Why AIG's "Origins Science" vs. "Operational Science" Distinction is Bogus
by Rich Deem


Answers in Genesis (AIG) has a problem. They want their followers to believe that all the scientists are wrong about the age of the earth even though the science that produces such data reliably powers all our amazing modern technology. How can modern technology work so well when the science behind it is all wrong? Obviously, if the science were wrong, the technology would not work. In order to attempt to get around this problem, AIG has invented an artificial distinction between what they call "origins science" (or "historical science") and "operational science" (or "experimental science," which AIG mistakenly calls "observational science").1 AIG has claimed that scientists who study "origins science" are susceptible to presuppositions that distort their interpretation of the data, making their conclusions unreliable.

Scientists' presuppositions?

AIG claims that most scientists working in fields of origins science tend to presume that all processes operating within the universe do so exclusively through materialistic means. In other words, they believe that the universe and everything in it has been produced by the actions of matter and energy operating in space over time. According to this worldview, no supernatural processes are possible, even in the past. An extreme opposite worldview is that God personally intervenes in the actions of every subatomic particle in the universe and controls all of their actions. Most Christians believe God has supernaturally intervened in the history of the universe to perform creation miracles in order to provide a suitable habitat for the creation and redemption of spiritual life. As a scientist who is a Christian, I do not assume that the physical and chemical laws of the universe will be broken by God during the course of my experimental research. Instead, I believe that the Bible is true when it says that God has fixed the physical laws of the universe,2 and that He rarely intercedes to suspend those laws.

Scientific methodology

AIG claims that origins science is inferior to operational science, since experiments can't be rerun and verified. Their solution seems to be to throw up our hands and say that no useful information can be obtained. The problem is that forensic science has the same "flaw." So, whenever we see a dead body whose death nobody has witnessed, should be throw up our hands and say, "no harm, no foul." Of course, nobody believes that a murderer should get away with his crime just because no witnesses were present when the crime was committed. Forensic science can answer a lot of questions about the cause of death, even though nobody was actually present when death occurred. Likewise, God has left a lot of evidence for His creation miracles, even though "nobody was present." Unlike a crime scene, though, God says that He left that evidence intentionally—to display His power, glory and righteousness.3

Science is based upon evidence. That is why the name of this website begins with "evidence." Evidence comes in many different varieties. Some evidence is observational—that is it is based upon specific observations. These observations can be based upon what we see in nature or by performing experiments in which the experimental conditions are carefully controlled. In my research, I do both. Sometimes we design experiments in which specific cell types or cells from different patients are collected from the human body and observed for differences (observational science). Sometimes we alter the experimental conditions of some of the cells (e.g., activate them with a mitogen) and look to see the response of certain genes (experimental science). Either way, we make observations about the state of the cells. In a purely technical sense, neither kind of science can be absolutely repeated. However, for experimental science, we could run the experiment over again (with identical subjects or different subjects). Likewise, in historical sciences, we cannot repeat an experiment exactly. However, we can make multiple observations of similar phenomena. For example, dark energy was discovered in 1998 by observing type 1A supernovas.4 When the results were first published, scientists were astonished by the level of fine tuning and said the results could not be correct. So, numerous other laboratories made similar observations of other type 1A supernovas, confirming the earlier work. Another example can be found in the science of paleontology. The first Tyrannosaurus rex fossil was unearthed in 1905. The rocks in which it was found were dated to ~66 million years ago. Since that time over two dozen more skeletons of T. rex have been discovered—all dated between 67 and 65.5 million years ago. So, the idea that experiments are not repeatable is not true, since multiple experiments can performed simply by comparing the answers found from multiple sites/samples.

We can't go back?

AIG says that historical science is more subject to error, since "no one was there to witness the past (except God)."1 For one science (astronomy) the statement is actually false! In fact, astronomy is the only science in which we cannot measure the present. Because the velocity of light is constant (at 186,282 miles per second), as we look further in space, we are looking back in time. We see Andromeda, our nearest large galaxy, the way it was 2 million years ago, since the galaxy is two million light years away (a light year is the distance light can travel in one year, approximately 5.9 trillion miles). So, astronomy is a science in which we can directly measure the past. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field shows images of galaxies that are billions of light years away. If you look at the image to the right, you will notice lots of objects closely packed together. These are not stars, but galaxies. Why are these galaxies so closely packed together? This is the way the universe looked billions of years ago, not long after the creation event itself, before God "stretched out the heavens"5 to their current size.

Origins research not repeatable?

There are a number of different ways to do origins research. AIG claims that the data is unreliable because it is not repeatable. I am going to use the example of radioactive decay to show that their claim is false. The age of the earth has been measured using a number of techniques (see our main article, How Old is the Earth According to the Bible and Science?) The age of the earth is most reliably measured by measuring the radiometric dates of solar system objects, specifically, meteorites:

Isochron Dating of Meteorites6
Meteorite Isochron Age (billions of years)
Pb-Pb Sm-Nd Rb-Sr Re-Os Ar-Ar
St. Severin 4.543 ± 0.019 4.55 ± 0.33 4.51 ± 0.15 4.68 ± 0.15  
Juvinas 4.556 ± 0.012 4.56 ± 0.08 4.50 ± 0.07    
Allende 4.553 ± 0.004       4.55 ± 0.03

Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding CreationThe remarkable thing about the dates of meteorites is that they all match within a very small margin of error, even when using different techniques. So, the dating techniques are repeatable and reliable. The stability of atoms is a function of a fundamental physical law, called the weak nuclear force. Young earth creationists acknowledge that there is evidence for billions of years of radiometric decay,7 They "solve" this problem by claiming that the laws of physics dramatically changed during the history of mankind on the earth. Not only is there no biblical evidence for this postulated change, but the Bible specifically refutes the idea that the laws of the universe changed after God's initial creation.2 Changing the weak nuclear force constant would have had a devastating effect upon the life cycle of stars, making them dramatically unstable. Nowhere in the history of the universe do we find any scientific evidence that such events ever took place (remember, we would have been able to see such events by looking back in space and time). However, the young earth "solution" creates an even bigger problem. Compressing billions of years of radioactive decay into a few years would result in a tremendous production of heat and radiation. In fact, the heat released by such an accelerated rate of radioactive decay would be sufficient to evaporate all the oceans and melt the crust, in addition to the release of lethal amounts of radiation.8 Needless to say, Noah would not have survived such a "solution." So, young earth creationists want us to believe a made-up story that directly contradicts the biblical texts and the evidence from the creation. A much simpler interpretation of the data is that the young earth paradigm is just wrong.

Bad science—good technology?

How can many sciences be wrong and yet the technology it powers works so well? Young earth creationists say that radioactive dating is wrong. However, the principles that control radioactive decay are the same ones that power nuclear reactors. How is it that the Curiosity Rover is able to function using its Plutonium reactor when our understanding of radioactive decay is so wrong? Likewise, young earth creationists say that geologists are wrong about the history of the earth. However, the principles of geology are used in the recovery of petroleum, minerals, and water. AIG says that the Big Bang is "bad science," although numerous verses in the Bible describe an expanding universe5 created from the invisible, which is exactly what the Big Bang model says.9 The evidence for the Big Bang and the age of the universe is not the result of just one particular observation, in fact, all the following techniques were used to measure the age of the universe: deuterium abundance and mass density, Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect, nucleochronology, star color luminosity fitting, expansion of the universe (WMAP), galaxy lenses time delay, age of oldest stars (U/Th, U/Ir, Th/Eu, and Th/Os dating), spectral line of Uranium-238 (half-life=4.5 billion years), supernova standard candles, gobular clusters, gravitational lensing, light travel-time based on quasar-light source, cepheids, expanding photosphere, star stream interactions in galaxies, and a geometric measurement to the quasar 3C 279. It is noteworthy that the final evidence for the age of the universe comes from purely mathematical measurement. Is mathematics also subject to presuppositions? AIG wants you to believe that all these data are wrong (instead of their theology).

Conclusion Top of page

All science is based upon observational evidence. The young earth claim that origins science is inferior to "operational science" is shown to be false. The claim that origins science is not repeatable is, likewise, shown to be incorrect. Instead of accepting the evidence from the Bible and the creation that the universe is ancient, young earth creationists invent doctrines that are found nowhere in the Bible, which are, in fact, contradicted by biblical teaching. The situation reminds me of the Greek Ptolemy's model of the solar system, which attempted to make the earth the center of the universe. The contrived model required the planets to orbit in elaborate epicycles in order to explain their retrograde orbital changes. Likewise, the young earth accelerated radioactive decay creates more problems than it solves, since it relies upon a still undiscovered mechanism for removing large amounts of heat and radiation from the earth in order to prevent Noah from being incinerated. The more reasonable alternative—that billions of years of radioactive decay took place over billions of years—would seem to make more sense than inventing doctrines that have no basis in reality.

Related Pages Top of page

A Matter of Days by Hugh RossA Matter of Days by Hugh Ross

Dr. Ross looks the creation date controversy from a biblical, historical, and scientific perspective. Most of the book deals with what the Bible has to say about the days of creation. Ross concludes that biblical models of creation should be tested through the whole of scripture and the revelations of nature.

Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth by Mark S. Whorton, Ph.D.

This book, written for Christians, examines creation paradigms on the basis of what scripture says. Many Christians assume that the young earth "perfect paradise" paradigm is based upon what the Bible says. In reality, the "perfect paradise" paradigm fails in its lack of biblical support and also in its underlying assumptions that it forces upon a "Christian" worldview. Under the "perfect paradise" paradigm, God is relegated to the position of a poor designer, whose plans for the perfect creation are ruined by the disobedience of Adam and Eve. God is forced to come up with "plan B," in which He vindictively creates weeds, disease, carnivorous animals, and death to get back at humanity for their sin. Young earth creationists inadvertently buy into the atheistic worldview that suffering could not have been the original intent of God, stating that the earth was created "for our pleasure." However, the Bible says that God created carnivores, and that the death of animals and plants was part of God's original design for the earth.

References Top of page

  1. Roger Patterson. 2007. Explore Evolution Chapter 1: What Is Science?, Answers in Genesis. February 22, 2007.
  2. Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: "If this fixed order departs From before Me," declares the LORD, "Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever." (Jeremiah 31:35-36)
    "Thus says the LORD, 'If My covenant for day and night stand not, and the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.'" (Jeremiah 33:25-26)
  3. God has left evidence of His creation miracles for us to see:
    • For the choir director. A Psalm of David. The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. (Psalms 19:1)
    • For the choir director; on the Gittith. A Psalm of David. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! (Psalms 8:1)
    • And the heavens declare His righteousness, For God Himself is judge. Selah. (Psalms 50:6)
    • Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Your glory be above all the earth. (Psalms 57:5)
    • The heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones. (Psalms 89:5)
    • The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples have seen His glory. (Psalms 97:6)
    • Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, And Your glory above all the earth. (Psalms 108:5)
    • Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven. (Psalms 148:13)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom, And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 51:15)
    • For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)
  4. Adam G. Riess et al. (Supernova Search Team) 1998. Observational evidence from supernovae for an accelerating universe and a cosmological constant. Astronomical J. 116: 10091038.
  5. The following verses suggest that God created the universe through an expanding universe - what science has called the Big Bang. In many cases the Hebrew text indicates present tense - a process still continuing.
    • Who alone stretches out the heavens, And tramples down the waves of the sea; (Job 9:8)
    • Covering Thyself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. (Psalm 104:2)
    • It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. (Isaiah 40:22)
    • Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk in it, (Isaiah 42:5)
    • Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone" (Isaiah 44:24)
    • "It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, And I ordained all their host." (Isaiah 45:12)
    • "Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand together." (Isaiah 48:13)
    • That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens, And laid the foundations of the earth; That you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, As he makes ready to destroy? But where is the fury of the oppressor? (Isaiah 51:13)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 10:12)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom, And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 51:15)
    • The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him, (Zechariah 12:1)
  6. Dalrymple, Brent G. (2004). Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies: The Age of the Earth and Its Cosmic Surroundings. Stanford University Press. pp. 147, 169.
  7. Harris, Archer, and Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Chicago, Moody Press, 1980.
  8. RATE in Review: Unresolved Problems by Larry Vardiman, Ph.D.  (Institute for Creation Research).
  9. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

Last Modified September 19, 2012


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