One of the creationist movement’s most pathetic attempts to discredit science has been the invention of two distinct types of ‘science’. These are,
“1. Operational Science: An explanation of a set of facts based on a broad set of repeatable and testable observations that is generally accepted within a group of scientists.
2. Historical Science: An explanation of past events based on the interpretation of evidence that is available in the present.
“The key is observation, since only the present can be observed. We live in the present and that is what we observe. The past can not be observed since we do not live in the past we do not observe the past. The past can only be studied by observing in the present. Even distant star light is observed only in the present even if we do see the stars as they looked in the past.
This causes a problem because to study the past requires making some assumptions about the past even studying distant stars requires making assumptions about the history and structure of the universe. This makes studying the past more likely to be affected by philosophical assumptions.
The result is that since the study of origins is by definition a historical science the study of origins is highly influenced by philosophical assumptions. If those philosophical assumptions are wrong then so are the conclusions.”
Quite apart from the fact, I think it is fair to say, that the vast majority of scientists do not accept the validity of these definitions, the creationists have set themselves up with several problems. I refer you to a recent blog by PZ Myers which deals with at least one of these problems far more eloquently than I ever could. Instead I’d like to focus on just one
Even if these definitions are acceptable, the fact remains that operational science tells us far more about the universe than creationist science ever could. Remember, creationist science takes an ancient book of myths and fantasy stories, and tries to construct ‘science’ around it. Real science*, on the other hand, gives us:
Medicine – Cures for a raft of diseases, or protection against them, including polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria; an understanding of diseases, how they work, how they spread and how they can be prevented; understanding of how the human body works, so that faulty organs can be replaced, or we can be advised how to look after our bodies so that we can live longer, more fuller lives. Edward Jenner, he who discovered immunology, has "saved more lives than the work of any other man", and that most certainly includes Jesus Christ himself.
Technology – Timekeeping devices; the telescope; the microscope; the internet; air travel; energy production.
Mathematics – Calculus; algebra; trigonometry. Understanding mathematics underpins many scientific discoveries.
Navigation – Cartography; the sextant; GPS.
Physics – A description of gravity; the three laws of motion; particle, nuclear and atomic physics; relativity; quantum physics.
Astronomy and space – The death of the Ptolemaic system; discovery of the planets of the solar system; discovery that most visible stars are actually clusters of millions of other stars; discovery of celestial bodies found by non-visible means (infra-red, ultraviolet, radio astronomies); cosmology and the big bang.
Miscellaneous – archaeology; geology and plate tectonics; psychiatry; psychology; printing; the industrial revolution.
These examples barely scratch the surface. The last 200-250 years of the Enlightenment have seen the world change completely, as scientists have made amazing discoveries, and continue to do so. Religion has often hindered such progress, but has also, in some cases, assisted, or has been impotent. The Bible (I can’t really speak for other holy books as I am unfamiliar with them) contains nothing that can progress humanity or its place in the universe. Science has revealed it for what it is – a book of myth, superstition and fantasy. It may have literary value, but as a guide to our future, it is hopeless.
One final word on Operational vs Historical Science. All science is historical according to the creationist definition.
*I have deliberately not included anything to do with biology or evolution. That is a whole other argument.