In part 1, we covered the biblical basis for the scientific method. It is based on God’s faithfulness and is necessary due to man’s fallibility. The procedures of science are intended to reduce the most common errors in reasoning, particularly the confirmation bias. The main point of a Ph.D. program is to train students to properly interpret data by following proper protocol. This can lead to new discoveries. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to report such discoveries.
Ethical scientists publish new discoveries in peer-reviewed journals. Peer review is the independent assessment of a research paper by scientists who have a Ph.D. in the relevant field. The reviewers will evaluate any journal submissions for proper procedure, logical consistency, correct terminology, and so on. They will provide feedback to the author. Such commentary includes constructive criticisms and questions of clarification. The reviewers will then give a recommendation to the journal editor-in-chief: publish, don’t publish, or publish only after certain issues are properly addressed. Peer review ensures that all journal publications have been vetted by experts on the topic. Although this does not guarantee that the final paper will be accurate, it certainly reduces the number of erroneous entries.
The best peer review is double blind. That is, the reviewers do not know who the author is, and the author does not know who the reviewers are. This prevents any personal bias or expectations. Unfortunately, double-blind review is not always possible because the author might reference some of his or her earlier publications. Sometimes single-blind review must suffice. In any case, the identities of the reviewers and authors should not be known to the other whenever possible.
For this reason and others, peer review is always written. Sometimes researchers will give an oral presentation at a conference that is attended by their peers, and they can solicit feedback. This can be very helpful, but it is not the same as genuine peer review because unbiased criticism rarely takes place in these situations. I have sat through some truly awful presentations by people who don’t have the first clue about how to do science, but I hesitate to say anything because I do not wish to publicly embarrass or humiliate the speaker. Peer review is written because it allows the reviewers to be completely honest and private in their critique. It is always best to be corrected in private before being corrected in public.
The process of journal publication generally proceeds as follows: A researcher (or a group of several researchers) submits a technical paper to a scientific journal documenting his or her discovery. The paper begins with a list of authors and their respective affiliations followed by the abstract: a brief one- or two-paragraph summary of the research and results. Usually, the next section is an introduction, giving a description of the topic and summaries of previous relevant research. The next section details the materials and methods used to make the new discovery. Then follows the actual data: any observations or results obtained by the previously described method. These might include mathematical computations in theoretical work. The final main section is usually a discussion of the results. The paper may conclude with a brief section of acknowledgments to anyone who helped with the research but was not listed as an author, including those who gave financial grants. A list of references follows the body of the text.
The research paper is submitted to the editor-in-chief of a technical journal. In some cases, the authors are allowed to suggest potential reviewers. The journal editor will usually remove the name(s) of the author(s) from the paper and forward it to at least three reviewers. Whenever possible, each reviewer should have a Ph.D. in the relevant field of science. The reviewers will provide feedback to the journal editor along with a recommendation to publish or not publish. The final decision is up to the editor-in-chief, but he or she will normally go along with the majority recommendation.
In many cases, the reviewers will have questions for the author about something that is unclear in the paper or will disagree at points and suggest certain changes. The journal editor will (after removing identification) forward these on to the author(s). The author must address these concerns. The author might agree and simply make the suggested change. Or he might disagree, in which case he will provide a written explanation (and provide evidence/documentation) to the journal editor as to why his original claim was correct. In the latter case, the journal editor will then pass this on to the reviewer(s) who can either accept the explanation or provide a counterargument, which is then passed back to the author. You might think that this process would take many back-and-forth exchanges. However, I have never seen this happen. In most cases, it very quickly becomes obvious who is right. In any case, the author need not convince the reviewer(s); the journal editor-in-chief will make the final call.
The Biblical Basis for Peer Review
The reason for peer review is straight from Scripture. Humans are fallible, sinful creatures who frequently make errors in reasoning. But we tend to see the faults in others that we overlook in ourselves (Matthew 7:3). Therefore, a man of wisdom seeks the counsel of others, particularly those who are knowledgeable in the topic under consideration. Proverbs 1:5 teaches that “a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” Indeed, wise men seek peer review. Fools reject it. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Proverbs 12:15).
You can always identify a charlatan by his or her disdain for peer review. The fool thinks that his opinions are above any possibility of error and finds it abusive that his conjectures should have to pass any external peer review. Like the wicked King Rehoboam, the charlatan forsakes wise counsel (1 Kings 12:6-8, 13) and instead listens only to those who will tell him what he wants to hear (1 Kings 12:8-14). This is a common human failing. We want to be correct but not corrected. But correction from wise people is necessary to become correct. As King Solomon wrote, “It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man Than for one to listen to the song of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:5). The reason that fools stay fools is because they will not listen to constructive criticism. Proverbs 13:1 states, “A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.”
God advises us in Proverbs 19:20 to “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days.” Scientific peer review is a specific application of this general life principle. It seeks wise counsel from those most knowledgeable in the topic under investigation. All scientists have benefited from the constructive criticism we receive during the peer review process. Indeed, an important component of a Ph.D. research program is to train students to avoid confirmation bias by embracing the helpful feedback of experts in the field. Although being corrected isn’t always enjoyable, a wise scientist appreciates being corrected in private before his errors become public! Indeed, “Reprove a wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8b).
Ironically, those who most resist correction are those who most need it. “A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding Than a hundred blows into a fool” (Proverbs 17:10). Conversely, those who embrace correction from wise counsel quickly become wise and therefore require less correction in the future. Proverbs 10:8 states, “The wise of heart will receive commands, But a babbling fool will be ruined.”
We all need wise counsel because, as the Bible states, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26a). It is an act of compassion to gently correct someone who is in error, even though constructive criticism can sting in the moment. As Proverbs 27:6 states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Yes, an enemy will tell you what you want to hear. A friend will tell you what you need to hear even when it hurts.
According to the Bible, you can distinguish a fool from a wise man by the way he responds to correction. Fools disdain correction; wise men appreciate it! Proverbs 9:7-9 states, “He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, Reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.”
Why is it that the fool hates to be corrected? Doesn’t he want to better understand the issue in question? The Scriptures explain, “A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind” (Proverbs 18:2). Pride is the root of this problem. The only Being who needs no wise counsel is God Himself (Isaiah 40:13). It is sheer arrogance for any fallen man to think that he is on God’s level.
How many well-intentioned people have promulgated false information because they refused wise counsel? Many people seem to think that if they sincerely believe their own conjecture, if it really just makes so much sense to them, then this is sufficient reason to begin telling others that it must be true. The attitude seems to be, “If I really believe it with all my heart, then it must be true!” Yet the Scriptures state, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26a), and “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). God gave us the tools of science so that we might test our fallen speculations about nature in light of God’s faithfulness. And He gave us other people who can see our blind spots and offer a constructive critique (Matthew 7:5; Proverbs 19:20).
I wish I could say that all creationists follow ethical scientific procedure and would never promulgate their own untested speculations. And most do. But not all. You can distinguish a creation scientist who does genuine research from those who are frauds by whether they perform experiments/observations to test their ideas and then publish the results in peer-reviewed science journals.
Some might reply, “But secular science journals won’t accept creationist research, no matter how well documented.” There is some truth to this. We all have a worldview that, either consciously or subconsciously, helps us judge what constitutes good science. And this is why there are alternatives to secular journals: creation science technical journals. There are at least three that are dedicated to research in light of the literal history of Genesis: Answers Research Journal, Journal of Creation, and Creation Research Society Quarterly. Again, publication in a peer-reviewed journal does not guarantee that a new scientific model is correct, or even that the research has been conducted properly. But it does drastically reduce the number of fraudulent publications.
The Twofold Purpose of Peer Review
There are two reasons for publishing new research in a peer-reviewed journal. First, ethical scientists honestly want to know if they have made any mistakes in their experimentation, observations, or reasoning. If several experts in the field cannot find any problems, then we have good reason to think that the researcher has done proper work. Furthermore, a particular mistake in procedure or reasoning is not necessarily fatal to the project. A reviewer might catch an error that can be easily corrected. Sometimes there is no error in the procedure or reasoning, but the written paper has ambiguity or literary mistakes that need to be fixed. This iron-sharpening-iron method is biblical (Proverbs 27:17).
Second, peer review acts as a gatekeeper to reduce fraud. There are cases when well-intentioned people sincerely believe their new conjecture and want it to be published. And yet, any scientist in the field would be able to demonstrate that the new claim is demonstrably false. Many people want to contribute to the field of science but are unwilling to obtain the education and do the hard work necessary to that end. Genuine scientific research is difficult and time consuming. The peer review process is designed to weed out poorly researched conjectures and rhetorical sophisms that do not qualify as research at all. The editor-in-chief of a technical journal has a moral obligation to reject papers that are fraudulent or insufficiently supported. This may be disappointing to the author. But, again, a wise man will appreciate having his errors corrected in private so that they need not be corrected in public.
The goal is to have only published papers that are of high quality where the researcher has followed correct experimental procedure, has reasoned properly from the data, and which have been vetted by experts in the field. This doesn’t guarantee that the particular model is correct; but it does mean that it is not obviously wrong. Occasionally this goal is not met. Bad papers sometimes get published; however, these are often refuted by a subsequent publication in the same journal. And (very rarely) a good paper is rejected. Critics may complain that the system isn’t perfect, but that is the case with all human endeavors since humans are imperfect. However, it is a good system because it is based on biblical principles.
Therefore, you can distinguish genuine scientific research from fraud by checking whether the person has published his or her results in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Charlatans rarely submit their ideas to technical journals because their erroneous claims would not pass peer review. It is far easier for a charlatan to fool non-scientists by self-publishing a book or by posting their speculations on the internet. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with self-publication of new theories – after they have passed formal peer review in a technical journal. And we need books and internet articles that summarize well-established research. However, those of us who care about truth will voluntarily submit new research for peer review. Furthermore, we have a moral obligation to stand up to bullies who push their untested, unvetted speculations on the public.
Books and Other Media
Ethically, original research should be formally peer reviewed before such ideas are shared with the public. But after publication in a peer-reviewed journal, and assuming no subsequent peer-reviewed publication refutes the results of the original, we are ethically free to share new research with the world in a variety of formats. An article in a magazine or on the web, or a book summarizing the results, would be appropriate at this stage. And these need not be formally peer reviewed because that has already been done. Of course, it is still helpful to have another person review any new publications to ensure that the author has properly understood and represented such research.
It is not necessary to do original research in order to share the results of such research with others. We need popularizers – those who will tell the world about the exciting scientific research that confirms biblical creation! Some people are very gifted communicators. I appreciate those who will take the peer-reviewed research of creation scientists and summarize it in books, in presentations, or in everyday conversations. This is important.
However, it is equally important that such scientific material is based on genuine peer-reviewed research. Some people are very impressed by someone who sounds very scientific or pious. They might be persuaded by someone who asserts his untested conjectures with conviction. Indeed, many well-intentioned Christians have repeated the false claims of a confident buffoon. We all need to rely upon others. But I urge Christians to look to those who follow ethical scientific procedure and accept the biblical principle of peer review.
Many science books are peer reviewed in the sense that they are vetted by scientists. I always have some experts look over my own books before publication. This is a good thing to do and is biblical. However, books are not peer reviewed in quite the same way as a technical paper because there is no gatekeeper. The author might select only reviewers that are unqualified or those who agree with him. Even if competent reviewers are selected, there is nothing to prevent the author from publishing the book even if all the reviewers judge it to be erroneous. This is just like King Rehoboam who heard wise counsel but utterly ignored it. Therefore, the best, most trustworthy science books are those that summarize research that has already passed formal peer review in a technical journal.
This goes for internet articles as well. Some organizations have their articles vetted, but others do not. The internet can be a great source of information. But it is also a source of misinformation. So, we must be extremely cautious and discerning. I will occasionally come across an exciting, new scientific claim that apparently confirms creation. But I don’t use that evidence until I can verify it in some peer-reviewed publication, even if I suspect the claim is true. We have plenty of verifiable, well-documented evidence for creation. There is no need to use claims that are questionable.
All ethical scientists embrace peer review. But not all scientists are ethical. And as our society moves away from a biblical worldview, fraudulent research is becoming more common. It is therefore all the more important that we check our sources and use only those that embrace biblical peer review.
 In the creation science community, it is sometimes difficult to keep both the reviewers and authors anonymous during peer review because those of us actively involved in research and peer review in a given field are relatively few, and we know each other.
 Reviewers will also look for possible conflicts of interest. This is especially relevant in the medical field, where a researcher might have a financial incentive to draw a particular conclusion. For example, consider a researcher studying the potential benefits and risks of a medication. Suppose the researcher is employed directly or indirectly by a pharmaceutical company that makes that medicine. The researcher might be strongly motivated to find that the benefits of the medication outweigh the risks. This can happen even on a subconscious level. A person’s conclusions can be influenced by what he or she wants to be true.
 Some evolutionists will dismiss creation research journals as if “those are not real research journals.” This of course is an example of the no-true-Scotsman fallacy. Creation research journals follow the standard peer review scientific protocol and therefore qualify as research journals. However, they do not automatically dismiss conclusions contrary to the evolutionary narrative.
 Many of these occur when a person speculates in a branch of science for which he or she has little education.
 I have been a reviewer for many technical papers. And there are some papers that I have recommended for publication even when I don’t ultimately believe the model presented is the best one. But I recommend publication because I believe the model is plausible (not obviously wrong) and worthy of consideration and discussion.
 By analogy, consider our justice system. It is imperfect. Sometimes a guilty man goes free, or an innocent man is punished. But it is still a good system because it is based on biblical principles (e.g. Romans 13:1-7; Deuteronomy 16:18). The people who most complain about the justice system are those who are rightly punished because they were unwilling to obey the law. Likewise, it is the charlatans who most complain about peer review because their unsupportable assertions would (rightly) never pass.