the result of how God did it. Whilst that is true, its not actually evidence in and of itself. Defaulting to the ‘God did it’ position is not starting from a neutral position, its starting from an already formed conclusion and choosing to read the facts in a way that confirms the starting point. What’s more, this is not a scientific argument because it does not offer anything that joins the evidence together.

To be scientific, a theory has to stitch the observed evidence together in a way that explains the detail. The theory also has to be testable; not necessarily there and then, but the concept and idea has be such that a test is possible. Claiming God does not meet that criteria and so interpreting scientific evidence as confirming creationism is not valid. The pieces simply don’t fit.

Science does offer a valid conclusion.

When a scientific theory is proposed it undergoes very rigorous tests. One thing that creationists often fail to grasp is that proving something wrong in science is a very good thing. I remember having some very real issues with this one. The idea that something in science could be wrong created all sorts of problems and typically meant to me that science was unreliable and the whole field could be systematically undermined by a single wrong idea. It took me a long time to grasp the concept that a wrong result is still a scientific result and evidence for what would be right.

The theory of evolution is very well tested and over the years it has been broken down into so many small pieces, that any one of them could be overturned with the right evidence. Yet none has.

I can’t remember exactly what I used to believe on the subject of how so many scientists had managed to come to the conclusion that evolution is true. I am pretty sure it was along the lines of; they were misguided or interpreted wrong. However, if that was truly the case, then someone would have shown that to be the case by now. It is only ignorance of the scientific method that enables someone to still believe what I believed.

The conclusions that scientists have come to when viewing the evidence of life around has been subject to much debate and testing. If there was any chance at all that there were holes in the theory of evolution, then they would most certainly have been found and exposed. Any scientist that can genuinely show that evolution is false would be pretty much guaranteed a Nobel Prize, and more. Many scientists have examined various facets of evolution and subjected them to stringent test and scrutiny.

This is something that is easily forgotten by the creationist. I know I did.

 

Oh Science, Why do you Change so much?

One of the barriers I had when it came to evaluating the claims of science with those of creationism was the issue of the changeability of scientific claims.

Creationism offered a reliable, solid and unchanging account of how the world began and is now. God made it the way it is and our inability to understand or explain certain things was a failing of science and proof of God’s created world.

For me, reading about new discoveries and how they would change the way scientists thought about some things was evidence that scientists couldn’t make up their minds and that science was a lost cause with little ability to properly explain. Couldn’t they just read the bible and see how constant everything is and how it was all created as it should be and as it is now?

Science changing in response to new knowledge or understanding was seen as a bad thing thing.

It took a very long time for me to appreciate that a change in understanding does not automatically mean that everything beforehand was wrong. A change in understanding or a new discovery does not invalidate what has gone before, it typically clarifies. A complete overturning of previous ideas is not especially common, and it gets rarer as more is known and understood.

Learning is not linear

For reasons I can’t fully explain, my expectation of scientific knowledge was that new discoveries should confirm what we already know (a created world) and that as scientific knowledge expands, so does the validation of that. The concept of science uncovering the unexpected and leading to tangential discoveries was alien and only served to illustrate to me that science was deceivable.

Failure is always an option

I was wrong of course, but realising that took an awfully long time and was a very gradual process. Scientists of course love to be proved wrong on a theory because being wrong is still a positive scientific result and means that the premise that was used for that test can be scratched off and something new tried. This is the point of the scientific method, test something, multiple times and if your expectation is wrong then you know more work is required to get the right answer. This is not a failure of science, quite the opposite in fact. It’s a validation that science does not care what you think, it merely acts according to the rules of the universe. The object of scientific testing is to find out those rules.

This is how we know that the planets orbit the sun and how to get spacecraft to the moon. It is how we know about fluid dynamics and a whole host of other things. The process of scientific testing could also be referred to as trial and error; test stuff and respond to the results, make a prediction and see if the test confirms or contradicts.

It’s the only way to learn and to assume that we already know the right answer without that imperial proof is arrogant.

Creationists are still making the same mistakes.

I read a small number of creationist blogs and every now and then I see a post that falls into the same traps as detailed above. I recognise the thinking there and I understand why they are thinking the way they do. I was there once and I get it.

I also understand why they are wrong.

I have on occasion made a comment to try and point them in the correct direction. The reply is usually predictable, because I have been there before as well, I know the standard responses.

I have tried to use this knowledge and my experience of having been there to add a considered and accurate correcting response. I know a single comments will never change the creationist mind, but hopefully my comment will help to sow the seeds of truth and eventually it will be counted as a contributing factor.

Sometimes my attempt at helpfulness has been responded too as if I was being argumentative, that’s a shame because that has never been my position. I know how that feels and it never works out well, (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/when-friends-are-unkind/).