Creationism is not science

To anybody of a rational, scientific mindset, the title of this article should invoke thoughts somewhat along the lines of, “No shit, Sherlock”. Evolutionary science has underpinned the efforts of biologists for decades or even centuries, providing an observable, tested mechanism for the diversity of species. Through the allied efforts of geneticists, it has given us a stronger grasp on how we can improve efforts towards artificial selection. Yet, in all of this, small but vocal groups, many situated within the United States, deny evolutionary science. Instead, they wish to implant their own unscientific creationist hypotheses into the education system, subverting the scientific consensus with their theologically-driven political charges.

Creationism appears to be driven by some sort of offence and insecurity at the idea that humans might have been derived from what creationists see as lower species, or that we might be related in some way to apes and monkeys. Christian creationism, the most vocal kind in the Western world, professes that a creator God designed humans in his own image – although I have to ask whether any creator God would actually want to claim a species with such a variety of known flaws as Homo sapiens as being in his or her image.

The most egregiously and brutally unscientific of the creationist hypotheses is that of Young Earth creationism, a ridiculously bizarre hypothesis that contravenes most of the major branches of natural science, along with many humanities disciplines and a couple of branches of mathematics to boot. Essentially, Young Earth creationism states that the world, in accordance with various calculations on figures given in the Bible, is somewhere in the region of six thousand years old. The recent, controversial debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham was conducted at the Creation Museum, an establishment which claims Young Earth creationism to be true and accurate.

There are so many things wrong with this that it’s difficult to know where to begin, but how about beginning by stating that there are human settlements which have been dated more than five thousand years before that? I have a back-dated copy of National Geographic beside me (June 2011, if anybody’s interested in reading it) that discusses the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, an elaborate and intricately designed religious site that is estimated to date back to 9600 BC.

That immediately puts a rather inconvenient stumbling block in front of Young Earth creationism, and I haven’t even got to the science yet. Aside from myriad fields of biology, including genetics, botany, zoology, biochemistry and more, all of which must be denied in order to claim Young Earth creationism as correct, we have various elements of physics, such as astronomy and radiometric dating which peg the Earth at somewhere near 4.5 billion years old, with the universe at least 13.7 billion years old.

Not only are creationists willing to deny reams of scientific evidence from fields all over the scientific spectrum, but they’re also willing to try to twist actual science to fit their demands. Among the most absurd arguments for creationism is the idea that evolution somehow violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics – a claim that could only be made by somebody who either doesn’t understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics or who thinks little enough of their audience to believe that the audience won’t understand it.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, in a paraphrased form, states that in a closed system, all elements tend towards entropy. In more practical terms, it states that heat cannot flow from a cold object to a hot object without external work being applied to the system. The Earth is not a closed system. Heat is transferred between the Earth and its surroundings; heat flows into the Earth’s atmosphere from the Sun, while heat flows out of it via radiation. As for biological organisms, they must and do conduct external work on their own systems to maintain local order. Much of the energetic requirements of a human being are expended as heat in order to stave off localised entropy, with the brain being the prime example of this use of energy. None of this works in any way like the creationists explain – and their attempted perversion of science in this way demonstrates a ruthless and worrying disregard for the role of observation and experiment in their aims to push their pet hypotheses.

Young Earth creationism is, as a scientific hypothesis, a sad joke with no observable evidence behind it whatsoever and the works of several dozen fields of science and the humanities against it. However, creationism doesn’t stop there, as it has another, more presentable face in the form of so-called “Intelligent Design” – but this face is just as odious from a scientific perspective, since unlike the patently absurd Young Earth hypotheses, Intelligent Design pays lip-service to science while simultaneously ignoring many of its core tenets.

Intelligent Design, just as with any other form of creationism, posits the idea of a creator entity. The word “intelligent” in the name appears to relate to an intelligent entity rather than the design itself being intelligent – for, as I’ve intimated above, it would be pretty difficult to suggest that human anatomy, for example, is particularly intelligent. You know, with the backwards eye where light shines in through the wiring, the hip design which causes labouring mothers to experience a lot of pain, so on, so forth. The hypothesis appears on the surface to provide answers that other forms of creationism just can’t answer, like accountability for the actual, observed microevolution occurring in bacteria at this very moment – and probably including some of the bacteria living on the bodies of the readers. Yet, Intelligent Design still contravenes scientific consensus – largely for the reason that it is not falsifiable.

Falsifiability is a very important concept in science and plays a major role in the scientific method which underpins research in the physical sciences. The scientific method involves the use of a chain of steps, taking the rough form of observation-hypothesis-prediction-experimentation-reproduction, in order to test a hypothesis and attempt to produce observable, testable results which can then be reproduced by other scientists in order to eliminate any bias or contamination that may affect your experimentation procedure. A hypothesis with sufficiently large observed evidence for its correctness may then become a theory (a word which has become rather loaded when it comes to reporting science to non-practitioners, often being confused with a hypothesis in the sense described above). The principle of falsifiability plays deep into this process, since for an experiment to be useful, there must be a chance for the hypothesis that it tests to be invalided by the experiment.

This is not the case with Intelligent Design. An advocate for Intelligent Design could claim, if an experiment was ever undertaken to attempt to disprove the hypothesis, that the experimental conditions were themselves incorrect for any variety of experimental conditions. As a result, Intelligent Design, just as with any other form of creationism, is of no scientific value and therefore its teaching in a scientific curriculum would not only be useless but deleterious to other scientific disciplines.

Unfortunately, creationism is being peddled by a mixture of slick operators who play on a perceived public distrust of science and religiously motivated preachers who decry any attack on their religion – or at least the way in which they interpret their religion, since evolution does not inherently discount the idea of the existence of a god – even when that perceived attack relates to issues which should not have religious motivations behind them anyway.

This isn’t helped by the difficulty for scientists facing off against creationists; by debating them face to face, evolution scientists give creationists an air of scientific respectability that their beliefs do not deserve, while those who openly decry creationist teaching are often vocal atheists as well, creating a perspective that evolution marches in lockstep with atheism. Ignoring creationists might well magnify the erroneous idea of an ivory-tower scientific elite. In my eyes, the best thing to do would be to contest the principles of any school where creationist teachings are being given scientific credence either as an alternative or replacement for evolutionary theory, while trying to keep the vocal attacks on religion away from the subject while doing so. I may be an atheist myself, but I see having people conflating evolutionary science with atheism as a problem waiting to happen – the science should come first.