Questions for Answers in Genesis #3

One of the biggest criticisms of young-earth creationist research is the fact that its research isn’t generally peer-reviewed. So when this week’s Answers Weekly email announced that Answers in Genesis’ year-old Answers Research Journal has, since its inception, “grown from a humble start with three peer-reviewed papers to a popular destination for serious creation researchers and a fast-growing repository of investigations from those on the new frontiers of science,” I was intrigued.
I visited the publication’s first volume and clicked on the About ARJ link to get a better idea of how it attained “peer-reviewed” status. This is what I found:

… papers in our journal will be reviewed by the best experts we have available to us through a large network of well-qualified creationist researchers, scientists, and theologians who are the best thinkers in their fields of creationist research.

Let me get this straight: creationist research is peer-reviewed by those who already hold to a creationist paradigm? Sorry, AiG. Having your research reviewed by people already predisposed to your paradigm does not constitute peer-reviewed research. According to Wikipedia:

Peer review (also known as refereeing) is the process of subjecting an author’s scholarly work, research or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field. Peer review requires a community of experts in a given (and often narrowly defined) field, who are qualified and able to perform impartial review. Impartial review, especially of work in less narrowly defined or inter-disciplinary fields …

While AiG’s research has been peer-reviewed from a technical standpoint (and I’m sure many would even call that admission into question), Answers Research Journal violates the spirit of peer review by limiting the research to those who are likely to agree with it. Indeed, peer “reviewers are typically anonymous and independent, to help foster unvarnished criticism, and to discourage cronyism in funding and publication decisions.”

If AiG wants to change the rules of what peer-reviewed research entails, don’t call it peer review. Although I don’t have proof, I’m confident that none of the research in ARJ was ever subjected to review by old-earth creationists (in the case of submissions supporting a young-earth) or evolutionists (in the case of submissions criticizing so-called “macro-evolution”). I would love to be proven wrong, so here’s AiG’s opportunity to see me wear egg on my face.

UPDATE: I love my eggs over-easy. Steve Matheson at Quintessence of Dust was kind enough to inform me that the number of ASJ papers peer-reviewed by an old-earth creationist is > 0.

12 Comments

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12 Responses to Questions for Answers in Genesis #3

  1. Anonymous

    My initial tendency was to trash the validity of the Answers Research Journal simply because of its a priori assumptions and peer review process.It would be unfair to prematurely question the qualifications of those submitting scientific papers or the peer reviewers themselves, since that would be bias, so, I decided to read each article and make an objective evaluation.The scientific paper I ended up focusing on was ” The Origin of Oil-a Creationists View “.The author cites the Hedberg Conference where scientists from all over thw world met to solve the issue of whether oil derived from organic or inorganic mechanisms.According to the author, after many papers had been presented over several days,there was no definite consensus of opinion as to whether oil came from a living or nonliving means.Thus, there could be only one other explantion which he called the ” Theobaric Model ” which states that ‘God did it’.The author, John D. Matthews, credentials were never mentioned, but I did read the the journal recommenmed the use of pseudonyms so that the peer reviewers could not accused of bias. Normally, in the peer review process, the authors names are unknown to the reviewers( pseudonyms arent used, just the names unknown), but when the paper is accepted and published,the authors actual name is naturally used of course.The ARJ openly states its policy is to allow and encourage authors to use pseudonyms even after the paper is published, because of the fear of losing their jobs if the real name is used.No matter, I have done the homework and am glad to know about the Theobaric model and still actively awaiting how one could disprove or falsify this model. Brian

  2. AstroBoy

    The problem with any "God did it" model is that an omnipotent deity can do anything, which means that "God did it" theories cannot be disproved. For example, the theory that Thor created the universe and everything in it 0.3 seconds ago, implanting memories, creating geological strata implying great ages and hundreds of years worth of publications discussing said strata, light with the appearance of red-shifting consistent with an expanding universe and the telescopes with which we have false memories of studying said light, DNA evidence consistent with relationships between species, written records and photographs of events in the past, etc. cannot be disproved.

    The theory sounds absurd, but no possible evidence can disprove it, because an omnipotent deity can do whatever it wants and give whatever appearance to things that it wants to give. We have no way to tell the difference between nature in operation and a magical universe with bazillions of fairies at work nudging this here, that there, to give the appearance of nature at work (assuming we have no way to detect fairies. If we did, they'd be part of nature, and we'd have to conclude that that's just the way nature operates, and fairy-ology and the study of bribing fairies would become the root of science, as opposed to physics and mathematics)

    The reason we use science as opposed to "God did it" to explain the world is that, well, science works. The two approaches leads= to very different conclusions about how to deal with the world, with strong implications for survival. Let's say you get sick. "God did it" –> pray. "Medical science" –> treatments that improve your prognosis. I know no one who, by their actions, subscribes to the "God did it" model of illness. I know many who pray in addition to seeing the doctor. They get better at no different rate from people who just see the doctor. I get annoyed when they thank God for getting better, but not the doctor, the nurses, the medical researchers, the workers at the pharmaceutical factory, the hundreds of years of societal evolution giving them the freedom to sit and rest as opposed to returning immediately to work or the fields, nevermind the resources to actually see a doctor…

    In the case of this "God did it" model for oil production, does it make any useful predictions? Hrm… God loves me and wants me to be happy, so I'll drill beneath my house (nevermind it's built on volcanic rock… God puts oil where he wants!). Or let's approach things in the other direction… let's look at the distribution of oil reserves and see who God loves best. Apparently the House of Saud, implying that it's Allah, not Yahweh, who's making the oil. But if you don't like that conclusion, then one can just say, "Well, God works in mysterious ways." Which leaves you in the dark, having no idea where to drill. At best, you can see what types of known areas God placed oil in and search for similar ones (theory-less pattern matching). Which would be helpful in finding more deposits in sedimentary remnants of ancient shallow seas (or places created to look like ancient shallow seas), but would lead you to miss places like tar sands.

    As for the results of the Hedberg conference you reference, the lack of a definite conclusion regarding organic or non-organic origins for oil does not imply "God did it." This is merely the "God in the gaps" argument (i.e. "we don't have a good explanation yet, so we default to assuming it's a miracle"). A key problem with "God in the gaps" is that, well, the gaps keep shrinking at an incredible pace. For a classic example: Newton decided that since he couldn't figure out the long term stability of the planets' orbits, they must be occasionally corrected by angels. A century later, Laplace worked out the dynamics – leaving one less thing to be explained by God. When the supernatural is used to explain observations, the supernatural's domain inevitably shrinks as we find natural explanations for those observations.

    Historically, science has managed to chip away at every gap to which it has turned its attention, largely or completely eliminating many (ex. theories of mental disorders with attendant treatments vs. demonic possession and exorcism; the formation of the solar system from a collapsing cloud of gas and dust vs. magical summonings of various flavors, whichever one you believe mostly depending upon where you were born)

    A flipside to "God in the gaps" is that not only does science keep chipping away at the gaps, but it keeps creating and filling in more gaps. We keep finding more things to observe, and even predicting observations. Nobody 500 years ago (when most everything ended within two or three levels of explanation as "God did it") would have imagined phenomena such as light we can't see (IR, radio, x-rays, UV, gamma), studying and manipulating the mechanisms of heredity (DNA, heck, even cells!), fossils (with every transitional fossil found creating two new gaps, keeping paleontologists employed for the last couple hundred years and likely for several hundred more), extrasolar planets, star formation, the expansion of the universe (and the many confirmed predictions of that theory), general relativity (again, with a plethora of confirmed predictions, proving that just because it's counter-intuitive and requires 14+ years of mathematics education to be able to use doesn't mean it isn't real), quantum mechanics (see sidenote on relativity)… I could go on all day.

    (and regarding abiotic oil, the issue, like most, has some nuance – oil can be produced abiotically, via several mechanisms, but the geologic community has come to the conclusion that abiotic oil does not represent a large economically viable source for our consumption, either because it is not produced in large enough quantities or it does not accumulate in easily accessed areas. The geologists are working on it, and if they're wrong and abiotic oil represents a huge resource, they'll figure that out too. Which reminds me of another key weakness of "God did it" theories – they're not helpful. Historically, when people have said "God did it" they stop making progress on figuring things out. The only useful formulation of "God did it" is "Let's figure out how God did it" which is, in the end, a very different statement, functionally no different from "Let's figure out how it works" except that the practitioner is setting themselves up to throw out or ignore data and ideas that conflict with whatever beliefs they've consigned to "God did it". If abiotic oil is a good resource, it won't be the guys sitting on the sidelines saying "God did it" who will figure it out, it will be the geologists and chemists either a) finding inconsistencies with observations or b) making predictions and convincing some oil conglomerate desperate for profits to do some exploration.)

  3. Excellent comments, AstroBoy!

    (BTW, Brian’s comments toward the end of his post were considerably tongue-in-cheek. I’m confident that he’d agree with you on your criticisms of the “Theobaric” model.)

  4. AstroBoy

    (perhaps we need to add some internet-wide mechanism for indicating snark, which is also my default mode 🙂 The classic typed communication problem… no tone of voice! Hence my belief it’s always best to believe the best case scenario for whatever you’re reading – which is often tongue-in-cheek. But I’m strongly showing my tendency to drill away on some point or another. Nice thing about the internets is one can just skip to the next comment – I bet my wife wishes she could do that with me! Just hit the spacebar and get me talking about kittens or something :-))

    Oh yeah, and I ran completely with my response to the first comment, and forgot to state a thought regarding peer review in AiG (and I’ll refrain from rambling about the value – or lack thereof – of a comment in a blog or how much anyone cares that I continue with sharing my initial thought. 🙂 )

    Peer review is carried out by experts in the field of study. This feature has emerged over hundreds of years, tweaking along until, for many papers, the number of experts qualified to review the paper numbers in the dozens or low hundreds (for example, in my field, which happens to be young and sexy and thus heavily populated, there are perhaps 200 people who know enough – have deep enough knowledge in the several specialized areas of knowledge necessary for the research – to address all the points that come up in a paper on circumstellar disk evolution and planet formation. Extrasolar planet hunters could address maybe 75%, interstellar medium people could address ~75% (and between the two of them, hit the whole thing). A galaxies person could critically evaluate maybe 25%. So by using a team of reviewers, the pool increases to a few thousand… still small in the grand scheme of things. Toss in that everyone is spending 50+ hours a week trying to conduct their own research, and you pretty much want to limit reviewing to people who can address 100% of the content so as not to waste anyone’s time.)

    This is a natural consequence of the depth of our collective knowledge. We, as a species, now know so much that a person must spend 20+ years of schooling reaching the cutting edge on a single tiny area of knowledge.

    I’m boggled when I think about how much mathematics and statistics, chemistry, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, classical dynamics, atomic physics, programming, fluid dynamics, radiative transfer (the interplay of light and matter), instrumentation (mainly electronics and optics for understanding how my data is collected, and gotchas to watch out for), plus a thousand little details from other fields, I must understand to make my tiny little contributions. Lacking understanding in any one of those areas (a frequent problem I face!) leads to faulty conclusions. Never giving up on asking “Why this? How does it connect to that?” – i.e. doing science – is hard.

    If they were honest, the editors at AiG should claim that a geologist, chemist, physicist, biologist, paleontologist, or astronomer is not qualified to review their papers. Scientists operate under such a different paradigm – naturalism, preference for limiting the number of mechanisms invoked – i.e. a few intertwined mechanisms explaining many phenomena, as opposed to many supernatural interventions to tweak things along, etc. – as to be unqualified to review papers in creationism. And they would be right. When the claim is “God did it,” which is the basis of the creationist paradigm, no scientist can address it, because that’s a claim beyond science.

    Now, when people pile on more claims, we can start to butt in. “God did things this way…” Well, then we can address that claim. It’s abundantly clear that, if “God did it,” he did it either:

    a) with the big bang, galactic and stellar evolution, planetary formation with many details yet to be sorted out but the basic picture quite solidly established, geologic processes requiring millions / billions of years, some sort of yet-to-be-figured-out chemical evolution and biogenesis (see discussion of God-in-the-gaps in my previous comment), and biological evolution, or

    b) through fraud, doing things magically and then covering up his steps to deceive us into thinking that the universe follows rules mimicking a) (invoking the God works in mysterious ways clause, I suppose).

    I suppose some people invoke an option c), saying the devil buried those fossils, manipulated those laboratory experiments showing beneficial mutations, created redshifted light to imply the expansion of space, etc. But that seems like particularly poor theology to me, granting incredible power to the chap, and still suffers from the chief flaw of “God did it” theories – it makes no predictions for further observation, gives no practical input for technological development, and in no way simplifies our view of the world (instead replacing a few basic rules with millions of magical effects)

    OK, I’ll stop flogging the horse (see what happens when vacation strikes? 🙂 ) BTW, Mike, I found your blog today via James McGrath at Exploring our Matrix, and quite like it. Keep blogging!

  5. Mike, I sure don’t want to see you smeared with avian oocytes, but I can say with certainty that the number of articles in ARJ that has been reviewed by an “old-earth creationist” is greater than zero. If you know what I’m saying.

    I doubt that all – or even most – of the stuff in the journal will meet basic scholarly standards, and I do agree with you that a journal that is only refereed by creationists (or atheists, or Rastafarians, or Democrats) is under significant scholarly suspicion. But there’s room, I think, for the project that ARJ claims to pursue. And that project does need to know that reviewers are willing to understand and grant some aspects of the paradigm. ARJ should seek referees that are experts in the fields of inquiry, but they should be free to expect the reviewers to share some basic aspects of the paradigm. It’s tricky, I’m sure, but it’s not inherently bogus, in my opinion.

  6. Who knew that Steve would be the one to throw an egg! 😉

    (So, if I understand correctly what you’re saying, some guy with the initials S.M. reviewed one of the papers?)

    Thanks for the correction. I’ll post an “update” on the main post to reflect the actual situation.

    That being said, maybe you can elaborate on what happens when a particular paper receives a thumbs-down from one or all of its reviewers. In other words, what does it take for a peer-reviewed work to pass publication muster? Does it count as “peer-reviewed” if it’s simply reviewed, regardless of the quality of the research? Is it up to the journal to decide?

    Obviously, the work can’t contain fundamental errors, but what does one do when its hypothesis hinges on something that can’t be proven or falsified, e.g., the theobaric model?

  7. @Steve,

    Not inherently bogus and absolutely within their rights. But they certainly cannot look someone in the eye, point to this and say, “See – our science is as legitimate and deserves as much respect as non-creation science because we are peer-reviewed.” What will determine creationism’s legitimacy is comparison with non-creationism (as I’m sure you’d agree).

  8. Tom

    One huge problem with science, as Astroboy pointed out, is that some of it is really hard to interpret and have knowledge about. As well, there are levels of peer review, because there are levels of peer-reviewed journals. To the layperson, to call something “peer-reviewed” sounds like it was edited and given a stamp of approval by other scientists. It’s easy to call some experiments and haphazard data analysis “science” because the layperson will not know the difference. Additionally, the more complicated the science is to understand, the easier it is to assume an intricate designer. My parents just lent me their “Case for a Creator” DVD by Lee Strobel. I have not seen it yet, but they said it was way over their heads. I wonder if that was the intent.

  9. An important point for this discussion would be to read the ARJ paper which describes what peer-review should be for in a Christian context. This might shed some light on what is meant and purposed by the term “peer review”.

    For those criticizing ARJ for peer-reviewing by Creationists, would you criticize a secular journal for _not_ having peer review by Creationists, or for having peer reviewers who were all atheists?

    In fact, IIRC it is a breach of peer review ethics to have someone review a paper that is prejudiced against the content of the paper on the outset.

  10. Jonathan,

    An important point for this discussion would be to read the ARJ paper which describes what peer-review should be for in a Christian context.

    Thanks for the link. But it still seems as if Christians are trying to rewrite the rules when it comes to peer review. Christian theologians, when it comes to matters of biblical history or biblical archeology, better look beyond the borders of their own “ghettos” (for lack of a better term) to ensure that we’re not just making things up as we go along. In other words, as a Christian, I don’t want to be making up my own folk-history or, in the case of creationism, my own folk-science, for the exclusive use of Christians who don’t want to face the real facts.

    For those criticizing ARJ for peer-reviewing by Creationists, would you criticize a secular journal for _not_ having peer review by Creationists, or for having peer reviewers who were all atheists?

    Do you really want to ask me that question since I consider special creationism to be unscientific?

    If/when I get around to obtaining an advanced degree in Christian theology, I would have absolutely no problem passing my paper on to an old religion professor of mine who happens to be an atheist. Some of his work was fully orthodox in that he argued for what the Bible actually said about a particular doctrine, for example. He didn’t necessarily believe the theological truth of it, but he certainly believed that a particular doctrine was “scriptural.” He looked at the facts (what Scripture taught) objectively, even though he didn’t necessarily believe in what the facts purported to teach.

    Now take this example and apply it to Creation Science. If an evolutionary biologist peer-reviews a creationist’s paper properly, he will rightly ignore the theological subtext that a creationist brings to the table and evaluate the scientific evidence objectively. No creation scientist should fear this process. But, for some reason, they do (generally speaking). Why? Because they infuse their papers with biblical references and anti-evolutionist tirades. Why do they feel the need to do that? Why not let the facts speak for themselves?

    And that’s the problem with a vast majority of creationist papers: They don’t let the evidence speak for itself. Rather, they begin with the Bible and attempt to squeeze the data into a form resembling their theology.

    IIRC it is a breach of peer review ethics to have someone review a paper that is prejudiced against the content of the paper on the outset.

    I’m not keen on the finer points of peer review, but my guess is that secular scientists are prejudiced against most creationist papers for the very reasons I mentioned above.

    Consider what would happen if a member of the LDS Church were to submit a paper on the historicity of the Book of Mormon to an Evangelical theologian and sprinkle it with unverifiable assertions about the “truth” of his theology. The Evangelical would probably prefer to just have the facts. Providing him with a theology-laden paper only colors his view and predisposes him to dismiss whatever facts are contained therein.

    If Creation Scientists really want to get on the secular peer-review track, leave the Bible at home.

  11. Anonymous

    I am an evolutionist who is also a Creationist of sorts. You might find my ideas of interest.

    My name is John A. Davison and my weblog is

    jadavison.wordpress.com

  12. Mr. Davidson,

    Thanks for the link to your blog. Very interesting stuff in there. Will have to take a closer look. =)

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