(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)
In the previous post, I spoke about how the strength of science lies in the fact that it is an interconnected web of theories. Thus one cannot simply remove one single theory that one dislikes and replace it in an ad hoc manner with a new theory. This is where the intelligent design people stumbled badly in their strategy. They tried to take what they thought was a minimalist approach to introducing their theory, in the hope that it would make it more acceptable to scientists. They said that they accepted all of science, including an old Earth, the big bang, and evolution by natural selection for producing almost everything. They said that all they wanted was an exemption from the laws of nature for a handful of cases of allegedly ‘irreducible complexity’ that required an intelligent designer, which everyone knows is a euphemism for god.
But they misunderstood that is not the number of cases that is important but their significance and implication. Even if they wanted to have just one case of irreducible complexity accepted, the fact that they were introducing the radically different idea of a supernatural force into the methodological naturalism framework of science sent shock waves through the entire network, since this was a change that had enormous universal implications. Hence all areas of science, not just evolutionary biology, reacted to reject the change. It is like what happens when a single virus is introduced into one part of a body. The whole body recognizes the problem and creates antibodies to repel and eject the intruder and restore the smooth working of the system. Intelligent design was perceived by the body of science as being just such a virus.
Some of the most extreme young-Earth creationists, those who take the Bible absolutely literally and as an accurate record of history and science, recognize that they need take a more global approach and that they cannot reject just evolution but must make their creationist theory fit with at least some other areas of science as well.
The website Answers in Genesis is one such attempt. Their website is a real hoot with all kinds of earnest theories constructed to explain exactly how it can be that the Bible can be literally true. I haven’t yet seen their creation museum but what I have read so far, with images of children riding dinosaurs, makes it seem equally wacky. But unlike the intelligent design people who wanted to introduce god into science on the cheap, you have to give these Biblical literalists credit for making this effort, although they still get a resounding F for their science.
Their website lists the things that they really care about and will defend to the hilt: a young Earth that is about 6,000 years old; the Genesis story of creation with Adam and Eve as historical figures (for some reason they seem to prefer the version of the story told in chapter 2 and ignore the different version told in chapter 1); and a global Noah’s flood. In order to try and reconcile all the contradictions with modern science that inevitably arise, they go to elaborate (and even comical) extremes to make the case that all modern scientific knowledge is consistent with those three axioms.
This means that they have to respond to at least some of the scientific techniques that are used for dating things and events and which have established the age of the Earth as 4.6 billion years old. They also have to try and discredit the theory of evolution, at least as far as species change goes. And they have to explain how all the geological changes that have undoubtedly occurred in the Earth could have taken place within such a short time.
They know that they cannot possibly counteract all the evidence and arguments of science so they carefully pick their battles so that they directly address only those scientific findings that contradict those three basic beliefs. The strategy they adopt is to try and discredit any scientific theory or technique that leads to any conclusion that contradicts their Bible-based beliefs, and they talk only about those things that they think they have counter-arguments for.
The catch is that the Bible is a fixed document but science keeps moving forward discovering new things. As a result creationists have to keep backpedalling as scientific theories become more and more robust and their techniques get better. Each new fossil find, for examples, shed new light and understanding for science but for them simply creates a new problem that has to be explained away.
They also cannot deny those areas of science like quantum mechanics and the principles of radioactivity that can be directly experimented with. So they resort to denying the power of inferential reasoning, essentially arguing that we cannot know for sure what happened millions of years ago because no one was there to see it.
Next: How the creationists challenge science to maintain their beliefs.
POST SCRIPT: Michael Moore on why newspapers are dying