The Biblical Basis for Peer Review
by Jason Lisle, Ph.D. *
How does ICR ensure the accuracy and reliability of its articles? Responsible scientists are firmly committed to a publication process called peer review. This iron-sharpening-iron (Proverbs 27:17) procedure ensures that articles on a given topic are as accurate as humanly possible. As Christians, we want to be truthful, so we seek and value guidance. Peer review has its foundation in Scripture and works as follows.
Most scientists have the humility to recognize they are fallible, and they welcome reasonable criticism. Therefore, when they make a new discovery, they do not instantly assume that their conclusions must be true. Rather, they seek the counsel of others, asking them to critique the findings and point out any flaws.
To that end, a scientist will write a paper explaining his or her experiment, observations, reasoning, and conclusions, and will then submit that paper for publication in a technical science journal. The journal content editor forwards the paper to several experts—usually people with Ph.D.s in relevant fields—and asks for their assessment. The reviewers examine the article carefully, looking for factual errors, unsupported claims, logical fallacies, and scientific clarity, and give feedback to the journal editor. The editor then passes along any suggested changes to the author, who adjusts his or her paper accordingly.1
Peer review is designed primarily to help authors publish accurate papers.2 But the peer review process also serves to reduce the number of scientifically unsupported papers that make their way into print. Such errors tend to propagate quickly, so it is best to prevent them from getting started. Therefore, a good editor will reject publications that do not pass scientific muster.3
Peer review is a Christian principle. Dr. Henry Morris III states it very well:
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.4
Unfortunately, we live in an age where many people do not want to be held accountable to anyone or anything. They want to live autonomously as a god unto themselves, do not want to be corrected, and will make excuses for why they don’t need to be corrected.5 It’s an ironic truth that those who are the most resistant to peer review are those who most desperately need it. People who humbly embrace correction are quick to correct their mistakes and therefore need far less correction in the future (Proverbs 9:9). The stubborn are slow to be corrected, and their errors continue (Proverbs 29:1).
Be cautious of “Lone Ranger” creationists—those people who proclaim unverified pet “theories” and who resist peer review.6 God alone is above criticism.7,8 Also be discerning of articles that are not peer reviewed, such as many that appear on the Internet. It’s not that such articles are necessarily wrong, but their reliability is in question. Of course, we should be discerning in all things. Content editors are also not infallible—even peer-reviewed articles are sometimes wrong, and editors sometimes will mistakenly reject a paper that has merit. Therefore, let us test all things against the infallible standard of God’s Word and ask God to give us all a teachable spirit.
- Criticism can be uncomfortable, but it is helpful and biblical when offered with an attitude of respect and humility. Scientists do not (usually) take criticism of their ideas as a personal attack. On the contrary, they value it. Constructive criticism is the mark of a true friend (Proverbs 27:6).
- A wise author is grateful for such feedback (Proverbs 9:8).
- Sometimes secular editors will reject an article not because it lacks scientific merit but because it confirms Scripture. This, of course, is unbiblical and unethical, and is not in the spirit of true peer-review.
- Morris III, H. 2011. Achieving Accuracy. Acts & Facts. 40 (5): 4-5.
- As one example, a naysayer might point out that peer-review is not perfect and at times fails to result in an accurate paper, “so why bother with it?” Since human beings are prone to error, any process involving them will occasionally fail. Peer-review is no exception, particularly with journal editors who scoff at Scripture. Likewise, our court system sometimes fails to give the correct verdict. But should we do away with courts? The system isn’t perfect because people aren’t perfect, but the system is good because it is biblical.
- This reveals an unbiblical attitude of pride (Proverbs 13:1).
- Romans 3:4
- Those who resist correction and who refuse to be accountable to others have essentially declared themselves to be God—the only Being who needs no correction.
* Dr. Lisle is Director of Physical Sciences at the Institute for Creation Research and received his Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Colorado.
Cite this article: Jason Lisle, Ph.D. 2014. The Biblical Basis for Peer Review. Acts & Facts. 43 (7).