Creationism is a religious metaphysical theory about the origin of the universe. It is not a scientific theory. Technically, creationism is not necessarily connected to any particular religion. It simply requires a belief in a Creator. Millions of Christians and non-Christians believe there is a Creator of the universe and that scientific theories such as the the theory of evolution do not conflict with belief in a Creator.
However, fundamentalist Christians such as Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell, have co-opted the term ‘creationism’ and it is now difficult to refer to creationism without being understood as referring to fundamentalist Christians who (a) take the stories in Genesis as accurate accounts of the origin of the universe and life on Earth, and (b) believe that Genesis is incompatible with the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution. Thus, it is commonly assumed that creationists are Christians who believe that the account of the creation of the universe as presented in Genesis is literally true in its basic claims about Adam and Eve, the six days of creation, and not an allegory.
Creation science is a term used by certain creationists to indicate that they believe that Genesis is a scientific account of the origin of the universe. Reading the Bible as if it were a scientific text contradicts the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution. “Creation scientists” say those theories are false and that scientists who advocate such theories are ignorant of the truth about the origins of the universe and life on Earth.
One of the main leaders of creation science is Duane T. Gish of the Institute for Creation Research, who puts forth his views in conjunction with attacks on evolution. Gish is the author of Evolution, the Challenge of the Fossil Record ( San Diego, Calif.: Creation-Life Publishers, 1985) and Evolution, the Fossils Say No (San Diego, Calif.: Creation-Life Publishers, 1978). Another leader of this movement is Walt Brown of the Center for Scientific Creationism. Neither Gish nor Brown seem to understand the difference between a fact and a theory. They loudly proclaim that evolution is just a theory and that it is false. Scientific theories are neither true nor false. They are explanations of facts. That species evolved from other species is considered by 99.99% of the scientific community to be a scientific fact. How species evolved is what a theory of evolution is supposed to explain.
Darwin’s theory of how evolution happened is called natural selection. That theory is quite distinct from the fact of evolution. Other scientists have different theories of evolution, but only a negligible few deny the fact of evolution. Gish is not doing science when he argues against the fact of evolution. He has no interest in scientific facts or theories. His interest is in apologetics: defending the faith against what he sees as attacks on God’s Truth. All his arguments are defensive; they are attempts to show that the evidence does not support the scientific fact of evolution.
Creationists, mistaking the uncertain in science for the unscientific, see the debate among evolutionists regarding how best to explain evolution as a sign of weakness. Scientists, on the other hand, see uncertainty as simply an inevitable element of scientific knowledge. They regard debates on fundamental theoretical issues as healthy and stimulating. Science, says evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, is “most fun when it plays with interesting ideas, examines their implications, and recognizes that old information may be explained in surprisingly new ways.” Thus, through all the debate over evolutionary mechanisms biologists have not been led to doubt that evolution has occurred. “We are debating how it happened,” says Gould (1983, p.256).
Creation science, on the other hand, is not science but pseudoscience and it is connected to a particular group of fundamentalist Christians. Most Christians, fundamentalist or not, probably never heard of creation science. Like creationists of all sorts, “creation science” puts forth its claims as absolutely certain and unchangeable. It assumes that the world must conform to the Bible. It assumes that the Bible needs no revision and can contain no error. Where creation science differs from creationism in general is in its notion that once it has interpreted the Bible to mean something, no evidence can be allowed to change that interpretation. Instead, the evidence must be refuted.
Compare this attitude to that of the leading European creationists of the 17th century who had to admit eventually that the Earth is not the center of the universe and that the sun does not revolve around our planet. They did not have to admit that the Bible was wrong, but they did have to admit that human interpretations of the Bible were in error. Today’s creationists seem incapable of admitting that their interpretation of the Bible could be wrong.
Creation scientists can’t be seen as real scientists because they assume that their interpretation of the Bible cannot be in error. They put forth their views as irrefutable. Hence, when the evidence contradicts their reading of the Bible, they assume that the evidence is false. The only investigation they seem to do is in an effort to prove some scientific claim is false. Creation science sees no need to test its theories, since they have been revealed by God. A theory that is absolutely certain cannot be empirically tested, but empirical testability is the hallmark of a scientific theory. Claims of infallibility and the demand for absolute certainty characterize not science but pseudoscience.
What is most revealing about the militant creationists lack of any true scientific interest is the way they willing and uncritically accept even the most preposterous of claims, if those claims seem to contradict traditional scientific beliefs about evolution. In particular, any evidence that seems to support the notion that dinosaurs and humans lived together is welcomed by militant creationists.
The theory of scientific creationism is a good example of a non-scientific theory because it cannot be falsified. “I can envision observations and experiments that would disprove any evolutionary theory I know,” writes Gould, “but I cannot imagine what potential data could lead creationists to abandon their beliefs. Unbeatable systems are dogma, not science” (Gould, 1983). What makes scientific creationism a pseudoscience is that it attempts to pass itself off as science even though it shares none of the essential characteristics of scientific theorizing. Creation science will remain forever unchanged as a theory. It will engender no debate among scientists about fundamental mechanisms of the universe. It generates no empirical predictions that can be used to test the theory. It is taken to be irrefutable. It assumes a priority that there can be no evidence that will ever falsify it.
The history of science, however, clearly shows that scientific theories do not remain forever unchanged. The history of science is not the history of one absolute truth being built upon other absolute truths. Rather, it is the history of theorizing, testing, arguing, refining, rejecting, replacing, more theorizing, more testing, etc. It is the history of theories working well for a time, anomalies occurring (i.e., new facts being discovered that don’t fit with established theories), and new theories being proposed and eventually partially or completely replacing the old ones.
Of course, it is possible for scientists to act unscientifically, to be dogmatic and dishonest. But the fact that one finds an occasional oddball in the history of science (or a person of integrity and genius among pseudoscientists) does not imply that there really is no difference between science and pseudoscience. Because of the public and empirical nature of scientific debate, the charlatans will be found out, errors will be corrected and the honest pursuit of the truth is likely to prevail in the end. This will not be the case with pseudosciences such as creation science, where there is no method needed for detecting errors (since it can’t err) much
Some theories, like creationism can’t be refuted, even in principle, because everything is consistent with them, even apparent contradictions and contraries. Scientific theories allow definite predictions to be made from them; they can, in principle, be refuted. Theories such as the Big Bang theory and the steady state theory can be tested by experience and observation. Metaphysical theories such as creationism are “airtight” if they are self-consistent. They contain no self-contradictory elements. No scientific theory is ever airtight.