It’s true. There’s been a big misunderstanding. People who believe in the literal truth of the Bible aren’t anti-science at all. That’s just one of those vicious rumours spread by secularists who can’t even really tell you what science is.
The Bible isn’t against “established” science at all. That’s just an example of poor research. Creationists and evolutionists disagree about historical science – beliefs about the past – but not operational science – the kind that’s based on direct observation and has given us the modern technology we all enjoy.
Of course, this is complete tish and fipsy.
But one of the few things Ken Ham at Answers in Genesis understands about science is that it’s a valuable system of knowledge about the world, whose precepts are positive and desirable. He gets why it’s a useful thing to claim to support. Among the many things he doesn’t understand are the processes of observation and hypothesis testing that make up the bulk of important and useful scientific research.
The distinction he imagines between “operational science” and “historical science” is a notable example. He’s implying that only one kind of science is built on “direct observation” – the kind where you can see things as they happen, and whose theories provide a basis for all the technologies and developments we find useful. The other kind of science is the one about which creationists disagree with evolutionists, and whose only purpose is to indoctrinate children with “beliefs” about the past that are specifically constructed to undermine Christianity. This historical science can’t be based on direct observation, because everything it talks about is already in the past.
Here’s why this is crap:
Have you ever reached a solid conclusion about anything that happened in the past, but which you weren’t there to personally witness?
The answer is yes. Yes, you have. And if you give it even a few seconds’ thought, it’s not hard to see how our observations can directly inform us about the past.
Until fairly recently, I would sometimes come home and observe a foul-smelling pile of gloopy disgustment on the living room carpet, and would conclude from this that the cat had thrown up. I didn’t need to see it happen in order to be able to deduce this with considerable certainty. Further, entirely unnecessary research might have informed my idea of past events even further, by estimating a precise time at which he’d ejected his breakfast, or by figuring out exactly what Kirsty had fed him that morning which had disagreed with him, but this never struck me as a fruitful line of endeavour.
Another example: There’s a good chance that your parents have had sex. There’s also a good chance you’ve never directly observed this, and a much greater chance still that you haven’t seen the particular occasion in question. But there are some fairly clear facts about your origins available to you, despite a complete lack of witnesses. (It’s possible you were the result of some artificial fertilisation process, but there are still facts that can be ascertained or ruled out in this case.)
And perhaps the most obvious counterpoint to Ken Ham’s misunderstanding is also the most ironic. No Christian alive today has directly observed the creation of the world, or the life of Jesus. The only “direct observation” powering their belief in these things is that they read the Bible.
Ken Ham uses scare quotes when describing the “knowledge” about the past known as “historical science”, as if to imply that the lack of immediate, contemporaneous observation destroys any hope of acquiring actual knowledge. But this is thoroughly unimaginative. Many events of the past have left their mark on the world today, and sciences such as paleontology, cosmology, and geology are all about tracking down and examining those marks so as to build up a more detailed picture of what sort of Universe might have left them there. They make testable hypotheses about what future observations they expect to make, including suggestions as to what observations would falsify their theory if they ever occurred.
Of course historical scientists use direct observations to infer knowledge about the past. Creationists do a similar thing, but they stick to a single book of data as their only object of direct observation for everything they want to know, and refuse to subject it to any reasonable critical analysis. I’ll take the approach which actually looks at the world and updates its ideas accordingly.