I don't know why it surprises me when technology reporters turn out to be not only anti-science, but also deeply confused about what's actually going on in scientific knowledge-building. Today's reminder comes in Virginia Heffernan's column, "Why I'm a creationist".

There seems not to be much in the way of a coherent argument in support of Creationism in the column. As near as I can tell, Heffernan is down on science because:

  1. Science sometimes uses chains of inference that are long and complicated.
  2. Science has a hard time coming up with decisive answers to complicated questions (at least at a satisfyingly prompt rate).
  3. Science maybe provides some good reasons to worry about the environment, and she'd prefer not to worry about the environment.
  4. A scientist was mean to a religious person at some point. Some scientists just don't seem like nice people.
  5. Science trades in hypotheses, and hypotheses aren't facts -- they could be false!
  6. Darwin based his whole theory on a tautology, "whatever survives survives"! [Nope!]
  7. Evolutionary psychology first claimed X, then claimed Y (which seems to directly contradict X), and neither of those claims seems to have especially rigorous empirical backing … so all of evolutionary theory must be wrong!
  8. Evolutionary theory just isn't as compelling (at least to Heffernan) as a theory of human origins should be.

On item #5 there, if this is an issue for one's acceptance of evolutionary theory, it's also an issue for one's acceptance knowledge claims from other areas of science.

This is something we can lay at the feet of the problem of induction. But, we can also notice that scientists deal quite sensibly with the problem of induction lurking in the background. Philosopher of science Heather Douglas explains this nicely in her book Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal, where she describes what it means for scientists to accept a hypothesis.

To say P has been accepted is to say P belongs to the stock of established scientific knowledge, which means it satisfies criteria for standards of appraisal from within science (including what kind of empirical evidence there is for P, whether there is empirical evidence that supports not-P, etc.). Accepting P is saying that there is no reason to expect that P will be rejected after more research, and that only general inductive doubts render P uncertain.

That's as certain as knowledge can get, at least without a divine guarantee. Needless to say, such a "guarantee" would present epistemic problems of its own.

As for Heffernan's other reasons for preferring Creationism to science, I'm not sure I have much to say that I haven't already said elsewhere about why they're silly, but I invite you to mount your own critiques in the comments.