This argument was made at the Creationism conference that I recently attended: science isn’t trustworthy because every time you turn around, it’s changing its mind.
- The sun goes around the earth … no, wait a minute—it’s the other way around.
- Here’s the fossil of an early human … no, hold on—that one’s a hoax.
- Living things hold a special energy or force—an élan vital—that animates them … nope, that’s passé.
- Every wave needs a medium, so space must be filled with “ether” for light to propagate through … oops, wrong again.
An early theory of the formation of the moon said that the fast-spinning early earth flung out the moon and that the big circular Pacific Ocean basin is where it came from. The question of origin of the moon has been an active area of research, and the flung-out idea is just another discarded scientific theory—this was one of the areas of research that was lampooned at this conference.
The Creationist argues that when you turn from changeable Science to Christianity’s unchanging God and an unchanging Bible, you have something solid that you can trust.
Science does change, but let’s notice that the size of any change tends to decrease for a single theory. When the door is first opened to a new field of inquiry—say by Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of single-celled organisms or Galileo’s use of the telescope—new theories based on insufficient evidence try to organize the chaos. One theory might quickly supersede another, but as theories become better at explaining more, changes becomes smaller. Here are some examples.
- Geocentrism to heliocentrism was an enormous change for the model of the solar system. Our understanding of the solar system continues to change (new theories about why Uranus is tipped on its side or reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet, for example), but these are comparatively minor.
- Evolution revolutionized biology, and the changes in biology today are merely refinements to this theory.
- The intuitive flat earth model was replaced by a spherical earth, and the observation that it’s actually not spherical but slightly flattened at the poles is a small change.
- Quantum physics continues to change, but new discoveries are not likely to say that matter is not made up of atoms, which are themselves not made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.
Christians eager to paint the Bible as an unchanging rock in a sea of chaos don’t seem to understand that they point to science’s strength. Science realizes that new discoveries may obsolete old theories, and every scientific statement is provisional. And, remarkably, science is self-correcting. It finds its own errors.
Science changes, and that’s its strength. The Bible never changes, and that’s its weakness.
Would it maybe help Christians understand this flaw if we were to point out that many of these errors were not Science’s, but were in truth inferences from biblical texts (geocentricism, flat earth, alchemy). The very first refinement was to dismiss the biblical discriptions of the world and the universe as false and to rely on new observations and discoveries to fine tune our understanding. Thus, the bible has never changed because it’s editors have failed to note those corrections. It’s like using a 100 year old history book to study WWII.
Vin: that is exactly what I was thinking: these claims, on the left side, aren’t science assertions, but religious ones. It is revisionist history. It is the Christian church that castigated anyone who said the sun went around the earth. It was science that used scientific observation to see that the church was wrong. The creationist assertions, on the right side of the column, put down those who don’t agree with them by calling them a suckah. It is childish. It shows me where their values are: They value name calling, and being number one, and the truth about history is no where to be found.
Excellent post, as usual. For me, the Santa Claus analogy usually makes Creationists shut up or resort to ad hominem attacks. At around 6 or 7 years old, you may still believe in Santa, then you see a stack of presents hidden in an off-limits closet. On Christmas Eve, after your parents checked to make sure you’re asleep, you wake up to take a pee and see them carrying stuff from the closet to the Christmas tree. Next morning’s interrogation gets no confession from the parents. Do you continue to believe Santa did it? Do you believe the Santa apologist’s excuse that Santa was just using your parents bodies to carry the presents while they were actually asleep?
Have you read Harriett Hall’s “Teaching Pigs to Sing: An Experiment in Bringing Critical Thinking to the Masses“? The last third has a clever story about two kids analyzing the Tooth Fairy concept. One kid keeps finding more and more compelling evidence that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist while the other has more and more bizarre rationalizations to support his predetermined conclusion.
“An early theory of the formation of the moon said that the fast-spinning early earth flung out the moon and that the big circular Pacific Ocean basin is where it came from.”
While it’s almost certainly true that rapid spinning didn’t FLING the Moon away, the part about the Pacific Ocean basin is still very much a part of a strong hypothesis that collision with another large solid body BLEW a chunk of the Earth off, leaving that hole behind. Among other things, it explains why the Moon is almost all light rock, without the kind of heavy core the Earth has.
Needless to say, religion discovered none of this.
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