Creation Science: Politics Disguised as Religion Disguised as Science
(Printed (condensed version) in the Towanda Daily Review on 22 Dec 1996)
According to the Daily Review (10/25/96), the North Rome Christian School hosted for its students a week-long creation workshop sponsored by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). The Review article described the classes, and continued with a treatise on the "science" behind creationism and with the failings of the theory of evolution.
The Methods of Dogma.
Henry Morris of the ICR stated that science must be based on "actual experimental measurements and analyses," and Fred Willson, also ICR, that good science is "based on observability, testability, and repeatibility."
I would add that good science also requires objectivity. If evidence shows that a proposed theory is false, then the theory is discarded and replaced with another based on further "actual experimental measurements and analyses." In science, nothing is sacred. Observation and experimentation lead to a reasonable hypothesis, which is then tested. If it fails it is modified and retested, or discarded. If it passes, it progresses to become a viable theory. But it is always subject to test.
Yet the ICR requires its members to adhere to a statement of belief that begins, "The Bible is the written Word of God, and because we believe it to be inspired thruout, all of its assertions are historically and scientifically true in all of the original autographs. To the student of nature, this means that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths."(1)
So much for objectivity.
Argument from Design.
Willson then presented "design vs. chance," commonly known as the "argument from design" which states that the universe is so complex that it must have been designed. This argument ultimately regresses back to God but leaves unanswered the question of "Who designed God"? I know the dogmatic answer; I also know that dogma is not science. Richard Feynman once said, "God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand." We once attributed illness, lightning, and earthquakes to supernatural causes. Though still not understood thoroughly, these natural occurrences no longer require demons or gods to explain -- biology, meteorology, and geology do nicely.
Willson then had the students perform an experiment to demonstrate the impossibility of creating letters or spelling words with randomly dropped toothpicks to apparently show that random events can not produce order. He also cited Sir Fred Hoyle and Francis Crick on the impossibility of life or even the beginnings of life spontaneously generating from dead matter. Yet the theory of evolution says nothing about the beginnings of life, only "that all modern life has evolved from a common ancestor or a relatively small set of common ancestors," and ". . . evolution can be precisely defined as any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next."(2)
As cited by Willson on the random spontaneous generation of life, Hoyle's "life by chance / tornado assembling a 747 from a junkyard", and Crick's "virtually no chance", are correct, but out of context. Most scientists agree that it is highly improbable, and maybe impossible, for any form of life to have started from purely random events. However, the events are not random, but directed -- not by some mythical supernatural being, but by the physical and chemical forces that direct all natural occurrences. According to Kaufman, life "is a highly probable outcome of the laws of physics acting on the primeval organic soup that existed on the early earth."(3)
As for the toothpick experiment, if they were dropped several hundred times a day for several hundred million years, they would probably eventually spell "This is a dumb experiment." But then maybe not, since there are no known physical or chemical forces that direct toothpicks to spell words.
Willson then noted the failure of anyone, throughout history, to "create living organisms from non-living matter," and cited Pasteur for first disproving spontaneous generation. His references are correct but his point is misdirected. As previously noted, evolutionary theory says nothing about the beginnings of life. Also, the unsuccessful human efforts over approximately 4000 years to create living organisms are insignificant when compared to the laboratory of nature where billions of trials per day can occur over billions of years.
It Looks Flat.
Lee Ann Carmichael, administrator of the North Rome Christian School, noted that children in her class laugh when presented with story books about evolution, "because it's nothing they've observed in nature." They would probably also find it amusing if told that a nearly spherical Earth revolves around the Sun, -- also "nothing they've observed in nature." The Earth looks flat and it appears that the Sun revolves around it. Until just a few hundred years ago, religious dogma required a geocentric flat earth, but science has shown otherwise.
Children learn by being given the best information available. Teaching dogma disguised as science eventually discredits the teacher and ultimately confuses the student who will, at some later date, ask questions that will require real answers, not glossy Fairy tales.
Evolution requires fossils that show the transition of species over time; creationists contend that no such transitional fossils exist; paleontologists concede the scarcity of such fossils. However, such fossils do exist. According to noted paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, "The supposed lack of intermediary forms in the fossil record remains the fundamental canard of current antievolutionists. Such transitional forms are scarce, to be sure, and for two sets of reasons - geological (the gappiness of the fossil record) and biological (the episodic nature of evolutionary change, including patterns of punctuated equilibrium and transition within small populations of limited geological extent). But paleontologists have discovered several superb examples of intermediary forms and sequences, more than enough to convince any fair-minded skeptic about the reality of life's physical genealogy."(4)
What's a Few Hundred Million Years?
According to young-Earth creationists, creation occurred approximately 6000 years ago, and current dating methods have, according to the ICR, "so many unanswered variables to begin with, a clear conclusion cannot be reached." A few of these so- called "variables" are a variable speed of light, and changing radioactive decay rates. These claims are made even though there is "remarkable coherence among many different dating methods -- for example: radioactivity, tree rings, ice cores, corals, supernovas -- from astronomy, biology, physics, geology, chemistry and archeology."(5) With all due respect to the young-Earthers, no person who is in touch with reality believes the Earth to be 6000, 10 times 6000, or even 6000 times 6000 years old. Current estimates are that the first living organisms formed over 3 billion years ago, about 1 billion years after the Earth first formed.(6)
According to the Review article, the ICR claimed that "dinosaurs were created in the beginning and lived on Earth with man." Willson then claimed that "investigators have become aware of the discovery of dinosaur and human footprints existing together in the limestone riverbed of the Paluxy River ." I assume by "dinosaur" Willson means the traditional definition -- "Any of various extinct, often gigantic, carnivorous or herbivorous reptiles of the orders Saurischia and Ornithischia that were chiefly terrestrial and existed during the Mesozoic era."(7)
The findings of the Paluxy River "investigator", Carl Baugh, have not only been discredited by scientists, the Creation Science Foundation (CSF) has issued the following statement: "All the creationist scientists that we have spoken to regard Mr. Baugh's teaching as a serious embarrassment. Carl Baugh is a 'loner'. He does not interact with others in the mainstream creationist movement and so is not getting his ideas challenged and corrected."(8)
So it seems that only in movies and the minds of Carl Baugh and now Fred Willson did dinosaurs walk with man.
Willson also stated that, "dinosaur-like creatures have been sighted recently," claiming: that something "resembling a dinosaur" was dredged up in 1977 by the Japanese; that sea creatures live in Lake Erie; that the Loch Ness Monster exists; and that claims of dinosaur sightings from natives in the Congo are proof. "Resembling a dinosaur" is not necessarily a dinosaur; fresh-water creatures do live in Lake Erie; the Loch Ness Monster is an admitted hoax; and claims from the Congo do not even constitute evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence -- in this case, a living Stegosaurus or Brachiosaurus would do nicely. Willson's claims seem to have failed the ICR's "observability" requirement.
According to the article, ICR geologist Dr. Art Chadwick examined a 500 foot layer of the Grand Canyon and concluded that "it was laid down quickly and violently under deep water . . . (the Genesis flood of Noah)." In direct disagreement with Chadwick are the results of the 1992 ICR sponsored "Grand Canyon Dating Project," headed by Dr. Steven Austin, chairman of the Geology Department at the ICR. His findings dated lava flows near the top of the canyon at 1.3 billion years. However, when compared with data that showed the age of lower strata to be 200 million years younger, Austin concluded that the dating technique was flawed, and hence all such datings using similar methods are incorrect. However, in 1988, documents show that Austin knew that this discrepancy could be forced by improper sampling, yet it was never mentioned in the 1992 report.(9)
Regardless, the dating technique has repeatedly shown to be valid and accurate to within a few tens of million years with proper sampling, and within a few hundred million years with improper sampling. Still, an age of 1.3 billion years plus or minus a few hundred million years is still a long way from a few thousand years old.
The Standing Whale.
Next, Willson told the story of an upright whale fossil positioned over several geological strata, indicating that the strata would had to have been deposited quickly (Genesis flood) for the fossil to survive.
First reported by Russel (10) in 1976, the whale story has grown to legend among creationists who prefer not to lessen its impact with facts. According to the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, who excavated the whale, the fossil was at a 45 degree angle and parallel to the layer of containing strata that was uplifted by tectonic action that formed the Transverse Ranges. The strata is "indicative of slow accumulation on an anoxic bay bottom."(11)
Lucy and Nebraska Man.
Willson claimed that Lucy, "heralded as a missing link", is nothing more than a pygmy chimpanzee, and "extremely unconvincing" as the missing link between ape and man, and included a quote from A. W. Melhert, an evolutionist and paleoanthropologist, that the "evidence" for the "alleged transformation from ape to man is extremely unconvincing."
Richard Leakey, in 1994, wrote that Lucy "undoubtedly was a biped" and not a chimp.(12)(13) This is the consensus of the scientific community. Creationists also continue to claim, incorrectly, that evolution is wrong because "missing links" between ape and man can't be found. Melhert's quote above is correct, but out of context, since evolutionary theory holds that man and ape evolved from a common ancestor. Therefore, there should be no links between them, only fossils that show gradual change from the branches that descend from the common ancestor.
Willson then claimed that "Nebraska Man" was claimed by scientists to be the "genuine missing link," but was finally shown to be a pig's tooth.
According to Foley (14), "Few, if any, other scientists claimed it was a human ancestor. Some, including the finders, identified it only as an advanced primate of some kind. Many others were skeptical even of that. It is an exaggeration to claim that Nebraska Man was widely accepted as human, or even as an ape, by scientists." Illustrations of a complete fossil were done for the Illustrated London News, not for a scientific publication, and in spite of creationists continuing claims, no scientific evidence about Nebraska Man was used in the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925.(15)(16)(17)
Creationists do use a method, but it's not the scientific one. It's one called a "straw man fallacy." It is a style of argument where you misrepresent the position of the opposing argument, argue against the misrepresented position, then declare victory. Multiple examples have already been covered above.
Below are opinions of others about the Creation movement:
"It is a carefully orchestrated political move by a minority of vocal people who have a lot of insecurities about the Bible that are not shared by virtually all other Christians. It is intellectually very easy to be a Biblical literalist, but when simple observations stand in the way of your 'interpretations' your only option is to intimidate, and to legislate your viewpoint into the classroom since reasoned argument will not make the case for you."(Odenwald)(18)The Bible is not a science book. Treating it as such will ultimately discredit both the claimants and the book. Most mainstream religions have reconciled dogma with science. Pope Paul II recently said, "Today, nearly half a century after appearance of the encyclical [Humani Generis, 1950], fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis."(22)
"Anybody who believes that the earth is less than 10,000 years old needs psychiatric help." (Francis Crick)(19)
"Several thousand years ago, a small tribe of ignorant near-savages wrote various collections of myths, wild tales, lies, and gibberish. Over the centuries, these stories were embroidered, garbled, mutilated, and torn into small pieces that were then repeatedly shuffled. Finally, this material was badly translated into several languages successively. The resultant text, creationists feel, is the best guide to this complex and technical subject." (Tom Weller)(20)
"I would defend the liberty of consenting adult creationists to practice whatever intellectual perversions they like in the privacy of their own homes; but it is also necessary to protect the young and innocent." (Arthur C. Clarke)(21)
Creationists have one, and only one, agenda -- political. Repeatedly, the fundamentalist movement has failed on every attempt to break down the "wall of separation" between church and state. Politics disguised as religion is being exposed. Creationism merely adds another layer -- politics disguised as religion disguised as science.
(1) Brett Vickers, 3/23/96, http://earth.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/crs-creed.html
(2) Helena Curtis and N. Sue Barnes, Biology, 5th ed. 1989 (Worth Publishers), p.974
(3) At Home in the Universe: the Search for Laws of Self- Organization and Complexity, by Stuart Kauffman, (Oxford University Press, 1995.)
(4) Ahlberg, P.E. 1991. Tetrapod or near-tetrapod fossils from the Upper Devonian of Scotland; and http://earth.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/faq-transitional/part2c.html
(5) Tom Scharle, http://earth.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/fabnaq.html
(6) 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Science, by James Trefil, p52, (Doubleday 1992)
(7) The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition.
(8) Glen J. Kuban, http://earth.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/paluxy/whatbau.html
(9) Chris Stassen, 4/22/94, http://earth.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/icr-science.html
(10) Russel, K. M. 1976. Workers Find Whale in Diatomaceous Earth Quarry. Chemical and Engineering News. 54(41):48. (October 4, 1976 issue).
(11) Polystrate Whale Fossils, South, http://earth.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/polystrate.html
(12) Leakey R.E.: The origin of humankind, New York:BasicBooks, 1994.
(13) Jim Foley, 8/16/96, http://earth.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/homs/a_piths.html
(14) Jim Foley, 8/16/96, http://earth.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/homs/a_nebraska.html
(15) Wolf J. and Mellett J.S.: The role of "Nebraska man" in the creation-evolution debate. Creation/Evolution Issue 16:31-43, 1984.
(16) Gould S.J.: An essay on a pig roast. In: Bully for brontosaurus, New York:W.W.Norton, 1991, p. 432-447. (an essay about the Nebraska Man episode)
(17) Jim Foley, 8/16/96, http://earth.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/homs/a_overview.html
(18) Odenwald, http://www2.ari.net/home/odenwald/qadir/q1433.html
(19) Quoted in Richard Dawkins, "Fossil fool", New Statesman & Society, Vol. 5, No. 217 (August 28, 1992), p. 33.
(20) Science Made Stupid.
(21) From 1984: Spring, page 265.
(22) Reuters, 10/24/96.
John L. Ferri
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