Science Articles

Creationism vs. Science

Wed, 26th Apr 2006

Why it's Pistols at Dawn for The Beginning.

Guy Brandon

The battle between Science and Religion emerged from the primordial soup of opinion and has left us with a choice: faith in God or belief in a rational scientific approach. But how did it come to this and what happened to trying to settle our differences? While the silent majority beard-scratch and ponder a peaceful solution to these problems, the vocal camps of Creationists and Evolutionists have committed themselves to dogged attempts at proving each other wrong. But does the Creation debate really come down to who's right and who's wrong? Does the light at the end of the tunnel really have to shine exclusively from Light of God or the Enlightenment of Science?

Putting the debate under the spotlight reveals that Creationists and Evolutionists are actually fighting on different battle fields. Evolution addresses the how of the matter; Genesis cares more about the who. In short, the two sides are speaking in different languages and defending completely different subjects.

 

 

Figure 1: The Bombardier Beetle. When threatened, this amazing insect produces an explosive mixture of hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinones, which mix with peroxidases in a reaction chamber. The boiling-hot, high-pressure result vents through a special duct in the beetle's body.

The problem is that expecting a theological text to answer scientific questions is no smarter than expecting a scientist to offer theological insights (which is not to say that a scientist is incapable of such insights, only that it can't be expected from the job description). This rule extends across all walks of life, and we never question it. No one goes to a lawyer for advice about dental hygiene, or a plumber to resolve a computer problem. Why then do we single out scientists to prove that God didn't create the world, and theologians to explain the Bible in evolutionary terms?

Douglas Adams - who owed his own conversion to "radical atheism" from Christianity to an experience listening to a street preacher and Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene - made some incisive points. It occurred to him that the rigorous standards of logic and proof employed in scientific matters simply don't seem to be applied when it comes to religion. In answer to the argument by design - that the earth (and universe) fit us so well that they must have been designed with us in mind - he gives the example of a puddle, which wakes up one morning and thinks to itself that the hole it lives in fits it so staggeringly well that it must have been made especially.

He makes a good point. We humans are easily tempted into parading evidence that supports our beliefs or preconceptions, while giving less weight to evidence that refutes them. Selectively ranking the importance of data in this way is something statisticians call the Confirmation Bias. In the case of the creation debate, it seems that evidence for or against creation and evolution is being used to support an existing outlook, rather than building one from scratch.

An often-touted, and misrepresented, example from biology is that of the Bombardier Beetle. When attacked or threatened, this amazing insect produces an explosive mixture of hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinones, which mix with catalases and peroxidases in a reaction chamber. The boiling-hot, high-pressure result of this mixing pot vents through a special duct in the beetle's body and (hopefully) scares the predator away. Creationists have often used an argument of "irreducible complexity" to contend that such a creature could never have evolved in stages. If any one step had failed to work properly, then the overall system would cease to function. How many of these insects would have met an untimely end before the current, successful version came about?

Dawkins and others counter the "irreducible complexity" argument for the Bombardier Beetle with a viable model of microevolution. However, the realm of science has produced its own intriguing suggestions for creationism. Professor Martin Rees's book 'Just Six Numbers' describes how life and the universe can only exist if six fundamental physical constants have the correct values (article on 'Just Six Numbers' by Martin Westwell). The chances of all six being spot on are so small that someone must have been around at the beginning of time to fix them, right? On these terms, however, Creation vs. Evolution can (and has) been debated until the cows come home. The fallacy arises because we look to religion for scientific truths, which works little better than asking, say, Steven Pinker to take a carol service. They speak different languages.

This is doubtless the kind of answer that hard-line fundamentalists on either side of the debate will regard as ridiculously illogical and liberal. "If the text says man was made out of mud," they say, "then that's what it means, right or wrong."

The crux of the matter is that Science deals with the Created. Theology deals with the Creator. Perhaps they speak about the same thing, but they do so from very different points of view. If science sticks to answering the "how" and theology to the "who and why", then maybe the brawl about The Beginning will hear the final bell.

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