"Scientific" creationists tend to call themselves scientists, and many do actually have degrees in engineering or in some actual field of science. The Creation Research Society, an organization that probably most qualified scientific creationists belong to regardless of their other organizational or institutional ties, requires that its members have at least a master's degree in "science" (apparently including engineering, medicine, and other things). Some of these creationists are employed as science teachers in high schools or in accredited colleges and universities, and may even have Ph.D. degrees. And yet I call them pseudoscientists! How dare me.
Making definitions is making distinctions. I distinguish between engineer and scientist, and among training, profession, teaching, and the game actually played. A scientist is someone who plays the game of science. He or she must, of course, play by the rules or it is some other game. There's nothing wrong with playing other games, since many are equally worthwhile or perhaps even more so, but if some other game is being played, it shouldn't be called "science."
Viewing science as a game is useful. For, like basketball, football, ping-pong, or chess, science has definite rules of play. Therefore, just as it is not basketball to play by rules other than those for the game of basketball, so it is not science to play by rules other than those for the game of science.
For example, if a player on a basketball court suddenly grabs the ball, tucks it under his arm, runs to the end of the court, spikes the ball, and then claims he's made a touchdown, it would be obvious to everyone that the player is trying to play a game other than basketball. The fact that the player has been trained to play basketball, may have earned degrees in physical education and has, at various times, played basketball flawlessly, would be regarded as irrelevant to whatever claim he might make that he is, at this moment, playing basketball. If the practice of trying to play football on the basketball court had become a fad of sorts and the player could point to other players who had done the same thing on other courts, this would also be irrelevant. One supposes that if the disruptive athletes (a small minority and most of them not basketball specialists) banded together and asked that "basketballish footballism" be given equal time with conventional basketball in all P.E. courses in the public schools, the public would not stand for it.
Unfortunately, the rules of the game called science are not as well-known to the public as are the rules of basketball. So, when the scientific creationists play their non-science game and then call it "science," many people don't know the difference.
Many people also are not aware that, as with basketball, in order to play the game of science, one need not have a degree in a technical field. A high school student engaged in a research project on the nature of nature and following the rule of the game is being a scientist. The only thing that distinguishes the scientist from other people is the game being played, just as the only thing that distinguishes a chess or basketball player from other people is the game being played.
A person may have a degree in chemistry and not be a chemist. My wife, for example, has a degree in chemistry, but is a computer programmer. This is because she performs the role of computer programmer, rather than the role of chemist. Likewise, a person may have a degree in some field of science, but play the role of pseudoscientist.
I have many roles. I am an uncle, son, nephew, father, husband, son-in-law, brother-in-law, scientist, teacher, public speaker, voter, taxpayer, consumer, and any number of other things. Each of us wears more than several hats, and, naturally, Sir Isaac Newton did as well. Two of the roles that Newton functioned in were scientist (player of the science game) and theologian (player of the theology game). Some of the time Newton felt like playing science, and some of the time he felt like playing theology. Fortunately for his science and also for his theology, Sir Isaac Newton always knew which game he was playing and never got the two mixed up.
Probably most scientific creationists have never played the game of science. This is because so many seem to be practitioners in fields like engineering, medicine, or veterinary medicine. Such people don't generally function as scientists but as "technologists"—they utilize known principles of science in attempts to solve certain practical problems such as how to keep a weakened dam from bursting, how to cut out a cancer, or how to prevent distemper. Architects, plumbers, and electricians, among others, also utilize principles that have been discovered by scientists. But the game of science is the trying to increase knowledge and understanding of the fundamental nature of nature-playing by the rules, of course.
When I say that a particular endeavor is not science or is not scientific, or that some person is not a scientist, this isn't a put-down. I don't place science by itself at the top of some hierarchy of worthwhile activities. Beethoven, Jesse Owens, George Washington, and John the Baptist were not scientists, but stating this no more disparages them than would saying that they were not oranges or tangerines.
Some nonscientific pursuits, such as medicine and engineering, require more than the usual amount of training in the things that scientists have found out. Many people who have degrees in engineering, medicine, veterinary medicine, and so on do play the game of science on occasion or even a great deal of the time. To the extent that they do this, they are scientists. (To the extent that a person trained in accounting does science, he too is a scientist.) Some people trained in engineering or medicine become full-time scientific researchers. Most, however, are "technologists" (practitioners).
A person who teaches "science" (that is, the things discovered by means of science) at the elementary, secondary, or college level may, like anyone else, either play or not play the "doing science" game. Most don't play it (no criticism intended). A science teacher per se is not the same thing as a scientist per se, just as a history teacher is not the same thing as an historian (although a single person may be both). An historian figures things out about history that no one knew before, and a history teacher teaches those things discovered by the historian. They are two different games.
Possession of a master's degree in "science" is no guarantee that a person has ever actually played the game. For example, when I received my master's degree in zoology from the University of Michigan I had, as yet, never really done any research. I had merely taken thirty hours of graduate courses. Many people with master's degrees, however, have written a thesis which should, ideally, present the results of an original scientific investigation. Some theses actually do this, while others are mere compilations of pre-existing information.
The Ph.D. degree in a scientific field is not to be given by an accredited institution unless the recipient has demonstrated ability to play the game by completing a research project and writing it up in the form of a dissertation. We can say, therefore, that a scientific creationist who has a Ph.D. in a bona fide natural science from an accredited institution of higher learning has, for a while at least, been a scientist. This does not mean, however, that anything this person chooses to do thereafter in the name of science will necessarily be such.
Some scientific creationists have never been scientists. Some were actual scientists for a period of time, but haven't been since. Others may play the game of science when they're working on their specialty, and even do it well enough to make a living at it, and then do pseudoscience in their off hours. To the extent that they do the latter, they are pseudoscientsts.
But what is it that I refer to as "the game of science"? How is it played and what distinguishes it from other games? And most importantly, why is it that scientific creationism doesn't qualify as a way of playing this game?
I define science as a particular set of practices calculated to help us learn new things about the natural world. The key word here is practices. The thing that determines whether a statement is a scientific one is not whether it is true or false, but the means by which the statement was arrived at.
At one time, science, like the game of basketball, did not exist. The ancient Greeks played around with some ideas that were sort of embryonically scientific in nature but the Greeks mostly operated off the tops of their heads and did not take the study of nature (that is, the study of the actual rocks, plants, and animals around them) seriously. There were some partial exceptions to this, like Aristotle, but for the most part Greeks didn't make actual observations to test their ideas.
During the period of Roman domination, science was usually regarded as unimportant because the Romans were more interested in amusement, money, and power—that is, in "practical" things—than they were in philosophical or theoretical matters. There was little science in the Middle Ages because it was usually thought that everything was known. The Bible, and the works of Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Galen were believed to contain all conceivable knowledge and thus there was no recognized need for inquiry into the workings of nature. The answer to the question, "How did things become as they are?" was always, "Things are the way they are because that's the way God wanted them to be so he made them that way." Although this answer may be the correct one, it tends to have a chilling effect on scientific inquiry.
During the Renaissance, the rules for playing the game of science were laid down. Some of these are:
1. Science does not respect authority. It makes no difference whether the authority is the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Himalayan Book of the Dead, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a papal bull, or a proclamation of an ayatollah. This may be impious, sinful, and wrong, in any sense of the word, but that's the way the game is played.
2. Science does respect data—data derived from the direct study of nature (and only nature) itself. Because science, by means of observation and experiment, asks questions only of the natural world, it is totally incapable of investigating the nonnatural, extranatural, or supernatural, and thus can make no statements about the existence, nonexistence, or nature of supernatural beings or phenomena. Any statement which does deal with such matters may be true but is not science. It is, rather, philosophy, theology, or what have you. Thus any statement concerning the existence, nonexistence, or nature of a creator or creators is not science by definition and has no place in scientific discussion or in science classrooms. This is not to say that such statements cannot be dealt with elsewhere in a school system, such as, say, in a class in comparative religion.
3. Because science cannot deal with the supernatural, it is forced to function as if there is no such thing as a supernatural—in other words, it totally ignores statements about the supernatural because they have no meaning in the language of science. This is a different thing from saying that science denies the existence of the supernatural—for this science cannot do. At the beginning of and throughout a scientific endeavor, all that is supernatural is excluded and thus it is not surprising that at the end of a scientific (as opposed to a pseudoscientific) investigation, no outlines of a creator, angels, devils, or demons appear. Because of the fact that supernatural considerations are excluded from science and therefore do not appear, there is a tight tautology that has, incredibly, been interpreted by some—including some scientists—as some sort of proof of the non-existence of gods, and other things. Equally incredibly, some are disturbed by the tautology, feel somehow that in "true" science their own particular view of a god or gods must emerge (even though this has been made impossible), and so they insert their supernatural being or beings somewhere in their equations (usually by sleight of hand by which even they are fooled) and then triumphantly "discover" them there.
Because the scientific endeavor ignores the supernatural, it refuses to let supernatural explanations put up brick walls which stop inquiry.
The scientist asks, "Why do certain kinds of living things (such as, say, cows, sheep, and goats) resemble each other the way they do?" The pseudoscientist may answer, "They resemble each other the way they do because they have a common creator and when the creator made them, he utilized the artistic convention of variation on a theme." Now this statement may be true but it is not a scientific one. That is, it is not a statement arrived at by pure study of natural phenomena and with no admixture of philosophy or theology, as it does, obviously, make an assertion about the nature and proclivities of a supernatural entity.
To the scientist's way of thinking, the pseudoscientist's explanation simply amounts to "The animals are the way they are because God wanted them that way" which in turn sounds very much like, "That's just the way it is, take it or leave it." If the scientist accepts the answer, "That's just the way God wanted it," then this is acquiescing to a brick wall being put across the path of inquiry. The scientist can then either walk away and go play golf or something or ask another question (which could in turn be cut off by another pseudoscientific explanation). Instead, any scientist worthy of the name will forge right ahead, damn the torpedoes, ignore the supernatural explanation, and come up with a scientific one such as, say, "These animals are similar because they evolved from a common ancestor." This explanation may be wrong, but it has the potential at least of becoming an accepted scientific one because it can be tested on the basis of a study of nature.
Rightly or wrongly, then, the overwhelming majority of scientists have concluded that of the possible explanations which have the potential of becoming accepted scientific ones, the evolutionary one seems best. The supernatural one may be right but there's no way to get there from here. Like it or not, this is the way science works. If you don't like it, then you are anti-science and that's fine with me so long as you call what you are by its proper name.
4. Another characteristic of science is that it strives for objectivity. Properly done, science is supposed to include efforts to disprove a "favored hypothesis." A "favored hypothesis" is the one that currently looks best to you or that appeals to you the most for some reason. A good scientist is supposed to try to think up every conceivable way to disprove a favored hypothesis and to also give every conceivable alternate hypothesis a fair shake. If a favored hypothesis proves defective somehow then that's just too bad and the scientist must abandon it. Scientists are human, of course, and realizing the ideal of objectivity is not always the easiest thing to do. Nonetheless, the ideal to be striven for must always be uppermost in one's mind if one is to do the best science. As Darwin said, "I shall endeavor to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved, once facts are shown to be opposed to it." The extent to which Darwin approximated this ideal might be debatable but his expression of it is nonetheless eloquent.
The scientist's motivation to attempt to disprove a favored hypothesis is by no means a purely idealistic one. If your hypothesis is faulty and you don't discover this and then you publish it, someone else will probably come along and disprove it and then won't you look silly.
In spite of human limitations, the degree of objectivity that actually is achieved in most scientific research is a beautiful thing to behold and its contemplation is one of the greatest joys of the devotee of science. Nonetheless, some pseudoscientific fundamentalist apologists simply claim that any degree of supposed scientific objectivity is impossible and thus by implication futile to strive for. They thus make no claim for being objective themselves (in this they are fully justified) and by the process known to psychologists as "projection," they deny that their opponents have any capabilities in this regard either.
To me, the denial of the possibility of objectivity seems cynical and reminiscent of such statements as, "moral behavior is impossible so let's not even try for it." The scientific creationist has already made up his mind about the broad outlines of reality and by a process of deduction concludes how everything must be and then says that that's the way it is. Since another way of operating is inconceivable to him, he imputes nothing more than the same deductive processes to evolutionary theorists. These creationists are convinced that all "evolutionists" had an a priori acceptance of an old universe and of evolution and that they have merely deductively extrapolated from that to specific cases.
The inductive method, however, was primarily responsible for the development of Darwin's and Wallace's concept of evolution, for it was a vast number of specific observations that led them to construct their synthetic explanation. The inductive nature of their thinking must be granted whether one agrees with their interpretations or not. It is said that in science no really new developments can take place without inductive thinking and this would seem to be the case.
Now that we know something about what science is and is not, we can more easily tell who is playing the science game and who is not. And when someone who is not playing the science game claims that he or she is, we know that we are dealing with a pseudoscientist.
When I call someone a pseudoscientist, this doesn't mean that he or she can't also function on occasion as a scientist—or as an engineer, a politician, or whatever. But since we're focusing on the role of the pseudoscientist, rather than on some other, so as to understand scientific creationism, I'll just apply the single term.
Just what are the characteristics of pseudoscientists, whether sectarian or secular? Well, if someone claims to be a scientist but displays any of the following characteristics, you would be justified in at least suspecting that you are dealing with a pseudoscientist.
1. The individual is a layperson in the field that he or she is claiming expertise in, although he or she may not be a layperson in other disciplines. Theologians, physicians, veterinarians, and engineers (including hydraulic engineers) are usually laypeople, as opposed to specially trained researchers, when it comes to the field of evolutionary theory and the fields most closely tied to it—namely: paleontology, paleobotany, taxonomy, comparative anatomy, comparative physiology, ethology, ecology (the science—not the environmental concern), and biogeography. If you want to know something about heart trouble, you don't go to a paleontologist. If you want to know about fossils, I suggest you consult someone other than a heart specialist—or a former biochemist.
2. Pseudoscientists tend to have an unconventional view that can "explain" (and/or explain away) just about everything in the universe. They have an answer for everything and it's always the same answer.
3. They represent themselves as fighting an heroic battle for Truth against a supposedly powerful, intolerant, and rigid scientific orthodoxy.
4. They are not usually interested in a scientific subject for its own sake, but only to the extent that it seems useful to them in "proving" their grandiose explanation of things. Actual scientists who study fossils, for example, are crazy about the fossils themselves. They like to find fossils, they like to look at fossils, they like to feel fossils, they like to smell fossils, they like to know more and more about fossils. Their interest in fossils may be, in part, because studying them helps in developing non-grandiose hypotheses and may, just possibly, lead to a full-fledged theory someday—but such scientists also just like to get in there and grub those bones out with their own hands and carry them back in triumph to the museum, hypotheses or no hypotheses. They don't learn about fossils because they have a pro-evolutionary axe to grind. As far as they are concerned, the question of evolution was settled long ago. The kind of interest these people have is revealed in such informal discourse as, "Hey, have I told you my idea about the shape of the intestinal valve in the hybodont sharks?" The pseudoscientists are not really interested in possums, dinosaurs, lightning bugs, or fossil sponges. They are interested only in proving something. They generally don't get out there and get their hands dirty studying actual wild animals, plants, and fossils (apparent exceptions to this will be discussed below)—so they usually get their information from the writings of real scientists. This lack of first-hand experience with the creatures or phenomena they copy statements about is painfully obvious to any real naturalist.
5. Pseudoscientists spend most of their energies on propaganda (writing proselytizing books and pamphlets, making proselytizing movies, delivering proselytizing lectures, etc.) rather than on research. What little "research" is done is manifestly non-objective and superficial, and results in little, if any, new data that is useful in arriving at conclusive judgments. The "field work" is frequently designed to merely provide material for popular books and movies.
6. If a pseudoscience is on the way to becoming a full-fledged cult with its own gospel, it probably has a living chief prophet and perhaps a few minor prophets as well. Devotees slavishly adopt the tenets of the prophet or prophets, and publish them over and over again with very little show of disagreement or dissension. This may be contrasted with the situation in actual science, where one finds constant debate, disagreement, and modification of earlier views. (The amount of publicly-expressed disagreement among the science faculty at, say, Harvard, is in marked contrast to the picture we get from Christian Heritage College and the Institute for Creation Research.) The lack of agreement and the changing hypotheses and theories in actual science are often treated by pseudoscientists as if they constituted a weakness. They are its strength.
Study the writings of scientific creationists and judge their status for yourself.
In North America, at least, scientific creationists who have technical training are quite frequently engineers. The non-engineers who have been taught some of the things that scientists have found out, or who have themselves, on occasion, played the game of science, are usually knowledgeable only in one of the non-biological and "non-historical" sciences. Very few have had their primary technical training in biology, and I know of none who have actually conducted "hands-on" scientific studies of specimens in the fields of plant and animal classification, biogeography, or paleontology. Without exception, every single paleontologist, taxonomist, ecologist, biogeographer, comparative anatomist, botanist, mammalogist, ornithologist, herpetologist, ichthyologist, entomologist, and other invertebrate zoologist that I have ever met (and I have met and talked to hundreds, if not thousands) has been utterly convinced that the scientific evidence supports unequivocally and overwhelmingly, an old earth, an old universe, and evolution. Now I know that this doesn't necessarily make it so. I emphasize such unanimity (in my experience at least) among non-laypeople only because the scientific creationists try to make it appear as if great ages and evolution are matters of dispute and debate among informed scientists.
In general, scientific creationists are evangelical fundamentalist literalist Christians. That is to say, it is their religious belief that every statement in the Old and New Testaments is literally true. This constitutes acceptance of the most extreme form of what is known as the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. It may be that there are a few fringe members of the scientific creationist movement who are not this doctrinaire, but they apparently play no significant role in the most important groups such as the Institute for Creation Research, the Creation-Science Research Center, the Bible-Science Association, and the Creation Research Society.
Some groups, such as the Institute for Creation Research, consist of people with technical training in engineering, medicine, or science, while others, such as the Bible-Science Association seem to be directed by people with little or no technical background. As near as I can tell, the Institute for Creation Research appears to be a group of Baptists, while the Bible-Science Association is made up of Missouri Synod Lutherans.
In order to become a member of the Creation Research Society (the scholarly society to which technically trained scientific creationists generally belong regardless of their Christian biblical literalist denomination), one must sign the following "confession of faith":
It is quite clear by the above that in this "scientific" organization no Jew need apply.
Please contrast that "confession of faith" with the statement of Darwin quoted earlier, a statement that expresses the true spirit of science. "I shall endeavor to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however well beloved, once facts are shown to be opposed to it." The scientific creationist, of course, does not regard his or her literalist view of biblical inerrancy as an hypothesis. Instead, to such a person, the only way of knowing anything for sure is through divine revelation (i.e., the Bible). This may or may not be so, but it isn't science.
It might seem curious that Jews, believing as they do in exactly the same Genesis as Christians, are excluded from membership in what is ostensibly a society of scholars dedicated to "proving" that Genesis is "True." If scientific evidence alone would suffice to do this, what difference would it make whether a scientist was a Genesis-believing Christian, or a Genesis-believing Jew?
The fact is, of course, that in spite of protestations to the contrary, the real reason for believing in scientific creationism is anything but scientific. It is a specific fundamentalist doctrine. Thus, it isn't enough that a pseudoscientist claim belief in every word of the Old Testament—he or she must do it for the right reason or be forever kept out of the fold. The right reason has perhaps been best expressed by the director of the Center for Scientific Creation in Illinois, Walter Brown: "If evolution happened, then a tremendous amount of death occurred before man evolved. But if death preceded man and was not a result of Adam's sin, then sin is a fiction. If sin is a fiction, then we have no need for a Savior." (Brown, 1981)
I am sure that a much higher percentage of atheists would agree with this statement than would of Christians. It simply says that if the conclusions of science are correct, then Christianity is nonsense and should be abandoned. This is precisely the atheist position. If one has become convinced of the truth of this proposition and then sees (as many have and as many more will in the future) that the current scientific view of the universe is a compelling one, then one has no choice but to give up Christianity. Must we force believers into such a bind? Many devout Christians (including many scientists) see no difficulties for their faith in accepting the current scientific view of the universe.
That any educated person could perceive the thought and motivation of scientific creationists as being at all scientific, then, is amazing. Listen to Whitcomb and Morris in The Genesis Flood (1973) as they discuss ages for the earth, as arrived at by scientific means:
Once again we emphasize that the only certain basis of prehistoric [sic] chronology must come by way of divine revelation. This revelation, in the Bible, records a Creation and subsequent universal Flood, both occurring only a few thousand years ago! And nothing in true science can possibly negate this; nor, in fact, when the data are rightly understood, does it even seem to do so. [Emphasis theirs.]
If certain scientific viewpoints differ from Whitcomb and Morris' interpretation of the Bible, then these viewpoints can't be "true science" by Whitcomb and Morris' definition of "true science" (that is, science that agrees with them). If scientific data appear to disagree with Whitcomb and Morris' interpretation of Scripture, it can only be because the data are not "rightly understood." It couldn't possibly be because Whitcomb and Morris have not "rightly understood" Scripture.
Henry M. Morris, co-author of the words quoted above, and director of the Institute for Creation Research, is indisputably the leading scientific creationist. His books and articles have provided what appears to be the original source for much of the scientific creationist doctrine and supporting apologetics. So, here are some more samples from The Genesis Flood of Whitcomb and Morris' theology and understanding of the spirit of science:
We say, on the basis of overwhelming Biblical evidence, that every fossil man that has ever been discovered, or ever will be discovered, is a descendant of the supernaturally created Adam and Eve. This is absolutely essential to the entire edifice of Christian theology, and there can simply be no true Christianity without it. [Emphasis theirs.]
Here we see again that the only possible "true science" is science that agrees with Whitcomb and Morris, and that the only possible true theology and true Christianity are theology and Christianity that agree with Whitcomb and Morris. Lest someone still think that dispassionate examination of scientific evidence might play some role in Whitcomb and Morris' viewpoint, note the following:
With only a few exceptions [I dispute this], American evangelicals have been willing to part company with evolutionary anthropology . . . But why? Certainly not because Christians have carefully studied the pros and cons of various theories of the origin of man and have concluded that the Biblical view is the most consistent with the "facts." No one ever arrives at a world-and-life view by such a purely inductive method. The true reason why Christians have been willing (with some exceptions, of course) to take their stand on a Biblical anthropology, in opposition to an evolutionary anthropology, is that they enjoy a vital spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ and accept His authority. . . .
It has often been maintained that God has given us two revelations, one in nature and one in the Bible and that they cannot contradict each other. This is certainly correct; but when one subconsciously identifies with natural revelation his own interpretations of nature and then denounces theologians who are unwilling to mold Biblical revelation into conformity with his interpretation of nature, he is guilty of serious error. After all, special revelation supersedes natural revelation, for it is only by means of special revelation that we can interpret aright the world about us.
There is no reason to doubt that some scientific creationists have legitimate degrees in scientific subjects. But this fact alone, as I have shown, does not make scientific creationism scientific. A study is scientific only if it is done scientifically: that is, according to the rules of the game of science. These rules are specific, and the game itself is limited in what it covers. There is nothing wrong with playing other games instead of science, and there is nothing wrong in people with or without scientific degrees playing these other games. But honesty would seem to require that people be up front about which game they are playing. I have shown that, by this criterion, scientific creationists are either not honest about their own endeavors, or they aren't clear in their own minds about what it means to play the game of science.
In any case, scientific creationism is not science and thus should not be so named. It is religious pseudoscience—religion masquerading as science. As a result, when scientific creationists, even those holding degrees in scientific subjects, promote scientific creationism, they are not acting in the role of scientists, even when they say they are, but in the role of religious pseudoscientists. This is an important distinction to be made, one that is often overlooked or not understood by the general public.
Brown, Walter T., Jr. 1981. In the Beginning (2nd edition). Naperville, IL: ICR Midwest Center. P. 20.
Whitcomb, John C., Jr. and Henry M. Morris. 1973 edition. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. Pp. 391 and 457-458.