Letters to the Editor

Creation Evolution Journal
Title: 
Letters to the Editor
Volume: 
6
Number: 
2
Quarter: 
Summer
Page(s): 
47–56
Year: 
1986

Professor Barbara Hargrove raises valuable points in her article in Creation/Evolution XVII, not the least of which is the fact that doctrinaire "scientific creationists" represent a minority, theologically as well as scientifically. However, she may underestimate the political potency of a minority movement, and I believe she mistakenly omits mention of related analyses—most prominently the work of sociologist Dorothy Nelson (which in many ways agrees with Hargrove's thesis), anthropologist Alice Kehoe, and others. Hargrove's emphasis upon an ideological explanation of the causes of cultural change may be correct, but she should have noted more materialistic viewpoints such as sociologist Ron Roberts' 1978 Social Problems: Human Possibilities, anthropologist Marvin Harris' 1968 Rise of Anthropological Theory, and others. Why do people choose particular ideas from the menu?

I also question the extent to which she and many others assume that members of particular churches or movements share the same ideas and motives, notwithstanding public position papers. My own research suggests that many people who identify themselves as "creationists" or supporters of the Moral Majority do not share the ideology or behavior their labels imply.

If social movements have material, real-world causes, as Hargrove, in fact, hints, analyses of these causes, not just their symptoms, would seem to be in order. Ideology affects behavior, sometimes overwhelmingly. But I would ask in any case: what material factors are relevant? Are there material-world explanations of or contributions to analyses of behavior and belief systems? Is "belief" explainable as simply "mentalistic," as the author suggests?

John R. Cole

On page thirty-four of Creation/ Evolution XVII, Dr. Barbara Hargrove says: "Even as we come to understand . . . that much of the way we comprehend our religion comes out of our experience in society, so we have come to understand that our science is also conditioned by culture."

- page 48 -

I believe Hargrove has greatly overstated the case. It is true that science, practiced by humans as it is, is to some extent affected by cultural influences. But to what extent? In what ways? Caused by what kinds of influence? One cannot wave one's hands over all of science and declare that science is culturally conditioned. One must deal with the details of any specific case. There are only certain aspects of science that are conditioned by culture, and the main tool of science, the test, is not one of them.

The supreme arbiter in science is the test. (In fact, if it can't be tested, it's not science.) Cultural influences can be taken into consideration when we are looking at the sources of inspiration for ideas. Social views can also influence the kinds of tests chosen for ideas to undergo. However, only the results of tests are the measure of an idea. Moreover, those who perform tests describe what was done so that interested (and qualified and funded) individuals can repeat the test and verify (or discredit) the results. What makes science so different from other kinds of human endeavor is that, collectively, conscious effort is maintained to try to eradicate extraneous influences (such as cultural bias) on the acceptance or rejection of an idea.

Another criticism I have with a statement in Hargrove's article concerns a confusion I have seen in many other articles of a similar nature. There are scientists who are dogmatic. And theologians are dogmatic. But care must be taken to distinguish between these two different kinds of dogmatism.

The certainty of a scientist concerning a particular idea may grow to such a high degree that he or she is willing to say that this is the way things are. We may dispute that the available evidence conveys such a high degree of certainty, but we can at least discuss the evidence upon which the idea is based. We can look at the results of the crucial observations that have been made and marvel at the lack of disconfirming evidence. We might still feel that not enough information is in for a person to be so certain about the accuracy of the idea. It's a judgment call, but at least we have something to judge. We can understand what a particular scientist's certainty is based upon.

The same cannot be said for the certainty of the theologian. The theologian's certainty is built on faith, and thus no rational determination can be made of the evidence underlying the idea in question.

A scientist's dogmatism and a theologian's dogmatism are two very different things.

I also have a criticism concerning Hubert Yockey's statements on page forty-five: "No . . . child should be told . . . that God plays dice with the world and that he or she is only a chance configuration of atoms. If all life is only material, then the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung are of no consequence. If humans are only matter, it is no worse to burn a ton of humans than to burn a ton of coal."

- page 49 -

Is it reasonable to reject an idea on the basis of disliking its consequences? No way! Our desires do not a valid test make.

But, in this case, P does not imply Q. Yockey (not unlike the creationists he criticizes) tries to play upon our hearts with this "of no consequence" idea. What does he mean by consequence? Of consequence to whom or what?

Whether or not life is only material is immaterial. Even if a human is only "matter in motion," the consequences of her or his actions remain the same. This is because an action is of consequence in direct correlation with the way in which it affects other humans, nothing more and nothing less.

Steve Heiden

In issue XVII of Creation/Evolution, the authors of two separate articles, both apparently attempting to promote a "moderate" position, characterize those of us who would try to understand evolution as a completely natural material process as divisive and old fashioned.

One author, religious sociologist Barbara Hargrove, says that the more "sophisticated" religious person, as well as scientists "who take seriously the prevalence of the principle of indeterminacy," are now able to "view evolution as a description of the activity of a creator God and to claim this to be an expansion of our understanding of divine greatness. . . ." The other author, information theorist Hubert Yockey, believes that he has shown statistically that the origin of living complexity cannot be ascribed to either "random" or "selforganizing" forces.

Professor Hargrove's case for the acceptance of the "guided evolution" theory is not completely argued in her article but appears to be based in some way on quantum physics. I must protest that I know of no way that quantum indeterminacy may be used as a justification for abandoning the materialist hypothesis. Arguments have been made to this effect, but these most frequently involve a confusion of modern natural materialism with "naive" Newtonian realism.

Professor Yockey's arguments are directed against particular evolutionary scenarios and require specific postulates which may or may not be valid. In any case, his arguments against self-organization, here and in other articles, do not address the question of organization driven by entropic forces in far-from-equilibrium systems. While his arguments are of some value in narrowing the range of acceptable evolutionary scenarios, they do nothing to threaten the basic materialist hypothesis which must be the starting point of any scientific investigation.

While some fruitful exchange of views might be possible concerning these substantive points, both authors go on to make moral arguments for the abandonment of materialism which are, or could be construed to be, grossly insulting to those of us who hold materialistic beliefs.

- page 50 -

Hargrove fears that a response to creationists "that insists on a totally secular definition of the nature of the universe and of human life, that demands a definition of human freedom indistinguishable from irresponsible, socially destructive behavior, may push the great majority of moderate Christians and others in the direction of the creationists who are now considered extremist zealots." Yockey holds that public school children should not be "told that God plays dice with the world and that he or she is only a chance configuration of atoms. If all life is only material, then the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung are of no consequence. If humans are only matter, it is no worse to burn a ton of humans than to burn a ton of coal."

The implication in the statements of both authors is that secularism and materialism can provide no source of responsible ethics and must be rejected on moral grounds. Such a charge is patently false and has no place in a scientific or any other civilized form of dispute. The dogmatic claim that only supernatural forces can civilize humanity and that human thought cannot be the source of ethics and morality is a superstition which has served to blind humanity to the fact that we must be responsible not only to but for our morals and ethics. . . .

The burning of a ton of humans or a ton of coal may indeed make little difference to the universe exclusive of humanity. The moral content of such an event will strongly depend upon whether the observing moralist identifies more with the humans or with the coal. Only when we honestly recognize the human intellect as the source of all the moral (and immoral) judgments and pronouncements that we know of will we begin to recognize the unique value of humanity. Only then can we perhaps learn to accept responsibility for all of our actions.

Norman F. Hall

In response to Paul Joslin's critique (Creation/Evolution XVI) of my article proposing a scientific basis of a creationist view of origins, it should be noted that the article implies none of the five false inferences he draws. They are all "straw men," and I am sure his class could have fun knocking them down. The argument behind the Mount Rushmore analogy is simply this:

  1. Observation shows that there is a constant conjunction between an intelligent cause and specified complexity.
  2. A valid scientific analysis is based upon constant conjunction (Hume).
  3. The faces on Mount Rushmore (and a DNA) both manifest specified complexity.
  4. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that there was a primary, intelligent cause for the first DNA.

- page 51 -

All that evolutionists need to ground a plausible argument for a secondary naturalistic explanation of the origin of life is to show a constant conjunction between purely natural (nonintelligent) secondary causes and specified complexity such as is found in a DNA. Thus, the real debate is between those who believe the evidence points to a primary (intelligent) cause of origins (for example, creationists) and those who believe in a secondary (natural) cause of origins. It is neither here nor there whether some creator (primary cause) set up these secondary causes (as in theistic evolution). The question is whether secondary causes alone, without the direct intervention of a creative intelligence, can regularly (constant conjunction) produce specified complexity such as is found in Mount Rushmore or in a DNA.

In response to Paul Ricci (also issue XVI), I would note several things. First, he actually agreed with our main premise about constant conjunction when he wrote: "That Mount Rushmore was designed is clear from our past experience [of constant conjunction] with sculpted material [by an intelligent sculptor]."

Second, he fails to see that this same Humean principle of constant conjunction argues for an intelligent cause of the specified complexity in DNA. In this connection, Ricci wrongly assumes that we argue that an intelligent cause can be inferred from all information systems. We only suggest that specified complexity (of information) has an intelligent cause. Thus, he fails to recognize the difference between the simple redundant information in a crystal or a snowflake (where the same simple message is repeated over and over) and the specified complexity in a DNA.

As Leslie Orgel put it, "Living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals . . . fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; random mixtures of polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity" (Origin of Life, 1973, p. 189). But constant conjunction indicates that intelligence is the regular cause of specified complexity. Therefore, since a scientific analysis is based upon constant conjunction, there is a scientific basis for positing an intelligent cause of the first DNA.

In order to give similar scientific plausibility to the argument for a purely natural (secondary) cause of the origin of DNA, all that is necessary is to show constant conjunction between purely natural (nonintelligent) secondary cause and complex information, such as is found on Mount Rushmore or in a DNA.

Further, to refer to the creationist's argument as "anthropocentric" or a "linguistic necessity" is like arguing that Mount Rushmore did not have an intelligent cause because it would be anthropomorphic to assume such a cause, and it is only the necessities of language which lead us to say that this sculpture must have had a sculptor. But this is obviously not a valid response in either case.

Raising the question of whether this intelligent cause is material or nonmaterial is actually immaterial to the argument we gave. However intelligence is defined, it is reasonable to posit it as the cause of specified complexity.

- page 52 -

Further, the intelligent cause of first life does not have to be identical to human intelligence any more than a message from an extraterrestrial on the SETI radio telescope proves an intelligent being identical to humans exists in outer space. The principle of uniformity (analogy) only calls for a like cause for like events in the past. For in the strict sense, no two events are identical. Hence, no two causes need be identical, only similar.

As to whether the cause of origins is natural or supernatural, a tip might be gained from the Big Bang theory which gives evidence that the whole material universe came into existence some billions of years ago.

As agnostic Robert Jastrow put it (Christianity Today, August 6, 1982):

Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. . . . [p.15]

. . . that there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact. [p.18]

For if the whole material (natural) universe came into existence, then it is not unreasonable to posit a supernatural cause for it. Indeed, since such a cause is beyond the natural (that is, material) world, it would by definition be a supernatural cause. So in view of Big Bang or Information Theory applied to DNA (a la Yockey), it is scientifically plausible to speak of a nonmaterial, intelligent cause of the universe and of first life. This would mean that the scientific evidence (based in constant conjunction) points to a nonmaterial, nonnatural, intelligent cause of the whole physical universe and first life. This, I suggest, is a scientific basis for a creationist perspective. Since such a primary (intelligent) cause view is logically possible, has historic precedent among early scientists, is held by many scientists today, and is based in the scientific principle of uniformity (constant conjunction), it is difficult to justify its exclusion from scientific speculation about origins.

Norman L. Geisler

The recent battle in Creation/Evolution about the theological argument from design has missed a few major and important points.

To begin with, the creationist argument from design is related to the classical argument in name only. If a rational design is to be seen anywhere, it must be in the fundamental framework of physical laws rather than in the complex interactions of physical systems. One is much more likely to see design in say, the rules of chess rather than in the complex interactions that go on during an actual game.

- page 53 -

Thus, a modern theologian pursuing the design argument according to the classical tradition should appeal to the symmetry relations among fundamental particles, the mathematical elegance of physical laws, and so on. For example, the fact that the exponent in the formula for gravitational and electrical attraction is - 2 rather than something else permits an astounding degree of mathematical simplification that would not otherwise be possible.

I personally consider arguments of this sort to be the most compelling objective argument for the existence of rational design in nature, even if the argument is in some disfavor among the theologians. Given some of the things I have seen theologians endorse recently, I do not consider the lack of theological esteem for the argument from design to be a very cogent argument against it. Something very like the argument from design, though without the external designer, is embodied in the strong anthropic principle in cosmology.

We see few creationists dealing with the fundamental symmetries of nature. Instead, their argument from design rests primarily on the complexities of biological systems. The reason is clear: finding design at this level appears to support belief in the creation of life ex nihilo, whereas symmetry relations among fundamental particles do not. In fact, if we get too embroiled in the beauties of physical laws, we might even find that they are capable of accounting for the origin of life. Horrors!

But to make their version of the argument from design work, creationists have to be very selective in their use of data-ignoring, denying, or rationalizing biological structures that fail to fit their concept of design. There are, for example, structures that seem to be ad hoc modifications of whatever pre-existing feature was handy, such as Stephen Jay Gould's celebrated Panda's thumb. There are vestigial organs which creationists usually rationalize by finding some marginal function for them. And there are gross deviations from rational design, like birth defects, which creationists usually ascribe to the aftereffects of The Fall. Finally, there are behavioral traits that simply fail to square with the creationist image of the world. We might find apparent parallels between traditional Christian sexual ethics and the mating of monogamous higher vertebrates, but what about such oddities as hermaphroditic fish whose partners alternate the roles of male and female in a single mating?

I find delightful irony in the attempt by Norman L. Geisler to use Mount Rushmore as an analogy for his concept of design. This past summer, my family and I stayed briefly at the Rushmore-Borglum campground. This campground-museum complex is run by a born-again Christian who offers Sunday services for the campers. At the service I witnessed, a local stonecutter who had worked on the monument gave his testimony, followed by a sermon from a minister who fired some passing shots at evolution.

- page 54 -

Here I had always thought that Gutzon Borglum created the faces on Mount Rushmore. Now I hear this stonecutter claiming that he played a role! If I follow the creationist logic, either the stonecutter is lying, probably because he has some venal reason for not wanting to believe in Borglum's existence, or he's telling the truth, in which case Borglum never existed. The parallels with the false dichotomy imposed by creationism are clear; Mount Rushmore was created by Borglum, who oversaw its execution, but the actual labor was done by people like our stonecutter. Similarly, there is no inherent conflict between a rationally designed universe and evolution, the latter being the actual execution of the design. Certainly design does not imply supernatural creation. Even apparent flaws do not necessarily contradict rational design. Few tourists are aware that Jefferson was originally to have been on Washington's left, but the abortive face was blasted away when the rock proved unsound. I doubt that even the most ardent creationist would deny the event (it was filmed) on the grounds that [it] proved that Borglum did not exist!

Geisler repeatedly poses the rhetorical question whether some piece of evidence for natural phenomena in the vicinity of Mount Rushmore in any way argues against the need for an intelligent designer behind the faces on the mountain. A more pertinent question is whether any of Geisler's evidence for a designer argues in any way against the designer relying entirely on the laws of nature to get the job done.

Steven Dutch

The word design is altogether used improperly by many scientists and pro-evolution arguers and this falls into the hands of creationists, and Dave Matson's letter in issue XVII is no exception.

The proper term, when referring to internal relationships of "parts" of something, is structure. Design refers to a plan or intention for something and that plan or intention is never in the thing under discussion but in the person who has made the artifact.

The creationists are insisting that the universe and its contents are artifacts. According to their "model," the intention and design are in the mind of "the Creator," and the only way that humans can know of that design or intention is through revelation in which "the Creator" lets certain people in on it.

And we know how unreliable that is!

Kenneth H. Bonnell

- page 55 -

Being a former creationist, I would like to express my appreciation that Creation/Evolution exists. As I went through high school, the evidence for evolution was never presented. And since I was raised in a fundamentalist atmosphere, it was easy to be convinced by creationist oversimplifications and misrepresentations while in junior high. Even so, as time passed and I began to think more and more in terms of empirical data, it became quite evident to me that most persons in this country without scientific training just don't know what science is all about. (And apparently neither do some of the leading creationists, though they do have such training.) Yet, the creationists claim to have real evidence for creation-science, so I believed them, in spite of their erroneous views of what science is.

But then, the Arkansas legislature, while I was in college obtaining a B.S. in chemistry, passed its (in)famous bill. At that provocation, I began some reading on the subject and became convinced that, on the evidence, evolution is true and creation-science is false.

I have been generally pleased with the first fourteen issues of Creation/Evolution, especially with the contributions of the professional scientists and those of Mr. Edwords. On the other hand, Dr. Price and Mr. Schadewald have both shown some tendency to be disparaging toward religious belief, and I ask them, are these ad hominem tactics necessary to the point? Their articles otherwise are most interesting and informative.

I am writing mainly to comment on Dr. Pine's article in issue XIV. On page eleven, when discussing explanations of phenomena, he writes: "The supernatural one may be right but there's no way to get there from here." This means that, though the "supernatural" explanation may be true, we can never know its truth-value. This relegates such an explanation to the level of mere opinion. It also becomes worthless, after the fashion of Omphalos. It is an unfortunate tendency of our time that many persons feel that religion is merely a matter of taste and opinion rather than a matter of fact. I have seen this opinion and its consequences expressed in Creation/Evolution several times.

I maintain that true religion is no more merely a matter of opinion than is true science. It is a matter of evidence. I have seen all of the nonempirical arguments for the existence of God, and none suffice. I believe revelation is the only evidence for the existence of a supernatural being, and miracles provide that evidence. For example, my religious faith rests in the historicity of one event, and that is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. If he rose from the dead, my faith in God to save me is justified. If he did not rise, then I agree with the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 15:12-17) that my faith is vain. The first-century Christians were empiricists also, it seems. The Resurrection: it either happened or not. It is a matter of historical, empirical evidence.

- page 56 -

I stress this because, although science can know nothing of God or other "supernatural" beings, if such a being were to reveal itself (that is, perform a miracle), it would of necessity act in a manner that is empirically observable. If God created the world in the manner in which the creationists claim that he did, would the data support them? I believe the answer is yes. The creationists are not simply saying, "The world is the way it is because that's the way God made it." That is not an empirical statement; it could mean anything or nothing. As Dr. Pine noted, it may very well be true. But it is not an explanation, and its truth-value can only be ascertained indirectly. Fortunately, the creation-scientists don't believe it's an explanation either, and they've put forth a scheme which is clearly testable and therefore empirical. If not, then why such an effort to show that creation-science is false?

Patrick Guthrie

I must correct Paul Pfalzner's criticism of Ronald Pine ("Letters to the Editor," Creation/Evolution XVII). Pfalzner attacks Pine's "timid agnostic stance" in regard to the supernatural, and categorically proclaims that "the scientist has . . . a duty to declare the 'supernatural' to be a nullity and to demand that the burden of proof . . . be placed on those who profess to believe in [the supernatural]." Any supernaturalism, and any discussion of the same, is simply beyond science. Any judgment, pro or con, made in regard to the supernatural is a philosophical (or theological) judgment—not a scientific one. A professional scientist, it must be remembered, is usually an amateur when it comes to philosophy. I must challenge the positivistic dogma that any scientist, regardless of his or her level of philosophic training or lack thereof, has an ipso facto right to make an authoritative philosophic statement. Pfalzner's view is, I am sure, highly offensive to some of the most valuable people in the cause—theistic evolutionist scientists and laypersons! A supporter of evolution or a staunch enemy of creationism should be accepted on his or her own terms and not subjected to criticism on the grounds of philosophic inclination, religious preference, or other tangential, extraneous considerations.

Jeffrey V. Governale
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