Creationism And Testing

The topic of religion constitutes chapter 3, and creationism is a religious concept. Religion will be defined as a set of ideas concerning a nonmaterial reality; thus, it would appear that—given science's concern for material explanations—science and creationism have little in common. Yet the creationism/evolution controversy includes the claim made by some that creationism is scientific, or can be made scientific, or has scientific elements. The question naturally arises, then, Is creationism testable?

As discussed, science operates by testing explanations of natural phenomena against the natural world. Explanations that are disproved are rejected; explanations that are not disproved—that are corroborated—are provisionally accepted (though at a later time they may be rejected or modified with new information). An important element of testing is being able to hold constant some of the conditions of the test, so that a causative effect can be correctly assigned.

The ultimate statement of creationism—that the present universe came about as the result of the action or actions of a divine creator—is thus outside the abilities of science to test. If there is an omnipotent force in the universe, it would by definition be impossible to hold constant (to control) its effects. A scientist could control for the effects of temperature, light, humidity, or predators—but it would be impossible to control for the actions of God!

The question of whether God created cannot be evaluated by science. Most believers conceive of God as omnipotent, so God could have created everything just as we see it today, a theological position known as special creationism, or God could have created through a natural process such as evolution, a theological position known as theistic evolution. An omnipotent being could create the universe to appear as if it had evolved but actually have created everything five minutes ago. The reason that the ultimate statement of creationism cannot be tested is simple: the actions of an omnipotent creator are compatible with any and all observations of the natural world. The methods of science cannot choose among the possible actions of an omnipotent creator because by definition God is unconstrained.

Science is thus powerless to test the ultimate claim of creationism and must be agnostic about whether God did or did not create the material world. However, some types of creationism go beyond the basic statement "God created" to make claims of fact about the natural world. Many times these fact claims, such as those concerning the age of Earth, are greatly at variance with observations of science, and creationists sometimes invoke scientific support to support these fact claims. one creationist claim, for example, is that the Grand Canyon was laid down by the receding waters of Noah's flood. In cases like this, scientific methods can be used to test creationist claims, because the claims are claims of fact. Of course, it is always possible to claim that the creator performed miracles (that the layers of rocks in Grand Canyon were specially created by an omnipotent creator), but at this point one passes from science to some other way of knowing. If fact claims are made—assuming the claimer argues scientific support for such claims—then such claims can be tested by the methods of science; some scientific views are better supported than others, and some will be rejected as a result of comparing data and methodology. But if miracles are invoked, such occasions leave the realm of science for that of religion.

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