Bronze-level articleFalsifiability of creationism

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The divine comedy

Creationism

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Running gags
Jokes aside
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Science has proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof.
—Ashley Montagu

The falsifiability of creationism is crucial to determining whether or not it is science, because only falsifiable theories can be scientific. Creationism is, in large part, not falsifiable; where it is falsifiable it has been falsified.

A hallmark of science is that it can always be proven false in future experiments. However many creationist ideas, especially the central premise that a supernatural being (or beings) created life, are not falsifiable, even in principle. Anything observable in the natural world is consistent with the idea.

This article includes all the arguments put forward by creationists attempting to explain how Intelligent Design could theoretically be disproved, but (according to them) hasn't been.

Contents

[edit] Overview

Some forms of creationism (especially Young Earth Creationism) do make falsifiable predictions that natural events record in some holy work (e.g. The Bible) did occur. The occurrence of a natural event in the past is testable, so does fall under the category of science. However, these creationists put forth their Hypothesis™ as irrefutable dogma. According to Answers in Genesis: "No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record."[1] Therefore, as no experimental result is allowed to invalidate their hypotheses, they are not scientific in methodology either.

Creationism and "Intelligent Design" are not theories. The reasoning behind this is simple: theories offer explanations for facts that are consistent and useful, making predictions that allow us to understand the world (such as drawing a distinction between what happens and what does not or could not, happen), whereas ID and Biblical creation, by contrast, do not attempt to offer an explanation for any aspect of the world.

Some people are so concerned about the evidence for (or against) creationism (or evolution) that they overlook the preliminary: Evidence for what? If creationism does not have any substantive content, then there is no point to talking about the evidence. The finest argument is pointless if there is no point to it. Suppose an irrefutable argument which shows that evolution cannot explain something-or-other is found to exist; that alone would not tell us about alternatives to evolution. If you ask "what is the theory of creationism?" you can expect the response to be a refutation of evolution, not an exposition of what creationism has to offer.

Creationism — and especially, Intelligent Design — does not even come up to the standard of answering Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How, which was observed as a fault in theorizing by Cicero: "Can you also, Lucullus, affirm that there is any power united with wisdom and prudence which has made, or, to use your own expression, manufactured man? What sort of a manufacture is that? Where is it exercised? when? why? how?"[2] Creationism does not attempt to offer a description of what sort of things happen when a creation — or design — event takes place, this having been pointed out at least as long ago as 1852 by Herbert Spencer[3] and by Charles Darwin in Origin of Species.[4] While Young Earth Creationism does make some attempts to specify who the Creator is and when creation took place, versions that attempt to sound more scientific, such as Intelligent Design, make a point of not addressing even these major issues (specifically they do this as a way of secularizing the belief to survive scrutiny by US courts). Nor is there any clear treatment of, or interest in, where, how or why creation/design happens. As a consequence, even though it attempts to be "scientific", ID is even more distant from the elements of descriptive prose, much less being a theory. Far less can we expect creationism to meet any additional standards of being a scientific theory, such as an interest in what might count as evidence for or against it.

The first and foremost criterion of a scientific idea is that it must inform our understanding of the world. It must make a hypothesis about the nature of reality, and there must be a conceivable experiment that could falsify that hypothesis. If that hypothesis is rigorously tested and is not falsified, then it becomes part of that scientific theory. If a hypothesis predicts something that cannot be tested (i.e. if no test result could clearly show the prediction to be false), or if it predicts nothing at all, then it cannot be science.

A hypothesis about the supernatural world cannot be tested, and so is not scientific. So the concept of God, Allah, or other supernatural designer(s), capable of designing the whole Universe, can neither be proved nor disproved. Hence any claims that any supernatural being or force cause some event is not able to be scientifically validated (however, whether that event really occurred can be scientifically investigated).

[edit] Evolution is wrong, ID is right

See the main article on this topic: False dichotomy

No seriously, that's what they say. Of course, any reasonable scientist with half an education could tell you that disproving one thing does not prove another. Even if the two items are considered opposites, this idea doesn't float.

But, since we're feeling good — maybe we had a few too many after the research conference with the real scientists — let's give ID the benefit of the doubt and assume that evolution and ID are the only possible theories. So, where does that leave us? Does evolution fail to explain anything? How does this claim stand up to scrutiny?

Result: EPIC FAIL

Try as they may, IDers have utterly failed to disprove evolution. Oh, they've come up with some fancy ideas, written some nice books, and used semantics like no other. But they have yet to present any real scientific evidence against evolution by natural selection. Now, an ID proponent would leave their argument there, but we claim the scientific high ground, and here's why: we're going to explain everything, point by point.

(WARNING: the following should not be read by anyone who values their sanity)

[edit] Irreducible Complexity

See the main article on this topic: Irreducible complexity

Let's face it, 100 years ago, the cell was held up to supporters of the theory of evolution as an example of "irreducible complexity" (sorry, Michael Behe, you're not the first). The newfound and stunning detail of the cellular construction could never be explained by natural selection, held evolution opponents. Yet lo and behold, evolution more than stepped up to the plate, and we can trace the origin of life back to between a good 3.8 to 4 billion years ago,[wp] to the very first replicators and their first "cells".[5] We've explained the cell, we explained the flagellum,[6] we've explained the eye and the wing, we'll explain the next big challenge. That's what robust theories do.

But irreducible complexity isn't the only thing evolution has "going against it".

[edit] Law of conservation of information

William Dembski likes to tout the "law of the conservation of information" as evidence against evolution. As the law goes (no mutation may occur which creates more than 500 somethings of information), evolution cannot give rise to complex structures. The problem is, no one accepts the law of the conservation of information, probably because Dembski came up with it on his own. No new fourth law of thermodynamics here…

Actually, there IS a law of conservation of information in physics, but it does not rule out the creation of new information, it merely stipulates that information cannot be destroyed completely, only moved. Therefore the amount of information in the Universe always increases, in perfect agreement with evolution. Stephen Hawking was long claiming that information could be destroyed, and criticized by other physicists for it, until he actually admitted that information cannot be destroyed.[7][8]

[edit] Evolution cannot give rise to new structures

Yes and no. Yes it can and does give rise to new structures, and yes, it is easier to destroy a structure than to create a new one. The same goes for design. "No" in that evolution cannot come up with a structure unless it fits within the framework of preexisting structures. Any structures are a hold-over of evolutionary events which occurred many years ago; if the vertebrate eye were suddenly to change into an invertebrate one, for example the octopus' much more logically 'designed' eye, which has no blind spot due to the optic nerve fitting over the edges of the retina rather than being plugged into it, then evolution would be in trouble.

The problem here isn't with the theory, but with people's understanding of the theory. But, as this article is about ID, readers should probably just save time and start reading about the way things actually work.

The standing challenge to ID is not so much to disprove evolution; it's to show some positive evidence for its position. Scientific theories have been overturned by new ideas in the past, but that isn't accomplished by supporters of the new idea poking holes in the old one—the new idea has to better explain the existing evidence than the old theory. New evidence can be brought to light that favors the new idea, but nitpicking parts of the old idea doesn't constitute "new evidence".

(157 years and counting)

[edit] Diseases should not counter certain new antibiotics

See the main article on this topic: Antibiotic resistant bacteria

If you've actually read ID literature (our sympathies), you may come across some rare predictions. Here's one: if ID is the answer to how things came to be, then no bacterial infection should be able to counter an antibiotic that requires more than two mutations.[9]

So how does this stand up?

Result: FAIL

Diseases continually counter new antibiotics, regardless of their complexity and novelty, and they do so even faster as we produce more antibiotics. ID says that this can't happen by natural selection, only by design. So either:

  • The designer sadistically favors pathogens over humans (and domesticated animals and agricultural crops)
  • or ID fails again

Moving on…

[edit] Evidence of design implies a designer

The configuration of the retina is in three layers, with the light-sensitive rods and cones at the bottom, facing away from the light, and underneath a layer of bipolar, horizonal, and amacrine cells, themselves underneath a layer of ganglion cells that help carry the signal from the eye to the brain. And this entire structure sits beneath a layer of blood vessels. For optimal vision why would an intelligent designer have built an eye backwards and upside down? Because an intelligent designer did not build the eye from scratch. Natural selection built the eye from simple to complex using whatever materials were available, and in the particular configuration of the ancestral organism.
Michael Shermer[10]

This is faulty because there is no suggestion that there is any design at all. The "evidence" that they cite is merely an assertion brought on by their own opinion that complexity implies "design" simply because they want it to be that way. There is, of course, no evidence of design beyond what some people perceive there to be. In addition, given that we have evolved with an innate ability to recognize patterns, it is expected that we will find design all around us, but nothing suggests that anything about it was designed in any way. The "appearance of design implies a designer" is an argument from incredulity. The person making the claim, that something looks designed and so can not have come about from evolution, is relying on their own lack of imagination and understanding of evolutionary process, rather than it being an inherent fault in the theory. In addition, ID proponents have never proposed just exactly how one can recognize design. They say that things have the "appearance of design," but can never explain how that is so beyond asserting that it just looks that way. Naturally, given that they are already looking for design since they believe in a designed world, they will find design everywhere.

But how can someone who is not looking for design recognize this same design? That is to say, How can we know something was designed or not, without relying on personal opinions or vague assertions? The answer is that we can't. Recognizing design apparently depends on whether or not you want it to be designed. ID proponents want the world to be designed, and so, therefore, they will see design everywhere. Evolutionists, however, are unimpressed by this argument, since naturalistic evolution explains how things can appear to be intelligently designed as well as explaining all the reasons why their designs aren't so intelligent after all.

Despite this, if this argument could hold water, ID would not only have to produce evidence of design, but also explain any (and there are many) examples of bad design. Because if you look at it, there may be some examples of good design but there are also many examples of terrible, contingent, barely-working design[11] Examples of design you might expect from an unintelligent designer.

Result: FAIL

Incidentally, ID proponents dislike when their idea is taken to its logical conclusion in this way because the "intelligent designer" they want so badly for us all to believe in is, in fact, the Christian God. And they are always discomfited when someone points out the flaws in their God's design, since he is supposed to be perfect. Still folks, you can't have it both ways. The world is flawed; if God designed it, his design was flawed.

[edit] See also

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Disproving creationism.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Summary of the AiG Statement of Faith
  2. Cicero, Academica II (Lucullus) XXVII, 87 translation by C.D. Yonge, London: George Bell and Sons, 1875. "…quae fabricata sit hominem? Qualis ista fabrica est? ubi adhibita? quando? cur? quo modo?" Latin text. See also Cicero, "On the Nature of the Gods', I, 8, 19
  3. The Development Hypothesis in Wikisource Herbert Spencer in Wikiquote
  4. final chapter, 6th edition page 423 Wikisource for The Origin of Species
  5. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene… read it
  6. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13663-evolution-myths-the-bacterial-flagellum-is-irreducibly-complex.html
  7. See Leonard Susskind's[wp] The Black Hole War
  8. See also black hole information paradox[wp]. But it does not disprove evolution at all.
  9. Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution… don't read it unless you have to.
  10. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer (1997), Holt Paperbacks. ISBN 0805070893. See page XXI of the Introduction to the Paperback version.
  11. Top 10 useless limbs. (and other vestigial organs)


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