Do scientists associated with Christian organizations have a point?

I saw a news article today that Dr. Andrew Snelling of AiG has dropped a lawsuit against the National Park Service after they agreed to allow him to collect rocks (should have included these are from the Grand Canyon) for his own analysis (read more here). When I first read about this lawsuit, I was a little concerned because even though I disagree considerably with their position, I think it is unfair to criticize them for lack of scientific rigor if they aren’t even allowed to conduct rigorous research.

In the broader scheme of things, Discovery Institute is routinely criticized (by me too, I should add) for their lack of “publishable” research. They refer to publications in Bio-Complexity as peer-reviewed research, and I guess by the strictest possible definition of the term, they are correct – “I went down to my peer’s office and he/she reviewed it, so it is peer-reviewed!” But this also reminded me of the incident in early 2016 of an article that passed peer review and was published in PLOS ONE that mentioned a “Creator” in the Abstract, Introduction, and Discussion sections of the paper (link here). This article sparked considerable outrage not because of the scientific content on the physics of the human hand, but that the word “Creator” was included. Editors threatened to leave their positions and numerous readers threatened boycott if a retraction was not made. As you could probably guess (if you were unfamiliar with the story), a retraction was made. I did not follow the story close enough to observe any further fallout.

My question is this: Do scientists working at Discovery Institute, AiG, etc. have a legitimate complaint that their research is unfairly discriminated against? My knee-jerk (and possibly derisive) reaction would be to say “No, your ‘research’ doesn’t really fit into the realm of mainstream science.” But how would they possibly publish in anything resembling a mainstream scientific journal if even the mention of a Creator causes such an irate response? I know DI tends to be very careful about terminology to avoid triggering a response, but are they at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to the possibility of legitimate publication? What are your thoughts?


The AIG suit is something that caught my interest also. I wondered what the original reason for denying access was. I suspect it was a request that was suspect in its methodology, but who knows. In any case, it would be interesting for a mainstream geologist to do a parallel study on the same rocks, perhaps with cooperation from Snelling to lend credibility to the result. The results of his study will no doubt be interesting to see.
As to whether the scientists have a point, I suspect that it is a little fuzzy. I can see how a project that is cherry picked to give a prededetermined result will be turned down. I am not sure why it should be considered a religious issue however, as I would think that any research should stand on its merits.

If I were the Grand Canyon folks, I’d give him a few dozen random rocks from somewhere else, and just let him come back with his proof that they were made 4,000 years ago in a global flood. There is no doubt what he will come back saying and I believe this is all a clever devised scheme to make people think two things:
a) Science is against Christianity
b) Real Science proves the YEC model - though ironically he would be doing historical science, something which cannot really prove anything - the only real proof is the eye witness account of the Scriptures

I’ve gotten several students talking about Dr. Snelling and his pet rock collection, drives me mad. Anyways, I think that most of the answers we seek can be found in the actual court document:

See the document above. I’ll post a few relevant lines for convenience:

  • The research Dr. Snelling sought to conduct would investigate some of the same geologic folds that Dr. Huntoon had investigated and previously published papers on.
  • Dr. Huntoon condemned Dr. Snelling’ proposal by stating it “is not a question of fairness to all points of view, but rather adherence to your narrowly defined institution mandate predicated in part on the fact that ours is a secular society as per our constitution.” See Ex. D. Dr. Huntoon closed his report by urging the Park Service to include “internal screening processes [that] should include an examination of the credentials of the submitters so that those who represent inappropriate interests should be screened out.”
  • On April 17, 2014, Martha Hahn noted that Dr. Snelling would be subject to being “banned from research in the national park system” if he were to collect the few fist-sized samples without a permit and keep on the lookout for ‘folks like this on the river’
  • Poor guy though if you read on, he just wants 40 rocks to prove his model

All in all though, what Dr. Snelling wants to do is not science. It is not science when you do experiments to arrive at a predetermined conclusion. All of the DI is not science. The only science they can do is seek to falsify other theories. That is a legitimate practice of science. Every article I’ve seen attempting to disprove main stream science on say AiG just seeks to reject or cast doubt on mainstream science and then suggests the alternative: God did it. Though I will add He certainly went through great lengths to trick us into putting the fossils, the genetic code, the rock layers, etc. in such an order that is consistent with uniformitarianism (i.e. the laws of physics, chemistry, etc. have not changed).

From the study linked to in the OP:

“The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way.”

That’s more than “mentioning” the Creator. There’s a position taken there.

From what I read, they approve a limited number of studies yearly. I don’t think they made a statement about it, but I think I read some speculation that a study designed to prove the canyon was a recent creation would be thought to be a frivolous waste of an available slot.

That’s a valid point, good catch.

It’s also interesting to note that the authors backtracked significantly after the vociferous opposition, claiming difficulties with translation led to their “Creator” remarks.

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In lieu of the retraction, I think it is completely justified - the paper though is somewhat funny in that it also writes:

In conclusion, our study can improve the understanding of the human hand and confirm that the mechanical architecture is the proper design by the Creator for dexterous performance of numerous functions following the evolutionary remodeling of the ancestral hand for millions of years.

So it’s not really an ID or YEC creator. At best this is a theistic evolution point but again, the retraction is warranted. The paper is not testing if there is a creator or not. Yes, the results are consistent with a creator (regardless of how He did it), but do not prove His existence. To actually test the claim that a Creator was overseeing millions of years of evolution would require having a model for how exactly He was involved and demonstrating the effect that ‘Creator’ has on ‘Evolution.’ So I am glad it was retracted since the paper does not prove or disprove a Creator and scientifically proving His involvement is far beyond the scope of this paper.

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Thanks @John_Dalton and @pevaquark for the info. There is always more to the story.

@cwhenderson, Perhaps this is an unfair comparison, but I don’t know anything that fits more closely.

There are those academics who think it is imperative to publish research on the affects racial genetics has on human intelligence. There are plenty of people who think just publishing papers on the topic is grotesquely inappropriate.

So how does a “racial intelligence” academic publish his work on “racist IQ theory” if he can’t use the word “race”, “racial” or even “racist” ?

Ironically, I’m not sure I have a good answer for this hypothetical case. But I do have a good answer for the case you have brought up, Curtis!

Creationist academics don’t have to use the word “creator” in their papers. If the paper demonstrates that the Earth is 6000 years old, it isn’t really necessary to use the word Creator. And the same for proving there was a Global Flood, or proving Intelligent Design (though I suppose there could be reaction to the word “Designer” nowadays!).

That’s pretty easy. You publish something like this.[quote=“gbrooks9, post:8, topic:36163”]
Creationist academics don’t have to use the word “creator” in their papers. If the paper demonstrates that the Earth is 6000 years old, it isn’t really necessary to use the word Creator. And the same for proving there was a Global Flood, or proving Intelligent Design (though I suppose there could be reaction to the word “Designer” nowadays!).
You don’t overthrow a prevailing paradigm in a single paper, nor do you announce that you’re trying to overthrow the paradigm. You begin by carefully and thoroughly demonstrating anomalies, places where current explanations don’t work, and then you start to weave them together into a pattern.

That’s if your new paradigm reflects reality, of course.

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Good thing we have people like @glipsnort to publish rebuttals to such papers: Comment on "Ongoing adaptive evolution of ASPM, a brain size determinant in Homo sapiens" - PubMed!

Back to Snelling, I was re-reading about his previous work with dating rocks in the Grand Canyon, and can understand why they refused access when his earlier work appeared so deceptive. Certainly that track record had to come into consideration.
Here is one critique of his work, lengthy but good article, he is mentioned near the first:

There certainly exists an orthodoxy in science that shuns the unorthodox. Look at Hannes Alfvén’s marginalization and later exoneration with his theories of magnetohydrodynamics and the behavior of plasma. Even Sir Roger Penrose has criticized the funding of cosmology research, claiming that we’ve put all our eggs in the basket of M-theory.

Competing theories don’t get a voice.

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Given there are other areas with the same geology as the Grand Canyon that are outside the Nation Park system I don’t understand why he doesn’t just go there for his “research.” I know it wouldn’t have the same marketability but he should be in for the science right? :wink:

I don’t think a certain amount of Grand (Canyon) standing is out of the question, either.


Going all the way back to the OP, I think the National Park Service was entirely justified to deny Snelling access. To me, the process was fairly simple. The Park Service has a rule about removing rocks from the Grand Canyon. If someone wants to remove rocks for scientific testing, it’s not discriminatory for the NPS to request proof that the person is conducting science, not merely concocting an excuse to collect rocks. And if those who reviewed the request decided that the science of “flood geology” was not legitimate science – gasp! – good on them for turning it down. As @Bill_II noted, poor Mr. Snelling was still free to collect samples and perform the studies elsewhere.

@cwhenderson Grandstanding seems to be what AiG, CRI, DI, and their ilk do best.

Addendum: They also seem to do well with conspiracy theories and horrific examples of discrimination against Christians. Honestly, sometimes I don’t know how any of us can live here, given how horribly Christians are discriminated against in every area of society. UGH!

Makes you want to build a big boat and sail to Australia!

Seriously, I suspect that they looked at the previous research and the inappropriate samples sent for dating that were guaranteed to have poor results, and thought it was inappropriate.

Well, your perspective here certainly seems to confirm the question raised by the OP - that organizations like DI, AiG, and the like are criticized for not publishing in peer reviewed sources… but when they try to do so, they are dismissed a priori because of their perspective.

You may be absolutely right - The park service may well have decided that, given this man’s perspective and goals, he, in their opinion, was not doing “real science.”

But if so, this simply affirms the original question asked… that “scientists working at Discovery Institute, AiG, etc. have a legitimate complaint that their research is unfairly discriminated against.” The gatekeepers of research resources, scientific journals, and the like seem to share your perspective: that any approach that deviates from current scientific orthodoxy is on those grounds de facto unscientific and therefore barred from access.

Thus I think the OP has a point - it seems an odd critique that ID research does not appear in those peer-reviewed journals which have a firm commitment to reject at the outset any research that supports ID.

I think it is a little different issue with ID, in that the general idea is that since ID is not science, those papers should be published in a more appropriate venue, whereas bad science should not be published in journals that value good science.

I for one think you raise a very valid observation. I have always thought it an odd critique that research supporting intelligent design does not appear in those peer-reviewed journals that have a clear commitment to rejecting any research that supports intelligent design.

The brouhaha that erupted when Stephen Meyer did in fact publish in a peer-reviewed journal confirmed this to me: the editor fired, inquiries, commitments to prevent it from ever happening again… all over what i found to be a relatively innocuous contribution to the discussion over whether intelligent design could play a part in explaining biological complexity. With a reaction like that, what peer-reviewed Journal editor is going to risk his neck to allow publication of anything that supports ID or creationist research?

Thus, journals with a commitment against publishing ID-supporting research don’t publish any ID-supportive research, and then use this fact as further “proof” that ID is unscientific, which justifies not publishing it… it seems a rather odd procedure… especially when such otherwise pseudo-scientific ideas as panspermia are given an open door and warm welcome in these journals (even if welcomed with plenty of discussion and dissent).

Well, you again confirm the question raised by the OP - ID is deemed unscientific, and therefore any such research that supports it will be rejected out of hand by those journal editors who agree with you, and who have similarly declared the perspective “unscientific.”

But if you are correct, then there simply can be no denying the question raised in the OP - that their research is in fact simply being discriminated against. You may think it an appropriate discrimination, granted. But the observation stands, it is an odd (and rather circular) argument to say that ID is not scientific because their work does not appear in those scientific journals that refuse to publish anything that supports ID.