Lecture Slides

Science and not Science

We are talking about the difference between science and non-science. It's an important distinction. First - recall the scientific method.

  1. Study and characterize a problem
  2. Formulate a hypothesis
  3. Design an experiment/observation to test the hypothesis
  4. Perform the experiment or observation
  5. Analyze the results and compare to the hypothesis
Always keep this basic structure in mind, but remember that it can vary. For more read How Science Works by Dr. David Goodstein.

Critical Questions to Keep in Mind:

  • What is the hypothesis? Is it testable?
  • What predictions are made by the hypothesis?
  • What tests are proposed to assess the prediction?
  • Can the hypothesis be falsified?

What is Creationism?

In simple terms, Creationism is the belief that the Earth and its living creatures were created by God as described in the first chapter of Genesis. The degree of this belief varies as described below. Here are two versions of the story. A Web search for "Genesis 1" will get you more.

Read either one of the above texts and you will find the basis of Creationism. This belief arises from a strictly literal reading of Genesis. Creationists believe that the text is literally and scientifically accurate as written. If Genesis says that things happened this way, then anything in modern science that contradicts it must be wrong and is rejected. Creationism has one very important characteristic: there is no attempt to disprove the Creation hypothesis. That is why Creationism is not science; science is always trying to disprove hypotheses. The best hypothesis is that which withstands the pounding and resists disproof.

There's another thing. The basis of Creationism is a hypothesis which, because of its supernatural nature, cannot be disproved at all. It is an unrefutable hypothesis. The supernatural explanation cannot be tested. This also places Creationism outside of science, as science is based on testable hypotheses.

We should also note that Dr. Mark Chancey (SMU Religious Studies) pointed out that accuracy and Truth are two different things. It is possible to find Truth in a story that is entirely myth or fiction.

What Kind of Creationism?

Creationism comes in many flavors. The different groups don't agree and some of the different beliefs conflict.

For more, you can see talkorigins.org for more details.

You can see that the flavors of Creationism do vary. It seems that the variance is the degree of rejection of the discoveries of science. Flat Earthers read Genesis completely literally, as if it were a physical description accurate in every single detail. Progressives accept most of modern science but believe that each "kind" of living organism was specially created by God. Intelligent Design is the latest evolutionary form of Creationism. It avoids all direct mention of God, rather referring to an "intelligent designer" that intervened in the creation of different species of living organisms. The removal of all God references was another attempt to get past the First Amendment and the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard in forcing the teaching of a creation science in public school science classes.

Here are a few references on ID.

Given that these groups' beliefs are not congruent, which one is right? Are any of them right? How can you test the ideas scientifically?

One Thing They DO Agree On

All Creationists agree on this: they reject the idea of evolution of species as laid out by Charles Darwin. This idea is anathema to them. If natural forces can create Earth's rich variety of life forms, then there is no need for a Creator (God). This is the problem.

Why the Literal Interpretation?

This is not so clear-cut. It seems that some of the literalism may be due to what is known is known as "concrete thinking." A concrete thinker cannot handle abstractions; everything must be real and visible. This note at writing.com will give an overview of it. A story cannot be read as metaphor; if a character is mentioned in the story, then that character must have been real.


The central theme of evolution is that living things can, over time, become different. How does that happen? Can a creature decide to become something else? No. That's not how it works. Living things produce more offspring than can survive. These offspring are not cut out with a cookie cutter - there is natural genetic variation in them. They are NOT all identical. Those whose characteristics favor survival will survive and reproduce at a slightly higher rate than those not so well suited. Over time, the population will change. For a very good course in the subject, see this excellent presentation from the University of California Berkeley.

Properties of a Scientific Hypothesis

A scientific hypothesis is a model of some kind which will describe/explain how something in the universe works. It will be able to predict phenomena which can then be checked. The hypothesis guides the scientist in selecting what to observe. The goal of the hypothesis and the research is to expand knowledge.

If this process is going to work and develop real new knowledge, the hypothesis needs to meet a set of criteria called Criteria of Adequacy. They are

  • Testability
  • Fruitfulness
  • Scope
  • Simplicity
  • Conservatism

Testability: This simply means that there must be SOME means of testing the hypothesis. The test must have the possibility of refuting the hypothesis, that is, showing that is wrong. This is basic for science. A hypothesis that cannot be rigorously tested is not scientific.

Fruitfulness: A good hypothesis will turn out to explain MORE things than it originally set out to explain. A hypothesis that makes unexpected and new predictions that turn out to be accurate is fruitful.

Scope: The hypothesis should add to existing theory, or at least extend or improve it. A larger scope of a hypothesis means that it predicts more diverse phenomena than other hypotheses.

Simplicity: In modern terms we would call this KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Simplicity means having no more assumptions, factors or explanations than are needed. This is the principle of Occam's Razor; the "razor" is used to cut away unneeded parts. A hypothesis with the fewest assumptions or factors has the fewest ways to be wrong. Occam's Razor is not perfect; it is a heuristic, not a theoretically derived law. It is possible that a simple hypothesis is not adequate for the task.

Conservatism: This means that the hypothesis must fit into established knowledge. If a hypothesis would violate some well-established rule, it is not likely to be correct. Maybe not impossible (all science is tentative), but not likely. It will take a LOT of evidence to get anywhere. Consider that Alfred Wegener, at a meeting in 1912, startled the scientific world with his hypothesis that the Earth's continents were not fixed in place, but rather moved slowly about on the planet's surface. The idea was considered to be wacky. It took 50 years for enough evidence to accumulate and show that Wegener was right. Now we understand not only that the continents move, but also how fast, which direction, and how it works. That's science - ideas can change.

Putting the Pieces Together

Why don't scientists like Creationism? Ask one and you will find that they think that it is not scientific; it represents religious thinking. Look at Creationism against the Criteria of Adequacy.

Testability: A creation hypothesis is fundamentally untestable. As an example, consider the Young Earth Creationist belief that the Earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old. If you ask about all the evidence of things far older than that, such as radioisotope dated rocks, or the light from distant galaxies, they will claim that all of that was created that way. The light from the galaxies was created in transit so it would seem to be old. This hypothesis can account for EVERYTHING and is not testable. Try to figure out a way to test it. This is an untestable, or unrefutable, hypothesis, and is NOT considered to be science for that reason. There is no possible way to prove it wrong. An untestable hypothesis is, on its face, considered to be outside of science. Also - all the "institutes" or whatever organizations promote Creationism do not make any attempt to refute (disprove) the hypothesis. It is religious doctrine and cannot change.

Fruitfulness: Is creationism fruitful? Does it explain more things than it set out to explain? Do you gain any useful new knowledge from it? The creation hypothesis is designed to explain Earth and things on Earth, but does so with a supernatural explanation. It doesn't offer any real knowledge that you can use. On the other hand, the Creation hypothesis does offer comfort and validation to those who believe in it, so in that sense it does offer something, although that something is not scientific.

Scope: Seeing that the creation hypothesis offers no new knowledge beyond what we already have, its scope is certainly negligible.

Simplicity: The idea is certainly simple - God is responsible. But how does it work? What mechanism is used? Seems some untestable assumptions are needed.

Conservatism: In scientific terms, a supernatural explanation that cannot be tested is definitely not conservative. It doesn't fit in with already established empirical knowledge.

So What's the Problem?

If the Bible stories stayed within the realm of religion there would be no problem. What happens, though, is that literalists, unable to handle the stories as metaphor, begin insisting that the story of Creation in Genesis is a literal, factual, scientific description of the origin of the Earth and everything on it. Further, they campaign to have this idea taught in place of the explanations developed by science. The Earth can't be 4.5 billion years old - Genesis indicates that it is only a few thousand years old. The myriad species of life on Earth can't be the result of natural evolutionary processes - Genesis says that God created each species individually. Humans can't be the result of evolution over a long period of time - Genesis says that God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The massive amount of evidence developed by science is simply dismissed as wrong. This means rejection of most of modern science in favor of a metaphorical story written down around 3,000 years ago.

Court Cases

One a number of occasions, groups promoting Creation beliefs have succeeded in efforts to force the teaching of Creationism in public schools. These mandates are invariably met with lawsuits which do not go well for Creation proponents. Fortunately, you can find the complete court opinions on the Web. If you are interested in these, please take the time to read them, even though they are large.

Abbington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963)

This background case involved the required reading of Bible passages or the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of each school day. The Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court's decision that this was unconstitutional. The full text is at the Findlaw site. This case also includes the famous Murray v. Curlett school prayer case; the Court combined the two in one decision.

Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968)

This decision invalidated a 1928 Arkansas law which "...makes it unlawful for a teacher in any state-supported school or university 'to teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended from a lower order of animals,' or 'to adopt or use in any such institution a textbook that teaches' this theory." (quote from Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97).

After a brief recap of the issues concerning the law, part II of the Court's opnion says "Under either interpretation, the law must be stricken because of its conflict with the constitutional prohibition of state laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The overriding fact is that Arkansas' law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with a particular religious doctrine; that is, with a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group."

Justice Fortas, writing for the Court, noted that "In the present case, there can be no doubt that Askansas has sought to prevent its teachers from discussing the theory of evolution because it is contrary to the belief of some that the Book of Genesis must be the exclusive source of doctrine as to the origin of man." In the next paragraph he wrote "The law's effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read."

As background concerning the First Amendment, the Court cited Joseph Burstyn Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952): "From the standpoint of freedom of speech and the press, a state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them which is sufficient to justify prior restraints upon the expression of those views."

The full text is at the Findlaw site.

McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1982)

In 1982, Arkansas put into effect a statute requiring that "Public schools in this state shall give balanced treatment to creation-science and evolution-science." In 1982 District Judge William Overton threw out the statute as unconstitutional. For complete details see the Talkorigins archive.

Part II of this opinion gives a useful history of Fundamentalism and Creationism. It is worth reading. Part V(D) contains a statement worth repeating here: "The application and content of First Amendment principles are not determined by public opinion polls or by a majority vote. Whether the proponents of Act 590 constitute the majority or the minority is quite irrelevant under a constitutional system of government. No group, no matter how large or small, may use the organs of government of which the public schools are the most conspicuous and influential, to foist its religious beliefs upon others."

Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578(1987)

This 1987 Supreme Court decision struck down a Louisiana law which required that teaching of evolution in schools must be accompanied by Creationism. The Court held that "1. The Act is facially invalid as violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because it lacks a clear secular purpose." For complete details see the Talkorigins archive. The full text is also at the Findlaw site.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005)

In a recent (2005) court case involving the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) in public school classrooms, a Pennsylvania school board tried to force the science teachers of the district to acknowledge the ID hypothesis as an alternative to Darwinian evolution. The teachers resisted. Some parents sued. In a very thorough airing of the ideas involved, Judge John Jones entertained testimony from ID proponents and scientists. When it was all over, Judge Jones issued his finding. To quote the judge,

"In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."
--Judge John E. Jones III, Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Area School District et al. Memorandum Opinion 20 Dec 2005

In the ruling, Judge Jones found that the teaching of ID in the classroom violated the first Amendment, as it had the public schools endorsing a particular religious doctrine.

We recommend that you read the Memorandum of Opinion and the testimony yourself. Fortunately, they are posted online at Talkorigins Archive..


If you read these cases, you can see how Creationism has evolved through a series of phases, the changes occurring after losses in court. The latest phase was Intelligent Design (ID); it was another attempt to get around the establishment clause. ID abandoned all direct references to God and substituted an Intelligent Designer who was responsible for the existence of Earth and everything on it. This ploy failed in the Kitzmiller case. The only question is what will Creation proponents try next? They will not give up.

As of late 2007, the next step is beginning to appear. There is a new idea, called "Critical Analysis," that might be the successor to ID. We'll add more as we get the picture.


In every modern case where the teaching of some form of Creationism in public schools has come to court, it has been ruled unconstitutional. The reason is simple: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That's from the First Amendment. It says that government may not make any law respecting any particular religion. This is the "establishment clause" referred to in the court decisions. Any law requiring the teaching of Creationism is, in fact, promoting the Judeo/Christian (Genesis) beliefs over others - and there are a LOT of others. That is why the courts invalidate such laws. By the way, in one of the decisions the Court noted that the Fourteenth Amendment extended the prohibition to the states as well.

This is one of the founding principles of our country. The government will not promote one religion over another. Those of all faiths are free to practice as they wish, but the government will not grant special status to any of them. In other words, you may practice your religion as you wish, but don't expect any support or recognition from government. You are on your own.

Recent Discoveries

Tiktaalik: In 2004, during the few weeks in July when weather conditions allow such work, an expedition to Canada's Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic came back with a block of rock containing a fossil creature that got named Tiktaalik. It is known as a "fishapod." Tiktaalik has properties of both a fish and a tetrapod (four-footed creature). It lived in the Devonian time on Earth, in exactly the time period where scientists expected to find such a fossil because of a gap in the fossil record. See the official Tiktaalik website.

For more on the fossil record, see Kathleen Hunt's page on talkorigins. This page is long and contains a large number of listings. A Web search for "transitional fossils" will yield more.

A Collection of Creation Stories

The world is full of creation stories. You find them everywhere. We've collected a load of links so you can read some of them. The links are sorted by region of Earth. Read some of them. They are wonderful stories.

Ancient/Middle East



North America

Central/South America



Some Useful Books

Here are a references for Creation stories that might be interesting.

  • The Four Corners of the Sky by Steve Zeitlin (Henry Holt 2000)
  • In the Beginning: Creation stories from Around the World by Virginia Hamilton (Harcourt 1991)
  • Creation Myths by Marie-Louise von Franz (Shambhala 2001)
  • Creation Stories of the Middle East by Ewa Wasilewska (Jessica Kingsley 2001)
  • A Dictionary of Creation Myths by David Adams Leeming and Margaret Adams Leeming (Oxford USA 1995)

Here are a few more references.

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