Just two days ago there was a debate between “evolutionist” Bill Nye and the creationist Ken Ham. I finished watching the whole thing today, and I thought I’d put down my ideas.
I’m by no means a creationist in the way that Ken Ham is, and I find it very unsettling that his ideas of teaching the word-for-word interpretation of Genesis (the book in the Christian Bible, not the British band – I might not be this frightened by the idea if it was the latter) regarding creation in public education as a fact is just scary.
Bill Nye is right in pointing out that the US (and the world in general) needs scientists and engineers – I doubt anyone would argue against that.
So why would it be a problem, if as Ken Ham suggests, they started telling kids in schools that the world was created over 6 days (“he rested on the seventh day”) and that this creation took part 4000 or so years ago?
That is, because it breaks science. I disagree with the concept that there is a distinction between historical and observational science. Even Ken Ham keeps bringing up examples of how he and his fellow creationists are avid fans (in lack for a better word) of what they call observational science. I think that Mr Ham needs to philosophize a bit more about the very foundations of that science if he believes that the literal interpretation of the Bible’s account of creation is reconcilable with science.
Science is based on induction. Anyone who’s ever studied logic knows that induction has very strict conditions under which it can function. That is why there is no issue with using induction as a proof in mathematics: those strict conditions can be met. It is not, however, directly and validly applicable to the real world. Assumptions are necessary (in maths those are the axioms).
We observe some event in the present, and state something about it. Then we keep observing events of the same kind, and check if the statement holds. If the statement doesn’t get disproved over a large number of such events (experiments), then it is assumed that that the statement holds true “in general”. This is also why scientific theories can be debunked: they can be proved wrong, as it happens more often than not.
Remember: in general. The statement is extrapolated all the way to all events. It is then said that if the requirements of the statement are met (and there are always requirements), it will hold true again.
The problem with the idea of creation 4000 years ago is that it cuts this extrapolation in half, thus invalidating science. I wrote this above: scientific theories can be disproved. If you “disprove” the very fundamental element of induction, that a statement can be extrapolated through time and space indefinitely, by saying that scientific induction suddenly becomes invalid at the temporal point of 4000 years ago, then that makes scientific induction useless.
If a scientific assumption (in this case, that statements can be extrapolated) is disproved, then everything built around it crumbles. If you can’t assume that induction is general, then you can’t make predictions based on it. The entirety of science becomes invalid, since you can’t make statements about a different point in time anymore. You can’t make predictions – and statements about the past are very much alike predictions.
Science tries to be as logically consistent as possible. That is why it’s so easy to debunk scientific theories: it doesn’t take many counterexamples. That is why if the scientific model and the word of the Bible say different things about a point in time, and the word of the Bible is taken for granted, that invalidates the entirety of that scientific model.
Well let us assume that the world was created 4000 years ago just how the account in Genesis goes (though I don’t recall reading any numbers or dates in Genesis 1 and 2), and the laws of the world as observed by science were set in place and into motion at that point by God in a way that matches with what science claims about that point in time (eg fossils etc were created the way they are found).
The problem is that even this would be unacceptable for Ken Ham, because of the claims in the Bible about how people lived for centuries, the great flood of Noah and so on are all things that don’t exactly fit in with the inductive scientific proof from that era.
What I can’t understand though, is that if scientific induction into the past is not acceptable, then what about the science of history? Are we supposed to discard everything that we know of the history of mankind, since “no one was there to check”? Or what about the scientific achievements of the past few hundred years? I’m positive that not even Mr Ham would claim that the laws of physics were different in the middle ages, or even in the days of the ancient Greek?Does scientific induction suddenly become a valid method as the account of the Old Testament ends?
If that is the case, that involves another really interesting, though purely philosophical problem. Let’s disregard the fact that if God’s intervention, “the way of the Bible” or anything else can cancel the conclusions of scientific induction that means we have a huge uncertainty that we can’t calculate with: such a cancelling event may happen anytime, and then the laws of science would (again) go down the drain. Yay.
Thing is, if we assume that the world was created and guided by God as it’s accounted for in the Bible, and we also accept that the current observational science is valid, that leads to a scenario like the one I described above: the world could have been created by God 4000 years ago, and guided (disregarding certain laws of science) in a fashion that the conclusions of modern science hold true since this “guided” age ended.
The philosophically interesting problem is that if such an event could happen 4000 years ago, it could have happened 10 years ago, or just two seconds ago as well. It’s entirely possible that if Adam was created as an adult, then I was created here sitting in front of my computer, implanted with memories of a life I didn’t actually live – but I have no way to know that. If God created the world to be so awesome to prove his glory, why would he mislead us about it by putting fake signs and fossils everywhere, that happen to match with the current results of observational science? That would be just so mean of him. And that’s putting it light… Let me quote a rabbi:
God essentially created two conflicting accounts of Creation: one in nature, and one in the Torah. How can it be determined which is the real story, and which is the fake designed to mislead us? One could equally propose that it is nature which presents the real story, and that the Torah was devised by God to test us with a fake history!
One has to be able to rely on God’s truthfulness if religion is to function. Or, to put it another way – if God went to enormous lengths to convince us that the world is billions of years old, who are we to disagree?
Now I don’t say that believing in the Genesis account of the Bible is wrong. However, it’s logically irreconcilable with science, therefore if you want to present students with a logically consistent system of science as needed for the technological advancement of mankind, then science should be taught. Once they have an established grasp of what is necessary for the survival of our kind, then sure, throw away the ladder you climbed up on (cheers, Wittgenstein) and embrace the Genesis creation. But first climb the ladder.