The Disjunctive Duality of Science Distinction

A New Argument from the Institute for Creation Research

Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
2008 January 15

A colleague sent me a copy of the email message below from ICR to the "Friends of ICR" about ICR's application to the THECB. The message describes a new tactic or argument that ICR plans to use to convince the THECB that ICR teaches real science: their idiosyncratic distinction between "experimental" and "forensic" science. This is actually an old idea, but it used to be termed the distinction between "operation" and "origin" science. The distinction was used, for example, in the first Intelligent Design Creationism book, The Mystery of Life's Origin by Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen in 1984, where I first encountered it. It is, of course, a false distinction that is not recognized by any legitimate scientist, scientific institution, or philosopher of science.

Here, briefly, is the distinction: ICR believes that there are two types of science: (1) physical science, including physics and chemistry, that Creationists term "experimental, empirical, or operational science" because one can perform experiments (i.e. operations) on its subject matter and make direct empirical observations in present-day time, and (2) historical science, such as historical geology (including stratigraphy and geochronology), paleontology, astronomy (cosmology and galactic, stellar, and planetary astronomy), and systematic biology (including population genetics, biogenesis, and evolutionary biology--all disciplines with a historical element), that Creationists term "forensic, origin, or historical science" because one can't perform experiments on its singular and episodic subject matter, but instead only make historical inferences by using an indirect method of observing contemporary evidence to understand the past. The claim is that, for historical or "forensic" science--since one can't do any real experiments with ancient causes, events, and processes--scientific conclusions about past events and processes are less rigorous, more prone to error, and thus more suspect than conclusions about modern or contemporary causes, events, and processes studied by chemistry and physics. Thus, scientific knowledge about evolution and the origin of life is not as reliable as, for example, information about matter, energy, forces, and heat. ICR claims it readily accepts and teaches "experimental science" in the same way that mainstream academic institutions do, but it feels justified in holding and teaching "a very different perspective when it comes to forensic science (origins, pre-history)," because of the inadequacies and indirect methods inherent in the study of historical events and processes.

As is the case with all Creationist arguments, the proposition of a disjunctive duality of science sounds plausible, but in reality it is nonsense. It is a specious argument, intended to deceive the reader. No legitimate scientist or philosopher of science holds this belief. Organized Creationism is one of those pseudointellectual pursuits that tries to convince its followers by using sophistry to fool them, and they are remarkably successful at it, due either to the sophistication of their sophistry or the foolishness of their followers. There are so many things wrong with the explanation above (which admittedly I wrote on behalf of ICR, but I tried to do it justice), that I hardly know where to begin to refute it.

First, there are no direct observations in science. Every observation is indirect and every inference from every observation is indirect. Of course, only scientists understand these subtle points, which explains why ICR staff members do not.

Second, there is no epistemological difference between a prediction and a postdiction (a prediction about the past). Both are hypotheses whose conjectures and consequences can be tested, and that's what matters. All scientific hypotheses make predictions or postdictions that can be tested and, if they cannot, are not scientific hypotheses.

Third, there are several ways to test scientific hypotheses, not only by experiments. Most hypotheses in science are tested by making additional observations that refute or corroborate the hypothesis, or by constructing models of natural systems and comparing model-generated data to natural data. Such non-experimental testing is perfectly valid within an empirical and skeptical epistemological framework.

Fourth, any science can be an experimental science. Traditional experiments involve instruments and apparatus that measure physical properties, but experiments can also be virtual. Thought experiments were conducted before computers were available, and today virtual experiments modeled on computers are conducted on every ancient time, distance, and cosmic size scale, such as plate tectonic movements, biological evolution, the origin of life, stellar system formation, and the origin of galaxies and supergroups following the Big Bang. These are real scientific experiments that test hypotheses of very ancient events, their virtual nature notwithstanding.

Fifth, many historical processes and events are still occurring today on scales that can be investigated and tested using instruments and equipment, just as a physicist or chemist would. This includes biological evolution, rigorously testing in laboratory and field experiments. Similarly, experiments can be conducted that help explain the abiotic genesis of life 3.8 billion year ago (to the extent we understand it). Lab and field experiments have tested all modes, scales, and processes of biological evolution. The scientific principle of actualism says that natural processes operating today operated similarly in the past, so experiments on modern organisms today allow us to understand past evolutionary processes and events (up to a point, of course, since past conditions were somewhat different than today's; actualism (or uniformitarianism) is actually a profound and complicated issue, but the main idea is secure).

Sixth, Creationists have repeatedly shown that they don't really accept the scientific statements of "operational science" physics and chemistry they claim to respect any more than those of biology, astronomy, geology, and paleontology. For example, Creationists reject the concept of deep time: the ancient ages--in billions of years--of Earth, the geologic timescale, and meteorites and the solar system, all of which are determined by physical and chemical radiometric methods. They reject our knowledge of very ancient ages of galaxies and the universe determined by physical and astrophysical measurements of the speed of light, red shift measurements, and periodicity of variable stars. They reject our knowledge of plate tectonics, largely obtained by geophysical measurements. In spite of their claim to trust "experimental" or "operational" science--i.e., physics and chemistry--there are many examples where the empirical findings of these sciences are rejected by Creationists in favor of Biblical interpretations. The hypocrisy of anti-science Biblical Literalists is always exposed when their claims--always speciously made to fool those they want to convince--are given the slightest examination.

Seventh, science is a method, not a set of disciplines or a set of knowledge from various disciplines. If a discipline uses the scientific method, than it is as scientific as another discipline that uses the same method. Thus, evolutionary biology is as scientific as quantum mechanics or plate tectonics or thermodynamics. The scientific method depends on using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and skepticism in honest and transparent ways, a method that Creationists disdain in favor of misrepresenting  empirical data using specious, illogical arguments to make credulous, non-skeptical claims that justify their prior beliefs.

The conclusion is simple: biological evolution and similar natural processes that have occurred for billions of years can be tested by observations, models, and even experiments to the same extent that contemporary matter and energy can in all their forms, and the resulting knowledge is just as accurate and reliable as any in physics and chemistry. In fact, many evolutionary hypotheses have received more corroboration than many physical and chemical hypotheses. For example, we know more about natural selection, the primary causes of evolution, than the cause of gravity, but since gravity is not (allegedly) Biblically controversial, we don't have an anti-gravity problem in this country, with surveys that show that 45% of American adults don't believe in gravity.

I don't have the time to write a more formal analysis of the "disjunctive duality of science distinction" that the ICR Creationists posit, or to provide references for some of my statements. So this will have to do for now. In the future, I will search for other documents that touch on this Creationist argument and expand my remarks and attempt to add some references.

Dear Friends of ICR,

As you may know from recent editorials and feature articles that have appeared in many of the national newspapers, ICR has been castigated for attempting to teach "religion" as science in our Master of Science degree program in Science Education. I wanted to give you some background on these reports so that you might pray in a more informed manner for the ministry and those involved in this effort.

Controversy regarding our ministry is not new in itself, and the Lord has given us victory on many fronts since 1970, but the event that triggered this recent uprising was our formal application to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) for approval to offer our graduate degrees in the state of Texas (something we have done in California since 1981). ICR Graduate School received a favorable report from a THECB-fielded visiting team and subsequent approval from an "Advisory Committee" of the THECB. The press, however, along with the secular academic community, exploded in a vitriolic effort to denigrate ICR and the Commissioner's office.

As a result of the intensely negative campaign, ICR was "summoned" to a meeting this past Thursday (1-10-08) with the Commissioner and his staff to "answer questions" in preparation for the formal board meeting to consider our application for approval. While mostly cordial and responsive (due certainly to the prayers of the many who were directly praying for that meeting), the Commissioner has requested that ICR supply a rather large amount of additional information to verify that we do indeed teach science and that the ICRGS Master's Program is indeed teaching at a graduate level.

This, of course, we are glad to do. ICR is pleased to respond to any effort to demonstrate its compliance and its competency in the fields that we teach. Our plans now are to prepare the extra material and provide the requested documentation in time for the April 2008 meeting of the THECB.

Please pray for us. This is, obviously, a huge undertaking for ICR-but, more importantly, it is a major frontal shot aimed at the bow of the whole issue before the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which will be considering the Science Education Standards for Texas in a meeting later this month. That is important because Texas is often the front-runner in such changes across the nation. Texas has long led the nation in textbook standards, and has been the scene of a recent battleground over science texts. Thus, ICR and the THECB have become the "test case" in this battle now on the front burner in Texas education and politics.

* Pray for the THECB Commissioner, Dr. Raymund Paredes, and his staff, that they will see the difference between experimental science (laboratory research) and forensic science (interpretations of present data about historical events). ICR teaches exactly the same experimental science as any university, but we have a very different perspective when it comes to forensic science (origins, pre-history). Pray that such distinctions will be made clear.

* Also pray that we (and any who write to the Commissioner on our behalf) will remain gracious and truthful in our responses.

* Pray, too, that ICR will be able to prepare both sufficient and clarifying materials to the THECB that will encourage them to grant approval for us to continue the work of the ICRGS without restrictions.

Finally, if you would feel comfortable writing a kind note of encouragement to Dr. Paredes thanking him for his attempt to be fair in our evaluation, and also expressing your support for the Christian perspective of origins (a better word than creation), it may help Dr. Paredes understand that there are substantial numbers of educated people in this nation who are not persuaded by the evolutionary theories of life.

The address for the THECB is as follows:

Dr. Raymund Paredes Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
1200 East Anderson Lane
Austin, TX 78752-1743

Email for Dr. Paredes is

Thank you for taking time to read this and to pray.


Dr. Henry Morris III CEO, Institute for Creation Research

Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2008 January 20