Michael Ruse

Creation-Science is Not Science (1982)[*]

In December 1981 I appeared as an expert witness for the plaintiffs and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in their successful challenge of Arkansas Act 590, which demanded that teachers give "balanced treatment" to "creation-science" and evolutionary ideas.[1] My presence occasioned some surprise, for I am an historian and philosopher of science In this essay, I do not intend to apologize for either my existence or my calling, nor do I intend to relive past victories [2]; rather, I want to explain why a philosopher and historian of science finds the teaching of "creation-science" in science classrooms offensive

Obviously, the crux of the issue--the center of the plaintiffs' case--is the status of creation-science. Its advocates claim that it is genuine science and may, therefore, be legitimately and properly taught in the public schools. Its detractors claim that it is not genuine science but a form of religion--dogmatic Biblical literalism by another name. Which is it, and who is to decide?

It is somewhat easier to describe who should participate in decisions on this issue. On the one hand, one naturally appeals to the authority of religious people and theologians. Does creation-science fit the accepted definitions of a religion? (In Arkansas, the ACLU produced theologians who said that indeed it did.) One also appeals to the authority of scientists Does creation-science fit current definitions of science? (In Arkansas, the ACLU produced scientists who said that indeed it did not.)[3]

Having, as it were, appealed to the practitioners--theologians and scientists--a link still seems to be missing. Someone is needed to talk at a more theoretical level about the nature of science--any science--and then show that creation-science simply does not fit the part. As a philosopher and an historian, it is my job to look at science, and to ask precisely those questions about defining characteristics. [38]

What is Science

It is simply not possible to give a neat definition--specifying necessary and sufficient characteristics--which separates all and only those things that have ever been called "science." The concept "science" is not as easily definable as, for example, the concept "triangle." Science is a phenomenon that has developed through the ages--dragging itself apart from religion, philosophy, superstition, and other bodies of human opinion and belief.[4]

What we call "science" today is a reasonably striking and distinctive set of claims, which have a number of characteristic features. As with most things in life, some items fall on the borderline between science and nonscience (e.g., perhaps Freudian psychoanalytic theory). But it is possible to state positively that, for example, physics and chemistry are sciences, and Plato's Theory of Forms and Swedenborgian theology are not.[5]

In looking for defining features, the obvious place to start is with science's most striking aspect--it is an empirical enterprise about the real world of sensation. This is not to say that science refers only to observable entities. Every mature science contains unobservables, like electrons and genes, but ultimately, they refer to the world around us. Science attempts to understand this empirical world. What is the basis for this understanding? Surveying science and the history of science today, one thing stands out: science involves a search for order. More specifically, science looks for unbroken, blind, natural regularities (laws). Things in the world do not happen in just any old way. They follow set paths, and science tries to capture this fact. Bodies of science, therefore, known variously as "theories" or "paradigms" or "sets of models," are collections of laws.[6]

Thus, in Newtonian physics we find Newton's three laws of motion, the law of gravitational attraction, Kepler's laws of planetary motion, and so forth. Similarly, for instance, in population genetics we find the Hardy- Weinberg law. However, when we turn to something like philosophy, we do not find the same appeal to empirical law. Plato's Theory of Forms only indirectly refers to this world. Analogously, religion does not insist on unbroken law. Indeed, religious beliefs frequently allow or suppose events outside law or else events that violate law (miracles). Jesus feeding the 5,000 with the loaves and fishes was one such event. This is not to say that religion is false, but it does say that religion is not science. When the loaves and fishes multiplied to a sufficiency to feed so many people, things happened that did not obey natural law, and hence the feeding of the 5,000 is an event beyond the ken of science.[7]

A major part of the scientific enterprise involves the use of law to effect explanation. One tries to show why things are as they are--and how they fall beneath or follow from law (together perhaps with certain specified initial conditions). Why, for example, does a cannon ball go in a [40] parabola and not in a circle? Because of the constraints of Newton's laws. Why do two blue-eyed parents always have blue-eyed children? Because this trait obeys Mendel's first law, given the particular way in which the genes control eye-color. A scientific explanation must appeal to law and must show that what is being explained had to occur. The explanation excludes those things that did not happen.[8]

The other side of explanation is prediction. The laws indicate what is going to happen: that the ball will go in a parabola, that the child will be blue-eyed. In science, as well as in futorology, one can also, as it were predict backwards. Using laws, one infers that a particular, hitherto- unknown phenomenon or event took place in the past. Thus, for instance, one might use the laws of physics to infer back to some eclipse of the sun reported in ancient writings.

Closely connected with the twin notions of explanation and prediction comes testability. A genuine scientific theory lays itself open to check against the real world: the scientist can see if the inferences made in explanation and prediction actually obtain in nature. Does the chemical reaction proceed as suspected? In Young's double slit experiment, does one find the bands of light and dark predicted by the wave theory? Do the continents show the expected after-effects of drift?

Testability is a two-way process. The researcher looks for some positive evidence, for confirmation. No one will take seriously a scientific theory that has no empirical support (although obviously a younger theory is liable to be less well-supported than an older theory). Conversely, a theory must be open to possible refutation. If the facts speak against a theory then it must go. A body of science must be falsifiable. For example, Kepler's laws could have been false: if a planet were discovered going in squares, then the laws would have been shown to be incorrect. However in distinguishing science from nonscience, no amount of empirical evidence can disprove, for example, the Kantian philosophical claim that one ought to treat people as ends rather than means. Similarly, Catholic religious claims about transubstantiation (the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ) are unfalsifiable.[9]

Science is tentative. Ultimately, a scientist must be prepared to reject his theory. Unfortunately, not all scientists are prepared to do in practice what they promise to do in theory; but the weaknesses of individuals are counterbalanced by the fact that, as a group, scientists do give up theories that fail to answer to new or reconsidered evidence. In the last 30 years, for example, geologists have reversed their strong convictions that the continents never move.

Scientists do not, of course, immediately throw their theories away as soon as any counter-evidence arrives. If a theory is powerful and successful, then some problems will be tolerated, but scientists must be prepared to change their minds in the face of the empirical evidence. In this regard the scientists differ from both the philosophers and the theologians. Nothing in the real world would make the Kantian change his mind, and the Catholic is equally dogmatic, despite any empirical evidence about the stability of bread and wine. Such evidence is simply considered irrelevant.[10]

Some other features of science should also be mentioned, for instance, the urge for simplicity and unification; however, I have now listed the major characteristics. Good science--like good philosophy and good religion--presupposes an attitude that one might describe as professional integrity A scientist should not cheat or falsify data or quote out of context or do any other thing that is intellectually dishonest. Of course, as always, some individuals fail; but science as a whole disapproves of such actions. Indeed, when transgressors are detected, they are usually expelled from the community. Science depends on honesty in the realm of ideas. One may cheat on one's taxes; one may not fiddle the data.[11]

Creation-Science Considered

How does creation-science fit the criteria of science listed in the previous section? By "creation-science" in this context, I refer not just to the definition given in Act 590, but to the whole body of literature which goes by that name. The doctrine includes the claims that the universe is very young (6,000 to 20,000 years), that everything started instantaneously, that human beings had ancestry separate from apes, and that a monstrous flood once engulfed the entire earth.[12]

Laws--Natural Regularities

Science is about unbroken, natural regularity. It does not admit miracles. It is clear, therefore, that again and again, creation-science invokes happenings and causes outside of law. For instance, the only reasonable inference from Act 590 (certainly the inference that was accepted in the Arkansas court) is that for creation-science the origin of the universe and life in it is not bound by law. Whereas the definition of creation-science includes the unqualified phrase "sudden creation of the universe, energy and life from nothing," the definition of evolution specifically includes the qualification that its view of origins is "naturalistic." Because "naturalistic" means "subject to empirical law," the deliberate omission of such a term in the characterization of creation-science means that no laws were involved.

In confirmation of this inference, we can find identical claims in the writings of creation scientists: for instance, the following passage from Duane T. Gish's popular work Evolution--The Fossils Say No! [42]

"CREATION. By creation we mean the bringing into being of the basic kinds of plants and animals by the process of sudden, or fiat, creation described in the first two chapters of Genesis. Here we find the creation by God of the plants and animals, each commanded to reproduce after its own kind using processes which were essentially instantaneous.

We do not know how God created, what processes He used, for God used processes which are not now operating anywhere in the natural universe. This is why we refer to divine creation as special creation. We cannot discover by scientific investigations anything about the creative processes used by God.[13]

By Gish's own admission, we are not dealing with science. Similar sentiments can be found in The Genesis Flood by John Whitcomb, Jr., and Henry M. Morris:

But during the period of Creation, God was introducing order and organization and energization into the universe in a very high degree, even to life itself! It is thus quite plain that the processes used by God in creation were utterly different from the processes which now operate in the universe! The Creation was a unique period, entirely incommensurate with this present world. This is plainly emphasized and reemphasized in the divine revelation which God has given us concerning Creation, which concludes with these words 'And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it He rested from all his work which God had created and made.' In view of these strong and repeated assertions, is it not the height of presumption for man to attempt to study Creation in terms of present processes?[14]

Creation scientists generally acknowledge this work to be the seminal contribution that led to the growth of the creation-science movement. Morris, in particular, is the father figure of creation-science and Gish his chief lieutenant.

Creation scientists also break with law in many other instances. The creationists believe that the Flood, for example, could not have just occurred through blind regularities. As Whitcomb and Morris make very clear, certain supernatural interventions were necessary to bring about the Flood.[15] Similarly, in order to ensure the survival of at least some organisms, God had to busy himself and break through law.

Explanation and Prediction

Given the crucial role that law plays for the scientist in these processes, neither explanation nor prediction is possible where no law exists.

Thus, explanation and prediction simply cannot even be attempted when one deals with creation-science accounts either of origins or of the Flood.

Even against the broader vistas of biology, creation-science is inadequate. Scientific explanation/prediction must lead to the thing being explained/predicted, showing why that thing obtains and not other things. Why does the ball go in a parabola? Why does it not describe a circle? Take an important and pervasive biological phenomenon, namely, "homologies," the isomorphisms between the bones of different animals. These similarities were recognized as pervasive facets of nature even before Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Why are the bones in the forelimbs of men, horses, whales, and birds all so similar, even though the functions are quite different? Evolutionists explain homologies naturally and easily, as a result of common descent. Creationists can give no explanation, and make no predictions. All they can offer is the disingenuous comment that homology signifies nothing, because classification is all man-made and arbitrary anyway. Is it arbitrary that man is not classified with the birds?[16] Why are Darwin's finches distributed in the way that we find on the Galapagos? Why are there 14 separate species of this little bird, scattered over a small group of islands in the Pacific on the equator? On those rare occasions when Darwin's finches do fly into the pages of creation-science, it is claimed either that they are all the same species (false), or that they are a case of degeneration from one "kind" created back at the beginning of life.[17] Apart from the fact that "kind" is a term of classification to be found only in Genesis, this is no explanation. How could such a division of the finches have occurred, given the short span that the creationists allow since the Creation? And, in any case, Darwin's finches are anything but degenerates. Different species of finch have entirely different sorts of beaks, adapted for different foodstuffs--evolution of the most sophisticated type.[18]

Testability, Confirmation, and Falsifiability

Testability, confirmation, and falsifiability are no better treated by creation-science. A scientific theory must provide more than just after-the- fact explanations of things that one already knows. One must push out into the frontiers of new knowledge, trying to predict new facts, and risking the theory against the discovery of possible falsifying information. One cannot simply work at a secondary level, constantly protecting one's views against threat: forever inventing ad hoc hypotheses to save one's core assumptions.

Creation scientists do little or nothing by way of genuine test. Indeed, the most striking thing about the whole body of creation-science literature is the virtual absence of any experimental or observational work by creation scientists. Almost invariably, the creationists work exclusively with the discoveries and claims of evolutionists, twisting the conclusions to their [44] own ends. Argument proceeds by showing evolution (specifically Darwinism) wrong, rather than by showing Creationism right.

However, this way of proceeding--what the creationists refer to as the "two model approach"--is simply a fallacious form of argument. The views of people like Fred Hoyle and N. C. Wickramasinghe, who believe that life comes from outer space, are neither creationist nor truly evolutionist.[19] Denying evolution in no way proves Creationism. And, even if a more straightforward either/or between evolution and Creationism existed, the perpetually negative approach is just not the way that science proceeds. One must find one's own evidence in favor of one's position, just as physicists, chemists, and biologists do.

Do creation scientists ever actually expose their theories and ideas to test? Even if they do, when new counter-empirical evidence is discovered, creation scientists appear to pull back, refusing to allow their position to be falsified.

Consider, for instance, the classic case of the "missing link"--namely, that between man and his ancestors. The creationists say that there are no plausible bridging organisms whatsoever. Thus, this super-gap between man and all other animals (alive or dead) supposedly underlines the creationists' contention that man and apes have separate ancestry. But what about the australopithecines, organisms that paleontologists have, for most of this century, claimed are plausible human ancestors? With respect, argue the creationists, australopithecines are not links, because they had apelike brains, they walked like apes, and they used their knuckles for support, just like gorillas. Hence, the gap remains.[20]

However, such a conclusion can be maintained only by blatant disregard of the empirical evidence. Australopithecus afarensis was a creature with a brain the size of that of an ape which walked upright.[21] Yet the creationists do not concede defeat. They then argue that the Australopithecus afarensis is like an orangutan.[22] In short, nothing apparently makes the creationists change their minds, or allows their views to be tested, lest they be falsified.


Creation-science is not science because there is absolutely no way in which creationists will budge from their position. Indeed, the leading organization of creation-science, The Creation Research Society (with 500 full members, all of whom must have an advanced degree in a scientific/ technological area), demands that its members sign a statement afffirming that they take the Bible as literally true.[23] Unfortunately, an organization cannot require such a condition of membership, and then claim to be a scientific organization. Science must be open to change, however confident one may feel at present. Fanatical dogmatism is just not acceptable.


Creation scientists use any fallacy in the logic books to achieve their ends. Most particularly, apart from grossly distorting evolutionists' positions, the creation-scientists frequently use inappropriate or incomplete quotations. They take the words of some eminent evolutionist, and attempt to make him or her say exactly the opposite to that intended. For instance, in Creation: The Facts of Life, author Gary E. Parker constantly refers to "noted Harvard geneticist" Richard Lewontin as claiming that the hand and the eye are the best evidence of God's design.[24] Can this reference really be true? Has the author of The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change[25] really foresworn Darwin for Moses? In fact, when one looks at Lewontin's writings, one finds that he says that before Darwin, people believed the hand and the eye to be the effect of direct design. Today, scientists believe that such features were produced by the natural process of evolution through natural selection; but, a reader learns nothing of this from Parker's book.

What are the essential features of science? Does creation-science have any, all, or none of these features? My answer to this is none. By every mark of what constitutes science, creation-science fails. And, although it has not been my direct purpose to show its true nature, it is surely there for all to see. Miracles brought about by an intervening supervising force speak of only one thing. Creation "science" is actually dogmatic religious Fundamentalism. To regard it as otherwise is an insult to the scientist, as well as to the believer who sees creation-science as a blasphemous distortion of God-given reason. I believe that creation-science should not be taught in the public schools because creation-science is not science.


[*] From Science, Technology, and Human Values 7 no. 40 (Summer 1982): 72- 78.

[1] In fact, Act 590 demanded that if one teach[es] evolution, then one must also teach creation-science. Presumably a teacher could have stayed away from origins entirely--albeit with large gaps in some courses.

[2] For a brief personal account of my experiences, see Michael Ruse, "A Philosopher at the Monkey Trial," New Scientist (1982): 317-319.

[3] Judge William Overton's ruling on the constitutionality (or, rather, unconstitutionality) of Act 590 gives a fair and full account of the various claims made by theologians (including historians and sociologists of religion) and scientists.

[4] n my book, The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979),1 look at the way science was breaking apart from religion in the 19th century.

[5] What follows is drawn from a number of basic books in the philosophy of science, including R. B. Braithwaite, Scientific Explanation (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1953); Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London: Hutchinson, 1959); E. Nagel, The Structure of Science (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961); Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1962); and C. G. Hempel, Philosophy of Natural Science (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice- Hall, 1966). The discussion is the same as what I provided for the plaintiffs in a number of position papers. It also formed the basis of my testimony in court, and, as can be seen from Judge Overton's ruling, was accepted by the court virtually verbatim.

[6] One sometimes sees a distinction drawn between "theory" and "model." At the level of this discussion, it is not necessary to discuss specific details. I consider various uses of these terms in my book, Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1982).

[7] For more on science and miracles, especially with respect to evolutionary questions, see my Darwinian Revolution, op. cit.

[8] The exact relationship between laws and what they explain has been a matter of much debate. Today, I think most would agree that the connection must be fairly tight--the thing being explained should follow. For more on explanation in biology see Michael Ruse, The Philosophy of Biology (London: Hutchinson, 1973); and David L. Hull, Philosophy of Biological Science (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974). A popular thesis is that explanation of laws involves deduction from other laws. A theory is a body of laws bound in this way: a so-called "hypothetico-deductive" system.

[9] Falsifiability today has a high profile in the philosophical and scientific literature. Many scientists, especially, agree with Karl Popper, who has argued that falsifiability is the criterion demarcating science from non-science (see especially his Logic of Scientific Discovery). My position is that falsifiability is an important part, but only one part, of a spectrum of features required to demarcate science from non-science. For more on this point, see my Is Science Sexist? And Other Problems in the Biomedical Sciences (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1981).

[10] At the Arkansas trial, in talking of the tentativeness of science, I drew an analogy in testimony between science and the law. In a criminal trial, one tries to establish guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." If this can be done, then the criminal is convicted. But, if new evidence is ever discovered that might prove the convicted person innocent, cases can always be reopened. In science, too, scientists make decisions less formally but just as strongly--and get on with business, but cases (theories) can be reopened.

[11] Of course, the scientist as citizen may run into problems here!

[12] The key definitions in Arkansas Act 590, requiring "balanced treatment" in the public schools, are found in Section 4 [of the Act]. Section 4(a) does not specify exactly how old the earth is supposed to be, but in court a span of 6,000 to 20,000 years emerged in testimony.

The fullest account of the creation-science position is given in Henry M. Morris, ea., Scientific Creationism (San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers, 1974).

[13] Duane T. Gish, Evolution--The Fossils Say No! (San Diego, CA: Creation- Life Publishers, 1973), pp. 22-25, his italics.

[14] John Whitcomb, Jr., and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961), pp. 223-224, their italics.

[15] Ibid, p. 76.

[16] See Morris, op. cit., pp. 71-72, and my discussion in Darwinism Defended, op. cit.

[17] For instance, in John N. Moore and H. S. Slusher, Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977).

[18] 18. D. Lack, Darwin's Finches (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1947).

[19] Fred Hoyle and N. C. Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (London: Dent, 1981).

[20] Morris, op. cit., p. 173.

[21] Donald Johanson and M. Edey, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1981).

[22] Gary E. Parker, Creation: The Facts of Life (San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers, 1979), p. 113.

[23] For details of these statements, see [footnote] 7 in Judge Overton's ruling.

[24] Parker, op. cit. See, for instance, pp. 55 and 144. The latter passage is worth quoting in full: Then there's 'the marvelous fit of organisms to the environment,' the special adaptations of cleaner fish, woodpeckers, bombardier beetles, etc., etc.,--what Darwin called 'Difficulties with the Theory,' and what Harvard's Lewontin (1978) called 'the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer.' Because of their 'perfection of structure,' he says, organisms 'appear to have been carefully and artfully designed.'

[25] Richard C. Lewontin, The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1974).