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Review: Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity
The director of curriculum development at the Institute for Creation Research has publicly stated that this book is an embarrassment to many creationists because of the large number of errors it contains. Judging from this statement, we might expect it would soon be withdrawn from the market, thereby rendering any review unnecessary. It is my understanding, however, that such is not the case, and attempts are still being made to sell the text to private and public schools all over the country.
Well, errors or no, the book makes thoughtful reading for anyone interested in creationism and creationists - and that's where I come in.
As a practicing scientist I can hardly find fault with the oft stated purpose of the book - the exploration of alternative "models" to explain observed phenomena. This is, after all, a basic component of the scientific method. Too often, biology is presented as a series of conclusions with little or no attention given as to how those conclusions were reached. Certainly, the examination of data in the light of conflicting models would be an excellent approach for a biology text.
I might also compliment the editors with respect to the scope of the book. They have certainly included a wide range of material beyond the traditional discipline of biology. Paleontology, anthropology, radiometric dating, thermodynamics, molecular and population genetics, origin of life, and philosophy of science all seem to find their place. It would be difficult, therefore, to fault them for being too narrow in their coverage.
Unfortunately, the book misses the mark as to what science is all about. This fundamental misunderstanding is evident in the very first paragraph of the preface. There co-editor Moore unequivocally states that "true science" consists of presenting the raw data "as it is." However, if the authors adhered to this ideal, they would present no models at all, a direct contradiction of their aforementioned purpose.
The real aim of the book seems to be the making of slanderous attacks on
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evolution and evolutionists. I've looked in vain for one fair statement on the nature of evolution theory. Simply stated, the book is an attempt by the authors to get even for the omission of their creation theory in modern texts.
Furthermore, I am left with the impression that the authors, because they fully understand the extreme frailty of their model, have chosen to discredit evolution rather than make any case for creation.
A beautiful example of their subtle discrediting technique appears in their treatment of population genetics. This complex subject is incomprehensibly dispatched in slightly over one page. There is little chance that any reader not already acquainted with the subject would ever recognize he had just been treated to a fundamental theorem of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. It seems likely that any intelligent, but genetically naive, reader instead would dismiss population genetics as pseudoscientific double-talk, because that is exactly what page 119 contains.
In addition to muddling the facts, the authors make serious errors. For example, the letter "T" is used for both an allele symbol and an allele frequency with almost no mention of the midstream shift in meaning. Then the word "phenotype" is incorrectly used in place of "genotype." And just in case anyone were still comprehending after all of this, the derivation of the binomial distribution of genotypes in a population is erroneously said to be "from the results of a monohybrid cross."
Muddling and errors aside, however, the thing that really stands out is the fact that the authors rarely miss an opportunity to slander the intellect and intentions of evolutionists. Chapter 21, "Weaknesses of Geologic Evidence" seems to represent some sort of nadir in the employment of this technique, so let's take a look at it.
The mood of the entire chapter is captured exquisitely in the section, "Difficulties with the geologic timetable," (page 423). First the geologic sequence is said to be "artificial," and even the word "sequence" is placed in quotation marks along with the word "time." Then the reader is told that the order of the "sequence" was derived entirely by placing fossils in the order of increasing complexity so they would conform to evolutionary expectation. Nowhere is there a hint that the order of strata is usually pieced together by finding layers ABC in one place, BCDE in another, and EFG in still another, etc. Instead, we are told that the "geological column does not actually exist, but is an arbitrary system in the minds of geologists." The fact that no single locality shows all the strata is supposed, from the authors' view, to show the complete absurdity of the whole notion of the geological column.
On the following page we are told how index fossils are an example of circular reasoning. According to the creationists, the oldest strata are recognized as such because they have the least complicated fossils, while the youngest deposits are recognized by having the most complicated forms fossilized in them. The creationist catch-phrase goes like this: "Fossils date rocks and rocks
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As usual, there are several flaws in the creationist reasoning. So let's cover them one at a time. First, there is no known way of assigning a complexity index to any organism. So, if complexity were used to arrange the strata, the order of the geologic column would be a source of constant bickering among geologists. Such a method would have been thrown out as totally unworkable long ago.
Next, it is obvious that the strata could be ordered correctly even if the index fossils showed no apparent complexity gradient at all. What one would need to do is find an intact series, such as ABC, and then find a fossil type which was confined to the B stratum. The fossil used could have any apparent complexity, yet it would still allow you to recognize B strata wherever they occurred. The only assumption would be that the B-type fossil enjoyed wide distribution during one period of time. I fail to see any circularity in this assumption.
As far as assigning an order to any one sequence, only one more assumption would be needed. That would be that most deposits are found right-side-up. Fossil tracks, and burrows of bottom dwellers would also provide some indication as to whether any particular sequence was right-side-up. Tracks, for example, are usually pushed into the substratum, rather than pulled up from it.
At any rate, we see that creationist claims of circular reasoning are possibly pure subterfuge, or they may indicate an incredible lack of common sense on the part of the authors.
Of course the foregoing hypotheses are not mutually exclusive.