What do chocolate chip cookies have to do with the recent Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate? Well, you’ll see shortly! First though, one conversation the debate stirred up among believers and unbelievers alike relates to differences between what Mr. Ham referred to as observational science and historical science. This is an important distinction, which I think becomes clearer if we refer to the two as scientific research and natural history research. Dr. Mortimer Adler described natural history research in the 1960’s. His ideas have been developed further by Dr. John K. Reed and others, and their efforts help us better understand the limitations of scientific research. More importantly, they help us see the real battle is not “science vs. religion” as some falsely claim, but Christianity vs. naturalism. Naturalism is basically the idea that nature is all there is, and there is no God who created everything.
Papers like this one describing natural history research are helpful, but complex. While thinking about an easier way to explain the differences, I realized cooking might serve as a useful explanatory tool. In what follows, I will use chocolate chip cookie recipes as an analogy to help discern between scientific research, natural history research, and futurology claims.
Scientific research: Like a good chocolate chip cookie recipe, scientific research involves developing a testable, repeatable method that others can follow AND produce similar results. A good recipe produces good cookies for everyone who follows the directions.
Example: The cadmium reduction method is a common procedure used to measure the concentration of NO3 (nitrate) in water. Nitrate is an important nutrient, but can be a pollutant when concentrations are high. If I collected a water sample from a river for nitrate analysis, I should be able to send it to any laboratory in the nation and receive similar results.
Natural History Research: This is like the scientific method in reverse. You have the cookie (the result), but you don’t have the recipe (the method). So, you decide to try and use the cookie to figure out what the recipe is. At present, a Google search for “chocolate chip cookie recipe” yields 49,600 results! Which recipe is the one used to make the batch of cookies shown above? How will you know? Well, you probably won’t know for sure, but through chemical analysis run on your cookie, plus other research including reading historical documents like cook books, you can eliminate a lot of the possible recipes.
Example: Historical documents and eyewitness accounts show Novarupta volcano’s lava dome formed in 1912, about 100 years ago. I had a sample age-dated using the Argon-Argon method, and it showed the lava dome was up to 5.5 million years old! Both methods (historical records, Ar-Ar dating) have the same material evidence, but the massive time differences result because extremely different procedures were used to interpret the data. It is also obvious that, for this example anyways, one interpretive framework, or “recipe” (historical records), is clearly better than the other. They’re not equally valid.
Futurology claims: This is like having an untested chocolate chip cookie recipe. You think it will make good cookies, but you’re not sure yet, especially since your recipe is quite a bit different from some other recipes. Some are more skeptical of your recipe than others.
Example: Confusion over what future climate will look like. Will it be warmer, cooler, or the same? The data show warming in the 80’s and early 90’s, but no warming for 17 years and 5 months now. Nevertheless, media and many scientists continue to paint a grim futuristic story involving catastrophic global warming resulting from carbon dioxide emissions linked to human activity.
The debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye was an origins debate. It was not a “Science vs. Bible” debate as some may claim. It was about how the way we view things influences our perception of reality. It was a battle between Christianity and naturalism. So, the next time you hear someone describe Christian and conservative people as “anti-science,” understand that it has nothing to do with scientific things. Christians, as Mr. Ham mentioned during the debate, are not anti-chemistry, anti-physics, anti-technology, etc! That’s irrational, but then so is unbelief, so Christians shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers say irrational things. God has to change their heart and mind. Only then will they see more clearly.
The “anti-science” mantra is a straw man argument by dogmatic, and often bigoted individuals who want their naturalistic story of the past, present and future told, to the exclusion of other stories. Especially the story found in Scripture. Pray that God will turn the hearts of unbelievers to Him, and that they would trust His story of Creation, Fall, Redemption through Christ alone, and Restoration, which is the greatest story of all! Pray also for Christians who are confused by naturalism, and erroneously seek to find a “middle ground” between Christianity and naturalism in places where it doesn’t exist.