Has this ever happened to you before? You’re having a discussion about spiritual matters with someone who has a higher level of education than you do, and almost immediately, your ideas are dismissed as primitive or untenable.
Or, you send an article supporting your case to someone from, say, a creationist website, and your interlocutor tells you that they will not consider anything the article says because it has not been through the mainstream scientific peer review process.
I have certainly been there. In fact, this is something I face regularly because I often comment on matters of scientific and philosophical significance, but I do not have a degree in either of those things.
Here is a question to consider as we explore this issue: Is a person unable to understand/comment on issues about the world if they have no higher education in a particular field?
I want to submit that while I highly value both higher education and the peer review process, there are at least five serious myths associated with them that cause unnecessary contention between believers and unbelievers.
Myth #1: The Majority Rules
The first serious myth associated with higher education and peer review is that the majority always rules.
It is true that as of right now, about 97% of the mainstream scientific world is in support of Darwinian evolution—a number so large that we must take it very seriously. To propose a contrary position is, in the eyes of many, absurd.
Yet we know that what the Bible teaches is 100% contrary to this theory. It would seem that we Bible-believers are at a tremendous disadvantage here. And, if it were true that the majority rules, Christianity would be nearly sunk!
Here are some serious problems with this idea:
First of all, any argument from this premise is engaging in a “majority” version of the faulty appeal to authority—a logical fallacy in which someone “endorses a claim simply based on the person making it,” according to Dr. Jason Lisle in his work on logical fallacies, Discerning Truth.
“This fallacy is so obvious it is hard to believe that people would fall for it. But there is something very psychologically seductive about the appeal to the majority. We are inclined to think, “How could all those people be wrong?” Of course, it could well be the case that many people in that majority are convinced of the claim at issue for exactly the same reason: because all the other people in that majority believe it (which is no logical reason at all).”
Remember—we are dealing with what is logical—not with what is likely, what sounds good, or is compelling.
Second, as Dr. Lisle further contends,
“History is replete with examples of when the majority was totally wrong. Truth is not decided by a vote, after all.”
One classic example of this is the teaching that the Earth was at the center of the solar system. Although this claim is often falsely associated with Bible teaching, the raw fact is that the scientific majority used to teach this until the Copernican Revolution. (There were versions of heliocentric thought before Copernicus, but ultimately, his model led to its widespread acceptance.)
That the majority of scientists accept Darwinian Evolution is no logical reason at all to accept it as fact. There is good evidence for the theory, and the fact that it enjoys such widespread acceptance should not be merely dismissed—but that’s not my argument. The point I am making here is that in 200 years, Darwinian Evolution could be reduced to a history lesson. Søren Løvtrup quipped, “I believe that one day the Darwinian myth will be ranked the greatest deceit in the history of science.”
Whether his prediction will come to be or not in this lifetime—I’ve no idea. What I do know is that, among the reasons one should hold for believing it, “the majority believes it” should not be one of them.
Myth #2: Higher Education is Necessary
This observation is one that I make carefully, and also from personal experience. To be sure I am clearly understood—I have nothing against receiving a higher education.
In fact, I am not a man of many regrets—but one I do have is that I wish I had undergone a more formal education. I am working on a theology degree at present, but my interests in both science and philosophy leave me wishing I had an education in those disciplines.
Nevertheless, I do not believe a degree in these fields in necessary to understanding them, or even commenting on them.
Let me give a personal, abstract example, which I will try to tie back to my point. I currently work in IT for a law firm. I have zero—yes, zero—formal training in information technology. Although, I had planned a few years before on going go a very prestigious (and expensive, I might add) college in my area for just that.
I’ve always loved technology and have made it a matter of self-study for quite some time. I found myself working at an entry-level position for the firm, and was approached about joining the IT team once a key decision-maker noticed the potential for me to succeed in that position.
The simple point is this: Although I have no higher education, I am working in a field in which it is very difficult to get a job because potential employers want to see higher education, certifications, and work experience! It is wildly anomalous that I would be in this position, nevertheless, here I am.
But I’m not alone. The Federal Reserve has reported that 43% of college graduates are working a job that does not require a degree. What does this means for our purposes?
It means there is high value in self-study.
There is a reason why educators, lawyers, scientists, philosophers, etc. are required to engage in ongoing learning—many fields change so quickly that much information learned in one’s first year of college will be irrelevant by the time she graduates, let alone years down the road. This means that although a person may have spent many years in a University learning about a subject matter, his knowledge and understanding of the subject matter may be entirely different by the time he retires.
I quoted Dr. Jason Lisle in my first point, so I think he would be a good example to use. Dr. Lisle, formerly the Director of Research for the Institute for Creation Research and current founder and leader of the Biblical Science Institute, is an astronomer and astrophysicist with degrees from the University of Colorado and Ohio Wesley University. You would think this garners him a level of respect in the scientific community, right? Wrong.
In a conversation with a theistic evolutionist just the other day, Dr. Lisle was not to be quoted as a reliable authority. But—He has the necessary degrees, right? So what was the problem? The problem is that Dr. Lisle is a recent creationist. He does not publish in secular journals very often (because they do not invite YEC opinion), and therefore, his ideas have not be subjected to “rigorous” mainstream peer review. (Although he has published numerous times in journals peer reviewed by other well-educated creation scientists.)
The issue in Dr. Lisle’s case is not that he is unqualified to speak on scientific matters—the problem is that he arrives, using science, at an unpopular conclusion. Dr. Jerry Bergman, who holds nine degrees in science and education, has faced a similar fate and has documented the similar fate of others in his work, Slaughter of the Dissidents.
Given this evidence, my conclusion is that higher education is not what garners the respect of mainstream thinkers—even if they claim that it is. Respect is granted only once one receives the “proper” education and submits to the majority conclusion (mentioned above). This is not to say that dissenting opinion on models, etc., is not welcome. That is what the peer review process is for. But one when’s conclusion violates the majority and has stark religious connections, his ideas are seemingly no longer welcome.
Higher education is important—but not necessary. A healthy dose of reading after thinkers on both sides of an issue can certainly produce a rational basis for thought, understanding, and acceptance—even for a person who holds no formal education in those subjects.
Myth #3: Higher Education Equals Smarter Students
At face value, it would seem absurd to submit that higher education does not one make one smarter, but what I am suggesting is that higher education does not necessarily make one smarter.
The truth is that many students select a college because (1) of its reputation as a place to bolster and enhance their own social life or (2) because they have friends attending the institution, among other terrible reasons.
According to the NIAAA, “About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. In a national survey of college students, binge drinkers who consumed alcohol at least 3 times per week were roughly 6 times more likely than those who drank but never binged to perform poorly on a test or project as a result of drinking (40 percent vs. 7 percent) and 5 times more likely to have missed a class (64 percent vs. 12 percent).”
Take a moment to read that again. One in four college students is being negatively affected by alcohol alone on our college campuses. Is it possible that the other three could be affected by the myriad other distractions on campus? All of this is not even considering that Christ, who is the very foundation for all knowledge on the Christian worldview (see Colossians 2:3), is not welcome in the University—or anywhere, for that matter.
To make matters even worse, college campuses have begun to offer courses that, frankly, are ludicrous. Perhaps you wish your college student to enroll in classes such as:
- Rainbow Cowboys (and Girls): Gender, Race, Class, and Sexuality in Westerns, offered by Wellesley College.
- The University of Maryland course, Homophobia in the U.S. Society in the New Millennium, in which the stated goal is “not to educate, but to activate students to take up a political crusade.”
- Are We Still Fabulous?: Queer Identity in Contemporary Drama, offered by DePaul University.
- Dartmouth’s offering, The United States of Queer.
I could go on, or you could read the entire survey on your own. The point is that our college campuses today are not areligious—by any means! They actively promote and propagate the religion of sex. That’s right—your student may very well attend University for a biology degree at an institution that denies fundamental biology, in the interests of political correctness.
If you need further proof, Entrepreneur.com lists eight “hugely successful people who didn’t graduate college”:
- Steve Jobs—the co-founder of Apple, inc.
- Richard Branson—the founder of the Virgin brand.
- Dave Thomas—the endearing founder of Wendy’s.
- David Green—the founder of Hobby Lobby.
- Larry Ellison—the founder and still Chief Technology Officer at Oracle.
- Kevin Rose—the co-founder of Revision3, Pownce and Milk, and Digg.
- Michael Dell—yes, the founder of Dell Computers.
- Rachael Ray—author, businesswoman, and TV cooking show star.
From a religious and philosophical standpoint, I like to point out the work of A.W. Tozer—one of the most highly respected Christian writers of all time. Tozer was entirely self-educated, excluding that which the Holy Spirit had given him.
All of this ties back to the statistic mentioned earlier where 43% of students are not even working a job that requires a degree. That a person needs to necessarily go to college in order to do something significant or to have significant knowledge about a subject-matter is myth—not fact. (By the way, I find it interesting that the mainstream scientific community is fine with the idea of “science enthusiasts and popularists”—those who have a passion for and propagate mainstream scientific conclusions, often without any supporting credentials. It is only folks like me, who popularize a different conclusion, who are unwelcome to comment on these ideas.)
Myth #4: Rigorous Peer Review is Necessary for Truth
This is one of my favorite myths. I have briefly mentioned this a few times already, but it is necessary to spend some time dealing specifically with this issue.
Look—it’s not long at all in a conversation with an evolutionist before I’m told that my conclusions are not supported by rigorous peer review.
But is that statement actually true? Do creationists just spout out ideas at will regardless of scientific evidence? Furthermore, do creationists intentionally deceive their readers by transforming hard scientific evidence into falsehoods, to comfort those “cavemen” who blindly and ignorantly believe the Bible, of all things, to be true?
Not even close.
Allow me to make a direct, but thorough, four-point case which will attempt to show that not only do creationists peer review their work—they’re the only ones who should.
#1. No True Scotsman. Students of logic will immediately recognize the use of this logical fallacy in their conversations. It might look something like this:
- Evolutionist: “Creationist’s don’t publish in peer-reviewed journals.”
- Creationist: “Actually, creationists do publish in peer reviewed journals, such as the Answers Research Journal (ARJ) and others.”
- Evolutionist: “Ah, but creationist’s don’t publish in reputable peer-reviewed journals.”
Did you see what happened there? The evolutionist arbitrarily changed the standard according to his own definition. If we used this logic all the time, we could literally make the case for anything! As we’ve already mentioned, evolutionary scientists rarely (if ever) engage with young-age creationist literature because they have an a priori commitment to naturalism—something famously admitted by evolutionist Richard Lewontin and also by the contemporary atheistic philosopher, Dr. Thomas Nagel.
To the contrary, creationist journals invite and encourage this interaction! For instance, here is a quote from Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson in response to a rare response he received to one of his papers submitted to the ARJ in 2017:
“Few critics of young-earth creation (YEC) science actually attempt to respond to our claims in peer-reviewed journals. In light of this practice, I am especially grateful for Stefan Frello’s efforts to engage my published papers. Though he is a well-known YEC critic, I applaud him for taking this step. I wish more of the opponents of young-earth creation (YEC) would engage the published papers of YEC scientists. Science is a process of inductive reasoning, and the more critical minds that are brought to bear on a question, the better.”
This not only assumes the fact that evolutionist responses are welcome—since he is responding to a response—but further demonstrates the warm welcome extended by creationists! Unfortunately, this warm welcome is not extended the other direction, since they “cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door” (Lewontin).
#2. Why peer review at all? According to the California State University, the purpose of peer review is stated as follows: “The process is designed to prevent dissemination of irrelevant findings, unwarranted claims, unacceptable interpretations, and personal views. It relies on colleagues that review one another’s work and make an informed decision about whether it is legitimate, and adds to the large dialogue or findings in the field.”
It’s interesting that in their definition of peer review, they end with these words: “The process is considered essential, but has also been criticized as slow, ineffective and misunderstood.”
I will get right to the point. Peer review is in place to supposedly promote honesty, intellectual honesty, integrity, trust, and truth amongst the scientific community. I challenge you to find reasonable justification for any of those values within a naturalistic framework.
Pardon my illustration, but in a “fish to philosophers” framework, what rational justification is there for one to be honest, have integrity, trust one another, or tell the truth? What are those things, anyway? Do they exist, physically, in the known universe? Do we make them up as a matter of convention? If evolution is true, we may have a flawed understanding of these concepts anyway, even if they did exist.
Furthermore, if evolution is true, there is obvious survival benefit in the opposite of each of those ideas—arguably, more survival benefit than conforming to the ideas themselves! These are the implied standards of secular mainstream peer review—but they are Christian ideas.
#3. Creationists can form a theology of peer review. This leads me quite naturally to my next point, that creationists do have a great reason to engage in peer review! Apart from the Christian values mentioned in my previous thought, Dr. Henry Morris III has quite succinctly stated a biblical basis for peer review:
“The Scripture teaches that “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). All of our ICR researchers and public writers and speakers are careful to seek such counsel as we develop ideas and prepare communications. None of us is an “island” to themselves, and we covet the sincere critique of those who share a like passion and background.”
This article makes a very clear and detailed case for a theology of peer review. Among the values it mentions are honesty, wisdom, humility and servant leadership, Christian love, accountability, and even error-correction. It’s a long read, but I highly encourage you to make time for it. Creationists—and creationists alone—should peer review and have rational justification to do so.
#4. The mainstream peer review process has failed on numerous occasions, and has even left many mainstream scientists skeptical of its use and effectiveness. The previous-mentioned article also provides a response to some contention regarding the very launch and use of creationist journals. The authors write,
“The irony of this conflict over peer review is that peer review is poorly understood and criticized even in conventional journals. Over the past 25 years, the process of peer review has come under increasing scrutiny, especially in the biomedical community (e.g., Lock 1986; Godlee and Jefferson 2003; Rennie 2002). The efficacy of peer review to improve the quality of manuscripts and to minimize bias has been questioned. Some studies show benefits, while others show no benefits or negative influences from peer review (e.g., Armstrong 1997; Jefferson et al. 2002a; Jefferson et al. 2002b; Overbeke and Wager 2003). For every one of these studies, however, there are enthusiastic editorials defending the value of peer review (e.g., Gannon 2001; Tobin 2002). What seems certain at this stage is that peer review is no guarantor of the accuracy or scientific quality of a published paper (Callaham et al. 1998; Altman 2002; Horton 2002).”
Researchers at CMI argue (references provided in the article which I highly encourage you to read),
“Richard Smith, a former editor of the British Medical Journal and chief executive of the BMJ publishing group, admitted that fraudulent research regularly appears in the 30,000 scientific journals published worldwide. However, ‘[m]ost cases are not publicised. They are simply not recognised, covered up altogether or the guilty researcher is urged to retrain, move to another institution or retire from research.’ He also acknowledged that even when journals discover that published research is fabricated or falsified they rarely retract the findings, usually out of fear of lawsuits.”
They further mention that,
“Well known cases of fraud include the Piltdown man hoax, an obvious fraud that was not exposed for 40 years; and more recently, the Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who falsified data relating to his embryonic stem cell/cloning research; as well as a series of papers on superconductivity by Jan Hendrik Schön published in Nature from 2000 to 2001 period, but had to be retracted in 2003 because they contained falsified data and other scientific fraud.”
As a whole, the CMI researchers’ five-point case argues that:
- Peer review does not guarantee quality or correctness
- Peer review does not prevent fraud
- Peer review is rarely ever objective
- Peer review can lead to bias
- Peer review can lead to censorship
The researchers conclude that,
“Given the above, it should be clear that the failure of creationist scientists to get their work published in mainstream peer-reviewed journals has nothing at all to do with the quality or validity of their research. It is for these reasons that creationist scientists generally do not bother submitting papers that directly support a creationist interpretation of the natural world. Any such papers would be dismissed out of hand as being unworthy simply on the basis that they advocate a creationist interpretation. The quality of the research, the soundness of the arguments presented, and the validity of the logical conclusions would not even be considered.”
The bottom line? While creationist journals are certainly also in danger of committing the same errors as mainstream journals, it is very unlikely that this is often the case. This is because creationists have a duty before God to accurately represent their findings, and while there is no standard or measure for truthfulness in the mainstream system, God’s standard of truthfulness and obedience reigns supreme in creationist literature.
Myth #5: Academic Scholars Are Philosophically Neutral
The final myth could take books and books to flesh out, and especially to understand the implications.
The point to be seen here is that no-one is philosophically neutral about anything. Scientists often claim that they approach the evidence with a neutral view, and “follow the evidence where it leads.”
The problem is that this is impossible. Following the evidence is possible, but ultimately, the evidence will be filtered through one’s worldview and axioms (presuppositions) that they hold to be true. (This is clearly evidenced by the twice-mentioned views above of Richard Lewontin.)
It’s the rare philosophical naturalist who admits he has a bias toward his conclusions. Creationists, however, have no problem admitting this. Well-respected creation scientist Dr. Kurt Wise writes in his book Faith, Form, and Time,
“The presuppositions of science are assumptions. They cannot be proven; they can only be taken on faith. How can you prove whether or not the physical world exists? What experiment can be performed to test the existence of the physical world when every experiment must by definition be part of the physical world? What scientific test can determine the adequacy of human reason or senses or language, when success or failure is perceived, inferred, or interpreted by using human senses, language, and reason? The Bible provides the only known justification or foundation for the presuppositions of modern science.”
He also contends that,
“Even though most scientists are not conscious of them, most of these claims [referring to a list of presuppositions which scientists depend on] are assumptions that are believed implicitly by every scientific investigation.”
“It follows that both the study of the physical world and the presuppositions of science are justifiable only in a biblical worldview. And because the Bible is true, it should not be surprising that science has been so successful in understanding the world. Outside of a biblical worldview, this measure of success is probably the only justification for continuing to do science at all.”
So here again we have—much like we saw with peer review—an instance where the mainstream scientific community borrows Christian ideas and then uses them to bolster their scientific efforts to disprove a Creator.
This clearly demonstrates the worldview of unbelieving scientists. Whatever evidence they find will be interpreted to posit naturalism. Whatever cannot be explained by naturalism—such as abiogenesis—is simply taken on faith.
An example of this can be seen in something I have written elsewhere:
“We must remember that “science” does not speak for itself; rather, scientists look at the data that has been discovered and interpret their findings according to the scientific method and in accordance with their worldview. For example, when biologist Mary Higby Schweitzer discovered soft tissue proteins in an alleged 68-million-year-old dinosaur fossil in 2007, she was keenly aware that those proteins and collagens should not be there—they simply don’t last that long. If the world was created just 6,000 years ago this is exactly what we would expect. But did Mary become a creationist because of her findings? Has any scientist become a creationist because of them? Not to my knowledge. In fact, this had led researchers on a wild goose chase to find a mechanism which would preserve soft tissue for millions of years, rather than to question the dates. So far no such mechanism has been found.”
In “The Myth of Neutrality,” an article on the Chaledon University website, R.J. Rushdoony writes,
“The myth of neutrality is most congenial to man’s fallen nature. Dr. Cornelius Van Til has pointed out that, if there were one button in all the universe, which, if man pushed, would give him a small realm of experience outside of God and in freedom from God, fallen man would always have his finger on that button.”
This myth is easily explained by Christianity and ought to be widely acknowledged by its adherents. The Lord Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matthew 12:30).
The popular Logos Bible software website states,
“Put in biblical terms, either you love the Lord or you don’t. Every thought you think, every choice you make, every word you say, flows from that heart and is determined by its fundamental direction, whether toward God or away from him. There are no fully objective human arbiters of opinion.”
The biblical case is furthered strengthen by Jesus’ words in John 8:42-47:
“Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.”
Bottom line? If the Christian worldview is true—and it is—neutrality is a myth. You are either with God or against God, and everything you think and do will be representative of whose side you are on.
In summary, this lengthy article has attempted to argue that:
- The majority does not rule in a given situation. Numerous examples from history prove that the majority has been wrong. And, the entire premise is built on a logical fallacy.
- Higher education is not necessary in order to understand and comment on significant issues. One can be well-educated or under-educated and wind up working at the same institutions and performing the same basic job functions (my own work experience in a field where education is always a written requirement is justification alone for this argument).
- Higher education does not, necessarily, make one smarter. At no time in the past have some of the most ridiculous college classes been offered as they are today, and studies show that students (1) often attend college for the wrong reasons and (2) are often physically, mentally, and emotionally impaired by activities common on college campuses. Historical and present data support the notion that one can be smart and even successful with little-to-no higher education.
- Peer Review is not a guarantor of truth or even scientific accuracy, as history demonstrates that many falsehoods, misunderstandings, and frauds have plagued the process. Furthermore, there is no rational justification for peer review on any worldview which posits “molecules-to-man” evolutionism, and the only rational justification is provided by a worldview which accepts the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
- Academic scholars are not philosophically neutral as supported by many lines of evidence and the direct quotes of naturalistic philosophers and scientists. The greatest evidence being that Jesus Himself declared that anyone who is not with Him is against Him. This includes those who diminish His teachings by claiming that He, although God, is wrong when He speaks on matters of creation, marriage, etc.
As a final disclaimer, allow me to submit that despite this argument to the seeming contrary, I’m a voracious supporter of higher education, the peer review process, and acknowledgment of one’s presuppositions!
The danger is when the myths are believed as true, productive discussion and conversation become impossible. For anyone to argue from the premise of these myths is mistaken, and should be shown that they are before continuing in a conversation—especially one with spiritual significance. We have a duty to Christ to be logical and rational. To argue from false premises should not be allowed from either party. It is my prayer that this article helps us to accomplish that.
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!