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A Final Response to Walter Brown
In my two previous articles about Walter Brown (1989b, 1990), I pointed out a number of examples of his poor research. In response, he claimed that, in fact, I am the one who has fallen short of accuracy while his own work is virtually errorless (Brown, 1989, 1990). In the process, a large number of different arguments have been brought up and discussed in varying degrees of detail. In this article, I respond to Brown's various charges and attempt to show that his work is anything but free of error.
First, let me thank Brown for his explanatory comments regarding his sending me "one reproduced section" from his book The Scientific Case for Creation. However, I don't think the fact that my original comments were based upon only a portion of his book is of any major consequence. My criticisms were of claims Brown has made and, with two exceptions which he classified as "minor," of claims he has not retracted in the most recent edition of his book. Brown's charge that my reliance upon "an outdated edition" of his work was a "general shortcoming" (1989a:35-36) is thus without substance.
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The "categorization" scheme Brown uses in his book is misleading—as I pointed out before. He stretches what should be two or three categories of evidence into forty-eight. For example, listing twelve alleged sightings of Noah's ark as twelve separate categories is absurd.
Brown objects to Edward Max's argument for common ancestry from pseudogenes, stating, "Max's case is far from complete. He hasn't identified all known pseudogenes nor shown which organisms do and do not have them" (1990:36). But science never has all the information, and Brown offers no proof that the evidence is so incomplete that the drawing of any conclusions (however tentative) from it is impossible.
Brown also claims that amino acid sequence research contradicts evolution, citing his book (which in turn cites such sources as Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis and a science fair project). It is ironic that in the same issue of Creation/Evolution in which Brown makes this claim Matthew Landau's article (1990) points out the very mistake that leads Brown to write, "There is not a trace of evidence on the molecular level for the traditional evolutionary series: simple sea life—>fish—>amphibians—>reptiles—>mammals."
Brown then argues that genetic information must have been supernaturally designed. He claims that "no natural process has ever been observed to produce a program" and that "natural processes, without exception, destroy information," asking for counterexamples from those who disagree (1990:36-37). I disagree and direct Brown's attention to William Thwaites' article on the subject of design (1983), specifically to his discussion of Barry Hall's experiments with E. coli bacteria (1983:16-17; Hall 1982). And for a discussion of thermodynamic and information-theoretical considerations in the evolutionary generation of complexity, I direct Brown's attention to the work of Jeffrey Wicken (1979; 1987) and others.
Brown points to specific examples of design in nature as evidence for a designer, claiming that this is "not just a philosophical argument" (1990:37). He writes:
Both claims are equally philosophical. Having a basis in human experience is not sufficient to make something scientific (or philosophical, for that matter). One could, as Brown attempts, provide scientific evidence in support of one or the other of these two contentions, but this is not something Brown does in his book. I also find Brown's disdain for philosophical argument objectionable. Philosophy has an important role to play in the sciences and has been particularly useful in addressing certain questions about evolution (such as the role of fitness in natural selection and the nature and applicability of evolutionary explanations).
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Brown takes issue with my statement that "an appropriate structure, whatever its origin, is capable of producing valid conclusions from correct premises" and accuses me of obfuscation. His argument purports to be a reductio ad absurdum of evolution, claiming that, if evolution were true and our brains arose by natural processes, then our thoughts would be invalid. However, our brain structure is capable of valid thoughts, no matter how it happened to come into existence. When Brown asks, "If Lippard thinks that a structure created by random processes can make valid inferences, why doesn't he show us one?" it is apparent that he does not understand the reductio nature of his own argument (a popular one among Christian apologists; Brown himself cites C. S. Lewis as a source).
To Brown's request for an example of "a structure created by random processes [that] can make valid inferences," I substitute the word random with natural or evolutionary and answer: people—five billion of them. This answer begs no questions within the context of Brown's argument, since the argument begins by assuming the truth of evolution.
Brown is mistaken when he says, "Lippard acknowledges that the existence of valid human thought opposes the idea of atheistic evolution and could support the existence of God" (1990:38). I did not and do not make any such acknowledgement and I specifically stated that Brown fails to make a case against atheism and does not even address the possibility of theistic evolution.
Brown denies a quotation which is attributed to him in the creationist journal, Ex Nihilo (1984), yet refuses to ask for a retraction. The same quotation has been traced to Barry Setterfield's 1983 monograph, The Velocity of Light and the Age of the Universe, but Brown claims that no such quotation appears there and that my copy must have been "doctored" (1990:40). This alleged doctoring would not change the fact that the quotation appeared in Ex Nihilo. Brown is correct that the quotation did not appear in the first printing (August 1983) of Setterfield's monograph, in which the page in question contained an advertisement for Ex Nihilo. My copy of the relevant page, however, came from the second printing, dated December 1983. (I have as yet been unsuccessful in finding anyone in the United States with this edition of the monograph.) I am happy to grant Brown's denial of the quote, but this simply casts more doubt on the veracity of Setterfield, who has already been accused of misusing quotations from his fellow creationists (see Humphreys, 1988:40-41).
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I criticized Brown for presenting the work of Barry Setterfield unskeptically. In response, Brown cites two sequences from his book which begin with the word if, claiming that "tentativeness is there." It is interesting that Brown does not quote either sentence in full:
Neither sentence casts any doubt on the speed-of-light decay thesis. In fact, what Brown says about Setterfield is that "his results show that the speed of light has decreased so rapidly that experimental error cannot explain it!" (1989c:89; emphasis in original). Where is the tentativeness here? From Brown's discussion, one would never realize that debate over this subject continues to rage even in the pages of the Creation Research Society Quarterly. Brown cites none of the numerous criticisms of Setterfield.
Setterfield's response itself is inadequate on the subject of radiocarbon dating and on many other points (1989), as has been pointed out by his critics (Aardsma, 1989; R. H. Brown, 1989; Holt, 1989; Humphreys, 1989). Setterfield's response to Aardsma's radiocarbon argument, which I cited and described in my previous article (1990), is answered by Setterfield with the claim that "the solar neutron flux (which produces C-13 in our atmosphere)" was higher in the past (Setterfield, 1989:193). But as Aardsma points out, it is cosmic rays, not "solar neutrons," which are responsible for the production of C-14 (Aardsma, 1989).
Brown also discusses the 1675 Roemer measurements from Setterfield's data (Brown 1990:41), but again does something which he criticizes me for on the very next page of his article: he cites unpublished sources. In fact, what Brown cites are a pair of computer messages from the Usenet newsgroup net.astro from Lewis Mammel. Fortunately, I was able to obtain copies of the messages from Mammel, and Brown is correct that Mammel's recalculation of Goldstein's data shows a value of c 8 percent greater than today. But Mammel does take issue with Brown's statement, "Mammel also identified a second error, which he claims shows that the speed of light was 8 percent greater in 1675 than it is today" (Brown, 1990:41). Instead, Mammel says this should more accurately read: "If Mammel is correct then the best fit to Roemer's data gives a value 8 percent greater" (Mammel, 1990). He also points out that this value is well outside of Setterfield's originally published curves. Goldstein's reanalysis of the Roemer data, on the other hand, gives a result 2.6 percent lower than the 292,000 kilometer-per-second figure that Brown says he used.
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Regarding the statistical measurement of c decay, the debate continues in the Creation Research Society Quarterly over whether Setterfield's data even show any such trend. And according to Mammel (1990), the weakest points in the thesis are conceptual rather than statistical. There are problems in comparing measurements which use different ways of measuring speed and different ways of measuring time when trying to find evidence for "varying constants" (see Barrow and Tipler, 1986:238-243). And William Jefferys (1990) responds to several of Brown's claims in greater detail.
Brown denies claiming that the sun is shrinking at a constant rate, although in his book (1989c:19) he writes, "The sun's diameter is shrinking at a rate of about 0.1 percent each century or about five feet per hour! . . . this rapid shrinking has been going on for at least the past 400 years." In his article, he writes, "I feel that the best data supports a slight but significant shrinkage trend" (1990:46). Which is it? "Rapid" or "slight but significant" shrinking? And where may these "best data" be found? Brown does not say.
Brown argues, on the basis of the solar neutrino problem, that at least two-thirds of the sun's heat is produced by gravitational contraction rather than by hydrogen fusion, and that this supports a shrinkage trend. However, all the sun's heat could be produced by a gravitational contraction rate of only 0.02 feet per hour, or 0.007 arc-seconds per century (DeYoung and Rush, 1989:50). The contraction rate Brown argues for is 250 times this rate. To deal with this problem, some have suggested that only a thin outer shell of the sun is shrinking, but, since more recent studies have not found the shrinkage trend Brown claims in his book, this seems rather ad hoc.
There are other possible solutions to the solar neutrino problem—such as time variability of neutrino flux, electron neutrinos being transformed into muon or tau neutrinos by some process in the sun, interaction with weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS), or the Mikheyev-Smirnov Wolfenstein (MSW) effect—and experiments are testing them (see Bahcal et al. 1988; Bahcall, 1989, 1990). Given these other possibilities, the solar neutrino problem is not so compelling a "line of evidence for a shrinking sun" as Brown seems to think. In any case, the sun's alleged shrinkage is not a reliable age indicator.
Jupiter and Saturn's radiation of more heat than they receive from the sun does suggest that they are generating heat from gravitational contraction or from their initial heat. Neither possibility requires that these planets are young—which they aren't. As a recent introductory astronomy text notes, if the conductivity of the metallic hydrogen in Jupiter's interior is low, it "could easily retain its primordial internal energy for billions of years" (Zeilik and Smith, 1987:102). On the other hand, the same text notes that "the excess heat from Saturn is somewhat of a puzzle" (1987:106).
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In Brown's original article, he stated that "as of 1986, at least, [Hoyle et al.] were making a good case" (Brown, 1989:42), which I took to imply that Brown no longer thinks there is a good case for Archaeopteryx being a hoax. But now he comes right out and says that "Hoyle and Wickramasinghe make a good case that the two fossils of Archaeopteryx that have clearly visible feathers are forgeries" (1990:47). He clearly rejects the published refutations of the hoax hypothesis when he writes, "The 'anti-hoax' articles Lippard cites either don't address most of these evidences or else contain statements which are shown to be false by Hoyle's photographs" (1990:47). But Brown gives no examples of these "evidences" or "statements." In fact, the scenario involving cement which Brown describes is refuted by Charig et al. (1986), whose microscopic examinations show no evidence of cement. These authors also dispute the claim that only two Archaeopteryx fossils (not counting the recently discovered sixth fossil) have feather impressions. While those on one specimen are not clear, the impressions on the other two fossils are much better. This dissolves the force of Brown's objection that "the significance of all the other Archaeopteryx fossils may rest upon whether or not the Solnhofen specimen has feathers" (1990:48).
According to Brown, the reason Protoavis has not been accepted as a bird is that "to do so would eliminate their best example of an embarrassingly few possible transitional forms" (1990:48). There are other reasons—and good ones—for its lack of acceptance. The main reason is that Sankar Chatterjee, its discoverer, has yet to publish any descriptions of his find (Padian, 1989).
In response to my citation of a source containing a large bibliography of transitional forms, Brown says that this is "one more example of [Lippard's] claiming that someone has some evidence which [he] cannot discuss" (1990:48). What would Brown have me do? Include the full text of the article? He claimed that transitional forms are scarce or even completely absent from the fossil record, so I provided a reference to contrary evidence.
Brown (1989a:44) and other creationists (for example, Girouard, 1989; Morris, 1989; Taylor, 1989:91; Willis, 1987) have asserted that Donald Johanson has made statements which show that he has been deceiving people about "Lucy's" knee joint. Now in a new argument, Brown says that the vertical scattering of the Australopithecus afarensis fragments is somehow problematic. I forwarded a copy of Brown's statements to Donald Johanson, who replied:
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I suggest that Brown's new alleged problem is simply a way of evading an admission of error.
Brown says that I "falsely stated that Carl Baugh 'has consistently refused' to have the handle of his apparently ancient hammer radiocarbon dated." My information was based upon a report that Baugh had refused an offer made by Robert Schadewald to pay for the radiocarbon dating on the condition that the hammer really turned out to be ancient and upon requests from Ronnie Hastings and John Cole, among others. My choice of adverb was a poor one, particularly in light of Baugh's negotiations with R. E. Taylor to date the hammer (which came about, by the way, as a result of Taylor reading my statement about Baugh).
I think this dialogue displays Brown's true colors. Not once has he conceded any points to me, even when he has been glaringly in error (the only possible exception being two "minor" errors which he said he was already aware of). Instead, he has frequently ignored my remarks (as he did with my basic criticism of his categorization scheme, my remarks on his Lamarckian point, his claim that there are few or no transitional fossils, his stance on Neandertal, Peking man, Lucy's knee joint, out-of-order fossils, and Noah's ark) and my counterproposal to his debate challenge. In other cases, he has responded to my criticisms with new arguments that do not address the original issue (as he did with his random thoughts argument and Lucy's knee joint). He has also made mistaken claims about what others have written (for example, when he claims I acknowledge that valid human thought is evidence for the existence of God and when he writes that Charles Oxnard did not say Ramapithecus could have been ancestral to humans). I do not believe that I have made any comparable misrepresentations. I find it particularly ironic that Brown accuses me of asserting that evidence exists for a point, citing a reference, and skipping on to the next point, since this accurately describes the format of his own book, in which none of his "categories of evidence" are discussed in any detail (with the exception of his "hydroplate theory").
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Another habit in which Brown indulges is constant waffling. He will strongly imply that he holds a particular position (for example, that the sun is shrinking at a particular rate; that Archaeopteryx is, or isn't, a hoax; that Barry Setterfield's speed-of-light decay model is correct; or that Lucy was not bipedal) and then, when pressed, deny ever having held such a position. The result is that he avoids the trouble of having to defend himself.
I suggest that the reason "leading anti-creationists" are not willing to engage in extensive written debate with Brown is not because of any fear for their careers or reputations but, rather, because of Brown's above-described habits and his own lack of qualifications.
I received helpful comments in the preparation of this article from Robert P. J. Day of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Manitoba, Canada.
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Bahcall, J. N. 1989. "How Does the Sun Shine?" Nature (July 27) 340:265-266.
Bahcall, J. N.; Davis, R, Jr.; and Wolfenstein, L. 1988. "Solar Neutrinos: A Field in Transition." Nature (August 11) 334:487-493.
Barrow, J. D., and Tipler, F. J. 1986. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Jefferys, W. H. 1990. Letter to the editor. Creation/Evolution XXVI:55-56.
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