Creationists’ Understanding of Past
You may have heard of the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham about Creationism and Science (and who is right).
It’s a long debate with a lot of repetition, without really getting anywhere. So to save you some time, here is the main difference in understanding between the two debaters: traditional science looks backwards and forwards using the same tools; creationists don’t think the same tools are applicable when looking backwards.
The talk taught me that creationists can be rational (and Ken Ham sure seems rational) and hence trusted as academics – as long as they are looking forward in time, not backwards.
Creationists’ understanding of “Historical Science”, as Ham calls it, is where they differ from the rest of us. Historical Science is the science that looks at the past.
If we do some science and start to notice some dots aligning nicely on a line (trees get visible rings because of temperature swings, due to seasons changing), and can make a scientific prediction (in 10 years, this tree will have 10 more rings), we also believe that we can follow the same rule backwards (10 years ago the tree had 10 fewer rings).I
Bill Nye uses trees as an example in the debate: there are trees that are older than the creationists claim the Earth to be. Ken Ham rebutts: we can’t prove the past.
I would then ask: But can we prove the future? See the figure above. If we have knowledge of the two black points (and points inbetween that support our theory), and nothing else, we can make a prediction and an assumption of the past using the same rules. We have, at that moment, the exact same knowledge of both.
It is true that we cannot test our assumption about the past, and that we will eventually be able to test our prediction about the future. But the fact that we are able to predict it with accuracy based on a model, that also applies backwards in time, would indicate to me that the assumption about the past is probably accurate as well.
Ken Ham says this is ridiculous - you cannot know what happened in the past! - and uses the ridiculousness to show that Creationism is plausible.
The problem is that he looks for verification instead of missing falsification. Ken Ham uses the scientific philosophy of inductivism (positivism), which has largely, in natural sciences, been replaced with the falsificationist method.
Falsifiability can be explained as such:II
[…] falsifiability, the possibility of being falsified or refuted, not verifiability, is the criterion that separates science from non-science. This is Popper’s falsifiability criterion […]
the more falsifiable a theory is the more scientific it is. This leads to the view that scientific laws rather than statements of particular facts are the most scientific statements. (For the positivists statements of particular facts are the fully verifiable ones, hence the most scientific.)
Basically, Ken Ham is using an outdated way of looking at science. He is also wildly inconsistent, as positivism does not provide any kind of predictability, which means that his acceptance of scientific predictions make no sense within his frame of mind.
I According to Wikipedia, “[v]isible rings result from the change in growth speed through the seasons of the year, thus one ring usually marks the passage of one year in the life of the tree. The rings are more visible in temperate zones, where the seasons differ more markedly.”
II Dusek, Philosophy of Technology: An Introduction, 2006, Blackwell