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What Are the Differences Between Evolution and Creationism, Creation Science, and Intelligent Design?

Updated on August 16, 2017
CatherineGiordano profile image

Catherine Giordano is a writer and public speaker who often writes and speaks on topics related to science, philosophy, and religion.

Creation Myths or Evolution

The explanation for life offered by religions differ from each other in significant ways, but none of them has any basis in science.
The explanation for life offered by religions differ from each other in significant ways, but none of them has any basis in science. | Source

How is Science Different from Religion?

Science is based on facts; religion is based on faith. Science is based on observation, evidence, and experimentation; religion is based on revelation. They are two different things, and they cannot be reconciled. While they may sometimes reach the same conclusions, they come to these conclusions in entirely different ways.

Stephen Jay Gould is a paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and the author of several books on popular science. He tried to reconcile religion and science with his “non-overlapping magisterial principle (NOMA).”

  • The science magisterium “covers the empirical realm: What the universe is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory).”
  • The religion magisterium “extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value.”

Gould’s view strikes me as trying to have your cake and eat it too. He was a man of science who made many important contributions to evolutionary science, but he evidently had a deep emotional attachment to his religion. NOMA cannot withstand close logical scrutiny.

NOMA was criticized by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, in his book The God Delusion (pp 54-61). Dawkins makes the following arguments:

  • Religion usually includes miracles which by definition violate the laws of science.
  • NOMA is a two-way street. If science must not address claims made by religion, then religion must not try to use science to prove its claims.

Religion cannot be relied upon for morals and ethics. Many of the edicts for behavior in the Bible are morally odious. (For instance, killing your children if they are disobedient: Deuteronomy 21:18-21 and elsewhere)

Psuedoscience vs. Science

There are three distinct views about creation among religious groups.They may pretend to be science, but they are not.
There are three distinct views about creation among religious groups.They may pretend to be science, but they are not. | Source

What is Creationism?

Creationism emerged in response to Charles Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species and the consequent emergence of the science of evolution.

Creationism is the religious belief that the universe and life were created by God. Charles Darwin was the first to use the term. In an 1856 letter, he described those who objected to the concept of evolution because it did not comport with the Biblical stories of creation as “creationists.”

There are variations in creationist beliefs. However, they fall into two main groups.

  • Young Earth Creationism (YEC): This group takes an extremely literal interpretation of the biblical creation myth in Genesis. They believe that the Earth (and even the entire universe) is less than 10,000 years old. (Scientists believe the earth to be about 4.5 billion years old.) In order to explain geological evidence to the contrary, some claim that God, for some unknown reason, made the Earth to appear much older than it actually is. All life was created during the six days of creation exactly as it is today. Even fossils were created and buried during this act of creation (again for no known reason).
  • Old Earth Creationism (OEC): This group believes that the universe and everything in it was created by God, but the description in Genesis is figurative rather than literal. It was done in six eons instead of six actual days. They accept the findings of geologists and astronomers as to the age of the Earth and the universe, but they deny that biological evolution took place. Life was created by God, exactly as it is today “in the beginning.”

What is Creation Science?

Creation science is not much different from creationism. It is an attempt to dress-up religious notions as science. It is a pseudoscience that mimics actual science as it tries to disprove the widely accepted scientific explanations that are based on empirical evidence.

It not only rejects evolution, the very basis for the science of biology, it rejects geology, cosmology, archaeology, and history.

It began in the United States in 1960's as a fundamentalist Christian concept to counter the scientific evidence for evolution. It has since gained a large following, not only in the United States, but also around the world.

Creation science views mainstream science, including evolution (which they sometimes call Darwinism), as an “atheist religion.” (This is a contradiction in terms, but never mind.) They believe that the religious supernatural explanations should be part of science. (Another contradiction in terms—science studies the natural world, the world that can be tested empirically, so how could the supernatural play a part. Oh well, never mind.)

Biblical Creation Stories

Biblical creation stories are myths, not science.
Biblical creation stories are myths, not science. | Source

What is Intelligent Design (ID)?

Intelligent design (ID) is another pseudoscientific concept and another offshoot of creationism. The Discovery Institute, a politically conservative think tank based in the United States, is the leading proponent of ID.

The proponents of ID accept most of the facts determined by the various branches of science, but they maintain that they are not a result of natural causes. They claim there had to be an “intelligent designer” guiding the process. Some proponents of this ideology are careful not to state who the intelligent designer might be so as to avoid being labeled a religious doctrine; others quite firmly state that the intelligent designer is the Judeo-Christian deity.

ID is no more than the old “watchmaker” argument which goes back to the 15th century. The claim is that if an intricate watch exists, there must have been a watchmaker who designed and produced it.

A more modern version of the watchmaker analogy states that saying that life evolved from simple one-celled organisms to the complexity we can observe in human beings is “like saying that a hurricane could blow through a junk yard and produce a jet plane.”

These analogies sound reasonable at first, but for anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the science of evolution, they are as flimsy as tissue paper and as easy to puncture. They are a total misrepresentation of the tenets of evolution science.

Another argument posited by ID, is “irreducible complexity.” They point to a complex anatomical feature, such as the eye, and say if any one part is removed, the eye is useless. Therefore, it had to be designed or built by a creator. As I will show in the following section, this argument also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the science of evolution.

The Watchmaker Analogy

The watchmaker analogy (which argues for the need of an Intelligent Designer) can be easily refuted.
The watchmaker analogy (which argues for the need of an Intelligent Designer) can be easily refuted. | Source

What is Evolution?

In the 150 years since Darwin first proposed the theory of evolution, the theory has expanded way beyond what he could have imagined and thousands of experiments have confirmed it. Advances in molecular biology and the discovery of DNA have elucidated how evolution works.

In a nutshell, the following are the main tenets of the theory of evolution.

Natural selection: Natural selection is the primary force that drives evolution. It states that the individuals that are best suited to survive in the environment in which they find themselves have more reproductive success and so their traits become more common in the population.

“Survival of the fitest” does not mean that only the biggest or strongest individuals have an advantage; it is the individuals best suited to the environment that are the fittest.

Random mutation: Genetic mutations happen at random. Some make no difference to survival and reproductive success, some are harmful and have a negative effect, but some are useful. An individual with a useful mutation will be more likely to survive and have offspring and pass the mutation down into the next generation. Consequently, the mutation will become more common in the population.

Speciation: Eventually, enough mutations will occur so that a subset of the original population becomes a new species that can no longer reproduce with the original population. This is especially likely to happen if the subset is isolated from the main population due to a change in the environment--such as a major flood or earthquake--that creates a physical barrier or if the subset migrates to a new location.

The result is two species—the original species and the new species. The new species is not necessarily “better” than the original one. As long as the new species is well-suited to its environment, it will survive and reproduce and increase in number.

All of this occurs over billions of years. It is an incremental process over thousands of generations. This is the main flaw with the watchmaker theory--it presumes that there was single act of creation.

The genus homo first appeared on the Earth three million years ago. So far, at least nine different species have been found within this genus, although only one, homo- sapiens (us) still exists. Some of these different species of man lived during the same time period. Geneticists have found that most Europeans and Asians have between 1 to 2 percent Neanderthal DNA.

The Ascent of Man

This linear representation of the evolution of homo-sapiens is not scientifically accurate--. Neanderthals are not our grandfathers; they are our cousins.
This linear representation of the evolution of homo-sapiens is not scientifically accurate--. Neanderthals are not our grandfathers; they are our cousins. | Source

Why Are the Arguments Against Evolution Flawed?

Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion, gives the analogy of “Mount Improbable.” He asks us to suppose that we want to reach the top of a mountain which has a sheer drop on one side and a gentle slope on the other. Leaping to the top of the mountain in a single jump—that is highly improbable. However, if you slowly climb up the side with the gentle slope, it is not improbable at all to eventually reach the top.

Dawkins also demolishes the “irreducible complexity” argument. The eye, for instance, evolved independently in several branches of the tree of life. It evolved from a simple eye spot that could discern only light and dark to the complex eye we see today. An inferior eye is better than no eye. Take me, for example. I am very near-sighted, but my inferior eye ,even without glasses, can see well enough to keep me from bumping into walls and tripping over tables.

Evolution does not remove all undesirable traits from a population (like nearsightedness). It does not make a species “perfect,” only good enough. The tree of life is not a single trunk leading to an apex. There are many branches and on some of those branches, you will find some remarkable species. I’ll mention just one here—honey bees. I have been researching these little insects and I have seen some amazing anatomical features, social organization, and intelligence (despite their tiny brains).

Why Evolution Is Real Science and Religious Concepts Are Not

Unlike the theory of evolution, ID has produced no testable hypotheses. Suffice it to say that if a claim cannot be tested empirically, it is not science, creation science and ID are commonly referred to as “junk science” which means something that tries to pass itself off as science when it does not follow scientific norms.

Just because science cannot explain everything, it doesn’t mean that it can’t explain anything. Just because science gets one thing wrong, it does not mean that it gets everything wrong. This is how science works. It is a steady advancement of knowledge. Hypotheses are constantly tested, and any bits that are shown to be wrong are dropped, while new bits are continually added.

When scientists come to an impasse, they don’t get to say, “God did it.” (Hence, the term “God of the Gaps.”) They continue to work to find the facts and evidence that will narrow this gap in their knowledge.

Scientists do not have “faith” in Darwin or in science in the same way that theists have faith in their God. The word “faith” also means trust. People who accept evolution trust the scientific method, and they trust the conclusions of experts in the field.

Lastly, the word “theory” in the scientific world does not have the same meaning as it does in everyday life. It does not mean an unconfirmed guess. Scientists use the word theory to mean a body of knowledge that explain certain facts. Evolution is a fact.

Please give your opinion in this poll.

Which of the explanation for life seems most plausible to you?

See results

© 2017 Catherine Giordano

CI welcome your comments.

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    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 3 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      Gerald Trigo: Evidently. Some people prefer to believe their pleasant myths than cold hard facts.

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      Gerard Trigo 3 weeks ago

      So we have 13% who do not have the reasoning ability to discern fact from fiction or cannot recognize the difference between wishful thinking and evidence, or who are too self-deluded to accept information and evidence.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 7 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      CyrilS: The Bible does not say anything one way or the other about abortion. It does say that human life begins when a person draws his first breath. (Genesis 2:7) Some atheists find abortion odious and some theists find it acceptable. Plus you have set up a strawman in order to ignore the example I gave of the Bible telling people it is OK to kill their children.

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      CyrilS 7 weeks ago

      “Religion cannot be relied upon for morals and ethics. Many of the edicts for behavior in the Bible are morally odious. (For instance, killing your children if they are disobedient: Deuteronomy 21:18-21 and elsewhere)”

      Abortion is killing your children, yet that is not considered morally odious, in fact it’s considered morally good.

    • Andrew Tompkins profile image

      Andrew Tompkins 2 months ago from syracuse, ny, usa

      Hi Catherine! Yes, I too suspect that life, at least "intelligent" life as we think we know it, is very rare. I mean, life evolved in fits and starts for several BILLION years on this planet, but we only have seen "intelligence" - the kind of intelligence that controls fire and cooks food - for something like 250000 years - a tiny fraction of the time life has been evolving. I think that fact in itself is telling. The dinosaur age went on for 130 million years, or so we're told, and we haven't seen evidence that they were making nuclear weapons (hmm - maybe the extinction event was NOT a meteor after all!). Regardless, even if intelligent life is exceedingly rare, the universe is so vast that to think we're the first intelligence is hard to believe. And if there have been other intelligences, like us, that developed technology, then, somewhere out there, it is not unreasonable to think that there are civilizations that could have millions of years of technology behind them. And if the trajectory is to master more and more of the natural world, why don't we see evidence of engineering on a galactic level? This is Fermi's Paradox.

      But I think like you that there just may no way of getting around the fact that the distances we're talking given the universal speed limit of c, we may never be able to communicate with another species, or recognize the work of another intelligence. Which is profoundly provocative, at least to me. There may be alien civilizations in many places throughout the universe, none of them ever knowing there were any other ones out there. Creepy.

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      Jack Lee 2 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Fermi's paradox is interesting. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that due to the vast space of the universe, the presence of intelligent life is so short, by cosmic standards, the overlap is just negligible.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Andrew Tompkins: Thanks for making the points you made in your comment. I have not done an article on Ferm's Paradox, but your suggestion has gotten me interested in doing so. To answer your question about why we have not found any signs of alien life, just think about the vastness of time and space and the physical limitations of space or time travel. It is highly improbable that alien life will exit in close proximity to Earth and at the exact same time as us. I think human life exists because of a series of lucky accidents that are unlikely to be duplicated. Further, if there is intelligent life on other planets close enough in time and space, they might be uninterested in making themselves known to us.

    • Andrew Tompkins profile image

      Andrew Tompkins 2 months ago from syracuse, ny, usa

      Hi Catherine and Jacklee,

      Even if we had evidence the "johnny-Appleseed" aliens were here, and somehow combined their DNA with something that was already going on on earth or just dropped a vial of an experiment on a lifeless earth, you've only moved the problem evolution vs creationism over by one. Your "aliens" either evolved somewhere else (even Mars or Venus), or are themselves some kind of deities.

      And this brings up what i think is the most fascinating question of all: if life is a natural consequence of the physics and chemistry of the universe, and the universe is already about 14 billion years old, then even a conservative estimate of the number of planets with life is pretty significant. So, Fermi's Paradox: Where are they? Why do we appear to be all alone in the universe? Have you ever done an article on Fermi's Paradox?

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Palladin: Thank you for your common-sense explanations of these "mysteries." Things that seem to be impossible turn out to be totally understandable with the application of a little bit of thought, a little bit of common sense, and a little bit of scientific investigation.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 2 months ago from Michigan, USA

      Actually, the construction of the great pyramids of Egypt have already been largely explained. The Egyptians simply constructed a long, large ramp (with the lowest possible incline) next to the pyramid, reaching up to the level under construction, then dragged or pushed the blocks up the ramp on a sledge.

      So, which is more plausible -- that the ancient Egyptians used one of the most basic machines known to man (the inclined plane), or that extraterrestrial visitors traversed the vast expanses of space, only to help one of Earth's tribes build great pyramids and never return (or, at least, never leaving any evidence that they've come back)?

      A similar question lends itself to the debate over evolution and creationism. Which is more plausible -- that an all-powerful creator popped a multitude of lifeforms simultaneously into existence (only to see the vast majority of them ultimately go extinct), leaving no evidence of his own existence; or that the Earth's species slowly evolved over eons following natural laws that can easily be observed in action?

      I think both questions practically answer themselves.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      jackclee: Even if scientists don't understand the construction of old monuments doesn't mean that aliens did it. It just means that they don't understand it.

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      Jack Lee 2 months ago from Yorktown NY

      As an engineer, there are real mysteries about these construction of old monuments...to this day, we don't know how the pyramids and other ancient structures were built. You can dismiss it all you want but it does not change the facts...

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      No!. P.S.: Stop watching "tabloid" TV.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 2 months ago from Yorktown NY

      You have avoided the other aspect of Intelligent design. What if the intelligence is extra terrestrial and coming from space aliens?

      A popular TV show on called Ancient Aliens makes the case for aliens coming here and created mondern man with genetic engineering combining their own DNA with primitive man. They also help with the construction of megaliths which csnnot be easily explained otherwise.

      Don't make the mistake of only two choices for the creation of man. It may have a third or forth origin?

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Andrew Tomkins: I love your take on this and all your alternative names for Intelligent Design. What a brilliant way to show how ID makes no sense at all.

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      Andrew Tompkins 2 months ago from syracuse, ny, usa

      Love your article - thank you. I have these kinds of discussions seemingly all the time. I might be a little obsessed about it. Just a little. Like a little "pregnant". You have summarized many of the points I make with the ID ("Incompetent Design", "Irresponsible Design", "Intervention by Deity", "Illusory Design" - there's a million of 'em) community. One of the arguments I try to make with them is, if you're going to let gods in, why not claim they made everything "last Wednesday" or even "5 minutes ago"? The gods planted everything in your head, in your life, in everyone else's life, etc? The whole shebang. Five minutes ago. What would distinguish your theory, that gods make eyeballs when necessary, and my theory? And in my theory, the gods are even more amazing! They made it all 5 minutes ago! In a flash! Why they're the awesomest gods ever!

      Also, shoving the infamous Discovery Institute's leaked "Wedge Document" into the discussion is always helpful.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Paladin: Thank you for the information you provided in your comment. It is relevant and useful. It speaks to the fact that ID proponents are not just misguided and misinformed; they are actively trying to con people. They are not scientists--true scientists welcome criticism.. It's nice to hear from you.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 2 months ago from Michigan, USA

      Another excellent and thorough hub, Catherine! It looks like you've hit all the relevant points, so I'll add only a couple of notes.

      First, if anyone has any doubts as to whether "intelligent design" is simply a refurbished version of creationism, they should look to the Dover trial. Copies of the creationist textbook "Of Pandas And People" were compared, and it was clear that every reference to "creator" or "creationism" in the earlier versions had been replaced with "designer" or "intelligent design" in the newer editions.

      Indeed, the so-called "smoking gun" was found in a draft copy of one of the revisions, where the editing had been so sloppy that "creationists" hadn't been entirely replaced by "design proponents":

      "...Evolutionists think the former is correct, cdesign proponentsists accept the latter view..."

      I'll add one other point, which I often make in discussions like this because I feel it sheds a very important and revealing light on the truth of the matter. I ask people to visit both creationist/intelligent design websites and evolution/science websites, and try to find the links to the OPPOSING viewpoint.

      The evolution/science sites will almost always include links to creationist/ID websites. In fact, Talk Origins -- arguably the largest pro-evolution website (though, sadly, no longer updated) includes the largest collection of creationist websites ANYWHERE on the web! As for the creationist/ID websites, I have yet to find a single one that includes links to ANY pro-evolution sites.

      I then ask people to ask themselves -- who is more likely to be telling them the truth (and more importantly, who is more likely to be lying) -- someone who gives them only ONE side of the argument, or someone who gives them BOTH?

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Larry Rankin: I agree with you. Religious doctrines are all dead ends. Once you feel like you know the truth, all inquiry stops. Science knows that there will always be more to know.

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      Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

      Not much to add except I agree. It's not even a spiritual issue, really. Creationism doesn't help us in anyway scientifically. In fact, it's a roadblock to survival of the species, if anything.

      Look at it this way: creationism hasn't led to a solitary scientific discovery. Evolution theory continues to benefit humankind.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      billybuc. Thank you for your nice comment. I too feel that there is no point in arguing over this. But I do have to point out an error in your comment. Many scientists, including those in the field of biology, deny the existence of God. Right in the first section of this essay, I mention one of them, Richard Dawkins. According to the Pew research Center, 41% of scientists in the biological and medical field are atheists, 19% believe in some form of undefined "Higher Power", and only 32% believe in God.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      This is one of those topics I stay away from. Once arguments break out there is no winner. Having said that, I am always interested in hearing the views of someone I respect. I'm not quite sure why Religion is so threatened by Science. Nowhere have I ever read that a scientist discounted religion. Oh, I'm sure there are a few out there, but evolutionists have rarely argued that God doesn't exist, or that man came from God.....the two views can co-exist in my humble opinion.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      fpherj48: Thank you for your nice comment. In social settings, I avoid saying things that are attacks on the beliefs of others. I know I can't convince them, so why get everyone upset. Online, I can be a bit more bold. If someone doesn't like what I am saying, they can just click away. The small group of people that does not already believe as I do, but who have doubts about their current beliefs and are ready to learn is my primary audience. Also, those who do agree with me, but want more information on the subject.

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      Paula 2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Catherine....Thank you for a fabulous mini-education and a "Thank you" to both F.A. and you for mentioning what I have always believed and adhered to, which is staying CLEAR of topics, opinions, beliefs & discussions thereof.....that we KNOW in advance will only cause discourse, anger, hurt feelings and unnecessary, as well as unacceptable stress among beloved family members and/or very close friends. That is inviting trouble that can otherwise be easily avoided. There are limitless topics to discuss calmly & civilly in social settings.

      I have never and will never allow this to occur when with particular individuals. Bonds and relationships are much more important than a selfish need to be right or try to prove a point, which we already know they repeatedly will rebuff. To each his/her own. Period.

      My husband and I had a loving, comfortable relationship for 12 years, with mutual respect and a lot of laughter. We agreed on almost NOTHING! It can be done.

      Catherine, very good article~~as always! Have a nice week-end. Peace, Paula

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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      FlourishAnyway: Thanks for your comment. I'm sorry to hear about your nieces and nephews being deprived of a good education. Wait until they try to get a job as an engineer with a degree from Liberty University. I agree with you about not bringing this up with your family. You won't change their minds and it will only bring on family discord.

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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Ericdierker: Of course emotions are real and of course scientists can study them by both observation and experimentation. It is what neurobiologists among others do. It seems we are in agreement on this, but I suspect you think we are not.

      .

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      FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

      You seem to be evoking a lot of emotion with this one, my friend. My brother and sister-in-law have extreme views on this subject and home school their 5 kids because they don't want them learning evolution and other so-called evil in public school. We agree to simply not discuss religion because it's a relationship destroyer. Besides, no one will be changing their mind anyhow.

      Their high school aged kids take creation chemistry and creation physics, whatever those are. Ordinarily I'd say whatever, to each their own, but if you want to be an engineer (as some of his kids allegedly do) I am not sure their "creationist science" classes help them substantially. My brother is a brilliant engineer who graduated from one of the best engineering schools in the country and my parents and I can't believe this whole creation chemistry mess. He's sending them to Liberty University I guess because they preach the creationist science stuff there as fact. Doesn't mean it'll yield a good engineer though. Just my take.

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      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Succinctly this is faulty logic; "Suffice it to say that if a claim cannot be tested empirically, it is not science". Not true. Emotions, empathy and love are real. Science can study them, maybe not understand, but whatever. Empirical limits are dumb.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Erickdieker: Thanks for commenting on my hub, but I have no idea what you are trying to say so the only reaction have is confusion.

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      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      The discount of that unseen seems a rationalization to not accept it. Empicism must yield to String Theory. Quantum physics cannot and probably never will support that crazy pre-Cartesian notion of the observation by senses as meaning a danged thing.

      It is indeed neandertholigic to think our world contained by five senses or even 10 as we now for sure know that we have at the least 15 that empiricists cannot account for.

      Your attempt to state a fact and then later come up with proof is in scientific logic faulty.

      You do not know what I just felt about you, yet in fact and truth I felt it. You cannot empirically know my feelings yet they exist.

      Not out of rudeness or dislike, I hope this concept makes you angry, taken aback, pissed off or just emotional. If you have to fight those reactions. Good. It will prove that empiricism is faulty.

      Discount that which you cannot discern empirically and discount your intellect. There is no proof of how you think or feel.