RNCSE 29 (5)

Cover of RNCSE 29(5) showing a sign from the Creation Museum. Sign says See the Evidence
Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 29 (5)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. A Nobelist Misrepresented in Texas
    Joshua Rosenau
    When the creationists on the Texas state board of education trotted out a Nobel Prize winner as having doubts about evolution, it turns out (of course) that they were using erroneous, second-hand information.
  2. "Ask Darwin": An Interactive Exhibit
    Two Pittsburgh-area professors have teamed with a multimedia center to produce an interactive exhibit, allowing visitors to hear Darwin in his own words, and to hear from modern scientists about how evolutionary science has grown.
  3. Exporting Creationism: Dutch Creationist Leaflet Now to be Distributed in Belgium
    Stefaan Blancke
    After a campaign that drew public and media attention, creationists in the Netherlands are targeting Dutch-speaking areas of Belgium with the remainder of their leaflets — or are they?
  4. Updates
    News from Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio,Texas, the United Kingdom, and the world.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.

ARTICLES

  1. Credibility, Profitability, and Irrefutability: Why Creationists are Building Museums
    Julie Duncan
    Why would creationist organizations invest so much money and effort into museums when they reject the basic scientific foundations of our modern understanding of the history of life and the universe?
  2. Missionary Lizards: What the Creation Museum Reveals About Natural History Exhibits
    Katherine E Schroer
    Everybody loves dinosaurs. But the different ways they are displayed in natural history museums and the Creation Museum speaks volumes.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: Creation Evidence Museum
    Randy Moore
    A close-up view of one of the best-known of the creationist museums.

FEATURES

  1. Reflections on a Visit to the Creation Museum
    Raymond A Eve
    It is difficult not to be impressed by the sheer assault on the senses and the carefully designed exhibits. But a closer look reveals an anxiety about control of cultural ideas and norms.
  2. Edward Blyth: Creationist or Just Another Misinterpreted Scientist?
    James K Willmot
    Blyth is one scientist whose early dedication to cre ationism is misrepresented to imply that he rejected descent with modification by natural selection.
  3. Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole World
    Lorence G Collins
    In the type of major flood that almost certainly occurred in the ancient Middle East, what would make people think that it covered "the whole world"?

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Understanding Creationism
    An adaptation of a recent NCSE brochure that explores the basics of creation science.
  2. For the Birds
    These books explore the biology, ecology, and evolution of birds.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
    Reviewed by Charles A Israel
  2. The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin by Benjamin Wiker
    Reviewed by Sander Gliboff
  3. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is by Hugh Ross
    Reviewed by David Koerner
  4. The Bible, Rocks, and Time by Davis A Young and Ralph F Stearley
    Reviewed by Steven Newton
  5. More Than a Theory: Revealing a Testable Model for Creation by Hugh Ross
    Reviewed by Graham Oppy

A Nobelist Misrepresented in Texas

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Nobelist Misrepresented in Texas
Author(s): 
Joshua Rosenau
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
4–6
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Creationists on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) went to great lengths to defend outdated and inaccurate requirements that students learn the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. In 2003, that language was central to an attempt to force creationism into textbooks. In the course of defending that language in 2008 (see RNCSE 2009 May/Jun; 29 [3]: 4–6), opponents of evolution simultaneously flaunted their ties to young-earth creationism and misrepresented the views of many scientists, including Werner Arber, who won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on restriction enzymes.

The board held the first of three public hearings about new science standards in November 2008. Testimony lasted over six hours, ending near 11:00 pm, and almost all of it focused on "strengths and weaknesses", with many people supporting a replacement drafted by scientists and teachers appointed by the board to revise the standards. Tempers in Austin were flaring as dinner time came and went.

Witnesses opposed to the "strengths and weaknesses" language constantly asked what the supposed "weaknesses" were, but got no satisfaction. Finally, conservative board member Cynthia Dunbar gave her explanation. Replying to teacher Anita Gordon's observation that the community of scientists regards evolution as fundamentally strong, Dunbar replied, "science is not something that's determined by majority vote, there is a scientific method. I would like to have someone of the magnitude of Dr Werner Abner [sic] here. I don't know if you know who he is. Are you familiar with him?"

Gordon was not, so Dunbar continued:

He is a Nobel laureate. He spent his life doing studies in evolution and genetics. I don't think we could get him here, I think he's in Switzerland. But his, his years and years and years and years of research in genetics and evolution are very, very credible, and his end result recently, I think it was in September, was that the genetic code, and genetic mutations are actually built in to a limitation that they can only go so far, which is contrary to the ultimate result of natural selection and all of that. But that would not be someone outside of the scientific community.

Dunbar again referred to Arber when college student Garrett Mize challenged her on the issue of "weaknesses" of evolution. "Where's the data for that?" he asked. "It's my understanding that the entire scientific community doesn't believe that they exist."

Dunbar's reply followed a familiar course: "First of all," she repeated, "science is not based on majority rule, and there's lots of data. Do you know who Werner Arber is? He's a PhD and a Nobel laureate." The student was not familiar with Arber, and Dunbar urged:

Go Google him. Because he spent his life on evolution and genetics. So there is data out there [on the weaknesses of evolution], we don't want that squelched. We want to be able to discuss it. ... His documentation, if you go read it, I mean it's very clear as to the geneticists and the documentation of the mutations and all that. I mean it's not anything that fails, it's testable, it's observable, it's right there. But those are the types of the things that we want the students to be able to discuss.

Working in the quote mine

I took to heart Dunbar's wish to hear Arber's views. Taking her advice, I searched the internet for his writings. Looking for the paper in which he supposedly published "his end result recently, I think it was in September," I came up short. He did not publish anything in September 2008, but that same month, an article by Jerry Bergman — "Werner Arber: Nobel laureate, Darwin skeptic" (Acts & Facts 2008 Sep; 37 [9]: 10) — was published about him in that month's newsletter from the young-earth creationist Institute for Creation Research.

I was disturbed, but not shocked, to see Dunbar citing a young-earth creationist newsletter as scientific evidence in support of her preferred public policy. Dunbar made headlines before the November election when she declared that a terrorist attack in the first months of an Obama administration "will be a planned effort by those with whom Obama truly sympathizes to take down ... America." In her book One Nation under God (Oviedo [FL]: HigherLife Development Services, 2008), Dunbar called public education "tyrannical".

Nor was she alone in drawing on creationist sources. In January 2009, chair Don McLeroy, a dentist himself, stated that "the latest article" on the evolution of teeth was titled "Tooth evolution theory lacks bite". A quick web search traced that article to a young-earth creationist website (http://www.creationsafaris.com).

Jerry Bergman's claim that Arber was skeptical of evolution and supported "intelligent design" creationism was based largely on an interview from the early 1990s, published in a collection Cosmos, Bios, Theos, edited by Henry Morgenthau and Roy Abraham Varghese (Peru [IL]: Open Court, 1992). Varghese was recently in the news over charges that, as co-author of philosopher Antony Flew's apologia for switching from atheism to deism (There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind [New York: Harper One, 2007]), he overstated Flew's opinion of Christianity (see, for example, Mark Oppenheimer's "The turning of an atheist," The New York Times Magazine 2007 Nov 4).

Arber's interview with Varghese does not support the claim that he favors "intelligent design" creationism. Arber responds to a question about human evolution by stating: "I do not have problems understanding the origin of Homo sapiens. Biologically, man is just a living organism as any other. ... [T]here is no good scientific evidence to assume that H sapiens is an independent creation" (p 142). Asked about the origin of life, Arber confesses it is "a mystery to me," and finds "[t]he possibility of the existence of a Creator, of God ... a satisfactory solution to this problem" (p 142). Nothing distinguishes this from a view like theistic evolution, which contrasts strongly with "intelligent design" creationism's rejection of natural explanations for the origin of life.

While Arber did not publish in September 2008, he had been busy. Shortly before the Texas state board of education hearings in November 2008, Arber had been the co-organizer of a conference on evolution for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (see box, p 6). In his paper, "From microbial genetics to molecular Darwinism and beyond," he firmly stated his support for evolution as science and discussed "consistencies between the acquired scientific knowledge and traditional wisdom such as that reflected in the Old Testament." In this regard, his views align with Pope John Paul II's and with NCSE Supporter Ken Miller's take in Finding Darwin's God (San Francisco: Cliff Street Books, 1999).

Nor does his research show signs of doubts about evolution. He has published with such luminaries of evolutionary biology as Richard Lenski and Peter Raven, and his Nobel-prize-winning work on restriction enzymes has been powerfully useful to evolutionary biology.

In his own words

Certain that ICR had misrepresented Arber, and happy to fulfill Dunbar's desire to hear Arber's own views, I got in touch with some of his professional colleagues for help alerting him to ICR's erroneous article and Dunbar's mangled repetition of it. One colleague replied, "That certainly seems to me to be a misrepresentation of Professor Arber's views on the matter, and quite amazing."

I also wrote to Arber himself. He wrote back, with thanks for alerting him to the problem. He included a statement he had sent to ICR refuting the article and Dunbar's interpretation of it, adding that I was "welcome to make use of this statement in relevant situations." He also pointed out a common problem in dealing with creationists: "I slowly learn to write my papers by taking care to reduce the chance of misinterpretation, but this is not easy." Given creationists' propensity for quoting inaccurately or without adequate context, it is indeed difficult to prevent such misinterpretation.

Arber's response to the ICR is unequivocal. Had he been at the hearings, as Dunbar wished, he would surely have denied that evolution is riddled with weaknesses. Indeed, in his statement he affirms, "I am neither a 'Darwin skeptic' nor an 'intelligent design supporter' as it is claimed in Bergman's article. I stand fully behind the neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution and I contributed to confirm and expand this theory at the molecular level so that it can now be called molecular Darwinism."

NCSE executive director Eugenie C Scott presented Arber's letter to the board at its hearing in January 2009, noting "this is only one of many examples of false and misleading information that emanates from creationist sources." Taken aback, Dunbar seized on Arber's uncertainty about the origin of life. Scott replied, "That is irrelevant to the conversation today that we're having, because the conversation that we're having today is whether we should teach students, without qualification, the point of view of the scientific community, which is that living things have common ancestors. That's what evolution is." Scott concluded her comments by observing: "The high school classroom is no place to fight the culture wars, and this unfortunately is what is happening in Texas, and in Louisiana and in many other states, where this issue has disproportionately affected education." Arber was not mentioned again.

Dunbar relied on a single erroneous creationist source to contradict the testimony and guidance not only of her own committee of experts, but also of Texan Nobel Prize winners and of scores of scientific societies that urged the board to drop the language about "strengths and weaknesses" (see RNCSE 2009 May/Jun; 29 [3]: 13). This rejection of expertise was a theme throughout the hearings. As Jeremy Mohn showed in RNCSE (2009 May/Jun; 29 [3]: 7–9), McLeroy quote-mined many scientists to garner support for creationist amendments in January. In March 2009, McLeroy rejected outright any scientific testimony he disagreed with, declaring, "Someone's got to stand up to experts!" He later explained his support for an amendment questioning the existence of climate change, telling the Austin American-Statesman (2009 Mar 28), "Conservatives like me think the evidence (for human contributions to global warming) is a bunch of hooey."

Educational policy should never be based on any source that relies solely on political or religious ideology. This is doubly so for sources which make demonstrably false statements, as Acts & Facts did about Werner Arber. NCSE is working hard to prevent the erroneous standards passed in Texas from weakening textbooks used across the country. In the longer term, we must all work to ensure that public policy is built on solid foundations, not on creationist falsehoods.

About the Author(s): 

Joshua Rosenau
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
rosenau@ncseweb.org

Joshua Rosenau is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

Creation Evidence Museum

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: Creation Evidence Museum
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
34–35
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Figure 1: The Creation Evidence Museum is an evangelical organization that claims to have discovered more than 100 human footprints alongside dinosaur footprints in the Paluxy Riverbed at Glen Rose, Texas. (All photos by Randy Moore)

People driving along Highway 205 on their way to Dinosaur Valley State Park just outside of scenic Glen Rose,Texas, are often surprised to encounter the Creation Evidence Museum, located just a few hundred yards before the park's entrance (Figures 1, 2). The popular museum consists of a small group of trailers and a larger building that advertises itself as a "scientifically chartered museum." The museum's founder is Carl Baugh, a Baptist preacher, archaeologist,and Trinity Broadcasting Network personality who uses the museum to discredit evolution by claiming that people lived contemporaneously with dinosaurs. Baugh began his excavations along the nearby Paluxy River on March 15, 1982, and two days later announced discoveries of human and dinosaur tracks having "unparalleled historic significance".

Figure 2: Roadside sign urges passersby to visit the Creation Evidence Museum to see evidence that allegedly refutes evolution.

In the museum, visitors watch a 40-minute Creation in Symphony video in which Baugh describes his story of creation that includes water's being sprayed 70 miles into the air and God's stretching the "space fabric" to a point where faraway stars exploded. Baugh, a young-earth creationist, claims that evolution offers no explanation for our existence. Baugh's creationism, on the other hand, provides hope and a happier ending. The museum, which was established in 1984, supports a variety of research programs, including expeditions that claim to have found living pterodactyls in New Guinea.

Museum officials claim that the fossilized human footprints displayed in the Museum were made in what people have been "educated" to believe are 113-million-year–old deposits of limestone in nearby Dinosaur Valley State Park. Baugh claims to have excavated almost 100 footprints and 475 dinosaur footprints. Researchers in nearby Dinosaur Valley State Park have found thousands of dinosaur tracks, but no contemporaneous human footprints.

One of the largest footprints on display at the Creation Evidence Museum — the 14" (36 cm)-long "Burdick Track" — was found by the energetic Clifford Burdick (1894–1992), a founder of the Deluge Society, one of America's first creationist groups. Burdick went to Glen Rose (about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth) late in 1949, and in 1950 published an article titled "When giants roamed the earth" in the Seventh-Day Adventist magazine Signs of the Times. In that article, Burdick proclaimed that the Paluxy tracks were made by humans and that they therefore refute evolution. Burdick's article used out-of-context quotes to suggest that famed fossil-hunter Roland Bird (who went to Glen Rose in 1938 to investigate the tracks) had excavated the tracks and believed that they were made by humans.

Footprints from the Paluxy site were subsequently featured in The Genesis Flood, a book by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb Jr, that in 1961 launched the modern "creation science" movement in the United States. The tracks were promoted by numerous books (such as AE Wilder-Smith's Man's Origin, Man's Destiny in 1965) and films (Baptist minister Stanley Taylor's Footprints in Stone, produced with the help of Henry Morris in 1972). However, all of the tracks allegedly made by humans have been discredited by numerous studies.

The "Burdick Track" was not Burdick's only major discovery; in 1966, Burdick described his alleged discovery of pollen from conifers in Precambrian rocks as "science-shaking original-pioneering work." However, this discovery — like the "Burdick Track" — was later discredited by scientists; and even some creationists began to distance themselves from Burdick's claims. For example, young-earth creationist Walter Lammerts (1904–1996) — whose work was also cited in The Genesis Flood — criticized Burdick as someone who was "weak", "slow", and who "has not kept up with his reading". Unlike many creationists of his era, Lammerts supported civil rights and conservation, abhorred far-right extremists, and rejected the claim that communism was based on evolution. Lammerts's approach to the evolution controversy was simple: "If a man is such a stupid fool he can't see that evolution is wrong, I'm not going to try to convince him."

Figure 3: The hyperbaric biosphere in which Carl Baugh claims to have recreated earth's original pre-flood environment.

The Creation Evidence Museum also includes a large magenta-windowed "hyperbaric biosphere" in which Baugh claims to have recreated "earth's original pre-flood environment" (Figure 3). According to Baugh, the biosphere — which is connected to an oscilloscope — increases organisms' life-spans by 300%; it also detoxifies copperheads' venom. Near the biosphere is an aquarium in which Baugh grows "vegetarian piranhas." Baugh believes his discoveries support the vast life-spans of biblical patriarchs such as Adam (who allegedly lived to be 930), and the harmonious environment (that is, no carnivores or death) before Eve introduced sin into the world. Baugh hopes to grow dinosaurs in the biosphere. On the museum's walls, visitors can view paintings in which pre-flood children play with a baby Apatosaurus in the nearby Paluxy River.Visitors can purchase these replicas, as well as books, posters, and other materials such as certificates honoring recipients as "visionaries" for "supporting truth in education."

Figure 4: These dinosaurs, which today are displayed at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas (only a few hundred yards from the Creation Evidence Museum), were part of Sinclair Oil's Dinoland exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1964–1965 that produced a wave of dinosaur-mania in the United States.

The dinosaur tracks in Glen Rose are from the lower Cretaceous; some of these tracks that were studied by Roland Bird are also displayed at the American Museum of Natural History. The 1500-acre Dinosaur Valley State Park — a National Natural Landmark — includes models of a 70' (21 m) Apatosaurus and a 45' (14 m) Tyrannosaurus rex commissioned by the Sinclair Oil Company for the New York World's Fair in 1964–1965 (Figure 4).

About the Author(s): 

Randy Moore is coauthor of More Than Darwin (Berkeley [CA]: University of California Press, 2009) and of Chronology of the Evolution- Creationism Controversy (Westport [CT]: Greenwood Press, forthcoming in 2010).

Credibility, Profitability, and Irrefutability

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Credibility, Profitability, and Irrefutability: Why Creationists are Building Museums
Author(s): 
Julie Duncan
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
17–20
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

I was a junior in high school when I first read that Answers in Genesis was planning to build a $27-million–dollar creationist museum just minutes from my home. The creationism/evolution "debate" had long been an interest of mine, and when my like-minded father left a clipped newspaper article about the museum on my desk with the words "uh oh!" scrawled across the top, I was dismayed to read that my town would soon be embroiled in evangelical fervor.

The museum seemed to mark a new direction for the creationist movement — and, I worried, seemed poised to bring creationist thought into the mainstream. When the museum opened in 2007, I was immediately struck by its technological and aesthetic sophistication. I had known, of course, that there were going to be animatronic dinosaurs, but I was blown away by what I saw. Everything — the displays, the labels, the movies, even the landscaping — was even more impressive than I had imagined.

Timothy Heaton (2007) and Daniel Phelps (2008) have already provided detailed descriptions of the museum's interior, so I will refer readers to those accounts of the facility. However, what I saw that day — and what over 714 000 others had seen by June of 2009 (Leichman 2009) — convinced me that there was something more to this museum than just a scientific façade. Creationists had been appropriating scientific language since at least the 1960s; that was nothing new. What was new was the museum itself. Why, I wondered, had creationists suddenly decided to build this museum instead of, say, a new megachurch or a Bible school? What is it about a museum that makes it particularly well suited to creationists' purposes?

Three for the Road

It is this question that I have worked to answer over the past year and a half. To do so, I investigated not only the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum but also three other creationist museums in other parts of the country. I analyzed their displays, interviewed their founders and employees, made note of the items for sale in their gift shops, and tried to determine just what each museum's purpose was.

The first of these was the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas, founded in 1984 by Carl Baugh — perhaps best known as host of Trinity Broadcasting Network's "Creationism in the 21st Century". The museum has three main attractions: Baugh's Creation in Symphony video, a Bible-based reconstruction of the phases through which the earth has passed or will pass "from Genesis to Revelation"; a 20-meter–long "hyperbaric biosphere," inside which Baugh claims to have simulated the conditions of the pre-Flood world in "controlled, scientific experiment[s]" (Baugh 1997); and a number of fossilized footprints he insists were made by humans. These footprints are Baugh's most treasured pieces of evidence, as he believes they prove that dinosaurs and humans lived contemporaneously — and therefore that the evolutionary time scale is flawed. Accordingly, Baugh built his museum along the road leaving Dinosaur Valley State Park — a place famous for its well-preserved dinosaur footprints — in the hope that it "would cause people to question the state park's version of prehistory" (Henry 1996).

My second visit was to Pensacola's Dinosaur Adventure Land (DAL), billed as the place "where dinosaurs and the Bible meet" (Hovind nd-a). DAL was founded by and constructed in the backyard of Kent Hovind. In 1989, Hovind had founded Creation Science Evangelism (CSE), a creationist ministry, and it was under the auspices of this organization — located on the same property — that DAL was built (DAL staff nd). According to Hovind, CSE's mission is to demonstrate "the perfect harmony of the Biblical record with factual science and history" as well as "the fallacies and deceptions of modern evolutionary thinking" (Hovind nd-b). With numerous outdoor, hands-on activities — each with "a science lesson to make you smarter, a physical challenge to make you tired, and a Bible lesson to bring you closer to the Lord" — Dinosaur Adventure Land's message is clearly directed toward children. As Hovind explains on his Ideas for Starting a Creation Ministry CD (2006), this dinosaur theme is a particularly valuable tool "to draw the kids in, to be able to talk to them."

Finally, I visited the Museum of Creation and Earth History (MCEH) in Santee, California. From 1992 to 2008, this museum belonged to the Institute for Creation Research, an organization that has been called "the intellectual center of the creationist movement" (Schudel 2006). During that time the museum offered free admission and received, according to then-curator Cindy Carlson, about 15 000 visitors per year (2008). The museum's displays closely mirror the contents of founder Henry Morris's book The Genesis Flood (Whitcomb and Morris 1961), and they serve much the same purpose: in Carlson's words, to help believers "integrate the creationist worldview with science" (2008). Indeed, much more than any of the other three museums I visited, the MCEH portrays creationism as a no-nonsense, intellectually tenable scientific theory. In 2008, after its move to Dallas, the ICR sold this museum to the Life and Light Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that plans to expand the museum's collections (LLF nd).

Why Build a Museum?

Scientific credibility

There are at least three significant and interrelated reasons for which creationists build these museums. First, museums have a long history as places of both scientific research and of public education. The modern museum's earliest ancestors are the wunderkammer, "cabinets of curiosity" that sprung up in the homes of the rich and the royal during the European Renaissance. Though these collections were generally unorganized and served mainly as entertainment and status symbols in polite culture, they did contribute to scientific studies, especially when lists and pictures of their contents were published (Olmi 1985: 6; Crane 2000: 65). In the 18th and early 19th centuries, as the works of Linnaeus and Buffon sparked interest in classification of the natural world, natural history museums — still private institutions — became more focused on expanding and ordering their collections so they might be useful for scientific studies, especially comparative anatomy (Farber 2000: 55). By the end of the 19th century, however, governments and corporations had begun actively supporting the construction of these "cathedrals of science" and making their collections available to the masses (Farber 2000: 88–90). The museums, still accompanied by large, behind-the-scenes research staffs and filled with exotic trophies of empire, enjoyed wide popularity. By the 20th century they had established a reputation as "centers of education and public enlightenment" (Alexander and Alexander 2008: 7), an image still quite popular today. By calling their institutions museums instead of "Bible centers" or "Faith parks," then, creationists automatically appropriate for their institutions this reputation for credibility and education.

It might seem ironic that creationists would be interested in building "cathedrals of science". They do, after all, reject a scientific theory supported by the vast majority of practicing scientists. However, creationists have shown themselves to be just as fond of science as other Americans; they simply believe that creationism is science. Both in these museums and in popular creationist literature, they argue that there is a purely scientific debate going on over evolution: a disagreement not between religious thinkers and scientists but between scientists who appear to be equally credentialed. As historian of science Steven Shapin notes, when experts disagree, the problem becomes "deciding who the scientific experts really are" (Shapin 2004: 46). At that point, Shapin argues, the layman is forced to perform a sort of "moral evaluation," favoring those experts "whom we can trust … to do good" (Shapin 2004: 48).

The creation museums exploit this idea, asking their visitors to make a similar moral evaluation when deciding whom to trust. Creationists, of course, are connected to God, the Bible, and the Christian way, encouraging visitors to trust in their morality as well as their scientific expertise. Then, by connecting evolutionists with things like racism, genocide, and communism, the museums' displays suggest that evolutionists are morally bankrupt, greatly diminishing their perceived authority.

Learning (and earning) while entertaining

The second crucial quality of museums is that they provide entertainment, unlike churches or Bible schools (in most cases). This is important for two reasons. First, it is a common belief that people of all ages, and especially children, learn better when they are having fun. Hooper-Greenhill (2007) reports that "teachers saw pleasurable experiences as central to effective learning" and that they saw a trip to the museum as "an opportunity to generate enjoyment" (Hooper-Greenhill 2007: 122). By teaching with a method that is "more 'fun' than using books" (Hooper-Greenhill 2007: 146), then, creation museums make it more likely that visitors will retain the message promoted therein. This is particularly true at Dinosaur Adventure Land, with its child-oriented focus on interactive learning, and at the Answers in Genesis museum, with its entertaining videos, impressive animatronic dinosaurs, and overall pleasant design. As Annalee Ward, a professor at Trinity Christian College, notes, these museums "are becoming major media venues that persuade as they delight" (Ward 2008: 164).

The entertainment value of museums is significant for another reason: revenue. At least since the days of Barnum's American Museum (founded in 1841 by PT Barnum, of circus fame), it has been known that offering crowds a glimpse at the strange or exotic — even if it means blurring the line between fact and fiction — can mean big money. In much the same way, the material on display in creation museums attracts big crowds. In addition to the price of admission, there are concessions, parking, and gift-shop items. According to Ward, that clientele represents a significant potential for revenue: "evangelicals are the primary market for a more than $4-billion-a-year religious entertainment industry" (Ward 2008: 164).

The Creation Evidence Museum takes in relatively little money — in 2007 Baugh reported just a little over $400 000 in total revenue and paid himself a salary of just $71 730 (IRS 2007a: 5). This situation is probably due to the museum's relatively isolated location and rather rudimentary displays. For the most part, the Institute for Creation Research, too, seems to make good on its promise that no employee is in it for the money (Morris nd): in 2007, Institute President John Morris, one of only two paid members of the ten-member board of trustees, made just $89 049 (IRS 2007b: 22) — a modest salary for the president of a large organization living in expensive San Diego.

For Dinosaur Adventure Land and Answers in Genesis, however, the story is quite different. The IRS reported that Kent Hovind made bank deposits in excess of $1 million per year before being jailed for tax fraud, suggesting that Creation Science Evangelism and Dinosaur Adventure Land were performing well (AP 2004). Answers in Genesis reported over $20 million in assets in 2006 and was paying Ken Ham a salary of $188 655 (IRS 2006: 18). At least four other employees were earning more than $100 000 per year (IRS 2006: 18–20) — and this was in 2006, the year before the museum opened. It is unclear why Answers in Genesis's 2007 tax returns are still (as of May 2009) unavailable, but considering that the $27-million museum opened without a penny of debt, the $20 admission fee (plus $5 for the planetarium show and more from bookstore and online merchandise sales) multiplied over more than 714 000 visitors has surely resulted in substantial revenue since then.

Unchallenged assertions

The third probable motivation for building a museum — and the one I consider most revealing — is that museums appear to speak directly to "the people" without intervention on the part of mainstream scientists or government officials as would be encountered in legal battles. In other words, museums are a medium in which creationist claims can go unchallenged. This seems to be part of a larger movement by creationists away from high-profile court cases over the evolution issue and toward the goal of, as AiG put it, "get[ting] information to the people" and "influenc[ing] the culture" (Ham 2008) from the ground up. Historian of science Ronald Numbers points out that this trend appears to have begun in the late 1980s, after creationists suffered "a string of losses in state assemblies and a series of negative decisions in federal courts" (Numbers 2006: 354). It was then that they "shifted from headline-grabbing legislative battles to quiet persuasion among teachers and school-board members" (Numbers 2006: 354). It seems likely that these museums, especially in the wake of defeat in Kitzmiller v Dover (2005), are part of this broader shift from legislative battles — and, perhaps, attempts to impose creationist belief — to persuasion on a local or individual level.

Because museums occupy a unique position in our society as places of both education and entertainment, it may be most accurate to think of them as a kind of "middle path" between the truly popular doctrinal media — things like books, DVDs, and Christian music groups, which appeal to a wide variety of believers — and the more academic "intelligent design", which appeals to a subgroup of believers concerned with their religion's scientific legitimacy. By incorporating elements of both the popular and the scientific — not just animatronic dinosaurs and sing-along musicals, but numbers and graphs, too — museums achieve a much more universal appeal.

Repercussions for Science

What makes all of this important are the repercussions these museums are likely to have for science. First, the museums drastically and independently change the definition of science. According to their view of science, appealing to the supernatural to explain observed phenomena is perfectly acceptable and even desirable. The "presupposition" that the Bible is true is just as legitimate as an a priori commitment to naturalism. As historian of science Peter Bowler notes, however, this is not so much a redefinition of science as "an excuse for stopping science in its tracks" (Bowler 2007: 213). In this view, a divine being could be invoked to account for any unexplained natural phenomena, rendering experimental support unnecessary. Furthermore, science as creationists define it would be teleological. That is, the ultimate results of any investigation would be predetermined, as they would have to conform to the Bible. The openness of mainstream science, a discipline whose practitioners have long boasted of its inability to "prove" anything (being capable only of disproving a hypothesis) would be eliminated.

Just as important, by setting up a rigid dichotomy between evolution and creationism, these museums suggest that "[e]vidence against one position is support for the other position" (Riddle 2004). Thus, any time scientists disagree or when part of a theory remains unresolved (for example, Does the Oort Cloud really exist? How exactly did life begin?), museum visitors are taught not that these are interesting questions deserving of further study but that they are "fallacies" whose very existence is further evidence for creationism.

Mainstream natural history museums, those "cathedrals of science", are being affected, too. In 2005, The New York Times reported that museum docents across the country were struggling to deal with "creationists eager to challenge the museum exhibitions on evolution" (Dean 2005). Answers in Genesis now sells museum, zoo, and aquarium guides that creationists can take with them and use for alternative, biblically correct interpretations of the displays. With those guides in hand, it is probable that creationists will feel even more confident in their questioning.

What is more, companies such as BC Tours — "where we are BC [biblically correct] and not PC" (Jack and Carter 2008) — have begun offering their own tours through mainstream museums on which visitors may learn "biblically correct" science (Rooney and Patria 2009). The Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York, is just one of many American museums forced to provide its workers with additional training in evolution in response to an influx of questioning creationists (Dean 2005). Though this influx is not due entirely to the effect creation museums are having on their visitors, it certainly cannot hurt that creationists now have their own impressive museums to contradict the ideas put forward in those of the mainstream.

Significance for Creationist Movement

With knowledge of these four creation museums, their methods, and their purposes, two important conclusions may be drawn about the state and direction of the modern American creationist movement. First, these museums are just one part of a larger shift in the creationist movement away from high-profile, "top-down" attempts to win recognition and classroom time for creationism. Like books, documentaries, and the internet — all of which have been utilized extensively by the creationist movement — creation museums have the ability to go "straight to the people." While court cases require that both sides receive an equal hearing, the museums can and do provide a one-sided view of the creation–evolution "debate", circumventing any rebuttals from scientific authorities.

Second, creation museums are part of the creationist reaction to the "conflict model" (Russell 1935; White 1876; Draper 1881) so entrenched in Western conceptualizations of the relationship between religion and science, which suggests not only that science and religion are "at war" but also that science has generally prevailed. By insisting that creationism is science, however, creation museums have collapsed the distinction between religion and science, fundamentally changing the space for debate; for how can creationism — which is itself a science — be against science? The dichotomy they have created is not a battle between religion and science but between two sciences, one moral and one immoral.

If one may judge by the remarkable success of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky, the largest and most recently constructed of the four, creation museums are no passing trend. Millions of Americans agree with their messages, and hundreds of thousands patronize them each year. It seems very probable that the years to come will see the construction of more museums, most likely in the high-tech style of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, which has proven quite lucrative.

References

Alexander P, Alexander M. 2008. Museums in Motion. Lanham (MD): AltaMira Press. [AP] Associated Press. 2004 Apr 18. Biblical theme park's finances investigated. St Petersburg Times. Available on-line at http://www.sptimes.com/2004/04/18/State/Biblical_theme_park_s.shtml. Last accessed May 12, 2009.

Baugh C. 1997. Family Tour of the Creation Evidence Museum [DVD]. Carollton (TX): Take One Video and Post.

Bowler P. 2007. Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons. Cambridge (MA): Harvard UP.

Carlson C. 2008 26 Aug. [Personal interview].

Crane S. 2000. Curious cabinets and imaginary museums. In: Crane S, editor. Museums and Memory. Palo Alto (CA): Stanford University Press. p 60–80.

DAL staff. nd. About Dinosaur Adventure Land. Available on-line at http://drdino.com/articles.php?spec=70. Last accessed May 12, 2009.

Dean C. 2005 Sep 20. Challenged by creationists, museums answer back. The New York Times. Available on-line at http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/20/science/20doce.html?_r=1. Last accessed September 14, 2009.

Draper J. 1881. History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. New York: D Appleton and Co.

Farber P. 2000. Finding Order in Nature: The Naturalist Tradition from Linnaeus to EO Wilson. Baltimore (MD): Johns Hopkins University Press.

Ham K. 2008. Bellevue Baptist Middle School visits Creation Museum. Available on-line at http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/aroundtheworld/2008/05/30/bellevue-baptist-middle-school-visits-creation-museum. Last accessed May 20, 2009.

Heaton T. 2007. A visit to the Creation "Museum". Reports of the National Center for Science Education 27 (1–2): 21–4.

Henry K. 1996 Dec 12. Footprints of fantasy. Dallas Observer. Available on-line at http://www.dallasobserver.com/1996-12-12/news/footprints-of-fantasy/4. Last accessed September 12, 2009.

Hooper-Greenhill E. 2007. Museums and Education: Purpose, Pedagogy, Performance. New York: Routledge.

Hovind K. nd-a. Dinosaur Adventure Land: An exciting science learning and activity center for all ages [VHS]. Pensacola (FL): Creation Science Evangelism.

Hovind K. nd-b. About Creation Science Evangelism. Available on-line at http://www.drdino.com/read-article.php?id=67. Last accessed May 11, 2009.

Hovind K. 2006. Ideas for Starting a Creation Ministry [audio CD]. Pensacola (FL): Creation Science Evangelism.

Jack B, Carter R. 2008. BC Tours. Available on-line at http://bctours.org. Last accessed February 12, 2008.

Kitzmiller et al v Dover Area School Board et al. 2005. Available on-line at http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/decision.htm. Last accessed September 13, 2009.

[IRS] Internal Revenue Service (USA). 2006. Return of organization exempt from income tax (IRS Form 990): Answers in Genesis.

[IRS] Internal Revenue Service (USA). 2007a. Return of organization exempt from income tax (IRS Form 990): Creation Evidence Museum.

[IRS] Internal Revenue Service (USA). 2007b. Return of organization exempt from income tax (IRS Form 990): Institute for Creation Research.

Leichman A. 2009 Jun 1. Creation museum still draws crowds, ruffles feathers after 2 years. Christian Today Australia. Available on-line at http://au.christiantoday.com/article/creation-museum-still-draws-crowds-ruffles-feathers-after-2-years/6363-2.htm. Last accessed June 1, 2009.

[LLF] Life and Light Foundation. nd. Creation & Earth History Museum. Santee (CA): Life and Light Foundation. Available on-line at http://www.lifeandlightfoundation.org/documents/museum_ebrochure_000.pdf. Last accessed November 11, 2009.

Morris H. nd. Creation and its Critics. Dallas (TX): The Institute for Creation Research. Available on-line at http://www.icr.org/home/resources/resources_tracts_caic. Last accessed May 12, 2009.

Numbers RL. 2006. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, expanded ed. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Olmi G. 1985. Science-honour-metaphor: Italian cabinets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In: Impey O, MacGregor A, editors. The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe. New York: Oxford University Press. p 5–16.

Phelps D. 2008. The Anti-Museum: An overview and review of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum. Available on-line at http://ncse.com/creationism/general/anti-museum-overview-review-answers-genesis-creation-museum. Last accessed September 13, 2009.

Riddle M. 2004. Astronomy and the Bible [PowerPoint presentation]. Santee (CA): Institute for Creation Research. Available on-line at http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/overheads/TOC.asp. Last accessed December 20, 2008.

Rooney B, Patria M. 2009 Feb 9. "Biblically correct" tour guides. ABC News [broadcast]. Available on-line at http://abcnews.go.com/m/screen?id=4467337&pid=574. Last accessed June 10, 2009.

Russell B. 1935. Religion and Science. New York: Home University Library.

Schudel M. 2006 Mar 1. Henry Morris: Intellectual father of "creation science". The Washington Post. Available on-line at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2006/02/28/AR2006022801716.html. Last accessed January 10, 2009.

Shapin S. 2004. The way we trust now: the authority of science and the character of the scientist. In: Bechler R, editor. Trust Me, I'm a Scientist. London: British Council. p 42–63.

Ward A. 2008. Faith-Based theme parks and museums. In: Schultze J, Woods R, editors. Understanding Evangelical Media. Downers Grove (IL): IVP Academic. p 161–171.

Whitcomb JC Jr, Morris H. 1961. The Genesis Flood. Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed.

White A. 1876. A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. New York: D Appleton and Company.

About the Author(s): 

Julie Duncan
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncse.com

Julie Duncan is a native of Burlington, Kentucky, and a 2009 graduate of Harvard College, where she majored in history and science. This article is adapted from her senior thesis, "Faith Displayed as Science: The Role of the 'Creation Museum' in the Modern American Creationist Movement", which was awarded Harvard's Thomas T Hoopes Prize. She recently began her first year at Yale Law School, where she plans to study constitutional law

Edward Blyth: Creationist or Just Another Misinterpreted Scientist?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Edward Blyth: Creationist or Just Another Misinterpreted Scientist?
Author(s): 
James K Willmot
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
36–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In early December 2007, my hometown newspaper, the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier- Journal, published my opinion piece concerning the newly opened creation museum in northern Kentucky. As a former science teacher with a particular interest in the understanding and advancement of science in society, I expressed my concern that this $27-million facility dedicated to the rejection of all science that contradicts a literal interpretation of biblical scripture is exceeding attendance expectations and gaining momentum in its mission to cast doubt on evolutionary biology and the multitude of scientific theories that support it.

I went to the museum and toured it twice during its opening weekend in late May of 2007. While no one can argue with the high quality of the facility and its 103 animatronic dinosaurs, the museum, built by the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis (AiG) erroneously claims its biblical interpretations of creation are backed up by scientific facts. What is most disconcerting to me (and the reason I wrote the article) is that the museum has become a de facto science center for the growing Christian home-school movement in the Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky areas, teaching thousands of children that the theory of evolution is incompatible with Christianity and that science can only be validwhen viewed through the lens of Christian scripture.

In my opinion piece, I suggested that Christians seek guidance on the subjects of evolution and cosmology from a Christian organization dedicated to the advancement of modern science (there are several). In response, one of the museum’s founders, Chief Communications Officer Mark Looy, wrote to the Courier- Journal, suggesting that had I visited the museum (which I had), I would have seen that AiG is not anti-science; he charged that I was a member of a cabal of scientists and secularists who have pushed Darwinism on society and stifled dissenting faith-based scientific theories (an oxymoron) on human origins. In addition, he asserted:

Darwin was not the first to fully describe natural selection; it was a creationist, Edward Blyth, 24 years before Origin of Species. Darwin just popularized an already existing idea and tagged it onto his belief about origins.

Looy also said that AiG is not anti-science and that I “conveniently” failed to mention that AiG has seven PhD scientists on staff. Despite AiG’s claims of being a legitimate science organization,it does not practice science since it accepts no scientific evidence that contradicts its core tenets of a six-day creation and a young earth. AiG is practicing religious fundamentalism masquerading as science (http://www.answersingenesis.org/about/faith).


WHAT ABOUT BLYTH?

One of the tactics that creationists use to cast doubt on evolution is to suggest that Darwin undeservedly received the credit for the theory of natural selection and misappropriated the idea from the work of other scientists (see for example http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/was-blyth-the-true-scientist-and-darwin-merely-a-plagiarist-and-charlatan/). This claim is as false as the “science” of creationism itself.As any student of science and history knows, new discoveries in science seldom emerge from a single source. Many of the advancements of science occur when new knowledge, derived from a variety of sources, is blended together to form new theories. Credit for scientific discovery is often a messy business and this was certainly the case with Darwin.

Contrary to Looy’s claim, natural selection was first described not by Blyth (or Darwin for that matter), but by the ancient Greek philosophers Empedocles and Aristotle in the third and fourth centuries BCE. Many scientists and philosophers in the centuries that followed contributed to the understanding of the adaptation of species due to environmental and competition pressures: al-Jahith, Harvey, Paley, Linnaeus, Buffon, Mathus, Lamarck, and Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, to name a few (see http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/history_index_01). Blyth contributed to the pool of knowledge with his insightful observations of bird species (specifically the birds of India) and his analysis of selective breeding practices of domesticated animals in a series of articles in The Magazine of Natural History from 1835 to 1837.

It is true that in his younger years Blyth believed in an “eternal and ever-glorious Being which willed matter into existence” (1837a: 140), as did most of the naturalists of his day. He held that while animal populations changed due to the influences of environmental conditions over geologic time, the human species was created by God as is. He reasoned that because modern humans are able to shape the environment to suit our purposes,we are exempt from the forces of natural selection.

Does not, then, all this intimate that,even as a mundane being, man is no component of that reciprocal system to which all other species appertain? a system which for countless epochs prevailed ere the human race was summoned into being. (1837b: 83)

While Blyth’s writings clearly disagree with young-earth creationists on the age of the earth (“It is needless to add, that a prodigious lapse of time is required here;and,to judge from data which past history of the globe abundantly furnishes, in legible records, wherever we turn our eyes…” [1837a: 140]), he was firmly in their camp when it came to human origins. He wrote the humans were created as “the last act of creation upon this world” by God (1837a: 140). However, there is evidence that Blyth’s thinking on human origins changed, possibly due to the influence of his good friend Charles Darwin.

In 1867, thirty years after Blyth’s articles first appeared in The Magazine of Natural History, a very different Edward Blyth emerged in correspondence with Darwin. Blyth wrote Darwin at least 57 letters between 1855 and 1869. I have read all of Blyth’s known letters to Darwin (some of these are posted at http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/ and others are located at the Darwin Collection at Cambridge University). In a letter dated February 19, 1867, Blyth suggested to Darwin that humans descended from primates similar to gibbons (1867). Part of this letter follows:

The marked resemblance in facial expression of the Orangutan to the human Malay of its native region, as that of the Gorilla to the Negro, is most striking, & what does this mean? Unless a divergence of the anthropoid type prior to the specialization of the human peculiarities, which however would imply a parallel series of at least two primary lines of human descent which seems hardly probable; & moreover we must bear in mind the singular facial resemblance of the Lagothrix Humboldtii (a platyrrhine form) to the negro, wherein the resemblance can hardly be other than accidental. The accompanying diagram will illustrate what I suggest (rather than maintain); & about Hylobates or Gibbons, I am not sure that I place it right, for, upon the whole, the Gibbons approximate Chimpanzee more than they do the Orang-utan, notwithstanding geographical position. Aryan I believe to be improved Turánian or Mongol —

Blyth’s beliefs on human origins were obviously influenced by the widespread racism of mid–19thcentury Western culture. But this particular letter shows clearly that Blyth has accepted an evolutionary relationship between humans and other primates that would clearly be unacceptable to Answers in Genesis — or most young-earth creationists. If AiG is going to claim Blyth as a “creation” scientist robbed of credit for the theory of natural selection because he was creationist,they should also inform their devotees that Blyth changed his thinking in later years and suggested that all humans evolved from primate ancestors.Something tells me Chief Communications Officer Looy will not be jumping up and down to put this on AiG’s website.

Why did Blyth’s thinking on human origins change? Judging from his published articles and his letters to Darwin, one can only conclude that his exposure to 30 years of scientific inquiry and evidence lead him to reshape his perspective on human origins (he was never a young-earth creationist) into one that recognized that transmutation of species was the logical extension of the theory of natural selection. In fact, it is this theory, descent with modification over “countless epochs”, creating totally different species, including mankind, that Darwin originated and popularized, with the already described theory of natural selection gaining additional acceptance due to Darwin’s brilliant insights and writings.

AiG’s Looy states,“Blyth, though, did not believe that natural selection could be a mechanism to produce new genetic information in creatures that could,over time,turn molecules into men.” Of course not; “genetic information” would have made no sense as a biological concept to Blyth or any of his contemporaries (and it is a muddled pseudoscientific concept promoted by anti-evolutionists like Looy to make it seem as though genetic change is a barrier to, rather than the engine for, evolutionary change). However, Blyth’s own writing, in his later years, clearly shows that he accepts that humans emerged from primate ancestors.

A fellow Louisvillian, Muhammed Ali, once said, “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” Were he alive today, Edward Blyth would probably agree with Ali, and tell AiG and other evolution obstructionists to quit quote-mining his earliest works to claim he opposed evolution. Unfortunately, Blyth is unable to prevent his considerable body of work from being misused by AiG.

What is particularly insidious is that creationists’ chief tool for supporting their absolutist doctrine is to misinterpret the enormous collection of evidence supporting evolution and mislead their audiences. It is a practice that I am sure would be appalling to Edward Blyth, a credible scientist whose thinking “evolved” over the years due to Darwin’s great idea. I suggest that Edward Blyth would have strongly supported the advancement of science and reason in society and firmly condemned the pseudoscience promoted by institutions such as the Answers in Genesis museum.


References

Blyth E. 1837a. Psychological distinctions between man and other animals — part 4. The Magazine of Natural History 10: 131–41.

Blyth E. 1837b. Psychological distinctions between man and other animals — part 3. The Magazine of Natural History 10: 77–85.

Blyth E. 1867. Letter 5405 — Blyth,Edward to Darwin, CR, 19 Feb, 1867, Darwin Correspondence Project, Cambridge University. Available on-line at http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwinletters/calendar/entry-5405.html. Last accessed November 11, 2009.

About the Author(s): 

James K Willmot is a former middle school science teacher and environmental laboratory director.


AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
James K Willmot
7249 Fox Harbor Rd
Prospect KY 40059

jimwillmot@bellsouth.net


[A version of this article previously appeared on-line on May 19, 2008, at Butterflies & Wheels.]

Reflections on a Visit to the Creation Museum

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Reflections on a Visit to the Creation Museum
Author(s): 
Raymond A Eve
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
31–33
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

I recently made my way through the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum on a Sunday morning. Driving to the museum, I was inclined to give AiG the benefit of the doubt — I supposed they were well-meaning and devout, but just did not have a good grasp of the basic science involved. Now, I am less sure about the innocence of their motives, and much more inclined to believe that this is a pretty cynical effort to separate the gullible from some coin of the realm, and to build membership for a social movement (which, not coincidentally, is probably good for their acquisition of even more coins).

At the entrance, I was surprised to find several uniformed police directing traffic (complete with imposingly decked-out and very military-looking Hummers). The effect was not unlike dealing with post 9-11 airport security and served to create a vague feeling of imminent danger. In contrast, there was some comfort to be found in the form of a display of a ski boat just outside the main doors, complete with an ad for a local boat dealership. Apparently weekends at the lake with family or beer buddies are an important element of godliness to AiG adherents.

My very first impression was, "Wow, this museum cost cubic money!" (estimates vary, but $27 million is the most common). I was to decide at the end of my visit that Hollywood and Disney would be proud of the level of presentation. My immediate first impressions were quickly followed by the inevitable theme-park–style photographer who took everyone's picture so visitors would have the privilege of buying some copies on the way out. Then there was a "4-D" (multimedia, plus fake rainfall) movie that all were encouraged to take in at the very beginning of their visits.

Prominently featured were two "everyman" type of actors. Maybe I should say "everybody" because even though apparently about thirty years of age, they cast an ambience of white-hot sarcasm towards the teachers and professors who were depicted in the presentation as hopelessly dogmatic ignoramuses intent on foisting off the great lie of evolution. But these guys were clearly too smart for them, and intended to demonstrate it in the extreme. Strange, but I rather suspect that even for the believers in the audience these two must have come off as overgrown juvenile delinquents with mannerisms they would prefer to assign to unsocialized nabobs of negativism (as Vice-President Spiro Agnew liked to say) of the followers of the 60s New Left. They seemed to me to come off as some sort of part-time longhaul truck drivers, on way too much speed, but who just happened to have an in-depth knowledge of evolution, biochemistry, and the like that would be the envy of 99% of the PhDs at work in the relevant academic fields of study. Ultimately, what it all reminded me of is the recent emphasis by the creationist "intelligent design" supporters on having believers in the classroom confront their professors as militantly as possible — with disrespect as the tool with which to prosecute their case. I found myself wondering what kind of a world this would all lead to if we were all to become so intensely proud of our materially unsupportable viewpoints?

I really began to feel as if I had fallen down the Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole where facts are no longer a problem for the construction of reality. I felt seriously unnerved as I saw how the fairly large number of patrons in the museum were buying into the "see, creationism is really scientific" aspect. Funny, but the same people did not seem to notice that about half of the "scientific displays" were merely scenes from the Bible — most of which told an obvious morality tale. But this aspect of the place was actually the touching part. It was so clear that so many of those present felt adrift, if not outright lost, in the current world. Many seemed to me to suffer from a sense of being trapped in a world of moral normlessness — at least as seen from their own viewpoint. They seemed desperately to want to believe that a recommitment to biblical literalism would bring a "return" to a world with less anomie and less suffering.

My own work on creationism and "intelligent design" stresses how much of the controversy is really not driven by science at all, but instead represents "a struggle for the means of cultural reproduction" (see Eve and Harrold 1992, especially chapter 6). With this latter in mind, I could not help but notice that there were no minority persons (at least not any readily identifiable ones) in attendance among a fairly large number of viewers. Indeed, there were not many people in their 30s through their 50s.

What I did see was a lot of white folks with gray hair,and grayhaired folks taking their grandchildren through (most without their parents). This latter might be related to the fact that I found more than one book in the bookshop that stressed the belief that the current generation of parents is already "lost to the Lord." And without intervention by the grandparents, presumably, the grandchildren would naturally follow the errant road of their parents.

Creationism Perspectives

So I left with three powerful impressions clanking around in my skull. One was outrage that such lurid disinformation could be so sincerely presented. That led to the second clanging thought: most attendees were indeed going to buy the pseudoscience as totally legit because of their own lack of understanding of even basic science. Certainly the museum had used a plethora of elaborate iconography of science, albeit where the symbols were disconnected from their actual referents — enough so to make any postmodernist proud.

This striking array of scientific evidence "in favor of" creationism perhaps reflects the ambivalent attitude of creationists toward the new "great legitimator" (religious doctrine is the old one, science the newer one). Many anti-evolution organizations are quick to embrace "scientific" creationism and "intelligent design" as "proof" that their religious positions are correct: "look at all this scientific evidence that supports us." (Of course, there are some real fringe groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses who would typically just flatly say "God said it, I believe it. Who cares what scientists think?").

It is important to note, however, that the current conflict is not always one between science and religion, but often between an older form of science and the more recent form. In some ways the controversy may be more a matter of the differences between 19th-century science (Baconian inductivism) and contemporary deductivist science. We need to remember that most scientists of the 19th century were themselves creationists — and as such felt their only job would be to collect enough data to show how the divine plan had worked. For most such scientists it came as a rude shock when they found that some of the data did not "fit" Scripture. Most contemporary creationists still fit into this category. That is to say that they are not really so antiscience that they will not happily appeal to scientific authority when they find what they believe to be science that supports Scripture.

By contrast, the AiG museum seems fully prepared to be outright disingenuous in its presentation of scientific evidence. At least my own feeling was that the museum was prepared at any cost to say whatever needed to be said to convince the groundlings of scientific support for creationism. If the truth was to be a frequent casualty in such an effort then surely the ends must justify the ends. Machiavelli's Prince would be proud indeed of the displays presented throughout. Besides, such an approach would (excuse me for returning to an earlier theme) surely lead to more coins in the coffer. I was really saddened by the third strong impression I formed during my visit. It seemed to me that so many were visiting the museum because they feel so unfulfilled and saddened by the wider world as they perceive it. It is well-known in the sociology of religion that people tend to join cults after they decide that a search for answers within mainstream contemporary institutions (the family, the local church, the local psychiatrists, and so on) have failed to give them what they need. This certainly seemed to be a paradigm that fit well on many of those I saw. The difference, however, is that this is not a movement of the "new religions"; instead, it is a "revitalization movement". The latter term refers to movements intended to restore a formerly dominant set of persons and cultural practices after they have been displaced by something new. In the revitalization movement the constituents, the now displaced, seek to return things to the "normal" way they used to be.

This is part of the struggle for the means of cultural reproduction mentioned above. What I like to call cultural traditionalism has in recent decades been replaced by cultural modernism and postmodernism. The cultural traditionalists (a high percentage of whom are creationist "intelligent design" supporters) seek to return to a time when they were the dominant cultural aggregate. The fist-fight over evolution is really all about conflicting heuristic rules for knowing the truth. Cultural traditionalists use tradition, faith, authority, and revelation as the acid tests for assessing any given truth claim. ("God said it. I believe it. That settles it"). Modernists tend to use rational, empirical data for hypothesis testing to arrive at their truths. Postmodernists have no use for any of this, preferring to believe that truth is short-term, situational, and internal to the person ("it feels right to me, dude").

This is why the conflict over origins has no easy end. The different cultural traditions have not agreed on the rules for assessing the truth. By their own standards, each type feels that its own truth claims are well supported and refuses to accept any other method of assessing the relevant evidence. All this also helps to explain why the battle is most frequently in the school room, the courtroom, or the legislatures. These are precisely the places that the factions mentioned above struggle to try to control just which one of the ways of knowing, and associated "facts," will be passed on the next generation as legitimate. Hence the term "struggle for the means of cultural reproduction."

The Challenge for Science

Creationists are deeply alienated from the "Official Reality" propagated by mainstream institutions. This is a trend with a long history in the US. In some of my published studies and papers (such as Eve and others 1995), I examined a fairly recent sample of creationists who had attended a "Creationism Fair" in Glen Rose, Texas. (The event was put together by Carl Baugh, progenitor and curator of the first creationism museum — the one in Glen Rose just outside Dinosaur State Park, which is the alleged home of the famous Paluxy River "mantracks". Baugh's terminal degree is from a small wooden building in Dallas, but that's another story for another day.) I compared these creationism supporters to a sample of Wiccans from a "Magical Arts Convention" just outside of Austin, Texas.

The two populations were diametrical opposites on nearly every question of fact and attitude — with two exceptions. One was that both samples scored very high on alienation from big government, big industry, and even mainstream religion. The other thing they agreed on was that for their own (very different) worldviews and moral judgments there was "plenty of scientific evidence in support" of their respective views. So, one thing we all need to be doing is figuring out just what they think science actually is ... and whether there is a better way to teach a larger number of people valid science.

I do not think many creationists will ever change their views simply because someone tells them they are wrong. Instead, they must somehow come to know enough current scientific method to understand for themselves why they are wrong. The task seems hopeless in the short run. But I would point out that in the long run more Americans are scientifically capable today than ever, and most who are so schooled are increasingly disinclined to accept creationism. So the real field of action needs to be the high school and college classrooms.

In closing, let me just say that it is easy to get wrapped up in the science debate as one goes through the museum, but it is also important to keep one's eye out for how much of that debate is really driven by the social dynamics described above. For my own part, I found myself wishing I knew how to stand out in the parking lot as the folks left and then divide up the loaves and fishes and lay my hand on their heads and relieve all that anomie and mental anguish of contemporary life and the future. But, I could not. Indeed, I wondered who or what could?

References

Eve RA, Harrold FB. 1990. The Creationist Movement in Modern America. Twayne Press

Eve RA, Taylor J, Harrold FB. 1995. Why creationists don't go to psychic fairs. Skeptical Inquirer 19 (6): 23–8.

About the Author(s): 

Raymond A Eve is Professor of Sociology and Head of the Sociology Program at the University of Texas at Arlington. He has studied the sociology and social psychology of creationism versus evolution for thirty years. Among his books are The Creationist Movement in Modern America (Boston: Twayne, 1992), which he coauthored with Francis B Harrold, Cult Archaeology and Creationism: Understanding Pseudoscientific Beliefs about the Past (expanded edition, Iowa City [IA]: University of Iowa Press, 1995), which he coedited with Harrold, and Chaos, Complexity, and Sociology: Myths, Models, and Theories (Thousand Oaks [CA]: Sage, 1997), which he coedited with Sara Horsfall and Mary E Lee. He has written extensively on creationism and "intelligent design".

Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth
Author(s): 

Lorence G Collins

Volume: 
29
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2009
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
38-41
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Introduction

The Bible (Genesis 6–9) describes a worldwide flood (the Noachian Flood) covering even the highest mountains of the earth and the construction of a huge boat (a rectangular box-like craft) that transported animals, at least two of a kind of all land animals on the earth. The Qur'an (Suras 11 and 71) has almost a duplicate story with a similar huge boat that transported animals and a worldwide flood. In addition two older stories exist in ancient Babylonian epics that describe a huge flood. One is the Epic of Gilgamesh, describing a flood on the Euphrates River (Academy of Ancient Texts nd). The other is the Epic of Atrahasis, which has a huge flood on the Tigris River (Byers nd).

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, [Utnapishtim] is warned that a god plans to destroy all humanity and is told to build a ship to save himself, his family, friends, and cattle. In the Epic of Atrahasis, a tribal chief survived with his family by floating in a boat down to the Persian Gulf. After the flood subsided, the chief got out on dry land and erected an altar and sacrificed to a water god so that such a flood would not happen again (Anonymous nd-a). Noah also built an altar when he got off the Ark and offered sacrifices (Genesis 8:20). Because these stories all describe an ancient huge flood in Mesopotamia, it is extremely likely that a huge flood could have occurred. However, the next question is: "Did the Noachian Flood cover the whole earth?"

Scientific Evidence Against a Whole-Earth Flood

The Bible says that the rains that created the Noachian Flood lasted for 40 days (Genesis 7:17), that the waters prevailed on the earth for 150 days (Genesis 7:24), and after these 150 days the waters gradually receded from the earth so that by the seventh month and the seventeenth day, Noah's Ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4). A year plus two months and twenty-seven days later the earth was dry enough so that Noah,his family, and the load of animals could disembark from the Ark (Genesis 8:14).

Because this flood was intended by God to destroy all flesh on earth (Genesis 6:13) and because sedimentary rocks on all continents contain fossils that supposedly represent the "destroyed flesh of all life," it might be thought that the Bible story, describing a wholeearth flood, was true. However, interlayered with these fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks on all continents are layers of evaporite rock salt (sodium chloride), gypsum (hydrated calcium sulfate), anhydrite (calcium sulfate), and various potash and magnesium salts, which are associated with red beds (shales) containing fossilized mud cracks (Schreiber and others 2007).

Many of these mineral compounds and red beds have combined thicknesses on different continents of more than one kilometer (~3,281 feet) (Collins 2006). The red beds are red because they contain red hematite (iron oxide) which formed from magnetite grains that were oxidized while the muds were exposed to oxygen in open air. The mud cracks can form only under drying conditions that cause the mud to shrink and form polygonal cracks. The evaporite mineral compounds in the layers are deposited in the correct chemical order predicted by the solubility of each kind of ion in these compounds and whose increasing concentrations during the evaporation of water would cause them to precipitate in a predictable depositional sequence as the water volume decreased. Such evaporite deposits would be expected to occur where a marine sea was once present and to disappear when the sea became completely dry. Therefore, one could expect these evaporites to be at the top of the supposed Noachian Flood deposits when the water supposedly receded and the land dried out, but certainly not in different levels in between older and younger fossiliferous "Flood deposits".

 

We read in the Bible that there is only one time in which the Flood waters are said to recede and leave the earth dry. That is, no multiple worldwide climatic conditions are described in which flooding, then drying to a dry earth, more flooding, more drying to a dry earth, in repeated cycles that occur over and over again in that Flood year. On that basis, it is logical that all the kinds of evaporite deposits and red beds in many different levels in the supposed Noachian Flood deposits could form only in local climates with desert drying-conditions and could not possibly have formed all at the same time — a time when a flood covered the whole earth for more than one year (Collins 2006). On that basis, the Noachian Flood story cannot describe a whole-earth flood, but it could only represent a large regional flood.

Regional Evidence for the Noachian and Similar Floods

Two rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris flow through Mesopotamia, which is now the country of Iraq (Figure 1). There are several layers in exposed rocks near these two rivers in southeastern Mesopotamia (Iraq) that are likely flood deposits. Most are about a foot (0.3 m) thick, but one is as much as 3 meters thick (MacDonald 1988). Flood debris from this same thick deposit along the Euphrates River near the ancient Sumerian city of Shuruppak about 200 km southeast of Baghdad has been dated by the C14 method, giving an age of 2900 BCE (Best nd). Flood deposits 2.4 meters feet thick are also reported by MacDonald (1988) as far northeast as the ancient Babylonian city of Kish (120 km south of Baghdad). At any rate, the many flood-deposit layers show that flooding in southeastern Mesopotamia was not unusual in ancient times.

Figure 1. Map of Mesopotamia (Iraq).
Figure 1. Map of Mesopotamia (Iraq).

Similar large local floods are common throughout history around the world. For example, monsoon storms in Bangladesh frequently produce much rain over the country and in the Himalaya Mountains, which rise in the northern part of the country (Anonymous nd-b). Runoff of water from the rain and melting snow during such storms create great floods in four rivers that converge to the Wang River, which then drains into a huge delta in the Bay of Bengal (Anonymous nd-b). Thousands of people have been drowned in this delta region by many such floods during the last century. Almost every culture through history has a flood story to tell, as would the people in Bangladesh, but in each of these times and places, the floods would have been local and not worldwide.

Many creationists have pointed out that the Bible indicates that God promised not to cause another huge flood to occur and, therefore, there cannot be any floods that are similar to the Noachian Flood (Genesis 9:13–15). Therefore, the geological record should show at least one unique flood event that is different from all the large regional floods for which there is geological evidence.

Why Was the Local Large Flood Possible?

Storms that occur in Mesopotamia usually come from the Mediterranean Sea, cross the mountains in Syria, Turkey, and western Iran, move southeasterly over Mesopotamia to the Persian Gulf, and then exit in the Gulf of Oman. The Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that would transport water from these storms leave higher land in northern Mesopotamia and enter a nearly flat area about 130 km north of Baghdad. In this 130-km interval the gradients of these rivers are small, with the elevation dropping about 3 m per km along the course of the rivers. Both the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers near Baghdad have elevations of about 30 m above sea level, and at the city of As Samawah (280 km south of Baghdad), the Euphrates River has an elevation of 9 m (a drop in elevation of 21 m) (NOAA nd). A similar 21-meter drop occurs along the Tigris River. On that basis, the gradients of the two rivers in these intervals are 0.075 m per km. In the additional 360 km to the Persian Gulf (sea level) the gradients are only about 0.025 m per km. Therefore, in both southeastern and central Mesopotamia the gradients are so low that the rivers barely flow downhill, and frequent flooding could be common.

A large river has natural levees. During a big storm, water rushing down the channel carries abundant sedimentary debris. If the water in the channel overflows its banks onto the adjacent flood plain, the velocity immediately slows because of friction with the flat land, and the water at lower speed cannot carry its entire load of sediment. Heavier coarser particles are deposited abruptly on tops of the banks adjacent to the river while finer silts and clay particles are transported onto the flood plain. When such overflowing floods are repeated year after year, the coarser sediments deposited adjacent to the river build up natural levees on both sides of the channel. Natural levees along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers rise up to 4 to 5 meters above the river channels, and the surface of these levees slope gently away from the rivers for 5 to 8 km toward lower, adjacent, nearly-flat flood plains that are up to 105 km wide (Tactical Pilotage Chart TPC G-4C, H-6A, and H-6B). The people living in Mesopotamia in biblical times would have had their villages on the natural levees because the flood plains would have been swampy.

What Happened During the Flood?

The watershed for the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers on which the flood could have occurred extends for more than 1600 km from the Persian Gulf through Mesopotamia into Syria and Turkey and laterally for about 1000 km from eastern Saudi Arabia to southwestern Iran — an area of more than 1.6 million square kilometers. On that basis, if abundant rain fell, not only in the mountains of Syria and Turkey, but also in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the tributary streams from these countries would all contribute their volumes of water to the flood plains of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Map showing elevation contours around the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that extend NW-SE through Mesopotamia.Figure 2. Map showing elevation contours around the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that extend NW-SE through Mesopotamia.

Normally, in lesser storms most water runoff would have come primarily from the mountains in Syria and Turkey and not also from Saudi Arabia and Iran. During the flood, upstream where water first accumulates, the depth of water on the flood plains may be barely over the tops of the natural levees, but downstream the water "piles up" because it does not flow very fast downhill on a nearly flat surface. Therefore, downstream water depths could reach 32 m or more above the tops of the levees.

This increase in depth would be intensified where the two flood plains with a width of 275 km in the northern section would be squeezed into a 220-km width in the lower part of the drainage system where the two rivers join. The joining of the two rivers would also increase the volume of the water in the flood plains, thereby increasing the depth. At any rate, all higher land on the natural levees where the people in the villages were present would be completely submerged. Thus, it would be possible for a flood to have occurred in mid- Mesopotamia, perhaps about 2900 BCE, as evidenced by the scientifically dated flood deposits.

Remnant Evidence of the Flood

When the huge storm ceased that caused the flood, there would have been huge lakes, and it could have taken months to drain the water in these lakes into the gulf — which could easily explain why the Noachian Flood took so long to recede (as much as one year, according to Genesis 8:14). Evidence for this poor drainage can be seen in the present-day lakes in the flood plains. Lake Hawr al Hammar is 32 km wide and more than 80 km long, lies on the flood plain of the Euphrates River west of Basra, and several other large lakes are on flood plains adjacent to the Tigris River (for example, Hawr as Sa'diya and Hawr as Saniyalt). The poor drainage would be caused by the fact that the water covering the flood plains would have no channel through which to flow, would not flow uphill over the sloping natural levees to re-enter the river channels, and the slopes of the bottoms of the lakes would have been nearly flat with gradients toward the gulf of 0.025 to 0.075 meters per kilometer.

Effects of the Curvature of the Earth

Because of the curvature of the earth, the horizon drops from where the viewer is standing. However, the drop is proportional to the square of the distance between the viewer and an object on the horizon (Young nd). From these relationships, it can be seen that a tribal chief (or Noah) standing on the deck of a large boat (Ark), perhaps 7.8 meters above the water,would not be able to see the tops of any hills as high as 15 m from as little as 24 km away across flood plains covered with water because the curvature of the earth prevents it (See the Appendix for examples of calculations). Most hills in this region that are as much as 15 m high are more than 95 km away from the river levees. Therefore, the survivors of the Flood could see only water in all directions while they were floating down the Tigris River and over the flood plains. Many of these hills would also be partly covered with water which would make their tops project less above the water level, and therefore, the curvature of the earth would make them disappear from the line of sight in even a shorter distance than 24 km.

Northeast and southwest of the nearly flat surface that contains the two rivers, the topography rises to more than 455 m in Saudi Arabia and in Iran. Calculations show that elevations of 455 m high cannot be seen beyond 86 km away, and these places are more than 160 km from the Euphrates or Tigris Rivers. Therefore, none of the high country in Saudi Arabia or Iran would be visible to a tribal chief (or Noah). On that basis, the "whole world" would definitely appear to be covered with water during the Flood, and that was the "whole world" for the people in this part of southeastern Mesopotamia at that time.

Conclusions

If the 3.4-meter–thick layer of flood deposits in southeastern Mesopotamia (MacDonald 1988) represents a huge flood of ancient times, and if it is the remnants of the one described in the early Babylonian epics, then the authors of these epics were likely survivors who lived in a village on natural levees on the lower parts of either the Euphrates or Tigris Rivers where the flood waters covered their village, natural levees, and adjacent flood plains for distances of 160 to 320 kilometers so that no land could be seen, and their "whole world" would have been under water.

Acknowledgments

I wish to thank Kevin Collins, Fred Tonsing, Eugene Fritsche, Warren Hunt, Jarvis Streeter, Steve Peralta, and Barbara Collins for helpful comments that greatly improved the manuscript.

Note

In the printed version, "Gilgamesh" erroneously appears in the second paragraph; it is replaced by the correct "Utnapishtim" here.

References

Academy for Ancient Texts. nd. Epic of Gilgamesh. Available on-line at http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh. Last accessed February 16, 2009.

[Anonymous]. nd-a. Atra-Hasis. Available online at http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Atra-Hasis. Last accessed February 16, 2009.

[Anonymous]. nd-b. Floods in Bangladesh. Available on-line at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floods_in_Bangladesh. Last accessed February 17, 2009.

Best RM. nd. Noah's Ark: A lost legend about Ziusudra, King of Sumer. Available on-line at http://www.noahs-ark-flood.com. Last accessed February 16, 2009.

Byers G. nd. Great discoveries in Biblical archaeology: The Atra-Hasis epic. Available on-line at http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2006/10/Atra-Hasis-Epic.aspx. Last accessed February 16, 2009.

Collins LG. 2006. Time to accumulate chloride ions in the world's oceans — More than 3.6 billion years: Creationism's young earth not supported. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 26 (5): 16–8, 23–4.

MacDonald D. 1988. The Flood: Mesopotamian archaeological evidence. Creation/Evolution 8 (2): 14–20.

NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. nd. Climate of Iraq. US National Climatic Data Center. Available on-line at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/afghan/iraq-narrative.html. Last accessed February 23, 2009.

Schreiber BC, Lugli S, Babel B. 2007. Evaporites Through Space and Time. Cambridge: GSL Publishing Associates Limited.

Young AT. nd. Distance to the horizon. Available on-line at http://mintaka.sdsu.edu/GF/explain/atmos_refr/horizon.html. Last accessed October 22, 2009.

Appendix

The drop in the horizon (curvature) does not vary linearly but with the square of altitude. The formula is:

root(2rh+h2),

where r is the radius of the earth and h is the altitude above the earth's surface (Young nd).The radius of the earth varies a little at different locations on the surface, but is on average 6378 km. A simpler calculation derived from this formula is 3.57 km times the square root of the height of the eye in meters.

For a person who is 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall, the eye level is about 1.75 meters above the ground. If we place that person on the deck of an ark that is 30 cubits (13.6 meters) high and that is floating so that 2/3 of its height is above the surface of the water, then the total for h will be 1.75 + 6.06 = 7.81 meters.

Thus, we calculate the distance to the horizon:

(3.57km)(root(7.81)) = 9.98 km.

Similarly, we can use this calculation to compute how far away a hilltop has to be before it disappears below the horizon. If the hills were 15 meters tall, as occurs in high ground between the two river systems south of Baghdad, these hills are below the horizon at:

(3.57km)(root(15)) = 14 km.

If we add the additional 9.98 km that Noah would gain by standing on the deck of the ark, the hilltops would be invisible from any distance greater than about 24 km. Since these hills are more than 95 km from the river levees, they would be invisible from the Ark.

If the elevations were 455 meters high, as occurs in eastern Saudi Arabia and on the steep slopes of the Zogras Mountains in southwestern Iran, the calculations are

(3.57 km)( root(455)) = 76.15 km.

So a person standing on the ark could see these mountaintops at about 86 km away. Since these elevations are more than 320 km away from the Euphrates River and more than 160 km away from the Tigris River, they would also be invisible from the ark.

 

About the Author(s): 


AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Lorence G Collins
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Lorence G Collins is a retired professor of geology at California State University, Northridge, who has written extensively to promote general knowledge about geology and to counter arguments by anti-evolutionists, including three other articles for RNCSE. For details, visit http://www.csun.edu/~vcgeo005/creation.html.

Review: More than a Theory

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
46-47
Reviewer: 
Graham Oppy
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
More than a Theory: Revealing a Testable Model for Creation
Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Books, 2009. 298 pages

Hugh Ross is the founder of the self-described "science-faith think tank" Reasons to Believe (RTB). The fundamental aim of the "scientists" at RTB is "to demonstrate how God’s verbal revelation [in the Christian Bible] proves accurate and wholly consistent with the latest [scientific] discoveries" (http://www.reasons.org). In the service of this fundamental aim, Ross and his RTB colleagues have produced a long list of books and pamphlets: for example, Rana and Ross 2004, 2005; Ross 1983, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006, 2008; Ross and others 2002. It is no secret that these previous books have received scathing reviews from both mainstream scientists (see RNCSE 2006 Sep/Oct; 26 [5]: 35–7, 2006 Sep/Oct; 26 [5]: 37–8, and 2007 May–Aug; 27 [3–4]: 45–8 for reviews of Ross 2006, Rana and Ross 2005, and Rana and Ross 2004, respectively) and young-earth creationists.

In his new book, Ross sets out to compare "the RTB model of creation/ evolution" with "the three most familiar Western models: naturalistic evolution, young-earth creationism, and theistic evolution" (p 234). Ross claims that, in 2006, RTB published "a set of simple science predictions" from these four "models", and that the assessment of these "predictions" against subsequently collected data yields the results reproduced in Table 1 (p 244).

 
Naturalism
Young Earth
Theistic Evolution
RTB Creation
Fulfilled
1
3
4
20
Partly Fulfilled
1
0
5
1
Not Yet Fulfilled1
1
2
1
Partly Falsified
3
1
11
0
Falsified
16
17
0
0
Table 1. Predictions of four models, according to Hugh Ross.


Here are four of the "simple science predictions" that Ross attributes to "naturalistic evolution":

  1. New astronomical discoveries will increasingly disprove the current astronomical consensus that the physics of the Big Bang event must be exquisitely fine-tuned for life to be possible in the universe. (p 235–6)
  2. New astronomical discoveries will show how unremarkable earth’s location in the universe is for habitability and observation. ... Astronomers will soon discover other planetary systems in the Milky Way Galaxy where advanced-life-support planets could exist and where observers could view the universe as easily and thoroughly as astronomers do on earth. (p 236–7)
  3. Evidence for fine-tuned long-lasting plate tectonics will weaken as scientists learn more about plate-tectonic phenomena. ... Thin-atmosphered planets (or other bodies) with stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic phenomena will prove relatively common. ... These phenomena will prove less and less crucial to the needs of advanced life ... and their apparent fine-tuning will eventually be seen as vastly overrated. (p 238)
  4. As anthropological and genetic research advances, humanity will prove increasingly less distinct from the most recent hominid species. ... Evidence for interventionist miracles to explain humanity’s unique characteristics will steadily decline. (p 239)

This is all sublimely silly. Naturalism — the view that there is nothing but natural causation — does not involve a commitment to 1–4. Naturalistic astronomers do not predict, for example, that they will soon find lots of planets with thin atmospheres and stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic phenomena. Moreover, even if the astronomical evidence were to suggest strongly that, in the observable universe, the earth is unique in possessing a thin atmosphere and a stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic structure, that would be no difficulty for naturalism. Setting all other considerations aside, we need only note that we have but lower bounds on the size of the universe proper; we have no good current estimates of the size of the part of the universe that we are unable to observe. So, setting all other considerations aside, naturalists can suppose that the size of the part of the universe that we are unable to observe is sufficient to remove puzzlement at the existence of a planet with a thin atmosphere and a stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic structure.

Ross does say: "I’ve taken the liberty to deduce predictions from each of the four models while attempting to remain as neutral and objective as possible. Should any of these predictions be misstated, I have a genuine desire for correction. Where a range of positions is held within a particular camp, unless otherwise qualified, I’ve attempted to describe the position as held by its most publicly prominent advocates"(p 234). But this is surely just cant. Ross’s new book displays all of the failings that others identified years ago in his previous works — that is, his new book is also replete with errors of fact, errors of reasoning, misunderstandings of science, egregious interpretations of scripture, elementary misunderstandings of Hebrew, uses of scientific terms without consistent explanation or elaboration, unjustified reliance on religious rhetoric, and sundry other kinds of cheap tricks, distortions, and so on — and is no more worthy of a serious readership.

Here is one small example. Ross claims that Hawking and Penrose "proved, within the framework of classical general relativity, that if the universe contains mass and if the equations of general relativity reliably describe the universe’s dynamics, then its space and time dimensions must have had a beginning that coincides with the universe’s origin" (p 96–7). This simply is not so. Hawking and Penrose did prove some theorems that tell us that, under plausible assumptions, there are generic essential singularities in general relativistic space-times: that is, under plausible assumptions, if we suppose that general relativity is true, then we have good reason to suppose that there are singularities in space-time. However, Hawking and Penrose did not prove that, under plausible assumptions, there are generic essential initial singularities in general relativistic space-times: that is, they did not prove that, under plausible assumptions, if we suppose that general relativity is true, we have good reason to suppose that space-time has an initial singularity. If there are black holes, then there are singularities in space-time. The Hawking and Penrose results allow that there are general relativistic space-times that contain black holes but that have no initial singularities. So Hawking and Penrose certainly did not prove that "if the universe contains mass and if the equations of general relativity reliably describe the universe’s dynamics, then its space and time dimensions must have had a beginning that coincides with the universe’s origin".


References

Rana F, Ross H. 2004. Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Rana F, Ross H. 2005. Who was Adam? Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 1983. Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective. Sierra Madre (CA): Wiseman Productions.

Ross H. 1989. The Fingerprint of God. Orange (CA): Promise Publishing.

Ross H. 1993. The Creator and the Cosmos. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 1994. Creation and Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 1996. Beyond the Cosmos. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 1998. The Genesis Question. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 2004. A Matter of Days. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 2006. Creation as Science. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.

Ross H. 2008. Why the Universe is the Way it is. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker, 2008.

Ross H, Samples KR, Clark M. 2002. Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS

Graham Oppy
School of Philosophy and Bioethics
Monash University VIC 3800
Australia
Graham.Oppy@arts.monash.edu.au

Graham Oppy is Professor of Philosophy at Monash University. His latest book is Arguing about Gods (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Review: Reframing Scopes

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
41–42
Reviewer: 
Charles A Israel
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century
Author(s): 
Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
Lawrence (KS): University Press of Kansas, 2008. 196 pages.

How many readers of this journal, if asked to think of images of the Scopes trial, find mental pictures of Spencer Tracy, Fredric Marsh, and other actors from Inherit the Wind? Sure, we know the film and play it was based on was really a McCarthy-era allegory, but the Hollywood image has proven quite sticky indeed. The real Scopes trial, held in Dayton, Tennessee, in the summer of 1925, was carried on WGN radio and covered by colorful print journalists of the era like HL Mencken and Joseph Wood Krutch, and their word-pictures have proven highly influential. Some contemporary photographs and more editorial cartoons have survived, but for many the real Dayton has been overtaken by the fictional Hillsboro. Now there is a possible cure for this condition.

In 2005, eighty years after the trial of high school teacher John Thomas Scopes, historian Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette discovered an amazing collection of photographs in an only partly processed collection at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. In this short volume, she has intelligently blended the restored photographs with pictures from other collections for a total of fifty-one images. Attached to each is an informative caption, and from the assemblage she draws attention to themes and interpretations of the trial lost from view in other accounts. We see the expected cast: defendant Scopes, guest prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, and defense attorney Clarence Darrow. More valuable, perhaps, are the images of the defense team of lawyers, scientist–witnesses, and interested supporters assembled on the steps of their trial headquarters. While most contemporary and historical attention from the trial has centered on the high-profile attorneys arguing the case, LaFollette's pictures and text showcase zoologist Maynard M Metcalf, the only scientist who actually testified on the stand in Dayton; Howard Gale Byrd, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church who was forced to resign his pulpit in Dayton in the midst of the church in a controversy surrounding the discussion of evolution in the church; E Haldeman-Julius, an advocate of science and reason who published radical tracts and drove to Dayton from Kansas with his wife Marcet; and an assembly of worshippers gathered for a baptism in a stream nearby during the trial.

Even though they have a certain behind-the-scenes quality, most of the images are clearly posed, but this is not surprising given their source: the bulk of the photographs in the book were snapped by Watson Davis, who in 1925 was in Dayton to cover the trial as a journalist along with Frank Thone, a biologist with a PhD from the University of Chicago and an interest in popularizing science. Without Davis and Thone there would be no book here, and it is their presence and mission in Dayton that provide what is most unique in LaFollette's approach to this much covered media and legal event. Watson was in Dayton as managing editor of the Science Service, an organization endowed by publisher EW Scripps and cooperating with scientists and journalists. Science Service had a difficult mission: to provide the public both interesting and accurate stories of contemporary science and technology. The circus atmosphere of the Scopes trial would provide both a wonderful opportunity for the young organization to demonstrate its utility but also a large challenge to overcome all the sensationalist press issued by partisans on both sides of the affair.

LaFollette is well equipped to investigate and assess the role of Davis, Thone, and the Science Service in the Scopes Trial. In her previous books, she has explored the public images of science in the first half of the twentieth century as well as the history of plagiarism and scholarly misconduct among scientists. She is complimentary of, even thankful for, Davis's and Thone's efforts to document the trial and publicize its scientific issues in the 1920s and in preserving their records for posterity. But she also takes a critical approach to the two scientific journalists' position in the trial: not content to be just observers, the two were active participants in the defense team efforts. Even while distributing stories on the scientific aspects of the trial, they assisted in recruiting scientists to testify for the defense. Their close affiliation with the defense may have given the lie to any quaint notion of journalistic objectivity, but it did allow them to acquire the many great images reprinted in the book. And it led to another of their legacies from the trial: Davis and Thone led the effort to fund defendant John T Scopes's graduate education at the University of Chicago. Impressed by his lack of desire to take the spotlight in the trial or afterword, the two scientist–journalists helped to protect his privacy after the trial.

LaFollette does a fine job of using the pictures to open up many different stories of the trial. Scholars in many fields will be both interested to see what she pulls from the images and frustrated that she did not pursue the themes more. But she intelligently introduces many issues — journalistic objectivity, the religious preferences of the scientists, the objectifying gaze of the journalists on the local holiness religious practices, and the failed aspirations for economic rebirth in Dayton — without getting too far from the images or losing general readers.

About the Author(s): 

Charles A Israel
Department of History
310 Thach Hall
Auburn University AL 36849
cisrael@auburn.edu

Charles A Israel is an associate professor in and chair of the Department of History at Auburn University. His research concerns religion and social reform in the South, including a book on evangelicals, education, and evolution, Before Scopes: Evangelicals, Education, and Evolution in Tennessee, 1875–1925 (Athens [GA]: University of Georgia Press, 2004).

Review: The Bible, Rocks and Time

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
45–46
Reviewer: 
Steven Newton
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth
Author(s): 
Davis A Young and Ralph F Stearley
Downers Grove (IL): IVP Academic, 2008. 510 pages.

In The Bible, Rocks and Time, Calvin College professors of geology Davis Young and Ralph Stearley present a clear, cogent, and detailed explanation of how scientists know the age of the earth. (The book is a "total rewrite" of Young's Christianity and the Age of the Earth [Thousand Oaks (CA): Artisan Press, 1988)].) Young and Stearley address the religious implications of the earth's antiquity and attempt to reconcile scientific and religious perspectives on this important issue. Although Young and Stearley address their book to "Christian pastors, theologians, biblical scholars, students and lay people," the richness of its scientific and historical information make The Bible, Rocks and Time appealing to an even broader audience.

The first section of the book, "Historical Perspectives", presents a very readable history of the development of geologic thinking, elucidating the discoveries of scientists such as Steno, Hutton, Smith, and Buffon. We learn how early geologists "began to realize that the strata could not have been produced in a one-year Deluge but had to form over a period of time" (p 79). Discarded geologic ideas such as Neptunism — the hypothesis that igneous rocks precipitate from water, just as crystalline salts precipitate from evaporating water — are explained in the context of a developing science that gradually progresses by correcting its errors.

The second portion of the book, "Biblical Perspectives", presents a history of the attempts to understand the age of the earth through scripture, especially Genesis and Psalms. Young and Stearley clarify how a 6000-year–old young-earth view is only one scriptural interpretation among many, some of which allow for a much older earth. Because the interpretation of the earth as 6000 years old grabs so many headlines, it is easy to overlook the fact that such a view does not represent the range of religious scholarship. Young and Stearley reveal a complicated, nuanced story of many competing ideas, some of which gained larger followings than others.

The third section of the book, "Geological Perspectives", is a strong critique of young-earth creationist claims that geology is "an artificial construct of geologists designed to mislead the public," by piecing "together the fossil record, crazy-quilt style, to fit a preconceived notion of organic evolution" in order to promote "a faulty, rationalistic philosophy of science" (p 235).

Young and Stearley demonstrate the sloppiness of creationists; in one memorable example, creationists Henry Morris and John Whitcomb are caught using a flawed description of the fossils of Lincoln County, Wyoming, not from peer-reviewed geologic literature, but from an article in Compressed Air Magazine. This brief, error-riddled article formed the basis of their inaccurate, second-hand description of fossils in Lincoln County.

Young and Stearley then delineate the evidence for geologic time in a number of specific locales — Yosemite, the Michigan Basin, Table Mountain, Kilauea. The authors explain how phenomena such as contact metamorphism in Sierra Nevada roof pendants are incompatible with creationist geology. Calculations of deposition rates show that in order for Flood geology to be true, sediment would have to accumulate at a rate of 36 000 feet per year, a rate so far removed from anything observed today that Young and Stearley exclaim, "Do Flood geologists really expect anyone to believe that?" (p 378).

The strongest portions of The Bible, Rocks and Time come in two chapters on radiometric dating. Young and Stearley present a very readable explanation of radiometric dating that is substantive, yet basic enough for non-scientists to understand. They start at the beginning, working through the definitions of atoms and isotopes and decay rates, to more advanced concepts such as how different isochron methods address the problem of pre-existing daughter isotopes.

The last section, "Philosophical Perspectives", examines geologic thinking in regards to the ideas of catastrophism and uniformitarianism. Creationists are philosophically predisposed to think in terms of catastrophism — violent, rapid changes over a very short period of time. Geologists are predisposed to think in terms of uniformitarianism — gradual, small changes affecting earth over a long period of time. Young and Stearley explain that according to some creationists, when geologists "blindly [hold] to a dogma of uniformitarianism, geologists unwittingly misinterpret the geologic evidence pertaining to the antiquity of earth" (p 447).

Young and Stearley trace how geologic thinking developed from the time of Charles Lyell, who believed in uniformitarianism so strictly that he saw even evolution as an affront to this steadiness of the world, to our current time. Modern geologists know that while the idea of uniformitarianism is very useful, there have been punctuations in the earth's history involving processes not seen today, such as the deposition of banded iron formations in response to the first atmospheric free oxygen, massive dolomite deposition under conditions in which dolomite cannot form today, and meteor-induced mass extinctions.

The Bible, Rocks and Time explains how uniformitarianism evolved. Plate tectonics was initially rejected by the geologic community despite Alfred Wegener's convincing evidence. In addition to Wegener's lack of a plausible mechanism, the idea that continents could move relative to each other was so hard to reconcile with uniformitarianism that geologists found the concept difficult to consider seriously.

Geologists were also disinclined to recognize evidence for titanic floods — despite the evidence that such floods had occurred, in eastern Washington for example. In these decidedly non-uniformitarian floods 15–13 000 years ago, the collapse of ice dams holding back lakes formed by melting glaciers unleashed discharges of billions of liters per second over eastern Washington, carving unique structures in the rock and creating what are now known as the Channeled Scablands.

Another challenge came in 1980, with the seminal Alvarez paper on the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction. Uniformitarianism adapted to this new evidence, changing to a view where processes in the past largely were as they are now, with occasional exceptions, such as big rocks from outer space smacking the planet. Creationists, by contrast, "are unwilling to abandon their young-earth, global-Flood hypothesis even when the evidence shows it to be untenable" (p 472).

Young and Stearley argue that creationism is harmful to faith. They write of the dilemma that occurs when young Christians conclude, "because the geologic evidence is so persuasive, that what they were taught about creation must be incorrect. To them, the Bible now becomes a flawed book" (p 477). But, Young and Stearley argue, it is the creationist young-earth interpretation that is flawed.

The Bible, Rocks and Time is a systematic refutation of creationist geology. On point after point, Young and Stearley demolish the claims of flood geologists and sundry young-earthers in substance and in detail. This book will prove a useful tool for scientists to explain geologic ideas to the public, and to refute the notion that accepting science necessarily means rejecting religion. Moreover, since Young and Stearley's defense of science comes from a specifically religious viewpoint — they argue that "nobody needs to abandon sound science in order to become a Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ" (p 11) — it will be especially useful in communicating with evangelical Christians.

About the Author(s): 

Steven Newton
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
newton@ncse.com

Steven Newton is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

Review: The Darwin Myth

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
42–43
Reviewer: 
Sander Gliboff
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin
Author(s): 
Benjamin Wiker
Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2009. 196 pages.

Using that “life and lies” formula in the subtitle of this anti-Darwin book was not a wise move by Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Wiker. It invites unfavorable comparison to a similarly titled book about a similarly celebrated white-bearded English sage with an ugly nose. I mean, of course, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, by Rita Skeeter, a book within a book in the Harry Potter series.

For the uninitiated: Skeeter is an unscrupulous witch of an investigative reporter. She takes Dumbledore’s own remarks and other peoples’ recollections out of context and makes him seem guilty of everything from racial prejudice, elitism, claiming credit for the accomplishments of others, and manipulating friends, family, and the public, to valuing the greater good over individual rights, inspiring a militaristic and eugenical ideology, and fomenting world war.

In a spooky case of life imitating art, Wiker makes essentially the same accusations against Darwin, using Skeeter’s exact methods. Those methods do not require “facts” to be conjured out of thin air, although both authors are quite capable of doing it. The real trick is to select, isolate, and exaggerate the facts you like, while making the ones you don’t like vanish. Wiker’s favorite way to get rid of them is to wave his hands and pass them off as lies.

Having led one of the best-documented lives in the history of science, Darwin provides a good variety of facts and quotes for Wiker to select from. For example, on the subject of religion: Darwin once described himself as having been a Biblical literalist, once signed an oath of Anglican orthodoxy required of Cambridge students, studied to be a clergyman, sometimes called himself an agnostic, sometimes a materialist, and sometimes a theist (but never an atheist). He took pride in his friendship and collaboration with his Anglican minister as well in his family heritage of Unitarianism and freethought.

When serious biographers piece together Darwin’s life story out of such a confusing historical record, they look at the chronological progression and the changing circumstances, and they see a developing individual. Mythical figures and epic heroes do not need to develop, but humans do, and character development is what makes our current picture of Darwin realistic and interesting. Darwin grew, erred, learned, and only gradually became the venerable Sage of Downe. Along the way, he grappled with difficult questions about God and nature, and left the record of his changing answers in notebooks, letters, publications, and an autobiography.

In contrast, it is Wiker who gives us a mythical Darwin, one who appears constant in his rejection of religion, practically from birth. It makes no difference to Wiker that all of Darwin’s recorded doubts date from after his voyage on the Beagle, or that Darwin also made favorable, conciliatory, or just plain uncertain statements about religion. Wiker either ignores them or dismisses them as lies.

Wiker occasionally writes nice things about Darwin and pats himself on the back for not demonizing him, but he sure does make him out to be a horrible liar and a cheat. He has Darwin lying about his religious beliefs to get into Cambridge, lying about the motives behind his theorizing, lying about having been led to his theory by evidence, lying about its originality, stealing the credit for it, and plotting to convince people of it as well as of the need to take God out of nature and science. It gets so ridiculous that the poor guy can’t even tell us he enjoyed music without Wiker calling it deceptive.

In addition to the life-and-lies business, there is also a long chapter about the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man, with an emphasis on how those books supposedly undermined the Biblical foundations of morality (which, for Wiker, are the only foundations morality can have). Cherrypicked quotations make Darwin appear to have endorsed eugenics and the extermination of inferior races. And natural selection is described as destroying the unfit for the good of the species, sacrificing them, as it were, to a dark creator. Suddenly Darwinism is not atheism, but death worship.

Three short chapters address later historical developments and social ills, for which responsibility is pinned, predictably, on you-know-who. The ills include eugenics, Nazism, abortion, euthanasia, sex education and contraceptives for the poor, cyber-pornography, and cannibalism (by which Wiker means embryonic tissue culture and stem-cell research). Even though Darwin was a kindly gentleman who loved his family and wished none of these things upon us, Wiker argues (remembering to say something nice again, so as not to demonize), they are still his fault because of his general de-Christianizing influence.

Striving for balance between faith and reason, Wiker advises “reasonable Christians,” as he calls them, not to overdo the reason part, but to put revelation first. On the other hand, they should leave themselves some room — within strict but unspecified limits — for interpreting Scripture, and they do not have to reject evolution altogether. They just need a non-Darwinian version of it that puts God, morality, and purpose back into nature. This is touted as an astonishing finding.

Indeed the pitch for theistic evolution is astonishing, considering how little credence the book gives to any evidence for species transformation. Aside from that, the book’s claims are unsurprising, since they are mostly Discovery Institute talking points that date back to the mid-1990s and have been rebutted many times since then. The biographical interpretations may be original, though. They also verge on fantasy, so I recommend this book to Harry Potter fans, in case they want to see how a real-life Rita Skeeter operates.

About the Author(s): 
Sander Gliboff
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
130 Goodbody Hall
1011 E 3rd St.
Indiana University
Bloomington IN 47405
sgliboff@indiana.edu

Sander Gliboff is Associate Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, and the author of HG Bronn, Ernst Haeckel, and the Origins of German Darwinism: A Study in Translation and Transformation (Cambridge [MA]: MIT Press, 2008).

Review: Why the Universe Is the Way It Is

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
43-45
Reviewer: 
David Koerner
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Why the Universe Is the Way It Is
Author(s): 
Hugh Ross
Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Book House, 2008. 240 pages

Hugh Ross agrees with Leibniz. All's for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and you are living in it. As founder and president of an old-earth creationist ministry, Reasons to Believe, Ross also thinks nature and the Bible are complementary sources of truth. Both are necessary for a complete picture of our cosmic purpose. In his catechetical book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, nature speaks first in the form of a cosmological fine-tuning argument from design. Fundamental properties of the universe and unique features of planet earth are improbably arranged, hence designed solely for our benefit. The remainder of the book cites Bible chapter and verse to dispatch the pesky problem of evil with an eschatological solution. Do you sometimes have difficulty seeing the Designer's purpose in a life-destroying tsunami, earthquake, or pandemic? All will become clear when the "best possible world" of this age gives way to an even better "perfect" world of the next. But purpose is still discernible in events of this world, including the greatest of tragedies. You must simply look harder. Ross explains that the quest for meaning is like playing "Where's Waldo?" in the children's book series of the same name. Why is the universe so big, old, dark, lonely, and in decline (chapters 2–6)? Ross finds the Waldoes and points them out. Like Christopher Durang's Sister Mary Ignatius, he "explains it all for you".

Ross's version of the cosmic fine-tuning argument resembles that of several Discovery Institute Fellows, although he parts company with their efforts to promote a non-supernatural designer in public science education. Physicists have understood for quite some time that life as we know it could not exist if any of several cosmic constants deviated from their observed values by one part in 1040 or some similarly large number (for example, see Rees 2001). Why is this true? The anthropic principle points out that, were it otherwise, we would not be here to ask the question. But is our existence due to a colossal fluke, some yet-undiscovered natural law(s), divine design, or a rarity made inevitable by membership in a super-huge, random, and mostly sterile set of multiple universes (the "multiverse")? For Ross, design is the only option worth talking about. To make his case, he recites from an expanding litany of gee-whiz antecedents to existence (chapter 8) and ignores competing explanations.

In the standard design solution to fine-tuning, a Designer is used to explain the narrow range of cosmic parameters that allow us to be here. To use an analogy that Ross does not, material facts of our existence are like cards in a highly improbable hand drawn from a very large deck. Their putative unlikelihood is explained if an Intelligent Dealer picked them out on purpose. There are 2 598 960 possible five-card hands that can be drawn from a deck of only 52 cards. The chances of drawing any one in particular are thus already pretty low. But we are not likely, a posteriori, to see a miracle in every hand drawn. What is the prior expectation for a special hand, then, like one that contains two pairs? Since there are 123 552 different ways to get two pairs in a five-card hand, the probability is 123 552/2 598 960 — about 5%. It is somewhat unlikely to get this result in a single deal. If you were dealt 20 hands in succession, however, you would not find it remarkable to get two pairs in at least one of them. Is the special "hand" of our existence vastly more improbable? Ross says yes, but he is still answering after the fact. He does not know the number of ways intelligent life could be arrived at or the number of attempts that have occurred, or even the initial range of possibilities (the "deck"). Despite repeated claims, he has no way to determine if our existence is likely or not.

Fundamental properties of the universe are necessary but insufficient conditions for life in it. So Ross's Designer works post-Big Bang to make a habitable planet and put life on it as per Genesis 1. That was the week that was, says Ross, but it actually lasted several billion years. Incredulous readers are referred to Ross's other books to connect Genesis to the fossil record. Meanwhile, he expands the fine-tuning argument along the lines of Discovery Institute Fellows Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards. Gonzalez is an "intelligent design" martyr recently beatified in Ben Stein's movie Expelled (see RNCSE 2008 Sep–Dec; 28 [5–6]). He and Ross published on this topic as early as 2000 in the religious journal First Things (Gonzalez and Ross 2000). At that time, Gonzalez also collaborated with paleontologist Peter Ward and planetary scientist Don Brownlee who argued in Rare Earth (2000) that our galaxy is probably not host to much extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI). This boldly marketed conjecture was captured in a groan-inducing parody worthy of a Yoko Ono lawsuit: "Imagine There's No Spacemen" (sic) (http://www.astro.washington.edu/rareearth/rareearthsite/rareearth.mp3 [Link has expired]).

Ward and Brownlee contended that to support complex intelligent life, a planet needs an improbable combination of things like a large moon, plate tectonics, a nearby Jovian planet, and location in a "Galactic Habitable Zone" (GHZ). Gonzalez and Richards went further in The Privileged Planet (2004; reviewed in RNCSE 2005 Jan–Apr; 25 [1–2]: 47–9) and saw God where the former merely doubted ETI. Earth is not only rare; it's a miracle! To make the case, they hyped the importance and rarity of each and every condition necessary for life as we know it. Ross follows suit and, for instance, champions a highly restrictive GHZ that is simply not borne out by quantitative modeling. On the basis of numerical simulations that neither Ward, Brownlee, Gonzalez, nor Ross bothered to make, Prantzos (2008) reports that it is currently impossible "to draw any significant conclusions about the extent of the GHZ: it may well be that the entire Milky Way disk is suitable for complex life."

Exaggerated claims like an extremely limited GHZ surround a more serious central blunder in the rare earth argument from design: discounting the multi-planet solution. Design proponents often cite a testability criterion to reject undetected multiple universes in favor of a cosmological Designer who, coincidentally, is also unobserved. In the terrestrial version, however, Ross expressly ignores the ongoing discovery of a large population of planets. By Ross's own calculations, there are of order 1021 stellar systems in the observable universe alone. Current observations and theory suggest that nearly all these will contain planets of some kind. But neither Ross nor Gonzalez demonstrates, quantitatively, that a generic planet has less than 1 chance in 1021 of ending up with properties that could support complex life. There is therefore no reason to exclude the origin of a habitable "rare earth" solely from natural causes, given the size of the universe and ubiquity of planets.

This is just one more Waldo that vanishes under scrutiny like the face on Mars at high resolution. Sadly for Waldo searchers, it happens time and time again in Ross's latest book. In the end, one finds many reasons to doubt but few reasons to believe.


References

Gonzalez G, Ross H. 2000. Home alone in the universe. First Things 103: 10–2.

Gonzales G, Richards JW. The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. Washington (DC): Regnery Publishing, 2004.

Prantzos N. 2008. On the "Galactic Habitable Zone". Space Science Reviews 135 (1–4): 313–22.

Rees M. 2001. Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe. New York: Basic Books.

Ward P, Brownlee D. 2000. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Rare in the Universe. New York: Copernicus Books.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

David Koerner
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Northern Arizona University, Box 6010
Flagstaff AZ 86011-6010

David Koerner is Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northern Arizona University, where he studies planet formation in astronomical observations of circumstellar disks around young stars. He coauthored Here Be Dragons: The Scientific Quest for Extraterrestrial Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) with Simon LeVay.