Science and Non-Science: An Epistemological Conflict

By M. E. Kabay, PhD, CISSP

Posted April 5, 2006

Associate Professor, Information Assurance Program Director, Master of Science in Information Assurance Norwich University, Northfield, VT 05663-1035 USA

A small minority of religious people are confusing the public about fundamental differences between science and religion. This essay is intended to help clarify the issues and to support educators, politicians and ordinary people opposing the imposed introduction of religion into science classrooms.

Version 9. Updated November 2005.


In mid-2005, my father-in-law, Dr Percy Black, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Pace University in New York, forwarded an interesting question to me from one of his psychology discussion lists.

The psychologist asked whether the meaning of the words science and scientist had changed over time. Yes indeed. In historical times, a science was very much what is still defined in a popular dictionary as a general field of knowledge:

sci·ence (plural sci·ences) *noun* *

1. study of the physical world: the study of the physical world and its manifestations, especially by using systematic observation and experiment (often used before a noun)

2. branch of science: a branch of science of a particular area of study [;e.g.] the life sciences

3. knowledge gained from science: the knowledge gained by the study of the physical world

4. systematic body of knowledge: any systematically organized body of knowledge about a specific subject [;e.g.,] the social sciences

5. something studied or performed methodically: any activity that is the object of careful study or that is carried out according to a developed method [;e.g.,] treated me to a lecture on the science of dressing for success. [1]

This definition reflects the popular, non-technical use of the word. It is this generic, non-specialized definition that is used by the antievolution forces in Kansas and other areas of the country to force inclusion of creationist mythology into biology classes.

Epistemology [2]

The scientific method is described in part as follows in a popular encyclopedia:

Definitions of scientific method use such concepts as objectivity of approach to and acceptability of the results of scientific study. Objectivity indicates the attempt to observe things as they are, without falsifying observations to accord with some preconceived world view. Acceptability is judged in terms of the degree to which observations and experimentations can be reproduced. Scientific method also involves the interplay of inductive reasoning (reasoning from specific observations and experiments to more general hypotheses and theories) and deductive reasoning (reasoning from theories to account for specific experimental results). By such reasoning processes, science attempts to develop the broad laws -- such as Isaac Newton's law of gravitation -- that become part of our understanding of the natural world. [3]

The critical words here are tested, verified and falsified. The fundamental distinction between a scientific model and a nonscientific model is that the former can in theory be disproved through prediction and observation whereas the latter cannot, even in theory/, be disproved through observation. [4]

Here's a non-threatening example to illustrate the distinction. Imagine that two people, Alice and Bob, both propose that little green men (LGM) are responsible for propelling their automobiles. Alice predicts that if you open the hood of her car, you will see the LGM hard at work pumping the pistons up and down. Bob, however, says that although he knows there are LGM under his hood, they are very shy and hide from all human observation. In fact, he is confident that there is no way to see the LGM under any circumstances or to disprove their existence. Alice's model can be described as a scientific one, even if it doesn't last very long under investigation; Bob's cannot.

The word prove once meant to test, as in the old phrase, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." Today it means to show that something is true. We can prove the truth or falsity of propositions in formal mathematical systems based on assumptions of starting principles and rules. [5] The assumptions (axioms and rules) cannot themselves be proven. For example, all of modern science rejects the solipsistic belief that the universe is a dream. [6] Everything in science depends on the beliefs (note the careful and deliberate use of this word) that the universe exists apart from the perceiver and that the patterns of interaction (loosely and misleadingly referred to as ?laws of nature?) of matter and energy (and whatever else may be involved in the external universe) are consistent rather than capricious or arbitrary (and that consistency includes quantum uncertainty [7]).

We cannot prove assertions about the natural world. All we can do is propose models (hypotheses) and then show that they are wrong. If we work very hard and very well at showing that the hypotheses are wrong but cannot do so for the time being, the hypotheses are provisionally accepted as being useful. A shorthand comment is that they are true but that phrasing is just a convenience for discussion purposes. It is a pity that non-scientists misinterpret the meaning of that word -- the conflict over its usage leads to confusion and hostility between people who use fundamentally different ways of approaching knowledge. The theory of knowledge is known as epistemology. The conflict between creationists and scientists is epistemological. [8]

Some creationists view models about the origins of life as inherently impossible to test or to disprove; for example, one revealing comment in an anti-evolution article provides valuable insights into ways of knowing that are incompatible with the scientific worldview:

...[W]e can know -- through observation -- that the Sun is the center of our planetary system, whereas the question of origins is outside observational and testable science (i.e., there were no human witnesses to the origins of living things). [9]

Despite the writer's naive assertion, we do not "know -- through observation -- that the Sun is the center of our planetary system...." This assertion is not merely a simple matter of observational fact. That writer seems to believe in absolute truths -- literally correct, immutable descriptions of the universe that are isomorphic with reality. [10] In contrast with tenets of absolute faiths, where absolute truths are revealed by divine inspiration (i.e., revealed by G-d, usually directly into the ears of the writer's particular religious sect alone), from a scientific perspective there is no center to our planetary system. Since the time of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) [11] and Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), [12] we have modeled the solar system economically by visualizing the Sun at one focus of a set of ellipses that efficiently describe the motion of the planets -- if we choose to ignore the movements of our planets around the galactic core and the movement of the Milky Way galaxy with respect to other galaxies. Viewed from a different frame of reference, the movements of planets are epicycles through space, not ellipses. There is no absolute truth about planetary motions: the only truth is the observations; the models are conveniences that depend on the way we choose to define our frame of reference. For that matter, it is possible to model a wholly geocentric view of the universe -- but it is so complicated to include the retrograde movements of planets and so devoid of coherence and mathematical elegance that no one with any sense would insist on using that model. We?d much rather use Kepler's laws than have to deal with the innumerable and pointless complexities that would result from a geocentric model.

So is the heliocentric model of our solar system true and the geocentric model false? What do you think? I think that using the concepts of true and false for such models is an inappropriate use of the words. I'd much rather call the heliocentric model more elegant or more parsimonious and the geocentric model more complicated and less efficient.

Another problem raised in the passage at hand is the notion that past events are impossible to study scientifically; were this belief true, it would be a serious disappointment to cosmologists, geologists, and evolutionary biologists. I have no conception of how hard-line creationists cope with reports on scientific cosmogony [13], geological stratigraphy [14], and the immense mass of information emerging from comparative DNA sequencing studies [15].

Supporters of special creation put together lists of observations that support their model; however, it is impossible for them to define any observation whatsoever which could possibly disprove their model, since they start with what they posit as the absolute truth and think of science as the process of accumulating observations that fit their model. That very lack of disprovability removes their model from the realm of science.

The assumption about the impossibility of applying scientific methodology to past events also puts dogmatists into a difficult logical position when their fellow apologists for non-rationalism present fragments of undigested scientific information about the geological past that they claim support their model. [16]

Creationist Movements

[17] Isaak begins by pointing out that there are many varieties of thought lumped into the "creationist" camp. In the summary below, I use Isaak's typology but leave out his extensive references, which are available in the original article online:

Isaak also identifies two forms of evolutionary thinking that contrast with all the others in erecting a distinct barrier between theology and science:

Finally, Isaak's last category also violates the division between theology and science by making assertions that cannot be disproved, even in theory:

The Fundamentalist Assault on Science

The New York Times published a review of the fundamentalist Christian attack on science in a series of articles in August 2005.

Jodi Wilgoren reports on the role of the Discovery Institute, a well-funded organization organized by political conservatives to push a faith-based explanation of biological diversity and the origins of different species. Their efforts to introduce theistic elements into science classes are described by the author as following "a path laid in a 1999 Discovery manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which sought 'nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies' in favor of a 'broadly theistic understanding of nature.'" The Institute has focused on bypassing US Supreme Court restrictions on introducing creationism into public school science classrooms; their method is to push "criticism" of evolution as if they are engaged in scientific debate. [18]

Kenneth Chang points out that

Intelligent design proponents are careful to say that they cannot identify the designer at work in the world, although most readily concede that God is the most likely possibility. And they offer varied opinions on when and how often a designer intervened. Dr. Behe, for example, said he could imagine that, like an elaborate billiards shot, the design was set up when the Big Bang occurred 13.6 billion years ago. "It could have all been programmed into the universe as far as I'm concerned," he said. But it was also possible, Dr. Behe added, that a designer acted continually throughout the history of life. Mainstream scientists say this fuzziness about when and how design supposedly occurred makes the claims impossible to disprove. [19]

Although they embrace religious faith, these scientists also embrace science as it has been defined for centuries. That is, they look to the natural world for explanations of what happens in the natural world and they recognize that scientific ideas must be provisional -- capable of being overturned by evidence from experimentation and observation. This belief in science sets them apart from those who endorse creationism or its doctrinal cousin, intelligent design, both of which depend on the existence of a supernatural force. [20]

As analysts of the situation in Kansas have noted,

Science uses empirical methods to study the relationship among things in the physical world. The Intelligent Design/creationists want to redefine science to include supernatural causation. . . . Scientists start with empirical observations, then make and test hypotheses, and eventually form theories about some aspect of the physical world. Many theories contain inferences about things that are not directly observable. However, the Intelligent Design/creationists claim that the historical non-historical sciences because we can't observe the past, and that therefore belief in evolution is a matter of faith. . . . A scientific theory is a broad explanation that integrates a wide range of observations into a meaningful and coherent whole: that is, theories explain facts. However, in popular usage, theories are speculative and facts are certain. This confusion is exploited to cast doubt on evolution. They claim evolution is only a theory, and therefore other theories such as Intelligent Design/creationism deserve equal time. [21]

Some creationists dismiss parallels between modern-day pressures to suppress the teaching of evolution and the medieval Church's repression of astronomical advances; e.g., the same writer who claimed that science cannot address issues of historical events and processes wrote, "Also, the magazine's editorial lamely presented the hackneyed analogy that a belief in the Bible's version of creation resembles the 300-year-old dogma that the Sun revolved around the Earth." [22]

Despite this writer's dismissal of the parallel between creationist / Intelligent Design imposition of their views into science classrooms and the use of the Church's power to suppress heliocentric astronomy in the 17^th century, it is important for modern readers to understand exactly what happened in Florence around 1615: the parallels with today's debates are striking. Here are some excerpts from an encyclopedia entry about the heliocentric controversy:

By December 1609, Galileo had built a telescope of 20 times magnification, with which he discovered mountains and craters on the moon. He also saw that the Milky Way was composed of stars, and he discovered the four largest satellites of Jupiter. He published these findings in March 1610 in The Starry Messenger (trans. 1880). His new fame gained him appointment as court mathematician at Florence; he was thereby freed from teaching duties and had time for research and writing. By December 1610 he had observed the phases of Venus, which contradicted Ptolemaic astronomy and confirmed his preference for the Copernican system.

Professors of philosophy scorned Galileo's discoveries because Aristotle had held that only perfectly spherical bodies could exist in the heavens and that nothing new could ever appear there. Galileo also disputed with professors at Florence and Pisa over hydrostatics, and he published a book on floating bodies in 1612. Four printed attacks on this book followed, rejecting Galileo's physics. In 1613 he published a work on sunspots and predicted victory for the Copernican theory. A Pisan professor, in Galileo's absence, told the Medici (the ruling family of Florence as well as Galileo's employers) that belief in a moving earth was heretical. In 1614 a Florentine priest denounced Galileists from the pulpit. Galileo wrote a long, open letter on the irrelevance of biblical passages in scientific arguments, holding that interpretation of the Bible should be adapted to increasing knowledge and that no scientific position should ever be made an article of Roman Catholic faith.

Early in 1616, Copernican books were subjected to censorship by edict, and the Jesuit cardinal Robert Bellarmine instructed Galileo that he must no longer hold or defend the concept that the earth moves. Cardinal Bellarmine had previously advised him to treat this subject only hypothetically and for scientific purposes, without taking Copernican concepts as literally true or attempting to reconcile them with the Bible. Galileo remained silent on the subject for years, working on a method of determining longitudes at sea by using his predictions of the positions of Jupiter's satellites, resuming his earlier studies of falling bodies, and setting forth his views on scientific reasoning in a book on comets, The Assayer (1623; trans. 1957).

In 1624 Galileo began a book he wished to call "Dialogue on the Tides," in which he discussed the Ptolemaic and Copernican hypotheses in relation to the physics of tides. In 1630 the book was licensed for printing by Roman Catholic censors at Rome, but they altered the title to Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems (trans. 1661). It was published at Florence in 1632. Despite two official licenses, Galileo was summoned to Rome by the Inquisition to stand trial for "grave suspicion of heresy." This charge was grounded on a report that Galileo had been personally ordered in 1616 not to discuss Copernicanism either orally or in writing. Cardinal Bellarmine had died, but Galileo produced a certificate signed by the cardinal, stating that Galileo had been subjected to no further restriction than applied to any Roman Catholic under the 1616 edict. No signed document contradicting this was ever found, but Galileo was nevertheless compelled in 1633 to abjure and was sentenced to life imprisonment (swiftly commuted to permanent house arrest). The Dialogue was ordered to be burned, and the sentence against him was to be read publicly in every university. [23]

Much as in the 17th century, creationists have tried to impose their religious beliefs to forbid the teaching of evolution and have tried to distort the position of evolution in science by using laws and litigation. So far, I know of none who has proposed burning teachers at the stake. An extensive list of bills, proposals, lawsuits and political action campaigns is available at Wesley Elsberry's Antievolution Website. [24] A small sample of the chronology of laws and bills drawn from those materials follows:




The passion applied by supporters of creationism and intelligent design to the efforts to insert their religiously-based views into science classrooms may, for some, be rooted in insecurity about the relation between religion and reality. These people are fixated upon what they call a literal interpretation of scripture -- i.e., of modern-language translations of Greek and Latin translations of ancient Aramaic and Hebrew writings in which there were no vowels written down and where Jewish scholars to this day still debate specific interpretations. [25] Some extreme Christian fundamentalists even claim that only the King James version of the English-language Bible is "truly" sacred. [26]

Some fundamentalists cannot countenance metaphorical or spiritual interpretations of religious texts and are openly threatened by alternative views of reality rooted in science: "But if men and women are nothing more than material substance?which organic evolution teaches -- whether or not Christ died for us has absolutely no meaning. If there is nothing in man which survives death, the death of Christ was unnecessary and cruel." [27]

Interestingly, the insistence on literal, word-for-word, historical interpretation of Biblical text is a relatively recent development. Karen Armstrong, writing in The Guardian Weekly, explains that

Protestant fundamentalists... claim that they read the Bible in the same way as the early Christians, but their belief that it is literally true in every detail is a recent innovation, formulated for the first time in the late 19^th century. Before the modern period, Jews, Christians and Muslims all relished highly allegorical interpretations of scripture. The word of God was infinite and could not be tied down to a single interpretation. Preoccupation with literal truth is a product of the scientific revolution, when reason achieved such spectacular results that mythology was no longer regarded as a valid path to knowledge. [28]

Armstrong also points out that what we call scripture today has its roots in the oral tradition. Recitations of the traditions were integrated into social interactions; for example, writes Armstrong, "In Judaism the process of studying Torah and Talmud with a rabbi was itself a transformative experience that was just as important as the content." She emphasizes that the Qur'an (a name meaning recitation) was expected to be read aloud, with assonances linking one passage to another in a rich tapestry of meaning. In contrast, "Solitary reading also enables people to read their scriptures too selectively, focusing on isolated texts that they read out of context, and ignoring others that do not chime with their own predilections."

Intolerance of Uncertainty

"But science changes all the time" is viewed as a telling criticism of the scientific method by people who believe that G-d speaks directly to them, personally, every day, to tell them absolute truth. My colleague Lars Nielsen comments, "In fact, during the late Middle Ages, the problem of the 'double truth' existed, an overt cleavage of 'knowings', one that we might consider scientific, the other from faith, and this double truth was actually championed by theologians because they found any sort of link between natural science and knowledge about God to be a constraint on divine omnipotence." [29] Some fundamentalists carry this certainty further and believe that they can and should impose their vision of absolute truth on everyone else.

In the 1940s and 1950s, social psychologists developed a sense that some people exhibited a cluster of beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that came to be described as the authoritarian personality. A well-known textbook on social psychology summarizes the research as follows:

In the 1940s, a group of University of California, Berkeley, researchers -- two of whom had fled Nazi Germany -- set out on an urgent research mission. They wanted to uncover the psychological roots of an anti-Semitism so poisonous that is caused the slaughter of millions of Jews and turned many millions of Europeans into indifferent spectators. In studies of American adults, Adorno and his colleagues (1950) discovered that hostility toward Jews often coexisted with hostility toward other minorities. Moreover, these ethnocentric people shared authoritarian tendencies -- an intolerance for weakness, a punitive attitude, and a submissive respect for their ingroup's authorities, as reflected in their agreement with such statements as, "Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn." [30]


Frenkel-Brunswik (1948) argued that intolerance of ambiguity constituted a general personality variable that related positively to prejudice as well as to more general social and cognitive variables. As she put it, individuals who are intolerant of ambiguity

are significantly more often given to dichotomous conceptions of the sex roles, of the parent-child relationship, and of interpersonal relationships in general. They are less permissive and lean toward rigid categorization of social norms. Power-weakness, cleanliness-dirtiness, morality-immorality, conformance-divergence are the dimensions through which people are seen. . . . There is sensitivity against qualified as contrasted with unqualified statements and against perceptual ambiguity; a disinclination to think in terms of probability; a comparative inability to abandon mental sets in intellectual tasks, such as solving mathematical problems, after they have lost their appropriateness. Relations to home discipline and to the ensuing attitude toward authority will likewise be demonstrated quantitatively. (Frenkel-Brunswick, 1948, p. 268)

. . . . Intolerance of ambiguity, by increasing cognitive and motivational tendencies to seek certainty, is hypothesized to lead people to cling to the familiar, to arrive at premature conclusions, and to impose simplistic clichés and stereotypes. In a review of research on ambiguity intolerance, Furnham and Ribchester (1995) provided the following list of consequences of this tendency:

Resistance to reversal of apparent fluctuating stimuli, the early selection and maintenance of one solution in a perceptually ambiguous situation, inability to allow for the possibility of good and bad traits in the same person, acceptance of attitude statements expressing a rigid, black-white view of life, seeking for certainty, a rigid dichotomizing into fixed categories, premature closure, and remaining closed to familiar characteristics of stimuli. (p. 180).

The penchant for seeing and promulgating intelligent design may be an expression of the intolerance of ambiguity described in these sources. I have personally encountered evangelical Christians who have criticized what they describe as the "wishy-washy" nature of scientific discourse and who have explicitly laughed at scientists' penchant for accepting our own lack of certainty when discussing models of the world. Creationists sneer at evolutionary "theory" as if it were merely a passing fancy to be accepted or dismissed merely as a matter of preference. I imagine such people shrugging their shoulders as they intone, "Who's to know if it?s true or not? Let G-d tell you." Prof Percy Black retorts, "Not who -- how."


The ultimate form of imposition of faith on the unbeliever is theocracy. [32] Some people want to impose their personal religious beliefs on everyone else regardless of others' beliefs. For example, ANALOG editor Stanley Schmidt pointed out that a growing number of pharmacists in the USA are refusing to fill legitimate doctors' prescriptions for contraceptive pills, citing "their personal religious or moral beliefs." [33] The arguments are even louder about abortificients. [34] Although the religious pharmacists and their defenders frame the debate in terms of the rights of the pharmacists not to participate in what they define as abortions, these people are licensed by the state to perform a critically-important medical function: carrying out a doctor's orders for the treatment of a patient. Schmidt puts it succinctly: "A pharmacist whose religion frowns on birth control pills has no obligation to use them -- and no right to interfere with someone else whose religious doesn't forbid them." He points out that telling those refused service to go somewhere else to find a more cooperative pharmacist are ignoring the realities of small-town or rural folk:

The small-town woman who can't get her prescription filled may be in even worse shape than having to drive 90 miles to the next town. That town may be no different. We already have sizable areas where that narrow subset of Christians called "Fundamentalists" constitutes an increasingly aggressive majority. If all (or even most) of the pharmacists or teachers in a region quietly decide to do what they want rather than what the law says, they the protections nominally provided by the law have become meaningless. In such a situation, much of what people can do, and what is done to them, is determined not by constitutional law, even if such law exists on paper, but de facto by an unofficial and unregulated "diffuse tyranny" of people imposing their personal beliefs on others who do not share them.


Another state that is under internal pressure from theocrats is Israel. Daphna Baram reported in the New Statesman that even though secular (non-religious) Jews still form a majority of Jews in Israel, they have been under constant pressure from orthodox Jews who demand compliance with their interpretation of Halachah, or Jewish traditional law. [36] For example, in Jerusalem, it took demonstrations by young people to overturn the closing of movie-theaters on the Jewish Sabbath. The orthodox establishment defines who is to be defined as a Jew (for example, not all conversions by rabbis in the United States are accepted as legitimate by the Israeli orthodox hierarchy -- and therefore by the Jewish state), who will be buried in Jewish cemeteries and even whether young Jews must serve in the Israel Defense Force (orthodox youths generally do not). Baram ends,

One could argue that the middle-class Israeli seculars have never had it better: the Orthodox establishment long ago gave up on peering into the plates of pork-eaters or wasting time trying to shut down corner shops that operate on the Sabbath. The religious concentrate their energies on getting state funding for their schools and community enterprises.

Nevertheless, the feeling of suffocation is greater than ever. Three years of intifada, economic deterioration and a widening of the gap between haves and have-nots have made the seculars feel as if they are losing their birthright, the haven that their ancestors toiled to establish in the state of Israel. The sense of siege compromises the famous Israeli patriotism; and thoughts of immigration, considered shameful two decades ago, are now openly discussed. Middle-class parents are openly voicing their wish that their children could have a foreign passport, "just in case"; Israelis with Polish grandparents who fled the Nazis in the 1930s are now trying to get them to renew their Polish passports, which may grant clear passage to the EU. If such migration turns into a full-scale phenomenon, it would be, for better or for worse, the end of Israel as we know it.

These reports remind me of a famous science fiction story by the great libertarian writer Robert Heinlein. In "If This Goes On --" he describes a United States of America ruled from dictator called the Prophet Incarnate living in a palace in New Jerusalem and guarded by graduates of the Academy at West Point assigned to a military unit called the Angels of the Lord. The culture accepts the stoning of the ungodly (the "pariahs") when they are caught outside their ghettos after the curfew. The story progresses through a bloody revolution and the destruction of the corrupt theocracy. [37]

Another interesting theocracy novel is Canadian author Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. [38] reprints a succinct abstract from Library Journal:

In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: "of Fred"), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be.

These cautionary tales from two different generations of thoughtful writers warn us of the danger that rigid dogmatists pose to fundamental liberties in the United States.

Concluding Remarks

Bereishit (Genesis) and the other books of the Torah and the Hebrew Bible; I celebrate the Sabbath and raise my voice in praise of G-d. For that matter, I have enjoyed reading Native American creation myths, Greek and Roman mythology, and Chinese mythology. I think the jazz ballet La Crèation du Monde by Darius Milhaud is at least as valuable a contribution to human culture as other representations of creation. What I don't do is expect to engage in these activities and discussions in an astronomy class, a biology class, a geology class or a physics class.

Knowledge may be infinite and it may be borderless, but for practical purposes, we slice knowledge up into pieces and apply convenient labels that help us segment it into manageable portions for pedagogical purposes. Thus we distinguish between physics and chemistry (even though they overlap), botany and zoology (even though there are creatures that don?t fit neatly into either gross classification), history and literature, poetry and music, religion and cultural anthropology. Would anyone seriously accept pressure to have astrologers present their beliefs in an astronomy class? Would astrologers be happy if they were forced to accept astronomers as unwanted guest lecturers in their astrology courses? Or would practitioners of homeopathy be happy if chemists insisted on being able to introduce discussions of molarity, probability and double-blind clinical trials into their homeopathy courses?

More to the point, how pleased would fundamentalist Christians be if atheists insisted on introducing challenges to the belief in G-d in Sunday-school classes on the basis of "fairness" and "open discussion"? Just imagine the uproar if atheists in Kansas demanded that school districts put stickers on Bibles reading, "Many people believe that the writing in this book is mythology, has no accurate descriptive value about historical events of any kind, and is best understood as having allegorical and poetic value only."

Although some scientists may make personal comments about their religious beliefs, science has no position on religious matters that are not testable. If someone believes that a god created the universe, science has nothing to say on the matter. However, if someone asserts as a matter of fact that men have one less rib than women because a creation myth states that the first woman was created from the first man's rib, that's a matter of scientific investigation and disproof.

Seeing intelligent design in nature is not a disprovable proposition. There are no observations which can counter such a view even in theory. "Intelligent design" is not part of science.

My friend Michael Bopp comments that scientists are determined to limit the definition of science to what is testable (disprovable) at a particular time in history. Without strict inspection of proposed topics for inclusion in science, we run the risk of corruption of the social enterprise -- much as we saw happen in Soviet Russia when Lysenko destroyed the rational basis for genetics in the 1920s. [39] Incorporating non-science into science without discrimination seriously threatens the basis for rational application of knowledge to practice. For example, poor science can lead to errors in social and technical realms. "If I can build a bridge based on a dream or on instructions from G-d without having to subject my designs to external, technical review, I can endanger everyone using that bridge." Perhaps someone can walk their own bridge, but making others cross it is unreasonable and dangerous. Science guards a certain realm. It does not claim to apply to all realms; it just focuses on a narrow range of human knowledge. Until religious thinkers can present testable propositions, those in the scientific community are unable to consider their questions. [40]

My friend and colleague Robert Gezelter points out that another problem that theocrats never like to address is that they cannot all be right from their own point of view. It is noteworthy that one never hears of creationists proposing to include Hopi, Navaho, Vedic or Maori creation myths into science classrooms. One of the most valuable contributions of the Enlightenment is the realization that religious pluralism -- the acceptance of different approaches to religious truth ? is a much better idea than religious wars. If one group gets to dictate the nature of truth, it may try to suppress conflicting versions of absolute truth. That way lies a new dark age. [41]

The attitudes underlying the attack on science are in my opinion deeply rooted in an absolutist view of the relations among human beings within a nation and even between nations. If G-d tells you the absolute truth about the history of the earth, biological evolution, abortion, sexuality, gay marriage, and how to run your country, it's not too much of a stretch to extend one's beliefs into absolute edicts that should be forced on everyone else on the planet. In this sense, all of these convictions of absolute truth -- and the obligation to force them on others -- are religious imperialism that is not particularly different from the fanaticism of theocrats in other cultures.

From another perspective, the attack on science teaching is an example of the dangerous and growing political ascendancy of people who feel that their religiously-based view of the world should be imposed on everyone else regardless of the principles of religious freedom that informed the foundation of this country. Seen from this point of view, defenders of religious freedom -- and of freedom from impositions from other people's religions -- must justifiably defend the distinction between science and faith in education.

So the next time you chat with a creationist about educational issues, listen carefully to your interlocutor and find out whether this person has any intention of letting you or anyone else live your life free of the constraints of their personal belief system.

List of Works Referenced in Footnotes

Anonymous (2000). "Special issue of New Scientist not so special about special creation!"

Armstrong, K. (2005). "Unholy strictures: It is both wrong and dangerous to believe that literal truth can be found in religious texts." Guardian Weekly (August 19, 2005).,3604,1546558,00.html

Atwood, M. (1986). The Handmaid's Tale. Houghton Mifflin (ISBN 0-395-40425-8).

Baram, D. (2004). "The defeat of the pork-eaters: in Israel, Orthodox Jews are not only winning the demograph'?s culture, too." New Statesman (Dec 6, 2004) 133(4717):32.

Bopp, M. (2005). Personal communication, November 2005.

Brackett, E (2005). "Morning-after pill protest."

Chang, K. (2005). "In explaining life's complexity, Darwinists and doubters clash." New York Times (August 22, 2005). Originally posted at

Claiborne, W. (no date given). "What if evolution were true? #1."

Cowen, R. (2005). "Modern echoes of the early universe." Science News 167(3):35

Dean, C. (2005). "Scientists speak up on mix of God and science." New York Times (August 23, 2005). Originally posted at

Denton, W. (2005), "Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem"

DeRose Keith Website

Elsberry, W. R. (2001). "Anti-evolution and the law."

Encarta Dictionary Tools "Science." Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation.

Encarta Encyclopedia "Galileo," "Hebrew Language," "Lysenko," "Science," "Scientific Method," "Stratigraphy." Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation.

Gezelter, R. (2005). Personal communication, November 2005.

Heinlein, R. (1940). "If This Goes On -". Astounding Science Fiction (Street & Smith Publications).

Heinlein, R. (1953, 1986). Revolt in 2100. Baen Books (ISBN 0-671-65589-2).

Hilgevoord, J. & J. Uffink. "The Uncertainty Principle." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2001 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Irvine, A. D. (2004). "Russell's Paradox," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Isaak, M. (2002). "What is Creationism?"

Jost, J. T., J. Glaser, A. W. Kruglanski & F. J. Sulloway (2003). "Political conservatism as motivated social cognition." Psychological Bulletin [PsycARTICLES] (May 2003) 129(3):339.

Kansas Citizens for Science (2005). "Summary of Main Issues."

Kessler, J. J. (2005). "Giordano Bruno: The Forgotten Philosopher."

Koch, D. & A. Gould (2005). "Johannes Kepler: His Life, His Laws and Times."

Marshall, P. (2005). "The Islamist's other weapon." Commentary (April 2005) 119(4):60

Myers, D. G. (1993). Social Psychology, Fourth Edition. McGraw-Hill (ISBN 0-07-044202-4). P. 397.

Nielsen, L. (2005). Personal communication, September 2005.

Paterson, B. (2000). "A study of IF THIS GOES ON". The Heinlein Journal v7 (July 2000)

Popper, K. R. (1934, 2002). The Logic of Scientific Discovery, tr. from German by the author; new edition. Routledge (ISBN 0415278449).

Schmdit, S. (2005). "Diffuse tyranny." ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact Magazine (November 2005) 125(11):4

> See also Shermer's How to Debate a Creationist/. Skeptic Magazine Books.

Stewart, D. J.

Thornton, S. P. (2004). "Solipsism and the Problem of Other Minds." The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Wikipedia "Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem"

Wikipedia "Theocracy"

Wilgoren, J. (2005). "Politicized scholars put evolution on the defensive." New York Times (August 21, 2005). Originally posted at

[1] Encarta Dictionary Tools "Science." Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[2] Encarta Encyclopedia "Science." Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[3] Encarta Encyclopedia "Scientific Method." Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[4] See, for example, Popper, K. R. (1934, 2002). The Logic of Scientific Discovery, tr .from German by the author; new edition. Routledge (ISBN 0415278449).

[5] Even logical systems may generate propositions that are not provable. For example, Bertrand Russell showed that formal systems, especially those that are self-referential, may generate impossible paradoxes (e.g., positing that a set is a member of itself but also not a member of itself); see Irvine, A. D. (2004). "Russell's Paradox," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Kurt Gödel showed that every mathematical system can be used to create propositions that cannot be proven solely using the rules and axioms of the mathematical system itself; see Denton, W. (2005), "Gödel?s Incompleteness Theorem" and also the Wikipedia entry at

[6] See for example Thornton, S. P. (2004). "Solipsism and the Problem of Other Minds." The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[7] See for example Hilgevoord, J. & J. Uffink. "The Uncertainty Principle." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2001 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

[8] See the Web page by Prof Keith DeRose (Yale University Department of Philosophy) for extensive pointers to resources about epistemology

[9] Anonymous (2000). "Special issue of New Scientist not so special about special creation!"

[10] An isomorphic description has elements in a one-to-one correspondence with elements of the system being described; for example, a description of how a mechanical clock works can be isomorphic with the clock because all the relations are deterministic and known. The relations are deterministic in that there are no uncertainties; they are known because the description is complete and correct in all details. In contrast, many models of natural phenomena are empirical and heuristic. They are empirical in that they are based on observations in the absence of knowledge of absolute truth; they are heuristic in that they are intended to advance learning rather than to represent fixed and unchanging truth.

[11] Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake on Feb 17, 1600 by the Inquisition on charges of heresy. See Kessler, J. J. (2005). "Giordano Bruno: The Forgotten Philosopher."

[12] Koch, D. & A. Gould (2005). "?Johannes Kepler: His Life, His Laws and Times."

[13] For example, a search of the Wilson Web research database available through the Kreitzberg Library at Norwich University using the keyword "cosmogony" immediately brought up articles such as "Modern echoes of the early universe" by R. Cowen, published in Science News 167(3):35. The abstract reads, "This week, at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in San Diego, California, 2 groups of astronomers reported the detection of a primordial sound wave from the early Universe. Shaun Cole of the University of Durham, U.K., and colleagues analyzed data from the Two-Degree Field Redshift Gravity Survey; Daniel Eisenstein of the University of Arizona in Tucson and colleagues examined data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Both groups detected an acoustic imprint from a time just after the big bang when the Universe was a foggy soup of radiation and matter. They claim that the survival of the imprint offers convincing new evidence that the pattern for the current distribution of galaxies was established by random subatomic fluctuations at the time of the big bang."

[14] "Stratigraphy, in geology, the study of rock layers, or strata, particularly their ages, compositions, and relationships to other rock layers. Stratigraphy provides geologists with clues about the earth's past. Stratigraphy also allows geologists to predict what types of rocks lie below the ground and to understand geologic processes. Consequently, most geologists regularly use basic elements of stratigraphy in their work." Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[15] Dr Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, is a fervent Christian but according to Cornelia Dean (see footnote 20), "...he acknowledged that as head of the American government's efforts to decipher the human genetic code, he had a leading role in work that many say definitively demonstrates the strength of evolutionary theory to explain the complexity and abundance of life. As scientists compare human genes with those of other mammals, tiny worms, even bacteria, the similarities 'are absolutely compelling,' Dr. Collins said. 'If Darwin had tried to imagine a way to prove his theory, he could not have come up with something better, except maybe a time machine. Asking somebody to reject all of that in order to prove that they really do love God -- what a horrible choice.'"

[16] For an extended analysis of the fundamentally non-scientific approach to model-building espoused by creationists, see "Philosophically based arguments and responses: 25 creationists' arguments, 25 evolutionists' answers."

[17] Isaak, M. (2002). "What is Creationism?"

[18] Wilgoren, J. (2005). "Politicized scholars put evolution on the defensive." New York Times (August 21, 2005). Originally posted at

[19] Chang, K. (2005). "In explaining life's complexity, Darwinists and doubters clash." New York Times (August 22, 2005). Originally posted at

[20] Dean, C. (2005). "Scientists speak up on mix of God and science." New York Time (August 23, 2005). Originally posted at

[21] Kansas Citizens for Science (2005). "Summary of Main Issues."

[22] Anonymous (2000). "Special issue of New Scientist not so special about special creation!"

[23] Encarta Encyclopedia "Galileo." Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[24] Elsberry, W. R. (2001). "Anti-evolution and the law."

[25] "The original Hebrew alphabet consisted only of consonants (See also Semitic Languages) vowel signs and pronunciation currently accepted for biblical Hebrew were created by scholars known as Masoretes after the 5th century [CE]. These scholars are thought also to have standardized various dialectal differences. The vocabulary of biblical Hebrew is small. Concrete adjectives are used for abstract nouns. The paucity of particles, which connect and relate ideas, and the limitation to two verb tenses (perfect and imperfect) cause an ambiguity regarding time concepts; various syntactic devices were employed to clarify relations of time. A past action was indicated by the first in a series of verbs being in the perfect tense and all following verbs in the imperfect; for present or future action the first verb is in the imperfect tense and all subsequent ones in the perfect." From the Encarta Encyclopedia "Hebrew Language." Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[26] David J. Stewart, writing in vivid red and white letters on a black background with liberal sprinklings of capitalization and a cheerful disdain for grammar, states categorically, "...[S]hould it be surprising that the devil would corrupt the Bible a little at a time, with each NEW version being just a little more corrupt than the previous? Not at all. This is why I reject all modern translations of the English Bible (there's been over 400 English revisions since the 1611 King James Bible...surely the language hasn't changed that much!). Only the 1611 King James Bible HONORS the Lord Jesus Christ's deity and Godhead adequately."

[27] Claiborne, W. (no date given). "What if evolution were true? #1."

[28] Armstrong, K. (2005). Unholy strictures: It is both wrong and dangerous to believe that literal truth can be found in religious texts. Guardian Weekly (August 19, 2005).,3604,1546558,00.html

[29] Nielsen, L. (2005). Personal communication, November 2005. Lars Nielsen is Administrative Director of the Master of Arts in Military History at Norwich University

[30] Myers, D. G. (1993). Social Psychology, Fourth Edition. McGraw-Hill (ISBN 0-07-044202-4). Page 397. I have not copied the references cited in Dr Myers text but the original papers are readily found using his book, any current textbook of social psychology or any research database.

[31] Jost, J. T., J. Glaser, A. W. Kruglanski & F. J. Sulloway (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychological Bulletin [PsycARTICLES] (May 2003) 129(3):339. Located through the ProQuest database of Kreitzberg Library at Norwich University.

[32] The Wikipedia entry on theocracy has useful links The entry states, "In the most common usage of the term theocracy, in which some civil rulers are identical with some leaders of the dominant religion (e.g., the Byzantine emperor as head of the Church), governmental policies are either identical with, or strongly influenced by, the principles of a religion (often the majority religion), and typically, the government claims to rule on behalf of God or a higher power, as specified by the local religion. However, unlike other forms of government, a theocracy can be unique, in that the administrative hierarchy of the government is often identical with the administrative hierarchy of the religion. This distinguishes a theocracy from forms of government which have a state religion, or from traditional monarchies, in which the head of state claims that his or her authority comes from God."

[33] Schmdit, S. (2005). "Diffuse tyranny." ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact Magazine (November 2005) 125(11):4. Using the GOOGLE search engine with keywords "pharmacists birth control pills prescriptions refusing" brought up many recent articles about this phenomenon.

[34] See for example an interview by Elizabeth Brackett aired on Newshour with Jim Lehrer on June 30, 2005: "Morning-after pill protest."

[35] Marshall, P. (2005). The Islamist's other weapon. Commentary (April 2005) 119(4):60

[36] Baram, D. (2004). "The defeat of the pork-eaters: in Israel, Orthodox Jews are not only winning the demographic war against their secular enemies -- they are changing the nation's culture, too." New Statesman (Dec 6, 2004) 133(4717):32. Located through INFOTRAC database via the Kreitzberg Library at Norwich University.

[37] Heinlein, R. (1940). "If This Goes On -." Novella first published in Astounding Science Fiction (Street & Smith Publications). Heinlein expanded the story into a short novel that was published as part of the Future History series as Revolt in 2100 in 1953 (reissued in 1986 by Baen with ISBN 0-671-65589-2). There is an extended analysis of this story by Bill Paterson in The Heinlein Journal v7 (July 2000) that is available at

[38] Atwood, M. (1986). The Handmaid's Tale. Houghton Mifflin (ISBN 0-395-40425-8).

[39] "Lysenko, Trofim Denisovich (1898-1976), Soviet agronomist, who was the leader of the Soviet school of genetics that opposed Mendel's law and maintained that acquired characteristics can be inherited. He was born near Kyiv and educated at Kyiv Agricultural Institute. His theories received official support; they were taught in biology courses in the USSR and incorporated, with sometimes disastrous results, into Soviet agricultural programs. Lysenko held several important scientific posts during his career, including the presidency (1938-56) of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the directorship (1940-65) of the Institute of Genetics, USSR Academy of Sciences. After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, Lysenko was strongly criticized, and his influence gradually diminished." Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[40] Bopp, M. (2005). Personal communication. Dr Bopp is Director of the Four Worlds Center for Development Learning and coaches research and change processes related to community health and social and economic development around the world.

[41] Gezelter, R. (2005). Personal communication, November 2005. Robert Gezelter is a software consultant and a Distinguished Visitor of the IEEE Computer Society. His Web site is

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