Interpretation Of Scientific Evidence


(Jonathan) #1

A thought struck me recently: perhaps much of the disconnect between the sides of the Creation v. Evolution debate comes from (if [for the most part] differing worldviews wasn’t enough) the belief that scientific evidence can only be interpreted one way. I’ve noticed that AIG asserts that there are multiple possible interpretations for scientific evidence almost as vehemently as many of you assert that there are multiple interpretations of scripture…Do you (the reader) believe that there are multiple ways to interpret scientific evidence (as in: what seems to be evidence for evolution can be [if interpreted differently] not actually evidence for evolution and, if taken farther, may actually be evidence for creation?

(P.S: I have a couple cartoons from AIG that I may consider posting if this discussion takes off, so if that is not incentive to comment, I don’t know what is! ;))


(Christy Hemphill) #2

Do we have to say something of substance in the comments to get the cartoons?


(Christy Hemphill) #3

I believe there are multiple ways to interpret scientific evidence. But I don’t think it is valid to assert that some scientists can look at radioactive isotope dating and get 500 million years and other scientists can look at the same evidence and get 5,000 years. Those aren’t just different 'interpretations" they are different calculations, and one of them is wrong. Interpretations have to do with inferences and speculations about causation and correlation and the development of workable models from data and observations. On those things, scientists engage in debate. I think most of the time, what creation scientists claim are their different “interpretations” actually involve a lot of rejection of pretty straightforward calculations and measurements. There isn’t a whole lot of subjectivity or worldview imposing going on when we are talking about counting and measuring.

What would constitute “scientific evidence” of creation? That sounds like the ID mission, and so far they haven’t been very successful in that endeavor. Most of the time it seems to me that creation scientists are engaged in trying to discredit mainstream scientific interpretations by questioning their validity, not offering an alternative interpretation. “This can’t be right” is not an alternative interpretation, it’s just a denial.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #4

Or, a third option… it might be evidence for creation by means of evolution! A both/and solution! :slight_smile:

([end-of-commercial voice] This has been a perfunctory comment aimed only partially at making a meaningful point, and more so to trigger the posting of cartoons.)

(P.S. If you put a right parenthesis between “creation” and the following question mark, my eye will stop twitching)


(Christy Hemphill) #5


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #6

paging @jammycakes for his usual excellent comments about AIG’s “interpretations” of scientific evidence…


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #7

…wow
just wow
:grinning:


(Christy Hemphill) #8

I’m going to get in big trouble with Brad, because I think I just insinuated that you are a communist and dragged Nazis into the conversation. How could I be a worse role model of gracious dialogue?


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #9

Part of what needs to be considered here is plausibility. Consider Last Thursdayism:

Last Thursdayism (alternately Last Tuesdayism or Last Wednesdayism) is the idea that the universe was created last Thursday, but with the physical appearance of being billions of years old. Under Last Thursdayism, books, fossils, light already on the way from distant stars, and literally everything (including your memories of the time before last Thursday) were all formed at the time of creation (last Thursday) in a state such that they appear much older.

Last Thursdayism is one interpretation of the scientific evidence! It is altogether possible. Is it plausible? Well, of course not.

There are always many interpretations of the scientific evidence. God could have specially created each species such that it looked amazingly like evolution occurred: matching evolution’s narrative of the order of when things were created, and their distribution across the globe (e.g., no placental mammals except bats & mice on Australia, no large mammals on remote Pacific islands, isolated groups of feliform and prosimian mammals on Madagascar, etc.), and even making precise strands of DNA line up to look like nested hierarchies that arose from common descent. He could have lined up all the radioactive isotopes and various strands of tectonic evidence with glorious precision to look like everything happened in a symphony that mimicked an evolutionary timeline. He could have planted a layer of iridium and a huge crater scar on the Yucatan Peninsula that married up with the specific time frame when dinosaurs went extinct.

We can interpret all of that either as “God created each animal specifically at each of those times and places and it only LOOKS suspiciously like common descent” or as “God created everything to have the appearance of age but in fact He was testing us to make sure we would hold firm to His word because it all happened 6,000 years ago.” Both of these are possible alternative interpretations of the same enormous pile of data from several independent fields that conspire to suggest evolution via common descent.

But these “interpretations” are neither plausible nor satisfying. Why would God create like that?


(George Brooks) #10

@J.E.S

That’s a pretty good observation …

I’ve noticed that too. For example, Geologists will point out that using multiple kinds of tests that converge on a single conclusion - - such as, the Earth is 5 billion years old - - is an example of such a unitary interpretation.

Then, we can get YEC’s arriving on this list that read a detailed account of convergent evidence, and they will say:

“doesn’t prove a thing”.

So, yeah, I guess that’s the YECs for ya … being creative and all…


(Phil) #11

You can have different interpretations in science, but science works like the board game Clue. As you get more information about the “crime” you rule out those lines of reasoning that are not supportive on the various combinations until you finally find the murderer was Col. Mustard in the parlor with a candlestick.


(George Brooks) #12

In reference to @J.E.S ’ s speculation:

What you are saying, @jpm, like the Great One Asimov wrote about himself, is that as you collect
scientific information, converging on agreement, you do - - in fact - - reduce uncertainty about the interpretation
of scientific data!


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #13

Well, you may have crossed off everything on your checklist but Col. Mustard, the parlor, and the candlestick, but I know better: It was actually Satan that killed him, in the garden veranda. After all, he is the one that steals, kills & destroys. And I know you don’t have a garden veranda card in your deck but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! You’re so limited!

See, even in Clue, you can disregard the rules and come up with your own interpretations.


(James McKay) #14

I’m surprised that you think you need to page me – I’d have thought you’d all be able to quote my stock answer to this one in your sleep by now :slight_smile:

It isn’t that evidence can only be interpreted one way. It’s that interpretations of the evidence have to obey certain rules. If it didn’t, then you’d just be able to cite the Four Blood Moons as evidence for a young earth, because treknobabble. You’d also be granting a free pass to Myers-Briggs, graphology, astrology, homeopathy, reading tea leaves, and tobacco companies attempting to prove that smoking is good for you.

The rules I have in mind are specifically:

  1. It must be based on accurate measurements, correctly accounting for both random and systematic measurement errors.
  2. It must be free from arithmetic errors.
  3. It must not fudge or cherry-pick the raw data.
  4. It must neither exaggerate nor downplay the significance of uncertainties and discordances.
  5. It must not take shortcuts.
  6. It must verify its integrity by testing against controls and making appropriate use of blind studies where appropriate.
  7. It must not misrepresent the extent or nature of the evidence.
  8. It must not quote mine.
  9. It must be consistent and accurate in how it uses its terminology.
  10. It must not be resistant to reasonable critique.

Notice that I haven’t said anything about not appealing to miracles, or about not introducing religious presuppositions into science. I don’t think it’s either necessary or productive to raise such an objection: the above rules should be sufficient to see that young-earth claims simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. These rules are also completely independent of your worldview, unless your worldview believes that dishonesty is acceptable.

One other thing. Please do not view evolution and creation as mutually exclusive. Evolution is a precisely-defined scientific term that describes a process that is observed both in the laboratory and in nature, and that has nothing anti-creation about it whatsoever. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency in YEC circles to expand the meaning of the words “evolution” and “evolutionist” to encompass a whole lot of other things that are nothing whatsoever to do with biological evolution. In effect, it ends up becoming both a synonym for “atheism” and an umbrella term for “anything in science that I don’t like.”


#15

There can be many interpretations of scientific evidence. Of those interpretations, only some of them will be scientific explanations. Of the scientific explanations, only some of them will be consistent with the evidence.

Other posters have done a wonderful job of describing what is and isn’t scientific, and I really only have one thing to add which is the concept of falsification. If we are talking about scientific explanations, then they need to describe what type of evidence would disprove their explanation. That is on of the main things that AiG lacks, and they even admit as much in their statement of faith:

"By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record."
reference

If nothing I can show you will ever falsify your interpretation then you don’t have a scientific explanation. What you have is a dogmatic religious belief, at least in the case of AiG. You can’t have any credibility when any evidence, no matter what it is, will be viewed as supporting your view. It’s like a loving mother who will claim that her son is innocent no matter what evidence is presented in trial. I have asked many creationists questions about how creationism is falsifiable, and they are never really able to answer them. For example, what features would a fossil need in order for them to accept it as evidence for human evolution? What shared genetic features would falsify creationism? What features would a geologic formation need in order to falsify a young earth or a recent global flood? They can’t answer those questions because no amount of evidence will change their mind.

What I find most intriguing is what the AiG approach to the debate really says about how they view the world. AiG wants so badly to have a supported scientific explanation, and yet they vehemently speak out against science all of the time. Their own actions seem to indicate that they view scientific explanations as being superior to religious beliefs because they try to argue that evolution isn’t scientific while creationism is scientific. They are like a school boy who has been spurned by a girl, and their reaction is to both attack the girl and still try to win her favor.


(Jonathan) #16

That gimmick worked far too well…:confounded:

What if they are ignoring evidence that promotes the idea that the earth is not 5 billion years old? Or something akin to that?

Any specific ones?[quote=“jammycakes, post:14, topic:37038”]
These rules are also completely independent of your worldview, unless your worldview believes that dishonesty is acceptable.
[/quote]

It’s time for one of the cartoons!

This is one of AIG’s worldview cartoons.

And I think it is interesting in light of a post from @T_aquaticus [quote=“T_aquaticus, post:15, topic:37038”]
What I find most intriguing is what the AiG approach to the debate really says about how they view the world. AiG wants so badly to have a supported scientific explanation, and yet they vehemently speak out against science all of the time. Their own actions seem to indicate that they view scientific explanations as being superior to religious beliefs because they try to argue that evolution isn’t scientific while creationism is scientific.
[/quote]

I don’t believe that AIG thinks this. They are simply starting with the presupposition (word of the day) that God’s word (and the Christian religious beliefs) are/is infallibly true. AIG will view all evidence from that “lens.” They call this a “Christian Worldview.” I think you (@T_aquaticus) are on to something with the dogma thing. It can be extremely helpful to have an infallible canon (assuming it is true)! So, in the end, AIG will say that in order for something to be true (and among contradictory things, only one can be true), it must support a literal interpretation of the scriptures. AIG doesn’t at all believe that science is bad (quite the opposite), and I don’t believe they attack “science” as you define it. AIG does believe that the scientific community has become bogged down with some dogmas of it’s own (evolution and millions of years) which are incorrect, and wish to reform it.

That’s my 1 cent’s worth. Other cent (and maybe another AIG cartoon!) coming later…


#17

Then why do they seek to find scientific evidence to back it up, and try to invalidate other scientific findings? Why not just say that the standard scientific conclusions are all correct with respect to science, but the Bible says differently so that is what we believe?[quote=“J.E.S, post:16, topic:37038”]
I think you (@T_aquaticus) are on to something with the dogma thing. It can be extremely helpful to have an infallible canon (assuming it is true)!
[/quote]

If you define something as infallible then you are assuming it is true and you would have no way of determining if it really is true. That’s the problem.[quote=“J.E.S, post:16, topic:37038”]
AIG does believe that the scientific community has become bogged down with some dogmas of it’s own (evolution and millions of years) which are incorrect, and wish to reform it.
[/quote]

That would be the attack on science, and a rather obvious attempt at a false equivalency which further illustrates their views on science and religion. Those things are not dogmas and are supported by mountains of evidence. Those findings are falsifiable. When you falsely portray scientific theories, you are attacking science.

Let’s put this another way. Have you ever seen a scientist who accepts evolution say that creationism is just another scientific theory? You haven’t, have you? Then isn’t it strange that creationist organizations like AiG try to argue that the theory of evolution is just another religious belief as a means of trying to argue against it? What does that tell you about how they view science and religion?


(James McKay) #18

Oh boy, where do I start? I’ve got a whole blog full of them.

At the moment I’m going through Answers in Genesis’s ten best evidences for a young earth, one every two weeks. I’ve done the first four so far, with number five (the earth’s magnetic field) going live lined up for Monday morning.

For starters, you can demolish 75% of young earth arguments with no more science than what I learned in the first half hour of my first practical class in Part IA Physics at Cambridge University. Basically this:

(Apologies in advance for the snarky summary :slight_smile:) Just about everywhere I turn when I read YEC “evidences” I’m left with the same question over and over again: where are the error bars? Either that, or, how on earth do discrepancies of just twenty percent justify claims that these measurements could be out by a factor of a million?

Allow me to quote you something relevant from God’s infallible Word:

Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.
(Deuteronomy 25:13-16)

The Lord detests dishonest scales,
but accurate weights find favor with him.
(Proverbs 11:1)

That is the basis for the ten criteria that I outlined above. Jonathan, I don’t care how old you think the earth is, or who or what you think did or did not evolve from what, as long as any evidence you cite in support of your position is based on honest representation and honest interpretation of accurate information. Unfortunately, I am yet to see any evidence for a young earth that does so.


(George Brooks) #19

@J.E.S

For that to be true, we would have to find someone, anyone, who is smart enough to find this contrary evidence. I can honestly say the contrary-wise evidence identified by YEC “experts” are filled with distortion and rhetoric - - with almost no repeatable forms of tests. There are millions of Christians, @J.E.S, with thousands of these Christians being scientists.

And Christian scientists are eager for headlines too, right? So where is the information that you think should be there?


(Steve Schaffner) #20

I think you left out an important one: the proposed interpretation has to exist. I’ve often seen the statement made that creationists and evolutionary biologists just offer different interpretations of the same data, but a lot of the time the claim isn’t backed up with an actual creationist explanation. I have found this to be particularly true for genetic data.