Can we apply Karl Popper’s ideas to the creationist debate?

Lynsey asked:

Debates between evolutionary biologists and ‘scientific creationists’ have been famously unproductive, with each side employing distinct criteria of judgement. Can the philosophy of science proposed by Karl Popper resolve the impasse for objective rational bystanders and if so, how?

Answer by Shaun Williamson

I don’t know why you talk of ‘scientific’ creationists because there are no such people. The aim of evolutionary scientists has always been to answer certain questions such as the age of the earth, the history of life on earth etc. The creationists have no such aims. They try to pick holes in the theory of evolution but fail to offer any alternative theory which is supported by good factual evidence.

Science is not an alternative form of religion, scientists get their answers to questions by looking at the physical evidence and finding the best explanation that fits the facts. That is what they are supposed to do as scientists. There are no special scientific answers to questions. There are just answers supported by all the known evidence (evolution) and answers supported by no good evidence (Creationism and Intelligent Design).

Any objective rational observer who looks as the evidence should have no trouble in deciding who the evidence supports. If they can’t then Karl Popper is unlikely to help. There is no idea or belief no matter how crazy that is not believed by some people.

The aim of the debate is not to convince the irrational creationists that they are wrong, it is simply to ensure that creationism is not taught in school science classes as though it is some alternative science. It just isn’t science and it never can be. Creationists and Intelligent Design pundits will use any form of legal trickery to get their beliefs into school science classes.

In any case the debate is not what is important, it is the science that is important. Most of the people who ask questions about evolution here have never studied the theory and have no clear grasp of what it contains and what the evidence is for it.

Yes certainly people employ different criteria of judgement but that doesn’t mean that creationists are an alternative sort of scientist. After all the insane have different criteria for their judgements but that doesn’t cause us to lose any sleep, nor do we think that Karl Popper could help the insane.

When you go to your doctor for medical treatment you don’t expect him to refer to the Bible for an answer. When you go to a class about the history of life on earth you don’t expect the teacher to get the answers out of the Bible.

If you are unsure which side is right in this debate then you should study the theory of evolution and learn exactly what questions Darwin asked and what answers he proposed for them. Evolution is a complex theory and it requires serious study. Just listening to what people say in debates or reading Karl Popper will not teach you anything about evolution and the overwhelming amount of evidence that supports it. At the same time you can also study creationism and wonder about the overwhelming lack of evidence to support any of the creationist claims.

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