Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Are Genesis and Mainstream Science Really in Conflict?

This selection does not take into consideration my Neo-Omphalos theory.

It is typically taken for granted that the claims of Genesis and the claims of the modern mainstream scientific community regarding things like the age of the earth and evolution are unavoidably in conflict.  But perhaps looking at this question more closely will reveal a different picture.

Genesis teaches that the universe, the earth, and all the major forms of life on earth were created supernaturally by God in the space of six days, while mainstream science today claims that the universe, earth, and the major forms of life have come into being through evolutionary processes over the space of billions of years.  Sounds like an unavoidable conflict, right?  But let's look more closely.  Does the mainstream scientific community actually claim that the universe is billions of years old and that evolution is true?  Actually, it looks like they don't.

The mainstream scientific community often points out that its claims are not objectively certain, but only probable, that there always remains the possibility that they might be wrong whenever they make a scientific claim.  Eugenie Scott, for example, of the National Center for Science Education, in her book Evolution vs. Creationism (ABC-CLIO, Incorporated, 2005), discusses the various kinds of ideas held by scientists. She calls “core ideas” those scientific ideas that are the most firmly established by the evidence (this group would include the age of the earth and evolution). She says, "Indeed, we must be prepared to realize that even core ideas may be wrong, and that somewhere, sometime, there may be a set of circumstances that could refute even our most confidently held theory” (p. 9). She says that “The anthropologist Ashley Montagu summarized science rather nicely when he wrote, 'The scientist believes in proof without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof' (Montagu 1984: 9).” Arthur N. Srahler, in his book Science and Earth History: The Evolution/Creation Controversy (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1987), said this: “Let us admit that the human mind or brain will never be privy to truth, but rather agree that the special kind of observation statement that is a scientific statement, despite being put forward as being true, actually contains a certain probability of being in error. . . . There always is the possibility, no matter how small it may be, that a scientific statement is false. . . . I would like to limit the definition of a 'scientific statement' to one that is subject to a finite probability, no matter how small, of being in error when it is asserted to be correct” (p. 7).

So it turns out that the scientific community is not actually making the claim that the earth really is billions of years old or that Darwinian-style evolution really happened.  They are not claiming that these ideas are really true and known to be true.  What they are claiming is simply that, judging by the current state of our understanding of how the world works based on our empirical observations and tests, it appears highly likely that the earth is billions of years old and that evolution is true.  But it is recognized that this estimate of probability based on our empirical analyses is based partly on ignorance (as all probabilistic arguments are).  Within that gap of ignorance is contained the acknowledged possibility that our scientific theories about these matters may be wrong and that Genesis might be right after all.

In short, then, the scientific community is not making this claim:  "We know that the earth is billions of years old and that evolution is true, and therefore that Genesis is false."  Rather, it is making this claim:  "Based solely on our current scientific understanding of the world, it appears highly likely that the earth is billions of years old and that evolution is true, but it remains entirely possible that the earth really is not billions of years old and that evolution is false and that Genesis is correct."

So we have a claim from the scientific community that Genesis might be true, and we have a claim from Genesis that Genesis definitely is true.  There is no conflict between these two claims.  They do not contradict one another.  According to the mainstream scientific community, one is not in conflict with any actual data when one affirms that Genesis is true.  If we have objectively certain reasons to think that Genesis is true from other sources (as we do--see Why Christianity is True for a case for this), then it is eminently reasonable--indeed, it is required by reason--that we affirm it to be true and assert that what the scientific community admits might be the case is in fact the case.

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