What standards must scientific claims meet?

(James McKay) #1

I’ve been having a bit of a discussion on Facebook with some friends (a mixture of YECs, OECs, and others) about creation and evolution, and the position I’ve stated is that as Christians, we must approach the subject with honesty and integrity. One implication of this is that scientific claims must meet scientific standards; it is not honest to call them scientific if they do not.

I have a few particular standards in mind here, with particular reference to evaluating YEC claims:

  1. Our claims must be accurate; they must get their facts straight.
  2. They must prove what we claim that they prove.
  3. They must falsify alternative interpretations by proving that they are inconsistent with the data. (It is not sufficient to merely dismiss them as “rescuing devices.”)
  4. They must quote error bars on all relevant numerical quantities on which they depend. (“Generous to evolutionists” or “generous to uniformitarians” are not error bars.)
  5. They must be peer reviewed by independent experts in the subject matter concerned.
  6. The results must be replicated by another independent team of researchers.
  7. If they seek to overturn conclusions drawn from a large volume of high-precision data, they must be supported by a similar volume of data of similar precision.

Any thoughts here? Anything I’ve missed? Anything that needs “tweaking”?

(Brad Kramer) #2

So, in other words, YECs should never post anything on social media? No YEC stuff is peer-reviewed in the true sense of the word.

I work at BioLogos and I wouldn’t be able to meet this standard when discussing evolution. I’m not a scientist, and I have next to no formal training in the sciences. I just quote things that I hear people say whom I trust. I think that’s how 99 percent of people in the origins debate do things, myself included. The reason I shifted from YEC to EC is not because I did an exhaustive study of YEC vs. EC scientific papers, but because I trust different people now.

I don’t disagree with your honesty and integrity bit, and I do think there needs to be more ground rules for these sorts of discussions. I also think its worth pointing out that scientific work among YECs is shoddy. But by setting these specific rules, you’re basically saying, “if anybody is doing science outside of the mainstream scientific establishment, we shouldn’t listen to them”, which is an ineffective argument if YECs distrust the establishment to begin with (and feel like their position has been excluded for philosophical reasons from the mainstream).

(James McKay) #3

Thanks for your feedback, Brad. I haven’t actually quoted this “laundry list” on Facebook or anywhere – I just wanted to see whether I was on the right lines with my approach, so this post is more about getting feedback than anything else. Sounds like I’m possibly being a bit too hard here. I’ll take your advice and exercise caution.

I wouldn’t expect them to meet these standards on Facebook posts, nor would I expect you to do so when you’re discussing evolution, but I would want to be able to ask you or them for some further reading to follow up, and go back to the original sources, and fact-check those original sources for myself, and these are the criteria that I would use.

Your point about distrust of the establishment is a good one. Unfortunately the establishment does a lot to foster this distrust by incessantly decrying creationism as “religion, not science” or appealing to the need for separation between church and state, or whatever. Whether this is religious discrimination or not, it certainly looks like it to your average YEC, and it does a very poor job of explaining to YECs where the problem lies.

What they need to do instead is to explain carefully just how YEC falls short of being science, and this is where I think a list like I’ve come up with here can be useful. If they can explain that there are standards that scientific evidence must meet, and that YEC claims fall short of these standards, might they find it a bit easier to get their message across?

(For what it’s worth, this is something that blogs such as The Natural Historian, Age of Rocks, and The GeoChristian get right – they stick to the science and avoid decrying the “religion” aspect.)


In my opinion, in the area of evolution, various methods of extrapolation and even radiometric dating also fall short of “science”. YEC scientists can come up with examples of revisions of radiometric dating due to discovery of new fossils.

by Jonathan O’Brien

Using well-kn> own radioisotope technology, scientists dated the Santo Domingo rock formation in Argentina at 212 million years old. This happened to agree well with a nearby geologic formation that was also radiometrically dated.1 The radiometric date of the Santo Domingo formation also agreed with the dating based on fossil wood found entombed in the rock. This wood came from an extinct species of tree conventionally believed to have existed around 200 million years ago.

Well-preserved and abundant tracks were also found in the rock, similar in appearance to bird tracks. The scientists, who assert that the earth is billions of years old, concluded that the footprints must have been made by an unknown species of a small bird-like dinosaur, because according to Darwinian theory birds weren’t supposed to be around 212 million years ago. The results were accepted and published by the science journal Nature in 2002.

Dating discrepancy

_But recently, a different group of long-age-believing scientists took a fresh look at the bird-like dinosaur footprints and concluded that they were indeed made by birds after all—actually, by the familiar sandpiper of today, a small bird common to wetlands, grasslands and coastal habitats around the world.2 Many people alive today have seen identical tracks in the sand along a river bank, or at the beach. Realising that something was very much amiss, the new group asked for further radiometric dating. The new radioisotope date they received gave an age of 37 million years—a massive 175 million years younger than the original date.2 The scientists were unperturbed, and the results were again accepted for publicatio_n. The “well-dated” Los Colorados formation, to quote the scientists. They say this rock formation is more than 200 million years old. See Melchor, R.N., de Valais, S., and Genise, J.F., Bird-like fossil footprints from the Late Triassic, Nature 417(6892):936–938, 27 June 2002. Return to text
Melchor, R.N., Buchwaldt, R., and Bowring, S., A late Eocene date for Late Triassic bird tracks, Nature 495(7441):E1–E2, 21 March 2013. Return to text
In the first dating, basalt (a volcanic rock) interbedded within the sedimentary rock formation was dated using the 40Ar/39Ar method and yielded an ‘age’ of 212.5 ± 7.0 million years. In the second, zircon crystals derived from tuff rock (another type of volcanic rock), also interbedded within the sedimentary rock, were dated using the weighted mean 206Pb/238U method, and yielded an ‘age’ of 37 million years old. See Ref. 2 and Ref. 4. Return to text
Vizan, H. et al., Geological setting and paleomagnetism of the Eocene red beds of Laguna Brava Formation (Quebrada Santo Domingo, northwestern Argentina), Tectonophysics 583:105–123, 2013. The Santo Domingo formation has been redesignated as two formations in recent years. Part of it is now called the Laguna Brava formation. (http://creation.com/radiometric-backflip)

Standards are good, as long as there are not double standards. Generalizations are usually what cause the problem. When we have evidence of changes of radiometric dating (not because the GC is inaccurate, but for other reasons), then skepticism ought to be expected.

It would be valuable to realize that evolution also often falls short of science. The irony is that often the “scientists” don’t realize it.

The seven “standards” are nebulous and self-evident at the same time. But the accuracy of claims, “proving what they claim”, falsifying alternatives, quoting error bars, peer review, replicating results… all of these are valuable, while at the same time have also been problematic for evolutionists who have had to revise theories. When a date is changed from 212 million to 37 million, both dates supported by peer review, error bars, and presumable replication, and only changed after discovery of a fossil footprint, then we know it is not the methods that are at fault, but the theory itself. (If not, then it is somewhat hypocritical to suggest that only YEC are to be held accountable for scientific method, etc.)

Searching for oil, or, the fallacy of discordant dates
(GJDS) #5

While I may not agree in toto with your list of standards (or requirements) related to accepting scientific theory, I agree with you in that a general approach in science must include a rigorous approach that is based on accurate and reproducible data, and theory that provides an adequate framework that can be tested in models (this is especially important for general theories that seek to cover a large area of science, such as evolutionary biology). Such general theories are often based on first principles that can be examined mathematically (and from this models or simulations may be developed to test adequacy and claims).

It is widely understood by interested scientists that neo-Darwinian theory cannot meet the criteria I have outlined. This means that those who rely on it must be circumspect when they extend it into areas such as theology (and psychology, social sciences), and especially when they make absurd claims such as evolutionary quantum theory.

Evolutionary biology (ND) is a semantic theory that is mainly descriptive - it makes many observations and then summarises these as mutations and selection. This approach and reasoning has been observed for primitive theories in the physical sciences (I have in the past illustrated this point by using examples, such as an outdated theory that chemists had for acids and bases, that encompassed a vast number of observations and data, but as a theory was primitive and rejected after a few decades).

Thus my view is: (1) ND is the current paradigm of biology and should be accepted as such, and (2) ND is woefully inadequate when it is used to deal with large areas such as theology and other areas of human endeavour. It is wrong to reject ND, and it is also wrong to base our theology (and regrettably for some, our faith) on such a theory.

(James McKay) #6

I’ve responded to your point here in another post, because it veers off topic.

I agree. They’re just a first draft that I came up with to get some feedback on my thought processes. What others, yourself included, have said so far, has been very useful.

I wholeheartedly agree. I have no intention of suggesting otherwise. I would expect “evolutionists” to meet the same standards.

I’ve had a few doubts about the last three, because they are a pretty tall order for YECs – as @BradKramer pointed out, there’s a lot of suspicion in the YEC community towards mainstream science, and as I pointed out in response, the attitude of mainstream science isn’t exactly helping in that respect. I just included those for completeness.

However, while the first four are fairly elementary and self-evident, I do see them violated time and time again by YEC arguments. Serious factual inaccuracies are very, very common. Some of the “best evidences for a young earth” that I’ve seen do not prove anything at all about the age of the earth – examples include growth rates of stalactites, or the fact that you can make coal and oil quickly in a laboratory.

The one about error bars is a particular peeve of mine with YEC arguments. Arguments about discordant dates may talk about the differences being outside the range of the error bars, but at least there are error bars to be discussed. Many YEC arguments don’t quote any error bars on some key quantities at all. The specific examples I had in mind here are the ones about the amount of salt or sediment in the sea. They say that “even if we are generous to evolutionists” with their quantities, but the fact that error bars are missing or incomplete or mishandled (in particular, that there’s no attempt to establish firm limits to how much the rates could have varied historically), makes me ask whether they are coming clean about just how generous they are actually being, or just how reliable this evidence actually is.

(James McKay) #7

By the way, I hope you folks don’t mind me changing the title of this thread from “Scientific claims must meet scientific standards” to “What standards must scientific claims meet?” This more accurately reflects my intention of seeking discussion and feedback than sounding off.

(Christy Hemphill) #8

If we are talking mostly about informal discussions among non-experts about science, I think the biggest “rule” I see violated is:

When you are going to argue with an opposing position, you should make sure you truly understand the opposing position and can summarize it in a way that the people who hold the position would agree is accurate. Then you can critique it and point out your reasons for disagreeing.

So many times (in both directions) people attack an argument whose premises or conclusions that they don’t even really grasp, or they present the argument they are attacking with obvious biases and omissions and additions and claims about underlying motivations. This derails productive dialogue because those who hold the position being critiqued aren’t going to respond to the critiques, they are going to respond defensively to the misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and subtle allegations in the presentation of their position.

But maybe you are talking about what people point to as “science” in defense of their arguments? I don’t know if you will make much progress if you just automatically disqualify everything a YEC person would point to, even if your disqualification is justified. I think to actually be convincing requires a more painful and laborious process than just reminding the YEC contingent that their “scientific” arguments are not valid in the eyes of mainstream science. They know that already. They’ve already refused to play by those rules.

(James McKay) #9

I’m not looking for something to catch all YEC arguments. There are some more complex arguments (e.g. some of the RATE project findings) that require a more detailed examination. Nor am I looking for a stick to beat them over the head with.

What I’m looking for are a set of obvious criteria that can be applied to young earth and old earth evidence alike, as @johnZ said, so that I can show to YECs (and especially to non-scientific YECs) that I am at least attempting to be fair and objective in my assessment of their evidence.


Error bars can give false security to data which is merely modeled data. With a bit of tweaking, error bars can be quickly changed, when inputting parameters, data, and algorithms. So I would not place my faith in establishing error bars for a salt water model. When they state they are being generous, it means they are selecting the numbers which are the slowest rates for salt accumulation, and highest rates for deposition and loss from the ocean waters. They are not using an average with an error bar range. This presumes that they are using virtually the slowest rates ever measured or observed or reasonably postulated. They presumably would not accept an ipsofacto rate that is simply adopted because it corresponds to the desired story; ie. the ocean is so many years old, therefore the rate must have been the amount of salt in the ocean divided by how old we think it is. That would not be considered a valid nor a scientific rate in this case. The rate must demonstrate the age, so the supposed age cannot prove the rate.

(James McKay) #11

I am not saying that the correct handling of error bars is sufficient to make your handling of numerical data scientific. I am merely saying that it is necessary.

Incidentally, what you are describing here is incorrect handling of error bars. It would fail this criterion – and quite possibly amount to scientific fraud into the bargain.

But that is what error bars are for in the first place! You MUST quote these numbers!

(Dcscccc) #12

did you watched the movie expelled?

(James McKay) #13

By the way, here’s a great set of blog posts by Randy Isaac of the American Scientific Affiliation, explaining what integrity in science means, and what makes science science.

What I’m really looking for, I guess, is a brief summary of the points he’s made here.

(system) #14

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