One of the most popular facets of science right now is forensics, made a household term thanks to crime shows like CSI. But no investigative science is more accurate than an eyewitness account.
- The forensic scientist must distinguish relevant facts from random ones, conduct appropriate testing measures, and interpret these results in an attempt to reach a conclusion or opinion regarding the evidence while remaining unbiased and neutral.
- Historical science involves the study of current processes to interpret past events. The term interpret is used primarily because the scientist was not privy to a first-hand, observable account of the event in question.
- A certain level of personal and systematic bias influences a forensic investigator’s educated assumptions.
- Since the forensic investigator did not observe the act of the initial crime, he or she cannot state with 100% certainty how the crime occurred or that the physical evidence directly relates to the crime.
- Observational science provides the investigator with items of possible evidentiary value, which through the use of the scientific method may provide a logical connection to the historical act of the crime.
- In the same way that a forensic investigator is not capable of observing a criminal act first-hand, neither are evolutionists or young-earth creationists able to observe the beginning of life.
- Christians who view creation through a biblical worldview are blessed to have a perfect, reliable, eyewitness account of the origin of life—revealed to us in the Bible.
There are multiple scientific disciplines, but there has not been one in recent years that has captured the attention of the general public like the investigative research of forensic science. Forensic science gained popularity in the early 2000s due to several crime-related TV shows, which have dramatized the realistic framework upon which forensic investigation operates. This phenomenon called the “CSI effect” continues to foster the whimsical interpretation of this scientific discipline; however, forensic science provides police agencies and the community a realistic medium upon which to investigate past crimes and review current evidence. Forensic science requires trained personnel to evaluate evidence for intrinsic value and to make educated hypotheses as they attempt to reconstruct past crimes. Eyewitness testimony works in conjunction with the physical evidence and can be used to corroborate or invalidate the reasonable conclusions about the evidence’s relationship to the crime.
When considering the origin of the earth and mankind, one must consider two major and conflicting viewpoints: creation by a perfect God or naturalistic evolution. The creation account in Genesis is not only supported by the evidence found in creation itself (Romans 1:20), but is internally consistent throughout Scripture as an infallible eyewitness testimony of a perfect God (Proverbs 30:5). Secular evolutionists assume that the origin of life occurred by chance and that, through random occurrences, life continues to evolve with no purpose. Most importantly, evolutionary explanations for life have never been observed and there is no eyewitness account to support the claims. As a forensic investigator searches for clues to past crimes, evolutionists, particularly since Darwin, continue the exhaustive search for evidence to support their ideas.
Forensic Science Investigation: A Primer
A forensic investigative team has been dispatched to a crime scene. Upon arrival, the team, comprised of crime scene personnel and detectives, begins a challenging task. This task requires the investigation, processing, and discernment of key questions: Was a crime actually committed? Who may be involved in the crime? What physical evidence is relevant to the crime? Is there eyewitness testimony? Dr. Richard Saferstein a recognized expert in the field of forensic science, defines the primary role of CSI personnel as the ability to use their trained expertise to identify and process physical evidence which “can establish that a crime has or has not been committed or can link a crime and its victim or its perpetrator.”1 The American Academy of Forensic Sciences outlines the roles of the forensic scientist as the ability to distinguish relevant facts from random ones, to conduct appropriate testing measures, develop hypotheses and to interpret these results in an attempt to “reach a conclusion or opinion” regarding the evidence’s relationship to the crime.2 In addition, the forensic scientist is expected to remain unbiased and neutral.3 The combined efforts of the detectives reviewing eyewitness testimony and the CSI personnel collecting relevant evidence provide a workable medium for collaboration to establish inferences, and create reasonable conclusions about the events occurring in the past.
Forensic Science: A Historical Science
When most people think of the word science, they imagine an individual in a white coat with goggles examining an unidentified substance in a test tube. However, scientific research is far more complex, encompassing a wide range of disciplines from subatomic to macroscopic (visible to the naked eye). To assist researchers in organizing the knowledge gained through scientific study, it is helpful to categorize science into one of two areas: historical science (a type of which is origins science) and operational science (also called observational or experimental science).4 Scientific disciplines categorized as historical science involve the study of current processes to interpret past events. The term interpret is used primarily because the scientist was not privy to a first-hand, observable account of the event being investigated. Since the incident already occurred, the scientist is relying upon a predisposed set of ideas or assumptions defined by the investigating scientist’s personal bias and belief system.5 In contrast, operational science involves the use of the scientific method through direct observation and application of ongoing events, though there is still interpretation of results and bias of the investigator.6 Operational science has led to numerous inventions and technological advances. In forensics, examination of DNA for individual identity, the development of the forensic facial reconstruction software programs, and the use of fluorescence to highlight latent fingerprints are all considered the practice of operational science, particularly when the samples are recent and in situ.
However, historical science relates to describing events and conditions which are not observable in their original form and often not in their original location. The very definition of historical science reflects the nature of forensic science investigation, considering the investigator studies the remnants of an event that has occurred in the past. Forensic science is a science that focuses on the reconstruction of past events, as investigators present clues and make educated guesses about what may have occurred at a previous point in time.
The ability of the forensic scientists to interpret the evidence and construct probable explanations for past events necessarily involves assumptions about past events since the CSI personnel were not present when the crime occurred. The forensic investigator is not able to apply a first-hand, observable account of what occurred during the criminal act. Therefore, their assumptions rely on historical evidence to support their forensic identifications. Considering mankind is fallible, their assumptions are subject to human error and misinterpretation. Doyle, in his article “CSI and Evolution,” clarifies this distinction between historical and observational science when he states, “Between the science of present processes and the ‘science’ of figuring out what happened in the past . . . there is generally a greater potential for uncertainty in the science of past events than there is in the science of present processes”.7 This is further supported by Young,8 who provides four distinct reasons why forensic science is inherently a historical science in practice, despite using some methods and procedures considered observational science:
- The past is not observable: it “cannot be seen, smelled, heard, tasted, or sensed in any way.”
- The past is not predictable and is therefore retrodiction (or stating inferences about the past).
- It is impossible to recreate the past in the present: “one cannot design an experiment that will replicate the complex variety of conditions that existed in the past—conditions that are often not known in full detail.”
- Forensic science incorporates the use of existing theories but does not form new theories.
Assumptions or Science?
Influencing a forensic investigator’s educated assumptions is a certain level of personal and systematic bias. Scott and Manzanero discussed the philosophy existing within the criminal justice system by recognizing the process is “essentially human act and as such is not without bias.”9 Assumptions and bias effect the application of the scientific method to the use of observational science. Further, they affect how an investigator interprets the historical evidence at crime scenes. In the famous 2014 creation vs. evolution debate, Bill Nye and Ken Ham focused on the question, “Is creation a viable model of origins?” Nye (an evolutionist) attempted to validate the use of historical science as equivalent to observational science. Nye supports the theory that current scientific processes are sufficient to explain events of the past (unobservable) with absolute certainty.
Nye discussed this belief during the debate when he stated,
I say this is something that we in science want, we want the ability to predict. And your assertion that there’s some difference between the natural laws that I use to observe the world today and the natural laws that existed 4,000 years ago is extraordinary and unsettling.10
This is not an unsettling concept for young-earth creation researchers, since new scientific evidence clearly shows that some natural processes may have been accelerated in the past. Current research by Dr. Andrew Snelling on polonium radiohalos, found in granites around the world, indicates uranium decay had to be grossly accelerated in the past to account for the large numbers of uranium and polonium radiohalos found alongside one another.11 For this type of phenomenon to occur, uranium and polonium halos must have formed at the same time through rapid, accelerated decay at rates we do not see operating in present processes. This rapid decay of uranium in the past would have been a product of a cataclysmic global Flood, which would have not only systematically accelerated many current natural processes, but rapidly formed fossils and coal deposits.12 Dr. Henry Morris reiterates this point when he states, “Any deposits formed before the Flood would almost certainly have been profoundly altered by the great complex of hydrodynamic and tectonic forces unleashed during the Deluge period.”13 Therefore, it is imperative a scientist evaluate the evidence in context, while considering the effect of past (historical) processes on current observable findings.
The equivalency of historical science to operational science is foundational to evolutionary ideas, considering there is no evidence for molecules-to-man evolution though this is often conflated with natural selection and change in general, for which there is evidence. For example, evolutionary scientists have never observed a species changing from one taxonomic kind (or family) to another (i.e., a dog to a cat), or identified a species gaining new genetic information of the type needed for molecules-to-man evolution. However, when Nye attempted to relate the use of forensic investigation (historical science) to operational science, he clearly recognizes it as the study of past events. Nye stated, “When you go to a crime scene and find evidence, you have clues about the past, and you trust those clues.” Even Nye14 admits that studying events of the past demands a level of trust to develop assumptions about the evidence. It is within this context that Nye, and other evolutionists, apply the current nature of scientific processes to unobservable events in the past. They assume the present is the key to the past, a method that primarily relies on uniformitarianism.15 Further examination of the validity of historical science has the potential to lead to misinterpretation, misidentification, and erroneous conclusions that lie outside the realm of observable, operational science. Misinterpretation and misidentification have become a concern within the judicial system and forensic science community.
Observational Science and Human Error
Considering the forensic investigator did not observe the act of the initial crime, he or she cannot state with 100% certainty how the crime occurred or that the physical evidence directly relates to the crime. Their theories, whether accurate or skewed, are based on at least some assumptions. This is not to say that the forensic science does not contribute to crime resolution when conducted properly and accurately using the scientific method.16 Using operational science on physical evidence does yield results. For example, after the observable comparison of millions of fingerprints, it is a statistical certainty that no two individuals have identical minutiae patterns.17 Latent fingerprint processing, an observable method, has the capability to provide clues to the past as to who was present at the crime and can be matched to fingerprint databases.18 The forensic discipline of ballistic analysis allows the investigator to match visible striations on bullets to the original weapon from which it was fired.19 Forensic odontology provides the uniqueness of an individual’s previous dental work (fillings, crowns, orthodontics) to the physical comparison of bite-mark impressions.20 Hair strand and follicle analysis have the capability of providing identifiable protein markers, DNA profiling, and patterns unique to human and animal kinds.21 Therefore, the distinction can be made that operational forensic science has the ability to provide factual data regarding present samples but is only able to construct inferences about what may have occurred in the past.
As efficient as each of these processes appear to be, they each have the capacity to be corrupted through human error, erroneous conclusions, or faulty analysis. These sources of error in identification and processing have led the judicial system to question the authenticity of forensic techniques. According to guidelines provided by the court system, there are set criteria for judging forensic evidence:22
- Is the technique testable?
- Has the technique been subject to peer review and publication?
- What is the potential for error in the use of the technique?
- Is the technique widely accepted by the forensic community?
Although these criteria provide a filter for inaccurate processes and faulty conclusions, there remain multiple instances where wrongful convictions due to human error have occurred. A report issued by the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 brought to the forefront an important claim against forensic practices, which concluded that “substantive information and testimony based on faulty forensic science analyses may have contributed to wrongful convictions of innocent people.”23 On September 21, 2016, the White House’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology brought into question the accuracy of forensic processing techniques, stating they “may not pass scientific muster,” thereby calling for stricter guidelines.24
Deeper probing into the effectiveness of forensic processes occurs after yearly exonerations continue to escalate. An exoneration occurs when a guilty individual is later found innocent of all charges due to improved science processes or new evidence.25 The following graph, monitored by the National Registry of Exonerations, depicts the number of exonerations between the years 1989 and 2015. The data clearly reflects the fallible nature of man to develop assumptions about events that were not observable.
Validity of the Eyewitness Testimony
Observational science provides the CSI with items of possible evidentiary value, which through the use of the scientific method may provide a logical connection to the historical act of the crime. Physical evidence, though of value alone, is further supported through a credible eyewitness testimony, and has the potential of solidifying forensic assumptions and conclusions. The validity of eye-witness testimony has been under scrutiny over the past decade as multiple false identifications have surfaced,27 but new research points toward the importance of confidence levels and validity of eye-witness testimony. Confidence levels are defined as the probability that a test performed multiple times will fall within certain parameters. Research conducted by the Marshall Project discovered a significant relationship between initial confidence in a victim’s eyewitness identifications and accuracy.28 Simply stated, the more confident the witness is regarding his or her personal testimony, the more accurate the information.
Similar to the historicity of forensic science is the study of the age of the earth and the science of origins. Like a forensic investigator is not capable of observing a criminal act first-hand, neither are evolutionists or young-earth creationists able to observe the beginning of life. Each side begins with a worldview or bias from which they evaluate the evidence. Evolutionists must rely on their faith in a secular worldview. This belief system is founded upon the study of current, naturalistic processes to develop assumptions of how the origin of the earth and mankind originated. Evolutionists rely exclusively on the ability of man to interpret science and formulate assumptions regarding processes they have never observed. Further, they have no eyewitness testimony to consult for observational details. As seen above in the exoneration rates of criminal misidentifications, mankind is often flawed in their assumptions and conclusions. Therefore, when evaluating evidence, an individual should consider the source. Was there an eyewitness to the event? And more specifically, is the eyewitness confident in their observation?
Christians who view creation through a biblical worldview are blessed to have a perfect, reliable eyewitness account to the origin of life. The Bible, the inspired Word of God, clearly describes the creation of the world in Genesis 1, in addition to referencing God as the Creator in over eighty passages outside of Genesis. Psalm 33:6 and 9 state, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host. . . . For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” Isaiah 45:18 further describes creation: “For thus says the Lord, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other.’" Also, in the New Testament, Hebrews 11:3 further discusses the creator God: “By faith29 we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.”
Believing in the truth of God’s Word does require faith and trust. But remember that Nye30 described the belief in historicity of forensic science requiring “trust.” The difference between Nye’s faith and a Christian’s faith is the existence of an infinitely powerful Creator, an accurate and confident eyewitness who created life as a reflection of His glory. Current observational science definably points to the historical account of creation in the Bible. As stated by Ham during the 2014 debate, “Creation is the only viable model of historical science confirmed by observational science in today’s modern scientific era.”31 God’s eyewitness account in Genesis can be considered valid, accurate, and without error, as stated in Proverbs 30:5 (NIV): “Every word of God is flawless.” (See also Psalm 12:6 and 18:30).
The complexity and beauty of the earth provides evidence of creation. From the operation of the human cell, the intricate beauty of a rose, to the wonders of the deep sea, the evidence is abundant and clear for all mankind. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). The evidence for creation is so immense and complex that a CSI investigator would be overwhelmed by this volume of information. Mankind is privileged to have both an infallible eyewitness and supporting evidence to support the case for the Creator God of the Bible.32 Therefore, when considering the veracity of origins, an individual must ponder an important question:
Are we trusting man’s imperfect and changing ideas and assumptions about the past? Or are we trusting God’s perfectly accurate eyewitness account of the past, including creation of the world, Noah’s global flood, and the age of the earth?33
As Psalm 118:8 states, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”
Historical sciences, including forensic science investigation, will never be capable of providing the level of accuracy a perfect God provides through His inerrant eyewitness testimony and prolific evidence throughout all avenues of creation.
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is a forensic science educator, speaker, and author. She has educated high school students in the study of forensic science for over five years. Dr. Rivera has been published in the Journal of Forensic Identification and has been a guest speaker at the Georgia Division of the International Association for Identification state conference in both 2015 and 2016. Prior to teaching, Dr. Rivera was employed as a fingerprint examiner in a crime scene unit, where she received extensive training in the field of forensics. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation and is researching undergraduate college students enrolled in forensic science coursework.