When it comes to origins, there are two different ways to think about things: religious or scientific. Religious ideas represent blind faith in an outdated sacred text. Scientific ideas about origins, however, are made in light of cold hard facts. Even religious people have bought into this idea – that their religious thinking applies only to their faith. When it comes to origins and other aspects of the real world, scientific thinking must take over.
Actually, not so much. Science is a practice that deals with observations, experimentations, tests, and repetitions of those tests. Science can only deal with the present. When you start talking about origins – the origin of life, the origin of earth, the origin of the universe – you start talking about things that we cannot observe, test, or repeat. As a result, the study of origins is most definitely not a matter of science. It is a matter of philosophy. Any time you read something on origins, you are essentially reading a philosophical piece - not a scientific one. After all, events that we have no way of seeing, repeating, or experimenting on fall far beyond the boundaries of science.
So, what philosophies can be used to make conjectures about origins? Well, you can approach origins from a religious perspective. Whether that religion is Christianity or Hinduism or Zoroastrianism will determine different conjectures on where everything came from. There are other, more secular, philosophies to use, however.
The two philosophies most commonly used by scientists today are naturalism and uniformitarianism. Naturalism is the belief that physical things – matter and energy – are all that exist. Or at least, if there is a God, He isn’t one interfering with the natural order of things. This philosophy is popular since it allows scientists to study the natural world without worrying about any divine variables. The second idea, uniformitarianism, is the belief that the present is the key to the past. This view is popular among scientists because it allows them to make connections between their work and the past. If science only studies the testable, observable, and repeatable present, uniformitarianism permits them to then apply that present to the past.
Consider the Grand Canyon. Today, when scars cut deeper and deeper into a rock bed, scientists record it happening little by little, over the course of years upon years upon years. Assuming naturalism (there is no divine being who interfered with this process) and uniformitarianism (the slow erosion process we observe today has always occurred that way in the past), a cut as deep as the Grand Canyon must have taken millions of years.
Or we can look at the universe, with its redshifting suggesting expansion, the way the Doppler Effect suggests moving racecars. If we observe the universe expanding today, assume naturalism (no God involved in messing with the universe as we know it), and uniformitarianism (the universe has been expanding this way for as long as it’s been around), then we can employ linear regression to find out when it started expanding. To find out when it started as a tiny little point.
The origin of life is trickier to accommodate to this model. After all, scientists today only ever observe life coming from non-life. However, biologists have looked at different types of living things (people, animals, plants, algae, fungi, protozoans, and bacteria) and placed them in an order that looks like some sort of natural progression. It then would follow that multicellular organisms came from single cells, and perhaps that multi-protein-and-organic-compound cells came from proteins and other organic compounds.
Nevertheless, these things are only presumptions. Biologists cannot repeat the evolution of dinosaurs into birds, or of apes into humans. As things that are said to have happened in the past, they fall beyond scientific analysis. At least, beyond the type of analysis we’ve defined as scientific so far.
You see, the type of science that is observable, testable, and repeatable is often called Observational Science. It is the science that uses cold, hard data to put men on the moon and design new cell phones and create new medical treatments. But the study of the past, of the Big Bang and universe’s origin (aka cosmology), geological formations, and the evolution of life are much more philosophical in nature. They are better referred to as Historical Science, and even secular scientists recognize this.
– Stearns & Hoekstra’s Evolution: An Introduction.
An explanation. Not a scientific theory that has been tested (like gravity). It is simply an attempt to explain what we already know.
– West, in “Paleontology and Uniformitarianism,” from Compass (Vol. 45, Is. 216).
Remember that next time you hear fossils prove evolution. If they are being used to prove it, then circular reasoning is being employed because evolution was used to interpret the fossils in the first place.
– Todd, “A view from Kansas on that Evolution Debate,” from Nature (Vol. 401, No. 6752).
If that is true, then naturalism is every bit as much of a religious philosophy that intelligent design is.
– Lieu, Astrophysics professor
If it’s not verifiable in the laboratory, then it’s closer to metaphysics than physics. And why can’t you test cosmology in a laboratory? Lieu goes on to explain:
The “control” of an experiment is the measure against which we test the effects of variables in our experiments. Since we only live in one universe (with no control universe on the side to employ), Lieu argues that there is no way to scientifically evaluate theories about the universe’s origin. Once again, if that is so, cosmology is historical science – i.e. philosophical in nature – and not science in the tried-and-true, man-on-the-moon, here’s-a-new-life-saving-medical-treatment, observational sense.
Naturalism and uniformitarianism are the philosophies which support the historical theories of Evolution (Darwinism), Big Bang Cosmology, the Origin of Life, and Geological Evolution. Note: these are NOT theories in the sense that gravity is a theory! Gravity is something we can observe, test, and conduct repeatable experiments on. It falls under Observational Science. It is a “theory” in a very different sense from Darwinism as a “theory!”
As stated by Dr. Palermos in the Coursera class Philosophy, Science and Religion, “Creationism may not be scientific but then again, neither is evolutionary biology, which appears unable to predict anything, but only provides an explanation for the phenomena after the fact has already taken place.” In other words, a creation theory of origins is on the same playing field as a secular theory of origins, since both are historical science, explanatory attempts, rooted in philosophy.
Cosmology, a billion-year-old earth, and the origin of life are all in the same boat. These ideas are not true, observational science. They are not experimented on. They are not observable. They are rooted in philosophies of naturalism and uniformitarianism.
For this reason, secular Historical Science is just as religious, just as dependent on “blind faith,” as they claim creationism is.
Check it Out:
Evolution Exposed: Earth Science by Roger Patterson
"Big Bang Beliefs: Busted" by John Hartnett at http://creation.com/big-bang-beliefs-busted
Evolution: An Introduction by Stearns & Hoekstra
Philosophy, Science, and Religion at www.coursera.org