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Evolutionists interpret evidence based on their preconceptions (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Evolutionists interpret evidence based on their preconceptions (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.


Claim CA230.1:

The conclusions of scientists are based on their preconceptions. They prove only what they assume.

Source: Are polar ice sheets only 4500 years old? Oard, Michael J. 2003. Impact 361 (July), p. iv.


CreationWiki response:

Before getting into the main point, it bears pointing out that Talk.Origins has over-generalised the claim, thereby making a straw man out of the case.

Michael Oard's actual statement was:

"In other words, the uniformitarian scientists date the ice sheets to hundreds of thousands of years because they believe the ice sheets are old to begin with. They have "proved" only what they have assumed!"

Yet in Talk.Origins' index of claims [1] they generalise this to "Evolutionists interpret evidence on the basis of their preconceptions." (emphasis added).

Then the actual article itself generalises even more with the title: "The conclusions of scientists are based on their preconceptions." (emphasis added).

You will see that Michael Oard's statement was not generalized to all scientists, but only to those who accept the uniformitarian philosophy when it comes to dating ice cores. In the context of this statement, he also gives examples and logical reasoning as to why this is so. This uniformitarianism is also evident in radiometric dating and some strands of geology and setting different dates for different layers in the ground.

So Michael Oard's statement was limited to certain scientists. Talk.Origins overgeneralizes the whole statement. But let's deal with the "scientist" issue.

The problem is that we humans don't have all the evidence, we don't know everything. Because of this, we need preconceptions and assumptions in order to help us understand the world. So having preconceptions is part of being human. Looking for a human with no preconceptions is like looking for a totally unbiased and objective person. But to be totally objective and unbiased you either need to have a perfect framework of preconceptions based on truth, and, humanly speaking, it isn't possible to absolutely know that, or you would have to be Deity, the Ultimate Uncaused Being. Now since none of these things are possible, and we are all just doing the best we can, we cannot rule preconceptions out even in groups, even in big groups. Why? Because all that can happen is that those who have preconceptions that agree in general and won't change will become grouped together. To put it simply, when you get a lot of people with preconceptions, would that truly eliminate preconceptions? No! The biggest group who gets to the top first becomes the dictator over the rest of the groups. Now preconceptions haven't been eliminated, but consensus has been achieved. When it comes to science, the most powerful group will then teach and indoctrinate others, such as the young, and those influenced by the media, in the views of that group in order to improve the chance of its survival. It may convince others of its "truth" and some of its members may leave. This is not to say that this group is right or wrong, but it cannot escape from its preconceptions.

This happens with evolution and other theories in science that are not taught tentatively, but as fact. For all their phrases such as "scientists believe this" and "we theorize that", there is an air of authority that goes with the word "scientist", which is not helped by the absolute statements made by scientist and layman alike. This way preconceptions and assumptions become dogmatized as the only rational way of thinking. This has been done with philosophical naturalism.

Also the conclusions drawn from experiments are limited by the agenda and ruling preconceptions of the dominant "scientific" research program or worldview. If the dominant scientific agenda is governed by philosophical naturalism, as it appears to be, anything and everything else is going to be ruled out a priori. It's similar to a murder case where a weapon is found with my fingerprints and there is already a need in the forensic team and the police department to "prove" my guilt. They may enquire as to what angle I held the weapon as I used it to murder someone. They may find out where I need to be in order to murder the person with that weapon. They may find out that just the day before, I bought that weapon in order to murder the person. They may even find out that I had been accused of a crime before but the accusation didn't stick. But you'll notice that in every piece of logic and every area of enquiry, they already have one thing in mind: I'm already guilty. Even if it was found out later that someone else had gotten to the victim just before the crime, questions may arise as to whether I paid a hitman, or something like that. The overriding consideration in the minds of some in that forensic team and police department would be that there must be a way that I must have done it.

In the same way, once a theory is held in high regard in science it is protected with zeal, and this has been a practice within humans for many times in history. It is not the fact that the theory is factual, or proven, but at first it becomes preferred, and then other ideas begin to get ridiculed. Once the idea of the earth circling the sun became popular, thanks to Copernicus, Kepler, and the legends of Galileo, all interpretations of observations afterwards had to fall in line with that belief. It was not because it was absolute fact. The apparent motion of stars were just that: "apparent", not real. The fact that the motion of the earth could not be measured didn't matter, since an explanation could be given. Note, that it wasn't so much that geocentricity was totally disproven, since Kepler's mathematics were derived from the findings of Tycho Brahe, a geocentrist with a decent yet slightly imperfect model, and with improvement it also could incorporate all observations as well, but that the idea of the earth circling the sun became preferred, and then pronounced as "fact", "truth". The Big Bang Theory now is so revered that other theories are pushed aside. Interpretations of the observation of redshift of starlight and cosmic radiation now have to be explained in that framework. Newton's laws of gravity seems to push aside other theories of gravity such as Le Sage's, although there may be holes in Newtonian mathematics. The theories of Relativity are so treasured by physicists that to think otherwise is almost heretical, because, of course, Einstein was a genius and it has been proven again and again, right? But the observations that are said to prove it either are questionable, or can be explained by non-relativistic mathematics. Too many times, existing treasured theories, that have become preconceptions, things considered self-evident truths, can affect how people view and interpret what they observe and the possibilities they are comfortable with accepting.

The second part of the statement says "they only prove what they assume". Michael Oard's article didn't even say this. He did give an example showing how an evolutionary philosophy can blind any human to other possibilities and that the assumption drives the conclusion. This is not a universal statement condemning all scientists and scientific endeavours, but limited to those evolutionists who hold strongly to uniformitarian and naturalistic philosophies and preconceptions. In this way they prove only what they assume by ruling out the other possibilities. Think of this religiously. When a miracle occurs, something unexplainable by natural forces, will an rabid atheist normally concede that something supernatural occurred? No, he will find a natural explanation. And if he cannot find one, he will then hope that later one a natural explanation will be found. His mind will not seriously entertain the supernatural because of his preconceptions. The same is with scientists, especially evolutionists. Because we are human, we come into this world, into a profession, with biases and preconceptions that will affect what our minds will seriously entertain, and will limit the possibilities we think are logical. Some of these preconceptions are more rational, or more necessary than others.

So it seems like a joke when Talk.Origins, in this same rebuttal, tries to preach "the gospel according to Steven J. Gould" as though he preaches against preconceptions (of course they will add that he is an anti-creationist to slam creation science) having no preconceptions of his own. I must admitthat, even writing this, I have my preconceptions. They affect how I act and view the world, and what I type, but it is our job as humans to do our best to find the right preconceptions. The fact that Steven Jay Gould slams creationism while not slamming evolutionism shows his own bias and preconceptions, since the theory of evolution and the research agenda it pushes forward is evidence of the philosophical naturalism inherent within it and its adherents, who unjustifiably stretch a simple methodology in the present, to an over-arching absolute worldview where everything in the present and in the distant past must have a natural explanation. Compare that with the thoughts of an atheist, and you'll see the similar religious and philosophical undertones.

Now this is not to slam all of science, but we must realise who and what we are: incomplete in knowledge and fallible. This doesn't mean that all our scientific findings have no basis in fact, since objectively we all experience the same world. We discover the world's resources and use them to our advantage. Science is knowledge and is based on both experience and observations that anyone can repeat. On the basis of findings and investigations within our human experience we have achieved a great deal. The observations are shared for all to see. The way we can utilise such things and the techniques used are visible to all. But the interpretations, especially the far-reaching ones have to be taken with a pinch of salt (especially in science, where theories, I stress again, must be held tentatively), because the further we extend our theories, the more we are dealing with incomplete knowledge, so that our bias can set us up to be deluded. Such is the case with the naturalistic theories of universal evolutionary development, dealing with the universe and the very essence of life, where they deal with so many unknown and unknowable factors that they leave themselves open to inadequate axioms like uniformitarianism and the belief that an incredibly long age is needed for the universe and the earth to come into existence.

So preconceptions do play an important role in observations and interpretations in science and other affairs in life, as I hope you will see as we go further into Talk Origin's responses.

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)


The conclusions of scientists are based on evidence, and the evidence remains for all to see. Scientists know that their ideas must stand the scrutiny of other scientists, who may not share their preconceptions. The best way to do this is to make the case strong enough on the basis of the evidence so that preconceptions do not matter. And scientists themselves condemn preconceptions when they see them. (Stephen J. Gould, the most vocal recent crusader against preconceptions in science, was vehemently anticreationism.)

I just want you to look at that first clause: "The conclusions of scientists are based on evidence". Is this really true? Is this always true? If this is true, why is it that sometimes two people can look at the same evidence and come to two different conclusions? When it comes to the naturalistic theories of evolution, encompassing the whole history of the universe, the evidence that is used is what is called "indirect" or "circumstantial" evidence. This means evidence that can be used to make inferences, tentative conclusions based on logic and previous conclusions (including presuppositions) in the absence of direct observation. Previous conclusions are very important in determining what conclusion you are going to come up with in the end, since they normally limit your scope of possibilities or add bias. As Sherlock Holmes said:

“Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,” answered Holmes thoughtfully; “it may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different” . . . “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” [1]

So scientists may have evidence, but that doesn't mean their conclusion is true, even in scientific terms. Sometimes it can depend on from what perspective they are viewing the evidence, i.e. their preconceptions.

And it is not so much the case that a scientist has to make a case strong enough that preconceptions don't matter, but that preconceptions can be changed if they are different to the conclusion of the person making the case. It always depends what science we are talking about. In true science that deals with the present, it is a lot easier to show evidence that supports one's view, and the studies that must be repeated to make sure results are correct and the logic can be analysed. But in "science" that deals with an unobserved past, where a lot more assumptions and preconceptions are needed and used to make logical conclusions, things are not so easy to settle or verify.


The history of science is filled with scientists accepting ideas contrary to their preconceptions. Examples include the reality of extinctions, the reality of meteors, meteors as causes of mass extinctions, ice ages, continental drift, transposons, bacteria as the cause of ulcers, the nature of prions, and, of course, evolution itself. Scientists are not immune to being sidetracked by their preconceptions, but they ultimately go where the evidence leads.

It is true that scientists can find out things that contradict a belief or a theory they previously had. Every human has the ability to change his or her mind after viewing some evidence or hearing a convincing argument. It must be noted that a number of the examples given above are not factual, but only theoretical, e.g., multiple ice ages, or meteors as causes for mass extinctions. They may have some evidence, but again, it is circumstantial and can be interpreted in a different way.

The last statement makes gods out of humans. Why? Because Talk.Origins confuses the potential to go the right way, with the actuality of going the right way. I'll show what I mean.

Each of us, as humans, have the potential to live a moral life. But we don't all do it, do we? A criminal who gets released after rehabilitation has the potential to live a crime-free life. But in some countries there is still have a high re-offending statistic, i.e., that same person goes back to a life of crime. Scientists have the potential to deal with evidence and interpretations fairly, but that doesn't mean they will actually ultimately go where the evidence leads. And it is also true that scientists can change their minds about a thing or two, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they will be right on everything. This is just a statement of belief from Talk.Origins, not the facts of life we all experience.

And just remember that quote I gave from Sherlock Holmes. Circumstantial evidence, even a lot of it, may lead you one way from one perspective, and then lead you another way from another.


Scientists make deliberate efforts to remove subjective influences from their evaluation of conclusions; they do a good job, on the whole, of reducing bias. They do such a good job, in fact, that what creationists really object to is the fact that scientists do not interpret evidence according to certain religious preconceptions.

I agree with the statement that there are attempts to remove subjective influences. But in areas such as evolution, subjectivity cannot be removed because of the philosophy inherent in the theory. Talk.Origins tries to paint creationists as villains working against unbiased scientists, when this is not the reason for the strife on the issue of creation and evolution. The problem, as has been stated numerous times, is that religion is already within science, and it is being indoctrinated to everyone. One view is being put forward and criticisms of that view are not being openly taught as much as that one view. These religious preconceptions of naturalism and humanism are the only ones allowed on a playing field that is meant to be fair for all, but the freedom of many is being taken away by the "education" system's insistence on one way of thinking, by evolutionists' insistence on promoting that one religion's way of thinking. You take away the freedom of theistic parents who have to let their children go to a philosophically anti-theistic, humanistic school system. You take away the future freedom of children who are indoctrinated into one way of thinking, rather than teaching them the basic principles and how to think more critically both philosophically and scientifically.

So creationists don't want to force everyone to believe as they do. They just want a fair process within education and science, where people who do research don't get ridiculed or cut off from funds because the work they wish to do doesn't go with the predominant agenda in a world that's supposed to be more democratic and free for all, where views can be presented fairly from both sides of the issue.


The hypocrisy of this charge cannot be overstressed. Creationists state outright that they accept only what they already assume. Consider part of Answers in Genesis' Statement of Faith: "By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record" (AIG n.d.). The Institute for Creation Research has a similar statement of faith (ICR 2000). Creationists admit up front that their preconceptions, in the form of religious convictions, determine their conclusions.

Read these quotes:

"Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic." Dr Scott C. Todd, Immunologist at Kansas State University: Correspondence to Nature 410(6752):423, 30 Sept. 1999

"We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door." Richard Lewontin Professor. 'The New York Review', January 9, 1997, p. 31 (Emphasis in original.)


These quotes are not just the views of individuals. Look at the way evolutionists do their work and the explanations they are allowed to put forward about the unknowable past. The way they work with evidence is that, just as these two men say, evolutionists will only allow the natural, the material cause, no matter its observed inadequacy. This, in itself, is not the problem, because people can do as they choose. But note that creationists are more open about their preconceptions, even the ones that seem very stringent (I'll explain the Answers in Genesis statement further on). But on the other side we see evolutionists, left and right, telling us uncritically their doctrine, with no open admission about their assumptions and preconceptions, as though inhumanly they have none and are purely unbiased. They act as if they have the unbiased facts and creationists have nothing but blind faith and force and distort the evolutionist's unbiased facts into a narrow biased blind system. This is misleading. This is the hypocrisy that creationists fight with, not only with evolutionists, but also with those of the public who have swallowed this deception. We don't say "Believe us in everything", but simply look at yourself for who you are, look at the evidence and take both points of view into account, knowing the biases involved, in this democratic world we live in.

As for Answers in Genesis, read the quote in full.

No apparent, perceived, or claimed interpretation of evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record. About AiG: Statement of Faith

Note the emphasized words: interpretation of. Talk.Origins deliberately leaves that out. Without those key words, the sentence, as Talk.Origins has quoted it, makes Answers in Genesis look like obscurantists (people who deliberately obscure evidence in support of an ideology or, as in this case, a theology). That is a misquote of the AiG Statement of Faith, and a mistake that Talk.Origins ought not to make, if they seriously pretend to be scholars of science.

We know that we, as humans, are fallible and incomplete in knowledge, so this is our presupposition, our assumption, the foundation from which we work. This doesn't tell you how they deal with difficult data, but it is most likely that they deal with it in a similar way to how the atheist, naturalist, or evolutionist will deal with it: "we don't have an explanation now, but with further research, we believe we'll find it. And even if we don't, we don't claim to have all the answers anyway. It is simply a gap in our knowledge." To some that might be a sign of weakness to claim we don't know it all. I believe, rather, that it is a sign of self-knowledge. Knowing our incompleteness, we will study and search further, but we rely on the knowledge of Someone who knows better, Who knows it all: the Creator.

Compare this with the unspoken evolutionary statement of faith:

No apparent, perceived or claimed interpretation of evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts philosophical naturalism.

Some may argue that evolutionists know that science is to be tentative, but if their view is the only one that is allowed in the media, the only one given the amounts of air time on TV, radio, in schools, in newspapers, then such a thing, which is held out as "science", excluding all other interpretations of the evidence, is not being taught tentatively but in a religious manner in the same way that only exegesis of the bible and principles agreeing with its morality is allowed in churches or synagogues, or the Qur'an in mosques.

We all have our faults, but this injustice and hypocrisy in evolutionists' actions must be dealt with in a fair manner.

References

  1. A Critique of "29 Evidences for Macroevolution" - Part 5 by Douglas Theobald
  2. An Old Age For Earth is the Heart of Evolution by Jonathan F. Henry, Ph.D.

See Also

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