On December 16, 2000, geologists at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco held a special session entitled "Explaining Evolution". It was a spectacular success, if we can judge from the attendance — standing room only for the whole morning. The atmosphere was charged, with an attentive audience, which included at least one vocal creationist, John R Baumgardner from the Fluid Dynamics Program of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Brent Dalrymple, the author of that well-known text The Age of the Earth, began by discussing "The Creation/Evolution Issue: Why Should Earth and Space Scientists Care?" He pointed out that young-earth creationists (YECs) include the history of the earth in their definition of evolution. They try to accommodate the expansion of the universe and radiometric dating within their 10,000-year time frame by arguing that, since the Fall of Adam, the speed of light has increased by a factor of 200 million and radioactive decay constants have increased by a factor of 750,000. These requirements in turn force Planck's constant to increase by many orders of magnitude. All of this would lead to a universe that does not work. For example, before the Fall, each atom undergoing radioactive decay would have released energy equivalent to that of an exploding tactical nuclear weapon.
During the question period, the first response was from John Baumgardner. He began by saying that as a committed Christian he was insulted by Dalrymple's characterization of creationists. He expressed his disappointment that the AGU had not invited speakers to present creationist arguments. His exchanges with Dalrymple became quite heated. This made me apprehensive that he would later come after me because in my presentation I would use a slide making fun of one of Baumgardner's sillier ideas — that giant whirlpools on the continents allowed dinosaurs and other large animals to survive until late in Noah's flood, thus explaining why their fossils occur high in the geologic column.
Readers may remember that Baumgardner was featured in the article entitled "The Geophysics of God" in US News & World Report in June 1997 (see RNCSE 1997; 17 : 29-32). He was attending the AGU meeting as the co-author of 4 papers concerning dynamic modeling of the Earth's mantle. However, none of his papers gave even a hint of applicability to a creationist paradigm, whether YEC or any other sort. So it is difficult to see how the results he presented could produce the changes in the values of physical parameters necessary to make plate tectonics happen in 6000 years.
Leo Laporte, a paleontologist from the University of California at Santa Cruz, then talked about "Darwinian Descent with Modification". He made 4 points about the paleontological record: (1) fossils are remains of once-living organisms; (2) fossils occur in rock sequences in temporal order; (3) the absolute ages of these sequences can be determined from radiometric dating; (4) the fossil record provides many examples of transformation of anatomical features through time — for example, the transition from amphibians to reptiles, the evolution of mammalian ear ossicles, and so on. He ended by summarizing his credo that it is the methodology of science that matters, rather than its content.
Baumgardner responded by stating that evolution is not supported by paleontology and challenged Laporte to state his epistemology. Laporte repeated his scientific credo. Baumgardner pressed him again. Eugenie Scott interjected that they were at cross-purposes because Baumgardner was not distinguishing between epistemology and metaphysics. Although scientists should share a common epistemology, she said, they can hold widely different metaphysical positions.
John Hafernik, a molecular biologist from San Francisco State University, then spoke on "Testing Evolutionary Hypotheses: Application of New Developments in Computing and Molecular Biology". His talk was about the advantages of using molecular data for evolutionary studies. Genetic data can be obtained from all kinds of organisms. It provides direct measures of amounts and rates of divergence as well as a nearly unlimited number of characters to analyze. His examples included cladograms of chipmunks and carp.
Lee Allison, the Director of the Kansas Geological Survey, followed with a talk on "Stealth Creationism: The Assault on Teaching Evolution in Kansas". He reviewed for us the political background to the Kansas State Board of Education decision to drop evolution from the state science standards. He pointed out the strong ties between the Board of Education and the conservative wing of the Republican Party of Kansas, and the influence on the Board's actions exerted by the Creation Science Association of Mid-America. He outlined the actions being taken by the Kansas Citizens for Science to redress the decision. I felt that this was an excellent background to my talk later in the morning.
John Geissman, from the University of New Mexico and a member of the AGU Committee on Public Affairs, spoke about "Teaching Geosciences: Challenges and Opportunities". This talk was mostly about how he handles the issue of creationist challenges in teaching large freshman college classes on physical geology. I feel that, although it is important to treat this issue judiciously at the college level, the main challenges lie in the K-12 arena.
Robert Hazen, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the author of the popular book Science Matters, gave a talk on "Teaching the Teachers About Evolution and the Nature of Science: Lessons from the NRC's Working Group on Teaching Evolution". As the title suggests, he was a member of the National Research Council committee that produced the 1998 publication Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. His paper was perhaps the most philosophical presentation. He posed the question "Are science and religion completely separate domains of knowledge?" He suggested that the issues are not black and white. Many religious beliefs are informed by empirical fact, and we should use the scientific method to decide empirical issues.
My talk considered a more limited, but more practical question, "Should We Teach Both Evolution and Creationism?: The Case of the Grand Canyon". After reviewing the fairness issue, I posed the question "If we were to give equal time, what textbooks would we use?" I took the geology and paleontology of the Grand Canyon as my test case, quoting liberally from the writings of YECs Gary Parker, Steven Austin, and Larry Vardiman (who cites Baumgardner on whirlpools). I showed how their interpretations were totally at variance with the standard geological interpretations. I suggested that the burden of proof lies with the creationists. Discussing various published pieces of creationist research on the Grand Canyon, I argued that they are wrong, trivial, or irrelevant. Giving equal time to creationism requires us to teach bad science (and, in my opinion, bad religion).
The concluding talk, by NCSE's Eugenie C Scott, was on "Evolution and the American Public: Perceptions Differ Outside the World of Science". She reviewed the 3 reasons why YEC has such a hold in the US (in contrast to more enlightened countries such as my own — the UK). First, the early European settlers were congregational rather than hierarchical. In the early years of this century, fundamentalism and biblical ignorance rose to the fore. Second, unlike in the rest of the world, the US has a decentralized educational system. Third, in the US there is a cultural imperative of fairness, exploited by the YECs. Having had their efforts to require equal time in the classroom thwarted by the courts, they are using different tactics, such as influencing textbook adoptions, banning the teaching of evolution, and proposing "intelligent design theory" as the thin leading wedge to open up academia to anti-evolutionary thinking.
The formal lecture session was followed by a 90-minute strategy workshop on "Promoting Good Science: Countering Creationism in Public Schools", at which Eugenie Scott was the principal speaker. We were given an excellent notebook prepared by the AGU Public Affairs Office full of good advice. All the front-line troops fighting this battle should have this ammunition.
John Baumgardner continued his vocal opposition. He criticized the Public Affairs committee of the AGU for providing a forum for the National Center for Science Education, which he said he regards as an "extremist organization". On the other hand, I would have been most vociferous if the AGU had provided a forum for the Institute for Creation Research to hold a workshop on "Countering Evolution".
Interested readers can examine the abstracts of the papers in this session on the AGU web page at http://www.agu.org. Follow the links through "Meetings, 1999 Fall Meeting, FM99 Programs & Abstracts On-line". To examine the abstracts in the "Explaining Evolution" session, click on keyword EP41A (the code for the evolution session).
On March 5, 2000, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported the end of a 3-year battle to oppose the construction of a "creation museum" in Boone County (see RNCSE 1999; 19 : 5). Answers in Genesis (AIG), the evangelical Christian ministry headed by Ken Ham, is poised to start building the 95 000–square-foot museum/headquarters close to Big Bone Lick State Park, a state park rich in geological and paleontological resources near the state´s border with southern Ohio. AIG had failed to obtain permission to build a museum on a site even closer to the famous fossil site, after meeting opposition from county officials and a coalition of concerned scientists and area residents (see RNCSE 1996; 16(4): 1, 8–9).
Local opposition continued when AIG applied for a zoning variance at a new location, but the last roadblock was removed in February 2000, when a Kenton County judge ruled that there had been no conflict of interest on the part of a zoning commissioner who has ties to the organization and voted in favor of granting a zoning variance to build the museum. Opponents of the proposal will not appeal the decision.
Answers in Genesis staff anticipate that construction will begin in 2001 and that the first exhibits will open in 2002. AIG officials told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the museum will be filled with the kinds of exhibits that are in natural history museums, such as dinosaur replicas, fossils, and a DNA exhibit, but they will be presented as a walk-through history of the world from a biblical perspective. (AIG recently acquired a walk-through model of a cell and other exhibits from a bankrupt science center in Baltimore.)
For a report on the AIG reaction to the story, readers can connect to the AIG web site, http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/4233news3-6-2000.asp
[Details of this story are available at the web site of the Cincinnati Enquirer, http://enquirer.com/editions/2000/03/05/loc_opponents_of_genesis.html.]
It should be known that we — May God guide you and us — notice that this world with all the created things in it has a certain order and a solid construction. It shows nexuses between causes and things caused, combinations of some parts of creation with others, and transformations of some existent things into others, in a pattern that is both remarkable and endless. ...Each one of the elements is prepared. It started out from minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner, to plants and animals. The last stage of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants...The last stage of plants is connected with the first stage of animals. ... The word "connection" with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group (Ibn Khaldun 1967: 194-5).Ibn Khaldun is also one of the philosophers who suggested that humans evolved from apes:
The animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and in a gradual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and to reflect. The higher stage of man is reached from the world of monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking. At this point we come to the first stage of man after the world of monkeys. This is as far as our physical observation extends (Ibn Khaldun 1967: 195).Al-Afghani (1839-1897), who initially opposed the theory of evolution, later accepted it, proposing that Muslim thinkers preceded Darwin in advocating the theory of evolution (Bezirgan 1972).
In creationism's opinion, all living entities and species were created by Allah separately. Although they may have undergone some changes since the day they were created, neither did any evolve into other species (Guven and others 1997: 68).Even though evolution was still in the textbooks, it was taught in a biased, ludicrous, and non-scientific way, so that it could be discredited easily by some of the religious high school biology teachers. One of the ridiculous statements found in the high school books is:
contrary to what evolutionists claim, it has been demonstrated that frog, mouse, and snake bloods are closer to human blood than that of monkeys (Ayas and Tumer 1996: 12).Another sentence misconstrued Darwinism by stating that
according to Darwin, strong ones would live, and weak ones would be eliminated. However strong organisms such as dinosaurs, and mammoths have become extinct, whereas some weak organisms such as earthworm could survive (Ayas and Tumer 1996: 13).When the Social Democrats came to power in 1998 under prime minister Bülent Ecevit, the biology textbooks were revised, and chapters related to Darwin and Lamarck were rewritten more objectively (Korkmaz and others 1998). Creationists' arguments were still presented as alternative hypotheses, but to make the books appear more secular, phrases such as "according to Islam" were replaced with "according to sacred books".
It is true that as a whole, the male sex has been created superior to the female. Even the sperm which carries the male sign is different from the female. The male-bearing sperm is more active, ... the female less. The egg stays stationary, the sperm seeks her out, and endures a long and dangerous struggle in the process. Generally in nature, all male animals are more complete, more superior compared to their females…. Man, being more enduring at work, and superior in prudence and willpower, has been given the duty of protecting woman (Ates 1991: 37; translation by author).Such Aristotelian views of biology are quite common, even among theologians like Ates who think that some form of development in time may be acceptable to Islam.
Whoso walks in the path seeking knowledge thereby, God will make him walk in the paths of paradise; and verily, the angels spread out their wings out of pleasure for the seeker after knowledge; and verily those who are in the heavens and the earth and fish also in the midst of water, all ask pardon for him; and, verily, the excellence of a learned man over a mere worshipper is as the excellence of full moon over the stars. And, verily, the learned men are the inheritors of the prophets; for verily, the prophets' heritage is not [riches], but the heritage of knowledge; whoso then receives this, he has received ample good fortune.The Qur'anic verse "my Lord, increase my knowledge" was one of the constant prayers of the Prophet of Islam, who also asked God to show him "things as they really are". This prayer of the Prophet has echoed throughout the history of Islam in many forms, but perhaps its most eloquent expression is by the 16th-century Persian Sufi poet and scholar, 'Abd al-Rahman Jami (d 1492) who prayed to God thus:
O God, deliver us from the preoccupation with worldly vanities, and "show us the nature of things as they really are". Remove from our eyes the veil of ignorance, and show us things as they really are. Show us not non-existence as existent, nor cast the veil of non-existence over the beauty of existence. Make this phenomenal world the mirror to reflect the manifestation of Thy beauty, not a veil to separate and repel us from Thee. Cause these unreal phenomena of the Universe to be for us the source of knowledge and insight, not the causes of ignorance and blindness. Our alienation and severance from Thy beauty all proceed from ourselves. Deliver us from ourselves, and accord to us intimate knowledge of Thee.Thus from the very moment of birth to the last breath, a Muslim is required to seek knowledge. This extraordinary emphasis on acquisition of knowledge is not surprising for a religion that is based on a book.
For knowledge, there are vocations; for faith, there is a progression. And for sciences as well as scientists, there are experiments. Knowledge is of two kinds: one sterile, the other that bears fruit. The ocean is two oceans: one that allows passage, the other dangerous. And time is two days: blamed and the praised. And the human race is two races: one endowed and the other deprived. So listen with your heart to what a sage says. And ponder in your understanding, for discernment is a gift.[This item is an edited version of a longer article that originally ran on the listserver Meta as posting 112 on June 18, 1999. It was the first of several columns by Iqbal on different aspects of science from an Islamic perspective. Meta is an edited and moderated listserver and news service dedicated to promoting the constructive engagement of science and religion. Subscriptions are free. For more information, including subscriptions, archives and submission guidelines, go to
Evolution: The process by which existing organisms have developed from earlier forms through transformations of characteristics in successive generations. The most widely accepted theory explaining this process is that originally advanced by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace in 1858, and subsequently amplified by the work of other scientists.It goes on to discuss natural selection, mutations, and recombination. This discussion is followed by a paragraph dismissing any conflicts between any theory of evolution and Catholic doctrine, as long as one accepts the creation by God of each individual human soul. The book under review, although from the same publisher, takes a far different stance on the question of whether Darwin "got it right".