Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How (not) to discuss evolution/sciene vs. religion/creationsim

  1. Feb 11, 2007 #1
    Here is an example of (one of many) ongoing "creationism vs. evolution" debates.

    Hovind - Rainbow debate

    In this debate a biologist teacher/researcher mr. rainbow and the creationists debater mr. hovind go on to debate this evolution <-> creationism controversy.

    First of all this is a somewhat unequal debate, because rainbow is primarily talking about the many indications (we say not here "proof" because what at all constitutes "proof" --- this is important to notice because no scientific theory ever produces "absolute proof" and most likely all theories of science can be undoubtly be proven "wrong", which means: they only have some approximate correctedness and will be replaced with a better theory) there are that species have common ancestors and that macro evolution happened.

    Mr Hovind on the other hand, has no theory at all, but debates from the point of view of the literal correctness of the bible (earth is only 8000 years, and all humans are descendants from adam and eve, etc.).

    This is therefore a hopeless debate, since Hovind never "reveals" a real theory because he has none. His point of view is not scientific to begin with.
    Despite that, he uses a very low profile debating technique to his opponents, which goes like: either you proof me before our eyes that your theory (for example macro evolution) is correct, or I will not believe it.
    His opponent never realy tries to counter act such ridiculuous arguments and treats Hovind much too gentle. In fact he makes clear he is somewhat of doubt wether or not God exists to say the least.
    If Mr. Rainbow were to use the arguments his opponent uses, he would have confronted mr hovind with: either you give us PROOF that a literal 6 days created happened, or I will not believe you....

    So all points brought up by mr hovind that argues that "this is not science", while this same standard never realy applies to his arguments.

    If he believes that there was literal creation, and that also that is a scientific theory, that supposedly explains where humans and all other animals and living organisms come from, then he would need to reveal some of how God did this. He does not tell us, and when asked, he says: I don't know.

    This is like saying: everything can be explained by assuming God did it, and at the same time, what God is or what God does, and how it is done, is something of a big mystery.

    There is no way to disproof such a theory, because it is NOT a scientific theory.

    Science can not give us any absolute proof about anything, but just give some relative truth. In fact all knowledge (real knowledge) is relative.

    So, this whole debate is unfair. Rainbow is not allowed (since the debate was to be about only macro evolution) to go into the absurd statements and "theory" of Hovind (if a 8000 year old world is true, most of our astronomical and geological and biological science is flat out wrong).

    Or perhaps Mr Rainbow is trying to be gentle to his opponent, and not confront him with the absurdities of his BELIEF (Hovind makes false claims about how he likes and approves of science, while he regularly misuses and misrepresents science).

    Even though Hovind himself is making a mock of science (while his opponent does not dare to make a moch of religion), some of his claims are of course correct. The idea for example of the big bang as having started from nothing at all, is of course a joke (even though it is seriously believed by some scientists). This idea is in fact quite literal a "creation myth" since it would violate all known laws. It is same absurd as believing in a literal creation myth, creation in 6 days, the only difference is the time scale.

    Mw Rainbow should have never accepted the stand Mr Hovind takes, in which Hovind can continue to put forward scientific critique and demand that science should do something that can not be realized (a proof of macro evolution BEFORE OUR EYES), while this same standard does NOT APPLY to mr Hovind. He never puts himself in the position he puts his opponents, namely to put PROOF ON THE TABLE BEFORE OUR EYES that creation in 6 days happened, since he can not proof us that. Only thing he can do is make us believe that at the basis of the Bible.

    The point is of course, science can never reveal a complete proof of anything, at least not an ABSOLUTE. The only system that makes absolute claims is religion.

    The absolute knowledge (God created the world in 6 days) in fact does not reveal us much. No mechanism or whatever explains that fact. Even if evolution is far from bringing absolute truth in this matter, it is more believable then religion, since it is object of a scientific debate in which only proof counts and only assumptions can be made, that are demonstrateble and testable.
    It is more believable because there is a body of evidence from many different fields (astronomy, geology, biology) that leads to the plausibility of this.

    Would all geology and all astronomy be wrong, because it does not accomodate for earth and a universe being just 6000 years old?

    The only evidence for creation in 6 days, 6000 years ago is a book written by humans. If we write a book now, that would teach a religion that everything was created just 1 year ago, including our memory and all physical facts that would somehow "delute" us into thinking that the universe and all was in fact much older, this "creation theory" neither is susceptible for being disproven.
    Within that myth, everything fits the fact, since everything was created in such a manner that no fact of reality can disproof it. Yet, undoubtly, Mr Hovind is not likey to accept that creation myth theory, since it would not be compatible with his theory.

    Yet, nobody thinks actually that that creation myth (everything created happened 1 year ago) is true.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 11, 2007 #2
    I would be quite careful with that statement. If you are suggesting the the accepted knowledge of a certain time only depends on the time it was acquired, you are playing a very dangerous game. The knowledge explained by science and the one explained by religion does not hold equal ground according to the scientific community.

    There is a tendency among social scientists to deny that the scientific method even exists, claiming that it is nothing else than some sort of social system that decides what ideas to accept based on an in-group’s criteria.

    However, if science and the scientific method is just a random, arbitrary social ritual of a sort, why and how can the successfulness of technology and science in computers, health care, TV and travel in space be explained contra the ineffectiveness in areas such as astrology and voodoo, where the scientific method is clearly not applied?

    A powerful example of this is of course the famous hoax back in 1996 by Alan Sokal in Social Text.

    Of course, all of this depends on what we define as 'real knowledge'
  4. Feb 11, 2007 #3
    I would not call it "random" or degrate it, I just wanted to make clear that science does not provide answers that are "true for all times".

    For "eternal truths" one has to go to religion. But their answers are not susceptible to be false (or falsifiable), so they provide "truths" that are "true" no matter what the objective world is like. There is nothing that can demonstrate that religion is false. Which does not mean it is true either.

    Science produces relative knowledge, that is a kind of knowledge that might be proven wrong. Evolution and the Big Bang theory are formulated in such a way that it can in principle be tested to be wrong.

    I can also provide a theory that explains anything and everything, which can not be proven wrong. Yet, what is the use of that?

    I don't think that these kind of debates are in any way helpfull. In fact they do harm I guess, because Mr. Hovind keeps on claiming that the evolution theory is "not science" and that "his theory" could replace it.

    But he has no theory. Instead he has a belief, and it's fine to me if he beliefs that stuff, but it is not in any way scientific. Yet it is presented as if he does science, which he does not. And he keeps on misrepresenting the Big Bang theory and all sorts of other stuff. Where did he get the idea that the Big Bang would be a rotation of matter and somehow would relate to how planets or galaxies would turn?

    He keeps on presenting "mysteries" which are no mysteries at all, like how the elements higher then iron get produced. They of course can't be products of fusion, since above iron it costs energy to fuse elements. But it is not a mystery how the elements higher then iron came here.
  5. Feb 11, 2007 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2018 Award

    But your view of what science is smells exactly like postmodernist relativism. We have already seen how such crappolla is filled with utter nonsense, as evidence by Alan Sokal hoax in Social Text and in his book.

    And why is it that when people try to being up this point, they use examples that have very low degree of certainty and that is still in an active, research front area? Why aren't you using examples that are well-verified and well-tested? The physics in the semiconductors that run all your modern electronics would do just fine.

  6. Feb 11, 2007 #5
    What is the point of debating with a creationist? There is nothing you can say that will ever win the debate. There is a religious reason for everything, and if there isn't at the moment - there will be. You may as well debate on the validity of evolution with a brick wall.

    I have seen quite a few of these debates and my oppinion is based on that. In my oppinion science and religion are very different, one requires faith, one requires a lack of faith - and a debate between them just doesn't work.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2007
  7. Feb 11, 2007 #6
    It is also important to separate the linguistic difference from that kind of 'theory' from a scientific theory.

    According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is defined as "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses."

    The way you are using the word theory, implies the more nonscientific version of it, that is, a random speculation not supported by uniformly accepted evidence within the community.

    When scientists talk about a scientific theory, whether it is the theory of evolution, atomic theory of matter or theory of relativity, they are not expressing reservations about its truth.

    Random speculations can indeed be proven wrong, provided that they have been formulated in accordance with the scientific method, that is, being a scientific hypothesis.

    You are correct that both evolution and the big bang is a scientific theory that can be refined via new theoretical and experimental discoveries, although science is hardly a collection of relative knowledge in the sense that it can at any point be overthrown at any time and that all of science is merely 'suggestions' on how the world works. This is not correct.

    In the ancient times, this was the case within Aristotelian philosophy. For instance, there were several misconceptions about motion, including the shape of trajectories and that motion needed a force to be able to continue. Because modern man has made use of the scientific method, we can easily refute those ideas as pointless.

    Even today, after the theory of relativity have been around for almost a century, the essence of Newton's laws of motion is still widely accepted as a working scientific theory, both in society and the scientific community. Aristotelian philosophy is not.
  8. Feb 11, 2007 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Science never claims to have proof of anything (at least reputable science) and theories are based on strong evidence until the contrary is discovered. The problem with arguing with people who have faith is tha they have no idea that the burden of providing strong evidence is very much on their shoulders. I am constantly astonished at the staunch view of some people in the face of overwhelming evidence. For example, those who believe the Earth is 8000 years old :eek:

    It is very sad that in this age of modern technology and scientific achievment that this argument is occuring at all.
  9. Feb 11, 2007 #8
    It is interesting to see the process made by Richard Dawkins and talk.origins in this area.
  10. Feb 11, 2007 #9
    Well for science anything is open for further investigation and exploration, nothing is sacred. That is what I meant to say. Science has no authorities.
    We are not supposed to think that relativity is true because Einstein declared so....
    Relativity is true because it is confirmed by all experiments.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2007
  11. Feb 11, 2007 #10


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2018 Award

    No one is saying that. If you think that is what science is, I think it is you who need to learn what science really is and how it works. You need to also figure out why what you espouse is not correct either. It perpetuates the impression that Science is simply nothing more than some relative point of view. This hurts science more than any pseudoscience crackpottery.

    I recommend "A House Built On Sand" by Sokal as the starting point, and you can see how much of what you just said is identical to the postmodernist crap.

  12. Feb 11, 2007 #11
    Relativity has been around for much longer than only close to a century. Even Aristotelian philosophy included some version of this concept, even though its description as a scientific hypothesis has later been disproven.

    Although the main idea behind your post quoted above is fairly accurate, some clarification might be in order.

    There is a reason that science does not investigate philosophical questions related to God or the existence of a creator and/or the concept of Intelligent Design. That is because a scientific hypothesis cannot successfully be proposed on the subject. As a result, in some areas, virtually no serious scientific investigation is undertaken.
  13. Feb 11, 2007 #12
    Yes, I agree. It's much like having a debate between a scientist and an artist, isn't it? It's not that a person can't be active in both areas, but we must recognize that religion and science just aren't the same thing.

    Alas, there is some need here to have a discussion on this. To make the theological claim that God created the universe is one thing (so long as we say that it is theological and not scientific). To say that the earth is 6,000 years old and that biological evolution is an unsound model is to make a scientific claim, and that scientific claim is flat out wrong. Creation "science" is not portrayed as theology, but as though it were genuine science. What's worse is that it is built on lies, since creationists regularly invent facts in order to prove their claims. We ought not to even be having this debate in scientific arenas, but there are many out there who want to teach creationisms in public schools and even in colleges, and they have political might. As such, this debate has been forced on us, and it is necessary to respond to some extent.
  14. Feb 11, 2007 #13
    I agree. But at the other side, is shows up being necessary, cause billions of people still adhere to some or other form of religion.

    But I am somewhat disappointed in the arguments that scientists have on the occasions when discussing with Hovind. They could have done much better!

    Here is another one:

    I have seen now some of these discussions, and what is striking is that Hovind seems to be the most prepared (although if you seen one discussion and presentation by him, you probably seen them all), and talks about any subject, not limiting himself to anything, while the opponent is at most good prepared for one or two subjects.

    For instance, they never talk about the Philisophy that lies behind science: materialism!
    Are they affraid to point out a philosophical framework for the ideas of science, the foundation on which science succesfully operates?

    Hovind makes so many self-contradictionary statements, it is a real long list to point out the many errors he makes.

    Let us name something:
    He constantly misportrays material sciences. He totally misunderstands what matter is, and that even an atom is in fact a world of it's own! He just calls it: dumb matter! He doesn't understand matter!
    He is by the way never confronted with some real science, like cosmology, high energy physics, quantum physics, etc. They provide real evidence against many of his dumb flat ideas about matter!

    Hovind has this scheme of things which he claims, science must explain:
    1. Matter, space and time which formed "by themselves"
    (as can be explained, science will never find such a theory, since it already contradicts materialism, acc. to which matter, time and space is eternal, and thus science can not explain "where matter came from" as this does not need explenation, nor faith. )
    2. How all the elements were formed
    This of course can be answered by particle physics, quantum physics and astrophysics. Including elements like uranium, since they also formed in stars.
    3. How life forms could develop from non-living matter
    This topic is of course still highly speculative, and we don't have a definite vision on how the first cell or first strand of DNA was formed, although there are some plausible ideas.
    4. How all species evolved
    Most of this is explained by the evolution theory, with a large body of evidence.

    His point of view is rather: or science explains everything, or science can not explain anything at all!

    My conclusion is: when debating a person like Hovind, one must confront him with his rather strange metaphysical position, which is contrary to materialism.
    He does not accept materalism, for the reason that accepting materialism leaves out any possibility to put in his creator. Simply because his creator is said to be "out of time, space and immaterial". That is another word for: inexistent (there is not any material interaction that could ever show that something exist outside matter, space and time". In fact there is only one place for his creator: in his mind.

    Materialism as a philosophy has the same explanatory power as religion: all material phenomena are cause by one thing: matter in motion.

    As far as balancing his theory of creation ex nihilo, in fact we are already done, we have explained the same thing.

    However, this is of course not acceptable, and no real scientist would think he could get away with that. Materialism is not a scientific theory, but just a philosophical framework. Any specific explenation for any specific events, have to be given by specific materialistic theories.
    Like how did the galaxies and stars form by cosmology and astrophysics.
    How did the earth form and develop by astronomy and geology.
    How life arose from non-living material by chemistry and biology. etc.

    Hovind of course does not have any specific theory. Just a very lousy framework that would explain everything at the basis of some unknown thing: God (unknowable in principle), which is working "outside" the material universe (outside time, space and matter). Of course this is just the ultimate fudge factor: it can explain everything, yet does not explain anything at all.

    Yet none of his opponents try to get into this, that his whole idea of God is in no way objectifiable or verifyable, and is just some subjective idea in his mind (and other people's mind).

    Here is a brief list of some misrepresentations by Mr Hovind:

    1. The big bang theory as the begin of space, time and matter

    Although this idea has caught up in most popular treatments of the Big bang theory and has even been expressed in scientific ideas, realy this idea is not scientific. The Big Bang theory is not the theory of the begin of time, but a theory how the universe evolved in time since some point in time far back.
    To explain why the universe developed this way from the point close to the fictional singularity, the explenation is not giving by the Big bang theory itself, but a theory that deals with the period of time before that.

    The most relevant theory to day as to why the big bang happened is of course the theory of inflation. Which explains why right this kind of universe emerged and not some other universe, why it is flat, has a density close to omega-1 (critical density), why there are no monopoles and why there is no horizon problem (points that are far away from each other, but with the same temperature), and what seeded galaxy formation.

    Mr Hovind has not looked into modern cosmology much and can therefore only find ideas that make this whole theory laughable. He presents the big bang as a rotation of matter (which is not anything like the big bang) and even assumed that (by some law he saw fit although totally inappropriate) that conservation of angular momentum would have explained the galaxies and planets all have the same direction of angular motion. Of course that is his own idea that galaxies have to rotate all in the same direction, and also planets.
    But of course there is nothing in the Big bang theory that comes up with this prediction in the first place, and besided rotation did not happen in the early universe. So the rotation of galaxies and planets realy has nothing to do with the Big Bang. And he keeps on presenting the big bang as matter flying away from each other (as if we are at the center of the universe) instead of the increase of the scale factor.

    What he does represent as actual theories are the ideas of Alan Guth, who came up with the theory for inflation (a scenario still used today and much improved), and he misrepresents that as the emerge from time, space and matter from nothing at all. That is of course not what inflation theory says at all. He of course does not go into models of inflation that are potentially past time eternal.

    2. Law of thermodynamics

    Mr Hovind insists on this popular (creationist) point of view that the second law prohibits the universe to exist for a long time without everything decaying and going more disordered, and insists on the idea that the universe is a closed system.
    To begin with, where did he get the idea from that the universe is a closed system anyway? Unless he can show where there is a boundary to the universe, he has no right to say that.
    Second, when considering the second law, he must be also familiar with the fact that there is a first law, which merely explains that the total energy of a system (when that system is closed) must remain the same.

    When applying that to the universe one already gets the conclusion that the energy of the universe does not get created nor lost, but remains the same. And this would urge us to think that the universe was eternal.
    When according to him, the second law applies and the universe would be a closed system, heath death would occured already long ago.
    But if we observe the universe, we see this has not occured: see the sun still shines!
    Appearantly he has made a mistake somewhere!
    But instead of fixing his ideas, he chooses the most easy escape: God did it!

    It consequently does not appear to him what kind of future he predicts, in which everything gets more disordered and disorderded. On all scales and all terrains. For evolution the same, man has since the "creation" only got less fit and is realy nothing like the first human being. Realy a deplorable world to live in! Yet, according to him, we have to believe all this purely on faith!

    Now the obvious mistake he makes is that he does not understand thermodynamics quite well and how to apply that to the universe.
    For instance, thermodynamics is strictly only valid for a fixed size closed system which is in a thermic isolation from the rest of the universe.
    Unless he can show us the termic insulator surrounding the whole universe, we therefore are not going to believe him.

    Otherwise, he would have to reconsider how one applies the laws of thermodynamics in the case of the universe.

    What happens to a gas in a fixed size box, when releasing the gas, and the gas just filling that box untill the gas comes evenly distributed, is something totally different then happens in the universe, in which the universe (at the time of recombination/decoupling) starts out as a very dense plasma with a homegenous distribution in thermic equilibrium, and then evolving into more structure, because of gravity (galaxies, stars, etc.)!
    Moreover it is worth noting that the size of the universe is not fixed in the case of the universe, but is a dynamic parameter!

    But he didn't notice any of that, since all he does is present some strawman (quickly accepted by his followers which neither understand some real physics!).

    It's a pitty he doesn't go into discussion on this with experts in those areas.
    They would wipe him out immediately!
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  15. Feb 11, 2007 #14


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2018 Award

    So why are you giving him A LOT of advertisement on here?

    I really do not concern myself with crackpot like him that do not care about any sense of a rational explanation or discussion. Trying to use physics and scientific methodology is hopeless against people like that.

    What I was more concerned with in this thread is that, as a "defender" of science, your argument is more dangerous than anything crackpot like this can spew. Most reasonable people can tell if someone is a crackpot, but people can't tell that your view of what 'science' is isn't something accepted, certainly not by scientists. This is besides the fact that such a view has been ridiculed and discredited in the most spectacular way.

    It is ironic that you started this thread on how not to discuss science/evolution, when what you said is exactly what I would consider as an example that fulfilled that topic.

  16. Feb 11, 2007 #15
    I agree on that, and I was not saying that this could be the case.

    Although, in my mind, even religion itself can be the subject of science, as well as where religious feelings/ideas originate from. Brain researchers do have firm indications that a part of our brain is actively involved in this.

    What I meant was that science is not based on authority. Relativity theory is not right because Einstein said so, but because experiments have proven this theory correct. And the formulation of any scientific theory is such that it is open for investigation. An observation can proof a theory wrong.
    If the theory is formulated in such a way that there is in principle no way of doing an experiment that can proof the theory wrong, then that theory is not scientific.

    If I would claim that a magic teapot which exists outside time and space was the source of all the manifestations we see in the world, no one would have to believe that, because it is in principle not something that can be proven wrong by experiment or observation.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2007
  17. Feb 11, 2007 #16
    I don't see what is wrong about my portrayal about science.

    I assume I perhaps expressed myself wrongly and there is a misunderstanding.

    I just claimed that - unlike religion - science is not taken on faith or authority basis (you better believe this theory, or you die in hell, that sort of things), but on evidence, and that a scientific theory must be open to investigation. Which means, it must be based on observable facts that could in principle proof the theory wrong.

    What and where did I say something wrong?
  18. Feb 11, 2007 #17
    It's just that debating with someone who defends the creationist ideology is no different then trying to convince a book that you are correct and that the book is incorrect. The creationist will stick to what is in the bible no matter what. It is his religious duty to god to not question the contents of the bible. It is a good. honourable thing to do, in a religious sense.

    The creationists do not come to the debate with an open mind at all, there is nothing you can say to change their mind. In my mind, this is the opposite of science, the scientists are always looking for better ways to explain nature. While by no means do I pretend to be able to speak on the behalf of 'science' and by no stretch of the imagination would I call myself a scientist at the current time, but I believe that I understand what science stands for, at least in some vague sense.

    I believe that inviting these creationists to debates is simply counter-productive. There is nothing to debate! On the question regarding creationism in schools, this isn't that big a deal in Canada, but religion simply is not science, how about the education system will put some creationist stuff in the system if the scientific community can put some scientific stuff in the bible? Sounds dumb to me...
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2007
  19. Feb 11, 2007 #18


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2018 Award


    I have mentioned several times whereby this is nothing more than http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-op-mooney4feb04,0,7924177.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail". Obviously, I had the wrong impression that you knew what that meant or tried to figure out what that meant.

    I wrote a https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=149923" a while back on an essay by Helen Quinn on how we should communicate about science to the general public. I'm guessing that you missed it. If you have the time, I strongly suggest you read Helen's essay because this is the best way of presenting how science works to the public. You'll notice that not once is there any insistence that science is "relative".

    I still want to know why you are giving this crackpot a lot of airtime.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  20. Feb 11, 2007 #19
    Well I used the word relative to differentiate it from religion, which presents "absolute truths".

    All of scientific exploration and discoveries and development show that we improve science. A new theory does not just replace an older theory, but improves it. Like the Newtonian theory of gravity and mechanics, although proven wrong, still has validity and can still be used in many cases. However on the small size scales we need to use quantum mechanics, and in the case of fast speed and in intense gravity, einsteins theory of relativity is used.
    For the macroscopic scales and outside intense gravity or near light speed, these new theories still result in the Newtonian mechanics.

    These theories are still relative truth in the sense that further improvement and advancement in these fields is still possible, and most likely to occur.
    However this means that the knowledge we already have, is not merely replaced or something, because most of it will most likely remain, but that our knowledge is improved and deepened. It's not anything like that any new theory makes the old theories useless, as if we invent every time a new theory that totally replaces the old ones.

    In principle this scientific progress goes on indefinately.

    In that sense they are not "absolute truths".

    Perhaps this states it clearer what I meant with "relative".
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2007
  21. Feb 11, 2007 #20


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2018 Award

    Then may I suggest you quickly read Helen Quinn's essay, because you are making the very mistake that she wants to eradicate - the careless use of words that mean different things to the general public. I strongly suggest that you do not use that word "relative" anymore in this context, because I can see a whole lot of mess for the rest of us to correct afterwards. You're not helping.

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook