Volume 24 (2004)

RNCSE 24 (1)RNCSE 24 (1) RNCSE 24 (2)RNCSE 24 (2)

RNCSE 24 (3-4)RNCSE 24 (3-4): Special double issue.

RNCSE 24 (5)RNCSE 24 (5) RNCSE 24 (6)RNCSE 24 (6)

RNCSE 24 (1)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2004
Date: 
January–February
Articles available online are listed below.

Flaws in a Young-Earth Cooling Mechanism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Flaws in a Young-Earth Cooling Mechanism
Author(s): 
Glenn Morton and George L Murphy
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2004
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
31–32
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Modern young-earth creationist theories invoke huge quantities of heat — enough to boil most of the oceans and melt the earth's rocks. For instance, John Baumgardner has suggested that rapid subduction of the oceanic plates caused the Flood and accomplished all the continental drift within a few years at most. But he calculates that this process would have generated 1028 joules of heat:
If released near the earth's surface, this amount of energy is sufficient to melt a layer of silicate rock 12 km thick or the boil away a layer of water 25 km deep over the entire earth. It is equivalent to the kinetic energy of 170 000 asteroids, each 10 km in diameter and traveling at 15 km/s. (Baumgardner 1990: 37)
Steve Austin and others (1994a: 612) endorsed this view several years later. In the question-and-answer session after that talk captured on videotape (Austin and others 1994b), Russell Humphreys noted:
We have always said that one of the major problems was the heat flow — what do we do with the excess heat?
Clearly, such quantities of heat are a huge problem for the young-earth creationist position.

But these processes are not the only source of huge quantities of heat invoked by modern creationist ideas. Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Creation Research Society (CRS) members have become convinced that large quantities of radioactive decay have taken place on earth (Humphreys 2000: 335; Snelling and others 2000: 398, 455; Vardiman 2000: 3, 15). In 2000, the Radioactivity and the Age of The Earth (RATE) group published a book attempting to explain how the rates of radioactive decay could have increased significantly during the global flood in order to account for the millions-year-old ages given by radioisotope dating methods. But radioactivity gives off heat, and accounting for all the heat produced by the presumed increase in radioactive decay creates another huge heat problem. Larry Vardiman writes:
For example, if most of the radioactive decay implied by fission tracks or quantities of daughter products occurred over the year of the Flood, the amount of heat generated may have been sufficient to vaporize all the waters of the oceans and melt portions of the earth's crust, given present conditions. (Vardiman 2000: 8)
And Humphreys adds:
A simple calculation shows that crustal rocks with their present amount of radioactivity would melt many times over if decay rates were accelerated. However, I would like to emphasize here that all creationist Creation or Flood models I know of have serious problems with heat disposal. (Baumgardner 1986: 211, cited in Humphreys 2000: 369 –70)
Humphreys proposed a mechanism for absorbing the problem heat. Assuming that all particles in the universe are losing energy due to the cosmic expansion, the excess heat generated can be absorbed by these "cooled" particles.

Humphreys outlines his idea this way:
All relativists think that, while the expansion of space sweeps galaxies apart, the galaxies themselves (and smaller objects) do not change size with the expansion. One explanation (I know of no other) for why that should be so is that the force associated with the expansion is much smaller than the forces binding together stars in a galaxy (or particles in planets, people and atoms). The expansion is only strong enough to overcome the feeble gravitational forces between galaxies. By that view, the fabric of space between particles bound to each other, whether within stars or atoms, continues to expand, sliding past the particles essentially without friction. The calculations leading to equation (14) were for free particles, because that is easier to calculate ... but a simple gedanken experiment suggests the same effect applies to bound particles as well as free ones. Imagine a large box with perfectly reflecting sides. One particle, say a molecule, bounces around in the box in a vacuum. The box itself does not change size, for the reason I offered above, so the molecule does not lose energy to the walls of the box as it bounces off them.

Except for the tiny fraction of time the molecule spends bouncing off the walls, it is perfectly free; during the free part of its flight, it is just like the free particle in empty space, and the molecule imparts some of its energy to the fabric of space. The molecule is bound within the box, and yet it loses energy which does not go into the walls of the box. Now shrink the box to the size of a unit cell in the crystal. Again the molecule loses energy to the fabric of space. In a real crystal, the vibrating ions transfer energy back and forth with their neighboring ions, but as each ion moves, it will also lose some kinetic energy to the fabric of space within which it is moving. From our viewpoint, the energy does not go in any of the three directions we perceive; it simply disappears. (Humphreys 2000: 371 –2)
We would make several criticisms of this suggestion. First, one of us has developed a simple classical model for a harmonic oscillator (like a particle oscillating in a crystal), and in this model the particle does not lose energy to the cosmic expansion. While other force terms could be used in the equation of motion to give different results, the one used here seems to be the simplest and most natural generalization of the ordinary linear restoring force. The fact that energy is not lost here suggests that Humphreys's qualitative argument is incorrect. A mathematical model developed by George Murphy that calculates the magnitude of the forces involved is available on request from Glenn Morton.

Second, we would criticize this idea on the basis that it is too slow to be useful to the creationist agenda. Today the expansion of the universe is of the order of 1 part in 1010 each year. This is the percentage of expansion of the present size of the universe that occurs each year. As we have shown in calculations elsewhere, doubling the expansion rate, R (Humphreys 2000: 372 –3), would decrease the kinetic energy (mV2/2) of a free particle by a factor of 1⁄4. But even if this were true for a bound particle (and it is not), the 25% of the thermal energy that would remain would still wreak havoc during a global flood.

Our third criticism of the concept is that there would be visible effects in the spectra of light emitted during the Flood, including those from stars a few thousand light years away in our own galaxy. A change in the energy levels of atoms (which this idea would entail) would change the frequencies at which light is emitted in a fashion that would be observable. The lack of such observations rules out Humphreys's cooling mechanism as a reasonable possibility.

Fourth, we would criticize this concept on theological grounds. In Humphreys's article in the RATE book, he postulates that God performs lots of miracles in order to explain things. God is supposed to have changed the mass of the pion, changed the parameters of gauge bosons to accelerate beta decay, and changed the effective distance of the strong force to alter alpha decay. With all these miracles, why then does God switch to a naturalistic solution to the heat problem — albeit one that requires a rapid cosmic expansion of unexplained origin? All of this raises two serious theological questions. Why does God dance to Humphreys's whim, performing a miracle each time Humphreys requires one? Demanding miracles of God raises certain questions of who is the master and who the servant. And why does Humphreys insist on any naturalistic approach at all, given all the miracles he postulates? Why not simply remove the heat miraculously?

For these reasons, we reject Humphreys's cooling mechanism: because it is wrong, it is ineffective, it is falsified by observational data, and it is theologically flawed.

References

Austin SA, Baumgarther JR, Humphreys DR, Snelling AA, Vardiman L, Wise KP. 1994a. Catastrophic plate tectonics: A global flood model of earth history. In: Walsh RE, editor. The Third International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship. p 609 –22.

Austin SA. Humphreys DR, Vardiman L, Baumgardner JR, Snelling AA, Wise KP 1994b. Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood. Videotape available from Creation Science Fellowship, Inc, PO Box 99303, Pittsburgh PA 15233-4303.

Baumgardner JR. 1990. 3D finite element simulation of the global tectonic changes accompanying Noah's Flood. In: Walsh RE, Brooks CL, editors. Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism, volume 2. Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, Inc. p 35 –45.

Humphreys DR. 2000. Accelerated nuclear decay: A viable hypothesis. In: Vardiman L, Snelling AA, Chafin E. editors. Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society. p 333 –79.

Snelling AA. 2000. Radiohalos. In: Vardiman L, Snelling AA, Chafin E. editors. Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society. p 381 –468.

Vardiman L. 2000. Introduction. In: Vardiman L, Snelling AA, Chafin E, editors. Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society. p 1 –25.

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Morton
George L Murphy
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
glennmorton@entouch.net
gmurphy@raex.com

Flood Geology in the Grand Canyon

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Flood Geology in the Grand Canyon
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2004
Date: 
January–February
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
During his historic exploration of the Grand Canyon, John Wesley Powell wrote in his diary, “The thought grew in my mind that the canyons of this region would be a Book of Revelations in the rock-leaved bible of geology.” Today, geologists know that the Canyon began to be eroded 4 million years ago: what the strata thus exposed reveal is a 1.75-billion–year span of the earth’s history. Yet visitors to the official bookstores in Grand Canyon National Park are now treated to a different view — the view of creationists who believe that these rocks were deposited and the Canyon was carved in a twinkling during Noah’s Flood.

At issue is Grand Canyon: A Different View, compiled by Tom Vail, a Colorado River guide. With its lavish color photographs of the Canyon and its low list price of $16.99, it is the sort of book that you might want to take home as a souvenir. Unless you open it, and happen to notice that it was published by Master Books, the publishing arm of the Institute for Creation Research, or that its list of contributors is a virtual who’s who of “creation science”, or that “all contributions have been peer-reviewed to ensure a consistent and biblical perspective.”

“Flood geology” — according to which Noah’s Flood, as described in Genesis, was a historical worldwide event responsible for the distinctive features of the earth’s geology — is nothing new. It was pioneered by self-educated geologist George McCready Price in the first half of the 20th century, and revived by John C Whitcomb and Henry M Morris in their 1961 book The Genesis Flood. The theory continues to be influential in fundamentalist circles, where adherence to a literal reading of the Bible is frequently thought to demand rejection of evolution as well as acceptance of flood geology.

To the uninitiated, it is hard to imagine that flood geologists regard the Grand Canyon, with its thousands of feet of layers of sedimentary rock deposited over the eons, as a suitable icon. In the 1920s, a colleague of Price’s urged him to explain the formation of the Grand Canyon in these words: “Let’s have the worst before us when we’re dealing with the enemy, and if we perish, we perish!” Yet today’s creation scientists are confident that it is, in the words of the title of one of their books, a monument to catastrophe, despite the overwhelming dismissal of their view by the scientific community as absurd.

A Different View claims, for example, that the Canyon was rapidly cut when the sediment was still soft. But it offers no explanation of how the supposedly soft sediment remained standing in high vertical walls instead of slumping, of why the layers alternate between chemically produced sedimentary rocks such as limestone and mechanically produced sedimentary rocks such as sandstone and shale, or of why the canyon’s river channels are not the sort of wide deep channels that are characteristic of canyons carved by floods. Similarly, although the Grand Canyon’s fossils are confidently described as casualties of the biblical flood, there is no explanation — beyond a vague reference to hydrodynamics — of how they managed to sort themselves in the chronological order so thoroughly documented by paleontologists.

Not surprisingly, then, Wilfred Elders, a professor of geology at the University of California, Riverside, was dismayed to learn that A Different View was on the shelves in the bookstores in Grand Canyon National Park. The bookstores are operated by a non-profit organization, the Grand Canyon Association, under the supervision of the National Park Service. According to a spokesman for the NPS, the book was unanimously approved for sale by a panel of park and gift shop personnel. In his review of the book for Eos, the weekly newsletter of the American Geophysical Union, Elders lamented, “Allowing the sale of this book within the national park was an unfortunate decision.” (See p 33 for a longer version of Elders’s review.) In his opinion, A Different View is not a work of science; it is religious proselytizing.

The scientific community concurred. The presidents of the American Paleontological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the Association of American State Geologists, the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, the American Geological Institute, and the Geological Society of America signed a joint letter to the NPS, urging that A Different View be removed “from shelves where buyers are given the impression that the book is about earth science and its content endorsed by the National Park Service” (see p 21). The American Institute of Biological Sciences — the umbrella organization of professional biology societies — followed suit.

Meanwhile, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a non-profit organization that promotes environmental ethics and government accountability, was also taking notice. In a press release dated December 22, 2003, PEER cited the sale of A Different View, along with the NPS’s recent about-face on the removal of plaques bearing biblical verses from the South Rim of the Canyon and its decision to edit images of gay rights and abortion rights demonstrations from a videotape that airs at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, as evidence that the Bush administration is attempting to institute a program of “faith-based” parks.

The issue finally arrived on the national stage with a story published in the Los Angeles Times (2004 Jan 7), citing both the joint letter from the geoscience organizations and the PEER press release. According to the Times story, following protests from the park’s interpretive staff, A Different View was relocated from the natural sciences section of the bookstores to the Inspirational Reading section — a reasonable category for a book that is explicitly founded on the premise that “the Bible, in its original form, is the inerrant Word of God.” The recategorization of A Different View complies with the geoscientists’ recommendation that “if it remains available in Grand Canyon bookstores, it be clearly separated from books and materials that do discuss our scientific understanding of Grand Canyon geology.”

But the story is not over. The superintendent of the park is seeking further guidance from the legal department of the NPS headquarters in Washington. Predictably, creationists are up in arms. Answers in Genesis — a large creationist ministry based in Florence, Kentucky — promptly called upon its supporters to lobby the NPS and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, not to permit what it called “censorship and book banning”. As of January 12, AiG reports, over 125 of its supporters have communicated with the NPS, complaining of what AiG characterizes as “an incredible attack on free speech”. The complaint of censorship is, of course, bogus; the First Amendment confers no right to have books purchased and resold by the government or (as here) by a non-profit organization overseen by a government agency.

Creationists were also unhappy with the relegation of A Different View to the Inspirational Reading section of the park bookstores, touting the scientific credentials, publications, and memberships of the contributors in order to emphasize the supposedly scientific basis of the book. The Institute for Creation Research, for example, boasts that “Many of the contributing authors to the book are also active members of the societies represented in the letter of protest.” But the NPS management policies clearly state that factual information presented in interpretive and educational programs is to be based on current scholarship and science; it is hardly unreasonable to expect the bookstores overseen by the NPS to reach the same standard by refusing to countenance a counterfeit of science on their shelves.

And legal sabers are now rattling on behalf of “creation science”. The Alliance Defense Fund — a Scottsdale, Arizona, organization that describes itself as engaged in “the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values” — reportedly threatened to sue if A Different View is removed from the bookstores or even if it is relegated to their Inspirational Reading sections, describing such actions as patently unconstitutional. Standing in the way of such a suit, of course, is the formidable obstacle of the Supreme Court’s ruling (in the 1987 case Edwards v Aguillard) that “creation science” is intrinsically a religious view.

For the time being, A Different View remains on the shelves. David Barna, a spokesperson for the NPS, told the Associated Press (2004 Jan 7) that NPS headquarters was likely to tell Grand Canyon National Park’s administrators not to restock the book. But Barna then told The New York Times (2004 Jan 18) that NPS headquarters decided that “the book can remain on sale as an alternative theory to the Grand Canyon history — but one that the Park Service does not necessarily support.” The Baptist Press news service reported (2004 Jan 27) that the bookstores ordered over 300 additional copies of the book; Elaine Sevy, a spokesperson for the NPS, commented, “Now that the book has become quite popular, we don’t want to remove it.”

For his part, Professor Elders, whose concern about the presence of A Different View in the park’s bookstores helped to spark the controversy, offers suitably scriptural advice: “speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee” (Job 12:8).

Acknowledgments

I wish to thank Alan Gishlick and Wilfred Elders for helpful comments.

[A version of this article appeared under the title “Creationists and the Grand Canyon” in The Humanist 2004 Mar/Apr; 64 (2): 5–6, 47 and is reprinted by permission.]

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

Ohio Teachers on Teaching Evolution and Counter-Evolutionary Concepts in Biology Classrooms

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Ohio Teachers on Teaching Evolution and Counter-Evolutionary Concepts in Biology Classrooms
Author(s): 
Kim Bilica, University at Buffalo (SUNY) and Gerald Skoog, Texas Tech University
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2004
Date: 
January–February
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The Question*

How did the 2002 state curriculum standards debate influence Ohio teachers’ decisions to emphasize evolution and counter-evolutionary concepts in biology classrooms?

The Context

From January to December 2002, the debate about the role of biological evolution and alternatives to evolution (specifically, “intelligent design”) in Ohio’s life science curriculum standards was intense. The controversy surrounding the place of evolutionary theory and alternative “theories” is consequential inasmuch as the science curriculum standards were being revised as part of the state accountability structure under No Child Left Behind (US DOE 2002). These standards would provide the basis for the high-stakes, state-level Ohio Graduation Tests. This debate has occurred in other states as special interest groups and others have argued that evolutionary theory is plagued with weaknesses and that science standards should have a requirement to “teach the controversy”.

The argument against evolution tends to be rejected because evolution is widely accepted by scientists and science educators as a central, unifying theme in science and as the cornerstone of the biological sciences (AAAS 1990, 1993; NRC 1996). Evolutionary theory provides an explanation for the changing patterns and diversity of life on earth. The evidence that life on earth has changed and continues to change is substantial and there is no “controversy” to teach. Furthermore, the tenets of “intelligent design” are not plausible as alternative explanations because they are derived from philosophical and logical arguments rather than cumulated scientific evidence. As such, the design arguments lack explanatory power.

While the resolution to the debate came out — arguably — in favor of evolution (see RNCSE 2002 Sep/Oct; 22 [5]: 4–6), the grades 9 and 10 Life Science curriculum standards included the statement:

Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.) (Ohio Academic Content Standards, Standard H, p 138).
Because Life Science Standard H includes a parenthetical that mentions “intelligent design”, the standard could be construed as an invitation to teach (but not test) “intelligent design”, thus formally introducing non-scientific tenets into the public biology classroom. With the ambiguously stated life science standard, and with the March 2004 Ohio State Board of Education’s approval of a model lesson plan promoting counter-evolutionary tenets, the decision is now left to the Ohio biology teachers to interpret the Life Science standard and to translate their interpretation into classroom instructional practice.

The Details

In an effort to understand better the effects of the controversy in Ohio biology classrooms, a state- wide descriptive survey study was conducted in spring–summer 2003. In April 2003, 900 Ohio biology teachers received a 62-item paper survey that included questions about the classroom emphasis they place on evolution and counter-evolution concepts in the classroom. The instrument also collected information about the teachers’ academic preparation, certification status, regional location, school type, and perceptions on the role of evolution in science.

By June 2003, 210 of the surveys were returned (23.3% return rate), and of these 189 were entered into the analysis of data. The teachers were academically well prepared, professionally qualified, and experienced. A majority of the teachers were certified to teach biology in Ohio (94%), and 55.5% had taken a course in biological evolution as part of their academic training. Thirty-one percent (30.6%) of the teachers had obtained a bachelor’s degree, and 65.6% earned a master’s degree. The teachers were experienced with a median 13 years of teaching experience (mean = 15 years).

Eighty percent (80.2%) of the teachers were teaching in public schools, and of all responding teachers, 55.1% were located in suburban regions, 30.8% from rural, and 14.1% from urban areas. All were teachers of secondary school science, with 82.8% located in high school, 14.5% in middle school, and 2.7% in both middle and high school. Written comments were made by 81% of the respondents on an optional section of the survey instrument. The large proportion of surveys with written comments was interpreted as evidence that this issue was significant to these teachers.

Data indicated that the responding sample of teachers gave little to no emphasis to counter-evolutionary concepts (“intelligent design” and creationism); whereas they gave moderate to strong emphasis to evolutionary concepts (diversity, human evolution, pace and rate of evolution, evidence for evolution, speciation, descent with modification, and natural selection). With the advent of the new standards for life science, teachers reported that they would not decrease emphasis on evolution (88%), nor would they change the content that they would use to teach evolution (71%). When asked about emphasis on counter-evolution concepts, however, the responding teachers demonstrated less unanimity. Thirty-one percent (31%) of the teachers agreed that they would give some emphasis to “intelligent design” and creationism in their classes, and an additional 11–16% were undecided about their emphasis on anti-evolution content.

The study also demonstrated that certain specific factors influence teachers’ emphasis on evolutionary and counter-evolutionary concepts. These factors: professional and academic preparation (certification status, college degree, and having a course in evolution), personal beliefs about evolution in science, and perceptions of support from principal and from the community.

The Bottom Line

Because biology teachers are left to interpret the confusing parenthetical statement about “intelligent design”, and as a result of the model lesson for Standard H, the door to the inclusion of non-scientific tenets in the science classroom is now open. The results from the small sample responding to this survey seem to indicate that the teachers will not change the emphasis they place on evolution in their classrooms; however,one third of the teachers intend to include counter-evolutionary concepts in their classroom curriculum. Furthermore, 11–16% of the responding teachers were undecided about their emphasis on counter-evolution concepts, leading to the possibility that one half of the responding teachers could potentially address “intelligent design” and/or creationism in their classrooms.

Who is Affected?

Most proximally, this survey speaks of a select sample of teachers in Ohio; however, as the nationwide debate over “intelligent design” and the perceived need to “teach the controversy” continue to spark flare-ups in other regions, the information provided by Ohio teachers in the context of their state debate may illuminate the actions and activities of educators, administrators, and state policy boards in other states.

Caveats

As with any survey research, the power of the study rests largely in the ability of a small portion of responding individuals to represent the positions of individuals across a larger population. In studies with very large populations, such as all biology teachers across the state of Ohio, achieving a substantial representation becomes very difficult. Because the return rate was substantially lower than anticipated but not entirely unexpected, the researchers, in an abundance of caution, decided that the data in this study were not necessarily representative of all Ohio biology teachers. Instead, the data could only be interpreted from within the responding sample, a group who are likely energized and interested in the Ohio debate. Still, the value of the data rests in the ability to voice the concerns of the teachers who otherwise were not specifically considered in the state curriculum debate.

The Study

This study was conducted by Kim Bilica, State University of New York at Buffalo, and Gerald Skoog, Texas Tech University. A manuscript is currently in progress for potential publication. [*The research summary format is based upon a ASCD ResearchBrief (http://www.ascd.org/cms/index.cfm?TheViewID=887). Used with permission. The findings of this study were originally presented at the NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, April 1–3, 2004.]

References

[AAAS] American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1990. Science for All Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.

[AAAS] American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1993. Benchmarks for Science Literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

[NRC] National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington (DC): National Academy Press.

Ohio Academic Content Standards. 2002, December. Available on-line at http://www.ode.state.oh.us/academic_content_standards/acsscience.asp. Last accessed October 1, 2003.

[US DOE] United States Department of Education. 2002. No Child Left Behind Act. Available on-line at http://www.nclb.gov/. Last accessed April 15, 2003.

About the Author(s): 
Kimberly Bilica
Assistant Professor
Learning and Instruction
515 Baldy Hall
University at Buffalo
Buffalo NY 14260-1000
kbilica@buffalo.edu

Gerald Skoog
Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Curriculum and Instruction
Box 41071
College of Education
Texas Tech University
Lubbock, TX 79409-1071
gerald.skoog@ttu.edu

Questioning "Flood Geology"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Questioning "Flood Geology": Decisive New Evidence to End an Old Debate
Author(s): 
William Parkinson
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2004
Date: 
January–February
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Especially since the publication of Henry Morris and John Whitcomb’s book The Genesis Flood (1961), young-earth creationists have claimed a scientific basis for their view that a historic, worldwide flood shaped the major geophysical features of the earth. A key problem for "flood geologists" is the order and sequence of fossil remains in the geological record. In order to construe the bulk of the geologic column as a result of a single global deluge, flood geologists must replace the current scientific explanation of the fossil record as a result of preservation of series of contemporaneous ecological associations of organisms with one that is consistent with the aftermath of a major geologic catastrophe.

Modern taphonomic studies clearly distinguish the patterns of deposition of organic remains after severe modern flooding from those produced by other processes. The fact that the bulk of the fossil record does not show evidence of the sudden, catastrophic deposition expected from a massive flood means that most of the fossiliferous strata were laid down by some other geologic process. Furthermore, contravening the expectations from a large flood, the fossil record records a succession in the history of life consistent with a theory that is based on the emergence of new species via descent with modification from common ancestors.

A critical requirement of the flood model is to provide a reasonable explanation for this observed stratigraphic succession of both flora and fauna — a universal feature of the fossil record. In an attempt to solve this problem, flood model advocates quickly seized upon the fact that ecosystems naturally vary; as one travels from the seashore to the highlands or from the equator to the poles, the characteristic plants and animals that make up ecological communities will also vary. Invoking this well-documented observation, flood model advocates applied the term "ecological zonation" (EZ) to the hypothesis they developed to account for the observed stratigraphic succession of organisms.

In brief, EZ postulates that, as the water of the Flood rose, organisms were buried according to the ecological zones in which they lived. Thus, according to flood model proponents, marine organisms would be buried first, as sediments derived from the breakdown of rocks that formed the land flowed into the continental shelf and farther into the ocean basins. The next layer would be organisms from near-shore terrestrial environments, and as the water continued to rise, organisms from higher elevations would finally fall victim, or so the explanation goes. Thus, EZ is supposed to account for the well-documented biostratigraphic succession from marine organisms to amphibians and on to organisms fully adapted to terrestrial environments. The development of EZ in the first place is a recognition by flood geologists that the fossil record does not look at all like the outcome of a large-scale flood.

Naturally, flood geologists have overlooked a few facts that demonstrate that EZ is untenable. I will review two significant flaws in the EZ hypothesis that also expose the fundamental explanatory failure of the flood model: its inability to explain the distribution of organisms (the biostratigraphic order) and the pattern of the layers of rocks (the lithostratigraphic order) of the geologic column.

EZ doesn’t do it

The first argument rests upon the observations of the geological record for North America, as summarized in the Geological Society of America’s Decade of North American Geology (DNAG is a series of books about the physiographic geology of North America issued through the 1980s in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of GSA, including an authoritative timescale as of 1986). These observations document that in the past, during most of the early Paleozoic Era, most of North America was covered by broad shallow (epeiric) seas. Indeed, geological atlases show that most of the North American continental interior and continental shield (craton) was covered by these shallow seas and was of very low relief — a relatively flat seabed, with no major valleys or mountains. By contrast, the area known as the Canadian Shield — a large region of Proterozoic rock with little in the way of more recent fossil or sedimentary deposits — was apparently not covered by these shallow seas.

Thus, in North America the Cambrian Period (see Table 1), for example, is dominated by strata bearing organisms of marine origin. Similarly, the Ordovician and Silurian periods are also composed almost exclusively of marine deposits. Later, the Devonian and Carboniferous periods are also composed of large amounts of marine strata, except for deposits near the Appalachians and part of what would become the Rocky Mountains. This is because a series of continental collisions that occurred during that time period formed the Appalachians, proto-Rockies, and several other areas of significant relief.



Except for the Canadian Shield, the oldest North American deposits in undisturbed strata always contain marine organisms; terrestrial organisms only occur in more recent strata. Evolutionary theory accounts for this by the successive diversification of descendants that colonized the land from ancestors who were solely or chiefly living in the water. There are no undisturbed strata in which organisms from, say, the Phanerozoic are mixed with or appear in strata older than those of the Proterozoic.

This observation is extremely damaging for young-earth creationists promoting EZ during Noah’s Flood to explain the distribution of rock layers and organisms in the geologic record. Even the work of John Woodmorappe (who is also known as Jan Peczkis; 1999) that attempts to discredit the geologic column as an artifice built up by loose deductive reasoning inadvertently confirms that the Canadian Shield constituted dry land during the Phanerozoic. It also confirms that the rest of North America was covered with water during the purported "pre-Flood" period. This means that the terrestrial organisms in the sediments throughout North America had to have been transported thousands of kilometers from their habitats on the Canadian Shield to their final deposition locations. To accomplish this, somehow terrestrial vertebrates and plants had to have been uprooted from their original locations, floated into their present positions, and then settled out of the water carrying them to be deposited in a way that preserves the major components of the biocenosis (a natural assemblage of organisms or a living community).

But this raises other serious problems for EZ — and puts this model at odds with another creationist "explanation" for the geologic column, hydrodynamic sorting (HS). Proponents of HS argue that organisms that can float, swim, or even outrun flood waters will be found higher in the geologic column that those that cannot. How is it possible, then, for organisms with such divergent hydrodynamic properties first to be transported together long distances then later to settle to the bottom and be deposited in a manner that preserves local ecological communities? EZ fails to explain how (younger) rocks of the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic eras have come to have fossil terrestrial organisms situated in their proper ecological context, rather than as mixed assemblages of fossil organisms whose ecological relationships with other organisms have been disrupted by the violent waters of the Flood.

Furthermore, how can transport and burial of nearly all terrestrial flora and fauna come to mimic the order that evolutionary theory would require (for example, assemblages of marine organisms in earlier deposits, with near-shore amphibians, then reptiles, and then birds and mammals, each associated with its own particular flora in successively later deposits)? Flood model advocates embrace EZ to explain this succession, but with almost all of North America covered by epeiric seas prior to the onset of the Flood, as even Woodmorappe’s study (1999) shows, they are forced to accept that the only place where EZ could operate as envisioned for terrestrial organisms is in the area of the Canadian Shield, from where the organisms would be transported by the Flood waters over the rest of North America.

One of the biggest challenges for EZ is the "dinosaur freeway" documented by Martin Lockley (Lockley and others 1992). For example, the Caririchnium ichnofacies (a rock unit characterized by a distinctive suite of trace fossils) is a megatrackway consisting of the footprints of sauropods and theropods (plant-eating and meat-eating dinosaurs, respectively) can be found over an area of 80 000 square kilometers. Of course, the Caririchnium ichnofacies and numerous other similar ichnofacies were formed by the actions of many dinosaurs walking on dry land.

But on the flood model, the terrestrial animals responsible for these tracks must have been transported by water from terrestrial habitats far removed from the areas where the trackways were produced. To make that journey, these animals had to survive long-distance water transport, touch down over a wide area on the North American continent, and somehow make tracks on the seabed before they all perished in the Flood. Only wildly ad hoc hypotheses seem capable of explaining the survival of the organisms until they reach the site, or the creation of these tracks, especially given that all of these areas were already under the waters of the epeiric seas prior to the arrival of the organisms (see, for example, "Bibliolatry revisited" by Wilfred Elders, p 33). Of course, the standard — and most rational — conclusion is that the area that was a seabed in the Paleozoic was a terrestrial habitat much later and that the tracks were made by the animals that lived on the land then.

There are more problems for the transport model when we consider the presence of paleosols (ancient soil horizons preserved in the fossil record). In these cases, the soils are arranged in distinguishable layers, clearly an in situ feature. In addition, many paleosols have preserved traces of root systems, including even fine-scale features such as rootlets. Examples of paleosols from the Mesozoic include those of the Triassic Delores Formation documented by Blodgett (1988) and various Cretaceous paleosols studied by Sigleo (1988), to name but a few. If these soils had to endure transport over thousands of kilometers from the Canadian Shield, how did they re-assemble as distinct layers after being mixed up by the violent action of flood waters — including re-assembly of root systems?

So it is easy to see that flood geology is at odds with most of the observations of North American geology. EZ is one model that has been proposed to reconcile these observations with the flood model, but EZ only works if inappropriate ad hoc modifications are made to overcome problems such as those posed by the need to transport ecological communities over large distances and subsequently deposit them mostly intact.

Sedimentary, my dear Watson

Flood geologists have recognized several other problems for the EZ model. For example, one would expect serious erosion and transport of sediment in the worldwide flood. Acknowledging that most present-day sediment cover is found on the cratons of the continents and that the surrounding ocean basins have very little sediment contained within them, Kurt Wise and others (1994) concede that, if the Flood had occurred, the continental rock should have been eroded and subsequently deposited as sediments in the ocean basins — which is clearly not the case. They are forced to postulate that all the sediments and rocks that now cover the continents came from the area of the ocean basins and continental shelves. The mechanism they propose is complex and beyond the scope of this article, but clearly the creationist model requires that virtually all of the sediment that now is contained in sedimentary rock on all the continents was transported over considerable distances to its present location. Taken in conjunction with the earlier observations about geologic deposits in the North American epeiric seas, this means that all the sediments, as well as most of the terrestrial flora and fauna, must have been transported over great distances before being redeposited in an arrangement that resembles their original ecological relationships — and all within a very short time. And time presents the next problem for the flood model.

Readers of RNCSE know that young-earth creationists (YECs) are fond of arguing that the many types of isotopic age determination are based on a series of false premises, untenable assumptions, and biased calculations (see Dalrymple 2000; Thomas 2000; York and Dalrymple 2000). However, there is one aspect of geochronology that is incontrovertible even by such creationists: that isotopic age determination yields progressively older dates for progressively lower stratigraphic levels — even though YECs refuse to accept that these methods accurately estimate the ages of these deposits in the millions of years. This consistency among methods for producing older ages in lower strata is thoroughly verified (Dalrymple 1991). From the geological literature, it is clear that the ages of the upper and lower strata are not separated by a few months (as the flood model requires), but by millions of years.

Since this determination of older ages in lower strata is based on a different relative proportion of isotopes of radioactive elements, it is fair to ask how the flood model accounts for this situation. In essence, the flood model requires that the sediment and its component radioactive elements, after being transported quickly and forcefully over great distances, came to rest in a manner that would place radioactive materials that yield the oldest dates in the lowest strata with progressively higher strata showing younger dates by virtue of a smaller proportion of isotopic decay products. There is no known mechanism that could allow for such segregation. After all, hydrodynamic sorting is based on the qualities of density, buoyancy, and displacement, not on isotopic composition, which should have no effect on the placement of these deposits.

Organic change correlates with geologic time

Another significant feature of the stratigraphic record that cannot be explained by transport is the clear "vector" of biological complexity that runs throughout the geologic column. In recent years some creationists have claimed that organic complexity does not increase from lower (older) to higher (younger) stratigraphic intervals. Although there was never any doubt among paleobiologists about the falsity of this claim, it has, nevertheless, been decisively answered by James Valentine and others (1994) in an article in Paleobiology entitled "Morphological complexity increase in metazoans". Valentine and his coworkers demonstrated that organic complexity indeed increases afrom lower-to-higher stratigraphic intervals.

Taking somatic cell types as their comparative measure of complexity, Valentine and his coworkers noted that at the older end of the scale, the placozoans (which have no tissues, organs, organ systems, heads, or tails) possess only four somatic cell types, while mammals, emerging much later in evolutionary history (represented in their study by hominids), possess over 200 somatic cell types. Plotting times of origin of body plans against cell type numbers, they discovered that complexity, as measured by the number of somatic cell types, increase in the fossil record, at an average rate of about 1 cell type per 3 million years.

Clearly, organic complexity does increase throughout geologic time.

Of course, this finding completely contradicts any model according to which the pattern of deposition of fossil organisms was produced by their transportation in a single violent flood into their present positions. What mechanism can flood geologists invoke to explain how organisms naturally subject to simple hydrodynamic principles nevertheless should end up in the fossil record in a manner that mimics the pattern that we would expect to find if organic evolution were true?

Tracks and traces

A further problem for the flood model is the abundance of trace fossils and tracks: there is no significant stratum in the Mesozoic (or even later in the Cenozoic) in which we cannot find either individual prints (ichnites) produced by terrestrial organisms or plentiful terrestrially-produced suites of trace fossils created by ecologically related organisms (ichnocoenoses). This means that at no time in the Mesozoic was the earth so completely flooded that terrestrial organisms could not walk upon the surface. If, in fact, a global flood had covered the earth during the Mesozoic, terrestrial animals hardly could create trace fossils on the surface! Thus at no time during the Mesozoic was the earth entirely covered by water.

The implications of fundamental geologic and paleontologic observations for flood geology are profound. When creationists are forced to realize that the geologic column cannot be explained in terms of transport mechanisms, then they are forced to recognize that the geologic column represents the product of natural forces acting over an immense span of time. A corollary of this recognition is that measurable morphological change, so richly documented by the fossil record, is real and indeed, a product of evolution. However, the response typical of YECs is to invent ad hoc modifications of their models in an attempt to make observations consistent with a short-term worldwide flood. In every case, the standard evolutionary and geological models produce satisfactory explanations of the observation that are corroborated by independent research in several scientific fields.

References

Blodgett RH. 1988. Calcareous paleosols in the Triassic Dolores Formation, southwestern Colorado. In: Reinhardt J, Sigleo W, editors. Paleosols and Weathering Through Geologic Time: Principles and Applications. Boulder (CO): The Geological Society of America. p 103–22.

Dalrymple GB. 1991. The Age of the Earth. Stanford (CA): Stanford University Press.

Dalrymple GB. 2000. Radiometric dating does work! Some examples and a critique of a failed creationist strategy. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20 (3): 14–8.

Lockley MG, Holbrook J, Hunt A, Matsukawa M, Meyer C. 1992.The dinosaur freeway: A preliminary report on the Cretaceous Megatracksite, Dakota Group, Rocky Mountain Front Range and High Plains, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico. In: Flores R, editor. Mesozoic of the Western Interior, SEPM, Midyear Meeting Guidebook. p 39–54.

Sigleo W. 1988. Paleosols from some Cretaceous environments in the southeastern United States. In: Reinhardt J, Sigleo W, editors. Paleosols and Weathering Through Geologic Time: Principles and Applications. Boulder (CO): The Geological Society of America. p 123–42.

Thomas D. 2000. Nuclear isochrons. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20 (3): 26–9.

Valentine JW, Collins AG, Meyer PC. 1994. Morphological complexity increase in metazoans. Paleobiology 20 (2): 131–42.

Whitcomb JC, Morris HM. 1961. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Implications. Phillipsburg (NJ): The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

Wise KP, Austin SA, Baumgardner JR, Humphreys DR, Snelling AA, Vardiman L. 1994. Catastrophic plate tectonics: A global model of earth history. In: Walsh RE, editor. Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh (PA): Creation Science Fellowship Inc. p 609–21.

Woodmorappe J. 1999. The essential nonexistence of the evolutionary-uniformitarian geologic column: A quantitative assessment. In: Studies in Flood Geology: A Compilation of Research Studies Supporting Creation and the Flood. 2nd ed. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research. p 105–30.

York D, Dalrymple GB. 2000. Comments on a creationist’s irrelevant discussion of isochrons. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20 (3): 18–20, 25–7.

About the Author(s): 
William Parkinson
3415 Bryce Drive
Lake Stevens WA 98258
ameradian1@aol.com

Bibliolatry Revisited: Review: Grand Canyon

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January–February
Reviewer: 
Wilfred A Elders
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Grand Canyon: A Different View
Author(s): 
Tom Vail (ed.)
Green River (AR): Master Books, 2003. 104 pages.
On August 10, 1869, Major John Wesley Powell and his party — the first Europeans to explore the length of the Grand Canyon — reached the confluence of the Río Colorado and the Chiquito Colorado (Little Colorado), 71 days after leaving Green River Station, Wyoming. Their frail wooden boats were in need of repair, half of their gear was lost, their dwindling supply of food was thoroughly soaked, and their clothing was in rags. Yet the scenery inspired them with awe. Powell wrote in his diary:
We are three-quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth and the great river shrinks into insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above: they are but puny ripples, and we are but pigmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among boulders. We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channels, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not (Powell 1895: 247).
The Canyon’s falls, rocks, channels, and walls are now familiar to people around the globe. Each year more than 4 million visitors view its spectacular scenery, and tens of thousands of them hike to the river or raft its rapids. Among them were participants in the National Center for Science Education’s (NCSE) third whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon in August 2003.

Powell felt pigmy-like against the immensity of the Canyon. Just as its scale dwarfs our everyday sense of place, its geology dwarfs our human sense of time. Perhaps here, more than anywhere else on the planet, we can experience a sense of “Deep Time”. Powell (1895) also wrote, “The thought grew in my mind that the canyons of this region would be a Book of Revelations in the rock-leaved bible of geology.” Today we know that the colorful, “rock-leaved bible” exposed in the vertical walls of the Canyon displays a span of 1.8 billion years of earth history (Beus and Morales 2002). But wait! There is a different view! According to a new book about the Grand Canyon, this time span is only 6000 years and the Grand Canyon and its rocks are a record of Noah’s Flood and the 6 days of creation (Vail 2003). In asserting that these were the only two significant geological events in the earth’s history, this text rejects the whole idea of the geologic column and radioisotope dating, which must surely be among the most robust ideas in science. During my visit to the Grand Canyon in August 2003, I learned that this book, Grand Canyon: A Different View (GCDV), was being sold in bookstores within the national park (Elders 2003).

To me GCDV is remarkable; it is the only young-earth creationist (YEC) text that I have enjoyed reading. Its author and compiler, Thomas Vail of Canyon Ministries, has been a river guide for many years and knows the Grand Canyon at river-level better than most people. However, it is not his ideas that I found attractive but rather the striking layout and many beautiful photographs of the Grand Canyon that enhance the text. These are largely the work of another river guide, Charly Heavenrich, about whom Vail writes, “Although he does not share the creationist point of view, he is profoundly moved by the canyon and the depth of courage and ability he sees in the people who travel with him” (GCDV, p 104). The book is remarkable in another way: because it has 23 co-authors — a veritable “Who’s Who in Creationism” (Steven Austin, John Baumgardner, Ken Cumming, Duane Gish, Werner Gitt, Ken Ham, William Hoesch, Russell Humphreys, Alex Lalomov, John MacArthur, Henry Morris, John Morris, Terry Mortenson, Michael Oard, Gary Parker, Scott Rugg, Andrew Snelling, Keith Swanson, Larry Vardiman, Tasman Walker, John Whitcomb, Carl Wieland, and Kurt Wise). To borrow a line from the classic movie Casablanca, Vail must have sent out a call to “round up the usual suspects”. For example, Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, the authors of the seminal YEC text, The Genesis Flood (Whitcomb and Morris 1961), each contribute a brief introduction.

The format of GCDV has each chapter beginning with an overview by Vail followed by brief comments by other contributors. A note on the contents page lays out the ground rules of such participation: “All contributions have been peer reviewed to ensure a consistent and biblical perspective”. This perspective is extreme biblical literalism. Thus, in my opinion, GCDV combines both bad theology and bad science.

As a scientist, perhaps it would be inappropriate for me to dwell on GCDV’s bad theology. It should be sufficient to remind myself that mainline Christian denominations long ago rejected the idea the earth began on Sunday, October 23, 4004 bce, at 9:00 in the morning, London time (Nicolson 2003: 149) and that they espouse the findings of evolutionary scientists. (See, for example, published statements on evolution by Pope John Paul II.) On the other hand, the words of Paula Vail (Tom Vail’s wife, to whom GCDV is dedicated) epitomize the YEC worldview. She writes, “[T]he Bible has proven correct in every detail to which it speaks.” She goes on to state that these details include “the water cycle, the jet stream and movements of the winds, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, atomic structure, oceanography, dinosaurs, medicine, and astronomy” (GCDV, p 94).

GCDV complements and builds on the much more detailed YEC text on the geology of the Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe by Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research (Austin 1994). My review of that book in RNCSE concluded that Austin had written a contribution to “bibliolatry” (absolute dependence on a group of sacred writings as infallible) rather than to geological sciences (Elders 1998: 14). Austin countered that I was trivializing creationist scholarship and urged me “to come to grips with the fact that creationists have a continuing research program at Grand Canyon” (Austin 1999: 14). My response was that this research fell far short of having the quality and quantity necessary to overthrow the paradigms of science and cause a revolution in geology (Elders 1999). GCDV gives us a bird’s-eye view of that continuing “research” program.

Unfortunately GCDV presents YEC ideas as a series of assertions without substantive documentation of evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and in this regard GCDV is an extraordinary failure. Just one small example: Vail (GCDV: 32) writes, “… in the creationist’s view, the carving of the Canyon would have taken place when the sedimentary layers were still soft, allowing the catastrophic erosion process to quickly and easily cut through the layers”. Today the Canyon walls stand 1600 m high in a series of cliffs and benches. These benches form where softer rocks, such as the Bright Angel Shale, have been eroded. The cliffs are formed of harder, more resistant rocks such as the Redwall Limestone. Given that all these rocks formed from muds, clay-rich in the case of the shales and calcium carbonate-rich in the case of the limestones, the onus is on Vail to demonstrate that plastic muds could stand in such enormous cliffs while being catastrophically eroded.

For another example, we can turn to the problem that radioisotope dating presents for young-earth creationists. The words of Henry Morris in GCDV (p 17) nicely encapsulate their problem: “The dating of rocks by the radioactive decay of certain minerals is undoubtedly the main argument today for the dogma [sic] of an old earth”. Vail’s book extends the well-worn, and previously refuted, YEC arguments attacking radiometric dating of igneous rocks in the Grand Canyon (see, for example, Stassen 2003). In GCDV (p 39), Snelling reports new radiometric dates from a Proterozoic intrusion in the Grand Canyon, the Bass Diabase Sill, as follows: K/Ar 841 million years (Ma), Rb/Sr 1055 Ma, U/Pb 1249 Ma, and Sm/Nd 1375 Ma.

However, Snelling’s treatment is too brief to discuss potential problems with these samples such as alteration, possible argon loss, the low content of uranium in basaltic rocks, isotopic ratios that may be inherited from source areas, and so on, that are well known to produce avoidable errors in isotopic age estimates. However, he goes on to claim that the spread in the reported ages discredits the whole concept of radiometric dating! His conclusion is, “Indeed, the obvious way to explain the gross disagreements between these dates is that the decay rates have been different in the past than they are today” (GCDV, p 39). Snelling needs to develop this theme, and particularly to explain the thermal consequences to the planet of compressing 4.5 billion years of radioactivity into less than 6000 years and the consequences to the cosmos of changing the fundamental laws of physics.

Space considerations prevent discussion here of all the absurdities propounded by the authors of GCDV. However, the chapter “Fossils in the Grand Canyon” (GCDV, p 48–55) offers some particularly egregious examples. For example, without offering any evidence, Wise (GCDV, p 54) refers to fossils in the Grand Canyon that were the product of “... a continent-sized floating forest”. Ham (GCDV, p 55) correctly points out that, “As we look at the Grand Canyon, we see layer upon layer of rock that contains billions of dead things.” But he goes on to say, “The evidence from the layers is consistent with their having been laid down catastrophically, by hydrodynamic action of water — exactly as we would expect from the global Flood of Noah.” Austin (1994: 147) concurred with this view, stating, “It is not clear whether the order of appearance of organisms in Grand Canyon, or anywhere else on earth, for that matter, is necessarily any different than a random order which a flood might produce.”

According to Austin, the time elapsed between the 6 days of creation and Noah’s Flood was only 1656 years (Austin 1994: 65). These numbers require that all of the billions of fossils in each of the layers of the Grand Canyon (and, for that matter, all other fossils in so-called “Flood rocks” throughout the world) would have to have lived together during this postulated 1656 years. This situation requires that the carrying capacity of the ecological niches occupied by these organisms in the YEC “pre-flood” world would have to have been many orders of magnitude greater than is possible in the geologist’s evolutionary world.

This raises additional problems for the YEC position. According to Genesis 1:1–31, the dry land (rocks?) and plants were created on Day 3 of creation, marine animals and birds on Day 5, and land animals, including humans, on Day 6. The sources of the sediments supposed to have been deposited by Noah’s Flood could have been both “created” and “post-creation week” rocks. However, “created” rocks could not be the source of the fossils found in the “Flood” rocks, since all organisms should have been created later and presumably were living in the postulated 1656 years elapsed between creation and flood. According to Austin (1994: 57), the Great Unconformity at the base of Grand Canyon’s Paleozoic section marks the onset of Noah’s flood. If the sedimentary rocks below this unconformity, the Late Proterozoic Grand Canyon Supergroup, formed during and after Day 3 of creation week, they should carry a record of the abundant life between creation and the flood and should therefore be the among most fossiliferous on earth.

Unfortunately for the YEC position, this is not the case. The only fossils reported from the sediments of the Grand Canyon Supergroup are algal stromatolites and scattered occurrences of obscure micro-organisms (Beus and Morales 2002: 66).

GCDV disagrees with Austin (1994) on where to place the base of Noah’s flood in the geological record of the strata of Grand Canyon. Tasman Walker states, “Most creation scientists place the Flood’s commencement either within, or at the base of the Grand Canyon Supergroup” (GCDV, p 36–7). But reducing the amount of exposed “pre-Flood” sedimentary rocks compounds the problem. If not in the Grand Canyon, where on earth do “post-creation and pre-Flood” sedimentary rocks occur? We should be able to recognize them easily, as they would have to be much more highly fossiliferous than any “Flood” or “post-Flood” rock and contain fossils drawn from the whole geologic column. Such occurrences are unknown to science. In spite of Gish’s claims to the contrary (GCDV, p 44–5), the so-called Cambrian “explosion” of life, following the world-wide paucity of fossils in the Precambrian, is a major problem for the YEC position.

What were the conditions under which the “flood” rocks of Austin and Walker were laid down? GCDV actually illustrates some excellent evidence about the environment of deposition of some of the Paleozoic rocks, containing (p 48–9) photographs of trace fossils in the Cambrian Bright Angel Shale that Vail calls “fossilized worm tubes”. These are the products of marine animals that were filter feeders and deposit feeders that burrowed in the mud of the Cambrian sea; and they were living in place, just as their counterparts do in modern seas today (Beus and Morales 2003: 98). Many other horizons within the strata of the Grand Canyon are replete with examples of bioturbation and animal tracks. A well-known example is the abundance of invertebrate and vertebrate trace fossils in the eolian deposits of the Permian Coconino Sandstone. These dune-bedded desert sands even have well-preserved raindrop impressions (Beus and Morales 2003: 173). These occurrences all indicate that animals lived and died in, or on, the sediments in which we now find their traces, rather than having been transported there by catastrophic flooding, as is repeatedly asserted by GCDV.

Most YEC authors writing about paleontology, such as Gish, limit themselves to criticizing evolution rather than carrying out their own research. One exception to this rule is Austin, a creationist who actually does fieldwork and research. But the bad news is that Austin’s religious predilections lead him to make unwarranted conclusions and to appeal to unlikely processes. For a scientist who asserts that the fossils in the strata of the Grand Canyon occur “... in the random order which a flood might produce,” Austin has devoted considerable effort in recent years to the study of a decidedly non-random fossil occurrence in the Grand Canyon, the nautiloids near the top of the Whitmore Wash Member, the lowest unit of the Mississippian Redwall Limestone.

These nautiloids were free-floating, chambered cephalopods, similar to the modern nautilus, but they were straight (“orthocone”) instead of coiled, and averaged about 45 cm long. They occur in an approximately 2 m thick horizon, overlain by a chert-rich zone of the Thundersprings Member of the Redwall Limestone (Beus and Morales 2003: 115). Austin (GCDV, p 52) writes, “... this fossil bed occupies an area of at least 5700 square miles and contains an average of one fossilized nautiloid per square yard.” He interprets this as having been caused by “a catastrophic event of regional extent, resulting in a mass-kill of an entire population of nautiloids,” an event caused by “a massive sandy debris flow.” In oral presentations (Austin and Wise 1995; Austin and others 1999), Austin described this debris flow as “a hyperconcentrated flow” that he likened to a pyroclastic density current or ignimbrite, moving over a very gentle gradient, and he also stressed the common association of the nautiloids with vertical structures he calls “water-escape pipes”. All this he takes as a manifestation of Noah’s Flood (GCDV, p 53).

It would take a great deal of space to discuss fully Austin’s ideas about this interesting occurrence. Such a discussion would have to consider the following issues: (i) Is the number of nautiloids exaggerated and is extrapolation to such a large area justified? (ii) Is the interpretation of a mass-kill event warranted? (iii) Why are such fossil concentrations usually attributed to accumulation over long intervals during which sedimentation was restricted? (iv) Is the mechanism of a high velocity “hyperconcentrated flow” that moved enormous distances over a low gradient probable, and is it required by the structural and textural nature of the deposit? Austin knows these occurrences better than anyone and should answer these questions.

I have examined these nautiloids in only a few localities within the Grand Canyon National Park, to which he was kind enough to direct me, where I noted that a nautiloid fossil occurred about once every 4 or 5 square meters. From this I infer that either Austin has collected most of the samples from these localities or the abundance of nautiloids claimed is exaggerated. However, unlike Austin, I hesitate to extrapolate from observations at a few isolated localities to a huge area. Furthermore, most of the nautiloid fossils I saw, and that Austin illustrates, were intact. Could they have survived the turbulence that must occur in a fast moving, subaqueous, debris flow? In nature, mass-kill events certainly occur — by red tides, volcanic eruptions, and storm-induced processes flows, for example. However, in order to recognize a mass-kill, we need to understand the population structure of the animals concerned, and to consider factors such as episodic spawning, variable growth rates, the complex diurnal behavior of cephalopods, and so on.

Evidence bearing on the question “Did this nautiloid assemblage accumulate instantaneously or over many generations?” should be present in the deposit itself. Do the dolomitization and the prominent chert horizon overlying the nautiloid bed represent diagenesis during a hiatus in deposition? Similarly, are Austin’s “water escape tubes” actually poorly preserved animal burrows (Skolithos)? High concentrations of fossil nautiloids occur elsewhere, for example, in Morocco and in the Czech Republic. Ferretti and Kríz (1995) describe several such examples in the Silurian of the Prague Basin and attribute them to the effects of surface currents or re-deposition in shallower environments by storm events during broad scale fluctuations in sea level. Why not the same in the Grand Canyon?

Different creationist authors in GCDV adopt two contradictory philosophical positions: (1) their interpretation of sacred texts is all that is necessary to interpret the geology of the Grand Canyon; and (2) their interpretation of the geology confirms the sacred texts. As an example of the first position, we can cite Walker who writes, “Before we can properly understand geology, we need to know the earth’s history. Unlike secular geologists, creationists don’t need to speculate about history because we accept the eyewitness accounts of past events, preserved in a reliable written record — the Bible” (GCDV, p 36). On the other hand, Gary Parker states, “When biblical creationists/ flood geologists offer explanations for the rock layers in the Grand Canyon, they appeal neither to biblical authority (the Bible doesn’t mention the Grand Canyon!) nor to mystical or supernatural processes. They appeal, instead, directly to the evidence we can see, touch, and measure” (GCDV, p 25).

Thus Walker appears to promote starting from biblical authority whereas Parker appears to operate from a position that Walker would call “secular geology”. But is that the case? According to his brief biography (GCDV, p 101), Parker “has published a number of books from both a secular and creationist point of view”. Only one of them is referenced in GCDV (p 103), but from that book (Parker 1985) we can follow a trail that illustrates where his self-professed “secular” approach has led. In the 1985 edition of that book (the version available to me), he writes, “Grand Canyon seems to be part of a crack in the earth’s crust. It starts in Mexico and runs underground all the way up to Yellowstone Park” (Parker 1985: 53). He continues:
Grand Canyon started as a sort of earthquake fault. … The floodwaters poured down into the crack from all directions in great abundance. The soft sediments washed away quickly too before they turned into rock. And that would make the canyon form very fast. And of course further erosion has sharpened the features of the canyon over the past several thousand years since the Flood (Parker 1985: 54).
If Parker has evidence of a crack running from Mexico to Yellowstone that he can “see, touch, or measure,” I urge him to publish his findings, for this tectonic feature is totally unknown in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Similarly, although there are several faults that cut across the Grand Canyon, one of the remarkable features of the region is that the course of the Colorado River seems to be so little controlled by faulting (Beus and Morales 2003, Figure 14.4).

In another attempt to “come to grips with the creationists’ continuing research program at Grand Canyon,” as Austin advised me to do, I consulted another of the references cited in GCDV (p 103). Vardiman (1999) offers an even more startling insight into creationists’ geological thinking in discussing the occurrence of animal tracks in the Coconino Sandstone, just below the rim of the Canyon:
Another fascinating mystery is why there were animals leaving footprints so late in the flood. … Dinosaur tracks, which are often found in the Morrison formation, are located at even higher levels in the geologic strata. It would appear that some animals were able to escape the water until later in the flood. Many were strong swimmers but they may have migrated to higher ground or clung to floating vegetation and were killed later as the waters finally reached them. Dr John Baumgardner, a research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has suggested that circulating water inundating the continents may have formed giant whirlpools with dry floors near the center until late in the flood. This may have allowed animals near the center of the continents to initially escape the flood waters but were then overwhelmed when the events of the flood reached their zenith (Vardiman 1999: 17).
The Morrison Formation occurs approximately 3000 m above the Precambrian crystalline basement rocks. Since fossils of these dinosaurs are absent from the intervening strata, apparently all of them possessed the necessary agility to escape. This is surprising, because a simple calculation of the centripetal force necessary to sustain a whirlpool 3 km deep and with a radius of 3 km reveals that the water at its base would have to rotate at a linear velocity of more than 30 000 km per hour! Bigger whirlpools require bigger velocities. We see footprints of fast-moving dinosaurs, but where are the footprints of these supersonic whirlpools?

What is the intended readership of GCDV? Vail takes as his text a question from the Book of Joshua 4:6, “What mean ye by these stones?” It seems appropriate to direct him in return to Job 12:8, “Or, speak to the earth and it shall teach thee”. Mortenson writes, “The Scriptural geologists of today find that the evidence in the Grand Canyon confirms the Word of God. Many use the Canyon as ‘Exhibit A’ in their defense of the authority of Scripture against vague forms of theism, atheism, and deism that continue to dent a biblical worldview” (GCDV, p 35). Grand Canyon: A Different View is not a geological treatise. It is “Exhibit A” of a new, slick strategy by biblical literalists to proselytize using a beautifully illustrated, multi-authored book about a spectacular and world-famous geological feature. Allowing the sale of this book within the National Park was unfortunate. In the minds of some buyers, this could imply NPS approval of young-earth creationists and their religious proselytizing.

References

Austin SA, editor. 1994. Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe. Santee (CA): Institute for Creation Research.

Austin SA. 1999. Trivializing creationist scholarship: A reply to Dr WA Elders. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 19 (2): 11–4.

Austin SA, Wise KP. 1995. Nautiloid mass-kill event at a hydrothermal mound within the Redwall Limestone (Mississippian), Grand Canyon. Abstracts with Programs — Geological Society of America 27 (6): 369.

Austin SA, Snelling AA, Wise KP. 1999. Canyon-length mass kill of orthocone nautiloids, Redwall Limestone (Mississippian), Grand Canyon, Arizona. Abstracts with Programs — Geological Society of America 31 (7): 421.

Beus SS, Morales M, editors. 2002. Grand Canyon Geology. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press.

Elders WA. 1998. Bibliolatry in the Grand Canyon. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 18 (4): 8–15.

Elders WA 1999. Creationist scholarship and the Grand Canyon of Arizona. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 19 (2): 15–9.

Elders WA 2003. Different views of the Grand Canyon. Eos: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 84 (38): 384–5.

Ferretti A, Kríz J. 1995. Cephalopod limestone biofacies in the Silurian of the Prague Basin B. Palaios (Research Letters of the Society for Sedimentary Geology) 10: 240–53.

Gish D. 1990. Evolution, The Fossils STILL Say No! Green Forest (AR): Master Books.

Nicolson A. 2003. God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. New York: HarperCollins.

Parker GF. 1985. Dry Bones and Other Fossils. Green Forest (AR): Master Books.

Powell JW. 1895. The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons. Flood & Vincent. [Facsimile edition: New York, Dover, 1961].

Stassen C. 2003. A criticism of the ICR’s Grand Canyon dating project. Available on-line at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/icr-science.html. Last accessed March 9, 2004.

Vail T, compiler. 2003. Grand Canyon: A Different View. Green Forest (AR): Master Books.

Vardiman L. 1999. Over the Edge. Green Forest (AR): Master Books.

Whitcomb JC, Morris HM. 1961. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Book House.

About the Author(s): 
Wilfred A Elders
Department of Earth Sciences
University of California
Riverside CA 92521
wilfred.elders@ucr.edu

RNCSE 24 (2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2004
Date: 
March–April
Articles available online are listed below.

"Intelligent Design" in the Bitterroot Valley

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
"Intelligent Design" in the Bitterroot Valley
Author(s): 
Skip Evans and Glenn Branch, NCSE
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2004
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
4–12
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Darby, Montana, located in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana near the Idaho border, is a modest town of about 1000 people, where "everybody knows everybody" is not just a cliché. But Darby recently became a flashpoint in the perennial creationism/evolution controversy, when a local minister attempted to have the school board add "intelligent design" to the biology curriculum of the town's public schools. The ensuing acrimonious debate received national attention, including pieces in The New York Times and on National Public Radio. With the results of the May 4, 2004, school board election, however, the debate is over - for now.

The campaign began with a public presentation held on December 10, 2003, in the junior high school gymnasium. The Reverend Curtis Brickley conducted what was described as "a two-hour, high-tech presentation on "intelligent design'," and called on the Darby School Board to include "intelligent design" in the science curriculum. Two members of the school board, Gina Schallenberger and Doug Banks, were receptive to the proposal. But not all of those attending the meeting were impressed. John Schneeberger, the coordinator of the Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance, commented, "It's fairly apparent that 'intelligent design' points directly to God as a creator and that doesn't have any place in a science class" (Ravalli Republic 2003 Dec 12).

Brickley hoped to present his "intelligent design" proposal to the school board at its next regular meeting on January 5, 2004. Speaking to the weekly Missoula Independent (2003 Dec 25), Brickley was unwilling to provide details, although he was careful to say that he was not calling for evolution to be omitted from the curriculum. "They need to teach evolution more critically," he said, "and teach evidence that challenges the neo-Darwinian theory." By teaching "intelligent design" alongside evolution, he said, the Darby schools would thereby "teach origin science more objectively."

Meanwhile, a group of residents in Darby and surrounding communities who opposed Brickley's proposal organized Ravalli County Citizens for Science. Rod Miner of RCCS told the weekly Missoula Independent (2003 Dec 25) that the proposal "is a politically and religiously motivated action that seeks to place a religious agenda ahead of the interests of students" and warned of the possibility of a lawsuit if the Darby School Board adopted it. The school board accordingly deferred considering Brickley's proposal until it heard from "the other side" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Jan 7).

On January 21, 2004, in the junior high school gymnasium, Ravalli County Citizens for Science conducted its own presentation, attended by over 200 people. Speaking were Jay Evans, a local molecular and cellular biologist, NCSE's post-doctoral scholar Alan Gishlick, and Karen Hedges, a Darby science teacher. Hedges explained, "If we are not teaching evolution as the best explanation of what we see here, we are shortchanging our students when it comes to moving on to higher education and standardized testing" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Jan 23). Another teacher, Trevor Laboski from nearby Corvallis, added that science teachers already discuss the social controversy surrounding evolution when students broach the topic, assuring the audience, "We're sensitive to the community that we teach in and the religious culture that exists."

School board actions

The school board met to consider the policy on January 26. The meeting was attended not only by Darby residents but also by people from Hamilton, Victor, and even Missoula, about 60 miles away. Speaking first was Brickley, whose proposed "objective origins policy" would encourage teachers in Darby's schools to "help students assess evidence for and against theories, to analyze scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories, including the theory of evolution, by giving examples of scientific innovation or discovery challenging commonly held perceptions." The purpose of the policy was not, he said, to add creationism to the curriculum; what he sought, he said, was "a qualified and responsible criticism of Darwinian evolution" (The Missoulian 2004 Jan 27). Responding, Rod Miner of RCCS described "intelligent design" as having "no legitimacy in scientific theory" and argued that Darby's schoolchildren "need more science, not less".

Judging from the public comment period of the meeting, the "objective origins" policy was popular: a reporter from the Ravalli Republic (2004 Jan 28) estimated that its supporters outnumbered its opponents by two to one. (According to Dixie Stark of RCCS, however, the numbers were about equal if nonlocal speakers were not counted.) But it was not so popular among the school board's legal advisors. Letters from Deputy Ravalli County Attorney James McCubbin and Montana School Boards Association attorney Elizabeth Kaleva strongly cautioned the district not to change the curriculum in a way unapproved by the state. "Failure to meet state standards for your curriculum could result in loss of accreditation for the Darby schools," McCubbin wrote. "This, in turn, could result in litigation and/or make the Darby schools ineligible to receive state and/or federal funding. Thus, it is absolutely imperative that your curriculum continue to meet those state standards" (The Missoulian 2004 Jan 27).

The meeting adjourned until January 28. Michael Moore, a reporter from The Missoulian, managed to interview Brickley on the intervening day. "In hindsight," Moore wrote (2004 Jan 28), "Curtis Brickley thinks he shouldn't have presented the case for teaching 'intelligent-design' theory at Darby High School when he argued for changing the school's science curriculum in early December." Brickley told Moore, "I don't think that 'objective origins' and 'intelligent design' are one [and] the same," adding, "I just want us to look at evolution critically, at the evidence for it and the evidence against it. I think the policy is quite modest."

In his article, Moore also discussed the Discovery Institute, whose Center for Science and Culture serves as the institutional home of "intelligent design". Like Brickley, the Discovery Institute is increasingly disavowing any desire to have "intelligent design" taught in the public schools and concentrating instead on "teaching the controversy" (for a critical discussion of the slogan, see Eugenie C Scott and Glenn Branch, "Evolution: What's wrong with 'teaching the controversy'" Trends in Ecology and Evolution 2003; 18 [10]: 499-502). Although Brickley emphasized that he was not speaking for the Discovery Institute, he acknowledged that he requested its assistance while he was preparing his presentation to the school board.

When the meeting resumed on January 28, dozens of speakers commented on the policy, as in the previous session of the meeting. David DeWolf, a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture and Professor of Law at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, told the board, "I believe that a careful review of the legal implications of this policy would reveal that it is fully consistent with state educational requirements, and that there is no reason to fear that it would violate any constitutional restrictions." He added that even if a lawsuit were to be filed, "there are a variety of organizations who are committed to open discussion in this area and who I believe would agree to defend the board's position if it were to adopt this policy. I personally would volunteer to assist the board in identifying such counsel." (DeWolf's testimony is available on-line at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?program=CSC&command=view&id=1750.)

Speaking against the policy, Dixie Stark of RCCS wryly told the board that the grassroots pro-science organization needed no attorneys to help it to make its case: "We are not the ones who are about to break the law," she said. "The school board is" (The Missoulian 2004 Jan 29). While not describing the policy as illegal, Montana School Boards Association attorney Elizabeth Kaleva told the board that it was unwise to enact such a policy as Brickley's "objective origins policy" without describing how it is to be implemented. The policy encourages teachers to help their students to analyze the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution, she noted, but fails to specify how they are supposed to do so or whether they are required to do so.

No decision was reached at the January 28 meeting. Discussion resumed on February 2, with comments from supporters and opponents of the policy continuing. Particularly telling were comments from the principals of the Darby schools, who expressed their worries about adopting a policy in the absence of any plan for implementing it, and from high school student Zach Honey, who reported that the "vast majority" of his schoolmates were opposed. Nevertheless, the board finally voted 3-2 to adopt the "objective origins" policy, with Gina Schallenberger, Doug Banks, and Elisabeth Bender voting for it and Mary Lovejoy and Bob Wetzsteon voting against it. Both Lovejoy and Wetzsteon expressed concern that the board was flouting the advice of its own attorney; indeed, according to The Missoulian (2004 Feb 3), "Wetzsteon repeatedly asked the majority why they were disregarding Kaleva's advice, but he got no answer."

Political and legal entanglements

The vote on February 2 was not the final word, since in Darby, such a policy change requires approval (by a simple majority) in two separate meetings. The flurry of letters to the editors and op-eds in the local newspapers increased in intensity, as both sides sought to bolster their positions and support in anticipation of a second vote. Also significant was the upcoming election on May 4, in which one supporter of the "objective origins" policy (Schallenberger) and one opponent (Wetzsteon) were up for re-election; the views of the candidates would prove to be crucial in their campaigns.

Those opposed to the "objective origins" policy welcomed the intervention of Montana's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Linda McCulloch, who characterized the policy as a way to smuggle creationism into the science curriculum. "It is not science," she told The Missoulian (2004 Feb 4). "You won't find any credible group of scientists or science teachers who advocate these philosophies as science." She also described "intelligent design" as creation science retooled to survive constitutional scrutiny. Her stance was subsequently attacked by John Fuller, hoping to be the Republican candidate for McCulloch's post, who complained, "Given the reverence of local control of schools in Montana, if Darby wishes to investigate such a curriculum, shouldn't they be permitted to do so without the self-righteous threats of the superintendent?" McCulloch responded, "Mr Fuller is fooling himself if he thinks 'objective origins' and 'intelligent design', or whatever you want to call them, is anything more than an attempt to put religion in our classrooms" (Billings Gazette 2004 Feb 5).

Also inveighing against the policy was Eric Feaver, the president of the Montana Education Association and Montana Federation of Teachers (MEA-MFT), the organization that represents Darby's teachers. Echoing McCulloch's remarks, he said, "no matter what the proponents of this 'objective origins' policy say, this is all about religion. The Montana Constitution just forbids this" (The Missoulian 2004 Feb 4). He also said that MEA-MFT was concerned about the lack of a curriculum corresponding to the "objective origins" policy and would insist that teachers be involved in the development of any such curriculum. Additionally, Ravalli County Attorney George Corn went on record as endorsing the opinion of James McCubbin and Elizabeth Kaleva that the policy was problematic (The Missoulian 2004 Feb 5).

But proponents of the "objective origins" policy were not idle in securing legal advisors of their own. During the school board's debate over the policy, Harris Himes, a pastor at the Big Sky Christian Center in nearby Hamilton (and unsuccessful candidate for the school board there; see Updates, p 16), produced a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund offering its legal assistance to the board. Then, on February 2, the ADF formally offered its services directly to the board in case it were to be sued over adopting the policy. Bridgette Erickson, a lawyer from Lincoln, Montana (a town about 140 miles away), subsequently emerged as the ADF's de facto representative, addressing the Darby school board at a meeting on February 24 to explore the possibility of the ADF's representing the board if necessary (The Missoulian 2004 Feb 16).

The ADF, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, describes itself as "a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values" (http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/about/). Among those listed as its founders are Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, D James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, and James Dobson of Focus on the Family. It was also involved in the controversy over the presence of a creationist book in the bookstores at Grand Canyon National Park (see RNCSE 2004 Jan/Feb; 24 [1]: 4-5).

At the school board meeting on February 24, Erickson offered her services to the board pro bono, supplementing the ADF's offer to pay her fees to defend the board in the event of a lawsuit. Describing the "objective origins" policy as "on the cutting edge of modern education" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Feb 26), she also offered to help the district to develop a corresponding curriculum. Elizabeth Kaleva again warned the board about the perils of adopting the policy, noting that Erickson's affiliation with the ADF was problematic: "If you're challenged in state or federal court, you'll be asked to defend your motives as completely free of religious motives," she said. "And that's hard to do with an organization like ADF defending you." Kaleva also said that the Montana School Boards Association was unwilling to defend the school board against a lawsuit over the policy. Nevertheless, the board voted 3-2 to retain Erickson as counsel; the three in favor of retaining her were the same as those who voted in favor of adopting the "objective origins" policy.

Real grassroots reactions

The decision of the board to retain Erickson was greeted with displeasure by students at Darby's high school. On February 25, about one-third of the school's 170 students - as well as one teacher - walked out of school to demonstrate against the "objective origins" policy. Slogans on their signs included "Creationism in a cheap tuxedo" and "Objective origins: Just say Noah" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Feb 26; The Missoulian 2004 Feb 26). Aaron Lebowitz, the senior who organized the demonstration, explained, "I just thought that we needed a way to get the community and the board to listen to us. We're important. We're what this is all about."

As the controversy continued to rage, rumors about a boycott of the Darby schools circulated. Writing in the weekly Missoula Independent (2004 Feb 26), Josh Mahan reported "that as many as 30 families may want to yank their children from the Darby school system if the proposal passes." Since the school system receives about $5000 per student, such a mass withdrawal would be financially disastrous. Science teacher Karen Hedges lamented, "That breaks my heart. We have a good school. On top of losing good kids, that's a lot of money. Then we'll lose staff."

In the course of noting that the "objective origins" policy was on everyone's lips in Darby, Mahan also remarked, "There's even a curious New York Times reporter holed up in Bud & Shirley's Motel." Emerging from his quarters there and returning to New York, James Glanz subsequently published a long piece on the situation in Darby. Glanz is a respected science reporter for the Times, with a PhD in physics from Princeton University; his previous articles include "Darwin vs design: Evolutionists' new battle" (The New York Times 2001 Apr 8), which proponents of "intelligent design" are fond of citing as evidence that their view is taken seriously.

"Montana creationism bid evolves into unusual fight" (The New York Times 2004 Feb 29), however, focused not on anti-evolutionists but on grassroots resistance to their efforts, as exemplified in Darby. Glanz was evidently impressed by the quick formation and effective advocacy of RCCS. NCSE's role in advising and supporting groups such as RCCS was also noted: "Some of the groups take their leads from umbrella organizations like the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which tracks the disputes and supports the teaching of mainstream evolution." Additionally, the article quoted NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott and mentioned NCSE's postdoctoral scholar Alan Gishlick's appearance in Darby.

On March 2, Rod Miner and Martha Stromberg, whose two children are in the Darby school system, increased the pressure on the board by sending a letter announcing their intention to sue the board if the "objective origins" policy were adopted. In their letter, published in the Ravalli Republic (2004 Mar 3) and reprinted on p 6, they remarked, "The objective origins policy [currently] before you, if approved, will direct Darby science teachers to present to our children as scientific what are in fact religious teachings, thus establishing government sponsored religion in our school. This policy is illegal, and we will challenge it." "We want the board to listen to us seriously, and we want them to talk about why they're doing this," Miner told The Missoulian (2004 Mar 3). "Ravalli County Citizens for Science is very willing to sit down with the board and the proponents without a judge and without a lawyer and explain to them how they're being misled."

Mary Lovejoy and Bob Wetzsteon, the two members of the board who opposed the policy, welcomed the letter and the invitation to discuss the issue with RCCS, but they expressed skepticism about their fellow board members' willingness to do so. "I don't think, based on the action of the majority of the board, that the meeting will ever take place," Wetzsteon said (The Missoulian 2004 Mar 4). Although Bridgette Erickson also welcomed the letter, saying, "I would like us to sit down and talk about the specifics to see if we really have any substantive disagreements," board chair Gina Schallenberger refused to comment on the letter, and no such meeting ever took place.

If the letter from Miner and Stromberg was a new weapon for the opponents of the "objective origins" policy, a different letter served as a new weapon for its supporters. In early February, Montana's Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch wrote to the Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, to seek clarification about the so-called Santorum Amendment. "We had been getting questions from people who said that Rev Brickley was claiming that No Child Left Behind required schools to teach 'intelligent design'," McCulloch told The Missoulian (2004 Mar 11). "So I wanted to make clear with the secretary that that wasn't true."

She received a reply from Eugene Hickok, Acting Deputy Secretary, dated March 8. After explaining at length that the Department of Education is largely prohibited from influencing curriculum, Hickok wrote, "The NCLB Act does not contain any language that requires or prohibits any particular scientific views or theories either as part of a state's science curriculum or otherwise." He then quoted the Santorum language from the conference report (for details, see RNCSE 2002 May/Jun; 22 [3]: 4-5 or Glenn Branch and Eugenie C Scott's "The anti-evolution law that wasn't", The American Biology Teacher 2003 March; 65 [30]: 165-6), adding, "The Department, of course, embraces the general principles ... of academic freedom and inquiry into scientific views or theories." (Hickok was Pennsylvania's Secretary of Education when creationism was allowed into the draft standards for science and technology education; see "Creeping creationism in Pennsylvania's science standards", RNCSE 2000 Jul/Aug; 20 [4]: 13-5.)

In a press release dated March 9 (available on-line at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=1897&program=News-CSC), the Discovery Institute's Stephen C Meyer tendentiously construed Hickok's letter thus: "[T]he executive branch of the federal government has just joined the Congress in making clear that states and local school boards have the right to teach students the scientific controversy that exists about Darwinian evolution and to determine their own science curriculum content." Unimpressed with Meyer's attempt at spin, McCulloch told The Missoulian that Hickok's letter would have little or no effect on Montana's science instruction.

Meanwhile, back in Darby, the prospect of a lawsuit was raising eyebrows. In a March 11 op-ed in the Ravalli Republic, Kathleen Duggan - founder of Darby Taxpayers Against Court Costs - explained that the cost of a trial would be incurred by property owners, whether they supported the "objective origins" policy or not. "While most of us don't mind paying for what is necessary for our schools, or voting on what we think is not," she wrote, "we should be outraged to pay for something so completely irrelevant to our kids and the good of our school." Before the board meeting on April 5, a group of protesters led by Duggan chanted, "We can't afford this Darby board!" "We've been giving the board the benefit of the doubt," Duggan told the Ravalli Republic (2004 Apr 7), "and unfortunately, we've been stepped on along the way."

Attracting attention

Probably because of the unprecedented publicity due to Glanz's story in The New York Times, the controversy in Darby continued to attract national attention. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a freedom-of-information request with education officials in Montana to obtain "all documents referring to or relating to any potential decision of the Darby School Board to teach theories of the origins of human life, including evolution, creationism, 'intelligent design' or other 'objective origins' theories", according to its press release issued on April 6 (available on-line at http://www.au.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6564&news_iv_ctrl=0&abbr=pr). The request was covered in several Montana newspapers, including The Missoulian (2004 Apr 7). In Montana, all eyes were on Darby. The Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives, Doug Mood, expressed his support for the "objective origins" policy, writing, "Darby School Board's proposed 'objective origins' policy is encouraging exactly the kind of critical discipline that should be a part of any teaching of science" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Apr 14). But at its April meeting in Missoula, the MEA-MFT, the organization representing Montana's teachers, unanimously passed a motion urging Darby to "cease all efforts to incorporate objective origins in Darby schools' science curriculum" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Apr 21). Evolution was suddenly a hot issue throughout the state - in Hamilton, Havre, and Helena, as well as in the preliminaries to the gubernatorial primary election (see Updates, p 16).

In the meantime, the Darby School Board was becoming embroiled in a different controversy. Throughout March, the board held several meetings to discuss candidates for the position of superintendent. These meetings were closed to the public, which the Ravalli Republic regarded as a violation of Montana's open meeting law. The newspaper asked the board to release the minutes of the closed meetings and to undertake not to violate the law in the future (Ravalli Republic 2004 Mar 26). After the board refused, the newspaper sued, asking for the minutes and any recordings of the closed meetings, as well as all documentation relating to the superintendent search (Ravalli Republic 2004 Apr 12). In a subsequent board meeting, the board altered the minutes of meetings, impelling the newspaper to obtain a restraining order to prevent the original minutes from being destroyed (Ravalli Republic 2004 Apr 21, Apr 27).

There were hints in the press that the meetings were closed because the majority of the board who supported the "objective origins" policy sought to ensure that the new superintendent would favor it as well. According to the weekly Missoula Independent (2004 Apr 15), "The meetings stem from a superintendent search that went awry when the same three members of the school board who are pushing for 'intelligent design' also became interested in recruiting a superintendent candidate with faith, though the board had already offered the job to someone else. Current superintendent, 13-year Darby veteran Jack Eggensperger, is leaving because he has 'a different philosophy' on 'intelligent design' than the board."

Between the "objective origins" policy and the closed meetings, there was plenty of fuel for the campaign before the May 4 election. Favoring the policy were incumbent Gina Schallenberger and hopeful Robert House; opposing it were incumbent Bob Wetzsteon and hopeful Erik Abrahamsen. The candidates teamed up in pairs, with Schallenberger and House running under the banners of "Local control" and "Fair and balanced" while Wetzsteon and Abrahamsen exhorted the electorate to "Fix this mess!" The Ravalli Republic (2004 Apr 27) reported, "Of the six school board trustee elections in Ravalli County, Darby's is the most heated, with candidates and their supporters spending more dollars to sway votes than in any other district." Campaign signs, political mail, and newspaper advertisements were rife. In a notable gaffe, signs supporting Schallenberger and House violated campaign regulations by not indicating their source, the newly formed political action committee Montana Advocates for True Science; the signs were quickly amended.

A further campaign irregularity surfaced just before the election. From April 29 to May 1, visitors to the Darby School District's web site were greeted by a pop-up window with the text of 5 advertisements published in the Ravalli Republic that defended the "objective origins" policy and urged citizens to vote for Schallenberger and House (Ravalli Republic 2004 May 3). It also contained Ohio's controversial "Critical analysis of evolution" lesson plan (see RNCSE 2004 Jan/Feb; 24 [1]: 5-6). The window was placed without authorization by the Darby High School computer teacher. Superintendent Jack Eggensperger said that he expected a complaint to be filed with the Montana Commission for Political Practices, which forbids school districts to be involved in political campaigns.

On April 29, the Ravalli Republic expressed its editorial opinion: "We believe the Darby School Board's passage of their 'objective origins' policy is an unnecessary solution to a non-existent problem," adding, "We have serious concerns when the Darby School Board steps away from their supervisory role and begins dictating what scientific theories are presented in the classroom." Although the newspaper stopped short of endorsing any candidates, it remarked, "Voters in Darby have a unique opportunity May 4 to make their feelings known on objective origins. Gina Schallenberger and Robert House are on record supporting the controversial theory; Bob Wetzsteon and Erik Abrahamsen are opposed. It's a clear choice voters can make."

The controversy in Darby appeared again on the national stage, with a story on "intelligent design" aired on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition on May 2. Opening with a discussion of Brickley and his initial attempt to have "intelligent design" added to the science curriculum, it segued to a discussion of the "objective origins" policy and the RCCS's resistance to it. Darby teacher Karen Hedges said that the lack of a curriculum was particularly troublesome: "When I try to do research on it, everything takes me to 'intelligent design'. All the Web sites take me back to the Discovery Institute, which has some scary goals in mind - to do away with science. And it scares me to think that we might be headed in that direction." The story then turned to the Discovery Institute, defended by John West and criticized by Barbara Forrest (the coauthor of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design [New York: Oxford University Press, 2004] and a member of NCSE's board of directors).

Then, on May 3, the night before the election, the board voted 3-2 to hire James McLaughlin as the new superintendent; the three in favor of the offer were Schallenberger, Banks, and Bender, the supporters of the "objective origins" policy. Although the policy was not discussed during McLaughlin's interview, according to members of the board, some teachers said that he expressed support for it while touring their schools, and one teacher reported that "McLaughlin didn't believe in the scientific measurement of carbon dating" (Ravalli Republic 2004 May 5). There were other concerns expressed about McLaughlin's qualifications and background, leading one parent to question the timing of the decision to hire him just before the election. At the same meeting, the board decided to develop a policy governing the content of the district's web site; no disciplinary action was taken at the time against the teacher who placed the pop-up window there.

Finally, in the May 4 election, Bob Wetzsteon won re-election and Erik Abrahamsen won election (defeating Gina Schallenberger); both men won by almost a 2-to-1 margin, the weekly Missoula Independent (2004 May 13) reported: "Wetzsteon received 757 votes and Abrahamsen (whose daughter took part in the February 25 student protest against the 'objective origins' policy) received 737; Schallenberger and House received 352 and 351 votes, respectively. Turnout in the election was unprecedentedly high, at over 50%". Both Wetzsteon and Abrahamsen oppose the "objective origins" policy, meaning that it is unlikely that the newly constituted board will adopt it after all. It was unclear whether the board would consider the policy a second time and reject it - as Abrahamsen hopes, according to the Independent - or simply let it drop. (In the event, the board considered it and rejected it; details in the next issue of RNCSE.)

Rod Miner of RCCS was thrilled by the results of the election: "I am delighted and it will be really nice to see a spirit of team playing return to the Darby school board," Miner said. "We worked so hard to stop this thing short of a lawsuit. I am just very, very pleased" (The Missoulian 2004 May 5). And the people at the educational frontlines - the teachers in Darby's schools - were pleased, too: "The school is glowing," a school employee told the Ravalli Republic (2004 May 7). "Everybody is just psyched."

Acknowledgments

We wish to thank Victoria Clark, Kathleen Duggan, Eric Meikle, and John Schneeberger for their comments and assistance.

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

Shall We Let Our Children Think?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Shall We Let Our Children Think?
Author(s): 
Victoria Clark
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2004
Date: 
March–April
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
This was the message posted on the marquee at the Lewis and Clark Trading Post for over two weeks as the Darby school board conducted public hearings concerning the adoption of an “objective origins” policy.

The uninitiated might assume that the question was posed as a rallying point for those against the policy, but to illustrate the complexity and divisiveness surrounding this issue, the author of the marquee script proved a most vocal supporter for the policy. To complicate matters further, the author was none other than Larry Rose, our town marshal, a prominent and visible local personage.

What has happened to Darby, Montana, since Curtis Brickley, an ordained minister, gave a polished presentation to a packed gymnasium expounding on the scientific virtues of “intelligent design” and the need for an “objective origins” policy in our schools to combat the “one-sided” teaching of evolutionary theory? What was Brickley’s intent when he equated evolution with atheism to the assembled crowd? Whom was Brickley trying to awaken and alarm with his spurious scientific and religious rhetoric? Why would someone bring a nationally controversial agenda to our small, rural community? Was Brickley acting alone? Or was Darby considered potentially easy prey by someone beyond the local boundaries, someone willing to sponsor, or at least, encourage Brickley’s meeting? If so, how would our town deal with such possible machinations?

For whatever small part that Darby plays in the anti-evolutionists' place to "wedge" "intelligent design" into curriculum, the local impact has been huge. Some of the comments I heard in the in the last month show this:

“I don’t grocery shop in Darby anymore.” “The florist didn’t deliver when she saw my name on the bill.” “My daughter stormed out of the classroom to avoid more trouble.” I even had a friend stop by the house and tell me that a fellow parishioner had asked her why I was leading up the religious education program at our church “if I didn’t believe in God.”

Darby is not a big place. The main north–south thoroughfare for far-western Montana, two-lane US Highway 93, runs straight through town and comprises our commercial district, less than a mile of businesses: several gift/gallery shops, a few restaurants, a few bars, a few auto repair places, a few hair salons, a few realtors, a couple of spots to pump gas, two banks, a grocery store, a gym, a post office, a volunteer fire hall, a community clubhouse, a one-doctor clinic, a one-room public library, 3 modest motels, and, oh yes, 6 churches. There is no strip mall architecture. There are no fast food franchises. Some of the older buildings are fixed up, but not all. Darby has a sleepy, old west look, inviting to some who stop for lunch and a stroll down Main Street. The next town north is Hamilton, nearly 20 miles down river. The next town south is Gibbonsville, Idaho, about 45 miles up river and over the pass. The surrounding communities refer to us as Darbarians. You get the picture.

What has the objective origins debate brought to our town? Externally, a bit of publicity (or perhaps notoriety) as various Montana — and even national — media organizations pick up and run with the story, allowing folks across the country either to applaud us or to laugh at us. Internally, however, the proposed “objective origins” policy has brought Darby nothing but grief and discord. Although events to date (to my knowledge) have been generally civil — no punches thrown, no bodily threats — and while participants in the public meetings have been noted for their composed demeanor, engaging in minimal heckling and hissing, underneath this controlled veneer there is a palpable sense of unease.

A person is known as either “for” or “against”. The fence sitters are now few. The blissfully ignorant can no longer hide. One local summarized with a grimace, “apathy won’t be an issue in the next election.” Everyone has a heightened sense of awareness to the issue. There is an awkwardness when you run into someone and do not yet know where they stand on the policy. Should you say something? Should you engage in idle pleasantries? What are they thinking? Can you escape before questions are asked? As to encounters with people you know to be on the opposing side, there is a strangeness and bristling up the back, sometimes mixed with hostility, sometimes tempered by weariness. Judgments are passed on both sides, even among residents who have been acquainted for years. There is a tendency to avoid public conversation.

Why do feelings run so deep and so strong? Those favoring objective origins in Darby have centered their arguments on two tenets: first, that there exists valid scientific criticism of evolution, and second, that evolution and God are mutually exclusive. The proponents have furthered their cause by claiming that their children have been “persecuted” and “ridiculed” in school for their stance against evolution. One individual testified that evolution was being “shoved down the throats” of the children. (Notably, these accusations remain unsubstantiated and have been fervently denied by all school staff.) The proponents present themselves as defenders of critical thinking, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. They see the schools as preaching a gospel of godlessness. They worry about the government’s proselytizing in our science classes in support of the “Church of Darwin”. Also in this camp are those that reject the current interpretation of the Establishment Clause. Some explicitly testified that they wanted to see “religion put back in the schools.” This group includes a number of home-schooled families whose interest in the debate implies that if things were otherwise they would enroll their children in our public schools, adding to needy school coffers. Perhaps the most unnerving commonality among the proponents of the policy is that they present themselves as the guardians and holders of the moral high ground, making them particularly invulnerable to (and intolerant of) the reasoning and considerations of the opposing side.

The group against the policy has a more diverse and, consequently, less cohesive following. There are the scientists who worry about the quality and veracity of the science curriculum. There are the First Amendment folk who recognize that, in the United States, religion and science instruction are not compatible in the public schools. There are the parents who fear the loss of accreditation and funding as implementation of the policy strays from state teaching standards. There are the property owners who fear lawsuits and subsequent tax hikes as constitutionality is challenged in the legal arena. Others are simply insulted by the religious presumptions of their opponents and assert that “religion should be taught at home.” Finally, there appears to be a growing number that are plainly tired of the whole debacle and just want to table the policy and get on with their lives. This group includes business owners who appreciate that strife is not good for capitalism and that not all publicity is good publicity. Regardless of specific motive, it was rumored that at least 30 families petitioned to remove their children from the Darby public schools if the policy is adopted. This would have been a significant blow to the school’s finances.

Where has all this controversy taken us? Well, after a protracted and heated school trustee election this past spring, the two candidates opposing the “objective origins” policy won handedly. Public awareness of the issues was at an all time high. Voter turnout was record-breaking, with over 50% of the electorate casting ballots. Moreover, the two victorious candidates both won by nearly a 2 to 1 margin. There can be no doubt that the people have spoken. Given such an outcome, many of us thought the tensions of the past six months would quickly and quietly dissipate into the background, with life in Darby returning to its usual pattern of petty ups and downs. Unfortunately, this appears not to be the case. The “objective origins” supporters continue to submit agitating editorials to the local newspaper. They attended the latest school board meeting in force. They seem undaunted and undeterred by the mandate of the voters. For the foreseeable future, those of us against the policy will have to remain vigilant. One victory at the polls does not translate into an end to the hostilities.

Advice to others: pay attention to local trustee elections, follow school board proceedings carefully, be aware of underlying agendas. Save your community from this malignancy.

About the Author(s): 
Victoria Clark
PO Box 1014
Darby Mt 59829

The Coso Artifact

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Coso Artifact: Mystery From the Depths of Time?
Author(s): 
Pierre Stromberg and Paul V Heinrich
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2004
Date: 
March–April
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Introduction

Creationists have often been criticized for failing to present original research and evidence that would overthrow our contemporary scientific view of human origins. However, this is not entirely fair. The creation "science" field known as OOPARTS, or "Out Of Place ARTifactS", is a lively area of study that relies on "anomalous" finds in the archaeological record to challenge scientific chronologies and models of human evolution. In this paper, we will examine one of the most popular and least understood OOPARTS specimen, the Coso Artifact.

The story of the Coso Artifact has been embellished over the years, but nearly all accounts of the actual discovery are basically the same. On February 13, 1961, Wallace Lane, Virginia Maxey, and Mike Mikesell were seeking interesting mineral specimens, particularly geodes, for their LM&V Rockhounds Gem and Gift Shop in Olancha, California. The trio was about 6 miles northeast of Olancha, near the top of a peak about 4300 feet in elevation and about 340 feet above the dry bed of Owens Lake. At lunchtime, after collecting rocks most of the morning, all three placed their specimens in the rock sack Mikesell was carrying (Steiger 1974: 49).

The next day in the gift shop's workroom, Mikesell ruined a nearly new diamond saw blade while cutting what he thought was a geode. Inside the cut nodule, Mikesell did not find the cavity that is typical of geodes, but a perfectly circular section of very hard, white material that appeared to be porcelain. In the center of the porcelain cylinder was a 2-millimeter shaft of bright metal. The metal shaft responded to a magnet. There were other odd qualities about the specimen. The outer layer of the specimen was encrusted with fossil shells and their fragments. In addition to shells, the discoverers noticed two nonmagnetic metallic objects in the crust, resembling a nail and a washer. Stranger still, the inner layer was hexagonal and seemed to form a casing around the hard porcelain cylinder. Within the inner layer, a layer of decomposing copper surrounded the porcelain cylinder.

The Initial Investigations

Very little is known about the initial physical inspections of the artifact. According to Maxey, a geologist she consulted who examined the fossil shells encrusting the specimen said that the nodule had taken at least 500 000 years to attain its present form. However, the identity of the first geologist is still a mystery, and his findings were never published. Another investigation was conducted by creationist Ron Calais. Calais is the only other individual known to have physically inspected the artifact, and he was allowed to record images of the nodule using both X-ray and natural-light photography. Calais's X-rays brought interest in the artifact to a new level. The X-ray of the upper end of the object seemed to reveal some sort of tiny spring or helix. INFO Journal editor Ronald J Willis (1969) speculated that it could actually be "the remains of a corroded piece of metal with threads." The other half of the artifact revealed a sheath of metal, presumably copper, covering the porcelain cylinder.

The last individual known to possess the Coso Artifact was one of the original discoverers, Wallace Lane. Lane had the object on display in his home, but he adamantly refused to allow anyone to examine it (Willis 1969). However, he had a standing offer to sell it for $25 000. In September 1999, a national search to locate any of the original discoverers proved fruitless. We suspect that Lane is dead. Maxey is alive, but is avoiding any public comment, and the whereabouts of Mikesell remain unknown. The location and disposition of the artifact are also unknown. Willis's 1969 article is the primary source for information on this object to date.

Fantastic Speculations

Ever since the artifact was first discovered, numerous individuals have speculated about its mysterious origin and possible use. Maxey speculated that the specimen may have been no more than 100 years old after being deposited in a mud bed and sun-baked. However, she also apparently claimed that the artifact could be at least 500 000 years old, "an instrument as old as Mu or Atlantis. Perhaps it is a communications device or some sort of directional finder or some sort of instrument made to utilize power principles we know nothing about" (Steiger 1974).

INFO Journal editor Willis speculated that the artifact was some sort of spark plug. His brother found the suggestion extraordinary: "I was thunderstruck," he wrote, "for suddenly all the parts seemed to fit. The object sliced in two shows a hexagonal part, a porcelain or ceramic insulator with a central metallic shaft - the basic components of any spark plug" (Willis 1969). However, they could not reconcile the upper end featuring a "spring", "helix", or "metal threads" with any contemporary spark plug. So the mystery continued. The artifact even appeared briefly at the end of an In Search Of ... episode hosted by Leonard Nimoy.

The internet offers a plethora of other opinions on the subject. While most writers simply report the mystery as described earlier, some have taken to speculating on the purpose and origin of such a device. Brian Wood, describing himself as "Co-Producer, ParaNet UFO Continuum [and] International Director of MICAP [Multinational Investigations Cooperative on Aerial Phenomena]", suggested that if it is not simply a spark plug, "My guess would be some sort of antenna. The construction reminds me of modern attempts at superconductors" (Wood 1999).

Joe Held of "Joe's UFOs and Space Mysteries" thinks that the device "looks similar to a small capacitor with several different materials. The object is roughly the size of an auto spark plug. Since the formation of geodes can take millions of years this was a very curious find indeed" (Held 1999).

The Creationists and the Artifact

With such outrageous speculation, individuals familiar with the creationism/evolution controversy might assume that fundamentalist Christians would stay far away from such artifacts and stories. But this is far from the case. Numerous creationists have been involved with this artifact since its discovery. Calais, who was involved with the Coso Artifact since its initial discovery, is an active contributor to creationist literature (see, for example, Calais and Mehlert 1996). He brought the artifact to the attention of the Charles Fort Society, publisher of INFO Journal. Creation Outreach, a Spokane, Washington-based creationism ministry promotes the artifact on its website by reprinting an article by JR Jochmans which concludes:
As a whole, the "Coso artifact" is now believed to be something more than a piece of machinery: The carefully shaped ceramic, metallic shaft and copper components hint at some form of electrical instrument. The closest modern apparatus that researchers have been able to equate it with is a spark plug. However, there are certain features - particularly the spring or helix terminal - that does [sic] not correspond to any known spark plug today (Jochmans 1979).
It should also be noted that according to a letter printed in Atlantis Rising, Jochmans claims to have ghost-written three-quarters of the book Secrets of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen (1977), which has often been cited as a reference for the Coso Artifact by young-earth creationists (Jochmans 1999). For example, Carl Baugh, a young-earth creationist whose claim to fame is the promotion of the Paluxy River tracks, relies on Noorbergen (1977) in his discussion of the Coso Artifact in his dissertation (Baugh 1989).

Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Institute for Creation Research (ICR) adjunct faculty member Donald Chittick has been heavily promoting the Coso Artifact. In The Puzzle of Ancient Man, Chittick (1997) presents the Coso Artifact as evidence that ancient civilizations were extremely advanced. Presuming that it is an ancient spark plug, Chittick explains his inference that this find indicates technological sophistication. He admits that reliable dates are unlikely, but then goes on to argue that the plug is old because geodes take too long to form. Chittick's discussion assumes that the plug was found inside a naturally occurring geode, which would indicate great age and therefore an "out-of-place" artifact. This, he argues, refutes evolution, since evolutionary models fail to explain the existence of such sophisticated technology so long ago.

The Geologic Evidence: Is the Coso Artifact Encased in a Geode?

When it comes to the geologic evidence, the most stunning claim is that the artifact was discovered in a geode. As Chittick has noted, formation of a geode requires significant amounts of time. But what is often overlooked is that the Coso Artifact possesses no characteristics that would classify it as a geode. The fact that the original discoverers were looking for geodes on the day the artifact was found is not sufficient evidence that the artifact is a geode.

Geodes consist of a thin outer shell composed of dense chalcedonic silica and filled with a layer of quartz crystals. The Coso Artifact does not possess either feature. Maxey referred to the material covering the artifact as "hardened clay" and noted that it had picked up a miscellaneous collection of pebbles, including a "nail and washer". Analysis of the surface material using the standard Mohs scale suggests a hardness of Mohs 3, which is much softer than chalcedony.

Other arguments regarding the ancient source of the Coso Artifact focus on the alleged fossil shells encrusted on the surface. If, as noted earlier, a nail and washer were also found on the same surface as the fossil shells, then the power of the inference of an ancient age for the artifact is seriously diminished. Even creationist literature notes how transport, erosion, or other geological changes in surface materials can lead to mistaken assumptions about the true age of individual objects. For example, Creation Ex Nihilo's June-August 1998 issue features fence wire that had become encased by surface materials including "fossil" seashells ([Anonymous] 1998b, quotation marks in the original; see also [Anonymous] 1991, 1998a, 1999).

The Artifact Itself: What Is It?

As noted earlier, numerous individuals have speculated about the identity of the Coso Artifact. The most common suggestion is that it is some sort of spark plug, designed and manufactured by an advanced civilization eons ago for technological devices equal to or surpassing our own. But there is no reason to conclude that the artifact was manufactured thousands of years ago. Some have half-heartedly suggested that the device could have been a contemporary spark plug circa 1961. But ancient artifact proponents point to the X-ray of the top half, which indicates some type of tiny spring or helix mechanism. The content of this X-ray, they argue, runs contrary to what we know about contemporary spark plugs.

A clue to what is revealed in the X-ray lies in one of the earliest articles about the artifact. Willis (1969) suggested that the upper end of the object "is actually the remains of a corroded piece of metal with threads." The Willis brothers seriously suspected the object was a contemporary spark plug, but were still unable to explain what was in the X-ray. Spark plugs of the 1960s typically terminated with no visible threading and tapered to a dull point. Though many of the interested parties agreed that the artifact bore a striking resemblance to a 20th-century spark plug, no one seems to have considered the idea of evolution - specifically, spark plug evolution.

Investigating the origins of the Coso Artifact revealed that mining operations were conducted in the area of discovery early in the 20th century. If internal combustion engines were used in these operations in the Coso mountain range, they would have been a very new technology at the time. So we extrapolated that spark plug technology would also have been in its infancy. To help us to learn more about spark-plug technology of a century ago, we enlisted the help of the Spark Plug Collectors of America (SPCA). We sent letters to four different spark plug collectors describing the Coso Artifact, including Calais's X-rays of the object in question. We expected the SPCA to provide some vague hints or no information at all about the artifact. The actual answers were stunning.

On September 9, 1999, Chad Windham, President of the SPCA, called Pierre Stromberg. Windham initially suspected that Stromberg was a fellow spark plug collector, writing incognito, with the motive of hoaxing him. His fears were compounded by the fact that there is an actual line of spark plugs named "Stromberg". Though Stromberg repeatedly assured Windham that his intentions were purely for research, he was puzzled why Windham was so suspicious and asked him to explain. Windham replied that it was so obvious to him that the artifact was a contemporary spark plug, the letter had to be a hoax. "I knew what it was the moment I saw the X-rays," Windham wrote.

Stromberg asked Windham if he could identify the particular make of the spark plug. Windham replied he was certain that it was a 1920s-era Champion spark plug. Later, Windham sent 2 identical spark plugs for comparison. Ten days after Windham's telephone call, Bill Bond, founder of the SPCA and curator of a private museum of spark plugs containing more than 2000 specimens, called Stromberg. Bond said he thought he knew the identity of the Coso Artifact: "A 1920s Champion spark plug." Spark plug collectors Mike Healy and Jeff Bartheld (Vice President of the SPCA) also concurred with Bond's and Windham's assessment about the spark plug. To date, there has been no dissent among the spark plug collectors as to the identity of the Coso Artifact.

Since Windham mentioned that spark plug collectors enjoy pulling pranks on one another, the question of deliberate fraud inevitably crops up in relation to the Coso Artifact. However, there is little hard evidence that the original discoverers intended to deceive anyone from the start. Furthermore, the Spark Plug Collectors of America was formed in 1975, well after the discovery of the artifact, and none of the 3 discoverers was ever affiliated with the organization.

Comparisons and Analysis

On September 14, 1999, Stromberg received a package from Windham containing 2 spark plugs and an analysis of the specimens. Windham wrote:
I am enclosing two spark plugs made by Champion Spark Plug company circa 1920s. Plug #1 is 7/8" #18 thread. I have loosely assembled the plug, and chipped the "brass hat" off to show the configuration of it and the porcelain under it. Plug #2 is 1/2" NPT of same design.

The diameter of the porcelain on Plug #1 is slightly less than 3/4" - close to the dimension in your letter. As you can see[,] the base and packing nut[,] which hold the porcelain, are sealed with a copper and asbestos gasket. This corresponds with the article. The center electrode of plugs were made of special alloys which were "... cut in two in 1961 but five years afterwards had no tarnishing visible." The sketches included clearly show one rib on the upper end of the porcelain, although Champion used two ribs in this era - probably just an artist's error. The "top hat["] matches those of "plug 1 and 2".

As for the outer shell, it obviously decayed - probably from salt water (or other corrosive substance) [-] and the outer crust is merely some sort of deposit like sea shells or other deposits collected on the deteriorating surfaces of the spark plug base.

There is no doubt that this is merely an old spark plug. Most probably, it is a Champion spark plug, similar to the two enclosed.
The most striking aspect of Windham's description is the brass "top hat" that has so vexed previous attempts to provide a rational explanation for the artifact. But other similarities are even more significant. Because Windham had chipped the brass top hat off specimen #1, the spark plug revealed a metal shaft terminating in a flared end, presumably to help to secure the top hat to the plug's porcelain cylinder. The same sort of flared end also appears in the metal shaft of the Coso Artifact. The shaft in the X-ray, just below the flare, also reveals deterioration where it was exposed to the elements above where it meets the porcelain cylinder. This, too, is exactly what we would expect from a 1920s-era Champion spark plug. An X-ray of the specimen that Windham sent us reveals a picture very similar to the original X-ray of the Coso Artifact. As with the original artifact, the central metal shaft of both specimens responds to a magnet.

Proponents of fantastic stories regarding the artifact have made mention of mysterious copper rings that encase the porcelain. But this too can be easily explained. Windham provided one completely disassembled plug (specimen #1). It revealed a pair of copper rings sandwiching an asbestos lining. According to Windham, this design was necessary because porcelain and steel have vastly differing expansion rates, so the copper was used to compensate for some of the problems this difference caused.

Specimen #2 was not disassembled by Windham, but also presented a feature that could explain why the artifact had not been identified decades ago. Specimen #2, though suffering from severe tarnish, came with a top nut screwed into its top hat. Almost all Champion spark plug advertisements of the first half of the 20th century showed pictures of their spark plugs including the top nut already screwed into place. In some cases, the top nut comes in two forms, one of which closely mimics the tip of today's contemporary spark plugs, which have no threading whatsoever. So it becomes rather easy to understand why the appearance of threads in the Coso Artifact seemed so puzzling to the original investigators.

It should be noted that the corrosion of the Coso Artifact almost completely destroyed any of the iron-alloy-based components, with the exception of the metal shaft encased in the porcelain cylinder. The samples received from Windham also revealed corrosion of the iron-based components, but the brass top hats were unscathed, except for some tarnishing. If the Coso Artifact is indeed a 1920s-era Champion spark plug, the X-ray of an almost perfectly preserved top hat is exactly what one would expect. Brass, a copper-zinc alloy, is commonly engineered to resist corrosion far better than iron-based alloys. In harsh environments, copper tends to outlast iron, but still succumbs fairly quickly. The rates of decay in the Coso Artifact match the rates of decay one would see in a 1920s-era Champion spark plug. An excellent review (Cronyn 1990) of how ferrous and non-ferrous alloys decay over time includes numerous photographs, including X-rays, of contemporary objects that have completely decayed into oxide nodules. Like the Coso Artifact, these examples also feature empty cavities where the original materials once resided.

The formation of the iron oxide nodule probably was hastened by the fact that corrosive "mineral dust" is blown off the dry lake bed of Lake Owen and onto the surrounding uplands where the artifact was discovered. This dust contains salts created by the evaporation of the lake water that are regularly blown off the lake bed by local windstorms. The US Geological Survey has conducted extensive investigations of this phenomena (Reheis 1997).

Reaction from the Paranormal Community

The embrace of the Coso Artifact by young-earth creationists is truly puzzling. We asked the ICR's Donald Chittick why he felt the Coso Artifact was an object worthy of presentation to the public, and specifically how he reconciled a previous age estimate of 500 000 years with his young-earth creationist beliefs. On September 29, 1999, Chittick responded:
The article's speculation that it had taken at least 500 000 years to attain the present form is just that: speculation. Actual petrifaction of such objects proceeds normally quite rapidly, as is illustrated by several other similar formations. See for instance, the note about the petrified miner's hat on the back cover of Creation Ex Nihilo (Vol 17, Nr 3) for June-August, 1995. See also an article about another "fossil" spark plug in Creation Ex Nihilo (Vol 21, Nr 4) for September- November, 1999 on page 6.

You asked what I thought about its age. My best guess is that it is probably early post-Flood. I have not yet been able to obtain sufficient documentation, so I don't say much publicly. However, there is evidence that they did in fact perhaps have internal combustion engines or even jet engines way back then.
Chittick's revelation that he was already aware of "fossil" spark plugs was startling. We asked in a follow-up letter how he can positively date the Coso Artifact to the Great Flood since he was already aware of contemporary spark plugs that appear to be fossilized. In his response on October 23, 1999, he commented:
It has not been my privilege to personally examine the Coso Artifact or location and strata where it was found. There are two reasons I considered the Artifact significant.

1. It obviously is a man-made item.

2. Those who evaluated the strata said that it appeared to be old, not modern strata. Those two items are the principle basis for my conclusion that it was worth study. Certainly it does merit further study in my judgment. Numerous items like that abound, but I haven't been able to document them as thoroughly as I would like, and so I don't say too much about them.
As noted earlier, the alleged stratum where the Coso Artifact was found is unknown since all 3 discoverers had separately searched for geodes all morning before consolidating their collections in a single sack. Even if the exact location were discovered, the artifact was an oxide nodule freely lying on the surface, so the stratum where the item was discovered is irrelevant, because surface deposits are an inconsistent mix of eroded, transported, and generally jumbled-up materials that are out of any meaningful geologic or archaeologic contexts.

Once the investigation revealed beyond a reasonable doubt the true nature of the artifact, Stromberg notified Chittick via postal mail, warning him about the publication of this paper and urging him to issue a retraction and to paste a disclaimer in his book that the Coso Artifact story is fallacious. Chittick never responded, and the second edition of The Puzzle of Ancient Man promotes the Artifact with no disclaimer, but Chittick seems to have stopped mentioning the artifact in his public lectures. When Ken Clark of Spokane's Creation Outreach learned that the Artifact was a 1920s-era Champion spark plug and was offered detailed proof, he ceased to communicate with us. Although Creation Outreach continues to promote the spark plug on its web site by reproducing Jochmans (1979), it adds the editorial note: "Several readers have stated the artifact is indeed a sparkplug from the 1920s" (see http://home.att.net/~creationoutreach/pages/strange.htm).

Conclusion

The Coso Artifact is a remarkable example of how pseudosciences such as "creation science" fail when their analyses and conclusions are investigated in a real-life archaeological situation. Perhaps the most surprising revelation is the stunningly poor research Chittick conducted regarding the Artifact. He persisted in portraying of the Artifact as "ancient" evidence for advanced technology. (RNCSE readers may recall an earlier incident in which Chittick was confronted about his erroneous statements regarding Lucy's knee joint [Stromberg 1998]; his reaction was similar, ignoring warnings and continuing to mislead his audiences.)

The Coso Artifact was indeed a remarkable device. It was a 1920s-era Champion spark plug that probably powered a Ford engine, possibly modified to serve mining operations in the Coso mountain range of California. To suggest that it was a device belonging to an advanced civilization of the ancient past could be interpreted as true, but only if we redefine "ancient" to mean "the early 20th century".

Acknowledgments

This article is adapted from a longer, more detailed account of the Coso Artifact that appears on the Talk.Origins Archive web site (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/coso.html). This paper would not have been possible without the gracious help from the following individuals: Chad Windham, Bill Bond, Mike Healy, Jeff Bartheld, Arnie Voigt, David Q King, Ken Atkins, Gary L Bennett, Alan Bowes, Linda Safarli, Casey Doyle, Paul Cook, and Ross Langerak.

References

Anonymous. 1991. "Fossil" pliers show rock doesn't need millions of years to form! Creation Ex Nihilo 14 (1): 20.

Anonymous. 1998a. Bell-ieve It: Rapid rock formation rings true. Creation Ex Nihilo 20 (2): 6.

Anonymous. 1998b. Fascinating fossil fence-wire. Creation Ex Nihilo 20 (3): 6.

Anonymous. 1999. Sparking interest in rapid rocks. Creation Ex Nihilo 21 (4): 6.

Baugh CE. 1989. Academic justification for voluntary inclusion of scientific creation in public classroom curricula, supported by evidence that man and dinosaurs were contemporary [dissertation]. Melbourne, Australia, and Poplar Bluff (MO): Pacific Graduate University. Available on-line at http://home.texoma.net/~linesden/cem/diss/. Last accessed July 26, 2004.

Calais R, Mehlert AW. 1996. Slippery phylogenies: Evolutionary speculations on the origin of frogs. Creation Research Society Quarterly 33 (1): 44-8.

Chittick DE. 1997. The Puzzle of Ancient Man. Tualatin (OR): Precision Graphics.

Cronyn JM. 1990. The Elements of Archaeological Conservation. London: Routledge.

Held J. 1999. Joe's UFO and space mysteries. Available on-line at http://members.tripod.com/J_Kidd/index.html. Last accessed September 10, 1999.

Jochmans JR. 1979. Strange Relics from the Depths of the Earth [booklet]. Lincoln (NE): Forgotten Ages Research Society.

Jochmans JR. 1999. Comments on participation in Mr Noorbergen's work [letter]. http://atlantisrising.com/issue7/letters. html. Last accessed September 22, 1999.

Noorbergen R. 1977. Secrets of the Lost Races. Indianapolis (IN): Bobbs-Merrill Company.

Reheis MJ. 1997. Dust deposition downwind of Owens (dry) Lake, 1991-1994: Preliminary findings. Journal of Geophysical Research 102 (D22): 25 999-26 008.

Steiger B. 1974. Mysteries of Time and Space. Englewood Heights (NJ): Prentice-Hall.

Stromberg P. 1998. Lucy and the ICR: Bearing false witness against thy neighbor. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 18 (5): 28-30.

Wood B. 1999. [Untitled e-mail message.] Available on-line at http://www.ufonet.it/archivio/500000-year-old.htm. Last accessed July 26, 2004.

Willis RJ. 1969. The Coso Artifact. The INFO Journal 1 (4): 4-13.

About the Author(s): 
Pierre Stromberg
pierres@cablespeed.com

RNCSE 24 (3–4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2004
Date: 
May–August
Articles available online are listed below.

Evolution in Mexico

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution in Mexico
Author(s): 
Antonio Lazcano
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2004
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
22–23
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
I am frequently asked by American colleagues if I have faced problems due to my work on the origin and early evolution of life or when I lecture on these subjects in a Catholic country such as Mexico. In fact, in more than 25 years of doing so, only twice I have encountered opposition from individuals and groups that objected to an evolutionary description of the appearance of life in favor of the Genesis account. In both cases, they were led by American preachers visiting Mexico! Readers may wonder why this is the case, and I suspect that the answer lies in the history of the doctrinal divisions within Christianity that may have their own origins in the Protestant Reformation early in the 16th century.

Thomas H Huxley wrote in 1843 in the preface of his book Science and Hebrew Tradition,
For more than a thousand years the great majority of the most highly civilized and instructed nations in the world have confidently believed and passionately maintained that certain writings, which they entitle sacred, occupy a unique position in literature, in that they possess an authority, different in kind, and immeasurably superior in weight, to that of all other books. Age after age, they have held it to be an indisputable truth that, whoever may be the ostensible writers of the Jewish, Christian, and Mahometan scriptures, God Himself is their real author; and, since in their conception of the attributes of the Deity excludes the possibility of error and — at least in relation to this particular matter — of deception, they have drawn the logical conclusion that the denier of the accuracy of any statement, the questioner of the binding force of any command, to be found in these documents is not merely a fool, but a blasphemer. From the point of view of mere reason he grossly blunders; from that of religion he grievously sins.
What Huxley wrote in the 19th century still holds true: literalism is found in every contemporary society. In no place, however, is this more evident than in the United States, though such attitudes are also found in Australia, England, and in the Islamic world (Numbers 1998). Among Roman Catholic churchgoers, the more conservative may oppose scientific models of the emergence and evolution of life in favor of beliefs derived from the first two chapters of Genesis. Of course, the idea of a supernatural origin of life is shared by many believers who would subscribe to a literal reading of Genesis, but it is also true that in many Spanish-speaking countries most Roman Catholics follow a tradition that goes back to Augustine of Hippo which views the Bible not as a literal record but as an allegorical depiction of the ways in which divine creation took place.

It is true that the arrival of Darwinism was an unsettling event for many Latin American Catholics (Glick 1972). However, no major controversies developed within Roman Catholicism after the publication of the Origin of Species, since Rome, which did not follow the doctrinal imperative of literal reading of biblical texts promoted by many Evangelical Protestant denominations, had much less of a quarrel with Darwin's ideas. With time, the original clash faded into a more-or-less peaceful coexistence between the theories and discoveries of evolutionary biology and the teachings of the Church, consistent with an age-old tradition of the compatibility between science and Roman Catholics that frequently goes unnoticed (Ruse 1997).

Not surprisingly, major attempts by Roman Catholic thinkers to criticize the philosophical tenets of Oparin's hypothesis of an heterotrophic origin of life have been undertaken (Wetter 1958; Schmitt 1968), but even these tend to accept the results of experimental research and the general evolutionary framework, while maintaining a spiritualist stand (see, for instance, Russell and others 1998; Colombo and others 1999). This attitude — which has been prevalent among Vatican theologians, especially since the times of Pius XII — became rather explicit in the famous address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in which John Paul II accepted that the theory of evolution is not "a mere hypothesis", but insisted on the supernatural origin of the human soul (Wojtyla 1997). Yet Roman Catholics do not view the premises and developments of evolutionary theory as a potential battleground or as major theological risk. In contrast, the most important source of conflict between the Catholic hierarchy and contemporary biology lies in the recent developments in genetic manipulation, work on embryos, birth control, and fertility research.

The most aggressive version of contemporary fundamentalist creationism in Latin America is an American phenomenon, where it has been growing in fertile soil. In Mexico, as in much of Latin America, the opposition to evolution does not come from any official position, doctrine, or tenet of faith of Roman Catholicism. Rather, the rise of anti-evolutionism in Mexico and throughout Latin America reflects the success of the missionary efforts of conservative and evangelic Christian groups for whom a literal interpretation of Genesis is necessary because of their prior doctrinal commitment to the sort of literalist interpretation of the Scripture that Huxley described a century and a half ago.

References

Colombo R, Giorello G. Sindoni E, editors. 1999. L'Intelligenza dell'Universo. Casale Monferrato (Italy): Piemme.

Glick TF, editor. 1972. The Comparative Reception of Darwinism. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Numbers RL. 1998. Darwinism Comes to America. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Ruse M. 1997. John Paul II and evolution. Quarterly Review of Biology 72: 391–5.

Russell RJ, Stoeger WR, Ayala FJ, editors. 1998. Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine action. Berkeley (CA): Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences.

Schmitt WJ. 1968. Creation and the origin of life. In Barbour IG, editor. Science and Religion: New Perspectives on the Dialogue. New York: Harper Forum Books. p 182–92.

Wetter GA. 1958. Dialectical Materialism: A Historical and Systematic Survey of Philosophy in the Soviet Union. Westport (CT): Greenwood Press.

Wojtyla K. 1997. Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Quarterly Review of Biology 72: 381–3.

Young D. 1992. The Discovery of Evolution. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press.

About the Author(s): 
Antonio Lazcano
Departamento de Biología
Facultad de Ciencias
UNAM
Mexico DF MEXICO
ala@correo.unam.mx

Francis Crick Dies

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Francis Crick Dies
Author(s): 
Susan Spath & Glenn Branch, NCSE
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2004
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
8
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, died on July 28, 2004, in San Diego, at the age of 88.

Crick is probably most famous for discovering the structure of DNA in 1953 in collaboration with James D Watson. At the time, the chemical basis of the gene was not understood. Only a few scientists considered DNA to be the likely carrier of genetic information, in part because DNA is composed of only four subunits, adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G). Once the structure of DNA was known, however, numerous research programs were developed to investigate the structure and function of genes. One of the most important was the deciphering of the genetic code in the 1950s and 1960s. In collaboration with Sydney Brenner and others, Crick determined that the precise order of bases in DNA specifies the order of amino acids in a protein. They found that each amino acid is represented by a sequence of 3 DNA bases. It then became possible to study in elegant detail the molecular mechanisms by which the proteins are synthesized with the proper sequence of amino acids. In the past two decades, Crick turned his attention to neuroscience, investigating the nature of the mind and consciousness. Over his career, Crick received numerous awards, most notably the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, which he shared with Watson and Maurice Wilkins for discovering the structure of DNA. Crick's intellectual spirit, wit, and open-mindedness were admired and emulated by molecular biologists all over the world.

A long-time member of NCSE, Crick was no friend to creationism, although his speculative writings about the possible extraterrestrial origin of life are routinely quoted by anti-evolutionists. In The Astonishing Hypothesis (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons: 1994), he wrote, "The age of the earth is now established beyond any reasonable doubt as very great, yet in the United States millions of Fundamentalists still stoutly defend the naive view that it is relatively short, an opinion deduced from reading the Christian Bible too literally. They also usually deny that animals and plants have evolved and changed radically over such long periods, although this is equally well established. This gives one little confidence that what they have to say about the process of natural selection is likely to be unbiased, since their views are predetermined by a slavish adherence to religious dogmas." Crick signed the amicus brief of 72 Nobel laureates in the Supreme Court case Edwards v Aguillard (1987) that argued "'Creation-science'" simply has no place in the public-school science classroom," and recently signed a letter calling for the establishment of Darwin Day as a British national holiday "[a]t a time when creationism appears to be gaining ground in English schools."

References

About the Author(s): 
Susan Spath
NCSE, PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
spath@ncseweb.org

Is There Two-Way Traffic on the Bridge?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Is There Two-Way Traffic on the Bridge? Why "Intelligent Design" is not Fruitful Theologically
Author(s): 
Phina Borgeson
Faith Network Project Director, NCSE
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2004
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
16–18
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In "Why NCSE should be involved in the science– religion dialog" (Borgeson 2002), I offered some reasons for NCSE's decision to participate in this arena. There is a good deal of ferment in science–theology conversations today, and, interestingly, less emphasis on physics and more on biology. Indeed, there is increasing interest among theologians in complex systems, emergent features, and the evolutionary sciences, as reflected by many recent books in the field (such as Barbour 2002 and Peters and Hewlett 2003). At a recent symposium honoring him on his 80th birthday, Ian Barbour, de facto dean of the dialog in the United States, called for the continuation of this shift in emphasis.

Where does the "intelligent design" movement fit in the dialog? Representatives of the movement, most often William A Dembski, are from time to time invited to the table with scientists and academic theologians. Dembski subtitled his 1999 volume "The bridge between science and theology." But is "intelligent design" the bridge? Or is it just muddying the waters?

NCSE members are well informed on the scientific objections to "intelligent design". Many may not be aware that a number of scholars and religious leaders have raised theological objections, too. Here is a brief review of some of those points. I offer it in the hope that it will be helpful especially to our supporters and activists who are people of faith, and to other grassroots organizers who have asked for approaches that can counter "intelligent design" theologically.

Dembski has said on more than one occasion (2001; 2003) that "intelligent design" is theologically minimalist. Yet the literature of the "intelligent design" movement is laced with theological allusions, and its big tent has hosted many a religious revival. While one wants to believe the openness and modesty of Dembski's assertion, it is hard to do so given the religious orientation of the publishers of much of the movement's literature (InterVarsity Press leads the pack; others include Harvest House Publishers, Broadman and Holman, Ignatius Press, and Brazos Press, a member of Baker Publishing Group). At the IDEA conference held at the University of San Francisco in September 2002 (Branch 2002), several speakers seemed to assume a conservative Christian worldview among their audience, and one workshop leader, Cornelius Hunter, began his session with prayer. So, while explicit theological propositions may be rare in the "intelligent design" movement, implicit assumptions about the worldviews and pieties of those who are attracted to it abound.

Natural Theology or Theology of Nature

Perhaps the first question theologians ask of "intelligent design" might be, "Is this Paley's natural theology in new clothes?" Many Christian theologians today would follow Barbour in finding greater integrity in a "theology of nature" approach than in natural theology. The distinction is that a theology of nature starts from a particular faith perspective, and then enters into dialog with what we know about nature through the sciences, rather than developing arguments for the existence of God from nature. When people of faith begin with an understanding of divine revelation from their scriptures and tradition, and then bring that into dialog with science, they are constructing a theology of nature. Not all theologies of nature are equally appealing to all people of faith; in fact, they can be quite narrow. For example, when an Answers in Genesis speaker exhorts his audience to "Start your thinking from the Bible!" he is building a theology of nature.

Perhaps some members of faith communities still think that natural theology has its place, since it starts with an experience of nature common to all people. But the question then becomes, from what aspects of nature is one developing one's apologetic? Is it from the artifacts and appearances of nature, or from its undergirding processes and propensities? At the 2003 Ecumenical Round Table on Science, Technology and the Church, Kendall Harmon, a conservative Anglican theologian, pointed out just how seductive "intelligent design" is. People perceive design in nature, and then find it very easy to jump to the conclusion, "God must have made it." When we perceive great beauty in nature, or an apparently cunning adaptation, our awe may be stopped short in just this way. Most of the theologians of evolution, though, suggest that we need to look to a deeper level for the truly awe-inspiring. In their view, it is the freedom God gives creation which inspires an awe that can be sustained. It is the providence undergirding the billions of years of evolving life that leads to a faith that is not shaken when we know the scientific explanations as well (for examples, see Edwards 1999; Haught 2003; Peacocke 2001). "Intelligent design", on the other hand, seems to ask us to look at the details we cannot now explain, rather than to the sweeping story of which our understanding continues to grow.

View of Creation

This leads me to another objection to "intelligent design" raised by theologians of evolution. "Intelligent design" seems to close off the future unfolding of life and our understanding of it. Those of us who have studied the movement can see how a "god of the gaps" approach fails to stimulate scientific inquiry. But it also fails us in constructing an open and hopeful future of our life with God. Haught points out that God is the ground of novelty, not just order, and the one who "makes all things new", as asserted in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures. In fact, Haught goes so far as to assert that "the central theme in the Bible's vision of God" is that of promise. God reduced to the role of designer cuts off the possibilities of emergent new realities, and ultimately, hope (Haught 2001, 2003).

"Creation" is used in two ways in Christian theology. It is used as roughly synonymous with nature, meaning all that exists because of God's loving it into being. But it also means the ongoing process by which God is continuously creating, sustaining and being present to all that exists, called classically creatio continua. Creation is thus not a once-and-for-all done deal, as in deism, nor is it an intermittent activity, as in a little flagellum assembly here, a little clotting cascade tinkering there. The "intelligent designer", then, somehow seems less than the ever-immanent and providential God of Christian theology.

The little we know about God from "intelligent design" is not congruent with an understanding of God that takes Hebrew and Christian scriptures seriously. When we read the pivotal texts and explore the key themes of scripture — in fact, even when we read Genesis 1–3 — looking for metaphor and deep meaning, not empirical science, we find little or no emphasis on a God who is designer and artificer. Instead, when we read the scriptures as a whole, we find a God who is first and foremost relational, that is, a loving God.

In Christian scripture, the central way in which God is related to his creation is, of course, through Christ's redemption of the suffering of the world. Out of this emerges a theodicy that embraces as the price of the freedom God has bestowed on creation what we often read as the cruelty and caprice of nature. A designer God, though, must also be the designer of pain and death. In theological terms, "intelligent design" offers no articulation of how salvation is accomplished and constructs a God that is hard to square with the God who is steadfast love and suffering servant. George Murphy, working within his Lutheran tradition, has placed much emphasis on a theology of the cross as central to an understanding of God's interaction with creation (Murphy 2002, 2003). Jürgen Moltmann stresses God's suffering with God's people, drawing on the Hebrew concept of shekinah and the kabbalistic concept of zimzum along with the Christian understanding of the kenosis (self-emptying) of God (Moltmann 2001). WH Vanstone pointed out in prose and hymn that the image of God as a creator, omnipotently, serenely, and detachedly presiding, then occasionally condescending to manipulate things to his will, is totally incongruent with what Christians know in the divine self-emptying of Christ (Vanstone 1977).

William Dembski has said that "intelligent design" is not a doctrine of creation, and we can agree with him. Yet "intelligent design" remains attractive to many believers. This can be attributed in part to the continuing polarization of science and faith in much of the media. But the appeal of "intelligent design" may also be attributed to its resonance with a theology of creation, persistent in favorite hymns, liturgical texts, and popular piety, where images and concepts remain untouched by the last century and a half of scientific discovery. So those of us who work in academic and popular theology can thank "intelligent design" for a great stimulus to do our work — developing a contemporary theology of creation — while we also recognize that "intelligent design" has offered little of substance to the science–theology dialog.

Instead, it has, in its equating of methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism, and its recycling of a god of the gaps, attempted to colonize science with religion. It seems that the bridge has been hastily constructed for purposes of invasion, not to sustain the two-way traffic of an enduring dialog. A true dialog (Bohm 1996) allows each party to retain its integrity, while making its assumptions transparent to the others. Clearly this has not happened with "intelligent design". A constructive theology of evolution, or, as members of some faith communities might call it, an evolutionary understanding of creation, requires that science be itself, bring its best work to the dialog. Only good science, methodologically natural science, will offer a theology of nature the freedom it needs to express its own truths. As Robert J Russell, the founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, California, commented in a response to Dembski (2003), "I don't need to change biology to make it fit my theology."

References

Barbour IG. 2002. Nature, Human Nature, and God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Bohm D. 1996. On Dialogue. London: Routledge.

Borgeson P. 2002. Why NCSE should be involved in the science–religion dialog. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 22 (1–2): 24.

Branch G. 2002. "Intelligent design" visits San Francisco. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 22 (6): 6–9.

Dembski WA. 1999. Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

Dembski WA. 2001. The intelligent design movement. In: Miller JB, editor. An Evolving Dialogue: Theological and Scientific Perspectives on Evolution. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International. p 439–43

Dembski WA. 2003. Making the task of theodicy impossible? Intelligent design and the problem of evil. Available on-line at http://www.designinference.com/documents/2003.04.CTNS_theodicy.pdf; last accessed August 3, 2004.

Edwards D. 1999. The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology. Mahwah (NJ): Paulist Press.

Haught JF. 2001. Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution. Mahwah (NJ): Paulist Press.

Haught JF. 2003. Deeper than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution. Boulder (CO): Westview Press.

Miller KB, editor. 2003. Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Grand Rapids (MI): WB Eerdmans.

Moltmann J. 2001. God's kenosis in the creation and consummation of the world. In: Polkinghorne J, editor. The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis. Grand Rapids (MI): WB Eerdmans. p 137–51.

Murphy GL. 2002. Intelligent design as a theological problem. Covalence 4 (2): 1, 7–9. Available on-line at http://www.elca.org/faithandscience/covalence/covalence_vol4_no2.pdf; last accessed August 3, 2004.

Murphy GL. 2003. The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross. Harrisburg (PA): Trinity Press International.

Peacocke A. 2001. Paths From Science Towards God. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

Peters T, Hewlett M. 2003. Evolution from Creation to New Creation: Conflict, Conversation, and Convergence. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Vanstone WH 1977. Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense. London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

About the Author(s): 
Phina Borgeson
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
borgeson@ncseweb.org

Review: Biology Through the Eyes of Faith

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
31
Reviewer: 
Andrew J Petto, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Biology Through the Eyes of Faith
Author(s): 
Richard T Wright
San Francisco: HarperSanFranciso, 2003. 309 pages.
When we examine the interplay between science and religion in contemporary society, many of the books we review rely on simplistic caricatures of at least one of these enterprises. For those interested in the complex realities of practicing Christians who are also practicing scientists, there have been very few books that engage in thoughtful and honest explorations of the ways in which these people succeed in having rich scientific and rich religious lives. Richard Wright wrote one of the most engaging and thoughtful books in this genre when the first edition of Biology: Through the Eyes of Faith appeared. I recommended this book to readers of Creation/Evolution in 1996 (Petto 1996). The revised edition is even better — not just because the information is more up-to-date, but because Wright's perspective and practice of his science and his faith have obviously matured, and this is evident throughout the book.

Wright is an evolutionary ecologist and has been very active in the American Scientific Affiliation. This book is mean to address the "central dogma" of biology head on:
Biological evolution is probably the most controversial and — in some circles — unpopular scientific theory ever advanced. It is also one of the most fruitful and foundational theories in its impact on the life sciences, and, indeed, has profoundly influenced modern thought (p 119).
There is no getting around it: Evidence from every relevant scientific field supports the evolutionary model. The problem, Wright understands, is with "worldviews". His discussion here relies on Del Ratzsch's work (1996, 2000) — in particular, in the use of the notion of "shaping principles" — in itself a useful point of departure for those who really wish to understand some of the different ways in which Christians view the sciences and their relationship to faith.

Throughout the text there is lucid and well-informed discussion of matters that are recurring themes to those who follow the creation–evolution controversies. Wright understands these in a way that perhaps only comes from years of teaching at an evangelical college and helping students grapple with the various objections to and "evidences against" evolution that fill the anti-evolution literature. Wright faces these objections head-on and, though he is sympathetic to the need for believers to feel re-affirmed in their faith, tells his readers why these positions are really bad for their spiritual life. Relying too much on specific interpretations of data from nature (and supposed gaps and shortcomings in evolutionary theory) to support one's religious beliefs can be disastrous — especially if those interpretations turn out to be wrong!

If there is any criticism of the book, it is that it is sometimes difficult to know when Wright is speaking in his own voice or when he is speaking in the voice of the proponents of some of the positions he is trying to explain. This is a problem when he engages the views on astronomy and cosmology of Hugh Ross (p 101–2) and the nonstandard view of biological "information" from Stephen C Meyer (p 113). These, however, are relatively short passages in a book that illustrates a mature understanding of both the faith and the science that have contributed to Richard Wright's career as a scientist and a teacher.

Perhaps because of his career as an evolutionary ecologist, Wright proposes cooperation between members of religious and scientific bodies to preserve and conserve natural resources and a healthy environment.
[S]tewardship ... [is] the ethical and moral framework that should inform our private and public interactions with the environment. Recall that stewardship is a call to all people to care for creation. ...

Sound science is the basis for understanding how the natural world works and how our human systems interact with it and impact it. By sound science, I mean knowledge that is the outcome of painstaking scientific research using the best available methods (p 238, emphasis in the original).
Niles Eldredge took a similar stance at The College of New Jersey a few years ago (see "Niles Eldredge welcomes biology honors students" in RNCSE 2000 May/Jun; 20 [3]: 8–9) — that sound science and a strong moral framework are mutually reinforcing and together can be very productive in solving real-world problems of consequence to human survival.

The new edition of this book stands as a clear beacon amid the smoke and fog that often obscures books about science and faith. It is one of the few written by someone who understands both evolutionary biology and a Christian faith — because he has actively practiced both. This is a serious book that deserves serious attention.

References

Petto AJ. 1996. Book review of Biology Through the Eyes of Faith by Richard T Wright. Creation/Evolution 16 (1), nr 38: 26–7.

Ratzsch D. 1996. The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation–Evolution Debate. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

Ratzsch D. 2000. Science and Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

About the Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
ajpetto@uwm.edu

Review: Developing a Christian Worldview of Science and Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
32–34
Reviewer: 
Andrew J Petto, University of Wisconsin
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Developing a Christian Worldview of Science and Evolution
Author(s): 
Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey
Wheaton (IL): Tyndale House Publishers, 2001. 196 pages.
It is not until after the end of this book that we learn what it is really about:
Only the Christian worldview provides a rationally sustainable way to understand the universe. Only the Christian worldview fits the real world and can be lived out consistently in every area of life (p 197).
This book is about salvation — how to assure one's own, and, perhaps more important, how to assure that of one's children. However, it is clear very quickly that this is emphatically not a book about science or evolution.
The core of the controversy is not science; it is a titanic struggle between opposing worldviews — between naturalism and theism. Is the universe governed by blind material forces or by a loving personal being? Only when Christians understand this — only when we clear away the smoke screens and get to the core issue — will we stop losing debates. Only then will we be able to help our kids … face the continual challenges to their faith (p 82–3, emphasis in the original).
Although the words Science and Evolution are prominently displayed on the cover and title page, this book is part of a series of texts by Colson accompanied by study guides and discussion materials aimed at promoting a particular view of what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century. There is, of course, plenty of room for disagreement about their conclusions in that realm, but the presentation of science and evolution is so bizarre and error-laden that it is difficult to explain all the ways in which it is wrong.

In a nutshell, this book continues the tradition in creationist texts of gleaning any inconsistencies in scientific research and proclaiming them as "proof" that scientists are conspiring to deny the bankruptcy of their practice, then adding nuggets from other studies that seem consistent with a literal biblical perspective. Needless to say, there is little more than a superficial understanding of the history and methods of scientific disciplines, the problems currently under study, or the context in which scientific questions are asked and answered. For those familiar with Colson's Breakpoint programs and with prior writings by both Colson and Pearcey, this book repeats the theme that evil and various social ills are directly traceable to the decline in religious faith and the rise of "naturalism" in our society — and, in particular, the undermining of the Bible as the guiding text in our common life as well as in the scholarly disciplines.

For example, there is an extensive but superficial review of origins-of-life research — a scientific field that is still a long way from settled. Science and Evolution reviews decades-old research on the formation of amino acids and organic compounds in various laboratory experiments, telling us first that scientists have failed to create anything remotely relevant to the origin of life: "Yet, in laboratory experiments, all we get are random, scrambled sequences" (p 50). Later they conclude that this research "proves" that "life can be created only by an intelligent agent directing, controlling, and manipulating the process" (p 53, emphasis in the original), because what was produced in the laboratory was only possible with intelligent (human) intervention. This discussion ignores recent research — much of it presented in general science publications written for the nonspecialist — on self-organizing and self-replicating chemical systems (Lehn 2002; Orgel 2001; Kauffman 1993), the appearance of sugars, salts, and organic molecules in galactic dust clouds (Ball 2001; Berstein and others 1999), and the tendency for amino acids throughout the universe to favor "left-handed" forms (Ball 2000; Cronin and Pizzarello 1997; Horgan 1997).

But this dependence on old research is in keeping with the authors' characterization of modern biology as "Darwinian" — as though evolutionary theory has stood still since the mid-19th century. To be generous, it seems that the authors really do not understand science on its own terms — or want to. It is sufficient for their purposes to point our that their view of science is antithetical to their view of a contemporary Christian life. However, they bolster their arguments with patently false claims.

For example, they claim on page 83 that creationists are losing debates. They are not, of course, but public debates have little impact on the professional practice of science and science education. Creationists are losing in the courts and in the curriculum, so maybe that is the "debate" to which Colson and Pearcey refer.

Earlier they argue that "the dominant view in our culture today" is the "radically one-dimensional" view that "this life is all there is, and nature is all we need to explain everything that exists" (p 18, emphasis in the original). However, according to recent Gallup polls, this view of life is accepted by no more than about 14% of those polled in the US (Anonymous 2002). The pervasiveness of this so-called "naturalistic philosophy" in US popular culture, which concerns Colson and Pearcey so much, does not seem to have much effect on people's personal beliefs or their support for teaching creationism in public schools (for example, Gallup 1999).

In essence, Colson and Pearcey are concerned about the moral decline of our society. They are convinced that the current practice of science — in particular, evolutionary science — is to blame for the dismal state of contemporary society. However, the empirical data contradict them. For example, when Colson was writing the original text (copyrighted in 1999), the nation was experiencing a long-term decline in violent crimes — during an administration that few would tout as the moral acme of public service (FBI 2002). The fact that crime rates have increased during the early years of an administration that is more active in bringing religion into political life suggests that public religiosity is not the solution; perhaps economic data would be more enlightening in this regard.

In other administrations, public religiosity — prayer breakfasts and meetings with religious leaders, calling on the Almighty to endorse national or international policy, public statements in support of creationism, and so on — has not gone hand-in-hand with high moral and legal standards. Even though it was before his "Christian conversion" (p 159), Colson's experience in the Nixon White House (discussed in Science and Evolution in the context of the character of Richard Nixon and the funeral eulogy for him delivered by Billy Graham) should be evidence enough that the public embrace of Christian ideals does not guarantee the link "between the material order and the moral order" (p 87).

But there is a more troubling aspect of this book: the question of what causes bad behavior. Colson and Pearcey seem to accept bad behavior in Christians as a result of the sinful nature of humans and their imperfections. This is to be forgiven as a temporary lapse in those who have accepted Christ. However, in those who are not Christians — or at least not the type of Christians of which Colson and Pearcey approve — these very same acts, even in the context of a record of greater good, are evidence of the systemic evil and perdition visited upon society — especially on society's children — by philosophical naturalists. Colson and Pearcey even assert that the only alternative to a Bible-based Christian morality is a utilitarian ethical system (p 139). Of course, this would come as a great surprise to moral philosophers throughout the Western world and to anyone whose religious worldview is nonbiblical.

In sum, I have two recommendations for our readers about Colson and Pearcey's Science and Evolution. First, read this book for a window into the worldview of certain Christian writers and how science appears to them. "Through a glass, darkly" is the phrase that comes to mind here (1 Corinthians 13:12). Second, read this book as a prime example of the superficial scholarship characteristic of anti-evolution and antiscience books that we often review in RNCSE. The discussion focuses on decades-old research and makes sweeping generalizations that the most perfunctory investigation shows to be either false or at least seriously confused. For those interested in supporting good science education in our society, Science and Evolution is a prime example of how scientific misunderstandings are perpetuated among those who get their science "education" from sources such as this one — and why we need more natural science in public education (and public life), not less.

References

[Anonymous]. 2002. Atheism and evolution. Creation Science Resource. Available on-line at http://www.nwcreation.net/atheism.html. Last accessed June 30, 2002.

Ball P. 2000 Jun 22. A handle on handedness. Nature Science Update. Available on-line at http://www.nature.com/nsu/000622/000622-10.html. Last accessed June 30, 2002.

Ball P. 2001 Dec 20. Shooting stars sugar coated. Nature Science Update. Available on-line at http://www.nature.com/nsu/001220/011220-11.html. Last accessed June 30, 2002.

Berstein MP, Sandford SA, Allamandola LJ. 1999 Jul. Life's far-flung raw materials. Scientific American 281 (1): 42–9.

Cronin JR, Pizzarello S. 1997 Feb 14. Enantiomeric excesses in meteoritic amino acids. Science 275: 951–5.

[FBI] Federal Bureau of Investigation 2002. Crime Trends 2001 — Preliminary Figures. Available on-line at http://www.fbi.gov/pressrel/pressrel02/01bprelimcius.htm. Last accessed July 1, 2002.

[Gallup] The Gallup Organization. 2002. Poll analyses. Available on-line at http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases. Last accessed June 30, 2002.

Horgan J. 1997 May. The sinister cosmos. Scientific American 276 (5): 18–21.

Kauffman SA. 1993. The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lehn J-M. 2002 Mar 29. Toward self-organization and complex matter. Science 295: 2400–3.

Orgel L. 2001 Nov 7. Self-organizing biochemical cycles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 97: 12503–7.

About the Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
ajpetto@uwm.edu

Review: Faith, Form, and Time

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
34–35
Reviewer: 
Denis O Lamoureux, University of Alberta
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Faith, Form, and Time
Author(s): 
Kurt P Wise
Nashville (TN): Broadman and Holman, 2002. 287 pages.
Kurt Wise's Faith, Form, and Time is a significant contribution to the modern origins debate. This book is a defense of young-earth creationism that provides proof of the power of evolutionary theory. In brief, young-earth creation is the process of evolving under the selective pressures of the scientific evidence for evolution.

To be sure, this was never Wise's intention. Rather, armed with an impressive educational background (BA in geophysics at the University of Chicago, MA and PhD in paleontology at Harvard under the supervision of Stephen Jay Gould), he sets out to offer a Christian fundamentalist apologetic. Like many before him (including the present reviewer 20 years ago), Wise's agenda is evangelistic. Perhaps this is most clear in the closing chapter, where he writes, "All who look upon the cross and trust in the completed work Jesus has done to take care of their sin are brought back from the death of the curse and adopted into the family of God. If you have not done this, won't you do it today?" (p 241).

In order to understand Wise's creation science evangelism and apologetic, it is necessary to appreciate a deeply ingrained hermeneutical assumption of Christian fundamentalists. Concordism (or better, scientific concordism), which is foundational to their principles of biblical interpretation, is the belief that there exists an accord between science and Scripture. It is not an unreasonable presupposition. If God is both the Creator of the world and the author of the creation account in Scripture, then an accord between his works and his words could be expected. For that matter, the great majority of Christians throughout most of history have been scientific concordists (Jaki 1992 is an excellent review of the history of scientific concordism and its influence in professional exegesis up to the beginning of the 20th century), and Wise continues in this hermeneutical tradition as clearly reflected in the subtitle of his book: "What the Bible Teaches and Science Confirms."

This concordist hermeneutic fuels Wise's agenda. According to this approach, if the science in the early chapters of Bible aligns with modern scientific evidence, then this is powerful proof that God inspired the writers of Scripture, and no rational person can reject the Christian Creator. However, the apologetic and evangelistic purpose of Wise's book is thwarted should scientific concordism be an erroneous assumption.

The most important and influential book in the young-earth creation tradition is John C Whitcomb and Henry M Morris's The Genesis Flood (1961). Pivotal to their position is the belief that God created a canopy of water above the earth on the second day of creation (Genesis 1:6–7). The belief in the existence of a sea of water in the heavens was found throughout the ancient Near East. From a phenomenological perspective, this is exactly what it looks like — the sky is blue and rain falls from above. It is the collapse of these "waters above" that results in Noah's worldwide flood. However, Wise steps away from this classic young-earth creationist tenet, recognizing that the Bible undermines it. He notes correctly that "'the waters above the heavens' were still in existence during the time of David (Ps 148:4) … [t]herefore, the 'waters above' did not fall to the earth at the time of the Flood as many canopy theorists claim" (p 15; see also p 265 n 2).

However, instead of bringing into question the veracity of scientific concordism, as most professional exegetes have done in the last 100 years (Bailey 1993: 172–85), this hermeneutic unrelentingly grips Wise. He accepts the reality of the "waters above", but relegates them to the outer edges of the universe to serve as its boundary (p 90). In effect, this hermeneutical dynamic is like the God-of-the-gaps. In the light of evidence, it pushes traditional theological interpretations further and further outside the cosmos.

The powerful lure of scientific concordism is further seen in Wise's view of the origin of life. As one quite familiar with the fossil record, he certainly sees the evidence for evolution. For example, he is aware of transitory forms such as early amphibians (for example, Seymouria), mammal-like reptiles, and Archaeopteryx (p 199). In addition, he knows that vestigial structures, such as the underdeveloped hip and leg bones in whales, point to descent from earlier ancestors (p 219). And he even asserts that "abundant homology" exists and that it can be used to formulate "hierarchal trees" (p 123). But instead of accepting the obvious and parsimonious standard model of evolution, Wise recasts this scientific evidence within a 6000-year time period in order to defend the theory of Intrabaraminic Diversification.

The terminology for this model of origins comes from the first chapter of the Bible. The Hebrew word bara' means "to create" and min refers to species or kinds. In Genesis 1, God creates basic taxonomical groups. According to Wise, these taxa "were created with the capacity for substantial change" (p 123). More specifically, "In young-age creation theory, intrabaraminic diversification after the Flood produced many new species from pre-existing species ... these changes occurred both rapidly and recently (only thousands of years ago)" (p 222; emphasis added). In other words, Wise accepts evolutionary change at a rate that is orders of magnitude greater than that posited by the standard theory of evolution. Deliciously, he is an anti-evolutionist with a view of speciation many times faster than that of most evolutionists!

Of course, the stumbling block between Wise and the modern theory of evolution is his acceptance of scientific concordism. Because of this assumption, he has to repackage the evolutionary evidence within a 6000-year framework. But this is not to say that he does not feel the weight of the scientific evidence for an old universe. Wise asks, "So why does the world, in so many ways, look old?" (p 63). To his credit, he acknowledges that starlight, coral reefs, and ocean salinity could be indicative of age (p 63–6). Moreover, he confesses that chalks, trace fossils, and sand dunes in the sedimentary records have yet to be explained within a Noachian flood model (p 201–5). In other words, Wise is not an obscurantist; he sees the physical evidence. He is working within a fundamentalist category set, and in a way he cannot be faulted for that. However, the "evolved" model of young-earth creation in his book is proof of the power and persuasive nature of the evidence for evolution.

Wise's fundamentalist categories lead to the final point. The greatest difficulty with the origins debate today is the popular category set that tyrannically controls this controversy. Most individuals, both religious and non-religious, are trapped in a false dichotomy. Accordingly, one is either a creationist believing in God or an atheist accepting evolution. This black-and-white type of thinking and resultant deep ditch in the mind of people runs throughout Faith, Form, and Time.

For example, Wise asserts, "The most popular atheistic theory for the origin of the universe is the Big Bang theory" (p 89). Like most, he fails to recognize that scientific theories are metaphysically neutral and that many scientists are theists (Larson and Witham 1997; Easterbrooke 1997). Moving beyond the origins dichotomy is necessary for fruitful dialog regarding origins. An expanded category set is required, and the possibility that evolutionary theory can be interpreted within a theological framework must be entertained.

In closing, I must add a personal caveat. My soul shuddered while I was reading this book. Twenty years ago I began a similar apologetic and evangelistic crusade. I wanted to become a creation scientist to take on the evils of evolutionary biology. However, I sensed a calling to study the early chapters of the Bible before beginning a program at the Institute for Creation Research. It was at a leading evangelical graduate school that my fundamentalist hermeneutical foundations were shattered. It became abundantly clear to me that the Bible is not a book of science.

Today, scientific concordism is rejected by Old Testament scholars within the evangelical academy. It is a grassroots hermeneutic. I suspect that if I had not studied Genesis 1–11, I would still be clinging tenaciously to a view of origins similar to Kurt Wise's. Thankfully, I studied the words of God before examining His works. Being unhampered by scientific concordism, I am now able to see and enjoy the overwhelming scientific evidence for biological evolution, which for me is the Creator's method for creating life.

References

Bailey LR. 1993. Genesis, Creation, and Creationism. New York: Paulist Press.

Easterbrook G. 1997. Science and God: A warming trend? Science 277: 890–3.

Jaki SL. 1992. Genesis 1 Throughout the Ages. New York: Thomas Moore.

Larson EJ, Witham L. 1997. Scientists are still keeping the faith. Nature 386: 435–6.

Whitcomb JC Jr, Morris HM. The Genesis Flood. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed.

About the Author(s): 
Denis O Lamoureux
St Joseph's College
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2J5 Canada
dlamoure@ualberta.ca

Review: God and Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
25–26
Reviewer: 
Keith B Miller, Kansas State University
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
God and Evolution: Creation, Evolution and the Bible
Author(s): 
RJ Berry
Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2001. 189 pages.
There is no reason why any thoughtful, religious man should fear evolution, evolution is not an attempt to get rid of God in nature, but an attempt to show how God acts in nature. — SC Schmucker, in an address to the Pennsylvania State Education Association, December 28, 1927 (Anonymous 2003).
In essence, this book is a modern restatement of the position articulated above. RJ Berry is a British evangelical Christian and Professor of Genetics at the University College of London. Berry has a solid grasp of the wide range of evidence that undergirds evolutionary theory, as well as a well-reasoned orthodox Christian theology. God and Evolution was originally written in 1988 in response to the growing "creation science" movement. It was written for the evangelical Christian community and seeks to address the specific concerns of that faith community.

The preface of the book makes passing reference to advances in molecular biology and paleontology since the book was originally published. It also briefly mentions the claims of "intelligent design" advocates and cites critiques by Robert Pennock, Kenneth Miller, Denis Lamoureux, and others. It references a few of the many helpful works by evangelical scientists now available. However, given the recent developments in anti-evolutionary arguments and the many recent works by both scientists and theologians at the interface of religious thought and evolutionary theory, it is disappointing that this is a reprint and not a revised book.

In this small book, Berry attempts to address many of the fundamental issues involved in the popular science/faith discussion of evolution. Individual chapters are devoted to the nature of scientific description, the basics of evolutionary theory, the interpretation of the Bible, relevant doctrinal questions such as the nature of humanity and the origin of sin, an evaluation of "creation science", and a final plea for integration of theological and scientific perspectives.

Berry begins with a critique of "nothing buttery" (a term coined by British neuroscientist Donald MacKay to describe a thoroughgoing reductionism), and a discussion of the idea of multiple internally complete descriptions and multiple types of causation. He stresses that questions exist whose answers lie outside of any conceivable scientific investigation. He thus forcefully argues against a "warfare metaphor" to describe the relationship of evolutionary science and the Christian faith, and presents biological evolution and divine creation as complementary explanations.

In his chapter "The idea of evolution", he gives a very brief overview of the history of ideas about organic change from Plato to the Origin. He summarizes the essential elements of Darwin's ideas and the objections raised by Darwin's contemporaries. These objections are countered by the arguments used by Darwin himself, as well as by reference to more modern research. An important omission in this review is a discussion of the history of discovery and interpretation of the fossil record. Given that the fossil record is a common target of anti-evolutionary arguments, this omission is unfortunate. (A clear and entertaining description of how the rock and fossil records were constructed is given in the excellent book The Meaning of Fossils by MJS Rudwick [1976].)

In another chapter, Berry covers the subsequent history of evolutionary thought from Darwin through the neo-Darwinian synthesis of the 1940s and up to the advent of punctuated equilibria and cladistics in the 1970s. In recounting these developments, Berry does a good job of giving a sense of the internal debates within evolutionary science. In the process, he shows it to be a dynamic and maturing science involving a wide range of disciplines. Berry writes:
It is this unifying element which apparently makes evolution into something more than a simple scientific theory, and allows such diverse topics as fossil sequences, gene frequency changes and polymorphism, extinctions, adaptation, and so on, to be brought within a single umbrella. There may be disagreement about the interaction or relative importance of particular mechanisms, but there is no viable scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution for understanding nature (p 87–8).
This perspective helps to counter the common anti-evolutionary arguments that see every legitimate scientific dispute as a refutation of evolution.

In two chapters, Berry addresses concerns about the interpretation of Bible texts and specific doctrinal issues. He repeats the nearly universal theological understanding that the creation narratives in Genesis 1–3 must not be read as scientific accounts. They are theodicy, "stating and justifying God's goodness in an evil world" (p 47). He accepts the literary framework interpretation of the Genesis passages as proposed by leading evangelical theologians (such as Blocher 1984). Berry effectively argues that the Bible does not support the view that God's creative activity implies the absence of known or knowable mechanisms. He states, "the most persistent misapprehension about God and creation, however, is that knowledge of causal mechanism automatically excludes any possibility that God is acting in a particular situation" (p 51). The assumption that if evolution is true then God cannot be creator is "nonsense".

As to the origin of humanity, Berry argues that human distinctiveness is spiritual and relational, not anatomical. The "image of God" is not the same as physical form, nor can it be tied to particular mental capacities possessed uniquely by humans. Our creation in the "image of God" is thus not in conflict with an evolutionary origin. Unfortunately, in this discussion, Berry does not convey any real feeling for the abundance and complexity of the human and hominid fossil records.

Probably one of the most critical theological issues is that of the Fall. Particular understandings of this doctrine lie at the foundation of much of the popular resistance to evolutionary science. Referring to evangelical theological scholarship, Berry argues that the death that came into the world at the Fall was spiritual death, not physical death. That death was not determined or spread by some type of genetic inheritance. Adam thus need not have been the physical ancestor of all humanity, but can be understood as humanity's federal head with whom we are united in our sin. The broken relationships among humans, God, and nature resulting from that sin have brought discord to the rest of nature. In this view, the long historical record of human-induced environmental degradation can be understood as our failure to act as nature's appointed stewards and caretakers. Articulated within a thoroughly orthodox Christian theology, such views are critical for demonstrating that, far from undermining traditional doctrines, an evolutionary perspective can give them renewed relevance.

Berry concludes the book with two chapters on "creation science". In the first of these, he rebuts several of the standard young-earth creationist claims and responds to a few of the arguments made against macroevolution. This is one of the weaker chapters in the book, and readers should look to other sources for much more thorough and up-to-date responses to "creation science" arguments. However, the author does make the useful observation that "Many of the questions in the evolution and Christianity debate only arise because they wrongly assume some basic premise: time and time again it is worth probing behind the question to find if it is worth asking …" (p 103).

His chapter "Whence 'creationism'?" is arguably the most important in the book because it directly confronts the false science/faith warfare metaphor. He presents a history of the theological response to Darwin, beginning with Charles Hodge, who saw "Darwinism" as denying divine agency, and James McCosh, who saw it as part of divine providence. This historical discussion includes the beginning of the fundamentalist movement in which important figures such as James Orr, George Wright, and BB Warfield saw no inherent conflict between orthodox Christian faith, with a high view of scripture, and evolution. Berry also covers social Darwinism, the rise of populist anti-evolutionism in the early 1900s, and the birth of modern "scientific creationism" in the 1960s. He concludes this historical survey with the diagnosis that "… the mainspring of American 'creationism' is a simple fear of change; a fear that challenge to the accepted framework of belief will irreparably damage that belief, never mind opening a Pandora's Box of uncontrolled social and behavioural consequences" (p 147).

It is books such as Berry's that demonstrate the degree to which that fear is unwarranted. I highly recommend God and Evolution, especially for those who feel caught between their faith and modern evolutionary understandings of our world.

References

[Anonymous]. 2002 Dec 23. 75 years ago. Lancaster (Pennsylvania) New Era; Sect E: 8.

Blocher H. 1984. In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis. Preston DJ, translator. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

Rudwick MJS. 1976. The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

About the Author(s): 
Keith B Miller
Department of Geology
108 Thompson Hall
Manhattan KS 66506-3200

RNCSE 24 (5)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September–October
Articles available online are listed below.

Design on Trial in Dover, Pennsylvania

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Design on Trial in Dover, Pennsylvania
Author(s): 
Nicholas J Matzke
NCSE Public Information Project Specialist
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
4–9
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
On December 14, 2004, eleven parents from Dover, Pennsylvania, filed suit against the Dover Area School District in federal court. The matter at issue is a policy introducing "intelligent design" into the biology curriculum. Although such policies have been proposed several times around the country, none was passed until the decision by the Dover Area School Board (there are, of course, several cases where ID policies "evolved" into milder policies advocating that "alternative theories of origins" or the "strengths and weaknesses of evolution" be taught). The case — Kitzmiller et al v Dover Area School District — has attracted national and international media attention, and may help determine the fate of "intelligent design" in the public schools.

The plaintiffs are represented pro bono by a team of attorneys from the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP. NCSE is formally consulting, also free of charge, for the plaintiffs' attorneys on the science and science education aspects of the case.

The Evolution of "Intelligent Design"

Creationism watchers know well that "intelligent design" has been primarily a legal strategy from the very beginning. It emerged shortly after the catastrophic defeats of "scientific creationism" in the courts during the 1980s, particularly the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Edwards v Aguillard. Even according to pro-ID histories of the ID movement (Woodward 2003), the 1989 book Of Pandas and People, intended as a supplementary biology textbook for usage in public schools, was the first publication advocating "intelligent design" in its modern form. Frank Sonleitner (a longtime NCSE member and board member) reports that he first heard of Pandas at a Bible Science Studies meeting on September 18, 1989, held at the Scopes Ministries in Oklahoma City. Creationist Don Patton was attempting to get Pandas adopted as a supplementary biology textbook in Texas, and stated that an advantage of Pandas was that it discussed "intelligent design" rather than creationism. Patton held up Pandas and said, "Now we're not going to get scientific creationism in the textbooks; that has been ruled religious. We must avoid that term like the plague!" (Sonleitner 1991).

Of Pandas and People is not read often enough by ID skeptics. Virtually all of the arguments later advanced by Discovery Institute Fellows (critique of methodological naturalism, "specified complexity", inadequacies of homology, gaps in the fossil record, "where does new information come from", and so on) are present in essentially modern form in the 1989 edition. Even Michael Behe's "irreducible complexity" argument (though not the signature phrase) appears in print for the first time in the second edition of Pandas (Davis and Kenyon 1993), in a new section devoted to blood-clotting. According to Woodward, "Michael Behe assisted in the rewriting of a chapter on biochemistry in a revised edition of Pandas. The book stands as one of the milestones in the infancy of Design." And indeed, pages 141–6 of the revised Pandas are about the blood clotting cascade, reaching the conclusion, "all of the proteins had to be present simultaneously for the blood clotting system to function" (Davis and Kenyon 1993: 146, emphasis in original). The Discovery Institute portrays ID as a vigorous young movement of scientific rebels, but the actual history is that Pandas, a textbook, came first, and the "scientific discoveries" (of Behe, Dembski, and the rest) followed in its wake. This situation is ludicrous from a scientific and educational point of view, but it makes a great deal of sense if Pandas and the ID movement generally are simply one extended reaction to the Edwards decision.

The problems with Pandas, and the history of attempts to sneak Pandas into public school classrooms, were documented in the pages of RNCSE during the early 1990s. All relevant articles and reviews of Pandas have been made available at a new Resources page on the NCSE website (http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=21). The second (and last) edition of Pandas came out in 1993, and most of the major Pandas battles occurred from 1989 through 1995. (In 1995, an effort to adopt Pandas in Plano, Texas, was defeated when a large number of citizens turned out in opposition wearing buttons containing a cute panda picture with red slash through it.)

The beginning

Because of this inauspicious history, it was quite surprising when, in the summer of 2004, Pandas resurfaced in news stories from Dover, Pennsylvania. Dover is a small town (population 1800) on the outskirts of York, in south-central Pennsylvania. The Dover Area School District (DASD) is a rural district with about 40 000 residents. Dover Senior High School has about 1000 students.

The controversy started when the Dover Area School Board (DASB) began consideration of a new biology textbook. The teachers recommended Biology: The Living Science, by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine (coincidentally, this is the same text that was challenged in Cobb County, Georgia; see RNCSE 2002 May/Jun; 22 [3]: 9–12). According to local newspapers, at a June 7, 2004, board meeting, the chair of the DASB Curriculum Committee, William Buckingham, objected to the textbook on the grounds that the textbook was "laced with Darwinism," and stated that he was looking for a textbook that gave a balanced view between creationism and evolution. He added, "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. ...This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such." At the next meeting, on June 14, 2004, Buckingham is reported to have stated, "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?" (York Daily Record 2005 Jan 16).

Although criticized by some on the board, the compromise was that the board majority would not approve the Miller and Levine textbook until it was "balanced" with an alternative view. Buckingham soon settled on Of Pandas and People as the desired alternative book and argued that both books be adopted, or none at all. He said, "If we don't get our book, you don't get yours." Motions to approve just the mainstream textbook failed on 4–4 votes. However, on August 2, after acrimonious debate and public comment, one board member, Angie Yingling, changed her vote, saying to Buckingham, "I feel you were blackmailing them. I just want the kids to have their books." The mainstream book passed, without Pandas (York Daily Record 2004 Aug 4).

If previous Pandas battles were any guide, this would have been the end of the controversy in Dover, and everyone could happily move on with their lives. However, Buckingham and his supporters did not give up. They arranged for 50 copies of Pandas to donated, anonymously, to the school district. The superintendent, Richard Nilsen, accepted the donations on the understanding that these would be optional reference materials. Buckingham announced at an October 4 school board meeting that, since no school district funds were used to buy the books, the decision to accept them was administrative and required no vote. This situation was disagreeable from an educator's point of view — chaos would result if anyone with a fringe scientific view were allowed to stuff the shelves of the public school classrooms — but in Dover, the donation of Pandas books seemed to be perceived as a reasonable compromise that brought a merciful end to the controversy. The York Daily Record even awarded "roses" to the DASB for reaching this " reasonable compromise" (2004 Oct 9).

All this time, the science teachers at Dover Senior High School had mostly stayed out of the public fray. The primary public voices of the opposition at school board meetings were retired school teachers and former school board members, and only members of this latter group replied to NCSE inquiries about the situation. However, from speaking with several Dover residents, I got the impression that the science teachers, once they took a look at Pandas, did not like it one bit and had no intention of using it in class.

"Intelligent Design" voted in

The anti-Pandas sentiment of Dover teachers seems to be the most likely explanation of why, on October 18, 2004, the Dover Area School Board surprised everyone by passing the following addition to the official curriculum:
Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught.
Of Pandas and People was listed in the curriculum as a reference text. At the October 18 meeting, the reference to "intelligent design" was opposed by the school administration, the head of the science department at Dover Senior High, and 11 of the 12 citizens testifying at the meeting. For months, representatives from Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) had been quoted in the press stating that the DASB was moving in an unconstitutional direction, so the possibility of a lawsuit was a major topic of discussion at the meeting. However, Buckingham stated that a law firm, later revealed to be the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan, would represent the district pro bono in any lawsuit. After the 6–3 vote approving the ID policy, Jeff and Carol "Casey" Brown, a husband-and-wife pair that had been on the school board for five and ten years, respectively, resigned in protest. The same month, two other school board members, including Noel Wenrich, the third vote opposing the ID policy, also resigned because of impending moves outside of the school district. (Several weeks later, the DASB appointed four new members to the school board to fill the vacancies, and ensured that all four supported the ID policy.)

The next day, the headline across the front page of the York Daily Record was "'Intelligent design' voted in" (2004 Oct 19). A photocopy of the front page was faxed to NCSE's office, and the national media started calling NCSE about Dover. Another wave of letters flooded the paper, and the York Daily Record editors asked, "Why couldn't they just leave well enough alone?" (2004 Oct 27).

For the following month, talk of lawsuits was continuous, with AU and the Pennsylvania ACLU putting out word that they were interviewing potential plaintiffs. On November 19, the school district administration issued a press release on the Dover Area School District website describing how the policy was going to be implemented (DASD 2004). Parts of the press release were clearly aimed at avoiding a lawsuit, but the statement also included the following four-paragraph verbal disclaimer that biology teachers would be required to read at the beginning of the evolution unit in January:
The state standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and to eventually take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.

The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life up to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses on the standards and preparing students to be successful on standards-based assessments.
In one of several puzzling inconsistencies in the school district press release, the school district also stated, "The Superintendent, Dr Richard Nilsen, is on record stating that no teacher will teach 'Intelligent design', Creationism, or present his/her or the board's religious beliefs." This seemed to contradict the DASB's curriculum change and the verbal disclaimer. Regardless, civil rights groups were unimpressed by the school district's press release. Vic Walczak, the legal director for the Pennsylvania ACLU, told the press, "The school board's clarification confirms that the district will be presenting a religious view as an alternative to the scientifically accepted theory of evolution. ... This is not going to make us go away" (Associated Press 2004 Nov 19).

In early December, the press reported that the Pennsylvania ACLU, Americans United, and Pepper Hamilton LLP had signed up plaintiffs and were preparing a lawsuit. On December 7, DASB member Angie Yingling stated that, in light of the lawsuit, she now disagreed with the ID policy and that she would resign unless the DASB reconsidered. The York Daily Record editors stated, "Everyone who might help stop the 'Intelligent design' express is jumping off ...Watching what's going on in the Dover Area School District is like watching a train wreck in slow motion" (2004 Dec 9). Many in the community asked Yingling to remain on the board as a voice of opposition, and confusion about whether or not Yingling would actually resign remained a continuing subplot throughout December. Yingling finally resigned on February 7, 2005, telling the DASB, "your appearances in court are an embarrassment to Dover. You people appear to be ... religious zealots preaching from the shadows" (York Dispatch 2005 Feb 8).

Ratcheting up the pressure, on December 6, most of the faculty at York College's biology department sent an open letter to the Dover Area School Board, stating in part, "The inclusion of intelligent design in its curriculum as an 'alternative' evolutionary theory reflects a genuine lack of knowledge about the data supporting evolution by natural selection. It also reflects a profound misunderstanding of the scientific process and an equally profound disregard for the science educators and students in the Dover Area School District" (York Daily Record 2004 Dec 8). In the following weeks this act drew both compliments and criticism from the community, including suggestions like, "Love God or leave America, professors" (York Daily Record 2004 Dec 12).

On December 12, Phillip Johnson was interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle. Commenting on the Dover situation, he said, "What the Dover board did is not what I'd recommend. [...] Just teach evolution with a recognition that it's controversial. A huge percentage of the American public is skeptical of it. This is a problem that education ought to address." This echoed public statements from others associated with the Discovery Institute (such as those expressed in the York Daily Record, 2004 Dec 19).

Lawsuit filed

To the surprise of no one, on December 14, 11 Dover parents, the Pennsylvania ACLU, Americans United, and Pepper Hamilton LLP filed suit in Federal District Court against the ID policy of the Dover Area School District (ACLU 2004). A press conference was held at the courthouse in Harrisburg (the Pennsylvania capital, about 20 miles north of Dover). Tammy Kitzmiller, the mother of a ninth grader in the biology class and the lead plaintiff in the case, spoke to the press, as did Vic Walczak of the Pennsylvania ACLU, the Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United, and Robert Eckhardt, a prominent paleoanthropologist at Penn State. Two protesters with yellow signs reading "ACLU CENSORS TRUTH" were also present. The text of the complaint filed on behalf of the parents, a press release, and a "FAQ" sheet on "intelligent design" were distributed at the press conference and online at the websites of the ACLU, AU, and Pepper Hamilton.

On December 20, the Dover Area School Board voted 7–0 to retain the services of the Thomas More Law Center, which offered to represent the school district pro bono. On its website, the TMLC states,
Our purpose is to be the sword and shield for people of faith, providing legal representation without charge to defend and protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square. [...] Our ministry was inspired by the recognition that the issues of the cultural war being waged across America, issues such as abortion, pornography, school prayer, and the removal of the Ten Commandments from municipal and school buildings, are not being decided by elected legislatures, but by the courts (TMLC nd, emphasis in original)
United States Senator Rick Santorum (R–PA), who has spoken out in support of the Dover Area School Board on several occasions, is on the TMLC Advisory Board. The President and Chief Counsel of the TMLC is Richard Thompson, who has vigorously assumed the role of spokesperson for the DASB's ID policy and ID in general.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the chief institution promoting ID from the mid-1990s to the present, has apparently been observing the goings-on in Dover with dread, despite numerous articles and books by its fellows promoting ID as good science and legal to teach in public schools. For example, in 1999, DI CSC Senior Fellow David DeWolf, DI CSC Program Director Stephen Meyer, and Mark DeForrest coauthored Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook, a 40-page booklet published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics. Therein they wrote,
In 1987, the US Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v Aguillard that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction." As this guidebook will show, teachers and school boards who choose to tell students about the evidence and arguments for intelligent design actually fulfill this Supreme Court mandate. (DeWolf and others 1999)
Nevertheless, on the day the lawsuit was announced, the DI disregarded its past rhetoric and issued a press release, "Discovery calls Dover evolution policy misguided, calls for its withdrawal," which quoted DI CSC Associate Director John West as saying:
While the Dover board is to be commended for trying to teach Darwinian theory in a more open-minded manner, this is the wrong way to go about it. [...] Dover's current policy has a number of problems, not the least of which is its lack of clarity. At one point, it appears to prohibit Dover schools from teaching anything about "the origins of life." At another point, it appears to both mandate as well as prohibit the teaching of the scientific theory of intelligent design. The policy's incoherence raises serious problems from the standpoint of constitutional law. Thus, the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten. (DI 2004)
Interestingly, during depositions in early January, it was revealed that two DI representatives, attorney Seth Cooper and an unnamed companion, flew to Pennsylvania in December and spoke with Superintendent Nilsen and the DASB, offering Discovery Institute representation to the school board. The depositions do not reveal anything about the substance of the conversations. However, given the DI's public statements and the fact that the DASB did not retain the DI, I speculate that the DI offered to represent the school board, but only on the condition that the board drop its current policy and adopt a DI-written "teach the controversy" policy.

Opening moves

After the complaint was filed and the TMLC had been retained to represent the district, the first issue before the plaintiffs' attorneys was whether or not to apply for a restraining order to delay the DASB's implementation of the ID policy. According to the curriculum schedule, the ID disclaimer would be read on January 13, at the beginning of the unit on evolution. The plaintiffs' team therefore sought permission from the judge to depose key witnesses in an attempt to clarify the purpose and effect of the policy. On January 3, depositions were taken for Superintendent Nilsen, Curriculum Chair William Buckingham, School Board Chair Alan Bonsell, and board member Sheila Harkins. During the deposition, the witnesses either denied or professed not to remember making various remarks, such as Buckingham's statement, "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution," reported independently in the York Daily Record and the York Dispatch back in June. Strangely, none of the board members seemed to have much familiarity at all with ID, and none gave anything resembling a direct, coherent answer about what they thought ID meant. For example, Buckingham was asked:
Q: I'm just trying to understand so we can have a working understanding here of what intelligent design is if we can. Do you have an understanding in very simple terms of what "Intelligent design" stands for? What does it teach? A: Other than what I expressed, that's — Scientists, a lot of scientists — Don't ask me the names. I can't tell you where it came from. A lot of scientists believe that back through time, something, molecules, amoeba, whatever, evolved into the complexities of life we have now. Q: That's the theory of "intelligent design"? A: You asked me my understanding of it. I'm not a scientist. I can't go into detail and debate you on it. (Buckingham deposition, January 3, 2005)
When asked about the "master intellect" suggested on pages 58 and 85 of Pandas (the "master intellect" passage is essentially identical on these two pages, in a strange case of internal text duplication in Pandas), Superintendent Nilsen was somewhat more clear:
Q: Do you have any explanation for what a master intellect could be referring to in terms of the creation or development of species other than to God?

A: Yes.

Q: What?

A: Aliens.

Q: Can you think of anything else?

A: No.

Q: Using master intellect in that context, it must mean God or aliens?

A: In this context, yes. (Nilsen deposition, January 3, 2005)
Statements such as these made a splash in the media (for example, ABC's Nightline 2005 Jan 19). However, the school board members denied religious motivations and claimed not to remember the various statements about religion and creationism that had been quoted in The York Dispatch and the York Daily Record. The York media took special notice of the DASB's "memory woes" and stood by their reporting from June. But because the depositions contradicted the press accounts, the plaintiffs' legal team decided that it would take more research, witnesses, and time to document what actually occurred during the decision-making process that led to Dover's ID policy. They therefore declined to file a preliminary injunction. The Thomas More Law Center saw this as a victory, trumpeting, "ACLU abandons early effort to stop school district from making students aware of controversy surrounding evolution" in a press release (TMLC 2005a). One Christian news service even took the TMLC's declaration of victory seriously and wrote an entire news story based on the inaccurate notion that "the ACLU" had given up the case completely (Christian Post 2005 Jan 12).

In another twist, as soon as the news got out that the Kitzmiller legal team was not going to file for a preliminary injunction, the Pennsylvania State Educators Association, in consultation with the science teachers at Dover Senior High School, declared that the teachers would refuse to read the ID disclaimer, on the grounds that ID was not science, and therefore their reading the disclaimer would abrogate their professional responsibilities and violate the state professional standards for teachers. Seven science teachers from Dover Senior High School wrote a powerful letter to Superintendent Nilsen, declaring in part:
"INTELLIGENT DESIGN" IS NOT SCIENCE. INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT BIOLOGY. "INTELLIGENT" DESIGN IS NOT AN ACCEPTED SCIENTIFIC THEORY. (emphasis in original)
The letter demanded that the teachers be allowed to "opt-out" of reading the disclaimer, just as the students were allowed to "opt-out" of hearing it. If the request was denied by the Dover School District administration, the teachers' union was prepared to appeal the decision to Pennsylvania's Professional Standards and Practices Commission, and then to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Surprisingly, however, the school district blinked, and the administration agreed to read the disclaimer instead of requiring the teachers to do so (York Dispatch, 2005 Jan 10). On January 7, the TMLC's Richard Thompson, speaking for the school district, said, "The Dover faculty have no right to opt out of a legal directive. ... Having said that, because there is pending litigation ... we are going to accommodate their request" (Associated Press 2005 Jan 7). The Dover teachers' successful defiance of the ID policy was widely noticed, including in the pages of Science (Mervis 2005).

At the same time, on January 6, over 30 members of the faculty of the biology and philosophy departments at the University of Pennsylvania issued an open letter to the DASB expressing opinions similar to those of the biology department at York College. Richard Thompson responded with alacrity, replying on January 7, "If the level of inquiry supporting your letter is an example of the type of inquiry you make before arriving at scientific conclusions, I suggest that at the very least, your students should get their tuition money back, and more appropriately, the University should fire you as a scientist." Thompson chided the Penn faculty for complaining about ID's appearance in the DASB policy by selectively citing the part indicating that "Origins of life will not be taught." Thompson also criticized the signatories for including philosophers, writing:
What does philosophy have to do with this issue? This issue is not about science versus philosophy; it is about two different interpretations of the same scientific data by scientists. I assume you would agree that the metaphysical implication of Darwin's theory of evolution has no place in the science classroom. Or perhaps it is for this very reason that you so staunchly and dogmatically defend Darwin and place his theory above all criticism. (York Daily Record 2005 Jan 9)
Thompson concluded by citing the so-called Santorum Amendment, present in modified form in the report language of the No Child Left Behind Act but not in the law itself. The Santorum Amendment is a running theme throughout all the TMLC's press releases on Dover and ID (see Branch and Scott 2003 for a discussion of its status).

Finally, it appeared that all short-term barriers to the implementation of the ID policy had been breached. However, one more question remained: the classroom schedule. Teachers reported that their classes had not quite reached the evolution unit yet, and so the disclaimer was delayed from Thursday, January 13, to the following week. Because there were no classes on Monday, January 17, due to Martin Luther King Day, the disclaimer was finally read on Tuesday, January 18. The assistant superintendent entered each biology class and read the disclaimer. About 15 students and all of the teachers walked out. The Thomas More Law Center declared in a press release, "A revolution in evolution is underway." In the press release, Richard Thompson stated:
Biology students in this small town received perhaps the most balanced science education regarding Darwin's theory of evolution than any other public school student in the nation. This is not a case of science versus religion, but science versus science, with credible scientists now determining that based upon scientific data, the theory of evolution cannot explain the complexity of living cells. (TMLC 2005b)

See you in court

Richard Thompson sounds confident at the moment, but he seems not to realize the legal jeopardy that "intelligent design" is in. Comments from across the community of creationism watchers indicate a virtually unanimous opinion that Kitzmiller represents about the best imaginable court case on which to challenge the constitutionality of ID. Even if the early comments of the DASB remain in dispute, the district's recommendation of Pandas provides ample material for the expert examination of ID in its original, unabashed form (rather than the rather sly versions of ID that the Discovery Institute has been promoting the last few years).

Despite the Discovery Institute's qualms about the Dover policy, the TMLC's Richard Thompson has definitely been using the DI's game plan — ID is legitimate science, 300 scientists doubt Darwin, it's only fair to give the alternate view, and so on. If Thompson wants to base his defense on "the science of ID," so much the better. It will be time for ID advocates to "put up or shut up" about the "scientific theory" of ID. We know that there is no science of ID, and we suspect this will become readily apparent to the court if expert witnesses testify.

In addition to the history and motivations of the Discovery Institute — as evidenced in the infamous "Wedge Document" and elsewhere — the roots of ID and Pandas in 1980s creationism may also become relevant in the case. Of Pandas and People was the first book to collect a wide range of creationist material and put it under the "intelligent design" label, and via Pandas, it was the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, not the Discovery Institute, that was the original architect of "intelligent design." NCSE has a small, but very interesting, collection of documents on FTE and Pandas and on the development of ID in the 1980s. However, any veteran creationism watchers reading this piece should take a look through their old files, and contact NCSE if they find something that might be relevant.

Even though Kitzmiller is only at the trial court stage, the implications could be widespread. Buckingham has already stated that he wants to take ID to the Supreme Court, and it seems as though the TMLC will have the temerity to back him. One school district, in Blount County, Tennessee, appears to have already followed in the footsteps of Dover and passed its own ID policy.

NCSE has just learned that the trial will commence in September 2005. As consultants for the plaintiffs' team, NCSE will leave the legal decisions to the legal experts, but will give advice to help them get the science right. That is, after all, what this is all about.

References

[ACLU] American Civil Liberties Union. 2004 Dec 14. Pennsylvania parents file first-ever challenge to "intelligent design" instruction in public schools [press release]. Available on-line at http:// www.aclu.org/ReligiousLiberty/ReligiousLiberty.cfm?ID=17207&c=139.

Branch G, Scott EC. 2003. The anti-evolution law that wasn't. The American Biology Teacher 65 (3): 165–6.

[DASD] Dover Area School District. 2004 Nov 19. Board press release for biology curriculum. Available on-line at http://www.dover.k12.pa.us/doversd/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=261852

Davis P, Kenyon D. 1989. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. First edition. Dallas: Haughton Publishing Company.

Davis P, Kenyon D. 1993. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. Second edition. Dallas: Haughton Publishing Company.

DeWolf DK, Meyer SC, DeForrest ME. 1999. Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook. Richardson TX: Foundation for Thought and Ethics. Available on-line at http://arn.org/docs/dewolf/guidebook.htm.

[DI] Discovery Institute. 2004 Dec 14. Discovery calls Dover evolution policy misguided, calls for its withdrawal [press release]. Available on-line at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?%20command=view&id=2341.

Mervis J. 2005 Jan 28. Dover teachers want no part of intelligent-design statement. Science 307 (5709): 505.

Sonleitner F. 1991. What's wrong with Pandas? A closeup look at creationist scholarship. Available on-line via NCSE's Resources Page on Of Pandas and People: http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=21.

[TMLC] Thomas More Law Center. nd. About us. Available on-line at http://www.thomasmore.org/about.html.

[TMLC] Thomas More Law Center. 2005a Jan 6. ACLU abandons early effort to stop school district from making students aware of controversy surrounding evolution [press release]. Available on-line at http://www.thomasmore.org/news.html?NewsID=275.

[TMLC] Thomas More Law Center. 2005b Jan 18. A revolution in evolution Is underway [press release]. Available on-line at http://www.thomasmore.org/news.html?NewsID=281.

Woodward T. 2003. Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Books.

About the Author(s): 
Nicholas J Matzke
Public Information Project Specialist
National Center for Science Education
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland CA 94609-2509
matzke@ncseweb.org

Impressions of the Claremont Conference & Ernst Mayr

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Impressions of the Claremont Conference & Ernst Mayr
Author(s): 
John C Greene
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
34–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
[After attending a conference October 21–24, 2005, in Claremont, California, entitled "Religious Interpretations of Evolutionary Biology", John C Greene reflects on the conference in light of his recent study of work by Ernst Mayr on evolutionary biology. Greene responds to the events and presentations at the Claremont conference in terms of Mayr's perspective on the main themes in the program.]

The participants invited to the conference included eminent biologists, philosophers, and theologians and one physicist–astronomer as well. I had corresponded with a few of these participants but had never met any of them before. Since the conference was organized by two devotees of the "process philosophy" of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), David Ray Griffin and John Cobb, it seems best to begin with Griffin's lengthy paper expounding Whitehead's philosophy as a corrective to the "neo-Darwinism" of the 1930s–40s as modified and amplified by the DNA revolution, gene sequencing, and the like. In Griffin's view, "process philosophy provides a version of scientific naturalism that allows for a theory of evolution that is more adequate for science and is supportive of a religious world view supportive of morality." Here Griffin touches on the apprehensions that fuel the "scientific creationism" crusade (including "intelligent design"). "Those who wish to bring about a change in the way that evolution is taught in schools and presented ... to the public need to confront this thing called neo-Darwinism," Griffin concludes.

Griffin describes the "metaphysical doctrines" he sees as underlying neo-Darwinian biology and thereby generating the anxieties just mentioned. They are (1) the "undirectedness" of evolution, ruling out any form of theism; (2) positivistic materialism — the idea that all causes of evolution must be potentially verifiable through sensory observations; (3) predictive determinism, hence the absence of free will; and (4) nominalism, that is, a rejection of Platonic realism, according to which forms, archetypes, and ideas "are inherent in the nature of things." From these metaphysical assumptions and various neo-Darwinian scientific doctrines such as step-by-step gradualism and antiprogressionism, Griffin argues, various philosophical implications — atheism, meaninglessness, amoralism — follow. These doctrines and their implications have been spelled out, Griffin explains, in order to show that evangelical and fundamentalist objections to neo-Darwinism are not without some justification. Neo-Darwinian scientific naturalism — sensationist, atheistic, materialist — needs to be replaced by the theistic scientific naturalism of process philosophy, Griffin argues.

In Whitehead's philosophy, Griffin explains, we start from our own experience, of which we have direct knowledge, and move backward in time to envisage the actual entities with which science deals. From a panexperiential viewpoint we see them not as enduring individuals but as momentary events or happenings, as occasions of experience exercising both final and efficient causation. Thus the human brain is a society of billions of cellular experiences; the human psyche is "the unification of these experiences into an ordered society of dominant occasions of experience," resulting in the capacity for self-determination we share with all other compound individuals.

As a mathematician and logician, Whitehead, after having long been agnostic or atheistic, came to believe in the existence of ideal forms (his "eternal objects") which must have a home somewhere, namely, as components of the primordial nature of God, conceived as "the active entertainment of ideals, with the urge to their finite realization, each in its due season." Thus, like the Demiurge of Plato, Whitehead's God is not omnipotent — "there are principles which the divine being cannot violate" — but acts in the world by persuasion.

The average American on first becoming acquainted with Whitehead's idea of God and his influence in nature might wonder whether this philosophy would relieve the apprehensions and anxieties of evangelicals and fundamentalists about evolutionary theory. But this did happen to one of the conference participants, Howard J Van Till, who was reared in conservative Dutch Calvinism and subsequently became professor of physics and astronomy at Calvin College in Michigan. Devoted to science, he tried various ways of reconciling it with his religious faith in his discussions with his colleagues, fending off charges of deism and materialism until David Griffin's book Religion and Scientific Naturalism came to the rescue with Whitehead's idea of non-coercive, persuasive divine influence in nature. Griffin, Van Till concludes, has identified "broad metaphysical weaknesses" in the neo-Darwinian world view, especially with regard to life, evolution, consciousness, moral and aesthetic values, and "our sense of living in the presence of the Sacred," but has identified no scientific problems that in principle might not be solved by additional research.

RNCSE readers will be especially interested in Van Till's characterization of Phillip Johnson's blurring of the distinction between maximal naturalism and minimal naturalism as "intellectually irresponsible" and his scathing attack on William Dembski's idea of "specified complexity" and the related argument from probability theory in his No Free Lunch.

Three Main Points of View Expressed at the Conference

The criticisms of neo-Darwinism by Griffin and Van Till are mild compared to the onslaught mounted by Lynn Margulis, a microbiologists, and her co-author Dorion Sagan, champions of Gaia, the science of the earth and its atmosphere proposed by the English geochemist James Lovelock. Neo-Darwinism, says Margulis, is not so much wrong as it is "intellectually anachronistic," useful only in "tracing gene flow in Holocene mammalian, avian, and tracheophyte populations" but ignoring the tendency of the earth's lower atmosphere to regulate its oxygen concentration, temperature, and alkalinity by means of the self-maintaining properties of living organisms, all of which, says Margulis, emerges from Darwin's original legacy but disappears from view in its "bastard know–all offspring" neo-Darwinism.

Far from seeking to win over apprehensive "scientific creationists" with a theistic naturalism, as Griffin hopes to do, Margulis rejects Judaeo-Christian monotheism because it identifies paternal family control with nationhood and regards the earth as made for human exploitation. To the contrary, Gaia teaches that humanity is made for the earth and is dispensable if it does not act accordingly by adopting "healthier ways of relating to our home without denial of modern scientific thought," which, in turn, like art and technology, is only "a tiny part of nature's greater whole."

At this point Margulis, borrowing Richard Dawkins's idea of the "extended phenotype" (for example, a beaver dam), launches into a discussion of the evolution of man-made machines described as "machinate extrasomatic structures" and conceived of as "one of DNA's strategies for continuation and expansion of the ancient autopoiesis (self-maintaining and self-regulating systems) of which Gaia herself is the supreme example. Machines, says Margulis, are more evolutionarily advanced than people in their rate of change, their ability to survive extreme environments, and their penetration of space and deep seas. As Darwin's critic Samuel Butler said in 1863: "… machines will treat us kindly, for their existence is as dependent on ours as ours is on the lower animals." Some of them, Margulis adds, may become our descendants.

For Margulis's co-author Dorion Sagan, energy flow dominated by the laws of thermodynamics is the key to understanding evolution. As thermodynamically open systems organisms "may merge bodies, cells, and genes in sexual, parasexual, symbiotic mixtures." They also act as complex agents of energy transformation involving selection for energy use, efficiency, entropy production, the breaking down of gradients, and the generation of flow patterns which, says Sagan, "may provide the non-genetic mechanism Samuel Butler intuited as missing from Darwin's account." With respect to God, Sagan concludes: "God as a capricious humanlike entity is dead. God as a lawful eternal being of which we are a part is still consonant with science."

The presentation by Ursula Goodenough, a molecular geneticist and cell biologist, addressed the question that John Cobb, one of the organizers of the conference, had formulated in a letter sent to her before the conference convened: "Is it possible to show that neo-Darwinism does not affirm the mechanistic world view, that it provides for the causal efficacy of free and purposive action?" In an essay entitled "Reductionism and holism, chance and selection, mechanism and mind," Goodenough rejects the term "neo-Darwinism" as obsolete and historically confusing, and endeavors to dispel the apprehensions of materialism, mechanism, and atheism Griffin outlined in his analysis of the concept. As a "bench scientist" experimenting on a type of green alga, she explains, her experiments are reductionistic with respect to higher levels of biological complexity, but they are holistic with respect to lower levels: "… the specifics reside in wholes, where wholes are emergent from parts and hence have different properties from individual parts."

As a member and a leader in the United Church of Christ and a participant in an internet listserv exploring the idea of religious naturalism, Goodenough finds that her fellow participants are looking for truth, values, and meaning beyond chance. But Goodenough finds in Darwinism a natural world "brimming with meaning" and generating "countless emergent properties that build on themselves." What more meaning could one want than "the astonishing FACT of it all?"

But what about the accusation that Darwinism is mechanistic and devoid of purpose? Here Goodenough answers that all machines, whether built by humans, like a car, or resulting from mutation and natural selection, like the bacterial flagellum, have a purpose: "organisms, like machines, are nothing if not purposive." Free will emerges from a co-evolutionary dynamic of language, mind, and cultural transmission of ideas" giving rise to the sense that we can make choices, a sense that is as natural, real, and true as the neural mechanisms that make it possible. Evolution, Goodenough concludes, has endowed humans with the "experience of experience ... apparently rooted in our unique capacity for language," a capacity as yet inexplicable in Darwinian terms.

With due respect to Ursula Goodenough's sense of "the sacred depths of nature," it seems unlikely that her answers to the questions raised by John Cobb will satisfy the Whiteheadians, much less the apprehensions of the "scientific creationists," who are looking for intelligent direction or (in the case of Whiteheadians) influence in biological evolution and are not content with anthropocentric metaphors such as "opportunistic" and "tinkerer" to describe the process of "natural selection."

The other conference champion of "mainstream" Darwinism (he, too, rejects the term "neo-Darwinism") was the eminent population geneticist Francisco Ayala. Linking the Darwinian revolution in biology to the Copernican revolution in astronomy, Ayala proclaimed that "science encompasses all of reality and ... we owe this universality to Charles Darwin." Somewhat later, after reiterating that "nothing in the world of nature escapes the scientific mode of knowing," Ayala concedes that the scientific view of the world is "hopelessly incomplete," having nothing to say about "matters of value and meaning that are all-important for understanding human nature and our place in the universe, and for conducting a meaningful life." On these subjects, says Ayala, philosophical inquiry, theological reflection, literature, and the plastic arts have "illuminated human nature and its relationships to the world beyond." These latter statements seem to this reviewer to be in open contradiction to Ayala's earlier dictum that "science encompasses all of reality."

Dismissing the evolutionary theories of Lamarck and Bergson as "metaphysical," an objection that presumably applies to Whitehead's process philosophy, Ayala argues that Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species chiefly to refute William Paley's Natural Theology (1802), a book that Ayala, like Darwin before him, finds admirable for its close reasoning and command of biological facts, but subject to the same flaws as Michael Behe's argument from "irreducible complexity". The chief flaw is failure of this view to account for superfluous, defective, and dysfunctional organs and its attempt to explain them away by invoking the inscrutability of the Creator's thoughts and purposes, whereas Darwin's natural selection "can account for design and functionality but does not achieve any sort of perfection." Here Ayala overlooks Darwin's statement that "as natural selection works only by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection" — a result brought about by "the laws imposed on matter by the Creator." Also missing is any reference to The Descent of Man and to Darwin's gradual transformation from a relatively optimistic deist into an unhappy agnostic assailed by the "horrid doubt" (as he described it in a letter to William Graham in 1881) that his "inward conviction" that the universe and the wonderful nature of man could not be the result of "mere chance" could not be trusted, nor could the deliberations of his own reason be trusted in view of the evidence that human mental faculties had developed from "a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal."

In Ayala's view, natural selection, formulated as "a statistical bias in the relative rate of reproduction of alternative genetic units," is a creative process because it generates otherwise extremely improbable genetic combinations and their phenotypes such as "humans who think and love, endowed with free will and creative powers, and able to analyze the process of evolution itself that brought them into existence." Extremely improbable indeed!

Responding to the presentations, conference organizer John Cobb commends Margulis for broadening the study of evolution to include symbiogenesis and the concept of earth and its lower atmosphere as a self-maintaining and self-regulating system made possible by the activities of microbes and other life forms. But Cobb draws the line at the implication that this system (called Gaia) is a living organism and "somehow divine". Cobb also regrets Margulis's "belittling" of humans as exploiters of nature doomed to a brief tenure on earth. Humans may be a liability to Gaia, Cobb concedes, but they are at the same time its greatest achievement in richness of experience and in power to mold their own future. The evolution of the cosmos from the Big Bang to the appearance of purposeful human beings implies, says Cobb, a "powerful cosmic intelligence" as a plausible explanation providing a solid basis for human freedom and responsibility and "the call to realize such values as we can" — a much firmer basis, Cobb adds, than the neo-Darwinian view that these values are "by-products of materialistically determined processes." Thus we return to the apprehensions and anxieties about "neo-Darwinism" outlined by David Griffin in his essay.

A Perspective from the Work of Ernst Mayr

Considering the three main points of view discussed by the participants at the conference, I find myself wondering what centenarian Ernst Mayr, whose recently published book What Makes Biology Unique? I had just finished reading before attending the conference, might have had to say had he been there. One thing can be said for certain. Mayr would have aligned himself with the defenders of the evolutionary synthesis of the 1930s and 1940s. Born in Germany in 1904, Mayr abandoned Christianity and theism generally in his mid-teens. He began as a medical student but was soon drawn by his love of ornithology to the University of Berlin. Examined on positivism for his PhD, he was then sent off to explore the natural history of New Guinea, taking with him Hans Driesch's Philosophie der Organischen and Henri Bergson's L'Evolution Creatrice, both of which he rejected as being "vitalistic". In the 1930s he was invited to come to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to write up and publish the Museum's burgeoning ornithological collections. In 1942 he capped his growing reputation as a systematist with the publication of his Systematics and the Origin of Species, one of the founding treatises of the new evolutionary synthesis sometimes called "neo-Darwinism" although Mayr prefers plain "Darwinism". Called to Harvard in 1953, he became a champion of the new synthesis and began to study the history and philosophy of science in reaction to the domination of those disciplines by scholars trained in the physical sciences. His The Growth of Biological Thought appeared in 1982, his Toward a New Philosophy of Biology in 1988.

Taking a leaf from an earlier essay by Francisco Ayala, Mayr sets out to show that biology is an autonomous science deserving an autonomous philosophy of biology quite different in important respects from the philosophy of the physical sciences. Physics and chemistry, Mayr says, are addicted to mathematics, universal natural laws, determinism, reductionism and typological thinking, which cannot account for variation and which breeds racism. Functional biology, Mayr continues, shares many of these characteristics of physical science, but evolutionary biology is a historical science based on concepts and historical narratives that are tested, not by experiments, but by observations confirming their predicted consequences. Evolution is controlled, not by universal laws, but by genetic programs generating emergent properties. Thus biological phenomena have "dual causation," the law-bound proximate causes of functional biology and the evolutionary ultimate causes regulated by genetic programs.

Two basic ontological principles, vitalism and cosmic teleology, says Mayr, have prevented the acceptance of biology as an autonomous science. Vitalism died slowly from lack of experimental confirmation and because of progress in genetics and molecular biology. Darwin exploded cosmic teleology with his theory of natural selection. By the 1930s–40s, "no competent biologist believed in any causation of evolution or of the world as a whole," but belief in this sort of causation lingered on among philosophers like Whitehead, Bergson, and Polanyi. Evolution, says Mayr, is not teleological, although it does lead to "progress and improvement" through "emergent properties" that are empirically observable, not the result of a metaphysical principle such as Bergson's élan vital.

In Mayr's view, the basic structure of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has emerged victorious in the battles surrounding it, "though with some modifications." Some of these modifications, it should be noted, are quite substantial. Darwin, says Mayr, never explained the origin of species because he rejected Moritz Wagner's emphasis on the importance of geographic and reproductive isolation in the production of new species. Worse yet, he failed to note that animal breeders improved their stock not so much by selecting and breeding the best animals but by culling out the worst individuals. By doing this, says Mayr, they preserved a large gene pool capable of producing evolutionary novelties, including the possibility of "a single individual that is the progenitor of a new species or higher taxon." From Mayr's argument one might conclude that Darwin should have entitled his earth-shaking treatise On the Origin of Varieties, Or the Elimination of Inferior Individuals in the Struggle for Life.

From this account, it should be apparent that Mayr's participation in the Claremont conference, had it occurred, would have lent support to the so-called "neo-Darwinian" synthesis and done little or nothing to assuage the apprehensions and anxieties of the organizers of the conference or those of the supporters of "creation science" and "intelligent design". For my own part as an unofficial participant in the proceedings, I would have been troubled by Mayr's deep antipathy to theism and "the ideology of natural theology," leading him to ignore John Ray's role as one of the founders of systematic natural history and classify him simply as a natural theologian because of one book he wrote in that vein. This perspective perhaps arises from Mayr's assertion that "a literal interpretation of every word of the Bible was the standard view of every orthodox Christian in the early nineteenth century." This would be laughable news to the majority of scientists and clergy in Britain and the United States during that time who were busy accommodating their interpretations of Scripture to the findings of geology, paleontology, and other sciences.

Finally, as a lifetime member of the National Center for Science Education I am led to wonder whether the struggle to turn back creationist efforts to inhibit the teaching of evolution in the public schools is doomed to have only limited success unless "evolution" is given some kind of religious meaning and students are given a chance to discuss the question freely. The organizers of the Claremont conference are to be commended for presenting Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy as one way of giving evolution religious significance and for submitting the question to open discussion. There may be other ways more accessible to the average American's understanding, as, for example, Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century, by Denis Alexander, a molecular immunologist — both an ardent Christian and an ardent Darwinian — who is a Fellow of St Edmund's College, Cambridge University. Alexander finds the biblically-based critical realism of the Bible a solid, intellectually coherent, and morally inspiring framework for both science and religion.

A world of possible interpretations lies open for discussion. Bring the students into the discussion, if not in biology classes then in special classes taught by open-minded teachers familiar with the issues and skilled in drawing out student opinions on controversial subjects. Let the experiment be tried!

About the Author(s): 
John C Greene
651 Sinex Ave B215
Pacific Grove CA 93950
johngreeneca@infostation.com

Otis Dudley Duncan Dies

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Otis Dudley Duncan Dies
Author(s): 
Otis Dudley Duncan (adapted)
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
26–27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The eminent sociologist and long-time NCSE member Otis Dudley Duncan died on November 16, 2004, after struggling with advanced prostate cancer for two years. His article "The creationists: How many, who, where?" (p 26), coauthored with Claudia Geist, is his last contribution to the literature of quantitative sociology.

Born on December 2, 1921, in Nocona, Texas, Duncan completed a BA degree at Louisiana State University in 1941 and an MA at the University of Minnesota in 1942 before serving three years in the United States Army during World War II. After the war, he completed his studies for the PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago in 1949. He began his career of teaching and research in quantitative sociology at Pennsylvania State University and continued at the universities of Wisconsin, Chicago, Michigan, Arizona, and California. He was a professor on the University of California at Santa Barbara faculty for three and a half years, retiring in 1987.

He was author (often with coauthors) of several major books and numerous professional articles. Best known is The American Occupational Structure (New York: The Free Press, 1967), with Peter M Blau, which was awarded the Sorokin prize of the American Sociological Association. In his own estimation, his best book, the only one likely to be of enduring and not merely historical value, was Notes on Social Measurement (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1984). He was also proud of his most fully developed mathematical–theoretical article, published in Synthese, which presented a solution of a problem that had vexed some of the leading social scientists of the time (1986): Why do people’s verbally expressed attitudes so often seem unrelated to their actions?

Among other awards and honors, Duncan was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1973. He served on a wide variety of committees involving social science expertise. He was a member of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, chaired by John D Rockefeller III, and was president of the Population Association of America in 1969. He was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by the universities of Chicago, Arizona, and Wisconsin. But of all his achievements, he was most proud of the record of outstanding achievement in quantitative sociology racked up by so many of his former students.

In retirement, Duncan spent his time in researching and performing music, working with computer graphics, and writing articles on such topics as the prevalence of creationism, the rising public toleration of atheists, the increasing number who specify "none" as their religion, the increasing public approval of euthanasia and suicide for terminally ill persons experiencing great pain, the inefficacy of prayer for political undertakings, and the irrationality of laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Along with his wife Beatrice Farwell, he was a loyal and active member of the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara, to which memorial donations may be made: PO Box 30232, Santa Barbara CA 93130.

[Adapted from the obituary — written by Duncan himself — in the Santa-Barbara News-Press (2004 Nov 20). See also the obituary in The New York Times (2004 Nov 28).]

Polling the Creationism/Evolution Controversy

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Polling the Creationism/Evolution Controversy
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Roland Mushat Frye Dies

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Roland Mushat Frye Dies
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
25
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The eminent scholar Roland Mushat Frye died on January 20, 2005, at the age of 83, in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1922, Frye earned three degrees, including his PhD, from Princeton University. He served in the United States Army during World War II and was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war, he taught at Emory University and was a research professor in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library before settling at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the Felix E Schelling Professor of English Literature until retiring in 1983. A devout Presbyterian, Frye was professionally trained in theology as well as in the humanities, and his books, including God, Man, and Satan (1960) and Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine (1963), reflected his interest in the interplay of religion with literary and cultural history.

Frye was also the editor of Is God a Creationist? The Religious Case Against Creation-Science (1983; now out of print), a collection of essays that together (as Frye wrote in his prefatory overview) "present a comprehensive picture of central religious responses to, and rejections of, the oversimplified and misapplied literalism of modern creationism and creation-science"; the authors include Langdon Gilkey, Davis A Young, Conrad Hyers, Owen Gingerich, Pope John Paul II, and Frye himself, who contributed a prefatory overview and a concluding epilogue on "The two faces of God." Is God a Creationist? was recommended by James S Trefil "even to those who, like myself, prefer to conduct this particular battle solely on scientific grounds. It is immensely heartening to learn that creationists, if anything, are farther from the religious mainstream than they are from the scientific."

See also the obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer (2005 Jan 20).

The Creationists: How Many, Who, and Where?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Creationists: How Many, Who, and Where?
Author(s): 
Otis Dudley Duncan, University of California at Santa Barbara and Claudia Geist, Indiana University
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
26–33
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
This is a report on an epidemiological inquiry. The morbid condition — so to speak — under study could be variously characterized as a deficit of knowledge or a disease of the intellect, one that involves accepting a theological answer to a historical question. Present means of identifying those afflicted do not provide a clear distinction between these two disabilities or mixtures of them. But of the two most useful bodies of data now available — the Gallup Poll and the General Social Survey (GSS) — one puts the emphasis on theology, the other on knowledge of science.

On 6 occasions, the first in 1982 and the others between 1991 and 2001, the Gallup Poll asked respondents to choose among three statements: "God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10 000 years (46%). Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process (10%). Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man's creation (38%)." ("Other" or "Don't know" responses accounted for the remaining 6%.) The numbers in parentheses are the averages of the 6 poll results. Averaging is justified because there is no indication of an upward or downward trend, and changes from one poll to the next are insignificant (see p 19).

The GSS question, asked in 1993, 1994, and 2000, "was conceived as part of a short science test" and presented as though it were a multiple choice question with 5 alternative answers in a school examination. Respondents could evaluate the statement, "Human beings developed from earlier species of animals," as Definitely true (14%), Probably true (29%), Probably not true (15%), Definitely not true (33%), Don't know (9%). Again, aggregating the data from the 3 surveys is justified by the absence of a trend.

There is no easy way to reconcile the percentage distributions from the two polls. An important project for the future is to ask the same people both questions in different sections of one survey, randomizing the order in which they are asked (Duncan and Schuman 1980; Duncan 1984). Such a design could help in deciding whether the two questions are isotopes, so to speak, of the same elemental reaction to evolutionary biology. What we can do in the meantime is compare the two sources with regard to how the responses vary by selected characteristics of the respondents or their other attitudes and beliefs.

How Many?

But first, it is important to note that there can be no unique answer to the "How many?" question until a great deal of further research convinces the science community that some one question is unequivocally preferable to any other as a single indicator of a complex, multidimensional phenomenon. We are here referring to the "Definitely not true" response in GSS as the "creationist" answer. Some might prefer to label it the "evolution denial" answer. But our labeling is only a matter of convenience and does not presuppose any theoretical justification. We make no pretense that this working definition, adopted for lack of a better alternative, resolves the essentially meaningless question of how a true "creationist" is to be recognized. It is, however, in accord with the dictum of the Institute for Creation Research that creation and evolution are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive of the basic explanations of the evidence (Marsden 1991: 154). ICR may be well advised. The several varieties of "old-earth creationism" (Scott 1999) have neither scriptural nor scientific support, although they might invoke the authority of Augustine. Preliminary analyses indicate that "Probably not true" is more closely akin to "Don't know" than to "Definitely not true." Hence we estimate that only one third of adult Americans are creationists in the strict sense of "evolution denial" whereas the Gallup question yields an estimate of 46% who implicitly rely solely on Genesis.

If this is confusing, consider the responses to the question asked in the Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll in August 1999: "Which do you think is more likely to actually be the explanation for the origin of human life on earth: the theory of evolution as outlined by Darwin and other scientists (15%), the biblical account of creation as told in the Bible (50%), or are both true? (26%)?" (Not sure responses accounted for the remaining 9%.) If forced to choose among these alternatives, many respondents find the task too difficult. In February 2001, the Gallup Poll asked, "Would you say that you believe more the theory of evolution (28%) or the theory of creationism (48%) to explain the origin of human beings, or are you unsure (14%)?" (The remaining 10% of responses were Don't know.) The high proportion who are unsure or do not know is consistent with other poll data showing that many people do not claim to know very much about the evolution/creationism debate. The evidence does not justify the assumption that respondents will always be logically consistent in their responses to different questions. (Why should that be a surprise?)

Who?

Turning to the "Who" question: Bishop (1998) provides a useful compilation of the Gallup data on factors related to creationism ("created man … within the last 10 000 years") which can be compared with similar data from GSS. In both data sets, women are somewhat more likely than men to be creationists, the elderly more so than the young, African-Americans more than whites, those who attend religious services often more than those who attend seldom or never, political conservatives more than liberals, and those agreeing with the pro-life position than those classified as pro-choice on abortion. The similarity of the patterns is not quite so unequivocal for rates of creationism in relation to political party identification and religious denominational preference. Both GSS and Gallup, however, do show relatively high rates for Baptists, much lower rates for Catholics, and the lowest rates for those with no religion.

The most interesting failure to replicate a relationship pertains to education. Table 1 shows the percentages of creationists in the two data sets:

Table 1. Educational level of creationists
EducationGallupGSS
Less than high school64%36%
High school graduate57%37%
Some college44%36%
College graduate31%22%


The GSS pattern will be seen below (Figure 1) to be a rather misleading average of quite different relationships observed within categories defined by religion variables.



On the other hand, the association of creationism with beliefs about the Bible is somewhat the same in the two data sets, albeit stronger in the Gallup data. See Figure 1 for the wording of the Bible question, which is the standard wording in Gallup as well as GSS polls, and in the responses. The heights of the dark bars show the percentages of creationists among the biblical skeptics, the liberals who think the Bible is inspired but not to be taken literally, and the literalists: 7%, 28%, and 53% respectively. The corresponding rates of creationism in the Gallup data are 16%, 39%, and 77%. The width of the bars represents the relative popularity of the 3 Bible responses. About one-third of Americans are literalists, a half are rather more liberal, and one-sixth are outright skeptics. (These fractions agree approximately with the Gallup data as well.)

Apart from the differential rates of creationism that turn up in the cross-classification of creationism by response to the Bible question, it is important to analyze the makeup of the 33% of all people who are creationists (GSS definition). This information is conveyed by the areas of the dark bars, that is, their width multiplied by their height. We see that 18% are both literalists and creationists, 14% are creationists who take a more liberal view of the Bible, and 1% are creationists who are outright biblical skeptics. Thus, even though biblical literalism and creationism are clearly associated, only a little more than half of all creationists (18/33 = 55%) are literalists. The sum of the 6 percentages given inside the bars is 100%, the area of the entire square.

A puzzled reader, inspecting these results, remarked, "It is not clear how one can really be a biblical literalist and not be a creationist." The source of his perplexity is the commonsense resort to typological thinking rather than population thinking. In sociology, typology is deplored in discussions of the "stereotyping" of minority populations by ordinary people but approved when the same logic is used by sophisticated theorists and researchers. Emphasis on the importance of this distinction is especially strong in the writing of Ernst Mayr, who has frequently discoursed (1963, 2000, 2001) on the mischief typology has done in biology. One might as well wonder how a "real" fish can have legs, a reptile can have feathers, or a man can have nipples. When we encounter the word "really" used in this way, it is a reflection of Platonic essentialism in the speaker's thinking about the domain of human belief systems, although he would not make such a mistake when speaking of biological variation among organisms.

One way we — all of us — can easily get trapped in essentialism is by relying on summaries of poll results that show only one variable at a time instead of cross-classifications like the simple one in Figure 1 or the more complicated ones examined later herein. To be sure, about one-third of Americans are "literalists" and one-third are "creationists," understanding these terms as mere labels. But the two are not synonymous, and looking at the two figures separately gives no clue as to what proportion are both literalists and creationists, except that it must fall within the limits of 0 to 33%. The lesson for those who would improve science education is to avoid the oversimplification of thinking of the challenge as pertaining solely to creationist/literalists. There are many non-literalists out there who likewise need to be better informed about evolution; because they are not strict literalists, it may be easier to communicate with them. Our point is not new; compare Cole (1987–1988: 7): "Scientifically, theologically, and politically, people seem to be much more confused or heterogeneous than narrow-issue partisans claim." Partisans (a typological concept itself) are especially prone to the use of typologies.

Just as the proportion of creationists depends on what question is asked, the proportion that could reasonably be labeled literalist varies from one question to another. In a Gallup/Newsweek poll of December 1988, respondents were asked only to agree or disagree with the statement that "the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word"; no alternative responses were suggested. The literalist proportion was 54%, and the same result, 53%, was obtained in a CBS News/New York Times poll in July 1994, well above the 34% identified as literalists by the standard question. It must also be acknowledged that even when the same wording is used for the question, the proportion of literalists may differ among polling organizations, for reasons that are, at this point, far from clear (Duncan 2003). In paleostatistics, as in paleontology, we can only work from what has been preserved from the past for our inspection and study in the present. The evidence is always incomplete and is often equivocal.

Where?

Inasmuch as biblical literalism and creationism are usually and stereotypically linked to the so-called Bible Belt, we now take a first look at the "Where" question. There is indeed a strong geographic correlation between the percent taking a literalist view of the Bible in response to the question on feelings about the Bible in GSS and the percent who respond "definitely false" to the proposition that humans developed from earlier species of animals. Figure 2 brings out the differential prevalence of biblical literalism in regions of the United States and contrasts the proportion of literalists with the proportion of creationists in the regions. In both displays, the Bible Belt is the focus. But there are some anomalies. In the Bible Belt narrowly defined, there are quite a few more biblical literalists than creationists, whereas in the two western regions creationists considerably outnumber literalists. This is another telling bit of evidence warning against presupposing too tight a relationship between literalism and creationism. One could suggest that the questions eliciting the creationist and literalist responses do not have quite the same meaning in California and Tennessee. But the methodological issues raised by such a suggestion are formidable (Duncan 1986). We return to the regional differences after examining some additional religious variables related to the prevalence of creationism.

Arrow points from higher to lower percentage; dotted arrow shows pattern inversion between upper and lower plots. Region abbreviations stand for Pacific, Mountain, West North Central, East North Central, Middle Atlantic, New England, South Atlantic, East South Central, West South Central
Figure 2. Bad News from the Bible Belt: Geographical Correlation of Biblical Literalism and Creationism, 1993, 1994, 2000 (Source: General Social Survey)

Beyond Typologies

In Figure 3, we summarize the information in the 5-way cross-classification of creationism by belief in God (G), denominational preference (R), and frequency of attendance at religious services (A), as well as feelings about the Bible (B). With a sample of only 2426 respondents, we must resort to drastic simplifications. For example, the question on belief in God as presented in the interviews had 6 response categories, one for the modal category — the category with the most cases — which we term "firm believer" (G2), and five for the several responses indicating belief but with doubts, wavering belief, belief in a higher power but not a personal God, profession of the impossibility of knowing anything about God, and denial that there is a God. (For full details, see the GSS codebook: Davis and others 2000). Fundamentalist and Moderate Protestants (R3) comprise a large number of separately identified denominations. Please note that "Fundamentalist" here is not a label vouchsafed or approved by the respondent but a grouping of denominations developed by Smith (1990) for GSS on the basis of historical origins and statements of doctrine by the various denominations. In particular, a person can prefer one of the denominations classified as Fundamentalist without personally affirming all or any of the "five tenets" historically presented and advocated since early in the past century by some as "The Fundamentals". Marsden (1991) is a basic source on this matter as well as the complex evolution of fundamentalism. Especially interesting to NCSE readers is Marsden's testimony in the historic case of McLean v Arkansas (now available on-line at http://www.antievolution.org/projects/mclean/new_site/pf_trans/mva_tt_p_marsden.html) in which, among other things, he emphasizes the heterogeneity of fundamentalists; some have five, others different numbers of precepts. Here is another place where typological thinking can do great mischief. Not all Fundamentalists are fundamentalists and vice versa. Some fish do have legs.



The tree diagram (Figure 3) is intended to convey information about both the heterogeneity of the American population with respect to religious commitments and the variation in prevalence of creationism among the subpopulations that can be identified with the variables at our disposal. There are 54 logically possible subpopulations in the 4-way cross-classification of G ¥ B ¥ R ¥ A with the categories defined in Figure 3. Many of them are thinly populated, to be sure, but all of them would be encountered in significant numbers in the American population. It would be interesting to study the variation in creation prevalence across these 54 subpopulations. But because of the small sample size, the estimates of percentage creationist for most of them would be statistically meaningless. Hence we resort to a grouping of the 54 into 12 combinations that are produced as one variable after another is introduced to create cross-classifications. Even with this drastic compression of the data, several of these 12 occur so infrequently that the prevalence estimates, shown on the right-hand scale of Figure 3, are not highly reliable. What we have here can be likened to a small-scale highway map of a large state as contrasted with a detailed road map of a single county. We must ignore interesting interactions that might be reliably estimated with much larger samples. Sample size is a pervasive problem in analyzing data from surveys of religious behavior, which are not supported by funding from such major government programs as is space exploration.

Let us indicate explicitly how to read the figure. Taking "ALL" the population as 100%, the relative widths of the two arrows leading to G2 and G1 indicate that about two-thirds of the sample are Firm Believers (G2), one third being "All Other" (ignoring the heterogeneity of this residual category). When G2 respondents are classified according to feelings about the Bible, we find that about 31% of them are Firm Believers who take the Bible literally (G2 B3) and nearly the same percentage regard it as an inspired book but not necessarily to be understood literally (G2 B2), while only 4% are Firm Believers but biblical skeptics (G2 B1). Reading horizontally to the scale on the right, we find the contrasting percentages of these groups who are creationists to be 56, 38, and 23%, respectively. To identify a subpopulation with a higher prevalence of creationists, we need the further subdivision labeled by G2 B3 R3, who comprise 21% of the sample with a prevalence of 64% creationists. And to isolate a subpopulation with more than a two-thirds majority of creationists, we must isolate the G2 B3 R3 A3 sector that accounts for only 98 respondents (4% of the sample), where there is anything near unanimity — 82% prevalence of creationists — as to the falsity of human evolution. The estimate of 82% prevalence is of course subject to a large margin of sampling error. But the contrasts among the three subcategories of G2 B3 R3 defined by A3, A2, and A1 levels of attendance are unmistakably significant. Leaving other interesting comparisons to the reader, we simply note that the variation in prevalence of creationism among the 12 subpopulations dramatically illustrates the extreme heterogeneity of the religious sectors of the American public with respect to acceptance or rejection of evolution. Any one of the four variables by itself can give only an inkling of that heterogeneity.

The most startling finding of our study, one not hitherto anticipated by earlier research as far as we know, turns up when we look at the religion variables and education simultaneously. In Figure 4, we compare groups of adults of all ages with differing levels of educational attainment. Hence, the data for older people generally pertain to educational experiences undergone at more or less distant times in the past, not to the current output of the educational system. The interaction of education and religion is highlighted when we reduce the 12 combinations of religion indicators in Figure 3 to just 5, by grouping those with similar prevalence rates of creationism. In the sector defined by firm belief in God in combination with biblical literalism and medium to high frequency of attendance at religious services (top curve in Figure 4), persons with more advanced schooling actually are more likely to be creationists than those with lesser amounts of education. Pennock (2000: 37) observes that proponents of creationism have been successful in seeing to it that "many students of [fundamentalist and evangelical] religious backgrounds now enter university primed to resist evolution." And nowadays there is no shortage of institutions similar to Bob Jones University whose programs in biology are specifically intended to convert simple ignorance of evolution into terminologically sophisticated evolution denial. The positive relationship of creationism to education among the very religious may become even stronger in the future.



To find the expected negative relationship of education to creationism which we see in the Gallup data, we have to look at the one-eighth of the population who are not firm believers (including explicit non-believers) and who are skeptics in regard to the Bible (bottom curve). The three intermediate curves track the distortion of that relationship as more serious religious commitments of one kind or another are specified in identifying the groupings. Here and throughout the inquiry we must be wary of assuming well-defined causal chains. People who come to doubt the dogma of creationism upon learning about evolution in school may revise their religious beliefs and commitments accordingly. Or, to the contrary, those who maintain their creationist stance all the way through graduate school may use their education only as a means of defining more clearly what it is that they are against. Others — those experiencing early indoctrination in creationism and growing up in the religious environment in which this is likely to occur — may be less likely to pursue advanced education. And we cannot distinguish between the people who completed college without ever having a decent course in biology from those who followed the preacher's advice to college students heard in Oklahoma in the 1930s: answer the biology quizzes in such a way as to satisfy the teacher while maintaining faith in the Bible as the only infallible authority.



Such uncertainties notwithstanding, it seems reasonable to suggest that religion defeats education, or has done so in the past, in the United States in a way or to an extent that is not observed in other countries comparable to the United States in regard to political maturation, economic development, and history of religious commitments. We have data from the International Social Survey Program for seven such countries. We calculated the percentage of creationists that would be observed in each of these historically Protestant countries, given their actual distributions of responses to the four religion variables and assuming the rates of creationism associated with combinations of those variables to be the same as those in the United States. In Figure 5, we treat the nine geographic regions as if they were so many additional countries.

If in all cases the percentage of creationists observed in each country or region were to be identical to the percentage expected on the basis of the kind and degree of commitment to religion in these areas, all the data points would lie on the diagonal of the chart. That is very nearly true. The plotted line that best fits the data is very close to that diagonal. Hence the striking result that most of the variation in the proportion of creationists among regions and countries is explained by the varying grades of religiosity measured by our indicators.

This conclusion is not as robust as we would like. The preferred strategy would be to look at tree diagrams for each geographic entity in the fashion of Figure 3. But the sample sizes would not support such a detailed analysis. Moreover, for the foreign countries, the data on feelings about the Bible are available only for 1991 and cannot be cross-classified with creationism, which is available only for 1993. Hence we are limited to the indirect approach just described. But we can be sure that the summary results in Figure 5 average out some interesting interactions that occur in certain countries but not in others. Pending a more adequate database, it is not productive to speculate about reasons for the larger deviations from the diagonal — positive for the Netherlands, negative for Northern Ireland, for example. What is most striking in Figure 5 is the very slight overlap of the US regions and the foreign countries. It is as though only the northeastern states are in the same civilized universe as the countries while Northern Ireland might well be regarded as an overseas extension of the American Bible Belt.

Conclusions

The Bible Belt is bigger than readers may have thought, not only geographically but also metaphorically, in the sense that biblicism in the United States clearly affects the reaction to evolution on the part of persons who are not in any strict sense biblical literalists. Scholars in the humanities, accustomed to look at broad historical patterns rather than details of statistical analyses, may nonetheless come up with diagnoses that have the ring of truth. Thus, a remark of Sloan (2000), discoursing on the "Bible belting" of this country, is relevant in pondering the results laid out here, even if it goes beyond what can be rigorously demonstrated: "Ecclesiastical institutions … continue to implant powerful psychological deterrents to independent thought." To the institutions most likely to have influenced our older respondents may be added the burgeoning creationist web sites and the Discovery Institute — well known to readers of RNCSE — not to mention the legion of TV preachers and other sources of disinformation in various media and the clear willingness of some prominent legislators to destroy whatever science gets in the way of their program to make these United States into a Christian theocracy.

References

Bishop G. 1998. The religious worldview and American beliefs about human origins. Public Perspective 9 (5): 39–44.

Cole JR. 1987–1988. Creationism and the New Right agenda: An opinion survey. Creation/Evolution (1): 7–13.

Davis JA, Smith TW, Marsden PV. 2000. General Social Surveys, 1972–2000: Cumulative Codebook. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center. Available on-line at http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/GSS/. Last accessed January 6, 2004.

Duncan OD. 1984. Rasch measurement in survey research: Further examples and discussion. In: Turner CF, Martin E, eds. Surveying Subjective Phenomena, vol 2. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1984. p 367–403.

Duncan OD. 1986. Probability, disposition, and the inconsistency of attitudes and behavior. Synthese 68 (Jul): 65–98.

Duncan OD. 2003. Facile reporting: The supposed decline in biblical literalism. Public Perspective 14 (3): 40–3.

Duncan OD, Schuman H. 1980. Effects of question wording and context: An experiment with religious indicators. Journal of the American Statistical Association 75 (370): 269–75.

Marsden GM. 1991. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids (MI): William B Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Mayr E. 1963. Animal Species and Evolution. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Mayr E. 2000. Darwin's influence on modern thought. Scientific American 283 (1): 79–83.

Mayr E. 2001. The philosophical foundations of Darwinism. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145 (4): 488–95.

[NCSE] National Center for Science Education. 1999. Science and religion in America (poll and survey data) [flyer].

Pennock RT. 1999. Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Scott EC. 1999. The creation/evolution continuum. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 19 (4): 16–23.

Sloan G. 2000. The Bible belting of America. Free Inquiry 20 (3): 22–3.

Smith TW. 1990 Classifying Protestant denominations. Review of Religion Research 31 (3): 225–45.

About the Author(s): 
Claudia Geist
Department of Sociology
Indiana University
Bloomington IN 47405-7103
cgeist@indiana.edu

The Latest Polls on Creationism and Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Latest Polls on Creationism and Evolution
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
There were few surprises in a trio of polls conducted in late 2004 about public opinion in the United States on issues associated with the creationism/evolution controversy.

A recent article from the Gallup News Service (2004 Nov 19) reports on the pollster's latest results concerning public opinion on the evidence for evolution, creationism, and biblical literalism. The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1016 adults interviewed by telephone November 7-10, 2004, and its margin of error is +/- 3%. Because Gallup's polls on public opinion on creationism extend back to 1982, their data are particularly useful for longitudinal comparisons. The latest results are overall consistent with those from previous polls conducted by Gallup.

To assess public opinion on the evidence for evolution, Gallup asked, "Do you think that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific theory that has been well-supported by evidence, just one of many theories and one that has not been well-supported by evidence, or don't you know enough about it to say?" Thirty-five percent of the respondents said that evolution is well-supported by evidence, 35% said that it is not, 29% said that they didn't know enough about it to reply, and 1% expressed no opinion. These results are similar to those in 2001, the first year in which Gallup asked the question.

Demographically, the article reports, belief that evolution is well-supported by the evidence is strongest "among those with the most education, liberals, those living in the West, those who seldom attend church, and [...] Catholics," and weakest among "those with the least education, older Americans[...], frequent church attendees, conservatives, Protestants, those living in the middle of the country, and Republicans."

To assess public opinion on creationism, Gallup asked:
Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?

Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,

Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process,

God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10 000 years or so?
Thirty-eight percent of respondents chose (1), 13% chose (2), 45% chose (3), and 4% offered a different or no opinion. These results are also similar to those from previous Gallup polls, which extend back to 1982 (see p 19).

The article explains that the 10 000 year date was included in the 1982 poll question because "it roughly approximates the timeline used by biblical literalists who study the genealogy as laid out in the first books of the Old Testament." It is perhaps worth remarking that not all biblical literalists agree on interpreting the Bible as insisting on a young earth: there are old-earth creationists, for example, who accept the scientifically determined age of the earth and of the universe, but still accept a literal reading of the Bible and reject evolution in favor of special creation.

To assess public opinion on biblical literalism, Gallup asked, "Which of the following statements comes closest to describing your views about the Bible - the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word; the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally; or the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man?" Polled in November 2004, 34% of respondents regarded the Bible as to be taken literally, 48% regarded it as divinely inspired but not always to be taken literally, 15% regarded it as a collection of fables, etc, and 3% expressed no opinion. Again, these results are similar to those from previous Gallup polls.

Following on the heels of Gallup's poll, CBS News conducted a poll of public opinion about evolution, creationism, and science education (2004 Nov 22; available on-line at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/22/opinion/polls/main657083.shtml). The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 885 adults interviewed by telephone November 18-21, 2004, and its margin of error is +/- 3%.

One question (the exact wording of which was not given in the story) was apparently similar to Gallup's question about the origin and "development" of human beings. Compared to the Gallup poll, the results showed more support (55%, versus Gallup's 45%) for "God created humans in present form" and less support (27%, versus Gallup's 38%) for "humans evolved, God guided the process," with the same level of support (13%) for "humans evolved, God did not guide process." The results were also correlated with voting in the November 2004 presidential election: 47% of Kerry voters and 67% of Bush voters preferred "God created humans in present form"; 28% of Kerry voters and 22% of Bush voters preferred "humans evolved, God guided the process"; and 21% of Kerry votes and 6% of Bush voters preferred "humans evolved, God did not guide process."

The CBS News poll also asked respondents whether they favored the teaching of creationism alongside or instead of evolution in the public schools: 65% of the respondents said alongside; 37% said instead of. The results were again correlated with voting in the November 2004 presidential election: 56% of Kerry voters and 71% of Bush voters said alongside; 24% of Kerry voters and 45% of Bush voters said instead of. Moreover, 60% of respondents who characterized themselves as evangelical Christians said instead of.

Finally, a poll conducted for Newsweek "on beliefs about Jesus" included questions (the exact wording of which was not given in the story) about teaching "creation science" in the public schools. The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1009 adults interviewed by telephone December 2-3, 2004, and its margin of error is +/- 3%. According to the Newsweek story (2004 Dec 5; available on-line at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6650997/site/newsweek/), "Sixty percent say they favor teaching creation science in addition to evolution in public schools; 28 percent oppose such teaching, the poll shows. Forty percent favor teaching creation science instead of evolution in public schools; 44 percent oppose the idea." These results are comparable to those of the CBS News poll. (Although slighly more sympathy for creationism was displayed, it is possible that the characterization of creationism as "creation science" in the Newsweek poll's question contributed to its attractiveness.)

In a 2000 poll commissioned by People for the American Way and conducted by DYG Inc (available on-line at http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/dfiles/file_36.pdf), however, only 16% of respondents said that creationism should be taught instead of evolution, and only 13% said that creationism should be taught as a "scientific theory" alongside evolution. Since the PFAW poll offered a finer-grained set of choices for its respondents, comparisons between the CBS News and Newsweek polls and the PFAW poll may not be entirely meaningful.

What exactly to make of these data is regrettably unclear. George Bishop argued in his "'Intelligent design': Illusions of an informed public" (RNCSE 2003 May-Aug; 23 [3-4]: 41-3) that such "direct to the media" polls are plagued by "chronic problems in the practice of asking survey questions: widespread public ignorance of public affairs, the inherent vagueness of the language used in most survey questions, and the unpredictable influence of variations in question form, wording, and context." And Otis Dudley Duncan and Claudia Geist illustrate in their "The creationists: How many, who, where?" (p 27) that interpreting the statistics generated by such polls is by no means a simple task. It is clear, at any rate, that as defenders of teaching evolution in the public schools, our work is cut out for us.

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

RNCSE 24 (6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2004
Date: 
November–December
Articles available online are listed below.

Challenging Creationist Debaters

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Challenging Creationist Debaters
Author(s): 
Edward E Max
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2004
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
39–40
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
NCSE has long taken the position that it is not productive for scientists to debate creationists (see "Confronting Creationism: When and How", p 23). However, NCSE has figured indirectly in a series of seven debates that I have had since 1989 with Duane Gish from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR).

I have participated in these debates even though I understand the downside of debating creationists: scientific evidence will never convince biblical literalists of the validity of the scientific position, and debates give creationism more stature than it deserves, reinforcing the false claim that evolutionary theory is actively being debated by scientists. However, I have been persuaded by two counterarguments. First, all the debates I have participated in have been attended by some people "on the fence" (see "Then a miracle occurs", p 32) who are receptive to evaluating the evidence for evolution. A few of these folks have come up to me after debates and thanked me for helping them to reposition their views on evolution. For these folks I feel the debate has been a success; and for those unconvinced, I hope they see that it is possible to discuss scientific evidence for evolution without explicitly challenging the validity of religious faith. Second, if no one volunteers to present the evolutionist position, the creationists make hay out of this, claiming that evolutionists have so little to support their view that they are afraid to debate.

One other downside of debating creationists is that scientists who are knowledgeable about evolution are not necessarily knowledgeable about creationist claims and tactics; and if they debate without this knowledge they can be made to look like fools even though their arguments are scientifically sound. I have tried to avoid this pitfall by reading creationist books and articles and by coming to the debates prepared to address specific creationist claims (see "Winning the creation debate", p 36).

I have opened all my debates by explaining that I was not out to destroy anyone's faith in the Bible, but hoped to dissuade the faithful from relying on the flimsy arguments of "creation science". I introduce the idea that creationism is "non-professional" science, that is, it is based on arguments that have not passed peer-review in professional scientific journals. I distinguish between creation scientists (who may have professional degrees, usually in a field unrelated to evolution) and their creationist claims, which are absent from the professional science literature. To pre-empt the creationist response — that professional journal editors are prejudiced against creationism — I assert that the rejection of creationist arguments is entirely justified by their poor standards of scholarship; and I spend a lot of debate time showing examples of that poor scholarship in major creationist claims. In each case I show how the creationist claim is superficially appealing, so that it sounds reasonable to church audiences not trained as professional scientists; then I explain why the claim could not pass professional peer review. My bottom line is that a faith-based view of creation is fine, but that science classrooms should stick to science that can pass professional peer-review.

One of the creationist claims that I have tried to counter at all my debates is that the Second Law of Thermodynamics would be violated by the evolutionist model of species origins. I show that Gish's Second Law claim is flawed because he fails to recognize that examples of localized negative entropy do not violate the Second Law if they are outweighed by positive entropy elsewhere in the system so that the net entropy is positive. In particular, when Gish claims that the evolution of complex life in the biosphere represents negative entropy in violation of the Second Law, his conclusion is completely invalid because he fails to consider whether this localized negative entropy is outweighed by positive entropy effects such as entropy due to energy radiation from the biosphere into space. Thus Gish's Second Law claim is as invalid as that of an accountant who claims a net profit on the basis of a high gross income, but ignores the possibility that the income is outweighed by expenses.

In my first debate with Gish, I argued that a debate before a non-technical audience would not be an appropriate venue to discuss the details of thermodynamic analyses of the evolution. I challenged him to prepare a technical article supporting his argument, suitable for publication in a professional journal. And, after getting agreement from Fred Edwords, then editor of Creation/Evolution, I told him that his article would be granted publication in this journal, where it could be evaluated by scientists interested in creation "science" arguments. He would not have to worry about journal referees rejecting his article out of prejudice; so this venue would be perfect for putting his ideas before an interested community with science training. I had a copy of this challenge distributed to everyone in the audience, and showed a slide of a letter from the journal inviting Gish's contribution. Before each subsequent debate, I have obtained a renewal of the invitation to Gish from the editor of Creation/Evolution and subsequently of RNCSE. So at each of my recent debates, when I point out that creation "scientists" make claims that sound good at non-technical debates, but that they do not even try to meet the standards of scholarship that would be acceptable for professional scientists, I can cite the NCSE's still open invitation to accept my challenge, which Gish has sidestepped since 1989.

Gish's reaction, of course, underlines the inference that we draw from the use of the debate format before a general audience: the arguments do not work in a scientific setting as science. When challenged to a real exchange of scientific ideas and theories, creationists have nothing to bring to the table.

About the Author(s): 
Edward E Max
8800 Rockville Pike, HFD-122
Bethesda MD 20892
max@cber.fda.gov

Confronting Creationism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Confronting Creationism: When and How
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2004
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
23
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Everyone agrees that scientists should confront the claims of creationists, but how? Are debates of the sort that creationists love to promote the right arena? Not in my opinion.

Debaters on our side of this issue, I assume, participate in the hope of improving the public's understanding of evolution and the nature of science, leading to increased support for the teaching of evolution in the public schools uncompromised by religious dogma. It is a worthy goal. (Unfortunately, some debate to gratify their egos.)

As I have argued elsewhere (Scott 1994) and as argued by the other contributors in this issue of RNCSE, such debates are counterproductive. They confuse the public about evolution and the nature of science; they increase the membership and swell the coffers of their creationist sponsors; they fuel local enthusiasm for creationism, thereby contributing to public pressure on local teachers to teach creationism or downplay evolution.

"But you've debated creationists," you protest. "I've seen you on Firing Line and Crossfire, and NCSE even sells a videotaped debate with you, Duane Gish, and Hugh Ross! How can you say ‘don't debate creationists' when you debate creationists?"

Well, in fact, I really don't debate. I appear with creationists at public events and on radio and television shows, and sometimes these appearances are called "debates," but they are not formal debates about evolution of the sort that the Institute for Creation Research or Kent Hovind or the Veritas Forum constantly try to organize. I steer clear of such events, and, again, I recommend that my colleagues follow suit.

But I do appear in public with creationists, and you may be asked to do the same. Where, and how, do I draw the line between debating creationists and participating in a public exchange? Here are criteria to consider if you are invited to engage with creationists mano a mano.
  1. The topic of the discussion should not be the scientific legitimacy of evolution. Evolution is not on trial in the world of science. I will not defend evolution against a creationist, whether young-earth, old-earth, or "intelligent design". I am happy to discuss the scientific illegitimacy of creationism, however. And I am even happier to talk about issues that are central to the controversy in law, religion, philosophy, education, and politics — where, unlike in science, there is real controversy.
  2. The format should be conducive to educating the audience about evolution and the nature of science. A useful format, in which proponents of "intelligent design" were required to make their case and defend it in the face of criticism, was used at the American Museum of Natural History's forum on "intelligent design" in April 2002 (a transcript is available: Anonymous 2002). To be avoided are unstructured formats allowing presentation of misconception after misconception — what I have dubbed "the Gish Gallop" in honor of its most avid practitioner.
  3. The setting should be neutral. Why debate evolution before an audience consisting predominantly of conservative Christians? Why be the evolutionist Federals to the creationist Globetrotters? The event should be accessible to members of the general public, so in general, a venue in a church is not the first choice, compared to, say, a university auditorium. On the other hand, if the topic is science and religion, then a predominantly religious audience in a church setting is understandable.
Preparation is necessary for any venue, and it's not enough to know the science: you have to know the pseudoscience, too. (May I suggest my recent book [Scott 2004] and Mark Isaak's new book [Isaak 2005] to help you study?) And it's useful to work on your delivery as well. In person and especially on television, affect is often more important than content, so be nice. No matter how technically brilliant your presentation, the effect will be lost if the audience finds you arrogant, boring, or unpleasant, much less all three.

Instead of a face-to-face debate, consider a written one. On the internet, there is unlimited time and space for debates, including the opportunity for documentation and references, impractical in oral debates. A good on-line debate that showed clearly which side has the real science is a debate hosted by NOVA between "intelligent design" advocate Phillip Johnson and NCSE Supporter Kenneth R Miller (Johnson and Miller 1996). Be warned, though: it is increasingly difficult to find a creationist to debate in such a format!

You can be a voice for evolution even without debating, of course. You can write letters and op-eds to the editors of newspapers and magazines, respond to bogus claims on internet blogs, and even organize your own pro-evolution forums, as the residents of Darby, Montana, and Grantsburg, Wisconsin, did in response to assaults on evolution education in their communities. NCSE's pamphlet "25 ways you can support evolution education" (available on-line at http://www.ncseweb.org/25_ways.asp) suggests a number of ways to contribute.

In short, scientists, and those who are concerned about the quality of science education, should indeed confront creationism in all its forms as well as support evolution education, but they should do so in ways that advance, rather than thwart, the goal of a scientifically literate public that understands and appreciates science.

References

[Anonymous]. 2002. Transcript of American Museum of Natural History discussion on "intelligent design"; 2002 Aug 23; New York, NY. Available on-line via ; last accessed July 5, 2005.
Isaak M. The Counter-Creationism Handbook. Westport (CT): Greenwood Press.
Johnson P, Miller K. 1996. How did we get here? A cyber debate. Available on-line via http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/odyssey/debate/index.html; last accessed July 5, 2005.
Scott EC. 1994. Debates and the Globetrotters. Creation/Evolution Winter; 14 (2) nr 35: 22–6. Available on-line at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/debating/globetrotters.html; last accessed July 5, 2005.
Scott EC. 2004. Evolution vs Creationism: An Introduction. Westport (CT): Greenwood Press.

About the Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
scott@ncseweb.org

Debates

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Debates: The Drive-By Shootings of Critical Thinking
Author(s): 
Karen E Bartelt
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2004
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
30–31
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
It can start with something as innocuous as a friendly e-mail:
Dear Karen, Would you be willing to debate evolution with a Creationist at a University? I'm curious because as a student I'd like to see one. Currently, I'm in the first stages of finding out how to go about this endeavor. I feel you could have much to offer in way of the evolution side to the debate. Thanks for listening.
Sincerely,
Janet
As a veteran of such a debate in 1998, I turned Janet down. She did not take kindly to my refusal; in fact, we exchanged another seven e-mails before I finally quit replying. Her responses are very telling, and demonstrate some reasons why I feel that debating scientific issues with creationists is a waste of everyone's time.

Reason #1 not to debate

Initially, Janet claimed:
It would be very productive to have a debate because higher-order thinking and decision making is [sic] necessary to evaluate one's position on origins of mankind.
This leads to the first issue: format. The summary evidence for evolution is not presentable in a 2–3 hour debate to people who have neither the background nor the inclination to evaluate objectively any evidence that you might present. Though Janet appeared open-minded initially, and was a self-described "seeker of Truth," it became apparent that her science literacy was minimal and that she was merely repeating standard creationist rhetoric and urban legends. Some of her earlier comments included:
The importance of this topic is enormous because there is not much objective evidence to support evolution. Isn't the fact that there is so much variation in the planet orbits, numbers of moon [sic], rotation of axis, and more, evidence that maybe, just maybe evolution did not occur and that Someone else possibly created us? If evolution were undeniable, like gravity, then there absolutely wouldn't be all this heated debate. ["What debate?" I asked.] Macroevolution cannot be repeated in the lab nor can it be observed. When you have hard scientific evidence, check out http://www.drdino.com. He's offering $250,000 for scientific evidence for evolution. Until then, can you at least not insist on this being in the same realm as gravity? Gravity is a principal [sic]. Evolution is still a theory which, in macro terms, cannot be repeated. Why are you telling me it's so factual, when so many other scientists admit loopholes in fossil record, transitional links, and the possibility of special design? ["Which 'other scientists'?", I asked.]
So much misinformation, so little time. If someone who claims to want to learn more about evolution can make these types of statements prior to a debate, someone like me is not going to make a dent in two hours, no matter how compelling my evidence, no matter how snazzy my slides!

I told Janet that I agreed with her about the importance of higher-order thinking, but that debates are "drive-by shootings" when it comes to critical thinking. One simply does not have time to process the information, much less the misinformation, spewed rapid-fire by many creationist speakers. Higher-order thinking may take place when one studies the evidence over a long period of time, becomes well-versed in the basics of biology, chemistry, and geology, and the fundamentals of creationist arguments, and then can slowly and carefully evaluate them. I said that I would be happy to look at any questions she had on evolution in a reflective, higher-order thinking format. This did not interest her.

Reason #2 not to debate

The second reason not to debate a creationist is that the audience is not really searching for scientific evidence, anyway. Janet's later comments revealed the true area of concern:
He told us through the Bible that Creation was His way. Not evolution, not Gap Theories, not all the other crap theories. The whole base is Genesis, and if it's faulty, then get rid of the whole thing because you cannot have a house built on a shaky foundation, it'll crumble. The gospel message is an eternal one, and when evolution is preported [sic] as truth, then the foundation on which Christians stand, the WHOLE POINT for Christ['s] dying and the origin and consequences of sin, THESE things are meaningless. I sincerely hope you realize this because if I'm wrong then I don't lose anything, but if your [sic] wrong, you lose everything. [Pascal's wager is alive and well.]
Janet had initially proposed a debate about evolution, but it became apparent that her fears and misconceptions were religious and philosophical, not scientific. Anyone wanting to make a serious scientific point thus has a huge hurdle to leap! As a friend pointed out at my 1998 debate: The people in "your audience believed that if they began to accept your views, they'd likely face eternal damnation! Karen, you had no chance."

Reason #3 not to debate

I told Janet that my other reason for not debating: Scientists do not debate whether the earth goes around the sun, whether the earth is spherical or flat, or whether humans have 46 chromosomes; instead, they evaluate evidence. I noted that within the scientific world, there is no debate about the fact of evolution. This is another reason not to debate creationists: in the scientific community, theories do not rise or fall based on debate and rhetoric, but on the strength of evidence. It is wrong to imply to general audiences that this is the way science is done.

Since there is no evidence to support a young earth, a sudden creation, or a global flood, one must be prepared for the main rhetorical devices of the creationist: out-of-context quotations and straw-man arguments. Creationists, including "intelligent design" proponents, have raised this tactic to an art form (see Bartelt 2000; NCSE 2001; Bartelt 2001 for examples). This works because the audience cannot believe that a "Christian" is going to lie, and nothing the opponent says will convince them otherwise. It is a tremendous waste of time for the scientist to wade through half-truths and urban legends before even touching upon the science.

Expect dishonesty; you will not be disappointed. When I agreed to a debate, I verbally agreed to allow a taping. Though I never agreed that this tape could be distributed: a highly edited version is being sold by the creationist. (Yes, if I thought I could successfully sue him, I would!)

Reason #4 not to debate

You will never get a balanced audience, no matter how hard you try, and this audience will not abandon its religious preconceptions. My debate took place in a Universalist–Unitarian church. It was well-advertised there and at my college. Nevertheless, 75% of the audience came from surrounding fundamentalist churches, where they care more about this issue and see the investment of their time in these endeavors as spreading the Gospel. Perhaps the only chance a scientist has of overcoming all the obstacles to an honest, accurate presentation of the science is to find a way around trying to "debate" science in front of a hostile live audience.

First, suggest a written internet debate instead. In this format, there are opportunities to evaluate the "evidence" and respond thoughtfully. One can furnish links to resources that provide additional information. Creationists avidly avoid internet debates, or are easily beaten when they do agree to this format (see NMSR 2000–1). Second, ask to present the evidence for evolution separately, preferably following a presentation by a creationist. I have a standing offer to present the real evidence for evolution — not the skewed straw-man creationist version — to the students at Peoria Christian School. Though I made the offer in December 1993, I am still waiting. I take this as evidence that they really do not want to know anything but their stilted explanations and that a "debate" would also be futile.

The Mother of All Reasons to Avoid Debate

It is easy to see that the creation/evolution "debate" format is not designed to enlighten the audience or to promote higher-order thinking. However, perhaps the best reason to avoid a debate came to me in a reply from a creationist. When I asked creationist Douglas Sharp why creationist websites do not link to evolutionist websites (in contrast, for example, to NCSE's website), he replied:
In the academic world there is an inordinate emphasis and value placed upon debate. This is really a Marxist-humanist idea: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Our purpose is to focus and emphasize that which is Truth. Instead of spending so much time trying to answer a myriad of false arguments, we focus on what we know to be true, and continue to refine that as we grow in our knowledge (Sharp nd).
I could not have said it better myself!

References

Bartelt K. 2000. Dr Dino's fractured fairy tales of science. Available on-line at http://home.austarnet.com.au/stear/hovind_fractured_fairy_tales.htm. Last accessed May 1, 2005.

Bartelt K. 2001. Quote mining ... the tradition continues: ICR representative Frank Sherwin visits Eureka College. Available on-line at http://members.aol.com/anapsid5/sherwin.html. Last accessed April 30, 2005.

[NCSE] National Center for Science Education. 2001. Setting the record straight. Available on-line at http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/954_Setting_the_Record_Straight_v4.pdf. Last accessed April 29, 2005.

[NMSR] New Mexicans for Science and Reason. 2000–1. The great creation/evolution debate. Available on-line at http://www.nmsr.org/debate.htm. Last accessed April 30, 2005.

Sharp D. No date. Why don't you link evolutionist sites? Available on-line at http://www.rae.org/debate.html. Last accessed May 1, 2005.


About the Author(s): 
Karen E Bartelt
Division of Science and Mathematics
Eureka College
300 E College Ave
Eureka IL 61530
bartelt@eureka.edu

Evolution Activism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution Activism: The View From Grantsburg
Author(s): 
Suzanne and Blaise Vitale
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2004
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
11–12
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Grantsburg has gone through several religious controversies precipitated by actions of the school board, but we were not involved at the time because we had no children in school. Blaise is the medical advisor for the district and the unofficial football team physician. When the first issue arose several years ago, we wrote a letter to School Board President David Ahlquist, asking him to abstain from voting on religious issues because he has a conflict of interest as a Baptist youth minister.

This time around, Blaise was very interested because evolution is a deeply personal matter to him. He went to Catholic schools in New York before they were allowed to teach evolution. He subsequently attended Cornell University and majored in biology. He initially rebelled against the church for withholding the truth. However, several years later, he regained his faith after continuing to study evolution further. He is now on the church council for Faith Lutheran Church in Grantsburg.

We were appalled when the school board decided to teach "other theories of origin". Hoping that this move was made out of naiveté rather than ignorance or frank religious dogmatism, Blaise immediately started to talk about the issue. This caused some conflict in the health care community. The clinic manager and head nurse at the hospital have strong religious convictions and are conservative Christians. The nursing home's head nurse is the school board president's wife. In the past, she gave Blaise a book entitled Refuting Evolution. Among the supposed refutations is that even Galileo, a church rebel, believed in creation. Of course, he lived several hundred years before Darwin when there was no "theory" other than creationism, but that fact does not seem to trouble the author of that book. One of the other school board members who supported the anti-evolutionary policies works as an X-ray technician.

After the school board presented a guest "expert" promoting "intelligent design" and showed the full 51 minutes of the Icons of Evolution video to a public meeting, we were outraged. The board wants the Icons video shown in biology classes.

We joined with other parents and concerned citizens and demanded equal time — a presentation by scientists and/or science educators to refute the misinformation presented at the board meetings, but the board refused to let us bring a speaker to present the opposing view. In response, we formed a group called Citizens for Quality Education and rented the school auditorium for a forum on evolution. Blaise served as a panelist during the second hour of the program, discussing the medical applications and benefits of evolution.

The reception has not been positive everywhere in the community. We have been talking to whatever town leaders will listen to us. Blaise invited Leona Balek (president of the Wisconsin Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State) to speak to the Grantsburg Rotary Club, but Rotary leaders refused to let her speak because they thought the talk would be too controversial. In this small town, as in Darby, Montana (see "Shall we let our children think?" by Victoria Clark in RNCSE 2004 Mar/Apr; 24 [2]: 10–1), some longtime relationships ended abruptly, while others sprang up suddenly. We both were pleased by the reactions of many of the 100 or so people who attended the forum. Many people went out of their way to find us and other organizers of the event and thank us for the effort.

We doubt things will change in Grantsburg. As in most small towns, people like us that have lived here for 10–15 years are still considered "outsiders" by many. Those same people never stop to think that none of the "intelligent design" experts that addressed the board — and certainly no one from the Discovery Institute, which provided materials for the school board to use in its anti-evolution policy — could be considered anything other than outsiders. People in Grantsburg, and especially those in our group, have lost friends over this issue and have been accused of being atheists (despite the fact that nearly everyone in the group is an active member in one of the town's churches).

In one sense we were successful. The school board did modify the text of its policy several times, even though the intent remained unchanged. The controversy in Grantsburg also convinced several citizens who support good science education to file for seats on the school board in the spring election. We will continue the educational activism in support of evolution in the science curriculum, and this spring we will join it with political activism. We must have a voice for science education on the school board to resist the domination by the most conservative Christians in the community.

About the Author(s): 
Suzanne and Blaise Vitale
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 92709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Grantsburg Activists Budge School Board

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Grantsburg Activists Budge School Board
Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2004
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
9–11
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Grantsburg, a small northwestern Wisconsin town of about 1100 people, drew the attention of scientists and educators throughout the state when the school board passed a motion on June 28, 2004, to "direct our science department to teach all theories of origins." Parents and other citizens in the community were alarmed and questioned the school board over the summer about the meaning and intent of the motion. After a number of well-attended and contentious school board meetings, the policy was amended for the first time at the October 12, 2004, school board meeting. The revised statement read: "When theories of origin are taught, students will study various scientific models or theories of origin and identify the scientific data supporting each."

This adjustment made the intent a little clearer, and those concerned about the policy were even more alarmed. When the district's science teachers asked for clarification about the "various scientific models or theories of origin" and about curricular implementation of the policy, the school board responded in early November with a lengthy document consisting entirely of materials downloaded (without attribution) from the Discovery Institute's website, including 42 of the 44 items in the bibliography submitted to the Ohio State Board of Education in 2002 (see RNCSE 2002 Aug/Sep; 22 [4]: 12–8, 23–4; also available on-line at http://www.ncseweb.org/media/Analysis-of-the-Discovery-Institute.pdf). By this time, the local supporters of good science education had contacted NCSE for support, advice, and resources to help them to convince the school board to reverse its policy.

Expert Testimony

Concerned citizens continued to press the school board, asking for clarifications and documentation of their claims that this policy was needed to improve science education in Grantsburg. In response to growing outcry, the school board invited "expert" testimony on the need for balancing the curriculum with alternative "theories of origin". Because none of these experts was a member of the scientific or science education communities, evolution supporters continued to insist that the school board hear testimony from mainstream scientists and educators to respond to the claims made in these meetings by the "expert" witnesses. The school board turned aside all requests, citing a need to "move on" to pressing matters, and one member suggested to concerned citizens that if they wanted a forum to present the scientific side of the argument, then they ought to hold one themselves. Thus, Citizens for Quality Education (CQE) was formed; eventually the group organized, promoted, and held its own half-day forum on evolution and science education.

During October, Grantsburg's visibility rose throughout the state — and in the nearby Twin Cities' media market. Reporters interviewed a number of citizens, and stories appeared in major newspapers across the state. NCSE members also got involved, including Michael Zimmerman, who recruited 44 deans of Colleges of Letters and Sciences (the liberal arts divisions) in all 26 of the University of Wisconsin campuses to join in warning Grantsburg that this policy was bad for science education in the district and potentially detrimental to the future academic success of Grantsburg's students. Zimmerman also engaged in lengthy conversations and e-mail exchanges with Superintendent of Schools Joni Burgin and School Board President David Ahlquist, but soon found that the board was determined to push this policy through. Zimmerman continued to solicit letters from higher-education faculty throughout Wisconsin with specialties in religious studies, anthropology, life sciences, and geology. He also organized similar letters from the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers and a coalition of clergy throughout the state. In all, there were nearly 1300 individuals signing on to the letters urging Grantsburg to reconsider its policy.

Grantsburg citizens and NCSE members also sought help from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction regarding Grantsburg's obvious flouting of the directive to maintain evolution as one of the unifying themes of science curriculum in the state:
Students in Wisconsin will understand that there are unifying themes: systems, order, organization, and interactions; evidence, models, and explanations; constancy, change, and measurement; evolution, equilibrium, and energy; form and function among scientific disciplines. (Wisconsin Model Academic Standards, Science, Standard A: Science Connections. Available on-line at http://www.pi.state.wi.us/dpi/standards/scistana.html)
DPI Science Consultant Shelley Lee, a strong advocate of evolution education, provided parents in Grantsburg with documentation of the DPI's official position, but educational standards in Wisconsin are "advisory" and, except for a few items passed into law, cannot be enforced in opposition to decisions such as the one taken in Grantsburg.

The Policy Evolves

The attention did have some effect on Grantsburg, however. Even though Burgin later told the St Paul Pioneer Press (2004 Dec 17) that she and the board were unimpressed by all the protest around the state — "The amount of letters [sic] and the number of signatures does not matter. … The school board feels that they [sic] must do what is right for Grantsburg students and the Grantsburg community" — the board responded in a way. On December 6, 2004, the school board revised its policy one more time, apparently to avoid charges that the intent of the board was to allow (or require) teaching creationism in one of its forms, including "intelligent design". The new policy read:
Students are expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design.
Despite the school board's claims to the contrary, however, it was unable to provide any examples of appropriate materials that were not based either in "intelligent design" or in other creationist models. In ongoing correspondence with Burgin and the school board, Zimmerman pressed the issue of what it was the policy did call for the teachers to teach. To date, the board has provided no guidance about curricular materials and content other than the material downloaded from the Discovery Institute's website in November 2004.

In the waning months of 2004, Citizens for Quality Education organized a 4-hour program addressing the major issues in evolution education and concluding with a panel of local clergy to address concerns raised in the community about the religious implications of evolution education (see sidebar, p 12, for the program). The program was presented on January 8, 2005, and attracted about 100 people who attended all or part of the program. Among the observers were three school board members, including President Ahlquist, and the high school principal. At the end of the program, there was a feeling of accomplishment and genuine respect among participants and observers on both sides of the issue. However, the school board members did not see fit to make any changes in the policy previously implemented on December 6.

Continuing Discord

In the wake of the school board's decision to let the policy stand, two supporters of evolution decided to take political action and file their candidacies for seats on the school board in the April 2005 elections. On April 6, 2005, the Burnett County Sentinel reported unofficially that incumbents Cindy Jensen and David Ahlquist had retained their seats with 703 and 669 votes, respectively, while the challengers, Greg Palmquist and Steve McNally, received 644 and 614 votes. Although both pro-evolution candidates lost, supporters pointed out that School Board President Ahlquist retained his seat by less than a 2% margin — quite an accomplishment for political novices with a short time to plan an election campaign.

One unhappy outcome of all the controversy in this small town was a sense of division among the citizens. Suzanne and Blaise Vitale provide a first-person account of the effects of this policy on the fabric of the community reminiscent of the experience of citizens in Darby, Montana (see "Shall we let our children think?" by Victoria Clark in RNCSE 2004 Mar/Apr; 24 [2]: 10–1). However, in the end, CQE and its supporters may have underestimated their impact on the quality of education in Grantsburg. One local observer from a nearby community responded this way:
I am truly sorry that this did not turn out the way we all wanted. The [election] results were close, very close. The folks here did a great job trying to educate the public. The results indicate that a significant number of people got the idea. Don't give up. The school board voted 6–0 less than a year ago to teach creationism as science. They spent the better part of the intervening time back-pedaling from one untenable position to another.
With ongoing legal action in Dover, Pennsylvania, and flare-ups in Kansas and Gull Lake, Michigan, the Grantsburg school board may see reason to retreat even more from the original policy. NCSE continues to advise, monitor, and provide resources in Grantsburg.

[Thanks to Susan Spath, Wisconsin NCSE members, and concerned citizens of Grantsburg for information used in this report.]

About the Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
editor@ncseweb.org

Then A Miracle Occurs...

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Then A Miracle Occurs...: An Obstreperous Evening with the Insouciant Kent Hovind, Young-Earth Creationist and Defender of the Faith
Author(s): 
Michael Shermer
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2004
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
32–36
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.
—Herbert Spencer,
19th-century social scientist and Darwinist


At 7:00 pm on a balmy Southern California evening, April 29, 2004, I entered the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, to a capacity crowd of over 500 people chock-a-block jammed into a 400-seat venue. I was there at the behest of Pastor Jason, head of the OMC Youth, a campus Christian organization, who invited me to debate Kent Hovind, Young Earth Creationist and Defender of the Faith, on "Creation vs Evolution: Creation (supernatural action) or Evolution (natural processes) — which is the better explanation?"

Before the debate began. Hovind's people were there in force, handing out literature at both entrances: "PhDs who are creationists." (See the National Center for Science Education's list of "Steves" who accept evolution at http://www.ncseweb.org.) "Did Jesus say anything regarding the age of the universe?" (Yes, in Mark 10:6, Jesus said: "But from the beginning of Creation, God made them male and female." Uh?) "Biblical reasons the days in Genesis were 24 hour days." "Does carbon dating prove the earth is millions of years old?" "The Flood of Noah: Ridiculous myth or scientifically accurate?" And a 20-page booklet on "Creation vs evolution: Questions and answers." My associates Matt Cooper and David Naiditch accompanied me, staffing a small Skeptics Society book table where we countered Hovind with our magazine, books, and "How to debate a creationist" and "Baloney detection kit" publications. (Matt sensed the deck was stacked against us when they gave us a puny 3-foot table while Hovind luxuriated with a couple of 8-footers — several complaints netted us parity.)

I agreed to participate in the debate at the last minute, after the first debater could not attend. The local skeptics/freethought campus group contacted me at once, encouraging me not to participate so as not to give Hovind — and by extension all creationists — the recognition that there is a real debate between evolution and creation. This has always been the position of such prominent evolutionary biologists as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins, and they are, of course, correct — there is no debate. That issue was settled a century ago, and evolutionary theory won hands down. They are also right to note that public debate is not how the validity of scientific theories is determined. And, in any case, debate is a questionable forum to determine scientific truth because such an adversarial system more closely models the law, as Gould noted after the Arkansas creationism trial:
Debate is an art form. It is about the winning of arguments. It is not about the discovery of truth. There are certain rules and procedures to debate that really have nothing to do with establishing fact — which creationists have mastered. Some of those rules are: never say anything positive about your own position because it can be attacked, but chip away at what appear to be the weaknesses in your opponent's position. They are good at that. I don't think I could beat the creationists at debate. I can tie them. But in courtrooms they are terrible, because in courtrooms you cannot give speeches. In a courtroom you have to answer direct questions about the positive status of your belief. We destroyed them in Arkansas. On the second day of the two-week trial we had our victory party!
I had also been alerted to the fact that Hovind was under investigation by the IRS for tax fraud and evasion (http://newsobserver.com/24hour/nation/story/1295249p-8422005c.html), that he believes income tax is a tool of Satan to bring down the United States and that democracy is evil and contrary to God's law, and the he recommends people read the infamous anti-Semitic hoax, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid= 205); apparently Hovind received his doctorate from a diploma mill (http://home.austarnet.com.au/stear/bartelt_dissertation_on_ hovind_thesis.htm), and even Ken Ham's creationist organization, Answers in Genesis, disavows many of Hovind's more extreme beliefs in a fascinating web document entitled "Arguments we think creationists should not use" (http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/dont_use.asp).

I inquired of Pastor Jason if he was aware of these charges, which he acknowledged he was, saying that his organization had looked into them; nevertheless, they wanted to stage a debate that had nothing to do with Hovind's personal affairs or religious beliefs, and that was solely restricted to the scientific evidence for evolution and creation. Of course, I am aware that there is no scientific evidence in favor of creation, and that Hovind, like all creationists, can do nothing more than attack evolution in hopes that the default conclusion, obedient to the logical fallacy of the excluded middle (also known as the either/or fallacy and false dilemma fallacy), is that if evolution is wrong then creationism must be right. I entered the debate eyes wide shut to such extraneous matters. Hovind did not disappoint.

Defending Science

I wasn't going to write about this debate, but internet chatter on some freethought forums on the validity of such debates led me to pen a response to the larger issue of whether scientists have a duty to defend science when it is under attack (which, of course, we do), and what is the best strategy for marshalling such a defense. I cannot speak for all scientists, of course, but the Skeptics Society, of which I am Executive Director, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit scientific research and educational organization with a goal (among many) of promoting and defending science. As such, it is our job to stand up to anti-science attacks, of which the creationist movement is surely one. Of course, there are ways to do this without giving public recognition that there is a real debate between evolution and creation, but if such debates are to be staged anyway, unless there is a universal moratorium among scientists to eschew all such activities, I reasoned, they are going to happen, so we might as well meet them with wit and aplomb.

As a general rule that applies to most paranormal and supernatural claims, we may divide the world into three types of people: True Believers, Fence Sitters, and Skeptics. True Believers will never change their minds no matter what evidence is presented to them. Skeptics are the choir at which we usually preach. The battleground is for the Fence Sitters — those who have heard something about the claim under question, wondered what the explanation for it might be, and perhaps speculated on their own or considered what other explanations have been proffered. Lacking a good explanation, the mind defaults to whatever explanation is on the table, regardless of how improbable it may be. For people who do not understand the physics of heat conductivity between hot coals and dead skin, the improbable theories of positive thinking, endorphins, or Chi power for how people can walk on hot coals barefoot without getting burned emerge as probable. Before the science of biogeography was pioneered and developed in the 19th century by Alfred Russel Wallace, the default explanation for the distribution of species around the globe was independent creation and the Noachian flood (or, among more religiously skeptical scientists, Lamarckian evolution and land bridges between continents and islands). Once Wallace and Darwin demonstrated how natural selection changes varieties into different species when they migrate into different climes, the supernatural explanation could be abandoned in favor of a natural one.

So, one reason for participating in such questionable debates is not to convert True Believers (since their positions are, by definition, non-negotiable), but to show the Fence Sitters that there is, in fact, a sound natural explanation for the apparently supernatural phenomenon under question. On a secondary level, we can also reinforce Skeptics with additional intellectual firepower they can use in their own debates with True Believers and Fence Sitters. On a tertiary level, we can witness to both cohorts that skeptics are thoughtful, witty, and pleasant, and sans horns, rancor, and pathos. To wit, I was handed several notes after the debate from professed Christians whose feedback lead me to conclude that at the very least they were convinced that skeptics are not Satanists. Here are two:
I am a believer of Creation. However, I wanted to tell you I respected your professionalism in your execution of what you had to say. I almost want to apologize on behalf of some Creationists present tonight.

I cannot say that I agree with you, but I would like to thank you for your professional presentation, unlike your opposition.
I began my opening statement (I went first) with a question: "How many of you are believers in God?" About 95% of the audience raised their hands. I then looked at my watch and declared, "Oh, would you look at the time," as I began to exit stage left. That put the audience at ease. I then began my presentation with a slide of a crop circle with SKEPTIC.COM carved in the middle of it, noting that in skepticism and science we are in search of natural explanations for phenomena — "Is it more likely that an extraterrestrial intelligence fashioned this crop circle or that a terrestrial intelligence created it with Photoshop?" Skepticism and science are verbs, not nouns, I averred. These are activities to understand how the world works, not formalized positions one must defend regardless of evidence to the contrary. I then showed a slide of a cover of the tabloid World Weekly News featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and an alien, with the headline Alien Backs Arnold for Governor. "Before we say something is out of this world, we must first make sure it is not in this world," I noted, adding parenthetically that this is the first alien I have ever seen with a buffed build, presumably from an Arnold workout! More mirth.

Then I got serious, explaining that there is no such thing as the creationist position to debate. There are, in fact, at least ten different creationisms, as outlined in Eugenie Scott's brilliant heuristic (http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/9213_the_creationevolution_continu_12_7_2000.asp). These include: Flat Earthism, Geocentrism, Young-Earth Creationism, Old-Earth Creationism, Gap Creationism (in reference to a large temporal gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, allowing an old earth), Day–Age Creationism ("day" may mean a geological epoch, allowing an old earth), Progressive Creationism (blending Special Creation with modern science), Intelligent Design Creationism (design in the world is proof of an intelligent designer), Evolutionary Creationism (God uses evolution to bring about life), and Theistic Evolution (nature creates bodies; God creates souls). I noted that Hovind would have to defend his creationism not just against evolution, but against all the other creationisms.

Then I showed how many Christians fully embrace the theory of evolution — I estimate 96 million American Christians, based on a 2001 Gallup Poll in which 37 percent of Americans (107 million people) agree with this statement: "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process." Since roughly 90 percent of Americans are Christians, this means about 96 million American Christians accept common genealogy, descent with modification, and an old earth. In addition, one billion Catholics worldwide embrace evolution, as endorsed by Pope John Paul II in his 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:
New knowledge has led to the recognition that the theory of evolution is more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.
I concluded this portion of my opening statement by noting that even Evangelical Born-Again Christians accept evolution, quoting President Jimmy Carter, in his response to an attempt by a Georgia's school superintendent to ban the word "evolution" from state science standards:
As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students. The existing and long-standing use of the word 'evolution' in our state's textbooks has not adversely affected Georgians' belief in the omnipotence of God as creator of the universe. There can be no incompatibility between Christian faith and proven facts concerning geology, biology, and astronomy. There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat earth in order to defend our religious faith.
I then moved to the most important slide of my presentation: the famous Sidney Harris cartoon of two scientists at a blackboard filled with equations, with the words "then a miracle occurs" in the mathematical sequence. The caption has one scientist saying to the other: "I think you need to be more explicit here in step two." Throughout the evening I drove home the point that creationists are doing nothing more than squawking at every mystery: "Then a miracle occurs!" This is the "god of the gaps" argument — wherever an apparent gap exists in scientific knowledge, this is where God interjects a miracle.

I also noted quite emphatically that neither Hovind nor any other creationist would ever present positive evidence supporting the creationist position, because none exists. They can always and only attack the theory of evolution and hope that no one notices that they have said nothing that would lead to a creationist conclusion. They offer no mechanism for creationism, other than "God did it."

The remainder of my 25-minute opening statement was dedicated to showing how the various lines of evidence converge to the conclusion that evolution happened. Here I did not pretend to be able to cover the vast numbers of natural facts that support evolution; instead, I focused on the concept of consilience — the "jumping together" of facts not related to one another. For example, paleoanthropologists have presented us a fossil record of human evolution quite in accord with that developed independently by geneticists. As I noted, it is not as if these scientists all meet on the weekends in some grand conspiracy: "Okay, look, there are these creationists like Hovind out there, so we've got to get our story straight. Let's agree that we'll tell everyone that humans and chimpanzees diverged from a common ancestor between 6 and 7 million years ago, okay?"

Interestingly, this approximates what many creationists think actually happens in science, and Hovind's is the weirdest conspiracy theory I have ever encountered along these lines. In a 1996 article, "Unmasking the false religion of evolution," he wrote:
There is definitely a conspiracy, but I don't think that it is a human conspiracy. I don't believe there is a smoke filled room where a group of men get together and decide to teach evolution in all the schools. I believe that it is at a much higher level. I believe that it is a Satanic conspiracy. The reason these different people come to the same conclusion is not because they all met together; it is because they all work for the devil. He is their leader and they don't even know it.
(Another note given to me by someone who called himself "an Evangelist Christian — Born again," reiterated this fear: "I just want to tell you that we fight against a spiritual world and Satan will do anything to blind your eyes from the truth. I just ask you to consider this as a possibility! I will be praying for you!")

Then the "Debate" Ended

The moment Hovind spoke the debate was over. "I am here to win you over to Christ," he began. "And I'm here to win Michael Shermer over to Christ." Hovind was not there to debate evolution-vs-creation, or natural-vs-supernatural explanations. He was there to witness for the Lord (what we used to call "Amway with Bibles" when I was an Evangelical Christian at Pepperdine University). Everything he said from there on was superfluous: Variations do not lead to new species (dogs come only from dogs). Design implies a designer. There is an afterlife. The Bible is literally true in everything it says. Humans used to live 900 years. There is no right and wrong without God. Noah's Flood explains geological formations and species distribution. Dinosaurs and humans lived simultaneously. Dinosaurs died in the flood. Dinosaurs on the Ark were very young and small. Radiometric dating is unreliable. Jesus said the universe is young. The Bible explains dinosaurs ("behemoth"; "leviathan"). The theory of evolution is a religion that leads to communism, abortion, and atheism. Evolutionists are liars. Scientists are arrogant. Creationists are not allowed to publish in scientific journals. Creationism is censored from public schools. Microevolution may be true, but macroevolution, organic evolution, stellar evolution, chemical evolution, and cosmic evolution are all lies perpetrated by the lying liars who worship at the faux religion of evolution. And, just in case there was anyone present who had not heard, Hovind concluded: "Jesus died for our sins."

Hovind also gave several commercial plugs for his Dinosaur Adventure Land theme park that teaches children biblical-based science. Build a miniature Grand Canyon out of sand to see how quickly it can be done. Participate in Jumpasaurus, a trampoline game where the players toss a ball through a hoop and learn how they can do two things at once for Jesus. And thrill with the Nerve-Wracking Ball, where a bowling ball hangs from a tree limb and the children release it to swing out and back just short of hitting them — they win the game if they don't flinch, thereby demonstrating their faith in God's laws.

I began my ten-minute rebuttal by noting that Hovind is the only guy I know who can deliver a two-hour lecture in 25 minutes (he is the fastest talker I have ever met, with a voice like Ross Perot and a finish to each sentence that seems to say "so there!"). I again emphasized that Hovind had said nothing in support of the creationist position, that he only attacked the theory of evolution in hopes that the audience would then accept creationism by default, and with regard to his divine explanations for the origin of species, I reiterated, "I think you need to be more explicit here in step two." I explained that creationists do not publish in scientific journals because they do not do science; and that creationism is not taught in public school science courses because there is nothing to teach — "God did it" makes for a rather short semester.

Because Hovind had said he was pro-science, I emphasized that if young-earth creationists like him are right, then all of science goes out the window, not just evolutionary biology. If the earth is only 6000 years old, then most of cosmology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, geology, paleontology, archaeology, genetics, and so on are wrong.

I noted that the "fakes and mistakes" of science, trotted out by Hovind and other creationists, were all discovered, publicly revealed, and corrected by scientists, not creationists, and that the self-correcting machinery of science is what makes it so successful. I punctuated this point by noting the parallels between evolution deniers and Holocaust deniers, the latter of whom accuse Holocaust historians and survivors of lies and deceit in the same manner as the creationists accuse scientists, and that the strategy is no more effective and no less malevolent when employed by creationists.

Finally, I suggested a number of tests of evolutionary theory: if Hovind could produce just one example of a trilobite embedded in a fossil bed containing hominids, I would concede that the theory of evolution is in trouble. No such disconfirmatory evidence exists, and creationists know it, which is why they always dodge this challenge.

During my rebuttal Hovind was furiously scanning through his hundreds of PowerPoint® slides, preparing something for every point I made, most of them irrelevant and orchestrated to elicit derision and laughter. Even during the Q&A, Hovind was so facile at this process that by the time the moderator finished reading the question, he had a slide prepared!

The Immediate Aftermath

After the debate I was surrounded by a mob of Bible-toting students, most of whom were exceptionally polite, friendly, and desirous to know "Why did you give up your faith?" The question is genuinely asked out of curiosity, but there is often a substrate inquiry implied in the voice and revealed in the eyes: "This couldn't happen to me, could it?" When I answer in the affirmative that, indeed, it could happen to anyone who is intellectually honest in their search for answers to life's most ponderous questions, I am sometimes accused of a false faith ab initio: "You were never really a Christian." How convenient, and cognitively bullet-proof. But tell that to my annoyed siblings and non-Christian friends, who tolerated my nonstop evangelizing for seven years. The sentiments were quite real.

Who won the debate? Intellectually, I did, with Hovind once again conceding defeat on the last question of the evening: "What is the best evidence for the creation?" He answered: "The impossibility of the contrary" (evolution). In that simple statement, Hovind confessed the scientific "sin" of all creationists: Disproving evolution does not prove creationism. "And then a miracle happens" is not science. To Hovind and all creationists I say: I think you need to be more explicit here in step two.

Anyone who was there and assessed the outcome from audience enthusiasm for either Hovind or me, however, would have perceived a different result: one that was, on one level, foreordained. With 95% of people in attendance for the sole purpose of rooting their team to victory, I stood about as much chance of winning them over as the Los Angeles Lakers would in convincing the fans of their bitter rivals, the Sacramento Kings, that they are the better basketball team, regardless of the score. The home-court advantage is a potent force in intellectual venues no less than in athletic ones.

The problem is that this is not an intellectual exercise, it is an emotional drama. For scientists, the dramatis personae are evolutionists vs creationists, the former of whom have an impregnable fortress of evidence that converges on an unmistakable conclusion; for creationists, however, the evidence is irrelevant. This is a spiritual war, whose combatants are theists vs atheists, spiritualists vs secularists, Christians vs Satanists, godfearing capitalists vs godless communists, good vs evil. With stakes this high, and an audience so stacked, what chance does any scientist have in such a venue? Thus, I now believe it is a mistake for scientists to participate in such debates and I will not do another. Unless there is a subject that is truly debatable (evolution vs creation is not), with a format that is fair, in a forum that is balanced, it only serves to belittle both the magisterium of science and the magisterium of religion.

About the Author(s): 
Michael Shermer
Skeptics Society
2761 N Marengo Ave
Altadena CA 91001

Winning the Creation Debate

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Winning the Creation Debate
Author(s): 
Frank J Sonleitner
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2004
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
36–38
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
On May 18, 2000, Duane Gish from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) offered a workshop on "How to win debates against evolutionists" at a motel in Atlanta. Apparently creationists considered it a success, because now ICR is offering a set of six videotapes entitled Winning the Creation Debate. The first two tapes instruct viewers in "Preparing for your debate" and "Choosing your subject matter". In the remaining four, Gish discusses his favorite debate subjects: "The fossil record", "Thermodynamics", "Origin of life", and "Evolutionists' tactics & closing remarks".

These tapes are also very instructive for anyone who is even considering getting involved in a "debate" with a creationist. They reveal a tried-and-true strategy used by one of the most successful anti-evolution debaters in the last few decades. And if anyone is not convinced by the other articles in this issue that debating an anti-evolutionist is a difficult and non-productive endeavor, Gish's advice might also be useful to those preparing to debate against creationists.

Preparing for Your Debate

Gish points out that debates have proven to be the most effective tool for spreading creationism among the public. They are much more exciting to the public than lectures. Gish has not only an innate talent for debating but also more than 30 years experience, so in this first video he gives his prospective debaters very sound and practical advice:
  • Know your subject (read ICR books on the various topics); have an adequate set of notes (especially helpful in the rebuttal);
  • Use good professional visual aids (PowerPoint® presentation software is recommended, but be sure to have backup slides or overheads for emergencies);
  • Rehearse your presentation for timing purposes (Gish recommends a debate format of 60 minutes for initial presentation with a 10 minute break, a 15 minute rebuttal and a 5 minute summary);
  • Know something of your opponent's background;
  • Use quotations from evolutionists to show that scientists challenge evolution;
  • Entertain the audience with jokes; and finally,
  • Pray!
Gish's record of success in creation/evolution debates suggest that this is good advice, but also shows the formula that creationist debaters will likely follow.

Choosing Your Subject Matter

Gish advises creationist debaters that certain subjects are more successful than others in a debate format. His advice includes:
  • Don't try to cover too many topics — stick to a few powerful examples and arguments;
  • Choose carefully, avoiding arguments that are too technical (the age of the earth) or not focused on the scientific evidence (the biblical record); and
  • Start with your own clear definitions (for example, creationists often define "science" in a way that invalidates evolution: "Science can only deal with properties, processes and events that are repeatable. Neither creation nor evolution are scientific; they are both equally religious." And so on).
In the remaining videos, Gish demonstrates these principles. He especially illustrates how to control the debate by framing the questions and choosing the subject matter. Throughout the series, he produces a seemingly unlimited series of outrageously false statements based on out-of-date information, inappropriate quotes, and incredibly outlandish evolutionary scenarios of his own invention. These establish a rhetorical advantage that has nothing to do with the scientific issues, but everything to do with winning debates.

The Fossil Record

Gish claims that the fossil record totally refutes evolution. Billions of fossils document the appearance of vertebrates in the Cambrian Period, but he says that there are absolutely no fossils of their ancestors in the Precambrian; nor, he claims, are there any fossils of the ancestors of fishes. He further claims that the fossil evidence for human evolution represents either apes or humans without any intermediate forms (for example, Neanderthals were modern humans suffering from rickets) or else fakes and hoaxes such as Piltdown or Nebraska Man.

Of course, Precambrian rocks have a rich fossil record of sponges, cnidarians, annelids, and mollusks. Recent research has also reported fossils of a microscopic bilaterian that could represent the ancestor of all bilaterians — including the vertebrates that creationists argue appeared suddenly in the Cambrian without any fossil ancestors. Other forms ancestral to vertebrates have been found in the Burgess shale and more recently in the Early Cambrian Chengjiang formation of China.

What is lacking in the Precambrian is anything like a "modern" vertebrate, so creationist debaters can depend on the ignorance of a general audience to be impressed by the apparent absence of forms that appear similar to fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. This is a simple objection that forces the evolutionist into a complicated and technical rebuttal — a sure formula for success.

Even though the taxonomic status of the Neanderthals is in dispute, there is a general consensus that they are not modern humans with skeletal disorders. Again, the rebuttal of this claim — and of the erroneous claims that Piltdown and Nebraska Man have any place in modern human phylogeny — saddles the evolutionist debater with a complex and highly technical set of historical, biogeographical, anatomical, genetic, and political data that are difficult to present clearly in a debate format.

Both these examples from the fossil record show that winning debates is about setting up a rhetorical contest in a way that puts one's adversaries at a disadvantage. Gish is a master at making complex issues in evolutionary biology seem simple and then using humor, incredulity, and ridicule to engage the sympathy of the audience. Even if his opponent successfully refutes one or two of his claims, time always runs out before they can all be refuted.

Thermodynamics

Gish claims that the Second Law of Thermodynamics prevents the natural emergence of order in the universe and of life within it — as well as the evolution of organisms — because that law requires that everything, without exception, goes from order to disorder, increasing randomness in the universe. Matter has no properties or tendencies to go to complexity. He quotes a number of evolutionists who support his definition of the law. But none of them, of course, are specialists in thermodynamics.

There are many problems with Gish's oversimplified, common-sense paraphrasing of the Second Law (see "Challenging creationist debaters", p 39). However, his discussion illustrates the power of being able to define terms one's own way — in this case, an oversimplified definition that makes the appearance and maintenance of order in the universe (and in biological systems) seem impossible without some sort of extranatural input. It does not matter that there is no relationship between Gish's notion of the Second Law and the way that it is used by scientists who specialize in studying thermodynamics. It is enough to make the problem sound insurmountable and to leave the evolutionists to clean up the mess — which will surely eat up most of the debate time and prevent his opponent from making an affirmative case for evolution.

The Origin of Life

To refute the possibility of a natural origin for life, Gish claims that the only way evolution could produce complexity is by pure chance. He then calculates the probability of producing only one of the necessary enzymes. Taking ribonuclease as an example, the probability of the random assembly of the 124 amino acids by pure chance from a giant solution of amino acids is, of course, vanishingly small. Obviously, this approach bears no relationship to the models of the first emergence of life on earth, but the point is to convince the audience that scientists "have faith" in silly things that are so improbable using the laws of nature (as described by Gish) that they amount to little more than "faith" in material causes.

Gish then tries to show that other complex systems could not evolve in order to provide evidence for their design. His favorite example is the metamorphosis of the monarch butterfly. In his Lamarckian scenario, a caterpillar, longing to be able to fly, wraps itself in a chrysalis stage and emerges as an adult butterfly! Since he agrees with biologists that this could never happen, he concludes that metamorphosis could not have evolved and the butterfly life cycle must have been designed. Gish gives the same treatment to homology, Haeckel's embryos, and vestigial organs.

In all these examples, Gish demonstrates the effective use of straw-man arguments: setting up a patently ridiculous or impossible scenario, implying that this scenario fairly represents the position of the scientific community, then agreeing with scientists that the scenario is ludicrous and unacceptable. To the scientifically illiterate audiences, he appears to be refuting evolution, but in fact, he is only destroying his own unscientific misrepresentation of scientific knowledge. It is up to his opponent to try to clean up the mess: explain complex models of probability and the emergence of life or evo-devo models of the evolution of complex life histories, including metamorphosis.

Evolutionists' Tactics and Closing Remarks

In this final video Gish advises his audience how to respond to various evolutionist arguments. He warns that debate opponents may attack the Bible as a source of historical and scientific data. Of course, the audiences will "know" that the Bible is inerrant — which is one of the ICR's central tenets, of course. Opponents may also accuse creationists of quoting out of context. Creationist debaters should have other quotes available, since the opponent cannot possibly know the context of them all. It does not matter whether the person being quoted has any relevant scientific credentials or research record as long as the quote appears to question evolution.

Expect personal attacks on creationists. For example, the evolutionist opponent will become desperate at losing the debate and accuse the creationist of distorting, misquoting, misrepresenting, and confusing the scientific facts. Do not hesitate to "rise above" this "uncollegial" behavior. Evolutionists may insist on positive evidence for the creator, but creationists in the audience need none; they will know and accept that evidence against evolution is sufficient evidence for creation.

Evolutionists will claim various specimens represent transitional forms, but there really are none — at least as creationists define them as one organism "turning into" another. Everyone can see that a horse is a horse, even when it is quite small and primitive, like Eohippus. Evolutionists will try to argue that the laws of thermodynamics apply only to isolated systems not an open system with lots of new energy being added all the time like the earth. Remind them that energy alone does not produce complexity. Even though this is not the argument that you made originally, it sounds like an insurmountable objection to producing complexity by natural processes.

Evolutionists will raise arguments in favor of a very old earth and universe. Your audience will reject this argument as irrelevant because of biblical authority. They may also raise the argument of poor design and vestigial structures; however, you can point out that this is a theological argument (the nature of the designer), not a scientific one. The examples of poor design show God's punishment for the sins of Adam and Eve.

Facing a Creationist Opponent

To be sure, Gish is one of the most accomplished and successful debaters in the creation/evolution controversy. His mastery of the debate format, his ability to present a folksy, common-sense (though usually erroneous) summary of scientific concepts, and his ability to reach and persuade an audience (especially when that audience is packed with creationists) present a formidable combination attested to by his long record of defeating his debate opponents, and these tapes show why.

But more than that, these tapes show that the debate format is not about presenting and evaluating scientific evidence for (or even against) evolution, but rather to present evolution in the most unfavorable light possible without making any affirmative claims for creationism. He expects — and his audiences accept — that creationism wins by default.

This is why trying to have a scientific debate with a creationist — or more recently with "intelligent design" proponents — is a fool's errand. However, those that insist on embarking on this journey could learn a lot from this set of tapes — both about the opposition they will face and about rhetorical tactics that win the hearts of the general public. Of course, scientists are constrained by a respect for the evidence and complete, accurate descriptions of scientific laws, theories, research, and interpretation. Our opponents face no such strictures.

About the Author(s): 
Frank J Sonleitner
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org